Tag Archives: Films

‘Sully’ a traditional, solid movie

“Sully” tells the story of the “Miracle on the Hudson,” where a commercial airliner, under the navigation of Chesley Sullenberger, performs an emergency landing on the Hudson River in New York City after it loses its engines in a bird strike.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, the film is a sturdy crowdpleaser, building up subtle moments to Sully’s vindication that he did indeed do the right thing. Tom Hanks is great in the central role, showing his unease about being called a hero and the exploration into that label from the world.

It is not especially showy, but that may be to the film’s betterment. Too often directors go for the big moments, showing off rather than letting the story speak for itself, but Eastwood has always gone with a very workmanlike approach, carefully constructing each moment to last as long as it needs to. The execution of the landing is wonderfully realized, using all of Eastwood’s cinematic technique.

If there is a detriment however, it is that there is not a lot of story to actually hold the film together. The crash landing occurs, there’s an investigation, the results of that investigation, and the end. It goes by rather breezily and barely clocks in at 90 minutes.

At its core, the film is about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, not necessarily as individual heroes, but collectively. It is a film worth remembering for substance rather than flash.

‘Manchester by the Sea’ a miserable experience

Sitting through Manchester by the Sea is about the equivalent of a visit to the morgue. It is a joyless slog filled with despair, misery and regret.

Lee (Casey Affleck) is a janitor in Boston. When Lee’s brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), dies from his heart condition, Lee is forced to return home to care for his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), a high school kid. Patrick is a  brat who juggles two different girls and just wants to get laid and stay in town. Lee tries to convince Patrick to move back with him to Boston and, over the course of the story, we learn why he doesn’t want to stay, as his tragic backstory involving his ex-wife, Randi (Michelle Williams), and his three children unfolds.

It is now common knowledge that drama movies are consistently rated higher by critics than comedies. As so, if the quality of Manchester by the Sea was translated into a comedy, it probably would have been panned, but since it is a ‘thought-provoking drama’, it gets Oscar-nominated instead. Just because a film has dramatic moments and deals with heavier issues does not mean that it is a quality work.

Sure, Casey Affleck is great in the lead role, and there are some good moments of the characters on boats, but the film is just a depressing experience. There are not enough happy moments to counteract the misery, and you don’t really care about the characters that much. With a bloated run time of over two hours, it’s just misery, misery, misery, leaving you unable to take anything from the experience.

For those looking for a good time at the movies, Manchester by the Sea is not for you. For those looking for a thought-provoking drama, Manchester is still not for you. For those who would like the equivalent of a battering ram to the heart for two hours with no apparent hope for the future, go see Manchester by the Sea. You’ll love it.

‘Moana’ beautiful, fun

Boasting beautiful animation, an engaging (if familiar) story and strong musical numbers, Disney’s Moana is an enjoyable cinematic experience.

Moana (voice of Auli’i Cravalho) is destined to lead her Polynesian island community, but the island’s resources are drying up. The sea calls to Moana, who must embark on a quest to return the heart of the goddess Te Whiti before the darkness overwhelms her home. She enlists the help of the demigod, Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson).

Directed by the duo of Ron Clements and John Musker (past credits include Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Frog among others), the film features several of the traditional Disney tropes: a princess, the bumbling sidekick, the quest, nature as a guide, the biased father-figure, the helpful grandmother. But while the story is rather so-so in terms of creativity, the songs and the visuals are great. The water in particular looks terrific and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tunes are sure to stick in your head for better or worse long afterwards.

The film does an excellent job of really utilizing its location to tell its story. You can practically smell the sea-breeze off the screen. It is to Musker and Clement’s credit that they imbue the film with such energy and really bring Polynesian culture to life.

When given the choice between the familiar told well or the unfamiliar told poorly, telling stories smartly always wins. While Moana is nothing that new, it is fun, it is enjoyable, and it is another strong Disney entry in its recent revival (started not-so-coincidentally when John Lasseter took over as head of Disney animation).

