Quick Reviews

 

MOONLIGHT 2016-R-111 MIN

(Moonlight) was the surprise winner at the Academy Awards this year, and is now on Amazon Prime. I had been looking forward to seeing this acclaimed film for quite awhile. I can think of several movies that I would put ahead of this as best film of the year, but I would recommend it strongly, as the three actors who portray the main character of Chiron in each chapter, are quite simply stunning. (Alex Hibbert) plays him as a young boy of about 9, (Ashton Sanders) plays him as a teenager, and (Trevante Rhodes) plays him as a young man.

This is a sad film, about a quiet and shy boy, who is being raised by his junkie mom  Paula (Naomie Harris) in Miami. He has no father around, and Chiron is bullied a lot because he is quite, and inside he is not quite sure who he is. Later he will find out, that he is gay when he can even understand what that means. One day, after the bullies chase him into a boarded up house, a man Juan ( a fabulous Mahershala Ali)  rescues him and takes the quite Chiron home, where he and his sympathetic girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae) feed him. They become his friends and watch out for Chiron. Problem is, his addict mom gets drugs from Juan, who is his dealer. This is a problem, and I like how the movie never goes the easy way out. At some point, pushed to the brink by people who brutalize this gentle soul, he must stand up for himself and take a stand for who he is.

Where this boy goes to next as a still bullied teen, now curious and confused about his budding feelings, and then as a young man in the Juan role will have you invested in this person's struggle to find his way. Along the way, the fine actors, who portray this character, will have you rooting for him. This movie loves its main character, and so will you. What a beautiful and heartbreaking film Moonlight is.

LOGAN  2017-R-137 MIN

I liked (Logan) very much, although, the always very good (Hugh Jackman's) Wolverine is getting a bit long in the tooth. Set in the near future, where most of the mutant race have been wiped out, a weary and not so quick to heal Logan hides out with a very old Professor X ( the fabulous Patrick Stewart, sporting some salty language) who Logan must keep sedated, otherwise, his seizures cause havoc on those around him.

Also in their company, is the pale Caliban (a good choice in Stephen Merchant) who is a clairvoyant with a witty tongue. To support themselves, hiding out in an abandoned plant in Mexico, Logan drives a limo and drinks constantly. The adamantium inside his body is slowly killing him. When Logan is asked to take a very serious and 

rather familiar looking young mutant girl Laura ( a very serious looking Daphne Keen) to a place north called Eden, the race is on to get there. In their way, are some seriously bad ass mutants called the Reavers, led by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) along with a scientist Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant) who has been experimenting on children mutants for a long time. They will stop at nothing to get Laura and kill her protectors. Part road movie meets western, Logan is a fine gritty film and perfect swan song for our hero. I love the touch at the very end.

PATRIOTS DAY  2016-R-133 MIN

(Patriots Day) was a pleasant surprise for me. I was, like many, disappointed that the main character played by native Boston boy: (Mark Walberg) was a fictional person.With countless examples of heroes and victims from that fateful early spring day, It sounded like a star vehicle in a film that didn't need one. Don't worry, it's not, and (Walberg's) character of Tommy Saunders, a hobbled Boston cop, who has to work the thankless detail, at the finish line of The Boston Marathon, is the narrative thread that pieces together the other true stories of the bombing, and the subsequent harrowing days that followed, when the killers were on the loose and an entire city went on lockdown to catch them. It touches on a young couple who both lost legs, the MIT police officer who was murdered in cold blood while on patrol, and the truly harrowing account of the Chinese app creator, whose SUV was carjacked by the Tsarnaevs. That this man escaped, from certain death, is no less powerful, even though we know what happened. Director: ( Peter Berg) does a fine job, with quick cuts, and handheld camerawork, that add to the tension. (Patriots Day) is a well crafted Hollywood docudrama, that honors the victims and doesn't exploit with gory details, this infamous day, that happened not too long ago.

Sully   2016 PG-13 96 MIN

Clint Eastwood certainly knows how to make a clean and efficient film.  (Sully) the movie about the Miracle on the Hudson in 2009, where a United Airlines passenger jet, had to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River, after both engines failed by bird strikes, has as (Roger Ebert) had said of Eastwood’s films, no fat in it, and Sully doesn’t either. This is a well-done movie. All 155 people on board were saved and the Captain: Chelsey Sullenberger (a stoic Tom Hanks) and his co-pilot: Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) were hailed as national heroes. This is the story of that fateful cold winter day, recreated rather brilliantly and the aftermath where Sully and Skiles were investigated by the NTSB as all computers simulations showed that they could have made it back to the airport. This film honors the pilots for their clear thinking and celebrates a great day that could have been bad. 

