Friday, July 28, 2017

Atomic Blonde: Charlize Theron Will Straight Up Murder Your Ass

Charlize Theron is 42 years old. She's been on the Hollywood scene since she was twenty-one. She played minor roles in films until a true leading role in Disney's Mighty Joe Young. From there she was either given or chose very mediocre films like The Astronaut's Wife, Reindeer Games, and The Legend of Bagger Vance. Her first most noteworthy film role, one that also earned her an Oscar, was in 2003's Monster. When she was 30 years old, in 2005, she was given the chance to lead a female-driven action film with Aeon Flux, and as we all know that was a complete disaster. For the next ten years it was a slew of under the radar indies, dramas, Snow White re-imaginings and Seth MacFarlane westerns. Finally, ten years after Aeon Flux... and now at age 40... we got to watch Theron show off just how unbelievably badass she truly is in Mad Max: Fury Road. Most of the time I forget Tom Hardy was even in that movie. Due to the success of that film and the word of mouth of Theron's badassery... at 42 years old... we have Atomic Blonde. Now, I am only highlighting the age thing here for two simple reasons: First, to show that Theron is getting more impressive with each passing year. And second, because had Hollywood actually realized just how impressive she was back when she first started... we could've been getting badass femele-led (or just plain Theron-led) action movies for the past two decades. It's a shame we had to wait as long as we did to be able to rank Theron up there with the rest of the action greats.

So, before we get into Atomic Blonde I feel there is a bit of a disclaimer I should throw out there. Over the past few months I've seen quite a few trailers for the film. The advertising for this movie has made it look like we're about to watch the Theron-equivalent of a John Wick movie. Some sort of plot with a catalyst that leads Theron on a mission to kick as many asses as possible in a two hour time frame. This isn't exactly the case. The story of Atomic Blonde is this: Theron plays Lorraine, a British Intelligence Operative sent to Berlin in order to retrieve a stolen list of all British agents. There, in Berlin, she meets her contact David Percival (James McAvoy), and the two of them do some super-secret crazy spy shit in order to get the list back. The list contains the names of every British operative currently active (including double agents and triple agents and double triple agents, etc.). However, there is a mole working for the KGB, setting Lorraine up, exposing her, and basically causing all sorts of trouble.

Now... here's where this movie and a movie like John Wick differ. John Wick has a very simple plot. Some bad guys killed his dog. He kills them all. That's it. There's the invention of the underground society of assassins and all that, but the plot is very simple. There's really no twists and turns, no mystery to unravel. It's just John murdering anyone connected to the organization of the dude who killed his dog. And he kills everyone. Literally... everyone. Atomic Blonde is different. It is an action movie, but it is more a spy/espionage movie first. A good two-thirds of the movie involve Lorraine tailing leads, finding out information, evading attack, discovering who the mole could be, and the like. It's not until the final third of the movie that almost all of the action you see in the trailers comes forth. But, boy, when it does, watch out. It comes fast and it comes furious (hey, Charlize was in the last Fast and Furious movie... they should do a crossover movie with Mad Max called Fast and Furiosa). The fight sequences and shoot-outs and brawls she gets into are some of the best visually stylized action sequences I've ever seen. If you haven't seen it yet, go check out the YouTube behind-the-scenes video of Charlize training for this film. The director even says that normally in an action film you'll get a couple punches in, then have to cut in order for it to look authentic. Charlize works so hard and is such a badass chick that they were able to do multiple punches and kicks and flips in this film because she was so committed to the film. In fact, there is an action sequence that lasts probably a good twenty minutes of Charlize engaging in hand-to-hand combat with at least ten thugs... and it's one shot. Obviously there is trick photography at work here, but it doesn't take away from the impressiveness of both the choreography or Theron herself.

The one thing that hinders Atomic Blonde, however, is actually its story. Where John Wick knows that it is purely a vehicle for numerous action sequences and gun fights, so it doesn't waste too much time on a story... Atomic Blonde is all about story. This is good because now it's not just hundreds of random henchmen scurrying about waiting to be shot in the face. There's actually reasons behind each of the fights in the film, and this makes it feel a lot more organic. However, the problem with Atomic Blonde's story is that it's kinda weak. There isn't anything super new here that plunges you into this story with really any emotional connection. It's entertaining enough, but it's nothing new. You're here for her. There aren't any twists or turns you didn't already see coming from the beginning, there isn't anything new introduced into a standard spy movie that you haven't really seen before... except her. Theron drives this movie with full force. And if it wasn't for her and the perfectly executed fight sequences, this movie would be totally forgettable. Even an actor as strong as McAvoy just falls by the wayside under Theron's thuderous performance. This is a movie where you don't go for the story. You don't go for the action. You go to see Charlize in full force kicking ass and taking names.

