Sunday, February 18, 2018

BOOK REVIEW - A Storyteller's Guide to a Grace-Filled Life

I don't normally review books. But some are worth talking about more extensively than simply the office coffee room.  Like this one - A wonderful new feel good book by Tony Agnesi.

Full disclosure, I know Tony well as we share commonalities.  We've played a lot of golf, like good food, people, bourbon and a good cigar.  We are both passionate about many renaissance-men like activities.  But as we do share similar interests, we are very different in some ways as well.  That is what is celebrated in this new little book.  It's OK to be different from one another and still be a caring soul to those who are not quite the same, or even opposite, as you.

Tony is a wonderful storyteller in life and in this book.  This is a series of Tony's true story essays over the years referencing his life, health, his marriage, family, and his strong faith. When you read it, you are reminded that it takes great courage to document your life for all to see.  And as a man of great Catholic faith, Tony melds various passages and biblical quotes that fit the narrative of that particular short chapter at its end.  It is a nice idea that really works. 

Truth be told, I am not Catholic, and do not posses the biblical knowledge at my finger tips as Tony does, but it makes this book no less valuable.  To me, that is the real measure of spirituality, as I feel it is a life long search, no matter how you get there.  Books like this speak to many, without alienating any.  It's just honest, and makes you feel good without ever demanding you feel a certain way, or his way, about the matter at hand.

You can pick this book up and read any part of it at any time in its 190 easy to read pages.  And after Tony shares his personal point of view about a given story he's sharing, he gently asks you only consider to reflect on a similar story in your own life, in your own way.  And you do.  This book does make you think about your own life, many things you may not have thought of in a long time.

The message of this book is one of happiness. And you would be hard pressed not to feel better about many things after reading this, even if you don't agree with some, or much of it. You've been many of the places Tony has.  It's refreshing to see someone tell compelling stories and be willing to share much that is private for us to page through and relate to.  After reading this book, you may feel the need to write more about your own life, that's how it moved me.

And even though Tony approaches much of this from a spiritual or what some would call a religious view, he skillfully uses his words to start a conversation, and not end one. 

And man, do we need more of that in our world today.

Available about anywhere books are sold.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

New In Theaters

Annihilation

This heavily anticipated thriller is finally out and is going to have nice opening weekend.  Natalie Portman chooses fine projects and even though this has a name that may make it sound like a B- grade action flick, it is not.

This is the story of an entity that has shown up on Earth somehow and is altering everything in its path.  A group of all female experts enter this thing called, "The Shimmer" to find out its origins, and to see it it can be stopped.  Many groups have entered and not returned, so this group seems to be one of the last hopes to see if this can be contained.

This is written well, and this is a story that is totally original.  But this is a bit long, meaning when you think this may be over, it's not.  There is far too much after the movies big climax. But being fair, it is not a deal breaker.  This is a good, solid movie that has a story to tell, and tells it well.  Don't be fooled by its aggressive title, this is not a cheap action, sci-fi flick.

Annihilation.  Very good.




Game Night

OK, occasionally a comedy comes out that has the right idea.  Or ANY idea in today's Hollywood is a nice change, and this is pretty funny.  This little 80 plus minute comedy really had the audience laughing with it's original premise and really good casting.

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are Max and Annie, a married couple who are huge "game night" players with their group of friends.  And in their never ending quest to take their board and classic game night playing the next level, somehow find themselves in a situation they think is a live action game, that is actually a very real, dangerous situation. And it takes them a while to figure that out.  Their naivete at first is very funny, then their discovery of reality is even funnier.

The script is very original, and the decisions to not let this become raunchy are really good, when most modern comedies do.  This has a line and stands behind it.  McAdams is really funny as the very fun and affable Annie, and many times steals the show.  Bateman and the very well cast supporting actors are a fine compliment.  Great use of music and also the willingness to lampoon their generation is very funny.  Plus, ending this short was a very good decision. It said everything it had to say, and it was time to go home on a high note

Game Night. Funny, and clearly set up to be a franchise.


