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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Fences Movie Review


The Trailer:

The Good:
In case you've forgotten, Denzel Washington can act like no other. Not only did he direct this Broadway play adaption, but he's at the top of his game as the lead character as well. His delivery of anecdotes will keep you intrigued just as much as each of the other characters who listen attentively. What I really appreciated about Denzel's character is that he was a really complex person. You didn't know whether to root for him, feel sorry, or hate him. In a sense, he was probably reflective of many parents and/or husbands that some people could easily relate to.

The entire film is driven by the cast and their great performances. Jovan Adepo (plays "Cory") definitely holds his own in this star studded cast. He was able to embody the epitome of a son stuck between the emotions of love, respect, anger, frustration and hatred. Russel Hornsby (plays "Lyons") and Stephen Henderson (plays "Bono") undoubtedly make their fair share of contributions as well.

Okay now that I've gotten them out of the way, let me take a seat and catch my breath from Viola Davis' AMAZING performance. Let me tell you something right now. If she doesn't win Best Supporting Actress in the Academy Awards, something is entirely wrong with this planet. I mean, her "snot scene" was just real, and powerful, and as awesome as any actor could dream of performing. I don't wear them, but if I wore pearls, they'd certainly be clutched tightly during her shining moment. She, without question, almost steals the entire movie away from Denzel. She makes a strong case for her role to be classified as a co-star rather than just a supporting role.

Beyond all that, there were some interesting plot twists and events in the film. Best of all, each of the events aid in developing the characters and stressing the relationships that they all share. There's definitely plenty of relational topics that one could relate to in some fashion.

The Bad:
Be prepared for a lot of monologues and dialogues. Fences isn't really "Hollywoodized" in the sense where it will give you short, and quick scenes from one event to another. As a result, the film's pacing may feel like it drags and takes a while to get going during the first half. Fences has a lot of stories that can feel tangential and sometimes even repetitive. (i.e.: Denzel's stories about playing baseball.) For some, it may also be a little distracting to hear the N-word tossed around so causally in conversation. It's not overboard like in a Quentin Tarantino film, but enough to be noticeable.

The Reason
:

Fences is a great movie, especially if you're the type that likes to watch Broadway plays. It's essentially a play shot for the big screen. The performances from all of the characters carry the film more so than the actual plot or story. If you're a psychology major, you could have a field day at trying to analyze the various events and situations that shape each of the characters.

I think one other important thing to consider in this film is the historical context it's framed in. I'll admit that I originally was a bit annoyed, for instance, with Denzel's character constantly complaining about his past. However, when I was reminded of the fact that this story is set in the 1950s (pre-civil rights era) and Denzel's character grew up during Jim Crow, things began to make a bit more sense. You could begin to understand why he saw and approached things the way he did given his upbringing and the fact that he literally saw racism on an everyday basis.

Anyway, I fully recommend checking out Fences. I think that if you were drawn by the trailer then you'll be more than pleased with actual product as well.

The Rating: 9/10

My [Loosely based] Ratings scale
10-9 = A Must watch at any cost. 
8.5- 7.5 = Theater worthy 
7-6.5 = Matinee/rental worthy at best
6 = Watchable (If it's free)
5 - below = Avoid at all costs

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Sunday, December 25, 2016

Assassin's Creed Movie Review

The Trailer:

The Good:
As you can probably tell from the trailers, Assassin's Creed is definitely action packed. For fans of the Assassin's Creed video games, there are some familiar elements to look forward to in the movie. We get some nice chase scenes and a fair amount of fight scenes. There's a variety of close combat scenes and various weapon use. You can also bank on the signature parkour that is featured throughout the film.

There was never any worry about Michael Fassbender. He easily excels within his character of "Cal". A nice surprise was the casting of a personal favorite of mine being Michael K. Williams. He didn't do much, but it was nice to see him in a slightly different role nevertheless.

The Bad:
There was little to no character development when it came to the actual assassin, Aguilar. One of the aspects that makes each Assassin's Creed game great is the Assassin from the past and the current decedent. This film missed an opportunity to develop the motivations and provide sufficient background on the Assassin. Thus, the experiences in the Animus machine lose a bit of value.

Seeing as though there wasn't any real character development with the Assassin, most of the overall plot was rushed. A lot of the plot twists that kept you engaged in the video game are simply laid out in this film and remove a lot of the mystery. A lot of other events felt hurried as a result and other elements of the film just weren't really fleshed out enough.

The Reason:
As a fan of this specific video game franchise, I must admit that I was disappointed with the film. When the Assassin's Creed game first debuted in 2007 I was very excited for its potential. As the games progressed it seemed almost too easy to make a movie adaptation because the games pretty much laid out an easy framework to follow. Unfortunately, this Assassin' Creed film feels very watered down without really capturing the fundamental things that make the series great. We simply get some fan service with a "leap of faith" and the traditional hidden blade usage.

I will say that I don't think that this movie is as bad as other reviews out there are suggesting. It's not the best nor the worst video game movie out there. As a matter of fact, there's probably a chance that if you've never played any of the games, then you may actually enjoy the film. I think the only people who will be really disappointed are the gamers who know just how great this movie could've been. I'd recommend checking out the trailer to see if it interests you before you decide on checking it out or not.

