Son of a Gun

If you want to see Ewan Macgregor whoop some ass, you’ve come to the right place. If you want to see him steal some gold, you’ll get a twofer here. This movie was entertaining credits to credits.

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Son of a Gun (2014)
Cast

Ewan McGregor as Brendan Lynch
Brenton Thwaites as Jesse Ryan “JR” White
Alicia Vikander as Tasha
Jacek Koman as Sam
Matt Nable as Sterlo
Tom Budge as Josh
Nash Edgerton as Chris
Damon Herriman as Wilson

Directed by

Julius Avery

Written by

Julius Avery

Other Info

Crime, Thriller
Rated R
1h 50min

There is so much going on in this film other than robbing gold. Still, I kept getting excited about the scenes where gold was involved. There’s something primal about that I think. What child hasn’t wondered what a gold bar is worth? What movie watcher hasn’t wanted to hold one. That may be why the director chose it.

My one issue with this move is that entirely too much is going on. In the prison scenes, the guards are all victims. Much of the cast’s background is only scantily explained. For this reason, it lost a star with me which doesn’t mean I disliked it, just that it could have been better.

We get to see Ewan MacGregor kick ass. He may become the next Liam Neeson after this one. He never struck me as a tough or even large man but when he steps on screen he commands the rooms, the fights, and all things in his way. This level is the best one to defend this movie on. MacGregor has never been better in a thrill I have seen him in. You could be perfectly justified going to see it on that aspect alone.

This film tells a story that involves jail, but it’s not a jail film. There’s a girl but not much romance per se. There’s a grand elaborate scheme but you don’t get too many details, and as I said earlier there is the gold. Just a little more backstory on the some of the characters would have helped.

I’m beginning to think gore in crime thriller is becoming required by the studios. There is a lot of blood and gross scenes. I’m waiting for the crime thriller that doesn’t lean on blod and guts unmercifully to tell a thrilling story about crime. Having said that, this is a really fun film and it contains many of the modern conventional approaches to ts genre. Ewan Macgregor is excellent and really commands the screen. I recommend this movie highly.

Captain America: Civil War

Captain America appears once again in a movie with his name as the banner. Strangely however, a legion of other stories and superheroes weave through this film and it watches more like the next Avengers film. Cap has a backseat purpose.

movie

Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Cast

Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America
Robert Downey Jr., Tony Stark/Iron Man
Scarlett Johanssen as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow

Directed by

Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Written by

Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeeley (Screenplay writers)

Other Info

Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Rated PG-13
2h 27min

Comic books are fun, but they’re hard to get and I mean that on two levels. A good comic book tells a story in 2 dimensions. A good movie made from a comic book, transfers that “good stuff,” for example the story and superheroes, and translates that into a movie experience. 

Because I read a lot of reviews, I can see there is an either/or in comic book movies: some say they stayed true to the comic and the movie excelled as a result. The other one is when a comic book connosieur slashes and trashes the director for taking too much license in the making o the movie. I  don’t know comic books well, which might explain why I didn’t like this film as much as the critics as large. Maybe I should read more comics?

My first question was: “Why so many superheroes when this is a movie called “Captain America?””

I binge watched the two prequels to Civil War before seeing it at the cinema, as did my wife. I can tell you the first two really held my attention and Cap (as he is called in all of them) is the focal hero of the movies. That made it a lot easier to follow and get on board with. Civil War has too many superheroes exhibiting their individual strengths and weaknesses.

All the while there is a ploy by politicians to gain control of the Avengers due to their reckless modus operandi. Cap’s reins from the other two movies is named “Bucky” and I don’t want to give any spoilers but there is so much back story and attention given to him you might as well have named it “Bucky: Civil War.” Still, he has some interesting abilities and his interplay with Cap is somewhat interesting. I’d call that part of the story “just above a snore.”