The reason I'm comparing it so heavily to John Wick is that stylistically it's very similar. The action is similar, the look and feel of the movie are similar as well. This is partly because one part of the directing duo of John Wick, David Leitch, has helmed this film. You're able to tell that he is trying to mature as a filmmaker, relying a little bit more on story than action, but really dude... just do what you're good at. We like it. So, don't go into it thinking you're getting a female John Wick. You aren't. Go into it knowing you're watching a mediocre spy movie with a mind-blowing performance from a powerhouse actress who should've been making movies like this a long time ago. And, today, at 42, she's showing us that she's got the mind, spirit, body, and kick-ass moves of a 20 year old. Hollywood... listen to us now... Charlize Theron is the action star we want. Keep doing movies like this and the audience will show.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Girls Trip: A Dual Perspective

I know this is going to come as a surprise to my loyal and faithful followers, but I had absolutely no intention of seeing Girls Trip. It's not that I think a comedy featuring an all female cast can't be funny, I just didn't think this particular all female comedy would be all that funny. I saw the green band trailer that didn't make me laugh. Then I saw the raunchy red band trailer that didn't make me laugh. I thought it looked lazy, with jokes meant to shock you into laughing rather than actually being funny and clever enough to illicit a laugh. But... my opinion of movies based off their trailers have been wrong before. I would've bet money that Rough Night was going to blow Girls Trip out of the water with hilarity, and that movie wound up being pretty bad. So... what actually convinced me to see this film? Well, there were two factors. First, every time I saw one of the trailers for this film, I was with my lovely girlfriend who was laughing much more than I was and she wanted to see it. Second, if you venture over to Rotten Tomatoes, you'll see that Girls Trip sits at a very respectable 89% fresh with over 70 reviews registered. If I think a movie looks bad enough that I don't want to see it, but it gets a grade that high... it piques my interest (kind of like Valerian... I have absolutely ZERO desire to see that movie, but if it was sitting on 89%, you better believe the review would already be up... however, sitting in the low 50 percent... that one is just going to have go un-reviewed). However, after seeing the movie... and understanding that the film definitely has an audience... one that isn't exactly targeted at someone like myself... I feel that it is unfair for me to be the only voice in this instance. Therefore, I have asked my lovely girlfriend, Ashley, to lend her perspective to the film as well... so you can make your own choices.

****QUICK SIDE NOTE: Each review was written blindly, so as not to influence each other's take on the film.****

Ashley's Take:
Ryan asked me to throw in my two cents about Girls Night, maybe partly because I think he knows that a review of a film, which focuses on a group of black women in their mid-thirties spending a weekend in New Orleans to attend Essence Fest, from the perspective of a white man in his late twenties is probably a bit of a limited view... so he asked his white girlfriend in her late twenties to bring some, albeit still very white, insight to the table.

Before I start, I want to say that Tiffany Haddish, who plays crazy party girl Dina, is going to be the next big thing. She is HILARIOUS and beautiful and Girls Night is going to catapult her into the spotlight where she belongs. I'm going to go one step further and put in writing that I think Haddish is going to gain some momentum in comedy, but she's going to blow our minds with a dramatic role. When that happens, know that I'll be sitting here stewing in how right I am.

The chemistry between Queen Latifah, Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and Tiffany Haddish is real. That's what makes the movie one of the better ~lifelong friends get into a mess on vacation~ movies I've seen. More importantly though, these funny women are giving us a comedic narrative that we need more of. I had a good time watching Girls Trip. I laughed a lot, cringed over how truly terrible and awkward white people are, and found myself imagining a life where Tiffany Haddish is my wife and we live happily ever after. The only reason I didn't give Girls Trip an higher grade is because the predictability of the story left you wanting more. Regardless, I'm very much looking forward to the sequel (because if Pitch Perfect can have three fucking movies, this BETTER get a sequel).

My Take: 
I didn't hate Girls Trip, but I certainly didn't enjoy it. I'd read a few reviews saying it was the next Bridesmaids, but if that's what we're comparing it to on the comedy spectrum, it falls pretty far from the target. I thought most of the humor in the movie was quite lazy. Most of the jokes in the film were recycled from previous films that performed them better. I thought a lot of the sight gags in the film were leading up to something funnier than what was delivered. However, there were moments that actually caught me off guard and had me laughing. One of the biggest turn offs for me in the trailer is a scene when Jada Pinkett-Smith's character is supposed to be zipping across a crowded pathway from one rooftop to the other, but gets stuck in the middle. The catch here is... she's had a lot to drink and has to pee. She is unable to hold it in and lets it out on the onlookers below. Parts of this are shown in the advertisements and I thought it made the movie look even worse. Turns out this is one of the funnier moments in the movie. Turns out the scatological humor here was actually a lot funnier than it appeared and the cast went further with it than I expected... with very humorous results (this is something Rough Night failed to do entirely). And with most ensemble comedies there is always one performer who stands out above the rest. Here, it's relatively unknown actress Tiffany Haddish. Not all of her jokes land (in fact I'd say it's about 50/50), but when they do, even the most curmudgeonly of movie patrons will find it hard to stifle their laughter. She gives 110% to the role and I applaud her comedic courageousness.

The structure of the film was also something I had a big problem overcoming. The plot is so predictable, by the end of the first act I could've looked over and told the people next to me exactly how the movie was going to go. There are so many blatant set-ups, there are only obvious payoffs and that's exactly what we get. Yet, there was earnestness in the characters, which (barely) overshadows the rigid structure the film plots out. I can appreciate that these characters aren't stock characters (even though they're in a stock plot). They're multi-dimensional and very earnest women. In fact, the best part of the movie isn't even a very funny scene. One of the women gives a speech on respecting yourself as a woman and it is a speech that every young woman (hell any young person) should hear because it's empowering as well as poignant. Normally, when a character in a movie like this has a big revelatory speech at the end of the film, it's nice to see a change in the character, but there's no real powerful message delivered. Girls Trip actually delivers this powerful message. So, for all its faults, there are still some diamonds in the rough. I think, though, most of the humor just wasn't targeted at a viewer such as myself. It isn't a total waste of time, but it's nothing I say you need to rush out to see. In fact, I still maintain that the only two movies worth anyone's time right now are Baby Driver and Dunkirk.  Go see one of them. Now.

