Monday, December 10, 2018
I've been writing these reviews for so long now that I'm starting to forget what I have and haven't looked at. I could have sworn that I wrote a review for "Wreck-It Ralph," but that came out in 2012 and I didn't start reviewing until the summer of 2013. I guess it's a little hard to believe that "Wreck-It Ralph" came out six years ago. To this day, I'm still impressed by that movie for its love and admiration for video games, its unique visual style for the vast video game worlds and Wreck's arch of redemption and purpose in a world that is quick to label him as a villain.
"Ralph Breaks the Internet" picks up right where "Wreck-It Ralph" left off, as if no time had passed at all, but some of the fundamental charm and appeal of Ralph and his verbose attitude is severely missing from this film. Instead, Disney replaces the eccentrically misguided behavior of Ralph with tons of internet jokes, in-jokes and references to social media services and Disney themselves, especially their princesses. On its own, this works fine and gets a very good laugh every once in a while, but compared to "Wreck-It Ralph" I can't help but feel like this is a step down.
As video game characters Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Venelope Von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) spend their days in the same routine, Venelope eventually complains that she wants something new and exciting to happen. When Ralph grants her wish, it results in her video game breaking and the owner of the video game shop pulling the plug on her game. So when Ralph learns that he can get the part they need to fix Venelope's game through a mystical place called "eBay" they launch into the internet to save her kingdom and every character in it.
Like "Zootopia," "Ralph Breaks the Internet" seeks to create a vivid, colorful world filled with astounding feats that would make anyone want to visit it, much like a theme park. In this case, the internet is portrayed as a vast metropolis built to satiate desires both wondrous and grotesque, populated by avatars and digital creatures that thrive on being popular. And just like "Zootopia" the film doesn't go all the way to make this world feel fully fleshed out by not having all the social media platforms. While things like Twitter, Google, Amazon and eBay are brought up, others like Facebook and YouTube are not, in favor of a made-up service called BuzzTube. So it's a little strange that they can get Google and have eBay be a huge part of the movie, but they can't say YouTube.
However, "Ralph Breaks the Internet" is never lacking in charm and style, much like its predecessor. The characters are still just as likable and it is imaginative to see the inside of the internet like something out of a science fiction movie. While their motivations are different and Ralph is no longer played as the misunderstood villain, Reilly and Silverman still manage to make these characters just as likable and funny as they were in the previous film. And even if this doesn't really add anything to their characters, their wide-eyed innocence as they explore the internet and think eBay is some game that they can win makes this a fun ride nonetheless.
I can see children loving this movie to death, not just because of it has Disney, Star Wars and Marvel references while poking fun at them, but because the movie has such a childlike perspective of the internet. Ralph and Venelope act more like children in this movie than the previous one, and while that may be a step down for some, that makes their whimsical journey more about self discovery by the end. It often feels like a fantasy set in a world that today's children can understand.
Overall, "Ralph Breaks the Internet" isn't as good as "Wreck-It Ralph" but it doesn't try to be. It may have some of the same characters, but a vastly different setting and dynamic that makes our mundane world seem fantastical. It is a cute, charming family film with a good sense of humor, especially when Disney is poking fun at itself. If you have kids, they should love this movie from start to finish, and if you enjoyed "Wreck-It Ralph" then you'll like this one fine.
Final Grade: B
"Creed" was quite possibly the biggest surprise of 2015. I had no idea going in that a story about the long-lost son of Apollo Creed being trained by an aging Rocky Balboa would be any good, but then the film blew me away with stunning performances from Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone and a gripping, emotional tale about legacy and second chances while honoring the past and looking ahead to the future. I loved every second of "Creed," and still feel that it is the greatest sports movie of the last two decades.
So naturally, "Creed II" was green-lite almost immediately, and like most sports movies, the sequel had to up the ante. But the progression here feels natural - now that Adonis Creed (Jordan) has made a name for himself in the boxing world, he has to face the son of the man that killed his father in the ring, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). It's a rather predictable storyline, but like the rest of the movie, it is played masterfully, certainly helped by Stallone returning to write the screenplay.
I felt that the best part of "Creed" was Stallone taking on the role of mentor, his character coming full circle and finding his purpose again long after he thought his life was over. And while Stallone gets some good scenes throughout "Creed II" especially when he tries to be in Adonis' life outside of the ring to make up for how bad of a father he was to his own son, the main focus is rightfully on Adonis and his drive to fight Drago's son, as well as facing the ugly side of the boxing world.
