Movie Review – ‘Free State of Jones’

“A shockingly brutal and bloody war movie, “Free State of Jones” raises many hot-topic issues—none more so than the dramatic mistreatment of blacks by Southerner plantation and slave owners.  This historic film starkly illustrates the pressures and hardships faced by so many down at the local level.”

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

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Alright, alright, alright.  Matthew McConaughey fans will rejoice seeing another gritty and enthralling performance from the award-winning actor.  McConaughey, who earned an Academy Award in 2013’s “Dallas Buyers Club” and a Critics Choice win for his unorthodox sleuth character in HBO’s premiere season of “True Detective”, leads a sensational cast in this true Civil War story.

Teamed up with rising Hollywood actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw (from last year’s “Concussion”), McConaughey plays Southern farmer Newt Knight…a rebellion leader unwilling to fight and die for the Confederate States of America and cotton-producing slave owners against President Lincoln’s advancing Union army.

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A shockingly brutal and bloody war movie, “Free State of Jones” raises many hot-topic issues—none more so than the dramatic mistreatment of blacks by Southerner plantation and slave owners.  This historic film starkly illustrates the pressures and hardships faced by so many down at the local level…a story often pushed aside for decisive Civil War battlefields and examples of Lincoln’s prowess dealing with a divided Congress and nation inside Washington DC.

Viewers see firsthand how the right of the people to keep and bear arms is a necessity to the security of a free State. As predicted in 1788 by Alexander Hamilton; “an army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little, if at all, inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their own rights and those of their fellow citizens”. Other red meat topics explored include the Confederacy’s willful takeover of an individual’s property and a wanton disregard of established anti-slavery law in the South.

The first of three 2016 movies to focus on inter-racial relationships and the slave rebellion, “Free State of Jones” is a powerful start. With “The Birth of a Nation” and “Loving” hitting theaters this October and November respectively, a continued look into the dark and disturbing past of our country is further examined.  And in order to form a more perfect Union, that’s not only important, but required.

Grade: B+

Free State of Jones” is rated R for brutal battle scenes and disturbing graphic images.  Its running time is 2 hours and 19 minutes.

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Movie Review – ‘Finding Dory’

“Longtime Pixar fans will find this film easily the weakest story and biggest disappointment ever produced by the computer-generated movie giant.”

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

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Over the past twenty-one years, Pixar Animation Studios has amazed and enlightened audiences, producing 17 awe-inspiring feature films. After its initial launch of the mega-blockbuster and first-ever computer-animated classic “Toy Story” in 1996, movie goers around the world have been fascinated by the realism brought to the big-screen by this southern California business started and groomed by idea trailblazers George Lucas and Steve Jobs.

Everything Pixar has touched over the years—from the ginormous “Toy Story” trilogy, to the “Monsters Inc.” factory portfolio, to the lonely “WALL-E”—has become cinematic and Oscar gold. Never one to rest on her laurels, Pixar only seemed to get better and better with time. Coming off its best effort to date in last year’s thought-jarring “Inside Out”, Pixar has now released the sequel to one of the highest grossing movies ever (2003’s “Finding Nemo”). And expectations for “Finding Dory” were high. Way too high we find out.

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Thirteen years after “Finding Nemo”, audiences find a watered down script and ocean-soaked plot in this follow-up fish story. The perfectly suited Ellen DeGeneres and Albert Brooks are recast as the suffering short-term memory loss blue fish Dory, and the easy-going clownfish Marlin. Both compliment the spectacular computer-generated imagery we’ve all come to expect, and receive once again, from Pixar.

The biggest problem with “Finding Dory” is not in how it looks, but in how it sounds. Despite returning the film into the trusted hands of two-time Academy Award-winning writer and director Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo” and “WALL-E”), this movie is both redundant and low energy.

“Finding Dory” self-sabotages with a bland script that spurns boredom from DeGeneres’ character having to constantly echo the film’s thin plot over and over again as she meets each new sidekick. Dory’s short-term memory loss creates repetitive dialogue and tests viewer patience for most of the 100-minute lost & found journey. It also halts–and then drowns–a handful of short, funny moments before any continuous laughter can be strung together over several scenes.

