As seen on the syndicated TV show "Movie Show Plus." movieshowplus.com
This week film critic Tom Santilli reviews "Jason Bourne" and "Cafe Society."
Tom Santilli is a film critic for AXS.com, the current President of the Detroit Film Critics Society and member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. He appears on air weekly on the syndicated TV show "Movie Show Plus" and on "Critic Lee Speaking" on FOX-2 in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter: @tomsantilli
Despite whatever your political leanings may be, most people can agree on one thing: America sure has changed over the past 50 years or so. One of the most apparent social changes the country has seen is the emergence of the "political correctness" movement, where it seems harder and harder to say or do anything these days without offending someone. The new documentary Can We Take a Joke? (opening Friday, July 29 and available on VOD on Aug 2) poses that very question, but only scratches the surface, and isn't nearly as provocative as it should be. Or in other words, this documentary will offend no one, which is a shame and perhaps a missed opportunity.
There has not been a better documentary - or film in general - so far in 2016 than Life, Animated (opening today). It is sad, touching, uplifting and undeniably powerful portrayal of a family's love for their child, and a young man's journey to make sense of this world. Whether you have experience with autism or not, like the film's subject Owen Suskind, there are universally relatable themes found in his story, much like the Disney animated films that quite literally saved his life.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Roald Dahl's classic children's book "The BFG" comes to life in Steven Spielberg's latest film, The BFG (opening today). It's a fairly faithful adaptation ("BFG" stands for "Big Friendly Giant"), but on film, there is very little magic that translates to the big screen. If The BFG were a vegetable, it would be a giant snozzcumber.
You won't recognize him, but the title character is portrayed by Mark Rylance, fresh off of his Oscar win for Best Supporting Actor in
Bridge of Spies, which was also directed by Spielberg. Ruby Barnhill plays Sophie, a young but spirited young girl who lives at an orphanage in England. Breaking the house rules one night, Sophie spots BFG creeping around town, so he snatches her up, lest she tell others of his existence. "Whiffling" her away to the realm of giants, she realizes that he is of the gentle variety of giants. In fact, amongst his own kind, he's actually quite small and is referred to as "Runt" by the other vicious giants, such as Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) and Bloodbottler (Bill Hader). These thugs do not treat BFG kindly, not to mention that their favorite snack is human "beans."
Beginning her relationship with BFG as his captive, Sophie soon warms to his kind soul and the two become friends. The BFG, with super-senses and a large horn at his disposal, has mastered the ability to capture dreams - good and bad - and he actually sneaks into town each night to fill the children's minds with happy dreams and joyful thoughts. Wanting to help her large companion, they concoct a plan to enlist the Queen of England (Penelope Wilton) to fight back against the bad giants and rid them from their lands, therefore allowing BFG to live in relative peace.
While the visuals are stunning, The BFG is a stark reminder that it is incredibly difficult to invoke a sense of wonder at the movies these days, in an age of relentless CG and special effects. Spielberg is the master of wowing an audience, of creating characters and films that children marvel at and that make adults feel like kids again. But The BFG is no E.T. Today, it just doesn't seem all that impressive to see a giant interact with a human girl, even with the added element of 3D. Remember E.T., or Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Jurassic Park even? Instead of being impressed by The BFG, I spent a good portion of the film wondering if movies would ever have the same affect as they once did, back when we were all asked to use our imaginations from time to time.
The limp story doesn't help either, nor does the unmemorable performance of child actor Ruby Barnhill. She does nothing wrong, but just isn't quite capable of carrying the film on her own.
There are a few cute scenes, like when BFG and Sophie are guests of the Queen inside her Palace, and the waitstaff does what it can to accommodate their 24-foot-tall guest. But there is little to grasp on here to, even for young kids, who may find themselves drifting off into dreamworlds of their own, especially in the overly-talky first half of the film.
Spielberg is in a class all of his own, but The BFG will fall closer to his failed The Adventures of Tin Tin than it will his parade of other classics that have defined movies for several generations. It's always a letdown when a director of his caliber fires off a dud. Or in this case, a giant one.
