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Good by comparison...
Thus begins another chapter in the saga of the legendary MI6 agent. Continuing the story where Skyfall left off, the British intelligence community is in disarray because of the death of M and a government agency is trying to make the secret agents obsolete. After leaving a personal mission in Mexico City, James finds himself suspended from the agency. During his dramatic mission Mexico, he gains a lead to a mysterious organisation called Spectre that is connected with terrorist activity around the world. He decides to keep busy during his suspension. As he digs deeper into his new found information, he not only finds that this group is a threat to the world's security and it forces him to confront more elements from his past. James must follow his leads and instincts to find the meaning behind Spectre's plans and answers to his suspicions before this mysterious force controls the world.
With all of the Bond films, comparisons are inevitable. In comparison to Skyfall, this spy outing is second best, but on the scale of all Bond films, Spectre would still be at the top of the list. It is not as groundbreaking as its predecessor, because it is more of the second chapter to James Bond's history. What was captivating about the first film was director Sam Mendes cinematic eye and preference for majestic scenery. His abilities for cinematography are stunning, but he can have a tendency to linger a bit too long for an espionage tale. The beautiful worldwide landscapes can be a strength and a weakness for Mendes and for Spectre it is the latter. This Bond film is too long, because James must traverse through extensive scenery in some of the world's most picturesque locations. Fortunately, the beautiful scenery is pieced together with brilliantly choreographed chase sequences, fight scenes and a captivating support cast that save this episode within the franchise.
Daniel Craig continues to hold confidently onto the mantel of 007 and he proves that he still deserves to be the face of the franchise. Admittedly, he is one of the best Bonds and will be hard to replace. His only limitation is the character of James Bond. Spectre shows the value of the agent programme, but the challenge is to the ideology of the 007 qualities. He looks great in the vast array of costume changes, he proves his moxy in any fight scene, but the treatment of his lead women seems a bit antiquated. To have these strong female characters to go weak at the knees for the British agent becomes comical in this modern era. The crowd actually laughed before one of the inevitable scenes of passion. To see Monica Bellucci and Léa Seydoux become putty in his hands within moments of meeting the secret agent seems unbelievable and is a waste of some of the best women to cross paths with the martini drinking assassin.
What differentiates great Bond films from the mediocre is the villain and this is what makes Spectre a distant second to Skyfall. In this outing, Mendes has to deliver three villains in an attempt to defeat Bond. Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Bastards) has made a career of portraying cinematic villains, but this one was a miss. He has the voice, but not the presence to go toe to toe with Daniel Craig's interpretation of Bond. The two time Academy Award winner has the acting chops, but he is not allowed to develop this character to much more than a shadow of Silva (Javier Bardem)in Skyfall. Mendes attempts to add muscle to the fight against the MI6 team by including Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) as the assassin, Hinx. Unfortunately, like the woman in the film, he is under-utilised and it is completely unbelievable that Craig could deliver any sort of damage to this hulk of a man. The saving grace for the villainy factor was Andrew Scott (Sherlock) who delivers the needed smarmy elements to provide the needed dark side to this tale of espionage.
In the long history of Bond films, Spectre qualifies as one of the better choices. It suffers by having to follow after the groundbreaking Skyfall. Sam Mendes has put his stamp on this franchise but I hope he is willing to pass the baton onto the next director to continue the Bond tradition. Fortunately, Daniel Craig and the MI6 team prove that they can carry this franchise for another day and provide a promising future for Bond.
Bigger questions: The issue is control. Who is really in control of this world? Watching Spectre leads one to think that with the right amount of money and information, anyone could run this world and control the lives of all on the planet. James Bond manages to prove that this is merely a pipe-dream for the world's wealthiest. Yet, the Bible does provide us with an answer to the question. Even when this world seems out of control, there is one who is all-knowing, all-powerful and everywhere. The God of the Bible continues to prove that despite what the media and entertainment tell us, he is in control.
Leaving the cinema... Good, but not great. Beautiful, but not breathtaking. Spectre proves to be a good follow-up to Skyfall and worth getting out to see in theatres.
Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews #spectre
The Walk (2015)
A stroll along a high-wire of memories
I don't have respect for people who walk on the wire with any kind of safety net. I don't really like the fact that if you fall you die, but it's part of what the wire is. - Philippe Petit
Walking into the cinema... The World Trade Centre no longer exists. To tell Philippe Petit's story without the iconic twin towers could only be taken on by the king of new CGI technology, Academy Award Award winning director, Robert Zemeckis. Will the infamous 45 minute walk make for a compelling drama?
Overall rating: 3.5 stars Cinematic value: 4 stars Big Questions value: 3 stars
The man who walked on a tight rope between the World Trade Centre towers may not be a familiar to all, but Philippe Petit's (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) story is legendary. This tight-rope walk is the subject matter of books, films and even TED talks. The Walk is retold by director and writer, Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump), the master of all that is new in the realm of CGI technology. Which is a critical component to telling this magical tale, because he must reproduce the height and expanse of this illegal project that spans the World Trade Centre. A story that focuses on a rag-tag crew of risk takers who are led by Petit to undertake the impossible project of crossing the void between these man-made giants on a high wire. With the guidance of his mentor, Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), the international crew members find creative ways of getting the wires across the two buildings and allowing for Petit to meet his goal and make the crossing without any safety nets or harnesses. This true-to-life story provides the drama, artistry and humour that builds to the needed intrigue and tension that can only come from watching a high-wire performer and provides a beautiful testament to The World Trade Centre and '70s New York City.
The Walk is told in a fairy-tale manner which allows for mystical type character development and the necessary magic for a journey of this nature. The narrative provided by Joseph Gordon-Levitt feels cringe-worthy at first, because of his attempt at the French accent, but becomes appealing and believable, due to the narrator styling. He delivers a solid performance in the lead role. There may have been other French choices for the role of Petit, but this young actor fills the ballet-like shoes of the aerial performer quite well. The supporting cast rounds out the needed ensemble for the drama and humour. The players in this comical and compelling drama are portrayed in a caricature type format, which adds to the visual colour to make this a magical kaleidoscope adventure. The true brilliance of this film is found in the director. Robert Zemeckis' ability to provide ground breaking effects that pull the viewer into the story without a realisation that the effects even exist is masterful. The World Trade Centre towers no longer exist, but the director's skill and understanding of the value of good story is so captivating that it pulls you into believing that Gordon-Levitt is actually walking between the towers. Zemeckis portrays Petit's adventure as a testament to The World Trade Centre towers through great effects and creative direction which provide a beautiful cinematic experience. The Walk is a great story in the hands of a master storyteller.
Philippe Petit is a dynamic character in real life and his story plays well on the big screen. The Walk tells Petit's bigger than life event, but this story and event would not have taken place without a team. A tight rope walker has all of the crowd's attention and it seems that the focus of the work is on only one person, but the film shows that all leaders need an effective crew to make things come together. Each person on Petit's team has a specific role to play and such is the case with life, too. Based on what we can know of God is that we all have a role to play in this life. Celebrating unique events like The Walk is understandable, but hopefully we will not forget the part that each player plays in the story. We all have our place and significance in this life. Each is significant, regardless of how much attention is given to each part.
Leaving the cinema: It is not a perfect film, but Zemeckis provides an entertaining experience for all ages. Petit's story is compelling and inspiring, which is captured in this dramatic retelling.
Reel Dialogue: What are the bigger questions to consider from this film? 1. What is the value of teamwork? (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, 1 Corinthians 12:20-25) 2. Does the Bible say anything about risk taking? (Proverbs 3:5, Mark 8:36) 3. Does God care about my dreams? (Jeremiah 29:11, Proverbs 16:3)
Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews #thewalk
The Martian (2015)
This film is out of this world... It should be on everyone's must see list for 2015
'Hi, I'm Mark Watney and I'm still alive... obviously.'
Walking into the cinema... Can Ridley Scott redeem himself? This is looking good, but skepticism persists.
Overall Rating: 4.5 stars Cinematic rating: 4.5 stars Bigger questions rating: 4.5 stars
From the opening sequence, it is clear that Mars is a desolate and harsh environment. NASA has sent a manned mission to the red planet, but due to a dangerous storm that will threaten her crew, Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) has to decide to leave the place they have temporarily called home. As they attempt to leave during the storm, one of her crew members, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), is hit by flying debris and thought to be dead. Lewis is left with the difficult choice of saving the rest of the crew or searching for Watney. Her choice is to sacrifice one for the sake of the crew and they leave Mars and Watney behind. The next day, the crew mourn their crewman without knowing that he had survived the storm. Back on Mars, the interstellar botanist has to come to terms with the challenges of being left alone on the lifeless planet with meagre food stores and no direct communication with his team or NASA. Through human ingenuity and the desire to survive, he must find a way to connect with the people who think he is dead with the hope of getting home to Earth.
Ridley Scott (Gladiator) is back in true form with The Martian and it is a reminder of this director's brilliance and what keeps his fans coming back with hopeful anticipation. This space journey incorporates whispers of past survival stories like Apollo 13, Gravity and Castaway, but Scott delivers a fresh perspective on this enduring genre. Whether it is on a remote island or in space, experiencing man's ability to survive and the lengths that their fellow humans will go to see these survivors saved is worth the price of admission. Scott manages to bring together a talent pool of actors that provide the right balance of believable performances and drama to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kristen Wiig and Chiwetel Ejiofor help to lead out a stellar cast that make for a perfect mix of characters, but ultimately, this is Matt Damon's film. His strength of character, unassuming intelligence and dry wit help to drive this story and keep it from turning into an arduous experience. The unwavering belief that he is a botanist and an astronaut provides the needed tenacity, brains and borderline arrogance to make his survival plausible. The trick for the director is to bring the audience along on the journey and make us believe Mark Watney is on Mars and providing enough hope that this space explorer can make it home. Scott manages to balance effective cinematography with a well- crafted script and the right support characters to make this unbelievable tale believable for the audience.
The difficulty in writing a review like this is trying to balance the review with potential drawbacks. The struggle is finding any. The Martian may not appeal to those who need excessive car chases or gun fights to keep their attention and the language is meant for mature audiences, but none of these elements weaken the overall entertainment value. This is an exceptionally compelling ride and should be on the must see list of anyone who enjoys good cinema.
The survival genre is ripe with points of conversation about the human condition. In a film like The Martian, the cost/benefit analysis of saving this one man's life does not make any sense. Saving this one man's life does not seem to justify the expense involved, but it shows how others are willing to risk their physical lives and livelihoods to bring Mark Watney home. Why? Some might say it is the sheer will to live, but it has to go deeper than that, because death is a natural part of life. The answer goes beyond being merely a learnt trait or evolutionary instinct. Mankind seems to be internally wired with a hope for the future. Hope for this life and even something beyond this life. The challenge is considering where this hope originates and how there can be any hope for the future. Is it in science or love of your fellow man or could it be in God? If you were challenged by the film, here is a real challenge, take time to read through Romans in the Bible to see where hope can truly be found for this life and beyond.
Leaving the cinema... On all levels, this is one of the best films of the year. A must see in 2015.
REEL DIALOGUE: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film? 1. What does the Bible say about hope? (Jeremiah 29:11, Roman 8:24-25) 2. Why do we care about other's survival? (Matthew 25: 35-40, 1 Peter 3:15) 3. What does this life have to offer? (Ecclesiastes, The gospel of John)
Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews #themartian
Fun, but not as magical as it could be
'I don't believe in bedtime stories' - Peter
Popcorn, M&Ms and a large drink... roll the film... The story of Peter Pan has been the source for a multitude of films. To know more about his past is an interesting proposition, but the trailers seem confusing. Is James T. Hook an ally or even a friend of Peter Pan?
