Spirit Awards Review Nominee Screenings – week one

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So I am a member of Film Independent and every year they do a two-week long jaunt of screenings of all the Spirit Award Nominees. As a lover of Indie films, these two weeks are quite heavenly as not only are the screenings just a short distance from me, but let me see and open my eyes to many films that you don’t always get a media screening invite for. It gave me personally an extra benefit this year as I was quite ill, especially these past few months and missed quite a few of screenings I did have. So onward with brief thoughts and grades on everything I’ve seen so far. Mind you, I did miss some of these even, as not only do they do a whole block of them on weekends as in four in a row – I had a medical time-out for most of the week. Luckily, many of the films are luckily on Netflix, Prime or Hulu – and as voters are also provided with links to watch all of nominated films. But truthfully, watching films on a laptop just seriously isn’t how they are meant to be viewed now is it. So with that in mind – here we go. (following in the format of the Film Independent Screening Awards schedule)

Day One:
“SORRY TO BOTHER YOU” Dir: Boots Riley

I was really loving the first part of this film as it was satire sharp, imaginative and funny. But not only does it run too long, but that bizarro left turn it takes in the last third of the movie will surely leave most as bewildered as I was.
Grade: C-

Day Two:
“SHIRKERS” Dir: Sandi Tan

This was a great little women-driven documentary that takes on a journey of a lost film, a strange relationship that made that happen, and all the friends along the way. But maybe it’s the oddness of all of it put together that works so well.
Grade: B

“LEAVE NO TRACE” by Debra Granik

If you asked me if I thought I would enjoy a film about a man (Ben Foster) and his 13-yr. old daughter (Thomasin McKenzie) who have been living off the grid in an urban park of all places, and what happens when they make a single mistake and get caught, well I would’ve have probably laughed a bit and given you a ‘NO’ in response. As it was, I loved this film. It was taunt with drama, and the age old question of what is right or perceived as so, and what is wrong, again, perceived as so.
Grade: A

“HEREDITARY” by Ari Astor

While the film wasn’t scary per se for me, nor a particularly good horror film by any stretch, it did stitch itself together enough to follow along and be entertaining mostly because Toni Collette took it there. I had forgotten about Gabriel Byrne somewhat over the years, but his supporting role along with Ann Dowd, Milly Shapiro and Alex Wolff topping off with good performances of their own, helped bring this film up a notch to be sure.
Grade: C

“ROMA” Dir: Alfonso Cuarón

A completely different take on the trials and tribulations in the life of a maid in to a rather dis-functional wealthy family in 1970’s Mexico City. While Yalitza Aparicio is a breath of fresh air to be sure, along with Marina de Tavira and well, truly the whole cast, I do think it’s a bit over-hyped in the ‘how good it is’ department. Mind you it IS good and I will leave it at that.
Grade: B

Day Three:

“PRIVATE LIFE” Dir: Tamara Jenkins

Both Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti give a completely believable ordeal of what one couple goes through to have a child – including numerous fertility ordeals, tests, fake surrogates, family surrogates, money and most of all their own lives and relationships, in a series of choices that can only make one cringe at times as to what some will choose to endure.
Grade: C-

“THE FAVOURITE” Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos

Let me just shout about how much and how long I’ve loved Olivia Colman. I always felt she was under-utilized so much or not given enough credit for her work. Here, she finally gets her lead role that will no doubt finally change all that and bring her an award. Alongside Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone as her supporting, they do a commendable job of making this odd story come to life. While I didn’t love the film overall, the performances were so strong. Even Nicholas Hoult dons the old British wig and make-up to do a fun spin here as the strangest of cads. All said and done, just give Olivia her due already and be done with it.
Grade: C+

Day Four

“MADELINE’S MADELINE” Dir: Josephine Decker

I tried very hard to find a redeeming quality of this film and I just really didn’t find one. It was all over the place with nonsensical scenes cutting back and forth to add up nothing of what makes a film flow from scene to scene. It completely lacked any sense as you didn’t know if Molly Parker’s character was wanting Madeline (Helena Howard) to be crazy or making her crazy. All in all, it just lacked any and all of the Drama/Mystery/Thriller it is categorized as.
Grade: D-

“MINDING THE GAP” Dir: Bing Liu

As we know not all documentaries are going to be a pleasant, happy experience. This one however, made me feel as though I was watching a long drawn out episode of Teen Mom. And while I’ve never actually watched that show, I’m going to guess if you add in their boyfriends and skateboards, you’ve got it down pat. Enough said.
Grade: D-

“FIRST REFORMED” Dir: Paul Schrader

Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried both give good performances here and once again, without that this would be a truly hard film to sit through in it’s entirety. I just wish the movie didn’t drag so much for so long in many different parts. It’s seems as it’s trying to be a social commentary on despair, climate change, torment and tragedy all wrapped up in a bow that you see the ending coming right at you by the 30th minute leaving nothing to chance.
Grade: C