Michael B. Jordan goes through hell in this movie, and it feels like we go through every painful step with him, as he faces both physical and psychological torment he must endure alone. Even if his journey is formulaic and predictable, Jordan's performance is so captivating that it's hard not to be invested in his struggles.
Another great part of "Creed II" is the story of Ivan Drago and his son following the events of "Rocky IV." Like a dark reflection of Adonis' story, theirs is one of redemption and dismantling the shame of their family name the only way they know how, by fighting. A lot of this is said without many words, just Lundgren and Florian Munteanu's stoic performances. While not a big part of the movie, it does serve to make the Dragos into much more sympathetic characters after how basic and underdeveloped Drago was in the past.
Still, "Creed II" follows many of the same sports clichés we've come to expect - pride getting in the way of everything else, the mentor that doesn't approve, the training montages, the mentor and fighter disagreeing so much that they don't want to see each other again, and so many more. But the best part of this movie is that these clichés never grow tiresome. We recognize these moments, but they're handled so well and acted so brilliantly that we don't mind them. Even if we can see them coming from a mile away, Adonis and Rocky are just so likable that it's hardly a problem.
Overall, "Creed II" is not quite to the same level as the first film, but it is still a worthy sequel, building off the themes and plotlines of "Creed" and the previous Rocky movies. It is predictable, but enjoyable nonetheless. If you enjoyed "Creed" then you'll have fun with this one too. Even though I'm not a fan of predictable sports movies, this one always had my attention.
Final Grade: B+
Sunday, December 9, 2018
Certainly the most charming movie of the year, if forced and manipulative at points. What sells "Green Book" is the terrific performances of Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, both disappearing in their roles as men from different worlds, one from a violent, desperate world and the other from a confined world where identity is hard to find, with both of them find a common ground through mutual respect and admiration. The film is wholesome without sacrificing the pain and strife that comes with the time period or the racial tension, all built on the dignified roles of Ali and Mortensen.
Final Grade: B+
Saturday, December 8, 2018
While more films discuss the struggles of exploring ones sexuality and coming out as gay during a time when that was not acceptable, this does not diminish the importance of "Boy Erased." The film does take the time to delve into Jared Eamons' (Lucas Hedges) transition from confused boy to homosexual man, but the main focus is on the brutal and unforgiving world that surrounds Jared, especially the Baptist society he grew up in that sees homosexuality as a disease that can be purged through relentless and unforgiving bible worship, to the point that it could be seen as torture.
The film is unflinching and unsympathetic in its portrayal of this abuse, while also showcasing the ignorance of Jared's preacher father (Russell Crowe). Yet it maintains its moral center through Nicole Kidman's performance as Jared's mother, conflicted by both sides but unable to act out without destroying someone's life. While the film can be hard to watch at times, Kidman makes the journey well worth it.
Overall, the timing for "Boy Erased" could not be more perfect. At a time when cinema is embracing the things that make us different and honoring those imperfections like a work of art, this film speaks to those who still see those same differences as a curse or weakness that must be corrected. It shows that we've entered a new world of movies and that old world of trying to change people to be something they're not will no longer be tolerated. It's a strong, powerful message that deserves to be seen.
Final Grade: B-
Sunday, December 2, 2018
"Widows" comes across like Steve McQueen trying to be like Michael Mann instead of doing his normally lavishly personal portraits. There are moments of great acting that showcase sorrow and lost, especially from Elizabeth Debicki and Viola Davis, the film has so many different characters with their own agendas that it comes across as needlessly complicated. By the time the climax arrives, most of the tension and empathy has faded. The film is at its best when these characters are grieving in their own ways while remaining confident women. That or letting Daniel Kaluuya do whatever he wants to do.
Thursday, November 29, 2018
If you were expecting more of the same from "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald" you will be sadly disappointed, much like me. The film lacks most of the charm of the first film in this new Harry Potter franchise, or the magic of the Potter franchise in general, relying more in weak character development and far too much world building for its own good, given the limited time and scope.
What I enjoyed the most about "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" was how relaxed and fun the whole adventure felt. The magical creatures were all inventive and felt wholly unique from our world, while still taking the time to explore what makes them so special and how to befriend them. To add to this, we had the best character in the history of the Potter series - Jacob Kowalski, the muggle with a heart of gold and takes everything the magical world throws at him in stride. In a way, the audience is Jacob in the first film.
