Captain Fantastic (R)

Many movies cause me to reminisce about the good old days when my daughter was growing up, and Captain Fantastic does just that.  My daughter knew there was no Santa Clause and no Easter Bunny, and she promised not to tell the other kids who believed; and she never did to my knowledge.  I read to her daily, but never fairy tales because I do not care for the lessons they teach children about gender roles and life in general.  She never had a baby doll because a baby is not a toy; neither is it something to romanticize, fantasize about or make light of.  In my opinion babies are serious business.  She had one wall in our bedroom that was for her artistic expression and she was allowed to write/draw on it whenever she wanted without reprimand.  We would paint over it when she got ready to start over.  She was able to watch most shows with adult content, as I answered every question she asked to the best of my ability as honestly as I could.  She was allowed to set her own bedtime, because I knew she had enough sense to know she needed enough sleep to function the following day at school.  She never was forced to eat anything she did not like or want.  I disciplined her physically twice; once when she hit her paternal grandmother at about 18 months she got a hand swat, and again at age 2 when she stepped off the curb into the street and earned a swat on the bottom.  Neither of those offenses was repeated.  She was allowed to travel alone on public transportation from the Bronx to Manhattan and back at age 11.  She went to sleepaway camp in Vermont in the summer shortly thereafter, and began travelling internationally shortly after that.

I say all of this to say, I am certain that the way I raised my daughter was looked at as “unconventional” by some (most notably, my mother). When I was handed my daughter in the hospital after giving birth, I thought to myself, “Now what the hell am I going to do with this little person?”  And then it came to me…  “I am going to try to raise her to be the sort of person I would be proud to know even if I wasn’t related to her.”  I also tried to raise my daughter so that if anything happened to me she would be able to navigate the world on her own, confidently and competently.  When she turned 16 I told her, “That’s all I know!”  And I meant it.  As time goes on I may think of a nugget of wisdom here or there that I missed.  But my statement at the time was pretty accurate.  I had exhausted the knowledge I had to pass on to her and it was time for her to go out into the world, discover her own truths and live her own life.  Parents do the best they can with what they know at the time.  That’s all each of us can do.  But no matter what parenting style one chooses, there is always room for improvement, a time to hold tight, and a time to let go.

Starring Vigo Mortinsen, Captain Fantastic is a movie about a father of six who is losing his wife while the question looms, “How will he care for these children when she is gone?”  He and his wife have raised the children to be philosophical survivalists, of sorts, in the Washington State area.  These children can grow, hunt, catch, skin and cook their own food.  They are kept physically fit with a rigorous daily health and fitness regimen.  They have been trained in self-defense, weaponry and hand-to-hand combat.  They are open minded, conscious and brilliant, having been home schooled by two obviously brilliant parents who have taught them to articulate well and think for themselves.  Oh, and the children are socially dysfunctional (some more than others, but overall, they all are) because this life is the only way of life they have been exposed to and their immediate family are the only people they have known for their entire existence.  They range in age from approximately 6 to 18 and have never been to school.  So, maybe it is time for a change to this “style” of parenting.  But as you know, change can be slow and painful.

Captain Fantastic is here to teach parents that as hard as one may try, one cannot be all things at all times to and for one’s children. One can attempt to shelter one’s children from “the real world” for some time, but eventually, in the natural order of things, children are going to have to go out amongst others and live their own lives.  Ideally, this is something for which parents provide some sort of preparation.  But sometimes we fail.

Vigo Mortinsen is one of the most underrated actors who can always be counted on to deliver a solid performance and every member of the supporting cast does a fine job.

My main problem with this movie is that in the last half hour the family gets a little too unconventional.  The story goes from being a reasonable depiction of this isolated family to an unbelievable exaggeration.  Understandably this family is “different,” so they may not consider some of their behavior to be odd.  But I think if you asked most people, they would tell you that one particular act is odd.  By any measure.  Then there is some Partridge Family style singing which made this family feel even stranger than they already seemed to be, that I didn’t particularly care for; but maybe that is just me.

It is a movie about a family, but it is not a “family friendly” movie as there is a brutal, and somewhat graphic opening scene. But it is the set up to demonstrate how these children are being raised on a piece of land, providing for themselves and living off of that land.  Then – spoiler alert, but this time it must be done – there is the full frontal nudity of Vigo Mortinsen, which depending on what you like, you might not hate…  I didn’t mind the nudity at all, but it just becomes a reason people will not want to allow their children to see the movie, or some people will not want to see it themselves.  That’s a shame, because the movie can almost be described as “cute” otherwise, and it definitely has some educational value about judgment, parenting styles, coming of age and the parent/child relationship.  Without the graphic nature of these two scenes, the movie would not merit an R rating.  I understand why the scenes were included, but I don’t believe the quality of the movie would have been sacrificed had the scenes been less graphic.

Playing On Demand and streaming on Amazon, Captain Fantastic earned 7.5 out of 10 bloops. It is a good movie worth seeing that offers insight into the benefits and drawbacks of home schooling and contained family units.  It also offers a terrific representation of how home school can benefit some children and how our conventional education is failing others.

