The Wife (2018)

The Wife

The arguments abound with the happiness of Joan (Glenn Close) and Joe (Jonathan Pryce) Castleman.

Admittedly, it took a little time getting accustomed to director Bjorn Runge’s The Wife, mainly in how it decided to share the couple’s past along with the present. What was apparent was the great performances, mainly that of veteran film actress Glenn Close.

Close stars as Joan Castleman, the long time wife of renown author Joseph Castleman (Jonathan Pryce). The film opens with Joseph finding out about his acceptance of the nobel prize in literature. They travel to Stockholm with their son David (Max Irons, son of Jeremy) as well as a not so welcomed guest Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater), eager to write Joseph’s autobiography.

As stated before, I was a little lost at first as to why we had to go back in time to look at the start of the relationship (the younger version of the couple is played nicely by Harry Lloyd and Annie Starke), though I eventually realized it is to show how the couple has been able to work off of each other for decades on end. Not to mention a secret they have kept from everyone (even their children).

Parents, the film does have one sex scene, but nothing is shown except the character’s faces (it is in the first five minutes), and there is swearing. I would say high school and above.

Still, if anything, the film is worth seeing mainly for Glenn Close, who is still one of the main living veterans in Hollywood to have an Oscar. Perhaps now is her time at last.

Overall: Four Stars ****

The Top 20 Movies of 2017

Cover.jpg

Even with 20, these films did not make the cut.

Ladies and gents, this is the moment you’ve waited for.

 

I went back and forth as to whether make the traditional top ten, or go with twenty. I decided on the latter for a few reasons. First, in a great year for movies, there were too many to ignore (and even at twenty, films such as Wonder Woman, Detroit, Mudbound, and Darkest Hour did not make it). Second, so what if I added more than ten? If you really want see just the top ten, here is a trick: skip down to number ten, and go from there (though you will be missing a lot of great films along the way).

 

20.

The Disaster Artist.JPG

“YOU’RE TEARING ME APART LISA!!!”

 

A passion project for director/actor James Franco, The Disaster Artist tells the tale of another passion project (and cult favorite), The Room. Franco is so wonderful in the role of the aloof Tommy Wiseau that it goes beyond comedy and becomes very human. It truly tears you apart!

 

19.

Molly's Game

Jessica Chastain, fantastic as Molly.

 

Renowned screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, Molly’s Game, is full of electricity. As always, his dialogue snaps like fire crackers, no doubt due to the wonderful casting of greats such as Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba.

 

18.

Faces Places

JR and Agnes Varda, on a quest you have not seen before.

The most recent film I have seen as of this writing, Faces Places is the unique documentary about legendary french film maker Agnes Varda and her friend JR (whose eyes she has never seen). They go around meeting people as they post big pictures of their subjects on vast walls. As in all great films, it goes far beyond that. It reminded me a lot about Errol Morris’s masterpiece, Gates of Heaven.

 

17.

Logan Lucky

No peaking!

Even with an all-star cast including Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Hillary Swank, Seth Macfarlane, and (especially) Daniel Craig, a film like Logan Lucky could have gone wrong on so many levels. Thankfully, the script is so tight that every moment is real, authentic, and down right ludicrously hilarious.

 

16.

The Last Jedi

Sometimes, questions don’t need concrete answers.

A prime example of a movie you either love or hate, I am on the former when it comes to Star Wars: The Last Jedi. No, we did not get any “answers” to questions we may have had, but so what? It was a Star Wars film that gave us new twists and turns we had not seen before, plus was much better than the overrated Rogue One.

 

15.

Blade Runner 2049

Deckard returns.

From one sci-fi sequel to another, Blade Runner 2049 is full of a lot of questions that are also unanswered. What no one will question is the gorgeous scope of the film, thanks in part to cinematographer Roger Deakins (who may finally get his Oscar now).

 

14.

Logan

Logan and his daughter.

In one of the best years for superhero films, my pick still goes to Logan. A swan song of epic proportions, Hugh Jackman truly goes out swinging. Or clawing.

