Category Archives: True Story

I Can Only Imagine (2018)

If you haven’t seen the news, there was a bit of a surprise in the weekend box office numbers. Black Panther continues to rule and the new Tomb Raider film is getting mediocre reviews, but a film based upon the hit Christian song, I Can Only Imagine, hit theaters as well and it picked up 3rd place at the box office. It was in only about 1600 theaters compared to the others which were in twice as many. Its budget was a measly $7 million, and in its opening weekend it raked in $17 million and has made some big waves and will be expanding to more theaters this weekend.

I have to say that based on the trailers that I was a few months back it wasn’t really on my radar either. However after getting the chance to see it tonight, I had to let folks know that it is the real deal and I hope that other Christian directors and writers and actors take some notes because there is much to learn here.

While I am a Christian, I’m often embarrassed by the poor quality of the films that bear the name of my faith. They usually suffer from wooden performances, awkwardly written and over-spiritualized scripts. This was different.

A note of bias, I do adore Mercy Me’s music however, like the tagline of the film says, even though I knew the song I was completely unaware of the story behind it. The film combines equal parts touching redemption story with musical biopic. Sadly, I thought that the musical portion was the weakest link.

Unless you grew up like I did, you would have no idea who some of the important musical figures were like Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant. This was not well explained and was unnecessary for the most part. Trace Adkins was humorously refreshing as the band’s manager, and newcomer J. Michael Finley does a good job juggling between funny, emotional, and exhilarated. Here’s hoping this doesn’t remain the only listing on his IMDb page.

The high note of the film was the abusive father played brilliantly by Dennis Quaid. I don’t think I’ve seen him this good since the early 2000’s with Far From Heaven and Frequency. The anger and bitterness of many years was all visible on his face and even through the powerful redemption story line the scars still remain. This is a deeply human story and it is emotionally affecting with the waves coming in rapid succession and hitting hard.

This isn’t a perfect movie by any means, there a a half a dozen characters that could have been better fleshed out, the romance felt tacked on and unnecessary (although I was happy to see Madeline Carroll. I’ve missed her since 2010’s Flipped).

You can feel good about taking the whole family to see this, it deals with some hard issues like abuse, divorce, and forgiveness, but it’s not overly preachy. It will act as wonderful counter programming to the LGBT drama Love, Simon. While I have no hate for my LGBT friends, it is very nice to see my lifestyle and beliefs portrayed in a good film finally.

Best of 2017: Insiders 6-10

After getting a bit sidetracked with Oscar predictions, let’s get back to the Best of 2017. You can see my 11-15 and 16-20 as well, but as we enter the coveted top 10, we find some truly remarkable films that resonated with me personally. I am proud of the diversity of films from drama to action to biopic. Let’s go!

10. Logan Lucky

Steven Soderbergh comes out of retirement to make his best since the original Ocean’s Eleven remake. He shows off his flair for visual storytelling and gives us a hillbilly fairy tale wrapped up in a heist movie. The cast of characters is outrageous, the premise is outlandish, and the film is outstanding.

The film centers around the Logan brothers played by Adam Driver and Channing Tatum and their plan to rob Charlotte Motor Speedway in efforts to break the 100 year old Logan family curse. Other cast members include Riley Keough, Daniel Craig, Seth MacFarlane, Sebastian Stan, Hillary Swank, Katie Holmes, Dwight Yoakam, and so many more deliciously funny characters.

I know many people who might not be as stereotypically country as these characters are but who suffer from a curse nonetheless. This curse of living paycheck to paycheck and being overlooked and derided is turned on its head as they mastermind a heist that would make Danny Ocean jealous. It is a hilariously wild ride, with a strong focus on family and a message about changing your station in life that might surprise you.

9. Phantom Thread

In opposition to the previous entry, Phantom Thread is set in the alluring world of 1950s British couture. Paul Thomas Anderson helms what is supposed to be Daniel Day-Lewis’ final performance. The previous collaboration of these two produced one of my favorite movies of all time, There Will Be Blood. I hope this isn’t the last we see from Daniel Day-Lewis because he is one of the greatest actors of our time and he has much more to give. However, if he did choose to make this film his last it would be a fitting close to an amazing career.

Hey plays Reynolds Woodcock who is a fictional mashup of several real designers from this time-frame. He is an exacting personality, he is brilliant but petulant and spoiled. The best thing about this film was the surprising humor. It arises from places you would not expect and the whole story goes in a direction that subverts the viewers expectations. It is a twisted picture of love, relationships, and power.

8. I, Tonya

Much like Phantom Thread, in I, Tonya we have a unique character study with dark humor that springs from odd places. People my age and older may think they know this story. We watched much of it play out on television. It happened right at the beginning of this new trend of 24/7 news coverage. So for weeks, you could not escape the saga of Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding.

The story is so strange because of the varied and conflicting versions of the story that come from all sides. Instead of trying to present the truth, it seemed to leave us in an ambiguous place where we are rooting for the good in Tonya while still seeing he faults and part to play in the whole fiasco. Violence was the language that these people spoke and while that does not excuse any actions, it does provide a picture of the twisted mindset that could commit this crime.

Part of me wonders how much coverage this story would have received without the media coverage that it received. Did our thirst of “news” as entertainment feed into this? Because just as soon as a bigger story came along we were off on our next witch hunt. Today, this thirst has grown exponentially to the point that this story would have been nothing more than a blip on our Twitter feeds that would disappear within a few moments as soon as the next viral video appeared.

