The Lobster (***1/2) is precisely as pathetic as it’s supposed to be

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The Lobster – 2016

Director Yorgos Lanthimos
Screenplay Efthymis Filippou & Lanthimos
Starring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Barden, Olivia Colman, Ashley Jensen, Ariane Labed, Angeliki Papoulia, John C. Reilly, Léa Seydoux, Michael Smiley, Ben Whishaw

I get it. There is a contingent out there who will love this film and it’s screenplay drolled to perfection by a cast that is as bewildered and browbeaten by conformity as we are at times. The Lobster has won a bunch of prizes and is destined to win even more. It’s the kind of film that is perfect for those who like to isolate themselves by liking a movie. There may be no better script presented this year, to be sure. The direction doesn’t miss a beat, either. Every scene, every angle: it all means something and much of it has a dark, grey beauty. That said, I can tell you without a doubt I will never watch this film again.

Starting off with the seemingly senseless death by handgun of a donkey in a field somewhere at the hands of an obviously spurned woman,  we soon understand the premise and rules presented in this jarred version of the future. In this time, people are discouraged from being single. It’s illegal, in fact. When they find themselves in that way, they need to report to a hotel. While checking in, we discover that the guests have 45 days to find a mate or they will be transformed into “the animal of their choice.”

There are a series of rules in the hotel, some that stab away at loneliness, some that encourage conformity and one particularly bizarre hunting ritual that allow the hunters to extend their time by bagging a certain type of game. When we discover where this game comes from later, that solved mystery gives way to myriad new ones that seem designed to be rules for rules’ sake.

To call this dystopian is a misnomer, because it takes itself so seriously and follows its rules so intricately. There are no kids yearning to be free, either. It’s beyond absurd, and if it is funny, it’s also too cutting to produce more than a sympathetic smile from this viewer. I spent enough years being single to understand the agony and pressure inherent from a table for one.

There is a deliberate choice in the film to present every line with a different accent, but absolutely not one shred of emotion. Every character spends their time trying to calculate what to say in the effort to avoid detection of who and what they are, because we know there are consequences to being genuine.

Still, it bothers our protagonist David (Farrell) to the extent that when someone beats the game, he has to go out of his way to point it out. Then he discovers that in this world, just like their own, most are content with their own version of events. They don’t need to know the truth. They just need to know they beat the clock and can continue their sad clinging to delusion. It beats the alternative, even if that option is thought through.

The overall effect to me is somewhere between amused and nails on a chalkboard. This film has appeal to people I admire, and I cannot fault them their feelings. It’s a little too close to “Sprockets” for my taste. When I watch a movie or read a book, I am in for a different type of entertainment. I don’t need to touch anyone’s monkey but my own.

(***1/2 out of *****)

Divergent Series: Allegiant (***) gets worse than it gives

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Divergent Series – Allegiant (2016)

Director Robert Schwentke
Screenplay Stephen Chbosky, Bill Collage, Adam Coper, Noah Oppenheim based on the book by Veronica Roth
Starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Jeff Daniels, Octavia Spencer, Ray Stevenson, Zoë Kravitz, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Maggie Q, Bill Skarsgård, Naomi Watts

This will be thought of as the film that ushered forth the end of Hollywood’s necrophiliac habit of making multiple films out of books that don’t warrant them. It’s a fate that should have fallen on a worse film, to be sure, but it had to happen sometime. It’s not a great film. It’s better than Insurgent. Having the cast it does, it should be approaching great, instead of treading through good.

That none of these films share even one author might have something to do with the increasing disconnect with audiences. In total, 9 writers claim credit from the first film until this one. At least the last two had Robert Schwentke, even if in the end it really didn’t help. He was off the docket if there had been a 4th cinematic venture. R.E.D. seems so far away now.

In it’s wake, we have a decent effort by Woodley and James, leading a revolution against an ever evolving foe. The mark has changed from film to film as the world of our heroes expands from myopia to dystopia. Moving from the formidable Kate Winslett to the frayed Naomi Watts to the deceptively smooth Jeff Daniels, the game is still the same: divide, conquer and use for testing.

That my daughter and I enjoyed this film more than the previous probably has more to do with changing venues than anything. We discover a few unsurprising things about the Earth and we’re supposed to root for these fresh-faced kids as they decide that teenage wasteland is not a fun place, because all of the adults are jerks.

As nice as this all is, it’s the kind of film that will be hard to remember in two weeks. To be fair, I waited two weeks before writing this review and my theory proved correct. I need to refer to notes more often than should.

If they’d finished, the series, it likely would not have been improved much. The same can be said for every film set that tried the same gimmick outside of the last Harry Potter film. In that case, the first one was the let down. Still, there are worse ways to pass a rainy Sunday. The Hunger Games series, for instance. Too bad the bottom didn’t fall out on that series first.

(*** out of *****)

 

 

 

Suicide Squad (***1/2) shall remain standing

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Suicide Squad – 2016

Writer and Director David Ayer
Starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnamen, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood, Cara Delevingne, Karen Fukuhara, Adam Beach, Alain Chanoine, Jared Leto

This movie barely got out of the gates before being slaughtered by reviews. Normally I don’t make a practice of mentioning other gasbags, because Lord knows I value my own gasbagging so much more. In the end, it all doesn’t matter too much. This time, I have to say, something dumb is afoot, and the stupidity is not on the screen.

Suicide Squad, for better or worse, is a latter day DC comic book film. The outlook is dark and more than a little hopeless. The characters are disposable, except for a few. The bad guys are an afterthought and a little too CGI heavy. The things that make one uncomfortable about portrayals in the largely sexist and violent, especially regarding The Joker (Leto) will find those same things here.

