Gentleman's Agreement is a 1947 drama film directed by Elia Kazan and stars Gregory Peck and Dorothy McGuire. The film won Best Supporting Actress and Best Director along with Best Picture.
Philip Green (Peck) is a gentile journalist who has moved to New York. He is asked to research and write an article on antisemitism. Green struggles to find a significant lead, until he conceives the idea to pose as being Jewish. As he works on his assignment, Green finds himself the victim of religious intolerance, affecting himself and his relationship with his new girlfriend and later fiancee Kathy Lacey (McGuire).
Gregory Peck was one of the finest actors of his generation. His performance in To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the finest acting performances in cinematic history. It pains me to proclaim that his talents are being wasted here on a story that, while commendable and realistic, turns out to be vapidly executed by virtue of a disappointing script. Scenes are little more than casual conversations or romantic kisses between Peck and McGuire. Characters act inert with their frustrations barely mounting above stern expressions. Any emotional appeal is nonexistent.
- Gregory Peck's performance. It is the only thing that somewhat keeps the film afloat.
- The lack of energy. Gentleman's Agreement is missing energy more than anything else. A musical soundtrack has no presence, and the other characters besides Green rub off as one-dimensional and forgettable. Character interactions have no spark and are too casual to help lift the story.
Gentleman's Agreement squanders its story with sluggish pacing and forgettable characters. Gregory Peck does his best and is a sole bright spot. Mr. Peck has definitely done better, and it bothers me to say he has a Forgettable Best Picture Winner on his resume.
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them is the 1st installment of what will be a five part Harry Potter prequel series. It is directed by David Yates, who also directed the final four Harry Potter films. The film stars Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, as well as Jon Voight and Colin Farrell in supporting roles.
Newt Scamander (Redmayne) is a travelling wizard who arrives in New York, carrying a suitcase that contains many magical creatures. His suitcase gets mixed up with Jacob Kowalski (Fogler), a No-Maj (synonym for Muggle), who accidentally releases a few of the creatures. Scamander also meets Magical Congress investigator Tina Goldstein (Waterston), who eventually comes to assist him in his search for the runaway creatures. However, they soon discover that a much darker magical force is at work and is causing havoc around New York.
Fantastic Beasts takes place about 70 years before the events of the Harry Potter franchise. We, of course, expect to hear no mention of Mr. Potter or Voldemort. J.K. Rowling, though, has offered us another chance to immerse ourselves in the world of wizardry and magic that has fascinated us for years, ever since the first Harry Potter book was published. We now have a new host of characters to fall in love with and gravitate towards. Best of all, we will have future opportunities to continue to see more of the creative spell-casting, exciting monster-vanquishing, and visual splendor that J.K. Rowling has continued to deliver for years with no signs of slowing down.
- The Harry Potter nostalgia. Anyone who is an avid fan of Mr. Potter will have no trouble finding themselves feeling giddy and, perhaps, reliving a part of their childhood.
- The magical creatures. The array of beasts we observe throughout the film are a definitive example that Rowling is adept at keeping the creative juices flowing. The first one we see resembles something like a duckbill platypus possum, and it likes to steal shiny and valuable items and keep them in its kangaroo pouch. There is also another creature that looks like a cross between a blue snake and a predatory bird. These beasts are colorful, sometimes cute, and other times sinister.
- The uneven storytelling. Rowling's script is telling two different stories for an elongated amount of time, and then these two stories are brought together for the grand finale. The focus is dichotomous, and we get frustrated trying to keep up with the relevant characters. A fun adventure to retrieve some lost creatures becomes embroiled in a fight to save New York.
The wizarding world of Harry Potter remains alive and well in Fantastic Beasts. Rowling gives us even more reason to love this magical world despite some uneven storytelling. Harry Potter fans of all ages should consider this a must-see. For newcomers, this isn't a bad place to start. Doesn't it make sense to start here since it comes before Harry Potter?
