Annihilation (spoiler free)

This movie is one of those that immediately snagged my interest from the very first time I saw the teaser trailer. Natalie Portman in a suspenseful sci-fi type movie? Sign me up! On top of that was the fact that this is the second movie by director Alex Garland (also directed Ex Machina which I really enjoyed) I was no doubt very excited to get to the theater to see this one.

Now I really will do my best to avoid any spoilers here since I think the story is a big strength. I also have not read the book this film is based on so I cannot say how closely it follows. Basically there is an area called “The Shimmer” that is gradually increasing its radius indefinitely. Very little is known about whats lies inside the boundary since no one seems to make it back out once they venture in. All that is known is there is a lighthouse that seems to be the origin for this abnormality.  Lena (Natalie Portman) is a biologist and professor who volunteers for an expedition inside The Shimmer with a team consisting of a physicist, an anthropologist, a paramedic, and a psychiatrist. Once inside The Shimmer the team seems to find more questions than answers: electronic equipment issues, memory lapses, unknown wildlife and plant life that seems to violate the natural laws. What is The Shimmer? What happened to the previous teams? How do they stop The Shimmer from encapsulating the entire world? Their mission to find the lighthouse and stop The Shimmer from expanding is not an easy one and we are just strapped in for the ride.

There is an abundance of strengths here. Natalie Portman delivers a terrific performance. She is strong, smart and very believable as she displays a full range of emotions, nailing every one of them. The director, Alex Garland, is truly gifted and his storytelling is compelling and keeps you invested to the very end. I really enjoyed the suspense throughout the film and he did a fantastic job sprinkling in with some genuinely terrifying scenes. I found myself on the edge of my seat for the majority of the film. This movie also happens to be gorgeous to look at. The world inside the Shimmer is full of wonder and beauty but, at times, also pure horror. Mrs. Apologist really enjoyed the science aspect as well.

Not too much to complain about in this one. Despite having a pretty good pace, I thought it was just a hair too long at 115 minutes. Especially towards the end it sort of drags out some scenes in an attempt to really set the tone. Another small issue was that  they don’t really go into many details with the science aspect of things, so it can be a little confusing. Another possible drawback is that there are some pretty gruesome scenes that may be too intense for some viewers.

Even though I felt it was slightly on the long side, I really enjoyed the movie as a whole. It was nice to have a different genre of movie choice from the usual lot of comedies and super hero flicks. I don’t have much of an expertise or background in science, but that did not stop me from having a great experience. The story had me hooked from the first scene and the suspense definitely kicked my heart rate into overdrive on several occasions. Portman delivers one of the strongest performances of 2018 so far and Alex Garland proves he has top notch skills as a director despite his short portfolio. Annihilation has set the bar fairly high for movies in 2018 with a well deserved 1 Apology. Check it out if you enjoy suspense and/or science fiction.

-Movie Apologist

The Accountant (spoiler free)

As we exit the summer blockbuster movie season we can sometimes lower our expectations for entertainment at the theaters. Luckily for us, The Accountant does not allow itself to take advantage of those lowered expectations: it delivers fast paced action, a taut storyline, and talented actors to bring it all together. I never thought I would be excited to see a movie based on an accountant but I was very excited to see this movie as the previews looked excellent! I will try to keep this review as spoiler free as possible but I do recommend treading carefully if you have not seen the movie yet.

The movie starts with a pretty simple plot as we learn that Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) is an accountant even though he has a form of autism which affects his ability to interact with other people. Despite his condition he seems to make a very good living uncooking the books for various criminal organizations. A junior accountant (Anna Kendrick) at a medical prosthetic company seems to have found an error in the books with a very large sum of missing money. As Christian takes on his new client we learn that he has been on the radar of the US Treasury Department for several years. Ray King (JK Simmons), Director of Financial Crimes at the Treasury, is nearing his retirement and wants to amp up the effort to identify and capture the man they call “The Accountant”. They have little information about him beyond the fact that he does the books for very dangerous people and somehow manages to survive. But as the Treasury department tries to close in on their target and as Christian dives deeper into his assignment we get more into the story as the mystery unfolds.

