Movie Review: Jackie

On no less than 5 occasions during this film/documentary named Jackie about the life of Jackie Kennedy which is about the short 2 years as First Lady and the days during and following the assassination of the John F Kennedy in November 1963, there is the playing of this sickening sound of violins that seems out of tune and then fade slowly downward. I assume that this sickening sound is by design to somehow put to music what had to be a nauseating time for Jackie Kennedy to have to live through; that is to witness at close range the assassination of her own husband. One has to wonder how this poor woman survived her own life, which started out as charmed and then from age 31 until the end of her life 33 years later had to be agonizing just about every day. Losing one child while pregnant and another child who lived only 39 days. Realizing that her husband was cheating on her constantly, and then having to relive a horrible assassination as her husband’s blood and brains were all over her while riding in a Limousine that inexplicably had no roof in Dallas Texas on November 22, 1963. Then after all of this, trying to make peace with a tragic Presidential Assassination that could have been prevented so easily by just using some very basic common sense. What were they all thinking in November 1963, when their security jobs were all about protecting the life of the President and First Lady? What were they all thinking and how could they live with themselves after this tragic day happened?

Jackie had to be thinking, during her many hundreds of sleepless nights, if only we had lost the election in 1960 then everything would have been OK, if only if we lost that election. The election of 1960 between Kennedy and Nixon was one of the closest in terms of popular vote in American history, only about 100,000 votes difference. Had Nixon won, then Kennedy would not be president and she would still have her husband and her children would not be under the constant attacks from the vile press, who never gave her or her children a moments peace. During the years after her husband was murdered, she had to be worried about her remaining two children and the danger the were probably in for the rest of their lives.

The movie Jackie is really a documentary about Jackie Kennedy talking about her life as first lady and then the days before during and after the assassination of her husband. Many of these scenes are very hard to watch and it is remarkable that any person could have gone through what Jackie Kennedy went through during this time in her life and then having to raise two young children on her own. Jackie’s remaining life, which is not covered in this movie, was all about protecting her children and included even marrying for money. Throughout this movie, which included an interview with a man who was going to write an article about her, Jackie Kennedy, played extremely well by Natalie Portman, as are many of the other cast, there is constant chain smoking. I know the time period of this movie was the 60’s when it was not known the extensive health effects of smoking, but the amount of smoking in this movie I thought was far too much.

There are a number of points in this movie where Jackie is trying to figure out her own life, at one point telling a priest played by John Hurt, that “my kids have no use for me, all I want to do is be with my husband”, what is the point? I remember thinking at this moment that perhaps the point of her life was all about being an inspiration to millions of other people in the world who are hurting, who look to Jackie Kennedy as a survivor and if she can go through this much horror in her life, then just maybe I can survive just one more day. In the end, Jackie Kennedy only lived to be 64 years old, dying of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. One can only wonder how long she would have lived had they never won that election in 1960. In the end, as they say repeatedly in this movie, there was only one Camelot. One can also thank God that Jackie Kennedy was not alive to see her son die in a horrible plane crash in 1999. You just had to figure that that would be more tragedy in one lifetime that even she could survive.

I highly recommend this movie, and it is a guarantee that Natalie Portman will be nominated for best actress.

Past Movie Review: Star Wars

It all started in the summer of 1977. I thought Star Wars was a B-Movie when I went to see it the first time, but when I saw the whole two hours I knew this was something very special and something that had never been done before. In the end, this one movie has created a movie franchise and a list of toys and games that have greatly surpassed any other movie in history. All of us have been reminded of not only the first movie in 1977, but the Empire Strikes Back in 1980 and Return of the Jedi in 1983 because of the sudden and tragic death at only age 60 of Carrie Fisher of a heart attack. The year 2016 has been one of the worst years of celebrity deaths of all time. All of these people will be sorely missed.

