by on Jan.22, 2017, under Movie Reviews

jauntFrom time to time I’ll be venturing into the VR world when there’s some new content out there and this week I bring you Jaunt! Jaunt is a new VR network that’s delivering content across multiple platforms including PSVR, Vive and Oculus. Within was the VR platform I reviewed last time around and is definitely worth checking out but Jaunt is taking things to a new level…

Jaunt offers more in terms of content with a wider array of VR choices including short films, music videos, documentaries, sports specials, educational offerings and recorded live events. There’s even a VR TV series called Invisible, so the amount of content is blowing up. The films I checked out included short experiences like A Violent Morning and A Violent Afternoon which were 2 shorts that equated to about 5 minute action sequences that included a lot of gunshots, explosions and general craziness. Then, there’s the Zoolander No.2 short in which you got to hang out with Derek Zoolander during a fashion shoot.

Going further down the rabbit hole, the horror content offered puts you in the thick of it rather then just safely sitting by as an observer. Among the films in line with this kind of storytelling are Escape the Living Dead which is basically a run-for-your-life exercise in scary madness while The Black Mass Experience sets you up as a human sacrifice in a dark ritual.

This is basically the next level of storytelling folks. This kind of immersion is beyond anything you’ve seen with 3D. 3D doesn’t even come close. No. This is no longer just sitting idly by, enjoying your popcorn in the comfort of your home. This, this is being inside the experience, being directly addressed and acknowledged like you’re there and you share in the responsibility of seeing the story through like the rest of the participants.

Forget the smart phone VR by the way, this isn’t that. Be sure to check out the big 3 listed above instead. This is way better, this is the next wave of storytelling, just waiting to take you to new heights of cinematic experience and it’s a great ride.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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They Live

by on Jan.15, 2017, under Movie Reviews

they liveThis week we review the John Carpenter directed They Live starring wrestler Roddy Piper. It’s always interesting to see what holds up in films from the 80s and what doesn’t. The story is the thing that holds up best in this film, some of the other elements, well…

The story revolves around the concept that us poor, dumb humans are constantly being manipulated through subliminal messages that are coming from advertising, TV and the media in general. All of this is being carried out by aliens who live among us and are using a secret broadcast signal that keeps the humans “asleep”. A group of rebels who have uncovered the plot are working to expose the aliens and bust the whole thing open. The script is pretty well written (with the exception of some really bad dialog here and there) and does offer a film that makes you want to sit and watch how everything plays out.

The film falls a bit shy in a few spots. The effects are looking pretty low-budget compared to how they looked back in ’88; the flying saucers and the effects make up look like something done on a college level now. Some of the action isn’t great either as it’s not as intensely and realistically choreographed as films are now. The one scene that still works here though is the fight scene between Piper and Keith David in the alley, that’s still a blast to watch and just when you think the fight is over, somebody throws another punch and it keeps escalating.

Then there’s the acting. Piper is the anchor here and has some decent moments. Like I said there, some decent moments which also means some not-so-decent moments as well. He’s often very wooden, forced and not so wide in terms of emotional range. He makes for a better wrestler than he does action movie hero. There are some moments that still ring true and are enjoyable such as when he walks into a bank ready to confront the alien scourge and declares: “I’ve come here to kick ass and chew bubble gum. I’m all out of bubble gum.” Classic.

While it’s not up there with The Thing or Escape from New York, They Live is worth a viewing if you can get past some of the cheesy acting and effects.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Office Christmas Party

by on Jan.09, 2017, under Movie Reviews

office christmas partyThis is one of those movies that you go to just for the fun of seeing a movie like this. Your expectations go down, which can be nice, and you just sit back and let the entertainment wash over you. It’s also the kind of fun film you can go to family with during the holidays…

The premise is formulaic as one would expect with competing siblings who inherit a company from their father bump heads as to how the family business should be run. TJ Miller runs a failing branch of the company and wants to set up an office Christmas party to both rally the disgruntled employees who might be losing their jobs as well as win over the salesman of a major company with which a major contract could be scored that would save the day. His sister, played by Jennifer Aniston, is the uptight president of the company that wants to trim the fat by eliminating jobs and closing branches.

As you can imagine, the main event is the party and once it gets going, it gets really, really going. Every time you think they can’t take it much further, well, then the jousting with shopping carts and flaming christmas trees happens. Suffice it to say, things get pretty outrageous, the main characters learn lessons and everything turns out mostly ok for everyone. Overall it’s a enjoyable throwaway kind of film you can enjoy but will probably think viewing it once is enough.

The actors all hit their marks well playing their roles effectively. Noone is redefining the wheel here but they fit the typical characters they portray well. The lineup consists of many familiar faces including some from SNL with Kate McKinnon, Rob Corddry, Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, Courtney Vance, and Vanessa Bayer.

