“Triple 9”

LOUISA:   3 STARS    MATT:  4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

This formulaic, Michael Mann ripoff isn’t bad — it’s quite entertaining — but the plot is virtually non-existent and any audience member well versed in police dramas will have figured out how it all will end well before the final scene. It’s easy to watch and will keep you engaged, but there’s nothing really smart or groundbreaking with its classically dull “and then this happened” storytelling style. It’s just another run-of-the-mill dirty cop movie.

The film is flashy, stylish and well made by director John Hillcoat, but looks aren’t everything. Sadly, he was woefully unable to elicit great performances from the star-studded cast. How great is the cast? We’ve got Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kate Winslet, Aaron Paul, Clifton Collins Jr., Anthony Mackie, Norman Reedus, Woody Harrelson, and Casey Affleck. (You’d be a fool to not want to see this movie based on the actors alone)! Problem is, this movie is so stuffed with talent that most of it is completely wasted. I wanted to see more of Affleck and Harrelson (channeling his far superior role as Marty Hart on “True Detective“). And poor Teresa Palmer, she’s just in the movie as screen dressing for a few scenes (and she’s half naked in most of them). There’s just too much going on for any of the characters to have a chance to be fully developed, and that’s a shame.

I got a very anti-cop vibe from the whole movie too. I didn’t like any of the police officers in the movie and it was unclear if I was supposed to be rooting for them. Most of the cops in the film are portrayed as having serious moral issues (and of course the obligatory drinking / drug problem). Not helping this perception was the movie’s closing track: Cypress Hill’s “Pigs.”

MATT SAYS:

In “Triple 9,” celebrated indie director John Hillcoat gives us a world populated with corrupt cops, war heroes, criminals, and gangsters where there is no solid line dividing the good and bad; instead, there are only shades of grey. Supported by a who’s who list of actors — including Anthony Mackie, Casey Affleck, Aaron Paul, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Woody Harrelson and Kate Winslet — “Triple 9” is an ideal fit for the lover of crime dramas.

Hillcoat knows these characters and the world they live in. We have been here before in his previous movies, “Lawless,” “The Road,” and “The Proposition.” As in those movies, we are challenged with picking one character to identify with and root for. For most of his characters, we can understand their motivations and sympathize with them on some level, at the same time we dislike them on another.

While heists drive the story, they do not control it; the characters do. As for the latter, we have a number of chances for brief glimpses into their backstories that give us just enough — but not too much — information to help us understand why they do what they do. We care enough about them that when they are in peril, we are invested and worried for their safety. It is our investment in these characters and their survival that drives the suspense. We want them to do the right thing, and we want them to survive.

While it’s far from a perfect movie, “Triple 9” is a strong and worthy entry in the corrupt cop / crime drama genre, and definitely one worth seeing.

 

If We Picked the Oscars

Oscar statuettes

If we were Academy voters, here’s a peek at what our ballots would look like (based on what was nominated). This isn’t what we think will win (so don’t base your Oscar pool picks on this list) but it’s what we personally would vote for in each nominated category. Enjoy the Oscars!

BEST PICTURE

  • Louisa
    Mad Max: Fury Road

  • Matt
    Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST ACTOR

  • Louisa
    Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs)

  • Matt
    Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)

BEST ACTRESS

  • Louisa
    Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)

  • Matt
    Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  • Louisa
    Christian Bale (The Big Short)

  • Matt
    Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  • Louisa
    Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

  • Matt
    Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

BEST DIRECTOR

  • Louisa
    George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)

  • Matt
    George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

  • Louisa
    Shaun the Sheep

  • Matt
    Shaun the Sheep

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Louisa
    Roger Deakins (Sicario)

  • Matt
    Roger Deakins (Sicario)

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

  • Louisa
    Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Matt
    Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

  • Louisa
    The Revenant
  • Matt
    Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

  • Louisa
    Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Matt
    Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST SOUND EDITING

  • Louisa
    Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • Matt
    Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST SOUND MIXING

  • Louisa
    The Revenant
  • Matt
    The Revenant

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Louisa
    Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • Matt
    Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

  • Louisa
    Johann Johannsson (Sicario)
  • Matt
    Ennio Morricone (The Hateful Eight)

