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Monday, November 20, 2017

Justice League

A League Of Their Own. 

Today's model of success for the major movie studios is to build a universe of franchise films, and not create a good film or two. Justice League is the poster child for that unfortunate model, as it spends half of its running time setting up the future films, which is quite a boring ride for a viewer.

It's clear that DC should have collected a few good films before assembling its comic book crown jewel— the collection of A-team heroes that call themselves the Justice League. JL even soils all the goodwill from summer's winning Wonder Woman by turning her (Gal Gadot) into nothing more than a sexist comedian at the expense of a joyless Batman (Ben Affleck), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and that super duper guy we all know comes back.

DC is much better at TV with Greg Berlanti's "Arrowverse." By the time the established and loved B-characters characters from Arrow, Flash and Supergirl assembled for a guest episode, it was breezily exciting.

Justice League could use some breeze and excitement, but it's too muddled down in establishing other films (the upcoming Aquaman, Flash and Cyborg) or trying to explain past ones (Man of Steel, Superman v. Batman) to find any rhythm. I didn't expect Justice League to be an award-worthy film such as Logan, but it should definitely be the most exciting movie available to comic book fans.

This hot mess doesn't know what to look like either. Aquaman's world has one look, Superman and Batman another. There is attempt to unify the mess with lightning bolts I guess, but imagine how thrilling this could be with a unified look such as what illustrator Alex Ross created for the pages of DC.

What did work? Flash's character, essentially Quicksilver from the Marvel films, adds much needed comic breaks throughout and I looked forward to every scene with the quick-witted speedster. Those big bug baddies, previously seen in BvS, were a stunning foil for action sequences. All of Bruce Waynes toys and vehicles — and Danny Elfman.

If you're as antsy for something to think about as I was during most of the film, focus on how composer Danny Elfman brilliantly weaved all the current hero themes plus his classic Batman (1989) and John Williams' Superman (1978) themes into a coherent musical tapestry. Maybe he should write and direct the next film.

Spoiler alert: In the final act, the bad guy gets big and a hero throws a thing at it to destroy it.

Simply put: Gloomy scene. Group shot. Confusing setup scene.Witty retort by Flash. Repeat for two hours. Ugh, go see the Thor movie instead.

Award potential: Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) and Lois Lane's (Amy Adams) dialogue in the corn field and Cavill's stiff acting should garner some super-sized Razzie attention.

The ten buck review: Not worth ten bucks.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Murder On The Orient Express

big disappointing movies
Hercule Poirot, I'd like to confess. 

I'd like to confess that for most of the year I've been tremendously excited about the possibilities of director Kenneth Branagh resurrecting Agatha Christie whodunits for modern cinema. And I've been thrilled with the killer cast of suspects: Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeifer, Daisy Ridley, Derek Jacobi, Penelope Cruz, Josh Gad and a train-full more. I deduced that this would be one of my favorites of the year, and fell victim to my inflated expectations. It's an OK film at best.

Branagh got some things right. The casting, fresh cinematography and his own performance as the mustached Poirot suggest a franchise of murder mysteries for years to come. 

However, the performances roll in as a hot mess. Dench and Gad's characters, who were standouts in the book, never seem to have a memorable moment onscreen despite the talent playing them. The lush look of this film is over the top and fantastical, which freshens up the classic nature of the story. I wish that same approach had been applied to the performances. Fresh from seeing Thor: Ragnarock enliven its serious series (initiated by Branagh), I couldn't help but wonder how that form of wit would have worked wonders here. The characters play their parts as if they're in TV's Sherlock, but come across more like dinner theater camp. I'm kinda embarrassed for everyone involved.

I can only see this movie as it should have been. For everyone who was hoping this film would resurrect whodunits, a crime had definitely taken place. 

In a nutshell: A train full of witty Brits never leaves the station.

Award potential: None.

The Ten Buck Review: Not worth ten bucks.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best films of 2017 what should I rent stream
Signs of the times.

2017 has been such a poor year for movies and such a strong one for television that it’s tempting to say this entry is “as good as HBO.”

Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) purchases three billboards to make a statement and draws fire from the chief of police (Woody Harrelson), an officer (Sam Rockwell) and half of the town of Ebbing, Missouri. 

Mildred’s quest for justice is a timely match to the many moods of TrumpAmerica and McDormand milks every zingy comic scene and every heart-tugging moment. Put this film on the shelf next to her winning performances in Fargo (1996) and Olive Kitteridge (2014).

Writer-Director Martin McDonagh (Best Screenplay Academy Award winner for In Bruges, 2006) gives us a revenge-and-justice film that suggests consequences for all actions, including revenge. It’s a dark comedy, but it’s a whole lot more fun than another redemptive small town film Nebraska (2013) or pretty much any film this year.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri ushers in the 2017 Oscar-quality movie season. It’s such a thrill to see a good movie in the theater again that I may go buy three billboards to spread the word.

Simply put: Start the bonfire. It's the brightest spark of quality film this year.

Award potential: Oscar-wise, it's this year’s Manchester by the Sea with expected nominations in all major categories and front-runners in the acting and screenplay ones. McDormand is a lock and I’m thrilled to say that Sam Rockwell will likely get a nomination for his scene-stealing role as a backwards cop with mama issues.

The ten buck review:
Worth ten bucks

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Blade Runner 2049

best films 2017 what should I rent
The real thing. 

I re-watched the original, non-director’s cut of Blade Runner (1982) this week to get a sense of how truly revolutionary it was, or if its greatness was some nostalgic, artificially implanted memory. Ridley Scott’s initially underrated film was a mind-blower with narrative and visuals that have inarguably inspired every sci-fi film since — the Terminator, Matrix and Avatar series are just a few.

