Movie Review: GOING IN STYLE

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going in styleWarner Bros. Pictures
2017
PG-13

“What’s wrong with him?”
“He’s thinking.”
“It looks painful.”

Lifelong buddies Willie, Joe and Albert decide to buck retirement and step off the straight-and-narrow when their pension funds become a corporate casualty. Desperate to pay the bills and come through for their loved ones, the three men risk it all by embarking on a daring adventure to knock off the very bank that absconded with their money.

So, right about now, you’re probably wondering what I, a man that has a certain geek specialties and tastes in movies, am doing watching a movie like Going In Style, a comedy about three octogenarians planning on pulling a robbery on a bank? Oh, no reason…except for the fact that it stars Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin as the three feisty senior citizens. Do I need to say anything more? I do? Oh, all right, then. For the sake of padding up some writing space…

Yeah, back when I saw the theatrical trailer in the front of whatever movie it was that I was at the theater to watch, I thought that the premise was done, but since it stared three of the actors that are on my Watch Regardless Of What Movie They’re In list, I figured it was a matter of time before I actually watched Going In Style, but this would probably be one of those kind of movies I would wait until it was available for rental to get around watching. And wouldn’t you know it? Self-fulfilling prophecy. I did, in fact, watch it as a rental.

So, the story revolves around lifelong friends who are retired and run into some issues with their pension being suddenly revoked from the place they loyally worked at for 30 years of their lives. After finding himself at the bank during a well-planned robbery heist, they all plot to essentially do the same to offset the problem of their sudden lack of retirement income. So, enlisting the help of a pet store owner, they plan out to hit their bank. And things…don’t really go as planned. But, really, you were expecting otherwise?

Going In Style is formulaic, nothing new, and quite predictable…and I absolutely adored this. It’s not exactly Ocean’s Eleven, but then it didn’t pretend to be that. What this is, is a fun little heist movie that is probably going to be played on TBS every Saturday ad nausium for the whole family to enjoy. What can I say, but seeing the likes of Caine, Freeman and Arkin play off each other was great fun. And that’s what Going In Style is, a fun little weekend afternoon movie.

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Movie Review: The GOOD NEIGHBOR

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Movie Review GOOD NEIGHBOR, TheLionsgate Home Entertainment
2016
NR

“Maybe I should teach him a lesson. Keep that son of a bitch on a leash, okay? Because the next time, if it happens again, I’m going to cut him in four pieces and send him home in this can.”

A pair of mischievous high school kids create the illusion of a haunting on an unsuspecting neighbor. While keeping his every reaction under surveillance, they see much more than they bargained for, and discover that the man they’re tormenting is not the easy target they’d expected.

Never have I been pleased with a simple mistake. You see, there’s this horror thriller movie out there that stars comedian Bill Engvall called The Neighbor. Ever since I learned of the existence of a straight horror thriller that features a member of the Blue Collar Comedy team, well, let’s just say my sense of morbid curiosity still hasn’t been sated yet. Because I happened to get the slightly differently titled The Good Neighbor by mistake. I was disappointed by the mix-up, yes, but I ended up watching The Good Neighbor anyway, because this one stars the always great James Caan as a delightfully grumpy neighbor to a couple of teenage boys with far too much time on their hands.

So, here’s the story: We start off with what seems to be yet another found footage-style setup, introducing a couple of suburban teenagers setting up some high-tech video surveillance equipment, with the one who is clearly spearheading this endeavor narrating what they plan on doing with said equipment–rig the house of a cantankerous and reclusive old neighbor that lives across the cul-de-sac where they dwell to seem that he’s being haunted, and film the results with said video cameras. The kid claims it’s for SCIENCE!, but it’s rather clear this is a thin excuse to take out some passive-aggressive anger on the neighbor for reasons that go beyond “he’s not a nice guy”. That, and teenagers are douche-nozzles, generally speaking. Anyway, just before you think you’ve gotten yourself into a feature-length episode of Punk’d, the movie cuts to courtroom scenes, where the teenage boys are on trial for the murder of the neighbor they’re doing the experiment on. So there, you know something went awry, and now you’re invested to continue watching to see what may have transpired. As we continue with the found footage angle, it’s clear that the old man’s reaction to the various “haunting” rigs is not what the boys were hoping for, as instead of being wigged out, he acts…differently. That’s really the only way I can put it without really getting in-depth and spoiling things for you. Basically, things are not what they seem on the surface, when we learn this goes beyond just wanting to prank an old guy because he emulates Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino…and the old guy has a reason as to why he’s grumpy. And why he ultimately reacted the way he did to put the boys on trial.

