Midnight Special by Kenneth Buff

So this is a film that was praised by critics, and I'm not really sure why. It was advertised as a sort of modern E.T., but it's no where close to that level of creativity. It's more like its title, a midnight sci-fi movie you'd catch on TV back when midnight sci-fi movies were still a thing (which, I think is the whole point of the movie, only it's not really that much fun and midnight sci-fi movies were...so, yeah). Anyway, Midnight Special is about a young boy with supernatural powers who's on the run with his father and another man, while a religious cult (that worships the boy), and the US government chase after them.

The formula's there for an interesting movie, but the script just doesn't do anything with it. The movie spends its time being moody, having the characters constantly brood over their situation, and doesn't spend enough time exploring the powers of the child, or instilling any wonder or humor into the story.

Batman V Superman by Kenneth Buff

Well, basically everything you've read is true. It's not the Batman movie we've been waiting for since 2008's The Dark Knight. It's a mess. The script is weak, the villain is over the top obnoxious—it's completely unbelievable that he's able to manipulate either Batman or Superman— it's way too serious for a movie about grown men dressing up in costumes to fight bad guys—but it's biggest sin is that it's boring. Above everything else, what matters most is if it's entertaining, and for the majority of its run time BVS just isn't that interesting. I don't care about the characters, I don't even really care if Batman kills Superman or not (which he certainly won't, since this is just a prequel for the real movie: Justice League, I–XXV, and a great way to sell action figures and lunch boxes), but I've gotta admit, those costumes do look great. BVS easily takes the prize for best looking Batman costume to ever be filmed. For once Batman's wearing something that he looks like he can actually fight in, and on top of that it looks like something I would want to wear too when I pretend to beat the shit out of my little brother. It's just a cool costume. It's cloth, it's dark grey with the right amount of black trim. The Batmobile pretty much still looks like the Tumbler from the Christoper Nolan movies, but it has machine guns on it now, so, I guess that's cool?

Speaking of machine guns, there was a lot of extreme violence hinted at in this movie, which was another thing that I wasn't sure how I felt about. I mean, it's so boring it's hard to keep track if the movie is trying to say anything about anything (spoiler alert, it isn't), but when violence serves no purpose, when it's not saying something about the overall theme of the story, or at the very least, pushing the story forward (think T2, or any good action movie from the hay day of action movie-dom) then it just feels empty, which makes the audience feel empty, which makes them once again bored.

There's also some terrible CGI scenes of Cyborg and a few other random characters they threw in to connect it to the Justice League movie that doesn't exist yet. It's really awkward. There's also a dream sequence where The Flash visits Bruce Wayne, which also another terrible CGI scene that feels like they threw it in last minute when they remembered this is supposed to just be a movie to set up that movie.

On the plus side, Wonder Woman was pretty great. The actress does a good job, and minus one shot where you see just how short her skirt is, her costume isn't overly sexualized like Black Widow's (the only other female superhero on the big screen at the moment). Also, I didn't fall asleep, and it was still slightly better than Marvel's Ant-Man and Thor 2. But that really isn't saying much.

Zootopia: Review by Kenneth Buff

Zootopia is Disney's latest animated film, and boy, is it a great comeback (Pixar had no involvement here). It's a film where animals stand in for humans in a world that looks very much like our own, only this one, at first glance, appears better than our own. Predators and prey live side by side now in peace, but the old prejudices of prey being weak animals that should stay on the farm, and predators being hateful bullies, still exist, and affect every part of society.

The film follows a female rabbit named Judy Hopps. She dreams of leaving her small town farm to become a police officer in the big city of Zootopia. She's laughed at by the town, and begged by her parents to not go through with it. She ignores them and embarks on her journey to Zootopia where she meets an assortment of different characters that add to her understanding of the world, and of course, push the story forward.

I really liked this movie. It's one of the best animated films I've seen, probably in at least ten years. I enjoyed Frozen, I enjoyed Inside Out (my favorite Pixar movie after Toy Story), but neither of them has as strong of a message or are as smart as Zootopia. There are so many great adult jokes in this movie, referencing daily dysfunctions in adult lives (um hum, things like the DMV, for instance), race relations, and popular films and television shows (these references to film and TV are much more subtle than what we've come to expect from most cartoons, so keep your eyes open), and it's all appropriate for children. There are no body function jokes (farting, puking, pooping, etc.), sex jokes, or any of the other garbage we've come to expect from a film marketed for children. This is a film that is truly worthy to sit next to The Lion King, The Land Before Time, and the other timeless children's classics on your video shelf.

