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‘The Birth of a Nation’ a Well-Acted but Heavy Handed Drama

img_8255Another 2016 film, another disappointment.


“The Birth of a Nation” tells the real-life story of Nat Turner’s 1831 slave rebellion. Nate Parker directs (in his debut), co-writes, produces and stars as Turner, with Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King and Jackie Earle Haley in supporting roles.


This shares a title with D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film, and that’s no accident. That film is famous for its impressive and revolutionary technical achievements and is subjectively good but objectively racist, depicting the KKK as heroes and black men (some as white men in blackface) as unintelligent. This 2016 film attempts to take the name and give it a new meaning for the 21st century, but despite the best intentions and valiant efforts from its cast, it never rises to its grand aspirations.


Comparing this to “12 Years a Slave” is somewhat lazy but I feel inevitable. And it isn’t simply because both are tales about the evils of slavery in America, but because both feature powerful performances and gorgeous cinematography, however are narratively lacking and feature heavy-handed direction.


Parker is the main character and his Nat Turner is an emotionally conflicted man. He respects his master and is strong in his faith, never wavering that despite being enslaved, God is looking out for him and his family. Parker has several scenes that display his range, going from angry to in tears at the drop of a hat. Annie Hammer plays his master and is a quiet man, and you get the feeling he resents slavery but recognizes its importance to the world he lives in. Hammer has the most arch of any character, as he begins to drown his sorrow in liquor and succumb to the evils of the system.


Subtlety is nowhere to be found here. Parker is a rookie director and this is an ambitious story to take on as a first time project, but he feels the need to make sure no implications are missed. From slow-motion stare-downs to imagery of red blood falling on white cotton, Parker doesn’t miss a chance to make sure you get every point he is trying to get at. It comes off as in-your-face and is almost insulting because he doesn’t think the audience would be intelligent enough to figure things out themselves.


The film also takes a while to find its footing. For almost an hour, nothing happens. We know the film is building towards Turner’s rebellion, so for the first hour to have his life he relatively “good” (his owner was a childhood friend and Turner travels around with him) we never feel the evils that will inevitably push Turner over the edge.


When we finally start to see the true horrors of slavery, it is awful and graphic, and even they surely pale in comparison to the real life events. However nothing feels earned; we know Turner has seen awful things but even once he begins his rebellion, his actions still feel evil and horrific themselves, not fully justified.


Some historians call Turner a religious fanatic, not too different from modern day Islamic extremists, because he used his faith to justify slaughtering men, women and children. If it was Parker’s intentions to create a divide about Turner’s place in history then the film is to be commended; however I don’t think it was his goal to have Turner remembered as anything but a hero.


“The Birth of a Nation” features impressive performances, especially from Parker and Hammer, but it never builds up stakes and is heavy-handedly directed. It is an important story however I had a more engaging and interesting time reading up on Turner’s story afterwards than I did while watching the actual film. It’s an ambitious first project, with Parker as its strongest asset and biggest weakness; but it is his flaws make “Nation” hard to recommend.


Critics Rating: 5/10


Fox Searchlight\

‘Deepwater Horizon’ Big on Booms, Low on Story

Deepwater_Horizon_(film)It’s official: Peter Berg is a more toned down version of Michael Bay.

“Deepwater Horizon” is based on the true story of the 2010 explosion and oil spill by the titular drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Mark Wahlberg stars alongside Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez, Dylan O’Brien and Kate Hudson as Peter Berg directs.

I don’t think many people thought we needed a film based off of this tragedy; I mean, 210 million gallons of oil being spilled into Gulf of Mexico and 11 people losing their lives doesn’t exactly scream “Friday night fun.” And after seeing the movie I can tell you Wahlberg and Berg (teaming up again after “Lone Survivor” and before this year’s “Patriots Day”) certainly handle the subject with respect towards those involved and resentment towards BP Oil; however that doesn’t mean their finished product is as good as their intentions.

Mark Wahlberg is a movie star for sure, but I do believe he is underappreciated as an actor. I think he plays “everyday man” better than anyone, and if a muscular, handsome millionaire can make himself feel relatable to an average 20-something like me then clearly he is doing something right. Here, Wahlberg plays Mike Williams, but truly isn’t given too much to do. Williams is pretty much “Mark Wahlberg playing a drilling engineer” and by the time the disaster starts we know very little about him besides he has a wife and daughter and quips like Mark Wahlberg. By the climax he is able to show a range of emotion, but it’s a long journey there.

