Archives for posts with tag: Drama

Grade B +

1945, Germany.  The Americans are pushing hard toward Berlin.   Hitler has mobilized every German he could get his hands on (old men, women, children) to try to stop the American advance.  At the front lines is a Sherman tank crew headed by a tough Sergeant played by Brad Pitt.  Short one crewman who was killed in action, Pitt receives a completely green, teenaged soldier (played by Logan Lerman) who specializes in typing and never had one minute of training in a tank.

Knowing that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, Pitt forces Lerman to grow up much faster than the kid is able to.  With a huge push deeper into enemy territory coming up fast, Pitt’s crew must work together as one, cohesive unit if they are to have even a small chance of staying alive.

My most memorable, movie moment on “Fury” is the scene when Pitt’s platoon of tanks line up side by side and fire at a treeline ahead of them where German soldiers have taken a defensive position.  With all guns firing (main cannons, .50 Browning heavy machine-guns, .30 machine-guns) the Germans are slaughtered within seconds, with many bodies blown to pieces.

The outer shell of “Fury” is a vicious, gruesome tale of WW II combat.  Within this shell is the story of Pitt, a veteran warrior who is near his breaking point, and is further burdened with a boy he must teach to be a hardened soldier; and in doing so, risks further dehumanizing himself as well as the boy.

“Fury” is one of the best war movies made in the last 20 years; and had it not been for the slight — I’m being kind here — unbelievable nature of the final battle, “Fury” would have been destined to become a classic.

— M

Grade C +

The latest movie adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, “The Choice” is about two people (played by Benjamin Walker and Teresa Palmer) who seem to be of differing personalities who meet cute, start a romance, and one is going to make a choice that will affect their lives forever.

So let me do a quick break down of this movie.  Despite some heavy drama thrown around during the second and third acts, “The Choice” is basically a romantic comedy.  As such, the couple “meet cute,” meaning they meet in a cute, funny, and interesting way.  This important element is catastrophically bad in “The Choice.”  I almost cringed at the horrible dialogue when Walker and Palmer first met.  Fortunately the dialogue improved somewhat in their subsequent meetings, although still at the level below what is expected of a good screenwriter.

Now to the second act, where things really start to get interesting.  The romance and drama get amped up, and most of the corny dialogue is replaced with slightly more serious and believable fare.  But all this time, I keep thinking of the lack of chemistry between the two leads — a crucial part of any movie, especially that of a rom-com — and how Walker was miscast as the male lead.  Another big strike against this movie; but as the movie goes on I started focusing more on the characters instead of how the actors looked together.  Saved by the bell here.

Then there’s the third act, which is mostly about the choice one of the leads has to make.  In order to not spoil the movie, I won’t mention anything more other than it is a Nicholas Sparks story, so prepare to have your emotions played with.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Choice” is the scene when Walker professes his love for Palmer, telling her in his own way that he wants to be with her forever.  This is the most dramatic and authentic part of the movie, filled with raw emotion without artificial sweeteners or cornball dialogue.

Sparks fans will most likely have a kinder attitude to “The Choice.”  But fans of great rom-coms will be disappointed, but still mildly entertained.

— M

Grade A

 Expertly directed by Angelina Jolie, “Unbroken” is the true story of U.S. soldier Louis Zamperini (played by Jack O’Connell) who survived weeks in a raft in the ocean after a plane crash, then is taken prisoner by Japanese soldiers and brutalized by the commander of the P.O.W. camp.

A dangerous bombing run, an attack by Japanese Zeros, a search and rescue operation that turns into a disaster, the agonizing weeks of starvation and thirst in a life raft, flashbacks of Zamperini’s troubled childhood and redemption, and the never ending days of torment in two Japanese P.O.W. camps give the audience insight to who this amazing person is and how he was able to survive the hardships during World War II.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Unbroken” is the scene when O’Connell is in the life raft with two of his friends who also survived the plane crash; there is a wicked storm and each wave is as big as a three-story house.  O’Connell grips tightly on the ropes attached to the raft, praying to God to help him make it through this horror.

“Unbroken” is a story made more powerful because it is true.  Both the beauty and ugliness of the human spirit are shown, with the “better angels of our nature” winning.

— M

Grade B

Josh Gad provides the voice for the main character in “A Dog’s Purpose,” a dog who keeps getting reincarnated, each time getting closer to the purpose of his existence as he keeps coming back.  Most of Gad’s story is spent living in the mostly happy home of a boy, forming a very close bond with him and creating the core emotions of Gad.  Through his deaths and reincarnations (some of the death sequences can be painful to watch for any dog owner who had their companions die in their arms), Gad enjoys the beauty of life and suffers the brutality of it; but eventually he will cross paths with the owner whom he loved the most, and he will finally discover his purpose.

My most memorable, movie moment of “A Dog’s Purpose” is the sequence of Gad being chained up in the front yard of uncaring owners for years until he is abandoned.

“A Dog’s Purpose” can be corny at times, but for dog lovers who also enjoy comedy and drama and rom-coms, this movie is definitely for us.

— M

Grade B +

From the mind of comedian Jordan Peele comes “Get Out,” a story of a black man (played by Daniel Kaluuya) who visits his white girlfriend’s (played by Allison Williams) family in the suburbs and slowly finds out that things are very, very off with her family and servants.

