Leave No Trace Movie Review — Survival Isn’t Just Physical

If there was a political message bubbling below the surface of Leave No Trace, I certainly was not looking for it. For me, this was first and foremost a father/daughter story about love and pain. The beautiful indie drama directed by Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone) centers on a teenage girl named Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) and her veteran father Will (Ben Foster), who live off the grid for a reason that is not immediately apparent. When they are caught in a nature preserve of Forest Park (just west of Portland), social services treats them with both compassion and structure, the latter of which Will is loathed to accept. Tom has an easier time, especially when she socializes with children her own age. Though she subtlely expresses her enjoyment to her father, he simply can’t adjust, and away they go again. We won’t ever know the full backstory of these two, and that’s okay. The audience is entrusted to fill in the gaps, and we have all the information we need to know these characters.

There are a few reviews of this film that suggest it’s about much more than meets the eye. First, should we question our social norms? Maybe. But this isn’t about that. There’s one thing separating both Will and Tom in my opinion, and it isn’t social norms. It’s people and expectations. He can’t expend the mental energy required to interact with others and follow guidelines, unlike Tom. Perhaps that’s a far too simplistic way of viewing his struggle, but isolation seems to be the anecdote for his angst. Though it would be nice to say his love for his daughter knows no bounds, it isn’t true. He’s paralyzed by demons that the love for his daughter cannot fix. Tom’s final decision is more about empathy than a typical teenage/parent schism, and it’s beautifully executed by both actors.

It has also been suggested that this film shines a spotlight on PTSD and the way in which America treats its Veterans. Again, if that’s the case, I did not see it. If anything, it shines a spotlight on the power of depression. For Will to recover, he’d not only need the means, he’d need the motivation, and he simply doesn’t have it. The generosity of others can’t outweigh his personal peril, and as we’ve seen from many recent, tragic suicides, the love for one’s child is also not enough. Mental illness is a beast that only the sufferers fully understand. And speaking of that generosity, it’s also been mentioned that this is a story of white privilege. If Will were a black man, would he have been gifted with such generosity? It’s certainly a reasonable question we should all ask ourselves when a neighbor is in need of help.

If there’s a deeper meaning at play here, it’s to celebrate the earth and to acknowledge that sometimes the littlest of things are enough. Will and Tom could live off the earth, but should they? Indulgences are okay but beware of the pendulum swinging too far in either direction.

‘Adrift’ Movie Review (SPOILERS AHEAD)

Courtesy of STXfilms; Motion Picture Artwork © 2017 STX Financing, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Some have suggested that Adrift emotionally manipulates its audience by keeping Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin) alive via hallucination when in the true story, Sharp sadly died during Hurricane Raymond, leaving Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley) to navigate a terribly damaged 44-foot yacht for 41 days . . . alone.  As someone who has personally experienced profound grief, I can unequivocally defend this creative choice. First, Tami is said to have relied on the voices in her head to keep her alive, and one of those voices was Richard’s. Again, I reiterate that after having experienced personal grief, I relate to the idea that it’s possible to be propelled by the spirit of someone who has passed, as if they are still present. Had they let the audience in on the secret, the audience would not have felt Richard’s presence in the same way as Tami.

The story of the real Tami and Richard began in September 1983, when they took a 4000-mile sailing job from Hazana to San Diego, where they encountered 40-foot waves and 140 mph winds via the largest storm in the Pacific. With a non-functional electronic navigation system and a radio device that could no longer indicate the boat’s emergency position, Tami used a sextant to change course and accurately navigate to Hawaii. A sextant is a tool that employs celestial navigation, and it was introduced in the 19th century. Had she missed Hawaii due to any navigation error, she’d be dead.

Shailene Woodley delivered one of the best performances of her career. I saw The Fault in Our Stars, and she has grown tremendously since that film. This is a highly physical role, and Woodley is incredibly believable. Knowing it’s a true story certainly helped, but she kept the audience engaged from beginning to end, showing the array of emotions, including panic, defeat, and determination. Each new challenge (food rations, a broken sail, etc. . .) created an edge-of-your-seat intensity that’s up there with Cast Away.

TROLLS Movie: A Full Review


The creators of Shrek have delivered a delightful animated film that is fun for all ages. With an old-school music playlist that brought me back to my Bat-Mitzvah days (“I’m Coming Out, “Celebration,” “Move Your Feet” etc.) and a colorful collection of overly optimistic Trolls that are determined to help others find their own happiness, we’ve got a dance-friendly message of love.

