Sing Street (2016)

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singstreet

andie…?

Are you feeling down? Cynical? In need of a pick-me-up?

Sing Street.

Not a perfect movie, and a little derivative maybe, but the latest from writer/director John Carney (Once) is the kind of film that just puts a smile on your face. It’s about a group of kids who form a band in 1980s Dublin, their search for the right sound, and the lead kid’s attempt to woo a troubled girl he’s met.

Like Once, this movie involves characters encouraging and inspiring each other to pursue their dreams and talents. Though, while the end to Once was ambiguously optimistic, this one will probably just leave you cheering.

The characters are great, even when portrayed by some inexperienced actors, the music is fun, plus there’s all of the 80s nostalgia. If you grew up in that time frame, in Dublin or not, the costumes and band references will be an added layer of enjoyment.

Sometimes you need a movie that just makes you feel good, and while there are some serious elements involving family troubles, disappointments, and bullies (both young and old), the overall theme is one of triumph.  Or, at least potential triumph.

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Let’s watch some TV!

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Okay, I’m moving into new territory with this review blog.  I decided that since I haven’t been seeing many movies, I’d talk about some TV shows that I’ve been watching.  TV is often better than movies these days anyway, so…here we go.

IF YOU DON’T WANT TO READ ANY SPOILERS, DON’T READ THE PARTS IN RED.

The Fall: Seasons 1-3

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we’ll need quite the contract to cover what I’m planning…

This is a detective story set in Belfast which follows Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) as she pursues a killer who has been targeting young women in the area.  But we don’t just follow the detective, we also follow Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan, #notmychristian), the killer himself, as he carefully plans and carries out each murder.  Both characters are somewhat of a dichotomy.  Stella can be cold and seem emotionally detached, but then also display a high level of thoughtfulness and caring when you least expect it.  Meanwhile when Paul isn’t murdering people, he spends his days with his wife and children and as a counselor.

Each season has a bit of a different feel, but each season manages to be compelling despite the differences.  It’s hard to describe the seasons without spoilers, so skip the next paragraph if you don’t want any of that noise.

I’d have to say that season one was the most compelling to me, maybe because I’m more into traditional detective stories. Plus it’s more about character building, plot development, and atmosphere. The most uncomfortable aspect of season one is actually seeing Paul carry out his crimes.  Not because we see any graphic violence, but because we see him sneaking around in people’s houses, sometimes when they’re home.  Something about the way it was done was very unsettling to me.  It made me question every little sound I hear at night in my house. Once they figured out who he was at the end of the season, I wondered how season two would maintain my interest, but it did, just not to the same degree.  It managed to be interesting, and unsettling, in different ways, as Stella became a bit obsessed with the man she was pursuing.  Then once again I was confused about where season three would go after Paul was caught, then shot, at the end of season two.  And I’ll admit, for a while in season three, I was a little bored, but once again they managed to make it compelling. Adding the element of Paul possibly losing the memories of his crimes was a different kind of interesting, but it was still my least favorite of the three seasons. I would assume the ending of season three means there will not be a season four, unless they want to continue the Stella Gibson character on a different case.

Overall, season one is the best, in my opinion, but it’s worth watching the other two seasons for the overarching story to be completed.  Good performances, good atmosphere, and a creepy vibe.  These are things I like in a detective/serial killer show.

Marcella

marcella-itv

serious show = serious face

Keeping with the serial killer/detective show theme, we now follow Marcella, a detective played by Anna Friel who I liked so much in Pushing Daisies.  Totally different character here, of course, but still a good performance.  Maybe a little one note, but good.

Marcella is a detective who has been on maternity leave from the force for many years, but after being separated from her husband, she returns to her job to help pursue a killer that seems to have resurfaced after being dormant for a long time.  Marcella has a knack for losing her temper, blacking out, and coming to later with no memory of what she has done for the last several minutes or hours. This miiiight lead to some problems for her later.

I like the feel of this one, as far as how it’s shot and acted and such, and at times it was really compelling, but not quite as consistently as The Fall. Definitely worth a look though, especially since the season wraps up nicely in the final episode. I don’t know if we’ll see further exploits of Marcella Backland in the future, but she’s a good enough character that I hope we will.

