Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Black Panther: A Marvel Triumph


Damn it, Marvel. Since 2008 we have been saturated every year by Marvel movies. They started off slowly, but as of the last five years amped it up so that there is hardly a lull in theaters between Marvel universe films. In the middle there was an onslaught of bad to mediocre Marvel movies that, coupled with the saturation, drove myself away from the films. I was just exhausted and didn't want to keep up with the storylines and watch the same origin story over and over again. I'm talking about The Wolverine, Thor: The Dark World, The Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Four type movies. Then... out of nowhere, Marvel decided to ditch convention and give the movies to risk-taking filmmakers with established voices that don't necessarily reflect the juice-box-mentality of previous Marvel movies. 2016 gave us the R rated Deadpool - a risky move that paid off tenfold. 2017 gave us Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Spiderman: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok. All four of these movies gave us a different voice/perspective on the Marvel superhero genre and has somewhat given Marvel a second wind, not only financially, but now moviegoers aren't putting up with half-assed comic book adaptations anymore. There's a reason Justice League couldn't hold a candle to the films above. Most Marvel movies, I've only seen once. They're not my favorite films and I'm still exhausted trying to keep up, but if the movies are as good as they've been, I'll keep attending. Black Panther, in my own opinion... is the best Marvel has offered us thus far.

Black Panther has received a lot of hype so far. It's being built up to the point where expectations are at its highest and most of the time that's a recipe for failure. Believe it. Believe everything good you hear about this film because it's fantastic. Ryan Coogler (director of Fruitvale Station and Creed) has brought something to theaters that is often neglected, overlooked, and bastardized by lesser filmmakers. He has brought to life a story that celebrates people of color, African culture, femininity, and heroism in a time when it is most needed. On the surface, yes it's another superhero movie. But below the surface, at the story's very core is something much smarter and deeper and resonant. I recently heard a debate on the radio about if white boys and girls have their superheros that they emulate, who do black boys and girls have to look up to in the superhero world? There's Blade and Spawn and that's about it. It's a shame it's taken us THIS long, but if it had to wait (it didn't) Black Panther is the movie to answer the question. There are so many different themes explored in this film that one would assume they would miss the mark on at least one of them. This isn't the case. There are poignant moments and moments that make you take a second look at the real world in nearly every scene... along with some pretty neat choreographed fight sequences.

At the forefront is Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), our hero and protagonist of the story, but by his side are an onslaught of tough African warrior women including Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) who alone transcend the term "badass". I found myself, along with the rest of my theater, cheering for them more often than I was cheering for BP. Hell, even Letitia Wright, who portrays BP's 15 year old tech genius sister has a few moments of badassery herself. Coogler, who also shares writing credit on the film with Joe Robert Cole, has crafted a story that's fun and exciting, but also is entrenched deep into the culture of Africa. Every minute detail of the characters and the settings and the costumes and everything has been thoroughly thought about and precisely executed. Having smart writers on a superhero film has been the standard as of late and the movies keep getting better. The best thing that Coogler and Cole did, however, was create a villain with all sorts of layers and depth. He's one of the most sympathetic villains I've ever seen in film. There comes a point in the film where the audience's loyalty is called into question. You're rooting for BP, but once you know the motivation of the villain Killmonger, there are times where you almost root for him. The tugging of heartstrings from opposite ends is a brilliant move by the writers. It also helps that Killmonger is portrayed by the fantastic Michael B. Jordan.

Most have already seen the film, but I don't want to give anything else away for those still needing to watch it, but suffice it to say, it's the best Marvel movie I've ever seen. Take away the "alien technology" and the costumes and I don't even know if I'd throw it into the superhero genre. It's a story about people and the willingness (or unwillingness) to change. Aside from some poor CGI during a few fight scenes, the rest of the movie is perfect. Great acting, great writing, great directing, great movie.

A

Thursday, February 15, 2018

What Happened After?: Volume 1




Guest contributor Ashley Green is here to give us a bit of insight into our favorite movie couples. Most of us assume that once the cameras stop rolling and the credits end, the two lovers live "happily ever after". However, Ashley is here to dispell the rumors and give out some much needed truth--



DANNY AND SANDY:

  

Apparently there are quite a few theories regarding Sandy and Danny and what became of them. After searching around the Internet and deciding that the theory of Sandy and Danny actually being dead throughout Grease was appealing, it's too easy. Almost as easy as throwing these two in a flying car and calling it quits.

WE LAST SEE DANNY AND SANDY:

In a 1949 Wayfarer Convertible, literally flying away from the school carnival, happily in love.

WHAT HAPPENED AFTER:

When that 1949 Dodge Wayfarer Convertible landed, it crashed violently into the real world. 
It turns out that after adopting a completely different personality in order to be loved by Danny, Sandy also adopted a bad hallucinogenic drug problem. Her new cigarette habit, while seemingly innocent, was in fact something much more sinister.

Sherms - as some kids call them - or cigarettes dipped in PCP - were her drug of choice. What appeared to be Sandy and Danny riding off into the sky in a 1949 Dodge Wayfarer was actually Sandy and Danny barricaded in the fun house, Danny in a fetal position while Sandy, brandishing a rusted pipe she tore from the wall, threatening to murder Danny if anyone got too close to their “new home”.

It took 14 hours for Sandy to come down from her PCP high. When she was finally lucid, she realized that she had beat Danny to death. Later, Sandy would realize that maybe it wasn’t entirely the PCP’s fault she killed Danny. Sandy had forsaken who she really was for some greaser dickhead and perhaps her subconscious was just not having it.

Sandy is currently in her 80s, living comfortably in a California mental institution, sometimes suffering from PCP flare-ups due to the excessive amount she ingested in the 50s.

She is the most feared resident.



JOHNNY AND BABY:


1963 was a terrible year for anyone who wasn’t a middle to upper class white person (specifically a man), but luckily, Frances “Baby” Houseman checked enough boxes to be able to take a trip to the Catskills with her wealthy family. It was there, in the heart of the southeast New York wilderness, that Baby’s soul found the one it loves (Jesus 6:9 or something). Johnny Castle, the sensitive bad boy with writhing hips and a mild anger problem, bumped and grinded his way into Baby’s heart.

