Tag Archives: movie reviews

Denzel Washington Hits A New High With Fences

fences_teaser-posterWhen the discussion arises about the best actors who are working, nine times out of 10 the name Denzel Washington will be brought up. He has been loved ever since he came into American families homes on the series St. Elsewhere as Dr. Philip Chandler. His Star only continued to climb as he made the transition into films. St. Elsewhere ran from 1982-1988 and before the series ended Washington already had been nominated for his first Oscar and a year after the series ended he would have his first win. I could ramble on and on about Denzel and his place on the Mount Rushmore of acting, but I’m going to solely focus on his latest film in which he stars and directs.

Fences is adapted from the play which debuted in 1983 and won the7uoir0twclbi Pulitzer and Tony award in 1987. It is the story of time, place, and culture I have no experience or much knowledge about. Set in the 1950’s it is about a working class African American man and his life while raising a family and dealing with lost chances in his life. Denzel plays Troy Manson, a hard-working husband, and father who has only one mission in his life and that is to provide everything his family needs to survive and to make their way in the world. A former convict and Negro league baseball player, Troy has experienced first hand all that racial injustice can give to one man, and he is determined not to let that happen to his family, especially his son Cory. Cory is a high school student who has dreams of playing college football. Troy doesn’t want any part of Cory associated with sports because he feels his race will hold him back from being able to be successful. Because of this, he is afraid he will miss out on getting the education and skills he needs to get through and be a good man. Cory, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to feel some small sense of love from his father, and to make him proud. Showing love is something Troy doesn’t feel is necessary and that giving him what he needs physically is where his responsibility ends.

fences-f-01ne-galleryThere is a unique relationship between Troy and every character in the film from his wife to his disabled brother to his best friend Bono, wonderfully played by Stephen Henderson. Troy is a man who is slightly disgruntled at the world and wants it to be different but sees only the futility in trying to make that change even in himself.

There have been plans for years to adapt the play Fences into a feature film, in fact, the script for this project was written over ten years ago by the original author August Wilson even though he passed away in 2005. Fences is without question one of Denzel’s biggest passion projects he’s ever had, and it shows. From the perfect delivery of every line of dialogue to the feelings towards each character that the viewer feels. Each performance is pitch perfect on all fronts, and while Denzel is front and center on and off screen, it’s Viola Davis who breathes life into the picture. Viola has been an active force in film and now TV for quite some time now, but Fences is going to cement her place amongst Hollywoods elite. Look for Davis to receive her third Oscar nomination as well as collect her first win.

While it took so long for this film to get made, it needed Denzel Washington and this cast at this time to make it great. The complexity of the character needed Washington at 62 years old not 45; it was a perfect storm that brought this film out. While he may be more than worthy of a third Academy Award for his acting in Fences, it’s only because of the powerhouse performance of Casey Affleck that is keeping him from winning. Don’t count him out of the best director race either. Awards buzz aside this should be the film mentioned when talking about Washington and Davis deep into their careers.

La La Land Dances Its Way Into Award Season

rs_634x634-160713082755-600-lalaland-cm-71316Hollywood has a long history with nostalgia; you could even make a case that the whole film industry is based on nostalgia. We love to be taken back to different times and places; we watch certain movies so they can bring back old feelings we want. Some filmmakers passion projects are rooted deep in nostalgia; Woody Allen has made an entire career on his love of the past.

Young rising writer/director Damien Chazelle has released his newest film, and it is full of his love of old Hollywood and more. Chazelle shows his love for the lavish classic musical that were staples every year during the golden age of movies. Of course, this is not the first time that a film has drawn in an era of movies that is long since the past. In 2011 everyone swept away with The Artist, a modern day silent film like those of the days before recorded sound on film. In hindsight, The Artist feels more like a gimmick film now than a genuinely great movie, and many of its awards were doled out because it tugged at the nostalgia muscle of many in tinsel town.

