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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Lady Bird

good comedy to rent best films of 2017 fun
Lady Bird is the word.

Just when you think you’ve seen every coming-of-age story, Lady Bird flies into the fall movie season. 

Actress (Frances Ha) and writer Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial debut centers on a high-school senior about to leave the nest. She is determined to declare her independence and become someone more than ordinary.

Saoirse Rona (Atonement, Brooklyn) stars as the adorkable “Lady Bird,” and is a fitting Gerwig proxy. In both Rona’s performance and this film, the art is in the keenly observed details. Gerwig articulates every nuance of Lady Bird’s 2002 Sacramento middle class life, and those details graduate up to an irresistible film. 

It certainly helps that all supporting players are fully realized. Lady Bird’s hypercritical mom and unmotivated dad, played by Laurie Metcalf and Tracie Latts, are not one-note stereotypes. And although it was probably tempting to do otherwise, neither are the leaders of her Catholic school. Nor her girlfriends. Nor her boyfriends. Every relationship in this film eventually tugs at your heart.
Watching Ronan spread her wings as Lady Bird is a joy. It is of the best most entertaining stories about adolescence in years.

In a nutshell: This coming of age film gets an A+ for authenticity and originality. 

Award potential: Metcalf, fresh off her Tony win for Broadway's A Doll's House: Part 2, is sure to be a Best Supporting Actress front-runner in what may be her richest role yet. 

Look for nominations for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Actress as well. A Best Director nod would be a powerful statement towards the originality of Gerwig’s work, but is less likely than above. Lady Bird should do big business with Golden Globe nominations in the Comedy or Musical category. 

The ten buck review: Worth ten bucks.

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

oscar best pictures 2017 2018 golden globes
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.

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.