Saturday, February 11, 2017

Fifty Shades Darker (2017): Review

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This weekend for Valentine's the second movie in the Fifty Shades series was released and I am pleased to say that it was much better than the first movie. It is very much along the same lines as the first movie (the nudity, barely able to be called rated-R sex scenes, and the focus on the "kinky fuckery" or lifestyle of Christian Grey).  I enjoyed this movie more than the first one and I expect that anyone who is interested in seeing this one, has seen the first one and knows what to expect will like it as well. I appreciate that they just start right away with the movie and not spend time going over what happened in the pervious movie.

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Fifty Shades Darker continues were the first movie left off, with Anastasia Steel, played by Dakota Johnson, having left Christian Grey, played by Jamie Dornan, because she doesn't want to be in a relationship where she is a Submissive and where she is controlled by his contract. Christian decides that Ana is more important to him than his previous lifestyle and seeks to get her back. This movie focuses on their building relationship and how Christian is dealing with his demons while Ana tries to get him to open up and have an open and honest relationship. Ana also has to deal with her new boss Jack Hyde, played by Eric Johnson, who is not as congenial as he first appears; Leila, played by Bella Heathcoat, a former Submissive of Chirstian's; and Elena, aka Mr. Robinson, played by Kim Basinger.

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The previews tease this movie as more of a thriller than the previous movie and this goes along with the book by E.L. James.  While Ana and Christian are working to sort out their own stuff and relationship they are effected by those who are around them and these people create problems for the pair. However, even though this tone was pushed in the trailers it was not that strong or a big part of the movie itself. I would have liked more time to be spent on this thriller aspect of the book and I feel like the Leila part was added just because it was a large part of the book more than it being really woven into the movie. I would have preferred some of the sex scenes to be shorter or cut out for more focus on the interplay between the secondary characters. The new case members who were brought in for this film did great with what they had and could have been used to create more to the movie than just Ana and Christian. This is the book where they are building their relationship and I would have liked more from the other characters.

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Before the Fifty Shades of Grey movie came out in 2014 (read my review here: http://myreviewsbyjane.blogspot.com/2015/02/fifty-shades-of-grey-2015-review.html ) I was very much in the #NotMyChristian camp and thought that the chemistry between Johnson and Dornan was non existent but I am glad to say that it was better (still not the best) in this movie. Dakota Johnson continued to be quite flat in her affect but this did not really bother me because I was expecting it. She is on par with the previous movie. I am glad that they scuffed Dornan up as he is definitely more attractive with a little stubble and this helps to add to him being off due to being thrown from his usual in control role. These two play of each other much better in this movie and seemed more comfortable with each other but there still was not a huge sizzle whenever they were together.

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You need to be able to handle nudity and an artsy smutty feel to enjoy this movie as there are lots of sex scenes and it pushes the line between erotic Hollywood movie and soft core porn. For a movie where the main audience is older women I don't get why they show Dakota Johnson naked so much, I feel like it didn't go more than 15-10 minutes without showing her breasts. I have gotten so used to movies covering up actors during sex sense that I find it odd when they blatantly show nudity. I actually feel that this takes away from the sultriness.  There was some showing of skin from Jamie Dornan but no where near as much as Johnson.

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The production value of this movie is very high. I can see the care and effort that went into making this movie. The music is selected with care and used to augment the story. The cinematography is great. This all follows suit with the previous movie and it continues to take a more artsy approach to all the scenes.

With this movie being better than the first I am looking forward to seeing Fifty Shades Freed next year but hope they up the thriller aspect of it and not just put in the basics needed to fill the space between sex scenes.

My Rating: 2

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Monday, January 23, 2017

Arrival (2016): Review

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Going into watching Arrival I wasn't sure what to expect, I had heard good things about it but then also that it was over hyped. I found it to be somewhere in the middle. It was alright overall, nothing really special, and with CGI that was poorer that what I would expect from a movie that spent money on big named actors.

