Monday, November 27, 2017

3 REVIEWS!!!! Coco, Man who Invented Christmas, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

The Man Who Invented Christmas

Shortly after a recent string of flops, author Charles Dickens is inspired to write a new Christmas story to celebrate an often overlooked Holiday. With only six weeks to write, illustrate, and publish the work it seems an impossible and herculean task that our hero tackles through personal debt, a battle with the demons of his past, and observations of the world around him.

That’s the story in a nutshell, but this piece goes much further into exploring the manic energy of a creative force and the inner fires that propel him. Dicken’s work is a phenomenon throughout the world, the characters brought to life with a sense of deep exploration into the dual nature of man and the dual natures of Charles himself. We see how his creative mania affects the people around him, how he is affected by a history of familial debt, and that much of his kindness and charity covers a secret darkness he’s long held back in the form of Scrooge.

Scrooge is brought to life in a way that we rarely see- the character stripped raw and bare and taking shape in the mind of Dickens. Christopher Plummer brings life to this sardonic, cold, and often cruel image of a man who walks ill-formed through the night and only takes pleasure from Dicken’s suffering- it’s Scrooge who plays spirit to the window of Dickens soul in this examination of the creative process.

8 out of 10 and a strong recommend.


The latest from Disney/PIXAR is a fun family film. Celebrating Mexico’s Day of the Dead, Coco is the story of a young boy’s journey to the underworld in order to find and receive a family blessing that will allow him to return to the land of the living. Aided by a stray dog he’d begun feeding, Miguel has a passion for music and a family that despises the art itself. Torn between the direction of his heart’s passion and devotion to a family he loves; Miguel’s journey forces him to weigh his responsibilities.

The story is fairly paint by numbers, with a series of cliché tropes and a few interesting characters. Often endearing and genuinely tender, the film doesn’t seem pressed to reinvent the wheel with unfamiliar twists or tricks. All of these things prove unnecessary once we see the beautiful palate of colors and art on display. Fluroescent greens, blues, yellows, and orange take a sharp contrast with the darkness of the Underworld. Sometimes simple is often better when you have such a lush tapestry to work with. Robert Lopez’s signature musical sound comes through in most of the songs and are beautifully sung by the cast.

7.5 out of 10, highly recommend.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The latest film from Martin McDonagh is a darkly look at grief, resentment, incompetence, and regret. Frances McDormand is Mildred Hayes, a grief-stricken mother frustrated with the lack of progress on her daughter’s murder investigation. More starkly haunted by the sheer viciousness of the crime, Hayes is inspired to rent three billboards outside her small town near the location of her daughter’s murder. The billboards bear a message for the local police, singling out popular small town Sheriff, Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). The two engage in a civil battle of wills, exacerbated by Willoughby’s incompetent debuty Dixon (Sam Rockwell).

This is definitely a mouthful of movie and story-telling. Dialogue driven, there is just as much to swallow between the lines as there are the lines themselves. McDormand is simply excellent as the cold, shattered, and ultimately broken woman who must cope with her grief, her regret, and her frustrations. Harrelson, who could have easily been painted as an unsympathetic “good ol’ boy” villain is endearing, frustrated, and torn apart by his inability to catch the murderer. The two forces play off each other well, neither one willing to give an inch and neither one driven by any real animosity between them. There’s genuine affection between the two characters, who were very likely friends before the daughters’ murder.

But if you are looking for an absolutely amazing performance with a truly complicated character, look no further than Sam Rockwell’s Dixon. He is every bit the “Good ol’ Boy” villain- an incompetent officer driven by shame, guilt, and a devotion to his boss that borders on the psychopathic. This is a violent “mama’s boy” who shouldn’t be one hundred feet near a badge and everyone in this town knows it. Everyone but Sheriff Willoughby, who sees only the best in Dixon and the true heart of the man.

The real star of the film is MgDonagh’s script, itself. A brilliantly written piece with so much wound up in the words and those ever important bits of silence, a certain meaning expressed behind words that mean something entirely different, and the implications that don’t always spell things out for the audience. Some will walk away feeling the film ended in one way, others will walk away finding something else entirely, and none of it is “wrong” when all is said and done. Three Billboards is often about our perceptions and the fact that, sometimes, the villain isn’t always so obvious.

10 out of 10. MUST SEE!!!  

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Christmas Carol

Out from the depths of a dark set, a figure emerges and presents our story- traditional black suit, crisp red tie, and his eyes meeting various members of the audience to drive home his points. His words are the prose of a classic author, his tale and presentation is familiar, and he is very much along with his listeners for the ride. Sam Messenger is confident, engaging, and earnest in his portrayal as the narrator in Paper Wing Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Carol: In Prose with Puppetry” and he perfectly sets the mood for the show as it opens.

As endearing as the day it was first published, director Christopher Scott Sullenger’s adaptation of Charles Dickens original story is incredibly satisfying as a seasonal piece. The air is appropriately cold and bleak, but the white chalky set painting against black back drop offers a sense of nostalgic warmth in its simplicity. The costuming is appropriate to the time period, and the few set pieces that make their way to the stage are sparse and uncluttered, leaving plenty of room for the powerful performances of the ensemble group of actors. And the Puppetry design- inspired in parts with Henson-esque design and some similarity to the work of Hayao Miyazaki, is beautiful to witness.