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

  • Louisa
    “Writing’s On the Wall” by Sam Smith (Spectre)
  • Matt
    “Writing’s On the Wall” by Sam Smith (Spectre)

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • Louisa
    Alex Garland (Ex Machina)
  • Matt
    Alex Garland (Ex Machina)

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • Louisa
    Nick Hornby (Brooklyn)
  • Matt
    Adam McKay (The Big Short)

BEST ANIMATED SHORT

  • Louisa
    Bear Story

“The Finest Hours”

LOUISA:   3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“The Finest Hours” is a classic tale of good old-fashioned heroism. It’s refreshing to see a story where the audience can quickly identify with lead characters who genuinely want to do the right thing and help others in their time of need. These are normal guys living a normal life who find themselves suddenly thrust into an extraordinary situation. They are quietly courageous, not looking for recognition or glory. They are simply doing their job.

This entertaining movie tells the true story of a 1952 Coast Guard rescue off the coast of New England. The inspiring yet slightly corny tone is perfectly paired with the thrilling action sequences (yes, the special effects of savage seas are computer generated but they are still, for the most part, stellar).

The most intense part of the movie comes from watching a group of sailors trapped on a giant oil tanker that has been cut in half due to a killer storm and is gradually sinking. Yes, you read that correctly. The seamen have to come up with creative ways to try to stay afloat – and alive. Chris Pine is fine in his role as a Coast Guard man, but he’s overshadowed by Ben Foster, Kyle Gallner and Holliday Grainger (as the spunky love interest). Casey Affleck isn’t a favorite of mine but here he reminds me of a young Marlo Brando; his masculine, charismatic performance is a standout and the main reason to see this movie.

I was surprised to learn that this wasn’t a faith-based movie because it was dripping with pronounced religious overtones (Disney obviously wants to cash in on that trend). There’s a lot of implied praying, discussions of faith (“it’s not luck”), cleverly placed Bibles, mentions of church and God, and the obligatory scene of the non-believer rudely interrupting a group prayer. (Have to say I agreed with his character: when the crew was standing around praying, he told them that they were wasting their precious time and should instead focus on figuring out a way to get off the ship. Smart man!). The religious references were so over the top that they quickly became off-putting and cost this movie half a star.

“The Finest Hours” is sappy and sentimental yet also manages to be a real nail-biter. The positives far outweigh the negatives here, and this movie is worth seeing. Is it historically accurate? Probably not. But it’s still a fun ride.


Matt was unavailable for review.

 

“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi”

LOUISA:    2 STARS    MATT:   1.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

In what could have been a sophisticated war movie, an examination of foreign policy ideas, a serious analysis of the nature of the conflict, or a poignant memorial honoring America’s servicemen and women, “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” instead chooses to take the low road.

This big, loud, overly long movie about the 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya feels like it’s doing nothing more than preaching to the Fox News choir. Instead of honoring the fallen Americans, this movie did more to dishonor them. There’s no exploration of the “why” of the conflict, there’s only a simplistic dividing line of “bad guys” and “good guys.” All of director Michael Bay‘s signature shots are here: the point-of-view from a bomb sailing through the air, bullets and blood splattered about, and lots and lots (and lots) of big, fiery ‘splosions.

Get ready for an endless parade of movie cliches, from the final phone call to the wife and kids (where one blurts out that she’s pregnant), teary-eyed soldiers and of course the American flag shot full of bullet holes. U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

Most offensive was the presentation of our testosterone loaded, bearded heroes, military elite with big muscles and even bigger guns. Of course they can’t do their jobs to the fullest because these darn Ivy League educated, clumsy CIA agents keep getting in the way! Boo for higher education and fancy book learnin’! Yay for physical fitness and blowing shit up! I have no disrespect for our military but come on, this was just a ridiculous plot point. I’m also not saying that elite military soldiers aren’t whip smart and highly educated — but this movie seemed to take the opposing position and it irked me.