Bloops:

1   =   worst ever, avoid at all cost
2   =   very bad, forget about it!
3   =   poor movie, not recommended
4   =   not good, even for free – NO!
5   =   so-so, worth it if you don’t have to pay
6   =   not bad, could have been better
7   =   good movie, worth seeing
8   =   great movie, don’t miss it!
9   =   excellent movie, a must see!
10 =   a masterpiece, go see it now!

My Welcome Message

Oscar reviews:

Hidden Figures
Fences
Moonlight
Hell or High Water
Loving
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Nocturnal Animals
Elle
Jackie
Florence Foster Jenkins
I Am Not Your Negro

Advertisements

Ouija: Origin of Evil

I must have mentioned at some point (most likely in my review of Swiss Army Man) that customers are usually entitled to a refund from a movie if you ask for it no later than 20 minutes into the picture.  15 minutes into Ouija: Origin of Evil I started to rise out of my seat and head to customer service.  I should have gotten up, because I stayed until the end figuring that once the commitment was made, there was no sense in walking out.  This turned out to be a fallacious argument, because walking out on this movie at any point before the end would have made all the sense in the world.  Unfortunately, I had no back up plan.  Hindsight giving me 20/20 vision; I would have very happily sat through Deepwater Horizon or Moonlight again.

Written and directed by some dude named Mike Flannagan, Ouija: Origin of Evil is a pretty terrible movie, by most measures. There is very little horror at all in this alleged horror movie.  Everything meant to scare the audience is warmed over, recycled trickery that any novice who is a fan of the horror genre and lacks one original idea could have spliced together and come up with.  Hold on.  That’s a bit harsh.  To be fair, there is some good camerawork here and there are one, two, three, four, really good scenes which are somewhat frightening and somewhat original – but the camerawork and those couple of minutes (at most) of originality were not enough to make the remaining hour and 37 minutes of the movie any better.  When the movie finally gets to the point where the explanation of the haunting comes, the explanation could not have been any more standard, although it tried so very hard to be original.  Giant.  Yawn.  If you even care any more by that point.   From the start, it never felt like a movie with possibilities – 20, 30, 40 minutes in and still nothing – and it didn’t pick up any real energy and steam until the end, at which point, I was so disinterested I sat there smdh for about the last 10 to 15 minutes.  Others in the audience were much more vocal about their disappointment.  So, at least that was entertaining and funny to me.

I couldn’t help but sit there and think, “I wonder who people like Mike know, because I want to know these people too…” “Who is Mike related to?..”  “Who are his godparents?…”  “Who is he sleeping with?…”  “How do Mike and people like Mike find pigeons to procure money from for their weak projects?…”  “Maybe I should write a movie…”  “What time is it…?”  “Is 5 Guys open yet?…”  $6 million is not a lot of money by Hollywood standards.  But if you throw away 6 million dollars on 5 bad movies, 10 bad movies, 20 bad movies every year – then that becomes a problem.  Who is reading these scripts and who is greenlighting them?!!!  These are the people I want to talk with.  This thought process that I went through during the movie was the best part of the movie for me.

Seriously, the one and only saving grace for this movie is that the acting is really quite good. With or without special effects, Lulu Wilson is convincing as this odd, creepy, child who channels the spirit world only to be taken over by it.  She reminded me very much of a cross between a young Reese Witherspoon and a young Drew Barrymore.  She is a talented young actress.  She shone through all the bad that was this movie around her.

Ouija: Origin of Evil earned 4 bloops out of 10. To put it plainly, the movie was bland, took forever to “get started,” and was so cliché it was almost heartbreaking.  And the ending!  In a word – Ridiculous.  If the movie would have made me laugh with silliness I would have liked it more.  And for the last time, stop going down into the damn basement!  I’m recommending Ouija as a good film to watch if you enjoy spending your time talking about how bad a movie is while you’re watching it.

Denial (PG-13)

Based on the book “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier,” Denial tells the story of Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt’s (played by Rachel Weisz) legal battle for historical truth against Third Reich “historian” David Irving (played by Timothy Spall), who accuses Lipstadt  of libel when she declares him a Holocaust denier (one who fervidly denies that the Holocaust ever took place) in one of her many books on the subject.  This court battle takes place in England, and unlike here in America, in the English legal system, the burden of proof is on the accused.  Therefore it is up to Lipstadt and her legal team to not only prove the essential truth that the Holocaust did in fact occur, but also that Irving was purposely distorting historical facts to suit his own twisted purposes.  One would think providing proof that the Holocaust occurred might be the easy part, but when you consider what constitutes “evidence” in a court of law, things become “tricky.”

Let me start by pointing out that there isn’t much that I enjoy more in a movie than heated courtroom drama; probably because courtroom dramas have such potential for jaw dropping scenes. 12 Angry Men (1957), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), Inherit the Wind (1960), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), Philadelphia (1993), and Amistad (1997), are some of my favorite trial-based movies.  Denial joins the ranks because of the originality and richness of plot and the thought provoking questions of what constitutes “proof,” and is there ever enough proof for a truth to be universally irrefutable?

