After my two weeks of winter break, I've seen quite a few good movies. This time of year is full of them with awards season nearing. The rest of the year is blah in comparison. I'm finding I'm going less and less than I used to because there isn't all that much I'm interested in seeing, with December being the exception. Even so, there were still a fair amount to review this year. As 2015 ends and 2016 begins, here's my two-cents worth...
Selma - Even though Selma was part of last year's award season, it wasn't actually released to the public until January. It tells the story of Martin Luther King Jr.'s struggle to secure voting rights for all people in the mid 60s. Even after the 1964 Civil Rights Act desegregated the South, voter registration remained difficult for African-Americans due to discrimination. Based in Alabama, Dr. King led protests, including the march from Selma to Montgomery. His (and his followers) efforts led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This film is very powerful and brought me to tears. It's hard to believe that not too long ago it was viewed as "ok" to treat another human being so poorly.
Taken 3 - I'm not usually a fan of sequels and threequels, but I will admit that I've seen all the Taken movies, and I like them very much. Liam Neeson and the rest of the main cast of characters continued their role in 3. Having a different premise - Neeson's ex-wife is murdered and he is the main suspect - the threequel was able to tell a different story than another kidnapping. Taken isn't earning any awards, but it's an entertaining series.
Kingsman: The Secret Service - Colin Firth, Mark Strong, and Samuel Jackson star in this secret-spy film. The Kingsman are an English spy organization who are tasked with stopping Jackson's character's diabolical plan. A little bit Bond, only sillier - if that's possible.
McFarland, USA - I enjoyed this typical feel-good, based-on-a-true-story film about a down-and-out high school coach who forms a bumbling cross country running team in McFarland, California.
Danny Collins - Al Pacino stars as an aging rock star who has neglected his family for many years. At his birthday party, he receives a long lost letter that was written to him 40 years earlier by John Lennon. The letter contains some sage advice, which sets Danny Collins on a journey to reconnect with family and change his rock star ways. The story is based on the real life lost letter that John Lennon and Yoko Ono sent folk singer Steve Tilston. It was a nice story, although a bit predictable.
Run All Night - Another Liam Neeson film (he's been a busy guy the last couple of years), this time he stars as a mob hitman whose estranged son is being targeted by the very mob who he works for. Father spends the rest of the film trying to protect son (and his family). A typical action film with a lot of twists and turns. Again, the film isn't award material, but it was entertaining and suspenseful.
The Gunman - Sean Penn, who we haven't seen in awhile, stars as an ex-assassin who begins humanitarian work in Africa to make up for his past. When there is an attempt on his life as well as some of his colleagues, he begins investigating his former employer - a contract security firm. The reviews were pretty dismal for this film, but with my partiality to secret-spy type movies, I found it entertaining.
Woman in Gold - Helen Mirren stars as an Austrian woman (Maria Altmann) who escaped Vienna as a young woman. Her family was well-off, but when the Nazis invaded they were robbed of all their possessions, including Gustave Klimt's "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I", which was of Maria's much-loved aunt. After escaping, Maria spent the remainder of her life in Los Angeles. In 2000, Maria took advantage of some new laws in Austria which dealt with artwork looted by the Nazis. She brought her own case against Austria, hoping to reclaim her family's Klimt paintings. After a long drawn out process, the paintings were returned to her family. The reviews for this film were not very good, but I liked it. It's certainly hard to put 70 years of history in a two hour film, but I thought the filmmakers did a good job managing flashbacks and current day.
The Water Diviner - After losing three sons in the Battle of Gallipoli, an Australian man (Russell Crowe) returns to Turkey after his wife dies of a broken heart. He plans on finding his sons and bringing their remains home to be buried near their mother. I like Russell Crowe as an actor so try to see most of his films. This one was nice, nothing too remarkable, but decent.
Aloha - Meh, this movie was disappointing. Cameron Crowe films are iconic. I could watch Say Anything, Singles, Fast Times over and over and still enjoy their quick and dry humor. Aloha was nothing like these others. I found it slow, with all the clever parts being part of the movie trailer.
Spy - Hysterical! Megan McCarthy plays a CIA analyst who has to go undercover to track down the killer of her agent, who she is also in love with. I saw it twice and laughed out loud both times.
Magic Mike XXL - I'm kind of embarrassed to admit I paid my hard-earned money to go see this movie. Some girlfriends and I went to the first one when it came out a few years ago, so as tradition we took this one in as well. Funnily enough, we were the only ones in the theater and it was so silly we talked through most of it. It's only redeeming quality was this clip.
Trainwreck - Comedian Amy Schumer's take on a romantic comedy about a woman with fears of commitment. As the tagline says, this is not your mother's romantic comedy. I wouldn't dare see this with my mother, but it was fun and funny and raunchy.
Southpaw - Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a champion boxer, who loses everything. He pairs up with a tough boxing trainer to help reclaim his life. A Rocky remake if you will. Entertaining.
The Man From UNCLE - I LOVED this movie which is based on the television series of the same name. CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin join forces to stop a nuclear weapons crisis. Guy Ritchie cowrote this film so the characters all have quick and witty dialogue. It is full of action, and I laughed through the entire film.
