Releasing the Monster Within

maxresdefault14-year old Lewis MacDougall gives one of the 2016’s best performances in a film that is compelling & beautiful. A Monster Calls explores faith, letting go, and the search for healing.

Based on the award-winning book by Patrick Ness, J.A. Bayona directs this drama/fantasy that takes audiences into the unique world of young Conor (MacDougall) who explores life, death, fear, and uncertainty with the assistance of a great and magnificent tree monster (voiced by Liam Neeson). Rogue One’s Felicity Jones and the legendary Sigourney Weaver round out the cast with strong acting and thought-provoking characters.1477624734-1196749690_n

This is a film that offers deep and rich layers in nearly every aspect of filmmaking. With captivating and stunning music (by Fernando Velazquez), wonderful cinematography, and excellent CGI, this flick also has one of the best set designs and sound designs of any film of 2016.

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A Monster Calls provides valuable lessons for living in a world of chaos and rage, for exploring what scares you, and for understanding that even through our most difficult times … we are never fully alone.

A Monster Calls earns a Cinemascene grade of “A+”

  • Noel T. Manning II

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When Men Were Men

by Noel T. Manning II

last-man-club-LMC_Corbin_2mb_rgbDirector Bo Brinkman‘s Last Man Club offers a funny and poignant road trip dramady about a World War II veteran escaping the destiny of forced retirement home living in search of friendship’s past. when Eagle (played by Jim Mackrell) discovers that the life he once knew has long-gone, and he may be forced to nearly exist, he chooses one last adventure and travels the US searching for old war buddies. Along the way he develops an unlikely friendship with Romy (played by Kate French), a young woman escaping an unwanted past, present, and future of her own. The friendship gives fuel to a wild and crazy journey complete with car chases, airplane crashes, shoot-outs & the search to reignite life’s meaning when one discovers things didn’t quite turn out like you planned.

This is truly a sweet story of friendship (old and new), and it explores morality and last-man-club-Presskit-5-Jim-MacKrell,-W_rgbmortality and offers the simple lesson – “Growing old ain’t never easy.” Last Man Club offers an interesting perspective on the choices we all have to make as we age, or as we see those we love age around us. It is a film filled with humor, beautiful scenery, and an excellent story of the power of friendships and commitment. The film is a cross between “Grumpy Old Men”, “Thema & Louise”, and “Cocoon” and offers a wonderful salute to those who serve in America’s armed services past and present, and reminds us that  a war-time experience is a difficult thing to survive, but so is coming home.

last-man-club-Eagle_and_Will_having_a)_look_at_an_old_stearman_ bi-plane_rgbFamiliar faces fill out the cast including Barry Corbin, William Morgan Sheppard, Richard Riehl & Jake Busey. Last Man Club was written, produced, and directed by Bo Brinkman. It is a film Brinkman says has been in the works for decades and was the film that nearly never happened. Check out the interview below for the full story.

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.

The Best Films of 2015

by Noel T. Manning II

Best ComedyMV5BMjM2NTQ5Mzc2M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTcxMDI2NTE@._V1_SX640_SY720_

“Antman” was incredibly entertaining and offered a pleasant departure from the over saturated superhero film genre. I found myself laughing throughout the film, and was impressed by the honest humor, well-cast characters, and surprising script. For a film that had been on the drawing board for a number of years, my expectations were quite low. But Marvel found a way to reintroduce pure fun into a genre that is sometimes finding itself floating in a sea of mediocrity. There is no film that I enjoyed more during the summer of 2015.

Honorable Mention: “Grandma”

 

Best HorrorBone-Tomahawk-kurt-russell

“Bone Tomahawk” is a character-driven horror/western with a great cast, wonderful script and a unique abduction tale from first time feature film director S. Craig Zahler. This is a must-see film for anyone searching for a witty, genre-bending tale of mystery, revenge, and imagination.

Honorable Mention: “It Follows”

 

MV5BOTgxMDQwMDk0OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjU5OTg2NDE@._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_Best Animation

“Inside Out” is one of Pixar’s best (and that is saying quite a bit). It offers an incredibly creative look at the power of emotions, and the fragile balancing act that occurs within our minds on a daily basis. The wonderful screenplay provides fun and touching moments that transports viewers into the depths of what we think and how we feel. It also examines the hurdles we must overcome when challenges and conflicts of the mind arise. “Inside Out” also has amazing voice talent, intoxicating animation, and fascinating characters.

Honorable Mention: “Shaun the Sheep” & “Minions”

Best Action Filmmission-impossible-rogue-nation-poster-141476-655x560

“Mission Impossible: Rouge Nation” brought Tom Cruise to the big screen for the fifth time as spy Ethan Hunt. With more intense action sequences, breath-taking stunt choreography, and interesting storyline, I found myself asking when the next installment will be in theatres. This was action (and espionage) at its finest.

Honorable Mention: “Furious 7”

Best Drama

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.