This court room battle is more intellectual and less dramatic. Denial throws eye-witness testimony out the window and begs for science.  This case takes on a life of its own as it struggles to avoid sentiment and attempts to rely strictly on physical evidence.  The premise of this story and the way the evidence is discussed and researched is nothing short of respectful (even though it doesn’t seem that way at times) and fascinating.  At times Lipstadt disagrees with the strategy of her legal team, which provides great tension in the movie, as the audience is left to wonder whether one approach or another will lose the case or get them a win.

The characters are well written and the acting is mostly excellent all the way around (with Weisz as the weakest player, in my opinion). Timothy Spall as Irving, this self-educated, self-proclaimed “historian” who denies the Holocaust ever took place, is nothing short of amazing in this role.  You will despise him.  Irving’s steadfast belief that he is correct in his assertion that the Holocaust never took place is completely nuts, yet some of his points are not without merit.  But hey, even a broken clock is correct twice a day, or so the saying goes.  Irving will remind you of Donald Trump in that he believes his own bullshit wholeheartedly, without reservation, and can answer a question with absolute nonsense while keeping a straight face.  Irving spews hate based rhetoric and speaks in a harmful, inhumane ways and thinks it is normal.  Irving proclaims he is not a racist, yet every time he speaks of any group of people other than those he identifies with it sounds demeaning, derogatory and just plain wrong.  When Irving is called an anti-Semite, he swears he is not with such offense you might think he’s been read wrong; but then up pops a clip of him at a rally somewhere, spewing hate speech.

Tom Wilkinson does a magnificent job as Lipstadt’s skillful, booze swilling, tough talking barrister.  Any time and every time Wilkinson shows up, you are guaranteed to see a great performance.  He is one of those actors whose work I always enjoy.

Some of the scenes could have used a bit more fleshing out because certain elements of the case are not built upon, but rather thrown in, seemingly out of nowhere. And the flow of the movie is a bit choppy, as we jump from scene to scene, and setting to setting (between England and Atlanta), at times without warning.  Because of the “jumping” certain scenes have an unfinished feel to them.

Denial earned 8 out of 10 bloops. It is a smart, original movie that is worth seeing, although, not necessarily in a theater.  There is nothing visually stunning about it that will make it less of a good movie if you cannot make it to the theater and catch it streaming.

Shin Godzilla (Not Rated)

Like Tarzan and King Kong, Godzilla has been reinvented so many times since the release of the original 1954 version, the monster has become somewhat of an American icon.  It was nice to see a story that originated from Japan that was not “Americanized,” retold from the perspective of Japanese people.  This version reminds me very much of the 1956 version (TransWorld Releasing Corporation and Embassy Pictures released Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, a heavily re-edited “Americanized” version of the original film with additional footage featuring Raymond Burr), as writer/director, Hideaki Anno stays very true to the story I remember (I haven’t seen the movie for many years) with some well-placed, modernized touches.

The monster has changed. Godzilla is not just some large, fire breathing, lizard/dinosaur hybrid.  Godzilla is a nuclear phenomenon that adapts to whatever environment he is in, and is constantly morphing into something new and different.  He is large, and aggressive, and full of fire and lasers.  I must say though, this movie is not about the CGI at all.  This is not some slick, Hollywood version of this monster or this story – and the lack of “slick” is purposefully done.  It is a Japanese retelling and the ways in which the monster morphs are exciting to watch from scene to scene.  Even the progression of what the monster looks like seems to take us from 1954 to the current day, as Godzilla morphs into this modern day terror.

Japan has changed. The giant monster mimics an underwater volcano and destroys the infrastructure of an entire shoreline city which includes marinas, highways, bridges and many large buildings – and it threatens to cut a swath of destruction through all of Japan if given the opportunity.  The greatest concern is Godzilla reaching and destroying Tokyo, Japan’s capital and most populous city.  Skyscrapers become a liability when they are falling down all around you, or so one could imagine.  You might have a 9/11 flashback during some scenes.

Culturally, there is a blend of men and women in positions of power – more women than were featured in the original version, for certain. Women are even shown being as tough and ambitious as their male counterparts – and being respected.

Technology has changed. We now have the ability to communicate and coordinate with citizens, other governments, scientists, military experts and others around the world to solve problems during a national disaster almost immediately.  If only we would use our powers for good, we could get a lot done in the world…  Godzilla poses a threat to everyone, so there is a collaborative, world-wide effort to stop him.  Scientific and technological advances also help to find Godzilla’s strengths and weaknesses, and find ways to stop the monster before he morphs again and develops more strength and skill.

This entire movie shows respect for the original by acknowledging it was a great film. It acknowledges this fact by basically leaving the original alone.  Telling the story as if to say, “But if this happened today, here is what would be different.”  And every note of change that has occurred between 1954 and now is touched upon.  2016 Godzilla doesn’t rely on special effects and CGI too heavily, but rather, it relies on the story of the people who have to deal with this creature and their reactions.  It relies on the suspense of the time restrictions placed on the scientists, military and government officials to figure out how to stop this creature.  The effects and CGI that are used are not over the top.  They are arguably subtle as some people may even find them underwhelming, but they fit the landscape of this movie perfectly.

