REVIEW: “JACKIE” (2016) Fox Searchlight

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Jacqueline Bouvier. Jackie Kennedy. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Jackie O. Jackie. There are many ways to refer to this iconic woman – and many ways to remember her. That breathy voice. That educated and sophisticated demeanor. Her sense of style… including that pink suit stained with the blood of her husband. Holding her own as she watched the Vice President Lyndon B. Johnon (John Carroll Lynch) be sworn in merely hours after the President’s assasination.

“JACKIE” is about all of this. Though the film fills the span of only short perod in time – the day of and the few days following then President John F. Kennedy’s (Caspar Phillipson) assasination in Dallas, TX on November 22, 1963. The story is told in the narrative of Jacqueline Kennedy herself (Natalie Portman) to “Life” Magazine writer Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup), who arrives at the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts to interview her just one week after the assassination. Mrs. Kennedy is concerned that her husband may be forgotten – or misunderstood by history. White is deferential, firm but professional. He finds a woman who is clearly still grieving her horrible loss, but who is also very much in control of herself – and very much in control of what she wants regarding her husband’s legacy – even to the point of making sure she edits White’s notes during the interview.
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While returning periodically to the scenes of the interview, most of Jackie’s story is told in flashback scenes of her as First Lady – especially on that fateful day in November of 1963 – and the four days that followed. With a lot of the story being told in this fashion, the film is trying to paint us a picture of who Jackie really was while First Lady. We get the famous televised tour of the White House that she did, the first ever of it’s kind. And while some parts of this come off as sometimes portraying her as a caricature at times, it’s also giving us a glimpse into something never seen before by the American public at the time.
We get insight into her strengths and weakness in the days following. How she interacts and stands up for what she wants for the funeral to Special Assistant Jack Valenti (Max Casella) but yet, sleeping pills, chain smoking and alcohol are also playing a big role in her coping mechanisms.
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“Jackie” is fascinating and compelling. The script and direction shed a lot of light on what happened (and might have happened) during the private moments of this very public national nightmare, while painting a very personal portrait of Jackie Kennedy. At times the editing and the chronology of events, while not very difficult to follow, simply jump around too much. Portman is really good here and it was great to see Crudup back in a strong supporting, even if he looks completely different and Greta Gerwig as Jackie’s long time assistant, Nancy Tuckerman and Peter Sarsgaard does well as Robert Kennedy even though he looks really nothing like the real RFK, which also was quite noticable with other actors also.
The films score also ‘scored’ with me as it seemly was a life of Camelot to all of those looking in from the outside.

All in all, this film moved me. I rarely get emotional or cry during a film, yet the tragedy of it all got to me more than once. This film might have it’s misses, but all in all, it’s very special and should be seen.

Grade: B+
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Media Review Screening: Friday, November 18, 2016 ~ Courtesy of Fox Searchlight
NOW PLAYING IN THEATRES NATIONWIDE

Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot,
For one brief, shining moment
That was known as Camelot.

REVIEW: “ALLIED” (2016) Paramount Pictures

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With Brad Pitt’s big return to the screen since his personal life news overtook his career for a bit there, we have him here in “ALLIED” as Max Vatan, a 1940’s wartime intelligence office who finds himself in a predicament with his fellow French Resistance (or is she?) spy and soon-to-be wife, Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard). A predicament I might add that can be figured out in the first 15 minutes of the film as Marianne makes a quote that let’s you know really where the film will end up going if you’re paying attention. And it’s exactly where it goes.

With uneven pacing and script, the film benefits from beautiful cinematography. The weakness in the lack of ability to successfully leave a lasting emotional impact on the audience, is in the writing and executive producership of it all. As we see Max and Marianne do a 30-sec assasination-shoot em’ up scene reminiscent of ‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith’, and they fall in ‘love’ in about half that time, makes it all a bit unbelievable and undercuts the storyline.
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For films that are not as much about the spectacle as they are the drama between characters and the challenge faced therein, it is important for personal/interpersonal relationships go beyond the screen to directly impact the audience. All the makings were here for a deeply moving cinematic story, but it just doesn’t quite make that transition from the mostly superficial and distant. The ending, which tried to be sentimental is done completely in an overly-compensated, dramatic fashion that comes off very falsly.