Ashley's Grade: B-
Ryan's Grade: C-

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dunkirk: Saving 400,000 Private Ryans

Lately, Christopher Nolan has become a very polarizing director. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, but typically what people do is when someone becomes very popular for their great work, people decide that the person is no longer great in order to not fit the status quo. Everyone loved Inception. Everyone. Yet, now, most people consider it overrated or they claim they never really liked it in the first place. But just take a look at his track record. Christopher Nolan transcends genre. He took a simple comic book character and turned it into a Heat-esque crime drama. Whether you love him or hate him as a director, you have to respect that his visions for films are truly remarkable. I think this division began at Interstellar. Nolan inserted some truly ridiculous philosophical ramblings and crammed his head just a little bit too far up his own ass for his own good and this didn't exactly sit well with viewers who weren't super fans. I was a fan of Interstellar when I first saw it, but I didn't love it. Dunkirk, however, I fell in love with instantly. This may be his best film to date, or if not best, his most matured as a director.

Dunkirk tells the story of 400,000 French and British soldiers in WWII stranded on a beach surrounded by the German army, trying to get home, and the hundreds of civilian sailors who came to their rescue. The movie is told from three perspectives: the land, the air, and the sea. On land we follow Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), a scared and alone British soldier helping the wounded and trying to find a way off the beach. In the air we follow two allied pilots (one of them played by Tom Hardy) heading toward the beach to ward off attacks from German planes. Finally, at sea, we follow a civilian, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), his kids, and a stranded soldier (Cillian Murphy) headed to the beach of Dunkirk to save as many soldiers as he can fit on his tiny boat.

Before seeing the movie, once I found out that the film was only an hour and forty-six minutes, that there was hardly any dialogue in the film, and that it was rated PG-13... some tiny, little red flags went up for me. Then I remembered how I felt way back in the day when Nolan announced that Heath Ledger was playing The Joker and how upset I (and, be honest with yourself, everyone) was that some pretty boy "actor" was stealing a role made famous by the great Jack Nicholson. Then, of course, we all saw the movie and realized that not just Heath, but Nolan was a genius. None of us could've predicted a performance so iconic. In Nolan we trust. So, when I read up on these red flags, who other than Chris Nolan himself, gave up explanations. As far as the PG-13 rating, he revealed that this isn't your typical war movie. It isn't Saving Private Ryan or Hacksaw Ridge. There aren't intense epic war sequences. There are battle sequences, but no war sequences. This is a movie about survival set during wartime, not a war movie. Okay... that seems reasonable enough. But, what about a lack of dialogue? According to Nolan, the lack of dialogue was because he wanted to visually thrill the audience. Apparently, he studied numerous silent films in order to learn how to create suspense through details, rather than dialogue. Finally, the length of the movie. You go to see a movie set in WWII, you're pretty much under the assumption you're going to be there a good 1/3rd of your day. Yet, this is Nolan's shortest theatrical film, what gives? Nolan revealed (and I'm paraphrasing of course) that he wanted the movie to be as tense as possible from beginning to end. He doesn't want the audience a second to catch their breath. He wanted to create a film that begins with you on the edge of your seat and doesn't stop thrilling you until the credits rolled. To be completely successful, he isn't going to be able to do this for two and a half hours. His script for Dunkirk was a tight 76 pages. And he achieves his goal. It's the perfect amount of thrills and suspense because the film is at the perfect length.

I bring all of this up because Nolan's vision is unparalleled. He sets out to do something and not only does it, but does it better than most people. We all have a vision of how we want something to go or what we want something to look like when we're doing a project, and rarely does it become exactly what we want. Nolan does it better. Dunkirk is exactly what he wanted it to be. It's a fantastic film and one that is probably going to age better than most war movies. We're given a film with hardly any dialogue at all, especially with scenes involving Tommy and the beach. He's a near silent character and yet... we care about him. Nolan doesn't give us any long speeches about backstory and who these characters are internally and what haunted pasts they have... no... they're scared young men desperately trying to get home. Or they're frightened civilians just trying to do their human duty and save lives before losing their own. These are very human characters and we don't need them to tell us that they are. We understand it.

If you have the means, I implore you to see this movie in IMAX. Whether you loved or hated Interstellar, you can't argue that it wasn't visually beautiful. Somehow Nolan has upped his game with Dunkirk. Simply using shots of the actual sky or the actual ocean or the actual beach... it's like nature has bends to the will of Nolan. He goes out there and finds the most breathtaking shot possible... and then does it again and again and again (practically, too) to produce a movie with a setting we've all seen before... in a way we've never seen it before. The cinematography, the movement of the camera swiping side to side from the point of a view of a fighter plane or swishing back and forth, choppy, like the rough waters of a boat, or calm and still like the beach... all of these keep the tension high, and add to the glory of the film. It will be beautiful in any format, but this is one of those very few films that was intended to be seen in IMAX and worth the $20 admission fee.

Finally, the last great thing about Nolan as a filmmaker is his relationship with Hans Zimmer. Zimmer has scored nearly every Nolan movie and if you've seen one, you know that the music is just as much of a character in the film as the actual actors. Here, Zimmer uses the sound of a pocket watch to contribute to the intensity of the film and the very little time these men have left. It's so beautifully crafted, you'll find your own heart beating in rhythm with the ticks of the watch... especially when it speeds up for maximum suspense. Dunkirk is a very understated movie that when reflected back upon feels almost like a quiet success.  However, this is far from true. It's a movie that will visually stun you while you try to find a way to breathe. Nolan is a very accomplished filmmaker, but in Dunkirk he has found his most unique voice yet. I think I'll always consider The Dark Knight to be his best film, but this one certainly knocks the rest of his filmography into the water. It's absolutely fantastic.