Margot Robbie and Sebastian Stan were very good, and the visuals could almost fool me to think that Margot Robbie trained to actually complete a triple Axel just for this film. The way that they filmed the skating sequences was captivating as well with the camera moving fluidly around the skater as the perform on the ice. However, the real star and one of the best overall performances of the year was from Allison Janney who played the cartoonishly evil mother of Tonya. She was wickedly delightful.

7. Baby Driver

The more I think about this movie the higher I want to put it on my list. Looking back in a couple of years after I own this Blu-Ray and watch it 5-6 dozen times it will probably find its way well into the top five. I love that it came in with a modest budget and blew it out of the water showing that you can make original and artful cinema and still make loads of money.

When I mention Edgar Wright, you might recognize the name from Shaun of the Dead, or Hot Fuzz. Here Edgar wright uses more of his distinct visual style and uses it to craft a musically choreographed heist film. Do yourself a favor and watch the first 6 minutes of the film. If it strikes your fancy then you will love the whole film. If it doesn’t then you may be doing something wrong.

My one issue with the film is that the whole thing isn’t presented as a musical. There are certainly musical elements and complete scenes that are linked directly to the music we hear, but I would have loved to see a full blown action centered La La Land type film.

6. Lady Bird

I have to admit that I jumped pretty hard on the Lady Bird bandwagon, and it’s hard not to. It is delightful. Its simplicity is part of its charm. However, I think that the simplicity might keep it from taking home any of the 5 Oscars it is nominated for on Sunday. But that is okay. It doesn’t need to be controversial or flashy to draw attention.

I feel like Lady Bird was so well loved because the characters albeit quirky are so accessible. Have you ever wanted to spread your wings and escape from your town or your school or your family? Everyone has! So much of this comes from the performances of Soairse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf. Ronan manages to capture that odd teenage limbo between the confidence in their own abilities and the realization that they are clueless as they prepare to leave.

Did anyone else feel like Metcalf appeared out of nowhere like someone had her locked in a time capsule since Roseanne. She was so good. She was warm and motherly and cold and calculated all in the same scenes. I have to give a small shout out to Tracy Letts as well as the dad. With three teenagers or nearly teenagers of my own I always look out for great father figures and he is now up there with the likes of Stanley Tucci from Easy A.

Did you hate any of these movies? Am I out of touch because I chose an Oscar bait movie like Phantom Thread or do I need to give up my Movie cred because I liked a trailer trash movie like Logan Lucky? I want to see your top 10 lists, leave me a comment here or shoot me a message on social media!

Best of 2017: Outsiders 11-15

Let’s continue to look at those just outside of my top ten of 2017. You can also read my #16-20. I’ve seen most of these on other people’s top ten lists and I think that they could all be up there if I was in a different mood. You’ll notice that on most of these mini reviews, I’m not focusing on technical merit or acting unless it was hands down better than anything else I’ve seen this year. Instead, I’m choosing my top films by selecting the ones that resonated the most with me. I hope that you will read my thoughts on these five and give me your thoughts. Link me to your top 10s, Tell me why I’m wrong or what I got right. Continue reading Best of 2017: Outsiders 11-15

Fall 2017 Movie Preview: Drama Part 2

Sorry for the delay in getting the last part of this Fall Movie Preview finished and published. I live in Florida and things are a little bit crazy with Hurricane Irma preparations. There were just too many dramatic films coming out over the next few months to capture them all in one post.

You can read the first part here. Or read the other sections of the preview : Action/Adventure, Horror/Thriller, or Family/Comedy. I hope you’ll let me know which of these sound interesting to you and which you’ll wait to stream on Netflix.

November

LBJ – 11/10

The story of U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson from his young days in West Texas to the White House.

This was originally scheduled to come out in 2016. I don’t know the actual reason it was delayed, but I can only think that it had something to do with something else going on in the world of politics that was slightly more entertaining than history. There was also another film focusing on this period of time, Jackie. I for one would have never imagined Woody Harrelson as LBJ, and it’s directed by Rob Reiner (Princess Bride, A Few Good Men, and When Harry Met Sally).

Murder on the Orient Express – 11/10

A lavish train ride unfolds into a stylish & suspenseful mystery. From the novel by Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express tells of thirteen stranded strangers & one man’s race to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.

The second film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s most famous story of legendary detective Hercule Poirot. The 1974 film directed by Sidney Lumet is already legendary for its stunning cast and claustrophobic feel. This version looks like it is trying to capture that essence. I’m really excited to see what they do with it, and with a cast featuring the likes of Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penélope Cruz, Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, and Josh Gad it’s going to have to try really hard not to be at least good.

Lady Bird – 11/10

The adventures of a young woman living in Northern California for a year.

Well, that’s not much of a description to go off. It should say something like, “Jackie from Roseanne (Laurie Metcalf) is raising a teenage daughter of her own played by Saoirse (it’s pronounced “seer-sha”) Ronan. She doesn’t feel like she belongs in the little Northern California town. She feels as though the walls are closing in. She longs to be on the east coast in a city where writers live out in the woods.” That’s a movie I want to watch. It looks funny and sad and warm and rich. Saoirse Ronan is a fantastic actress and is going to bring so much heart to the titular character of Lady Bird. The whole thing is written and directed by Greta Gerwig as something of an autobiography. Man, I love this time of year!