Recommend? Yes, especially for Harry Potter fans
A new Disney smash hit without a princess
Moana is Disney's 2nd major animation production of 2016, the other being Zootopia. It is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, and introduces Auli'i Cavalhro as Moana, as well as featuring voice work from Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
Moana is the daughter of Chief Tui on the Hawaii-nesque island of Monotui. Moana yearns to travel on the ocean waters, but her father refuses to let her sail, claiming no one is allowed to go beyond the island reef. Eventually, Moana discovers that she has been chosen to go on a quest to find the demigod Maui, and return the lost heart of the island goddess, Te Fiti, who is capable of creating life and can also save Moana's island home that is dying.
Two things should be clear. One, Moana is no princess. She states this herself in the film, as she more longs to be an ocean adventurer instead of a stay-at-home leader of her people. Two, Moana is not your traditional Disney musical love tale. The musical part is still there, but nowhere does the film hint at a romance or love tale.
Moana's attitude as an independent, I-can-take-care-of-myself kind of girl is a message that many young female girls can truly resonate with. We live in an age where sex is a product to sell, which conveys a cruel, derogatory message that women are sexual objects and men are free to dominate them as they please. While Moana should not discourage women from ever getting married or pursuing any form of romance, it should given them the firepower to feel more confident in themselves and aspire to chase after their dreams with no hesitation.
- The animation. The ocean water is gorgeous and looks astonishingly realistic. Lush green mountains and stony hillsides are dazzling to the eyes. Human and animal characters are expertly crafted with high attention to detail.
- The lack of a love story. The formulaic approach that Disney managed to succeed with for years was something that went along these lines; a princess becomes fed up with her boring, trite lifestyle and eventually meets a usually unsung male counterpart with whom she sometimes instantly falls in love with. The two defeat a nasty evil-doer, share a kiss, and live happily ever after. It's the usual sweet candy, but Moana does not even attempt to convince us that its titular character is another Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. Moana's male cohort is the beefy, all-powerful demigod Maui, who is voiced by muscle-man Dwayne Johnson. Moana always reminds Maui that she is in charge, and there is no motif or wordless exchange to make you even ponder the thought that the two are falling in love. This is rare grounds for Disney, and it's a fresh take that is a delight to see.
- It's difficult for me to find anything to truly bite at in the film. Perhaps if anything, Moana doesn't provide the most clever humor in the world. Several of the jokes and comedic moments rely on toilet humor and the idiocy of Heihei, Moana's not-so-smart pet rooster. I failed to laugh out loud at any of the humor, but I still found myself seriously snickering a handful of times. I was not expecting a surplus of humor, and there isn't one. Why should there be?
Moana is a delightful and fantastically animated Disney adventure, featuring some charming music and a memorable new female lead in Moana. Pixar might start sweating a little if Disney keeps up this recent hot streak.
Recommend? Yes! Whether by yourself or with the family, you won't regret it!
Don't worry. It's not Independence Day 3
Arrival is a 2016 science fiction dramatic thriller film directed by Dennis Villeneuve, the director of Prisoners and Sicario, and stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker.
Twelve extraterrestrial spacecrafts suddenly land in various locations around the Earth. Nations across the globe spring into a panicked state, and the U.S. military calls upon expert linguist Louise Banks (Adams) to assist in entering one of the spacecrafts and possibly communicating with the alien lifeforms. Banks is assisted by theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Renner). The aliens prove difficult to communicate with, as Banks and her crew try to uncover why the aliens came to Earth.
It's a script that's been done to death. Alien spaceships come down, everyone gets scared, and just when we think we can be friends with them, the aliens start to blow everything up. It's a hackneyed story that we hope not to see again, at least in 2016, after the incoherent imbroglio that was Independence Day: Resurgence. Thankfully, writer Eric Heisserer would laugh at such a script and refuse to make it the basis for Arrival. 'Invasion' is not the right word to use to describe the premise for Arrival, because it really is an alien....arrival, or entrance, or whatever other synonym you can come up with.