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Arrival stars Amy Adams as Louise Banks, a language expert who is brought in along with Jeremy Renner's scientist Ian Donally by Colonel Webber, played by Forrest Whitaker, to try and communicate with an alien race that has landed twelve shell shaped space ships around the world.  She works to try and figure out their language and communicate with the heptapods (what they call the aliens) while the world is trying to figure out what the purpose of the aliens arrival.  While she is trying to communicate with the aliens she experiences flashes of her life with her daughter.

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This movie was basically alright, although I don't feel like it was a truly special or unique. It focused on Louise and her process of figuring out how to communicate with the hetapods, it tried to explain her process and the basics of their language but didn't really go into it, and this movie wasn't really a suspense or thriller of any kind. To me, it was a sci-fi drama. There is no real action or suspense just the conflict of what could happen on earth if an alien species came to earth and landed in different countries around the world. There was also some conflict with in the group that seemed really forced and wasn't developed and could have been completely left out. For a alien movie it seemed really humanity based.

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I think the acting was good and I was even surprised that I didn't mind Forrest Whitaker, as I usually don't like him and the weird ways he interprets characters. In this he was a bland government man that really could have been played by anyone. The stars were Amy Adams with support from Jeremy Renner, as both of them are good actors they did well, although there could have been more chemistry between the two of them. At times, Adams was a bit wooden but overall she portrayed the stress and overworked aspects of her character.

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Although the movie was nothing special, I didn't like what it did around the hour and a half mark as it seemed like they were rushing to be able to wrap up the end of the movie and this is where the CGI gets really bad. I don't like it when CGI is used in this way as it is noticeable and distracting when I think they are going for wondrous and to make you feel like you are in the middle of what the character is experiencing.

Overall this movie is alright but nothing that I think you need to rush out and see. It doesn't really grab me or evoke emotions that I need from movies to think they are better or have a desire to watch over again. I can understand why Amy Adams was nominated for her role, it just would have been better if the movie itself wasn't so unremarkable.

My Rating: 2+

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Sunday, January 22, 2017

Lion (2016): Review

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Lion was absolutely fantastic and almost perfect film. It brought me into the story from the very beginning and had me caring about what was going on throughout the entire thing. I never lost interest and cared about Soroo and his strugles. It was well shot, the music added to the experience, all of the acting was fantastic.

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Lion follows the true story of Saroo, one of Indians Lost Boys. Young Saroo, played by Sunny Pawar,  is a five year old poor boy who find himself stuck on a decommissioned train that takes him away from his family and everything he knows, eventually leaving him wandering the streets in Calcutta. He has to learn to survive and deal with life alone until he is adopted by a couple from Australia. There, as a young man, he has to come to terms with his lost family, not knowing where he comes from but being able to remember being there, and his desire to find out what happened to the family that he became separated from. Also starring Dev Patel as Adult Saroo, and Nicole Kidman as his adoptive mother Sue Brierley.

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A good portion of this movie is subtitled and part of the problem that young Saroo had when on the streets was that he only spoke Hindi in an area where a lot of people were speaking Bengali. Reading subtitles doesn't bother me or take me away from the story but may be a problem for some people, but this is an amazing movie to start with if you are not one who generally watches subtitled movies or foreign films as the story of being lost and wanting to find out your history crosses cultures. I really felt for this movie and the experiences of Saroo, especially when he was a child who knew he had a mother and siblings that cared about him and didn't know where he was, but where he didn't know enough to be able to get home.  Once the story moved to Australia, for me it was all about Nicole Kidman and her ability to get me to care about her as a mother who just wants to do well by her sons.

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This movie is absolutely fantastic and probably the best movie I have seen in the last year. It is a drama and I spent a good portion of the movie crying, but that meant that I felt for the characters and really wanted Saroo to be alright and fine a good resolution to the situation he was in.  It is well paced and I liked how it was mainly chronological in nature with only a few flashbacks when Saroo is starting to find out about where he came from. It was easy to follow and I kept hoping that things would go well but knowing that Saroo has a long way ahead of him and that his life couldn't have been easy.