Day Five:

“If Beale Street Could Talk” Dir: Barry Jenkins

While I wasn’t Moonlight’s biggest fan, I did find Beale Street to be a far better film to be sure. I still didn’t love it as it left a lot of questions unanswered for me that I wanted to know and made it feel incomplete to me. While Kiki Lane and Stephan James are the leads, for me it was all about Regina King and Michael Beach (who is all of a sudden in so many projects and I love this fact) who really brought home the acting. And while so much of this hit hard, there was just still too much I wanted to know more about.
Grade: C+

And that’s all I’ve seen at this point – but I’ve still this weeks schedule and to make up some of last week’s also. So please come back as I will hopefully be posting more often again.

@pegsatthemovies

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

REVIEW: “STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON” (2015) Universal Pictures

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Art comes in many forms. A Masterpiece for instance is usually a word used in the art world as a painting or portrait that is brilliantly done and is usually invoked by inner thoughts and feelings of so many emotions. That could sum up the feeling of this story and what a story it is. This film has everything you see invoked in a masterpiece painting. Love, war, death, money, drugs, power, sadness, happiness and most of all, music. It’s a story about art in the truest sense of the word. These 5 young men –
Andre ‘Dr Dre’ Young,
Eric ‘Eazy-E’ Wright,
O’Shea ‘Ice Cube’ Jackson,
Lorenzo ‘MC Ren’ Patterson, &
Antoine ‘DJ YELLA’ Carraby
changed the world with what they did and this more or less, is their story.

Director F. Gary Gray takes us through the years from the group’s origin in 1986 to Dr. Dre’s founding of Aftermath Records in 1996 and while it’s the N.W.A. story..it’s mostly a three-man show focusing on Dre, Cube & most especially Eazy-E. It does justice in recreating a Compton from back in the day so perfectly and dare I say it, beautifully, as if the time & place and what the street life of the city truly was like, came straight out of a time machine. This is a big plus throughout the film.
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Opening with a drug deal gone bad for Eric ‘Eazy-E’ might seem somewhat cliched way to enter the story but is actually quite fitting especially since Eazy is the truly the main focus of the first half of film. He was the money, albeit it was from those deals, that enabled them to get studio time to record “Boyz in the Hood” and it was that song that attracted and brought manager ‘Jerry Heller’ (Paul Giamatti) to them. Heller knocks on the doors and pounds the pavement to connects them to their 1st label, Priority Records and we all get a laugh when we find out from that the only group ‘Bryan Turner’ (Tate Ellington) and the company had ever recorded before signing N.W.A was the California Raisins. Yep..you have dig real deep and go way back to remember that one!! But cash those checks from that Turner did, enough to land the company N.W.A. As we watch the group go from playing skating rinks to huge massive arenas across the nation. Meanwhile, Jerry also manages to finagle himself into part of starting up Eazy-E’s Ruthless Records where we see everyone but E get underpaid & overlooked.
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This leads to acrimony between the guys and while on tour Ice Cube, reminding everyone that he is the one who has written most of the music, departs the group. But before he leaves though we do get the anthem that penned the groups title as ‘the world’s most dangerous group‘ mainly because they scared the bejesus out of middle America with their anthem “F**K the Police” which comes straight from Cube after we witness multiple scenes of humiliation and harassment of not only him, but the group, their friends, their neighbors for just basically being.
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The movie clearly focuses on the big three of the group, ‘Dr. Dre’ (Corey Hawkins) and ‘Ice Cube’ (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) with ‘Eazy-E’ (Jason Mitchell) taking the lead, with ‘DJ Yella’ (Neil Brown Jr.) & ‘MC Ren’ (Aldis Hodge) getting only minor attention. They easily brush right over their misogynistic lyrics as women here are barely given the time of day and only the wives or girlfriends of the moment get a few lines at best. Though as with most bio-pics, while we might not be getting the complete story here – it’s still a very good story.

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We see bits of the infamous East Coast/West Coast rivalry that started up. And once Cube is gone we get right in the middle of his lyrical riffs with the remaining members of the group badmouthing each other back n forth through their music giving us surely what is only a glimpse into this and then with Dre also going his own way with the ever and still unscrupulous ‘Suge Knight’ (R. Marcos Taylor) – showing the forming of and his subsequent abandonment of Death Row Records.