The Good Neighbor isn’t exactly a horror movie, so much as it’s a very tense psychological drama that has an atmosphere that will get under your skin and leave you on the edge of your seat, with an ending that will send some chills down your spine by the implications. James Caan is fantastic, as he has very little dialogue but nails everything without having to say much. Everybody did a rather good job, and I liked the fact that this didn’t turn out to be yet another found footage movie. Or your standard horror flick.

Overall, if you’ve overlooked The Good Neighbor before, do yourself a favor and check it out some time.

Movie Review: The NEON DEMON

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neon demonAmazon Studios
2016
R

“I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I can’t write, no real talent. But I’m pretty, and I can make money off of pretty.”

I started hearing buzz in the horror community about this particular movie titled The Neon Demon build over a year ago, and kept running into the title here and there. It was directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, who many may know as the guy who did the artsy movie that was marketed as a Fast & Furious knock-off Drive, as well as Only God Forgives. Neither one of those I watched; but, given that this was listed in the Amazon Prime streaming under the “horror” section, I decided to go ahead and give it a watch. It was only just short of two hours, so during my recent rehabilitation stint and nothing else to do, I popped it on the player.

The Neon Demon falls squarely within the What The Bloody Heck Did I Just Watch?!? files. This doesn’t fall squarely under the “horror” title, per se; if anything, this is really akin to the classic David Lynch movies that makes you think that you’re experiencing a noir-ish drama through a nightmarish filter.

The story of The Neon Demon can be boiled down to aspiring young model goes to Los Angeles, gets picked up by a modeling firm, begins to get a taste of fame within the world of supermodels, and starts to go a bit insane from the pressure and alienation. Oh, and then gets killed and eaten by her competing model friends in an Elizabeth Bathory-style attempt to retain her youth and beauty for themselves. As is what happens in L.A., I would presume. I was only there once, in 1984. There was a lot of palm trees and citrus there.

Anyway, the entirety of The Neon Demon plays out like a two-hour fever dream, with a deliberately despondency and pace that, when pared up with the rather trippy EBM soundtrack, has the effect of walking through the world coming down off of some very potent pain medication. There was a bright, over-saturation of the colors and especially the whites that gave a feeling of a void and added to the despondency. And speaking of despondency, the acting from everyone added to the overall waking dreamlike quality, being slow and deliberate, like this all can’t be real but somehow is. To that end, this had the added effect of having Keanu Reeves emote the most in this movie. Mind=blown.

Overall, The Neon Demon has a lot more going for it than just being an artsy horror movie. It’s very well shot, well acted and put together. The story is rather thin, though, and the plot does seem to meander about aimlessly at more than one place. There are some very stark and disturbing scenes, and the final thirty minutes well earns its “horror” nod, so don’t think this is going to be all that easy to sit through. As far as recomendations, I would say yeah, it’s worth a watch some time, especially if you like movies like Requiem For A Dream and Mulholland Drive.

Movie Review: ARRIVAL

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Movie Review ARRIVALParamount Pictures
2016
PG-13

“If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things?”

When mysterious spacecrafts touch down across the globe, an elite team–lead by expert linguist Louise Banks–is brought together to investigate. As mankind teeters on the verge of global war, Banks and the team race against time for answers–and to find them, she will take a chance that could threaten her life, and quite possibly humanity.

It’s been a while since I’ve watched a good hard Science Fiction film. You know, one that isn’t just a space opera, or an action movie utilizing sci-fi undertones. I believe the last one I watched was Interstellar, when it was originally released in the tail end of 2015. And I would understand why, in this day and age, a hard Sci-Fi movie wouldn’t be as popular as it was back in the Before-I-Was-Born days (to borrow the non-excuse that is used for not knowing about something).

Spoilers ahead, in case you have yet to watch this movie yourself. You’ve been warned.