Let me initially note that Blade Runner 2049 is unlikely to be equally revolutionary, but it is a stunning, mind-blowing and worthy follow up. This is definitely not a cash grab. Director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario) masterfully honors the beloved story, builds on it and gives us more puzzles to debate. Scott is executive producer. 

To hint at plot points or characters is unfair to future viewers, but I can say that 2049 is not a heavy action movie. Like its predecessor, it is ultimately a philosophical film that explores what it means to be human, to have a soul, to be real. The poetic script by Hampton Fancher (Blade Runner, Logan) chews on those key questions in a future that has changed less in its thirty years than our world has. 

Key for enjoying this experience, the script does steamroll towards some form of resolution. But as you know with this world, nothing is certain. This showy, confident and nearly three-hour film should please casual fans and film snobs alike. 

Simply put: Titillating visuals. Solid cast. Booming sound. Elevated storytelling. 2049 is a stunning mindbender and worthy heir to one of one of the most influential science fiction films of all time. 

Award potential: Sci-fi and sequels don’t usually do well with Best Picture and Best Director nominations but 2049 should build quite a tally in multiple categories, similar to Mad Max: Fury Road

13-time nominee for Best Cinematography, Roger A. Deakins (No Country For Old Men, The Shawshank Redemption), should be on a short list to get his 14th Academy Award nomination. Maybe he’ll win one. Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch do justice to those iconic themes by Vangelis and should compete against themselves (Dunkirk) for Best Original Score, if not “Loudest.” Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling are impeccable, but unlikely to compete in the acting categories. Expect nods for Best Visual Effects, Best Sound, Best Sound Editing, Best Makeup and more. 

The ten buck review: Worth ten bucks

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Mountain Between Us

A perilous journey.

Stranded on a mountain after a plane crash, two sexy strangers work together to survive. They're conflicted on whether to stay put — or run away. To keep alert or fall asleep and rest. Oddly, those are the same thoughts I experienced while watching this film.

When a passerby saw the commotion about the premiere, he asked me what movie I was seeing. As I said the name, The - Mountain - Between - Us, out loud I should have realized what I was about to endure. The mesmerizing duo of actors in their peak (Kate Winslet, Idris Elba) did pull me in early, but eventually I realized I was watching a paperback novel on screen.

The storyline, like those pulpy novels, is never realistic enough for the audience to truly fear for its leads. I was more concerned that Academy Award winner Kate Winslet had to read those laughable lines in the third act than for her character's ability to endure the extreme elements. Let's just bury this one and move on.

Simply put: The scenery and the stars are pretty to look at, but unless you're looking for a pulpy paperback played out on screen, this film puts the word "disaster" in "disaster movie."

Award potential: Razzie potential.

The Ten Buck Review: Not worth ten bucks.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Victoria & Abdul

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We are amused.

Despite its stuffy title and subject matter, Victoria & Abdul is a broad comedy about the most influential broad of the Victorian era, Queen Victoria. The opening line,“Based on real events…mostly,” reads at the beginning and that whimsy continues for most of this entertaining film. 

As a viewing experience, V&A falls somewhere between director Stephen Frears’ other films: the sublime drama The Queen (2006) and the madcap comedy Florence Foster Jenkins (2016). And while Dame Judi Dench never plays Victoria for laughs, there are plenty of amusements on screen.

Dench has played Queen Victoria before; she starred in the well-received Mrs. Brown (1997). This time, she plays the bored, stifled version of the 68-year old monarch as she encounters an Indian servant named Abdul Karren, played by Ali Fazal (Fast & Furious 7).

The encounter, based on Shrabani Basu’s book, Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen's Closest Confidant, begins an unlikely friendship. A friendship that was recently revealed to the world in 2010. It would be unbelievable if it wasn’t true.

These top actors help viewers understand how this friendship could be— how royalty could yearn for an emotional connection that was unavailable to them from family and countrymen. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of formula and few surprises beyond this revelation, and the harsh shift from comedy to drama is too abrupt at the end. But winningly, the deft comic touch, incredible scenery and strong performances prevail. 

This is a royally fun two hours at the movies.

Simply put: Guess who’s coming for mango chutney? V&A is fun, funny and fully entertaining.

Award potential: Not strong enough to rule on Oscar night in the film and directing categories, but it should do well at the Golden Globes in the Comedy divisions. Dench could ride into the Oscar five Best Actresses as she did for Mrs. Brown, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

The Ten Buck Review: Worth ten bucks.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


best horror movies 2017
Allegory? Or just gory? 

I’ve heard that 2017 will be remembered as the year of the highbrow horror movie. Both Get Out and Stephen King’s It have been both critical and commercial successes this year, and a new fall film, Mother!, boasts an all Oscar-caliber, past-nominated cast (Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfieffer and Ed Woods). 


While director Darren Aronosfsky’s film is superbly crafted and thought provoking, it doesn’t provide enough meat for quality movie lovers nor enough roller coaster excitement for the horror audience. It falls somewhere between. 

Our theater appeared to be divided into those that got the allegory story and were not surprised by, er, revelations — and those that did not. That second group was likely full of the folks leaving the theater in the final arc. It was close to a quarter of the room that left my showing.

Simply put: At the end of the day, neither film intellectuals nor horror fans will be satisfied enough to spend two hours with this.

Award potential: It will spur a mother load of discussion, but no Oscar talk.

The Ten Buck Review: Not worth ten bucks.