Month in Review: August ’19

Well, whaddya know! The little rink-a-dink movie theater down the road from me has just re-opened, and to the tune of recliner seats, dine-in options and a totally revamped lobby that actually makes you feel like you’ve made a good decision with your money by having trotted out to the Pictures. Cinépolis Mansfield (the new voiceover-person-thingy insists it’s pronounced se-NAH-po-leese) isn’t exactly the Cinerama Dome but it was getting to the point where it was the adult equivalent of spending time in a McDonald’s Play Place. There was one theater I went into one time where they had an entire row of seats cordoned off with what appeared to be police tape — the scene of a crime, perhaps? — with every seat damaged in some way and in some cases broken completely. Not exactly good for business in this era where we are ever more basing our decisions on convenience.

Despite the quality of its first incarnation here in Mansfield, New Jersey, the company has a solid reputation. Cinépolis (in essence, “City of Cinema”) is Mexico’s largest theater chain, and to my great surprise, the fourth largest in the world. In 1994, after a series of rebranding efforts and expansions, Cinépolis opened its first multiplex theaters in Tijuana. And those VIP/luxury tickets you enjoy from your local theater chain, you can thank them for that — “Cinépolis VIP” considered a pioneer of the modern Luxury Cinema concept.

Of course it would have been REALLY cool if we had managed to secure the South Korean company CJ 4DPLEX for overhaul duty. If you haven’t heard of the 4Dx in-seat experience (and I hadn’t until recently, I’ll be honest), this is some pretty nifty technology that takes immersive cinema to a whole new level, incorporating gizmos such as vibration/motion coils, air/water jets and yes, even a scent emitter — with apparently up to 100 different odors at the ready, all coordinated of course with the rhythm of the movie. So really, if you’ve ever been to Disney World you have an idea of how this works.

Unfortunately we here in the greater Hackettstown area won’t be smelling any of Adam Sandler’s farts any time soon. Actually, you know what, I’m fine with the renovations as they are . . . However, Cinépolis hopes to be serving beverages to patrons who are of age. All we need now is for them to, ya know, acquire that liquor license. (Thanks for literally going down in flames, Ruby Tuesday!) Indeed, the renovations have made going out to watch movies on the big screen more enjoyable again, more enticing. I’m looking forward to new experiences, accompanied by the occasional adult beverage perhaps. Hopefully you’re along for the ride with me!

Now let’s see what, if anything, happened on Thomas J during the month of August.


New Posts

(proceeds to, ironically, produce exactly no reviews for theatrical releases. Whoops.)

Streaming: Paddleton


Bite Sized Reviews 

Murder Mystery · June 14, 2019 · Directed by Kyle Newacheck · I can’t be the only one who almost forgot they ever saw Murder Mystery. In case you had (or are smarter than I and just plan to avoid it), this is the one where Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston team up as a married couple — Nick and Audrey Spitz — caught up in a bit of circumstantial trick-fuckery when they take a much-delayed honeymoon trip to Europe, only to find themselves accused of murdering a billionaire they barely get to know on his yacht (and who is played by a part-winking, part-wincing Luke Evans). What unfolds is a half-hearted Agatha Christie yarn wherein the only true stakes are personal, between a dishonest detective (he’s just a cop, Little Nicky still hasn’t passed his detective exam) and his frustrated wife. It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out where the twists are leading, or really who the real killers are. Murder Mystery is directed by some Joe Schmo who somehow manages to convince Sandler to tone down the Sandler-isms, but the direction overall is rather workmanlike. But hey, at least this isn’t The Do-Over. What was it that I said about that movie? Something about never doing another Adam Sandler movie again, I think? (2/5) 


Notable First Time Viewings

It was time to put aside my biases against the shark-jumping franchise that has become Mission: Impossible. The modern action movie (give or take a Fury Road here, a John Wick there) is becoming homogenous, one IP barely distinguishable from the other in that they each consistently and obligingly trot out the Big Three elements: a sexy cast, at least one sexy car and exotic locales. James Bond, Mission: Impossible, even the Fast & Furious franchise — it’s all starting to sound, feel and even look the same. That said, the M:I movies do have an ace up their sleeve in the form of Tom Cruise. We may have differing views on scientology but no one’s going to deny Cruise has a death-wish — doing not only his own stunts in every movie, but doing increasingly insane ones.

