Review: Brawl in Cell Block 99

Starring Vince Vaughn

Review: The Foreigner

Starring Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan

Review: Marshall

Starring Chadwick Boseman and Josh Gad

Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin

Starring Domhnall Gleeson and Margot Robbie

Review: The Florida Project

Directed by Sean Baker


Middleburg Review: 'Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool' Starring Annette Bening & Jamie Bell

As the era of the classic movie stars comes to a close in Internet celebrities or whatever, our fascination with the romantic lives of those Golden Age stars is endless. The latest, Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, focuses on the brief romance between Oscar winner Gloria Grahame, and her young lover Peter Turner, from whose memoir the film has been adapted. Grahame, best known for her role as Violet in It's a Wonderful Life and for her award-winning performance in The Bad and the Beautiful, is the perfect example of how we shouldn't assume every celebrity's life is exciting, because hers wasn't, and the film struggles to compensate.

What makes Grahame's story eminently watchable, and even fascinating in spurts, is the magnetic performance by Annette Bening, who always seems to shine right around awards season. If there are classic old school stars left, Bening is certainly one of them, and she tackles the role of Graham like she was always meant for it. When we first meet Grahame she's in her dressing room before a show, meticulously applying her makeup, working on her diction..., like someone who has done this thousands of times before. But just before she's to go on stage, she collapses and is rushed away. Grahame had been a huge star in the black & white era, not so much with the move to color. It's 1979 and now she lives in a tiny London flat, which is where she first meets Peter (Jamie Bell), a struggling actor who stays next door. "She always played the tart" the landlord says as a means of introducing her to him. What's funny is that Grahame still seems to be playing that role, flirting with the much-younger Peter shamelessly in their first encounter.

But it's now 1981, and when we see them in that context things are very different. She's arrived at his home, where he lives with his mother (Julie Walters), father (Kenneth Cranham), and brother (Stephen Graham) looking very sickly. She wants to stay with them and recover, with her and Peter in denial about the seriousness of her illness. The film leaps back and forth between 1979 and 1981, reflecting back on their relationship which looked a lot like love, but was perhaps more of a performance for them both. Grahame had been through multiple marriages, and a scandal in which she was accused of having an affair with her 13-year-old stepson. That ended in disaster, the utter destruction of her career, and psychological therapy. All of that baggage crowds the room whenever Peter is there, and the clueless young man is often at a loss when she suddenly stops acting like a breathless teenager and turns ugly. 

There is affection and love there, though. Clearly they care for one another, and director Peter McGuigan luxuriates in their happy moments. Oftentimes these blissful memories bleed over from scene to scene, literally, as if we are walking through Peter's daydreams, creating quite the surreal effect. But far too often the screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh fails to make Grahame's story unique, especially once her sordid past has been revealed and promptly papered over. Whatever her issues were, Grahame lived a life far too exciting for any film to try and gloss it over it. Bening gives another wonderfully complex performance, depicting Grahame as a woman stuck playing a role because her reality is too tough to endure. She does Grahame justice, but Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool is merely watchable when it could have been so much more.

Rating: 3 out of 5

'The Dark Tower' TV Series May Be A "Complete Reboot"

The Dark Tower turned out to be an epic-sized dud last summer, and we thought it would spell doom for Sony's plans for a cinematic universe spanning the big and small screen. But they soldiered forward with the TV series, landing The Walking Dead's Glen Mazzara to spearhead the whole thing. And while it's still moving forward, it sounds like the series will be used to wipe the slate clean. Stephen King told Vulture...

The major challenge was to do a film based on a series of books that’s really long, about 3,000 pages. The other part of it was the decision to do a PG-13 feature adaptation of books that are extremely violent and deal with violent behavior in a fairly graphic way. That was something that had to be overcome, although I’ve gotta say, I thought [screenwriter] Akiva Goldsman did a terrific job in taking a central part of the book and turning it into what I thought was a pretty good movie. The TV series they’re developing now … we’ll see what happens with that. It would be like a complete reboot, so we’ll just have to see.”

