Lucky

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There is an anomaly that occurs just when it’s supposed to;  a perfect performance. Harry Dean Stanton, the star of John Carroll Lynch’s new gem, is no stranger to show business. He’s been acting since the dawn of time. Paris, Texas — which is widely regarded as Stanton’s finest work — was released less than a month after I was born.

He’s got the chops, but it isn’t just that. Lucky isn’t just a sublime film, but a showcase of what Stanton is all about. His manipulation of an audience to make them feel included in the picture is totally remarkable.

Lucky is the story of a grizzled and grey atheist living alone in his little desert town. He may be a bit long in the tooth, but Lucky (Harry Dean Stanton) is hardly “old”. He starts each day with lively music, a healthy regimen of calisthenics, and enough coffee to make even this java enthusiast wary.

He enjoys his whole milk, his crosswords, his game shows, and his pack-a-day smokes. Lucky lives a simple life that isn’t simple at all.

His quotidian ambling through the cacti takes him to a local diner, a convenience store, and a bar. Each visit is a window into his sometimes cantankerous demeanor; a peek behind the curtain.

Joe (Barry Shabaka Henley) and Loretta (Yvonne Huff) at his breakfast spot keep a close eye on him, admonishing his nicotine intake and even checking up on him at home. Bibi (Bertila Damas), the clerk at his mini-mart, invites him to her son’s birthday party. The crew at the neighborhood watering hole — Howard, Elaine, Paulie, and Vincent (David LynchBeth GrantJames Darren, and Hugo Armstrong, respectively) — see to his Bloody Mary needs and lend an ear to his intermittent venting. 

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While alone but not lonely — a meaningful distinction — behind Lucky’s eyes is the dread of things to come. An atheist, he doesn’t have the catchall heaven or hell plan. Where do we go and what’s going to happen; harrowing queries, as no one knows for sure. After taking a fall one morning, Lucky visits his doctor. Dr. Christian Kneedler (Ed Begley Jr.) marvels at his good health despite all of his bad habits and the 90 years he’s got under his belt.

So what’s it all mean? What’s the significance behind a film about an old dude frittering away his afternoons wandering the desert? The subtext of the picture is something so enormously, profoundly identifiable in all of us. It is the lingering fret over the point of it all. Everyone works through it differently, but it is a hinderance to a happy life at times and can even spawn nihilism.

Lucky is a staggeringly thoughtful glance at a life, the lives it touches, and the doubtful, ubiquitous unease living behind courageous eyes. John Carroll Lynch’s first feature film is a sublime and wistful directing feat. It’s sentimental, sincere nature gives way for light-heartedness and whimsy in all the right places.

The cast of familiar faces brings it home in their earnest and loving portrayals of these characters that can’t possibly be too far removed from the actors themselves. The dynamic is organic and intimate and the viewer begins to feel part of it all; the ultimate theater-going experience. We even get to see Stanton and Tom Skerritt sharing the screen again for the first time since Alien (1979). Superb cinematography puts a bow on this masterpiece and leaves the audience awe-struck.

I was “Lucky” enough to screen this picture at the Music Box Theatre here in Chicago as part of the Chicago Critics Film Festival. Writers Drago Sumonja and Logan Sparks as well as Director John Carroll Lynch were in attendance and even participated in a Q&A. Everyone has such warm regard for this film and especially for Stanton. Sparks has been Stanton’s assistant for 15 years and shared a bit of his experience, telling us how this character, Lucky, is essentially who Stanton is.

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Never have I so closely related to a character in a film. That’s a transcendent feeling to have and a rarity in movies. 

Lucky comes out this Fall and I implore you to see it. I will see it with you. It is lovable and wise and works expertly on every level from start to finish. It stays with you.

re·al·ism
ˈrē(ə)ˌlizəm/
noun
  1. the attitude or practice of accepting a situation as it is and being prepared to deal with it accordingly.