Here’s the cast ranking Cruise’s risk-taking.

Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol OK. This was fun. The bit at the end there with Ethan Hunt spying on his estranged-but-not-by-choice wife is cheesy, but it’s all well taken. The team chemistry is a little different — we temporarily lose Ving Rhames but pick up Jeremy Renner and Paula Patton — but the action is what drives these movies. And what about that action? I rate the film’s signature Burj Khalifa sequence right up there with that green dress — pretty breathtaking.

Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation A noticeable step up in quality, both in the overall story and the marriage of insane action set pieces and quieter character-driven moments. The stakes are convincingly more dire, and we get some robust supporting characters to help give the film more weight, such as Alec Baldwin, who’s on top form playing a hard-ass CIA director, and Rebecca Ferguson, who shows up as a force to be reckoned with, stealing both Tom Cruise’s thunder and my palpitating heart. This movie was actually quite impressive, especially considering the fact I was consuming this big spectacle on a 55-inch screen rather than a three-story-tall one. Rogue Nation‘s even more of a James Bond globe-trotting affair, but the writing has improved in general, so really, what’s so wrong with a little familiarity, even a little déjà vu? I’m excited that this film’s director/writer, Christopher McQuarrie, returns in the following film.)

And speaking of which, up next (maybe tonight): Fall-out. (This is going to get crazy, isn’t it?)


Beer of the Month

Firestone Walker’s Luponic Distortion is a true thing of beauty. The base beer for this series remains the same (an India Pale Ale), but every year they mix up the hop blend to create a slightly different flavor profile. The label on this year’s batch claims hints of Pina colada, key lime and nectarine, but I’m sorry. All I taste is 100% pure marijuana. And I am 200% okay with that.


All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: Tom Little; http://www.lehighvalleylive.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Concussion

Concussion movie poster

Release: Christmas Day 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Peter Landesman

Directed by: Peter Landesman

Concussion is the kind of movie one watches because they want to get that warm and fuzzy feeling of seeing the big bad corporation that is the NFL taken down a peg or two. They watch it and are glad to see they’re not the only ones who think poorly of a league commissioner that officially — wait for it — owns a day of the week.

The bluntness of the title tells you everything you need to know about the story. This is the movie — well the first one, anyway — that strikes the one nerve no other football (or really any sports) drama has before. It focuses on Nigerian pathologist Dr. Benet Omalu (Will Smith), who discovers a link between severe head trauma and the physical violence of professional football.

His initial fear is confirmed by a series of deaths of former football ‘legends’  — the mourning of the passing of Junior Seau is thinly veiled — which inspires him to bring his findings to the attention of the league, much to the dismay of colleagues, including his boss Dr. Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks), and the league itself, who’s not so much worried about the findings as it is about their stash of cover-ups being discovered.

Of course the league knows about the aftermath; of course they know about the concussions. They won’t know to call the epidemic something fancy like chronic traumatic encephalopathy but big businessmen like these aren’t that oblivious. They’re just really good at not talking about an issue. The confluence of power and controversy (and secret-keeping) is Roger Goodell, who, wanting to put these recent blows to his public image behind him, probably became ecstatic when an actor who looks exactly nothing like him was hired to play the part.

It’s not all Luke Wilson’s fault, though. Concussion isn’t a sensational movie; contrivances and a few shaky performances abound, but it is really timely and its convictions are strong enough to be taken seriously. Will Smith’s certainly are. He might be at a career best here, gracefully becoming rather than mimicking a personality that now will become quite famous. Smith’s typically easygoing nature has been retooled with stern coldness, a commitment to solemnity not seen since Seven Pounds.

