Hello, My Name is Doris: Movie Man Jackson

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How Stella Got Her Groove Back, without the exotic locale. Doris (Sally Field) is a sixty-something women who has just lost her mom. Her mother is really all she’s ever had; she’s never been married, or had a place of her own. She’s a holdover at the place she works at, overrun by millennials who hardly know she exists.

By chance one day in the elevator, Doris runs into the new director for her company, John (Max Greenfield), at most half her age. She develops a strong affinity for him, but is afraid to act on it, until she hears some self-help that gives her the motivation that she needs to pursue. Is she just crazy, or does she actually have a shot?

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Hello, My Name is Doris is a pleasantly likable, sometimes pretty hilarious, romantic comedy. Directed and co-written by Michael Showalter, at its core, the movie is about letting go of barriers that impede progress, both physically and mentally. At times, it can even be a little off-putting, but it definitely means well.

The film assembles an entertaining cast, with the likes of Stephen Root, Peter Gallagher (playing the funny self-help guru), Tyne Daly, Kumali Nanjiani, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Beth Behrs, and Max Greenfield, with Greenfield having a tad bit of noticeable character and friendly chemistry with Field. Perhaps it is no surprise then that Hello, My Name is Doris has a very pronounced sitcom feel, with so many of the main cast stars being well-known for television. That’s not a bad thing here, as this movie benefits from being very “cozy.” Go ahead and imagine a laugh track in spots, not that hard to see.

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But it is the now 70 year-old Sally Field who provides the film with all of the charm, awkwardness, and hilarity. She’s not afraid to make a fool of herself, whether it be in the physical sense (one scene in particular is easily one of the funniest moments that I’ve personally seen in the 2016 calendar year), or the simple reactionary sense. Though her character can sometimes skirt the line of craziness and over-zealousness, Field still manages to make her endearing, heartfelt, and tragic. Not an easy task, and many an actress would probably fail to imbue Doris with this versatility.

If yours truly has one semi-major issue with the production, its the ending. While there is some finality to Doris’ escapade, there are a few loose ends that don’t get tied. I’m all for open-endedness, but in the right movie. Hello, My Name is Doris would benefit from some hardcore resolute finality in my opinion, as how it ends really does make one wonder about the lead character, where she goes next, etc. It feels like it is supposed to be uplifting, but it is actually equal parts depressing and optimistic, which in the end makes it sort of a push.

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Hello, My Name is Doris is a cute and breezy watch, more fun than one may initially anticipate. Should you explore this? Absolutely.

B

Photo credits go to usatoday.com, ew.com, dvd.netflix.com, and flavorwire.com.

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The Lobster: Movie Man Jackson

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If you could be any animal in the world, what would you be? It’s often a question used to break the ice in a first date, or a personality question hiring managers use on prospective interviewees, but in The Lobster, it is a question that turns into a reality. In “The City,” single people are taken to a hotel to find love.

Great, right? Well, not really. They have only 45 days to find a partner, or they get turned into an animal of their choosing. For David (Colin Farrell), he’s chosen to become a lobster should he fail. As he gets closer to the deadline, he finds that being a crustacean is not something he wants to become, neither is love something he wants to be forced to find. But what else is out there beyond the hotel walls? And if he does find love, will everyone be so accepting of it?

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Both about love and the absence of it, director Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster may be dealing with conventional themes befitting of a conventional romance, but this isn’t a conventional film. Honestly, this is reason alone to spend time at this bizarre hotel, even if the stay isn’t without some personal troubles.

Working with one of the more unique premises seen in quite some time for a romance, The Lobster draws the viewer in with the being turned into an animal bit, but really, that doesn’t play as much into the proceedings as expected. Not ready to say that is a bad thing; it just feels that aside from one midway moment in the movie (and perhaps, that was the reason why that part of the plot exists), the transformation and/or its importance is never examined.

Still, the happenings at this city hotel in the first half of the film are delightfully bonkers. The rules and seminars are unbelievable, to spoil any would be a shame on yours truly to do so. The narration by what turns out to be an unreliable narrator is great. It is here that Lanthimos’ satire of 21st century romance clicks the best, from common interests to the simple act of not wanting to be alone. Furthermore, the orchestral pieces by Beethoven, Stravinsky, and Shostakovich add to the film’s overall minimalism, dark humor, and coldness.

