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Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Save some money. Watch the animated version.
Call me a poor sport or a fun killer or someone who takes movies too seriously or even a film critic, but as a movie-goer I found this live-action remake to be completely unnecessary and all together forgettable, just like that 2015 live-action Disney adaption of Cinderella. Remember that one?...I didn't think so.
Synopsis: This "tale as old as time" (adapted from Disney's 1991 animated Beauty and the Beast) once again tells the story of a vain prince who is turned into a hideous beast, until he can find a young girl who is able to see his inner beauty and fall in love with him. This "Beauty and the Beast" does have some entertaining moments of its own creation, mainly when Cogsworth and Lumiere (played to perfection by Ian McKellen and Ewan McGregor) take center stage. But that's about all. Basically everything else I enjoyed about this movie was plucked directly from the 1991 animated version; a version which is arguably one of the greatest Disney films/musicals ever made. Now while I usually hate when people compare remakes to their originals, since when critiquing a film you really want to take that singular film experience and analyze it in as much of a "bubble" as humanly possible, in regards to Disney's live-action "Beauty and the Beast", this is simply impossible since it's pretty much a 80-90% shot for shot remake (obviously there are going to be things that must be altered when adapting straight from animation, i.e. you can't possibly show Luke Evans who plays Gaston, eating five dozen eggs unless you want him dead). The main alterations being: the live-action element (or course) the addition of a few new and completely forgettable songs and (spoiler alert) LeFou (played by Josh Gad) is gay now, which probably would have been seen as a more progressive move by Disney if he'd been in more than four scenes.
Bill Condon's direction was serviceable, highlighted only by the set design and choreography during the musical numbers, but the CGI was cartoonish to the point of sloppy at times. As for the other performances, Emma Watson as Belle was fine (undoubtedly this would've been my very same critique if she'd starred in "La La Land") and so was Evans as Gaston. And even though as an actor Dan Stevens, who plays the Beast, usually annoys me because I believe his acting to be 99% facial expression, this facial recognition based CGI character seemed to suit him quite well.
Final Thought: I'm still giving this movie a minimal recommendation only because it's not a bad film. As I said, there are entertaining moments, and the songs brought over from the 1991 version are always a pleasure to hear. But if you're going to pay money and take your kids to see "Beauty and the Beast", why not just stay home and watch the better version?
American Honey (2016)
Featuring a cast riddled with amateur actors (aside from Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough (granddaughter of Elvis Presley) "American Honey" is more than just another Cannes Film Festival calling card for writer/director Andrea Arnold, it is a gritty, startling master-class example of "slice of life" direction, the likes of 2016's "Manchester by the Sea" or "King Jack".
Synopsis: A teenage girl, living in extreme poverty, is recruited into a traveling sales crew filled with other teens in her same situation. The group travels cross-country, scamming people into buying magazine subscriptions by day and partying incredibly hard by night.
Arnold's hand-held camera work only helped immerse me into this lesser known subculture, watching these economically disadvantaged teens make sketchy life choices as they come of age inside a van sized commune of their peers. But it's the stellar performance from newcomer Sasha Lane which gives major credibility to this film and justifies some of its more minor flaws as well as the run-time. Much of the satisfaction I received from "American Honey" came from watching Lane's character evolve throughout.
Final Thought: There are a few misplaced lines of dialogue, which seem to force-feed a bit more than I would have liked, and at a nearly three hour run-time, this Indie will be perceived as an intimidating venture for some, but boy is it worth your time. The genuine atmosphere of "American Honey" speaks to this generation like not many movies do, and will stay with you for days after viewing.
Is it an absolutely disgusting notion that I liked a movie about a clown who eats children?
Writer/director Jon Watts made a little low-budget drama called "Cop Car" which received fair reviews from critics. "Clown" was his other film; a film universally panned by critics as something akin to hot garbage and produced by Quentin Tarantino's forgotten stepchild, Eli Roth. That said, is it an absolutely disgusting notion that I liked a movie about a clown who eats children? Synopsis: A man finds an old clown costume and wears it for his son's birthday party. In the morning he can't seem to get it off. And when he tries, things get bloody. Layered atop this plot line is a really creepy eastern European clown origins story, which is actually more frightening than most monster movie horror origin stories.
"Clown" isn't without flaws (shocking, I know). Basically everything Roth touches tries to be funny and just isn't. And much like many B-movie horrors, this film suffers from a reaction problem from the people being perused by the titular monster (in this case, the reactions from friends and family are curiously calm) but that can be attributed to the level of actor used in this.
