Movie Watching (January)

The time of year has arrived where I try to catch a lot of the films that have gathered critical acclaim, a place on my favorite critic’s top movies of the year list and/or awards attention.  Of course, there is always the desire to watch a fun movie and be thoroughly entertained. Here is the start to my movie watching in 2016.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (Theater)- JJ Abrams and a cast mixed with old and new resurrect the Star Wars franchise to ole nostalgia glory as well as laying a foundation for new directions.  A very fun movie that brought back feelings I had when I was a kid.    **** 1/2

Shaun the Sheep- Receiving some awards attention, this animated film based upon the British series is fun and has some hilarious moments.  I don’t recall much (if any) dialogue as I watched the movie.  Shaun decides one day that he wants to take a day off from the farm work.  Through a series of hijinks, he and some animals find themselves in the big city.  Now, they have to find their way home.  *** 1/2

The Walk- Robert Zemeckis has been a virtuoso director since mixing live action and animation way back in the 1980s with “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”  He would get even higher acclaim in the mid-1990s when Forrest Gump emerged as a film character for the ages and Zemeckis gave us real news footage mixed into the fictional, biographical life of Gump.  With “The Walk”, Zemeckis tells a story of an immigrant coming to the USA in order to pursue his dream of walking a tight rope between the World Trade Center Towers in 1974.  The result contains drama, some surprising moments of humor, a cat-and-mouse thriller as high wire artist Philippe Petit sets everything up for his stunt.  The visual effects as Petit does his “dance” on the wire looked really legit.  Also, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt is very good in this movie.  Even if I didn’t really care for how the narrative device was executed, this was certainly a good movie and worth the time.  *** 1/2

Sicario- A story about the drug war on the US southern border is an immensely dark film.  How could it be any other way?  Emily Blunt plays Kate Macer, an idealistic FBI agent joins forces with a team led by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin, an incredible actor) whose goal is to take down the leader of a Mexican drug cartel.  Joining the team is the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro).  Who are these guys?  Macer asks if they are CIA but the information from the group is not forthcoming.  In the drug war, the ends justify the means of course.  The rule of law is irrelevant.  Everything is a political chess game based upon whoever’s agenda.  A few scenes go beyond the realism that the rest of the movie presents to us.  It reminded me of “No Country for Old Men”, the Coen Brother masterpiece, and a large reason may be that Roger Deakins was behind the camera lens for “Sicario” and “No Country for Old Men.”  ****

A Walk in the Woods- Tonally uneven, “A Walk in the Woods” based upon the popular book by Bill Bryson is overall a disappointment.  The main problem is the script which follows Bryson (portrayed by the veteran Robert Redford) and Stephen Katz (the old, grizzled Nick Nolte) as they wander (and occasionally take a golf cart) up the Appalachian Trail.  The script issues are too bad because there are some good moments  in the film directed by Ken Kwapis.  The issues involve an earlier hiker, the annoying Mary Ellen (Kristen Schaal), who is so over the top that her potential comedic value is wasted.  Also Katz tries to commit adultery with a woman at a Laundromat and the woman’s husband comes looking for him at the motel that him and Bryson are staying at while the two men escape back to the trail while crawling out windows.  The whole sequence didn’t work for me.  This is a movie that tries hard to be funny while building chemistry between Redford and Nolte.  Chemistry between these two never quite connects to the audience and too many jokes fall flat.  For a good movie about hiking, check out Reese Witherspoon in “Wild” (the story of Cheryl Strayed).  ** 1/2

Furious 7- What should the audience expect from a Fast and Furious movie?  Cars, girls in bikinis gyrating around some sort of race track, an over-the-top and otherwise not believable “mission” and not the greatest of acting, of course.  All of that is present in the seventh installment of the unlikely hit franchise which had seemed to run out of gas after the third movie “Tokyo Drift” (which I have never seen).  There are fancy cars, top notch stunts and wall-to-wall action.  The story even manages a little bit of heart as the filmmakers had to write actor Paul Walker out of the franchise after his tragic and heart-breaking car accident.  The script finds a genuinely moving way to send Mr. Walker off the series that made him famous. For action and car fans, this is worth a watch.  ***

