Mini-Reviews: Office Christmas Party, Nocturnal Animals, and La La Land

Hey everybody!

Welcome to another edition of Mini-Reviews. This time, it’s more of a mixed than it was last time. So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

*As always, these will be spoiler free reviews*

 

Office Christmas Party

Directors: Josh Gordon and Will Speck

Writers: Justin Malen, Laura Solon, and Dan Mazer

Cast: Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon, Courtney B. Vance, Rob Corddry, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, Sam Richardson, Karan Soni, Jamie Chung, Abbey Lee, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and Jillian Bell.

Synopsis: When his uptight CEO sister threatens to shut down his branch, the branch manager throws an epic Christmas party in order to land a big client and save the day, but the party gets way out of the hand…

 

Tis the season for Christmas films, and what better film than an office Christmas party movie where things go wrong, right? While Office Christmas Party does have some saving moment scattered throughout, the film falls flat on a lot of areas, which is a shame considering the pretty good cast the film fills out.

Office Christmas Party follows a tech company, Zenotech, that is threaten to be shut down by the company CEO Carol (Aniston). However, her brother Clay (Miller), who happens to have had the branch inherited to him by his father, intends to keeping the branch alive at any means. Along with his CTO Josh (Bateman) and programmer Tracy (Munn), Clay thinks they can save the branch by signing a big wig in Walter Davis (B. Vance). Carol seeing it as impossible gives them two days to get it done. Seeing their hopes slips, they decide to throw a massive office Christmas party to impressive him, get the deal and save the branch. Of course, things get out of hand.

The idea of an office Christmas party going crazy isn’t all the exciting, but you would think with a great cast like this, they would be able to conjure something worthwhile and better than average. Unfortunately, the film barely does that and fails to really connect to most of the core characters.

T.J. Miller plays pretty much the same character he’s done before, while Jason Bateman plays the straight-laced character and Kate McKinnon, who plays the head of HR, is a wacky and out-there character that has one big moment to shine. Jennifer Aniston playing the cut-throat CEO seems to a perfect fit for her. The rest of the cast have their moments to shine, but when the film takes time to focus on the main three characters in their respected stories, it fails to get us invested in them.

Bateman’s character goes through a divorce at the beginning of the film, but we don’t really see him affected by it or see his ex-wife. Olivia Munn’s character has her own arc that only serves the plot when it needs to, and there’s an interesting plot point with Jillian Bell that comes out of left field, but doesn’t really go anywhere. Also, seeing Courtney B. Vance break loose is a sight to see.

All in all, Office Christmas Party does have some great laughs scattered throughout, but the film doesn’t really bring anything new to the table.

Office Christmas Party

3 out of 5

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Nocturnal Animals

Director: Tom Ford

Writer: Tom Ford

Cast: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber, Armie Hammer, Karl Glusman, Michael Sheen, and Laura Linney

Synopsis: An art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale.

 

Based on the novel by Austin Wright and directed by former designer Tom Ford, Nocturnal Animals follows Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is an art dealer, who is not happy with her life, suddenly gets a package from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). The package contains a novel he wrote called Nocturnal Animals, which he dedicated to her – and something he once called her. Susan begins to read the book, seeing the lead character of Tony, as Edward, and follows a family driving through middle of nowhere Texas that end up getting attacked by three individuals lead by Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Tony manages to get away as his wife and daughter (played by Isla Fisher and Ellie Bamber) are kidnapped and gets help from Officer Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon).

During all this, Susan also starts getting flashbacks of former her life with Edward as her current husband (Armie Hammer) is away on business. There we see how her marriage failed, and we get enthralled in a haunting, tense thriller drama from beginning to end.

It’s not hard to see the parallels between the real-life story of Susan and Edward’s novel, and flows together rather nicely once everything picks up. However, there are some things that get lost in the shuffle. Even though the film is about Amy Adams’ Susan and Edward’s novel, it would have been nice to see more of Armie Hammer’s character fleshed out instead of just being Susan’s husband – they only shared about three scenes together. There is another character that random pops up and is never mentioned ever again, but for the sake of keeping my non-spoiler tag I won’t mention it here.

Despite some of the flaws, Nocturnal Animals is held together by the cast and the gripping novel plotline. Amy Adams is always reliable, and seeing her as this somewhat broken character is something she handles very well. Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance is mostly that of Tony, but watching Tony’s story is arguably the best part of the film. That being said, that also works as a bit of a negative. The fact that the story within a story works more and is more interesting than the “real” story is a bit of a shame, but that could be just me. Going back to the cast, Michael Shannon also continues his string of reliable and great characters with Andes, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson fines a great line of sadistic redneck and playing dumb.

