The Revenant Review

revenant5Yesterday I had the chance to go to an early screening for The Revenant directed by Alejandro Inarritu and it is a tricky film to review.  Inarritu directed last years Birdman, which I happen to think is one of the most overrated films of recent years.  To me The Revenant is a huge step up from that film but your enjoyment of the film will entirely depend on the type of movie you like to watch. So I have come up with some questions so you can decide whether to see the Revenant or not.

1 Do you require likable characters that show humanity to others?

If yes than The Revenant isn’t for you.  In a 156 minute film there is exactly 3 brief moments of humanity- 1. the bond between Hugh Glass and his son,  2. a Native American man who rescues Glass, tends to wounds and makes a shelter.  3. Domhnall Gleason’s Captain Henry is a good, honorable man who trusts people.  All 3 moments don’t end well so they aren’t exactly motivating or encouraging in any way.

revenant3Every other character in the film is a complete beast and the film is unapologetically dismal and gloomy.  Tom Hardy’s Fitzgerald is a complete monster.  He only cares about himself and his own survival.  It’s certainly not the Western hero we used to get from likes of John Wayne.  That’s for sure!   This movie makes Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven look like a birthday party.

reveant332. Do you value striking cinematography particularly of the cold outdoors?

If yes than The Revenant is for you.  The cinematography in the film by Emmanuel Lubezki is unbelievable. Filmed with all natural light the grayness of the cold Montana scenery is magnificent and deadening at the same time.  The water is unbelievable- especially one scene where Glass gets thrown down a rapids in the bitter cold.

I still can’t believe how they got some of the shots.  The story of the brutal filming is near-legend with narrow windows of time with the right lighting to get every take.  They had to move to Argentina eventually because Canada started to warm up!

3. Can you handle gory realistic violence?

If yes than you may find The Revenant exhilarating.  I don’t so a fair amount was tough for me to watch.  I closed my eyes a couple of times.  However, it was so immersive and new that I did find it compelling.   I had prepared myself for the violence so that helped but even then it was brutal.  You could say I pushed myself way out of my comfort zone for this one but it’s good to do that every now and then.

revenant4Much has been said about the bear attack, which is long and shocking.  You watch and wonder ‘how the heck did they do that?’.  I really have no idea! I know they used a combination of a real bear and cg but it was flawless.   As a film fan I love moments in movies I can’t figure out!

Oddly enough the more violent parts I felt were the Indian warfare.  It is relentless in showing person after person get speared with an Indian’s arrow- sometimes through the head, other times completely through the body. I’ve never seen violence quite like that before, and I’m not going to deny it impacted me.   There’s also so much of it.  It goes from the first till the final frame and never gives a moment to breath.

4. Do you need a fast paced film?

revenantIf yes than the Revenant probably isn’t for you.  At 156 minutes it is a slow drip and not that varied in what it is depicting.  We go from Glass getting attacked, getting abandoned, moving around on the ground, finding food, hiding from Indians, stealing a horse, building fires, etc. Basically surviving day after day.  It makes The Martian feel like a joy ride!   There really isn’t one moment of levity or break from the horrors of the West.

5. Is acting more important to you than characters?

revenant2What I mean by this question is Leonardo DiCaprio’s character doesn’t have much to him.  There are a few sequences where he dreams of his wife and a better life but we hardly hear him talk.  He is surviving and it is the elements that have all the character and personality.

That said, it is a tremendous performance and DiCaprio gives it his all and it is hard to not admire that.   The same is true for all the other roles.  Tom Hardy is great.  Domhnall Gleason is great.  Will Poulter is fantastic as Jim Bridger.  But their characters are pretty basic.  So performances great, characters one note.

So if you want to see great actors pour their heart into roles than see The Revenant.

6. Do you want to see something new and different?

Some people like seeing what we already know and recognize. I am certainly one of those people.  I enjoyed traditional reboots such as The Peanuts Movie, Star Wars, Cinderella etc this year but there is something to be said for a film like The Revenant which feels so entirely new and different.

If you can appreciate film as an art and are craving to see an advancement of that art than you must support films like The Revenant.  If you don’t than Hollywood will learn from this year that all that gets people in the seats is the same old, same old.

I love that traditional stuff but love the new stuff where they are trying, experimenting and taking risks.  I will give directors like Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki a bit of a longer leash than normal because it is so bold and daring.   Just the night shots around the fire I was stunned by.  How did they do that using no artificial light?  Amazing.

I realize I didn’t talk much about the movie in those questions but it’s such a simple story there isn’t that much to talk about.  Hugh Glass gets mauled by a bear and left by his fellow pelt hunters to die. The movie is about his survival.

The music by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto and Bryce Dessner was also amazing.  It somehow added to the cold with the constant breathing heard in the background.

Here’s the trailer to give you more of an idea.

It’s a really hard film to grade because I can see hating it and loving it.  Parts of me felt both ways.

