“Jurassic Park” Legacy A Prehistoric Journey 25 Years in the Making - by Ben Cahlamer

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“Jurassic Park” Legacy A Prehistoric Journey 25 Years in the Making

 

I am your a-typical kid (at heart). I didn’t much care for dinosaurs when I was younger. Monsters scared me more than they entertained me. The closest way I found to relate to dinosaurs was a joke in 1982’s “Airplane II: The Sequel” in which a member of the ground staff, Johnny is asked to recount history: “Let’s see. First, the Earth cooled. Then the dinosaurs came, but they got too big and fat so they died and they turned into oil.”

It isn’t a very funny joke, but it fits the theme of this article.

25 years ago, Steven Spielberg wowed us with the original “Jurassic Park,” Despite the fact that Steven Spielberg’s name was attached to it, I had no real interest in seeing that first film. A friend of mine strongly encouraged me to go see it and when it made the rounds a second time, I caught it.

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What worked for me in that original film was not the technology or the dinosaurs themselves. It was the story and the people who inhabited that world. Michael Crichton and David Koepp managed to create an environment full of danger, of wit, of adventure. They managed to capture the strength of the core argument: should humans play God. It’s a timeless story, of course. Mr. Spielberg did not cast the film with notable, A-List actors either and that’s a plus to the film. Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Sir Richard Attenborough, Jeff Goldblum, Martin Ferro, Samuel L. Jackson, Wayne Knight, Bob Peck, Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazello and B.D. Wong all offered a richness of character that we would not see in future entries. There’s enough background into each of their characters that addresses several key questions, namely who, what, when where, how and why.

The technology used to create the dinosaurs is rudimentary by today’s standards. But, in 1992, when the first teasers started rolling, audiences were hooked. The film would go on to win multiple technical Oscars and would usher in a new theatrical digital sound format, DTS.

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Four years later, Mr. Spielberg and company came back in “The Lost World: Jurassic Park.” Both Laura Dern and Sam Neill bowed out and Jeff Goldblum made a significant appearance. Sir Richard Attenborough, Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazello return in cameo roles. Julianne Moore stepped in to the Sam Neill character, which was a welcome change. Pete Postlethwaite, Vince Vaughn, Peter Stomare, a shaved Richard Schiff (for those who have seen every episode of ‘The West Wing,’ the loss of the beard was remarkable) and Arliss Howard are along for the ride.

“The Lost World” exposes a second site for InGen’s testing. A family stumbles on the island and a young girl is injured prompting an expedition led by Goldblum’s Ian Malcom. His girlfriend, Dr. Sarah Harding is already on the island in the natural element studying the creatures, who have not been contaminated through human contact. Arliss Ludlow, Hammond’s greedy nephew and current CEO of InGen has also sent a hunting team to collect samples to bring them back to the U. S. Mainland. It becomes a race.

The effects in this film are just as jaw dropping as the first. My initial reaction to the film was not as positive when I originally saw it. Moore’s performance and Goldblum’s humor are what brought me around. But, I also like Postlethwaite’s character, Roland Tembo.

This film was a tipping point for CGI to replace traditional animatronic dinosaurs, opening up some of the action shots, which hold up even today. The story is nowhere near as strong and the last act is dismal (I was surprised to learn that fan pressure pushed Crichton to write the novel for this film, which David Koepp based his script on). Spielberg’s direction is on point and it is as rousing an adventure as any other Spielberg film.

“Jurassic Park III” was the first film in the series not directed by Steven Spielberg. Joe Johnston of “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” “The Rocketeer,” and “Jumanji” fame took the directing reins. Sam Neill returns along with Laura Dern in a cameo role.

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“JP3”’s scale is much smaller than the two previous entries. It features a strong supporting cast with William H. Macy, Tea Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Trevor Morgan and Michael Jeter. Don Davis scored the film with John Williams composing his Jurassic Park theme. The script by Peter Buchman, Alexander Payne (“Downsizing”), and Jim Taylor focuses on a family looking for their lost child on the original Site A, Isla Nublar.

I was unkind to this film when it first came out. The story lacked the same pizzazz and grandeur that marked the first two. The characters were also so very transparent, making them less effective. The story does do a good job of containing itself to the island again, instead of trekking off. There’s an ongoing gag throughout the film about a missing satellite phone and Sam Neill’s presence in the film strengthens the adventurous nature of the story.

2015 saw a reboot of the series with Colin Trevorrow’s “Jurassic World”. I have a more extensive review of the film over on my website, The Movie Revue if you care to indulge. In fact, it was one of my first attempts at a professional review.

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The film, featuring Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard is a CGI spectacle where the effects are the story.  Vincent D’Onofrio, B.D. Wong, Irrfan Khan, Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson co-star. Mr. Trevorrow co-wrote the screenplay with Derek Connolly, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver (story by Jaffa and Silver). Their story has some interesting ideas that aren’t really expanded upon. Pratt is an adventurer, but his is more brawn. His intelligence is high and he asks the moral questions, but spends most of the film running. I likened him to Indiana Jones, which I don’t think is wrong, but I think it is the wrong character for this type of film. Ms. Howard’s character is frigid and rubbed me the wrong way. I understand why the character is the way she is, but it also felt completely out of place.  There are two bright spots: B.D. Wong’s take on a character he’s been playing for 25 years and the kids. For the first time since the original film, they fit the roles the story had in mind for them. Michael Giancchino offers a solid take on John Williams’s themes.

The film broke opening box office weekend records and went on to become the second highest grossing film of 2015. Audiences wanted this film even if critics didn’t agree and I get it. There’s something compelling about huge monsters fighting one another or the chills we get when a dinosaur threatens our characters.

As I said, I am your a-typical kid (at heart). I am not a huge fan of monsters (though they’re growing on me) so I am not necessarily the target audience for the modern “Jurassic” films. It is the characters and the stories that interest me, particularly the first film 25 years ago.

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“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” the latest film in the series is now playing at a theater near you. While I am not a fan of it, it is the perfect summer popcorn film and it will eat audiences up.

Do you have a favorite “Jurassic” film? Sound off on our Facebook or Twitter page. We’d love to hear from you.

Ten Nice Movies - Part Three by Jeff Mitchell

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“Ten (More) Nice Movies – Part 3”

 

In celebration of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (4/4 stars), the wonderful and sentimental Fred Rogers documentary, this is the final week of the Phoenix Film Festival’s three-part series to recognize nice films.

 

This article includes a few well-known domestic films and many international pictures as well, because nice movies are a universal art.

 

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“Babe” (1995) – Narrated by Roscoe Lee Browne and three field mice, “Babe” is the story about a naïve, sensitive pig who tries to find a purpose on a quaint and beautiful sheep farm.  One day, however, poor Babe (Christine Cavanaugh) discovers that a pig’s job is to eventually become bacon, sausage, pork chops, and/or ham, but this sweet little orphan might discover another date with destiny.  James Cromwell stars as farmer Arthur H. Hoggett, and his animals – with speaking parts – act as his costars, including a border collie (Miriam Margolyes) who Babe calls Mom.  Sure, director Chris Noonan’s film includes a few syrupy moments that will not work for all adults, but stay with the movie until the end, because this little piggy is a worthy equal to Wilbur from “Charlotte’s Web” (1973).   

 

 

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“Babette’s Feast” (1987) – Director Gabriel Axel’s picture – which won 1988’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar – plays like a tranquil, but otherworldly, fable.  In a tiny, Danish seaside village during the 19th century, overcast skies always loom over this community of gray homes, and the residents match their houses (and the weather) by sporting gray, green and black textiles.  The locals hardly ever experience surprises.  That includes two elderly sisters, Filippa (Bodil Kjer) and Martine (Birgitte Federspiel), with one exception.  Despite their meager income, they employ a French maid named Babette (Stephane Audran) who also lives under their roof.  Babette is a welcome outsider, but the sisters suddenly feel very uneasy, when she wishes to cook an elaborate French dinner.  In turn, this subtle and quiet tale offers plenty of food for thought.

 

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“Big” (1988) – Zoltar says, “Make your wish.”  That’s all it takes for 12-year-old Josh Baskin, when he steps up to a Zoltar Speaks machine at a local fair and wishes to be big!  The next morning, Josh wakes up with an adult body.  Specifically, he becomes a 32-year-old Tom Hanks.  With all the switcheroo/body swap movies (“Freaky Friday” (1976), “All of Me” (1984), “Like Father, Like Son” (1987), “13 Going on 30” (2004), and many more) out there in Movieland, director Penny Marshall’s “Big” probably stands the tallest.  Hanks’s comedic gifts are on full display throughout the picture, but especially when he struggles to fit into his kid pants, eats Oreos while watching “The French Connection” (1971), nibbles on a miniature corn on the cob, and dances on large piano keys with Robert Loggia in the famous FAO Schwarz scene.  While Hanks holds court as the most authentic corporate vice-president in MacMillan Toys history, Elizabeth Perkins plays his perfect cinematic partner, a jaded executive who lets down her guard around this playful and youthful adult.  Will he stay big forever?  It’s up to Zoltar. 

 

 

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“Children of Heaven” (1997) – Some women really love shoes, but a little girl named Zahra (Bahare Seddiqi) desperately needs a pair.  Her brother Ali (Amir Farrokh Hashemian) took her damaged pink shoes to the cobbler but lost them afterwards.  It was not his fault, but this misstep causes a chain reaction of problems inside and outside their home in Tehran.  Nominated for a 1999 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, writer/director Majid Majidi does not overcomplicate his movie.  It centers around the siblings who share Ali’s sneakers, and they easily spur audience sympathy by exhibiting wide swings of emotion.  Just when one becomes accustomed to the humble environment of twisty, urban sidewalks, Majidi sends his cameras into entirely different visual spaces and emotional tones.  Hey, when a pair of shoes are a stake…

 

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“Eat Drink Man Woman” (1994) –  Master chef Chu (Sihung Lung) lost his sense of taste, but not his penchant for worrying about his three grown daughters - Jia-Chien (Chien-Lien Wu), Jia-Jen (Kuei-Mei Yang) and Jia-Ning (Yu-Wen Wang) - nor his talent for whipping up downright fabulous meals in the kitchen.  Director/co-writer Ang Lee celebrates the art of cooking, but he mainly follows the women’s individual journeys and their collective relationship with their father.  Lee’s movie – nominated for a 1995 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar - rarely features the sisters on-camera together, and instead, they each attempt to find love via separate and very distinct approaches.  Lee and co-writers James Schamus and Hui-Ling Wang pen twists along the way, which will leave audiences guessing how family and Taiwanese cuisine will connect in the end.   

