Pacific Rim: Uprising


Giant robots are inherently cool.

(2018) Science Fiction (Universal) John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Cailee Spaeny, Burn Gorham, Charlie Day, Jing Tian, Max Zhang, Rinko Kikuchi, Karan Brar, Wesley Wong, Ivanna Sakhno, Mackenyu, Lily Ji, Shyrley Rodriguez, Rahart Adams, Levi Meaden, Dustin Clare, Chen Zitong, Calvin Yu, Qian Yongchen, Zeppelin Hamilton, Jiaming Guo, Lyric Lan. Directed by Stephen S. DeKnight

 

This sequel to Guillermo Del Toro’s 2013 giant robots versus giant aliens Japanese cult film lovefest Pacific Rim isn’t going to overtax your intellect nor excite your imagination much; rather it operates on a completely visceral level, relying on eye candy special effects and chest-thumping militaristic dialogue from every action film ever.

]Set ten years after the original, the world is emerging from the invasion of the kaiju behemoths that nearly wiped out humanity. The fleet of giant robotic jaegers, piloted by two humans with minds linked by a neural bridge, are largely for show as the world rebuilds. Then, a rogue kaiju shows up and the world is woefully unprepared. Not only that but there is a giant conspiracy afoot. What is a war-weary world to do?

\Most of the cast of the original is absent, notably lead Charlie Hunnam whose character is mentioned in passing. Boyega plays the son of the first film’s Idris Elba character. Kikuchi, Gorham and Day are the only returnees of note. More importantly, Del Toro was off winning himself an Oscar and therefor had no time for the sequel.

The first film did boffo box office in China, rescuing it from red ink so the sequel is set mainly in China and has a predominantly Chinese cast. Fair enough. However, there is a Chinese reliance on oversold humor and shouted dialogue. This is a very loud movie indeed. It is also predictable as it seems cobbled together from a variety of movies. Having four writers will do that to a would-be blockbuster.

The special effects are what rescue the film; they are indeed impressive. You also can’t go wrong with giant robots battling Godzilla-like creatures. However, this sequel gets perilously close to doing just that.

REASONS TO SEE: The special effects are pretty nifty.
REASONS TO AVOID: Sadly predictable and goes completely off the rails in the final third.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of sci-fi action violence and a bit of profanity
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Several of the supporting actors appeared in the Spartacus series, including DeKnight who created the cable TV show.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, HBO Go, Vudu,YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/30/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 44% positive reviews: Metacritic: 44/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Transformers: The Last Knight
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Bored in the USA

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Pick of the Litter – July 2019


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Spider-Man: Far From Home

(Columbia/Marvel) Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson, Marisa Tomei. With the world forever changed following the events of the last two Avengers movies, Peter Parker finally seems to be going back to normal as he accompanies members of his class on a school trip to Europe. However, he can’t escape his role as Spider-Man as Nick Fury recruits him to fight a completely different kind of villain with an unusual ally. July 2

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love

(Roadside Attractions) Leonard Cohen, Marianne Ihlen. For the legendary troubadour Leonard Cohen, Marianne Ihlen was his muse. Most of the incredible love songs that he wrote over his career were about her. Their relationship was both passionate and challenging; it is captured on archival footage recently unearthed. July 5

The Farewell

(A24) Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Gil Perez-Abraham, Diana Lin. A Chinese-American family travels to the mother country to visit their grandmother who is dying of cancer. Following Chinese practice, the grandmother hasn’t been told of her medical condition, causing the young granddaughter issues in keeping the truth from her beloved grandma. July 12

Super 30

(Reliance) Hrithik Roshan, Amit Sadh, Nandish Singh, Virendra Saxena. The amazing but true story of an Indian mathematician who institutes the Super 30 program to help underprivileged youth to pass the entrance exams for the Indian Institute of Technology which could land them high-paying jobs they otherwise had no shot at getting. July 12

David Crosby: Remember My Name

(Sony Classics) David Crosby, Cameron Crowe, Henry Diltz, Graham Nash. Crosby’s music has helped two generations define themselves – with the Byrds in the Sixties and with CSNY in the Seventies. Now a septuagenarian himself in ill health and having alienated most of his peers, struggles to define himself. July 19

Honeyland

(NEON) Tamara Kotevska, Ljubomir Stefanov. The most honored film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Honeyland follows the last female beekeeper in Europe as her remote village is invaded by a family of nomadic beekeepers who not only threaten her own livelihood but also to upset the delicate natural balance of her village. July 26