Overall Grade-  B

Content Grade- F (I can’t overstate how gory and brutal this movie it is.  Not for the faint of heart).

Old People, Depressed Kids, Spies and Other 2015 Movie Trends

After seeing Spectre and Peanuts Movie last week it occurred to me they are both part of some eclectic trends in the movies of 2015.  2014 was a huge superhero movie year with Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America Winter Soldier, Xmen Days of Future Past, Amazing Spiderman 2 and Big Hero 6 (and in a certain way even Birdman).  This year we’ve had Avengers Age of Ultron, Ant-Man and Fantastic 4 but I still wouldn’t call it a huge superhero movie year.

On the other hand, superhero movies is hardly an original trend in movie making so this years trends feel a little bit more eclectic and different.

Let me know if I missed any in these 3 trends and please put in comments your favorite of each strange genre.

Some 2015 trends I’ve noticed are (Can click on each of the titles to be taken to my review of the films):

Old People Films-

This year we’ve had a lot of movies that are about how great it is to be old and made for a senior citizen audience.  Best of the crew either Mr Holmes or I’ll See You in My Dreams. I could almost include Ricki and the Flash in this but she isn’t really old although it deals with themes of aging.

2nd Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The-Second-Best-Exotic-Marigold-Hotel-Cast-WallpapersWoman in Gold

WOMAN IN GOLDAge of Adaline

age of adaline 7Mr Holmes

mr holmes4

I’ll See You in My Dreams

dreams6The Intern

internSpy Movies-

The next trend has been spy movies.  We had had 7 this year and the best in my opinion was Mission Impossible 5 but in fairness 3 I have not seen because of strong R rated content.

Kingsman Secret Service (Have not seen because of violent bloody content)

kingsmanSpy (have not seen because of profanity and other content)

spyAmerican ULTRA (have not seen because of violent content)

american ultra2

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

mi5Man from UNCLE

UNCLE3Bridge of Spies

bridge of spies7SPECTRE


Kids Films Dealing with Depression –

The final odd trend is films aimed at children (and adults) that deal with depression and mental illness.  This sounds like a downer but they are each quite different and wonderfully executed.  I personally think it is great to show kids how to deal with all kinds of feelings. I love all 3 of these films but my favorite is Inside Out

When Marnie was There

when marnie7Inside Out

inside out 15The Peanuts Movie

peanuts4The other trend this year which isn’t exactly new is I must have seen a dozen movies that people said “Just turn off your brain and enjoy it”  Some of them I could but most of them didn’t do it for me even on a silly level.

Dopey Action Movies

Furious 7 (liked)

Jupiter Ascending (laughed at)

San Andreas (hated)

Avengers Age of Ultron (loved)

Terminator Genysis (hated)

Jurassic World (meh)

Pixels (disliked)

Ant-Man (liked)

Man From UNCLE (ok)

Maze Runner Scorch Trials (disliked)

Mission Impossible 5 (liked)

Fantastic 4 (hated)

Spectre (ok)

And honestly Mad Max Fury Road was a stupid action movie as far as plot goes but it was so well done and intense it worked.

And I know there are more I just can’t think of them right now.

Movies that Put Me to Sleep (yep I zonked off in the theater for just a second)

Strange Magic


Mr Holmes

Woman in Gold

Bridge of Spies

Love the Coopers Review

love the coopers7Today I had the opportunity to go to an early screening for the new Christmas film Love the Coopers.  It’s the kind of movie which is difficult to review because I can’t really defend it yet I didn’t hate it either.  I am positive critics will savage this film and perhaps it is just my penchant for cheesy Christmas movies on TV from Hallmark or Lifetime that allows me to say I had an okay time watching this movie.

Love the Coopers is a story we’ve seen a million times in everything from National Lampoons Christmas Vacation to the Family Stone.  It’s about a big family with parents (John Goodman, Diane Keaton) trying to host the perfect Christmas for their kids or everything will be ruined. Goodman and Keaton have no chemistry and their story arc isn’t believable at all.

love the coopers3Then you have the eccentric cast of characters that all get into hijinks:

love the coopers5You have:

Ed Helms as a down on his luck divorced Dad looking for a job so he can get the presents for his kids.

Alan Arkin as a sweet man and grandpa who has developed a friendship with a young waitress played by Amanda Seyfried (I liked their scenes until the last 20 minutes or so and then it gets weird).  I wonder if his character will have some kind of medical episode that will remind everyone what Christmas is all about?…

Olivia Wilde and Jake Lacy have a meet cute at an airport where she gets him to pretend to be her fiance (groan…) because she doesn’t want to hear grief from her parents on her life choices.

June Squibb is the goofy Aunt Fishy and then several kids with stories of their own.

