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Movie Reviews

Amazon Prime Can Get You In The Mood For The Oscars

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A few days ago I wrote a post about how Netflix can get you prepared for award season and more specifically the Oscars. Well now I’m going to do the same for those with a subscription to Amazon Prime. Amazon Prime has its differentces than Netflix, while it still offers free content, it also allows you to rent and purchase digital movies so there is an extensive library far beyond what Netflix offers you if you are willing to spend a few extra dollars. For the purposes of this post I will focus on what is free for Prime members.

The Big Sick

First and foremost is a movie that is ACTUALLY nominated this year and not one that just gets you in the mood for the awards like all the rest on this list are meant to do. The Big Sick is nominated for best original screenplay and is based on the true story of star Kumail Nanjiani and his now wife Emily Gordon and the unusual way that they fell in love and how he fell in love with her family and them with him before their true romance ever blossomed. Kumail comes from a traditional Pakistani family who is regularly trying to set him up to get married when he meets Emily a girl who is anything but what his family wants for him. After a break-up over this very subject, Emily mysteriously falls ill and into a coma. Kumail is called and finds himself caring for her and having to contact her family. When her family releases him of any responsibility he still continues to be around and show support. It’s an extremely well told and heartwarming story of such an unlikely romance and is definitely worth a view.

Moonstruck

Now on to the past winners that are available and worth a watch or re-watch if you have already seen them. Moonstruck was a career defining moment for Cher who had been acting here and there, but was still considered just a singer who wanted to act. Moonstruck proved that she in fact CAN act and rode Moonstruck all the way to a best actress win at the Academy Awards. While remembered for her outfit at the Oscars and the fact that she got the win, what is forgotten is that it won two other major awards that night for Olympia Dukakis and write John Patrick Shanley. It is a masterful romantic comedy that also features a young Nicolas Cage in one of his best movies. Funny and heartfelt it is a movie that has really stood the test of time.

Lawrence Of Arabia

Back when Hollywood was still making big sweeping epics, Lawrence of Arabia was no exception and is amongst the best of those large stories and wonderful scenery. With a widescreen that showcased the beauty of the film and its landscape. Winner of seven Academy Awards including best picture, it is also known for the fact that its star Peter O’Toole was once again not a winner for best actor, something that would follow him his whole career until he received and honorary Oscar that he reluctantly accepted. It is the true story of T.E. Lawrence who united warring Arab tribes in World War I. It is a great film and great watch…if you have three and a half hours to spare.

Room

Brie Larson gave a powerhouse performance as a young girl kidnapped and held captive for over 5 years where she has a child in captivity and is forced to raise him in a single room shack until they manage to escape. She and her son are then forced to learn to enter society, he for the first time outside the room and her trying to find some semblance of her life again. Brie Larson swept every award category she was nominated in that year and deservedly so and the film introduced the world to Jacob Tremblay who gives a marvelous performance of his own. Heart-wrenching and even different to watch at times, if you enjoy first rate acting then you will no doubt appreciate Room.

Monster

Charlize Theron proved that her acting ability goes beyond being just a pretty face when she went behind a lot of makeup to make sure her beauty wasn’t a distraction when she played the infamous female serial killer Aileen Wuornos. As a lesbian prostitute living on the streets when she is raped by a “John” she turns to killing him and robbing him and it soon becomes a habit and a way to keep money coming in. She is soon turned in by her young lover Selby played by Christina Ricci. This is once again a difficult movie to watch at times and is very gut-wrenching but leaves you conflicted on Wuornos’ guilt and even a bit sympathetic considering the life she led up until the point of capture.

Fences

Denzel Washington gives a commanding performance as Troy Maxson a blue-collar father who works hard provides for his family and gives himself the reward of liquor when he sees fit. A tough father who has a contentious relationship with his son to say the least. Unable to have any sympathy or compassion for how his son feels because of the life he had as a young man and the life he still has while working hard and taking care of his mentally disabled brother and never getting over the fact that his dream of being a professional baseball player never came to fruition. Without a doubt one Denzel’s best performances he took a controversial loss on Oscar night to Casey Affleck who many did not find worthy because of past allegations of sexual harassment. The movie did however give Viola Davis her first Oscar win in the best supporting actress category, an honor that had been long over due. Directed by Denzel based on the play it features a boat load of dialogue that is expertly delivered at every turn.

There are some more recommendations of many past award winning movies to get you in the mood for Oscar night.

