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Upcoming movies worth checking out (1 Viewer)

Thomas T

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I've been fortunate enough to see several upcoming films and thought I'd post my mini reviews here:

Fences (2016)

In 1957 Pittsburgh, a black man (Denzel Washington) who works in sanitation struggles in dealing with a changing world while supporting his loving second wife (Viola Davis) and their teenage son (Jovan Adepo). Based on the 1983 play by August Wilson and directed by Denzel Washington who played the role on Broadway in 2010. This is one of the great plays of contemporary American theater. The film uses Wilson's text and he gets credit for the screenplay although he passed away in 2005 (though Wilson had begun a screenplay). Even if you didn't know it was based on a play, the film's first part seems very stage bound as Washington and his cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen use the 2.35 Panavision lens like a proscenium. But it's not long before the film picks up its rhythm and it becomes unimportant although it is a dialog driven film. Washington is truly superb here, a reminder that he's not only one of the great contemporary movie stars but a remarkable actor. In her best film performance since DOUBT, Viola Davis gives a fierce performance. One can't help but think of DEATH OF A SALESMAN as the film unfolds, the similarities are there. An excellent ensemble cast includes Mykelti Williamson who give a beautiful performance as Washington's brain damaged brother, Russell Hornsby, Stephen Henderson and Saniyya Sidney.

The Founder (2016)

The story of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), an Illinois salesman who happens upon two brothers (John Carroll Lynch, Nick Offerman) in 1954 by the name of MacDonald who operate a burger stand in San Bernardino, California. And the rest, as they say is history. The story of the founding of the MacDonald franchise empire doesn't sound like promising movie material, does it? But this isn't a biopic, at least in the traditional sense. It's about capitalism, opportunity and the dark side of the American dream. You'll never look at your Big Mac the same way again! The movie it most resembles is THE SOCIAL NETWORK. For the third year in a row, Keaton (BIRDMAN, SPOTLIGHT) gives another superb performance. It's not a great film but it's a solid one and a fascinating piece of entrepreneurial history. Directed by John Lee Hancock (THE BLIND SIDE). With Laura Dern, Patrick Wilson and Linda Cardellini.

Hidden Figures (2016)

In the 1960s, the United States are behind the Soviet Union in the space race. This is the true story of three black women (Taraji B. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae) who contributed immeasurably to the success of the space program with their mathematical expertise. The film's title is twofold. It refers to mathematical equations and also to the incredible story of the three women whose story has been hidden too long. Directed by Theodore Melfi and based on the non fiction book by Margot Lee Shetterly, this is a wonderful movie. Normally when I hear a movie is inspiring or inspirational, I run as fast as I can in the other direction. Most "inspiring" movies are cloying and mushy. But Melfi's movie has a firm backbone and never descends into sappy sentimentality. This is a true ensemble cast and Melfi does a bang up job with them. Boy, do we need a movie like this now! With Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Glen Powell, Aldis Hodge, Kimberly Quinn and Saniyya Sidney.

Jackie (2016)

In 1963 shortly after the assassination of her husband (Caspar Phillipson), Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) gives an interview to a reporter (Billy Crudup) for LIFE magazine reflecting on the death of her husband, his legacy, her legacy while we look at the period between the assassination and his funeral and her state of mind. Directed by Pablo Larrain, a Chilean director making his English language debut. It's difficult to assess this as cinema, as a film because it is so dominated by a single performance that defines the film and puts everything else in her shadow. The buzz on Portman's performance was very good but I was not prepared for the sheer brilliance of it. When playing real people who are known to the public, it can be a trap to do an imitation of the person rather than inhabiting them. Portman inhabits Jackie Kennedy. How accurate is the film? I don't know, I don't go to the movies for history lessons (and I hope no one else does either). It's clear that the film took artistic license. For example, one of the highlights of the film is a distraught Jackie listening to the cast album of CAMELOT while trying on different dresses and jewelry and wandering around an empty White House when obviously it would be filled with staffers and secret service during that period. Mica Levi's underscore is the best film score I've heard all year. With Peter Sarsgaard as Robert Kennedy, Greta Gerwig, John Hurt, Richard E. Grant, Max Casella, John Carroll Lynch and Beth Grant as Lyndon and Ladybird Johnson.

