Coming Soon – April Movies that Aren’t ‘The Fate and the Furious’

Much like January, April is mostly a dead month in the film world with one big blockbuster film that’ll overshadow the rest. In this case, The Fate and the Furious takes the top spot. It’s highly likely it’ll dwarf the box office like an all-consuming black hole. If you’re like me, and you’d rather do your taxes than watch one more “last ride” where lots of expensive cars explode through a glass window, then you’ll want to read ahead. Here are the movies I think deserve a chance over The Fate and the Furious in April.

Going in Style (April 7)

Alan Arkin, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine knocking off a bank in a quest for sweet revenge? Sign me up. While the plot feels painfully similar to Hell or High Water, it looks like this will be a much more light-hearted take on a heist film. Plus, if you’re a Zack Braff fan, then you’ll be happy to know he directed this one.

Gifted (April 7)

Directed by Marc Webb, it follows a single father who gets entangled in a custody battle with the mother of their child prodigy daughter. If you liked 500 Days of Summer or those awful The Amazing Spiderman movies (why?), then you may be interested in GiftedWhile the trailers look a little melodramatic for my taste, it stars Chris Evans (Captain America: Winter Soldier) and could be a solid drama. Heavy emphasis on could be. 

The Lost City of Z (April 14)

Frankly, this movie totally deserves more of your attention than The Fate and the Furious (they come out at the same time), and you’ll probably grow a few more brain cells for watching it. Starring Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim), it follows the true story of Col. Percival Fawcett who disappeared while searching for a mysterious city in the Amazon.

The Promise (April 21)

I have no idea if this will be good or not, but it’s about the Ottoman Empire (when has that ever happened?) and stars Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac, two tremendously talented actors. I have a weird feeling it’s likely to be one of those movies that ends up in your nearest Redbox, though.

Free Fire (April 21)

Starring Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, and Cillian Murphy, among others, Free Fire is about rival gangs in 1978 that try to survive a shoot-out in a warehouse. Honestly, this movie looks like it could give The Fate and the Furious a run for its money in the totally dumb category. But, hey, if you really like action movies about people shooting guns a lot for a 90 minutes, then you’re in for quite a ride.

The Circle (April 28)

This actually made it on my Most Anticipated Movies list. Why? Because I love the story idea of technology giving humanity too much power, and it stars Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, and John Boyega, three wonderful actors that could have potential chemistry together. It’s one of those movies that could either be totally ignored or become a sleeper hit. I’m hoping for the latter.


That’s it. I told you April is a dead month. What movie are you most looking forward to in April?

Movie Review – Controversial ‘Ghost in the Shell’ is the First Good Anime Adaptation

Anime to live action adaptations have a troubled history. Unless I’m forgetting something, I don’t believe there has ever been a successful or well-done adaptation of an anime movie or television show. Of the most recent ventures, Dragonball: Evolution and Speed Racer were both critical and box office failures, and that’s putting it nicely.

Ghost in the Shell, then, had quite the mountain to climb to overcome past grievances and honor both the original anime movie while introducing the story to non-anime audiences. While it’s not perfect by any means, struggling to go as deep as the original, it still keeps the soul of the movie rather than settling for a shell, but also knows when to be its own thing. The end result is a satisfying science fiction that many people will enjoy.

Directed by Rupert Sanders, Ghost in the Shell is about Major (Scarlett Johansson), a human brain implanted into a cyborg body created to be a perfect soldier to fight dangerous criminals. However, a terrorist named Kuze is specifically targeting Hanka Robotics, the company that created her. It’s up to her to find and stop him before he kills more people.

To be honest, I haven’t seen the original for some time and could only remember bits and pieces of the story and plot. I remember, however, the visuals and the art that resembled a gritty, futuristic world similar to Blade Runner. Regarding that, Sanders hit the ball out of the park, mimicking much of the aesthetic and feel of the anime.

The cinematography and lighting is gorgeous, mixing both dark contrasts and bright colors. For the most part, they mix in the green screen and special effects seamlessly with the wonderful camera work, but not fully. Too often the CGI looks fake or unpolished. Some of the futuristic cityscapes look like they hadn’t been fully rendered or were made back in 1999.