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Lanthimos’ first half of The Lobster is simply bizarre, and possibly too bizarre for some viewers. But, the allure of all that goes on during it is unforgettable. It is the second half that is surprisingly dull once the hotel falls into the background of the plot. By no means is this an energetic piece, but the pace absolutely, for my money at least, slows down significantly to the point of lost interest. Any statement about romance feels lost during this point in the runtime. It does rally near the end, and Yorgos ends the film with a beautiful shot that leaves the viewer deciding the fate of the main characters.

Colin Farrell rarely, if ever, disappoints in movies he appears in, but at this point in his career, he talents seem best suited in quirky and offbeat productions such as In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. The Lobster is along those lines. Farrell just has this look about him as a bespectacled mustachioed person who just screams pathetic with his passiveness and somewhat self-inflicted malaise, but he’s still a guy that one wants to see do well.  His chemistry with Rachel Weitz, also great here, is noticeable, and gets movie through its meandering phase. Others, like John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw, and Léa Seydoux round out the cast. They don’t necessarily have well-rounded characters (Reilly & Whishaw are more representations than anything), but they do fit into the movie’s strangeness.

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The Lobster doesn’t seem concerned with being a satisfying watch. But, it does have a unique taste. A taste that may linger for a while, others not so much.

C+

Photo credits go to YouTube.com and rottentomatoes.com.

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Hardcore Henry: Movie Man Jackson

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Insert obligatory joke about Hardcore Henry sounding like a porno here. A man named Henry (you/the audience) wakes up one day from the dead in a Russian laboratory. He has no memory at all of how he got there, or how he has become a hybrid of man and robot. He’s been brought back to life by Estelle (Haley Bennett), a scientist who claims she and Henry are married.

As Henry start to adjust to his new cybernetic features, the laboratory is stormed by a group of baddies led by Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), who somehow has telekinetic powers. They clearly want Henry for a reason, and while he manages to escape, they end up taking his wife in the process. And so, with the help of the seemingly everywhere Jimmy (Sharlto Copley), Henry embarks on a bloody mission to take back his love. 

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When video games are adapted to films, most video game fans want their their treasured playthings be given the best cinematic treatment possible. That is to say, while playing the game is fun, looking at a film that resembles a video game from start to finish may not be the best thing around. Though not a video game adaption, Hardcore Henry feels like one literally, its presentation completely resembling some of the more popular first-person actioners of recent memory such as Call of Duty, Rainbow Six, and Mirror’s Edge. From complete start to finish.

Props is given to writer/director Ilya Naishuller for committing to a vision. Whether he achieves that vision is up to the viewer. The first person POV may not be aesthetically pleasing throughout, but there are some really impressive highlights, a main one being a chase that comes the truest to capturing the FPS perspective. One might not like the perspective, but it would be wrong to call his effort befitting of a hack; there’s a lot of skill and hard work that went into making this. To yours truly, his vision isn’t fully realized, however, because it isn’t that immersive, which is clearly what the movie is trying to be. Many people have already said it, but it is true. It is one thing to play a video game (especially a first person one), and be into it because one is actually doing the controlling, and it is another thing to watch someone play a video game, which isn’t as fun. 

Sharlto Copley stars in HARDCORE HENRY Courtesy of STX Entertainment

Even when going in with the most minuscule of expectations to Hardcore Henry‘s plot, it actually manages to disappoint more as the runtime goes on, because there is actually some unforeseen potential, in my opinion, that its setup lends itself to. But, whether Naishuller just couldn’t cobble together a good story, or chose not to in an effort to mock similar games for not having one, there’s little to care for after a while.

It’s a probable possibility that I am looking way too much into this, but if there weren’t so much story potential, I wouldn’t be as frustrated. And it is unfortunate, because for having such a small budget, Henry’s got some notable style to it, kind of feeling like a melding of steampunk with psychedelic aspects. Part of it has to be due to the music, which is awesome from a soundtrack and score perspective.

Most of the notable cast, small as it is, is pretty forgettable. Tim Roth is the most famous name to appear, but his screentime is approximately less than five minutes as our father. As a villain, Danila Kozlovsky is certainly hateable, but extremely forgettable, much like Haley Bennett, who might as well be Princess Peach. The one true bright spot is Sharlto Copley, who always seems to be one of, if not the, most memorable piece in a movie. But watching him in Hardcore Henry just makes one wish that he was in something better. 

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Looking for a film to cure that insomnia? Hardcore Henry really isn’t it. But all of its nonstop, frenetic, well-captured first-person mayhem is actually less interesting than an action fan (at least this one) would hope. It’s the equivalent of a video game that is OK on one playthrough, but has little replay, or in this case—rewatch, value.

