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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.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Twin Peaks: The Return

 The Peak TV event of the year.

I’ve been mad at David Lynch for over 25 years. That’s how long it’s been since the 1991 finale of Twin Peaks ended abruptly, with a cruel twist to fans. The final minutes closed with central character Agent Cooper becoming possessed by the spirit of Bob, Laura Palmer’s supernatural killer. Cooper laughed through the screen with an evil grin, and I felt like Lynch was doing the same to all of us who invested in the world of Twin Peaks.

There were no answers in the 1992 movie either. The log lady might have warned me, but I was flattened with a prequel that raised even more questions. Whenever I have been asked about my “least favorite” movie in polls, social list and at parties, I’ve had an easy go-to answer prepared: The theater-clearing Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

That frustration has always been a shame, because Twin Peaks was damn good TV. It challenged what TV could become and it launched the next-level movement that led to The X-Files, The Sopranos, Mad Men and eventually, and ironically, the standouts of “Peak TV” today: Fargo, Breaking Bad, True Detective, Mr. Robot and more.

Twenty-five years later, I forgive you David Lynch and Mark Frost.

The Return has given that infamous cliffhanger a bookend. And it has given its viewers the most dazzling television of the year. It’s possible that Lynch and Frost (Hill Street Blues) weren’t ever taunting us with unfinished plot lines on purpose, as this 18-part series has a full story to tell. Truly, the owls are not what they seem.

Showtime billed this as “Cooper’s return to Twin Peaks” and it has delivered very specifically to that quote. Lynch, who directed all 18 parts, is in top form as he milks every stalled scene for those who are patient enough to travel along.

The Return is bizarre, brilliant, sometimes funny, sometimes frightening and always entertaining. It begs you to turn out the lights, put down your phone and see what unfolds.

This is the (twisted stem) cherry on top of the brilliant season one. In terms of pure satisfaction and elevation of the form, Twin Peaks is an unexpected triumph.

Simply put: Diane, take note: this is damn good TV.

Award potential: An Golden Globe Emmy contender in all categories. Episode 8 should claim multiple trophies and will become an entry in film study. Director Lynch and actors Kyle MacLachlan, Laura Dern and Naomi Watts are clear front runners in their categories.

The Ten Buck Review: Worth ten bucks (or a Showtime description this month). Showtime will run all 18 parts on Sunday, September 3.


How to watch Twin Peaks Parts 1-3

Showtime has released each rich “part” in standard weekly format, allowing viewers to absorb as well as truly anticipate the full return of a favorite character or two or three. I feel sorry for anyone who chooses to binge later.

1. Watch the first season, from 1990 (Showtime). There are 8 episodes.
2. Watch just the first seven episodes from season two (Laura’s killer is revealed), and then skip to the final two episodes (21 and 22). You can go back later, but you’ll lose interest in Twin Peaks if you try to watch the flawed second season.
3. Watch Twin Peaks: The Return (season three), do not binge
4. Halfway through season three, you may find that  theTwin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me movie will provide some info. Addicts only; it won't be entertaining.

5. Watch the final episodes of The Return

Friday, August 25, 2017

Home Again

Best comedy of 2017
Meyers-Shyer brings it home.

2017 has been a polarizing year, so it was no surprise to me that when the James Beard Foundation released its list of 2017 food trends it was topped by nostalgic, comfortable items. Comfy is in. As far as movies, it also makes sense we have need for some feel good flicks. 

Who better to deliver comfy rom-com on a platter than Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, The Intern, It’s Complicated, Something’s Gotta Give)

It turns out the answer is her daughter, writer director Hallie Meyers-Shyer. Meyers-Shyer brings us the story of a single mom (Reese Witherspoon) who moves her family to her parents home in Los Angeles and rents out a room to three young guys. As you may have guessed, a May-December romance follows — except that it’s a December-May romance. Witherspoon’s character’s fling with the aspiring film student is fun twist to the usual onscreen story. 

While Meyers-Shyer brings us that flip, she unfortunately brings us another flop on a common problem. This time, the male characters are all underwritten stereotypes that don’t act or speak like men do. That miss threatens to take this comedy, already filled with conveniences, too far down the eye-rolling road. 

However, that Meyers family touch wins out anyway. This is a film that leaves you smiling too many times, and that’s a pretty fabulous feat halfway through 2017. 

And yes, the kitchens are perfect. 

Simply put: If you think you’d like this feel-good chick flick, you will. It’s not a home run like The Holiday, but it's about as good as The Intern.

Award potential: Not a contender, nor does it try.

The Ten Buck Review: Worth ten bucks. Opens September 8, 2017.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Big Sick

best comedy of 2017

Real. Sick.

The story of The Big Sick centers on Kumail’s (Kumail Nanjian from Silicon Valley and Mike and Dave Need Dates) courtship of Emily (Zoe Kazan from It’s Complicated). When Emily suddenly comes down with an illness that leaves her in a coma, the relationship between the Pakistani comic and American graduate student is exposed to both of their families.

One other thing I should mention — it’s a romantic comedy. It’s a funny one with more depth than most rom-coms from this decade. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Emily’s parents add to the strong ensemble and Kumail’s family culture of arranged marriage is a refreshing subtext hardly seen in comedic film. Working against the film is a convenient resolution in the third act.