Some of the writing is a little rough with a by-the-numbers first act that slogs along. The dialogue, at times, comes across as cheesy and too on-the-nose. However, by the second act, the story kicks into gear and becomes more intriguing and less black and white. The writing sharpens fast and makes you forget all about the first act’s flaws. As things progress, less does the story follow the hero versus the villain story and transforms into a story about identity and discovery. A change that flows well and makes for a more intriguing story.

With that transition from hero adventure into identity, the story is able to touch on themes that it could have easily ignored. It raises questions about technological abuse and how far we are willing to go to push the next stage of human evolution, and what that might do to the human identity. Of course, the original digs deeper into these themes and does a better job of it, but in my mind, Sanders get credit for not simply ignoring it entirely.

The character progression of the protagonists and antagonists is where it shines the most. Understanding the motivations behind the villains, something lacking in many today’s science fiction movies, and forcing the protagonist to grapple with it is refreshing. But also, seeing the Major change from cold and calculating to warm and affectionate in her relationships creates an emotionally gripping and personal story.

For her part, Scarlett Johansson provides a solid performance. There is no doubt she’s proven herself as a solid action hero as both the Black Widow in countless Marvel movies but also her lead role in the film Lucy. I applaud her subtle mannerisms she employed, including the way she walked and how over time her character expressed more emotion.

If you’ve been following Ghost in the Shell, you know about the controversy surrounding casting Scarlett Johansson, criticizing it as “whitewashing”. While I’ll not wade into that entirely, I will say parts of the plot addresses this issue head on in a way that is both meta and self-preaching. I’ll not say much else for fear of spoilers. Some might find this plot point even more offensive and others may interpret it as an excellent social critique on current issues. Either way, the movie addresses it and personally I find that more admirable than, again, not presenting anything at all.

Chances are all you want is to watch a good science fiction movie or see your favorite anime as a live action on the big screen. It’s not a home run and does have some issues, but, overall, Ghost in the Shell gives you exactly what you want, paying close homage to the original, providing plenty of action and adventure, and telling a solid story with good characters. This is undoubtedly the first well-done anime adaptation to date and hopefully, fingers crossed, it won’t be the last.


Grade: 7/10


Photos courtesy of: Paramount Pictures.

Filmed in Minnesota, ‘Wilson’ Premieres to Excited, Packed Theater

The line to see the Minnesota-based film Wilson grew quickly at the Showplace Icon Theater at the West End in St. Louis Park, hosted by the Twin Cities Film Festival. The excitement was palpable. It’s been some time since a major studio out of Hollywood set up shop to film an entire movie in the Twin Cities. Local actors and crew were excited to see their work on the big screen.

According to director Craig Johnson, the film was originally planned to be shot in Oakland, but that location was “cost prohibitive.” However, With the help of the “Snowbate” by the Minnesota Film Commission, a reimbursement program to attract major films, Johnson and Fox Searchlight decided to bring the production to the Twin Cities. According to Lucinda Winter, Executive Director of the MN Film & TV Board, they filmed over 50 Minnesota locations in under 30 days, hiring local actors and production crews, totaling 165 people working on the production. Overall, Fox Searchlight spent 4 Million dollars in Minnesota, benefiting the local economy.

“It does a ton for the Minnesota film community,” said local actor, Paul Cram. “There were several local actors that were cast. I was cast at the local Lynn Blumenthal casting and so that’s work for her, too. It does a lot. It’s such a good injection of money into the film community here.”

Craig Johnson (Left), Paul Cram (Right)

After putting a few locations on the table like Portland or Seattle, Johnson indicated the Twin Cities fit the best. “We needed a mid-sized progressive, gentrifying, American city, that has fifty-four locations that we’re looking for, the suburbs and the downtown area, and a lake and a mall, and once we came here, you had everything,” said Johnson.

Adapted from the graphic novel by Daniel Clowes, Wilson, played by Woody Harrelson, is a satirical drama about a misanthrope trying to find meaning in life and connect with former friends and family. His candor gets him into a lot of trouble which can lead to hilarious results.