Genre: Family, Adventure, Fantasy
Run Time: 1 hours, 57 minutes, Rated PG
Starring: Ruby Barnhill, Bill Hader, Rebecca Hall, Mark Rylance, Jemaine Clement, Penelope Wilton
Based on the novel by Roald Dahl
Written by Melissa Mathison (Kundun, The Indian in the Cupboard, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, The Black Stallion)
Directed by Steven Spielberg (Bridge of Spies, Lincoln, War Horse, Munich, Minority Report, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones I II III IV, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial)
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
It's hard to fathom that a movie about a farting corpse with magical powers could not be amazing, but Swiss Army Man (opening today) shows that anything is possible.
Hank (Paul Dano) is alone and starving on a deserted island when we meet him, despite having access to bags of chips and soda bottles, which we see floating into the see with SOS messages scribbled all over them. As he's about to hang himself with a make-shift rope, he discovers a body (Daniel Radcliffe) washed up on the shore. Taking this as a miraculous sign, he becomes infatuated with the carcass, especially after it starts farting. One fart leads to another, and soon Hank realizes that these farts actually propel the body forward in the water. He uses this...gift?...to ride away from his island, but some heavy waves put him and the dead body back on another deserted island, albeit a much larger one.
Sound strange enough yet? This bizarre tale has only just begun. The cadaver begins to speak and Hank learns that his name is Manny. Manny is capable of pretty much everything: His hands can karate chop a tree in half, he spews fresh water from his mouth, and his erection acts as a compass. If you put things in his mouth, he can shoot them out like a weapon. Hank is flabbergasted by his new friend, and Manny tries to learn what it's like to be human again from Hank.
As you could imagine, the premise of Swiss Army Man is among the more outlandish you will ever see in any movie. It took me some time to wrap my head around some of the themes that the directors - Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, who call themselves simply "Daniels" - were trying to tackle. This is essentially a buddy-movie about life, love and the pursuit of happiness. But is it being genuine, or is this some kind of tasteless jab at an audience not used to such a loose narrative?
The general direction this movie - and Radcliffe's penis - took us in, culminates in a disastrously awful ending that makes me believe that the Daniels failed at whatever they were trying to achieve. Manny's farts - I guess? - are meant to represent that we need to be more open around one another, and that we shouldn't reign in our God-given abilities. Or perhaps, the Daniels just wanted to get a kick out of critics discussing the thematic value of farts? Either way, this film leaves you with a creepy, oily feeling that you've somehow just been had. The more I thought about Swiss Army Man, the less I cared about what they were trying to do, or what intellectual nuggets of truth could have possibly been unearthed in the rubble.
Sure, people may go see Swiss Army Man for its stars, and just out of curiosity. And credit goes to Daniel Radcliffe, who continues to choose totally bizarre roles in his post-Harry Potter career. But if I could have it all to do over again and would have seen this lifeless mess about to wash up on my shore, I would have tightened the noose.
Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama
Run Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Written & Directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (feature-length directorial and screen-writing debuts for both)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
The poster for the new documentary, Tickled (opening today), states: "It's not what you think." That's absolutely true, but it's also not at all what it could have been.
David Farrier is a journalist in New Zealand who one day came across an amusing internet video that had the headline "competitive endurance tickling." We've all been sent some stupid viral videos before, and we also are all fully aware that the internet contains some dark, disturbing and seedy material if you are willing to search for it. His curiosity aroused by this bizarre activity, Farrier set out to do what would have amounted as a fluff piece on this super-strange, super-weird "sport." Doing his research, he discovered that there was a company behind this competitive endurance tickling, and he emailed them to ask for an interview.
What he received in return spurned him to make this Tickled documentary.
The company refused to give the interview, mocking Farrier's sexual orientation (he's homosexual) and then threatening legal action for even inquiring about what he found. This of course only fueled Farrier to dig deeper, and what he uncovered is truly freakish. Turns out, a "tickle fetish" is a thing, but this particular company has an entire underground operation set-up, hosting these competitive tickling competitions. The company preys on young people in need of money, offering them $1000 to simply come in and be tickled. But as Farrier uncovered, this company was also using these videos to ruin the lives of some of its participants, and constant threats of legal action seemed to be the go-to action of the company.
