The Hand That Feeds — Knives Out Review

The Hand That Feeds — Knives Out Review

Family and business mix in Knives Out, a whodunnit sleuther from director and writer Rian Johnson that spins the genre on its head by starting out with the murderer revealed.

The real story and mystery reveals itself as a parable about good vs. evil, treating your guests hospitably, and the current state of our nation.

Ana Armas stars as Marta Cabrera, a nurse with a quirk — she can’t lie without vomiting. Her tell makes her the perfect canary for Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), a private detective hired to solve the murder of Cabrera’s charge, mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer).

Harlan was found with his throat slashed after his 85th party. Ruled a suicide, Blanc is hired by an unknown who suspects foul play. Blanc meets the family members at Harlan’s memorial for a second round of questioning.

Each of the family members are interrogated, and each one has a damaging secret to hide from the authorities who are looking for a motive. Vignettes show Harlan giving each of his entitled and untrustworthy family members marching orders in a bid to correct their behavior.

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Schadenfreude — The Disaster Artist Review

Schadenfreude — The Disaster Artist Review

I first heard about The Room while I was in South Korea. Labeled as one of the worst movies ever filmed, it had somehow attracted a huge following that included sold-out midnight viewings.

To this day, I have not been able to get myself through one complete viewing of the original film. It’s an assault on the senses and a failure by every standard metric I hold regarding filmmaking.

It’s bad. Real bad.

The acting is subpar, the dialogue needs heavy editing, and the threadbare plot just sort of… happens.

Tommy Wiseau, the director, writer, producer, and star of the film plays Johnny, a man who eventually finds out his fiancee is cheating on him with his best friend Mark.

Supporting characters weave in and out of the movie, adding to the conflict and drama with the subtlety of a runaway Mac truck backing its trailer through a warehouse. There’s Denny, Johnny’s teenage friend, who is in debt to a violent drug dealer, and Peter the psychologist who learns about the secret affair from both Tommy and Mark. Lisa, the fiancee, tells Johnny she’s pregnant, admits the pregnancy was a lie to cover up her affair with Mark, and then moves in with Mark.

Betrayed, Tommy decides to take his own life.

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Ghost in the Machines — Blade Runner 2049 Review

Ghost in the Machines — Blade Runner 2049 Review

It only took 35 years for Hollywood to create a sequel to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner — a critical and commercial failure at launch that eventually turned into one of the most influential culture pieces this side of the 20th century. 

Not that we asked for a continuation or a reboot — we all know know how those have turned out. Look at what’s happened to the Alien franchise. See Alien: Covenant review here

When it was first announced, I had my reservations. Blade Runner is one of my most favorite movies. And while I was resigned to accept the notion that no sequel — spiritual or otherwise — would be as good as the first, news of Denis Villeneuve being attached to direct gave me hope that it could come close. 

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The Deepest Cut — Logan Review

The Deepest Cut — Logan Review
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Interesting how this all came about. 

While the X-Men movies have basically been Wolverine-centric, it was X-Men Origins: Wolverine that featured the first onscreen appearance of the Merc With a Mouth — Deadpool — who eventually got his own solo movie that made a strong case for R-rated comic-book flicks. 

Studios have traditionally shied away from restricting comic-book movies to adults because of financial reasons — toys, merchandise, and a larger audience filled with teens and children. 

Which is, by James Mangold’s admission, why The Wolverine ended so badly — Logan fights a robot samurai and loses his claws, which somehow grow back.

Hrm.

Anyways, for what it’s worth, The Wolverine was better than Origins — though that’s not saying much. Origins was incredibly bad, and if I had to sit through it, I’d want the leaked version stripped of its special effects for educational reasons. 

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In Dreams — La La Land Review

In Dreams — La La Land Review
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Rating: 5 out of 5.

About 10 minutes into La La Land, I started to worry. 

Despite a charming opening scene filled with singing and dancing Los Angeles commuters stuck in traffic, I was still waiting for it to become my favorite movie of last year. After winning a ton of Golden Globes, it’s being touted as a frontrunner to win more than just an armful of Academy Awards, and critics — and all my friends — love it.

A few scenes in, I was starting to feel like I was going to be disappointed — that the hype was just too much. Or maybe it’s the whole musical thing — it’s no secret I’m not the biggest fan of the genre. 