Supporting work comes via Jared Harris, Lizzy Caplan, August Diehl, Marion Bailey, Simon McBurney, and Matthew Goode. With no stand-out performances, and my screening being on a 50/50 basis of who liked it and who didn’t, I think it will do a couple of good weeks and the box office, but the competition along with a slate of excellent films coming out, might drag this one down after that.

Grade: C-
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Media Review Screening: Thursday, November 17, 2016 ~ Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
NOW PLAYING IN THEATRES NATIONWIDE

REVIEW: “LOVING” (2016) Focus Features

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“LOVING” tells us the long overdue, true story of Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Loving (Ruth Negga).
The story takes us through the years of what their lives were like while going through the some of the process of their plight to just want to be legally married in 1958’s deeply segregated southern state of Virginia. This was a time and place where this wasn’t legal nor could inter-racial couples even date.
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This story is silent, yet strong in its portrayal of the real-life interracial couple at the center of the 1967 Supreme Court case of Loving v. Virginia. It’s moving at times and loudly states the facts bluntly: love is love is love ~ and that should be enough.

And yes, while it can be quietly brilliant and amazing at times, it does have holes in the story that could have been filled. Mildred is portrayed at the beginning as being a doe-eyed, non-speaking, almost non-existent part of the beginning of this young relationship that in 1958 would have had racial consequences and problems within both communities. None of which is really shown at all until the last 20 minutes of the film when Richard finally finds a brick wrapped in paper on his car seat, mind you not thrown, just lying there. They missed some opportunities to really show us what the racial hardships might have been instead choosing to almost make the legal battle look far too easy with their lawyers Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll) and Phil Hirschkop (Jon Bass) on whom the casting here might have been a bit of mis-step for me (not to mention their clunky and too “cutesy” dialogue).
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What IS so very important about this film, and a big factor that not just everyone, but specifically why young people need to see this so they understand what our country was like back in the day. For gay people who have struggled to love whom they choose, they need to see that their struggle was not unique and needs to be supported. And that the bible was also used against interracial marriages. And yes, that struggle is struggle and unless we want the clock turned back, so we can “make America great again”, we must be ever vigilant.
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The most poignant and beautiful point of the film came for me towards the ending, in scenes that were so quiet, yet so powerful, showing that even though they were faced with obstacles set over and over in their path, they were resolved to show that their love and union was unaffected by those outside forces, and continued to move through everyday duties such as mowing the lawn, their children playing, doing the dishes, on the very day no less, that they receive the phone call that simply changed everything. It simply touches and yet rocks you at the same time.

The performances from Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga while well done, once again, we have in an Edgerton, an Aussie and Negga who is Irish/Ethiopian, trying to pull off down-in-the-back-bayou southern Virigina accents which yes again, can be outrighted spotted in parts. (Side note: Truly, when was the last time we actually heard Edgerton speak in his regular accent? I can’t even remember if I have at this point). And truly, no matter how small the role, I love when Michael Shannon as LIFE magazine photographer Grey Villet shows up in anything.
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If you want high dramatics, this is not your movie. I left the theatre feeling overwhelmed by the need to vote for our next U.S. President and make sure it is someone who will appoint progressive and unbiased Supreme Court Justices. I think most will understand that feeling, especially with so many people’s rights hanging precariously in the balance right now as it did then.
If you are looking for a touching, loving story that truly reflects so much on today’s times and the change that was accomplished by this one law that didn’t just change their lives, but the lives of millions of people around the world with whom it still affects today, this is your film and a film for all to see and truly reflect on.