No characters, in fact, are given much development. Gina Rodriguez is shown having her car’s engine give out on her in the opening scene and that is the only character trait referred to her throughout the duration of the film. There are even characters (I won’t say who to avoid spoilers) who we don’t find out have wives and kids until they’re reunited with them at the climax! Would that have made for some (albeit forced) emotional heft? Yup, but Berg is more concerned with having things go boom.

Which brings me to my main point and circles back to my opening line: Peter Berg has way too much in common with Michael Bay. Berg is a more competent filmmaker, don’t get me wrong, but there are so many gratuitous shots of the American flag in this film it would make Colin Kaepernick’d knee get sore. The first hour of this film is pretty much nothing but explaining how oil drilling works, even though the film (brilliantly and without pandering) conveys in the first five minutes; I guess Berg really wants you to understand how we get stuff from the ground to tubes. The first hour is also filled with shoving it in our faces how negligent and ignorant British Petroleum was. Honestly the first half of this film is really monotonous and (dare I say) boring; I guess this should’ve been called “Deepwater HoriZZZon,” right?!

The second half is better, but it’s overly chaotic and things are constantly spilling and exploding and it is hard to figure out who is who and what is truly going on. Symbolic and a fair representation of the real-life event? Sure. But this is a film, not a documentary, you can take some liberties to streamline your narrative and clear up your sequences.

This one pains me, it really does; I really wanted “Deepwater Horizon” to be good. And I am sick and tired of 2016 films almost all exclusively being, “mehh like it’s fine, I guess?” because we deserve better than “meh, alright,” especially when ticket prices continue to rise. But that’s an argument and complaint for another day. As far as *this* “meh” film goes, it features solid enough performances from actors playing one-dimensional characters and you feel some attachment to the story. But that is purely because this is a real-life tragedy in which 11 people died and corrupt BP officials got off way too easy, not because Berg or Wahlberg earn anything with their big budget booms.

Critics Rating: 4/10

Summit Entertainment

Summit Entertainment

‘The Jungle Book’ a Visually Stunning Tale

220px-The_Jungle_Book_(2016)Just when I thought we were past the point of visual effects being able to impress us…


“The Jungle Book” is a retelling of the age old tale of man-cub Mowgli (Neel Sethi) who must journey from the jungle he was raised to a human village in order to escape a tiger who wants him dead. Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idras Elba and a half dozen others head an all-star voice cast as Jon Favreau directs.


This movie looks amazing. The detail on every animal, from flowing fur to twitching ears, is just incredible. For most of the film I genuinely felt like I was watching a Discovery Channel documentary, and the fact this whole film (set in the Indian jungle) was filmed on a Los Angeles sound stage blows my mind. But can special effects really do enough to carry a film? I mean, apparently.


I’ll start off with the voice talent, because it really was perfect casting all across the board. Bill Murray’s Baloo provides some moments of comic relief and Scarlett Johansson has a fun and visually stunning scene as the hypnotizing snake, Kaa. The real star of the show, however, is Idras Elba’s tiger, Shere Khan. He is menacing and angry, and just his physical presence in a scene is enough for you to feel intimidated.


Neel Sethi (in his feature debut) does a solid enough job as Mowgli, but I guess I could just sum it up with “I mean, he’s a child actor.” What is to be commended is he did all of his acting alongside puppets, so the fact he is interacting with animals that aren’t really there is impressive.


If you’ve seen the original 1967 “Jungle Book” (or any other telling), you know there really isn’t a plot to this story. It is simply a tale of a boy needing to get from Point A to Point B, with random events and characters popping up along the way. At first it flows fine but by the third act the repetitive scene-scene-scene nature of the narrative begins to feel awkward.


There is also one song and dance that is jarring and feels out of place, and it was somewhat distracting. There are only two songs in the entire film (one being Bare Necessities, but that is just Baloo riffing), so when this grand Broadway-worthy musical number explodes onto the scene, you’re taken aback, especially considering the tone of the film moments before and after it are both relatively dark.


