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Posted in Industry News

Movie Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Martin McDonagh’s unconventional revenge drama Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (A) is one of the finest films of the year, upending expectations about a collection of well drawn characters in Small Town, America. Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell give rich performances as a grieving mother of a murdered teenage girl and the seemingly incompetent local policemen she coerces into action to solve her daughter’s cold case. McDormand in particular delivers a performance for the ages, showcasing an indomitable spirit as she waged a grassroots campaign to right her family’s fissure in a world that’s gone out of its Ebbing mind. Lucas Hedges and John Hawkes are superb as her son and ex-husband, and Peter Dinklage adds a droll turn as a mysterious townsman. McDonagh maintains a dark comedic tone as he plumbs thorny issues in a shadowy microcosm of the justice system. For folks who enjoyed Hell or High Water, Fargo or this director’s own In Bruges, this will be your film to see this awards season.

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Posted in 2017

Movie Review: Lady Bird

Writer/director Greta Gerwig’s coming of age dramedy Lady Bird (A) is witty and wise and recognizes the nuances and power of mini revolutions afoot in the life of a teenager. Saoirse Ronan is sensational as the titular protagonist, a high schooler who feels trapped in the first world problems of life in Sacramento. The plot centers largely on the pivotal final two semesters of Lady Bird’s senior year as she tests her wry, unconventional outlook against the backdrop of cliques and friendships, parochial rules, drama club, college applications, counseling and school dances. The rhythm of fights with her tough mom, played masterfully by Laurie Metcalf, anchors many of the film’s most poignant moments. These actresses are spectacular at depicting the tempestuous mother/daughter dynamic. Lucas Hedges is also fantastic as Lady’s first love. Gerwig nails the tone and observational humor of episodes that build up to unexpected life lessons. Filled with a blissful Jon Brion score and subtle reference checks to Steinbeck and Sondheim, the film represents an auspicious debut for a talented actress trying her hand behind the camera. Gerwig and her uncanny muse Ronan have created a funny and tender work of utter joy. Moviegoers will enjoy watching this Bird fly.

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Posted in 2017

Movie Review: Justice League (2017)

All the lasers and lassos and Aquaman kin can’t put this comic book franchise together again. Studio dictates, glimmers of personality from its female characters and slight moments of inspiration from temporary script doctor Joss Whedon are the only redeemable qualities of Zack Snyder’s Justice League (C), more a series course correction than standalone story of interest. After confusing the motivations of cherished DC Universe icons and draining them of literal color in the previous installment, there’s a bit more shine on this apple, although it’s still kinda rotten. The plot, centering on alien supervillain Steppenwolf who wields three dangerous cosmic cubes that would be the envy of Q*bert and Coily, is superfluous to getting the comic book ensemble together to fight him (great, another origin story with a bass-voiced CGI antagonist!) Jason Momoa is brash but hardly makes a splash, his superhero of the seas largely sidelined in battle. The miscast Ezra Miller’s fast-moving Flash is relegated to awkward comic relief. Ray Fisher as Cyborg is mainly seen fussing around with technology and might as well be mute, since he has so few lines. At least the luminous Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman improves every sequence she is in, and Amy Adams’s Lois Lane shows some signs of life in an extended cameo. Ben Affleck sleepwalks through his role as Batman, leaving a hollow core in the protagonist circle. So we are left with watching contemplations of re-animating Henry Cavill’s Superman and witnessing the super troop fight a bento box toting baddie and his army of insects for a very long final act. The best two sequences in the entire film are in the final credits. Ultimately this anemic entry into the DC canon wins just a little simply for stopping the hemorrhaging.

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Posted in 2017

Movie Review: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

Movie remakes can be a bit like theatrical revivals when there’s a corker of a story to tell with a thrilling new ensemble, but Kenneth Branagh’s 2017 version of Murder on the Orient Express (B-) with the actor/director in the top-billed role as the intrepid Detective Poirot doesn’t add or enrich the story enough in any remarkable ways to make it essential. That said, this fourth adaptation of the Agatha Christie work is a handsomely mounted whodunit with some nice bits from the likes of Daisy Ripley, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp and others. On the aggregate, however, none of the sprawling cast members gets anything close to the scenery-chewing delights that Branagh does. As an actor, he’s the film’s liveliest and most eccentric surprise, as he searches for the clues of a world out of its normal order. As director, he makes ample use of digital technologies to glide in, out of and around the titular locomotive, including some fun overhead shots of train car cabins. Ultimately the plot loses steam, and the novelty wears off. Although it’s heartening to have a new-Hollywood entry into the mystery genre, the best part of Branagh’s slick schtick is his old-fashioned performance.

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Posted in 2017

Movie Review: Wonderstruck

Wonderstruck (C-), the new film by Todd Haynes from a screenplay by Brian Selznick, who adapted his prestigious book of the same title, feels like walking into an unfinished exhibit at a museum. There are some glorious visuals and some hints of breakthrough ideas, but it all simply doesn’t hang together. Child actors Oakes Fegley and Millicent Simmonds unconvincingly play runaways in two interlocking stories, each mysteriously lured to NYC on inexplicable parallel quests in the ‘20s and ‘70s, respectively. Both kids are afflicted with hearing loss and a yearning to discover a missing parent, but there’s a stunning lack of urgency to their collective plights. Haynes fails to adequately plumb the mind and motivations of his young protagonists, and wisps of cameos by great actresses
Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams don’t get us any closer to satisfaction. It’s all fetishized set pieces built with loving care and little regard for what it’s all supposed to mean. For a director generally so in command of his craft, this seems to be a wasted opportunity, a pretty curated vessel of secondary outtakes and idea fragments.