Everything is ok at first: the parents are all smiles and greet Kaluuya with hugs; the father mentions how he would have loved to vote for Obama a third time; the father using various slang to show he’s hip and down with the Negroes, etc.  Then Kaluuya notices the odd behavior of the black servants; the thinly veiled, racist remarks of Williams’ drunk brother; plus a weird dream of Kaluuya being hypnotized by Williams’ mother.  And this is just the start of Kaluuya’s long nightmare that will have him fighting for his sanity and life as the full secret of his girlfriend’s family is slowly unraveled.

My most memorable, movie moment is the scene when Kaluuya is told of the family secrets and the heinous plan of what is to be done to him.

“Get Out” is not just a very good suspense/thriller, it is also loaded with social commentary that are insightful, funny, and infuriating.  Examples: a black man’s worry of being caught in a rich, white neighborhood at night; the troubles that black men have to deal with when dating white women; white liberals who are constantly giving examples of how they are not bigots; the physical superiority of black men over white men; the mental superiority of white men over black men; and how trendy it is now to be black, as if the color of skin is some kind of accessory to flaunt.

The subject of race relations is a touchy one, and those who are overly sensitive may want to steer away from this movie.  Everyone else, jump in and watch the movie and have a laugh.  “Get Out” is, after all, a satire.

— M

Grade A

The Disney hit machine is in full effect with a live action remake of “Beauty And The Beast” starring Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast.

For those rare few who are unfamiliar with the story, Stevens is an unkind, selfish prince who angered a witch who cursed him to live out his days as a hideous beast unless he falls in love with someone who also falls in love with him.  Stevens’ palace staff were also cursed, turning into clocks, dressers, candelabras, etc.  Enter Watson’s father, who picks a flower from Stevens’ palace grounds to give as a gift to Watson; and Stevens imprisons him for theft!  Watson, being the loving daughter, takes her father’s place as a prisoner.  What follows is a very rocky start, to say the least, to an unlikely romance between a beautiful, young lady and a monstrous-looking creature who has much love and kindness hidden deep in his soul, just waiting to be drawn out by the right woman.

But Stevens is on the clock: the witch has given him a rose, and when the last petal falls and Stevens has not met anyone who he has fallen in love with and loves him in return, Stevens and his staff will remain as they are forever.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Beauty And The Beast” is the scene when Watson and Stevens, all dressed up, dance together for the first time, and the song with the same title as the movie is sung by a tea kettle.

It’s been over a decade since I watched the animated version, so I was able to judge this iteration without being prejudiced by its predecessor.  The acting was good, the sets (practical and CGI) were lavish and bright to give hints as to its animated lineage, many characters were memorable and larger than life, and the musical numbers were simply amazing…I felt like I was watching an opera, that’s how intricate and beautiful many of the grander, musical pieces were.  This movie is a must-see for any Disney movie fan.

— M

Grade A

Feudal Japan: Christianity has been outlawed; priests have been expelled from the country but a few remain in hiding to keep teaching the converts.  Those who are caught are given a chance to renounce their faith; and if they don’t, torture and execution will follow.  Martin Scorsese directs and co-writes “Silence,” an emotionally powerful movie about two Jesuit priests (played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who volunteer to go to Japan and risk a horrible death in order to find a missing, high-ranking Jesuit (played by Liam Neeson) who was reported as captured and tortured by the Japanese until he apostatized.

“Silence” is a complex movie because of the multiple themes running through it: what are people willing to sacrifice to hold on to their faith and religion; is it okay to renounce one’s faith, without truly meaning it in one’s heart and mind, in order to avoid torture and death; if God exists, why does God allow the suffering and deaths of those who are faithful and loyal to God; which religion is the true religion; does one religion have a right to call other religions heresy, and by doing so is it a form of self-importance and ethnocentrism; etc.  The numerous, elongated scenes of torture will also be hard to watch for most people — yes, this is a movie, but the depictions of torture and executions of the Christian Japanese and European priests are based on what happened to this group hundreds of years ago.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Silence” is the scene when **SPOILER ALERT** Neeson is brought to Garfield so Neeson can explain to Garfield why Christianity doesn’t work for most Japanese, and why Neeson renounced his religion.  While Neeson does give some valid points, the audience is left to wonder if Neeson is just playing along to protect his own life, or does he really believe in what he is saying?

“Silence” is a great piece of art that burdens the heart with sadness and horror at what people can do to others; and it also uplifts the spirit by showing the courage and sacrifice of those who will take death over renouncing their religious beliefs.  This movie is not for everyone, but for those of the Christian faith and those who love well-crafted movies, “Silence” will speak loudly to your soul.

— M

Grade B

Twelve alien spacecraft hover over various parts of Earth, their intentions unknown, their language unknown.  An expert on language (played by Amy Adams) and a physicist (played by Jeremy Renner) are tasked by the U.S. military to interpret what the aliens inside one spacecraft are saying.  It is a monumental task, but it has to be done as fast as possible because the entire world is on edge.  Fear is quickly taking hold of many people, some of whom have the power to start a war with the alien visitors.  If the “Arrival” of the aliens is meant to bring peace and friendship to humans, then it must be quickly confirmed before itchy trigger fingers causes an intergalactic war.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Arrival” is the scene when the aliens are introduced.  Let’s just say if I was there, I’d either run screaming like a Wayans brother or start crying like Matt Damon.

