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Molly's Game (2017)
Interesting Story, Great Actors and Sparkling Sorkin Dialogue
Molly's Game has the window dressing and the star power to bring you in but what I found most alluring was the story. How did this woman navigate her way to this post? Why did she go to jail for it? How did she figure out a way to dodge the larger legal complications? The trailer sets up all those questions. I think the movie capable answers each of them. I found the plot to be engaging but I was waiting for the big bombshell to drop and other than 1 violent confrontation, I didn't feel like I got that. I was expecting one of those divine inspiration moments for either Molly or Charlie that would give them the ability to win the case but that never came. I credit the movie for subverting those expectations, but it disappointed me a little.
Although this is a character piece, a large amount of the movie is spent around a poker table. I enjoy poker and I appreciated that the movie showed different angles on the game. How important the psychological aspect of both the game and gambling addiction are focal points that were solid choices. They also talked about different styles of play (aggressive vs. non-aggressive, skilled vs. unskilled) and how difficult it is to keep track of high stakes games like that (Molly's continual problems with collateral and managing debt were intriguing). I liked most of the scenes that were centred on the game and they were appropriately intense.
Other than the actors, the other biggest star in the movie is Sorkin's dialogue. It's also his directorial debut but he does a solid job at directing and an excellent job in screenwriting. He just has a way of making every sentence sound like someone has a beautiful mind with a soul of a poet. That last comment sounds cheesy, but I never walk away from a movie where he worked on the script without feeling the need to trumpet that the guy has a gift. Molly's Game is another one of those projects that he delivers and has those same strengths.
I saw this with a friend and we were talking about Chastain's performance as Molly Bloom. The conclusion we came to was that she was great in the lead role but you expect that from her. It would honestly be weirder if she wasn't and I can see why she's garnering so much praise for this. I echo that and the same sentiment for Idris Elba as Charlie Jaffey. His accent is a little off but when he and Chastain are together is when the movie shines its brightest. They both throw themselves in completely and especially at the end, they have a great rapport. The movie centres around them so much that the rest of the cast capably performs around them, but they are relegated to the background. Michael Cera has a nice slimy role as Player X, he was fun to watch. I also liked Bill Camp in his small bit as Harlan. Kevin Costner is a good actor, but he was undercut by his role as Larry Bloom. He's a stereotypical too serious father until the ending twist (which I'll touch more on later).
The biggest criticism I have for this movie doesn't come till the movie has almost wrapped up. Molly's relationship with her father is difficult and they are shown through flashback fighting with each other constantly. But at the end, her relationship with her father is almost magically reconciled in a way that I didn't find very believable. It minimizes her struggles to gain ground in this seedy world of egotistical people down to having "daddy issues." Now that may be Molly's story, but the movie also didn't have to make it seem so abrupt and I thought it undercuts the gravity of her situation. Plus, her dad being a decent human being for a few minutes doesn't makeup for him being a complete jerk for most of her life.
I was really stoked to see this movie, I looked at it as a wrap up for the 2017 theatre going schedule and it had a lot of elements that interest me. This movie is never bad, and it rarely misses but I still thought it was a tad underwhelming. It was good, but I thought it could have been even better. But on the other hand, Chastain and Elba could and should be considered for awards season, Sorkin's script is a polished gem, and you can't deny wanting to see how Molly gets out of this pickle. Check this out at the local Cineplex but you don't need to sprint to the theatre to see it.
I, Tonya (2017)
Extremely Involving Movie That Tells a Crazy but True Story With Equal Parts Tragedy and Comedy
I wasn't old enough to process Tonya Harding's story when it was going on, so I can only describe this movie as a fresh face. I loved how this movie played into the wild and varied accounts about Tonya's life. Instead of presenting one version and calling it "the truth" (which Harding even talks about through voice over in the final scene), they present different accounts through Harding (played by Margot Robbie), Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and LaVona Golden (Allison Janney) and the movie is very ambiguous about what happened. This was refreshing, the story is just so bizarre no matter whose account you choose to believe. It allows the creative team the freedom to cherry-pick what they want to show, and I was constantly engaged. Normally I'm critical when the stray from the facts in a biopic but no one will ever "actually" know what happened, so the movie has some fun with it without straying into implausibility.
So, knowing that the movie toys with the story a little, I still was floored by the characters and the character development. Tonya Harding, whether she was guilty or not, became a sympathetic in my eyes. I'm not saying that what she did was right or that Kerrigan deserved it (that shouldn't even be a question) but with the kind of upbringing she had, was she going to be an emotionally stable adult? I would say no. Even though the world decided she was the villain, her work ethic and her perseverance made her endearing to me. Gillooly and Golden are villains and they're monsters but the movie makes them characters that you want to follow. Add in one of the dumbest characters I've seen on screen in Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) and a surprisingly informative narrator in Martin Maddox (Bobby Cannavale) and you have a movie populated by unforgettable characters that all have a surprising amount of depth.
I've talked about the characters and how closely the movie sticks to the facts, but I wanted to add how sharp of a script I think this was. The movie is hilarious at points and it just breaks your heart at others. The dialogue is always sharp (even though its vulgar as h@!!) and I found the movie suspenseful throughout. They also present serious issues like spousal/familial abuse in a different light. Tonya faces violence daily and instead of stopping the movie to show it, its very much treated as an everyday occurrence. It is shocking and every time you're starting to have too much fun, it just sobers you up completely. It was a bold but effective choice to show how screwed up her life was. Add in the great 4th wall breaking and narration from different characters, they really produced something special with this.
The script was great, but Gillespie and his team shot the crap out of this too. The skating and action scenes are dynamic with the camera constantly moving and showing things from different angles. What Tonya and the other skaters do as athletes is an art and the movie shows that. I also thought the movie was gritty but had a sense of style. There's also a neat shot showing the passage of time after one of Tony and Jeff's breakups that weaves things together beautifully. Instead of just skating by, the movie committed to making things exciting from a visual standpoint.
I, Tonya has also garnered some deserved praise for the actors and actresses. Even as a fan, I was blown away by Margot Robbie as Tonya. She doesn't look like Harding, but her performance has so much emotion and effort in it that she capably carries this movie. She's probably going to get an Oscar nomination for this and she deserves it. She's got tons of talent and I hope she gets more roles like this. I was expecting great things from Robbie, but the surprising performance was Sebastian Stan as Jeff. He really did great work, he's the underrated one in this cast. He capably plays Jeff as a slimy/bad guy but complex nonetheless. Allison Janney is just evil as LaVona and she's also deserving of the praise/award recognition for her work. She's so awful but you can't turn away because of Janney's performance. Paul Walter Hauser is perfect in the worst way for Shawn. He's so stupid and Hauser plays up the idiocy of the character so well. I also liked Bobby Cannavale in his small role, he's a nice mix of sleazy and funny that helps round out the story.
I only have 1 criticism of this movie and its not the one that most of the reviews have. The biggest complaint I've heard about the movie is the CGI in the skating sequences, that its obvious that they've put Margot Robbie's head on another skater. I didn't think it was a seamless effect, but I never had a problem with it. My problem was that they made the decision to have Robbie and Stan play the 15-16 year old versions of Harding and Gillooly and while I get it would have been an awkward transition (by the end of the movie, Harding is only 23 so how else could they have done it?) I still found it hard to buy them at those points. I don't want to blame the actors, but it just came off as a rare misstep for a largely flawless movie.
This is one of 2017's best movies for me. It was highly praised and after seeing it, I think rightly so. I think the acting, direction and script were all impressive and the movie came together to be something worth going to see. I wish it had a bigger release, I had to go out of my way to see this but I, Tonya is a great sports biopic that breaks the mold. Check this out if you get the chance.
Coco is a Feast for the Eyes and it Tells a Worthwhile Story About Family
I don't know if Pixar has ever made a movie that didn't boast excellent visual style (I've seen every Pixar movie minus Cars 3) but Coco didn't drop the ball. Both the original setting and the afterlife are portrayed by this movie is gorgeous. It's filled with bright neon and pastel colours that are used superbly. Unkrich, Molina and their team outdid themselves creating this eye-popping environment and it was a definite positive to help make the movie an immersive experience. I loved how they decided to integrate that into specific ideas, like the bridge between the living and the dead being made out of flower petals. There are more than a couple visual gags with the skeletons too and to Coco's credit, I was never bored or annoyed with them even if I have seen another version of them before. There was plenty of laughter in the theatre I saw it in and I liked the gags throughout.
The central conceit of the plot bugged me at the beginning. Mama Imelda's husband was a deadbeat who was selfish and abandoned his family. Why is it music's fault? If anything you think Mama would encourage emotional detachment from romantic partners instead of a hatred of music. But to the movie's credit, I got over that. They couldn't have explained it any other way without damaging the overall story so if you're like me and have a problem with this line of thinking, try to be patient and I think you'll be able to hurdle it.
As animated protagonists go, Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) reminded me of Meredith from the Pixar movie Brave. You can relate to him and see why he's frustrated with how his life is going but he also comes off as selfish when we're just getting to know him. That's how I felt about Meredith but where Brave stumbled and Coco succeeds is that Coco gives Miguel great supporting characters to interact with. Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) was easily my favourite, he's the right mix of likeable and sweet and I also really liked Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). There's a lot more to his character than meets the eye and I think they made the right choices with his magnetic musician character. As much as I was annoyed at Miguel's living family (they're largely forgettable), I also connected with his dead family and characters like Mama Imelda (Alanna Ubach). The movie could have drawn them as being nags or shallow but they take the time to help you see their point of view.
The voice acting in the movie is good across the board. Anthony Gonzalez isn't the most talented singer or voice actor but he gets the job done and I think he was a good addition to the movie. Bernal and Bratt stole the show, they have great characters to work with but they helped elevate them into being memorable for me. I also have to credit Alanna Ubach for doing a solid job as well.
The message of the movie is familiar (family first) but I think Coco is such a good movie that they present it in a way that it seems fresh. There is subtext about compromise and how things aren't always what they seem that I found touching. I got swept up in this movie and I think it works almost as well as many of Pixar's best movies at being emotionally affecting.
I have to give the movie a backhanded compliment when it comes to the pacing. I was never annoyed with the movie but until Miguel travels to the afterlife, it did seem like it was treading water. The story was being told with care but it wasn't exciting right off the bat. Luckily, when we get to the afterlife and we start meeting Miguel's family, the movie moves at a quicker clip and you are getting so much in the way of characters and new information that Coco grabs you by the hand and you never look back.
This movie felt like Pixar showing off. Not only is this one of their most impressive movies from a visual standpoint (which is no small feat) but I thought after a shaky start, the momentum picked up and they had a very sweet story about family by the end. I almost let this pass by me in theatres and looking back, I'm really glad I got the opportunity to go see it on the big screen. This is an excellent animated movie in every respect and I would urge you to give it a shot.