The Darkest Hour – 11/22

Within days of becoming Prime Minister, Winston Churchill must face his most turbulent and defining trial: exploring a negotiated peace treaty with Nazi Germany, or standing firm to fight for the ideals, liberty and freedom of a nation.

A Winston Churchill biopic starring Gary Oldman. Need I say anything else? I mean, just look at that picture. He’s is a master of sinking into a role whether it is Dracula, Sid Vicious, Pontius Pilate, Sirius Black, or Commissioner James Gordon. Watch the trailer and see if you don’t get chills.

Molly’s Game – 11/22

The true story of an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target. Her players included movie stars, business titans and unbeknownst to her, the Russian mob.

Idris Elba and Jessica Chastain are great, but I’m excited about this one because Aaron Sorkin is attached to direct. He adapted the book by the real Molly Bloom. Normally he is happy to write and have someone else direct, but this marks his directorial debut. What a cool story. It should be lots of fun and full of amazing lightning fast dialogue.

Call Me by Your Name – 11/22

It’s the summer of 1983 in the north of Italy, and Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), a precocious 17- year-old American-Italian boy, spends his days in his family’s 17th century villa transcribing and playing classical music, reading, and flirting with his friend Marzia (Esther Garrel). Elio enjoys a close relationship with his father (Michael Stuhlbarg), an eminent professor specializing in Greco-Roman culture, and his mother Annella (Amira Casar), a translator, who favor him with the fruits of high culture in a setting that overflows with natural delights. While Elio’s sophistication and intellectual gifts suggest he is already a fully-fledged adult, there is much that yet remains innocent and unformed about him, particularly about matters of the heart. One day, Oliver (Armie Hammer), a charming American scholar working on his doctorate, arrives as the annual summer intern tasked with helping Elio’s father. Amid the sun-drenched splendor of the setting, Elio and Oliver discover the heady beauty of awakening desire over the course of a summer that will alter their lives forever.

I’ve got this here because it is sure to get a lot of love from the LGBT community. It will be called groundbreaking and monumental. However, when it is boiled down it sounds like the story of a man taking advantage of a kid who is still figuring out who he is for his own pleasure. I just can’t get behind that. I’ll probably see it at some point because it will most likely be nominated for an Oscar but I’m not expecting much.

December

The Current War – 12/8

The Current War is the epic story of the cutthroat competition between the greatest inventors of the industrial age over whose electrical system would power the new century. Backed by J.P. Morgan, Edison dazzles the world by lighting Manhattan. But Westinghouse, aided by Nikola Tesla, has seen fatal flaws in Edison’s direct current design. Igniting a war of currents, Westinghouse and Tesla bet everything on risky and dangerous alternating current.

Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon, and Nicholas Hoult as Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and Nikola Tesla. The battle between alternating current and direct current. The trailer looks great with amazing cinematography playing with the light. If there isn’t at least one song by AC/DC in the film, it will be a missed opportunity.

The Shape of Water – 12/8

An other-worldly fairy tale, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1962. In the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is trapped in a life of isolation. Elisa’s life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment.

This looks like it could be the best most innovative thing that Guillermo del Toro has done since Pan’s Labyrinth. I’m afraid that the creature (played by Doug Jones, look him up his work is amazing) is going to be too grotesque for mainstream audiences to get behind the love story aspect. It is kinda far out there and I just don’t now if we’re ready for it. Either way, I’m looking forward to it because it’s an original story that we’ve never seen coming from a visionary director with a star-studded cast. What do you think?

The Greatest Showman – 12/25

Inspired by the imagination of P.T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman is an original musical that celebrates the birth of show business and tells of a visionary who rose from nothing to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation.

Apparently this musical based on the life of P.T. Barnum was supposed to come out last year around November or December, but they decided to wait to unleash Hugh Jackman’s vocal stylings on the world in part because of competition with a little movie called La La Land. I don’t think this will do quite as well, but it should be a feel good story with singing and dancing to end our 2017 on a positive note.

Phantom Thread – 12/25

Set in the couture world of 1950s London, the story illuminates the life behind the curtain of an uncompromising dressmaker commissioned by royalty and high society.

This is shrouded in mystery. We don’t have much to go off, but it is believed that Daniel Day Lewis will be playing Charles James. He will be teaming up with Director P.T. Anderson. The last time these two joined forces they created one of the best movies of all time in my opinion, There Will Be Blood. To add anticipation, Daniel Day Lewis has stated that this will be his last film. If that is the case, I sincerely hope he goes out with a bang and wins his 4th Best Actor Oscar.

Others to Watch:

My Friend Dahmer coming on November 3rd. Before Jeffrey Dahmer became a notorious serial killer, he was a shy, alcoholic teen who never quite fit in. Based on the acclaimed graphic novel by Derf Backderf, this is the true, haunting story of Jeffrey Dahmer in high school. This could be the start of a whole cinematic universe of teenage serial killers. Seriously, Ross Lynch looks disturbed as the young Dahmer. It could be a surprise success.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. coming on November 3rd. Denzel Washington stars as Roman Israel, a driven, idealistic defense attorney who, through a tumultuous series of events, finds himself in a crisis that leads to extreme action. Written and directed by the mind behind Nightcrawler, Dan Gilroy. This will be another heavily character driven role, like Fences, that Denzel can sink his teeth into.

Last Flag Flying coming on November 3rd. Thirty years after they served together in Vietnam, a former Navy Corpsman Larry “Doc” Shepherd re-unites with his old buddies, former Marines Sal Nealon and Reverend Richard Mueller, to bury his son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War. Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, and Laurence Fishburne in a road trip movie directed by Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused and Boyhood). It’s hard not to get a little excited for this.