 

 

Free Fire

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Think of your favorite action sequence in a film. What comes to mind? For me personally, it’s pictures like True Grit, Die Hard, Smokin’ Aces, Django Unchained, Deadpool; these all have a common denominator — gun fights with precise choreography akin to that of a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance number.

This movie does not share that factor. Possessing a beauty all its own, Free Fire is about a bunch of dimwits, a handful of marksmen, too many guns, and a briefcase full of money; an 80-minute shootout stemming from an arms deal gone dreadfully, enormously cockeyed.

Free Fire has one of the most accurate taglines I’ve ever seen; All Guns. No Control. Let me give you a quick rundown on how this goes:

Stevo (Sam Riley) and Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) — a couple of Beantown reprobates — are en route to meet a pair of IRA affiliates. Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) — along with their saucy arbitrator, Justine (Brie Larson) — await the duo outside of a dilapidated warehouse to purchase some firearms.

Once everyone has arrived, Ord (Armie Hammer) — an agent in attendance on behalf of the guy who represents the goods — conducts a quick wire search and leads the group inside.

Waiting there is the unctuous dealer presenting the wares, Vernon (Sharlto Copley), as well as his confederates, Harry, Martin, and Gordon (Jack Reynor, Babou Ceesay, and Noah Taylor, respectively).

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Now that we’ve taken roll, let’s get down to the meat and potatoes.

While Martin counts up the clams in the case to make sure it’s all there, Vern plays show and tell only to find that he doesn’t have what Chris asked for. Discovering that he’s brought the wrong weapons, tensions flare. Meanwhile, Stevo — who’s rockin’ a shiner from a bar fight — recognizes one of Vern’s goons as the bloke who popped him. The decidedly shaky foundation on which this meeting once stood is swiftly obliterated and we’ve got first blood in the maelstrom.

Crawling around in a grabbag of glass, dirt, and probably asbestos, the group finds common ground in that everyone has the same goal: don’t get shot. Also, get the money.

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Enter players eleven and twelve. One of these dirty dogs brought in a couple of ringers who are hiding in the shadows with sniper rifles. Whom is the question, and any remaining trust is out the window.

When the peal of a telephone comes out of nowhere, the race is on to call in reinforcements, but who’ll reach it first?

Free Fire seems implausible in concept alone. The premise could easily get sticky after awhile. Fortunately, Writer/Director/Editor Ben Wheatley and Writer/Editor Amy Jump — the minds behind High-Rise and Sightseers — found a brilliant workaround. They curated a formula that keeps things fresh and always moving forward at a pace that the audience can get excited about again and again.

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This movie works on so many levels. The cast is superb; not a weak link in the bunch. Wheatley and Jump have accomplished something sublime in the brutality to satire equation. In the same vein as a horror movie that is also a comedy, there’s a balancing act that — if not executed perfectly — can leave the audience feeling jilted. The same principle applies here in that, if not done properly, the gore can overpower the relief and the viewer might abandon ship.

Free Fire accomplishes this feat effortlessly. The script — some of it seeming and probably being improvised — is biting and clever. A dry delivery to many of the film’s impeccably placed jokes elicits delicious solace when we need it most. As a sweet little cherry on top, Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury have concocted a score that fits like a glove. Undulating between a sexy spy movie vibe and an anxiety-riddled, toe-tapping sound, this unique brew brings it all home.

Free Fire offers the pleasure received from pain. It categorically owns the one thing that all movies covet: watchability. If you’re looking for an unquestionably satisfying theater-going experience, this is the film to see. One of the best of the year so far and one of the funniest I’ve seen in ages. “Watch and Vern.”

Logan

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I’d like to preface this by saying that before Logan, I’d never seen an X-Men movie. I did the very same thing with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Although, even with Mr. Potter, I’d seen at least one of the previous films.

I get the gist and I just don’t much care for it. Superhero movies — while fun and colorful and loud — are just not my bag. I’m thrilled about Thor: Ragnarok later this year, but only because Taika Waititi is directing.

