Grandma Review

            It seems like the Sundance Film Festival has created its own type of genre.  Sure, you can find a large variety of documentaries and the festival does have the occasional awards contender, but your typical film that comes out of the festival is the quirky comedy that you can just instantly tell played at the Sundance Film Festival at one point.  I brought this up for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and it holds true for the latest Sundance film to be released into theaters, Grandma.  Grandmais filled to the brim with quirkiness, and the fact that this has become so typical for this type of film becomes a problem for it.  Luckily, it is able to survive off of a trio of strong performances led by Lily Tomlin in her first starring role in over two decades.

            Grandma follows Sage (Julia Garner proving herself to be a strong up and coming actress after a memorable stint on The Americans) as she tries to get help from her eccentric grandma (Lily Tomlin) when she needs to get an abortion.  The film plays out as a very weird buddy comedy of sorts that will have any conservative running for the hills.  This really is a hardcore Republican’s worst nightmare of a film and that goes for some added laughs throughout if you aren’t one.

            Director and writer Paul Weitz has always been your typical workman director and the film feels very much of that nature.  It constantly feels like it’s fitting a set pattern and even the small details of the film feel like they are there because they worked somewhere else before.  The film is ultimately effective because of this but it also feels a tad stale and obviously isn’t breaking any new ground whatsoever.

            Fortunately, the film has three great performances at its center.  Lily Tomlin gets to play a multi-layered loud mouth that she obviously enjoys performing.  It’s constant fun to see where Tomlin takes the character.  Meanwhile, Julia Garner more than holds her own against a much more showy co-lead.  This is clearly an actress that we need to keep an eye on.  Marcia Gay Harden also impresses in a supporting turn that starts off as very one note, but Harden is able to subtly find ways to add depth to the character.

            Grandma is a fun but unsubstantial buddy comedy between a young woman and her grandma.


Everest Review

            Reading the source material of a film can have a momentous impact on how you view that film.  I think one of the biggest cases of this in recent memory is Everest.  While Everestis not based off of any book, it is based off of real life events that were made famous by Jon Krakauer’s bestseller Into Thin Air.  While I really enjoyed the visually stunning and narratively intense nature of Everest, I can completely see someone without the knowledge of Everest history or what occurs in Krakauer’s book coming out of this feeling the way most critics did about the film: visually impressive but very disjointed.

            Everest follows the owner of a mountain climbing company, Rob Hall (Jason Clarke in a solid but unspectacular role until the great work he puts in during the third act), as he coordinates an attempt at summiting Mount Everest during May of 1996.  As Hall’s group and the other groups on the mountain struggle to coordinate, trouble arises when a storm hits the area just as most of the climbers are at the top part of the mountain, known as the Death Zone thanks to its very limited supply of oxygen in the air.

            This has to be one of the most visually stunning films of the year.  Director Baltasar Kormakur has thus far been only known for Mark Wahlberg action films but he clearly has a future as a filmmaker because him and his team make the Everest setting look so realistic.  I don’t know how they pulled it off but it is so technically impressive I don’t really want to know or it would ruin the magic.

            The first half as it shows how beautiful the mountain and nature can be would make Terrence Malick happy, and the second half as it terrifyingly but beautifully shows how dangerous nature can be would impress even the likes of Werner Herzog.  While that can be a strength of the film it also happens to be its major weakness.  This is a film of two halves that don’t really mix together unless you can pick up on some of the subtle clues that only an Everest history expert or repeat viewer would be able to.  The film begins as a heroic adventure film but unexpectedly descends into a horror film and that may be too jolting of a transition for some viewers.

            As someone who has found this tale intriguing for years now, I couldn’t help but love this film though.  It may be a Hollywood-ized version of the tale, but it does touch on almost everything that Into Thin Air does including the battle between greed and nature that happens to be the main theme of the book.  It’s also hard not to be impressed by the massive cast that features great turns from Josh Brolin as cocky Texan Beck Weathers with a secret ailment, Keira Knightley in a devastating turn as Rob Hall’s wife and even Sam Worthington in a stoic turn as a partner of Rob’s.