The unnecessary, gimmicky hand held camera work made me super queasy and detracted from the story, but the extended action sequences and shootouts were done well, and there’s a fine roster of actors at work including John Krasinski (Jack), David Costabile (Chief), Pablo Schreiber (Tanto), James Badge Dale (Rone), and David Denman (Boon). As a result, “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” works solely as a mindless action movie. The movie is mildly entertaining but it’s a shame that more wasn’t done with the story.

MATT SAYS:

I used to be a Michael Bay defender. Not based on the “Transformers” movies, mind you (those are almost universally terrible) but based on the rest of his body of work. “The Rock” and “Armageddon” are damned good movies, and “Bad Boys II” is one of the best action movies released in the last 20 years. “Pain and Gain” made my Honorable Mention list in 2013. Hell, I was even one of the few people who liked “The Island.”

Based on those selections from his filmography, I viewed Michael Bay as one of the best action movie directors. His action sequences are larger than life. His jingoistic, pro-military view can be appealing. Even his trademark lens flares and dramatic upward angles are effective at raising stakes and giving his heroes an almost-mythic quality. What he does, he used to do very well.

Given this background, I had high hopes for “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.” I want to be able to think of the “Transformers” movies as craptacular diversions for Bay; exceptions to the overall rule of workmanlike and solid direction that I thought informed most of his other efforts. I’m sorry to say that if “13 Hours” is any indication, I think Bay has lost what talent he once had for making these types of movies.

The first hour of “13 Hours” serves to set up the second, where we see the titular soldiers defend a secret CIA compound from a siege by largely unidentified militants. I think I’m a pretty intelligent film-goer, but I had an extremely difficult time following what was happening during the first half. The scenes changed from the CIA compound to the nearby official diplomatic one, but they shifted so quickly that it was hard for me to tell what was happening, where.

Worse yet, “13 Hours” takes shaky-cam quick cutting to a whole new level. Not only did the camera’s constant movement induce nausea, but it also made it nearly impossible to tell who was shooting at who, and when. I get it — part of the point of the movie is that when the combatants aren’t wearing uniforms, it’s difficult to tell who is on your side. But that point was much more effectively made in the second half, when we could finally tell (for the most part) what was happening, where. There are plenty of Baysplosions here, but Baysplosions only work when I can tell what it is that’s exploding.

Bay used to be one of our best action filmmakers. Now he only serves to punctuate how terrible most American-made action movies have become. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Paul Greengrass / “Bourne” shaky cam shots with fast cutting don’t make fight scenes more exciting, they make those scenes more confusing. They are the tool of the lazy and untalented filmmaker. Anyone can jostle a camera around and create quick cuts; actually choreographing fight scenes so that the audience always knows who is hitting or shooting at whom, and where they are standing in relation to one another or their surroundings takes actual talent and skill.

My advice: if you want to see a good action movie, watch “The Raid,” “The Raid 2,” or “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Don’t waste your time on this one.

 

“The Choice”

LOUISA:   2 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Do you really need to read a review of this movie? It’s based on a Nicholas Sparks book so you can probably guess the plot without ever having to set foot in a theater. All of the usual suspects are here: star-crossed lovers, a whirlwind romance, a country carnival scene, lots of rain, two guys fighting over a girl, people staring longingly at a fake celestial backdrop and more than a half dozen close-ups of single tears running down someone’s cheek. Let’s not forget that something ridiculous happens late in the third act (because of course it does), but awwwww, it made the women in my theater reach for their hankies. Isn’t that why people buy tickets to this junk in the first place?

It’s a formula that was built on the foundations of tried-and-true women’s movie of the week diversions from the manipulating masters at Lifetime or the Hallmark Channel. This isn’t smart entertainment, it’s an emotional outlet for lonelyhearts or those who just need a good cry.

You can bet when something is mentioned early in the film it will come into play later. For example, a big deal is made out of the fact that a guy has only one chair in his yard — which according to the female love interest means that he wants to live alone. Wouldn’t you know it, once she decides to have dinner with him, he goes out and gets another chair! And then — wait for it — she SITS IN IT next to him! Wow, I didn’t see THAT coming!