Kid's Korner rating: 2.75 stars* Parent's Rating: 3 stars
Do you know the story of Peter Pan, the legendary tale from J.M. Barrie about Wendy, Tinkerbell, Captain Hook, Neverland and the boy who could fly? His story must have a beginning and is begging answers to the questions of where did he come from and how did he get introduced to all of these iconic characters on this magical island? Pan is the origins viewpoint of director Joe Wright (Atonement) of the boy who is perpetually 12-years-old and the defender of fairies and orphans. Peter (Levi Miller) is an orphan during World War II, who lives with the hope that his mother will come back to retrieve him. While living in the confines of the nightmarish orphanage, Peter and a multitude of other boys are inexplicably kidnapped by pirates and taken to the island that is controlled by the dreaded Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). Peter must come to terms with a prophecy that has him at the heart of the deliverance of Neverland from this tyrannical pirate. He must partner with the local inhabitants and a strange ally named James T. Hook (Garrett Hedlund) to determine if Peter is really the saviour of this magical land.
Pan is a lesson in trying to do too much in a short period of time. The story is placed against a visually stunning backdrop of childhood dreams. Wright provides the magical land that would be expected of the J.M. Barrie story, but like Peter and James Hook in the film, the director seems to get lost along the way. There are so many elements and characters to take in and retrofit into the familiar children's fairy tale it becomes muddled in the delivery. The actors convey confusion of what type of film they are participating in and their performances do not capitalise on the talent that they represent. Also, with all that Wright is attempting to do with the film, the pacing of the film struggles under the weight of expectation and causes it to drag for the first half. Then he seems to attempt to make up for lost time in the second half and the journey comes in a rapid fire delivery that leads to confusion. Even though the visual cinematic experience is pleasurable, the overall experience is inevitably perplexing, which will lead to a multitude of questions from little ones during or after the film. Children and parents can enjoy the film together, but an explanatory discussion will be in order in the car ride home afterwards.
As an origins story, The writers were not original in where they pulled their source material for Pan, which is not a bad thing. There is no masking of who Peter Pan represents in Neverland. See if any of this storyline sounds familiar, a prophecy says that the son of Mary will one day come and be the messiah for the people of this land. Once Peter is fully aware of his role, he will have three days to rise to the challenge and save Neverland. Even though the overall story is a bit confusing at times, this film production paves the way for many discussions on who Peter is meant to represent and who the true Saviour of the world is for all of us.
Dad asked the question on the ride home, 'What did we think of the film?' What was up with the Nirvana song in the introduction of Blackbeard. Weird! It was fun, but a bit confusing at times. Overall we liked it, but it was not as magical as it could have been.
Reel Dialogue: What are the bigger questions to consider from this film? 1. What does the Bible say about orphans? (Isaiah 1:17, John 14:18) 2. Why is family important? (Matthew 22:36-40, Romans 15:2) 3. Who is the real Messiah? (The Gospel of Luke)
Kid's Korner are shorter reviews written by Russell Matthews's kids perspective and based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews #panthemovie
The Intern (2015)
A enjoyable and unexpected 'coming-of-age-again' film
Is getting older a bad thing?
Walking into the cinema... It's not a rom-com and it doesn't have Melissa McCarthy in the lead role, could The Intern be a positive change for modern cinematic comedy?
Overall Rating: 3.25 stars Cinematic rating: 3.25 stars Bigger questions rating: 3 stars
Retirement has not been completely satisfying for Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro). As a retired widower, he misses his wife and desires to be reconnected to his previous life in the working world. Those connections with people and that feeling of accomplishment and purpose that drove him to get out of bed each day. At 70 years of age, he is given a new lease on life with a 'Seniors intern programme' at an on-line fashion site, founded and run by Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway). Ben comes to realise that some things have changed in the workplace, but many things are the same. Coming into this new job, his mentor is Jules, who is not too thrilled to have him working for her. While he is trying to find his place in this fast pace, high-tech world, Ben finds his place in the company. Realising he is there to help this young entrepreneur to find her place in the unforgiving world of business.
Director Nancy Meyers (It's Complicated) is known for her romantic comedies that involve those who are moving past mid-life. This business-centred story brings together multiple generations without diminishing the value of any age group. There is no need for the development of romance between the lead characters, but their eventual on screen chemistry process to be effective for the progression of this trainee tale. Meyer does keep a well-timed pace for the film and there are only a few moments where the story lags. Also, she delivers a comedic experience with integrity. The Intern is not reliant on excessive foul language or flatulent jokes to make the crowd laugh. Meyer manages to spin the central relationship as mentor/intern into something refreshing for a modern comedy. She capitalises on two Academy Award winning actors in the lead roles, but this becomes Robert DeNiro's film. He delivers the business savvy and vulnerability that make this role convincing and entertaining. Not that Anne Hathaway and the surrounding cast do not provide the needed layers for this story to deliver, but it required someone in the lead with the experience to pull it through to the end and like his film's character DeNiro gets the job done.
Meyer's internship narrative shows that individuals with a few more years under their belt may lack in the same energy levels as their younger counterparts, but make up for it with experience and wisdom. Thankfully there was a balance to the drama with the development of the relationships and characters that may leave the audience wanting more, but fully satisfied with what they received at the conclusion.
It is not ground breaking cinema, but it is an enjoyable journey into the value that each generation can provide for one another. Internships are meant to provide new experiences and insights for people. The Intern met this brief and in the process provided a few laughs, so that we do not take this life too seriously.
In the book of Proverbs it can be read, 'The glory of young men (and women) is their strength, grey hair the splendour of the old.' The Intern epitomises this verse in the Bible by showing the value of various generations. Showing that throughout this life, there is a tendency to look upon certain ages as having greater value than others. While this film and the verse communicate that each chapter in this life is new and the challenge is for each of us to take advantage of each opportunity that comes along. Some chapters may prove to be better than others, but ultimately each chapter adds to the overall richness of this life and challenge us to live each chapter as it is opened.
Leaving the cinema... I enjoyed this film more after I had time to think about it. It was entertaining and I enjoyed seeing it with my young adult daughters, who said 'it was a great date movie that makes you think more about life.' Good review, ladies!
REEL DIALOGUE: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film? 1. What does the Bible say about getting older? (Proverbs 16:3, 20:29) 2. Can each generation provide something in this life? (Proverbs 9:10-11, 13: 13,15-16) 3. What does the Bible say about aspiring to leadership? (Jeremiah 29:11, John 16:33)
Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews #theintern
Legendary story that may not be everyone's cup of tea
"They were the best years of our lives. They called them the swinging Sixties... and me and my brother ruled London. We were %$#@ untouchable." - Ronnie Kray
Walking into the cinema... If you are a Tom Hardy fan, this one delivers two for the price of one.
Overall Rating: 3.25 stars Cinematic rating: 3.75 stars Bigger questions rating: 3 stars
Ronald and Reginald Kray (Tom Hardy) have been the subject of books, films and the subject matter of London's East Side folklore since the 1950's and 1960's. They were considered some of the most feared gangsters of that era. Even though many people from around the world may not have heard of these brothers, Legend brings forward their story to the world stage and shows their influence on London over two decades. The story is narrated by Reggie's wife, Frances (Emily Browning), from the time she met her husband in their East Side neighbourhood and throughout the highs and lows of their marriage and his criminal activity. The young bride's haunting narrative delivers the bittersweet experience of being married to a gangster. Her coming to the realisation that the most challenging part of life with Reggie would be enduring his twin brother. Director Brian Helgeland's (Mystic River) film is a personal journey through the couple and the brothers' rise and fall within the sorted world of organised crime. He is able to show how family loyalty can have its positives and negatives in regard to business dealings. Reggie being the sensible and measured leader of their gang called "The Firm", sees the value of the psychosis of his brother, which assisted in the muscle and fear that was needed to move the organisation. The challenges come when their personal lives get mixed in with the family business. Reggie's marriage to Frances, Ronnie's homosexual relationships and their brotherly allegiance expose the twins blind spots when it comes to their their criminal dealings. The Kray's tale is one of violence, protection rackets, murder, and familial ties that prove that blood runs deeper than water and ultimately leads to their demise.
Tom Hardy continues to prove his acting credibility by taking on both Kray brothers. He convincingly takes on each character and develops each with an exclusivity to their own personalities and life style choices, but managing to capture the unique bond between twins. His portrayal of Reggie is balanced between his charisma and calculated criminal mind. While he manages to provide the ferocious and unpredictable nature of Ronnie, but shows a fierce sibling loyalty. The only difficulty with Hardy taking on these notorious twins, if you know the story, is he is too attractive to portray them accurately. It is not enough to derail the film, but for purists it might be a distraction. Brian Helgeland was able to utilise the right cinematic technology to make this dual role work on screen and it rarely becomes a distraction for the storyline. Emily Browning is able to hold her own against the tour de force that is Tom Hardy. She has matured in her career and characterises the innocence of Frances, but delivers the necessary darkness of her life. To the credit of all involved with the film, the performances were excellent, the script was well thought out and the story is captivating. The only downside to watching Legend is that the nature of the Kray brothers criminal dealings limit the appeal of this biopic. As would be expected with any gangster film, the level of violence and lack of any moral centre leads to a well told story that screams for some light to be allowed into this dark world, but that illumination never arrives. This an honest portrayal of the gangsters lives and pulls no punches, so be warned that this film is a rendering of a tragic and dark world of the criminal underground which may not appeal to every viewers palette.
Sibling rivalry and loyalty have been the fodder for a multitude of books, films and are even central to many of the key stories in the Bible. From Joseph and his brothers to Jacob and Esau to the sons of thunder, the apostles James and John, brotherly love shows how deep tensions can run across family lines. The term, 'Am I my brother's keeper?' comes from one of the original and most notorious sibling rivalries, Cain and Abel. The first set of brothers became one of the best known stories of jealousy and murder in human history. Based on it's history, loving your siblings or others can seem an impossibility. Yet, the Bible also tells us that we are to love our brothers and enemies. Showing us that loving our 'brothers' might seem to be an impossibility, but that through God's strength it can be achieved in this lifetime.
Leaving the cinema... A brilliantly portrayed story of the dark side of the lives of The Kray brothers. Even though it is a well done, it will probably not be everyone's cup of tea.
Reel Dialogue: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film? 1. What does the Bible say about brotherly love? (Genesis, 4, Roman 12:10, Hebrews 13:1) 2. Can we ever find justice? (Proverbs 21:15, Romans 12:19) 3. What does this life have to offer? (Ecclesiastes, The gospel of John)
Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews #legendmovie #tomhardy
A nightmare tale that will be every English professors dream come true
'What is done, is done.' -Lady Macbeth
Walking into the cinema... How does Shakespeare continue to dominate cinema? A language of yesteryear and by- gone cultures, but the timelessness of his work continues to show how little mankind has changed over the years. The question is can Michael Fassbender carry the mantle of the greats who have taken on this role in the past?
Overall Rating: 3 stars Cinematic rating: 4 stars Bigger questions rating: 3 stars
Do you remember your English Literature class and the infamous line, 'Out, damned spot?' Lady Macbeth's struggle with guilt and regret that epitomises the narrative of Shakespeare's drama. Macbeth is a classic storyline that involves revenge, murder, mental illness and betrayal. For those who may have missed that week on The Bard's play, here is a basic summery. The central character Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) is a duke of Scotland and an accomplished leader of men on the battlefield. After a key victory for his king and country, he receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he would become King of Scotland. During the celebration of his victory, he remains consumed by this vision and eventually conspires with his wife (Marion Cotillard) to make this vision a reality. Their plot leads to a series of events that end with the assassination of the king and Macbeth's eventual ascension to the throne. Throughout the transition to kingship, Macbeth and his lady suffer through the mental anguish of their evil choices that brought them to power. Ultimately showing that what is done in secret will eventually be exposed.
Michael Fassbender plays one of the most bloody and visceral of Shakespeare's theatrical creations and is exceptionally tantalising in the role. His portrayal as the tragic king is mesmerising. He effectively leads this film with the support of an incredible cast that delivers on the expectation of this timeless tale. Director Justin Kurzel (The King's Speech) provides a modern spin on this classic tale of murder and deception. Even though the slow motion sequences do become tiresome, over all, he utilises the Scottish landscape as another character to capture the look and feel of horror that comes from this story of betrayal. The material and the talent provide the needed lift for this murky journey into the depths of human emotion. For those who are not familiar with this time-honoured story, be aware that Macbeth is exceptionally violent and contains disturbing themes.