Grade: B-
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Review Screening: Thursday, October 27, 2016 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV Meetup
NOW PLAYING IN THEATRES NATIONWIDE

REVIEW “HACKSAW RIDGE” (2016) Lionsgate

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Let’s start off by acknowleding that “HACKSAW RIDGE” is not for the faint of heart. It’s incredibly violent in its war scenes as it tells the story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), an Army medic that refused to carry a weapon as not a ‘conscientious objector’ but as a ‘conscientious participator.’ This, until now, untold story of Doss, is one that will stick with you long after the film is over.
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Of course you wonder going in can Mel Gibson redeem himself after so much has been made of his lack of judgment, drunken rants, and his anti-semitic rhetoric and in essence, being blackballed these last 10 yrs. as yes, though he is perfectly capable of doing so, it’s a long climb up.

Turns out it would be hard not to do with this story. The film starts in the sober times of WWII around 1944, Desmond Doss, the son of Tom Doss (Hugo Weaving), an alcoholic Army man who served in World War I and is suffering from what we now know is PTSD. Doss & his family, while patriots, are also devout Seventh-Day Adventist’s. His brother, Harold Doss (Nathaniel Buzolic) joins the Army leading Desmond to join also, against their father’s wishes, in the fight against Japanese in some of the final battles of WWII.
Doss is in love with Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer, a nurse’s aide who is scared that she’ll never see him again, especially after the persecution he is sure to face when he refuses to touch a gun in training camp and is facing being court marshaled for this refusal by his commanding officers, Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) & Captain Glover (Sam Worthington).
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From there we move onto who Doss actually becomes as he proceeds during the stand-off at ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ to show his true being and save as many lives as he possibly can while dodging bullets and hand grenades, all without a gun. There are moments you want to scream at him “Just pick the damn thing up” whereas at other you are with him 100% for not doing so. Not being religious myself, it would be hard not to realize both sides have their points which anyone, whether religious or not, can understand and decide on their own.

My only and very few beefs were: The beginning had a lot of fluff & cheesy-ness to it. Second: While I realize Mel is an Aussie, but to put so many Aussie & Brits as leads in a southern film trying to do southern accents, just doesn’t always quite go up to par and here was the same. As decent as most of the acting is, it’s still very detectable that they don’t have the accents down pat. We also at one point, lose the brother. He literally get’s up from dinner, and we never see him again, nor do we know what happened. Lastly, the supporting cast is truly amazing here and bring so much to this film, although the age-range of the actors might have been off some. They were starting off at playing young 19-22 yr. old’s and frankly almost all look quite a bit off that range including Garfield himself.
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As for the rest, truly I must say I don’t think anyone does battle scenes as well as Mel Gibson does. Again, It’s extremely violent and graphic as well, real war actually can be. I had to turn away a few times, but the story Gibson puts up there of all of the terribleness of war is just so well done. I was brought to tears when they quoted “During peacetime, sons bury their fathers, during war, fathers bury their sons.” It got me.

Conclusion: Many will walk into this film wanting to dislike just because of Gibson, most of them will walk out knowing they just saw a really good film.

Grade: B-
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Review Screening: Wednesday, October 26, 2016 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV Meetup Group
Nationwide Release: Friday, November 4, 2016