 

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“Father of the Bride” (1991) – Steve Martin is hilarious as George Banks, an infinitely stressed father whose little girl has grown to a 22-year-old woman (Kimberly Williams-Paisley)…and is now engaged!  Engaged?  How did 22 years fly by so quickly, and who is this guy?  Amid coping with losing his daughter, George realizes that Annie’s (Williams-Paisley) wedding will cost a fortune.   Director Charles Shyer’s film falls into familiar suburban clichés, but Martin’s performance – filled with constant trepidation - carries the picture from beginning to end.  Fathers everywhere will relate to George’s frequent flashbacks, but no one will exactly sync up with an eccentric wedding coordinator played by Martin Short, Martin’s “Three Amigos” (1986) co-star.  Coordinate your schedules to look back at this comical and gentle 90’s classic that fits into any era. 

 

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“Good Bye, Lenin!” (2003) – The time and place – 1989 Berlin – is absolutely essential for director Wolfgang Becker’s exceedingly inventive comedy/drama.  The Berlin Wall came tumbling down on November 9, and it brought Germany together tangibly.  Emotionally?  Well, that came later.  Early 20-something Alex (Daniel Bruhl) is truly hoping that his mother (Katrin Sab) refrains from emotions.  Mutter (Sab) – an East German loyalist - does not know that the Wall fell (for reasons that will not be revealed in this article), and for her health, Alex dives into several schemes to keep her in the dark.  Filled with several surprises and many mentions of Spreewald pickles, Becker’s picture will constantly entertain, act as a history lesson and prompt deep sentiment.  With some scenes of brief nudity and more instances of cursing (in German, of course), “Good Bye, Lenin!” may not exactly be classified as a nice movie, but Alex’s heartfelt devotion to his mother is more than memorable.

 

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“The Concert” (2009) – Sometimes, life presents opportunities for second chances, and director Radu Mihaileanu’s offbeat story features a most worthy one.  In “The Concert”, Andrey Filipov (Aleksey Guskov) has been looking for a second chance for 30 years.  Andrey currently works as a janitor for the famed Russian orchestra The Bolshoi, but he once led the company as a conductor.  His career fell apart, but fate gives him the possibility to finish some personal business from three decades ago.  Andrey and his best friend Sasha (Dmitriy Nazarov) attempt to recruit the old gang and a brilliant, young violinist (Melanie Laurent) to play for one night in Paris.  Not every single visual gag or bit of slapstick comedy completely registers, but set aside this small quibble for a moving third act.   

 

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“Waking Ned Devine” (1998) –  In the little Irish town of Tullymore (population: 52), someone won the national lottery!  But who?  Jackie (Ian Bannen) did not strike gold, but he hopes that the lucky ticket holder will share some of the winnings with him!  Sure, why not?  In writer/director Kirk Jones’s wonderful charmer, Jackie recruits his best friend Michael (David Kelly) to help acquire a portion of the money, but they step into knotty complications.  Jones bathes the screen with Ireland’s cultural riches (even though he filmed his movie on the Isle of Man) and many notable characters, led by Jackie and Michael, naturally.  Speaking of which, Jackie’s wife Annie (Fionnula Flanagan) ironically refers to these two 60-somethings as “the boys”, but this film does not drag on for 60 years.  Quite the opposite, it zips by at 91 minutes, and in the end, you will feel like a million bucks!

 

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“Winged Migration” (2001) –  “For 80 million years, birds have ruled the skies, seas and earth.  Each spring, they fly vast distances.  Each fall, they fly the same routes back.”  These words mark the opening of directors Jacques Perrin’s, Jacques Cluzaud’s and Michel Debats’s remarkable movie.  The aforementioned filmmakers spent three years on all seven continents following the migratory paths of countless types of birds, and in the process, their work helps translate 80 million years of instinct into an 85-minute documentary.  Perrin, Cluzaud and Debats capture closeups of greylag geese, sandhill cranes, bald eagles, and many, many more birds in flight that will send you into dreamlike trances of fanciful, majestic beauty and the realization of their incredible hardships.  This Oscar-nominated doc should really be experienced in an IMAX theatre, but a big screen television will fly as well.

 

 

Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.

 

Tag - Movie Review by Ben Cahlamer

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Tag

 

Director: Jeff Tomsic

Starring:  Jeremy Renner, Ed Helms, Hannibal Buress, Jake Johnson, Annabelle Wallis, Rashida Jones and Jon Hamm

 

Anyone who knows me, knows that I really don’t like the kind of surprises where someone jumps out from underneath a desk or from behind a wall. I’m liable to scream like a little girl if that happens. Yet, I find myself smiling, even snickering at the thought of five friends who have managed to play a game of tag for most of their adult lives.

And that’s just for starters. Jeff Tomsic’s feature film debut, “Tag” is ostensibly about finding the inner kid and hanging on to it for as long as you can.

Based on a Wall Street Journal news article, It Takes Planning, Caution to Avoid Being It by Russell Adams, Mark Steilen and Rob McKitrick tell the story of five guys who have drifted apart over the years. And even though they have their own lives, they still manage to find time to play the game one month every year.

Ed Helms is “Hoagie,” the ring leader of sorts. He is an absolute hoot to be around, but he’s also very seriously devoted to this game. Jon Hamm plays Bob Callahan, a successful business executive. You’d never know it, but he’s a bigger kid than “Hoagie”. That’s Hamm’s gift: he can tap into his inner child very quickly, but revert to ‘serious’ very quickly. Jake Johnson plays “Chili.” Chili is the biggest child of the entire group, but that’s what makes him so loveable. Hannibal Buress plays Kevin Sable. I related the most to Kevin because “I’m that guy.” Once you get Kevin warmed up though, his head is in the game.

The story is based on a 2013 WSJ article about the real-life group of five guys. I understand that names have been changed, which makes their story all the more interesting, including the role of the reporter. Not to be outclassed, the female characters in this film are an absolute riot. Annabelle Wallis plays the WSJ reporter, Rebecca Crosby. Tomsic, McKitrick and Steilien weaved her character throughout the story. Isla Fisher is an absolute riot as Hoagie’s wife, Anna. Rashida Jones plays Cheryl Deakins a love interest for two of our fellas. Her interactions with both Hamm and Johnson are too good to mention here.

You might be wondering right about now why I haven’t yet mentioned Jeremy Renner who plays Jerry Pierce. See, Jerry is the one member of the group who has never been tagged. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’re already aware of this. It’s the level of physicality that Renner brings to this role, along with the twinkle in his eye that tells us that we’re in for a real treat. I understand that he broke something on both arms during the production and still managed to salvage a shot. Leslie Bibb is his fiancée, Susan. Keep an eye on her character.

Now in theaters, Warner Brothers is on a roll with their comedies this year. Much like “Game Night,” “Tag” is the right type of summer programming that audiences need. It will be interesting to see how well it plays against “Incredibles 2” which also opens this weekend.

3.5 out of 4 stars

Incredibles 2 - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

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Incredibles 2

 

Director: Brad Bird

Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Catherine Keener, Sophia Bush, and Samuel L. Jackson

 

In the age of superhero overload it’s interesting to remember that 14 years ago one of the best superhero films was the animated Disney Pixar film “The Incredibles”. Before Marvel’s venture into the comic book franchise, the superfamily lead by husband and wife partners Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl was the best version of The Fantastic Four cinema had seen, in fact they still are.

 

Director Brad Bird, who made his foray into Pixar’s animation fold with “The Incredibles”, returns to continue the saga with the sequel. Picking up almost immediately following the events in the first film, Mr. Bird easily loops the 14 year gap between the films with beautiful designs and fantastic action in the first few minutes. It’s clear that “Incredibles 2” wants to be entertaining but also follow the flow of the contemporary action designs audiences are more than accustomed with.

 

Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) are in hot destructive pursuit of one of the many bad guys in the fantasy 1960’s city they live in. Once the smoke settles, the team is interrogated by the police because of the destruction; the age of superhero is made illegal by the government, forcing the crime fighting family into hiding. It doesn't take long for a nostalgia driven businessman to make room on his roster for the husband and wife team to put their masks and tights back on to promote a changing of the tide for the supers. However, only one is needed and Elastigirl is given the spotlight while Mr. Incredible is forced to stay home and take care of the family.

 

14 years of time hasn’t stopped the advancement of technology, which is evident from the first frame of this film. The design is impeccable; the shiny suits, the close-up textures of characters faces, and the action set pieces are amazing to look at. You’d almost want the movie to move a little slower just so that your eyes can draw in the rich details.

 

Director and writer Brad Bird fashions “Incredibles 2” in the vein of other superhero films with a balance of the necessary amount of exposition and amusing action sequences that break everything up. The revisit to these characters is still quite interesting to watch; Mr. Incredible is begrudgingly tasked with being the family man while Elastigirl is provided room to shine as the lead superhero, and the kids continue to encounter the growth that comes with adolescence. Young Jack Jack (Eli Fucile) steals the show as a growing infant who displays numerous humorous abilities; Dash (Huck Milner) and Violet (Sarah Vowell) are each going through the growing pains as well. The chemistry of the kids is very fun.

 

Still, the narrative suffers a little bit from wanting to introduce too much into the details. At 2 hours long, the film moves swiftly in some ways but stalls to a crawl in other ways. When details about feminism, family, and empowerment make an appearance, the film glows with character but when issues concerning the government’s involvement and the spousal miscommunications that happen between the couple, the film loses traction. While it’s all good stuff to discuss, some of the topics become lost in the mix of it all, overshadowed by stronger emotions and the continuous push for action.

 

“Incredibles 2”, after being gone for some time, feels a little late to the superhero party in some ways. Still, the action and characters are top tier, making it fun to go on the adventure. And even amidst some minor hiccups, the film has lots of heart and displays a great message about the superhero strength found within the family dynamic.

