Indie Gems: I, Daniel Blake

A never ending cycle.

Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) suffers a massive heart attack at age 59. His doctors tell him he can't go back to work, but he's getting the run around from the unemployment office when trying to sign up for benefits. While there, he befriends a single mom named Katie (Hayley Squires) who is also having a rough time trying to get benefits after she's forced to move.

I hadn't heard of this film until the BAFTA's gave it a ton of love earlier in the year. It struck me as an American, how amazing Britian's healthcare system is compared to ours with nearly everything covered. You'd think that all their government programs would be the same, but that's absolutely not the case. Daniel is given zero guidance on how to register for the proper help. They won't even assist him with filling out a form online when he isn't familiar with computers. It's frustrating to see him treated that way, especially when he wants to get back to work but is repeated told he can't.

Johns and Squires are perfectly cast here and have great chemistry together. Their friendship is pure and believable. 

A film like this is very predictable, but it's so well made that it makes up for it.

Grade: A-

Watched on: Delta Studios in flight 

Memorable Quote: "I feel like I'm going under." - Katie (Hayley Squires)

Thursday Movie Picks: Medical Dramas - TV Edition

Someone is going to need to prescribe me some muscle relaxers for the amount of reaching I'm about to do this week. It's another TV edition from Wanderer, and I just happen to be the only person who never got into Grey's Anatomy, ER, Nip/Tuck or any other medical drama. So brace yourselves, some bullshit is coming.

1) Scrubs

This is at least close to the theme, though it's a comedy. Scrubs is the only TV show I watched that took place in a hospital. It had some dramatic moments, damn it.

2) Agents of SHIELD

What's this madness? Well, Simmons, one of the leads on this show is a doctor and they actually do talk about medical procedures fairly often. Someone is always quarantined, injured, or an alien that needs examining. 

3) Doc McStuffins

You think a kiddie show can't be dramatic? Well, thanks to my son I've seen every single episode of this show and let me tell you, Doc's toys are dramatic as hell. Stuffy always thinks he's injured and Chilly clearly has some form of depression that no one is addressing. 

DVD Review: Beauty and the Beast

This movie sucks, you guys.

I don't think I need to recap what Beauty and the Beast is about. It's one of my favorite Disney movies, and when I heard they were doing a live action version, I welcomed the idea. In my mind, I fan casted Emmy Rossum as Belle as she would've been perfect. Instead, they chose Emma Watson, who cannot act (nor sing as it turns out) and apparently didn't spend enough money on proper CGI because it all looked awful.

This isn't a review; it's a rant. I'll be up front about it in case you want to stop reading. I skipped it in theaters after seeing the trailers but it was an option for an in flight movie and my son legitimately wanted to watch it. 

It's sad when the two most obnoxious characters, Luke Evan's Gaston and Josh Gad's LeFou are the best part of the film. Kevin Kline was atrocious as Maurice, he looked like he couldn't be bothered to emote (maybe that's where Belle got that from?) Emma Watson ranges from "bored" to "trying hard to remember my lines" throughout the entire film and they've autotuned her voice so much that none of Belle's songs capture the same magic from the animated version.

And that right there is the film's biggest problem (aside from poor casting and CGI) they didn't capture any of the magic from the original. Be Our Guest wasn't as flashy. Tale as Old as Time wasn't as romantic. Even the talented voice cast couldn't breathe a bit more life into their characters. It was all subpar. 

I'm mostly in shock that a film who added unnecessary side stories that caused it to drag even more and whose lead has the weakest singing voice is going to make a billion dollars at the box office. Everyone was surprised that Alice in Wonderland managed that feat seven years ago. That was a far better film than this. 

Recommended: No

Grade: F

Memorable Quote: "The Captain has turned the seat belt sign back on, please return to your seats." - the flight attendant while I was watching this. 

DVD Review: Split

It's the voices.

