Category Archives: 4 Star
A young girl nicknamed Bird (Ella Ballentine) is taking nature pictures while visiting her parent’s grave at the cemetery when she witnesses a gangland style execution at a nearby burial. The priest, the widow, her bodyguards are all killed by a masked assassin (Laurence Fishburne), who Bird manages to photograph without his mask on. Naturally the professional killer has a strict “no witnesses” policy when it comes to his work, chases the girl (killing her aunt’s boyfriend along the way) who runs to a lonely house occupied by Carter (Thomas Jane). Confused, the former soldier takes a bullet in the leg as the killer approaches. Carter’s wife had left him after tragedy befell the family, and even though he had turned to alcohol and was actually readying to kill himself, he is determined to protect this little girl who ended up on his front step. Carter manages to blast the killer with one of his two shotgun shells as he herds Bird upstairs. Both wounded, killer and guard; both armed, one at the base of the stairwell and one at the top of the stairs. Standoff.
Nearly the entire film takes place in Carter’s house on the stairwell. Very limited locations, an extremely small cast, probably a limited budget, but Standoff really delivered. The tension was incredible, almost claustrophobic at times. The entire cast was spectacular, but you can’t help but notice parallels between Jane’s Carter and his Frank Castle from 2004’s The Punisher. The storyline was really quite simple, but it still kept me on the edge of my seat. You might think that an eighty minutes of two guys shouting at each other up and down a staircase would be tedious, but there really wasn’t a wasted minute and any slower segments were filled with suspense. The psychological battle between the two men was fantastic and really kept the story rolling. Both Fishburne and Jane are very good actors, and a small piece like this, with its restrictions really highlights how strong they are.
Standoff was intelligent, and a really good, solid suspense thriller.
Bottom Line: It reminded me at times of a western.
It took me months to watch The Accountant, and an equally long time to finally review it! Ben Affleck plays Christian Wolff, on the surface an accountant and a math savant, but underneath he’s something more. When a low level accountant (Anna Kendrick) at a major robotics and prosthetics company discovers some discrepancies in their financial records, the head of the company (John Lithgow) brings in Wolff to “uncook” the books and perform a forensic audit on his company to figure out where funds are being leaked to and by whom. Wolff is a highly functioning autistic math savant so solving the numbers case is simple to him; much simpler than dealing with the staff of the facility, especially Kendrick’s character Dana who shows genuine interest in the problem and wants to help. But Wolff prefers to act as a “lone wolf” and it takes barely a day for him to confirm the findings and get a lead on who might be behind them. As he gets closer to the truth though, the suspects start dying. Unknown to his employers, Wolff is not just an accountant, he’s also a professional assassin who likes to take matters into his own hands when he sees a wrong that needs to be righted. As the plot thickens Wolff is brought into conflict with another assassin hired by the person responsible for stealing the company funds. Unbeknownst to Wolff, the other assassin is his estranged brother Brax (Jon Bernthal). Naturally the two meet in the film’s climax, but what will be the results?
Very few actors are as polarizing to audiences as Ben Affleck. He’s one of those actors who it seems people either love or hate. I’m probably in the minority here, because I’m more “middle of the road” with him. I haven’t seen that many of his films, but of those that I did see, there were some I liked, and some I didn’t. I really liked him in Gone Girl where I think he did a tremendous job of making me forget he was Ben Affleck. I didn’t really like him in Argo, where I found his directing solid, but his own performance very bland, and very “Ben Affleck”. Here though I enjoyed him. His performance was confident, and once again, he didn’t seem too “Ben Affleck” for the part. He clearly did his research when it came to playing an autistic character, and he was very expressive in his performance. The action scenes too were very good, and kept me entertained and engaged. I really like Anna Kendrick, and she was her usual fun and slightly quirky self in the role as a junior accountant, but she may have been a little underutilized, and at the same time a little forced into the script. J.K. Simmons as a director at the Treasury Department who has been on Wolff’s trail for years (but not exactly for the reasons we expect) was excellent as always. I’ll go out of my way to watch any movie with J.K. in it, no matter how small his role. A real treat in The Accountant was Jon Bernthal as Brax. I had only known him as Shane from the first few seasons of The Walking Dead, and didn’t really have an opinion of him one way or another. Here, he really shined, and I don’t think the part could have been any better cast. I’ve heard good things about his performance as the Punisher in the Marvel Netflix Daredevil series which I believe has earned him a spin-off solo series, so I look forward to watching those too.
Quite entertaining, and it threw a few twists at you along the way as the suspense and the mystery deepened. Who was eliminating the fraud suspects? Wolff? Brax? It wasn’t 100% clear until the end. What were Agent King’s interests in Wolff? Did they have a past? Who was the computerized voice that appeared to be working for Wolff, but was also seemed to be giving tips to the Treasury Department? All these led to a very solid action-thriller….which is nothing what real accounting is like I’m told.