Monday, July 17, 2017

War For The Planet Of The Apes: Schindler's Chimps

It shouldn't work. It shouldn't. There's no way there should be three movies about talking monkeys battling humans. And if that is the plot to a movie... it shouldn't be serious.  It should be a comedy, right? No one would go to see this movie. No production company would spend millions upon millions of dollars to make a movie with that idea in mind. There should not be a trilogy of these movies and they should not be making any money. Yet... somehow... it does work. Every time we hear that another one is coming out we immediately do a little eye-roll and giggle assuming it's going to be just as stupid as it sounds. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a surprise because it rebooted the Planet of the Apes franchise in a new, smart, and creative way. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was even more of a surprise because it was basically like a Shakespeare play involving monkeys and it was unexpectedly beautiful and brilliant. I've thoroughly enjoyed both of these films, but even I thought continuing on with the story (a story about talking monkeys at war with human beings) was something silly. Fool me three times... and you've got War for the Planet of the Apes... another great entry into the fighting talking monkey saga that continues its streak of fantastic films.

We are now even further into the future after the events of Dawn have transpired. Caesar (played by genius Andy Serkis) is still the leader of the apes. They're living somewhat peacefully deep in the heart of the forest, just trying to survive. An angry and insane Army Colonel (Woody Harrelson) sends troops into the forest to take the apes out. After many, many casualties (including Caesar's wife and eldest son), the apes realize they need to find a new place to live and hide because they won't be able to survive another attack. Caesar and a small group loyal to him, leave the pack and seek out the Colonel. By the time they reach him, however, he's already intercepted the rest of the apes and put them into what is essentially a monkey internment camp. There they are brutalized, beaten, whipped, and forced into hard labor to build a wall and stronghold for the Colonel. Caesar and his small group, including a new ape, called Bad Ape (voiced perfectly by Steve Zahn), can help save the apes, get them out of the camp, and stop Woody Harrelson before it is the end of the apes for good.

To begin, War for the Planet of the Apes is still, most definitely, a blockbuster summer film. There is plenty here for you to watch, enjoy, and munch your popcorn to. It fits in nicely with the rest of the loud, CGI-riddled summer fare. However, it is a very dark film. And it is not subtle either. When I think of summer blockbusters I think of Transformers. Nothing of substance. Loud. Outrageous. But entertaining. War is here to show us that we no longer have to sit in the dark ages of summer theater. Even though a movie may be loaded with action and CGI, it doesn't mean they can't have substance. War is actually not an easy film to watch. There are many allusions to the Bible, slavery, and the Holocaust. The captured apes are, for lack of a better term, tortured in this movie. And what's worse is it's somehow just as hard to watch humans beat on computerized apes as it is to watch human beings beat on human beings. The cruelty to animals in this movie as an allegory for all of the atrocities we, as actual humans, have committed is visually heart-breaking to sit through. And us viewers are given very little levity in the film to breath before yet another harrowing scene of injustice toward the apes. The message here is clear: we haven't evolved as intelligent beings. In fact, in our current climate, we've de-volved. We study history in school so we are not doomed to repeat it. But, War clearly shows that not only are we repeating it, but we're making even worse mistakes. Director Matt Reeves provides us with a movie showing our faults as human beings with the subtlety of a nuclear blast. It's very difficult to watch, and even harder to digest. However, it is quite necessary. The best part is, it doesn't come out of nowhere. The third film, even though it deals with some very harsh themes, is an organic move forward in the story we have been told thus far.

It's not all hard to watch (I mean, most of it is...), but there is still a great deal of entertainment. I don't want to say it's "fun"... because it's kind of... well... not. But it is entertaining. Each time an ape is tortured, you know in the back of your mind that the person doing it is going to meet an even worse fate (and the film will not let you down here), but it takes a long long long time to get to that point. The film is 140 minutes long and the apes are in dire straits for damn near 120 minutes of that time. But there are some solid action sequences and wonderfully written characters. I love what the writers, and particularly Serkis, have done with the character of Caesar. In Rise, by the end, he could only speak in short one-syllable words. In Dawn he is able to speak in full thoughts and convey most of what he wanted to convey, without the syntax of a full sentence. Now, in War, he is able to speak more eloquently than even most of the human beings I know in real life. It's a nice evolution to the character which plays along well with the theme of the movie. And even though Caesar is a fully animated character, Andy Serkis shines through in the role. Every movement, every mannerism, every facial expression, Serkis comes out in the role. I don't know the rules about nominations, but he definitely deserves an Oscar nod (finally) for his role in the film. He's a marvel to watch and is the leading reason why these movies are so well received. Thankfully and graciously given to us, as well, is the character of Bad Ape. He's a very helpful character, but he's essentially inserted into the film to provide the tiniest bit of levity for the audience to get a chuckle before back to the harrowing scenes of monkey mistreatment.

Also, once again, everything else is gorgeous. Each new Apes movie we're given is just another reminder of the marvel of our technology. Only a few years ago could we still tell when something is crudely animated and it takes us out of the movie. Without this tech, Apes wouldn't work because it is relied heavily upon in all of these movies. Now, there's so much confidence in this technology that  Reeves lingers longer on Apes faces. So many more close-ups on expressions, even in back and forth dialogue. What used to look silly, now leaves us in awe. War for the Planet of the Apes may not be the most fun film in the trilogy, but it is the most intelligent. Unlike Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, the philosophical questions posed in this movie are actually very thought-provoking and challenging. Matt Reeves has shown us that we're never going to be without the explosions of summer movies, but it doesn't mean these movies have to come without a brain. As silly as the stories of these movies are, they really are worth watching.


