The Shape of Water (Full Review)

You can always recognize a Guillermo Del Toro film. The acclaimed director of HellBoy and Pan’s Labyrinth always carries a special aesthetic that usually involves unique creatures and gothic cinematography. His latest film, The Shape of Water, is a pleasant reminder of the charm he is also capable of bringing to his iconic brand of filmmaking.

The_Shape_of_Water_(film)The Shape of Water tells the story of Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute woman in the 1960’s who lives above a movie theater and works janitorial night shifts at a secret government facility. When a South American humanoid is brought to the facility by a malevolent government agent (Michael Shannon), Elisa befriends and eventually falls in love with the amphibian-like creature (Doug Jones). With the help of her neighbor (Richard Jenkins), her coworker (Octavia Spencer) and an undercover Russian scientist (Michael Stuhlbarg), she embarks on a plan to help the creature, known as ‘The Asset”, escape.

A movie that teeters on being about bestiality certainly can be categorized as an odd film. But Del Toro’s story never manages to let its bizarre romance subvert its charm. Despite using only sign language, Sally Hawkins delivers a wholesome performance and makes her character’s unusual attraction to The Asset feel holistically human and genuine. Adding to the allure of the story is the supporting cast. Richard Jenkins is wonderful as Elisa’s artist neighbor who struggles with his sexuality while also trying to manage his friend’s dangerous ambition. Octavia Spencer works as the perfect companion and provides wonderful comedic timing as Elisa’s motor mouthed best friend.

Michael Shannon’s performance as the film’s villain is perhaps the greatest triumph of the film. His grotesque personality is accentuated with astute, yet subtle character development that makes him magnetic on screen even if you’re supposed to hate him. With hardly a dull moment, The Shape of Water manages to be a modern fairy tale that coupled with a sound score and gorgeous cinematography is a film easy to enjoy despite its many bizarre moments.

FINAL GRADE: B

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My Least Favorite Films of 2017

Each year I sort of change the nature of this list. That’s mostly due to the fact that there are so many universally panned movies that I never get around to watching. So instead of calling this the Worst Movies of 2017, I’ll stick to calling it my least favorite movies of the year. 2017 threw a lot of lousy, unnecessary films our way, and here are ten that each made me cringe in their own special way. To see the full review, click on the title and feel free to let me know which movies made your worst list for 2017.

10. Baywatch

“The film wants to be an action movie just as much as it wants to be a comedy and seems to operate as if its sequences are actually intensely thrilling. But the entire time it just feels like you’re being told a boring story that might be more interesting if you were a lifeguard.”

9. Pitch Perfect 3

“The plot to this film is scraping the bottom of the barrel so much that they’re getting nothing but wooden shards. None of it is interesting or compelling.”

8. A Bad Mom’s Christmas

“… seems like it was filmed in a day, with the story following a predictable arc and many of the scenes being nonsensical filler.”

7. The Mummy

“… this Mummy reboot is just a soulless attempt to cash in on the hottest Hollywood trend without actually doing anything to make you care about any of it.”

6. Rough Night

“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.”

5. Flatliners

The movie spends half of its time introducing the characters who are mostly insufferable… when things go south, you almost want all of them to get offed.”

4. The Emoji Movie

“Filled with enough bad puns to make a 90’s action movie director cringe, The Emoji Movie is relatively short on laughs… When it isn’t failing at puns and sight gags, the movie is trying its best to make social commentary that also falls flat.”

3. The Circle

“Emma Watson gives her worst performance since childhood as she spends most of the movie poorly hiding her accent and trying to find the correct emotional footing through an uneven script… The Circle ends up like an uneven equation. It raises questions then responds with an answer to one that was never asked.”

2. Unforgettable

“Another film about a crazy love triangle that ends in a same sex brawl at the end… the movie plays out exactly how you’d expect it without a single thread veering into anything truly suspenseful all the way into a laughable ending.”