“Arrival” moves slowly, methodically, allowing the audience to soak in everything they hear and see.  Although many characters are in this movie, almost all of the focus is on Adams and Renner, making “Arrival” feel more personal.  The flashback sequences of Adams and her daughter adds a dreamy but highly relevant layer to the story which gives a nice surprise twist near the end of  the movie.

— M

Grade B

A character study of a black man (played by Denzel Washington) in 1950s America who had big dreams that remained just that.  Washington is middle-aged, works as a garbage man, has a loving wife (played by Viola Davis), two children and a house —  a decent living by most standards, but Washington is unhappy despite the many times we see him smile and grin.  Unfulfilled dreams, the bitterness he holds on to due to the racism he and many blacks endured for so long, and the constant repetition of his weekly routine year after year has taken a toll on him, making him do something that will threaten to destroy his marriage and everything he worked so hard to build should his secret come to light.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Fences” is the scene when **SPOILER ALERT** Washington’s secret comes out and he has an explosive argument with Davis.  One can feel the pain, disappointment, and rage so much that Washington and Davis, for a moment, cease to be actors and become real people whose lives are rapidly crushed within a span of minutes.

For those who are unaware of the origin of “Fences,” it started as a play; and the movie stays true to its roots.  Heavy on the dialogue, a sparse cast, and few settings, “Fences” holds your attention purely on the spoken words and the great performances of Washington and Davis.

— M

Grade C –

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan reprise their roles as Ms. Steele and Christian Grey, respectively, in “Fifty Shades Darker.”  After being freaked out by Dornan’s sadist ways in “Fifty Shades Of Grey,” Johnson quickly gets back together with Dornan after setting up a “no rules, no punishment” alteration to their original relationship.  Things seem to go well until a weird, disheveled chick starts appearing intermittently to freak out Johnson; sexual harasser/creepy boss named Jack Hyde (dude, seriously, this is a name that I would come up with back when I was 14-years-old writing short stories, so it kind of gives you a hint as to the writing talents of the screenwriter and/or author of the books) comes on strong to Johnson, which freaks her out; and “Mrs. Robinson” is revealed, giving Johnson advice about she’s not good enough for Dornan and she needs to leave him, which freaks out Johnson.

So with all this stuff going on — and handled badly by the screenwriter/director/editor — what is the spine, or theme of this movie?  If I had to guess, it’s Johnson and Dornan trying to change for each other, trying to find a compromise so that they can continue their relationship.  That’s all good and well; but “Fifty Shades Darker” is less focused and more comedic (not deliberately, I bet) than the first movie, and the first movie was no masterpiece.  I know that most sequels tend to be of a less quality than their predecessors, but in the case of “Fifty Shades Darker,” the difference in quality is really jarring.  It felt as if there were 10 drafts of the movie, and instead of the 10th, polished draft being produced, the 3rd draft got produced.  Moving on…

My most memorable, movie moment of “FSD” is the scene when **SPOILER ALERT** Dornan tells a creepy, former submissive who is flipping out to “kneel,” and she does so instantaneously.  This is probably the best written scene of the movie, as it shows Dornan’s immense power over his former subs; Dornan’s possible, continued need for that kind of pure obedience; and Johnson’s full realization that she can never give that to Dornan.

Bottom line, for those who didn’t understand nor liked the first movie, you’ll definitely hate this one.  But for those who were entertained by the first movie, as I was, you’ll probably want to see “FSD” because you want to see how things turn out, despite the cheesy, corny, ridiculous events and dialogue.  Look, it’s like a two hour soap opera, and if treated as such, and you are the type to get entertained by soap operas and soft core porn, then “Fifty Shades Darker” may be a decent piece of entertainment for a couple of hours.  Of course, if watched with a significant other, the entertainment value of this movie goes up significantly (insert winky face here).

— M

Grade B +

 Based on the true story of Private Desmond Doss who single-handedly saved dozens of U.S. soldiers on Okinawa in a place nicknamed “Hacksaw Ridge”…all without using a weapon.

Andrew Garfield plays Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist who has made a vow not to kill nor handle a gun, yet volunteers to join the Army during WW II to serve his country in a way that doesn’t conflict with his religion, i.e. he will be a combat medic and save the lives of his fellow soldiers.  Basic training in the U.S. Army becomes a nightmare for Garfield because his Conscientious Objector status makes his unit think that he is a coward, and that Garfield will just stand by as his comrades get attacked by the enemy.  For his refusal to pick up a weapon during training, Garfield is ostracized, beaten, and court-martialed.   But with Garfield’s faith and inner strength, and the help of his fiancée and his father, Garfield’s C.O. status is upheld and allowed to finish his training.  The bloody battles in Okinawa await.

It is in combat that all soldiers are ultimately tested; and Garfield proves his worth in every way when the bullets fly, charging in when a soldier cries “medic!” despite the dangers all around.  As the men in his company fall from their wounds, Garfield is there to help save their lives; but with only a helmet for protection, how long can Garfield survive the enemy’s onslaught before he is killed?

My most memorable, movie moment of “Hacksaw Ridge” is the scene when Garfield’s Company reaches the Ridge and sees the landscape before them: torn bodies of soldiers everywhere, black sand, sharp rocks, trees splintered by the shelling, and smoke that hides the Japanese soldiers that are waiting for the Americans to walk into the killzone.