Dennis (James McAvoy) is a troubled man diagnosed with 23 different personalities. His therapist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) thinks he's a marvel, but his constant emails for emergency meetings have her concerned. And that's for good reason, seeing as he's just kidnapped three teenager girls; the troubled Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her two red shirts classmates Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia. (Jessica Sula) Casey is the passive one. She doesn't want to fight, she wants to listen and figure this out first. Things start to escalate.

I gave up M. Night Shyamalan movies long ago because they're trash. But when this one got good reviews, I decided I'd give it a chance as I'm a big fan of James McAvoy. He does not disappoint. He's absolutely wonderful in this film and really gets to show off his versatile acting chops, but I have to wonder if this film is getting over praised because Shyamalan didn't massively fuck up again?

Spoilers are coming

Split, in all honestly was pretty dull. It had some good ideas but it never properly built the dread a film like this should rely on. It was always obviously Casey would make it out, and her two friends would not. They're essentially afterthoughts in this film. Just two people to up the body count. The "big Shyamalan twist" at the end was the reappearance of Bruce Willis' character from Unbreakable, which I give him credit as no one saw that coming. But that wasn't even the thing that stuck with me at the end. It was the last look Casey gave the police officer when they said her uncle was here to pick her up.

That same uncle who from various flashbacks we're shown has been sexually abusing Casey since she was a small child. This is meant to explain why Casey is "different" from Claire and Marcia, self harms, cuts class, etc. But I don't think M. Night was the right director to handle something as terrible and triggering as sexual abuse. It felt insincere in his hands. Like it was just another thing he wanted to use to shock. 

Recommended: No

Grade: C-

Memorable Quote: "I'll let you know when I hear something that makes sense." - Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy)

Thursday Movie Picks: The Woods

This week's theme from Wandering Through the Shelves is everyone's favorite creepy place to hang out alone: the woods. It's really hard not to go completely with the horror route this week. Here's what I came up with. 

1) The Cabin the Woods

I gave myself one horror pick because I love this movie so much. It's still hilarious no matter how many times I re-watch it. 

2) The Hunt for the Wilderpeople

This wonderful little film that takes place in the New Zealand bush was one of my favorites from last year. 

3) Once Upon a Forest

I used to watch this movie all the time when I was a kid. It's about some woodland critters (not the South Park kind) who try to find a rare plant to save one of their sick friends (who was voiced by Elisabeth Moss, which I never knew before)  To make this childhood story even more lame, the only reason I had this on VHS in the first place was because I won it at my local roller rink for winning the "Four Corners" game.

2017 Blind Spot Series: Do The Right Thing

It's gonna get hotter. 

What I knew going in: Aside from the themes about racial divide, not much at all.

Sal (Danny Aiello) owns a pizza place in Brooklyn. His customers are almost exclusively black due to the area he built in. His racist son, Pino (John Turturro) thinks he should relocate, but he refuses. One day one of his customers, Buggin Out (Giancarlo Esposito) asks why he only has photos of Italian American white men and no black men on his walls. This disagreement turns into Buggin Out attempting to boycott the pizzeria, which continues to escalate throughout the day. Mookie (Spike Lee) A friend of Buggin, but an employee of Sal finds himself caught in the middle.

Doing "day in the life" films can be difficult. It's hard to follow someone, or a few people around for a set period of time if their story doesn't progress or shift in any way. Do The Right Thing makes it look easy. There's a lot going on in this film. Through Mookie's eyes, we meet all of his neighbors. Some more memorable than others but every single one felt like they served a purpose.

It's hard for me to describe how this film was shot. To me, it looks like a music video, and it absolutely works. The camera is often above our character, shooting them at a downwards angle. It's not afraid to get in their personal space. I imagine that's how Lee wanted his audience to feel. Like we needed to get in there to understand the importance of it all.