 

Monte’s Rating

3.50 out of 5.00

‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ Fifty Years On – A Young Man’s Odyssey by Ben Cahlamer

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‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ Fifty Years On – A Young Man’s Odyssey

 

Human history is replete with examples of tribes sitting around in a circle, telling high tales of their ancestors. Those stories were for the betterment of the group and the circle was usually a campfire, or some other “pull” which would draw people in.

Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” represents the generational transition of storytellers around a chasm: a fire, a pond, a monolith. In the opening sequence, the tribe is of Man’s ancestor, the ape. Their need to be a tribe is more for security and gathering what little food they know how to forage. They do not yet possess the tools or the knowledge to move the species forward. Instinctually, they know.

The monolith appears. Through its smooth, black, non-reflective surface, information is shared that will advance the species into the Age of Man. The monolith knows.

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Skip forward a generation, we are now a race of beings, stuck in the political trappings of our world, having spread in to orbit.  Man has dug something up on the moon. And again, the space-suited apes gather round a chasm – the monolith. This time, the monolith communicates, but not in a way human hearing can perceive. It sends a signal that propels man and now machine into the void and towards a destiny no one can really know. The monolith knows.

My compelling journey towards Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” is not unlike the tribe-like images that are peppered throughout his landmark film, which turns 50 this year. As a 14-year-old in 1990, my dad and I sat down in front of the modern campfire, the television to watch “2001: A Space Odyssey”. He told me of his experience seeing it in theaters in 1968; something he shares with me to this day.

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For me, I am a “Star Trek” fan (thanks, mom!) Kubrick’s film opened up something much, much bigger: the innate humanity within all of us to explore, to question, to understand. His film never really suggests that we will all understand everything; it’s the journey we take to get to that point where we are judged, worthy of passing on in to the next plane of existence.

In college, I took a Fiction into Film class. The course did not feature Kubrick’s film or Arthur Clarke’s novel. For our final thesis though, we could select any book and its subsequent film. I was so excited to be able to finally talk about “2001: A Space Odyssey.” I got an A on the paper.

Much like the monolith, my story doesn’t stop there.

As a fan of the film, I continued to study it, finding new pieces of the puzzle. However, my experience was limited to the television screen and the resolution limitations of the various mediums of home video the film was released on. Both have improved over the years, but they cannot compare to the experience of seeing a film on a giant theater screen and with a crowd.

It is with a bit of irony that my theatrical journey started out in the digital realm. One of the local theaters showed the film as a part of their Tuesday Night Classic series. The level of detail in that presentation was astounding, yet something was missing.

It wasn’t until January, 2016 when The Loft Cinema in Tucson decided to inaugurate their new 70mm projection system with an original 70mm Roadshow print of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The Loft was originally built to be a 70mm showcase theater, so what better way to experience this timeless classic. The print The Loft was able to obtain showed years of use, but when one is invested in a journey, the “pops,” “clicks,” “dust,” and “scratches” are a part of the experience. The monolith knows.

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For its fiftieth anniversary (and if you’re counting, I wasn’t born when the film first came out), legendary director Christopher Nolan worked with Warner Brothers to strike a new 70mm print from the film’s original elements. Nothing has been altered, so it will look exactly the same as my dad experienced the film in 1968.

I’m excited to witness multiple generations come around a campfire again, the communal experience in the sharing of knowledge. Will we gain something new out of this experience? For some, yes, I’d like to think so. If only because so few have been able to see this film the way it was truly meant to be seen. We have Mr. Nolan and the executives at Warners to thank for this experience through their ongoing efforts to preserve film as a theatrical medium.

The newly struck 70mm print runs at Harkins Tempe Marketplace starting June 15th for a week before it moves down to The Loft in Tucson starting June 22nd for a week.

You can bet I have tickets for each theater already. The monolith knows.

Ten Nice Movies - Part Two by Jeff Mitchell

“Ten (More) Nice Movies – Part 2”

 

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In celebration of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (4/4 stars), the wonderful and sentimental Fred Rogers documentary, this is the second week of the Phoenix Film Festival’s three-part series to recognize nice films.

 

Moviegoers will easily remember some of the listed films, but other pictures may have slipped by many radar screens.  Whether large, well-known productions or small, foreign indies, all of these movies are certainly nice…but also special.

 

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“Before Sunrise” (1995) – Real-life romance rarely – if ever - materializes like it does in movies.  How many couples find true love before crashing into an iceberg in the North Atlantic or lock eyes and sense love at first sight on the observation deck of The Empire State Building?  Well, director Richard Linklater’s landmark film embraces the chance encounter and delivers an organic and rhythmical story of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) through the (sometimes imperfect) art of conversation.  These early 20-somethings – who meet on a train from Budapest to Paris – share stirring and occasional clumsy moments that can transpire when meeting someone for the first time, but the actors and characters share beautiful, warm chemistry that feels authentic and possible.  The film’s ending is the most deliberated scene and with good reason, but Jesse and Celine’s story does not conclude here, because two sequels followed: “Before Sunset” (2004) and “Before Midnight” (2013).  Make sure to see this one first.

 

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“Bringing Up Baby” (1938) –  Dr. David Huxley (Cary Grant) works hard at the Stuyvesant Museum of Natural History.  He only needs one more bone – an intercostal clavicle – to complete an enormous brontosaurus skeleton, and if Huxley can convince Mr. Peabody to donate one million dollars, he’ll assuredly have the resources to complete his work.  Hey, the good doctor is also getting married over the weekend, so he is really close to having it all!  Seems easy enough, but Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn) enters his life and turns it all upside-down.  Grant and Hepburn perform at the peak of their powers in a hilarious treasure that is certainly not a model for courtship, as David repeatedly cannot decipher Susan’s twisty verbal and non-verbal cues.  There is, however, a method to her madness.  Oh, who is Baby?  A leopard, naturally.

 

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“Enchanted” (2007) – Amy Adams is perfectly cast as Giselle, a woman about to marry Prince Edward (James Marsden) in the animated world of Andalasia, which is marinated in figurative rainbows and lollipops, but she stumbles into “a place where there are no happily ever afters.”  In other words, New York City.  The picture mainly resides in the live-action world of The Big Apple, but Giselle still keeps her naïveté and sweet disposition, as this Walt Disney production constantly parodies its own animated princess formulas (see also “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937), “Cinderella” (1950), “The Little Mermaid” (1989), etc.).  Adams shines brightly as a sugary, likable altruist and leads several numbers that are sure to bring a smiles to even the most steadfast curmudgeons.  Speaking of which, the Academy nominated three “Enchanted” songs for Best Original Song.  Three!  This critic is partial to “That’s How You Know”. 

 

 

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“O’Horten” (2007) – In the middle of a snowy winter in Oslo, Odd (Baard Owe), a train engineer, turns 67 and reluctantly faces his impending retirement.  A quiet loner, he’d prefer zero fanfare, but his coworkers plan an honorary dinner.  After he steps down, Odd runs into a series of odd circumstances that depart from his normal routines, ones that he has safely enjoyed for decades.  In this delightful comedy/drama, writer/director Bent Hamer presents a 90-minute feast of eccentric visuals and soft, caring moments with an unlikely hero placed front and center.  Although Odd keeps a very light social calendar and ensures that long-winded discussions are as rare as a Norwegian heatwave, he has plenty to say and offer.  Throughout the picture, he keeps most of these thoughts inside, but this makes his rare actions so memorable. 

 

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“Once” (2007) –  Writer/director John Carney shoots his no-frills musical in dimly-lit rooms and on bustling Dublin sidewalks, while the audience follows a friendship and possible romance between Guy (Glen Hansard) and Girl (Marketa Irglova).  Guy suffers from a broken heart, and he can be often found crying out his songs on Grafton Street – including a stunning opening track “Say It To Me Now” - as a form of therapy…and to earn some bucks.  He’s a bit lost, but Girl might possess the right map, as they both support each other through the connection of music.  This film launched Hansard’s and Irglova’s international musical careers, and their duet “Falling Slowly” won the Best Original Song Oscar!  Yea, there’s a great chance that you will fall quickly for this magical film.  

 

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“Searching for Sugar Man” (2012) – Director Malik Bendjelloul’s film about folk singer Sixto Rodriguez won the Best Documentary Oscar in February 2013, and this critic thought “Searching for Sugar Man” was the best film – feature or doc – of 2012.   Who is Sixto Rodriguez?  He made two albums in 1970 and 1971, respectively, but this talented singer-songwriter’s career didn’t take off in the U.S.  It did, however, explode somewhere else, as Rodriguez’s story dives into emotional and truly incredible spaces.   Accompanied by many of the man’s songs – with catchy hooks and evocative lyrics about bad luck, far-off speculation and broken relationships – this 86-minute movie will constantly surprise.  After the film, you might just run out and buy Rodriguez’s studio albums “Cold Fact” (1970) and “Coming From Reality” (1971).  If so, you’ll be glad that you did.

 

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“The Bridges of Madison County” (1995) – “This kind of certainty comes but just once in a lifetime,” Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood) says to Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep).  For Robert, he’s speaking of true love, and Eastwood also directs the film adaption of Robert James Waller’s romantic novel.  While Francesca’s husband and children head to the Illinois State Fair for a number of days, she meets Robert, a National Geographic photographer, who is snapping pictures of bridges in the local area.  It’s not a spoiler to say that the two have a love affair, and even though their relationship is adulterous, it is a gentle and warm one.  One in which a caring housewife and a kind bachelor fall in love.  Streep was rightfully nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, but Eastwood surprises with a soft-spoken, heartfelt performance.  Bring your tissues. 

 

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“The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992) – Sure, about 1,000,006 versions of “A Christmas Carol” have been made over the years, but not like this.  Director Brian Henson – in his feature-film debut – spins the classic Charles Dickens’s tale…Muppet-style.  Michael Caine plays Ebenezer Scrooge, and this legendary actor is pitted face-to-face with the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, along with his old business partners Jacob and Robert Marley, played by those cranky Muppet Theatre balcony patrons Waldorf and Statler.  Much of the fun is discovering which Muppets will portray the specific “A Christmas Carol” characters, and this creation serves as a wonderful introduction for young children to the famous holiday story.  Quite frankly, adults will enjoy it even more.

