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Fences • Sing • Rogue One

December 22, 2016

Fences (***) PG-13

Denzel Washington’s passion project Fences, an adaptation of the celebrated play by the late August Wilson, is a film filled with many moments of winning truth and insight. Washington not only stars in the film but he also directs this one. He and the film’s co-star Viola Davis originated their roles in the film on stage in a revival of the 1983 play in 2010, so they’re definitely no strangers to the material. As a film, it’s the type of thing that rewards viewers, but only those who are patient enough to stick with it during its opening hour. Today’s movie audiences are weaned on action and plot so that may be a bit of a tall order. For those who are attuned to the universe the film depicts, however, there are many pleasures to be derived from this labor of love.

Washington takes the lead role of Troy, a garbage collector in 1950s Pittsburgh. Troy is a bitter man but he has good reason to be.

Denzel Washington & Viola Davis in Fences

We learn that as a young man Troy had the talent/drive to become a professional baseball player but was held back by the racial barriers that prevented minorities from participating in the sport in the days of his youth. Now in the present, Troy is saddled with the multiple responsibilities of taking care of a wife (Viola Davis), kids and his mentally challenged brother (Mykelti Williamson). He feels a yearning restlessness and a desire to do something memorable with his life but the best that life seems to offer him are days filled with picking up the refuse of others and repairing a broken down house at the day’s end.  He spends his spare moments railing against the injustices of his life in the company of his lifelong friend, Bono (Stephen Henderson).

The first hour of the film is very stagey and mostly consists of Washington’s Troy character speechifying in his back yard for a good chunk of time. The film manages to break free of its stage bound conventions during its second hour when a plot surprise is revealed that sends the film’s story spinning into a totally different direction, supplying it with some of its best scenes.

The whole cast is superb. They never overplay it but hit all of the notes just right. Washington and Davis, in particular, are standouts and, as predicted should easily score some serious consideration during awards season. It’s a testament to the cast’s combined talent that the film succeeds so well. 

Sing (***) PG

By Jocelyn Noveck

AP National Writer

One can imagine the pitch meeting: It’s American Idol, but animated, and everyone’s an animal.

We’ll star a cuddly koala. We’ll get McConaughey, Witherspoon, some other A-listers. We’ll throw in everyone’s favorite pop songs - get Legal on the phone! And hey, we’ll add a fart joke. How could it miss?

And actually, that pitch meeting would be pretty much on the money. Sing doesn’t miss, at all. What this new holiday entry from Illumination (Despicable Me, Minions, The Secret Life of Pets) might lack in originality of concept, it more than makes up for in execution - in smarts, energy, star power and plain old entertainment value. And with a satisfying ending that also packs an emotional punch, it’s hard to imagine you won’t exit the theater smiling, if not, um, singing.

The story, by writer-director Garth Jennings, revolves around Buster Moon, the aforementioned koala. A short digression here: why Buster doesn’t have an Australian accent or any discernible relation to Australia - he’s a KOALA! - is certainly curious. Then again, Matthew McConaughey certainly isn’t Australian. And we love his distinctive drawl. So, we’re good.

Buster is a theater owner, and his dedication to live entertainment will be touching to all those musical lovers out there (and this IS the season for musicals). However, he appears to have horrible taste in the shows he picks (War of Attrition is one of the amusing titles.) Times have been tough.

Matthew McConaughey as Buster Moon in Sing

So Buster decides to put on a singing competition. He scrapes together $1,000 for the cash prize. But due to an unfortunate typo on the flyers printed by his somewhat blind but lovable secretary, Miss Crawly (voiced by director Jennings himself), the prize is upped to $100,000.

Needless to say, hordes show up to audition.

Which is good, because who doesn’t love a good audition montage?

This amusing scene gives Jennings a chance to pull out all the stops. (Until the end of course, when he REALLY pulls out all the stops.) What ensues is a funny series of inappropriate animal/pop song mashups, like the snail singing Ride Like the Wind. You get the picture.

We also meet our main characters here:

-Rosita (Witherspoon) is an overworked stay-at-home mama pig - she has 25 kids and an exhausted husband, and it’s pretty hard to find childcare for 25 piglets.

-Johnny (Taron Egerton) is a gorilla with a Cockney accent who’s trying to break free of the criminal gang run by his father.

-Ash (Scarlett Johansson) is a teen porcupine with a jerky boyfriend and a hidden songwriting talent.

-Mike (Seth MacFarlane) is a rat with a Sinatra-esque croon and a spending problem.

-And Meena (singer Tori Kelly) is an elephant with a terrible case of stage fright.