The biggest challenge for this film will be breaking out of the English department at the local university and into the hearts of the general populace. It might seem sacrilegious to challenge the usage of this classic dialect, but know that the critique is not of the content of the script. The challenge is found in modern ears. People have difficulty understanding this bygone era's application of the English language. The Shakespearean wording is for the classically trained in theatrical productions, but makes for a difficult cinematic experience. Watching this drama gave off the feeling of 'enjoy it, because it is good for you. Whenever something has the 'it is good for you' label, it tends to be difficult to swallow. Albeit it is beautifully adapted for the silver screen, it might be a stretch for people to understand or enjoy the experience. Not to be misunderstood, this film was entertaining and faithful to the source material, but lacks enough of a modern spin to connect with modern audiences.
Leaving the cinema... To appreciate the classic tale, it is worth knowing the story prior to entering the theatre. For the Shakespeare purists, this will be satisfying, but for the general audiences this will be hard to understand.
REEL DIALOGUE: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film? 1. What does the Bible say about guilt? (Psalm 103:11-12, 1 John 1:9) 2. Can we ever find justice? (Proverbs 21:15, Romans 12:19) 3. What does the Bible say about aspiring to leadership? (Jeremiah 29:11, John 16:33)
Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews #macbethfilm
An amazingly disturbing look at the war against narcotics trafficking
'You saw things you shouldn't have seen.'
Walking into the cinema... With all of the discussion on border control and the effects of the drug trade in the United States, Sicario could be redundant or timely.
Overall Rating: 4 stars Cinematic rating: 4 stars Bigger questions rating: 4 stars
Sicario: The name for first century Jewish zealots who desired to eliminate their Roman invaders, but was later taken on within Latin American culture to mean assassin or hit-man.
The life of an FBI agent on the US / Mexican border is a mixture of drug cartels and immigration law that never seems to come to an end. Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) leads a task force to find hostages who have been caught in the crossfire of this international legal battlefield. After an horrific situation on the job, she considers that there seems to be no end to this war. Afterwards, in what seems to be a debrief of the situation, she is given the opportunity to be part of a secretive task force that uses tactics to 'dramatically overreact' to the cartels and bring their leaders to justice. The unorthodox task force is lead by Matt (Josh Brolin), a CIA operative and includes the dark, enigmatic Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro). They lead a mercenary troop to make noise and cause chaos against the seemingly insurmountable narcotic hoards. Kate realises that their methods of initiating justice are beyond her comfort level and initially wants out. Yet, seeing the opportunity to inflict justice on these criminal leaders keeps her on board until the mission is complete. An internal and external battle ensues for the FBI agent when she realises that the lines of ethics are blurred in achieving the results desired by the all of the governments involved.
Stories like Sicario that centre on law enforcement agencies and their challenges with drug lords continue to show that there are no clear winners in this war. It is a brilliantly portrayed drama, but carries with it the travesties that occur on this battleground. Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners) manages to provide a realistic glimpse into this continual fight through a well-crafted script, stellar performances from the lead actors and unsettling cinematography that provides the sweltering feel to the film. He manages to apply the appropriate pressure to effectively communicate this story with the disturbing realism. This realistic style shows that there are no winners on either side of this shadowy world. Villeneuve does not glorify the drug dealing or its usage, but shows that idealism may have to be compromised in the delivery of justice. Through effective story-telling he exposes the ethical dilemmas that occur throughout the various roles of law enforcement. Also, the subplots that are inner mixed throughout the film show that there is no such thing as a victimless crime when it comes to purchasing illegal drugs. Sicario delivers a well told story that will leave audiences entertained, but will leave them unsettled by the message that lacks any ethical answers or hope.
This narcotic narrative provides a multitude of intersections with moral and ethical discussion points. At the heart of every plot point there is an underlying message that there are no moral absolutes. The central characters of Sicario have to live without the comfort of a clearly defined right and wrong, which proves to be exceptionally unsettling. Outside the cinema, it is not a stretch to see that most of God's good creation has been tainted with evil. Even with that reality, that does not mean that people have to live without belief in truth. The Bible allows for hope and truth to pervade throughout this lifetime and into eternity. Even though the plot of this film leaves little hope for this world, thankfully we do not have to live that way with God being involved in all aspects of this world.
Leaving the cinema... This is a brilliant film, but it will not appeal to anyone with a weak constitution. The acting and direction are superb, but the heart of the story exists in a world without ethics or humanity and is exceptionally hopeless.
REEL DIALOGUE: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film? 1. Can we find truth in this world? (John 14:6, 1 Corinthians 13:4-6) 2. Can we ever find justice? (Proverbs 21:15, Romans 12:19) 3. Is revenge ever justified? (Romans 12:17-21, 1 Peter 3:9)
Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews #sicario
Running aimlessly to nowhere
"You can't survive the scorch."
Walking into the cinema... Are dystopian young adult dramas running out of steam?
Overall rating: 2 stars Cinematic value: 2 stars Big questions value: 2 stars
For those keeping up with the latest in young adult dystopian fiction, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials continues the saga of Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) and his fellow Gladers. They have escaped the Maze, but it is an 'out of the frying pan and into the Scorch' experience. They leave their dystopian Garden of Eden existence and find themselves at a transfer depot facility that is overseen by Jansen (Aiden Gilen). He claims to be helping the 'immunes' of society to get to a safe place that is far from the barren wasteland called The Scorch. Thomas' band of brothers and Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) have to determine if the outpost is designed to set them free or to keep them captive. On top of these internal trials, after their recent maze exodus they also need to investigate the purpose of the mysterious organisation called WCKD and how Janson's outfit is involved. Their haphazard search for the truth involves a multitude of other human outposts where they run into the hands of organised crime gangs, infected zombie-like creatures and The Right Arm resistance fighters, all in an attempt to stay ahead of WCKD's special forces.
Director Wes Ball (The Maze Runner) managed to deliver a fresh spin on the disquieting young-adult genre with his first instalment and developed an intriguing cinematic puzzle. Unfortunately, this relatively new director has fallen into the trap of the sophomore venture. Given the task of following up to his original creation, he has to try and make lightning strike twice. In this second outing, he struggles to determine what type of film he is trying to make. Is it The Hunger Games, is it World War Z, or is it Alien? Understandably, sampling from other filmmakers is not new for directors, but Ball seems to be get lost within the tangled web he attempts to spin. Early in the film Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) asks Thomas if he has a plan for their escape and the leader has no solid answer. The same can be said of Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, there does not seem to be any concrete direction for the story.
From the first chapter to the second, the producers invested in a multitude of special effects, but seemed to have left the script writer back in the maze of the first episode. The script becomes a series of derivative lines that only serve as trivial connectors between the numerous running sequences. One appealing factor of The Maze Runner was the development of the key characters, which helped the audience to develop concern for their well being. In this venture, most of the misguided disciples of Thomas serve one of two purposes, either as hopeless running companions or the victims of the various horrors along the way. There is a richness to the visual effects journey, but the The Scorch Trials lacks much character development. Understandably with trilogies, the second link in the chain is meant to connect the series together, leaving key plot points open for the conclusion to answer, but it helps if the audience cares about the central players. The challenge in getting people to the final instalment of this trilogy will be to provide a reason for caring for this group of misfits, because the second chapter does not provide this key story element. Leaving open the question, should we care if the society of Maze Runner even survives?
Taking a moment to catch a breath from all of the athletic activity, this film does have one underlying theme that is worth pondering. Thomas and the others must risk their own lives to save the remnant of society. Yet, with their best intentions, they are caught in the cross-fire of forces that seem to be attempting the same goal, saving the lives of the world's population. In trying to save the earth, is the fate of society worth the sacrifice of a a few? Throughout the film, the lines are blurred in answering the question of the sanctity of life. It is not an easy answer, but does beg the questions the value of life and to what lengths must we go to preserve others lives? God proves throughout the Bible the lengths he will go to to save people's lives, but people need to determine if they are willing to accept his answer to life.
Leaving the cinema... One puzzling factor in the majority of the end of the world and dystopian style films in the past few years is they all happen in San Francisco. It is an exceptionally iconic city that is known for the engineering marvel, the Golden Gate Bridge. Yet, as a bridging film, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is far from iconic and definitely is not a cinematic marvel.
Reel Dialogue: What are the bigger questions to consider from this film? 1. How will the world come to an end? (Matthew, 24:36, Revelation 20:1-15) 2. What does the Bible say about the sanctity of life? (Genesis 1:27, Psalm 139: 13-16, Matthew 5:21-22) 3. What sacrifice does God make to save mankind? (Luke 23-24)
Discussion questions sheet: Use the attached discussion guides. Print them off or pull them up on your browser and keep the conversation going with your friends after the film.
Everest was captivating and confronting.
"Everest has always been a magnet for kooks, publicity seekers, hopeless romantics and others with a shaky hold on reality." ― Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster Walking into the cinema... I have never wanted to climb a mountain, but seeing it portrayed on film can be a fascinating experience.
Cinematic rating: 3.5 stars Reel Dialogue Rating: 3.5 stars
In 1996, unknown to most people around the world, the greatest mountain climbing tragedy occurred on Mount Everest*. During freak blizzard conditions, eight people died on various expeditions that traversed the sides of the mountain. There have been various accounts of the events and different opinions of who was to blame for the tragic situations that occurred. Regardless of the controversies that came from the stories, the heart of the story bodes well for this cinematic adventure. Many of the accounts can be found in various books which include journalist Jon Krakauer and climber Anatoli Boukreev. From these accounts, the readers can determine what portion of the story to believe and see how it effects the film adaption.
Baltasar Kormákur directs the tale that surrounds the fateful days of two primary expedition teams led by Rob Bell (Jason Clarke) and Scott Fisher (Jake Gyllenhaal). The climbing story weaves through the competitive culture of mountaineering and the sacrifices that the men and women undertake for these excursions. From the adventure journalist to a determined Texan to the humble postman, the back stories of the various climbers help to humanise the experience and open the door to the motivations that each person had to participate in their harrowing choices. After leaving the basecamp, every step leads to life and death choices that effect every member of the expedition. The effectiveness and depth of the mountain climbing styles is shown in the different leaders, but regardless of their methods, the teams are at the mercy of the weather and the mountain's terrain. Bell and Fisher were experienced mountaineers, but they carried with them their own personal flaws and had to manage the strengths and weaknesses of each soul that was under their charge. Everest provides a dramatic look at the magnificence of the mountain and the unforgiving nature of the journey before the climbers.
Mountains have played an active part in cinematic history, usually as a goal for mankind to conquer and an adversary to all who try to attempt to traverse its exterior. Some of these films have been better than others, but Everest delivers an experience that manages to reach the summit of expectation. Kormákur manages to convey the majesty of the legendary mountain, the tragic secrets it holds within its layers of ice and snow and the raw human desire to conquer the heart of the mountain. The cinematography is an incredible visual experience and Kormakur does capitalise on the tragic, but majestic elements of the mountain. Each character brings a story to the mountain and some are more compelling than others, but the human interest tales all add to the drama that unfolds. Jason Clarke and Jake Gyllenhaal portray the contradictory leaders well and show the value of an effective leader. Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Emily Watson and Robin Wright round out an amazing supporting cast for this tale of the human spirit. The story is compelling, but it is unavoidable that it suffers through a slower pace because of the multitude of characters. This is not the fault of the direction, but causes some significant lags between the key climbing scenes. This journey shows that some stories end in tragedy opposed to the triumphant, but this realism makes for a fascinating story within the human experience.
Coming out of the theatre, the discussion was around the motivation for climbing the mountain. What is it in mankind to seek to achieve something beyond our reach? There are so many books and seminars to achieve goals and dreams. Yet, why do we desire to 'climb the next mountain?' Much of the inner desire comes from seeing something bigger than ourselves. Not to get overly spiritual, but thinking that we were made for something more than the day to day existence. Some may say it is human will, but maybe the consideration can be explained in being created that way by a creator. In Jeremiah 29 of the Bible, God talks of knowing the plans for us, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give us a future and a hope. Could it be that we seek something bigger, because we ultimately are seeking after God? It might be the last thing some consider, but even if it is the last thing, shouldn't it at least be a consideration? The consideration that we desire something beyond ourselves, because there is a God that made us that way, come on, be brave and at least consider it.