 

13.

 

The Post

Meryl Streep as Kay Graham, owner of The Post.

 

Even if the film was rushed, Steven Spielberg’s The Post has a fire burning in the soul, which shows in the cast led by Hollywood giants Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. It is a movie that, had it not been made, I would not be reminded of the right I have to be typing these words in the first place.

 

12.

I Tonya

Just before the show, Robbie’s Harding is set to go…

How wickedly devilish is the film I, Tonya! So fun, and self-aware of itself, it gives a stellar Margot Robbie performance, and heaven knows how wonderful Allison Janney is as one of the worst mom’s in recent cinema history.

 

11.

Coco

Miguel’s passion for music knows no bounds…

As Miguel tugs at the guitar strings, so does Coco tug at our heart-strings. Which, by now, is totally the standard Disney/Pixar films have set for all animated films (and others in general).

 

10.

Lady Bird

Ronan as the title character.

One of the most original scripts in recent memory, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is full of outstanding wit and charm. It is also more proof why Saoirse Ronan is truly one of the best actors of her generation.

 

9.

Wonder

The Wonder that is Jacob Tremblay.

Of all the movies I saw this year, I fought the hardest (okay, fought myself) for Wonder to be in the top ten. Based of the book of the same name (which I highly recommend), this wonderful fable of why it is important to #choosekind is something I cannot imagine parents not taking their kids to.

 

8.

Dunkirk

Many of the soldiers at Dunkirk

 

Very few, if any, director has a current positive track record than Christopher Nolan, and Dunkirk is no exception. Packed with more than enough tension and grit, it is as fitting a war film as they come.

 

7.

A Ghost Story.JPG

Time moves by in an instant for the ghost

At only around an hour and a half, few films of this (or any) year have given me more questions than that of A Ghost Story. Like a pool, you soak in it, look at the reflection, and see all the questions you want answered. Multiple viewings are needed, and are something I plan to do in the time I have left on earth.

 

6.

TBOEM

Mildred is a role only Frances McDormand could play

Another one of the most original scripts in years, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a tough sit through at many times. Yet it has so much dark peppered humor and spot on performances (mainly McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and especially Sam Rockwell) it is hard to turn away.

 

5.

The Big Sick

A love story unlike any seen before

The true story of how one man met his wife, The Big Sick is still the best rom com I have seen in nearly a decade. All the actors are hilarious and convincing, and the writing is top-notch. I still can’t get over that 9/11 joke.

 

4.

The Florida Project

Bobby (Willem Dafoe), the hotel manager who is tough but kind-hearted.

I had never thought of what could be outside the walls of Disney World before I saw The Florida Project. I doubt I am alone. With some of the best acting from children you will see, and a sublime Willem Dafoe, the movie takes us to a place that has been under the shadows of Disney for far too long.

 

3.

Phantom Thread

DDL, the master at work

Like most, I had to wait nearly a month before I could see Phantom Thread, but it was far worth the wait. Daniel Day-Lewis gives (no surprise) a perfectly majestic performance as a dress-maker in 1950s London, whose new muse (Vicky Krieps) must put up with him. Director Paul Thomas Anderson treats the film as gentle as the fabric that Woodcock works with in his shop.

 

2.

The Shape of Water

Though mute, Eliza (Sally Hawkins) lets herself be heard.

Of all the love stories of this year, my favorite still goes to that of a mute help worker and a sea creature in The Shape of Water. Guillermo Del Toro gives us a world of endless possibilities, filled with memorable characters (don’t get me started on how much we love to hate Michael Shannon here), astounding visuals, and a love that is not easy to forget.

 

1.

IT

“Hello Georgie”

I can imagine a lot of people being surprised at my number one pick, but after more than one viewing, I just could not deny IT. Undoubtably one of the top four or five adaptations of Stephen King, the film is far more than a horror masterpiece. It is also about coming of age (I have yet to meet anyone who though negatively of the kid performances, all of whom are perfect in their roles), young love, bullying, and, of course, clowns.

Floating has never been so terrifying. Or enjoyable.

