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Sunday, May 27, 2018
Remember those weeks when we used to have 3 or 4 movies a week? Now we are down to one maybe 2 weekly, and mostly they are repeats in different theaters. Are they not releasing films in theaters anymore? Are people opting out to sit in front of their streaming services? Granted this upcoming heat wave of 3 digit weather makes sitting at home in front of a fan is more welcoming than fighting traffic and sweating in line.
Anyway, y'all stay safe and cool during this long Memorial Day weekend.
May 27 - Jun 2
Tue - May 29
Adrift - 7:00 pm - Angelika Dallas
Thu - May 31
Action Point - 7:00 pm - AMC Northpark
Friday, May 25, 2018
I think both fan boys and novices alike will enjoy a complete story and background of everyone’s favorite pirate and smuggler a legitimate backdrop for the ultimate anti-hero with Alden Ehrenreich’s turn as Han Solo in the Ron Howard-directed “Solo: A “Star Wars” Story.”
If he looks familiar, Ehrenreich was in a couple of big budgeted disappointments from a couple of years back, the first being the Coen Bros. musical “Hail Caesar!” (2016) and Warren Beatty’s belly flop that was “Rules Don’t apply” that same year. He makes for a likable character and persona as the title role of a young man in love who just wants out of his lower-class upbringings and make a life for himself elsewhere in the big galaxy of “a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.”
Joining him in his adventure are a space pirate in Woody Harrelson’s Beckett, a smuggler of sorts who is paired with girlfriend and confidant in Thandie Newton’s Val. Also included is an alien creature named Rio Durant (Jon Faverau) and a wookie (foreign species) named Chewbacca (Jonas Suotamo). At the start, Han’s love interest is Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra, a fellow refugee living day-to-day life on the streets of their foreign planet.
So readers know, this movie is just another a stand alone tale in the “Star Wars” universe. Like the disappointment that covered “Rogue One: A “Star Wars” Story” in 2016, which I think I graded a B+ on the A-F scale of grading movies.
So people know, director Howard took over this project from original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller who were originally fired from the project due to creative differences. The pair, however did receive executive producer credit on this particular movie since I think it was probably written in their contracts.
“Solo: A “Star Wars” Story” contains an abundance of inside jokes only the most familiar will get the references to past. For example, the helmet Beckett wears in an exact replica of the same one Lando (Billy Dee Williams) wore in “Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.” It was in the early part of that film where the action was contained to “Jabba’s palace and the floating barge in the desert.
Also amusing to watch is Chewbacca’s age, because when Han finds out, he states only 190…he says “You look great for your age.”
I had a fun time with the single shot “Solo: A “Star Wars” Story.” To me it did what it was supposed to do in cover only a portion of the earlier tales in the amazing and enjoyable ride that gives exactly what movie viewers are clamoring for in just a fun time at the movies.
(Review by Ricky Miller)
Thursday, May 24, 2018
The recent debut of this film in China replaced the Avengers: Infinity War for it's opening day. May 20 (the pronunciation of “May 20” in Chinese resembles the pronunciation of “I Love You” in English) has proved to be fortuitous for romantic movies like on Valentine's Day or Chinese Single Day. Written and directed by Su Lun, it's an unusual blend of comedy, romance, sci-fi and fantasy that draws from The Lake House and The Time Traveler Wife.
Tong Liya plays Gu Xiaojiao who is now 31 and looking for someone to marry, but they need to fulfill certain requirements in her dream house. Needless to say, suitors are kinda put off when she demands the title be in her name. In 1999, Lei Jiayin plays Lu Ming, a down on his luck property designer who can't catch a break. The live in the same apartment building 19 years apart. Suddenly the time periods merge, pushing his house into her house. They wake in the same bed. Believing him a masher, she attacks him. Both confused, they realize their front door exits to 1999 and 2018. Curiosity leads them to explore the past and the present. Gu goes to her old home with her beloved father and where she is still 12 years old. When she tries to get close, the tenuous paradox begins to warp. Everyone knows you can't see your self in the past or the future without affecting history.
Meanwhile a scientist is explaining his experiment of creating a porthole between times to a mysterious benefactor. This man's assistant believes he wishes to steal future technology. The scientist says the porthole is likely, but he hasn't figured out where this will occur. Gu and Lu have been cohabiting in their crunched together apartments. They go to their jobs in their timelines, then go adventuring in each other's years Lu is awkward and un-confident, while Gu is feisty and just as awkward. She runs into and old college friend, so she tries to appear successful and forces Lu to pretend that he's her husband for a dinner date. Of course she ends up totally humiliated when she leaves the sales tag hanging from his new coat she bought him to impress her friend. They also try to manipulate the lottery by playing the winning number, but the eventual paradox keeps this from happening
Gu and Lu begin to get close and enjoy each other's company But Gu can't get over the fact that Lu is not rich and successful. But the present day Lu has turned out to be a rich tycoon, just what Gu is seeking. The present Lu lures Gu in with a dinner date. He wants her to give his past self some advice. He knows that the time merge is temporary, and he must correct his past. Will they be able to find each other in the future? It's inevitable and satisfying in the end for those who love a time-traveling rom-com.
(Review by reesa)
How Long Will I Love You? opens Friday, May 25 at Cinemark Legacy Plano
Sunday, May 20, 2018
Usually this time of year is full of screenings, but the pickings are few and far between lately. Of course after doing the film festival, I may be a little spoiled. Only one movie this week with a couple of opportunities to see it. Hope you were able to grab passes because they went fast!
As usual if we missed something, let me know.
