Loving Vincent – Movie Review

Loving Vincent is absolutely breathtaking.  A marvel.  It’s a journey back in time much like what we experience when we stare at any piece of art.  Filmmakers, Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman and a team of 125 painting animators immerse you in the world of one of the most loved artists of all, the Father of Modern Art, Vincent Van Gogh.  What has been accomplished here will unquestionably affect you, bowl you over, however you want to say it but this here, this film, is a bona fide treasure.

Allow me to give you a few facts about what it took to bring this amazing production to you.  It took seven, SEVEN, years to make and is the first of its kind.  Each and every one of the film’s 65,000 frames is an oil painting itself, employing the same bold technique as Van Gogh used.  The painters spent up to TEN DAYS painting just ONE SECOND of the film!  Loving Vincent is the first ‘fully oil painted feature film.’  After watching, there’s no doubt there will be more to follow. 

The movie seems like an impossibility in the way it not only shows you the filmmakers talents but tells you all about the subjects.  Luckily for us, Dorota Kobiela didn’t keep it a short film as originally planned.  Oh, the loss that would have been.  What Van Gogh accomplished in only nine years is remarkable and you learn so much about his work through Loving Vincent that you’ll want to run and find out more.  He created over 860 oil paintings and 120 of them were used, fused into the film with loving, caring, compassionate artists out to tell the world this phenomenal story with their awe-inspiring work. 

When the artists best for the job were found for the film, they were put through a 180-hour training program before they could start painting but before that, the feature, which is a difficult task all its own, had to be shot!! 

It’s almost too much to comprehend but sets were built to mirror the images of Van Gogh’s paintings, Night Café, Portrait of Doctor Paul Gachet and Portrait of Adeline Ravoux to name a few of the 120 used.  With that detail and the use of green screen technology, you’ll thoroughly applaud the efforts to remove you from this world and drop you into his. 

His being, Vincent’s (Gulaczyk) but also Armand Roulin’s (Booth) world… the man trying to get a letter from Vincent to his brother, Theo (Cezary Lukaszewicz).  Arman is given the letter by his father, a postman by the name of Joseph Roulin (O’Dowd), both of them subjects of Vincent’s work.  The odyssey he finds himself on when he learns of Theo’s passing is not what he was expecting.  He wants only to try and find the rightful owner of the letter and instead finds himself entangled in a mystery.

After meeting several people who knew Vincent, Louise Chevalier (McCrory) who was not a fan of Vincent or his work, Adeline Ravoux (Tomlinson) the innkeeper’s daughter who is a wealth of information and Dr. Gachet (Flynn), himself a failed artist, Armand sees reason all around him to doubt whether Vincent took his own life or whether someone did it for him.  The film actually takes place in 1891, a year after his death so, some of the story is told in flashbacks which are the memories of the people he speaks with and what they feel compelled to recant. Vincent’s murder has now been suggested and if you weren’t aware of that, watching how the idea incubates here and how it unfolds is the perfect way to judge, chew on and then spread that very notion.
 

I’ll conclude with exclaiming that this is a must watch, a must own and a must see on occasion just to gaze upon the glory of it.  Subtle gestures, glances and movement are captured on canvas and exquisitely matched onto each frame so that you’ll be fully absorbed in the tale.  You’re so intoxicated by the movie that after a while you can’t imagine these characters having ever been only on film.  I have a deep affection for Vincent Van Gogh’s art.  I’ve read some of the letters that quotes in the film were pulled from and I utterly loved how they incorporated Vincent, his words, his affections and his illness and tragedy into this living, breathing display of craftsmanship and respect for the man.

Watch a Time-Lapse clip HERE

**Loving Vincent opens in Phoenix at Harkin’s Camelview Fashion Square and Tucson at Loft Cinema on Friday

 

Website: LovingVincent.com

Facebook: Facebook.com/lovingvincentmovie

Twitter: Twitter.com/LovingVincent

Instagram: Instagram.com/lovingvincentmovie

Official Hashtag: #LovingVincent

Happy Death Day – Movie Review

Happy Death Day is produced by Jason Blum, who produced Purge, Ouija, The Gift, Split and much, much more, so no matter what, you know you’re in for some fun… that’s just what he does.  And, yes!  You read that right, it’s PG-13 so the horror is weak but the thrills are a payoff, once you get over what an awful person the main character Tree (Rothe) is. 