Better Than I Thought it Was Going to Be
I didn't circle the release date for Downsizing on my calendar. I thought the trailer looked cheesy and not being an Alexander Payne fan, I was willing to just wait for it to come out on Netflix. But I ended up going to see it anyway and I came away pleased with the movie. The first thing I want to talk about is that the movie covers more angles of the fallout of downsizing then you would think. Should these people have equal voting rights? Do they pay income tax? What happens to the areas that people vacate to downsize? Could you really leave your family and friends behind? They answer these questions and many more. This might make the movie seem boring but it was interesting to me. It gives you room to imagine how radical and shocking it would be for this process to suddenly come available.
Downsizing is billed as being heavily comedic, does the comedy work? I don't think the movie is ever gut-busting funny, but I did find myself laughing here and there. Some of the gags they do with the difference in size are interesting and I was wasn't groaning because anything fell flat.
Downsizing features good performances from both the main and supporting cast. Matt Damon is painted as the every-man with dreams of a better future and to his credit, he navigates the rough seas this movie puts him through to deliver a solid performance. Hong Chau is impressive as Ngoc Lan Tran. I bought into her relationship with Matt's character more than some other reviewers did. This was also a difficult character but she made it work. I would mention though that while her accent is close to being authentic, I still would have dialed it back a little. That's not her natural dialect and I could see some people being offended by it. Christoph Waltz is good, he's better in the dramatic bits, I just don't think he's particularly funny. Kristen Wiig is fine, she's in the movie less than you would think but she's solid.
I get why people didn't enjoy this movie. For one, the marketing is very misleading. The trailers are selling you a comedy with a heart. Downsizing has those moments, but it lacks any kind of consistency in tone. It jumps from goofy to extremely dark and back again. You can split this movie into parts. The first part is more like the trailer, its not slapstick comedy but it sets up these ideas and it tries not to get bogged down by giving you some levity. The next part is more of a commentary on our current economic system. In the final part, they transition to be an environmental message movie. This didn't bother me as much as it did some of the other reviewers, but you have to hold the movie to task for promising one thing and then not delivering on it. It also makes the movie frustrating to view as it toys with your expectations.
A lot of people really love Alexander Payne's previous movies. I'm not one of those people, I think he's talented, but he doesn't make movies that I particularly gravitate to (I've only seen Election and The Descendants but I still didn't like them). But even knowing that, I still was pleasantly surprised by this. Sure, the movie is heavy-handed about what its trying to get across and the tone wanders like someone who is new to the Downsizing community. But it does have a lot of interesting ideas, there's some good commentary on how things work in our world today and I enjoyed the performances enough to go along with the movie. I don't think its a must-see movie in theatres but if you're open to its message, I think seeing Downsizing on Blu-ray or Netflix would be absolutely worthwhile.
The Babysitter (2017)
The Babysitter Tries for Something Specific but They Miss the Mark by a MIle
I think this movie was a complete misfire. There are bad movies that don't try and then there are those that tried too hard and just whiffed. The Babysitter falls into the latter category for me. There was obviously a lot of effort put in by the crew. McG does his best to add some flair with some Scott Pilgrim vs. the World style to this with some cutaways and visual effects. The actual concept of this movie could have been interesting, and they play around with "the evil hiding in plain sight" idea which is always fun. We all want to believe that the world around us has a lot more mystery and that something unbelievable is going on next door. So in concept, I also thought that was a fun choice.
The rest of this review isn't going to have many positives. I want to start with the main character Cole. I don't mind having an underdog main character or a character that's a nerd, but I struggled to find anything to like about Cole. He's such a wimp, he lacks any kind of personality and he lucks out so many times that I don't even want to give him credit for making it to the end. He's so weak that you need a reason to root for him and just because he comes to life when Bee comes around doesn't make him interesting.
If this movie is carried by something, its Samara Weaving's performance as Bee. She doesn't save the movie but she's easily the best thing in it. You can buy her as Cole's friend and when she makes the switch, she at least has the talent to carry it. Judah Lewis was so wooden as Cole that coupled with the fact he's written poorly, it made dislike his performance even more. The rest of the cast are cold on purpose: Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Andrew Bachelor and Hanna Mae Lee are all way too old to be playing the roles they're playing, and it shows. The movie is going for a meta funny vibe (that doesn't work) so I think the direction they were given was probably to act that way, so I don't want to be too critical.
This movie is a horror/comedy that is going a coming of age tale at the same time. Not one of those things worked for me. I'll admit the movie is intermittently funny but its not enough. The movie lacks any kind of scares (the gore is pretty intense too) and while the movie has its tongue firmly in its cheek, it isn't smart enough to pull that off. I also couldn't buy Cole maturing as a character. He's really immature already so him gaining that experience (minus the murder and the therapy he's going to need because of it) isn't impressive.
I wanted to like this movie but I was just uncomfortable the entire time I was watching it. To sell something bizarre like this you need strong material and talented people in front of and behind the camera. I don't think they accomplished those goals and despite the good RT rating, I have to say give this one a hard pass.
A Fun Concept and Great Cast Carry Jumanji Over Cheesy Dialogue and Sentimentality
If you play video games and are open to the actors/actresses in this cast, it would be hard not to geek out over this concept. Video game movies are hit and miss at best and maybe this was a new way to help that along. They took an existing property and made it a video game movie. There were cool instances where they brought in aspects of video games that genuinely worked (I liked the non-playable character gag where they can only have a few responses) and then there were other times where it was a little awkward and didn't translate effectively (the concept of the lives was a little clunky, they lost lives falling from some heights and not others and then using CPR to transfer one?). I have to admire their ambition but only partial points for execution.
This is an action/comedy geared more towards families than adult audiences. Does it work on that level? I would say yes. The movie isn't hilarious but there were plenty of times where I was chuckling, and it also had some decent action in it. I don't think the movie was exceptional in either area, but it did its job. I did like how they brought in some Indiana Jones style elements too. Using specific traps and the returning the treasure to its rightful place were nice additions and made it feel like it was playing towards an old school adventure movie.
I did have a couple of big problems with this movie. I felt like the characters of the kids were way too stereotypical (the awkward nerd, the self-involved pretty girl, the dumb jock etc.). I know that they can't be all completely fresh characters, but they still could have added a little more dimension by going in a different direction. The other is that the movie has some dialogue so bad that it will make you roll your eyes and snicker. I couldn't help but giggle at it (in an unintentionally funny way) and I know the movie is directed at kids but again I think they could have put a little more effort in. Other than playing with this cool idea, I thought the script for this was pretty mediocre. I also had a personal nitpick about more contemporary gaming being not referenced at all but that's admittedly due to the fact I wasn't involved in that era of gaming and I don't have a detailed memory of those type of games.
As much as I had a couple of problems with the material, I wouldn't blame any of the main cast for it. Alex Wolff, Ser'Darius Blain, Madison Iseman and Morgan Turner as Spencer, Fridge, Bethany and Martha were all okay. They didn't really impress me, but I think that was more the material than anything. The adult actors all really sold out. Dwayne Johnson is his usual charming self, Kevin Hart is funny in spurts, Karen Gillan was great in her role and the meta jokes about her character were pretty funny. Jack Black was just short of mugging the entire movie but he was one of the few actors who could have made his part work. The biggest surprise was that I didn't mind Nick Jonas all that much. Bobby Cannavale is a good actor but his villain was so forgettable that it wasn't worth an actor of his calibre.
I was psyched going into this movie, the scores across the board were better than expected and I thought the marketing for it was pretty good. I walked out having enjoyed Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle but I did feel like it had the potential to be even better. Its doing well at the box office so maybe I'll like the sequel (if there is one) that much more. I would definitely like to see this cast again with the strong chemistry they had. I'd give it a 7/10.
Three Billboards Keeps You Guessing and Boasts a Sharp Darkly Comedic Wit
I didn't fall in love with this movie immediately. I found it funny from the get go but I had to work my way into it. The biggest reason that this movie won me over was how daring and unpredictable the plot was. Every time I was getting settled in, it felt like the movie slapped me awake with some new twist. I mean this in the best possible way. Everyone complains when it comes to Hollywood, there's nothing new under the sun so if someone does something original, its only fair to heap praise upon them. Three Billboards is certainly its own thing, we go from extremely vulgar humour (cleverly written but vulgar) to a character committing murder in a heartbeat. This could have been jarring and it was, but the movie is written so well that I ended up appreciating it because it was different, and it worked far more often than it didn't.
If you can't agree with my sentiments on the plot of Three Billboards, maybe we can find common ground over the deep and surprising character development the movie boasts. Three Billboards is one of those movies where there aren't defined heroes or villains (minus a supporting character that comes in late) and everyone operates in morally grey territory. You go in thinking you're going to be rooting for Mildred (Frances McDormand) going up against Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), Dixon (Sam Rockwell) and the system to get justice for her daughter. Its not that simple and I think you'll be surprised how much your flipping your allegiances back and forth as the movie goes on. You have characters that are complete degenerates who find a soul and a will to be decent and others that seem to lose their humanity along the way. Again, you couple this with how shocking the story turns can be and you have a movie to stand up and take notice of.
I think the cast of Three Billboards is good the whole way around. I would say you have one amazing performance, the rest of the cast is solid and then one that I didn't like as much. They should probably give Frances McDormand the Oscar for her work as Mildred right now. The character is interesting outside of her performance but McDormand makes Mildred a character you can't take your eyes off of. She performs amazingly, she has to convey every emotion and there were moments I was laughing and then the next instant I was almost ready to cry because of her performance. Harrelson hits the right balance as Willoughby. Mildred is such a force of nature that Harrelson probably had to dial it back a little but the interplay between the 2 of them is funny yet very heartfelt. Rockwell is always good at playing a dummy and he does a great job as Dixon. He has the most complete emotional arc to work with and he impresses with it. This is probably my favourite Caleb Landry Jones performance. I never thought he was a bad actor, I just hadn't really seen him standout yet, he accomplished that here. It was nice to see Peter Dinklage in a good supporting part and I liked John Hawkes and Zeljko Ivanek in their small roles. I feel bad because I liked her in other things but I thought Abbie Cornish was miscast. Her accent was all over the place and she just seemed off.
I obviously really enjoyed this movie, I wouldn't be rating it a 9 otherwise. My only minor complaint is that the score bugged me. It was just random and I didn't think it meshed with the rest of the movie. I would caution too (even though I didn't mind it) that this movie is unrelentingly dark. I know that might seem like me nitpicking but there were 4 or 5 times where I audibly gasped because I couldn't believe how deep the movie waded into a dreary and uncomfortable place.
This isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea, but I really dug this movie for what it was. It does what it wants to do and doesn't care if it appeals across the movie going spectrum. I'm not very familiar with Martin McDonagh's past work but I'm paying attention now. If your sense of humour skews toward the dark and you want to see a fresh and well acted movie, go see Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri. I'd give this an 8.5/10 rounded up to a 9/10.