We do get to see some action. There is an almost unforgivable about of people having dialog and no action. This to me was a crime. All I can imagine is that it would make more sense if I only read the comics. Because I felt the movie did not live up to its name “Captain America” and should have been named “Avengers,” and because of some laboriously long dialog with no action, it lost two stars with me. I have to say, enough comic book aficionados will go see this no matter what I say but to all the others I cannot recommend this film. I have high hopes for the next one though.

The Baytown Outlaws

“All right you got a job. You clean toilets or cut grass or whatever the hell it is you do. This is what I do. I shoot people in the face.” Brick Oodie

Info from: IMDB
The Baytown Outlaws (2012)
R | 1h 38min | Action, Comedy, Crime

When three redneck brothers agree to help a woman save her godson from an abusive stepfather, they become targets on the run from an odd cast of characters.

Director: Barry Battles
Writers: Barry Battles, Griffin Hood
Stars: Billy Bob Thornton, Eva Longoria, Thomas Brodie-Sangster

This film is for uncomfortable silences with dates for your daughter as you’re waiting for her to get ready. It’s a Jim Dandy way to get the message across that you see the wisdom in violence and you will do no more than chuckle after he’s been killed. I’ll have to keep it around for when my two girls start dating.

“The Baytown Outlaws’ is no Tarantino film. Still, it clearly aspires to be with the subject matter, twangy bass string guittar solos, and the like. For such poor acting and script, I was impressed so many famous actors are in it: Billy Bob Thornton, Eva Langoria, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster all grace the screen. As I said earlier, there may be appeal with very young boys, say 10-15. You know the ones who only recently put down their cap guns and bows and arrows.

Beyond that I see very little that would hold the long term attention of Tarantino fans. Thornton is frightfully bad as the boss, that needs to be said. It didn’t get me interested in “Bad Santa 2” he’s filming now. For bad acting, almost no believability (for example where are the cop cars?) and little originality, the film lost some points with me. I don’t recommend it.

It might have done better as an HBO series where the characters had time to develop and the audience could care over time. As a full length movie, it’s a B movie, I don’t care who they cast in it. I aim to promote and sell people on original ideas. For example, “10 Cloverfield Lane.” I’m getting weary as a critic go to see the same movies played with different title again and again. There are a few moments that are memorable, (see below.

This short scene is my favorite gag, a near success at a Tarantino moment:

Across the Universe (2007)

Welcome to the Beatles on stage but not in the way you are used to.

Across the Universe (2007)
PG-13 | 2h 13min | Drama, Fantasy, Musical | 12 October 2007 (USA)

The music of the Beatles and the Vietnam War form the backdrop for the romance between an upper-class American girl and a poor Liverpudlian artist.
Director: Julie Taymor
Writers: Dick Clement (screenplay), Ian La Frenais (screenplay) | 3 more credits »
Stars: Evan Rachel Wood, Jim Sturgess, Joe Anderson

This is a film telling of many Beatles songs woven into an entrancing film that will leave you breathless yet singing. (Is that possible? Maybe)

Julie Taymor, director, does an outstanding job here and it’s no wonder since her accolades include directing “The Lion King” on Broadway. It was wise of the film financiers to pick a person so versed in dance and music because this is a flm that includes all of it. The charater Lucy is played by Evan Rachel Wood. She moves from the midwest of America to New York. Jude is played by Jim Sturgess. He’s a welder that can’t seem to get a break. As an actor, he can really sing and I bought his scenes hook line and sinker.

Visuals and live-stage timing make this film a beautiful colorful musical trip. I enjoyed every minute of it. One neat aspect was the way some songs are interpreted in new ways for us. An upbeat song on the album might be presented as slow, somber, and thoughtful. The Vietnam war figures into it masterfully, even when the images and subject matter are definitely “not for kids.”

Bono of U2 fame plays the walrus and I have to say, being a staunch defender of Walruses in cinema, I approved heartily. If anyone can make that song work in a film, it’s Bono.

