Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Post: The Dream Team Takes The Spotlight


The Post is good. It is a very good movie. I stress good because it isn't great. It is good. It is a very good, serviceable movie that had it come out a few years ago would've taken all of the awards. But in a year that has had great movies... for a movie that is led by the all-time DREAM TEAM (Hanks... Streep... Spielberg)...  I need better than good. It's pretty much just a thing in America, whether you've actually spoken these words aloud or not, that Tom Hanks is the best actor on the planet - or at least the most watchable one. Meryl Streep is the best actress (or person in general) on the planet. And Spielberg, even though he's scuffled the last few years, is the best director (this will be debatable, I assume). Whatever the case, when you finally get these three together for a movie it should've been insanely great... but it's good. Forgive this analogy, but it's like how Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone were the biggest and most bankable action stars of the 80s. Audiences always wanted them to get together in a movie to blow up the world. Then they finally did, decades later for Escape Plan. Which was meh. It should've been good. But it was meh. See? Same thing. No? Okay. Moving on.

The Post tells the story of the Washington Post's tough decision to print the Pentagon Papers after the New York Times had been legally barred in doing so, in fear of losing the business altogether and/or everyone going to jail. At one end you've got Ben Bradlee (Hanks), a headstrong, hard-nosed editor who's willing to risk everything (for him, it's not really that much and his wife reminds him of this) in order to get the papers out there to the people. On the other side of this is owner of the paper Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) who keeps getting conflicting advice from bankers, investors, political allies, and a personal advisor all telling her if she prints these papers... papers that prove the American government sent soldiers to Vietnam fully knowing they coudln't win... she would lose everything (and she had everything to lose).

The story, which mirrors a lot of what's going on in today's political climate, could not be more suitable to be filmed right now. All of the lies that are suppressed in our own government, the censoring of the press, hell even Nixon stating that the Washington Post is no longer allowed at the White House anymore has some severe connections with what's happening today and it's terrifying. And Nixon still knew half of what he was doing! I understand why Spielberg felt he had to make this film and get it to theaters this year. When there is a good story that has this many parallels with what's happening in our world now, it certainly falls under the category of must-see. And it's a very well directed film. Lately Spielberg's biopics, like Lincoln and Munich, have this tendency to start off very, very, very slowly. As Spielberg has matured as a Director, he's learned to take his time with things. And sometimes it's to a fault. Like the aforementioned films, The Post also begins quite slowly and it was difficult for me to feel hooked into the story for the first half hour or so. I felt like Spielberg was telling a story he assumed I already knew. I was lost. I was a little bored. But then... everything started falling into place. You could feel the entire audience, our packed theater, put everything together at once and we were all on board. Where there were scattered chuckles early on, there were full on harmonious laughs after. Once we finally understood the route of the film, it was smooth sailing from there.

Meryl Streep is once again, astonishing. And I really like what writers Liz Hannah and Josh Singer did with her character. In a year of strong female characters, we don't want to see Streep take a back seat and play someone with less ladyballs. She starts out meek. She starts out in a newspaper business... left to her by her late husband... a business that's nearly entirely "a man's world" and she's meek. She can't speak up at board meetings. When three or four men are talking at her, she barely musters a sound. But when she finds the strength to stand up for her own paper, she starts to find the strength to stand up for herself and there really is a true evolution to her character that Streep seriously owns. This may not be the year for Streep to win the gold, but I'll be shocked if she's not nominated yet again. The film is full of fine performances. Hanks is great as per usual (though it is kinda jarring watching Hanks as a dick and not a fatherly figure you want to hug). Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Jesse Plemmons, Sarah Paulson (severely underused but still great), Alison Brie, and hell, even Gabe from The Office (Zach Woods) shows up for a brief moment.

The Post is a nice companion piece to Spotlight. They both deal with the suspense of investigative journalism, but I'm here to tell you, dear folks, that Spotlight did it a little better. And that might be one of the reasons I thought The Post was just good. It's the second movie in this line of moviemaking. Had it been the first, who knows? But Spotlight wasn't just good, it was great. Like I said, it starts off a little bit too slowly to hook the audience in right away. And I felt like a lot of the dialogue was pretty on the nose. There were moments where a concept was thrown around in a conversation of experts, and I as an audience member would have to piece together the conversation-puzzle to determine what exactly they're saying. Then, when I'd finally get it, they'd stop and spell it out for the audience to understand. It happens several times and it was cringe-worthy every time. Though I may be the only one to have felt this way as I overheard a hoity-toity, old-man, LA-hipster walk out of the Burbank theater behind me exclaiming to his just-as-shitty female companion, "what a wonderful screenplay! Marvelous!" (Seriously, these are his exact words.)

But The Post is an important movie. And hopefully people will actually learn something. Most of the time we use the press for good (some for evil), but it is a necessary evil. I personally didn't feel like the movie had a political slant or bias - even though it is not-so-subtly making connections from the events in the 70s to our current presidential administration, but perhaps I'm also blinded by that too. The film has a very respectable 87% on Rotten Tomatoes. When a film scores this high, I like to go through and read some of the rotten reviews. I'm going to end this with an direct excerpt from my favorite negative review. It's from a SUPER right-wing newspaper from Toluca Lake called the Tolucan Times. The reviewer is Tony Medley. And he had this review warning to provide to his readers: "The Hollywood left is still taking its marching orders from Lenin's directive to use art as a weapon as Spielberg, Streep, and Hanks try to bolster their political aims with this terminally boring antidote to insomnia." You're welcome.

B

Saturday, December 30, 2017

I, Tonya: The Story Of A Trailer-Trash Ice Princess


About a year ago, I had a podcast with a buddy of mine. This podcast featured us taking historical events or notorious peoples and re-enacting their stories as they "actually happened". The way we'd prepare for these podcasts is we'd do a bit of research on the event or person, make an outline of the important moments we needed to get through in the podcast and then improvise the rest. Well, our podcast, which we found particularly hilarious, had only about eight total fans, so it kind of fizzled and died. However, one of the last episodes we did was about Tonya Harding. It was one of my personal favorite episodes because most of the comedy came from the actual situation itself. The only added touch were the ridiculous voices and added character traits we added to the people involved (the best episodes were ones that were outrageous already before we injected our own brand of comedy). After doing research on Tonya Harding, I basically came to the conclusion that she was just a nut. After the whole "Nancy Kerrigan incident", she went on to become a female boxer, sell a sex tape, and attempt to beat the land speed record in a car all to make money. We presented her as this nut-job who could hardly form a sentence, sounded constantly intoxicated, and could not wrap her head around any of these career choices being "crazy". I don't often apologize for my comedy. I believe that if you're not just picking on one type of person, or saying inflammatory shit for the sake of hurting others, all in comedy is fair game. But, after watching I, Tonya I actually do feel pretty terrible about it now. I guess the silver lining here is that it was heard by only, like, four people so it didn't do much damage.

I, Tonya is a truly heartbreaking story told in a very unique and, well... funny way. After seeing the film I had no idea how little I knew about Harding's actual skating career. I had no idea that she (portrayed by Margot Robbie) was the first, and only, American to perform a triple axle. I had no idea that because she was too poor to afford a "proper" costume, she was never given fair treatment by judges. I had no idea that she never received a medal at the Olympics. You hear the name, associate it with "the incident", but just assume she was a big name beforehand because she was an Olympic medalist. She came in fourth. This is only part of what the movie shows. It also shows the countless amounts of abuse thrown at Harding throughout her lifetime. Whether it was the mental abuse given by her mother (Allison Janney), which also turned into physical abuse, or the serious physical abuse given to her by her boyfriend turned husband Jeff (Sebastian Stan). Tonya Harding had one of the hardest lives I think a professional athlete could come from. And for her to rise up and achieve what she achieved is pretty remarkable in itself. The film doesn't hold back from this either. Tonya is belittled by her mother, who I'm pretty certain is physically incapable of cracking a smile. Then, she goes home to her husband and she is thrown around the apartment, smacked in the face, punched, slammed into walls and mirrors, has a gun pulled on her, you name it. This is all spliced between interviews with everyone involved twenty years later (where different perspectives offer different takes on the events - however, it's easy to discern who the unreliable storytellers are).

Director Craig Gillespie has crafted a very unique biopic. We've been given the bio formula umpteen times and we essentially know how they go. Show the childhood, show the emotional toll on said important person, show how they rise above, show how they backslide, show how they have serious faults, show how they overcome said faults, show how they have succeeded. The end. What we've been given is a nice spin on convention here and shown a movie that incorporates bias and moments that may or may not have happened and exaggerations and truth all in the same movie. We'll get a scene and either cut to an interview where someone claims "that never really happened", or in the middle of the scene, they'll break the fourth wall and give us some information. Most of it is played for laughs, but the laughs are juxtaposed by the horror happening on screen. For example, Harding's bodyguard, a human lump by the name of Shawn is portrayed as a goofy idiot who lives with his mother. And even though he is, in fact, a goofy idiot (with less than four brain cells still active) who lives with his mom... he's a main contributor in the whole Nancy Kerrigan debacle which directly contributes to the ruining of Tonya Harding's life. And it's BECAUSE he's this goofy idiot that it manages to work out that way. So while you're laughing along with the ridiculous situations happening, you're crying a little bit inside knowing how much it is affecting this person who has already tried several times to escape a life of abuse and self-destruction. It's a fantastic contrast in a fantastic movie.

