REVIEW: “Deepwater Horizon”

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I well remember the 2010 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and the resulting 210 million gallons of oil that blanketed the Gulf of Mexico. My family and I had a Caribbean cruise set for a couple of months after the explosion. We stayed glued to the news coverage as efforts were made to keep the oil slick’s damage to a minimum. We wondered if our cruise would be canceled, but far more important than our measly vacation plans were the eleven lives lost and the ecological damage caused by what was the worst oil disaster in the nation’s history.

The film “Deepwater Horizon” is based on these terrible events of April 20, 2010. Mark Wahlberg plays Chief Electronics Technician Mike Williams who leaves his family for a three week rotation onboard Deepwater Horizon which sits 40 miles off the Louisiana coast. He arrives with navigation officer Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez) and crew chief Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) to discover certain safety tests were skipped by the previous shift.

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With the rig’s stability in question Jimmy confronts the BP representatives who are onboard to find out why the operation is over 40 days behind schedule. A delightfully sleazy John Malkovich plays Donald Vidrine, a BP manager willing to skirt around safety protocols for the sake of the company’s bottom line. There is some great headbutting between the profit-driven Malkovich and the salty realist Russell.

Writers Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand break their story into two halves. The first is focused on developing the tension between the Horizon’s crew and the corporate reps. One of the best early scenes has Wahlberg challenging and exposing Malkovich by saying “hope is not a tactic”. Through these clashes we are fed more and more insight into the calamity we know is on the way.

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The second half becomes a story of survival as the film shifts to the explosion and the people trapped on the rig. It’s a much different turn but it’s just as gripping. The film wisely keeps its characters grounded and at no point do they come across as superheroes. It’s also helped by tremendous special effects (which earned an Oscar nomination) and top-notch editing that covers all of the story’s angles at a fast and fluid pace.

“Deepwater Horizon” is the second of three straight collaborations between director Peter Berg and the every-man Mark Wahlberg. Their story of unflinching heroism in the face of undaunted corporate greed is both revealing and inspiring. I’m an admitted disaster movie junkie, and many of them depend on some level of sensationalism. “Deepwater Horizon” keeps its focus on the 126 crew members aboard the rig on that horrible day. Some barely survived while others lost their lives. The movie is always conscious of that truth and as a result we are too.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

4-stars

Remember this trailer? #4 – “Top Gun” (1986)

Classic Trailer Flashback – “Top Gun” (1986)

“I feel the need, the need for speed”. It’s a ridiculous, cheesy, and absolutely fantastic line that captures what makes “Top Gun” such a great movie especially for teens of the 1980s. It actually wasn’t the trailer that first got me excited for “Top Gun”. It was the music video for “Danger Zone” by movie soundtrack superstar Kenny Loggins. But when I saw the trailer with my family my dad was sold. The movie actually had something for everyone and the trailer shows that. It is 100% a product of the 80s which may hurt it with younger audiences, but I loved “Top Gun” as a kid and…well….I still do.

So, do you remember the trailer for “Top Gun”? What do you think?

Random Thoughts: The 2017 Oscars

It’s hard to believe another year and another Oscars ceremony has come and gone. As expected a lot of things went the obvious route and there were very few surprises. The were some great speeches, some weird moments, and relentless political babbling from Jimmy Kimmel . But the 2017 Academy Awards will forever be remembered for its ridiculous goofup to end the night. As a whole it was a fun celebration of the past movie season. As I do every year, here are a few random thoughts.

  • Jimmy Kimmel had some decent moments. There were some good gags particularly his constant bit with Matt Damon and some of his political stuff hit the mark. Eventually politics got old yet Kimmel milked it dry. He ended up helping the show run about 40 minutes over. Overall not bad hosting but nothing special.
  • Let’s get right to it. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway’s Best Picture announcement is now etched in Oscar history. The win went to “La La Land”, they had time to walk up to the stage, they hugged and celebrated, gave acceptance speeches, and then someone magically got word that “Moonlight” was the actual winner? I’m not a conspiracy theorist but something seems a little fishy.
  • Beatty has gotten a lot of heat, but it’s pretty clear he and Dunaway aren’t to blame. The production team and PricewaterhouseCoopers are more responsible for the flub. Who knows the full truth, but it sure is a lot to swallow. Pretty embarrassing. It was a kind move by Kimmel to try and deflect the blame towards himself.