 

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“The Straight Story” (1999) –  Director David Lynch’s film – based on a true story of an elderly man traveling from Iowa to Wisconsin on a John Deere lawn mower - doesn’t feel like one of his typical films.  Not untypical for Lynch, “The Straight Story” earned high critical praise.  Richard Farnsworth’s performance as Alvin Straight earned him a Best Actor Oscar nomination in a poignant story about growing older, making sense of one’s life and attempting to fix a specific broken relationship.  Most of the time, Alvin would rather leave these topics unexplored, but he opens up while on the road.  Although the movie is a slow-moving voyage on midwestern roads, Lynch and his crew keep the audience engaged by filling the picture with rich characters, soulful music and images of the heartland in a movie that feels uniquely American.  Farnsworth overseas it all with his magical presence and frequent revelations that feel like both he and his character are speaking from their hearts.

 

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“Wadjda” (2012) – In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive, and apparently, girls are not allowed to ride bikes.  Don’t tell that to Wadjda (Waad Mohammed).  This 12-year-old girl is happy to question – like a preteen-Gloria Steinem – societal laws and rules assigned to women and is determined to own and ride a bike.  Writer/director Haifaa Al-Mansour must be determined as well, because she is the first Saudi woman to direct a feature-length film!  Her highly refreshing movie does play some familiar beats, but the wonder of this unfamiliar land constantly raises our interest.  All the while, Al-Monsour’s picture offers hope, joy, life lessons, and the pursuit of a dream: riding a sparkling green bike, when everyone says that it cannot and should not be attempted.

 

 

Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.

Ocean's 8 - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

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Ocean’s 8

 

Director: Gary Ross

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Helena Bonham Carter, Rihanna, Sarah Paulson, and Awkwafina

 

A suave crew of A-list actors played a gang of expert thieves planning a big heist in the 1960 original and 2001 remake “Ocean’s Eleven”. Frank Sinatra and George Clooney play lead players in the respective films, with a wealth of other famous charming accomplices joining in the fun; director Gary Ross continues the caper with a redux starring Sandra Bullock leading a female driven “Ocean’s 8”.

 

These films all work somewhat similarly to one another and “Ocean’s 8” operates with a familiar setup akin to Steven Soderburgh’s film from 2001. Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) leads a life influenced by her brother Danny, we are introduced to the character finishing up a 5-year stint in prison. She claims to the parole board that she has changed and is looking for a simpler life, the crocodile tears help to sell the whole change in behavior. Almost instantly she runs a scam to get some fancy cloths and new makeup, finishing it up with a rouse that finds her in a nice hotel room. The next step for Debbie is connecting with her old accomplice and best friend Lou (Cate Blanchett) to plan the next big heist.

 

“Ocean’s 8” operates from the beginning as a film focused on deconstructing the masculine driven action team movies that have populated the box office. These women gather to do a job, they each have a unique set of skills that are used to effectively help them throughout their lives. It is very clear that men do not hold sway over these women. This forward movement is unfortunately undercut by the major crux of the film which surrounds a rather annoying and cliche revenge plot involving a former love interest of one of the team members. It’s frustrating because the whole plotline is unnecessary and it underplays the power that these women embrace throughout a majority of the film. Having a man play a role that is meaningful to the con instead of simply being a mechanism of love gone wrong would offer a nice contrast to the plight of the team fighting for a piece of the pie against their entitled male counterparts. All of these “Ocean’s” films glamorize the process of stealing from the greedy, unfortunately this film lacks a real villain that will raise the stakes when the pressure is on. Instead everything seems to work like clockwork which robs the film of the excitement and tension of the primary caper.

 

The narrative issues are unfortunate because the cast of characters have some rich details and are played by a very talented team of actresses. Sandra Bullock is sly and smart, offering a knowing smile throughout the film but unfortunately never given the opportunity to take control of the film. Cate Blanchett and Sarah Paulson are also good in equally thankless roles. Ms. Blanchett is cool and collected while Ms. Paulson is focused and cautious, each of the characters throughout the film are given small moments to shine individually but never achieve the chemistry that you’d expect from a cast this talented. The fault clearly lies in the composition of the film which is more focused on building upon the genre elements instead of focusing on the defining aspect of gender that differentiates this film from the rest of the “Ocean’s” films.

 

“Ocean’s 8” can be entertaining in moments but gone is the flash of character and utter flamboyant beauty composed in scenes by Steven Soderbergh’s deft hands. While the film boasts a couple of nice setups and turns the heist in some amusing ways, “Ocean’s 8” never takes the fierce female dynamic into more than a mediocre genre exercise.

 

Monte’s Rating

2.75 out of 5.00

Won't You Be My Neighbor - Movie Review by Ben Cahlamer

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Won’t You Be My Neighbor

 

Directed by Morgan Neville

Starring Fred Rogers, Joanne Rogers, McColm Cephas, Jr, Francois Scarborough Clemmons, Kailyn Davis, Yo-Yo Ma, Joe Negri, David Newell

 

Today, it is difficult to think that the greater American public was served through one man, his music, his imagination, his understanding and his kindness. More importantly, Fred Rogers was able to pierce the façade of a television camera. He was a man who understood the power of the medium and worked to offer children a place to have a discussion with them, actually, with me. I was his audience in the 1980’s.

Oscar-winning* and Emmy-winning** documentarian Morgan Neville takes us on a journey of not only a man, but someone who proved the power of simple acts of kindness and understanding can have on people. His latest documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” uses archival interviews with Mr. Rogers, who sadly passed away in 2003 after a life of public service.

Neville takes us back to Fred Rogers’ humble beginnings. There have been many myths surrounding Rogers, which Neville clarifies, yet it is Rogers’ lasting impression on the public, at large, that the narrative focuses on.

Fred had an avid interest in music and entered seminary after college. He then discovered television. In the 1950’s he worked on several children’s programs, focusing on music. Though he was not interested in preaching, he realized that he could offer a sermon to young people through the power of very simple sets, puppets and music. For the five year old me, he ignited my own overactive imagination as he took the audience to far off places. He did it in such a way that I could understand it.

One of the most familiar memories for me was the Challenger disaster in 1986. Though the event was plastered all over the news, it was Mr. Rogers and his ability to reach me that made the tragedy make sense. He also taught me tolerance, something that Neville devotes large swaths of his documentary to. Much to my surprise, one of his many actors who had a recurring role on the show reveals something that, while it did not surprise me, it left my heart even more full of appreciation for who Fred Rogers was.

One thing that did surprise me was his appearance before congress in 1969 to preserve the funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (PBS). As easily and as naturally as he could talk to a child, he was able to talk to a senator. The way Rogers was able to communicate was so very unique, it has not been repeated and Neville drives this point home. He was a defender of the greater good, and I am forever grateful for his impact on my life.

Another facet that Neville focused on was Rogers’ need to be doing something. He eventually produced 912 30 – minute episodes over 31 seasons from 1968 to 2001 out of WQED Studios based in Pittsburgh. He took breaks over the years and downshifted to specials that focused on events. His show made use of a SINGLE camera for nearly 30 years before moving to a multiple camera set up; that is the power of his ability to communicate with an audience.

It goes without saying that Morgan Neville’s “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” is a trip down nostalgia-lane. I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that wasn’t completely the focus of his documentary. I learned more about a man who left his heart and soul on the screen long after each episode was over. There wasn’t a single dry eye during my Phoenix Film Festival screening back in April. Neville manages to carry Rogers’ legacy, his imprimatur is left for another generation to experience his gift of communication. There will never be another like Fred Rogers and Morgan Neville’s “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” is a gem best shared with friends.

*Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for “20 Feet From Stardom” (2014)

**Outstanding Historical News & Documentary Emmy Award for “Best of Enemies” (2017

4 out of 4 stars.

Ten Nice Movies - Part One by Jeff Mitchell

“Ten Nice Movies – Part 1”

 

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The groundbreaking and absolutely delightful “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” ran for decades on public television, and this children’s program helped positively shape millions and millions of kids’ outlooks and moral compasses.  In 2018, the new documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is a wonderful, sentimental trip down memory lane for adults who grew up watching the show and its creator, writer, producer, and star:  Fred Rogers.

 

Rogers passed away at 74 in 2003, but “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” director Morgan Neville includes many, many interviews with Fred’s surviving family, castmates and crew about the program’s messaging, direction, style, and the man himself.  Although Rogers was a gentle soul, the film reveals that he addressed troubling issues on his show, and Elizabeth Seamans – who played Mrs. McFeely - adds, “He was radical.  I know everyone says that, but he was radical.”

 

Accompanied by moving – and not radical - soundtrack, the documentary raises genuine emotion for “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”, its creator and the hope that more caring, nice people like Fred Rogers exist in the world in 2018.  Yes, they do exist, because the millions and millions of children who watched his show are now living and breathing adults. 

 

In celebration of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, here are 10 nice films to enjoy at home.  This article is just Part 1, because there are so many movies that could contribute to “a beautiful day in (your) neighborhood.”

 

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (4/4 stars) arrives in theatres on Friday, June 8.

 

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“Buck” (2011) – During the 1950s, westerns ruled the big and small screens, and countless kids thought of cowboys as their heroes.  In the 21st century, Buck Brannaman is a modern-day cowboy, and he is this critic’s hero.  In a heartfelt and engaging documentary, director Cindy Meehl opens up her camera and lets Brannaman tell his story.  He is a horse trainer/real-life whisperer (who was also a consultant on Robert Redford’s “The Horse Whisperer” (1998)), and he takes a revolutionary approach to his craft.  Rather than employing traditional cracks of a whip and barking angry demands, Brannaman works with horses by offering love, respect and whispers.  This doc takes unexpected emotional turns during Brannaman’s biography, and many of these moments will resonate long after the end credits.

 

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“Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953) – This musical/comedy features two women - Dorothy (Jane Russell) and Lorelei (Marilyn Monroe) – taking their lounge singing act on a cruise ship, and it might be the most breezy and fun picture of Monroe’s illustrious career.  Now, Dorothy owns a heady and steady pragmatism, but Lorelei dives head first into relationships.  She has a purpose though: she loves rich men!  Monroe’s iconic performance of “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” is just one of many highlights with these two fabulous characters and their associated nautical escapades.  They are polar opposites, but they share marvelous cinematic chemistry and an agreeable comradery despite their differences during their joyful trip.