The Big Sick: The Resurgence Of The Smart Rom-Com

Thanks mostly to the Marvel/DC/Superhero/sequel/prequel/spinoff/etc. state of movies right now, there has been a damn near elimination of romantic comedies. Not that long ago, Judd Apatow and crew lept onto the scene and showed us that romantic comedies don't need to be Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson only affairs. Rom-coms can be raunchy as well as heartfelt and sweet. Movies like Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Wedding Crashers, Crazy Stupid Love, etc. gave us fresh voices and movies that were equally romantic and hilariously funny. Yet, can you remember the last time you went to the movies to see a rom-com? Silver Linings Playbook maybe? Thankfully, Judd Apatow hasn't given up on the genre and in a time when rom-coms aren't in high (or any) demand, he's one of the few directors/producers who can squeeze one through. I love little movies like The Big Sick in the middle of the summer. It gives us a nice break from the big-budget popcorn movies saturating the theaters. The Big Sick is a wonderful little film to give you that nice breath of fresh air in the midst of a loud and explosive summer.

Silicon Valley regular Kumail Nanjiani plays, well, himself in this autobiographical tale of how he met his now wife, Emily (played by Zoe Kazan). Kumail is a Pakistani man in the world of amateur comedy. He spends his nights performing at a small club with a group of friends and then on the weekends going to his parents' house on the weekend for dinner and to be introduced to a new Pakistani woman for him to marry. Unbeknownst to the family, Kumail doesn't practice his religion as they expect him to. When they send him down to the garage to pray over dessert, he sets a timer on his phone for five minutes and watches YouTube videos. He's also not into the whole "arranged marriage" thing, but cannot admit this to his family for fear of excommunication. Enter Emily. Kumail and Emily date off and on until she finds out about his lies to his family and the two break up. A few days later, Kumail receives notice that Emily is in the hospital with an infection that the doctors can't figure out what it is. She's put into a medically induced coma until they can figure it out. Kumail spends the rest of his time at the hospital with Emily's parents Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano), bonding with them, realizing who he truly is inside, and falling back in love with Emily.

The reason the movie works so well to begin with is the chemistry between Kumail and Emily. Because it is based off of Nanjiani's actual relationship with his real-life wife, it feels authentic. There are no real clich├ęd rom-com tropes at work here. There are just two people having humorous conversation and falling in love a little bit at a time. I'd always said that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was one of the most authentic portrayals of a real-life relationship, well, chalk The Big Sick up there as well. What's also great is that it stays that way for the entirety of the film. There are no big moments of unrealistic professing-my-love grandstanding. They (I assume) don't take many liberties with the relationship outside of what (again, I assume) actually happened. The biggest conflict facing the couple is Kumail's family who are very strict Muslims and can not allow Kumail to marry someone outside his religion. The conflict between losing the love of his life and losing his family drives the movie and opens characters up to heartache and pain and love. It's heartwarming and very much endearing... along with just flat out hilarious.

The other relationship in the film that really works well is between Kumail and Emily's parents, especially with her mother. What begins as a very toxic relationship turns into something sweet and funny. Holly Hunter nails it as the tough mom hiding her vulnerabilities. One of the best scenes in the film is when Kumail is doing stand-up and a heckler calls him "ISIS" because people in this country and genuinely morons. Beth, without even liking Kumail, near-drunkenly tries to verbally, then physically, fight the idiot. Then, there's Kumail and Terry's interactions. This is where a majority of the comedy comes from (though the scenes involving the stand up world are quite humorous too), but Kumail, who is still relatively new to comedy and Romano, a comedy veteran, steal scenes displaying their similar comedic observation stylings that the pair actually wind up being a very good match. They're both the quiet, awkward, yet hilarious comedians just trying to make it in their own respective worlds. It's through all of these relationships that makes the movie great.

The Big Sick is one of those movies that reminds us that there is entertainment and art and writing and acting and films out there that don't need to be based off of any previous source material (other than maybe, perhaps, a personal happening) to hold our interest. I'm astonished (and proud) that this film made it all the way into theaters nationwide. Nanjiani doesn't have that leading man power just yet (though he shows he has the ability) and no one in the movie is really "big enough" to draw a crowd. But, due to word of mouth, and the fact that it is a great film, we now have the opportunity to see it without having to wait for blu ray. July has provided us moviegoers with a string of great films lately, but this is one of the top films. It's a small movie that's earned its spot on the marquee, and anyone with any real heart or sense of humor will thoroughly enjoy it. It's time we make some more room at the theater for more movies just like this one.


Saturday, July 8, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming: Dust Off The Cobwebs... He's Back!

The over-saturation of Marvel movies in the last few years (particularly this year-- Spider-Man: Homecoming marks movie 3 out of 4 this year... next year there will be SEVEN) has left most of us, who aren't ardent fanboys/fangirls/fan...people, utterly exhausted. I hear Marvel and immediately want to run away from any and all conversation as I'm just tired. Now, compound that with the number of Spider-Man films there have actually been... not just sequels, but this is the THIRD time we have been given a reboot of Spider-Man. So... like I said... tired. However, if you're feeling as I felt before entering the theater... that I didn't have any desire to see this new iteration of Spider-Man... that I didn't want to waste my time watching Peter Parker have to get more power and more responsibility... that I didn't want to force myself to watch another origin story of another person playing Spider-Man when they're probably going to get replaced and rebooted in five years... to those of you feeling this way I say this: don't listen to your gut. Spider-Man: Homecoming is fantastic. 

