Monday, October 16, 2017

Upcoming Best and Worst of Fall 2017


After a lackluster Fall movie season from last year, it looks like we're back on board this year to some great Fall movies. Usually, just after October is when we jump into "Awards Season Movies". This year appears like we got some great movies on the docket. The WORST movie section is a lot smaller than last year, and we have a new Star Wars movie along with what appears to be Daniel Day-Lewis's final film (and eventual fourth Oscar for Best Actor). I, for one, am excited for most of the movies this Fall and with my Movie Pass... I will get to see nearly all of them. Let's take a look.


BEST UPCOMING:


10/20
The Snowman













Early reviews haven't exactly been kind to The Snowman, but it's hard to argue with how great/disturbing the trailer for this film is. It's also hard to argue with the cast and everyone surrounding the movie. It's certainly going to have to miss the mark by a lot for us to consider this movie nothing but stellar. I, for one, am hoping for something dark, gritty, and terrifying. Hopefully these early reviews aren't an actual preview of what's to come.

11/3
Thor: Ragnarok













I am completely OFF the bandwagon of Marvel. And if I were to list the superheroes from the Avengers that I just can't stand (especially their standalone films), number one would be Hulk and number two would be Thor. However, director Taika Waititi (who directed and starred in the hilarious and underrated What We Do In The Shadows) is the perfect person to take the helm. The movie looks like it's going to have a lot more personality to it and not take itself so seriously. Plus, there's the fact that Cate Blanchett looks like a badass and Chris Hemsworth even said in an interview that he was starting to get seriously over playing Thor... until this film. I don't want it to be good... but it's going to be great and you know it.

Roman J. Israel, Esq.













Here is Daniel Day-Lewis's only real competition for that Best Actor Oscar. It's Denzel. It's a smart legal-thriller. And it's written and directed by the guy who did the very underrated Nightcrawler. I mean... I've only seen one preview for the film, and alone it looks good. But with the added bonus of being a Denzel film during Awards time-- this movie is going to certainly be one of the best.

11/10
Murder On The Orient Express













Kenneth Branagh (who stars and directs), Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfieffer, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Josh Gad, Willem Dafoe... look at that cast! Yes, it's yet another remake, but Branagh hasn't starred in a movie in forever, and he's proven himself as a capable director (as well as one who chooses the right projects). It's a murder-mystery party on a train. It's going to be subtle, it's going to be tense, and it's going to be fantastic.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri














There is literally not a movie for the rest of the year that I am more excited for. Yes, even Star Wars. This film, if you haven't already watched the trailer (which I suggest you do right NOW), is going to be the perfect mix of drama, thriller and comedy. Director Martin McDonaugh (who helmed two of my favorite movies--In Bruges & Seven Psychopaths) is making his third film this year and it looks to be just as wonderful as his previous two. He's the long lost Coen Brother and it will be difficult, I believe, to find a film that I will enjoy more than this movie. Seriously, go watch the trailer right now. I'll wait.

11/24
Coco

  











Well, Pixar is back. And it looks like their new film, Coco, is going the route of Inside Out rather than Cars on this one. I don't know much about the movie because I'm intentionally not looking to hard into it. I want to go into it fresh and probably cry my little eyes out. But it deals with death. It deals with dogs. It deals with making us all weep like infants, but leaving feeling great about life. I can't wait.

Darkest Hour













This film doesn't exactly look like my cup o' tea. But, the physical transformation Gary Oldman has undergone to portray Winston Churchill is beyond amazing. It looks to be a little bit dry, but that doesn't mean it isn't going to be critically heralded. Even if it's not going to be one of the best of the year, still look for Oldman to get that Oscar nod. Unfortunately, he probably doesn't have a shot next to Denzel and DDL.

Molly's Game













When it comes to Academy Award worthy films in the Fall, I try my best to stay detached and not look too deeply into every movie, for fear of finding out too much and ruining the movie. I don't know much about this film either, but I do know it has a stellar cast, but more importantly, dialogue master Aaron Sorkin is making his directorial debut. If that's not enough to make the Best list... I don't know what is.

12/1
The Disaster Artist

 











Those of you unfamiliar with the hilariously awful film The Room may have you wondering what the hell The Disaster Artist even is. But it's the story of one of the worst (if not THE worst) movies ever made. It's not going to be your typical James Franco/Seth Rogen movie, but if anyone is capable enough of mocking a film while still respecting its creator... it's these guys. This is going to be a very strange film, unlike any you've seen, but it's going to be very good.

12/8
I, Tonya













No poster and no trailer have been released for the Tonya Harding biopic, but everything coming out of the respected film festivals say it's fantastic. Mostly, they're saying Margot Robbie's portrayal is out of this world. The movie is supposed to be a beautiful mix of drama and dark comedy. If you don't know the story about Harding's life-- jump on over to Wikipedia. It's amazing this movie hasn't already been made until now. It's going to be a weird, and wonderful, ride.

The Shape of Water

 











The Shape of Water is Guillermo Del Toro's next directorial feature film. His last effort, Crimson Peak was somewhat of a misfire. If it seems like Del Toro hasn't really given us much over the last few years, you can't deny that he's still one of the most visionary directors of all time. I don't even know how to feel about this movie based on the trailer-- it doesn't look like anything I'd even care about if Del Toro wasn't attached-- but because he is... I'm willing to give it the serious benefit of the doubt.

12/15
Star Wars: The Last Jedi













You were worried about this movie until you saw the trailer last Monday. Whatever your opinion was of the movie JJ Abrams gave us, you can't deny that what Rian Johnson has done with the sequel looks nothing short of astonishing. The trailer gave me chills. For those of you who believed The Force Awakens was a carbon copy of A New Hope, we can safely put that fear to bed about The Last Jedi. I'm worried we've already seen too much, but not only is this going to be one of the best movies of the year, it's probably going to be one of the best of the entire franchise.

12/22
Downsizing













Often overlooked writer/director Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants, Nebraska) is coming out with a new film, Downsizing. It's about a man (Matt Damon) who, in a world where human shrinking is the new fad, decides his life would be better if he shrunk himself. It's a comedically talented cast and a quirky little plot. It's going to be a very quiet movie, but it's going to be funny and poignant as hell.

12/25
Phantom Thread

 











Again, no poster or trailer for this movie, but it's Daniel Day-Lewis. According to him, this will be his last film. It is a movie directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and it deals with the fashion industry. That's literally all we know about the film. However, with all of these elements combined, and due to the fact that DDL is literally the most picky actor in Hollywood when it comes to what movies he will come out of his cave to act in... this will be something great for us to witness. Watch out Denzel, DDL is going for his fourth Oscar before he takes his talent away from us forever (hopefully not forever).


WORST UPCOMING:


10/20
Tyler Perry's Boo 2: A Madea Halloween

 











HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. How?! How have we given Madea over ten years of movies??? How is this even still a thing? How did the first movie make enough money to garner a sequel? How?!?!?!?!?!

10/27
Jigsaw













I've seen all the Saw movies and the only good one is the first one... and maybe one of the middle ones. They're terrible movies, but for those of us who, for some morbid reason, love watching idiot people get creatively tortured... we're going to like this movie a lot. This doesn't mean it's going to be good by any means... but there will be people who like this movie. I'm just curious if people care enough again to make it any money. If it does... look for a lot more.