When asked if Wilson’s unfiltered, honest persona would tap into the current cultural mood, Johnson said, “You know I’d like to think that…his unfiltered truth is just that, it’s sort of truth from the soul, and sometimes it’s hard to hear. It’s easy to hear a loudmouth telling things you want to hear, but Wilson tells you thing that are true that maybe you’re not interested in hearing. His methods are a little maybe not skillful, but what he’s saying is often worth listening to.”

For Minnesota actor Paul Cram, it was a privilege to work with Woody Harrelson and Craig Johnson. Crediting casting director Mali Finn for encouraging him to spread his wings, Cram began working the Twin Cities theater scene on productions like Gremlin’s Theater’s Everywhere Signs Fall. During that time, he landed a role in Peacock, working alongside Cillian Murphy in Des Moines, Iowa. Minnesotans might recognize Paul in his work in local commercials or the MN Lottery.

Paul plays the role of Piper, a cellmate with Wilson, and is a bit of a Bible-thumper, something Paul said he could relate to growing up in the church himself.

In preparation for the role, he immediately got the graphic novel from the library and read it. “Piper is only on page 56,” Cram said. For all the prison scenes, they shot at Ramsey County Correctional Facility in St. Paul. However, for his scenes with Harrelson, they built a set on the prison basketball court.

In between takes, they would shoot hoops for which Cram said Harrelson has “Globetrotters amazing” game.

“I was worried I’d be a little starstruck by Woody, and I wasn’t. But I was starstruck by Laura Dern, though,” Cram said. Dern plays the role of Wilson’s estranged ex-wife. Paul wasn’t expecting Dern to be on set that day and came out of his trailer to find her standing there. He couldn’t believe it. “She said hi, but I honestly don’t know what I said back.”

Inside the packed theater, people struggled to find seats, eager to watch the comedy drama. After the film finished, Johnson spoke in front of the audience in a little Q&A session where the audience asked several questions about his favorite films, favorite scenes in Wilson, and what the editing process was like. When asked if he would consider coming back to film another project, Johnson said he might if the right project came around.

“It was a thrill to shoot here and couldn’t have been a better experience,” he said.



Photos courtesy of: Dallas Smith Photography, Twin Cities Film Festival, Fox Searchlight Pictures

Movie Review – ‘Kong: Skull Island’ Isn’t Monkeying Around

After the roaring success of Godzilla, the resurgence of the monster movie was officially in full swing, giving studios the green light to release several more remakes and reboots of classic monster films. And while we wait for them to unearth Steve McQueen’s The Blob (crosses fingers), we’ll have to settle for more popular franchises like King Kong.

Kong: Skull Island does everything it needs to be a crowd pleaser minus one pretty important piece. It’s heavy on the action and comedy, providing a fun escape to the theater, but the overflowing humor and lack of solid, likable three-dimensional characters weaken the stakes. It has great potential, but it doesn’t seem to care to go any further.

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‘Dunkirk’ PG-13 Rating is Nolan’s Boldest Move Yet

Christopher Nolan has never shied away from bold decisions, creating unique cinematic effects like Inception‘s mind-bending hallway scene, casting oddball actors like Heath Ledger as The Joker, and telling stories in mostly non-linear and splintered fashions. In the past, his creative instincts have led him to great success both critically and financially. Now, he’s making another bold move, and no it’s not casting One Direction heartthrob Harry Styles (though, that is head scratching), it’s creating a PG-13 war movie.[Continue Reading]

A Case Against Disney Cartoon Remakes

Originally, I was going to write up a review about the upcoming Beauty and the Beast live-action remake, but the more I considered it, the more I realized it was better to take a different direction.

The Beauty and the Beast remake is essentially a frame-for-frame copy of the cartoon. That isn’t to say that changes weren’t made, but overall, the cartoon to live-action transfer is fully complete to ignite millennial nostalgia. It’s a gorgeous CGI-display of Emma Watson’s Beauty prancing in the open fields and Dan Steven’s Beast growling and mostly being angry until he’s not supposed to be anymore. Musical lovers will gush at all the wonderfully choreographed singing and dancing scenes and Disney fanatics will be perfectly happy accepting this newly repackaged gift. In other words, there’s nothing I’m going to tell you that will change your mind about seeing Beauty and the Beast, with one exception.

