Thursday, August 20, 2015

Fantastic 4 (Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara)

(Yes folks, I have finally labeled a film as an UTTER DISAPPOINTMENT.  Here's why...)
Writer: Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg, Josh Trank
Director: Josh Trank
Starring: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell
Nothing Fantastic About This
I really, really, wanted to like this. But this movie was awful.  Trank's Chronicle was a fantastic introduction to this writer/director's work, but there was nothing fantastic about this film about the Fantastic 4.  From the uninteresting writing, to the dull acting, to the less than spectacular visual effects and stunts ......just a lackluster mess.
Opening with young Reed Richards and his best friend Ben Grimm experimenting in Reed's garage with his "cymatic matter shuttle", seriously the most exciting portion of the film was when these two precocious little boys blackout a whole neighborhood for the sake of science. After that, the whole movie is like watching a tire with a slow leak go completely flat.
The cast seemed promising: Reed Richards (Miles Teller of Whiplash and The Divergent Series fame), Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan, Fruitvale Station and That Awkward Moment), Sue Storm (Kate Mara, "House of Cards"), Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell, Snowpiercer and "TURN: Washington's Spies"), and Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell, The East and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes).  Several other character actor veterans have their turns in the piece, but their contributions were muted by a slim plot.  They just did not have much to work with.
Basically, five young geniuses are recruited to create a machine that can transport personnel between dimensions.  The director of the program, the overly emotional Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) is driven by a desire to mine new resources that would help replenish or sustain Earth.  Meanwhile, Von Doom points out morbidly that Earth is screwed and does not deserve saving.

As the movie swims through clichĂ© montages, it becomes clear these geniuses are seemingly less interested in the eco-mission and more interested in welding, drawing on boards, looking at screens of meaningless data (not one easter egg that I could spot).  Nothing is fully explained.  Relationships are weakly arranged.  All the actors employ monotone and expressionless faces.  There is no chemistry established, no love story.  I ended up not caring about any of them.  Not even The Thing.  Weirdly enough, Ben does not show up again until the beginning of the second act, making his inclusion in the story seem completely inconsequential.  (For that matter, I am appalled at the treatment of The Thing as basically a caricature of The Incredible Hulk we see portrayed in the Avengers series.)  And do not get me started on Sue Storm's horrendously bleached hair after transformation.
Fantastic 4 deserves a BURNT POPCORN rating from me because, with the wealth of story and talent that could have been tapped to create something great, we were given an awkward, emo mess.  Utter disappointment.  I would suggest popping in the 2005 version of Fantastic 4 - despite Jessica Alba - because at least that one was fun, the cast had chemistry, Michael Chiklis as Ben Grimm was perfect, and Stan Lee put his stamp on it with his signature cameo.  Stan Lee was nowhere to be found in this one.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Gift (Joel Edgerton, Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall)


Writer: Joel Edgerton
Director: Joel Edgerton
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, and Joel Edgerton

What Goes Around ...

A couple moves into a new house in the husband's old town and run into a former classmate that seems overly friendly, leaving gifts that become increasingly disturbing.  The Gift delivers twists and brilliant thriller aspects to an otherwise mundane topic of friendship - or lack thereof.

Now, judging by the trailer, people can think they are in for a Fincher-esque dark telling of friendship gone wrong.   For those of us who loved Fincher's Gone Girl and Guzikowski's Prisoners, I would say this movie is in the same vein.  However, I think The Gift is the Fincher-lite version of a psychological thriller. 

Nevertheless, there were parts that provoked audible gasps and at some point, I kid you not, the entire theater screamed and jumped out of their seats.  Something in the way Edgerton plays Gordo with unpredictable vapidity made everyone edgy. But the true hero in this film was Robyn, played by Rebecca Hall (Iron Man 3, The Town) in my opinion. Her arch is fascinating, subtle and necessary.

The Gift is a gothic song about doubt, about character and about truth. Everything about this film is shrouded in mystery - so much so that I am truly afraid of spoilers, so I will not say much more than, WATCH IT!   Alone or with a friend or with a significant other.  I would not suggest it as a date movie per se, but if you are feeling froggy...  Thing is, Joel Edgerton is making movies that ask hard questions and he wisely leaves answers out of the process.  I cannot wait to see more from this talented writer.