And then, Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian came home to find his sister had snuck into his apartment. They discussed, they argued — he’s a jazz musician who hasn’t settled into his new home, and he’s got a pile of unpaid bills. He’s got a chip on his shoulder, and he’s obsessed. He hasn’t gotten over being screwed by a former partner who took their jazz bar and turned it into a samba and tapas restaurant. 

Samba and tapas. 

I was longer just watching La La Land — Sebastian was a mirror or an alternate dimension of myself. 

Not that I’ve ever wanted to own a jazz bar, per se, but I have dreams. Had dreams. Dreams that seemed pure and selfless but were essentially a bit selfish as well.

I want to create real music for people who need to hear it.

Right. 

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Full Circle — Arrival Review

Full Circle — Arrival Review
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When I first saw the trailer for Arrival, my mind went immediately to Robert Zemeckis’ Contact, the 1997 movie starring Jodie Foster about a scientist who receives and deciphers alien communication.

In Contact, Foster’s character Dr. Eleanor “Ellie” Ann Arroway fights setback after setback in order to achieve her goal of finally making contact with an unknown alien communicator. When the alien appears as her father, Ellie’s expectation of seeing something radical, different, or monstrous — and by reason a look at the bigger picture of the universe — is washed away by a mirror that points her back to the human race for answers.

In Arrival, Amy Adams stars as renowned linguist Dr. Louise Banks, who becomes a critical asset for the United States government after an alien ship touches down somewhere in Montana. Eleven other ships have landed in various parts of the world creating fear and tension for their hosts, and no one knows whether the aliens have come in peace or to wage war.

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Conspiracy Reality — Snowden Review

Conspiracy Reality — Snowden Review
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Oliver Stone’s Snowden biopic opens with a title card declaring the events and characters you’re about to witness have been dramatized.

But anyone with an Internet connection and the ability to Google the words Snowden and PRISM will find the truth that inspired the movie is actually quite terrifying.

In 2013, government contractor Edward Snowden leaked classified government information to the press, sending the intelligence community in Washington into a panic. His actions branded him a traitor to some while others considered him a patriot in the truest form. Believing he wouldn’t get a fair trial due to the Espionage Act, Snowden decided to flee his Hong Kong hotel and seek asylum while the rest of the world pored over the information left in his wake which provided details about illegal activities conducted by the United States government.

The stuff that came out in the news was the stuff of conspiracy theorist nightmares. The leaks put a spotlight on government initiatives and programs like PRISM, an extensive surveillance program that collected and stored information obtained through telecommunications and the Internet. It was also discovered that the NSA had covertly installed backdoor programs into foreign systems around the world that could potentially take down entire networks with the press of a button. Alarming was the fact that these programs weren’t necessarily designed to combat exterior threats — PRISM was used on American citizens as well, and the backdoor programs were installed on computers in ally nations.

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Still a Monster Movie — 10 Cloverfield Lane Review

Still a Monster Movie — 10 Cloverfield Lane Review
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Seven-plus years after the found-footage film Cloverfield brought back gigantic movie monsters in a really big and dizzying way, 10 Cloverfield Lane picks up the pieces and goes for a counter, but somehow intuitive, minimal approach.

Eschewing the first movie’s first-person cameraman style that induced a level of dizzy spells and motion sickness unseen since The Blair Witch Project, the blood-related sequel is the cinematic equivalent of a bottle episode with scenes of intense drama unfolding inside the confines of an underground doomsday shelter.

Aspiring fashion designer Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) leaves New Orleans after her relationship with boyfriend Ben becomes untenable. Driving through a rural area, she takes her eyes off the road when Ben calls and is suddenly driven off the road after a collision.

She wakes up in a DIY doomsday shelter owned by the unsettling Howard Stambler (John Goodman), an obsessive-compulsive with a calm exterior who suddenly flies into fits of rage when his guests don’t obey his every command. Stambler’s spent a lifetime of resources to plan for the end of the world, and it’s finally come.

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Meet One Stone — Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) Review

Meet One Stone — Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) Review
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Aged actor most popular for playing superhero wearing an animal costume tries to resurrect career — or at least stay relevant — by going to Broadway.

