Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The dark comedic mastermind behind In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths is back with a vengeance! Martin McDonaugh’s new feature has a very simple plot: it’s about sending a message and that is exactly what the Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri does: it sends a very loud and strong message from the most dangerous adversary anyone wouldn’t want to cross: a very, very, very upset mother!

All Mildred Hayes wants is the truth. Who raped and murdered her daughter Angela and why hasn’t the Ebbing Police Department made any headway into her unsolved investigation? Mildred is a mom on a mission and she isn’t going to let anyone deter her from holding the police responsible for dropping the ball on her daughter’s case.

Mildred’s message is seen and heard loud and clear and it does good but it also creates enemies in and out of the police department and the entire town. Naturally the police rallies around the ailing Chief Willoughby, as does his many friends in town; among those who aren’t exactly pleased by the attention of the billboards includes her son Robbie and her abusive ex-husband but this woman is resolute and she’ll fight tooth and nail to see the fruits of her billboards flourish or sour.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is an utter riot of a film! It’s just what you expect out of a Martin McDonaugh picture: dark, full-force, funny, tender in a few places, unresolved but the ride is well worth the price of admission.

McDonaugh’s film is written as superbly it was executed! This is a movie that keeps you guessing whether or not we’re going to get answers but floors you with its relentless force in telling what is happening and I couldn’t look away for an instant, no matter how graphic or tense it was.

Frances McDormand is a tour-de-force! She is a one-woman war-machine ready to kick, punch or fight anyone who tries to silence her and I loved her character’s bravado in this film. In fact, I think this is her best performance since Fargo!

The supporting cast is outstanding. Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Lucas Hedges, Zeljko Ivanek, Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Sandy Martin, Caleb Landry Jones, Abbie Cornish, Kerry Condon, Darrell Brit-Gibson, all very strong! This ensemble across the board utilizes the talent they possess to the fullest.

Ben Davis’ cinematography is very sharp, Jon Gregory’s editing is very precise, Carter Burwell’s music is good, the production design of Inbal Weinberg is well done, as is the Jesse Rosenthal’s art direction, the set decoration of Marissa Lombardo and the costume design of Melissa Toth are respectable as well.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is film I encourage audiences to see if they are in need of a wild-time! Mildred Hayes is certainly a character to remember and I credit Frances McDormand as well as Martin McDonaugh for crafting an original, dark, relevant picture that pulls no punches. This is definitely a must-see movie if you have the chance to see it!

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Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

To be honest, I was going into War for the Planet of the Apes with an idea of what I was in for. Based on what I’ve read, what I’ve seen and heard about the film up to that point, I thought audiences were going into a film where Caesar would be leading his species in an all out assault to preserve their survival against what is left of mankind, yet I was unprepared for what really was in store.

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Image by 20th Century Fox

Essentially, War occurs two years post-Dawn and well distant from the events that transpired in Rise but not totally disconnected. After Caesar suffers an unimaginable loss that rocks him to his core, he takes it on himself to journey across the wintery wilds to find a man called The Colonel and kill him. Caesar is aided by his most trusted simian companions, Maurice, Luca and Rocket and pick up a few stragglers along the way in the peculiar Bad Ape and a mute girl who is later dubbed Nova; this journey to find the Colonel fills Caesar with inner turmoil to hold on to the principles he held so dear to him or embrace the darkness within himself to exact his vengeance, like Koba did. This inner battle within the first super ape is the War that takes center stage in the film.

Matt Reeves, the director and co-writer of the film, impressed me in bringing Caesar grand story to a stirring finish in the fashion that he did. Reeves and Mark Bomback have crafted a story with heavy biblical references to allow their protagonist to shine in the brightest way they could and truly cement his legacy as his story comes full circle.

Essentially, the Planet of the Apes franchise in its entirety is a story about hubris; how living creatures create their own undoing and there is a success in how this story, Caesar’s story, was told. In War, Caesar wrestles with his darkness brought on by immense grief, he suffers like Christ suffers, he led his species to freedom as Moses did, every action he takes in this movie, shapes the course of his future and the future of his apes and this story leaves a profound and thought-provoking experience with audiences and it resonates when they leave the theater.

I especially took pleasure in how the film handled Caesar’s relationship with Nova. Before the two meet, Caesar dives right into his inner demons to the point where he is almost apathetic, remorseless and bloodthirsty but Nova reminds him of the humanity inside him and how that humanity has kept him from becoming Koba; in a way that theme of humanity and hubris tied all of the films together.