Bottom Line: The final shootout scenes reminded me a lot of John Wick, which is never a bad thing.
Disney’s Moana was nominated for Best Animated Feature, and I think it was very much a “classic” Disney film. The story was essential a fable, as the old Disney stories were; it had clever humour; plenty of catchy songs; spotless animation and even openly stated in the film that if the female lead wears a dress and has an animal sidekick she’s a princess.
Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) is the daughter of the chief of a Polynesian island. Their people stay close to their island, and never venture out past the reef that harbours them, for out beyond the reef the world has been cursed and is plunging into darkness. A long time ago the demigod Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) stole the heart of the goddess Te Fiti which unleashed Te Ka, a fire demon who struck down Maui and his magical fishhook and brought the darkness to the world. Moana’s people seemed safe, but when their fishermen bring back no fish, and their crops start to die, it appears the darkness has reached their island too. From a tale passed on by her grandmother, Moana learns that Maui is the only one who can defeat Te Ka and return the heart to Te Fiti (which Moana’s grandmother happens to have). Learning that her people are actually descended from wayfaring voyagers and not sheltered farmers and fishermen as she has been led to believe, Moana steals a boat that was hidden in a series of island caves and sets out beyond the reef to find Maui and save the world, with Hei Hei….a very dumb rooster as her animal sidekick. Braving challenges, defeating monsters and embracing her destiny on their way, Maui and Moana set off to return the heart.
As I said, this one was lots of fun. I particularly enjoyed Moana reminding Maui how to be a hero, and how she turned him to her side. When first she meets him, he is just a selfish person, but he is also very dejected. Ever since he lost his magic fishhook he can no longer shapeshift into animal forms. Moana helps Maui recover it, which immediately returns his confidence; and Maui teaches Moana to sail the seas like her people did generations ago. The two do develop a friendship, and would willingly sacrifice themselves for each other as they finally face the lava demon in their quest to save Te Fiti and save the world. As I think I’ve mentioned before, the “returning hero” storyline is one of my favourites, so I really enjoyed that part of Moana. Once Maui got his “powers” back, there was some pretty good humour as he got used to shapeshifting again. And we got to see the true heroic demigod in action once he worked out all the kinks. Moana herself saved the day in the end with the tried and true “brains over brawn”, as she had completed her own journey of self discovery.
Very fun, quite funny, quite musical, and they did a very good job animating water which is always a difficult task. If you’re in the mood for a nice light bit of myth, fable and storytelling, you can’t go wrong.
Bottom Line: I think I liked this more than Zootopia…
Another of the films that was up for Best Picture this year, Hell or High Water tells the story of two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who set out to rob some banks, but are being tracked by soon to be retired Texas Ranger Jeff Bridges. Tanner (Foster) is a career criminal, and recently released from prison. Toby (Pine) is the “good” brother but he teams up with Tanner to rob a series of banks to pay off the various liens against their family farm, monies owed to the very same bank chain they are robbing. On the side of the law is Marcus Hamilton (Bridges) a cranky, old Texas Ranger who delights in the chase almost as much as he does insulting his half-Comanche, half-Mexican partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) with as many racial stereotypes and slurs as he can think of. Despite this, Hamilton is a good cop and good at his job, soon he and Alberto are on the trail of a pair of mysterious bank robbers. The bank robbing brothers are also good at their job, laundering their money in a casino across state lines but each robbery gets more and more dangerous as the take, the stakes and the violence all increase.
This was a very good heist movie (which I always enjoy) and it had a good dramatic core story. Hell or High Water was very well acted, and Jeff Bridges was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. His character was humourous, intelligent, and a great foil to the violent, and erratic Tanner. Toby was also a great character, and also a clever opposite to his brother. Though their reasons are leaning towards noble, the brothers’ methods certainly are not, but it does make the whole film a little grey, at times I didn’t really know who to root for. At times I wanted the brothers to get caught (they were the “bad guys” after all) and at others I really wanted to see them get away with their scheme, and beat the bank. The film did a really good job showing the poverty and the emptiness in those small Texas towns, which also kind of helped feed the conflicted feelings I had towards the robbers and the banks.
Full of action, full of drama, brimming with interesting characters, dark humour, and an engaging purpose behind the plot. I really had a good time with this film!
Bottom Line: Remember how I questioned how Michelle Williams could be nominated for Best Supporting Actress with minimal screen time? Jeff Bridges’ nomination made perfect sense to me, because he was in roughly half the film.
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.
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.
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!