Darkest Hour (2017)
Darkest hour is a Beautiful Movie About Courage Under Insurmountable Odds
Darkest Hour takes place over a relatively contained amount of time. It covers the month of May in the year 1940. Normally you would want a little more to pass as it would add to the overall scope but I preferred this approach because of how good a job they do of underscoring the danger of this situation. Without stating the obvious, there's a reason this movie is called "Darkest Hour." This was a perilous time and between Dunkirk and the Nazi invasion of Western Europe, things really could have spiraled out of control. The tension in the movie is thick and ever present, you never forget for an instant how scary this would have been. This helps the movie because without a lot of action, you needed something to help get you from A to B and my attention never wavered when it came to Darkest Hour.
We've had more than a couple biopics now and for better or worse, many of them follow the same beats. One of the more irritating aspects of that is that many movies take flawed main characters and gloss over or ignore the seedier side of their personalities. This was one of the more refreshing aspects of Darkest Hour. Not only is Churchill a complicated man with many flaws, they do a good job of showing that there was reason to doubt him. His record was mixed and he had done a decent amount of flip-flopping to get to his spot. The future looked very bleak and as Viscount Halifax repeatedly points out, peace talks did look like a viable option. Looking back now, Churchill was proven right but I have to credit the movie for showing the other side of the argument. We also see some of the less pleasant side of Winston. He was arrogant, hard-headed and tough to deal with. He also drank way too much for a politician during office hours. But this helps you understand him better as a character and I appreciated that those things were included.
If something caught me off guard about Darkest Hour, I was shocked at how beautifully it was shot. The cinematography was eye-catching, they added a lot of interesting shots and style for a movie that might have seemed like a procedural. Maybe I shouldn't have doubted Joe Wright who has done work all over the Hollywood spectrum and his team, but I didn't expect something to be visually interesting in this. They used the overhead shot of a turbulent area a lot but that was the only thing that made me pause for a second. I also have to tip my cap to the people who did the makeup on Gary Oldman. It didn't look flawless, but it was consistent and I wasn't taken out of the movie because it looked cheap or fake.
I've touched on a few aspects about Darkest Hour but the centre of the movie's advertising is Gary Oldman's performance as Winston Churchill. This is appropriate, he's as good as advertised and I would hope he wins best actor at the Oscars. This is a good character, but Oldman brings it to another level. He's funny, rude, scary and powerful all rolled into one. Lily James gets the next biggest chunk of screen time as Elizabeth. I think she nails it, her character is very vulnerable but through the time she spends with Churchill, her inner strength and conviction comes out and James does her part splendidly. I hope that Kristin Scott Thomas doesn't get lost in the shuffle as Winston's wife Clemmie. She's very charming and I enjoyed her performance every moment she was on screen. It was interesting to see how different the historical figure of King George VI was played by Ben Mendelsohn as opposed to Colin Firth in the King's Speech. This portrayal was a lot less romantic and more calculating and I actually liked that. Mendelsohn excels at playing this kind of character and he holds his own in every scene he has. I also liked Stephen Dillane as Lord Halifax. He's far from a mustache-twirling antagonist and Dillane does a good job of putting the other side of the argument out there.
This movie is so good that I only have one complaint. The ending includes a very emotional scene that is very effective but has limited to no basis in historical fact. That's fine as it underscores some pretty powerful stuff, but it borders on being too sappy. I get why it was there, but you could feel the movie pushing the limits between genuine and over-romantic. I also think this is another adult movie that will have limited appeal to younger people. Again, that's fine but with how good I think this is, I just wish it had broader appeal.
This movie is about courage when you're at your lowest. I got swept up in that, I had been through a difficult time lately and this spoke to me in that way. I saw 3 movies on boxing day and this was the best of the bunch. I wasn't expecting such a well-rounded and affecting drama out of this, but it lived up to the billing. If WW2 history interests you or you just want to enjoy some well done historical drama, this is worth going out of your way to see.
All the Money in the World (2017)
Great Acting Paired With an Interesting Story, Ridley Scott has Another Winner
I walked into this movie knowing almost nothing about the Getty empire or the particulars of this story. The trailers and the talent involved were the selling points for me so I'm happy to report that even though I went in blind, I didn't have any problems keeping up with the story. The premise is simple in which an oil tycoon's grandson is kidnapped to extort money for a terrorist organization. It's not the premise that makes this worth seeing, its what they do with it and how they build off of it that makes All the Money in the World worthwhile.
Being based on a true story, there was material to mine in this story. I think they did a good job of showing characters that seemed out there as being realistic. I heard so many gasps in the theatre when John Paul Getty was shirking Gail or trying to haggle to get JP back. My thought during that was "wow, he's a terrible person but I could see someone with his wealth acting like that." People value different things and Getty is a corrupted person who doesn't understand what other people think is invaluable. I also liked how unapologetic Richard was over his actions, he's really good at his job and what he does for a living isn't very nice. Sure, JP was a little bratty but he sure got the message by the end. JP tells us how his family looks human, acts human but they aren't fully human. This movie gets how to show how wealth changes behaviour and why so many of the characters act unnaturally throughout the movie.
This is another movie that uses the fact that its set in the past in a beautiful location to its full advantage. This movie pulls of the feat of making parts of Italy look gorgeous in some scenes and so grimy and seedy in others. Ridley Scott experiments with the cinematography, some early scenes are in black and white instead of colour. The transition between them is seamless and while it isn't always easy to understand, it looks cool. The costuming seems period accurate and the sterility in the visuals that Scott sometimes has is put to good use here.
Other than Ridley Scott's slick direction and some excellent window dressing with the cinematography and the period piece trappings, the reason to see this is the excellent acting. Michelle Williams is underrated, I think everyone knows how talented she is but she's not the first actress you think of when you think of regular powerhouse performances. She's easily one of the top ten leading ladies working in drama right now and I think she could garner another Oscar nomination for her work here. I really liked Mark Wahlberg in this even if I was a little let down by his character (more on that later). He's very calm and collected and he's equally at ease when he's trying to comfort Gail or threatening communists. I actually wished we could have spent more time with his character and you can credit Wahlberg for that. The actor that's going to get the headlines from this though is Christopher Plummer. He deserves them though, he totally inhabits this larger-than-life character and he's interesting even at his most disgraceful. I know he had to come in as a replacement for Kevin Spacey but when you watch him, it's hard to imagine another actor doing as good of a job. He's definitely going to garner an Oscar nomination if not a win. I also want to credit Charlie Plummer as JP Getty III and Romain Duris as Cinquanta in their supporting parts. Charlie brings elicits sympathy for John Paul and his scenes with Romain make you care about their relationship even if its between a kidnapper and his victim.
I don't have a ton of complaints with this movie. I wanted some more from some of the characters. They really setup Fletcher Chase as a bad@$$ former spy and I wanted to see more of him in his element. I don't need gunfights, just more of seeing him do what he does best. It seemed to me like there was more initially written for that character to do and it got cut out. I also would have liked a little more time with with Gail and John Paul III setting up their relationship after his father's disappearance. The other complaint is that the move drags in the middle with the long run time. I was fully invested in this movie at around the 1hr mark and there was a point where it stopped being this breathtaking thriller and started to coast.
You have to admire Scott's devotion to this movie, he had to make serious changes on the fly just to keep this alive. I don't think this is the best Scott movie (he's made a lot of good ones, but I would still put The Martian ahead of this) but I think this is a beautiful and stylish thriller that doesn't lack for thrills or acting talent. Its absolutely worth seeing in a theatre and even if you don't recognize the story, you'll appreciate it still. I would actually put this somewhere in the range of 8-8.5/10 but I have to round down to an 8.
Bright is Ambitious Project That Casts 3/4 of the Urban Fantasy Blockbuster Spell Correctly
Urban fantasy is one of those genres that hasn't been effectively translated to movies yet. It works really well in books but meshing a real-life environment with stuff like orcs, elves and fairies is difficult. What I appreciated the most about Bright is that there was a concerted and successful effort to integrate these ideas into contemporary Los Angeles. You have to be open to picturing this world (a leap of faith I don't think a lot of the critics were ready to make) but if you can suspend disbelief, I think you'll appreciate how interesting Bright can be. One of Ayer's best qualities as a filmmaker is that he knows how to drop you into gritty and tough environments and build that atmosphere. I think that this would have been a tough task for anyone to sell these concepts, but Ayer was an inspired choice to take these creatures and this lore and make it palatable to the movie-going public. Max Landis (the primary screenwriter) deserves credit too and there wasn't a moment where I wasn't looking forward to what they were going to incorporate into the next scene.
The budget on this was big for Netflix and I think the place where it shows is the excellent makeup work and the special effects. They looked fantastic, there wasn't a point where I didn't buy any of it and it really helped sell the world this movie was building. So many people wanted to dismiss this movie and if the action, makeup or creative work with the visuals hadn't been up to par, it would have given them an easy excuse. Luckily, the movie doesn't falter in these areas.
I think the acting in the movie is solid the whole way around. I think Joel Edgerton is the strongest of the group. Jakoby is meek and naive as a character but through Edgerton, he is by far the most sympathetic. I wanted to see him grow and make it through the night. He helped at least make the character memorable and I would like to see him in the sequel. Will Smith did a fine job, he's funny in certain scenes and he builds things up with Edgerton over time. He's an awkward fit in this genre but he's decent overall. Some of the supporting characters were fine but I don't think they were given much to do. Noomi Rapace, Edgar Ramirez and Lucy Fry are all serviceable but don't have a lot to do. Rapace and Fry at least get a couple of decent action moments. Jay Hernandez and Dawn Oliveri are in the movie very little. If I was surprised by someone, Ike Barinholtz was pretty good in his supporting part as Pollard. He's pretty menacing and I liked him a lot better in this than his Suicide Squad role.
The movie wants you to invest in the friendship/partnership of Ward and Jakoby. I don't think they're the strongest characters but by the end I did think they became believable as friends. The events of the night escalate as organically as they could and because of what they had to face, eventually I bought into it.
As much as I appreciated the obvious ambition of Ayer, Landis and the crew, this movie is far from perfect. The movie is interesting in the beginning, but it takes a while to truly shift into gear. The biggest flaw for me was that the dialogue in this movie sorely needed a punch-up job. The dialogue almost falls completely flat and Smith and Edgerton's chemistry suffers for it. One of the things that made End of Watch special was how funny Gyllenhaal and Pena were when they were just hanging out in the patrol car. This movie sorely needed that kind of banter to help move some things along. There are lines that are so bad that I had to keep myself from slapping my own head. This problem falls on Landis and Ayer (who wrote his own draft of this script) and the comedy is hit or miss. The other slip up is that the movie is less than subtle in addressing the social commentary its going for. I think the movie has a lot of good things to say but especially in the beginning, they're beating you over the head with it. We needed a little more velvet glove instead of a hammer.