Eddie The Eagle: Review by Kenneth Buff

Eddie The Eagle is a biographical sports drama about Eddie Edwards, Britain's first Olympic ski jumper. The film stars Hugh Jackman as Edward's coach, and Taron Egerton as Edwards.

Anyone who has seen the previews or the poster probably identified this as one of those February stinkers. One of those movies that's so bad it's dropped off in the worst movie month of the year. I mean, how could you think any differently? The trailer's and advertising are so over the top it's hard to take it seriously. The strangest thing about the movie is that it, like it's trailers, is very over the top, but somehow it still managers to work. It's heavy-handed half-glass full attitude manages to come off passably sincere, and its lead performances are endearing. That's not to say that there isn't a whole lot of corn kettles in this movie, because there definitely are. The soundtrack is on an endless loop, never (and I literally mean never) giving us a break for a quiet moment, and some more series subjects, like alcoholism and injury don't come off as dark as they should, because this movie exists outside of real life (it's like a Life Time movie in that way, only much, much better) and in many ways it could be viewed as a fantasy, which is odd, since it's a true story.

Overall, it's an enjoyable film, and if you've been waiting for the next Cool Runnings, this is probably as close as we're going to get. It's a fun, albeit corny, inspirational sports movie with everyone's favorite Wolverine in the John Candy. What's not to like?

Deadpool: Review by Kenneth Buff

Deadpool is Twentieth Century Fox's latest X-Men flick (for those of you confused why Deadpool isn't a Marvel film, it's because Fox owns the film rights to the X-Men franchise. They were sold to them before they started their own studio). It's a foul mouthed, violent, R-rated "super hero" movie. One that's sort-of marketed for adults, but will probably end up being more appreciated by teenagers for it's over the top potty mouth humor (it's like a hit-and-miss version of Jay and Silent Bob).

Ryan Reynolds plays the title character, using his charisma here to play a likable wise-cracking smart ass. He plays the character as both Deadpool—the anti-hero who runs around in a red suit with two swords strapped to his back and a gun to each hip—as well as Wade Wilson, the man Deadpool was before getting cancer and signing up for an experimental government treatment to cure him and make him a super soldier.

The plot itself is standard fair. Man get's a raw deal, man goes out for revenge. The run-time is thickened with an extended flashback in the middle giving us Deadpool's origin story (which isn't that interesting). The only thing that's all that special about it is the here and there 4th wall jokes (making fun of Hugh Jackman's Wolverine movies, or super hero plots in general), but over all the movie's stakes feel small, and there's little other than Reynolds charisma to really hold it together. It works when the jokes land, and sputters when they don't. It's worth seeing if you're really craving an action/superhero/foul-mouth comedy, but if you're not, you can probably hold off.


Where To Invade Next: Review by Kenneth Buff

Where To Invade Next is Michael Moore's latest documentary. It's been described as a travel log, using the framing device of "Invading countries" to take their good ideas and bring them back home. I can see that argument, but I think that description dismisses the real power that this film has in pointing out some of our sadder policies and national mindsets.

Michael Moore films usually make me angry. Bowling for Columbine made me mad at the gun industry (NRA), Sicko did the same for the health care industry. Those films pointed out the corruption in both said industries, and showed how those issues are better managed in other countries. This film, it really just made me sad. Watching a father in Norway—whose son was killed in a mass murder—express how he doesn't want to kill the man who murdered his son, and how he doesn't want the man to be murdered, because that would "make him go down the ladder" (we would word it, "I don't want to go down to his level."). He also said, "I don't want to pretend that I have the right that he thought he had, to murder someone." We then see what a Norwegian prison looks like. Prisoners are free to roam the prison, which is an island with dirt roads you can wonder on with a bicycle, trees cover the island, no fences, no uniforms, no armed guards. You get a personal bathroom (with a key to the room), a television, access to a 21 century library, and classes are offered. When Moore asks what the hell's going on to a guard he explains: "Really, we're just taking away their freedom. They miss their family. They miss their friends." This scene is then juxtaposed with a montage of black American men being stripped naked, beaten; black women being beaten and chewed by German shepherds. It doesn't make you angry, just sad. Maybe a little ashamed. (The film also states the statistcs of re-offenders in Norway and the US. They are: 27 percent for Norway and 82 percent for the US. )