Jessica Rothe does a fairly good job of portraying the character so, it isn’t her acting, it’s that maybe she was too good because she’s such a bitch… you kinda want the killer to succeed in his efforts to rid the planet of this foul beast.  She has friends who are as truly detestable as she!  It takes an effort to wrap your head around the good guy, Carter (Broussard) ever wanting anything to do with her. 

Our young, sorority girl heroine has found herself having Déjà vu issues.  Every morning when she awakens, she finds it’s the same day… her birthday.  Not only does she wake up to discover this reparative situation going on but at the end of her birthday, she is murdered in a new and horrific manner. 
If you feel you’re having Déjà vu, you’re not.  This is very much the structure of the plotlines in the films Edge of Tomorrow, Before I Fall and, most notably, Groundhog Day.  Happy Death Day is very aware of this and at the end of the film lets us know that loud and clear.  What you can find pleasing in this movie is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously and once you get beyond Tree finding out that she is repeating the same day over and over, you can more focus on how the day ends. 

She is, as I mentioned previously, not a nice person and discovers this about herself while she’s looking for someone to help her and there are no true friends to turn to.  Instead of friends, she is also waking up to the fact that what she’s finding instead is a new list of suspects.  Tree becomes more and more likable as Carter becomes more of an influence.  Knowing that you’ll be going through these days with her, you watch for the clues, you look for who it might be, but I’ll be honest… I didn’t see it. 

The ending, though a bit flimsy at times, was amusing.  But I did find myself wanting to shout, ‘Come on!  No one is going to be able to have their head bashed on the floor half a dozen times and walk away without a scratch!’  Continuity, guys!  Little things like that, and a man throwing Tree against the wall with such ease, could eat away at you and spoil your full enjoyment of it all but I don’t think so.  Is it a silly premise?  Yes.  Had this been a bit more of a fright, it would have been the perfect Friday the 13th release but I can’t say it was. 

Is it entertaining?  Yes.  If you haven’t seen Groundhog Day and the others listed, do… but check this one out, too.  I don’t recommend seeing it this weekend at the theatre; best saved for home viewing but the mystery was there and you’ll have a blast with the absurdity of it all.  I must say, however, that the waking up to the same day over and over loop gag should end here.  I haven’t seen it in a big children’s movie yet so they could be next to give it a go but no more after that.  It’s a bit tasking on the viewer. 

The Mountain Between Us Movie Review

“The Mountian Between Us’ is a movie that poses a question: What is more important in the wilderness after a horrifing plane crash in the Rocky Mountains, survival — or romance? Well, maybe is does not put it in those terms. But the end result is two strangers on a small plane struggle to stay alive, and then later, struggle with new-found love. When the plane cracks up on the mountain, two hearts crack open… Will they find death in the journey home, or a new life that will lead them on?

In a small airport in Wyoming, there are two people caught up with flight delays that will affect them profoundly. Dr. Ben Bass (Idris Elba) needs to get to Baltimore for a scheduled surgery he will perform the next day. Alex Martin (Alex Martin) is a photojournalist with an assignment completed. She needs to get back to Denver by tomorrow for her long-planned wedding to Mark (Dermot Mulroney). They are both in a bad spot with no flights available on the main carriers. Alex searches for a local pilot and gets a charter flight set up with Walter (Beau Bridges). Ben and Alex split the cost of the quick flight to Denver.

When they are flying over the Rocky Mountains, the weather changes quickly. Walter is overwhelmed by the bad storms and it triggers a stroke. With the pilot down, the plane also goes down. They crash land on a large snowy peak, with no civilization in sight. Walter is dead, his dog (he is not given a name) is OK, and the plane’s emergency beacon is broken. Ben wakes up with some minor injuries, and Alex is in bad shape. She has a severely injured leg that would make very tough to walk out. Ben takes his phone up to the closest peak, but still gets no cell signal. He nearly slides off a cliff and Alex has a run-in with ‘The Mountain Lion Between Us’.