If you go into this film with no expectations other than just having a good time without a ton of substance, you’ll probably enjoy Office Christmas Party.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

by on Dec.18, 2016, under Movie Reviews

Rogue One A Star Wars StoryThere aren’t a lot of films that effect me on deep emotional levels, the first Star Wars films did that for me when I saw them in the theaters and the countless times after. Episode VII had the opposite effect on me and I feared where things were going. Luckily Rogue One has restored my faith, and with my fear resolved I’m looking forward to what Episode VIII will offer.

By the way, I will not offer any spoilers here, there’s no way in hell I’m going to ruin this for you. You will have to see it for yourself to discover all the little nuances of it and there’s no possible way my words can do this film proper justice.

Rogue One is easily one of the best in the series, up there in terms of quality and depth as Empire. And while it’s a chapter in the greater story, it has an originality in it that’s unique as it feels more like a war film with a gritty, intense delivery you don’t normally see in the series. Among the many things great about this movie is what it’s about. The story revolves around one of the components in the Star Wars story in that it’s about how the rebels ended up with the plans to the Death Star. One of the discussions in the film when the plans are retrieved regards the sacrifice that was made to get the plans. This is the story of that sacrifice…

And it’s impactful with an expertly crafted, emotional story. I had to take some time to process it as I felt overwhelmed by it, in a really great way I might add. The visual quality of it had something to do with that. I saw it in IMAX 3D which was cool but is unnecessary, the film is amazing with or without the 3D. The effects keep getting better with some things that were so surprisingly realistic that it had me thinking about how they did it so the intensity of the suspension of disbelief knocked me out of the suspension of disbelief. Wow.

The acting is superb with all the actors completely going for it. Felicity Jones is the lead as Jyn Erso and played her role very well with a great balance of vulnerability, anger, determination, and passion while fitting into the physical demands of the film as well. Forest Whitaker was probably my second favorite in the cast as the unhinged rebel Saw Gerrera. Whitaker knows how to play a character that’s off-putting but still sharp. The rest of this amazing cast includes Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Alistair Petrie, and Alan Tudyk as the voice of K-2SO.

See this film in theaters while you can. And then see it again, I know I am.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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by on Dec.11, 2016, under Movie Reviews

keanuKeanu is an action/comedy brought to you by the minds that created Key and Peele on Comedy Central. Jordan Peele plays Rell Williams whose life changes when, facing a breakup, he falls back in love with a kitten named Keanu that happens upon his doorstep. It turns out that he’s not the only one in love with the cat though; hence the problems that ensue when some gangsters break in to his home and make off with the popular feline…

Yes, it’s ridiculous, but that’s the point. After all, Key and Peele’s popular comedy sketch show was a celebration of the absurd to great effect. The story still has it’s message with both main characters each experiencing their own arcs and coming out a bit tougher on the other side with a bit of a surprise ending. Along the course of their journey they experience the life of a gangster / drug dealer while emerging from their easy, suburban backdrops. Their brand of humor is laced throughout the film but not in a way that overpowers it.

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are in fine form playing the straight man kind of guy this time around while morphing into their bad-boy alter egos. Method Man plays Cheddar the main bad guy in an entertaining way that still seemed menacing. Tiffany Haddish plays the gang member Hi-C; her character takes a nice left turn that shines a different light on her when the film plays out. The talented lineup includes Nia Long, Will Forte, Jason Mitchell, Luis Guzman and Rob Huebel.

If you want something light hearted, fun, and entertaining, check out Keanu.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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by on Dec.04, 2016, under Movie Reviews

hitchcock truffautI am trying my damnedest to avoid politics right now so I decided to watch something inspirational for myself as a filmmaker. And what a better way to do that then to go back to the classics and the masters who created them. In this case I decided to watch Hitchcock/Truffaut. This documentary focuses on an interview Francois Truffaut conducted with Alfred Hitchcock covering each film in Hitchcock’s career for a book. The interview took place over a week in 1963. There’s also a photo series included with the book and it’s fantastic.

Truffaut was from a different generation and had a lot of respect for Hitchcock who also felt much respect for Truffaut and his work. It was great to explore the results of this week long interview by two legendary directors who really admired each other. Truffaut did have some tough questions for Hitchcock too. One such example is when Truffaut addresses what the critics would complain about in reference to Hitchcock’s approach to plausibility. Hitchcock’s response was that plausibility for the sake of plausibility gets in the way of the storytelling. His controversy is explored as well such as when Hitchcock refers to actors as “cattle”.

The doc is largely about Hitchcock and his tremendous influence on directors of many generations. Interesting facts include Hitchcock directing the first British talkie which is quite a historic moment as well as being known for his innovation like creating a glass floor to shoot beneath a subject walking around a room. His mastery of emotion and suspense is delved into deeply; I remember seeing The Birds as a kid and feeling terrified, the sound was unnerving.

Backstory on Truffaut is also part of the doc’s substance examining some of the moments from his childhood that shaped his work and how he approached films with innovation of his own.