Luke Cage

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you missed…

It’s always nice to see a smaller scale superhero movie, especially one with compelling heroes AND villains.  This show is not about a super-villain, alien, god-like monster that has to be defeated.  It’s about politics, criminals moving guns on the streets of Harlem, and the people (cops and a superhero) trying to make it a safe place for the average person to live.

Luke Cage is a man who was sent to prison for a crime that…wait for it…he didn’t commit. While there, he was subjected to some experiments that left him super strong and bullet proof. Naturally. After escaping, he’s taken up residence in Harlem, and he just can’t seem to avoid the trouble that’s swirling all around the place. Will he reluctantly become the hero that Harlem needs? Yeah, probably.

For the first half of the season, I was really digging the plot and all of the character interactions.  Then it suddenly takes a turn, and for several episodes, the momentum it built up petered out a bit. It finished fairly strong, but I can’t help thinking that the turn it took was a mistake. I’ll discuss that further in the red spoilers text below.

As I mentioned above, I didn’t like the turn that the show took midway through. If you’ve already seen it, then you know that what I’m referring to was having the main villain killed off unexpectedly. Mahershala Ali is SO GOOD as Cottonmouth, and I hated to see him go. The character is intimidating, has depth, not to mention a great laugh. When Diamondback shows up as a replacement villain, it’s a pretty big let down. He’s a much more one-dimensional character that you’d expect to see in the average superhero movie/show. It didn’t ruin the show, mainly because Alfre Woodard picks up some of the slack, but I would have preferred if they had kept Mr. Stokes around.

All in all, it’s a well written show that dares to let dialogue and characters take center stage instead of special effects and crazy superpowers. Yes, watch please.

Black Mirror: Season 1

black-mirror

that color looks good on you…and me.

So I’ve only seen season one (which is only 3 episodes long) of this anthology show which has apparently been around since 2011, but I like what I’ve seen.

The first episode had me wondering a little as to what all the hubbub was about, but then episodes two and three saved it for me. Those were both much more interesting explorations of technology and how cool and terrifying it can be.

There’s not too much to say about it without going episode by episode since each one is different (like Twilight Zone or similar shows), and I’m not going to do that. But it’s well made, well acted, and makes you think. Of course, it might also make you retreat from technology like it’s a hornet’s nest. Stop showing me cool stuff and then making me fear it!  Maybe I WANT an implant that records everything I see at every moment, okay!?

Glitch

glitch

not a fun day at the playground

Australia…often known as a place where just about everything can kill you. But who knew, apparently it’s also a place where you can suddenly come back to life, even if you’ve been dead and buried for years.

For constable James Hayes (Patrick Brammall), this is even more surprising, because he was not expecting to see his dead wife again any time soon. Why is she, and several others, back from the grave? ‘Tis a mystery that needs to be solved before too many people start to find out about these awoken dead.

This show is definitely a slow burn, and at times I wasn’t sure I was going to finish it, yet somehow it manages to leave you wanting more at the end of each episode. They throw one little twist in there and boom, I was clicking to the next episode on Netflix. It helps that it’s shot beautifully. The acting is all good, and even though it takes a while, they do flesh out the characters pretty well. Sometimes, though, character motivations were a little muddy, and you just wish people would say things to each other rather than hiding so much. Some of the drama felt a little manufactured.

Regardless of that, it’s a good show if you’re a patient enough viewer. I see it won multiple awards in Australia, so I guess my opinion is shared, therefore valid, obviously. So there ya go. You should watch it, although, don’t expect a satisfying conclusion.  I assume there will be a season two, as many things are left unexplained and a little confusing. Hopefully it doesn’t go all LOST and over-complicate things to the point of annoyance, but for now, I have hope that it will return and provide answers.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

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Call me Rey again, I dare you...

Call me Rey again, I dare you…

Alternate title – Star Wars: Get Used To It

Yes, another Star Wars movie.  To some, like me, that is a happy thing.  To others, it’s some other kind of thing.  But even to someone like me, if there’s going to be a whole bunch of Star Wars movies, they need to be good.  Otherwise, I will grow weary of them as well (see: Marvel movies).

Was this one good?  Yes.  Was it great?  Not in my opinion.