REVIEW: “AMERICAN PASTORAL” (2016) Lionsgate

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Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Phillip Roth, we have Ewan McGregor doing double time in this one, a.k.a directing and starring in “AMERICAN PASTORAL”. Truthfully, I struggled a lot in my viewing of this one, as the acting often seemed forced, the script failed throughout, and there were a couple of performances that just left me blank. Overall the film was quite miscast and maybe this is what lead to me not really believing in a single character.
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Told in flashback mode from the viewpoint of Nathan Zuckerman (David Strathairn) at a high school reunion is the first thing right off the bat, that didn’t make a lot of sense and seemed to set the tone for the rest of the film doing the same. The film goes on to tell us the story of a high school jock who was blessed with everything ~ good looks, incredible skill at everything he did and a profitable women’s glove business that he would one day inherit and run for his father. Seymour Levov (Ewan McGregor) otherwise known as ‘Swede’ marries Dawn (Jennifer Connelly), the ex-Miss New Jersey. They have a daughter, Merry (Dakota Fanning/Hannah Nordberg/Ocean James), and prosper in the suburbs of New Jersey. Merry grows up with a nasty stutter and a strange attachment to her father, one that set off weird alarm bells for me and I’m guessing most of the viewing audience as well, as it really comes off as just plain creepy. amerian-pastoral-4
From there, Merry grows into an angry rebellious young woman who rages against the United States and a deep hatred of President Lyndon Johnson, the Vietnam war and pretty much anything that ends up in her path. Her parents feel themselves starting to losing control of her and finally she leaves after it seems she bombed the local post office, killing a local resident and family friend. Merry goes under ground and is protected by a network of radicals who continue with their plots and killing more unknowingly innocent people along the way. Gradually the nightmare of not knowing where she is or what she is doing unhinges Dawn and she has a full-scale nervous breakdown. She is slowly able to let go of Merry but Swede can’t seem to do the same, as he finally finds her years later, but she is not even a close semblance of what she once was in one of the oddest scenes of the film to be sure.
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All this would make a great story if there was even the remotest of explanations as to how it happens. One day Merry is a sweet little girl helping her mom with the cows on the farm, the next minute she is spouting off stuttering radicalizations that we really don’t understand as again, not explained. The only thing I truly believed in the film was the points of history shown that actually happened with riots and protests etc.. Visually, it’s done quite well with bringing you a true feel of the 60’s at certain points, until again, the ending portion where logic and sense seemingly go out the window. None of the acting is standout or stellar. The only thing I thought of at the end, as I do love some of Philip Roth’s books tremendously, is maybe now I will read this one and maybe it will become a clearer story as the screenplay is not.

As 2016 is coming to a close and I am still waiting for those Oscar-worthy films to come forth, this was a disappointing exercise of film to say the least.

Grade: D+
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Review Screening: Tuesday, October 11, 2016 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV Meetup

Nationwide Release: Friday, October 21, 2016

REVIEW: “THE ACCOUNTANT” (2016) Warner Bros.

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Having not seen a film in over a month and a half or written a review for that matter, I was truly not knowing what to expect walking into the “THE ACCOUNTANT”. What I walked out with is still to be decided.

What I did like is how far ‘out of the box’ this film is. I mean it’s leaps and bounds out of the norm of any film I’ve seen yet this year, and as we all know, 2016 has not been a good year by any means for film.
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In this paint by numbers, crazy potboiler of a film, you’ve got Ben Affleck as Christian Wolff, who seems to be just another small-town number-cruncher, doing taxes for local farmers out of a non-descript strip-mall office called ZZZ Acounting. Reality is a much different place in this one though as Wolff is actually the man whom drug kingpins and the worst of the worst in the world turn to when they find a discrepancies in their books.

Wolff’s dealings with such men of notorious nature, captures the attention of Treasury director Raymond King (J.K. Simmons), who in turn blackmails his underling-with-a-past, Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) into tracking Wolff down. In an attempt to stay out of trouble, Wolff takes a seemingly innocent little gig trying to find a financial leak in the books of Lamar Black (John Lithgow) who runs a state of the art robotics firm, only to attract the attention of hired killer Braxton (Jon Bernthal). Add in the films truly only awkward ‘friendship’ with whistleblower Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), whom he unseemly decides he needs to protect and a mystery phone-voiced woman who changes Wolff’s identities on the drop of a dime – and yes, each identity does have a meaning behind them to be revealed.
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To try to explain this whole plot and all it’s flashbacks, would not only suck the fun out of your viewing, but would be almost impossible since so much is going on. Yes, there is loads of violence, most of it you didn’t see coming, along with a plot twist most don’t see coming. To sum it up clearly, there are no ‘brilliant’ performances, but all of them make do and seem to be having a good time doing so. The whole thing shouldn’t add up, but yet somehow it does and while not a ‘great’ movie by any means, it is entertaining as end all.