I’m always bugged by these types of movies because women are portrayed as having zero integrity when it comes to their own relationships. Why is it that “out of sight, out of mind” always seems to be a huge plot point? The second their long time loves leave town, they fall in love with the nearest guy in the vicinity. The new guy is always their true soul mate (groan). I was bothered by the brief mention that the male love interest was an atheist, and it was implied that this was because he must be mad at God. While not discussed at length in the movie, this is a ridiculous notion that I’m seeing in a lot of movies lately.

I enjoyed the coastal North Carolina setting, an area where I grew up and a place that holds many fond memories for me. It doesn’t take much to make that part of the country look sun soaked and gorgeous, and it’s the better star of this movie. The characters are burdened with such stereotypical characteristics (beer swillin’, barbecue cookin’, church goin’ pickup truck drivin’ good ole boys) that you can’t take them seriously. It doesn’t help that the Southern accents are horribly inaccurate across the board. Luckily there’s plenty of believable chemistry between the two leads (Teresa Palmer and Benjamin Walker, doing their best with the lousy material), and there’s enough semi-compelling situations to keep viewers interested.

If you are considering going to another weepie based on a Nicholas Sparks book, then this movie will give you exactly what you expect and desire. It delivers what it sets out to do, so for that it isn’t a total failure.


Matt was unavailable for review.

“Deadpool”

LOUISA:   2 STARS     MATT:   3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

I’m frequently accused of being a contrarian when it comes to crowd-pleasing blockbuster movies, but let me start this review by saying that I really, really, really wanted to like this movie. “Deadpool” is the perfect example of why box office receipts don’t always accurately reflect quality. Just because everyone you know has seen it and is talking about it, and just because it’s made millions of dollars doesn’t mean it’s a good movie. It’s juvenile, gimmicky and not much more than a barrage of lame pop culture references. Is that the point of the movie? Maybe. But “Deadpool” is one big yawn.

I love the concept of an R-rated made-for-grownups superhero movie, and I welcome more in the future. But “Deadpool” is a fairly mild R; a rating that feels more like an obnoxious attempt to bully the audience into thinking that it’s a much more clever movie than it actually is. It’s full of cussing and violence and nudity “just because.”

I can already hear the backlash I’m going to get from the online dork community: “well, you would’ve loved the movie if you knew the character and the comics.” I find this a seriously flawed argument. A good movie should have me engaged and make me care about the character even if I have zero background knowledge of the source material. Never have I picked up one comic book but I was instantly head over heels for Magneto, Wolverine, Tony Stark and Captain America (among others) in far better movie franchises. There’s no doubt in my mind that the folks who made this movie have serious love for “the merc with the mouth,” but a good movie would’ve made me fall in love with the main characters too, warts and all. In-jokes and references are fun for hard-core fans, I get that. But when a movie is mostly comprised of those little winking Easter eggs, it leaves nothing for your casual audience to enjoy. That in itself is something I see as a huge filmmaking failure.

I can also hear the cries of “you just didn’t ‘get’ the movie!” Believe me, I “got” the movie, I “got” the sarcastic anti-hero, I “got” the jokes — they just weren’t funny. I didn’t find the repeated comic references nor constant scenes of Deadpool breaking the fourth wall and directly addressing the audience nearly as satisfying or as clever as the filmmakers obviously did. In my mind I can see Ryan Reynolds‘ and director Tim Miller‘s smirking faces, both of them kicking back with a smug sense of self-satisfaction.

The tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic opening credits showed a ton of promise, but it turned out that sequence was not only the first but also the last thing I liked about this predominantly laugh-free movie. Like its titular character, “Deadpool” is snarky, obnoxious and just a pain in the ass.

MATT SAYS:

I liked the idea of “Deadpool” more than I liked the actual movie. I mean, the movie was okay, but I was hoping I would love it.

What a compelling narrative in the film world: Ryan Reynolds, after playing a mute version of the character (which has been widely criticized, and rightly so), lobbies Fox (the owner of rights to the “X-Men” franchise) to make a version of “Deadpool” that isn’t completely watered-down and spineless with a PG–13 rating. Finally Fox relents and gives the production company $55 million to make the movie, the way Reynolds thinks it should be made. Fast forward to 2016, when the movie breaks all kinds of records (biggest February opening of all time; fifth-biggest superhero movie of all time; biggest R-rated opening of all time; the list goes on).

