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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

High-Rise Review

The Rise and Fall



J. G. Ballard was an English novelist, short story writer, and essayist who is best known for his apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic writing. Two of his novels, "Crash" and "Empire of the Sun", have been adapted to the screen and both won critical acclaim. This time, Ben Wheatley tackles Ballard's "High-Rise", a futuristic view of big city life in Great Britain, and if this is where we're headed, we're in a heap of trouble.


At its beginning, we get a quick glimpse into a society in disarray, before Wheatley whisks us three months back in time to a far more peaceful scene. Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston), is a low-key neurologist who has recently moved into a beautiful apartment on the 25th floor of a building that has approximately 50 floors. 



His positioning is important because the building operates as a hierarchy where the higher, more expensive floors equate to the most prestige. The surrounding landscape features similar high-rises and parking lots. When you look outside Laing's window, that's all that is visible.

Captain America: Civil War Review

Civil War: What Is It Good For?

We're told "Captain America: Civil War" is a movie about Captain America by the title but it feels like Avengers 2.5, a pit stop on the way to the next movie in the "Avengers" series.

It's not necessarily a bad thing - just a curious observation of Anthony and Joe Russo's newest installment in the Marvel canon. "Captain America: Civil War" teeters on the edge of too much and is a bit unwieldy, narratively, but offers just the right amount of action to entertain staunch and casual fans alike.

The "Captain America" films have been on an interesting trajectory. The first one was such a languid, uninteresting origin story, it almost kept me out of the sequel, "Captain America: Winter Soldier". I'm glad I didn't stay away because that was a great action film. The third film plants itself firmly between feeling like an origin story and a great action movie.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Family Fang Review

Razor-Sharp Fangs
Jason Bateman's follow-up to his directorial debut in "Bad Words", is "The Family Fang", possibly my favorite narrative piece from the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. It owes its success to a truly unique script that was penned by David Lindsay-Abaire, based on the novel by Kevin Wilson, and a stellar cast, including Bateman, Nicole Kidman, Christopher Walken - as crazy as usual - and Kathryn Hahn.


Baxter Fang (Bateman) and his sister Annie (Kidman) grew up under extremely odd circumstances. They were raised by their parents Caleb (Walken) and Camille (Hahn in the past and Maryann Plunkett in the present) to take part in their particularly odd forms of street performance. All of these performances are designed to initially draw innocent bystanders near and then have something outrageous happen, causing the bystanders to initially exhibit sympathy, especially towards the children.

In one flashback, we see the family pretend to commit a bank robbery which results in Camille being shot to death. While everyone around them freaks out, Caleb films it all until the gag is over. Similar stunts abound. Some are funny. All of them are uncomfortable to watch, usually because you can't help but feel for young Baxter and Camille.

Pele: Birth of a Legend Review

Hardly Legendary



Edson Arantes do Nascimento was born in Três Coracões, Minas Gerais, Brazil on October 23, 1940. He eventually came to be known as Pelé, arguably the greatest soccer player in history. He scored 1281 goals in 1363 games, a number far above anyone else. To this day, he is considered Brazil's most brilliant athlete ever, as well as Brazil's most popular son.


Jeff and Michael Zimbalist co-wrote and co-directed "Pele: Birth of a Legend", which debuted at the 2016 Tribeca Film festival, and they do a decent enough job of showing us Pelé from a young age until he becomes a star. The central problem is that most of it is hollow and unfeeling. Oh, there are a few moments where you will care, but not many. Mostly, you will remain uninvolved and be reduced to being a spectator as everything unfolds as expected.



Sunday, May 29, 2016

Weiner Review

Salute The Weiner



In 2011, former United States Representative from New York Anthony Weiner seemed destined for a long and distinguished political career (cue dick jokes here). But after a sexting scandal caused his resignation from public office, Weiner's prospects appeared a bit, well... flaccid. Despite the odds, the former congressman returned to the public spotlight just two years later, setting his sights on becoming the mayor of New York City. And in 2013, he was the favorite to win that election, but his penis got in the way... again.

"Weiner," a new documentary directed by Josh Kriegman (a former aide to the congressman) and Elyse Steinberg, tells the story of Weiner's political demise as it's unfolding. And it's as entertaining (if uncomfortable) a film to watch as anything else you're likely to see this year.  

This stranger-than-fiction account begins with Weiner announcing his return to politics with a mayoral run in his home town of New York City. Two years earlier, the congressman had sent a link to a picture of his package to a 21-year-old female follower on Twitter. After initially denying that he had sent the pic, he later held a press conference where he apologized and admitted exchanging sexually explicit photos and messages with about six women over the preceding three years. At first, he had hoped to remain in office, but after much public outcry, he stepped down from his position ten days later. At this point, his political career looked a bit limp. But it wasn't dead. At least not yet. Apparently it just needed some Viagra.

Nice Guys Review

Black Times in LA

An elevator pitch might suggest The Nice Guys would deliver a hipster buddy-comedy: a Beverly Hills Cop with Boogie Nights period nostalgia and skewed noir like an adaptation of Jonathan Letham's Motherless Brooklyn. The final deliverable is something a bit different, with stronger family traits to other films in writer-director Shane Black's catalogue.

The dramatic opening would fit perfectly in a reboot of the Lethal Weapon franchise (Black, writer). It opens in one of those gorgeous LA mid-modern homes set in the side of a hill. A young teen (Ty Simpkins, Iron Man 3), sneaks into his parents' bedroom to snag a skin mag from under their bed. He opens the centerfold: "actress," Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio, The Duff). As he wanders through the house, absorbed, we see a sports car break through the guardrail from a window behind him. By the time he reaches the end of a hallway, the car tears it in half, before crashing in flames below the house. The boy climbs down the hill, finds the porn star thrown from the car, exposed and posed as in the centerfold. Her dying words, "How do you like my car, big boy?"

Keanu Review

Wassup Pussycat?

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, of Comedy Central's "Key & Peele" fame, make their big-screen debut in "Keanu". Despite its feline co-star, the movie doesn't always land on its feet.

A kitten escapes the opening Matrix-style shootout scene, and ends up on the doorstep of broken-hearted and stoned Rell (Peele), who names it Keanu. He is instantly smitten by this kitten, as is everyone whose path it crosses. When it's stolen, Rell goes in search of it with his cousin Clarence (Keegan-Michael Key), whose wife (Nia Long) is away on a throwaway subplot.

Rell and Clarence (dubbing themselves "Tectonic" and "Shark Tank") navigate the criminal world as Keanu gets passed between drug lords. They fall in with Cheddar (Method Man), leader of "The 17th Street Blips" (rejects from the Bloods and Crips), and gang members Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish), and Bud (Jason Mitchell).

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