All in all, Nocturnal Animals has all the elements to keep the film entertaining and keep you invested, but most of it relies on the story within the story. It’s not a bad thing overall, but when it parallels to Susan’s story it takes you out just a bit.

Nocturnal Animals

4 out of 5

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La La Land

Director: Damien Chazelle

Writer: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, Callie Hernandez, Jessica Rothe, Sonoya Mizuno, Finn Wittrock, and J.K. Simmons

Synopsis: A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.

 

Damien Chazelle made waves with his last feature film, Whiplash, so people were really looking forward to what he had in store with La La Land. Turns out, it was another great story with great leads, an amazing score, awesome set-pieces and more importantly, a very old timey Hollywood feel.

The film follows Mia (Emma Stone), a struggling actress trying to keep her head above water, and works as a barista on the Warner Bros. studio backlot. She keeps meeting Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist with dreams of his own: he wants to open his own club. The two eventually end up together and what follows is their relationship as it goes through ups and downs in Hollywood.

La La Land takes a bit to find its tempo – I’m not even sorry for the bad music pun – but once it does, the film instantly becomes a whole new animal. The film does fall into musical territory, just so you know, but the soundtrack and music by Justin Hurwitz works so well that you’ll be nodding your head and trying to sing along with the music. You combine that with the great looking set-designs and you’ll fully embrace the vivid colorful world La La Land brings to the table.

It also helps that Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are – once again – great as the leads. The two obviously have great chemistry together (this is the third film together), and their leads are likeable dreamers that fall for each other in a nontraditional way, which was nice to see, and seeing their relationship smoothly transition is what makes us emotionally invested in their story from beginning to end. Also, each of them have their own story arcs that don’t need the other to hang get involved in any real way. Mia struggles with her acting on her own, and Sebastian needs to decide on he wants to move forward with his passion. Both storylines feel real, and once we see the resolution it makes sense why they would choose what they do.

All in all, La La Land is a film that feels like an old timey Hollywood film that pays huge homage to the musicals of old, but also enough to set itself apart and pave its own way. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling carry the film from beginning to end, but it’s the music with the sets – or in many cases, real-life locations – and cinematography that makes the film work on multiple levels. Do yourself a favor and go watch La La Land as soon as you can.

La La Land

4.5 out of 5

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‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ Review

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Director: Gareth Edwards

Writers: Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy

Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Meddelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Jimmy Smits, Alistar Petrie, Genevieve O’Reilly, and Mads Mikkelsen

Synopsis: The Rebellion makes a risky move to steal the plans for the Death Star, setting up the epic sage to follow.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

When it was announced that Lucasfilm would start doing spinoff/standalone films, many fans were excited about the endless possibilities that would entail. Then it was announced that we would be getting a prequel to Star Wars IV – A New Hope, that would follow the rebels we read about in the opening crawl that stole the plans to the Death Star. Fans were eager to see how that story played out, and then everything started coming together. The cast was put together, the director, and then the trailers were released. Everyone seemed pretty happy. Then the dreaded and new dirty word in Hollywood came out, reshoots. Even though everyone in the production said it wasn’t too big of a deal, fans started to worry. Well, it looks like we didn’t need to, because Rogue One: A Star Wars Story delivered on its early promise – a war film about the brave group of rebels that stole the plans to The Empire’s deadly weapon.

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The film doesn’t start off with the traditional Star Wars opening crawl, and instead starts with Imperial Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) getting a former Empire scientist, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) to come back to work on the Empire’s newest weapon. Before they can capture him however, Galen sends his daughter Jyn off to hide. We skip forward years, and an adult Jyn (Felicity Jones) is held by Imperial forces until she is saved by the Rebellion. There she meets an intelligence officer in Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and a re-programmed Imperial droid K-2SO (motion capture and voiced by Alan Tudyk) where they offer her freedom in exchange to help them get a message from her father that is being held by an old mentor, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) and a defector pilot Bodbi Rook (Riz Ahmed). Along their journey they recruit former Jedi temple protectors Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) to help them on their mission that becomes something bigger than they thought: save the galaxy from the Death Star, and steals the plans to help the Rebellion.

Rogue One is the first of new standalone/spinoff films, and if this is any indication on how Lucasfilm and Disney are going to handle the films, I think we are all in for a fun ride and great films. While the film does hark on some elements that we all love about Star Wars, the film feels different in a lot of ways too. While the previous Star Wars films have some “dark” overtones, Rogue One does feels more like an actual war film.

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The whole film is essentially a race against the clock that sees our characters jump from one planet to the other to get vital pieces of information, and trying to stay ahead of the Empire and Krennic. What also helps is the action is extremely top-notch. Sure we remember all the lightsaber battles and sky battles from the previous films, but what we’ve never really seen the ground troops, and the dirty side of the war that is finally introduced giving us a different side of the rebellion. Not only that, there is no Jedi in the film, sure we go to the home planet of the Jedi, but the closest thing we get Jedi is Donnie Yen’s character and the appearance of Darth Vader. So if you think Star Wars films need Jedi, Rogue One will prove you wrong.