I really enjoyed this movie as a whole. It has several strengths to stand on. Most of the actors are excellent. Ben Affleck turns in a very strong performance as an accountant with high functioning autism. He was smart, tough, and funny though sometimes unintentionally. JK Simmons is a well respected actor and delivers a no nonsense turn as Director of Financial Crimes. He does not do anything out of the ordinary but is consistently solid. The action scenes are fast and sometimes brutal but help deliver that kick of adrenaline that helps move this movie along during the story setup. Though the pacing can be a little slow at times, it uses these moments to develop the characters and the story into more of a mystery instead of just a basic shoot-em-up action flick. Though not a major twist, there is a pleasent twist that I did not see coming! They also mixed in some humor to keep the movie from becoming too serious.

There are not too many drawbacks for this film but indeed there are a few. Anna Kendrick does not offer much value as Dana Cummings, the junior accountant who discovers some anomalies in the books at the robotics company she works for. Beyond that one contribution she wears thin on the patience of the audience. I was also disappointed with John Lithgow as I really appreciate most of his work and I felt he didn’t have as much freedom to deliver a complex character that could match his talent level. Even though I enjoyed the story and was surprised by one of the plot twists, I did find it to be slightly predictable at times.

This movie really hit the mark for what I was in the mood to see. The action, story telling and quality acting made this stand out from other standard action movies that rely on over the top action with cheesy lines and no plot what so ever. I give “The Accountant” an excellent rating of 1 Apology and would absolutely recommend it to everyone who enjoys a movie with brains and brawn. This was a very good start to the fall movie season and hopefully it sets the table for many more entertaining trips to the theater for the rest of the year. Be sure to leave a comment with your thoughts on the movie below!

  • Movie Apologist

Ben-Hur (2016)

Remaking a movie can be a tricky endeavor. Remaking an Academy Award winning movie can be an even trickier endeavor. Remaking a movie that won 11 of those Academy Awards and is listed as #197 on IMDB’s best movie list seems like a nearly impossible task. This movie had a steep mountain to climb before I stepped into the theater and needless to say I did not have very high expectations for it.

This version does not deviate too much from the story we all know. Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) is a Jewish prince who is very close with his adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbell). As they grow older, Messala is longing to make a name for himself and joins the Roman army. Upon Messala’s return to Jerusalem, he betrays Judah and falsely accuses him of treason against Pontius Pilate. Judah is sent away to slave in the bowels of a ship as a rower for many years. He lets himself become consumed by revenge and anger, and eventually returns to challenge Messala at chariot racing in the arena. Most of that information is known without seeing those movies but if anyone has not seen Ben-Hur from 1959 or this version of Ben-Hur I won’t give away too much else related to the story.

The actors in this version are all respectable in their individual roles but lets be honest, no one is taking home an Oscar. Judah, played by Jack Huston, is leading the way with a strong performance. He shows a wide range of emotion throughout the film and is easily the standout in the film. Toby Kebbell is no slouch in his interpretation of Messala, but I think he is outdone by Huston. The lead actresses all turn in quality roles as well. Esther (Nazanin Boniadi), Naomi Ben-Hur (Ayelet Zurer), and Tirzah Ben-Hur (Sofia Black-D’Elia) all delivered acceptable performances for secondary characters. I can’t recall seeing them in many other roles but they definitely impressed with what they were given to work with. The most well known actor, Morgan Freeman, turns in a pretty standard role as Ilderim, who mentors Judah in the art of chariot racing. Now even though I did call his role standard, that doesn’t mean he was bad. It just means he does the traditional quality job we expect from Morgan Freeman without pushing the envelope too much. Another aspect that was mostly enjoyable about this movie were the special effects and the set design. Almost the entire movie looked gorgeous and the action sequences appeared real enough to cause Mrs. Apologist to squirm on a few occasions.

There is not an abundance of negatives about this film, but the ones it has do manage to hurt the overall rating quite a bit. There are several scenes of what should have been very cool action/battle scenes that just seem wasted with incredibly overused “shaky cam”. The camera moves around so wildly, jumps between extreme zoom ins, and odd angles so many times as the action continues that we begin to lose interest. As good as the actors and actresses mentioned earlier were, there were some very forgettable characters turned in as well. Pontius Pilate (Pilou Asbaek) was a very subdued role for someone that I imagined as much more lively. There were also some minor characters that were badly outperformed and seemed out of place.

