#WeeklyRoundup – See What Films I Reviewed on my #Blog Last Week

I published four reviews on ‘Riley on Film’ last week. My impressions ranged from “This is a character study in evil” to “why was this made?” You’ll find the posters below. click on each one you want to read my review of. the inly one I can’t recommend is ‘Elvis and Nixon.’ Read why. The other 3 are amazing films and I recommend them.

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‘Elvis and Nixon’ – Michael Shannon as Elvis Thank You Very Much Ladies and Gentlemen

With newly Amazon-produced films like this, should we be thrilled about more or clear all bets?

imageStarring: Michael Shannon, Kevin Spacey, Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Knoxville, Colin Hanks, Evan Peters, Sky Ferreira, Tracy Letts, Tate Donovan, Ashley Benson
Genres: Comedy, History
Directed By: Liza Johnson
Studio: Bleecker Street Media/Amazon
MPAA Rating
R

I agree it’s out of the ordinary that a rock icon and a President met in the White House Oval Office. I don’t agree it was extraordinary enough to make a feature-length film, Elvis and Nixon, about the meeting. Only the cast is impressive but their talent is wasted on a piss poor script.

On other matters, the casting is not even remotely fitting. Kevin Spacey doesn’t have the demeanor nor the voice of Nixon and Michael Shannon as Elvis is about as arresting as his one Karate move he shares a few times.

This is an Amazon film that many critics are shocked was made at all. It was a ridiculous way to spend a couple of hours but there is nothing clever or shocking to share about it. Can I just ask why was Michael Shannon, one of my favorite actors, playing a supposed based on a true story narrative of Elvis? These guys belong together in a Superman movie but not this.

I really can’t recommend this film. Whatever it set out to do was a mystery so I can’t say it achieved its goal. If this is the quality we are to expect from Amazon films, I’ll be wary of what I select.

Independence Day: Resurgence

Anticipation was high for my wife and I going in to see this film. After about 20 minutes, it wore off. After 40 minutes, we had very little idea what was going on.

Anticipation was high for my wife and I going in to see this film. After about 20 minutes, it wore off. After 40 minutes, we had very little idea what was going on. When there was a bout 20 minutes left to the end, we walked out.

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Independence Day: Resurgence
Cast

Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman

Directed by

Roland Emmerich

Written by

Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, James Vanderbilt, Dean Devlin

Other Info

Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Rated PG-13
120min
Riley’s Rating: 1]

The film started in sort of a cool way. It was the type of sci fi beginning that brings you up to speed. At some point in the movie however my wife and I just lost all hope of having an interest and we walked out. Please know that we rarely walk out of movies. In over 13 years of marriage and seeing films, we’ve done it 2-3 times I think. You may know that feeling when you realize it just can’t improve.

The Basic story is that 20 years have passed since aliens nearly destroyed the Earth in the first film Independence Day. The Earth has had a lot of time to build up its defenses but will it be enough when the aliens do return in Independence Day 2.

It’s not meant to be a funny or nonsense movie but I have a feeling comedians and critics will be pulling funny material for routines and columns for decades. Take a few of these particulars for example: Liam Hemsworth’s character pees on a dead alien, there is an alien prison at Area 51, Bill Pullman goes (in a matter of an hour) from a lock down mental health facility to giving national military advice, and the queen alien is supposed to be as big as half the Atlantic ocean. Let me remind you of what I listed in the writers section: there were 6 professional writers for this film. Process that for a minute … 6. When I research most my reviews there is 1 writer, 3 tops.

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Speaking of time spent on reviews, there are a slough of reviews out there on this movie that have done a lot more homework than I. I had high hopes for this film since my wife is a fan of the first one and we wanted to see what happened in the sequel. What we got instead was a convoluted mess that barely made sense and first and whirled out of control quickly to where neither of us knew what was happening.