            Everest is an impressive portrayal of one of the legendary mountain’s most infamous tales.


67th Primetime Emmy Awards: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Last night, the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards saw HBO come out as the big winner with victories for Outstanding Drama Series (Game of Thrones), Outstanding Comedy Series (Veep) and Outstanding Limited Series (Olive Kitteridge).  The full list of winners can be found here but my thoughts are as follows:

-It was nice to see the Emmys embrace genre programming again.  The Oscars very rarely nominate sci-fi films for Best Picture and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is the only fantasy film Best Picture winner.  However, the Emmys voters have now struck twice with voting for genre options.  Last night Game of Thrones won Outstanding Drama Series, becoming the first genre show to win since Lost in 2005.  While I wouldn’t call its victory for its uneven fifth season deserving, this is definitely a show that has deserved to win the big one multiple times in the past.

-The show as a whole was quite boring.  Splitting up the show by the comedy, miniseries/movie, drama sections has become a tiresome format that really caused the show to lose its rhythm halfway through.  It also doesn’t help that Andy Samburg wasn’t allowed to go with his more controversial style of comedy as host.

-How in the world does Amy Poehler still not have an Emmy?  In terms of people most integral to the present day television landscape she has to be somewhere near the top of the list.  Yet despite nominations for acting, writing and producing, Poehler has still never won an Emmy.  To know that her performance as Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation went Emmy-less is just hard to understand.

-Jonathan Banks has emerged as one of the great character actors of our time.  His performance as Mike Ehrmantraut on Breaking Bad and now Better Call Saul is his signature role so it was a shame to see him lose yet again for the role.  I think it’s time people have a realization about Peter Dinklage’s performance as Tyrion Lannister, though. It’s hard to understand how a performance that is mostly some guy walking into a room, saying some quip-y remarks and than walking out has won two Emmy awards.  Even when Dinklage does get some strong material he tends to overact with it.  Dinklage is well cast in the role, and he is one of the breakout characters in one of the biggest breakout shows of the last decade so an Emmy victory is understandable.  However, it’s time for Emmy voters, and people in general, to stop acting like this is one of the greatest performances ever.

-It was very predictable, but the Olive Kitteridge domination of the limited series and movie categories was just so disappointing.  Olive Kitteridge had to be one of the most boring and laborious productions put on television during the course of the last television season so to see it win almost everything against Wolf Hall, Missing, Derek and others was just downright disappointing.  I mean Billy Murray winning for his name recognition alone and Richard Jenkins winning over a stacked category was just downright shameful.

-I went 13 for 26 with my predictions.  That’s a terrible showing but somehow still an improvement over last year’s work.

67th Primetime Emmy Awards Final Predictions

Outstanding Drama Series=Game of Thrones
Outstanding Comedy Series=Modern Family
Outstanding Limited Series=Olive Kitteridge
Outstanding Variety Talk Series=The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
Outstanding Variety Sketch Series=Inside Amy Schumer
Outstanding Reality-Competition Program=The Amazing Race
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series=Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series=Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie=David Oyelowo, Nightingale
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series=Amy Schumer, Inside Amy Schumer
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series=Viola Davis, How to Get Away With Murder
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie=Frances McDormand, Olive Kitteridge
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series=Tony Hale, Veep
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series=Jonathan Banks, Better Call Saul
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie=Bill Murray, Olive Kitteridge
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series=Allison Janney, Mom
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series=Lean Headey, Game of Thrones
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie=Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story: Freak Show
Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series=Transparent
Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series=Boardwalk Empire
Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special=Olive Kitteridge
Outstanding Directing for a Variety Series=The Colbert Report
Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series=Transparent
Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series=Mad Men ("Person to Person")
Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special=American Crime
Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series=The Daily Show With Jon Stewart