Grade: C

Photo credits go to nerdist.com, collider.com, and dorkshelf.com.

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The Bronze: Movie Man Jackson

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The Magnificent Seven, this is not. In 2004, Hope Annabelle Gregory (Melissa Rauch) became an American hero at the Summer Olympics by winning The Bronze medal in gymnastics. 12 years later, she is still living off of that fame in her hometown of Amherst, Ohio. As such, she refuses to get a job, is constant in emasculating her father (Gary Cole), and is just an overall nasty person.

Debt is piling up, and her father will not have it anymore. After something unfortunate happens to her old coach, Hope is offered an opportunity to coach the new up-and-comer gymnast, Maggie (Haley Lu Richardson), to a nationals appearance in Toronto, in hopes of putting her on the fast track to the Olympics. Complicating matters is the fact that she has to do this, because, otherwise, she misses out on a much needed $500,000. In addition, Maggie is also an Amherst native, and there’s the likelihood of her stealing Hope’s spotlight and status as the town darling. Will Hope sabotage the newcomer’s dreams, or will she take this seriously?

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I’m guessing there’s a reason that The Bronze wasn’t marketed too heavily. I can’t remember seeing one TV spot for it, and I imagine that the distribution rights shifting so many times couldn’t have been a help, either. Still, The Bronze fails mostly because of the one thing its supposed to make an audience (of one during this showing) do as a comedy: Laugh.

Well technically, The Bronze is billed as a comedy-drama, and it is a bit of a surprise to see it played pretty straight. This is no Blades of Glory scenario where everything is ridiculous.  No, this is, for the most part, generally realistic. The story has been done before, and it’s certainly not completely original. But, the gymnastics backdrop does liven things a bit, and it kind of hits if only because stories exist just like Hope of athletes pushed too hard by family, having too much success too fast, and not knowing how to handle it once the world doesn’t care. However, the ending is a little too “perfect” for my tastes, in the sense that it goes out of its way to villainize a character who has completely valid reasons for doing what is done.

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But, The Bronze is still a comedy, or at least attempts to be. Yours truly has heard that this is more of a character study than a true laugh-fest (premiered at Sundance over a year ago), and while I can sort of see that, I would say that it is still pretty clear that co-writers Melissa Rauch and her husband, Winston, are aiming to deliver laughs through Melissa’s lead character. Unfortunately, her Hope character is one of the most unbearable leads seen in a comedy in quite some time. A combination of a grating voice, unfunny crude dialogue, and just flat out bad writing almost made for a recipe for me to walk out. The redemption arc just doesn’t feel earned, either. With the way the character is written, it is better as a supporting character, the “in doses” type, compared to one that is featured in the full movie.

Adding insult to injury is a completely shoehorned love story that comes out of leftfield about halfway through, and the actors in the middle of it struggle to make it work. Gary Cole, a man who over the years has been an asset to many comedies, is extremely underutilized here, though he does his best with bringing an emotional aspect to the father-daughter relationship. Perhaps the brightest spot of the film is Sebastian Stan, who plays a pretty good douchebag, yet is somehow more likable than Hope despite the writing telling the audience otherwise.

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Competent story-wise but absolutely uninteresting, devoid of laughter, and a chore to sit through on the lead character front, The Bronze isn’t deserving of any acclaim. Not even worth a nickel or copper medal.

Grade: D-

Photo credits go to ustoday.com, letdrama.com, and sonyclassics.com.

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The Big Short: Movie Man Jackson

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A time out is needed every so minutes when watching The Big Short. The year is 2005, and the housing market, and by extension, the economy, is looking pretty damn good. However, there are a few people, like hedge fund manager Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale) who believe that the housing market is awfully close to collapsing. Through research, he’s come to the conclusion that more loans are being taken out with fewer and fewer returns.

Not everyone feels this way about the market, but a few individuals hop on the bandwagon. Deutche Bank trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) gets in on the action early, realizing that Burry’s doomsday prediction is correct…and also very profitable. By accident, this information about the impending housing market makes way into the ears of Mark Baum (Steve Carell), a hedge fund manager at FrontPoint (a subsidiary of Morgan Stanley) who is fed up with the system.

And by virtue of being in the right place at the right time after a disappointing failure, friends and upstart business partners Charlie Geller (John Magaro) and Jamie Shipley (Finn Wittrock) decide to hitch their fortunes to Burry’s projections, needing the intel of a disenchanted and retired banker Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to get a seat at the front table. There’s an opportunity to get rich, but nothing is certain. And even if it is, is it worth it to benefit if everyone else’s life is wrecked beyond belief?