* Other events have occurred since 1996, but this was the worst event up until that point in history. Leaving the cinema... I still do not want to climb mountains, especially after seeing this film. Everest was captivating and confronting. It going to see and hopefully will challenge the audience to consider some of the bigger questions of life.
Reel Dialogue: What are the bigger questions to consider from this film? 1. What does the future hold? (The book of Revelation, James 4:13-16) 2. Can we solve our own problems? (Proverbs 3:5, Philippians 4:6) 3. What does the Bible say about achieving our dreams? (Jeremiah 29:11, Matthew 6:33)
Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews #everestthemovie
Blinky Bill the Movie (2015)
A film for the young people in the house - Good message in a pedestrian venture
Popcorn, M&Ms and a large drink... roll the film... The weekend is coming and parents will be looking for a break. The cinemas have a few options this season. An Australian children's icon has been given new life with a CGI version of the young koala adventurer.
Kid's Korner rating: 2 stars Parent's Rating: 3.5 stars
The original storyline of the Blinky Bill character was for Blinky to have adventures that will stop the deforestation of the Australian Outback. The newest instalment of Blinky Bill (Ryan Kwanten) takes a less environmental stance and centres on saving his home by bringing his family back together. The battle is for Green Patch and the antagoniser is the evil Cranklepot the Goanna (Barry Otto) who wants to rule their little community.
Blinky Bill's story begins when he is a young koala and the origins of his adventurous side are revealed by following the example of his father, Mr. Bill (Richard Roxburgh). After his adventurous father heads off on his latest mission to save trapped animals in the red desert, he goes missing. The younger koala never loses faith in the return of the family patriarch, but while his father is away, Cranklepot moves into leadership of their animal menagerie home. Blinky takes it upon himself to find his father and bring order to their small community. Through a series of signs and death defying events, Blinky connects with a band of young outback creatures that help him to sniff out the trail that Mr. Bill took through the Australian landscape. His new friends Nutsy (Robin McLeavy), a zoo koala, and Jacko (David Wenham), a neurotic frill-necked lizard, help him to make his way through traps, feral animals and well-intentioned zoo keepers to stay on course to find the answers to his father's disappearance and save Green Patch.
One joy of this animated journey through the Australian Outback is the vocal talents of the who's who in the Australian acting community (Toni Collette, Barry Humphries and more). They add a level of credibility to this pedestrian tale of Australian folklore and may make it easier for parents to stomach the cringe-worthy stereotypes of Australian culture. The script is elementray and the animation is reminiscent of any Nickelodeon CGI series, but the viewer only needs to be reminded that this chapter of Blinky Bill is meant for children under the age of six years of age. Unlike many of the animated films by Disney and Dreamworks, this film has a small target audience. Parents will be able to appreciate that this film is a safe option for their kids, but it is not designed for an older audience. There are a few jokes added to provide fathers an opportunity to chuckle (Grab your gumnuts and let's go!), but in the end this excursion to the theatre will be to entertain the little ones. Fortunately, the message is focused on bringing a traditional family and their community back together. There is no hidden agenda undergirding the storyline that parents need to be weary of their children being exposed to. Blinky Bill the Movie is far from being ground- breaking cinema, but it does fill the need for parents who are looking for an option to entertain their children during the weekend.
Blinky Bill the Movie does provide a wonderful opportunity for parents to talk with their kids about the importance of family. Regardless of the family atmosphere that people bring into the theatre, this film has a strong message for any family at its heart and a basic plot point that little children can appreciate and grasp. After walking out of the theatre and cleaning the popcorn out of their hair (from the child sitting behind the family), this would be a fun time to talk with children about the film and about family. What does family mean to your kids and what are we willing to do to keep the family together? An easy conversation in the car afterwards and a special time to connect with the each other.
Dad asked the question on the ride home, 'What did we think of the film?'
The animation and the dialogue are designed for younger kids, even though some of humour was meant for older audiences. Blinky Bill is not offensive and will not be embarrassing for parents to share with their little ones, but it the film is meant for the young at heart.
Reel Dialogue: What are the bigger questions to consider from this film? 1. What is the importance of the neighbourhood? (John 14:18, James 1:27) 2. Why is family important? (Matthew 22:36-40, Romans 15:2)
Kid's Korner are shorter reviews written by Russell Matthews's kids perspective and based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews #blinkybillthemovie
American Ultra (2015)
What were they on when they made this film?
Something very weird is happening to me: I keep killing people! There's a chance I may be... a robot! - Mike Howell
Walking into the cinema... Think of regular marijuana smokers being secret government agents. It is either an incredibly original concept or a potential debacle.
Overall Rating: 2 stars Cinematic rating: 1.5 stars Bigger questions rating: 2 stars
Liman, West Virginia. If the CIA wanted to hide someone in one of the most non- decrepit towns in America, there are few that are more obscure. This is where Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) lives a mediocre existence as a teller at the local convenience store. His time is spent drawing his latest graphic novel ideas and smoking weed with his girlfriend, Pheobe (Kristen Stewart). Their days are a blur of neurosis, drugs and confronting their boredom in Liman. Meanwhile, a few kilometres away in Langley, Virginia at the CIA headquarters, a battle of the super agents is brewing. Former lead agent, Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton), comes to the realisation that her main rival, Adrian Yates (Topher Grace), is about to eliminate one of her top-secret operatives. An agent who has had his memory wiped clean and is living with his handler in Liman, West Virginia. Unaware of the agency tension or that he is the remaining agent from a failed project called American Ultra, Mike goes on with his uninspiring stoner lifestyle of drawing monkeys and living with Phoebe. Then Victoria arrives in Liman to save his life and intentionally triggers a series of events that bring his quiet existence under fire. From one simple quotation from Victoria, this obscure town in West Virginia becomes the battleground for an internal war between CIA agents, a crew of psychotic killers and the recently re-activated Mike Howell. The plan to eliminate Mike and Phoebe becomes a disturbingly, funny misadventure of self awareness and misguided CIA infighting.
If Liman, West Virginia can be the battlefield for a CIA war, it is not too far of a stretch to consider Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) as a trained killing machine. His journey to awareness was reminiscent of Jason Bourne trying to find his identity, but without the masculinity and gravitas of Matt Damon. Eisenberg and Stewart are convincing as stoners, but believing they are CIA lethal weapons is not an easy pill to swallow. They manage to portray the humorous component of this concept, but never managed to be convincing as their assassin alter egos. The story does have promise with the inclusion of their support cast members, but the strong supporting cast members cannot save the fate of this misguided adventure. Interestingly, the only cast member that adds to the film is Topher Grace (Spiderman 3). He seems wiling to go outside his comfort zone he plays in previous films and is convincing as the smarmy CIA leader. Yet, even with a convincing villain, this story never achieves the goals of entertainment.
After a relatively slow start, the film does quickly kick into fifth gear with Mike's awareness of his abilities. Director Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) attempts to make up for the slow start by introducing a multitude of characters, but this strategy rapidly causes him to lose the plot. This bevy of characters make for a muddled mess. After awhile, trying to keep track of all of the different story components resembles the experiences of the lead characters as they partake of the available hallucinogens. In the right hands, American Ultra could have led to hyper-violent hilarity on the level of a Quentin Tarantino film, but the key to that statement is 'in the right hands.' Nourizadeh struggles to find his own identity as a director. He is given original and creative characters with unique plot twists that divert from the traditional secret agent theme, but he wastes the opportunity. Understandably, directors borrow from others for inspiration, but the better film makers add their own signature and this never materialises with in this drug influenced journey. Nourizadah seems to travel between Christopher Nolan's Momento and Tarantino's Kill Bill to he even giving a nod to Total Recall, but he never manages to make the film his own. For all of its possibilities, American Ultra is reminiscent of those who chose to smoke marijuana, it is a waste of braincells that leads to nothing but regret and maybe an excuse for popcorn munchies. It had promise, but never reaches potential.
Leaving the cinema... The talent and the story were wasted, literally and figuratively. The film had potential, but it was a waste of time.
Reel Dialogue: What are some of the bigger considerations from this film? 1. What does the Bible say about illegal drugs? (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, 1 Peter 5:8) 2. How should we respond to violent acts against others? (Psalm 11:5, Matthew 5:38-39) 3. Can we control our thoughts? (Mark 7:20-22, Philippians 4:8)
Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews #americanultra
War Room (2015)
A great message of prayer that preaches to the choir
Walking into the cinema... Christian cinema is not one of my favourite genres. The expectation is a predictable storyline with a even more predictable ending is the norm, but the Kendrick brothers have earned a level of respect in this area of cinema. So, I enter the theatre with a skeptical hope.
Overall Rating: 3 stars* Cinematic rating: 2 stars Bigger questions rating: 4 stars
War Room comes from the team that brought Fireproof and Courageous to the cinemas. It is a faith-based drama on the lives of Tony (T.C. Stallings) and Elizabeth Jordan (Priscilla C. Shirer), who seem to have it all. A beautiful home, great jobs and what seems to be an ideal family life, but their lives are not what they seem to be on the surface. They have lost sight of the value of their marriage and amongst the relational battle zone of their lives, their daughter has become the victim of the not-so-friendly fire. As a real estate agent, Elizabeth comes across a mature, Christian woman who begins to mentor her on how to save her marriage, save her family and save her faith. Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie) shows her the value of prayer and the impact it can have on their lives and the world around them. The challenge is turning Tony away from his deceitful ways and to determine if he is able to come along on this new found journey. Elizabeth has to begin to stop relying on her ability to change Tony and trust that God can do this work, but it begins with her on her knees.
Alex and Stephen Kendrick have proved that they can provide quality cinema for Christian audiences. Each of their productions have moved up the scale of quality without sacrificing the Biblical messages. War Room keeps their track record alive. It does not break any new ground in the realm of cinematic performances, but it shows that with the right direction, Christian cinema can be better than its reputation. The performances were entertaining and provided the drama, the humour and the power for this style of film. Stallings and Shirer were believable in their roles and provided the necessary angst to drive the story along. But it is Karen Abercrombie as Miss Clara that delivers the passion and heart of the film. The quality of the production was sound. The Kendricks deliver a solid script with decent cinematography, but fall into some of the typical traps that define Christian dramas. Even though they confront real life issues, the lifestyle and the ultimate results of the film are predictable, but do provide a satisfying ending. Another difficulty with War Room is seeing how this will resonate with audiences outside of the Christian faith. It does not really matter, because these talented siblings know their audience and they are unapologetic is preaching to the followers of Christ. In the end, it is an entertaining film for Christians with a direct challenge for more fervent prayer. The message is a good one to hear and is played against a backdrop of a slightly better than 'made for television' production.
When reviewing films like War Room, it requires two perspectives. The first being the evaluation of the film's quality and the second is evaluating the quality of the Christian message, not necessary in that order. Christian cinema tends toward the formulaic and these films are usually produced on an extremely low budget. The Kendrick's have broken new ground over the years with scripts that are more realistic, surprisingly entertaining and pleasantly humorous. To be fair, their films are better than the vast majority within this genre, but they fall short when they are put up against mainstream films. The message is strong and will appeal to the market that they are trying to reach, American Christians. The challenge for them in the future will be to move past the world of Christianity in the US and look to deliver a film that will have appeal to audiences around the world. Prayer and the Bible are universal, but their style of filming do primarily market themselves to an American audience. As a film reviewer, the work that this team has achieved within their genre is admirable and hopefully they will continue to stretch their talents and the viewing expectations of the Christian viewing public. As a Christian, the message of prayer and the Gospel are worth seeing on the big screen and hope is that the Kendricks continue their work and deliver even better quality films with these timeless messages of biblical truth. Leaving the cinema... *A rare moment where the bigger questions portion strongly influenced the overall rating.