If you rule this film out because the word is that it is somehow equally miserable as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, you aren’t trying hard enough to enjoy life. In all fairness, those who did not take to that math problem of a film or it’s measurably better Director’s cut, there is a reason to approach cautiously any film in this Universe that they’ve put in Zack Snyder’s hands, as producer or otherwise.

That alone is not reason enough to avoid giving David Ayers a chance. The artist responsible for Training Day, End of Watch and Fury deserves your time. Suicide Squad would have been a worthless pile in many other hands.

The story starts in the wake of events that culminate with Superman’s death. We get a series of introductions as we get to see Federal Intelligence Operative Amanda Waller (Davis) reveal her plans. Some characters get two intross, one’s first meeting is strangely absent until they are on the tarmac. When we see what happens to this sinister agent, it becomes apparent why they did not invest too much time.

Waller’s plan is the formation of a team of “metahumans” who are the baddest of bad criminals that shall be used to accomplish missions for the government. In essence, her rationale is that they need people of extraordinary ability who can take out “the next Superman,” if that one turns out to be bad. If it seems a little thin, well, so did the comic book’s premise. Who’s counting though?

These agents of misfortune are given an offer they cannot refuse in any way, then they are pushed out into their first mission. Will things work out for this crew? When it does, will they get what they are promised? Well, yes to the first question. Of course. It’s the first of a kind of film franchise that they would love to continue. As for the second question, the amount everyone gets is directly proportional to how well this film does and whether refrained from signing a multi-picture deal.

The characters are numerous and differently talented. Some of these talents are useful, some are not as much. Most importantly, are they entertaining? In large part, they are. Robbie absolutely steals the film from her catbird seat. It’s a glorious thing that we get to see Harley Quinn in all of her glory, before she’s is relegated to second banana in a later film tied to The Joker’s insane and often wearying shenanigans. There are zero moments that her mad doctor graces the screen where she is not the character most worthy of our attention.

The only one close to Robbie’s magnetism is Will Smith, who gives his career a necessary jolt with his truly identifiable Deadshot. That he’s given multiple dimensions is not a surprise. He has the chops to pull off the anti-hero that we all can rally behind. He even overcomes a tired subplot of faux-tension with an overly antagonistic Flag (Kinnamen) with charisma beyond the contrivance.

Viola Davis is convincingly charmless and ruthless as Waller. Her acting ability is better than her type of character normally gets or deserves. There is a gravity prevalent that gives the viewer confidence that Waller has the intelligence to survive, so it makes up for the film’s lack of a compelling main villain.

There are drawbacks, to be sure, that keep this film closer to average than classic. First and foremost, Leto’s Joker barely registers. It’s not that this is a bad thing for this reviewer, as the more one heard about the Dallas’ Buyers Club Oscar Winner “method acting” for this role, the more troubled the production appeared. He has a handful of scenes that are pushed to the forefront. The biggest bouts of sexism occur when we look back on his history with Robbie’s Harley Quinn. Even if you know that’s their particular kink, it is not easy to process. There is even a scene with Common that makes absolutely no sense, which – one could suppose – is the point.

This seems to be the summer of villains who don’t do shit. We’ve had some horrible antagonists with Apocalypse,  Krall and now Enchantress (Delevigne). Their job, essentially is to make big plans with the thinnest of motivations. If that seems too much, they also need to wait long enough to for the plot to bring the good guys in the vicinity where, you know, the magic happens. The effects, and especially the dialogue for Delevigne’s Enchantress approaches comically bad. This is deadening to the momentum of each film. It makes one wonder if this is what is what is forcing Marvel’s hand in their re-evaluation of the Avengers Infinity Wars. Two movies of a charmless nemesis Thanos waiting for the inevitable just seems agonizing.

Fortunately this is countered by some excellent work by the less developed characters like El Diablo, Killer Croc and Boomerang (Hernandez, Akinnuoye-Agbaje). All three provide the film with some real entertainment during points in which the story battles inertia. Courtney is a big surprise. It’s rare that he finds a role that allows him to show any amount of charm. Hernandez’ work is especially fulfilling. The marriage of character and story for El Diablo is resonant enough that it gives yet another example of Ayer’s instinct for portraying Hispanic characters with a remarkable depth and clarity. He’s caucasian, just like this reviewer. With only my experiences to draw upon, his Hispanic male characters always resonate for me.

Other things to enjoy are the cameos. I will not go into detail, other than to let you know there are more than one and they do add dimension to the film. Hang on after the credits too past the incredibly apt Twenty-One Pilots song Heathens  and a wonderful collage.

Add up the positives, subtract the negatives and it’s an easy win for Suicide Squad. This movie, especially for Robbie and Smith’s performances, will be watchable for years. If you want to find stuff to hate about the story and film, you will have no problem doing so. If one is honest, the film is definitely likable, even if it does not approach classic overall.

(***1/2 out of *****)

Star Trek Beyond (****) feels like films before

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Star Trek Beyond – 2016

Director Justin Lin
Screenplay Simon Pegg, Doug Jung
Starring  John Cho, Simon Pegg, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Lydia Wilson

There is a scene it Star Trek First Contact when, for the second film in a row, they are on the verge of destroying the Enterprise.

Crusher: So much for the Enterprise E.
Picard: We barely knew her.
Crusher: You think they’ll build another one?
Picard: Plenty of letters left in the alphabet.

