By Bob Grimm
on Thu, Jan 19, 2017 at 2:17 PM
The latest collaboration between director Peter Berg and actor Mark Wahlberg, Patriots Day, stands as not only a valuable tribute to the victims and heroes of the Boston Marathon bombings, but a solid, meaningful, gritty look at what it took to take down the terrorist Tsarnaev brothers.
Wahlberg plays Sgt. Tommy Saunders, another one of those fictional composite characters that often show up in historical dramas. You may forgive this kind of artistic license, because the goal of Patriots Day is to take you through the entire drama, from the bombing itself, through to the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff) inside a boat in somebody’s backyard.
There probably wasn’t a single person who was at all of the events leading to the ultimate capture of the final living suspect in the bombings. It’s best to just view the Wahlberg character as a partial representation of the heroism and diligence that led to that arrest.
This is the second of two Berg/Wahlberg collaborations in 2016, and it’s a good one. The film is about heroes, the heroes who worked to find the perpetrators, and the selfless, persevering heroes who were standing close to an explosive device when it went off. You’ll walk away from this movie feeling that Berg, Wahlberg and company did all of these good people justice with Patriots Day. Most importantly, it’s a moving tribute to those who lost their lives.
By Bob Grimm
on Wed, Jan 18, 2017 at 9:21 AM
Director Ben Affleck’s latest is a period piece/costume drama that looks like a lot of work went into it, but never feels like a cohesive picture.
Affleck also stars as Joe Coughlin, one of those gangsters you just gotta love, fighting the gangster fight during Prohibition in sunny Florida. Joe rises to the top of the gangster field, despite being the son of a cop (Brendan Gleeson), and despite basically being an all around good guy.
The problem here is that Affleck fails to give his central character a true identity and emotional toolbox. The character feels stilted, and the movie around him feels like a costume party. It’s as if Affleck is afraid to make him the truly bad guy he should be. The fedoras and sweet suits all look good, but it’s in the service of a story that has been told before in far more powerful fashion. Sienna Miller is good as Joe’s early love, and Elle Fanning, who had a great year with The Neon Demon and 20th Century Woman, is also good as a disgraced actress who finds a new career in preaching.
Again, the movie looks good, and Affleck’s performance is okay, but the story feels like a rehash of every gangster movie ever made.
By Bob Grimm
on Tue, Jan 17, 2017 at 9:04 AM
Adam Driver plays the title character in writer-director Jim Jarmusch’s latest, a bus driver with a penchant for poetry.
His name is Paterson, he lives in Paterson, New Jersey, and he sets his folded clothes out every night so he’s good to go in the morning. His wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) aspires to be a country music singer, eagerly awaiting a new guitar the couple can barely afford (Also, it must be noted that she can’t play guitar).
The film offers no substantial plot; it’s simply a snapshot of a normal, pleasant life being led by two people who aspire to create art in their spare time. Jarmusch always does well with these sort of observational stories, and this is no exception.
Driver is terrific here, capping a great year that included Midnight Special and a great performance in the muddled Silence. It’s a funny, sweet performance without him really trying to be funny or sweet. The big events in this movie consist of Paterson taking his bulldog for a walk or meeting a fellow young poet who makes him feel insubstantial.
By Bob Grimm
on Mon, Jan 16, 2017 at 8:46 AM
Katherine Johnson, one of the most brilliant mathematicians of the last century—and still going at age 98—gets the movie she deserves with Hidden Figures, an entertaining, enlightening and educational look at the contributions of her and her cohorts to NASA and space flight in the late 1950s and after.
Johnson was part of a segregated division at NASA in the ’50s, a wing of mathematicians who did the work that actual computers do today. The movie depicts the humiliation she and two other historical African American figures, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, went through while solving equations that helped put men safely into space and return them to their families.
The women had to put up with a lot of racist bullshit on their way to, during and after work, and the film shows their hardships, albeit in PG fashion. There was a stretch where Johnson was making monumental calculations for the likes of Alan Shepard, yet she wasn’t allowed to use bathrooms in her building or drink from the same coffee pot as her white counterparts.
