A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
For this review, allow me to take you way back to my childhood for just a little bit. Truth be told, I was hooked on just about any kids show that wasn't 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood'. Not that I terribly minded the show, but all the quiet, slow talking and the way he sang just wasn't for me. I liked my shows a bit more energetic, and if they featured Muppets, even better.
But with that said, one thing about 'MRN' (yes, I short-formed it) I'll never forget is tuning into it as a sort of comforting things to watch any time I was home sick from school. For whatever reason, his voice and whole presentation was like a warm, soothing blanket when you were sick.
So yeah, it's safe to say that I most certainly dabbled in the show, as it had a way of uplifting me when I was feeling otherwise pretty crappy. It just goes to show that Fred Rogers had a certain way that he spoke to kids. Even if we weren't particularly fans of the guy, there was certainly nothing off-putting about him. He understood that the best way to speak to us kids was to get on our level, and answer all the really hard questions like "what does assassination mean?" (and no, I'm not kidding).
In this film, Fred Rogers is portrayed by Tom Hanks, and we go into it thinking that it's probably gonna end up being a story about his life, and how he became one of the most beloved kids TV show hosts of all time. But to my ultimately pleasant surprise, it wasn't that at all. Though this may disappoint some, I couldn't help but find it a breath of fresh air that it was actually about something a bit deeper than a simple biopic - though just enough is covered that we get a brief education on who Fred Rogers is.
This story actually belongs to writer Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), who has been put on assignment for Esquire Magazine to interview Mr. Rogers. Lloyd has a certain reputation of digging to get dirt on his celebrities, but upon interviewing this childhood icon, he finds that there really is a such thing as a genuinely good person who wants nothing more than to help people through simply loving them.
The whole thing is interestingly enough presented like an episode of 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood'. The intro is the usual entrance and changing into a sweater and house shoes, and Tom Hanks, doing a pretty good impression of Fred Rogers, introduces us to Lloyd Vogel, and this long drawn-out episode covers both Lloyd's article (for Esquire Magazine, check it out!), but Lloyd's home life as a new father, who is having problems with his own father.
The whole film unfolds in such an interestingly deep way, as it's as though Mister Rogers is still talking to us in that loving, comforting way, but covering some serous issues one might be having in adulthood. It does a great job at reintroducing us to Fred Rogers as a genuinely good man who wanted nothing more than to help not only kids, but masses of other people, if they were lost in some point of their lives. He just understood that people needed help, and that there was never anything wrong with asking for it. With a third "5" in a row, perhaps this seems like I'm getting too generous. But this really is the movie we all need right now.
Okay, so allow me to preface this particular review with the fact that I wouldn't consider myself a big fan of Queen. I like a lot of their music, they've always had my respect as a successful band, and I've always known what happened in the end with Freddie Mercury. Otherwise, what I don't know about Queen could probably fill a library. Therefore, I'm reviewing this as a movie only, and not so much a study in historical accuracy. So, if you've come to see how well the film portrays the life and times of Freddie and the rest of the band, I'm afraid I can't totally help you.
A some might guess, and getting right to the point, this is a biopic about Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) and, to a lesser extent, the rest of Queen. It largely covers how the band formed, problems the band had, what made them successful with their overall originality, Mercury getting AIDS, his home life, his love life, and yeah. Some going into this will imagine it more to be about the band than just Mercury, but it's totally a Mercury movie.
Although it gave me a newfound enjoyment of their music, they don't do much here about diving into a lot of their lesser known stuff. We consistently hear the same songs we've heard for years on the radio, and when and how the songs were made. That's all well and good, but I hoped to hear some of the stuff I was more unfamiliar with. Consider it a nit-pick on my part.
The film does come across, understandably, as a bit of a "paint by numbers" deal to some. It's your basic premise of; The band forms, the band's successful, the band has problems, the band breaks up, one former band member gets sick, the band (sometimes only attempts) to reform, etc. The thing is, though, if that's how it went down, that's the story we're probably gonna get. One could make many comparisons here to 'Straight Outta Compton', replacing the racial aspect with the gay aspect (although far less harsh this time around).
The film is actually punctuated with a pretty great final scene, and it honestly did make me wanna dig through some music and, again, search for some of the less-listened-to songs from their library. All in all, I enjoyed what I got here, even if it may have felt just a little slow at times. I thought the performances were great, but again, I don't necessarily know enough about Queen to say whether they nailed it or not. I'd be curious to hear what a true blue Queen fan has to say about it.