Andy Serkis’ performance is once again, high caliber! The CGI visual effects are just a costume but he breathes life into his characters and audiences are taken for an emotional ride with his performance as Caesar. From the moment, Caesar makes his presence known in the picture, everyone becomes invested; Serkis commands the screen as this character and doesn’t let up for an instant!

Woody Harrelson is as good as I’ve ever seen him as the vicious and bloodthirsty Colonel. Steve Zahn is a hoot as Bad Ape, Amiah Miller is terrific as Nova, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Michael Adamthwaite, Gabriel Chavarria, Judy Greer, Ty Olsson, Sara Canning, Aleks Paunovic, Devyn Dalton, Max Lloyd-Jones, Alessandro Juiliani and Toby Kebbell were all outstanding in the roles they played.

Michael Giacchino’s score, Michael Seresin’s cinematography, James Chinlund’s production design, William Hoy and Stan Salfas’ editing were all very satisfying. The visual effects were as elite as you might see all year.

I went into War for the Planet of the Apes expecting something totally different but I was completely washed away by how emotionally resonating, thought-provoking and creatively assembled this movie was. You won’t be flat out excited by it, but you will be immersed in how Caesar cements his legacy and how his tale comes to a close.

The Planet of the Apes franchise finishes on a very strong note.

Movie of the Week: War For the Planet of the Apes

The epic conclusion to the legend that is Caesar is coming to a close this weekend. The first of the super-apes has inherited the sins of the wicked Koba and now what is left of mankind has dispatched a military force to quell the threat the apes possess. Caesar led his species to freedom in Rise, he did all that he could to maintain that peace in Dawn, but now that seems so long ago. For his home, his family, his future, Caesar has finally embraced the fact that now is the time to fight for his future and this is War. This is the war that will determine who is the superior species on Earth. This is the war that will shape the course of the future going forward. The War For the Planet of the Apes has begun!

Director: Matt Reeves

Screenwriters: Matt Reeves and Mark Bomback

Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Amiah Miller, Toby Kebbell, Judy Greer, Terry Notary, Max Lloyd-Jones, Gabriel Chavarria, Ty Olsson, Michael Adamthwaite and Devyn Dalton.

What am I expecting to see?: I have enjoyed this rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise thus far and from what I’ve heard regarding this film in the past few weeks, is that War For the Planet of the Apes is the best one yet and could be the best film to come out this summer! I expect this movie to do what every final installment in a trilogy should do: tie everything together and turn up the intensity another notch. I expect Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson to command the screen and this movie to be technically elite in every aspect. I’ve been looking forward to War for the Planet of the Apes for a long time.

Ron Howard takes command of Han Solo movie!

An interesting development has occurred over the last few days related to the Star Wars anthology film focused on Han Solo. Originally, the film was well underway on the road to production with directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord, writers Jon and Lawrence Kasdan and stars such as Alden Ehrenreich as the title character with a supporting cast including Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Thandie Newton, Joonas Suotamo, Michael Kenneth Williams and Phoebe Waller-Bridge but dissention between Miller and Lord and the production team has forced the directors to abandon the project leaving the film in a state of standstill.

It didn’t take long for Kathleen Kennedy and her team of producers to find a suitable replacement to pilot the film. Today, it has been confirmed that Academy Award winning director Ron Howard will assume command of the Han Solo origin story.

Ron Howard has certainly enjoyed a great deal of success throughout his career. His body of work as a filmmaker includes prestigious films such as Backdraft, Cocoon, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man, Frost/Nixon, Rush; he certainly has the clout and the creative spirit to shape the origin story of the character who would become an important figure in the Star Wars universe. Personally, I think Kathleen Kennedy and the Star Wars production team missed out on an opportunity to hand the film to a director of color or a woman but I’m willing to give Ron Howard a chance with this project.

The Han Solo movie will arrive in theaters by May 25, 2018.

An Assessment that is Summer 2016 at the Movies

I certainly didn’t see every movie that came out this summer but I certainly tried to see every movie of note that was released. To say that the films released between the period of mid-May to the twilight of August and speaking of the twilight of August: we’re in it! The Rio Olympics, which I did not bother watching at all, came and passed, NFL preseason is halfway through, the back-to-school advertisements are out in full force, and even though the final official day of summer arrives in early September, I’m ready to call it: summer’s over. That being said, I’d like to take a look at some of the highlights and lowlights of the last few months at the movies!

