La La Land

I know it’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a movie, but after seeing La La Land, I decided it was time to return.

I have  been looking forward to this film since I first saw the trailer several months ago and last night I finally saw it. The movie, which seems to be a love letter to Hollywood and classic musicals, revolves around Mia and Sebastian. Mia is a struggling actress working for her big break and Sebastian is an equally struggling musician who seeks to open his own club. They seem to keep running into each other and finally realize their feelings for each other. It seems to be going perfect until Sebastian, upon the urging of Mia, sets out to do what he must to make his dream of owning his own club a reality. It soon seems that their dreams and the currents of life are drawing them apart.

The music and dance sequences throughout the film maintain a dream-like atmosphere and  makes you wish that kind of magic and wonder could be found more readily in the real world. The music itself is memorable and almost addictive. The tunes will linger in your mind long after the final credits.

As I watched the film, it felt like someone had scooped out some idealized version of Hollywood that has only lived in my head and splashed it up on the screen. The struggles of Mia and Sebastian echoed in my soul and I don’t think I have ever  been so invested in an on-screen love story. Ryan Gosling is just about the most perfect leading man to come along in a long time and Emma Stone shines as the strong yet vulnerable ingenue. There’s a haunting beauty to the whole film and it seems to try to recapture some spark of life that many natives to Los Angeles seem to have lost, or simply ignore. This film is a reawakening with vibrant colors, beautiful music and a story that will make you laugh and cry in equal measure.

I enjoyed this movie and I can’t wait until it comes out on Blu Ray so that I can own it. This movie should be made the official film of Los Angeles. That’s all I’m saying.

Audience: The audience was good as gold in this one. Not a mutter or flash of a cell phone for the entire movie. Will wonders never cease?

The Girl On The Train

The Girl On The Train is a subtle, well paced mystery thriller about a woman, Rachel, as she struggles with alcoholism after her divorce from her husband Tom. She is forced out of the home they put together in favor of Tom’s new wife, Anna and their new child. Rachel drifts in and out of sobriety as she clings to the life she once had and longs for something better. The focus of her longing is a young couple in a house a few doors down from her old one which she can see from her seat on the train which she rides each day. She watches them make love and cuddle and she feels that missing part of herself.

One day, Rachel witnesses the young woman with another man. Having been cheated on herself, the pain is deep and maddening and mixed in with alcohol, dangerous. Rachel gets off the train to confront the woman. In that brief space of time, something happens which Rachel can’t seem to remember and the next day the woman she was about to confront is found to be missing. Things go from bad to worse when Rachel reaches out to the woman’s husband and informs him about his wife’s infidelity. This sets forth a chain of events that ensnares everyone’s lives and Rachel’s sanity is on the brink as the police close in on her as a prime suspect. With no memory of what happened and all evidence pointing to the unthinkable, Rachel must fight to recover her mind and discover the truth, not only to what happened that night, but the truth to her own life.

This is a deeply psychological thriller that attacks from all sides. With the shifting perspective you never know quite what’s going on and whose side you should be on, but you also can’t wait to find out. Emily Blunt turns in a strong performance as a broken woman clinging to the last of her sanity as she tries to see the truth. There are times her drunk performances can seem a little forced or pushed, but it’s easily forgiven when you can feel her power coming through the screen.

Audience:  A very well behaved audience. It looks like we’re on quite a roll.

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

Tim Burton returns to the big screen in his director’s pants with this adaptation of the bestselling YA novel of the same name. The theme of isolated youth is a popular one in the YA fiction world and this one serves the cause as well as Harry Potter.