Black Panther

Lots of anticipation on the first huge superhero movie of the year.  This is expected to take in about 180 million this weekend, and it just might.  Up front, this is a comic book movie like you've not seen.  This deal exclusively on the origins of what will be a series of the character, Black Panther.

This is wonderfully written, and the special effects will be very impressive to those who are taken with that type of thing. But you must be prepared to not see him  save the world, or mankind.  Very little of this takes place in a city, or metropolitan area.  There really is no villain, such as we are used to.  But imagination here is high, as is creativity.  The scenes you see in trailers, are the exceptions, and not the rule.

But this will be very popular for many reasons, and among them is we've been waiting for a blockbuster to go to, and the look of this movie is very good.   This is available to you in various formats, 3D, IMAX, IMAX 3D and regular showings, so check the one carefully you want to see.

Back Panther.   Very original.




The 15:17 To Paris

This is a very brave idea.  Clint Eastwood directs a story completely worth telling of real life heroes, using the very heroes that were involved.  These guys clearly have never acted, and it shows.  But this is authentic, even when the acting isn't very good.  

These military guys happened to be on a passenger train from Amsterdam to Paris when a terrorist attempted to shoot up the train with 300 rounds of ammunition.  They stopped it, and are heroes, and that remains fact.  Eastwood is correct in that this story should be told.  What this does, is tell the back story of these three friends, and it is an interesting one.  Ending with a very authentic climax of the attempted attack.

This has limitations for sure, but it also is an interesting idea.  It's short at about 90 minutes, and you are ready for the story to play out.  The national critics are being very hard on this, and you understand why for a ton of reasons, fair or not.  But that may play out to be somewhat tone deaf, as fans may love to see a story like this told, no matter who is cast in it or not.  After all, there is a whole lot of really bad acting anyway in Hollywood, by professional actors themselves.

Is this Eastwood's best movie?  Of course not.  But in a town where there are very few original ideas, this is one of them.  Plus, it's a story that needs to be told.  If you want to see REAL superheroes, this could be your ticket. 


 I, Tonya

Well this is in limited release and this has been out for a while.  This also has a ton of award nominations and should not be missed, as this is very, very good.  This was a risky venture from the get-go, but this is slick movie making.

This interesting movie is the tragic story of former world-class figure skater Tonya Harding, and her horrible roots that was seemingly always in the way of any kind of real success in a sport that demands class, elegance and style. Harding had none.  This is based on extensive interviews of the important people in her life and her.  This is told in a semi-documentary, semi classic movie style and is written extremely well.  The performances of Margot Robbie (Tonya) and Alisson Janney (Tonya's mom) are amazing as well.

This movie reminds us just how great Harding actually was on the ice.  In fact, she may be the greatest ever athletically.  But her off ice antics and just her overall decision making prevented her from real greatness.  Toss in her horrendous upbringing and you have a recipe for disaster, and that is what she turned out to be in her sport and, most of her young life.  This makes you feel many different ways about Harding, and that's great writing.

I, Tonya.  Fantastic


Hostiles

There are movies that come out all to rarely, that make the script the total star. The new "Western" Hostiles is one of them.  This stars Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike and a real nice supporting cast, but with respect, it makes no difference.  The star of this movie is the writing.

This is set in the American West in 1892. Without giving you too much info, because that's part of the magic of seeing this, this is the story of a small band of people making a long journey through the perils of the West at the time, and how they survive - together.  This movie skillfully addresses every single in incredible issue of the era, and the horrific experiences of the lawless west.  It helps you understand from all sides the social issues of the day, and the conflict that raged within many during this painful time of history.

They may call this a "western" but it's not in the realm of Unforgiven, Wyatt Earp, or Tombstone. This is far more graphic.  This develops characters extremely well, and makes you feel many emotions.  It makes many great decisions on what they choose to show you and what they don't.  In short, this is simply terrific.