You should see this movie.

20 FEET FROM STARDOM   2013-PG-13 91 MIN

There is a scene in 20 Feet From Stardom, where the wonderful singer (Merry Clayton), recounts a strange phone call in the middle of the night by a band called The Rolling Stones.They were in town, up late recording, and they needed a female to sing the tune. Pregnant, with hair in rollers, Clayton went to the recording studio and laid down one of the most iconic vocals in modern rock and roll history on the Stone’s brilliant song: Gimme Shelter. In the documentary, as she recounts the session, they isolate the track and it gives you chills at how raw and powerful this voice is. She beams…as she should. This is a film about wonderful singers and the music they love to sing.

This film could have been called: Standing on the Shoulder of Giants; the bands over the years, who contracted these brilliant singers to take their work to another level, being the ones standing. There are so many talented basically unknown singers, who have contributed so much to the history of popular music in the last 60 years or so, that it will blow your mind as you watch this excellent documentary. The amazing Lisa Fischer, Darlene Love, Judith Hill, and the regretful Claudia Lennear all are spotlighted, and they are a joy to listen to as they tell their stories.

Give credit to the artists, bands, and producers who recognized great talent and how they could help them, but it does at times come off rather sad at times, as some of them who tried to pursue a solo career, without the name recognition, did not do so well. Music, with groups, is a collaborative pursuit to be sure, but someone ultimately gets the star credit. Sting has some rather interesting thoughts on what the “Star thing” means. Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, and Mick Jagger also have insight on these mostly unsung greats.You Should See This Movie.

 

Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay

2012-NR-88 MIN 

You may not know Ricky Jay by name, but you will probably recognize him when you see this rather riveting and intriguing documentary about his life:(Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay). From a very early age growing up in Brooklyn, New York in the 50’s, Ricky J was around magic. It clicked with him and he was hooked. His grandfather, who was a fascinating man in his own right, was Ricky’s mentor. From him, he met some very interesting people who taught him things, and some who mentored him, teaching him some things…but not all. No Magician would reveal all to anyone; It is their code. It is very obvious as you watch this film, that Jay not only adheres to this but as he tells his wonderful stories, with his wonderful voice, he is setting you up even then. Slight of hand is his forte, and he is never off. Even this documentary has some fables in it I would guess, which enforces his illusion he has so meticulously and diligently worked on since a young boy.

This is truly worth a look, with some very telling comments from the playwright and filmmaker: David Mamet, who is a close friend on Jay. Magic is not real at all, but the art of it is, and it is fun to see this master and hear about his mentors he learned from befuddling us. Two things came to mind watching this documentary…

One: the opening line from Christopher Nolan’s (The Prestige): “Are you watching closely?”..…because that’s part of the trick. Two: The chunk of ice story at lunch may be apocryphal…but maybe not.

 

Blackfish 2013-PG-13-83 MIN

Whether you are an animal rights person or not, it will be hard for anyone to sit through the documentary (Blackfish), and not come away shaking your head at the practices of some of the parks that hold shows for Killer Whales; particularly the now-defunct Sealand and the thriving Sea World. Its main focus is on the whale (Tilikum), who has killed three of his handlers. These events are documented in detail by the witnesses, and are graphic, along with some footage that is very disturbing. What you will realize rather soon into this film is, even though the deaths of these people are truly tragic, and that they are not the villains here, these accidents were truly inevitable considering the practices ordered the corporations and owners of these establishments. This is not a moral issue…it is about money, plain and simple. I know…big shock.

What you will see, is that Tilikum, was put in an environment early on at Sealand that was brutal, and when he got a chance, he acted out in a violent way and killed a trainer. After the incident, Sea World decided that a fertile male who was a performer would be a great addition, and they bought him. There are many interviews with former workers and trainers who tear up scene after scene, and I was left wondering if any of these regretful people could have done something to stop these tragedies, or whether they were powerless.

Look, nature is brutal, and a scene where a seal trapped on a slab of ice, is deliberately pushed off for an orca meal is primal…that’s not the point. That is nature, and the order of life in an open and huge ocean is cruel, but that is nature. What I do know, is that when you see a mother who in captivity, had given birth to a baby Shamu, lose her offspring several years later when the baby is moved from its mother to another park; the cries of the mourning heartbroken Killer Whale will haunt you.That's man made....and that's correctable.