Thank You For Your Service













Can we all just admit that Miles Teller sucks and needs to go? Please? I mean, I know Whiplash was a fantastic movie and he didn't annoy the shit out of us, but everything else he's been in has been just pointless. Can we also stop making these shitty military movies that are Republican masturbation fodder. This movie is going to be a mess that makes no money. And it will all be well deserved.

11/17
Justice League













Wonder Woman was really good. I didn't hate Suicide Squad as much as everyone else did. But you couldn't pay me to see Justice League. Zack Snyder is the wrong choice to keep moving the DC world further. He's bastardizing most of these heroes and there's just nothing appealing about any part of this movie. Superfans unite... and enjoy this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad film.

12/1
Polaroid

 











Remember the movie Friend Request? No. Me either. Okay, remember The Ring? Well, this is kinda like both of them. Irrelevant and the same story. If you look at this Polaroid picture... or get your picture taken with it... or see this movie... you will die. It will be forgotten. It will make a lot of money from 14 year olds. And it will probably get three sequels. Yay Hollywood.

12/20
Pitch Perfect 3













I didn't particularly enjoy the first Pitch Perfect, but I understand why some people did. It just wasn't my personal taste. But, the filmmakers (who were certainly capitalizing on the popularity of Glee) made a small, funny movie that people could enjoy. Then they made the mistake of making a sequel that even huge fans of the first movie recognized as garbage. The third entry doesn't look like it's going to be much better. That's all I have to say about that.

12/25
The Greatest Showman

 











It's the story of PT Barnum's life and creation of his circus. It stars Hugh Jackman. It's also a musical. It could be great. But based on the preview it looks like it's trying MUCH too hard. And do we still care about musicals? And more specifically, does anyone actually care about this movie? It comes out on Christmas, so it's probably going to make a ton of money.


UPCOMING WILDCARDS:

10/20
Geostorm













Most people with a movie review blog... or most blogs that want you to take them seriously... would probably put this film on the Worst list. But damn it I love Gerard Butler and I love disaster movies. There have actually been good disaster films... and despite popular belief, good Gerard Butler movies as well. I'm hoping it's the perfect combination instead of the shit show it probably will be. I'm still very much looking forward to it.

10/27
Suburbicon













I came very close to throwing this film up on the Best list because, after all, it's one of those ultra-violent, quirky Coen Bros. movie that we all look forward to. But George Clooney is directing it. And as much as I respect him as an actor, and even a director, he hasn't really ever made a GREAT film and the reviews are split. It's getting praise and it's getting wailed on. So, my guess is that it will be 'just okay'. Not enough to put on the Best, nor the Worst.

11/1
A Bad Moms Christmas













The first Bad Moms was just alright. There were some very funny moments (especially those involving Katherine Hahn and Kristen Bell), but it was mostly forgettable. The trailer for this movie looks like much of the same, if not a bit of a downgrade in quality. It's going to be much of the same-- mostly forgettable throwaway jokes that try too hard, but look for a few scenes that actually make it worth the price of admission.

11/3
Last Flag Flying













Again, very close to throwing this one up on the Best list, especially because of its director, Richard Linklater who is one of my favorites. Then there's the cast of Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne. But there's just something about it that makes it look kinda... I don't know... schlocky? It looks like emotional manipulation at its best, but it could be great. I think this is the perfect movie to astutely define 'wildcard'.

11/10
Daddy's Home 2













If you saw the first Daddy's Home then you know it was supremely underwhelming. It was a lazy family effort by Will Ferrell that certainly didn't need a sequel. Normally, it would go straight into the Worst category, but the additions of Mel Gibson and John Lithgow raise the bar a little bit. Ferrell is always going to deliver funny moments, but it doesn't always translate into a funny movie. Hopefully, they realize what was lacking in the first film and use that to elevate the second film to something a little bit better.

11/17
Wonder













This is the epitome of emotional manipulation. You've got a physically deformed child who gets picked on but just wants to feel "normal"... yeah, it's gonna make you cry. It's the writing around the movie that is really going to determine if the movie is good or not. The actors, Jacob Tremblay, Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson already make the movie noticeable, but does the script warrant such talent? We'll have to wait and see for that one.

12/22
Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle













Okay, here's what I'm excited about-- I love The Rock. I love Jack Black. And I love Jumanji. This should all translate to a fun Christmas movie. However, I dislike Kevin Hart. And the movie does not look like Jumanji. Jumanji is a lot of fun, but it's also got a dark grit to it as well. This movie looks much too silly to be a sequel. The plot itself, on its own, sounds like a really good time. But as a Jumanji sequel, I'm more than worried.


I'm very much looking forward to this Fall movie season. There are a lot of great movies heading our way. Some definite stinkers, but the good will certainly (and hopefully) outweigh the bad. And I'm still doing shameless plugs for a company I have zero stake in... but if you want to see a majority of these movies without paying the exorbitant prices movie theaters charge... get the Movie Pass card. Unlimited movies for only ten bucks a month. I'll see you guys... at the theater. 


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Happy Death Day: A Cliché-Filled Mess, A Cliché-Filled Mess, A Cliché-Filled Mess....


About a month or so ago, I purchased the Movie Pass card. For those who don't know, this is a service where you pay ten dollars a month (seriously, only ten bucks) and you can see a movie a day for an entire month. To put this into perspective, my ticket for Happy Death Day was $12.20... I was able to swipe my Movie Pass card to get in for "free". The card has already paid for itself and then some... and I'm able to see as many more movies as I want for the rest of the month and it's only ten bucks. Why am I providing such a shameless (and free) advertisement for Movie Pass at the beginning of this review? Because the card, I've already learned, can be a blessing and a curse. Next week I will be able to see The Snowman and Geostorm, and hell, even Tyler Perry's Boo 2 if I want and it will cost me nothing. But in a week when there is NOTHING good out in theaters... the card can make you do some silly things........... like see Happy Death Day.

Happy Death Day is OBVIOUSLY terrible. Nobody reading this actually thought it was going to be a surprisingly great film. You've seen the trailer. You've called it Groundhog Day with murder. You know what you're getting into when you go to see it... as did I. But, I'm here to just confirm your preconceptions of the film. It's terrible. Now, I went and saw it alone, so I'm not exactly sure what kind of terrible it is. For me, alone, it was an eye-rolling, cliché-filled trash heap. But, on the other hand, it might've been SO bad that going with a group of people could actually be so bad it's unintentionally funny and you might have a good time. Whatever kind of bad the movie is shouldn't really matter, though. Because there's no reason you should actually be going to see this movie. If you have any sort of desire to go to the movies to see something resembling horror... just go see IT again.