My Rating: 4-

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Saturday, January 21, 2017

xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017): Review

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I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun the new xXx movies was. I am a fan of the original and don't really care one way or the other for the second, so going into this movie I was excited but not sure if it would be any good. I really enjoyed this movie and if you are able to suspend any expectations for realistic plot or action sequences you will really enjoy this movie as well.  I have been looking forward to seeing the Return of Xander Cage since I first saw the trailer for it. I was in the theatres ready to watch another action movie last year, in a crowd that consisted of a lot of 15-22 year old guys. When the trailer started, I remember thinking, this seems like xXx and then it became a xXx movie trailer which I got really excited for but all the kids around me didn't seem get the reference. I didn't care  that others weren't as exited and I wanted to see this movie when it came out.

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xXx: Return of Xander Cage follows after its previous movies xXx (2002) and xXx: State of the Union (2005) as if the xXx program has still been going strong with Gibbons, played by Samuel L. Jackson, continuing to recruit extreme athletes and people to become a different breed of agents who can do the jobs that others cant. You do not need to really know much about the previous movies to follow this one except the basic concept, but the references would be easier to understand if you had seen the previous movies. At the beginning of the movie we discover that there is a device that can hack satellites and cause them to crash as if they were a bomb.  The NSA lead by Marke, played by Toni Collette, retrieve this device but then it is stolen by a team of extraordinary people consisting of Xiang, played by Donnie Yen; Serena, played by Deepika Padukone; Talon, played by Tony Ja; and Hawk, played by Michael Bisping.  Because these are a rebel team that can do crazy stunts Marke pulls in the original xXx Xander Cage, played by Vin Diesel, who isn't rally dead back in to retrieve the device. He brings in his own team consisting of Wolff, played by Ruby Rose; Nicks, played by Kris Wu; and Tennyson Torch, played by Rory McCann. Also involved are the social awkward tech girl Becky, played by Nina Dobrev, and soldeier "I don't need these weirdos to get the job done" Donovan, played by Tony Gonzalez.

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There are lots of characters in this movie and where I would normally not like that as it gums up the works, I don't really mind it here. As it is basically three groups (the thief team, the xXx team, and the government team), and character development doesn't matter at all. The supporting characters (and really all of the characters) are just about who they are and what they do, the basic description of their skills separates them. Vin Diesel is really the star and focus of the movie with a bunch of stuff happening around him so he can be "dope" (and I don't know why but that term just sounds old and dated to me, do kids still say dope?). There is just enough plot and conflict to keep the movie going and the plot is weak and predictable. Nothing happened that was really surprising but it was fun to watch and kept going.  The action sequences were not too long or drawn out and the scenarios were different from each other. They were unrealistic but different.

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With the large group of characters there were going to be some that didn't work for me and I was surprised that it was mainly Toni Collette. I don't understand why she didn't do more with this character as she is in general a very good actress but here she was wooden and appeared to be trying to hard to just be blank. She doesn't pull this off and she is just bad. I think another actress would have been better in this role. I also didn't care for the character of Becky. Why do they keep putting in a character into movie who is not Hip and forces the awkwardness of what the producers want this character to be on us. I know she is there for comic relief, but in a movie where they drive motorcycles on the water and the main characters is know for his quips, do you really need a comic relief? that doesn't blend themselves in with the rest of the cast of characters. I think this person could have completely been removed from the movie and the few things she did could have been done by one of the others or make her na├»ve to the real world as opposed to forced socially awkward.

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I enjoy Vin Diesel in movies, but he is starting to get to the point where I view him with more nostalgia than believing he can actually do the things in this movie. To me it is set up more as a young mans role with all the over the top action and situations (come on, a person with his frame doing that skiing through the jungle and skateboarding down a mountain path) and I think he needs to transition into more of the mentor or worn down older man who still has to do this shit role. But it was fun to watch none-the-less.

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The CGI was only really, really bad during one sequence and that was the motorcycles in the ocean. The water looked really bad and fake and I mean really, really bad. Other than that, I wasn't distracted by the affects and as this movie goes for over the top anyway, making things look too big or fake goes along with the whole feel of the movie.

There were many things in this movie that were fun and I enjoyed that they put in. Although nothing was shocking it was still fun to watch and I recommend this movie to people who just want a good time. I especially enjoyed the big moment in the end sequence in the warehouse and I was one of the people showing my enthusiasm at this time.

