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However, I'm more into recent films, as long as they're not tasteless or heavy-loaded with CGI for CGI's sake.
Written about the co-star before she was even born!
Every so often there comes a film or film franchise where people say they can't imagine anyone else in the role, or it's as if the role was meant for them. You know who I'm referring to: Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods, Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow... the list goes on.
Well, in the midst of the exuberant young career helmed by one Grace VanderWaal (who became an overnight sensation from a talent show with her uplifting lyrics, raw vocal talent and a wooden ukulele), in comes a film whose screenplay is adapted from a 20-year-old novel that hearkens closely to the livelihood of a then 15-year-old girl.
Grace, much like Stargirl (and hereon out I can simply use the pronoun "she" to interchangeably refer to both), has a magic touch: in she comes, out she goes, and everyone is positively affected by her presence and actions. Always humbled, the cogwheels in her head turn differently where she sees light as the spark and answer to all of life's secrets, even if it means that normalcy falls into the wayside of obscurity. She lives in the moment, for the moment. She is never seeking instant gratification, and although she yearns for acceptance, she will not allow herself to be ill-fated by what others deem to groom her to be.
And yet, this film is not even about Stargirl. We see the film through the lens of the other co-star named Leo, who spends the early parts of the film settling for what small role he can blend into in his small school in a small town, all of which are notorious for accomplishing next to nothing. Stargirl's arrival is something of a stroke of magic to some, yet thematically we can all agree that she merely taps the potential that every character instills inside of them.
As far as the movie itself goes, it's pretty decent. It held my attention, and even though it works through minimalistic plot development, it is meant to serve the characters more than anything else. Unfortunately, I think some of the character structure was a bit off with the pacing, and I think the best thing that would have saved it is if this went the way of a TV series instead. I'm fine with it being a film so long as I can feel the passage of time within a few minutes span and fill in any gaps, but otherwise this had some weird off-beat moments.
Anyway, Grace really starts to disappear as Stargirl. When I first heard she was cast for the role, I thought for a while this would be one of those cutesy "Aww, look at little Grace doing her thing in a movie!" moments. Nope, instead she played a character (who could sing and play the uke, but that's okay) and she played it quite strongly. I was proud to see that, and would love to see her in other roles again. They don't always have to be leads and they don't have to involve music, and I would most certainly like to check it out for myself.
Sit back and enjoy this one, but don't expect the world of it. Just let it happen. That's exactly how Grace would want you to watch it, too.
The Grudge (2020)
This played out like a soft reboot, similar to Rings (sequel from The Ring, which ignored The Ring Two). It clearly exists in the same universe as the previous three American releases, but with time between them and other characters into the mix (plus new audiences watching), it kind of throws elements at you that the previous films had. Therein lies the problem.
Although this may be the slightly superior film to Rings, it also was a less necessary sequel. When you look back at what you saw, you ask yourself how the pitch meeting went to green-lighting this installment. I mean, what was the lure that got them to say this was worthy? Rings happened to evolve and modernize its story in a very sensical manner, but The Grudge didn't really breathe new life... and when it tried to, it fell a little flat on its face.
I don't know how much money was thrown at this, but it felt a little too produced. A lot of it had to do with the fact that it was brought to the States. I know that little Asian ghost girl horror was so two decades ago, but having that traditional Japanese setting that stemmed from the Ju-On series (shot on a taller frame and on film) gave the previous movies a bit of a rawer, grittier chill factor that this one loses. Not to mention the way they edit the jump scares this time around is Rings-cheesy. They are by far the worst parts of the movie, sadly enough. Props for the R-rating and I think that was excellently used, but I don't think the tone matched the maturer audience that was watching it... as it still had a PG-13 feel to the scares.
The thing that I liked most about this movie though was the nonlinear storytelling. They borrowed this from The Grudge 2, although that was kind of a twist in that film that you were jumping different timelines. I liked it so much from that one that you really had to work hard in what you were watching, and all it had to take from this movie was removing the big white lettering telling the year that it was in on shots. The timelessness feel kind of became a theme to the movie, and I think if they made the audience work a little harder at it then it would have a nice full circle feeling to it. But alas, you are always reminded where you are at in the film, so it's not quite as fun. Nevertheless, it was a cool ride to flash back and forward, though it was all exposition vomit anyway. I could have allowed them to stretch the film another 15-20 minutes for more present day substance if they could have found a way to fill it, but for what it did I'd say it was okay.
The movie whimpers out at the end for me though, and that was really where I wish it had something else to say about the franchise's evolution when it plainly couldn't. I think that's where it hits its weakest stride. I can imagine sequels to this happening, but they just won't be as fun or freaky unless they return to Tokyo again and have Kayako and Toshio again, throwing less money at it and making it raw and gritty if they're able to. This is a skipper, even for die-hard Grudgies.
One last note: This movie has the intentionally funniest scene transition since Napoleon Dynamite's "It's a sledgehammer" moment. That alone was actually worth the price of admission.
Knives Out (2019)
A clever misappropriation of information in its pacing
What a delightful unraveling of murder mystery mayhem, carefully crafted with witty wordplay, splendid camera work, raucous audience engagement, and a tour de force performance by Daniel Craig (with honorable mention to Michael Shannon).
This was a movie that overtly demanded your attention, and you were more than welcome to provide it (although given the PG-13 rating, I do question how it will hold up for minors during the first third of the movie). Rian Johnson made something that could take to the stage someday, and I think it's that kind of audience that this would compel most.
To say that it delivered would be an understatement. Every minute of the run time mattered. It had this interesting way in which information was revealed in a front-loaded fashion, and yet still left you with necessary questions that you couldn't dodge, and you constantly questioned with the people around you. This will stick with me for a while, and hopefully also garner Oscar consideration for best original screenplay.
Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
Love and laughs from literature
No, I'm not talking about Fifty Shades of Grey!
The romantic comedy genre is a flavor that gets a bad rap for being one-note and heavily playing on sappy/silly tropes, even if that is not always the case. I have learned to expand my horizons when it comes to the genre and fit more good titles in there that don't necessary hit that mark. Last year, we were graced with the best of the genre staple I've seen in a long time in The Big Sick because of its strong writing. I am pleased to say that we have a winner again this year, and a lot of it has everything to do with how the editing complements the writing and directing.
Crazy Rich Asians is an entry that treads lightly on both the romance and comedy (there are plenty of laughs to be had, I just never got an abs workout or fell out of my chair is all) and instead delivers a story built around culture, respect and trust, taking pages from Meet the Parents and The Devil Wears Prada. It is an absolutely accessible film for all audience members, even if they might have had *ehem* so good of a time that I couldn't hear some lines because of the overdrawn laughter from others. Through framing, editing and choice of music, director Jon Chu finds a way of bringing about action in a film that is entirely devoid of it. He really highlights Singapore as a character in the film full of vibrancy and vivacity, claiming set-pieces to dictate entire acts of the story. There is a lot of symbolism that is foreshadowed very subtly, and almost everything has a payoff instead of making the audience question what a certain setup was meant for. We get to see the crazy-rich invite us to their fantastical routines as side-characters like Awkwafina hilariously bask it all in and takes nothing for granted. We envy their possessions, even if we may not envy their lifestyle.
The first 1/3rd of the film is wide-open throttle on the gas pedal. There are colorful overlays to indicate locations and text messages that mesh with what is going on in the image, and they feel as if they want to arrive to the story about as fast as Get Out. Characters are introduced so fast that you will want to bring a pad and pen to web-diagram the whole thing, but Chu made a smart choice in having the audience remember characters less by their names and faces and more with their actions, like when you play a name game icebreaker with a large unfamiliar group. You start to figure out where people stand on the totem pole (us audience members are clearly at the bottom) and get to enter Rachel's mind while she's absorbing things as a "fish out of water" at a breakneck pace, and we have to do the same. This representation may be that of the 1% end of things, but the wealth is only in your face from a glamorizing perspective and is not too in your face with snobbery constructed from their wallet and purse sizes.
Once this is all enacted we reach the second 1/3rd of the film, which lets off of that gas pedal and coasts for quite a while. It hit me rather fast like brake lights and I wasn't expecting it, so I called the film out a bit on its inconsistent pace and didn't feel the typical story arc of "rising action." Thankfully, what was lost in that art was found in character chemistry and intensity. Our main protagonist couple is a duo worth rooting for as they yearn for a cathartic endgame with one another, despite what morals stand in their way. They drive the story's purpose, but they are on the bland end of personality when it comes to delivering the comedic goods, and this is totally okay; they let those around them bring us most of the character and laughs. A couple of them are thrown in for the cheap shtick, but there are nearly a dozen characters which get the limelight with their own romantic subplots. This ends up being more than just one love story, and normally I would consider this a detriment but this drawn out middle act of the film spends a lot of time establishing tangible and intangible values, and these characters' interactions are a big part of that. We get a lot of conversation regarding the betterment of characters from each side of the proverbial fence that separates rich versus not-rich, Chinese versus American cultures, and wants versus needs. In a movie that could have easily only stated messages for an elite class of individuals or specific ethnic group, they spend a long time catering to the other 99% so we can be a part of the journey and not just seeing it from a particular lens.
I am purposely leaving out the story's pulse of tension between Rachel and Nick's mother, because I would like for you to strap in and see it all for yourself. As the film puts it at one point: it basically starts to feel like the two characters are playing chicken and they want to see who swerves away first. It doesn't quite reach Stiller vs. DeNiro or Hathaway vs. Streep in their respective film roles, but these two characters have a lot more to say that speaks to us and possible predicaments that we may encounter, especially regarding the ideas of family and what it means to be a part of one beyond the surface level.
We transition into the final 1/3rd of the film where I feel the story arc had found its footing again. I was recognizing aspects of resolve taking place, affect brought personal emotions within me to rise more (I started to get the feels when a scene took place where the only thing you hear are the sultry echoes covering an Elvis Presley gem), and although this is a romantic comedy that may hit some of the stereotypes that other ones do, you don't dismiss it as a negative thing because the way we arrive at those points feels organic and validating. I could not predict where this story was going to go or what it wanted me to come home with earlier on, but by the time we hit the credits (there is one minor "mid-credits" moment thirty seconds in, in case you intend on leaving your chair immediately) I was completely understanding of Chu's conveyed intent that he displayed within the two-hour runtime.
Ironically, his statement exceeds that of the film reel and the novel that this film adaptation is based upon. He is playing chicken with Hollywood, and I think he will strike victory here. Like Black Panther earlier this year and The Big Sick last year, we are beginning to realize that 'serving the underserved' is a good business strategy when there is a story to be told that requires exactly that. I am excited that both this film and Searching (please give that a look in a couple of weeks) is garnishing Asian leads without it feeling like an intolerable offense. Yes, one film is based upon that culture and the other just so happens to utilize characters of that background, but it just goes to show that mainstream audiences are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and come out the other side with smiles on their faces, saying that the film is "good" and not needing to bat and eye over the fact that they were not graced on screen with a white male lead. I could have done my review without stating any of this, but I really think this is one part that separates this from many other romantic comedies.
From the earlier marketing, I did not expect this movie to win me over. It did, and I think you will feel the same if/when you decide to check this one out. Story-wise I felt some unevenness, but Jon Chu strikes enough visual flair to make a duvet out of a blanket. What could have been a tedious sitting was instead a raucously good time, and I really feel like there is something for everybody here. It is a recommended watch. Go check it out.
Slender Man (2018)
More is less
Much like the Blair Witch, Slender Man has always been scarier as an idea within the lore built around it than as a literal and physical presence of it. We laud what the Creepypasta community has done to up the ante with the character originally created by Victor Surge (properly credited at the end of the film as an early billing), and there have been positively freaky spins on the subject matter such as the YouTube project Marble Hornets, yet there have also been negative effects attributed to the character in the attempted murder in Wisconsin by prepubescent female friends. The tormenting figment of our minds is spooky enough to carry throughout 90 minutes of film with flashes here and there. Apparently Sylvain White (director) and David Birke (screenwriter) didn't get the memo.