Arrival, not to be mistaken for the 1996 B-movie starring Charlie Sheen, finds the inhabitants of this blue spinning ball we call Earth suddenly visited by twelve extraterrestrial spacecraft landing and hovering above separate points across the globe, just kinda chilling and not doing anything. This, of course, causes the entire world’s population to collectively loose their heads; the military then, in an effort to determine if these are Independence Day type aliens we’re dealing with, or the more cuddly Close Encounters type aliens, they find a linguist and a physicist to bring to one of the spacecraft to try and make contact. The two begin bickering the moment they meet, so you know they’re going to totally hook up after they’re done trying to find a way to talk with the aliens and stuff. So, through the magic of montage, the two manage to figure you the alien language, which honestly looks at first like they’re just trolling us by showing a bunch of coffee stain pictures. But, language it is, and come to a rudimentary understanding of it they do, just in time for a bunch of the other countries the ships are over to start loosing their heads entirely and decide to do what humans do best: blow stuff up. Or, at least attempt to. This only slightly annoys them, and they shift upwards into the air a few hundred feet. The linguist finally figures out that, not only is this a language, but learning it unlocks time travel properties (don’t try and think about that too hard, your head will pop), and narrowly averts mutually assure destruction by utilizing the Bootstrap Paradox theory of time travel. The Doctor would be proud.

There’s a bunch more I left out of that Reader’s Digest Condensed Version of the description, because if I went over every bit of this movie that I happened to continue to chew over long after having watched this some time ago (would you believe it almost made me late for a Sabac game at a friend’s house because I refused to just stop it 20 minutes before the end…and nothing keeps me from my Sabac games), this humble review would go on for freaking ever. I will say, though, despite my pedantic issues I have with the time travel aspect of the movie (it’s subtle, but it will make your eyes bleed if you dwell on the implications and paradoxes contained therein), I found it very, very refreshing to watch a well-made hard science fiction movie that isn’t bogged down with ‘splosions and evil aliens and possibly Will Smith. The big twist with the language is still making my head swim, but that’s just me.

Or is it? I’m sure there are many more out there that are still chewing on this movie long after the end credits. I will now say that I’m joining the bandwagon of calling this a very, very good Sci-Fi flick that you don’t have to check your brain in at the door to enjoy, and recommend strongly to check it out some time soon.

Movie Review: The EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

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edge of seventeenSTX Entertainment
2016
R

“I don’t wanna take up a ton of your time, but I’m gonna kill myself. I just thought an adult should know.”

Everyone knows that growing up is hard, and life is no easier for high school junior Nadine, who is already at peek awkwardness, when her all-star older brother Darian starts dating her best friend Krista. All at once, Nadine feels more alone than ever, until the unexpected friendship of a thoughtful boy gives her a glimmer of hope that things just might not be so terrible after all.

To answer your unasked question: yes, I’m feeling okay. I’m fine, really. I understand your concern, because I’m reviewing what’s essentially a coming-of-age teen dramady, and an Oscar nominated film at that. To be fair, I am just as shocked as you are. But, to reiterate, I’m fine. No, really.

There’s a perfectly good reason why I decided to watch The Edge Of Seventheen. Well, two good reasons, actually: Hailee Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson.

Hailee Steinfeld, who plays the lead of the movie, blew me away with her performance in the True Grit remake in 2010. And she was only 14 then, with that movie being her first. Now, she’s a bit older, with some more experience, which brought a rather nuanced and delightfully complex take to the character of Nadine. Woody Harrelson plays a grizzled teacher that at first seem to be a mere curmudgeon, but then there’s more underneath the crusty outer shell through all this.

It’s the interaction between these two characters that is this movie’s best feature. Watching these two trade some smartly written barbs between each other was fantastic. Harrelson’s reaction to Nadine’s opening suicide threat proclamation is especially dry and hilarious.

Beyond that, though, The Edge Of Seventeen is just another teen dramady where something otherwise benign makes said teen’s world begin to crumble around them, teen does stupid things as reactionary something-something, then teen has epiphany and everything is all sunshine, rainbows and unicorn farts. And puppies. Let’s not forget the puppies. End on an up-tempo indie rock tune for the credits, and you get the idea.

Yeah, had it not been for the the presence of Steinfeld and Harrelson, chances are good I never would have given The Edge Of Seventeen a second thought. And, unfortunately for those of you hoping I would give up my particular taste in movie genres and embrace “good” movies..nope. Whole lotta nope. Sorry, but this did nothing of the sort. It’s a very good movie, don’t get me wrong. It’s just not my cinematic poison.