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  • As for “Moonlight”, it remains my least favorite of the Best Picture nominees. I just don’t share the adoration. It’s a very okay movie that loses a ton of steam once Mahershala Ali leaves the screen. Aside from Ali and some striking camerawork, “Moonlight” takes a long time to say much of anything, but it does check several important boxes that will help Academy voters to feel better after last year’s drumming.
  • Hats off to Jordan Horowitz, producer for “La La Land”. In what had to be a major disappointment he was incredibly gracious is handing the trophies over to “Moonlight”. Wonderful appreciation shown back by Barry Jenkins. Both men showed a lot of class.
  • “La La Land” didn’t go home empty-handed. The film won six Oscars despite missing a well-deserved Best Picture win. There were hints it could lose the biggest award. For some reason many naturally rebel against movies that earn a lot of awards attention. Plus with so many people currently hellbent on division why would the Best Picture Oscar go to a nostalgic movie aimed at making us feel good and offering a cinematic and musical escape? Unfortunately the writing was on the wall.
  • Remember when “Hacksaw Ridge” won for Best Editing? Historically there’s a strong link between winners of Best Editing and Best Picture. I thought for a second that we might be blindsided at the end of the show. Actually we were but for much different reasons.
  • Predictably Casey Affleck won the Best Actor Oscar for “Manchester by the Sea”. Great performance but Denzel Washington was my hands-down favorite. I knew he was a long shot to win, but he gave a performance not to be forgotten. And what an amazing presence at the Oscars!

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  • Speaking of Affleck, notice how he got a standing ovation yet many still treat Mel Gibson as a pariah? Another case of selective forgiveness?
  • And speaking of Mel, it looked like he was having a good time and took Kimmel’s ribbing like a champ. It was also nice to see his genuine joy for the others who won for “Hacksaw Ridge”.
  • My goodness, Viola Davis. Not only did she give one of the best performances in “Fences”, but she gave the best speech of the night. She was gracious and genuinely moved. Supporting Actress was a strong category but Davis was definitely the best. It was so good to hear her name called.
  • While we are on great speeches, the humility shown by Mahershala Ali was incredible. His Supporting Actor win clearly touched him which is always great to see. He gave three really good performances in 2016 and it’s good to see his work rewarded.
  • The parachuting candy thing – did they really need to do it THREE times?
  • On the other hand the tour bus bit was pretty funny. Imagine that surprise! And thanks to it #garyfromchicago became a thing!
  • One of the real treats of the night was seeing winners spread out among most of the Best Picture nominees. “La La Land”, “Moonlight”, “Hacksaw Ridge”, “Manchester by the Sea”, “Fences” and “Arrival” each took home statues.
  • Sunny Pawar was absolutely delightful. Kimmel looked a little goofy during their moment but how adorable was Pawar?

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  • The In Memoriam was particularly brutal this year. Many scoff at the Academy’s “death montage”. I actually appreciate the honoring of their memory. Fisher, Hurt, Kennedy, Riva, Reynolds, Wilder, Paxton, Yelchin, Kiarostami and so many more. Tough losses.
  • And Sara Bareilles’ singing of “Both Sides Now” during the In Memoriam – emotional and beautiful.
  • The Best Picture goof up wasn’t the Academy’s only mistake. During the In Memoriam costume designer and four-time Oscar nominee Janet Patterson was shown. She passed away last October. Here’s the problem, along with her name was a picture of Jan Chapman, a producer who is quite alive. Come on Academy, really?
  • Here’s a fun Oscar fact that may have went unnoticed. Kevin O’Connell won the Sound Mixing Oscar for “Hacksaw Ridge”. It was his 21st nomination without a single win…until last night!
  • Despite taking up a Best Actress spot from several more deserving women, they still found a way to give Meryl Streep a standing ovation. Yes, we get it, she’s great, move on.
  • I’m usually not that into the musical performances on Oscar night but a couple really stood out. I mentioned Bareilles, but how about young Auli’i Cravalho ? She hit the audience with a soaring rendition of “How Far I’ll Go” from “Moana”. It was fabulous despite her being hit with a flag. And then she ended it with a sweet genuine exhale. Her expression was priceless.

