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.

the-jungle-book-7591 (1)

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.

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.

 midnightspecial

“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.

Walt Before Mickey

Who doesn’t love Disneyland and Mickey Mouse? The mysterious background of the Disney empire is unveiled in the park itself in several exhibits, in books, and other media. Unfortunately it has never graced the silver screen, until now.

“I am working on a new style of animation that I know you will be interested in.” -Walt Disney

Directed by
Khoa Le

Writing Credits
Arthur L. Bernstein, Armando Gutierrez, Timothy Susanin, Frank Licari

Cast
Jodie Sweetin
as Charlotte Disney
Jon Heder
as Roy Disney
David Henrie
as Rudy Ising

Who doesn’t love Disneyland and Mickey Mouse? The mysterious background of the Disney empire is unveiled in the park itself in several exhibits, in books, and other media. Unfortunately it has never graced the silver screen, until now.

This film is a delight to watch but I can’t say the performances are Oscar worthy. It actually presented like the kid of movie you’d see inside the park about Walt. The lines are delivered in a rote fashion and the characters are not  very developed. All this just goes to show you how powerful Disney’s story is. I enjoyed every minute of it.

We see into Walt’s early family life. His father was not supportive. Still later on, he did provide a small financial contribution to Walt’s first company. At one point Walt says, “We don’t know anything about business, but we’ll learn.” He and his hired hands do learn things at the school of hard knocks. He is cheated in a scandalous move by none other than the Felix the Cat creator.

If you ever wondered how Walt Disney got started, this is a good one to go see. Don’t go in expecting an amazing biography but you will see a compelling beginning of a miraculous man’s creative life.

The House on Pine Street

This film starts out with the cliche haunted house theme. Soon however, the plot picks up. Emily Goss shines in this one. Plus there is some original, scary material here for horror fans.

The House on Pine Street (2015)
Cast

Emily Goss as Jennifer
Taylor Bottles as Luke
Cathy Barnett as Meredith

Directed by

Aaron Keeling, Austin Keeling

Written by

Natalie Jones, Aaron Keeling, Austin Keeling

Other Info

Drama, Horror
Rated PG-13
1h 51min

I’m of the opinion that the haunted house theme, while cliche, is a really cool one for a horror movie. The tricks these days is to make it original in some way. “The House on Pine Street” (Pine Street) does that very well. Jennifer (Emily Goss) is pregnant and she and her fiance are moving into the house the the beginning of the film. As she looks around in disapproval, the spooky sounds foreshadow scary events are coming.

We get the idea they are a new couple moving in to a new life together in the house but as the dialog unravels and strange things start happening, we realize something different about the couple. Jennifer expresses her dislike of the town and the house and Luke (Taylor Bottles) seems very happy there as he tries to get settled in his new job. Incidentally, he is very nice to his mother in law Meredith (Cathy Barnett.) I suppose ou could call him son in law of the year.

Meredith is a very strong and odd character in the film. She is Jennifer’s mother and this is her home town. There are lots of scares here and there but nothing is really explained and expanded until the last 1/4 of the movie. As a horror movie, it makes the grade. The only thing that put me off a bit was how it took so long for things to start happening. I think they told the backstory too long. I really enjoyed the ending, not what I was expecting at all. I think horror fans will like this film for it’s creepiness. There isn’t much blood or gore but we see what energies in people (and houses) can do, it’s pretty scary.

Dead Man’s Shoes

Revenge films can really be cathartic. I think it gets to our mortal core the same way some Shakespearean plays do. A big thanks to Emma and her excellent review that got me curious.

“God will forgive them. He’ll forgive them and allow them into Heaven. I can’t live with that.” Richard

Dead Man’s Shoes (2015)
Cast
Paddy Considine

as Richard

Gary Stretch

as Sonny

Toby Kebbell

as Anthony

Directed by
Shane Meadows
Written by
Paddy Considine, Shane Meadows, Paul Fraser
Other Info

Crime, Drama, Thriller
Rated R
1h 30min

Who hasn’t been wronged and dreamt of getting the perpetrator back? I think it’s essential human nature to enjoy a good revenge film. This is one of those. Richard is the elder brother of Anthony who is bullied and derided by a group of guys in the neighborhood. When Richard is away in the service, the jeering and mistreatment becomes more severe. This is revealed to the audience in flashbacks.