La La Land is the story of Mia, played by Emma Stone, and Sebastian la-la-land-2-800x480played by Ryan Gosling, who are two young people trying to make it in the cutthroat world of L.A. and show business. They meet and soon find each other irresistible and try making their dreams come true while at the same time falling in love. Mia is desperate to be an actress and fulfill her childhood dreams While Sebastian wants nothing more than to own a jazz nightclub and preserve the feelings he feels towards the classic and traditional jazz music he loves. As Mia and Sebastian work towards their goals, they feel themselves begin to separate from each other and soon difficult choices need to be made. Their love is undeniable but is it as strong as it needs to be for them to breakthrough?

La La Land begins with a well choreographed lavish dance number on the freeways of Los Angeles with everyone leaving their vehicles dancing in the middle of gridlocked traffic. The vast number that makes the opening of the film left me a little uncertain as to what style and flow the movie would have because the previews of the film were more set up to show the visual beauty rather than the way any story would be told. Mia is then introduced first, and a small glimpse into her life is shown before we are shown Sebastian’s world. I have to say it took me a good 30 minutes before the story started to flow, but once it did, it pulled you in so deeply and yet gently that you are 100% immersed in their lives.

The film does not follow the typical musical blueprints of the old Gene Kelly or Danny Kaye style films from 70 or 80 years ago, but it is a love letter to that way of storytelling none the less. While music is the life force flowing through the film, it helps move the story along as well as the lives of Mia and Sebastian as opposed to being the only purpose of the film. We become enthralled with the relationship they both share and where it will lead. Sebastian is in love with the jazz music of the 1920’s and 30’s and is afraid the whole style of jazz is dying, and when he is united with an old musician friend, he isn’t a fan of his new style of jazz. His friend tells him that while he is afraid that jazz will die out, he refuses to change with the times and advance it so that people of a newer younger generation can appreciate it as a whole. This reflects the film itself and the state that musical films are in right now. When musicals are made they do seem to be old love letters to the musicals of old, there doesn’t appear to be anything new that would bring old and new together. Chazelle has made his attempt at bringing that out with his version of a new musical in films. He has in essence challenged others to make musicals more prevalent again, but at the same time to give them a new look and feel that will draw everyone back.

La La Land is one of the heavy favorites going into award season and it is for a good reason. Part of the reason that it is garnering so much attention is that it is a return to musicals, and it stirs up the nostalgia of all the awards committees, but in this turn of the musical, Chazelle has made it new and given it a life of its own. Chazelle has established himself as a new and exciting voice in filmmaking in a very short amount of time and gave movie fans quite a bit to be excited about.

 

Manchester By The Sea Will Affect Every Emotion You Can Imagine

manchester-by-the-sea-quad-posterNow and then a film comes along that lingers in the mind of the viewer long after it is over leaving a feeling or impression that just can’t be easily lost. In the case of movies like this, rarely is it a happy, feel-good movie. The stories that leave such lasting impressions touch us in an uncomfortable way and shake us deep down. It has been quite some time since I have had these feelings and emotions after leaving a theater but, Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea has left me with feelings and emotions that won’t soon be shaken.

Manchester By The Sea is the story of Lee Chandler who is a quiet 58544f3aae63a-imagehandyman in the Quincy area of Boston who appears to be more or less just existing on a daily basis. Lee is informed that his brother Joe has died and Lee has to come back home to Manchester and settle things for his brother and be with his 16-year-old nephew. While making all the arraignments and settling the estate, Lee is informed that he is now the legal guardian of his nephew, Pat. Lee is completely unprepared to handle this responsibility and the more time Lee spends in Manchester, the more he is reminded of why he is ill equipped handle this responsibility. Lee is constantly haunted by past mistakes and a life he has tried so hard to forget and erase from his mind.

As I sit here trying to express my thoughts and views of Manchester, I find the right words incredibly hard to find. It is hard to put the depth of emotions that the film brings out, into words. Lonergan manages to capture humanity at its most difficult while proving that not everyone gains closure no matter how desperately they want and need it. His brilliant and articulate script are matched only by his visual way of telling Lee’s tragic and intense story. The mixture of flashbacks is used so expertly, that with every new scene we are made to understand Lee more and more. Casey Affleck’s performance is moving and captivating on a level that most actors only wish they had the ability to reach. With every word and glance and the gaze of his eyes, you can almost feel what he does in the pit of his stomach.