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Posted in 2017

Movie Review: Thor: Ragnarok

It’s a “Hela” family reunion as Thor and Loki meet their long lost sinister sister in Taiki Waititi’s anything-goes Marvel movie Thor: Ragnarok (B-). The director’s casual humor and electric interplanetary aesthetic channeling Flash Gordon make for a much-needed change of pace after the solemn second film in this trilogy. But it’s all a bit fussy and cluttered to distract from a rather one-note protagonist. To his credit, Chris Hemsworth does get to flex some comedic chops, balancing out the scenery-chewing sequences featuring Cate Blanchett. Lugubrious back stories get in the way of the central plot, but flourishes such as an Incredible Hulk parade, a flamboyant politico played by Jeff Goldblum and a recurring gag of botched entrances and exits keep it all breezy. I wish the director had been as clever with his editing.

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Posted in 2017

Movie Review: The Florida Project

The kids aren’t alright in their postcard-perfect paradise in an insightful new dramatic film.  Sean Baker’s The Florida Project (B+) depicts  an often underrepresented underbelly of America with a timely, tragic, twisty Technicolor tale. A seriocomic summer idyll from a child’s POV ultimately blurs into an illuminating fantasia on the new working class of America. Set in Kissimmee, Florida in a community of extended-stay motel guests, the film is anchored by brilliant child star Brooklyn Prince who portrays a 6-year-old girl who lives in a castle: the Magic Castle motel, that is. Despite the tyke’s perennially upbeat disposition, she and her juvenile friends hold court over a strip mall and souvenir store laden landscape with scruples not too far off from the thuggish droogs of A Clockwork Orange. It’s clear that her role model in casual crimes is an aimless single mother, poignantly played by Bria Vinaite, helpless to know how to guide her daughter while continuously devising the next scam to procure the next meal for themselves. Willem Dafoe has never been better as the saintly manager of the dystopian paradise where he endeavors to hold the place together with the paltry powers he possesses while facing incredible odds. Despite some issues with plot and pacing, this is an extraordinarily important and unforgettable film. A supporting off-screen character is the famed “Florida Project” itself – Walt Disney World Resort – a vestige of privilege and fantasy, which seems to be surrounded by a sinking swampland. The little girl clutching her orange plush doll is the film’s sweet songbird trapped in a cage within the maddening marsh. Baker demonstrates a magnificent mastery of human observation and imbues his characters with incredible empathy. His Almodovaresque color palette and the resilient spirit of his featured denizens disguise the unexpected potency of his morality playhouse.

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Posted in 2017

Movie Review: Hello Again (2017)

The search for elusive love is literally operatic in Tom Gustafson’s sexy, dreamlike musical adaptation Hello Again (B+), a film that traces ten romantic vignettes across the ten decades of the twentieth century. A percussive longing possesses all the movie’s melodic segments, as does a poetic score by Michael John LaChiusa. The twin language of the film is singing and sexuality, and it is filmed in a kaleidoscope of bold colors and lovely period pastiche. The sprawling cast is uniformly brave and brazen, with standouts including Rumer Willis as a smoldering mistress who christens bathtubs and movie palaces with her prowess and T.R. Knight as a seducer extraordinaire aboard the Titanic who won’t let an iceberg stand in the way of his happy ending. Cheyenne Jackson and Audra McDonald enchant in an extended duet of the flesh as a music exec and his muse, Jenna Ushkowitz delights in a sassy naughty nurse number and Martha Plimpton holds her own amidst the array of trained vocalists in a puzzling futuristic bookend to the interlocking stories. The film is austere and may frustrate some as it riffs down rabbit holes through time periods and twisty themes to wrestle with physical love, betrayal and obsession in all of its many splendid forms. It’s an unconventional curiosity box of sights and sounds worth discovering.

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Posted in 2017

Movie Review: Blade Runner 2049

Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 (B-) continues the slow-burn neo-noir dystopian atmosphere of Ridley Scott’s 1982 predecessor and flips the script on some of the motifs about androids (“replicants”) being able to approximate human emotions. Handsomely produced with mesmerizing imagery and endowed with a good-looking cast of characters sorting out future L.A. life a few decades after the events of the original, the film succeeds in moments of discovery and drags when presenting indulgent sequences of exposition. This time Ryan Gosling is the “blade runner” (rogue robot hunter), and the way his character is written doesn’t do him many favors. Harrison Ford is back in what amounts to a brief cameo and doesn’t bring much either. There’s a subplot about family secrets, a nice bit about how embedded memories are made and some twisty surprises that up the ante, but the film definitely short circuits in the final act. The first film was an efficient mystery and action thriller. It was ponderous too but delivered the goods on action, which this installment does all too infrequently during its near three-hour running time. This sequel looks spectacular on the big screen. I just wished it dreamed with a little more electricity.

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Posted in 2017

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