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  • “Suicide Squad” is now an Oscar winner! Can DC now claim victory over Marvel in the superhero movie genre? Not even close.
  • Back to the Kimmel vs Damon bit, when Damon came out with Ben Affleck to present he was announced as “guest”. Any time Damon would try and speak Kimmel had the orchestra play him off. Everything about it worked. Hilarious.
  • Asghar Farhadi wins his second Foreign Language Oscar for “The Salesman”, a film that still hasn’t opened around me. He remains one of my favorite working directors and I love seeing him honored.

Those are just a few random thoughts on what was a really weird night. As usual the Academy had several hits and misses, but still the art took center stage. How about we do it again next year?

REVIEW: “Paterson”

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“Paterson”, the beguiling new film from Jim Jarmusch, is certain to be criticized by some as slow and mundane. They wouldn’t be wrong. But the great joy of the film lies in Jarmusch’s unfettered assurance in his story and in the way it should be told. And when a true craftsman is confident in what he’s creating you can bet there is purpose and meaning hidden in the film’s every corner. So it becomes our duty to look deeper into the supposed minutia and see what he is trying to convey. That’s always been part of the allure of Jarmusch’s films.

“Paterson” is no different. It’s a cinematic poem about a poet and the everyday life that inspires his poetry. To understand the film we must understand the man. And to understand the man we must understand his life. To do that Jarmusch takes us through seven ordinary days for a man named Paterson (played by a perfectly subdued Adam Driver), a bus driver from (poetically) Paterson, New Jersey.

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Paterson’s life is one of routine. Each morning he wakes up around 6:15, snuggles with his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) and eats a bowl of cereal before walking to work. When he gets home they have dinner then he walks their cantankerous English bulldog Marvin (an absolute scene-stealer). While out he stops at a corner bar where he treats himself to one beer. We usually leave him staring into his half-empty or half-full mug, depending on how his day went. The next morning this creature of habit gets up and does it all over again.

But it’s the spaces in between this daily routine that give the film life – the collections of seemingly small things that make even the most ordinary day unique. Jarmusch fills these spaces with an assortment of the simplest conversations, observations, and interactions. He never feels compelled to manufacture melodrama or conflict. Instead he allows life to happen without any dramatic prodding. And it’s these modestly presented moments that give Paterson his identity.

With his soulful face, tempered emotions and unassuming presence, Driver couldn’t be better suited for Jarmusch’s low-key vision. His Paterson eases through life, accepting and embracing what it has to offer. That mindset feeds into his poetry which he pieces together during the quiet moments of his day. I’m not the guy to say whether his poems are good or not, but where they come from and what they reveal about Paterson is far more important than their quality. His poetry is a window into one of Jarmusch’s running themes – appreciation for the little things. I mean he wrote an entire poem about a box of matches.

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Even his relationship with Laura reflects a gentle, relaxed perspective. They delightfully compliment one another despite their noticeable differences. Look no further than their creativity. Paterson’s poetry is personal and he keeps it tucked away in his notebook. Laura’s creative ambitions are flaky but earnest and she doesn’t mind sharing it with anyone. Paterson is dedicated to poetry despite his lack of confidence. Laura goes with her artistic flavor of the moment. It may be cupcakes, interior design, or country music guitar. Yet both are equally supportive of the other. Some of the film’s sweetest moments have Paterson taking in Laura’s excitement and then offering encouragement. Again, no spectacular artificial tension. Just life.

“Paterson” is indeed about appreciating the little things. It’s also about the convergence of art and everyday life. It’s even a tender story of love and contentment. As in his previous films Jarmusch’s approach is minimalist yet subtly robust. His structure resembles stanzas of a poem and they are filled with relaxed easygoing rhythms that sweep you through from start to finish. You’ll notice other Jarmusch signatures – his quiet off-beat sense of humor, his compelling use of location, and the fascinating mellow harmony with which he works. If you are a fan of his films like I am, “Paterson” will be an absolute delight.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

4-5-stars

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R.I.P. Nellie, an absolute scene-stealer as Marvin.

