REVIEW: “THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI” (2017) Fox Searchlight

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Step right up Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell and please just accept your Oscar’s for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor already. Yes, truly they are that good and that’s how I feel. And hey, throw in a Best Picture nod while you’re at it please!!!

This wonderfully dark comedy featuring a brash, outspoken and very funny McDormand in the lead role as Mildred Hayes, a divorcee from Ebbing, Missouri and let me tell you, Mildred is one extremely pissed woman at her local Police Department. Most especially Sherriff Willougby (Woody Harrelson), and she is not afraid to let everyone know this as she rents out 3 billboards on the outskirts of town at $5000 a month from Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones). The way Mildred see’s it is it’s been seven months since her teenage daughter Angela (Kathyrn Newton) was raped, murdered and set ablaze on a quiet stretch of country road, and yet still no arrests have been made or suspects identified. Mildred and many others in the town, feel as the local Sherriff’s dept. are “too busy torturing black folk”. And she’s right as Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) has been investigated for doing just that. Sheriff Willoughby however, doesn’t much like being publicly mocked by billboards that read: “Still No Arrests?” “How Come, Chief Willoughby?” and “Raped While Dying.”
And the story that unfolds before you is one that will capture every emotion you thought you never had. This is a hard -edged drama, but with enough sarcastic comedy in it to somehow keep it funny through a dark subject throughout the film. This film is a brilliant piece of storytelling that somehow has stories within that all fit together in the end in a 360 degree type circle.

McDormand is simply superb as the mother whose anger is just part of her problems in life. She breaks this character down inch by inch in front of us in such detail you are sure not to forget her anytime soon. Rockwell – who let’s face it, can be very ‘hit or miss’ with his performances, here he is so crazy good and volcanically funny that you want to almost applaud whenever he shows up, as he somehow he makes Dixon both horrendous and humane – sometimes both in a same breath – it is truly a tremendous performance. Harrelson is wonderful, yet sarcastic, a bit vulgar and yet even in the face of death, funny. Peter Dinklage as James, the town’s only ‘small person’, Lucas Hedges in another fine performance as Mildred’s son Robbie and John Hawkes as the ex-husband, truly round up a great supporting cast. The only true problem I had any of this cast was with Harrelson’s wife Penelope (Samara Weaving) as the being 1/2 his age part wasn’t the only blur, but how in the world is an Australian somehow in this little backwoods town of Ebbing, Missouri. Besides that, it truly is a flawless picture by Martin McDonagh and not only my favourite film of the year so far, but hopefully a shoe-in for a couple of those Oscars!

Grade: A
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Media Screening Review: Monday, November 6, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Fox Searchlight
“THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI” is now playing nationwide // International release in Jan 2018

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REVIEW: “WONDER” (2017) Lionsgate

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With Jacob Tremblay as Auggie“WONDER” bring us the sweet story based on the New York Times bestseller by R.J. Palacio. We get to know Auggie slowly during the film and find out about his ongoing life, like his twenty-seven surgeries on his face, how he keeps his hospital bracelets as souvenirs and how his supportive parents Isabel (Julia Roberts), and Nate (Owen Wilson) have decided to send him to school for the first time ever. See until now, Auggie has been home-schooled by Isabel, but it’s 5th grade and time for “real” school. While his face is without a doubt deformed, he is in no way as seriously damaged as say John Merrick – the famous The Elephant Man, or Rocky Dennis – the young man in Mask, (portrayed so wonderfully by Eric Stoltz), but we know this can’t be an easy decision for anyone involved. Auggie’s older sister Via (Izabela Vidovic), also carries a burden that few understand and along with her childhood friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell) they have their own vignette-type sequences where their stories are told. Vidovic is also probably the best casting of the film and this is very much her story as well.

The film kicks into gear once school starts. Mandy Patinkin plays the principal Mr. Tushman (a name he embraces), and we get the expected nice kid Jack Will (Noah Jupe), the girl who befriends him when others won’t Summer (Mille Davis), the rich-kid bully Julian (Bryce Gheisar), and the popular girl Charlotte (Elle McKinnon). Some of the characters have various segments of the film named after them, with each their own stories to tell, and though these are quite loosely told, they do provide some semblance of structure to the film and keep viewers focused on the diverse personalities. Along we go to thru the normal schoolings of any 5th grader really, with things such as the Science Fair (which of course they win), field trip (all inclusive with bullies & those who stand up to them) and school play – where of course miracles happen. While each of these little stories provide critical turning points, most of the film is based on Auggie’s impact on those whose path he crosses and some of them are sweet and touching, and some of them just seem the norm for any 5th grader really.