Movie Review: Lion

At the very end of the movie Lion, right before the ending credits, there is a comment that is one of the most amazing facts about this true story.  80,000 children are lost every year in India.  That is 80,000 children.  There is no better depressing fact of how difficult it is to live in one of the poorest countries in the world than this statement.  According to the link above, many of the missing children wind up in the sex trading industry and one can only wonder how many of these children die every year either after being kidnapped by a sex trader or who just die homeless on the streets of any number of crowded and poor cities in India. India also has the largest number of child laborers in the world under 14.

The true story of Lion is about a very unlikely lost and found trek through 25 years. The film shows the very long odds of one 5-year-old child named Saroo, played by Dev Patel getting lost after falling asleep in a train station and then even making it to 6 years old after travelling over 1000 miles from his home and winding up in another part of India. Even worse is that Saroo wound up so far away from his home that the people there spoke an entirely different Indian dialect. What really got me about this part of the story is how the mass of people in the Calcutta train station just ignored 5-year-old Saroo, nobody caring to help this small child and even pushing him aside while he tried to beg for help at the ticket counter. From this point of the story to the time many months later when Saroo was finally rescued by an orphanage, is probably just fluke luck that Saroo even survived, especially since he was only 5 years old.

The remainder of this movie has to do with Saroo with his adoptive family in Austrailia, his mother played by Nicole Kidman father by David Wenham and his girlfriend played by Rooney Mara. After 25 years and a singular moment in Saroo’s life, he realizes that he had to find his family in India, using of all things, Google Maps. Lion is an amazing true story of survival, the acting and story are outstanding throughout. I highly recommend this film.

Movie Review: Fences

It simply does not get any better than this movie. Not with the writing and originally this was a play written by August Wilson, not with the stark, depressing and heartbreaking story and not with the acting, which is simply the best I have ever seen. One unique dimension with this movie is the fact that the two stars Denzel Washington and Viola Davis performed the play Fences on Broadway so they have an insight and memorization of the complex dialogue to a degree that is far greater than within any normal film ever produced. You have the impression that both of these great actors actually became the people they were playing on screen as their familiarity with the characters is so profound.

Even with the trailers for this movie, it seems everybody already knows that both Viola Davis and Denzel Washington will win academy awards for their performances. The only question is, the Academy might make Viola Davis a supporting actress nominee, even though her time on screen mandates the best Actress nomination. The reason for this will probably be because of Jessica Chastain in Miss Sloane, which is also reviewed within this blog, who also gave a great performance in her role. There is a scene in this movie where a bombshell event is revealed and Viola’s acting in this one scene could arguably be the best ever performed in any movie. Denzel Washington also directed this masterpiece film and he will also get the best director nomination and the movie will be nominated for best picture. Given the amazing quality of this production, Fences just might win every major award this year, this movie is just that good.

The story of Fences is about the 1950’s in Pittsburgh and a black family in that era where Troy, played by Denzel Washington could have been a great baseball player but he is black and he was born at the wrong time to ever get into professional sports as a black man. He also came from a bad childhood and had to leave home at 14, then spent some time in prison and now, rather than being happy rich and famous as a major league baseball player, he is living in a ramshackle house and is a garbage man living paycheck to paycheck barely surviving. This story is not only a story about a poor black family in the 1950’s, it is about way too many millions of people, who are miserable and suffering because of circumstances, bad luck, being poor, being born into the wrong family or born at the wrong time, like so many young people in their 20’s today. Real life is a five day week grind and if your miserable 5 days a week, 8 hours a day, that is a big part of your existence and your misery way too often is impossible to forget, even for a short period of time. Monday is always right around the corner.

For Troy, his memories of his greatness as a baseball player exist even in how he talks to his wife, his 2 sons and his best friend. Everything is about being “in the batter’s box”, getting the “full count” and one, two or three strikes. How many great athletes just never get their chance at being who they desperately want to be for reasons that very often are just out of their control, or just out of their reach. Life is horribly unfair to way too many people and this movie shows this harsh reality better than any film I have ever seen.