This movie had a lot of risk vs reward. There's nothing that closely resembles this in the current movie landscape (ya I heard about Shadowrun and Alien Nation) and this was brave of any studio to take on. This is a mixed bag for sure but don't be so dismissive of this. The internet and the critics were ready to dog pile on Ayer after Suicide Squad. The guy is not a hack and he's made some really good movies (End of Watch is awesome, and Fury is at minimum as good war movie). His recent output (including SSquad) has been admittedly more varied. Although they didn't hit it out of the park, this premise and this world have potential and they could build something great off of this. There's a reason that the audience ratings on this are high and hopefully they clear up some of the issues in the sequel. I'd give this a 7-7.5/10
The Last Jedi Goes in a Different Direction With a Focus on Character Development and Shocking Plot Twists
The beginning of Disney's Star Wars universe was marred by controversy and criticism. I really loved the Force Awakens but I don't feel the need to argue about it or challenge people on their opposite opinion. Its not perfect (just as this movie isn't) but I dug it anyway. Rogue One was also really good and as much as there is so much debate around these movies, I was still excited for this. Rian Johnson is a respected filmmaker and although I'm a little mixed of his filmography, I wanted to give him a shot.
The reasons that I loved Episode VII were almost for the polar opposite that I loved The Force Awakens. The Last Jedi has 2 things that they knock out of the park and I must heap loads of praise on Rian Johnson for them. The first is that the characters are developed wonderfully. The Force Awakens introduced some interesting new characters but it was just the beginning, its not like they could go through a deep character arc in just one movie. At first, I was getting frustrated at Luke's downer attitude, self pity seemed unbecoming for him. But as the movie goes along you understand why he's abandoned the Jedi Order and the force as his actions were unbecoming of someone of his legendary status. Kylo Ren isn't just some monster, much like Vader before him, he's not of one mind. The movie plays with the parallels between him and Rey and I loved the fact that they came to a deeper understanding of each other. Leia finally gets to show that she has a measure of ability with the Force, Poe learns what it takes to be a leader, Finn finds out that his bravery wasn't fleeting, and Rey learns about how to look at events from multiple viewpoints and still choose to see the good. You also get new introductions like Vice Admiral Holdo and Rose Tico. Giving us compelling characters isn't new for the Star Wars franchise but this movie was exceptional at giving our heroes and villains more depth and it's even more astounding considering that he wasn't officially involved with the production on Episode VII. It shows how talented Rian is that he could have a deeper understanding of these characters and is just coming into this world.
The other thing that this movie deserves credit for is for having genuinely surprising twists and turns in the plot. This movie is not predictable in anyway and even though you may be familiar with these characters, if you told me you exactly guessed the major plot points I would call you a liar. You could guess that Starkiller Base was going to explode and that Rey and Kylo would face off at the end of TFA. This movie dances to a different tune and marches into a different direction and it is much better for it. I think this movie takes very real chances and we need more of that in big budget film making.
As this rebooted franchise gains more momentum, the calibre of actors is also continuing to rise. Mark Hamill is solid as Luke, Oscar nomination is a little much but instead of coasting he put in some good work. Carrie Fisher gets a little more to do and she shines. The Force Awakens holdovers are all excellent, Daisy Ridley looks like a rising star again, John Boyega gets to be a little less comedic and he excels, and Adam Driver is good again as the film's antagonist. Laura Dern was a standout, she was the perfect mix of being stern and warm. I still wish Oscar Isaac got more chances to be a bad@$$ pilot but he's still a great actor. I also liked Andy Serkis as Snoke, the guy is so magnetic and he's obviously the best at what he does.
So, my review has been nothing but praise but this movie has its flaws. They shoved some of the characters I like best to the back (are we ever going to get a decent amount of time with R2-D2 again?), some of the things that they built up from previous films are just tossed in like they don't matter (I liked the explanation of Rey's heritage but they made it seem like a bigger deal in TFA). The comedy in the movie is a little hit or miss and they hype around certain characters still falls flat (Captain Phasma is completely underwhelming again).
I want to wrap this up by saying if you hate this movie and all the Disney produced Star Wars, I honestly think that's fine. But I think people need to try to objectively put aside how amazing the original trilogy was (and me endorsing these movies are not the same thing as denouncing the original films) and judge these movies on their own individual merit. This was a brave step for the franchise and I am now really looking forward to Rian Johnson handling his own trilogy. This was an excellent movie and I recommend you give it a chance.
The Disaster Artist (2017)
The Disaster Artist is a Funny and Informative Look at a Spectacularly Bad Movie
The Room is one of those movies that is like a right of passage. If you're a fan of campy movies or you want to call yourself a movie lover, you have to watch it. I watched it just to prepare for The Disaster Artist. I thought there's no way its as bad as people say. Ya... it really is. I didn't fall in love with it as Franco and his friends obviously have but I wasn't angry while I was watching it. There are some moments where you can't help but laugh (I did naaaat! Oh hi Mark) and there were many times where I couldn't help but cover my face because of how awkward it gets (any part where anyone imitates a chicken). But it is the definition of awful film making. I just felt sorry for everyone involved, they obviously threw everything they had into it, they just didn't have the required talent to pull it off. Having seen The Disaster Artist, those suspicions are now confirmed.
The Disaster Artist is really Greg's account of how crazy the process of making The Room was and how his friendship with Tommy developed. I think you'll get the most out of this movie if you have seen The Room because with all the behind-the-scenes stories, it gives context to how the bizarre choices in the movie happened. This is effective because you can't help but ask yourself who thought making this movie was a good idea? after you've seen The Room. From Tommy's new style of on camera love making to why they replicated the alley from outside of the studio to film in rather than the actual alley, you find out why. I've seen movies that delve in deeper to the process of how to make a movie but I enjoyed this all the same.
The biggest surprise of this movie is they are so heartfelt when they really delve into Tommy's psyche and his relationship with Greg. I have to echo Seth Rogen when he said that it would have been really easy to just relentlessly mock Wiseau and call him a freak. There's a scene with Bob Odenkirk and a room full of acting students where they address that. But Tommy wants to be the hero so badly that you feel sorry for him. Although he isn't always the good guy, he really went for it and that is admirable. His friendship with Greg also is heartwarming. At the beginning of the movie, every time Greg was hanging out with Tommy I wanted to yell STRANGER DANGER! But you can see why these guys would be friends and when Greg consoles Tommy in the end, its a really nice moment and it highlights one of the big strengths of the film.
If you haven't seen The Room, the first thing that's going to grab your attention in the trailer is how wacky James Francos is playing Tommy Wiseau. If you have seen The Room, you know how close he is to Tommy as he nails his accent, his style and his weird mannerisms. Some people have suggested a Best Actor nomination but I don't know if I'd go that far. He gives a funny and engaging lead performance. Dave Franco is just as good as Greg Sistero. He's great at playing a very innocent and starstruck young actor who finds a kindred spirit in Tommy. Dave's a better actor than he's given credit for and he's both funny and sincere in this movie. Past those two lead performances, this movie is a parade of famous actors in supporting roles or cameos. Seth Rogen is really funny as Sandy, he's the one who calls Tommy out on his bizarre behaviour the most. Alison Brie is decent in her small role as Amber. Jacki Weaver and Ari Graynor were both amusing and sweet. My favourites of the cameos were Zac Efron and Josh Hutcherson as a way to intense Chis-R and a completely miscast Denny.
The hype around this movie was enormous and while I am generally a fan of the Franco brothers, Rogen and they're troop of friends, the only negative is that while this movie is funny, it still fell a little short in the comedy department. I got a couple of really big laughs but it was mostly just chuckles throughout. Almost all of the best parts are when they are directly skewering a specifically awful part of The Room so the parts exclusively dealing with Tommy and Greg outside of the movie can drag a little.
The Disaster Artist is a love letter to The Room and all the unintentional laughter it inspires. It gives you some insight into how this movie caught lightening in a bottle in delivering a horrific product that people could still enjoy. To add on that, you get some good performances, a laundry list of funny celebrities making cameos and a nice story of enduring friendship. The Disaster Artist isn't my favourite movie of the year but I enjoyed it enough to give it an 8/10. I'd recommend it to fans of The Room, campy cinema or the Judd Apatow stable of comedians.
Future Man (2017)
Future Man Brings the Funny Jokes and the Fun Performances to Entertain Sci-Fi Fans
Comedy is completely subjective and this type of humour isn't going to be for everyone. There's a lot of raunchy stuff in this and it hits almost every juvenile note going down the scale. All I can say is that they do a good job presenting these jokes and finding a way to spin them to make them funny. There wasn't an episode in this show where I wasn't cackling over something and it completely worked for me.
Josh Hutcherson is the leading man in this show and he also produced it. He's showing growth as an actor and he does a good job of putting Peeta behind him. He doesn't give the strongest performance but he does a good enough job to keep the show moving from joke to joke. I wouldn't hand him an award but I still thought he was fine. Eliza Coupe and Derek Wilson round out the main cast as Tiger and Wolf respectively. Eliza steals scene after scene, she's a veteran comedienne and her delivery is excellent. That's not to sell Derek short either, he makes his character charming even though most of his dialogue is spoken either through growling or shouting. A lot of the best lines come from either him or Eliza lecturing Josh about what happens in their time. The supporting cast all perform capably: Ed Begley Jr. and Glenne Headley are both fun as Josh's relentlessly supportive parents. Seeing Keith David in something is always a treat and I also liked Haley Joel Osment, he went all out and he was fun as Dr. Stu Camillo.
I don't have too many negative things to say about this. If you're a time-travel purist, the show doesn't explain time travel flawlessly like other sci-fi properties. They take every opportunity to make fun of the fact that they're nonsensical about it. The other complaint was that the show lacks top notch production value. It doesn't bring down the show but you're not dealing with the set construction, costuming or special effects of something like The Orville or Star Trek: Discovery.
I'm always looking for something fresh coming out of science fiction and if it can make me laugh, it makes it that much better. Luckily, Future Man delivers on both fronts. If they can make another season out of this, I'd be happy to watch it. This was a surprise and its always great to discover something outside of the hype. If you like R-rated comedy with some sci-fi satire, this might be up your alley.
A Bad Moms Christmas (2017)
Still Got Some Laughs but the Quality Drops the Second Time Around
The reason to check out the original Bad Moms was the chemistry between Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn. They had funny material to work with but without their individual performances, the movie would have been a decent yet forgettable film. The directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore know this and rely on the cast to carry them through the sequel (to the point where the movie suffers for it). The funniest and strongest part of this movie is that the 3 leads refused to phone it in. They carry this movie through some of the bumpier sections of the plot and keep you interested in where they will go next. Hahn is still the funniest of the original trio but Bell and Kunis still left me giggling. A Bad Moms Christmas brings in Christine Baranski, Susan Sarandon and Cheryl Hines as Ruth, Isis and Sandy respectively as the moms of the 3 lead actresses. They're all amusing for short moments and they all manage to be decent despite some iffy material (I got tired of Ruth being racist towards Jessie but that's as offensive as it got). Jay Hernandez was given almost nothing to do except to be a prop and Peter Gallagher is a background character until the last 10 minutes.