No surprises. Tears came, laughter ensued and redemption occurs. Nothing wrong with the message of the film, but nothing exceptionally new about the delivery. My hope as I entered into the theatre has not wained, merely continues that the Southern-based siblings will continue to stretch this genre to new lengths.
Reel Dialogue: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film? 1. What is the power of prayer? (Mark 11:24, Romans 8:26, Philippians 4:6) 2. What does the Bible say about the value of family? (Proverbs 3:5, 1 Timothy 5:8) 3. Can prayer change things in life? (Matthew 7:11, James 5:15-16)
Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews #warroom
I am trying to think of something that makes me want to see this film. Nope, I cannot seem to find anything.
980's video games are back and they want to destroy the world.
Walking into the cinema... I am trying to think of something that makes me want to see this film.
Nope, I cannot seem to find anything.
Overall Rating: 1 star
In 1982, the world was was enjoying the new arcade games of Pac-Man, Galaga, Centipede and Donkey Kong. Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler) and Will "Chewy" Cooper (Kevin James) lived for playing the latest arcade game and finding opportunities to show off their gaming skills. They decide to show off their talents at the World Video Game Championships where they come in contact with Ludlow Lamonsoff (Josh Gad) and Eddie "The Fire Blaster" Plant (Peter Dinklage). During the competition they show their knack for seeing patterns in the games and their joy stick dexterity. At the same time in human history, NASA sent off a probe into space to attempt to connect with intelligent life in outer space. In this probe they sent glimpses into the 80's culture of our world which included components of these iconic video games.
Fast forward to 2015, the lives of this band of nerdy brothers have gone down different paths. Sam is an installation technician and Will has become the President of the United States. Even though they are still close friends, their life responsibilities carry different levels of significance, until they are drawn back together when aliens attack the earth. The explanation for the attack is that the extra-terrestrials received the 1982 message from NASA and saw it as declaration of war on their planet. Their response to this unintentional call to arms is to send the classic video games to attack earth as pixelated weapons. Sam and Will have to re-connect with their former video game competitors and work with the world armed forces to fight off the nostalgic alien invasion. Similar to the life cycle in the video games, the team is given three attempts by the space invaders to apply their former gaming skills and to discover the answers to saving the world from an Atari- inspired annihilation.
Pixels, as a concept, is refreshingly original and has the potential to serve as a digital bridge between multiple generations. The other potential hope for this film is director Chris Columbus at the helm, he has produced some great family films throughout his career. This hope was for Columbus to take this convoluted storyline, which has the potential to go the way of fun and nostalgic hilarity or he could produce a mess of a film with catastrophic proportions, and make a great family comedy. Unfortunately, Pixels falls into the latter category as a mess. Columbus attempts to deliver a 1980's retro style film with ridiculous characters and situations with a modern computer-generated spin, but fails to deliver. This failure has to do with the inclusion of Adam Sandler and Kevin James as the lead characters. At this stage in their acting careers, they seem unable to deliver original comedic performances. Their roles are as predictable as the patterns in the old video games. They walk through their performances in this film with little enthusiasm and with a reliance on dated comedic styles that have worn out their welcome. Josh Gad provides the potential for originality, but he falls into the trap of overacting which attempts to compensate for Sandler and James' weak performances. Also, the only reasonable explanation for Peter Dinklage and Michelle Monaghan being part of this project was to potentially procure a comedy on their resume. Unfortunately, they are poorly cast in parts that any credible actor should have given a miss.
If all of these components were not bad enough, the truly frustrating thing about Pixels is not in the weak story line or the poor performances, but the fact that this is promoted as a family film. The humour and innuendo is not funny and is not appropriate for children. The marketing conveys that this film should be accessible for any generation to enjoy on a Saturday afternoon, but what happens is the potential for embarrassing conversations with small children on a multitude of levels. For example, why Eddie Plant is going to the White House's Lincoln bedroom with Martha Stewart and Serena Williams or the stalker-type mentality of the Ludlow character. So much of the film was creepy to experience as an adult, much less trying to explain it to children. This review should not be misconstrued as prudish, but more of holding the marketing team to account for the disservice to families. In the concept stages, Pixels may have had the potential to be a fun adventure for people who grew up in the 80's and potentially for a new generation, too. In the end, it proves to be an embarrassment for those linked to this production and for anyone who might go to see it.
Leaving the cinema... Avoid the potential awkward conversations with your children and give Pixels a miss. It is one of the rare films that I would not recommend for any audience.
Do not be fooled, it is not funny or a family film. Game Over.
Bigger questions: 1. Do we all have a role in this life? (Proverbs 16:9, Romans 8:28) 2. What is the Bible's view on war? (Ecclesiastes 3:8, Matthew 26:52) 3. Why do people still go to Adam Sandler and Kevin James films? (Proverbs 26:11)
Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews #pixels
Ricki and the Flash (2015)
A film for the 'silver screen'
One of the trends in Hollywood is to offer 'silver screen' options for mature film viewers who want cinematic themes that appeal to their generation. The baby boomers who want more from their film experience than stories from Marvel comics or John Green (Paper Towns, The Fault in My Stars) and attend the cinema with an audience that does not require vampires, aliens, superheroes or toilet humour to entertain them. Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) provides this type of film with Ricki and the Flash. Written by Diablo Cody (Juno), this is a different type of 'coming of age, again' journey that is seen through the eyes of a senior rocker who is struggling through her life choices.
At night, Ricki Rendazzo (Meryl Streep) fronts a local pub band called Ricki and the Flash and during the day works as a check-out clerk at an organic grocery store. The band has a loyal fan base, but is caught between the generational void between their vintage rock heritage and trying to appeal to a younger audience. This musical time warp leaves the group relegated to the local pub scene in Los Angeles. While dwelling on her stagnant career, relational difficulties and monetary woes, Ricki gets a call from her ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline), who needs help with their daughter, Julie (Mamie Gummer- Meryl Streep's real life daughter), who is suffering through the trauma of her husband abandoning her. Ricki travels to Indianapolis to help her daughter and to attempt to reconnect with the family she left behind years ago to follow her rock and roll dream. Her children have grown and her ex- husband has been exceptionally successful in business and is happy with his current wife. During her short stay, Ricki has to come to terms with the sacrifices she has made in her life and how those decisions effect all of her relationships. This humorous drama is played out against the backdrop of two different life experiences, Ricki's current lifestyle in the LA pub scene and the privileged life-style that she left behind to follow her artistic dream.
Cody's script provides a glimpse into Ricki's life of regrets, the lack of contentment with her current career and a multitude of familial challenges. Even with the serious situations occurring within the storyline, such as attempted suicide, divorce and parental abandonment, the production manages to maintain the essential situational humour that pulls the the script along. In amongst the humorous scenarios, director Jonathan Demme provides the needed discomfort associated with seeing someone past their prime attempting to find their identity in the past. This tension between the reality of life's regrets and humour balance out the storyline and provide a touch with reality that makes the story relatively appealing.
The challenge for the film comes in the acting performances. Meryl Streep is not past her acting prime and she seems to be able to play any role that is put before her, but Ricki Rendazzo is not quite the right character for her. The problem lies in the reliance on her musicianship instead of her acting, she manages an admirable musical performance, but she sits well outside her regular thespian comfort zone. Surrounding Streep, the various roles become a hodge podge of stereotypes and the performances become mere caricatures of various walks of life, which is a missed opportunity to develop the depth of the individual characters. Interestingly, the only actor who seems comfortable within his role is Rick Springfield (General Hospital), primarily because he is playing to type as an actual ageing rockstar. When he is on stage, he is believable and adds to the whole experience quite well, but his chemistry with Streep never develops into a believable spark. Also, Streep and Kline's characters do represent a generation that have gone through a multitude of changes in their family and want to figure out what to do with the ageing process, but they seem to be walking though the motions and lack the passion needed to be convincing in their relationship.
The scene that epitomises the tension of the film is during one of the pub performances. Ricki proves she can perform Bruce Springsteen and the vintage rock of the 80s, but forces herself to connect with a younger generation by performing Lady GaGa. This scene produces an uncomfortable stage performance that epitomises what audiences will experience while watching this film. A group of people who are trying to prove that they are current, but prove to be trying too hard to make things work. If Demme had done more to develop the characters as opposed to showing so many musical performances, the impact would have been more profound. In the end, Ricki and the Flash will most likely appeal to the 'silver screen' audience, because the humour and situations are written with this generation in mind, but the story will only connect with that demographic.
Even if this film does not resonate with all audiences, the multiple messages that come from this tale of the ageing rock and roller provides rich opportunities for discussion. How long do we hold onto our dreams, what do we have to sacrifice for the sake of our families and what should our response be to the inevitability of ageing? All hit at different stages of life and in different levels of severity. This life presents so many obstacles for our personal desires, much less the consideration that it is all fleeting and is gone in an instant. It is hard to imagine that two hours of entertainment can open the door to so many of life's considerations, but hopefully that is not where people remain. There are answers to these questions. The suggestion at Russelling Reviews and Reel Dialogue would be to look into the Bible to find the answers.
The Gift (2015)
Think twice before opening the door - 3.25 stars
'Let bygones be bygones'
Walking into the cinema... It looks like a thriller on the level of Hitchcock, but what is the real message of this film?
Overall Rating: 3 stars Cinematic rating: 3 stars Bigger questions rating: 3.5 stars
Moving house can be exceptionally stressful. For Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) their move is to get a fresh start for their lives. They are excited about the beautiful scenery and the new neighbours in the suburbs. He has a new job with a multitude of upward mobility opportunities and his beautiful wife works from home and makes herself busy setting up their new home. Yet, things in their new world are not as idilic as they seem. As their story begins to unfold in this suspense thriller, as they look for new beginnings and put their pasts behind them, one of Simon's former classmates comes into their lives through a chance encounter. As happens after 20 years, it takes time for Simon to recognise "Gordo" (Joel Edgerton) from high school, but eventually the familiarity becomes apparent and leads to a series of events that will test the relational depth of this young couple. Gordo begins leaving various gifts at their door, comes by unexpectedly and gradually exposes Simon's past sins. Mistakes he made in this life that he wishes would remain locked away. Gordo's frequent visits grow in their level of cringe worthiness, but break through Simon's facade and show his dark side. As their lives unravel, Robyn begins to question if she truly knows the man that she has married. The Gift provides insights into the twisted existence of mankind through past memories, current relationships and the potential for revenge.
Joel Edgerton (Exodus: Gods and Kings) wears multiple hats in this outing in film- making by plying his hand at writing, directing and acting in this twisted tale. He develops the needed tension with haunting imagery and gritty character development. The filming had a Hitchcokian flavour and each character was given a depth that uncomfortably unfolds with each new scene. The multiple layers of the story gave way to disturbing elements that deal with a topic that has plagued the human experience since Cain and Abel (Check out Genesis 4, if you do not know the reference). The script and direction provide the twists and turns that keep the audience off balance up until the disquieting end. Not wanting to give away too many plot points, this film will do for bullying what Fatal Attraction did for adultery. In this outing, Edgerton proves that he has the potential for multiple influences in this industry.
Jason Bateman (Hancock) stretches his acting skills and moves out of his comfort zone of comedy to an exceptionally serious role. His hauntingly effective and tragic portrayal as the supposed loving husband who proves to have a sinister past is convincing. Rebecca Hall (Transcendence) shows the vulnerability and naivety that is essential for this young wife, but it is the performance of Edgerton that truly delivers this troubling journey of revenge. He has the look and feel of the person in high school that no one seems to remember, but still manages to get caught in the cross hairs of the high school bullies. Also, he shows the patient demeanour that is needed to deliver the creepiness factor to garner awards ceremony attention. The story line and performances are exceptional, but this film did leave a bitter after-taste on leaving the theatre. The story is exceptionally confronting and worth considering the bigger problems in society, but does not deserve the label of 'feel good film' of the year.