Of course, when someone in an upbeat movie starts out with a case of stage fright, it’s pretty obvious what’s gonna happen by the end. So we won’t even leave you in suspense on that. But there are other questions to be answered:

Will Ash show her arrogant boyfriend what she’s made of? (With Johansson playing her, the odds are pretty good - and you knew Scarlett could sing, right?) Will Rosita break free of the burdens of parenting? Will Johnny settle into a preordained life of crime, or follow his musical dreams? And will Buster manage to make his theater solvent?

The answers come with the help of even more celebrity voices: Leslie Jones, Jay Pharoah, Jennifer Saunders, Rhea Perlman and, most spectacularly, Jennifer Hudson have cameos.

As mentioned, the best comes last. It’s hard to beat a good singing contest. And anchoring it all is McConaughey’s pleasing drawl. His koala is a nice balance, neither too sweet nor too nasty, neither too corny nor too cynical.

In fact - sorry, but we have to say it - it’s all right, all right, all right.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (***) PG-13

By Adam Long

I’m happy to report that the first stand-alone entry in the Star Wars franchise, Rogue One, is a surprisingly entertaining affair that will not disappoint the die-hard fans whose world turns with each successive release of a new film in the series. It’s also rousing enough to keep casual fans like myself intrigued, especially during its last half. Given the stories of the film’s production woes that trickled out last summer it wasn’t a clear that this would be the case. The end result is a film that, for me, will certainly land a spot in my pick of the top five films of the franchise even if can’t best the first two entries in the Star Wars series.

For those who are unaware, Rogue One basically bridges the gap between the last of creator George Lucas’s ill-received prequels and the original Star Wars film from nearly forty years ago.

Diego Luna and Felicity Jones in Rogue One

To give you an idea of how closely the film follows the Star Wars mythology, Rogue One ends with the opening scene from the original Star Wars at its conclusion. Along the way the film manages to carve its own unique path while also throwing in nods to previous entries and characters in the beloved series. For instance, the iconic villain, Darth Vader, gets some of his best screen time in the entire series and this is only one of the careful throwbacks to the already well-established Star Wars universe.

Storywise, the film concerns the efforts of the Empire to build the Death Star and the attempts of the rebels to prevent that plan from fully coming to fruition. The rebels are lead by Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), whose father (Mads Mikkelsen) was crucial in the development of the Death Star. Jyn was separated from her father as a child but receives a message via hologram that sends her on her quest. From there she assembles a rag tag group to assist her in her mission, the most interesting of which is a blind warrior/monk (Donnie Yen) who is very strong in the force, but also includes (surprise!) a droid voiced by Alan Tudyk and an intelligence agent (Diego Luna).

Rogue One admittedly works best during its final hour after the premise has been set up and the audience can sit back and go along for the ride. This will be welcome news to those who only go to the movies to be entertained. If entertainment is what you’re after then hopping on board with Rogue One is a good way to go.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

ARCHIVES:

Nocturnal Animals • La La Land & Collateral Beauty

Why Him?

Manchester By The Sea Allied • Loving

Rules Don’t Apply • Moana & Bad Santa 2

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them • Moonlight

Arrival & Dr. Strange

Hacksaw Ridge

Inferno & Ouija: Origin Of Evil

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

The Girl On The Train & The Accountant

Masterminds • Deep Water Horizon • Birth Of A Nation

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

Snowden & The Magnificent Seven

Bridget Jones’ Baby & Blair Witch

Sully

The Light Between Oceans

Hell Or High Water & Don't Breathe

Sausage Party & Indignation

Florence Foster Jenkins & Pete's Dragon • Café Society

Eat That Question & Suicide Squad

Star Trek Beyond & Jason Bourne

Lights Out

Ghostbusters

The Purge: Election Year

Independence Day: Resurgence • The BFG

Free State Of Jones & DePalma

Now You See Me 2 & Finding Dory

The Conjuring 2 & Me Before You

X Men: Apocalypse Love And Friendship

The Lobster & The Meddler

Money Monster • The Nice Guys Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

Miles Ahead

Elvis And Nixon Green Room

Midnight Special Everybody Wants Some

The Jungle Book

I Saw The Light • The Boss

Hello My Name Is Doris & Krisha

Divergent: Allegiant & Batman v Superman

10 Cloverfield Lane & Brothers Grimsby

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot & London Has Fallen

Triple 9 & 45 Years

Eddie The Eagle• The Witch

Where To Invade Next & Son Of Saul

Deadpool • The Choice • How To Be Single

Hail Caesar & Fifty Shades Of Black

The Finest Hours & The 5th Wave

Mustang & The Lady In The Van

Anomalisa • 13 Hours: The & Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi

The Revenant • Youth

Carol • Joy • The Hateful Eight

Star Wars: The Force Awakens • The Big Short • Concussion

Daddy’s Home • Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Road Chip

In The Heart Of The Sea • Krampus

Creed • Brooklyn

Spotlight

‘Mockingjay Part 2’ • All Things Must Pass • The Night Before

Trumbo

Spectre & The Peanuts Movie

Steve Jobs & Our Brand Is Crisis

Crimson Peak & Room

Bridge Of Spies & Goosebumps

99 Homes

The Martian • Sicario & The Walk

The Intern • The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials • Everest

