Fences: Stage vs Screen

Over on my personal blog I compare a local stage production of Fences with the recent movie.

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fences

Last month a movie called Fences came out starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. This naturally caught my attention and then I realized it was based on a pulitzer prize winning play of same name by August Wilson written in 1983 and I got more excited.

Then I found out that Pioneer Theater Company here in Utah was doing a production of the play at the same time the movie was released. So I thought it would be fun to see both the play and movie and compare/contrast them.

I was going to do a video analysis but the truth is they ended up being so similar I didn’t have much to go off of.  Nevertheless, let me profile both as there is still plenty of time to see both if you are interested.

Fences Summary- Before I go into both versions let me give a quick plot summary. Fences…

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Meh and Overrated Films of 2016

overrated-2016

When you see as many movies as I do you don’t always agree with the critical consensus around a film. I’m a unique person and I have my own unique thoughts. Especially with some very artistic films I may not respond to the risks taken the way others do.

So here is my list of movies others loved that I either thought were meh or didn’t like at all.

Denial- 86% on Rotten Tomatoes. I wonder if people are applauding the real life story and not the movie itself. I thought the screenplay was very poor at building the case, creating tension and making Deborah a likable character I could root for.

My ranking 111/143

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot- 68% on Rotten Tomatoes. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again- I don’t get Tina Fey. I don’t think she’s funny and her movies outside of Mean Girls have been terrible. Here is another. I didn’t believe any of the characters, some are in brown face and it’s a bunch of entitled white guys partying in Afghanistan without any insight beyond you can be a jerk anywhere.

My ranking 123/143

Swiss Army Man- 68% on Rotten Tomatoes but I’ve seen it on a lot of top 10 lists. I appreciate artistic risk but the screenplay was very poor. Instead of insight I got lots of bodily humor and the same supposedly enlightened ideas repeated over and over again. Not for me.

My ranking 113/143

Lights Out- 76% on Rotten Tomatoes. I’d heard great things about this horror movie but I was very underwhelmed by it. It wasn’t scary and was so predictable. The actors try but only for schlocky horror fans

My ranking 109/143

Little Prince- 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. This is a watchable movie but is by nowhere near a 93% in quality. It was boring and preachy and didn’t do anything interesting until the end when it became weird and dystopian. It looks pretty but for most of it I thought it was lame

My ranking 105/143

The Lobster- 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. The problem with this movie is it takes a Twilight Zone episode and stretches it to 2 hours. It’s clever premise became extremely frustrating for me as the message is repeated over and over again. I get it. Human beings are lonely and yet society is built on relationships; thereby ostracizing single people. You’d think I’d love that message being single but I became exhausted with the film after a while. I also felt when it ran out of ways to say the same thing it shocked you with sensuality. I really didn’t like it

My ranking 106/143

Jackie- 86% on Rotten Tomatoes. I guess I am a traditionalist when it comes to biopics. I didn’t like the way they turned Jackie into a robot. I felt disconnected from her which made the film feel extremely heavy handed. I know they are Camelot. Do we really need to hear the song played twice over montages of her drinking and trying on clothes? I guess others found this insightful. Not me, which is frustrating because I think she’s probably a very insightful person.

My ranking  91/143

Hail Cesear- 85% on Rotten Tomatoes. I’m sorry but I think we have director bias here. I love the Coen Brothers but this film was a mess. The plot was all over the place and a lot of the comedic sequences weren’t funny like a long scene where Channing Tatum delivers a speech on a submarine? That wasn’t funny. Pretty much only part I liked was the Alden Ehrenreich segments.

My ranking 101/143

Other movies that I liked, sometimes quite a bit, but not as much as most people-  La La Land (23/143), Arrival (45/143), Edge of 17 (49/143), Nice Guys (73/143), Nocturnal Animals (64/143), Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (84/143), Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (85/143), Eye in the Sky (89/143).

Movies I thought were ok to great that others hated – Assassin’s Creed (94/143), Ghostbusters (77/143), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (69/143), Magnificent 7 (67/143), Allied (74/143), Miracles from Heaven (80/143), The Mermaid (81/143), Ratchet and Clank (98/143), Snowtime (92/143), Hologram for the King (95/143), RACE (99/143) and Star Trek Beyond (24/143)

I also didn’t think The Wild Life (122/143), Ben Hur (108/143), The Boss (107/143) or The Angry Birds Movie (102/143) were that bad; although they certainly had big problems.