TROLLS stars Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Russell Brand, Zooey Deschanel, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, James Corden, Kunal Nayyar, Ron Funches, Icona Pop, Quvenzhané Wallis, with John Cleese and Gwen Stefani. Each Troll has its own, rich identity, with my personal favorite covered in glitter. Director Mike Mitchell and co-director Walt Dohrn deeply researched Troll lore for the film and adapted it to fit a modern day story. “We were fascinated by how these creatures were originally scary-ugly and evolved over time into being cute-ugly,” says Mitchell. “In the 1970s they became a symbol for happiness.”

The film almost immediately presents its conflict when the Trolls’ unhappy neighbors, known as the “Bergens,” attempt to capture and eat the Trolls as a mode of achieving their own happiness. Though they initially escape from the Bergens, their new location is found after they throw a loud, celebratory party. When Poppy’s (Anna Kendrick) friends are caught and whisked away to Bergen Town, she becomes immediately determined to bring them back to safety, and she enlists the help of her neurotic Troll friend, Branch (Justin Timberlake) who seemed to have missed out on the Troll happiness gene. As Poppy and Branch journey into the Bergens’ dangerous world, they help one another keep their resolve in trying moments.

The film is good, but it brought a few existential questions to the surface, which proves that I probably need a vacation. First, the idea that happiness comes from within rather than anything external (such as eating a Troll) made me ask whether it’s a poo-poo on taking medication for depression. Maybe we need to eat a Troll or two after exploring other failed options (that’s a joke . . . kinda). Second, I understand Branch’s character is a foil for Poppy, but his hue looks too close to the Bergens and it doesn’t make sense that he’d be unhappy. After all, he’s still a Troll. Perhaps one can be happy AND neurotic, but Branch just looked depressed, which goes against Troll lore. Lastly, the film made me think of an Eeyore meme, which said:

“One awesome thing about Eeyore is that even though he is basically clinically depressed, he still gets invited to participate in adventures and shenanigans with all of his friends And they never expect him to pretend to feel happy, they just love him anyway, and they never leave him behind or ask him to change.”

I understand that if the Bergens are trying to eat the Trolls, then it makes sense to help them change, but its just a thought.

It should be noted that I saw this movie with children, who were engrossed from start to finish and endlessly praised the music while exiting the film. It’s family-friendly, it’s entertaining, and the colors could make anyone happy.

Movie Review: The Revenant

Written by Guest Contributor, C. Dillon


The Revenant is brilliant. Inspired by real events, The Revenant tells the story of Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a frontiersman and hunter working for a U.S. Government expedition to trap beaver along the northern reaches of the Missouri River in the 1820s.

Glass’ past is not deeply explored in the film, though it is shown that he was married to a Pawnee woman and lived with her (and their son, Hawk) until their village was raided and torched by (apparently) U.S. troops. Glass’ wife is killed in this raid, and young Hawk is badly burned. Glass’ mantra to his son while nursing him back to health – “as long as you can grab a breath, you fight” – echoes as the driving theme of the film.

Years later, Glass and teen-aged Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) are working under Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), collecting beaver pelts in the frigid, mountainous forests lining the northern Missouri. The expedition is attacked by a group of Arikara warriors, forcing the survivors to flee down river. Concerned that the “Ree” will track and ambush their boat, Glass convinces Captain Henry to abandon the boat and continue on foot, trying to make their way hundreds of miles back to Fort Kiowa. Soon after, Glass is attacked and viciously mauled by a grizzly bear, suffering terrible wounds. The party tries to carry Glass with them, but it becomes apparent that they will not be able to get him through the snow-covered mountains in his condition. Captain Henry offers a substantial bonus to any volunteers who will stay with Glass until he succumbs to his wounds, and give him a proper burial. Hawk, his friend Jim Bridger (Will Poulter), and John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) agree to do so. Without getting too deep into spoiler territory, Glass is left for dead, and spends the rest of the movie trying to get back to Fort Kiowa to exact revenge on those who abandoned him.

It is a relatively simple story, but gorgeously told. Director Alejandro Iñárritu reteams with his Birdman cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki to paint a stark, violently beautiful portrait of the American frontier. Each shot is more beautiful than the last, whether it be leaves frozen in encasements of ice, or the open, snow-swept emptiness of a northern plain. In fact, I became so immersed in Lubezki’s realistic portrayal of Glass’ cold, wet world, I found myself shivering in the theater.

CGI is used sparingly, and in some cases with less than perfect results. One scene, however, makes heavy use of this technique to brutally effective ends. The attack on Glass by the grizzly is as visceral, immediate, and compellingly vicious as nearly anything ever put to film. Each swipe of rending claws, each gnash of crunching teeth is perfectly rendered, and makes this pivotal scene so realistic, it’s nearly unwatchable. The mass of the giant grizzly is a physical thing, felt by the audience as it tears Glass’ flesh to ribbons. It is a masterful scene of incredible violence, but even this feels somehow beautiful.

