Atomic Blonde (Full Review)

The lone hero action adventure is slowly becoming one of the easiest genres to spot a breakout hit. We already know about James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Ethan Hunt. But newer films like Jack Reacher, Salt, and John Wick have also been thrilling. On the surface, Atomic Blonde has a seasoned leading lady and an all-star supporting cast, but great action films aren’t built on good acting and interesting concepts alone.

Atomic_Blonde_posterCharlize Theron plays British intelligence agent Lorraine Broughton. In the heart of the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, she is tasked by her superior (Toby Jones) with going into Berlin, Germany and recovering a list of secret government agents that has fallen into the wrong hands after being stolen from her lover (Sam Hargrave). To accomplish this deadly mission, she must link up with a loose cannon British agent (James McAvoy) while also looking over her shoulder at a CIA head (John Goodman) and a mysterious French photographer (Sofia Boutella) who have suspicious motivations.

Director David Leitch got his start orchestrating stunt work for films like V for Vendetta and Fight Club and his mark on this film is evident in every fight scene. The action sequences in Atomic Blonde are all beautifully brutal and intense. Charlize Theron executes each one with keen detail and athleticism that is impressive from start to finish. But even through these thrilling moments, it’s hard not to be distracted by virtually everything else in the movie.

The plot of the film is the biggest problem. There are far too many threads to keep track of. There’s a revenge tale, a double agent subplot, and a race to get a German  mole (Eddie Marsan) to safety. So much is revealed without proper context that it’s hard to keep track of what you should actually be focused on.

The double agent subplot takes the most focus, but only toward the latter half of the film. And even that aspect seems squandered. The movie tries so hard to point things in one direction, but the evidence is so staggering toward one culprit that the inevitable twist seems obvious. It doesn’t help that we’re not really given a reason to care about Theron’s character. She is tough as nails and relentless, but her personality is as wooden as they come. Sure, Keanu Reaves’ John Wick was stoic, but he had love for his wife and a puppy to give his character some semblance of a soul.

The story isn’t the only issue. Leitch still seems to be honing his directorial skills. The narrative structure lacks fluidity and the film tries to infuse 80’s pop music throughout, but more times than not it just comes off as overbearing and annoying. The best non-action oriented aspect of the film is clearly McAvoy’s performance, but none of the other actors are given much opportunity to show any nuance. So while Atomic Blonde undoubtedly has some entertainment value, it isn’t anything close to resembling something worth latching on to when the credits role.

FINAL GRADE: C

Valérian and the City of a Thousand Planets (Full Review)

Chances are, unless you’re European, you’ve never heard of Valérian and Laureline.  The French comic book was started back in 1967 and ran all the way until 2010. The series chronicles the adventures of a pair of space special agents as they try and protect a colony made up of millions of species from around the universe. There is perhaps no better person to bring those stories to the big screen for American audiences than French Director Luc Besson, who brought us the sci-fi classic The Fifth Element.

Valerian_and_the_City_of_a_Thousand_PlanetsDane DeHann plays Valérian, a cocky, but brave and resourceful space agent who is in love with his head strong partner Laureline (Cara Delevigne). Together, the two go on dangerous missions to other worlds and dimensions to recover endangered lifeforms and protect the people and interests of Alpha, the space colony made up of over a thousand planets. When the commander of Alpha (Clive Owen) is kidnapped, it is up to Valérian and Laureline to solve the mystery of his kidnapping and prevent a war within Alpha.

Valérian and the City of a Thousand Planets has an undeniable creativity to it and an acute sense of detail. Every creature has depth to it from its appearance to its backstory which shouldn’t surprise anyone who has seen The Fifth Element. The visuals and sheer scope of this film are breathtaking and most of the action sequences are thrilling.

Despite looking impressive, what keeps the movie from being great or even wholly memorable is undoubtedly its characters. Both Valérian and Laureline feel like stock characters you can find in any sci-fi fantasy novel. Rather than use the story to flesh out both characters as individuals, the movie spends most of its time trying to sell them as a couple. But the romance falls flat mainly because DeHann’s character comes off like a creep. The supporting cast isn’t any better, because they are underutilized. Characters like Rihanna’s shape shifting exotic dancer, Bubble, are barely on screen long enough to resonate with the audience.

A better, less predictable story could’ve made Valérian and the City of a Thousand Planets feel worthy of its stunning universe. You can certainly tell why the concept worked as a comic book and maybe a sequel can do more with its characters. But without focal points for the audience to gravitate toward, the final product is merely a decent film that you won’t care to see more than once.

