Monthly Archives: April 2017

Manchester By The Sea – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

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Lee Chandler is a handyman working in the Boston area who gets the call that his brother has died in nearby Manchester, the town they both grew up in.  Lee goes back to settle his brother’s affairs which unbeknownst to him, include becoming guardian to his teenage nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).  There are reasons Lee left Manchester, one of which is his ex-wife (Michelle Williams) and the emotional reasons why she is his ex-wife.  Now Lee is forced to return to the town, family and memories he left behind.


The movie felt very real to me, just like a slice of somebody’s everyday life.  Lee falls asleep on the couch and burns the spaghetti sauce; he has to drop off and pickup his nephew from school, from band practice, and from his dates; he has to deal with his brother’s business; and he has to sort out his life whether it is in Manchester or not.  The routine, day to day things were part of the movie, which I liked.  Affleck was pretty good in the lead, good enough to win the Best Actor Oscar.  Michelle Williams was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, which surprises me because even though she was very good in the film, she was only on the screen for maybe fifteen minutes.  Is there no minimum time requirement to be nominated for a supporting role?


While the movie did feel very real, it also felt very slow at times.  I suppose life doesn’t always move at the quickest pace, but I like my movies to move a little faster than the everyday.  It took about three quarters of the movie for me to really become invested in these characters, and finally once I was hooked, the movie ended.  There was no real resolution to things, you don’t really know the characters’ futures, life just keeps on going, but it felt like the story ended mid-paragraph.  A good story leaves you wanting more, and I really did want more but I think that was because I wanted closure to the characters.  Was I a little disappointed with the ending?  Yes.  Did I enjoy the film for the entire run?  No.  But, once they revealed a few key plot points, the preceding hours of the film suddenly became a lot more enjoyable to me.  Definitely worth watching, but I’d say be prepared for a slow burn, and some boredom before the film actually gets good.


Bottom Line: Casey Affleck mumbles a lot… Apparently that gets you an Oscar now.

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Hacksaw Ridge – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

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Hacksaw Ridge is based on the true story of WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), a pacifist who joined the army and served during the Battle of Okinawa.  Doss refuses to kill people and even refuses to carry a weapon, but he still receives the Medal of Honour without every having fired a shot. Doss thought it was his duty to serve his country, but his religion (he was a Seventh Day Adventist) clearly stated “thou shalt not kill”, so he enrolled as a medic.  Doss suffered through the hardships of basic training where his fellow soldiers hazed him to drum him out of their outfit, a court-marshal hearing because he would not pick up a weapon for any reason (including training), and finally to the battlefield where he witnessed the horrors of war first hand.


This was one of the better looking “war films” that I have seen.  The visuals were graphic, but authentic looking.  The sound was incredible.  The tone of the story and the pace of the action were both exceptional.  I’m not a big fan of Andrew Garfield (I really didn’t like his Spider-Man, or more specifically his Peter Parker), but he did a very good job playing Desmond Doss.  The performance came across as very real and very believable.  Teresa Palmer was very good as his wife Dorothy, as was Hugo Weaving as his father.  A pleasant surprise came in Vince Vaughn as Sgt. Howell who we first met at basic training.  Howell originally seemed to be against Doss, but you could see that he was really just acting out of concern for all the soldiers in his company.  He may not have agreed with Doss’ thoughts or morals but he did always treat Doss fairly, even if he was a little rough.  Eventually he does understand Doss and recognizes the courage inside him.


The film wasn’t perfect of course, there were a few liberties taken.  The film makes it appear as though Doss rescues 75 injured men in a single night, but in actuality this occurred over the course of several weeks and many battles.  I understand making that change, it does make the story flow better.  I though the film looked very authentic, but was disappointed to see that a lot of the battle “blood” appeared to be CGI.  I think for all the trouble they went to of making practical effects for the fighting and the stunts, they would have used old fashioned blood packets too.  Ah well, CGI blood is a lot cheaper than fake blood and squibs, and the film was done on a relatively small $40 million budget.  All in all, it was a very interesting look at a story I didn’t know anything about.


Bottom Line: It’s safe to say that Mel Gibson has had some problems over the last ten years or so, but Hacksaw Ridge shows that he is still one heck of a director.