Happy Death Day tells the repetitive tale of Tree (Jessica Rothe), who is a spoiled, petty, unrelenting sorority asshole. She wakes up in the bed of Carter (Israel Broussard), the film's only likable character, with no memory of how she got there other than "she was wasted last night", believing she had slept with Carter, a guy she'd never met until this morning-- it is later revealed that they did not, in fact, sleep together because there are actual good people in the world (though we never get the full explanation of why she's not wearing pants). It is also Tree's birthday, something she resents as much as her roommate, another good person, who only wants to create peace in the dorm room. She's also having an affair with her British science(?) professor, ignores her father's calls and ditches the birthday dinner he waits for her at, she ostracizes everyone who tries to even just wave at her, and is generally a garbage human. However, at the end of the day, a stalker in a mask murders Tree with a knife. If only this were the end of the film. No, Tree wakes up in the same spot she'd been in the previous morning having to re-live the day over and over again until she solves her own murder.

If it wasn't such a blatant rip-off, it might actually be a decent premise, but that would take a lot of factors such as competent directing, a solid script, and capable actors. The film is very limited when it comes to these aspects. The film suffers right off the bat with its lead-- Tree is an insufferable character who you enjoy watching get killed more than anything else that she does. (I mean, come on, her name is Tree.) I understand in movies like this, the day only stops repeating when the main character has learned a lesson and made a major change in their life. Phil Connors in Groundhog Day is an asshole, but he's only an asshole because he's tired and disenchanted with life. He's also got an actual quirky personality. And he's also Bill Murray. Tree is a young, spoiled "mean girl" with nearly no reason to be as terrible as she is. When she finally does go through the "oh, I should actually be a good person" moment, it isn't earned and it comes out of nowhere. What's great, too, is during one of the days she makes amends with almost everyone she has wronged-- the day repeats yet again, thus undoing everything she'd accomplished.

The other part of the movie that really got me consistently shaking my head is the dialogue. For some reason, Happy Death Day fills its entire movie with lines from actors that the writer THINKS would come out of college students' mouths. They also have a very 80s Hollywood view of what happens on an actual college campus. It's one cliché after another... so much so that I was predicting lines before they were even said. Tree and Carter sit in front of a window with a cupcake and a candle a la Sixteen Candles and he asks her what she wished for. Yup. You already know what she says. If you thought "tomorrow", you win the jackpot. College, also, is still apparently made up of cliques, good-looking male rapists, fraternity hazing, and protesting global warming snowflakes. It's clunky and hackneyed dialogue and stock characters that really bring down the movie (there's even a fart joke-- I'm not kidding). I caught myself wondering when they were going to shut the hell up and get killed already. It creates so many questions that take you right out of the "plot" of the movie. Why is Tree such an asshole? Why did they cast a guy who looks like he should be playing Elijah Wood's future self as her father? Why does she wait until the very end of the second day to realize everything has happened exactly the same? Why is the professor a British guy who only looks to be three or four years older than Tree? And so on.

It's also not scary. Most of it is Tree being a dick a bunch of times leading up to her murder. There's a few jump scares, but nothing truly suspenseful enough to get the heart racing. I will give the movie three compliments, however. One, I was actually a little surprised at the reveal of the killer. I thought they were going to go obvious with it and it actually kind of worked (however, the motive of the killer is AWFUL). Two, Israel Broussard's character Carter really is the only likable character and moral center of the film. It's just unfortunate he has a character like Tree to become his love interest. And finally, props to the movie for actually mentioning out loud that what's happening to Tree "is a lot like Groundhog Day". It was impressive they had the balls to make connection. It's like plagiarizing a paper that deals with the subject of plagiarism. You have to at least respect the meta irony.

Look, there's a right way and a wrong way to recreate the Groundhog Day formula because no matter how you do it, it's always going to be compared. Edge of Tomorrow was the right way to do it. Before I Fall and now Happy Death Day are examples of the wrong way to do it. As much as I advise you NOT to see this movie, I'm actually happy it's doing well in the box office money wise. Producer Jason Blum who has now made a successful career of producing cheap and mostly great horror movies deserves his success and we don't want a shit show like Happy Death Day to put an end to it. Let's just focus more on movies like Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Split and Get Out.

D

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Blade Runner 2049: Unnecessary Doesn't Always Mean Bad


I'm sorry, guys, but I just don't get Blade Runner. I don't understand the hype. Like, it's heralded as not just a great movie, but one of the best movies ever made right up there with Star Wars and Aliens. And I just don't get it. A friend of mine showed it to me way back in high school. It was one of his favorite movies, and I think I was expecting more of a Star Wars/Indiana Jones type Harrison Ford 80s movie and I found it to be overwhelmingly boring. Flash forward to two nights ago. I'd been wanting to see Blade Runner 2049, but I thought I better check out the original again first. Who knows? Maybe I just wasn't ready for what the movie had to offer back in high school. Maybe I didn't like it because I had different expectations. I mean, I saw The Godfather back in high school too and I thought it was boring as hell. I re-watched it earlier this year and it's one of the best damn movies I've ever seen in my life. I had to give Blade Runner another shot. I researched and found that really the only version Ridley Scott approves of is called "The Final Cut", so that's the one I watched. And guys... I just don't get it. I hated it. It was still boring. It was still too slow. There would be scenes that lasted several minutes of people just walking. Harrison Ford zooming in on a picture took nearly five damn minutes. I know it's not fair to criticize the acting in an early 80s movie, but it's comical. And that's the only thing funny about it-- the unintenionally bad acting. The movie is humorless, lifeless, and stylistically up its own ass. And I think the concept of the movie is fantastic. I loved the concept and was ready to go on this journey, but I hated the execution. By the end of the film I failed to see two important aspects-- first, why EVERYONE who loves the movie is so hell-bent on arguing "Is Deckard a replicant or not?" Who the hell cares? The issue is brought up exactly one time and doesn't delve into the question any further. And the second aspect I failed to see is how in the hell this movie needed/warranted any sort of sequel whatsoever?

Okay, now that I've gotten that out of the way and established that I am not a fan of the original film, and in fact can't really stand it... I absolutely loved Blade Runner 2049. Like, not just enjoyed it, not just thought it was a vast improvement over its predecessor... but loved it. Without diving too deeply into the story and giving anything away, here's what I can tell you-- set 30 years after the events of the first film, Ryan Gosling plays 'K', a blade runner replicant. If you recall from the first film, blade runners were essentially cops who sought out replicants to "retire" them. However, now, a new strain of replicants have been built by billionaire Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) who obey their masters instead of causing revolt. These new replicants now hunt all of the outlawed older models down. Also, don't worry, I didn't just blow any sort of secret or twist by revealing Gosling is a robot. This is legitimately the first bit of information you're given on him within the first three minutes of the movie. Blade runner 'K' uncovers a dark secret in the replicant world that now leads him down a path of trying to find ex-blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) for answers and truth. Unfortunately, that's all I am able to give you... but that's all you need.