Besides the action, the characters are what also make Rogue One a great and fun film. Felicity Jones’ Jyn is a great character to follow, who eventually accepts her place in the rebellion to stop the Empire, Luna’s character is complex in his own way that makes total sense now that we get a wider and better look at the Rebellion. Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen are a likeable duo with Yen being a major highlight for me – and will be for fans of his. Riz Ahmed’s Bodbi is unfortunately underdeveloped, but does have his moments, while Ben Mendelsohn’s continues to be reliable in everything he does as his Krennic is a worthy Imperial officer villain, although I wish they would have done more with him. They do involve him in a small arc with a character many Star Wars fans will know, and although I want to talk about that, I think I’ll let you experience that yourselves. The highlight of the film is Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO, who brings most of the humor to the film, and will probably go down as people’s newest favorite droid.

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The film does have some issues. Like I mentioned, some characters just don’t have enough to do or are underdeveloped, and some plot lines are pretty thin or aren’t fleshed out enough that we’re left wondering why bring this up? It also takes a while to really pick up, but once it does, oh man, is it totally worth it and sucks you in completely. I also had just one minor issue with one Vader scene, but we can talk about that some other time.

All in all, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a great film to the Star Wars series. While the film has a few missteps, and the fear that reshoots would ruin the film, Rogue One is a hell of a lot of fun for new and seasoned fans.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

4.5 out of 5

‘Moana’ Review

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Directors: Ron Clements & John Musker (co-directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams)

Writer: Jared Bush

Cast: Auli’I Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Alan Tudyk, Nicole Scherzinger, and Jemaine Clement

Synopsis: In Ancient Polynesia, when a terrible curse incurred by Maui reaches an impetuous Chieftain’s daughter’s island, she answers the Ocean’s call to seek out the demigod to set things right.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Disney Animation is having a pretty great record recently. They’ve had smash hits in Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, and of course the big one, Frozen. However, Moana feels completely different from all those films, and that is what makes the film work. Enriched with the culture behind it, and it’s great soundtrack, Moana is one of those films I think people will be talking about for a while.

Moana follows Moana, voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, is an adventurous teenager who has always been connected to venture into the ocean, but is forbidden by her father Chief Tui (Morrison), who instead wants Moana to lead the village. However, when an old darkness begins to take over the island, Moana sees this as her opportunity to finally get off the island and save her people, but she’ll need the help of the demigod Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson).

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The film starts off by telling us a tale of Maui, and what essentially becomes the adventurous tale of finding and returning the heart of Te Fiti, a god amongst the Polynesian people. The tale is a great jumping in point for people not familiar with the Polynesian culture – of course it’s not all of the history – but it certainly makes you understand Moana, and why she has an adventurous spirit. The other nice thing that the film does is we get to spend a great deal of time with Moana and the people of the island. So you can understand when Moana leaves, it’s not only a big deal for her, but also for the people of the island.

Moana herself is a good character. She’s strong-minded and has a good sense of herself, but also naïve when it comes to certain things, which makes her a good character to follow. When it comes to Maui, well, there’s a reason they got The Rock to do the voice for the demigod. Johnson brings his huge and charismatic personality to Maui, and essentially feels like an extension to Johnson himself. But, like Moana, is a flawed hero himself and needs Moana as much as Moana needs him. The pairing of the two, and the voice actors of Cravalho and Johnson, is great to watch and hearing them go back-and-forth with each other would usually be a highlight, but does help.

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The film is pretty much Moana and Johnson, but Rachel House plays an important role in the film and an important character in Moana’s life in her Gramma Tala, Disney go-to now Alan Tudyk does some voice work for Hei Hei, a brainless rooster who is sure to be a fan-favorite amongst youngsters, and the water, yes, the ocean is a character in itself that helps Moana on some occasion, although I kind of wished they would have used it more, but that’s just me being nitpicky. Finally, Jemaine Clement pops in as Tamatoa, a large crab that brings one of the more light-hearted songs of the film that makes sense for his character. Another potential fan-favorite set of characters are the Kakamora, which are coconut pirates – yes, coconut pirates – who are part of a action scene that is very Mad Max: Fury Road inspired.

The highlight of the film here is the music. Each song is catchy, highly entertaining, plays a role in the scene, and more importantly, beautifully done. I have no doubt you’ll be singing or humming these songs when you leave the theater or blast them on your drive home. The music also brings home many themes for not just the characters singing them, but also for the adventure themselves. They’re rather moving songs that even I’ll admit, had me on the verge of tears.