Various directors are featured discussing the influences of both Truffaut and Hitchcock. Included on this list of illustrious film directors is Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, Peter Bogdanovich, David Fincher, Richard Linklater, James Gray and more.

If you’re a director or just a fan of the art of cinema, I highly encourage checking out this film.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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I Am Your Father

by on Nov.27, 2016, under Movie Reviews

i am your fatherEvery great story has a dark side. Star Wars is no exception. In this case however, I’m not referring to the storyline of the movie but to the making of it. When I first started watching I Am Your Father, I had this feeling that the documentary would both break my heart knowing what happened while helping to satiate a fascination I’ve had with Star Wars since it was first released in ’77.

The subject of this story is David Prowse, the actor who embodied the legendary Darth Vader in Episodes IV, V, and VI. Prowse’s backstory is laid out from his humble beginnings in the UK working as an actor doing commercials, TV shows here and there along with some B movies. His movie credits include a lot of monster roles as the man stands at 6 foot 7 and was in amazing shape that gave him a naturally imposing presence. I only later in life came to appreciate how he well he was actually able to convey emotion through the legendary mask he wore through the series…

And this ultimately, is the source for the dark side of the production. Happening at the last moment, David was replaced with another actor for the scene that finally revealed Vader’s face to Luke. This is the scene that was both the climax for his character but also a moment that would have imprinted his face on everyone’s memory as the fallen jedi. A legendary moment in cinematic history denied to the man that brought that character right up to the threshold, all because he looked “too young”. Funny that they had no problem creating aliens out of thin air but they couldn’t make Prowse look older? Seems like a huge ripoff to me and a shitty detail that I can’t un-know now. Jedi was always the least popular of the first 3; I think moments like this lend to those feelings of the film not being great on multiple levels.

The documentary includes Interesting factoids like that David Prowse didn’t find out about Vader being Luke’s father until he saw Empire in the theater. That plot point was kept secret until after the scene was shot and they went back and picked up some additional scenes and recorded new voice over work. The doc points out that there’s some debate about the origin of this particular detail in the story in terms of the relationship between Vader and Luke.

On the bright side – Prowse is being acknowledged at comic cons and sci-fi conventions with standing ovations and lines of fans waiting for an autograph. As an offer perhaps of catharsis, the director of the documentary offers David Prowse the chance to re-shoot the scene he was denied in Return. With regard to the outcome of the offer, like any great story, I won’t reveal the results of said offer here, you’ll have to watch the film on that one. He continues to be recognized at sci-fi conventions but as of yet has not been invited to any official Star Wars conventions; something this writer finds wildly un-fair and as it turns out, looks unfounded too.

Come on George! Step up and acknowledge this actor before the day comes when the opportunity passes. Life’s too short for this shit!

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Dr. Strange

by on Nov.20, 2016, under Movie Reviews

doctor strangeI have yet to see a bad movie come out of Marvel Studios. They deliver consistently strong films with Dr. Strange being no exception. The latest installment from Marvel comes from one of their less prominent heroes but a compelling hero nonetheless which is one of the things that makes Dr. Strange very entertaining. This was among the comics I collected when I was a kid but I have to confess that I was surprised yet very excited when I heard they were taking this book to the big screen.

The story revolves around Dr. Stephen Strange who has to face the reality that due to an unfortunate car accident, he can no longer use his magic hands for surgery and instead has to find a different kind of magic to heal them. The path he takes on his quest leads him to a multi-dimensional world he never saw coming or even had a clue existed. Once he enters this world, he decides to embrace it completely and forego his ambitions of the past. Along his journey he discovers the potential of manipulating matter to reconstruct it as he wishes; he also discovers that there are dark forces at work trying to use that power for nefarious purposes…

I thought everything was great about this film. Really. I really felt that way when I saw it. I can usually pick out one or two kinks in the chain of a production, or the way a script is written, or in the minutiae of an actor’s performance. But this time, nada. The story was solid and compelling with the right dash of hubris at times and humor at others while maintaining the drama but without it being exhausting. The actors are at the top of their games as well with Benedict Cumberbatch leading the way playing the title role. I have to say his casting was perfect. He has very strong support as well with Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, and Chiwetel Ejiofor providing an excellent backbone through professional and passionate deliveries alongside the rest of the cast.

The effects is one of the best things about the movie for me. Sometimes effects can hinder a film if they’re used as a crutch (i.e. almost every film from Michael Bay). In Dr. Strange they were crucial as these characters live in a place of supernatural dimensions and abilities. Fortunately, much effort went into the design and machinations of the effects and it paid off with a stunning display that is a must see on the big screen.

And yes, the film does drop some references to other branches of the Marvel universe including The Avengers tying the family all together neatly as usual. Sorry, no spoilers here but as always with a Marvel movie you’ll want to hang out all the way through the credits.