I have many friends who are totally Marvel bonkers; tattoos, a rich, vast knowledge of that universe and its inhabitants, and an inability to coherently grasp that someone doesn’t know who Professor X is.

Beastly sorry to disappoint, but that’s not me.

That said — I really enjoyed Logan! Let me give you the rundown of what it looks like through the eyes of uncultured swine.

The movie is about a washed up has been named Logan (Hugh Jackman) who can really take a punch and drinks way too much to be an Uber driver. He splits his time between running away from his problems and caring for his sickly father, Charles (Patrick Stewart).

He’s got some sort of brother-creature who can’t go out in the sun named Caliban (Stephen Merchant) who — to be quite honest — bears the brunt of the troubling state of affairs regarding Charles.

These folks are all mutants, the lot of ’em. Charles has these wicked seizures that slow down time and space and his brain is considered a WMD, Logan has knuckle knives and can self heal, and Caliban can sniff the air and tell you what the guy at the gas station down the street had for lunch. Seems like he got the short end of the stick on that one.

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What Logan doesn’t know is that he has a daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen) who tracks him down, bringing a whole bunch of trouble hot on her trail. Some bad men arrive one day, the Big Boss being Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). You can tell he’s a bad guy because he has this cool metallic hand like the Terminator and a gold tooth.

It doesn’t take long to realize that Laura is Logan’s daughter because not only does she have knuckles knives, she’s got ’em in her feet, too. It’s pretty cool. In order to protect his father and daughter, Logan piles everybody into the car, slugs some Crown Royal, and hightails it outta there.

For awhile after that, the movie is like a nice, family road trip. They stop at a casino, get a neat hotel room, Charles almost kills everyone with a seizure — basically a holiday. Unfortunately, this Pierce guy and his trained goons are pretty relentless and instead of enjoying one another’s company, they’ve got eyes on the road behind them.

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Journeying to a place where Laura will be safe and get to see all of her old friends proves to be one of the most treacherous adventures Logan’s ever been on and may spell the end of his life as well as his father’s and — worse yet — Laura’s.

Had I gone into the theater unaware that this was an X-Men movie, it might’ve taken me a moment to figure that out. I mean, I got it pretty quickly, but the whole thing doesn’t scream Marvel. I feel that was a plus, personally. It’s the struggle a man faces in recognizing his own flaws and doing what it takes to overcome — or not.

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That’s so relatable! That’s the key to this film being so good. The guy is a hardened mutant, but he’s forced to tap into the human part of himself for the sake of his loved ones.

It’s slow going in the beginning, but once it gets rolling — literally — it’s a real rollercoaster. More than an X-Man movie, this is just a great story told pretty well. Stephen Merchant, while not claiming a ton of screen time, was the crowning jewel of this picture. Unrecognizable outside of his usual oddball tendancies, Merchant brought to life a character I know nothing about — and I still know very little about. But he was great!

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That Dafne Keen is a little treasure, too. She’s just as cute as a button, but she’ll rip your throat out if you say so. I appreciated that they got James Mangold — a director who doesn’t have a ton of this source material under his belt — to work this movie. And one of the writers, Michael Green, wrote a bunch of episodes of Everwood. Remember Everwood?

As always, I must mention the score. Marco Beltrami has composed for the entire Scream franchise, two shark movies — The Shallows and Soul Surfer, the reboot of The Thing, a Die Hard, and a smattering of sci-fi flicks. Not to mention several Marvel films. That said, it is abundantly clear why he stuck the landing so hard on this score.

This is a wonderful film and I’m sure there are Marvel fanatics who either ugly cried through the last half or griped for a week and a half after about everything they could have done better “because in the comics they…” blah blah blah.

Me? I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy with knuckle knives, asking him not to take all of the green stuff at once.

I don’t have to tell you to go see this movie. You either have already — 6 or 7 times — or you’re not interested. Well, I wasn’t interested either and I had a swell time. It’s a good one to see on the big screen. Just bring tissues. Oh, and beware the light.