Ben has a mysterious back story and will not talk about it. Alex was to be married, and now she is missing. Nobody knows that they took the flight with Walter, and he never filed a flight plan. If there is any type of search party, the people would not know where to begin to look. Ben wants to stay where they are, with the wreckage of the small plane. Alex wants to start moving down the mountain, so they would have a better chance to find anybody. They finally decide to move on from the peak and find a way down to a valley.

Ben starts to open up, and Alex explains her misgivings about her (missed) marriage ceremony.  They continue to fight the forces of nature and some wild animals, until they come across an abandoned cabin. They have limited food, but they can melt snow for water and have a small fire for warmth. But the pressing issue Alex and her need for medical attention and her inability to travel any more. These two are in a fight to stay alive, so of course the only thing to do is fall in love. Ben had a wife who has died from a terrible illness. Alex puts herself into extreme situations for her job. But mostly it is because that is how she likes to live.

Can a down-to-earth neurosurgeon and a thrill-seeking journalist find love and happiness in an extreme situation such as a plane crash? That is what makes up the bulk of this movie. But then when is shifts out of survival mode to back into real-life mode, the action and suspense slows and then stops.  The future of Ben and Alex is a bit more exciting when it is unknown if there will continue to be a Ben or an Alex. After that is cleared up, the pace crawls to a conclusion that is trite and superficial.

Idris Elba and Kate Winslet are both fantastic actors with a wide range and deep capabilities. This movie allows them to put an effort on the screen that proves they can act, and the movie is lifted up because of that. However, the best of actors cannot lift material that is mediocre at best and is substandard at worst. The production values are really nice, but with one exception. The fluid motion of the camera in the minutes just before the plane crash is astounding. The view glides from one part of he plane to another, and shows the distress that each of the characters is in. But then it ends the scene with a crash into the the snow that is so bad, it looks like it was stolen from a video game.

This movie really tries to get over that peak and climb to the highest position. But it just can’t seem to get over that mountain of clichés and plot devices that leave the actors stranded. This might be one “Mountain” that is best to be avoided.

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Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

“Blade Runner 2049” is a sequel 35 years in the making. In 1982, “Blade Runner” was released and did modest business, yet it has become a Sci-Fi classic. Now, director Denis Villeneuve is going to make a new classic and he has raised the bar for science fiction movies to come. Originally based on a book by Philip K. Dick, the original “Blade Runner” and now “Blade Runner 2049” are creating a well-defined world of dystopian future despair. But it is done with so much visual style and beauty that it becomes amazing.

 

“Blade Runner” was set in L.A. 2019, where Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) was employed as a ‘blade runner’ (a person who hunts down and ‘retires’ replicants. Replicants are android human-like recreations, and back in 2019 there are some who rebelled and caused major trouble. When Deckard ‘retires’ a replicant it means that he must kill them. Deckard meets a replicant named Rachel, and the two of them drop off the map and are never found. These events then echo into a future L.A. when the year is 2049.

 

Officer K (Ryan Gosling) works for LAPD doing ‘blade runner’ type operations for the department. His boss is Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) who sends him on a mission to ‘retire’ Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista). Morton is an older style replicant who has gotten into trouble. Officer K takes him on and Morton is killed. But something is discovered on the property where he was living. There are bones inside a box, and the ramifications are huge.

The old Tyrell Corporation (from 2019) has been taken over by Wallace Industries, led by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). He is a global billionaire who has recreated the replicants (once banned after an uprising in 2022). Officer K also has a companion named Joi (Ana de Armas) who is also related to the Wallace company. Wallace has an assistant named Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) who is efficient, brutal and lethal. Officer K has to visit with Wallace to find out some missing information.  Because of an event back in 2022, many of the electronic records are scrambled or wrong.