Could it be the director was hoping for the pro-war, pro-military crowd to dance a jog just for the sake of kicking alien ass? I apologize if that offends anyone but I am really grasping in the dark to find a motive for making this film. I haven’t said this in a review for a while, I do not recommend this film to you. The end leaves room for a sequel so perhaps they’ll produce something better next time. Too bad they missed the mark with this one.

‘The Congressman’ – Memorable Maine & Treat Williams

This film finds its strength in pristine cinematography of Maine and the performance of Treat Williams.

Watching “The Congressman” I was taken back by the video images of a sleepy Maine fishing town and impressed by the acting skills of Treat Williams.

There is care given to capture sunsets, active fishing expeditions, and more. There is one sunset that is unforgettable.

This film is about a Congressman named Charlie Winship, played by Treat Williams who is known for Hair and Deep Rising, among many other television and film roles. Charlie has a bad day when he is captured on iphone video sitting wile the rest of Congress is doing the pledge of allegiance. In our viral world, it gets publicizes fast and Charlie gets a lot of judgement for what he did. It gets a lot worse before it gets better and the idea presented is that we tend to worship rituals instead of concepts of freedom.

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Charlie retreats to an island off the coast of Maine and while there he recovers the small town values that once made up his political his platform. He connects with a woman, Rae Blanchard, played by Elizabeth Marvel. She is very important in his return to his previous morals about Freedom. The film moves around rather quickly with not too much time on any one person. It focuses a spotlight on an issue and then moves on leaving the viewer to form her/his own opinions.

TC_CharlieJaredBoat_finalThis may be seen by some as a “light hearted” film that doesn’t make any grand stadium statements. The other reason to see this film is Treat Williams’ performance. He speaks with such seasoned ease in acting. He delivers his line as though he were an actual congressman. It’s a great film to watch and internalize at the theater or on Video On Demand where you can find it now. For the reasons stated above, I hope many get to see and enjoy this film.

Directors: Jared Martin, Robert Mrazek
Writer: Robert Mrazek
Stars: Treat Williams, Elizabeth Marvel, Ryan Merriman
R | 1h 38min | Drama

The Loft

“The people you love, they’re the only ones who can hurt you.” -Anne Morris

According the “The Loft” movie, it’s every man’s dream to have a cave or a loft where he can do whatever he wants, including cheating on his wife (or girlfriend). I say no thanks, even in a movie. The idea of cheating is only somewhat interesting to me. “The Loft” explores it. Then again, maybe the movie is meant to show us the consequences of such actions.

The Loft (2014)
Cast
Karl Urban

as Vincent Stevens

James Marsden

as Chris Vanowen

Wentworth Miller

as Luke Seacord

Directed by
Erik Van Looy
Written by
Bart De Pauw (based upon the film written by), Wesley Strick (screenplay)
Other Info

Mystery, Romance, Thriller
Rated R
1h 48min

My favorite aspect of this movie isn’t the subject matter but rather the mystery woven through. In the first scenes we see a body fall out of the loft onto a car. The viewer is given clues but the key to the mystery about that body takes a real sleuth.

For me, this was almost a good tv movie but it shouldn’t be a cinema film. It had all the trappings of an Zach Galafinakis/Bradley Cooper drunken comedy ony there aren’t any jokes and we certainly aren’t meant to shake our fists and say “Hell yeah, have another shot.”

While I’m on that subject of men partying, I want to share with you I feel so disenfranchised from films like this. I don’t have friends who are pouring vodka down my throat and hooking me up with centerfolds. Why do we see this so much in movies like this?

The concept here is that a group of men share the rent on a secret loft penthouse style apartment. The understanding is that they can cheat on their significant other without being caught. Well, there is a murder and seemingly another death that may be suicide (the falling body onto the car). You get a lot of clues, some are obvious the others more cryptic. Nonetheless, it is a well woven mystery and I would recommend it on that basis alone. The characters, their lines, the story besides the mystery, unbelievable for me anyway. I don’t know what kind of dudes you run with but these ‘aint my peeps. If you liked it, let me know why? Like I said, it was an alright mystery.