May 20 - May 26
Mon - May 21
Solo: A Star Wars Story - 7:30 pm - AMC Northpark and AMC Grapevine
Tue - May 22
Solo: A Star Wars Story - 7:00 pm - AMC Northpark
Thursday, May 17, 2018
Anything is the debut film directed and written by Timothy McNeil, based on his stage play by the same name. It's an unusual romantic tale o two unlikely partners that doesn't really surprise but it is saved by the earnest and sensitive performances by the actors.
Early Landry (John Carroll Lynch, a familiar face you think you know but can't remember from where) plays a 55 year old insurance salesman who just lost his beloved wife of 26 years. She died in a car accident in which he blames himself which propels him to quietly cut his wrists. The next thing he knows he's being offered the choice of going to a local mental facility or moving to Los Angeles to live with his movie executive sister, Laurette (Maura Tierney). So he moves from his quaint little home in Crane, MS to a big modern California home with his sister, her husband and teenage son. Laurette hovers over Early, constantly worried. So Early finds an 30's court style apartment in Hollywood, just far enough from her. Laurette freaks out, because why Hollywood?, there are drug dealers, prostitutes, and crime. Which of course means that the denizens who live in this court fit the bill. Plus the addition of a drunken postal worker singing his grief from losing his wife every night. Laurette gives him a gerbil to keep him company.
Early is still contemplating suicide. But one night hears his neighbor fighting with someone and his curiosity is peaked. He also meets up with Brianna and David (Margot Bingham and Micah Hauptman) the junkie couple who live downstairs. She calls him a good guy who likes to save people. She writes a pensive song about him which makes him think about his life. Frieda (Matt Bomer) his next door neighbor comes over to borrow some sugar. She hits Early with some truthful attitudes from being a country bumpkin to his wallowing in self pity. Frieda advises him to re-invent himself. He begins to spend more time with her, even going through a withdrawal night when they agree to give up their pain pills. It gets to the point where he wants to have him meet his sister and family. But the dinner doesn't go well when Laurette if faced with the trans-woman sex worker as a potential in-law.
Tierney is great as the worry wart sister who can wrangle million dollar charity events, but has no clue on his to get her brother right again. Especially since her husband and son have no problem with the romance. Lynch plays the sad sack widower who is suddenly waking up to the world around him that is absolutely nothing like his quiet and straight life in Mississippi. Frieda fights his "creepy warmth, the portable pot bellied stove with insinuating eyes". There was some controversy over Bomer's being cast as a trans-woman from LBGTQ community as they believed that there should be a real trans-woman playing the role rather than a cis-man. But Bomer is effective in his role, creating a smack talking character with heart of gold. It would have been nice to learn more backstory on Frieda. But in the end theirs is a pact of trust and the hope for anything.
(Review by reesa)
“Deadpool” collides into action again!
After two years of putting the red ninja suit on, the overzealous Ryan Reynolds returns to the big screen as a city killer and antihero called Deadpool who finds life meaningful and dreadful around the city. This time, he has a bigger fish to fry when the something terrible is about to happen around him. Don’t be alarmed, this film will become more brutal than ever.
In this film, Deadpool enjoys life on the outside and the inside with his girlfriend, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) until the darkness has fallen upon him. Seeing this as a worst opportunity ever, he must from his own team, called X-Force, to find his heart and happy place he wants to be.
The story of this film, like the original, is filled with comedic laughs, bloody surprises, and character expressions. It’s easy to be pay big money just to expose yourself to this dilemma when it comes to comedy knockouts and the fillings of suspense like Alfred Hitchcock’s movies. Not to mention on the little-less numbers of fourth-walls broken became Ferris Bueller phenomenon. The script-writing is well-focused rather than adding more fourth-walls.
Supporting actor Josh Brolin, who came after Avengers: Infinity War, provided the meatier role as Cable the mercenary. His performance was as straight and reutilized as his Thanos character. Actresses Brianna Hildebrand and Shioli Kutsuna also provided a more feminist role ever together. Even the New Zealand actor, Julian Dennison, can fix the problem as Russell, the fiery-fist mutant who controls his powers under anger issues.
The funniest moments I catch my eyes and ears on are the Disney jokes and the ending which appears to be mockery of the ending of 2017 movie, Logan. I suddenly felt that it was a bit dramatic but a lot funnier when Deadpool delivers the wonderful taste of childhood and the elements of Disney towards the audiences. The ending is extremely funny as well as Reynolds is too serious on playing the Shakespeare’s death. To add extra laughs, I enjoyed the post-credits scene which I am incredibly find it very humorous and stunning.
However, I didn’t like the way the director pushed Reynolds too far on the gun-shooting scenes, the bloody on the bodies, and the bones cracking or bending on the character as it would painstakingly be a “flesh and blood” type for this usage for an R-Rated film. I’ll admitted this movie will make your eyes squirt tears heavily. The envy of this is just the increasable method of R-Rated content exposures. Be warned!
On the bright side, this film was little bit better than the original as this film produces more and more intonation on the character development of Deadpool and the team becoming a part of the X-Men family after Wolverine. But be careful about this film since this is the movie for not only adults but also teenagers. If you do wish not to expose yourself, please consider selecting another film to watch like Avengers: Infinity War. By the way, be aware we have Solo: A Star Wars Story coming up in the same month as well as Pixar’s Incredibles 2 next month.
One more thing, if they made sequel of this, let’s see what happens when Deadpool emerges into the Disney universe (possibly Marvel Cinematic Universe) due to Fox is about to be owned by Disney sometime soon. Running time: 120 minutes.
(Review by Henry Pham)
As far as sequels go, “Deadpool 2” delivers the goods big time. I cannot give any spoilers away, so I have to find the right verb usage as to not give away any key plot points or God forbid spoilers of any kind.