A few issues I have with it venture too far into spoiler territory, but I will say that some of the characters they included (some very briefly) were not entirely necessary and served more as super-fan pandering than anything else.  I find those moments to be distracting often, and I get mentally pulled out of the story.  I’m not thinking, “wow, what an exciting space battle!” I’m thinking, “wait…isn’t that the guy that was also just barely in A New Hope?”

So that’s nitpicking, but on a broader scope, I felt the first half was kind of slow and not compelling.  At least, not as compelling as it could be.  We hop around from place to place so much that there’s no time to build momentum with the characters or story.  It took me until the third act to really get into it.  That’s when the emotional content of the movie picked up and I really started to enjoy it.  And then there’s one scene near the end that’s one of the best in any Star Wars movie, so that helped me leave the theater with a good taste in my mouth.

But I’m still trying to put my finger on why the first half didn’t grab me as much as The Force Awakens did when I first saw it.  Maybe it just comes down to the characters.  I never really got on board with Jyn Erso’s motivation.  Heck, the teaser trailer had more backstory on her, most of which was apparently cut before it made it to the final print. Perhaps there will be a director’s cut on blu-ray that includes all of those lost scenes. After hearing about all the re-shoots/rewrites to give it more ‘levity’, the thought of a director’s cut is very inviting.

To wrap up, if you’re a fan, you’ll like it.  Maybe not love it, but definitely like it. Especially K-2SO, he’s funny.

 

Devil (2010)

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devil-messina-craven-vargas

Do you copy?  Hello?  Am I speaking to the devil…?  Over.

They say the devil is in the details, but…apparently the devil is actually in the elevator.

This M. Night Shyamalan written (and thankfully not directed), claustrophobic, light horror movie is actually fairly effective for the most part, though not really at being overly scary.  It’s more effective as a whodunit…or, whothedevil?

Thanks to some unnecessary narration, we know that the devil has decided to take human form and punish some people in an elevator.  What we don’t know is which of the five people on board the elevator is secretly the Prince of Lies.  Meanwhile, at a security desk, Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) is watching everything over a video camera and wondering what the heck is going on.

I’ve been debating with myself on this one as to whether or not it would be more effective if somehow the audience point of view never left the elevator.  Would it have felt more claustrophobic that way?  Long ago I did another trapped-in-an-elevator movie called Blackout that spent even more time inside the lift, and it didn’t effectively create much claustrophobia either, so…maybe I’m just not scared of getting stuck in an elevator.  Anyway, I actually like the bigger scope of the movie, as it includes several other characters being affected by what’s going on.  It felt more real to have police involved, a mechanic, security guards, etc.

Not a bad comeback effort from the guy that has been on a pretty big Hollywood losing streak.  Maybe writing and not directing is the winning formula for ol’ M. Night.  Believe it or not, I’m rooting for him to regain his former glory.  I liked his first few movies, even the Village, but everything since, not so much.

In Your Eyes (2014)

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inyoureyes

your hair is…in your eyes…

“You’re smart, and ain’t nothing in this world dumber than a smart guy.”

It’s like You’ve Got Mail with psychics!

In Your Eyes is a movie with a title that references a Peter Gabriel song, but does not feature said song in the movie.  What gives?  It does, however, feature many other indie songs all throughout the movie.  In fact, it uses the sentimental music montage as a bit of a crutch.  When your two lead characters are separated by almost the entire country, I guess it’s hard to create scenes of a growing love without some good ol’ montages.

The story, written by Joss Whedon, features two lonely folks, Rebecca (Zoe Kazan) and Dylan (Michael Stahl-David).  Rebecca is stuck in a loveless marriage with a controlling doctor, while Dylan is an ex-con, on parole, working at a car wash.  One day, the two suddenly gain the ability to experience the world through each other’s eyes. Why?  How?  Doesn’t really matter.  Make up your own reason.  I believe unicorns were involved.  They were both licked by unicorns.

After quickly (too quickly) adjusting to and accepting this new discovery, the two begin getting to know each other and helping each other with their problems and issues.

I certainly don’t fault this movie for having such an unexplained, fantastical premise.  But I do fault it for playing it pretty safe with how everything unfolds.  It goes pretty much exactly as you’d expect it to…at least until it becomes a borderline thriller at the end.  That felt a little out of place.