Everyone is great in the film, but the two who stand out are Janney and especially Robbie. Allison Janney is one of the greatest worst mothers in the history of cinema. The stuff that comes out of her mouth is so vulgar and hateful, you have to laugh at it from an outsider's perspective. But the icyness of her character, especially as a mother to someone who truly needs an ally, it's downright tragic. There are moments when you expect her to break from her character and give us a smile and a hug, but it never happens. She's cold and domineering and could've easily been a parent-biopic-trope, but somehow transcends convention due to good writing and a great performance. As far as Robbie is concerned, for the last few months I have been advocating for Frances McDormand to get the Best Actress Oscar for Three Billboards, however Robbie may have won me over. There's already stiff competition this year in the Best Actress category with McDormand, Sally Hawkins, Saoirse Ronan, Meryl Streep, Michelle Williams, Judi Dench and possibly Jessica Chastain, but Robbie gives such a terrific turn as Harding, that she's going to give all these women a run for their money. She's a firecracker in this film and gives a portrayal stronger than would normally be expected for a film about Tonya Harding. At first, she's a self-proclaimed redneck who, on the surface, (and if you've done basic research on her history) appears to be a little nuts. However, due to a life of constant abuse and being given an unfair disadvantage in her skating career, you start to realize that even though a lot of her behavior is self-destroying, it's at the very least understandable. Robbie does something with Harding I didn't think possible-- she creates empathy. And she knocks it out of the park. The movie is terrific, but it wouldn't have been as strong without Robbie at the forefront.

I, Tonya has somewhat of a sick sense of humor about its subject matter, considering how dark everything actually is. And it's truly sad everything that culminates around the events leading to the outcome of Harding's life, but Gillespie and company do honor Harding and give her a fair shot at explaining her role in everything. And while it appears that she isn't as much to blame as we all remember her being, she's still culpable. The film poses the question, though, of whether her culpability should've really led to a lifetime ban for a person without an education, without any other skill set other than skating. By the end of the film, you're not laughing like you once were, but feeling for Tonya and resenting the fact you've harbored unfounded notions about her for many years. It's truly a great biopic and one of the best movies of the year.

A

Friday, December 29, 2017

Downsizing: A Decent Misfire


My guess right now is that most of you don't really care to see Downsizing. And those that do are probably not really going to like it because what it looks like in the trailer versus what's actually presented to you on screen are pretty different. This isn't your fault. And it's also not the trailer's fault (for once) for misleading you to think that Downsizing is a quirky little comedy about Matt Damon shrinking himself to five inches. The movie actually begins this way. The first forty-five minutes or so is most everything you see in the trailer with all the quirks of people shrinking, or downsizing, themselves and living in a miniature world. Then the script goes... other places. It never really nails down a tone. It never really has any sense of direction. And it just kind of meanders along with a message that's paper-thin. For the caliber of writer/director Alexander Payne is (The Descendants, Nebraska, Sideways, About Schmidt, Election), this film was certainly a misfire. However, if you're able to ignore the faults of the film, there's an entertaining story in there somewhere. It's decent to say the most, but it's never really going to get over the hump of its shortcomings.

Matt Damon is Paul. He's married to Audrey (Kristin Wiig). They have a decent life, but have always wanted more. Some Swedish scientists have figured out a way to cease the world's waste problem and overpopulation - by shrinking man down to 5 inches. The reason downsizing is appealing to people is that money now goes a lot further than in the normal world. A person with $100,000 in equity is now a multi-millionaire, which is the case for Paul and Audrey. They decide to have the procedure done. Paul gets downsized. Audrey chickens out and divorces Paul. Paul moves to the little town of Leisureland. He's mostly depressed, regretting the decision to downsize, due mostly to the fact that he's all alone. He mingles with an old high school friend (Jason Sudekis) and his quirky, eccentric Serbian upstairs neighbor (Christoph Waltz), but he never really finds true happiness until he meets Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), a downsized Vietnamese refugee with her own cleaning business. She and Paul form a bond and she teaches him that no matter where you go, no matter how big or how small you are, people are still going to be marginalized and if you can be a part of the solution instead of the problem, then the world will be that much better of a place.

It sounds kind of hokey... and it is, but not as bad as I'm making it sound. What is bad is that the film never really finds its course. It jumps all over the place never really settling for one storyline or one tone. It also wastes some really good comedic talent. Kristen Wiig is really only in the beginning, never given much to do, and not seen again after Damon's downsized. During a presentation at Leisureland to convince prospective clients to downsize, Neil Patrick Harris and Laura Dern both make cameos that don't really do much in the way of progress the story... or make you laugh. Jason Sudekis shows up in a couple of scenes and then isn't mentioned again, leaving no real mark on the movie. The film moves so quickly from one sub-plot to the other, it's like a bunch of mini-movies about downsizing spliced together to form one big one. The best parts of the film are with Christoph Waltz's character Dusan, and with Ngoc. Dusan brings some levity and quirk to the film and actually drives the narrative, though is still very much a one-dimensional character. This is another problem the film has... there's not much depth to anyone. Except Ngoc.

Hong Chau is an actress I've never seen in a movie before, but I hope to see a lot more often. She brings such fun and life to the script. In the scenes that are the most preachy and in-your-face with its message, she makes it all worthwhile. For one, she's adorable, she's funny, and she's got layers to her character that actually serve the story and works as the perfect foil for Damon's character Paul (unfortunately, it's also a woman of a different ethnicity teaches the white guy about life type of relationship for awhile, but what can ya do?). She made the movie worthwhile for me and was able to distract me from the constant change of pace the movie was putting me through. She makes this misfire mostly decent.

The first half of Downsizing is really just a long set-up to the question: would you do it? You know like those games you play with others out of boredom (like if you had to live without an arm or without a leg... which one would you pick?). It presents the question-- if human beings could be shrunk to 5 inches and your little bit of money could be converted into a lot of money... would you do it? It's an interesting question and I liked the way Payne explored both sides of the coin, the pros and the cons. However, after this question has been thoroughly examined, he switches to social commentary in a somewhat satirical manner, though it's not all that funny. The back half of the film doesn't even really use the novelty of the film. You forget that all these people are 5 inches tall because they're not set against anything normal-sized anymore and you lose the main reason people are seeing your film.

It's a strange little movie that's neither funny, nor all that dramatic. I wouldn't even really know what genre to classify the movie in. Matt Damon hasn't had a great year at the box office and Downsizing (and his dipshit comments about women and what's happening in Hollywood) aren't going to help much either. I believe, however, that if you know what to expect out of Downsizing, it's not going to seem as misguided as it might if you didn't already know what to expect. It's one of Alexander Payne's weakest films, but when you have a great director at your helm, even their weakest work is better than a lot of other lesser director's strongest work.

C+

All The Money In The World: The Close Examination Of A Total Dickbag


It's actually been a few days since I've seen All the Money in the World and I'm having a tough time figuring out what to say about the movie. Normally when I see a film, I'll have an opinion of it and an idea of a letter grade I'm going to give it as soon as the movie is over. I usually let this opinion gestate for a few hours or even up to a day to let everything sink in and formulate what I want to write about the film. But, I've been thinking about All the Money in the World for a few days now and I'm not entirely sure what to say about the movie. Here's part of the reason, I think-- back when the first trailer dropped a few months ago, when Kevin Spacey was the headliner of the film... I didn't really care much about seeing it. The trailer didn't exactly pique my interest and the only reason I'd entertain the notion of seeing the film was because I liked Kevin Spacey. Then all the Spacey shit hit the fan. And all I could think about was-- damn... bad timing. That movie's gonna bomb (well that and seriously FUCK Kevin Spacey). Then Ridley Scott nutted up and RE-SHOT Spacey's entire role with Christopher Plummer just a month before it was to hit theaters... and the dude didn't even change the release date. Now the movie had my attention... but still not because of the story.

The story is one that, even after seeing it, doesn't really seem like good movie fodder. It's a pretty crazy story, but not one that necessarily translates into Hollywood film. I would've liked to have seen the documentary of this story instead of a re-imagining with a lot of liberties taken. It's also not a story that needs two plus hours to tell, either. J. Paul Getty (Plummer), in 1973, was the richest man in the entire world. So, some Italian mafia members kidnap Getty's grandson John. They call his mother, Gail (Michelle Williams) and inform her that they're holding him for a 17 million dollar ransom. Gail, who has been divorced out of the Getty family, is broke. When she goes to Getty Sr. to ask him for the money, he declines. He refuses to even entertain the notion of parting with any part of his fortune to bring back his (favorite) grandson. And the shitbag does this publicly. He goes on record... on the news... to say he's not paying a dime. Enter fictional character Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), an ex CIA agent and head of Getty's security. He's tasked, by Getty, to uncover who the kidnappers are and to [possibly - and inexpensively] get the kid home. The rest of the film deals with the media circus surrounding the high profile kidnapping, Chase keeping Gail out of the public eye, negotiating with the kidnappers, reasoning with Getty, and the torture of the poor 16-year-old boy.

The reason I say this doesn't make a great movie is because I'm more interested in the facts of the case and the study of the man, J. Paul Getty. With the introduction of fictional elements, including an entire character who is integral to the story, it's hard to discern what actually happened and what has been invented for a stimulating narrative. Chase effectively negotiates with the kidnappers for months and gets the ransom down from 17 mill to 4 million. But Chase isn't real. So how did this happen? And because most of the film focuses on Gail's struggles, we don't get much insight into the man who values money over everything else in existence. A documentary on this subject would've, to me, been a much more fascinating way of getting the story. 