Longtime Pixar fans will find this film easily the weakest story and biggest disappointment ever produced by the computer-generated movie giant. Despite using the same successful formula and minds behind “Finding Nemo”, this movie lacks charisma, laughter and the customary bold step forward by Pixar. Instead, “Finding Dory” plays it safe. Too safe. We can only hope that audiences will have a short-term memory of this loss.

Grade: C

“Finding Dory” is rated PG for mild thematic elements.  Its running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

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Movie Review – ‘Maggie’s Plan’

“Maggie’s Plan” is really about neither romance nor comedy. It’s about the complicated life we live in and our desires. The film spotlights how one’s decisions has consequences and impacts others’ lives–particularly children.

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

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Promoted and teased as a contemporary romantic comedy, “Maggie’s Plan” disintegrates into a complicated relationship triangle with children caught in the middle of three self-absorbed parents. Looking deeper, we find today’s “selfie” phenomenon morphing beyond the mere instant gratification from photographs into the more surreal, high-stakes role of single parenthood by-choice. This film, perhaps accidentally, captures a generation that wants it all—which in and of itself isn’t necessary bad or harmful.  Until one either finds something else better or decides having it “all” was a mistake. In the case of the latter, the iGen wants a do-over.

Maggie, exceptionally portrayed by a talented and vastly underrated Greta Gerwig, lacks a green thumb at growing relationships beyond the six-month point. Giving up on finding Mr. Right, Maggie settles for a sperm donation to achieve her goal of single motherhood, just as a disgruntled, older married man (Ethan Hawke) enters her heart and academia world on a New York campus.

After getting married and having a daughter of their own together, Maggie finds herself juggling a blended family solo, minus any parental teamwork from her self-centered boy toy, John (Hawke). Overwhelmed and regretful, Maggie checks for an expiration date on returning John to his ex-wife and successful Danish author, Georgette (played by Academy Award winner Julianne Moore). From here, Maggie hatches a “plan” to move all of the film’s chess pieces back to their original starting position for a new game.

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First-time independent director Rebecca Miller wrote this screenplay based upon Karen Rinaldi’s original story. Both women deserve serious credit for highlighting several difficult and rampant relationship hurdles straightforwardly. Boldly, “Maggie’s Plan” never sidesteps the heavy topics of affairs, divorce, infidelity or single-parenthood. To do otherwise would water down and weaken the movie’s best attribute—the stark and often painful realism found in its script and storyline.

“Maggie’s Plan” is really about neither romance nor comedy. It’s about the complicated life we live in and our desires. The film spotlights how one’s decisions has consequences and impacts others’ lives–particularly children. This plot revolves around the self-gratification world that permeates social media and our society today. Stellar performances throughout bring attention to absent parenting, self-absorbed novelists and loveless relationships. Notwithstanding a few funny lines, “Maggie’s Plan” delivers a dramatic, and troublesome, look inside contemporary relationships.

Grade: C

“Maggie’s Plan” is rated R for language and brief sexuality.  Its running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.

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Movie Review – ‘Me Before You’

“Whether blonde or brunette, Emilia Clarke’s Hollywood stock continues to rise outside the Seven Kingdoms. And rise fast.”

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

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In this year’s most charming romance film so far, “Me Before You” brings an impressive array of happiness, joy, laughter and, yes, even sadness to a young couple.  Based upon the 2012 best-selling page-turner from romance author Jojo Moyes, this movie’s love story emerges from an abundance of authenticity and warmth between a wealthy thirtysomething quadriplegic and his new personal aide in the hillsides outside London.

From the hit HBO show “Game of Thrones”, dragon queen Emilia Clarke is barely recognizable as the enthusiastic caretaker Louisa Clark.  She superbly portrays a fun-loving Brit determined to remain upbeat around a sullen, withdrawn William Traynor (Sam Claflin), who’s hell-bent on focusing only on what he’s missed out on in life after a tragic accident.  Together, a patient, but well-paced and heartfelt courtship innocently develops into something more.  Much more.

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Exquisite acting performances throughout compliment and underscore the film’s seriousness and plight facing Claflin’s wheelchair-bound character.  It thoughtfully brings up William’s arduous end of life considerations while dramatically illustrating the unpleasant burdens placed upon the young man, his family and those inside his innermost circle of trust.