A movie with this plot could go a few different ways.  On one end of the plot spectrum, it could have been a slapstick comedy with one goofy, awkward situation after another.  Not something I’d want to see. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it could have been darker, riskier, edgier.  Maybe one of the characters could have been disabled, or they could have been different ethnicities, or heck, even if one of them wasn’t particularly attractive, that could have been something.  But no, like I said, this one plays it close to the middle on that spectrum, going for the safe romantic-comedy angle.

The leads are fine, there are some amusing moments, and even a few touching scenes, but overall it seemed like a waste of a good premise.  But hey, they do shoehorn in a car chase, so…yeah…

Elstree 1976 (2015)

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elstree

sorry if the men’s room is a mess, you know our aim isn’t so good

Star Wars.  For those of you who have never heard of this little movie, it came out in 1977 and did pretty well at the box office. Well enough to be followed by several sequels and a near cult-like following rivaling most, if not all, other such followings of movies.  Every little detail of it has been pored over, again and again, by the most ardent fans.

Well, get ready to learn some of those little facts and details thanks to Elstree 1976.  This is a documentary about some of the more minor actors who appeared in the film.  BARELY appeared in the film.  Or didn’t appear at all, as they were covered with some sort of elaborate costume.

You’ll hear stories about how they were cast, their interactions with George Lucas (and the stars of the movie), their lives since then, and how fans react to them on the convention circuit.  Yes, some of these people have parlayed 2 seconds of screen time into years of merchandise sales at conventions.  There is some bad blood between some of the actors who had speaking parts and the ones that didn’t, and I thought that portion of the movie was the most interesting section.

Overall, this could have been a little shorter and still made its point.  The topic is fairly interesting, especially for Star Wars fans, but it starts to run out of steam at times.

But hey, if you ever wondered what the guy who played Greedo looks like, you’re in luck!

I, Origins (2014)

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iorigins

lemme just go ahead and grab your eye there…

Well, I’m back!  Reincarnated, you might say.  The robot is still hunting pretty things, and it has found one – a movie called I, Origins.

First, let me say, DO NOT go watch the trailer for this movie.  It will show you every plot twist, every revelation, every everything that’s in the movie.  I’m glad I did not see it before watching the movie, and I suggest you follow my lead.

I will give you a quick plot set-up.  Ian (Michael Pitt) is a scientist who is obsessed with eyes.  Along with his lab partner (Brit Marling), he is trying to disprove the idea that the human eye is too perfect to have developed via evolution.  After meeting, and totally falling for, a mysterious woman (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) at a party, he only has a picture of her eyes to remember her by.  But, through a series of strange events, he meets her again.  This sets him on a path of spiritual, and scientific, discovery that could change the world.  Boom, no trailer needed!

It’s a very interesting story that seems to be seeking a balance between science and the supernatural.  It has funny moments, sad moments, great characters, great acting, and a great soundtrack, not to mention it just has an overall lovely look and feel to it.

I will leave you with a little scene that I enjoy.  It will give you an idea of the feel of the film:

Big Bunch o’ Movies

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watching you...

watching you…

I have fallen far behind on movie reviews.  There are too many to catch up on, so I’m doing a post with a bunch of short reviews of all of them.

Veronica Mars (2014) – If you liked the TV show, you’ll probably like it.  It’s amusing in the same way that the show was, with a lot of inside jokes and references.  The main mystery isn’t very compelling, but that’s sort of how it was on the show too.  It was always more about Veronica getting the best of everybody who underestimates her.  7.4/10

The Lego Movie (2014) – Fun, but chaotic.  I didn’t always know what was going on, but when I did, it was pretty good.  7.1/10

Gravity (2013) – I’m sure seeing this on tv at home instead of in 3D in the theater hurt my enjoyment of it.  At home it was a little underwhelming.  Not just the visuals though, the plot too.  There are moments where I was on edge a little, and it was pretty to look at, but there was nothing about it that really grabbed me.  The last 10 minutes or so was the best, but that wasn’t quite enough.  6.0/10

Robot & Frank (2012) – Not a bad premise…some good performances…but ultimately it just drags along too slowly.  5.5/10