The collision of Baby’s pubic bone with Johnny’s created a tear in space time, and from this rip in the Universe’s fabric, we were given the gift of True Love. That’s the only reason it exists, people.


WE LAST SEE JOHNNY AND BABY:


In the middle of an auditorium, swaying to "(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life", a 1987 hit playing in the early 60s.


WHAT HAPPENED AFTER:


It had only been three weeks at a strange resort in the Catskills where all of the rich Caucasians in the area came to dance and play cards, but Johnny and Baby knew their love was eternal. Baby, recognizing Johnny’s new unemployment and homelessness, begged her father to allow Johnny to stay in their guest house, just until he could get back on his feet. Her father may have been relieved to know that the dude banging his teenage daughter wasn’t responsible for the bastard fetus that a non-doctor attempted to extract from Penny Johnson (Johnny’s platonic BFF) resulting in her near death experience, but like, he wasn’t THAT relieved.

So after a hard no, Baby, now fully invested in her love for Johnny, declared that they would wed and her father would HAVE to accept Johnny then. They drove to the nearest courthouse that afternoon and left as Mr. and Mrs. Johnny and Baby.

Baby’s father never fully accepted Johnny, but whatever. Baby and Johnny were deeply, incredibly, unbelievably in love and they had the best sex to ever be had on planet Earth. Baby didn’t join the Peace Corps and didn’t go to college because she had Johnny and she had Johnny’s wiener and really, does anything else matter? So she worked at a lot of diners, and Johnny taught a lot of dance lessons, but they finally saved enough to open their own dance studio in New Jersey.  It was a mild success.

They had enough money to pay their bills and fill their fridge, and really, that was enough for them. Their love was pure and primal and everlasting. Also, banging almost 24/7.

Baby and Johnny were happy and they stayed happy well into their 50s. Eventually though, all good things must come to an end and Johnny died tragically of pancreatic cancer, leaving Baby drowning in grief that caused her to make a terrible plastic surgery choice that ultimately gave her the nose she always wanted, but stripped her of the face that everyone she knew recognized.

Baby, alone, friendless, and without a family, decided to finally pursue her dream of joining the Peace Corps.

She’s currently 72 years old and the best dancer in Uganda.





CARLOS AND NICOLE:


 

It’s early 2000s California where no bras, dirty hair, and baggy jeans are all the rage among the burn-out high school girls who embody white privilege. What a perfect time to be alive for Nicole Oakley. She stinks like stale booze and sweat and she hasn’t showered in a week. Nicole is a musky whirlwind of self-destruction and poor choices. Successful, smart, good looking athlete Carlos Nuñez, who busts his ass every day to attend the same prestigious high school that Nicole basically shits all over day in and day out, is immediately drawn to her BECAUSE DUH.

After a series of events which always end with Nicole pants less and crying and Carlos rescuing her, Nicole becomes aware that the world doesn’t revolve around her and the choices she makes affect the one person she cares about most: Carlos.

It’s around this time Nicole and Carlos take a shower together, and I only mention it because it’s such a relief as a viewer to see Nicole practicing some sort of hygiene. That being said, she remains greasy the remainder of the film.

I get being attracted to crazy. I’ve gone out of my way to get closer to crazy people. Ryan asked me to marry him knowing full well how nuts I am. I get being attracted to crazy. But Carlos takes it to a whole other level.


WE LAST SEE CARLOS AND NICOLE:


Driving along what appears to be the PCH, snuggling and smiling, Nicole greasy as ever and Carlos willfully ignorant to the chaos his future held.


WHAT HAPPENED AFTER:


Carlos graduates and Nicole gets her GED. Carlos enlists in the Navy, goes off to basic training, and Nicole loses her shit. She attempts to burn down her own house.

After being 51-50’d, Nicole is able to work out her emotions with a shrink and waits the remaining 8 weeks of Carlos’ basic training in the hospital.

After her eleventh visit (in a span of a week) to the naval base where Carlos had been stationed, Carlos insisted that Nicole regularly see someone about her issues. She agreed, and stabilized herself with a prescribed cocktail of lithium and diazepam. She then decided it would be best to focus on her photography while allowing Carlos to acclimate to his new role as a Navy pilot. This was a short lived idea.

Nicole quickly ditched her meds, went into a manic spiral, and was arrested outside of the naval base at 3 o’clock in the morning after attempting to break in.

Thanks to his charming personality and ability to make friends easily, Carlos had enough connections already to handle the situation and bail Nicole out of YET ANOTHER MESS. And, like all of her messes before, Nicole reeled Carlos in with tears and self-deprecation, guilting him into forgiving her and staying in the relationship.

Although Carlos seemed to be understanding of yet another Nicole breakdown, Nicole had become paranoid that Carlos would eventually leave her because of her psychotic behavior and poor hygiene. She had secretly poked holes in the condom they used that night during make up sex. Out of guilt and his sense of responsibility for Nicole, Carlos proposed to her after she announced her pregnancy.

Both in their mid thirties, Carlos and Nicole are recently separated parents of three.  Although they are currently living in different houses, Carlos often spends the night over at Nicole’s. He just can’t stop loving her beautiful craziness.

Nicole is pregnant with their fourth child.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Phantom Thread: Yeah... Uh... What?


My thoughts before watching Phantom Thread: Oh, my dear lord Jesus this looks like quite possibly the most boring movie ever put together by human beings, I can't believe this is the movie Daniel Day-Lewis is going to do before he retires, why, oh God, why does this have to be nominated for Best Picture, I really wish I didn't have to watch this movie, should I bring a pillow? My thoughts after watching Phantom Thread: Well... it definitely wasn't boring...

Look, I've considered myself in the past a Paul Thomas Anderson fan. I love Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and I consider There Will Be Blood to be his shining achievement in filmmaking. I can stand Punch Drunk Love (though I believe it has many story flaws). However, his last few films have been duds. I'm talking, of course about the seriously dull The Master and the complete misfire that was Inherent Vice (I still blame him for making Katherine Waterston a thing). When I heard DDL was reuniting with PTA for one final film, I was praying for a reunion that could even just stand in the shadow of There Will Be Blood; however, PTA has never been a conventional director. And while Phantom Thread certainly FEELS like a PTA movie... I'm not entirely sure why in the hell it even exits in the first place.

It's the story of a couple of assholes who get together to become an embittered asshole couple in order to do asshole things and live happily ever asshole after. DDL is Reynolds Woodcock, a respected dressmaker. He lives in a house with dozens of people (who either wait on him or help him sew his dresses). He's got very obvious mommy issues, has never married and is a bit of an obsessive, elitist codger. Oh, and also he probably wants to bang his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), a frigid wildebeest of a woman who gets off on her salty verbal sparring with others. Oh, and she DEFINITELY wants to bang her brother. He meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), a younger plain-Jane type who he instantly falls for because she doesn't swoon over him like most women do. When he's an asshole, she's an asshole back and there becomes some sort of weird mutual asshole respect between the two of them. She winds up moving into the house and drawing immediate disdain from Cyril. Reynolds is an asshole to her, she constantly looks like she's miserable, she winds up trying to poison Reynolds... yet... she's very much in love with him. Reynolds on the other hand, has little in common with Alma and is constantly annoyed with her girl-ish actions, yet somehow needs her around. Alma, who is constantly belittled and torn down by Reynolds, gives us zero reason as to why she's sticking around or why she even cares about this dude. By the time we get to her poisoning him (which is over an hour into the movie) it makes little sense to her character and now, as an audience member, we can't decide who is a worse person.

I will give PTA this-- the writing, especially the dialogue, is top notch. There are some verbal jabs in there that made me wanna stand up with a microphone and just yell "aaaahhhhh shit, son!" The lighting, the costumes, the cinematography was all excellent. PTA knows how to direct the hell out of a movie, but his stories just get a little convoluted and masturbatory for the sake of being convoluted and masturbatory. This goes without saying, but the acting was fantastic. DDL is such a sensational actor, it's hard not to think about that this could possibly be the last time we see him on the big screen and how really sad that actually is. Vicky Krieps should certainly get a lot of the credit for the film. It's not easy acting side-by-side with a legend, especially portraying his love interest and that character supposedly trying to be "stronger" than he is. That takes chops... and she's got 'em. But everything else was just so, for lack of a better term, "out there" that it was hard to take seriously. The ending is so unbelievable and into outer space that the theater I was in erupted into [unintentional] laughter at it all. I understand the story is supposed to be about breaking obsession and the attempts at breaking self-destruction, but it was presented in a way that it was almost a parody of these things instead of an indictment of them. Maybe I'm missing the point, but when looking at the story as a whole, there isn't much of a case as to why this story even exists. Even from the start of their coupling, I didn't buy Reynolds and Alma as a thing. Their first date is almost creepy and most of her smiles seem counterfeit. So, I'm not sure why I'm even supposed to buy the preposterous (and artsy as f**k!) ending.

I may have actually had the weirdest experience seeing this movie (and I'm not even talking about the fact that a dog barked three times from somewhere in the theater). I'm talking about how I thought the movie was going to be dull and boring (which it certainly isn't), but I ended up sitting there somewhat enjoying what I was watching (even though I was questioning nearly all of the writing choices). I was mesmerized by it all. The flow of the film, the music, the way it has a soothing feeling to it and how glued I was to every aspect of it-- yet, by the end of it I was thinking back about how nothing really fell together to make a cohesive unit. It's not as Paul Thomas Anderson-y as The Master or Inherent Vice, but it doesn't hold an ass basket to There Will Be Blood. And it does seem like quite a shame that this is assumedly the final DDL movie we get to witness. Because we deserve better and so does he.

C

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Cloverfield Paradox: Good Surprise Movie Drop, Bad Movie


Only a few days ago The Cloverfield Paradox was titled God Particle and it was scheduled to come out in theaters sometime in March. It was scheduled to be produced by Paramount Pictures and be another surprise entry into the infamously secretive Cloverfield franchise. However, just a week or so ago, Netflix bought the rights to the film and (since this movie had been finished for over a year) had the balls to show its first trailer during the Super Bowl on Sunday and then drop the film on Netflix the very same night. I'd been waiting anxiously for this film because I've known about it for awhile. I loved the fact that it was called God Particle and the only plot synopsis you could find about the film was: "rumored to be Cloverfield prequel". When I saw the trailer drop during the Super Bowl, I was even more excited because it looked like someone had finally dropped some money on the franchise and we were getting our big budget alien monster movie we've been craving since the first film. Finally, I was ecstatic when I realized I could watch it that night and how cool it was that I was able to see a trailer for the first time and then immediately be able to watch the film. Way to go, Netflix. However, this ends the excitement I had relating to this particular film.

It's only now that I realized that Paramount was the smarter company here. This film's release date has been pushed back several times and it had people wondering if the movie even existed at all. In a last ditch effort to make some real money on the project, Paramount sold it to Netflix. The reason most likely being-- the movie is not good. Paramount assuredly knew this fact, had the inkling that it would probably bomb at the box office and lose them a significant amount of money. Netflix, who probably also knew the movie was bad, knew that they don't have this same kind of problem. If they can release the trailer and the film on the same day to one of the most watched sporting events in America, then they could get those millions of viewers to watch the film based on name recognition alone before all of the negative reviews come shuffling in. It's different to hear that a movie is terrible and not want to shell out $15 at the theater, than it is to be curious about the next installment to a franchise most people enjoy and watch it for free at home that critics are saying isn't worth your time. Well, here I am. Self-appointed movie critic telling you... it's not worth your time.

The one thing that the Cloverfield movies have done well is utilize the creativity involved in a smaller budget. The first film was a monster movie that never really had to show the monster until the end because it was during the heyday of found-footage. The second film turned the genre on its head and gave us more of a kidnapping-horror movie with a Cloverfield twist. Eventually, we knew the budget was going to go big and give us the story of what the hell is actually going on in this world. Well, for those of you who watched the Super Bowl trailer that promised to tell you where and how everything started-- I'm here to say you are going to be sorely disappointed because I have no more answers for anything after watching the movie than I did before I watched it. What's supposedly a prequel tells the story of a crew of astronauts up on a space station with a high powered particle accelerator used to hopefully generate power for a dying Earth. What happens, however, is the accelerator accidentally rips open a hole in space and sends our crew to another dimension. There, weird shit starts to happen like the walls attacking people, missing spaceship parts wind up inside the stomach of corpses, strangers show up on the ship who are essentially from Earth 2, a severed arm writes notes to its previous owner, etc. And yet... none of this actually seems to make any sense in the long run or connect to anything Cloverfield related.

The franchise took a gamble when it acquired a simple script about a crazy dude who kidnaps two people, holds them in a bunker and tells them he did it because there's been an alien attack and he's trying to keep them safe. It's a cool little psychological thriller trying to figure out if the kidnapper is telling the truth or truly insane. Then, Abrams and company bought the script and added a little Cloverfield connection to the end and voila! they have a sequel (or, at the very least, a spinoff). The Cloverfield Paradox apparently did the same thing. The script was an original piece that producers snagged up and decided to add the Cloverfield flare to it. Except this time... it didn't work at all. The rules of the world are completely convoluted, we're not given any answers to any questions we may have acquired after watching the previous two films (in fact, after this movie, we now have more questions) and nothing really makes sense. It's like they made Lost into a space movie and called it a Cloverfield movie. There's so much unexplained weirdness around the story that nothing every really comes together to give the viewer anything coherent. And by the end it becomes your run-of-the-mill space horror movie we've seen a hundred times where a group of astronauts are picked off one-by-one until there are one or two survivors making one last ditch effort to get home (can anyone say Alien, Aliens, 2010, Event Horizon, Pandorum, Sunshine, Alien: Covenant). Nothing new is presented in this film both genre-wise and Cloverfield-wise.

It's not without its merits. It's a very stylish space movie and the ship and setting in general is very eye-pleasing. And Gugu Mbatha-Raw brings some much needed depth to a movie of seriously one-dimensional characters. Chris O'Dowd is also mostly great as the comic relief. But the rest of it is pretty bleh. It's got a great supporting cast full of actors you'll recognize from much better movies. And there are some thrills and excitement, but it's difficult to get too invested in them when you're confused as to what exactly is going on. Netflix took a gamble with this movie and the way they decided to bring it forth to the world. Unfortunately the product is much like a lot of their other tentpole Netflix originals as it is seriously lacking in multiple areas (see: Bright).

D+

Winchester: Watching A Sub-Par Horror Film Through Helen-Mirren-Colored-Glasses


If you've ever been to a theme park Halloween night (I highly recommend Universal Halloween Horror nights - the maze quality is of a much higher caliber), then you know how they work. You walk through a dark maze with grotesque mannequins placed in rooms and actors in costumes jumping out from behind walls to make you scream in fright. There is no real fear here. It's more like startling. And startling is not real fear. This is what Winchester is akin to. You do it because when you're startled ("scared"), it's an adrenaline rush. You jump, you scream, you laugh, rinse, repeat. And even though it's the very definition of a "cheap scare", it doesn't mean it isn't fun. Some horror movies rely entirely on the jump scare. The music stops, someone peers around the corner only the find nothing there, then they turn around and there's a creepy demon/monster who pops out for a second to once again startle you and make you jump/scream/laugh. The films that rely entirely on this cheap trick are generally not great films, yet lately there have been a few that have somewhat worked. The Insidious franchise works like this, but it's due to some clever storytelling and solid acting performances that it elevates itself (slightly) from the rest of the jump-scare tactics lesser films employ. Winchester is very much like an Insidious film. However, right now, Winchester sits at a paltry 13% on Rotten Tomatoes. Insidious: The Last Key sits at a 31%. And I believe this all has to do with Helen Mirren.

Before we delve into my Helen Mirren theory, let me give you a little insight into the film. Winchester which is apparently "inspired by actual events" (a phrase that has little to no meaning in Hollywood anymore), tells the story of Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune. She lives in a seven story mansion that is constantly under construction and renovation 24-hours a day (this part was actually true). The company believes she is no longer of sound mind to be the figurehead and they call in expert Psychologist Eric Price (Jason Clarke) to come to her home and evaluate her. Turns out, she believes she and her house are haunted by all of the spirits who have been killed by the Winchester rifle (this is also true). Where the film takes its several liberties is the fact that it shows these spirits actually haunting the house and possessing her young nephew who lives there. Rooms are built for the spirits-- they are locked away in them until they can be at peace, then the room will be demolished and rebuilt for the next troubled spirit. However, some spirits aren't just looking for an apology from Sarah, they're looking for revenge... much like the head ghost causing all of the ruckus and main plot of the film.

The success of the film lies in the creepiness of the house and its surroundings. The film has a definitely frightening atmosphere that immediately thrusts the audience into a sense of terror. However, from there it's just a series of jump scares and startlings. They can be a lot of fun if you go with a group of people (which I did), but it may come off a tad silly if you went alone, or attempt to watch it again. However, nothing in the film is that much worse than anything in the Insidious series. The directors Michael and Peter Spierig have made a movie that appears as if they're trying to recreate a James Wan film. Wan, who helmed the first two Insidious films, as well as The Conjuring films has mastered his craft at horror filmmaking. The Spierig brothers are getting there, but not quite yet. While I can forgive an over-reliance on jump scares, I have a hard time forgiving a sub-par script, a less-than-thrilling ending, and several gaping plot holes. While two-thirds of the film are fine, albiet a little silly, the ending goes bananas and not in a good way. Half of the time during the ending you're trying not to laugh from the absurdity of everything, and the other half you're in your head trying to figure out how we got here (hence the plot holes).

Mirren and Clarke both give terrific performances... better than this film deserved... and this is why I believe Winchester is getting a worse score than the latest Insidious film. When you cast such a beloved and respected actor like Mirren in a horror film, expectations are egregiously high. And while she certainly does everything she can to portray the troubled Winchester widow, the film around her doesn't do her acting abilities much justice. This, in my opinion, can have two effects. One, it can make the movie seem much worse (which is what I believe happened with the majority of critics reviewing the film). Or two, it can make the movie seem better than what it probably is (which is what happened with me). I can say that the film, in a vacuum, isn't that great of a movie. However, due to Mirren and Clarke's performances, it was elevated from "not that great" to "decent". What it actually reminded me of the most are the two Woman in Black movies. They're old-timey, gothic, jump scare horror films that are decently entertaining whilst watching them in a dark theater, and immediately forgettable the second you leave. That's what Winchester is. If you like horror and don't mind a jump scare or seven, then you may actually enjoy the film, but it is by no means a great film.

C

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Commuter: Unknown How Liam Neeson Can Run All Night Non-Stop


Liam Neeson is a 65-year-old action star. Let that sink in for a minute. Let it also sink in knowing that he's not a 65-year-old WASHED UP action star, either. You would never see him in an Expendables film. Most of us can still picture him as a dramatic actor and by all accounts still regard him as a thespian, rather than a sell out. Somehow, after Neeson took the role in Taken, his career path took a dramatic turn to action-star and it looks like he's having a blast each time. The Commuter is no different. However, it's not so much an action movie as it is a Hitchcock-ian thriller that involves moments of violence and guns. If you're at all familiar with Neeson's non-Taken related action films, then you know exactly what to expect from The Commuter.

Neeson action movies tend to revolve around one of two things (and sometimes both): either someone he loves has been kidnapped... or he's inadvertently put into the middle of some mysterious conspiracy he has to solve and shoot his way out of. Neeson, this time, is Michael. He's an ex-cop who's been in the insurance game for the past ten years. He's also a daily commuter on a train in New York. On the day he loses his job, during his ride home, a woman (Vera Farmiga) presents him with a hypothetical question (that turns out to be not-so-hypothetical) - there is a person on the train who doesn't belong. All he has to do is find this person, plant a little tracker on him or her and Michael will get $100,000. Can he do this and make the money all the while not knowing the outcome of the other person's fate? Michael, desperate for the cash, unwittingly agrees, until he finds out he's involved in a murder conspiracy. And that's pretty much all you need to know. Letting the movie play out the rest is part of the fun.

Here's what you need to know about the quality of the film-- it's not good. If you took Neeson out of the film, and you removed some of the fun action-y moments, and you broke it down to the sum of its script parts-- it's a really poorly written film. The reason it becomes so entertaining is that Neeson still has that charm and charisma and action-star oomph that elevates the movie from shite to enjoyable. It was a movie I could laugh at while still trying to figure out the puzzle in my head. And, I'll give the story this-- there were two little twists in the film. One of them I saw coming. There's some good hand-to-hand fights in the film, a couple of decent action sequences and all the scene-chewing Neeson you could want in a moviegoing experience. And, at the end of the day, that's all I really came to this movie to see anyway. Director Jaume Collet-Serra is on his FOURTH film with Neeson. He previously directed him in Unkown (forgettable), Non-Stop (forgettable), and Run All Night (forgettable, but really good). They know what kind of movie they want to make together. And the end result is usually the same-- you'll have a decent time watching it. You'll laugh at some of the terrible dialogue and some of the cheesy CGI and the preposterousness of the story in general... but you'll be entertained. Then, a week after seeing the movie, you'll forget it entirely. This is exactly what happens with The Commuter.

I had a lot of fun laughing at the good and the bad in the film. Patrick Wilson's character is basically there to give us past-history-Neeson exposition... like in a really obvious way. Vera Farmiga shows up for two minutes on screen, then disappears to be a voice on a phone. There are so many plot holes, you start to just let them happen without even questioning them. The train-derailment scene is so hilariously bad, you forget you're watching a movie in 2018. Sam Neill shows up for a couple of minutes for some reason. There's a fist-fight that's pretty much entirely CGI'd (I don't know, maybe Neeson was too old that day). And it's all really, really terrible-- but in a fun way. I had a really fun time watching this movie for a few reasons. One, I knew what to expect. I've seen ALL the Neeson action films and I know the level of cheese that will inevitably accompany them. Two, I'm a not-so-closeted Neeson fan and in my eyes, his acting choices can do no wrong. And three, I love bad action movies. If any of this fits in with your criteria of what you look for in a movie, then The Commuter is for you. If you've seen and liked ANY of Neeson's past action movies, you will like this one. If you're expecting a solid script, decent acting, a hefty amount of sharp action, and a story that makes sense for the majority of its runtime-- maybe skip this one for now. Or see it. Who cares. You're gonna forget what you watched shortly after, anyway.

B-

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The 10 Best And Worst Movies of 2017


2017 was a surprisingly exceptional year for movies. Seriously. While trying to formulate my list, I found more great movies on the list than terrible ones. In fact, I even sought out terrible movies (ones I knew I could stomach like The Book of Henry - not like The Emoji Movie) and even they weren't that terrible. 2017 saw both an upswing on original movies (as 8 of the 10 best movies of the year are wholly original and not based on any previous source material) as well as higher quality movies that weren't original. Sequels got better. Big-budget popcorn movies got better. Movies, in general, this year were just significantly better. This means, of course, that 2018 is going to be a complete shit show, but let's just take a second to enjoy the great movies of 2017. There were, obviously, some bad movies. But even the bad ones weren't THAT bad. Again, I avoided a lot of movies that I knew were going to be Hell to suffer through (films like Rings, Fifty Shades Darker, Before I Fall, Power Rangers, Ghost in the Shell, Boss Baby, King Arthur, Valerian, The Nut Job 2, American Assassin, Flatliners, A Bad Moms Christmas, Pitch Perfect 3, and The Greatest Showman...) so if you hated one of these films, just know they didn't make the WORST list because I didn't have a desire to subject my eyes to them. And unfortunately, due to one of our contributing writers giving Justice League a somewhat favorable review, I am unable to include that film on the list as well. Okay. That's done. You didn't read this part anyway. So, without further adieu... here are the best and worst films of 2017.


The TOP 10 BEST FILMS of 2017:



10. The Big Sick














The Big Sick brought back the rom-com genre from near extinction. People suddenly realized that all rom-coms had the exact same formula and they stopped spending money on them. This was both a good and a bad thing. Good because it essentially got McConaughey back to real acting and it saw the complete and utter disappearance of Kate Hudson, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Renee Zellweger. However, Kumail Nanjiani and his wife bring forth the true story of how they met and fell in love. It is a beautifully original film that has equal amounts of laughs and heart. Supporting actors Ray Romano and especially Holly Hunter (who could get a surprise Best Supporting Actress nom for her role) bring the movie full circle and make it not just one of the best movies of 2017, but one of the best rom-coms in recent memory.
Review HERE.


9. The Shape of Water

 










Whether or not you feel like the characters were fleshed out enough (I do), there's no denying that Guillermo Del Toro's latest film doesn't hypnotize you with it's beautiful imagery. When you watch this film, it's almost like you're watching it under water yourself. Sally Hawkins is astonishing as the mute protagonist and the way she can make an audience empathize with her without speaking a single word is just damn impressive. And at the end of the day, how can you make a movie about a woman who falls in love with a fish poignant? The only answer I have for that is - somehow The Shape of Water and Del Toro's brilliant directing found a way.
Review HERE.


8. Baby Driver

 









 
I wanted to put this movie higher. I'm talking top 3. And I sat and thought about it for awhile and had to knock it back five spots. I absolutely loved this movie and I think the way that Edgar Wright (one of the smartest Directors alive) timed the movie and the action sequences to the brilliant soundtrack... is one of the coolest things I've ever seen in a film. I love the action in the movie, I love the humor and I love most of the characters. But there's two reasons this movie gets knocked back down. First, and the most unfortunate - due to Kevin Spacey being an absolute fucking heinous excuse for a human being's actions, this movie will not be able to age into a "classic". It'll just be another Kevin Spacey movie we won't watch because we don't watch his movies anymore. The second reason is the casting of Ansel Elgort as the lead role. He's just not right for the role. He's emotionless, humorless, not a great actor, doesn't have the umph needed to excel in an Edgar Wright movie and was miscast. Other than that, I loved it. If you haven't seen it yet - WATCH IT. Then you can go back to referring to it as "that Kevin Spacey movie with the music" and sadly never watch it again.
Review HERE.


7. Lady Bird

 











Just as The Big Sick was the resurgence of the rom-com, Lady Bird is the resurgence of the coming-of-age movie. It's a genuinely funny, sweet, and honest look at a flawed teenager's perspective of life. It really reminded me a lot of last year's The Edge of Seventeen. Lady Bird is the tale of a young teenage girl going through young teenage girl struggles all the while trying to find herself. She puts more stock into her intelligence than is actually there (she's not good at math, but thinks she could be), she's attracted to douchebags and dates douchebags... because they're douchebags. She molds her personality to fit in with others hoping this is the one that sticks and this is the person she's destined to be. Laurie Metcalf as Lady Bird's hard nosed mother is sensational. Look for her to get a definite Oscar nod.
Review HERE.


6. I, Tonya













This was kind of a surprising one. I did not expect a biopic about Tonya Harding's life to make it to the top ten list of the year. Yet, everything in the film seemed to come together to make something miraculous. First off, the film's tone recognizes just how ridiculous the stories of Harding's life genuinely are. It takes the whole truth-is-stranger-than-fiction idea, runs with it, and emphasizes the ridiculousness of Harding's life and runs with that. Second, it also realizes that there's a sad undercurrent behind all the crazy and without that, her life might not have been so ridiculous. It's full of lies and brutal honesty. It takes both sides of the coin and humanizes Tonya, empathizes with her, but still asks questions about how much she was involved with the Nancy Kerrigan "incident" as well as if this involvement really should've garnered a lifetime ban? Either way, it's a terribly entertaining film and Margot Robbie is AMAZING. Even if you don't care about Harding's life or story, you should still see this movie for Robbie's performance alone.
Review HERE.


5. It

 











Stephen King movies have been done wrong so many times, it's nice to see someone get one right for a change. We all remember the original IT movie from back in 1990. It doesn't actually hold up today and even though Tim Curry's performance as Pennywise is iconic... it's no longer scary, but silly. So, we get an updated version from a fearless writer and director. They don't try to water it down, but make a genuinely scary and disturbing R RATED horror movie with kids. This is like Stand By Me but with a killer clown. And everything about it is perfect, especially some random Skarsgard we've barely seen before who gives us a truly terrifying turn as Pennywise the clown. If Tim Curry's performance is akin to Nicholson's Joker, then Skarsgard is Ledger's Joker. The opening scene alone is worth the price of admission.  There hasn't been a horror movie or Stephen King adaptation in recent memory that his lived up to the quality of this film. I am very excited for part two.
Review HERE.


4. Coco













Oof, people! If you haven't seen Coco yet, get out there and see it. Pixar has always been the gold standard of animated movies and the last few they've done (not counting any Cars films) have been pretty great. I mean, Inside Out was a damn near perfect movie. I'm telling you this right now-- Coco is even better. Coco is one of the most gorgeously animated films ever and the story is something that will tug on all of our heartstrings in more than one way. Bring BOXES of tissues because this movie will make you lose your shit. I cried even harder the second time I saw it and I knew what was coming. Everything about this movie is beautiful from the animation to the writing to the characters. It's one of Pixar's finest achievements and absolutely deserving of being called one the top best movies of 2017. (Bonus: if you see it now, you don't have to watch the awful 43 hour long Frozen short the rest of us were subjected to!)
Review HERE.


3. Dunkirk

 










Man, when I saw Dunkirk for the first time I thought that was it. I thought I'd seen the best movie of the year, hands down. No other movie would get me the way Dunkirk did. However, being that it's number 3 on the list, it fell just two spots short. That doesn't mean that the movie isn't anything short of incredible. I loved the angle Christopher Nolan took with the movie. There's very limited dialogue, so it's basically like a silent film. The movie focuses solely on the tension of the moments. The film rises and rises and rises and rises with tension. And then you get a minute of relaxation. Then it rises and rises and rises with tension once more. It's one of the most tense I've ever been in a movie and I was still able to sit back and enjoy the gorgeous cinematography. Even though it didn't make number one on the list of best movies of 2017, I can tell you this without hyperbole - it's the best IMAX movie I've ever watched in my life.
Review HERE.


2. Get Out


 









Get Out is one of the single most brilliant movies I've ever watched. One thing I love about my favorite directors (Edgar Wright, Martin McDonagh, etc.) is they pack so much into their movies that with each viewing of each movie I pick up something new I hadn't noticed before. Who knew Get Out was going to be like that? I've watched it four times now and I'm still amazed at just how SMART this movie is. Everything is deliberate. Every line, every mannerism, every costume choice, everything is deliberate and it's brilliant. It's time appropriate and this horror movie gives a better social commentary that any other genre has been able to for a long, long time. Jordan Peele quietly snuck his way into theaters and gave us one of the most unexpectedly great and poignant movies of 2017. Keep in mind, this movie came out way back in February which is usually Hollywood's dumping ground for movies they know are shit, but have to release anyway. Look for Get Out to be the first horror movie since The Sixth Sense to get a Best Picture nomination, and the first one since Silence of the Lambs to actually have a chance of winning. Highly, highly recommend this film to all of you.
Review HERE.


1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missiouri













Shocking, I know! It probably doesn't come as much of a surprise to most of my readers that I would find Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missiouri to be the best movie of the year with how much I've been advocating for it the last month or so. But, this decision isn't one I took lightly (the Best and Worst movies of the year lists are my absolute favorite to write and one of the reasons I still have this blog). I saw this movie three times in theaters (one for each billboard! - okay, I'll stop). Each time I caught something new and got something different out of it. Director Martin McDonagh (who also helmed one of my favorite movies, In Bruges) has created his greatest work with this one. This movie is going to punch you in the face, kick you in the crotch, and stab you in the throat with all the emotions you're going to go through. This movie is so painful and the characters are all hurting so badly that you feel it inside yourself - yet, you're guffawing with laughter the entire time. Everyone in this movie deserves all the awards, but especially Sam Rockwell and Frances McDormand. I'm torn now that I've seen I, Tonya because I thought Best Actress was McDormand all the way - and it still should be. However, if Margot Robbie takes it from her, it won't feel like anything was stolen. They both give awe-inspiring performances and McDormand OWNS this film. Without her, it would still be a good movie, but with her... it's the best it could ever be.
Review HERE.


HONORABLE MENTIONS:  Blade Runner 2049, The Disaster Artist, John Wick: Chapter 2, Kong: Skull Island, Logan, Logan Lucky, Thor: Ragnarok, Wonder Woman


The TOP 10 WORST FILMS of 2017:


10.  Underworld: Blood Wars

 











Hahahahahahahahahaha. I can't even with this movie. Seriously. While looking through my reviews and lists of movies that came out this year to find ten worst ones, I came across Underworld: Blood Wars. I remember seeing it. I remember thinking it was terrible. But I couldn't remember anything else. I had to re-read my own review to remind myself of what this movie was even about. I'm not kidding. These movies all run together to form some incoherent blob of vampires and leather. Even when I was looking for a picture to post above this, I don't even know if the picture above is even from this particular Underworld movie. Look, I dig Kate Beckinsale. I love the fact that a female-driven horror/action series has gone five movies deep. And I even think the first film in the franchise isn't terrible - but damn, man. It's gotten seriously hard to watch, especially when it hasn't even been a year since I've seen this monstrosity and I can't even remember any of what I watched.
Review HERE.


9. Snatched

 










Did we get tired of Amy Schumer already? Like, I'm genuinely asking! Because as a culture, we tend to make people humongous stars and then tire of them after only a short while. But, I don't feel like Schumer has been around THAT long, not long enough for us to get tired of her. She'd made a total of ONE movie, Trainwreck, and it was pretty good. She had a sketch comedy show that's pretty funny and a couple of stand up specials. So, why does it feel like we've been saturated by her Lena Dunham-style? Either way, it doesn't help that Snatched is a really bad movie. I like Schumer's brand of comedy and I thought the script would have to be decent enough to bring Goldie Hawn out of retirement, but I'm at a loss for both. Not only is the movie exceedingly unfunny, but damn, Goldie picked the wrong horse to ride out for a comeback.


8. Bright













I can't believe any of you are actually vouching for this movie. Are you wearing Will Smith beer goggles that change your perspective on something that smells as rotten as it looks just because Will Smith is attached? He's not perfect, guys. You don't have to give him the benefit of the doubt every time (need I remind everyone of After Earth). Smith with an Orc partner that's supposed to symbolize racism issues people of color are facing. The deus ex machina is so silly and contrived, I don't know how no one thought to make this a comedy. It's supposed to be edgy and dark and super gritty, yet you can't help but laugh every time someone with a super serious face mentions "the magic wand". Like, did you guys like Warcraft too? Thanks to everyone (and I guess I'm to blame here as well), we can already expect a sequel in the next couple of years. Maybe we can get someone with a brain to actually write something of a competent script because writer Max Landis (the fuckboi of all fuckbois - seriously he's the Martin Shkreli of screenwriters) didn't do his idea - or Smith - any justice here.
Review HERE.


7. Rough Night

 











You've already forgotten that this movie came out this year, haven't you? I actually really hate having to put this movie on this list because I really think there should be more female-driven ensemble comedies out there. But, they also have to be done right. Even though it wasn't my particular taste in humor, I can see where a movie like Girl's Trip has succeeded. Where Rough Night fails is when it comes to upping the stakes. They kill a male stripper, they're on drugs, they have to get rid of the body. There is so much room for R-rated comedy, but it wimps out. It doesn't go the full distance, doesn't commit to its plot enough for anyone to care, or at the very least laugh. Not even the wonderful Jillian Bell or Kate McKinnon could save this miscarriage of a movie.
Review HERE.


6. Alien: Covenant

 










I love all the shit-talking Ridley Scott has been doing lately about Blade Runner 2049 and Star Wars when he made one of the most crap ass movies of the year. Sure, it wasn't as bad and up its own ass as Prometheus was, but Alien: Covenant was a huge letdown. Once again, we've got a band of "scientists" who don't take any scientific approach to anything and just TOUCH everything in sight. We've got action sequences so frenetic it's difficult to tell what the hell is going on. And we've got an ending that goes more the Alien vs. Predator route than actual Aliens, I could've sworn they let Michael Bay direct it. You wanna know why Alien isn't as big as Star Wars, Ridley Scott? Because there hasn't been a good movie in the franchise since 1986!
Review HERE.


5. The Mummy


 











Tom Cruise, you pompous butthole. Do you not realize how much we, as a general public, LOVE the Brendan Frasier Mummy? I know this movie was going to happen with or without you, but dude, you didn't have to attach yourself to this overflowing septic tank of hackneyed bullshit. You also didn't have to do a straight-up remake. It could've been a modern-day extension of the already established Brendan Frasier Mummy series. Hey, assholes who thought you could do it better - here's an idea... if you're going to set up the fact that Russell Crowe is Dr. Jekyll... when you finally give us Mr. Hyde, try to give us something a little better than this cheap CGI'd nonsense:
Because fuck you! That's why! It's cheap. It's so unintentionally hilarious, but not in a good way, that you may single-handedly have killed the entire Dark Universe world (not that anyone was asking for one in the first place, but still....). And finally, don't spit in our faces when, by the end of the movie, all the shit that's happened gets reversed and everyone gets to live happily ever after except for Tom Cruise who gets to be the Mummy now. That's dumbass wrong.  
Review HERE.



 4. The Circle

 










Thankfully I didn't have to review this movie, my lovely fiancé bit that bullet for me. But according to her it was like having to watch Ann Coulter blowing chunks in a rest stop bathroom after binge eating clam chowder. According to her, The Circle is "a bloated piece of fiction from a 12th grade creative writing class whose author is a seventeen year old tech nerd who has never talked to a girl but insists on making one his main character." Emma Watson is apparently so bad in this movie that "you'd think drowning would be a relatively easy thing to pretend to do, but Emma Watson butchers it... God forbid one more white girl dies in a tragic midnight kayak accident." The film includes such wonderful moments as "Glenne Headley using a penis pump on Bill Paxton while he talks dirty" and "watching the late and great Bill Paxton shit himself." RIP. It's also sad to note that Tom Hanks appears to be a huge Dave Eggers fan (as I used to be -- though A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is still one of my all-time favorite books) being that he was in this film and A Hologram for the King, and neither received much great praise. Because Tom Hanks deserves better than this. Hell, the entire cast and everyone watching it deserves better than this movie. Except Ann Coulter. She deserves exactly this. She's shit.
Review HERE.


3. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
















  
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter and Underworld: Blood Wars are damn near indistinguishable to me. They both have been around for over 15 years and each one is shittier than the one before it. However, the reason Underworld sits comfortably at 10th place and Resident Evil is all the way down here at 3rd, is I watched this one more recently and can remember more of the unpleasantness this film had to offer. And let me tell you as far as quality goes - Underworld doesn't hold a nut squirt to Resident Evil. The franchise, which was supposed to take its characters and storylines from the video games has disregarded all of that, collecting all of the whitest, most hollow D-list actors they can find to spew one line of turd covered dialogue after another. The subtitle for this film is The Final Chapter, so tell me why in the actual shit you've got Milla Jovovich riding off toward the camera at the end literally saying "but my story isn't over..." Did you already forget what movie you were writing?! Trust me, compared to this movie, a posthumous Bill Paxton dick pump scene doesn't seem too bad now.


2. Geostorm

 











Stick me in a theater with a disaster movie any day, and I'll love you for it. Stick Gerard Butler in that movie? Hell yes! Even better. Oh, it's one of those movies that doesn't focus on just ONE natural disaster (like Twister or Volcano), but ALL the natural disasters (like 2012 or San Andreas)?! Count me in! Wait a second... you're telling me that Geostorm has all of these elements - elements that I love to watch - and it's one of the worst movies of the year? How is that possible?! Oh, the script doesn't make any sense? That's okay. It doesn't have to! I like watching the destruction anyway. Wait, in a near two-hour movie there's maybe two to three minutes total of destruction?! That's okay, as long as I can have fun with the characters. Oh, the characters aren't fun? They just spout random lines, create contrived relationships, act like they're performing for a scene in a Hallmark channel original film? Well... that's okay... at least Gerard Butler gets to battle some seriously destructive weather. HE'S IN A SPACE SHIP THE WHOLE TIME? HE DOES NOTHING?! So, let me get this straight? You've made a movie... a movie called GEOSTORM... about a computerized weather program that controls all the weather on Earth... someone has HACKED INTO IT CAUSING CRAZY NATURAL DISASTERS WORLDWIDE... and the only person who can save it is Gerard Butler and there's literally NO FUN INVOLVED WHATSOEVER?! I hate movies.
Review HERE.



1. Happy Death Day












If I had written the script for Happy Death Day exactly as it goes in the movie, here's how I would pitch it to movie studios - with complete and utter honesty:
Me: Hey, how you guys doin? Okay, I got an idea for a horror movie. So, stay with me here, but do you guys remember Groundhog Day? You do! Great! Yes, I love that movie too. Such a classic. Well, I'm here to bastardize the hell out of it! Anyway, we all know that when Bill Murray keeps killing himself, that was the best part of the movie. So I thought-- shit! Let's make a movie about that. Let's get a generic blonde college girl who is a huge bitch and have her get murdered every day. And she has to repeat this. She can try to escape her murder, but somehow the murderer finds her every time. The murderer will wear a mask so you can't see the face and it's a big twist ending - only it'll be a fucking stupid ending that makes no sense. Also, the killer will wear a scary mask. It'll look like... I don't know... a baby or something. Anyway, so the girl is an insufferable bitch, right? And the reason she's getting killed is BECAUSE she's a bitch.  Now, most movies would want her to learn her lesson and treat people better, right? Nah. Fuck that. That shit's tired. We want new. Let's just have her accidentally stumble upon who her killer is and NEVER CHANGE. So she kills her killer, doesn't learn a lesson, and gets to live! The tone will be something equivalent to watching Rush Limbaugh in a circle jerk with thirty clones of himself. I only need like two million dollars for this movie because effort costs money and I don't plan on any of that. Oh, and I know the deaths need to fun, but let's not spend any money on blood or creativity and when she's about to die, we'll just cut away so it can be PG-13 and kids who are still developing can be mentally stunted by the illogical dreck we'll force their eyes to witness. I know... it's brilliant, right? Where do I sign?
Review HERE.


DISHONORABLE MENTIONS: A Cure For Wellness, Fist Fight, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Life, The Snowman


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And finally, I'm having a difficult time figuring out if the movie mother! deserves to go on the WORST movies of the year list or on the BEST movies of the year list. Of all the movies that I saw in 2017, good and bad, this is the movie that has stuck with me the most. I don't know if it was brilliant or a filmmaking tragedy. I think it may fit perfectly on both (though I'm leaning toward the former). See you guys next year!