Stranger still, this "company" turns out to be just one guy, a David D'Amato, who was the heir to a financial empire. He is a recluse with a sketchy, checkered past that included fraud, misrepresentation and several other crimes and accusations. Once Farrier starting looking around, this company flew three representatives out to shake Farrier down and scare him into dropping this story. Thanks to some hidden cameras and microphones, all of their extortion efforts were captured and included in the documentary, much to the chagrin of those men involved. As this Tickled documentary had its premiere, these same men showed up and caused an uproar which led to national headlines, and only confirmed their intimidating tactics.
Documentaries like this are awesome, because its clear that the film that was finalized wasn't the same film that was originally set out to be created. There is a synergy in watching things unfold in unexpected ways. But while this is one of the creepiest, aberrant stories you may hear all year, Tickled feels very incomplete. For all of Farrier's courage, he doesn't have the same forceful personality as someone like Michael Moore, also known for inserting himself into his own films, and therefore his investigation really leads nowhere. There were many times during the documentary where I wanted to find out more, but Farrier was either shut-out of obtaining that knowledge, or more frustratingly, he would shift gears elsewhere. For all of the mystery that is created, there is little pay-off, and the final confrontation, where Farrier finally tracks down D'Amato on his way back to his car after grabbing a coffee, really falls flat.
If you're looking for a documentary on just what "competitive endurance tickling" is, you will be very disappointed. But if you're looking for a well-made narrative on how power can corrupt and coerce the meek and vulnerable, then Tickled will hit the spot directly. It's no laughing matter though: This is one documentary that will leave you feeling anything but tickled.
Run Time: 1 hours, 32 minutes, Rated R
Directed by David Farrier & Dylan Reeve (feature debut)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
John le Carre is an author known for his taut, espionage thrillers, and Our Kind of Traitor (opening today) is his latest book to be given the big-screen treatment. He penned a number of novels that would be eventually turned into movies and TV shows, like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, A Most Wanted Man, The Russia House and the recent AMC TV mini-series, The Night Manager. His latest effort, brought to the screen by screenwriter Hossein Amini (47 Ronin) and British TV director Susanna White, is a serviceable if implausible thriller, that uses familiar tropes and a pounding musical score to get the job done.
Poetry Professor Perry Makepeace (Ewan McGregor) is on holiday in Morocco with his wife Gail (Naomie Harris), trying to rekindle a love-lost relationship. One night in the hotel lobby after Gail heads up to bed, Perry is drawn in by a boisterous Russian accountant, Dima (Stellan Skarsgard) and befriended. Dima, it turns out, is a top-level money launderer for the Russian Mob, and some recent events have put him and his family in grave danger. With his phone tapped and under constant surveilance, Dima looks to use his innocent new friend Perry to deliver a thumb drive to an MI6 agent in London (Damian Lewis), to try to strike an immunity deal so that Dima and his family can get the heck out of trouble.
Having an average guy get swept up in a criminal underworld is nothing new, but Ewan McGregor's Perry is extra-helpings of average. The only shade of personality he is given is that he is a do-gooder, but he is also incredibly naive to even get caught up with Dima in the first place. In fact, it's the whole beginning that I had the biggest problem with, as Perry should have had the common sense enough to stay away from Dima with a ten-foot pole. But if you can stick with the plot through its problematic opening, you will find that things start shifting nicely into place and out of the muck, rises a good-but-not-great espionage thriller.
Stellan Skarsgard gives the film its most vibrant performance, and Damian Lewis does nice work as a shady agent working off of the books. McGregor and Harris - who is given nothing substantial to do - do their best with what they're given, and it would have been nice to have been made to care about them more. But as is the case with most of le Carre's work, it's more about the story than the characters anyways.
Our Kind of Traitor manages to keep your attention, but nothing more. Unless average thriller's are your kind of thing.
Run Time: 1 hour, 47 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Damian Lewis, Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgard, Naomie Harris, Alicia von Rittberg, Mark Stanley, Mark Gattis, Jeremy Northam
Based on the novel by John le Carre
Written by Hossein Amini (47 Ronin, Snow White and the Huntsman, Drive, The Wings of the Dove) Directed by Susanna White (Nanny McPhee Returns)
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