Taking second place for my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when Vince Vaughn (playing a Sergeant in Garfield’s squad/platoon) addresses the new recruits for the first time.  One recruit is completely naked, but Vaughn ignores him and instead hurls insults at other soldiers who are more presentable.  It’s a fine example of comedic writing.

Director Mel Gibson did an excellent job with “Hacksaw Ridge,” taking his time to tell the background story of Garfield’s character to show us why he believes in what he believes.   And once we are on board with what this humble, C.O. is all about, the second half of the movie throws him into the meat grinder, where the audience will see what the man is truly made of.

— M

C +

Nichole Bloom and Fabianne Therese play two high school students who fall in love with each other and decide to run away to NYC to escape their extremely horrible lives (i.e. they live in nice houses in nice, safe neighborhoods; have parents who provide for them and care for them (for the most part); go to school where the only bad thing that is shown is a shoving match between Bloom and a bully; and they are given the freedom to go out and stay out late).  Given these horrors that these two girls experience every day, it’s no wonder they seek the comforts of a big city.

Not being completely stupid, Bloom and Therese realize they need money to make their big escape come true.  And that’s where webcam sex comes in.  The money comes in slow but steady, but not fast enough for the teens.  So they decide to prostitute themselves for one really horny guy who can afford it.  And that’s where things go really bad really fast.  **SPOILER ALERT**The surprising thing is — and kudos to the screenwriters on this one specific thing — it’s mostly the girls’ fault that their situation quickly spirals out of control.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Teenage Cocktail” is the scene when the father of Bloom’s character finds out that his daughter does webcam sex for money.  He is shocked, of course; but when he has a chance to confront his daughter, he just shuts up and quietly goes out of his daughter’s room.  This dude needs to go out in the ocean and swim with the jellyfish, because he’s as spineless as they are.

“Teenage Cocktail” has the basic elements that could have turned the movie into a very compelling commentary on some of the dangerous situations teens can get themselves in.  But the script — which felt like it needed a few more drafts to get all the stupidity out — is the weak link of this project, bringing the movie down to the level of mediocrity.

— M

Grade A

Director Ang Lee has a knack for packing a serious, emotional punch in even the most quiet moments of a movie; and he does that again with “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” a mostly quiet movie that contemplates the craziness of war: started by the rich; fought by the poor and young; the physical and emotional damage it does to the soldiers and their families; the lies that are told to keep the war effort going; the lip service that most civilians give to the soldiers as life goes on as if there is no war happening, etc.

After his heroic actions during the second Iraqi war are captured on video for all of America to see, Joe Alwyn (who plays the title role) and his infantry squad are paraded throughout the U.S. to be used as living propaganda for America’s war against Iraq.  On the last day of their “vacation” in the U.S. before being shipped back to the war, Alwyn’s experiences in Iraq and his first days of coming home are told in flashbacks.  He clearly suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, and he finds a way out of going back into combat duty thanks to his loving and tenacious sister played by Kristen Stewart.  But he must make a tough decision whether to take care of himself and take the way out, or take care of his squadmates and go back into combat with them.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” is the scene when a civilian starts making fun of soldiers during a football game.  One of Alwyn’s squadmates puts the loudmouth in a sleeper hold, silencing his big mouth in seconds.

Ang Lee does a great job with “BLLHW,” focusing on Alwyn and allowing the audience to see what this soldier has seen and what he is thinking.  I especially enjoyed the unpredictable nature of this movie, as it could have gone in so many clichéd routes in the third act under the guidance of untalented directors/producers/writers; but the filmmakers chose to take the road less travelled, and produced a relatively quiet ending that is still emotionally powerful.

— M

Grade A

Based on a true story, Madina Nalwanga plays the title role in “Queen Of Katwe,” a young girl in the slums of Uganda who displays amazing skills in chess.  With the support of a tough, hard-working mother (played by Lupita Nyong’o) and a teacher (played by David Oyelowo), Nalwanga’s chess playing abilities opens up a whole new world for her, as well as opportunities that can elevate her and her family from the slums.  But patience and learning how to take losses are two skills Nalwanga needs to learn, or else she’ll risk burning out and quitting before she reaches her goals.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Queen Of Katwe” is the scene when Nalwanga and the other slum, chess students are put against the rich “city boys” of Uganda in a chess tournament.  It’s upper class against lower class; the rich against the poor…but in chess, money and power mean nothing.  It’s how powerful your mind is.

— M

B+

From the mind of J.K. Rowling comes “Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them,” an amazing tale of the adventures of a young wizard (perfectly played by Eddie Redmayne) who goes to NYC in the 1920s in order to retrieve and find homes for fantastic, magical beasts that would otherwise be destroyed by the wizarding community.

Redmayne will face many serious hurdles during his mission: not knowing how to navigate NYC (specifically Manhattan); being unfamiliar with the rules of the wizard community in NY; both wizards and non-wizards fearing the fantastic beasts and wanting them destroyed; and the wizarding community not sanctioning his search, capture, and release (into safe zones) of the beasts.