I personally meet this movie somewhere in the middle. It didn't blow me away with its greatness, but I appreciated it, learned a thing or two about a band I knew little about, and definitely enjoyed that whole final scene. Whatever I thought was kinda bad about it seemed to always get balanced out by something good. It doesn't require the big screen experience, but it might be worth your time at some point, if you're ever curious.
The 15:17 to Paris
Producer/Director Clint Eastwood brings us a new idea, having to do with the 2015 Thalys train terrorist attack, and the American heroes who stopped it. What's unique about this, is that Eastwood experiments with allowing the real-life heroes to play themselves. The idea, I would imagine, is for the movie to feel more organic. After all, who would be better at playing you than you? Kudos to Eastwood for experimenting, but unfortunately, good acting goes a long way in engaging the audience. It pains me to say these things because I've always thought of Eastwood as being a great director with such titles under his belt (that I've seen) as 'Sully' and 'Gran Torino'. But what can you do? Every great director needs his/her experimental flop.
Besides the rough acting from our real-life heroes (but seriously, much respect for doing what you did), the film comes across to me as a giant American flag. They seem to make damn sure in this that you know these guys are American. And not only that, but damn patriotic Americans. Even as kids, these dudes play around with guns and talk about the comradery of war. It just seems to flex a giant American bicep the whole time.
But enough about that. The fact of the matter is that this movie is a bit of a throwaway. It's definitely not something I'll remember much by the end of the year, and these guys' story speaks for itself. If you wanna know more, I'd recommend either reading the book this was based on called 'The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Soldiers' by Jeffrey E. Stern, Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos - the final three of whom were portraying themselves here, or this Wiki article for a quick reference.
The whole thing is a neat idea, but it just wasn't very well executed on the whole, and ends up being unmemorable. These guys didn't convey the emotion an audience would be looking for with a story like this. The thing is, I place none of the blame on them 'cause they tried, and these guys aren't trained to act in any way (that I know of), so this is just what we're gonna get. It's a good story, but too "America, F&%$ yeah", and could have been much more if it was done a bit differently. But again, much respect for these guys in accomplishing the feat that they accomplished.
Nothing like Oscar season to catch up on some of the better titles of the year. This one has seemingly been floating under the radar a bit, until only recently, when it was nominated for several Oscars.
The story here, in question, is about Winston Churchill's (Gary Oldman) new appointment as Prime Minister of Britain, and his decision whether the country struck a deal with Hitler, or fight against all odds. The central focus is actually, once again, Dunkirk, and the effort to get the allied troops out of there.
Although this has six nominations under it's belt, no two awards stand out quite as much as Gary Oldman for Best Actor, and Best Hair/Makeup, which is admittedly a bit of a strange one for me to get excited about. The thing is, the two go hand in hand. The brilliantly done makeup is zoomed in on several times, and you'd swear you were looking at real skin. The makeup lends itself to Oldman's brilliant performance here as well. He's really quite convincing here when all is considered. When you look at his eyes, you see Oldman, but that's about the extent of what's recognizable... or perhaps the mouth? For me, it was the eyes, anyway.
It's also up for Best Picture, Cinematography, Production Design and Costume Design, all of which were very well done, but have slightly more serious contenders on the list. But don't get me wrong, this movie is pretty rock solid. The musical score keeps you well-engaged, along with a sense of humor that seems to come from Oldman's performance as a rather crotchety old man. His character here is as equally likable as he is unlikable, and it was very interesting to see how he may have been behind the scenes of everything that went on.
One could probably watch this and 'Dunkirk' back to back, and it would almost be like watching one long movie from two different perspectives. It was interesting to me that the two major war movies of the year contained the same subject matter. That's as in Dunkirk, not World War II.
Anyway, if nothing else, one should approach this wanting to see Oldman's performance, as it's one of the best of the year (if not the best). The overall story is really quite basic, which there's absolutely nothing wrong with, but it IS Gary Oldman who carries this movie on his shoulders. It may very well be his best performance to date.
All the Money in the World
So here we have one of the bigger Golden Globe nominees for this year. But exactly how does it hold up in it's given categories? For that matter, just how IS this movie, anyway? Well, this is gonna end up being one of those titles that I'm gonna be separated on with some of the bigger critics out there. Not that the movie was bad, it's just that there wasn't a whole hell of a lot to it. But I guess I can't be too critical about that when it comes to a movie based on real events.
Here we have the story of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer), the greedy grandfather who won't send the ransom, J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer), and the single mother who would do whatever she could to get her son back, Gail Harris (Michelle Williams) with the help of J. Paul Getty's... personal detective?... Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg). That's pretty much it. Now, that's not to be a critical asshat and say that the movie needs more or anything. I guess I just found it to be very heavy on the talking and exposition, and the truly interesting scenes were few and far between. Now, this is the same thing that makes me dislike the otherwise very popular 'American Psycho', so perhaps this just wasn't quite for me. But what about those award categories?