SELMA = A LARGE BAG OF POPCORN...with your fist in the air
Glory be 
Selma starring David Oyelowo as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, and Tim Roth as Gov. George Wallace was a rough story of the dramatic events surrounding the equal voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.  With appearances by Oprah Winfrey, Giovanni Ribisi, Tom Wilkinson, and Common, the cast is really stunning.  There is so much to praise about this film, but I will highlight just a few things.
Ava DuVernay & Julie Pearce
These two women have solidified themselves in the hall of fame for my top female artists right along with Georgia O'Keefe, Billie Holiday, Jill Scott and Phillis Wheatley.  DuVernay likes to take her time.  There are plenty of awkward, loaded pauses mixed in with ample concentration on visuals of tortured human beings.  Her direction of Oyelowo as Dr. King was so reverent of the lauded figure but honest to the character of the man.  She displays incredibly organized filmmaking for a subject matter that was essentially about a chaotic event in our collective pasts.  With Pearce as music director, the combination these two women present  is a one-two punch.  Pearce shows her appreciation for musical depth with her mix of a contemporary take on "Precious Lord Take My Hand" by Ledisi,  "Ole Man Trouble" by Otis Redding, "Keep On Pushing" written by Curtis Mayfield, "Easy Street" by Sarah Vaughan,  and the Oscar-winning "Glory" by Common, John Legend, and Rhymefest.  Black music is crucial to black struggle/politics and apparently DuVernay and Pearce know this well.
Four Little Girls
The opening scene of this film is a stab in the heart, a knock to the viewers' collective consciousness. There were audible gasps, sniffles and hands wiping faces in the aftermath of the first 10 minutes of the film.  We were instantly transported back to Sunday, September 15, 1963 on an intimate level.  We are reminded that this story about a long walk over a short bridge has high stakes.
Oprah Winfrey & Henry G. Sanders
Winfrey as Annie Lee Cooper played a small but powerful role.  Her courage in spite of trepidation was so moving and her tiny role was the story of so many.  Sanders as Cager Lee also played a small role, but his portrayal of a broken heart was powerful and reminded us that everyone pays a price, from the big guy at the podium to the little guy at the back of the church. I truly think Sanders was a standout performer amongst many big names.
The song that carries the end credits was written and performed by black musicians, John Legend, Common and Rhymefest, who went on to win Oscars for their efforts. The lyrics mention police shootings of unarmed black men and the demonstrations that follow in present day while harkening to our nation's past concerning race relations.  Yet the song is triumphant in its use of abundant strings and call-and-response harmonies signaling that only a collective change of mind will heal a nation that is hurting from deep-rooted racism.
Selma is a must see.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Desert Dancer (Reece Ritchie, Freida Pinto, Tom Cullen)


The need to be free.

The prescreening of Desert Dancer at a historic downtown theater was packed with diverse viewers.  I came to see a dance movie unaware of the intense politics I would encounter in the story.  I left deeply moved.

Afshin Ghaffarrian is a dancer. Well, he is not a trained dancer, but he dances with all the passion of a Russian ballet artist.  Unfortunately, he lives in Iran where dancing is forbidden.  Now, before you go "aaahhh Footloose," on me... Afshin's journey is far from simply changing the minds of a few overprotective, highly religious parents in a small Midwestern town.  Afshin wants to start a dance group in a country where dancing is a capital offense.  Afshin is not alone in his desires though.  Other students at his university place profound trust in Afshin's dream including Elaheh (Frieda Pinto) whose demons inspire her talent, and Ardy (Tom Cullen) whose passion is for revolution at any level.  Afshin's group endeavors to perform deep in the desert without fear of punishment.  However, it is Afshin's politics that have him pursued by the military police and desperate to flee his home.  Based on a very moving true story.  I definitely recommend this for rebels who love to dance, if only for the main performance which blew me away.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Imitation Game (Benedict Cumberpatch, Keira Knightley, Charles Dance)


Code War

Honestly, I may not be intelligent enough to even talk about this film.  For the nerds here, I suggest reading up on everything you really should know about the man who inspired this film before or after viewing.  I would also suggest "Alan Turing: The Enigma" by Andrew Hodges and/or Turing's Princeton paper available in pdf somewhere titled "On computable numbers, with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem"................. see what I mean?!  Here goes...

Alan Turing
In late 1930's, Alan Turing, played by Benedict Cumberpatch, invents the Turing machine, joins British intelligence, and builds the mother of all computers, which helps crack the code that turns the tide of WORLD WAR II.  Then, Turing ends his life in disgrace and despair.  The movie was also a two-hour logic game with phenomenal actors and editing sequences that made my head spin and my heart ache.  Costars include Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance (Alien 3, Underworld: Awakening, and Tywin Lannister in Game of Thrones), Mark Strong (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Zero Dark Thirty, and Kingsman: The Secret Service), with a surprising turn by Allen Leach (Tom Branson in Downton Abbey).

Cumberpatch's portrayal of a tortured genius recalls a similarly beautiful performance by Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, the story of John Nash Jr. - also a code-breaker.  Cumberpatch is all brilliance and hubris and no charm.  His delivery of mile long speeches in ten seconds explaining Turing's intolerance for mildly intelligent people was hilarious.

Alan Turing was no doubt a beautiful mind, but sometimes I think it must be difficult to make code-breaking look thrilling.  We watch him build a super computer - not particularly thrilling.  Then, we watch it working -  again not particularly thrilling.  Obviously, this machine represents the "ticking clock" of the piece, less obviously, it represents love (watch the film and you will get my meaning).  The drama surrounding the weird little boy becoming the man building the machine is what kept me interested.  He struggles with small talk, or simply walking down the street (seriously, he even walked impatiently).  Yet, I could feel Turing's vulnerability and his capacity for compassion even while ruled by cold logic.  It is clear that he wears his algorithmically encoded heart on his sleeve, and watching genuine, sinister and jealous people interact with this man made the film a powerful viewing.