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All in all, Moana is another great addition of the Disney Animation category. Filled with rich visuals, history and music, time will tell how audiences treat Moana, but it is definitely worth your time. Does it fall into familiar territory sometimes? Sure, but it has enough to separate itself from the pack.

Moana

4.5 out of 5

December Movie Releases

It’s December, ladies and gentlemen!

The year is almost over! How has your year been, because it’s been a great year for films, huh? December is also a tough month to set, because this is the big Oscar month, so a lot of films end up getting limited releases, expansion releases, and then wide releases. So if anything is off, it’s because of that. I’ll do my best to get everything where it’s suppose to go, and if not I’ll come back and update the schedule.  So let’s jump right in the films that will close out the year.

Also, Happy Whatever-It-Is-You-Celebrate!

 

2nd

Limited Release: Jackie (Biography Drama – Fox Searchlight Pictures/Why Not Productions/Wild Bunch)

Following the assassination of her husband, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (played by Natalie Portman) fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children and define her husband’s historic legacy. The film has gotten a lot of love at the film festival circuit, and is getting a lot of Oscar buzz. It probably helped that this film has been in the works for a long time too. Jackie also stars Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, John Hurt, Billy Crudip, Max Casella, Richard E. Grant, and Caspar Phillipson.

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Limited Release: La La Land (Drama Comedy Musical)

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone reunite for La La Land which follows a jazz pianist who falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles. The film is getting a ton of great reviews from the film festival circuit so this one is one you should keep your eye out for. Also the trailer really gives off the vibe that the film will be a nice tribute to films of old. The film also stars Finn Wittrock, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Legend, Jason Fuchs, Hemky Madera, and J.K. Simmons.

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Incarnate (Horror Thriller – Universal Pictures/Blumhouse Productions/WWE Studios/IM Global/High Top Releasing/Deep Underground Films)

A scientist with the ability to enter the subconscious minds of the possessed must save a young boy from the grips of a demon with powers never seen before, while facing the horrors of his past. The film stars Aaron Eckhart, Carice van Houten, David Mazouz, Emjay Anthony, Matt Nable, and Catalina Sandino Moreno.

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9th

Expanded/Wide Release: Nocturnal Animals

Expanded Release: La La Land

Expanded Release: Jackie

 

 

Office Christmas Party (Comedy – Paramount Pictures/DreamWorks Pictures/Bluegrass Films)

When his uptight CEO sister (Jennifer Aniston) threatens to shut down his branch, the branch manager thrown an epic Christmas party in order to land a big client and save the day, but the party gets way out of hand. The film also stars T.J. Miller, Kate McKinnon, Jason Bateman, Rob Corddry, Olivia Munn, Jillian Bell, Jamie Chung, Abbey Lee, Randall Park, Matt Walsh and Courtney B. Vance.

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16th

Limited Release: The Founder (Biography Drama)

Michael Keaton stars in this film that tells the story of McDonald’s founder, Ray Kroc. I don’t think I’ve ever actually thought about the story of McDonald’s and since I’ve seen the trailer, it’s peaked my interest and I’m sure to many others as well. The rest of the cast includes Laura Dern, Patrick Wilson, Linda Cardellini, Nick Offerman, B.J. Novak, and John Carroll Lynch.

 

 

Collateral Beauty (Drama – New Line Cinema/Village Roadshow Pictures/Overbrook Entertainment/Anonymous Content/Likely Star/PalmStar Media)

An advertising executive encounters three mysterious figures who encourage him to move on from the past. The film looks like it’s going to be a powerhouse with the cast, but the idea does seem odd, and one that you can probably figure out from the trailers. Hopefully the execution works. Will Smith, Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, Edward Norton, Naomie Harris, Michael Pena, and Helen Mirren star.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Sci-Fi Adventure –Walt Disney Pictures/Lucasfilm)

Gareth Edwards directs the first spinoff/standalone film of the new set of Star Wars films, which actually takes us back in time as it follows Rebels on a mission to steal plans for the Death Star. Listen, it’s Star Wars, people are going to go watch it. However, the film’s last two trailers were freaking awesome, of course the film however, will have some closer eyes as the “dirty” word in Hollywood has hit the film: reshoots. Nonetheless, the film looks great and more importantly it looks different. The film stars Felicity Jones, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Jonathan Aris, and Forest Whittaker.

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21st

Sing (Animation – Universal Pictures/Illumination Entertainment)

A koala named Buster (Matthew McConaughey) recruits his best friend to help him drum up business for his theater by hosting a singing competition. I don’t know if I’m over talking animal animated film this year, but I’m not getting behind the Sing train. The voice cast also includes Scarlett Johansson, Reese Witherspoon, John C. Reilly, Seth MacFarlane, Taron Egerton, Nick Offerman, Peter Serafinowicz,  and Jennifer Saunders.