 

Phantom Thread (2017)

Phantom Thread

“Whatever you do”, Alma (Vicky Krieps) says to Reynolds (Daniel Day-Lewis), “do it carefully”.

 

About twenty minutes or so into Paul Thomas Anderson’s brilliant Phantom Thread, I was remembering what Hitchcock said about the audience needing to be played “like a piano”. Of course, the fact that the musical score is nearly all piano helps, but this movie about a dress-maker is made with such care and precision that there is no better way to describe it.

Taking place in the post war era of 1950s London, we meet Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a renowned dress-maker. He is beyond passionate to his work, showing artistry skills with dresses like Van Gogh did with colors. He runs his business with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) with a very firm but gentle hand, though it is clear he does better with dresses than he does those who wear them.

One day he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), who is smitten by more than just the dresses he makes her. She is a waitress, but is perfect at being a muse for Reynolds (“no one can stand still longer than I can”, she claims). When she moves in with him, it is clear that routine is essential to his daily life (even breakfast becomes a hassle).

I will not go on more with the story for fear of giving it away. I will say that (though this should not shock anyone) this is yet another film that reminds us how precious it is to have an actor like Daniel Day-Lewis. His performances are not many (and has said this would be his last), but what is lacking in quantity is more than made up for in quality. We know how dedicated (which does not seem like a strong enough word) he gets into character. Even though his normal voice is english, his voice here seems so in character that it does not seem like his own. Props also should be given to Krieps, Manville, and the rest of the cast. To hold your own against DDL is something one should be proud of.

Like clothing, Anderson (who also did the cinematography) directs in such a delicate matter you feel bad if one stitch were to come undone. The beauty of the whole film also cannot be overstated. Every frame uses the lighting and shadow so well it is almost like an Edward Hopper painting.

Parents, the movie is a rather minor R rating. There is very minor nudity (seen through dresses), but none of it is sexual. There is swearing (mainly F bombs), but that is it. If your kids were to be interested, I would say mature middle schooler and above.

While I am holding against all hope that this is not the last time I will see him on the big screen, Daniel Day-Lewis does truly give a wonderful swan song. So great is his performance that I did wait till the end credits, just to see if he was also the costume designer.

While it was Mark Bridges who did the costumes, I still feel like DDL helped in some way.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

Molly’s Game (2017)

Molly's Game

In court, Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) with attourney Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba)

With the exception of Tarantino, I can’t think of anyone who does electric dialogue like Aaron Sorkin, and it shows in his directorial debut, Molly’s Game. True, there is a good amount that is hard to follow, but it is so palpable that you can’t turn away from it.

Based off the book of the same name, the film tells the story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a former Olympic skier who finds a way to make money by hosting poker games. The film splits between the story in the book (narrated by Bloom), and the events two years later after her arrest by the FBI. She searches for an attorney, and finds Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba).  Jaffey is only part way through her book, but when he decides to become her lawyer, he mentions how he now needs to finish it.

We see how Bloom’s life has been hard from the get go. A demanding father (a wonderful Kevin Costner) who was also her coach at a young age, he pushed her even after a disease required her to have spinal surgery at the age of 12. It is only after an accident of pure chance during the Olympic qualifying rounds that her skiing days are truly over.

At first, I thought the narration by Chastain was a little too much, but I realized how essential it was. I have played a good amount of poker games in my life (not professionally), but the film reminded me how little I knew about the game in general (mainly the terms I never heard of).

For privacy sake, Bloom decides not to mention the real names of any of the players (who range from hollywood stars to politicians), though there has been speculation as to who they are. Some include Player X (Michael Cera), one of the best around, and Brad (Brian d’Arcy James), who still manages to make money even when he is one of the worst players imaginable.

The tension between Elba and Chastain is some of the best non-romantic chemistry I have seen in an acting duo in some time. It is like a game of ping-pong with words. It is no wonder that the real Molly Bloom said she wanted Chastain to play her.