We catch beginning snippets of ‘Tupac Shakur‘ (Marcc Rose), ‘Snoop Dogg’ (Keith Stanfield) (or as his character notes – that’s Snoop D. O. double G.), ‘Jimmy Iovine’ (Mark Sherman) & the beginnings of Interscope Records. Along with this, we get clever allusions to what is to come – Everything from Cube’s films ‘Boyz N The Hood’, ‘Friday’ and it’s sequels, to Dre when walking out on Knight, almost cheesily referencing Aftermath. The film closes with updates on the band members careers post-1996 with various interview clips in large focusing on Dre and Cube’s successes, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, and 50 Cent, among others, paying homage to Dre showing the fruition of what both his and Cube’s visions came to be. Also, the sad and untimely passing of Eazy-E from AIDS. Noticeably absent are updates on DJ Yella and MC Ren.

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For all it’s small flaws here and there, this is still a hellava story to be told. N.W.A helped to change the musical culture of the time because they actually told the world what was happening in their own backyard through their music. And in doing so they succeeded in making themselves one of the most powerful groups of the time.
Oscar buzz? Probably not. But fan favorite (and one of mine) – definitely.
RIP Eazy-E.

Grade: B+
@pegsatthemovies

Screening: Wednesday, August 5, 2015 – Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Nationwide release: Friday, August 14, 2015

REVIEW: “SAN ANDREAS” (2015) Warner Bros.

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Los Angeles and San Francisco – WE ARE DOOMED!! Serious note, I’m not really even sure what to say about this film.

From the moment this film opens with a scene they clearly scooped from the opening sequence of JAWS with dramatic music and a girl – in this one driving a car mindlessly distracted, checking her phone etc..with cars driving narrowly at her on Mulholland Dr. when suddenly BAM..over the cliff she goes AND on que – dramatic rescue, you pretty much get exactly what you need to know about where the rest of the film is headed.
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The film and all it’s characters run the all too familiar ball-game gamut of disaster films. “Ray Gaines” (Dewayne Johnson) is a helicopter pilot with the LA Fire and Rescue Dept. “Emma” (Carla Gugino) his soon to be ex-wife whom is now with new boyfriend, wealthy developer “Daniel Riddick” (Ioan Gruffudd) who proves himself to be an untrustworthy one at that when he ditches Ray & Emma’s daughter “Blake” (Alexandra Daddario) after the quake hits to save himself while in San Francisco.

In the meantime Paul Giamatti as Cal Tech Earthquake specialist “Lawrence”, his staff and never flinching reporter “Serena” (Archie Panjabi) found they have just learned they can predict earthquakes..and within moments of being able to do so guess what happens..SURPRISE!! A super earthquake is upon them at Hoover Dam where they didn’t even know fault lines existed. As they of course predict more, within mere minutes Los Angeles is coming apart at the seams and next on the list is San Francisco. san andrea 1
Somehow we are to just not notice or overlook the fact that Ray is supposed to be going to Hoover Dam to help the rescue efforts there but as he calmly watches the destruction ensue from his helicopter he calls Emma who is having lunch with his sister “Susan” in a little cameo from Kylie Minogue here, its like that mission never existed as he rushes to rescue her from the top of a LA high-rise that is crumbling. Best part yet, we never hear him mention a thing about his sis who’s fell off the DTLA high-rise. what? clearly no brotherly love there. Another fun fact is that not one single one of these characters look like they could be even slightly related is just another fact that we must laughably ignore while watching this trainwreck film.
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And since every film now has to have a token Brit in it, even though it’s a disaster pic about earthquakes in the Golden State of California, we throw in our British tourist on a job interview “Ben” (Hugo Johnstone-Burt) as a love interest for Blake and his little brother “Ollie” (Art Parkinson) and you’ve got your human drama all neatly summed up for you in a nice little square package once the fault line starts a rocking.
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I’d be lying if I said some of the action sequences weren’t a bit fun, and also very silly as there were points I couldn’t stop laughing yet I don’t think I was actually supposed to. I mean the film was so spectacularly bad in ways that it was..well good. And most will know exactly what I mean by that.

There is a small sub-plot about a dying daughter/sister which I believe was thrown in to make it reasonable to the audience of first off why Ray went to get Emma before anyone else and how both are so hell-bent on rescuing Blake.

But the real star of this disaster upon disaster pic is the earthquake itself and the ensuing tsunami – and they don’t seem to stop coming until SFO & LA are completely bulldozed down and there is nothing left of either city or our brains for that matter. The end fact is while having lived through a few of the big quakes here and being petrified myself of them, this film with it’s complete lack of feeling, barely scares me into making another earthquake kit.

Grade: D
@pegsatthemovies

“THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2” – REVIEW

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Lucky me. I was able to go to another Sony screening with the lovely Brooke Walker taking me to see this movie a week before it gets released. I appreciate this so very much!! Along with the screaming child someone decided to bring along..*sigh* As for the movie..well.. let’s say this.. It’s Spiderman – The Amazing Spiderman. Ok..so it’s not super amazing, but it’s entertaining enough.