I would strongly recommend catching this one in theaters while you still can.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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by on Nov.13, 2016, under Movie Reviews

mascotsIf you’re a fan of Christopher Guest films like A Might Wind, Spinal Tap, and Best in Show, you’ll be happy to know of his latest offering through Netflix. That’s one of the great things about streaming outlets like Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes, etc., they’ve all provided an outlet for filmmakers that may not be able to get their work into the corporate controlled theater chains reserved for the major studios that own them.

Luckily for us, Guest is still making movies and he’s always funny. Mascots is another in the mockumentary style of Guest’s work this time focusing on the world of sports mascots and the plights of the modern mascot performer. His formula for this film is the same as his earlier work in that there’s an introduction to each main character which includes a bit of a profile study along with what’s going on with them currently as they prepare for the big mascot competition. Many walks of life are represented including the son carrying on his father’s proud tradition of mascot performing to the failed actress who is trying to pay her bills with her “art”. There’s also plenty of background tension as each of the mascots brings their own specific dramatic twist to the story.

The writing and character development are fun as always, one of my favorites being former mascot now author Gabby Monkhouse (played by the amazing Jane Lynch). Monkhouse is snooty and full of her own success clashing humorously with her judge colleague portrayed by Ed Begley Jr. who lands more in the “has-been” category. Guest’s scripts for these films typically include many moments of improve in addition to a somewhat structured story. I found myself wondering how much was scripted and how much was invented on the spot as the actors drift seamlessly in and out of both states with great precision and effect.

Speaking of which, the cast includes some familiar actors with Parker Posey, Fred Willard, and Jennifer Coolige, alongside fresh faces like Chris O’Dowd, Zach Woods and Sarah Baker. It was great to see a mixture of both new and familiar as they all played off each other well while exposing some talent that perhaps wasn’t as well known across the board. The film itself is not only fun and light-hearted to watch but it seemed like when they were making it, it looks like they had a blast. That kind of vibe usually translates to a fun viewing experience and who couldn’t use that right now?

If you’ve got Netflix and dig the genius of a Christopher Guest film, then be sure to give a cheer for Mascots!

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Poltergeist (2015)

by on Nov.06, 2016, under Movie Reviews

poltergeistThere are certain things in art that you just leave alone. This list for me would include Led Zeppelin songs, paintings by Salvador Dali, and pretty much any film directed by Stephen Spielberg. Yet, every once in awhile someone’s ego gets all distorted and they think they can take something that’s a masterpiece and somehow make it better by throwing money at it. Unfortunately Sam Raimi and Sam Rockwell are both involved with this one and seemed to suffer that same delusion…

I’m not going to bother going over the story as that’s been long established since 1982. Suffice it to say that it’s pretty much the same, ridiculously so. Why cover a story beat for beat? What’s the point? What are you bringing to the table other than a lack of originality? This was true of the foreshadowing moments too, not only were they unoriginal but they provided an insultingly clear road map of what was coming which took all the surprise out of it. This whole film played itself out by about the mid point I would imagine even for those that never had the pleasure of seeing the original. It was like they just said screw it, let’s make everything the same but with nicer effects. The thing is, the effects actually cheapened the film for me as they relied on them to make the film “better” instead of trying to make their own, true vision of the script.

The actors are all ok but I’m not sure everyone was bringing their A-game here. I like Sam Rockwell typically but he’s put into such a stereotypical mold that his performance comes off as mostly generic parts inserted into the performance simply for the purpose of moving things along. I wasn’t really getting a feeling of passion through any of the actor’s portrayals, it seemed like everyone was playing their roles super safe to make sure they constructed the formula correctly. And that’s the way the whole film feels, formulaic, like a formulaic cover band playing a Beatles song in a hotel lounge.

If you’ve never seen the original and are interested in checking out either film, please, do yourself a favor and see the original and only see this one if you truly have nothing better to do. The remake is not even close to the original in terms of capturing the creepiness of the visuals, the intensity of the actor’s deliveries, and the originality of not knowing how the family will make it through their ordeal and who will be there on the other side.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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by on Oct.30, 2016, under Movie Reviews

withinMy apologies to my faithful readers for not offering up a review last week. As for why, I was a bit distracted by something new that I wanted to pass along some thoughts about this week. And that, is the new frontier of VR (virtual reality) which I have the fortune to experience through PS4 VR. I’m not going to go into a review of the PS VR itself but rather some of the films I saw through this amazing medium, for you see, this is the next step, the next evolution of storytelling for us filmmakers and you, the movie enthusiast…

Within is a viewing app that delivers VR content to your device. Through Within you can watch everything from an incredible U2 music video to a documentary about scuba diving in an amazing reef, to sitting in the audience during an SNL taping. There’s some great short film and animations on here too. The experimental Take Flight starts you on the street level of a city and suddenly elevates you into the night sky to witness several people floating in the clouds in various poses of playfulness and slowmo action. By the way, a couple of the people you’ll be floating with include Michael Fassbender and Benecio Del Toro.

