Movie Review: SUN CHOKE – Exploitative nudity and a deliberately evasive screenplay make for a frustratingly hollow movie.

It’s unfair to say I disliked Sun Choke, because it has a few good things going for it, but after getting around to finally watching it after about six months, I came away from it mostly unimpressed and though I wasn’t angered by it, it prompted me to take to Twitter to get a couple of things off my chest.  I’ll preface this review by letting you know that it’s being written in the immediate aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.  What does that have to do with this dark psychological drama?  Read on …

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Movie Review: BLADE RUNNER 2049 – a mediocre story is shored up by terrific visuals and a truly impressive score

Mediocre story, you might ask?  How can the movie that has shot into the top 100 sci movies of all time have a “mediocre story”?  How can a movie that has quickly become beloved to many sci-fi fans across the globe be described by anyone as being “mediocre”?  Well, it’s all a matter of opinion, of course.  As in Captain America: Civil War, or the ongoing national debate over Left v Right Twix, this is a movie where, after watching, you’ll definitely feel as if you have chosen a side.

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Movie Review: MR.HOLMES – Ian McKellen gives a typically great performance, but this Sherlock Holmes movie might not be what you expect.

Mr. Holmes is the adaptation of the novel A Slight Trick Of The Mind, by Mitch Cullin, a different take on the oft-portrayed Sherlock Holmes.  In a way it’s as different a take as Guy Ritchie’s overplotted action/adventure movies that starred Robert Downey Jr, with the major difference being that Bill Condon’s movie is much more enjoyable.  The trouble is, if you go in looking for a “typical” Sherlock Holmes movie, you might feel hard done by.

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Movie Review: AMERICAN MADE – this highly glossed over version of the Barry Seal story is Tom Cruise’s best film – and performance – in years.

I’m not ashamed to admit, I’m a fan of Tom Cruise movies.  Not a fan of Tom Cruise the person, I should add, having never met him, but I have enjoyed his screen presence for about thirty years now.  I think he’s a pretty decent actor too, when he tries – something he hasn’t done a lot of in a long time.  Having watched his last offering The Mummy fall on the critics’ sword, and mostly fail to capture the imaginations of the paying public, his career badly needed a shot in the arm.  It so happens that American Made, his second cinematic release of 2017, does exactly that.

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Movie Review: THE FOUNDER – as a “true” story I question some of it, but Keaton’s revival continues with another great performance.

In The Founder, the resurgent Michael Keaton (Spider Man: Homecoming) plats Ray Kroc, the man behind the staggeringly successful McDonalds empire.  When I first heard of this movie, it didn’t seem all that interesting to me.  Ubiquity, I feel, tends to make people take things for granted, render them too familiar   – and familiarity doth breed contempt, right?  How many movies have there been about captains of industry?  Biographies tend to be about those who have done things that made a difference in people’s lives, or embroiled in scandal.  But a movie about the guy who invented McDonalds (I’ll explain that comment later) just seems somehow unnecessary.  Turns out, it’s a pretty good movie.

I’m sure there are a lot of people who’ve literally never eaten anything from McDonalds, but the numbers of people who have are astounding.  It’s not a go-to place for me, but I’ve eaten there a number times, and sampled enough of their menu that I know it’s never going to become a go-to place.  But the food isn’t terrible – you may argue with that from a personal level, but your opinion would fly in the face of the company’s overwhelming success.  McDonald’s is one of the biggest corporations on the planet, and if you ever wondered why, the story is right there on Wikipedia  – but watch The Founder first.

It’s the story of three people, actually.  There’s Ray Kroc, of course, and if you don’t know the story (I only had a vague idea of the company’s history) you may wonder why the company is called McDonald’s.  The movie tells this story.  Prior to meeting Dick and Maurice McDonald (Nick Offerman and John Carrol Lynch), Kroc was a struggling salesman putting in long road hours trying to sell one gadget after another, and listening to motivational records in cheap, lonely motel rooms.  But Kroc has one of the qualities espoused in the one record we hear: persistence.  You feel for the guy early on; in the opening scenes he cuts a frustrated figure trying to sell a multi spindle milkshake blender to people who don’t care.  But you can tell that this device actually makes a lot of sense, and from that, you understand that Kroc is not just a guy peddling “the next big thing”, he’s someone who feels he knows what the “next big thing” should be, it’s the others who don’t get it.  And this, essentially, is the story of McDonalds.  When a small San Bernardino diner orders an unprecedented six of these blenders, upped, in a phone call, to eight, Kroc heads across country to meet the brothers, and is amazed at the innovative approach they’ve developed to the food service industry.  Dubbed the “Spee-Dee” system, it’s the assembly line principle of industrial manufacturing that led to the common phrase “fast food” we use today.  Dick McDonald is the pig headed of the two brothers, running a tight ship with the control-freak obsessiveness that led to both the success of the company, and to the failure of his dream.  Maurice is the more passive of the two, but it’s his selflessness that leads Dick to listen to Kroc’s eagerness to expand the concept.