Jake is a young man living in Florida and one night he is set to visit his eccentric grandfather but when he arrives he discovers his grandfather is dead with his eyes missing and after witnessing that horror, he sees a lanky, stalking creature with a long tongue. Jake’s grandfather always told him wild tales of his days during the war and after his passing, Jake is convinced there is more to what’s going on and the secret lies in a children’s home in Wales. Jake and his father journey to this lonely island and there Jake discovers that the children that his grandfather told him about when he was a child himself, are still there. They are hidden in what is called a Loop, which is a piece of time that repeats over and over keeping all within held in that one point of time. The children are under the care of Miss Peregrin who understands how special they are and protects them from forces that would destroy them. Jake meets Emma who can fly and use air to accomplish a variety of tasks. There is also an invisible child, a pair of twins in burlap masks and a young girl with a mean set of jaws in the back of her head.

The children’s abilities are used well in the story and show that they are strong and know how to defend themselves against the formidable forces that seek them out, but they are only at their most effective when Jake leads them. His ability is special and crucial to the survival of the peculiar children.

With many differences from the book, the movie still entertains and creates a wonderfully weird world that seems right at home in the Burton universe. There are no punches pulled and children are given credit for having brains and the ability to understand right from wrong. There are some moments early on that give the film a rough start but once it finds it’s rhythm, everything starts to click. It may play out as an X-Men in England, but it isn’t quite that cut and dry. With plenty of twists and eye candy to be had, it’s a welcome addition to the Burton stable. There’s even a brief sequence featuring some classic stop motion animation. Real film craftsmanship is so hard to find these days.

Audience: The people in this theater were fairly quiet and well focused on the film. Thank God for that.

Magnificent 7

They come few and far between, but westerns are still a thing and this new remake of the Magnificent 7 (which is an adaptation of the Seven Samurai) is a definite good time to be had. I never saw the original Magnificent 7, but as I understand it is highly regarded. The story is as simple as ABC, but therein lies the complexity. A young widow seeks justice after her husband is brutally murdered in front of her and the entire town by a evil land baron seeking to take the town from them. She seeks out someone who can help her save her town from this monster and get some revenge in the bargain. Denzel Washington is Sam Chisolm, a certified bad ass of the west, and after he takes out another wanted criminal, she seeks out  his help. He agrees and slowly assembles a team of scoundrels, criminals and cast offs to band together to fight the good fight.

I’m not super into westerns, and I guess this one is more on the side of action than true western, but in any case, I liked it. The action was well paced and choreographed and the moments between gun fights were equally engaging as we learned more about these men and what motivates them. Balanced with humor, drama and a good dose of action this is a perfect example of a summer blockbuster, which I count it as even though it’s no longer summer, but I figure it’s close enough.

Audience: Here we go. It was a packed theater and there were issues. First, the couple next to me drove me to madness. She had a smart watch that kept lighting  up all through the movie and her husband, the parrot, kept repeating every line he thought was so funny or special. Then there were the two idiots behind me who were chittering all through the movie. I honestly have no idea what anyone could have to say when there’s a movie going on right in front of them. Is the thing you paid to come and see less interesting than whatever nonsense you have rattling around in that head of yours? For the last time. In the movie theater, SHUT UP!! Just SHUT UP! Don’t talk! How hard is it to NOT talk? SHUT UP!!


Where do babies come from? You and I know the REAL answer, but the mythology of the stork delivery theory is the basis of this new animated feature from Warner Animation Group (WAG). It takes a very thin concept and really runs with it. There is an inherent joy in the structure of the Storks’ delivery business.

In the movie, it is common knowledge that storks once delivered babies but currently they have abandoned delivering children and instead bring packages for a big online company. Andy Samberg provides the voice of Junior, a hotshot delivery stork who is on the fast track to being Boss. His first act is to fire Orphan Tulip. Tulip is the last baby that was supposed to be delivered, but the stork who was going to take her went nuts, wanted her for his own and was banished. Tulip lost her chance to be with her real family so the storks kept her and it seems in her eighteen years there, never really fit in. When Tulip screws up again, she inadvertently creates the first baby from the ‘baby machine’ in years. Junior and Tulip must deliver the new baby before anyone finds out, but as can be expected, their quest is thwarted at every turn due in part to Tulip’s clumsiness and the conspiracy of the current Boss stork, Hunter to keep the storks out of the baby game forever.