There really aren’t many scenes featuring Godzilla here since the crux of the story really doesn’t center on the action.  So if you’re looking for a bunch of CGI work, death, destruction, explosions, etc., you won’t find it here.  When Godzilla shows up it is always interesting (mostly because you don’t know what he will look like next), but this movie focuses more on the drama of the politics and the many moving parts behind national disasters and figuring out how to best handle them.  Who is in charge? When should we have a press conference?   What should we make public?  How do we avoid making a panic?  Who is authorized to make decisions?  How long do we take to mobilize and take action?  When do we accept help from outside sources?  How do we come up with Plan B?  With whom should we collaborate?  What is in the best interest of the people?  What is in the best interest of the world?  How will the funds raised for disaster relief be allocated?  Etc., etc., etc.  There is much dialogue and Shin Godzilla is subtitled since the movie is in Japanese.  So if that’s not for you, keep it pushing.

Shin Godzilla earned 9 bloops out of 10. It’s a great movie worth seeing if you’re into Godzilla, classic Godzilla, foreign films, political films or drama.  This is a thoughtful and respectful remake.  It is innovative in that it modernizes the original while remaining true to the original and to itself.  It doesn’t do too much to stray from the original, but does just enough to stand apart and on its own.

Moonlight (R)

Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, Moonlight (starring Sharrif Earp, Ashton Sanders and Trevonte Rhodes as Chiron, the main character throughout three stages of his life, and Jaden Piner, Jharell Jerome and Andre Holland as his best friend Kevin) is a must see film.

First, I need to give a huge shout out to Brad Pitt for not just talking about it, but being about it and working toward meaningfully diversifying the norm in Hollywood through his production company Plan B and through production company a24.  Pitt and Adele Romanski produced Moonlight.  He’s been referred to as the wokest white man in Hollywood, and now I see why.  After building a multicultural family, Pit obviously appreciates the beauty of diverse stories and understands their importance.

Moonlight is about so much more than the hardships of a poor, gay, black boy growing up into a gay, black man. It is about the evolution that takes place within all our lives as we attempt to navigate our way through this thing we call life, from childhood into adulthood and beyond; finding our footing, discovering who we truly are and accepting ourselves, totally.  It is about growth and change and those deep down parts of ourselves that remain the same, no matter how we try to reinvent ourselves.  It is about becoming and being your true self, living your truth, and that rare handful of people in your life who allow you to be totally, unashamedly, yourself – without judgment –  who continue to love, nurture and support you because of and in spite of who you are.  It is about loving yourself and finding meaningful, real love in this life.  It is a simple story, told in a way that anyone, regardless of ethnicity, gender or, sexual orientation, can relate to.  Don’t let the homosexuality scare you.  This movie is about too many more important aspects of life.  Although sexuality is an important aspect of the character, it becomes a smaller part of what the movie is really about.  Moonlight shows how difficult and desperate being an outsider can make one feel.

The acting here is superb. Most notably, Mahershala Ali as Chiron’s mentor who is a powerful and imposing figure at times.  You can’t quite tell what he’s up to and it adds a great level of suspense to the movie.  This man is making big moves in his career now, here in Moonlight, starring as “Cottonmouth” in Luke Cage and as lobbyist and former press secretary Remy Danton on House of Cards, both on Netflix.  I’m super happy that he is gaining much deserved exposure and his career is blossoming, because he is a fine actor. Naomie Harris as Chiron’s mother makes a great “villain.” Trevonte Rhodes and Andre Holland, as the adult Chiron and Kevin, do a downright outstanding job here with the subtlety of their acting.

Hats off to Barry Jenkins for taking three actors and seamlessly weaving them together, making them recognizable from stage to stage (ages 9, 16 and adult) with spot-on mimicking of mannerisms. Although the actors who played Chiron and Kevin do not necessarily look like the same person, you get the feeling this could be what these two young men grow up to look like because they have the same affect and body language.  And they make you believe it.  Even when Chiron is an adult trying to put all the bad years behind and reinvent himself, there are times when you see that insecure little boy who was chased, bullied and beaten.  As Kevin grows he still has the same swagger and confidence he always had, despite going through his own challenges.

This movie feels very “real,” with interruptions in conversations, an uneven kitchen stove burner, a child boiling hot water on the stove in a pot to take a bath, a mean bully who doesn’t let up ever, a cruel, messed-up, mother, the awkwardness of Chiron’s high school aged character, the naiveté of a child that is combined with what kids suspect and know, the shame and rejection children who are “different” can receive and feel, the images of ourselves that we project out into the world vs. who we really are deep down inside, everything about this movie is very thoughtful and has meaning. Even when it doesn’t seem that way, it does.  Even the picture above featuring a collage of all three actors who play Chiron is meaningful.  It all feels powerfully familiar in a real way.  And it is all part of real life.