Including all television series, there have now been 6 times in which the Starship Enterprise has been destroyed. Some of these have been undone by time travel, but still, the bell has been rung enough to train Pavlov’s dog by now. Like those mutts, we keep coming back, thinking we’ll get another morsel or two. Those morsels can sustain us through some lean times (Star Trek V and more recently, Into Darkness) and they also have become an easy dramatic ploy that takes the wind out of the sails of what could be better stories (Generations and Star Trek III) if they had tried a little harder.

This time, the Enterprise is sacrificed to do a little of both. The story is a weak one: a nondescript bad guy (Elba in a wasted role) wants revenge. How the story is told is a good, sustaining nugget that reminds us why we go back to the well over and over.

The story starts out with a turn of Kirk the diplomat. His efforts to offer a piece of an ancient indeterminate space weapon fall into a chaotic fight. This is drawn for laughs, but it falls a little flat when they try to mess with visual perspectives.

We see that the ship has fallen into a routine on the 3rd year of its 5 year mission. This routine works for many, but Kirk and Spock are both looking over the fence, metaphorically speaking. The ship docks at the new starbase Yorktown. Seperately, Kirk and Spock seek out other options unaware of each other’s plans.

While here we also see Sulu, his mate and their child. This is a passing glance, but it made a big news splash when announced in the press tour. That Sulu is gay was a bone of contention for some, including the man (Takei) who originally played him in the series. Everyone who knows Takei understands the irony of his position. Pegg defended the decision, but honestly it’s hard to cite the source (Gene Roddenberry) for his opinion. For me, it seemed obvious by Sulu’s sense of fashion in Star Trek III if nothing else. Really though, where else but Star Trek?

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An escape pod arrives with a tragic tale being told by its survivor (Wilson). The Enterprise is sent out on a rescue mission. What it sees when it gets there has been shown through perhaps the worst ad-campaign for a good movie in years. Why they show you the destruction of the Enterprise and at the same time play Sabotage in the movie’s first (Super Bowl) ad, I will never understand. They could have shown many other things and the movie would have been much better anticipated and received.

Why and how Krall goes about his quest for vengeance is so inventive, it makes one wonder why he didn’t just do it years and years ago. Then, I suppose, he wouldn’t have been able to meet up with Kirk and company. Krall himself is not all that interesting as a bad guy. He’s kind of a combination of Insurrections Ahdar Ru’afo and Nemesis’ Shinzon. This translates to: not memorable and redundant. He has one agent working for him that is effective, however, in the ability to act as a chameleon.

Faring better this time is the tried and true method of breaking up the team into smaller segments and letting those smaller teams bond and coalesce into examples of forward thinking. This process worked well for many of the best Star Trek films in the past (IV and First Contact in particular) as it allows screen time and genuine moments to occur.

Pegg and Jung flesh out better performances by members of the cast short shrifted by the last film (especially Urban’s McCoy) and Lin keeps the action frenetic while allowing the natural wit of the cast acting out Pegg’s script to shine. My heart hurts seeing Yelchin shine as Chekov. His exuberance is engaging and it is sad to know this is the last time we’ll see him in uniform. Live Long and Prosper, Anton.

For everything but the lack of a compelling and properly motivated malevolent force, we have a good movie. Star Trek is not all of the way back, though. All movies except for Star Trek The Motion Picture and IV: The Voyage Home have relied far too heavily on having bad guys seeking vengeance. If they really want a challenge, they should try doing something more esoteric. It didn’t work with the first picture, but it wasn’t because of the plot. It was instead, the concentration of long, silent space scenes in a failed attempt to capture some sort of Kubrickian wonder.

There is an old ship, that lay dormant for years that is discovered in the midst of the chaotic pace. That ship has a story that is only touched upon for purposes of pushing forward with the action at hand. How and why that ship was there for so long is what I wonder about as the last act of the film takes place. What happened to its survivors?  They tell you what they want you to know. It would be more interesting to find out more about their story.

If you want to go where most Star Trek helmers have gone before, Lin is a great choice. His kinetic energy ramps up Abrams action 10-fold. Everything is a pleasure to look at, and he does not waste a single shot. The space fight in the last act is a pleasure both visually and sonically. It would have been even better if they hadn’t let that first trailer out. Only the start of the motorcycle ride looks out of place.

Star Trek in the movies is not a place of wonder and exploration anymore. It’s a jarring, violently paced existence. Do you ever wonder why Quinto’s Spock is not as curious as he is furious? It would take Paramount studios a tremendous amount of courage to go with a story that explores instead of pillages. This reviewer is ready for that type of film.

Even so, this one will suffice for now.

(**** out of *****)

Lights Out (**1/2) but no dance

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Lights Out – 2016

Director David F. Sandberg
Screenplay Eric Heisserer
Starring Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Maria Bello, Billy Burke, Alexander DiPersia, Lotta Losten

First thing’s first. My teenage years took place in the ’80’s, so every time I ever hear the phrase “Light’s Out,” Peter Wolfe’s first solo success comes to mind:

I was kind of hoping this film would supplant that image in my mind. It did not.

Many people experienced Sandberg’s first version of the concept of this story in a 2013. He said that the excellent, if brief, story changed his life for the better. As well it should have:

Since then, he was contracted to make this full length version of the concept and upon seeing that, producer James Wan hired him to make Annabelle 2, which is currently in production.

Lights Out as a full length feature has the challenge of being more than one shot. In this, it fails to exceed the length of it’s PG-13 grasp. It has some real nice moments…some that defy convention even.

We begin at a mannequin warehouse factory. Father and factory owner Paul (Burke) sends his last worker (Losten) home after she is spooked by a shadow in the dark. Soon enough, that shadow overtakes him and we find him disposed of in a brutal manner.