The worst plotline was with Marisa Tomei as the old maid who attempts to shoplift a piece of jewelry for her sister (Diane Keaton) and she ends up doing psychotherapy on the arresting officer in what seemed like the longest drive to whatever precinct they were going too.  It annoys  me in films when therapy and especially something as complex as this man is evidently going through is whittled down to a few epitaphs and expressions.

love the coopers4So now it seems like I hated the movie.  I didn’t.  I can’t even explain why I was moderately entertained by all this ridiculousness.  Call it escapist entertainment if you will but I suppose we all have our genres that we will accept a lot of nonsense. Cheesy Christmas movies is mine.

love the coopers2I suppose perhaps part of it is that I see the hijinks that happen in my own family and the drama and I think if that was made into a movie it wouldn’t look that different.   There’s just something about the holidays that invites that kind of sentimentality and fluffy storytelling.  I mean seriously when was the last great emotional holiday film? I wish this was good a family drama as say Dan in Real Life but I bought most of it.

Steve Martin does the voice-over narration for the film, which I actually liked and I thought a lot of the dialogue  wasn’t half bad (except for the Tomei section.  That was awful).  The performers are all trying and it definitely looks nice.

love the coopersI took one thing from the script that I have been pondering.  I’m not sure who said it but someone says “the problem with the holidays is we try to schedule happiness.  That might work for kids but not adults”.  I think that is so true.  I love the holidays.  I love decorating the tree, making treats, buying gifts, being with loved ones.  However, I do sometimes leave things feeling a little bit let down.  It’s like I am anticipating magic when magic  can’t be planned. Last year I spent Christmas mostly by myself, which was a little bit sad.  I had family at Christmas Eve and went to a friends for brunch but most of the holiday I was alone.  It was hard but in a way it was a relief.  None of the pressure of being with family and being single at Christmas.  It could just be an ordinary day and I could think about all I have to be thankful for. I don’t know if that makes sense but I liked that thought of the holidays trying to ‘schedule happiness’.

So,  Love the Coopers isn’t a good movie but I still had an ok time watching it.  It’s as simple as that.

Aside from some very bad teenage kissing (intentionally so for ‘jokes’) there really isn’t anything to offend people.  I was a little annoyed how they make the conservative army guy such an outsider.  Only insane people believe such things! Sigh…but this is basically a Hallmark movie as far as content goes.

I did like the way it used non-Christmas music in the soundtrack in interesting ways.

It’s basically a Hallmark movie in every way except for higher caliber of actors. So if you like that kind of holiday film than give this a go.  If it sounds awful I guarantee you will hate it.

Here’s my youtube review.

Overall Grade- C-

Here’s the trailer which will give you an idea if it is your cup of tea.

Spectre Review

spectreSpectre is an interesting film to review because it succeeds at being what most of the 24 Bond films are but it fails at being what in my opinion the two best Bonds films , Casino Royale and Skyfall were- emotionally compelling.  It’s a solid Bond movie but it just doesn’t have that layer of complexity the earlier films in the Daniel Craig Bond films did. To me at least those films succeeded because Bond felt like a real person with emotions and feelings, which made the action much more engrossing because it was happening to someone I actually cared about.

Most Bond movies aren’t so rich but are silly action movies with quippy one liners, cool gadgets, ridiculous stunts and beautiful women.  You get all of that in Spectre but I was a little let down by Sam Mendes’ latest offering because I wanted more than that.  The previous movies spoiled me!  (In fact, I picked Casino Royale as my action movie choice to introduce someone to film in this fun post here)

spectre5In Spectre we even get the martini shaken not stirred line when in Casino Royale he is asked that and says ‘Do I look like I give a d…”  I prefer the previous but I guess it makes sense when Casino Royale was supposed to be a prequel or an origin story for Bond.  I suppose he has been growing into the agent we saw in earlier incarnations of the character.  Too bad…

But that said, let’s talk about the movie we did get, not the movie I wanted.  The plot to Spectre is very similar to Mission Impossible 5.  The movie starts out with a dynamite sequence in Mexico City during a Day of the Dead celebration.  The action is terrific with sweeping pan shots and a helicopter fight scene that blew my mind.

spectre2James Bond is hunting down a secret organization called Spectre from a clue that he found from the M played by Judi Dench in previous films.  When he returns to London the 00 organization is being merged wtih MI6 and the new M played by Ralph Fiennes is having to deal with C played by Andrew Scott who Sherlock fans will recognize. I liked them both in their roles

spectre7 spectre9James is supposed to stay in London but through the help of Q and his cars and gadgets (more of that kind of thing in this than the previous films) he makes it to Europe and then South Africa to investigate the Spectre.

