Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

Logan (2017): His Time Has Come

Posted: March 7, 2017 in Action, Drama, Sci-Fi
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Years after the near extinction of mutant kind, Logan has gone into seclusion except for a part-time job driving a limo service. He is approached by a woman but continually tries to avoid her. Eventually, she corners him and offers to pay him the money he has been searching for to take her and a young girl to Canada. While taking time to think about it, he returns to the woman to find that the motel room has been raided and the girl is nowhere to be found. Though he believes that he has dodged the job, he is followed back to his hideout and trouble join him.

The Beginning of the End: The story in this X-Men film took a dark turn from the start. With most of the mutants gone, it initially appeared that only Logan and Xavier remained. Both men were in dire straits and extremely poor condition. While Xavier seemed to be struggling with a combination of mental illness and his psychic abilities, Logan’s healing factor had significantly slowed and his motivation to live had all but died. The chaos that erupted from meeting Gabriela and Laura interrupted his self-destruction, but it also set him on a dangerous path against odds that no longer fell in his favor.

Loss of Innocence: This film was the first time that Marvel/Fox ventured into the rated-R realm with a well-established character. Deadpool started at rated-R and was billed to be a very different sort of superhero film. Wolverine, on the other hand,  has had some mixed adventures, including some bad one-liners and rocky storylines. This venture felt more like DC’s decision to go dark with the Dark Knight trilogy after having a very different experience compared with the 90s films. The combination of language, violence, gore, and heavy, emotional themes has helped Marvel turn a corner into an area not explored until now.

Days of Future Past: While this may have been the final film for both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, the the success may also pull both actors back into the fold for future stories. Now that we have seen the end of the X-Men, there exists plenty of story to fill in the gaps of how the mutants disappeared and what events led to the deterioration of Professor X. If the story were to push toward the future, there is opportunity to build off the ending from Logan.

Final Verdict: While Wolverine has had multiple outings with different storylines, this was the best film in the series. The characters had depth. Dafne Keen was a complicated and compelling young actress. Hugh Jackman gave the best start to finish performance of his career and introduced a whole new version of superhero films.

Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5

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Troy Maxson was a sanitation worker who was seeking opportunity to move up in the world. While living a simple life, he had a specific vision for his relationship with his wife, Rose, and his son, Cory. He had dreamed bigger, but was kept down due to the slow progress of desegregation in professional athletics. His love for Rose was something that sustained him, but he struggled with alcoholism and desiring for something a little more. His wandering eye left him stranded with an affair that threatened to tear apart his family.

Conflict of Interest: Troy’s character was a complicated one. While he had once dreamed of being a ballplayer, he was held back because of his age. Though his son had natural abilities and had a recruiter interested in pursuing his potential, Troy felt a loss of control and wanted nothing to do with his son getting his hopes dashed. He felt like keeping his son within his purview while he pressed on to get a promotion within his career.

Rough Around the Edges: Troy’s personality was not an easy one to fully accept. He was at constant odds with his son, preventing him from seeking his dream of playing professional ball. He took forever to complete the fence in the backyard because he could barely tear himself away from chatting up his best friend or going out for a drink. He even had the devotion of his wife in the face of infidelity and a child not her own. She accepted his flaws and tried to help their son understand them.

Intensity as Art: If anything, the takeaway from this film could simply be that Viola Davis and Denzel Washington are phenomenal actors. Viola mixes a sense of love, devotion, strength, and compassion. When Troy pushes Rose to the limit, Viola’s presence helped to encapsulate the enduring power of women. For Denzel, he was able to be a compelling villain to his son and completely human in error.

Final Verdict: This play-on-screen was deeply moving and authentically human. The acting was astonishing and the simple story was actually anything but. It may be a bit dry for some, but there was complexity in the challenges of family dynamics.

Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5

NASA was in a race with the Soviets to put a man in space, and three black women, known as human computers, are tapped to help push the space program forward. Getting called to determine the mathematics of launch and landing, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson were just three of the women involved in the efforts. Not only did they contribute to the development of the math and technology, but they also helped push the boundaries of how NASA approached diversity of identity and diversity of thought.