I like the rawness of this film. It was made on a shoestring budget and the actors are not well known in the US as far as I can tell. Paddy Constatine (Richard) has some work under his belt. It’s a film released in the UK so the cast may be more famous there. We find that Richard has developed skills akin to a mercenary fight while in the service. This is ample reason for the group who taunted and maimed to worry. Richard weaves his revenge slowly. I am reminded of the aphorism: “The wheels of justice grind slow but exceedingly fine.”

This is a film to see that will provide all sorts of discussion questions. After watching it, make sure you have time to get tea or coffee. It has a twist at the end that may not make sense at first and I certainly did not see it coming. It’s no Disney ending by any means. I think it’s well written and well made however, possibly more eloquent than Disney could ever make a revenge film.

I won’t watch this one twice, it’s a bit disturbing. Watching it once is a must for all movie fans but I think you’d have to be a bit twisted to watch this a second time. When you recover from a tidal wave do you hope for the next? There are many things here left open-ended about the perpetrators and even Richard himself. I think we are meant to play with the scenes in our head to put them into a sensible context. At the beginning we see Richard and Anthony together, in the middle we don’t and at the end there is a revelation altogether different about the time and what has happened since Richard left for the military.

There are some of the most heinous scenes in this. It wasn’t as bad as the “Snowtown Murders” but pretty close. Once threat scene is probably the most intense I’ve ever seen. Richard threatens Sonny, one of the perpetrators. The movie has some great scenes and that one is one of the best in my opinion. I pulled one star off because there could have been more character development and the time jumping around was a bit confusing for me. Other than that, this is among the best revenge films I’ve seen. I recommend it.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

I recommend you see this movie with no presuppositions. Even the few small things I mention here should be seen as simply one critic’s opinion. I wrote this review the week of its premiere in 2014. This is a uniquely remarkable film. I highly recommend it.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
R | 1h 59min | Comedy, Drama | 14 November 2014 (USA)

A washed-up actor, who once played a famous superhero, attempts to revive his career by writing and starring in a Broadway play.
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu (as Alejandro G. Iñárritu)
Writers: Alejandro González Iñárritu (as Alejandro G. Iñárritu), Nicolás Giacobone

See it with an open mind. To begin: this is not a superhero movie. I purposely did not use a mock Birdman as an image for my post. Instead I used Michael Keaton in his underwear because metaphorically, this is what you get. I feel bad for the kids that may pay to go see this expecting a gritty sort of superhero that mimics the likes of Batman. This is not a lower Batman, this is a lower person and the anatomy of his breakdown. It just so happens that in this man’s life, he played a “Birdman” in a set of sequels. It doesn’t matter to the point. Birdman is a firing of brain cells in the mind of an actor who has wasted his life living for appearances and not for reality. In his words, he “has not been present” for his life. We can all get some good lessons from this movie. It portrays men as egotistical and highly capable of getting what they want at any cost. It portrays women as victims who men fail to support time and time again. The male brain is sinister at times and women find this sad. In fact, the audience is meant to find it sad. At the bottom right of Riggan’s (character played by Michael Keaton) mirror he has a quote taped on that reads: “The thing is the thing, not what is said about the thing.” Could there be an application to social media? To “getting off the grid?” Maybe. You as a viewer decide to what degree.

There is also a dream element that has already been touched on all over the internet so I won’t get too into it. There is a lot about the brain but not in the way you might think. Some see the film as a death bed reflection, others see it as part dream and part brain firing. I do not feel that this movie was meant to be understood. It was meant to be enjoyed and talked about but never fully understood. One thing I noticed that didn’t seem real was when Riggan pulled a cocktail napkin out of his wallet, showing his daughter Sam (Emma Stome) it’s significance to the play. Raymond Carver had signed it for his while he was in a bar with his dad. I din’t know about you, but receipts in my wallet start to disintegrate after a few months. I thought it was bad writing at the time but now I see it could be part of a dream or trick of the brain at time of death. Perhaps the whole movie is that.