Q played by Ben Whishaw

Along the way James meets a woman named Lucia played by Monica Bellucci and  then the main Bond girl Dr Madeleine Swann played by Lea Seydoux.  They are all fine but again the typical old school Bond girl, nothing more. There’s nobody even close to Rebeca Ferguson in MI-5.

spectre4The villains are a big disappointment.  So far I have yet to see a great Christoph Waltz performance (his Tarantino films are too violent for me) but it really isn’t his fault here.  He is off screen for most of the movie and when he was there it was a standard campy Bond villain with elaborate ways to kill people instead of just shooting them.  There’s also one of those old school Die Hard style bombs with the digital read out.  Are those ever going to go away?  spectre6Dave Bautista literally says one word and is the more predominant force trying to stop Bond.  They do have an amazing fight sequence on a train so that was entertaining but hard to feel bonded to a villain who doesn’t talk.

There were times when I got a little bit bored and like in MI-5 there are a lot of plotholes and moments where you scratch your head wondering ‘how did they get here? How did they know to go here? How did they survive that?”  Perhaps that wouldn’t bother me if this hadn’t been the 7th movie this year asking me to take such silly action leaps and again the previous films were so good! Sigh…

Anyway, Spectre is what it is.  It’s an old school Bond movie with some good action, some silly banter and beautiful women.  If that’s your thing than you’ll probably like it.  If you are hoping for a little more depth than you might be disappointed.

As far as content there is some sensuality in two scenes and a lot of over the top action and fighting.  Minimal profanity so base your viewing of the film on how offensive you find the Pierce Brosnan or Timothy Dalton Bond films.

Also the score by Thomas Newman felt very old school Bond as well.

Overall Grade- C+ (which I remind you a C+ means I thought it was slightly above average)

Steve Jobs Movie Review

steve jobs 12I just got back from seeing the new film Steve Jobs about the famous Apple founder and CEO. I will say it is a very good movie that left me a little bit cold.

Let me explain . First of all, it is a great looking film and credit there goes to director Danny Boyle and cinematographer Alwin H Kuchler.  They take the approach of showing 3 launches of Jobs’ products- 1984 Macintosh, 1988 NeXT box and 1998 Imac.  You have to go with the conceit that basically everything comes to a climax in both Jobs’ personal and professional life on the day of the launches. I was personally willing to make that leap.

If you are a fan of this blog you might know I am not the biggest Aaron Sorkin fan.  I find his Social Network and Moneyball to be overrated mainly because the characters are rather one-note when they could be more fleshed out and nuanced.  Sure he can write banter but if I don’t care about the characters and they don’t feel authentic that is just talking heads. (I’m not saying those are terrible films.  I just don’t think he is the genius writer everyone else seems to see).

That said, Steve Jobs is my favorite Sorkin film.  He builds tension very well and the various characters weave in and out. This is helped greatly by a top notch cast.  Michael Fassbender continues his amazing hit streak with an Oscar caliber performance.

steve jobsKate Winslet is also superb as Joanna Hoffman his PR rep or secretary or something. She refers to herself at one point as Steve’s “work wife” and you buy that.  It feels like she is up for the challenge of his big personality every time.

steve jobs3I also thought Jeff Daniels was amazing as John Scully who is wildly seen as the man who fired Steve Jobs from his own company.  It is there conversations where you get the few moments of warmth from Jobs.

steve jobs8Before I saw the movie I read an article about how much Steve Wozniak loves the film.  Well, of course he loves the movie.  He is painted as the hero of the film.  The man who fights for the little guy against the corporate pig Steve Job.  Seth Rogan is good but it’s a role that requires him to mostly stand in the audience calling for Steve to ‘acknowledge the little guy’.  That’s the kind of one-note characters in Sorkin’s writing I don’t care for.

steve jobs6Partly because of the 3 launch structure you don’t get a ton of time to paint a well-rounded picture of Steve Jobs.  We see him as mostly a bully who pushes his own agenda at the cost of relationships and people. He has a huge ego and is kind of a modern Ebenezer Scrooge but with no redemption arc.  He doesn’t own his daughter, he pushes Wozniak, and Scully away and no other functioning softening relationship is shown.

They try to say that he was such a bully because he was adopted and then returned by a family and then his new family fought custody with his mother saying she didn’t love him for the first year of life.  This may all be true but I at least have read about another side to Steve Jobs- a side that believed in others and inspired people.

creativity incIn Creativity Inc President of Pixar Ed Catmull talks at length about Steve Jobs.  He does mention the tough egotistical side but also fleshed out another side. If you didn’t know Steve Jobs bought Pixar in 1986 and incurred losses for 8 years while they worked on the crazy goal of the first computer animated film.