Looking Beyond Color: One of the significant challenges represented in this film was the way colleagues at NASA were blinded by the physical differences regardless of the intelligence being presented to them. Katherine was called upon to serve in a mathematics role, but had to compete with the bigoted nature of her colleagues and the restrictive policies that undermined her ability to be recognized for her work. Dorothy Vaughan felt held back by the potential of technology taking away her job, but she adapted and forced others to recognize her value.

Persistence: One of the most entertaining moments in the film was one with the most levity while also holding real significance. Katherine struggled with the fact that her building lacked a colored bathroom, forcing her to run across the campus in order to relieve herself. Between the music and visual, it was lighthearted and funny, but it also represented a lack of respect for employees working toward the same goals. Eventually, Al Harrison broke down that barrier when he realized that it was preventing Katherine from being able to keep up with her colleagues, even though she was pushing herself harder than the rest.

Real-Life Heroes: One of the best elements of the film was actually as the credits began. With many true stories, the narratives of the represented heroes were described for the viewers. The women continued their careers beyond this film and were even awarded commendations for their efforts. Specifically, President Obama recognized Katherine in 2015 and the research center where she worked was retitled with her name.

Final Verdict: While stories of adversity are typically much more dramatic and heavy, Hidden Figures shows its emotion while also engaging in a bit of levity. The actress trio were fantastic and helped to bring life to some previous unknown heroes.

Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5

Lion (2016): A Life Lost and Found

Posted: February 26, 2017 in Drama
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Saroo was a child who was brave and had the heart of a hero. Living in a small village India, he wanted nothing more than to stay with his brother and support his family. Going off to work in the fields, he got separated and ended up lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of miles away. An orphanage picked him up and sent him to a family in Australia for adoption. While he grew up and had opportunities unheard of for people from his village, his success was only paralleled by the growing anxiety over a family left behind. He came to desire seeking out his mother and the brother he believed was still searching for him.

The Lost Child: Saroo’s strength was what helped him survive in the streets of Calcutta, but it had to be a truly scary experience to be thousands of miles away but have no sense of where he was. The resilience and survival skills of the young boy were truly exhilarating. He had to determine who he could trust and with whom he needed to be guarded. While taken in by the orphanage, his adoption could have potentially saved his life and given him a chance to build a future.

Living Far from Home: Being adopted by the Australian couple was something truly beneficial for building a future. He grew up with resources and opportunities that would not have been available had he remained in Calcutta. While he made it to being an adult before the curiosity truly hit him, he was struck by feeling like his past was missing and eating away inside of him. The exhaustive search had him feel separated from his adoptive family and from his girlfriend. Finally finding home through Google Earth, he had a chance to reconnect with his lost family.

Defining Family: While his birth family would always be his true, original family, his Australian parents became his second family. They loved him from the day they met him and treated him like their own natural son. Even when he got the chance to reconnect with his birth mother, he felt compelled to have both mothers meet. He also struggled with his desire to reconnect with his brother but felt a sense of care for his adoptive brother, even with his emotional challenges.

Final Verdict: While the storytelling was a bit imbalanced at times, Dev Patel’s performance was strong and the story was deeply moving. The surprise at the end with Saroo’s name adds to the joy experienced in the fateful reunion.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5

Naomi Bishop is well-known as a shark of a senior investment banker, but doubts have arisen after her most recent challenge with a major investment. When presented with a cybersecurity company to represent and launch, she has an opportunity to truly shine in response to her boss’s recent announcement of retirement. The most significant challenge she faces is her gender and the associated perception of her business and networking style. She uses her staff to run triage and help manage her client to success, but she also begins to realize that there might be corruption woven into her efforts. Between a client who appears to be getting reckless and doubt forming about the people closest to her, Naomi begins to get more desperate about her avoiding another failed launch.

Women in a Man’s Profession: Regardless of the success women have achieved in business and banking, there were still many double standards portrayed in this film. Naomi was a shark and extremely detail-oriented. To some of her co-workers and her clients, the sense was that she was standoffish or acting extra frosty. In comparison, Erin Manning used a bit of her sex appeal to soften the atmosphere around her male partners and clients. Naomi actually pushed that sense out of her as well. This was not something she did comfortably, as it became more apparent that she hit a breaking point with their client.

The scene where she met with other rising professional women felt like such a powerful moment. She admitted that money drove her focus on her career. It is not a statement that some women feel comfortable making, but she owned it clearly and completely.