Overall I was surprised with the quality in this retelling of Ben-Hur. I headed into the viewing with very low expectations and this movie proved to be better than I would have guessed. A serviceable story, a few  actors, and some entertaining action pieces led to another happy trip to the theater. But for me the drawbacks of the “shaky cam” along with some bland characters dropped this movie down to 5 Apologies, which is a higher rating than I was thinking when the previews were airing.

-Movie Apologist

War Dogs (spoiler free)

I developed an interest in seeing this movie at the very first viewing of the trailer. Seeing the trailer several more times during our recent trips to our local AMC Theater only increased our desire to see it. The movie shows strengths even before actually seeing it: two young talented actors (Jonah Hill, Miles Teller), a quality director in Todd Phillips (The Hangover, Starsky & Hutch, Old School), and an interesting plot line that is based on true events. Those all added up to some pretty high expectations heading into the showing.

The film plot follows the true stories of David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli and their rise from low level gun deals all the way up to landing a $300 million deal with the Pentagon. David (played by Miles Teller) is trying to provide for a nice life for himself and his girlfriend. He works as a massage therapist and has an idea to sell luxury bed sheets. Efraim (Jonah Hill) is his best friend from childhood who now has a small business dealing weapons to the US government and its allies. As they begin to work together, their jobs and personal lives get more complicated. It kept me drawn in waiting to see what would happen next. There are plenty of tense moments along the way with some humor mixed in to keep it light-hearted. I actually never heard about the true events this movie is based from before seeing the movie. Without having any knowledge of said events before hand, I think that worked in my favor and lead to a more enjoyable film experience because the plot unfolded as the director and authors intended it to unfold.

This movie offers its fair share of strengths. As mentioned before the two young stars really steal the show. Miles Teller does a good job as David, just doing whatever he can to provide for his family. He is likable and believable in that role. He makes it easy to feel what he goes through from scene to scene. He seems authentic, making David’s story feel so much more tangible. Hill turns in a tour de force performance as Efraim. He absolutely nails the role with his personality and style. This role is one of his best in his acting career. The director, Todd Phillips, did a outstanding job overseeing a more serious movie than he is typically known. With his film history, I expected the movie to be a little more aimed at the comedy side, but was very pleased that it was more dramatic. He did work in some funny scenes and dialogue to keep the movie fresh. Several scenes had outstanding cinematography. I do not want to delve too much into the scenes and give anything away just yet but feel free to give a more detailed opinion in the comments below. I also thought it was a nice touch to have the movie broken down into sections with little chapter title cards, if you will, to give us a taste with what may be coming up. It was something that was relatively minor but ended up making this movie stand out among its competition this summer.

The negatives against this movie may not be the biggest ones you’ll find in a summer movie, but they are there nonetheless. It does not avoid the pitfalls of cliche story telling. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything for potential viewers, so I won’t go into too many details. Another negative about this movie is it may not be exactly what viewers expect it to be. The combination of the trailer showing some comedy and the director’s film history can lead people to believe they are seeing a more of a comedy. It definitely has some comedy elements and some humorous scenes but overall it has more of a drama feel. I personally don’t think its a that much of a negative that the movie is more drama than comedy, but it was a little unexpected.

I really enjoyed War Dogs as a whole. I liked the actors, the story, and the cinematography. As it sits right now, War Dogs has the top spot as my favorite movie of the summer. I enthusiastically give this movie only 1 1/2 Apologies and I highly recommend it.

-Movie Apologist

The Departed

When you think of a modern classic movie, what comes to mind? I would hope that The Departed winds up on the short list in most of your minds. This movie combines everything you would want: a phenomenal cast playing the perfect characters, fantastic story line, well paced action, believable emotions, and some very well placed humor. It is currently sitting as #43 on the best movie list on IMDB, which I personally think is much too low. It has been a favorite of mine for 10 years now. This review may contain spoilers so I do recommend watching it first, coming back to read this, and leaving your thoughts below!