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Patriots Day (Lionsgate/CBS Films/Closest to the Hole Productions)

Directed by Peter Berg, the film is an account of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis’s (played by John Goodman) actions in the events leading up to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists behind it. Berg has already made a splash this year with Deepwater Horizon with Mark Wahlberg, so I can only think that this will be either as good or just as good. Patriots Day also stars J.K. Simmons, Kevin Bacon, Melissa Benoist, Michelle Monaghan, Alex Wolff, and Rachel Brosnahan.

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Passengers (Sci-Fi Adventure – Sony Pictures/Columbia Pictures/Village Roadshow Pictures/LStar Capital/Original Film/Start Motion Pictures/Company Films)

A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers (Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence) are awakened 90 years early. Two of the most liked and extremely talented actors in Hollywood are getting together for a film, and one that looks not too bad, I think we looking at a big hit here, don’t you think? Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, and Andy Garcia also star.

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Assassin’s Creed (Action – 20th Century Fox)

Based on the popular video game franchise, Michael Fassbender stars as Callum Lynch, who with the help of revolutionary technology that unlocks his genetic memories, experiences the adventures of his ancestor, Aguilar, in 15th Century Spain. Callum discovers he is descended from a mysterious secret society, The Assassins, and amasses incredible knowledge and skills to take on the oppressive and powerful Templar organization in the present day. Justin Kurzel, who directed the well-received and great film Macbeth, directs and reunites not only with Fassbender but Marion Cotillard as well. The film also stars Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Ariane Labed, Mathias Varela, Brian Gleeson, and Michael Kenneth Williams.

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23rd

Limited Release: A Monster Calls (Fantasy Drama – Focus Features/Participant Media/River Road Entertainment/Apaches Entertainment/La Trini)

Based on a script and book by Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls follows a boy as he seeks the help of a tree monster to cope with his single mom terminal illness. The film stars Liam Neeson as The Monster, Felicity Jones as the Mother, Sigourney Weaver as the Grandmother, Toby Kebbell as Dad, and Lewis MacDougall as the boy and Lily-Rose Aslandogdu as Lily. The film looks fantastic and I can’t wait to see how it does. The limited release is due to Focus Features trying to get the film an Oscar run. The film will come out early next year.

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Limited Release: Silence (Drama)

Directed by Martin Scorsese and based off the novel by Shusaku Endo, the film is set in the seventeenth century, where we follow two Jesuit priests that face violence and persecution when they travel to Japan to locate their mentor and propagate Christianity. The film has been looking for a release date and what better date to come out in than in December around Oscar season right? The film stars Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Shin’ya Tsukamoto and Tadanobu Asano.

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Why Him? (Comedy – 20th Century Fox/Red Hour Films/21 Laps Entertainment)

A dad (Bryan Cranston) forms a bitter rivalry with his daughter’s young rich boyfriend (James Franco). The film looks decently funny, at least we can hope, and seeing Cranston on the big screen is always nice – even if it’s a film like this. The film stars Zoey Deutch, and Megan Mullally.

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25th

Limited Release: 20th Century Women (Comedy Drama)

The story of three women who explore love and freedom in Southern California during the late 1970s. The film stars Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Alia Shawkat, Laura Wiggins, and Billy Crudup.

 

Limited Release: Paterson (Drama Comedy) 

Set in the present in Paterson, New Jersey, this is a tale about a bus driver and poet, who also happens to be named Paterson (Adam Driver). I saw the trailer for the first time recently, and it looks like a great little indie film that will showcase Adam Driver.

 

Limited Release: Hidden Figures (Drama)

Based on a true story, a team of African-American women provide NASA with important mathematical date needed to launch the program’s first successful space missions. The film stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kristen Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, Glen Powell, and Kevin Costner.

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Limited Release: Live By Night

Based off the novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane, Ben Affleck writes, directs and stars in this great looking film that is set during the Prohibition and follows Joe Coughlin, the son of a prominent Boston police captain, as he rises through the ranks of the criminal underworld and the trouble he falls into along the way. Besides the film looking great, it has a great cast in Zoe Saldana, Elle Fanning, Sienna Miller, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Sullivan, Anthony Michael Hall, Titus Welliver, Max Casella, Chris Messina, and Chris Cooper.

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Fences (Drama – Paramount Pictures/Scott Rudin Productions/Bron Studios/MACRO)

Based on the play by August Wilson, and directed by Denzel Washington, Fences follows an African American father who struggles with race relations in the United States while trying to raise his family in the 1950s and coming to terms with the events of his life. The film stars Washington, Viola Davis, Mykelti Williamson, Russell Hornsby and Stephen Henderson.

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So, what are you looking forward to?