Wow, what a narrative! Maybe it will result in studios taking more chances! Maybe we will stop getting watered-down PG-13 travesties! Maybe studios will now be encouraged to trust filmmakers and producers to make their passion projects without too much interference! I still hold out hope that these things will happen, but I’m cynical and think that will probably not be the case.

With a pedigree like this, I wanted so much to LOVE the movie. There are a lot of things to like about it. The Honest Trailers-version of the opening credits were incredible and almost worth the price of admission, all by itself. I liked that this “Deadpool” didn’t hold back on the quips. While I’m not a comic-book guy, I understand that Deadpool is known as the “merc with the mouth,” and he certainly lived up to that reputation. I liked the character, and I liked Reynolds’ version of it. Plus, I love Ryan Reynolds (and have since “Van Wilder” — if you haven’t seen it yet, watch it right now!) and this movie let Ryan Reynolds be “Ryan Reynolds.”

What I didn’t like was that it sort of fell into the typical super-hero tropes. As the credits promised, there was a crappy-looking CGI character. There was a obligatory Stan Lee cameo (which by itself isn’t a bad thing, but it always leads to the inevitable mass breaking of one of the Moviegoer’s 10 Commandments). There were fast-cutting action sequences. There was a final battle staged on a giant CGI whatsit that just looked dumb. In other words, for all of the things that the movie did well in trying to break “the rules” of big studio superhero movie, in many respects it followed them, too. And it suffered for it.

Okay, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of this character, and yes, I hope all of the aforementioned good things that COULD come out of it, will (but the cynical me says they won’t), but I am disappointed to not be able to put this movie in the four-star category. Standing on its own, it would be strictly a three-star, but it gets an extra half-star for Reynolds’ passion and how it got made (please oh please let this mean that studios will be less risk-averse in the future).

Sundance Recap: “Captain Fantastic”

LOUISA:  2.5 STARS    MATT:   2.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Inventive take on the classic fish out of water tale with occasional flashes of brilliance but overly long and tedious. There are so many provocative themes that could’ve been explored more thoroughly here but in the end the film is nothing more than a string of missed opportunities.

Viggo Mortensen is effective as a survivalist dad raising his 6 kids in the wilderness. When a tragedy necessitates their return to civilization, all hell breaks loose. Indie favorites Steve Zahn, Kathryn Hahn, George MacKay and Frank Langella all give effective performances: so effective that I’m sad I didn’t like this movie. The kids are delightful and play their roles with the utmost sincerity. One of the best scenes is when a small child who is educated in the arts (both literary and deadly) matches wits with a pair of her public school educated cousins; you can probably guess what happens.

With some truly memorable moments and rich writing from writer-director Matt Ross, it’s a shame that “Captain Fantastic” isn’t a tighter movie.

MATT SAYS:

Here is another example of a really good movie hiding within a so-so movie. In “Captain Fantastic,” we meet a survivalist family living in the Washington woods. Dad teaches his six kids music, literature, politics, physical fitness, and survival skills and the family seems relatively happy. When a family tragedy occurs, they must leave the safety and serenity of their home, travel south and interact with the rest of the world — which presents a variety of challenges.

Many moments are memorable and work well. But then there are also long stretches of time where virtually nothing happens. It’s these scenes that slow the movie’s pace to a crawl and water down the good content. It’s a shame, because there’s lots to like here. Trimming 30 minutes or so and picking up the pace would help, but in its current state, this movie is hard to recommend.

“Fifty Shades of Black”

LOUISA:   2 STARS    MATT:   1.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Fifty Shades of Black” is not quite a parody and not quite a spoof. How can you successfully make fun of a pop culture phenomenon that in itself is already one big joke? This is a nearly scene-by-scene recap of the movie version of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” It’s like a group of giggling 16 year old boys sat in a room, watched the original movie and came up with their own lame gags. Sadly, most of the antics and wisecracks are borderline dreadful.