Storks

My Rating: 7/10

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Storks
Cast

Andy Samberg, Katie Crown, Kelsey Grammer

Directed by

Nicholas Stoller, Doug Sweetland

Written by

Nicholas Stoller

Other Info

Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Rated PG
89min (and no more, thankfully)

For grown-ups:
For kids:
Storks landed in my local theater tonight and I was there with my 2 daughters ages 9 and 11.  By the way, I’m 47. I’m happy to report the 9 and 11 year-olds loved the film. I was only somewhat impressed.

IMDB gives this synopsis: Storks have moved on from delivering babies to packages. But when an order for a baby appears, the best delivery stork must scramble to fix the error by delivering the baby.

If that sounds like  a convoluted story, you don’t know the half of it.

Kids will like it though.

This film has been promoted in theater trailers and internet for what seems like a year at least. I think the makers felt the title would resonate in so many people’s childhood memories that they would mark the premiere date on their calendar as well as their Google alerts. As old as I am, my parents never told me anything about storks bringing babies. If any parents needed an explanation, it was them. I’m the oldest of 4 siblings and I was intelligent and very inquisitive as a kid. Thankfully for me, they shared the truth about how babies are made and how they come into the world at a reasonable age: no need for storks.

My dad on the other hand did get the stork story when he was a kid. I sent him a text after the movie joking that he should see this film. Maybe he’ll get it. I think this film assumed the audience knew this dishonest legend that parents used to tell their kids. It’s ironic how parents in the 1940’s needed storks to explain the mystery of childbirth to children. After this movie, a lot of parents will have to explain the mystery of the storks in the movie through the actual explanation of birth.

But, enough about the weird stork angle, let me tell you 2 things that do work in the film. 1) The babies. The first strong impression I recall of a baby in an animated film is Jack Jack in The Incredibles. He is a firecracker. I loved the way he giggled as he was blurting out superpowers. I think he stands out in all our minds as a movie baby we won’t forget. The babies in this film are amazing in a similar way. Their voices are perfectly timed with deft CGI artistry. This makes them extremely cute and loveable. The best aspect is the laughs. Their laughs make the Pilsbury doughboy sound stand-offish. They invite you to love them. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of merch comes from this film. 2) SOME of the jokes. There is a small bird who is a sort of pseudo-nemesis. He is very funny. Some of the jokes lag too much though. I was surprised this film was so flat in its humor after having been in production for a year or more. Usually they test things like that with focus groups etc. This film feels “off the cuff” a lot. Moreover, so much is predictable because we have seen all this before.

Having said that …

Kids will like it. To them, I recommend it. All else, tell me what you think. I think I could have skipped this one and not have missed much.

‘Ashby’ – Legendary Mickey Rourke as Mentor

How does ‘Ashby’ stack up as the latest Mickey Rourke film? The jury is in for this reviewer.

My Rating: 6/10 – Mickey Rourke is an irresistible performer. I’ve been watching his movies since I was a kid and his presence in movies had drawn audiences for years and up to the present day. Is Ashby a welcome presence? Hmmm.

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Ashby (2015)
Cast

Mickey Rourke, Nat Wolff, Emma Roberts

Directed by

Tony McNamara

Written by

Tony McNamara

Other Info

Comedy, Drama, Romance
Rated R
1h 40min

Ashby is one of those movies you keep questioning whether it’s an independent or major studio motion picture. You think it must suck as the latter and might be hip and cool if it’s the former. Turns out, neither platform can save this film, it comes up empty on several levels.

The premise is that a High-school student Ed Wallis (Nat Wolff) enters into a friendship with his neighbor, Ashby, (Mickey Rourke) a retired CIA assassin who only has a few months left to live.