 

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“Going My Way” (1944) – St. Dominic’s, a New York City church, is in trouble.  Financial trouble.  Father Fitzgibbon has fallen behind on the mortgage, but enter Father Chuck O’Malley (Bing Crosby)!  With a spry skip in his step, a smile, oodles of good advice, and an occasional song, Father O’Malley might live a humble existence, but he’s as reliable as the sun rising over the eastern horizon every morning.   Although, is he the right man for the job?  Well, Crosby was right for this all-around, good guy role, because he won the Best Actor Oscar!  “Going My Way” won seven Oscars all together, including Best Picture, and hey, it looks like nice guys and nice movies finish first.

 

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“Jiro Dreams of Sushi” (2011) – It’s fair to say that job rotation does not exist in Jiro Ono’s vocabulary, because this 85-year-old sushi chef (who is now 92) has worked in his particular vocation for 75 years.  Yes, 75 years!  Not only has Ono spent over seven decades preparing sushi, but food critics and patrons agree that his work is the best that they have ever tasted.  Director David Gelb’s fascinating documentary shows us how this sushi master devotes time towards his life’s work, and Ono still insists that he is striving towards making the perfect sushi or “union between rice and fish.”  Gelb’s picture will certainly push hunger buttons, and Ono’s tenacious discipline and work ethic might just push all of us to always give our best.  The best part?  Jiro Ono proudly exclaims, “I feel ecstatic all day.”

 

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“Kedi” (2016) –  “Though cared for by many, they live without a master, and whether adored, despised, or overlooked, they are undeniably part of everyone’s life.”  This quote from director Ceyda Torun’s documentary explains Istanbul’s human/cat relationship, and her warm and soothing film is a must-see for everyone who loves animals.  Well, admittedly, dog-only people will probably not feel in tune with this movie, but cat people will adore it.  Torun follows several street cats and their travels at ground level and then interviews their human friends who lovingly discuss the times that these felines stop by for frequent visits.  During its 79-minute runtime, “Kedi” organically captures the love, caring and respect between the two populations, along with precious minutes of adorable cat and kitten screen time.  Sure, Istanbul might need a more robust spay and neuter program, but that’s a different movie.  For now, just enjoy this one.

 

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“Kitchen Stories” (2003) – Director Bent Hamer’s oddball, playful import is as fresh as a breath of crisp Scandinavian air.  Just after WWII, Sweden’s Home Research Institute – a technological leader in improving home efficiencies – wishes to understand the kitchen habits of single Norwegian men.  Who knows how they tick, right?  This pits an elderly hermit named Isak (Joachim Calmeyer) against Folke (Tomas Norstrom), who has been assigned as his observer during a frigid winter in an isolated, snowy village.  The weather plays the role of a third character in this already awkward circumstance and elevates the movie to a new level of comedic discomfort.  Hey, progress requires sacrifice.  Actually, experiencing “Kitchen Stories” is the exact opposite of sacrifice, so grab a space heater, a cup of hot chocolate, and a blanket and curl up with this unique little comedy.

 

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“Queen to Play” (2009) – Sandrine Bonnaire absolutely shines as a housekeeper who attempts to break from her daily routines to pursue a passion and – perhaps – accomplish an extraordinary achievement.  At the beginning of the picture, writer/director Caroline Bottaro quickly reveals Helene’s (Bonnaire) story.  Helene’s life may be fine, but something is missing.  She has more to offer.  By random chance, Helene stumbles upon the world of chess.  Chess?  Sure, why not?  Her husband unfortunately doesn’t approve of her new hobby, but an eccentric widower (Kevin Kline) takes her under his wing.  In turn, Helene begins to spread hers.  An empowering and inspiring story, “Queen to Play” chronicles one’s passion and showcases that desire cannot always be easily explained.  It may just simply and internally burn brightly.

 

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“The Great Buck Howard” (2008) – “I love this town!”  These are the genuine words declared during each show by the traveling performing mentalist: the one, the only…The Great Buck Howard (John Malkovich) in writer/director Sean McGinly’s wonderful comic gem.  McGinly’s picture offers a sincere PG-rated atmosphere that feels like storytelling from a past era, as Howard hires a young assistant named Troy (Colin Hanks) to travel the country with him and perform scores of thankless jobs.  A public relations manager (Emily Blunt) softens Troy’s bumpy ride, but Howard’s OCD-rituals, enthusiastic handshake and abrasive persona never quite smooth out the young man’s journey.  A surprise A-list cameo makes a welcome appearance, and Buck Howard – with all his quirks – is one of Malkovich’s most memorable characters.  Yea, there’s a good chance that you will say, “I love this movie!”

 

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“The Greatest Showman” (2017) – Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Zendaya, and Rebecca Ferguson star in a gorgeous, vibrant musical about P.T. Barnum and his famous circus.  Director Michael Gracey and his crew present beautiful sets that match the outstanding and very catchy production numbers in this pomp and circumstance-wonder.  The film offers lessons of reaching for stars and embracing our own unique selves and is anchored by two love stories:  P.T. Barnum (Jackman) and his wife (Williams) and also a young protégé (Efron) and a trapeze artist (Zendaya).  Of course, in the world of musicals, these couples run into rocky patches that are admittedly predictable, but the glorious visual and musical experiences outweigh any familiar plotlines.  “This is Me” was nominated for a Best Song Oscar, but this critic would argue that “Rewrite the Stars” and “Never Enough” have more staying power.   No matter.  Sit back and enjoy the show!

 

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“Unfinished Song” (2012) – Arthur’s (Terence Stamp) pain runs deep.  The way he sees it, his loving wife Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) is his life’s only bright light, but with her health rapidly deteriorating, he doesn’t have much to smile about these days.  Worse yet, he detests Marion’s frequent musical caucuses with her choir club at the Smith Hall Community Centre, and he takes out his frustrations on his son (Christopher Eccleston).  In writer/director Paul Andrew Williams’s picture, he engenders a battle of wills between a group of positive-thinking elderly choir members including their infinitely likable – and much younger - teacher (Gemma Arterton) versus Arthur and his determined, hovering dark cloud.  Will Arthur see life through a more constructive, optimistic and cheerful lens?  Geez, this movie doesn’t sound like a nice experience.  Well, you’ll have to watch it to know for certain.

 

 

Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.

 

 

 

Bernard & Huey - Movie Review by Ben Cahlamer

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Bernard & Huey

 

Directed by Dan Mirvish

Written by Jules Feiffer

Starring David Koechner, Jim Rash, Mae Whitman, Nancy Travis, Eka Darville, Richard Kind, Bellamy Young

 

There’s a story that I think I’ve shared before. If not, I’ll share it here. Before I started writing movie reviews, I would see a movie and people would ask me how I liked something. I would always say “I liked it a lot.” When I would tell my dad this, he would reply, “you like everything.” I guess I do like everything because there’s not a director or a producer out there who sets out to make a bad movie. They make the best movie they possibly can with the resources they have, which makes finding a “diamond in the rough,” a more difficult but enjoyable task.

Then “Bernard & Huey” makes the 2018 Phoenix Film Festival line-up, and redefines “diamond in the rough”. It’s an absolute gem of a film.

Bernard (Jim Rash) is a successful New York bachelor. His college buddy, Huey (David Koechner) is on the rocks and lands on Bernard’s doorstep. They haven’t seen each other in a number of years and much like Felix and Oscar, they learn they need each other far more than the other is willing to admit. Not before hilarity ensues.

The story goes that Pulitzer and Academy award winning author Jules Feiffer had been commissioned to write a screenplay for Showtime. That screenplay ended up in a desk drawer until recently. The characters Peiffer created were based on a long-running comic strip that he writes for the Village Voice (New York) dating back to 1957.  The beauty in Mirvish’s film is that he intersperses college aged Bernard and Huey with modern day Bernard and Huey. It was refreshing to see the younger versions of themselves to build up the modern drama.

The humor is what makes the drama so strong, and Feiffer’s word is as witty and acerbic as I’ve heard in a long time. Bringing these comic strip characters to life is in the capable hands of Academy Award winner Jim Rash, whose stoicism and reserved charm are refreshing. David Koechner is big, bold and brash and it’s a nice counterplay for Rash. The supporting characters Mirvish surrounds our cast with are equally as acerbic. Zelda is in a relationship with Bernard and is also Huey’s estranged daughter. She is the lynchpin to our story. Mae Whitman does a superb job playing off of both Rash and Koechner. Mona is a recurring character in both timelines. As the older version of Mona, Nancy Travis seduces the screen and Bernard and Huey.

In a post-screening Q & A, Mirvish mentioned how he was able to shoot the film, achieving the look that he did, and while that question was location – specific, Todd Antonio Somodevilla’s cinematography was striking for the mixture of film and digital; the transitions between the two were seamless and added an authenticity to the story and the film.

This timely and timeless story really struck home. The strong characters, the comedy and the drama all work so expertly thanks to Dan Mirvish’s deft direction and a witty, brazen and acerbic script from Jules Feiffer, both are national treasures and their story is a true polished diamond.

3.5 out of 4

Hereditary - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

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Hereditary

 

Director: Ari Aster

Starring: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, and Milly Shapiro

 

Family…that word holds a unique meaning, it’s a word that comes with a different set of responsibilities depending on how the individual defines it. We all know that one family that loves to be together and we all know that family that needs to call the authorities at Thanksgiving dinner. Whether your immediate household or that distant cousin from your third uncle’s second marriage, family comes with a heap of emotional baggage. 

 

Horror films have utilized this aspect of family, mostly broken beyond repair, to build visions of invasive family structure terror. Think of films like “The Omen”, “The Shining”, or even more recently “The Conjuring”, all have families thrown into chaos because of the supernatural that consumes their peaceful lives. What makes director Ari Aster’s film “Hereditary” different from most is the structure concerning the family dynamic, specifically the historical structure and the ongoing trauma and despair that has permeated the foundation of this family’s ancestry. 

 

Annie’s (Toni Collette) mother, a private and secretive woman, has passed away. While not completely unexpected, grandma’s death brings about some strange occurrences. Annie, struggling with her relationships and the mourning process, begins to discover some strange happenings concerning her family history; aspects that become increasingly sinister and evil as more is revealed about her mother. 