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The Discovery

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Putting my own mortality to the test as an accident prone child, I’ve become acutely aware of it as I’ve gotten older. The everlasting debate of what happens to us after we pass from this life to the next is one that will likely never be factually, soundly proven. It’s just kinda a wait-n-see.

But what if we found out today? What if we were able to pinpoint the exact chain of events that occurs when we close our eyes for the last time? If it were scary, would scientists get off their duffs and finally curate an anti-death potion? What if it were Xanadu; all of your childhood dogs would be there and you could go wherever you wanted and be blissfully, effortlessly happy — would the fear fade into anticipation? Maybe even impatience?

The Discovery explores that very idea. Neurologist, Will (Jason Segel), is going home to see his brother, Toby (Jesse Plemons), and their father, Thomas (Robert Redford). He’s been away for some time and is not only unsure of what to expect, but anxious at what he’ll find when he arrives.

On a ferry to an island where his family now lives in light of recent events, he strikes up a lively debate with the only other passenger on board, Isla (Rooney Mara). She’s bleach blonde, spicy, and unfiltered. The two have a peppery debate about The Discovery; a recent, scientifically backed report of a confirmed afterlife. Going ashore, Isla bids Will a rather salty goodbye just as Toby arrives to collect him.

Tensions runneth over while Will begs his lead-footed and seemingly maladroit sibling not to runneth over any civilians.

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Pulling up to what looks like a once opulent and prestigious home — now a kind of halfway house for folks affected by the astronomical influx of suicides following The Discovery — Will reunites with his father, Dr. Thomas Harber.

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Dr. Harber, the great scientist behind The Discovery, is found hooked up to his own machine; always pushing forward with this devastatingly controversial idea of his. He and Will have a fraught relationship over his work, and Will has returned to beg him to stop.

Running into Isla again, it becomes clear that she needs help and she’s invited to live in the mansion. Together, the two begin working with Toby and Dr. Harber to literally project what a deceased person sees onto a screen. Through his desire to get his father to abandon this mission, Will becomes fascinated with the findings and an obsession ignites within him.

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Still angry with his father for things that happened years ago, Will may conceivably begin to understand his father’s work even though it’s been plagued by the tragedy of so many lives lost to “get there”.

The premise of The Discovery is an interesting one. Our great debate of the afterlife has spanned human existence. With eventual death being an inevitable consequence of life, certainly we query what the grand payoff of living will be — or, perhaps even more salient — if there will be one at all.

The Discovery professes a weighty conviction that life — even one that is happy — would not be equal to the euphoria that may be found when it’s over. Given our current circumstances, I shudder to imagine what might happen were this to become reality. Sure, some of you may be saying, “It’s a movie. This ain’t real life, bby.”

And I know that, but as someone who used to lie in bed at 8-years-old, blood running cold at the thought of ultimate non-existence, it’s something I’ve given plenty of thought to. Do I hope that when I die there’ll be a house made of cheese with puppies also made of cheese waiting for me? Of course I do. Am I’m probably just gonna be chillin’ in the ground? Yeah.

All I’m saying is, it’s something to think about.

But I digress…

The Discovery is a well-written film thats postulation crumbles a bit toward the end leaving the audience bewildered. Writer and Director Charlie McDowell presents the premise in a thought-provoking albeit melancholy package without sapping the energy of the picture. Mara and Redford need to work together more often. The two share a firey compatibility on screen.

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I was lucky enough to participate in a Q&A after the film featuring Chicago native writer/director/actor/Jack of all trades Joe Swanberg as moderator as well as Discovery writer/director Charlie McDowell and star Jason Segel.

Segel spoke candidly about his previous works and reflected on doing Freaks and Geeks as well as that scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Like so many actors who are typecast from a younger body of work, Segel exercised and showcased his range in The Discovery.

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Normally if I don’t like a film, I’ll tell you to wait until it hits Netflix. I enjoyed this movie and I’m happy to say that you can watch it on Netflix right now if you want to! In fact, go do that. Oh, and fun fact, my friend over at http://www.theblondeinfront.com, brilliantly asked Mr. McDowell about putting his mother, Mary Steenburgen in the film as she’d never been in one of his pictures before. She was so delighted that she cried when she got the call from Charlie’s people.