No, it’s not a semi-autobiographical movie based on Michael Keaton’s life, even if his performance is incredibly sincere and authentic. Rather, Birdman — or the movie in which a famed real-life superhero actor plays an actor who once played Birdman — is a mid-life crisis or the symbol of one in a meta-tastic film that’s like nothing you’ve probably seen.

Riggan Thompson (Keaton) is about to premiere a new Broadway play based on Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” As director, writer, and starring actor, Thompson has poured his life savings into the project as well as the last hopeful remnants of his legacy, and he’s starting to fall apart at the seams. When he’s not arguing with his inner Birdman, a super-alpha version of himself that waits for weak moments to tempt him back to the dark side of a Hollywood-miserable life, Riggan walks a mean tightrope as he juggles his out-of-rehab daughter, a cast of actors that includes his just-announced pregnant girlfriend, and the expectations of all his fans and critics.

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Despite All the Rage — Fury Review

Despite All the Rage — Fury Review
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Fury came out when I was ready to let go of war movies — at least for a while.

Thanks to a friend, however, I didn’t miss Fury, David Ayer’s new war flick starring Brad Pitt, Shia LeBeouf, and Jon Bernthal.

The premise seemed entertaining enough — it seemed like a sort of Band of Brothers meets A-Team except with a tank instead of a black van. My buddy, he of foreign and artsier tastes, tempted me into seeing this one by describing it as a possible Saving Private Ryan except with the brutality and violence spread evenly throughout the movie.

Not that violence is a good thing, but Saving Private Ryan felt like two great movies stitched together or rather like a coin on its side that gives us one view, that of the terrors of war, before flipping over and showing us the other, the psychological damage and unbelievable bravery that scales that wall.

But in the end, Fury was no Ryan — and if I had looked up Ayer’s previous movies before walking into the theater, I would have known better. Why? Because Ayer is no moralist or uplifter, and the only happy ending I’d get is knowing World War II ended with the Allies claiming victory.


While Fury may have cinematic cues in part due to Steven Spielberg’s epic war movie, it’s a much more stark look at war that doesn’t attempt to glorify or try to make peace with it.

Don Collier (Brad Pitt), known by his field tag Wardaddy, leads a crew of veteran soldiers operating a tank during the last days of the war as Allied troops storm Germany. While Hitler’s forces recruit women and children as a desperate measure, Wardaddy and his men move from point to point, though we’re told from the onset that American tanks were inferior to their German counterparts.

After one of Wardaddy’s gunners is killed in battle, Normal Ellison (Logan Lerman) takes his place, but he’s about as green as can be. It’s only a matter of time before he witnesses the horrors of battle — “What men can do to each other.”

This movie will break you in so many ways, whether you’re a warhawk or pacifist. Fury looks like a war movie, sounds like a war movie, and fights like one too — but it’s really a parable of life aptly titled.

“Best job I ever had,” the soldiers say before heading into a suicidal mission — and it sort of sounds like the pep talk I give myself every day before work. Watch as Ellison’s change from dainty-fingered typist to World War II veteran comes with a giant hitch — each experience peels away his innocence, leaving scars like sin. We see how each of Wardaddy’s men, from the Bible quoting Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LeBeouf) to the grime-toothed Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis, have each lost a bit of themselves, jettisoning their sensibilities as they just follow orders. They’re left with different shades of anger boiling quietly but intensely under the surface — an emotion that fills the whole movie with unbearable tension.

“It isn’t about right or wrong,” Wardaddy tells Ellison after he forces him to gun down a surrendering German. War, like life, beats men down until they become monsters fighting for survival. And when beauty presents itself — it’s but for a fleeting moment until it’s smeared by human depravity which ends up begetting even more depravity.

The ending may follow a similar route as other war films as our men go up against insurmountable odds, but it’s the last line that hits you square in the chest. It’s then we realize our heroes are the most damaged of all.


Fury (2014)
IMDB
Directed by: David Ayer
Screenplay by: David Ayer
Starring: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña, Jon Bernthal, Jim Parrack, Brad Henke, Kevin Vance, Xavier Samuel, Jason Isaacs, Anamaria Marinca, Alicia von Rittberg, and Scott Eastwood

Rating: 4 out of 5.