In terms of immersion, there’s nothing like VR and it’s hard to give it justice with just words. Suffice it to say, you’re in the center of whatever experience you choose to explore. The U2 video for instance puts you on stage with the band just before their concert. Only, you have U2 all to yourself and they’re all singing right to you as you’re sitting in the middle of them. From there, the video morphs into different rooms with different musicians from all around the world as they join in on the song itself. I’ve never been so emotionally moved by a music video in my life to the point where tears were just pouring out of my eyes almost beyond my ability to stop them from coming…

The animation based Invasion! (narrated by Ethan Hawke) places you into the film as a character which serves as witness to the 3D bunny who has an encounter with some alien visitors. While the film isn’t an interactive game, it still kind of feels that way even though the story plays out in an automatic way. It was like being digitally transferred into a Pixar movie, especially when the main character comes up and starts sniffing you. The Evolution of Verse is like a moving, breathing art piece that unfolds in front of you as you’re transported from one animated presentation after another that will leave you breathless and inspired. For any fans of Mr. Robot on the USA network, there’s something here for you too as they’ve developed a short story from the show specifically produced for VR.

I normally stick to film reviews from theaters and outlets such as HBO and Netflix on this blog but I’m feeling compelled to continue reviewing more coming from VR… Just so you know dear readers, my blog will evolve as the tools for storytelling do.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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by on Oct.16, 2016, under Movie Reviews

sistersStarring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, as well as a ton of SNL alum, Sisters pair up the dynamic duo as siblings sending off their childhood home in style after their parents sell it and move into a retirement community. The film has some great moments while at the same time feeling very generic so I had some mixed feelings about whether I liked it or not.

The story itself showcases the characters as being in their 40s and missing having the fun they had when they were young and didn’t carry the burdens that adults have to shoulder. As a way of compensating for their lost youth, the sisters throw a party to show they can still let loose. In terms of their roles, Fey really breaks the mold for herself as an actor and takes on a character that you don’t normally see her play. Poehler’s fun to watch too but in a familiar skin we’ve seen her wear before.

The film gets going as the party builds and the house gets trashed. Lessons are learned, party jokes are celebrated and the conclusion comes to a satisfying, but unsurprising ending. The writing does offer some surprises here and there but it’s mostly something not super challenging. It’s not a constant LOL comedy but it has some standout moments. Unfortunately, the pacing of the film drags a bit to the point where as the viewer I just wanted them to be over with the party already with some of the scenes starting to feel gratuitous after awhile. The film just about hits the 2 hour mark when it could’ve shaved off about 20 minutes or so.

Overall, it’s an ok film and has some great talent in it with an extensive lineup that includes Maya Rudolph, James Brolin, Dianne Wiest, John Cena, John Leguizamo, Bobby Moynihan, Samantha Bee and more.

Ultimately, this one you should probably just judge for yourself if you’re a Fey and Poehler fan, they’re always worth checking out.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Steve Jobs

by on Oct.09, 2016, under Movie Reviews

steve jobsBased on the book by Walter Isaacson and adapted to the big screen by Aaron Sorkin, the film Steve Jobs brings a lot of street cred to this project along with the lead role played by Michael Fassbender. All these talented artist equate to a great film and an inside look at a complex, passionate man who changed 5 different industries with his innovations.

There was some controversy surrounding this film coming from Steve Jobs’ wife who supposedly asked Fassbender to not play the main role. I kept wondering why she was so against this project, especially since it’s based largely on the book by Isaacson that Jobs approved of. Once I saw it though, I understood her trepidation. The crux of the film focuses on 3 launch events during Jobs’ lifetime – the launch of the very first Mac, the launch of NeXT (Jobs’ company after he was kicked out of Apple), and finally the launch of the IMac which brought Jobs back to Apple and put the company squarely back on the map.

Each launch event is accented by Jobs’ life at that time and particularly his troubled relationship with his first child Lisa. Jobs at first tried to deny her as his daughter, even after a DNA test proved it. So, basically he was a real prick about it at first but eventually came around after quite some had passed. The drama of the film includes his strained relationships with his partner, Steve Wozniak (portrayed by Seth Logan) as well as his assistant Joanna Hoffman played by Kate Winslet.

While the film doesn’t really have a beginning, middle and end so much as it does chapters in a story that we know the eventual end of without having to relive onscreen. Overall, I felt the film was unique, emotionally compelling and interesting to watch thanks to a strong script, dedicated cast and directing contributed by the immensely talented Danny Boyle. Boyle is known in part for his visual flairs on screen but with this film they’re there but muted so as to not overpower the dramatic backdrop.