Jirga

(Lightyear) Sam Smith, Muhammad Shah Majroh, Sher Alam Miskeen Ustad, Basheer Safi. An Australian soldier who accidentally killed a civilian during a raid returns to Afghanistan to make amends. This turns out to be an incredibly dangerous proposition as he is turned over to their law court – the Jirga – for judgement. July 26

Skin

(A24) Jamie Bell, Danielle Macdonald, Mike Colter, Bill Camp. This is based on the true story of Bryon Widner, a young man raised by racist skinheads and part of an ultra-violent white supremacy gang. Covered head to toe in racist tattoos, he begins to get his act together and change paths to one less violent and evil with the help of a black activist, the woman he loves and her three daughters. The film is currently available on VOD for DirecTV subscribers. July 26

The House (Huset)


Getting the point a cross.

(2016) Horror (Artsploitation) Frederik von Lüttichau, Mats Reinhardt, Sondre Krogtoft Larsen, Evy Kasseth Rosten, Sigmund Sæverud, Anita Ihler, Ingvild Flikkerud, Heidi Ødegaard Mikkelsen, Espen Edvartsen, Sophie. Directed by Reinert Kill

 

A house represents a lot of things. It is shelter from the elements, a refuge we come to at the end of a working day. It is where our family is; it is where memories are made. Indeed, some houses seem to have memories of their own.

During the Second World War, German officer Jurgen Kreiner (Reinhardt) and enlisted man Andreas Fleiss (von Lüttichau) have captured a Norwegian resistance fighter named Rune (Larsen). During the skirmish, Rune was injured in the leg and a third Nazi, Max (Edvartsen) was killed. Fleiss is all for shooting the Norwegian in the face; the more level-headed Kreiner wants to take him for questioning.

\It is winter in Norway and that season is particularly harsh. Wandering through the countryside, the map they’ve been provided seems wrong. At last, to their relief, they come upon a home in the middle of nowhere, seemingly abandoned. The house is inviting, warm and cozy; there is food and rest here for the cold, weary men. For all that, better they had died in the snow.

\Oh yes, this is a haunted house movie but it is also so much more. There is an art-house feeling of subtext here as the movie tackles guilt and the nature of evil. Fleiss is unapologetic, believing history to be the province of the Nazi party and that his Führer can do no wrong. He despises anything non-Aryan, including the Norwegians whom he constantly disparages. Kreiner is haunted by his time in a concentration camp. He is more intelligent, more worldly and more prone to regret. The house, scene of a 17th century exorcism, has plenty of nightmares to go around.

Kill, who has the perfect name for a horror movie director, knows what he’s doing. Every shot is exquisitely framed and lit. He utilizes old saws like doors opening by themselves and half-seen images out of the corner of the eye to perfection and sound effects cause the men – and the audience – to jump. Yeah, there are a lot of jump scares in this one but they’re done really effectively.

\The movie is more of a slow burn than a quick fire. It requires time to built the atmosphere although most savvy viewers – and a lot of unsavvy ones – will figure out there’s something very wrong in this Norwegian house pretty quickly. Thus, American audiences may end up getting a little bit impatient with this one. While the payoff is a bit ambiguous, the ride is effective enough to reward those who stick with it.

REASONS TO SEE: Makes good use of sound and atmosphere.
REASONS TO AVOID: The pace may be too slow for American audiences.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence and horrific images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This marked the first time in 14 years that a Wes Anderson film didn’t feature Jason Schwartzman in the cast (he did co-write the script).
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: One of Kill’s early short films is included.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/29/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Keep
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Pacific Rim: Uprising

Maiden


Sailing takes on a different attire in the oceans of Antarctica.

(2018) Documentary (Sony ClassicsTracy Edwards, Jo Gooding, Bruno Dubois, Barry Pickthall, Skip Novak, Bob Fisher, Howard Gibbons, Sally Hunter, Nancy Harris, Jeni Mundy, Claire Warren, Dawn Riley, Angela Heath, Marie-Claude Heys, Tanja Nisser. Directed by Alex Holmes

 

We like to characterize women as the fairer sex, but there’s always the underlying “the weaker sex” that goes unspoken except in actions which are, of course, much louder than words. Over the last century or so women have been struggling to prove that myth wrong and have done so, sometimes in triumphant fashion.

Sailing has always been a man’s world. There was the unadulterated bull excrement that it was bad luck to have a woman on board sailing vessels, as if vaginas somehow brought on the wrath of the gods. For longer endurance races, however, there was always the need for physical strength and endurance, something that admittedly men possess in greater amounts.

Tracy Edwards grew up in England a rebellious teen who was devoted to her father who sadly passed away at a young age. When her mum remarried, she found her stepdad to be a loathsome individual so she left and took on odd jobs from flight attendant to bartender, eventually working on the crew of yachts for hire. There she fell in love with sailing.

When she heard about the Whitbread Endurance Race, the longest of its time, she was eager to be part of it. However, the nearest she could get was to be a cook on one of the entrants. She was treated as a second class citizen and felt that she wasn’t contributing as much as she would have liked to. She realized early on that the only way to run the race as an on-deck crew member would be to captain her own boat, something that had never been done before. And since few male crew members would work for a woman, she would need to hire herself an all=female crew.

She was met with a great deal of skepticism if not outright hostility. It’s expensive to enter a vessel in the Whitbread and finding sponsors was a heck of a mountain to climb. Most were at best apathetic; others treated the idea as a joke. There were some sympathetic to her plan but quite frankly they were concerned about the publicity that would be incurred if the ship sank during the race and they went down with all hands – a distinct possibility particularly in the rough and treacherous Antarctic seas. Nobody could believe that she could actually do it.

By random chance, she met King Hussein of Jordan who grew to believe in her. He arranged for Jordanian Air to sponsor her and through that she was able to buy and refurbish a second-hand boat which was re-christened the Maiden Great Britain (get the aural pun?) and entered the vessel in the race. Journalists were skeptical with one, Bob Fisher, going so far to call the entry a “tin can full of tarts.” Nevertheless, she entered the 1989-90 Whitbread and journalists eagerly and with more than a little snarky glee took bests on how far they’d get. The rest would be history.

You can be forgiven if you’ve never heard of any of this. I confess I didn’t even know about the Whitbread (which is now called the Volvo Race after their current sponsor) and knew even less about Edwards. All this occurred 30 years ago and frankly I don’t really follow sailing at all. This isn’t a situation unique to me and an obstacle director Alex Holmes has to overcome.

He does the best thing possible to overcome it – he tells the story simply and lets the power of the narrative and the character of the participants draw the viewer in. Utilizing a lot of interviews with the participants in the race, their rivals aboard other boats and the journalists who covered the race as well as home movies and archival coverage, Holmes weaves the story nicely. The sequences in the Southern Ocean are particularly harrowing as we watch the tiny boat navigate rough seas that would put the North Atlantic to shame.

Edwards loathed the term “feminist” although her deeds mark her as a feminist to the core. The movie does lack a bit of context; what sort of effects did the Maiden voyage (see what I did there?) have on the world of yacht racing and on women in sports in general? Have there been any other all-female crews since? I can’t answer that but I can imagine that plenty of young girls who watch this movie may end up inspired enough to put together a team of their own.

REASONS TO SEE: A gripping story told well. The cinematography is spectacular as is the score. Edwards and her crew make for engaging subjects. Brings to light a little-known historic event.
REASONS TO AVOID: Really doesn’t delve into how the voyage of the Maiden changed things and the effect it has had on how women are regarded.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity. Mature situations and some sexually suggestive content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film debuted at last year’s Toronto Film Festival.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/21/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 97% positive reviews: Metacritic: 79/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: All is Lost
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
The House (2019)

New Releases for the Week of June 28, 2019


ANNABELLE COMES HOME

(New Line) Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, McKenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Steve Coulter, Michael Cimino. Directed by Gary Dauberman

Ed and Lorraine Warren, professional demonologists, have collected some dangerous artifacts over the years but none so perilous as the doll Annabelle. When a friend of their ten-year-old daughter releases the doll from her prison, she begins to reawaken the demonic spirits slumbering in those artifacts, leading to a night of incalculable horror.

See the trailer, clips and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for horror violence and terror)

Article 15

(Zee) Ayushmann Khurrana, Isha Talwar, Kumud Mishra, Manoj Pahwa. An Indian police officer, raised mostly in Europe, struggles to reconcile the traditional caste system with his own values of right and wrong. This is based on actual events.

See the trailer and clips here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks
Rating: NR

Echo in the Canyon

(Greenwich) Jakob Dylan, David Crosby, Roger McGuinn, Brian Wilson. From 1967 to 1969, rock music and pop culture would undergo a startling metamorphosis and the epicenter for it was a small community of musicians headquartered in Laurel Canyon in North Hollywood. This Florida Film Festival favorite celebrates the music and the musicians of the era with vintage clips and a tribute concert featuring modern artists influenced by the era. This was previously reviewed in Cinema365; you can read the review by clicking on the link below under “Scheduled For Review.”