After the Q&A, The Blonde In Front and I were trying to snag some selfies with the guys, but their handlers wouldn’t let us close enough. Standing by the concessions, the three came right up behind us to chat amongst each other. We handled it like adults.

and even got to get a photo with the Director himself!

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The Discovery is on Netflix currently! Go watch!

The Belko Experiment

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One thing that I have noticed as I’ve gotten older is that I’m acutely aware of my own mortality. I exercise because 1) if I don’t watch my figure, nobody else will and 2) if the zombie apocalypse happens, I’m ready. I also have crippling, plan cancelling anxiety. That anxiety — I’m realizing — isn’t the weakness I once viewed it as, but my greatest attribute. If shit hits the fan, I’ve been prepared for it all along. That impending sense of eventual, inevitable doom has got me on ‘ready’ all day, everyday.

I work in an office that houses roughly 200 employees at any given time. If they made an announcement that we had to start killing each other in order to stay alive, my first thought would probably just be, “That figures.”

Belko, a non-profit organization located in provincial Bogota, Colombia, is an office building like any other. Kind of. Upon onboarding, each new employee has a chip implanted at the base of their skull in case they are kidnapped. The point and purpose of the outfit is ambiguously described at best.

Some of the staffers include Mike (John Gallagher Jr.), his girlfriend, Leandra (Adria Arjona), new girl Dany (Melonie Diaz), office perv, Wendell (John C. McGinley), stoner extraordinaire, Marty (Sean Gunn), maintenance wizard, Bud (Michael Rooker), the one and only security guard at Belko, Evan (James Earl), and the boss man himself, Barry Norris (Tony Goldwyn).

A work day starting like any other — office banter and lots of coffee — swiftly takes a different shape when an announcement is made by a mystery voice over the PA that three people must die, or the mystery voice and its collective company will kill six of them.

Here’s where you suss out what kind of people you really work with. There are those who think it’s a joke or make a joke out of it, the people who begin to think pragmatically if it isn’t a joke, and the messes who fall to peices.

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As the building seals up around them, making escape impossible, Barry takes on the alpha role. Calm and collected at first, his patience runs thin in the maelstrom and he begins barking orders. With a climbing body count at the hands of the Mystery Company behind the voice, he makes a decision no one is comfortable with and the killing spree is well under way.

Their demands becoming greater by the hour, the Mystery Voice makes good on each of their promises. Mike, being the most level-headed person in the building, starts to butt heads with Barry when his executive decisions teeter on brash and possibly unnecessary. Mike’s primary concern is Leandra’s continued safety, but even she knows that when it comes down to brass tacks, everyone’s looking out for themselves.

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So many questions: who is doing this? Why? Does the will to survive skew your moral compass and give you the power to kill the nice guy who says hi to you every morning at the printer? Just blow his brains out? When does the scale shift in the other direction?

This movie has been called The Purge: Office Edition. That isn’t terribly accurate given the fact that people will die whether anyone in the building pulls the trigger or not. What would you do? Gamble that they’re bluffing? Or decapitate Karen from accounting without so much as a second thought?

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As your neighborhood score junkie, I’ve gotta give it up for Tyler Bates. He’s responsible for scoring about a million things — Dawn of the Dead, 300, and The Sacrament being some of my favorites — and expertly crafted something nervewracking for Belko.

The concept for the film is good enough. The execution — PUN — is fine. It’s the ending that spoiled it for me. I’m not one to give these things away unsolicited. It is often difficult to put a bow on something like this and not have it look like my 8-year-old nephew wrapped it up with his eyes closed. Horror and thriller films usually either stick the landing or totally unravel at the end.

While it’s tough to say just exactly why I didn’t like it based on the content of the ending I will tell you that it fell apart like bad meatloaf; too many breadcrumbs, not enough egg, and the onions weren’t diced small enough. It’s worth a look because it does have a fun cast of players, but it’s totally fine to wait for it to hit Netflix.