Grade: B-
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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, October 12, 2016 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Nationwide Release: Friday, October 14, 2016

REVIEW: “MORGAN” (2016) 20th Century Fox ~ Q & A – Ridley Scott/Kate Mara/Luke Scott/Anya Taylor-Joy

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Realizing I’d completely forgotten the review embargo for this upcoming film was off as of 9pm PST on Monday, and here it is Wednesday, is sort of how I’m guessing filmgoers will feel after seeing it. They will just forget. Titling off the movie, we meet “Morgan” (Anya Taylor-Joy), an ‘It’ as we are not allowed to call human nor female, though both the forms are made clear to us. It/Morgan was made in a lab from synthetic DNA so as not to confuse you, we learn it’s the third in a line of synthetic species in an old ramshackle plantation-type home in the middle of nowheres-ville.

We get the basic introduction of the characters, aka the people who have created and work with Morgan. Dr. Simon Ziegler (Toby Jones) and Dr. Lui Cheng (Michelle Yeoh) being the main ‘creators’. Dr. Amy Menser (Rose Leslie), Dr. Brenda Finch (Vinette Robinson), Dr. Darren Finch (Chris Sullivan), Ted Brenner (Michael Yare) are all kind of caregivers to her. Throw in the very unnecessary character of handsome personal chef/nutrionist Skip Vronsky (Boyd Holbrook) to round it all up at the laboratory and all is complete. Well except for Lee Weathers (Kate Mara), the risk-management corporate consultant who is sent down to the remote, top-secret location, where she is to investigate and evaluate a terrifying accident or as Dr. Alan Shapiro (Paul Giamatti), the psychologist sent to evaluate her notes, the ‘issues’ that have occured between Morgan & Dr. Kathy Grieff (Jennifer Jason Lee) who is literally on the screen for a total of about 1 min 30sec.
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We never find out why Morgan turns into a killing machine at age 5 in synthetic years, teenager in human years. Or why she can suddenly drive a car or shoot a gun. There is no rhyme or reason to any of it. The only character you might get somewhat vested in is Amy because she is really the only one you get some background on to relate to. Possibly some will relate to Mara’s character as there are a lot of over the top fight scenes between her & Morgan. But you get no feel in general for this film. There is a supposed surprise shock ending which will probably surprise absolutely no one as it’s plain to see what it is way before hand.

First-time film director Luke Scott, son of Ridley Scott, the producer here this time, really needed to have more under his belt and develop this story much more. I think he was trying to show flares of Alien, ExMachina of Firestarter with no success in doing so.

Grade: D+

Q & A – Ridley Scott- Producer; Luke Scott-Director; Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy

With possibly the worst moderator I’ve ever experienced from Rotten Tomatoes, asking some of the most ridiculous questions. Sample: she had Ridley Scott to ask questions to, one of the most iconic Film/TV people of our times, and it took her 8 minutes to ask a first question to him. When she did, she actually used the word ‘dope’ to Ridley Scott, as in “yeah that scene was really dope” and no, she was not a 20-something. Another sample: Asking Kate Mara about a scene when her character throws a chair against a unbreakable window enclosure, does she see that also as possibly being the ‘new fitness craze in L.A.” *sigh – we barely made it through this.

The actresses were both fun and noted how they had to remain separated mostly not only from each other, but Kate noted she also remained a bit detached from all because of what her character had to be. Luke Scott went on the explain how he had directed a short film called “Loom” and FOX then asked him to make more of a feature film take on it. It’s also always wonderful to hear Ridley, when the moderator gave him a chance to speak, give pointers and tell stories about some of his projects. All in all, I do wish this film had been better because I have and do, so enjoy almost all of Ridley’s projects.

Media Review Screening: Tuesday, August 23, 2016 ~ Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
Nationwide Release: Friday, September 2, 2016