Recently I saw a professional cover band of the Beatles and I was entranced. You really can’t miss when their music is involved. If you like Beatles songs, or are interested in the music of the Beatles and they are new to you, this love story/drama is a great way to enjoy “the lads.” And remember the message, “All You Need is Love!” I recommend Across the Universe in the musical film genre as:

10/10

The Jungle Book (2016)

This is a trip through the jungles of India adults and children will never forget. Disney nailed it with this one.

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I liked the cartoon from 1959 and I figured this might be boring. I was happily wrong! This is one of the best family movies I’ve seen in a long time, probably since Disney’s all animated feature, “Meet the Robinsons.”

The Jungle Book is a 2016 American fantasy adventure film directed by Jon Favreau, written by Justin Marks and produced by Walt Disney Pictures. Based on Rudyard Kipling’s eponymous collective works and inspired by Walt Disney’s 1967 animated film of the same name,[[6] The Jungle Book is a live-action/CGI film that tells the story of Mowgli, an orphaned human boy who, guided by his animal guardians, sets out on a journey of self-discovery while evading the threatening Shere Khan. The film introduces Neel Sethi as Mowgli and also features the voices of Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito and Christopher Walken.

The best part of this film for me was of course the animals. Out of all those animals, I liked the wolves best. We have a longstanding tradition in the family of going around and everyone telling our favorite part. My daughters liked different animals from me so I imagine many animals appeal to many different viewers. The wolves were amazing.

Scarlett Johannsen is an incredible boa constrictor. In fact all the characters are voiced incredibly well. My wife and I had fun figuring out who the voices were. Some were easier to detect than others. They spared no expense in the casting.

The film was directed by Jon Favreau. When I discovered this I got excited for him the way you do when you hear a high school friend has done something. I loved him in “Swingers” and “Chef.” To me it’s a sign of a great artist that can act in films like that and also direct an amazing film like this under the Disney banner.

I recommend this one highly.

American Sniper

This is a kind of negative review regarding the topic. Be warned. I’m not a big fan of war and war movies. Figure that in when you read this review. “American Sniper” has some interesting psychological features but at its core, it’s just a war movie. The trailer told me all I needed to know. It WAS the trailer and not much more. It is plain speaking story telling about a sniper who holds the record for kills on tour.

American_Sniper_posterAmerican Sniper is a 2014 American biographical war film[6] directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Jason Hall. It is loosely based on the memoir American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History (2012) by Chris Kyle, with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. The film follows the life of Kyle, who became the deadliest marksman in U.S. military history with 255 kills from four tours in the Iraq War, 160 of which were officially confirmed by the Department of Defense. While Kyle was celebrated for his military successes, his tours of duty took a heavy toll on his personal and family life. The film stars Bradley Cooper as Kyle and Sienna Miller as his wife Taya, with Luke Grimes, Jake McDorman, Cory Hardrict, Kevin Lacz, Navid Negahban and Keir O’Donnell in supporting roles. (Wikipedia)

Director Clint Eastwood stands way far back and lets us decide for ourselves the morality of the man. Personally, I would have liked him to stand a little closer and make some sort of statement showing even a hint of his judgement call. This film is intense. A small significant particular is that there is no background music in the film. There is a lot a violence. It reminds me of the Bush song, “There’s no sex in your violence.” The fact that Chris Kyle holds some sort of record for kills while on tour as a sniper is appalling to me without ever watching the movie. Why Clint are you glamorizing this guy by making him a movie hero for millions of Wal-Mart shoppers? (tongue in cheek sarcasm there.)

This film is the highest grossing war film of all time and Clint Eastwood’s highest grossing film by far. It grossed 340 million in 2012 making it the highest grossing film for that year: another accolade. That’s incredible but why should we as film critics celebrate that war kills sell? I enjoyed parts of this movie and I think I know what Eastwood was trying to do. He was trying JUST tell the story without sugar coating. I think it could have used a little more creative “umph” to deliver a message or two about whether Kyle should be celebrated or not. He goes around in the movie a hero and has speaking engagements based on the sensationalism. How many people really want to hear a sniper talk? Think of all the blood spilled because he joined the military. I am a pacifist and make no apologies for that fact.