“There were so many things I could say about Steve- how he bought the division that would become Pixar from George Lucas in 1986 saving us from extinction; how he encouraged us to embark on our first feature film, Toy Story, 3 years later, when the idea of a computer-animated feature film still seemed beyond our reach; how he’d solidified our future by selling us to Disney and then ensured our autonomy by orchestrating a merger that created a true partnership; how he helped take us from 43 employees to the 1100 …

Looking back, I could recall the earliest moments of our relationship- him probing and poking, me honing  and fortifying my ideas.  He had made me more focused, more resilient, smarter, better.  Over time, I had come to rely on his demanding specificity, which never failed to help me clarify my own thinking.  I could already feel the weight of his absence”

Brad Bird then went on to say:

“Steve held the bar for quality.  he was always about the long run  He was into Buddhism, but I see him more as just a spiritual guy.  I have to believe that he believed in something beyond this” he hesitated overcome for a moment “and that’s where we’ll see him again.  Where cream rises to the top.  So here’s to you Steve, and to the long run”

I share those long quotes with you because that is not any of the man we get in the movie Steve Jobs.  I realize a movie can’t be everything but when you are dealing with a real person it doesn’t feel right to paint him as such an egotistical bully.

As animation fans there is a huge ripple effect beyond even Pixar that Steve Jobs started.  First of all he bought and nurtured Pixar so without him none of their classic films.  Without Pixar John Lasseter would not have stepped in as Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney.  Without Lasseter no Disney 2nd Renaissance, probably no purchase of Lucas Films, so no new Star Wars, no bringing in the Ghibli films, which Lasseter was a champion of… The list goes on.  There is a reason the entire campus at Pixar is named after Steve Jobs.  He is absolutely essential in all of that happening, and yet the movie makes us believe he was nothing more than a good pitch man who doesn’t deserve the credit he gets.

But I was entertained by the film.  If I can kind of pretend it is a fictional CEO then I might even call it a masterpiece.  It is very well acted, directed and paced.  It also has some interesting questions about the masses and how we honor people and what makes us purchase products.

If you see Steve Jobs I’d love to hear what you think.  Also if you have read Creativity Inc put in the comments below.

Overall Grade- B-

Here is my youtube review:

Back to the Future Trilogy Review

back to the future2If you didn’t know yesterday was Back to the Future Day! Basically in Back to the Future 2 when Marty and Doc go back in time they go to October 21, 2015.

1031852_1280x720To honor this occasion my local theater and the Salt Lake Film Society put on a Where’s My Hoverboard marathon event where we watched all 3 Back to the Future films.  On my regular blog I will post about the event itself but I thought I would post my reviews of the films here.

back to the future-1Back to the Future is what I think of as basically a perfect blockbuster film.  I am sure they exist (and I will doubt hear from some of them as that always happens) but in my personal life I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t like Back to the Future.  There are a lot of reasons why it works so well.

It is of course the story of Marty Mcfly and Doc Brown and his deloreon time machine.  Doc invents the time machine but then an accident causes Marty to get sent back to 1955.

back to the future7Then Marty gets involved with his parents who he must bring together or his entire existence is in question.

back to the future6There is also the bully Biff who we meet in both 1985 and 1955.

Biff-Back-to-the-Future-1Marty and Doc must also figure out a way to get him back to 1985 using the 1955 technology and a bolt of lightning!

marty-the-delorean-time-machine-and-a-bolt-of-lightning_zpsyyd4s0zlThere are a lot of reasons Back to the Future works so well.  Michael J Fox is charismatic as Marty with a likable rebelliousness to him.  The rest of the cast is also great with most of the action focusing on 5 people- Marty, Doc, Loraine (Marty’s mother played by Lea Thompson), George (Marty’s father played by Crispin Glover), and Biff (Thomas Wilson).

This works so well for a time traveling story because the ripple effect of the changes they make and have to fix are relatively small and contained.   It also helps you to really bond with the characters and feel invested when they succeed.

back to the future10There is also a great undercurrent of heart to the film.  Marty has come to see his parents as real people that aren’t so unlike himself.  There is even a bit of an oedipal complex with Marty seeing his mother as an attractive woman and vice versa.

The other key to making Back to the Future work is the writing and pacing.  There isn’t a wasted scene.  There isn’t a moment where I am bored or over-thinking the science of it.  It’s also very funny with an amazing script by director Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale.

The music is also helpful with an iconic score by Alan Silvestri and great song Power of Love by Huey Lewis and the News. Here’s some clips from the movie with the song.

Last night the entire theater was cheering throughout.  It’s the kind of movie you leave with a big smile and probably didn’t need sequels but we got them nonetheless.

Overall Grade- A+

back to future2-2In Back to the Future 2 we get most of our original cast back except for Crispin Glover as George McFly.  The producer and directing team are all back and it is an entertaining film but my least favorite of the 3.

In this sequel Marty goes to the future to try and help his son from going to prison. In 2015 he finds all kinds of new technology like flying cars, hoverboards and easy lace shoes.

back to the future5

Marty gets to see his future self, house, family and life and we learn that Marty has a temper particularly when people call him chicken (not sure why they added that personality trait but they did).

Unfortunately Marty has a scheme to buy a sports almanac so he can win on betting sports back in 1985.  Biff as an old man hears about this almanac and steals the time machine to go back to 1955 and give it to his young self.