The Gift opens the door to a multitude of discussions on the topics of relationships, revenge, bitterness and forgiveness. The relational layers provide various glimpses into the human condition and what is both right and wrong with the world. The common thread that pulls the story together and causes the lives of this young couple to unravel is bitterness. This cinematic thriller causes an evaluation of how we treat people throughout our lives. Understanding that at different times we do make mistakes in our dealings with those that come into our orbit, the need for forgiveness is an essential part of life. For the sake of drama, genuine forgiveness was the missing component in The Gift, but does not have to be in real life. Is there anyone that you need to forgive or ask forgiveness of today?
Leaving the cinema... It is hard not to be deeply effected by a film like The Gift. Anyone who has been effected by bullying can relate to all of the characters in the film. It was well acted and directed, but hard to enjoy. As a life lesson it was fantastic, as entertainment it was disheartening.
Reel Dialogue: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film? 1. What does the Bible say about revenge? (Proverbs 24:29, Romans 12:19) 2. What does the Bible say about bullying? (Proverbs 6: 16-19, Matthew 5:43-48) 3. What value does forgiveness offer? (Luke 6:37, Ephesians 4:32)
Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews #thegift
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
Not Bourne, not Bond, but a new code name. Rather a good one
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. - Not Bourne, not Bond, but a new code name. Rather a good one - 3.75 stars
Does anyone remember The Man from U.N.C.L.E. television show?
Walking into the cinema... Skepticism abounds with this film. Less than reliable lead actors, a story based on an ambiguous television series, and those accents, but it has Guy Ritchie at the helm. This could lead to another level of skepticism, but I am willing to go into the screening with a low level of optimism. Oh, Mr. Ritchie do not let this optimism, albeit small, be misplaced!
Overall Rating: 3.75 stars Cinematic value: 4 stars Big questions value: 2.5 stars
The Man from U.N.C.L.E (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) is most likely not a television show that people will remember from their childhood or have even experienced in reruns. Besides taking the title and the basic concept of the show, this espionage excursion does provide a fresh take on the spy game. Placed on the backdrop of the cold war and the 1960's, director Guy Ritchie (Sherlock Holmes) incorporates a style of film making that is less Bourne and more retro-Bond. Well-dressed, clichéd agents with well-timed dialogue that takes front stage over action. Not that there is not action, but the action that is provided is more stylised and methodical. The central characters of the latest Ritchie production are CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). Two agents who must put aside their national loyalties to work together to bring down a criminal organisation that is profiting from the burgeoning nuclear weapons market. Adding a link between these two agents is the sensual and fiery Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), who provides the means of finding the well-connected arms dealers. This origins-type spy story has a different pacing, action and spirit that counteracts the current tradition in foreign agent adventures.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. does force a shift in cinematic expectations. Ritchie seems to take on the mantra, 'Everything that is old is new again' by providing something new within a retro-style packaging. Fans of this director will see his fingerprints all over the film, while being conscious of fresh techniques in his direction. He utilises some of his trademarks to provide his touches to lighting, well-timed dialogue and subtle sexuality that complements the action. One pleasant surprise is his ability to get strong performances out of Cavill and Hammer. The nature of the story develops around their bizarre partnership and their reliance on each other's special agent skills, which also seems to be the case with the actor's performances, too. On their own, these actors are one dimensional and potentially boring, but together they present a uniformity that is quite enjoyable to watch on the big screen. Their relationship takes time to build, but in the end it does deliver. The true adhesive that brings these two agents together and provides the elemental connection for their performances is Alicia Vikander (Ex-machina). An up and coming force in Hollywood, she delivers the sensuality and feminine spark that perfectly complements this combative bunch of agents. In the end, the biggest challenge for this film will be to manage the audience's expectations. If the viewer expects Bourne or even the recent incarnation of Bond, they will be disappointed. But, if they go into the theatre looking for a fresh take on a well-worn espionage storyline, they will be pleasantly surprised and will find themselves looking forward to the next instalment of these undercover agents.
In the realm of espionage theatre, the considerations to discuss war, national loyalties and the atrocities of mankind are extremely obvious. Loving our neighbour is an idea that can be seen in many of the world's religions and philosophies, but a radical notion that was introduced by Jesus was to not only to love our neighbours, but to love our enemies. Honestly, it has to be one of the most confronting concepts in the Bible and one of the hardest to implement. Individually it is challenging, but how about on the global scale? Without unintentionally waving a 'make peace, not war' sign around, loving your enemy opposed to going to war has its appeal. Also, not to misrepresent Jesus as being merely meek and mild, the concept of loving your enemies might be one worth considering, for ourselves and for global politics. Leaving the cinema... You might be able to gather that this reviewer is a Guy Ritchie fan, but regardless of being a fan, this film was refreshingly different in the realm of spy films and out and out fun. A small side note: one thing that was missing from this Guy Ritchie film was extensive foul language, but the story was not lacking because of this was omitted. This is one spy film worth seeing in theatres this year.
Reel Dialogue: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film? 1. Where is real hope found? (Deuteronomy 31:6, Romans 5:2-5) 2. Can we love our enemies? (Luke 6:27, Romans 12:19-21) 3. Why is it so hard to trust other people? (Proverbs 6:12-16, Romans 3:10-18)
Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews #themanfromuncle #guyritchie
A solid performance, but not a knock out
A fighter knows only one way to work. -Billy Hope
Walking into the cinema... Is there anything new to be said about the life of boxers?
Overall Rating: 2.75 stars Cinematic rating: 3 stars Bigger questions rating: 2.75 stars
As the current boxing Light Heavyweight world champion, Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) has come to a crossroads. The sport has taken a toll on his body and he has sustained an eye injury that forces him to take the advice of his wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), and consider the next step in his career, retirement or going out on top with an HBO contract. During a charity event, a verbal altercation turns to a series of violent acts that lead to the shooting death of Maureen. Due to this tragedy and Billy's desire for revenge, he starts down a path of self-destruction through the use of alcohol and drugs. During this vulnerable stage of his life, he attempts to hold onto his life style, sanity and daughter, Leila (Oona Laurence), by going back into the ring. This choice leads to a series of events which leaves him suspended from boxing, penniless and having to turn Leila over to Child Protective Services. During his life's downward spiral, Billy must find a way to sober up and get Leila back. His only solution is to go back to the only option he knows, the boxing ring. First he works as a janitor in a gym, but gets to know the trainer Titus "Tick" Wills (Forest Whitaker). After getting his life back on track, Billy convinces Tick to become his personal trainer and eventually help him to prepare for a bout with the man who he credits with leading to his downfall. Southpaw is a familiar boxing tale of riches to rags to redemption where Billy Hope has to reach deep within himself to find the man he needs to be for his daughter and to rediscover the champion that he had been to the world as a boxer.
Two men pummelling each other in a ring for money has been a storyline since the inception of moving pictures. It provides a brutal backdrop to the human experience at its most visceral level. Besides the original Rocky and Million Dollar Baby, these stories of boxers tend to be elemental and predictable. In the hands of director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day), there is an expectation that he will rely heavily on the performance of his lead actor to win over the audience and pull the story along. Was Fuqua able to achieve this goal? It is a split decision. Jake Gyllenhaal proves that he can carry a film and channels his method acting prowess to make the character, Billy Hope, believable and vulnerable. Gyllenhaal always seems to be on the verge of acting greatness, but super stardom seems to allude this acting journeyman. Fuqua surrounds his lead actor with a stellar cast that give the potential depth for a ground breaking film. Forrest Whitaker effortlessly steals each scene that he shares with any actor and is convincing as the flawed, but inspirational trainer. Also, the impressive young actress, Oona Laurence,shows her acting abilities and has the potential for a long career. But, even with all of these key acting strengths there is something missing in Fugua's corner. It is not the thespian talent, but the overdone storyline. The story can be compared to the punching bags in Tick Wills gym. The bags and the script feel like they are past their prime, the bags are held together by tape and on the edge of falling apart with each ensuing punch. The same could be said about Fuqua's story, it feels like it has been overworked and is past its prime. Southpaw contains enough original components to make it entertaining, but not enough to pull it off the canvas of a run of the mill boxing film.
As Billy is trying to get his life up off the ring floor, he begins to develop a strong bond with Tick Wills. As a mentor and trainer, Tick becomes the voice of reason and reluctantly leads Billy down the path to redemption. During one of the more poignant scenes, they consider one of the tragic occurrences that occurs in the history of this gym in Hell's Kitchen. Tick evaluates the suffering that occurs in his life and in the lives of his boxers and says, 'All I can think is that God must have a purpose for all of this.' It is one of the more endearing scenes in the film and it does open the door to one of life's paradoxes. If there is a God out there, why does he allow bad things to occur and is there a purpose in it all? Southpaw may be a well worn story of a boxer's life, but it does provide a great opportunity to consider why the life that each of us has been given can be bittersweet at times, but it can have a purpose.
Leaving the cinema... Southpaw was endearing, but forgettable. It has a mean one-two punch. Good director and solid acting performances, but in the end this is not enough to deliver a knock-out visual experience.
Reel Dialogue: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film? 1. What does the Bible say about boxing? (1 Corinthians 9:26, 2 Timothy 4:7) 2. Does this life have any purpose? (Jeremiah 29:11, Ephesians 3:8-12) 3. What does this life have to offer? (Ecclesiastes, The gospel of John)
Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews #southpaw
Fantastic Four (2015)
What is coming? Doom for this franchise
With every new discovery, there is risk. But we are stronger together than we are apart. - Dr. Franklin Storm
Walking into the cinema... Does this franchise need another re-boot?
Overall Rating: 2 stars Cinematic value: 2 stars Big questions value: 3 stars
It is hard to believe that it has been 10 years since the original Fantastic Four film, but in 2015 we are introduced to a new and younger foursome. Director Josh Trank (Chronicle) takes on the retelling of this familiar graphic novel tale, but takes it all the way back to a youthful time in the lives of the team. The central focus is Reed Richards (Miles Teller), from his misunderstood child genius stage to his recruitment into the Baxter Corporation. He is sought after by the group for his technological abilities and his affinity for quantum transport. As he is introduced to the fateful pack of geniuses, a journey begins of building their friendships and the technology that would provide their eventual powers, the quantum transporter. At the conclusion of the project, Richards and the crew take a harrowing journey in their transporting creation. In the process, they find themselves on the new planet, Zero, and come in contact with its mysterious transformative properties. They experience a series of events that lead to the loss of a counterpart and find themselves with unexplained physical abilities. The four contemporaries have to learn how to manage their new skills while the government attempts to find a way to get back to this new planet of possibilities. Over time the youthful bunch learn to use their new found skill sets and develop a partnership to defeat a new enemy, Dr. Doom (Toby Kebbell), that comes from similar origins as the powerful foursome.
If Josh Trank has proved anything throughout his short directorial career is his ability to recruit some of the best young talent in Hollywood. In Fantastic Four he assembles a wonderful central cast for this origin story. At first glance this re-boot seems to offer a trailblazing experience on a well-worn trail of super-hero legend. Miles Teller (Whiplash), Kate Mara (House of Cards) & Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station) provide the new legs that a proper re-franchising needs. The story has promise through the first half of the origins journey until the initial transport journey and then something goes horribly wrong with the script and direction. Primarily that they lose the central character, Reed Richards, for the whole second act. Without their leader at the helm, the story becomes rudderless and loses its heart, even with the potential development of their transformative abilities. In the third act, the writing becomes merely elemental and clichéd. What should be a tension- filled climax to the inevitable battle between the four friends and their enemy, Dr. Doom, proves to have little more than a forgettable conclusion to a misguided narrative. The Fantastic Four is disappointing in that with the potential strength of the first half of this film could not translate into a better second half.
Trank may have a knack for young talent, but fails to provide the right players to perform the menacing government officials and that of the villain. He is the primary disappointment of this cinematic adventure. In the beginning, Toby Kebbell plays the brooding loner well, but cannot act his way out from behind the bad make up and effects. This is not a reflection on his acting abilities as much as a poorly crafted script that fails to provide a formidable foe for the four young heroes. This comes down to being a lesson for a young director of super-hero film: the heroes are only as interesting as the villain they must battle. The expectation for Fantastic Four would be to provide fresh chemistry in this overworked genre, but the results never seem to make their way out of the laboratory.