It's so strange for me to see Esposito in a role like this after being so used to him as the methodical Gus Fring in Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul.  I'm glad Lee cast himself in this as well. The acting is great all around, especially from the supporting cast. I felt myself getting very defensive of Roger Guenveur Smith's Smiley several times. But I can't for the life of me figure out why out of all these people, Aiello ended up with the lone acting Oscar nomination. He's good, don't get me wrong, but I didn't feel that he was the strongest.

Recommended: Yes

Grade: B+

Memorable Quote: "You should boycott the barber that fucked up your head."  - Sweet Dick Willie (Robin Harris)

DVD Review: Your Name

What is this life?

Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi) is a teenager living in a small town in Japan who dreams of living in Tokyo. Taki (Ry√Ľnosuke Kamiki) is a teenager living an overly scheduled life in Tokyo where he attends school and works part time at an Italian restaurant. Some nights they have dreams where they live the other's lives, and they start to communicate by leaving notes for each other to make those "dreams" easier. 

I'm not familiar with writer/director Makoto Shinkai's work, but when I read a few reviews for this film a while back, I knew immediately I wanted to see it. I was happy to see that it was an option to watch on my long flight to Europe last week. 

The story itself is quite amusing. Obviously you can't just seamlessly transition into living someone else's life. Mitsuha and Taki make a ton of mistakes in each other bodies. Mitsuha also attempts to help Taki's dating life much to his embarrassment. Taki doesn't try to change anything about Mitsuha's life, except for the fact that he fondles her/his breasts every time because he's a teenage boy.

The latter half of the film started to get messy once the two attempt to meet each other and see that their bond is even stranger than before. That got slightly irritating to watch as I just wish they would've hurried up a bit. (Admittedly, that could've just been the long flight too) But Your Name is a memorable anime that will stick with me for a long time. 

Recommended: Yes

Grade: B

Memorable Quote: "I hate this life! Please make me a handsome Tokyo boy in my next life! - Mitsuha (Mone Kamishiraishi)

Thursday Movie Picks: Movies Based on True Events

This week's theme from Wandering Through the Shelves is all about real life. There's a sea of bio pics and movies inspired by famous murders out there. I'll be surprised if there's a lot of overlap at all. I ended up doing a theme within a theme without realizing it. All three of the movies I chose feature James Franco

1) True Story

Christian Longo murdered his wife and three children, then fled to Mexico using the alias of Mike Finkel, a New York Times reporter. He then tells his story to the real Finkel while in prison. Even knowing the case behind this, the film still managed to make you wonder if things were going to be different. 

2) Lovelace

The true story of Linda Lovelace who was pushed into the adult film industry by her creep of a husband and was frequently abused by several people in the business before getting herself out. Amanda Seyfried gives her career best in the lead role, the entire cast is very strong. 

3) 127 Hours

Aron Ralston goes mountain climbing alone in Utah and ends up with his arm wedged between a boulder after falling down a crevasse. He ends up having to cut off his own arm with a small knife in order to free himself. This film was beautifully shot by Danny Boyle.  

Thursday Movie Picks: Double Features

This week, Wanderer asks us to choose films we think make a good double feature. There are endless possibilities here. This is what I came up with.

1) 2:37/Elephant

Both of these movies involve tragedies set in high schools. At one time, 2:37 was accused of ripping Elephant off but aside from one tracking shot, I think they're very different looks into how the worse thing imaginable can happen within a school.

2) Black Sheep/Tommy Boy

Nostalgia pick! I used to watch these two films back to back all the time when I was a kid. In fact, sometimes when I think of a specific scene, I struggle to remember which movie it was from.

3) The Big Short/99 Homes

Both of these movies tackle the American housing crisis in 2008, but they look at it from different sides. The Big Short shows us the rich Wall Street workers that pulled it off, and 99 Homes shows us the poor people that suffered. 

Review: Wonder Woman

Nevertheless, she persisted. 

We've already met Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) in Batman v Superman but in her solo film we see her as Diana, a princess in her hidden land of warrior women called Themyscira. They're sworn to protect man from Ares, the God of war. When a WWI pilot, Steve (Chris Pine) breaches their barrier and washes up on shore. Diane goes with him to help save innocent lives after he tells her of the Great War. 