Hostiles.  Very adult, and very, very good.  Not to be missed.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

New Flicks

12 Strong

This is another true story that is at the movies right now, and this is way better than I thought it was going to be.  This time of the year can be the junkyard of movies, but this is worth a ticket.  A very good cast led by Micheal Shannon and Chris Hemsworth give us a story worth telling.

This is the recently declassified story of 12 soldiers who carried out the first real attack on the Taliban in the Middle East after 9/11.  Not only are the circumstances very interesting surrounding this mission, but it had to be carried out - on horseback.  And against all odds.

This gets a ton of points from me right out of the gate as it's a story we don't know, and have not seen before.  The script is smart, and slick, that lets the action and pictures tell the story, plus it does develop characters well for a movie like this.  I was concerned about this initially, as I wanted it to be good as we honor some very brave soldiers, and it is.

12 Strong.  Lots to like here. Makes you feel good about many things.


Den Of Thieves

Here comes Girard Butler in a new police thriller that forgets all that is possible, probable and doable in today's world. Right up front, even though this has a ton of problems, this would have been way better, as is, 30 minutes shorter.  This was a pretty good idea that gets in its own way.

It's the story of a bunch of really bad guys who want to rob The Federal Reserve Bank in California, and an equally bunch of really hard nosed cops who want to stop them.  There is some to like here, and I think this will find a following, but so much of this is so far fetched, son ridiculous, and much of this could never happen in today's world, what were these storytellers thinking?

Plus, there are a few story lines that have nothing at all to do with the plot, I have no idea why they bogged us down with them.  This is action based, and the action is not that great to be honest.  This just stumbles time after time, and becomes it's own worst enemy.

Den Of Thieves.  Wait, stream or rental.

Monday, January 15, 2018

NEW FLICKS

The Post
When you toss two huge stars together and have Steven Spielberg directing it, you should have a great movie. But here, you only have a good one.  Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep star in the new flick, The Post.

It's based on a true story that takes place in the early 1970's, with the landmark case of the Washington Post printing deeply classified Pentagon papers, essentially proving the Vietnam War was a sham, and the government had been lying to the public for 35 years.  There's a court case too, and it's basically a First Amendment movie.  There is nothing really wrong here, there just should have been a lot more right.

Hanks and Streep are fine, and there a moments in this that are really moving.  It's a period piece and we are transported back in time nicely.  There's just something missing.  I think it's the lack of really strong dialogue, instead of a bunch of average speak.  It's a bit too long and a bit to - average, with a ton of potential, but that's where it ends.

The Post.  Rental, or stream in a couple months.


The Darkest Hour

This is simply fantastic.  And right up front, Gary Oldman gives one of the best performances I have ever seen.  He stars as Winston Churchill in the incredible movie about the early and dark days of WWII in England, and his defiance of Hitler and even members of his own government.

Oldman should win about every award there is for this.  It's one thing to transform and invent a fictional character for a movie.  It's quite another to take on the awesome responsibility to play maybe the most important historical figure of the 20th century.  Oldman is amazing, and totally unrecognizable as he becomes Churchill.   In this, Churchill is real, good, fallible, and human.

The script is incredible, and the amount of dialogue that Oldman delivers is insane.  And he delivers it with unmatched skill.  His performance alone is not to be missed.

The Darkest Hour. Fantastic.



Wednesday, January 10, 2018

MOVIE REVIEWS - In Theaters Now

New year, new movies, let's see what's out there for you right now in the theaters.


The Commuter

Liam Neeson recently said he is done making action movies, but that must have been before he and Vera Farmiga made this one.  His formula over the past few Mid-Winters with action flicks has proven to be a winner for him.  And despite the formula, and your possible eye-rolling, I enjoyed this.