Moonlight addresses the issue of boys growing up without fathers and needing mentors in the black community. It addresses the black community’s attitude toward male homosexuality.  It addresses stereotypes, stigmas, labels, hurtful names and judgments.  All in a very true-to-life, “real” way.  Without being “preachy,” without taking any sides for or against homosexuality, Moonlight just shows what “is;” the truth of one man’s life.  That is what makes this movie masterful.  It is about this one character taking power over and mastering himself, as we all have to do in life.

Kudos to the casting director for casting so much strong talent, using many unknowns and first time actors in the cast. I love that they didn’t resort to the same pool of black actors that circulates Hollywood and gets plum movie roles.  There wasn’t a familiar actor in the bunch (with the exception of Ali).  The pool has been refreshed!

There are times when the dialogue sounds like poetry and the camera work is nothing short of a work of art. There are shots that evoke such feeling, because they are so powerful and beautiful and artfully done, it is incredible.  Even the soundtrack lends depth to the film.  This movie has meaning and soul.

Moonlight earned 10 out of 10 bloops, with that 10th bloop thrown in for Brad Pitt because he is awesome, and because this film is too damn innovative not to get 10 bloops. It is innovative not only because it is about a gay, black boy/man (how many movies about a gay black boy becoming a man can you name right now? I’ll wait…), but also because people of diverse ethnicities collaborated to bring forth a universally relatable story that introduces new talent to Hollywood and is a breath of fresh air in the American movie making landscape.  Bravo!

Bloops:

1   =   worst ever, avoid at all cost
2   =   very bad, forget about it!
3   =   poor movie, not recommended
4   =   not good, even for free – NO!
5   =   so-so, worth it if you don’t have to pay
6   =   not bad, could have been better
7   =   good movie, worth seeing
8   =   great movie, don’t miss it!
9   =   excellent movie, a must see!
10 =   a masterpiece, go see it now!

My Welcome Message

Oscar Reviews:

Hidden Figures
Fences
Moonlight
Hell or High Water
Loving
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
Nocturnal Animals
Captain Fantastic
Elle
Jackie
Florence Foster Jenkins
I Am Not Your Negro

American Pastoral (R)

Based on Philip Roth’s novel which won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, American Pastoral tells the story of the life of Seymour Levov.  Ewan McGregor directs and stars in this piece along with Dakota Fanning and Jennifer Connelly.

So…, Seymour Levov lived what many looking in from the outside would consider “a charmed life.” Superstar high school athlete, married his childhood sweetheart who was a beauty queen, ran a successful business that his father started, lived on a scenic farm in New Jersey, had a lovely daughter, etc.  American Pastoral focuses on the problems this guy had within his family; specifically with his daughter Merry, who was a problem child early on, and her problems become larger and more unmanageable, until they consume this entire family.

First, the good…

The acting was solid. Peter Reigert as Lou Levov, Seymour’s father, is a delight in this movie.  He stole every scene he appeared in.  The main characters seem to live in this sort of fairytale existence, and Lou is always there, keeping everyone grounded and speaking his truth.  Uza Aduba does a good job in her role as another “truth teller.”

The depiction of this family falling apart was done well. When tragedy strikes, different people react to it in different ways, with no one way being right or wrong.  Ewan McGregor and Jennifer Connolly poured some real feeling into these two characters ,who were so blissfully happy and had their world rocked by this kid.

The interesting thing about this story is it showed this father fighting desperately and failing to connect with his child and help her through her many, deep problems. Like parents sometimes do, Seymour tries to “love” his daughter’s problems away.  He does the best he can with what he knows, at the time and it is sad to watch.

And these are the points that made the story worth sticking with.

And now the bad…

Oh, so bad…

With the exception of “the good” mentioned above, I just didn’t care for this story.  At all.  All the things done right and all the “good” in this story went to waste because the story was lousy.  I have no way of knowing how closely the movie mirrors the book as I have not read the book, but watching this movie gave me absolutely no desire to rehash this story in any way, shape, form or fashion ever again.  I can say with confidence that this is a movie I will never watch again.  Solid acting aside, I’m very nearly sorry I watched the first time.  At least the guy across the aisle from me got a good 30 minute nap in during the time the movie was running.  That was a much more productive use of his time.  The second half of this movie was downright ridiculous and got boring as it attempted to be “edgy.”  And the ending made one thought pop into my head; the dreaded, “That is two hours of my life I will never get back.”  Two hours and six minutes to be exact.

Merry was such a brat, I found it hard to feel sorry for her after a while. She really was a terrible child who was so disrespectful to her parents, her mother in particular, you will wish for either one of them to wake the hell up and give her a good stiff pop in the mouth during one of her mean spirited, profanity-laced outbursts.  And Seymour was just stupid, doing very stupid, dangerous things, just like his daughter, at times.

This story seems as though it tries to be a story about something that could happen in real life, but some of the things that happen are so unrealistic the story telling is ruined. There is one huge question left unanswered that make absolutely no sense and makes the second half of the story even unbelievable than it already is.