I wanted to hate this movie. For those of you who know me or have followed these reviews for years, you know that most of the time when I write a review of a Marvel or DC film, I always begin by bitching that there are too many superhero movies and there's no more creativity and blah blah blah. I still believe all of these things, but I really wanted to hate this movie. I entered the theater ready to hate it. Do you know why I even saw it? Two words: Michael Keaton. Had he not been attached, it would've been a good long while before I even entertained the thought of seeing it. When the film was over, and I was walking out of the theater... I was actually mad at how much I enjoyed the movie and how proud I am of the heads of Marvel for actually allowing some growth with the Spider-Man franchise. The biggest issue facing the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is that each movie is trying to be bigger and louder and more destructive and expand further and further with its mythos that it's going to be nearly impossible to top. Logan recognized this and scaled way down to a very manageable feat (which is probably why it's the best X-Men movie), but just look at Guardians 2. This was a good movie, but they literally had to stop a guy from consuming the universe. You can't get much bigger than that! The next Avengers movie is moving to space with fucking everyone you've ever met in a Marvel movie I have no idea how they're going to accomplish this (I mean, we saw how crowded Captain America: Civil War was and that movie was a fucking mess). Spider-Man: Homecoming scales everything way down, and in doing so, has essentially cemented itself as the best Spider-Man film to date. 

Tom Holland plays Peter Parker. In the beginning of the film it is already established and understood that he is, in fact, Spider-Man. We don't get the pleasure of watching his origins for a third goddamn time (thank the Lord baby Jesus we didn't have to witness Uncle Ben get killed again). He's only 15, but the only thing that he can think of is his fight in the Civil War against Captain America. However, he's still just a high school kid. He's not old enough to be an Avenger, but he's too old to responsibly contain the powers he possesses. He's looked out for by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr. once again) and given a suit (with training wheels of course) and encouraged not to go after big evil fish, but to be just a "friendly neighborhood Spider-Man". Enter Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a hard working father who, over years of being over-looked by superiors, has been collecting scrap pieces of alien weaponry (from the Avengers fights), making new weapons out of them, and selling them secretly to criminals. Due to this technology, he's been able to make and equip a suit that allows him to fly and become The Vulture. 

This all sounds like standard comic book Marvel fare... however, I assure you that it isn't. The movie focuses less on the action, and far more on the evolution of the characters. Keaton's Vulture isn't evil for the sake of being evil... he's become hardened and bitter and protective slowly over time out of necessity. Peter Parker isn't a flawless hero... he's just a kid (and a bit of a wiseacre) trying to figure out not only his place in the superhero world, but his place in the world in general. He's frustrated that he's not taken seriously by Stark and treated as a kid, yet when situations that aren't manageable by a 15-year-old get out of hand, he's legitimately unable to handle them. Then, I think what really impressed me the most out of the movie is that (FINALLY!!!!) a Marvel movie didn't fall into the third act pitfall that literally every single Marvel movie has fallen into. The first two acts are generally pretty original, but the third act everything gets huge and more animated and louder and bigger and it's an all out war of epic proportions. It's the climax... it has to be the biggest thing we've ever seen, right? Wrong. Spider-Man: Homecoming finally shows us that a movie can still stay small, still be exciting, and not have to cling to the pitfall of an overly CGI'd and explosive climax. It's bigger than anything Peter has had to deal with in the film, but in the grand scheme of the MCU, the climax of this film is small potatoes... and totally earned, organic, and intelligent. 

Holland is perfect as Peter Parker. Tobey Maguire was serviceable and I actually quite enjoyed Andrew Garfield (though the first one he was in was so mediocre I didn't even bother watching the second one with purple Jamie Foxx). But Holland is pitch perfect as Spidey. He's headstrong and quippy, yet equally vulnerable and unsure. He's a nice contrast to every other hero in the MCU and well-suited to wear the costume. Keaton slays it as Vulture. You can empathize with him and fear him all at the same time. Marissa Tomei jumps in this time as Aunt May and while she may not contribute much to the story, she's her normal awesome self in every scene she's in. Newcomer Jacob Batalon as Peter's best friend Ned is really the perfect character in the whole movie. He's the literal embodiment of someone who just found out their best friend is a superhero. There's questions galore, there's using this knowledge as a means to gain popularity, there's wanting to be a part of the action... Ned does all of this and more while still being a true friend to Peter. His character is the cherry on top of an already wonderful and diverse cast of characters. 

Spider-Man: Homecoming really had a lot going against it. So many people are sick of the rebooting of the character. So many people are sick of the over-saturation of Marvel movies. And so many writers (literally six writers are credited for writing this movie) are attached to the film. This is almost always never a good sign. However, here it works. And if you look at the track records of the writers it's a good mix. You've got the writer with the flare for the dramatic, the writer with the flare for the epic, a writer who specializes only in comedy. It's six unique voices piecing together a franchise that was on the brink of losing its fandom. And the end result does reflect these voices. It's action-packed, it's got heart, it's very, very funny, it's thrilling... it's everything we've wanted a Spider-Man movie to be since Spider-Man 2. And there's only one minor thing about this movie that actually irritated me. There's a moment where a villain has the perfect opportunity to kill Parker... and no reason he wouldn't do it... and he doesn't do it... for no reason... just doesn't do it. Look, I get it. We can't kill off Spider-Man. But, everything else in the movie has worked out so perfectly, let's give this moment one final rewrite, huh? 