Honorable Mention: “Infinitely Polar Bear” & “Brooklyn” & “Carol”

Best Sci-Fi

It is rare that a movie beckons me to the theatre for multiple viewings, but director J.J. Abrams found a way. He brought to the screen something familiar, yet new in the absolutely fantastic “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” With storylines, scenes, and concepts borrowed from the Star-Wars-The-Force-Awakens-posteroriginal trilogy, I found myself feeling as if I was in a comfortable pair of jeans that somehow felt fresh and clean at the same time. It is unique when I am so taken by a film-going experience, that I immediately want to view it again … and again … and again. But that is exactly what happened with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” With wonderfully written dialogue, perfect locations, engaging characters (old and new), and award-caliber special effects and musical score, this film was my favorite movie-going experience of the year.

Honorable mention: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Surprise of the Year

635712538022292039-XXX-CREED-SNEAKPEEK-MOV01-DCB-74168494When I first heard at the end of 2014, that the “Rocky” film franchise was getting another installment, I was angered, frustrated, and a bit saddened that the series was being given extended life support. In 2006, “Rocky Balboa” seemed to be a fitting final chapter to this legendary boxing saga, and I felt that the character had stepped into the ring (and on screen for a final time), and I was happy with the way it ended. So you can understand my trepidation when I saw that Rocky was coming back. But, after reading the script concept for “Creed,” I had hope. When I finally got the opportunity to screen this film I was blown away by the new approach to the nearly 40-year old franchise. With wonderful acting by Michael B. Jordan (Adonis Creed), and an Oscar-caliber performance by Sylvester Stallone (Rocky Balboa), this film offers amazing family drama, excellent fight choreography, and an enchanting story of the ultimate battle of man vs. self. And let me say it now, I’d be interested to see what a Creed 2 script would look like.

Disappointment of the Year

When I typically mention names like Jennifer Lawrence, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, David O. Russell, Isabella Rossellini, Cameron Crowe, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, James McAvoy, and the Human Torch – it is usually is a good thing. But this is not the case this year. These individuals are main ingredients to my biggest disappointments of 2015. Five films have vied for the coveted dud of the year, and I’m honoring each of them with the dishonor.

maxresdefault“The Fantastic Four” – A fantastic chance for a reboot was damaged by a lack of follow through. It offered a welcomed and different take on the origin story for these superheroes, and provided a wonderful back story for the characters, but at the midway point the film fell completely apart, and was so convoluted, that it never found its way back. Promises unfulfilled and franchise destroying are a couple of descriptors for this flick.

“Victor Frankenstein” – Told from Igor’s point of view, director Paul McGuigan couldn’t find the proper steering wheel needed to navigate Mary Shelly’s 200-year old story. It suffered from lack of cohesiveness, murky design, and way too much of everything else.

“Aloha” – This Hawaiian-based film offers confusion, forced character chemistry, and not enough energy to sustain the 105-minute running
time. Here’s to hoping Cameron Crowe’s next project will be closer to the bposter-largeeauty of “Almost Famous” and Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”

“Joy” – For a film that had the potential of being one of the year’s best, I found the film lacked direction, and purpose. I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be a comedy, a drama, or what. ”Joy” felt like three different films, all with different directors. There is no excuse for a film with this caliber of talent to end up being what my mother-in-law called “The worst film of the year.” While I don’t think it was quite that bad, it is definitely one of the biggest failures of 2015 for me.

“Manglehorn” – This Al Pacino-led vehicle is a mangled mess (much like his character’s romantic relationships in the film), and it is so sluggish that I found myself looking at my watch at least 5 times throughout this 1 hour 37 minute film.

Best BioPic

61i-pmABkoLThe story of the mental illness and untamed musical brilliance of Beach Boy legend Brian Wilson, Love and Mercyis an absolutely intense love story with incredible acting by Paul Dano, John Cusack, Paul Giamatti, and Elizabeth Banks. It was a flawless tale of a man searching for the best of himself, while attempting to overcome the hurdles of his own mind (while others conspire to take advantage of those very challenges). A wonderful soundtrack is complimented by vivid period set pieces, visual wonders, and an enthralling narrative that takes a different approach to the bio-pic genre. It is truly a loving (and nearly perfect) tribute to the artistic genius behind the best of the “Beach Boys.”

Honorable Mentions:

“Trumbo”

“Spotlight”

“Straight Outta Compton”

“Steve Jobs” 

Best Documentary800px-Amy_Winehouse_f4962007_crop

Amy Winehouse was this amazing talent with the type of voice that I could listen to forever and a day. Her struggle between artistry and celebrity and the excesses that followed her lifestyle met with tragic ends when the 27 year-old singer lost the battle with alcohol abuse. In the documentary “Amy” we get a personal view into the life, the love, and the music of the multi-Grammy award-winning artist. It is a compelling, haunting, and powerful portrait of a monumental singer who allowed fame to control her life. This incredible documentary is a true work of art.

Honorable Mention: “Finders Keepers”