Kong: Skull Island

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Think of the classic telling and retelling of King Kong; a team on an expedition to the last uncharted spot on the map winds up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then a blonde screams and gets taken prisoner by the ape.

In this age of the heroine, we needed a Kong film fit for a queen. Like most of the remakes/reboots, Kong: Skull Island has our blonde, but she’s a dirty blonde! Strides! Also, there’s ANOTHER WOMAN in the film. And she’s a Chinese scientist! Literally everyone else is a man.

Baby steps, I ‘spose.

After Government Agent, Bill Randa (John Goodman), receives the go-ahead and the funding to journey to the ominous yet aptly named, Skull Island — cause it looks like a skull — he enlists former British Special Air Service Captain, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), as well as the Sky Devils — a helicopter outfit led by Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). Randa quickly gets the mission underway before anyone can change their minds.

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Along for the ride is peacemonger and photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) who is wary of the operation and suspects that Randa may have ulterior motives. Why would Randa need a super-savvy guy like Conrad just to see an island and investigate whether the ground is hollow or not?

Much like entering the ocean and then being surprised that you got bitten by a shark, treading on Kong’s turf proves quickly to be a big mistake. With good reason — i.e. helicopters dropping bombs all over the island — the titular primate swats the choppers out of the sky like mosquitoes.

The survivors — being split up after getting batted to the jungle floor — are now mostly in mutual agreement that they need to find the others and get to the pick up point in time to GTFO. Only now Lt. Col. Preston Packard has a personal and largely maniacal vendetta to settle with Kong for the loss of his men.

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Somewhere on the other side of the island, Conrad, Weaver, and a smattering of folks who probably just haven’t been killed by any number of the island’s monstrous inhabitants yet, stumble upon something remarkable; Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), an American pilot who crashed on the island in 1944, and is now living amongst the Iwi locals. Marlow gives the group the low down on Island politics, revealing that Kong isn’t the one they need to be worried about.

Skullcrawlers — as he’s named them — are the true beasts on the island, and Kong manages to protect his home and its native people/critters from them, earning him the King title. He works for it, and I, for one, am proud of him.

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Marlow, like the rest of the group, just wants to make it home in one piece. The poor guy just wants to head home to Chicago and catch a Cubs game with a hotdog and a beer. Packard, however, has a debt to settle, and his abusive power trip may just spell the end of their beautiful lives.

It is around this time that Mason works out some facts and figures and discovers that she was right and her worst fears are confirmed. One thing though; being right means literally nothing if you are dead.

For as much as I didn’t give this movie a second thought before its release, I sure did enjoy it. It’s a departure from the previous films, painting Kong as a hero, not a villain. I wish he had a Megalodon sidekick. How incredible would that be? They just meet up every so often and give each other a nod. So neat.

This movie is an unexpected treat. Much like the others, we get a glimpse of the real Kong; he’s a pretty chill guy as long as you’re not throwing explosives at his face. Historically, this franchise imparts a message topical at literally every stage of our existence which is that men think they either own or can just take whatever they please.

So you found this creature who was minding his own business, just eating stuff and scratching himself — essentially YOU on the weekends — and you take it upon yourselves to remove him from his home so you can show your idiot friends. That, or you determine you have no choice but to kill him.

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Skull Island is gratifying in many ways. It’s always fun to see what lives on the island with Kong, and this one delivers creepy crawlies and then some. Visually, the film exceeds expectations; cinematography in a film so reliant on effects can be spotty at best, but they really nailed it.

Also, there is no damsel in distress. The blonde dame gets roughed up just like everybody else but she handles herself and stands on her own two. We even get a nod to the previous installments in which we see the softer side of Kong in regard to Mason.