The Man Who Invented Christmas coming on November 22nd. The journey that led to the creation of Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) and other classic characters from “A Christmas Carol.” The film shows how Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) conjured up a timeless tale. Looks like it could be a good family film retelling the often told Christmas story through the eyes of the man who created it.

There will be other films that come onto the radar in the final months of the year and some of these will inevitably be pushed to 2018 but I think this is a very good list to work off as you prepare for the season and decide which films are the most enticing. Please let me know which ones sound great and which you will pass on. Now that I’m done with this, I may decide to make a calendar will all of the films I’ve featured listed by their release date. The obvious problem with that is many of these films will be limited releases and so they will likely not be playing outside of major markets for a week or two after their actual premier unless they are tracking very will and the studios believe they can risk a wider opening.

Fall 2017 Movie Preview: Drama Part 1

This is going to be a great season. The awards are going to be very crowded. We’ve already seen several powerful films that could be in awards consideration. I’m specifically thinking of Detroit, Dunkirk, Baby Driver, and even Logan and Wonder Woman. However, they are going to have to compete with a slew of biopics and powerful narrative dramas and character studies. These movies are like candy for me so excuse me if I tend to go on and on, but part of the joy of cinema is its ability to move us, and that is exactly what these aim to do.

Please let me know which of these you would see if you could only choose one or two. This is only half of the Dramatic movies coming out this season. I’ll be following up to this post with the dramatic movies from November and December soon. Also, make sure you take a look at the others to watch section because there are far too many to talk about all of them at length.

September

Rebel in the Rye – 9/15

The life of celebrated but reclusive author, J.D. Salinger, who gained worldwide fame with the publication of his novel, The Catcher in the Rye.

How many of you have actually read Catcher in the Rye? I think it is one of those books that people buy to look smart but never actually read. If you want to watch an interesting retelling of the Holden Caulfield story, you can watch Perks of Being a Wallflower. Honestly, It is a great work of literature and it will be interesting to see the story behind what inspired the author. It will be starring Nicholas Hoult as J.D. Salinger and will feature Kevin Spacey as a teacher and source of inspiration. Also, I hope you like biopics because this is the first of about a dozen by my count.

Battle of the Sexes – 9/22

The true story of the 1973 tennis match between World number one Billie Jean King and ex-champ and serial hustler Bobby Riggs.

I love both of these actors. I heard that after La La Land, now Emma Stone is the hottest thing since sliced bread and is making oodles of money. That’s good for her. She has a fantastic comedic sense and is able to sink her teeth into more meaty dramatic roles so this biopic should be great for her. Steve Carell has been one of my favorite comedic actors since his turn as Brick in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. It will be fantastic to watch these two play off of each other in a story of liberation, misogyny, and tennis.

Loving Vincent – 9/22

A feature film about the life and mysterious death of Vincent Van Gogh.

Just watching the trailer for this I am surprised that so much time and care has gone into the preparation of the film. If you haven’t heard anything about it, watch the trailer and be floored by the visuals as you realize that every single frame in this film about the life and death of Vincent Van Gogh was hand painted in oils meant to mimic his style. It looks stunning and innovative. I love to see films that do something that no one else has ever done and this will certainly do just that. Not only have I never heard the story of Van Gogh’s tortured creative process but I have certainly never seen a movie that is put together in this way. It should be very rewarding to watch.

Lucky – 9/29

The spiritual journey of a ninety-year-old atheist.

I really hope that Harry Dean Stanton gets an Oscar nomination for this. The film looks quirky and funny and contemplative and it is all centered around the tremendous skill of an actor that generally stays out of the limelight. You might probably best know Harry Dean Stanton as the janitor in The Green Mile that the guards use to practice for the execution. That is one of hundreds of roles he has had in his storied career. This also serves as the Directorial debut for that guy that everyone thinks is the Zodiac killer in Zodiac (John Carroll Lynch). I can imagine that I will probably be quoting lines from this for months after watching.

October

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – 10/13

After months have passed without a culprit in her daughter’s murder case, Mildred Hayes (Academy Award winner Frances McDormand) makes a bold move, painting three signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby (Academy Award nominee Woody Harrelson), the town’s revered chief of police. When his second-in-command Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence, gets involved, the battle between Mildred and Ebbing’s law enforcement is only exacerbated.

I’ve been ready for this one since I saw the trailer in front of something back in June or July. It is a combination of a number of things that I love. Frances McDormond is an amazing actress that doesn’t get nearly the number of roles she deserves. Much of that is probably because she only takes roles that are good. Sam Rockwell takes everything he is in up a couple of notches. And Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) is one of my favorite screenwriter/directors in the business today.

Marshall – 10/13

About a young Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, as he battles through one of his career-defining cases.

I’m a bit embarrassed that I know next to nothing about Thurgood Marshall except for the fact that he served on the Supreme court from 1967-1991 (I even had to look those dates up). Chadwick Boseman has been Mr. Biopic as of late. Before landing his role as Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (including his own stand-alone movie coming in 2018) he starred in 42 as Jackie Robinson and most recently in Get on Up as James Brown. So, he is no stranger to taking on another’s mannerisms and portraying their lives. This is clearly a story of Thurgood Marshall’s young life before he became part of the US Supreme court. Is this a film that interests you?

