Inferno

Dan Brown as authored three books with a protagonist named Robert Langdon; ‘The Da Vinci Code’, ‘Angels & Demons’ and ‘Inferno’. All have now been made into a movie with Tom Hanks playing Langdon. The most recent ‘Inferno’ uses imagery from Dante’s description of Hell. So now the audience knows what they are in for…

Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is a famous professor at Harvard. Yet he wakes up in a hospital room in Florence, Italy. He has no memory of the last few days. Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) has been helping take care of him, but there is an assassin who comes in and attempts to kill Langdon. Brooks helps Langdon escape.

After much lengthy exposition, they find clues to a super virus designed by a mad biologist-billionaire named Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster). He planted a virus to wipe out 90% of humanity. Zobrist was being chased by international agents of the World Health Organization (WHO), and when cornered, he killed himself rather than reveal the location of the deadly virus.

Zorbist hired a super-secret security firm run by Harry Sims (Irrfan Khan). They were supposed to carry out his final wishes, but Sims finds out that the virus will be fatal to most of the world’s population. So he joins forces with the head of WHO, named Elizabeth Sinskey (Sidse Babett Knudsen). She does not trust him, but she has no choice.

Christoph Bouchard (Omar Sy) finds Langdon and Brooks, and he wants to know the location of the virus. He lied about working for WHO, because he wants the virus to sell it on the black market. Langdon and Brooks go from Florence to Venice, and then to Istanbul. Langdon uses his special knowledge of ancient history and symbols to find the location of the virus.

If this all sounds fascinating and exciting, then you would be mistaken. The characters exist only to spout off overheated rhetoric and exposition. Every conceivable situation feels contrived and over-the-top. People know way too much about ancient languages and historical artifacts. Main characters seem to change in a blink of an eye from a reasonable person to money-hungry would-be arms dealer or even a Zobrist inspired bio-terrorist.

Every person in this movie has difficulty being believable, but mostly that is because the story line makes them say and do things that are absurd. Irrfan Khan comes off the best, because his character is somewhat mysterious and morally ambiguous. Tom Hanks has a lot of dialog, but he appears to ‘sleep talk’ his way through it all. Felicity Jones is weighed down with an improbable switch of her character arc midway in the movie.

There is a lot of talking and running, and going from one museum or city to another. There is much movement, but very little in plot development. The major bad guy has committed suicide at the beginning of the movie, and he is not around to fight against Langdon. There is a supposed prior love interest of Langdon’s that is brought up, and that never is resolved. Many doors are opened, but nothing comes from any of it.

Dante’s Inferno was his representation of Hell, put down in words. The movie ‘Inferno’ is just a reimagining of the same Hell, but as a movie experience.

The Pickle Recipe

We are introduced to Joey Miller (Dore) a broke father working as an MC or deejay in the Detroit area, specializing in weddings and Bar Mitzvah.  His daughter is about to have her Bat Mitzvah, something he’s looking forward to having a hand in deejaying, when an accident occurs; blowing up a wedding celebration.  All of his gear, his lighting and sound equipment, is destroyed beyond repair.  He finds out that it’s going to cost him $20,000 to get things rolling again, a sum a little high for him to handle.  Now entering the fun is our antagonist, the ex-wife’s new horse buying husband, Harris, who Joey now has to compete with for the love of his own flesh and blood.  With all of the money he’s losing, as well as his reputation with his daughter being on the line, Joey finds nowhere to turn for help but to his horrible uncle Morty (Paymer).  Hitting rock bottom, he decides to aid Morty who has been alienated from his eighty-five year old mother Rose’s life for being a weasel.  Rose is played by the talented Lynn Cohen from “Manhattan Murder Mystery,” “Deconstructing Harry,” “Munich” and “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” to name a few, and her extraordinarily priceless, unique and well guarded pickle recipe so something Mort has been trying to get his hands on for a long time.  Morty wants Joey to steal it for their own personal gain before she takes it to the grave with her as it would do no one any good if she passes without passing it along.  Question is, can Joey “obtain” this recipe for his uncle from his own grandmother?