Not aware of Biff’s plans they go back to 1985 but it is altered into a hellish place where Biff rules all as a Donald Trump like mogul.

back to future222They then have to go back to 1955 and stop Old Biff from giving the almanac and not run into themselves from the first movie.

This movie works mostly because of the fun technology we get to see and the vision for the future.  Also the likable cast and nods to the first movie are a lot of fun.

However, we just get too much of Biff.  There are 4 versions of him in this film, so instead of being joyful with Marty and Doc, it feels dark, angry and unpleasant at times.  That may work for a dystopian novel but for a fun popcorn flick it is too much of a downer.

The pacing is also not as tight and there are a lot more plotholes because we are dealing with 4 different time periods and a mogul who influences many people instead of just 2 people falling in love.

Still I don’t mind watching it and find it overall entertaining.

Overall Grade- C+

Back to the Future 3

back to the future3-3Then we get to the final in the series.  It’s kind of a silly entry but it is more joyful than the 2nd so I enjoyed it more.

In this film Doc Brown gets sent to 1885 west while Marty remains in 1955. Marty learns through a letter that Doc is living as a blacksmith and is perfectly happy.  Unfortunately Marty also learns at the library he is going to die in a weeks time, so Marty heads back to the Old West to save his friend.

back to future34Now the question becomes how do they get back to 1985 with 1885 technology and they meet MadDog Tannen the relative of Biff who doesn’t like either one of them and challenges Marty with the chicken nonsense from 2.

BufordTo everyone’s surprise Doc meets a school teacher played by Mary Steenburgen and they share an interst in Jules Verne and fall in love, creating a whole new level of problems.

There is a lot of silliness in Back to the Future 3.  This is in no way a gritty accurate Old West.  It is from a movie set if I’ve ever seen one full of just about every western cliche you could imagine.  However, it also uses those cliches for humor like Marty’s character being named Clint Eastwood.

back to future333Even for a popcorn series the ending is too ridiculous to work for me but the final train sequence is entertaining.

back to future33At least in 3 there is a spirit of fun back into the series and we get less of Biff (although I could have used even less). It’s mostly about these 2 friends, Marty and Doc, and how they help each other as strangers in the Old West.

Alan Silvestri’s score in this one incorporates some Western themes which I appreciated and I love the inclusion of ZZ Top and their song Doubleback.  It’s very catchy.

I also like the chemistry between Christopher Lloyd and Mary Steenburgen.  After the grimness of 2 it is nice to have a love story back at the forefront of the series.

Like I said it is a silly movie but I enjoy it and find it entertaining.

Overall Grade- B

Here is my review on my youtube channel.

Goosebumps Review

goosebumpsI think I should start off this review saying I have never read a Goosebumps novel; although I was certainly aware of them.  They became popular when I was in or nearing high school so I missed the target age group for the series nor would I have been interested in them regardless because I didn’t like scary stories as a little girl.

So I can only speak about the movie and not any relation to the books.  If you want to read a review by someone who has read the books check out my friend AJ’s review here.

Over all I’d say the Goosebumps movie was a pretty entertaining film.  I think it did what Pixels was trying to do but was too stupid to pull off- give an 80s style movie with creatures chasing our heroes around with humor mixed in.  (Some say it has a 90s nostalgia but to me it felt more like Gremlins, Ghostbusters, The Burbs- movies like that from the 80s).

goosebumps6It’s pretty simple story.  Basically Goosebumps is about high schooler Zach (Dylan Minnette) who moves with his Mom (Amy Ryan- who was also in Bridge of Spies) when she becomes vice principal at his school.

The house next to theirs is a little creepy and there is a girl named Hannah there who seems to have an overbearing maybe even abusive father.  At one point Zach calls the bumbling cops over because he hears Hannah screaming.

goosebumps3It turns out Hannah’s father is reclusive author RL Stein and he has all of his scary stories carefully guarded and individually locked.  Zach and his friend Champ (Ryan Lee) unlock one of the books and  the creature from the book comes alive and tries to kill them.

goosebumps7Then a character called Slappy, the dummy, gets awakened and he unleashes all the characters and burns the books so there is no way to get them back without Stine writing a new story that does just that.

goosebumps5Basically the rest of the movie is the group getting chased by one creature and then another until the final showdown at the high school.  But it is all done with enough charm and humor that I was entertained.

One does have to wonder if Stein knew this could happen why not have the story already written ready to go just in case? But I’m overthinking it.

A lot of the credit to the films success goes to the 4 leads.  Jack Black is really funny and a little creepy as RL Stein and I really liked Ryan Lee’s Champ, who consistently made me laugh.

goosebumps12It’s definitely pretty scary but I think it is always in a spirit of fun and there is no doubt they will all be okay so I don’t think most kids will have a problem with it.  The dummy Slappy was the scariest of the creatures.

goosebumps9Some of the special effects were good and some could have been better like the wolfman I thought looked particularly cheesy.

goosebumps10It also looses some points because it starts to feel a little repetitive.  Despite tons of creatures being released, most of the time it is everyone in the town frozen and the 4 leads getting chased by one creature, they outwit that and then another appears, and the cycle repeats.