The movie does make the story interesting, however. I'm just not sure I cared enough throughout. There were moments when my mouth was agape and I couldn't believe what I was watching (these moments usually featured Getty). But there were other moments where I was either questioning if this really happened or checking my phone to see how much longer the movie was. A lot of the movie focuses on young John. He's somewhat befriended by one of the kidnappers, which makes for an interesting dynamic, but then there are quite a few scenes where he's just getting straight up tortured and while it adds to the emotional resonance of the film, it just seemed unnecessary. But it's J. Paul Getty who intrigues most. It's fascinating watching this man and trying to figure out what makes him tick and if he's even got a soul. He refuses to hand over a cent of his fortune, yet we'll see him drop 1.5 million dollars on a piece of art... after his grandson has been kidnapped. He'll go on a diatribe about how family is important and how John is his favorite and how he wanted to hand over everything to him... yet is willing to let the kid die before opening his checkbook. It's also heartbreaking to watch how he treats Gail. She's no longer a Getty because J. Paul's son (Gail's ex) is a hardcore alcoholic/drug addict who can't even speak in full sentences anymore. But, since she decided to divorce him, he won't give her the time of day. The exploration into the psyche of this dickbag of a human being is gripping. This is yet another reason I would've loved to seen the documentary of this story, to get MORE out of what the real motivations were and backstory behind this dude. 

So, how does Plummer stack up after only getting a week to prepare for the role and a month to shoot 22 scenes? Answer: he's obviously great. I think the dude should get an Oscar nom just for being in his late 80s and making it look like he's been prepping for the role for years. It does help that he was the first choice for the role before the studio forced Ridley Scott's hand into casting someone more bankable like Spacey. But he brings a certain humanity to the role, a certain charm that makes for an even more enthralling villain. Michelle Williams is also fantastic. Gail is a very strong-willed mother and a very tough character, who gets grief from the press that she doesn't appear more upset outwardly that her son has been kidnapped, even though we all know she's dying inside, which only exacerbates the problems in her life. The way she deals with Getty and the press and the situation in general is very internal, meaning she doesn't wear her emotions on her sleeve. However, she's still able to present these feelings subtly to the viewer so we can feel this struggle as well. It's a difficult role and Williams nails it. I also really loved the dialect she brings to her character's manner of speaking. It's truly mid-west 50s housewife speak (you know... like "Hey, Operator. Gimme Klondike-547 on the double!"). It works for the character. Whalberg is even impressive. Not like in a give-this-guy-an-Oscar kinda way, but more in a hey-Whalberg-didn't-Whalberg-it-up kinda way. 

I don't know. A lot of the movie works, but I still don't know if I really cared. I won't spoil it for you here, but after you've seen the movie, look up the story and read what happens years after the events of the kidnapping. After reading that, I really just don't know if the movie itself was necessary. The content of the movie is nothing extremely gripping or powerful and I figure I'm probably going to forget most of it after awhile, but it's something to watch. The theaters are still packed with great movies right now that I'd recommend over this one, but if you find yourself buying a ticket for it, I'd say you're not really wasting your money. That is unless they actually do a documentary. Then I'd say wait for that. 

B-

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Father Figures: Mediocre Bastards


Oh, how the mighty have fallen. I can't figure it out, but it always seems to happen... our favorite comedic actors... after years and years of making us laugh and love them always seem to make a gradual shift to unfunny. It doesn't matter who the actor is, it always happens. Just look at the biggest names in comedy-- Eddie Murphy was the hottest comic of the 80s... and then eventually he made Norbit. Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Steve Martin, Will Ferrell, Mike Myers, Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller... the list goes on and on. Eventually, they just stop making movies that are guaranteed funny based solely on their name being attached. This is probably because comedy is a continuously evolving phenomenon, but it's still disheartening to be let down by some of your favorite comedic actors. Even just ten years ago, Owen Wilson in a buddy comedy would be solid gold. Ed Helms was one of your favorite characters on The Office. And the plot for Father Figures sounds just ripe for comedy. Yet... it's just an exercise in mediocrity and another window for us to view one of our favorite comedic actors fall a little bit further from the funny tree.

Let me preface by stating that I didn't hate Father Figures. It's really a harmless movie that shouldn't really anger anyone, but it also won't make you laugh very often. And it's strange because there were so many missed opportunities for humor, it's almost like no one had their heart in it. The film, which was originally titled Bastards, is nearly two years old, having been pushed back a few times by the studio (I'm assuming due to poor test screenings). It tells the story of twin brothers Peter (Helms) and Kyle (Wilson) Reynolds finding out that the story their mother (Glenn Close) has told them about their deceased father their entire life was a lie. She wasn't entirely sure who their father was, but knew none of the candidates were fit enough to raise them. So, they decide to take a road trip to interview and meet the men who could be their fathers. First up is Terry Bradshaw (played by Terry Bradshaw), then a low-life thief Roland (JK Simmons), and a quirky veterinarian (Christopher Walken). Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker (Katt Williams - this is how you know the movie is old... when was the last time Katt Williams was relevant?) and learn to appreciate one another once again.

As I've mentioned, the movie isn't terrible, and I by no means despised it. It's kind of fun watching them meet the different people they believe is their father, finding the similarities between them and then witnessing the vast differences. But the scenario keeps repeating and none of them are any funnier than the last. There's moments in each that illicit a chuckle or two, but nothing here that's worthy of my time and money, especially in a theater (once again, thank you Movie Pass). I believe had the film been in more capable hands, we would've been gifted a funnier film. Owen Wilson doesn't seem to be giving it his all. And Ed Helms seems to be trying too hard. Their chemistry works in certain scenes, but I never really bought that they were brothers. All I kept thinking was how much better and funnier a movie it could've been if Vince Vaughn was Helms' character. There didn't seem to be much room for improvisation, but how angry Peter is and how resentful he is of Kyle, this would have set up multiple opportunities for a nice Vince Vaughn rant. Instead, what we got were fleeting moments of comedy leading to exposition until the next brief chuckle. The other actors in the film do lend to the fun of the film. Particularly the part of Terry Bradshaw, who somehow makes everything funnier just by being Terry Bradshaw.

It comes as no surprise that the movie is this unexceptional. It was written by Justin Malen whose only other produced work is the just as unbelievably mediocre Office Christmas Party. Both of these films have a high enough concept to draw a crowd, but such an inferior execution that neither of them are going to stick with people. In fact, I forgot nearly everything about Office Christmas Party and started watching it again about a week ago. Halfway through I remembered why I didn't remember anything-- because there's nothing funny enough to remember. This is exactly how I felt about Father Figures. It's a good enough distraction from the real world, it'll give you a handful of light chuckles, and it'll send you on your way. Therefore, I highly suggest waiting until Redbox or Netflix for this film (or if you're cool like I am, you can use your Movie Pass). It's certainly not worth the price of admission. No one is going to walk out hating the movie, but nearly everyone is going to walk out feeling underwhelmed. It's a shame because the cast is good, the story is fun, but the execution just isn't there.

C

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Bright: Orc Lives Matter


Don't. I repeat do not... expect Bad Boys with orcs and fairies and elves. This is one of the ways the film has been marketed. It's a tough and gritty cop drama, but with mismatched partners: human Will Smith and an orc. What a ripe situation for a buddy comedy, right? Well, actually I'd have to agree with you IF this was the route that Bright had taken. However, it's not. It's typical David Ayer humorless gritty cop drama (Dark Blue, Harsh Times, End of Watch, Sabotage, Suicide Squad) like most of his other films. Sometimes it works (Training Day), but it's mostly tired. Bright decides to cross genres and pit fantasy characters -- like the aforementioned orcs and elves and fairies-- with real life LAPD. It's difficult to pitch a movie like this: Okay, so there's like all these super nerdy fantasy characters, right? But now we put them into a Training Day type movie where we attempt (and fail) at examining real-life race problems with cops within the U.S. I truly believe there is a way to do this and somewhat succeed, but Bright isn't that movie. 

Bright is the story of our world-- IF we shared it with fantasy characters. The orcs are known as the thugs around LA. The elves are the rich posh assholes. The humans are... well... humans and they have to co-mingle with these creatures. The first ever Orc cop Nick (Joel Edgerton) has been forced to partner up with Ward (Will Smith). Their partnership has already begun quite rocky. While Nick is purchasing a burrito, Ward is shot by another orc. Nick chases the orc on foot, but he "gets away". Everyone, including Ward himself, and Internal Affairs, believes Nick allowed the assailant to get away because of a clan-blood-pact or something and that he will always value orc lives over human lives. This puts into motion a plan within the department to frame Nick and get him ousted from the LAPD. However, the story leads us into the territory with this evil elf Leilah (Noomi Rapace) trying to summon a dark lord to enslave humanity. Only she needs a magic wand to do it-- a wand that has been stolen by elf defector Tikka, who just happens to be in custody of - you guessed it-- Nick and Ward. Oh, and there's only like a fraction of a percent of people who can even use magic wands. Those who can't explode and die when they touch it. Those who can are called Brights. Yeah. 

