Love and Friendship

Ben-Hur

Ben-Hur revisited is the best movie for the faith-based crowd since Gods of Egypt, and I say that with tongue firmly in cheek. Both are really weak. Like the 1959 original starring Charlton Heston, the 2016 remake tells the epic story of Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother, Messala Severus, an officer in the Roman army. After years enslaved in the galley of a ship, Judah returns to Jerusalem seeking revenge (and a reunion with his wife), but after an epic 3D chariot race against Messala, Judah finds redemption instead.

War Dogs

War Dogs joins the ranks of ‘good but ultimately forgettable’ movies of the summer. Based on a true story, the film stars Jonah Hill and Miles Teller as Ephraim Divoroli and David Packouz, a pair of twenty-something Miami dudes who exploited a little-known government initiative that allows small businesses to bid on federal contracts. The initiative was meant to restore some balance to the fundamentally flawed defense-contractor universe after the Cheney-Halliburton debacle, but instead it opened the door for chumps like Packouz and Divoroli to exploit the system and rake in millions of your tax dollars during the Iraq War.

Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World

Anyone who knows me knows I am a HUGE Werner Herzog fan. So when we went to AFI DOCS and could only get one ticket to the Guggenheim Symposium, where Werner would be interviewed and show his new documentary, I was thrilled to be the one to go. The interview was wonderful, and Herr Herzog did not disappoint in his storytelling laced with wry jokes. But the film? Sadly, I was not blown away. The film is essentially a primer on the Internet, its history, its promise, its dangers, its future. It is told in chapters, some interesting, some no so much, with titles like, “The Glory of the Net” and “The Internet of Me.” As the title suggests, it is Herzog’s musings and we are along for the ride.

Into the Forest

What would happen if the electricity and all the things it powers were to disappear? No Internet. No radio. No cell phones! No way of knowing what caused it and when or if it would come back. And what if you were living in some remote locale where just getting into a town that might have some information was nearly impossible since there’s no gas for the car? That is the premise of Into the Forest, starring Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood as sisters, left alone way out in the woods in a semi-finished house to fend for themselves as their isolation puts enormous strains on their relationship. It’s a quiet post-apocalyptic film with flashes of violence that force them into life-changing choices about their future.

Mainstream Chick’s Quick Takes: Pete’s Dragon; Florence Foster Jenkins; Hell or High Water

Good news, mainstream movie fans: There really is something for just about everyone at the Box Office this weekend. First, however, I must confess that I missed the screening of Sausage Party and doubt I’ll get around to watching it anytime soon, unless someone wants to send me a Sausage link. Regardless, I suspect the movie is filled with enough raunchy adult animation and humor to entertain a certain demographic. I’ll just leave it at that (for now), and move on to Pete’s Dragon, Florence Foster Jenkins, and Hell or High Water

The best new family film option is Pete’s Dragon, a live-action reimagining of a 1977 Disney flick that I don’t recall watching as a kid, even though it featured music and singing (i.e. how did I miss that one!?) I’m not exactly the target demo anymore for this type of movie, so I borrowed 12-year-old Aaron, 8-year-old Marisa, and their parents for an honest, independent evaluation of this Tarzan-esque meets dragon story. The general consensus: They liked it!

Little Men

Little Men is a small film with a simple story. Two adolescent boys Jake (Theo Taplitz) and Tony (Michael Barbieri) become best buds when Jake’s grandfather dies and his family moves into his Brooklyn apartment. Tony’s mother Leonor (Paulina Garcia, Gloria) runs a shop downstairs in the building, but when Jake’s father Brian (Greg Kinnear) and his sister Audrey decide to raise her rent, the ensuing arguments between the parents threaten the boys’ relationship.

Suicide Squad

I’m a pretty big fan of superhero movies. I even liked Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. So I went into Suicide Squad with an open mind, despite the fact that I wasn’t familiar with the ‘Squad’ until the pop culture explosion of the past few months, and I’d never read the DC Comics that introduced this bizarre group of anti-heroes to the world. Unfortunately, an open mind wasn’t enough. I didn’t hate the movie. But I also didn’t like it. I was surprisingly bored and more than a tad confused about the motivations of the characters, and the plot. On top of that, I just don’t see the purpose of diluting an already over-saturated market of superhero movies with a flick that features characters that you’re sort of supposed to root for, even though they’ve done some really bad things, because they go into battle against people (or creatures) who’ve done much worse things. It’s like the “Axis of Evil” being called upon to fight ISIL. When you’ve got Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, or even Deadpool, why in the world would you put the fate of the world in the hands of a bunch of killers who’ve been offered clemency in exchange for their “cooperation” in covert government ops?

Demon

Demon is a strange little Polish horror flick that mostly takes place during what I’d call a blow-out wedding. Handsome young couple Peter (Itay Tiran) and Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska) have been given a house in the country that they’re planning to rehab. Prior to the wedding Peter begins some of the work, digging up the yard where they will be building a summer house and/or a swimming pool. But when he hits something and discovers bones, everything changes.

Cafe Society

Woody Allen’s latest feels very familiar and not terribly original. It’s like he has a drawer full of ideas for film scenes and he just grabbed a hand full and shot. It has a bittersweet love story at the center, set in Golden Age Hollywood and New York, and the usual Woody stand-in character. This time it’s Jesse Eisenberg playing Bobby Dorfman, a nice Jewish boy from the Bronx who comes to LA to work for his “Agent to the Stars” Uncle Phil (Steve Carell) and falls for his beautiful secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), but eventually returns heart-broken to New York, takes a job with his mobster brother, and marries shiksa goddess Veronica (Blake Lively). The first part in Hollywood is kind of fun, but sadly it runs out of steam when it gets back to New York, almost like it’s two different movies.

Star Trek Beyond

The third installment of the Star Trek reboot is for me the weakest yet, relying on big battles and CGI more than the characters and stories that made the first two so much fun. Which is not to say it isn’t entertaining. I mean it is Star Trek! There is still witty repartee between the crew, and lots of derring-do, mostly by Kirk. And an evil nemesis, this time a scaly alien named Krall (Idris Elba). And the future of the universe does hang in the balance. So it has all the elements you expect. But J.J. Abrams is not at the helm of the franchise this time, and Justin Lin (Fast and Furious) doesn’t quite manage the same balance of adventure and comedy. Nevertheless, as escapist entertainment goes, it works.