If you’re miserable in your job or even being tortured by some sick moron who you work with day after day, very often you will bring all this pent up anger and misery home, and take it out on your own family. This is the case with Troy’s younger son Cory, played extremely well by Jovan Adepo. The other issue here is that Troy is jealous of his son’s youth and much brighter future including a possible football scholarship, but Troy goes out of his way to sabotage that, even refusing to sign a form to allow Cory to talk to a college recruiter. The arguments and fights between Troy and Cory are some of the most emotional and best acted in this movie and on two occasions Cory says what we are all thinking. Troy does not want his own son to ever do better than he did and especially not in sports. This is the opposite of what a parent is supposed to want for his children, but not in the case where so much anger and bitterness over so many years in Troy’s unhappy life exists. As far as Troy sees life, “If I am miserable then everybody in my family is going to be miserable too”. I know this aspect of this story first hand in my own childhood with my own father.

Another aspect of this story is Troy’s brother Gabriel, played by Mykelti Williamson who is brain damaged due to a war injury. He has the mind of a child and is frequently causing Troy problems with having to bail him out after being arrested for vagrancy and disturbing the peace. Troy was only able to buy his house only because of 3000 dollars given by the government for Gabriel’s brain injury.

After all is said and done about the movie Fences, it is impossible for me to ever give a higher recommendation than I now give this film. It is the best acting I have ever seen, and the most real life story I have ever seen on screen and in my opinion by far the best movie this year. Fences represents the entire reason why we go to the movies. To realize that we are not alone and other people have gone through the same things we have gone through in our own lives.

Movie Review: La La Land

I have always been a person who has never liked musicals and for mainstream movies, musicals are very rare. The new movie La La Land has just the right percentage of singing and dancing that for even a person who hates musicals, it never seems overdone. As a matter of fact, this entire movie was produced very well and had one of the best and most intelligent endings I have ever seen in any film I have ever seen. The brilliant ending showed an alternate world which was a message that whatever your dreams are, can you really have it all? The message of the ending was, sometimes if you want what you dream of, you have to give up something else.

The IMDB opinion score for La La Land is one of the highest ever posted, right now an 8.9 and I can see why this movie has been so popular. One reason is that it’s very unusual, unlike anything that has been done before. Yes, this movie is a musical but it the majority of the film is non-musical and the story behind it was very compelling and interesting. This movie is certainly about a love story, but mostly this film is about taking huge risk with your entire life in the hopes of making it in show business, either as a musician, played by Ryan Gossling or an actress played by Emma Stone.

One problem with show business and the very few that make it in any way and the fewer who make it big is that the payoff when you do make it is so completely out of proportion with any other profession in the United States or the world. Show business pays actors and singers far more than makes any sense and because of this and the way their lives seem to some poor kid in Nebraska, far too many young people move to California in the hopes of following their dreams of stardom. Someday there will be a 60 minutes-like documentary where the stark statistics that represent the reality and more importantly, the odds of making it in Hollywood or even as a musician will be produced. The odds are probably close to putting money on one number and winning 3 times in a row in Roulette. Given those long odds, does it even make sense to put all your money on one number and perhaps ruin your whole life on one hail mary pass? How many young people who move to California or New York even have a backup plan? These long odds are well demonstrated in this movie, with Emma Stone living in a bad apartment with 3 other roommates and Gossling living in another bad apartment and getting fired from his night job at a seedy bar where he plays the piano. The horrible Los Angeles traffic is also shown in this movie especially at the beginning along with Stone’s many auditions where she is ignored and rudely treated by the casting directors and at one point she almost gives up on her dreams entirely.

One can only imagine the nightmare of sitting in your broken down car on a hot day in traffic, traveling to another audition that you know you have no chance of getting and then working in your low paying bad job in a coffee shop. How many years and now many rejections can any person take at any age, when you’re faced with a daily existence like this?. What is the age where you finally realize that this dream is just not going to happen for you and you finally just give up? For every Emma Stone or Ryan Gossling or even Mark Wahlberg how many equally or even more deserving and talented people, just never get their lucky break? It is great to pursue your dreams but ultimately, is it worth the risk of wrecking your entire life and retirement to realize a goal that is so hard to reach? Do the very lucky few who do make it even realize how lucky they are? How many do make it, at least for a time but then are never able to reach those heights ever again or worse, never save enough money when their one chance in a lifetime comes through? These are all the questions I asked myself when I saw this movie. The ending of La La Land does have a nice Hollywood type of ending, but with a very intelligent twist on the happy endings we are all used to seeing in movies. I thought that this new twist with the happy ending was very well done as was the acting of Gossling, Stone and even the singer John Legend.