Here's the deal with this movie. It's always going to sound kinda stupid no matter how you explain it, but there is a right way and a wrong way to present the movie. The right way should've been to hire charismatic actors to lend some serious credence to the story (like Will Smith and Joel Edgerton). However, it still ends up... pretty stupid. The biggest reason Bright doesn't work the way it is intended to is that it is a movie that must earn its audience's attention. Because of the fact that it's always going to sound like a dumb idea, there needs to be a fun and inventive way to grab the audience and show them that this is a world that is worth discovering and going on an adventure inside of it. But, it isn't. The dialogue is terrible. Will Smith is able to transcend a lot of bullshit because he is such an enthralling actor (he even sold me on Seven Pounds and that movie was a pile of pig shit). But there hits a breaking point where not even Will Smith can save it. The dude makes a Shrek joke reference that not only doesn't land, but it's got me shaking my head embarrassed at one of my favorite actors. Most of the film is like this. Poor dialogue that doesn't feel organic and it's either strange strings of yelling and profanity... or explanatory dialogue to make sure the confusing plot isn't too confusing for viewers.  There are also plot holes galore. Character motivations don't make sense. Where the story winds up doesn't make sense. People are looking all over the city for this magic wand holding trio and yet the only people who can seem to find them are the bad guys. Ward is portrayed as a family man who will do anything for his wife and daughter, yet all of the "police" moves he makes puts himself in such danger that he doesn't seem to give two shits about his own well-being and never once considers his family before pursuing a fruitless suicide mission. Even Nick's motivation of becoming a cop isn't believable. When I found myself constantly questioning what in the hell is going on followed by questioning why someone would do something they just did... I had to realize that what I was watching wasn't any good. 

It's just not an interesting movie to watch. You watch it to see if the outlandish combination of genres actually works and after only about ten minutes you'll realize it's not. I am one who will pretty much watch anything with Will Smith. The dude has a charisma that's only matched by a handful of actors in Hollywood, but he's been on this trend of picking dark and brooding characters that he's losing that Will Smith charm that made him a star in the first place. He picked roles in movies like Independence Day and Men in Black and Bad Boys and even the shitty Wild Wild West where his snarky magnetic and fun performances elevated the films from decent to great. Yet, nearly every movie he's chosen since Men in Black 3 have been these intense, quiet, depressed, subdued and angry characters that it's difficult to watch Smith and have the same kind of joy we once felt with him. I understand an actor wants to challenge themselves and not tie themselves down to a single role type, but by trying to avoid the spunky characters he used to portray, he's giving us characters too flawed and unhappy to enjoy. Seriously look at the movies: After Earth, Focus, Concussion, Suicide Squad, Collateral Beauty and now Bright. What could've been a really interesting buddy-cop dynamic went a darker and more uncomfortable path. Smith doesn't like his orc partner. He doesn't want anything to do with him and he expresses that. Nick's retorts are to take the high road and make jokes (like one half of a buddy cop duo), but Ward's responses are so dark and hostile and uncomfortable, he becomes a seriously unlikable character. This is fine to have, but most audiences, including myself, don't want to watch Will Smith as unlikable. In fact, the movie is so populated with unlikable characters, the only person we do connect with is actually Nick. But, we're supposed to feel bad for him and the way that he's treated just because he's different (and we do), but we're also supposed to care that they want to oust him from the police department... when he's actually a pretty terrible cop. He makes the most mistakes of any cop on screen and I'm supposed to care about this Orc not losing his job? He's supposed to be the first one ever to finally become a cop and all I can think about is how??

Bright's reach exceeds its grasp too often that the audience is left confused and angry. It tries to do so many things at once (including make racial and political statements that only weakly translates) that it fails to successfully complete one of them. This is such a new world we're thrown into that we only get part of the mythos of the world. We're left with so many questions about just the world in general that it's difficult to become immersed in the plot. Then we have the characters that are hard to connect to and a villain whose motivation we don't exactly understand and a build up to a battle that doesn't really ever happen and characters that seem important but in the grand scheme of the movie don't contribute anything... it's just an exhausting exercise of surrealism crossing into realism that doesn't pan out. It was a decent effort, but it didn't work this time and even someone as charismatic and film-saving as Will Smith can't bring this one back from the dead. 

D+

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Shape of Water: Del Toro's Passion Project Is Breathtaking


Pay attention, Hollywood. Pay very close attention to what your audience is telling you. Look at what movies people are buzzing about. Don't just pay attention to numbers. Yes, if you look at the highest grossing movies of 2017 it takes until the 12th movie down (Dunkirk) before we get something original. But look at the top 30-- Get Out, Split, Coco, Girls Trip, Baby Driver... we're willing to see original films. The best movies of the year aren't remakes or sequels or spinoffs or prequels (though Marvel did have a banner year). The best movies of the year are the original movies. And among them is definitely The Shape of Water, Guillermo Del Toro's passion project. He wisely gave up helming a sequel to Pacific Rim in order to bring us this gem that's not going to cross the top 30 in money, but will be remembered longer and appreciated better than a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel.

The Shape of Water is a BEAUTIFUL movie. I don't just mean the imagery and the set design and the make up and the overall look of the movie, but the story and the characters and the heart as well. Everything about this movie is pure beauty. Say what you will about Del Toro's past films, he knows how to present a movie. Crimson Peak, in my opinion, was a bit of a misfire, but it was gorgeous to look at. The Hellboy movies might be a bit junky in their own right... but they're fascinating to watch. Del Toro can sometimes go all over the place with his writing, but every once in awhile, everything clicks and we get movies like Pan's Labyrinth and now, The Shape of Water. 

During the Cold War in the early 1960s, Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is a mute woman working as a night shift janitor at an Aerospace Research Facility called Occam with friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer). During a clean-up, an amphibious being called The Asset is brought in and held captive in the facility. The Asset is guarded by hard-nosed General Strickland (Michael Shannon). Elisa and the Asset form an (unspoken) bond and after she witnesses how poorly he's being treated (tortured), she hatches a plan with her friend and neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) to help the Asset escape the facility. Here's where it gets kinda weird and it's really one of those things you won't be able to accurately explain right-- Elisa and this amphibious fish creature... kinda... fall in love. I know! It sounds crazy and weird and gross and how could it possibly be beautiful? I don't know. But Del Toro is the guy to pull something like that off. Because it really is beautiful.

Del Toro's vision is unparalleled. In Pan's Labyrinth, during a dark war he's able to bring light. He was able to craft a gothic-fairy-tale-love-story-horror-movie with Crimson Peak. And here, he's able to bring the feel of being submerged in water to a Cold War era fantasty-monster(ish)-movie. Everything is presented in sea blues and teals and there's a bounce to the movie. It's almost hypnotic to watch. And, once again, his monster is crafted brilliantly. I love watching brand new Del Toro creatures because they're so intricate and complex and brilliant to look at. This is the guy who should be making a Star Wars movie. So, even if you aren't feeling the lady bangs a fish plotline of the story... there's always something to look at.

The performances are terrific as well. I love what 2017 has been doing as far as bringing female actors to the forefront and writers actually writing strong roles for women. For the first time in a long time the Best Actress Oscar category is not going to be an easy one to choose. There's going to be a fight for the award. Between Meryl and Francis McDormand and Saoirse Ronan and Judi Dench and Jessica Chastain... now comes Sally Hawkins (and she doesn't utter a single word). Hawkins gives such an emotionally resonant performance, she sells the story that sounds difficult to pitch with a straight face. You cheer for her, you root for her, you pity her, you are enthralled with her and it's because of her performance. It's subtle, but poignant. It's quiet (obviously), but beautiful. I'd never really seen her in anything before this, but I'm looking forward to seeing her in a lot more in the future (pay attention Hollywood!).

Everyone else is perfection as well. I love me a good ole Michael Shannon villain. And I'm not talking about over-the-top General Zod type crap. I'm talking about an understated just nasty human being who's been written well with depth and layers and shadows of terror lurking underneath those terrifying eyes of his. Octavia Spencer provides some comic relief, but she's the best person for the role. She knows she's there to bring some levity to the screen, but she's also portraying a complex character herself. It's wonderful that she's the translator for Elisa in the 60s. She gets the most lines in a time when most African-American actresses would've been silenced. Richard Jenkins is always a treat to have in a film and it's no different here. In a role that was originally written for Ian McClellan, Jenkins gives us a performance that convinces (at least me) that there was no one else better for the role.

What I'm trying to say is that this movie is not very commercial and it's going to be difficult to convince those who aren't privy to Del Toro's work to trust the surreal storyline, but I'm telling you this is one of the best movies of 2017. There's something in here for everyone and it's nothing short of breathtaking. It is a Del Toro movie, so amid the gorgeous imagery and brilliant characters and fascinating love story is some serious violence. This is the type of fantasy that I enjoy and Del Toro, when he's on, can be the one to deliver some of the best. With The Shape of Water let me just tell you: he's on... and then some.

A

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle: Amusing, But It's Not Jumanji


In general, Hollywood is full of cowards. Cowards who don't believe that anything original is going to make them any money, no matter how star-powered it may be. With Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle there are two movies here. The first is about four high schoolers who get sucked into a video game and have to beat it (and learn life/coming-of-age lessons) in order to escape and return back to their regular lives. The second movie is the same as the first, only they throw random Jumanji references in it in a feeble attempt to cash in on a name brand. The first movie would've been a pretty decent solo film. Take out all the Jumanji connections (which isn't hard because there ain't much of them), but leave the cast and I'm willing to bet the movie would'v made comparable money. But, due to the cowardliness of Hollywood... we have to connect it to anything that's recognizable by the general public in order to hopefully make a few dollars more. It reminded me of Die Hard 3 and 10 Cloverfield Lane. Die Hard 3 began as the script for Lethal Weapon 2. They went with a different idea for that film, so they retooled the script a tad and turned it into a Die Hard film. 10 Cloverfield Lane started as a script about a crazy dude who has kidnapped a couple of people in his bunker by telling them he saved them from the end of the world. The script itself apparently wasn't enough to get asses in seats, so they tacked on some aliens and boom... it's now a Cloverfield movie. This is what has happened with Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle. Because, like I said, as a standalone... it's not bad. As a Jumanji sequel... it's not good.