FINAL GRADE: C

Dunkirk (Full Review)

Christopher Nolan is one of my all-time favorite directors. His methodical style might not be for everyone, but to me, he’s never made a bad movie. With that being said, I feel the opposite about war films. I usually find movies in the genre to be boring and dreary, but if anyone can make me thoroughly enjoy a war picture, it’s the man behind Memento, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, and the Prestige.

Dunkirk_Film_posterDunkirk takes place in 1940 in the years of World War II predating American involvement. The Germans have forced British troops to the edge of Dunkirk, France. Nolan tells the story of the heroic evacuation of those troops through the eyes of a trio of stranded soldiers (Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard), an Air Force pilot (Tom Hardy), and an old mariner (Mark Rylance) who rescues a shell shocked soldier (Cilian Murphy) while headed toward Dunkirk.

What I’ve always enjoyed about Nolan’s filmmaking is his ability to create unique ways to tell stories. Dunkirk uses nonlinear storytelling to add intrigue and keep the film steadily suspenseful. With each focal point taking place at different times (an hour, a day, and a week) before the climax, the film never feels dull even if there isn’t much dialogue.

The pacing may feel methodical to anyone who likes their movies filled with clever monologues, gun battles or explosions, but not knowing when the enemy might strike, and creating high emotional stakes for the primary characters creates the tension. And when the bombs strike and the bullets fly, it is felt. The sound is heavy and piercing, made for IMAX surround sound, to make you feel engulfed in the action. Meticulous camera angels are also used to engulf the audience in the emotions of the characters.

You might leave wondering about the significance of the film, as it doesn’t do quite enough to illustrate the historical influence of the events. But considering the story wants to feel self-contained, that isn’t much of a flaw. The biggest flaw is that the movie also seems to carry on a bit longer than it needs to, even though it’s not actually a long movie. There are also a few character resolutions that are a bit anti-climactic, but overall Dunkirk accomplishes its goal of being a brisk, cohesive, but thrilling narrative.

FINAL GRADE: B

Girls Trip (Full Review)

Just because the movie is called Girls Trip doesn’t mean this one is strictly for the ladies. After all, everyone enjoys taking a trip with their best friends. The comradery between friends can create for some great laughs. With a director in Malcolm D. Lee (Best Man Holiday, Barbershop 3) that has proven he knows how to handle comedies with ensemble casts, all of the ingredients are ripe for Girls Trip to be summer’s best comedy.

GirlsTripTeaserPosterRegina Hall stars as Ryan Pierce, a famous author whose high profile marriage to a former athlete (Mike Colter) has her career flourishing. When her Agent (Kate Walsh) sends her to be a key note speaker at the Essence Festival in New Orleans, Ryan takes it as an opportunity to reconnect with her best friends from college. Rounding out Hall’s group of friends known as the “Flossy Posse” are struggling celebrity gossip blogger Sasha (Queen Latifah), divorced mother Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith), and unfiltered party girl Dina (Tiffany Haddish). But once their girls trip has started, old arguments and personal struggles threaten to ruin their friendship.

It takes a moment for the heavy laughs to kick in, as the best jokes in the film’s first half come straight from the trailers. The funniest scenes come directly from the personalities of the actresses rather than the writing itself. Tiffany Haddish is no greater example of this. Her exuberant personality shines through to the point that you wonder if she even needed a script. Some of the gross out humor might be overwhelming for some, but it rarely comes in moments that don’t feel organic. Every ‘R’ rated comedy has outrageous scenes, but thankfully Girls Trip throws its gratuitousness at you in realistic ways to make them funny even if you feel like gagging or turning away.

The story, at times, does fall into formulaic tropes of the genre that make it feel wholly unoriginal. There’s the cheating husband, the  “nice guy” (Larenz Tate) who comes along just in time to make the scorned woman think twice about her lousy relationship, the random dance sequence to 90’s music, the inevitable moment where everyone lashes out at each other … it’s all there. But as the film goes along, those redundant themes become acceptable thanks to the performances of the cast. The arc that Hall’s Ryan Pierce goes through, while not a new concept, is dealt with in a very refreshingly real way. Treated as an Oprah-like icon, the fact that her character is able to show both strength and vulnerability is undoubtedly inspiring by the film’s end.

There are other distracting flaws to Girls Trip. Kate Walsh is mostly annoying as Hall’s white agent who uncomfortably uses black expressions. An actress who is actually used to doing comedy would have worked better here. The editing is also noticeably and abundantly lackluster.  In almost every wide shot you can tell that the dialogue and character’s lips aren’t matching up. Yet, these issues pale in comparison to the genuine fun of the movie. The cast looks like they’re having fun and the story, while predictable, stands on strong merits making Girls Trip a trip worth taking.