It might have been nice if for one of them they had to use their brains, one had to run fast, one had to be strong etc like some of the challenges or creatures in Harry Potter. Or if the 4 leads had each brought something different to the table but they pretty much just all run around screaming from one threat to another.

goosebymmps11That said it’s funny enough and the action keeps going fast enough that I was entertained.  I think kids that like this kind of thing will really like it, and I don’t think adults will be miserable watching it.

Like I said, it could have very easily gone down the Pixels route but, this is so much more entertaining.

Dylan Minnette and Amy Ryan in Columbia Pictures' There is also one part in the ending I didn’t really buy but it is spoilery so I wont’ say anything.   I did also like the relationship between Amy Ryan’s Mom character and her son Zach.  They seemed like believable Mother-Son team.

Did you guys read the books?  Are you excited to see this?  I’d be curious to know what you think and if your kids find it too scary.

Overall Grade-  B-

Bridge of Spies Review

bridge of spies2Today I had the chance to see the new Steven Spielberg film, Bridge of Spies, and to be honest I was a little disappointed.  Maybe even a lot disappointed.

When you have a movie directed by Steven Spielberg, based on historical events, co-written by the Coen Brothers you expect it to be one of the best of the year but I found it kind of a dull procedural. In fact it was both a dull courtroom movie and diplomatic negotiation movie in one…The trailer is also very deceptive in making you think it is going to be a tense thriller when it really isn’t.

Tom Hanks is great as Jim Donovan who is assigned to represent a Soviet spy Rudolf Abel played by Mark Rylance.   Abel is a character that will either work for you and you will find charming or will seem false.  For me it was the latter, but I’ve heard a lot of people rave about the performance . I can see the Coen Brother’s influence particularly on that character. He’s very deadpan and funny, but I found him kind of one-note after a while.

ST. JAMES PLACE Hanks is normally an insurance lawyer and is hesitant (along with his wife played by Amy Ryan) to take the case but decides ‘everyone deserves representation’.  That brings us to the first hour of the film which is a fairly standard court procedural.  The acting is good and you see the pressure Donovan is under to help this guy that everyone hates.  The two form a bond but again Abel is so deadpan that I didn’t sense any closeness on his side, only sympathy from Donovan.

It’s a fine but fairly routine courtroom drama and Spielberg does a good job staging it but it wasn’t anything new or that different from say Woman in Gold earlier this year (there were a lot of things in this movie that reminded me of Woman in Gold, which really isn’t a good thing in my book).

Eventually Donovan argues before the Supreme Court and the resulting verdict ends the first half of the film.  It also reminded me during the courtroom sections of The Conspirator in its attempts to relate to modern issues but not as awful as that film did.  It’s fine if a movie relates to current situations but don’t beat us over the head with it.  There is a lot of speechifying in the first half of the movie mostly by Hanks but others as well.

bridge of spies3Spielberg is great at capturing little details. It almost reminded of Mad Men in that regard.  Like it is the only movie I’ve seen from that era where you see the flash bulbs littered around the photographers covering a story.

There are also segments that are picked up once and then never talked about again.  For instance, we get a little story about Donovan’s daughter going on a date with his assistant and then that is never talked about again.  We get little bits with his kids and at their school showing Doomsday videos but that is never really addressed again.  Someone shoots up Donovan’s house but we never hear anything about that or any further danger to the family or him again. Those kind of things bothered me.

The second half of the film is when 2 Americans are detained by Communists- one by Russia, one by East Germany.  The US Government recruits Donovan to work with Russia to get fallen soldier Gary Powers and they don’t want him to get the American student from the Germans.  However, Donovan believes in ‘saving the one’ and meets with reps from both countries until a prisoner swap is orchestrated (which is telegraphed by the opening scene of the film when Donovan is discussing a 5 motorcycle crash with another lawyer).

bridge of spies6There are some good things about this section.  Spielberg does a great job creating a sense of cold and Hanks feels very human as he is making these negotiations without any real experience as a diplomat.  You feel his fatigue and frustration.

But I think part of the problem is I didn’t really get to know either of the prisoners so I didn’t care that much what was happening to them.  It is kind of like Woman in Gold in that sense.  I loved Helen Mirren’s character but everyone else I didn’t really care about. Same here with Hanks and the prisoners. Also the other CIA guys seemed one note and predictable stick in the muds.

I also thought a section where a plane is shot down looked kind of cheesy.  I expected better special effects from Spielberg.

bridge of spies8It does end in a satisfactory way and over all it isn’t a terrible film, just disappointing.  I actually nodded off twice which is a bad sign in the movie (only for a few seconds).  It was nearly 2 1/2 hours and most of that is just people talking with little suspense or intrigue.