As your resident score junkie, I’m pleased to report that Henry Jackman composed music fit for a King… Kong. (please send help)

All in all, it’s an enjoyable film. Fun, exciting, and John C. is laugh we all need throughout. I imagine he improvised 90% of his lines in this film, and the other actors deserve accolades just for holding character in scenes with him. The best part of the experience was hearing my mom gush about how “hot” Tom Hiddleston is. I know, mom. I know.

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Pro tip: stick around after the credits.

Personal Shopper

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When it comes to the paranormal, I’m a big believer. I’ve had my own visits from anomalies/spirits/ghosts. It’s a strange thing; the idea that when someone dies and they have unfinished business or are not at peace, they lurk until they are able to carry on to where ever they’re headed.

I’ve always thought maybe that’s why we say Rest In Peace; if you don’t, their soul may be trapped here and might just haunt you. I selfishly didn’t say it after Prince passed because I not-so-secretly want His Royal Badness to haunt me.

While no one truly knows where we go from here, there are theories upon theories. Apophenia is the word for what our brains do when we connect random events that have essentially nothing to do with one another to create a phenomena that may or may not exist. I could be in my bedroom; the lights flicker and a moment later I hear a noise in the kitchen. Due to my raging apophenia, I’d automatically assume it was a poltergeist and I was not long for this world.

In reality, it’s just windy outside and the electricity is fighting the good fight while the cat is being a spaz and knocked something off of a counter.

When one is actively seeking a sign from a deceased loved one, apophenia goes on high alert. But is that all it is?

Personal Shopper is about a young woman named Maureen (Kristen Stewart) who is — duh — a personal shopper who also happens to be a bit of a clairvoyant. Working for high-profile celebrity/huge pain in the arse Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten), Maureen travels the streets as a civilian, collecting treasures — beautiful dresses, sparkly baubles, shoes that cost more than everything I own — so that her “boss” doesn’t have to.

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In the meantime, she is also desperately seeking a wave from beyond the grave from her deceased twin, Lewis, so that she knows he’s at peace. Being a medium, she’s sensitive to the energy that comes from forces unseen by the naked eye. After a run-in with what appears to be a benevolent force, Maureen begins receiving text messages from an unknown number whose operator won’t identify him/herself.

After an epic texting blur of blue and green text bubbles and the dreaded three dots from hell, Maureen is left with no clues as to who or what may be blowing up her phone. Unwilling to leave Paris until she hears from her brother, she begins to spiral downward and it isn’t until she stumbles upon a traumatic sight that she’s finally sent running. The last straw, if you will.

This movie has a real David Lynch vibe. It’s like if David Lynch and Sam Raimi loved each other very, very much and had a baby. There are shots of things that you’re unsure of in terms of importance and meaning, lots of sudden loud noises, and ghosts. It gives the viewer a profound sense of unease.

Certainly a departure for Kristen Stewart, Personal Shopper will lend credence to her range while she continues to shake off Twilight for the rest of her career. She’s delved aggressively into roles that she wants while ignoring rather scathing criticisms better than I ever could. Bully for you, Kristen! You do you, girl.

If you have the chance, catch this movie. Its eloquent simplicity and mostly handheld camera work give it a gritty, super indie feel. Director Olivier Assayas has done exclusively films that I’ve never heard of, which makes me feel like uncultured swine. No wonder the French hate us. I’ll look further down the rabbit hole that is Olivier Assayas, and you can check out Personal Shopper in the meantime. Let’s all be a little more French!

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(That’s Italian. I’ll show myself out.)

Beauty and the Beast

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When I was roughly 8 years old, my mom, sister, and I sat down and watched the 1991 animated classic, Beauty and the Beast. I cried at the end, and my mom made fun of me. But this isn’t therapy. This is a review for a movie that made me want to call my therapist.

Growing up, the idea of a young lady being swept off of her dainty feet by a hairy, clawed monster was the epitome of romance. As a jaded, disenchanted adult, it’s creepy. Don’t get me wrong, I date primarily Italian guys, so I’m into a hairy chest, but if you’ve got a fur coat and horns, I’m out. I don’t care how many books you own.