If you have any interest emotional dramas, the tech world or Jobs in general, you’ll probably want to check out this film. And if you saw the film Jobs with Ashton Kutcher, just forget that one exists and check this one out instead.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

by on Oct.02, 2016, under Movie Reviews

the man from uncleThis update movie version of the 60’s TV show comes to us from Guy Ritchie who brought us films such as Snatch and the most recent Sherlock Holmes movies with Robert Downey Jr. Which means, this film has the same slick style the others do only with a little less Guy Ritchie-ness of his other work. Some of his slick devices are there such as some of the start-stop slo-motion style he’s known for along with some music video elements, but the film isn’t as heavy with those devices as some of his other work. Regardless, he was a good choice to polish up this re-introduction of the series…

The plot is basically the origin story for how the team comes together. Although built with the idea of more films being produced in the franchise (at least I’m guessing that was the intent), I’m not so sure the box office take it had will warrant any other future installments. The story revolves around 2 agents from opposing sides (the US and Russia) and a woman at the center of a conflict that is pulling everyone together. It should be mentioned that the film is set in the 60s which was at a time when the US and Russia were on different sides of the fence and not getting along too well. As a result, there is some tension in the beginning with the agents that plays out nicely while their characters are being established. As for the script and how things play out, it’s not very surprising but it is overall satisfying.

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer play the 2 spies that bang heads (kind of like an Odd Couple version of spies). Cavill’s character being the more suave, lady-killer James Bond type while Hammer is the crazy loose cannon. Together, their chemistry seems to work most of the time although there were moments I felt like there was a bit of a stretch in terms of natural interactions. Cavill is the weaker link of both actors here, most of the time he’s pretty tight with his delivery but there are times I felt he was forcing it and not coming off as naturally as he could have. The surprise for me was Armie Hammer who manages to keep his Russian accent intact while still delivering a consistent, intense portrayal of his character. It’s nice to see he has more range than I gave him credit for initially. The rest of the cast includes: NAME, NAME, NAME

Effects and production-wise, the film is great to look at with exotic locales, a modern yet true to the 60s aesthetic, along with authentic clothing, vehicles and sets that line up with the era nicely. The pacing is a little sluggish at times but for the most part moves pretty well to the conclusion. I can’t say the film lines up with the brilliance of a film like Skyfall, but as far as spy films go, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is fairly enjoyable and entertaining.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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by on Sep.25, 2016, under Movie Reviews

spySpy comes from the team of writer Paul Feig and actress Melissa McCarthy who worked together on numerous other projects like Bridesmaids and the new Ghostbusters. The film is a blast to watch as it’s a James Bond spoof with McCarthy as the lead in place of the suave super spy. So as you might have guessed, yes, it’s a comedy.

That being said, it’s a really good comedy. The film has some clever spy stuff in it as you would expect to find with Bond, James Bond, but without the bluster and formality instead substituted with lighthearted-ness and humor. The script is well written and interesting not just in terms of the spy story itself but also in the development to McCarthy’s character arc. She starts as someone in a support position for another spy but is moved into the field herself after an incident that leads to her partner’s “death”. From there, she quickly becomes the fish out of water having to negotiate the world of espionage.

One of the elements that makes this film enjoyable are some of the repeat gags including the identities McCarthy’s character has to assume when she’s undercover as they’re not the most glamorous or adventurous personalities. There’s also Jason Statham who is the opposite of his usual bad-ass self in that he kind of screws up every time he tries to exert his bad-assness and thwart the villains. The story is solid and original with clever dialog and situations related to the spy genre while breathing some fresh air into the genre.

All the performances are enjoyable and engaging. Melissa McCarthy has a natural sense of timing and how to use her body and expressions to great effect. Statham is fun to watch too as he’s more of a caricature of himself rather then his usual over-the-top action guy. Rose Byrne (also from Bridesmaids) plays the obnoxious nemesis causing most of the trouble for McCarthy and her partner played by Jude Law. The lineup is rounded out by Jessica Chaffin, Miranda Hart, Morena Baccarin, Richard Brake and Bobby Cannavale.

Be sure to give Spy a try!

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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The 33

by on Sep.18, 2016, under Movie Reviews

the 33Based on a real-life event, The 33 tells the story of 33 miners in Chile who spent 69 days trapped underground after a mine collapse. The script details the collapse, the men who worked together in order to survive and those who worked in the background to get them out. It’s a compelling film, and even though I knew the outcome as I followed the story on the news when it happened, I still felt myself rooting for their rescue.

The writers did a great job dramatizing the rescue and building up the characters along the way. That’s actually how the movie starts, with some backstory about some of the key players leading up to the cave in that nearly ended their lives. Surprisingly, they all made it out even though there were plenty of people in charge that had written them off for dead. Part of what makes the presentation here compelling is how the men pulled their resources and cooperated through extreme circumstances where others might have torn each other apart. The way they had to ration food and water was remarkable but so was the fact that the temperature underground was around 100 degrees or more the whole time.

