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.