Television fans will see a reunion take place between Clarke and her past “Game of Thrones” costar Charles Dance (who played Tywin Lannister).  Notwithstanding smaller parts from Dance and Academy Award nominee Janet McTeer (for 1999’s “Tumbleweed”) as William’s distraught parents, both film veterans nicely raise the bar and overall believability of the movie.

Avid romance readers will take solace knowing that the English author and two-time Romantic Novel of the Year Award winner Moyes wrote the film’s screenplay, ensuring a seamless adaption from book to big-screen.  One of the movie’s most enchanting elements that Moyes orchestrates is seeing an icy, stoic William melt under Louisa’s continual warmth and giddy personality.  The movie highlights the notion that we can choose to be happy if we allow ourselves to be.  Helping to make that happen is the importance of surrounding ourselves with hopeful and cheerful people.

Never mind that “Me Before You” telegraphs it’s every scene.  Although the plotline’s twists and turns may not surprise many viewers along this roller coaster ride, the adventure remains delightfully entertaining to watch despite an overall serious theme and endgame.

Whether blonde or brunette, Emilia Clarke’s Hollywood stock continues to rise outside the Seven Kingdoms.  And rise fast.  As the dynamic and mesmerizing Daenerys Targaryen on television’s hottest show, the two-time Emmy Award nominee can too easily leave critics to marvel only at her Esquire magazine’s 2015 Sexiest Woman Alive win.  But that shortsightedness misses the mark on Clarke’s ample versatility and acting chops on the big and small screens.

Grade: B+

“Me Before You” is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some suggestive material.  Its running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.

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Movie Review – ‘The Nice Guys’

“Despite a cinematographic orgy that delicately takes viewers back to a retro 1970s look, “The Nice Guys” can’t overcome a slow, boring start with one-dimensional characters. Russell Crowe’s big-screen forte is masterminding others misfortune, not spewing one-liners in a crime comedy.”

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

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Far out clothes and vintage Hollywood party scenes aren’t enough to save this latest Russell Crowe film from box office disaster. Fellow new release “The Angry Birds Movie” clinched this past weekend’s top spot with nearly $40 million, followed by 2016’s highest grossing film so far–the resilient “Captain America: Civil War” ($34M).  But most troubling to Warner Bros. and Crowe has to be the fact that “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” landed in third place with $22 million…crushing “The Nice Guys” with twice the ticket sales from moviegoers.

Co-starring opposite Anna Kendrick’s Twitter love interest Ryan Gosling, the former “Gladiator” (2000) Crowe plays a hired heavy paid to dole out punishment on others in 1977 Los Angeles.  Gosling plays small-time private eye Holland March and reluctantly teams up with Crowe’s bruiser character, Jackson Healy, to investigate the disappearance of a woman who goes missing into the Hollywood nightlife.

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Despite a cinematographic orgy that delicately takes viewers back to a retro 1970s look, “The Nice Guys” can’t overcome a slow, boring start with one-dimensional characters.  Russell Crowe’s big-screen forte is masterminding others misfortune, not spewing one-liners in a crime comedy.  Thankfully, Gosling’s comedic timing is spot-on throughout.

The film’s biggest drawback, though, is the lack of audience investment in either of the Crowe or Gosling detective roles. The film’s director and writer Shane Black (“Iron Man 3”) deserves credit for starting the story off so raw, minus any narration or set-up.  Missing a quick background on the main players, however, costs Black valuable screen time (already pushing 2 hours) and tests viewer patience.  But in the end, Black nicely ties together every loose end and hidden joke for an impressive, encyclopedic storyline from start to finish.

Less about sleuthing for answers to a missing girl than a budding bromance between two Hollywood heavy-weight actors, “The Nice Guys” crosses the finish line intact.  Do we know more about either Jackson Healy (Crowe) or Holland March (Gosling)?  Hardly.  Do we care?  Barely.  This whodunit crime mystery delivers on two fronts—taking the audience back forty-years on film to a simpler time in America and dishing out groovy punch lines.  Unfortunately, neither is enough to keep audiences psyched through a sedated first hour that’s “for the birds”.  Let me do you a solid, wait for this throwback on DVD.

Grade: B-

“The Nice Guys” is rated R for violence, sexuality, nudity, language and brief drug use.  Its running time is 1 hour and 56 minutes.