‘The Hateful Eight’ Review

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Director: Quentin Tarantino

Writer: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Demian Bichir, Michael Madsen, James Parks, and Channing Tatum

Synopsis: In the dead of a Wyoming winter, a bounty hunter and his prisoner find shelter in a cabin currently inhabited by a collection of nefarious characters.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Despite the script leak, Quentin Tarantino continued his eighth film with his mystery Western, The Hateful Eight. He also did something special by shooting the film in 70mm. Now if you’re not a huge cinephile, or just know what that means, it probably doesn’t mean too much, but considering the rarity of how films are made nowadays, The Hateful Eight is a special film. This film is filled with the traditional and very noticeable Tarantino tropes and works, but Tarantino still finds a way to make the film feel different and make the audience feel a bit uncomfortable watching these strangers stuck in a cabin as the tension between all of them arise.

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The film is set after the Civil War, and takes place in Wyoming as a blizzard comes roaring in. We follow bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Jackson) hitching a ride with John “The Hangman” Ruth (Russell), who is chained to his bounty Daisy Domergue (Leigh), who are on the way to Red Rock so Ruth can collect Daisy’s bounty. Along the way, they pick up former Confederate soldier Chris Mannix, who has just become the sheriff of Red Rock despite Ruth’s disbelief, and they all head to an inn in the mountains called Minnie’s Haberdashery. Once they get there, they meet the already there occupants in cowboy Joe Gage (Madsen), British gentlemen Oswaldo Mobray (Roth), former Confederate General Sandy Smithers (Dern), and Bob (Bichir), the man looking over Minnie’s as she’s away. Trapped in the inn for a few days as the blizzard blows over, Ruth and Warren try to figure out if everyone, if anyone, can be trusted which leads to a tension-filled environment that, in the typical Tarantino style, eventually goes into mayhem.

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The timeline for the film isn’t just some random place setting. The fact that Samuel L. Jackson’s Warren is the only real African-American character does lend itself to the plot and the characters later on in the film. Major Warren actually has something that everyone can’t believe he has, and leads to some funny moments, but also more tension between Warren, Mannix, and Smithers. Hell, the fact that Warren fought on the opposite side of Mannix and Smithers is enough to always keep your eyes on them. Warren makes a great point once everyone knows that he has the thing no one can believes he has that makes a lot of sense, not just in the movie, but even in today’s world. The Hateful Eight isn’t trying to be political; it just makes some interesting political points.

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What holds the film together is the very Tarantino-esque characters, and the great cast that brings them all to life. Of course, Samuel L. Jackson – the only actor in the cast that has worked with Tarantino the most – is great in this and delivers a great monologue-like speech around the beginning of the third act that could potentially send chills down your spine. It also reminds us why the film is called The Hateful Eight. On the other end, Kurt Russell’s John Ruth aka The Hangman doesn’t have a speech that makes us hate or feel awkward, although his mustache will probably make you envious, but the way he treats Daisy goes ranges from threatening to shoot her, despite wanting to hang her, to hitting her if she gets out of line. It’s an odd relationship that – somehow – seems to work once we see them juxtaposed to each other. Hey, speaking of Daisy, Jennifer Jason Leigh is just memorizing to watch. Daisy sometimes just blends into the background as we focus on the other characters, but every time Daisy is in the spotlight, she shines. One scene is particular had me going, which involved her simply sitting with a guitar and singing.

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The supporting cast is equally great in what they are given. Walton Goggins is the highlight for me personally. Goggins is always a great supporting character guy and he can do anything that a director throws at him, and he does it here again and has one of the best arcs at the end of the film. Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Demian Bichir all have their moments to shine and bring some nice nuances to their roles. Bruce Dern doesn’t really do much until the middle of the film where his arch finally comes into play. Channing Tatum also pops up in a different role than he’s usually known for.

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On a technical level, The Hateful Eight is great to look at. The cinematography by Robert Richardson really puts you in Minnie’s Haberdashery, which is a great set, and out in the wintery landscape of Wyoming. Moreover, legendary spaghetti western composer Ennio Morricone score is both tense and a bit haunting, almost The Thing-like. The score is more haunting due to the fact the film is a slow burn through-and-through.

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All in all, The Hateful Eight is a slow burn, scene chewing, mystery Western that makes you question every character until the end. The great cast and the characters they play are elevated even more thanks to the secluded and close-quarters environment. If you love Tarantino films, this will be right up your alley, although it can be arguably said that this may not be Tarantino best film, but it still a great one in his filmography.