And that is one final thing I should note: while this is a PG kid’s film, it can be quite grim at time. Animals fight and while it isn’t blood and gore, they get scratched, tossed off cliffs and crushed by debris. Some children may be frightened and some parents shocked by all this, however it’s nothing you wouldn’t see in “Jurassic World.”


“The Jungle Book” looks incredible and features an amazing voice cast. The plot wears a little thin by the third act but by that point you will probably be too invested in this visually stunning world to care. Like I started this review with, I’m one of those people who thought visual effects couldn’t wow us anymore, that we had seen it all; “The Jungle Book” left me eating my words, and has set a new bar for CGI filmmaking.


Critics Rating: 7/10



‘Batman v Superman’ Is No Masterpiece but It’s Still Fun

batman2My childhood wasn’t ruined, so I guess in the grand scheme of things I can mark this down as a W.


“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” is the sequel to “Man of Steel” and the first time the titular heroes have shared a movie screen. Henry Cavill returns as Superman while Ben Affleck takes over the role of the Dark Knight. Jesse Eisenberg plays Lex Luther, Gal Gadot portrays Wonder Woman and Amy Adams returns as Lois Lane. Zach Snyder directs.


Like many people, I had mixed feelings about “Man of Steel.” It didn’t do much to separate itself from generic blockbuster territory, but there are nuggets of a great movie buried beneath all the rubble of its destruction porn of a finale. “Batman v Superman” picks up from where “Man of Steel” left off, and actually does a good job portraying how the world would react if suddenly an all-powerful being was among us. Some would see him as a god, others a threat; and it is this ideology that makes the first half of “BvS” so good. The rest of the film gets muddled for various reasons, but bottom line is this is a pretty good movie that just tried to do too much.


First things first, I am a Batman fanboy; he’s one of my childhood icons. I was on board with the Ben Affleck casting from Day 1, and ever since “Watchmen” (an alright film) I have said if Zach Snyder has one truly great movie in him it would be heading a Batman flick. And the Batman we are given is arguably the best we’ve ever seen; well let me rephrase, it has the potential to be.


Batman’s suit, car, Batwing and fighting style are all the best that they’ve ever been. The little 8-year-old inside of me was getting giddy seeing him run around punching the bad guys, even if this is a very brutal and “by any means necessary” Batman that mainstream audiences won’t be familiar with. Affleck’s Bruce Wayne is given little screen time but I loved what I saw, he plays that cocky-but-charming richboy perfectly, and I am excited to see him in future outings.


Another casting choice I defended since the get-go was Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luther, and again I really dug his performance. That being said, if you watched the trailer, hated what you saw and were nervous, then your fears are confirmed, he’s exactly what he looked like he would be. He is the behind-the-scenes puppet master who is a little neurotic and twitchy but I really enjoyed his take on the character.


Really everyone in the film gives a great performance. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and Jeremy Irons’ Alfred both are scene stealers, and Amy Adams will never turn in a bad performance, even if the film runs out of things for her to do and by the end she is running around simply to keep Amy Adams in the movie.


Which brings me to my complaints about “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice:” there is *a lot* going on. Each character has their own side story, and some are just more interesting than others while one is just entirely pointless (and in a 153 minute movie, every extra second counts). I get you have to set up the Justice League, but how it is done is so lazy and obvious, it really may as well have slapped a banner across the screen that said, “we interrupt ‘Batman v Superman’ to bring you this ‘Justice League’ trailer.”


Some of the dialogue is a bit awkward too, and I blame that on half the screenwriters. The script is credited to David S. Goyer (who co-wrote 2/3 of Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy and solo wrote “Man of Steel”) and Chris Terrio, who won an Oscar for “Argo.” Guess which one of these men I’m going to condemn? Goyer (and Nolan for that manner) has never been able to write jokes or make humans sound like their having an organic conversation, whereas Terrio’s “Argo” script is lively and has quick banter. For example, it is very obvious which of these two men wrote the joke, “I knew you were a friend of Superman’s; you’re wearing a cape.” [eyeroll]


My absolute biggest gripe with the film, however, is the final act. First things first, and I’ll avoid specifics in case you’ve avoided trailers, the final boss fight is simply an excuse by the filmmakers to get Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman to team up and throw down, and it is just a rinse and repeat of CGI “what the hell is happening” action that isn’t really that fun. Then when all that is over, the movie has not one, not two, not three, NOT FOUR but five faux endings; I’m not even exaggerating, this thing is Peter Jackson-level bad at how much it refuses to end. And all of it is for an outcome that we see coming, so it begs the question why waste our time and tack on 10 more minutes to the runtime (did I mention this thing is 153 minutes)?