 

Europa Report-2013-PG-13-90 MIN

 

I liked this “found footage film” about a group of men and woman scientists who travel to Jupiter’s truly intriguing moon: Europa in search of life. It is a smart Sci-Fi movie that relies on mood and the claustrophobic trapped feel of the spacecraft that they are on. All of the actors are good, and even though no new ground has been broken here, this is a well done small budget film that has some truly frightening moments that you will have to watch and listen to closely. It borrows liberally from 2001 and Aliens, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. One of the last images is truly a nice awe-inspiring shocking moment that is diminished by the stupid “ we need to explain this with a narration”. Otherwise, I would recommend this fun little gem on Netflix for free. you could watch worse.


 

 

Changeling-2008-R-141 MIN

Clint Eastwood’s “Changeling” is a very, very, somber piece of filmmaking that is about a mother mourning the strange disappearance of her child in the late 20’s. Based on a true story about police corruption and the brutal murders of several children at “the Chicken Coop”, Changeling has a beautiful period look to it that really puts you in the early century world of California when woman, for the most part, were second class citizens still. (Angelina Jolie) is very good as the stoic but slowly unraveling mother: Christine Collins, who’s son Walter has gone missing. Eastwood again has provided a very subtle melancholy score perfect for the film. I have read some reviews where they say Jolie’s performance is Oscar grandstanding…It’s bullshit, she is wonderful.

There are not a lot of happy moments in this film, but Eastwood’s keen direction and sense of time and place put you there for this story and you will be engrossed by this movie. When a child emerges claiming to be Walter, The LA PD is quick to put this case to rest and let the press know that they had indeed found the missing Collins boy. Headed by the hardhead Captain J. J .Jones: (Jeffrey Donovan), the police want this to go away and go away now. When Christine is reunited with the boy, she is certain that this is not her son. Overwhelmed by grief and the strong influence of the police, she begrudgingly agrees to take the boy home and give it some time.

As time goes by, and her doubt grows that this boy who claims to be Walter is not, Captain Collins pushes back and takes extreme measures to keep her quite. Meanwhile, a serial killer is still at large. This is a film that gets the tone of its subject matter right and is a good movie that you should see if you missed it or have forgotten about.

 

Fury-2014-R-134 MIN

  

Fury is a damn fine war movie, that has the same sort of feel like (Saving Private Ryan) in it‘s low to the ground battle scenes and it’s close group of U.S. soldiers that we care for, despite the actions they take. It is gritty, extremely violent, and riveting throughout. Brad Pitt leads a wonderful group of actors in this tale of a seasoned and exhausted tank group, outnumbered, in enemy territory, during the blitzkrieg of World War II. If you like a good war film, Fury delivers big time. A small lull of calm and humanity in the middle, ultimately interrupted by the blood of war later, only adds to this excellent movie that you should see.

 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes-2014-PG-13-130 MIN

If you liked (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), then you will also enjoy this very good sequel. As a kid growing up in the seventies, I was a huge fan of the original, and also, kind of liked Tim Burton’s remake. This new series is aided by a good cast, and once again, a wonderful motion-captured performance by the extremely talented actor (Andy Serkis) as Caesar, the leader of the now living in the forests apes. As humans and apes collide, you will be engrossed in a fine reboot of a classic film and series. You should see this movie.

 

Mad Max:Fury Road-(2015)-R-120 MIN

Truly one of the best movies of 2015, Mad Max: Fury Road, is right on the top of all time action films I have ever seen. The inventive director and creator of the Mad Max movies: (George Miller) received high praise for this wonderful and crazy entry into the series, and it is well deserved. They should show this in film classes on how to structure and edit films like these. Set in the barren post apocalyptic desert world, where fuel again, is more important that anything, Mad Max: Fury Road tells the story of two loners: the ex cop : Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) and: Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who are both fantastic, and go up against some rather nasty bad guys led by the transparently armored leader: Imortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne).Their journey to reach the other end of the desert, with Joe's wives, is so much better than any review could describe. Hardy and Theron's rather lengthy fight, is worth the price, and then it just gets better and better. This is two hours of brilliant, adrenaline  pumping, smart filmmaking, that has to be seen to be believed....brilliant!!