1122_manchester-hedgesThere is no doubt why this film is going to be on the tips of everyone’s tongue during the upcoming awards season. As for the film’s star, Casey Affleck, he has cemented himself amongst the greatest working actors and is poised to walk away with just about every award possible for him. This is the role that will define him as an actor, and he should be proud to have this as the feather in his cap.

This picture is not one of a tragedy that turns into hopefulness leaving us crying with joy and relief for the characters. This story is one that is real and raw and may make you look at someone and see things differently. Not everyone gets over tragedy. Not everyone heals and moves on; sometimes people just exist, and they are damaged and broken.

Manchester By The Sea may have you leave the theater asking why manchester-by-the-sea-1someone would choose to tell such a depressing and sad story. This would be a valid thought, but sometimes we need to experience sad and tragic art so that those producing the art and those viewing it can expunge the feelings we all have deep inside us.

Don’t look for Manchester By The Sea to give you a boost but don’t think that experiencing the depths of emotions not often tapped into can’t also make you feel alive.

Rogue One Is The New Addition To The Star Wars Galaxy

rogueonestandeebar640In October of 2012, Walt Disney shocked everyone when they bought Lucasfilm for a whopping $4.06 BILLION. Disney now had complete control of the Star Wars universe and everything that happened with it from there forward. They immediately satisfied the Star Wars faithful by announcing the release of a new trilogy to conclude the saga that would take place some time after the events of Return Of The Jedi. Just over three years after the buyout, we were treated to the release of Episode VII The Force Awakens and the foul taste in our mouths that remained from the prequel films, was quickly washed away. Episode VII had everything fans had wanted from the look to the characters, and it appeared this was a good move for everyone involved, including and especially the fans.

Along with the release of three new films in the classic saga, it has been made known that there would also be independent anthology films that took place in the same universe. One of the big movies is going to be a Han Solo origin story which is set to begin filming in February 2017 and has a release set for sometime late 2018. Disney has plans to unveil a new Star Wars movie every year for the foreseeable future.

That brings us up to date, and it brings us to the first independent rogue-one-cast-photo-d23-1536x864-521514304075-1anthology story from Disney Studios, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. We found out that Rogue One would be the story of the team that stole the plans of the Death Star for the rebel alliance that is used as the first big blow against the empire in the original 1977 masterpiece. Speculation was flying around from day one as to what characters would appear, how would they connect, etc. we will speculate no more because Rogue One has landed.

The basis of this story could not have been much better for a first time venture in this direction with the Star Wars movies. Rogue One had all the pieces to be able to draw everyone in, the timing in the universe is the most familiar to fans, it had the ability to have the style that made everyone fall in love with the original films in the first place. This movie also didn’t have to create something that wasn’t there and make a world and story around it. The very basic plot was something all fans knew about, but the details were all that were needed. This left much room for new creations while grounded in enough established characters to not lose anyone right off the bat.

rogue-oneThe first most noticeable difference in Rogue One, as opposed to the seven films in the original saga, is that it does not adhere to the mold that has formed all the others. There is no scrolling prolog setting up the story; it jumps right in. You will also notice markers that label the planets and systems that are visited much like when different cities are identified on screen in spy films. The overall tone of Rogue One is heavier and darker than any previous Star Wars movie; this film does not cater to the children of today. This story is for all the children that have grown up Star Wars fans and are well into adulthood. That is not to say that it will not be enjoyed by all, but this is the movie for the longtime fans of the original trilogy.

Rogue One begins in the early years of the development of the 371780_042Empire’s greatest weapon, the Death Star. The Empires lead scientist and designer; Galen Erso has fled the project because of his disbelief in the Empire and his love of the rebellion. Now on a remote planet living the life of a farmer, Galen, and his family are soon discovered. Erso is soon taken back to finish his work by Orson Krennic, his former friend. Galen’s wife and daughter flee until his wife returns only to be killed by Krennic. Their daughter is soon rescued by Saw Gerrera who is an extreme believer of the rebellion.