But those elements are severely downplayed in "Crimes of Gindelwald" and it only hurts the movie. While it has a few of the same magical creatures from the first film, they hardly get any screen time and don't do much outside of being pretty CGI eye-candy (CGI-candy?). There's only one new magical beast, and while it is given a bit of development, it hardly makes up for the lack of other magical animals. Jacob, on the other hand, returns but gets very little to do. He isn't even given much to react to, since he spends most of his time in a normal house.
What "Crimes of Grindelwald" offers instead of this is a confusing story with far too many characters for its own good, each of them trying to become fully fleshed out characters, with erratic pacing that will give most people emotional whiplash near the end of the movie as it speeds towards a nonsensical climax between its group of rouge wizards and witches fighting the evil Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) as he tries to take command of the magical world so that they can rule over both the magic and non-magic world.
The film speeds along far too quickly for anything to either connect with the audience or make sense, as many plot points are dropped in rapid succession. It is also never clear who is working for which side near the end of the movie, especially characters like Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz) and Thesus Scamander (Callum Turner), brother and arch-rival of the main character Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne).
All of this turns what could have been a relaxed and fun fantasy adventure into an overly dark and complicated drama that it really didn't need to be. There are far too many twists and turns, when the story works best when it just builds off the simple imagery of magic in our world. There is little fun to be had with "Crimes of Grindelwald," which is the biggest strike against it.
The performances are the only thing working for the movie, especially from actors like Alison Sudol as Queenie Goldstein and William Nadylam as Yusuf Kama, both being far more emotionally gripping than I would have expected. But beyond this, "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald" has no magic to speak of, focusing on the wrong things and going far too much in the direction of dark and complex in this mystical, fantastical world.
Final Grade: D+
Friday, November 16, 2018
"Overlord" is the type of movie that anti-Nazi filmmakers in the 1940s wish they could have made about World War II, though were limited due to the film codes at the time. This movie is over-the-top gory insanity while showing the scummiest we've seen Nazis in cinema in a long time, showcasing a brand of pure evil that is perfect for a B-movie with an A-movie budget. It is horrific in all the best ways without ever losing the feel of a brutal World War II film.
The film follows a small group of surviving American soldiers on the eve of D-Day. Their mission - to take out a Nazi radio tower so the Allied Forces can communicate with each other properly in the upcoming battle. After a brutal airstrike, only four soldiers make it to the ground and quickly learn the base is crawling with thousands of Nazi troops. Though after the Americans do some digging and infiltrating, they learn something unnatural and terrifying is going on inside the nearby church as Nazi scientists try to make the "thousand-year army" come to life.
"Overlord"'s strength lies in its unpredictability, much like "Bad Times at the El Royale." Because of the mixed genres of action, horror and war, you never know if an action sequence is lurking around the corner or if it's an experiment gone horribly wrong. The film delivers on all of these fronts, but is at it's best when emulating classic WWII films with strong characterization and pitch-perfect pacing to rake up the tension as the Nazis draw closer and closer.
The other strength is that most of the cast are unknowns, while still giving emotionally-gripping performances. You get attached to them as people rather than as stars trying to play soldiers, which makes their performances even more convincing. The only star you might recognize is Kurt Russell's son, Wyatt, which will drive you crazy as you try to figure out if this guy might be related to Kurt. Beyond that, casting unknown actors as your leads in a war-time horror flick works well here.
The effects are hit-and-miss, sometimes going over-the-top goofy and otherwise selling the terror that comes with Nazi experiments gone wrong. I can say that the effects are so good at one point that I seriously considered leaving the theater because they were so gross and disgusting. There are loads of practical effects here as well, especially during the battle sequences.
Overall, "Overlord" is a treat for those who want a little bit of everything. While the plot is nothing special, the pacing and performances sell every tense moment, while still delivering those B-movie thrills and chills. The film takes itself just seriously enough to make the dramatic moments stand out, but with just enough flair to make it fun for the audience.
Final Grade: B+
Saturday, November 10, 2018
If was one man left, I can't imagine a more fitting person than Vincent Price. In this production of Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend," Price tries to maintain his sanity despite the world turning into vampires. While later versions would use zombies instead of vampires, the core of Matheson's story remains as a testament to the human spirit in face of a certain demise, highlighted by a creepy yet melancholy performance from Price. The budget is small, but like "The House on Haunted Hill," the filmmakers make the most of it by highlighting the haunting writing and chilling performances.
Final Grade: B-
Wednesday, November 7, 2018
Queen is one of those universal bands that everyone has not only heard of, but everyone has a favorite song of theirs. Outside of the Beatles and Journey, not many other bands have achieved that. There is a universal appeal to Queen, not just through their music, but through the life of its lead singer, Freddie Mercury. It's so intertwined with Queen that the two are practically indistinguishable, despite the fact that it shouldn't.