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Movie Review – ‘Money Monster’

“Money Monster” delivers a steady-paced thriller that only gets better by the minute…it wisely touches upon the viral nature of social media and the public’s laser-guided focus on potentially violent outcomes during live events. It’s comparison between the OJ Simpson Ford Bronco freeway perp chase and O’Connell’s walk along crowd-rousing Manhattan streets doesn’t go unnoticed.”

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Money Monster

We’ve all cringed at movie trailers, those pesky studio previews which have spawned from one-minute commercials into two-and-half minutes of spoiler reels. Just as movie running times are getting longer and longer, so are the trailers promoting those films. In today’s critical competition for box office dollars, promotional companies expend an entire film’s arsenal of laugh lines, suspense shots and plot twists in the trailer alone—leaving audiences letdown when all that’s left to see in the theater is bland background filler.

Having recently watched the spoiler-rich “Money Monster” trailer from Academy Award-winning actress and now director Jodie Foster, I was not eager to watch this Wall Street corruption narrative unfold. The previews told us everything: George Clooney’s character is an over-the-top, on-air television personality spewing Wall Street investment tips at the top of his lungs. The movie’s calming influence falls to “Pretty Woman” Julia Roberts, as Clooney’s producer, who directs and de-escalates the TV set using her voice. What else can this movie tell us? A lot.

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Continuing Hollywood’s fascination with Wall Street moguls instigating financial disasters through incompetence or greedy shenanigans, “Money Monster” pits one large corporation against a single, meager shareholder seeing red after a $60,000 investment loss. “Unbroken” (2014) star Jack O’Connell perfectly portrays a distraught and armed investor who has lost it all—based on the misguided advice of Clooney’s financial forecast.

Between all the finger-pointing and stock quotes is a compelling story of anger and discontent directed at greedy individuals perpetrating fraud inside the financial district. Similar to last year’s Oscar-nominated best picture “The Big Short”, Foster presents this Wall Street train wreck in understandable terms. She deserves serious accolades for never letting this story dissolve solely into a money-counting movie experience. Despite less than stellar police work in parts, “Money Monster” delivers a steady-paced thriller that only gets better by the minute.

“Money Monster” wisely touches upon the viral nature of social media and the public’s laser-guided focus on potentially violent outcomes during live events. It’s comparison between the OJ Simpson Ford Bronco freeway perp chase and O’Connell’s walk along crowd-rousing Manhattan streets doesn’t go unnoticed.

Strong performances carry this brisk 90-minute film. Clooney’s wack job persona gets more believable throughout the movie as his heart begins to thaw. Although a simplistic financial formula, “Money Monster” achieves its portfolio goal—accountability for those responsible for the mismanagement of funds and loss of trust from others. But we knew that already…from the trailer. Here’s my “Money Monster” investment advice: Go see the movie and not the trailer.

Grade: B

“Money Monster” is rated R for language throughout, some sexuality, and brief violence.  Its running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.

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Goodness: ‘Deadpool’ now available on Blu-Ray/DVD

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Yesterday’s release of “Deadpool” on Blu-Ray and DVD is great news for movie lovers.  For the handful of people who still haven’t seen this outstanding film, here’s a quick, no spoiler, synopsis:

“Deadpool” is a splendid dose of humor, cartoonish violence and raunchy innuendo… I can easily call this fast-talking, smart aleck performance by People magazine’s 2010 “Sexiest Man Alive”, as Reynolds’ crowning film to date…

First-time director, Tim Miller, immediately grabs the attention of viewers from the opening credits, creating several hilarious moments which avoids any resemblance to cliché superhero starts or previous Marvel launching points.

“It’s cunning dialogue and violent delivery casts this film firmly into the deep end of the adult pool.

“…a breath of fresh filmmaking. By no means does it only take the superhero routine less traveled. It forges its own path with a simplistic but humorous jaunt, casting likeable street stars with hip, sassy tongues.”

You can read my entire “Deadpool” movie review here.