It’s a weird middle ground for a movie to exist in, a plot of hits & misses as it moves slowly through the story, almost as if it simply doesn’t trust itself to tell its own story and be understood. It simply misses the mark on some things, but yet on others, hits the nail on the head. Daveed Diggs has a nice turn as 5th grade class teacher Mr. Browne, and the always wonderful Sonia Braga makes a much-too-brief appearance in Via’s little vignette as Gran. Director Chbosky previously gave us the gem THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, and this time out he allows us to explore the fragility of friendship and family, and the importance of toughness in an individual, it simply seems to go through the motions at times of what is ‘supposed’ to happen. But I will say, there is something special about what unfolds between children beautifully captured here, though the ending is pure Hollywood. But we should accept the crowd-pleasing cheesiness and be thankful for a pleasant, entertaining family movie for the holiday season.

Grade: C+
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Media Review Screening: Thursday, November 9, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Lionsgate
‘WONDER’ is out in theatres nationwide Friday, November 17, 2017

REVIEW: “DADDY’S HOME 2” (2017) PARAMOUNT PICTURES

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Well hang up your christmas stockings and get your eggnog ready as we are headed into the holidays, and that means the family holiday movies are starting up. With the trailer for “DADDY’S HOME 2”, as with most comedies these days, giving away many of the funny moments, no need to expect any additional spoilers here.

As for the film itself – we pick up two years later, after the fierce daddy competition between Brad (Will Ferrell) and Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) had throughout the first film. We start off sweetly, with what looks to be a very healthy co-dad environment for all involved. In comedy-based cinema, the best way to disrupt a happy family synergy is to introduce the Christmas season and the sure-to-follow family turmoil. And with that – enter Mel Gibson as Dusty’s estranged dad – Kurt, and John Lithgow as Brad’s so-close-it’s-too-close dad – Don… and let the holiday escapades begin.

It’s clear that these two grandads have completely different ideas of well, being grandads. Gibson’s character’s idea of being a father has been around for many generations. Toughen up the kids and make sure they are strong and independent. Keep those emotions close to the vest. On the other side is John Lithgow and his over-hugging and blubbering true feelings approach. The familiar supporting cast, (notably missing Griff (Hannibal Buress)) holds up their end admirably. Sara (Linda Cardellini) and Alessandra Ambrosio as Karen, are back as Brad’s and Dusty’s wives, respectively. Scarlett Estevez, Owen Vaccaro, and Didi Costine are back as the kids: Megan, Dylan & Adrianna – each with their own quirks and growing pains. Even John Cena returns as Adrianna’s biological father – Roger, and also delivers one of the film’s best punchlines, as well as a bit that might forever ruin Christmas caroling for you or maybe like me, where I thought it was actually simply sweet.

With the additions of Gibson and Cena, the sequel ups the ante on the debate of masculinity that anchored the first film. The female characters are still seemly just afterthoughts, and some of Gibson’s antics (considering his rep and the current revelations coming out of Hollywood) seem awkwardly ill-timed. He makes inappropriate jokes, he makes sexist jokes about hookers, he laughs at nearly everything stupid Ferrell does.

Could I slam this film for having Mel Gibson in it..yes I completely could, and legitimately so because honestly, it doesn’t flow well with me on a personal level. Neither does when trying to make light of kids with shotguns or using them as props to getting drunk. It’s not. Especially in light of everything going on here now. But if you step away from that, this film was also a bit on the sappy-sweeter, emotional side than the original ‘DADDY’S HOME’ (which I thought was NOT appropriate for kids) for me and that’s what redeemed it. This one – if they are over the age of 12 or 13, yes, as I think back to my 12 or 13 year old self, and would be okay with it.

Grade: C
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Media Review Screening: Tuesday, November 7, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
“DADDY’S HOME 2” will be released in theaters nationwide on Friday, November 10, 2017

REVIEW: “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2017) 20th Century Fox

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CHOO CHOO!! ALL ABOARD..ALL ABOARD THE ORIENT EXPRESS! Murder! Mayham! Suspense!