So, the plot-- basically what I said earlier, but throw in random Jumanji references and call it a sequel. A guy finds a board game on the beach. His son, addicted to video games, doesn't want to play a board game because it's the 90s dude. So, the game, in its infinite wisdom, transforms into a video game in order for more people to play it. The kid plays the game, and gets sucked in. Flash forward to 2017. Four high school students have gotten detention. In the detention room they find the old console, plug it in, and get sucked into the game. There's nerdy, video gamer Spencer who turns into Dr. Smolder Bravestone (The Rock), tall jock football player Fridge, who turns into "Mouse" Finbar (Kevin Hart), brainiac preppy student Martha who becomes Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), and popular hot girl Bethany who becomes Dr. Shelly Oberon (Jack Black). The joke here is they've become the opposite of their real-life personalities... which, in turn, will teach them their life lessons. Anyway, the game they're sucked into is Jumanji. They're instructed to take a green gem that was stolen from the villain Russell Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale) to an ancient statue and return it before Van Pelt gets it back from them. And that's pretty much it...

Now, as stated earlier, if this was a standalone film it wouldn't be half bad. We haven't seen a "sucked into a video game/body swap" movie before and it's kind of a clever story. But it's a completely different narrative than the one Jumanji told back in the day. This new version is fun, but it's a different kind of fun than the first one. The fun in Jumanji is anticipating what's coming for the players after each roll of the dice. Then, right before some terrible conflict emerges from the game, you get a tiny riddle to get your brain clicking as to what it might be. It's a movie filled with tension and it's got a very dark atmosphere. Yes, it's fun. Yes, it has Robin Williams and there are moments of humor in it, but it's not a goofy, dopey comedy. It's an adventure film that's made for the family. Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle doesn't have any of this. Here, the jungle is called "Jumanji" and the players have to save it. There's a brief reference to Alan Parrish (VERY brief). And every once in awhile there's a rhyming riddle... but not every time. As the game levels up, the adventure gets harder, but there's nothing clever or that creative about each level. Every roll of the die in the first film came something inventive and exciting (giant spiders, a stampede of animals, a monsoon, quicksand floors, etc.). Here... it's kind of just dudes on motorcycles and a couple of rhinos.

And again... I feel I can't stress this enough... this would've been fun and perfect for a STANDALONE film. But if you're going to attach your story to a movie that's already done it better and more capable and smart than yours, you may need to amp up the stakes a little bit. As a standalone it's decent. As a sequel it's wanting.

However, there are very amusing moments in the film. It's a lot funnier and goofier than its predecessor, which is the movie's strength. Once again, The Rock has come on board to rejuvenate an already dead franchise with his mere presence alone. It is humorous to watch the juxtaposition of a nerdy, weak, and scared teenager inside of The Rock's body. Kevin Hart is still his annoying little whipper-snapper self, but thankfully he's been significantly toned down. There are still eye-rolling moments with him, but less so than usual. Plus, he and The Rock have developed a pretty decent chemistry together, even if the jokes of "I'm big and you're small" are still essentially the same. Karen Gillan is a badass. I'd only really ever seen her in the Guardians of the Galaxy films, but she's got the action and the comedy chops to succeed for a long time in this business. And finally, the thing that Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle did for me was make me severely miss Jack Black. Every time I see him pop up in some kiddie movie or sequel or something below his comedic skill level, it makes me wonder why he's not starring in his own movies any more. Where are our raunchy, adult Jack Black helmed movies? He's better than this. He's better than Goosebumps and Gulliver's Travels. And even though we ALL know he's better than a sequel to Jumanji, he's still very funny. Even if a lot of the jokes are just recycled from Rob Schnieder's The Hot Chick, Jack Black still owns them and makes them feel fresh and new.

This is one of the few instances where I doubt we're going to get many more sequels to Jumanji, much less begin an expansive franchise. The Rock's film schedule is so full, they'd be lucky to pencil him in for Jumanji 3 by the end of 2025. So, if this is a one-off, then that's great. If it makes a ton of money, Hollywood better realize it isn't because we, as movie fans, are all clamoring for Jumanji sequels (because I can tell you that no one really, really wanted this). It's going to make a lot of money because of its cast. And had you had the nutsacks to understand it would've made the same money with the same cast and not have to be attached to an already established movie... you would've been able to start a new franchise. There are worse sequels out there, even some from this year, but don't go into Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle looking for a sequel. If you see the movie and understand that it's its own entity, you're going to enjoy it a lot more. If you go in hoping for a direct sequel, it's going to leave you frustrated, confused, and wanting a lot more.

The Standalone non-Jumanji movie: B-
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle sequel to Jumanji: C-

Friday, December 15, 2017

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi: It's No Empire, But It'll Do


It's finally here, you guys! After two long years of waiting, we're finally getting Star Wars: Episode VIII. I am by no means a super fan of Star Wars. In fact, growing up, I thought the movies were just meh. I'd only seen them a handful of times by the time The Force Awakens came out. However, this past year, I did sit down and watch all of them in order 1-7, with Rogue One tossed in between. I finally understand why the superfans, and hell, even just fans of this franchise exist. It's spectacular. The original trilogy stands true and one of the best film trilogies of all time and the prequel trilogy stands as just about the worst. All these new three can try to do is not piss off the majority of fans and elevate the game past the prequels (not difficult to achieve) and it should go swimmingly. However, in the hours I've spent since seeing the newest film, I've done a lot of reading of reviews; not by critics, but by superfans. And I can tell you that they may be the best worst fans in the history of film. They all have "unique" ideas of where the movie should go, and when it doesn't-- worst Star Wars film ever made. They were all very pissed off that The Force Awakens was pretty much a carbon copy of A New Hope. Now, it seems, they're pissed off because (among several other reasons) The Last Jedi isn't anything like The Empire Strikes Back. The series is evolving, yet when the story seems to be heading in a new changing direction, they're mad because "that's not Star Wars", but when you give them a paint-by-numbers Star Wars film: "they're not giving us anything new." Star Wars fans are the absolute worst. So, if you fancy yourself a casual Star Wars fan, I would say this-- you're going to like The Last Jedi.

If you haven't seen the film yet I wouldn't advise reading any further as I'm going to spoil some major elements of the plot (something I don't normally do, but in this case I must). In preparation for this film I intentionally avoided reading or researching anything about the film. I didn't watch the trailers unless they came on before a movie I was already going to see and at that point I shut my brain off from trying to analyze anything too hard for fear of accidentally spoiling anything for myself. But now that we've all seen it, we can skip the whole "Ryan gives us a plot synopsis" part of the review. So, let's just say, everyone is where you expect them to be. Rey is on the island planet with Luke attempting to get him back to help the Resistance fight the First Order. Kylo Ren is still brooding and trying to appease his master, Supreme Leader Snoke. Poe and Finn are fighting along side Princess General Leia to ward off First Order ships and Han Solo is still dead as shit. This is where a majority of the characters remain for most of the film. One of the things that generally irks me about sequels is they split up the characters. I hate it when we watch an original movie with characters developing chemistry and going on adventures together, then in the sequel split them all up to go on their own adventures, totally bastardizing the already established relationships we've come to love and enjoy. As far as The Last Jedi is concerned, it didn't bother me. As much as I wanted to see Rey and Finn develop their relationship further and battle the First Order even more... I loved watching Rey with Luke. I loved watching Poe and Finn get extra scenes together. Hell, I even (mostly) loved Finn go on a side-adventure with new badass character Rose (Kelly Marie Tran). The characters do get split up in the film, but for once it worked.

I had a feeling we were going to get something a little bit ballsy and different from The Last Jedi because any of you who criticize The Force Awakens for being too similar in plot to A New Hope, we can all agree that The Last Jedi is no regurgitation of The Empire Strikes Back. Director Rian Johnson (one of my favorite directors) came on board with the intention to take the film to new heights and give us change in the story of Star Wars. He could've easily kept Rey with Luke training her just as Yoda did with him. Most of us wanted this training, but, again it would've wound up just like Empire. While away, the First Order could be pummeling the Resistance and rising in power until it looks like there is absolutely no hope left. And while we do know that the First Order is up the Resistance's ass for most of the film, it doesn't end in despair like Empire. The film has a lot of dark, but it ends with hope. Snoke could've started using Kylo Ren in a more sinister way a la Vader and the Emperor. And while he does do this, there's the clever (and damn surprising) death of Snoke so Ren can rise to power (but more on that later). All of these elements have been given clever twists and turns in structure and weight as far as furthering the story. It's different. It's new. And a lot of it is quite surprising. What I thoroughly respect and appreciate about a director like Johnson, is that he was able to take a franchise that is now in its 8th film (9th if you count Rogue One) and still surprise us. Structurally, a lot of Star Wars just kind of repeats itself and there were moments in The Last Jedi where members of our packed theater (myself included) were exclaiming, during multiple occasions, "oh shit!" This makes for a wonderful movie-going experience. The Last Jedi didn't take us on the journey I expected, and from what I've read, it doesn't take us to the places that most superfans expected either. I loved this aspect about the film... the superfans did not apparently.