Sounds like a good idea. The Dark Tower is too popular to just fade away, and a series is undoubtedly the best format to give fans everything they want to see.


'Gotham' Recap Season 4, Episode 5 - 'The Blade's Path'

It’s Solomon Grundy time! Gotham laid down a huge Easter Egg at the end of last season when we found out Butch’s real name is Cyrus Gold. I was super excited when that happened and lo and behold, a few weeks into the new season and the Grundy story arc gets going. The episode begins with two hospital workers taking Butch’s body out of the hospital and to a swamp outside of Gotham. Butch has been in a coma for 6 months after getting shot in the noggin courtesy of Barbara. Butch gets dropped into the swamp where apparently some radioactive chemicals have also been poured - anyone and everyone knows that all you need is a little radioactive material for some comicbook fun. Later on in the episode Butch slowly rises out of the swamp with his newly grown hand glowing green. He slowly lumbers off and runs into a few people camping nearby. After disposing of them, he hears the music they were listening to – the old nursery rhyme about Solomon Grundy, and his new persona is born.

After the death of Alex, Jim wants to make sure that Ra’s al Ghul’s status as a Minister of a foreign county doesn’t allow him to get away with murder. Harvey unfortunately doesn’t seem to share in Jim’s passion that Ra’s needs to stand trial for what he has done. A reoccurring theme of this season has been the continued friction between Jim and Harvey – let’s hope these two can get their problems sorted out!

Bruce is having a hard time dealing with Alex’s death, despite Alfred’s continued insistence that it is not his fault. Bruce is turning this pain into an obsession with Ra’s and his dagger. Based on the translation of the writing on the dagger, Bruce believes that the dagger is the only thing that can kill Ra’s. Alfred reminds Bruce of his vow – “no killing” – and enforces the idea that Alex’s death cannot change this ideology. At Alex’s funeral, Bruce overhears Alfred and Jim arguing about Ra’s and the fact that he may get away with the murder because of diplomatic immunity. Bruce decides to take matters into his own hands, takes the dagger, and is off.

In the meantime, Barbara goes to see Ra’s with the intentions of breaking him out of prison. Ra’s has other ideas in mind and says goodbye to Barbara. Barbara demands that Ra’s give her what he promised her, which was apparently a “gift beyond her imagining.” Ra’s passes some mystical light from his hand into Barbara’s and lets her know she will understand what the gift was in due time. As Barbara leaves the room, Ra’s stares after her with one of his ominous, and creepy, looks that we’ve come to expect. 

Sophia visits Cobblepot and suggests that they get lunch in a public place. Being seen with a Falcone will show Gotham that Cobblepot has the family backing and increase his standing with the criminals of the city. While Cobblepot is entertaining this idea, Nygma is desperately trying to get his mojo back by looking for drugs that increase brain function. After an unsuccessful heist at a pharmacy, he runs into Solomon Grundy who quickly knocks him out and takes him with him. Nygma wakes up and finds out that Grundy doesn’t remember who he is and what happened to him. Grundy wants Nygma’s help and it becomes clear that they are both in similar situations - struggling to try and get back to what they once were.

As soon as Alfred realizes that Bruce is gone, he knows exactly what he is planning and goes to get Jim’s help. By this time, Bruce is already breaking into the prison to confront Ra’s. Bruce enters Ra’s cell and stands over him holding the dagger – clearly contemplating whether killing Ra’s is worth breaking his vow. Everyone but Bruce knows that this is far too simple and that Ra’s must have other tricks up his sleeve. Bruce decides to spare Ra’s life and turns to leave. As he does so, Ra’s calls him weak and foolish and begins to lay the smack down on Bruce. Three guards show up and as Bruce pleads for them to stop Ra’s, they turn out to be Ra’s men and kidnap Bruce.