Summer 2016’s biggest surprise: Hell or High Water

Man, I’m still aglow over this knockout comtemporary Western gifted to us by director David McKenzie and rising star screenwriter Taylor Sheridan! In case you missed my review, Hell or High Water stars Chris Pine and Ben Foster as two bandit brothers determined to keep a bank from foreclosing on their family farm by elaborately robbing various branches throughout Texas. Jeff Bridges plays the grizzled long-in-the-tooth lawman nipping at their heels as they tear through the Lone Star State and with a solid 3-man leading ensemble, excellent writing and superb execution, Hell or High Water came out of nowhere and scored a vintage cinematic homerun!

Summer 2016’s biggest disappointment: Now You See Me 2

I can’t remember if I cried when I saw this sequel come untied, but something touched me deep inside, the day Now You See Me 2 proved, the magic had died. The magic, being the magic, fun and the unexpected twists and turns from the original Now You See Me, starring Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and others about a team of magician thieves who pull off criminal feats of awe-inspiring dexterity. Now You See Me 2 is merely one of the many unnecessary sequels of this summer no one asked for and honestly, director Jon M. Chu should have kept this rabbit in its hat.

The superhero movie of the summer: Captain America: Civil War

This decision was not even close! X-Men: Apocalypse failed to live up to the hype, and Suicide Squad was doomed by its own shortcomings, but even if this wasn’t by default, Captain America: Civil War had it all! This star-studded Marvel grand showcase pitted Avenger against Avenger is a thoroughly well-thought out execution of philosophy, orchestrated by powers beyond the Avengers’ field of vision and started Phase Three of the Avengers Initiative with a bang!

Summer 2016’s best animated film: (tie) Finding Dory & Kubo and the Two Strings

2016 was a year to celebrate animated features and two of my most anticipated animated films of this summer did not disappoint at all! Disney & Pixar should probably take home a prize for actually making a sequel that was done right for audiences everywhere were taken back to the sea to check in on Marlyn, Nemo and Dory who set out on a grand adventure to realize who she was and where she came from. Finding Dory was absolutely precious and it should be celebrated not only as one of this summer’s best films but one of the best films of this year, but not so fast!

The latest animated adventure from Laika and Focus Features is a genuine marvel in itself. Kubo and the Two Strings follows the tale of a boy with a magical knack for origami and storytelling and he embarks on a quest to inherit his father’s legacy while supernatural forces are hunting him and his companions down. I’ve always respected the work of Laika and Focus Features’ stop-motion animated adventures but Kubo and the Two Strings is a genuine treasure and a highlight of this summer.

Summer 2016’s best visual effects: Captain America: Civil War

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Image by Marvel

Again, this is another competition the super soldier won without much difficulty and that’s saying something considering the summer is the season where visual effects run rampant throughout movie theaters. Whether it was the fight between Team Cap and Team Iron Man or the final battle between Iron Man and Captain America, this movie was a feast for the eyes.

The best movie of the summer: Hell or High Water

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Image by CBS Films

I should really proclaim this as one of the best film’s I’ve seen this year. Oh wait. I think I did!

The worst movie of the summer: The Legend of Tarzan

There were many to choose from over the past few months. To narrow my choice down, I thought about a movie that I had no high expectations for going in whatsoever and a movie that attempted to or didn’t even try to meet those shallow expectations and what I was left with is The Legend of Tarzan, starring Alexander Skaarsgard, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson and Djimon Hounsou, in David Yates’ take on the legendary character crafted by Edgar Rice Burroughs. This movie was like watching a snake crawl back into its old skin after shedding it and it was rather unnatural to digest.

Fare the well Summer 2016. I did my best to see your best and I certainly will try to forget your worst, if indeed I did bother seeing them. Anyway, I’m on to fall. Check on my blog for any updates or news or my next film and I’ll see you at the movies.

Review: Now You See Me 2

Christopher Nolan’s magic-based thriller The Prestige, taught me that the second act of a magician’s performance is called The Turn, where the artist sets up the trick to lead to something profound and extraordinary. I suppose one could call Now You See Me 2 a turn of sorts, but I prefer to call it a superfluous turn of events.

The Four Horsemen established themselves as the greatest magicians in the world with a feat so ingenious, they made renowned magic buster Thaddeus Bradley a patsy, they robbed their benefactor Arthur Tressler, they made the FBI look like incompetent stooges and they gave their audiences what they deserved. One year later, the horsemen emerge from hiding, only to be lured into a trap set by a man named Walter Mabry, who seeks to utilize the horsemen’s talents as thieves/magicians to steal a piece of technology capable of rendering the privacy of millions upon billions of individuals inert.

