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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.

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.