The Coens are Back with Goofball Antics

by Noel T. Manning II

Hail, Caesar! offers fun and quirky characters, humorous dialogue & creative set pieces in a mystery/comedy set around a classic Hollywood movie studio.

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The story itself is a simple hostage return for ransom theme, but it is the multiple intricate set pieces and cameos that provide the entertainment value. Channing Tatum as a singing sailor & Scarlett Johansson as a mermaid offer some memorable moments, as well as my favorite character a singing cowboy played by Alden Ehrenreich.

The Coen brothers films are not for everyone and can be an acquired taste – this one is no different. There are certain threads throughout the film that seem thrown in for the pure sake of the fun, with very little connection to the actual storyline. But, for me I still found myself laughing throughout.

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This is not going to be classic Coen in the vein of Oh Brother Where Art Thou, but no one can mug overacting goofball comic faces with the Coens better than George Clooney … and that makes this worth a view, if for nothing else. This will not be one I’ll revisit over and over agin, but I’m happy to have caught it once. This film earns a C+on the Cinemascene scorecard.

Humanity is the Beast

 

Netflix Delivers Film Targeting Year-end Awards 

by Noel T. Manning II

When the world around you falls apart, and the life you know and love is ripped from underneath your feet, how do you survive? You either find a way to adapt, surrender, fight, or die. That is the story we find unfolding in Netflix’s “Beasts of No Nation.”

“Nothing is ever for sure and everything is always changing.”

 

beasts-of-no-nation-1140x641Caught between warring factions in an African Civil War, a young orphan teen, Agu, reluctantly joins forces with a rebellion leader and discovers a different type of family. Agu finds a world where violence, suffering, anger, and the thirst for power provide the main courses for each day. He finds that leadership and authority is never guaranteed, even for those who assume the power.

This film is a painful journey into the darkness of the soul, and one in which making one wrong choice can send you to a point of no return. It is a film filled with life questions, and challenges the viewer to examine consequences of actions and inactions.

“I am like old man, not baby, because of my experiences.”

web-beastsCapturing elements of man v man, man v society, and man v self, “Beasts” is a fascinating story exploring lost innocence and the collateral damage associated with trauma through violence. Watching Agu fall deeper and deeper into a life thrust upon him, one wonders, what happens when you become the very evil you hate?

“When you become the Devils pawn, and find yourself doing his bidding, can you ever find redemption… and do you even deserve it?”

e649f612a135cf3f08bbfe300dfea38aAgu also abandons his empathy and compassion along this journey, and yet viewers catch a fading glimpse of it when Agu loses a friend to the violent path he is on. Agu is faced with this: once you’ve travelled so far down a dark and evil road, can you ever find humanity again? Although going back to what you once had is not an option, is there another way forward? Is it even worth the chance?

With an amazing companion score by Dan Romer, the film was well-shot, it offered wonderfully gritty set designs and locations, and provided great performances by newcomer Abraham Attah (Agu) & Idris Elda as the rebel leader. “Beasts” was a powerful story written & directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga and based on the 2005 novel by Nigerian-American author Uzodinma Iweala.

UnknownYet with all that went right with the film, it still had its flaws. It lacked overall balance for me. It had an extremely slow start, intense 2nd act, and an incredibly sluggish 3rd act, and that imbalance combined with the too-long 2 hour and 17 minute runtime detracted from a film that could have been great.  There was also voice over narration that I found disruptive to the story, and it interrupted the flow of the film as a whole. Better editing choices, and 30 minutes shorter, and this could’ve been on my top ten of the year.

commandant-idris-elba-beasts-of-no-nation-assetThe story is still one worth telling, and the film is worth watching. If “Beasts” is any indication, the potential of the Netflix movie studio machine looks promising. While I have no plans to nominate this film this year, I do look forward for what else the studio has in mind for the future.

Cinemascene Score Card = C+

Matt Damon Shines 249 Million Miles From Home

In “The Martian” Ridley Scott directs this great Matt Damon vehicle that combines Apollo 13,” Cast Away,” and “MacGyver.” When astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) 75is left for dead on Mars, he must discover how to survive on his own in a hostile environment where the smallest of mistakes can cost him his life.

It is the story of perseverance, human will, and ingenuity. As rich as the story is here, the set design, sound mix, casting, and visual design make this a complete film. This film transcends science fiction, and is much more drama than science fiction, yet should appeal to audiences of both genres. Damon’s character provides elements of comic relief in the midst of utter chaos. Audiences witness a character at war with nature, the unknown and himself in a film that earns a solid “A” on the Cinemascene scorecard.

The Martian is rated PG-13 for language & disturbing scenes, and brief nudity. It is distributed by 20th Century Fox. 6-ways-mars-could-kill-matt-damon-in-the-martian-475703

Is the New M.Night Film Worth “The Visit”?

by Noel T. Manning II

Night Shyamalan brings to the world “Hansel & Gretel meets Blair Witch” in a stripped down fairy tale complete with deep dark woods, creaking wood floors, and freaky characters in the new film “The Visit”.

8l60_tp1_00088rv2Shyamalan loves using children as his protagonists, and does so again in this film with the over-used (but quite inexpensive) found footage-type technique. Here, the children (as in many fairytales) must overcome evil and menacing conflicts (sometimes from the most unlikely of sources) when they discover just how awful a visit to grandmother’s house can be.

“The Visit” offered canned scares, Shamalanian twists, and some laughs, but overall I found the story predictable (creative, yes, but predictable, none-the-less). The found-footage concept is becoming old and tired for The-Visitme for the most part, but here, at times, it was fun. The film was a bit disjointed , yet it was oddly entertaining. You may see here that I’m a bit conflicted with this film that lacked true balance. I didn’t love it, and I didn’t hate it.

I was an early fan of M. Night with such projects as “Wide Awake” (1998) and the mnightOscar-nominated “The Sixth Sense” (1999). I also appreciated films like “Unbreakable” (2000), “Signs” (2002), “The Village” (2004), and even the almost universally panned “Lady in the Water” (2006). But in 2008 with the release of horrid film “The Happening” and the 2010 follow up mess “The Last Airbender” I was really getting worried about the future of this talented writer/director.

“The Visit” is by no means a return to the “A-Game,” for M. Night, and thankfully it’s not a cellar-dweller waste of time either, it somehow fits squarely in the middle and earns a Cinemascene grade of C+ from me.