I’m not saying there’s nothing to like here. There’s the always charming Marlon Wayans and a fun homage performance from Kali Hawk. There are more than a few surprisingly original, very funny jokes that made me laugh out loud. Jane Seymour, as Christian’s clueless stepmother, delivers some of the best material in the movie. The funniest jokes are the ones that poke fun at racism and the s&m / sexism that bubbles over in the original story. At least they weren’t lazy and tried to write good jokes. But none of these highlights can save the mean-spirited, clunky attempts at humor.

This movie isn’t nearly as bad as you think it would be, but save your money and wait to rent it on dvd.

MATT SAYS:

Spoof movies usually suck. And not just a little. A lot. The worst are those awful Seltzer / Friedberg reference movie collaborations, like “Disaster Movie” and “Meet the Spartans.” The Wayans brothers, however, consistently make better parody movies than pretty much everyone else. Not that they’re great (they usually aren’t), but the writing is pretty much always better than your average spoof. “Fifty Shades of Black” is no exception.

Not that “Fifty Shades of Black” is a good movie, exactly… it isn’t. But it is watchable, which is saying something for a movie like this one. There are some good jokes here, and most of them are not completely lazy. Some actual thought went into writing the script.

The problem with any parody is that it helps when the film being spoofed was good in the first place. This is particularly true where, as with “Fifty Shades of Black,” the storyline pretty much follows the original. If the original story wasn’t that interesting, the spoof usually won’t be, either. It’s hard to keep an audience’s attention when the story itself is dull.

The filmmakers did the most they could with boring source material, and managed to squeeze some pretty good laughs out of it. That’s still not enough, however, to make the movie one to recommend.

“Where to Invade Next”

LOUISA:    4 STARS    MATT:   4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Love him or hate him, Michael Moore is a skilled filmmaker. Unlike his other films, “Where to Invade Next” is aimed at being more educational and thoughtful instead of an inflammatory flame piece against conservatives. Of course there are a few digs at Dubya and others, but the film doesn’t present Obama in the most positive light either.

The mildly sarcastic premise is great: Michael Moore treks across the globe to “invade” countries and “steal” their best social ideas to bring back to America. He explores women’s rights, education, prison systems, drug policies, sex ed, welfare, commerce, workers’ rights and more. The segment on school lunches in France versus in America was at once enlightening and depressing. When Moore shows a table of French school children photos of actual American school lunches, they nearly recoil in horror — and I had the same reaction. Another high point was Moore’s visit to Tunisia, the unlikely site of a women’s rights revolution. He heads to Italy to interview workers and factory owners, Slovenia to talk to college students, Norway to explore their prison system, Finland to visit schools, Iceland for an education on their financial crisis, as well as stops in Portugal, Germany and France.

The thought provoking material is presented in an enjoyable, scholarly and playful manner that is wildly entertaining as well as highly educational. I kept making mental notes of points to research after the movie was over; I absolutely love when a film teaches me something.

This documentary is funny, sad, inspiring and infuriating. I think you should try to see this movie regardless of your political affiliation. Again, this is NOT a typical Michael Moore movie (it’s not as one-sided or as extremist as “Fahrenheit 9/11,” “Sicko,” or “Bowling for Columbine“). If it’s critical of anyone, it’s critical of the American people for our indifference and unwillingness to defy injustice in our own communities.

America is still the greatest country on Earth, but some of our systems are completely broken and we, the people, are the ones who need to demand change. As effectively shown in the film, the fall of the Berlin wall started with a few dissidents with hammers and chisels. A small chip eventually became a larger hole that eventually led to the wall coming down. It’s a  classic Michael Moore advocacy piece: this battle cry to take action will have you motivated to get out there and change the world.

MATT SAYS:

It’s difficult to review a movie like “Where to Invade Next” because a person’s reaction to it may vary based on his or her personal politics. But I’ll do my best.

I went to see the movie not knowing what it would be about. Other than knowing it was a Michael Moore film, I didn’t know what to expect. I was a bit surprised to learn that the movie isn’t really about criticizing the U.S. military-industrial complex (although that criticism is certainly present); instead, the “invasions” refer to Moore visiting other countries to find out what they do right from a social and quality-of-life perspective, and bringing those ideas back to the U.S. And that’s what worked for me about the movie. Instead of simply pointing to things that aren’t working in the U.S., Moore shows us what other countries are doing better than we are. He shares ideas and is constructive in suggesting what we could be doing better for quality of life.