If this movie wasn't written by the same writer/director team, I would claim that they just ripped the first movie off. But it is the same team so all I can say is that this is a lazy script. The worst part of this movie is how the plot is so recycled from the first movie. They did add the 3 grandmas but other than that, they just did the same thing with an Xmas theme. The families are ungrateful, the moms are burned out and they throw tradition to the wind and cut loose to decidedly mixed results. I'm not saying Bad Moms was the deepest comedy on the market but they did a much better job making the characters feel realistic and their dilemmas were familiar and believable. This movie is sorely lacking those qualities and although the problems aren't unrealistic (the Hahn/Sarandon conflict and kernels of Kunis and Baranski's could happen) they're resolved in a rushed and simple manner just like any sitcom.
Although they bring in some new characters, if you're hoping to see supporting characters return from the last movie you might be disappointed. As I said before, Jessie is a non-character in this movie and other than some insulting comments from Ruth, there's no conflict with his character. Amy's kids completely forgot the lessons that they learned in the last one, they go back to being self-centred and bratty (they do give a reason but their complete inability to step up for Amy was annoying). They bring back one of the more underrated characters from Bad Moms for a cameo and I thought she nailed it but her appearance in the sequel amounts to just a couple of minutes of screen time.
The last and most important question is was the movie funny? Despite the fact that the plot and the character development was lacking I have to say yes. The movie goes long stretches of repeating the same jokes from the original (the montage of the moms going crazy in a public place) or they run jokes that were initially funny into the ground (pretty much any bit with Justin Hartley goes on way too long). But I did get some good laughs in and while I wasn't 100% entertained, I never had to wait too long before a throwaway line would at least make me chuckle. Most of my favourite scenes were just Amy, Kiki and Carla shooting the breeze about how tough being a mom is and sharing their horror stories about it.
This was a hard movie to grade. I liked the performances and I did laugh but they rehashed the plot and the emotional beats of the movie feel forced. If they intend to keep treating this as a franchise, my advice would to be to meditate on the next one a little longer instead of pushing it out so fast. I saw this with a friend and her criticism was how this seemed like an enormous cash grab. I still think the original is a solid raunchy comedy for both sexes and while this one still is funny, it falls short of Bad Moms. I'll split the difference and give it a 6/10.
Justice League (2017)
Justice League Improves Upon Similar DC Efforts and Continues to Take the DC Universe in a More Positive Direction
All of Zack Snyder's movies share strengths and weaknesses and when you talk about what he does well, action scenes/set pieces are always at the top of the list. This movie adds upon that, they deliver what you want from this type of movie. Two scenes stuck out to me, the first fight between our heroes and Steppenwolf and of course in the finale. They add new wrinkles for some of our returning heroes and they highlight what each member can do pretty well. The CGI is good and it never felt overloaded (at least for this genre). They also go to new locations that despite the fact that they're entirely CGI, I thought they looked interesting and relatively believable.
I want to touch upon the return of Superman (its not a spoiler, they show it in the trailers). I really enjoyed how they decided to handle the impact of his demise (even though Bruce Wayne has a crazy 180 degree turn in his attitude that seemed to skirt around the entire point of BvS) and we get some quiet and understated scenes with Lois Lane and Martha Kent grieving and bonding together. Even when they decide to get gooey sweet with his reunion with Lois, I thought they sold it. Instead of coming across as unemotional and distant, Clark has a lot of emotion in this and he even made me chuckle with some of his lines. He played off his Justice League teammates really well and although he seemed to be playing on a different level than his teammates, they utilize his full power set and I applaud Snyder and his team for changing up their approach.
The biggest surprise of the movie was how much I enjoyed the new members in the Justice League. Cyborg was a grounded character (at least in temperament) and even though he was full of angst, his abilities were interesting and I thought his relationship with his dad was emotional without being overbearing. Aquaman benefited from casting Jason Momoa but they are very tongue-in-cheek about his abilities and yet there was never a point I was about to start laughing at his inclusion. The Flash wasn't nearly as funny as the creative team thought he was but Ezra Miller shone through it as an actor and I liked how they decided to use him as a character. Add in that commissioner Gordon had a nice cameo and that smaller returning characters like Lois Lane, Martha Kent and Alfred Pennyworth were all nicely sprinkled in, they did a good job handling so many characters.
This is a big cast and while I can't give each of them their own paragraph, I'll do my best to give my thoughts on the performances. I already talked about Henry Cavill, he improved across the board. Ben Affleck isn't bad here but he suffers from the fact Batman is written a little more bland. Gal Gadot was also stronger in her solo effort but she's still good. Ezra Miller actually succeeds despite the material, Ray Fisher is surprisingly strong as Cyborg and even though Arthur Curry is Jason Momoa doing his thing, he's a charming guy and his charisma makes his character memorable. Lois Lane and Diane Lane are both really good with what they're given. Amber Heard was decent in her small bit and I really liked Joe Morton as Silas Stone.
The negatives of this film are pronounced but they weren't deal breakers. The first and most notable for me was the cringe inducing dialogue carries over from BvS. There are so many awkward lines and when the movie tries to be funny, I thought it fell on its face about 80-90% of the time. To be fair, there were some good lines too but I thought they were lacklustre for the most part. Some of my favourite characters from previous DC properties felt underutilized or shoved to the background. Batman comes off as a self-centred jerk for large portions of the movie and other than the action scenes, Wonder Woman's part is either to lecture the other members of the team or brood over the loss of Steve Trevor (the movie also doesn't do a great job explaining why she didn't help in other conflicts over the last century). Steppenwolf also made for a pretty underwhelming villain. I've seen worse (Malekith from Thor: The Dark World comes to mind) but this movie is built more around the heroes and the villain isn't the focal point.
People either rail against the DC Universe or they love it completely. I've been down the middle on it for the most part (I gave Man of Steel, Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman 8s or 9s, Batman v Superman was a disappointment but I still gave it a 6) and despite its flaws, this is still a solid movie. I might not be popular for saying this but I thought some of the players in BvS took some notes on what worked and what didn't and applied that to this movie, which I congratulate them for. They do a decent job setting up the new members of the team, the action scenes are good from beginning to end and I liked what they decided to do with Superman. Depending on the direction WB studios and DC decide to go, there's material and momentum to build off of in Justice League. We'll just have to see what happens, if you're a DC fan or you're craving some big action with superheroes, this will fill that spot. I would actually give this a 7.5/10 but I can't go a full 8 on it so I'm rounding down to a 7/10.
A Ghost Story (2017)
A Ghost Story Unintentionally Scares Away Anything That Could be Interesting About it
The two nice things I can say about A Ghost Story is that the cinematography and the score are well done. As much as I'm going to rip on this movie, Lowery is a capable director and has a following as an indie filmmaker for a reason. He had a very clear vision for this movie and as much as it wasn't my thing, he did execute it.
The acting is the next category where I can say I was a little mixed on things. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara are both okay in their respective roles as C and M. You spend a lot of time with them because of the movie's refusal to cut scenes down to watchable lengths but I couldn't connect with them emotionally. The movie wants to have pathos desperately but other than the fact that C dies young, why would we attach ourselves to them? Sure we watch them snuggling for 10 minutes and they seem nice, why should I care?! But what I want to reiterate is that I don't blame Casey and Rooney for it.
Getting to what I couldn't stand about this movie is the complete lack of plot progression. C dies and he watches his girlfriend M deal with his passing and move on. He then watches a family move in and move out of this house and he occasionally interacts with another ghost that has been there so long that it has forgotten who they are waiting for. The key is that large amounts of time pass instantaneously. Part of the problem is that C doesn't interact with anyone through dialogue and there's no narration or monologue to detail how he's feeling as this is happening. This is a zero sum game where NOTHING HAPPENS except for 1 or 2 instances that last for a couple of minutes max. We're literally watching him watch other people, that's the crux of this movie. This makes the movie unbearable in every sense of the word.
The next problem is the style in which Lowery decides to film and edit it. The takes last minutes and that doesn't mean anything happens. One of the most talked about scenes in this movie is where we watch M eat a whole pie over 5-10 minutes. Who decides that we needed to see that? Its IRRITATING, there wasn't enough material here for a whole movie so were these long scenes a ploy to stretch it out to feature length? If so, bravo! The critics ate this up but I refuse to.
I also want to comment on the message of the movie. They're trying to make a point about the impermanence of life and how powerful grief can be, I didn't miss the point or not get it. If you didn't pick this up, there is a big monologue by a party guest about how what we accomplish (having kids, writing a symphony, being an author etc.) is ultimately pointless and everything you do and whoever you know will eventually die or be forgotten. This is supposed to be profound but it was just pretentious. Did people not know this? I just assumed it was common knowledge. If you didn't know, life is fleeting and eventually our individual accomplishments will be forgotten. NO S#!*. That's how life as a human being is. I knew that already and I didn't need to listen to someone brag about knowing it for 10 minutes! It's not that the message is offensive, its that its delivered pretentiously and its common knowledge. I don't know why everyone sees it as this profound thing, its not.
I can appreciate their approach to this movie in trying to do something different. I didn't go into watching A Ghost Story wanting to hate it or deliberately trying to make fun of it. The long and the short of if is that very little happens in this movie and what does happen isn't interesting. It's boring throughout and you literally watch paint dry. I'm glad the critics got something out of it, I didn't find anything to enjoy. I didn't even think the acting was noteworthy and when you've got a movie led by Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, that's saying something. I have to call this movie what it is: boring and ineffective. I didn't hate this completely and my real rating would be 3.5/10 but I think audience members who aren't critics or aren't in film studies are going to hate this.
Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
Kenneth Branagh Delivers a Skillful and Slick Update That Still Has Enough Emotional Punch
As much as the Murder on the Orient Express book is appreciated as a classic, I came into this movie without knowing the story. I want to start by talking about Hercule Poirot as a character. This movie really portrays Poirot in a Sherlock Holmes "esque" light. There's a point where Hercule takes someone out with a cane that felt like he was channelling Robert Downey Jr. in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes. I don't mean this as a criticism though, the fact that Hercule is witty and funny along with being brilliant is much needed levity for this movie. Some people have complained that the movie is too comedic but without those opportunities to laugh, the beginning of this movie would be unbearably slow. Those moments are like the spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. So, I liked Poirot and you needed a charismatic character at the centre because the other characters don't get developed much until the murder goes down. This movie looks like an ensemble, but it leans more heavily on Branagh as the main character than you would think.