This is the story of a an ex-cop (Neeson) that has financial problems, that works in New York City and rides a commuter train every morning.  He meets up with the very beautiful, but strange woman (Farmiga) who makes him a proposition one morning on the train.  He gets 100K if he finds a certain person on the train and gives them up to her and her "peeps."   He reluctantly does, but later learns that he is in a world of trouble, and so is his family.

This drags badly out of the box, and is a bit too laggy after the movies main climax.   BUT for the moments in between this is fun, moves nicely and holds us very well.  Is this great?  No, but it's January enjoyable, and for the most part is done quite well. Special effects are good, this is filmed well, and Neeson again, is the same guy in another action movie, but I'm good with it.

The Commuter.  Worth it now, or a stream later.  Matinee good way to go, or bargain day.


All The Money In The World

This may be the most overrated movie of the year. This is one of those dreaded "based on true events" movies, and my radar always goes off when I see that.  This is story of the kidnapping of J. Paul Getty's grandson in the early 1970's. Getty was the worlds richest man at that time, and his refusal to pay the ransom, and the aftermath.

This stars Mark Wahlberg,  Christopher Plummer and the incredible Michelle Williams.  SHE is amazing in this as the mother of the kidnapped boy, and deserves every good thing that may come her way as a result of her performance. Plummer, you may remember took over on very short notice for the fired Kevin Spacey, and gives a nice performance.  But let's not get carried away, this is not an award worthy role.

And it's not his fault.  This is too darn long, very draggy in sections, and as you watch this, you can't help but really wonder what is fact, what is embellished, and what is flat out Hollywood.  Don't get caught up in the hype, this is a decent flick, but not one of the years best. 

All The Money In The World.   Stream or rental for sure, but Williams is great, she is Hollywood's best actress.


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

MOVIE REVIEW - Pitch Perfect 3

Do we need this?  Well, no we don't. 

The Pitch Perfect series has had some real fine moments of fun, satire and self lampooning.  But the old saying three's a crowd is apt here.

OK, the music with the Bellas and the supporting cast is good again, as it always is with these movies.  But the rest of this is a just a mess.  They say this is the end of this very successful series, but I'll believe it when I don't see it. 

There is nothing really new here. Same characters, same jokes, same delivery, and same formula.  Movie makes just can't help themselves sometimes. Take a nice original idea and over time make it anything but anymore, and that's the trouble here.  You're gonna throw down 10 bones or so and see the exact same movie you saw a couple years ago. 

Pitch Perfect 3.  Save your money.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

MOVIE REVIEWS - In Theaters Now!

The movies are coming out at a fast pace these days, keep checking in on the latest reviews.

The Greatest Showman

Hugh Jackman, Zac Ephron and Michelle Williams star in this new story of the real P.T. Barnum in this LA LA Land type of musical.  This movie is going to be this years LA LA Land, as it has the same feel, and made by many of the same people.  This is very good by any measure, and will be enjoyed by many.

Great music, and solid production numbers, and some by any account, are simply breathtaking.  This story moves along nicely, has something to say, says it, and finishes up.  This is only about 1 hour 45 and that is plenty.  This is not a "total" musical like Les Mis, but is more like the more modern LA LA Land.  

Jackman is great, and I have yet to see a movie where Williams isn't brilliant.  She is quietly become Hollywood's best actress. I love her in this.

The Greatest Showman.  Quite good, and good for the whole family.



Father Figures

You know, you kind of have to like this flick, even if it's full of guilty pleasure laughs, and some juvenile humor.  This does grow a heart and is not exactly what you think it will be. This stars Owen Wilson, Ed  Helms, Glenn Close and a bunch of others in a story where two 40 somethings go looking for their biological father.

This is crass, crude and silly at times, but in the end, there is a story here and, twists and turns you won't see coming.  Yes, this sells out at times for some stupid laughs, but overall this is far better than its packaging.  Is this going to win an Oscar?  Well no, but this is generally OK for most to see, and will be a nice getaway when you need to get out of the house and laugh over Christmas.

Father Figures.  Better than you may think.