"Bohemian Rhapsody" takes this aspect of Queen's appeal to create a safe yet well-made version of the band's rise to success and the tragic story of Freddie Mercury. The film is headlined by a wonderful performance from Rami Malek as Mercury, as he practically disappears into the role to give a whirlwind tirade told through rock music and sexual exploration. And while the film never reaches outrageous status, this is ultimately a harmless film about a rock band with some of the biggest universal appeal the world has ever seen.
That being said, most of the better moments in "Bohemian Rhapsody" are the simple scenes between the band members and how their conflicts led to some of their best songs, especially ones like "We Will Rock You" and "Another One Bites the Dust." While Freddie is the showstopper, the film works best when it focuses on the band, trying to calm that diva within Freddie to show his true potential. The way conflict turns into success is handled well throughout this movie.
But what pushes this film down is its lack of focus. They try to cover so much of Freddie's descent into wild sex parties and the rock star lifestyle that they never bothered to ask why this happened. They're trying to say so much about Freddie and why he took this path that feels like it's saying nothing. There's no focal point for Freddie that lasts throughout the whole film, which is what was desperately needed to wrangle him in.
Because of this "Bohemian Rhapsody" is only ever a serviceable bio-pic of Freddie Mercury, led by a stunning performance from Malik, that only touches upon the band from time to time. The film is often chaotic and misguided, while only giving us the origin of some of Queen's greatest hits. The film feels like an incomplete picture of the band, while still hitting many of the right notes to hit that universal appeal of a legendary rock band.
Final Grade: C
Sunday, November 4, 2018
As someone whose childhood is linked to the mid-90s, I went into "Mid90s" expecting a connection to the struggles of identity at a time when kids rapidly consumed media like it was a fourth meal. But I did not connect with any of these characters or their reckless search for thrills at any cost. The film is aimed more at the skateboarding and extreme sports culture, especially in the Los Angeles area, making this a film aimed at a niche demographic. While the acting is effective for many first time actors, they can only take this underwhelming script so far.
Final Grade: C-
Friday, November 2, 2018
"Free Solo" is unlike any documentary I've had the pleasure of beholding. While the film details every aspect of Alex Honnold's personal life in his challenge to free solo climb El Capitan, the cinematography and nature of Alex's profession gives this film thriller-like suspense. You get to know and appreciate Alex's quirky, charming personality while the precarious and vast scope of the screen makes it feel like you're free climbing with him, like every step and placement matters. The film is wonderful at putting you in Alex's shoes and fearing that something bad might happen ever step of the way.
Final Grade: B
Thursday, November 1, 2018
We live in an amazing time for cinema when movies can give us whole new perspectives on lives so vastly different from our owns are readily available. Films that focus on the fears and walk of life that we might often take for granted. Films like "BlacKkKlansman," "Sorry to Bother You" and "Black Panther" have done that well this year, but another film to join those ranks is "The Hate U Give." But the difference with this film is that it's perspective is primarily for a younger audience without giving any easy answers to this troubling and complicated world.
The film is told from the perspective of a 16-year old black woman, Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), who lives in a troubled but culturally rich part of town while attending an upscale yet uppity high school, essentially stuck between two vastly different worlds. But this comes crashing down when Starr witnesses a police officer shoot her defenseless best friend, and her worlds are forced to collide in the most racially charged manner possible.
Stenberg's performance is the backbone of this movie, trying to handle the delicate situation of handling two societies when there is so much discomfort in her heart. She is just as confused and passionate as the rest of the country is with this situation, and demands that some action be taken. For a film aimed at a teenage audience, that is a poignant message, which makes this the most powerful film for the young adult audience this year.
While the film can often go a bit over-the-top with its message and keeps hammering it in many times over, "The Hate U Give" tries to tell a complete picture of this complex situation. It's not just from Starr's perspective, but delves into how outsiders react to this situation, as well as from the officer's point of view and what they're trained to do in this situation. The film doesn't do anything easy or simple, just like this real life chaos.
Final Grade: B-
Wednesday, October 31, 2018
As my first exposure to the Hammer horror films, "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed" is a wonderful mood setter that heavily departs from the Universal classics. The film tells a uniquely haunting tale that pays homage to the classic horror films while taking the disturbing imagery and twisted psyche of a mad scientist even further. The film is Gothic in style while dealing with the same themes of power and creation that every Frankenstein adaptation handles, amping up the blood and gore in ways Universal never could, all while focusing on the true monster of the Mary Shelly's novel - Dr. Frankenstein.