Director Denis Villeneuve had a risky job to perform. On one hand, he needed to create a sequel to a beloved film with die hard fans. It's almost as daunting a task as making a Star Wars movie today. However, he also had to modernize the movie and make it palatable for new film goers who maybe aren't as familiar with the source material, or in my case, strongly dislike the source material. Whatever he did to figure out how to weave both of these dynamics into a single film, he did so successfully. While Blade Runner 2049 still feels like a Blade Runner film, he was able to find all of the short-comings of the original movie, fix them, as well as modernizing the story for a contemporary audience. And this is clearly coming from a man who is in love with the first film. There's much more excitement, much more tension, much more humor, much more weirdness (in a good way), but less of the cheese and arrogance of the first film. Villeneuve is the perfect choice, too, for this type of movie. Coming off his brilliant last film, Arrival, what he brings to sci-fi is a slow burn and nuance rather than CGI and explosions. His science fiction is cerebral and quiet, favoring a build up that's both relaxing as well as tense. The soundtracks to his films, especially Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 have the ability to provide heightened tension as well as send goosebumps down your spine. Much like Edgar Wright did with the matching up music perfectly to his action sequences of Baby Driver, Villeneuve understands how important the score is to a film like this one, and matches up his film to sustained booming and held synthesizer notes. (Apologies if this is crudely explained... I'm not very versed in music terminology, but you'll understand once you see it.)

The film is also gorgeous. The futuristic world still has that neo-noir feel to it, as is necessary when making a Blade Runner film, but Villeneuve also uses color better than most directors. Each part of the world 'K' travels to has a new color scheme attached to it. The city is a bleak black, the country is covered in shades of gray, the desert is a washed orange, the inside of Wallace's compound is a harsh yellow. The color mixed with the soundtrack is something almost hypnotizing. It's gorgeous and just a joy to watch and necessary to see in a theater (though I do think it might look even better on a 4K TV once released to purchase). Blade Runner 2049 almost reminds me of another Gosling film, Drive. It's a quiet film that uses color and sound to provide most of the atmosphere while saving dialogue for only truly important moments... only, you know... set in an alternate futuristic world. Gosling is once again, perfect. He's learned that as an actor he's able to communicate more without words than he is with them. And being a replicant, his performance is even more understandably subdued. Harrison Ford doesn't show up until about the third act... which I honestly didn't mind.  The story is more about leading up to the discovery of Ford's Deckard, rather than what happens after the two meet. But, the time that we get with Ford (and it is ample-- the movie is eleven minutes shy of three hours) is perfect. He's still a versatile actor who constantly reminds us that he can be the leading-man action star, but that he's also still got the dramatic acting chops. Unlike Deckard in the original, I feel there is more depth to this Deckard (and he's actually got a personality-- complete with some actual humorous moments-- go figure). It's good that Gosling was cast because Ford is a huge draw for a lot of fans, but with a very capable and watchable actor like Gosling as the lead, they're not going to be disappointed that Ford is relegated to the last 1/3rd of the film.

The only problems I can see moviegoers having with this movie (of which I had none) is they need to go into the movie with an open mind. Don't go in thinking you're going to be seeing an sci-fi full of action, adventure and mayhem. While there is some, it's infrequent. It's a journey that takes its time without ever lagging or boring the audience (something that is quite difficult to do with a near three hour run time). And there's also the fact that you're watching a movie where the lead protagonist is a robot. Some (including my lovely fiancee) may have a difficult time connecting to a non-human character. It's like this-- you either felt empathy for the robots in Westworld and rooted for their uprising, or you realized they are just artificial beings who are designed to look human and you honestly couldn't give two shits. If you are the latter of the two, you may find it difficult to care much about anything going on in the film. As with most sequels, yes, this film is entirely unnecessary. Blade Runner 100% did not need a sequel for any reason. However, if it was going to happen anyway, be glad this is the film that you get because I can't figure out a single way it could be any better.

SIDE NOTE: Just so you're aware... Blade Runner 2049 has zero connection with Blade or The Maze Runner. If you think this didn't need to actually be mentioned to the general population, you'd be wrong.

A

Monday, October 2, 2017

Kingsman: The Golden Circle: A Tale Of Two Movies


Most sequels don't need to be made. The key criticism in most sequel reviews are that it is "inferior to its predecessor" or "unnecessary".  However, there are films that are designed to have sequels. The Fast and the Furious was, coincidentally, NOT designed to have eight freaking sequels, however after the 5th one, they finally found their working formula. 007, James Bond, on the other hand, is specifically designed for sequels. He's a secret agent who can go on any number of missions and fight any number of super villains over a 60 year period of time. Unnecessary sequels from this year include Transformers, Cars, The Nut Job, XXX, Underworld, Alien. However, not among them is Kingsman. This film was written, nay, designed to spawn sequels. Tons of 'em. It's a secret service spy agency made up of very polite and violent Englishmen. Toss in the ol' fish-outta-water, profane angsty teenager to balance out the sophistication of the rest of them and voila! you've got a franchise on your hands. However, for some reason, director Matthew Vaughn is able to give us great first films to movies that should be sequel-worthy... but can not produce anything close to capable as his/their predecessors.

The same thing happened to Vaughn with Kick-Ass (though he wasn't all the way involved with the sequel). Kick-Ass took the already tiring superhero genre and gave it a huge twist by rating it R, making it bloody as hell, having 12-year old girls drop F-bombs like they're Skittles, Nic Cage going FULL Nic Cage, etc. Without the balls of Kick-Ass, I'm not sure we'd have had Deadpool yet. Vaughn had every intention of drawing out the franchise, but turned down the offer to do Kingsman instead and handed over the director's chair to someone else (though he stayed on as Producer) and what we were given was less than impressive. We were promised the same feel as the first movie, yet the humor was lacking, the violence was boring, and the characters were the same. The best part of the second Kick-Ass was Jim Carrey and (SPOILER) he's killed off 19 minutes after we meet him. My hopes had been higher for the sequel to Kingsman. Again, Vaughn gave us something new with Kingsman. We were shown the typical spy formula, but with a different presentation. We got suave Englishmen in expensive suits using umbrellas as their weapon as well as defense. We got stylized action sequences with a fair amount of blood, and we got a significant amount of humor surrounding the story as well (that and Sam Jackson as a villain with a lisp). Where Kingsman could've felt like a YA James Bond knock-off, it was actually something fresh and new and, again, DESIGNED for sequels. But, if The Golden Circle is reflective of the quality of sequels we're going to get for Kingsman films, they might want to stop now.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle isn't a bad movie, but it's not a great one either. Currently, and it has been this way for two weeks, the film sits at exactly 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, and I believe this to be a fair assessment. I don't mean that the movie deserves an F, but I do mean that it felt like two movies. The first hour or so was damn near unwatchable, but the back hour and twenty felt like the Kingsman we wanted. The movie begins with Eggsy (Taron Egerton) walking out of the Kingsman shop, only to be stopped by a bad guy. The bad guy has a robotic arm. They wind up in a huge fight in the back of a speeding taxi. The fight, which lasts a good five minutes, utilizes some of the worst CGI I've seen in this decade. It's supposed to be reminiscent of the the style of Colin Firth's church-gun scene from the first movie, however it comes off as distracting, nauseating, and above all, incredibly FAKE looking. It took me immediately out of the movie and it's amazing no one involved in the production was able to put a stop to it. So, the film already put a bad taste in my mouth. From there Eggsy escapes the fight claiming he has a dinner he absolutely CAN NOT miss, and has to jump into shit-filled sewer water. This dinner... involves three of his friends and we are not given any clue as to why it was necessary for him to swim through shit. Not only that, but the scene wasn't humorous or plot-worthy and now I'm getting worried for the rest of the movie.