Cut scene to months later when we see Rebecca (Palmer) drawn back into the life of her step-brother Martin (who is the son of Paul). Their mother Sophie (Bello) has been off the meds for a while, and it’s starting to have an effect on the youngster. It’s not just that the mother is acting strange, it’s that she’s talking to the thing that runs around in the dark that we saw in the warehouse earlier. It’s also something that Rebecca finds most familiar.

Rebecca has a boyfriend, Bret (DiPersia) who just looks like one of those guys who is really going to get it from the malevolent force. In fact, we kind of want him to, at first. Stick around though.

There is some back and forth with Martin for a while, as Rebecca and Sophie battle over who’s going to keep him. Rebecca does the obligatory digging. Sooner than one can say neon lights, she finds the obvious stash of incriminating evidence indicating what the history is between Sophie and this force that lives in the shadows.

From here, it’s just following numbers. If it’s obvious what is going on to us, it’s a painful slow burn for the characters. They have to be at certain places during certain times, so the lights can go out, and bad stuff can happen.

The performances are exactly what one would expect from a movie like this. Everyone keeps you in the mood, except for Bello, who seems to be channeling Dee Wallace circa The Frighteners here.

There are a few scary moments in Lights Out (hint: they don’t include Bello), but overall, the film is like a first date movie. The kind you take a girl to when you aren’t sure where she is with the concept of a scary movie, but you wouldn’t mind having her jump into your arms at least once. That might happen, but no more than that.

No one outside of Bello embarrasses themselves in the process. If the movie lacks for drama after the last shot is fired, at least one genuine surprise made me smile. That’s not usually the goal for a scary movie, but I think it works here.

As the credits roll, though, Peter Wolfe immediately came to mind.

(**1/2 out of *****)

The Purge Election Year (**) Trying to wedge social commentary into a horror film

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The Purge Election Year – 2016

Written and Directed by James DeMonaco
Starring Frank Grillo, Elizabeth Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Joseph Julian Soria, Betty Gabriel, Terry Serpico, Edwin Hodge, Kyle Secor, Raymond Jay Barry

So these films aren’t getting any better. They aren’t getting any worse, either. For every unique shock death we see in the distance, we get a steady dose of cliche up front. This time, we have a character from the previous film, Barnes (Grillo). He is the chief of security for (seeming Dem) Senator Roan (Mitchell). Roan experienced tragedy thanks to the purge 18 years prior, which gave her the drive to try and stop it through Congress. Grillo also had a background story in the last film, but that has apparently become irrelevant.

Opposing them, of course, are the white guy Republican-types from the first two films who sit in their ivory towers (or Catholic Churches) and pray / prey their way through the purge on the power of the almighty dollar and some type of understanding of human nature that eludes the heroes.

To make the evil more diverse, we get South African “Murder Tourists” who are there only to collect scalps. I am pretty sure all of these guys are relatives of the South African guy from Lethal Weapon 2 who had “diplomatic immunity.”

We also have some samaritans, grudging (Williamson) or otherwise (Gabriel) who help the good guys after their impenetrable fortress is penetrated. This leads us to the base of the resistance and Dante Bishop (Hodge), who was the kid that ran into the house in the first purge, endangering the family. He’s been fighting the power since then, and its about time they kill some old white males, don’t you think?

If you think I am ruining this for you, then I am sorry. This movie wrote itself easier than Griffin Mill with a room full of yes men.

The film is not lacking for acting talent. Mitchell, Williamson and Grillo are all capable and Gabriel has a kinetic energy that could be magnificent if used correctly. That they are slightly better than caricatures is by no means a result of direction or plot.

The films all have a real distinct look. The masks add a bland malevolence that promises chaos. Instead we get moments of carnage in between statements about unwritten rules that essentially, counter the whole idea behind the event.

If they really wanted to improve these films, they’d drop the politics and ramp up the creativity. Give it less a feel of government crackdown and more a sense of random chaos that can’t clean up after 12 hours.

The story is seemingly complete with this one. But who’s counting? When you make as much cash on the barrell as these films do while under the pretense of having a political point, why not keep pumping these films out. There will always be more old white people waiting in Catholic Churches.

(** out of *****)

Central Intelligence (**1/2): A measure of the Rock’s comedic flexing ability

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Central Intelligence – 2016

Director Rawson Marshall Thurber
Screenplay Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen, Rawson Marshall Thurber
Starring Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Amy Ryan, Aaron Paul, Danielle Nicolet, Timothy John Smith, Megan Park, Ryan Hansen, Thomas Kretschmann, Phil Reeves, Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Kumail Nanjiani

If there are two actors in the universe making more movies than Samuel L. Jackson, they are Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson. The range for Hart and Johnson may not be extreme, but they sure have the recipe for someone who is looking to forget about life for a while on a Friday night.

Johnson, aka WWE’s The Rock, has grown into an action movie icon. He’s got a large presence, but an astute self-awareness. There have been some bumps in the road and he’s taken some risks, but he’s been bankable if not award worthy.

Central Intelligence is a step in the right direction. We get a healthy dose of his action skills, but his comic timing is sharpened to the point where he’s actually funny. We’re not talking Arnold funny, either.

The story is about Robbie Wheirdicht (Johnson) and Calvin “Golden Jet” Joyner (Hart). In High School, Wheirdicht is (Johnson given a bad digital makeover) a fat dweeb. Inexplicably, he is caught singing in the shower while the rest of the school is at an assembly celebrating Calvin being the best High School student ever. Yeah, it’s not subtle, but it gets worse. While he’s accepting his award, he gets surprised by seeing Wheirdict’s naked body sliding across the floor. So Calvin covers Robbie with his massively decorated letterman’s jacket.

