I fell far behind on movies earlier in the year, so I’ve been trying to catch up. In case you aren’t too interested in what the offerings are at the local multiplex, let me offer some home viewing alternatives. Here are a few of the movies I caught on demand or DVD/blu-ray that would be worth your while:
ZOOTOPIA (original release date: March 4)
Zootopia is an absolutely charming and clever animated film in the spirit of the classic Disney movies that inspired it. With fantastic voice work by Jason Bateman, Idris Elba and Ginnifer Godwin, Zootopia is set in a fantastical, bustling, urban metropolis where everyone goes about their everyday lives—work, school, shopping, driving, riding the subway, even petty crime. It just also happens to be a world without humans. Zootopia is inhabited only by animals, all types big and small, and they coexist in a perfectly balanced utopia. One day, however, that perfect balance gets upset and the city’s harmonious existence is threatened until Judy, an energetic rookie cop—who happens to be a teeny, tiny rabbit, hungry to prove herself fit to serve alongside her fellow, much larger, officers—is determined to take down the villains and bring peace back to Zootopia. Along the way, Judy gets help from a wise-cracking con-artist fox and, together, they prove not only that a bunny and a fox can work together, but that anything is possible if you just believe in yourself.
Ok, it may sound a bit much, but if ever there was a package to deliver such smaltzy messages, Zootopia is it. The animation is first-rate, the music is perfect and the voice acting is spot on. But what makes Zootopia so uniquely enjoyable is its cleverness, which is found in every detail of the film. The animators at Disney are never happy just delivering an average film, they have to inject their special magic into every frame, and Zootopia is loaded with subtle humor, sight gags and so many referential jokes it makes repeated viewings essential to catch them all.
Overall, Zootopia is a thoroughly entertaining and impressive film with heart, brains and more cuteness than you might be able to handle. But try, because it is well worth the effort.
EYE IN THE SKY (original release date: April 1)
When I first saw the trailers for this movie back in March, I didn’t give it a second thought. It looked like a run-of-the-mill genre picture, yet another morality play dressed up as human drama set against the Mideast conflict. Yawn.
But, after reading bloggers and critics’ pleas for people to give this movie another try (it bombed at the box office…I guess a lot of other people felt the same as I did), I gave it a chance and was happily proved wrong.
Eye in the Sky may be a movie about morality and the ethics of war, but it really goes so much deeper than that. Set mostly in a situation room where military and government minds have to navigate the ins and outs of drone surveillance and the possibility of taking out a wanted terrorist fugitive despite the civilian casualties it may cause, Eye in the Sky is a taut and compelling thriller/drama that tackles every issue from all sides, never coloring in any piece with commentary, providing the viewer the space to come to their own conclusions.
Starring Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul and the great Alan Rickman in his last film role, this movie took me by surprise with its thwarting of gender roles and dedicated avoidance of cliché and stereotype. There is a way to make an issue movie without banging the audience over the head, and there is a way to make an action thriller with some real intelligence and calm. Director Gavin Hood establishes himself as a real talent and Rickman goes out the way he always lived: memorably.
THE JUNGLE BOOK (original release date: April 15)
What a wonderful surprise this movie was. I was totally uninterested in seeing a live-action remake of the classic Disney animated film, but I was convinced by both the box office and the critics to give it a try and, wow was I wrong. The Jungle Book, directed by Jon Favreau, connects on every possible level, it’s hard to overstate its ingenuity and breathtaking likeability.
Through live-action and CGI effects, The Jungle Book tells the story of Mowgli, a boy who is raised by the animals in the jungle, after having been orphaned as a boy. As he grows older, however, he comes to become more aware of who he is, where he belongs, and the growing threats against him. Mowgli embarks on an adventure, helped along the way by his loyal companions Baloo and Bagheera, traversing the jungle, with all its beauties and dangers, to get where he belongs. It is fantastical, tender, funny, heartbreaking and heartwarming, but, most of all, it is unbelievably endearing. The effects are so seamless, you can’t even see where the reality ends and the special effects start. Most of all, the characters, from Bill Murray’s Baloo to Ben Kingsley’s Bagheera make the movie the charming and timeless family experience that can and should be experienced by everyone.
MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (original release date: April 21)
Whenever director/writer Jeff Nichols and actor Michael Shannon come together, great things happen. Midnight Special feels like a continuance of their magnificent collaboration Take Shelter, a movie about a man imagining (or not?) the end of the world coming soon. Midnight Special may not be about a man slowly losing his grip on reality, but it further evolves the Nichols/Shannon theme of outsiders who exist on a different plane from everyone else.
Midnight Special can easily be called science fiction, but its feel is more earthly drama than anything else. Although the thrust of the story involves a child who has special powers and the humans who love and protect him, the movie feels less like E.T. and more like your run-of-the-mill family drama. But there’s never anything run-of-the-mill with a Nichols movie, and Midnight Special will confuse and intrigue you and, ultimately, possibly disappoint you, but the true joy of this movie isn’t how it ends, it’s how it feels during the journey. The performances and the artistry of the filmmaking separate Midnight Special, from the always-impeccable Michael Shannon to the best Joel Edgerton performance I’ve ever seen to a resilient and grounding Adam Driver, Nichols pulls the best and most riveting performances out of his actors, while giving the movie an atmosphere and tense emotionality that I’ll have a hard time letting go of.
If you missed any of these movies in the theatres, I highly recommend catching them in some format—streaming, DVD, blu-ray, or on-demand. You won’t regret it.
All too often, the term “ripped from the headlines” portends a tale that is either tragic or difficult to comprehend…or both. It is rare to see a reality-based story that has a happy ending, so, when we do, we need it to offer some sort of catharsis, and, most of all, hope.
Ask me if I can imagine any other director than Clint Eastwood to direct Sully, the true story of Captain Chesley Sullenberger’s January, 2009 heroic handling of an US Airways jet that loses both its engines just after takeoff, and I would have said Eastwood was the perfect one to bring us this post-9/11 fairy tale to our screens. As a director, Eastwood is dependable, efficient, excellent and basic. Not at all unlike Sullenberger or his story. But here is where the conundrum of this movie lies: if it seems like Eastwood and Sullenberger are cut from the same cloth, can Eastwood really tell an honest and cathartic story that would be truthful, illuminating AND entertaining? I’m not saying he couldn’t, but, as it turns out, he didn’t.
click here to keep reading Sully »
Late August is often considered the baggage drop time zone for Hollywood studios. Summer is almost over, school is back, and the Oscar season push doesn’t start until October. August and September are the months when studios dump any movies they hadn’t been able to find a spot for the rest of the year (marketing or word-of-mouth difficulties) or for movies that had high hopes but ended up falling far short of expectations. When was the last time you heard people looking forward to the “big Labor Day weekend release?” Yeah….never.
But, within the same structure creates a window of opportunity for smaller films that may not otherwise be able to find a place in the movie release calendar. August and September often are the months when pleasant surprises can emerge, movies nobody saw coming—lower-budget movies that can’t compete with the big boys of summer and/or are afraid of getting lost in the Oscar-season shuffle. Such an August surprise of 2016 is Hell or High Water. For those of you who may think there’s nothing worthwhile playing in the theatres right now, think again.
click here to keep reading Hell or High Water »
Look out, Trey and Matt. There are new comedic princes of the absurd in town and they are coming for you.
When it came to outrageous animated adult humor, Trey Parker and Matt Stone had the market cornered. The ultimate purveyors of 14-year old humor for the over-21s, Parker and Stone, who became famous for their long-running animated television show South Park and their Tony Award-winning musical The Book of Mormon, are maybe most beloved by a certain segment of society for their two perverse but brilliant full-length animated feature films, South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut and Team America: World Police. Both films are raunchy and rude, hilarious and low-brow, and definitely not for the uninitiated or sensitive. But what made them especially incisive was their format. South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut was a traditional animated film, featuring the characters from Parker & Stone’s popular television series, in anything but a traditional story, and Team America: World Police featured nothing but puppets—puppets who had foul language, bodily functions and sex with each other (among many other things). Yes, it seemed Parker and Stone had set the bar pretty high (or low) when it came to adult animated movies.
Until Seth Rogen came along.
click here to keep reading Sausage Party »
Complete Unknown (August 26)
Director: Joshua Marston; Starring: Michael Shannon, Rachel Weisz, Kathy Bates
Michael Shannon and Rachel Weisz in an intriguing drama. That sentence just gets my heart racing. The August release date worries me a bit, though. We shall see…
The Light Between Oceans (September 2)
Director: Derek Cianfrance; Starring Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender and Rachel Weisz.