What is safe to say is that both the characters of Colussus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hilderbrand) return in smaller supporting turns, as does T.J. Miller, Karan Soni, Morena Baccarin and Leslie Uggams.
Miller is Weasel, a bartender who works at Deadpool’s local watering hole. Soni returns as Dopinder, Deadpool’s personal cab driver who assists in his escapes. Ackerman returns as Vanessa, Deadpool’s significant other who does not mind or give a care about his disfigurement. Uggams is Deadpool’s roommate who still has a tough time building anything from Ikea.
Boys who had a crush on Warhead will have to look elsewhere because she is in a relationship with Yukio (Shioli Katsuma).
Josh Brolin is Cable, the villain of our story. His character was sent from a timeline interwoven into the storyline. His character is also in mourning, since he lost his family in a future war that he cannot go back and fix.
An inside joke occurs when Deadpool makes a comment about One Eyed Willy, a reference to Richard Donner’s “The Goonies,” a part in which Brolin was the older brother Brand I that fun flick. He was the older brother to Sean Astin’s Mikey in that enjoyable romp. To this day, I probably would still grade it a solid B+ on movie rankings o the A-F scale.
What I also find amusing is the marketing campaign that has gone into promoting “Deadpool 2” to the masses. A bunch of the one-sheet posters make allusions to a variety of flicks, including references to 1983’s “Flashdance” in which bullets are showered onto Deadpool’s body in lieu of rainwater or good old H20.
Another safe part to talk about is a character named Domino, (Zazie Beetz) since Deadpool mentions that luck is not considered an obtainable skill of any kind. Despite all the shenanigans that occur, I would say it is a nifty trick in the endgame of things.
In lieu of director Tim Miller, the camera stylings of director David Leitch are present throughout. He helmed last year’s MI-6 spy thriller “Atomic Blonde” last summer. Leitch also worked in various producing capacities with Keanu Reeves on the various entries in “The Matrix” trilogy” as well as “John Wick” and its sequel.
Again, as aforementioned, “Deadpool 2” has too many twists and turns in this enjoyable pretzel-weaving adventure that I really cannot say, because if I do some bad studio executives will hunt me down and kill me. No joke, I am totally and completely serious.
(Review by Ricky Miller)
Sunday, May 13, 2018
Happy Mother's Day y'all!!!! Hope you are treating your mom, grandma, step mom, mom stand-in, mom of your hearts with all the love and respect they deserve for putting up with you.
So not not much happening this week. The DIFF2018 is over and hope you had a chance to see some of their offerings. Our staff of writers have diligently reviewed a big portion of the program, so please check them out.
May 13 - May 19
Sun - May 13
Book Club - 5:00 pm - Cinemark West Plano
Tue - May 15
Book Club - 7:00 pm - Cinemark 17
Saturday, May 12, 2018
Sha Po Lang refers to three words derived from Chinese astrology that each represent a different star capable of good or evil depending on their position in the heavens. This is the third in the SPL series that started with Kill Zone and Kill Zone 2. Directed by Wilson Yip (Ip Man 3) with action director Sammo Hung it was written by Jill Leung and Nick Cheuk. The plot is a bit recycled from the first film, having to do with endangered children, organ trading and uber violent payback. The action scenes are exciting and creative with never ending bad guys. Everything you want from a Hong Kong action movie.
Louis Koo as Lee Chung-chi is a devoted father to his teen daughter Wing-chi (newcommer Hanna Chan). One day Wing-chi introduces her dad to her new boyfriend who blurts out that they want to marry, and she says that she wants to keep her baby. Lee is not cool with the situation and quickly has the boyfriend arrested for underage sexual contact. He also takes Wing-chi to abort the baby. Wing-chi takes off to Thailand to visit her tattoo artist friend who gives her some ink. One day Wing-chi is grabbed off the street. Her friend calls her father who immediately flies down to work with the police. Since he's also a cop, local Chinese detective Chui Kit (Wu Yue) and his Thai colleague Tak (Tony Jaa) give him the courtesy of helping with the investigation. They don't get any closer, until Lee uses the media to broadcast her picture.
Eventually the plot reveals that the kidnapping was connected to a butcher factory owner Sasha (Chris Collins) who was doing the job for the immoral mayoral aide Cheng Hon-sau (Gordon Lam). Cheng wants to tie up all the loose ends, so he blackmails Police Chief who is Chui's father in law. He puts Chui in charge of taking out Sasha and his gang including Lee. Chui righteously reminds him they are cops. This puts Chui's pregnant wife is danger as she is kidnapped to force him to to the job.
The non stop action fights and chases are relentless. If nothing else, this is worth the price of admission. The story, which focuses on the angst of the father who could not protect his daughter and the detective who relates to the Chinese father's need to get retribution. There is no happy ending here, but the balance of the universe is rightly put back in place. It was a good last movie to see at this years DIFF2018.
(Review by reesa)
Everyone knows that the Chinese Internet doesn't allow the usual social media systems allowed outside their country. But who knew that their need to connect to the world would create an obsessive for profit live streaming idol making phenomenon. Director Hao Wu explores the virtual world that exploded in period of rapidly evolving socioeconomic changes. Corporations like YY that develop and manage the platform that are used by individuals who are groomed and curried to become the best hosts to gather fans who support their favorites by purchasing avatars that flash on their screens.