To get close to her and getting the recipe, Joey starts working in her deli.  Rose is nearly a said and loved by all of her employees who immediately do not trust him, as they never have Morty.  Getting close to procuring the recipe but then she changes her mind, Joey gets frustrated and is about to give up when Morty doubles the reward to $40,000.  Joey digs in and gets help to get his treasure.

The attempt to pull at your heart strings feels contrived and though there are some strong performances, it simply doesn’t work.

Shari K. Green

Sr. Film Writer and Community Manager, tmc.io

Most of the individual actors are good, especially Cohen.  The concept is charming and Rose is sweet… she’s cranky and she’s lovable at the same time, but the story is ridiculous and late night television entertainment at best.  I’m sure what was a small budget didn’t help the production value and without mass appeal and with no real audience this will fall into obscurity.  A scene teaching someone how to be Jewish was the real low point and with Morty suggesting Rose be water boarded to get the recipe, that’s hard to say but it truly was.  There is some appeal found when her recipe is trying to be duplicated but not enough to suggest this is a film you must see.  The attempt to pull at your heart strings feels contrived and though there are some strong performances, it simply doesn’t work.

christine

Christine

“Christine” is based on the story of Christine Chubbuck (Hall), an investigative news reporter in Florida, where she lived with her mother, Peg (Smith-Cameron).  The most compelling part , and it is fascinating, of this sluggish film is watching people behind the scenes at a news station in the 1970’s, work with the tools they had to work with to run the news in the pre-digital age.  They were still cutting film together before the advent of video tape and it’s especially interesting watching them scramble to put a segment together last minute from the very expensive film they were then using.  This is where we find, Christine; behind the eight-ball, unhappy at work and depressed.  Her editor, Mike (Letts), wants Christine to do more “exploitive” work.  Mike wants his reporters to work on stories that have grit; stories that sensationalize and grab the attention of the audience.  What she wants is to be taken seriously by the public and do good work; work that will get her a promotion.

She struggles with the difference between what he wants and what she believes is right and when she finds out she has a tumor, Christine insists she leave her mark on the world even quicker.  Sadly, the film doesn’t concentrate on one subject long enough to give her one true and distinctive reason to be banal.  She’s unhappy but what can bring a person to be so tormented to bring them to do what she ultimately does?  She gives her editor what he wants, though.  She gives him a gripping story and a television first.

The film does exploit what eventually happens to Christine.  She gave Mike his story and she got the attention she dreamed of at the same time.  Unfortunately, the film depicts her as the coldest and most dreary individual ever born, with incredibly dry and humdrum dialogue.  Too dull that it becomes fatiguing to actually watch.

She gives her editor what he wants, though.  She gives him a gripping story and a television first. Shari K. Green

Sr. Film Writer and Community Manager, tmc.io

Learning that Christine had never had love in her life, never had a sexual relationship and clearly was not able to cope with the cards she was dealt any longer that she commits suicide on television for all to see, got people to tune into the news and might be what gets you to tune into this, however, had director, Campos, concentrated on how Christine could get to this point and gone back further in her life, rather than jump all over the place, (even making it unclear as to exactly who Peg was at first), “Christine” could have had you more engrossed in the story, in who she was and quite heartbroken when she takes her life; rather than just mildly touched, a bit surprised and not sure of the films true purpose.

Oasis: Supersonic

Oasis: Supersonic

Ever wonder what happened to the British pop group that came up with the smash hit song “Wonderwall” and why it happened?  Wonder no more and take a peek over that wall and into the lives of the band Oasis and the often contentious and belligerent Gallagher brothers, Liam and Noel.  Executive producer Asif Kapadi, director of Academy Award winning “Amy”, the Amy Winehouse biopic, along with director Mat Whitecross, saw a good story in the band that rose too fast and peaked too soon and worked with clips of the band on their rise to the top.