Jim and Alfred show up to the prison and the same guards tell them that Bruce hasn’t been there. Jim asks to have a look around and after a hilarious scene that shows Alfred armed from head to toe, they are granted access. Underneath the prison, Ra’s tells Bruce about the dagger and the story of his resurrection. Ra’s lets Bruce know that Bruce is his heir and is the only one that can end his suffering. Ra’s gives Bruce the dagger and begs him to kill him – which would set him free. Upstairs, Jim and Alfred realize that the guards are imposters and give them a good ole fashioned Gotham ass kicking. Jim remembers there is a basement level to the prison and that must be where Ra’s has Bruce. Underground, Bruce refuses to kill Ra’s so Ra’s lays out what he will do to Bruce. He says that he will disappear and let Bruce live his life, and then one day in the future he will return and kill everyone Bruce loves. As Ra’s is describing this horrific series of events, Bruce snaps and stabs him twice with the dagger, killing him.

Bruce immediately regrets his decision to take a life. He begins questioning himself and everything he stood for. Alfred walks in on Bruce getting ready to burn his new fancy “bat” suit as he proclaims that he is “not the hero that Gotham needs.” Alfred convinces Bruce to just use some time to reflect and get back on the right path instead of completely abandoning hope. Bruce's growth has been  pivotal to this season and it will be interesting to see where this will go next. Bruce has taken a huge step forward in his development this season compared to season's past. I do not expect that killing Ra's will derail him for too long, Gotham (the city and show) needs him. 

The episode winds down with Nygma taking Grundy to an underground wrestling match. Nygma may be dumber than before, but he is still smart enough to realize that Grundy is a powerful weapon he can use. His ultimate goal is to make money so he can make himself smart again, and with Grundy’s strength, that seems possible. Nygma enters Grundy into a wrestling match, but before he can fight – he needs to get his wounds patched up. The underground doctor comes to see him, and what do you know, Lee Thompkins is still in Gotham after all!

Next week’s episode introduces another new villain on the scene. It seems that a lunatic that goes by Pyg is targeting GCPD’s finest. From the preview it looks to be another dark episode and I cannot wait. This season of Gotham has been top notch so far, and I think it will only get better. Don’t forget, a possibly mutated Poison Ivy is still lurking somewhere!   

J.J. Abrams Teases New Direction For 'Star Wars: Episode IX'

With Star Wars: The Last Jedi only weeks away, it's hard to believe we are already at the point of looking ahead to the trilogy's end. Wrapping things up with Episode IX is the same director who started it, J.J. Abrams, and if there was one complaint about his Star Wars: The Force Awakens it was the familiar story beats from the original trilogy.

Abrams and composer Michael Giacchino appeared on BBC Radio to talk about the film, and Abrams suggests it's a good time for the story to go in a new direction...

“I feel like we need to approach this with the same excitement that we had when we were kids, loving what these movies were. And at the same time, we have to take them places that they haven’t gone, and that’s sort of our responsibility. It’s a strange thing – Michael’s worked on things like ‘Planet of the Apes‘, ‘Star Trek‘ and ‘Star Wars,’ and these are the things of dreams. Yet we can’t just revel in that; we have to go elsewhere.”

Elsewhere is good. Abrams has talked about this before, and it was clear his mandate on 'The Force Awakens' was to make a movie that was both new and an homage. Now that he's done that, here's hoping Abrams can go in a truly unexpected direction.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens December 15th. Episode IX was recently moved to December 20th 2019.

Review: '1922', Another Great Addition To Netflix's Original Catalog

“I believe that there is another man living inside every man…a conniving man.” These chilling words muttered by Wilfred James (Thomas Jane) in 1922 will go on to be the backbone of Zak Hilditch’s Stephen King adaptation. Zak Hilditch not only directs the film, but he also created the screenplay from the King novella of the same name.

1922 tells the story of Wilfred James, a farmer living in Nebraska in, you guessed it, 1922. He has an 80 acre farm that he lives on with his son Henry (Dylan Schmid) and his wife Arlette (Molly Parker). Arlette’s father passes away and leaves her a 100 acre plot of land. Wilfred wants to keep the land because back then, a man’s pride was his land and his son. The more land he had, the more he would be respected. Arlette has ideas of her own about the land and is in discussion with another company to sell it. She wants to take that money and move the family to Omaha or St. Louis where she can own a dress shop. Wilfred is completely opposed to this idea and is steadfast in the thought that cities are for fools.