Anyone can be a host. They go through K-pop style training, take classes on becoming top hosts. They can live like goddesses making 200K a month, with most hosts making 40k a month. Of course, YY takes 60% of their earnings, and if you have an agent the host would be left with about 30% for their efforts. One young woman, Shen Man, was a nursing student whose father had just gone bankrupt. Now she supports her gravy train dad and step mom while she live streams and sings for her fans from her computer at home. She's not as pretty as the others, and her voice is nice, but not up to recording star standards, but she is popular enough to generate enough income to support her parents. Then there is Big Li, a comedian who is married to the YY host trainer. He's loud and abrasive, but has managed to attract very loyal fans. Including a young migrant worker, doing menial jobs. He hero worships Big Li since he started with nothing and has become successful. He lives vicariously through him while barely eking out a living. The hosts have millions of diaosi fans - underemployed self-described “losers” - all over the country. And the fans encourage the rich fans who buy status as patrons of particular hosts.
The culmination of their efforts are put to the test in an annual competition over several days to find the bests of the hosts. They compete with each other to gather the most fans and patrons buying into their stream. That's talking multi-millions of dollars and people who encourage each other in honor of their favorite host. While the monetary result is more status for the hosts, it also brings a ton load of baggage. Like rich patrons hoping to have some personal encounter time with the female hosts, who may suffer from scandal afterwards. Plus the efforts wears and tears on the hosts, who know they are not doing anything meaningful for the money they are forced to demand from their fans in order to stay on the air. It's a strange dichotomy in the Chinese internet culture. All this time and money and really nothing to show for it. This is definitely one of the most interesting and unusual docs at this festival.
(Review by reesa)
Friday, May 11, 2018
Proof That Even Documentaries Can Be Directionless Twaddle
Title: The Blessing
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1hr & 16mins
* (out of ****)
The subject of The Blessing has some promise: A Navajo reservation has been positioned next to a mountain – a “female mountain” in whose honor the Native Americans who live in its shadow offer up prayers and emotional sacrifices – whose seemingly endless coal supply has been targeted for mining by a corporation. Against this backdrop, the film examines the decision’s effect upon a single family, whose current patriarch has been hired to do work for that very corporation. It is an interesting premise for a documentary, but this is quite decidedly not the film in which to find a proper examination of either side of this coin.
When it comes to the family, the father in question is Lawrence, whose upbringing was marred by a decision to enroll him in a predominantly-white school established to “Americanize” its Native students. He was no fan of that set-up: “I’m Navajo in my blood,” he says, and he’s right. Any hint at an exploration of this idea is forgotten as soon as it is brought up, though. His daughter Caitlin fares a little better in the development department: She is voted homecoming queen over the course of the telling of her part of the story, but her part on the boys’ varsity football team at the high school hints at something about her that she is keeping secret from everyone else.
When it comes to the coal mine, so little is conveyed about the developments of the decision to mine its coal resources that the most illuminating facts come by way of intertitles. Later, Lawrence, while driving a tractor, crashes and damages most of his spine in the process. Directors Hunter Robert Baker and Jordan Fein showcase a lack of understanding shot composition, to the point that every scene taking place at night only utilizes ambient light (of which there isn’t much) and every daytime scene has a visual resolution barely above that of a home video. Formal imprecision is the least of the problems The Blessing has, though.
(Review by Joel Copling)
(Review by Chase Lee)
As I said with my recent review for “Life of the Party,” this one has been done before and far better.
I could go on and name quite a few like 1967’s “Wait Until Dark” with a blind Audrey Hepburn stuck in an apartment holding killers at bay. More recent would either be David Fincher’s “Panic Room” (2002) or the Brice Willis-led “Hostage” (2005) in which are heroes are confined to a small space or setting.
Now with “Breaking In,” mom Gabrielle Union has to deal with some nefarious baddies of her own. Her mom, Shaun Russell has two kids with daughter Jasmine (Ajiona Alexus) and son Grover (Seth Carr). At one point, the pair is each kidnapped, thus setting up some lengthy exposition that really goes nowhere but on to the next set piece.
The pacing never really pulls one in, since a friend comes to visit, (realtor Maggie Harris (Christa Miller) but is quickly eliminated by one of the antagonists of the story.
In one piece of irony, Billy Burke returns to the bad guy role he displayed in Patrck Lussier’s “Drive Angry” in 2011. He is probably best known as Bella’s dad from the “Twilight” series of movies that were on display from 2008 to 2012.
Like the aforementioned “Panic Room,” new technology is displayed throughout this brief stint of a the too short movie. (The running time is 88 minutes.)
Union’s father in the movie was a tech nut, fitting the house with safe gadgets galore.
The opening scene is of interest, since it shows his Isaac character’s routine of the day, leading to his untimely demise.
Of course, the nods to new technology such as cell phones and drones are interwoven throughout the storyline.
Union looks and feels at home in the mom role.
The villains are just the right degree of menacing, with the aforementioned Burke the right degree of despicable notions and attitude.
The entire production feels lackluster from the word go. Part of the setting deals with one location: a house in the woods.
Director James McTiegue knows how to deal with confined settings, since he directed the watchable “V for Venddetta” (Grade: C+) in 2005. He also handled directing duties with 2009’s “Ninja Assassin” (C) as well as the little-seen “Survivor” (C-) in 2015.
My whole conclusion with this movie is just wait for the discount house, because honestly it is not worth the big bucks omne will spend at the first run theatre.
(Review by Ricky Miller)
Reel Time with Joel and Chase
What If Lady Bird, but Younger?
Title: Eighth Grade
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1hr & 34mins
**** (out of ****)
For me, the most disastrous school year was ninth grade, but certainly the year before high school starts is no gift from the gods (unless they were feeling particularly vindictive in their gift-giving). Eighth Grade captures the feeling of enduring that final year of school before the four years that prepare you for college, and even though I obviously have no reference point to know this firsthand, writer/director Bo Burnham’s film certainly paints a convincing portrait of a young girl’s experience with this precipitous transitional period. Delightfully awkward, often very funny, and containing multitudes, this movie is a gem.