I won't pretend like I could have written or made a better film, but I don't know if the right plot was chosen here. This is a story where SM is already embedded in the national consciousness and skeptical friends decide to attempt to summon him, only to bear the burden of his haunting, kidnapping and/or killing. I personally would have liked to see this have gone in one of three different directions: (1) have a tone more like The Ring where the demonic evil is not known as a figure but simply as a watched video with a curse (they even mention "virus" that would be a lot like the Ringu series and get into the anatomy of it), with no alias or concrete image in association to it; (2) let it play out more like a psychological horror, even if it means recapturing elements inspired by the stabbing incident four years ago; (3) found footage fashion, but Marble Hornets already did that, so I'll annex that recommendation immediately. There would be larger opportunities to provide a certain cloud of mystery and intrigue to explore something further, rather than simply to have too tangible of a grasp on the subject matter. Idea #2 might glorify and inspire that notion a little more than we need though, and since idea #1 would tie more closely to the film's actual events I'd say that #1 would be my personal go-to. In fact, when the girls watch the video it actually reminded me of The Ring to begin with, and that was a good thing; too bad they did not continue much down that path.
Characters also never really had any kind of realistic dialogue. The opening conversation between two schoolmates just has you thinking: "This feels like they're reading a script." That's never a good thing. Like many horror movies, characters have trouble elaborating what they see and feel with each other, and it comes at an unnerving level here. Only one character ever tries to really cope with what's going on in a verbal manner, but she simply doesn't push enough to bring the others to her side and it feels like a lost cause. I'll admit that she tries, but she doesn't articulate herself well enough and from the outside looking in just comes off as sounding irrational. Well-written horror movies have characters who can actually think and speak rationally, yet still have trouble being able to overcome their villainous adversities.
The way it was shot was another concern of mine. This film is dark, and by that I mean it is dimly lit to a fault. I know they probably opted for more natural lighting at times, but even then there are no carefully-constructed shots to contrast silhouetted characters with some sort of lighter background from a light or a dusk evening sky. Even many interiors seem like people forget to pay their electricity bills as they only light up the bare minimum amount. Forget tone, this was just a slighted level of realism that probably could have resolved a lot of the characters' dumb moments if they just turned on a couple of more lights at times. They're also always going out on their lonesome after sunset, which tends to be a recipe for disaster. White chose to let sound play a major role in the film, but often did not establish a shot for us to sense our place in the scene. Everything looked too same-ish to lack the feeling of impact moments take place as they should. I think the choice of shots got better as the film went on, but at that point it was too little too late.
There were three scenes in the middle of the film that are almost back-to-back-to-back that probably provide the best overall tension. All three scenes have great buildup, but unfortunately only one executes strongly and the other two flatten out rather quickly. This mostly has to do with the fact that they try too hard to show more, and the effect is lessened as a result. That, or like many horror films it is just poorly edited (sorry to stray off-topic, but speaking of poorly edited... in the beginning of the film there is a "One week later" moment that shows up in the bottom right corner of the screen and it fades away the moment it comes on that you might actually miss it). The scene that pulls off its moments well works because of SM really only appearing soft in the background if that, and a lot of mentally-jarring moments for the character that make the sequence feel nightmarish. If more scary moments in the film were like this or if there were less attempts at scaring the audience in general, it would have heightened these moments much more and become extremely effective. Alas, it was not meant to be and we are resorted to cheap thrills. What makes matters worse is that I think some moments would have been great without inserting eerie music alongside them, and I don't want to call them jump-scares because to be honest there aren't too many here (most times they are intentionally telegraphed as they creep into the frame, but the ones that are there could have served better without the score).
Before those three scenes that I mentioned (and outside of watching the main video), the story really had trouble grabbing me; past those three scenes (outside of a great 'mentally disturbing images' sequence and one of the visual shots near the end of the film), the story really begins to whimper out. It tries to work in two other characters to an extent and does not deliver on carrying out their arcs throughout (add in one of the main characters as well), parent involvement is set to a bare minimum and they are useless when present (in fact, there's a weird bit where someone thinks they are at the wrong address because they didn't see any cars in the driveway... ever hear of a garage??), there is little to no conveyed emotion for the loss of people near and dear to the main characters to feel their motivation as a great driving force, nobody ever listens to anybody in the film except when it's a detriment to their cause, and for some strange reason the girls all know the passwords to each others' laptops (just a small nitpick on my end). Worst of all, Slender Man was only slightly imposing and just not very scary, and he appears far too often. When I watch the Marble Hornets series on YouTube and he rarely appears in a quick couple of frames, I get the most unsettling chill in my body. When I play Slender and am traveling the forest as the stomps begin happening, the tension ramps up and gets me in the right mood to freak me out when something actually happens, no matter how scary. As a constant, Joey King was the only onscreen redeeming quality of this abhorrent mess.
They should have gone with "less is more," and they instead went for the reverse tactic. That did not work for Blair Witch (2016), and it's no surprise that it didn't work here as well. This wasn't even in the "so bad it's good" camp unfortunately, and I am someone who will be curious to watch this regardless of any ratings. I do ask that you try and heed my warning when I say there is not much you are going to get from this movie. It wasn't scary, gripping, fun, exciting, or anything like that. Just a morose form of cinematic poppycock that probably came out five years later than it should have, and with the wrong story to boot. I just feel like they missed the mark on what makes Slender Man spooky, or they tried too heavily to rely on his spookiness to tell the story that they did.
Oh, and the first trailer ending shots of the girl in the dress is not in the film. I don't even know who that girl is suppose to be, because she is not in the film either heh. Sorry to spoil you there (more of an anti-spoiler).
Christopher Robin (2018)
A mixed bag with incredibly charming remedies
**WARNING: I get a little bit into what some of the characters do and don't do, even though I don't really get much into the overall story.**
Disney's Christopher Robin serves as a companion piece to Goodbye Christopher Robin in that they play different parts of CR's life. Goodbye Christopher Robin takes place during his childhood and has small parts of him growing to a young adult by the end, and Disney's Christopher Robin spends the first ten minutes advancing through his raising years rather quickly so we can get to his adulthood. Outside of the source material, the comparisons of the two films stop there. Disney's Christopher Robin is much more family-oriented fiction, whereas Goodbye Christopher Robin is slightly more adult-themed nonfiction. I'll say that at my age, as much as I loved both films at their cores, I did prefer one over the other.
Now, let's address "the Heffalump in the room" here: This film will receive nearly unanimous praise and everyone who reads this will adore by what they just saw on screen by the time the last page reads "THE END." You will see the 9's and 10's pour aplenty on here, and they will be absolutely justified to the point that I won't disagree with a single thing that they say, truly. I am no different, as while watching this I tapped into early childhood memories of me watching the Winnie the Pooh cartoon. All of the feels were there and they were strong. Parents and children had a joyous experience with the entire film, and my face may even hurt from smiling too much. I will mostly let every other review speak on that, though. I want to try and touch on the moments that others may have trouble expressing or just won't bother to, and explain away how my score (for better or worse) is emphasized by other elements of the film that may or may not have personally worked for me as well.
When I say the words "mixed bag" I'm not referring to the quality of what was on screen, just how my head coped with what was on screen. Every issue I have with the film is mostly not a film issue at all, but rather it is my conflicted mind wondering what kind of film I expected to watch. Having just come off of Goodbye Christopher Robin not one year ago, I was trying to decide whether I was watching yet another biopic of sorts here, or if this was just a fictional fantasy adventure. When it initially seemed like it wanted to be the former, eventually it revealed that it was going to be the latter, and boy they went the whole nine yards with that. Upon first glimpse CR is just letting his imagination run wild with him, but alas it turned out that these stuffed animals are not inanimate, but actually alive and talking. Yes, beneath the surface one can decide to create allegories for the animals' lively spirits representing something larger than they actually were, but in the last half hour of the film it feels like a very shallow version of: "Nope, they're real... accept it and move on." The tone shifted sort of fast without warning into something a bit childish, and not in the absolute best way. It kind of hit a wall with me, because initially they were going so well with what just felt like the imagination route, and I feel I would have preferred that much more. Then again, when I was a child I think I saw the animals more as actual animals and not stuffed objects in CR's imagination, so if I'm a kid watching this film I don't think this is a demerit in any way at all. Sadly, I'm now a thirty-year-old man critiquing a lovable children's film to the bitter end, possibly undeservedly so.
Which leads me to my next personal predicament: I didn't know which lens I was supposed to view this film from. I hate to make the immediate comparison, but Goodbye Christopher Robin strictly stuck to one tone and allowed me to find perspective as an audience member for where I belonged watching it. This film begins with a young CR and the playful animals expressing their personalities to the fullest, so I began watching it as the cartoon and all was fitting. Then a bit of time goes by without the animals to set up CR's current status in the workplace, with his family, and even with a neighbor (whose tiny intermittent "subplot" feels strangely incomplete, unless there was an after-credits scene). During this early stage I figuratively heard children shuffling in their seats, and I literally heard a young girl ask: "Where's Pooh Bear?" Given the expectation the trailers appeared to provide (which I avoided before seeing the film), you'd understand why the youthful ADHD crowd can get a bit restless with the slow pacing of these moments.
Then later Pooh appears and all is righted again, but I sit and wonder where kids are with this bear and his furry friends, because I legitimately do not know. Do they know him in name only but have not read the books or watched the old cartoons? Are they familiar with the animals' voices, quotable lines and unique mannerisms? It's not exactly an ongoing marketed icon anymore, and they might be too busy in front of their Smartphones anyway to know why we who grew up with them find every moment so wondrous. So again, here is where I'm completely out of the know: if children are not as well-versed with the characters at large, I wonder if they'll get as much out of this film as I would if I was there age, or as I did now. Don't be too alarmed, though! There are still plenty of moments to make this movie enjoyable for all ages, whether or not you are privy to all that which is Winnie the Pooh.
Oh yes, Pooh Bear: he was perfection. It's clear that the screenwriters know him very well as to make sure that every piece of dialogue that he says has this poetry about it, accompanied justly with Jim Cummings' original voice work. Every third line that he says will give you a chuckle, whether he is wittily responding to CR or talking to himself. We get a "Think think think" and more than enough honey references (which you can never have enough of). His humor is very deadpan and it works best when you see his innocent beady eyes conveying those words with that little mouth. I'll admit that I miss the cartoon design, but they took enough creative liberties to blend the real stuffed animal with the cartoon version and you get the best of both versions. He is both dependent and dependable, both nescient and thought-provoking, both wanting to make you laugh and cry. I cried exactly two times in this film, and both had to do with a Pooh spoken line or spoken action. They needed to capture this for the film to work, and they did it ever so well.
Eeyore and Tigger were also both real hits and exact representations of their cartoon selves. I would say that Eeyore will win over more with the adults when it comes to his dark and depressing lines (again, this is also one of those times where "if you understand the characters already it works much better"). Tigger gets to bounce, sing and laugh, all with original J.C. voice work and that really means something to me. The misses to me came with Piglet and Rabbit, which although it's unfortunate that their original voice actors have passed away they did not do enough to get close to those voices either. Rabbit always reminded me of a Squidward in the cartoon (I know that SpongeBob came afterward), but had no such notions here... just a couple of "I'm healthy and like things clean" kinds of lines. He also wasn't heavily featured, alongside Owl, Kanga and Roo. Piglet was mostly fine, but was missing the voice, never let out an "Ooooh, d-d-d-d-dear," and never really let his fearfulness become an affecting part of the story. Good thing Pooh made up for most of it, and honestly I could have completely done without the other characters and would have been just fine... yet at the same time Tigger and Eeyore's direct inclusions were too good to pass up.
Ewan McGregor was convincing and looked like he had a great time with the role. Hayley Atwell kind of got to sleepwalk through her mother/wife role as she didn't have much to do, the daughter was good but was in the wrong film for focus on her end (even though they try and maintain that theme throughout, it's not explored very fully), and literally every other character was over-the-top and may have fit with this film but were also outlandish and exaggerated to the point that I really didn't care. As I was saying before, keep this as CR and Pooh having adventures and I would be none the wiser as to the rest of it.
