Fences - Review

PG-13 | 2h 18min | Drama
Review - Matt Mungle

In theaters 12.25.16

SynopsisAn African-American father struggles with race relations in the United States while trying to raise his family in the 1950s and coming to terms with the events of his life.

Review: The fact that FENCES feels more like a stage play than a blockbuster film is no surprise considering it has lived that life for decades. But even though it may not be the most powerful film this year it certainly delivers two of the best performances this award season. 

Troy (Denzel Washington) is a man living in his dreams. Though often light and jovial it doesn't take much to ignite a ferocious anger that stems from what he perceives to be a life unfulfilled. He is like an injured animal. You can pet him fondly but if you ever hit a sore spot you might draw back a bloody limb. His irritation is mainly aimed at his sons. Lyons is his oldest from a previous marriage and Cory (Jovan Adepo) is the youngest by his current wife Rose (Viola Davis). Being a teenager and living at home Cory takes the most of Troy's lashing out. The story pretty much revolves around Troy and his demons. Though the description mentions race issues in the 50's to be honest Troy's main problem is himself. 

Washington and Davis both are reprising roles they performed many times on the stage. This familiarity with the lines and each other carries over to what we see on screen. They are each powerhouse actors so to add that sort of fuel to their engines obviously produces unbeatable delivery. Davis especially demands attention. Rose is a caring, patient woman but she is no wall flower. When cornered or if Troy gets too far out of line she has the backbone and strength to shut him down. She loves Cory and often finds herself mediator between the two.

Adepo enters this mix untested. He has done television roles and a few shorts but this is his first major film. His character Cory has to stand nose to nose with Washington in some heated moments and Jovan never wavers. If he does it can easily be excused away as acting. Troy is a demanding father and for his son to shake a bit in his presence is natural. The film also stars Stephen Henderson as Troy's long time friend and coworker Bono. Bono has always been Troys rooting section and loves to help him "remember when?". Henderson has the ability to enter a scene and then fade into the backdrop like a prop. This too gives the film a stage performance feel. 

This film is a tough sale due to the fact that if you remove even one piece of the tapestry (Davis especially) you are left with very little. It isn't bad nor is it grand. The movie serves only to be there as a platform for the actors to walk upon. It is a reason for the dialogue. Award winning author August Wilson wrote both the original play and the screenplay so the conversations and speeches are perfect. But even that doesn't make it a fantastic movie. When Davis speaks you hang on every word. Not because you are interested in how it moves the story forward but only because you love hearing her say it. 

Troy is a deep rich character no doubt. His is frustrated with his place in life and takes it out on everyone. You immediately feel bad for Cory and want to shake some sense into his father. It is apparent that Troy is using his own failures - regardless who brought them on - as an excuse to throttle his own sons ambitions. And it is sad to watch. Even as Troy goes on to make even poorer choices he never once seems to have remorse. It is always the fault of someone else. You go from sort of feeling sorry for him to simply pitying him. He is a sad man who has built his own prison cell. 

Fences is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, language and some suggestive references. You have to see it for Viola Davis' performance. That may be the only reason but it is enough. Washington also directed the film but even that is nothing monumental. I give it 3 out of 5 trumpet blasts.  The simplicity of the sets and blocking enhance the characters and offer the viewer expert acting performances.   

Watch my interview with Jovan Adepo


Manchester by the Sea - Review

R  |  137 min  |  Drama
Review - Matt Mungle

*In theaters 12.16.16*

SynopsisAn uncle is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy's father dies.

Review: The simple, ubiquitous story of Manchester by the Sea is elevated to award worthy status by genuine writing, directing, and acting. It is proof that concept can only rise to its full potential when all other elements come together. This is a film that could have been too heavy to ever get off the ground but somewhere in its drama it finds its wings to fly. 

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a reserved man living day to day in a preoccupied state of existence. He works hard, keeps his head down, and takes the blows as they come. When his brother (Kyle Chandler) dies Lee is put into a crucial position of raising his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Lee wants no part of this, not because he doesn't care about Patrick but it will force him to face a past he has tried hard to escape. This begins a journey of struggle and redemption for the both of them. 

Affleck is sensational in this film as a devastated man whose life turned on a dime. Lee is numb to the world around him which makes the thought of caring for another person nearly impossible. Patrick doesn't understand Lee's unwillingness to do this which in turn creates an important tension in the film. But it is so realistic and relatable. The two argue and interact the way real people would. One can be so angry with the other but you see it never diminishes the love that is inherent. Hedges may be a young actor but his ability to emote that balance of family and frustration is another reason this movie is such a success. Keep an eye on this guy. His movie career is going to be epic. 