This particular eighth-grade year belongs to Kayla (Elsie Fisher), who splits her time between being relatively unpopular at school and hosting a series of self-help videos on YouTube at home. Her mother left years ago, and her father Mark (Josh Hamilton) struggles with a daughter who, to say the least, isn’t receptive to his brand of trying to keep her attention. The videos are as much an outlet for her to do all the talking that she isn’t comfortable doing at school as they are an array of equally wry and naïve observations about human nature. The videos also provide some of the highlights of the movie.
Kayla stutters and stumbles over the points she wishes to make in the videos in a way that is both amusing and endearing. A lot of that lies in Fisher’s breakthrough performance, which provides the tricky legwork possible to find this character endearing. In an alternate universe, Kayla is a passive protagonist, observing everything around her but taking no real part in any of that. That is, as it turns out, kind of half true here, but only because Kayla is shy by choice and introverted by nature in public (though, if approached, she maintains that she’s as talkative and lively as anyone).
In practice, though, and through the gift of Fisher’s remarkable performance, Kayla is a rare find as a protagonist in that she grows in front of our eyes. Much of this takes place at school, where she deals with various problems and disappointing people. She doesn’t really have a best friend, relying on the willingness of others to approach her, although hope arrives when she and her classmates are taken to a high school and each paired up with a student (in Kayla’s case, Olivia, a senior played by Emily Robinson). She tries to befriend the stiflingly popular Kennedy (Catherine Oliviere), whose single mother (played by Missy Yager) likes Mark, but only receives a cold stare.
Elsewhere, she nurses a crush on Aiden (Luke Prael), who prefers to receive sexual text messages from the girls he likes, and attempts to confront her own budding sexuality in the process. In a couple of amusing flourishes, Anna Meredith’s pounding, synth-heavy score is at its most pounding and synth-heaviy when Kayla claps eyes on Aiden and her attempt at researching how to perform a sexual act ends up being a little too intense for everyone involved. As a juxtaposition to this, a car ride with Olivia’s friend Riley (Daniel Zolghadri) turns really uncomfortable really fast when he unexpectedly parks the car.
Even with that excursion, the resounding feeling provided by the delicate handling of this material is to take away how funny and relatable it all is, particularly in a heart-to-heart between father and daughter (in which Hamilton’s own generous performance shines). Burnham, himself a former YouTube personality, navigates the video material with the subsequent honesty and charm, and the rest of this story takes on a timeless quality that manages to transcend the specificity of a young girl surviving the final year before high school. Eighth Grade isn’t foolish enough to eclipse that specificity, though. This is firmly Kayla’s story, and she’s gonna be ok.
(Review by Joel Copling)
(Review by Chase Lee)
This movie has been done before, namely 1986’s “Back to School” which starred Rodney Dangerfield returning to his son’s college.
My trouble is that I’m a child of the 1980’s, one where I worked at a mom and pop video store in a quaint American suburb (Plano, Tx) and actually spent years in the area of customer service and dealt with people always asking for the hottest new release. Also I’m saying is that streaming services and pre-On demand did not exist.
I worked there in the mid 1980s through the early 1990s. Then somewhere along the way real life happened and the video store became a thing of the past. Me, personally, I am shocked there is not a single Blockbuster Video left in the country. (If I’m not mistaken there is one left in the state of Indiana.)
But I digress, since we’re here to discuss Melissa McCarthy’s “Life of the Party” another tale directed by husband Ben Falcone (who makes a cameo appearance as an Uber driver).
In this tale, her daughter attends her husband’s alma matter, a place where she dropped out of college just a few credits short of receiving her own degree.
Fun to watch is Gillian Jacobs Hanna, a girl who claims to have awaken from a coma and woke up eight years later to find out she had C cup breasts. Also amusing is the fact she does not care that she was cross-eyed.
Her character, Deanna actually befriends her daughter Amada’s friends. Her daughter is played by Adria Arjomna, who was last seen in the sequel to “Pacific Rim” with “Pacific Rim: Uprising” earlier this year.
This story also contains a plethora of 1980s fashion faux pas, such as the big shoulder pads from the dresses worn in 1989’s “Working Girl.” Also amusing is the inclusion of some bullies who get their just desserts before movie’s end.
Also amusing are the affairs that occur, since their inclusion is something that is just mentioned after the fact.
Enjoyable to watch is the relationship with Deanna and best friend in Maya Rudolph’s Christine character. The duo also appeared in 2011’s “Bridesmaids” together and their on-screen chemistry here works to justy the right degree.
Also cool to the proceedings is Christina Aguliera as herself, but relevant to the story as a plot point, since her cousin Leonir (Heidi Gardner) is Deanna’s quiet and creepy roommate. Her ability to creep up on Deanna accounts for some genuine laughs in this fun flick.
I do not think this one will be a gigantic mammoth hit like “The Heat” or the 2016 “Ghostbusters” reboot from couple of years ago, but this one is worth the price of admission.
(Review by Ricky Miller)
Thursday, May 10, 2018
LET THE SUNSHINE IN
**½ (out of ****)
Let the Sunshine In isn’t quite certain what to do with its central character. The screenplay offers us nearly everything we know about the character in the opening sequence, in which Isabelle (Juliette Binoche) is in the throes of passion. At the finish of the intimate liaison with her new beau, he knocks her down a few pegs in a petty fashion. The rest of the film, written by Christine Angot and director Claire Denis, is a repetition on this theme: Isabelle’s agency as a woman is challenged in some way by a lover, and then she reclaims a tiny part of herself through resolve and confrontation.