Getting back to telling the real story: Kyle’s wife tells him on the first break when he is at home that she wants him to spend more time with family and friends. He appears shell shocked an distant. He just can’t seem to get it together apart from war. I’d like to thank Eastwood for that but I think he could have gone miles further in showing that war is often an unnecessary hell we participate on purpose. Is the success of this film indicative of our empathy for Kyle or our lust for war movies? I’d say it’s a fine line.

There are scenes where Kyle’s blood pressure is out of control. At other times he is just “off.” In the end he dies at a firing range. Poetic justice? For trying to make war material look cool and for failing to say something as a director about murder and war, it loses 3 stars. See it and tell me what you think. If you saw it did you find it entertaining? If so why.

Breaking Away (1979)

Grazie for this film! In a raw spirit of the late 70’s this film inspires and entertains and brings out the humanity in me. This is a “go to” film and will be until the day I die. A masterpiece you might say.

Known for An Innocent Man, Krull and Steve McQueen’s Bullitt, Peter Yates is the accomplished director who brought this vision to life. It’s college/career coming of age film with a gritty passion not seen much in the genre.

Dennis Christopher is pure oxygen as “Dave.” His plight is the plight of every young man in American between the ages of 16 and 20. I was right there with him. Hormones make you want to hump every girl you see and explore a new universe apart from what your parents have made for you at home. He’s a guy who’s ready to take on the world but the world won’t let him yet. There is a cast of thousands besides him including: Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern, Jackie Earle Haley, Jackie Earle Haley Barbara Barrie, and Paul Dooley. They are ALL in top form in telling this story and MY how young the all look in 1979.

This film is the story of Dave and his friends just out of high school with nowhere to go. Their dads were “cutters” of concrete. They feel trapped in the identity. The film is about Dave finding himself. He pretends to be Italian to get girls and portray a more preferable identity. He also races a bike. Two strategic races make a metaphor for the content the film seeks to get across. Who are you when you’re young and who can you be when you choose to break away from assigned identity.

The italian classical music in this is uplifting. Dave is one of my favorite young men filled with angst in film as well as all literature. He is remarkable to watch. I feel like he is me, at that age anyway. The bike racing, the gang of guy friends stuff, the tension from his father to get out of the house, it’s all beautiful like a rainbow landing on ones face. I can’t say enough good about this film.

FINAL THOUGHTS
This film transcends time. It’s principles and contexts are so primal and universal to growing up and finding ones way in the world that it is truly timeless. I recommend to any and all, this is a remarkable “perfect” film like only a few others I have run across.

10/10

A Ghost Story (2017)

A Ghost Story (2017)
R | 1h 32min | Drama, Fantasy, Romance | 27 July 2017 (Australia)


In this singular exploration of legacy, love, loss, and the enormity of existence, a recently deceased, white-sheeted ghost returns to his suburban home to try to reconnect with his bereft wife.
Director: David Lowery
Writer: David Lowery
Stars: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, McColm Cephas Jr.

When I look at David Lowery’s directing record, it isn’t saying much that he did the remake/reboot of Pete’s Dragon. The original was in fact my favorite movie and in fact the first film that ignited my desire to be a critic. Star Wars (2017) would be the next one. I am no fan of the Pete’s Dragon reboot but as I understand a lot of other people are so I’ll give Lowery a break there. He also did Aint Them Bodies Saints which I haven’t yet seen but have read much critical acclaim for. This film, A Ghost Story (1977) is a slow film that likely took pounds and pounds of muscle to make. Ironic I would say. It takes a big risk painting a simple picture. How many directors can say they had a strong visual idea and saw it through to completion without any nonsense added? For that I tip my hat to him. In that respect it s a rarity. The production company A24 made the film which is in keeping with their “big but simple” ideas for film. One example that comes to mind is It Comes at Night (2017).