Review: Molly’s Game

Aaron Sorkin has without a doubt been one of, if not the best screenwriter in the last 25 years. From his debut with A few Good Men to his hit show The West Wing to his Oscar-winning script for The Social Network. His dialogue driven work has lent life to stories that otherwise may not have seemed as exciting for example once again The Social Network and Moneyball. Those are two stories that while interesting don’t necessarily lend themselves to a compelling movie.

For his latest effort Sorkin not only goes behind the words but he goes behind the camera for his directorial debut. There is no doubt Sorkin has taken notes and learned a lot from some of the top-notch directors that have brought his words to life such as David Fincher, Rob Reiner, Bennet Miller and Mike Nichols. Those are some pretty good auteurs to learn the craft from and Sorkin didn’t miss anything they showed. Molly’s Game is much more of a cinema-friendly story than some of the others but Sorkin has made it beyond compelling. After the success of the underground poker film Rounders, which levitated the poker world and game to the heights it knows today, Hollywood has tried and failed to capture that world again. Enter Molly Bloom and Aaron Sorkin.

Molly Bloom was Olympic level mogul skier who after injury found herself thrust into the money hungry world of Los Angeles where her career ambitions took a left turn when she took an assistant job to a high-end realtor who also happened to play in a high stakes poker game with some of Los Angeles’ elite millionaires. After diligently learning their world and making friends with the games regular players which included an A-list Hollywood actor who, although not named in the movie has since been identified in her book as Toby McGuire as well as his longtime friend Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio she eventually starts her own game with these elite players. Determined to keep her game legal and make enough money to get her degree and the life she initially set out for herself, the greed and glam of L.A. took over as well as the vices that come with it. Battling substance abuse which snuck up on her as well as the idea that she was slightly untouched she loses the L.A. game. This leads Molly to take her knowledge and skills to New York City where the clientele is less than savory and soon includes members of the Russian mafia. Molly finds herself on trial for multiple offenses that include fraud as well as money laundering all of which add up to a possible 20 plus years in prison. Her new unlikely high priced attorney Charles Jaffey are soon building a defense as Molly reveals all aspects of her business for Jaffey.

The film is driven and I mean driven by the two stellar performances of two time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain and Golden Globe winner Idris Elba. When working with an Aaron Sorkin script you need actors that can deliver not only a massive amount of dialogue but can deliver it razor sharp. Think of Philip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson’s War, Kate Winslet in Steve Jobs and recent first time Oscar nominee Allison Janney in The West Wing, maybe the greatest master of his words. Without actors of this skill and caliber, these films fall flat. Elba and Chastain master his words just as well as anyone. The quick pace he demands is maybe as difficult as any stunt Tom Cruise does in any Mission Impossible film. Chastain delivers to a point where I can’t picture a Sorkin film NOT including her in some aspect.

Jessica Chastain in MOLLY’S GAME

To discuss Sorkin’s directing abilities he shows he can hang with most directors working in Hollywood. While he didn’t bring much new to the table as Fincher did with The Social Network, for instance, he paces the film and moves the story along in a way that leads to zero dullness and keeps the viewer captivated from beginning to end. He clearly knows how to work with great actors as well as get the best out of them. In light of today’s Oscar nomination announcement, it comes as no surprise that he is once again nominated for his unparalleled writing ability. The surprise is that Chastain is left out as a best actress nominee, something that hasn’t happened to an actor speaking working words in a film since 1995’s The American President and has only happened twice out of his eight feature film scripts. To say it’s a snub is an understatement, but such is the way of the Academy. In no way is Molly’s Game a film to be missed or should I say experienced.

Netflix’s The Crown Makes For A Good Binge Session

As part of my new content, I will once again stick with Netflix and what is available. Netflix is most likely to biggest of the streaming services with amazon prime and Hulu close behind. I have chosen my television series to recommend is the crown. With two rich and engaging seasons so far and much news about a coming third season, it is more than worth the time to binge at whatever pace you tend to binge your shows. While I give such high praise to the show, one thing is for certain, it is not for everyone. I have been one who is very selective when it comes to British television shows so the crown comes as a surprise to me more than anyone that I found such a great love for.

We in America are fascinated with the Royals in part because we have no royals of our own. The closest we have come to having royalty was the Kennedy family as is shown by the love we still show for them and their lives. The British are enthralled with their royals because they are one of the last countries with such a large and regal royal family. The Netflix show The Crown has managed to not only give an inside look at the current royals but gives humanity to them like never before. We find ourselves relating to them as well as being sympathetic in many areas of their lives. While there is no doubt many liberties taken in the telling of details, we get a sense that much of what is told has much truth lies within it.