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The Big Short features a ton of contradictions. It is made for dummies, and yet it isn’t. It is kind of light, yet also heavy. Simply, the film will not work for everyone, and it has issues that prevent it from being a film without issues. But, it is a film that is hard to not stop thinking about after the credits roll, and for it to achieve that with the story and subject matter it is based upon is an astonishing feat in my opinion.

The housing market and its specific jargon is awfully dense, which should, in theory, make for a dry, and perhaps even dull, movie. Director Adam McKay (Step Brothers, the Anchorman series) doesn’t shy away from it, either. This is about the housing market and the economy, and as such, certain terms are used and need to be. But, McKay does do his best to make the concepts approachable, be it the use of Zach Morris-esque fourth wall breaks featuring actual celebrities, and/or characters in the movie who take the time to explain what exactly is going on at a specific point in time, accompanied with actual definitions for the words that the main characters spout off so casually. It’s a cool device/style that McKay uses pretty well, and his usage of it distinguishes The Big Short from other biographies that can often be too “by the numbers.”

“Cool” doesn’t equate to picture-perfect, however. Know how the phrase of “letting the story/script breathe” is sometimes used for directors with a pronounced style who know when to pull back and allow the story to take focus over their directorial style? Good as the script is for The Big Short, McKay’s imprint is always seen…which isn’t always good thing. As alluded to, telling ‘TBS’ in the same straightforward fashion as other biographies and true stories wasn’t the play with the content matter bordering on boring information overload, but yours truly does wonder if a little more restraint employed by McKay would have made for a slightly more thorough cinema piece. But, credit where credit is due. Never once during the 2 hour 34 minute runtime was I bored.

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For every well-used fourth wall break technique, though, there’s one or two (looking at you, Margot Robbie), that either are unneeded, or actually complicate understanding instead of dumbing things down. In addition, it can be hard to ascertain McKay’s directorial goal with this. Is he looking to make this resemble a regular movie? A documentary with a single cam? Maybe even a music video with all of the cuts (literally with the splicing of actual music videos, and figuratively)? Admittedly, yours truly’s thoughts on the film come after Adam McKay’s Best Director nomination, which could lead to a more pessimistic look at the style as opposed to just watching it without knowing of his accolade a few weeks prior. And as said, his style is mostly good for this, if a little overused. While it is an overall impressive job turned in for a man who was only known for doing comedy, I just don’t believe it is Best Director worthy after knowing who else existed as options.

But, a director heavy visual style can’t take away from the acting work submitted by their cast. And make no mistake, The Big Short has great acting. While neither of the four leads have characters that are all that deep, they are still extremely fun to watch. Out of the four, Bale and Carell are the biggest standouts, with the former playing an awkward professional who struggles to connect with people, and the latter tapping into Michael Scott, with all of the zeal that the Dunder-Mifflin manager possessed but none of the stupidity. Gosling and Pitt are great additions and do well with their respective roles as comedic relief and semi-moral center, but get by more with their personas than anything their characters are.

Hardly featured in the marketing yet integral to the story, Finn Wittrock and John Magaro provide the audience with a nice look at how two young guys decided to buck the system. Regardless of how much meat their characters have, what each actor and McKay does do well is refrain from trying to paint characters as do-gooders. Yes, they are nowhere near as evil as those they oppose, but the movie makes no effort to paint these guys as Robin Hood types, either. I found that aspect fascinating.

Left to right: Steve Carell plays Mark Baum and Ryan Gosling plays Jared Vennett in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises

The collapse of the housing market and ultimately the economy may not seem like a story that would translate well onto the silver screen, but the way it is told in The Big Short makes for a great watch, filled with an unforeseen, sometimes helter-skelter style, and strong cast work. Whether its bubble bursts on Oscar night or not remains to be seen, but in the meantime, take some time to invest in this.

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to youtube.com, vanityfair.com, and collider.com

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Carol: Movie Man Jackson

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Sparks always fly at the toy store. Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) is a young department store clerk, working in 1950’s Manhattan, New York. She has a steady boyfriend, Richard (Jake Lacy), who so desperately wants to vacation out to Europe and make Therese his wife. While flattered, Therese desires more and isn’t ready to commit to Rich yet, and still harbors dreams of being a photographer.