From there we're sent to our villain's lair - Poppy Land - we're given a narration from Poppy (Julianne Moore) herself, explaining to us that she's rooted in 50s nostalgia and has created her jungle lair to look like a 50s diner. She's a soft-spoken crazy bitch with a never-ending smile and it's a fun little novelty to the villain character. However, that's as much depth as her character is given. She's quirky, but evil. Literally nothing else. Here we are also introduced to her henchmen-- a couple of robot dogs. These dogs also look very fake and I'm sitting there going: what the hell is this movie? I know the first Kingsman dealt with some suspension of disbelief... but this movie is so over-the-top it's almost like it's parodying itself already. Even the President, who is supposed to reflect Trump's behavior, is so exaggerated, it's like watching a cartoon, not a movie. That's not what I want. I want another adventure that has the same Kingsman feel to it, but a different story with a different set of circumstances. For example, this is why I am totally against the upcoming Jumanji sequel. The story for the movie itself looks pretty clever and the characters and events look like they're pretty funny. But it doesn't FEEL like Jumanji. It feels like a parody. Parodying your original work in your sequel is not really ever the best idea.

Anyway, back to the discussion-- from there, Poppy, who runs the largest drug empire in the world, has decided to do away with the Kingsman organization and sends missiles to kill every Kingsman - and she does. Everyone we met and cared for involved with Kingsman is killed within the first twenty minutes of the movie... including Eggsy's pug. This upset me as well. Obviously, most people don't like it when dogs are killed in movies to begin with, but there are two factors here that made it even more upsetting. First, there's the close up of the [adorable] pug's face just as the rocket hits the building and explodes. And second, it's basically counter-intuitive to what Vaughn did with the dogs in the first film. Eggsy is given a pug. He has to train with it. He has to love it and protect it. Then, to become and actual Kingsman, he has to shoot it. He refuses to shoot the dog and fails training. Colin Firth's character explains how he shot the dog... with a blank. But for the longest time in the movie, we thought the dog was dead... only to bring it back, basically poking fun at movies that kill dogs and exposing the truth that movie audience's care more about the lives of animals in film than they do people. By killing the dog, they've completely undone whatever commentary they made in the first movie and, like everything else up until this point, it doesn't feel remotely like a Kingsman film.

From THERE, Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong), the only other surviving Kingsman associate, head to America to join up with the Statesmen. Once there, they meet agent Tequila (Channing Tatum), Champagne, also known as Champ (Jeff Bridges), and behind the scenes agent Ginger Ale (Halle Berry). They reveal that Colin Firth's character, Galahad, is not dead from his gunshot wound (having been revived through some made-up technology that just BARELY escapes eye-rolling), but is suffering from Amnesia. Arguably, Colin Firth's and Taron Egerton's chemistry from the first film was the best aspect of that film. We are reunited with the two, however because Galahad does not remember who he is, we don't get any of that chemistry for a majority of the film. And this is when we've reached about an hour into the film. I had almost completely done away with this movie in my mind and accepted that this was just an unbelievable misfire in a movie that was ripe for opportunity. Then, things started to turn around. It started to feel more like the first movie. It started having more fun with the action and getting more creative. The jokes in the first half that didn't make sense or that fell flat were starting to hit again. The relationships started coming together and the chemistry between certain people started connecting and the last hour felt, indeed, like a fun Kingsman movie. The final thirty minutes is all action, but it's the best thirty minutes of the entire movie. It's like they could do no wrong after having been unable to do no right in the first half. It really is two polar opposites residing in the same film. By the end, I felt like I had enjoyed the entirety of the movie because it ended so strongly. It was only after a bit of reflection that I realized the first half was garbage.

So, what do I make of Kingsman: The Golden Circle? It's good if you're patient enough to wade through the muck and the slop of the first hour of the movie. Unfortunately, you can't jump in to the story an hour late, either because there are key plot points that are set up for the end, but if you can make it through the first part, the second part of the movie is an absolute blast and joy to watch. And, I'm sorry if you didn't already know, but Elton John is in the movie in an extended cameo role, and is arguably the best part of any moment of any Kingsman movie ever made. I could watch two solid hours of Elton John telling people to "Fuck off!"

C

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Mother!: Symbolism Vomit


Mother! is already and will forever be a very polarizing film. People give that cliché "you're either going to love it or going to hate it" line for movies that are kind of like this, but I don't know if I've seen such a better movie to embody that line than this one. Darren Aronofsky has always been kind of a polarizing director. For anyone who has seen Pi or Requiem For A Dream or hell, even Black Swan... these are certainly not movies made for a commercial audience. These are little pieces of art with a strange and bleak narrative and intensely disturbing themes and/or visuals. Aronofsky tried to go mainstream with The Fountain and Noah, but those were both misfires. His only real commercially praised film that most non-Aronofsky fans can attribute to liking by the director would have to be The Wrestler. Mother! is not built for a commercial release. Mother! is going to piss a lot of your average moviegoers off. Mother! is going to produce a lot of box office refunds. Because with this movie... you have nooooooo idea what the fuck is coming (and I'm not going to tell you either).

Aronofsky is no stranger to dark and strange films, nor is he to biblical themes. He includes both in his newest theatrical release Mother! which follows a cast of unnamed characters including Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) who lives in a large three-story house with Him (Javier Bardem), a famous poet, as he struggles to find inspiration for his latest poem. Mother spends her days quietly trying to find motivation for Him, as well as slowly renovating their massive house. Out of the blue, a stranger (Ed Harris) arrives at the door explaining that he's a doctor, new in town, and was told their place was a bed and breakfast. Him invites the stranger (known only as Man) inside and gives him a room for the night. The next day, a Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up claiming to be Man's wife. Mother tries her best to accommodate the guests, all the while silently protesting their visit. The guests are abrasive, messy, rude, and emotionally intrusive. By the time their sons show up for a family squabble, you're feeling just as anxious and claustrophobic as Mother is. Mother gets pregnant, Him writes a new poem, and soon their house is flooded with people just trying to meet such a brilliant writer. That's about all I can tell you without giving away the rest of the film... but suffice it to say once again, that you literally have no idea what's coming. (Also, the characters avoid using these pronouns when addressing one another... this is just how they're listed in the credits. It's not as cheesy as I'm making it sound.)

First off, all of the performances are top notch. I've slowly been warming up to Jennifer Lawrence because I've seen her in films that really show off her acting chops, but I've never really seen her as a different person in any of her films. Silver Linings Playbook was just Katniss Everdeen who spoke more. Joy was just Katniss Everdeen who grew up. But in Mother! you actually get a different person. She's very soft-spoken and timid and there's a constant longing for acceptance in her eyes. When push comes to shove, she's not afraid to stand up for herself (including trying to kick her unwanted guests out of her house), but she also takes the abuse for longer than a normal person would. Bardem is great as the damn near unlikable Him. He's very cold toward his wife and really only warms up to the strangers. There's something in his past that haunts him, that he resents Mother for, but we don't know what it is and it's infuriating. Ed Harris is still as Ed Harris-y as always (this a compliment, by the way) as the sickly houseguest, but it's Pfeiffer who really gets under your skin. She's bitchy and catty and obnoxious and overall just a heinous character. You can tell she's having an absolute blast with the role. However, it's not the cast or their fine acting that polarizes the movie... it's the last forty minutes of the film.