Parents, the movie is rated R mainly for swearing (and there is a lot of it). There is no sex or nudity, but the female characters do wear a lot of revealing clothing. There is also one scene of a violent assault. High School and above.

Perhaps what I liked most about the movie was the character traits of Molly. She is not the type we would associate with as a villain. She needs to make money, but (for the most part) does so in a near ethical way. We know there were some slip ups, but her heart is in the right place. Thankfully, the same could be same for Sorkin.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

The Post (2017)

The Post

Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) and Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) discussing the possible future of The Post

 

I went into Steven Spielberg’s The Post with one question (well a few, but one that stood above the others): Is it possible for the movie to be watchable without thinking of the politics we are bombarded with 24/7 these days? I guess it depends on where you stand politically. All I am here to do is to say if the film is entertaining or not, and my answer is a resounding yes.

Set as almost a prequel to the king of all newspaper movies All the President’s Men (1976), The Post tells the story of the leaked Pentagon Papers, and how President Nixon (as well as previous ones going back to Truman) lied about the Vietnam War. The pages are delivered to the Washington Post (as well as the New York Times), but the latter publishes it first. Still, more papers are delivered to the desk of Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), who is firm on publishing the documents. Of course, it is up to the owner of the paper, Kay Graham (Meryl Streep).

It is clear that when you have a movie with Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, the acting will be rock solid. Hanks does have more of the showier role, but that does not steal any thunder from Streep (to be fair, who could do that to the actress?). They and the rest of the cast (including Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Bradley Whitford, and Alison Brie) have a palpable electricity in the air for the whole run time.

It occurs to me that movies that have to do with news media have to be have more truth than most any other film genre (if not, film critics would tear the film apart). I have never worked at a paper, but there does seem to be a lot of authenticity in the movie (even when Bradlee’s daughter is selling lemonade while everyone is sorting the papers). The film may not have been exactly how it all played out (it is an original script by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer), but it would not surprise me if it did play out that way.

Parents, the film is PG-13. There is about five minutes at the start of the film that shows some action in the war (nothing too graphic) and there is also some swearing (none that stood out to me). I would say any middle schooler would be fine seeing this film.

The film is not completely in the league of Spielberg classics like Jaws, E.T., or Schindler’s List. Still, the film is a wonderful thriller for those tired of mindless action CGI effects that want thought and drama at the core. On that standard alone, The Post is a treasure of a film.

 

Overall: Four and a Half Stars **** 1/2

A Ghost Story (2017)

A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story‘s Ghost (Casey Affleck)

Undoubtably, A Ghost Story is not a movie for everyone. If you are the type of person who just likes to watch a movie for entertainment and nothing more, this movie is likely to fly over your head. If you think movies are able to give you a chance to meditate on life, then this movie is pure poetry.

 

Director David Lowery tells a story that is vastly simple: a man (Casey Affleck) dies in a car crash. After being identified by his wife (Rooney Mara), he returns as a ghost, and spends time at the house where his wife is recovering from his loss.

 

That is it. Seriously, that is it to the story. It is far from all that is left in the movie. Even at a run time just under an hour and a half, this film (which has very little dialogue) is far from boring. You would not be blamed from thinking it is, even with scenes such as the woman spending about five minutes (in one shot) stress eating a pie. Oddly, it was this scene (about twenty minutes in) that got me realizing I was watching something unlike I ever have before.

 

Parents, the movie is rated R, mainly for the scene of the crash and swearing (I seriously only remember one F bomb). I would say middle age and up (if you have kids that would enjoy films like this).

 

A Ghost Story goes way beyond narrative, in the shadow of other miraculous films like The Tree of Life (2011), Fantasia (1940), and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). A Ghost Story is not one you can understand in one viewing. However, after the first viewing, it haunted me (in a good way), making me like it more and more. When I went to rent it again, I ended up just buying it.

 

It is a film I will have to reflect on more and more as I grow old.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

All the Money in the World (2017)

All the Money in the World

Gail (Michelle Williams), won’t let family troubles stop her from getting her son back.