Final Grade: B+
Monday, October 29, 2018
This just might be the greatest slasher movie ever made. Certainly up there with the original "Halloween" but this one has the added advantage of age and complexity. The first "Halloween" worked best when it was subtle and simple, never adding more than it needed to its basic slasher premise of a serial killer on the loose on Halloween. The 2018 film works in many of the same ways, but the film adds another layer by giving its characters far more dimensions and subtleties.
Unlike the first Halloween film, every character in this film feels fully fleshed out and relatable. From the goofy dad to the confused teenage boys to the babysitter that isn't afraid to curse in front of the little boy she's looking after because he's got a fiery attitude as well, I liked all of these characters. And that's the greatest strength of a slasher movie - that the people you care about the most are just as much of a target of our villain, Michael Myers.
Of all the slasher villains, I always found Michael Myers to be a cut above the rest for one simple reason - he is human. Unlike Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger who are unstoppable supernatural killing machine that have unlimited amounts of plot armor until the last part of the third act, Michael is just as vulnerable as anyone else in this movie. He has his reasons for why he kills, but they're never told to us. Is it for revenge? A coping mechanism? Blood lust? It makes him feel alive? Is it the only thing he knows? Or is it something else? We never know and that honestly makes him scarier than any other slasher - that we all have a little bit of Michael Myers inside of us and all it takes is one thing to make us snap.
"Halloween" knows this very well and plays with the psychology of Michael Myers, shown mostly through Jamie Lee Curtis' character and the effect a psychopath like that has on someone. Curtis gives a wonderful performance, showing the deep mental scars she's had to endure from Michael for 40 years and makes this whole movie feel more grounded and emotional than it had any right to be.
This could have easily been another dumb, mindless slasher film. But "Halloween" is not only surprising, but heavily satisfying and enjoyable. Even if you're not a fan of horror or slasher films, this is still one worth checking out. Like the original "Halloween," this film is a game changer and makes its genre to a whole new level of art. Check this one out with a large crowd and see just how scary and enjoyable this one can be.
Final Grade: A
Sunday, October 28, 2018
"First Man" is one of the more worthwhile experiences this year, not just because of its captivating portrayal of Neil Armstrong landing on the moon, but because of how it represents the fears and troubles society faced in the 1960s. The film is a time capsule of its era, using the moon landing as a focal point to show how Americans were so emotionally repressed at the time. Combine this with it's commentary on how the majority of America was against landing on the moon until we got up there and you've got a film that sucks you into this dangerous and complicated time.
Ryan Gosling excels as Neil Armstrong, giving us a broken man that does not want to reach out and connect with others in his line of profession. He keeps his trauma as hidden as he can, but whether he knows it or not, that fear of losing the ones he cares about drives him to be greater than he is. Gosling is subtle in his gestures and mannerisms, but clearly wants to explode with emotions.
The visuals are stunningly beautiful, never once looking like CGI or like anything was done on a computer. From the scale and scope of the rockets to the vast reaches of the upper atmosphere, there is a lot to be impressed by in "First Man." The set design compliments this, by always feeling cramped and claustrophobic in those tiny cockpits, while taking specific care to show how flimsy and poorly put together these rockets were, giving the audience an even bigger sense of dread as you realize these ships are probably held together with chewing gum and a lot of prayer. And yet, these are vessels that our heroes must rely on to get them through space.
"First Man" makes for a terrific companion piece to "The Right Stuff" and "Apollo 13" (watched in the order they were made), as they tell the vast range of the human struggle to get into space and become something more than we ever thought possible. All three detail the tragedy and hardships we realistically went through, without shying away from why each of these men would do something as crazy as venture out into space. "First Man" serves as the perfect ending to this tale, telling it from the perspective of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, showing that the challenges and losses of this movie and its brethren was not wasted.
Final Grade: B+
Saturday, October 27, 2018
In many ways, "The Old Man and the Gun" is the perfect representation of Robert Redford's career - an easy-going yet charming man who wasn't afraid to buck the system and never wanted to stop doing what he loves, despite his age. This film is not only a perfect capstone to Redford's career, but is just as much about Redford's love and hate relationship with Hollywood and the audience. Beyond this, the film is easy-going and tells an enjoyably laid back story that moves at a brisk pace, helped by a stellar cast and a fitting farewell to a screen legend.