Remember this trailer? #3 – “The Lost Boys” (1987)

Classic Trailer Flashback – “The Lost Boys” (1987)

I was a teenager during the 1980s and even then movies were a big part of my life. On July 31, 1987 a witty little horror picture from director Joel Schumacher hit theaters. It was “The Lost Boys”. It featured a fantastic blend of horror, humor, great songs and style. And then there was they cast featuring an assortment of young 80s talent. The trailer highlighted all of these elements and did its job of making this a must-see for me. Over the years I’ve come to appreciate it for a number of things it does well, but at the time I remember thinking “vampires, cool music, and Jamie Gertz”. That was enough for me.

So, do you remember the trailer for “The Lost Boys”? What do you think?

 

REVIEW: “Split”

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It’s probably a bit of an understatement to call M. Night Shyamalan’s career one big roller coaster ride. I’m actually far more fascinating by the mass reactions from moviegoers who treat him like a true auteur who has fallen from cinematic grace. I think that’s giving Shyamalan a tad too much credit. “The Sixth Sense” is really good. “Unbreakable” is superb. I’m a big fan of “Signs”. These are three solid movies with a certain cultural standing, but they are hardly great enough to make his subsequent decline so fiercely noteworthy.

Still there is no denying that the quality of Shyamalan’s movies fell like a ton of bricks. And I will freely admit that getting the taste of “Lady in the Water”, “The Last Airbender” and “After Earth” out of your mouth is next to impossible. For many people hope returned with 2015’s “The Visit”, a movie I had a lot of fun with. But for those unwilling to entertain the idea that Shyamalan’s career was back on the upswing, let’s just say “Split”  just might change your mind.

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For the most part the trailer sets up the entire premise. Three teenaged girls are kidnapped while leaving a birthday party. There abductor is Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy), a man suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder. We learn through his sessions with his psychologist Dr. Karen Fletcher (played by Betty Buckley) that Kevin possesses 23 unique personalities. Collectively they refer to themselves as The Horde.

While held captive the three girls encounter several of Kevin’s identities including the creepy  “Dennis” and the creepier “Patricia”. But they also meet gentler personalities from within Kevin’s mind, a sign of the intense internal conflict going on inside of him. McAvoy dives into his role head-first and shows off how crafty he can be when let off his leash. He is one of the film’s biggest strengths and it’s mind-boggling watching him bring out personality in each of the identities. It may be through accents, mannerisms, or even the slightest facial expression. Incredibly he makes each of them easily recognizable without any blatantly obvious markers.

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Of the three girls, Casey proves to be the more resilient. She’s cool-headed and observant – qualities learned from her deeply troubled past which Shyamalan feeds to us through a smattering of flashbacks. Casey is wonderfully played by Anya Taylor-Joy who gave an equally strong performance in last year’s “The Witch”. Performance-wise her fellow captives don’t fair as well. In their defense Shyamalan hands them some of the movie’s worst dialogue before leaving them locked up and in their underwear for the entire second half of the movie. Aren’t we tired of that yet?

Shyamalan leans heavily on scenes between Dr. Fletcher and one of Kevin’s more amiable personalities “Barry”. There is a psychological cat-and-mouse element to their sessions which is compelling. Shyamalan may lean on them a tad too much, but that’s not to say the scenes are without meaning. Also they allow for some of McAvoy’s best work. Through these scenes (and for that matter the entire film) Shyamalan maintains his sharp instincts for suspense and his skills with the camera are as good as ever.

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Then you have the finale. You’ll find no spoilers here and do yourself a favor – avoid them at all costs. Shyamalan has an impressive knack for causing you to immediately reevaluate his film after seeing its ending. It has never been more true than with “Split”. Shyamalan twists are a signature of his movies but prior to “The Visit” you could say he had become a parody of himself. “Split” proves he can still completely broadside any audience.

Shyamalan once again shows he is still a filmmaker worth paying attention to. “Split” is a movie with a few problems, some of which were easily avoidable. At the same time James McAvoy gives a stand-out performance and Anya Taylor-Joy continues to show she is the real deal. But most importantly Shyamalan sticks his ending with an insanely clever twist I never saw coming and that immediately compelled me to see the film again. Rarely has a conclusion surprised or impressed me quite like this. See it for yourself.

VERDICT – 4 STARS