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.
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.
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+

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

Nationwide Release: Friday, October 21, 2016

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


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.
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.
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-

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


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

REVIEW: “BEN-HUR” (2016) Paramount Pictures


Let’s start by stating the obvious. If you go into this version Ben-Hur with visions of the original classic film, you will be disappointed. It is a very conservative, safe, tale re-told for current audiences. Remember this is being done by none other than Roma Downey & Mark Burnett, sponsors of some of the most cheesy TV shows ever done. And while it’s the ‘cool’ thing to just trash this film because it is a remake blah blah blah.. give it a rest people.
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Opening up on this remake/adaptation of the classic epic of Ben-Hur it has mostly the same plot-line as the original. We move on through the tale of the two brothers, Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), is falsely accused of an assassination attempt by his childhood friend and adoptive brother Messala Severus (Toby Kebbell). He survives years of slavery under the Romans and rises from the ranks hoping to one day get his revenge. The storyline is the same predictable one as the 1959 version though some of the dialogue was very modern day, which was a bit distracting, as it took me out of the time-frame of the story on occasion. One of the things that really struck me and stood out, is when they flash the time period it’s set in, you realize just how long people have been killing each other in the name of religion.
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The main positive point is the acting as Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell both do a decent job, again, if you’re expecting Charlton Heston, Don’t. Let it go and just roll with it. Morgan Freeman as Ilderim, does voice over and basically phones in his acting performance also. At one point, it’s so completely ridiculous that he’s yelling instructions that would’ve been impossible to be heard over the noise of the race! Add in one other notable cheesy scene for me, is where Judah Ben-Hur is washed up ashore as the only survivor after the ship he is a slave on is destroyed, and I felt like Wilson the volleyball should just make a quick cameo. But to give credit where credit is due, I must say that I did enjoy the spectacle that was the ending chariot race.
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The women in the film Ester (Nazanin Boniadi), Naomi Ben-Hur (Ayelet Zurer) and Tirzah Ben-Hur (Sofia Black-D’Elia) all felt really muted. Esther didn’t really feel like a full character for her being the female lead. Add in Rodrigo Santoro as Jesus with the muted group as he’s barely featured until the end. And while I’m not a fan of religious films, they did need to give the character a little more explanation here.

So continuing on with quite the dismal film year of 2016, I can’t say I hated this film as so many of the people who are trashing it just because they can. I will say that the venture might have fit far more comfortably perhaps on a home screen level. Lastly, though I believe a great movie might be in here somewhere, sadly, only a mediocre one found its way to the screen.

Grade: C-

Review Screening: Tuesday, August 16, 2016 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV meetup
Nationwide Release: Friday, August 19, 2016

REVIEW: “FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS” (2016) Paramount Pictures

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Set up beautifully in 1940’s New York and based on a true story, Florence Foster Jenkins tells the story of a truly awful singer (Meryl Streep), completely enveloped in her oddly closed world of a 1944 New York hotel. Pampered by her unsuccessful actor/husband St Clair Mayfield (Hugh Grant), a term we find out to use loosely as he is otherwise occupied in a completely different residence with his long-time girlfriend Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson).
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Together with ex-actor Mayfield, the wealthy Florence is the co-star of the show at her self-owned “Verdi Club” where she has a non-speaking role enacting various ‘tableau’ scenes. But in the interests of following her dreams, she recruits the help of famous singing instructor Carlo Edwards (David Haig) and an enthusiastic, personable young pianist Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg). Carlo becomes aware of what he is in for once she actually starts to “sing”, which is more like a cackling hen than an actual singing voice and starts to see how she has been deceived her entire life by the people who surround her, into thinking she is something she is not.

This film got on my nerves fairly early in the game and gradually got worse as it went along. Meryl Streep seems to just be coasting and going through the motions in her career right now, this being no exception to the rule. And while Hugh Grant is often quite unfairly criticized for playing Hugh Grant in every movie, here he actually turns a somewhat decent performance as once again though, a cad. Simon Helberg’s character is the most funny, for a bit, and gradually the quirkyness you thought funny for the first 20 minutes, grinds on you.
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While the film is not without it’s charm at points, it fell a little short for me on storyline. The acting was adequate, but I felt like we never really got to know or understand why it had gotten to the point it did on her life. I wanted just a touch more backstory. All in all, I can only recommend it to a certain niche of viewers as I’m sure some will find this a somewhat likable film.

Grade: C-

Media Review Screening ~ Wednesday, August 10, 2016 ~ Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
In Nationwide Release as of Friday, August 12, 2016

REVIEW: “SUICIDE SQUAD” (2016) Warner Bros.