On the plus side for novice horror fans, much of the violence here is not as gratuitous as I would've imagined (as far as violence towards children is concerned) but more importantly, every kill is extremely well choreographed; not overly campy or silly, even with visible budgetary constraints. In fact the direction is the best aspect of this film by far, really elevating the more unbalanced and underwhelming melodramatic material in the 2nd Act into something visually disturbing and half-way scary.
Final Thought: Not going to lie, there were some quite disturbing and morbid sequences involving suicide (the best filmed suicide of 2016) and child consumption, which I rather enjoyed. But all that is an acquired taste.
Suicide Squad (2016)
Stop using comic books to defend this movie!
This wanted to be "Guardians of the Galaxy" so bad!
As the most teased and advertised movie of the year, even with a tsunami of negative early reviews, the "Suicide Squad" hype train was not to be derailed; which meant: No matter what the reviews said, I was still going to see this movie. That said, does this film live up to the hype?
Synopsis: Telling the story of a group of incarcerated supervillains who are rounded up (for reasons unknown) by the government (instead for recruiting actual soldiers; again, "for reasons unknown") and made to battle a villainous witch (who wasn't even a threat until after said villains were "rounded up"). Now if that sounds like a movie you want to see, then read on and let's see if I can't break your spirit. Director David Ayer's style (Training Day, End of Watch) is completely lost in a movie that looks like it was edited by producers into a mishmash of nonsensical cuts, flashbacks and one on-the-nose song after another. This outcome results in a lackluster plot jumble in conjunction with nonsensical character motivations, in equal amounts. I get why a supervillain would be forced to help the government, but (spoiler alert) there comes a point when they don't have to, BUT DO IT ANYWAY! (insert head-scratching emoji here).
While Deadshot (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) do work as entertaining leads, the Joker (played by Jared Leto in an absolutely forgettable performance) is made to look like a Juggalo electronic-dance DJ inspired pimp, whose motivations include wearing purple fur coats and running around the city with no shirt on, showing off his abs. The Joker I KNOW was all about chaos. That's what makes him scary; the fact that he isn't much for "feelings" and doesn't wear a frightening amount of bling-bling. But I guess it's 2016 and this is what we get; a Joker feat. Skrillex. As for all of the other B-side villains, they are complete throwaways.
Final Thought: As much as I enjoyed "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" (I know I'm in the minority here) "Suicide Squad" may be looked back upon as the beginning of the end for this particular cinematic DC universe. So, let me be the first to say it: RIP, DC.
The Conjuring 2 (2016)
"The Conjuring 2" review
James Wan is back to direct a second tale depicting paranormal researchers/ghost hunters Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren. But is it as scary as "The Conjuring"? Synopsis: In the 1970's Ed and Lorraine travel to England to investigate a haunting which locals refer to as London's Amityville.
The Good: For the first hour, "The Conjuring 2" does almost everything right. Even though director James Wan essentially uses the same horror buildup's, which lead to the same jump-scares and thus the same cranked up to 11 horror musical cues, that he always does; he does it all so well many may argue that Wan has created his own official horror style; a style which holds the highest rate of effectiveness in the genre. It's as though with every movie he's teaching a master-class in cookie-cutter horror direction, but does it better and more effectively than anyone working today.
The Bad: Little by little, there emerges this love story aspect between Ed and Lorraine. This love story is pushed along by some of the worst dialogue I've heard outside of a Harlequin romance. As this aspect moves to the forefront of the story, it becomes more cringe-inducing, reaching the point where every time Ed and Lorraine pause, turn and tell each other something unbearably lovey dovey, I couldn't help but imagine that the latter half of "The Conjuring 2" would essentially be the movie Nicholas Sparks would make if he tried his hand at the horror film genre.
Along with said love story, there also emerged another questionable aspect which stops this film dead in its tracks time and time again. "The Conjuring 2" becomes a religious film; or at least contains a very religious undertone. I understand that movies dealing with hauntings and exorcisms go hand in hand with priest and bible verses, but this is different. I would almost liken the religious undertones this film takes on to movies like "Do You Believe?", "Fireproof" or "Courageous"; films which seem like dramatic genre pieces, but end up morphing into Sunday School lessons. This aspect isn't a bad thing, on face value. But much like the love story aspect, wholesome religious rhetoric seems way out of place in a film of this nature.
That said, there will be many who will be able to look past the sappiness and the Sunday School level preaching. But even if that's the case, screenwriter Carey Hayes has one more surprise in store for those who reach the 2 hour mark; an ending which in its own right is idiotically simplistic, but whose explanation is so convoluted that as it begins, I looked down at the time and recoiled in horror at how long I'd been sitting there.