A larger threat is a powerful force that wreaks destruction and death in NYC, threatening to unveil the wizarding world to the normal humans.  A fantastic, magical beast is blamed; and Redmayne has little time left to prove to the wizards that the cause of the mayhem is some other, supernatural force.  If Redmayne fails at what he must do, a war between normal humans and wizards may erupt; and all the fantastic beasts in Redmayne’s care will be destroyed.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them” is the scene when **SPOILER ALERT** Redmayne and his wizard friend/love interest are sentenced to death, and we see the manner in which the execution is carried out.  The executioners mention that it won’t hurt, but I think it will!

“FBAWTFT” was much better than I anticipated, and it is a very good companion piece to the “Harry Potter” movies.  But it does suffer from two huge plot holes — or shenanigans, as I like to call it — that cannot be easily dismissed.  The wizards have the power to reverse any damage to property, and remove memories of magical experiences by normal humans.  In addition, the wizards can wreak such havoc upon the world and there is very little that the normal humans can do about it.  One wizard can probably destroy a small country in a day.  So why do the wizards fear having their existence revealed, and some possible war against the normal humans happening?

— M

Grade C+

After the mysterious and gruesome death of his beloved grandfather, Asa Butterfield (playing the lead role) discovers that his grandfather’s tales of children with super powers and the monsters that seek to kill them are all true.

What begins as spiritual healing for Butterfield ends as a wondrous adventure that is also terrifying as he is introduced to Eva Green (who plays the title role) and her home for peculiar children.  Each visit strengthens his bond with Green and her charges, especially for a floating, teen girl.  Happiness that has eluded Butterfield in his own world is finally found in “Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children,” but one mistake will jeopardize not only his own life, but the lives of all his new friends and love interest.  Butterfield and the peculiar children must learn to be brave and fight the monsters that have come to kill them.

My most memorable, movie moment of “M.P.H.F.P.C.” is the scene that shows how the monsters came to be, and why they need to kill peculiar children.  It may be a bit too much for little kiddies, so parents beware.

“M.P.H.F.P.C.” gets a mediocre grade because it has too many shenanigans.  Some of the peculiar children have powers that can devastate an enemy quickly, yet they don’t take advantage of them or they wait until the last minute to use them.  Granted, some are little kids and have never been in combat, but the older children could have easily instructed the little ones on how and when to use their deadly powers.  **SPOILER ALERT** One older child (I’m being nice here, because she looks like she is 25-years-old) has the power to generate so much oxygen from her body that she can float a sunken ship, yet she can only put out about 20 seconds of air to pin the lead monster against a wall, after which the monster is free to do more damage?  Get the hell out.

I found the first two acts of this movie to be entertaining, but the last act — where most of the shenanigans take place — left me questioning what the hell the filmmakers were thinking.

— M

Grade B

Manny’s Movie Musings: Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard play Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, respectively; a power hungry couple who decide to assassinate their king so that Fassbender will usurp the throne.  The funny thing is…Fassbender knows that his treachery will bring serious blowback to himself, but Cotillard spurs him on.  After their traitorous deeds are done, and Fassbender and Cotillard are king and queen of Scotland, paranoia and madness sets in the mind of Fassbender, leading him to murder men, women, and children so that he may keep his fragile grip on the throne.  But a vengeful husband and father comes with ten thousand soldiers to put an end to Fassbender’s tyranny, and Fassbender will have to answer for all the blood that he has spilled.   “Macbeth” is overly stylish to the point of distraction; but the performances of the main characters are top-notch (although the combination of accent and an ancient way of speaking makes it difficult to understand what is being said).  My most memorable, movie moment of “Macbeth” is the scene when Fassbender burns a woman and her children alive because he believes they will oppose him in the future.

— M

Grade C –

Manny’s Movie Musings: Two young sisters tough out a lengthy power outage in a house deep in the woods.  With supplies dwindling, people becoming more feral and desperate, the sisters must make a decision to either ride out the crisis in the relative safety of their home, or make a long, dangerous journey to a place rumored to have some semblance of civilization.   “Into The Forest” is saved from a failing grade had it not been for the great performances of Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood (playing the sisters); and the fine cinematography by Daniel Grant.  Many of the decisions the sisters make will just leave you going “huh, what the hell?”  For example: Wood dancing every day for months, using up so many calories, calories that cannot easily be replenished as their food supply is decreasing…instead of going into survival mode, she keeps practicing as if the world will be back to normal any day now, despite 4 or 6 months of no power.  Oh, well, not every movie can have a great script.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Into The Forest” is the scene when Wood, after a traumatic event, refuses to take the last aspirin, telling Page to “save it.”  Page insists Wood take the entire tablet, and Wood says she’ll just take half.  It’s a wonderful and painful scene of the love the sisters have for each other, and how much each is willing to sacrifice for the other.

— M

Grade B +

Based on a true story — in Hollywood speak, that means about 25% is true (and I’m being very generous here) —  “War Dogs” is about two young guys from Miami who sold weapons to the U.S. military despite having no business doing so.  Going after the smaller contracts that are peanuts to the Pentagon but worth hundreds of thousands to the young dudes (played by Jonah Hill and Miles Teller), their rocky, sometimes hilarious and dangerous foray into gun running bring riches and a feeling of invincibility, a combination that can be lethal.

Greed and more greed puts Hill and Teller into the dirtiest realms of their business, where they will be in the crosshairs of gangsters, the U.S. government, and each other.