The basic plot bears similarities to Scent of a Woman. The main difference is that Mickey Rourke doesn’t play the role as deftly as Al Pacino. In fact, his character is boring and without charisma. It’s hard to believe we are watching the same Mickey Rourke that kicked ass in Iron Man 2. Maybe he came off as lucid there because he was playing with a thick accent. His character could have been performed much better. The film’s biggest weakness is in him being mis-cast. He’s a great actor and I have huge respect for him. Another film I truly loved him in was The Wrestler. This is not The Wrestler. Unfortunately his performance falls short and almost nonsensical in this film. The romance present in the film can’t save it either. Emma Roberts and Nat Wolff are both charming but the other story overshadows everything and mostly, you want to forget it. I actually chose to watch this film because it was a romance but I think that is another “mis” in the movie along with miscast: a mislabeled.

It’s a fun idea for a story and for a while, I wanted to see what was going to happen. Soon however I lost interest in the characters and the predictable story unraveling before me. When a high school kid is mentored by an old dude, cool things can happen. I guess the trouble here is that not enough cool things happen. The film weaves a high school film into a hit-man drama with another “coming of age” cord woven in. If each were like seasoning, I’d say each overpowers the other. Nothing is subtle. I’ll be a Mickey Rourke fan to the end but this is not one of his films I can wholeheartedly recommend. I wanted deeper, more rounded characters and a better story. I see what they tried to do but in the end they missed it. It’s not a total bomb so if you are a fan, you may enjoy it because hey … it’s MICKEY ROURKE! Still, Ashby doesn’t pack the punch of some of his other hit films.

‘High Rise’ – Style Over Accessibility

Some movies look really slick as this one does, and believe me I was impressed with the look of it. Unofrtunately for me, I hadn’t read the book and I think somewhere along the plot line I got lost.

My Rating: 6/10 – *This review contains spoilers.

In the future, everyone might live in communal buildings. If you’ve ever lived in a tiny apartment in a big city, you know these can have their drawbacks. This film shows some of those potential problems in the form of a drama. It all looks great but it somehow lost me in its fragmented plot.

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High Rise (2015)
Cast

Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller

Directed by

Ben Wheatley

Written by

J.G. Ballard (novel), Amy Jump

Other Info

Drama
Rated R
1h 59min

Did you “get” this film? Imagine you live, work, swim, workout, shop, and recreate in a London high-rise building. That’s what’s going on here. The cover almost looks like the game “Clue” since it has all the characters posed sardonically as if to say “I could have done it, but I didn’t.” But this isn’t a “whodunnit.” Instead, it’s a drama about things that go on in said high rise. One facet that’s really weird and alluring is the way the futuristic stuff is all retro 70’s looking. It’s like a trip into a sort of “James Bond” land on a movie studio theme park tour. I also reminded me of Ray Bradbury’s writing. He wrote in the 50’s about a future he imagined from 50’s stuff (phones, analog computers, telescreens, monorails). What’s different here is you have a move made in 2016 that portrays a future using 70’s stuff. It really needs to be seen to be understood. I call it futuristic retro.

Tom Hiddleston plays the main character, Laing. He is the protagonist in the real life novel of the same name by J.G. Ballard. I would assume the novel provided some of the retro visual motivation. The film was directed by Bean Wheatley who is known for Kill List and Sight Seers. He is joined by his wife as screenplay writer on this film once again. Jeremy Irons plays “the architect.” He represents the older gentleman who knows everything about the building. Sienna Miller also stars in the film.

High-Rise is a story about surviving and thriving in a futuristic high-rise. It’s as much about human technology as it is about its failures. Were people meant to live this closely together? One might decide not after watching this film. Then again, it could be the fault of a few bad applies that spoils it for everyone. When Laing first moves in to the building, I asked myself “Why would he ever need to leave?” There is even a floor that serves as a grocery store. On its face it seems a novel idea, but perhaps we do need to go out from time to time and mingle?

