Movie Review: “The Neon Demon”

Starring
Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Christina Hendricks, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee
Director
Nicolas Winding Refn

Following up on the polarizing “Only God Forgives,” director Nicolas Winding Refn has made a movie that’s bound to split audiences just as much as the unconventional revenge thriller starring Ryan Gosling. “The Neon Demon” is a beautiful, hypnotic nightmare that goes to some comical, horrifying and unexpected places – places not all audiences are understandably willing to go.

Jesse (Elle Fanning) has just moved to Los Angeles, but not to be a star like most people. Though the teenage girl’s past is a bit of a mystery, it’s obvious she’s always had to survive on her own. Even when Jesse starts to find some success in the modeling world, she’s still fighting to survive. Being the new girl on the scene and finding success so quickly, she makes enemies with fellow models Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee), who are less taken with young Jessie than their friend, makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone). For the most part, Jesse is on her own in these cruel environments – whether in an off-putting nightclub, a photo shoot or a crappy motel – and surrounded by even crueler characters that want to devour her beauty.

Upon first viewing, Jesse’s journey doesn’t add up to much. The film, which Refn co-wrote with Marry Laws and Polly Stenham, relies more on atmosphere than plot, but the story isn’t as thin as it initially appears. There is a purpose to every scene and shot in “The Neon Demon,” and they’re always serving Jesse’s story. When a mountain lion trashes the teenager’s room, it seems random at first glance, but it’s a key piece of foreshadowing of what’s to come. Even a sequence that features two of the main characters showering together, which easily could’ve been laughable or gratuitous, reinforces the story Refn is telling – a story about animals.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook for content updates. Also, sign up for our email list for weekly updates and check us out on Google+ as well.

Movie Review: “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”

Starring
Julian Dennison, Sam Neill, Rachel House, Rima Te Wiata, Rhys Darby
Director
Taika Waititi

Chances are that you’ve seen writer/director Taika Waititi’s work before – whether it was his 2010 debut “Boy,” the HBO series “Flight of the Conchords” or last year’s cult comedy “What We Do in the Shadows” – but the New Zealand-born filmmaker is about to blow up in a big way thanks to a pair of high-profile gigs for Disney. (In addition to directing “Thor: Ragnarok,” he also co-wrote the upcoming animated film “Moana.”) Before jumping behind the camera for the God of Thunder’s latest cinematic adventure, however, Waititi made this quirky buddy comedy set in his native country that’s somewhat reminiscent of another Disney release, “Up.” Granted, “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” isn’t nearly as good, but it’s a delightful little movie that ranks as one of the more pleasant surprises of the year thus far.

Rebellious city kid Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) has been in and out of foster care for most of his life, causing trouble wherever he goes. Given one last chance to find a suitable family, Ricky is placed with the kindly Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her cantankerous frontiersman husband Hector (Sam Neill) in their remote countryside home. When Bella suddenly passes away just as Ricky is beginning to warm up to the couple, he clumsily fakes his death and runs off into the wilderness rather than risk being sent to juvenile detention. Hector quickly tracks him down but fractures his ankle in the process, which forces the mismatched duo to work together in order to survive. But tenacious child services officer Paula (Rachel House) thinks that the bereaved Hector has kidnapped Ricky, and she’ll do whatever it takes to get him back, launching a nationwide manhunt that turns the two fugitives into folk heroes.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Blu Tuesday: Midnight Special 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.

“Midnight Special”

WHAT: On the run from the government, as well as religious zealots who covet his son Alton’s (Jaeden Lieberher) mysterious powers, Roy (Michael Shannon) enlists the help of his wife Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) and childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) to get the young boy to an undisclosed location on a specific date. He’s not sure why, other than that it will help Alton achieve his true purpose.

WHY: Director Jeff Nichols has a predilection for telling simple stories that focus heavily on character, but “Midnight Special” is almost too simple in execution, lacking the required substance to sustain its 112-minute runtime. Though the opening act is packed with tension and mystery, the story grinds to a halt in the middle as its characters become stuck in a holding pattern of sorts, only to eventually limp towards its disappointing conclusion. Nicholas has never been very good at sticking the landing, but “Midnight Special” contains his most uninspired ending yet. The movie is also mind-numbingly slow at times, weighed down by subplots that go nowhere and entire scenes where nothing happens. Fortunately, the acting is so good that it just barely manages to keep your interest, particularly Nichols regular Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton and Adam Driver as an NSA agent helping to track down the fugitives. It’s a shame to see this much talent wasted on such a mediocre film, because while there was certainly a great movie within reach, “Midnight Special” stumbles too often to fulfil its potential.