Anyway, American Pastoral earned 4 bloops out of 10. Sometimes bad movies happen to good acting.  It is not a good movie in my opinion because the second half of the story was just so very painfully implausible.  I wouldn’t recommend anyone watch it.  Not even for free.    Unless you have read the book and are curious.  Good luck with that.

American Pastoral debuts Friday, October 21st.

Deepwater Horizon (PG-13)

A dramatization of the April 2010 disaster, Deepwater Horizon, tells the story of the off shore oil rig that exploded and created the worst oil spill in U.S. history.  Starring Mark Walburg and Kurt Russell, Deepwater Horizon tells the story of one particularly courageous oil rig worker who managed to save a few of his crewmates that fateful day.

This movie has everything. Foreshadowing for days, which lends itself to just the right amount of suspense and tension, spot on casting and solid acting all the way around, absolutely stunning camera work and effects and a beautiful tribute to the 11 crewmembers who lost their lives that day.  The movie even features a scene which explains exactly what happened at the site in terms a child can understand.  The movie stays focused on the story the writers want to tell; and oh, what a story it is.  It is a perfect length, included little-to-no fluff and it felt as though nothing was left out even though we know there is so much more to the story than what is shown.  Most impressive is that you will see ordinary people turn into superheroes right before your very eyes.

This movie took me through a range of emotions. It reminded me of every day that I have ever had the thought that I should skip work; had the feeling that today was not going to be a good day.  But I got up, went to work, and wound up having the crappiest day ever.  You know exactly the day to which I am referring because I’m sure it has happened to you as well.  Thankfully, nothing has ever happened to me which compares to this scale of disaster.  To say it kind of puts things in perspective would be a gross understatement.  Anyway, I laughed a bit, I cried (even when I didn’t know I was crying, I was crying.  Tears just seemed to spring out of my eyes at times.), I jumped, covered my mouth in awe of what I was seeing, eyes wide open and expletives flying … I mean, you will be enthralled.  This is no small feat with a story that everyone has heard about.  But to hear about it is one thing – to see what it was like to be there is quite another.  And to see it so vividly and done so well is still another.  You will feel as though you are there, on the Deepwater Horizon, very close to death.  The audience gets just the right tinge of the feeling of triumph at the end – only a tinge because all did not go well and the triumph is that more of the crew members did not perish.  And if you’re anything like me, you will also be angry that those who were responsible for this tragedy weren’t held accountable in a satisfactory manner.

Deepwater Horizon earns 9 out of 10 bloops. It wasn’t Shakespeare or anything as far as testing acting chops, but damn it, it was a good, enjoyable, well made movie.  There was nothing I didn’t like about it.  Let me rephrase – the things I disliked were so miniscule they are hardly worth mentioning – but they did cost Deepwater Horizon that elusive 10th bloop.  If you see nothing else in theaters this season, if you’re not a person who goes out to see a lot of movies, make certain that you see this.  It is definitely a movie that was made to be enjoyed on the big screen at least once.  I’m surprised it wasn’t released as a summer blockbuster.  THIS is how a movie should be made!  Deepwater Horizon is disaster filmmaking at its best.  I wouldn’t mind seeing it again right now.

The Accountant (R)

The Accountant, featuring Ben Affleck and Anna Kendrick (Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates), is billed as an action/crime/drama.  Ben Affleck plays an autistic, seemingly mild manner accountant who has the capacity to turn into a kick-ass, badmothershutyomouth in an instant.  Not only is it an action/crime/drama, it is also part love story, part educational tool, part mystery, part plot-twisted thriller, etc., etc., etc.

I must admit, I have been watching Ben Affleck act for a long time, and over the years I have developed no feelings one way or another about his acting abilities. I have never once said to myself “Ben Affleck has a movie out I have to see!”  Nor have I ever said, ‘Ben Affleck is in the movie!  Never mind.  I don’t want to see it.”  After this movie, I really still cannot tell whether this man can act, or if he is this one-note dude who stays in his lane and chooses roles in his range, or roles are written with him in mind.  The Accountant is autistic so Affleck didn’t even have to bother changing facial expressions or even speak too much.  Maybe that’s why he wants to be successful at superhero-dom, or the powers that be are pushing for it, or whatever…  Because it suits his acting style – whatever that may be.  Here, Affleck  is superhero-ish with a Robin Hood complex, a mastery of self defense and martial arts and an expressionless expression.  Costars in the movie performed well and it was nice to see some old, familiar, truly talented faces.

Unfortunately, just as The Accountant was billed, this movie attempted to go in too many directions and tried to be too many things at once. In its effort to cram in all types of messages, story lines, characters and morals, it became quite a large mess.  The script could have used a few more rewrites, chopping away weaker portions of the story to make room for the stronger aspects of the film, like the action part of it.