Luke Evans (known for Dracula) plays a scary Wilder. He is the antagonist and the constant fly in the ointment. At the same time, he was the character I enjoyed watching the most. He bares a similar resemblance to Michael Shannon, who has a similar demeanor as well. It’s impossible to rule out whether a certain person or the faulty plans of the architect pave the way for anarchy in this London high-rise. despite the contained setting, there is sex, violence, vengeance, and science fiction that keeps the plot interesting. By the way, does anyone agree the sex scene was way too long? Is Tom Hiddleston gunning for a new genre here? Unfortunately, the structure and slick look is fragmented. I don’t think I “got it” as I was supposed to.

Lots of time movies look really slick but I just can’t get into them. It happened with the remake of The Man Called Uncle and some others I reviewed last year. I could probably go back and understand this film better a second time but I probably won’t anytime soon. For the visuals and futuristic/retro ideas, I gave it a 3/5. This is one however that I think will depend a lot on the individual as to whether it’s “gotten” or not. Part of being a “spoilers” reviewer as I am these days is being honest about my gut response. On a gut level, this movie scores lower with me. I try to avoid rating film by my gut so for the look, acting, and structure, I give it 3/5.

‘Suicide Squad’

My Rating: 3/10 – It doesn’t really matter that critics are giving this movie an average of 30% on Rotten Tomatoes. People are paying to see it anyway. The explosions and short-attention-span vignettes are what makes it very much like a comic and we all know how popular comics have become in pop culture.

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Starring: Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Will Smith, Joel Kinnaman, Cara Delevingne, Jai Courtney, Jesse Eisenberg, Viola Davis, Jay Hernandez
Genres: Action
Directed By: David Ayer
Studio: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating
R

In case you haven’t divined it by now, Suicide Squad is a comic movie made for comic fans. There is a lot to like about this film but there is also I found hard to follow in the plot. I found it recovered about halfway through and I ended up liking it for what it was.

Director David Ayer is known for his films set in Los Angeles. He is also known for directing Training Day which shines a light on the dark side of law enforcement in L.A.. In Suicide Squad, a set of high profile prisoners are commissioned by a secret government agency to battle an evil supernatural witch. The prisoners are offered less time for their sentences if they comply. These characters are fun to watch and they have a lot of crime adventures as they seek to take down the witch. Unfortunately, the story of how the witch came to be is a little hazy and she is, in my opinion, weak as a villain.

Everyone talks about Margot Robbie as the star of the film as Harley Quinn. I will grant her that but then again, there isn’t a whole lot of competition present here. Jared Leto as the Joker but the backstory about he and Harley Quinn takes away from the plot in my opinion and is not really necessary. I say if you are going to give the story of one you should give it for others. In all truth, I don’t think we need the history for any of these criminals, they should just let them do their work.

The plot starts out really slow but picks up 1/2 to 3/4 of the way through. Unlike a lot of the critics, I liked this film for what it tried to be. Comic books have simple, boxy cartoons that tell a story. This was sort of like “in your face” comic book pages flipping wildly. If you can put aside your desire for a traditional movie, it’s fairly easy to get in to this film. I know because I expected nothing and ended up enjoying it. It was clearly made for children, hence the PG-13 rating. I teach ten year olds and nearly my whole class told me they have seen it. It lost a couple stars with me, I give it a 3/5. Still, if you can shed your grownup sensitivities long enough for this funhouse ride, you might enjoy it. It’s a good idea to do that now and then you know?

‘Stand and Deliver’ (1988) – An Inner City Teacher & His Students Make History

After Jaime Escalante’s students passed the A.P. Calculus exam for a second time to prove they didn’t cheat, Escalante says to the test company: “I want the original scores reinstated.” What a cinematic moment! Those kids stood and delivered!

My Rating 10/10 This film means a lot to me as someone who values education. I can only think of one other film that competes for the position of my all time favorite and that is ‘Lean on Me’ with Morgan Freeman. They both demonstrate the concept of raising your expectations high for students, trusting they want to achieve.
*This review contains spoilers.