It is impossible to talk about All the Money in the World without mentioning how the movie almost never happened. While the movie is far from perfect, I find all who made the film (mainly director Ridley Scott and star Christopher Plummer) deserve a load of respect.

The film tells the true story of how a teenager named John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) was kidnapped and held for ransom until his family paid a vast sum of money. He still lives with is divorced mom Gail (Michelle Williams), but it is on his father’s (Andrew Buchan) where the money is. The teen’s grandfather, J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer, who is not related to the younger Plummer in real life), is an oil magnate, and is one of the richest in the world (if not the richest). He refuses to pay the ransom, basically giving off a vibe that would make the Grinch look like Gandhi. Gail is helped out with a co-worker of her father in law, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg).

 

Of course, it is the making of this movie that has been the stuff of fascination. The original actor who was to play the elder Getty was Kevin Spacey. However, after reports surfaced of his many past acts of sexual misconduct, Ridley Scott cut out all of his scenes, and replaced him with Plummer (not to mention bringing back Wahlberg and Williams for reshoots), and finished in a week (with a few weeks before the film was to be released). This is not the first time Ridley Scott has had to do something of this magnitude: 2000’s Gladiator was in trouble when a few scenes were still needed after the death of star Oliver Reed.

 

The original trailer with Spacey is still online, though Scott has said he does not plan on releasing the Spacey version. It was said that Spacey’s portrayal was more dark and sinister than Plummer’s, but I for one thought it was better the less evil Plummer appeared. Of course, we cannot root for this sinister man with all his cash, yet the veteran Plummer still gives him plenty of charm that makes us realize how he got rich in the first place. It is great acting.

 

Parents, the movie is R, mainly for swearing and violence (particularly one graphic scene). There is no real sex or nudity, so I would say High School and above.

 

Had the movie not been stained with the Spacey reports, perhaps we could have watched the movie for what it is, and not for what happened off camera. I personally would like to see the Spacey version, only to compare what might have been. Of course, no amount of money will allow me to see that.

 

Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2

The Greatest Showman (2017)

The Greatest Showman

P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and the birth of show business.

It should come as no surprise that The Greatest Showman has been a passion project of Hugh Jackman’s since 2009. He gives an all out performance that is the back bone of the film, which is more style than substance. Thankfully, the style more than makes up for it.

Jackman plays Barnum, the man who went through one of America’s first (if not the first) rags to riches story, from robbing street vendors as a kid to creating what is now known as the circus (though it did shut down for good in 2017). With his wife and childhood sweetheart Charity (Michelle Williams) and his two daughters (Austyn Johnson and Cameron Seely), Barnum gathers up the outcasts of society to perform a spectacle that changes history.

Such outcasts are the bearded lady (Keala Settle), with a voice that could blow the tent over, Tom Thumb (Sam Humphrey), the “general” and the Wheeler siblings, W.D. (Yahya-Abdul-Mateen II) and Anne (Zendaya, who is making her name known after years on the Disney Channel). Helping on the business side of things is Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron).

For me, I had wished the film would have more musical numbers in the circus setting, not just in the real world. I understand they are telling the story of PT Barnum, but couldn’t just a few numbers be used with the spectacle and visuals he was known for?

Another issue I had with the film was that it spent a little too much time on the famous European singer Jenni Lind (Rebecca Ferguson). It is true that she has some stellar vocal numbers (though Ferguson is dubbed over), but it is too much time away that I wanted spent at the circus.

Thankfully, each number is so awe-inspiring that the movie is worth seeing just for them. I am not sure which is my favorite yet (I have the soundtrack to go through still), but the ones that come to mind are the raw power of “This is Me”, the romantic duet “Rewrite the Stars” and the redemption of “From Now On”.

Parents, it is so wonderful that there is a movie musical (besides a Disney one) like this you can take the kids to. It is PG, and that is only for some mild thematic moments (maybe not mild, but not scary).

The Greatest Showman is not the best of musicals of recent years (certainly not better than La La Land, though the lyricists worked on this film), but it is still nice to know that there are some movies that are willing to risk a lot just to entertain us with originality and awe.

