Movie of the Week: Battle of the Sexes

I had to wait a week for this film to expand into my area but it was worth it. I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of seeing male athletes and female athletes squaring off against each other rather than just against their respective matches and I guess this weekend will be my chance to see something pretty darn close in the latest film from the directors of one of my favorite comedies Little Miss Sunshine, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. Emma Stone and Steve Carell will step into the tennis shoes of Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs and face off on the court in Battle of the Sexes.

Directors: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris

Writer: Simon Beaufoy

Starring: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Natalie Morales, Eric Christian Olsen and Fred Armisen.

What am I expecting to see?: This could be a fun sports drama to watch considering the players involved and who is shaping the picture. Little Miss Sunshine was a refreshing comedy and Simon Beaufoy’s writing has been very enticing in my experience, so I think I will enjoy this under-the-radar indie comedy.

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Review: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Manners maketh man and movies maketh more movies it seems. More often than not these days, studios and producers opt to go for more sequels for movies that should just leave well-enough alone and there can be no greater evidence than this week’s big release of Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

Picking up where its predecessor The Secret Service left off, we find full-fledged special agent Eggsy, alias Galahad, under siege by familiar face in the employ of a new enemy named Poppy Adams, a notorious drug-dealing queenpin who happens to be an aficionado of 1950s American culture with big plans to win the war on drugs. The Kingsman pose the greatest threat to her sinister ambitions and so, she wipes them out. Eggsy and his mentor Merlin are all that’s left of the Kingsman and they must ally with their American counterparts, the Statesmen, to foil Poppy and the Golden Circle once and for all.

I did not enjoy the first Kingsman feature. At all. Why did I see the second of Matthew Vaughn’s spy spoof? Two reasons:

  1. Part of me wanted to know how Colin Firth’s character survived a gunshot to the head in the last movie.
  2. I was bored and had time to kill on a Friday afternoon.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle was just kept building on the ridiculousness of the first movie. Heck, the first five minutes are just an absurd car chase/fight sequence that just strains every sense of credulity; going in, I had great difficulty taking this movie seriously.

Matthew Vaughn certainly had his fun in making this, I could tell in how it was written by him and Jane Goldman, but for all of its bells and whistles, gadgets and gizmos, fancy suits and cowboy hats, I just couldn’t will myself to enjoy this as a whole. Maybe it was because I knew that it was a continuation of Vaughn’s desire to direct a James Bond movie and settle for this substitute of a spoof but my reaction was meh.

Vaughn did collect himself a talented crop of actors for this. Bringing back Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Sophie Cookson, Hanna Alström, Thomas Turgoose, Edward Holcroft, Calvin Demba, Tobi Bakare, reuniting Firth with Julianne Moore was smart, bringing in Michael Gambon, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, Pedro Pascal, Jeff Bridges and Sir Elton John was admittedly enjoyable.

Vaughn and Goldman just offer more of the same, George Richmond’s cinematography is alright, the editing of Eddie Hamilton was okay, Darren Gilford’s production design was fine, the art and set decoration were solid, the costumes by Arianne Phillips were good and the visual effects were hot-and-cold at best; sometimes it was nice to look at, other times, way over the top.

I went into Kingsman: The Golden Circle with a question (see #1 above) and it answered it, and a reason (see #2 above) and the movie was a great way to waste a Friday afternoon but despite it all, what we have here is another wasted and unnecessary Hollywood sequel. I didn’t hate it but I didn’t exactly have a great deal of fun watching it either.

Review: Stronger

Months back, I had the opportunity to watch Peter Berg’s take on one of the most heinous terrorist attacks in modern U.S. history. Patriots Day was a methodical manhunt for the Tsarnaev brothers, the bombers that killed, maimed and seriously wounded scores of innocents at the 2013 Boston Marathon, including Jeff Bauman, the subject of Stronger directed by David Gordon Green.

Bauman was at the finish line to support his on-again, off-again girlfriend Erin when the bombs went off. He lost both of his legs and had to be confined to a wheelchair, endure a long period of physical therapy and train to utilize prosthetics and was subjected to become the official “face” of the term Boston Strong, an honor he didn’t ask for and one he certainly didn’t embrace when he was discharged from the hospital.