Even in a less than satisfactory package, there are a multitude of different ideas to ponder. This team focused story bodes well to the discussion of unity and the value of each part of any community, but the heart of the story is a discussion of belief. The father-like force of Dr. Franklin Storm talks about his belief in the young Fantastic Four. As would be expected, this belief is misplaced, because this small band of young scientists do eventually fail him. Which consistently proves to be the case when you put all of faith into humanity, mankind will let you down. Yet, the discussion of belief does not have to be hopeless, there is more to consider on the topic of belief or faith. Is it in humanity or is it in something outside of ourselves that faith should be placed? Should belief be in another super-hero franchise or should it be in God? Something fantastic that is worth considering.
Leaving the cinema... Originally, I wanted to become a believer in this new Fantastic Four, but ultimately this belief was misplaced. If you want to see a better super-hero choice this year, go see Ant- man.
Reel Dialogue: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film? 1. What really matters when it comes to heroics? (1 Samuel 16:7, Matthew 13:31-32) 2. Can we become better as humans?' (Genesis 1:27, Mark 7:20-23) 3. Can mankind's hearts change from evil to good? (2 Corinthians 5:17, 2 Timothy 2:21)
Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews #fantasticfour
She's Funny That Way (2014)
Think again, she isn't that funny
"There are no "old" movies-only movies you have already seen and ones you haven't." - Peter Bagdonovich
Walking into the cinema... When Peter Bogdanovich considered directing a new film for the first time in 12 years, many actors signed up before reading the script. The question is does he have the same directorial magic that delivered The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon?
Overall Rating: 2 stars Cinematic rating: 2 stars Bigger questions rating: 2 stars
She's Funny that Way is an attempt to show how Hollywood provides ordinary people with the opportunity to dream. Legendary director Peter Bogdanovich focuses his lens on the Hollywood dreamer, Isabella "Izzy" Patterson (Imogen Poots). She spins a retrospective tale of the relationships in her life and how they propelled her from call-girl to acting success. It is a less-than-believable fairy tale of happenstance and mayhem that connects the lives of the cast and crew of the Broadway production, A Grecian Evening. The play's director, Arnold Albertson (Owen Wilson), finds himself in the precarious position of casting Izzy in the play, even though he knows her from her career as an escort. The female lead of the stage production is his wife Delta (Kathryn Hahn) and her ex-lover Seth Gilbert (Rhys Ifans), which leads to a surreal series of inter-connected, comedic situations. Then adding to this bizarre narrative is Jennifer Aniston (Friends) who plays Jane, Izzy's self-centred therapist that is in a failing relationship with Arnold's playwright Joshua Fleet (Will Forte), who is drawn into the gravitational pull of the young actress orbit.
Reminiscent of the screwball comedies of the 70's and 80's, this Peter Bagdanovich's screenplay was pulled out of mothballs from a bygone era. Not to mention that he has not directed a major motion picture in 12 years. This directorial choice has the potential to honour his cinematic past, but has become a misstep in a memorable career. Since the announcement of the production and the signing of the primary roles of the project, all of the actors have changed, except for Owen Wilson. The production back story helps to explain the dated feel and the cinematic chaos that is portrayed on the big screen. There was very little that was redeemable about the film. Most of the characters seemed to be walking through their roles as if it was the first and only take of each scene. Jennifer Aniston wins the best over-acting award of the year and Imogen Poots' provides the most unforgivable and distracting Brooklyn accent in recent memory. The only redeemable performance was Illeana Douglas as the reporter who hears Izzy's adventure. Her cynical tone and delivery add the rare comedic twist in the otherwise humourless storyline. Bagdonovich's reliance on the coincidental series of events lacks the comedic timing to provide the needed humour for this type of film and remains stuck in the mire of celluloid mediocrity. He states that this was his love letter to New York City, but he must have not added enough postage for it to be delivered properly.
She's Funny that Way will only appeal to the most loyal of Bagdonovich's fans, but does open the door to some of life's bigger queries. A key theme was the futility of trying to hide personal transgressions. Even though the veteran director tries to paint Owen Wilson's character as a flawed man with a good heart, he proves that all sins are found out in the end. This central character attempts to hide his past, but each lie pulls him into a vicious cycle of self-deception. The film is a tangled web of the human condition and proves that when confronted with temptation the best choice is to turn and walk away. Which is what you should probably do instead of purchasing tickets to see forgettable comedy, just turn and walk away.
Leaving the cinema... There were few redeeming qualities of this film. Peter Bagdonovich should have kept this script hidden away and allowed us to remember him fondly for his past brilliance.
Reel Dialogue: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film? 1. What does the Bible have to say about romance? (Proverbs 5: 18-19, Song of Solomon) 2. Can we find true redemption in this life? (Romans 3:24-26, Ephesians 1:7) 3. Where can we find real love, hope and joy in this broken world? (Acts 24:14-16, Romans 8:24)
Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews #shesfunnythatway
Friendship provides a light into a dark room - 4.5 stars
Ugh, tests... I've been there.
Walking into the cinema... Looking like an independent and quirky version of The Fault in Our Stars. It's hard to determine if it's meant to be a teen comedy or a drama.
Overall Rating: 4.5 stars Cinematic rating: 4.5 stars Bigger questions rating: 4.5 stars
Have you had a cinematic experience that has left you speechless?
Packaged as a quirky coming-of-age story, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl surprisingly turns into a magnificent drama with an unexpected depth. In amongst the story of a self- centred teenage boy comes a portrait of loss, love and life. The central character from Jesse Andrews' novel is Greg (Thomas Mann) who lives a shallow high school existence that is independent of meaningful relationships and conflict. His only friend is Earl (RJ Cyler), a childhood friend partners with Greg in avoiding most of the high school trappings and they enjoy making film parodies. They exist throughout their final year of high school without much drama until Greg is asked by his mother to visit Rachel (Olivia Cooke). She is a classmate who has been diagnosed with leukaemia. Greg and Rachael try to make the best of an awkward situation and satisfy their parent's request to connect. Their relationship moves from standoffish to a symbiotic existence. They come to realise they need each other's support and friendship through this traumatic time during their last year of high school. Unlike many John Green novels or John Hughes films, this story has a depth in its multiple and realistic layers of life's trials.
One of the overarching elements of the film is Greg and Earl's film making throughout their formative years. Their search for avaunt-garde movies allowed for the development of a list that should be seen by all film students. Like Greg and Earl's list, Alfonso Gomez- Rejon's film should be considered for a must see film of 2015. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is difficult to classify, because unlike the typical hormonally-charged, coming-of-age films, this story tackles deeper considerations of life and death. With a mix of unconventional humour, Wes Anderson-style visuals and poignant dialogue provide the base for a profound narrative. Mann, Cyler, and Cooke performances allows them to develop their characters in a timely manner. As the storyline unfolds it makes for a depth that moves beyond cliché and proves to be endearing. They are brilliantly supported by veteran cast members who expand the breadth of the script and develop a palette of colourful cast members. To support the wealth of acting talent, the stylised cinematography was unsettlingly skillful. The visuals added to the storyline by perfectly depicting the drama portrayed on the screen. The direction of Gomez-Rejon manages to deliver an exquisite, emotionally-charged drama that's only limitation is the thinking that this is a teen-aged, coming-of-age adventure.-
A rare cinematic outing like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl engages with the consideration of loss and death, but provides discussion points about life. One of the key queries that comes out is what we choose to do with the gift of life? Jesse Andrew's screenplay of friendship is woven together with a confronting evaluation of life, even life after death. This is brought to a head with a dialogue between Greg and his teacher, Mr. McCarthy, that challenges the teen to understand more about the life we live and the life that is left behind for others to remember. Throughout the darkness of death, this film provides an opportunity to appraise the gift of life. In the end, the story is engaging and entertaining, but produces thoughtful discussion points for a multitude of future conversations.
Leaving the cinema... Stunned silence. The audience seemed to be overwhelmed with the journey that they experienced from this film. An emotional roller-coaster that delivers an overwhelming, experiential ride. Well done to Alfonso Gomez-Rejon for providing one of a must see film.
Reel Dialogue: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film? 1. What does the Bible have to say about death? (John 14:1-3, 2 Corinthians 5: 6-8) 2. Can we find true redemption in this life? (Romans 3:24-26, Ephesians 1:7) 3. Where can we find real love, hope and joy in this broken world? (Acts 24:14-16, Romans 8:24)
Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews #meandearlandthedyinggirl
Paper Towns (2015)
A new teen road trip for a generation
"Maybe all the strings inside of him broke."
Walking into the cinema... John Green is the author for this teen drama. Can this film rise above the typical coming of age films?
Overall rating: 3.5 stars Cinematic value: 4 stars Big Questions value: 3 stars
Coming of age films are not new to the cinematic landscape, but Hollywood manages to propagate a new batch for each generation. Every once and a while, one stands out from the rest. From Rebel Without a Cause to Say Anything to Breakfast Club, this genre has provided positive memories and the lines that resonate throughout our younger years. Paper Towns and author John Green have struck this cord and provide a voice for this generation. The high school journey of Quentin (Nat Wolff) and his mysterious neighbour Margo (Cara Delevingne) is an adaptation of the Green novel. Quentin and Margo are friends throughout their childhood but have grown apart over the years. Then on a fateful night during their last year of high school, Margo asks Quentin for his help on a mission of revenge against friends who have done her wrong. The midnight escapade becomes a life-changing event for Quentin and he begins to pine after Margo again, then she mysteriously disappears. Family and friends want to know where she went and the mystery deepens as Quentin finds clues about her whereabouts that Margo left behind. He recruits his band of friends to take the road trip of a life time to find this teenage runaway. Throughout the life-transitory road trip, Quentin finds out more about himself, his relationships with his friends and what to do with his misplaced love of the mysterious Margo.
Throughout the opening moments of Paper Towns it feels like it was going down the predictable coming of age narrative. Boy meets girl, girl lives across the street, girl lives an adventurous life and boy pines after her from a distance. Quickly, director Jake Schreier (Robot and Frank) pulls the story out of the hormonal malaise and into the kaleidoscope of different expectations. His lead characters provide an unexpected depth. Nat Wolff and Cara Delevingne were perfectly cast in this teen mystery. Wolff proves to have a John Cusack (Say Anything) quality that makes him appealing as the average boy that proves cool in the end, while Delevingne provides enough smouldering excitement to make her worth this young man's pursuit. They are surrounded by a wonderful cast of characters that compliment the comedic dialogue and the contemplative moments of the script. This is where the film differentiates itself within this genre. Even within the stereotypical trappings of the party scene, suggested teen sex and proverbial geek trio, the writing lifts the story line out of the post-pubescent mire. It may seem unrealistic to think that teens could speak at the depth that they do in Paper Towns, but the characters make these lines plausible and accessible. There is a maturity with a twist of hormonal angst that gives this story the necessary edge it needs. Also, the conclusion adds the unique twist that provides a surprising satisfaction to the adventure.
In the realm of teen dramas, Paper Towns does provide a new perspective on a generation, but if there are any difficulties with the film it was in the lack of parental involvement. In the typical American high-school scenarios, the lack of representation by the parents in the film does leave a hole in the narrative. The only people who seem to speak into the lives of these kids are other kids. This might be an insight on the lives of families today or a warning signal for parents to get more involved in the lives of their children. Regardless of the message that is trying to convey, the lack of any adult wisdom does leave a void in this engaging script. Paper Towns is an entertaining film that provides an opportunity for parental dialogue with their teens on many of the transitional issues of their lives.
Leaving the cinema: Paper Towns was a pleasant surprise. It does provide a new generation a cinematic voice and opens the door to some great topics of discussion for families.