- The different take on the "Aliens come to Earth" idea. As just mentioned above, Arrival leans more on the "why" as opposed to the "what". The film more deeply examines psychological motives rather than the end result, which is typically aliens destroying everything with their guns and spaceships. Arrival should be respected for examining aliens as intelligent and curious travelers as opposed to being reduced to little more than sadistic and blood-thirsty human-killers.
- Amy Adams. Adams thrives in her role, effectively combining the emotional turmoil of her character's own life with intellectual curiosity for the aliens. Adams commands the screen and will undoubtedly turn a few heads from the Academy.
- When the mystery behind the aliens is unraveled, the payoff is underwhelming. There is no denying that Arrival is a thinking film, and maybe it is also one of those films that you can't fully analyze and dissect until you've had multiple viewings. Unfortunately, there is not a sense of wonder and curiosity after all is said and done. When you think it all the way through, Arrival leaves us more strictly confused than with what I called "positive confusion" for other thinking films such as Donnie Darko. I felt no desire to explore the film more, because the "why" that the film advertises huffs and puffs but eventually, the house blows down with just a soft poof. Arrival cares more for the "why" as opposed to the "what", and probably the only "what" you'll be thinking about when you watch the credits roll is, "What was the point?"
What Arrival really has going for itself is a fresh and welcome new perspective on the whole humans vs. aliens ordeal, with Amy Adams as the driving force. Sadly, the answers we receive in the end don't satiate our curious desires to the fullest. Nonetheless, fans of thinking films should be pleased. Even the casual viewer might find some enjoyment too.
One of the grittiest and most heartfelt World War II films in years
Hacksaw Ridge is a 2016 biographical war film directed by Mel Gibson and stars Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Hugo Weaving, and Teresa Palmer.
The film tells the true story of Desmond T. Doss, a combat medic during World War II who refused to use or carry a firearm. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for single-handedly saving the lives of over 75 men while under heavy enemy fire during the Battle of Okinawa. The film also chronicles Doss meeting and falling in love with Dorothy Schutte, and later enlisting in the Army, where his beliefs and refusal to carry a gun are met with surprise and hostility.
Mel Gibson really knocked the ball out of the park with this one. There is truly an aura of amazement and masterful craft with this film, and it did not fully hit me as I was leaving the theater. I had to take some time to process and really digest what I had seen on screen. It's a rarity nowadays to come across a film that hits all the right buttons, but Mel Gibson has produced another directorial feature that hits the nail on the head several times, and is for sure up for major Oscar contention next year.
Acting, direction, editing, the soundtrack, cinematography, and more all come together in Hacksaw Ridge. It also features graphic and blood-curling war battle scenes that reach a level of intensity not seen since Saving Private Ryan. In the middle of the gunfire, explosions, and hell on Earth is a brave and pacifistic hero in Desmond Doss whose emotional appeal never falls into a mawkish manner.
- Andrew Garfield's performance. Garfield brings a humble and tender presence to the screen, and also boasts the necessary physique to create a fully convincing modern-day replica of a unique World War II hero. This is no vile drill sergeant or hulking man who loves to charge the enemy. Doss is a refined and dignified individual who sticks to his beliefs, no matter the cost. Andrew Garfield gives us exactly this, and we love him for it.
- The pacing. It's as if Mel Gibson quadruple checked the script and calculated how much of the run time he wanted to dedicate to each important segment. From the love development between Doss and Dorothy, to Doss's time in Army training, and all the way to his experience on the battlefield, everything moves at a continuous pace that never feels too rushed or too sluggish. Every major piece is given the time and depth it needs to flourish.
- It's more of a small nitpick, but a few scenes cut away a little too soon. These few scenes could've been about 10 to 20 seconds longer for the sake of dramatic effect. For example, Doss is brought forth to a colonel who tells him if he man's up and passes the "shooting" part of his training, all charges against him will be dropped. A gun is offered to him, but Doss refuses to take it. The scene cuts away right after that. A few extra seconds could see the concerned looks from everybody else watching Doss, and maybe have the colonel make a comment. Some scenes like this one pass on potential dramatic effect, but I won't stress this as any kind of significant flaw.