Arrival – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review

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Well, this one was a real treat!  It has been quite a while since I’ve seen a really good science fiction film, and Arrival really was good science fiction.  That being said, it won’t be for everyone.  Sure I loved the latest Star Wars movies but those are really more fantasy science fiction films this was in my opinion a true science fiction film.  It made you think, and if you paid attention, things were pretty obvious and made perfect sense.


The film opens with quick clips, almost like a dream, of a mother’s relationship with her daughter, from her birth through childhood to her premature death in adolescence from an incurable disease.   Twelve alien ships simultaneously arrive at different places on Earth.  One in America, one in Russia, one in China, one in the UK, one in Australia, and so forth.  Hovering above the planet, the ships silently wait as the armies and scientists of the world approach and study them.  In America, linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a mathematician lead one of the teams attempting to make the historic “first contact”.  On-board the alien crafts they meet the seven-limbed aliens, who they call “heptapods”, and they begin attempt communication first by creating a written language.  The heptapods of course don’t look like we do, don’t sound like we do, don’t breath like we do, and seemingly don’t exist in dimensions the way that we do, so it is no surprise that their written language is nothing like ours, but eventually the team finds a way to decipher the circular symbols that they use for their words.  Naturally with humans being involved the process isn’t that easy, as some groups seek to attack the aliens rather than wait to see what they want.  It’s a race against the clock between militarized factions and science, with a “gift” promised by aliens as the reward and the fate of our planet hanging in the balance.  The film asks some pretty deep questions.  What is the gift?  Are the aliens giving each area only one-twelfth of their message to force humanity to unite and work together?  Why would the aliens offer a gift to Earth?  And why is Louise dreaming about a child she has never had?


I really enjoyed this one, it won the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing, and was nominated for seven other categories including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.  I really think Amy Adams deserved a Best Actress nomination, but for some reason that didn’t happen, though she was nominated for the Golden Globe.  The characters were well written, and the acting was top notch all around, as was the sound and the visual effects.  The film draws some comparisons to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Contact, but never feels like it is a simple derivative.  The story unfolds rather well, and for a moment, it seems like there is a massive twist in the plot, but a moment later you begin to realize there really is no twist, but just the realization that the film had already explained itself to you.  Arrival was a smart and sophisticated sci-fi that even those who don’t love sci-fi will enjoy.


Bottom Line: Arrival was based on the Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life” which was first published in 1998.  Also, I really wanted to talk about the reveal here, but it’s a massive spoiler, just watch it for yourself!

Zootopia – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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Disney did it again, and Zootopia took home the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, but I wasn’t overly impressed by it.  Sure the animation was flawless, the characters were good, as was the story, but when I watch cartoons, I want to laugh, and I didn’t laugh as much as I thought I should have for a Disney cartoon.


Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a bunny, who has wanted to become a police officer since she was a child.  But bunnies are small, weak and timid, so there has never been a bunny police officer in Zootoipa, the land where animals all live together in harmony.  Yes, in Zootoipa prey animals like sheep or bunnies no longer have to fear the predatory animals like jaguars or foxes.  Judy fights against prejudice and works hard to become the first bunny officer of the ZPD (Zootopia Police Department), but a case of missing animals comes up that she must solve within 24 hours or else she must quit the force.  To solve the case she turns to a street hustler fox (Jason Bateman) for help, and the two set off reluctantly together discover how and why several predator animals have apparently gone savage.  Their search leads them through all the habitats of Zootopia and brings them deeper into a web of crime and corruption than they ever expected…


The film naturally has a message as it deals with prejudice and also explores the role of implicit bias in policing, which is good, but I think might have been a bit heavy for the expected target audience.  It may be something that the older kids and parents in the audience will pickup on, but would be completely lost on someone like my five year old nephew.  Judy does solve the case and does get predator and prey animals to once again get along and live peacefully together but not before realizing her own prejudices.  Did Zootopia really need to be Serpico with animals though?  When I watch cartoons (and yes, I watch them fairly regularly and by choice as an adult), I want to go back to my childhood and be amazed and entertained and laugh and maybe even shed a tear.  Zootopia was entertaining, but to me it didn’t have that magic touch.


Bottom Line: Okay, the Shakira song from the film is still kind of stuck in my head….as is the Rock’s “You’re Welcome” song from Moana…. curse you Disney.

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