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

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

REVIEW: “STAR TREK: BEYOND” (2016) Paramount Pictures

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The storyline… well let’s face it.. you know the story line. We all do as it is after all, a Star Trek movie. In case you don’t, bascially a Space ship is roaming the galaxy, runs into problems, has battles, etc etc.. BUT it is how well done these same plots can be that can make all the difference in the world.

While starting off on a bit slower pace, it picks right up with our usual crew: Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), Bones McCoy (Karl Urban), Lt. Urhua (Zoe Saldana), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Sulu (John Cho), & Chekov (Anton Yelchin).
Add in a minor villian in Kalara (Lydia Wilson) who then of course, leads them to a major villian, Krall (Idris Elba). Throw in the requisie new character ‘star fleet member’ Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) and you have rounded out the cast all of whom work well enough together. As I’ve stated before, an important part of these films are the villians and for me, you are only as good as your villian. While neither one excels here, it’s mainly because I think it’s hard to really come off as a villian you love to hate with such dramatic costuming & make-up, so taking that into note, I will say both Elba & Wilson did well.

Ostar trek 1n a technical level, the film is stunning visually with brilliant CG and I didn’t mind the 3D as much as I usually do, though I will say, there are a lot of shaky-cam moments, which I was not expecting and which is not very appealing to me motion-wise. One of my favourite personal highlights is the Enterprise fighting scene with Beastie Boys – Sabotage underlaid. An amazing score once again composed by the brilliant Michael Giacchino does bring some brilliant moments back.
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Two things to finish this up as first: I simply loved the fact they went ‘old school here and brought it all back around to what we all remember was just a simpler time in space!! hahahaha
Second: My guest hadn’t seen any previous Star Trek films, though knows the jist of it and whom the characters are. He did like it and noted that he felt that wasn’t necessary for someone to watch or enjoy the film. Good thing! though he did question the doubles of each character when they went ‘old school. Ahh..well..you can’t explain it all to them.😀

Grade: B-
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This review is dedicated to Anton Yelchin..one of our best and brightest young actors..one of my personal favourites, who passed all too soon. Rest in Peace Anton.

Review Screening: Wednesday, July 20, 2016 ~ Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Release Date: Completely worldwide ~ Friday, July 22, 2016

On Hiatus…

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On a temporary hiatus.. but I will return to review a summer full of fun movies.. until then.. as always..see you at the movies!!!😀

Movie Review: “DEMOLITION” (2016) Fox Searchlight

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With Jake Gyllenhaal as our lead Davis Mitchell, a WASP-ish investment banker with a very large and cold glass house (foreshadowing much?!! *eyeroll) whose life turns into complete disorder when his wife dies tragically in a car crash. He seemingly feels nothing until he discovers a possible grieving outlet, making him deliberately avoid dealing with his grief from a big ol’ vat of emptiness and renouncing this lack of feeling any emotions by demolishing buildings, furniture and household appliances.
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We watch as Davis finds himself writing a highly articulated complaint to a vending machine company for not ejecting his favorite candy bar. When it’s not answered, he then writes another with more detail and another with even more detail until lone customer service rep Karen (Naomi Watts), answers his cry for help which is in and of itself so completely unbelievable. So but of course, they strike up a type of relationship. She’s a pothead and single mom with an angsty teenager named Chris (Judah Lewis). But even weirder than this..he then goes on some weird roaming rampage with the kid that really goes no where and makes absolutely zero in the sense department. Watts’ and Lewis’ characters seem secondary not only to the entire cast but also to the overall morale as Gyllenhaal’s Davis bulldozes through the film, robbing the wrong people of the right moments. If this film was trying to be an America Beauty successor, it’s a long way off off ground, but was passable until the final act’s three incredulous twists send it way off the beaten path.

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Maybe this was meant as a comedy of sorts, or a drama..who knows for sure, but what I do know for sure is the film is totally ridiculous, not entertaining and almost insulting to the intelligence. The absurdity of the Gyllenhaal character and his love interest doesn’t match the universe of the other characters in the movie which results in a total disconnect for the us, the viewers. The performances could have been done by anyone, including my neighbor as that is how dull and lacking they all are, except maybe for a completely under-used Chris Cooper here as Phil, the father-in-law who is trying to figure out the same thing we are..what in the fricky-frack is going on.
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The script is weak and the contrived situations simply not funny. An attempt is made at infusing some symbolism of grief, but it’s neither here nor there nor anywhere for that matter.

Grade: D
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Review Screening: Wednesday, March 30, 2016 ~ Courtesy of Fox Searchlight
Now playing nationwide as of Friday, April 8, 2016