Movie Review: RAGAMUFFIN

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1-26 - Movie Review: RAGAMUFFINDuality
2014
PG-13

Ragamuffin is based on the life of Rich Mullins, a musical prodigy who rose to Christian music fame and fortune only to walk away and live on a Navajo reservation. An artistic genius, raised on a tree farm in Indiana by a callous father, Rich wrestled all of his life with the brokenness and crippling insecurity born of his childhood. A lover of Jesus and a rebel in the church, Rich refused to let his struggles with his own darkness tear him away from a God he was determined to love. As he struggled with success in Nashville and depression in Witchita, Rich desired most of all to live a life of honest and reckless faith amidst a culture of religion and conformity.

Well, now. Here’s a rarity: A Christian film that I was actually looking forward to watching. This one being a dramatic biopic of CCM’s favorite hippie, Rich Mullins.

If you’re not familiar with Rich Mullins, he’s the guy who inadvertently wrote all those youth group campfire worship songs you were forced to sing. He was second only to Kieth Green as far as ironically being embraced by CCM culture while actively and vocally despising it himself. And like Keith Green, he too was taken from us tragically at too young an age.

As far as I go, I do have an appreciation of the man’s music. I mean, I happen to be one of those part-time WGWAGs that accompanies the the youth group in singing “Awesome God” ad nausium. Although, I do have a bit of a liking for more of his “screw the Christian Industry” period, as I did actively own A Liturgy, A Legacy, And A Ragamuffin Band at one time. Lost in the shuffle. Haven’t replaced it yet. Waiting for it to come out on vinyl. Carrying on…

Long story short, I was anxious to watch Ragamuffin, not because I’m a big fanboy of his music (I’m not), but more because I’m a fan of what he had to say about his faith and his interaction with other Christians in this world, and more to the point, what he had to say about the Christian culture and industry he found himself in.

After an opening where the movie Rich Mullins is talking on-air with a radio DJ that looked more like Rich Mullins than the actor did (because the DJ was played by Rich’s brother Dave), we go through Rich’s life growing up a farm boy who looked at things a bit differently, much to the chagrin of his old-fashioned father. He then heads off to college, where he meets up with like-minded friends, share a house, and start playing music in various churches and coffee houses. He finds himself pursued by CCM suits due to Amy Grant wanting to record one of the songs he wrote; he’s hesitant at first but then relents and goes to Nashville, where he at first works with Amy Grant, then manages to start a solo career. The response is lukewarm at first, but then he writes “Awesome God” which explodes and becomes his most famous song he never wanted to play live again. The CCM execs want more, but then Rich gets sidetracked by wanting to voluntarily live in poverty teaching music to Navajo children. All the while, he’s wrestling with God and his faith in a world he views as superficial and draining, his depression starting to get the best of him, until he happens upon a copy of The Ragamuffin Gospel. Then he gets into an accident and is killed. The end.

I know, I know, it sounds like I’m doing one of those sarcastic irreverent reviews, but I assure you I am not. As a matter of fact, I would like to say that Ragamuffin was one of those Christian movies that happens to be the exception that proves the rule: This movie did not gloss over things and presented a shiny, happy portrayal of the artist. Neither did the movie seem to over-exaggerate the more controversial aspects to the story for the sake of sensationalism. It did a great job in presenting a man who was a broken servant of Jesus, struggling with his faith in a very real way. There’s a scene here where Rich, in the midst of a depressive swing and crushed with lonliness in Nashville tries to call his parents and his friends, but just misses them as they leave right before the phone rings, and he finally collapses in the phone booth in tears. I actually had to pause the movie more than a couple of times, due to the emotional response this movie had on me. Well played, movie. Well played.

On the other hand, though, I don’t think the movie really captured Rich Mullins’ sense of humor. Mind you, I never met the man and cannot claim to personally know this, but from what I’ve read from people who did know him, that’s the one universal complaint from them: that they didn’t capture Rich’s sense of humor. And I have to admit, much of the time the movie Rich just comes off as more cynical and angst-ridden. And maybe as an unintended contrast to that, the end credits have a video of the real Rich Mullins on stage telling a story which ends in a punchline that had me laughing pretty good.

That said, Ragamuffin is a great movie, it doesn’t gloss over things that I myself have been open about struggling with, and is a movie I think every youth group in America should be forced to watch at least once. Bring the snacks and the tissues.

Movie Review: C ME DANCE

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c me danceUplifting Entertainment
2009
PG

“I know this sounds weird Sheri, but it’s as if God has chosen you. And if that’s the truth, man this is going to tick off the Devil.”