This is a high energy, squash and stretch style animated tale that blends slapstick humor with some median level wit. It carefully dances around a lot of sensitive issues due to the fact that they’re dealing with the subject of babies and where they come from. It feels like they deftly compact the full backstory in the first act and it gets off and running from the start. Even as it cuts from Junior and Tulip to a young boy who was responsible for the problematic request for a sibling and his career focused parents (Jennifer Aniston and Ty Burell) it doesn’t lose its energy or pace. Not all the gags register, but on the whole it’s a fun ride with a real heart at its core.

Audience: It was a good audience. There really were no troublemaker this time around. A refreshing change, I must say.

Bridget Jones’ Baby

The third in the Bridget Jones series. This film finds Bridget entering her 43rd year still single and still struggling in life. She has a good job at least, but other than that, it’s a disaster. Mark, her ex, has moved on and a unexpected tragedy brings a terrible loss. Chin up though, all is not lost. Bridget embraces this new phase of her life, accepting her fate and deciding to roll with it. She leaves on a trip with her friend to a music festival and it’s there that she meets the handsome Jack, played by McDreamy himself, Patrick Dempsey. They hit it off in a big way and Bridget returns to life. Not too long after that, she runs into Mark at the christening of one of her friend’s children and that is where Mark confesses that he and his wife are divorcing and this news leads to more relations for Bridget. It seems this new lust for life is working for her, until Bridget realizes she’s been gaining weight and after a little test, she finds she is with child, but who is the father? Pregnant Bridget embarks on a life transforming journey of discovery and growth while juggling her demanding job, nutty mother and two would be fathers vying for her affections.

I have not seen the previous Bridget Jones films, but this one caught my eye and I thought I might as well try. While I had my reservations about Rene Zellweger using a British accent, I found that this film was not a disappointment at all. In fact, I thought it was going to be funny but it proved to exceed my expectations. It never gets silly or farcical. In fact, when cornered by Jack, Bridget does something that I rarely see in movies like these. She tells him the truth, thereby sidestepping the pointless dance of maintaining the lie and instead moving forward with the film. Emma Thompson brings a stand out performance as Bridget’s doctor. She only has a few scenes, but she brings so much to them they are pure gold. Albeit, the story is fairly predictable and you’ll probably figure out how it ends before the end of the first act, but you will have a Hell of a ride getting there.

Audience: WORST AUDIENCE EVER! Lucky the movie was good. The place was full of menopausal women who were apparently in a hormonal state, because they would not shut up! Even after the theater warning not to talk during the film, they kept talking. Mention of Shame goes to the guy in the back row who was explaining the whole movie to his wife as it was happening. Apparently she couldn’t follow. I also give a big thumbs down to the insufferable bitches next to me. They brought wine. Wine! They actually brought wine to the theater. They had one box of the stuff and a thermos on top of that. Hey, ladies! Maybe the fact that you bring wine to the theater is part of the reason you’re at the theater watching a Bridget Jones film with your best gal pal. As the film went on, their behavior became worse. They sang and danced to all the music in the movie. They laughed obnoxiously loud and couldn’t stop chattering to each other for most of the movie. I know I’ve made this plea and complaint numerous times, but seriously, what is wrong with people today? Why do they think it’s acceptable to come into a theater and pretend it’s their own living room? They put their feet up on the seats, they talk through the movie and lounge out across multiple seats when the mood strikes. It may be dark, but you are still out in public. Act like it. Your parents (hopefully) taught you better than this.

Blair Witch

Halloween has officially begun so let the horror flicks flow forth. This year has led me to believe the crop of horror films this year would be a cut above the rest. With stand outs like Lights Out and The Conjuring 2. One would think a new Blair Witch would be a no brainer, right? Wrong.