My most memorable, movie moment is the scene when Hill is trying to buy weed from a bunch of thugs.  After paying, the thugs pretend not to know what Hill is talking about and refuse to give him his drugs.  Hill laughs, calmly walks to his car, removes a submachine-gun from his trunk, and fires off about a dozen rounds in full auto into the air, sending the thugs scurrying away like cockroaches!

“War Dogs” has the same feel as “Pain & Gain” and “The Wolf Of Wall Street.”  The pacing moderately fast, some of the scenes are over the top and outrageous, the tone constantly changes from comedic to serious to scary…overall it has a somewhat hazy, drug-induced, dream quality to it.  This would be a great movie for guys to watch while high on drugs or alcohol.

— M

Grade B

Director Antoine Fuqua teams up again with Denzel Washington to remake “The Magnificent Seven,” a story of farmers and miners who are being forced out by a rich, vicious gold miner (played by Peter Sarsgaard).  Those who take Sarsgaard’s deal are given the short end of the stick; those who refuse the deal will wish they had taken the deal.   But a handful take an alternative route: hire their own gunmen to fight Sarsgaard and his henchmen.

The townspeople end up with seven hired men: a peace officer extremely fast with a pistol; a sneaky gambler who likes to use magic to get the upper hand on his enemies; a notorious killer; a sharpshooter; an Asian who is fast with guns and knives; a legendary tracker; and a Native American deadly with a longbow.  Seven against a hundred.  But the seven have an edge…they have time to fortify the town and set up their defenses; and they have dozens of civilians at their disposal to train and help in the upcoming fight.  The good guys are confident of their chances to win; unfortunately, Sarsgaard has his own surprise for the seven and the rest of the townsfolk.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Magnificent Seven” is the scene when Sargaard brings out a Gatling Gun (an early machine-gun) to bring hell to those who dared oppose him.  This scene gives a major wow factor, and it also gives its biggest shenanigan.  Why did Sarsgaard wait until his men were getting their asses kicked to bring out his special weapon?  Also, at the range the Gatling Gun was used for in this movie, I wonder how effective the bullets would have been once they reach the town.

The Western movie, as far as I know, is an art form originally created in America.  As long as entertaining movies such as “The Magnificent Seven” keep getting made every few years, this American art form will never die.

— M

Grade B

Two brothers (played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster) rob banks in order to make the payments on the family ranch that is about to be foreclosed by a bank.  They need to come up with a certain amount, and then they’ll be done and will no longer have to worry about money — the family ranch has been found to contain a tremendous amount of oil that would provide an income to the owners of about $50,000 a month.  Using multiple vehicles to do their illegal transfer of wealth, Pine and Foster attack the banks early in the morning to minimize resistance and witnesses.  But Foster, an ex-con, has a wild streak; and he may be the one to provide the mistake that a Texas Ranger (played by Jeff Bridges) is depending on to get an edge on apprehending the brothers.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Hell Or High Water” is the scene when Pine and Foster are being chased by armed civilians after the brothers robbed a bank — this takes place in Texas, by the way.  Sick of running, Foster stops his vehicle, grabs a fully automatic assault rifle, and just lights up the vigilantes.  It is an awesome display of firepower from just one rifle and one man who knows how to use it.

“Hell Or High Water” is a good drama/action/suspense movie that will have some people rooting for the bad guys.  The constant reminders of unemployment, billboards of “easy” loans and debt relief to those desperate for money, and of course, what we know of the government’s and big banks’ roles in the great financial collapse a few years ago…it’s easy to want Pine to get away with what he is attempting.  Foster’s character, on the other hand, is different animal.

**SPOILER ALERT** I would have given this movie higher marks, but the shenanigan of Pine getting away with everything he’s done is just too much to let go.  The story offers a detailed but unsatisfying explanation as to why Pine remains free at the end, and it just does not ring true.  With so much damage done, no way the law would allow this to be swept away and be happy to pin it all on Foster.

— M

Grade B +

Manny’s Movie Musings:  Mexicans illegally crossing into the United States are hunted and killed by a sadistic American (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his bloodthirsty dog.   Equipped with a scoped, high-powered rifle, an off-road pickup truck, a well trained dog, and plenty of supplies, Morgan seems to be unstoppable in “Desierto”…until he goes up against two illegals played by Gael Garcia Bernal and Alondra Hidalgo.  Although the movie touches on some current topics in the U.S., “Desierto” is predominantly a story of a psycho taking out mostly innocent people.   My most memorable, movie moment of “Desierto” is **SPOILER ALERT** the scene when Morgan comes upon what Bernal did to his dog.  It was the only time I took pity on Morgan — as evil as Morgan was, he loved his dog; and I know what it’s like to see one’s four-legged friend suffer and die.