I know I’m in the minority on this one but perhaps this will be my 2015’s Birdman or Gone Girl where I disagree with the critical mass.  It’s not awful but I was let down.

Overall Grade- C

The Walk Review

the walk3You guys know me.  I’m a softee.  I like a good inspirational story.  I’ve even been known to enjoy a corny made for TV movie on Hallmark or Lifetime.  So this is a girl that doesn’t mind a little bit of cheese in her films. Well, that’s good because it is certainly what you get in Robert Zemeckis’ new movie The Walk.  It is based on the story of Philippe Petit’s wire walk between the World Trade Center Twin Towers in 1974.  This was made into an excellent Oscar winning documentary in 2008.

the walk7The thing that made the documentary work is Petit is a unique person.  He can be dishonest, unfaithful, rude and yet also quite charming and funny.  So really it was more the man than the walk which made the documentary compelling. The documentary isn’t trying to inspire us but just tell Petit’s story.

Unfortunately Zemeckis in both his direction and screenplay don’t seem to get this and Petit ends up feeling bland and another guy with a dream.  You could play a drinking game and get very drunk with how much the movie says the word dream.the walk9Justin Gordon-Levitt is a little disappointing as Petit.  Much has been made of his french accent but it is pretty bad.  It’s too bad Oscar winner Jean Dujardin is probably too old for the part because he would have been perfect for Petit.   It’s hard to fault Levit too much because he is given a pretty corny bland character and the staging device of him telling the story, breaking the 4th wall, from the Statue of Liberty amplifies this cheese.

That’s not to say I hated the film.  I actually found it entertaining.  It’s just a little disappointing because it could have been great with a few tweaks.

Much of The Walk is spent with him training and assembling his “accomplices” for the big walk.  His girlfriend Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) seems unrealistically supportive of this crazy scheme as do everyone else (I wish I had such an unabashedly cheering section for my crazy endeavors!).  Ben Kingsley as Papa Rudy, a famous wire-walker,  is the only one who really challenges Petit and actually suggests he use a safety cord.

the walk10All of this is fine if a lot corny building up to the big walk.  And I have to say the last third when he is actually pulling off the illegal walk is incredibly compelling.  Cesar Domboy I thought was particularly good as Jeff, Petit’s accomplice who is afraid of heights of all things!

the walkZemeckis handles the special effects and the tension and the majesty of the actual walk perfectly.  I saw it in IMAX 3D and there were moments where I couldn’t help but gasp.  You feel the height and  when he keeps repeating the walk (4 times) it gets more tense and scary.  With the IMAX 3D it feels like you are there on that wire and it is almost like an amusement park ride (think Soarin California at Disneyland).   If you are motion sick or afraid of heights it may not be the movie for you because the walk goes on a long time but it worked the entire time for me.

Unfortunately some of the New Yorkers especially the cops are silly cliches with overdone accents but it isn’t a big deal.  The walk is compelling enough to ignore such details.

the walk8I’m not even a New Yorker but I have to say every time they showed The Twin Towers I cried.  There were a few scenes where Petit leans on the facade of the building and I was practically weeping.  I wasn’t expecting to have that response but just seeing the buildings again got to me.

I guess enjoyment of The Walk depends on how much you can tolerate a cornball movie. As I said, it is a bit frustrating because it could have been so much better but I still had a good time and enjoyed the film.  The walk itself is so well done and so compelling that it makes up for other flaws like the narration and some of the weak character development.

The other thing I’ve been thinking about with this film and perhaps it is an unfair criticism is-was it art or was it a stunt? Petit tries to sell it as art and that he is not a circus performer.  But people do brave stuff all the time like climbing Everest and we don’t call them artists.

I suppose with the Twin Towers symbolizing such a loss, I felt a little conflicted with a film trying to pass a stunt off as bravery and inspiration when much more brave things were done at those buildings. No movie is made about them (or no good one so far).

A side of me kind of wishes Petit had taken all that bravery and done something that actually matters.  I mean if you look at other inspirational stories like Imitation Game or Theory of Everything those were men who actually changed the world.  This could be thought of as a crazy stunt but it doesn’t really help anyone in their lives.

But I know that is being unfair.  Did Picasso help people with his art? Probably not but he certainly inspired people and helped them be more creative, which is a form of help.  So I guess it comes down to is Petit’s walk art or is it a stunt?  What do you think?

the walk5All that said, if you want to go to an experience at the movies than definitely see The Walk.  The special effects are astonishing and in the IMAX 3D it feels like you are walking as Petit walks.  The rest of the film is fine and certainly watchable if flawed.

As far as content there is a tiny bit of language but the main objectionable scene is when Petit strips down so that the accomplice on the tower can see him better to shoot the wire across to him.  It’s done in a way where not much is shown and it is relatively brief and humorous but it is there.

Overall Grade- C

My friend Matthew posted his review of both the book and movie you might find interesting.