I've read the arguments that Moore's documentary cherry picks facts, that it's not fair to compare these countries because they're so much smaller than the US, but I think those arguments are missing the point. A man in charge of drug control in Portugal (a country where all drugs have been decriminalized) states that you can't just take back an idea to the US and drop if off there and expect it to work, because that will fail, "you'll have to take back some of our other good ideas too," he says, "like universal health care." Portugal's philosophy on drugs is to treat the users, not to punish them. Without universal healthcare that would not be possible to implement. So, the point Moore's newest film is making, is not simply that we need to adopt all of these things verbatim, but that we can do better than we currently are. We can adopt the ideas, and make them our own. Many of these ideas the people Moore spoke with stated that they got them from us. Portugal's unique prison system was credited to us by a man, stating, "It was you who said 'no cruel and unusual punishment.' It's in your constitution." These aren't radical ideas, they're things we should already be doing (respecting human life, focusing on serving the students in schools not on budgets and tests, fighting for worker rights and the rights of women) and it's just sad that we're not even aware of half the indecent things we do as a nation because we rarely stop to think about them.

Great film. Go see it.

Hail, Caesar: Review by Kenneth Buff

Well, it’s February. It’s the garbage month for movies. It’s the month where studios dump their biggest critical stinkers, their movies that they have absolutely no confidence in making back any money, or in anyone even liking. But when you’re me, that still doesn’t stop you from going to the theater, so without further ado, here’s my review of Hail, Caesar.

Hail, Caesar is the latest film by the Coen Brothers (The guys behind The Big Lebowski, No Country For Old Men, Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou, True Grit etc.) It’s a comedy, in the vein of Burn After Reading. It follows a big Hollywood film producer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) during the 1950’s, as he tries to track down the kidnapped star (George Clooney) of their prestige picture, “Hail Caesar.” That’s the main plot, but there’s lots of little subplots following big stars, like Scarlett Johnason, Johna Hill, Channing Tatum, Linda Swinton, but the funnest subplot is Alden Ehrenreich's, who plays an actor typed cast as a cowboy, who’s forced by the studio to star in a bourgeois picture, something like Breakfast At Tiffany’s, when he’s more of an Oklahoma! kind of guy.

The beauty of the film is its ability to be able to mimic the given film type it’s going for with perfection. Scarlette Johanson swims in a gigantic and ornate pool as a mermaid in a long beautiful scene that you’d only find in a 1950’s movie (think of those never ending dance numbers in Mary Poppins or Singin’ In The Rain), Channing Tatum steals the show with a hilarious parody/homage to Singin’ In The Rain where he dances in a ridiculously long and entertaining number as a seaman about to set sail with the US Navy. The film also mimic’s the Oklahoma! westerns of the era with Alden Ehrenreich standing in for every cowboy cliché of the time (and man, can that guy lasso!)

The only thing that interrupts the fun is the slow pacing at the beginning of the film, and the lack of a satisfying climax. Hail, Caesar is still a fun effort by the Coens, and manages to escape the month of February without smelling completely like shit. And that’s a win.

Jane Got A Gun: Review by Kenneth Buff

Well, it’s February. It’s the garbage month for movies. It’s the month where studios dump their biggest critical stinkers, their movies that they have absolutely no confidence in making back any money, or in anyone even liking. But when you’re me, that still doesn’t stop you from going to the theater, so without further ado, here’s my review of Jane Got A Gun.

Some where trapped inside the mess that is Jane Got A Gun there’s a decent movie hiding. There’s all the right pieces. It’s a revenge western (who doesn’t love Unforgiven?), cross-starred lovers, good actors giving decent performances, beautiful scenery—there’s a lot of things in here to like, but the execution of the story is so poor that it often feels like a made for TV movie.

So the movie starts out with Jane, played by Natalie Portman, hauling a bleeding man into her home. He’s been shot in the back five times by some evil gang. She seems really pissed at this guy, later we’ll find out he’s her husband. We’re then greeted by an onslaught of characters who have unexplained pasts with other characters, as she heads into town to stock up on ammo to take out the evil gang that will apparently be invading her farm later. From here, we learn most of what’s going on through awkward flashbacks that feel like something out of one of the really bad Nicholas Spark movies (any of them but The Notebook).