The final forty minutes take a very slowly building and quiet movie and amps everything up to eleven. There are mild clues and moments throughout the story that indicate what is going to happen, but my guess is that most moviegoers are still going to be confused (and angry) as hell when it finally arrives. I watch everything and generally consider myself an Aronofsky fan and even I wasn't exactly expecting what happened to happen. This is fine in a horror movie, but most horror movies will define the rules of the world quite early on... or if not, by the end you'll have a satisfactory explanation. Aronofsky doesn't work that way. He doesn't spoon feed his audience answers. He looks to you to find the interpretations of his work, much like an abstract painting. If you're looking for an answer as to why the strangers (Man and Woman) stay so long in the house and act the way they do... then you're going to be sorely disappointed. If you're looking for a moment when the screen freezes during its hectic climax and Neil Patrick Harris in a suit walks out to go: "Confused? Okay... here's what's going on:", then you're going to be massively disappointed. There are no real explanations of what's going on and Aronofsky, unlike most directors, trusts his audience to figure it out on their own, which I respect. However, with the material given, the casual film-goer isn't going to have the patience to sit there and interpret every allusion, or symbol, or extended metaphor he throws at you, which will, in turn, anger the film goer, and cost the box office the price of a ticket.

So, what's exactly so wrong with the film that it earned an F on Cinemascore? (For those who don't know, getting an F on Cinemascore is as close to impossible as you can get... for example, Adam Sandler's Jack and Jill has a B). The reason that Mother! has such an impossibly low score is that Aronofsky doesn't just shower you with metaphors and symbolism, he saturates you with it... he ice bucket challenges you with it, he grabs your throat and vomits it all over you until you're past the point of "Jeez, I get it, bro!" And it isn't a pleasant metaphor either. He's making some seriously painful religious claims that kind of make sense, but he's taking a very dark point of view with it. The back nine of the movie is so chaotic and so unlike what you've been watching up until this point, that it's very easy to see the story flying off the rails and going deep into what-the-fuck-sville. It's also not a movie that can be advertised very well. I had only seen one trailer for it and a few rumblings that it is being compared to Rosemary's Baby. The trailer looked like Aronofsky might be making a bit of a mainstream horror movie with a wicket twist at the end. Mother! is not exactly a horror movie... sure it's tense, and there are movies where it's downright creepy, it's more along the lines of batshit crazy mixed with disturbing... and pretty much the complete opposite of Rosemary's Baby. And I'm honestly not sure if I liked it or not. I kept trying to figure out what the twist was going to be, and when I was dead wrong... I felt anger and confusion. But, did this stem from the fact that I was wrong... or from the fact that what happened wasn't effective?

Look, there's a lot of good in the film, especially the first half. Somehow Aronofsky is able to establish such a feeling of claustrophobia when it comes to crowds of people that I empathized with Lawrence's character and didn't want to be around another person ever again. Hell, there were probably fifteen people scattered about the theater I was in, and as the movie went on, they all felt like they were too close to me. But, the symbolism vomit that expels out of the movie is almost too thick. Aronofsky doesn't just ride into the ground his commentary and message and metaphor and any other figurative STUFF he loads into the back half, he beats you over the head with it, nay, bludgeons you over the head with it until you're nothing but brain chunks and skull fragments. Fans of his will give him the benefit of the doubt, which I am probably doing, but those unfamiliar with his previous work-- I can't really see how they'll walk out of the movie loving what they've just witnessed. It's not a horror movie, it's not a thriller, it's not even that suspenseful... but it will make you anxious, it will make you squirm, and it will make you utter these exact words as the credits begin to roll: "What the hell did I just watch?"

C-

Saturday, September 9, 2017

IT: If The Goonies Were Chased By A Killer Clown


Stephen King is truly the master of horror. For those of you who think otherwise, I highly suggest picking up literally any of his books. He gets a bad rap from the "literature" community, but not only does he know how to scare the bejesus out of you, he's actually a great writer. His book On Writing changed my entire perspective of the craft of writing in general. Unfortunately, his books have a tendency to get adapted into really shitty films (Creepshow, Cujo, Christine, Children of the Corn, Firestarter, Sleepwalkers, Needful Things, Thinner, Dreamcatcher, Secret Window, Carrie [the 2013 version], Rest Stop, The Dark Tower). His non-horror films actually turn out alright (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Stand By Me), but only a few of his horror novels have actually turned into stellar films (Carrie, The Shining, Silver Bullet, 1408, and obviously Misery). We've just been waiting to get a capable filmmaker to truly know what it means to adapt a King book and bring the terror King brings in his writing. The original IT was a TV movie back in 1990 and introduced us to a very iconic villain-- the demented clown Pennywise (played by the wonderful Tim Curry). And while the film itself is quite dated, it is still beloved-- and a remake-- especially with its new version of Pennywise-- had some large shoes to fill (no clown pun intended). Thankfully... we got our capable filmmaker. 

The original film was three plus hours long and mostly adapted the entire book of over 1000 pages. However, it relied on the creepiness of its clown and circumstances rather than the graphic terror King wrote due to the fact that it was made for TV. Director Andy Muschietti (Mama) took over for True Detective producer Cary Fukunaga (who left the project due to disputes about how graphic he wanted to make the film-- though he still retains a writing credit) and has given us a very faithful and very ballsy adaptation of King's original novel. Thankfully, we aren't given a watered down version of the story (though due to King's natural ability to not give a single fuck, every adaptation of his is watered down). Hell, the movie begins with little kid Georgie finding our clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), getting his arm graphically bitten off and his little body dragged into the sewer through a storm drain. A few months later, the town, and especially his brother Bill, are  still feeling the effects of his disappearance. Not just from Georgie missing, but a large number of kids who have gone missing in the small town of Derry, Maine. Bill, and his friends, the self-proclaimed Losers Club, slowly start getting terrorized by horrifying entities manifested by Pennywise, who feeds off of what scares them the most. Once they realize what it wants from them, they now must band together to take down the clown before it gets them all one by one. 

The original film covers the entirety of the story-- the first half focusing on the main characters as kids and the second half, 27 years later, on the kids as adults. This version of IT focuses on just the first half of the novel-- the battle of the Losers Club vs. the monster. This was a great choice-- not just for money-making purposes-- but because the story with the kids is widely regarded as being the stronger portion of the book. Had we been given an overly long singular film, we would've missed out on a lot of what makes the first half of the film great-- getting to meet and know our group, getting the personalized scares for each one, the personal growth of each one, the fun as well as the screams. Thankfully, Muschietti had the balls (and studio approval) to not hold anything back. Because it is darker, because it is more gritty-- it's a hell of a lot scarier, and it feels more real. These kids have some foul mouths, especially Finn Wolfhard's character (the child actor who you may remember most as the lead kid in Stranger Things). By allowing these kids to act the way kids really do (yes, young boys swear just as much as we do when we're not around-- I know... I used to be one). There's a sense of realism and camaraderie within the group that feels genuinely authentic, and by doing this we, as the audience, get to care about these boys even more than we would if they were watered down by a PG-13 rating. 