The film is also beautifully shot. It never ceases to amaze me the creativity put into creating new worlds in the Star Wars universe. The climactic battle on the "mineral planet" where the red earth has been covered in salt and underneath the surface are shimmering red crystal caves. The Falcon chase scene zipping in and out of these caves was awe-inspiring. After Ren kills Snoke and he and Rey join together to fight the minions in the room gave me chills. The emphasis on the moment when Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) jumps to hyperspace and tears through the enemy ship was jaw-droppingly fantastic. By eliminating all sound in that one moment, Johnson shows what a capable director he is by being able to emphasize these poignant scenes. This is the work of a director who is someone truly in tune with what direction Star Wars needs to go, as well as what makes a great film (if you haven't seen any of Johnson's previous work I strongly urge you to seek out Brick, The Brothers Bloom, and Looper). The performances were also top notch. I found Rey to be a bit annoying in The Force Awakens. It could've been the writing of the character or Daisy Ridley's performance and acting choices. Whatever the case, it has been fixed, toned down, and she gives a remarkable performance. John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Laura Dern, hell everyone in the film turns in solid performances that really lend to the high quality of the film. However, it's a surprising turn by Mark Hamill that really shines through. His crusty (yet still whiny young Luke) old guy Luke is the perfect mentor for Rey. He's not trying to be Obi-Wan or Yoda or anyone we've seen in previous films. He's still Luke. And Hamill has never been better.

Now, the film is not without its faults. There are some glaring problems with both the script and the story that keep popping up in my head whenever I think about how much I enjoyed the film. The first, and most common grievance with the film that I've read online is that this film has been Disney-fied too much. There are "too many cuddly creatures" and too many "jokes that aren't funny" and an overall goofy feel to the movie that should've gone a lot darker. I agree with some of these complaints, as it does feel Disney may or may not have interjected some of their family-friendlyness into the script in order to appease ALL the fans, but I didn't think most of these inserts were over-extended and run into the ground. Nothing in this film was any more "goofy" than Return of the Jedi. And these moments of levity are something you can giggle at or just ignore. It's not like they're overtly in your face Jar Jar Binks style. As far as the jokes go, I'd say a little more than half of them land and only a couple of them are truly cringe-worthy (Finn should never have called Phasma "chrome dome" ugh). Again, nothing bad enough to label the movie as the "worst Star Wars ever". No, what I had my issues with were dialogue-related. I've followed Rian Johnson's career as a writer/director and I know what kind of writer he is. He's very poetic and methodical and never spoon-feeds his audience. Yet, a lot of the dialogue in The Last Jedi was very unnecessary and plot-explanatory. Like serious in-your-face explanatory. For example, when Luke shows up at the end and approaches the First Order's battle droids, Poe looking through the binoculars actually goes: "It's Luke Skywalker. And he's going to fight Kylo Ren alone." Like, duh! We can see that! The worst offender of this type of unnecessary plot explanations is Rose's character. I really like her as a character and I think she will fit in nicely with the series, but nearly all her lines are like this. That kind of beginner-screenwriter type stuff definitely didn't feel like Johnson's caliber of writing and was what I assume a little bit of Disney interjection. The best moments with Rose are the moments when she's reflecting on her sister through her necklace. There's no dialogue there and we get more from her character's silence than we do when she's speaking.

Other issues I have come either from set-ups that pay off weakly, or don't pay off at all. First of all, and I hadn't even thought about this after seeing the movie until it was brought up to me, but we begin almost immediately after The Force Awakens ends. Hell, we see Rey hand over the lightsaber to Luke again. So, if we're right there... why aren't we given a Han Solo funeral? It's like everyone has already moved on and his death, in the scope of time in the movie, JUST HAPPENED. Then, there's an entire side plot about Finn and Rose trying to find a codebreaker on the casino planet to hack into the system of a First Order ship... and it doesn't really ever pay off. In fact, Benecio Del Toro's character, as entertaining as he is, doesn't seem to contribute much to the overall story of the movie and if this side-plot was cut from the movie, other than developing the character of Rose, the story doesn't change much at all. And finally, there's the built-up Finn and Phasma confrontation. Yes, it does happen. No, it isn't great. Phasma is decked out in chrome Stormtrooper gear and Finn has been waiting to get a shot at her since the previous movie and their fight is quite anti-climactic-- a couple of hits and she falls down a shaft into the fire (seriously, everyone dies down a shaft in Star Wars). So, there are quite a few discrepancies with The Last Jedi and I would argue that there is more in this film that I disliked than I did in The Force Awakens. More elements of this film stood out to me as not up to par, yet I genuinely believe that I liked this film better than The Force Awakens. In the fleeting moments of "bad"... yeah, it's bad and it sticks out like a sore thumb. But it's so few and far between that when the "good" happens... it's so incredibly good that it overshadows the bad by a lot.

Now, to address a couple of elephants in the room. After a few days of reflection, there are moments in this film that have severely angered people that I've come to terms with. First is floating Leia. I didn't particularly like it, and I don't necessarily understand it... but I accept it. As unrealistic as it seems, it was such a deliberate choice made by Johnson that, even if we're just supposed to accept it's "the Force", I accept it. Something in Star Wars canon has set this up in the past and allowed her to survive space (unharmed) and it wasn't just done by accident. It was methodically thought out and decided upon, and even if I don't understand it... I accept it.

Then there's Snoke. A lot of people are upset that he was built up so much to be this insanely evil force of destruction and conflict and was killed instantly. I loved this choice. It was unexpected and keeps the story away from a reflection of Emperor/Vader territory. The film was never about Snoke's evil. It's about Kylo Ren's. Snoke was a red herring in the grand scheme of the story and his death was necessary for Kylo to take full form of the dark side he has succumbed to. It bugs me that we still don't know the back story of Snoke. Like he's this old, decrepit ancient evil... yet, where does he come from? Why wasn't he involved with the Sith back when Luke was a kid? He's set up to be shrouded in mystery during The Force Awakens, yet this film doesn't really address any of our lingering questions about him and chances are we'll never get the answers. But, because it shaped the character of Kylo Ren that we've actually been following and watch develop, I'm okay with this too. Also, think about this-- in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi... we knew NOTHING about Darth Sidious. Nothing. And yet, it didn't make him any less evil. It didn't make his death any less awesome. So why is everyone all up in arms over the mystery of Snoke?

Rey's parents are nobodies. This is great. All the speculation about her magical origins and she's come from nothing! Thematically this is great. It's underwhelming, but what actual explanation would be better that everyone would love?

Finally, Skywalker's death. Loved it. Those complaining that they wanted to see the strongest Jedi of all time finally do battle and blah blah blah... that's not Luke. Luke projected himself across the galaxy to save lives, not to kill. He showed that he is the strongest Jedi and then physically became one with the force. This might be the best death of any Star Wars character to date. It felt legitimately earned.

Love it or hate it, The Last Jedi is its own entity. It takes the feel of Star Wars and it's leading the story some place new. I, for one, am very excited to continue on this journey. Until then, I will probably be seeing The Last Jedi four or five more times in theaters. Because, come on, how many times in our lifetime have we been able to watch a Star Wars movie in theaters on the big screen? Thanks again, Movie Pass!

B

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Disaster Artist: You Are Tearing Me Apart, Franco!


It was about six or seven years ago when I first discovered The Room with my college roommates in our imitation frat house. I don't know how we came into possession of the movie. I don't know how we'd even heard about the movie. But, I do know that we watched it... several times... quoted it often, and added it to our list of "must own" bad movies right along with films purchased at the 99 Cent Store and the entire Sean Donahue filmography (that's an even longer story). Any time I hear a reference to The Room or catch a scene or even just someone gross walking by who resembles (and probably is) Tommy Wiseau, I'm taken back to my early college days of a bunch of unshowered, beer-soaked college students laughing their asses off at one of the best/worst movies ever made.

I feel like there's two ways The Disaster Artist could've gone when trying to tell a story relating to The Room. It could've done what it did and crafted an intimate look at the two men responsible for bringing The Room to life and given us a behind the scenes look at the batshit craziness that went on during the production of the film. OR it could've just been a shot-for-shot remake of the movie The Room with actual actors in it portraying the characters from the film. Either way would've been fine with me. Thankfully, we get a lot of both. James Franco brings Tommy Wiseau's story to life not just portraying the character, but also pulling a Wiseau and writing and directing the movie about his life. Wiseau is a [somewhere European] man with a bunch of money (no one knows why or how) who dreams of being famous and taken seriously as an actor. His fearlessness on stage is what draws Greg (Dave Franco) to Tommy. Together, the two of them move to Los Angeles to pursue their dreams of acting. After years of rejection for both of them, the two decide to make their own movie. This sets Tommy off on his journey of writing The Room.

Speculated to be autobiographical, Wiseau writes a story about a guy named Johnny who is "great, All-American man". He has a love in his life, Lisa (Ari Graynor), and his best friend Mark, (played by Greg... played by Dave Franco). However, through some very strange and unintelligible circumstances, Lisa cheats on Johnny with Mark. Johnny finds out about the betrayal and kills himself as his last piece of revenge on Lisa. It's truly a remarkable movie to watch. Through The Disaster Artist we get to see how this actual disaster was made and it's nothing short of what-the-actual-fuck-mesmerising. Throughout the filming process (of which Tommy literally has zero knowledge), his coterie of actors and crew (ranging from Seth Rogen to Jacki Weaver to Zac Efron to Josh Hutcherson to Paul Scheer) begin to realize he may have zero idea about what he's actually doing and that they may, in fact, be making the worst movie of all time... at least he's paying them. In a brief, but very touching moment with Jacki Weaver, she's asked why she's taking part in such a shit show and she comes back with-- we're actors. It's what we do. Even the worst day on a film set is better than the best day anywhere else.  Sometimes it's not about the quality of the product, but the beauty of making something creative.

