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The Mummy – A Movie Review


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The Mummy

I am not a movie critic. And, by that I mean, I am not critical of movies in the manner in which those who have more refined tastes might be. I tend to know what I am going to like going into a film and tend to buy tickets to movies I know I am going to enjoy. Additionally, I typically set my expectations where I think they will be met.

So, while some films disappoint others because they fail to be more than they suggest they will be, I often find myself saying of those sorts of movies: that was just what I expected and wanted.

Case-in-point: The Mummy.

This Tom Cruise vehicle was exactly what it looked like it would be: an over-the-top romp with solid action, simple characterization and tongue-in-cheek dialogue.

Cruise stars as Nick Morton, an unscrupulous solider of fortune who finds himself in the wrong place at the right time when he and his sidekick Chris Vial (delightfully assayed by Jake Johnson) accidentally unearth the titular mummy’s tomb. Suspecting there is money to be made, Nick ensures that the sarcophagus of the mummy is raised and that he is along for the ride back to London with it.

What could possibly go wrong?

As it turns out, pretty much everything.

It is spoiling little to mention that transport of the mummy is interrupted by a plane crash that all of the characters do not survive. Following the crash, some resurrections and chase scenes, the mummy ends up in the heart of London, reanimated, angry and harboring an intense fixation on Tom Cruise’s Nick.

Let the games begin.

And let yourself go. Know what the movie is and you will enjoy it. Expect high art and you might be disappointed.

Sofia Boutella is the mummy and she is making something of a career out of playing characters buried under piles of makeup. While she was far more engaging (and playing a much more developed part) in last summer’s Star Trek Beyond, she is more than up to the challenge of playing the raving and revenge seeking mummy and, if the particulars of her plot are not entirely clear, who cares? Aren’t we all having fun?

Certainly Russell Crowe had the kind of fun only an actor of his caliber who can rise or lower himself to the level of his material can. Again, it is not much of a spoiler to reveal that he plays Dr. Henry Jekyll (yes, that one) and he seems to be the key to comprehending the goings on of the movie. Because he is Russell Crowe, he handles the massive exposition he is asked to relay with ease and, because he is Russell Crowe, he absolutely kills in a scene in which he is allowed to cut loose. I hope to see more of him if Universal’s Monster Movie Plans launch the way the studio would like them to.

Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise. He gives himself completely over to the movie and the jokes about him being mummy-like in the fact that he never seems to age are absolutely on point. We all know there is a dividing line between those who like Tom Cruise and those who hate Tom Cruise. I am in the I love Tom Cruise camp. What do I expect from Tom Cruise? Exactly what I got in The Mummy.

Perhaps I should want more from a movie. Granted, that is a defensible perspective and, yes, I do like to be surprised by a movie, surprised by twist and turns and defiance of expectations. But I did not need that from The Mummy. It was just what I desired on a summer evening. Is it particularly memorable? No. Was it perfectly fun? It absolutely was.

THE MUMMY receives THREE DOUBLE PUPILS out of a possible FIVE.

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Link’n’Blogs – 6.23.17 – Solo Change


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I loved Lincoln Logs when I was a kid. Though I never entertained the idea that I would be a designer, engineer or architect, something about putting together these wooden and plastic pieces was simply simple fun. Connecting to ideas through the blogosphere seems similar to this pursuit, hence the title of this weekly post. Each Friday, I intend to post something interesting I’ve read out there on the internets. Hopefully others will find these posts as thought provoking as I have.

Did you hear the one about the young movie directors who were given the assignment of directing a movie about one of the most beloved characters in science fiction film history only to be FIRED with 3/4 of principal photography completed and to be replaced by one of the biggest directors in the business? Click the photo!

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Wonder Woman – A Movie Review


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Wonder Woman Poster

 

 

Epic. Beautiful. Compelling. Inspiring.

Surely there are more adjectives with which to describe the cinematic triumph that is Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, but we will begin with these.

