Movie Watching (April 2016)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part Two- One of the better young adult dystopian series, “The Hunger Games” (and thereby the adventures of Katniss Everdeen) come to an end with a solid installment in the franchise.  The previous movie, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One”, was the weakest in the series and felt like a giant filler.  “Part Two” gives us a full on revolution against President Snow’s (Donald Sutherland) Panem government.  There are satisfying action sequences and thrilling moments all anchored on the feminine hero created by Jennifer Lawrence.  As the story evolves toward the ending, the audience will be surprised at some of the complex political maneuverings.  Who can be trusted?  ****

Concussion- The latest Will Smith offering (he reportedly hasn’t watched a game of NFL football since filming this one) is undoubtedly a message movie.  The plot focuses on Dr. Bennett Omalu who made the first discovery of CTE in professional football players.  He goes up against the multi-billion dollar (non-profit) NFL to publish and make known his findings.  Smith is excellent in his role as Dr. Omalu but some of the other acting is suspect.  While this issue is important, the film’s plot does suffer from such a heavy handed message.  ***

Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice (Theater)- A direct sequel to DC’s “Man of Steel” and an undeniable setup for future Justice League movies, I enjoyed “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice more than many critics. My review is here.   ***

Brooklyn- The Academy Award 2015 best picture nominee is a sweet natured meditation on immigration into the United States.   Eilis (portrayed by a wonderful Saoirse Ronan) lands in Brooklyn, New York in the 1950s as an immigrant from Ireland.  The film realistically shows the hardship and homesickness that most immigrants must have felt.  A romance soon blossoms with a local, Tony (Emory Cohen) but Eilis is called away back to Ireland where more life complexities arise.  Thematically, this is fairly straightforward.  Eilis love interests in both the US and Ireland serve as metaphors of her torn heart between her homeland and the new world.  The writing is realistic and effective and overall, this is a beautiful film.  ****

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst- Over the course of my life, I have seen many thrillers and horror movies.  I feel pretty desensitized most of the time when encountering this specific genre.  That is why I was surprised by the legit creep factor of HBO’s 6 part documentary series on accused killer Robert Durst.  Durst’s family is one of the richest and most powerful in New York as they own a lot of real estate in Manhatten and around the city.  Headlines were made in 1982 when Durst’s wife, Kathleen, mysteriously disappeared.  Amazingly enough, Durst wasn’t really investigated all that heavily but a mild cloud of suspicion followed him after the event.  On December 24, 2000, Durst’s friend Susan Berman was shot in the back of the head in her Benedict Canyon house in California.  On October 9, 2001, Morris Black was found murdered and dismembered in Galveston Bay in Texas.  Durst was living down in Texas and this was his neighbor.  Durst was arrested and later acquitted of this crime even though, incredibly, he admitted to dismembering Black’s body while stating the killing was self-defense.  Andrew Jarecki is the filmmaker who put together this series and he has crafted a considerable work.  Jarecki scored an interview with Durst after directing “All Good Things” (a fictional film on Durst) and the revelations that he scored while making this documentary are mind-blowing.  Highly recommended and particularly for those interested in the true crime genre.  ****1/2

In the Heart of the Sea- Many were probably surprised that this movie was not more of a blockbuster as the story involved the retelling of the tale of a New England whaling ship’s sinking by a gigantic whale in 1820.  The sequence of the sinking, featuring a barrage of special effects, is fairly well-crafted by director Ron Howard.  Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth aka Thor) and his crew watch helplessly as their vessel, the Essex, is torn apart by the mammoth beast.  Later, this account would inspire Herman Melville to write “Moby Dick”.  Given how poorly this did in the theaters, I think it deserves a wider audience.  The film is not on par with some of Howard’s best work but is engaging in its own right.  *** 1/2

Legend- With a lackluster and meandering gangster plot, “Legend” basically is a showcase for how good of an actor Tom Hardy is as he plays to gangster brothers, Reggie Kray and Ron Kray.  One brother is a little more psycho then the other.  Ronnie especially takes aim at advancing the family business as the brothers, over the course of the film move up in the criminal underworld.  We have all seen this before but again, worth seeing for Hardy’s wild performance.  ***