At first, I was reluctant to see this movie because it was a musical, but at the end, I was convinced that this was a very good movie that will be nominated for best picture this year and it does get my strong recommendation.

Movie Review: Why Him?

As for the release of the new comedy movie Why Him? starring Bryan Cranston, a better title would have been, Why This Movie? I recently saw Cranston being interviewed in 60 minutes and the interviewer asking him about Breaking Bad and his success in so many different movies and even on Broadway, where he played Lyndon Johnson. He responded that he was on a mission to strike while the iron was hot and make as much money and as many movies as he can before his winning streak finally ends. Unfortunately, it is clear that by making this bad movie that he could not find a way “do both”. That is, make a high-quality comedy movie and also make the money too. Of course, Cranston read the script for this movie, realized it was a pretty bad script but he took the part anyway, either for the money or perhaps to do a favor for someone or because he wanted to please his contacts so in the future they may come up with something much better. So, 6 months of his time is wasted and millions of dollars are spent and another bad movie is made.

This movie also stars Cedrick the Entertainer , Megan Mullally,
James Franco and Zoey Deutch who are all talented actors and who all read the script and still agreed to do this bad movie. My theory is that the movie business is so fleeting and precarious that if you turn down any offer, you might be perceived as difficult and you might not get another role. The strangest example of this phenomenon is early this year when Robert Deniro took the lead role in Dirty Grandpa, which was an absolutely horrible movie. It seems for many actors who make movies, that its money first and then integrity.

The entire plot of this movie can be summarized very simply. An internet millionaire gets involved with an attractive and 10 years younger Stanford Student and when his parents meet him, they find out he is a foul-mouthed disgusting lowlife. From this point on this film mostly slapstick and mostly unfunny series of scenes that mostly didn’t work and there were very few laughs in the theater I was in, which is always my acid test for all comedy movies. A prime example of the raunchy disgusting path this movie follows is that when we are shown a giant glass enclosure of a stuffed buffalo where the animal is emersed in his own urine, you kind of knew that later in the film something disgusting will happen with this buffalo. And of course, it did. Is raunchy and foul-mouthed language always funny? No, it isn’t, with the possible exception of the Bad Santa movies. A great comedy movie is well written, subtle, has imagination and never relies on cheap gags to make people laugh. This is why great comedy movies are the rarest of types of films ever made.

For these reasons and so many others, Why Him? should be avoided.

Movie Review: Assassin’s Creed

The story concept of criminals in prison for life or on death row being released to do some kind of a difficult job that nobody else would do is not a new one. Two examples of this are the recent movie Suicide Squad, which was a bad movie and the 1993 film Point of No Return that starred Bridget Fonda and this was a good movie. The new film “Assassin’s Creed” starts out as another example of this kind of a story and then very quickly mutates into a movie that has one of the stupidest and most convoluted storylines that I have ever seen.

The main idea of this movie is about a scientist who wants to remove all violence from humanity and has invented a machine, along with her father that when hooked into the brain of a human being, allows them to connect with an ancestor from many centuries ago and somehow become that person, while they still exist in current time. No kidding that is the idea here. So this is not really a time machine, but just some kind of a machine that uses human DNA to connect back through time to a distant relative through your brain. This central concept and the scenes in this idiotic movie that show this machine working could just about be the dumbest thing I have ever seen in any film. In my opinion, the only thing interesting about this two hours of miserable mess is how four respected actors read the script and agreed to make this garbage. It isn’t just that the idea behind all of this is so stupid, but even the special effects are both bad and dark and very poorly filmed. The concept of how using this machine could somehow remove violence from humanity is never explained and towards the end of this horrible film there is some kind of a gold apple that has to be found in this distant world. The reason why this apple is needed to be brought back to save humanity is also never explained.