I don't know whether I'm happy or pissed off at how good this film was. Either way, I walked into this movie trying my absolute hardest not to like it... not to appreciate anything about it... not not to even crack a smile... and it ended up being one of the best movies of the entire year... along with being the best Spider-Man film Marvel has ever released. 


Monday, July 3, 2017

The House: Like A So-So Episode Of Parks And Recreation

The House currently sits at a 19% on rottentomatoes. There has recently been this debate going on if RT is helping or damaging films with their scores. I believe the misconception about RT is that it is a singular movie review website that comes up with its own percentage of how good or bad a movie is. This is obviously wrong. It is the aggregate of all of the critics who submit their reviews of positive or negative. If 119 critics submit their reviews and 74 of them give a positive review then the RT score would be a 62%. I think that RT actually helps moviegoers more than filmmakers and production companies. As moviegoers we have seen ticket prices inflate so much that $15 for a movie ticket is now a norm instead of outrageous. I remember paying upwards of $7 a movie when I was in high school, something I thought was personally ridiculous at the time. So, if I can rely on a website to give me a general idea of the quality of a movie before I go out and spend my time and money on it... I actually appreciate it. However, movies can live and die by its RT score these days. Recently, The Mummy received a well-deserved 15% and lost the studio a lot of money. Then again, Wonder Woman received 92% (also very well-deserved) and experts say this has directly contributed to its success. We don't only have to rely on word of mouth any longer because generally we can rely on RT's information. However, you have to do your homework. For instance, if you're an Adam Sandler fan... just understand that whatever score it gets on RT is probably going to be insanely low because critics have given him enough freebies that it's going to have to be mind-blowingly funny to get anything with a double-digit score. I've also noticed this trend lately with Will Ferrell films. 2015's Get Hard was nothing to write home about, but did have some genuinely funny moments. It currently sits at 29%... which I'd say is just a bit below what it deserves. The House currently sits at 19%... and it's certainly not that bad. It's not a good movie, but it's not as awful as its RT score suggests.

I believe one of the reasons that Will Ferrell hasn't been given the love from critics lately is that he's been making somewhat underwhelming films. In the mid 00s, he was a comedic juggernaut, giving us larger-than-life characters and made simple comedies feel like mid-summer blockbusters. However, some time after The Other Guys, his movies felt smaller... he felt more tired... and he wasn't writing his own material anymore. His string of films since then (Casa De Mi Padre, The Campaign, Get Hard, Daddy's Home and now The House) just don't have the umph that his previous films had. Most of them come off as paycheck movies. He's one well-written film away from having his comedic resurgence... unfortunately, The House isn't that movie. But, it's not awful either. Much like most of his previously mentioned films, it's enjoyable to watch (especially since we dip back into R-rated territory), but they're wildly forgettable once credits roll. The House plays more like a so-so episode of Parks and Recreation than something a bunch of people spent months of their lives putting together as a feature film. (Disclaimer: I love Parks and Rec... but when something goes that many seasons not every episode is going to be solid gold.)

Ferrell and Amy Poehler play married couple Scott and Kate Johansen, who don't have the money to pay for their daughter, Alex's, college tuition. So, in order to come up with the money, they, along with their friend Frank (a wildly hilarious Jason Mantzoukas), come up with a scheme to open an illegal, underground casino in Frank's house. The casino is instantly a success, but they soon run into problems with an overly-curious cop (Rob Huebel), a crooked councilman (Nick Kroll), and a violent gangster (a pretty funny cameo I won't spoil). Scott and Kate begin the film as two nerdy, trying-to-be-cool parents and wind up acting like a 1960s mafia couple, which lends to a few of the bigger laughs of the film. It's not an overly-clever premise, but it works in terms of June/July summer movie comedies. Ferrell and Poehler are actually quite good together, honing in on their days as SNL members. They're goofy and good-natured and both of them are very talented comedians. But, it's the trifecta of them and Mantzoukas (as most of you know as Rafi from The League) that really provide the laughs in the movie. It's actually a little bit difficult to not scrutinize a movie like this one, only a short while after having seen the fantastic Baby Driver, but The House is a movie that will, in fact, make you laugh several times. It's not the quality of the laughs that drive down the film's score, but its the infrequency of the laughs. There are jokes made in every scene, but not all of them land.

Finally, what brings the movie down really is its simplistic plot. The turning point for the characters ("we should open our own casino") really seems to come out of nowhere, the conflict doesn't feel real enough for us to believe anyone is actually going to suffer any repercussions, and the story is just too silly to really care about anyone or anything. But that's not what this movie is going for. It's a dumb R-rated Will Ferrell comedy and it serves its purpose. Is it Anchorman? No. Is it Talladega Nights? No way. But it is a movie where you can spend an hour and a half of your life laughing at the stupid misfortunes of a couple of really funny comedians. The movie is no better and no worse than 2015's Sisters also starring Poehler (which, in point of fact, rests at a comfy 60% on RT). It's fun, it's silly, not all of the jokes land (in fact a few fall very, very flat), but the ones that do make the movie worth it. Unless you just aren't a Ferrell fan at all, I doubt you'll leave the theater feeling betrayed by the once-prevailing comedic force (who, I'm telling you, is due for a resurgence). It's popcorn comedy at it's most satisfactory.

You know what... forget everything I just said and just go see Baby Driver.