This means Denis’ film operates on two levels, each explored to a modest degree and neither particularly well-served by the other. The first level is in the film’s exploration of Isabelle’s sexual mores. Her first lover – or at least the one with whom she begins the film – is Vincent (Xavier Beauvois). He is – not to mince words – an arrogant prick even outside of the bedroom, always guzzling down chasers of whiskey and preying upon Isabelle as if she owes him something. Later, she admits that her attraction to him is borne of her desire for something a bit dangerous.
Later, she orchestrates the seduction of a stage actor (played by Nicholas Duvauchelle) in a similarly self-destructive manner. There is no passion. The man himself doesn’t feel it. The talking, they both find, is useless, and when they sleep together, she feels good, while he feels they should never do that again. When she visits a night club and meets Sylvain (Paul Blain), she emasculates him after their night of passion: She doesn’t want whatever he can provide for her in a long-term context. All she wanted was a fling. All he wants is a connection.
Dialogue is a central tool in the film’s language, and there is simply too much of the stuff, particularly as it often fails to illuminate or complement anything. This brings us to the second level on which Let the Sunshine In operates and, for what it’s worth, works. Binoche’s performance is exceptional when the screenplay allows her simply to reflect upon her choices and what the future brings. The problem, then, is that the movie won’t allow her or the characters who support her to shut up. The result is a film that is, indeed, reflective of sincere concerns but contains a hollowness that is difficult to reconcile.
(Review by Joel Copling)
She Survived the Unthinkable to Tell Her Story
Title: On Her Shoulders
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1hr & 34mins
*** (out of ****)
Nadia Murad Basee Taha never wanted any of this. She just wanted to further her career as a seamstress, to continue be an amateur makeup artist, and to live her life. Murad lived in Yazda in Northern Iraq, which in August 2014 was overrun with ISIL militants, who raided the city and raped and imprisoned many, including Murad herself. After her rape, she was sold into sexual slavery for ISIL, which was vying for control of the region at the time and would eventually have it. She barely escaped with her life, and her story became an international headline, leading to her assignment as an ambassador with the United Nations.
Director Alexandria Bombach allows her an outlet to tell her story with On Her Shoulders, though the documentary has a bit more on its mind than just that. The “this” of which Murad never wanted any includes the aftermath of her survival story. She never wanted the unintentional fame that would arise from her account of the crisis of the Yazidi people and of her own abduction and slavery. The portrait of Murad provided to us is one of a strong young woman whose strength has, quite apparently, almost left her. She moves, interacts, and even smiles while barely repressing an obvious and unsurprising exhaustion.
That exhaustion, of course, isn’t sleepiness but a more existential kind of exhaustion. Every movement is the struggle of a person who just wants to curl up into a ball and retreat from society for a while. She does, though, carry the weight of an entire people – 700 of whom, it is guessed, were murder or imprisoned in the conflict – and their hoped-for freedom within her willingness and ability to speak on their behalf. Bombach spends several months following Murad’s return to society after her escape.
She eventually meets Murad, a relief worker from Houston who has an Iraqi heritage and offers a compassionate shoulder on which to lean, and Amal Clooney, an attorney whose surname connects her with celebrity and provides her a stature with those in power that Murad herself lacks in the first weeks of her campaign. The United Nations and, specifically, a handful of conservative and liberal members alike eventually take notice. Her position as ambassador, though, comes at a steep price, which for her is the cadre of questions about her rise to fame – impertinent and superficial questions. In On Her Shoulders, Murad would much rather be asked about the people still imprisoned by the Islamic State, and that is a desire etched into every exhausted line of her face.
(Review by Joel Copling)
(Review by Chase Lee)
Wednesday, May 9, 2018
The Spoils of Capitalism Can Be Quite Horrifying
Title: Generation Wealth
Rating: R for strong sexual content, nudity, disturbing images, and drug material
Run Time: 1hr & 46mins
**** (out of ****)
In all likelihood, Generation Wealth started as a very different thing than it turns out to be. Director Lauren Greenfield intended to research a generation’s worth of attitude toward and accruement of wealth in America. Instead, the documentary partly supports her thesis with anecdotal storylines belonging to her many interview subjects and partly reflects upon the filmmaker’s own past work. Sometimes, she literally just recycles footage from that work, such as when the story at the center of 2012’s The Queen of Versailles, in which mogul David Siegel and his former-beauty-queen wife Jackie attempted unsuccessfully to build a palace in the middle of Florida.
The subjects here have stories that similarly share a tragic quality. Take Florian Homm, a former hedge-fund manager who found himself on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Most Wanted list (alongside Osama bin Laden and others) for his criminal mismanagement of his own money. He was among those affected directly by the United States withdrawing from the gold standard in the days of Ronald Reagan’s Presidency. Money was printed as if it was a dying man’s last meal – which might actually be an accurate analogy. As a journalist puts it, a society is at its richest when it’s bouncing back from the point of death.
Greenfield finds room, though, for more intimate story arcs, too, such as when she catches up to a handful of people from one of her first projects (an examination of party culture in high school circa 1991). None of these people wound up where they expected, least of all one man who enjoyed a short career as a rapper of independently produced tracks and planned, by the time he was 40, to have made nine figures. Now that he’s 41, he lives very near to where he grew up, has children and a wife, and works in the tech world. Such stories are common as the filmmaker continues her research and reflection.