 

Officer K needs to investigate further and goes to the San Diego Landfill Area. There he finds an orphanage that is run by Mister Cotton (Lennie James). But there are critical pages missing from his records, and Officer K comes up short. Then he meets with a freelance ‘memory creation specialist’ named Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri) who might hold some information. There are other clues that lead Officer K to the ruins of Las Vegas, where he locates the missing Deckard. There are many confrontations, and multiple people are searching for Deckard and the knowledge he might possess.

 

People think that Deckard holds the key to the mystery bones found on the Morton property. With so many people (and so many replicants) wanting to find out so much missing information, the city is ready to explode into violence and disruption again. There is a fear of a new rebellion from the replicant masses who want to become “more human than human”. Officer K is getting more and more confused about his own past and his own life. But will the mystery of the woman’s bones ever be solved? And was it true, that the woman was a replicant and she died in childbirth? How could that be true? And what does that hold for the future?

It takes a lot of guts to revive a movie that many consider a classic and make it the entry point into a new sequel. The first movie is not required to watch prior to seeing “Blade Runner 2049”. But it makes the story elements much more tangible. The various characters are introduced, and a few of them are carried over from the first movie. To say anything more would ruin parts of the story. But it really helps to get the original screenwriter (Hampton Fancher) to work on the overall story and the new screenplay.

 

Acting is superb for all characters. Ryan Gosling is very good at being stoic and unperturbed, but Officer K slowly gets drawn into a mystery. Harrison Ford reconnects with his Rick Deckard character, with all the added years of wisdom and loneliness. Robin Wright hits the right combination of tough leader and anxious participant in a story that could overwhelm society. Ana de Armas is fun to watch in an unusual role. Jared Leto and Dave Bautista have standout cameo roles. Sylvia Hoeks does really steal the show with her performance as Luv.

 

The story and music (Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch) balance out perfectly. With a score that sometimes echoes the original “Blade Runner” sound track (by Vangelis), it drives the action and signals the emotional arc of the movie. But because these are ‘moving pictures’ – then special thanks must be given to cinematographer Roger Deakins. He renders the movie as a visual treat, with each scene rich is color and striking clarity. His work here deserves to be rewarded by the Academy…

 

Of course, there are some issues, such as the length of the movie. It is close to three hours long, and that is pretty rigorous for most movie audiences. However, it would be hard to find any scenes that could be cut out totally (although some might be shortened). At times the sound and the audio seems to overwhelm, and certain audience members could have issues with that. The future city of LA still has future buildings adorned with ‘Atari’ and ‘Pan-Am’, and that puts a wrinkle into the production.

 

Overall, it is as close to being a Classic starting right at its release. If you enjoy Sci-Fi movies, and you have seen “Blade Runner”, then this is a must-see. If you enjoy well-made movies and know nothing about ‘Blade Runner”, you would still want to check this out. Do not wait until the year 2049, when they just might be getting around to making another sequel!

American Made – Movie Review

In this action, comedy based on the true story of Barry Seal, a pilot for TWA who starts taking pictures of drug smugglers for the CIA then become a drug smuggler himself, then become a… I’m getting ahead of myself.  In American Made, Tom Cruise reunites with his Edge of Tomorrow director Doug Linman, who also directed the films, Swingers, Go, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and The Bourne Identity.  He definitely knows how to put the comedy in action, not to mention the action in action, and him and Cruise pairing up to make this film is a truly winning combination.  You’ll barely have a chance to take a breath watching the escapades Barry Seal gets into.  The film is also very nostalgic in its presentation.  As if to steal its cue from Tarantino, American Made is edited to look older on purpose to lend to the truth-telling it’s doing but also to keep up the fun.  It certainly wasn’t wasted on the audience I watched it with.  They couldn’t get enough.