I feel the chemistry between Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker/Spiderman) and Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy) is once again, quite good. Andrew Garfield is SUCH a better Spiderman than Tobey MacGuire ever could be, that much is a given. But once again, I always forget that Spiderman means….well…er… there is going to be spiders and eeeeek!!! my fear is so massive of just seeing tons of them crawl around – it equals bad dreams are ensured for me later. I remember going to see the 1st Spiderman with Ross Von Metzke & coming home & seeing a big spider on the glass of my skylight thingy in the bathroom & yes, kinda freaking out!! Though I will say, the first one had way more, so I only had to close my eyes a few times here. ha! And yes, I know it’s nothing to do with the movie and neither here nor there for a review..but it sheds a bit of light on ME, as a person. 🙂

Along to the movie, starts off well enough, and though it can tend to lean into the sappy at times between the leads, again, the chemistry between the two works well enough to not have you start yawning, though the continual ‘break-up to make up’ does get tedious at times. This time around you see our leads, Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy graduating from college and Gwen is given an offer to attend Oxford. Yep..the one in London. All the while Peter is still seeing her father, Capt. Stacy (Denis Leary in flashbacks) telling him to leave his daughter be so she can remain safe. So of course they break up.. as Spiderman has to go save the city once again from the first bad guy of this pic Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti) and makes short work of him and while doing so save the life of Max Dillon (in a lackluster performance by Jamie Foxx) who then turns into the uber-Spiderman fan and thinks they are now best friends as he really has no life other than working for, you guessed it, Oscorp, where it’s such a coinkydinky that Gwen Stacy works there too and befriends him in the elevator. You see the connection coming here like a brick in the face riiigghhtt??!!!

Well another coinkydinky is right around the corner as Peter Parkers scientist dad, Richard Parker (Campbell Scott) whom we all know is dead, along with his mom, Mary Parker (Embeth Davidtz), well his ex-partner in scientist-land where they created the spider venom etc.. Norman Osborne (Chris Cooper) who is dying from some rare disease that is of course genetic and his son, Harry Osborn (played wonderfully by Dane DeHaan) and of course since their fathers worked together, they grew up together as children though once Peter’s parents were gone and he was left with his Aunt May (same smothering mom role for Sally Field) and Harry grew up rich and Peter poor..blah blah blah..we know that part of the story. What we do find out in Part 2, is how exactly Peter Parkers parents died, more about what his dad and Harry’s were up to, and how Norman Osborne was really just in it to find a cure for his disease. Harry finds this out, and wants Peter to persuade Spiderman to give him some of his blood which he thinks will cure him. Now all the while this is going on, Max Dillon (Jaime Foxx) gets into an ‘accident’ at the Oscorp facility and becomes ‘Electo’ – possibly one of the worst villians ever to grace a screen. I’m talking just plain bad. Anyone who knows me, knows I love my villians as in order to be a good villian you need to also have a redeeming quality that makes the audience want to like you just a little bit…yeah..Jamie Foxx, not one of my fav actors to begin with, brings absolutely none of this to the screen or this role. Electo though seems to be much more powerful than Spiderman and this of course brings helpful scientist-girlfriend Gwen to try and help him though in almost a stupid way as you just know things aren’t going to work out well here..and of course they don’t.

But back at Oscorp, things are firing up as the board of directors thinks Harry is to young, self-centered etc..to be running such a large, Fortune 100 billion corporation and they have him removed, which sends him into a tailspin but of course as now he is anti-Spiderman as he won’t give him his blood to help cure him, even though he doesn’t know it’s his old childhood friend Peter Parker, he is soon to find out as he finds a secret video and area within Oscorp, finds out what happened to Max Dillon/Electo, how & where they are holding him and goes to enlist Electo in his now mad pursuit of Spiderman to get the blood transfusion. To make a long story short here, and yes, it’s a long story, they don’t succeed, but Harry does end up injecting himself with what he believes is the cure and then BAMMO..he is now Harry Osborn aka The Green Goblin..so just as Spidey is done dealing with Electo and thinks things are snug in a rug..there comes Green Goblin to ruin all that..

Lastly, to sum it up, Electo doesn’t succeed.. Harry/Green Goblin ends up back in the mental institution with a plan to still come after Spiderman, who after something big has happened (as always, no spoilers from me), doesn’t really want to be Spiderman anymore, but Harry is plotting to help prisoners escape and back in the picture comes Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti) and of course Spiderman makes a stunning return to save the day. The End.. or is it as they’ve clearly set up the next one and I can’t wait to see Dane DeHaan back as more of the Green Goblin..a very entertaining villian and one I liked a lot.

All in all the movie is long..this review is way long for me..so you know the movie really is too..I don’t usually like to have, let alone read reviews this long..ha! So..with that..

Grade: C
#peggyathemovies