— M

Grade B

Manny’s Movie Musings: Better than I expected, “Be Somebody” is about a famous pop singer (played by Matthew Espinosa) who “escapes” his mom/manager and assorted handlers for a few days and lives the life of a regular teenager in a small town.  He meets a hardworking, talented, down to earth girl (played by Sarah Jeffery); and despite their lives being complete opposites, they hit it off and become friends quickly.   Of course, there is more than a friendly spark between them; but he cannot stay in her world and she cannot be in his world.  If a fine balance isn’t met, then their budding romance is doomed from the start.  “Be Somebody” is not the typical teen movie.  Yes, it has a few cliches; but it also leans toward the melodramatic and serious side, and most of the scenes involve just Espinosa and Jeffery.  This is a movie older teens will appreciate and find refreshing, I think.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Be Somebody” is the scene when Jeffery lets Espinosa in her car so he can avoid a few teen girls who are chasing him.   Completely unbelievable, as she has no idea who he is; and therefore is letting a stranger in her car at night.  Still, it was a cute scene.

— M

Grade A

Somewhere in Africa, a boy (played by Abraham Attah) and his family are caught between warring factions in their country.  Most of Attah’s family are killed, and the boy barely escapes, running into the jungle until he is lost and alone…but not for long.   Attah is found by a rebel faction led by a brutal and charismatic leader played by Idris Elba.   Instead of being killed, Attah is offered to join the rebels and fight the soldiers who killed his family.   Not having much of a choice, Attah joins the rebels who are mostly children.

With little training, Attah is thrown into the fight, first as an ammo bearer, then as a full-fledged fighter armed with an assault rifle.  He experiences combat on a regular basis which desensitizes him to the brutality of warfare; but somewhere deep in his heart, a bit of goodness remains…a goodness that may be extinguished when Attah discovers a terrible secret of Elba.  Like his fellow child soldiers, Attah will find himself trapped in constant battle as Elba goes rogue against his superiors.  Not part of the main rebel force, and not part of the nation’s army, Attah and his group are “Beasts Of No Nation.”

My most memorable, movie moment of “Beasts Of No Nation” is the scene when Attah is given a machete to make his first kill: a man on his knees, pleading for his life, telling his captors that he is not a soldier but an engineer who is going to build a bridge.

Taking second place for my memorable moments of this movie is the scene when we see one of Elba’s soldiers, a fully naked man carrying a light machine-gun.   No, he wasn’t taking a shower; no, he wasn’t sleeping and got caught off guard in a surprise attack.  This dude went into combat naked with his weenie proudly swinging back and forth as he engaged the enemy!

“Beasts Of No Nation” is a terrifying look into some of the horrors that still go on in some African nations.   No solutions are given, just a glimpse of what is.

— M

Grade A

A look into the lives of 8 bodybuilders who are competing for Mr. Olympia, the top bodybuilding contest in the world.   With a running time of about 1 hour 46 minutes — less when you take into account the opening and ending credits — there’s not much time to really get into lives of the aforementioned 8; but this documentary wisely focuses on the top two contenders for the title: Kai Greene and Phil Heath (reigning Mr. Olympia at the time this movie was being shot).

Heath seems to have it all: a big house in a nice neighborhood, nice cars, a beautiful wife, the favorite of the crowd, good looks, and a seemingly endless supply of confidence.   Virtually the opposite is true for Kai Greene: he lives in Brooklyn, NY (in what seems to be the projects), takes the bus and train to get to where he wants to go, lives alone, and has a quiet confidence that is surprising for a man his size.  Both men will endure countless hours of pain in the gym and make many more sacrifices to win the highly coveted title of Mr. Olympia.

“Generation Iron” is a great companion piece to “Pumping Iron,” giving people a glimpse into the lives of top bodybuilders 40 years after “Pumping Iron.”  We see the same sacrifices, grueling workouts, strict diets, rivalry, bravado, doubts, the single goal of being the biggest and the best…only the prizes and the competitors are much, much bigger.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Generation Iron” is the scene when bodybuilder Branch Warren was on a horse and was asked if he was worried about being injured in the gym.  After replying that all his major injuries have been outside of the gym, Warren takes off on his horse; and soon after his horse bucks him off and he falls hard on the ground, giving him an injury that could threaten his attempt at the Mr. Olympia title.

An honorable mention goes to the very end of the movie, when ex-bodybuilder and “Pumping Iron” alumni Mike Katz jokes about still looking for his shirt that Arnold Schwarzenegger supposedly stole in “Pumping Iron.”

Obviously, “Generation Iron” will be mostly enjoyed by bodybuilders and anyone who has ever lifted weights or pushed their bodies to their limits.   But I believe this documentary can be enjoyed by all, as the theme of this movie is the extremes that people will go through to get what they want, to be the best in their field; and that is something that we all can relate to.

— M

Grade B-

Loosely based on the true story of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) students who counted cards while playing blackjack in casinos.

Jim Sturgess plays an MIT student who is a genius with crunching numbers in his head.  Accepted to Harvard med school, one thing holds him back: lack of money.  Enter Kevin Spacey, a professor who takes Sturgess under his wing and teaches the young man how to count cards while playing blackjack.   Desperate for funds to go to med school, Sturgess joins Spacey and his crew of four MIT students to go to Vegas on a regular basis and win as much as they can from the casinos.  The money comes fast and easy; but someone is always watching, and luck always runs out.

My most memorable, movie moment of “21” is **SPOILER ALERT** the scene when Sturgess finally gets caught by a vicious, casino head of security (played by Larry Fishburne) and has to endure some vigilante justice.

“21” has a few shenanigans, the biggest being: Spacey tells his crew that when they go to casinos, they are to act as if they don’t know each other; yet the five students all go in at the same time, go to bars and clubs and shows together…what the hell?   “21” isn’t for everyone, but for gamblers, this movie should provide a bit of a rush.