Kenneth Lonergan directed this film based on an original script he wrote. It is hard to figure out which to praise him for first. I guess the chicken wins out over the egg for without a script there would be nothing to direct. Lonergan writes rich characters with beating hearts and bleeding flesh. Their dialogue is never verbose or flamboyant. But it is genuine. Sometimes it says nothing at all. But those pauses come at the right time. There is a natural rhythm to the conversations that fold the characters in on one another. You may not like their decisions or how they respond but you get them. You know them. And more than often you can sympathize. 

Affleck and Hedges are two strangers that meet on a soundstage and have to convince us they are family. Lonergan directs them so that what he has written comes to brilliant life. He guides them through the words on the page so that we have no problem believing the world in which they exist. And that is why the audience engages with the film from start to finish. As the whys and hows emerge you cry, laugh, and listen. Lee has a horrible burden and you want to help shoulder it. 

Michelle Williams costars as Lee's ex-wife Randi. Williams has already earned many nominations for this role so you would expect her to be in the film a lot. But she only makes a few appearances. It is what she does with the time she has that makes her notable. Randi's brief exchange with Lee is enough to make you hand her the award yourself. It will move you considerably. 

Manchester by the Sea is a heavy drama but not completely void of humor. Because life can be funny. In the midst of pain and sorrow we often have to find things to laugh at and with. This story finds these moments and graphs them in seamlessly. Again, just as you would expect it in reality. It is a human story and humanity is prevalent. 

It is rated R for language throughout and some sexual content. This is a film for adults and they can handle the content. Life is messy and ugly and many times unfair. But people get through it. Never does this movie take that for granted. I give it 4 out of 5 awkward conversations. It is worthy of any praise it gets.


Review - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

PG-13  |  133 min 
Review - Matt Mungle

*In theaters 12.16.16*

SynopsisThe Rebellion makes a risky move to steal the plans for the Death Star, setting up the epic saga to follow.

Review: When Force Awakens hit theaters it provided die hard Star Wars fans with the movie they needed. It was an emotional, fluffy offering that gave us a chance to once again see our beloved characters on the big screen. We all remember the joy of seeing Han and Chewie walk on board the Millennium Falcon again. It was hard to watch that and not swell up inside with tearful exhilaration. With Rogue One: A Star Wars Story fans get the movie they wanted; and it could be the best one yet. 

The most impressive thing about Rogue One is how seamlessly it fits with Episode IV A New Hope. Fans of the franchise will appreciate the lengths that the producing team and Director Gareth Edwards went to to make sure this one felt like an authentic Star Wars story. There are so many little things they did right. Many of those will not be listed here so that viewers and fans can experience them organically and with newness. But know that they are there and they are fantastic. 

This story takes place right before Episode IV. It is about a group of Rebel forces who risk everything in order to steal the plans for the new Imperial super weapon that we know as the Death Star (we have all uttered the words, "that's no moon, it's a space station" at some point). Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is key to this mission due to her connection to high profile players on both sides. She joins Rebel soldier Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) in an all out assault on the Imperial compound. One that, as we know, has huge consequences at stake. It is a mission that must succeed. 

The cast is incredible and Jones is almost unrecognizable in this gritty, action packed role. Another brilliant casting decision is Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe. If you are unfamiliar with the Ip Man martial arts films this will be a small taste of how fluidly he moves and the rich depth he brings to a character. His mastering of wushu and tai chi is unparalleled. So to watch him bring that to a Star Wars character solidifies 'the force' in a way that has yet to be done. 

Fans of this franchise look for certain elements that make it Star Wars. The star ships, the dialogue, the rebels and Imperials, the aliens; all need to be a part of the Star Wars Universe. The story can be fresh and unheard of but the world in which it takes place has to be exact. It most live in the same space. This one thankfully does. 

Characters old and new show up too which grounds this in the time period. You could splice this one (and I am sure someone will) into the 1977 film A New Hope and never catch the edit. It is that great a companion. It again goes back to the painstaking details that the filmmakers insisted on. 

The action is more prevalent and intense in this one which is something Force Awakens lacked. This is more War than Stars and the movie is better for it. But it is not without humor. Again there are things we expect. One of them is a robot counterpart to break the tension when needed. Here we are introduced to K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk). He is nothing like you have seen in a Star Wars film but at the same time fits right at home. 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action. It is darker and more action packed than Force Awakens but still fine for your younger family members. It would almost be a shame to deny any Star Wars fan the opportunity to see this story unfold. Granted I am not going to take my 4 year old but those 10 and up who have seen all the others hundreds of times will love this one too; even if they don't get it all. I give it 4.75 out of 5 X-Wing Fighters. It was near perfect and exactly the movie this fan wanted.