But back to Wilson’s Goodell for a second. For a character that gets all of 5 – 10 seconds of screen time, this might seem like a lot of wasted effort but he’s actually a major concern of mine. In a film that takes place often behind closed doors, Goodell’s still the one most distanced from the controversy. We never get inside his own personal office. Wilson’s appearance in mock video footage is more obligatory than compelling, yet the brevity of that appearance — not once in the same physical space Omalu occupies — lends Goodell this mysterious aura. That’s a reality check for you: even in a film purportedly confronting the cold hard truth, Goodell remains unscathed.

The NFL as a whole remains relatively out of reach for the duration of the picture as a matter of fact. Concussion builds momentum mostly through Omalu’s several investigations that he eventually publishes with the help of Pittsburgh Steeler team doctor Julian Bales (Alec Baldwin) in a medical journal. Those findings eventually bring the heat down upon Omalu and Bales — even Wecht — the league threatening through phone calls and police investigations their very careers. But the league offices are rarely a factor here. Instead it’s the strength of Smith’s performance that gets us to really care.

Just as it may be the case for the commissioner, I think the job of supporting a story of this magnitude shouldn’t have to fall to one person. Alas, here we are.

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Recommendation: Emotional story rooted in facts, Concussion offers fans of Will Smith another enjoyable outing yet the framework around him is all too familiar and forgettable. Not expecting to hear about too many outrages caused by this film, as everything we learn in this film is stuff we have already read about over the years: the NFL is a broken, money-sucking machine. What else is new?

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 123 mins.

Quoted: “When I was a boy, Heaven was here. And America, was right here. You could be anything, you could do anything. I never wanted anything as much as I wanted to be an American.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Team America – World Police (2004)

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So, today’s a fairly crowded day on the calendar for yours truly. Somehow this Thursday would become one in which we would be simultaneously celebrating a brand new theme for TBT, as well as my blog’s third birthday/anniversary and, oh yeah, the Fourth of freaking* July! That’s how things go sometimes, I suppose. Call it the perfect storm of me trying to catch up on everything. Now, on to the subject at hand. Given the perfect timing for this new theme, let’s jump right into a movie that is likely to divide my readers straight down the middle (or maybe not). For several reasons. These will become obvious as we start talking about

Today’s food for thought: Team America – World Police

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Force-feeding you your freedom since: October 11, 2004

[DVD]

AMER. . . . .You know what? No. No, I’m not going to even try to open the review that way. That’s just way too easy.

While that beyond-enthusiastic anthem reverberates off the walls of your brain I’ll steer the focus in a different direction. You may recall the kind of frenzy Team America – World Police threw everyone into at the time of release. This was a film — one involving marionettes and toilet humor — that managed to not only make fun of how seriously North Korea’s then-leader Kim Jung Il took himself, but it did so without drawing his ire and possibly waging war with American filmmakers. Or Americans in a much broader sense. Yeah, that would be more likely.

This was a film that banked on audiences being well-adjusted enough to not be completely offended by what is essentially jingoistic porn. And. . .wow. I really mean that quite literally. I had forgotten about that one scene. . .

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“Huuuzzaahhh!!!!”

Team America – World Police is the brainchild of two men who probably don’t need to produce actual offspring. Sorry if that’s incredibly cold, but hear me out. This is Trey Parker and Matt Stone we’re talking about, the parents of South Park. As such, this film spares no expense at sounding, acting and looking (at times) an awful lot like the hit animated show now about to debut it’s one billionth season. The duo’s second theatrical effort, Team America was at once a cult hit whose ‘cult’ has swollen to mainstream-fandom levels. Rightly so, because it occasionally borders on genius. It’s alright if you consider this over-the-top comedy as being subservient to only a niched market, however. This is a loud, proud film that was just begging for everyone’s attention, even if it didn’t ultimately earn it from everyone.

While our fearless — but not stringless — heroes traverse the world stopping bad things from happening and generally being an awesome spectacle to behold, in North Korea a storm’s a-brewing with the nefarious Kim Jong-Il plotting to convert every major city on the planet to third-world rubble. After the team suffers a major loss during their visit to Paris, they must scout a new team member and eventually come across popular Broadway actor Gary Johnston (voice of Parker). Yes indeed, we’re not talking about the fact that they took out both the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, but what we are looking at is a real loss of. . .puppet life.