I think the notion of bringing our favorite Disney classics back to the big screen with real people and heaps of CGI is excellent in theory, but having seen it, there’s something unnerving about the finished product. My 8-year-old brain could process that the cartoon was just that — a cartoon. Not real. My grown up brain needed an adult at the sight of a flesh and blood woman not leaving enough room for the holy spirit while she danced with an animal.

Everyone knows the story; a guy living in a castle surrounded by beautiful women and luxury is asked to provide shelter for the night to an elderly woman offering him a rose in return for his hospitality. Sadly, for her, this guy is the French Justin Bieber and he turns her away. Sadly, for him, she’s actually an enchantress who puts a spell on him, turning him into a fanged, unsightly creature. He must find true love before the last petal drops from the cursed rose or he will remain a beast forever.

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Belle (Emma Watson) is a farm girl living in a small provincial town with her father. In the animated classic, her father Maurice (Kevin Kline) is an eccentric inventor who the town assumes is completely off his rocker. In this new take, Maurice is definitely more grounded. Belle still has her head in the clouds and her nose in a book, but she’s also got sensible boots and she is the inventor.

Belle spends 90% of her time fighting off the town’s tall, dark, handsome brute, Gaston’s (Luke Evans) advances while Gaston spends 90% of his time fighting off his sidekick LeFou’s (Josh Gad) advances. Truly, a tale as old as time. Everybody’s in the friendzone.

The 2017 rendition sticks pretty closely to the original; Belle’s father and his horse, Phillipe, get lost in the woods and happen upon Beast’s (Dan Stevens) castle. Branding him a thief, Beast imprisons Maurice. Phillipe — who is a real gentleman in this movie — goes to tell Belle that Timmy’s in the well something is amiss.

Upon discovering her father’s imprisonment, Belle takes his place. And so begins a love story that you can’t think too hard about for fear of a wicked case of the heebie-jeebies. All of our old favorites are there; Lumière (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Sir Ian McKellan), Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), Chip (Nathan Mack), Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald), Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci), and Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) — all of them once in human form, now trapped under the spell as well.

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Belle is the key to releasing everyone in the castle from their imprisoned forms, but she has no idea. She doesn’t know that underneath his gruff, growly exterior, Beast is actually a smokin’ hottie. She doesn’t know. That means, as she’s falling in love with him, she is falling in love with his current form.

Look.

I’m all for true love and not judging a book by its cover, but this is pushing it. There’s a lot to like about Belle; she’s a strong, intelligent, don’t-take-no-guff-from-nobody kinda woman. Does her endeavor pay off? Sure! Beast turns out to be this handsome guy. Is it still really off-putting? Yep!

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I want to be on board for these live action Disney films. I rocked an unhealthy obsession with The Little Mermaid when I was a kid, but now, I’m going to be a nervous wreck when the live action version comes out.

A few things worth mentioning:

  • Kevin Kline was an absolute delight
  • Josh Gad reminds me so much of Jack Black that I kept forgetting who it was
  • Emma Watson MAY have a beautiful singing voice, but I couldn’t hear it over the gratuitous autotune
  • The Be Our Guest number was like an unsolicited acid trip
  • I adore Alan Menken — and this is damn near sacrilege — but I did not care for the new songs
  • The movie was formatted for IMAX, which usually indicates a clean, sharp image, but all of the sweeping shots of the castle, the famous dance, etc. were so blurry that you couldn’t discern anything in the scene until the camera slowed down
  • They blew it on the yellow dress

Needless to say, I didn’t love it. I will tell you that the grown man I waited for the bus with after the screening was over the moon about it and can’t wait for the one about “the red-haired lady, the little yellow dude, and the purple gal.”

What I can say for this film is, they tried. There were cute, funny parts. An effort was made and you can tell they put their hearts into it, but this grizzled, old harpy was not impressed. Have I taken your favorite childhood film and thoroughly spoiled it? Not to worry. Live action Little Mermaid is just over the horizon, so my time is coming. Now, off to the leather couch! We got a lot to talk about this week.