The two actors are excellent, no need to say anything critical about either of them. Besides, there isn’t much dialog here. There is a scene where Rooney Mara eats a pie for 5 minutes (or more) and the Casey Affleck ghost watches. So there you are for the description of the actors.

I think this film brings up questions of eternity and hauntings but it is never for one instant scary in any way. I think Ghost with Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze did this concept better but you be the judge. This film for me is the thought of a spooky, thoughtful image being displayed the full length of a movie for “open-ended” effect. It is pretty cool for about an hour. After that, it really got boring for me. Kudos to Lowery for trying, there just isn’t enough here to justify the cost of a drama, or romance ticket. And Mr. Lowery, you would probably admit, you never claimed it to be a horror. It is nevertheless a beautiful almost still picture. and some will enjoy that.

6/10

Midnight Special

“Midnight Special” combines million dollar effects with a really low budget backdrop. It’s an odd combination that works on a sci fi level with mixed results.

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“Midnight Special is a 2016 American science fiction-drama film written and directed by Jeff Nichols, and produced by Sarah Green and Brian Kavanaugh-Jones. The film stars Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, and Jaeden Lieberher.[ The film is Nichols’ fourth full-length film and his first studio production.[ It was selected to compete for the Golden Bear at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival.[6]

The film revolves around Roy and his biological son, Alton Meyer, escaping federal and local officers, after discovering that Alton has special powers.

The film began a theatrical release on March 18, 2016 by Warner Bros. Pictures, expanding wider in subsequent weeks. It has garnered positive reviews from film critics.” (Wikipedia)

If you recall the Heaven’s Gate cult, you’ll think you’re there in the beginning. A cult, though never identified as religious, is always annoying to me in movies. The exception of this was “Big Love” on HBO a while back. I liked the humor of a polygamist living as a Mormon with his bitchy wives. That worked on a comic level.

This film unfortunately kept me hanging and didn’t deliver. I expect sci fi to be sort of in inner adventure. The thrill of creativity and invention is always there, beckoning me to the screen with popcorn in my mouth.

From this point, there may be minor spoilers.

In this film, it’s a chase that is only barely a thrill. There’s nothing thoughtful or new.

I also like sci fi that presents another world. That is damn interesting when done right. I’m reminded of Lucas’ THX. We get to see what these magical dopplegangers of us do on a higher plane. We get allusions to that world but it is never shown. Having said that, there is light, a lot of light. The way it bleeds like milk reminded me of “Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind.”

A LOT is left unexplained. I kept hoping it would make sense. As a married man, I had to keep reassuring my wife it would make sense. She pretty much hoped for the same thing I did. I am shocked so many critics are lauding this film. As usual when I dislike a movie, I will go and read a few of them. It’s averaging in the high 80’s on Rotten Tomatoes and elsewhere. S, you maybe should see it on that basis until I get my head together.

Until then, Michael Shannon and Kirsten Dunst have me stumped on this one. They are 2 of my favorite actors but I honestly did not find much joy in them delivering their roles. I’m sorry to say this one did not do it for me. Because I could watch Michael Shannon read food labels and be entertained (check out “Take Shelter”) it only lost 2 stars.

Lights Out

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Lights Out (2016)
Cast

Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Maria Bello

Directed by

David F. Sandberg

Written by

Eric Heisserer, David F. Sandberg

Other Info

Fantasy, Horror
Rated PG-13
1h 21min

4 Stars (4 / 5)
Horror movies are built on scares. Some are hugely successful because they get the scares just right. I think of A Nightmare on Elm Street, where the scares centered on dreams and finger knives. I also think of Halloween where the scare is in the immortality of the killer. For as many successful films that have come down the pike, there have been effective scares coming from powerful ideas. Usually, as it is in the examples I just mentioned, the formula is simple, based on some well-chosen banal and universal human fear like sharks for example.