In 1950s Virginia mixed race marriages were illegal. To get around this, Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Loving ( Ruth Negga) drove to Washington D.C. to get married, and then came back home to their small Virginia town. The thing about small towns is that news travels fast, and word of the Loving’s marriage reaches the police who come and arrest them. They plead down a sentence from jail time to exile, meaning that they must leave the state for twenty-five years, or divorce. Rather than going to jail they leave the state, but Mildred writes a letter to Robert Kennedy who recommends their case to the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) who appoints them a lawyer (Nick Kroll) who takes up their cause and eventually gets their case heard before the Supreme Court. Their basic defence was that they were in love.
This was a very good film, and very interesting. The performances were very good (Ruth Negga was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar), and I really loved the look of the film. It looked incredibly authentically 50s and 60s. Loving was beautiful in it’s silence. There were moments where nothing happens, just Richard and Mildred Loving quietly living their lives. The film really focuses on the relationship, not the courtroom which I really appreciated. While this was a historical film, based on true events, it wasn’t a history lesson. The southern US at the time was a tense place, but in this film the menace was slow burning and it didn’t focus on the violence as you might expect, just two people who were involved at the heart of the matters.
Bottom Line: Even though this sounds kind of silly, and is not what the film is about at all, I really liked the cars in Loving. The film took place over ten or so years, and I found it really cool to see the cars change with the time periods, from the early fifties to the mid sixties, from big chrome and finned monsters to sleek muscle cars. I love it when filmmakers include these little details.
Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan is one of the greatest and most popular literary characters ever created. The Lord of the Jungle has been adapted on film and print numerous times, so it was only to be expected in these days of reboots and sequels that there would be another tale of Tarzan on the big screen. In turn of the century England, Lord Greystoke (Alexander Skarsgård) is approached by the government to investigate the activities of a mining encampment in the Congo. Reluctant at first, he travels back to Africa with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie) and American agent George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) to put a stop to the suspected slave labour camps run by Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) who is supposed to be working for the king of Belgium, but really seeks to rule Africa himself.
There was everything you’d expect in this movie. Lots of animals, lots of action, lots of chases through the jungle, lots of fighting and two subtle love stories, one between Tarzan and Jane, and one between the Greystokes and Africa. Everything unravelled at a frantic pace and was a tremendous amount of popcorn fun. This was a “popcorn” flick in every sense of the term, and that’s why I enjoyed it. The performances were solid, fun and believable. The stunts and fights were fun. The banter between the characters was fun. I had a fun time watching it all. My only complaint about the film was that the special effects looked a little too CGI. It was clear that the film was made to be viewed in 3D and I didn’t see it that way. I watched it at home on Blu Ray, and while I still enjoyed it a lot, some of the effects (like when they were swinging through the jungle on vines) looked a little fake. I will say that all the animal effects looked really good though. I didn’t think any of them looked fake, unless they were in those same “swinging through the jungle” scenes.
I don’t know if this story was based on any of the twenty-five novels Burroughs wrote, but I’ve put a few of the Tarzan books on my ever-growing “to read” list…
Bottom Line: You know, I certainly wouldn’t mind if they made a series out of these Tarzan films, Skarsgard and Robbie worked very well together and were great in their roles. I’d watch them again.
In order to get somewhat caught up, my reviews are becoming more “short and sweet” than I would like, but I think it’s the only way I’ll get them done these days.
Set in Ireland in the 1980s, Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is having a difficult time, his parents are divorcing, he’s trying to fit in at a new Catholic high school, and he has to deal with bullies. On top of this, he sees the girl of his dreams (Raphina played by Lucy Boynton) standing across the street from the school, and one day he works up enough nerve to talk to her. Raphina tells Conor that she’s a model, which is just fine because Conor’s band is looking for a model to be in their new music video. A perfect match right? Except that Conor doesn’t have a band…. But the allure and the refuge of music is universal. Conor makes friends as he recruits members for the band and even turns some of his bullying enemies to his side as roadies and bouncers, but the tougher task is to get the girl.
The look and feel of Sing Street was very authentic to me. It really felt like we were in the 80s. I was never a big fan of 80s music, I tend to listen to 60s and 70s myself, but I could still appreciate how good and how fitting the music was. The music was great, and not just the covers but the original songs for the film too. I was pleasantly surprised that even the smaller characters of Sing Street were well developed. Conor’s older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) could easily have been seen as a “throwaway” character but he was handled well and as such was an important character in Conor’s growth. The members of the band were an eclectic mix of characters too, and again helped elevate everything because they as well were developed properly. Overall the film was a fairly typical coming of age story. Yes, it was touching and funny but what really sets it apart is the music, and the surprising realism of the situations.
Sing Street was written and directed by John Carney who also wrote and directed Once and Begin Again. I’ve been meaning to watch Once for a while now, and now I think I have extra motivation.
Bottom Line: A great mix of nostalgia and heart made Sing Street a winner for me.