Running out of options, Arlette threatens to divorce Wilfred. Wilfred has the realization that he had come to hate his wife. Wilfred’s nonchalant proclamation about this epiphany is one of the first indications that the conniving man inside is beginning to take more and more control. This man makes it clear to Wilfred that he must do the unthinkable, kill his wife. Before that can happen, he needs to make sure that his boy is on his side. What better way to do that then manipulating a first love. Henry has developed a relationship with the girl next door, Shannon. The conniving man sees his chance to strike and convinces Henry that Arlette was trying to take him away from Shannon. If only Henry’s mom was gone, then everything would be the way it was and be good – the arguments and fight would be over and Henry and his father could finally live in peace. Eventually Henry cracks and Wilfred gets his wish. The two of them murder Arlette which sets off a chain of events that will change the course of their lives forever.

1922 is definitely an entertaining and enjoyable film. Hilditch does a great job showing the turmoil experienced by Wilfred as his sins begin to eat away at him. The conniving man may have led Wilfred down this path, but he cannot save him from the demons that are waiting at the end of the road. 1922 is filled with some horrific imagery, but as gruesome as it may be, it is done very well and helps paint an extremely graphic picture. This is nothing like the over-the-top gruesomeness of the Saw franchise, this is gore that fits into the narrative and manages to add to the story. 1922 walks the line leaving the audience wondering about what is actually occurring and what are simply hallucinations brought on by Wilfred’s guilt. Thomas Jane and Dylan Schmidt put on memorable performances, as does Molly Parker – even though hers is clearly shortened based on…well, her character’s untimely death. Neal McDonough also turns in a solid performance as Harlan Cotterie - the rich neighbor and father of Shannon that Wilfred has become incredibly envious of. 1922 has a very good cast who all mesh well together and do an excellent job, great source material, and a writer/director who knows how to illicit emotion from the audience. There are no cheap scares here, just a building dread that leads to one heck of a ride. 

Rating: 4 out of 5

Review: ‘Only the Brave,’ Starring Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Taylor Kitsch, Jeff Bridges, and Jennifer Connelly

Only the Brave is very upfront about what it is: a movie about manly men doing manly things. That observation is not to undermine the bravery and skill required for what the Granite Mountain Hotshots did, which was fighting raging fires around the country, for hours and days at a time, saving people and towns from destruction. And it’s also not to diminish the sacrifice these men made, which you can tell is coming but still guts you. But while Only the Brave is a well-acted and well-made film, the testosterone with which it defines itself is almost overwhelming.

All you need to do is look at this cast, and you’ll understand the vibe here: Josh Brolin, Jeff Bridges, Miles Teller, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch. They’ve played federal agents, police officers, gun runners, military men, all those super-masculine roles that are so often portrayed in film. Sometimes it even feels like Only the Brave is on a personal quest to one-up itself with every scene of the men together: They drink Budweiser and do whiskey shots; they perform tricks with their chainsaws; they ride horses and hang out in the desert.

Oh, and they also rush into the front lines of fires. The film, which is based on the article “No Exit” published in GQ by journalist Sean Flynn, follows a municipal firefighting crew from Prescott, Arizona, who aspire to be hotshots, federally funded firefighters who travel around the country engaging with fires on the front lines. They speak disparagingly of the “structure” side of firefighting—which involves protecting buildings instead of using manpower to contain and fight the fire—and pride themselves on the danger and knowledge required for their job.

But what that means, in real life, is that the men are always short on sleep, barely have time with their families, and are living on the edge. Superintendent Eric Marsh (Brolin) has been working for four years to get his crew of 19 men certified as hotshots, but it’s a desire that is increasingly keeping him away from his wife, Amanda (Jennifer Connelly). Former pothead burnout Brendan McDonough (Teller) wants to become a firefighter to provide for his newborn daughter, but the job may be too demanding for someone who used to spend days high on his couch. And while the swaggering Christopher MacKenzie (Kitsch) is a shit talker of the highest order, his brusque humor and pranking nature rubs some guys the wrong way.