Many years pass and Galen’s daughter, Jyn is grown and is imprisoned but is soon rescued by the Alliance. Jyn is now reluctantly joined with the rebellion and soon finds out that they need her help to find her father so they can obtain the data plans of the newly finished Death Star. While Jyn is skeptical about helping them and her ability to do so, she quickly realizes she can do something significant and meaningful. After an initial rejection from the Alliance Council, Jyn and everyone she has met on her journey, decide to forge ahead with the mission to stealing the plans.

mon-mothma-star-wars-rogue-one-disneyThe legendary quest that was only briefly spoken about and never detailed comes to life in a way that I did not think would be as captivating. The mixture of original aspects and the new elements brought to the film is exactly what Star Wars fans have been hoping to see. Where The Force Awakens had everything the fans wanted from the prequels, Rogue One is everything we could have asked for in an entirely new story…and more.

My expectations were high going into Rogue One (as they are with all new Star Wars films) but I can honestly say I did not expect what I saw. It was the first time I did not feel they pandered to me. Rogue One is raw and gritty and doesn’t try to please every demographic. Some will love it like me; some will hate because someone always has to hate it. However, this film is ideal for the entire franchise and has me extremely excited for what more Disney has in the works for this beloved galaxy we love.

Hell Or High Water Is The Modern Western That Is As Blazing As The Texas Sun

imageFor decades the genre of western films was an industry in its own right. There would be multiple westerns put out every year and some of Hollywood’s biggest stars ever are known for all their great western roles, actors such as John Wayne, Gary Cooper and Clint Eastwood. Within the last 30 years or so, the genre has become very scarce when it comes to new films. At best there is one or maybe two new westerns a year and the chances of those being very good are slim. With that said in the past couple years there has been somewhat of a resurgence in the genre. Although it is a small one its picking up momentum with projects like Antoine Fuqua’s reboot of the classic The Magnificent Seven and the HBO new series inspired by the 1973 Michael Crichton film, Westworld. Last year Kurt Russell starred in the indie thriller Bone Tomahawk which definitely turned some heads.

That brings us to this year and a new look and way of having EVERYTHING we have come to love about western movies and with a completely new eye that they can be seen through. David Mackenzie, a director from Cambridge, England that you more than likely haven’t heard of, has completely turned the western genre on its head with his new film, He’ll Or High Water. Mackenzie has taken a classic western tale and perfectly infused it with a modern element. With a legend such as Jeff Bridges, who himself is no stranger to the western, gives the movie its anchor. Ben Foster, also not a stranger to the western (see 3:10 To Yuma) is everything you want in a classic outlaw.

Brothers Tanner (Foster) and Toby Howard (Chris Pine) set out on a imageseries of bank robberies in order to gain enough money to save the family ranch from becoming the property of the same bank that held their dying mother under their thumb. Tanner is the older and career criminal of the two brothers and Toby is the smart one who stayed clean and remained loyal to the family. After they rob their first two banks in one day, they become the target of soon to be retired Texas Ranger, Marcus Hamilton (Bridges). Hamilton and his partner pick up their trail thanks to the years of instinct and expertise. Tanner and Toby have decided to rob the money from various branches of the same bank that is trying to take the ranch from the family which has newly discovered oil on it. Toby is doing all this so that he can give everything to his two sons so that they can have a better future and life he ever had.

imageMackenzie has woven a very simple Robin Hood/cops and robbers type outlaw story and made it so compelling it is near impossible to look away and not be fully engrossed from the opening frame to the last. Melded with occasional humor, sentimental brotherly love at times and action and intensity. With the aspects and the mindset of a classic western where the getaway horses are a late model Camaro you feel that Wyatt Earp could show up at any minute and it wouldn’t feel out of place at all.

Ben Foster was one of the surprise performances when he played the gunslinger Charlie Prince in 2007’s 3:10 To Yuma alongside Russell Crowe. He seemed right at home as an outlaw thief in the old west. For as much as I enjoyed him in Yuma, his turn as Tanner is nothing short of wonderful. This is the first performance I’ve seen this year where the words “Oscar nomination” seemed to but shouting at me through the whole movie.