Sadly, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” isn’t the masterpiece we were promised, nor is it as good as it could have been given the great mini-movies within it, but it is a step-up from “Man of Steel” and gives us a fantastic Batman (and we all are paying to see Batman, let’s be honest). The film delivers solid action (until the aforementioned finale), political and religious ponderings and an iconic fight between the two biggest comic book heroes of all-time. Worth the price of admission? Absolutely.


Critics Rating: 7/10



’10 Cloverfield Lane’ a Tense, Uneasy Thriller

10_Cloverfield_LaneMark this one down as a sequel that is leagues above the original.


“10 Cloverfield Lane” is a kinda, sorta, not-really-but-still sequel to 2008’s “Cloverfield,” a found footage movie that is still being debated among people today whether it is brilliant or awful. Instead of being a found footage monster movie, “10 Cloverfield Lane” follows a young woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who wakes up in an underground bunker with two men (John Goodman and John Gallagher, Jr) who claim the outside world has fallen victim to a nuclear attack. Dan Trachtenberg makes his directorial debut as J.J. Abrams produces.


The behind-the-scenes story of “10 Cloverfield Lane” is interesting. Abrams and his team have been discussing a “Cloverfield” sequel for the past eight years, and they actually filmed most all of this film under the working title “The Cellar.” It wasn’t until near the end of production that Abrams noticed a similar tone and feel to “Cloverfield,” so he slapped the title on the poster. This past January when the first trailer dropped, I made it through the entire thing thinking it was just an original hostage film, but when the title came on screen I, like most everyone, was floored and wondered how a film like this could have been kept a secret for so long; that’s brilliant marketing. But intriguing backstories don’t always lead to good films (see: “Fantastic Four”), so is “10 Cloverfield Lane” any good? Yeah. For the most part it’s pretty good.


John Goodman is universally loved and consistently is the best part of any film he is in. He stole the show in last year’s “Trumbo” (a film that included an Oscar nominated turn from Bryan Cranston) and was arguably the most fun of the Academy Award-winning “Argo.” It’s way, way too early to be talking about 2017 award season, but right now I would love to see Goodman get some recognition for his work here; he’s really that good. He plays a man who claims to have saved Winstead and Gallagher, Jr. from a nuclear apocalypse, but we don’t know if he is telling the truth; we know only what Winstead knows. Goodman’s emotions and tone change on a dime, going from angry to calm, from skeptical to embracing. I really don’t want to give too much away but he steals every scene, and when he is not on screen you are uneasy about his lack of presence.


Rookie director Trachtenberg strings together some incredibly intense sequences, including one very claustrophobic scene inside a vent that had me squirming in my seat. He knows how to frame a shot to get the most from his actor’s facial expressions and placement in a room. His future is bright.


The biggest problem I have with the film is its ending. The entire film keeps building tension and stretching the rubber band, and we wait for the inevitable snapping that never comes. We get some answers, but not enough for my liking. I really can’t voice exactly what in particular didn’t work for me involving the film’s climax without spoiling things, but it is one of those things that will be polarizing among audiences.


“10 Cloverfield Lane” is a solid example of how to build tension and craft a sense of uneasiness, and features some solid performances including amazing work from John Goodman. It couldn’t perfectly stick the landing, which is a shame, but I still enjoyed 90% of the film, and it’s an experience that’ll likely stick with me for a while.


Critics Rating: 7/10



‘Risen’ Another Example of the Book Being Better

Risen_2016_posterThere is a world of difference between potential and reality.


“Risen” tells the tale of a Roman solider (Joseph Fiennes) who is tasked with leading an investigation to find the body of Jesus (Cliff Curtis) after his crucifixion and alleged resurrection. Kevin Reynolds directs.


The premise of “Risen” had a decent amount going for it. No matter what your beliefs, you’ve heard the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the film not only decides to have the main character be a non-believer, but treats the instance like a detective story. But really that is all the film has: a promising premise. There are nuggets of a better movie and moments of true inspiration sprinkled throughout, but all too often “Risen” fails to get off the ground.


