Sully (2016)

PG-13, 96 minutes, Drama

StarringTom HanksAaron EckhartMike O’MalleyAnna GunnLaura Linney

Back in 2009, life sucked. It still isn’t all peaches and cream, but that year was special to me as it became the first year I spent without bringing in any income. Like none. The year before I had lost my job of six years and my next employer, Mervyn’s, took a dump into the seas of murky non-existence. Great. What a time to be alive. The War on Drugs and Terrorism, a president who didn’t deliver, H1N1, Tom Hanks gets his big boat hijacked, THE KING OF POP HIMSELF DIES–all of it sucks. It made a plane taking a bath in the questionable waters of New York seem trivial.

But that’s how we got Sully. Tom Hanks plays Cap’n Sully (because the man is slowly becoming a personification of modern history on film). Sully is the pilot who managed to make a water landing of a passenger jet on the Hudson River without losing a single life–IN WINTER. This movie explores the event via testimonies and flashbacks as the aftermath of the incident begins to eat away at Sully’s reputation.

Sully 2
Funny, this was exactly how I looked in 2009, too.

Considering that this movie is both short and not action-based, it really does have some intense moments. I mean, it is about a plane crash, but they present it in pieces and from different perspectives, so the overall feeling of emergency is visited and revisited. The trauma Captain Phil–erm, Sullenberger faces makes the viewer question which crash is the real one, so there’s an added layer of thrilling suspense to top it off.

Something I feel required to point out is that this film is largely centered around dialogue and drama. It’s almost exactly the same movie as Thirteen Days, which I panned so thoroughly. The story, of course, is different, but the concept of everyone just sitting around gabbing and debating with spits of action make both Days and Sully close cousins. Except Sully is good. Likely this has to do with my personal thoughts on Hanks being the greatest actor there is, but perhaps it could also relate to an incident I actually know. That’s probably why older people like Days and who knows–maybe a child born in 2025 won’t give two turds about Sully when they’re older. It’s a bit sobering.

Sully 3
Bathing a plane usually involves the entire community. Planes are big animals after all.

It wasn’t all glitter and rainbows for me though as I did have a bit of an issue with the existence of the film even being made. Sully, while well presented, really does feel like a giant ego stroke for the real-life man. Don’t get me wrong: it was impressive. Even knowing how to start a plane engine is impressive to me, so landing one on WATER and not killing anyone gets a round of Charles Foster Kane applause from me. If something like this had happened to me, you know I would tell the world, too. But being an outsider looking in, gloating about it doesn’t exactly feel heroic to me.

This movie was based on Sullenberger’s book about the incident, so that tells me it’s completely from his prospective. Then there’s the sequence at the end where the man himself walks on camera to applause with an air about him as though he’s silently saying, “You all owe me.” It spoiled it for me and I’m not sure how I would react if I met the man in person. Would I tell him to get lost or would I let him defend himself even though the possibility him gloating further would continue to spoil my opinion of him? ARGH!

It is a good movie and it was an impressive feat of skill and luck, so please don’t completely discount this movie. It’s a quick ride back several years that will likely give you the full details of a story you probably forgot about once the initial sensationalism of it all wore off.

Rating: Watch it once.

Watch: Tom Hanks, duh.
Don’t watch: The credit sequence. Seriously, folks.


Flop Friday: Thirteen Days (2000)

PG-13, 145 minutes, Drama

StarringKevin CostnerBruce GreenwoodSteven Culp

I remember the excitement my mother felt when she heard about a JFK movie starring Kevin Costner. The Bay of Pigs and politics and… and… talking. My mother was all thrills. And then, for some reason, they never went to go see it. Time went on and eventually my parents passed a VHS copy of the movie sitting on a shelf in a now closed Blockbuster. Suddenly the excitement came back. Back then they watched it. I didn’t.

Over time I’ve come to think of JFK as one of the worst Presidents we’ve had in the U.S. I didn’t grow up in that generation and his legacy is quite frankly shoddy–a rockstar leader whose claim to fame was instituting a retirement system that can no longer stand by itself and surviving a notable era of worldwide turmoil… Oh wait, he didn’t. Nevertheless my mother-in-law got ahold of the same movie and went into a tizzy over it.