Final Grade: B+
Friday, October 26, 2018
If you're looking for a western comedy with John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix as bickering brothers, this is not the film for you. "The Sisters Brothers" is akin to "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" than "Blazing Saddles," though with a pension for the grotesque and obscene. In this tale of brothers tracking down another pair that wronged their boss in the west, it thrives on how ruthless and unforgiving it could be. Yet there is little to no fun to be had here, the unbridled joy of discovery and freedom is replaced with a stark and harsh reality.
Final Grade: C+
Sunday, October 21, 2018
The greatest strength of "Bad Times at the El Royale" is its unpredictability. The market campaign and trailers brilliantly set this scene by only giving the audience a taste of what the film is about, without ever shading light on what happens. This is something Alfred Hitchcock perfected - no giving away any of the surprises or twists until we're already caught in the moment, so that they hit the audience even harder.
I had no idea where the story of "Bad Times at the El Royale" was heading because I was so caught up in the foreboding and haunting atmosphere of this hotel that sits halfway between sunny California and sinful Nevada. The film plays this as a strength, giving the audience a truly unique and unforgiving thriller where every character is suspicious and untrustworthy, leading to some powerhouse performances from Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Cynthia Erivo and Lewis Pullman. This makes "Bad Times at the El Royale" the most unique and inspiring thriller in years.
In this story of seven strangers spending the night at a hotel off the beaten path and only one employee (Pullman), we learn that each of them is hiding something sinister that plays a much bigger part than they're letting on, while even the hotel hides secrets from our cast of colorful characters.
I've never seen a thriller quite like "Bad Times at the El Royale," effectively a network-narrative that doesn't play favorites. This film is equally suspicious of each character, questioning their morals and even their faith. Religion and how each character reacts to God becomes a much bigger part of this movie than one would expect and leads to some of the better acting moments from Bridges and Pullman.
What brings this move down though is its runtime and pacing. The film is nearly two and a half hours when it easily could have been told in two hours and spends a bit too much time on flashbacks, especially near the end of the movie. While the first hour is tense and atmospheric, the last 45 minutes tend to drag and breaks up the suspense with out-of-place scenes. It is unfortunate that such a great and original thriller would be dragged down by its own originality.
Overall though, "Bad Times at the El Royale" is still a worthwhile thriller, bolstered by a unique screenplay and some captivating performances. I never knew exactly where the film was going to go next, and that is surprising to see nowadays. While the pacing and unnecessary editing gets in the way near the end, the rest of the film is strong enough to make for a standout film that I won't be forgetting any time soon.
Final Grade: B+
Sunday, October 14, 2018
While "The Charge of the Light Brigade" has not aged as well as other Errol Flynn classics like "Captain Blood" and "The Adventures of Robin Hood," this film does have a massive historical epic scope, especially by 1936 standards. As the film retells the tragic yet heroic tale of the 27th Lancer division of the British army and their travels through India during war, the real highlights are the battle sequences and how its sprawling scope is put to great use, combine with frenetic editing and a pulse-pounding score from Max Steiner. Beyond that, this is an average adventure flick.
Final Grade: C
Thursday, October 11, 2018
On some level, I compliment the filmmakers of "Venom" - clearly they were given the impossible task of making a movie about Spider-Man's most well-known villain without ever mentioning Spider-Man. The problem lies in the execution - Venom is not portrayed as an antagonist or anti-hero, but unlikely superhero, but without any flare or joy for the source material. The actors are giving it everything they have, despite the nonsensical screenplay, abysmal CGI, and everything else working against this movie. This movie reeks of studio interference as it harkens back to the terrible superhero movies of the early 2000s, like "Daredevil" and "Catwoman."
Final Grade: D+
Monday, October 8, 2018
From the beginning, I was skeptical about the newest remake of "A Star Is Born," especially since I recently watched the 1954 version with Judy Garland and was less than impressed with this tedious musical epic about fleeting fame. I was especially dubious after learning that this would be Bradley Cooper's directorial debut, while directing himself and Lady Gaga in a tale that's been told three separate times by Hollywood and is as old as the film industry. But with all the praise heaped onto this movie, especially Lady Gaga's performance, I went into this movie wanting to like it, with the hope that would live up to these expectations.
In the end, my expectations were met and nothing more. I got exactly the movie I thought I'd get, a tale about the music industry with the highest highs and lowest lows, held together with a captivating performance from Lady Gaga that deserves every bit of praise she's getting. The film follows many of the same beats as the 1954 film, though thankfully with better pacing and a much shorter runtime. It does feel like far more is accomplished in this film than any other "A Star Is Born," despite being shorter than the 1954 and 1976 versions.