FINAL GRADE: B

 

 

War for the Planet of the Apes (Full Review)

The reboot of the Planet of the Apes film franchise has been one of the greatest cinematic gems of the past decade. Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes both gave us stunning visuals and brilliantly methodical storytelling while also delivering an iconic central character in Andy Serkis’ Caesar. Telling the story of Alzheimer’s testing leading to the advent of super intelligent apes and a subsequent virus that begins wiping out humanity, the preceding films have set a high bar that Director Matt Reeves hopes to maintain with this latest entry.

War_for_the_Planet_of_the_Apes_posterWar for the Planet of the Apes finds Caesar continuously attempting to protect his family and ape colony from one of the last human armies. Led by a ruthless colonel (Woody Harrelson), this human army wants to use the apes as slaves and has used fear to coax several apes into betraying their species. Old, and broken from his years of fighting against the humans, Caesar must come to terms with his own anger and guilt to win one final battle and free his kind.

As The Dark Knight Rises taught us, sometimes a good movie can feel a bit disappointing when it doesn’t live up to the heights of its predecessors. That is the case here, where poor pacing and a bit of a retread plot make War not quite as spectacular as Rise and Dawn. There are several moments that are incredibly slow and lack the tension that was so captivating in Dawn between Caesar and Toby Kebbell’s Koba. Even Woody Harrelson’s colonel lacks the conviction to make him more pertinent than Gary Oldman’s Dreyfus, despite an equally grandiose performance.

But aside from those few lulls in the narrative and the somewhat predictable conclusion, there is a lot to like about War for the Planet of the Apes. The characters, particularly the apes, are still what make these stories interesting and thought provoking. Caesar’s trusted orangutan adviser Maurice (Karin Konoval) brings endearment to the story by adopting a mute human girl (Amiah Miller). A zoo chimpanzee known as Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) brings some wholesome comic relief. As for Caesar, he is still the brilliant, strong willed revolutionary we’ve come to enjoy, but the flaws created for his character in this film actually manage to paint a more soulful picture for the weary leader.

It’s hard not to have high expectations when you’re following near perfection. And in that sense, War might leave some wanting more. But just because the filmmakers couldn’t ante up Caesar’s story arc doesn’t mean that they didn’t craft an enjoyable film, filled with the same thought provoking concepts, character driven emotion, and brilliant visuals that captured audiences in the first place.

FINAL GRADE: B

Spider-Man: Homecoming (Full Review)

If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. The Tobey Maguire Spider-Man franchise started off just fine, until Spider-Man 3 made it come to a dark, disco dancing halt. Sony Pictures then rushed a pair of needless reboots into production starring Andrew Garfield which had their moments, but crumbled in 2014 when the studio became more obsessed with setting up sequels and spin-offs than with actually delivering a fun Spider-Man story. All of this led to the landmark deal that has finally given Marvel Studios the opportunity to use their biggest A-lister. After being one of the many bright spots in Captain America: Civil War, it’s time for Tom Holland to take center stage in the iconic red and blue spandex.

Spider-Man_Homecoming_posterAfter recruiting Peter Parker (Holland) to aid in the events of Civil War, Tony ‘Iron Man’ Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) returns the super powered 15 year old back to his home in Queens, New York with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). Despite wanting the life of a full-fledged Avenger, Parker spends his Spider-Man nights catching bicycle thieves and helping old ladies cross the street while Stark’s assistant Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) keeps tabs. Peter’s daytime life consists of he and his best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon) talking about Star Wars, participating in quiz bowls, getting teased by a bully (Tony Revolori), and pining after a pretty senior (Laura Harrier). When the spurned leader of an Avengers battle clean up crew (Michael Keaton) begins selling high tech weapons to criminals in the city, Spidey sees catching him as his big chance to impress Mr. Stark and becoming a true Avenger.

We’ve seen Spider-man done justice, so we never actually needed a new solo outing. While this version is younger, there isn’t really anything new brought to the character other than a high tech suit and a ton of nice, but not necessary Avengers Easter eggs. And yet, in many ways, the story that Spider-Man: Homecoming comes up with manages to be arguably the character’s most definitive one.

Pater Parker is still smart, snarky, and brave. But by making the character younger and placing him in a world where superheroes are both abundant and older, we are allowed to truly see Spider-Man’s coming of age as a likable hero. Holland’s version, more than any other, is a kid. He is naïve and inexperienced and to become the iconic hero, he must mature. Thus, this Spider-Man film feels like a true origin story even though we’re allowed to skip out on Uncle Ben dying and the inevitable radioactive spider bite.