Same Kind of Different as Me – 10/20

International art dealer Ron Hall must befriend a dangerous homeless man in order to save his struggling marriage to his wife, a woman whose dreams will lead all three of them on the journey of their lives.

It looks like Hollywood might finally be figuring out that Christians want to see movies with Christian themes of love and mercy and generosity and equality portrayed in a artful manner by talented actors. I for one will be one of the first people lined up to see this film and I will be encouraging our Church to buy out showings to encourage more film like it to be made. With a cast of actors as eclectic and talented as this group there is no reason it shouldn’t be good. I just hope it’s not too schmaltzy or preachy. If they can walk that fine line and maintain realism while telling the story then it should be good.

Suburbicon – 10/27

Suburbicon is a peaceful, idyllic suburban community with affordable homes and manicured lawns…the perfect place to raise a family, and in the summer of 1959, the Lodge family is doing just that. But the tranquil surface masks a disturbing reality, as husband and father Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) must navigate the town’s dark underbelly of betrayal, deceit, and violence. This is a tale of very flawed people making very bad choices. This is Suburbicon.

I was torn whether to put this one in the Horror or Comedy category or here. It definitely will not be your average thriller. But I can’t just discount it as a comedy like Hot Fuzz. Instead, it seems to be blending Drama, Comedy, and Thriller tropes together to create something. It should be very interesting because The Coen Brothers usually direct the stories that they write, but this one they have handed off to their good friend, George Clooney, who has great abilities as a Director, but we haven’t seen his best work as of late.

Others to Watch:

Stronger coming on September 22nd. Stronger is the inspiring real life story of Jeff Bauman, an ordinary man who captured the hearts of his city and the world to become a symbol of hope following the infamous 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. This is getting some praise from actual Boston natives about it realism and authenticity. Jake Gyllenhaal is super talented so it should be great to see him get lost in this role.

Breathe coming on October 13th. The inspiring true love story of Robin and Diana Cavendish, an adventurous couple who refuse to give up in the face of a devastating disease. Their heartwarming celebration of human possibility marks the directorial debut of Andy Serkis. Yes, Gollum is directing a film with Claire Foy and Andrew Garfield. That’s intriguing if nothing else.

Only the Brave coming on October 20th. A drama based on the elite crew of firemen from Prescott, Arizona who battled a wildfire in Yarnell, AZ in June 2013 that claimed the lives of 19 of their members. Firemen are good people and they risk their lives to protect people. This might not be the greatest movie, but it should be a powerful reminder of their service with a great cast featuring: Jennifer Connelly, Taylor Kitsch, Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, and Andie MacDowell.

Wonderstruck coming on October 20th. The story of a young boy in the Midwest is told simultaneously with a tale about a young girl in New York from fifty years ago as they both seek the same mysterious connection. Directed by Todd Haynes (Carol, I’m Not There) and based on the Novel by Brian Selznick (Hugo).

The Mountain Between Us coming on October 20th. Stranded after a tragic plane crash, two strangers (Idris Elba and Kate Winslet) must forge a connection to survive the extreme elements of a remote snow covered mountain. When they realize help is not coming, they embark on a perilous journey across the wilderness. This sounds stressful and I won’t be taking my wife to see it or I will never get her on a plane.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women coming on October 27th. The true story of William Moulton Marston, the polyamorous relationship between his wife and mistress, the creation of his beloved comic book character “Wonder Woman”, and the controversy the comic generated in its earlier years. Playing off the success of Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman earlier this year, we get a biopic about the guy who created the Amazonian princess. Could be interesting.

Wow. That’s already quite a list and we still have two more months of the year to look at. Which are you most enthused about? Are there any that you aren’t sure about or that you think might not live up to their expectations? Let me know in the comments below or on Social media. Also, don’t forget to check out the other installments of this Fall Movie Guide: Action/Adventure, Horror/Thriller, and Comedy/Family.

Fall 2017 Movie Preview: Comedy/Family

This is a hard category because unlike Horror/Thriller where you can be fairly certain that all of the films are meant to be seen by adult eyes and ears, this category blends a bit of both worlds. We can have a family friendly animated film right next to a raunchy comedy. For that reason, I am going to include the MPAA rating after the synopsis. It should be fairly obvious which is which, but I didn’t want to waste time making two posts when these go together nicely.

September

Home Again – 9/8

Recently separated from her husband (Michael Sheen), Alice (Reese Witherspoon) decides to start over by moving back to her hometown of Los Angeles with her two young daughters. During a night out on her 40th birthday, Alice meets three aspiring filmmakers who happen to be in need of a place to live. Alice agrees to let the guys stay in her guest house temporarily, but the arrangement ends up unfolding in unexpected ways. Alice’s unlikely new family and new romance comes to a crashing halt when her ex-husband shows up, suitcase in hand. – PG-13

I’m not much of a romantic comedy fan, but this looks pretty good. I could see it being a fun date night or enjoyable flick for a group of ladies to watch. The guys all competing for her attention will make for some funny situations, but I predict that Michael Sheen as her ex-husband will be the best. Do you think she’ll get back together with her husband, or embrace the single life?