Knightley played Joan Clarke, a brilliant code-breaker with a heart of gold.  Her part in this loose portrayal of world history was not remarkable but solid as the best friend a guy like Turing needs.  I really appreciated seeing Allen Leach in this.  He added a wonderful dynamic to this cast.  Matthew Goode played the handsome, witty and charming buddy cop of the bunch.  Charles Dance as the Commander was the main antagonist, though I would not be quick to name antagonists in this film given there are so many: the Commander, the detective, Enigma, tradition, the war....

What I took away from this film, other than a brilliant depiction of a subsection of this hero's life, was its equally brilliant depiction of war as being waged and won with intelligence.  Bravo.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Foxcatcher (Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Channing Tatum)



Multiple Academy Award nominee Foxcatcher is dark and haunting and worth every drawn out moment of the two-hour docudrama.   Foxcatcher is based on the true story of the tragic relationship between Olympic wrestling gold medalists Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) and chemical-company heir John Du Pont (Steve Carell).  Full 1996 TIME Article "Blood on the Mat" Here.  Du Pont wants to sponsor and coach the Olympic wrestling team for USA and he wants the best wrestlers in the world to help him do that, but a toxic mix of obsession, jealousy and pride turns this venture into hell.

Reminiscent of Sling Blade (Billy Bob Thornton, Lucas Black) in its dark simplicity, the story largely follows Mark Schultz and Du Pont as they develop an unlikely friendship as two lonely misfits - one of them mentally disturbed, the other emotionally.  Tatum is fantastic in his role as Mark Schultz.  He was vulnerable and light years from what I have ever seen him accomplish on screen.  What I took away from his portrayal of this Olympian was his profound loneliness. Although Mark Schultz looked strong, I could think only about protecting him.  As does his brother, David Schultz, who is played by Ruffalo with a light touch and a big heart.

I did not fully appreciate Steve Carell's talent until seeing this film.  Carell was amazing! If you are a fan of his, watch this.  You'll know his dedication to his craft is legit whether in comedy or drama. (that's all that needs be said)

The story moves slowly and gets progressively darker.  I truly do not remember any moments of levity, because even the "fun times" portrayed were indicative of the emotional harm being inflicted on these men who came to train and coach at Foxcatcher Farm.  Watching this was like watching a giant pin slowly move toward a giant balloon......... POP!

 Foxcatcher is creepy, but one of the best movies I have seen in recent years. Some may categorize this movie as a sports film.  I see it more as a sports-related docudrama with haunting images and impeccable sound (even the silence).  Wrestling is not the focus here.  These brothers could have been boxers, a singing duo or dancers.  What they did mattered little compared to what they represented for Du Pont in this film, which was winning.  Sadly, in the end, everyone lost.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

PMM: Golden Globes Predictions 2015


PopcornMovieMaiden's Predictions:

Best Motion Picture - Drama
Foxcatcher winner: Boyhood

Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
St. Vincent winner: Grand Budapest Hotel

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama
Steve Carell (Foxcatcher) winner: Eddie Redmayne

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama
Jennifer Aniston (Cake) winner: Julianne Moore

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
Michael Keaton (Birdman)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
Helen Mirren (The Hundred-Foot Journey) winner: Amy Adams

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher) winner: JK Simmons

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year)  winner: Patricia Arquette

Best Director - Motion Picture
David Fincher (Gone Girl) winner: Richard Linklater

Best Screenplay - Motion Picture
Gone Girl / The Imitation Game winner: Birdman
(sorry really difficult to decide this one)

Best Original Song - Motion Picture
"Glory" by John Legend, Common (Selma)

Best Original Score - Motion Picture
Interstellar winner: Theory of Everything

Best Animated Film
How to Train Your Dragon 2
(although Boxtrolls did get a lot of hype this year)

Best Foreign Language Film
Ida winner: Leviathan, Russia
(I freely admit this is the only one in the category that I have seen)

Best Television Series - Drama
"Game of Thrones" winner: "The Affair"
(voting with my heart because GOT should have won every year for the past three years!)

Best Television Series - Musical or Comedy
"Silicon Valley" winner: "Transparent"

Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
"True Detective" winner: Fargo

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Drama
Kevin Spacey  ("House of Cards")

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Drama
Julianna Margulies ("The Good Wife") winner: Ruth Wilson

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy
Don Cheadle ("House of Lies") winner: Jeffrey Tambor

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy
Julia Louis-Dreyfus ("Veep") winner: Gina Rodriguez

Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television
Mark Ruffalo ("The Normal Heart") winner: Billy Bob Thornton

Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television
Frances O'Connor ("The Missing") winner: Maggie Gyllenhal

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Matt Bomer ("The Normal Heart")

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Kathy Bates ("American Horror Story") winner: Joanne Froggatt