Jeff Bridges is right at home as the aging lawman who never gives up chasing the bad guy. His performance is also superb and is one of HIS five best performances ever. Rounding out the main stars is Chris Pine as Toby. Pine has become known most recently for playing Captain Kirk in the new series of Star Trek movies as well as for his striking good looks (remember Tina Fey, professing her love for him when she co-hosted the Golden Globes). Pine also plays the best role of his career to this point. He is perfectly cast as a worn out father and former husband who was never rewarded for living a good life. He is the outlaw you can’t help but root for and want to see get away.

imageWhen it comes to the state of the western genre in Hollywood, it may never return to the glory days of John Ford and Sergio Leone but with films like this and visions like that of writer Taylor Sheridan and director David Mackenzie it may just get the resurgence it needs.

Jake Gyllenhaal Continues To Showcase His Talents In Demolition

imageFor nearly 17 years, Jake Gyllenhaal has been growing up on screen. As he’s gotten older, he’s consistently gotten better. He’s not only become a more polished actor, his choice of films has gotten better and better. He shows no fear when choosing films and is never ever afraid to challenge himself.
When he burst on the scene with his first major role in October Sky, the whole film community stood up and took notice. He appeared wise beyond his years and nothing short of a natural. He could have easily played it safe and gone on playing the sweet kid who everyone roots for, instead he did a complete 180 and his very next project was the existential and the cult classic, Donnie Darko. His choices and career have not stopped surprising everyone. One thing that is no longer a surprise is his unbelievable acting ability.
Gyllenhaal’s latest movie, Demolition, showcases all of these aspectsimage of his career. The story is about a young Wall Street broker named Davis, who suddenly loses his wife in an automobile accident in which he is unharmed. When Davis is told what happened, he is truly unaffected by the news. His first reaction is to purchase some M&Ms in the nearby vending machine. When the candy gets stuck he chooses to write the vending machine company a letter explaining what transpired. Once he puts the pen to paper, he begins to go into detail everything that happened not only on that day, but in many aspects of his life and marriage.
Those around Davis begin to question his mental state when they notice that he appears completely emotionless at the loss of his wife. The most concerned is his father in law played by the wonderful Chris Cooper, who oddly enough played his father in his first big film, October Sky. His father in law Phil does all he can to bring comfort to Davis to seemingly no avail due to his complete lack of emotion.
imageDavis continues to write more letters to the vending machine company and is soon contacted by the customer service representative who contacts him because she is intrigued and touched by his letters. They form an odd yet heartwarming relationship through letters and phone calls as Davis begins to take a piece of Phil’s advice much too literally. Phil had told him that taking apart something is the only way to put it back together again. Phil’s advice is meant to draw out Davis and open him up. Davis begins dismantling everything he can and it becomes an obsession.
His relationship with the service representative begins to grow and become deeper while not becoming romantic. They both understand the need to dismantle their lives as a way to understand the depths of themselves. As things in Davis’ life begin to reveal themselves he is able to cope and come to grips with the years of his marriage and where to go for there on out.
The performance that Gyllenhaal gives is nothing short of captivating and marvelous. The evolution of Davis is so well told and the manor in which he lets it unfold is palpable. You easily feel his emotions and lack thereof, right down to its turning point.
Demolition is without question the first really good film of the year. Whether or not it is a major player come award season is still to be determined by the power of the other films that are yet to be released. One thing is for sure, Demolition will not disappoint.

J. J. Watt Was In Demolition Man?

Even though he was only 4 years old when it was released, it appears like J.J. Watt was in Demolition Man. 

The character pictured bares a striking resemblance to the Houston Texans outstanding defensive star. 

Maybe Watt is yet another celebrity time traveler, joining the likes of Nicolas Cage and Daniel Radcliffe. 

The 1993 futuristic action movie starred Sandra Bullock as she was just about to break it big. The next year she would skyrocket to superstardom in Speed. 

Sylvester Stallone was in the midst of a real stalemate in his career. With movies like Judge Dredd and Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot, Demolition Man was almost doomed before it started. 

As the years have gone on and society has developed deep into that future, the satire the film was meant to convey, has really become more noticeable.

All these years later if you haven’t seen it ever, or if it has been awhile, you may want to check it out