Reel Dialogue: What are the bigger questions to consider from this film? 1. What is sacrificial love? (John 15:13, Ephesians 5:25) 2. Is life mysterious? (Colossians 2:1-3, Matthew 13:11-13) 3. Does God care about my dreams? (Jeremiah 29:11, Proverbs 16:3)
Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews #papertownsmovie
Labels: Cara Delevingne Coming of Age film Do we need another coming of age film Halston Sage high school Jake Schreier John David John Green Nat Wolff puberty The Fault in my stars
Big surprises come in small packages
Baskin-Robbins always finds out. - Scott Lang
Walking into the cinema... Hopefully, Marvel does not take themselves too seriously with this film and we can all have some fun with the action.
Overall Rating: 4.25 stars Cinematic value: 4.5 stars Big questions value: 3 stars
Marvel is attempting to pull off a heist. Ant-man is their opportunity to prove themselves in another cinematic genre. Paul Rudd (Role Models) as the lead in this miniature hero caper is a stretch to consider for heroics, but the whole concept of Ant-man movie is a stretch. It is possible that this comedic actor could be right to provide the 'nudge, nudge, wink, wink' element of this heist film, but can this film be taken seriously?
Rudd plays the con-man, Scott Lang who is recruited by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) to pull off the recovery of another super-suit that provides the same abilities as the Ant-man suit. Pym was the original mini powerhouse and alongside his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) attempts to mentor the brilliant burglar. They strive to use his less than savoury skills as a thief to save the world and to fill the hero role that has been repressed for years. The Pyms and Lang must team up to stop the plans of Darren Scott (Corey Stoll) who has sinister plans for Dr. Pym's formula and the new yellowjacket suit. For Lang, the motivation to save the world comes secondary to saving his relationship with his daughter which provides a fascinating restoration theme to this mad-capped adventure. In the end, can director Peyton Reed (Yes Man) manage the daunting task of making this microscopic hero into a believable superhero?
Let all the doubt and scepticism cease, Reed delivers on this formidable task. He proves that size does not diminish the impact of this superhero within the Marvel Universe. Most comic book adaptations have well placed dialogue and humour placed in between a multitude of action scenes. Reed turns this concept around and manages to make a laugh- out-loud, heist film that is connected by convincing action scenarios. In an era where graphic novels are getting pulled into a darker realm, Ant-man provides a superhero that does not take himself too seriously. Reed even manages to make light of product placement and uses it to provide some of the most endearing lines in the script.
Paul Rudd is perfect in the role of Scott Lang. His portrayal of the smart, comedic, but flawed character is what this film needs for fun and believability. His burgling entourage make for a humorous, mad-capped origin story that leaves you wanting to see more of them in the future. It was great to see Michael Douglas (both young and old) on the screen with the convincing old swagger needed for this minuscule mentor. Evangeline Lilly moves successfully from The Hobbit trilogy to Ant-man to establish herself as a convincing heroine with her understated vulnerability and strength. The makers of Ant-man have managed to do something different with this superhero journey, they make it accessible to a wider age bracket. Having a PG rating, this is the first crusader caper that parents would not have to hesitate taking their children to experience. Overall, it provides the balance between action, comedy, heart and a new puzzle piece to the Marvel world.
Throughout the humour and action, there was an overarching theme of redemption. Scott Lang and Dr. Pym have their own redemptive journeys to travel. Their choices in life have caused casualties in their familial ties. The Ant-man narrative has a redeeming message woven into the central characters lives. In any super hero tale there is evidence of power and strength, which can be seen in this insect dominated story, but without giving anything away, the power of the film comes in the relationships of family and the need for atonement. Both of these men show that their children are the only individuals that need to see them as a hero. This redemptive element adds a depth and freshness to this superhero tale. Coming from a cinematic sceptic, this film manages to make its presence known on all levels, representing a pure exploit in fun and has the potential to steal the heart of any audience member.
Leaving the cinema... Ant-man will put your faith back into the superhero genre. It is action-packed fun for the whole family.
What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film? 1. Does size matter when it comes to heroics? (1 Samuel 16:7, Matthew 13:31-32) 2. Can we become better as humans?' (Genesis 1:27, Mark 7:20-23) 3. Can mankind's hearts change from evil to good? (2 Corinthians 5:17, 2 Timothy 2:21)
Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews #antman Posted just now by Russell Matthews Labels: #antman Corey Stoll Evangeline Lilly Is Ant-man any good Michael Douglas Paul Rudd Peyton Reed redemption will ant-man be the first Marvel failure Yellowjacket
Suffering from an identity crisis
If you had enough money to buy immortality, would you do it?
Walking into the cinema... Can we gain immortality? The age old question of seeking after more to the life we have been given. Self/less seems to look at what we gain and what we lose by seeking after eternal life.
Overall Rating: 2.25 stars Cinematic rating: 2 stars Bigger questions rating: 2.75 stars
Most may never have enough money to consider the probability of this eternal conundrum, but in the life of Damian Hale (Ben Kingsley), it is a possibility. He is a billionaire dying of cancer and thinks he deserves a longer life. He takes on the mortality gamble through a questionable procedure developed by Dr. Albright. The procedure that will end his life, but place his soul into a new and improved body. After his death, he wakes up as a younger man (Ryan Reynolds), but soon realises that there are some issues. Damian has visions that seem to imply that the body he is inhabiting may have been used before. As Damian asks for clarification from Dr. Albright and his organisation, they begin to challenge his decisions and manipulate his new existence. With this comes the awareness of the man's previous ego and his life attempting to take over. Both of the men who indwell the same body have to come to terms with the sacrifices that they both must make for the sake of living this new life.
If the film's description sounds convoluted, the viewing experience twists and turns beyond comprehension. Self/less looks like a fresh spin on the fountain of youth narrative, but suffers from an identity crisis. Kingsley is convincing as the vicious building mogul of New York, Reynolds fills the predictable comic-charmer and Matthew Goode is perfect as Albright, the insidious mad scientist. It has the right players in place for Tarsem Singh's (Mirror Mirror, Immortals) story, but struggles with identifying what genre to travel in this cinematic journey. Singh seems to struggle with the same multi-personality crisis of his central characters. It starts off as a contemplative quest then moves to family drama then becomes a Bourne-like action adventure. Then it tries to go back and forth between each genre, but is unsuccessful in delivering a satisfactory result. Each of the potential story lines has appealing elements that would have made for fascinating considerations, but as a mix they develop a schizophrenic experience.
The existential wrestling match is not new. The rich buying eternal life. From Heaven Can Wait to Vanilla Sky to In Time, this proposition has been part of cinema. There are urban legends of the rich striving for similar immortal opportunities in the real world. Yet, for it to work on the silver screen, the story does not have to be believable, but it does need to be probable. The audience has to consider if the experiment could potentially work if people are given enough money and find the right technology. It has worked in other films, but the disjointed feel of Self/less undermines the probability of this consideration. In the end, this is a story that was meant to be about acquiring eternal life, but ultimately is dead on arrival.
Even with it's failings, Self/less does redeem itself through the range of topics to consider about the human experience. From the opening scene, it represented a journey through an Ecclesiastes-type existence. 'Vanity, vanity' pours forth from Damien Hale's life. Showing that money can provide all the world has to offer, even the unbelievable, but mankind cannot find all it needs from life in mere material things. As both men go through the process of finding out what is important in their lives or life and they are confronted with an overarching theme of the ultimate sacrifice. Specifically, both central characters have to come to a point of how far would they go to sacrifice their life. Even though the Self/less storyline had an identity crisis, it does manage to touch on some of humanities deepest queries. What it lacks in entertainment value, it does offer in engaging discussion points.
Leaving the cinema... Self/less has all of the elements for a super-charged experience, but proves to be in a cinematic coma.
Reel Dialogue: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film? 1. What does the Bible have to say about sacrifice? (Roman 5:8, Romans 12:1-2) 2. Can we find true redemption in this life? (Romans 3:24-26, Ephesians 1:7) 3. What does this life have to offer? (Ecclesiastes, The gospel of John)
Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews #self/lessmovie
Terminator Genisys (2015)
He is back for judgement day!
Terminator Genisys - He's back for judgement day - 3 stars
Survival. It's what you taught me! - John Conner Walking into the cinema... The original is considered a classic and T2 is iconic, but the subsequent sequels were forgettable. 22 years later, can this storyline resurrect itself or should it have remained buried?
Cinematic rating: 3 stars Reel Dialogue Rating: 3 stars
The storyline for Terminator Genisys may sound familiar to those who continue to watch the first two films with nostalgic bliss. It does do a slight variation from the traditional elements and the central character of this chapter is Sgt. Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney). He was saved by John Connor (Jason Clarke) as a boy and becomes a disciple/soldier of the charismatic leader. After the supposed defeat of Skynet, he volunteers to go back to 1984 and save John's mother, Sarah Conner (Emilia Clarke) and safeguard the future. Yet, the past that is explained to him has changed. He has to come to terms with an altered future and work with Sarah and the Guardian or Pops (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Their goal is to bring down Skynet and the new Genisys operating system before judgement day and defeat an unexpected enemy that will challenge their plans and loyalties.
With a reboot of a beloved franchise, staying close to the original storyline can have its advantages and disadvantages. Director Alan Taylor (The Dark World) does not veer too far from the original dystopian adventure, but takes full advantage of the time travel twists to give this version a fresh angle. All of the standard villains and allies are back with an added element that wreaks havoc on the core team and the multiple timelines. Clarke and Courtney fill the shoes of the future Conner and Reese well. They are enjoyable on screen and manage to carry the weight of the extensive dialogue and outlandish action. Taylor allows Schwarzeneggar to focus on his strengths and capitalise on the role that has come to define his career. Arnold gives his one-liners and trademark steely performance which supports the story and makes him strangely endearing. Jason Clarke was a pleasant surprise to the John Conner role. He is believable as the military leader, but his unassuming look and nature provide the depth the eventual villainous element that he represents. Director Taylor surrounds the cast with a multitude of special effects and explosions, but is reliant on the past innovations for the visual element. The effects were good, but unlike the original director James Cameron, he did not introduce anything new in this area. Taylor cannot be blamed for the cityscape, because he was left with original narrative and had to use San Francisco. But, how many times do we need to see San Francisco destroyed this year? A request to filmmakers, please move on to other cites of the world.
One element that weighed things down is the multiple discourses to explain the space-time continuum. The additions to the script were necessary to make this unbelievable timeline accessible, but did slow down the momentum of the action. This is a weakness, but not enough to be labelled as a failure. The primary disappointment of this time travelling Terminator tale is that Paramount allowed the vast majority of the story to be revealed in the trailers. There were a few surprises and most of the twists were minor in comparison to what is presented in the trailer. It did not diminish the value of the film, but stole some of the potential magic. Yet, even with the lack of story twists, Terminator Genisys was enjoyable and entertaining. Like many of the nostalgic franchises that have been resurrected this year, it never takes itself too seriously, but adds enough scientific balance to make it accessible. It was a good conclusion to the story and hopefully the Conners and the Terminator will not be back.
It is difficult to imagine that the dystopian world of the Terminator could provide any considerations for Biblical truth, but the meta-narrative seeps into this tale of woe. The Kyle Reese character talks about the moment when he is first introduced to John Conner. He is saved by the leader of the human uprising and says of the experience, 'For the first time, I had hope.' In amongst the special effects and time travel, a key element continues to weave through the human experience. The need for a saviour and hope. Even in the darkest of moments and the desperate times, the potential for salvation provides a light to permeate the darkness. John Conner proves to be a false leader, but thankfully God provides a leader that will not fail and provides us everlasting hope. One thing can truly be said of God's appointed saviour, he will be back. (It had to be said.)
Leaving the cinema... The re-boots are beginning to overstay their welcome, but Terminator Genisys fills the need for fun entertainment. Enough nostalgia and special effects to appeal across the generations and hopefully this is the final chapter of this franchise.
Reel Dialogue: What are the bigger questions to consider from this film? 1. What can we know about creation? (Genesis 1-3) 2. Can we solve our own problems? (Proverbs 3:5, Philippians 4:6) 3. Why do we need a saviour? (Romans 3:10-18, Romans 6:23)
Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews #terminatorgenisys