The Departed at its most basic level is about crime and corruption. The two sides involved are the Massachusetts State Police and an Irish gang led by Frank Costello (played masterfully by the great Jack Nicholson). The other two main characters in the story are Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon). Billy is an undercover police officer assigned to infiltrate Costello’s gang, while Colin is working as a mole within the department for Costello. As both Billy and Colin advance up the ladder of their respective groups, it becomes easier to see how the stress of leading double lives is breaking them down. Both the police and Costello have become aware of a rat working for the enemy and attempt to increase their efforts in identifying said rat. The plot moves swiftly along for the entire 151 minute run time. Honestly, it really does not feel that long because you are actively captivated for the duration. I do not want to spoil the entire movie for those who have not seen it, but trust me when I say that it packs quite a punch.

The strengths in this film are quite numerous. The cast is easily one of the strongest casts assembled. Besides the aforementioned three, (DiCaprio, Damon, Nicholson) we also have Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Vera Farmiga, Ray Winstone, Anthony Anderson, and Alec Baldwin for our viewing pleasure. In addition to having great actors, the character portrayals are far from boring cardboard cutouts. It is wonderful to see how they all interact with each other. It feels very genuine and authentic. Another aspect I enjoyed about the characters and the dialogue was how they weaved so much humor throughout all the seriousness of the movie. It was quite refreshing to have the comedic breaks since without it the movie would be even more intense than it already is. As I mentioned before, despite the rather long run time, it travels right along quickly and does not drag during any scene.

I really don’t have any true weaknesses for this movie. The only real complaint is that I have a love/hate relationship with Colin Sullivan’s character played by Matt Damon. He is so easy to hate but that is only because he plays the character so well. Even that could really be listed as a strength since it takes some talent to create such disdain.

It was easy for me to decide on a rating for such an epic movie. With all the strengths stacked up against the lone negative (which is really another strength) the rating chose itself: 0 Apologies! This movie is cinematic perfection and rightly deserves a spot in everyone’s DVD/BluRay collection.

-Movie Apologist

 

Batman V Superman: Ultimate Edition BluRay

I was super excited to see this movie in the theaters. I grew up a huge Batman fan and still find myself watching anything and everything Batman, even with commercials. Everyone knew how negatively the critics felt about this movie, making it difficult to head to the show without having a predisposition.

I came away from the showing pleased, however I felt something was missing to make it even better. I loved the cinematography, it added power to the story. The action was fast paced and reminded me of the dramatic interactions of the Arkham games.

I was impressed by Ben Affleck’s take on Bruce Wayne/Batman even though he received a lot of flack for the role. The bar was set pretty low for him, thanks to the critics and social media, but he was very believable in character. Henry Cavill is one of the better, if not best, Superman castings and is very good in his role. He captured the essence of the movie in his acting and made a fictional character come to life. Cavill and Affleck add tremendous believe-ability to what is otherwise an unbelievable story. Even Jesse Eisenberg gives a commendable, but different, interpretation of Lex Luther Jr. I did find his character annoying during first viewing. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I had to watch twice before I appreciated his character. I was unsure of Gal Gadot’s ability to portray Wonder Woman but she outperformed my expectations, despite her small role. Her performance in Batman vs Superman was enough to make me excited for her own movie coming out June 2017 (at least as of now).

The story feels slightly cramped to be forced inside one movie. There is quite a variety of protagonist and antagonist battles that build and shift among characters making a very elaborate story which was probably not quite enough for two movies, but a little bit much for one. Some of the dialogue could be improved, it didn’t feel as natural as one would hope.

I would give the theatrical version 3 Apologies.

When I heard that the DVD/BluRay release was going to be an unrated Director’s Cut Ultimate Edition, I thought “this must be what I was looking for from the beginning!” Naturally, I preordered the Ultimate Edition BluRay and couldn’t wait to watch it with Mrs. Apologist when it finally arrived. The cut contains an additional 30 minutes of footage, which makes a huge difference in the quality of the story and of the film overall. At 182 minutes run time it is quite the endeavor to sit down and watch the whole thing in one sitting (highly recommend to watch from the comfort of your own home, ample snacks, pause button for bathroom breaks, and a rewind capability for when Mrs. Apology falls asleep), but I enjoyed it more on the second viewing.

My rating for the unrated version improved to only 2 Apologies as it remains an enjoyable movie but still far from perfect. I am looking forward to the other movies in the group (Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, Justice League, etc)

  • -Movie Apologist