I hope that you can take my review as just very level-headed. There were just a few too many things I found to either be inconsistent, or at the very least made me perceive it as such. That might be more a fault of mine than a fault of the film's, but that's why I get my own vote on here and others will get theirs. My last minor quip was slightly mentioned before, but the overall pacing was pretty slow. I was okay with that, but I am trying to speak for the masses. I think Goodbye Christopher Robin was a film that was lighter on its feet regarding the pace, but it also is a little less kid-friendly since its focus is not on the animals (and never gives life to them, imaginable or otherwise).
Despite the things I've pointed out, I think you can chalk them up as personal issues only, and I can't recommend this film enough. I mean it's Winnie the Pooh, for heaven's sake... of course it will be lovable! My audience applauded at the end, and I did right alongside them. It has something for everybody, and plenty of it. It almost seems sinful to dismiss this film in any sort of way, and don't let my score be an indication of how much I actually did love moments of this film and urge everyone to go check out and see, specifically if you have children, a connection with the characters, or simply if you have a soul. Yet if you missed out on Goodbye Christopher Robin, I also recommend that you see it at some point for something that is probably less fictionalized and slightly more adult-oriented.
Cruise and McQuarrie return with fresh grit and excellence that leaves me wanting more from the duo
Fallout feels like a direct sequel to Rogue Nation, even though it doesn't take place immediately after in the timeline (based on some dialogue I believe it to be two years later). But a lot of things remained consistent: we finally kept a director around (I'll get to that later) and many of the characters have returned, including one Solomon Lane (played by Sean Harris) with more villainy than ever before. In the past, we would cruise through team members such as Maggie Q, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Paula Patton, and heck even Jeremy Renner who was not in this flick... but we have grown into others like Ving Rhames (whose character wasn't just there to look cool and throw in some one-liners, but rather to shed some actual emotional weight), Simon Pegg (who has finally earned my respect "in the field" where I feel he now officially belongs), flashes of Michelle Monaghan (the Jules factor!) and newcomers Alec Baldwin (underused again) and Rebecca Ferguson (dayum is all I have to say). Yes, they threw in some new characters in this film... I'd say one too many for me to keep track of... but they didn't interfere too much with the chemistry already in place with the other actors/actresses surrounding Tom Cruise and the bigger picture. I'm a bit iffy on Henry Cavill's character still, as he felt a bit out of place from the franchise we've been accustomed to, but he did work in this film as did his mustache. Even still, I think this movie demands a re-watch on my end to understand all of the character motivations again, particularly three of them.
All told it does feel like a sequel to RN in the sense that you should not see this one if you don't see that one. I think it is enough of a companion to make 3-6 part of a larger something when all watched together, even though 4 is only loosely connected at this point from a story perspective. In terms of feel however, it is not like any of the other M:I films before it. Instead of going for sleek and stylish, they chose raw and gritty in more ways than one. It really had its dark and serious moments, even played by the score through the opening credits (which I had to close my eyes for because they tend to spoil movie moments lol) demonstrating it would carry more epic impact than normal. Sometimes it delivered on that, and other times I think its reach exceeded its grasp, but ultimately you would feel it. It still had light humor time-to-time, but this was not a light-toned film in the slightest. I don't know if "grounded" is the right way to describe the film's attitude (because any time it is literally off the ground it is quite ridiculous as far as action films like to go!), but any time that it is on the ground everything is pretty simple. This film isn't built around stealth and technology; in fact, outside of masks and GPS-tracking (and some thing reading off a mission), I honestly couldn't name a single piece of technology that was more advanced than that in this entire film (EDIT: I thought of one more thing but it really won't wow you, and you probably won't even think of what I'm talking about after seeing it). Outside of some of the camera work, it definitely had a throwback feel to it, pulling the reins a lot but not in a forced way. This one just didn't call for a lot of futuristic technology.
The action this time around really was all about chases, gunplay and hand combat. I mean if you like hand combat, then you'll really have fun with 2-3 particular scenes in this movie. This is all good and great for an action movie, but good enough for Mission: Impossible? Because of the characters involved, YES. Outside of one of the beginning set-pieces, every action scene in this movie is heavily built up and driven by the story around it, and felt like the story's impact of the moment was always bigger than the stunts being pulled off. This is a good thing, but that also means it's not all surface-level entertainment. You could pop in your Blu-ray of any of the previous three M:I films and watch an action sequence and just go: "Hell yeah." In this film, each moment is earned a little more as the story progresses, and they are very character-focused moments. I can't say it really compares to the other films in terms of action, but it worked. At one point I think it got a hair too ridiculous, but I was on board because of the situation at hand. This doesn't really have the summer blockbuster tag that the last two felt like they did, though. I can see some high schoolers not understand the progression of this franchise and walk out going: "That was stupid and boring." Go watch Transformers, little ones.
Now it's time to sing some serious praises for two individuals. The first one is writer/director Christopher McQuarrie. Given the state of this franchise, they found the right person to steer the ship. Even in the middle of this 2.5-hour-long film when the action feels a bit bogged down and mundane from something you'd expect out of M:I, McQuarrie does enough for it to still feel different. Many scenes are shot so practically, the music is always original, tongue-in-cheek moments are injected without taking you out of the scenes, and you're always exploring the space around you so that nothing is ever too stationary. There is one action setting that didn't work for me at all and I honestly don't know what was going on, but it dynamically moved away from there fast enough and continued on to the next immediate action moment that all was forgiven and I was caught up to speed again. He understands the characters so you're not left with thinking they're making irrational decisions, and he understands how to showcase his stars so they can give him all that they have to offer. He captures it in a nice wide frame and only cuts when he has to. Sometimes he mutes the score for the sound effects, and there is this one really awesome moment where he drowns the sound effects from the score and it works so perfectly. If there is another film, I expect him to stay a part of the team.
The next person is Tom Cruise. Good. Lord. This guy is the reason we watch these movies. Talk about a guy giving it his all. Stunts in previous films may have had the panache that sells you watching the trailer, but I can tell you first-hand that nothing is as demanding as what he went through doing some of his stunts this time around. This guy doesn't age! When I say that, I mean he literally looks younger in this film than he did in Rogue Nation or Ghost Protocol! This dude shows you what it means to sprint, and his abilities handling a weapon, riding a motorcycle, now doing things off the ground (which means more than one thing really), and everything else just makes the action that much more convincing. You don't have to have CGI, green screen, stunt doubles, or quick-cuts to try and convince you otherwise (I'm looking at you, Taken 3). It's only unfortunately that you're actually taken out for a moment only to sit back and say: "Holy ****, Tom Cruise is actually doing that in front of our eyes." Kudos to what he does, and apparently it is worth every penny of everybody watching it as well. He will break bones for us to make this happen, and it really is a delight. He is an ageless wonder, and I can't wait to see what he is willing to do for us next! I just hope he makes it out the other side each time.
I'll admit I was a little shook with how different this film was than the others, but it didn't make it any worse... just different. Connection-wise it feels more like a M:I sequel than any other one, but tone-wise it couldn't feel more separate. I have to wrap my head around some of the plot points and character motivations I didn't quite grasp watching it, but if I am going to grade it on M:I standards I can't in all good faith put it above 3 or 5. That doesn't mean it is a worse film, though. It was a great film, and by all technical merits it hit too many right notes, and I believe more so than any of the ones before it. Just a little bit of unevenness, but I like that characters were the focus and that they dug deep into what Rogue Nation gave us instead of just making something another wacky episode in the wide world of Ethan Hunt & crew. It was not as flashy and full of blockbuster moments as the other films were save a couple of items here and there, but I think if you are a fan of this franchise you would be way hard-pressed to find too many downfalls in the final result. Leaving the theater I award it a strong eight mustaches out of ten, and sandwiching it around the middle. If this is on the merits of being a film and and of itself, I would place it above Ghost Protocol easily and it could potentially top 3 and 5 for some. If judged against films for being in the Mission: Impossible franchise, GP may sneak above it by a hair. But because of the strong connection to Rogue Nation leading to some consistency for once, I'll currently place my ranking at:
3 5 6 4 1 2
I think this is a movie that will get better the more you re-watch it, whereas the other films really peak their excellence the first time through because there isn't much past surface-level. I can't wait to see this one again.
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P.S. I don't know where else to fit this, so I'll just place it at the end. There was this recurring line in the film that characters would say, along the ilk of: "I'll figure it out." It was always in response to a character asking how they'll approach something next. I don't know if this was a gaff in the screenplay or a wink at the audience in some way---maybe as a response to the previous movie having two different characters literally anticipate every outcome of the film's entirety since the planning stages---and now showing in this film that they have to improvise scenarios reactionarily to something that was unforeseen. I don't know what it was, but it felt like it was said a bit too much. I'd really like to hear McQuarrie bring that up in an audio commentary.
Unfriended: Dark Web (2018)
A pleasant surprise that easily supersedes (and ignores) the original
I rented Unfriended through Redbox and saw it with a date, and I'll give it kudos that we did not turn it off and even talked about it afterward. I can't in all good faith call it a good film, but it was the first of its kind that I had seen and I merely tolerated it. Unfortunately it fell into a lot of issues that start and end with the characters/actors, and the teeny-bopper horror elements that leave you laughing and eye-rolling almost as if they intentionally wrote and directed it that way made it extremely mediocre, forgettable, and worst of all passable. What seemed like it was serving its style as nothing more than a cheap gimmick, I easily would only rate it a 4/10, but I was on board as I watched it and it did not turn me away from seeing a sequel.
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I didn't know anything about this sequel going into it, never mind the fact that I didn't even know it was a film until yesterday evening. But when the pre-screening invite fell into my lap, I bit the bullet and hoped for the best even though I planned for the worst. Needless to say, this was a pleasant surprise. Before I go on, I'm also going to strongly advise that you avoid the trailer at all costs for four reasons:
1) It spoils a lot of events (though leaves out the main overall plot of the film, which was nice). 2) It misinforms the audience of what kind of film it is (treats it like a pure horror when it is more of a thriller/suspense flick). 3) It edits a lot of items on the screencast that do not occur in a similar way in the actual movie, even down to colors and sound effects that are used. 4) It makes it look really bad.
I saw the trailer AFTER seeing the film by the way, and I'm glad that I did. I would have passed up this pre-screening if I saw that horrible trailer, and I would've felt like I've seen the entire film if so as well (yes, it does reveal several plot points).
I totally understand why this film has the 'Unfriended' tag: it's a found footage screencasting film where an anonymous user intrudes a Skype group chat, and torments them as a result of their mishaps bestowed onto said user. This is where the premise similarities end, though. This isn't only not a story continuation of the first film in any way (you can watch this without watching that and you won't lose a single beat), but this also does not have a supernatural element, and although Facebook may be one of the applications in the film it has nothing to do with unfriending somebody through it. Granted, I understand the name can take on multiple meanings in which case I can easily find one for it through this film, and if it just had the title The Dark Web, people would hark on it for being "too similar to Unfriended," so they were stuck. This can either help or hurt the film because I know a lot of people who won't see this on the name alone, but you may be mistaken by passing it up.
As I said before, this isn't bogged down with anything supernatural. That's not to say it's the most realistic thing in the world either, but if you suspend enough disbelief you can feel that it has a lot more grounding to it. This is the first plus. There's nothing wrong with supernatural horror flicks, but the first film holds a strong stigma around Facebook that it just couldn't be taken seriously. At least they did it better than Friend Request, but that's still not saying much. This circumvents that completely. Everything involved is through the power of individuals, all of which seem to be very computer-savvy, but making that decision won me over significantly more. I'd say it teeters more toward the suspense/thriller genre than it does the horror genre, and for this that can only be a good thing. Just don't expect anything scary so to speak, though there are a couple of disturbing ideas that only strengthened the film's mystique.