As a film, the movie isn’t quite as well-constructed as some of Moore’s earlier work. It rambles a bit and lacks the laser-like focus of “Roger & Me,” “Fahrenheit 911,” or “Bowling For Columbine.” But what I liked about “Where to Invade Next” is that it isn’t a polemic and isn’t incendiary. There’s no vitriol here. Yes, the picture he paints of life in the other countries he “invades” is a bit idealistic – there are lots of rainbows and unicorns here – but that doesn’t make the suggestions any less worth consideration.

“Where to Invade Next” provides plenty of food for thought and discussion. After seeing the movie, I’m not clear as to what it is I should be doing differently to help bring about this change (vote for Bernie Sanders? vote for Hillary? get out there and protest?), but that doesn’t make it any less worth seeing.

 

“How to Be Single”

LOUISA:  4 STARS    MATT:   2 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

As a female, I responded very well to “How to Be Single.” Most of us have either been in similar situations portrayed in the movie or we’ve sat beside our girlfriends when they’ve found themselves in comparable positions.

The women-centric humor makes this more of a “girls’ night out” movie than a “date night” movie. That’s not to say that men won’t find things to enjoy here, but I think if you’re a girl you’ll find a little extra delight in the story and characters.

I loved how the film treats its leads with respect: Rebel Wilson (Robin) thankfully isn’t the butt of fatty jokes and Dakota Johnson is perfect as normal, average, everyday girl Alice (no fake movie star good looks). It was completely believable that these two would be fast friends. Throw in a charming turn from Alison Brie (Lucy) and the always charismatic Leslie Mann (Meg) and you have a recipe for success. Men are well represented and surprisingly well written too, something you don’t often see in such a gal-pal movie. Damon Wayans Jr. (David) and Anders Holm (Tom) give convincing performances as dudes with issues that (mostly) felt authentic — let’s forget the plumbing joke, shall we?

Best of all, this movie is funny! While Rebel steals the show as usual, there were times when I had to cover my mouth in the theater because I couldn’t stop laughing. Judging by my fellow female audience members, the humor was a slam dunk with them too.

It was a little off-putting that most of the women in the film were adamant that they didn’t need a man to be happy, yet they still spend the entire film in pursuit of one. But that’s okay. In the end, what’s not to like about an overall message of friendship, finding your way, and owning your sexuality?

There are a few too many subplots and storylines with characters who get left by the wayside, but that often happens with movies that are based on novels (like this one by Liz Tuccillo). Despite its minor flaws, this is still an enjoyable and very funny film.

MATT SAYS:

I am not part of the target audience for this film. If you have more than one X chromosome you may want to stop reading right now. This review is for the men out there who may be dragged to see this movie.

Okay, that last sentence sounds a little harsh, and unfairly so. “How to Be Single” was not written or made for me. As suggested by the title, this movie isn’t really about male-female relationships. Yes, there are some that develop over the movie, but those are not the primary focus.

It’s not really a romantic comedy; it’s more of a straight-up comedy that was made for women. And based on the reaction of the women in the audience when I saw it, it worked very well for them. There just isn’t much here that a man can relate to.

While the story wasn’t compelling for me, there are a few things I really liked about it: first, the message of the movie – that you don’t need to be in a relationship to be a complete person, and that it’s better to be comfortable being single than stuck with someone who is incompatible with you just because you’re scared of being alone. Second, I liked how Rebel Wilson’s character isn’t defined by her size, and there weren’t any fat jokes or jokes at her expense — unlike the “Pitch Perfect” movies, which consistently make mean-spirited jokes about her size. Third, I liked the relationships between the women, which seemed natural and fully-formed. Finally, I liked its progressive views towards male/female relationships. Paradoxically, the movie repeatedly made the backwardly conservative suggestion that a woman needs children to be complete – which bugged the hell out of me.

“How to Be Single” is a perfect movie for a girl’s night out. If you’re looking for a date movie, you’d be better off choosing something different.