‘Doctor Strange’ a worthy addition to MCU

Another origin story. Another weak villain. Another redemptive hero. Another shallow love interest. Another Stan Lee cameo. Another post-credits scene. More CGI action. In spite of the continuing weaknesses of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, “Doctor Strange” still manages to be a fun and enjoyable ride.

Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a cocky surgeon who crashes his car and irreparably damages bones in his hands. Searching for the ability to cure his ailment, he travels to a remote village across the world and meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who teaches him about the mystic arts and prepares him for a confrontation with a fallen student, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who seeks to bring an evil demon to Earth.

Cumberbatch is strong as Doctor Strange, blending a good mix of pompousness with vulnerability. Tilda Swinton is also a very good Ancient One. Rachel McAdams has a needless role as a trophy girlfriend for the doctor, but she isn’t as grating as Natalie Portman or Gwenyth Paltrow in similar roles. And Mads Mikkelsen is pretty pedestrian as another bad guy who wants to destroy the world, blah blah blah.

The true star of the film are its special effects, with its bending buildings and parallel dimensions and magic and demons. It makes the film a visual feast and helps smooth over the fact that the story itself is pretty bland.

But at least the environment is different. The MCU now has wizards and magic and some pretty crazy science behind its latest hero. While Captain America’s films are espionage dramas and “Iron Man” is modern action and “Guardians” is 1980s sci-fi, “Doctor Strange” is psychadelic new age fantasy. So while its story is familiar, at least Marvel puts that story into different genres.

“Spotlight” a solid film

The premise of “Spotlight” is simple. It’s “All the President’s Men” only the institution being investigated is the cover-up of the child abuse in the Catholic Church. But whereas newspapers were arguably the dominant form of information for the average individual at the time of Nixon’s Watergate, newspapers today are losing prestige as digital media has taken over the world. “Spotlight” then is not only an excellent film, it is also a powerful reminder of the value of good investigative journalism.

The film follows the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe, a committed set of journalists who slowly uncover not one, not two, but 87 priests in the Boston area alone who have abused children throughout the years. Led by ‘Robbie’ Robinson (Michael Keaton), the team of Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James), buoyed by incoming editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), must come to grips with the dark underbelly of their city of Boston and one of its most powerful institutions.

The film does not try to make heroes of its journalist protagonists. It presents them as human beings first, full of flaws with different backgrounds and histories, committed to uncovering the truth. What is important above all to the characters is the story and getting it published correctly, for if any detail is incorrect, the church can cover the whole investigation up for another generation.

The cast are all at the top of their game, showing both care and urgency as they deal with the survivors, the lawyers and the church. They are able to elevate the true thrill of the film: the uncovering of vital information that will confirm their story. As they attempt to seek justice for the survivors in the way they can, the audience roots for them in a very compelling manner. The fact that we know what has happened in real life only increases our desire for the team to learn and report the truth.

The style of the film is also very subdued and not very flashy, which works towards the film’s benefit. The focus is on the story, on the script, on the actors, and they are given plenty of room to breathe, to pull the viewer into the narrative and to let them experience the joys and hardships of working as a reporter. That connection gives real power to the film.

The movie does seem to end before the story is ultimately over, a decision probably based on needing to find some sort of closure for a case that is in some ways still unraveling. One can only imagine that what happens after the credits start to roll is just as fascinating and poignant, the sex abuse scandals still a relevant issue for a church that is trying to repair itself.

Newspapers have seen their share of public influence drop dramatically in the past few years, but their ability to elevate the hopeless, to bring light to important subjects and to topple the towers of industry should not be underestimated. “Spotlight” gives us an important glimpse into that world once again, a peek into a community of reporters and what they can do for justice.

The series that will never end

We now live in an era when TV and movie sagas really have no ending. Even when you look at a final film, listed as the last installment, hyped as the end of an era, fans start asking as soon as the credits roll, “Okay, when’s the next one?”