The sensational supporting cast helps. Robert Downey Jr. portraying Tony Stark as Parker’s mentor and father figure works incredibly well, with some of the best dialogue coming between the two. Jacob Batalon injects wholesome likability into every scene he’s in as Ned. And even though her role at times seems shoe horned in, Zendaya has some fun quips as Parker’s classmate Michele. As for Michael Keaton, who plays the villainous Vulture, he gives a performance that isn’t just one of the best in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but rivals Alfred Molina’s iconic Doc Ock in 2004’s Spider-Man 2. By giving the titular hero a worthy adversary, we are able to truly explore his fears and vulnerabilities.

It’s not quite the best Spider-Man movie ever. There are a few pacing issues, the CGI often gets a bit too cartoony, and I’m not a fan of young, more attractive Aunt May. But this film nails the overall tone of one of the most popular characters in pop culture. Calling an MCU movie fun is like calling a Tim Burton movie ‘quirky’ so that aspect should go without saying. At this point, the producers of these movies have mastered making the audience laugh without getting too hokey. With their knack for exhilarating action sequences and exploring mature themes while still keeping things light, the MCU has proven that Spider-Man belongs in this franchise. So if they can keep things from falling apart (like the Iron Man sequels), they’ve finally got a version that audiences can stay behind.

FINAL GRADE: A

 

 

 

 

The House (Full Review)

It’s almost surprising that Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler have never been leads in a movie together. Both know funny. Both were hilarious in their Saturday Night Live days and although that comedic flare doesn’t always translate into their films, you always know both are capable of owning any scene.

The_House_(2017_film)In The House, Ferrell and Poehler team up as parents whose daughter (Ryan Simpkins) is headed off to college. When the sleazy head of the town’s city council (Nick Kroll) revokes their daughter’s scholarship, the couple is lured into a scheme by their divorced neighbor (Jason Mantzoukas) to raise money for tuition by starting up their own casino in his home. With all of their quirky neighbors onboard, their scheme takes off and leads them down a crazy life as underground casino runners.

As with more and more comedies these days, this film carries a wacky tone that makes it not even remotely believable. This is a world where a town has only one cop (Rob Huebel), all of the adults act like irresponsible children, and a successful casino can be started up in a matter of days by someone who can’t even afford their own home. In other words, have your sense of reality clock out at the box office window.

The utter ridiculousness of the plot makes The House go off the rails at almost every turn. Luckily, this is a comedy, and flaws can be more forgiving if you just make the audience laugh. Ferrell and Poehler, when they aren’t trying too hard to oversell a joke or two, bring out the necessary dose of laughter to make The House moderately entertaining. And if you have never been into their antics then you really shouldn’t be watching this film in the first place. They aren’t alone though. Mantzoukas also manages to master the art of being funny simply with effective facial expressions and delivery.

There were two or three scenes that were so funny they had me in tears. Unfortunately, you’ll have to get through long stretches of buffoonery and annoying characters (*Nick Kroll) to get to them. If you can just turn your brain off and ignore the half baked nature of everything going on, you might just have a decent time with this one.

FINAL GRADE: C

 

 

Despicable Me 3 (Full Review)

Pixar and Dreamworks aren’t the only ones who can make great animated films. When Despicable Me first arrived in 2010, it became a surprise hit thanks to its endearing family story that molded seamlessly with a brand of Looney Tunes-like slapstick humor. But after a solid 2013 follow up film, the animators at Illumination tested their luck by making a Minions spinoff that fell flat. With Despicable Me 3, there is a need to rekindle the old magic to avoid the franchise from becoming stale.

Despicable_Me_3_(2017)_Teaser_PosterDespicable Me 3 picks up where Part 2 left off. Former supervillain Gru (Steve Carell) continues to raise his three adopted girls Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Agnes (Nev Scharrel), and Edith (Dana Gaier) while serving as a secret agent with his new wife Lucy (Kristin Wiig). After failing to capture an 80’s obsessed former child star turned supervillain (Trey Parker), Gru and Lucy lose their jobs as agents and are forced to seek refuge with Gru’s long lost wannabe villain twin brother, Dru.

If Minions almost made you forget just how great the Despicable Me stories are, Despicable Me 3 thankfully has several moments that are a pleasant reminder. The family dynamic is once again wonderfully charming and the laughs are plentiful. The biggest flaw is in the addition of the wholly unnecessary and often annoying character of Dru, but by the end even he manages to fit into the dynamic without feeling out of place. As for the minions, they are thankfully back where they belong as the comedic sideshow where most of them are involved in a plot that requires them to break out of prison.