La La Land (2016)

A struggling jazz musician (Ryan Gosling) and an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) both have their dreams of success in their chosen paths. But in L.A., dreams seem made to be crushed. But when they fall in love ... can they still have their dreams? Who would have thought that the director (Damien Chazelle) of WHIPLASH could do a valentine to the classic Hollywood musical (though the film is as much influenced by the musicals of Jacques Demy). This is a full blown unapologetic musical. The film opens on a traffic jam on the 105 freeway. A girl begins to sing. She gets out of her car and other people get out of their car ... and sing ... and dance! They're leaping and spinning on car rooftops and my eyes started to tear up with pure bliss! But Chazelle has a bittersweet sauce to layer on this Technicolor candy. The film works on two levels. For those of us who live in Los Angeles and have worked in the film industry, it works on one level but the romantic portion is for everyone and everyone who's ever had a dream and realized that dreams don't come without a price. Gosling and Stone make for an adorable couple but give two of the year's best performances. If you love the movies, you'll love this. This is the kind of movie magic that made us fall in love with movies in the first place. With John Legend, Rosemarie De Witt and J.K. Simmons.

Lion (2016)

A child (Sunny Pawar) from a small village in India gets separated from his older brother (Abhishek Bharate) and accidentally finds himself on a train to Calcutta. Unable to identify where he is from or who his family is, he lives on the streets of Calcutta for awhile before being put in an orphanage. He is eventually adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman, David Wenham). But when he grows into a young man (Dev Patel, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE), he yearns for the family he lost. Based on a true story and directed by Garth Davis in his feature film directorial debut. The first part of the film is astonishing with some of the raw power of early De Sica. When we get to the section where Patel takes over, it becomes more conventional and not as interesting. My interest shifted away from Patel and toward Kidman's mother and Divian Ladwa as his troubled adopted brother. The film eventually builds to an emotional climax where I felt slightly manipulated and while the audience around me sobbed, I didn't cry. But damn if the film didn't have an ace up its sleeve saved up for the very end and it got me too. Bring kleenex, tears will be shed. Kidman has a good shot at a supporting actress nomination. With Rooney Mara and Priyanka Bose.

Live By Night (2016)

Set in the 1920s and 30s, a WWI veteran (Ben Affleck, who also directed) doesn't consider himself a gangster even though he works for a mobster (Robert Glenister). But an affair with the mobster's moll (Sienna Miller) brings repercussions that pull him into the gangster life full time. Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane (also the source material for Affleck's GONE BABY GONE), this is Affleck's 4th feature film and batting 4 out of 4 so far. Which is not to say the film is flawless, anything but. The film is a homage to the Warner gangster films of the 30s and 40s. While violent, the violence is fairly muted, no Tarantino bloodbath here. As an actor, Affleck is uninteresting so I wish he had cast another actor in the pivotal leading role. The film looks fantastic with great cinematography by Robert Richardson (NATURAL BORN KILLERS), production design by Jess Gonchor and costumes by Jacqueline West. With the exception of Chris Messina and Matthew Maher whose performances are overcooked ... to put it mildly, the rest of the cast is very good especially Elle Fanning who gives what may be my favorite supporting actress performance this year. With Zoe Saldana, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Cooper, Sienna Miller, Anthony Michael Hall and Max Casella.