They gathered snippets and collages of interviews and behind the scenes videos and with effective and creative editing came up with an inexplicably engaging documentary you’ll most likely want to watch for the soul reason you might have asked yourself some time ago, ‘What’s their story?’  It’s all here in this documentary “Oasis: Supersonic” that the brothers helped to produce but still couldn’t work together enough to dub their voiceover tracks together.  Well, they’re still Liam and Noel who, perhaps forever, will look back in anger at one another but not regret a thing as their time in the band, good or bad, gave them the best experiences they could have hoped for… which was everything they dreamed of.

The film catches a lot of bitter moments but it also lets you in on how such passionate music came from these two creative souls.  They became who they did because of an abusive father who abandoned them and because sibling rivalry, which was always an issue.  There are five years between them but they seem more like twins, calling themselves “head-cases”.  They have an older brother, Paul, who Noel is a year younger than, that you see a few times but it’s clear these two were close once they started to share a love of music.  Liam, who seems to be the more erratic of the two, wants to thank the person who hit him over the head with a hammer for it was this moment his melodic future was born.  Noel, the songwriter, released his anger toward his father over abuse, stating that he, ‘beat the talent into me.’

The film spans their 1994 debut through the inevitable breakup in 2009 as it shifts from bad moments to good; from members that come and go and the beautiful music that happened in between.  During the journey you see the fans who worshipped them and the people who wanted their money and how both affected them greatly.  The press could be cruel to them for saying what they wanted to, when they wanted to and doing what they wanted to when they wanted to but that was them.  They were rock and roll stars and weren’t going to be controlled… not even by each other.  In the end, the good outweighed the bad and I’d have to say that for this, as well.  In fact, there is no bad.  It’s a fantastic documentary and if you’re a fan of Oasis music, it’s one to add to your movie collection.  This will have you praying they get back together.  The thought that excites me is that they watch this and think that very same thing themselves.  Let’s hope!  They can’t go off into the Champagne Supernova just yet.

american-pastoral

American Pastoral

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Phillip Roth novel of the same name, “American Pastoral” follows an American family through a personal tragedy; the ultimate reason for it and result of it being very much the focus of that generation of American youth and the young generation of today.  In the 1960’s there were protests over war and protests for the rights of African Americans that got incredibly violent but there was something else going on with many of the protestors that went deeper than the known movements.  “American Pastoral” is a very powerful film about a father, Seymour ‘Swede’ Levov (McGregor) attempting to save his daughter amidst this chaos and ultimately save her from herself.

At a very young age, Merry (Fanning) felt she was in competition with her mother Dawn (Connelly) for her father’s attention.  This assertion needed a defense and she developed a stutter that her perfect mother didn’t have but which Merry always garnered pity and sympathy.  Though very young, she was aware of self.  Merry knew what she wanted; believing that, ‘life is just a short space of time in which you are alive.’  She lived her life with this frame of mind and still quite early in her mental development she witnesses, on television, the Vietnamese Buddhist Monk who burned himself to death in Saigon.  The reason the man did this was because to protest the South Vietnamese Diem regime’s pro-Catholic policies and its banning of the Buddhist flag.  This leaves a heavy impression on Merry and she grows into an angry young woman filled with guilt for her parents’ wealth, self-condemnation for living the good life when so many others have nothing and a general hatred for all things, making it difficult for her parents to know who she truly is.  She suddenly disappears after a post office bombing that leaves one man dead.  Her parents start to fall apart as the accusations and evidence against Merry begins to grow.  They begin to change during this process and the story goes from a sweet loving family to one divided as Seymour never gives up on finding his daughter, ultimately clearing her name and helping her.  When he finds his darling child and she admits her guilt, he still refuses to give up on her, loving her through the wrong she’s done and the shame she feels toward herself for being born.