Thirteen Days 2
“If I cross my arms, will I, er, uh, look less stupid, Jack?”

So this stupid movie is about stupid politicians stopping stupid bad guys from being stupid. Was that descriptive enough for you? No? Well then just think of the worst episode of J.A.G. imaginable and instead of Harmon Rabb, you have Mayor Quimby from The Simpsons playing Kevin Costner’s accent. That is Thirteen Days. If I haven’t lost you yet: it’s just a drama about the Cuban Missile Crisis.

And I hate it. Couldn’t you tell?

Apparently this movie is based on a book that I’ll never read. There are no less than three types of filming going on here: black and white, color, and… historical? Cuban? I’m not sure… They decided to pack this film with all kinds of historical data, right down to recreating recorded closed-door dialogues. So we’re given all kinds of historical accuracy here and really, that’s just about the best thing going on. Oh, and those black and white sequences? I read somewhere that they’re “chapter breaks” to introduce new sections of the story, but really they’re just disorienting.

Thirteen Days 3
“Boy, er, Jack, you are right there. I did look, uh, stupid.”

So can we talk about the bad accents? Or the underwhelmingly, er, “dramatic” forums? The chaotic pacing? The level of boring compared to the lengthy runtime? Look, this movie can hardly be considered good. As far as I can tell there is a swarm of zeitgeist surrounding it that the older generation seems to appreciate more than I. You’re better off watching J.A.G. because this movie sucks and reality isn’t exactly exciting.

Rating: Destroy on sight.

Watch: Don’t.
Don’t watch: *high five*


Don’t Think Twice (2016)

R, 92 minutes, Drama

StarringKeegan-Michael KeyGillian JacobsMike Birbiglia, Chris Gethard, Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher

Growing up, there were two comedy shows that reigned supreme: Saturday Night Live and its lesser competitor MadTV. I feel like these two occupy different realities as I grew out of SNL, but never stopped loving MadTV. I found it be sketch comedy perfection. Perhaps because it wasn’t as notorious, so the actors always had to be on top of their game, but I never wanted it to end. It did, of course, with the exception of a small revival, but two of its later cast members, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, have made the most of their time since then.

Don't Think Twice 2
Most of us would be lucky to have a group of friends like this.

Don’t Think Twice follows The Commune, an improv troupe in love with their own work. The tight-knit group of comedians are put through the ringer when faced with the crushing reality of their hopes and dreams going up in smoke. New opportunities and feelings of betrayal begin to crumble the loving relationship the troupe once had.

This film is an intimate look at the struggles of becoming a comedian, but I feel like it’s more biography of Birbiglia–or even Key. Or Amy Poehler. Heck, it could be about anyone in the industry. However, I’m more attached to Key due to his involvement with MadTV, plus his character’s dream of being on “Weekend Live” fleshes out the process of moving up in the world. This doesn’t overshadow the other intertwining plots, but I focused on him possibly out of sheer familiarity. I couldn’t help but wonder if Key’s old life fell apart after he got the call to join the cast of Mad. It made me think of all the what-ifs he must have gone through…

Don't Think Twice 3
Watching this movie made me realize I need to visit the UCB Theatre.

Unsurprisingly, the cinematography is just actors on camera, but that’s not what this story is about. That’s just it: it’s a story, not a film. A look into a way of life I’ll never have; a drama of being an underdog. The layman will never understand you, but screw it, you’re passionate about your work and at least you have friends. It is the heart and soul of art itself. Perhaps I’m being gooshy here, but having my own “struggling artist” personal mindset allows me to really relate to this movie. I FEEL FOR YOU, MADE UP CHARACTERS!!!

That being said, this movie may not be for everyone, but it’s still a solid drama with plenty going on to keep you engaged. Honestly, it’s more than I expected it to be. I thought it was going to be a comedy, but (and in a good way) I was wrong. Give it a go if you’re foolish enough to consider yourself a dreamer.

Rating: Watch it.

Watch: Because it’s an excellent look at a world you probably don’t understand.
Don’t watch: If you’re not a drama fan and you’re just not that curious about comedians.