In this version, Bradley Cooper plays a hard-drinking country musician passed his prime who stumbles across a struggling young singer (Lady Gaga) and falls for her and her stunning voice. The two hit it off and he invites her to join in his concerts, to which everyone loves and she very quickly climbs the ladder of success, even leaving Cooper in the dust.
I would say that "A Star Is Born" is a vehicle to launch Lady Gaga's success into a new medium, but it does feel like the film is trying to say more than that. While her unique style and flare are all over this movie, Coopers' character and performance keep the film grounded in reality enough to remind us that these people don't choose a life of fame for wealth or accolades, but because they have something to say and that nothing reaches more people quite like music. The film doesn't dwell on the clichés of staying true to yourself in the face of the industry or fame corrupting people, and instead goes for a pure message about why musicians do what they do.
That being said, many aspects of "A Star Is Born" come across as awkward or needed more fine-tuning. For example, the supporting cast is all over the place, with Anthony Ramos and Sam Elliott's motivation getting muddy, while Dave Chappelle comes across as not knowing what he's doing there. The cinematography is skewed at times, especially when several shots are from a fisheye lens. But the biggest complaint is that Lady Gaga's jump from a nobody that got turned down because of her large nose to a big sensation is barely covered, going from zero to a hundred in the blink of an eye. These complaints don't ruin the movie, but they do stack up after a while.
Overall, the newest "A Star Is Born" is a fine tragic musical with a great performance from Lady Gaga. It fixes the pacing problems of the Judy Garland version while staying true to the message of musicians in today's industry. If you've seen any of the other three versions of this movie, this one doesn't play out much differently than those. But for adapting a tale that's been around since the 1930s, and is often forgotten, to modern society, Bradley Cooper does a fine job bringing enough flare and relevance to a very old story.
Final Grade: B-
Saturday, October 6, 2018
While others are quick to point out the spectacular supporting cast, ranging from the subtle from Wendy Hiller and Anthony Perkins to the wild and eccentric from Lauren Bacall and Sean Connery, and inventive way of interpreting Agatha Christie's murder mystery novel, I found the most memorable factor to "Murder on the Orient Express" to be the cinematography. Filmed inside the tight claustrophobic confines of a train, the camera moves in creative ways to showcase a vast range of angles and long takes, made even better by editing that made the tight space feel vast. Definitely a must watch film.
Final Grade: A-
Friday, September 28, 2018
"Mandy" is a breathtakingly psychedelic trip that finds a strange middle ground between strong characterization and heavy metal storytelling. While the pacing of the first half takes a slow, almost David Lynch-like approach where its surreal violence takes time to wear on the audience, the second half plays out like a metal rock song that uses sharp, almost disturbing imagery that invokes songs from bands like Led Zeppelin. Yet at the center of this lies a strong emotional core. Combine this with yet another insane performance from Nicholas Cage, and you get the most unforgettable revenge tales in recent memory.
Final Grade: B+
Thursday, September 27, 2018
I get what "Funny Girl" was going for - a film about a woman (Barbara Streisand) who relies far more on natural talent, singing prowess and comedy than beauty or sex appeal set in a time when women couldn't be in show business if they weren't attractive. The problem is that this theme and period piece gets muddled by a rather forgettable and uninspired romance with a gambler (Omar Sharif). This plot keeps going around in circles, since Sharif and Streisand show little on-screen chemistry and seem rather distant. Now this forgettable film is only remembered for launching Streisand's film career.
Final Grade: C-
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
It is very quickly established that "Pride of the Yankees" was made as a tribute to one of the greatest and most beloved baseball players ever, Lou Gehrig. The film was released one year after Gehrig died of ALS, had the most loved actor in Hollywood portray the baseball star, Gary Cooper, and starred many teammates of Gehrig, including Babe Ruth. As a bio-pic, the film only casts an overwhelmingly positive light on Gehrig, hardly ever showing him going through any hardships or challenges until his death, which can be attributed to making this film so close to the tragedy.
Final Grade: B-
Monday, September 24, 2018
Having never watched the supposed train wreck that was "Mamma Mia!," I went in to this with zero expectations and only having heard a few ABBA songs. The result was a fine time with a few heavy moments that I did not expect to see here, especially with its almost "Godfather Part II"-like storytelling and editing, juxtaposing the conflicts and loves of the mother against the success and affection of her daughter. Maybe it is because of the lack of musicals nowadays, but the elaborate dance numbers and genuine passion for song elevates this far more than it normally would.