A stellar cast in both seasons that are available is just part of what makes The Crown a first-rate show. Claire Foy takes center stage as Elizabeth II from a princess into her time as queen of England in the role that won her a Golden Globe last year as well as two Screen Actors Guild awards. The first season also features John Lithgow in his Golden Globe nominated and SAG award-winning turn as Winston Churchill. With supporting roles from up and coming actress Vanessa Kirby as the rebellious and somewhat troubled Princess Margaret and Jared Harris as King George VI. Nearly every performance is pitch perfect lending to the overall quality of the show. With all that said it is the content and ability of creator Peter Morgan and with the help of a talented list of directors and writers which include three-time Oscar nominee Stephen Daldry which really drives the show. The ability to have the audience entranced by the daily life of Queen Elizabeth’s she navigates a life she never truly wanted or felt qualified for is remarkable.

As I mentioned before there are no doubt many liberties taken with the accuracy of many events as well as private moments of the royal family but we begin to see them as more than the rich royals from Buckingham Palace and more as a family struggling to learn life in the spotlight at such a young age with such a young family to care for. This is what gives The Crown its mass appeal. Most anyone can find parts of life to relate to whether it is the hardships of keeping a family together or the feelings of inadequacies in our personal and professional lives.

So if the forecast in your area is for one of snowfall or dreary rain this weekend I highly recommend losing yourself in the world of the Windsor family at Buckingham Palace.

Review: The Post

Anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock over the last year is well aware that journalism has been under fire in this country. As a fan of journalism movies, I was extremely excited for Steven Spielberg’s new movie, The Post. Set in 1971 it tells the true story of the leaked documents detailing the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war and what the government knew and didn’t know as well as what they failed to tell the American people. The New York Times ran a story featuring based on information they received from the whistleblower. The struggling Washington Post then obtained all 4000 pages of the report and was stuck in a moral and legal dilemma as whether or not to release the information to the country. Feeling bound by their journalistic obligations they soon decided that releasing the documents was more important than the legal ramifications that could come their way.

The film has a true all-star cast led by Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep with great supporting roles at every turn. Tom Hanks plays the famous editor Ben Bradlee Sr. who was also played wonderfully by Jason Robards in the 1976 masterpiece, All The Presidents Men. Meryl Streep plays Fay Graham the owner of the paper who’s family has owned the paper for decades. Doing her best to keep the paper afloat all while trying to keep its integrity and relevance. She is on the verge of taking the paper public on the stock exchange when the documents find their way into the hands of the newsroom. After combing the damning documents the quick decision must be made ultimately by Graham as for whether or not to publish. she is conflicted because of not only the legal backlash but how it could ultimately be the end of the paper if mishandled in any way.

Spielberg has done a fine job capturing the quick pace that journalists work at as well as the enormous pressure they can be under in a time factor as well as morally. He shows the tension so well that we as the viewers can feel it at every level. As good as Hanks and Streep are, and they are great, the film is really carried by its supporting cast. The pace of the film is so quick it will be a movie that needs multiple viewings to absorb all the information that is given in rapid-fire succession.

Two years ago I reviewed the Oscar-winning film Spotlight (review can be found here) and I mentioned how the death of great journalism is slowly happening in this digital age. Once again a film shows the power of true journalism and how it can’t go away or be taken away no matter how ugly what is reported is. It is the last line of defense to hold ANYONE in power accountable, not just in government but in any daily situation. The Post talks about how newspapers fledgling and that is so much truer today, yet even in times like those, great things happened and they still can.

Spielberg pulls no punches and shows the truth behind everything that went into informing the public about the disaster that was Vietnam. As bad as everyone knew the war was for so many years, they had no idea how deeply and just how bad it really was. These papers tarnished legacies such as Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy just 11 years after his assassination. Richard Nixon undoubtedly took the brunt of the heat at the time leading him to wage war on the Washington Post (sound familiar?). The paper survived and ultimately took the president down a couple years later with the Watergate scandal.

There is no question that Spielberg had the current times on his mind while making the movie but he did not let that change the way the story was told. He didn’t have to change things to make a point about today. The story itself is the message of journalism and the power it has. There is a saying that the pen is mightier than the sword and when you realize that right to a free press was an amendment to the constitution before the right to bear arms, it shows that the founding fathers knew this well over 200 years ago. The Post will leave in awe as well as having you thinking deeply about today’s political climate. It will rank with great films such as Spotlight and All The Presidents Men and is one many people need to see.