Cut to 20 years later. Calvin has a good job, but is dissatisfied with his life as he sees younger employees promoted over him. He is in the midst of one of his bouts of self-pity, about to decline an invitation to his High School reunion when he gets a friend request from a “Bob Stone,” on Facebook. Cutting to the chase, Bob is Robbie and he’s now a very studly CIA agent.

The story is no great shakes. Someone is on the lamb after losing his partner. For some reason, this plot needs Joyner as an accountant. Let me tell you a secret…there was no need for Joyner as an accountant.

Central Intelligence is at its best when it’s awkward. Hart is good as it gets these days when it comes to that. Johnson is even better. Playing against his manly stereotype places him atop the list of one note action heroes like Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Vin Diesel. It’s the first step towards better performances that no one else his size can approach.

Let’s be serious though. This isn’t mensa material. It’s a big dumb action comedy. There is nothing here as funny as Thurber’s Terry Tate, Office Linebacker and thank goodness there is nothing nearly as bad as We’re The Millers. It might get a few sequels, and that’s fine. I’m pretty sure I won’t remember one joke in 5 years, but I will smile when I think about it, just the same.

(**1/2 out of *****)

The Nice Guys (****) Don’t say and stuff

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The Nice Guys – 2016

Director Shane Black
Screenplay by Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi
Starring  Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Keith David, Kim Basinger, Beau Knapp

Thus goes the career of Shane Black. He directs one of the top grossing films of the past decade (Iron Man 3) and immediately sets to making the movie he’s been wanting to make for years before that. Of course it’s funny as hell, while filled with strangely realistic action scenes. Not one scene will leave action-comedy fans without a genuine smile. The story, the acting, the direction are all spot on. And it fails at the box office. Why?

For one thing, it lacks glamour. Oh, there are pretty women all over the place, but they don’t look as great when they’re knocked over during a chase scene or hit with an errant bullet. We even have the familiar Black intro with a pretty girl dying spectacularly.

Speaking of dowdy, I am not sure I have seen Crowe look as disheveled as Jackson Healy, a tough guy who’s not going to bother getting a license as a Private Investigator. He’s kind of looking like post-Godfather Brando by now, but I get the feeling he’s doing it on purpose. His skill is easy to miss at this point as I am sure most people would if he hadn’t already won an Oscar. He is so relaxed within the frame of his character, he’s almost a part of the background. Albeit, he’s a part of the background that can tell you to have your doctor check for the spiral fracture he’s about to apply to your left arm. It’s fun watching him play a man who is a bruiser, but not a mindless one. If the odds are against his taking action, he will duck out until the odds change. It takes courage to look smart enough to modify your brutal nature. Most actors can’t do this.

Ryan Gosling is as much a chameleon, but at an earlier age. His Holland March is a licensed PI, but you wouldn’t know it based on his ethics. He is an alcoholic widower raising a 13 year old girl after his wife died a few years earlier in an explosion. My guess is we find out it was not an accident if they ever do make another film. His condition is pliable enough that he is able to piece together who can help him and who cannot. Since this is a buddy film, one can guess who that will be.

His daughter, Holly (Rice) is somewhere between Holland’s conscience and his enabler. Seeing her driving him up to meet Healy after March had a few drinks is a gem of a scene. He is jamming away, singing The Band’s cover of Ain’t Got No Home as if he’d been born to sing along. It’s not a tremendously well known song, but you wouldn’t know that from looking at father and daughter. They look so familiar with it. She has a habit of asking men who are important to her if they are “a nice guy.” This could be answered quickly and honestly with “I do what it takes to stay living.” Both March and Healy answer her differently.

The interplay between Crowe and Gosling is deftly handled. There is no one writing about interpersonal dealings between partners as well as Black, even after all these years. The connections are rarely obvious or telegraphed. One has to know for what they are looking. It’s a credit to both actors that they pull off Black and partner Bagarozzi’s subtlety so effectively. I don’t think I have seen Gosling this charismatic. Both are full-fledged persons capable of good and bad moments without unnecessary flare. For this reason alone The Nice Guys is worth watching.

Almost as good is Holly. She’s in a lot of places that kids ought not be, and the excuse for that is thinly played. We get that Holland is not a good father, but does he have no one that could have helped to watch her? It plays well for a few scenes, but by the time we get to the last act, it’s become anathema to the desired effect on the viewer.

The challenge with The Nice Guys is definitely the ending. The MacGuffin everyone is chasing ends up a disappointment. It’s a shame, too, because they waste not only a great pair of well played minor henchmen (Knapp and a very welcome Keith David) but also a supremely scary Matt Bomer. The bad haircut, the delayed reveal and the name (John Boy) make for a performance I had no idea Bomer was capable of based on earlier work.

There are also several production gaffes with the film. They go out of their way to point out the film takes place in 1977, but I would guess over half of the musical references take place after that year.

These points alone should not dissuade you from seeing this good film. It doesn’t keep me from wanting to see a sequel.

(**** out of *****)

Cool Papa E Reviews Star Wars: The Complete Saga (Episode I-VI)

star-wars-series

Star Wars: The Complete Saga (Episodes I-VI) 1977-2011

Nobody really needs to review this series. It is, for better or worse, part of the world lexicon of enduring stories. How this evolved from the story of Luke and his friends to eventually just the downfall and reacquired mojo of Anakin has filled many books, often more effectively than the movies themselves did. In truth, there are really only two superior films in the George Lucas era of Star Wars. The rest, while great to look at, is a measure of the tragedy of story-boarding over storytelling.