The plot of Murder on the Orient Express is iconic, but the way movie portrays it, there's almost little to none. We get the initial setup of everyone boarding the train and other than some preliminary chitchat between Poirot and the other travellers and a tense exchange between Ratchett (Johnny Depp's character) and Poirot, very little happens. Only after the murder happens and the interrogations begin do we get to know everyone and does the plot kick into gear. Just like any great detective thriller, we don't know what's going on and we must unravel the mystery just as Poirot does. When we get to see more about the victim's past and what how appalling his/her actions were does the emotion kick and the stakes are raised considerably.
I want to go through the cast name by name and give them all credit but there's just too many names. Branagh is a little over-the-top as Poirot but I would argue that the movie needed that. Its a very theatrical performance (considering his background, it makes sense) but without him chewing the scenery, the movie would have dragged. Michelle Pfeiffer sold out in her role as Caroline, it was nice to see her again. Daisy Ridley shines as Mary Debenham, I hope she keeps picking up more work. Leslie Odom Jr. had a lot screen presence as Dr. Arbuthnot. I appreciated the fact that Johnny Depp pulled back a little as Ratchett but he still borders overacting. If there was anyone I didn't like; Judi Dench was so stiff she was annoying but that was also how the character was written. I normally like Josh Gad but with the screen time divided between so many actors and actresses, he was kneecapped by a lack of room to show his stuff.
When you can't bank on the character development or the plot, you need top notch window dressing to help move things along. Luckily the Orient Express is up to the task. The visual effects, the costuming and the exotic atmosphere transport you to another world. I've seen it done more impressively but they really do a stellar job since the movie had a relatively modest budget ($55 million). We get to go to Istanbul, Jerusalem and travel in snowy vistas. We also get to see past events through an old-timey projector and the characters watch it like a movie. Branagh is wise to linger on this stuff and it adds to the escapism that the story can provide. When you go to a period piece movie, you want to be wowed and dropped off in this new world and I think Murder on the Orient Express accomplished that.
I came out of this movie wanting to go read the book, so I don't want to be too critical. But the biggest downfall of this movie is that much like the train the characters are travelling on, the movie takes a while to start picking up steam. The opening with Poirot is fun but after that first 15 minutes, the movie slows to a crawl. It relies on Branagh and the beautiful vistas to carry it and while I remained interested, I think a lot of people will be mentally checking out. But the movie does get going and I think if you're willing to be patient, you'll get what you want in the reveal.
Talking about that reveal though, I thought it was fantastic. I want to credit Agatha Christie for originally conceiving it but I also want to credit Branagh and the writers for doing a solid job of yanking the rug out from under you. Its an excellent wrap-up and I was emotionally impacted by it. It was unpredictable, fresh and through the efforts of the excellent cast and the shocking nature of the crimes, it raised the rating I was going to give the movie by at least a half a point.
I was excited to see this movie and although it wasn't amazing, I wasn't disappointed by it either. This is an adult movie though; the trailer makes it look there's going to be more action and there isn't. If there weren't funny jokes sprinkled in, the movie would be too dry and other than the fans of the book, the rest of the audience would be bored to tears. I went in a group of 3, 2 of us liked it and the 3rd said it was boring and disappointing. If you like mysteries or period piece movies, this will be up your alley. I left wanting to read this book and they hint at a possible sequel that I would also be interested in seeing. If you're a relatively patient moviegoer that appreciates lavish set dressing, good acting and a unique twist, I'd recommend checking this out.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Thor Ragnarok is Just What the Doctor Ordered For This Franchise
A lot of people act like Thor is one of Marvel's lesser properties. I actually have a soft spot for the first Thor. It was surprisingly funny, it translated some pretty out there ideas into being plausible and Chris Hemsworth made for a charismatic hero. That being said, Thor: The Dark World was disappointing and before any promotional material was released, I don't think anyone was expecting much from Thor 3. I have to credit Waititi and his team for bringing a different kind of style to this movie. We've seen the neon colour palette in other comic book movies (Guardians Vol. 2, and Suicide Squad come to mind) but this addition is welcome here. It brings life into the movie, the action scenes are well shot and they use the CGI to create some cool looking characters. This could have been treated as a minor project that didn't garner much attention from the studio but they didn't sell out and they put the effort into this to create something memorable.
The previous Thor movies have spent a large chunk of time on Earth, sometimes to the movies' detriment. They make a good decision to only spend a chunk on Midgard and take you to new places and introduce new characters. In fact, they dispatch of Thor's band of merry men so quickly I almost started laughing. Sakaar is so different and the hype around the gladiator games on it are a lot of fun. I also thought they created some interesting characters, Valkyrie, Grandmaster, Skurge and Korg all have their moments. There's a lot of funny dialogue and while the other entries in the Thor franchise dipped their toes in the comedic pool, Ragnarok dives in with mostly successful results. The friend I went to see this with said it was a little too goofy at times but I think they hit a nice balance.
Chris Hemsworth has everything you need to be a leading man, he just has a hard time getting good projects (Rush was awesome, Ghostbusters..... not so much). He slips into Thor like a glove and he carries this movie with ease. Tessa Thompson was the ace up this movie's sleeve. She's funny in her own right and she handles her supporting part easily. I would love to see her in another Marvel movie. Loki is probably Marvel's best villain and Hiddleston is a star for a reason. He always steals scenes as Loki and this movie is no exception. Idris Elbas is decent, Anthony Hopkins doesn't have to do too much, Goldblum is having fun as the Grandmaster, Karl Urban is funny and I enjoyed Waititi's voice performance as Korg. Mark Ruffalo has always been good as Banner/Hulk and one of the best parts of the movie is his confrontation with Thor. I also want to credit Cate Blanchett, I don't Hela is among Marvel's best written villains but it's her performance that makes Hela formidable. I'm not going to mention any of the cameos but I thought the one from another major Marvel franchise was pretty pointless and underwhelming.
I don't have many complaints about Ragnarok but there are a few. I thought the movie started pretty slowly, there are funny moments in Thor's early adventures but there is a ton of hype around this movie and I was questioning if this was going to meet those high expectations. The stuff surrounding Odin didn't pack the emotional punch I think they were going for. But I also think the movie picked up steam as it went along so that corrected the problem. Again, not all of the cameos are great, the movie is littered with Easter eggs so it was inevitable that some of them are hit or miss.
I think this movie delivered what you would want going into it. There's lots of fun and creative action scenes, plenty of hilarious jokes and some good characters to latch onto. Thor: Ragnarok is every bit a worthy entry into Marvel's canon and I think it will wash some of the disappointment away from the Thor franchise. Among the 3 Marvel releases I saw this year, I'd put it ahead of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 but behind Spiderman: Homecoming. If you're a dedicated Marvel fan this is an easy choice to see but I think the uninitiated will be charmed by this too.
Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010)
Really Funny and Surprisingly Tender for an R-Rated Horror/Comedy
Tucker and Dale is so good in many different ways but the first and most noticeable is the very believable friendship between the characters. The movie is deliberately playing into the stereotype that the backwood hillbillies are always the villains and it makes the movie smarter than your average horror movie. But I couldn't help but be taken aback by how sweet Tucker and Dale's bond is. They aren't the sharpest tools in the shed (especially Dale) but you would swear Tudyk and Labine had been hanging out for years. Add in the fact that Allison is well rounded and willing to look past Dale and Tucker's appearance (even to the point where it's a tad unrealistic) and you have some genuinely fun and interesting characterization. Hitting the mark on this aspect will paper over some of the movie's flaws and this part is so exemplary, you would swear this was written by Edgar Wright (Labine/Tudyk reminded me of Pegg and Frost in the best possible way).
Of course, if the actors and actresses hadn't held up their end, the writing wouldn't be as evident. I can't credit Tudyk and Labine enough, they both completely sell out as their characters and they both perform admirably. They work well together, and they work well individually, and they had me rolling I was laughing so hard. Katrina Bowden is also great as Allison. She's gorgeous but she's also funny in her own right. She helps sell an unrealistic romance that could have been groan inducing. The other actors and actresses get the job done in their respective parts.
Lest you think this is a straight comedy, Tucker and Dale vs Evil packs all the gore you want in a hard R-Rated horror movie. Tucker and Dale aren't directly responsible for the horrible fates that the "college kids" all suffer and each of them are maimed or killed in a unique and funny way. Limbs are lost, buckets of blood are sprayed, and one character is even halved (I won't spoil how). If you're a little squeamish, this movie isn't on the level of torture porn but its far from PG-13 material (there are good PG-13 horror movies, but you must go one direction or the other, Tucker and Dale vs Evil isn't one that's up in the air).
Most importantly for a horror/comedy, this movie is hilarious from start to finish. Craig and Jurgenson are smart enough writers to know which horror clichés to play with and the movie is packed full of winks and nods to where horror movies usually go. I always appreciate a movie that can effectively include meta humour and this is one of the sharper examples. The material becomes even funnier with the endearing sweetness in the delivery from the cast.
The missteps in this movie are small and completely forgivable. Chad becomes a little too over-the-top by the end and although what they decide to do with his character is interesting, it stretches plausibility. I don't know if its how the character is written or Jesse Mosses performance. Some of the kills are better than others but there aren't any that are embarrassingly bad.
The cult following this movie has garnered is well deserved. I got shades of Wright/Pegg/Frost from this but this movie stands on its own and deserved to be seen by a wider audience. I would love to see a sequel to this if the could retain the key pieces and find some new things to point fun at. If you're thinking about checking this out, I would recommend you do so.
The Snowman (2017)
The Only Thing That's Criminal About The Snowman is the Waste of Talent of Everyone Involved
The nice things I can say about the Snowman are brief but I feel that its important to mention them. The cinematography is solid, they capture the beauty of Oslo well and it makes for an interesting backdrop for this murder mystery. They take advantage of the environment to create some beautiful moments and I'll give them credit for that. The next thing is that I'm sure this book is interesting because despite The Snowman's every attempt to divert my attention through its lack of storytelling polish, I was interested on where the story was going to end up. Other than that the acting was okay? That's about all I got.
I have to believe this was a better book. The story of Harry Hole investigating The Snowman killer has all the classic trappings of a good detective story. The violence is pretty brutal, the characters all have a twisted sense of morality and I didn't find it predictable. The Snowman fails at translating this because they fail to properly connect aspects of the story. We spend a good amount of time with Val Kilmer's character Rafto for a very minor reveal and then he's just gone for the rest of the movie. There are red herrings that occupy big amounts of screen time that are also dropped without a care. Some subplots have no purpose (who cares about his relationship with his stepson? It has nothing to do with anything!) and some just fade out into nothingness. I can't believe someone with Alfredson's ability would just fumble all of these basic things. There are a couple of stories about the troubled production that I'm inclined to believe them after viewing the final product.