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Movie Review – ‘Table 19’ is a Great Idea, But Never Lands

Unless you’re one of the lucky few who gets to parade around in the bride and groom inner circle, weddings are atrocious affairs, filled with sitting, waiting and talking with strangers you’d more than likely avoid in everyday life. And, much like the seven circles of hell, the further you get away from the wedding party, the more the torment increases until you’re just not sure why you showed up in the first place.

This is the genius behind the idea of Table 19, a quirky and awkward indie-wannabe comedy starring Anna Kendrick. Unfortunately, any initial greatness the idea possessed dies upon implementation and is tossed in its own leper colony along the way.

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89th Academy Awards Ends with Awkward Mix Up

The 89th Academy Awards made history last night and not in the way you might expect. Of course, there were plenty of political jokes, commentary, and hijinks, including a moment when Jimmy Kimmel tweeted President Trump. The whole night, Kimmel made sure to make things uncomfortable and weird, too, like bringing in a real Hollywood tourist group to take pictures of all the celebrities and dropping food from the ceiling attached to parachutes. However, in one epic, awkward, and gut-wrenching twist that Kimmel couldn’t have dreamed up, the Academy Award for Best Picture was given to the wrong movie.

Here’s how everything went down. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, looking like two drunk wedding crashers, presented the nominees for Best Picture. When Warren Beatty opened the envelope and read the winner, he looked puzzled, smiled, and didn’t say anything, keeping the audience in suspense. He looked over at Faye Dunaway and handed her the envelope. She read the name and immediately said, “La La Land.” Everyone cheered and all the winners of La La Land came up to the stage.

Just as they were making their speeches, Justin Horowitz, the producer of La La Land, gets word that they read the wrong card and he immediately interjects. “Sorry, guys, hold on. There’s a mistake. Moonlight. You won Best Picture. This is not a joke,” he said, holding the Oscar over to them. Ouch.

It was one of those sickening, bitter-sweet moments that I’m sure everyone on stage wasn’t sure how to handle in the moment, but Jimmy Kimmel and the cast of La La Land handled it with class, charm, and a lot of grace.

The mix-up occurred when Warren Beatty was given the wrong envelope from PriceWaterhouseCoopers, a prestigious accounting firm out of London that handles the security of the envelopes. As a precaution, they make duplicates of the envelopes. Warren Beatty took the Best Actress in a Leading Role envelope instead of Best Picture. PriceWaterhouseCoopers deeply apologized for the flub and is investigating.

After the ruckus died down, Kimmel ended up the show with this. “Well, I don’t know what happened; I blame myself for this,” he said. “Let’s remember, it’s just an awards show. I mean, we hate to see people disappointed, but the good news is, we got to see some extra speeches. We had some great movies. I knew I would screw this show up, I really did. Thank you for watching. I’m back to work tomorrow night at my regular show. I promise I’ll never come back. Good night.”



Movie Review – ‘The LEGO Batman Movie’ is Hilarious, Awesome Fun

When The Lego Movie came out, I was honestly skeptical. The idea of throwing a popular toy franchise on to the big screen reeked of a get-rich-quick scheme by Hollywood producers, hoping to capitalize only on the brand name and not put much effort into the cinematic experience. Fortunately, I was very wrong, and admittedly, I fell for the same thinking trap again with The LEGO Batman Movie.

I figured The LEGO Movie’s success was nostalgia driven and wouldn’t be able to be replicated in future spin-offs. However, The LEGO Batman Movie proved you can make a great movie on two massive franchises (Batman and LEGOs) without feeling like a cheap cash grab. With fun and hilarious comedy, lovable characters, fast pacing and emotional stakes, The LEGO Batman Movie is well worth the trip to the theater.

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Movie Review – You’ll Wish You Were Dead by the End of ‘Rings’

Released in 2002, The Ring is a solid horror mystery directed by Gore Verbinksi with a terrific performance by Naomi Watts. It is a simple, effective story about a detective who needs to solve a murder mystery before she dies in seven days. You care about her character and feel the weight of time as she struggles to piece things together. Alas, I am not reviewing The Ringbut it’s ugly, unwanted stepchild.

Rings is the antithesis of its predecessor, and not in any good or admiring ways. It’s atrociously awful. Its only virtue is the cinematography from Sharone Meir (Whiplash) which frankly it doesn’t deserve.

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