 

Let’s get this out of the way before you read any further, “Hereditary” is disturbing and extremely affecting, a film that cares more about embedding itself in your subconscious mind than simply offering a jump scare, although it has a few of those as well. The less you know about this film the better the experience will be. 

 

This is Ari Aster’s first feature length film. This is simply impressive considering how deftly the director executes the little elements that really make “Hereditary” shine. The technique incorporated into the film editing and photographic design is a blend of ingenious framing devices that hint and wink at scare tactics before playing against type, clever transitions that drastically manipulate tone and atmosphere, and amusing influences to the familiar aspects of contemporary horror design concerning the expectations associated with the setup and payoff. These aspects are demonstrated from the very first scene of the film, a slow push through a window, past a workshop full of miniatures, and into a dollhouse that seamlessly blends into the bedroom of one of the family members. 

 

Mr. Aster does so much work to keep the tension high throughout the film, slowly dragging while at times shoving the viewer forward into the experience. It’s a grueling emotional kidnapping for the viewer who is forced to experience the traumatic relationship between grief and despair that the family is going through. The fear and the scare of it all happens during emotionally devastating moments, when your heart is already being manipulated, the terror is thrown in for a final punch. Ms. Aster handles it with precision. 

 

The sound design makes great use of relatively silent moments by adding small details into the backgrounds or through the voices of the characters. In one scene Annie's son Peter (Alex Wolff) reaches a breaking point, the sounds of terror through the whimpering and moaning of a young man is completely unnerving.

 

The character design is also fantastic, it’s what helps the narrative achieve an authentic feel amidst its completely bizarre horror touches. Toni Collette is exceptional as Annie, providing one of the best horror movie performances in years. Her movements from despair to lunacy then compassionate to heartlessness are absorbing. It’s another technique that pulls the audience into the darkness embraced by the film. Everyone understands the trauma associated with loss, loneliness, and despair, the film utilizes this to bring aspects of true terror into the mix of the story. These heart wrenching emotions are further embraced by the cast of characters, each of them handles the increasingly threatening situations with their own coping mechanisms. Gabriel Byrne is tasked as the anchor of reason for the family, the stress of holding the family together is palpable because of Mr. Byrne’s solemn steadfastness. 

 

“Hereditary” embodies everything I admire about the genre. Specifically how absolute terror doesn’t need to come at the hands of a stalking monster or a scary entity; instead the fear associated with effective horror tales is always the trauma caused by human emotions. Just think about the film images that stick with you, the moments that linger in your mind late in the evening; the singing man in “The Wicker Man”, the screaming father in “The Mist”, the terrified mother in “Rosemary’s Baby”. Add “Hereditary” to the esteemed list of movies you will be hard pressed to shake.

 

Monte’s Rating

5.00 out of 5.00

How to Talk to Girls at Parties - Movie Review by Ben Cahlamer

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How to Talk to Girls at Parties

 

Directed by John Cameron Mitchell

Written by Philippa Goslett and John Cameron Mitchell based on “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” by Neil Gaiman

Starring Elle Fanning, Alex Sharp, Nicole Kidman, Ruth Wilson, Matt Lucas
 

Let us be honest. Most of us just floated through our high school years, being awkward towards each other. Some found love. Some found passion. Some found validation. Some struggled just being. I am certain that the social aspect of high school has changed since I graduated in 1994, but the clustering of social groups and tendencies has not.

What is interesting about John Cameron Mitchell’s “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” is how Philippa Goslett and Mitchell’s script, based on the short story of the same name by Neil Gaiman tries to bisect a hippy – sci fi feel with modernized characters. Unfortunately, it does not always work.

Enn (Alex Sharp) likes to rock it out with his friends, but does not know how to court a companion. Zan (Elle Fanning) is a member of an alien collective sent to observe Earth. When Enn and his chums stumble on to their abode, it is as if two star-crossed lovers reached out through space-time to find one another.

Though Enn’s mum (Joanna Scanlan) is a part of his life, she really just keeps the lights on for him. There is a hilarious scene where Enn and Zan have slept together, unbeknownst to his mum and when Zan waltzes down the stairs, the look of incredulity on his mum’s face is priceless.

The surprising casting in this film is Nicole Kidman as Queen Boadicea who is Enn’s surrogate mum. She keeps the ruckus in her club to a minimum as she tries to find a hole for Enn and his chums to play their sets (badly, of course.)

While the fireworks go off between Enn and Zan, the story careens just as wildly. Not that I have experienced this, but the best way to describe the happenings in the story is like an acid trip gone bad. You are lucid enough to know that the love is real, but the politics of the alien visitors, especially towards the third act, are so ludicrous that Congress should actually take notes.

While the story’s energy just does not support the character’s energy, the movie never really stumbles in terms of pacing. Brian Kates’s editing does a solid job of using the performances to move the story forward.

Mitchell (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” “Shortbus”) uses his rock n’ roll sensibilities to create a quirky atmosphere, which I appreciated. Looking back at my screening, there is an opening CGI shot of the universe, which slowly coalesces into several colored molecules; the effect reminded me of Relativity’s logo trailer when it is in fact part of the films’ opening shot. I am laughing at myself now for even admitting this, but the cheekiness of the effects worked on me.

The quirkiness of the performances and the direction, which feels much like a stage play will work on most audiences, but the story itself is far too light to carry the film to its logical conclusion.

Rating 2 out of 4

The Seagull - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell

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‘The Seagull’ does not exactly fly

 

Directed by:  Michael Mayer

Written by:  Stephen Karam (screenplay), Anton Chekhov (play)

Starring:  Annette Bening, Saoirse Ronan, Elisabeth Moss, Corey Stoll, Billy Howle, Mare Winningham, and Brian Dennehy

 

“The Seagull” – “It’s hot.  It’s quiet.  No one does anything.  Why does no one do anything?” – Irina (Annette Bening)

 

After experiencing “The Seagull”, a film adaption of Anton Chekhov’s play, one might ask Irina’s question about the movie itself.  Sure, the A-list cast members - Bening, Saoirse Ronan, Elisabeth Moss, Corey Stoll, Billy Howle, Brian Dennehy, and Mare Winningham – do something.  More than something.  They bring their acting A-games to director Michael Mayer’s picture, but the uninspired and sometimes muddy visuals match the pedestrian pacing, and the film feels like no one is actually doing a whole heck of a lot.

 

Moscow is a bustling city with millions of people engaging in an equal number of activities, but the film is set in the tranquil countryside outside Moscow (actually filmed in Upstate New York) at the turn of the 20th century.  Irina, a terribly successful actress, travels from Russia’s biggest metropolis to her family’s estate where her brother Sorin (Dennehy) lives, and they host a number of friends and her son Konstantin (Howle) for some days of drinking, singing, reading, and relaxing.  Lots of relaxing.

 

Within closed spaces, the characters converse - without any hint of Russian accents - about careers, lost dreams, family, and love. 

 

Sibling love, romantic love and – most of all - unrequited love.  

 

In fact, three characters truly have love for another, but their feelings are not reciprocated, so the film’s main themes paint despair for these individuals whose hearts are slightly tearing or flat out breaking. 

 

Moss is perfectly cast as Masha, and her character suffers from terrible dismay, but in tragic and comedic ways.  Masha always wears black, because the dark shade agrees with her disposition.  Still, she feels completely unrestricted to explain her misery to anyone who sits down and begins a conversation with a simple hello.  Moss – who was hilarious as an overlooked lover in 2017’s “The Square” – plays a lonely woman who is simply overlooked.  Masha, however, carries a sarcastic plan to remedy her pain and plans on “tearing this love from her heart” by getting married.

 

Speaking of marriage or courtship, “The Seagull” looks and feels like a Jane Austen film.  These types of period pieces center around courtships, ones that ever-so-briefly unfold - perhaps for a few minutes of screen time during a leisurely walk or a gentle boat ride - before undying love for the other is confessed.  In this case, these said courtships transpire, but each potential relationship carries an air of doom rather than hope.  There is nothing wrong with the chosen tone, but the narrative lacks playful nuances.

 

Actually, the movie feels like a Jane Austin B-movie.

 

Nearly the entire picture is set at the aforementioned estate, and despite ornate costumes and atmosphere, Mayer gives us very little visual pomp and circumstance to enjoy.  The night scenes seem to only use natural candlelight, so Irina, Nina (Ronan), Konstantin, and the others promenade and saunter in and out of shadows. 

 

During the daytime, seven or eight characters may assemble in the main room, converse and grumble, but without much celebration or movement.  Several scenes do take place in the great outdoors, and although the lake and acres of deciduous trees are pleasing to the eye, the potential for spectacular, period piece filmmaking never materializes. 

 

Now, “A Quiet Passion” (2017) – a story about Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon) - was primarily set in one location too.  The Dickinson family home.  Every frame of that picture, however, visually pops and the ongoing runtime within the same bedrooms, living room, dining room, etc. does not elicit audience-ADD.  Whether it was the script, Nixon’s extraordinary performance or writer/director Terence Davies’s aptitude with lighting and his camera, “A Quiet Passion” does not feel limited or claustrophobic.  “The Seagull”, however, does.

 

Also, this film presents and then squanders two golden opportunities to step outside the estate to watch Irina perform, but instead of showcasing her talents inside a large, beautiful theatre, we only see very small glimpses of her work. 

 

Tight budgets and the self-contained nature of adapted plays could be the reasons.  Adapted play or not, movies are a visual medium and skillful filmmaking can help fill monetary voids and/or small sets.  See also “Glengarry Glen Ross” (1992). 

 

Still, the talented actors voice Chekhov’s and screenwriter Stephan Karam’s words with passion and vigor for 94 minutes, and these actors – especially Moss, Bening, Stoll, and Dennehy – offer a wonderful treat for those who appreciate ensembles in which words tied to close relationships matter.  These characters have the potential to find love, and yes, “The Seagull” has the potential to be great.  Unfortunately, that potential was lost somewhere during the film’s shoot.  Sure, “The Seagull” does not lay around and do absolutely nothing, but it never flies either.

(2/4 stars)

 

Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.