Miss Sloane (2016)

A ruthless and driven "win at any cost" Washington D.C. lobbyist (Jessica Chastain) is procured by a gun control campaign because she is the best at what she does. But even they are not prepared for the lengths she will go to to win ... even if it means crossing lines and unethical behavior. Directed by John Madden (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE) from a first time script by Jonathan Perera (his first screenplay though you'd never know it), the script is clearly influenced by the writing of Aaron Sorkin. The female protagonist is the kind of part actresses love and Chastain picks up the ball and runs with it! The film sees Washington D.C. has a bastion of corruption and manipulation where the name of the game is winning and power and everything else is in the shadows. Though gun control is a very important part of the film's narrative, it doesn't define the film as it's so much more than that. Can one justify unethical actions if it is for the "right" cause? The fine underscore is by Max Richter and although the film runs pass the two hour mark, in this case, it's justified. As befits a film named after her character, Chastain dominates the film but there's a stellar ensemble cast nipping at her stilettos: John Lithgow, Sam Waterston, Christine Baranski, Michael Stuhlbarg, Gugu Mbatha Raw and Alison Pill.

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

An art gallery executive (Amy Adams) receives an unpublished novel by her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal). As she reads the novel, the film moves back and forth between the book's story and her own life. Directed by Tom Ford who also wrote the screenplay which is adapted from Austin Wright's novel TONY AND SUSAN. I hated Ford's last film A SINGLE MAN, so much so that I walked out of it. This film is simply brilliant! The contrast of the chic but empty Manhattan lifestyle she leads with the horror of the novel's violent South Texas setting isn't arbitrary. As the two stories (the real and fiction) criss cross, it becomes apparent that there's a connection. It's movies like this that keep me excited about contemporary American cinema. Still, even I wasn't prepared for the ending which I should have seen coming. Bravo, Mr. Ford! As he proved with NIGHTCRAWLER, Gyllenhaal is an actor without vanity who takes risks and his performance here is excellent and if Michael Shannon doesn't get an Oscar nomination, there's no justice. The audience I saw it with was captivated and with it all the way. An incredible underscore by Abel Korseniowski. With Aaron Taylor Johnson, Armie Hammer, Michael Sheen, Isla Fisher, Jena Malone, Andrea Riseborough and Laura Linney, who only has one scene but kicks it out of the ball park.

Rules Don't Apply (2016)

In 1959 Hollywood, an aspiring actress (Lily Collins, MIRROR MIRROR) is put under a personal contract by the elusive Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty) although he never puts her in a movie. But a romance develops between her and one of Hughes' drivers (Alden Ehrenreich, HAIL CAESAR). In addition to starring as Hughes, Beatty also directed, produced and wrote the film which is his first movie in 15 years. I was very disappointed. It isn't bad mind you, not at all, just a disappointment. There are really two films going on here. One is the romance between the actress and the driver and the other is about Howard Hughes and although the stories are intertwined, they never quite mesh. If Beatty had focused on just one of the stories, it might have made for a stronger film. Collins and Ehrenreich are enormously appealing which helps. The film is also sloppy with the facts as Hughes marries Jean Peters in the movie in 1959 when in actuality, they married in 1957. The supporting cast is crammed with notable actors in mostly small parts with only Matthew Broderick (my favorite performance in the film) standing out from the pack. With Annette Bening, Alec Baldwin, Candice Bergen, Martin Sheen, Ed Harris, Oliver Platt, Steve Coogan and Amy Madigan who has all of 5 seconds of screen time!

20th Century Women (2016)

Set in 1979 in the California coastal town of Santa Barbara, a single mother (Annette Bening) struggles to raise her 15 year old son (Lucas Jade Zumann). To help understand her son better she enlists the aid of two boarders: a punk rocker (Greta Gerwig) and a handyman (Billy Crudup) as well as her son's older best friend (Elle Fanning). This autobiographical piece was written and directed by Mike Mills whose BEGINNERS guided Christopher Plummer to an Oscar and he may well accomplish the same thing with Bening here. Whereas BEGINNERS focused on his father's coming out late in life, in 20TH CENTURY WOMEN Mills focuses on his non-conformist mother who is more conventional than she thinks. It is not a film that is heavy on plot, rather it's a series of moments which when accumulated provide a rich coming of age story that is both humorous and poignant. I'm probably doing the film a disservice by making it sound heavy handed when it's anything but. Once again Bening proves what a marvelous actress she is. Her face is a road map of thoughts and emotions without going all actress-y on us. All she has to do is think it and we go, "a-ha!". Highly recommended. With Alison Elliott.
 

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