The Rating: 6.5/10
   
My [Loosely based] Ratings scale
10-9 = A Must watch at any cost. 
8.5- 7.5 = Theater worthy 
7-6.5 = Matinee/rental worthy at best
6 = Watchable (If it's free)
5 - below = Avoid at all costs

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Passengers Movie Review


The Trailer:

The Good:
Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence's chemistry is a nice focal point for the film.  It really drives home the romantic/love story angle for the majority of the movie. However, without giving anything away (and depending on which trailer you've seen), this film does raise some very interesting topics surrounding the issue of consent. (I think my feminist friends will have a field day with this film.) What I appreciated about Passengers is that it will really challenge some moral positions given some of the decisions that are made by the characters.

The visuals are pretty nice given all of the futuristic, yet practical, technological advances. There are a few pockets of suspense sprinkled towards the end of the film. There was one scene especially that I thought really showcased the unique dangers and terrors of being in space.

The Bad:
I think my issue with this film is the marketing. The trailer gives you the impression that these two people woke up early for some mysterious reason, and danger is afoot with the ship. Well, that's only partially true. What was so enticing about the trailer is that it leads you to believe that there's a greater mystery that needs to be solved (ie: What was the reason why they woke up early?) Unfortunately, you find out the reason rather soon into the movie and then it jettisons into more of the love story angle. Now this MAY not be an issue for those going in cold, but it definitely messed with my expectations and didn't end with a good enough payoff for me.

Also, I personally wasn't a fan of the "Magical negro" cameo that was made in the film. I just think that they could've found another way to progress the story without having to include the random character that they did. That's all I'll say about that.

The Reason:
If you did see the trailer like I did, then you'd probably expect that this film was going to be a sci-fi heavy, suspense thriller. Instead it's more of a lite sci-fi romantic film with a splash of suspense. I'd probably say that Passengers is about 65% Romance, 25% sci-fi, and 10% suspense/thriller. You can think of this film as Gravity + Castaway + Titanic. It's worth a watch, but I'd avoid the trailers and I'd also go in with low expectations. This could probably make for a decent date movie as well.

The Rating: 7/10
   
My [Loosely based] Ratings scale
10-9 = A Must watch at any cost. 
8.5- 7.5 = Theater worthy 
7-6.5 = Matinee/rental worthy at best
6 = Watchable (If it's free)
5 - below = Avoid at all costs

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(CIFF Coverage) La La Land Movie Review


The Trailer:

The Good:
Right off the bat you can tell that the cinematography for La La  Land is off the charts. It's simply a visually stunning film. The dance and choreography was definitely a highlight of the film as they were all executed perfectly. Given the fact that this film feels like a Broadway play in some instances, it was nice to see the camera rarely pull away during many of the song and dance routines. That essentially helps you really appreciate the excellent performances from the main characters.

Speaking of which, Ryan Gosling gets a lot of kudos from me for being able to really deliver with his piano skills. From what I could research, he spent three months learning how to play the piano, but in the movie he comes off as a life long pianist. Despite being the co-star, it goes without saying that Emma Stone ran away with this film. She had every opportunity through this role to display a full range of emotions that easily elevates her performance to new highs. (Wouldn't be surprised if she won an award for it.) Both Stone and Gosling's on screen chemistry is undeniable and carries the movie from beginning to end.

I also thought that the plot itself was a positive for La La Land. This movie will definitely speak to the dreamers and lovers alike. The ending of the film really helped to ground the film and drive home some great life lessons.

The Bad:
While this isn't true for all of them, just a few of the musical/dance segments really didn't seem to fit or flow naturally in the film. (Opening scene would be an example.) There were just a couple of times when it felt like some songs were placed into the film just for the sake of being a musical, rather than allowing the song/dance(s) to organically drive the plot. It wasn't often, but I do think that there were probably one or two sequences that could've been left out of the film, and simply help tighten up the pacing a bit.

The Reason:
I think it's worth admitting that I'm not the biggest fan of musicals. That doesn't mean that I hate them, or that I'm cynical about them. I just don't go out of my way to seek them out. However, I do believe that I can appreciate a good one when I see one, and La La Land was definitely one of the good ones. This film was like watching a dream on the big screen.

I think that fans of musicals will undoubtedly enjoy this film. My only concern is whether this will appeal to more casual movie fans. If you're in doubt, then I'd probably recommend checking out these Five Films To Watch Before La La Land by one of my fellow film critics, Don Shanahan from EveryMovieHasALesson.com. Otherwise, I'd recommend checking out La La Land in theaters whenever you get the chance.

The Rating: 9/10
    
My [Loosely based] Ratings scale
10-9 = A Must watch at any cost. 
8.5- 7.5 = Theater worthy 
7-6.5 = Matinee/rental worthy at best
6 = Watchable (If it's free)
5 - below = Avoid at all costs

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Collateral Beauty Movie Review


The Trailer:

The Good:
It goes without saying that you're in store for a classic, teary-eyed Will Smith performance. At this point it's kind of difficult to determine if he can get any better than he already is. While Smith is portrayed as the main character, this film was more so an ensemble. Kate Winslet, Ed Norton and Michael Peña were all at their best.

One of the main highlights of this film is the dramatic and philosophical ideas about love, time, and death. The film does give a unique perspective to the grieving process that most people may not be familiar with. Beyond that, depending on how much you paid attention to the trailer, there is an interesting twist or two that is a welcomed surprise.