We also get a more terrifying film. We get actual dread when any of the boys encounter Pennywise because a demon this sadistic isn't going to hold back either. He's going to rip off limbs, he's going to show them bloody carnage and incantations that PG-13 just can't effectively do. There are good horror movies that work better when the terror is off screen and your imagination freaks you out better than anything Hollywood could provide. However, IT is not that type of movie. IT is all about what visually scares you. IT is all about offering enough in-your-face visual fear that you actually shit your pants. This works about 80% of the time in this movie, which is plenty enough to give you the fear and chills you crave when purchasing a ticket. The other 20% doesn't work for various reasons (coming off as silly instead of scary, obvious CGI that could've worked just as well with creative make-up, etc.), but doesn't hinder the movie because it is surrounded by enough fright, it's very effective. And it is a very scary film. The techniques utilized by Muschietti are a combination of suspense, dread, and the occasional jump scare. You know me... I'm not one to really ever advocate for a cheap jump scare, but when they're earned due to the surrounding tension and they seize the opportunity to really GET you... I'm all for that. Plus, it makes the movie that much more fun as well. 

There's also a good amount of humor peppered in between the scares. These boys really are quite enjoyable to watch and because they're so immature and self-deprecating, they're actually funny. When the people in my theater weren't screaming, we were also laughing hysterically. This is another King staple that most novice horror writers don't know how to organically accomplish-- good humor. None of this, though, would be as effective as it is if any of the boys were cast wrong. Each boy brings his (and one her) own uniqueness to the movie and to their respective characters. They could easily be stock characters, but we're given SEVEN wonderful young actors to lend their talent to a film that really just is the horror version of The Goonies or Stand By Me. Bill Skarsgård is the other shining achievement in the film. His Pennywise is just as frightening as Tim Curry's, without trying to imitate him. He brings in his own vision to the character so that it still serves the story without being a lesser carbon copy. All of the actors work to make the movie as good as it is. 

If you're familiar with the original film, or even the book, then you know what to expect from this version. But know that it doesn't hold anything back. There are some truly disturbing images and scenes involving young kids, but it's not just played for shock-value. There is true depth to the story and to the characters. It's also a lot of fun to watch a film that has a very nostalgic 80s feel to it (the good 80s... you know the difference). IT is a very impressive horror film, and definitely the best of 2017 (and certainly one of the best Stephen King adaptations). It's one of those movies you'll be thinking about for awhile after seeing it, and as soon as it was over I was ready to watch it again. But be warned... it's not for the faint of heart... so bring fresh pants. 

A

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Hitman's Bodyguard: Just A Fun Movie, MotherF#*%er

Movies and film are a constantly revolving evolutionary door. Not just in cinematic quality, but in story and what the audience is willing to see and what they've given up on. For instance, there's a reason Adam Sandler movies were so popular in the 90s and are forgotten Netflix scroll-by's now. Comedy, in film, in 2017, has evolved beyond Sandler's elementary humor while he's still trying to churn out the same jokes. Action films have also evolved which is why you're seeing more "realistic" and gritty action films like Jason Borne and John Wick and Atomic Blonde. I'm not saying these movies aren't fun or even great, because they are, they just don't have the same kind of feeling as action movies did in the 90s (films like Face/Off, Con Air, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Rush Hour, The Rock, etc.) What the 2010s have seem to evolved into has essentially left behind the "buddy-cop" action movie. Hell, as much as most action junkies LOVE the Bad Boys films, the third movie has fallen in and out of production a half a dozen times in the last five years and it was recently announced that it will probably never happen now. And it's a shame because not only do buddy cop movies take what was great about 90s action films (schlocky, loud, explosions happening by just a mere car crash...) they also combined it with comedy and heart. There's just no room for comedy and heart in a realistic, gritty 2017 action film, which is why The Hitman's Bodyguard is a breath of fresh air. Is it as good as any of the previously mentioned films of this time? No. But I'll argue that it's having way more fun than any of them.
What's nice about the film is it's an easy and digestible set up. Gary Oldman (hell yes, he BELONGS in an action movie like this-- especially as the villain) is a corrupt leader of a European country, just bringing all kinds of genocide to his people. His people are trying to get him thrown in jail, but everyone who testifies against him either winds up dead or has no actual evidence to back up their stories. However, there is one guy who has the dirt on ol' Gar. Enter Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), a professional assassin who used to work for Oldman, is the one who has actual physical evidence that will get him sent away for good. Problem is-- Oldman knows this and obviously doesn't want him to be able to reach the court. So, he sends all of his goons... seriously ALL of his goons... out to kill Kincaid before he reaches the court. Finally, because the CIA and Interpol know this is going to happen, and after nearly every Interpol agent protecting Kincaid is killed in a raid, they recruit the services of professional Bodyguard, Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds). The rest of the movie is literally a buddy-"cop"- road trip movie of Bryce and Kincaid trying to reach the courthouse as all of the white, foreign goons try to stop and kill them.

Last week, when the film was first released, I was trying to decide whether to see this movie or Logan Lucky. As most of you do, I deferred to Rotten Tomatoes. Logan Lucky was sitting coolly in the mid 90 percentile, while this film had a lousy score in the late 30th percentile. So, Lucky it was... and if you haven't seen it... it really is a fantastic movie. But, I was deceived by The Hitman's Bodyguard score... and this really is where Rotten Tomatoes can sort of hurt films. It's is very undeserving of such a low score... but because it doesn't fit the criteria of what makes a good action film... in 2017... it appears like it's not going be worth our hard-earned time and money. I'm here to say that it just isn't true. Not only is it very entertaining, but it really is a throwback to the good ol' films of the 90s that really define the action genre. It's a buddy-cop movie, but with a clever twist. It's not two cops with differing styles and points of view on how to distribute justice... it's an anal-retentive bodyguard and a stone cold killer with a filthy mouth as partners. Even better, the filmmakers didn't wuss out and give us a watered down PG-13 version of the film in order to get younger asses into seats.  If you have Samuel L. Jackson as a wisecracking, killer assassin... you better let him say and do whatever he wants to say and do.

The movie has a very nice balance of action and comedy, though I'd say the action probably outweighs the comedy here. There's several attempts at jokes that just don't land, but the ones that do make up for the ones that don't. The action sequences are a lot of fun, both using the landscape of what our stars have around them as well as R-rated bloody shoot-em-up badassery. All of this though, is capitalized upon due to the great chemistry of the two leads. Ryan Reynolds is a subdued, snarky asshole and Samuel L. Jackson is an unrestrained, snarky asshole. The two together, hating each other for 75% of the film is where some of the most fun happens. There's always interest in conflict, but when you have two actors with senses of humor like Reynolds and Jackson, there's magic ready to be made. So, while the movie itself lacks in some areas or feels like it may have gotten lazy at certain points... it's all made up for by the chemistry and performances by our leads. We have fun watching them because they look like they're both having a blast on screen.