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

PG, 101 minutes, Fantasy

Staring: Art ParkinsonCharlize TheronMatthew McConaughey

Let be known that ANY movie I review with stop-motion animation will ultimately be ranked higher than most other films simply because of the painstakingly colossal effort that goes into making each and every frame. Spending an entire 12-hour work day to come up with only forty seconds of usable screen time takes more patience than I can ever hope to muster. That being said, I’m bound to find some real stinkers in the future…

Kubo isn’t one of them. It’s a tale about a boy who has three strings… Yeah, I don’t get the title either, but I’ll come back to that. At Kubo’s birth his grandfather steals one of the infant’s eyes causing his mother flee into hiding with him. As Kubo grows, he begins to utilize a magical ability that brings life to paper via a shamisen. Eventually Kubo accidentally reveals himself to his sinister aunts which forces him to embark on a tragic journey of retribution.

Smoking is bad, kids. And so are villains.

Let me just start by saying that any flaw this movie possesses is far overshadowed by the amazing style it presents. It comes off to me as a European film trying to create a Japanese story.  I’m an American and this movie feels totally foreign to me despite the fact that it isn’t. Every model appears to inhabit an individual reality full of gritty, detailed depth. Simply watching an eye move is a showcase of the animator skill that far exceeds the silly warping animation of today’s cartoons. I might just fangasm…

The story itself is a little rough in patches. I honestly don’t understand the whole “two strings” bit. At one point it seems to make sense… until Kubo gets a third string. I don’t really want to go into detail as it might ruin the plot, but I honestly would have felt better about the whole ordeal if this movie had been titled “Kubo and the Three Strings.” Because there are three. Three strings. Not two.

The fact that he isn’t constantly covered in paper cuts almost seems like an oversight.

As far as characters go, our main cast is small, but pretty great. Except Beetle. I couldn’t really feel out the character as the creators perhaps wanted me to and that’s probably because of the constant freaking whistle in McConaughey’s voice. While he does play his part in the story, I mostly found him an annoying and useless shield–fodder for the bad guys. But oh, the bad guys… Or gals rather. The twin aunts are menacing beyond words; mechanically haunting (yes, “mechanical” and not “maniacal”) and a devastating force that makes Kubo’s childhood a nightmare. They have to be watched in order to be fully appreciated.

It’s not a perfect movie, but it easily counts a great movie. Family friendly, yet dark enough to appeal to older audiences, Kubo at face value might be a story that’s already been told over and over again, but it’s presentation has few rivals.

Rating: Own it.

Watch: Dat stop-animation tho.
Don’t watch: If you grew up hating Gopher from Winnie the Pooh.

Deathtrap (1982)

PG (should be PG-13), 116 minutes, Thriller

StarringMichael CaineChristopher ReeveDyan CannonIrene WorthHenry Jones

Recently I went to the theater. The stage and intermission kind. It had been a while, but I still end up seeing live performances about once a year. It’s a nice experience that leaves an impression of being “cultured.” Honestly, it just tends to make for a great date night.

In walks Deathtrap: a one stage, two act, five player set. I’m given the unique perspective of watching it in the round. Each audience member gets a different view of the action as they surround the stage. Quite cool, in my opinion. I go home with mixed feelings about the performance, but I ask myself: If it was set in the late ’70s, does that mean it was written then? First search result: Deathtrap–the movie. The library has it. Screw it: I’m watchin’ it.

Oh look! A cliche room of medieval weaponry!

While the movie is not the original incarnation, it certainly is the most commercial. Without giving too much away I can tell you that the story involves two people who set out to murder a third… and that’s about all I can say. There would really be no point in describing more as it would 1) dissolve the thriller aspect of the story and 2) GIVE EVERYTHING AWAY. No point in discovering a movie if you already know how it ends, right? That being said, I’ll try to continue lightly…

It is an interesting premise having such a limited cast and play area. In an age of all-star ensembles where they appear to have to stretch casting budgets just to pack in another well-known name, having only five (well, focusing on five) people on one (well, mostly on one) set is a stark difference. That’s where the charm of this film comes into play. Not only is the story limited to one set, two acts, and five players, but characters are working with the idea of writing a script that involves one set, two acts, and five players based around the experience they are going through. This creates an entire story based on treacherous introspection.

Hey, man? You alright? You’ve got, uh, a little something on your face.