Sequels are endless. Great movies get sequels (X-Men: Apocalypse). Terrible movies get sequels (TMNT: Out of the Shadows, Ice Age: Collision Course). Movies that don’t need sequels get sequels (My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, Magic Mike 2). Popular movies from ten years ago get sequels (Zoolander 2, Jurassic World). Unpopular movies from ten years ago get sequels (Bridget Jones’ Baby). Movie franchises are brought back from the dead (Independence Day: Resurgence, Ghostbusters (2016)). Everything gets a sequel.

And TV is not any different now either. TV shows long dormant are rebooted. Just look at recent attempts at rebooting “The X-Files”, “Gilmore Girls”, “Full House”, “Arrested Development”, “24”, and “Heroes” to name a few. Those shows all ended years ago, but here are they, back again. Thankfully, these shows really just seem to be one-offs as none of them have really caught on with the fire that they once did, but that hasn’t stopped studios from making them.

One just has to wonder, will anything ever end anymore? Let’s look at some of the seemingly never-ending properties and come up with an expiration date, starting from soonest to latest.

X-Men (End Date: 2017)

The current iteration of X-Men movies, spanning from 2000 to the present, have given us 9 films, ten with “Logan” next year. But with Hugh Jackman saying that “Logan” will be his last go with the character of Wolverine, time seems to be closing on the heyday of Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender. Now, having said that, there will be another “Deadpool” movie, but he doesn’t really fit into the X-Men mythos. And there will be more X-Men movies, but they will be rebooted with new casts and new characters. So take this one with a grain of salt.

PREDICTED ENDING: Wolverine and Charles Xavier have an emotional sendoff that culminates with Wolverine finding his humanity, completing his journey. The next film opens with an entirely new cast and a female Wolverine.

DCEU (End Date: 2022)

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Batman V. Superman was supposed to be the DC Extended Universe’s big, blockbuster hit. It did okay commercially and was pretty much a bomb critically. The same with “Suicide Squad.” Now “Wonder Woman” and “Justice League” will debut next year and that will be the true test for Warner Bros. If either or both of them bombs, it could spell the end for their hopes of taking on Disney’s MCU. They simply need to perform better. If next year is a dud, they may seriously have to reconsider their plans. Maybe this is just me being optimistic, but I see two more critical failures, two more box office mehs, and an early end to this colossal mistake.

PREDICTED ENDING: The entire Justice League takes on an army of aliens bent on destroying the Earth at all costs, probably with a giant blue laser that shoots into the sky, a gigantic hour-long fight ensues that levels a city, blah, blah, blah… There’s a teaser for a future film at the end of the credits that is never filmed.

Toy Story (End Date: 2025)

The “Toy Story” series should have ended with “Toy Store 3” in 2010. But now we have “Toy Story 4” coming in just about two years. Will there be anymore? I think there’ll be one more, but with Tom Hanks and Tim Allen certainly getting up there in years, that’s it. Without Woody and Buzz, I don’t think Disney makes anymore “Toy Story” films. But I’ve been wrong before.

PREDICTED ENDING: Buzz and Woody and the gang engage in a colorful journey through the scary world that tests their friendship and involves them coming to grips with maturation and inevitability. There are an equal number of tears as laughs.

Transformers (End Date: 2032)

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“Transformers” has made so much money and been so bad for so long that it may be tempting to think it is on the same level as the cockroach and the twinkie in terms of evolutionary survival. But fear not. “Transformers” is mortal. It can be slain. It just won’t be for a few years. It’s U.S. business is falling. It’s making less money. It’s really just made for the Chinese at this point. They will learn too, once the euphoria of the explosions has passed, they will sober up.

PREDICTED ENDING: Boom! Wham! Clink! PFFFFFHHH! Crash! Boom! Clank!

Fast and Furious (End Date: 2040)

There have now been eight “Fast and Furious” movies dating all the way back to 2001. With another two planned, the franchise is still a continuous moneymaker, despite the death of star Paul Walker. The appeal of fast cars, cool action and hot women won’t diminish anytime soon, so the franchise will probably continue to soldier on for the next few years, even as its stars leave. But as usually happens, when the big names go, quality suffers and the box office will slowly start to reflect that. Then they’ll try and reboot it later on with a whole new cast and some cameos by Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez, but that won’t work.