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Musical Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: PG-13 (for drug references and suggestive content)

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

(A24) Jimmie Falls, Jonathan Majors, Tichina Arnold, Danny Glover. A young man dreams of reclaiming the beautiful Victorian home his grandfather built in the heart of San Francisco, but the City isn’t what he remembered it to be.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language, brief nudity and drug use)

The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith

(Good Deed) Christopher Gorham, Natalie Medlock, Russell Dixon, Joe Folau. A Mormon missionary returns to Tonga – this time with his family – only to face a crisis of faith when his son is born with a serious illness.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Faith-Based Drama
Now Playing: Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square
Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic material including violence)

Yesterday

(Universal) Himesh Patel, Lily James, Ed Sheeran, Kate McKinnon. A musician ready to give up on a career in music wakes up one morning after a bus accident during a mysterious global blackout to discover that nobody can remember the Beatles or their music. This leads him to an ethical dilemma as he takes the sure path to stardom.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, video featurettes and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Musical Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for suggestive content and language)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:
Being Frank
Brochevarevavura
The Command (Kursk)
Framing John DeLorean
Holy Lands
Kalki
Ophelia
Rainbow’s Sunset

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Brochevarevavura
The Fall of the American Empire
Kalki

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

The Fall of the American Empire
Killers Anonymous
The Last Whistle

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Brochevarevavura
Kalki

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Annabelle Comes Home
Echo in the Canyon
Yesterday

Hot Doug’s: The Movie


Hot Dog? Why, yes please!

(2016) Documentary (Random) Doug Sohn, Homaro Cantu, Steve Albini, Carlos Garcia, Barbara Tyksinski Benjamin Roman, Alex August, Steve Labedz, Michael Cantu, Brenda Maher, Octavio Garcia, Jose Luis Garduño, George Serveris, Alex Baez, Dan Sinker, Marco Roman, Michael Helminiak, Christian Garcia, April T.  Directed by Christopher Markos

 

Ah, the humble hot dog. Not even apple pie is as conscientiously American in the world’s imagination. While there are those who see New York City with their ubiquitous pushcarts as the hot dog Mecca, in recent years most outside the New York area would agree that Chicago is the epicenter for hot dog heaven and the Chicago dog the gold standard for dogs.

Douglas Sohn was the proprietor of Hot Doug’s, a hot dog in Chicago that was known for its rabid following. The line to get in normally stretched down the block and rare was the day when the average wait to get in wasn’t two hours or more. What made those dogs so special that Chicagoans, who aren’t exactly lacking for places to get a fine hot dog, were willing to endure waits – often in terrible weather – for his?

Sohn recalled that he started his establishment because he wanted a place that used the finest ingredients for their hot dogs. Early on, they stuck to basic frankfurters but eventually Doug decided to get a little wild; first off was the Atomic Dog, laden with spices and peppers. He asked his sausage supplier George Serveris for more exotic sausages and he responded with encased meat (as sausage lovers prefer to call them) from wild boar, rabbit and eventually such off-the-wall items as escargot and foie gras.

No less an authority than the late Anthony Bourdain – best-selling author, classically trained chef, TV host, world traveler and noted hot dog junkie – proclaimed Hot Doug’s one of 13 places you must eat at before you die. When he featured the show on his popular No Reservations program Hot Doug’s was transformed from a local hangout to a global phenomenon. Sure, the high-end hot dogs had a lot to do with it but much of the appeal lay with Sohn himself, who for fourteen years took every order at the front counter, interacting with his customers with goofy charm and a down-to-earth Midwestern sense of humor. He made each customer feel like part of the gang and that attitude carried on to the staff.

It all came to an end on October 3, 2014. Six months prior, the store announced on social media that it would be closing its doors for good on that date. When October 3 rolled around, the line was unbelievable as people waited in line in cold, rainy, miserable weather to get their last fix of Hot Doug’s. It was a testament to Sohn and his staff that although the staff knew well in advance that the run was coming to an end, almost all of them elected to keep working right up until the end.

The documentary clocks in at a brisk 56 minutes and Markos does an excellent job of giving the viewer a “you are there” experience. While there is some behind the scenes kind of stuff and a fair amount of talking heads, most of those he interviews are so engaging (particularly Sohn himself) that he can be forgiven.