You keep waiting throughout the film for it to make sense but it really isn’t until you’ve seen the entirety of it that you can start to form opinions on what just happened. Hallucinations permeate the film so it’s hard to see what’s really going on. I think in the end, the psychiatrists will have the best read of this film. Go see Birdman if you want to see a creative and beautifully filmed movie. It might also appeal to you that Michael Keaton, Zach Galafinakis, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, and Emma Stone are in it. The acting drew me in like a moth to a light. It was a highly enjoyable movie experience but you have to be willing to fill in the mortar between the bricks. Once again, don’t assume it’s about a superhero. The title is extremely misleading. There is a man in a suit but he is the voice in Keaton’s head that tells him things. He isn’t real. He is, in fact, in the movie only about 10 minutes total. Ok, I’ve said enough about that. This is not a superhero film. I feel it leaves too much up to the imagination. It reminded me of the acclaimed Enemy movie that way. Perhaps the director got too close to the material and forgot the audience couldn’t get the ending. It needed to be explained more. For that reason I think a lot of people will be frustrated with this movie. I know I was. It could have said so much more about “being present” in ones life and social media and art and theater. Instead, it tries too hard to be spooky and vague and achieves it, which is also fun when you’re out at the movies. This is at the cost of a star. I give it 4/5.

The Shallows (2016)

This is not Jaws but several times it spikes the same level of scares. From beginning to end it had my attention, I was never bored, and a few times I was shocked out of my seat by what I saw.

Blake Lively shows some incredible strength as an actor carrying 2/3 of the film on her own in the water trying to get to safety against a gargantuan shark. Along with excellent writing and acting/directing, the effects are effectively terrifying.

theshallowsposter

The Shallows
Cast

Blake Lively, Óscar Jaenada, Angelo Jose

Directed by

Jaume Collet-Serra

Written by

Anthony Jaswinski

Other Info

Drama, Horror, Thriller
Rated PG-13
1h 26min

There are quite a few films out there that feature a blond girl surfing. Blue Crush, Soul Surfer, Aqua Dulce, and more. The posters are like this one, full of a beauty with a board. That is usually all it takes to bring a big crowd. In this case, while the image is the same, this is not just a girl surfer movie. Blake lively had a surf double, Isabella Nichols, who is the no. 1 junior champion surfer in the world. But with surfing scenes excluded, Blake did most of her own stunts. This is a very physical film and sometimes her physicality is crucial to telling the story. Plot is limited. Nancy (Blake Lively) is recovering from her mother’s tragic death by traveling to Mexico for some serious surfing. IN a very beautiful and secluded cove, she finds some near-perfect waves and starts enjoying them. There are two Mexican dudes there and they seem much more at ease with the beach than she is. They call to her but she never gets close to them. The guys leave and Nancy is face to face with a shark. What happens next is what makes it a thriller.

The following 2/3 of the film consists of basically one actor (Blake Lively), a big scary shark, incidentally the shark looks great, and an endearing seagull that Nancy talks to and is comforted by. shallows2You wouldn’t think that thrills and suspense could be generated with such minimal props but they can be and they are in the Shallows. There is an excellent use of 1/2 above 1/2 underwater camerawork. Instead of being clueless what’s going on under the surface, the director shows you and it’s even scarier. I have to take issue and challenge the movie calling itself horror. While there are unpleasant jumps here and there that shock the viewer, it’s a bit too “woman-against-nature” Survivor-like to be considered horror. If one of the surfers was a serial killer as a side story, I might accept the label as accurate. As it is, I see it as a thriller and a great one at that.

shallows3This is not Jaws but several times it spikes the same level of scares. From beginning to end it had my attention, I was never bored, and a few times I was shocked out of my seat by what I saw. Much care has been given to the CGI and props to make the shark attacks look real. The “final battle” between the shark and Lively is the stuff that award-winning thrillers are made of. I absolutely loved the way the director handled that. The Shallows is a top-notch thriller made with simplified tools. Blake Lively gives a strong physical and emotional performance. The film looses no stars with me, I give it a 5/5. Go enjoy it while it’s still in theaters.

Final Girl

Something different for the girl-kicks-ass genre.

Some movies give you backstory. Others expect you to fill in the blanks of why, when, and how. The truth is, “The Final Girl” doesn’t need much backstory, it starts with the action right away.