Like the villains in the previous films, Trey Parker’s Balthazar Bratt is meant to be less of an in depth character and more of just a comedic caricature. And what a caricature he is. Dancing to Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ while doing the “running man”, the character provides some good laughs even if you could care less about why he exists. Despicable Me 3, unlike the Minions spinoff, has a better understanding of what works best in the franchise and even if the story isn’t quite as memorable as parts 1 and 2, it manages to still be a wholesome and funny family adventure.

FINAL GRADE: B

MOORE REVIEWS Grading Scale:

A = Must See/Top 10 Nominee

B = Good film. Flawed, but still very entertaining

C = Not Bad, but highly flawed/Worthy of a Redbox

D = Terrible Movie with a few redeeming qualities

F = I wanted to walk out/Don’t waste time or money

 

 

Rough Night (Full Review)

The Hangover with women. That’s probably how the studio pitched the idea to the cast. The Hangover, the first one at least, was a hit so taking that premise and adding a recognizable leading lady with a few established comedic actors should be enough to make a worthwhile comedy. At least in theory.

Rough_NightRough Night stars Scarlett Johansson as Jess, an aspiring congresswoman who decides to reunite with her college friends for her bachelorette party. Joining her in Miami is her clingy best friend Alice (Jillian Bell), snooty divorcee Blair (Zoe Kravitz), lesbian activist Frankie (Ilana Glazer), and Aussie Pippa (Kate McKinnon). Things go haywire when Alice accidentally kills a male stripper, sending the group into a wild night of mass panic and a few odd twists that could’ve all been solved with a simple ‘911’ call.

What starts off as a pretty basic story really goes all over the place as the story goes along. And not in the ‘so random its hilarious’ way, but in the ‘why is all of this happening’ way. Several running jokes, like Ty Burrell and Demi Moore cameoing as an over-sexed couple trying to woo Kravitz’s Blair into a threesome, get old real quick. Others that start off relatively funny, Paul W. Downs as Jess’ fiancé who has a group of boring friends, go off on tangents that ruin aspects that might’ve been great.

As a result, Rough Night seems muddled and lacks comedic wit. Jillian Bell and Kate McKinnon do their very best to occasionally inject life into the flat tone, but they can only do so much. Even with decent chemistry between the cast and a few partially endearing moments, this movie is far too much of a mess to fully enjoy.

FINAL GRADE: D

Baby Driver (Full Review)

Fast and the Furious can be an acquired taste, but if there’s something we can all agree on, it’s that fast cars are entertaining as hell. Edgar Wright, the man behind Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, seems to have grasped that concept pretty well and manufactured it into a sleek heist film. In this summer filled with sequels, adaptations, and reboots, Wright refreshingly injects a film with exhilarating summer action, a great cast, and some catchy tunes.

Baby_Driver_posterBaby Driver stars Ansel Elgort as Baby, a skilled getaway driver who uses music to drown out a condition leftover from an accident that killed his parents. After falling for a diner waitress named Debora (Lily James), Baby desires a life free of car chases and shootouts. But to gain his freedom, he’ll have to outsmart his blackmailing boss Doc (Kevin Spacey), and his collection of loose cannon associates Bats (Jamie Foxx), Buddy (Jon Hamm,) and Darling (Eiza Gonzalez).

Everything about Baby Driver is stylish and fun. The action sequences, which the film wastes no time getting into, are ridiculously exhilarating thanks to some jaw dropping stunt work. The music is an eclectic, but fitting mix of rock n’ roll and hip hop songs blended from different eras. Perhaps the most captivating, is how Wright incorporates the music into his cinematography, often synchronizing beats with the swift movements onscreen.

But while it can be entertaining, a movie can’t be truly great off of action, music, and cinematography alone. Wright’s story is well crafted and endearing. Though the characters seem simple, the charm of Elgort and Lily James helps us buy into the starry eyed romance between Baby and Debora. Meanwhile, Foxx, Hamm, Gonzalez, and even Jon Bernthal in a small role, all do their best to steal each scene they’re in as the wickedly charismatic band of degenerate thieves. Kevin Spacey effectively makes it all come together with his slick portrayal of the group’s ring leader.

Baby Driver moves at a pace that is swift but never difficult to follow. If you aren’t hooked by the opening scene, then this simply isn’t for you. As for me, I found it to be the most exciting thrill ride of the summer and maybe of 2017.

FINAL GRADE: A