While in a bar, Seal, unhappy and bored with his job as a commercial pilot, is approached by a member of the CIA, Monty ‘Schafer’ (Gleeson) who seems to know everything about Seal, especially about a little extra money-making scam he has going on.  He could reveal it to the authorities or… Seal could work for them.  Slimy Schafer wants Seal to fly above certain areas of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and capture photos of Commies in the middle of doing illegal acts.  Seal is worried if it’s something safe. Schafer isn’t worried.  Seal wonders if it’s legal.  Schafer assures him it is.  Americans are the good guys!  This does little to make Seal feel better about the job but takes the offer.  What he never really realizes, and this is important, is that he is not a member of the CIA much like an informant isn’t a police officer.  Had he stopped to think about this, he, as he tells us several times in the film in a documentary style that will be explained later, would have passed.

Seal lands at an airstrip and finds himself a not so happy reception from Pablo Escobar (Mejía) and Jorge Ochoa (Edda).  They, like everyone else he has run into of late, know everything about who he is and what he has been doing.  So, they make him an offer he can’t refuse… not that he could.  He doesn’t know how to turn down money, even when he can no longer find a place to put it.  Escobar starts having him taking flights full of cocaine to the states for them.  The scenes with Escobar are some of the most comical in the movie.  This was just before Nancy Reagan hit the country with her ‘Just Say No’ campaign so when you find out who is working for who, it makes that slogan look like a contrived scam to appeal to the little people and she a useful tool to frighten U.S. citizens.

Barry also becomes a gunrunner for Panamanian dictator, Noriega.  It’s quite interesting seeing how he’s wrapped up in this, too.  Seal’s life gets complicated and he’s often nervous, so is the audience as they’re trying to keep up with the players, but that’s what makes this film so likable.  There is a lot going on and you’re just there for the ride.  Maps are made available to make it easier to understand.  Seal and his wife are moved from Louisiana to Arkansas, in the middle of nowhere, where he is given his own hanger, home and hideaway.  On his land, the military begins training members of the rebellion.  The not so bright rebellion.

The entire cast of American Made is glorious.  They make the film work and help you with the flip-flopping back and forth of the tale itself… of what Barry Seal really went through.  With what’s going on today in politics, seeing what the American government had a hand in doing while jailing Americans for smoking a joint will have you wondering just exactly what happens behind the scenes.  It may have you questioning things and could make you a bit uneasy but this is well told and entertaining.  I highly recommend you don’t skip it.  It’s good that this serious issue was presented to the public in the manner of an action/comedy.  It needs to be seen and understood and though it is only based on the true story, the Iran-Contra affair is a good reminder that there is always a reason to question.

Woodshock – Movie Review

WOODSHOCK

 

Kirstin Dunst has been working a lot lately, most recently in the remake of the film The Beguiled and her presence is very comforting.  She’s showing range with the characters she’s picking… she’s not a little girl anymore.  With this role, she’s a wee bit of a killer.  She plays Theresa, and also plays Executive Producer to the film itself.  Theresa is married to Nick (Cole), who works as a day laborer cutting down trees not far from home.  They live in an area surrounded by trees, live and dead ones, in a tiny home where they’ve also housed her very sick mother.  She talks to her mother about the pain she endures, which is making them both miserable.  Knowing a lot about extracts, Theresa decides to roll her a joint.  The joint has been laced with a few drops of something that will help the pain go away… forever.  She promises her mother a painless release.  Her mother smokes the joint and drifts away.  Having been incredibly close to her, Theresa finds it difficult to move on.  She does things anyone might do after the death of their mother.  She wears her clothes, looks in the mirror to find her mother inside of her and lays on the bed where she took her last breath.

She starts to smoke some of the special herb herself and here is where the movie turns into a nightmare for her.  Up until now, it has been a beautiful yet heartbreaking story of loss with fascinating cinematography by Peter Flinckenberg.  If you don’t like movies that are too alive and filled with motion, this could bother you some but the old-fashioned look they were going for, using filters and interesting fades, makes the film much more appealing during the trips Theresa takes in her mind.  She ends up there often and we see less and less of a truly clear picture.  The score was equally as engaging if not more so.  It was done by veteran Jake Jackson who has worked on such films as Love Actually, Lord of the Rings: Two Towers, The Road and Hell or High Water to name but a few.  These two artists enhance the splendor of watching Theresa’s struggle as she moves between being lucid and delusional.