Sicario - Emily Blunt stars as a fast-rising FBI agent who is assigned to a special government task force created to help with the "war on drugs". Their tactics are not necessarily by the book, which is a concern for Blunt's character, especially after she realizes the task force's leader (Benicio del Toro) is a former sicario, or hitman, for the Columbian drug cartel. The movie is VERY good and VERY intense.
Black Mass - My previous review.
A Walk in the Woods - My previous review.
The Intern - My previous review
Bridge of Spies - My previous review.
Spectre - I've enjoyed the James Bond films with Daniel Craig as Bond. This is the fourth, and possibly last, with Craig. Spectre brings back many of the past villains from the previous three films, tying them together with a blast from James Bond's past. It is over the top but fun, like usual. And while watching it, I chuckled about the jumps from one setting to another. One minute he's sunk his bazillion dollar car in the Tiber river while wearing a custom suit, and the next minute he's riding a snowmobile in the alps dressed in a snowsuit.
Spotlight - In my opinion, this is the best film of 2015. Spotlight tells the story of the Boston Globe's 2002 investigation into the Catholic Church's cover up of priests accused of molestation. Everyone is aware of the scandal, so that itself was handled very quietly, respectfully by the film. Instead it highlighted the actual investigation which was fascinating. There were so many factors in the cover up, Boston's Catholic community who couldn't imagine it happening being one of those factors. What they thought the scope of the cover up was when they started the investigation and how that scope exploded in a matter of months was also brilliantly handled. There were a lot of factors that led to the stories that ran in The Globe that I had not been aware of, and that was very interesting. One of the lawyers for the victims, played by Stanley Tucci, had a very poignant line at the end of the film, "If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them. That's the truth of it." And that was really the core of the film. I think it should do well during awards season.
Secret in Their Eyes - Julia Roberts and Chiwetel Ejiofor star in this murder mystery as FBI agents. The daughter of Robert's character is brutally murdered 13 years before, and the suspect in the case is not charged with the crime due to insufficient evidence. Thirteen years later, there are some new leads in the case which ends in some surprising developments. The preview of this film did absolutely nothing to interest me in seeing it. However, I was invited to do so and am glad I went. It was quite good, with a lot of twists and turns.
The Big Short - I would highly recommend this film, but if you see it pay VERY close attention and be prepared to be angry. It is a fast paced film that documents the housing/financial bubble of the mid 2000s, and the investors who bet on it happening. While the government and the banks were oblivious or didn't really care about the soon-to-be financial crisis and issuing loans to anyone, the more risky the better, these investors (Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, and Christian Bale) predicted the ominous outcome. The film tells their story and the things they learn about what caused it all to go down. It's very fast paced, and since my banking knowledge is quite limited, a lot of information. I'd actually like to see it again, just to make sure I didn't miss anything.
Sisters - Tina Fey and Amy Poehler...need I say more? Two sisters, one newly divorced and one kind of an irresponsible mess, meet up at their parents' home. The home is up for sale, and they are tasked with cleaning out and packing their childhood room. They decide to have one last raging party. Mayhem and shenanigans ensue. The film isn't going to win an Oscar, but it's pretty funny.
Concussion - Will Smith stars as Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who discovers the neurological issues football players are prone to due to repeated head blows in 2002. The NFL, an American institution, has for years denied there being an issue with repeated concussions. Dr. Omalu's findings dispute that. The League finally acknowledged the correlation between head trauma and neurological issues, seven years later.
Joy - Jennifer Lawrence plays Joy Magano, inventor of the Miracle Mop and successful home shopping star. The movie has a huge cast of dysfunctional characters (mostly family), including Robert DeNiro, Bradley Cooper, and Virginia Madsen. It was made my David O. Russell who also did Silver Linings Play Book and American Hustle (similar casts). There were parts of this film that tried to go into that quirky/artsy direction like the other films, but I didn't think they worked in this film and therefore slowed it down some. Magano's story is interesting, but the movie is just ok.
The Hateful Eight - Quentin Tarantino's western is about a couple of post-Civil War bounty hunters (Kurt Russell and Samuel Jackson) who are on their way to cash in on their bounties. They get delayed during a blizzard and have to take shelter in a stagecoach lodge. There, they are joined by some strangers who may or may not be who they say they are. Well, Tarantino films aren't everyone's cup of tea. They are violent and wacky with very quick, humorous writing. This film was no exception. It was quite slow on the action front, most of it taking place sitting around the lodge. It is quite long, coming in just under three hours. I like Tarantino films, and while I don't love the violence it is usually so over the top it is almost comical. The dialogue in this one is good (Samuel Jackson is excellent), but the violence, or rather the gore due to the violence, was a little too much for me. There were several minutes of the film where I sat with my hand over my eyes after a violent scene because the blood and guts were still part of the image on screen. It's not my favorite of his films, but if you're a fan you'll like it. If you are not a fan, I doubt this film will make you one.
There are no other movies currently in the theaters that I wish to see. So that concludes the 2015 review. On to 2016!!
I wish everyone a very happy new year!
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