While it's not really necessary, one interesting thing to consider would be to actually watch the film for a second time. There were some key details that contribute to the mystery and twist of the film that may only be noticed upon a second viewing.

The Bad:
As I alluded to earlier, the trailers for this film may be a little misleading. Obviously I won't give it away, but the trailer had me thinking that this was going to go a certain direction. Then 20 mins into the film, it goes in another. Then it just felt like other twists were just randomly thrown into the movie unnecessarily. Again, this was the expectation shaped by the marketing of the film more so than the film itself being at fault.

The Reason:
I think the best way to go into this film is to go in as cold as possible. Don't read or watch anything about it. At least that way you won't be thrown in various directions the way I was. I'd probably say that this would also be a decent film to watch with a friend (or date?) only because there will be a number of conversation pieces to discuss. (That is, if you're into having deep, thoughtful conversations.) I think this may be a matinee film at best.

I got a chance to rewatch this movie and I must say that it's actually a lot better the second time around. You get a chance to appreciate more things that were missed and setup throughout the movie. If you're like me, you may even pay more attention to the interactions of the characters and whether certain things really did appear as they initially seemed or not.

The Rating: 6.5/10
   
My [Loosely based] Ratings scale
10-9 = A Must watch at any cost. 
8.5- 7.5 = Theater worthy 
7-6.5 = Matinee/rental worthy at best
6 = Watchable (If it's free)
5 - below = Avoid at all costs

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(CIFF Coverage) Sing Movie Review


The Trailer:

The Good:
One of the most obvious highlights of this film will be the many musical performances. There were a number of popular hits that will be relatively familiar. One thing that helped this film was the fact that it did play off of the American Idol audition angle. It was enjoyable to see the characters that were bad to really outstanding. Similar to the movie Zootopia, Sing does a nice job of blending a variety of animals to evoke most of its jokes and humor. While it strives to be funny, there were actually a few touching moments. (The Father/Son Gorilla moment kinda got to me.)

To my surprise, there was a bit of an unexpected twist in the middle of the film. The film did a nice job of emphasizing the notion of following your dreams, and I do believe that the ending finale does salvage the movie in terms of a slight pay off.

The Bad:
Unfortunately there are lot of issues surrounding the music of this film. The first issue was the lack of original songs throughout the movie. That's usually the main highlight for many song-based films, and Sing really didn't capitalize on that opportunity. Instead it felt more like a series of karaoke songs.

The other musical issue was that if you're not familiar with those songs, it'll be a little hard to connect with the film. There seemed to be both a lack of variety in the song arrangements and a noticeable gap in the type of music. For instance, it felt as though if you weren't a fan of Taylor Swift, Katy Perry or Frank Sinatra then there just wasn't necessarily a song you'd connect with.

Besides the musical issues, I think one of the biggest disconnects with Sing is that the movie didn't really appear to connect with kids. There were adult related issues (ie: being a stay at home mom with a lot of kids) that I don't think children will resonate with. So it's not going to be much of a surprise if some of the jokes go way over their heads.

The Reason:
Sing gets some things right, but also misses a lot of opportunities to really hit a home run with children. I think it tried too hard to appeal to different demographics and in the process feels a bit lost. As I said, if you're not familiar with some of the musicians I mentioned earlier, then this movie may not be up your alley. It may still be worth watching if you have children, but I'd double check their iPods to make sure the music from the trailer is something they'd actually appreciate.
If you do decide to check it out, it will be playing at the Chicago Film Festival!

The Rating: 6/10
   
My [Loosely based] Ratings scale
10-9 = A Must watch at any cost. 
8.5- 7.5 = Theater worthy 
7-6.5 = Matinee/rental worthy at best
6 = Watchable (If it's free)
5 - below = Avoid at all costs

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Hidden Figures Movie Review


The Trailer:

The Good:
I think we can start off with the wonderful performances starting with Taraji P. Henson. She perfectly captured the incredible juggling act that African American single mothers had to endure to this very day. Most times she didn't even really have to speak for you to feel the tension she experienced between raising her children, going to work, and dealing with the common everyday racism during the 1960s. Octavia Spencer was her usual phenomenal self. Probably the biggest surprise was Janelle Monáe. She was humorous and held her own as if she had been acting for years.

What I really appreciated about this film is that it treated the moments of racism with a nice sense of a balance. It wasn't overtly, in your face racism, but it wasn't watered down either. The film constantly reminds us of the social tensions during this pre-civil rights era, without allowing the themes to be a crutch to evoke emotional responses. It also communicates the message that there were plenty of contributions to American history by minorities that go overlooked.


Moreover, Hidden Figures does a nice job of highlighting not only the racial barriers for minorities, but also the gender barriers as well. Often times the film would almost make you feel the literal barrier that the characters felt. Whether it was racial or gender based, one thing that was well executed was that the fact that minorities (especially the women) had to consistently go above and beyond to simply prove to society that they were worthy of anything at all.