Lego: Ninjago – 9/22

The battle for Ninjago City calls to action young Master Builder Lloyd, along with his friends, who are all secret ninja warriors. Led by Master Wu, as wise-cracking as he is wise, they must defeat evil warlord Garmadon, The Worst Guy Ever, who also happens to be Lloyd’s dad. Pitting mech against mech and father against son, the epic showdown will test this fierce but undisciplined team of modern-day ninjas who must learn to check their egos and pull together to unleash their inner power of Spinjitzu. – PG

The folks behind the Lego Movie and the Lego Batman movie are hilarious. Here they have once again collected an extremely talented cast (Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Jackie Chan, Olivia Munn, etc.), although most of them are less well known than in the previous films. I don’t think this one will fare quite as well since Ninjago is not as well known or loved as Batman and that might hurt it. But it should be funny and enjoyable for the family.

October

My Little Pony – 10/6

A dark force threatens Ponyville, and the Mane 6 embark on an unforgettable journey beyond Equestria where they meet new friends and exciting challenges on a quest to use the magic of friendship to save their home.

I have a 12 year-old little girl. I will likely be front and center for this movie. I have to admit, while I’m not quite a bronie (look it up if you don’t know what that is), I do appreciate the humor and message of the show. Friendship is indeed magic. All of the glitter and sparkles of the Trolls movie with a heartwarming message at its core.

Goodbye Christopher Robin – 10/13

Goodbye Christoper Robin gives a rare glimpse into the relationship between beloved children’s author A. A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) and his son Christopher Robin (Will Tilston), whose toys inspired the magical world of Winnie the Pooh. Along with his mother Daphne (Margot Robbie), and his nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald), Christopher Robin and his family are swept up in the international success of the books; the enchanting tales bringing hope and comfort to England after the First World War. But with the eyes of the world on Christopher Robin, what will the cost be to the family? – PG

This one will be a nice film to take the kids to. It sounds delightful as a true story and kind of reminds me of Saving Mr. Banks. I think Domhnall Gleason is a fantastic actor. His work in Ex Machina was inspired. Plus I get to hear Kelly MacDonald’s beautiful Scottish accent as the nanny.

Killing Gunther – 10/20

A group of eccentric assassins are fed up with Gunther, the world’s greatest hitman, and decide to kill him, but their plan turns into a series of bungled encounters as Gunther seems to always be one step ahead. – R

Do yourself a favor and watch the trailer for this! I had not even heard of it. It feels like it has a Taika Waititi vibe, but that could just be the mock-umentary style. It reminds me of What we Do in the Shadows with the dark humor and shaky cam style. I hope that is a good sign. I know next to nothing about Taran Killiam beside the fact that he’s on Saturday Night Live and he’s married to Colbie Smoulders.  Most Saturday Night Live movies are awful, but they tend to take a skit and blow it up into a movie, this looks like a different concept and Schwarzenegger as the greatest hitman Gunther seems inspired. I guess all we can do is wait to see how it is.

November

Wonder – 11/17

Based on the New York Times bestseller, WONDER tells the incredibly inspiring and heartwarming story of August (Augie) Pullman, a boy with facial deformities who enters fifth grade, attending a mainstream elementary school for the first time. – PG

Steven Chbosky is one of my favorite writers. I hope this is a good adaptation. The trailer looks inspiring. This kind of film is so nice to see and I hope it gets good reviews and people go to see it. We all know how cruel kids can be, but will they use their ability to look beyond the physical to connect with this amazing young man. He’s being played by Jacob Tremblay (Room) and I can barely recognize him.

Coco – 11/22

Despite his family’s baffling generations-old ban on music, Miguel (voice of newcomer Anthony Gonzalez) dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (voice of Benjamin Bratt). Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead following a mysterious chain of events. Along the way, he meets charming trickster Hector (voice of Gael García Bernal), and together, they set off on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history. – PG

I’m excited that Pixar is jumping into a film like this that feels much more provincial than their most culturally specific film to date, Brave. I hope it pays off for them and that people come out in droves to see this. It reminds me a little bit of Book of Life and Kubo and the Two Strings. It should be a great film for the whole family.

December

Disaster Artist – 12/1

A behind the scenes look at the making of the best bad movie of all time. Based on the book of the same title by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell. Starring James Franco as Tommy Wiseau who wrote, produced, directed, and starred in 2003’s The Room.

I’m a big nerd about film making as well as movies in general. If you’ve never seen the trainwreck that is Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, do yourself a favor and watch it… for science. It is awful! How it could have possibly been made is beyond me. Why didn’t someone tell this man that he had no business making a movie? There has to be a story here, and there is. This won’t be for everyone and many will hate it because by the trailers it seems like James Franco’s Wiseau is spot on.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – 12/20

Four teenagers discover an old video game console and are literally drawn into the game’s jungle setting becoming the adult avatars they choose. – PG-13

For a remake / re-imagining it looks like they are doing things right. I loved the gender and role reversals we got in the trailer. it looks like it is going to be funny. I still don’t think that we need a new Jumanji, but if we’re going to get one, Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack, Black, and Karen Gillan should be able to provide an awesome one.

Downsizing – 12/22

When scientists discover how to shrink humans to five inches tall as a solution to over-population, Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to abandon their stressed lives in order to get small and move to a new downsized community — a choice that triggers life-changing adventures. – R

From the director that brought us Sideways, About Schmidt, and Election (Alexander Payne) comes another dramady starring Matt Damon. We don’t know a ton about the plot, but it sounds like it involves some sci-fi element and probably relates to social commentary about feeling small in this great big world. I personally am excited. What do you think?

Others to Watch:

A Bad Mom’s Christmas coming on November 3rd. The three moms from the original struggle to cope when their respective mothers visit for the holidays.