My Rating: 3-

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Underworld: Blood Wars (2017): Review


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This weekend for Friday night movie night, I went and saw the new Underworld movie Blood Wars. It was basically what I was expecting as I have seen all of the other Kate Beckinsale Underworld movies and it follows along with exactly what I was expecting. Kickass fighting, sequences, lots of stylized and screenshot moments but with just enough plot to keep it going and poor vampire effects.

Underworld: Blood Wars continues after Underworld: Awakening (2012) leaves off although times has been continuing to move on. Selene, played by Kate Beckinsale, is a pure bloodline vampire who is being hunted by vampires and lycans (werewolfs) due to her turning on the vampire elders in the prior movies and being the mother of the first hybrid pureblood. Previously, she has prevented herself from knowing where he daughter is as she says people she cares about don't tend to do so well. She is brought back into the dynamic of the vampire/ lycan war by David, played by Theo James, who is a vampire she saved in a previous movie and because the lycan are working together under the new leadership of Marius, played by Tobias Menzies. Also in the movie are Vampires Semira, played by Lara Pulver and Thomas, played by Charles Dance.

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As I said, this movie is pretty on par with the previous Underworld movie and it you enjoyed them you will like this movie and if you didn't it is not for you. Story wise I do not like the removal of Michael, previously played by Scott Speedman, but like the incorporation of Theo James and what they did with his character in the movie. I find Theo James really attractive and would not mind more Underworld movies with him as the main male. He plays a good strong guy that I can root for. Kate Beckinsale continues to be badass as she has always been good casting for this, but I kept being distracted during the movie by her corset as she could not do the fighting that she did in this comfortable. 

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There was nothing really surprising in the plot of this movie but it is enough to keep it movie along. It seemed a bit more like a build up for another movie then specifically its own movie. It tied up some things to leave them in the previous movies and set up a information to movie it forward. But it wasn't anything special. Plot is not what I am looking for in this kind of movie, but just want to be entertained. I like seeing this type of movie in theatres because of the scope of action but it isn't anything you need to rush out to see.

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I don't like that there was a lot of close up action sequences in this movie, I want to see what is going on, not just jump quickly from tight shot to tight shot (I will continue to complain about this until it stops) and I am really starting to dislike movie that start right off the bat with a big fight or action sequences. I like the movie to build up with some set up instead of jumping in at the deep end of the pool. The CGI wasn't too bad but the vampire abilities, were obvious. Like them jumping up high or movie fast. This could have been done better but would have required more money to make it look seamless and not distracting in the movie.

My Rating: 2

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Sunday, January 15, 2017

La La Land (2016): Review

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I am sorry to say that this movie did not meet my expectations although I was trying not to expect too much. With La La Land winning several Golden Globes last week, I was expecting it to be an almost perfect movie that kept me interested and did something unique. I was disappointed with the whole movie, especially as every moment I started to like what was going on it would then do something that I didn't like took me out of it. Although there were some cute moments and I enjoyed the basic story of the movie, they did too many weird things and tried to cram different styles into it. It became not weird interesting but weird disjointed for me.
La La Land is a movie musical that stars Ryan Gosling as Sebastian, a jazz musician who is trying to keep classic jazz alive and Emma Stone as Mia, an aspiring actress. It is set in four parts (winter, spring, summer, fall) where these two get thrown together and are struggling to make their dreams come true.  It is pretty balanced with incorporating these two parts together (interactions with each other and following their dreams). There are also lots of other characters in the movie but the main ones are these two.

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This movie is a musical and if you know me I love most fun musicals. This one tried for fun but just ended up just being strange. I couldn't figure out if the musical numbers were suppose to be more like dream sequences and didn't really happen or if they were part of the plot and it was normal for the characters to just start singing and dancing. The really only musical parts that really worked for me were the parts where it was about the characters as musician, especially Sebastian, and where Mia sings in one of her auditions. The rest as I said were hard to understand how they were suppose to be part of the film and I will put the dancing sequences into this. I think all of the dancing didn't really fit in the movie. I think there needed to make it more consistent in feel with the singing and dancing being incorporated in a more natural way. It may have been better if Emma Stone was a stronger singer and dancing but I am not sure that would have even worked.
In general I am a fan of the chemistry between Gosling and Stone  but in this movie the chemistry wasn't as natural as some of their other movies and there interactions seemed forced. Both have done better playing off each other and when the main thing of the whole movie is about their interacts and intertwined story this is a let down.