So there you have it. What are your contrarian opinions on 2016 movies? What do you think is overpraised? What did you feel differently than most of your friends?

Hidden Figures Review

hidden-figures2Today I had the chance to see Hidden Figures, and I could just as easily title this blog- ‘doing what others so often fail to do in a bio-pic’. Rarely have I been to this type of film and the audience cheer loudly throughout. Of all the movies I’ve seen in 2016, Hidden Figures, is one of the most rewatchable and it is one I am eager for friends and family to go and see.

Hidden Figures tells the real life story of 3 African-American women at NASA as they prepared to send John Glenn around the earth. Some may dismiss it as a formula film but that is underselling some of the standout choices it makes. Most importantly it avoids theatrics and instead shows the smaller more systematic racism women like these 3 faced on a daily basis.

Most of these kinds of movies have the evil redneck racist who is gathering the KKK. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for that. There absolutely is but sometimes such violence can make the racism harder to relate to and in a way more easy to shake off. It’s more little things that can impact me more. For example, in one scene Katherine comes into a room and a man expects her to take out the trash. Might we still sometimes expect people of certain races to do such work? We shouldn’t and movies like Hidden Figures help remind us of that.

hidden-figuresThe 3 women, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, are played by Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae respectively. They are all completely lovely as brilliant mathematicians and engineers who find a way to push through the systematic racism that existed everywhere at that time. Most of the people they work with would never consider themselves racists and yet they lazily engage in stereotyping and discrimination all the time.

It can be a very simple thing like using the bathroom, drinking communal coffee or more serious things like being made a supervisor or getting the information needed to do your job. I love movies about work and the way particularly the Octavia Spencer character Dorothy maneuvered her way through the office politics was very impressive and brilliant.

hidden-figures4Kirsten Dunst is great as a supervisor over the white computers. She thinks she is being respectful of Dorothy when she really isn’t. There is a scene between the two of them in a bathroom that is so well done.

I also liked Mahershala Ali as Katherine’s beau, Glen Powell as John Glenn and Jim Parsons as Katherine’s stick in the mud colleague Paul Stafford.

hidden-figures5I remember when I used to dread seeing Kevin Costner’s name in a film and now after McFarland USA and films like that I look forward to him. He’s great here as Katherine’s boss. He just wants the job done and this makes him a bit blind to what Katherine is going through, which leads to another scene the audience cheered at.

I guess if I was going to nitpick the movie, the only real flaw I had was the music. I felt they kept playing the same snappy Pharrell Williams song as a cheap way of saying ‘look how sassy these women are’. I grew a little tired of it.

But that is a very small complaint. This is a movie you can take your kids too. It’s PG after all and afterwards have a conversation about the small and big ways we discriminate against others. Talk about how these women were heroes and made a real difference to our country despite the challenges they faced.

hidden-figures3In some ways Hidden Figures reminded me of last year’s Brooklyn (except this is true story). Both are simple, old-fashioned storytelling, about important parts of our history. They both have great messages and wonderful performances you can’t help but like. This is more family friendly than Brooklyn but please do not dismiss it because it takes the crowd-pleasing approach. It’s honestly one of my favorite movies of 2016 and I hope it gets remembered come Oscars. Regardless, take your family and be inspired by Hidden Figures.

Overall Grade- A

Overlooked Films of 2016

Today I posted a video on films I think were underrated or overlooked in 2016. Some of these got good reviews but nobody saw. Some of them I think critics were a little tough on and others have a little of both. I’d love if you check out the video and let me know what you think.

Overlooked Films of 2016 (in no particular order)

The Dressmaker– Very weird messy revenge movie that I liked. Kate Winslet is great and Liam Hemsworth is very hunky in it. I can see why others wouldn’t like it but it was just strange enough to work for me.

Florence Foster Jenkins– A seemingly cloying underdog story that is so much more. There are a lot of subversive elements particularly in Florence and her husband’s unusual relationship. It’s heartwarming but also very sad.

13 Hours- I think if this wasn’t directed by Michael Bay it would have gotten a lot more credit. It was kind of lost in January but I think it is an absorbing visceral depiction of the events at Benghazi and not as political as you might think.

Bridget Jones’s Baby- Sure this film has a million cliches but it made me laugh harder than any film in 2016. Particularly any scene in the newsroom I thought was funny. It is an R rated comedy, like all the Bridget Jones movies, but I liked it.