PREDICTED ENDING: Ummmm…. I don’t know. I’ve never seen one of these movies. Car races?

Harry Potter (End Date: 2052)

Harry Potter seemed to be finished. All the books had been translated into movies and the story was complete. But that was so five years ago. Fast forward to the present and we now have a whole set of theme parks based on the stories, a new play about Harry and his son, Albus, and a new five-picture series set in the 1920s. So the wizarding world is back in full force and it shows no signs of stopping. “Fantastic Beasts” is doing well enough at the box office so plans should continue on their current course. Of course, the thing driving all of this is J.K. Rowling. By 2052, she will be in her 80s. She won’t have written for a few years, but once she leaves us, one of her kids or family members will publish some jotted notes about something to make some cash and that will be the last story… well, turned into a six-part movie series anyway.

PREDICTED ENDING: Harry is now 128 years old. He’s dumped Ginny and now shacks up with Hermione because that is the only sensible thing to do. Voldemort is back… again. It’s his clone or something so they have to fight, but never fear; there’s some convenient magic that helps Harry defeat him despite the fact that he is a far inferior wizard to the dark lord. Voldemort just can’t catch a break.

MCU (End Date: 2061)

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The Marvel Cinematic Universe just keeps going and going and going. It is now a behemoth of Hollywood. Even obscure characters like Doctor Strange, Ant-Man and the Guardians of the Galaxy produce hits. The name itself brings people to the theaters because they know an MCU movie is fun and easy to digest. Steven Spielberg has said that the superhero movie is like the Western and that it will come and go like that genre. Perhaps he’s right. This end date signifies pretty much the length of the Western’s popularity.

PREDICTED ENDING:All 134 superheroes fight a giant CGI army led by a generic villain whose name you won’t remember. The heroes beforehand will fight amongst themselves and disagree about… something. They’ll unite and fight the big baddie and defeat him with the power of teamwork. The movie will literally have so much awesomeness that all the supernerds who watch it die from euphoria, ending the superhero craze once and for all.

Star Trek (End Date: 2072)

Star Trek has endured through TV shows and movies and next generations and reboots. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon. The only thing that will make Star Trek irrelevant is when humanity actually catches up to it, technology-wise and humanity-wise. Technology-wise is actually not that far off. Humanity-wise is still a ways away. Go figure.

PREDICTED ENDING: The Enterprise journeys to a distant planet where the crew must… zzzzzzzz. Whoops, sorry. They meet the Klingons and start a series of negotiations over…. zzzzzzz.

James Bond (End Date: 2104)

James Bond has had dozens of films, 6 actors play him (soon to be seven) and has become the top-grossing film series of all-time. Is there an end to his film series? I do see one, but not for a long, long time. I mean, eventually, society will start to decay as global warming, mass populations and nuclear holocaust take its toll. Perhaps humanity’s last breath before extinction will be the 124th James Bond film. He will still be very suave.

PREDICTED ENDING: I mean, it’s the same movie every time. There’s women and cars and spy stuff and weapons and gadgets and catchy songs and opening stunt sequences and headline villains and on and on. It ends exactly as it started.

Star Wars (End Date: Infinity)

Was there ever any doubt? For a franchise that lasted through the 70s and 80s, through an incoherent special edition, through three absolutely horrendous prequel films and now with a new heavyweight company bankrolling a film a year, “Star Wars” is bigger today than when it first premiered. I don’t think anything can kill this franchise. Not the Great Recession. Not plagues and wars. Not George Lucas. It will be around forever and ever. Even when the human race is gone, it will be around. Small microscopic life forms right now are soaking up its cultural relevance and fan fetish, and it is influencing the genetic makeup of its DNA so that when it reaches evolutionary maturation in a few thousand years, it will continue the series.

PREDICTED ENDING: Luke’s great-great-great grandchild is an orphan on a desert planet. There’s a dark force rising. He or she is called forth by a droid who needs his help and then he or she discovers that it is imbued with the Force. Wait… that’s not an ending. That’s just another beginning.