Baby Driver: This Movie Is So F@#&ING Cool

In order to correctly and safely be able to call a director one of the best we've ever had, there's a certain amount of films they have to direct so we know the first few weren't a fluke. Case in point, I love a director by the name of Martin McDonaugh. However, he's only directed two films: In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. These are brilliant, wonderful films, however, he's got a third one coming out this year that I will see based on the merit of his previous work, but I cannot yet call him one of the greatest directors of my lifetime... yet. Five films. If someone can direct five great films... especially in a row... then, for me, they've proven they are capable of handling any directing/writing task set in front of them. Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, The Departed), Steven Spielberg (Jaws, E.T., Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan), Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained), hell even Christopher Nolan has joined the ranks with (Memento, Insomnia, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, Inception). Now... with his fifth movie, Baby Driver, one of my favorite directors of all time, I can finally say is one of the greatest directors of my generation... is Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, The World's End, Baby Driver).

Wright broke out onto the scene hard when he and longtime friend and writing partner Simon Pegg wrote and produced Shaun of the Dead. This is where we were given our first glimpse at Wright's unique voice and directing style. He only honed his skills and craft further and better with each film he released (though I will always maintain that Shaun of the Dead is his best film). Baby Driver is his coolest and most badass movie to date. What appears on the surface to be just a Drive update to the untrained eye, is actually one of the best movies of the year, and certainly the most original. For those unfamiliar with Wright as a director and his voice, may not be going into the film with the right expectations (and that's probably a good thing!). I guarantee you there are many people taking their kids or teenagers to see this movie to watch a pretty boy do pretty boy stuff in a car and try to act cool, or as they are certain to call it: Twilight on Wheels. What they're going to be treated to, however, is a movie that's heavy in entertainment and violent action and stylized, choreographed dance. Then, there's the added bonus of Wright's sharp and cutting dialogue that's definitely too smart for most American audiences.

Baby Driver begins in the middle of a heist. The bad guys go into the bank, and out in the car is Baby (Ansel Elgort), ear buds in his ears listening to (and singing along with) music that is timed to the heist and getaway perfectly. He's crafted his own life-soundtrack that just so happens to (luckily) be the soundtrack to our movie experience as well. The robbers jump in the car and the next five minutes that ensue is a car chase unlike one you've ever seen before... it's like Drive on crack. It's perfectly choreographed, set to each note of the song Baby is listening to, and it's absolutely bananas fun. Finally, we meet the mastermind behind the heist, Doc (Kevin Spacey). We learn that Baby is driving the getaway cars in these heists as a way to pay off a debt to Doc. One final job left, and he's free to go. In the midst of all of this (and taking care of his kind, deaf foster father) Baby has fallen for waitress Debora (Lily James) who only wants to take off down route 66 with music blasting in the car and no set destination in sight. Baby is all set to join her, but... as you could probably guess... things don't work out as smoothly as planned. There's a ragtag group of hardened criminals (including Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm) who are in dire need of Baby's services and will do anything to pull him back in.

Take away the fact that this movie is a heist movie and a car chase movie and a suspenseful action flick (and pretty much all moviegoers love these)... the movie is smart and funny and cool as hell. It's shot like a music video... or hell, even a musical. The music in the movie is just as big a character as the actors are. Baby, who deals with Tinnitus due to a car accident when he was younger, uses the music to drown out a constant ringing in his ears. But the music is all set to the scene, to the sequence, to the action. Whatever situation Baby gets himself into (whether it's driving the getaway car from the police, or talking to a pretty girl at a diner) he's got several old iPods with perfect soundtracks for the occasion. The film is not only clever in its use of music, but in its car chases, characters, and dialogue. If you've enjoyed even one of Wright's earlier films, you'll thoroughly enjoy Baby Driver. One of the best things I can say about Edgar Wright as a director is that his films are so smart, you wind up catching little things you hadn't before with each watch. I've seen Hot Fuzz over twenty times, but each time I watch it I catch something new. The same goes with his entire body of work and I guarantee it happens with Baby Driver. Even as I'm writing this, I'm remembering so much going on in the movie... it's so fast and clever... I know I missed a lot and I'm dying to see it again.

This is the one movie over summer that I'm hoping will put up crazy numbers at the box office because the statement this movie makes (money-wise) will have an effect on Hollywood. First, it will establish Wright as a credible director here in America and hopefully companies will keep giving him money to make amazing movies. Second... this is one of the ONLY original movies out in theaters right now. Everything else out is either a sequel or a reboot or a comic book/novel adaptation. This is a completely original piece of work and if it makes that $$$, then it will show those fat cat Hollywood big wigs that the general public is fine taking a risk with their cash to see something they aren't already familiar with. And for a budding screenwriter like myself, that's only good news. It's even better because it's not exactly an A-list cast. Yes, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, and Jon Hamm are all familiar faces, but they alone don't automatically put asses in seats. I would even go so far as to say with Elgort's track record of John Green book adaptations and Divergent films... he's the reason some people might be apprehensive of seeing the film. However, everything in the movie works. Elgort is better than expected (he's tough, he's exuberant, and he's not just a pretty face). James is quirky and fun and not in the manic pixie dream girl way. Space, Foxx and Hamm are having a great time... especially Foxx who doesn't go for the easy comedic laugh, but is actually a pretty frightening dude.

There is something in the movie for everyone. And once you've actually entered the theater and started the film, you're not going to be able to take your eyes off the screen. While the movie could have gone a bit further with character development, it doesn't matter because everything else surrounding the movie is so fucking cool, you're not sitting there going... man, I wish I knew Kevin Spacey's back story.  Everything works in this movie and it should be at the top of your list of what to see next. I can 100% guarantee that this movie rests comfortably on my end of the year Best Movies of 2017 list.