This “everything but the kitchen sink” approach played like a set up for a movie that is fishing for a sequel. I got to know the characters in this movie far too well.  Yes.  Too well.  I didn’t think this was a thing that was possible, but it happened here.  There was too much time spent on filling the audience in on the background of too many characters.  Not that the flashbacks weren’t informative and entertaining, but the things the flashbacks helped to explain got too complicated at times.  At other times, when portions of the history of characters should have been acted out they were narrated.  At other times pertinent bits of info were conveniently left out and casually dropped with all the subtlety of a bomb later, causing your jaw to drop.  This was The Accountant at its best.

Once the action started, I did not want it to stop. The action sequences were so well choreographed I wish The Accountant had abandoned the idea of trying to be every genre of movie and just turned into a full-on action movie.  It could have been great.  Instead, it was a good movie that was fun at times, funny at times, with a ludicrous ending.  And I don’t mean ‘ludicrous’ in an altogether bad way, believe it or not; but in a way that was entertaining, but certainly silly.

The Accountant earned 7 bloops out of 10. It is an entertaining movie.  I won’t say it wasn’t good, because it was, but it was muddled and could have been sooooo much better. No need to rush to a theater to see it if you’re not a fan of Affleck, or even if you are.  It will make a perfectly decent Netflix and chill pick on an upcoming wintery night.

The Birth of a Nation (R)

Written and directed by and starring Nate Parker, The Birth of a Nation is based on the true story of Nat Turner, a slave and literate preacher who led a slave rebellion in the antebellum south in 1831.

As a black woman living in America, watching movies about the mistreatment of any group of people is very personal to me. Regardless of which event of genocide or oppression or injustice is being portrayed on film, I am willing to admit that I can be what some might consider “overly sensitive” to these dark periods of inhumanity, if it is possible to be “too” sensitive to kidnapping, rape, torture, terror, murder and/or oppression of a people.  But these are important films to watch for me, because I always learn something new from them.  I have real empathy not only for the characters in the movie, but the people being portrayed who actually lived through these events.  That being said, it is sometimes difficult to separate the personal feelings about the events from the actual film.  But I am going to try.  And add to that the controversy over Mr. Parker’s rape case and – let’s just say there was a lot to dissect and consider here.

Visually, The Birth of a Nation is a stunning film, at times. Much of the cinematography is beautiful in a film that is about an ugly, ugly period in American history.  The acting was solid all the way around.  The story is based on history with some poetic license, and is succinctly told in two hours through the eyes of someone who obviously views Nat Turner as a hero.

In case you do not know, there are two schools of thought regarding Turner’s historical legacy. On one hand, he is thought to have been a hero; a man who stood up for himself, his fellow man and what was right.  On the other hand he and his rebellion were responsible for hundreds of retaliatory deaths and new laws being passed which prohibited the education of slaves and free black people throughout several southern states.  It is thought by some that the ends did not justify the means.  It is thought by some that this bloody rebellion, in which men women and children were slaughtered, was not justified because murder is wrong under any circumstances; an eye for an eye leaves us both blind-type thinking.  So, I appreciate that Parker obviously chose a side in the telling of the story rather than being objective, told the story that he wanted to tell, and committed to his point of view and made Nat Turner heroic.

What I did not like about The Birth of a Nation is that in that same commitment to make Nat Turner heroic, there seemed to be some waffling as the film seemed to attempt to justify Turner’s actions over and over again by showing him as a man who was brought to his breaking point through a series of community and personal outrages. What other justification is needed to rebel against being treated as less than human, having your body and the bodies of your grandparents, parents, spouse, siblings, children, etc. available for back breaking free labor, sex, entertainment, or anything else “your master” or any other white person wanted, whenever he or she wanted, and, if you protested in even the slightest way, you face possible torture or death?  And this is not only what you were born into, but this is the only foreseeable future for your children and their children and their children…  I, for one, would like to say that in this woman’s opinion, Turner’s actions needed no further justification.  I understand a story needs to be made out of these events somehow and there has to be a focus on something, but I did not feel it was necessary to continue to pile up reasons for why the rebellion took place.

I did like that what led Turner to rebellion was his faith and his new-found interpretation of the Bible. If you’ve ever read The Good Book, you already know it is a book that you can never finish reading because if you read it over again you will find something new or see something differently than you did the last time you read it.  A light bulb may come on for you the fourth time you read it, as you find something you missed the other three times.  So, after reading the Bible for pretty much all of his life, when his circumstances changed – after seeing that other slaves on other plantations did not live as well as he did, after discovering his master wasn’t the great guy he thought he was, after going through some hardships in life, after growing up some AND after getting his hands on some books of the Bible the white folks kept from him that gave a more complete picture of its message (as interpreted by Nat) – so did his interpretation of the words written in the Bible.  Just as the slave owners use the words in the Bible to justify slavery, Turner uses those same words to support the uprising.  Here Parker did a fantastic job at showing us the revelation that Turner was having reading the Bible and finding new meaning in it that fit his circumstances and his purpose; words he could truly relate to and believed in.  Then there was this shift in the entire movie – it was as if the slaves were developing their own secret code, spoken in plain English, that for some reason (It is a bit far fetched, I know, but I’ll let this one slide) the slave owners did not interpret as threatening, as they stood right there listening to Nat preach about rising up against the enemy.