The acting is fine and there’s little technical going on here. It’s really just a story-driven movie that perhaps climaxes too soon with one chaotic moment that is so charged the rest of the story turns into a lackluster game of cat and mouse until the second, although not as intense, climax that finishes off the story. It is interesting, though dated, but I don’t see this being for everyone, which would explain why I had never heard of the story in the first place.

Rating: Don’t bother.

Watch: The first climatic scene is fun.
Don’t watch: Guy-on-guy mouth-to-mouth.

It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

Not Rated, 130 minutes, Drama

Starring: James StewartDonna ReedLionel BarrymoreHenry Travers

The other half of our aforementioned Christmas double feature contained perhaps the most inescapable Christmas movie in American culture: It’s A Wonderful Life. A true necessity of the season, this film is one of the most widely viewed, longest lasting, sentimental powerhouses to ever be committed to cellulose.

George Bailey. Good ol’ George. It’s Christmas Eve and George isn’t doing so well. A host of angels look down upon him as they review his life, discussing how best to help him. George (Stewart) grows from a good boy into a good man, but his time on Earth comes with its frustrations. He never gets to travel and he never gets to go to college, but still George persists by doing the right thing no matter what.

After a large sum of cash goes missing from the savings and loan he manages and a warrant is written for his arrest, George falls apart and decides to kill himself. It’s due to the intervention by the angel Clarence (Travers) that George stops himself. After confessing his dissatisfaction with life to Clarance, George goes back into town only to discover the nightmare the world has become without him in it.

I’m guessing you’ve already seen this movie a few times before. There’s probably a split between viewers who either like it or don’t see what’s so special. It’s to the latter crowd that I ask where they had their lobotomies done. I hold this movie in the highest regard. As a fan of movies, I’ve seen thousands upon thousands and I have yet to find a single film that surpasses this shinning example. This is the greatest movie of all time and I daresay that is a fact and not just my opinion. You may not feel that way as the film starts, but the magic contained within will certainly change your mind by the end. This is a story designed to make anyone feel better about themselves and that is why it is the greatest movie. I might as well stop blogging here because this is truly it.

Yeah, but I’m not gonna. This movie might be the greatest, but it also has perhaps the largest chunk of setup in cinematic history. It literally goes over George’s life with a fine-toothed comb, much as with Charles Kane, but the results are astronomically better. Every element explored is vital is making George feel like a personal friend, neighbor, and important to the lives of everyone around him. He is the epitome of a good guy: flawed and human; resilient and weary; moral and thankfully not sappy.

It’s amazing to watch someone like George, even if he is fictional. Everyone around him actually gives a care about his well-being. It’s enough to make a guy jealous. While he’s obviously affected by his situation, George takes most every negative thing that comes his way and spins it into something good. That alone is enough to make him admirable and it’s all the more devastating to watch as he falls apart and his life turns inside out.

If you’ve somehow never seen this movie, it’s time that you do. If you somehow do not like this movie, I suggest you reevaluate your apathy level. If you don’t own this, buy it. If it’s playing at a theater near you, go out to see it. This is one film guaranteed to give your life at least a little bit of hope.

Rating: The Greatest Movie of All Time.

Watch: There isn’t any better film in existence. Period.
Don’t watch: Didn’t you just read the last line?

The Missing: Series 1 (2014)

TV-MA, 8 episodes, Drama

Starring: James NesbittTcheky KaryoJason FlemyngFrances O’Connor

I tend to favor British dramas.  They’re good, but more importantly they’re short.  There are plenty of American shows I thoroughly enjoy, but having the convenience of binge-viewing the entire sequence in the course of half a day is pretty nice.

At eight episodes long, The Missing caught my attention.  While vacationing in France, Tony (James Nesbitt) loses his son in a crowd and never sees him again.  As the years pass, Tony seems to be the only one who still wants to the boy to be found.  Traveling between time perspectives, we follow Tony as he desperately scrambles for clues.  The harder he looks, the more he loses.

Joining Tony are a cast of characters that could either be friends or suspects.  Partnering with the French inspector Baptiste (Tcheky Karyo) and the British detective Walsh (Jason Flemyng), Tony hostilely ruffles more than a few feathers causing local criminals to turn their sights on him.  It’s up to the three of them to expose the bitter truth and for Tony, no cost is too high.