But, here's what's really interesting about The Disaster Artist... it's clearly a movie showcasing what an actual nut Tommy Wiseau really is. And this movie does poke fun of him and his choices... but somehow, and I'm still not even sure how, the movie honors him. Seriously. It would've been a very easy choice to make a movie roasting a millionare nut job who thought he was making the greatest American movie of all time. But that's not how Franco and co. approached the film. They humanize Wiseau to the point that not only do you sympathize with him, but you may find yourself understanding him. Wiseau the actual person has always been shrouded in secrecy. The dude has an untracable accent and has always claimed to be from New Orleans. He spent over six million dollars of his OWN money making The Room and no one knows where it comes from. And no one seems to know how old the man is. So, when we watch Wiseau make strange and petty choices we have to assume that these choices are coming from a deep, emotional place of hurt and loss from his past, but we'll never know.

Wiseau is a weirdo, but he's very loyal to his friends. He sees a spark in Greg and the two of them become best friends. However, whenever Greg talks to women or has his girlfriend over, or anything like that, Wiseau turns into a petulant child acting as though Greg has betrayed him and plunged a dagger into his heart. This is where a lot of the "emotion" from The Room comes from. But, Franco doesn't create some fictional narrative to explain this. He presents it in his portrayal of Wiseau in such an honest way that we understand it comes from a dark moment or moments in his past, but we're never going to get all the facts. And that's what the audience can connect with. We all have something emotionally shitty in our past that can rear its ugly head in unwanted situations that drive our actions. Are we going to lash out as childishly as Wiseau does? No probably not. But we can understand where that lashing out stems from. Franco does a wonderful job showcasing Wiseau as an actual human being we can understand, which lends to the understanding of how The Room actually came to be. It's actually a very touching and poignant movie-- something I didn't think was possible to do in a movie about a bad movie.

The cast is great. It's clear they're all maturing as actors as well as comedians. There aren't long Seth Rogen-y diatribes purely to get laughs, but the movie is very funny. The story itself is so unbelievable and weird that nothing new needed to be added. It's one of those "truth is stranger funnier than fiction" type of stories. And Franco does a fantastic job as Wiseau. His portrayal is so authentic, after about twenty minutes into the film you don't notice him doing the Wiseau-accent. He doesn't over-play the role or ham it up in scenes just to get a cheap laugh. You can tell Franco has a weird sort of respect for the man and wanted to do him justice by giving him the most accurate portrayal possible. Franco's real life brother Dave Franco is also very good and has a great rapport with his brother (though he still does that annoying Dave Franco thing where he stutter-steps the first few words of every sentence he speaks-- "you.. you sure about that?" "I don-- I don't know if I can..." etc. Dude has always done this and it bugs the hell outta me.)

There are a lot of familiar faces and cameos in the film and they're all here to honor a film that, even though it's TERRIBLE, has been remembered longer than most Best Picture Oscar winners. They're here to add their thank you to a movie that garners more sold out screenings (even today) than movies that won them all the awards in the world. It's a very good movie that could've easily bullied a vulnerable man who has taken several Hollywood beatings in his time, but instead showcased his humanity and his vulnerabilities and, in turn, made us re-think our preconceived notions of the man named Tommy Wiseau. According to Wiseau, the movie is 99.9% accurate. After seeing The Room... and now The Disaster Artist... I actually believe that.

P.S. - You don't have to see The Room to appreciate The Disaster Artist, but I would recommend it if you can. Oh, and make sure you stay until after the credits are over.

B+

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Roman J. Israel, Esq.: Hot Damn I Love Denzel Washington


There are only a handful of actors who we're willing to watch nearly everything they put out just because we know the type of actors they are and the quality of the movies they give us. We see Daniel-Day Lewis movies because we know how picky he is with his roles and if he's waded through hundreds of scrips and selected this very one, then most likely it's going to be worth it for us (I still think his upcoming film Phantom Thread looks boring as hell, but I'm seeing it regardless). We know actors like Leo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks (though, even I couldn't get myself to watch Cloud Atlas), and Denzel Washington choose roles that are exceptional and we have faith that even if the movies as a whole aren't spectacular, their performances will be. I feel spoiled because I've had a pretty exceptional week at the movies. I've gotten to watch 100% ORIGINAL FILMS, not based on any source material, or comic book, or sequel or anything like that. I've had the pleasure of watching complex characters in unique stories from talented writers and directors and it has been nothing short of a goddamn treat. Coco, Lady Bird, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (seriously, see that one), and now Roman J. Israel give me hope as a writer that there are still producers in power out there willing to produce films for audiences to enjoy truly original works.

Dan Gilroy is a marvel. He's not a household name yet, but be on the lookout for his name attached to many works to come. In fact, he's such a good writer/director I'm certain Marvel or Lucasfilms will pick him up to churn out an Avengers or Star Wars film. I wouldn't necessarily be too upset about this, but it would keep us from getting more of his original content. Roman J. Israel, Esq. is only his second directorial work (though he's written many others like Kong: Skull Island and The Bourne Legacy). His first feature was a film called Nightcrawler which is vastly underrated. In it, he crafted a character portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal that we'd never seen in film before. He runs his movies like a character study where the flawed protagonist is the sole focus and the story just kind of happens around him. He also happens to set most of his movies, at least the ones he directs, in Los Angeles and somehow makes his intricate look at the city feel like its own character. This is where the character of Roman Israel is inspired. Gilroy has delivered yet another interesting character to focus on with an actor capable of delivering the goods.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a lawyer working at a small-time attorney's office. He's the guy who puts together the cases. He's the guy who does all the grunt work like doing research and writing briefs and investigating clients, etc. However, the namesake of the office and Israel's partner of 35 years has a heart attack and Roman is out of a job. In comes George Pierce (Colin Farrell), a high-priced defense attorney to swoop Roman up. Roman doesn't fit in with the new firm. He lives in a run-down apartment, he's worked forever for a mere $500/week, he's bad with people due to him being somewhere on the Asperger's spectrum, but he's a genius. Roman, who never asked for anything his entire life other than a job, starts to see what can happen when one begins to care about money. His life has been spent trying criminal cases in order to fund his passion, which is social activism litigation. Yet, even Roman knows it's a thankless job. After accepting the job at the new film, Roman experiences an inner crisis of self-doubt when he starts to wonder if being privileged in life has more perks than the one he's been living for years.

The story kind of meanders all over the place, but that's because Gilroy isn't necessarily concerned with the plot (much like Nightcrawler). Roman is the focus. He's an interesting character to watch unfold because he's unlike most characters we get to see regularly. A lot of this is thanks to Denzel for another magnificent performance. He brings much life and nuance to the character. The subtle ticks like the constant adjusting of his glasses or the way Roman decides to wear his hair that day accentuate an already elaborate character. He's blunt, but not an asshole. He's kind, but selfish. He makes calculated decisions, even if they're not the right one. When Roman begins to change from selfless activist to selfish "corporate guy", it's a struggle to watch. We know he's lived his entire life with next to nothing and it's nice to see him get his for a change. But we also know the actions he's taking go against every fiber of his moral code and integrity. It's fascinating to watch unfold.

There's also the fact that Denzel is still getting better and better. That's the beauty of watching one of the best actors to ever grace the screen is they are still working to improve and challenge themselves as actors. With every new character Denzel portrays, we are given a look into the life of someone who we've never seen him play before. He versatile in that he can play the action star, he can play the asshole, he can play an ex-activist lawyer on the spectrum. He's such a joy to watch and a marvel on the screen. However, I fear much like Nightcrawler, and Denzel's previous role in Fences, he's going to get overlooked once again in the Best Actor category. There's also the fact that Daniel Day-Lewis is already on the radar for the Oscar after announcing Phantom Thread will be his final film. I have this feeling Denzel is going to be robbed just like Gyllenhaal was robbed (though I do think Denzel will get a nomination... something ol' Jake didn't even get). However, Gilroy is going to have a very memorable and successful career if he keeps crafting characters like he has and getting the best actors in the world to lend their voices to the roles.

Yes, narratively and structurally, the film does feel somewhat like it's kind of all over the place and there's a bit of a tonal shift toward the end of the film that may strain a bit of credulity, but that's not the point. We're here to watch Denzel Washington give his all to a character that can teach us, through unique (and oversized) lenses about a different perspective in the world. The movie is highly enjoyable and I'm looking forward to any further characters Dan Gilroy can expose and bring to life. And, hey, if he decides to work with Denzel again on another project-- even better.

B+

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Lady Bird: Coming Of Age Done Right


I don't know what it is, but I really love coming of age movies. We've all had "rough childhoods" even though most of them have been Downy soft. But, there's something about watching an angsty child or teen go through an emotional reboot that comforts us in our lives. Movies like Dazed and Confused, The Breakfast Club, The Graduate, The Way Way Back, The Edge of Seventeen, Say Anything really know how to do coming of age right, even if most of them are somewhat formulaic. Lady Bird joins the ranks of one of the best coming of age movies. It reaches new heights as well for flipping the script on formula and structure to give us something new and great. Greta Gerwig's directorial debut is nothing short of fantastic.

Saoirse Ronan is Christine, but has self-dubbed herself "Lady Bird". She's a senior at a Catholic school (even though she's got zero faith in a God) her mother (Laurie Metcalf) sent her to because her brother "saw someone knifed at the public school". Most of the students come from upper class families, while Lady Bird's parents are struggling to make ends meet. Lady Bird spends her days like the typical teenage girl-- struggling more with her social life than her academic one. She crushes on guys like Danny (Lucas Hedges), joins activities with her friend Julie to meet said guys, and squabbles with her mom who, like her, has a flair for the dramatic.