This also had some clever writing. Compared to the original, it's just nice to know that there was some actual thought into telling this story and not just throwing it out the window. The way the plot develops may leave you very curious as to how some items are slowly discovered, and some small nuggets (as well as character traits) throughout the film play a larger part by the time the credits roll in a fascinating way. Can't say I didn't like how things went down, but what's interesting to me is that halfway through watching it you could have predicted a million ways they should have done the back-end, and even if you ultimately feel they didn't go the route you may want it's still ahead of the other film on potential and wonder alone.
Unfriended: Dark Web grabbed me pretty fast with the relationship between two of the central characters. I cared enough about the situation to be concerned for their well-being. I can't necessarily say the same for the other characters. One was a little annoying but you grew into the personality, two were kind of bland (but one outshined the other both with acting and backstory), one was wasted entirely to the point that I wanted more from that one than any of the others, and one was compelling but served the plot exposition and advancement so well you could nearly call out "Deus ex machina!" at times, as that character also has no development. Everything in the Skype chat kind of worked out though because the "main" character (the screen we're watching all the time) mutes them or goes to different windows for long times on end when the others didn't need to serve a larger purpose for said moment. Neither the film nor the characters were that funny either, but the film didn't try to be funny too often either; wasn't laughing with them, but thankfully I also wasn't ever really laughing AT them. The first film had laughable characters that were unlikable to the point that I couldn't wait to watch them be killed.
Those who read my reviews know that I like to be vague so you can enjoy the film for yourself without still really knowing anything about this film, so that is where I'll leave you regarding content. Most of what I mentioned was the good stuff, and some of the lesser things in the film for me lie in parts that would probably spoil too much. I have some other small quibbles like off-screen characters type and respond unrealistically fast, though I understand they need to keep the pace up at the same time. Even still, I'd say they still make some decisions in the sequel that make me think they didn't learn everything from making the original, but they definitely self-corrected so much, probably more so than going from Annabelle to Creation or from Ouija to Origin of Evil. I also found the halfway point to allow it to go into multiple directions, and although the route they chose wasn't my absolute favorite I'm not about to sit here and petition that a rewrite be in order either.
This film also did one more thing for me: it made me realize that the found footage screencasting sub-genre is one that can actually work and be used more and more. It is very inexpensive and tailors perfectly to our generation around the social media realm. I thought it was far too gimmicky in the first film, but then I saw the film Searching and found how it could be used correctly... and just a short two weeks later I can clearly say that in the right hands there is enough creativity there to do more and more things. That being said, I liked Searching more as a film but I can't say that I would have liked it as much as I do if I saw it AFTER seeing Dark Web. I think the novelty of the filming style meshed so well with the story and really grabbed me, and this was entertaining enough overall that I didn't care I was seeing this style again. I think seeing it in the other order might exhaust me to see Searching second. So, here goes: I recommend you see both films, but if possible I recommend you see Searching first to get the best bang for your buck. Unfortunately it releases in a few weeks while this releases just next week.
Do as you must, but ultimately I suggest you give this one a crack and you may leave as surprised as I was.
Innovative and groundbreaking for being GOOD at what it does
The word "gimmick" can be thrown around to describe a major element of a film that changes up the ordinary tropes we'd expect from a rather straightforward flick. There is 3D, timeline splicing, animation, found footage, you name it. Some films almost even fall into these places as a genre. When they do, you get the inkling that the people responsible for thinking up the movie likely have these elements in mind at the forefront with the story as an afterthought. Only when that occurs do I call those elements gimmicky. And it's not that a gimmick is a bad thing, but if that is what you rely on to make your story compelling, it will often become a crutch for poor storytelling or one-and-done enjoyment. Sometimes it is done right, in which case the gimmick works... but most of the time it has that negative connotation for good reason.
However, there is another breed of films where you can get that feeling that a story was thought up, and ultimately it was decided that the best way to tell that story was by use of something like 3D, etc. When that happens, it is no longer a gimmick nor does it fall into that genre, so to speak. It is just the best way to tell that story, even though the story could work very well without it. I am no longer attracted to the film because of the device being used, but rather I can almost ignore that it's happening because I am so engraved in the story being told.
Within the found footage narrative realm has come screencasting, where we see the world through somebody's computer or phone screen. The first and only film of this variety I have seen was Unfriended, which takes place on one user's laptop screen as she does a group webcam chat. This played off as a gimmick because it was the only way to tell the story. Searching is now the second screencasting film I have seen. It has a bit of a hybrid feel though because there are jumps to other footage needed to tell the story (perhaps from the news or something) and there is also a score that the characters otherwise wouldn't hear.
Gimmick is also the last term I would use to describe what it does. Of course, this is plainly because the story is what drives the film and could be done without this style, but also because this style is doing more than tell a story: it is telling of our generation's attachments to/reliance on technology, the internet and most of all social media. The right audience will connect with this very well because they will feel very comfortable and familiar. This is where the film gets to breathe and even provide what one could call comedic relief (in just how real it all is to our technological experiences).
Director and co-writer Aneesh Chaganty came up with something extraordinary, and very smartly crafted this film into something where the main character's (played by John Cho) computer and phone are not devices (no pun intended), but they are now characters. There is an inaudible dialogue between him and screen, and the audience fills the gaps of what each of them are saying to each other. I say the story could be told without the screencasting in play, but the audience would need another way of being exposed information through needless dialogue, either to oneself or other characters. That, or we would still be looking at computer screens for a very long time, or time would have to be served filling scenes in other ways, so restructuring the screenplay would be required (which is possible, but I think Chaganty found the best way to tell his story).
I am still on a high with this film, to the point where I temporarily feel comfortable saying this is my favorite film of the year so far. The trailer that I just watched on this film after the fact would lend you to believe that it is a suspense/thriller, and even though it is suspenseful and thrilling I would not identify it as that. I would call it more of a drama/mystery. I think the first ten minutes of the film easily define what the entirety of the film will play out to be with regards to what emotions it will tap into you, and the opener of this film is one of my favorites in a long time. Thinking back on it, it's probably what really seals what I really think about Searching as a whole, and puts your mind at ease for the screencasting style that Chaganty tells the story with.
This film is about a father whose high school daughter turns up missing, and he cooperates with the police in doing his own personal detective work through means of his electronic devices to help aid their investigation. Thinking back at some of the missing persons films I have seen in my days (Gone Girl, Prisoners, Taken, Man on Fire, Gone Baby Gone, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Flightplan, Ransom), these stories have ranged from: straightforward to conspiracy-laden, kidnappings to runaways, found alive to found deceased to never found at all... and Searching gives you reason to believe that any of these possibilities could be true, all within staying very real. I think that's what makes this movie work most, that by the end of the day you convince yourself that you felt you saw something extremely grounded and strangely relatable. I mentioned the technology/internet/social media aspects, but the characters also relate well, and because it takes place in the Bay Area it also gives more bonus points for someone like me because I have an extra connection with the locations that are mentioned or utilized. It's best that you try and not decide for yourself what kind of film or outcome you hope to see going into it, and instead commend the shrewd genius in weaving the pieces together in a very levelheaded manner.
Absolutely none of this works without the sturdy acting by John Cho. You clearly see the image of a wrecked and broken father attempting to find his daughter. He has a compelling way of making us feel his his hurt and desperation. Chaganty once again used the screencasting element well here in having his character's on-screen actions say so much as well, from his mouse gestures to the things he starts to type but deletes before sending to other people, etc. The audience will not have to work too hard with these facets because of competent directing and brilliant acting.
What I suggest you do work really hard at while watching, however, is what I would call the Easter eggs this film has. When a screen pops up with a bunch of e-mails, news articles, or chat conversations, you want to pick up everything that you can because you won't be able to pause and rewind in theater. But furthermore and most importantly, every revelation of this film can be grasped if you work and look hard enough at everything that Cho's character works and looks at. This is a good thing, and what makes it even better is this film is never predictable (mostly because you know as much as the protag does, because you are literally seeing the film through his eyes). You get to stay on the edge of your seat through this process, even if nothing is really going on, because you feel like you get to take everything in at the same time that he does. There is a lot to process here, and again it is all in such a very real way.
This one is such a good time at the theater, and I think the only people who will be disappointed in this flick is if they: find the screencasting to be too much of a gimmick for their taste, feel misled by the trailer's overly suspenseful tone, or they already have one or two predetermined outcomes in mind that they want to happen and it doesn't suit their liking. Comparatively, my biggest gripes in this film stem from things like characters typing messages lightning-fast and perfectly (and people responding faster than they would even be able to read the message sent to them), plus off-screen voice acting was very wooden. That's pretty much it. As it stands tonight though, it is my favorite film I have seen this year. I don't want to call it groundbreaking what Chaganty did as far as influence goes (I don't expect many of these films to suddenly churn out as a result), but as far as accomplishing intent in a unique manner I think he did what no one else has before, and it works far too well for the story he told.
For those who are curious, this film is not yet rated but I can easily say the MPAA will give this a PG-13.
Cars 3 (2017)
A retrospective on a pretty decent animated trilogy
**I first wrote this review on 11/15/17 but it never got published. If something seems off or outdated, this is the reason why.**
This film universe is a little weird. I mean really, it is. We all have questions that we never really get many answers to regarding how much we can personify these cars as humans. Apparently they do consume and excrete, they require fuel, and that there aren't humans (I guess they are the humans); I still don't understand the idea of adolescent cars, what their limits are for speed when they're racing (sometimes it seems like Lightning just 'wills' himself to a higher position), how they build stuff, where they come from, why they need seats/doors or if they're even aware of what they are, etc. Perhaps it's best to not overthink it, but this is the first franchise for Pixar where the seemingly off-putting set of protagonists (toys, bugs, monsters, rats, robots) do not really serve a larger purpose for their message, and instead are kind of just... there. You can argue the Route 66 elements are important as well, so I'll give them that as much as anybody else will.
Many audience members are somewhat turned off by the models though, as it's just too weird to think about. I'll say one thing: everybody and their mother suggested Pixar should have used the headlights as the eyes, and their response in Cars 2 was about as punctually adequate as can be. I didn't see a big visual leap in the models from Cars 1 - 3 after a decade of work, but there were some nice little touches that a Blu-ray can help pick up which I have enjoyed the progression in. I did expect a bit more of a graphical upgrade on that front, since the surrounding environments all looked so beautiful and that crash teaser trailer even looked fantastic. But I digress, these animated films are definitely about more than just their animation.
Although the majority do not speak very highly of the Cars franchise in comparison to Pixar's other stellar efforts, people still look back at the first film in higher regard given the simpler message of taking the road less traveled and appreciating the journey every bit as much as the destination, including the people you meet along the way. It was humble and innocent. Though I think people give Pixar too much credit for just that. Other films have done this exact same thing; in fact, there is a film I saw called Finding Normal which I likened to Cars by all of the character connections, though it was made after it so I guess I have to give Cars some credit here. Cars 2 messed this up tremendously for the majority of moviegoers, throwing a Mater spin-off in our faces as we had pretty much a spy flick, with new characters for Pixar to merchandise off-and they would probably admit as much as well. As unfortunate as this was, I was thoroughly entertained by Cars 2. It is not good, but it's also not unenjoyable either. Definitely not up to Pixar's standards, though it still had its own message: accept your friends for who they are and not what you want them to be (I think that's what it was?).
So now Cars 3 comes along, yet here we are still all clamoring for an Incredibles sequel, which thankfully is coming. However, I think John Lasseter wanted to right the ship a little bit. For one, he downright ignored Cars 2 completely. If you didn't see it, you didn't miss a thing. Not a single new character from that film appeared here, no references to what happened as they went world-traveling, nothing. Skipping out on it becomes no loss whatsoever. Secondly, he gave Mater and non-car operated machinery (boats, planes, cranes... you name it) their chance in the limelight in the second film, and stuck to cars only this time around, tossing Mater to the side thank goodness. Lastly, they focused again on Lightning McQueen and the evolution of his character through the time that has gone by, back to true-and-blue circuit racing roots. It was appreciable that they did this, and for the most part I will say it worked very well.