The sad thing is that after the film does away with these corny flashbacks that don’t fit the movie, the story does actually pick up, and there’s even quite a few well-done action scenes. But it just can’t make up for the often boring and sometimes awkward first half of the movie.

Jane Got A Gun is a typical February stinker, don’t bother seeing it unless there is literally nothing else to watch.

Carol: Review by Kenneth Buff

Carol is a romantic drama set in the American 1950's. Women's rights are limited as are their social standing, which makes it that much harder when Therese Belivet (played by Rooney Mara) falls in love with another woman, Carol Aird (played by Cate Blanchett).

Now the plot of the film is pretty straight forward, but there's extra tension added in with Carol being married to a somewhat aggressive husband—he's a man who just wants the perfect family, but he happened to marry a lesbian, and he has no idea how to deal with it—and Therese not being entirely comfortable with her own sexuality. What makes these themes so enjoyable is that their not spelled out for us. Therese doesn't voice her sexual confusion through some forced monologue with her best buddy over the telephone, or some other forced conversation. Instead we're shown this confusion with the constant men trying to woo here. Therese follows their requests for dinners and dates, but her interest is never really there, and the men are often blind to her indifference with the relationship.

The only issue I had with the film is that it is a slow burn, and the payoff isn't big enough to justify the pacing. It could have used some trimming. But that being said, the performances are very strong, as is the cinematography. Both of which add to the somber mood and world that the film creates.

The Revenant: Review by Kenneth Buff

The Revenant tells the story of real life American pioneer, Hugh Glass, (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is attacked by a bear and then subsequently left for dead, but only after being forced to watch his son (who is of half Native American blood) be murdered while he lies on a stretcher helpless. Glass spends the rest of the film in varying states of survival, trying to get back to the man who murdered his son and left him for dead.

The Revenant is pretty much as entertaining, as you would think it would be. It’s a man movie with heart.  You could call it The Grey meets colonialism.  But no matter what you call it, it’s definitely a film deserving of the Oscar nominations it’s received. It is by far one of the most beautiful and well-acted films I’ve seen in the year 2015. The only other film coming close to the beauty of this film being Mad Max: Fury Road, which coincidently also stared Tom Hardy. Speaking of Hardy, wow, does that guy steal the show here. All the talk has been on DiCaprio and whether or not he’ll win an Oscar for his role in this film (which I think he will), but Hardy is really the more interesting character. A down on his luck, scummy, racist, fur trapper who happens to be the man who murders DiCaprio’s son, and leaves him for dead. Hardy’s character is the most layered in the film, and he seems to get a real kick out of playing the bad guy. His scenes are the funnest ones to watch in the entire film.

Now, that being said, DiCaprio is also quite good here, he doesn’t have as many lines as Hardy does, (he spends most of his time trying to not die) but the things he does in this movie are pretty brutal (all the whether conditions in this film are real, so when you see DiCaprio butt naked in the snowy mountains of Colorado, he’s really doing that…he’s also really eating raw bison liver and speaking a Native American language.)

But for most of the audience interested in this film I think it comes down to whether the action is, well, actiony enough to justify the ticker purchase, and I think it is. Keep in mind that this is a survival revenge movie, so there’s a big chunk of this film where DiCaprio is hunting, healing, or avoiding hostile Native Americans and/or the French. But there is of course a final stand off between Hardy and DiCaprio, and it’s pretty damn good.

The Hateful Eight by Kenneth Buff

The Hateful Eight is Quentin Tarantino’s 8th film. It’s a western, following a group of eight men (well, seven men and one woman) holed up in a haberdashery lodged between the mountains of Wyoming. It’s a slow burn, clocking in at just over three hours (Tarantino was kind enough to include a 15-minute intermission, but sadly the theater where I saw the film did not include it in the screening), but it’s also a bloody film, in its last hour, but knowing that this is a Tarantino movie there’s almost little need to mention that.

If you’ve seen a Tarantino movie then you know the sort of tropes to expect. Lots of dialogue, in-your-face characters, and of course, bloody violence. The Hateful Eight has all of that, but it blends with the mystery/western genre here better than it has in some of his past efforts, which sometimes felt disjointed, here in The Hateful Eight, it all mostly works.

The characters are what really make this movie. Each one is distinct and feels like a realistic representation of someone living in a post Civil War world. The haberdashery is inhabited by confederates, hangmen, bounty hunters, a cowboy, and an outlaw prisoner. It’s the interactions of these characters with one another that make up the first 2/3 of the movie, serving as both commentary on the world these men lived in, and sets the groundwork for the mystery as characters question each others stories and motives.