Double-Crossing: While Naomi seemed to be staying on-point with her goal of launching her client’s IPO, all of the people around her seemed to be letting their personal agendas get in the way of her game plan. Erin appeared to be a team player until she saw a moment to strike for her own advancement. Michael enjoyed having a relationship with Naomi, but he was gradually looking for a way to use her for insider information. Even Samantha reconnected with her to try to pry into her company’s activities while investigating Michael.

Final Verdict: Films about successful women tend to shy away from some of the shark-like behavior that was highlighted in this story. Anna Gunn was stellar in her frosty but powerful portrayal of a woman who knew what she wanted but was getting stabbed in the back.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5

 

Maggie’s Plan (2016): A Change of Heart

Posted: February 26, 2017 in Comedy, Drama, Romance
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Though she would prefer to fall in love, Maggie feels more ready to seek out parenthood more immediately. Identifying a local entrepreneur named Guy, she is completely prepared to use his material to become a mother. She did not predict finding John, a professor at The New College. She develops an infatuation with him and eventually falls in love, even though he was already married to another professor with quite the reputation. She finds her way into a new marriage, with their 3-year-old daughter fulfilling her dreams. As the relationship continues, she begins to regret her decision and believes that John may have been better off with his ex-wife.

Conflicting Personalities/Partnerships: Though John and Georgette may have seemed to be total opposites, their marriage may have worked better than outsiders believed. Maggie’s encounters with John appeared to fit with no complication, but she figured out that something was off after they got married. These conflicts are part of the unpredictability of love, as it seemed that they each changed their behaviors based on how they were paired off with each other. John, in particular, had personality changes based on the woman to which he was married. With Georgette, he took a more supportive role based on her drive as an academic. With Maggie, he became dependent and less passionate.

Plans versus Fate: One of Maggie’s biggest challenges was her need for control. While wanting a child is a natural element, seeking out science to speed up the process is less so. She set up her opportunity to conceive without a committed relationship, but started to fall in love with John and created conflicts within herself about what she wanted. When the marriage started to fail, she tried to take control again. While her plan to meddle with Georgette’s and John’s love lives may have worked out the way she wanted, she did not anticipate Guy showing back up.

Greta’s Quirky Life: Greta Gerwig seems to play a typical type of character in her films. She is extremely intelligent but also seems to play into a stereotype of being lost in what she wants out of love. This was mirrored in her other films like Frances Ha  and Mistress America. In some cases, her romance stories are flighty, quirky, and entertaining; while in others, her love stories are somewhat maddening through their extramarital themes.

Final Verdict: While her dialogue and thought process was entertaining, Maggie’s Plan is a bit of a mixed bag. The themes can be challenging since they highlight infidelity mixed with control issues. At the same time, it is intriguing to watch how the relationships develop through the process of falling in and out of love.

Dan’s Rating: 3.0/5

Phiona, a young Ugandan girl, has a simple life working with her mother to sell crops at the market. She stumbles upon a missionary and his chess club, feeling invited to join and enjoy a little break from her simple life. Robert Katende believes she is a true champion and invests in her development as a player. She resists during her training because she feels guilty about having opportunity well beyond her family’s simpler life. When she finally gets the chance to compete, her competitiveness gets put to the test.

Confidence in Talent: It was beneficial that Robert believed in her, but Phiona quickly developed a sense of strength in her ability to see multiple steps ahead of her opponents. She quickly rose to the top of her group at the missionary, but it was not until she started to compete that she began to get inflated. Failure set her back a bit, but Robert’s belief in her pushed her back into competition.

Ugandan Slums: There are a number of films out there that depict the stark contrast of conditions between first and third world areas. Queen of Katwe felt like a realistic look at the lives of families living in the slums. There was a sense that the environment was a bit more colorful than reality, but it still exhibited the harshness of the monsoon and limited resources.

Opportunity to Achieve: While Phiona certainly was the focus of the film, the rest of the kids were entertaining to watch as well. Their personalities were bold and inspiring. The kids were at odds when Phiona first showed up, but they found support through their combined success. Her achievements were elevated by her peers and they found strength in being the outliers. Each of them went on to gain scholarships and further opportunities to advance their education.

Final Verdict: This was a truly feel-good film highlighting a young talent. Phiona was an easy girl to like, with her combination of confidence and heart.

Dan’s Rating: 3.0/5