C ME Dance is the story of a teenage girl, Sheri, who has trained her entire life to dance for the Pittsburgh Ballet. At 17 years of age, her dream comes true, until she finds out that she is dying of cancer. One night after extensive prayer by Sheri and her father, Vince, while asking God for strength and clarity, a miracle happens: Sheri discovers she is able to bring people to Christ effortlessly. The devil finds out and tries to intervene. He manifests and comes to earth-let the thrill ride begin!

I have to come out and admit it: watching C Me Dance has left me speechless. After watching this movie, I am left completely baffled as to what I can actually say that would describe this movie to you, tender readers, and do it justice. The best way I can actually do so is to run my finger up and down my lips rapidly, making that “B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B” noise to signify that I have just watched something so inanely nonsensical that my brain finally went “that’s it, screw you guys, I’m headed to my Happy Place” partway through in an effort to maintain sanity. It happens more times than I care to admit, when it comes to watching movies. But, I’m going to give it my best shot, as a dedicated pseudo journalist, to convey to you the pain I experienced while watching this movie.

We begin the movie with a lady being chased down by a rogue semi truck. Why she’s being chased by said semi is never explained; later on in the movie, it’s said in a throwaway line that the truck was out of control because of a flat tire, but that’s not how that works. Come to think of it, if there was a homicidal, maybe even demon-possessed truck driver bent on the destruction of the family for whatever dark secrets the father was hiding, then this would have been an slightly interesting movie. Lost potential, there. Anyway, there’s a baby on board, and when the car goes up in a spectacular fireball ‘sposion, the kid somehow survives unscathed. Fast forward 17 years or so, and little Sheri is a teenager who just wants to dance and hang out (presumably in that order) and fulfills her life-long dream of joining the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater. Only, faster than you can say “hackneyed plot contrivance”, she also soon thereafter is diagnosed with a rare blood disease of nondescript. This causes her to spiral into a…well, not so much a depression-fueled rage against God and her dad, and more of a whiny hissy fit. Meanwhile, her dad is agonizing over the prospect of losing his daughter, and prays for her to not stray from God. To which God apparently responds to by gifting Sheri with the ability to convert anyone to Christ Jesus just by making physical contact with them. Because apparently that’s a thing that can happen, despite never hearing about anything like that in my over twenty-five years as a Christian myself. Five of those involved with a Charismatic Pentecostal denomination, if that tells you anything. Anyway, this horks off Satan like none other, so he sends guys in trench coats to…walk around and look all menacing and stuff. I guess. Of course, this doesn’t stop Sheri’s supernatural ministry of taking everyone on a feels trip (see what I did there?). Then she dies at Christmas from the nondescript rare blood disease. The end.

Okay, so apparently I was able to find the words to use in this review. I have to ask, though: Which is worse? The fact that this movie was made, or the fact that this movie was given an actual theatrical release? It was in 150 theaters, mind you, but that was 149 more than The Crow: Wicked Prayer was released to. And while that movie was bad, at least it was a well-made bad movie, when compared to C Me Dance.

Watching C Me Dance is insulting on soooooooo many levels, I don’t even know where to begin. How about the script and acting that would make Tommy Wiseau cringe in embarrassment? How about the numerous leaps of logic in the story that could clear tall buildings in a single bound? Or how about the fact that the guy responsible for this holy mess—writer, director, producer and star Greg Robbins—actually got his start as an actor, and perusing his IMDB page shows us he’s been involved with movies like the original Terminator and Re-Animator. Meaning, he knew what he was doing; this wasn’t a case of a well-meaning yet inexperienced Christian deciding to make a movie with a message despite their lack of talent. Greg Robbins knew better, and yet he went ahead and did it anyway. But no…all of that pales to the fact that, for whatever bewildering reason, several Christian sites and reviews actually praises C Me Dance as a quality movie to use as an outreach, and anyone who disagrees is anti-Christian and should keep our destining opinions to ourselves. In short, movies like C Me Dance happen because we let them happen.

Well, now. Writing this was actually kind of cathartic. Still, did not enjoy having to conjurer up the memory of this movie just to write this. In short, C Me Dance is an embarrassing redefinition of the term “ham-fisted Christian propaganda disguised as entertainment”, and should be watched only by those whose taste in bad movies border on self-flagellation.

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