Joseph Fiennes plays Clavius, a Roman centurion who (obviously) does not believe Jesus (or Yeshua as he is referred to in the film) is the risen Messiah. Fiennes does an alright job here, although much of the first act is spent mumbling and the second simply staring. He does have a few very well-acted moments where he says more with his eyes than his words. Essentially Fiennes plays a more stoic version of George Clooney’s character from “Hail, Caesar!,” and if you haven’t seen that you should; ironically Fiennes’ brother Ralph is in that film.


Speaking of a small world, Tom Felton aka Draco Malfoy is also in this (good to see at least one of the Harry Potter kids getting work) and his character’s name is Lucius, the name of his father in the HP series. Coincidence? I mean, yeah, probably, but still. As far as his acting here goes he doesn’t have much to do but be Clavius’ lapdog but he’s fine in his role.


Like I said, the best thing the film has going for it is its original take on an age old story, but they abandon it all too soon. The investigation to find where the Disciples are hiding Jesus’ body is interesting enough, but it ends about halfway through the film, and we all know that the movie isn’t going to leave anything ambiguous; it sets out with a goal and it meets it. I won’t spoil whether the film has Jesus actually rise from the dead or if it was a hoax [eyeroll], but let’s just say the film pulled its punches and it would have been a lot more interesting if they had presented the audience with clues and let them decide for themselves.


Probably the film’s biggest detractor, however, was its depiction of the Disciples. Almost all of them are constantly giddy and foolish, and while I never met the gang and cant personally vouch for it, I am willing to bet they weren’t so excitable in real life. You can either chalk it up to overacting or bad direction (probably both).


“Risen” isn’t necessarily a *bad* film, but it was made for just $20 million and often it shows. There are a few scenes that may make certain people feel inspiration or a sense of uplift, and the attempt to make something different is to be mildly commended, but this isn’t rec league soccer; you don’t get a trophy just for trying.


Critics Rating: 4/10



‘Deadpool’ a Simple but Gleefully Vulgar Superhero Tale

Deadpool_posterMaybe studios should listen to fans more often.


“Deadpool” stars Ryan Reynolds as the titular superhero (well, antihero), who after being the subject of an experiment that gives him superhuman abilities, sets out on a path of revenge against the man who almost ruined his life (Ed Skrein).  Morena Baccarin, T. J. Miller, and Gina Carano also star as Tim Miller makes his directorial debut.


There has been a lot of talk about a Deadpool film for almost 10 years. After they horribly botched the character in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” Reynolds has been trying to do the fans justice and give us a proper depiction of the foul-mouthed mercenary. So after some positive feedback from leaked test footage, Fox finally greenlit the project. And what we ended up getting is everything anyone could have ever wanted in a Deadpool movie (gore, f-bombs, and crudeness), even if it is a basic origin story/revenge tale.


Reynolds was the reason this movie got made and he is without a doubt its best attribute. His dedication (or should I say, DEAD-ication!) to the role and the natural tongue-in-cheek attitude he usually brings to the screen make his Deadpool a highly entertaining and meta character, spewing off insulting one-liners even in the most dire of situations.


The script, written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (who wrote “Zombieland”), is very funny and constantly breaks the fourth wall (a Deadpool trademark), even going as far as referencing the actors who portray X-Men characters (it’s never fully stated whether this is in the exact same universe as the current X-Men films). The script also has a few genuinely sweet and touching moments, although it sometimes does rely too heavily on certain jokes (they really beat one involving the main villain’s name over the head, although it does produce one of the film’s biggest laughs).


I would say “Deadpool’s” biggest problem lies more its narrative than anything else. It likes to boast that it is “a different kind of superhero story,” but when you get right down to it, it is about a guy who gets powers and must set out after the man who did him wrong (so just like Batman, Spider-Man, the Punisher…). It throws in a few twists and turns, but the film is never as fun or clever as it thinks it’s being (it almost comes off as self-congratulatory, to be honest).


I liked, not loved “Deadpool,” which is a bit disheartening but I am just one man with one opinion. I know many people will not care that the film has a basic plotline, and if that’s you, great. I still had a smirk on my face for a majority of the film, and it lays down great groundwork for what should be a very good sequel (this is going to slaughter the box office, so “Deadpool 2” is all but a certainty). If you’re getting sick of all the Avengers films then this one should be a nice refreshing drink; if you just enjoy watching guys in red spandex punt people’s heads like footballs then all the better.