The film didn’t do well in theaters but don’t let that sway you from giving the film a shot. The resolution you already know so it’s got a happy ending which felt good after seeing what they went through. Something really cool they include is footage of the actual miners all together during the end credits. Overall, I enjoyed The 33 and thought the production was done really well with a convincing design and quality that made you feel the heat and claustrophobic conditions those guys had to face in order to make it through to the other side.

Antonio Banderas plays the lead role as Mario Sepulveda and brings passion and intensity to the character. The rest of the talent brings their A-games as well. It was nice to see Lou Diamond Phillips in here too who plays his role with conviction and humility as he shoulders some of the responsibility for inspecting the mine and not pushing for it to be shut down due to safety concerns that were ignored by his higher-ups. The talented cast includes Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, James Brolin, Oscar Nunez, and Kate del Castillo.

The 33 is a uplifting story of persistence and endurance and what it took to make it out alive when many believed they were already a lost cause. Hmm, I guess will power and love of life won after all.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Black Mass

by on Sep.11, 2016, under Movie Reviews

Black MassJohnny Depp embodies the notorious Whitey Bulger who rose to legend status within Boston’s Irish mafia. Bulger (who was eventually caught and sent to prison), was known for being a brutal mobster that would have someone killed for insulting him, even if that insult was rendered accidentally. He was also known for building a criminal empire and even raising a family while he did it. The brutality of Bulger and the humanity of him come together at different points through the script which result in some of the more intriguing sequences along the way. Whether this actually happened or not, there’s a chilling scene where Bulger is teaching his son the lesson of “if you’re going to punch a kid in the face, just make sure you do it when noone’s looking so you can get away with it”. The way that Depp’s character passes along that life lesson to the child is one of the more subtle but memorable and unsettling moments in the film.

The story is a compelling portrayal of Bulger and his rise to power during his time as a CIA informant. Yes, you read that correctly, it turns out Bulger had a childhood friend who ended up working on the opposite side of crime in addition to a brother who was a US senator! And for years, the 3 of them worked in harmony to advance their respective careers while keeping certain corrupt activities off the radar of the various related entities who might be interested in such matters. Bulger, very smartly and ambitiously served as an informant on his competitors which eliminated them and paved the way for the building of his own criminal empire.

Acting-wise, this is Depp in his prime as his performance as Bulger is as riveting as it is disturbing. You hate this guy but you can’t help wanting to watch him at the same time. He’s cold but somehow charismatic, it’s interesting to see how he became a leader, a terrifying and intimating leader nonetheless; but in that world it’s understandable, even necessary perhaps. It’s nice to see Johnny Depp doing a real character piece instead of the cookie-cutter caricatures he’s been involved with as of late. Watching him in this role reminded me of how deep his talent actually goes.

The rest of the cast is competent and strong in certain scenes but are kind of out-shined when sharing screen time with the lead. It seemed like they were just trying to provide support but couldn’t really break out past that point. Even the actress playing his wife seems diminished, which could’ve equated to a more interesting and intensive character. It’s a bit of shame that everyone was a bit overshadowed as the lineup is comprised of talented actors and includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Adam Scott, and Julianne Nicholson.

If you dig mob or true crime films, be sure to catch Black Mass.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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Suicide Squad

by on Sep.04, 2016, under Movie Reviews

suicide squadSuicide Squad is the latest entry into the disjointed mess of DC films that just can’t seem to find their groove. While the film has some entertainment value, it misses the mark as far as being a well crafted, strong film. The movie is mostly ok, but that’s really about it, here’s why…

Will Smith is the main baddy in terms of focus in the form of Deadshot. While physically he works, his delivery does not. As hard as he might try to be a bad guy, he still seems like a good guy placed in a bad guy wrapper. His demeanor has some attitude, but never did I feel like he was an actual villain or even much of a threat.

The plot has some interesting aspects to it, mainly in terms of some backstory elements and why the squad get summoned to do their thing but once you understand the reason why, it comes across as a bit of buffoonery that creates the situation in the first place. The way it plays out is again, ok, but nothing very revelatory or compelling as most of the film revolves around mostly average action scenes and Margot Robbie’s ass. The storyline primarily functions to move the viewer to the violence/action which comes off in a gratuitous fashion after a short time. I’m comparing in my head largely to Marvel’s films which always have a reason for things happening rather than just using plot devices to push you into novelties.

This is where the DC universe suffers vs. the quality of what Marvel is doing. The only reasons in my humble opinion that Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad made money at the box office are the gimmicks. For BvS it was the fight, for Suicide Squad it’s the fact that it’s all villains and of course Margot Robbie’s performance and derrière. But aside from those components and some fancy effects, there’s not much else that is really a big deal. Whereas Marvel films don’t rely on bells and whistles to carry their films, the bells and whistles are complimentary to the story, they’re not a crutch.