She doesn’t spend much time with her husband anymore which isn’t helping her with her loneliness.  She starts working again at a friend, Keith’s (Asbaek), marijuana dispensary to feel a part of this world and to re-connect with life in general.  Store regular, Johnny (Kilmer) comes into the store and they hang out at a party.  This doesn’t lift her grief as she’d like so she retreats back into her habit of smoking her magic elixir.  When she does this, she isn’t sure of what it’s doing to her or what she’s doing to herself while under its influence.  She begins to rely on it and smokes so often that she’s starting to blend in with her surroundings and is barely able to recognize herself anymore.  She doesn’t smile and walks around almost completely lifeless.  Ed, an older gentleman who’s suffering from an unknown illness, comes into the store.  Per Keith’s instruction, she gives him what was given to her mother.  Somehow, the batches are mixed and it’s not Ed that gets the special mix.  Johnny does.  What has she done?  Not only is she torturing herself over this question, but Keith loses his mind and unleashes a ferocity on her she’s unable to handle.

The film gets rather twisted, as much as she is internally.  It’s very delicate in the way it treats her mother and Theresa’s clarity of mind to help her kill herself, but she is unable to handle her decision later and the filmmakers seem to somewhat lose the audience.  Again, Theresa walks amongst live trees but is surrounded by dead ones.  She doesn’t like trees being chopped down as they are alive and have the right to live.  She killed her mother.  She has a relationship with nature, loves it but is almost incapable of loving anything else. 

The movie draws from her pain and her desire to love and be loved; to be like her mother but the way it gets you to the end credits is slow moving and sometimes tiring.  A thrilling moment in the end when Theresa balances nature and rights things.  How we get to this point is by seemingly taking a long path through a thick brush and though you may enjoy the harmony of the music, editing and cinematography working together to create this dream state… you might not be able to get to the clearing.  If you’re a fan of the more ornamental, dramatic and eerily mysterious pictures, this is for you.  If a movie that decreases in its pacing and uses little dialogue that often acts more like a 3D piece of art than a film distracts you from your enjoyment of the said film, it isn’t.  Dunst and the rest of the cast are wonderful in their roles but will do little to help when the pacing gets you yawning.

*Playing exclusively at Harkins Camelview @ Fashion Square and Harkins Shea

Victoria and Abdul Movie Review

England was once a great Empire, and a great Empire needs a great ruler. Queen Victoria was that type of ruler. Even near the end of her reign, she was still the one in charge, and she let people know it. The movie “Victoria and Abdul” gets into detail about the Queen’s final years, and how a humble clerk from India played a large role in the royal household. Based on true events, it shows how a lonely and despondent lady (who happened to be Empress of India) made a close friend with a common man from that continent.

Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) is a tired and somewhat bored royal Head of State for England and all the colonies. For her Golden Jubilee, there will be two tall and rugged Indian men from the country there in the castle to present with a special gold coin, a mohur. The men are found, and they are brought to England for the ceremony. But one of them named Mohammed (Adeel Ahktar) is not tall or rugged. However, the other man is Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), who is a clerk in his hometown of Agra, near the Taj Mahal. Abdul is optimistic and quite forward. He captures the eye of the Queen, and he and Mohammed are asked to stay in England for more than just the one ceremony.

Abdul presents more items to Victoria, and she decides to keep Mohammed and Abdul as special servants in the royal household. Mohammed is really mad, because he was told it would be a quick one-time thing and then they could go home. The Queen has other ideas, and the more she learns about Abdul, then more she wants him around. She declares that Abdul will be her “Munshi”, a wise teacher. He explains the history of India, and how food from there is flavorful and delicious. He teaches the Queen how to speak and write in Urdu, and he says it is native language of kings. He is bright and very eager to be helpful to Victoria.

