REVIEW: “SKIN” (2019) A24

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“SKIN” is a gritty true life tale that started off as a short film by Guy Nattiv and turned into this full length feature film featuring some stellar acting and a story, that while it might seem kind of familiar and possibly a bit formulaic, makes into a solid feature.

Bryon Widner (Jamie Bell) is a long-term member of the Vindlanders Social Club, run by Fred Krager aka ‘Hammer‘ (Bill Camp), who inducts down-on-their-luck young kids into his gang by offering them food and shelter, all the while drip-feeding racist bile into their mindset.  As we first meet Bryon, he’s already beginning to question his membership in the organization, even though he is getting ready to participate in one of their horrible missions to burn up a building with his fellow Neo-Nazi’s.   This self-examination of what he is doing in his life, intensifies when he falls for Julie (Danielle Macdonald), a tough young mother with three kids ranging from 5-13, who has cut her ties with the Nazi ideology.  When he starts to see new recruit Gavin (Russell Posner) go through the same process as he did, he starts to look for ways to get out.

This is where things get tricky.  As Bryon’s journey is inter-cut with intense scenes of his tattoo removal process, which is in and of itself, a hard watch.  We also have to bear witness to him follow through with the mission of hate crimes they commit which then get him put on the Federal most wanted list of criminals. He then himself, has to go underground and work in the same type of situations the people he once so cruelly hurt do.

While the story might fall into traps of it’s own making and be similar to the kinds of movies that deal with this subject matter, i.e., American History X comes mostly to mind, as our main character starts off the movie with strong prejudices and views which throughout the course of the film he starts to question. So why even watch it if we know what’s going to happen I hear you ask? We watch it because we want to see the journey he takes that helps him reach the point of wanting to change, and for me this is where the movie fell down a little, the story felt a little rushed at times. For example I felt that more time could have been spent exploring the family gang-style dynamics because it was that family dynamic that shaped his racial views, but it all felt very glossed over.  I had no idea how large this “gang” was or how much power money influence they had because the movie didn’t tell me.

I thought this film was a credible, true story of what living with the consequences of your actions can be, but also with the hope that there is still time to change. I always have a problem with UK/Aussie actors trying to come in and do strong southern accents as they are extremely difficult and I can usually spot faults with it immediately and here we have not only Bell (British) but Macdonald (Aussie) as leads. That being said, Jamie Bell was phenomenal here and pulled this character off completely, though Vera Farmiga was just criminally underused as Mom.

This film can help change mentalities. I was sucked into seeing the differences of some people whom actually live within this world and make these decisions believing they are doing good in the world.  All in all it’s a good film, I’d say it’s not as powerful as other similar films like the aforementioned ‘American History X’, but then again this a true story and that alone makes it an interesting watch. Not only to see how a real person so entrenched in hate culture can change their lives for the better of not only themselves, but everyone around them as well.

Grade: C+

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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, July 10, 2019 ~ Courtesy of 42 West LLC/A24

“SKIN” HITS THEATERS ON FRIDAY, JULY 26, 2019

REVIEW: “ROCKETMAN” (2019) Paramount Pictures

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Where do we start here…well with Elton Hercules John a.k.a. Reginald Kenneth Dwight of course. This is one movie I predict is going to get very mixed reviews because while it has an R rating and can show a bit more spunk, it’s also more Broadway musical and flits between scenes of Elton’s life at a very high speed, most especially in it’s second half.  I predict many will love it, and some might revile it. I was caught somewhere in the middle. Without giving any actual spoilers away and going step by step through the film every scene, consider this:

1. If you absolutely do not like musicals, save your money. This is the John/Taupin equivalent of a Rodgers & Hammerstein show. It is not presented as a straightforward biopic in the same manner as ‘Bohemian Rhapsody‘, though honestly these two films shouldn’t even be compared side by side because of many different factors, some of which include the rating (R vs PG-13), that they were two completely totally different types of musicians, one was  a band, one is a solo artist etc.. so just don’t do it. Don’t compare. It’s silly.

2. Much as I like Elton John, this “rock & roll fantasy” of his life treads a little too far into campy territory for me, with two, maybe three very (thankfully) brief moments in the film that can only be described as cringe-worthy. (“Oh, come on, guys–seriously?” moments.) There were times when I genuinely felt this was going to end up as the Ken Russell version of ‘Tommy’ for the new millennium.

 

These few things however, are about my only problems with the film. Credit must be given where it’s due:

1. Taron Egerton is just amazing as Elton. Some might see his acting as occasionally over the top, but frankly and for all we know, maybe EJ really did act that “extremely” at times, considering his anger issues. His singing, most of the time, is virtually spot-on, catching EJ’s lilting singing style quite well.

2. The supporting cast: Jamie Bell (Bernie Taupin), Bryce Dallas Howard (Sheila – Elton’s mother) , Richard Madden (John Reid – EJ’s agent & self-centered 1st lover), Stephen Graham (Dick James), a simply standout performance by Tate Donovan (L.A.’s Troubador Club manager Doug Weston), Gemma Jones (Ivy, EJ’s grandmother) & Steven Mackintosh (Stanley – EJ’s cold, uncaring father) and all others in the film are essentially faultless.

3. Much as I wasn’t prepared for a musical/rock opera, it’s hard to find fault with the staging and choreography of the musical numbers. Very professionally done.

4. You will learn many things about EJ’s life in this film, most especially his early family life that you may not have known before…I know I did.

5. Don’t leave right away after the credits roll.

So, is it worth seeing? My criticisms aside (and we all know what they say about opinions), it really comes down to this: if you’re a fan–and especially a dedicated fan most definitely go see it. Decide for yourself if my few gripes hold any water.

Grade: B-

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Media Review Screening: Wednesday, May 22, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

“ROCKETMAN” IS NOW PLAYING WORLDWIDE 

REVIEW: “FANTASTIC FOUR” (2015) 20th Century Fox

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With so many superhero/comic books films coming out over past decade at this point you really need to ‘dress to impress’ if you’re going to put one out there. With this being a well known fact – the question looming on most everyone’s mind regarding this film:
‘Is Fantastic Four..well..Fantastic?’
With only a few ups and many downs, the answer sadly is no. How you ask can this happen? Well oddly enough it’s the sheer lack of an exciting story.

We open on brilliant child scientist Reed Richards, (Miles Teller) who is on the verge of discovering how to both transport matter to another dimension and then bring it back though they don’t know where it goes or comes back from. Jump to a few years later at his high school science fair and he and the project while being dis-qualified from the fair are being recruited by Professor Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey).
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With this Reed is given the resources and help by Storm’s children, the brother & sister team of Sue Storm (Kate Mara) and Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) along with Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), to finish what he started all those years ago in his garage. When they finally crack inter-dimensional travel, Reed invites his childhood friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) to travel to the other dimension/world along with him and the team. An accident causes their physical form to drastically change. Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben must learn to harness and use their powers and work as a team to stop Von Doom who is now hell bent on destroying Earth.
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You would think this could all be exciting right? Well it’s actually a rather dull and plodding affair which was surprising as with most of the cast here notably Teller, Jordan, Bell and especially Toby Kebbell are all actors who have had some damned notable roles in their perspective careers.
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While I could have used more Von Doom, it probably still wouldn’t have saved this lifeless movie as the whole storyline is just weak with a finale that will impress no one. I expected so much more.

Grade: D+
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Screening: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 courtesy of 20th Century Fox
Opens Nationwide: Friday, August 7, 2015