I thought this series was really, really good.  So much so that I practically screamed when the cliffhanger came up (come on, did you expect there not to be one?).  The switch between the past and present added multiple layers to the investigation and the large cast gave over a dozen perspectives.  Who done it and what did they do?  You’ll find yourself pulled in, struggling to piece it all together right up until the shocking end.

Again, it’s only eight episodes, but the writers managed to pack so much in each one that waiting for the next clue is almost an agonizing experience.  Jumping back and forth in time only slows down the process, but the guessing game the writers are playing with you is intentionally stalled to both get your brain working and to keep you coming back for more abuse.

There are some elements that viewers might not appreciate.  In dealing with the underworld nothing is really off limits.  Some scenes are shockingly violent while others are just disturbing.  It adds a darkness to the series and it makes you wonder if one missing boy is really the worst that could happen to a father.

The second series (season to us Americans) is apparently in the works.  Don’t be fooled by their cheap marketing ploy of promising a new case.  While their might indeed be one next time there’s one thing this series will make you keep asking: What happened to Oliver Hughes?

Rating: Own it.

Watch: It’s addicting and good.
Don’t watch: Because series 2 isn’t out yet.

The Gambler (2014)

R, 111 minutes, Drama

Starring: Mark WahlbergBrie LarsonMichael Kenneth WilliamsJohn Goodman

I consider myself poor.  By no means do I live in a run-down studio apartment surrounded by cardboard furniture, but I’ve struggled with finding sustainable work.  I’ve also never taken hand-outs from anyone other than family.  You can call it pride, but I can’t see any point in taking government assistance when I’m still managing to pay my internet bill on my own.

Still, $260,000 is a lot of freaking money.  That amount is nothing short of staggering to someone like me.  That’s a house and then some.  When watching The Gambler and seeing Mark Wahlberg dump ten grand on a single bet, I cringe to the point of bleeding internally.  Watching him further dump hundreds of thousands of dollars, I feel cysts the size of baseballs form all over my body as I scream, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

…And that’s his problem.  Mark Wahlberg plays Jim, a gambler with an extreme tendency to make stupid bets that get him into a lot of trouble.  It’s painful to watch Jim act with such recklessness–especially since he’s an intelligent guy.  When his debts stack up too high, he finds himself owing three people a lot of money that needs to be paid in seven days.  Seven days to turn over the cash or watch his friends and family die before he’s finally taken care of.

Admittedly this movie screwed with my emotions.  Again, the betting was extreme, but the real gems of this movie come from the philosophical debates the characters partake in.  Jim, an English professor, holds his own against a slew of sharpend real-world minds as he battles to keep himself in the business of living.  Is he a man?  Is his lifestyle worthy?  If he has seven days to live, will he even bother to save himself?

Brie Larson plays the love interest and it’s her that I kept finding myself looking to.  Equally intelligent, but reserved, she is established as important to the plot from the very beginning.  Unfortunately, as the story progresses and things get worse for Jim, she fades into the background becoming more of a purpose rather than an actual character.  I found this disappointing as it made me question the initial focus on her.  It was as if the director or scriptwriter said, “Look at the pretty girl!  Moving along…”

I did like this movie.  Watching a character go out of control and hit the wall running didn’t sit well with me, but watching how he picked himself back up did.  I would watch it again, if nothing else other than a reminder of how to live life from the position of “f— you.”

Rating: Watch it.

Watch: If you’re a man.
Don’t watch: If you can stand to see smart people do stupid stuff.

Cool Hand Luke (1967)

PG, 126 minutes, Drama

Starring: Paul NewmanGeorge Kennedy

My friend gets a text on his phone.  It’s another friend.  They send a few texts back and forth.  Every time his phone chimes, I look down at the glowing screen.  My friend is being called “Cool Hand Muke.”  “What the heck does that mean?” I ask.  “You ever heard of the movie Cool Hand Luke?” my friend replies.  “Well they kind of named me after it.  Have you seen it?”

No.  No, I hadn’t seen it.  That was about a year ago, maybe more.  I hadn’t thought of that movie until recently.  So I finally checked it out.  After all Paul Newman used to the man way back when.  What could go wrong?