One day at the store, she meets Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), a well-off and elegant woman who has an aura about her that is impossible to resist. Immediately, a connection is born, and the two become inseparable. Complicating matters are Carol’s husband and reluctant divorcee Harge (Kyle Chandler), and their battle over custody of their child. But, love finds a way, right?

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As Keith over at Keith & the Movies opined, from the get-go, Carol is a movie that simply looks polished and primed for awards time. Obviously, this piece is coming days after Carol was shut out of the Golden Globes, but five nominations, even without one win, still means that Carol did its job. Did it do its job in making yours truly care about it? I wish I could say yes.

At the very least, Carol comes outfitted with great and workmanlike acting from the two co-leads, which is to be expected with Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett. The two play well off of each other, feel believable as character polar opposites, and are extremely brave and fully committed to their roles. It’s hard to find anything to have real gripes with, and if either receive Oscar noms (Editor’s note: Both have), they would be earned.

If one looked to be a stronger lock than the other for their nominated category, I’d say Blanchett has the stronger case. Her character is not only the obvious title of the movie, but she does bring a mysterious magnetism to her that makes Mara dull by comparison. But I suppose that is the point, though I believe Cate would be harder to replace in her role than Rooney. Sarah Paulson also does well, and though Kyle Chandler is awfully one-note, he does the best he can with what is given. The only weak link happens to be Jake Lacy. For some reason, it is hard for me not to see him still as Plop from season nine of The Office.

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Carol does have good, but unmemorable directorial style. Directed by Todd Haynes (I’m Not There), it certainly resembles the early 50’s, from dress to the way subjects look in lighting, as the movie has got that 50’s light jazz club fuzzy haze throughout. Sadly, what it doesn’t have is a story that yours truly ever really cared about.

About 20 minutes in, I couldn’t stop thinking about Brooklyn when watching Carol. Both rely on simplicity and elegance, but only the former also achieves with actual story drama and tension, to go with characters who are written well. As well as Mara and Blanchett are, there’s little desire to see where their connection goes, or even if it will remain. Their stakes never feel that high, and something tangible never truly felt like it was on the line. The B (not so much side) stories with the custody, aunt, etc., unfortunately did little to capture the attention, or round out the leading ladies.

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I really did want to like Carol, and there are pieces of it that absolutely work, namely, the performances. But, as runtime wore on, it became a exercise in viewing nothingness, one that I struggle to find the words for and care less about doing so.

Grade: C-

Photo credits go to hypable.com, fashiongonerogue.com, and elle.com.

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The Revenant: Movie Man Jackson

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Who needs winter weather when you have The Revenant? In 1823, the wilderness is very much an uncharted place, harsh and unforgiving. Explorer Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and fellow hunting party members John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) are on an expedition for fur. After being attacked by some vengeful Native Americans, the expedition turns to one of pure survival.

If that weren’t enough, Glass is absolutely mauled by a wilderbeast known as a grizzly bear, and left to perish out in the cold by his group. Down, but not out, he sets out to brave the relentless elements and find vengeance on those responsible for their selfishness.

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Directed by Birdman auteur Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The Revenant is the magnificent result of a director, in addition to the entire cast, pushing his limits as to what can be shown—and how it can be shown—on film. When people talk about filmmaking being dead, this would be a film to counter that argument. What Iñárritu, along with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, have done here is capture some of the best cinematography in cinema history. This is an amazing production.

There are few better than Iñárritu at this point in time. He, not DiCaprio, is the star of the movie. The way he sets up a shot, holds it, and keeps it moving is the stuff of legend, aided by the decision to shoot with natural lighting. Surely this had to be difficult for everyone involved, but it pays off with everything competing together in an extremely visceral way. Many times, yours truly wondered just how he was able to get a specific shot, or who he had to sell his soul to in order to pull off such amazing wizardry. He even has nice little visual touches such as staining the lens with blood for specific encounters that break the barrier between camera and subject. It all equates to an brutally unflinching view.

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I understand Tom over at Digital Shortbread is unwilling to jinx Mr. DiCaprio, but I’ll take the blame if his name isn’t called after “And the Oscar goes to…” in the Best Actor award. In a semi-weak field (compared to the Best Supporting Actor category), Leo is by far and away the favorite in the clubhouse. Those who maintain that his recent roles like Gatsby, Belfort, and Cobb aren’t all that stretching can’t use that argument this go-round. His commitment to the Glass character is something that has to be seen, because it feels so real. He’s just as convincing in another language as he is in English. The audience feels every fall, attack, and step taken by Hugh on his arduous journey.