Critics Rating: 7/10



‘Hail, Caesar!’ a Fun Love Letter to Movies

Hail,_Caesar!_Teaser_posterThe only thing I love more than movies are movies about movies.


“Hail, Caesar!” follows the day in the life of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a 1950s Hollywood “fixer” who must deal with the issues created by the actors of his studio. George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, and Channing Tatum all co-star as Joel and Ethan Coen write and direct.


If you know anything about me, or simply have read my Twitter bio, then you know I am obsessed with two things: movies and 1950s Los Angeles. So perhaps I am a little biased when I say this movie is a whole lot of fun and a wonderful look into the magic of the film industry, even if the lack of any true plot or main characters may leave some (not me, but some) desiring more.


I have wanted to see this movie for over a year, and it was actually one of my top 10 most anticipated films of 2016. The cast is probably what draws the eyes of most people, with big names like Clooney and Tatum, and even Jonah Hill (more on that in a second). But I think this movie was made as a love letter to the Golden Age of Hollywood and movies in general, so those people like me who have a passion for film may get more out of this than a casual film-goer.


That’s not to say there is nothing in “Caesar” that non-Hollywood lovers can enjoy. Channing Tatum has a tap dancing musical number while dressed in a sailor’s outfit that slapped a big, goofy smile on my face. Ralph Fiennes and Alden Ehrenreich (the real show-stealer here) exchange in arguably the film’s most entertaining scene as director and under-qualified actor who can’t agree how a line should be said. And that actually may be where the film’s “flaws” start to show.


The film follows Brolin dealing with multiple problems with multiple actors (most of the film takes place in a single day), so really every name that is not his or Clooney’s on the poster is merely an extended cameo, and that may annoy some viewers. For me it was fine, we got to see the behind-the-scenes of several genres of films, and for the most part the constant moving around works. However when someone like Jonah Hill receives top billing and gets his name in the trailer, only to appear in one scene and deliver two lines, some audience members may feel a bit duped.


“Hail, Caesar!” really is one of those films that was made for fun, and simply to be had fun with. If you love movies, old time Los Angeles, or the making of film, then this is your ticket to a great time. It isn’t hysterical, and the mystery of who abducted Clooney that every trailer and commercial painted as the film’s main storyline actually isn’t all that intriguing, but I would be lying if I said this movie didn’t fill me with a sense of wonderment and nostalgia, and remind me why I fell in love with movies in the first place. If you don’t go in expecting a hilarious comedy with fully dedicated performances from every actor from the poster, I really think you’ll have a ball with this movie.


Critics Rating: 8/10



‘Finest Hours’ a Fine but Forgettable Rescue Film

finest hours 2Well if “Titanic” didn’t make me want to never work on a boat, this sure did.


“The Finest Hours” stars Chris Pine (I guess they should’ve called the movie “The *Pinest* Hours,” huh? [clears throat]) as Bernie Webber, who in 1952 set out on an improbable rescue mission to save the crew of an oil tanker that split in half in the middle of a storm. Based on a true story, the film also stars Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, and Eric Bana. Craig Gillespie directs.


This film has been the butt of a joke between me and my friend ever since the trailer dropped last July, due in large part to the amount of accents. It is set in Massachusetts, so pretty much everyone is doing their best Bah-ston accent, save for Eric Bana who is doing some sort of southern accent (I think?). All this prompted us to refer to the film, for the past seven months, as “Bad Accents: The Movie” (yes, we think we’re hilarious). Turns out our joke wasn’t completely unjustified, as the accents in “Finest Hours” can be a bit distracting if not inaudible at times. When you get passed the dialect, what is left is a serviceable, albeit forgettable as anything, rescue film.


Right off the bat, the two leads, Chris Pine and Casey Affleck, are as charming and likable as anything, and play pretty much the same character. Both men aren’t well respected among their respective crew and follow protocol despite thinking their idea is better, however when the crisis arises they’re the ones who take charge.


There are several very intense and well-directed scenes, as well as some true moments of awe. The shot that reveals the oil tanker having just broken in half actually made my jaw drop. And when Pine and his crew are trying to drive through waves the size of buildings in a boat designed to fit 12 people, you realize the sheer scope of their situation.