Wonder Woman is truly an epic movie with roots going back far further than the character’s 75 year publishing history. The origin story told here in succinct and touching fashion, connects Diana of Themyscira to a centuries long tradition of Greek gods and goddesses, to an island that truly looks like paradise and to the Amazons whose dichotomy of love and war is brilliantly realized. Diana’s story unfolds as we encounter her at three critical stages of her life and learn that the life she believes she is leading may not actually be the life she actually is leading. Brilliant actors led by Connie Neilson as Hippolyta, Diana’s mother and queen of the Amazons, and Robin Wright as Antiope, Hippolyta’s second-in-command and Diana’s guardian, populate Themyscria, the Paradise Island of Diana’s birth. Please, American cinema, give us more strong women characters like these. Confident, fully developed and realized, capable and compassionate, the Amazons are exactly the kind of wise and peaceful people from which Wonder Woman would come. These are not women to be trifled with or to underestimate. These are warrior woman who have retreated from a world too infused with violence.

The epic nature of this movie begins here, in this first act which plays so wonderfully it is over before the audience realizes how terrific it is, and that tone is set for all that is to come. There is something special going on in this movie. Something larger than summer popcorn fare.

Into that reality falls Chris Pine’s Captain Steve Trevor. Pine is best known as Captain Kirk from the rebooted Star Trek movie, but there is no vestige of his Kirk performance here. Pine is terrific and serves as something of the lens through which the audience encounters Wonder Woman. Our understanding of who she is grows along with his own. Trevor’s reaction is one part awe, one part incredulity as he learns who this beautiful Wonder Woman is. The relationship that develops between them is believable and touching, much like the movie itself.

Beautiful is the correct adjective to describe Gal Gadot and her portrayal of Wonder Woman. Yes, the Israeli super model turned actress is gorgeous (and the movie easily and confidently has some fun with this reality as opposed to ignoring it – bravo Patty Jenkins!) but the character is beautiful both inside and out. Gadot was the best reviewed thing in Batman V Superman and she commands this movie.

Her Diana is intelligent, gracious, strong and confident. She is the epitome of power. She is driven by kindness. She is enchanting and wise. Gadot’s performance is so spot-on that is it impossible to imagine anyone else playing the character. Think of how well Robert Downey, jr embodies Iron Man or Johnny Depp Jack Sparrow. That is the type of mastery Gadot effortlessly exhibits in the role.

It is a good thing Gadot is as good as she is because the supporting actors of the piece, Lucy Davis, Danny Huston and David Thelwis to name three, are very strong here as is Elena Ayana as Doctor Maru. Davis’ Etta Candy is great fun and Ayana’s Maru is tragically drawn. Thelwis and Huston tower over the proceedings whenever they are on screen. They lend it the epicness the piece deserves.

The three act, three location structure of the film is something of a call-back to Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie (Krypton, Kansas, Metropolis and Themyscira, London, Germany) and the design serves the movie well. One scene in particular is a moving homage to Superman: The Movie that is sure to delight whether audiences note the resonance or not. Wonder Woman also owes something else to the 1978 movie – it owes its spirit.

Wonder Woman is just as compelling as Superman and more propulsive. The movie is ever moving forward to a goal, just like its main character. Diana knows her mission and sets out to accomplish it. The film does, too and Jenkins spends just enough time on each scene and in each location to keep the movie tight. Wonder Woman is the type of motion picture that audiences are going to want to see again.

As a character, Wonder Woman was initially created as an inspiration for young women to give them a character with whom they could connect much like young men had Superman and Batman. Throughout her history (and famously during the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1970s), Wonder Woman has been correctly co-opted as inspiration to women of all ages. More recently, she has been cast as an inspiration for peace. Amazingly, this movie honors all of those instincts in a conclusion that is perfect for this particular superhero movie and would be wholly out of place in any other. It is an inspiring ending to a moving  and inspiring film.

Wonder Woman is a movie that wears its metaphorical heart on its sleeve because it understands it must. It wears its heart on its sleeve because it understands its main character. It wears its heart on its sleeve because it understands it is okay to mean something even in a summer, superhero movie.

Wonder Woman stands for something important. It knows it can be an important film. It has a message to share. It does not shy away from the soul of its main character.

And it is all the better for those choices.

It is, from direction to star to execution, all but perfect. It is wonderful and I am eager to see it again.

WONDER WOMAN receives an unreserved FIVE GOLDEN LASSOS out of a possible FIVE.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – A Movie Review


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GotG2Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is not perfect.

But it is damn close.

Marvel Studios continues its run of fun, thrilling and engaging movies with this sequel to the surprise hit of the late summer of 2014. With Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel took a risk and put B and C List characters with little to no name recognition front-and-center in a film and it worked better than anyone could have anticipated.

Could lightening strike twice with this second volume?

It is a very near miss. The original film has almost no missteps. The sequel has but one.

There is a little too much going on. It is not that the movie is impossible to follow or that there are so many characters, the audience does not care about them. It is not that more means less. It is simply that Vol. 2 feels like too much of a good thing, like it is about to burst its seams.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 feels a bit bloated but, to be clear, it is bloated with more good things so is that really a bad thing? This is a minor quibble, to be sure, but the movie perhaps could have been edited a little tighter.

Thought I do not know what I would recommend cutting out.

The whole engaging gang from the first installment is back and it is terrific to spend another couple hours with Chris Pratt (Peter Quill), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Dave Bausita (Drax) and the voices of Vin Diesel (Baby Groot) and Bradley Cooper (Rocket), not to mention the always worth watching Michael Rooker (Yondu) and the savagely fun Karen Gillen (Nebula). Much like the creators of last summer’s Star Trek Beyond, writer/director James Gunn makes a decision that serves his movie very, very well: he splits up the team.

Peter, Gamora and Drax go off on their own A story adventure (connecting with new character Mantis played by Pom Clementieff and with Kurt Russell – more below) leaving Rocket and Groot on their own to hook up with Yondu on a B story of their own.

It does not matter that much if you know all the characters by name. By the end of the film, you’ll know them as family. That is the key here: the Guardians function as a family and this movie brings that theme home.

Gamora’s sister Nebula is back. A new character (played with gusto by welcome addition Kurt Russell who seems to be having as much fun as anyone) who may or may not be Peter’s father is introduced. Rocket learns he wants to be a part of something (like a family) and Baby Groot begins to grow up. Could Gamora and Peter even acknowledge what has gone unacknowledged between them?

There is tremendous fun to be had in all of this and a surprising amount of character development for a summer action movie. That might be the greatest trick that Gunn pulls off. Though Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 sometimes plays like a television show in terms of its plot structure, the proceedings supremely bananas but in the most pleasant way imaginable.

Chris Pratt was born to play this role and he steals focus in every scene – well, almost every scene. Kurt Russell gives Star Lord a run for his money. But it is Pratt’s movie and he carries it very, very well. He has said he would play this character for 10 more movies and I say “more power to him.”

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is not afraid to break new ground and, while it cannot possibly hope to match the shock that was the original film, it does at least one thing better than most Marvel movies: it gives the audience a concluding battle to care about and an antagonist who is out for something more than destruction for destruction’s sake. It also manages to give audiences the most aptly named protagonist, perhaps of all time.

The soundtrack of Guardians of the Galaxy was spectacular and an integral part of that film. It was so influential that Vol. 2 is a play on the title of the mixtape Peter received at the end of the first movie. Therefore, the soundtrack of the second installment was hotly anticipated. Rest assured, it does not disappoint. From Fleetwood Mac to Cat Stevens to The Electric Light Orchestra, this one works. Track-for-track, Gunn turns the volume up to 11 on the tunes and on the emotions of the audience.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is terrific fun. It is the perfect summer movie and an almost perfect sequel. That it is bigger than its predecessor is obvious. That is it better is debatable.

But it is very damn good.

Be sure to stay in your seats for the FIVE beginning, mid and post credit sequences!

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 receives FOUR AND A HALF MIXTAPES out of a possible FIVE.

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Unforgettable – A Movie Review


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unforgettable
Sometimes a brief review has to be okay because if I write too long about this one, I may be cruel. I will certainly make the obvious play on words the title Unforgettable begs for.

I am in favor of more women directing more major releases, but I think Denise Di Novi deserved better than this.

Rosario Dawson is good. I like her. She is an excellent actress and fun to watch. She is a lot better than this material.

Katherine Heigl is … not great. I have never liked her much. However, Unforgettable was a good choice for her. She handled the psycho villain role admirably.

There were other people in the movie, too. I am sure there were. They did not make much of an impression.

Unforgettable wants to be a thriller in the Fatal Attraction mode. It is not. It wants to be clever. It does not succeed. It wants to engage. If fails. And, unfortunately, it does not even fail spectacularly.

The film features terrific lapses in logic, unexplained revelations, dangling subplots and a truly foolish cliffhanger. Did someone think there might be an Unforgettable 2?

This major release played more like a television movie-of-the-week and that is a shame. We could use more films directed and written by women feature women in lead roles.

We could use better films featuring women, far better than … wait, what was this movie called?

UNFORGETTABLE receives ONE FAKE FACEBOOK PROFILE out of a possible FIVE.

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Link’n’Blogs – 5.5.17 – What You Need to Know for GotG Vol. 2


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I loved Lincoln Logs when I was a kid. Though I never entertained the idea that I would be a designer, engineer or architect, something about putting together these wooden and plastic pieces was simply simple fun. Connecting to ideas through the blogosphere seems similar to this pursuit, hence the title of this weekly post. Each Friday, I intend to post something interesting I’ve read out there on the internets. Hopefully others will find these posts as thought provoking as I have.

Are you ready for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2? You should get there if you are not! The film (which many are, of course, calling “the best Marvel movie yet!” opens today. Click the banner below! NO SPOILERS HERE!

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The Shack – A Movie Review

 


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The ShackI had a number of reactions to The Shack, almost all of them positive, but my first reaction struck me very early on in the movie. The voice-over narration (provided by a very much in-his-element Tim McGraw) speaks of the family at the center of the film, of the religious devotion of the mother, Nan Phillips played by Radha Mitchell, and how she has such a close relationship with God that she calls God “Papa.” It goes on to tell of the church going habits of the Phillips family and then settles into a lingering shot of the family in church, praying and singing hymns.

I turned to The Cinnamon Girl, my all-time favorite movie-going partner, and said “people will accept all kinds of things in movies: superheroes, elves, hobbits, the undead, but throw a church scene in and people stay away in droves.” This is no great insight, but I do think it is a true observation. Audiences are highly uncomfortable with depictions of normal, every-day faith on television or in film. Audiences can suspend all kinds of disbelief, but do not expect them to stomach and kind of actual belief.

If you are reading this review, you know that The Shack deals with a lot more than ordinary belief. The film centers on a very solid Sam Worthington as Mack Phillips, a man who has suffered much tragedy in his life (and has caused some, too). The final straw that breaks his relationship with God happens in a shack and the shack becomes the place where Mack will have to wrestle with his faith. As he meets the Trinity in physical form, Mack must decide if what he is experiencing is real and if, at the end of the day, that matters. Mack is so distant from God, encountering God in the flesh, as it were, may not be enough to fix what is broken inside him.

The Shack is a very good movie. In moments where I suspected it would disappoint, it did not. The movie actually asks some very big questions and provides very few answers. It tackles issues of the problem of evil in the world, the question of how an all-knowing, all-loving god can allow suffering and the tension between religion and faith. Rarely does the movie take the easy way out of these questions and it should be commended for this.

The film’s success rests squarely on the chemistry between Worthington and the ever wonderful Octavia Spencer. She is terrific here. In a role that could become tiresome and preachy, Spencer finds humor and a character arc. That is saying something considering the character she is playing. She and Worthington do fine together. He is very buttoned down for most of the film, but that is what the story calls for. Much like other actors with whom she is paired, Worthington comes to life in scenes with Spencer. Their chemistry is the second best part of the movie

The best part is Avraham Aviv Lalush. Playful, magnetic and, yes, inspiring, Lalush takes a character who has been portrayed time-and-again and makes him his own. The movie is better ever time Lalush is on screen and I wanted to see much more of him.

Not everything works and director Stuart Hazeldine is asked to capture on film things that are almost impossible to capture, but he does a fine job. The movie he has crafted is unapologetic, moving and spiritual. Adapted from the novel by William P. Young, The Shack is not always easy to watch, but it always has something to say. I have yet to read the source material so I do not know whether it was director or author who chose to have God represented by an African American woman, an Asian woman, a Muslim man and a Native American man but well done! Very, very well done!

I would be leaving something out of this review if I did not mention that I was moved by the movie. It does have emotional heft and spiritual resonance.

It deserves a wider audience than it is likely to get.

THE SHACK receives FOUR NOTES IN A MAILBOX out of a possible FIVE.

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