Ewan McGregor gives a stirring performance and captivates the audience in his directorial debut. Shari K. Green

Sr. Film Writer and Community Manager, tmc.io

Ewan McGregor gives a stirring performance and captivates the audience in his directorial debut.  What little you see of Fanning is compelling and she, as well as her characters chilling beliefs, leaves an impression on you that is hard to shake.  Outside of the unnecessary narration and how the story begins, which is a conversation at a reunion, the movie is powerful and haunting.  This will be considered for nominations this year as it speaks to past civil unrest and what we’re still going through in present day.    

nintendo-switch-gaming-console

First Look at Nintendo Switch

Introducing Nintendo Switch! In addition to providing single and multiplayer thrills at home, the Nintendo Switch system also enables gamers to play the same title wherever, whenever and with whomever they choose. The mobility of a handheld is now added to the power of a home gaming system to enable unprecedented new video game play styles.
american-honey

American Honey

American Honey is sweet and wholesome; the film that bares that name is anything but.  It’s a raw portrayal of a slice of Americana that we want to believe doesn’t exist; that we prefer not to think about.  It’s captured with intimate camera work that masterfully puts its audience in the story with, even as, the lead character, Star (Lane).  Lane is a newcomer and does a stellar job of giving us a peek at Arnold’s idea of the challenges the young people in America face today trying to know one another and know themselves.  With particular interest cast on the poor youth of this nation, the story can be uncomfortable to watch.  They are expected to raise themselves and their siblings, while also having to try and keep up with the fast paced and changing world of technology that they might not be able to afford.  It’s true that text messaging and social media has kept us from speaking face to face, this is not so in Stars life.  She sees day to day what matters and faces some daily confrontations most never have.  She is also very aware of the planet and understands the need to save it… one honey bee at a time.  The environment and trying to save it is a very powerful message throughout the film, which does not go by unnoticed.

 

Star has strong convictions but she’s not otherwise worldly.  When she joins an enthusiastic and somewhat feral group of young traveling magazine salesman, she meets who might be her first love, Jake (LaBeouf), who she surprises with her confidence and her ability to love.  She’s wide eyed, has never been anywhere outside of town and hasn’t seen much, but that doesn’t mean she’s easy.  Fighting off advances from family members and being witness to countless problems befall her family she’s aggressive and fierce when she needs to be.  Taking on the task of sales, she tries the honest route instead of allowing Jake to teach her the way their boss Krystal (Keough, granddaughter of Elvis Presley) wants her to sell.  She’s unorthodox but gets it done.  Being stubborn and bullheaded does land her in some hot water more than once, however, watching this naïve girl grow up and become a part of something and discover herself as she bounces from city to city is incredibly fascinating… even though you cringe a few times.

The soundtrack, one I’d like to own, by the way, feeds the mood, especially the moment when the title song, “American Honey” by Lady Antebellum, is played and the entire crew sings with it.  The actors who expertly pull you into the narrative turn the movie into a musical from time to time and make it more relatable and moving.  The length is never an issue, in fact, I never once thought I was watching an almost three hour long movie.

Several scenes are surprisingly pornographic but they fall in line with the organic ambiance of the film.  It’s compelling, novel, and peculiar and about as uncommon as they come, which is why I celebrate this work and suggest you go to a theatre this weekend to examine it for yourself.

It’s one of the best films of the year.  

The-Magnificent-Seven-Poster

The Magnificent Seven

Pity the poor remake. So many people think that the remake is never as good as the original. But in this case the very first original was ‘The Seven Samurai’, then remade as ‘The Magnificent Seven’ in 1960. And now comes along a new take on the old Western story, with new a new cast and a fresh look.

As the Civil War has ended, a little town in Northern California is overrun by a mean-spirited land baron named Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). The people of Rose Creek sit between him and a lot gold in the local hills. Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), whose husband was shot in cold blood by Bogue, finds and hires a protector.

She meets up with Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), a bounty hunter. He knows of Bogue and has had his own troubles with him. Chisolm finds a small group of hired guns to help him fight the wicked army of thugs that Bogue will bring to town.

These include Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt), a gambler; Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) who is a sharpshooter and his partner Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee), an expert with knives. Also in the group is Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), a bear of a mountain man and a tracker: Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a Mexican outlaw, and Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), a Comanche Indian.

Once these seven men come into town, they meet up with local sheriff and a group of Bogue’s men. There are over twenty thugs to take on the much smaller group. After a tense stand-off, there is major gunfight in the town streets. The Chisolm group survives and comes out on top.