Yes..If you’ve read Dame Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” or have seen the 1974 version you know the storyline. If not, or like me, couldn’t remember all of it – what’s left to deal with then, is how well this one is done and of course the big ‘whodunnit’ reveal at the end.

The story of master detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) who is hoping for a break after numerous years of solving cases, jumps onboard The Orient Express thanks to friend Bouc (Tom Bateman) who was able to secure him this spot. While onboard, Poirot ends up having to solve a murder committed while traveling with 12 other passengers on The Orient Ecpress – a train that made traveling in style from West-East axis and back again, very popular.

Director and lead actor Branagh takes on the popular story, with a nod to nostalgia in three ways. First, the flair of the train travel at that time, which was associated with adventure, pleasure and discovery, must be brought back to life. Second, the charm of the detective-witty inquiry that the character is closely linked to that era. And thirdly, a remake must also pay homage to the original film and the book itself, because Agatha Christie stories are still hugely popular and it’s 1974 version brought much critical and acting acclaim. Thus, Branagh with his well-known cast, recognizes this and with a good but alas not perfect effort, tries to retain that feel. Its highlights include dazzling production design, period costumes and of course I would be remiss to not mention the highly distracting signature moustache! The opening portion of the train journey is spent as you would expect – introducing us the characters on the train. But it’s the last 30 minutes of the film where the detective really gets into why each character is there and what part they play in the film which make that the most interesting part of the film.

Branagh as Poirot, does a fine job mixing in the brilliant detective with the comedic, witty sarcasm the character is known for. It’s always a kick to see Dame Judi Dench, here as Russian Princess Dragomiroff, and the wonderful Olivia Coleman (one of my personal favourites) as her besieged maid, Hildegarde Schmidt. But they have literally nothing to do and are almost shamefully underused. Leslie Odom, Jr. as Dr. Arbuthnot is the racial switch in the casting – as Sean Connery had the role in the 1974 film – shows welcome daring for a remake that plays things stodgily by the book.
Michelle Pfeiffer shines in perhaps the meatiest – certainly the cheekiest – role as Caroline Hubbard, but those such as Daisy Ridley as Miss Mary Debenham shows that even her secret relationship with another passenger can’t give Ridley’s character enough boost to make it stand out as much as Pfeiffer does with her role – though both of these characters have a bigger chunk of the many supporting roles. Derek Jacobi as Edward Masterman & Willem Dafoe as ‘Austrian scientist’ Gerhard Hardman, both have secrets but can’t help but appear simply there for the ride. There’s a decent dramatic turn from Josh Gad as Hector MacQueen, though it might be because you only know his work as a comedian so his drama performance get a tick of notice. Also underused are Lucy Boynton and Sergei Polunin as Count & Countess Andrenyi who have a brilliant scene with Branagh but never really do anything else. Johnny Depp plays that typical smarmy-charmy type crook here which completely works for his character Edward Ratchett. Penelope Cruz on the other hand, has it worse as the religious introvert Pilar Estravados. It hard as I always find her work to be sub-par in English movies as she excels so well in the Spanish ones, I end up feeling a bit of a let down by them and here she is barely a blip on the Orient Express. So for all the resplendence of this cast, it’s hard not to feel that Branagh isn’t really pushing any of them to work.

Conclusion: Branagh’s staging of this famous crime thriller tries to do justice to the charm and the time-frame of the original with visual charms, a well-known cast and a little humor. However, this succeeds less convincingly than hoped.

Grade: C+
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Review: “Mudbound” (2017) NetFlix

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Dee Rees upcoming release ‘“MUDBOUND”, which has come with much film festival acclaim behind it – came off as a cliched and deathly slow-paced film about racism in post-WWII Mississippi. And while I’m not going to say it doesn’t make some great hard-to-watch storyline points, it also misses a lot.

We’re on a mud-drenched farm, owned by Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) a racist and small-minded man and wife Laura (Carey Mulligan), whose marriage was basically an arrangement as she was unmarried in her 20’s, which in this time & place, was almost as unforgiveable as being African-American. They come to live there with their two daughters, and his cruelly racist but caricatured ‘Pappy’ (Jonathan Banks), while the youngest brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund), is off fighting in Germany. Also living on the farm are the black tenant farmers, The Jacksons, the father Hap (Rob Morgan), wife Florence (Mary J. Blige), along with their children, whom also have a son off fighting in the war, Ronsel (Jason Mitchell). And from what we gather, Ronsel is experiencing far more freedom than he ever found in the USA, which I kinda have to call horsepucky on as truth & history be told, they really didn’t.