Of course, the royal household is not equally enthralled with Abdul. Victoria’s son is Bertie, Prince Edward of Wales (Eddie Izzard) is not a fan and he would like to get Abdul to leave. The head of the castle is Sir Henry Ponsonby (Tim Pigott-Smith) is flummoxed by Abdul, and he is not able to convince the Queen that this situation is improper. The Prime Minister (Michael Gambon) is puzzled why the lowly clerk from India has made a place for himself next to the Empress of India. Also, Jane Spencer (Olivia Williams) is furious that the Queen is spending more time with Abdul and less time with staff. All of they want Abdul out of there, but none of them can convince the Queen.

Of course, the Queen did not rule forever, and upon her death – the situation did change drastically. But the overall enjoyment of this movie is seeing how Queen Victoria moved from being a side character in her own life to a full-fledged master of her own castle. The interactions between Abdul and the Queen are very interesting. She learns more about the area that she rules, yet has never seen. The house staff is constantly scheming to find a way to get the Queen out of Abdul’s Rasputin-like spell. Yet they never succeed and they are admonished again and again.

Dame Judi Dench is perfectly wonderful in the role of Queen Victoria. But then she ought to be. She played the monarch once before in the movie ‘Mrs. Brown’ (in 1997). Now as an older and more melancholy Queen, she is a joy to watch. Her mood picks up as she brings Abdul closer to the royal throne. When the rest of the staff get upset, she feels more in control and becomes confident.

Ali Fazal plays Abdul as a bit of a mystery man. He was picked at random to travel to England, but he plays it up to the hilt. He is pleased with anything that comes along that would make his life easier. He takes pleasure with his time with the Queen. But he passes over some facts, at first. Such as how he is Muslim, not a Hindu. And how he is married with a wife back home. And how he is from the common class, and not an educated teacher…

“Victoria and Abdul” plays out at times like a ‘Very Special Edition of Masterpiece Theater’.  Still, the performances are above par, and the locations shots are excellent. The music is moving and delightful. The script is filled with subtle humor and the costumes are period-piece perfect. It is a pleasant way to learn about the history of Queen Victoria. It is also the perfect way to see how Judi Dench makes magic happen…

 

Trophy Movie Review

“Trophy” is a study of balance. It is the balance of nature vs. man. Is it the balance of conversation vs. natural resource usage. It is the balance of animal rights vs. the ability to hunt big game. It is a question asked, and the answer is elusive. Many endangered species may be lost forever, but large funds are collected by groups to allow hunters the permits they want. These funds are used to protect the animals in their habitat, while only allowing a few to be hunted.

The documentary focuses on several groups of people. There is a big game hunter from Texas who wants the ability to hunt in Africa. And he is willing to pay top dollar for that privilege. There is a South African rhino breeder who has many hundreds of the animals. His groups will go out and regularly saw off the horns of the rhino, to prevent the animal from being poached and killed only for the horn. There is a wildlife officer in Africa who wants to prevent illegal trade in rhino horn and ivory. But many people in his back country can only exist of what they take from the land, including some endangered animals.

The film-makers travel to various parts of the world to explore themes in different places. There is the rhino farm in South Africa. There is a guided hunting safari in Namibia. There is a crocodile farm in Africa, and a Las Vegas convention that brings in all the major players in the big-game hunting industry. There is a lot of details to catch during the documentary. Sometimes a brief rundown is put up on the screen, a contrast of the number of animals in this year to another year. It is quick, but it is a fascinating way to see how the process of the endangered species came about.

The photography was very beautiful, since much of it was in the outbacks of Africa. There were a few very well-composed shots taken from overhead (from an airborne drone?). These shots are like viewing the landscape from God’s perspective, and they quite amazing. There are the normal ‘day in a life’ segments and the ‘sit down for an interview’ segments, and these are good. There is a couple of times where it looks like two opposite sides are going to have a loud confrontation, but these never do pan out to anything. One of the Wildlife officer guys starts talking with some animal right activists, and it gets a little heated.

Occasionally, the ‘pay for play’ hunters are shown to be a little too goofball. A little too much of a ‘hold my beer while I shoot this elephant’ type of thing. There probably are some who do behave that way, but it seems that all of them have spent quite a bunch of money to do just that. Also, that money then provides conservation methods and helps the local impoverished economy. The hunters are the not the bad guys in this picture, or at least, they shouldn’t be only bad.