The thing that I really like about Gerwig's crafting of Lady Bird is that she's not this unique flower. She's not the manic pixie dream girl wildcard character whose unique individuality is the core of her being.  She's like every basic high school student who hasn't really found her true self yet. She doesn't love anything because it's a part of her core interests... she loves things because other people she looks up to loves them. She joins the play because the guy she's interested in is in the play. She desecrates a nun's car in order to gain the attention of a more popular girl. She claims to know obvious pop culture references in fear of looking lesser than to the person dishing them out. She also has unrealistic expectations for herself, even though they're quite self-evident. She's upset when a guidance counselor laughs at her for wanting to get into Yale, even though her grades are sub par. Lady Bird conforms to whatever others around her love, thus crafting her counterfeit personality.

Gerwig knows that teenagers are amorphous blobs that rarely carry around a uniqueness to them. They are told by others what to like, what to watch, what to listen to, and what is cool and uncool. That's what makes the movie feel so real. Lady Bird is all of us when we were teenagers. We were overly dramatic (though I'm sure most of us didn't roll out of a moving car in the midst of an argument with our mom) and mischevious little shits who thought we knew everything and, in reality, knew nothing. It's not until we took a good hard look at who we were as individuals did we start to shape the people we were to become. Gerwig crafts such a wonderful narrative around the truth of youth that this movie will speak to anyone, no matter what the age.

Ronan does an amazing job as Lady Bird. Assuming she's drawing partly from her own childhood, her portrayal is very real. Her performance is the most authentic thing about Christine. The other aspect of the film that's terrific is her relationship with her parents. Her father is the "friendly" parent, always putting on a smile and never causing a rift with his daughter-- even though there is a lot of inner pain going on with him that he's perfected shielding his kids from. Her mother is the over-worked nurse who wears her emotions on her sleeve, always stressed, and never afraid to pass off some harsh judgment on anything she doesn't see eye to eye on. This continuously causes a rift between her and her daughter, which in turn, causes Lady Bird and her father to get closer. The problem with Lady Bird is that she's very much like her mother (like we all know we truly are deep down) and this causes tantrum-inducing conflict. The way Gerwig has written these characters is like she truly knows all of us.

Finally, Gerwig's storytelling is remarkable. She comes from a line of indie movies (and Noah Baumbach films), so she's picked up a few tricks about messing with the conventions of storytelling and film narratives. Gerwig spoon-feeds her audience absolutely nothing. She gives the viewer the benefit of the doubt that they have a brain. When Lady Bird is opening letters from colleges she's applied to, there's no long focus on the letter or narrator telling us whether she got in or not. She relies on her actress to provide the emotions. Lady Bird has a Mexican brother, Miguel. There isn't some unnecessary explanatory moment where we're told Miguel was adopted or abandoned by his family or anything like that. Lady Bird calls him brother. Her parents call him son. We don't need the intricacies of how a non-white dude ended up in a white family. To them-- he's family and his origin story is unimportant. I loved that about the film.

Lady Bird currently sits at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes with 161 reviews counted. This is no easy feat, but it is certainly earned. I can't recall the last 100% fresh rated theatrically released film. It's not playing everywhere, but if you are able to find it somewhere near you (or can make a trip to LA), I highly urge you to see this movie. It's an enjoyable and refreshing trip to the cinema, and I'm willing to bet somehow it will speak to every one of you.

A

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Coco: A Wonderful Film For Everyone... But Make Sure To Show Up 20 Minutes Late


Normally I begin my reviews with some amusing anecdote about one of the writers of the film or something correlating with the genre of film or how I feel about these types of films in general... in the case of Coco I'm going to forego this in favor of a stern lecture. Instead of writing about how Pixar is the best in family entertainment (because this is obvious... seriously, if you can't tell the difference between the quality of a movie like Inside Out to the quality of a movie like The Boss Baby, then you need to stop going to movies), I am going to take a second to talk to the parents out there... or the soon-to-be-parents, or people, in general, who may, one day, be in a theater with a child. TELL YOUR KIDS TO SHUT THE HELL UP. Look, I get it. Kids don't understand social etiquette. They get to yell and scream and sing along and jump and dance and puke all over themselves when they watch movies at home. Train your kids to leave this shit in the living room and keep quiet at the movies. I know this is an impossible task. And I'm not asking for perfection. Keeping a child still in a theater seat for 90+ minutes is no easy feat. They're going to get excited and they're going to want to lend their kids-say-the-darndest-things commentary to the film... if it happens every once in awhile... it's endearing. When they do it throughout the entire goddamn movie... it literally ruins the movie experience for EVERYONE else. Not just the people around them. If your kid gets a little loud, a courtesy "hey Joshua, be quiet, buddy" is perfectly acceptable. Letting your kid provide a spectator's commentary, using their outside-voice is NOT. If you know that this is your kid-- don't bring them to a movie. A theater experience isn't cheap anymore and it makes that ticket even less worthwhile when some shitty little four year old (who doesn't know any better) isn't getting any guidance (*cough* discipline) from his grown-ass should-seriously-know-better adult parents. If you can't keep your kid mostly quiet and respectful for the movie... please... leave them at home so you don't ruin the experience for the rest of us. 

And now back to our regularly scheduled program. 

Coco is a wonderful film. It's a film that when it's over (and you're done bawling your eyes out), makes you realize how good Pixar is when they're making original material and not sequels. I get it. They're a business like any production company and you want that money rolling in, but here's the thing. You don't actually have to pull the sequel routine like most production companies. The Pixar brand name alone will put many, many asses in seats. You don't have to give us THREE CARS MOVIES if you can keep giving us movies like Up and Inside Out and now Coco. The film takes place in Mexico on Dia de Muertos. Little Miguel dreams of being a musician like his hero Ernesto de la Cruz. However, due to a little family drama from his past involving a musician great grand-father abandoning his family in favor of seeking a musical dream... his family has completely outlawed any music. Miguel sneaks out of his house to participate in a musical talent contest during a Dia de Muertos festival, sneaks into the masoleum of de la Cruz to steal his guitar and is somehow transported to the Land of the Dead. He must now locate his dead ancestors to help him get back to the Land of the Living before sunrise or he will remain on "the other side" forever. 

Now, for anyone who has actually seen the movie, I've totally bastardized the plot summary here. Yes, I realize this. However, I did do intentionally because the less someone knows about the movie going into it-- the better. I'd only seen one preview for the movie and I assumed, like many others, it was about a kid who died, was dealing with this fact in the Land of the Dead alongside his quirky, yet also dead, dog pal. This was thankfully not the case (my significant other cannot handle dog death in films... as many of you DECENT HUMAN BEINGS can't either-- am I using the caps lock too often in this review? Also, no dogs die in this movie. I feel like this is a necessary disclaimer). What emerges from the film, however, is a perfect and poignant look at life, death, family and tradition. It's told very maturely (like most Pixar films) that magically ostracizes neither child nor adult. What we get is the Pixar staple - an adventure involving some dark-ish themes through the eyes of an innocent. 

I loved every second of Coco. I loved the vibrant colors. I loved the characters. I loved the animation and the music and the exploration into a culture different from my own. The movie doesn't just use Mexico and Mexican culture as a backdrop to a story in order to fit the whole Day-of-the-Dead narrative, it's a love letter to Mexico and its people and its traditions and its art and its music and its culture. And, holy crap you guys, they didn't cast a bunch of white actors doing their best Mexican accents! What I also loved too is that Coco doesn't stick to the typical story structure of film. There isn't a big main antagonist. Everything isn't going wrong one minute after the next. Good things happen to our hero. Supporting characters do want to help him get back. Through most of the film, Miguel's worst enemy is himself. Yes, there is a lot of conflict and moments of tension, but it's weaved through a fun story that gives us more moments of joy than fear. And the case of this film, it really works. 

The other thing you're probably wondering (or just assume if you're well versed in Pixar) is just how much ugly crying is going to happen to you-- my guess is a decent amount. But, like most Pixar fare, it's not a sad cry. It's a happy cry. It's an endearing cry. Pixar has this unique and magical quality of being able to tell a fun and unique storyline, but one that every viewer can relate to themselves and their own lives somehow. You're not crying at the story, you're crying with the story. And they're not tears of sadness, they're tears of everything. Coco is the movie you should be watching with your entire family. It's legitimately the perfect film to see on or around Thanksgiving (that actually has nothing to do with the holiday of Thanksgiving -- that honor goes to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles) because Coco, at its core, is about family. As much as I seriously urge all of you out there to go seek out Three Billboards of Ebbing, Missouri... if you want to catch a quick film with your entire family who has begrudgingly come out to eat massive quantities of food with you, then Coco is the perfect choice. I have no complaints about this movie one bit. 

I do however, have a bone to pick with Pixar. One of the best things about catching a Pixar flick in theaters is that you're also going to get the animated short before the movie. Pixar is notorious, not just for the high quality of their feature films, but for the phenomenal shorts they tack on in front of the films. This time, though... don't expect this. What you get this time is a heinously long (21 minutes) Frozen short called Olaf's Frozen Adventure. It's annoyingly bad. I liked Frozen, but by minute two of this short film I was painfully waiting for it to be over. It sticks to Coco like a sore thumb. Here's a movie, that rare movie that explores the traditions of Mexican culture and art... and you got a bunch of white people from a very white-people movie singing for 21 minutes before the film you've paid to see starts. When the film premiered in Mexico, moviegoers were so upset (and rightfully so) at the short, that a lot of major theater chains had to stop showing it. Pixar shat the bed hard with that one. Coco wasn't the movie to attach this episode of Frozen: Elsa's Emo-ness Continues to. They had to have tried to fit at least ten different songs into this "short" (as it felt feature film length by the end). Kids familiar with Forozen will probably love it... you'll drift off trying to imagine all of the ways you could kill yourself using only your Buncha Crunch box. Coco was fantastic... Frozen 2.0 was garbage.

A