The Bad:
N/A

The Reason:
The moment this film ended, the only thing that came to mind was that Hidden Figures has #BlackGirlMagic written all over it! This was an amazing film that I think many people, especially within the African American community, have been waiting for. Almost every year, if there's a movie with a black leading cast it's either a slave film, comedy, or some sort of sex drama. It was just so refreshing to have an uplifting and historically accurate film with a positive vibe to match. Not to mention, as a father of three daughters, I was so proud to have my little girls have ideal role models on the big screen to look up to. As you can tell, I really enjoyed Hidden Figures, and I think you will too. It's more than worth the watch in theaters, and be sure to bring the family while you're at it.

The Rating: 10/10




   





My [Loosely based] Ratings scale
10-9 = A Must watch at any cost. 
8.5- 7.5 = Theater worthy 
7-6.5 = Matinee/rental worthy at best
6 = Watchable (If it's free)
5 - below = Avoid at all costs

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Star Wars Rogue One Movie Review


  The Trailer:


The Good
:


One of the biggest strengths of this film is probably the connections that are built with the individual characters. Felicity Jones naturally stands out as the heroine female lead. My personal favorite was Donnie Yen's character, "Chirrut Imwe". His character was the only remnant of the spiritual side that acknowledges the Force, and he's probably the closest you'll get to a Jedi. (Trust me, that's not saying much though.) However, the real scene-stealer belongs to K-2SO, the android robot. Just like in the past Star Wars films the androids continue to provide comic relief throughout the film. K-2SO's pettiness and witty banter was easily one of the best aspects of the movie.

Darth Vader!!!!! While I was initially disappointed that they revealed he was going to be shown in the movie, it clearly didn't matter when he's actually shown. Granted it would've been a major surprise had they kept him a secret, he was still displayed enough to make up for it. He has one particular scene that simple legitimizes his already huge stature as one of the most famous characters in cinema pop culture. You'll know it when you see it. His major scene alone may make you literally feel the powers of the dark side.

In terms of action, Rogue One doesn't hold back either. From the ground fights, to spaceship battles, it surely encompasses all of the hard fought action that the Star Wars films brought to the table in the late 70s and early 80s. Despite probably knowing the eventual outcome of the film, there were still some great moments of suspense that will keep you engaged to the very end.

The Bad
:


There were some rather slow moving parts in the middle of the film. There is a lot of dialogue that will probably play more so to the dedicated Star Wars fans more so than casual movie fans. One of the biggest appeals to the film is that it is a prequel to Star Wars: A New Hope (1977). However, given that fact, if you're unfamiliar with Star Wars (1977) then there will be a lot of references and call backs that can be missed.

The Reason
:


If Stars Wars were to be completely erased, and rebooted, Rogue One would be the exact movie to do it. It encapsulated everything that fans loved from the original Star Wars (1977) film, except modernized it for today's audiences.

 I do think that in order to truly appreciate this film, it's practically a requirement to watch Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) before watching Rogue One. Without watching Star Wars: A New Hope, I don't think that this movie will cater to casual or even new incoming movie fans the way Star Wars: The Force Awakens did. Rogue One serves a major purpose in emphasizing a lot of backbone to the story of Star Wars A New Hope. We get to see why getting the plans was just so important and just what it took to accomplish the mission.

I didn't get a chance to see this in 3-D and I was perfectly content with that. Though 3-D may have helped with some of the big star ship battles, the movie still was very enjoyable to watch without it. I would definitely recommend watching this, but as I said, be sure to watch the original Star Wars (1977) film first. If you have seen it before, it wouldn't hurt to refresh your memory and see it again prior to seeing Rogue One.

The Rating: 8/10


My [Loosely based] Ratings scale
10-9 = A Must watch at any cost. 
8.5- 7.5 = Theater worthy 
7-6.5 = Matinee/rental worthy at best
6 = Watchable (If it's free)
5 - below = Avoid at all costs

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Monday, November 14, 2016

[CIFF Coverage] Capsule Reviews from the 52nd Chicago International Film Festival


The 52nd Chicago International Film Festival has arrived in town, hosted by the AMC River East theater location downtown. One of the many program themes of this year's slate is movie musicals and Cinema/Chicago lucked into opening the festival with the get-of-gets in the form of anticipated Oscar front-runner "La La Land" starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone from "Whiplash" director Damian Chazelle. Between October 13 and concluding on October 26 with the closing night special presentation of Denis Villeneuve's science fiction opus "Arrival," over 150 films, shorts, and documentaries will grace Chicago with their presence, artistry, and wonder.

For the third year in a row, this website has been granted press credentials to cover the many facets of the 52nd CIFF. With the large distraction of a Cubs playoff run and a day job that removes me from attending the gamut of closed press screenings that occur during the day), I am on my own for digesting what I can access in limited time. For now, I am targeting the U.S. Indies slate and will add selections from the Special Presentations, Black Perspectives, and World Cinema programs. Most of these films are appearing either before or without distribution dates, meaning my reviews here will stay brief capsule form. Come back to this page often and I will add films as I go!

OPENING NIGHT FILM

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"LA LA LAND"

Opening with the colossal single-take musical number entitled “Another Day of Sun” enlivening an Los Angeles traffic jam to first cross the stars of our two lovers, “La La Land” flies out of the gate in perfect stride to manifest the Hollywood musical. Combining modern bells and whistles with a throwback approach and appreciation, you realize that you are not watching wannabes or hacks. Titled as a love letter to Los Angeles and a full admission ticket to daydreaming away from reality, “La La Land” pitches delightful whimsy with unexpected heft and dramatic power underneath. None of this film’s muscle movements and soaring style work without passionate blood racing through its celluloid veins.

HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION

SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS

"JACKIE"

I've only used the word "mesmerizing" on m website in three reviews in six-and-a-half years. Those instances were to describe the performances of Michael Shannon in "Midnight Special," Tom Hardy in "Lawless," and Ryan Gosling in "The Place Beyond the Pines." In Chilean director Pablo Larrain's film "Jackie," I have found the next moment to say "mesmerizing" and I could use it in every sentence of a future full review. The adjective describes the film as a whole and its towering lead performance from Oscar contender Natalie Portman playing First Lady Jackie Kennedy in the immediate hours and days following her husband's assassination. Far from a biopic and more of a psychological examination, Portman and Larrain sear the screen with emotion and imagery that is captivating as much as it is difficult. It's amazing that it takes a foreign director to create the most empowering portrait of American history put to film this year. How good is "Jackie?" It's my new #1 in the clubhouse for the best film I've seen this year.
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION

"ARRIVAL"

There is a class of films within the science fiction genre that go out of their way to stress the human value of the cinematic equation over the spectacle of the fiction and science. Such special films take a futuristic viewpoint and look at our optimism versus pessimism, our improvement versus our hubris, and, ultimately, our flaws versus our strengths as a species or a civilization. Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival," starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker, examines each of those dichotomies with invigorating tension and potent emotionality. The less you know about “Arrival,” the better. The director ties a strong human anchor to heady science fiction. To reveal more of the emotional and scientific obstacle course would take away from the engrossing experience to be had by “Arrival.” This is the anti-”Independence Day,” so don’t expect a populist romp. Instead, open your mind to a stimulating and provocative mindbender that may require more than one viewing to grasp and appreciate. The trippy events unfolding out of the screenplay tangle the puppeteer’s strings and play with narrative and filmmaking forces few are daring enough, and smart enough, to wield.

STRONG RECOMMENDATION
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"LION"

“Lion” is yet another performance-driven dramatic film entering this holiday season favoring prudence over theatrics. The feature film debut of award-winning commercial director Garth Davis, is a love letter instead of a power ballad that delivers genuine emotional heft all on its own, without the need to manufacture it for the sake of a movie. Chronicling the true story of two halves of life for Saroo Brierley, the film follows a five-year-old Indian boy (the irresistible Sunny Pawar) lost in Calcutta and adopted to Australian by sponsor parents played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham. Twenty years later, the adult Saroo, played by Dev Patel, obsessively commences a search to find his native origins. Painted with patient brushstrokes and never swelling to gaudy theatrics, "Lion" is a sensational drama that earns high appreciation.

HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION
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"I, DANIEL BLAKE"

Ken Loach is more than an esteemed British filmmaker. He is also an ardent social activist for the middle-class commoner. His camera is kind to the working class and never afraid to ruffle political feathers. His latest film, "I, Daniel Blake," the winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, champions the cause to combat the bureaucracy of the welfare system, a topic not exclusive whatsoever to the United Kingdom. Loach’s plain-speaking film is a touchingly realistic parable. "I, Daniel Blake" is unabashedly a “bleeding heart” film on literal and figurative levels. Better yet, Loach’s realism is backed by boundless heart that can squeeze tears from even the stoutest viewer.

HIGH RECOMMENDATION
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"TRESPASS AGAINST US"

On the heist, “Trespass Against Us” really moves, sped along by outstanding stunt work . The ensuing pursuit scenes are impressive for a film of this size, buzzed by a Chemical Brothers musical score. On the lam, the film too often grinds its gears and dulls its edgy tone. The turn-over-a-new-leaf elements of parental challenges lack engagement come up empty. Pissing and moaning about the trailer park life, hazing each other, and talking big promises over cigarettes and profanity-laced diatribes, the film can be as lazy as its criminals between gigs. If you stick with it, stay for Michael Fassbender and the spurts of tantalizing criminal thrills.

MINOR RECOMMENDATION
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"SING"

The new animated musical “Sing” from Illumination Entertainment bills itself as containing more than 85 memorable tracks from legendary performing artists and one new original song collaboration from Ariana Grande and Stevie Wonder. When you divide the 110 minutes of the film by 86 songs, that averages out roughly to one song every 78 seconds. Less is more. Sing five, hell even ten, songs well instead of 86 at random and indiscernible quality.

LOWEST RECOMMENDATION

BLACK PERSPECTIVES

"MOONLIGHT"

Director Barry Jenkins's understated and powerful film played the CIFF as a Special Presentation and as part of the Black Perspectives program. Comparable in a way to Derek Cianfrance's "The Place Beyond the Pines," the film is a triptych following one young Miami boy named Chiron across three chapters and key turning points in his life. Beginning as a bullied young boy that grows into a closeted gay teen and finally into a broken and insecure adult male, Chiron's story is a painful one of finding acceptance, unnerving repression, and the envisioned parallel results of what happens to millions of forgotten and silent youths that do not have someone in their life who can listen to them and support them, even on a basic level. Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monae, Andre Holland, and an incredible Naomie Harris offer outstanding supporting performances. The three performers who embody Chiron, one unknown (Alex Hibbert) and two virtual newcomer (Trevante Rhodes of "Westworld" and Ashton Sanders of "Straight Outta Compton"), have the power to capture your undivided attention, stir your empathy, and break your heart. This is the kind of film that becomes a transformative experience and stands as one of the year's best overall films.

HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION

U.S. INDIES PROGRAM

"MIDDLE MEN"

Chicago-based filmmaker Ned Crowley makes his feature debut with this devilishly clever and occasionally bat-shit crazy road trip film "Middle Men." "Parks and Recreation" supporting player Jim O'Heir plays Lenny Freeman, a homebody Peoria, Illinois CPA who quits his job to chase his stand-up comedian dreams on the stages of Las Vegas. Packing up his deceased mother's classic car and digesting old taped comedy routines of the likes of Burns and Benny, Lenny gets sidetracked along the way by a questionable hitchhiker (Andrew J. West) and a dead-end tumbleweed Nevada town named Lamb Bone. Bombed jokes turn into bad choices and imposing threats turn into murderous accidents. A dark comedy to the bone, "Middle Men" juggles its chainsaws with outstanding improvisational humor and genuinely surprising twists and turns.

STRONG RECOMMENDATION

"HUNTER GATHERER"

Andre Royo ("The Wire") invests himself excellently playing a recently incarcerated man named Ashley trying to step back into his old neighborhood and former conceited position in life. After three years in jail, no amount of his warped and selfish positivity is going to hand him a job or bring back the ex-girlfriend Linda (Ashley Wilkinson) he is still hung up on. It will take bettering himself, learning a little respect, and removing that chip on his shoulder. When he partners with a meek young neighbor (George Sample III) in several scams to make ends meet, their shared plight pushes both towards lessons to learn. Backed by a bouncy urban jazz soundscape, this committed drama is the debut feature film from "X-Ray" and "Prince Avalanche" art director Josh Locy. The visual flourishes of an art director show through playful layering and camera work from Jon Aguirresarobe combined with subtle edits from Adam Robinson. Unconventional and slowly compelling, "Hunter Gatherer" is a solid debut.

STRONG RECOMMENDATION

DOCUMENTARIES

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"I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO"

The documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” from director Raoul Peck unearths “Remember This House,” an unfinished 1979 manuscript of James Baldwin’s recollections of Medgar, Malcolm, and Martin. This outstanding and informative film presents Baldwin’s musings alongside sobering imagery of both the turbulent history of the era and parallel occurrences of modern racial unrest that echo the same violence, inequality, anger, and sorrow. As an Oscar nominee in a banner year for feature documentaries, “I Am Your Negro” is essential viewing. Culling together a wealth of archival footage of interviews, reference points, and shared speeches, “I Am Not Your Negro” delivers a wallop of history and creativity. 

HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION
GUEST WRITER: Don Shanahan is a fellow Chicago film critic of "Every Movie Has a Lesson." He is an elementary educator who writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. Don is one of the directors of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Association (CIFCC). Please welcome him as an occasional contributor to Eman's Movie Reviews.


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Monday, October 31, 2016

Doctor Strange Movie Review

The Trailer:
Video Review:

The Good:
Well let's get this out of the way since it's the most obvious highlight. The visuals were by far the best aspect of this film. The first thing that comes to mind is that this film's visuals are similar to that of the movie Inception, except multiplied by 10. The 3D special effects were done very well and didn't seem like a cheap money grab. I thought it gave just the right amount of psychedelic special effects without getting extremely too trippy. More importantly, the 3D effects were more than memorable and not just a "one and done" as in other films.

Benedict Cumberbatch portrays the role of Doctor Strange pretty well in my opinion. The character is supposed to be arrogant and cocky, similar to that of Tony Stark from Iron Man. You get all of that from Cumberbatch to the point that at times you simply don't like his character, as a person. Both him and Rachel McAdams (who plays Christine Palmer) share fun and witty banter in various occasions. Thankfully McAdams wasn't just thrown in to be the helpless damsel in distress. Instead she seemed like a grounded character that was much more relatable to those of us in the audience.

Doctor Strange was filled with much more comedy than expected. More specifically there's more physical comedy with a certain character that has a mind of its own. (You'll know it when you see it.) Besides that there were plenty of jokes and humorous moments in the film that will get some chuckles and laughs out of you.

One of the most surprising supporting roles to interest me was Tilda Swinton's "The Ancient One". I was a little dubious about her role at first, but it was intriguing to see how much depth was given to her character. It actually made me want to know and see more of her past in some other Marvel medium. (Maybe in a Marvel One Shot or something.)

The Bad
:

As we may know from previous Marvel films, the issue of having a underwhelming villain strikes again. While Mads Maikkelsen's performance as "Kaecilius" wasn't bad, his character simply didn't seem as moving. Rarely did he ever seem to elevate Cumberbatch's Doctor Strange character or really impose a threatening sense of urgency.

The only other thing that I could see be a bit of an issue is the sense of over-familiarity. The film pulls from so many other Marvel films that it could feel a bit repetitive. Dr. Strange is Tony Stark and Christine is Pepper Potts from Iron Man 1. The comedy of this film is almost similar to that of Ant-Man. Dr. Strange's road to spiritual journey is similar to Thor's journey of becoming worthy again to lift his hammer. The list continues and I'm sure you may find more commonalities.