Only the Brave excels with its character development, which lets these men stand on their own individually and then come together when they get the call to report to yet another disastrous fire. The most attention is paid to Marsh and Brendan, who is nicknamed “Donut,” and their relationship is effectively built: The fatherless Donut is honored by the expectations Marsh places upon him, and in the young man, the superintendent sees a shadow of his former self. Their bond is believable and engrossing, and the gruff Brolin and sensitive Teller have good chemistry.

What is infuriating, then, is how much the movie underserves its few female characters: The mother of Donut’s daughter comes around every so often to complain about something or another, and while Connelly has the most screentime, her storyline is eventually simplified into motherhood, too. Only the Brave has endless interest and patience in its male characters, but little interest in the women it shows loving them.

Still, director Joseph Kosinski has a good visual eye: The movie opens with an inferno-like nightmare that haunts the rest of the film, and there are many overhead shots that capture the scale of the fires and the wildness of the Arizona landscape in which these men live. Plus, the firefighting scenes themselves are well-designed, helping viewers to understand the chaos of those situations and the control the Granite Mountain Hotshots brought to their job. With that foundation of clear visual storytelling in place, Kosinski effectively makes the final sequence of the film so captivating and so terrifying.

With all those strong elements in mind, the film’s missed opportunities are even more glaring. It’s not only the underwritten female characters, but also how the film ends in a somewhat anticlimactic way—what was the future of the Granite Mountain Hotshots? Only the Brave excels as an examination of a group of men and their interpersonal dynamics, but when it deviates away from rightfully honoring these men, it falters. 


Review: ‘The Snowman’ Proves That October Is No Time For Snow

With glimpses into the past and present, The Snowman takes place in icy and cold Oslo, Norway. We open by witnessing a disturbing scene that begins with a police car driving up to a remote house where a young boy and his mother are residing. A man in civilian clothes enters, does a chore or two and begins quizzing the boy in History. For every incorrect question, he strikes the boy’s mother as he just sits there horrified. Eventually the man has had enough and takes the woman upstairs for some adult alone time. In the meantime, the boy goes outside and makes an incredibly ominous looking snowman. I’m not sure if it actually looked ominous or I just knew enough about the subject matter that was to come, but it sure as hell wasn’t a work of art. An argument breaks out and the man races out of the house, takes one fateful look at the snowman, and speeds off in his car. The boy and his mother chase after him across the snowy Norwegian country side. All of a sudden, the mother swerves the car onto a frozen lake. The boy jumps out and shouts for his mother to join him. Instead she stays in the car and simply stares at her son as she slowly, and willingly, descends into the icy water. Whether this child grows up to become a killer or not is yet to be seen, however it is pretty clear that he will most likely have a litany of issues from this type of trauma.

The main premise of the movie is that there is a killer who is kidnapping women and likes to build snowmen. Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) is a police officer who is constantly in a drunken stupor. Harry used to be a decorated officer, but his life has spiraled out of control and he seems to be awfully bored and is in search of some excitement, preferably in the form of a serial killer. Luckily for him his wish is granted. The killer begins toying with Harry by sending him letters, letting him know that Harry is being watched and how close he was to saving someone’s life. Of course the letters feature a drawing of the killer’s trademark, a snowman. As more women keep disappearing, Harry tries to solve the mystery and stop the snowman killer once and for all. There are other big name stars in the film – most notably Val Kilmer, J.K. Simmons, and Rebecca Ferguson – but overall their talents are greatly underutilized.