 

The Hateful Eight

4.5 out of 5

‘Point Break’ Review

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Director: Ericson Core

Writers: Kurt Wimmer

Cast: Luke Bracey, Edgar Ramirez, Teresa Palmer, Clemens Schick, Matias Varela, Tobias Santelmann, Nikolai Kinski, Max Thieriot, Ray Winstone and Delroy Lindo

Synopsis: A young FBI agent infiltrates an extraordinary team of extreme sports athletes he suspects of masterminding a string of unprecedented, sophisticated corporate heists.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

I’m sure I have posted this in the past: I don’t mind remakes/reboots/reimagining’s. It’s bound to happen people, get over it. Hollywood has been redoing stuff for years, but even I’ll agree that it is happening more than usual, and even more noticeable because of the internet. That’s one reason I don’t get upset or throw a hissing fit when a remake is announced. The other reason is that I always give movies the benefit of the doubt. I don’t mind remakes/reboots/reimagining’s if the team behind it does something that makes that movie worthwhile and makes the movie its own thing, and that I can respect. However, some of those movies don’t follow that logic, which is why most remakes suck. That can be said for Point Break.

Point Break takes most of the core story of the original 1991 Point Break in that it follows Johnny Utah – although Utah is a nickname this time around – who is a former extreme sports athlete who has left that world and is now trying to work his way up the FBI. When we meet him, he and the FBI find out that a group of thieves are using extreme sports-like qualities as their getaways, which leads Utah to believe they are indeed extreme sports athletes. This finding eventually lead him to tell FBI Instructor Hall (Lindo) that he thinks they are trying complete The Ozaki Eight, a fictional series of eight ordeals that intend to honor the forces of nature and give back to the world, of course the group’s way of giving back to the world is targeting big banks and giving the money to the poor. Hall, after some convincing, sends Utah to track them down and use his former extreme sports skills to weave his way in and take them down.

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One of the biggest difference between this and the original is that the remake is much more of a globe-trotting film with bigger stunts and bigger set-pieces. Some of which are okay, but don’t really move the story forward, they’re just there for the sake of having an extreme sports scene, like snowboarding down a dangerous mountain, or surfing a massive wave. The group of thieves, lead by the charismatic and dangerous Bodhi (Ramirez), are also much more than surfers this time around, which sort of adds, well, is supposed to add an extra layer of depth, but the group is interchangeable and none of them really standout. The only ones that really ever get significant screen time is Clemens Schick’s Roach and Mathias Varela’s Grommet, and while the actors do just fine, Bodhi is the one that gets the more meaty scenes.

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Clemens Schick’s Roach (left) and Mathias Varela’s Grommet (right)

The only real standout to the cast is Edgar Ramirez. He’s always reliable in everything he does really, and he does the best he can with what he’s given. Luke Bracey is rather blah, he has moments, but for the most part, he’s not that great of a lead. Teresa Palmer’s Samsara, the only woman in the core cast doesn’t really do too much and the brief love story feels a bit forced and doesn’t really carry any real weight to it. It’s kind of shame really because Palmer is a great actress and is wasted here. Ray Winstone pops u as Pappas, who also has his moments and alongside Ramirez, Winstone is a standout too.

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Point Break also feels a bit longer than it really is. The whole middle of the film is rather slow and nothing really happens aside from the really pointless big stunts. In fact, when Utah enters the group, they don’t steal anything! They sit around talking and bond, but the bonding has no real effect like the original did. Utah’s struggle to betray the group after he’s gotten to know them, doesn’t really exists, and whatever is there passes over fairly quick.

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What the movie also fails to do is really capitalize on what the original did. The iconic moments, like the presidents masks, which only appears once in security cameras, and the other two big moments from the original do appear, but they feel a bit forced and corny. Those moments make the remake feel shallower than it already is.

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All in all, Point Break doesn’t bring anything really new or good to the table. The cast is serviceable with the expectation of Edgar Ramirez, who is the real highlight of the film. The big stunts and bigger set-pieces do nothing for the sake of story and are just there to make the film probably feel more “extreme.” Despite my slight optimism for the film – and for remakes in general – Point Break fails for the most part on all spectrums.

 

Point Break

2.5 out of 5

‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Review

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Director: J.J. Abrams

Writer: J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt, and Lawrence Kasdan

Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson, Gwendoline Christie, Anthony Daniels, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Max von Sydow, and Mark Hamill

Synopsis: 30 years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat rises. The first Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a ragtag group of Heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

*Reviewer Note 2: I have already seen the movie twice, and the review was ready to go on Friday. However, I wanted to wait until this week to post the review. The review is spoiler-free, but still.*

 

Look, I’m not even going to pretend that this review is going to be easy to write. Not because I thought the film was bad, because it wasn’t, but because this film is so surrounded by secrecy that most of you probably won’t read this until after you watch the film – and I wouldn’t blame you. So, I’ll keep my promise to you that this will be a spoiler review and I’ll do my best to not even hint at any possible spoiler or could be considered a spoiler.