Some of those stories are downright lurid, as Greenfield’s journey takes her into the worlds of child beauty pageants (where Eden Hood, at the age of six, desires money above all else to be the light at the end of her tunnel), exotic dancing (where, in the nudity-friendly club Magic City, patrons will regularly throw thousands of dollars at the dancers’ writhing bodies), V.I.P. access (where one woman has raised her son in view of the decadence), and adult entertainment (where former actress Kacey Jordan, following an expensive and well-publicized party with Charlie Sheen and the contraction of salmonella after a particularly adventurous video, has retired to a quieter life at home).
Greenfield is frank and honest during such stretches, earning the film its harsh R-rating, and money ties all of it together. The cruel cycle of capitalism has its way with all of these people, and the stories don’t end with any of the previous paragraphs. In a way, there are too many to recount, but this doesn’t mean that the film overextends its reach with the amount of material. If anything, it is a testament to Greenfield and her team of four editors (Victor Livingston, Dan Marks, Aaron Wickenden, and Michelle Witten) are able to make sense of this material. Eventually, the film comes back around to its director, who, in addition to research, is compiling a photographic presentation of her findings. Generation Wealth is as much about the heavy weight of capitalism as it is about Greenfield’s act of processing it through art. The result is extraordinary.
(Review by Chase Lee)
(Review by Chase Lee)
Coming-of-Age and the Futility of “Conversion Therapy”
Title: The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1hr & 30mins
**** (out of ****)
There is a chilling moment early in The Miseducation of Cameron Post that is also a telling one, and it isn’t surprising later when the film calls back to it at a crucial moment. It takes a little bit of set-up, though, before I get to the details of that moment. Our protagonist has been forcibly enrolled into a “conversion therapy” camp following a controversial incident at her school. For the uninitiated, the camps are designed to “cure” those within the queer community by introducing a bit of Christian Gospel into their lives. It usually involves frank emotional abuse and the strict policing of every behavior.
That leads us to the chilling moment. It is our protagonist’s first night in the camp, and the camp “counselors” have the nightly duty of peering into each dorm room with a flashlight. The intention is clear: They are attempting to determine whether those queer “indiscretions” are occurring under their purview. The motivation, though, is a bit murkier: Cam (Chloe Grace Moretz), who has been processing same-sex attraction, and Erin (Emily Skeggs), who has been placed there for apparent “gender confusion,” are bunked together. One would think such a pairing would be antithetical on the part of this center, which decides the gender identities and sexual preferences of its campers on their behalf. Pairing two girls-by-their-definition, then, is kind of inexplicable.
After all, the camp’s founder, Dr. Marsh (Jennifer Ehle), makes it abundantly clear just with her attitude toward Cam’s chosen name that the concepts of gender and sexuality are exactly the opposite of fluid. “Cam,” as likely guessed by most, is a shorthand for “Cameron,” which, the good doctor says, is masculine enough. Such a proclamation, of course, involves a lot of assumption about what “masculine” means. For the doctor and her counselors, including her younger brother Rick (John Gallagher Jr.) and his girlfriend Bethany (Marin Ireland), there is a clear and finite definition, provided for them by the Word of God Himself.
Co-writer/director Desiree Akhavan’s film is as much an exploration of such beliefs and how they inspire the mindset that inspires such a camp as it is about how Cam came to be at this place: Once upon a time, Cam was in a relationship with a boy, and then she met Coley (Quinn Shephard) at her Bible study (Yes, the irony hits the group of campers pretty hard). They were caught – by Cam’s boyfriend, no less – having sex in a car outside of prom. Cam’s aunt Ruth feels the necessity to send her to God’s Promise, the camp in question. The only positive about this experience, as expected, is the presence of the other campers.
Besides Erin, who was sent here for an affinity toward “masculine” sports like football, there are Adam (Forrest Goodluck), a Native American born in a male body but with “a female soul,” Helen (Melanie Ehrlich), who likely admitted herself after falling in love with a female choir member (as she tells it) because of the girl’s angelic voice, Jamie (Dalton Harrod), who was “too feminine” for his Christian father’s political campaign to remain at home, and Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane), which may or may not be (and probably isn’t) her real name. The group navigates each of their personal journeys, which are as capable of choice contented moments as they are of gutting tragedy, and the group meetings, led by Rick or Dr. Marsh, that are just excuses for the people in power to impose their ego on the campers.
Importantly, Akhavan and co-screenwriter Cecilia Frugiuele, adapting Emily M. Danforth’s novel of the same name, balance the tone of this material in such a way that it doesn’t wallow in the despair of the rut in which these kids are stuck. For every moment in which one camper calls home to ask to leave (only to be met with a brick wall), there is a moment of levity, many of them to do with the other campers, whose personalities thankfully distinguish each of them. This all means that The Miseducation of Cameron Post prioritizes its characters and a human story over a more obviously grim telling of this tale.
(Review by Joel Copling)
(Review by Chase Lee)
Tuesday, May 8, 2018
Imagine going off to college a few hours from home and while you are walking around the campus, a large number of people seem to recognize you and greet you as If you were a long lost friend. To top it all off, they call you Eddy, which is not your name. You are Bobby. A person in your dorm, who is friends with Eddy asks all the right questions and helps you determine you have a twin, who he quickly takes you a few hours away to go see. When you meet Eddy, you are looking at a near carbon copy of yourself. Your story hits the newspapers in the New York/New Jersey area and friends of a third young man, David, show the article to him. It is quickly discovered you are not a twin but a triplet.