Lights Out the short film got its start through trial run showings on Youtube via a 3 minute short of the same name. David Sandberg and his wife made the short and then it went viral. Soon after that, Sandberg was in talks with mega horror director/producer James Wan (Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring …). Sandberg got a chance to bait a big screen audience and that audience bit.

While the short film has a rustic, bare bones plot, the film’s is quite extensive. IMDB gives this synopsis:

When her little brother, Martin, experiences the same events that once tested her sanity, Rebecca works to unlock the truth behind the terror, which brings her face to face with an entity that has an attachment to their mother, Sophie.

*The rest of this review may contain spoilers

lightsout_4Maria Bello, Martin’s mother Sophie in the film, does a great job and I think her performance deserves more press than it’s getting. I loved her in Payback with Mel Gibson and it was great seeing her on the screen doing so well once again. Her role is the crux of the story and while we aren’t supposed to understand the way she is until about the last 1/8th of the film, she lays the foundation in a stellar way. We could talk about so many psychological issues at play here. I think people interested in that topic could sit and chat for hours over coffee on that aspect alone. I love it when horror movies have a psychological component.

There is also a supernatural possibility here. Is it in their heads or is there a ghost  here? Apparently, this thing that disappears in the light has limbs and so it might lightsout_2be human. The character that brings clarity to the creature is Rebecca, Teresa Palmer. She reads a box of files that were in her mother’s storage. I can relate with this because I remember finding some of my parents things in the garage from time to time and revelling in seeing them so young. Once I even found a letter my dad had written to the draft board. That’s a powerful find when you’re a kid. It’s that much more powerful to Rebecca,Teresa Palmer, when she finds it and does some poking around. At that point she is able to share her opinions about her mom and this other “person” called Diana.

The little brother Martin, Gabriel Bateman, also does a great acting job. I especially liked the script written for his character. He really made me feel scared and at the same time, why he stays in a scary situation: he truly loves his lightsout_1mother. In the end, this film becomes a story of redemption of the relationship between mother and daughter. Rebecca is the star of the show here. She has clearly decided she wants no more of her mother out of a survival instinct and I respect that. At the same time, you wonder how she could have run out on her little brother. The creature is jealous for Sophie’s attention and she will wreak havoc on anyone who threatens that. Rebecca got out and left the brother behind. In the film, her crosswords challenge is whether to step in or continue with her life apart from her mother and brother.

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Sandberg’s wife, Lotta Losten, who stars in the short film also plays a small role in the beginning of the feature movie.

Apart from a complicated plot that I take points away for, there is a simple string of scares based on the creature and lights going off and on/ This is ingenious and it really works to scare. I even thought that the complicated plot sometimes got in the way of the simple scares that you can get a taste of for free on Youtube in the Lights Out Short Film. An interesting trivia is that Sandberg’s wife who stars in the short film plays a small role in the beginning of the film, warning Sophie’s husband there is something in the hallway. Fittingly this is derived from the short where some sort of creature is in the hallway coming closer with each click of the light.

It’s rare when a small successful short film hits big as a feature film. Lights Out has done it here. James Wan made the right choice and I don’t think he needs me to tell him because he has already signed Sandberg to direct Annabelle 2. This is one of the coolest success stories in film. Sandberg has said that the short film cost “zero dollars” to make. He traveled with that idea to a 5 million dollar feature horror film and it has been filled with audiences since it’s opening. I wasn’t ure if I would like it due to a few bad reviews I saw but on the whole, the critics love this film referring it to a Summer sleeper hit. I’ll make the obvious point of how this should encourage new filmmakers. Perhaps more will produce shorts at minimal cost. This will in theory increase to number of great ideas that make it to the theaters. This thriller/horror is one that will be in the discussion of horror for decades, maybe even indefinitely. I wonder id Sandberg ever marvels at how far that one idea has come since the night he clicked “upload” on Youtube. For horror/thriller fans, I wholeheartedly recommend this one. It was a lot of fun.

Thanks for reading this review. You may want to read my other review of Lights Out Short Film.