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Stand and Deliver (1988)
Cast

Edward James Olmos, Estelle Harris, Mark Phelan

Directed by

Ramón Menéndez

Written by

Ramón Menéndez, Tom Musca

Other Info

Drama
PG

This film, as far as I am concerned, should be required viewing for anyone who wants to be a teacher. I’m not saying it will discourage that career path but I think it accurately shows what you have to aspire to be if you want to reach your students. The larger than life teacher, Jaime Escalante, is played by Edward James Olmos in an eerie sort of doppelgänger way. It’s as if he was born to play this part.

The story goes that Escalante starts his first day teaching in an inner city Los Angeles school. The school is overwrought with gang members and students who seem to not care about school or their new teacher. I can tell you I have seen this played out in high school when I was a substitute teacher there in my twenties. At the same time, I’ve seen it in the lower grades, though a little more innocently, in my 17 years of teaching elementary public school. How do you tame this teeming horde? That’s the method you must develop as a teacher and it doesn’t come easy. Sending kids to the Principal becomes a last resort and you have to deal with unruly and disrespectful kids on your own.

Because the situation is so bad in some schools, teachers should see this movie. You can pick up some tips and you can be encouraged to go toward what you think is best. That’s called developing a teaching style. It’s also really easy to get into because it’s an 80’s movie with a great soundtrack. Credits to credits, you feel immersed in the miracle that truly took place in an inner city L.A. school. It is a powerful film for anyone to appreciate and enjoy, especially teachers.

StandandDeliverEdwardJamesOlmosEscalante gets a group of hispanic kids all fired up to take the AP calculus test. This surprises everyone in the film because up to now, the school has been one of the most underperforming in the country. Escalante petitions to the school board to get his students to take it and in spite of some people disagreeing, he gets permission. The kids do finally take the test and at that point, the worst of all worst things happens: the state comes out to investigate possible cheating. As if it wasn’t enough for these kids to work so hard, now they get accused of doing an immoral thing. They have to take the test again to exonerate themselves.

slide-daniel-villarreal-1All along the way, Escalante is reaching out to his students: showing them a finder trick to learn their 9’s in multiplication, dining at their parents’ restaurants trying to get buy-in on them going to college, and things like that. He is not a normal educator but rather a “super” one. I think it would be foolish for me to try and be like him, he’s an individual with a specific skill set of gifts. I on the other hand, have my own bag of tricks when it comes to classroom management and student achievement. Even those who are not teachers will find this film entertaining. Everyone has been in that student chair right? It is relatable from both sides and it clearly shows the benefits of having a common goal and never backing down.

stand-and-deliver_1Lou Diamond Phillips plays on of the hoodlum gang types that gets drawn in by Escalante’s teaching style. There is a great scene where Phillips’ character and a few hoodlum types steal his car and then fix it up in their chop shop. They make his old VW into a tricked out show car. It’s a great scene because is really shows how much he means to these kids now, after proving himself a conscientious and caring teacher.

4407856_f248I love another scene where Andy Garcia comes in from the test company to investigate the possibility of cheating. Phillip’s character jokes with him faking him out that they cheated. Then he springs a punchline insulting Garcia. There is another scene where Garcia throws a fit saying he is a Mexican and he understands the pressures. They are basically accusing him of not being sensitive to the Mexican people. It’s one of his more irate scenes I’ve seen him play. He does and excellent job.

ejo-stand-and-deliverThe movie is like a racing film in that there is a goal and despite tons of setbacks, the race ensues until the end where the elusive prize is won. For anyone starting school, college, a new challenging endeavor of any kind (but academic would probably receive the most benefit) this is an excellent motivation tool and source of inspiration. As a teacher, this is one of my favorite films but it ranks up there with any other movie I love. I’d put it in my top 10. So if you’ve never seen this “based on a true story” film, I highly recommend it to you. It has something for everyone and it affects you in a very banal way. If you don’t walk away after watching this in a more positive mindset, I think you need to rewind it and watch it again, you probably weren’t paying attention ese.

Edward James Olmos consulting on the set with the real teaching legend: Jaime Escalante.
Edward James Olmos consulting on the set with the real-life living-legend of teaching: Jaime Escalante.