Movie Review: “American Honey”

Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough, McCaul Lombardi
Andrea Arnold

Andrea Arnold’s “American Honey” is a nearly three-hour film that, on the surface, doesn’t add up to a lot. This coming-of-age tale is extra light on plot, but it has no shortage of energy or passion. This is the kind of movie where every shot and scene is tangible. The director behind “Fish Tank” and “Red Road” has crafted a hypnotic experience, presenting a world and characters that keep your eyes glued to the screen for 163 minutes.

Star (Sasha Lane) is an 18-year-old girl who’s looking for a new life, and she might just find it with Jake (Shia LaBeouf) and his crew, who travel the country selling magazines. One day while out with her younger brother and sister, she spots Jake and his young gang out and about, doing whatever they please – sing, dance, or whatever else would draw attention – as they shop. Their sense of freedom, and Jake’s charisma, catches Star’s eyes. Jake offers her a chance to travel the country with him and the rest of the team, going from motel to motel, town to town, trying to sell enough magazines to get by. Star agrees to go with them and embarks on the first big journey of her life. Along the way, maybe she’ll learn an important lesson or two, but Andrea Arnold isn’t the kind of storyteller that’ll tell you if she does; she’s the kind of filmmaker that shows you.

Arnold avoids most narrative conventions. Because of that, her movies tend to truly live and breathe. There’s rarely any doubt they’re authentic. In “American Honey,” she’s even less interested in a three-act journey, although her script and Star’s journey clearly has a beginning, middle and end. Most of “American Honey” feels like the most personal and cinematic home videos you’ve ever seen. There’s always an immediacy and intimacy to what we’re watching, and that’s partially because the actors are so present.

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Movie Review: “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”

Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Samuel L. Jackson, Ella Purnell, Terrence Stamp, Judi Dench, Chris O’Dowd
Tim Burton

Author Ransom Riggs’ “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” is right up director Tim Burton‘s alley. Riggs’ story is about a loner trying to find his place in the world – a story that the filmmaker behind “Edward Scissorhands,” “Big Fish” and “Ed Wood” is certainly no stranger to. It should come as no surprise, then, that Burton works up some small, charming wonders with this heartfelt piece of spectacle.

Jake’s (Asa Butterfield) grandfather, Abraham Portman (Terence Stamp), was a great man – an adventurer and soldier who battled fantastical beasts. These stories, according to Jake’s dad (Chris O’Dowd) and everyone else at school, were nothing but fairytales and lies, so Jake stopped believing they were real a long time ago. One night, the teenager goes to visit his grandfather and discovers his body outside the house with his eyes removed. Although everyone tells Jake that he’s crazy for supposedly seeing the mystery man and beast that ripped out his grandfather’s eyes, he wants answers. Remembering the stories his grandfather told him, Jake goes searching for Miss Alma LeFay Peregrine (Eva Green) and her orphanage for peculiar children in Wales, where he uncovers a “loop” created by Miss Peregrine that allows her and the children to live the same day in the 1940s over and over again. Later on, a threatening figure played by Samuel L. Jackson enters the picture, but up until then, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” is a character-driven tale with a nicely intimate scope.

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Movie Review: “Deepwater Horizon”

Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez, John Malkovich, Kate Hudson, Dylan O’Brien, Ethan Suplee
Peter Berg

Everyone remembers the images of the BP oil spill that dominated the TV news cycle back in 2010 – the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig engulfed in flames, the rivers of black crude oil spreading across the Gulf of Mexico – but not many people know the details of what actually happened. It remains the worst oil disaster in U.S. history, and director Peter Berg recreates it in stunningly authentic detail for his latest film. But while “Deepwater Horizon” is a pretty effective disaster movie with some decent thrills and enough explosions to make even Michael Bay jealous, it doesn’t seem to have a purpose. It works just fine as a dramatic reenactment of corporate greed gone horribly wrong, but unlike the real-life incident, it will quickly be forgotten.

There were a lot of heroes aboard the Deepwater Horizon on that fateful day, but Berg centers on a quartet of Transocean contractors – including chief electronics technician Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), crew chief Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), bridge officer Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez) and floorhand Caleb Holloway (Dylan O’Brien) – to tell the harrowing tale. When Mike, Jimmy and Andrea arrive on the offshore drilling rig for a three-week shift, they discover that an important safety procedure has been ignored due to the project falling behind schedule. Adamant about the safety of his crew, Jimmy insists that they run some additional tests before anyone begins drilling, much to the annoyance of BP executive Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich). After the tests prove inconclusive, Vidrine pressures the workers into starting the job anyway, leading to the tragic accident that claimed the lives of 11 men and caused irreparable damage to the surrounding waters.

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Blu Tuesday: Warcraft, Central Intelligence and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.


WHAT: When an evil sorcerer named Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) sends a small war party of orcs through a portal to the peaceful realm of Azeroth in the hopes of conquering the land, the human forces – led by King Llane (Dominic Cooper), heroic warrior Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) and powerful magician Medivh (Ben Foster) – scramble to defend their kingdom with the help of Garona (Paula Patton), a human/orc half-breed who must decide where her true loyalty lies.

WHY: Hollywood has a pretty awful track record with video game adaptations, so when it was announced that director Duncan Jones would be bringing the mega-popular “Warcraft” franchise to the big screen, many people believed that he would finally break the curse. Sadly, it doesn’t even come close. Any hope that “Warcraft” would be the first great video game adaptation is promptly squashed within the opening 30 minutes, and it only gets worse from there as the audience is forced to suffer through the incredibly convoluted and disjointed plot. Although Paula Patton and Toby Kebbell (as conflicted orc warrior Durotan) deliver fine performances in their respective roles, the rest of the cast doesn’t fare quite as well, unable to rise above the hackneyed script and two-dimensionality of their video game counterparts. There are some enjoyable bits scattered throughout, and the motion capture technology is truly remarkable, but while that may be enough to please its legion of diehard fans, everyone else will see “Warcraft” exactly for what it is: just another bad video game film.

EXTRAS: In addition to a six-part making-of featurette that covers everything from pre-production and casting to visual effects and stunts, there’s a look at the Madame Tussauds exhibit created in promotion of the film, the supplemental motion comic “Bonds of Brotherhood,” deleted scenes, a gag reel and more.


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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to October


October is an interesting month for film releases. The blockbuster season is a distant memory and awards season is just getting started. Some festival favorites finally hit wide release, while others are chasing the spooky atmosphere of the season. However, there aren’t many major horror movies this month (and no, “Boo! A Madea Halloween” doesn’t count); instead, it seems that the dominant genre for October is adult thrillers. Sure, there’s a comedy and a drama or two in the mix, but mainly it’s thrillers aimed at grownups with twists, turns and some sophisticated action. Who knows if any of these will succeed at the box office, but here’s what’s on the docket for the month.

“The Birth of a Nation”

Who: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Aunjanue Ellis and Gabrielle Union
What: Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher in the antebellum South, orchestrates an uprising.
When: October 7th
Why: There’s been a lot of discussion around “The Birth of a Nation.” First, there was tons of hype about the film coming out of Sundance, but more recently, the talk has become about writer/director/star Nate Parker’s previous rape allegations. For some, that’s a deal breaker and they won’t go see the film; others have learned to separate the art from the artist and will take the movie on its own merits (see Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, etc.). Based on word of mouth, the film is a harrowing, emotional experience that does a good job of connecting audiences to this historical event while finding the humanity amid all the horrible actions of the time period.

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