Following an unfortunate sequence of events, Gary finds himself gutted by the fact his acting talent has led to much chaos and failure despite the World Police’s best efforts to keep America safe and sound. This will eventually lead to second-chance opportunities Gary and the team desperately need. It will also lead to one of the film’s most offensive and downright disgusting scenes. Unfortunately scenes such as these are virtually requisites with anything South Park-related. This “act of faith,” along with one or two other brief scenes, are merely collateral damage for sharing in the duo’s unabashedly vulgar sense of humor.

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“Hold me closer, tiny dictator. . .”

The vulgarity will no doubt continue to repel, maybe even repel more than it has attracted viewers. It’s certainly a hurdle one must get over in order to fully embrace the madness that is this movie. The type of film this is often earns its horrendous reputation in a hurry, and for those certain select scenes it is often a reputation well-deserved. Yet to dismiss Team America: World Police as a pointless exercise in gross-out and an effort to simply stir up controversy (not so unlike the upcoming Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy vehicle The Interview) would be to ignore its intricacies and intelligence. Secondary to the scathing commentary about America’s image overseas is the depravity, the violence, the ugliness.

Not to mention, the silliness.

If you are willing to give a thought to the prevailing ideas herein, you’re sure to find a movie worth turning to again and again any time you find the tumult of the current political climate an unbearable white noise. Pop in the DVD and settle in for some hearty chuckles.

And of course, the song.  F**k yeah!!!

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4-0Recommendation: Fans of South Park have no reason not to have already seen World Police a million times by now. Or at least once through. This is an absolute riot, best served up to those who can stomach some fairly vulgar and crass material. There’s certainly worse stuff out there, but perhaps this section is more useful as a ‘who not to recommend this film to.’ If you’re not a fan of the show, may I suggest spending your Fourth of July with a different patriotic film.

Rated: R

Running Time: 98 mins.

TBTrivia: Upon reading the one-line pitch for the disaster film The Day After Tomorrow, Parker and Stone both found the concept to be absolutely absurd and hilarious, prompting them to get started on spoofing the very idea, using life-like marionettes to up the ante. The plan was to create the film and have it ready for release the day after the official release of said disaster film. It soon was brought to their attention that such a move could prove to be less of a joke as a legal matter. They scrapped the idea and began pitching Team America instead.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

Blue Jasmine

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Release: Friday, July 26, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

Blue Jasmine is the film that has officially given me a reason to side with some harsh detractors of the Woody Allen school of film. Provided that I’ve only seen two of his films (To Rome With Love being the other) I can’t say definitively whether I fully embrace his films but I appreciate his style — and moreover, his output. He’s one of those movie-per-year kind of directors, and has harvested a massive crop of films that have yielded above-average, if not phenomenal levels of commercial and critical success over the past couple of decades.

The primary complaints lodged against this director’s repertoire involve the following: a stuffy atmosphere, central characters that are difficult to like and/or defend, and a narrative that tends to meander quite a lot relative to the overall runtime (most Allen movies clock in at barely over 90 minutes). While this most recent love story amply evidences justification for such criticism, no trait makes itself more apparent than the second — the fact that Allen likes to work with ‘unlikable’ characters. In fact, it was so difficult to sit through the trials and tribulations of this cast of down-and-outers that it got to the point where the overall movie became a chore to watch. And that is an incredible disappointment considering all the high hope I was bringing with me into the theater.

But before anyone begins to panic and think this is about to be another rant-review, I have to put this out there: I don’t own any Louis Vuitton handbags. There, I said it. I have outed myself as not the target audience for this one.