The plot of the story, such as it is, sees Jamie and Ronsel return from WWII to completely different receptions from the town and begin to form a friendship through their shared trauma. Clearly nothing good is going to come of this due in a huge part to this being 1945 and in the backwoods of ALL backwoods in Mississippi, which is run entirely by the KKK and in due course we get a searingly violent scene set to a beautiful gospel hymn. In fact, it seems to kinda be an unintentional irony of this film that all the really truly horrifically crappy stuff happens either in church or when set to a hymn. There are some moments of absolute terrifying horror that I am sure really did happen to many who defied the KKK ruling back in those times. These parts of the story are the ones that break you and actually make this film come out of it’s slow draw into actual story-telling drama. I think the ending is meant to be uplifting, nonetheless, but I found it all rather patronising and fantastic – made to be as if Germany post-war was an utopia of racial harmony when nothing could be further from the truth.

Overall, this is a long drawn-out film, whose paper-thin characters can’t stand up to the weight of history thrust upon them. The stand-outs of those characters though are Hedland & Mitchell, both of whom make this film a better by their performances. Mulligan’s character comes off as superficial, annoyingly whimpering at times, but does redeem herself by showing her character to actually have a heart. I was completely looking forward to Mary J. Blige’s performance, but as such, found it to be glaringly at odds with the time frame of the picture as she wears a pair of designer sunglasses throughout most the film. Probably one of the best parts of the film is the cinematography by Rachel Morrison, as it’s crisp, gritty and very believable. Mostly though, the film comes off as an unvarnished understanding of the unglamorous, subservient pragmatism needed to survive as a black man in ’40s Mississippi, but it just isn’t very compelling or convincing as such.

Grade: C+
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Media Review Screening – Thursday, October 8, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Emmanuel Bates Communications & NetFlix
“MUDBOUND” will be out in selected theaters and available on NetFlix starting Friday, November 17, 2017

REVIEW: “SUBURBICON” (2017) Paramount Pictures

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Oh Georgie and Matty – what have you done here!!! I mean I’m all for unique and different when it comes to filmmaking, but when a ‘unique’ film does absolutely nothing to intrigue its audience, aside from being somewhat tonal with a consistent setting, then it’s not really all that impressive in the end. With “SUBURBICON”, George Clooney’s latest attempt at direction, seems to leave a lot to be desired with trying to be a little too confident in itself when it came to presenting a powerful story. As is, I still don’t really know if this was supposed to be a story of racial history, a murder mystery, or somewhere in there was supposed to be a dark comedy. I found myself completely lost at times, when I don’t think we the audience, were supposed to be.

The quick run through as best I could understand it is 1950’s/60’s suburbia (you can catch that in the courtesy of the name) the first African-American family, The Mayers (Leith M Burke, Karimah Westbrook & Tony Espinosa) move in the all-white suburban town of “Suburbicon’. Then the neighbors from the back The Gardner’s, (Matt Damon, Julianne Moore & Noah Jupe) are tested when a group of men invade his home, killing his wife and leaving only his son and sister-in-law alive (also Julianne Moore). Falling for his wife’s sister and becoming a complete psychotic and uncontrollable man, this film quickly spirals out of control into a farce of random occurrences. Throughout the first act of this film, it seems like it’s going to be a satire that won’t hold anything back in terms of wackiness, but that’s very quickly thrown out the window, compensating with many subplots of murder and conspiracy. I found myself taken out of the film when the tone would shift this often, making for a very off-putting viewing experience.

Throughout the majority of this film, you’re asked to accept the horrible things that the main characters are doing, or just connect with Gardner’s young boy on an emotional level, but he’s not quite present enough in my opinion. Not until the third act do you really find yourself caring about some of the characters, which truly at that point, didn’t matter any more. This movie tries far too hard to be clever, funny, and surprising – so hard in fact that it just comes off as forced more often than not. You will find yourself along for a ride of random events and you won’t really know who to root for, let alone what or why it’s even happening or what the correlation is. Honestly there is zero correlation between the African-American family moving in and Matt Damon’s wife getting murdered. In fact, as you watch the movie you will notice that the African-American family actually plays no significant part in the actual plot of the movie as far as you can understand that plot to be. It is as if they are just there for filler and to maybe politicize the movie in some way – I’m truly not sure as it makes no sense. What is the driving point of the ‘dark comedy/murder mystery’ aspect and taking the viewer to watching how horrible this family is being treated. It wasn’t funny then and it’s not funny now – that this still happens. But that’s a whole different movie so again, why is it even here?