The story is as traditional as it gets with the incomparable Jay Devine taking the lead as curmudgeon tight wad, Ebenezer Scrooge. Devine is cruel, cold, and heartless from the start with a brief sneer of disdain aimed toward the audience, the ensemble, and finally settling in to his drudgery and quiet dismissal of faithful employee Bob Cratchit (A friendly and amenable Larry Oblander) and earnest nephew Fred (Erik James Morton). Scrooge is visited by his deceased friend, Jacob Marley; in a loud, tortured, and painful performance from local horror host Shane Dallmann. What follows are three visits from three ghosts, two in puppet form and one in the form of Dallmann in a duel role as the celebratory Ghost of Christmas Present.

A large ensemble cast fill a number of other roles, from various Londoners, party-goers, and a live fiddle player who bring celebratory Holiday cheer to remind Scrooge of the young man he once was. The scenes build to the climactic arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Future- a harrowing image of full body puppetry and multiple puppeteers who bring the image to life on stage.

Ultimately, I can offer a lot of personal praise regarding the show- but the real highlight was watching my twelve year old son, a bit of a curmudgeon in his own right and at a salty enough age. His eyes glittered as the story progressed, he was pulled in, and he snuggled his old pop a little closer as the show came to a close. That made everything for me.

A terrific Holiday show, recommended for the whole family.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Justice League

2017 is going to go down as one of the best years ever for the cinema. Just flat out, from beginning to end this year has been filled with incredible flicks with deep meaning and amazing blockbusters that broke records and set new bars. So it's going to be a pretty hill to climb when I'm looking at Justice League and I'm seeing something that would absolutely shine in any other year.

Before we get to the meat and gristle, let's talk about the presentation; Zack Snyder previously brought us Man of Steel and Batman V Superman, both of which were somewhat dour and colorless looks at the DC comic heroes. There huge action set pieces, amazing effects, but the whole thing felt like a bit of a drag for me as a viewer. Suicide Squad saw the DC universe expand with a couple of villains, but ultimately felt rudderless. It wasn't until this past year where Wonder Woman hit the mark that DC felt like it was on the right track. Justice League continues to ride that wave, introducing us to new heroes in the form of Aquaman, Cyborg, and The Flash.

The character interaction in this film brings more humor to the table, with the Flash's refreshing enthusiasm acting as a fulcrum with which to bring light to what had been a world of darkness. Cyborg could have easily become a dark and brooding caricature, but was brought to earnest life and carried the heart of the team. Aquaman was bombastic, Wonder Woman was engaging, and Ben Affleck once again donned the cape and cowl to deliver one of the best Batman performances in ages.
But nothing prepared me for the performance delivered by Henry Cavil as Superman. Because, yes, he is back and yes he plays an important part to the formation of the League... but more than that, and the reason I'm not putting a spoiler warning about this, is that Cavil delivers the Superman of my childhood to the silver screen. He's the earnest boy scout, the hope, the willingness to be good and be human and be HUMANE. It was something I wanted from Man of Steel but didn't feel I got. This movie brings it.

But, unfortunately, the film does suffer some missteps. Mainly, the films antagonist is a cartoon... a computer generated cartoon that didn't look or feel real in any way. Steppenwolf's threat is poorly realized, his motivation a mystery, and his story is thin at best. The film felt at it's best when the team wasn't even engaged with him.

But, all in all, a recommend. 8 out of 10

Thursday, November 2, 2017

31 Days of Horror Challenge completed! 2017!!!!

I finally completed the full 31 Days of Halloween horror challenge! I’ve tried to tackle this task every year and every year there always a few days that slip away from me… sometimes even an entire week. But I set myself down to the task… far harder to achieve than I originally thought, as I wasn’t always in the mood for a horror film. Even a horror comedy. But I persevered…. So now, without further ado:

  1. Gerald’s Game

  1. Graveyard Shift

  1. Cult of chucky

  1. Silver Bullet

  1. The Wolf Man

  1. Hatchet 3

  1. Sleepwalkers

  1. Victor Crowley

  1. Don’t Kill It

  1. Yokai Monsters: Spook Warfare

  1. Curse of the Devil

  1. The Evil Dead

  1. Friday the 13th 4: The final Chapter

  1. The people under the stairs

  1. My Bloody Valentine

  1. The Babysitter

  1. A Nightmare on Elm Street

  1. Equinox

  1. 13 Demons

  1. Phantasm

  1. Young Frankenstein

  1. Residue

  1. Prince of Darkness

  1. Night of the Living Dead

  1. The Thing

  1. The Rocky Horror Picture Show

  1. In The Mouth of Madness

  1. The Prowler

  1. Zombie 2 (AKA Zombi, Zombie Flesh Eaters, Zombie)

  1. Creature from the black Lagoon

  1. The Monster Squad