Final Grade: B-
Saturday, September 22, 2018
Did Winnie the Pooh have to be so unbelievably dark and dreary? I know we're in the age of gritty reboots and reimaginings, but I would have thought Pooh was immune to that. "Christopher Robin" feels like the flashback scenes in "Saving Mr. Banks" that everyone forgets - a depressing story that contradicts the whimsy of these Disney characters. While scenes in the Hundred-Acre Wood remain as heart-warming and optimistically naive as I remember, the scenes in London and the color palette are so dismal that it takes most of the fun out of this look at an adult Christopher Robin.
Final Grade: C+
Friday, September 21, 2018
I would say that "A Simple Favor" is yet another attempt to cash in on "Gone Girl," but that would be doing this film a disservice. While "Spy" and "Bridesmaids" director Paul Feig adds his usual modernly witty touch to many scenes, Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively turn in the best performances of their careers as women with engaging yet deeply self-absorbed motives for the dark seductive game they play, painting a tangled web of morally confused and tortured souls. This film perfectly blends together thrills and laughs, while always remaining charismatic and charming, almost the opposite of "Gone Girl."
Final Grade: B+
Thursday, September 20, 2018
"Crazy Rich Asians" is a surprisingly uplifting and stylish breath of fresh air in 2018, offering a vibrant, tantalizing glance at another culture while being supported by wonderful onscreen chemistry between Constance Wu and Henry Golding. But in this film about an heir to a wealthy family coming home to Singapore and to show his middle-class girlfriend, it is the mother that stands out due to Michelle Yeoh's performance as the domineering yet sophisticated and restrained matriarchy that steals the show, always commanding the room. In an age where romantic comedies have faded, this was a pleasant change of pace.
Final Grade: B-
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
While I've never been a big Predator fan, I was onboard with this movie when I learned Shane Black was writing and directing it. The man behind "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," "Iron Man 3" and the writer of the "Lethal Weapon" movies, Black has always found that perfect middle ground between intense, gripping action and sharp, witty dialogue and making both feel seamlessly intertwined.
Unfortunately, that is not what we get in "The Predator." Instead, we get a muddy, disorganized and hateful movie that doesn't feel connected to the Predator franchise at all. Unfunny and over-reliant on CGI gore, this doesn't even work as a popcorn flick.
The purpose of this movie feels unclear and unfocused. In this tale of Predators arriving in a southern suburban town on Halloween and the group of mercenaries and scientists tasked to take them down, they switch wildly between making these characters relatable and loathsome, trying to play off undesirable behavior as quirky without any explanation or analysis. The filmmakers also seem to forget why these aliens came to our planet, as their motivations swing as much as the likability of our leads. This contributes to an overwhelmingly confusing mess of a gorefest.
The only redeeming qualities are Jacob Tremblay as the main character's autistic son, who gets the most development without shoving autism in the audiences' face, and the mythology building it does for the Predator race by giving them more of a reason to hunt besides the thrill of it. These two elements work even better as they come together to make a fascinatingly positive message to those who deal with autism. While it may not have much else going for it, at least it treats Jacob Tremblay with respect. Even if the action sequences are laughable, the underlying theme is strong.
Final Grade: D+
Monday, September 17, 2018
The only thing "Johnny Belinda" has going for it is Jane Wyman's jaw-dropping subtle yet heartfelt performance in which she communicates so much heartache and anguish without saying a word. Wyman plays a young deaf-mute woman on an isolated Canadian island, who the whole town labels as "the dummy," when the new doctor (Lew Ayers) makes an effort to communicate with her. While this is certainly a period piece that plays on the isolation and fears of the townsfolk, everything else is done with so little passion that it doesn't leave an impact, only Wyman's skill as a visual storyteller excelling.
Final Grade: C
"Midnight Lace" plays out like a psychological thriller by Hitchcock, though without the flair for the dramatic, in both cinematography and storytelling. Doris Day plays an American heiress in London, who is threatened by an unknown assailant, though Day cannot convince anyone that he exists, including the police or her husband (Rex Harrison). While the filmmakers get you second-guessing our distraught protagonist through Day's outbursts and lack of evidence, the pacing never picks up beyond a dull roar to keep this thriller from going anywhere substantial. Effectively captivating as a guessing game, but doesn't have much else going for it.
Final Grade: C+