Cars 3 is a sign of the times, both old and new. With the way sports are changing today, this was the perfect time for it to release. The new kinds of technology put in place in this film-from the cars to the training regimens to the statistical analysis-were all thrown in showing what modernists can offer to the traditionalists, possibly even aging them out to retirement. However, for Cars 3 to instill its motto in having some heart to compete, its moral stances on racing didn't get too lost in the dust. It stuck to several roots that Cars established (training in dirt roads, drifting, being one with the road) and clearly paid homage to Rocky III and Rocky Balboa (comeback story of a washed-up veteran, racing on the beach, training montage, calling a car Cal Weathers... seriously?). Not to mention there were a lot of callbacks to how Doc Hudson mentored Lightning, which paid off by the time the credits rolled. I like how both sets of times clashed on this one (and not in a James Bond way like Cars 2), because I think that was the next step up for this franchise to evolve properly. In essence, this was a faithful sequel to the first film. You can argue all you want as to whether it should exist, but since it does I think most can admit they did it properly.
Literally speaking of which, at about the 75-minute mark of this film I literally said out loud, "This film is doing no wrong." I liked what I was watching. There were a couple of strong heartfelt moments, not as strong as Cars but not too bad either. There were some scenes that I could have done without, but at the same time if I ever do buy a 3D version of this they are also the scenes I would want to replay most in that setting. Then with maybe fifteen minutes left to go in the film, they take a left turn. I'll admit it was a bit of a surprise and even somewhat more of a letdown (let me just say that the sign of the times really showed here, and if you saw my little mini-rant in the Family Guy thread then you may be able to guess what I'm talking about) because Pixar just had to be different, or rather just had to be modern. I won't fault them for feeling they needed to do what they did, but let me just say that I have the easiest rewrite in the books that gets us to the exact same place when the credits roll without needing to detour a little bit. I have a slight feeling that if they didn't pull this stunt, the several folks (including critics visible on Rotten Tomatoes) who decided to undersell this film would have evened it out in the end. I don't hate what they did, but they honestly could have done without it. Nevertheless, I'll go with as I said in my previous paragraph: since they did it, I can go ahead and say they also executed it pretty well in the process, because they really could have butchered it.
Call me less a fan of the first Cars film than other people seem to somewhat appreciate it for, a completist for being mildly amused at the second film enough to own it on Blu-ray, and a happy-go-lucky fan of this third Cars film that capped off the trilogy in such a way that, although with a little bump at the very end, was indeed a redeeming chapter of this franchise for what it started with. Pixar easily could have allocated its resources in other films, and it looks like we're getting the payoff now with an Incredibles 2, a Toy Story 4, and four originals (including Coco, where if you blink you might miss the small Easter egg Cars 3 had for it). Sue them for wanting to eek out a little profit here and there, but in a world where the Cars films exist I think it's better off with 3 in the books than if the trilogy-closer did not come to light, even if it means we have to wait a little longer for Pixar to sprinkle out hopefully some more magic in the coming years.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Competent directing style creates a strong balancing act that pays off well
I know I'm extremely late to the party, but I waited for a time to sync up and see it with a friend (we both have too many obligations in the education realm), plus I had to see Doctor Strange and Thor: Ragnarok beforehand.
Now before I leave any impressions, know that my experience was dampened by students with a moronic goal of sabotage by deciding to blurt out anything about the film they knew that I wouldn't want to know. I mean... what can I do to them in retaliation? Fail them? Strike them down with the hammer of Thor? Nothing, they're untouchable and they know it. It's sad, and I thought I've taught them to be better than that. Unfortunately, that select few is out there and always will be. I've waited nearly thirty years of my life for a film of this impactful magnitude to come out in its respectful genre, and individuals half of my age decide to play the card of indecency upon me and essentially impede on the level of my viewing experience.
All that being said... it was a very good film, even better than I liked it (the problem was the spoilers). In fact, if I were to list negatives for this film, it would really just be all in one lump-sum bullet point regarding the lack of grounded material: a lot of space related stuff, nanotechnology (and I really don't like the Iron Spider compared to regular ol' Spider-Man), whims of inexplicable magic sources, levels of seemingly unbeatable friends and foes where I don't understand the devastation of a punch or explosion onto the individual taking the blow, and the recurring MCU element of death not necessarily being a finality for characters' ends.
Conversely, there were many things that I really appreciated about the film. The first thing I would like to mention was the balance of everything, starting with the balance of characters and their moments. I thought this was going to be a massive issue going into this film, where it would just be one endless action battle and people wouldn't be able to serve their parts correctly, or they would only serve aspects as a moment of convenience to further the plot. Instead, where everyone was at during any moment seemed very natural to the overall MCU progression of items, and interactions that were had (on top of some that have yet to occur, lying in wait for the fourth Avengers film) were nicely played out. Villain encounters even appeared late in the film, which is kind of nice so that the legend looms larger as the movie goes on instead of playing beats such as: "We need three fights between hero and villain, so let's spread them out." Even characters who are physically inferior weren't just suitably matched up with other characters of that nature, and instead they found a way to possibly hold their own or team up to make things equal enough so that the fights could be anywhere with anyone. None of this works just in script alone; this was done by the hands of great directing. The Russo Bros have found a way to serve this great kind of balance for two straight films, though in Civil War it really felt a little more like: "Let's force the issue and get everyone on screen at once, even in a bit of a friendlier brawl." Admittedly some characters miss the boat of even appearing in the film, but it was few and far between, and they are explained away where frankly it worked just fine.
Another great form of balance was in the light versus dark emotional moments. I have been on Marvel for having too many lighthearted moments in their films, or really too much levity for the sake of entertaining the crowd on their first viewing of a film. They really pushed the envelope with Thor: Ragnarok, and honestly I was not appreciative of it. They needed to find a way to strike the right balance of when to say what and what surface level of comedy they need to inject during the characters given the moments, but most importantly every light moment needs to be balanced with a dark moment for emotions to hit the right heartstrings. Infinity War does exactly that. I wasn't eye-rolling when they injected humor, and only one or two comedic bits were out of place for the moment they were in. That is a fair price to pay for the overall structure. They had enough characters to find those moments with in the 160-minute running time, and for once they didn't have the villain(s) either be demoted to that same level of yuck-yucks nor did they subject them to another character's comedic relief as a way to actually victimize them.
This is a great time to transition to this film's villain: Thanos. I have had my quips with MCU villains being rather underserved in scope compared to that of the larger picture at play, like where they may be more of a pawn so the rest of the chessboard could do its thing. Thanos, however, appears as the king of this universe's chessboard. He was the main character in this film, and probably had the most screen time. He was not just a villain seeking ultimate domination of everything for the sake of it, he has his own goals and purposes in an attempt to restore a harmonious balance (there is that world again) for all species. It was not only believable, but it was also sympathetic. He shows remorse for his (attempted) actions, he shows mercy to those who beg for it so long as they aid in furthering his cause, and he speaks with a level head in a way that if we haven't already had eighteen other MCU films liking our heroes so much that we would actually root for the bad guy here. Definitely the best served comic book villain in a decade, if not right alongside the Joker for 'overall' status. Granted, Heath Ledger has given us the performance of a lifetime, though that character is very one-dimensional (and really good at that dimension, no doubt). Thanos really surprised me that he was more than just a large purple alien wanting "MOAR."
I want to give the directors credit for making an extremely long running time feel extremely short. I don't know if I'm sitting here saying that I'd like to watch a whole 'nother hour of the film, but they hit the right beats and paced it so evenly that they really made time fly by in a manner that other films really can't speak for in the same vein. For all the movies I own on Blu-ray, I sometimes stop short of watching something that runs this long because I tell myself: "This is a long film man, you are going to be devoting a lot of time to this." I don't think I'll be saying that about Infinity War. If I were to show this to a friend who hadn't seen it yet, I wouldn't be warning them about the duration of it nor would I fear they would be looking at their watch every fifteen minutes wondering when it would end. The more you get into the film, the more you lean forward on the edge of your seat. Yes, sometimes they do cut away from characters to get to others because they have to, but you never forget your place where others are at and you aren't dismayed at the next grouping's story line. It all worked so very, very well.
I'll cap this off with one thing that wasn't as strong as I hoped it would be, and it was in the movie's action. There was nothing wrong with it, but outside of some last-act battles I wasn't ever really wowed by anything either. All visual effects were top-notch, though (ehem, Ragarok was not good here too). I do think I'm putting this on a relative scale though, because it's interesting that I say that looking back at the whole picture that I think the moments outside of the action were actually better than the action points themselves, not in terms of entertainment but just in overall value. That's a good thing too, so now you're not just sitting around waiting to be getting your money's worth again. This jumps back to how the film's length is not a concern. No action scene overstays its welcome either, or it has enough dynamic elements and cross-cutting that it fits properly (again, jumping back to Civil War, that airport scene was just way too contrived... this doesn't have that). Age of Ultron was much more of a popcorn flick for me that I really do enjoy, and The Avengers has all of its lasting appeal in the final third of the film when they all assemble together, so I think I can say this one is the most consistently put together.
Overall, I would say that my experience was definitely a great one and it is likely hitting inside my Top 3 of all the MCU films (The Winter Soldier still wins). I'm not ready to officially rank it just yet and I still have a lot of questions about what I saw in this one, but again that's a good thing about this film's natural depth where I'll have to watch it more than once to understand and appreciate those items. I really think the thing that brings this movie down a notch was my experience because of spoilers beforehand, and I didn't want to believe many of them to be true but unfortunately many were. This is a movie that I even avoided watching trailers for. Any knowledge about an event I am already interested in does not help ramp up the hype by me learning more about it. Shame on them for doing that to my theatrical viewing, but thankfully this film did not only rely on its spoiler-bound moments to be as good as it was. It was very ambitious, and I can't wait to see what they come up with next because I really have no idea where they want to go from here.
Ocean's Eight (2018)
Weakest spot is in the writing, strongest is in the Hathaway.
In this soft reboot--outside of a character connection, the idea of a heist/recruitment, and some scenes that they clearly wanted to serve as a mash note to O11--it really did not feel too much like O11. In fact, its plot felt more like Tower Heist with a tone closer to O12 and a deliverance that played out a bit like Logan Lucky. It opens up with a score similar to that of what David Holmes used in the past, but outside of the different score bits this film has an actual soundtrack as well to give it its own style (personally, I would have preferred an "only score" flick).
It's a very female-driven film. Not just by cast, but also with themes. A lot of this movie involves fashion and high society (as the heist itself takes place at the Met Gala, that's probably expected), and that lost me a bit. Even the target, although more tangible than that of what O13's objective was, felt a bit too small-scale. No, they didn't need to knock over another Vegas casino, but there was something great about that in O11 and O13 that was lost in O12, and it did the same again here. They didn't spend any time making the city backdrop become a staple or character in this film either. Everything was always shot very close and with a lot of interiors.
As I outright claim in my review title, the weakest aspect of this film was the writing. I just don't think they were really all that clever, at least in that I had seen it all before. What do all heist films tend to have in common? The suckers around the protagonists eat up everything they are fed. Everything has to work in such a convenient way for it to all be pulled off. In 2018, I'd like to see a heist film that sets up a lot of contingencies when things don't go right, and this one felt very linear. Also, one thing the previous Ocean's films did really well was kept the audience in the dark about a lot of what the protags were doing--that they weren't just tricking innocent bystanders, but they were tricking us along the way as well. I'll admit they got me once, but on two other occasions it seems like they tried and I just didn't fall for anything there. The rest of it was all very plainly laid out and we were just going along for watching them attempt to execute it.
These writers also simply didn't know how connect the (male) audience with its characters the same way as its predecessors. The players served their parts just fine, but only a couple of them had actual personalities. Plus, George Clooney and Brad Pitt developed such a "cool" dialogue with each other all of the time and always knew what the other was thinking. Maybe I'm actually looking for them to be closer to that film more than the writers wanted to, but this felt a little generic as a result. Plus, they upset me with one of their tie-in decisions to the previous trilogy, but I'm sure that was a decision that looms far above their control.