The Reason:
Doctor Strange overall was another success for Marvel in my book. It was a relevantly safe film, though it did push a few boundaries in some form. Parents be advised that there are some S-bombs, and "A-hole" language throughout the film. There were also a bit more graphic deaths compared to what you may be accustomed to in a Marvel/Disney film as well. I think they were really aiming for a hard PG-13 rating here.

If you've been keeping up with even half of the other Marvel films, then this one will probably not disappoint. Doctor Strange set out with the main purpose of introducing the magical and mystical element that will surely only grow in later films. It succeeded in that venture. As you could probably tell this movie will be like a combination of Batman Begins + Inception + The Matrix + Iron Man + Guardians of the Galaxy.  (In that exact order.)

I know I said it before, but let me really emphasize this. The 3D is absolutely worth every penny. If you've been frugal all year or if you're the type of person who doesn't like to spend more for 3D, consider Doctor Strange to be that one film you make an exception for. I only wish I had the chance to screen in 3D IMAX because I'm sure it would've been even better. If you choose to view this in any other lesser format, you can already expect for this film to be devalued. (Or take 1 point off the rating below.) I think it's safe to say that Doctor Strange is a must see in theaters. There are two end credit scenes, so don't be that person who walks out too early. May the Force be with...(sorry...wrong movie) I mean Abra-Ka-Dabra! (Disappears in a puff of smoke.)

The Rating: 9.0/10 (in 3D) 8/10 (w/o 3D)

My [Loosely based] Ratings scale
10-9 = A Must watch at any cost. 
8.5- 7.5 = Theater worthy 
7-6.5 = Matinee/rental worthy at best
6 = Watchable (If it's free)
5 - below = Avoid at all costs

BONUS: Doctor Strange Free Movie Ticket Giveaway! I know watching movies in 3D can get expensive so I'm going to hook up 10 lucky winners with a FREE movie pass to see Doctor Strange in theaters! 



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Friday, October 21, 2016

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back Movie Review

The Trailer:
The Good:
Per usual, Tom Cruise does his best portrayal of a "tough guy" throughout the film. You can bank on some nice action sequences and fight scenes that will keep you entertained. Matter of fact, the fights scenes are probably the best parts of this film. What I enjoyed most was similar to what you may have seen in the trailer. It's always fun to see how much of an upper hand Reacher has over his opponents.

The supporting characters also delivered for this film. Cobie Smulders proves once again that's she's fully capable of handling an action film role. My personal favorite was a performance by Patrick Heusinger (He plays the main bad guy.) I thought his character was built up nicely as the antagonist to counter Jack Reacher. It's always nice to see when a bad guy is able to push the good guy and challenge them to the very end.

The Bad:
Unfortunately, the actual crime in the story is not all that interesting. While we are led down this mysterious path of "who done it?", when we finally find out what happens, it's just that compelling. Rather it was more intriguing to see Cruise finally go head to head with the main bad guy. What's even more unfortunate is the final fight scene is a bit of a let down. There just wasn't as big of a pay off as was initially anticipated.

There is a side story that develops between Reacher and "Samantha" (played by Danika Yarosh) and, for an action film, it often times felt a bit forced. Initially the way it was introduced, it was cleverly done and it made sense. However, the longer the movie progressed, it began to feel a bit more like a distraction. One minute we're focused on Reacher and Samantha's relationship, the next minute we're asked to focus on crime mystery that's developing.

The Reason:
Overall, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back was a straight forward action film. You'll get your fight scenes and cheesy one-liners as expected. The film does try to add a bit more drama into the mix, though I personally didn't think that was really needed. If you were like me, you probably instantly noticed how Reacher was very similar to Bruce Banner in the old Hulk TV series. (Click here and you'll know what I mean.)  Jack Reacher: Never Go Back was still an enjoyable watch, and if you liked the previous Jack Reacher film, then you'll more than likely enjoy this sequel as well. Feel free to give it a look over the weekend.

The Rating: 7/10


My [Loosely based] Ratings scale
10-9 = A Must watch at any cost. 
8.5- 7.5 = Theater worthy 
7-6.5 = Matinee/rental worthy at best
6 = Watchable (If it's free)
5 - below = Avoid at all costs

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Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Accountant Movie Review


The Trailer:

The Good:
From beginning to end, it was very nice to see the level of awareness and care this film took to subtly educate the audience about autism. There were many instances where the actions many that we may deem as "weird" or "strange" were instead redirected to being viewed as simply "different". Affleck's character is rather unique and it was interesting to have the lead character be autistic. It made his training and execution of skills and smarts that much more intriguing to see. His skills will most definitely challenge many preconceived notions or views some may have about autism as well.

Speaking of Affleck, he reminded all of us that he can handle action films with no problem. His fighting style was reminiscent of a combination of Jason Bourne and John Wick. He was quick, efficient, and lethal. The action scenes were nothing short of intense and suspenseful. Beyond that, his obsessive and compulsive behaviors were definitely a drawing appeal. You can't help but to be curious about his repetitive mannerisms (ie. blowing fingers). More specifically his social interactions are the most interesting. At times, his encounters with others can even be a bit humorous. His awkwardness and reactions with Anna Kendrick (who plays "Dana Cummings") lightened the mood a bit in the midst of some thrilling scenes.