That the filmmakers paid incredible attention to detail is apparent in almost every shot. Specifically, Native Americans and First Tribes experts were consulted to ensure that the Arikara and Pawnee were accurately portrayed, down to the war paint on the horses. This pays off in spades, as there was never a moment in the film where an anachronistic gaffe pulled me out Glass’ environment.

Glass is a far cry from other characters DiCaprio has portrayed – often they are loquacious, easily charismatic types who have page upon page of sparkling dialogue to carry them. Not so in The Revenant, where Glass is naturally not prone to talking much, and spends a good deal of the movie unable to talk at all. This does not at all take away from his performance, however, he is as good here as he has been in anything. His face and eyes carry the burden of his pain, his loss, his lust for vengeance, where words would seemingly fail. It is a physical role, and an emotional one, and DiCaprio masters it.

He is surrounded by an equally adept supporting cast, led by Tom Hardy’s Fitzgerald. While he sometimes seems to be doing an impression of Tom Berenger’s Sergeant Barnes from Platoon (they are both hard men from Texas, after all), Hardy’s villain is both contemptible and, to a point, understandable. He knows what it means to be captured by the “Indians,” having lost a good chunk of his scalp in an earlier encounter. He accepts that this job, and this world, are brutal and unforgiving. He truly believes that Glass has no hope of survival, given their situation. All that said, however, he is not sympathetic, and the audience knows quite clearly that he is the bad guy in the story.

On a personal level, The Revenant – especially in the first 30 minutes or so – took me back to aspects of my own youth. As a young man assigned to the Army’s 2nd Ranger Battalion at Fort Lewis, Washington, I had spent significant time learning about “Roger’s Rangers,” a pre-Revolutionary War force that fought on the British side in the French and Indian War of the mid- 18th century. Modern Army Rangers trace their lineage directly from Roger’s Rangers, and include in their training “Roger’s Standing Orders,” a collection of things that every good Ranger – then and now – must to do be effective in combat. Watching Glass and his expedition patrol forested mountains, cold, wet, and under heavy burden, brought me straight back to my days doing the same (albeit 170 years later, and under very different circumstances). The Revenant is that kind of movie – it will hit you in places that you don’t expect, and bring you back to a time when you could be truly awed by a film.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are “Sisters” — WATCH Trailer

  
It’s about time Amy Poehler and Tina Fey played sisters, given that their power pairing has brought us some of the best comedy we’ve seen in some time. And since “Sisters” seems to forgo the standard good cop, bad cop story-line, we’re getting double the fun. Watch as these two relive a childhood that never seemed to actually end.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Impersonates His Own Wax Figure

In one of the best social media moves in history, Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonated a wax figure impersonation of himself (yes, that’s confusing) and visitors of at Hollywood’s Madame Tussauds gallery. Donning his famous Terminator gear, Arnold also hit the streets of Hollywood, which resulted in a very funny conversation with another impersonator outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Check Terminator: Genisys when it arrives in theaters July 1. Watch below to see his prank in action.

‘Unfinished Business’ — Movie Review

When an entire movie revolves around closing a business deal, it might help to actually understand the deal in question. That’s not a macguffin, it’s a necessity. ‘Unfinished Business’ begins with a scene straight from ‘Jerry Macquire,’ as Dan Trunkman (Vince Vaughn) defiantly insists he can do his job better than his boss, Chuck Portnoy (Sienna Miller). He then turns to his fellow coworkers to request they follow him to his new company. As for what his company does, why he’s so angry, or whether we should root for his success, that’s never clear.  The remainder of he film explores the antics around the deal in question, with a great level of desperation given that it’s Dan’s only chance to keep his illusory company alive. Because this film solely revolves around the dialogue among Dan and his two cohorts as they travel through Europe to seal this deal, the movie lives or dies by its dialogue. Unfortunately, it died. The only funny moment is ironically ripped from Louis C.K. whose joke about giving his first class seat to a veteran landed in the trailer. Do you think Louis scored some cash for that? You can catch both clips below.

OVERALL RATING: 1.5/5 DISHES

Movie Review: ‘The Imitation Game’

the_imitation_game_posterThere are men who are given a set of challenges inside a system, and there are men who challenge the system. Alan Turing was the latter, and the code-breaker used his unique genius to win WWII. Beautifully brought to life by Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game tells the true tale of Turing’s time at Bletchley Park, where British Intelligence hired him and a team of men to crack “Enigma,” the encryption device used by the Nazi’s to communicate. During his time at Bletchley Park, Turing barbed the base commander at every turn (brilliantly portrayed by Charles Dance), who constantly questioned Turing’s unorthodox approach to breaking the code. His cohorts were also cantankerous, and his detached hubris didn’t help. His isolation is explained through flashbacks showing Turing as a solitary schoolboy with a single friend who rescued him from his bullying peers. The film takes a welcome turn when a fellow code-breaker named Joan Clarke (played by Keira Knightly) arrives, whose bond with Turing helps soften the team who would later defend the man they previously questioned, and the rest speaks for itself through history. Sadly, the very country he helped save then turned against him, forcing dangerous hormone medication to rectify his homosexual status, which ultimately ends in tragedy.