However it is the moments in between that really bog down the film. Pine’s fiancé (Holliday Grainger) is constantly running around trying to get him called back in, and all it really does is add to the running time and make her character nothing more than the worried wife (or, you know, fiancé). For example, she goes into the Coast Guard office and demands that Pine be called back in, and then proceeds to say “please call them back” ten times before finally leaving (not exaggerating).


Yes the storm is bad and his mission is likely all for naught, but to have her walk in and demand members of the Coast Guard not do their job is just unrealistic. Every character asks her, “are you going to get scared every time her goes out to sea?” and she never gives an answer, nor does the film, so all her nagging really is pointless.


A lot of the scenes on the oil tanker post-wreck are also a bit repetitive, as it is one of the crew members telling Affleck that his idea won’t work, only to have it work, but then lead to his methods still being questioned. That is rinsed and repeated two or three times.


“The Finest Hours” is a fine way to spend two hours (see what I did there?) but it is one of those films you appreciate more than you enjoy. There are some aspects and scenes in the film that did have me entertained or on the edge of my seat, but for every one of those there was one that had me leaning back just waiting for time to go by. If you like old-fashioned movies and just want bare-minimum thrills, then “The Finest Hours” should satisfy. All others may be left wanting more.


Critics Rating: 6/10



‘Dirty Grandpa’ a Middling Comedy

Dirty_Grandpa_teaser_posterTwo-time Academy Award winner Robert De Niro and two-time MTV Movie Award for Best Shirtless Performance winner Zac Efron together for a road trip. Literally the film every human has been clamoring for since Efron burst onto the scene in 2006.


“Dirty Grandpa” stars De Niro and Efron as a grandfather and grandson (I’ll let you figure out who’s in what role) who head to Daytona Beach for spring break to party despite De Niro’s wife having just passed and Efron getting married in a week. Dan Mazer directs.


Aside from “Silver Linings Playbook” Robert De Niro really hasn’t taken on any serious acting roles in the past decade and that does not change here. Meanwhile Zac Efron shattered his perceived clean Disney Kid image with 2014’s “Neighbors,” and he continues to show that he can entertain and is more than a pretty face (whether he will ever be taken seriously as an actor is a question for another day). So their odd couple pairing may seem like a strange selection but it is what you come for and why you stay in “Dirty Grandpa.”


Really how much you enjoy “Dirty Grandpa” is going to depend on if you come to a comedy simply to laugh and be entertained. If you only care about having a smile on your face and enjoying yourself then there’s probably enough in this movie to make it worth your while. There are a handful of laugh-out-loud moments including one that actually had me in tears and rolling around in my chair. So if you don’t care about plot and originality and all that then fly, be free. “Dirty Grandpa” will get the job done. If you like movies to have substance, then LOL, let’s talk about that.


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: uptight 20-something guy with a corporate job and a fiancé who clearly does not truly love him doesn’t realize what he’s doing wrong with his life until a free spirit friend forces him go out and party where he meets a cool girl who makes him rethink his life’s path (you should’ve stopped me at “uptight”). You know exactly where this movie is going, and it makes no attempts to throw any curveballs, so take that for what it’s worth.


In fact, think of this movie if it didn’t have 72-year-old De Niro as one of the two leads. Picture it was two 25-year-olds going to Daytona Beach and trying to get with girls. Would you care? No, because you’ve seen it before. And the movie makes sure you keep remembering that “it’s funny because De Niro is old!”


One of the film’s weakest aspects is De Niro’s motivation to get with a college girl who has an old man fetish (Aubrey Plaza). Most all of Plaza’s jokes are one-note and telegraphed and just don’t work, and in fact at time are cringe-worthy how flat they fall. I was more invested in Efron conflicted relationship with Zoey Deutch, and those are the moments of the film that feel most genuine.


Look, if Robert De Niro rapping the n-word and making 100 penis jokes is your thing, then “Dirty Grandpa” is your “Citizen Kane.” If you just want to have a breezy film with two charming leads then this should do the trick. But if you wanted a comedy gem to wash the bad taste out of your mouth left by “Daddy’s Home” or “Ride Along 2” then you’ll have to wait a little longer. So pick which one of those camps you are in and go see, or don’t see, “Dirty Grandpa.”


Critics Rating: 5/10

dirty grandpa