For my fellow comic book movie fans out there, we all know that Affleck is connected with the DC universe. There are a number of parallels and connections in the film that relate to some cool Easter Eggs. (If you're interested, I wrote an article about the Easter Eggs and Comic References here.)

The Bad
:

There were a few twists in the movie that weren't all too hard to figure out. A lot of the plot was pretty predictable once you get about 30% into the film. It's not the end of the world, but you get the sense that the movie banks on some of the big reveals. If you're not paying attention then you may get surprised by them.

The Reason
:

As one of my colleagues had said, "The Accountant was everything that Jason Bourne should've been." I'd probably say that this film is a mash up of Rain ManThe Bourne Identity. The film gives you a little bit of everything, while still feeling well balanced. I enjoyed how The Accountant felt new but familiar at the same time. One thing is for sure, I wouldn't mind if they made more movies like this. It's certainly worth the watch in theaters, so don't even give it a second thought. Go see it soon.

The Rating: 8.5/10 

My [Loosely based] Ratings scale
10-9 = A Must watch at any cost. 
8.5- 7.5 = Theater worthy 
7-6.5 = Matinee/rental worthy at best
6 = Watchable (If it's free)
5 - below = Avoid at all costs

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Friday, October 7, 2016

The Birth of a Nation Movie Review




The Trailer:
The Good:
There were many historical references that tend to be neglected in typical "slave movies" throughout The Birth of a Nation. I appreciated the highlighting of the traditional African traditions and spirituality that was expressed and shared by the enslaved people. The significance of such a feature reminds the audience that the enslaved people were not native to this land, though that fact may be something we have come to take for granted. What I mean by that is, we may become so accustomed to seeing slaves in one particular way, that they are almost "Americanized" in films. So it's nice to be reminded that these slaves were enslaved people that had their own customs and traditions before being captured.

I thought it was really effective and central to both the movie and the character to display the (religious) visions of Nat Turner. If you happen to do any research or read any documents about Nat Turner, you would find that such visions were an important driving force for him. Religion was most definitely a key motivating factor for the character of Nat Turner. I appreciated the fact that the film was able to counter some of the popular notions of how religion affected both the masters and slaves.

I'm not sure if director Nate Parker did this intentionally or not, but there were many instances depicted in this film which were almost parallel to the racial conditions in modern society. For instance, you could see a slave's dead body in the street (Mike Brown), or the slave catchers on the hunt for runaway slaves only given a vague description (Police Brutality/Racial Profiling), or even the slave master's mentalities that drive many of the racial stereotypes still existent today (ie: Black people are lazy.)

Another aspect of this film that I really appreciated was the cognitive dissonance portrayed by all of the characters. It was very effective to see how the slaves had to believe one thing, but then act like that same thing was not a problem. Same goes with the white masters/people in the film who have to undergo the mindset that they are good people whilst committing rather evil acts.

The Bad:
My only issue with this film was that I believe it got a tad bit passive with the ending retaliation of the revolt. Granted it is depicted in a few scenes, and some epilogue text, I think that it still missed the mark. If you check your history books, what happened after the revolt grossly overshadowed the revolt itself. I think that was equally as important to show since it was Nat Turner's actions that contributed to such a heinous backlash. Since this was a low budget film, maybe they ran out of funds, but I still think it was a missed opportunity. (I won't hold this completely against the film though.)

The Reason:
As with many "slave movies", this is one that you really have to prepare yourself for. There are graphic scenes that have a bit of shock value to the film. It goes without saying that this film is a bit emotionally draining. Some people may feel very uncomfortable to others possibly getting really angry. One way or another, it's very difficult to walk away from this film without feeling anything at all.

Now, unless you haven't been listening to the news, this film does have a lot of controversy surrounding it given the actions of its director Nate Parker. Some may choose to boycott or not support this film due to this very controversy. I think they are completely in their right to do so. On the other hand, while I respect their right to boycott this film, I will not be advocating the same.

I do not condone the actions of director Nate Parker, I believe in separating him from his movie. I think that I can condemn his actions, and hold him accountable, while still recognizing the importance of this film. That importance is that a film like this helps American society actually learn about a piece of history that more than likely won't be taught in our history books in school. The sad reality is that movies/media have become our real history books (regardless of historical accuracy). So as someone who only found out about Nat Turner (and many others) only through a history course in grad school, I'm very happy that this film is being brought to the masses. My hope is that it would encourage more directors and studios to make more films that highlight neglected minority figures in history.

As you can probably tell, I did like The Birth of a Nation. The film was put together very well, and while it was a bit of a task to watch, I felt as though it was well worth it. I would highly recommend watching it in theaters or however you feel comfortable.

If you're interested, I decided to write about my experience seeing this film in two different settings. In the first setting, the film was viewed with a predominantly African American audience. In the second setting, the film was viewed with a more diverse audience. I must say there were some very interesting reactions when I compared the audience reactions in both viewings of the film. You can click here to read what happened.

The Rating: 9/10


My [Loosely based] Ratings scale
10-9 = A Must watch at any cost. 
8.5- 7.5 = Theater worthy 
7-6.5 = Matinee/rental worthy at best
6 = Watchable (If it's free)
5 - below = Avoid at all costs

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