Much like Einstein, Edison, or Newton, Alan Turing’s name should be universally acknowledged, and The Imitation Game might solidify that sentiment. The English-language directorial debut of Norway’s Morten Tyldum is adapted from Andrew Hodges’ biography: Alan Turing: The Enigma, and there’s no better actor of today’s generation than Benedict Cumberbatch. The Resident “it-man,” is riveting.

DISHES: 4.5/5

Roger Ebert’s ‘Life Itself’ Debuts — A Beautiful Masterpiece

My father introduced me to Roger Ebert at a young age, and my fandom has since spanned decades. In fact, I fancied I’d emulate his career, which was the original aim of this blog. After watching ‘Life Itself,’ I feel more determined than ever.

My favorite Ebert reviews were for the films he frowned upon, because it always affirmed his resident-bad-ass status. For example, when Rob Schneider took out a full page ad in Daily Variety to attack the credentials of a film critic who bashed “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo,” saying “He didn’t win a Pulitzer Prize because they haven’t invented a category for Best Third-Rate, Unfunny Pompous Reporter Who’s Never Been Acknowledged by His Peers,” Ebert boldly joined the battle, saying, “As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize, and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks.” Another personal favorite involved Kick-Ass, with Roger Ebert’s negative review inspiring barbs about his age from the movie’s angry filmmakers. Ebert nutshelled his cutting response on twitter, simply saying, “Them: I was too old to get it. Me: My problem was that I got it.” And let’s not forget his infamous feud with Vincent Gallo, who called Ebert a “fat pig” in reaction to his negative take on ‘The Brown Bunny.” Ebert replied with a play on Winston Churchill, saying, “It is true that I am fat, but one day I shall be thin, and he will still be the director of ‘The Brown Bunny.'”

Though Roger Ebert allowed us into his life with movie reviews, blog posts, interviews, and his own television shows, ‘Life Itself,’ gives us a new look at the legend. Directed by Steve James, the film lets us in on the lighter side of Roger Ebert, with a beautiful glimpse at the love he shared with his wife, Chaz, who clearly kept him going during his more challenging days, which Ebert always met with joy. He poetically described her impact on his life, saying, “Her love was like a wing pushing me back from the grave.” We also get a window into his iconic partnership with Gene Siskel, with funny videos of their feud, which eventually transformed into a loving friendship.

There’s no doubt that Ebert’s life work is inspirational. But what’s more inspirational, is how he lived his life. He was happy in the face of great difficulty, he refused to let his illness define him, and even in the most physically challenging state, his family and his writing brought him joy. I feel grateful for this incredible glimpse into Roger Ebert’s life.

Watch the trailer below, and see the film on the big screen. That’s how Ebert would have wanted it.

‘The Other Woman’ — Movie Review

‘The Other Woman’ is a hell-hath-no-fury revenge comedy that’s entire premise hinges on the antics of three women determined to ruin the life of a cheating man. That man in question, played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, cheats on Leslie Mann’s character (Kate King) with Cameron Diaz (Carly Whitten), who discovers his married status only upon an awkward run-in with his wife. The two then strangely become friends and mutually decide to make Kate’s cheating husband miserable. They bring another scorned mistress into the mix (Kate Upton), and the predictable punch lines ensue.

While it’s refreshing to see another film with female leads, this film lacks the same comedic power of ‘Bridesmaids’ and ‘The Heat.’ That’s likely because Mann is forced to carry the film without much help from her cohorts. Though Cameron Diaz is certainly a sight for sore eyes, she lacks Mann’s masterful timing, sacrificing the needed power-pairing. Plus, toilet humor tends to turn me off. The other issue with the film is that in order for it to work the man has to be cartoonishly awful. After all, if he has even a modicum of humanity, we might take a moment to feel sorry for him, which would destroy the humor. But if he is in fact cartoonishly awful (which he is), then why would these women waste their well-valued time taking him down? It’s a creative conundrum, but I was willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of having a little fun.

Though this film has some predictable plot holes, it’s worth seeing. It’s a fun, refreshing comedy that will certainly make you laugh if for no other reason than Leslie Mann.

RATING: 3/5 DISHES