Over all, despite the somewhat needlessly long run time (Tarantino could have easily trimmed 30-minutes off the movie without losing anything), The Hateful Eight stands as a solid and entertaining entry into the Tarantino catalogue. 

The Big Short: Review by Kenneth Buff

I love comedy. Who doesn’t, right? Funny thing is though, I hate most comedies. They’re just terrible, but luckily for me every once and awhile we get a smart black comedy like The Big Short. This isn’t Woody Allen black comedy (where you’re not always sure if it’s really funny) it’s more like Whiplash, but even more obvious than that. This movie is supposed to be funny, and the film lets you know that. I enjoyed the hell out of it.

So, basically the story revolves around a small group of businessmen (most of whom work for banks or investment companies) who discover that the housing market is going to crash in 2007 (the film starts in the year 2005) because the big banks are giving out bad loans. These men, being businessmen, place bets (which are called “shorts” in financial terms) against the housing market through the big banks and wait for the market to crash so they can cash in. Now, that makes it sound relatively straight forward (which it is, mostly), but there are of course challenges for our characters—such as no one believing them when they say that the market is going to crash. Investors consider pulling their money out of their companies, and many of them are ostracized by their colleagues. But of course as we know, in the end the market does crash, and the shorts do pay out, but the film is smart to not celebrate the downfall of the world economy. Several characters struggle with their dirty wealth and the fact that millions of people are now out of home and job.

It’s a tricky balance, entwining drama with comedy, but The Big Short does it nicely, serving up a fresh take on the financial crisis of 2008. See it if you can.

The Force Awakens: Star Wars Episode VII--Review by Kenneth Buff


Thirty-two years after the last Star Wars film, Return of The Jedi, and Lucasfilm has finally given us a sequel. Most of the original cast is back (Billy D. William's Lando is not present, but everyone else is), along with composer John Williams and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan. But the big question is: is it worth seeing? If you like adventure films, then yes. If you're expecting one of the greatest cinematic experiences of all time, maybe not.

I think it's safe to say that The Force Awakens had a lot of weight on its shoulders. It had to bridge the gap between the old films, paving way for the new trilogy, and do it in a satisfying way while also completely ignoring the prequels. I think in those regards the film is a success. Above all else, this feels like what a Return of The Jedi sequel should feel like. The actors are on sets, the creatures on screen actually exist (they're almost always human actors in prosthetics or they're puppets rather than CGI), lightsabers are hard to come by, and they're is a very clear villain (even if he's somewhat under whelming). It also helps that Harrison Ford is back on screen, giving one of his best performances in recent memory (he's pretty great in Age of Adeline, but it's hard to forget The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull), and Carrie Fisher, C3-P0, and R2-D2 all make appearances, and the best part of their appearances is that they're not milked, they're there to say hello, add something to the forward movement of the plot, and then the new characters (along with Han Solo) continue on with their adventure. It's done well, and mostly feels natural.

Now, onto the nitpicks. The film, while being a pretty decent adventure film and a not bad-at-all Star Wars sequel, is not without its flaws. The first thing that has to be mentioned is the never ending coincidences. The new main character, Rey, just happens to live on the planet the Millennium Falcon has been sitting in a junkyard for ages, she starts it up, flies it into space, and a few minutes later Han Solo and Chewbacca capture the ship, which they have of course been searching for for years. This happens over and over again. Laya shows up out of nowhere when the story needs a new direction to go. R2-D2, who sits dormant for most of the film that he appears in, comes back to life at the end of the film to reveal the location of Luke Skywalker. And the coincidences aren't the only problems with the film. There's also some issues with the hero being over powered and the villain being a huge let down when compared to Darth Vader (or any other villain). There are several scenes in the third acts where Rey and Kylo Ren (what's up with the heroes having one syllable names? Fin, Rey, Poe, Ben? Come on!) go head-to-head, and Rey over powers him, completely negating any reasons there may have been to have a sequel. Because now we know she’s more powerful than the main villain, so what’s the point of having her train with Luke Skywalker? There’s no reason, other than to have the audience relive the training scenes of The Empire Strikes Back. That’s another problem The Force Awakens has: mistaking audience’s desire for a sequel as a call for a remake of Star Wars (A New Hope). The Death Star plot is completely rehashed for this film, along with the Vader Emperor storyline, the Luke and Han relationship (with Fin and Poe), the R2-D2 Luke relationship (with Rey and BB-8) and various others.