Daddy’s Home 2 coming on November 10th. Brad and Dusty must deal with their intrusive fathers during the holidays. The first one was over the top, but funny. This one looks like it could be hilarious with John Lithgow joining the cast as Will Ferrell’s dad and Mel Gibson showing up for the holidays as Mark Whalberg’s father.

Ferdinand coming on December 15th. Animated and based on the classic children’s book by Munro Leaf. After Ferdinand, a bull with a big heart, is mistaken for a dangerous beast, he is captured and torn from his home. Determined to return to his family, he rallies a misfit team on the ultimate adventure.

Pitch Perfect 3 coming on December 22nd. Following their win at the world championship, the now separated Bellas reunite for one last singing competition at an overseas USO tour, but face a group who uses both instruments and voices. Clearly, this is a bold faced attempt at an Oscar from Anna Kendrick… not. I love her as an actress, but this is one franchise I never got into. Acapella music is cool and everything, I think I even downloaded Cups, but it’s just not my cup of tea.

So which of these light-hearted films are you looking most forward to? Please leave me a comment in the section below or on social media! If you want to read the rest of my Fall preview, you can find the other sections here: Action/AdventureHorror/Thriller, Drama Sept-Oct, and Drama Nov-Dec.

Good Night, and Good Luck – 2005 – ★★★★

“Good Night, and Good Luck” feels almost like a documentary of real events from the 1950s. How stunning it must have been to watch TV journalist Edward Murrow and his confrontation with Senator Joseph McCarthy. It is a political film, but it doesn’t feel preachy. It is a spectacular movie about television and the role of media in the communication of the news. It should stand side by side with other classics like “All the President’s Men”, and “Network”.

Murrow, played chillingly by David Strathairn, was there at the dawn of television journalism and he cast a mold that all serious news reporters have tried to fill ever since. This film was nominated for Best Picture in 2006, and received five other nominations but criminally went home with nothing. George Clooney was Oscar nominated for his co-writing and direction, his portrayal of the CBS studio is made even more realistic by the film being entirely in black and white.

I am a skeptic by nature and I agree with the film’s premise that we must learn to question things. Television can be a tool in this cultural skepticism when real journalism is taking place, but everything from advertising to our own shrinking attention spans has turned television into just another entertainment device. As Murrow says at the end of the film, “There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful. The instrument can teach, it can illuminate. Yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it is merely lights and wires in a box.” The same could be said of the silver screen and the films that are produced by Hollywood. I’m glad that movies like “Good Night and Good Luck” still exist to do more than entertain but educate and enlighten.

Vía Letterboxd – mauldin8302

2007 Best Movie Bracket

As I mentioned in the last post, 2008 was the beginning of the Comic book adaptation explosion. This march through the years to determine the Best Movie of all time really shows that themes come out in particular years. 2007 was loaded with amazing movies that almost no one saw. They were so good that I may have my first year with multiple winners. I say that no one saw them because the top 3 highest grossing films of 2007 were Transformers, Shrek the Third, and Spider-Man 3. All were panned by critics and had lackluster performance at the box office. This was a year for those Superbad movies and others like Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Wild Hogs, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Bee Movie, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, and Norbit.

That being said, the ugly performance of popular films in 2007 really made the gems shine. We had an artsy Bob Dylan biopic with I’m Not There, and one of the coolest, nerdiest documentaries ever in King of Kong. There was a great entry from one of my favorite directors Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, Network) who gave us Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. We saw a minor resurgence of good westerns with a 3:10 to Yuma remake and my pick for best long title movie, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. On the musical front, there were several solid entries from Sweeney Todd, Across the Universe, August Rush, and the hauntingly beautiful Once. There were also two emotionally shattering foreign films in Diving Bell and the Butterfly and 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days.

Other must watch films from the year include: Hot Fuzz, Ratatouille, Juno, Into The Wild, I Am Legend, Sunshine, Atonement, Gone Baby Gone, Lars and the Real Girl, American Gangster, Persepolis, and Michael Clayton. Charlie Bartlett is the film that sticks in my mind for the late Anton Yelchin, It is not a perfect film, but it is very entertaining with a great cast. However, all of these good films should wait if you haven’t seen any of my top three. I consider two of them modern classics that are almost perfect films.

3rd – Zodiac

Zodiac is a woefully underrated film from David Fincher, the same director that gave us Se7en and Fight Club. Roger Ebert said in his four-star review, “Zodiac is the All the President’s Men of serial killer movies, with Woodward and Bernstein played by a cop and a cartoonist…. What makes Zodiac authentic is the way it avoids chases, shootouts, grandstanding and false climaxes, and just follows the methodical progress of police work.” The cast (Mark Ruffalo, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Robert Downey Jr.) as well as the tone and script are all so tight and precise. It’s a delightful movie and immensely frustrating and entertaining. Now, onto the two films which I will be including in the Best Movie Bracket Competition.

Continue reading 2007 Best Movie Bracket

2009 Best Movie Bracket

What was the best movie of 2009? I could have easily listed a top 3 with nothing but animated features. We saw traditional live action directors like Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox) and Spike Jonze (Where the Wild Things Are) make a leap into animation and childhood adaptations with great success. The Secret of Kells came out of Ireland and is available on Netflix. It is well worth your time. Also, Pixar gave us one of the most painfully beautiful wordless montage that I have ever seen. I cannot watch it to this day without tearing up. If Up ended after the first hour it would probably be my favorite of the year, but I think it falls apart a bit in the 3rd act.