Stronger is a fascinating film because when you think about it, because it goes past the story of the Marathon Bombings; that was truly a tragic moment that resulted in the loss of many lives but there are hundreds of survivors with stories to tell and Bauman certainly had one to tell considering he was right there when it happened and how what happened not only affected him, but his family, his circle of friends and the entire Boston community but the film just takes the same old predictable inspirational story/overcoming adversity arcs that you can probably expect and the wind is just not in the sails to propel this film to greatness.

Fault in this film is certainly not on Jake Gyllenhaal or Tatiana Maslany who are both very strong in these leading roles. Gyllenhaal as Bauman is practically effortless in his performance as this character who has to become the face of overcoming struggle, while struggling with his new limitation and Maslany gives a great performance as Bauman’s key support who is right there struggling with him and these circumstances.

Perhaps what let this film down the most was that there was no impact from how this film was written by John Pollono, who adapted this from Bauman’s book, which was also written by Bret Witter. It’s told in the way a story is supposed to be told-a beginning, a middle and an end-and it is an inspirational tale but where was the impact of this picture?

David Gordon Green did a nice job directing this, it was a firm tribute to Bauman and his family and the fortitude it took for them to get through this ordeal but again, I just felt as if this movie just went through the motions and delivered something that has been seen over and over again.

The remainder of the cast in this film including Miranda Richardson, Clancy Brown, Carlos Sanz, Richard Lane Jr., Lenny Clarke, Patty O’Neil, Danny McCarthy, Kate Fitzgerald, Nate Richman, they’re fine at best.

Sean Bobbitt’s cinematography is okay, Dylan Tichenor’s editing is fluid and it helps keep the film going, Michael Brook’s music is unmemorable on retrospect, Stephen H. Carter’s production design, Paul Richards’ art decoration, Jeanette Scott’s set decoration, Leah Katznelson and Kim Wilcox’s costumes, were all very bland looking back on things. I will say that the visual effects and the measures taken to remove Jake Gyllenhaal’s legs for this picture were impressive.

Stronger just goes through the motions for me. I liked the lead actors but the rest of the film fell flat.

Review: mother!

Darren Aronofsky’s new film is ultimately a story about two characters who yearn to bring life into an empty space in different ways. Oscar winner Javier Bardem is a supposed writer and poet looking to get unblocked and his wife, played by Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, toils restoring their old home to its former glory. Their endeavors, or should I say, his endeavors welcome unexpected company as people from parts unknown begin to take up space and the two central characters are ultimately witnesses and central players to the madness that unfolds in the space within their home.

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Image by Paramount Pictures and Protozoa

Bearing witness to Aronofsky’s latest venture simply dubbed mother!, I was bewitched by the grandeur and the expertise it took to craft this picture and put it on screen. Going in, I had no idea what I was getting into, watching it, I had no idea where it was going, after it ended, it didn’t dawn on me that the film drew heavy inspiration/was a very radical take on a very familiar book (I won’t spoil it for you) but for all of its mystery, suspense and extensive shock and awe, I can say that mother! is undoubtedly a work of extreme genius and I take my hat of to Darren Aronofsky for writing and directing one of this year’s most elaborate, menacing and heart-stopping pictures.

As someone who has seen almost everything that Jennifer Lawrence has done, I must say that her performance in this film is probably the best she’s done to date. She is completely immersed in this role as the voice of reason, the victim of her husband’s “generosity” and ultimately his power; in the falling action of the film as her house is besieged by her husband’s followers and she navigates through the hell her home has become, going mad in the process and in her condition, she is a powerhouse in this picture.

Lawrence’s co-star Javier Bardem? In my eyes, ever since he debuted as Anton Chighur in the Oscar winning No Country for Old Men, he has always been a powerful performer and he delivers another resplendent performance as this enigmatic and very popular figure. I was on pins and needles watching him because I had no way of knowing what these characters, especially his character, was going to do, where this movie was going to turn; in mother!, Lawrence and Bardem are both Oscar caliber.

The supporting performances of Ed Harris, Michelle Pfieffer, Brian Gleeson, Domhnall Gleeson, Jovan Adepo, Patricia Summersett, Amanda Chiu and so many were fleeting but resonating; the figures once you start to make the connections as to who they are to the two central characters in the grand scheme of the picture, you begin to understand how prominent they are to the development of the film’s and where it was ultimately going.

Matthew Libatique’s cinematography is tense, unnerving but captures Lawrence’s character as she descends into madness so rivetingly and it compliments the spectacular editing of Andrew Weisblum so well.