Good Kill Review

            One of the more underrated filmmakers of the late 1990s and early 2000s has to be Andrew Niccol.  He started with a bang as his feature film debut ended up being the great sci-fi film, Gattaca.  He then followed that up with his Oscar nominated screenplay for The Truman Show.  While his next few films didn’t hit those highs again they weren’t without highlights (Lord of War is quite a blast).  Unfortunately, he has since fallen on hard times.  In Time was decent but the film community didn’t think so and The Host got an even worse reception.  So it was nice to see Niccol try to get his feet back on solid ground again with a familiar co-worker in actor Ethan Hawke (who is having a real renaissance as of late with career best work in Before Midnight and Boyhood and a great reception for his directing on Seymour: An Introduction).  Their new collaboration, Good Kill, finds an intriguing subject matter in the moral use of drones and gets some great use of it.  I wouldn’t call Good Kill memorable, but it is certainly well made.

            Good Kill follows Major Egan (Hawke), a former Air Force pilot who is now stuck piloting drones in some random building in the middle of the Midwest.  While war was never a problem for Egan, he does finally begin to break when viewing acts of war from a far.  While some films and television (24: Live Another Day had had the most effect with this thus far) have tried to do a story on the use of drones and question their morality, none have exactly done a complete job of it so far.  The psychological aspect is an interesting one for Good Kill to take, and it does a lot with it.

            Unfortunately, Good Kill is missing the visual expertise of some of Andrew Niccol’s better work.  He still seems like he is trying to find his footing again after a series of stumbles, and the dull setting seems to be too much of a challenge for him at times even if it does add a bit of realness to the film that helps elevate it.  It’s ultimately a minor quibble as Niccol’s script does a fantastic job of delving into the mind of Egan and his fellow members of his drone unit. 
            Speaking of the unit, this film is filled with fantastic performances.  Hawke just gives off the confidence of a man that is on the top of his game and knows it while Bruce Greenwood gives another great performance as the stoic unit leader that occasionally shows cracks in that stoicism.  Even the so far up to date unremarkable Zoe Kravitz delivers a strong performance as Egan’s protégé. 

            Good Kill is a step back on the right track for director Andrew Niccol.


The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Review

            Guy Ritchie has always been known for directing movies that have a unique and energetic visual style.  His latest certainly has that in spades.  The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a remake of the 1964 TV series, is a film that survives almost entirely on its style, that is until its clichéd plot causes it to derail in the third act.  It may not be great filmmaking, but as an end of summer trip to the theatre you can do a lot worse.

            The Man From U.N.C.L.E. follows Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), a thief turned CIA agent, that is forced to work with KGB operative Illya (Armie Hammer) in order to stop a billionaire (Elizabeth Debicki) from becoming a nuclear power.  The plot ultimately doesn’t come with many surprises, and this really hurts in the third act when the film tries to surprise the audience with a bunch of twists. 

            The plot structure isn’t enough to destroy this film, but it certainly wouldn’t be very watchable if the other components of the film weren’t as good as they are.  Ritchie and his team of artists create a Cold War setting that is flashy and fun whether it is the stunning costumes or the sly use of music.  The style may not be realistic, but it does engage you.  Also working to the film’s benefit are some great casting choices.  Henry Cavill hasn’t had many opportunities to prove himself as an actor (in The Tudorshe got lost in a big cast and a stale story and in Man of Steel he got lost among the effects and some terrible thematic decisions) so it was nice to see his charismatic charm be put to good use here.  He is clearly having fun and it’s hard not to enjoy that.  Meanwhile, Alicia Vikander continues her monster year with another performance that shows why she is becoming such a breakout star.  She doesn’t get a lot to work with, but she makes good use of it.  Armie Hammer (who is solid here but ultimately settles in as the third wheel of the main trio) and Jared Harris (doing his usual great character actor work) are also good here.

            The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is definitely one of those films you enjoy while watching but forget about it the instant it ends.  Playing at the end of the summer it is one of the better options out there even if it would have been completely lost in the competition if it played during the summer or holiday season.


AllTrail's Connecticut Top 10

If you ever want to get into hiking there is no greater app that I could recommend than AllTrails. Due to a large user base, AllTrails has o...

Popular Posts