The Visit & Black Mass

Mistress America

The Diary Of A Teenage Girl A Walk In The Woods

American Ultra • No Escape • Sinister 2

Straight Outta Compton, The End Of The Tour, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Irrational Man & Fantastic Four

Ricki And The Flash & The Gift

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation • Southpaw • Vacation

Ant-Man & Trainwreck

Self/Less

Amy • Magic Mike XXL, Terminator: Genisys

Me & Earl & The Dying Girl, Ted 2

Inside Out & Dope

Love and Mercy & Jurassic World

Insidious Chapter 3

San Andreas & Aloha

Poltergeist &
Tomorrowland

Mad Max: Fury Road

Hot Pursuit

Avengers: Age Of Ultron

Ex Machina

While We’re Young & Unfriended

The Longest Ride

Fast & Furious 7

It Follows

Divergent

Cinderella

Chappie

Focus & The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Hot Tub Time Machine 2

Fifty Shades Of Grey

Jupiter Ascending

Still Alice

The Imitation Game A Most Violent Year

American Sniper Inherent Vice

Selma & Taken 3

Unbroken

Big Eyes • The Interview

Night At The Museum The Secret of the Tomb • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Top Five • Wild • Annie

Foxcatcher

Whiplash & The Theory Of Everything

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 • Horrible Bosses 2

Dumb And Dumber To

Birdman & Interstellar

Nightcrawler

Ouija

Fury

The Judge

Annabelle & Gone Girl

The Equalizer & Happy 75th, GWTW!

The Drop • A Walk Among & The Tombstones

No Good Deed

The Identical

As Above, So Below & November Man

If I Stay & Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

The Giver • Code Black & The Expendables 3

Boyhood • Into The Storm & Magic In The Moonlight

Get On Up & Guardians Of The Galaxy

Lucy

Begin Again & The Purge: Anarchy

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

Chef & Tammy

Transformers: Age Of Extinction

Jersey Boys

22 Jump Street & How To Train Your Dragon 2

The Fault Is In Our Stars & Edge Of Tomorrow

A Million Ways To Die In The West

X-Men: Days Of Future Past Maleficent

Godzilla • Summer Preview

Neighbors • Godzilla

The Amazing Spiderman 2 & Belle

The Other Woman & Brick Mansions

A Haunted House 2 & Heaven Is For Real

Oculus & Rio 2

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Noah

Divergent

The Grand Budapest Hotel & Veronica Mars

300: Rise of the Empire

Non-Stop & Son Of God

Three Days To Kill

Robocop & The Past • About Last Night

The Monuments Men

Labor Day

I, Frankenstein

Inside Llewyn Davis & Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Lone Survivor & August: Osage County

Her • Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom & The Wolf Of Wall Street

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, Saving Mr. Banks, American Hustle, Anchorman 2

The Hobbit: The Desolation & Of Smaug • Nebraska

Dallas Buyers Club & Oldboy & Out Of The Furnace

Philomena & The Book Thief

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire & Delivery Man

About Time & All Is Lost

Thor: The Dark World & 12 Years A Slave

Ender’s Game & Last Vegas

Bad Grandpa &The Counselor

Carrie & The Fifth Estate

Captain Phillips, Enough Said & Machete Kills

Gravity & Runner Runner

Metallica: Through The Never , Rush & Don Jon

Prisoners & Rush

Insidious: Chapter 2 • The Family & The Spectacular Now

Riddick

Getaway

The World’s End You’re Next

Lee Daniels’ The Butler • Jobs • Blue Jasmine

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters & Elysium

2 Guns

Blue Jasmine • The Wolverine & Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale Station • The Conjuring & The Way Way Back

Pacific Rim & Grown Ups 2

The Lone Ranger & Despicable Me 2

The Heat & White House Down

Monsters University, World War Z, Before Midnight & The East

Man of Steel & This Is The End

The Internship & The Purge

After Earth, Now You See Me & Frances Ha

The Hangover Part III Before Midnight

Star Trek: Into Darkness & Fast and Furious 6

The Great Gatsby & Frances Ha

Iron Man & Peeples

Pain and Gain & Mud

Oblivion & Lords of Salem

42 and Scary Movie 5

Evil Dead & Jurassic Park 3-D

G.I. Joe: Retaliation Tyler Perry’s Temptation

Spring Breakers Admission

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone • The Call

Oz: The Great And Powerful West Of Memphis

Jack the Giant Slayer The Last Exorcism, Part II

Dark Skies & Snitch

A Good Day to Die Hard & Safe Haven

Side Effects & Identity Thief

Bullet To The Head Warm Bodies


 

 

 

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