Nor do I really care much about Louis Vuitton. Or the fashion world. Or high society. Or Alec Bald….okay, yeah, maybe Alec Baldwin. However, and it must be said that it’s not always imperative that a viewer be impressed by or even care about the movie’s choices in thematic elements, this is a film where it really wouldn’t hurt to have some interest in them. Allen’s signature quirky eye isn’t to blame for the sheer lack of enjoyment, nor is the acting really. In fact, Cate Blanchett is almost too convincing here. She is a full-blown alcoholic and more than a little unstable as Jeanette “Jasmine” French, a woman who’s been sent crashing down to Earth after her recent marriage ended in an FBI investigation and has rendered her with no other option but to move in with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), who is living a more modest life in San Francisco.

No. Blanchett turns in one hell of a performance as Jasmine. Though she could not have irritated me more with the requisite snootiness of a woman displaced from her lavish lifestyle in New York, I could appreciate the level to which the actress had physically and mentally embraced this emotionally fragile state of just such an individual. One particular highlight is the fact that Jasmine goes off on tangents and talks to herself in public, appearing at times like a complete and total nutcase. Indeed, she’s an interesting character even if she doesn’t do a single thing that’s admirable in the slightest.

However, the narrative is shifty, often confusing and occasionally jarring as it darts back and forth between significant past events and catching us up with Jasmine’s mounting despair as she lives with her sister in the present. In spite of things she forges attempts to “better herself,” and move on with her life. That, and. . . well, the rest of the cast are not exactly a likable bunch, either. Featuring Louis C.K., Peter Sarsgaard, Andrew Dice Clay, and Bobby Cannavale, Blue Jasmine truly plucks the apples who have fallen the farthest from the tree, if truth is to be told here. C.K. plays the potential future love interest for Ginger, during a bout of overconfidence brought forth by Jasmine as she brings her along to a party to meet guys and officially put themselves back on the market. Spoilers come from explaining his character, but let it be said that he provides a great example of how Allen likes to give his characters layers. For as brief of a time C.K. is involved, he makes a big impression.

The Diceman makes his insanely inconspicuous appearance in the extensive flashback scenes, playing the ex-loser boyfriend of Ginger who also happens to be upset with her sister. And then there’s of course Bobby Cannavale as the current boyfriend, Chili, who appears to be nothing more than the next pick out of the abusive boyfriend pile. He’s a volatile, aggressive and moody guy who can’t help but cry in public when things don’t go his way. He demonstrates Ginger’s taste in men quite clearly and is perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects to this film. The one-man island of amiable characters lies within Peter Sarsgaard’s Dwight, a man whom Jasmine bumps into at that same party — an aspiring Californian congressman who Jasmine takes to quickly because of his high aspirations and warm personality. Aside from him though, everyone else is some varying degree of sleazy, miserable or just plain drunk.

But supposing these are the attractive qualities to the latest from Woody Allen. Did I just miss the boat with this cast or something? Maybe I am overlooking something critical in my evaluation here but it seems that in order to enjoy a movie, it’s a good idea to have at least a couple characters to root for. That’s decidedly not the case here. Not to mention, there are more than a few moments throughout the film that are simply stressful and uncomfortable.

All around, this is likely to be one of his least-appealing Woody Allen offerings given the vast amount of time one is likely to spend wondering just how the hell this woman is going to make anything of herself in her frenzied state. The film is somewhat unforgiving in that regard. At times, you just would like to see the poor woman rest and escape all of her problems (that is, without reaching for a bottle of vodka). Blanchett really humbles herself with this unattractive person she’s just turned herself into. Allen here seems content enough to watch his cast squirm under the crushing weight of sobering realities. Unfortunately, he also crushes any hope for enjoyment at the same time.

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2-5Recommendation: I didn’t enjoy this at all, but then again, I found myself well outside of the intended audience for Blue Jasmine. As the central character is somewhat obsessed with fashion and interior decorating/design, perhaps those who find themselves engaged in those things in the real world will find great enjoyment in Blanchett’s whimsical attempts to become reintegrated into that lifestyle. Though, for those who don’t particularly care to watch someone suffer for the duration of a film — even if that person has brought it upon themselves — it’s best to stay away.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 98 mins.

Quoted: “Anxiety, nightmares and a nervous breakdown, there’s only so many traumas a person can withstand until they take to the streets and start screaming.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.comhttp://www.imdb.com