The Snowman doesn't lack for interesting characters. If Harry Hole was in a more complete picture, he'd be a great protagonist. His relationship with Katrine (as a non-romantic partner) made for a decent pairing. You also have some suitably slimy people operating in town (Arve and Vetlesen) to point the finger at. The raw materials are there but other than Hole and Bratt, none of them are developed. The beginning of movie highlights this, we get some shockingly graphic scenes with a boy and his mother being abused by a guest. Only after that do we meet Harry Hole and then that scene isn't even referenced till 3/4 of the way through the movie. We also get very little dimension about the Snowman killer after he's revealed. The movie just rushes into the finale, why does he leave snowmen outside? Why did he commit these crimes years ago and only recently decide to continue? These questions go unanswered (there are very minor hints dropped but I think we were due a better explanation) and it just added onto the frustrating experience.
The largest problem with The Snowman is that baffling editing choices. Not only is this thing hacked up to death, it can't do even the bare minimum to help the story get along. There are scenes where you can't possibly understand the actions of the characters, not because they're poorly written but because of the bizarre scene transitions. People's motivations change on a dime, weapons disappear without an explanation and it was hard not to burst out laughing. I kept throwing up my hands and asking Why? What? How? so many times in this movie. It was honestly ridiculous, I don't want to blame the editor completely as the director admitted 10-15% of the script wasn't even filmed. There is also so much key dialogue said off screen that it makes the movie look sloppy. Would it been hard to throw a little more money into this to create a passable product? I guess that's not up to me but I can't imagine it would have been that difficult.
I'm just unloading on this movie but I want to make it clear, I don't blame this misfire on the actors/actresses. I really like a lot of this cast. Fassbender is a great actor that can play in many different genres. He's decent as Harry Hole but he lacks the material to shape Hole into a memorable detective. I also really like Rebecca Ferguson, outside of MI: Rogue Nation, she just has a hard time picking worthwhile projects. She also does good work but her character is just so bland that you can only care about Katrine so much. Poor Val Kilmer, he looked like he was trying but this movie made him look awful. J.K. Simmons is fine but his accent is iffy and you think he's going to play a bigger part but he doesn't. Charlotte Gainsburg drifts in and out of the plot and she's undercut by the treatment of Hole's family issues.
In the middle of this movie, I was around a 5 on it. Sure, its remarkable how bad it is considering the talent involved but as I mentioned, the mystery of who the killer was did keep me relatively interested. To my disappointment, the wheels fall off the cart completely at the end. Characters are left hanging without any kind of a resolution, the reveal comes completely out of nowhere and the ending is just thrown together and unsatisfying. The action is poorly filmed and it was hard not to walk out early with the final confrontation being so groan worthy.
This is one of those times where the reviews on this are pitch perfect. If you're a fan of this book, I am so sorry. I can't remember another time where there was this much talent both behind and in front of the camera yet the end result is a dull and mishandled mess. I hope that this movie is a distant memory in the careers of the people involved. The only way I'd watch this again is with a case of beer and I were playing a game with some friends where you drink when something is unintentionally bad.
Happy Death Day (2017)
Carried by a Breakout Lead Performance, Happy Death Day Utilizes a Familiar Premise to Deliver Lots of Fun
Every negative review for this movie is going to point out that this movie is built around a concept that we've seen before. Our protagonist is forced to live through the same day again and again. Groundhog Day and Edge of Tomorrow (both excellent movies) made this idea popular and for some people, they won't be able to get past the fact that this isn't brand new gimmick. I don't have a problem if movies borrow from other movies, they just need to do it effectively and put a fresh spin on it. Happy Death Day certainly accomplishes that. At the beginning, the journey hits the first couple of familiar notes but when Tree starts to realize what's happening, that's when the movie shifts gears. They aren't afraid to play with Tree's tragic end day after day and the movie functions for whole periods as a straight comedy. Luckily, this movie is really funny when it wants to be. The writers know enough to play with certain genre clichés and there's a surprising amount of tongue-in-cheek humour here. The marketing for this is a little misleading, it makes this movie look like a traditional slasher movie when it really ends up being a mishmash of comedy, mystery and horror
Other than the living the same day plot point, Happy Death Day centres around the mystery of who Tree's killer is. The movie throws a bunch of obvious red herrings at you right off the bat and I was glad they took it a less obvious direction. I don't think they overplay their hand either, there are a couple of hints here and there but I think you'd have to be pretty perceptive to guess the twists and turns that Day's plot takes. If I had one complaint, there was a point where they looked like they were heading towards a very sentimental resolution that could have been corny. Its a case of me wanting that for these characters. They bypass that though and keep going and while I understand the decision, I might have preferred that wrap-up instead.
Another turnoff for certain audience members might be Tree's personality as a character. She's a real b!#@% when we first meet her and I'm not exaggerating. The first time she meets her killer, I wasn't feeling sorry for her. But even when she's at her worst, she still has a certain charisma that you want to keep rooting for her. Writing characters that aren't perfect and are selfish that you want to follow is an art that so many horror movies get wrong. I liked how Tree grows (no pun intended) and by the end I really wanted her to find a happy ending somehow.
I don't often get to really discover actors and actresses. Most of the movies I watch are pretty mainstream and by the time someone becomes a lead, you've probably heard about them from somewhere. I wasn't familiar with Jessica Rothe at all but she anchored this movie as Tree. This is a stand up and take notice kind of performance, she's multi-faceted in handling both the drama and the comedy in this movie. I hope this movie is just a stepping stone to bigger things for her and I think the last time I walked away from a movie so impressed with an actress I didn't know was Margot Robbie in The Wolf of Wall Street. Israel Broussard is easy to like as Carter, he's easy going enough that his character's relationship with Tree builds up organically. Rachel Matthews is funny as Danielle Bouseman, she's playing a very stereotypical character (stuck up sorority rich girl) but she nails it. Ruby Modine is sweet as Lori and Charles Aitken is appropriately slimy as Gregory Butler,
I couldn't believe how charmed I was by this movie. I didn't plan on going to see this, it was a very spur of the moment thing and walking out of the theatre I was blown away. Happy Death Day isn't the best movie I've seen this year but its the biggest movie-going surprise of the year for me. It features a great turn from an up and coming actress, a good mystery, some well placed meta humour and a willingness to play within its central conceit. The marketing for this movie doesn't show how creative and fun it is and I would urge you to give this a shot. We've come off the summer blockbusters and we're still too early for the awards contenders so if you're looking for something to check out, Happy Death Day is an extremely fun hour and a half at the movies. Also, make sure to show up on time, there's a gag pulled with the opening credits that hints at what's to come.
Sucker Punch (2011)
Ambitious to a Fault, Sucker Punch's Story and Style Drag Down Great Visuals and Decent Action
Sucker Punch is the story of Babydoll and her journey to escape her past. The story has some very serious undertones and I can respect the attempt to tell this deep and encompassing story. There are layers upon layers of symbolism and hidden meaning. The ambition to try and tell this kind of story is admirable but where Sucker Punch falls down is trying to interweave these elements together. It isn't the plot holes (there are a few) or the implausibilities (there are even more) that drag this movie down, its the plot collapsing in on itself that does Sucker Punch in. Executing this kind of movie would be hard for an expert filmmaker and they can't stick the landing.
Snyder and his team drop Babydoll and her comrades into crazy fantasy after crazy fantasy to establish a metaphor for them gaining what they need to execute Babydoll's plan. This is where I have to give them a backhanded compliment. Snyder's visual sensibilities are perfect for this and each level he creates is impressive. It's like watching this team of girls execute missions in a video game that spans decades and different worlds and that's definitely entertaining. The problem is that they have no sense of continuity and although I perfectly understood the metaphor they're going for (how this is an escape for Babydoll's horrific reality), the execution of it is clunky. The technology in each setting varies wildly (samurais with railguns? Mech suits in WW1? Fighting orcs with assault rifles?) and there aren't any consequences to the action. The action within them is solid but they make little to no sense and the fact that they are Babydoll's escape shouldn't distract you from the fact that they don't have any purpose within the story. Add in Scott Glen's character Wise Man, who delivers advice that is confusing and seems to hold almost no relevancy to the current situation and Sucker Punch is frustrating to watch.
You don't see many action movies led by a female ensemble and that's one of the more refreshing aspects of the movie. While I think this movie has more than its fair share of shortcomings, I don't want to blame the actors and actresses. I don't think that anyone really shines through but you can only do so much with the material you've been given. Emily Browning is pretty wooden but I think that was a deliberate choice. I just had a hard time getting attached to her because of it. The rest of the main cast are all well cast but there is little to distinguish between them. If I had to single one out of the group, Jena Malone is the next best. Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung amount to window dressing which is too bad because I wish they'd been given more to do. Abbie Cornish is way too serious, Oscar Isaac is way too cartoonish as Blue and while Carla Gugino is well suited to her role, her bad accent undercuts her performance.
The defenders of Sucker Punch always point to the action as one of the saving graces of this film. This has always been another strong point of Snyder's work and while I think this movie delivers on the required set pieces, watching it a second time I wasn't astounded or blown away by the battle scenes. It merely comes across as serviceable as opposed to something jaw-dropping. The problem is that with this movie tripping over its own feet in other key areas, it needed to be something unique away to distract from those flaws.
I honestly believe that Zack Snyder wanted this to be an empowering movie for girls/women. The movie unfortunately moonwalks into being really sexist. The entire group of girls are beautiful but the movie takes every chance to show off their figures or accent the revealing clothing they're wearing. I get that most blockbusters featuring young and attractive women do this but we approach Michael Bay territory here. Add in the fact that in the most consistent fantasy that Babydoll has, they're all burlesque dancers who are only useful when dancing/putting on a show for their clients and it gives the movie an overall feel that this is just a teenage boy's fantasy. Either that or they're directly pandering to teenage boys, could be either option.
There are other things to comment on including a really terrible soundtrack (the music is mostly made up of covers of famous rock songs that completely miss the mark) and an ending that can't get the movie out of a serious tailspin. This is one of the more divisive blockbusters that has come down the pike and while I'm pretty critical of this, it isn't a flop for the ages. Snyder and his team really swung for the fences and while I credit them for trying, Sucker Punch adds up to a big and embarrassing whiff.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Beautiful Atmosphere and an Interesting Mystery Help Blade Runner 2049 Continue a Classic Story
I've only seen the original Blade Runner once and it was a long time ago. I liked it but I just haven't got around to revisiting it. I mention this because even though I'm not a die-hard fan of Blade Runner, I still found the plot of 2049 engrossing. It's a well put together mystery, I found that they constantly took the plot in unexpected directions and other than the trailer spoiling the return of Deckard, I was always excited about what was going to happen next. The movie pulls an excellent bait and switch at the end that really surprised me. They made the right decision to not repeat the formula of the first one and take the story to a new place. They also create some compelling subplots which is something that few movies get right.