Review: The Shape Of Water

Two and half years ago I wrote a post about how the creativity in the movie industry seems to be all but dead. I still wholeheartedly believe that but, like I said before there are some exceptions to this. Guillermo del Toro is maybe the leader of the original filmmakers in Hollywood. His 2006 film, Pan’s Labyrinth was one of the most creative films to hit cinemas in quite some time. He then brought the futuristic sci-fi action movie, Pacific Rim to theaters. This year he gave us yet another truly original story to life with The Shape Of Water. With an all-star cast including a slew of Oscar nominees, Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer he brings his monsters back to life in beautiful style.

Set in the 1950s cold war in a highly secret government facility a mute cleaning woman who lives a small life who’s only friends are a fellow cleaning woman who looks out for her played by Octavia Spencer and her artist neighbor played by Richard Jenkins. When a secret project is brought into the facility by the nearly sadistic leader played by Michael Shannon. When Elisa (Hawkins) looks into the project too closely and discovers an amphibious creature which appears to be half man she finds herself unusually drawn to him and forms a friendship in secret. When the Russians begin trying to capture the creature she forms a plan with her friends to take him out of the facility and bring him home to keep him from being experimented on. They soon pull off an unlikely heist which brings the creature to her home and has the government on a search to bring him back to the facility and keep him out of Russian hands. Elisa soon forms an even deeper bond with the creature that leads them to attempt to flee from everyone they know.

The mind of del Toro is something of people like Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, George Lucas (early Lucas) and Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, in our own time. It has been recognized by critics and award committees and fans worldwide. He has used the film medium to bring his creatures, or as he refers to them, monsters, to life. What makes it wonderful to experience is not just his creativity but the beauty in which he makes his worlds come to life. He is not just creative but he is a great filmmaker and has a unique vision. He has a great sense of character and emotion that all great filmmakers have, which is what makes them great. His mind and worlds can captivate every cinephile and bring them into a new place which is what movies are all about. The Shape Of Water is rightfully being recognized all over this year as one of the years best movies and rightfully so. While his style and worlds may not be for everyone, those with a desire for originality will find The Shape Of Water a refreshing new find. We can only wait for his next creation to be taken away to another fascinating world and time.

Top 10 Movies Of 2017

10.  Wonder Woman

One of the biggest movies of the year finally showed that it’s possible for DC to match Marvel in the movie industry. Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins make a foremost female team and it could not have come at a better time. Women are primed to take control of many things in 2018 and the Amazon warrior is their ultimate symbol, especially in the industry that women have really blown the doors off of. Full review here

9.  The Glass Castle

This is the movie based on Jeanette Walls autobiography in which she is played beautifully by Oscar winner Brie Larson, chronicles her childhood with parents who lived a rather gypsy like existence always on the run from debts and the government leaving them in poverty. As she gets older, Jeanette begins to resent her parents for the life they have given her and her siblings. Woody Harrelson plays her alcoholic father who struggles with his addiction and life. Her always optimistic mother is played by Naomi Watts.

8.  Wind River

One of my favorite movies last year was Hell Or High Water which was written by Taylor Sheridan. Sheridan is a writer AND director for the first time with Wind River. With two great leads by Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen it tells the story of a murder on an Indian reservation and the FBI agent (Olsen) and the local official from Fish and Game (Renner) who discovered the body. The wild search lands them in an unlikely situation that may get them killed as well.

7.  Blade Runner 2049

Set 30 years after the original sci-fi classic, Ryan Gosling plays K a blade runner tracking down replicants who need to be put out of commission. After one such event he begins discovering things that lead him on a stranger path and meet him up with Rick Deckard once again played by Harrison Ford. What made this sequel so great was that the tone and vision of Ridley Scott’s original are kept perfectly intact by the visionary Denis Villeneuve. It is without question one of the best sequels in years.

6.  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Frances McDormand gives yet another powerful performance alongside Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell. The story of a woman tired of there being no progress in her daughters murder case she takes an unusual course of action by renting 3 billboards on the edge of town calling out the local police department and its chief played by Harrelson. With great performances all around it has been a big player on the awards scene. Full review here

5.  The Disaster Artist

If there is one movie I was very surprised by it was The Disaster Artist. There are many reasons for this surprise one being that I’m not at all a big James Franco fan, I feel he tends to over act a lot of the time. Another reason is all the praise it was getting considering its subject. I just had a hard time believing that a movie about the making of possibly the worst movie of all time would have a hard time being good. I’m happy to say I was dead wrong on all fronts. I laughed and laughed hard and thought it was an all around very good movie.