Mel Gibson has had his ups and downs throughout his career, but he reaches an all new high with Hacksaw Ridge, a brilliant and emotional World War II piece featuring a terrific Andrew Garfield performance and a brutal picture of what it looks like in a war-zone. Hacksaw Ridge is unquestionably one of the best films of the year, and perhaps the greatest World War II film since Saving Private Ryan.
The mind-bending new twist to the Marvel Universe
Doctor Strange is the 14th installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, being the 2nd film in Phase Three, following Captain America: Civil War. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Rachel McAdams, and is directed by Scott Derrickson.
Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is an arrogant and know-it-all neurosurgeon whose career is suddenly halted when he gets into a violent car accident and loses the use of his hands. Strange, frustrated with his situation, learns of a man who was once a paraplegic, but mysteriously began to walk again. The man points Strange to the location of The Ancient One, a sorcerer with the power to manipulate space and other dimensions. The Ancient One eventually decides to teach Strange in the ways of the mystical arts.
So far, Marvel has explored basically the entire galaxy. Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy have adventured through many different planetoids and regions of space, while Iron Man, the Hulk, Ant Man, and Captain America oversee the troubles going on around Earth. Now comes Doctor Strange, whose time and space-bending powers are a noticeable shift in gears for Marvel. It's also definitive proof that the MCU knows no boundaries, basically going anywhere and everywhere imaginable (Captain Kirk would be jealous).
Topics of inter-dimensional exploring and the ability to manipulate time and space are probably the most bizarre concepts that Marvel has had the ambition to take on. And yet, we can walk out of Doctor Strange having little to no confusion as to what happened and what we just saw. What we see is a fresh superhero, a new and welcome face in Benedict Cumberbatch, and a visual effects extravaganza that will make your eyes pop.
- The visual effects. Marvel has given us all sorts of epic-scope visual effects, but the visuals in Doctor Strange are unquestionably the best in the MCU by far. Imagine looking through a kaleidoscope on steroids. That's what you see in Doctor Strange; with buildings, walls, and streets all being flipped, stacked, and twisted, making the similar effects in Inception look like child's play.
- Benedict Cumberbatch, who is an interesting fit for Stephen Strange. Strange continuously questions how the mystical arts could be possible, trying to reason his stance from a scientific viewpoint. He argues how the cells in the human body could work to potentially fix nerves and broken bones, while The Ancient One claims she heals the human body through spirit and other mystical forces. Cumberbatch does not have the Hulk Hogan-like physique that Thor and Captain America have, but that's what makes him so suitable for the role, and it contributes to what makes him a nice addition to the Marvel heroes clan.
- Once again, Marvel insists on using as much humor as they think they can possibly squeeze into one of these films before it falls into the comedy category. The humor is not bad at all; there are a lot of funny exchanges of dialogue ("It's the Wifi password. We're not savages") and other tiny, humorous moments, but no director or writer of almost any of the MCU films seems to know when enough's enough. Like I said in my Civil War review, I certainly encourage humor in these films, but not to the point where I begin to question if the characters are really taking their current predicament seriously. If you're fighting a villain to save Earth or the galaxy, is cracking jokes and one-liners something you would go out of your way to do?
I suppose critics and audiences, for some reason nowadays, highly demand humor in superhero films, which must contribute to why Marvel has been so successful. DC's superhero films, on the other hand, are sometimes accused of being not fun enough. Yeah, I wouldn't call The Dark Knight, a "fun" movie that is filled with humor, yet it's considered one of the greatest superhero films ever made.
Despite the over-reliance on humor, Doctor Strange keeps Phase Three of the MCU moving right along, packed with splendid visuals and a welcome new-face in Benedict Cumberbatch. I, and many others, look forward to what new adventures come Strange's way, both in his own films, and in the next Avengers. He will be in Avengers 3, right?
Third time's the charm?