The biggest star of this movie is the cinematography and the excellent work of Roger Deakins. The original was noteworthy with the special environment that Ridley Scott and his creative team brought to the screen. That was continued here if not improved upon. The look of L.A. in 2049 they decided to go with isn't completely distinct but it was a little more understated (I'd compare it to the 2017 Ghost in the Shell but less fantastical). My favourite scene might have been a shootout in a defunct club where the lighting and the background show are turning on and off. I don't hesitate to praise when a movie looks good but this is an exemplary example of using visuals and atmosphere to help build on a strong story.
Blade Runner 2049 returns very few of the characters from the original film but they manage to breathe life into this movie through the new ones they created. Officer K isn't the most lively protagonist but he gets an eye-opening character arc that kept me involved. Deckard doesn't appear till later in the movie but he remains interesting and what they decide to do with him makes his appearance worthwhile. I also really liked some of the smaller supporting characters. Sapper really helps kick off the movie, what Joi represents is extremely emotional and Mariette is so mysterious that her involvement brings up more and more questions. Add in that Niander Wallace and Luv make for pretty menacing villains and you have a pretty well-rounded and fascinating script.
I don't think that the actors/actresses will be the focal point of the awards attention that this movie will get but that doesn't mean there aren't exemplary performances. Gosling is good as K, he's deliberately robotic and he accomplishes a lot through his subtlety. Harrison Ford isn't in the movie as much as I wanted him to be (he's still one of my all-time favourite actors) but he holds up his end. He works with Gosling well and they have a solid rapport. Surprisingly, I really liked Sylvia Hoeks. She stole a lot of her scenes and I thought she was great even acting against a stacked cast. Dave Bautista showed he has a lot more range than people give him credit for. Jared Leto is in a very Jared Leto role (deliberately weird and hard to understand) but he does it well and although he might be a little creepy, the guy is still a great actor. I also want to credit Ana de Armas, she was distinctly warm and she showed a lot more emotion than I had seen from her previously.
There were points in this movie I could have rated this a 9/10 but some small things that I had to dock the movie for. Even with a compelling story, the movie has such a long run time that it couldn't help but drag. There are certain scenes where the movie wants you to really drink in the environment but they could have edited it a little tighter. They also couldn't help but lose me at points through how much artistic flair the utilize. Villenueve is an authority in this area and while I appreciate an artistic approach to this science fiction tale, for me they overdid it a little.
I was surprised how much I ended up liking Blade Runner 2049. I think if you're a big fan of the original, you'll love this to bits. This is successful in bringing in the uninitiated but I think fans will enjoy this even more. I haven't been on board for all of Villenueve's films but this is a good combination of his artistic style with enough of a commercial element for the masses. I'd give this somewhere between an 8-9 but with the extremely long run time, I'll give this an 8/10.
American Made (2017)
American Made is An Exciting Trip Piloted Expertly by Liman and Cruise
This is one of those stories that is so crazy that you can't believe it could be true (I'm not sure what is and isn't 100% factual). The fact that this guy could be recruited and get swept up in so many different cons is unbelievable. Compounding that, the fact that he didn't get how dangerous this was is remarkable. The people behind this movie could spin straw to gold but I think the movie benefits immensely from having a compelling story to draw from. You also get some understanding about politics during the Cold War. The film is smart enough not to get too bogged down in what could be dry/heavy material and they wrap it up with some style to make it easier to wrap your head around it.
I think Barry Seal as a character will divide audiences. The movie tries to portray him as a thrill seeker who had exceptional skill but couldn't see past the end of his nose. Other people might view him as an opportunist that made a fortune playing one government agency against another and he personally helped further the drug trade in the U.S.A. I came down in the middle on him. I think the movie probably glosses over some of his darker aspects but he was ultimately a pilot whose greed and attitude both helped and hurt him. I tend to enjoy characters like this as protagonists, it's not always fun to follow the boy scout. Seal ends up being the sum of his decisions for better or worse and despite his missteps, I couldn't help but feel sorry for him when they reached the epilogue.
I think this was an excellent role for Tom Cruise to take. It can be hard to separate him from Ethan Hunt (his Mission Impossible character) and I like seeing him play more morally grey characters. He's charming as Barry Seal but he never portrays him as a hero. He's not a villain either but Cruise elevates his game to sell how Seal got caught up in this success and struggled getting out. His Cajun accent is decent and he did a good job. I was surprised how much I liked Sarah Wright as Lucy Seal. She's a pretty face for sure but her character has a little more depth than I anticipated. Her performance reminded me of Margot Robbie's performance as Naomi in The Wolf of Wall Street (if you pitted them head to head, I'd still pick Robbie but Wright more than held her own). I like Domhnall Gleeson in other things but I didn't think he was as good in this. His character couldn't seem to pick a lane between being very straight-laced or being a slick double-talker and I don't think he was charismatic enough to make me remember Schafer. Jesse Plemons and Caleb Landry Jones are good as Sheriff Downing and JB but they're not in the movie for very long. I'd also credit Alejandro Edda, Mauricio Mejia and Jayma Mays for being solid in their respective supporting parts.
I was surprised at how American Made had a go-with-the-flow tone. It isn't hard to draw parallels between Seal's carefree attitude and how they decide to tell his story. The movie moves fast and it was pretty funny. They don't skate around how ridiculous Seal's situation is and they have no problem laughing along with you at his lack of common sense. His choices are taking him and his family down a path that almost everyone can see coming except him. They make the right call in keeping things light for the majority of it and I was laughing through most of the movie. But when the movie needs to show the consequences for his actions, the tone shifts appropriately. This can be jarring but I think they handled it about as well as they could have. Whether you like Seal or don't, his end is shocking but more or less expected.
Most of my problems with American Made are small and easy enough to toss aside. It took me a little time to get invested in Barry's story, the movie wasn't as strong at the very beginning. There isn't much exposition and you have to float for a bit to grasp Barry's ongoing dilemma. But after a while, I caught up with the pace of the movie and I couldn't help but enjoy the ride. The other thing is that while the ending is properly dramatic and is a punch to the gut, the overall arc of the story is easy to plot. Stepping back from the story, it follows the same major beats as many other movies in this genre. We rise and we fall with Barry and while I thought the story carried me through most of those quibbles, for the more discerning viewer, it might be hard to look past.
Doug Liman and Tom Cruise seem to be a good match for each other and they deliver an exceptional rise and fall caper movie. I love Edge of Tomorrow and they didn't disappoint in their follow-up. This is an interesting story that manages to be entertaining while sneakily teaching the audience about some of the inner-workings of the U.S. government and how they handled foreign conflicts in South America in the 1980s. I don't think this will make my 2017 top ten but I would be happy to see this again. I would encourage Liman and Cruise to continue making movies together and I would recommend this movie to anyone interested in a fun crime story that happens to be a period piece.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a Good Spy Flick That Falters in Comparison to the Original
Kingsman: The Golden Circle brings back all your favourite characters from the original and brings many fresh new characters to the forefront. I must give the movie some credit here, the idea of the Statesmen could have been really hokey but as the movie goes on, you become more interested in the Statesmen agency and the major players within it. They give some added dimension to some unexpected returnees from the first entry (although the subject matter of their relationship was a little iffy, I was pleasantly surprised they brought back Princess Tilde in such a large role) and Eggsy hasn't changed too much from where it counts. There's one glaring exception to my praise though, they bring back one of the biggest and best characters from the original and I think they really fumbled the ball. It was so disappointing to the point where I almost regretted his inclusion in this sequel.
With a good chunk of this movie taking place in the U.S.A and the jungle, they also introduce some engaging set-pieces and locations. I didn't get the reasoning behind Poppyland completely but it looked cool and added something distinctive. The Statesmen headquarters was a little hit or miss but it was also better than expected. Most of the CGI and visual effects in the movie are largely well done and they help sell some of the more outlandish bits.
The best part of this movie is that the excellent action scenes from The Secret Service carry over. There's nothing to match the church/Free Bird set piece (which despite controversial subject matter is one of the best action scenes I've ever seen) but there are many smaller scenes that carry that same flavour. They don't waste any time dropping you into it either, 5 minutes into the movie and you're getting a neat car chase/fight sequence. So, while I can't say it topped The Secret Service, they continue their great action work with very little decline in quality.
Taron Egerton came out of nowhere to capably carry the Kingsman franchise. Another positive thing I can say is that this follow up shows that his leading man chops from the first one wasn't a fluke. He is this character and he's earned the right to continue playing it. Mark Strong returns as Merlin, he was an underrated part of the first one and he's solid again here. It was nice to see Edward Holcroft again as Charlie but I was disappointed that Sophie Cookson had such a small roll. Channing Tatum slips into his character Tequila nicely but the movie didn't advertise his role properly. The surprise MVP is Pedro Pascal as Whiskey. He nails his part and he steals almost every scene he's in. They didn't give Halle Berry or Jeff Bridges much to do as Ginger Ale and Champagne respectively. I think Julianne Moore was an inspired choice as Poppy and she does a good job but she's let down by how her character is written. She's just not given as much to work with as Samuel L. Jackson was. To avoid spoilers, I'm not going to touch on the surprise return of a certain character or the big celebrity cameo.
The most common complaint I've heard from fans of the first movie is that this movie is just a retread of the original. You can see parallels but I wouldn't agree with that assessment. I think this movie suffers from the next problem most sequels face. They feel the need to go bigger, to outdo themselves and to ratchet up almost every facet. There were plenty of good ideas and aspects worth praising in The Golden Circle but the movie also felt needlessly goofy. Eggsy was a semi-realistic character in the first one, he was a good kid in a tough neighbourhood that was in an even tougher situation. His rags-to-riches story was very heartfelt and it kept the movie grounded. He's turned into James Bond in this and his problems (minus The Kingsman Agency blowing up) seem much more conventional and less threatening. The rules and lore surrounding the Statesmen aren't well defined and they're importance/effectiveness seems to wildly fluctuate. Poppy isn't more over-the-top than Valentine but she seems to be way too playful and it's hard to take her seriously. The movie wants to say something about the war on drugs but the message feels vague and at the same time very heavy handed. These are just a few examples of the inconsistent nature of the movie and while there's the requisite action and comedy, this one leans into the absurd humour to the point where it detracts from itself.
I unabashedly love Kingsman: The Secret Service. I thought it was so special the first time I saw it and it has gotten better upon repeated viewings. It payed homage to the classic spy movies but delivered an unconventional and fresh viewing experience. I would rank it among the best movies I've seen not only in 2014 but of this decade. But I was willing to spot this movie as many points as I could, I wanted this to be the next great entry in this franchise. Critics have been harsh on The Golden Circle but if you enjoy the first Kingsman, a lot of the successful elements in that movie are brought back. You still have the thrilling action and although I didn't like choices they made with the characters, the creative team introduces plenty of new things and they expand upon the world. The Golden Circle is absolutely worth seeing and I think most people will get a kick out of it. I just couldn't help leaving the theatre a little disappointed, Secret Service was so awe-inspiring for me in many ways and this won't have the same staying power. I would give this a 7.5/10 rounding up to an 8/10.