You all meet and it is like no time has passed. The bond is immediate and you all seek to spend all possibly time together. The world eats your story up like a banana split sundae. You become media darlings and your lives will never be the same. The reunion is happy and joyous despite the lost time. Your relationship is confirmed in that you all have the same birthday and were adopted from the same adoption agency in New York: the Louise Wise agency, a top organization for the placement of Jewish
babies. You move in together, spend every moment possible together, socializing and partying at all the best places. You meet wonderful girls and all eventually marry and you all three go into the restaurant business together, opening a restaurant that capitalizes on the fact that you are triplets. Everyone comes to meet you and business is fabulous. Then the cracks begin to appear. And the similarities start to point to something more sinister.
It is discovered that you all have one older adopted sister. Not everyone was adopted into the same situation; one family was well off, one was middle class and one was working class. You have a hard time finding your adoption records and when searching for your mother, it is learned that there is a history of serious mental illness on her side. You remember that people used to come into your home to observe you and put you through tasks. Your brothers report the same memories. The more you dig for information, the tighter the doors begin to close. You discovered that you were deliberately separated and studied, with your parents never being told that you were one of three identical brothers. The researchers did know this fact but told no one. While you have quite a few similar mannerisms, tastes and preferences it becomes increasingly clear that the reasons for your separation, adoption and subsequent study had more dastardly components, not unlike those that governed studies in Nazi Germany. It is discovered that all of you suffered with emotional and mental conditions growing up and were met with different responses to that from your families. Not everyone fared so well, as a result but you know you weren’t given access to information or treatment opportunities via the researchers who know all about what could have possibly been passed to you genetically due to predisposition.
The acclaimed documentary, directed by Tim Wardle, allows the viewer to meet the boys in person, via old film and old photographs from their youth and asks that you listen to their story, as well as their thoughts, feeling and questions about it all. Scientist have long been interested in the factors of nature vs nurture but when you have come from a parentage plagued by mental illness and you begin to feel that it is the emergence of that factor in your life that they are most interested in observing, paired with the parenting styles with which you were raised (which were full well known by the researchers due to your adopted older sister being placed with the families) that feelings of anger, frustration and resentment emerge regarding what you were not told, what all you missed in terms of “family”, and the apparently secrecy surrounding the study, of which the results were never released, published or know. You discover the records are sealed until longer after you will be gone from this earth.
Three Identical Strangers asks many many questions especially regarding the ethics of behavioral research, and the rights of its subjects, especially when they are innocent children who have no idea what has been manipulated in their lives. What is real and what is deliberately part of the experiment. And you cannot get answers. It is also discovered that there are more sets of identicals affected, primarily twins. In fact, it is pointed out that there are possibly people living out their lives who have no idea that they have a twin sibling. While the reunion was triumphant, the result is more tragedy. The story is made all the more poignant through the many interviews with parents, siblings, wives, friends and others involved in the actual research. It is pointed out that the main researchers have passed on, while others in the know are decidedly tight lipped about the study. It is quite sad that nothing was learned that has been released, and those here today will never know for a generation will have passed before Yale releases the sealed paperwork. All in all, the sad and tragic story makes for interesting viewing and will certainly appeal to those interested in sociology and psychology as well as human development.
(Review by Cheryl Wurtz)
The Part Where the Triplets Discover Each Other Is the Least Weird Part of This Wild Story
Title: Three Identical Strangers
Rating: PG-13 for some mature thematic material
Run Time: 1hr & 36mins
**** (out of ****)
In 1980, Bobby Shafran arrived at the Sullivan County Community College in Upstate New York. He was greeted, to his surprise, with great enthusiasm by people he didn’t recognize, kissed by young women he’d never met. “David,” they called him, but he didn’t know any David. His prospective roommate, though, did know a David, and it was a young man who could be Bobby’s twin brother. Indeed, David Gellman was Shafran’s twin brother, and their reunion, which drew the attention of the local newspaper, alerted another young man to a startling truth: Eddy Galland was also identical to them.
This was a well-publicized story that year, across various publications and even on national television. Their mannerisms, personalities, and tastes in women were as identical as their features. In a manner that is far stranger than fiction, though, the documentary Three Identical Strangers recounts a tale in which this detail – the serendipitous reunion of identical triplets – is its least weird development. Indeed, in ways that are difficult to spoil for an audience unaware of what they’re getting themselves into, the reunion is only the beginning. Director Tim Wardle’s film is a significant achievement in the build-up and follow-through of near-suffocating suspense.
There is as much tragedy at the center of the stories of Shafran, Kellman, and Galland as there is genuinely head-scratching similarity. Indeed, those similarities (of which the fact that all three boys wrestled in high school is but one) only end at the economics behind their upbringings. Shafran was raised in a wealthy, well-to-do family, Galland in a more traditional and modest one, and Kellman in a lower-class neighborhood. Shafran’s parents were a doctor and a lawyer. Galland’s father was a strict disciplinarian. Kellman’s father was the bright bulb of any given room and a fiercely loyal worker. Each boy was adopted into this family, each brother had an adoptive older sister, and each went on to marry a woman who, in an amusing montage, maintains that their identical triplet is the handsomest.
The meat of the story begins with the parents’ interrogation and investigation into why they were never told about each respective brothers’ siblings at birth. This is where, unfortunately, any in-depth discussion must stop, for the answers are simultaneously shocking and infuriating, cutting deep to the dark side of the medical field and its enablers. Twists follow sharp left turns, which in turn followed other twists, and Wardle juggles these with a deft hand and a keen eye for misdirection. Indeed, the initial misdirection of leading us to believe it is one kind of story when it’s entirely another is eventually followed by three other such moments of fundamental misdirection. Nothing is as it seems in Three Identical Strangers, a wild roller coaster of the emotions and a diamond-hardened experiment in how long it can make its audience members hold their collective breath.
(Review by Joel Copling)
(Review by Chase Lee)