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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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