Bill Cunningham New York (2010) – This one was a pleasant surprise.  It’s a documentary about a guy who has been taking fashion photos on the streets of New York for a long long time.  He is an entertaining character.  8.2/10

City of God (2002) – This was a rough one.  Good, but tough to watch.  7.6/10

Frozen (2013) – I am now among those that have seen this movie.  That is to say, I am now at the risk – at all times – of having one of the songs from it stuck in my head for hours on end.  It’s a decent movie…has some funny moments…and a couple of the songs are catchy.  Oh, and the snowman that comes to life, Olaf, is the best part.  Still, the story isn’t all that interesting, and neither are most of the characters.  6.8/10

Sharknado (2013) – No. Just no.  1.2/10

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) – Another good one from Wes Anderson.  It doesn’t jump to the top of my favorites of his, but it’s enjoyable throughout most of it.  So many cameos!  7.8/10

112 Weddings (2014)

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Yep, I married a mix between Boomer Esiason and Phil Simms...

Yep, I married a mix between Boomer Esiason and Phil Simms…

This is a documentary by a filmmaker, Doug Block, who also films weddings on the side.  He has shot 112 weddings over the years, and now he has tracked down several of those couples to see where they are now, after 3 years…5 years…10 years…20 years.  It’s one of those concepts that’s so simple yet so fascinating because nobody has done it before, at least not to my knowledge.

How many times have you been at a wedding and thought to yourself, “I wonder how they’re going to turn out.  Can they make it last?”  Well, in the case of these marriages, wonder no more!  You get to see them on their wedding day, as happy as could be, and then immediately jump forward several years to see them now.  Some are happy, some are sad, and the others are somewhere in between.

I think maybe this should be required viewing for anybody who is married, might get married, or even just anybody who might commit themselves to another person for the rest of their lives in any way shape or form. Not to dissuade them from doing so – at least not in most cases – but to give them a more realistic look at what to expect so that they’re better prepared for what’s to come.  I know people are usually told that sort of thing before embarking on such an endeavor, but to see it on screen makes it seem different.  The stark contrast between the whirlwind of joy on the wedding day (or partnership ceremony day) and then the ho-hum of every day life (or the despair of divorce) can be startling, even to a person who might think, “nah, that couldn’t happen with OUR relationship.”

It’s not a masterpiece, and I’m sure some won’t find it nearly as interesting as I did, but I think there’s a lot of fascinating stuff here if you really give it a chance.

7.9/10

 

12 Years a Slave (2013)

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I got you this lamp...so you can better see how horrible I am...

I got you this lamp…so you can see better how horrible I am…

Definitely not the feel good movie of the year, but a movie that does manage to be enjoyable despite its really tough subject matter.  It’s beautiful to look at, has mostly good performances, and looks at a kind of slavery story we don’t always hear much about.

I guess the idea of being kidnapped from the north and being brought to the south to be sold into slavery isn’t any more or less cruel than any other pathway to slavery, but it certainly feels that way when you see it played out on screen.  I guess the main character, Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor), being an educated black man in the north, has a sense that he is removed from the nightmare of slavery.  So when he wakes to find himself in chains, it’s not just shocking, but totally unfair.  Thus the mood is set for the rest of the film, where we the viewer constantly hope that his real identity will be discovered, and the illegality of his slavery will be revealed because it’s just not fair that HE would be a slave.  Which, of course, we realize is true for EVERYBODY who is a slave.

Some of what we see, we have seen many times before.  If it’s a movie about slavery, it’s going to have whipping, and cruelty, and the occasional sympathetic white person, but this movie does some of those same things in a way that makes it really hit home just how horrible and bleak it all was.  Plus it pulls out a few scenes that were certainly new to me.

A few of the accents could have been better, and Brad Pitt’s character (or maybe just his appearance) felt forced, but overall the acting was top notch.  And hey, good to see Paul Dano step outside of the box and play a character unlike anything I’ve seen him play!

Overall, I guess you could call this a must-see, even if just to remind yourself of how bad things can be, and how crazy it is that people are capable of such horrors.  Seriously, this stuff happened.  Not that long ago. Ugh.

8.0/10