Now, it probably seems like I'm majorly harping on this film, yet really when all was said and done I'd actually say that I enjoyed watching it. It wasn't a great film by any means, but I certainly did enjoy it. What I think saved it was one Sandra Bullock and one Anne Hathaway, with heavy emphasis on Hathaway. Though let me first say, Sandra played so low-key that I wouldn't be hard-pressed to claim this might be my favorite performance of hers. It's not her best performance, but she didn't feel as much like a "try-hard actor" in this film as she normally does, so it made me like it a lot more. However, the REAL show-stealer in this was Anne Hathaway, and I didn't even remember she was in this film before she showed up. I LOVED Anne Hathaway in this. I mean she was the really redeeming quality of every scene that she appeared in. If I rewatch the film any time soon (which I likely won't), it will be for her alone. Her delectable presence got me to go with the idea of the female-ish tone that was being played out. Rihanna got into her character nicely as well. I did not like Cate Blanchett or Helena Bonham Carter, sadly enough. Mindy was kind of "there" as was Sarah Paulson (who they tried to give some character to, but forgot along the way), and I liked Awkwafina but honestly didn't know who she was before this. Lots of celebrity cameos and a few callbacks to the previous films as well.
Time will tell where this ranks with the other Ocean films, but right now I'd place it at the bottom. At least O12 had an artsy appeal of filming in Amsterdam and it felt like there were a lot of high stakes risks given Isabel, Benedict, and The Nightfox. Sodebergh did enough in that one and the dialogue was witty to still keep it at #3 on the list. Though gents, please feel free to take your significant other though if you'd like; they'll probably dig the fashionable aspects and you'll enjoy enough of the caper aspects to leave like I did, saying that you liked it and move on. If there is one other nice takeaway for this film, it's that everyone looked like they had fun filming it, which is an important staple of the Ocean's series.
Daddy's Home 2 (2017)
Daddy's Home 2 is silly and over-the-top, and much like the first film isn't short of a few eye-rollers and missteps; there may not be a dance- off, but they don't shy away from that level of comicality. This sequel contains more slapstick humor, but in turn that also means more laughs. It never got me rolling on the floor so to speak, and most of the comedy was provided through actions rather than words, but that doesn't mean I didn't have a good time smiling throughout either.
The themes of relationship sabotage and reclamation continue here, with less satisfying results than its predecessor. I do kind of wish that Brad and Dusty weren't too bothered with harboring internal conflicts as that is what the first film was all about, but it did connect to the overall story so I understand its necessity. Character involvement is plenty spread out with highlights from Mel Gibson, though due to a short run time there is a lot of underdevelopment juggling ten characters. The absence of Hannibal Buress was also noted (and hey, where were the dogs?).
As far as PG-13 pure comedies go this may near atop the 2017 list, though that's not saying much. Even if the film's quality might not be worth all of your hard-earned dollars, its value is still best served as a theater viewing experience with the family (age not being a factor), especially as we near the holiday seasons.
Minor note: There is a short after-credits scene that is not worth your time. I don't know what it was there for.
A Bad Moms Christmas (2017)
This movie is stupid and ludicrous, but a riot—gratuitous in its R-rated language and sexual content, and fully boasts its awesome cast in several outrageous ways. After feeling out our moms (Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn) in the first film, I really now see and understand how the unique characters bring out the most in one another, and it felt more organic as a result. The 104-minute run time felt just fine to me and not overlong, but there was one subplot of this film I still could have done without and did not add much to the story, and removing it would have brought it down to a tight 90 minutes.
The Christmas theme is integrated right into the plot and is a fresh way to pitch the sequel, and the grandmoms help induce the struggling relationships that one could find in a hard-hitting melodrama: one whose mom has unrealistic expectations for her daughter's motherhood, one who wants separative space between herself and her mom, and one who wants more closeness to her mom. It sounds very general, but when within the right framework (when not clouded by the film's foolishness) it hits as very real when it tries to. While the first film really felt to be "for moms" in that there is a general message that will make them feel important walking out of the theater, this sequel tries to deliver a similar thing with the grandmothers to a lesser effect.
Now that there are two comedy sequels releasing about parents' parents coming home for the Christmas holidays, the similarities stop there and audiences have a choice between seeing: men/women, naughty/nice, or crude/slapstick. I'd say for the appropriate age, A Bad Moms Christmas delivers on more fronts than Daddy's Home 2 (which I also saw a pre- screening for, by the way); regardless, prepare to turn off the "suspension of disbelief" switch and prepare for a decent abs workout. Neither the first film nor the sequel are anything special, but they also aren't a complete waste of time and money for how absurd they are.
For better or worse, this is the 'Jurassic World' of the Saw franchise
From 2004 to 2010, we were greeted with a Saw film once every Halloween. Each film built on the foundation of the previous film, literally deeming them as iterations of one another. Now that time has past between films and new films and ideas have come out since then in the torture porn genre (I hate using that phrase, especially to describe the first film), new ground had to be broken. There are die- hard Saw fans like myself who know most every little intricacy of the first seven films, but nobody cares about the old formula anymore. It tired itself out. Instead of reiterating, it was now time to innovate. Enter co-writers Josh Stolberg & Pete Goldfinger and co-directors Michael & Peter Spierig, and in Halloween of 2017 you get Jigsaw.
All of this follows an eerily similar path to the Jurassic Park franchise. JP had sequels that, while in-name they hold their own, after a while started turn away some moviegoers and even got close to jumping the shark if it continued down the beaten path. So they created some space between themselves for some years, and came back with a re-branding. Both films (Jigsaw and Jurassic World) serve as standalone films if you so want to treat them as such or jump into them anew, play off their respective first films in terms of content and paying proper homage, modernize themselves and play more to a general casual audience (Jigsaw domestically, JW globally), can and probably will churn out its own set of sequels, and let veterans of the franchises appreciate the small bits that played off any one of the previous installments. Jurassic World lives in a PG-13 setting though and caved in to more Hollywood tropes (including CGI), plus is a much higher budget film, but Jigsaw still breaks a lot of new ground that will not play familiarly to the Saw films of old.
When Darren Lynn Bousman jumped on board to direct Saw II, he noted in the commentary track what some of the 'staples' were for the franchise, including quick-cuts. While I don't agree with that assessment, this continued for his next two films in the franchise, and directors David Hackl and Kevin Greutert followed up with a similar format. The films also found themselves in flashback haven, remained almost exclusively within interior settings, and centralized a set of characters to connect within a small universe. Jigsaw opens up to the feeling that this is taking place in a larger city and environment, letting characters in and out of the games explore more and be realer people (in that they do not just serve the purpose of the film alone, like they have lives outside of what we see). The framing of the film has changed, the color palette has widened, Charlie Clouser's score is not as in-your-face, and the production simply doesn't feel as cheap. Right steps were made in making this film much more accessible, and I see this continuing in the future.
While Jurassic World actually seems to remove the sequels from canon (we will see if that's true with Jeff Goldblum's appearance in Fallen Kingdom), Jigsaw plays strongly in the sense that if you go without seeing, recalling, or keeping in mind Saw 4-7, you will be okay. Hoffman is completely out of the picture in Jigsaw, never once mentioned or concerned about. The only traits to be aware of in those films was that John lost a child, was once in a relationship with Jill Tuck, and there was an autopsy performed on his body. In fact, you could just as easily disregard specifics about Saw II and Saw III, and you will probably be okay. Knowing that John Kramer was killed in the third film just might be enough.
This one really mostly plays off the first film to be most effective, though. Aside from the elaborateness of the traps and games being made (which could transition more smoothly seeing the other seven films first), we can leave the first film understanding that a cancer- stricken individual puts victims in life-or-death scenarios because of moral sins they have committed, and if killed get a puzzle piece cut out of their bodies. Seasoned individuals will also find some of the twists in the new film somewhat predictable simply because they know how Jigsaw thinks (or really, how the writers think). There were over a half-dozen twists, and I probably guessed or suspected the majority of them. Didn't make the film any inferior because I'm sitting and thinking about the casual moviegoer experiencing this film, and I think the best thing you can do for yourself now is at least see the first film and heck even at most know the outcome of the original trilogy. Saw IV, V, VI and The Final Chapter now all end up being fan-service flicks, unless any Jigsaw sequels end up coming back to them more than they have now.
I liked this movie. It could've been a complete garbage escapade like the seventh film was, and it wasn't. This reignites the franchise after it had stalled out and breathes fresh air. Maybe we will get a couple more within the next few Halloweens, because there is something to explore but I don't know how they'll want to do it. It is up to their creative bones now, and I like that facet of it because they can make good films if they try their darnedest in doing so.
If this film interests you enough that you want to give the first film a chance and haven't yet, go to Netflix right now to check it out, consider completing the original trilogy if you loved it enough to see what happens next, and check out this film when you're able to. I've reached my 1000-word limit, so now I'll just leave you here with my franchise ranking:
1, 3, 6, 2, J, 5, 4, 7
Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017)
I swear that old bear whispered "Boy, welcome home."
Goodbye Christopher Robin certainly tugged at heartstrings, unfolding a somewhat cold narrative, sprinkled with its share of warm joyous moments of family banter and the creation of something we have all adored for the entirety of our lives. Although only rated PG, it was thematically mature in speaking to the audience as much as the characters spoke to themselves. Its power grew strongest when it beckoned the nostalgia of my childhood, telling a story as astonishingly real as I imagined Winnie the Pooh himself to be—whether it was from the books I read to the show I watched (plus the recent animated film), or my late father playing the Kenny Loggins song on guitar to my delight.
The plot may have moved somewhat slowly, but the flow of the film certainly did not. The pace of the scenes moved very fast, keeping strong engagement throughout. I'll say that it helped I am very familiar with the content material (as we all are), which kind of made it funny when you see the "origin" of a toy animal's name comes from, almost feeling contrived because we already know it... but even if this was a fictional tale with an unfamiliar background you couldn't help but be emotionally riveted. It was well acted all the way around, and we have a breakout performance by the adorable young Will Tilston.
As I said before, this film is not completely sunshine and rainbows. It does play on the idea of "in the darkness comes the light," to shine optimism on our main characters who have dealt with internal conflicts and the pains of the world wars, and to also let viewers leave not too distressed over what could have easily been told as a tale of tragedy. I think most of the right buttons were pressed for myself as I watched it, but I can't say that this is totally a children's movie where they will be riveted with joy and delight (not to mention I don't know how much influence Pooh has on children today compared to that of, say, Dora). Director Simon Curtis did this cool thing when Milne's books were being created that sometimes showed moments between young Christopher Robin and his stuffed bear literally jump off the page. Again, anything that could hearken back to my days 25 years ago were great brownie points for me.
There were only three things I did not much care for about this film. The first is the color timing. Skin tones were muddled in a red-pink hue as the entire palette had desaturated any oranges, and the only green that would appear was on the grass in the woods. Even Margot Robbie's irises lost their vivacity with every closeup of her, occurred was quite often (EDIT: after watching the trailer I see my projector may have been uncalibrated, though it still wasn't my favorite timing). The second was the way PTSD was portrayed, although this is only speaking second-hand. The certain triggers, actions, and overall attachment to the story did not really latch onto the same track as the rest of the film, even if it was authentic. Finally, the timeline jumps would be obtrusive when we have to reestablish where we are at and where we are headed. I want to say it only happened twice, but both times threw me out for a good bit.
There are enough quips in this film to provide moments of laughter, and long-drawn sequences where I notice that I was smiling the entire time. However you may be evoked throughout, by the time the credits roll the only time you couldn't hear others' waterworks was when they were overshadowed by your own. Fantastic film, and if you get a chance you owe it to yourself to see it.
This is the worst film I've seen this decade
Allow me to clarify that this is not the worst shot (except for the framing), written, or acted film of this decade; in fact, the production of this film was overall quite strong, and I think the payoff was anything but lackluster or disappointing. The film also isn't at fault for having a misleading trailer, though thankfully I tend to watch films before I see their respective promotions. However, the build-up for it was unnerving to sit through as an audience member, watching characters whose actions and ideals don't relate to me or anyone else. In that way, it was kind of like The Mist. I wanted to throw objects at the screen.
