Sunday, December 27, 2015

More - Part 4

Ricki and the Flash

It's fun to see Meryl Streep play a rock star, but the movie surrounding her musical performances is so, so rote and overly-familiar. Of course her kids hate her. Of course there's awkward tension between her and the woman who took her place in the family. Of course there's a will they/won't they scenario between Ricki and her former husband. Of course there's a triumphant wedding at the end where everyone gets along. Still, there are movies where you can tell how it's going to play out and you manage to enjoy it anyway, Ricki and the Flash is just not fun enough to make you forget that you've seen some version of this story before.

Grade: C

Stanford Prison Experiment

It may feel repetitive after awhile, but I found Stanford Prison Experiment to be a very compelling, gripping watch.

Grade: B


While it often plays a lot of the same notes as the first "Rocky" film, "Creed" succeeds and goes beyond the legacy of the first film by being so drenched in heart and emotion. Sylvester Stallone gives the best performance of his career, but Michael B. Jordan is just as great as the young man determined to get out of the shadow of his old man: a man he never met, yet still feels connected to. And as for Ryan Coogler, well, he's the real fucking deal.

Grade: A-

The Good Dinosaur

It hits all the right emotional notes, but something's missing in Pixar's latest effort. Visually, it's quite spectacular, but the story and characters are too generic and that's ultimately what matters most to me. It winds up playing out like a uninspired mashup of The Lion King and Finding Nemo.

Grade: C-

Mississippi Grind

Basically a stealth remake of Altman's California Split, but I didn't mind at all. Something about the concept of two loners - one talkative, one unlucky - gambling together and getting themselves in trouble, something about that concept really appeals to me. I don't know why.
But you add Ben Mendelsohn, who's on top of his game here, and Ryan Reynolds, who finally puts his cocky, charismatic on-screen persona to good use here --- those performances and their chemistry together really makes Mississippi Grind a breeze to watch. A fun, good ol' fashioned, breezy character drama - that's what this is.

Grade: B+


Will Smith gives a solid performance, but focusing so much on Omalu kinda took away from the scope of the story. Watching how he discovers the CTE disease just doesn't make for very fascinating cinema and the movie basically has no ending. The real meaty drama is the way the NFL continually covers up, lies, and manipulates its way through their knowledge of the concussion issue. By being so intensely about Omalu, we miss out on the "concussion hearing" meeting that takes place between the NFL and Dr. Bailes - who's forced to give Omalu's speech to the league as the NFL refuses to listen to Omalu.
I watched the Frontline documentary that goes over these issues. I know how important Omalu's work is. Centering the movie around his work and findings is one thing, but centering around HIM was a mistake. As a result, "Concussion" winds up not nearly being as hard-hitting as it could've been.

Grade: C


In a James Bond film, I only really care about plot when it's in the moment. If the movie works just enough and the action set pieces are enjoyable and well-made, then I can generally get with it. "Spectre" pretty much delivers on those fronts for the first 2/3rds. Character-wise, nobody really stood out except maybe for Bond's go-to guys. M and Q and Penny, for instance. As for his love interests? The villain? Both those elements fell flat for me, despite my growing love for Lea Seydoux.

The action wowed me just enough to have an overall positive outlook on "Spectre," but man, they really tried to test me with its overabundance of "shocking" plot revelations. I didn't give a shit about the whole 'spectre organization' aspect, and I thought Mission Impossible Rogue Nation had very similar plot lines but they streamlined it enough that you didn't get too lost into the details. I mean, the bottom line is, there's never going to be a final Bond film. The stakes can only really get so high. So, to have all these "startling" revelations where you're tying together storylines for previous films, that kind of stuff really gets in the way of what otherwise could've been, AND should've been, a rollicking good time.

I really enjoyed "Skyfall" and I thought Mendes did a solid job in his second outing, but man, it'd be a shame if Daniel Craig ended his reign on this note. I'm really starting to enjoy Craig as Bond and wish he'd go out on a higher note than this.

Grade: C+

The Man From UNCLE

Underwhelming on the action front, but Cavill, Hammer, and Vikander were actually pretty fun to watch together. Not too sure about Hammer's Russian accent though. It was alright, though it kinda felt like "Cold War-era Sherlock Holmes"at times. Solo and Illya's constant bickering/simmering bro-mance made me think of Holmes/Watson in Ritchie's "Holmes" films. The problem - Cavill/Hammer are not Downey Jr./Law. So, yeah, in summation, it was ok.

Grade: C+

The Big Short

I liked a lot of aspects of The BIg Short and I loved Steve Carell. Thought Bale/Gosling/Pitt were solid too, but I also really enjoyed the lesser known actors like Rafe Spall, Jeremy Strong, and John Magaro. I was into the way Adam McKay played with the form and how he used direct-to-camera narration, but the camera work and editing style was a little too cumbersome to wade through. I know the style is purposeful, but when you're dealing with numbers and "sophisticated" Wall Street lingo, I'm not sure distancing the audience with the near montage style of editing is the best way to go. I get the choices McKay made, but I'm not sure about the execution. Also, despite the solid performances, because you're dealing with, basically, 4 separate story arcs that never externally intersect with each other, some storylines wind up feeling more involving than others. There's an imbalance there that keeps the film from really excelling on its own terms. But, did I like the film? Yes, yes I did.

Grade: B

I'm all caught up! Except for one more movie...

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