The actors in this movie include Micheal Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons and Charlotte Rampling and in my opinion a documentary should be made where these four respected actors are interviewed and they explain how or why they would ever agree to act in this movie. It’s that bad. Did they need the money? Did they owe someone a favor? Were they afraid if they don’t keep working that they would be forgotten? It just doesn’t make any sense.

Do yourself a favor and run from this horrible waste of 2 hours.

Movie Review: Passengers

Over the years there have been many movies about traveling in space, but nothing like the new movie Passengers, that stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. I thought that the idea behind this movie was a great one. Just have two characters in the majority of the entire film, traveling in space at 1/2 the speed of light on a trip inside a huge spaceship that will take them 120 years to reach their destination. I believe that 500 or 1000 years from now we will have the technology to travel the universe like this but it will most likely always be impossible to ever travel at or faster than the speed of light. This restriction means that wherever humanity wants to travel to, it is going to take a very long time to get where we want to go. This basic law of physics will make it mandatory that people who travel for many years in space will have to be put into suspended animation so that they never age, otherwise the entire idea of traveling a very long distance in space will never be possible for humanity. This idea of long term space travel and suspended animation is the basic plot of this film and I also believe that no matter how great our technology becomes, there is always the high probability that something will go wrong and in this case its the spaceship getting hit with an asteroid field 30 years into the trip.

There is a major twist after the first 30 minutes of this film that I will not reveal and it is this conflict that provides the main action in the second half of the movie. I also thought that this conflict was a good idea and is also provided a believable story line that supported the original idea of traveling 120 years in space. One problem with this movie will be obvious to anyone who sees it. With mostly two people and one robot played by Micheal Sheen for a whole movie, there has to be a story that fills two hours and at times, the story seemed slow and somewhat boring. I thought that there was enough science fiction and special effects that provided enough of a distraction so that this problem did not ruin the film however. Despite this, Jennifer Lawrence’s character at one point asks Chris Pratt, “so what is there to do on this ship?” I thought that was a telling moment midway through the film. For me, the special effects highlight of the movie was when the ship lost gravity and Lawrence was stuck in a water bubble while swimming in a pool. I have never seen anything quite like this before and I admired the computer technology that made that scene possible.

In the last part of the movie, the actor Lawrence Fishburn makes a surprise appearance as it seems that his suspension pod also failed. His appearance as the Captain of the spaceship provides more insight into what has gone wrong due to his expertise and his security clearances to get to different parts of the ship. At the very end of the movie the actor Andy Garcia makes an appearance and he has no lines in the film at all, which I found rather surprising due to his fame as an actor. Perhaps his lines were cut when the film was released, but despite this, I am surprised he took this very small part.

I give this movie a medium recommendation because of the special effects and the very good idea presented in the story and the acting was overall very solid. Another good movie that is similar to this one is Gravity, which came out in 2013, with even better space travel special effects.

Movie Review: Moonlight

In hindsight after seeing the movie Moonlight, I thought it was a shame that movies about this kind of reality even exist because they depict a world that is the worst example of life in this country. The life of those who are born into squalor, into a horrible and dangerous neighborhood and through no fault of their own have no way to escape a lifetime of hopelessness and misery, is a hard thing to see, much less live through. This movie, which has a very high IMDB rating of 8.7 is about the timeline of the life of a young boy and follows him through his life at home, where his mother is a drug addict and his father is a criminal himself and is mostly absent. What follows is the boy’s life through Grammer school and then high school, where the schools he goes to are in most cases nothing more than havens for criminals and drug pushers. Being born into a life like this, probably has an average lifespan of at least 30 years less than any other neighborhood in this country, as the odds of even living to age 20 are greatly reduced because of random shootings, drug abuse, and murder. As this movie shows so well, your choices are very few, and many people who are born into a depressing world like this try to escape their reality by using drugs or alcohol and in many cases choose a life of crime because they believe their only ways out of this terrible world are sports or being a rapper.