To preface this, I have to say that I have never seen the first movie. In fact, I kind of curse the day it was released as it basically gave birth to the Found Footage genre, which is basically such a lazy way to make a movie, they have run out of ways to make it fresh without making it look too polished, which takes all the fear out of it. The basic plot of this one is the same as the first. A group of young people go camping where they shouldn’t and we see them run around, screaming at ever shadow. This time around, James, the brother of Heather from the first film apparently, is going to the Black Hills Forest because he received a video that leads him to believe his sister is alive.Over ten years after her disappearance. Uh,yeah, right, but we need something to get these idiots on the road.

James and company travel to Burkittsville, the sight of the proposed Blair Witch incident. They talk to a couple locals and soon they join the group in their camping trip. We get a lot of pointless banter between the friends as they delve deeper into the woods. The ominous feeling that you know something is going to happen is the only thing that fuels this part of the story. When things finally do begin to happen, it’s impossible to care because you can’t tell what’s going on due to the jerky cameras. You just hear screaming, a crash and the screen flutters around until finally it holds, supposedly revealing something that should make us scream, but never does.

This is basically the first movie done over with a bigger budget. I don’t want to say much due to the fact that there are some moments that do work. I didn’t hate the movie. It was actually entertaining, but I was just very disappointed because I was expecting something really special. One critic proclaimed it ‘the scariest movie of the year’. Not even close. There were a few shocks, small shocks, but for the most part it only worked on the level of voyeurism. The concept that you’re watching this footage which spares you having to live through this experience yourself. What also deflated the experience was it wasn’t treated as most found footage films are. Usually there’s no studio credits. It  usually just starts with the warning that what we are about to see  is found footage by the police and it starts. It makes us really believe it’s real. The studio logo really kills the illusion. The film just seemed like another lazy attempt by Hollywood to cash in on something that’s already been made for some easy money. I think, in general, Hollywood would be better off investing in fresh, original stories instead of this endless regurgitation of past successes; hoping lightning will strike again. It rarely ever does.

Audience: I thought it was going to be a good crowd, but at the eleventh hour, just as the film was to begin, a bunch of loud, obnoxious punks came in, laughing and loud, acting like they were the only ones in the auditorium. Needless to say they never stopped talking for the whole movie. They were jumping around and giggling like they were in their own living room. I can see why they were out. Their parents were smart and probably locked  them out of their houses; although I think as the people responsible for not only their existence but also the low quality of their characters, I think the parents should be forced to confined quarters with their spawn. I mean, why should we be punished?

The Disappointments Room

I don’t think a film’s title has been as appropriate as this one. This horror film starts out quiet and subdued, cranks it up a bit and then fizzles in the last act. A thin and uneven story drag down what could have been a moody, claustrophobic thriller.

Kate Beckinsale breaks out of the ‘Underworld’ mold for a moment and plays the part of Dana, a clearly strong woman suffering from a terrible loss along with her husband. In order to move past and heal, they move to a old mansion in North Carolina with their son, Lucas. It’s a big, old house with history and we get the feeling that creepiness will come when Dana discovers Lucas talking to a new ‘friend’, who then turns out to be a cute fluffy cat who is adopted as the chief mouse catcher. Dana tries to adjust to live in this isolated place. She tries to throw herself into fixing the house up and in doing so, she discovers a room that is not on the blueprints. This raises questions for her, and us as well. She looks into it more and discovers about Disappointments Rooms, secret rooms well to do  families would imprison their deformed offspring.

As Dana delves deeper into the history of her new home, she begins to see things and it just gets worse when she goes off her meds. Ultimately we’re led to question what is real and what is not, but the movie can’t seem to figure out a way to do it effectively. Instead we get a meandering collection of scenes that seem to be creating something but during a lackluster final act, it just sputters off. The finale proved it could have been far more horrifying, if the film makers only had the guts to do it. Instead we get a flat, pointless and suspense free ending.