From this point, the movie charts the meteoric rise of the McDonald’s franchise, but the movie is not called McDonald’s, it’s called The Founder, and it focuses almost solely on the efforts of Kroc, sometimes in opposition to the brothers McDonald, and as a biopic it does a good job showing the ups and downs of the subject.  The accuracy of the story is as debatable, as any movie based on a “true” story is, but as I’ve said in other reviews, the first job of a movie is to entertain, and I was entertained throughout.  Kroc is not exactly depicted in a negative light – even when some of his actions seem questionable, there are other scenes in the movie that imply justification.  When Kroc announces to his wife during dinner that he wants a divorce, it’s after years (and many scenes) of obvious incompatibility, not because he’s prone to having affairs on the road.  When he decides to ignore the agreement he entered into with the McDonald brothers, it’s after Dick McDonald has shot down every idea and suggestion Kroc has tried to discuss with him.  The decisions Kroc takes in the movie all seem pretty justifiable, and perfectly in character for the man: he’s driven by the need to succeed, but you never get the sense that it’s a soulless, greed-driven life.  I wondered if that was the case in real life, because what you don’t get in the movie is a feeling of consequence.  Throughout, the opening of franchises across the country are as easy as Kroc pitching the concept, then signing contracts.  It’s all handled like shorthand.  So too, when he falls for the wife of a Minneapolis restauranteur (Linda Cardellini and Patrick Wilson), it’s filmed as an innocent love-at-first-sight moment.  There’s no follow up on the effect on that marriage, even though, as you may have already taken from this review, there was a massive effect on that marriage.  There is something about the movie that makes the building of the McDonald’s empire, and the transformation of Kroc from struggling door-to-door salesman to wealthy entrepreneur, as something that was relatively easy, and I’m willing to bet that was never actually the case.

There’s something that’s ultimately satisfying about watching a well made biopic, even if, like me, you come away from it feeling key moments were glossed over.  I was grabbed by the story immediately.  I’m a long time fan of Keaton, and I’m really happy to be able to watch him in movies that are not called White Noise or Robocop.  I felt that losing out on the Academy Award for Birdman might have returned him to that kind of movie scrapheap, but I’m glad that hasn’t been the case.  I’d like to think that he might enjoy a late-career renaissance, and maybe he changed agents in the recent past to get him to this point.  He’s great all through The Founder, but so too are the supporting cast.  Offerman plays Dick McDonald with same kind of curmudgeonly demeanor he gives to most roles, and it works here.  Laura Dern, in a smaller role as Kroc’s wife, conveys the wasting emptiness of a marriage of mismatched people, and her scenes give the movie its humanity.

About 20 years ago my wife and I stopped at the McDonald’s in Dekalb, Illinois on our way from The Quad Cities to Chicago, and I received such shitty customer service and product, that, incensed, I said I’d never eat at McDonalds again.  My resolve lasted around 7 years, thanks to other companies having long ago adopted the Spee-Dee concept to provide quick, cheap dining.  I think it was the McRib that brought me back into the fold, and since then, I eat at McDonald’s five to ten times a year.  Like WalMart, Target, GM, and all those other giants, I never really cared about what went into making these companies what they were, and I can’t say that I care about McDonald’s now that I’ve seen the movie.  But the movie is a movie, and I cared enough about it to give it

4.0/5.0

© Andrew Hope, 2017

Movie Review: THE BOOK OF HENRY – the headlines are spot on. This movie is MST3K-awful, thanks to one of the worst screenplays in recent memory.

If it somehow seems unfair that so many people are piling on The Book Of Henry, I’m unashamed to say that not only is it completely fair, but it’s almost a civic duty to do so: the movie is absolutely awful.  And I don’t say that with any glee.  Most of the time, I’m angry when I have to give a bad review, because I genuinely love cinema, and it gives me no pleasure to rip a movie.  Some other critics take great pains to explain how terrible certain movies can be, but they do it with a great deal of panache and irony that it strikes me that if they were not turning their poisoned pens on movies it would be – and probably is – something else.  Me, I just get angry.

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Movie Review: LION – the magnificent first half cast a long shadow across the second, but the overall result is deeply satisfying

I’ve described a couple of movies as being “of two halves” – Room, most recently.  The phrase goes back to something football (soccer, to my readers here in the colonies) pundits say when describing a game where the first half is dominated by one team, and the second half dominated by the other.  It happens in movies too, mostly when the second half of a movie is not as strong as the first.  These movies generally have much the same structure, usually a radical change at the midpoint.  In Room, it’s the escape of Joy and Jack, in Lion, it’s the jump in time from 1986 to 2006.  In the case of Room, while the narrative changes, the second half is still mostly engaging.  In Lion, the result is a lot less interesting.  Less interesting in comparison to what comes before, and I provide this caveat because the first half of the movie is rock solid – entertaining, compelling, and thoroughly engaging.

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