Speaking of far fetched, one scene just defied logic to me. Can’t really tell you much about it but I will say this.  Picture it… If I have a gun and you do not have a gun, and I could shoot you instead of fighting you hand-to-hand and get away with it, you would be shot.  That’s all.

I actually enjoyed this movie a lot more than I thought I did now that I am writing about it.  I can see why the movie was so talked about, why Fox Searchlight paid Parker $17 million for it – a record amount paid for a film at first sight at its premier at the Sundance Film Festival.  The evolution of this man’s faith, coming into his purpose, becoming a leader, the evolution of the scripture for him, the awakening of the slaves, the bloody revolution and its aftermath all make this a movie worth watching.  The movie is very dynamic and the story is cathartic.

The Birth of a Nation earned 8 out of 10 bloops. It is a great movie worth seeing.  It is visually beautiful at times.  It is well written in the way the plot is constantly moving forward in a good way, and many of the characters go through many changes.  It artistically interprets an important event in American history that I certainly learned nothing about in the revisionist history I was taught in the public schools I attended growing up (I did however, thankfully learn about Nat Turner and much more from my mom who majored in black history in college).  The Birth of a Nation also provides plenty of issues and talking points for parents and older children to discuss and it may inspire someone to pick up a book (if anybody does that anymore) or Google Nat Turner and/or some other abolitionists, or something else about American history that they didn’t know before watching this film.

The Girl on the Train (R)

Starring Emily Blunt (Rachel), Haley Bennet (Megan), and Rebecca Fergusen (Anna), The Girl on the Train is billed as a Thriller, but it gave me very few thrills at all.  Mistake number one that I made was reading the book (I finished it a few days ago) before seeing the movie, which is something I may never do again after this fiasco.  Mistake number two – I saw the movie.

I didn’t like this book because I didn’t like any of the main characters. They were all so screwed up and generally not nice people.  There was really no one to “root for,” with the exception that Rachel was so pathetic you just felt sorry for her – up to a point.  And after that point I realized she was not very bright, to be polite about it.  Not to mention, I figured out the conclusion about 75 pages before the book ended, which made it torture for me to finish without flipping to the back and ending it myself.

I did not think this book was adaptable to the screen without making a lot of changes in formatting of the storytelling because the story goes back and forth in time from the perspectives of the three female characters, Rachel, Megan and Anna, many times. I thought that if the format could be pulled off successfully, that would be the biggest part of the battle with this movie and it might be good, because the formatting is the best part of the book.  So I gave it a chance.

The movie stays true to the format of the book, going back and forth in time, with flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks, from the perspective of each of these women, and it all proves to be an anticlimactic mess. At moments of revelation there should have been audible gasps heard from the audience (I have to admit, at one point while reading the book my jaw dropped along with other stunning moments, so there is some good material here).  But this style of storytelling, which seems “smart” in a book, does not translate onto the screen particularly well, or at least it wasn’t done well in this case.

The change of setting from England to New York did not bother me at all. I didn’t even mind that Rachel did not fit the book’s description of the character.  What I did mind was the omission of some important plot details:

1)  Rachel just seems to show up places (three times this happened) without so much as a thought from her on why or how she got there.  At these times it was a good thing I read the book because I would not have known what to think.  There is no motivation for her actions.  She just does things and things just happen and “poof” here we are.

2) I did not get the feeling that Rachel is trying to help Scott or how deeply she feels for him in her imaginary world – which becomes real life caring and obsession after she begins to interact with him.

3) The incident with Megan and the baby had potential to turn into at least one very powerful scene.  What a missed opportunity, as it was glossed over, talked around and hazily depicted as if it were some minute detail.

What I did feel, is how utterly pathetic Rachel is. This unemployed, alcoholic, no life of her own-having, divorced, barren, shell of a creature is perfectly captured, because none of her misery was left out and the majority of it was shown in scenes rather than narrated.  Despite having nearly equal screen time, and being characters equally as pathetic as Rachel, the majority of Megan’s and particularly Anna’s shortcomings were mostly narrated, with Megan talking to her therapist about her flaws and Anna talking to her baby or her husband about her own.  So their bad acts didn’t have quite the same weight.  The violent tendencies of Scott and Tom were depicted well and helped to make them both look like likely suspects, but again, the movie was too choppy and sloppy for these scenes to have the impact they could have.

The acting was pretty good – no award winning turns, but not terrible. I suppose they did the best they could with the material they had to work with.  It is difficult and almost unfair to gage acting within a movie with such an unsuccessfully executed format.

The Girl on the Train earned 6 out of 10 bloops. It’s not bad, but could have been much better.  Attempting to follow the format of the book was a huge mistake.  This is one time where deviating from format would have been helpful to move the plot forward.  At the wrong times there was too much or too little narration and there was not enough acting out of important scenes.  If you liked the book I think you may like it more than I did.  Who knows, you may like it less, but for me The Girl on the Train was “just okay.”