Well, despite how bored I got (sorry), the performances of Michelle Williams and Christopher Plummer were really well executed, and I'm glad they went with Plummer as opposed to Spacey. It's also up for Best Director, Ridley Scott, and given the performances over all through this, I can understand why. In fact, these performances are what really holds the movie together, I'd say. The whole story is intriguing enough, but I'd be lying if I said it didn't drag. The film is clocked at 2h:12m, but it somehow felt a bit more like 3h to me.
Every time award season comes along, it seems to be the best time to separate my opinions from that of other critics. I didn't quite get the intrigue here that I got from it's trailer. You watch the trailer, and it looks like a suspenseful, gripping thriller. You watch the movie, and you realize it's really just more of a biopic with a bit of an edge.
Anyway, it's not one I can really recommend one way or another. It's something to see for yourself based on your particular tastes. If you like a lot of talking and a bit of suspense, go for it. But if you're like me, you might just find this one dry enough to leave the theater half-way through for a drink. It's not bad at all, it's just not that great.
This is the story about pilot Barry Seal (Tom Cruise); the man who would take flight and help to produce the biggest drug operation in American history. He is met by CIA case officer Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson), who reveals that he's aware that Barry has been smuggling cigars on his flights. Being that he's so good at what he does, Schafer brings him in to fly recon missions for the CIA with a small camera attached to a plane for fly-overs.
Later, Barry is asked to up his game a little by being a courier between the CIA and a man named General Manuel Noriega (Alberto Ospino). It's with this that things start to escalate, as he soon becomes a drug runner for the cartel. Soon, he's caught in a rather confusing situation in which he's working for the CIA, the cartel, and eventually more important areas, while basically everyone else of authority is after him, seemingly as public enemy number one.
Meanwhile, Seal has to deal with a growing family at home and his wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright) who, hesitant at first, soon decides to help and support him when she sees how much cash is rolling in. A sort of breath of fresh air from the typical wife-figure in these features. Unlike someone like Skyler from 'Breaking Bad', where she hates the whole situation, Lucy sort of gets in on it. It seems to be an adventure for her more than a total inconvenience. And yet she's still a strong female character who doesn't just roll over and let things happen right away.
This was unfortunately one of those movies where I was a little more confused by it than able to fully enjoy it for what it was. You can basically get the gist of it all, but there is a lot of back and forth going on. It's the kind of thing I might wanna see again though, as it was still entertaining enough. It has the potential to grow on me.
Now, Mr. Cruise seems to catch a lot of hate lately as his movies all seem to be the same. I think it's safe to say that you see him in a different way here though. It's sort of a role that seemed to be meant for his personality, much like 'Jerry Maguire' was, and it's not just him running and doing stunts the whole time... By the way, I personally give him a TON of credit for doing those stunts! It's admirable that he's so gung-ho about pleasing his audience by making things look real. But back to the point, this fits Cruise in the same way Big Daddy fit Nicholas Cage in 'Kick-Ass'.
I dunno for sure where this one is gonna end up in the end though. For me, it might be a little more forgettable than for others. All the elements of a great movie are here, and it is entertaining. But is it Oscar-worthy, or is it a fun retelling of a true story? I suppose time will tell. I left the movie with the desire to eventually rewatch it to get more out of it, so I guess we'll see what happens. Otherwise, I was entertained, but not rushing back.
Well, for those of you who are still dead-set on Mark Wahlberg's lack of acting ability, I give you 'Patriots Day'; the true story behind the Boston Marathon Bombing of 2013, the aftermath, the people involved, and the city-wide manhunt to bring the terrorists down.
Wahlberg plays the only real fictional character in the otherwise true story, Tommy Saunders. He is meant to be a singular character who represents the officers present on the day of the bombing. Meanwhile, all of the other characters were based on real people, including John Goodman as Commissioner Ed Davis, J.K. Simmons as Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese, and Kevin Bacon as Special Agent Richard DesLauriers. Several of the victims are also present, including a father who gets separated from his toddler son, a couple who get brought to different hospitals after sustaining major injuries, and the young Asian man who had to deal with the terrorists directly at one point.