This movie also deals with homosexuality, both with the bullying that goes hand in hand with being suspected as a homosexual and a young man learning to accept the fact that he is gay and going through his first gay experiences and his confusion over trying to figure out who he really is. I thought it was unusual that a movie about living in a ghetto would also include the subject of homosexuality, but this story is very different in every aspect. This movie seems more like a documentary about a very harsh reality and nowhere is there any evidence of acting. It all seemed like I was watching a real life story for the entire two hours. There are also no big name stars in this movie which is another aspect of this film that is highly unusual.

This movie has a high probability of being nominated for an academy award this year and has already been nominated for six Golden Globe awards (see Golden Globes post below). I give this movie a high recommendation.

Movie Review: Collateral Beauty

The attempt this movie tries to make, trying to define the 3 main abstractions of life: the search for love, the desire for more time and the fear of death is extremely ambitious, perhaps too ambitious. One problem with a film like “Collateral Beauty” is no matter how you approach 3 such difficult and abstract subjects as a writer or a director or even an actor, you run the huge risk of sounding like you are preaching your beliefs to other people. All of us, no matter how rich or poor, or fortunate or unfortunate has to reach conclusions and rationalizations about life that work for us and no movie, writer or even religious counselor can reach these conclusions for you. The other ambitious part of this movie is that it has many many twists, turns and symbolism, some of which work and some not only don’t work but make no sense and could be considered absurd.

Will Smith plays Howard, who is the head of an advertising firm in New York and at the start of this movie he is full of life and enthusiasm about his work with this colleagues and business partner played by Edward Norton. The next scene jumps to 3 years later and Howard is a shell of his former self, almost like a zombie barely talking to anyone and building strange structures with dominoes and then knocking them over. The reason for his insane behavior is understandable as we soon learn that his only daughter has died and later in the film we find out that he was divorced because of his daughter’s death and that 79% of all couples divorce after their child has died. Like the recent and great movie “Manchester By The Sea”, also reviewed in this blog, the grief that the character Howard shows in this film is manifested by zombie-like behavior and occasionally lashing out at the world with anger. This part of Will Smith’s acting in this movie works very well and is believable, but what is not believable is the strange scam his 3 friends play on him to not only try to knock him out of his 2 years of depression but also in the process try to save their failing advertising firm. In my opinion, this strange scam his friends play on him is another attempt by a screenwriter to try something new and unique and in the process, an unusual storyline is created that does not work. Why this idea didn’t work for me is that the scam they played to help their friend, comes off as more cruel than helpful and there is no way what they tried to do would ever work in the first place. I have noticed more than a few reviews on the internet about this film are very negative, including the overall score on IMDB at only 5.3 and the very low score on Rotten Tomatoes. In my opinion, the reason why some of the opinions are so low is because so much of what is trying to be unique and innovative in this film comes off as either not making sense, or downright ridiculous.

The ending of this film definitely did surprise me but there is a second surprise ending that for me was another example of something that was illogical and just didn’t make any sense, considering the linear sequence of events that lead to the ending. The problem with screenwriting in recent movies I have seen is that when you try and write something that is new and unique, you run the risk of thinking of things that ultimately in real life just doesn’t make any sense. A much better example of a film trying to deal with horrible grief and the loss of a child is the movie “Manchester by the Sea”, which has no far-fetched story at all and everything is believable. The point here is that, what is run of the mill and real life and perhaps done before in some way, can still be a great movie. It’s OK to be different, but this can be taken too far.

The term “Collateral Beauty” is also never really explained and considering this movie is mostly about the horrible grief following the death of a child, how can anyone preach to notice collateral beauty when being faced with life ending grief. On top of this, the person who talks about collateral beauty at the end of the movie is part of the surprise ending that makes no real logical sense. This second surprise ending is probably one of the several reasons why so many reviews for this movie are bad.

I did not think that this movie was necessarily bad. But because of the many flaws and lack of any logic with so many plot points, this is not a good movie either. At best, this film is average but could have been great if they just cut out the several different insane plot points. The acting is overall good, and includes Edward Norton, Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet and
Michael Peña, so it’s a shame there were so many mistakes made in this story. For all of these reasons, I cannot either recommend or completely reject this film.