This situation is a matter of life or death, to the animals that might become extinct. But man does have a role to play. By keeping the poachers at bay, and by bringing as much cash into the conservation of the animals – the right balance might be reached. “Trophy” does not say exactly where that balance lies. It lets the viewer think about what is best for the planet.

The Lego Ninjago Movie Review

Never before has there been a movie franchise where the audience didn’t mind at all about the Product Placement! Starting with “The Lego Movie”, and then on to “The Lego Batman Movie”, it has been a very enjoyable series. The fresh approach to an animated kid’s movie, based on the kid’s toy, makes a movie that is much more than just for kids. Can lightning strike a third time with “The Lego Ninjago Movie”, and can it produce another remarkable movie experience?

 

Starting with a brief live-action sequence, there is a young boy to meets the owner (Jackie Chan) of a Chinese curio shop. The owner begins to tell the boy about a far away (Lego) city called Ninjago, protected by a mighty (Lego) ninja warrior named … Lloyd (Dave Franco). Lloyd works with a group of friends and fellow ninjas; Kai (Michael Peña), Jay (Kumail Nanjiani), Nya (Abbi Jacobson), Cole (Fred Armisen) and Zane (Zach Woods). Respectively, they are Green Ninja, Fire Ninja, Lightning Ninja, Water Ninja, Earth Ninja and Ice Ninja. This team of young fighters is guided by Master Wu  (also Jackie Chan).

 

The city of Ninjago is always attacked by an evil warlord named Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux). Garmadon happens to be Lloyd’s absentee father, and Master Wu is Garmadon’s older brother. Garmadon took the path of darkness and evil, while Wu took the path of light and goodness. That can be tough on the family reunions… But after the recent attack by Garamdon, Lloyd stole the ‘Ultimate Weapon’ from Master Wu’s stockpile. And that unleashed an even greater terror, Meowthra. Meowthra is a cute kitten that comes around and knocks over half of Ninjago.

 

Master Wu says that there is an ‘Ultimate, Ultimate Weapon’ hidden in a secret place far away. But only a Master Ninja can use the weapon, and Lloyd is not yet a Master Ninja. So the entire team sets out to journey far away on a quest to become powerful Ninjas who can fight off and defeat Meowthra. Master Wu and the gang are attacked by Lord Garmadon. Garmadon is captured, but Master Wu seems to fall to his death. So they proceed to the final destination with Garmadon as prisoner.

 

There are many obstructions on the way to find the hidden weapon. When they arrive at “Temple of Fragile Foundations”, Lord Garmadon has become more of a father figure to Lloyd (whom he always calls “La-Lloyd”). He explains that Lloyd’s mother Koko (Olivia Munn) was once a Ninja Master called Iron Dragon. The other Ninjas find their inner powers and the group becomes more powerful. Lloyd has become a true Ninja Master, and he is ready to take on the terror of Meowthra. But oops! Lord Garmadon is still up to his evil ways, and it willing to destroy the Ninjas and let the city of Ninjago fall to the clutches of the cute kitty Meowthra.

 

So, will there be a final climax with Ninja fighting and Master Wu returning and Meowthra purring? Also, as Lloyd learns to be a true Master and Leader, and as he reconciles with his father Lord Garmadon, will find inner peace? Also, will the movie find its inner power at the box office? All signs point to yes…

 

This movie has an unusually large group involved with creation of what made it to the screen, seven people working on the overall story, six people with credit for the screenplay, and even three directors. It also has quite a few name actors performing in the main voice roles, but they are well suited and the casting works out fine. The animation is clean and bright, and the made-up city of Ninjago is a wondrous thing. The pace is quick and it keeps the characters moving and interacting.

 

Lego made a good choice to allow qualified people to take up the burden of making a simple toy block set and turning it into a major motion picture franchise. Each new movie is taking Lego higher and higher, building the brand and expanding the audience. I just hope that doesn’t give somebody the idea to maybe make something called “The iPhone Movie”…