The characters had no other purpose than to serve this film. That's it. Unlike any other film in history, they don't seem to be in a universe that mirrors ours or is a fantasy version of ours, or what have you. Even if Star Wars or A Bug's Life isn't real, at least they have established the existence of it within the film's construct. Whereas for mother!, if time did not exist before or after the events of this film, it wouldn't matter. Nothing would be lost or gained. There is no understanding of its construct. It simply 'is' and it doesn't seem like the characters have a clue that they aren't in something that resembles our world. I think this is where the biggest mistake is made. Somebody mentioned this would work well as a play, and I actually agree. Not as a movie, though.
I went through my Blu-ray collection and I asked myself: "What other films represent a universe that a set of characters don't accept, believe, or is not cognizant about its unbounded principles?" I couldn't come up with any, because eventually they all seem to find their way in, or it just takes the characters time to get the audience to feel out that kind of universe. In that case, the films that I came up with were: The Adjustment Bureau, Stranger Than Fiction, and Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World. STF is really the only one that comes close, but the awareness factor still kicks in. Not to mention it's actually a good film.
Let me put it to you this way: pick any musical out there, where characters just spontaneously burst into song and dance in unison and music somehow is playing as well. Let's pretend there was a film where this happens, and the onlookers who are not a part of the number start flipping out, wondering what is going on, try and intervene to stop them, etc. but the singing characters are completely unfazed by their attempts and just keep going... and after the song is over, they go on with their lives like that singing never happened (which is kind of how I imagine they "really" go). That's what this film felt like, only it plays out more like a Black Swan-esque psychological horror. This film just felt nightmarish: impressive feat, but in the wrong context of being a completely metaphorical film it became a very unappreciative watch. The characters become helpless in their want to bestow basic fundamentals of humanity upon each other, which as I understand this is a point of the film in itself, it just does not work well when presented as an allegory.
Speaking of the context (thematic spoilers ahead), mother! is basically a re-telling of the Book of Genesis, where certain characters and items play parts of the book, and Jennifer Lawrence's character is mother nature itself. Yet again, the problem is the characters for the most part don't know that this is what they are, so when they expect things to pan out like it does in real life and it doesn't happen, they don't have a clue why and don't realize their world had no past, perhaps has no future, and really is just serving one greater purpose: to be a film. This is not what storytelling is about, no matter how clever Aronofsky was in pulling this together (mind you, it all came off as very pretentious). And this wouldn't be such a bad thing if the movie didn't upset you with literally every character, but it did and I could not look past any of it.
By no means did this film fail to do anything that it intended (though people seeing the trailer and expecting a house invasion horror film will be very disappointed), but to green light this thing in the first place and give it a budget seems asinine. To quote Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park: "They were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should." This art house film brings the audience no enjoyment of their theatrical experience, no commentary regarding the fabrication of human nature and societal flaws, no deeper extrapolation of biblical events, and simply it does not make a purpose statement. This has been my least favorite movie-going experience of the decade, even though that is not at fault of the director's execution.
Annabelle: Creation (2017)
A spooky and faithful entry in Wan's 'Conjuring' universe
I first want to gloss over Ouija: Origin of Evil, as Annabelle: Creation is heavily inspired by that film. It's a 1960s R-rated horror prequel to a lackluster origin film starring Lulu Wilson based on possession & exorcism, ultimately tying in strongly with its predecessor. As I felt Origin of Evil had strong plot development, acting (though Wilson isn't the standout here that she was in O:OoE), cinematography, and overall eeriness, I could say most of the same things for Annabelle: Creation, though I find them all just a notch below.
Given the time period that this film takes place, the technology that was present served this film very well in the throwback sense, either because it doesn't make the characters too idiotic to not rely on their technology more often, or it doesn't allow the supernatural to manipulate their technology too much to the point of ridiculousness. Even traditional items like a bell (similar to The Uninvited), a well (similar to The Ring), or a dumbwaiter (many horror films) work because of the particular time period that it's in and add to the atmosphere the film builds up. Several elements like this were heavily in play and made for a fun setting.
Here's where I have a mixed bag of positive/negative, and it has to do with the direction. James Wan is clearly a heavy influence for David Sandberg (Lights Out), but part of me feels like Sandberg and crew watched Wan's Conjuring films, created a checklist, and tried their best to check all of those boxes. It makes for great horror, but part of it makes me feel like I've seen it all before. If Wan was directing, I think he would find a new way to shoot certain scenes and present certain items. Given the setting I was referring to before, I saw all of the foreshadowing coming into play a bit too easily. It's like it was all on-the-nose. You also can telegraph all of the jump scares. That doesn't mean they weren't still effective and that the film wasn't still scary on its own (trust me, there are plenty of non-jump-scare moments that are still very good), but I feel like I just saw a Wan copycat instead of Wan himself is all. I mean that's not a bad thing, because I considered Wan as the new master of horror before he decided to become an action director. Just food for thought is all.
Now I will give Sandberg some credit. He played with out-of-focus scenery more than Wan had in the past, making us look in the dark areas or the background to see if something was lurking about. I also think he included more shock factor regarding when things can occur (daytime, early stages of the film) and how at-risk all of the children really were, making them all vulnerable to victimization by injury, possession, and/or death. I also think that without a star-studded adult cast it was a lot easier to give the child actors a lot of limelight, to the point that I knew all of them really quickly (in The Conjuring, I couldn't tell you a single one's name as they were more pawns for Wilson and Farmiga). Every so often he would let the camera cut away for the scary thing to appear/disappear/move and such, but then sometimes he would just say "screw it" and do it right in the shot just to mess with the audience, who was thoroughly engaged in this film from start to finish.
The thing I think most people have to remember about this film, which I sometimes forget myself, is that Annabelle is just a doll... creepy looking, but just a doll nonetheless. She's not like Slappy or Chucky, where the doll is the soul in and of itself. The doll may act as a conduit for the demon however; we have known this since The Conjuring. However, this demon can also do it in its own form, or into a human, or anything else that it wants to... even more than one place at a time. Makes it kind of strange that Annabelle still remains the highlight of the film by the title, but these films are less about the doll and more about the entity, and that's fine with me. I just have to keep reminding myself that.
I want to close by saying that these films (Conjuring 1 & 2, Annabelle & prequel, Ouija & prequel) remind me a lot of the Paranormal Activity film franchise: despite a different setting and finding new ways to try and scare the audience, the story largely remains the same. Big family in big house dealing with possession and finding a way to exorcise it. Personally, I dig them all, but they aren't reinventing the wheel, so don't assume this is a fresh new take on the genre. However, given that Annabelle was so poorly received, you had to assume that if they were making this film, they likely said: "Let's make sure that doesn't happen again, so what can we do differently?" They found it, and it's called Annabelle: Creation. Very good, though I've kind of seen it before. That's okay though, because it ain't broke. I just don't know how much longer it can last and still bring in myself and other audiences.
Nolan may have earned himself some high accolades come Oscar season
No reviewer was lying when they said see this in 70mm IMAX (full disclosure, I saw this on a regular screen). In my opinion, it necessitates it. I can just "tell" from what I saw. The aerial shots alone would provide good reasoning for it, but the sound that those theaters provide with the big picture in front of you will captivate you exactly the right way.
This isn't a social kind of film, and it certainly isn't popcorn entertainment. Not a summer blockbuster at all. This film's scope feels very small, even though it carries epic tones within. Nolan really broke a lot of traditional film conventions with this, and I think that exact kind of ambition is what makes this movie work for a more general audience. I somewhat think audience members need to know what they're getting into beforehand to be accepting of that fact, but once they are I think they will be just fine.
On a technical level, I think this is Nolan's best yet. The Prestige still might get higher honors simply because of the more demanding writing that is involved, but given what Nolan intended to do, this nearly screams "perfection." Did he try and go for an R-rating? No. Did that matter? Not even close. Did he try and provide massive amounts of character development? No. Did that matter? Depends on who you talk to. I could honestly say that if there were two cuts of this film—an extended cut that develops the characters and this one—you could give us the option and we would find the one we enjoy more depending on what we're looking for. Did he look to vilify the Germans to the point of controversy? No. Did that matter? It didn't, but only one part does stick out for me (the "one flaw" that Nolan often has trouble with in his writing) and I'll get back to that in a moment.
"Harrowing" is easily my favorite word to describe Dunkirk. This is a survival film, and that's all it is. He put us on the beach, on the sea, and in the air. He gave the characters a want and will to live with an impending threat for which we understand its consequence, without need of showing thousands of deaths or lots of blood. When one moment of attempted survival ends, another one begins without warning. That doesn't mean the film is relentless action, but it certainly is relentless tension, if for no other reason than Hans Zimmer's score. I'm telling you right now, his score is my favorite part of the film. It's actually mostly a quiet kind of score, but it is frightening and works with the film so very well.
Nolan has had a lot of trouble doing "show, not tell" in his past films. This time he has learned a lot, not letting the actors expose everything (acting was fine all around, by the way... not much to say about it honestly, as it's not the film's high point). I did not feel the presence of the surrounding enemies, though. If the film didn't tell us about it, I probably wouldn't have felt the pressure of getting off that beach sooner than later. Hearing the planes incoming was always scary of course, but as we only had the British perspective and a week-long time line at most, there simply wasn't a chance of feeling time cave in on them. This to me is this film's only real flaw.
That being said, the only real limitation that holds this film back is that it's based in reality, which means that we are already aware of the outcome. I think for this particular story it's fine, because it's not one specific moment that lets us breathe again... so letting it play out the way that it did is okay with me. I do not think this will go over with people who come in completely uneducated about Dunkirk. I made a mistake in stating that I wanted this film to educate me on the evacuation story. I think I'd rather have learned about it first and then seen the film, kind of like seeing United 93 after having lived 9/11 (not totally, but I was at least cognizant of all that transpired). That doesn't mean to research the film itself, but rather just the historical event.
I do hope that Nolan goes back to fictional work after this. Here was an awesome deviation from the norm that he chose to do, and he went out in grand style. I could have used a longer film with fleshed out character development, but this film also works as well especially in the month of July. I see this receiving many Oscar nominations such as score, editing, cinematography, visual effects, etc... I do not see any acting or writing awards... and yes, I see a director nomination as well. If the academy believes some of those earn him victories, then god damn it give him his Best Picture Oscar as well.
I can't really yet rank this film with his other films, because it's just so different. I don't see too many of the Inception parallels here. Every film of his outside of Insomnia either does nonlinear or intertwining storytelling, but this one is without the cleverness involved in the script. It's just playing things out as they do. Survive. So to revisit, I believe this may be his best work yet, even if I don't know if it's my favorite of his. I really just want to put this in another category from other films entirely, in which case it's my favorite of "that kind of film."
My heart is still pounding from this film. I simply cannot wait to see this in 70mm IMAX on Thursday.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)
Thanks for coming back, Jack!
I definitely enjoyed it, though I would be remiss to say that I do not remember very much about the first film. I even re-watched the trailer, re-read some of my own impressions on it from a few years ago, and honestly a lot of it doesn't ring a bell. Some scenes here and there do, but I won't be able to draw any real comparisons for anybody. Not remembering it much though, I think it's safe to say you can see this one without seeing the first one if that's what suits you. Any connection that might have been there flew right by me, and everything is plenty coherent without it.
Now, if I felt the first film was strong enough despite its flaws, I think I can say the same for this one as well. I think the first one was more of Tom Cruise playing a more impenetrable character, whereas you get him only slightly more grounded this time around. There are reasons for his shield to be a bit lowered though, and I thought those aspects of the film worked out great. My two biggest complaints about JR1 was that one of the baddies was unnecessary and the latter half of the film dragged a little. I didn't think JR2 felt drawn out at all, and any "baddies" were serviceable.
It wasn't riddled with far too many laughs (there were some, don't worry) and there wasn't anything in the action that will separate itself from the pack, so it's just a matter of whether the story will pull you in enough. I'll just bite and say that Cruise was my major draw. Without him I'm sure the film would be just fine (and as I said about the first one, I would have almost preferred seeing it without him in a way), but he's a likable action star and is in that last decade of not getting a little more on the senior side of things, so let's enjoy every bit he has to offer until then! Dialogue was hit-and-miss, a few moments were predictable, and direction wasn't the most ambitious... but for $68 million, what are you going to do?
I don't know who asked for a sequel, but whoever did I'd say they certainly answered. Will you be alright missing this from your catalog someday? I think you'll be fine; it's good even though it's not the most original thing done. But I liked what was brought to the character (never read the books) and I think that kind of element is perfect for cinema. It worked, and it worked well even as a standalone film. Despite some films in my Blu-ray collection I can easily see this surpassing (I'm looking at you, Paycheck), it does take a little more novelty in the entertainment factor for me to say that it's going to fly on my shelf. I still do recommend it for those willing to give it a shot. You like Cruise? You'll like this.
The title may pertain to the film's story, though it's certainly not the most fitting, especially for audience members... we are glad he went back! Made for an impressive sequel that ultimately struck more interpersonal heartstrings than less. By the time the credits rolled, I can say that this film should be able to lodge in my memory much better than the first film even if I hypothetically never saw it again.
Speaking of which, the end credits music felt a bit out of place and gave me a laugh. Didn't stick around to see if there were any after-credit things, but I don't know if this film franchise would be pushing for that kind of thing anyway.
Lights Out (2016)
Short and sweet
By horror movie's standards, I think that's the best way to sum up my experience with this film.
They really shaved any corners that were needed to beef up the time. Keep in mind that doesn't just make it an extended version of the short; there was an actual story in this, and I think that's what made this movie good. Compared to my favorite PG-13 horror film The Ring, they try to establish a connection between the main characters and the mystery at bay, and for the most part it works very well to mold a relationship that we have with the characters and they have with each other. Though if I were to compare it to The Ring, it doesn't touch it for one big reason, but I won't get into it for spoiler reasons.
It's funny though that most horror movies have their scary parts happen when it's at night or darker... and obviously this movie is the closest to not being an exception that you can get. As you know the one- trick pony that this movie relies on for scare tactics. It is not always jump scares, but they are pretty effective nonetheless. They almost become a bit redundant up until one seemingly very long and drawn out scene where "build-up" is the scare name. This is by far the best scene of the film, as it is about 25 minutes of pure intensity. Before you know it, just when you might feel the movie is only halfway over, it finds a way toward a conclusion, and gets you out of that theater. I think in this case less was more, and it ended at the right time. If they want to do more with it, they can save it for a sequel (though I wouldn't really advocate for one).
I don't normally think we have to qualify actors in horror movies for Oscar awards, but I didn't think the child actor was very good... I don't mean with being scared, I mean when speaking in general. It looked like he was acting, basically. I liked the main actress though (Teresa Palmer). Looks like a pretty version of Kristen Stewart, but seems to limit her range to that stoic kind of low. It seemed to work for this flick. I'll have to see her in more films. At the very least, I cared about them. They all seemed like "smart" characters too, not doing too many stupid things where you have to talk to the screen (outside of the occasional "Why are you going TOWARD the creepy noise??" instances).
This movie is swimming pretty around 80% on RT for a reason: the critics liked it more than they didn't. It was a fun concept, and as I said it took the original short and maintained the brevity for the feature film as well. It's by no means of the scariest movies I have seen, nor will it make me be afraid to turn off my lights at night either. Also, if anything this movie's evil spirit really wanted to spread a message about going green! :p
Anyway, probably more of a rental than shelling out your hard-earned money for, because you're not missing out on anything that you haven't seen from a horror film before, other than doing it right and often during its own run time. Don't expect anything after the credits either.
Last thing to mention: for a PG-13 movie, it was able to get away with a couple of graphic moments. Nothing too unsettling, but I was surprised all the same.
The Conjuring 2 (2016)
A sequel deserving of being made
For the most part, I came out with a positive vibe with the film. Production-wise, I thought it was exceptionally well done, and coming off the original one I can definitely say this held its own very well. Sequels have this innate ability to overdo what the previous installment did, and one might say this did it in some sense, but for the most part it played with a dialed-back approach. I mean look, what am I supposed to say about a film that is supposedly based on a true story? Sure, they will take their liberties here and there regarding what to make happen and how, but if they say it happened what am I to do in telling them they're doing what happened wrong or overly much? It was the right amount of "more done."
In my opinion alone (which will not be consistent with everybody here), the first hour was terrifying (depends on what one considers scary). The crowd interacted with the film appropriately, and the actors on screen did their due diligence to make you fearful for their well-being. Pacing-wise, the second hour took a strange turn. I was fine with what they did by creating more of a slow-burn effect to build up to a large climax, but considering there wasn't much to be considered scary in the second hour, it kind of felt like we got slow-burn for nothing (the end punch was fine, just not nearly as frightening as anything in the first hour is all). I can't really explain it. That's okay I guess, but I'm sure this film ran over two hours long, and I think the most appropriate cut would have been about right at two hours. I was only slightly fatigued by the end of it all.
James Wan has a terrific eye for the horror genre, and likes to display an array of emotions in his films, especially comedy where needed. Nothing slapstick at all, just the perfect blend of realism like "This is how a person acts in real life," something that Christopher Nolan has never been able to do himself. The characters aren't just pieces to tell a larger story, they are the story. Patrick Wilson is silently one of my favorite actors, often taking the non-blockbuster role but still holding his own in a natural way. I have only seen Vera Farmiga in a few films now (The Departed, Orphan, Up in the Air, Source Code, Safe House, and The Conjuring), and with every scene she is in, she just encapsulates me. I would love to sit down and have a dinner conversation with her, if you know what I mean.
Compared to the first film I'd say this resorted with a few more jump scares, but I'm going to credit Wan for not cheapening them and doing them where they fit (no kids scaring each other, etc). This film did not play with the "less is more" mantra as much as the first film though, but like I said I'll go with that in a sequel. The first one also had much more even pacing and left with the right amount of questions unanswered; not to be unfair with this, but I also "believe" the story of the first film more than this one (only regarding what was seen on the screen). However, in The Conjuring 2 I cared more about this family, and I think the tension was equally as good in this film, save the night scenes being just a little too well-lit for my taste. I'd say I might like the first one just a little bit more, at least in that I own the first one on Blu-ray and I don't know if I need this one immediately.
Oh, and just be aware that the official trailer reveals way too much. I'm not even talking about jump scare material (which it does overdo), but I mean story material. Avoid please! Watch the teaser trailer instead, that one is perfect and reveals nothing substantial. Also make sure you stay for the first billing credits sequence at the end of the movie just because of how well it is crafted, as was the film itself! If only they cut out 10 minutes and maybe even $10 million in the budget, I think it would have served its purpose a little more appropriately. Unlike Sinister 2 though, this film didn't disappoint in the slightest.
Life as We Know It (2010)
You and your better half will be getting your money's worth
This was a good combination of a movie which contained clichéd plot structure but strayed away from being too run-of-the mill for this kind of film. In other words, it got to the places that you would expect but it took a different route than you might expect. Josh Duhamel and Katherine Heigl were good eye candy throughout the movie, and the baby (like most) was absolutely adorable. The filming schedule must have been pretty spread out to let her grow probably as much as a year older (progressively), as the film itself jumps through its seasons similar to how Juno did. In fact, one thing really annoyed about this and I'm going to throw it out there right now... we all know that the NBA doesn't run through the summer, so why does this movie show the NBA running through the summer? I know there are summer leagues but this wasn't that. Anyway, just irritated me a bit.
There were many characters in this movie that had to help with the story's stability, but they were also in there for the minute giggles and frankly I could have done without most of them. Like I said with "cliché" moments, if you've seen one movie with these characters you've seen them all. Josh Lucas was the only person with a half-decent supporting role IMO.
This movie was somewhat divided; I don't mean this just in the sense that things start to go well then they don't then they kind of do again, but I mean in terms of focus. The first half is very baby-centric, and the latter half pertains a lot more to Duhamel and Heigl, where the baby is obviously used as a device to connect and/or separate the two. Said first half is what I really loved about the movie as I just love babies and it dealt more with internal resolutions, but it was cute enough to keep me interested anyway.
This movie works well with a female crowd, and it would help if you brought just one more along with you. Bring your wife, girlfriend, date... whoever if you plan on seeing it. For what it's worth, I enjoyed it with my company. The 6 out of 10 is almost as much as you can get out of me with this kind of movie. In all seriousness, a 6 is good... a 2 obviously is not, and this movie is not a 2. On a final side note, I love how Pearl Jam got a song in this movie. Haven't heard them in one since Eddie Vedder's original soundtrack in Into the Wild.
She's Out of My League (2010)
Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme... movie as clichéd as these sayings
Just saw a pre-screening tonight. What can I say? It lived up to it's mediocre trailer run, though that's saying nothing at all. It did absolutely nothing that any movie before it hasn't done, and it played out in such a cliché fashion that eventually I got to the point where I stopped laughing only because I was laughing with the audience, and instead let the humorless movie play out.
So let's see... we have the less-than-spectacular main character that is trying to get back with his ex-girlfriend but he's not good enough for her, check. We have the three buddies that all have their own "personality" with one being the best friend who tries to get with the main girl character's best friend but is constantly rejected, another friend being the super awkward one that can't live down seeing the positive in everything 24/7 and is thrown in for the one-liners (which in this case is just a bunch of movie references, specifically from Disney), and the third guy whose name you won't ever remember but is there to complete the square and throw in consoling messages to whomever will care to listen... check. We have the girl's ex-boyfriend and her parents ****-block the relationship at any possible means when things are looking up, not to mention the awkward family members from the main character's side... check. We have the ex-boyfriend that is everything better than our main character, which makes him extremely jealous... check. We have the downer period an hour into the movie where everyone is depressed, check. We have the movie's "funny" moments come from incessant swearing, people falling down or being hit, scenes from the trailer, and homosexual innuendos... check. And dare I call it a spoiler, but we have an ending that unfolds exactly as one thought that it would unfold before even seeing the movie... check.
Honestly, this could have... no, wait... should have been a PG-13 movie. All that needed to be dropped were any F-bombs. Honestly, it would have gotten much more publicity from the crowd that enjoys this kind of humor, would have gotten less media exposure, and thusly would have not been disliked as much from people like myself who should try and hold it up higher to the recent R-rated comedies like Superbad and Knocked Up. The humor in this movie is just so awkward that it doesn't fit in with what general people look for. I bet even the actors were often times unsettled with some of the dialogue and action they had to deliver on camera. Let's put it this way... in the theater, it will help you laugh because it's on the big screen and others are laughing. When this movie hits Showtime and you're checking it out at 2:00 PM on an off-day, you may be inclined to change the channel. The only thing that will keep you watching is Alice Eve's hotness (who is not quite a 10, but still very good looking).
Aside from the main resolution, this film kicked a lot of subplots to the side of the curb and seemed to forget to write more story that they tried to develop in the beginning of the movie, where everything else pretty much flies out the window. So there is a main resolution, but what comes of it? It's never really clear-cut, nor does it allow the ending to be "feel-good" with the abruptness.
There was only one thing worth noting in this movie, and that was the good soundtrack. Aside from the nice choice of 90's alternative rock songs, there was a nice upbeat score that would play in some parts of the movie (more so the beginning of it) that reminds me of something David Holmes would mix up/compose. I'll give them props for a great choice of sound.
One last thing, this movie was probably filmed sometime late last summer, because the inadvertent yet proud Pepsi sponsorship showed the yellow bottle caps that they had during that Rock Band promotion. I just figured a lot of Rock Band gamers would catch onto that one if you saw it. But I say hold onto your money. If this was PG-13 and you were 15 years old on a Friday night with a group of friends, I'd say knock yourselves out. Otherwise, definitely pass. It doesn't try and compete with the R-rated movies of the past few years, and ideally it definitely isn't as good.