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The Force Awakens starts off like every Star Wars film before it, with the crawl. The crawl lets us know the important thing and the plot point that will set up the new trilogy: Luke Skywalker (Hamill) is missing – hence why’s he’s not in any promotional material – and in his disappearance a evil arises called The First Order lead by Supreme Leader Snoke (Serkis) and his generals in General Hux (Gleeson) and Kylo Ren (Driver). The one thing standing in their way is the Resistance which is lead by General Leia (Fisher) who has been fighting them since they rose to power after the Empire feel. In the middle of all this are our new heroes and lead in a Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Isaac), a scavenger Rey, a former Stormtrooper who’s now on the run, and a droid in BB-8. Along the way they meet up with familiar faces in Han Solo (Ford) and Chewbacca (Mayhew) who also help them out to fight off the First Order and their new weapon that threatens the galaxy.

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It’s hard not to see the familiar structure of other Star Wars films in The Force Awakens, but what director J.J. Abrams was able to do with the similarities was create something that still felt fresh and was excited to watch from beginning to end. Abrams doesn’t rely too much on nostalgia, although there are scenes that are oozed in it, but instead takes what the series has already given us and adds to it. The Force Awakens has great action, cinematography and more importantly, it’s a ton of fun and lets us get to know the characters that we want to root for them and follow their journey to the end. You can arguably say that maybe The Force Awakens relies too much of the similar story structure, but it works nonetheless.

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The new characters are great, and not a stinker in the bunch. Oscar Isaac is the first new character we see and he brings a nice swagger and charm, that to be honest, I was not expecting and that’s coming from a Oscar Isaac fan. John Boyega’s Finn also brings his own swagger and charm and even brings some of the funniest moments in the film. At the same time, we’re seeing a different side in the battle between the Dark Side and the Light Side. Finn leaves the First Order and abandons his role as a Stormtrooper. We’ve haven’t really seen that side before, and given that Finn is probably one of the characters you really can’t nail down. Sure, he does heroic things in the film and is on the side of the resistance, but he was a Stormtrooper too. Boyega handles it well and if your first exposure to Boyega was Attack the Block like mine, you know he was able to rise to the challenge.

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Finally, Daisy Ridley as Rey is one of the best characters in the film. She feels like a real person and is a character that you can easily root for. She’s not just a badass character, but one that can be vulnerable, funny, and naïve. Rey, similar to Finn, is looking for more in her life. She’s also heard the stories of Luke, Han and Leia, and is wide-eyed to find out that all of it was real and she’s now going on her own adventure. Rey will definitely be a highlight for many once they watch the film. Of course, there’s BB-8 as well. I mean come on, have you seen the commercial’s, have the droids in the past not been great? BB-8 was awesome too.

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Now let’s talk about the Dark Side. Kylo Ren gets most of the screen time and attention so Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux, Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke and even Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma are just a bit underdeveloped and are clearly saved for the future films, but it still would have been nice to see them a little more, especially Captain Phasma. It’s understandable, obviously, considering this is the first movie of a new trilogy, but it was a little frustrating considering all the secrecy for the characters just to be saved for future films. However, Gleeson’s Hux does get a fair amount of screen time and you really tell there is something about him and the fact that he’s younger than other Generals we’ve seen in these films.

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Thankfully, not all of The Force Awakens is CGI (I’m looking at you George Lucas!). Abrams goes back to the roots of Star Wars and has a ton (!) of practical effects and physical creatures so the cast can interact with. It could have been easier to go with CGI creatures, but the fact that Abrams and producers Bryan Burk and Kathleen Kennedy went the route of building creatures makes the film feel so much more special. Sure there are CGI creatures, but there isn’t an over abundance of them. One of those CGI creatures is Maz Kanata, who Lupita Nyong’o does the voice and motion capture for. Her character appears right in the middle of the film and while her character doesn’t feel important, she does play an important role, and is one of the characters I’m sure we’ll see more of in the future.

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All in all, what makes The Force Awakens undoubtedly work is that the film is fun. It really is fun and funny. Abrams is always able to find a nice balance of action and comedy that they serve their purpose equally and one doesn’t overpower the other. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve had this much fun and laughed with a movie since the summer and Mad Max: Fury Road. The most importantly thing the film does however is that it doesn’t lean toward or on its past. It embraces it future while paying respect to the past. Disney, Lucasfilm, Abrams, who ever deserves the credit, should be given all the credit in the world for making that move. It was great to see the old cast come back, but it was even better to see a brand new cast of characters, especially John Boyega’s Finn and Daisy Ridley’s Rey.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens is truly a great addition, and continuation, to the Star Wars franchise. It will make you feel like a kid again, it will make you cry and more importantly, it will make you happy that there is another Star Wars movie in our lives.

 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

4.5 out of 5

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