Adrift - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

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Adrift

 

Director: Baltasar Kormakur

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin, Grace Palmer, Jeffrey Thomas, and Elizabeth Hawthorne

 

In 1983 Tami Oldham and Richard Sharp set off from Tahiti to deliver a yacht to San Diego. During the voyage the couple encountered a furious hurricane that capsized their boat, forcing a fight for survival adrift in the open ocean. Director Baltasar Kormakur takes this premise and organizes a film that functions in part as a melodrama about a passionate budding relationship between two free spirits and a raw tale of survival amidst the treacherous and vast ocean.

 

The film focuses on Tami’s (Shailene Woodley) journey; she's a free spirit from California, working odd jobs to move from one exotic locale to another. Tami is reluctant to let anything get in the way of her experience in the world, she operates on the ambition to be immersed in the world. While on a Polynesian adventure she meets another free spirit named Richard (Sam Claflin), an experienced sailor who has his own yacht. They fall in love and are soon making new experiences together. Richard asks Tami to sail the world with him.

 

“Adrift” utilizes an interesting narrative device, jumping around the timeline of the couple’s relationship, specifically between their romance and survival. It’s an interesting technique that helps to balance the film’s themes and keep it from becoming another sappy romantic film that happens to have a third act that turns into a harrowing battle of life versus death. In one scene we get a moment to see the couple enjoying a beautiful excursion on a small beach and in the next scene we see a desperate couple rationing food to survive. It’s a great emotional split that helps with establishing the characters and their relationship. Unfortunately it also separates some of the better emotional aspects, especially some of the passionate and intense moments that sell the romantic believability for these two people. While it doesn’t ruin the experience it does leave some moments hallow. 

 

Shailene Woodley is good in the lead role, holding the far and wide emotions with ease. There are moments that require the actress to handle some very raw moments of despair and other moments that require a more subtle approach to aspects of fear. Sam Claflin plays Richard opposite Ms. Woodley; the actor has an undeniable charm but the chemistry between the two just doesn’t come together as nicely as it should. This is particularly because of the bisected structure of the storytelling but also because the script demands that the romance be told through short snippets that occur during adventures taken by the couple, which mostly consists of a series of the two people looking longingly into one another’s eyes or embracing amidst beautiful landscape. It’s picturesque but never more than surface level romance.

 

Still, Mr. Kormakur delivers a human tale throughout the film, one that focuses less on the extravagance and spectacle of nature and more on the resilient aspects of the human spirit. When the storm eventually comes, the emphasis never turns to the action heavy set piece but remains on a couple entangled in a fight for their lives. It’s during this terrifying moment in the film that the love story and survival story complement each other the best.

 

“Adrift” may not always work as a romantic drama about two unique people who encounter one another in the vast world or as story of survival aboard a broken ship in the ocean. However, when the film eventually connects the emotional dots between the relationship of love and survival, it works quite nicely.

 

Monte’s Rating

2.75 out of 5.00

First Reformed - Movie Review by Ben Cahlamer

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First Reformed

 

Directed by Paul Schrader

Written by Paul Schrader

Starring Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric Kyles, Victoria Hill, Phillip Ettinger

 

Though I am not fully versed in his catalog, and it has been many years since I’ve seen “Taxi Driver,” writer – director Paul Schrader has never really shied away from bold, life – altering themes and characters who go through morally questionable decisions in times of personal crisis.

“First Reformed” is no exception and as Toller, Ethan Hawke is exceptional.

A man of faith, in a small community where the congregation is but a few of the citizens, a conflicted . . . no, torn Toller is pressed to question his own faith as he struggles with not only the demons of others, but his own struggles. One could point out the connection to another Schrader character, Travis Bickle.

The difference between Toller and Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro, “Taxi Driver”; 1976, d. M. Scorcese) is that Bickle is a veteran who is trying to reintegrate into society following a traumatic, emotional act that he witnessed directly. Toller, on the other hand is coping with the loss of another and thusly takes on the suffering of others.

It is in this vein that Mary (Amanda Seyfried) and Michael (Philip Ettinger) enter his life. They are a young couple who seek Toller’s counsel. In an early sequence, as Michael loosely confesses his sins, we never get to understand who Michael is. Nor should we, for it is Toller’s to take on that burden which is not necessarily ours to bear. Key to this interaction though is the fact that Michael is not seeking absolution. Toller could not offer it as such.

Within this interaction, it strengthens the trust between Toller, who as a disgruntled man of faith and Mary, a woman seeking comfort, but not salvation. Toller will not allow physical contact nor will he allow himself to seek the counsel of others. Especially his senior pastor, Jeffers (Cedric Kyles), who has concerned himself with the business of the 200th anniversary of their small, historical church.

I found it rather interesting that within Toller’s monologue he maintains a journal, specifically stating that he would do so for a year and after that year, he would destroy it. It serves as a foundation for his descent into his crises of faith while struggling to maintain his façade. The allegory on modern society’s commentary is not lost within this context and is a powerful message.

Amidst the chaotic world we live in, Toller never loses focus of his own resolve. Schrader has seen to that. Within his resolution is a confession stuck in catharsis. It is such a beautifully crafted catharsis that we can all endure Toller’s pains. He need not seek absolution from us either, for we are reformed.

4 out of 4 stars

On Chesil Beach - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell

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‘On Chesil Beach’ refreshingly strays from typical romance themes

 

Directed by:  Dominic Cooke

Written by:  Ian McEwan (novel and screenplay)

Starring:  Saoirse Ronan, Billy Howle, Emily Watson, Samuel West, Lionel Mayhew, and Anne-Marie Duff

 

 

“On Chesil Beach” – “Actually, I’m a little bit scared.” – Florence (Saoirse Ronan)

 

“I think I am too.” – Edward (Billy Howle)

 

Chesil Beach, a natural barrier made of pebbles, stretches for 18 miles in Dorset along the English Channel.  This thin landmass of small rocks looks delicate from the air, but Chesil Beach is not an environmental wonder that just materialized overnight.  It has a solid foundation with eons of history.

 

Edward and Florence (or Flo), in their very early 20’s, get married and then honeymoon at an inn next to this picturesque locale.  Although marriage is supposedly built on an already-existing solid foundation, the two discover that their relationship is much more delicate.    

 

Director Dominic Cooke and writer Ian McEwan – who adapted his 2007 book “On Chesil Beach” for the screen – carefully address the themes of finding the right partner, establishing open lines of communication and clearly understanding the baggage that each person brings to a marriage before the actual ceremony.  Although this emotional checklist appears logical and straightforward, formal training manuals for picking a spouse and establishing a solid foundation are not uniformly handed out to aspiring young couples.  

 

Additionally, Cooke and McEwan introduce a fairly unique issue in contemporary cinema that will not be named in this review.  It is a sensitive, tricky subject, but it’s one that the characters can properly address through honest and respectful communication, and the filmmakers handle the topic with maturity and smart camerawork.  

 

“On Chesil Beach” is not an everyday, flowery romance story, and those expecting Ronan’s Flo to enjoy a breezy relationship - like her character Ellis in “Brooklyn” (2015) - will be disappointed.  It does recount the leads’ initial meeting and courtship during the early 1960’s, but theirs is not a romance where they grasp heated moments in a doorway, movie theatre or grassy field.  Their dating period is filled with more wholesome moments of quality time spent in each other’s worlds.  Worlds slightly divided by class. 

 

Howle and Ronan play the couple as polite, considerate and caring, and Flo wins over Edward and his family with her grace and kindness.  These actors make it very easy to like their characters, while we wish that their marriage will last 60 years…on the low-end.  Of course, no marriage bathes in perfection, and the narrative establishes that Edward’s mother and Flo’s father are imperfect role models.  Whether we all like it or not, our parents unwittingly impact and program our choices as adults, and Edward and Flo are not exempt from this phenomenon that has existed as long as humans have roamed the planet.

 

Cooke does a nice job of capturing his on-screen planet, the 60’s.  With costumes, attitudes, atmosphere, and selected bright color palates, he properly frames this more innocent time leading up to and during this couple’s honeymoon.  It is also a period when the fault of just about anything in a relationship unfortunately falls upon women.  Compared to today, the early 1960’s was a time of greater innocence, which also inversely means less enlightenment, and that plays a key element in the story.  

 

Cooke and McEwan display cinematic enlightenment, as the picture runs a healthy 1 hour and 50 minutes.  The time feels about right, because it could have dragged on for 2 hours and 15 minutes.  Now, the third act does seem condensed and rushed – with much more material probably left in the book -  but the filmmakers used good judgment by choosing frugality during the film’s closing steps.

 

The pivotal moment does transpire on Chesil Beach, and hence the film is aptly named.  While standing on that beach, the hope is that Edward and Flo have built enough of a foundation to proudly and bravely face the storm.

(3/4 stars)

 

Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.

 

 

Solo: A Star Wars Story - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

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Solo: A Star Wars Story

 

Director: Ron Howard

Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jonas Suotamo, and Paul Bettany

 

“You know, sometimes I amaze even myself.” The epitome of cool, the tough guy, the rebel in the original Star Wars universe has always been Han Solo. The character is an icon of pop culture, a science fiction superstar that brought charisma and attitude into the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon alongside a furry companion named Chewbacca. Han Solo’s journey into the Star Wars universe was always one of mythic proportions; a history only partly introduced with off topic remarks or unexpected meet-ups with past foes/friends. Amidst battles between galactic forces and duels with light saber wielding Jedi’s, Han Solo was consistently one of the most intriguing and appealing characters.

 

“Solo: A Star Wars Story”, directed by Ron Howard and written by Jonathan Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan amidst a troubled production, takes the viewer back to the beginning of the journey; back to understand how Han Solo became a pilot, how he won the Millennium Falcon, and how Chewie became his partner in crime. Unlike other films in the “Star Wars” canon, the stakes aren’t world or life threatening, the mythology doesn’t boast a battle between light and dark forces, but instead the film focuses on a young man wrapped up in a world of loners, thieves, backstabbers and smugglers.

 

Han (Alden Ehrenreich) is a juvenile delinquent, stealing speeders and running scams for bad guys who don’t like failure. Han is trying to escape his life of crime, leave the planet Corellia, and start a new path with his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). Things don’t go as planned and Han is separated from Qi’ra; he promises to return for her one day. This leads Han to enlist in the military only to leave and join the gang fronted by a thief named Beckett (Woody Harrelson). Qi’ra finds her own path, secured in service to a scarred gangster named Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).