4.  All The Money In The World

One of the most talked about movies of the year not only because of how fine of a film it is but because of the re-casting and reshoot all within a month of its release. After sexual misconduct allegations against Kevin Spacey emerged, director Ridley Scott decided to save his movie instead of scraping it and he cast Christopher Plummer in Spacey’s place. Everything worked out and for what seems like for the better. Plummer has earned himself a Golden Globe nomination and along with Michelle Williams, steals the movie. Full review here

3.  I, Tonya

Prepare for a trip back to the mid 90’s when big hair and figure skating were all the craze. Even before “the incident” figure skating was at one of its all time highs in popularity. Throw in America’s sweetheart and her rival America’s redneck and you have the ultimate drama. Lucky for us the rednecks story is fascinating from beginning to end. With stand out performances by Margot Robbie who plays the infamous Tonya Harding and Allison Janney as her mother it truly is one of the, can’t miss movies of the year. Full review here

2.  Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan proved that a modern day war picture doesn’t have to be violently graphic to be a great film or to convey the terror and impact of war for those involved. It is truly one of, if not, best picture of the year and perhaps of Nolan’s career (the dark knight is tough to top though). This has most definitely been one of the best war pictures in the last 20 years or so. Look for many accolades to come there way this awards season. Full review here

  1.  Lady Bird

I can’t say enough great things about Greta Gerwig’s movie about a teen girl and her struggle to navigate a difficult time in her life along with an overbearing mother who doesn’t know how to connect with or give her daughter what she needs. Saorsie Ronan is emerging as one of the great actresses out there right now and is charging headfirst into her third Oscar nomination and quite possibly her first win. Full review here

Review: Wonder Wheel

Nobody makes a film that oozes nostalgia better than Woody Allen. Despite what opinions people hold about Allen, especially in this very polarizing time within the industry and the world in general, he is truly one of the greatest American filmmakers ever. Woody has always had a way of making 20th century period pieces that make the viewer long for a time that they may not have even lived in.

Allen’s latest effort is set against the backdrop of post-war New York on the famous Coney Island. Known for its famous rides (such as the cyclone and the famous Ferris wheel, Wonder Wheel) and famous Nathan’s hot dogs, it was a magical place for anyone growing up in such a time and place. Kate Winslet leads an all-star cast as she plays Ginny, a middle-aged woman, and mother on her second marriage to a carousel operator who has a difficult time laying off the bottle. Ginny is stuck in a rut as her young son has become a pyromaniac and can’t stop setting fires all over. She is a waitress who feels like life is keeping her down as it passes her by when she meets Mickey, a young, good-looking, educated lifeguard. Ginny and Mickey soon strike up an affair when Ginny’s stepdaughter Carolina drops in out of nowhere on the run from her mobster husband who is looking to have her bumped off. After eventually making up with her father Humpty, she slowly begins to make a life for herself while working as a waitress with Ginny and going to night school. Carolina soon meets Mickey and somewhat of a love triangle begins. While Ginny is falling hard for Mickey, his eyes begin to draw towards Carolina. It isn’t long before mobsters find their way to Coney Island looking for Carolina.

Starring alongside Winslet is Jim Belushi as her somewhat buffoonish husband Humpty, Juno Temple as the young and troubled Carolina and Justin Timberlake as the dashing and smart lifeguard Mickey. The cast is very solid with excellent actors all around, but this is one of the only times I can think of where Woody may have gotten some casting wrong. Justin Timberlake has turned

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into quite a good actor but his casting here felt a bit off. He still feels too contemporary to play a young veteran in the 1950’s despite having the right look, his performance didn’t quite seem to match the theme. Despite Timberlake (who still does a fine job acting) the rest of the cast is spot on as usual for a Woody Allen movie. Belushi is absolutely perfect as the somewhat slobbish yet hardworking, blue-collar husband who just wants to fish and have his wife around with him. Juno Temple is so great as the seemingly innocent young girl on the run yet still hoping to find love despite her current predicament. That leaves Kate Winslet. When I first heard she was going to finally be in a Woody Allen film I could not wait for the release, and she doesn’t disappoint. She conveys the neurotic and frazzled mind that Allen has so often written for his protagonist in so many of his films. You can feel the stress mount on top of her as she falls deeper into her affair along with struggling to be a parent and wife along with having to look over her shoulder for the mafia.

While Wonder Wheel has a great storyline along with a picturesque setting, it is not one of Woody’s best. While to say the film is bad or not good is not at all accurate either, it just felt like something was off. Winslet is without a doubt the films saving grace and really exudes the emotion of the character so well. This is in no way a negative review of the movie. Allen writes AND directs a movie a year all at the age of 82 so its fair to say not every film is going to be Annie Hall or Midnight In Paris, we have just come to have such sky high expectations of him. Wonder Wheel is a beautiful look at a time in life when things didn’t seem so complicated and a time which people seem to long for. One of the things we see though is that, things were complicated even then, despite what we think or remember.