It’s fair to say that Hardy wasn’t the star in Mad Max: Fury Road compared to Charlize Theron, despite playing the titular character. It’s wrong to say that he is the acting star here, because he isn’t. However, he does come close to stealing DiCaprio’s thunder at certain times. Hardy’s role is clear, and his character does everything in his power to make life miserable for Hugh in one fell swoop. Talk about a guy getting under your skin and that character is Hardy’s Fitzgerald. It’s hard to definitively see a nomination only because that field is so tightly packed, but he’d be deserving of one. Work turned in by Domhall Gleeson (a part of many great films in 2015!) and Will Poulter is not to be forgotten, either.

Earlier in this piece, it was written that The Revenant is an amazing production. Those words were chosen carefully. This is a great movie inspired by real events, but on the story front, I did expect to be blown away. Unfortunately, the script is a little bit of a letdown. Seeing Glass’ refusal to give up is riveting, but seeing predicament after predicament that has to be overcome can get a little old, akin to Southpaw. The survival aspect works tremendously. It’s just that at times, thematically, it appears to be going for more profoundness which hampers the storytelling. Minor flaw, as eventually, one realizes that The Revenant isn’t telling a story. The film itself is the story.

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What is the title of a film that has a reported $135 million budget, and still feels like a independent passion project? That would be The Revenant, a revelation for anyone who appreciates push-it-to-the-absolute-limit filmmaking and acting.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to aceshowbiz.com, and giphy.com.

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The Hateful Eight: Movie Man Jackson

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“The name of the game is patience.”

Hate! Hate! Hate!  Not too long after the Civil War, the state of Wyoming is home to a myriad of characters, all nefarious and dangerous. On the way to the town of Red Rock, bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) rides in a stagecoach which is transporting a woman named Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Daisy is a fugitive who will be put to death by hanging in Red Rock. Making their ride up difficult is a relentless blizzard that promises to only get worse.

Along the way, fellow bounty hunter and former Civil War participant Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), and new Red Rock sheriff Chris Mannix (Walter Goggins), hitch a ride to the same stagecoach. Eventually, though, that snow storm forces the foursume to seek refuge at a local cabin. It is there where they run into more characters—“Mexican” Bob (Demián Bichir), Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern). Only one thing is certain amongst these people: They are all bad people. 

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As of this writing, it has been almost 48 hours since yours truly has come out of Quentin Tarantino’s latest feature, known as The Hateful Eight. And, I still don’t fully know how I feel about it. On one hand, it is blueprint Tarantino, infusing his irreverent trademark style in every piece of the movie. On another hand, it can feel like the work of a man feeling himself a little too much, reveling in those Tarantinoisms that don’t feel as inventive and unique as in previous works.

Aside from the script leak, the usual uproar of whether Tarantino is going too far, and the roadshow/70mm intention, the biggest story talking point going into “H8teful “seemed to be its over three-hour runtime. Could QT, one of the best writers of dialogue today in film, quell the concern about length? The answer is no…and yes. It really does take some time for his Western to get going, and to give a quantifiable number, I’d say about 60-90 minutes. While one could say that he is building character, I struggle to remember any key lines, or tidbits of information that moved the story along and/or gave more elements to those characters. It is possible that another watch is needed.

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Still, this stretch is where to look for any material that could have, and probably should have, been cut. But, that isn’t to say that The Hateful Eight is devoid of good writing, because it isn’t. Character-wise, these are really nothing but extremely vile people, though some entertaining (yet dulling over time) dialogue does exist. It, like the gratuitous violence, is more for shock value than anything else. But, Tarantino manages to surround these villains with a highly entertaining script that takes primary focus around the second act. Yes, it is a whodunit, but Tarantino uses a few plot mechanics—even his own narration—to fill some gaps. It is likely that the narration could be jarring to some, but it really adds to the old school style and live play aspect.

H8teful achieves a little bit more than not because it is simply an experience. Yours truly didn’t have the pleasure of seeing in 70mm, but this is one of the more unique watches in quite some time. The locale is amazing, and it being predominantly set in a cabin gives a truly confined and claustrophobic touch. As the runtime goes on, Tarantino’s technical work does begin to shine. Not flawlessly, but the film is a great example of sum greater than its parts. Speaking of parts, Ennio Morricone does his by providing an original score that captures the era of the Spaghetti Western. It is that mesmerizing, and potentially the strongest piece of the entire feature.

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The characters in The Hateful Eight may really be nothing more than caricatures, but that doesn’t mean that the actual work turned in by the thespians is to be scoffed at. Samuel L. Jackson does his Samuel L. Jackson thing here, but there’s a tad more meat than many of his other roles in Tarantino films. Kurt Russell may be the most entertaining individual in the entire production, which is a surprise seeing as where he begins at the start. Other great performances include Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, Walter Goggins, Bruce Dern, Demián Bichir, and Michael Madsen. At times, they can go a ton over the top, but that is attributed to QT writing more than a performer not knowing what to do.

Starting to see the picture? As odd as it sounds, I’m interested in watching The Hateful Eight again, just to see if there is anything that was missed, any dialogue that went over the head, etc. Very possible this opinion can change down the line with more views. On a first, it isn’t without flaws, or absent of merit. About the only thing I know is that it is a very memorable experience.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to huffingtonpost.com, filmmakermagazine.com, and latimes.com

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Daddy’s Home: Movie Man Jackson

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Didn’t Usher make a song about this? Some guys love being fathers more than others, and radio executive Brad Whitaker (Will Ferrell) is one of those guys. After a medical mishap, Brad is unable to give his wife of eight months Sara (Linda Cardellini) any kids, but he has happily taken to being the stepdad to her current ones Megan (Scarlett Estevez) and Dylan (Owen Vaccaro).

It has been a process, but the kids are gradually taking to Brad as their new father figure…until the old father figure Dusty Mayron (Mark Wahlberg) reenters their lives. The two clash instantly as Whitaker’s conservative and mild-mannered personality is an 180 from Mayron’s aggressiveness and brash demeanor. It’s father-on-father war as only one can emerge to be the unequivocal dad.

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Daddy’s Home is no The Other Guys. Comedy is different for many people, but every time yours truly watches that movie, I laugh just as hard as I did the first time, if not harder. TOG is one of my favorite comedies, ever. Daddy’s Home isn’t on the level of that 2010 movie, but, it does have two things that movie had: Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg.

Honestly, what was described before about the film’s plot is it. Definitely not elaborate or innovative, but it provides opportunity for ample laughs. And ample laughs are had. Comedy plots can occasionally suffer from not knowing when to end and going on too long. Credit is given to director Sean Anders, who has penned and/or directed more than a few recent comedies (to some questionable quality) such as Horrible Bosses 2, We’re the Millers, and That’s My Boy to name a few, in providing Daddy’s Home with a well-paced runtime that does not drag near the end. I’d go so far as to say that its climax, with a little heart sprinkled in with “clever” writing, is the high point of the film, as a climax should be. About the only time Anders’ feature plods along is during the 15-25 or so minutes at the beginning. Laughs are a little more sparse early on compared to later points.

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The Other Guys may not be universally loved, but even the detractors would likely have to admit that Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell had a great amount of not just chemistry, but comic chemistry. That chemistry carries over to their latest team-up. Like TOG, Wahlberg’s character is kind of a hothead and Ferrell’s a pushover, but both balance each other out. Ferrell gets the more riotous moments, but Wahlberg’s smugness is hilarity as well.

The only aspect of their chemistry that feels a bit off, and it is probably not their fault, is that they aren’t able to go all the way sometimes. Daddy’s Home is PG-13, and in scenes, there did appear to be some uncertainty as to whether to scale back and focus on the family and feel-goodness, or go all in on the raunchiness. As a young adult, this doesn’t bother me a ton, but I don’t believe this is a family film for youngsters, either, despite it sort of being so thematically. Some families found out the hard way in my theater after overhearing them talk about the content.

Most of the comedy comes from the aforementioned two squaring off, but there is assistance found in supporting players. Sadly, Linda Cardellini’s wife character can be all over the place with her alignment, and the kids are not exactly grating, but do push the limit here and there. On a positive note, Hannibal Buress and Bobby Cannavale bring chuckles in their screentime. But the scene stealer is Thomas Haden Church as Brad’s boss, who has no shame in sharing his unfathomable past love stories in the most deadpan and monotone fashion.

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Daddy’s Home is not at the head of the household of comedies, but Ferrell, Wahlberg and a few others do make a generally funny movie that is pretty hilarious at times and better than its trailer would indicate. It’s one that builds momentum as it moves along, and serves as a nice addition to Ferrell and Wahlberg’s comedy filmography.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to YouTube.com, and IMDB.com.

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Concussion: Movie Man Jackson

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“Tell the truth!”

In just about any activity, there is risk. Most people would like to at least know of those risks before engaging in them. Knowledge is power. Pittsburgh based doctor Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) is a forensic pathologist who mostly examines the deceased to ascertain how the patients have died. He’s brilliant, humble, and takes his job seriously for each and every single subject.

Shortly after the death of Pittsburgh Steeler Hall of Fame football player Mike Webster (David Morse), Dr. Omalu is asked to perform the autopsy. While test results show he was a relatively physically healthy man for the age of 50 after playing such a violent sport, the brain shows something different, possibly explaining the reports of Webster’s dementia, amnesia, and general instability. As more research is conducted by Bennet, and more ex-players become deceased, there is a clear link to repetitive head trauma (Chronic traumatic encephalopathyCTE) and mental issues down the line. This type of information is damaging to the powerful institution known as the National Football League, and as such, the league will do anything to protect the shield.

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Football, at least to yours truly, is fun to watch. Every Sunday, no matter the teams playing, I’m watching, and so is most of America. The players are true modern day gladiators, making pretty good money, but also putting their well-beings on the line for mass entertainment. Over the years, many people have argued that the NFL has become “wussified,” no longer the brutal gridiron product of yesteryear.

While I agree a little that some aspects (mainly what does and what doesn’t constitute a dirty hit) can be a little too overprotective, I get the reasoning behind it. Concussion, the dramatized version of the story the NFL didn’t want the public to know, is why. There’s simply too much for the league to lose without safeguards in place.

But those who play the sport, have loved ones who play the sport, and just enjoy viewing it need to know of the risks. Concussion‘s goal first and foremost appears to be an educational one. On an informational note, it does deliver in the way a documentary might not be able to. There’s science in it, but where a documentary could potentially lose people with how formal and terminological some subject matter can be, director Peter Landesman (Parkland) makes the content digestible. One does not need to be a football fan, or a scientist, to understand the gravitas and importance of what Omalu is uncovering, and how it can upset the apple cart. Omalu’s quest to get people to tell the truth is an interesting one, kind of like a poor man’s Spotlight, but not as objective.

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Concussion gets the information and war with the NFL part right, but like some other biopics, it can sometimes focus on too many side matters and efforts to build on its character(s). The way yours truly said this seems to indicate that the film is all over the place, when it isn’t. It is just that a noticeable shift occurs gradually around the halfway point where the story becomes less about Omalu’s fight for justice against the NFL and more about Omalu himself, his family, citizenship, etc.

Dr. Omalu is a brave man, but I’m not sure he’s an intriguing enough character for this shift to be effective. By most standards, he’d be a cookie-cutter character, extremely great qualities but maybe a little too perfect. Simply put, he gets the hero edit, never really being struck with a dilemma or a scenario that isn’t black and white. Perhaps that’s how it was. I’ve yet to really hear Dr. Omalu’s telling of events, but it seems like there’s more under the helmet that could be unfurled, and almost is. This is where a documentary could have delved deeper, and/or have had a more committed focus.

Performance-wise, Concussion gives Will Smith the touchdown he hasn’t had in a while, probably because he’s forced to not play himself. I was skeptical of how he’d come across after seeing the trailer a few times, but Smith is very steady with his Nigerian accent, and emotionally powerful when he needs to be. Despite not looking anything like Omalu, he is able to make the viewer feel like you’re watching him. The same cannot be said for everyone. Only in the movie for a little while, those playing Roger Goodell and Paul Tagliabue (Luke Wilson and Dan Ziskie, respectively) look nothing like those individuals. In Wilson’s case, seeing him trying to act like Goodell with a different hair color is laughable, and a joke. Could the casting decision of Wilson be a meta-humor representation of how what most fans think of Roger?

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The rest of the cast is filled with solid work. Alec Baldwin comes out of nowhere to bring the film’s most interesting character in Dr. Julian Bailes, ex-NFL team doctor who may be trying to absolve his sins. Albert Brooks makes things a little light but not to a detriment as Omalu’s superior, Dr. Cyril Wecht, and Gugu-Mbatha-Raw, even in a basic role, does good with what is given. Aside from Smith, however, the roles that stick with the audience are likely to be the bit ones done by David Morse, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Richard T. Jones, and Matthew Willig. Armed with little screentime, their time is extremely important though, as it essentially shows the audience just how dangerous CTE is.

The truth? Concussion‘s impact is lessened when it focuses on the man and not the story. But when it isn’t, an interesting and information-driven story finds paydirt, quarterbacked by an award-quality leading performance.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to ew.com, mmqb.si.com, and collider.com.

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