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Image by Summit Entertainment

J. Daniel Atlas, Merrick McKinney, Jack Wilder, Lula May and their mentor Dylan Rhodes are drawn into a game where if they lose, they lose everything.

I will be frank: as a fan of the original Now You See Me, I was puzzled as to why a sequel was greenlit because with the way the film ended, there was no need for one but I suppose the producers saw enough material left over from the first to build a presumed trilogy for new director Jon M. Chu and screenwriter Ed Solomon. In truth, Now You See Me 2 has plenty of slight of hand and thrills, but it was missing a very key element that made the first film so much fun: magic.

The first film focused emphasized the horsemen as magicians more than Robin Hood figures and allowed them to exercise their craft as showmen; the audience saw their tricks play out before they were broken down in detail by Bradley and reveled in the magic of the misdirect and the shifting perception. The perception certainly shifts in Now You See Me 2 but not in the way you expect.

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Image by Eva Rinaldi, via Wikimedia Commons

In this film, it felt as though the spotlight was on the horsemen’s ability as thieves more than magicians and the tricks and heists they pulled were dissected either before they did it or while they were doing it. Has Jon M. Chu ever heard of the old fable “A magician never reveals his/her secrets?” Apparently not because since the fun from the previous installment was sucked out of this excursion, Now You See Me 2 was reduced to a cheap run-of-the-mill heist thriller with a few light laughs, acceptable action, no surprise, just as amateur as a magic show performed by a 6 year-old who can’t keep his rabbit in the hat before he can pull it out. Disappointing to say the least.

Ed Solomon’s screenplay took the best of what Louis Leterrier, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt built on but in the end, failed to measure up. I was satisfied with how they introduced Lizzy Caplan’s character and phased out Isla Fisher’s but Solomon and Pete Chiarelli altered the formula so much, the authenticity from the first film was lost; there was no surprise, not so much of a twist or turn, the writing had a hand in a film that simply lacked any magic left from the first movie.

While I found Now You See Me 2 poorly executed many levels, it was fun watching the cast perform in this movie. Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Lizzy Caplan, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Daniel Radcliffe, all entertaining and the supporting roles of Sanaa Lathan, Jay Chou, Tsai Chin were relatively minor so it is difficult to gauge whether they made any impact at all.

I’m uncertain I can say whether any technical aspect about Now You See Me 2 left a positive impression on me. I found the cinematography of Peter Deming, the editing of Stan Salfas, the costume design of Anna B. Shepard, the production design of Sharon Seymour, very pedestrian. In some scenes, such as when Daniel Atlas controls the rain, there was a lot of visual flare that came off as very cool but, scenes such as those were far and few between.

Three years ago, I didn’t expect much from Now You See Me but the film had razzle-dazzle and I certainly enjoyed watching it. I didn’t expect much from Now You See Me 2, but I was hoping that I would have the same fun I did three years ago. I didn’t because I saw for myself that the magic was lost.

Movie of the Week: Now You See Me 2

Count this among the many movies that did not need a sequel but I’m going to see it anyway because I happened to like the first film, even though a great many did not. Remember the names J. Daniel Atlas, Merrick McKinney, Dylan Rhodes and Jack Wilder? They’re characters from the prestidigitation-based thriller Now You See Me, about a team of magicians called The Four Horsemen who accomplish a string of unfathomable heists which completely baffled the FBI. Now The Horsemen are back, drawn into a sinister game of cat-and-mouse orchestrated by an old foe as they attempt to engineer their most dangerous heist yet. Look closely for Now You See Me 2 is about to arrive theaters.

What am I expecting to see?: Jon M. Chu is taking over directing duties from Louis Letterier, utilizing a screenplay from Ed Solomon, so I expect a fresh perspective on a sequel that does not need to happen. Most of the cast is coming back to this sequel including Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, so I know what to expect from them. The new additions to the cast including Lizzy Caplan, who will step in for Isla Fisher, Daniel Radcliffe, whose presence in a movie about magic is ironic, Sanaa Lathan, Jay Chou and Henry Lloyd-Hughes, will add a wrinkle into this second act of the Now You See Me franchise. I don’t expect this to be a great movie but I’m hoping this is a fun movie despite being completely unnecessary.