Thing about it is, those first two films are so good, a thousand ships of dreams have been launched by those in pursuit of the magic that they promise. Unfortunately, in the cinematic world we are boxed in a harbor. The Force Awakens is a prime example of another ship that ends up in familiar waters. It feels great, but there is nothing new aside from 3 humans and a delightful robot. Who’s counting more than me, though, that the next ship, Rogue One, will be far enough into this wonderful world for us to anchor for a while and dream about our next move into dreamland.

What I will do here will amount to more a list than anything. There will be a basic review and a best of and worst of for several facets of each film. I am kind of making it up as I go along, but I am sure this will be no worse than the script for Attack of the Clones.

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Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Written and Directed by George Lucas
Starring Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Pernilla August, Frank Oz, Samuel L. Jackson, Ahmed Best

Best Line

Daultay Dofine: This scheme of yours has failed, Lord Sidious. The blockades is finished. We dare not go against the Jedi.
Darth Sidious: Viceroy, I don’t want this stunted slime in my sight again!

Worst Line

Jar-Jar Binks: Count me outa this one. Better dead here than dead at the core. Ye Gods! What is mesa sayin’?

Best Scene

Any of the fight scenes between Maul, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon.  Too bad they are split up with crap like “My give up.”

Worst Scene

I feel so bad for Ahmed Best. He is given a thankless, poorly conceived and even worse written role. His character gets in the way of so many scenes, he seems even to be a source of irritation for the ever calm Jedi. I would say his queries to Amidala when they are at Coruscant are a perfect example of this.She’s busy pondering their planet’s very existence while being manipulated by Palpatine and all he’s allowed to say is “Yousa thinking yousa people ganna die?” No wonder she never looks at him.

Best Effects

The film is pristine. Everything except for eye contact with the digital characters is worthy of praise. Naboo and Coruscant have joined Tatooine as places we all feel we have been. Nothing matches the sheen on the Naboo cruisers sleeking through space or the vibrant sheen of a lightsaber in the the rest of the cinematic universe.

Worst Effects

The afore-mentioned eye placement for digital characters is severely off-putting. Seeing the Jedi stare absently at Jar Jar is a touchtone to every bad effects decision that follows in the prequels.

Biggest Win

The one on two matchup of Sith vs. Jedi was a daunting decision that made everyone realize these Sith are for real and they are dangerous as hell.

Biggest Mistake

Too bad they ended that duel making Maul look stupidly on as a defenseless Obi-Wan jumps over him and then slices him open. Killing off good bad guys early and making them look like doofs is a Star Wars tradition, though.

Review in 50 words or less

This film is the beginning of a lengthy series of misadventures that have Lucas continually following his whims (Jar Jar, Pod Racing, green screen) without giving a strong story to back it up. The fault lies with hiring a bunch of talented digital artists, but no real story tellers.

Rating / Rank (*** out of *****) / 4 of 6

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Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Directed by George Lucas
Written by Lucas and Jonathan Hales
Starring Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, Temeura Morrison, Jimmy Smits

Best Line 

Obi-Wan: I was beginning to wonder if you’d got my message.
Anakin: I retransmitted it to Coruscant, just as you’d requested, Master. Then we decided to come and rescue you.
Obi-Wan: [looks at his handcuffed hands] Good job.

Worst Line

Padme: Please don’t look at me like that.
Anakin: Why not?
Padme: Because it makes me feel uncomfortable.
Anakin: Sorry milady.

Best Scene

Gotta go with two here, because the pickings are so slim. #1 is Windu’s dispatching of Jango Fett. Even if it is yet another early exit for a bad guy, it makes Sam Jackson look as cool as we all know he is. #2 is the space fight between the Fetts and Obi-Wan in the planet ring. It’s the best space battle in the prequels.

Worst Scene

Everything else. Everything.

Best Effects

There are so few decent aspects to this film, it’s not hard to define. The spaceship that Dooku / Tyranus flies from Geonosis to Coruscant is not only wonderfully conceived, but it is very cool to look at.

Worst Effects

Could be just the clones.  They all look painted onto the screen. It never looks like they are actual humans, or breathing beings at all. The gladiator stadium is ill conceived and even more poorly executed. Dexter is horrible too. Sure, they make the table move when he sits, but his there is no sound when he makes contact with the table afterword. Kamino looks like a latter day Elizabeth Taylor perfume commercial; beautiful and unreal.

Biggest Win

We all win when Mace is allowed to kick ass.

Biggest Mistake

Digital filming was the concentration for this movie, and there was increasingly little thought given to the story. Lucas pieced it together in a few weeks and then gave Hale about a half-week to clean it up.

Review in 50 words or less

Not only the worst Star Wars film, but one of the worst movies I have ever seen. The script is deplorable and the poor acting encouraged by Lucas’ inability to communicate makes it worse. Saddest of all is the movie looks more like a cartoon than anything.

Rating / Rank (1/2* out of *****) / 6 of 6

palpatineskywalker

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Written and Directed by George Lucas
Starring Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, Temeura Morrison, Jimmy Smits

Best Line

Supreme Chancellor: I know what’s been troubling you. Listen to me. Don’t continue to a be a pawn of the Jedi Council! Ever since I’ve known you, you have been seeking a life of great significance, far more than any Jedi.
[turns his back on Anakin]
Supreme Chancellor: Are you going to kill me?
Anakin Skywalker: I would certainly like to!
Supreme Chancellor: I know you would. I can feel your anger. It give you focus… makes you stronger.