 

Director Ron Howard handles the material here with delicate hands, perhaps a little too delicate considering the film struggles to make the wild stories of Han Solo resonate with the kind charisma and coolness associated with the savvy star pilot seen in “Star Wars: A New Hope”. It’s the bits of forced nostalgia, the intentional callbacks to the past (or future depending on how you look at the timeline), which create a rift in the tone of the story. Han’s character has always had the benefit of the doubt; his stories about winning spaceships and accomplishing challenging feats in 12 parsecs were legends told through word of mouth, many times the mouth of Han Solo himself. Still, they were stories given the bare minimum of information and told through the vessel of a character that oozes confidence. When these stories come to life it’s amusing yet altogether unnecessary and somewhat insignificant.

 

Still, Mr. Howard populates the film with some interesting characters. Woody Harrelson is good as Beckett, the lifetime thief whose sage words of advice are “Assume everyone will betray you”. Mr. Harrelson’s calm and natural demeanor fits this particular universe of loners. But the scene-stealer here is Donald Glover playing Lando Calrissian. Mr. Glover has a suaveness that shines through even when the character may not handle all the situations with the same kind of self-assured personality one might expect. Unfortunately Alden Ehrenreich, and this is no fault the talented actor’s ability, just doesn’t evoke the same quality of the character Harrison Ford composed. Trying to emulate the nostalgic sentiments of a character like Han Solo is nearly impossible considering the stranglehold that time and the ever growing grasp of pop culture hold over these beloved characters. Mr. Ehrenreich’s choices feel out of sync considering the character that will eventually come to the aid of the Resistance and Luke Skywalker in a few years to come.

 

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is mixed with moments that want to have fun, want to provide fan service, and want to prepare for the eventual return of the character for another adventure. It doesn’t always work. Still, in some places everything just fits so nicely that it’s impossible not to enjoy yourself. When Chewie and Han meet in a muddy pit during a chaotic war scene everything clicks for a moment, everything feels right knowing the future progression of these character’s intermingled storyline. It’s when the film actually resonates most like a Star Wars story.

 

Monte’s Rating

3.25 out of 5.00

New Trailers for Memorial Day Weekend

In the last day or so, we've seen the release of a fresh batch of trailers. We thought we would pass them along just in time for the weekend. 

 

First up from Focus Features is the latest trailer for "Won't You Be My Neighbor". The film hits theatres on June 8th. 

 

The next trailer is for "The Sisters Brothers". This one is from Annapuna Pictures and releases this Fall. 

 

Up next is a teaser trailer for "A Simple Favor" starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively. This one releases in September.

 

 

And finally something for the families, Disney's "Christopher Robin"  by Clicking here

 

 

 

Deadpool 2 - Movie Review by Monte Yazzie

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Deadpool 2

 

Director: David Leitch

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Zazie Beetz, Julian Dennison, and Briana Hildebrand

 

 

“Deadpool” arrived into theaters in 2016 during a time when comic book movie fatigue was beginning to settle in. It arrived at the the perfect place; the raunchy comedy, the explicit language, and the bloody bits and pieces were unlike the superhero films viewers were getting comfortable with in the cineplex. At the core of the film was a court jester with dual ninja swords and an itchy trigger finger; Ryan Reynolds, with his comedic swagger and verbal lambasting, shook up the structure of what a comic book movie could be. In the world of movie roles perfectly suited for a particular actor,  Deadpool was made for actor Ryan Reynolds.

 

 “Deadpool 2”, amidst the amped up gore and explicit language, is very much a comic book comedy that is funny enough that you’re bound to miss numerous jokes because of the laughter in the auditorium. The breakneck style of comedy here is also reflected in the action scenes, it’s kinetic to the point of chaos throughout the entirety of the film. But that’s what makes this franchise so much fun, it doesn’t play by the rules.

 

Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), aka Deadpool, has expanded his vigilante ways into global markets. But Deadpool is trying to change his deadly ways, and with the help of some superhero friends he is given an opportunity to try a new, less violent, form of justice. This introduces Deadpool to a young boy named Russell (Julian Dennison) who is trying to escape a reform school for young mutants. Unfortunately some one else takes an interest in Russell, a time-traveling mercenary named Cable (Josh Brolin) wants to destroy Russell before he grows into an unstoppable super villain.

 

“Deadpool 2” has a charming and mischievous quality that keeps the film entertaining from the start until the final frame. It’s also quite funny, everything from sight gags to foul-mouthed banter populate every inch of the film. The film understands exactly what it is trying to achieve, which is a playfulness amidst some of the more serious comic book movie franchises out there. Through its self-deprecating style, fourth wall breaking moments, and knowing nods to every comic book universe present and past, these qualities have been turned up to eleven, “Deadpool 2” is bound to please anyone who loved the first film.

 

But through all the fun and laughter it’s hard not to question why the journey feels so unsatisfying. Deadpool’s super power is regeneration, the character functions as somewhat indestructible throughout the film. While we are given a moment to see Deadpool without powers, the fact that the character can lose limbs and get riddled with bullets without much consequence never makes any of the foes in the film feel threatening. Even Cable, who shows up with a big weapon and a mechanical arm, is a non-consequential bad guy who shows up mostly for amusing banter and to introduce time travel into the narrative of the film.

 

Because “Deadpool 2” never functions within any set boundaries, it’s easy to forgive the obvious lapses in storytelling. Convenience becomes a narrative weapon to wield to get from one scene to the next, and when the audience begins to question the details the film takes the red suited character and turns him to the audience to express, “that’s just lazy writing”. Yes, it’s acceptable, but it’s still flimsy storytelling.

 

Ryan Reynolds is fantastic throughout the film, Josh Brolin should be in more of these types of films because he adds such gravity to these characters, and young Julian Dennison sells the aspect of a character on the verge.

 

“Deadpool 2” will please those who enjoyed the simplistic entertainment and adult humor of the first film. Unfortunately, while the character can be amusing in all his rage, violence and humor, there is far less of a complex composition to the character and more of a one dimensional aspect. While this may be what the character, and writers, are ultimately aiming for, it may also be what keeps the franchise from building this character into something more substantial. That doesn’t mean it won’t be fun to see the foul-mouthed superhero every few years.

 

Monte’s Rating

3.50 out of 5.00

Pope Francis: A Man of His Word - Movie Review by Jeff Mitchell

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‘Pope Francis:  A Man of His Word’ is a great opportunity and a missed one

 

Directed by:  Wim Wenders

Written by:  Wim Wenders and David Rosier

Starring:  Pope Francis

 

“Pope Francis:  A Man of His Word” – “I think he might be the coolest pope ever.” – Conan O’Brien

 

O’Brien is not alone. 

 

With his progressive stances on climate change, gay marriage, women in the church, and more, Pope Francis is helping bridge the gap between traditional Catholicism and life in 2018.  Whether or not every individual Catholic church in the world is more accessible and flexible, well, at least this pope – whose papacy began in March 2013 - has set a new direction. 

 

Sensible.  Likable.  Approachable.   

 

These words all describe Pope Francis, at least from Catholics and non-Catholics who are not threatened by his beliefs. 

 

Revolutionary might be another word. 

 

There may have never been a pope like him, but in director Wim Wenders documentary, Pope Francis draws comparisons to a saint.  Saint Francis of Assisi.  The famous saint lived 800 years ago, and in a recent interview, Wenders said that Saint Francis and Pope Francis share three common principles:  solidarity with the poor, respect for nature and peace with other religions.

 

Wenders defends this observation in two ways. 

 

First, Pope Francis speaks right to the camera and directly explains his beliefs in a casual, relaxed setting.  Second, Wenders shows the pope traveling all over the globe and speaking on the aforementioned three principles.  Despite, this tremendous opportunity to listen to Pope Francis state his core values, this film plays loose with its narrative, and it unfortunately seems directionless and sometimes endless over the course of a long 96 minutes. 

 

It’s not like the audience does not receive positive messages and a direct feed from this sensible, likable, approachable, and revolutionary world leader, because we do. 

 

Pope Francis speaks out – with straight talk - on a number of topics.  For instance, he worries about the lack of meaningful work in economically-challenged countries which can cause havoc on individual self-esteem and intrinsic dignity.  Climate change and pollution bring him stress.  He pleads that Mother Earth is not in balance, and “the world is mostly deaf” on the issue. 

 

He also speaks to income inequality and greed and says, “No one can serve two masters. We either serve God, or we serve money.”

 

These are just a few of the many pearls of wisdom that Wenders’s film wonderfully and profoundly offers.

 

As much as these messages resonate, it is difficult to connect with the picture as a whole, as the film regularly volleys between a few minutes of Pope Francis’s valuable discourse and then shifts to his road trip footage that all seems to blend together without cohesive tissue.

 

Pope Francis travels to Brazil, Bolivia, Jerusalem, and Philadelphia, to just name a few locales, and big, smiling crowds greet him at every turn. 

 

We definitely feel the love! 

 

These individual moments inspire and simultaneously showcase the global popularity of this holy man, but collectively, these appearances feel like a repetitive concoction of his greatest hits, rather than for a designed purpose.  The many, many appearances mostly fit the same pattern:  Pope Francis looks out an airplane window, the plane lands, he walks towards a large crowd, greets some individual followers, and delivers a sermon.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

 

Now, organically – through the solo discussions and B-roll from the road - the picture does lay out a solid case that Saint Francis and Pope Francis share thoughtful, altruistic traits, but through the prism of the recurring said pattern.  Quite frankly, this particular Francis-Francis bond could be explained in 30 minutes, rather than an entire feature film, and when dedicating a movie to this particular pope, why not explore additional intriguing topics? 

 

Pope Francis is the first pope from the Southern Hemisphere and the Americas, so why not interview experts about the previous exclusion, rather than just briefly mention it?

 

Pope Francis’s reformist stances beget both relief and controversy, so why not explore the arguments?

 

What do historians say about him?  How do church leaders feel?  What are John and Jane Q. Public’s thoughts?  What makes Pope Francis tick, and what brought him to his beliefs?

 

“Pope Francis:  A Man of His Word” really does not address these questions, but those answers will have to wait for a future movie.  For now, we have a good opportunity and a missed one. That’s too bad, because this pope is really cool.

(2/4 stars)

 

Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.  Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.