The acting is intriguing in spots with the standout being Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn (get ready to see a shit-ton of HQ costumes during Halloween) as her manic, passionate delivery establishes her character in a believable, effective way. Smith is just kind of phoning it in without showing any depth and the rest of the crew are adequate without anyone else being able to shine. Yes, that includes Jared Leto as the Joker. I was really interested to see how he did in this role and while I think he’s a pretty great actor most of the time, Leto is not that unique or fascinating as our favorite clown of destruction. I felt that Robbie out shadowed him and stole the scene every time they were on screen together. I also wasn’t a big fan of the Joker’s design as he looks more like a thug with a bad paint job than he does the iconic character. Chris Nolan and NAME crafted their interpretation of this character waaayyy better. Once again, this Joker is way more flash than substance, much like the movie itself.

Bat-fleck is in here too by the way but doesn’t really add much to the film or even really need to be in there to begin with. Strangely, when he is in here, he captures HQ, throws her in the back of the bat mobile and for some bizarre, rapey reason, kisses her while she’s unconscious. I’m not sure what the hell that was about…

The film’s worth a look to make up your own mind as the movie made some bank so somebody likes it. But if you really want to see a good villain/anti-hero movie, check out Sin City. Or if you want to see a convincing bad ass who knows how to skirt the line between villain and hero, check out Wesley Snipes in Blade, he could teach Smith a thing or two…

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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War Dogs

by on Aug.28, 2016, under Movie Reviews

war dogsInspired by real events, War Dogs centers around two American men in their 20s who end up as arms dealers for the US military. Yep, that’s right, these guys sold weapons and ammo to our very own armed forces. The film goes on to explain how this came to pass but let’s just say it boiled down to bullshit, contacts and some research on the internet. Ultimately, everything went south for our intrepid entrepreneurs when they sold Uncle Sam a bunch of bullets made in China which is so not cool to our government.

Jonah Hill and Miles Teller portray Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz who sort of stumble into the world of weapons surplus and sales. I wasn’t sure I would find the film interesting based on the premise but I was pleasantly surprised to find the movie entertaining and well-paced. The locations bounce around between the states and more extreme locales in the middle-east. It’s a wonder these guys were never killed and left for dead in the desert somewhere considering how out their element they were. It’s also a wonder that the government doesn’t do more homework on who they’re getting their armaments from.

The script and dialog are tight as is the directing of the film. Bradley Cooper plays a supporting role and is also listed as one of the producers in the credits. The way the film plays out to its conclusion I thought was satisfying and surprising from the statistics presented at the end. It’s hard to imagine that you can sell illegal weapons, get caught and go to jail, only to get out and go back into business again doing the same thing. Yet, there’s more excessive punishment in some states for owning a small amount of marijuana. Wow. We really need to work on our priorities more.

The actors are tight, each one of them owning their share of the screen while not stepping on the toes of their counterparts. Although Cooper’s not in for very long, he’s creepy and menacing when he’s onscreen in a convincingly performance. Hill is a bit of a smart-ass but in a more serious way that reveals his character is kind of scam artist and in the end, a loser beneath the smarmy surface. Teller plays his character passionately as well and shows more of his range as an actor.

Overall, I don’t know if I’d bother seeing this one in the theater, but it’s definitely worth catching when it hits the small screen.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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He Never Died

by on Aug.21, 2016, under Movie Reviews

he never diedMeet Jack, he’s a bit of a odd bird as conversations with him are short, strange and direct. He’s also a bit eccentric and oh, he eats flesh and drinks blood. A vampire you say? Nope, judging by the scars on his back, he’s a misplaced angel although it’s never formally explained that he’s an angel and there’s never any reason revealed for his presence here on terra-firma. He does seem to have a purpose though as he never hesitates to hurt someone of an unsavory nature. Eventually, he discovers he has a daughter and of course that opens up a whole new can of worms…

He Never Died is a bizarre movie. But that’s one of the things that makes it compelling. It’s kind of a day-in-the-life (more than a day really) that shows what it’s like to live in Jack’s shoes as a strange creature in a strange world. The script is well written, has some smart, catchy dialog and an interesting arc for the main character. Jack does evolve once the interactions with his daughter kicks in although initially on the surface you’re not sure if this guy is ever going to change his ways. The ending is something that left me scratching my head a bit as the film ends super abruptly on a point that establishes the swing of Jack’s persona into new areas of responsibility but in a really short, direct way.

Henry Rollins plays the main character. And although Hank is primarily known as a writer, spoken word performer and as the voice behind The Rollins Band as well as Black Flag, he does a fine job in the lead role. Rollins’ delivery is as offbeat as Jack is with short bursts of dialog and blunted emotions. His performance is really intriguing and worth studying. The lineup includes Booboo Stewart, Kate Greenhouse, Jordan Todosey, Steven Ogg, and David Richmond-Peck all of whom turn in solid portrayals with Rollins as the stand out.

Overall, He Never Died is an entertaining and engaging film if you like quirky dramas with some off-kilter personalities. You can catch it on Netflix.

reviewed by Sean McKnight

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