I may seem to be ripping this film apart for being uneven, but for all its flaws, there are actually one or two somewhat fun sequences involving an appearance by Claims Insurance Investigator Bud Cooper (Oscar Isaac). There is a lengthy scene when secrets are revealed and characters begin to evolve and Isaac elevated every moment of this portion of the film, but it almost is like they are grasping at straws by this point. You haven’t laughed yet, so it’s hard to really rustle one up by then. Up until that point, there really weren’t any characters to grasp onto, but the environment around them, along with the sets and the score, always helped to make the film feel more authentic than what its screenplay was presenting. This may sound confusing, but that’s due to the fact that this is a very confusing watch, and I’m thinking many will agree with me on that account.

From being written by Joel and Ethan Coen, to being directed by George Clooney, ‘Suburbicon’ just feels like a huge missed opportunity, due to the talent involved. Matt Damon and Julianne Moore both don’t deliver on performances here and feel about as average as you can get.

Overall, ‘Suburbicon’ is a film that will probably leave your mind as quickly as it came as it’s just a very forgettable film.

Grade: D
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Media Review Screening: October 24, 2017 ~ Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
“SUBURBICON” will be released in theaters on Friday, October 27, 2017

REVIEW: “THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE” (2017) Universal Pictures

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Let me just start off by saying I went into this with perspective of it being a war movie. And it partially is, but it’s also so much more than just that. It’s more about post-service life for the brave men and women who make the decision to defend our country, as well as the impact it has on their spouses, children, friends, etc. It shines a harsh light on the inefficiency of the VA and how difficult it can be for veterans to receive the help – especially mental and psychological – that they desperately need.

The film, based on a true story, opens with an operation on an Iraqi street that goes horribly wrong. The exact details of the incident are rather hazy but are central to the events that will follow. A trio of soldiers, Adam Schumann (Miles Teller), Will Waller (Joe Cole), and Tausolo ‘Solo’ Aeiti (Beulah Koale), are returning home after their stressful and dangerous tours of duty. Adam returns to his wife Saskia (Haley Bennett) and their two young kids, though money worries and other domestic issues are at the forefront of their relationship and his mind. Solo returns to his wife Alea (Keisha Castle-Hughes), who wants her husband to settle down and father a child with her but he has it in his mind to return to the battlefield and be with his ‘brothers’ as according to him “The Army saved his life” and it seems that’s all he knows. And finally we have Will (Joe Cole), who returns to an empty house, his fiancé having moved out and emptied his bank accounts without a word. Though each man is a trained soldier capable of putting on a brave face, the trauma from their time on the battlefield and their attempts to get help are met by a bureaucracy that is beyond overloaded with no true help in sight.

The performances were all on par all the way around and with them the storyline was not only gut-wrenching, but kept me riveted for the entire movie. This might not be an Oscar type film, but it is going to get very high marks from me because of the subject matter and the story told. This movie is a different genre movie, not necessarily action, but not completely drama either, rather it is a movie of true passion of containing real life drama, real heart and mind, real flesh and blood taking you through it’s paces slow but steady.
I’m guessing that this movie won’t be a huge moneymaker, as I honestly I don’t see it finding a particularly large audience because fact – we’re much happier remaining ignorant to the horrors of war and the empty shells of humans that it results in. Needless to say, this film schooled me and was a true eye-opener as I left the theater with such a huge range of emotion, mostly rooted in anger and sadness and a sense of hopelessness. While I would love to think that the light it shines on its topic would result in some change, if not at least greater awareness, I doubt it will. We as Americans, have let our soldiers down. And this hasn’t just happened..its gone on for decades and something needs to be fixed in a big way. Again, sadly, not enough people will probably see this film to make a difference..but we all should. Bottom line though, it’s a great film and now it’s your turn to see it.

Grade: A
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Media Review Screening: Monday, October 23,2017 ~ Courtesy of Universal Pictures
“THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE” will be in theaters nationwide on Friday, October 27, 2017