Final Girl (2015)
Cast
Abigail Breslin

as Veronica

Wes Bentley

as William

Logan Huffman

as Danny

Directed by
Tyler Shields
Written by
Adam Prince, Stephen Scarlata, Alejandro Seri, Johnny Silver
Other Info

Action, Drama, Horror
Rated R
1h 30min

I love low budget, simple, action-filled horror films like this. The story may not be plausible but you get what they are trying to do. It’s something about vengeance and something about victory … good triumphing over evil.

Abigail Breslin has truly grown up and shows how she can act and fight in her role as Veronica. I loved her in “Signs” as a little one and more recently in “Maggie.” She played a zombie great in that. She’s one to watch! The story consists of a group of popular scumbags in high school who “hunt girls.” I mean that literally, not that they are ferociously seeking sex. A man loses his wife and daughter to them and decides to train a young girl to defeat these truly evil and disturbed young men.

Most the action is at night. It unfolds more or less as you would expect. Like a james bond movie, it’s fun to see Veronica use her techniques in the real arena. For those who dig girl-kick-ass films, this is right up your alley. I loved every minute of it. It is simple, cool, hip, a little scary, and full of vengeance. How can you NOT like a movie with all that in it? This is a perfect movie, I highly recommend it.

A Cure for Wellness (2016)

I’ve shared before how much I am drawn in to asylum films. There is just something patently creepy about them. I think we all wonder what’s going on with the patients in strait-jackets and more importantly, do they know something we don’t? This film deals in those questions and fears.

A Cure for Wellness (2016)
R | 2h 26min | Drama, Fantasy, Horror | 17 February 2017 (USA)

An ambitious young executive is sent to retrieve his company’s CEO from an idyllic but mysterious “wellness center” at a remote location in the Swiss Alps, but soon suspects that the spa’s treatments are not what they seem.
Director: Gore Verbinski
Writers: Justin Haythe (screenplay), Justin Haythe (story by) | 1 more credit »
Stars: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth

If there was a place where all the great people of the world went when they reached their mental end, it would be in this film. Einstein, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and the like would all be living out their long final chapters in this asylum. But it isn’t a bad deal really. There are baths, exercising, healthy food deliveries, and serpents. Well okay, I know the serpents are non-sequitirs. I will say there is some excellent acting in this film and the writing up until the last act is pretty good too. I have some issues with the end that make me question how much I should recommend it to you. Because the majority of it is so great. I will go with 7/10 and leave it at that. The way it was all wrapped up sort of weakened it’s ability to captivate me.

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Hounds of Love (2016)

“Brave audiences will be rewarded.” That was what Variety said on the film’s poster. I couldn’t help but be curious about that. It’s well written! I hope I can come up with a few like that in my review! The abduction of a 16 year old girl by a twisted sex-obsessed couple makes for a grisly, suspenseful plot.

Hounds of Love (2016)
1h 48min | Crime, Drama, Horror | 12 May 2017 (USA)

Vicki Maloney is randomly abducted from a suburban street by a disturbed couple. As she observes the dynamic between her captors she quickly realises she must drive a wedge between them if she is to survive.
Director: Ben Young
Writer: Ben Young
Stars: Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings, Stephen Curry

Ben Young did a great job directing this Australian based film. He is known for Something Fishy and Bush Basher. I found his vision astounding. It’s likely he met with some opposition making this film. It is indeed twisted as it takes you into the lair of this criminal sex ring where abduction, rape, and murder are commonplace. When the girl is chained, we are chained. It also a very personal movie the way it is filmed at such close range.

I like how it’s realistic. The acting on the part of the young girl’s mother is top class. You want so badly for her to discover where her daughter is, she’s a really great actor. If you can get through the horrors inside the house, you will indeed be rewarded. Te details aren’t necessary here, it’s a typical psycho-sex thing going on here but there is indeed something that makes this film special in that genre. Ashleigh Cummings’ character has to use psychology to drive a wedge between the couple if she is to survive. That process makes this film highly entertaining and definitely worth your time. I can’t think of anything they could improve upon. While the subject matter is highly graphic, and that may put off a handful of viewers, I still say they hit the bullseye with this as thriller, crime, drama. I give it my highest recommendation.

10/10

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