Movie Review: “American Honey”

Starring
Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough, McCaul Lombardi
Director
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”

Starring
Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Samuel L. Jackson, Ella Purnell, Terrence Stamp, Judi Dench, Chris O’Dowd
Director
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”

Starring
Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Gina Rodriguez, John Malkovich, Kate Hudson, Dylan O’Brien, Ethan Suplee
Director
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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Movie Review: “The Magnificent Seven”

Starring
Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Byung-hun Lee, Hayley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard, Vincent D’Onofrio
Director
Antoine Fuqua

Hollywood remakes are hardly a new concept, but while there have been a handful of movies that actually improved upon the original, most tend not to be as good, either because they veer too far from what made them enjoyable or not far enough to make it worthwhile. Antoine Fuqua’s “The Magnificent Seven” is an interesting case in that it’s technically a remake of a remake, based on the 1960 John Sturges film of the same name, which was itself inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai.” Although it certainly had the odds stacked against it, the movie succeeds where so many have failed by retaining the spirit of its predecessors while also distinguishing itself just enough to stand on its own. It’s not exactly magnificent, but it’s a slick and entertaining take on a familiar tale that’s bursting with personality.

The year is 1879, and the small town of Rose Creek has been invaded by an evil mining baron named Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard), who presents the townspeople with an ultimatum: accept his paltry offer to buy their land or stay and suffer the consequences when he returns in three weeks. And to prove that he means business, Bogue murders the outspoken husband of Emma Cullen (Hayley Bennett). While her neighbors cower inside their homes, Emma goes searching for help in a nearby town and hires bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), who in turn recruits six other men – drunken gambler Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt), former Confederate sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), knives expert Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), fur trapper Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) – to protect the town and put an end to Bogue’s tyranny. But as they prepare for the inevitable attack, the seven mercenaries soon realize that they’re fighting for more than money.

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Movie Review: “Storks”

Starring
Andy Samberg, Katie Crown, Kelsey Grammer, Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell
Director
Nicholas Stoller & Doug Sweetland

“Storks” is filled with sweet and funny moments, but it has two teensy weensy (read: massive) problems: a lot of the funny bits are stolen, and there is no story. Like, at all. It’s actually kind of impressive how far out of his way screenwriter Nicholas Stoller went to not come up with a coherent story, and then you remember that he’s written some funny movies that had a story (the two most recent Muppets films, for starters), and that’s when the feeling of being cheated sets in.

Storks have gotten out of the business of delivering babies in favor of an Amazon-type model, and Junior (Andy Samberg) is the star delivery stork. Boss stork Hunter (Kelsey Grammer) is being promoted and would like Junior to take his place. But first, Junior must “liberate” the accidental troublemaker and newly-18-year-old Tulip (Katie Crown), a girl whose delivery instructions were lost and has remained with the storks. Junior instead assigns her to the now-dormant mail room, expecting her to not be able to break anything, until she receives a letter from Nate (Anton Starkman), a bored single child to workaholic parents who wants a little brother. Tulip sends the letter to the wrong machine, and a baby – somehow – is born. Junior, knowing that he’ll lose the promotion if Hunter discovers what has happened, teams up with Tulip to deliver the baby.

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