Infinitely Polar Bear- A melancholy sadness is at the center of “Infinitely Polar Bear” which features Mark Ruffalo as a manic-depressive father named Cam Stuart.  Stuart attempts to take full responsibility of his daughters with Maggie Stuart (Zoe Saldana) while she tries to go back to school.  The film ends up being an intimate look at a mental illness that threatens to tear a family apart (as it already caused a rather complicated relationship between Cam and Maggie).  While we may not be convinced about how the beginning of Cam and Maggie’s relationship drifted into long term commitment, this is a fairly good movie.  The depressing nature of the movie is the audience envisioning this family were Cam not suffering from manic-depression.  Ruffalo is a top-tier actor and gives another solid performance.  ***1/2

Irrational Man- Prolific Woody Allen’s 2015 offering seems like a plot point ripped from his own real-life persona perhaps mixed with a Freudian dream.  The story follows Professor Abe (Joaquin Phoenix) as a tormented philosophy professor struggling to find a conviction to live for.  He, of course, gets involved with a much younger student, Jill (played by Emma Stone).  The first part of the movie is interesting enough but turns to an unconvincing narrative once Abe finds his conviction in life worth pursuing.  It is absurd and not in a good way.  The ending of this movie feels anti-climatic and ridiculous.  I have seen enough Allen films now to see how he is clipping together some of his other, better films with different performers.  Hopefully, he will stop and start doing more original stuff.  **

Trainwreck- Film critics may be tempted to label Judd Apatow’s latest rom-com dressed in modern comedic raunch as a trainwreck but that probably is too extreme and cliché anyways.  “Trainwreck” was written by Amy Schumer and some critics were praising Schumer’s character,  Amy (go figure) as an anti-monogamous character who enjoys sleeping around until she meets a guy (Aaron portrayed by Bill Hader in a solid performance) and decides she wants to be monogamous.  Apatow has made a career with raunchy comedies, mostly about guys who need to grow up.  This is a lesser work. I really was unconvinced by Amy and Aaron’s relationship and the ending is so off-the-wall ridiculous that I actually was cringing.  I can’t say I enjoyed this much at all.  **

Ant-Man- Going further into the Marvel Canon, the comic book studio has come up with a lesser known member.  “Ant-Man” plays in many parts like a B-movie but that is not meant in a bad way.  The cast is lots of fun with Paul Rudd (as Scott Lang) in the lead role and Michael Douglas as Dr. Hank Pym who, in the past, invented a suit that shrinks the person wearing it to the size of an ant.  Of course, an evil corporate type is trying to get his hands on this technology (Darren Cross played by Corey Stoll).  I enjoyed that Scott Lang is a small time criminal who is in and out of jail.  His wife has left him but he is trying to win back the heart of his daughter. For all of the comic bookiness, the film has a solid heart.  Enjoyable.  Would have loved to see what Edgar Wright would have done with the direction though.  *** 1/2

Chi-Raq- Want to see the craziest movie of 2015?  Spike Lee’s wild, expressionistic, serious, humorous and in-your-face film, in spite of some of its tonal flaws, is one of the best movies of 2015 (that I have seen).  Much of the praise is due to the timely nature of Lee’s themes:  gun violence, poverty, and racial issues.  Lee’s gifting is that he is the definition of no-holds-barred.  He pounds on these issues, fully expressing his anger, thoughts, and hopeful solutions.  No one could have made this film and put it together except for Spike Lee.  Some ladies in Chicago join forces to go on a sex strike until the violence in their neighborhoods is ended.  This idea catches on around the world.  John Cusack plays a priest that, with a raspy and hoarse voice, delivers an engaging social justice sermon in the first third of the movie.  I have seen a lot of movies.  I have never seen anything like this one.  In dealing with such a profoundly sad issue (gang violence, gun violence), Lee infuses this film with so much joy and hope and somehow, the whole thing works…powerfully.  ****

The Thin Blue Line- Famous documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, known for the pet documentary ‘Gates of Heaven’, made this film in 1988 about a man wrongly accused of a police officers murder in Dallas, TX.  The movie has garnered the reputation over the years as being a catalyst for helping free an innocent man who was on death row.  That man, Randall Adams, claims to have met a 16 year old runaway named David Harris.  Their stories about the night diverge substantially with Adams saying he went back to his motel with his brother and fell asleep.  Harris claimed they were pulled over by a cop and that Adams shot the police officer dead.  The documentary uses recreated footage and actors to demonstrate what happened at the scene.  These are the weakest parts of the work as the acting is not top-notch and the re-creations get repetitive.  Still, this is a movie worth seeing with frightening implications about how our justice system can get something very wrong.  ***1/2

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About dangeroushope

Striving to follow Christ, love people and learn more about the world.
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