— M

Grade A

Based on an incredible, true story that I think most people have never heard of, “Free State Of Jones” is about a Confederate soldier who deserts and creates an army of deserters, runaway slaves, and their families to fight the Confederate Army in Mississippi.

Matthew McConaughey plays Newton Knight, a Southern soldier who has had enough of war, had enough of fighting what he believed was a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight, had enough of Confederate soldiers in his home county of Jones, Mississippi taking almost everything from poor families to supposedly help out with the war effort, and had enough of slavery and all the cruelties that go with one person owning another person.  McConaughey’s insurrection starts off small but dramatic, slowly building up until he and his company are at war with the Confederate States of America.

This movie doesn’t just deal with what happened during the American Civil War, it also delves into the “reconstruction” phase after the war, and the barbaric and ironic aftermath for the former slaves.  Adding further interest and depth to “Free State Of Jones” is the separate story within the movie regarding one of Newton Knight’s descendants (a white man who is part black) who is on trial for marrying a white woman in Mississippi — at the time of the trial, interracial relationships were illegal; and Knight’s descendant, despite looking white, was considered black.   How hypocritical, since white masters often raped their female slaves for hundreds of years while the Southern society turned a blind eye to it.

“Free State Of Jones” is a powerful movie about a small segment of America’s past that should always be remembered.   This story is not just about the evils that men do to one another, it is also a story of hope, love, sacrifice, and redemption.  It deserves to be told.

My most memorable, movie moment of “Free State Of Jones” is the scene when McConaughey, after teaching three little girls and their mother to hold and shoot guns, holds off Confederate soldiers from taking the family’s supplies as “tax” for the war effort.  Now that’s what I call a fine example of the Second Amendment being exercised.

— M

Grade A

The lives of two men, a bank robber and a cop (played by Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, respectively), will violently collide and alter their lives and of those near to them.   Gosling and Cooper both have sons who are one-year-old when the fateful day happens; and the sins of the fathers will come back to haunt their sons 15 years later.

My most memorable, movie moment of “The Place Beyond The Pines” is the scene when Cooper is pulled over by a fellow cop, played by Ray Liotta.  Cooper has snitched on some cops, you see, and one of those cops is Liotta.  Liotta, known for his intense, fearsome stares, has not lost his touch, as evidenced by this scene.

“The Place Beyond The Pines” is an odd duck because it doesn’t follow the typical 3 act structure of virtually all movies.  It feels like 2 acts followed by 3 acts.  Let me explain.  The first 1/3 of the movie is Gosling’s story, then the last 2/3 of the movie is Cooper’s story as well as the two sons of Gosling and Cooper.  Basically, at the 50 minute mark, it’s like watching another movie…a sequel to the first 1/3 of the movie, if you will.  We get this huge build up, and then the movie flatlines as we are introduced to a whole new set of characters.   Surprisingly, this does not harm the movie overall.  Why?  Because almost everything else works like magic.

Two little shenanigans though that I can’t let go: 1) Cooper’s son is a problem teen, and Cooper doesn’t implement any kind of measures to keep his teen from having an out of control party while Cooper is away; 2) a character buys a motorcycle in cash, and immediately rides off…no license, no registration, no plates, no insurance…how far does this guy think he can go before he sees flashing blue and red lights behind him?

“The Place Beyond The Pines” is like a slow burning, dramatic mini-series that takes its time to develop the story and characters.  At some point, you, the audience, gets hooked; and you just have to watch it all the way to the end.  That’s a good thing, because this movie is one hell of story.

— M

Grade B

Manny’s Movie Musings: “Pink Floyd The Wall” is a study on a rock star’s descent into depression, madness, and ultimate realization of what his life has been.  Pink Floyd songs add as much to the meaning of the movie as the visuals (which are live and animated).   I was in my early teens when I first saw this movie, and I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.  Viewing it for the second time in my forties, I understand it very clearly, and look upon it as a modern work of art.  My most memorable, movie moment of “Pink Floyd The Wall” is the sequence where a fascist group has a rally and then take to the streets to destroy anyone who is not like them.  This is especially notable today in America, where there is a growing movement of intolerance, hatred, and prejudice.

— M

Grade B

Manny’s Movie Musings: Matt Damon plays Jason Bourne, a highly trained, U.S. spy whose wounded body is found floating in an ocean by a fishing boat.  With no memory of who he is and what happened to him, he has to piece together how he came to be shot in the back and left for dead; and most importantly, who and what he is.  But Damon must do it fast, as time is running out and the ones he worked for are sending assassins to find him.  “The Bourne Identity” is  top-notch spy movie, filled with action, suspense, and a mystery that is slowly explained as the movie goes on.  Matt Damon is well suited for the role, and with the help of fancy editing, he comes off as a martial arts expert who can quickly dispatch multiple foes in a few seconds.   The movie moves along very fast, making the near two hour running time feel like it’s thirty minutes shorter than it is.  Fast pacing and a likeable hero (Damon) are two big strengths of this movie that fans of spy/thriller/suspense movies should not miss.  My most memorable, movie moment of “The Bourne Identity” is the scene when Damon evades the police with an original Mini car!   Hey, it’s not the car, it’s the driver that counts.

— M

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