Check out Screen Junkies’ release of their Honest Trailer segment promoting the “Deadpool” Blu-Ray/DVD release–with a special cameo by Ryan Reynolds hijacking the piece in mid-video.  Hilarious…

But NSFW, so you’re warned:

 

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The ‘Snowden’ trailer

Patriot or traitor?  The true story of one of America’s most polarizing figures.  From controversial Academy Award-winning director Oliver Stone, comes “Snowden”–a blood pressure raising personal story about the former CIA and National Security Agency cyber-surveillance figure who copied and leaked our country’s most secretive intelligence collection techniques and tools back in 2013.  The guy who once boasted leakers “should be shot in the balls“.

Still on the lamb avoiding federal charges for violating the Espionage Act of 1917 and theft of government property, Snowden’s whereabouts are unknown at this time–perhaps hiding in Russia.

This thriller focuses on why he did it, who he left behind, and how he pulled it all off.

Roll the tape…

“Snowden” includes an all-star cast of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Nicolas Cage and Scott Eastwood.  It hits theaters nationwide on September 16th.

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Movie Review – ‘Captain America: Civil War’

“The film’s premise is that Captain America, Iron Man and their fellow crime-fighters must be controlled and regulated by governments through the United Nations. Really? If only fighting evil were so easy. So clean and neat.”

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War L to R: Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), and Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) Photo Credit: Film Frame © Marvel 2016

L to R: Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), and Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). Photo Credit: Film Frame © Marvel 2016

The concern I’ve levied at comic book superhero movies in recent years has been twofold. First, could viewers get bored from the oversaturation of a handful of DC Comics and Marvel action-centric films released each year? Secondly, if moviegoers actually did continue to overwhelmingly support these computer-generated imagery (CGI) fantasy adventures, would the studios be able to keep raising the bar for fresh ideas and storylines? With the fifth best opening weekend ever ($182 million), “Captain America: Civil War” quickly answered both of those questions this morning.

Brothers Anthony and Joe Russo (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”) return to co-direct this latest box office winner. Seizing on the wave of media and political bashing towards law enforcement, “Civil War” sparks outrage towards The Avengers for using excessive force to stop evil on the World’s cities and streets. We’re told that the real culprits for innocent deaths to bystanders must be pinned on the first responder superheroes, not the actual criminal elements creating and directing the terror.

The film’s premise is that Captain America, Iron Man and their fellow crime-fighters must be controlled and regulated by governments through the United Nations. Really? If only fighting evil were so easy. So clean and neat. Where zero collateral damage is not just strived for, but demanded. Here, deciding whether to side with that lunacy pact or not resides Steve Rogers’ “Captain America” (Chris Evans) and Tony Starks’ “Iron Man” (Robert Downey Jr.). A disagreement between the two becomes uncivil, barely passing as plausible—but vastly more entertaining than DC Comics’ disaster “Batman v. Superman” two months ago.

Captain America: Civil War” is not the best Marvel Comics film in the collection. In fact, it’s not even the best from Marvel so far in 2016 (read: “Deadpool”). But this movie is still worth checking out. Be prepared, however, for a meeker, less charismatic and fun Iron Man.

Shiny new Marvel toys appear along with a couple of more recent superhero rollouts, combining to steal this movie with impeccable comedic timing.  Action scenes pump much-needed life into this comic book chapter.

After the slow, drawn out and misguided political plot unfolds, this Avenger reunion finally picks up speed, spider webs and humor in its final hour.  Be sure to stay a full 10 minutes after to enjoy two story-related continuation scenes during the credits.

Grade: B

“Captain America: Civil War” is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence, action and mayhem.  Its running time is 2 hours and 26 minutes.

 

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My reaction to ‘Captain America: Civil War’

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War L to R: Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), and Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) Photo Credit: Film Frame © Marvel 2016

Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War.  to R: Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), and Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan).© Marvel 2016. Photo Credit: Film Frame

Not the best Marvel film in the collection…not even the best Marvel so far in 2016 (see: “Deadpool“).

After a slow, much too drawn out and politicized adult plot unfolds, this Avenger reunion finally picks up speed, spider webs and humor in the final hour.  “Captain America: Civil War” is worth checking out, but be prepared for a meeker, less charismatic and fun Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr).  Shiny new Marvel toys, along with a couple of more recent hero rollouts, steal this movie.  Action scenes (particularly the airport scene above) pump much-needed life into this comic chapter.

Be sure to stay a full 10 minutes after to enjoy two story-related continuation scenes during the credits.

Full movie review to come.

**

 

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