One of the biggest surprises of the film is a smaller role played by Salma Hayek. She's Kincaid's incarcerated wife, whose mouth is somehow more foul that Jackson's. She spews some of the most vulgar and hilarious insults I've ever heard and she steals every scene that she's in. You genuinely wait for her to pop back up on screen because not only is she going to crack you the hell up, she's also got some action chops of her own. Other than that, I would say that my only real criticism of the film is that Gary Oldman is severely underused. Yes, he's hamming it up to the 10th degree with his role of corrupt and violent dictator, but it's his goons doing 90% of the grunt work while he's locked up in the courtroom. If you get an actor with the strength of Gary Oldman to be your villain, it would be nice to see him be able to stretch those chops in a movie as fun as this one. He gets a few moments, but it's rare to find an action movie with A-listers as both protagonist as well as antagonist. Usually, we only get one. The protag is some A-list star, while the antag is some hard-nosed, creepy looking dude with an accent we've seen once or twice in other films. Let Oldman work his magic!

Look, it was an abysmal week for film. How no major production company landed a major release this weekend is somewhat perplexing. I realize everyone has gone back to work or school and going to movies is going to take a great film to get you go... just know that while I can't proclaim that The Hitman's Bodyguard is a great movie, I can say that it is a very fun movie and truly is a blast to watch. Whatever you expected to get out of it based on the trailer is exactly what you will get out of it... no more, no less. And, as an added bonus, nearly everything that comes out of Sam J's mouth is concluded with a very satisfying "motherfucker".

B

Friday, August 18, 2017

Logan Lucky: Redneck Robbers Stage An Ocean's 7-11


Steven Soderberg is one of those directors whose name you hear and think about all his artsy, froofy, indie movies that sometimes win awards, but aren't very crowd-pleasing. I'm talking about films like Sex, Lies & Videotape, The Limey, Erin Brokovich, Traffic, Full Frontal, Solaris, The Good German, The Girlfriend Experience, and Side Effects. You don't (well, I mean, I don't...) associate him with summer movie popcorn fare and/or comedies. But, then you forget that he directed the Ocean's Eleven franchise, Contagion, and Magic Mike. He'd "retired" from directing for the last three years and has made his return with Logan Lucky... which is essentially just like Ocean's Eleven except replace all of the smooth-talking, slick-looking, suave participants in the heist and replace them with five rednecks who couldn't even spell the word 'suave'. A lot of the elements that made the Ocean's movies so fun are recycled for this film, yet somehow... and this truly does take a talented director working with a good writer and a terrific cast to do... it feels fresh and original.

Channing Tatum is Jimmy Logan, a hard-working, blue collar, single dad with a gimp knee. His brother, Clyde Logan (Adam Driver), is a soft-spoken bartender with one arm... excuse me, hand. Their sister, Mellie Logan (Riley Keough), is a caring, trailer-trash hairdresser with a much higher IQ than she's willing to reveal to the world. Together the three of them live their simple lives separately just trying to make ends meet. Jimmy spends his off time with his young daughter... when he's allowed visitation from his ex-wife (Katie Holmes). Clyde humbly tends bar operating under the notion that their entire family suffers from the "Logan Curse"-- one that his caused Jimmy's bum knee to get him fired from a construction job and Clyde to, well, have one arm... excuse me, hand. After finding out that Jimmy's ex-wife is going to be moving with her new husband across state lines and taking his daughter with her, he realizes he needs to do something quick to make himself some cash. This is where the idea of a redneck heist comes into play (the motivation here for the robbery is kind of murky... it's like he needs the money for his daughter, but it's also like something he's always wanted to do just for shits and giggs). After convincing his brother and sister to be players in the heist, they need one last piece of the puzzle-- an ex-con, currently in-car-cer-a-ted, named Joe Bang (a hilariously scene-stealing Daniel Craig). Together they, and Bang's dim-witted brothers, decide to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway during a packed NASCAR race.

The plot of this movie could've easily turned into a Larry the Cable Guy Netflix vehicle under the guise of a lesser filmmaker, but Soderberg and newcomer writer Rebecca Blunt, have crafted a very intelligent, very fun, very funny film with some of the most simpleminded Southern characters since O Brother Where Art Thou. Though these characters look like you wouldn't be able to penetrate their thick skulls with the sharpest of hammers, the plan that they enact is smart and creative, and the twists and turns of the heist are just as fun as any Ocean's film. What's great is that the movie is so down-to-Earth, it almost pierces the soil. Unlike the Ocean's films that use multi-million dollar, highly technological equipment to get their score... the Logan clan use the most rudimentary of tools to enact their robbery (things like stolen construction equipment, cockroaches, baked goods, bleach, jumpsuits, "borrowed" dealer cars, and gummy bears [yes, gummy bears are integral to the heist]). The creativity of the planning and the characters themselves enacting said plan is some of the most fun I've had watching a movie since Baby Driver.

A clever script, offbeat directing, and the genre bending of taking a heist movie and putting it in the hands of these numbskulls isn't all that makes the movie work... it's the cast. There are a LOT of recognizable faces in this film from Seth MacFarlane to Katherine Waterston to Dwight Yoakam to Sebastian Stan to Hillary Swank. But it's our leads who really drive the film. Channing Tatum is still enjoying the fruits of his Step Up career turnaround (thanks largely, in part, to Soderberg's Magic Mike as well as the 21 Jump Street franchise). He's less a six pack with a voice, and now a lovable bundle of abs (actually... he got a little pudgy for the film). Then, there's also Adam Driver. I'm not a fan of Girls. I thought his "comedic" timing was severely off in This Is Where I Leave You and he's serviceable in Star Wars. But the dude has very much won me over with his performance that's so understated and hilarious I kept waiting for him to just outright say, "Everett... my beard itches." Finally, Daniel Craig, with his strange-sounding, but equally hilarious southern drawl kills it as Joe Bang, the wild card of the group, who, in most instances, appears like he could go insane at any minute, but keeps you on your toes with his high-pitched giggles and "science" abilities.

Really, the only problems I had with the film were very small. I felt like it took a little too long to get going. I didn't really understand WHY they needed to do the heist in the first place (the stakes were very low). I didn't understand why everyone in the movie had the same accent, but Seth MacFarlane had a strange British one. And the ending reveal is presented almost exactly as the reveal of the first Ocean's movie. That's about it. Taking extra time to get going just gives us a little bit more characterization, something that seriously lacks in most summer movies. The reason to pull the heist, while absent, somehow doesn't FEEL like it's necessary. They just kind of want to. MacFarlane's accent... who knows. It's out of place, but not egregiously so. And the ending, while a carbon copy, still works within the scope of this film as well. These are just nitpicky things I have to address, so that I sound like a legit critc.

Look, in the current political climate, and overall state of the world right now, we need movies like Logan Lucky for escape. They take us out of the nightmare we're in and distract us with good wholesome, enjoyable entertainment for two hours and remind us that there is some good in this world. I feel as though the movie is going to unfortunately fly under the radar this year, but it has everything: silly, yet smart characters, a great deal of heart, a heist, and a whole lotta laughs. It's a terrific film.

A-