Final Thought: Do you remember "Insidious: Chapter 2"? I don't and (looking back on my article) I gave it a positive review. That's what "The Conjuring 2" is. Even if you enjoy this overlong British version of its predecessor (just with more religious asides and a painfully sappy Hallmark inspired love story crowbarred in) at the end of the day it'll still be a forgettable film.
I Saw the Light (2015)
"I Saw the Light" review
There are all sorts of ways to tell someone's story. But by far, a by-the-numbers type biopic is the most boring. Far too plain to pay homage in any kind of impactful way, "I Saw the Light" is deserving of little more than a spot on the Lifetime Channel.
Synopsis: The life and times of country-western singer, Hank Williams Sr.
Problem is (aside from the vanilla handling of the live fast, die young material) for the most part this movie flies though certain aspects of the story without explanation or exposition. I really never got to know who Hank Williams Sr. truly was. And it is my opinion that no matter how famous the subject, if one has to be a die-hard fan or have read a book to grasp onto what they are watching, the director and/or screenwriter(s) (in this case, Marc Abraham) have failed their audience.
The performances from Tom Hiddleston (Hank Williams Sr.) and Elizabeth Olsen (Audrey Williams, Hank's first wife) are more than serviceable, as these are two emerging powerhouses in their field. And at the end of the day, no matter how much I believe Abraham mishandled this story, "I Saw the Light" was always going to live and die on Hiddleston's singing abilities (as Hiddleston's actual singing voice is used in this film); an aspect which Abraham wasn't afraid to put into the forefront of his feature. And the results are well, he's no Joaquin Phoenix.
Final Thought: It is impossible not to draw comparisons to James Mangold's "Walk the Line", as the both are bios of legendary country-western singers set within a decade of one another. But when you realize that "I Saw the Light" shows its hand within the first 20 minutes (meaning: this film was all it was ever going to be within the first 20 minutes) you may find yourself sinking in your seat, as the comparison will become so distractingly overwhelming, that it should find a majority to perceive "I Saw the Light" as instantly forgettable.
Maybe after watching "Snowpiercer" and the Terry Gilliam canon, director Ben Wheatley decided to make a movie about people in a confined location, broken down into class systems, until all hell breaks loose (adapted from a novel by J.G. Ballard).
Synopsis: In a future where dogs are consumed and drowned, a bunch of people live in a high-rise and act peculiar. There are meant to be five buildings with a grand lake in the middle, acting as a palm of sorts (and the buildings are the fingers). This particular high-rise is the first one to be completed and seems to be all encompassing; there is a supermarket on the 15th floor, an entire floor dedicated to playing squash on, etc; with the wealthy living on the upper floors and the working-class on the lower. A doctor (played by Tom Hiddleston) moves in, but seems like a fish out of water within the upper class. It doesn't help that everyone seems to know his business before he opens his mouth and that he begins to be put into very awkward Gilliam-esque social situations, time and time again.
With the best cinematography I've seen in any film all year, at many times "High-Rise" displays storytelling that can only be described as "incoherent"; except for every establishing shot, which shows Wheatley's eye for spatial recognition (you are always aware of how high in up in the building you are at all times). But if you're looking for a coherent storyline, then look elsewhere. And if you make it to the second hour, you will only become more frustrated and more visually put-off by the nonsensical plot developments.
Final Thought: "High-Rise" seems to have a point about class systems being evil, but I don't know what it is saying that hasn't been said before, with much less "abstract meaning within the meaningless" sequences. Thus, the overall issue comes down to the fact that without a doubt 90% of audiences either won't grasp onto the odd little eccentricities that moves this story forward or won't care enough to do so; basically giving up on this beautiful looking train-wreck, eventually.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
With a first half that is little more than an overlong political drama and a second half filled with huge action, Whedon-esque quips from a multitude of super-cameos; capped off with a single (masterful) revelation sequence, the main reason "Captain America: Civil War" only garners 7 stars has to do with a finale where How do I say this without spoiling things?..."Captain America: Civil War", a movie which contains the epic Iron Man vs. Captain America confrontation; a confrontation which has been at least four films in the making, settles on a resolution that can only be described as "civil".
Synopsis: Do the Avengers do more harm than good? NATO thinks so, as they petition to garner control of this super-group, after global outcry from citizens who were a part of the collateral damage seen in the last two Avengers films, request governmental restraint on the independently run team. This diplomatic plot device divides the group; with unresolved results.