Basically, what Barnum would have done.

 

Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2

Downsizing (2017)

Downsizing

The smaller the person, the bigger the life….

How great is the concept of Downsizing. If only the film makers had taken it to a better destination…

The movie starts with scientists in Norway finding out how to successfully shrink organic matter. Flash forward ten years or so (I admit I lost track because the movie has way too much flash forwards), and we meet Paul Safranek (Matt Damon). He and his wife Audrey (Kristin Wiig) are having money issues galore. After having a talk with a former classmate (Jason Sudeikis), they decide to downsize, both literally and financially (all of their money would translate to much bigger figures).

During the process, Paul wakes up five inches short, but Audrey has backed out at the last-minute, meaning it will truly be a new life for Paul. A year later passes (again, too much flash forwarding), and we see Paul has met some new people in his life, like his upstairs neighbor (Christoph Waltz), who is a party animal. One day after the party, he meets a popular celebrity named Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), who shows him how much more is happening in Paul’s new world.

The movie does have amazing visuals, and great story elements about how we are able to change our lives, but the movie goes far into left field during the third act when they travel to Norway. I won’t give anything away, except to say that you will seriously find yourself scratching your head.

Still, the movie does have its good parts. All of the cast (including some cameos) have their share of fun. The main stand out though is Hong Chau, who goes far beyond playing a stereotypical asian women. She is simply playing a strong-willed (understatement) women who fights for what is right, regardless of her situation. Yet there is still fear beneath her tough exterior. It is ravishing work for her as an actor.

Parents, the movie is rated R for two main reasons: Swearing and Nudity. While the nudity is not sexual (it is shown mainly during the shrinking process), the swearing does creep in (especially toward the end, in a monologue that brought me to unexpected laughter). I would say High School and above (maybe very mature middle schoolers).

Alexander Payne (who directed and helped write the film) no doubt had a script that could have been far better, and I admit I am disappointed a bit with the film. It does add it a little too much stuff (it does clock in at two and a half hours).

Ironically, maybe the script should have downsized.

 

Overall: Three Stars ***

Logan Lucky (2017)

Logan Lucky

The Logan Brothers (Adam Driver and Channing Tatum), discuss a very elaborate plan…

Surprises are aplenty in Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky, a film that is proof that a script is still the most essential ingredient to any movie made.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that that the film’s screenwriter, Rebecca Blunt, is perhaps not even a real person. Only through emails did communication with the “author” of the script ever occur. Regardless, it is some very strong writing.

The film opens in West Virginia, where a divorced man, Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum), is spending time with his daughter (Farrah Mackenzie). While dropping her off at her mother’s (Katie Holmes) house, Jimmy finds out that his ex is moving across state lines with her new husband (David Denman), making it more difficult for Jimmy to see his daughter (he has just been laid off his job in construction).

After a talk with his one armed brother Clyde (Adam Driver, showing us no signs that he is also Star Wars‘ Kylo Ren), he comes up with a plan to make money to afford seeing his daughter: rob the money being made at the NASCAR speedway where he has been working construction. To say the plan is meticulous is an understatement. I don’t know how long Blunt (or whoever wrote the script) spent, but it is well worth it.

There are others in the film that help out along the way, including two hillbilly brothers (Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson) who only agree to help if it is for “moral” reasons. And while the movie does show some other celebrity cameos I did not expect (nor will I ruin), the best (and most surprising) is clearly Daniel Craig. His Joe Bang is an explosions expert, who not only plays a character that can go over the top, but is even subtle when he needs to be. I doubt I am alone when I had a hard time remembering that this is the same person who played James Bond.

Parents, the movie is PG-13, and it is mainly for some swearing (maybe an F bomb or two). There is no sexual content (despite a character telling another they are about to get  naked and not look), so I would totally say Middle School and up would be fine.

My only real problem with the movie are a few minor details, thinking that the plan may have been “too thought out”. It would be something I would have to watch the movie again in order to explain properly.

Luckily, Logan Lucky is a movie that is worth multiple viewings, the type you will find new things every time you watch it.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****