But there will be a much bigger battle that is yet to come. The Seven all fortify the town and train the local townsfolk to take up arms and fight the good fight. Bogue has much bigger plans in mind, with a huge group of ornery thugs and much more sophisticated weapons at hand.

The group of Seven and the people of the town are ready for the fight of their lives. And for some of them, it will be the last day of their lives. But all of them, led by Chisolm are ready to stick it out and not surrender…

With a large ensemble cast, it can be tough to get a very precise idea of every character. But Denzel Washington has such a calm and soothing presence, he can make you believe that anything is possible. Chris Pratt does his comic relief best, being a funny character with a very good aim and a love of the bottle. Ethan Hawke does a terrific job with a Civil War Confederate rifleman who has seen one too many battles.

Everyone else is also very good in the roles they play, with each having a key scene or two that give their character a better depth. Some of the have a lack of times, this limits how well the audience gets to know them.

A few of the choices are a tiny bit off the mark, such as the voice used by Vincent D’Onofrio as Jack Horne. It is high-pitched and squeaky for such a big bear of a man. Also, the costuming for Haley Bennett seems a little too much Victoria’s Secret for a plain wife of a rancher.

But these are tiny little issues compared to the beauty of the background scenery, the wonderfully stirring score (the final work by James Horner), and the fantastic action sequences in the gunfight scenes and the final battle in the town.

This might not be your father’s ‘Magnificent Seven’, but you can depend on these guys for a rollicking good time…

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield) is a young teenager living in Florida, with a deep admiration and affection for his grandfather Abe Portman (Terence Stamp). Abe would tell Jake many wild stories about a far-off school that Abe used to attend. The horrible death of Abe gives Jake and his father Frank Portman (Chris O’Dowd) the idea to visit the Isle of Wales to see where Abe grew up.

On the Isle, Jake wanders into a large mansion and it changes from broken down to tip-top shape. Jake has gone from 2016 back to 1943. It is the work of Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), who is the loving but strict leader of the Home for Peculiar Children.

Jake meets all of the children, but he develops a crush on Emma (Ella Purnell) who is one of the students. Jake finds out the Nazis would bomb that building that night, but Miss Peregrine has the ability to turn back time for 24 hours to create a safe ‘time loop’ for the children.

There is an evil man named Mr. Baron (Samuel L. Jackson) who is a shape-shifter and can appear to be anyone. He leads a group of crazy people who will attack the Peculiar Children and eat their … eyeballs. Baron is also the cause behind the Hollows, invisible monsters that has earlier killed Jake’s grandfather.

Many of the Peculiar Children have unusual abilities. Emma can float and can control air, there is one who is pyrokinetic, another who is an invisible boy. There is one who can control and maintain plants, and another who has bees that live in his stomach, and a boy who dreams many future events. There is a young girl who is an amazingly strong child, and one who can control and direct the newly dead.

The story twist and turns back and forth between 1943 and 2016, and from the Isle of Wight to Florida and back again and also to London. There is a sunken ocean liner that is lifted with the forced air from Emma. There is another hidden Home in London that gets attacked by Baron and the evil crew. Miss Avocet (Judi Dench) has to run away and the Peculiar Children help her before Baron can kill her.

Jake has never found any special Peculiar ability that he might have. Except for the fact that he can see the Hollows, who remain invisible to everyone else. Miss Peregrine knows that Jake will be very helpful in the fight against the Hollows and against Mr. Baron. She will be able to use his special talents to keep the other Children safe.

So that is the direction of this new movie that NOT aimed for small children. There are some scary situations, along with many that are just down right odd. Yet, for a Tim Burton movie, it seems subdued and not as wild as many of his earlier ones. There is a bit of the darkness along with a crazy-quilt of characters. Just not as many as you might have expected in a Burton production.

Eva Green did a beautiful job in the role, and Samuel L. Jackson was very over-the-top as the big villain. Asa Butterfield was fair, but mostly bland, and there was not chemistry at all between him and co-star Ella Purnell. Judi Dench has a short role but is fun to watch, Terence Stamp has just the right look as the Peculiar grandfather.