I cannot recall if mother! actually used a score, which is credited to Jóhann Jóhannsson, but if it did it may have faded into the background of the action. I actually believe it was better without a score because the tension of the picture would have been stolen if it did use music of any kind; I was just so enthralled with what I witnessed, I must have missed the use of a score anywhere in the film.

Phillip Messina’s production design was outstanding, I thought the art decoration and set decoration added to the overall scope of the picture. Danny Glicker’s costumes and the make-up team did a great job as well.

mother! is a must-see movie! The performances by its two leading actors, the unpredictable and gripping writing, the execution it took to accomplish making it, it all culminates to a work of radical cinematic genius by Darren Aronofsky.

J.J. Abrams returns to a galaxy far, far away to direct Star Wars Episode IX!

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Image By Montclair Film Festival (NEG_6930), via Wikimedia Commons

Last week, the news of Colin Trevorrow exiting as director of Star Wars Episode IX threw the Force out of balance, citing major creative differences and tension between the filmmaker and studios. Since Trevorrow’s departure, Lucasfilm and Disney have searched to find a suitable replacement filmmaker to finish out the trilogy sparked by the events of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens and speaking of The Force Awakens, a familiar face will finish what he started. J.J. Abrams will direct Episode IX and co-write the screenplay with Oscar winner Chris Terrio.

“With The Force Awakens, J.J. delivered everything we could have possibly hoped for, and I am so excited that he is coming back to close out this trilogy,” said Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy.

The decision to return to Abrams to close out this new trilogy seems safe and logical considering Abrams expressed an interest in directing another Star Wars film after enjoying remarkable success with The Force Awakens. Again, I express disappointment that we may not see a Star Wars film directed by a person of color and/or a woman but it doesn’t change the fact that The Force Awakens was a good picture and I think Episode IX is in good hands. Terrio’s credits include Argo and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Star Wars Episode IX now has a new release date.

 

Movie of the Week: mother!

After a thoroughly long dry spell which saw the season of summer come to a close, we’re back with another feature film of the week and this one promises to be a feature to shake audiences to the core. From the man behind Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, Noah and Black Swan, comes a new thriller starring Oscar winners Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem, who play a seemingly content couple whose existence is roiled into a frantic frenzy when strangers with mysterious purposes arrive, take up space in their quiet home and invite darkness into the space they all occupy. This is Darren Aronofsky’s latest simply dubbed mother!

Directed and written by: Darren Aronofsky

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfieffer, Ed Harris, Brian Gleeson, Domhnall Gleeson, Jovan Adepo, Amanda Chiu and Patricia Sommerset.

What am I expecting to see?: mother! promises something dark, disturbing, enigmatic and powerful to witness and considering that this is an Aronofsky picture, if it is anything on the level of Black Swan, I believe we’re in for a true treat! I’ve kept up with the news about this picture and about the lengths mother!‘s leading lady went to for this film and I expect nothing less than another Oscar caliber performance from Jennifer Lawrence. mother! better be one of the year’s most powerful films.

Suicide Squad Sequel in the hands of Gavin O’Connor

Last year, DC Comics and Warner Bros. did not have a good year. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad made their way into theaters and though both films enjoyed significant financial success, both film were thoroughly skewered by critics, myself included. To be honest, I thought Suicide Squad was better than Batman v. Superman, but that’s like saying 0>-2; Suicide Squad was more enjoyable but it was mess through and through but Warner Bros. wants to give the team of villains commissioned to do black-ops for the government another shot with a sequel and I think that the sequel is in good hands with Gavin O’Connor.

The movie is a top priority at Warner Bros. and looks to be one of the two DC properties (the other being New Line’s “Shazam!”) to begin production next year. Given the ensemble’s busy schedule, the shoot wasn’t expected to start until fall of 2018. So while there’s still time, the studio is eager to get someone on board to pen a script.

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Image by Matt Baron/Rex/Shutterstock

I remember O’Connor’s name very well. In 2011, O’Connor co-wrote and directed the drama Warrior starring Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton and Nick Nolte, who gave an Oscar-nominated supporting performance, and the film was very well-done. Over the past few years, O’Connor has directed hit-or-miss films such as The Accountant, starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick and J.K. Simmons, and Jane Got a Gun, starring Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor and Joel Edgerton. Hearing that O’Connor’s name associated with this production certainly fills me with confidence based on how I enjoyed Warrior.

Suicide Squad 2 is set to bring back Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto and Joel Kinnaman and aiming for release in 2019.

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Image by Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment