Rob’s Quick Review: Nerve

Nerve has gotten much more realistic since I walked out of the theater a few weeks ago. It seems scarily prescient in the wake of Pokemon Go’s release.  Millions of people walking

Rob’s Quick Review: John Wick

John Wick is a stylish, fast-paced take on the revenge action genre. It’s very well written, interlacing funny moments into the action sequences, reminding me of the best of Shane Black’s writing.

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April Movie Preview: Part 1

Now that we’re post awards season, we’re in that weird in between before the summer movie explosion.  That being said, there are several movies of note trying to get the jump on

 

Reviews

Movie Reviews

Rob’s Review: Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Lee Daniels' The Butler on Cinedraft.com
Letter Grade:
(?)

A-
The Good:

Excellent performances from Whitaker and Oyelowo
Works as a father-son drama


The Bad:

Presidents universally miscast.
Plays fast and loose with actual history

Cast & Crew:

Director: Lee Daniels
Writer: Danny Strong
Stars: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey,David Oyelowo, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravitz, Robin Williams, John Cusack, James Marsden, Minka Kelly, Liev Schreiber, Alan Rickman, Jane Fonda

Rated PG-13 for some violence and disturbing images, language, sexual material, thematic elements and smoking

Lee Daniels’ The Butler gets off to a kind of rapey and murdery start.  Forrest Whitaker’s Cecil Gaines grows up in the south, and when his mother is raped and his father is murdered by their employer, the matriarch of the employing family moves young Cecil into the house to be a servant. Cecil knows this won’t end well, so after some training he runs off and finds employment at a hotel, where he begins to learn the fine art of buttling. Eventually he moves to Washington D.C. where he begins working at a fine hotel, and eventually he is discovered and offered a job at the White House, where he serves every President from Eisenhower to Reagan.

 The Butler on Cinedraft.com

The film gives us little glimpses of (most of) these presidents (they skip right over Ford and Carter), mostly looking at Civil Rights in that era, contrasting civil rights discussions in the White House with the experience of Gaines’ son, a Freedom Rider in the South. The meat of the movie is in Gaines’ relationship with his son and the rest of his family, but these little peeks inside the White House do a pretty good job of humanizing the Presidents, even if they can’t do any one of them justice.

The presidents are pretty much universally miscast, the filmmakers seeming to care more about having actors you’d recognize more than actors who would actually make you think they ARE that president. The makeup on them is generally good though, and it’s exceptional on Forrest Whitaker himself. You see Gaines over the majority of his life and Whitaker always looks the part.

 The Butler on Cinedraft.com

Oprah is good as Gaines’ wife, but the real standout of the supporting cast is David Oyewolo as Gaines’ son Louis. He’s really almost a co-lead as he grows up in the midst of the civil rights movement, going away to college to be in the civil rights movement, becomes a Freedom Rider, travels with Dr. King, becomes a Black Panther and comes back to the mainstream. Louis goes through a huge arc, and Oyewolo makes it all believable.

There will be Oscar nominations to come out of this film, and it’s an important story, if not a terribly historically accurate one. It’s “inspired” by the story of a real butler at the White House, but the parts of the narrative that work the best definitely came from the mind of Danny Strong. And I can’t fault the film for that, because they ARE the parts that work the best. Those who are getting upset about “President X didn’t really think that” or “the real Butler didn’t have a son in Vietnam” are missing the real point of the movie (though so are any who might go the other direction, putting too much faith in its accuracy).  It doesn’t gel perfectly, and this isn’t really the story of the Butler who worked at the White House forever, it’s the story of a father and a son during the civil rights movement, and as that alone it works.








Rob’s Review: Short Term 12

Short Term 12 on Cinedraft.com
Letter Grade:
(?)

A+
The Good:

Brie Larson is spectacular
Incredibly touching story that examines the foster care system from both directions
Well-shot and impeccably paced


The Bad:

It took an incredible amount of willpower to wait until the movie was actually over to start tweeting about it

Cast & Crew:

Writer: Destin Cretton
Director: Destin Cretton
Stars: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Stephanie Beatriz, Rami Malek, Alex Calloway, Keith Stanfield, Frantz Turner

Rated R for language and brief sexuality

I’ve gotten terribly far behind in actually writing the reviews of the movies I’ve seen, but after seeing Short Term 12 tonight I have to skip this right up to the top of the list. Short Term 12 is absolutely the best film I’ve seen this year. Everyone should go see it.

Short Term 12 on Cinedraft.com

*Photo courtesy Cinedigm

Brie Larson, in a role that deserves an Oscar nomination, stars as Grace – a counselor at a foster care facility for troubled teens. John Gallagher Jr is Mason,  her boyfriend and fellow counselor, and  and  are two of the featured foster children.

Short Term 12 is based on Writer/Director  short of the same name, which in turn was based on Cretton’s time actually working in a foster care ward. His intimate familiarity with the subject matter really shines through. You get a real good examination of not just what the foster children go through, but also what the counselors go through in dealing with them, how they take their work home with them, and how the foster children are affected even into their adult years. Both Grace and Mason were themselves foster children and now that Grace is pregnant she has grave doubts about her ability to be a parent.

Short Term 12 on Cinedraft.com

*Photo courtesy Cinedigm

Brie Larson gives an incredible performance. Grace goes through some real turmoil and Larson is completely natural throughout. She brings real charm and depth to the character. The rest of the cast holds up as well with great performances all around. Cretton got great performances out of his cast and it’s beautifully shot as well.

Short Term 12 even ends on a great note. I found myself sitting in the theater slack-jawed at the perfection of the last scene. It would be really easy for a movie like this to get mired in the sadness, but Short Term 12 strikes a perfect balance. There’s abuse and neurosis, but there’s also joy and catharsis.

Go see this film.








Jennie’s Review: Elysium

Letter Grade:
(?)

A-
The Good:

All of the visuals are wonderful
The fight and action sequences
Throwback Sci-Fi


The Bad:

A bit predictable
Jodie Foster's accent and line delivery

Cast & Crew:

Written and Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Stars:Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, and Sharlto Cople

Rated R for strong bloody violence and language throughout

Mostly set in the 22nd century, Elysium begins with a brief history of the world becoming beyond over populated and generally ruined at the end of the 21st.  We learn that those with substantial means have fled to a space station habitat called Elysium (according to the movies promotional website, homes on Elysium start at $250,000,000). There is no crime on Elysium as every home is serviced by a personalized advanced security robot.  There is no disease or injury because every home is equipped with a medbay that cures (almost instantly) any disease or ailment known to man.  We then meet young Max who is being raised in an orphanage on Earth run by nuns.  As a child, Max is caught stealing, to save up for a ticket to Elysium.  One of the Nuns takes him aside and tells him that he is destined for bigger things and that even though Elysium looks beautiful from his viewpoint, she reminds him how beautiful Earth looks from up there.  She then gives him a locket with a picture of Earth from space in it.  This was apparently a powerful gesture as he holds onto this token into his adult life.  Despite this though, he does still fall into a life of crime as an adult (played by Matt Damon) and serves some time in jail for stealing cars.  He is trying to make an honest living and get his life on track when an accident involving a lethal dose of radiation sets a new course for his life. (more…)








Rob’s Quick Review: The Wolverine

The Wolverine on Cinedraft.com
Letter Grade:
(?)

C-
The Good:

Bones of a good story are there.
Technically proficient.


The Bad:

Not nearly enough plot for the runtime.
Takes too long to get to the important points.
Undercuts Wolverine's real character.

Cast & Crew:

Written by: Mark Bomback, Scott Frank
Directed by: James Mangold
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Brian Tee, Hal Yamanouchi, Famke Janssen

Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language

Dear Fox,

Please check in with Marvel.  They seem to have figured out how to make a superhero movie, but you’ve just never gotten the hang of it, have you? With The Wolverine you’ve managed to cram 75 minutes of plot into 126 minutes.  I know that about 20 minutes of that seems to have been invested in constantly having  turn around and stare at the camera while we watch him instantly heal, but that still leaves you with a good half-hour too much movie. Don’t get me wrong, Wolverine in Japan battling the Silver Samurai was a good idea, you just took too much time actually getting him to Japan, and FAR too much time actually getting to the Silver Samurai.

Wolverine’s 3 primary powers are stabbing people, healing, and being a dick. I know it’s hard to make a PG-13 movie about a guy whose primary power is stabbing lots of people, so I get why the stabbing-to-blood ratio is so high, but you’re even undercutting his bloodless dickishness, like when he throws somebody out the window of a high rise only to have them land in a pool that Wolverine didn’t know was there. The bones of a good Wolverine movie were there in that plot, but you just don’t seem to know how to infuse the adamantium and make those bones shine.

Sincerely,

Rob








Rob’s Review: The Conjuring

The Conjuring on Cinedraft.com
Letter Grade:
(?)

B+
The Good:

Relies on suspense with the occasional shock, not on gore and torture.
Nice nods to earlier horror films set a nice tone.
Surprising depth in the characters.


The Bad:

How were they going to heat the house?
Really could have used a *clap* *clap* at the end of the credits.
Could use more Joey King

Cast & Crew:

Written by: Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes
Directed by: James Wan
Stars: Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Joey King

Rated R for sequences of disturbing violence and terror

The Conjuring on Cinedraft.com

Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

The Conjuring isn’t the scariest movie I’ve ever seen (that would be Paranormal Activity), but it’s very well made with a lot more character depth than I would have expected.

Based on a (supposedly) true story, Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston are the Perrons, the parents of five daughters, who move into an old farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island. When spooky stuff starts to happen they call on the help of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). It’s kind of like Ghost Hunters, except they actually find paranormal phenomena during their investigations.

The Conjuring on Cinedraft.com

Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Director James Wan (Saw,Insidious) does an excellent job with the material. There’s surprisingly little blood for a horror film, The Conjuring relies mostly on suspense with a few shock moments, but it’s decidedly not trying to gross you out, and that’s a very good thing. There are some nods to the history of horror films in there too, I found the opening credits to be reminiscent of old Grindhouse/Hammer films, and Wan lifts a little something out of Sam Raimi’s playbook with some frenetic first-person zooming shots straight out of Evil Dead.

 

The acting is good throughout, with Lili Taylor and Vera Farmiga standing out before the rest. Taylor takes most of the suffering inflicted by the spirit, but Farmiga psychic investigator takes her fair share as well and Farmiga manages to instill a sense of foreboding even when it’s just her on the screen.

The Conjuring on Cinedraft.com

Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Now for a couple brief and fairly minor complaints:

1) They had video of the Perron family going to the beach, yet the family photo they show from that day still looks like a bad Photoshop job shot in front of a green screen.

2) The family discovering that they had a boarded-up cellar they didn’t know about would be more believable if the furnace weren’t down there. How were they expecting to heat their home?

3) Warner Brothers really missed out  on an opportunity by not throwing in a *clap* *clap* from the back speakers at the very end of the credits.

4) I could have used a larger role for .

The Conjuring on Cinedraft.com

Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

The Conjuring works as a horror movie. It’s chock full of suspense, surprisingly deep, and it works very well as a whole. If horror movies are your thing then this is worth checking out.








Rob’s Review: Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale Station on Cinedraft.com
Letter Grade:
(?)

A
The Good:

Doesn't preach, it just shows us the humanity of Oscar Grant.
Writing, directing, and acting all make it feel real


The Bad:

None

Cast & Crew:

Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Written by: Ryan Coogler
Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray, Ahna O'Reilly, Ariana Neal

Rated R for some violence, language throughout and some drug use.

Fruitvale Station on Cinedraft.com

*Photo Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

Early in the morning on New Years Day 2009 Oscar Grant () and his friends were taking the train (BART) back to Oakland after celebrating New Years Eve in San Francisco. Grant and his friends are detained by the BART police and during the detention an unarmed Grant was shot and killed by police in full view of the other passengers. Fruitvale Station covers the last day (or so) of Grant’s life, as he goes about his daily business while also battling the demons of his past.  plays Grant’s girlfriend/mother of his child,  plays his mother,  plays his daughter, and  and  play the BART police officers involved in the fateful detention.

Fruitvale Station on Cinedraft.com

*Photo Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

Fruitvale Station is very much about portraying the humanity of Oscar Grant. According to Production Designer Hannah Beachler, “the whole thing was about giving Oscar a human face, not a media face”. The filmmakers saw the media response to the incident, and how black-and-white the portrayals were; Oscar was either “good, or he was bad. He was a gangster, or he was a saint”.  The film isn’t really concerned with whether Grant “deserved” to die in that way, it only cares that he was a human being, with a real life. It shows the good parts of his life (he loves his daughter, picks her up from daycare, he’s there for his mother’s birthday party, he’s trying to go straight), but it also doesn’t hide the darker parts of his life. He was a gang member, he sold drugs, he did two stints in prison, he was fired from his job, and he has a temper.

Fruitvale Station on Cinedraft.com

*Photo Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

Director  was fresh out of film school when he started this project, and it’s really a remarkable picture for a director’s first feature film. It’s well-rounded and has real depth. The film moves at a deliberate pace, but at only 90 minutes it never has time to feel slow. Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer are both great, we get a superb look at Grant’s character and also what his mother goes through in the waiting room at the hospital.

Fruitvale Station is excellent and you owe it to yourself to see it.








Rob’s Quick Review: Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim on Cinedraft.com
Letter Grade:
(?)

C-
The Good:

Magnificent world-building.
Spectacular special effect.


The Bad:

Writing doesn't keep up with the visuals.
One-dimensional characters.
No real substance to match the visual flash.

Cast & Crew:

Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Written by: Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Idris Elba, Charlie Day & Ron Perlman

Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief language

Pacific Rim has magnificent world-building, and spectacular special effects. It’s just visually breathtaking. (Even if I do wish the Mech/Kaiju fights were obscured less by rain and the night.)  Unfortunately the writing doesn’t keep up with the visuals. It has a good framework there, but nothing’s really properly fleshed out from a character perspective. The characters are closer to action figures than they are to real people, they’ve very one-dimensional. Yes, the Kaiju do a lot of damage to the city of Hong Kong in Pacific Rim, but I’m pretty sure about half that damage is actually just from Ron Perlman chewing through the scenery. (Which actually isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I was more than ready for a character to at least be memorable.) If you’re looking for a visual feast then Pacific Rim has you covered, but if you’re looking for anything more substantial then Pacific Rim just melts away like cotton candy.

*Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures








Dave’s Review: The To Do List

Letter Grade:
(?)

C-
The Good:

Funny at times
Acting was alright
Some refreshing themes that you don't usually see in a dumb comedy


The Bad:

Just another cookie cutter raunchy teen comedy
Some very lame and obvious jokes
Casting nearly 30 year olds as High Schoolers

Cast & Crew:

Director: Maggie Carey
Writer: Maggie Carey
Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Bill Hader, Donald Glover, Clark Gregg, Connie Britton, Rachel Bilson

Rated R for pervasive strong crude and sexual content including graphic dialogue, drug and alcohol use, and language - all involving teens

Set during the summer of 1993, The To Do List follows the post-graduation exploits of Senior Class Valedictorian and all around Goody Two-Shoes, Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza) as she attempts to loosen up and gain, what she sees as, much needed sexual experience before going off to College in the fall.

The tagline for this movie is “She’s going from straight A’s to her first F.” If, like me, you read that tagline and literally groaned out loud in disapproval you should probably just skip this movie. If you aren’t actively repulsed by what I consider to be a really (like really, really) dumb tagline, you may like this film. (more…)








Rob’s Quick Review: The Way, Way Back

The Way, Way Back on Cinedraft.com
Letter Grade:
(?)

A
The Good:

Wonderfully introverted performance from Liam James
Allison Janney is great in the comic relief role
Complex characters
Full of heart


The Bad:

It has Maya Rudolph, though this is the closest I've come to liking her

Cast & Crew:

Directed and Written by Jim Rash and Nat Faxon
Starring: Liam James, Sam Rockwell, Steve Carrell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Maya Rudolph, AnnaSophia Robb

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language, some sexual content and brief drug material

The Way, Way Back is a wonderful film about a teen’s self-discovery. It’s a lot likeAdventureland, but much better, with 100% less  gives a wonderful, introverted performance that feels so real that if you didn’t know he was a professional actor you’d start to question whether it’s really acting.  is hilarious as the overly-talkative next-door neighbor. The screenplay by  and  is excellent.  It would have been real easy to make the adult characters one-dimensional stereotypes, but they’re actually really well developed here.   character is a jackass, but you can at least see his motivations. The Way, Way Back has a ton of heart, it’s definitely worth seeking this gem out.

*Photo courtesy Fox Searchlight








Jennie’s Review: Pacific Rim

Letter Grade:
(?)

D+
The Good:

The special effects
The fight scenes
Generally everything visual


The Bad:

The writing
The delivery of most of the lines
Generally everything that wasn’t visual

Cast & Crew:

Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Written by: Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Idris Elba, Charlie Day & Ron Perlman

Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief language

The first thing you see when the movie starts is what appears to be a computer screen that explains that Jaeger means Hunter and Kaiju means giant beast.  This is the explanation as to why the giant robots are called Jaegers and the giant aliens are called Kaijus.   We are then guided by voiceover through the history of the very first attack in San Francisco, and then the second on Manila, and so on.  Then the voice quickly explains the development of the Jaeger Program and how the giant robot warriors are piloted by 2 persons with their minds and memories connected.  The Jaeger program seems to be successful, very successful, the pilots become worldwide heroes, and the whole situation starts to be taken less seriously because humanity now feels like they have the upper hand.  Of course, this is not the case.  The Kaiju apparently have the ability to evolve very quickly to adapt to and withstand the weapons used against them.  We discover this as the voice is revealed to be Jaeger pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) who is a co-pilot with his brother (Diego Klattenhoff) and they are called to defend the Alaskan coast from the newest Kaiju attack.  Things do not go well for the Becket brothers and from then on, the supremacy of the Jaegers is no longer intact.

(more…)