I’d go out on a limb and say it is fairly uncommon to have a director make excuses to the media about a bunch of negative feedback his film was receiving from critics before it had even been officially released. Well luckily for us, we get to see exactly that unfold in front of our eyes. Director Tomas Alfredson, when speaking to the Norwegian Broadcasting Company NRK, made it clear that they were rushed when filming the movie. Alfredson was also upset that nearly 15 percent of the script was not able to be shot for the film. I could understand if there was maybe 15 percent he wanted to swap out to clear up some inconsistencies and make it more coherent. However if he wanted to ADD 15 percent to the movie it quite possibly could have been even more of a disaster. The Snowman was already drawn out and dull. The scares were few and far between, the suspense was lacking, and it really did not have any memorable moments. The unfortunate part is that The Snowman had all of the right pieces – super successful and popular source material, talented stars across the board, and the backing of major Hollywood players… yet it still managed to fall flat. I wanted to like this one, I really did, but I couldn’t even convince myself that I somewhat enjoyed it by the end. By the sound of his comments, it seems like Tomas Alfredson agrees.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5

Elizabeth Banks Developing DC Comics Series 'Project 13' For The CW

At what point does The CW rebrand itself as the DC Comics Network? You can add Project 13 to their ever-expanding list of DC adaptations which includes Arrow, Supergirl, The Flash, Legend of Tomorrow, and Black Lightning.  The series will be based on the characters Traci Thirteen and her father, Doctor Thirteen.

On board to exec-produce is Elizabeth Banks, which could prove interesting if the series lands a regular spot. Project 13 follows Traci “a twenty-something forensic scientist and believer in the paranormal who discovers her own hidden extra-sensory abilities when she joins her estranged, skeptic father to investigate mysterious cases of the paranormal and unexplained phenomena.” Traci first appeared in Superman #189, created by writer Joe Kelly and artist Dwayne Turner. Her father has a much longer history, stretching back to 1951 and an issue of Star Spangled Comics.

The question now is whether this will be part of the Arrowverse or separate as Black Lightning is for now. [Variety]

Def Jam Is Making A Movie About Rap Legend T La Rock, Hopefully Titled 'It's Yours'

Although he only had two albums and one major track, T La Rock is a pivotal figure in the history of hip-hop. Old school heads know him as the first act ever signed to Def Jam, with his 1984 single "It's Yours" becoming one of the most  heavily sampled by artists that followed. But what makes T La Rock's story truly special is how he was there at the birth of the hip-hop movement, and years later he wouldn't even remember it happened.

20th Century Fox is developing a movie based on the life of Terrence Keaton aka T La Rock, based on Joshua Bearman's GQ article "The Man Who Forgot He Was A Rap Legend." T La Rock was there as rap music exploded in the 1970s, performing from the the Boogie Down Bronx to Manhattan as an emcee and DJ. In 1984 he signed with Def Jam and released "It's Yours", a classic. But in 1994 he attempted to break up a street fight outside of his brother's house and took a blow to the head that gave him amnesia and a loss of motor skills. He woke up in a kosher rehab facility far from home, and begins the process of putting his life back together.

Last I heard T La Rock was still out there doing shows on occasion, so this one should have a happy ending. The film doesn't have a director yet, but you know Def Jam founder Russell Simmons, on board here as a producer, will land a big name for the job.

New 'Thor: Ragnarok' Clip: Now We Know Why Loki Hates Thor

We already know Thor: Ragnarok is poised to be the funniest Marvel movie yet, even if some reviews suggest it's too funny for its own good. Whatever. The god of thunder could use some laughs after two anonymous flicks, and this new clip puts the humorous tone right out there on front street. The scene begins with a heartfelt, honest conversation between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his deceptive half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Just when you think these two have put everything out on the table, Thor comes up with a hilarious idea that Loki absolutely hates. Check it out:

This scene is great! Not only does it mess with our emotions, switching gears from serious to comically over-the-top in a span of seconds, but look at Thor and Loki's body language here. One of the prevailing reasons Loki turned to villainy was growing up in Thor's shadow, and you can bet he endured years of bullying and unwanted games of "Get Help" with his brother. Maybe we should be rooting for Loki, after all?

Thor: Ragnarok opens November 3rd.