Despite these noticeable flaws, the film’s dedication to practical effects and location shooting, along with Harrison Ford’s spot on performance as Han Solo, keep this film from being just another cash-cow remake, and turn it into a genuinely entertaining film.  

Legend: Review by Kenneth Buff

Legend is the real life story of the Kray Twins. They were the gangsters of 1960's London, taking control of nightclubs and casinos by force and intimidation. The story itself of Legend is one we've seen before, the rise and fall of the gangster, but Tom Hardy is so damn good as both the charismatic Reggie Kray and the insane Ronald Kray it injects a new level of energy into the film.

The supporting cast of Legend is also good, featuring  Emily Browning, David Thewlis, Christopher Eccleston, and America's favorite movie star gangster, Chazz Palminteri (A Bronx Tale). All of them play their parts well, creating believable characters that we relate to and feel sympathy for. The only real problem with this movie is that it doesn't go anywhere after it introduces us to these characters. The film follows the rise of the Krays and the inevitable fall, and that's just how everything that happens after the midpoint of the film feels, inevitable. There are very few twists in the story to keep us engaged, and the weight of it all falls onto Hardy's shoulders, but luckily for the film Hardy actually manages to hold it up.


Creed: Review by Kenneth Buff

Creed is the seventh film in the Rocky saga. It's the first to not be written by Sylvester Stallone, and only the second to not be directed by him (Rocky, prior to Creed, was the only film in the series to be directed by anyone else). It continues the story by having Rocky Balboa train and mentor the son of his first rival, and later close friend, Apollo Creed.

Anyone who's seen a Rocky movie knows that they're not just about boxing. They're about over coming odds, real world and psychological. They also star a main character who's wise and lovable, despite the rough life he's endured growing up in Philadelphia, working days as a mafia enforcer, and spending his evenings training as a boxer. Fast forward six movies later, and everyone Rocky's ever cared about is dead or moved on, and now a kid comes waltzing into his life, asking for Rocky's guidance. It's a perfect set up for a new movie, but does it have the legs it'll need to stand on its own, or will it fail to step out of the shadow that the Rocky series undoubtedly casts? Well, I think it's a bit of both, but the film is still a lot of fun to watch, despite that.

Creed is a love letter to the Rocky saga. It’s chalked full of references to the characters and places of the previous films, and these references don’t feel cheap or forced, but feel natural, as if this is how the series should continue. Rocky is pretty much where we last saw him at the end of Balboa, living in Philly, managing his restaurant, Adrian’s, (named after his now deceased wife) only now Paulie and Rocky’s son are gone too, leaving Rocky even more alone than we’ve ever seen him before. Now, Creed does a great job of reminding us of why we loved the previous films, and that very thing is one of the main reasons it is so hard for Jordan’s Adonis Creed to be memorable after the credits roll, and that thing we loved is on screen with Jordan in almost every scene—his name is Sylvester Stallone playing the once title character, Rocky Balboa.

Stallone fits into the character of Rocky like someone slipping on a comfortable pair of shoes. Every line he says come off sounding honest, and often packs a hidden message about life. It also doesn’t help that Rocky’s character traits and ticks (the bouncy ball, getting people’s attention by calling out “yo,” being so damn nice to everyone) are all so much more interesting than the almost not there character traits of Adonis Creed. Other than being a son of a giant lost in his father’s shadow, there’s very little else to fill Adonis out. It also doesn’t help that this same plotline was a subplot with Rocky and his son in the last film, Rocky Balboa. At times it feels like the film doesn’t really know who it’s star is, or perhaps it does, because when there’s a question of who should be getting the camera’s attention, it almost always seems to be Stallone, which is great for the audience, because Stallone is perfect in this movie, but it does also have the effect of weakening Adonis Creed’s character. By having Rocky always be the rock of positivity that gets Adonis through the film, rather than him having to dig down deep and fight his own inner battles, as Rocky has had to do many times before, we don't get a crowd cheering moment that connects that much more with the character.

Over all, despite never hitting quite as hard as any of the great Rocky movies (Rocky, Rocky II, and Rocky Balboa), it does live up to the quality of those films and carries their spirit. Plus, it’s just always great to see Stallone in top form, bringing his most iconic character back to life once again.