We had solid releases from directors like James Cameron (Avatar) and Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds). And real surprises from newcomers like Duncan Jones (Moon), Neil Blomkamp (District 9) and Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth). All of these are great pictures and could qualify as the best of the year in their own rights. But let’s see my top 3 movies of the year.

Continue reading 2009 Best Movie Bracket

2010 Best Movie Bracket

There were a tremendous number of innovative and well crafted movies in 2010. This made it very hard for me to decide on my top movie for this year. A lot of the the critics that I really respect pick a ton of independent films that only 20% of film-goers have even really had the opportunity to see. I tend to watch more populist films or independent films that get a fair amount of press. As I have already expressed, I am only picking from movies that I have seen, so I had to pass over films like Never Let Me Go, or A Prophet.

Even without those films, and not counting the three that I finally chose, we still had Inception, Black SwanExit Through The Gift Shop, DogtoothTrue Grit, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Meek’s Cutoff, and Winter’s Bone. Yes, you heard that correctly, I am not including Inception in my top three. It is certainly a good film and I would consider it part of my top 10 of the year, but it had some big problems that I couldn’t get past. Christopher Nolan wants us to see this as his greatest achievement, and while it is gorgeous and very intricately crafted I wish he didn’t feel the need to explain everything so explicitly and the fact that we don’t get much character development.

As far as the box office for the year, it looks like this year is lining up to be very similar to 2010. Five of the top ten highest grossing films of the year were animated, six if you include Alice in Wonderland, and many of them were very good, but I think that as we march backwards through time we will see the chasm between a film’s financial success and visionary prowess shrink. So let’s see the three films that I put on the top of the heap.

3rd – The King’s Speech

Tom Hooper’s historical feature The King’s Speech was the big winner at the Oscars celebrating the films of 2010. It won 4 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Colin Firth who gave a fantastic central performance as a man with a crippling handicap who just happened to be Britain’s King George VI. The central relationship between Firth and Geoffrey Rush who plays his unorthodox speech therapist is filled with a wry and self-effacing sense of humor.

It’s a pleasure to watch Firth bring a heavy tension and frustration to his role as a man who cannot find his voice who has been thrust into the role of the voice of all of England. Firth begins the film by stepping up to a microphone as if he is stepping into a hangman’s noose. After a series of failed attempts with vocal coaches, his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) pairs him with the unconventional Rush who insists on calling the budding monarch “Bertie” and treating him as an equal. Eventually, Firth unbends under Rush’s calm, unforgiving style and unwavering good humor. Firth’s agony and this rich relationship makes this one a good candidate for the best of the year.

2nd – Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 was the top grossing film of the year coming in almost $100 million above Alice in Wonderland. I often think about the reason why these animated films do so well at the box office. I think a huge part of it is because kids can’t go to the movies by themselves. So with every group of happy children there is at least one adult along for the ride. It is like a buy one get one deal in reverse where the theaters sell one ticket and get one more at full price for good measure. However, I think that with Toy Story 3, there may have been times when the kids were being dragged in by the parents who were hoping to catch a glimpse of the magic they saw years before.

In this third and what we thought would be final Toy Story movie, we see a bunch of toys desperately trying to force an 18-year-old to play with them the way he did a decade ago. Coming to the realization that he has moved on, they mourn and debate about their place as Andy’s toys. The Toy Story movies have always been about the joy of play, but never before has it seemed like such a drag to be a toy. The fate of most toys is probably a horror story if we think about it. Essentially, they are immortal beings whose only pleasure comes from entertaining fickle children who will quickly grow up to forget them, leaving them to be broken and discarded.

There were few grimmer movie moments in 2010 than the point where the toys face their deaths, and few more uplifting sequences than the film’s ending. It’s strange to speak of a kids’ film as challenging, moving, and heartfelt, but Pixar’s movies continue to be some of the most sophisticated and entertaining films that we see all year, bar none. They did it again this year with Finding Dory though maybe not to the extent of Toy Story 3.

1st – The Social Network

Writer Aaron Sorkin (West Wing, A Few Good Men) and director David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac) make a movie about the contentious beginnings of Facebook, scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross from metal band Nine Inch Nails. While that certainly sounds interesting and potentially exciting, it also sounds like it could be a bit of a mess. I remember thinking when I heard about the plans for this film that it had everything it needed to be great it just had to find a way to put all those things into one box.

That is what makes this movie is so audaciously impressive. Sorkin is famous for his extremely verbal dialogue. How could that exist alongside the visual stylings of a guy like Fincher? And what business do these guys have working on a Facebook biopic since their specialties seemed to be government corruption and cover-ups, murder, scandal, and social unrest? They made it work to amazing effect. Using the deposition recordings of two separate lawsuits against Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg  as an ingenious framing device,The Social Network traces the site’s origin in all its agonizing complexity.

Speaking of Zuckerberg, if you have seen this movie, the picture that you get in your head probably looks a good bit more like actor Jesse Eisenberg than the actual founder. Eisenberg was able to capture the innovation and youthful energy of Zuckerberg while also detailing his all too human flaws. We completely forget that this is a movie about recent events in the unfolding of the technological world and we are enthralled in this compelling story of a genius who is often petty and puerile but is also driven pathologically by the same thing that drives the 500 billion users of Facebook… the need to belong.

What do you think? Did I get it right? I’m actually going to put an asterisk on this one because I would like to potentially come back and add Toy Story 3 if I don’t use my four ties before the end.