Taraji P. Henson plays Johnson, the “smart one” astronaut John Glenn personally demanded check the coordinates before his historical flight launched. Henson is perfection in the role, depicting Johnson as the super awesome nerd she is. She has a scene where she takes her fellow mathematicians at NASA to task for their racist ways, and it’s a stunner. Henson gives the film, and Johnson, the true sense of majesty they deserve.
Octavia Spencer is her usual great self as Vaughan, doing the work of a supervisor without the title and curious about that new IBM thing they just installed down the hall. Vaughan would become crucial to the implementation of computers at NASA, as well as being the agency’s first African American supervisor.
As Jackson, NASA’s first female African American aeronautical engineer, singer Janelle Monae is so good, it’s easy to forget that this is just her second movie role. (She was also excellent in 2016’s Moonlight.) Monae acts with the confidence of somebody who has been at it for decades, not a single year. She is undoubtedly one of cinema’s great 2016 discoveries.
By Bob Grimm
on Thu, Jan 12, 2017 at 2:10 PM
Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch deliver a strong acting combo in this creepy horror film from director Andre Ovredal (Trollhunter).
Down in their basement mortuary on a stormy night, father and son coroners (Cox and Hirsch) are going through their routine. A local policeman rolls in a new corpse, a Jane Doe (Olwen Kelly, doing some impressive dead body acting). The body was found, incredibly preserved, under strange circumstances with other dead bodies in the vicinity. The coroners know little of the situation, and they just get to work on searching for the cause of death. Shortly after they begin the autopsy, bad things start to happen, including the resurrection of other corpses in the morgue. Jane Doe clearly has some big secrets, and the coroners are going to find out what they are whether they want to or not.
Overdal takes the chance to make a haunted mortuary movie by the horns, and does a bang up job with it. The movie goes a little cuckoo at times, but it stays dark and scary throughout, and should satisfy horror fans.
By Bob Grimm
on Wed, Jan 11, 2017 at 10:00 AM
This is a well-meaning movie with good heart, but it was better when it was called The Iron Giant.
J.A. Bayona’s film of the Patrick Ness book tells the tale of Conor (Lewis MacDougall), a young boy whose mother (Felicity Jones) is dying. Conor is, understandably, having issues, not just with the impending loss of his mother, but bullies at school and a domineering grandma (Sigourney Weaver) he doesn’t quite understand. When things come to a boil, a tree monster (voice of Liam Neeson) shows up to offer guidance and tough love.
MacDougall gives a respectable performance, as do Jones and Weaver, but the film never really works as a whole. The relationship between the boy and the imaginative monster never makes much sense, so the human interactions wind up being far more interesting.
Problem is, this movie is called A Monster Calls, and much of the film leans on the effectiveness of the monster scenes. There are moments where everything jells, but just moments. For the most part, the movie feels disjointed, uneven, and too similar to films that have come before it. And it doesn’t earn the tears it wants you to shed at the end.
By Bob Grimm
on Tue, Jan 10, 2017 at 11:00 AM
Two of Hollywood’s biggest, most lovable stars labor away in the pretty but kind of dumb Passengers, a movie that doesn’t have the guts to be as ugly as it should be.
Chris Pratt plays Jim Preston, a mechanic dedicated to starting a life on a distant planet. He and 5,000 other passengers are in suspended animation aboard a ship taking a 125-year journey. That ship has an unfortunate encounter with a meteor shower, and Jim’s sleeping pod awakens him—with 90 years to go on the trip. What to do, what to do, what to do? Jim gets it into his mind to do a very bad thing, and that’s where Jennifer Lawrence’s character comes into play.
The movie is good-looking for sure, and I really liked the design of the ship. That’s essentially what’s keeping Passengers from getting my lowest rating. That, and the fact that Jennifer Lawrence really can act, even when she’s in a junk-food movie. She can salvage the most mundane of dialogue and almost make it sound good. Almost.
Passengers won’t frustrate you so much for what it is, as for what it could have been. Imagine if somebody like Stanley Kubrick got ahold of this premise. Oh man, that would’ve been a movie to be reckoned with. This could’ve been one of the sickest science fiction epics since Alien. Instead, it’s Cast Away meets Sleepless in Seattle in space. Instead, we get a pretty space opera with a happy ending.