Spotlight: Review by Kenneth Buff

Award season is here, and R-rated dramas are now raining supreme. God I love this. Movies made for adults. As an adult who loves movies I can’t really ask for more. Well, maybe a little more, but films like Spotlight are definitely a step in the right direction, and a lot more enjoyable than empty summer tent poles like Avengers, or frustrating fall ones like Spectre.

Spotlight tells the story of the The Boston Globe team who uncovered the sexual abuse committed by priests on children of the church. The film takes us through the nitty-gritty of journalistic research, letting the real life twists of the story be sexy enough to keep our attention, and it works—Spotlight is a thrilling tale, despite the audience already knowing how it ends. The cast is all good here, especially Michael Keaton and Liev Schreiber, but the film is filled with big-name actors who give strong supporting performances, like Mark Ruffalo and Racheal McAdams.

My biggest problem with the film was that in many dramatic scenes, rather than having the characters use the language real adults would use, the screenwriters opted for a replacement cuss word that children use, that word being “freaking” instead of just saying “fuck.” This seriously undercuts the emotional resonance of some of the film’s big-speech moments. Such as when a character is standing on a soapbox, condemning the sexual abuse, only to say something like “it could have been you, it could have been me, it could have freaking been any of us!” Compare that to “it could have been you, it could have been me, it could have fucking been any of us!” Which one sounds more real? This doesn’t just happen once, but several times in the film by different characters, and it always sounds forced, like the writers were shooting for a PG-13 rating (though there are at least two “fucks” said in the movie by important characters, “freaking” is definitely used more often) but somehow forgot you can only say “fuck” once and still get a PG-13 rating. There are a few other moments that come across as a bit hokey (Brian d'Arcy James and Mark Ruffalo’s character both come off unsincere to me at times, especially when you compare them to the incredibly strong performances of Keaton and Schreiber), but for the most part Spotlight delivers a worthwhile adult movie going experience.

Spectre: Review by Kenneth Buff

Casino Royale rebooted the Bond franchise back in 2006 with a grittier reality, while still staying true to the fantastical over the top action we've come to expect from a Bond movie. 2008 brought us the forgettable Quantum of Solace before the series rebounded with what many fans consider the series best (my personal favorite is Casino Royale), Skyfall in 2012. This year we've been given another Bond film, and it's not quite up to par for this series.

Spectre exists in a post M world (Judy Dench’s character, who died at the end of Skyfall), where Money Penny and Q are now both series regulars. This is a welcome addition, even if what happens with these characters feels cliché. In the film Bond ends up having his badge taken away, and he's forced off the case. He (of course) continues anyway, opting for the Ethan Hunt-Martin Riggs-Arnold Schwarzenegger-Dirty Harry plotline. Both Q and Money Penny end up assisting Bond, despite complaining that doing so puts their careers at risk, following the same cliché pattern found in almost any long running cop or detective series. The film also suffers from a strange insistence on having Bond have sex with almost every woman who appears on screen at the most awkward times, such as after the funeral of a husband, or literally moments after murdering several men together. These scenes add both an unintentional comedy to the film as well as date it with its blatant chauvinism. Now, I do expect over the top violence and machismo in any Bond film, it wouldn’t be an action film without it, but the films so tone deaf in how it handles Bond’s relationship with women you would think the writers have never actually spoken to one.

Now on to the action and set pieces. These are mostly good, or at least serviceable. None of them are really as thrilling as the opening scenes of Casino Royale or the final shoot out at Skyfall ranch in Skyfall, but they’re engaging enough to keep you trotting along with Bond to the next exotic locale. Another thing I found strange in Spectre was how cold Bond’s character felt in this movie. He murders what feels like countless men almost everywhere he goes, while barely batting an eye about it, and refers to himself as an assassin, as do other characters. Up until this movie I had always thought of Bond as a secret agent, not an assassin. Seems a strange choice given the heroic status Bond has in movie culture. I find it harder to root for an assassin who is not represented as an anti-hero, the way Jean Reno was in The Professional. It just feels like poor writing, and comes off as lazy, and confusing story telling on screen.

Overall, despite the movie’s many faults, I would still rate it better than the snooze fest that was Quantum of Solace, but put it far below Casino Royale and Skyfall. If you're going to see it, I'd wait for Redbox or Netflix

Room: Review by Kenneth Buff

Room is a film adaptation of the 2010 book of the same name. It follows a mother and her 5 year old son who are being held captive in a sound proof room in a man's backyard. The twist is that the son doesn't know that there's any world outside of the room, he believes that all that exists is what's inside of it. This is where the drama comes into the film as the woman becomes desperate to escape.