Spotlight- Comparisons have been made between this movie and “All the President’s Men” and they are deserved.  “Spotlight”, the best picture Oscar winner, is a brilliant film about how Boston Globe reporters uncovered a massive conspiratorial cover-up of child sexual abuse in Boston and beyond.  This is a no-nonsense film that restrains against melodrama while trying to keep the audience into the mindset of a investigative reporter.  Still, the anger is palpable.  The cast is very solid featuring:  Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, and Liev Schreiber.  *****

The Peanuts Movie- One of the greatest comics in American history gets a computer-animated upgrade and the result captures a lot of the spirit on what makes Charlie Brown and his gang so fun.  The story centers around Charlie meeting a new, red-haired girl classmate while Snoopy takes to the skies to pursue his arch-nemesis.  When there is a mistake on a standardized test and Charlie gets a perfect score, he has to wrestle with whether to tell the truth and if this will hurt his chances with the new red-haired girl.  The plot is appropriately simple and the movie was enjoyable to watch.  *** 1/2

Amy- I wasn’t terribly familiar with the music of Amy Winehouse before watching this tragically sad documentary on her way-to-short life but everyone (as in 100%) always raved about how talented she was.  Amy was a teen sensation where she really started to showcase her considerable singing ability.  With passion and drive, she reached superstardom while doing records (mostly) her way.  There was not to be a happy ending as this Oscar-winning documentary chronicles her spiral down into drug abuse and alcoholism.  *** 1/2

The Wind Rises- A considerable masterpiece, “The Wind Rises” is a telling of the life of Jiro Horikoshi.  The director, Hayao Miyazaki, while telling a biopic grapples with weighty and sophisticated ideals.  Would we accept a world without the pyramids while knowing the timeless structures were erected under conditions of slavery, violence and oppression?  Horikoshi designed the Japanese fighter planes for World War II.  As Japan lost the war, a lot of these planes (if not all) would be complete destroyed.  Tragedy is all around us in life but we must get on with the business of living.  What else can we do?  **** 1/2

Captain America: The Winter Soldier- Marvel Studios (owned by Disney) is firing on all cylinders and the best of the expanding franchise are the Captain America movies.  “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is an engaging action movie that happens to be based on a comic book.  While battling his old nemesis Hydra and the tentacles of the organization that have crept into our own government, Cap (Chris Evans) finds corruption at all levels.  He criticizes the military build up being orchestrated by Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford).  There are mysterious ties to a lethal assassin (Bucky Barnes portrayed by Sebastian Stan).  Epic, comic book action with engaging themes and relentless action.  **** 1/2

The Jungle Book (Theater)- Another Disney animated classic gets the live-action treatment and the results are a thoroughly entertaining family adventure.  The story of Mowgli being raised by wolves and then threatened by Shere Khan (Idris Elba), a tiger, is familiary but director Jon Favreau, with some glorious CGI capture the old Rudyard Kipling tale.  The outstanding voice cast features Ben Kingsley as the overprotective panther, Baheera and Bill Murray (a perfect casting choice) as the free-spirited bear, Baloo.  ****

The Count of Monte Cristo- For “Film & Theology night” with Seed Church, we had a viewing of “The Count of Monte Cristo” with a discussion to follow.  The swashbuckling action movie gives way to deeper themes of revenge, the cost of revenge, loyalty with friendship and of course, betrayal.  This is a very good film with legit performances from Jim Caviezel as Edmond Dantes and Guy Pearce as Fernand Mondego.  Never read the book which I’m sure is more enlightening on the important themes and experiencing the classic work by Alexandre Dumas is certainly on my list.  ****

Pawn Sacrifice- Tobey Maguire’s cinematic career may always be overshadowed by his portrayal of Spiderman/ Peter Parker in the Sam Raimi trilogy but that doesn’t mean that he cannot be a considerable actor when given the material.  His performance in “Pawn Sacrifice” directed by Edward Zwick is the best thing about the film.  He plays Bobby Fischer during the historical period of the Cold War who often is caught between his country and desire to compete, in chess, with the best players in the world.  In this case, a great player he builds competition with is Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber).  Fischer is portrayed obviously as eccentric but also kind of an ass.  Even with Maguire’s key performance, the screenplay never seems to allow a deeper digging into the enigma that was Bobby Fischer.  *** 1/2

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About dangeroushope

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