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Writer/Director David Ayer’s “Suicide Squad” starts off strong. With a booming, kick-ass soundtrack taking us through the introductions of characters and giving us a bit of the backstory on each so we know at least who they are. Unless you’re a major DC Comics fan, you probably don’t recognize every single character of the Squad. The new action movie teams up a bunch of bad guys as a last resort to take down an even more evil force. For those of us that don’t read the comic books, I found this not only helpful, but gave us some fun sides of the characters to boot.
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We’ve got Deadshot (Will Smith) the assassin who never misses, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) the aslyum doctor who fell in love with her patient who then gave her shock treatment to make her crazy, Boomerang (Jai Courtney) the Aussie who’s boomerangs are like drones and really doesn’t give a rats ass about anyone but himself, Diablo (Jay Hernandez) in essence a firestarter, Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) is self-explanatory and lives in the underground sewers, Slipnot (Adam Beach) an escape artist of the highest caliber and whilst not really a ‘Squad’ member, we have Katana (Karen Fukuhara) and Archaeologist/Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) and of course our Joker (Jared Leto). You’ve also got the ‘soldier’ side to it all with Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman), Lt. GQ Edwards (Scott Eastwood) and our head honcho who proposes and is responsible for putting the ‘Squad’ together, Amanda Walker (Viola Davis). And yes, along with our bit part from The Batman himself, Ben Affleck, we understand why they are, who they are and where they are.
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Sadly, no one here can save the convuluted mess of a storyline and bad dialague. The characters are so off-balance and poorly acted, most especially I’m looking at you Will Smith & Cara Delevingne. Robbie’s character would have fit much better in a re-make of the 1970’s classic The Warriors (one of my fav. movies btw) and she probably could have made something with it. Here she limps along trying to be funny but falls completely flat. Only the Joker and Boomerang really pull out the stops and make it work for their characters and you know it’s really bad when even Viola Davis strains to pull off her dialogue as even somewhat believable.
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The first 1/3 of this film is definitely worth the watch. Anything after that I can’t guarantee, except of course the ending because it leads us into Suicide Squad Part Deux. I would try to describe the plot, but don’t want to give away how just plain ridiculous it is and really, everyone should just see and judge for themselves anyways as it’s all just CGI.

And just in case you’re really itching to get out of the theatre, you only have to wait until the first set of basic credits is done to get your ending Bat-fix in..not the whole long credit roll. Somewhere in this series is a good movie, so stay, and let’s just hope Part Deux has more to it than this one did.

Grade: C-

Media Review Screening: Tuesday, August 2, 2016 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Nationwide Release: Friday, August 5, 2016

REVIEW: “JASON BOURNE” (2016) Universal Pictures

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Jason Bourne is back and so is Mr. Matt Damon in the title role. This time he’s well aware of who he is and he is determined to expose the government’s secrets, As the intelligence agencies from Interpol to the CIA are in pursuit, Director Greengrass delivers a movie that is both intelligent and intense. Which sadly is what seems to be lacking in recent movies. Adding depth to the story and instead of investing his money on CGI, there are ACTUAL stunt scenes! Can I say, it’s so refreshing to see plain old school action and its pretty damn flawless. In an age where action films rely so heavily on CGI, it is enlightening to see real stunts and real car chases instead of the usual 3D CGI malarkey that we’ve just been saturated with this year so far. As I watched the ‘REAL THING’ actually happen though, I did have a giggle as “wow, this budget must have been pretty damn big” and worth every penny.
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I will not go into details about this year’s film since I don’t want to spoil your fun. But basically the question of this film is from CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) “Why would he come back now?”

“He” is of course Jason Bourne, super spy, and Damon comes back to the franchise for at least the chance to do all one more time, As for Bourne, he’s always catching up with himself, be it his faulty memory or finding his father. Jason Bourne is certainly home to many of the thriller genre’s paradoxes, including illogical good luck in gun fights and car chases and the usual surprises, including a quick reprise of Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), and about characters you thought you knew. jason bourne 3
The final fight between good and evil, while it might be a bit de rigueur, is good. And you know me when it’s a good villain, I tend to half-way be rooting for them..Here it’s Asset because yes, Vincent Cassel plays him so menacingly well. A bit of Alicia Vikander’s character Heather Lee was just too easily sewed up at the beginning of the film for me, but she gravited well into the role and is pivotal to the ending, which I loved. All in all, it’s an entertaining enough film to satisfy the action fan in us all.

Grade: B-

Review Screening: Monday, July 25, 2016 ~ Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Release Date: Nationwide – Friday, July 29, 2016