The first half of the film is beautifully executed. The set, costumes, and color choices all highlight the grey world the characters live in, which is in stark contrast to the one Jack (the son) believes they live in. His imagination and happiness are so powerful they keep Joy going. It almost goes without saying that the performances of both Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are perfect for this film, and that they'll both undoubtedly get an oscar nod in the coming award season.

The only issue I had with the film was the third act. This is where Joy and Jack escape from the room and re-enter society. In the book this portion of the story isn't that long. They make it out, a few other things happen, and then the story quickly comes to a close. The film tries to draw this out, and even makes a few minor changes that don't add anything to the story, and only seem to add to the run time.

Over all, I really enjoyed the film, but felt it could have easily been 20 to 30 minutes shorter without it losing any of its emotional impact.

Bridge of Spies: Review by Kenneth Buff

Spielberg delivers another satisfying and entertaining film with Bridge of Spies. It has all of the classic Spielberg moments and ascetics, as well as Tom Hanks in a great performance that's one of his best in years.

I have to start by saying that it's just so fun to go into the theater seeing a new Spielberg movie. Bridge of Spies, like most Spielberg movies, has a sense of timelessness to it. If I didn't know it was a brand new film walking into the theater, I could have easily been convinced it was something Spielberg had filmed years ago. Spies is Spielberg at his best, delivering a scene that adds to the narrative with every shot.

Now, all of Spielberg's calling cards are here (the wide angel lenses, the tracking shots, ext.), but my favorite one that pops up is what some call the Spielberg Rule of Three. This is where something is asked by one character three times, and by the third time the character finally reveals it. This happens in Catch Me If You Can when Tom Hanks asks Leonardo DiCaprio how he passed the bar exam three times, and by the end DiCaprio reveals that he studied; it happens in Saving Private Ryan when the other soldiers keep asking Hanks what his job was before the war, and by the end he finally tells them he was a teacher; it happens in Spies as well, though not to the same dramatic effect in the other films I've mentioned above, but it happens none the less, and it's just fun to see this new Spielberg movie adhere to the rules that his previous films have established. 

Spies is another solid film to add Spielberg's filmography, it may not be as iconic as some of his others, but it is a story that's worthy of his lens, and of our time.


99 Homes: Review by Kenneth Buff

99 Homes takes place in Orlando, Florida in 2010, just after the economic down turn of 2008. It stars Andrew Garfield as a blue collar construction worker who fails to pay his mortgage and loses his house. Garfield and his family move into an over crowded, run down hotel, he loses his job, and becomes desperate. He takes on odd jobs for the man who took his house, realtor Rick Carver, played brilliantly by Michael Shannon.

The drama is the driving force behind 99 Homes. The fact that the story is based on actual recent events that are still very relevant today make it hit that much harder, so it's a little surprising that more often than not the film chooses to milk the drama of its scenes too far. Much of the film is comprised of scenes of various Floridans having their houses repossessed. In these scenes Michael Shannon or Andrew Garfield deliver the bad news, the ex-home owners shed their tears, belt their screams, or are so shocked they seem to lack any kind of response. These scenes are touching, they're simple and they communicate the message of the movie perfectly. Unfortunately the film doesn't stop there. Often things simply keep getting worse the ex-home owners. Their kids show up from school right as the police are repossessing the home,  the kids stare at the camera, hitting us over the head with the fact that these kids no longer have a home. It's over the top, and goes against the rest of the script that is pretty smart for such a straight forward movie.

Michael Shannon is what makes this movie. His character is the most defined. He was a guy who sold people houses before the recession, now he takes them away, but not because he wants to, but because he doesn't want to sink, so he does what he has to do. It's completely believable, especially when the words are coming out of Shannon's mouth, he sells the role. We know nothing about Garfield's character except that his mom had him when he was young and that he still lives with her and his son (the fate of the mother is never revealed). Not having a back story for Garfield's character is a big mistake, it's hard to feel for him later when his life goes to shit, having no real emotional connection with him. But over all Garfield is a good enough actor to make the part work, and Shannon is perfect, stealing every scene he's in.

Over all the movie was one of the more entertaining films I've seen this fall. It's not without its flaws, but it overcomes them with a strange cast and a great premise.