EXTRAS: There are profiles on the five main characters and a making-of featurette.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Movie Review: “Central Intelligence”

Starring
Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Amy Ryan, Danielle Nicolet, Aaron Paul
Director
Rawson Marshall Thurber

There is a really good movie just within reach of “Central Intelligence.” The casting is impeccable (no joke, Dwayne Johnson has never been better), and the premise is a strangely beautiful marriage of “Grosse Pointe Blank” and “True Lies,” with a few jabs at Facebook for good measure. They even used their PG-13, one-time-only F-bomb to tell Mark Zuckerberg to, well, you know.

Unfortunately, the dialogue reads like it was written by horny tweens who are really, really into toilet humor. It also falls prey to the age-old movie cliché that the most highly skilled soldiers in the world happen to all be lousy shots. No, no, no.

It is 1996, and Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) is riding high as a high school senior and multi-sport all-star. In the middle of his speech at the last assembly of the year, Robbie Weirdicht (Johnson), an awkward, overweight, overlooked kid, is thrown into the gym, naked as a jailbird, by a group of bullies. Calvin offers him his letterman jacket so he can cover himself up, and Robbie is eternally grateful. Twenty years later, Calvin is an accountant but frustrated that he, in his mind, peaked too soon. A day before his 20-year high school reunion, Calvin receives a Facebook friend request from a Bob Stone and accepts it. Bob Stone turns out to be Robbie, only now he’s tall and ripped, and he hasn’t forgotten that Calvin offered to help him during the most humiliating experience of his life.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Movie Review: “Finding Dory”

Starring
Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Hayden Rolence, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Idris Elba, Dominic West
Director
Andrew Stanton & Angus MacLane

Well, this is disturbing: Pixar, which for years was the most creative, most consistent studio in Hollywood (that includes live-action films and animation), has five films in various stages of production, and four of them are sequels. If you go back to 2010, Pixar has produced seven sequels, as opposed to four films based on new ideas. Three of those four new-idea films have been released. One of them (“Inside Out,” one of only a handful of reviews I’d like to rewrite after misinterpreting a key plot point) has already ascended to classic status. The other two were two of Pixar’s weakest efforts (“Brave” and “The Good Dinosaur”). The fourth one, “Coco,” is inspired by the Mexican holiday Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), which is the exact setting for Fox’s 2014 film “The Book of Life.” Ahem.

The first of the five films in production is “Finding Dory,” the follow-up to 2003’s “Finding Nemo,” far and away Pixar’s most successful film until “Toy Story 3” made over $1 billion worldwide in 2010. Thirteen years is a long time to be away, and Pixar is clearly mindful of the gap, because the story structure is part sequel, part remake. Several jokes from the first film are rehashed, with diminishing returns from all but one (the sea lions). For the most part, the film plays it maddeningly safe, and then the third act arrives, at which point all hell breaks loose in the most glorious, adorable way possible. In addition, it appears they even threw in an homage to “Inception” for the adults.

After a cute but heartbreaking sequence involving a toddler Dory and her parents, then later lost tween and adult Dory trying to find her parents, the story eventually settles a year after the events of “Nemo,” where Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) has a sudden urge to, yep, find her parents (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy). With a vague memory that she was raised off the coast of California, Dory, Marlin (Albert Brooks), and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) enlist the help of an old friend (no spoilers) to take them on the roughly 7,000-mile journey. Shortly upon arrival, Dory is snagged in a plastic six-pack ring and picked up by employees of the local marine institute, which treats marine life for release back into the ocean. Dory recalls living in one of the exhibits and convinces a standoffish mimic octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill, in a bit of inspired casting) to help her. Meanwhile, Marlin and Nemo are concerned that without them, Dory will forget where she is and why she’s there, and embark on their own adventure to save their friend.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Related Posts