It’s the year of Fassbender and Weisz, and this one, from writer/director Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) looks to have all the right pieces (including Oscar winner Vikander).
Jackie (September 7)
Director: Pablo Larrain; Starring Natalie Portman, Greta Gerwig and Peter Sarsgaard
You had me at Natalie Portman playing Jackie Kennedy.
click here to keep reading Movies I’m Still Looking Forward to in 2016 »
It’s surprising to say, but I actually wasn’t looking forward to an AbFab movie. That’s not to say I don’t completely adore the original British television series, Absolutely Fabulous, which ran for 20 years, from 1992 to 2012, starring Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley. I do love the series, which is exactly why I was a little nervous about the prospect of a movie four years after the series ended. While, yes, it is wonderful to revisit characters who you love and miss, it’s important to have a reason to go back. Is there something new to say? Is there something that was left unsaid, some part of the story that needed to be finished? If not, then the concept of a movie just feels a bit…desperate.
An AbFab movie feels very much like a Sex & the City movie. Both series appeal to a very similar audience (although AbFab’s audience is a bit smarter and a bit cattier—and, of course, much more British), and both decided they needed to bring their beloved characters back for a movie (or two). In the case of Sex & the City, the first movie was successful, the second not so much. For the charming and besotted ladies of AbFab, their movie is, sadly, neither successful nor as appealing as it should be, which only reaffirmed my fears and saddened my heart. I may not have been looking forward to an AbFab movie, but I sure was rooting for it. Alas.
click here to keep reading Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie »
We may as well stop fighting it. Remakes, reboots and sequels, not to mention films adapted from books, TV shows, comic books, toys and video games—they are the way of the world now in Hollywood. Nobody has an original idea anymore, it’s time to just throw in the towel. All we can do is judge the result for what it is, not for where it came from. Because, if we did that each time, we’d truly go insane (you KNOW another Pokemon movie is being fired up at this very moment).
Such is my attitude as I approach the reboot/remake/reinvisioning of the ‘80s smash hit Ghostbusters. I’ll admit right off the bat that, even though I’m in my mid-40s and was a teenager when the original came out in 1984, I seem to be one of the few of my generation that does not hold a considerably tender spot in my heart for the original that starred Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd. Of course I’ve seen it, but it was just another movie to me, nothing special. Apparently, that is quite the minority opinion, if you go by the internet, as the original Ghostbusters seems to be considered the ultimate fan favorite film of the ‘80s. And the thought of remaking it? Beyond sacrilege. Especially when you tell them the original stars will be recast by…women?!?! Oh, the horror.
But, again, none of that matters. Or, at least, none of that should matter. Right? We should be able to judge this movie on its own merits, regardless of its influence, expectation or judgments. Easier said than done. But I sure am going to try.
click here to keep reading Ghostbusters »
So let’s start by pretending that all animated movies are equal. That somehow, someway, some other major studio can produce an animated film anywhere close to the quality of what Pixar has and continues to produce. To give you some perspective, in the 15 years the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has given out the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film, Pixar has released 13 movies and all but three of them either won or were nominated for the top animated prize. A Pixar movie has won Best Animated Film a whopping 8 times in 15 years, losing only twice. Only 3 of their movies weren’t even nominated. Out of 13. Imagine any other studio with that kind of track record. It’s safe to say Pixar Animation Studios (now officially Disney/Pixar) is in a class of its own when it comes to major animation film releases.
That’s not to say other studios aren’t gaining ground, however. Pixar may have dominated the genre in the late ‘90s and early 2000’s, but other companies quickly figured out their corner on the market and found other ways to break in. The first Pixar movie to be nominated for Best Animated Film and NOT win was in 2002, when Monsters, Inc. lost to the very un-Pixar-like Shrek. And, in 2012, when there were no Pixar releases, a small but feisty Rango took the Oscar. Both of these films were harbingers of a new segment of the animation market, one that focuses on a more aggressive, smart-alecky, weird and offbeat tone, as compared to Pixar’s generally more sensitive and soulful approach to storytelling.
click here to keep reading Finding Dory & The Secret Life of Pets »