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This movie tried too hard to be cutting edge with a nod to the past but it didn't really work. It was just over the line of thinking too highly of itself and this affected my enjoyment of the movie. There were moments that were fantastic and that I thought were really cute and sweet but it seemed like when I was starting to like the movie it would do something to mess it up. And I really disliked the way it ended. Again I couldn't figure out what it wanted me to think was going on, and it left me feeling unsatisfied. I didn't hate the movie and think that it would have been better if I did because I would have at least felt a strong emotion at the end.

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This thing that this movie did really well is the cinematography, staging, sets, costumes, and scores. All the supporting parts of the movie (not plot or acting) were absolutely fantastic. It was a gorgeous film to watch and I kept noting how all the little details were fantastic. Even during the dance and singing sequences where I didn't like how it was disjointed from the movie were beautifully staged and choreographed. I want all the wardrobe in the movie and loved the styling. The score was really great, although at times a bit repetitive, but this seemed intentional as the music was woven into the story and what the characters were experiencing.

This movie is for people who like things that are more artistic and although it seemed like the movie was going for something a little more intriguing there wasn't anything surprising in the story. It was okay but not up to the standards I want for award winners. The parts that I thought were fantastic were the auxiliary things, like the production value and the like.

My Rating: 2

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Sunday, January 8, 2017

Manchester By The Sea (2016): Review

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This drama was absolutely fantastic, it has me crying throughout the entire thing and for this type of movie that is exactly what it should be doing. This demonstrated that it emotionally resonated with me. How the movie was shot, edited, and acted did a great job of pulling me into the story and caring about the characters, even thought this is one of those dramas that doesn't really have much happening, just giving snapshots of the lives of the main character.

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Manchester by the Sea stars Casey Afflect as Lee Chandler as man who has a troubled history who is required to come back to Manchester after his brother Joe, played by Kyle Chandler, has died and take care of his nephew Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges. The movie mainly focuses around Lee but does show the people he interacts with, it follows a current day story but jumps back to Lee's personal story (with ex-wife Randi played by Michelle Williams) and why he is detached from the world. The casting of this movie is great and the characters, even though many of them are not on screen for long (and many of them are introduced and then dropped in the narrative) get me to want to know about them and how they play into Lee and Patrick's lives. My one big complain is that there is not any time spent on a lot of the outside characters and I am unsure if this is done purposely because Lee has withdrawn from the world and most human interactions or that the movie was limited on time to really dive into the storylines of the supporting character (if this is what it was I wish that some of them were cut out because many didn't really add to what was going one).

This movie is a drama and one of those dramas that doesn't really have a traditional story structure. It is about a short timeframe in the lives of Lee and Patrick (where Lee's brother and Patrick's father has died) and doesn't feel like it has forward momentum or any real character development. The flashback and interactions with other characters shows why the characters are how they are why they make the choices they do but doesn't show any true personal growth. There is nothing wrong with this type of movie but at the end all it was about was getting to know the characters, not really cheering for them or embracing their journey.

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This film was beautifully shot and the sequences on the sea are fantastic. All of the pieces fit together for me and the pacing was consistent, it might be slow for some but it works or the overall feel of the movie. Even though characters where not shown for long, how the movie was done gets me to feel for them and connect through the scene almost immediately. No character is good or bad, they are just people trying to handle what is happening to or around them at this moment in time.  I noticed the score and music of the movie but it went with what was going on and not distracting.

Overall, this movie was fantastically done and well acted. I emotionally connected to what the characters were going though (crying thought the film) and although I wouldn't say the movie was enjoyable (due to what was happening) it was a completely well done film that is worth watching. The only real criticism I have is that I wanted to know more about what was going on with the supporting characters; how they played in later, if they were interdicted early in the movie, or more of their backstory if they were introduced later in the film.

I hope that this movie wins some of the awards it was nominated for as it was phenomenal.

My Rating: 4-

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