DCEU finally has a film on their hands that isn't a complete trainwreck, and that feels good. But am I going to lose a little blogger cred here if I say that I didn't like all of it? Don't get me wrong. The majority of this film is amazing. The first time we see Diana dawn her costume, walk into "No Man's Land" solo, with her perfect theme music picking up at just the right moment was masterful. I couldn't believe how emotional I felt watching it. It was stunning, I thought I was actually going to cry for a minute, but the climatic fight scene at the end is horrendous. They had elegant and strangely gorgeous fight choreography through out, but the 3rd act sacrifices all that to special effects that don't live up. I'm actually shocked that something so bad happened in a film that was so good right up until that moment.

Thankfully, that's not enough to sour the movie. Gal Gadot really captures Diana's naivety. Whether she's seeing a baby or tasting ice cream for the first time, it's so sincere to witness. Because of that, I couldn't really get behind her and Steve's eventual romance. Or at least one part of it. It just felt strange. Pine does a good job too. He's an actor I always find easy to watch. The supporting cast is diverse and fun, with the exception of David Thewlis for reasons I can't really get into without spoiling. But most of all, I'm so happy for director Patty Jenkins. She hasn't directed a feature since 2003 and she opened this one to 100 million. Now that's wonderful.

I think it's a testament to how great comic book movies can be when they make us love characters we didn't when reading said comic books. I never liked Wonder Woman until now. Just like I didn't care about Iron Man until Robert Downey Jr. stepped into his shoes. Gadot and that glorious theme music will make me root for her from here on out.

Recommended: Yes

Grade: B+

Memorable Quote: "Well...that's neat." - Steve Trevor (Chris Pine)

Indie Gems: The Girl With All The Gifts

I'm like you.

When we first meet Melanie (Sennia Nanua) she's a normal looking girl. Aside from the fact that she lives in a cell block, and has to be transferred to her school room via restrained wheelchair, along with several other students every morning. It doesn't take long to explain why Melanie and her classmates are different. She has an innocent crush on her teacher, Ms. Justineau (Gemma Arterton) who has to be repeatedly told she's not "a real child." When all hell breaks lose, and the zombies (or in this case "hungries") on the outside break their way into the once safe compound, Melanie, Ms. Justineau, and a few others must flee to find a safe place.

I read the book last year and enjoyed it. The film does a great job of fast tracking the novel. Not much has changed. Just enough to keep the story moving but all they key elements are still there. This is one of the most fascinating takes on the zombie apocalypse I've seen in some time. And for a film that only had a 4M budget, it looks fantastic.

Nanua shines in her debut. Her persona is exactly how I pictured Melanie, friendly, eager to learn, and so kind. The same can't be said for Arterton, who I've never cared much for. (I was also picturing someone like Ruth Negga or Naomie Harris when reading) The supporting cast of Glenn Close, Paddy Considine and Fisayo Akinade are much stronger. 

I don't even think this got a U.S theatrical release and if it did it was only in a few theaters, but it deserved more than that.

Grade: A-

Watched on: Netflix DVD

Memorable Quote: "She looks at me like I'm Jesus." - Ms. Justineau (Gemma Arterton)

Thursday Movie Picks: Tall Buildings

This week's theme from Wandering Through The Shelves is about movies featuring a tall buildings. There's probably a bunch of really obvious ones I'm missing but I could think of two.  I decided to use my 3rd pick as more of a pun. Here's what I came up with. 

1)  Man on Wire

This wonderful documentary was about a man named Philippe Petit who hung a tight rope between the Twin towers and walked across. It almost plays out like a heist. 

2) The Walk

This is the movie version of Man on Wire starring my favorite actor, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Sure, it's not the documentary but it was a good film and managed to use 3D filming to its advantage. 

3) Annie

"This floor better shine like the top of the Chrysler building!"