Cool Hand M–er, Luke is about one seriously deranged individual played by Newman himself.  Luke acts a fool and gets himself locked up for… cutting the heads off parking meters.  The prison he is sent to is nothing more than a wooden shed with bunks and Luke is forced to spend his days hacking down weeds along country roads.  Seemingly just to shake things up Luke gets himself in trouble and tries to escape.

There really isn’t much plot to this movie–at least nothing of any real importance.  That or their was an awful lot of subtle story so deep that dove under my realm of understanding.  As far as I can tell, Luke simply acts out of boredom.  “What reaction can I get?” he might ask himself in a manner that would suggest he’s twelve and has something prove.

It’s well enough acted, I guess.  Nothing technical is worth mentioning.  This film is really just a void of two hours.  It’s like this movie exists to not exist.  It boggles my mind that not only is this movie well known, but it’s generally well received.  So what the heck am I missing?

Maybe it’s an example of “living life to its fullest” or “never giving in” or even “being a martyr for a cause” (since the religious iconography is blatantly obvious) but people should face facts: Luke is an idiot with zero interest in living in the real world.

It makes me feel ignorant, but this is undeniably a movie where nothing happens.  Having committed time to it leaves me frustrated–angry even.  It’s not like I can shout to the world, “This movie sucks because of this or that!”  I just can’t say anything, because there is nothing to talk about.  I’m a mute with a grudge.

Rating: Don’t bother.

Watch: If you’ve got two hours that mean nothing to you.
Don’t watch: If you’ve got better things to do.

Art School Confidential (2006)

R, 102 minutes, Drama

Starring: Max MinghellaSophia MylesJohn Malkovich

     I have to admit that there are few movies that come to my mind when I think about Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving movies just aren’t a thing.  The holiday is really just a background and it feels like it’s forgotten on and off the screen.  So when going through my collection I thought, “What Thanksgiving movies do I own?”  Finding nothing I asked, “Okay, what has it in it?”

     In the end I came up with Art School Confidential.  Not a Thanksgiving movie by any means, but hey, at least the day is represented.  Jerome (Max Minghella) dreams of someday being as famous as his favorite artist, Pablo Picasso.  He enters Strathmore (haha) and tries his best to show off his natural talents.  When no one takes to his work, his frustration begins.  A downward spiral of depression and lost love grips Jerome leading him to unwilling become involved in a serial killer’s masterpiece.

     While this movie does nothing groundbreaking or even inventive, it’s narrow focus on the art community speaks truth beyond anything I’ve ever come across.  Jerome’s struggle is real and the chaotic (if unintentional) deception of the other students getting rewarded for mediocrity is something that carries over into the real-world working industry.

     John Malkovich’s character is something worth mentioning.  His portrayal of Jerome’s professor, Sandiford, is so accurate it’s scary.  Sandiford comes across as unconcerned for a good portion of the film, focusing mostly on his own work and then focusing on being the one who discovered a new talent (hint: not Jerome!).  He fails at comradery with his fellow professors and gives advice that is the opposite of what he expects from his students.  In all, he the perfect example of what an educator should not be, but actually is.

      One final point I’ll make is about Thanksgiving itself.  The setting of this movie is actually the fall semester of Jerome’s freshman year in college, so the “back to school” time, Halloween, and Thanksgiving are all present.  As a former art student I felt a pang of sorrow as his family expressed their misunderstandings about Jerome’s choice of career as they sat around the dinner table.  There is a need for expression inside of an artist that goes far behind painting little pictures on sneakers.

     I have wished so many times that this film had been released sooner–and more widely dispersed.  It would have saved me three years of taking art classes for a degree that is nothing more than a piece of paper with my name scribbled on it.  Seriously, employers laugh at a art degrees.  But it was a different economy way back when and the warning contained within this movie may not have stuck with me anyway.  The real point here: This should required watching before signing up for any college art program.  Art isn’t about skill, so don’t make that costly mistake.  It’s about making other people think you’re something you’re not.

Rating: Required for artists.

Watch it:  If you’re foolish enough to consider a career in art.
Don’t watch it:  If you don’t like offensive… well, anything.   This movie is full of offensive material.