Worst Line

Padmé: Hold me, like you did by the lake on Naboo; so long ago when there was nothing but our love. No politics, no plotting, no war.

Best Scene

I’m going to go with Obi-Wan dropping in on Grievous and his army. The winsome smile is a reminder of why this guy was picked to play a young Alec Guinness.

Worst Scene

Jedi Youngling: [a group of younglings are discovered by Anakin] Master Skywalker. There are too many of them. What are we going to do?
[with a cold, emotionless face, Anakin draws his lightsaber]

Best Effects

Everything looks pretty good this time around. A much better color palette and much clearer look to everything. The most cohesive mix of effects and scene go to the seduction of Skywalker by Palpatine at the Opera. That is the lasting image in my mind for this film. 2nd would be Windu vs. Sidious.

Worst Effects

The clones still look pretty damn bad, but the continual scenes of characters walking together in front of a blue screen will be remembered as a goofy descendant of the Scooby Doo scrolling background. The fight on Mustafar fails whenever the two Jedi start hovering on a variety of objects.

Biggest Win

The best thing about this film is easy: McDiarmid’s Palpatine. His performance is a standout in the series. Really, if one can remove him from the rest of the prequel trilogy, his performance is nearly award worthy. His look of actual lust for power is made all the more rewarding when one considers the fact that it takes him so long in movie years to get that for which his is plotting. His lines all roll off the tongue and none of them have the stench of Lucas’ middle school playtime prose.

Biggest Mistake

Having Padme die of heartbreak is lame as hell. George had years to think of something with which to kill her, and we get that?

Review in 50 words or less

It’s the film that is the most concise, if for no other reason than Lucas is backed into a corner and can only move forward. It is still a tremendously flawed film, but at least with the over-reliance on Palpatine we get to see some real Machiavellian shit go down.

Rating / Rank (*** out of *****) / 3 0f 6

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Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977 originally – 2011 version)

Written and Directed by George Lucas
Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, James Earl Jones, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker

Best Line

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

STAR
WARS

It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy…

These words changed a lot of lives for the better.

Worst Line

Han Solo: Jabba, you’re a wonderful human being.

Only if you leave all of the dialogue in from that redundant conversation and wholly unnecessary added scene. Jabba was a fat guy in the original deleted scene.

Best Scene

Obi-Wan vs. Darth Vader. My friends and I have replayed this scene a hundred times or more in our back yards growing up. That it was decided during a later draft shows the power that collective writing had back in the early days for Lucas.

Worst Scene

In any post 1997 version, its the addition of Jabba. It slows the film down with repeated and confusing dialogue, and makes Han look like he repeats himself like a daft man.”Han shot first” and the flying robot teasing thebigger one and getting hit also rate quite high.

Best Effects

Worst Effects

Why George ever thought to mess with the classic “Han shot first” scene will be subject to debate until shortly after Lucas is dead, and then will be restored by Disney.  Any version but the 1977 cut makes no sense, no matter how the director tries to explain it away. Do you want Greedo to be an inept bounty hunter?  Do you want Han to lose his ambiguity? Do you want to suck the charm out of the movie? If so, then any version post 1997 is for you.

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Han stepping over Jabba is a very close second, even if they worked on that 1000 hours and made it better than 1997, it still sucks.
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Biggest Win

Everyone who ever liked movies wins with this film. The crappy alterations cannot change the history that was made when Star Wars was first released. Everything good and some bad about movies stems from May 25, 1977 in Mann’s Chinese Theatre.

Biggest Mistake

The post 1997 edits take this film down a notch. It’s still a classic, but it’s got a few dings since then.

Review in 50 words or less

It’s hard to quantify how important this movie is to people. The original release is the most important movie I have ever witnessed. Without this film, I would not be obsessed with movies now. They could replace the edits with stills of Dom Deluise and I would still happily watch.

Rating / Rank (***** for original and ****1/2 out of ***** for post 1997) / Both are 2/6 

Iamyourfather

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Directed by Irvin Kirshner
Written by George Lucas, Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan
Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz

Best Line

I sincerely think this whole script qualifies for best line. There are too many great lines and as far as I can see, only one bad one. The two best though, have to be as follows:

Princess Leia: I love you.
Han Solo: I know.

And

Darth Vader: There is no escape. Don’t make me destroy you.
[pauses]
Luke, you do not yet realize your importance. You have only begun to discover your power. Join me, and I will complete your training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy.
Luke: I’ll never join you!
Darth Vader: If you only knew the power of the Dark Side. Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.
Luke: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!
Darth Vader: No. I am your father.
Luke: No. No. That’s not true. That’s impossible!
Darth Vader: Search your feelings, you know it to be true!
Luke: [anguished] No! No!

Worst Line

General Reiken [to Han Solo]: A death mark’s not an easy thing to live with.

Best Scene

Again, there are so many iconic moments in this film. I have to narrow it down to Luke learning the truth and Han, Leia and Chewie’s surprise betrayal.

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Worst Scene

I have to nitpick here, because I really think there no obviously bad scenes. Seeing Luke blindly swatting at large things obviously lumbering towards him in his Cloud City battle with Vader makes him look like he would need training to beat a fat guy blue belt Jiu Jitsu who got his stripes fighting small kids.

Best Effects

Everything bursts off of the screen beautifully. The space flight of the Millennium Falcon takes the prize though. Inventive, crisp and smooth at once.

Worst Effects

Again, this is quibbling, but it has always felt like the Wampa was just one big giant arm on a stick swung by a stage hand.