This movie is available with 3-D, but except for a handful of scenes it does not lend itself to any great viewing. The production qualities were very clear and impressive. However the overly large cast and the odd shifting between time periods and places made the story very hard to follow.

By all means, leave your kids at home to go see this latest Tim Burton movie, especially if you have a taste for the Peculiar.

Deepwater Horizon (2016) Hollywood Movie

Deepwater Horizon

The ‘Disaster Movie’ from the ’80s is back, but in a more professionally produced package. There are no airplanes falling from the sky, but there is an Inferno, and it does tower. There is no sinking cruise ship, but a floating oil rig in the Gulf is in deep(water) trouble. The actual events of 2010 are recalled and given the up-close-and-personal treatment. “Deepwater Horizon” makes a statement about the strength of ordinary men and woman in a very extraordinary situation.

Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) is an oil rig engineer ready to take on another three week shift on the Deepwater Horizon rig. His wife Felicia (Kate Hudson) wishes for his safe return, as usual. He meets “Mr. Jimmy” Harrell (Kurt Russell) who is the supervisor on the rig. Mr. Jimmy is a no-nonsense leader who believes in safety first. Andrea (Gina Rodriguez) is a worker in the control room who helps keep the rig on target.

TransOcean is the company who owns the rig, and it is being leased by BP (British Petroleum). A few BP executives are on board, including Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich). They are worried that rig’s drilling has not been completed and tested in time, and now they are weeks overdue and millions are being lost. So there are reductions made in testing and not every normal regulation has been followed completely. The oil needs to be drilled already, dammit!

While running some functional testing, the results are unclear. The BP bosses, like Donald, want a quick retest done. But “Mr. Jimmy” and Mike and many other oil rig workers want every option completely tested. This includes Caleb Holloway (Dylan O’Brien) a guy on the main drill line floor. He notices that after the aborted test, there is some violent shuddering in the drill line. He starts to see the mud and oil oozing up from the drill. This is not a normal result.

Within minutes, the rig explodes with highly pressured oil and gas that had been trapped in the faulty drill line. Methane seeps into the air ducts, ready to ignite – and there is no place to hide. There are 11 people who do not make it out alive. But the remaining one hundred plus workers, engineers, pilots, cooks and everyone assigned to work on the Horizon are in trouble. There are many injured and people are in shock. The story of how the rest of them got out and helped each other makes for the second half of the movie.

Movies that are based on true life situations are interesting. There is a build up to an oncoming oil rig disaster or a double bird strike on a jet out of JFK. You basically know the story. But there so many details of the actual situation that the movie portrays, that you are still amazed to see the whole thing unfold.

Mark Wahlberg plays the smart yet humble oil rig expert, and he shows how average guy can become a hero in the right circumstances. Kurt Russell it a force to be reckoned with, and his character is devoted to by-the-book safety measures. “Mr. Jimmy” will not let the sneaky executives pull any fast ones, but when they get him out of the room…

Kate Hudson does her best to act like the loving wife, and she is nervous when she hears the news. Dylan O’Brien plays a typical oil rig grunt, the guys who are there pulling the pipe and manning the drill at all hours. The money-grubbing monster had to be played by someone, so John Malkovich was the only logical choice.

The acting plays second fiddle to the visual chaos of the Horizon under assault by flaming jets of gas and oil. The action scenes are so realistic that you also feel under assault. Everyone is covered in oil and blood, and the horror takes a human toll. The means to escape are few, and pathways to survive are slim. Special effects, computer enhanced imagery, sound design and mixing are all on display.

Peter Berg has taken a eerie chapter from America’s recent past with this event leading to the worst oil spill in history. But rather than focus on the long-term affects to the ecology of the Gulf, he instead narrows it down to the workers on the rig. We feel the confusion and despair of the men and women who made up that team. And at the very end, there is a fitting tribute to the 11 souls who perished on the disaster. With additional review (from this movie), perhaps there is some hope for changes and continued vigilance on the deepwater oil rigs.