One other thing I should mention — that too-good-to-be true plot twist and this whole story is based on the true story of Nanjian’s real-life courtship of co-author Emily V. Gordon.

Michael Showalter (Wet Hot American Summer, Hello, My Name Is Doris) directed this film, which is produced by Judd Apatow (Trainwreck, Girls, Knocked Up, 40-Year Old Virgin) who has a knack for introducing comic talent to bigger stages. This is one of his best.

Simply put: Although the final act goes on about a bit too long to be perfect, The Big Sick is this year’s crowd-pleasing comedy.

Award potential: Should do very well with Golden Globe nominations across all comedy catagories.

The Ten Buck Review: Worth ten bucks.

Sunday, July 30, 2017


Just enough.

Before I walked into the theater, I had already heard the word “masterpiece” used by reviewers at Time magazine, The Atlantic and other sources that gave similar praise for Dunkirk. To me, using that word is somewhat accurate. 

As far as bringing the ground, sea and air of WWII to life, it is indeed a stunning masterpiece and the score, sound and FX should have those respective 2018 Oscars locked. However, despite being a grand spectacle, I did find that Dunkirk lacked something I needed from a full movie experience. 

The film’s famously sparse dialogue is likely the source. Likely some key actors as well. Despite the powerful story, I needed to connect to the central characters more. Newcomers Fionn Whitehead (land) and Jack Lowden (air) played characters so silent and soulless that I can’t even remember their character’s names. I’m sure director Christopher Nolan was going for realism versus scripted Hollywood fare, but I needed more.

That balance was perfectly executed by some seasoned pros. Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branaugh) and seaman Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) utilized their lines to sell and propel the story. They provided some heart to it as well.

The story, an important rescue mission, also lacks some of the resolution we’re used to seeing in a big WWII film but Nolan crafted a finale that ultimately sold me on Dunkirk.

This exchange, at one point during the story that I won't reveal, sums up my feelings for the full film:

Blind man: Well done.
Alex (Harry Styles): All we did was survive.
Blind man: That’s enough

Simply put: Well crafted. Well done. That’s enough to recommend this film. 

Award potential: A lock for nominations and likely wins in technical categories. There will be nominations for Best Picture, Best Cinematographer and maybe Best Supporting Actor (Rylance) too, but by next February this film will not be on the radar for those top honors. Even Saving Private Ryan, another summer release, couldn’t take home a win. 

Ten buck review: Worth ten bucks. Worth IMAX and 70mm pricing too.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

This Spidey is so McFly.

The last two Amazing Spider-Man films were anything but. Each of those films, as well as the original trilogy, has retold the origin story in every single stinkin’ film, so I’m thrilled to tell you that Homecoming provides only this line, “So you got bit by a spider,” as an origin. Non-spoiler alert: you don’t have to watch Uncle Ben die again either.
Homecoming picks up after Spidey’s comedic appearance in Captain America: Civil War (2016), with a teenage Tom Holland working his way through, well, John Hughs High. In a fresh move for Marvel, half of this movie feels like an 80’s high school comedy ­with winks and nods to Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) and Breakfast Club (1985). 

Mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and villain Vulture (Michael Keaton) turn in seasoned, adult performances to make sure we know this is a legit Marvel endeavor, but each threaten to clash with this fresh approach. 

Credit some restraint by Marvel and a zippy, awkward hero performance by Tom Holland that recalls Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly. High praise indeed. 

Spider Man's nemesis was not the Green Goblin; It was teen angst, melodrama and hyperbolic action sequences. This friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man flies by seat of his spandex pants and it’s a modern marvel. 

Simply put: My spider sense says we’ll be seeing more of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, and I’m fine with that. 

Award potential: Not much Oscar-worthy here. 

The ten buck review: Worth ten bucks.

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Beguiled

Like a Virginian.

In January, I listed my New Year’s Wishes for 2017 at the movies. I wished that Wonder Woman would be wonderful, Logan would be the Wolverine movie we’ve been waiting for and that the clearly uninspired remakes and sequels, specifically Baywatch, Mummy, Alien and Fifty Shades, would tank at the box office. I wished that the Oscars would move beyond #oscarssowhite. And I wished that Sofia Coppola would make our day with The Beguiled. 

Most of my wishes have come true, but while The Beguiled entertained me for a bit, it certainly did not make my day, and it won’t make my Best of the Year list. 

Director Sofia Coppola took best director prize at Cannes for The Beguiled. I can understand some of that. It is craftfully created, and each visual drips with the mossy visuals of a Civil-war era Virginia holding on to what beauty is left — but it’s not the film I hoped for. 

The story, a remake of the Clint Eastwood film from 1971, is a slight one. Colin Farrell, who I really want to like in a movie one day, is no Clint Eastwood. 

What does work, other than the Southern gothic scenery, is Nicole Kidman. Her politely suppressed character, like the best British and Southern movies, is sublime. I can tell you now without a spoiler, one static look in the final act will make her career montage.

Kidman is having one heck of a year from Lion to Big Little Lies to this. I should have wished for more Nicole Kidman in 2017.

Simply put: Not the film I hoped for, but a fine and pleasantly short film as counterpoint to the lengthy summer blockbusters at the cinema now.

Award potential: Nicole Kidman has a shot at Best Supporting Actress nominations on this one, but summer films are famously ignored. Kirsten Dunst was fine, but forgettable.

The Ten Buck Review: Worth ten bucks.