Is it me or did that plot seem way too CNN for a superhero movie? Well, that's because it was. And the deeper into the political well the extremely talkie "Civil War" fell into, the harder it became for me to wrap my mind around the fact that I potentially could be stuck watching an entire superhero film consisting of a series of repetitive moral and ethical roundtable discussions for 2 ½ hours.
Mid-Second Act, with the emergence of cameos from Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) Ant-Man (Paul Rudd)and the new Spider-Man (Tom Holland) who was shockingly the best part of the film, "Civil War" becomes the action packed superhero movie I'd been promised. During these moments (and only during these moments) do directors Anthony and Joe Russo shine. It just took so long to get there, as the plot did not warrant the pacing displayed within the first hour or so.
And it all seemed to be going well. I was now entertained. During the final Act I had become immersed in a Greek tragedy plot twist which had me leaning forward in my seat (essentially in a bloodlust). And then Bottom line, the conclusion to this film was surprisingly tame.
Final Thought: Not only was "Captain America: Winter Soldier" a better movie, but so was "Batman v. Superman".
Straight Outta Compton (2015)
If you're interested, then this movie will be interesting; at least for a while (more or less the first 90 minutes of this 2 ½ hour bio-"epic". "Straight Outta Compton" tells the story of revolutionary rap group, N.W.A. (Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, MC Ren, Dj Yella). Kicking off on the streets of Compton, California 1986 and documenting the groups rise as the pioneers of "gangsta rap", their tumultuous break up, allegedly due to underhanded management from Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) and introducing branches of rap legends which expanded from the N.W.A. tree, e.g. Snoop Dogg, Tu-Pac, etc. Problem is (much like that last sentence) the movie is just too damn long! And once Eazy-E starts coughing, the whole thing turns into an after school special, primarily due to an overarching repetitive atmosphere which director F. Gary Gray (Friday, Set It Off) seems to choose over subtlety more often than not.
There were a few sequences that made me lean forward in my seat (The live performance of "F--- the Police", for one) and the script itself from Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff (World Trade Center) does its job; even going above and beyond at times, inserting a few "audience winks" throughout (I mean, there's even a "bye Felicia" joke thrown into the mix). But it was the acting which was undoubtedly the stand-out aspect of this movie, highlighted by a performance from Ice Cube's own son, O'Shea Jackson Jr., who, in his first ever acting gig, hits it out of the park playing his father.
Here's the problem: The difference between "Straight Outta Compton" and an actual N.W.A. album is one carries a gritty, raw authenticity, and the other stars Paul Giamatti.
Not to say that there aren't guns in this movie (or drugs or police brutality for that matter) but the fact that "Straight Outta Compton" looks so cinematic is an issue.
When comparing this to a movie like "Boyz n the Hood", which while "fiction", portrays an honest and personal look into the streets of Los Angeles during a similar time frame, I can safely say that I remember finding myself absolutely immersed in John Singleton's depiction of said setting; to the point where by the end I felt as if I knew the neighborhood without even setting foot in the neighborhood. In retrospect this form of direction aided in my bond with other aspects of the film, acting as the connective tissue between me and the characters on screen.
"Straight Outta Compton" portrays true to life characters, all who actually grew up in Compton, but Gray's glossy (and viciously repetitive) direction really gives viewers more of a distracting XD version of a story that deserved a grittier presentation. Final Thought: It is obvious that Gray has a talent for music video direction and the cinematography here is technically perfect; just not for this movie, and thus curbing my viewing experience and creating a disconnect which resulted in me getting bored after the 90 minute mark.
By the way: Everyone who isn't dead, in prison or white gets out of this film scot-free. And while I am not an expert on the breakup of N.W.A. (I was around 5 when it actually happened) the fact that this film took 10 years (as stated by Ice Cube himself) to make, leads me to believe a multitude of financial parties had to come to an agreement as to what could be shown and what past actions could do damage in the court of public opinion, and thus would need to be left on the cutting room floor. So, just a heads up: this is not a scathing expose detailing Dr. Dre's abuse towards women, or anything like that. That said, this fact should not be held against the film itself, as it really has no bearing on ones viewing experience. Still, I believe that audiences have the right to know before entering the theater.
Goes from bad to worse
My mini reaction to - Scream: Episode 3: Verging on forgettable, this episode sees "Scream" slip behind MTV's "Ridiculousness" in terms of watchability. The teens continue to be interchangeable and impossible to connect with. And while the killings continue to be brutal, they aren't as creative as they need to be in order for us to alternatively root for the killer. Furthermore, a new annoyance has reared its ugly head; the acting, which at times is so "teened up" to 11, that it's getting harder and harder to gauge a character's on-screen reaction. Did she just get stabbed or break a nail?