Anyway, this is the sort of film that can make a man feel uncomfortable when watching it. While it may not bother me directly, I can't help but feel like this is just barely too soon for others who may be bothered by this sort of thing. Even 'World Trade Center' had it's controversies about opening 5 years after the events. But this is just 3. So, of course, as one my guess, the Twittersphere blew up when seeing pics of Wahlberg filming on location instead of on a set. There's no doubt this is gonna cut through some of the more sensitive viewers.
Other negatives of the film include... well, not much really. You get a little confused at first about the presence of some of the characters involved. Eventually they all lead to something, but I can honestly say I was questioning a few of the characters going "okay, what's up with this guy/girl?" Forgivable, but the real PROBLEM I had with this one was the edits! Good God, it's like a new clip every 3-5 seconds. I mean, I understand there's a lot going on and everything, but these cuts are mostly just unnecessary. It's something I never REALLY gave a damn about until this movie.
Now, as far as what was worth it, again, the acting was well done. So many people I know give Wahlberg a hard time just because they saw one or two of his lesser roles, the primary one being 'The Happening' where he's KNOWN for his bad acting. But if you give 'Patriots Day' a chance, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. The only problem is he's a fictional character in an otherwise very real world. Just keep in mind he's representing those Boston police officers who had to face all of this.
I have to say I was genuinely surprised in the amount of action taking place in this. There's a scene that involves one hell of a shootout. It's like something straight out of a first-person shooter, really intense stuff. I figured while watching it that it was glorified Hollywood action. But then, long story short, sources say it pretty much happened like it was portrayed. That is unbelievable! To know that a straight up video game-like shootout is something that CAN happen is pretty scary stuff, and it adds to the whole suspense of the movie.
So, where do I stand on it? Well, I think to say the release of it is "too soon" is relatively unfair. I get that people are concerned about the victims' families and all, and that's fine. Frankly, I am too. But the message you get at the end of this movie kinda makes it worth coming out sooner. It's a message we as a society understand and can totally get behind. On top of that, once again, this ends with the real people giving interviews (which is becoming a cliche, but how do you argue real people appearing in a movie about them?) and in most articles I've read, a lot of the victims of the attack feel like it's NOT too soon, and that, once again, the message needs to get out to everyone.
Despite a few negatives, I still have to give this movie a positive review in the end. Controversial though it may be, the message we get in the end is one we need. I was impressed by the acting, and I don't mind saying I was tear-jerked during the end interviews. It can be a pretty strong film if you allow it to be and don't take it for America waving it's big flag. It's far more about coming together in the face of adversity than all that.
Another movie out this winter with a bit of "buzz" around it, 'Lion' profiles the 25-year span of an Indian boy named Saroo (Sunny Powar/Dev Patel).
Living in poor conditions in an area of India, Saroo and his big brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) do what they can in order to find odd jobs to provide themselves and their mother with food. I'm not entirely sure exactly what these "jobs" were, but from what I gathered, they often stole coal from trains and traded the coal for sustenance.
One night, Guddu heads out for work and Saroo follows him, only to be separated at a train station because Saroo gets tired and takes a nap on a bench. Meanwhile, Guddu leaves him there to go ask about work.
When Saroo wakes up, the station is dark and abandoned, so he hops onto a train for a more comfortable sleep. The train then takes off with him on it, and he ends up lost and homeless, only to be adopted by an Australian couple, Sue and John Breirly (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham, respectively).
20 years later, a grown-up Saroo starts to get memories of his former life, including his mother, brother, sister, and his overall disappearance, so he takes it upon himself to seek out his old family that he was separated from when he was just 5 years old.
There was certainly some strength to the film, but I'd be lying if I said I thought it was all that great. I don't wanna give the wrong impression. It really is a pretty strong story about the determination and perseverance of one man, and the fact that it's true makes it a little more special. But somehow I was underwhelmed, and I dunno if I can put my finger on exactly why.
There were parts of it that were thrown in there for the sole purpose of making one feel uncomfortable, it seemed. You know, a scene that kinda makes you squirm and then it's never brought back up? But I guess it's to show the dangers that homeless children in India have to face. Or there's a scene that involves an accident Saroo was in as a kid, and it's just kinda thrown at you as if the movie said "Oh yeah! BTW, this happened too!" and it's all for a relatively insignificant reason.
But what about the good? Why are people loving this one so much? Well, it IS an inspirational story, if nothing else. The acting was very well executed, and the direction was very well done for newcomer Garth Davis. There's a little part of me that hopes to see him nominated for Best Director, just because it was very well done for a first attempt. This, I cannot deny.
Anyway, this might end up being one of those titles that just wasn't totally for me. It's doing well enough that you should probably check it out for yourselves and see what you think. I was underwhelmed, but who knows, maybe you'll find something in it that I didn't.