Eddie the Eagle- Charming underdog sports movie with great performances from all involved. I was having the worst week when I saw this film and it really cheered me up. It’s a must see if you love inspirational true stories or are an Olympics fan.

London Road- It’s been the year of musicals and this is an underseen one. They take the unique approach of using police transcripts as the lyrics for the musical. It is a mystery and as the crimes are investigated we get to know all the citizens of London Road. Plus, Tom Hardy sings in it.

Kung fu Panda 3- This made a good amount at box office but I think it has largely been forgotten by most and I think that is a real shame. The animation was so beautiful and I loved the messages of adoption and Po learning to be a teacher. My favorite of the series.

Knight of Cups- My kind of art film by director Terrence Malick about the bad sides of entertainment and Los Angeles. The cinematography is gorgeous and the acting is top notch. It won’t be for everyone but I thought it was a lovely companion to Tree of Life.

Passengers- Recently this film received a lot of attention because of a plot element determined as ‘sexist’ by some. I disagree. The lead character makes a poor choice but I thought they established why he did this and gave him punishment for it. The movie looks gorgeous and the leads have great chemistry, which is important since it’s a romance.

Midnight Special- Where everyone else is flipping out over Arrival, I prefer Midnight Special. I love the way this film dives you right into the action and doesn’t waste time on exposition and backstory. I loved the acting and what it says about the way different people believe.

Queen of Katwe– A criminally underseen movie. It turns the Disney sports movie on its head by telling a story in Africa about an impoverished girl who learns to play chess. The acting is tremendous and I was impressed how dark and gritty Disney was willing to go. I was really moved by it and I think families should watch it.

Lion- Beautiful film about a boy who is lost in India and then years later works to find his family via Google Earth. I loved everything about this movie from the story, to the performances (especially the child actors), to the adoption message. It was perfect.

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life- I wish people could appreciate when a film is done well for a particular demographic. Why must every movie please every person? Anyway, this movie is made for the pre-teen crowd and it is made well. I really liked the way they integrated animation into the story and I thought the performances were heartfelt with a surprisingly emotional message about grief and loss.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople– More of a drama than a comedy for me but a very sweet film about a boy and his foster Dad who must explore the wilderness of New Zealand. I didn’t laugh as much as some but I liked these characters and performances. It has such a big heart and looks gorgeous.

Loving- A very different film than advertised. The court case is a small part of it. Most of the movie is about the couple and how they get through life’s struggles together. I really liked it. My only flaw is that it is a little hard to understand Edgerton sometime.

Have you seen any of these? What did you think? Let me know in the comment section and take care!

Ethel & Ernest Review

ethel-and-ernestAs much as I love complex movies that take large artistic risks, I also love simple movies that execute their vision well. Such is the case with the recent UK export Ethel & Ernest. What a lovely portrayal of a marriage and life. It might be too simple for some but that’s what makes is so special.

Ethel & Ernest is based on the graphic novel of the same name written by Raymond Briggs about the life of his parents. Starting in 1928, Ernest a simple milk man, falls in love with a house-maid named Ethel. They decide to get married and end up having a son named Raymond.

ethel-and-ernest2Their love is simple and yet it carries them through the tough times including the trials of World War 2. They work through these hardships together and we see Raymond grow into an adult making his own choices of love and a career. The whole thing is completely adorable and I defy anyone to not be able to relate to some part of their lives.

Some people might think such a story is boring but not me. I love seeing stories about life and it gives me hope that good things can come when life is hard. It gives hope that the life of simple men and women like Ethel and Ernest actually matter and that there is beauty in their simplicity.

ethel-and-ernest3The animation in Ethel & Ernest is a simple hand drawn water color style but I loved it. It was refreshing and added to the sense of wistful nostalgia in the story. The vocal work by Jim Broadbent and Brenda Blethyn is top notch (two of my favorite actors). You really can’t imagine these characters with any other voices.

I guess if I was going to fault Ethel & Ernest it’s probably not something I will remember in 10 years, but I don’t know if I care about that. While I was watching it, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

The music is also excellent including a new song by Paul McCartney!

So if you are looking for something to brighten your day and make you feel hopeful than give Ethel & Ernest a watch. I think you will really enjoy spending time with this wonderful couple and learning about their life together.

Overall Grade A-