Inferno is the 2016 film adaptation of Dan Brown's novel of the same name and a sequel to The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. Ron Howard returns as director, and Tom Hanks reprises his role once again as Robert Langdon. Newcomers include Felicity Jones, Omar Sy, Irrfan Khan, and Ben Foster.
Robert Langdon awakes in a hospital bed, suffering from memory loss of events that occurred in the previous 48 hours. Dr. Sienna Brooks (Jones), a nurse at the hospital, helps Langdon escape from an assassination attempt, taking him back to her apartment. As Langdon struggles to remember what happened to him, he discovers a strange pointer in his clothes, which displays an altered version of The Map of Hell based on Dante's Inferno. Langdon and Brooks soon discover that the map is a clue to a virus dubbed "Inferno", created by bio-engineer Ben Zobrist (Foster), with the intention of wiping out half of the world's population. Langdon and Brooks then set out to find the virus, while at the same time evading the authorities and the assassin who tried to kill Langdon.
Since we now have a Da Vinci Code trilogy, this will probably be the last time that we will have to watch Mr. Robert Langdon on the big screen. He has gone from embarking on a massive treasure hunt, to saving the Catholic Church, and finally to pretty much saving the world. Not sure how much bigger you can get than that. I suppose a fourth film might see Langdon going into outer space to fight Medieval space monkeys.
So, of course, we have to ask ourselves, does this trilogy end on a high note? Angels & Demons was a step downward from The Da Vinci Code. Inferno though, is a dinky step forward. It's more enjoyable than Angels & Demons as simply an entertaining thriller, but in terms of writing and plot, it might be the most ludicrous in the trilogy.
- The fast pace. Robert Langdon in this film is like Richard Kimble from The Fugitive, in the sense that he is running from police and other authorities for almost the entire film. Also like The Fugitive, it's happening rather quickly, and there's barely any time for our main character to slow down and catch his breath. On top of evading custody, Langdon has to uncover the truth behind another mystery, and there's no "let's sit down and figure this out" sequences. The fast pacing has you on your toes and keeps the film moving.
- The ridiculous plot. I find Dante's Inferno to be an intriguing read and strongly recommend it, so I was mildly interested to see the Inferno be addressed in this film, even if it's more of a gimmick. However, the use of Dante's depiction of hell does not translate into definitive elements of a quality plot. While the plot is fast-paced, there are far too many twists and illogical happenings, that when you try to put all the puzzle pieces together, you get an ugly-looking smorgasbord.
It's never clearly defined how Zobrist is able to create a virus that is capable of wiping out half of the Earth's population, and it's even more absurd to think about how such a virus could be hidden and get past basic security. Are we to just assume that Zobrist created the virus alone in a laboratory and never had to go traveling with it?
Robert Langdon is himself a puzzle. Early on, he struggles to remember the word for coffee, but he has no trouble realizing that the Map of Hell in his pointer has been modified. He also steals the Dante mask, and there is also no clear-cut explanation for why it was stolen in the first place. Try to incorporate the several plot twists in as well, and your head will be spinning. It's no help that Felicity Jones acts primarily as the chattering monkey in Langdon's head when the two are on the run. Langdon will say one thing, and Jones either just reconfirms it or either chooses to agree or disagree. "I have no memory of taking that mask" says Langdon, to which Jones replies, "You did. I just saw you." Did I not mention that her only reason for following Langdon around after she rescues him is because she loved doing puzzles and treasure hunts when she was a child?
Inferno is a small (and I mean small) step-up from Angels & Demons, having enough to pass as a mildly exciting thriller. Tom Hanks does his best and really tries to make the most out of what the writers have to offer, and what the writers do offer is a lazy and incoherent plot that, at the end of the day, makes little to no sense. Ron Howard once again goes on autopilot direction in this one, resulting in Inferno being a somewhat less-than-satisfying conclusion to this trilogy. Of course, if this film rakes in the money yet again, Howard and his crew will be laughing all the way to the bank.
Recommend? Only if you've seen the first two films.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: