Saturday, December 31, 2016

La La Land: A Mesmerizing And Impressive Feat

I remember two years ago when I foolishly put the film Whiplash on the backburner of my list of must-see movies. I even made my list of the best films of that year completely acknowledging the fact that I knew it wouldn't grace the list. Then, I saw it and it was probably my favorite film of the entire year. I say that to say this-- La La Land, from what I could discern on from the trailer, and the type of movie it is honoring, isn't exactly my cup-o-earl-grey. Yes, it's gotten a lot of positive buzz and attention, and I dig both of the leads, but I'm just not that into musicals. I appreciate the movies of yore-- films like Singin' in the Rain-- but their just not what I actively seek out. So, had I not learned my lesson from Whiplash (whose Writer/Director also wrote and directed La La Land), I probably would've repeated my mistake once more. Thankfully, and wonderfully, I did not.

La La Land isn't just a movie, it's a cinematic experience-- a sight to behold. It's not just the singing and the acting and the story and the dancing-- it's everything. It's what I imagine 1977 was like when people watched Star Wars for the first time and became fully immersed in something visually spectacular and new. Director Damien Chazelle has crafted not just a wonderful homage to the golden age of Hollywood, but something that has already earned its place at the top shelf with the rest of them. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are wonderful together (as per usual). Their engaging and adorable chemistry in Crazy, Stupid, Love has become a rock solid foundation in this film. Stone plays Mia, a bright-eyed eager actress only trying to land an audition to achieve her dream. Gosling is Sebastian a jazz musician in the modern age whose only dream is to bring back the jazz fever that once was. And while the story of the two meeting, falling in love, falling out of love, etc. goes as you might expect-- it doesn't go at all as you might expect. Chazelle has been able to take a story we know so well and give us something fresh.

Unlike a lot of films both of these A-listers have been in, the movie doesn't hinge on their acting chops alone. The music is catchy as hell, the dancing sequences are mesmerizing, and the cinematography is sensational. What Chazelle does with a camera lens turns a contemporary setting into a character of its own. Hell, the film begins with a huge musical number performed on the middle of the freeway during gridlock a la The Player. He doesn't just post up and let the actors do their things (which, I mean, still would've made a helluva movie), but the background moves with them, ever-changing, always visually dazzling.

The other aspect that I very much respected (and loved) about the film is that it doesn't just play for nostalgia. It's not here to honor a time gone by. Just like Sebastian in the film-- it's not about getting people to love jazz again-- it's about upping the stakes of a long-loved art form and updating it for a contemporary eye and ear and revitalizing it in such a way that it feels (and actually is) brand new, but gives you the same feeling of what you once loved. Other than Ryan Gosling's singing abilities (which were either seriously underplayed... or he was just a bit out of his league here) there wasn't a single aspect of the movie that I can criticize. The two of them together feel as though this was a love letter to their own spectacular relationship.  And, I guarantee, you'll find yourself smiling a lot more than you normally do while watching a film. It's excellent.


Friday, December 30, 2016

Moonlight: A Beautiful Rare Gem

Moonlight kind of snuck up on me. I'm not sure how many actual TV spots this movie ran, but since I've broken the bonds of the greedy cable company's stronghold of my wallet, I didn't see anything about this movie. The trailer was also not attached to a single film I'd seen all year.  I just kind of... heard about it through questions. "Have you seen Moonlight yet?" Normally I'm all over a movie I haven't heard of.  I'm online, I'm watching trailers, I'm reading about actors, etc. But, for some reason, I was just kind of apathetic towards the film-- and not because of its content (I still had no idea what it even was).  Then, it built internet acclaim, critical acclaim, and a solid 98% on rottentomatoes. So, when something like that happens, I now want to know nothing about it because it's rare for me to enter a movie completely blind. And after having seen the movie, it's so beautiful and laid out so perfectly that even if I'd seen a hundred trailers for the film, it still would've been an unexpected, exquisite treat.

I feel like I've said this a lot lately, but I'm not going to give much away for the movie. Suffice it to say that it revolves around a young black man, Chiron, through three very defining stages of his life. The first is when he's a child, known as 'Little' who befriends a drug dealer named Juan in order to escape his crack addicted mother, Paula. The scene toward the end of this segment at the dinner table is one that I will always remember as a new benchmark of cinema and writing. The second stage is Chiron as a teenager. He's quiet (just as he was as a kid), he's lanky, he's constantly bullied in high school and life with his mother hasn't changed-- in fact, it's worse. Finally, the third segement, Chiron, known as 'Black', is an adult now working the street just like Juan. Except he's not skinny and soft... he's muscular and hard and almost unrecognizable. And just as you're beginning to lose all hope for him, a chance phone call emerges that has the potential to change everything.

To call this movie beautiful is a severe understatement. It's three stories involving the same characters all around one central protagonist. It's unlike any story you've seen before. Our lead, Chiron, is uncomfortable to watch, but you care about him deeply. He doesn't speak often, but says more with his eyes than he ever says with his mouth (save for the aforementioned dinner table scene). The movie tackles issues like race, identity, isolation, loneliness, sexual orientation in a culture that's generally unaccepting. It's everything all of us need to watch right now. Because especially in times like now, staying true to yourself is more important than ever.

Everything works in this movie, not just the story. The acting is unprecedented. There's usually the odd man out, but all three versions of Chiron are wonderful and heartbreaking. The oldest Chiron, to me, is the most impressive as he's still the same person we've been following, but he's become an product of his environment and pushed aside all evidence of his former self, his true self, deep down that it almost became extinct. Ruffling emotion through the tough exterior ever so subtly is a feat in itself that actor Trevante Rhodes handles with precision. There's also the writing. I love that this movie keeps you uncomfortable without long fits of explanatory dialogue to let the audience know exactly what's on everyone's minds. Every time you wish for Chiron to give the right answer or explanation or say anything at all, there's an added second or two of uncomfortable silence that never breaks character. Nothing is spelled out for us. We're along for the ride, whether we like it or not.

The movie is refreshing because we don't get to see a lot of LGBTQ films this widely released and unanimously loved, especially ones featuring people of color. Moonlight touched me to my very core and has the ability, even through its [mostly] foreign story to us, it's concepts are universal and message is extremely personal. No matter who you are, I highly recommend this film as the next thing you feast your eyes on.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Fences: CotDAMN, Viola Davis!

For all intents and purposes, Denzel Washington has had one of the best acting careers of nearly any actor.  The dude literally does whatever he wants because he's one of the best actors ever, and definitely the most watchable. When he's feeling like he wants to do something loud and stupid he'll do a 2 Guns or a Taking of Pelham 123.  When he's feeling like doing something action-related, but smart, he'll do an Equalizer or American Gangster.  But just when you start to forget that Denzel is one of the best actors ever... he'll remind you. He gave us hints in Flight, but he went full fury in Fences.  Now, here's the other thing about Denzel-- not many actors can go toe-to-toe with him.  He will nearly outshine everyone he's in a scene with. But, somehow, he found the person that not only could hold her own in the ring... but she outshines one of the greatest actors ever.  To call Denzel's performance Oscar-worthy is definitely an understatement.  But to call Viola Davis's performance Oscar-worthy completely demolishes the idea of what an Oscar even is.  She's magnificent and lifts Fences to a whole other level of greatness.

Based on August Wilson's play of the same name, Fences tells the story of Troy and Rose, a married couple in 1954 Pittsburgh.  The play/movie is about their life together and how Troy (Denzel) slowly, but almost deliberately brings his entire family down over a couple of years. He's a hard-nosed father and husband whose daily routine and past defines him. He used to be a great baseball player in the negro leagues.  Now, he's a garbageman who only looks forward to Friday-- payday and a bottle of gin.  His son, Cory, is in his last year of high school, hellbent on playing football for a college. Troy balks at this idea vehemently because he knows that colored kids don't get to play over white kids. And while it's difficult to watch Troy slowly ruin a family dynamic that could be a joyful one, his ego and unwillingness to listen to others remain steadfast. Then, there's Rose (Davis), Troy's wife. On the surface, she appears to be the standard 50s housewife-- no job, most of the time preparing meals, baking for the Church potluck. But, we realize that Rose is no stereotypical 50s housewife.  She's a strong woman who has chosen to give up a handful of her hopes and dreams in order to maintain a healthy and loving family. You won't see it right away-- but when shit gets goin-- Rose holds her own.

The movie has a much different feel than most moviegoers are used to.  A lot of the time when plays are adapted into cinema, they are given that cinematic feel to it.  They aren't confined to the walls of a stage and expand into the vast world in which they are portrayed.  Fences, on the other hand, still very much feels like the play.  And, from what I've read, looks like Denzel didn't actually change much. A good majority of the film is located in the backyard of Troy and Rose's home. Then, there's the dialogue.  There's always something a little bit different about the dialogue in a stageplay than in a film... there's a certain tempo to the language and manner of speaking in a play that feels a little bit different. Denzel maintains this tempo and essentially takes the stage to a real backyard, but making it feel like we could be in a theater watching this live in front of us, rather than on a screen.

Obviously, I don't even have to say it-- but the performances are fantastic. Considering both Denzel and Davis did 114 performances of the actual play on Broadway, this was nothing new to them. Their chemistry is flawless and undeniaably heartbreaking. The movie is very emotionally draining, but not in a manipulating way. The film is ultimately about choices.  Troy lives so viciously through his past he refuses to learn from it-- other than the fact that he doesn't want his son to repeat his own mistakes-- mistakes that don't actually exist in sports from when he played due to progress. He's so arrogant about what he already knows, he refuses to learn. Through the entire movie, his main goal is to build a fence that Rose has repeatedly asked him to build. Clearly, the fence is a literary symbol for keeping the demons in and never letting any get out... but it's so much more than that. Fences isn't exactly the feel-good movie of the end of the year, but it is a masterful showcase of two great acting talents telling a very affecting tale of love, loss, and choices.  If anything, go watch Viola Davis out-act one of the greatest actors of our time and completely break your heart and shatter your tear ducts... because this lady can act!


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Nocturnal Animals: Arthouse Vs. Grindhouse

Once again, 2016, you mean bitch, we have been given another misleading trailer to a film that didn't need it. However, for all the trailers that misled moviegoers this year, this one was actually the least responsible for ruining a movie or taking away from what the movie was actually intended to be.  The trailers make the movie look like some sort of dark thriller a la No Country For Old Men. And while it's not exactly not that... it's not that. The trailer, however, did convince me that I wanted to see the movie. And while what you get is far from what the trailer suggests... what I got was a very unique and beautiful film about loss that toes the line of arthouse and grindhouse.

I honestly don't want to give too much away about the plot because, while it did surprise me, and it did have me constantly thinking that this isn't the movie I was expecting... I did enjoy getting something unexpected and unpredictable. Amy Adams is Susan, a miserable "artist" working at a failing art boutique.  She's married to an attractive, but hollow businessman (Armie Hammer) and their marriage is nothing but on the surface and empty.  She receives a package in the mail-- a novel entitled 'Nocturnal Animals', written by her long time ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). Throughout the film what we get is the novel acted out, Susan's current life, and the story of how he marriage to Edward began, deteriorated, and ultimately failed.

So, all of the "thrilling" and "chilling" moments and reviews in the trailer are reserved for the re-enactment of the novel (which is essentially a movie within a movie). Nothing that is happening in the book, is actually happening in the plot of the storyline with Susan.  You'd think this would take away all of the feelings of threat and suspense from the actual movie itself because you know that what you're seeing isn't real. However, this is far from the truth.  Not only does the movie work perfectly with the real and the imaginary, but once the film is over and all "secrets" have been revealed, the story is a beautiful and heartbreaking allegory of Susan and Edward's once blossoming relationship. This leads up to an ending that, for most, will appear unsatisfying. But, let it it sink in... think back to everything you just watched, let it marinate for a day or two, and you'll realize that the ending is less of cop-out and more satisfying than you once believed.

Obviously, the narrative going on within the film is a lot more intense, and though I hate the word, interesting than the sad life that Susan leads. She imagines her ex-husband as the protagonist of the story and Gyllenhaal gets to play a new kind of tragic character. He's a weak man who makes most of his [wrong] decisions purely out of fear. He pairs up with a Detective played by Michael Shannon, who really is the scene stealer of the entire film. The man exudes such ferocious intensity, I would be intimidated by watching the dude make a quesadilla in a "Kiss the Chef" apron. The story within a story is so heart-wrenching, almost to a painful degree, that often you forget that you're watching a novel play out on screen. And while Susan's story lines often feels a bit benign, they mirror almost perfectly to the story once everything is revealed and played out. Her visually clean and lush world contrasts perfectly with the dirty and seedy grindhouse-esque novel that we watch in between.

The film is so beautifully crafted that it feels like reading actual literature. It's seeping with extended metaphors that one may have to go back and do their own detective work to justify why the film is structured the way that it is. Fashion designer turned writer/director Tom Ford has an obvious eye for the visual, but what he's also got is a story that is hard to watch, but hard to look away from. It's a beautiful car accident that may be somewhat of an acquired taste, but is something I thoroughly enjoyed and can't wait to watch again.


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Why Him?: A Lazy Meet The Parents Reversal

Writer/Director John Hamburg has made a very good living off perfecting the story of the straight-laced character having to come to terms with and adapt to the obnoxious wild card character. Sometimes it works very well (like Meet the Parents and I Love You, Man) and sometimes it comes off as remarkably lazy and generic (like Meet the Fockers and Along Came Polly). These are the movies where Ben Stiller tends to shine. He plays the awkward straight guy with such unease that we're literally squirming in our seats and laughing hysterically at the same time. Hamburg might've actually hit his ceiling in I Love You, Man with the unrelenting discomfort felt for Paul Rudd's character. It gave me semi-high hopes for his next feat, Why Him? However, it's another story much like the aforementioned movies, but instead of coming off as fresh and funny and hilariously awkward... it's the same story recognizably apathetic.

In a very obvious Meet the Parents reversal, instead of a blundering straight-man meeting his fiancé's outlandish parents, it's the vanilla family meeting the rude, obnoxious, and filter-less boyfriend. And while the reversal could've worked with a stronger script, it still feels very formulaic. Ned (Bryan Cranston) and his wife (Megan Mullally) and son are flown to California to meet Laird (James Franco), the eccentric and raunchy boyfriend of their daughter. Laird literally has zero filter, spewing F-bombs the second they arrive. He's extremely well-intentioned, and is physically unable to lie (even when it comes to picking up social cues). Obviously, this doesn't sit well with tightly wound and old-fashioned Ned.  The rest of the movie involves Laird trying to impress the family and Ned trying to figure out a way to expose Laird as a bad person in order to get his daughter away from him.

You know how there's several ways of conveying laughter via text? When something is generally funny in concept, but it doesn't make you shoot milk out of your nose it's generally an 'lol' or a 'haha'? And when something gives you a chuckle there's the 'lolol', the 'lulz', or the 'hahaha'? But, when something is actually downright hilarious, it generally involves caps lock... like "LOLOLOLOL" or "HAHAHAHAHA"? Think of Why Him as the first choice. It's a decently funny concept with very well-liked characters and actors, but hardly anything that happens elicits that much of a genuine laugh beyond a chuckle. There are a few scenes that deserve the caps lock, but overall the movie is more funny in concept (and, again, a concept we've seen better from its writer/director several times).

It's very exciting to see Bryan Cranston back in comedy. We've seen him display is serious acting chops for the better part of a decade now, but my favorite Cranston is still probably Hal from Malcolm in the Middle because he's not afraid to get weird... and he's able to manipulate his facial expressions almost, but not entirely, like Jim Carrey. Had this been another Meet the Parents scenario, watching Cranston be the outlandish and foul-mouthed father would've, in my opinion, been a funnier film... but then again, it would've REALLY been unoriginal. Then there's James Franco who is good at comedy, but only really shines when he's with the Rogen clan. Without Seth Rogen and co. there to feed off one another's add-libbing skills, he's just kind of a funny-in-theory type of actor (at least in this movie). It was nice to see Megan Mullally not reverted to the role of generic mother there to play devil's advocate with husband and boyfriend.  In fact, one of the funniest scenes in the movie is with her on drugs. Finally, Keegan Michael-Key is in this movie as Laird's BFF, confidante, and fighting trainer (he leaps out of the bushes to keep Laird's attack senses strong ala Pink Panther).  Nearly every scene he is in is hilarious, but he's the side character that doesn't need a back story, he's just there to make the scene that much funnier.

I really wanted to like the movie more than what it was and what I was getting back from it.  I like the concept (because I've seen it work several times before), I like the actors, and the characters were all very well-written.  Really the only thing missing from the movie were the laughs. They're sporadic and not all that long-lasting, but the story isn't original or interesting enough to make the movie that worthwhile. Plus, there were numerous set-ups in the movie (like an actual mentioning of The Pink Panther or a stolen Christmas tree or even a bowling alley) that seemed like they should've been integral to the plot or at least a joke down the line... that never actually pay off.

You know when you see the preview for a movie and you have this feeling you know EXACTLY what that movie is going to be, but you WANT it to be better? Why Him is exactly that movie. If you have it in your head that it's probably not going to be all that great, but you'll get a few laughs out of it and won't sit there for two hours hating your life-- that's exactly what you're going to get.  Just don't expect the movie to really surprise you in any real way. Let's just hope this gets Bryan Cranston to mix in a little more comedy into his filmography down the road.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

An Underrated Movie You Should Be Watching This Christmas: The Long Kiss Goodnight

Back in 1996, a very underrated action movie came out-- The Long Kiss Goodnight.  This movie was written by now writing/directing phenom Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Lethal Weapon, Iron Man 3, The Nice Guys).  It's only been seen by people I know because I have been annoyingly thrusting it onto their TV's, but it's really a movie that everyone should watch.  And what a more perfect time than now, considering it's a Christmas movie (in the same vein that Die Hard is a Christmas movie). The movie FEELS like a 90s action movie, but what it did with the genre seems like it was far too ahead of its time.  Sure, it's cheesy, and messy, and at times cringe-worthy with the action, but it's one of the best action movies I've ever seen.

The movie is essentially a Bourne movie, but six years ahead of that franchise. We are introduced to Samantha Cain (Geena Davis) who, for the last eight years, has suffered from amnesia.  She was found on a beach, two months pregnant, with no memory of her entire past.  Now, she's a small town teacher with a fiancé and an 8-year-old daughter. After she hires detective, and all around crook, Mitch Hennessy (Samuel L. Jackson), they get a lead on her past -- as an assassin working for the US government, named Charly Baltimore. Once Sam winds up getting her memory back, Charly, the badass, takes over. They must work together to stop old targets from completing a brand new terrorist mission and guns and shooting and action and yes.

It is a lot like Bourne, but that's not the real reason you should be watching this movie.  If you're like me and every year on your Christmas watch list besides Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, and let's be honest Jingle All The Way... are some other great action movies like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon... The Long Kiss Goodnight fits snugly in between them.  We watch Die Hard because it's not just a great action movie, but the movie is damn near flawless. John McClane (before the sequels) was a mild-mannered cop from NY, out of sync with a new city, just trying to get his wife back. Then he has to turn into the ultimate badass because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time-- and, come on, the fact that he's a sarcastic asshole is 95% of the reason the movie has staying power.  That, and the fact that Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber is such a great villain. Why do we watch Lethal Weapon? Because we love the chemistry of Riggs and Murtaugh. It's a buddy movie paired with an action movie. The Long Kiss Goodnight has all of this!

Let's break it down this way-- Shane Black is my favorite writer. And action (especially 90s action movies) has always been one of my favorite genres. I decided (unfortunately) that for me Master's Thesis in Screenwriting that I would write an action script with a 90s feel (the end result turned out almost the complete opposite of what I had envisioned in my brain-- but that's beside the point). While trying to craft the perfect action movie I read Black's script for The Long Kiss Goodnight at least twenty times because it is genuinely one of the best scripts I've ever read. He's so quick-witted and sharp, not just in his dialogue, but even in his descriptions of the action happening on the screen. It transcends perfectly into film, especially with an actor as comedically snarky as Sam J. The dialogue (like most of Black's movies) is so fast and sarcastic, it actually takes several viewings to catch them all. The script is also very smart -- for an action movie so dumb. Everything that is set up in the first half of the movie is expertly paid off in the end. Each scene the characters get themselves into an even bigger pickle and you're left trying to guess how they will escape it this time.  Finally, when the escape plan emerges, you're sitting there going "duh! How did I forget that?!"

And people! It's got a female lead! Most 90s action movies were led by men (in fact, most 90s action movies were led by Nicolas Cage). Can you think of any other 90s action movie led by a badass woman? There aren't many. It was such ahead of its time that even when Black sold the script (for an unprecedented 3 mill at the time) the studio was begging for him to change the lead to a man. But Samantha Cain/Charly Baltimore is the perfect 90s action hero.  She's not a sissy damsel in distress, and she's also not trying to be a sex symbol.  She holds her own in not just the role of ruthless killer who is an expert with any sort of gun, but she's also very quick-witted herself and forces the MAN (Sam J) to keep up with her constant sardonic quips. This, in turn, leads to another perfect buddy movie.

Keep in mind that this movie was made in the 90s. It's so full of cheese you could melt it in a tortilla and call it lunch. There's impossible moments of action, there's Charly chasing bad guys on ice skates while they're in the car, and the main villain is kind of a boner. But, there's yet to be an action movie since (not written by Shane Black) that is this action-packed, this witty, and this fun. The movie takes place entirely around Christmas (as most of Black's movies do), so instead of watching the same old bullshit Christmas films (except Die Hard, you should always be watching Die Hard), throw something different in the ole' Blu Ray player and have an awesome time. When it becomes a new household favorite... I don't want much. Just a simple thank you.

You're welcome.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Manchester By The Sea: A Dismal, Heartbreaking, And Wonderful Film

Awards season movies are already sneaking up upon us. Over the next couple of weeks we will basically be getting the majority of the movies that will dominate the Oscars. There will be outstanding performances by lead actors and actresses as well as supporting ones. And while there are a few movies yet to be released that are sure to garner an award or two for the obvious choices (aka Denzel Washington in Fences), quietly Manchester By The Sea is gaining on the movie world with the very obvious choice for a Best Actor nomination for Casey Affleck. Not only is his performance (shit, along with everyone else's) exceptional, but the movie is nothing short of dismal, heartbreaking, and wonderful.

I'm not going to reveal much about the plot. The trailer doesn't reveal much and I think going into the film fresh will allow you to have the best experience possible (I know it did for me). Essentially the logline is Casey Affleck plays Lee. Lee's brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) passes away leaving his son, Patrick, in the custody of Lee.  And that's all you get.  What's brilliant about this film is it takes the whole fish-out-of-water "I don't know how to be a dad" high concept and completely re-writes it into something real and affecting. These are not movie characters. These are real people struggling with real demons in the midst of a real tragedy. And while the story itself, even the movie itself, may seem simplistic on the surface, there is something much more intricate and poignant at work.

One of the biggest reasons I loved this movie (aside from Affleck's praiseworthy performance) is the writing. This is a film that should be taught in all writing classes from now on. Not just for the reason of being able to take a simple story and turn it into something wonderful, but doing so with what feels like some of the most authentic characters in film in awhile. These aren't caricatures of people with Bah-stun accents. There are no big Good Will Hunting life-altering revelations to anyone. The sorrow and pain that each character has to deal with is honest and unforced. Lucas Hedges, who plays Patrick, tackles his grief like a teenager quite genuinely. He doesn't have these big crying/freak-out moments or beg to be left alone... he wants to be with his friends. He wants to play hockey, and mess around with girls, and play in a band, and not have to deal with real feelings. It's honest and real.

Affleck's Lee, on the other hand, has a closet so riddled with personal demons Dante would shit himself. But, there's never once where the pain of this loss affects him uncharacteristically.  He's lived a thousand years in only forty years, and it's left him stoic and damn near empty. There's nothing that changes that. He still loves his nephew and he's there to do what's needed, but those hoping for him to break down the wall and fall to his knees crying 'why, God, why' are going to be left disappointed. Because he feels like a real person and not just a character in a movie.

Manchester By The Sea sounds like it's going to be a real downer, a film that you see because of the great reviews or the award noms, but nothing to be watched a second time. This isn't true. And while the movie is fairly melancholic, it's sprinkled with moments of heart and laughter. The tone of the movie resembles life to an almost uncomfortable level. There will always be tragedy and misfortune in our lives, but there will also be comfort and laughter and joy. And while the film may make you feel quite empty when leaving the theater... give it time. Because soon after you will not feel more full of life.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Passengers: The Most Expensive Romance Movie Ever

2016 has been pretty terrible for film.  There have definitely been a few diamonds in the rough, but overall it's been bad sequels or spinoffs, under-performing movies that should've done better, and misleading trailers. Other than I'd say Rogue One, no trailer this year has been this misleading than Passengers.  The trailer sets up the movie the right way-- two people on a space ship heading toward a new planet have been "accidentally" woken up 90 years early. That's just the preface of the movie in the trailer.  The rest looks like a frantic sci-fi mission for the two to figure out how to get back to sleep amid a series of escalating problems they have to solve all on their own.  The trailer then ends on a "mystery" when Chris Pratt's character says, "there's a reason we were woken up early". All of this is fine except for the fact that it's not exactly that truthful about the content of the movie. But, we'll get to that.

I was initially excited about the film because it's a genuine original entity.  In a time when Hollywood balks at originality, this spec script was listed on Hollywood's "Blacklist" of the best unproduced screenplays. It was purchased for a lot of money and paid a ton of it to its stars.  Then, you have the casting of two of the hottest actors in Hollywood right now... it must be a great script! It's not a bad script... if you understand what you're going to be watching before you watch it. But, if you're trying to make the case that Hollywood should settle down on the sequels and superhero movies and prequels and spinoffs... Passengers isn't really the movie to do that.

Here's the story... and this is without spoilers unless you're truly trying to become invested in the movie the trailers want you to believe it to be. Chris Pratt is Jim.  He's in hyper-sleep aboard a ship heading toward a new planet that will arrive 120 years. Unfortunately, for ole' Jimbo, the ship... in the very opening sequence of the film... hits a meteor shower and is pelted by meteors that penetrate the ship's shield and knock something loose... waking him up. So, immediately it is made known that there is no big secret as to why he is awoken from his slumber. This completely forfeits half of what the trailer is trying to sell the masses. Anyway, Jim is alone for over a year, hitting the brink of suicide when he decides to do something unimaginable-- wake someone else up and completely ruin their life to make his better.  Granted, he does struggle with the situation for a few minutes, but eventually wakes up Aurora (which is also the name of the Princess in Sleeping Beauty-- this movie is pretty on the nose) played by Jennifer Lawrence.

Jim doesn't tell Aurora that he's woken her up and plays it off like it was another malfunction.  After he convinces her that he's tried literally everything there is to try to get them back to sleep, they start to accept their situation and wind up falling in love. This is a good chunk of the film.  OBVIOUSLY, she finds out what happens and is genuinely pissed off about it.  That's when they start to figure out about the rest of the ship deteriorating slowly because of the meteor and what they have to do to fix it and mend their broken relationship because what Jim did was essentially murder Aurora as well as her plans, hopes, and dreams. And that whole "there's a reason..." line that Pratt delivers... not in the movie. Made entirely to fuck with you in the trailers.

The film is just a big budget romance movie. It's like You've Got Mail in space, except way more expensive and a lot more creepy.  There aren't really any cool sci-fi moments, there are hardly any scenes outside of the ship itself, and all of the sci-fi action teased in the trailer happens near the very end of the movie and don't last nearly as long as they should've. It's a gorgeous movie to look at and the two leads are very affable. It wouldn't nearly be as decent as it is without the chemistry and amiability of the stars. But, there's just not a lot to the movie. Most of the movie could've been set in New York with her as a workaholic and him as a freeloading slacker with big dreams and not a whole lot is different.  The movie is big, the effects are awe-inspiring, the atmosphere is so expensive looking... but the story is actually pretty simple.  There isn't a ton of conflict beyond their relationship and any conflict that arises is solved pretty simply. There's really no true moment of dread among the entire movie.

The other part of the movie that is surely going to turn people away is the fact that if you examine the movie closely and the motivations of Jim's character... it's actually a little terrifying.  It's something that the writer and director could've decided to use to examine the topic of consent and how the line is actually a lot thicker than it appears to be, especially now in today's time when those who cross that line of consent and head into rape territory seem to not only get minimal punishment, but the discussion is still very polarizing... and it shouldn't be. There is no rational excuse for Jim's behavior waking her up and ruining everything about her life just because he was lonely and suicidal.  It's still not his decision to make. Sure, in movie world, it's supposed to play as cute that he sees her in her pod, looks her up, reads her story, and falls in love with her all due to pretty superficial reasons... but in the real world that's some serious not-okay shit. But, the discussion is never had. It's used as a plot device to create a "love story" that's 92% fucked up and 8% cute. They don't end up together because true love conquers all... they end up together because Stockholm Syndrome is real... even in space.

Passengers is currently at a 30% on rottentomatoes and I genuinely thing that it's an unfair score. The movie isn't Adam Sandler bad (though it's been a while since he's hit a score as high as 30%), but I'm guessing the low score stems from most of what I've discussed. Those who enjoy Ridley Scott sci-fi epic action movies with two very popular and likable stars are probably going to be sorely disappointed. This movie is more in the realm of Romance than anything else. There are very enjoyable moments in the film. The first twenty minutes or so of Pratt alone is fun to watch until it turns quite bleak.  There are moments between Pratt and JLaw that are very touching and heartfelt and even real.  Even Michael Sheen's portrayal of an android bartender (used as a device so that Pratt has someone to talk to-- like Wilson in Castaway) is all good.  But the movie leads up to almost nothing and the end, though it tries to create a bit of excitement, does feel a little anti-climactic. The movie wasn't a failure, but it certainly isn't going to turn any heads back the way I was hoping with producers in Hollywood giving original material more of a chance.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: A Tour De FORCE

I really hope that we're not starting a new trend of not just bringing back sequels to old movies and then spinoffs of sequels to old movies and then prequels and spinoffs of the prequels and just going flat out Marvel on content we've seen a hundred times before over original material. This seems to be the way of the theater now due to the fact that a studio would rather bank on the name of a franchise rather than the quality of an original script. However, if this is the way of the world, yes it will be tiring, but if the quality of the films are as high as Rogue One, then it's not entirely a bad thing.

I was put off by Rogue One pretty early on when the trailer was released. And, let's be honest, the first few trailers were shit. When Felicity Jones stares into the camera and says, "I rebel", it was head-scratchingly dreadful. The more trailers that came out gave me hope, but really nothing was answering the question of WHY this movie needed to exist other than to capitalize on the Star Wars name and line Disney's pockets with a shit-ton more $$$. And while the movie doesn't necessarily answer this question, it holds its own well enough that the question, I supposed, doesn't really need an answer.

I'm not going to reveal too much as far as plot goes.  Chances are you've already seen the movie, but if you haven't it might be better to go in knowing as little as possible. Felicity Jones is Jyn Erso, daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), who, when she was a young girl, was kidnapped by the Empire to help build the Death Star. Jyn was raised tough by Galen's bestie, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) to be a badass. Jyn, now an adult, is recruited by the rebel alliance to help find her father and steal the plans to the Death Star and figure out how it can be destroyed. Along the way is rebel Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), Imperial defector Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), and a cheeky droid, K-2S0, voiced by Alan Tudyk. This, of course, is the movie that leads into A New Hope and the information gathered from these rogues is what inevitably leads to the destruction of the Death Star... and screw you guys, that's not a spoiler, if you haven't seen A New Hope, you're never going to.

The one bit of information that I would say lends itself to the argument of the film's existence is it does now justify why it was so easy to blow up the Death Star. It's always been somewhat of a running joke of why they built a planet-destroying death machine that has a tiny little hole in it that when shot... blows the whole thing up.  It has now been justified. Other than that... no, it probably doesn't need to exist. The movie is a lot of fun, though. Even though you already know what's going to happen (the problem with all prequels), this one puts a lot of effort into showing the struggle it took to get everything to where it needed to be for the rebels to succeed.  And, we get a scene of Darth Vader FINALLY going apeshit on some soldiers. It was very gratifying-- even from someone like me who isn't the biggest Star Wars nerd.

It also feels like a new story.  While I really did like The Force Awakens, it's hard to deny that it was just a carbon copy of A New Hope with a few details changed. Rogue One feels like a brand new story, which is nice. And while it's not perfect, it does build up to an extremely exciting second and third acts (especially the last five minutes). I wasn't expecting much out of director Gareth Edwards, considering he helmed the recent disaster Godzilla that was a complete mess (and a huge waste of Bryan Cranston). But, he's redeemed himself now and then some. He's stayed pretty true to the feel of Star Wars, and he even designed the movie to LOOK like the 70s Star Wars. The technology used in the movie (including some actors from the original movie who aren't even alive are face-swapped into the movie to near perfection). Though there isn't the scrolling text in the beginning, the huge STAR WARS logo with the theme music played over it, or the classic George Lucas scene-swipes... it still very much feels like the movie belongs in the SW universe.

I guess my biggest complaint with the film is with Jyn's character. She's a strong female lead, something the Star Wars universe is doing to perfection lately, and we really do want her to succeed.  She's likable (unlike the perceived trailer version of her character) and obviously a badass.  But we don't get hardly any backstory from her or motivation.  We get that her dad was taken, we get that she was raised by some weird half-Vader, half-Bane type of guy... but that's about it as far as motivation from her goes.  And Diego Luna's Cassian, to me, just didn't have that UMPH that a leading Star Wars character is supposed to have. They had almost no chemistry together (and I'm not even talking romantic chemistry... thank GOD there's no love story in this one) and their scenes felt very flat.

But, the movie is very dark. It's not the most violent of the series, but it definitely is one of the most bleak. It has more of an Empire Strikes Back feel to it more than any other film. I actually have a theory about the movie.  When I heard that they had to do reshoots earlier this year because complaints had come out of test screenings that there was hardly any humor in the movie, it was a red flag to me. My theory is-- the droid, K-2S0 was added into the movie after the fact.  He's definitely the comic relief to add some much-needed levity to the seriousness of the film, but he's not exactly that integral to the plot. I'm guessing he was inserted to be the funny... which usually doesn't work... and it worked perfectly. The other character, that is sure to become a fan favorite, is Chirrut (Donnie Yen), a blind man who might just be the coolest character in the entire movie, and he adds a little humor himself. He's like a blind, Asian Han Solo... you know... without all the cynicism.  Trust me, when you're looking back at the movie in your head, it's him you will be quoting incessantly.

The movie is far from perfect and definitely has its flaws, but it's much better than I had anticipated. The look of the movie feels like you're watching this movie back in the 70s, but with the technology of today. If all of the Star Wars spinoff movies are even close to the quality of this movie, then I'm actually going to be looking forward to them.  And, for the love of God, stop putting this shit in 3D.


Monday, December 19, 2016

Office Christmas Party: More Like An Actual Office Christmas Party Than Something Crazier and Funnier

Josh Gordon and Will Speck made their directorial debut with what might be the most underrated Will Ferrell film, Blades of Glory. Everyone remembers and regularly quotes Anchorman or Talladega Nights, but rarely is the gem of Blades of Glory mentioned among the giants in Will Ferrell's career.  Seriously, go back and watch it and try not to laugh at nearly everything that comes out of Ferrell's mouth. Now, the movie could've been great because they had a comic genius like Will Ferrell to drastically change a mediocre script into a genuinely hilarious film... OR... it was already great to begin with.  Flash forward four years and the next movie the duo made was the little-remembered movie The Switch with Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston.  It's not an awful movie by any means, but who actually remembers seeing this movie? I've seen it and I don't remember a damn thing about it. Flash forward another six years and their third film to come out is Office Christmas Party.  This looked more like a raunchy Blades of Glory type film where the two were able to showcase their comedy writing/directing skills to go along with some well-cast comedic actors.  The end result feels more like a tale told at an actual office Christmas party rather than one we all need to go out and watch for ourselves.

There's a lot going on in the film, but the over-arching story is that involving Clay (TJ Miller), the head of a tech company who is under his quarterly numbers and is being threatened to be shut down by his CEO (and raging bitch) of a sister (Jennifer Aniston). His best employee Josh (Jason Bateman) and computer genius Tracey (Olivia Munn) ask for one extra night in order to secure a top client and win his business so the branch doesn't have to be shut down.  Their idea-- throw a raging office christmas party and win him over by allowing him to see what a fun company they are. Along for this ride is a stuffy HR manager (Kate McKinnon), an assistant looking for love (Vanessa Bayer), a dude with a weird baby fetish (Randall Park), the office asshole (Rob Corddry), and a pimp (Jillian Bell).  The antics of each of these employees come to a head and crash and burn the office party into something that I'm sure sounded a lot crazier on paper than it is to watch.

The good of the film are a lot of the characters. I particularly liked the character of Clay.  He's such an easy target for selfish asshole boss trust fund kid who doesn't know what the hell he is doing, but the role has been reversed and he's a very altruistic boss trust fund kid who doesn't know what the hell he is doing.  He's not trying to save the company in order to save his own ass. He's genuinely trying to stop people from losing their jobs. Jason Bateman, as always, is very droll and fun to watch, but even he felt like it was below the level of comedy we've come to expect from him.  Then, there are little moments here and there that kick you in the funny bone, but unfortunately, they are few and far between.

There's nothing really bad about the movie other than the fact that it's just not that funny.  The script seems like it was centered around the idea of an insane Christmas party set inside the parameters of an office. Yet, nothing that insane happens. We expect windows to be broken and copiers to be smashed, and clothes to fly, and drinks to be had... but what new does this movie offer that makes us just HAVE to go see this movie? I can't really find a reason. And while everyone is pretty likable, I just kept waiting for the comedy to arrive. It was all funny in idea and theory, but not necessarily in execution. Each character has a moment that elicits a chuckle or two, but there's really not that one big memorable moment from comedies that truly are successful in making an audience laugh and becoming a classic (especially a Christmas classic... we haven't had a new one of those in quite some time).

While the movie really wants to be a Christmas movie mixed with The Hangover and Horrible Bosses, it really does fall flat most of the time when it shouldn't.  I wish I'd seen something more in the movie that was both shocking and hilarious, rather than something I could've written for the first draft of a movie with the same title.  2016 has been a pretty bad year for comedies in general with really only The Nice Guys standing out as something exceptional.  Office Christmas Party certainly isn't the worst of the year, and it's definitely entertaining to a point, but it's one movie that should've been much better than it ended up being.


Moana: Disney Strikes Again With The Help Of Hamilton

Upon sitting down in the theater and watching the upcoming trailers for future kids movies, I couldn't help but think how incredibly superior Disney is to other companies.  I hadn't even seen Moana yet and after watching a preview for a rock n' roll dog and a fifth(?) Smurfs movie, it was apparent that Disney is really the only company continuously rolling out animated family films with any substance whatsoever. The rest of these companies go for silly, colorful, insulting, and downright dumb movies. I've been a longtime advocate that there is absolutely no reason to treat children like they are idiots. If you respect kids and tell a genuinely great story, there's no need to resort to falling down and scatological humor to get kids to enjoy it. Moana is no different than the string of highly successful and wildly exceptional films Disney and it's sister company Pixar have been putting out the last decade or so (Cars excluded).

Moana is the daughter of a Polynesian Cheftain who yearns for life beyond the reef of her island.  Her people have been thriving for centuries until an ancient curse beset by the Demigod Maui (The Rock) catches up with them, killing all food resources and sustainable living situations. Going against her father's wishes, Moana sets out beyond the reef to find Maui and save her people. To her surprise, Maui isn't the respectable Demigod everything expects, but acts more like a selfish, petulant child who cares about no one other than himself.  He's especially disinterested to help a Moana's people. However, this, like all Disney fashion, is all a facade. There's a very touching backstory behind it. And while their relationship isn't as entirely solid as some of the other Disney pairings, they're a joy to watch.

What makes the movie successful beyond the script that both encapsulates that classic Disney-princess-movie feel and not talking down to the small children that make up a significant percentage of the audience watching-- are the visuals and the music. Moana is gorgeous to watch. Directors Ron Clements and John Musker have only ever directed hand-drawn films such as Aladdin and Princess and the Frog. However, as much as I do miss that style of animated film, the decision to go with CGI was more than the right choice. The colors of the islands and the oceans and the underworld of monsters (real scene... absolutely gorgeous) is awe-inspiring (cliché, but apt). And the music... well, all I have to say is that Lin-Manuel Miranda had a hand in writing all of the songs, and they're not only perfect, they're damn catchy as well.  My favorite song was a very David Bowie-esque song sung by Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords.

Moana, the character, really is the winner of the movie.  Children will love her because she's steadfast and brave.  She's got more heart and soul than most male Disney characters who really only act that way to win the heart of the lovely maiden.  Guess what else? There's not a single love interest in the entire movie. I know. Crazy right? There's a female protagonist who exercises bravery throughout an entire movie without needing the motivation of a dude or even true love to guide her. The movie is about doing what's right, finding the direction your heart is leading you toward, and ultimately friendship and trust. It's a very solid film that's not just for kids, but like most Disney movies, can be enjoyed by adults as well. 


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Edge Of Seventeen: Watching An Angsty Teen In A Movie Is Almost As Uncomfortable/Hilarious As It Is In Real Life

We don't get a lot of smart teen movies these days. In fact, we don't really seem to get very many teen movies. In the last two years, other than The Edge of Seventeen, the only two teen movies that deal with high school angst and emotions were The Duff and Paper Towns (shudder). From John Hughes' brat pack to Clueless to Mean Girls, high school movies that center around the inner-conflict of acceptance and pain in teens has been a movie staple over the last thirty years. However, due to the influx in big budget epics and a fear of creativity, these movies have been put on the backburner. The Edge of Seventeen is a delightfully uncomfortable movie that passes off as realistic, funny, charming, and heartbreaking all at the same time-- you know-- everything a teen feels at all moments of their miserable lives.

True Grit star Hailee Steinfeld is Nadine, an awkward 17-year-old who is just trying to survive being an awkward 17-year-old. She's only really got two friends in her entire life, Krista, and a sarcastic tenured History teacher, Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson). She has to constantly battle her overly good looking (and hollow) older brother and spastic mother. But, when her best friend in her entire life decides to hook up with her brother, Nadine's entire life is thrust into a whirlwind of emotion and loneliness. What's great about the movie is that almost none of the problems and conflicts on screen have carry that much weight in the real world, however, for a teenager it's completely the opposite. In the opening scene of the movie, Nadine confides in Mr. Bruner that she's going to kill herself because everything happening around her is too much to handle. He replies in a snarky asshole way knowing that it's teenage problems/hormones and not that serious. And that's the way everything is. We watch the problems unfold and know that it's just angsty teen shit... but watch as Nadine reacts like she's in a Saw movie.

The movie is very funny. It's funny in a very real and truthful way.  But, it's also very funny in a super uncomfortable way.  The situations that Nadine puts herself in and then attempts to act like a "normal" person is cringe-worthy and hilarious. Nearly every move she makes is the wrong one that winds up in a moment that's so agonizing to watch, you'll find yourself squirming in your seat. The great thing is, however, that Nadine is far from dumb. She's a very smart student, or "old soul" as she calls herself, and definitely stands out in her high school.  But, she's still a teenager and there's no escaping the "problems" of everyday teenage life.

Writer/Director Kelly Fremon Craig has written a very impressive female lead. She's not the idiot girl that has to change herself to learn a lesson about what it's like to be accepted in high school. She also doesn't have to change the people around her to accept her. She just accepts herself and allows everyone else to fuck right off.  She's a very well-written character and fun to watch get in and out of very realistic and very uncomfortable situations. It's funny, though, because a lot of male writers get criticized because they don't know how to write female characters more than just a pretty face. Craig writes all of her female characters to perfection, but it's the male characters she struggles with (and this actually could've been intentional as a sort-of commentary on male-centric teen-driven movies). It's also the actors cast. Nadine's brother is a tree trunk of a dude who has literally only one look on his face the entire movie. He's flat-out annoying to look at.  Then there's Nadine's ultimate crush, a guy she fixates on from afar.  When we finally get to meet him, he's not even human. He's a caricature of what adults believe all good-looking high school students are that don't play football. But, there's also Mr. Bruner who is expertly written and Erwin, a Korean-American student who crushes on Nadine.  It's nice to see a male character get flustered and have awkward, uncooridanted teenage conversations with an actual girl. But, of course, thank you Hollywood, when his shirt comes off he's still ripped and good looking.

What I'm saying is that the movie is very good. There's not a lot of plot going on here, but this is one of the few instances that there doesn't need to be.  The plot is Nadine making it through another day with one wall after one wall crumbling down in front of her. The movie is heartfelt and poignant and funny and genuinely one of the best movies I've seen this year. It's a little movie that didn't get a whole lot of attention when it came out, but I have a feeling it's going to develop a bit of a cult following once people have redbox'd the shit out of it.


Monday, December 5, 2016

We Have To Talk About The Mummy Trailer

If you haven't seen it yet, there is a new trailer circling the webisphere.  No, I'm not talking about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (which should be good IF Baby Groot isn't as annoying as I assume it's going to be).  I'm talking about Universal's unnecessary remake of The Mummy.  If you haven't seen it yet, please allow me to enlighten you before our discussion:

I've watched it three times now and I'm still not sure what that taste is in my mouth.  It's mostly anger and rage and probably a little tarter... but it might just boil down to confusion. I understand that Hollywood is completely against any sort of new idea (like, hey, maybe creating a new movie monster or creature that's as fun as The Mummy), and I also understand that they're starting their new expanded monster universe (like The Avengers but with old horror monsters).  What I'm upset at is the fact that they felt like the needed to remake an already great movie (unheard of, I know!) The Brendan Fraser movie, while imperfect, is a ton of fun. It's a cheesy and poorly acted and absolutely magnificent.  Sure, it was followed up by a pretty terrible sequel and an ABYSMAL third movie I refuse to acknowledge, but there are few movies like the first Mummy

Now we have Tom Cruise.  I have no problem with Tom Cruise.  He's a fucking ball of nuts, but most of his movies are good.  He's a very entertaining Hollywood figure who tends to choose very fun roles from mostly good scripts. Yet, this version of The Mummy doesn't look like fun.  It looks like Mission: Impossible meets The Mummy without any of the fun horror schlock that makes the 1999 version great. It's big CGI plane crashes and explosions and bus crashes and Russell Crowe and it doesn't look like anyone is having any fun.  It's cool to look at, sure, but there's a reason Brendan Fraser became mildly popular and famous after The Mummy is because it was such a FUN movie and he is such a FUN character.  Only after that movie did we learn that he's a terrible actor, but fun nonetheless.

Obviously this could be due to a poor edit of the trailer. An entire action sequence with a crashing plane has already been essentially spoiled (another annoying thing Hollywood is doing now), but I just didn't care.  To be fair, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for 1999's The Mummy and no matter how good (or bad) this one is, that one will always be my favorite.  I'm just upset that this new monster movie universe couldn't have just included the Brendan Fraser version.  It's a perfect enough movie and could've been the anchor for a new set of horror movies.  It's not like you couldn't still get Brendan Fraser...

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Doctor Strange: Marvel on LSD

I think I'm going to advise everyone reading this that I should not be the go-to review for any Marvel movie from now on unless it's a Guardians of the Galaxy movie. I'm serious. If it involves ANY of the Avengers (unless Hawkeye ever gets his own damn movie) then DEFINITELY don't go to me. If it's Deadpool, if it's Spider-Man, hell, even if it's X-Men... you shouldn't go to me because I'm so done with Marvel. I'm not even trying to talk DC who is doing everything in its power to be its own trainwreck and deteriorate itself without me having to do it. I'm over Marvel. They're all the same damn movie. There's the origin story. We get to see a troubled person get into some sort of accident. Then they gain a power or learn a power.  Then they train.  Then they have to fight evil.  Then the mentor dies. It's the same goddamn movie every time.  Even Deadpool was the same-- they just inserted profanity and tits. Breaking the fourth wall doesn't mean breaking goddamn Marvel story structure!

However, I was more impressed with Doctor Strange than I have been with the last four years of Marvel movies (excluding, of course, Guardians of the Galaxy). I'm still fed up with Marvel... but Doctor Strange didn't exactly make me want to go out and monkey stomp an orphan-- and that's a good thing.

It took me a while to get into Doctor Strange.  It was hard for me to get immersed in the story and actually care about superhero #13048558930 who will get four or five of his own movies and spliced in and out of Avengers movies and show up in random post-credit Marvel scenes... but after awhile I did. It was mostly due to Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch plays Strange, a brilliant doctor, but an arrogant asshole. Once he's in a car crash and his hands are essentially destroyed, he loses faith in life because he can't surgeon no mo'. He seeks answers, but life keeps kicking him in the balls. Until one day, he's told to go to Nepal and visit with "The Ancient One" (a bald Tilda Swinton). There he's told about (the proper names in the rest of this review have been replaced with nonsense words due to the fact that there were too many, they're too hard to remember, and I'm not doing any extra work for you, Marvel) the dark dimension place. The catscratchers have learned how to manipulate space and time, but in our dimension.  They also protect our dimension from the dark dimension and this giant evil face known as Doormouse. He's given a little finger-didgeridoo to spin holes in the world and sort of portal himself from place to place.  Then, there's this evil follower who used to be a catscratcher but now he's a Doormouse guy named Castlehouse and he's trying to take down the protections of our dimension.  Lost? Yeah, fuckin probably.

It's actually not as confusing as it sounds. The story does a pretty good job of laying everything out first, then giving extra explanation and finally, showing how everything works the way it does. What made me actually start to care about the film is that, even though this is still the typical Marvel origin film... the back half (when I started to really enjoy the movie) isn't typical back-half Marvel origin film.  What I mean by that is that when Strange has finally "completed" his training and has to engage in combat with the bad guy, it felt like a new movie. It didn't follow the same superhero tropes that the others fall into all too easily.  The big CGI battle at the end isn't a good guy vs. main movie villain.  It's actually something that makes sense to this particular story and isn't written in order to wow your 3D glasses with a bullshit explosion or two.  It's actually very cleverly written-- complete with callbacks and everything. It's also... forgive me.... strange as hell. When the Doc is being zipped throughout time and space it's like watching Pink Floyd's The Wall while listening to Phish on actual LSD.  It's gorgeous, but it's a trip down a freaky visual kaleidoscope that may or may not make or break the movie for you.

Cumberbatch is also very good in the film.  He's an arrogant douchebag, but he's quippy and quick. He's got a smarmy retort to everything and while it does make him come off as a sleazeball, most of them are actually pretty funny.  I read somewhere that Dan Harmon came in and did an uncredited rewrite of the film (my guess is sprucing up the dialogue) and it makes sense because the quick-witted nature of Strange's character is reminiscent to the fast-paced verbal wordplay of Community. Though I will say it was a mistake to give him an American accent.  One of the reasons we like him so much is the smug British accent that accompanies that alluring oblong face. And somehow... somehow... a bald Tilda Swinton didn't come off as EITHER hokey OR racist. There's reason for her character to be white (not really a reason for the baldness but DGAF), but she's actually very good as well.  She takes Cumberbatch's flung insults with impenetrable poise and her own ornery smile across her face.

So while the first half of the movie does feel like your standard Marvel movie fare, the second half really presents something new. It's beautiful to watch, it's not the same song and dance, and it's really quite enjoyable if you stick it out (especially if you dig tie-dye). I'm not saying I was entirely won over to the character or the eventual series it is destined to become, but it's not one that I'm going to openly bash. It may be the new Marvel benchmark I continue to say every Marvel movie couldn't live up to. I'm sure everyone who has wanted to see it has seen it already and those who are THROUGH with watching superhero fodder (like I keep claiming to be) and refuse to see it will never watch it. But, if you're one who is on the fence, I say go for it. It's so visually captivating that it deserves to be watched on the big screen. Damn you Cumberbatch... I say that I'm through and you drag me right back in.  I had scruples! Well... I still haven't seen Batman v. Superman... that has to count for something, right?


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Allied: Casablanca Meets No Way Out

I think it's been decided that Brad Pitt should just make World War II movies. Yeah, The Big Short was great and yeah, World War Z was a lot more fun than it was supposed to be.  But, in the last seven years his best movies have been Inglourious Basterds and Fury.  Now, he's starring in Allied alongside Marion Cotillard and directed by one of my favorite Directors, Robert Zemeckis. However, unlike his previous WWII movies, Allied is something of a different beast. It's slower and adds tension little by little over the its two hour run time. It's gorgeously shot, perfectly acted, and very well-executed. If Mr. and Mrs. Smith wasn't a popcorn movie, and was set in the 1940s, it would've wound up pretty damn close to Allied.

Pitt, in a quiet role, plays Max Vatan, an intelligence officer teamed up with Marianne Beauséjour to act as a married couple in French Morocco to assassinate a Nazi Ambassador. This is the first hour of the film. Marianne takes Max around the city, coaching him in the ways a Parisian would act around these particular social circles, flaunting him to her newly acquired friends, and planning their assassination.  All the while the two are slowly, but surely, falling in love. The first hour does move slowly, but effectively. There are long, drawn-out lulls in story, but during these moments we're being showcased our two fine acting leads as well as Zemeckis' talents behind the camera. The second hour, as you've already seen in the trailers, is where the real tension begins. Max is told that his now wife, Marianne, is suspected of being a German spy. Max is to test her over a three day period and await the results, once and for all proving if she is, indeed, selling secrets to the other side.

Now, it might've just been me, but I personally felt that Zemeckis did a fabulous job of building tension at a snail's pace to perfection. The moment Max and Marianne are introduced the tension begins and rises every so slowly throughout the progression of the story. While the stakes of the first hour are different than the stakes of the second hour, those looking for a spy thriller may be a tad bored with the first half. The first half is character and relationship building. The second half is trying to solve the puzzle. But what works so well about the first hour is that we're able to care for these characters and not entirely trust them at the same time. Marianne is great at her job, which makes us question every decision she makes throughout the remainder of the film. Is she exactly who she says she is? Is she actually a spy? Is her marriage to Max entirely a sham? This is what the first hour accomplishes. No one in the theater will be able to answer any of these questions with any sort of certainty until the big "reveal" at the end. And even that is subdued. Zemeckis isn't trying to make some sort of big war/spy blockbuster. It's more Frank Capra kills Nazis kind of a thing. Zemeckis is able to combine romantic movie elements with spy thriller movie elements as well as I've seen in a while (it's pretty much the opposite of The Tourist).

Lately, Pitt has been a lot more modest and reserved in his acting choices. Since his quirky character of Aldo in Inglourious, his roles in The Tree of Life, Moneyball, Killing Them Softly, etc. have been compiled of very restrained characters. It's working well. In fact, his role as Max in this film is even more so and it couldn't have been more effective. Max is a man of few words, and even though he is a fine soldier/spy, his eyes tend to tell a completely different story than his words. Cotillard is stellar as well. She's carries such confidence in her expressions and mannerisms that she reeks of suspicion. Even if the film isn't exactly perfect in every way, the actors we're given the privilege to watch marvel enough for the cost of a ticket.

The film takes it sweet time telling this story and it's not a twisty-and-turny ride of action and espionage. It's more like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy if it revolved around a love story and wasn't, you know, a complete snoozefest. There is an ever growing sense of tension until the end when it's too hard to take that your heart may nervously beat out of your chest. But, to get to this point, you will need to sit back and relax and enjoy the build. And, since everyone is so keen on petitioning everything under the political sun these days... why don't we start one up right now that says Brad Pitt must make at least one WWII movie every other year? He has yet to let us down thus far.


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge: A Fantastic And Necessary Tale Of Heroism

I'm going to begin this review by acknowledging the fact that Mel Gibson is a garbage human. The misogyny, the racism, the anti-semitism, and the general lack of a moral center toward most people is deplorable and should be treated as such. However, this does not transcend to Mel Gibson-- the actor. Martin Riggs is a genuinely good human being. William Wallace has all of the necessary qualities to be deemed a hero. And William Wallace deserves your damn respect. This also qualifies for Mel Gibson-- the director. Now, some are unable to separate these different Gibsons due to the fact that the "real" one is a goddamn maniac. I understand this and will not try and dissuade you. But I am not one of them. I can successfully separate myself from Mel Gibson garbage heap and Mel Gibson gifted director. Gibson's latest movie, a WWII drama, is as close as he has been to the success of Braveheart, and legitimately one of the best WWII movies I've ever seen next to Saving Private Ryan.

WWII movies are as pervasive in film as boxing movies. As soon as you think you've seen everything WWII has to offer, another one rears its ugly head-- and there's never really a bad one (okay... I remember Pearl Harbor too). The latest entry is the story of Army Medic Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), WWII's first conscientious objector.  Doss's objections to firing (or even touching) a weapon stems from his childhood raised by very religious parents and an alcoholic father (Hugo Weaving) suffering from PTSD from the first world war. Doss is sent to boot camp and labeled a 'coward' by his Sargent (Vince Vaughn) and even court martialed for failing to follow direct orders. Eventually he's sent into battle as a medic and winds up saving the lives of (an estimated) 75 lives.

While a lot of WWII movies tend to regurgitate the same story of the heroism of soldiers in battle, Hacksaw Ridge gives moviegoers something more. Doss is not your typical hero. He's not a sniper who was awarded the medal of honor for taking 200 plus lives. He's a scared southern [weirdo] kid trying to do right by himself and his faith. His heroism transcends battle. He goes back and forth on the battle field without a single weapon to protect himself. If he's attacked, it's a losing battle. But, this kid isn't concerned with himself. His entire motivation is to bring soldiers home-- alive. It's a story that not only should've been told, but needed to have been told.

This is where I'm able to separate myself with the Gibsons. This story in other hands would've wound up a very paint-by-numbers film. Boy grows up, boy falls in love, boy enlists, boy is sent to boot camp, boy goes to war, boy is hero. And while all of these moments do happen in the film, Gibson transcends typical biopic story structure. He's able to create a very real character, with very real and ironclad beliefs and give him the movie he deserves. And while Hacksaw Ridge isn't the same caliber as Braveheart, there has been significant growth in his directorial skills. He doesn't shy away from the grotesque during war, but he also doesn't linger on gruesome images for the sake of showing gruesome images. There are moments of graphic intensity (like watching rats gnaw on corpses) but every moment has a purpose. Nothing about the film, or the character, seems counterfeit.

The biggest proponent of a the film that could've gone very stereotypical is the role of Desmond's father. He's an abusive drunk in the south and does everything in his power to hold back his sons from enlisting in the war. Hugo Weaving brings a sadness and humanity to the character that a lesser actor wouldn't have. He doesn't even need to speak... he wears all of his emotions in his eyes. Andrew Garfield is fantastic as well. His accent seems a bit hokey, and it's very clear that this real human being would've been annoying to the point of obnoxious, but when you watch the clip of the real Desmond Doss at the end, you can tell Garfield was very on point. Vince Vaughn brings a nice blend of humor and realism to his Drill Sargent character. He's not trying to be R. Lee Ermey from Full Metal Jacket... he's Vince Vaughn as a sarcastic, but sympathetic Drill Sargent. Finally, Sam Worthington is in this film. I've seriously grown tired of Hollywood trying to make him a thing. He's an average looking white dude who blends in with all other Hollywood average looking white dudes and there's genuinely nothing special about it. His first appearance on screen had me rolling my eyes... but he proved me wrong here. He was actually very subdued and great in his role. Seriously, everything about this movie was great.

I have a feeling that this movie will go entirely under the radar as far as Oscar season goes. Mel Gibson, because he is a garbage human, will most likely get this film overlooked, which is a shame. Had someone like Clint Eastwood made the film, it would be a shoo-in for a Best Picture nom. And because of the slew of holiday movies rushing into theaters, Hacksaw Ridge is already being aggressively nudged out. It's a movie that should be seen in theaters, but if you're unable to, it should be seen regardless. It's characters like Desmond Doss that are the reason biopics became a real thing. But, unlike a lot of humans who don't deserve to have their story told, Doss's story is a necessary story, especially today. There's no reason not to stand up for what you believe in, even if all you have to fight with is that belief.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them: It's No HP, But It'll Do

I began the Harry Potter books as a young lad and became enthralled by them.  I wanted to be a wizard myself, I wanted to go to Hogwarts, I wanted to be besties with Ron, and I wanted to eat a chocolate frog.  I read the first four books of the series in the span of just a few weeks and then I had to wait for the fifth. This was between middle school and high school. By the time I got to high school, Harry Potter wasn't cool anymore, so I stopped wanting the magic in favor of wanting not to be ridiculed.  They had started producing the movies, so I decided to just watch them instead. Fast forward to just a few months ago, when I realized that Harry Potter wasn't just for kids, but actually one of the best book series ever written. I picked up the fifth book and, once again, in just a few weeks I sped through the last three books and thoroughly enjoyed them. (I'm an idiot for not reading them first and already knowing how they ended.  I wish I could go back and read them fresh for the first time). So, consider me a Potter fan and, I guess, excited for anything in the extended universe.  This is why I became interested in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Though it isn't as strong as any of the Potter books, the film does capture a lot of that JK Rowling magic we've seen from her time and time again.

Instead of mid-90s to current day England, we're in 1920s New York City. A young lad by the name of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has arrived with a suitcase full of fantastic beasts. Once in the city, there becomes a mix-up with his case and the case of a budding baker, Kowalski (Dan Fogler)... who is also a No-Maj (American word for Muggle-- aren't we creative)... and a few of Newt's beasts escape. An ex-auror (Katherine Waterston), trying to get in better standing with the MACUSA (American equivalent of the Ministry of Magic) arrests Newt and tries to bring him before the President of Wizards, but is interrupted by an ongoing investigation of an invisible beast attacking No-Majes by Graves (Colin Farrell).  Finally, there's another sub-plot of the evil head of a foster home and founder of a group called the New Salemers out to prove witchcraft is real and bring all witches and wizards to death.  Beside her is her awkward, quiet, Kylo Ren-y foster son Credence (Ezra Miller). If it sounds like there's a lot going on and it's a bit exhausting, then you're right. But that doesn't mean it's not quite a bit of fun.

Fantastic Beasts does have its faults. There is a bit too much going on at times and too little going on at times. The first half of the movie is essentially just Eddie Redmayne and Dan Fogler chasing beasts and trying to get them back into the suitcase. What we aren't getting is much character building and development.  There is certainly a lot of world building going on (if there's going to be five more movies, there has to be a significant amount of built up), but it seemed to focus less on our hero. By the middle of the movie, I felt like I still didn't really know Newt and that was a problem for me. Rowling is so good at character, that I felt he wasn't being given his due.  By the end of the film, I knew him much better, but still not as much as I'd like. By the end of the movie there were a few characters (two large parts of the story) that didn't seem to really matter in the grand scheme of THIS story (who knows about the future). However, the second half of the movie is really where the film shines. Every story arc and side plot comes together perfectly to form a very entertaining, and surprisingly very dark, magical story.

David Yates, director of the last four Potter movies is at the helm once more, and it's clear he has a passion for the world. The movie is gorgeous to watch (though we ended up seeing it in 3D and that was a terrible choice) and the beasts themselves are, indeed, fantastic. There is one 'beast' that looks a bit like a duck-billed platypus, with a penchant for stealing shiny coins that will really melt your heart. The end of the film is a great payoff to set up a very nice sequel (as for five... who knows). Redmayne, along with Rowling's writing, have set up a very fun character with just enough quirkiness and weirdness and goo-goo eyes and bravado to make the audience want to adventure with him a second time. Dan Fogler (yes, the dude from Balls of Fury and Good Luck Chuck) shines as the No-Maj with the heart of gold. We're so used to Fogler hamming it up that it was nice to see him play the character as reserved and sweet (even as the comic relief). Finally, Waterston's character, Tina, is a bit of a toss up for me as far as effectiveness. She's a very by-the-book-no-nonesense character to a fault, but some of her choices seem to contradict others and it doesn't end up making a whole lot of sense. This, unfortunately, leads you to dislike the character for much of the movie, knowing full well her moment of redemption will come. The question is, does it come too late for you? It might've for me. It's on the cusp. We'll see how it turns out in the next movie.

The one thing that does kind of suck about Fantastic Beasts is that it's not Harry Potter. Those of us who have read the books (yes, I can now lump myself into this) and watched the movies and dove head first into the world... have a lightning bolt-shaped hole in our hearts because we're not getting anymore stories. And while it is nice to get back into the world... it's not Harry Potter. And while Newt Scamander is a worthy protagonist for a new world of American wizardry... it's not Harry PotterFantastic Beasts is a lot like watching Better Call Saul.  It's very good for what it is... but it's no Breaking Bad. It does, however, look like Warner Bros. has their first glimpse of a new, very successful future franchise. If Yates and Rowling continue to produce quality like this... then we may very well fall in love with Scamander nearly as much as we did with the Potter gang.  Nearly.

Finally, don't see this movie in 3D. In fact, don't see any movie in 3D.  It's just the worst.


Friday, November 11, 2016

Arrival: The Story Of Our Lives

Aliens come down to Earth. They set twelve of their ships in twelve different locations all over the planet. They attempt to communicate with us, but their language is so advanced we can't make out if it's words of peace or of war. What do we do? Like, honestly, what do we do? In light of recent election events it's hard to ponder a scenario that doesn't involve acts motivated by fear of the unknown. We've shown, as a nation, that a majority of our decisions are motivated by fear.  I'm not just talking about Trump tactics of shipping Muslims out of the country and banning them from coming back in.  I'm talking even like taking a movie out of theaters because there's been a threat from North Korea that if theaters show this film, there will be an attack on our country. What do we do? We pulled the movie from all major theater chains... out of fear. There was never going to be an attack. But we acted out of fear.  Fear is such a powerful motivating factor, especially when it comes as a threat to humanity's way of life. And there are powerful decisions that often need to be made by people in power. Decisions that can be swayed by fear... or by love. These are the themes explored in Arrival. Decisions based on fear or love can both result in undesirable consequences, but if we already know the outcome, do we still proceed?

Arrival is my favorite kind of sci-fi film. It's not loud and explosive. It's not bogged down with heavy action or CGI.  It's a quiet, slow build favoring intellect over carnage. The tone of it reminded me of last year's Ex Machina. In Arrival we follow Louise (Amy Adams), a linguistics professor, who lives alone with the constant memory of her broken family: a husband who left and a daughter who's died. When alien ships appear in twelve spots around the globe, Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) recruits Louise in order for her to be able to figure out a means of conversing with the aliens (mostly to find out if they're here to f**k our s**t up or not). Along the way is Ian (Jeremy Renner), a mathematician there to aid Louise in figuring out the complex structure of the alien language. When Louise figures out that contact is better suited with visual symbols than actual speaking, the rush is on to figure out who these aliens exactly are and what these aliens exactly want before one of the eleven other countries dealing with the same problem panics and declares war on the visitors.

This is the heart of the movie. Amy Adams is the perfect person to cast because she wears her entire character in her eyes. She's subdued and vulnerable, yet tough and not ready to make snap decisions based on fear of the unknown. When she translates one of the words from the aliens to be 'weapon', she doesn't automatically want to rush to the conclusion that they're here to start a war. She uses her brain (what a crazy concept) to conclude that the term 'weapon' and the term 'tool' are so close in meaning that either side could misinterpret. Other countries/people hear 'weapon' and it's such a violently loaded word that fear takes over and panic ensues. But the movie doesn't snap into the District 9 type of alien v. human battle one might expect. We stay with Louise. We watch her make informed decisions based on logic and reason, rather than irrational judgements that could start a nuclear war.

The movie is beautifully shot and directed by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario) who commits to the genre. This is a thinking-person's sci-fi and he doesn't build up to an ending only to cheapen it with computer-animated battle sequences. In fact, the ending of this film is so beautifully poetic, anyone looking for a District 9-type sci-fi will probably be sorely disappointed. I don't want to give too much of the film away. It's better to go in knowing only minimal information about the film and just let it play out. The science behind the movie is perfect which lead to beautiful visuals and gorgeous filmmaking/story telling. This will not be a movie that I soon forget and if you're close enough to me that we talk every so often, I probably will be recommending it to you several times. It's not to be missed. And it's the movie we all desperately need, especially right now.


Monday, October 31, 2016

Ouija Origin of Evil: A Shocking Prequel To A Once Dreadful Franchise

Let me preface this review by stating that there is no reason I should've seen this film. I really enjoy horror movies, especially in the theater. When you get the right theater (as in people who shut the hell up and don't giggle or yell incessantly as a defense mechanism because they're not secure enough to just let themselves get scared) a good horror movie in theaters can be a terrifying experience. However, with the wrong film, it can feel like a total waste of time and money. Again, Ouija Origin of Evil was never on my radar of films to see. Mostly because the first movie looked like complete and utter garbage. This theory is, of course, confirmed by its abysmal 7% on rottentomatoes. I caught maybe... maybe... five minutes of it on HBO and thus substantiated my previous claim that the movie, for all intents and purposes, was a complete, lazy failure. However, its sequel... again, a movie I should not have even thought about seeing... had me curious based on two main factors. One, the director. Mike Flanagan hasn't exactly cemented his name in the horror spectrum, but he has turned in some fairly decent movies. Oculus was almost a good movie. It was definitely tense and creepy a good 3/4ths of the way through until its completely botched conclusion. And Hush, a movie I recommend on Netflix, again, was mostly a good movie-- with a great premise. And two, the outrageously shocking 82% rating on rottentomatoes. I don't usually put all of my stock in seeing a movie based on its RT score, but if a film scores 80% or higher or 20% or lower... generally the masses are correct.  But, a jump from 7% to 82%, I'm pretty sure, is unprecedented.  I couldn't just ignore this factor.  Ouija Origin of Evil, to put this into perspective, scored higher than The Magnificent Seven, The Secret Life of Pets, Snowden, Ghostbusters, Suicide Squad and The Accountant, to name a few. Those two factors led to me watching a very serviceable film with plenty of jumps, chills and thrills.

So, all I know about this film in relation to the original is that it is a prequel (figured this one out due to the 'origin' in the title). The movie centers around Alice, a recent widow, and crystal-ball psychic, and her two daughters Lina and Doris in 1965. Alice conducts psychic readings out of her home in order for people to contact loved ones on the other side. Her readings are, of course, faked, but used in a very healing way. She's not out to swindle folks for money, she's there to provide closure for people who haven't entirely been able to handle the grieving process. This is emphasized by the fact that Alice, herself, hasn't been able to handle the recent death of her husband. When the new "game", a Ouija Board, is introduced the public sphere, her eldest suggests that she incorporate it into the readings to add a further level or realism to the con. When her youngest, Doris, plays with the Ouija board it appears she actually has the gift of communication with the other side. She connects with her father, Alice's husband, and reveals intimate details about their lives together, proving that she can, indeed, contact the beyond.  However, sinister forces are at work, slowly taking over Alice's body, possessing her, and forcing her to perform very demonic acts on the people around her.

The film works because of its writing and cast. Flanagan constructs a very slowly built and creepy world around very honest and vulnerable characters. We feel for these people because they're not evil. Alice is honestly trying to help others. Lina, while obnoxious in her rebellious tendencies, is only acting out because she, too, cannot handle to loss of her father. And Doris is the inquisitive young girl who doesn't exactly comprehend what death even means. These characters are very relatable and easy to root for. So when Doris becomes possessed, we're invested. We want her to be able to break the curse. We want everyone to be all right at the end. And we are prepared to do whatever it takes and go through whatever we have to in order to see this through to the finish. Also, we're ready to get the hell scared out of us. And there are great moments of intensity and terror. For all of the faults the movie has, it doesn't go out of its way to provide cheap scares. Yes, there are some jump scares. But these surround moments of true terror weaving through moments of levity and humor.

PG-13 horror movies have a stigma attached to them that they're cheap, lazy, horror movies that provide no real scares and there is some truth to that.  In general, most of the horror movies that fail both story-wise and box office-wise are PG-13 horror movies. But, when done right, can really be better than any R rated horror movie.  In an R rated movie, blood and guts can be used as a crutch instead of honestly trying to freak someone out. In PG-13, the film is limited in its blood and relies on actual scares to get an audience to jump out of their seat. Director Mike Flanagan, for the most part, succeeds in his endeavor of making a genuinely good movie out of a franchise that already started off as a rancid pile of sewage water. He breathed new life into the movie by doing the simple task of making his characters real. They aren't stereotyped.  They're not lazily written around cheap jump scares that sacrifice good build-up for a synthetic gasp. And he holds nothing back. The more we feel for these characters the more Flanagan knows this and decides to put us through the ringer. It actually winds up being a pretty messed up movie... but in a good way.

The movie isn't entirely there, though. Flanagan has the ability to become a horror staple, but his work, while more advanced that most horror directors today, is still a ways off of become a Wes Craven or a James Wan or a Shyamalan (in his prime). There are still brief moments of bad CGI or a few silly moments that provide an unintentional laugh instead of a reaction of fright. But, he's getting closer.  With every entry into the horror genre, he's getting closer to being the guy with a reliable name who can use it to put asses in seats. Today is Halloween and it's been a good long while since there was a genuinely good horror movie to see on Halloween night that won't disappoint. For all of its flaws, there is still a lot working for Ouija Origin of Evil. 2016 might not be a very good year for movies in general, but the horror game, for the most part, has been pretty on point.

**Side Note: there is a scene after the credits. Apparently it makes sense if you've seen the first movie.  I haven't so I didn't get it.  I've decided I'm okay with that.