The only two bright spots in this film were Kate Beckinsale herself. She was able to show the pain of a mother dealing with something no mother should. She gave us a woman who was strong, but held together only barely and as the only thing holding her sanity together, she protects her son with everything she  has, and the cat. A cute little guy who steals the few scenes he can be seen in. Ultimately, while I am not a horror film fan, I can say that this movie failed in the worst way because it wasn’t even a little shocking or even creepy. It was just a mess.

Audience: The auditorium was empty save for a few people, and of course in the row in front of me were the most annoying people ever! Some pregnant woman who was blissing out over being out with her friends.  They talked and whispered throughout the whole movie. They need to find a way that you can hear the movie, but not hear the other people around you, or people are going to have to realize that when they say ‘don’t talk’, they are included in that warning.

Southside With You

When I saw the trailer for this movie, I knew I had to see it and I finally did and totally fell in love with it. Basically, it’s Michelle Robinson and Barack Obama’s first date. I don’t know how much of the film is rooted in actual events, and I don’t care. It was a beautifully composed romantic film that had something most romances are missing. Intelligence.

It’s 1989 in Chicago and a young Barack Obama is spending the summer working at a law firm in town and his advisor is one Michelle Robinson (one day to be the First Lady). He invites her to a community event and she accepts, but maintains it is NOT a date. At first it’s fascinating to see these characters as young starters now that we know where their paths will lead them, but after a while you forget about their destinies and you just see two people making a real and honest connection. Despite Michelle’s reservations, Barack manages to charm his way through her defenses, just as he begins to see the fragile soul that is held together behind her iron-strong armor. It’s easy to get lost in this glorious interpretation of their first date. It’s clear to see these are two strong people who come from very different backgrounds but manage to let down their guards enough to see each other for who they are, flaws and all. It’s the kind of date movie that could make you angry that people don’t date like this anymore. Their conversations were deep and complex and the emotions were raw and real. The story is as true and honest as you can imagine. Despite what your politics may be, the strong bond between Michelle and Barack is bound to win you over. This isn’t a political story. It’s a love story.

Audience: The audience was pretty good for this one. There was some woman in the row ahead of me who was wrestling with a particular noisy candy wrapper for a bit, but other than that, everyone was good as gold.

Hell Or High Water

Of course you all have heard about this movie. It’s the one getting all the Oscar buzz already. I have just seen it and the question is ‘Does it deserve all the rave reviews?’ and the answer is ‘yes’. Honestly I wasn’t too interested in seeing this one because I thought it was going to be a painfully dry crime drama, but that is far from the case.

Chris Pine and Ben Foster play two Texan brothers who are out to steal a whole Hell of a lot of money. Their primary M.O. is to strike early in the morning when the bank is empty and only steal small bills. Soon, an old Texas Ranger played by Jeff Bridges is on the case. It looks to be his final case before retirement and it seems he is taking his sweet time in getting to the bottom of it, maybe in a bid to prolong his march into retirement.

The two brothers have a plan for the money they’re stealing and thanks to lively performances by Pine and Foster, you can’t help but root for them and smile along the way. Jeff Bridges once more turns in a defining performance. I don’t know if that’s his real voice or an accent he puts on, but it is damn effective.

Add to all of this star power the magnificent cinematography. I don’t normally notice such subtlety, but the way this film was shot was beautiful. There was a sad beauty in every shot of the Lone Star state. To see the wide open spaces it’s easy to understand how cowboys have come to be known to be as lonely as the land that bore them.

All in all, a great film and certainly one we’ll be seeing a lot of during Oscar season.

Audience: Everyone in the theater was so gripped by the film, they were all very quiet, except for one doucheskid behind me who took the quiet moments of the film to chatter about whatever idiots talk about during a fine movie. While it did not diminish my enjoyment, I still must note it. I just wonder why is it so difficult for people to NOT talk during a damn movie!? Just DON’T TALK!!!! However clever your observations may be, save them for the ride home, okay?