Biggest Win

George Lucas owes his entire empire to the images and character possessed within this film. Everything started with A New Hope, but this is the film that cements Star Wars into the world’s psyche.

Biggest Mistake

Letting go of Kirshner and Kurtz. There has not been as good a Star Wars film by a long shot since these two were shown the door.

Review in less than 50 words

This is one of the greatest films of all time. It is the fount of imagination that springs forth for so many. Lucas deciding to make Vader Luke’s father and Leia falling for Han is storytelling at it’s peak. This is the lynch pin for all that follows.

Rating / Rank (***** out of *****) / 1 of 6

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Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Directed by Richard Marquand
Written by George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan
Starring  Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, David Prowse, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz, James Earl Jones

Best Line 

Admiral Ackbar: It’s a trap!

Worst Line

Good God they turn Solo into an absolute moron in Return of the Jedi. Everything he does is beyond annoying. If it weren’t for the Ewoks, he’d take the prize for worst thing about the film. I don’t know if it was a misread of the character they’d created or if George was mad that Ford wanted to be killed off. Or if it is an indication that Lucas’ creative vision was clouded by personal problems. Whatever happened, they get a head start at ruining the franchise before they even land on Endor.

Han Solo: Chewie and I’ll take care of this, you stay here.
Luke: Quietly. There may be more of them out there.
Han Solo: Hey, it’s me.

Best Scene

This film has not aged well. Scenes that are good are often tied to scenes that are just absurd. The fight on Jabba’s sail barge is the best example of this. While Leia is kicking some ass and killing the big slug, Han is blindly knocking Boba Fett into the Sarlacc pit, in what is the first of a long line of stupid bad guy demises. Still, this is the best moment for women in the entire series prior to Rey’s arrival in Episode VII.

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Worst Scene

Many to choose from here. The afore mentioned end of Boba Fett ranks high, but it’s nowhere near the assault to the senses that are the Ewoks. They have many a horrible scene, but nothing quite so bad as their attack on the heavily armored Storm Troopers with sticks and trees.

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Best Effects

The speeder bike race was cool at the time, and it still has some resonance. Not as much as the space battle over Endor though. Many good moments and exceptional editing win the day here.

Worst Effects

There are a few grainy scenes, like the Rebel planning room for the attack on the second Death Star, that have not improved even in the reissues. There are some updates that work, like the new song at Jabba’s palace, even if you can tell the cartoon figures from the real. I hate seeing Hayden Christensen standing next to Yoda and Ben in the end.

However, everything the Ewoks do look like little people in a loose fitting suit. They should have stuck to the original plan and just made a few more Wookie outfits.

Biggest Win

Initial Marketing and box office win the day. This movie was a tremendous hit at the time. It made a ton of money in its initial release.

Biggest Mistake

Long term. Return of the Jedi has no shelf life. The toys from the film stopped selling, especially when Lucas said he wasn’t going to be making any more. No one I have ever met owned an Ewok play figure of any kind.

Review in 50 words or less

Sorry folks, this one is a turd. The good is even with the bad here. The good on one side being most of the first act, the showdown with the Emporer and the space battle. The bad is most everything else. It completes the trilogy with a thud.

Rating / Rank 

(**1/2 out of *****) / 5 of 6

The Green Room (****) Gives us a glimpse of Yelchin’s future gifts

GREEN_ROOM

Green Room – 2016

Written and Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Starring Anton Yelchin, Patrick Stewart, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner

Green Room is an escalating nightmare movie. We’ve seen plenty of these in the past, but none of them done  in this way. It’s a good film. It covers ground with people that we don’t want to associate with. The band is so raw, you can almost smell them. Their music isn’t particularly good, and they are definitely on the road to nowhere.

Starting out, they steal some gas just to get to an out of the way town to be interviewed and then do a show for a radio guy they did not know was fired at the time. To compensate, the interviewer gives them an address and the name Daniel. Well, since they are in the area.

They show up and find that they are doing a show for Neo Nazis. After the show, one of the band members forgets her cell phone in the green room and Pat (Yelchin) volunteers to go pick it up. What he finds immediately places both him and the rest of the band in danger. They end up locked up in the green room with a gun after making an emergency call.

It’s at this point the joint’s owner named Darcy (Stewart) shows up. He concocts a plan to turn the cops away. The he begins some aggressive negotiations with the band.

What happens from here alternates from desperate plans to absolute carnage and back to planning. Then more carnage. How and why Darcy needs this to end is for the viewer to decide, but one can guess it’s not so they can clear up the place for the next Log Cabin Republicans meeting.

Stewart masters the scene in a cool, business like manner. He knows it’s going to be bad, but it really is logic more than anything that guides his hand. As much as Patrick Stewart is in on a yearly basis, he really doesn’t do enough. The man is a supreme skill and talent.

Poots piles on the weird chick vibe, but her character overcomes a dumb haircut, driven by the events from a sort of hysteria to survival mode through the chaos. Taking what she knows and putting it together with willing survivors when they need to know it. She gives the film some grist it really needs.

Saulnier is a smart and sober storyteller. He doesn’t pull any punches and definitely does not pretty anything up for the camera. His sensibility is not going to warm anyone’s hearts, but he definitely knows how entertaining playing it straight can be.

Yelchin gives a vulnerably heroic performance as a guy who has no idea what he’s in for, but he has to learn fast. It’s an unusual type of lead performance. Why that is, you have to discover for yourself. The movie is put over the top by his nervous energy. The world will miss his presence, ability and beauty.

(**** out of *****)

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