Unfortunately, what he delivers in atmosphere he lacks in context. We get little reason for the store’s closing other than “it was time.” We also get no update as to what Sohn is up to now that his store is closed – he’s a pretty young guy so I assume he hasn’t retired on his hot dog earnings. One also wonders about the timing – did Markos know in advance about Sohn’s plans, or was he making the documentary and the closing just happened to occur while he was doing it. It doesn’t feel contrived so I’m inclined to believe the latter but one can’t know for sure.

One of the regular customers at Hot Doug’s summed up his impression of the store thusly: “It was a hot dog stand but it was a damn good hot dog stand” and that is about as fine an epitaph as any eating establishment could ever hope for. The film succeeds in portraying what it was like to enjoy a dog, the stand’s signature French fries cooked in duck fat and a cold beverage in a happening place. Legendary alternative rock producer Steve Albini’s studio was just down the block from Hot Doug’s and he enjoyed the rare privilege of being one of the only clients that could order ahead by fax, allowing the very busy Albini to skip the land although he felt guilty enough about it that when he visited the store on his own he would wait in line with everybody else and proclaimed that part of the overall experience of the joint was in fact waiting in line. While Hot Doug’s is no more, their legend will live on not only in the memories of the Chicago faithful who loved them but also in those who see this documentary and immediately have the urge to go and consume a dog at their local purveyor themselves. What more could you ask of any documentary?

REASONS TO SEE: Really gives you a sense of the time and place. Makes you want to eat a hot dog.
REASONS TO AVOID: Comes off as an infomercial in places.
FAMILY VALUES: Perfectly suitable for all audiences.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Markos previously directed videos for the Obama presidential campaign.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/26/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Hot Dog Program
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Maiden

Sides of a Horn


A sight we may not be able to see for very much longer.

(2018) Drama Short (Whitlow Park) Wellie Nzuza, Sheldon Marema, Ayanda Seoka, Dimpho Motloung, Motheo Mope, Petrus Maduna, Mpho Noko, Johnny Kaledi, Emmanuel Castis, Khanyisile Sebolai, Tshepiso Molati, Tonny Sebolai, Keorapetse Matji. Directed by Toby Wosskow

 

The African rhinoceros is one of the oldest species still extant on the planet, around 50 million years or so. If current estimates hold, the animal will be extinct in the wild within ten years. Much of that is due to a belief in certain Asian nations that the powdered rhino horn brings virility in a male. We are all about our dicks, after all. For that there’s a good chance that we will see them exist only in zoos and wildlife parks in our lifetimes.

This short is about Dumi (Nzuza) who works as a ranger for a wildlife protection agency in South Africa. He has come home to his village to visit his sister who is dying of a wasting disease. Her husband Sello (Marema) works as a wood cutter and doesn’t make enough to afford to take his wife to a doctor. Dumi offers to help out when he gets paid next week but that could be too late for the dying woman. Sello will do anything to protect his family; Dumi will do anything to protect his land. The two are headed on a collision course and don’t even know it.

The short 17-minute film has a powerful story that shows a surprisingly balanced view of a thorny problem that envelops modern Africa. On the one hand, they are fighting for their land and their heritage, trying to protect the wildlife which is native and part of a delicately balanced ecology. On the other hand, they are fighting terrible poverty in which even the most basic services are out of reach for a significant percentage of the population. Exacerbating everything is simple human greed – powdered rhino horn fetches lavish prices in Asia.

The cinematography by Nico Aguilar is beyond breathtaking. Filming was done in villages and game preserves where the rhino poaching issue is an everyday affair. As gripping as the story is, however, the pacing felt a little rushed, as if Wosskow were in a hurry to get this out in the world. I can’t say as I blame him if that is the case; every minute counts for a species that time is literally ticking down on.

The film was executive produced by Sir Richard Branson and is available free of charge in various places around the net a few of which are listed below in addition to the film’s website which can be reached by clicking on the picture above. In many ways, the rhino is almost incidental to the story onscreen which is a very human one although it remains distinctly at the center of the tale. When a wild rhino makes its appearance in the film, you can’t help but admire the magnificence of a creature which at the moment desperately needs our help to survive.

REASONS TO SEE: The cinematography is beautiful. Approaches the issues of poaching in South Africa from the points of view of both the conservationist and the poacher. The story is an important one and the dramatic tension is high.
REASONS TO AVOID: The story feels a bit rushed.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A poacher can get paid the equivalent of US $3,000 for a single rhino horn, enough to support his family for a full year.
BEYOND THE THEATER: African Wildlife Foundation, Vimeo, Virgin, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/25/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Forgotten Kingdom
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
Hot Doug’s: The Movie