1. Transformers: The Last Knight

“At this point, Michael Bay directing Transformers films is like that friend of yours at the party who was drunk hours ago but keeps tossing back shots… At a certain point, there isn’t any reason to care about any of the story… by the time you actually get through the two hours of bull crap and get to the climactic battle, you just feel exhausted.”

Dishonorable Mention: The Lego Ninjago Movie, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

The Moore Reviews Top 10 Movies of 2017

Another year has come and gone. To everyone who has liked, shared, or read my reviews this year, you are the reason I stay up late nights to right these reviews and I can’t thank you enough! I didn’t get around to watching every movie this year, but of the over 70 films I caught in theaters, these were the ones that stood out the most. To see the full review, click on the title. Feel free to let me know what movies were your favorite of 2017. Happy New Year and cheers to 2018 giving us even greater films.

10. GET OUT

“Within minutes of watching the film, the first thing that came to my mind were the works of famed horror director Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock’s films like Psycho, Vertigo, and Birds were creepy simply because of subject matter, subtle allegory, and some brilliant camera work. Get Out checks off all of those boxes with precision… Every ounce of dialogue, every shot, every scene holds purpose.”

 9. IT

“Anyone who was captivated by the Netflix series Stranger Things will absolutely enjoy It. The camaraderie of the teen protagonists is almost identical and the film does a sensational job of making each character necessary to the story….  Sometimes instead of scaring the audience, a horror film can be worthwhile because you can feel the fear in the characters and this remake of It manages to be an emotionally grounded and smile inducing adventure.”

8. SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING

“… in many ways, the story that Spider-Man: Homecoming comes up with manages to be arguably the character’s most definitive one… 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.”

7. BLADE RUNNER 2049

“What the film lacks in suspense and action it makes up for in spectacular visuals and suave and swift performances… Aside from maintaining the sound and visual elements that made the 1982 film such a cult classic, Blade Runner 2049 manages to improve on the franchise’s lore with a more invigorating story and enthralling new characters.”

6. WONDER

“The drama that encompasses the story and the attention given to the supporting characters makes Wonder feel like something wholly realistic and true. It is a story perfect for people of all ages and if watching it doesn’t give you hope and a sense of love for the strength and capacity of the human spirit, then I don’t know what will.”

5. FREE FIRE

“Almost every line is filled with sly humor and relevancy. And every time the story seems as if it’s going to lull, a new twist sparks even more hilarious chaos… Free Fire never feels too long or uninteresting. It plays out like a giant game of Russian roulette and by the time the climax rolls around, you’ll be glad you watched it all unfold.”

4. COCO

Coco is nothing short of a marvel of storytelling. Like many of the Pixar films, the story is a brilliantly paced adventure with the appropriate touch of heart and Disney fairy tale magic… Coco succeeds in delivering its message with near tear inducing effectiveness and also deserves the utmost credit for being true to the heritage and culture of its setting.”

3. THE DISASTER ARTIST

“The film is bursting with charm thanks in large part to the two leads… Budding with marquee actors in supporting roles The Disaster Artist moves at a steady comedic pace that drives home the sense of uncanny humor and heart that both (Tommy) Wiseau and his terrible film (The Room) possess.

2. LOGAN

“The action sequences are gory, intense entertainment. But the family dynamic is undoubtedly the best part of Logan… What Director James Mangold and Hugh Jackman have created is a gritty, deeply earnest sendoff to an iconic character that is nothing short of a masterpiece.”

1. BABY DRIVER

“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… 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.”

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS: The Lego Batman Movie, Wonder Woman, John Wick 2, Girls Trip, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Power Rangers, Split

 

 

Pitch Perfect 3 (Full Review)

It wasn’t just girl power that made Pitch Perfect a success back in 2012. Quirky characters, witty humor, and some melodic A Cappella singing made the breakout hit a creative and fun film for any fan of young adult comedies. But Hollywood has always had a problem at quitting while they’re ahead (*cough* Transformers). When I saw Pitch Perfect 2, I had a bad feeling that this ride may have hit its peak. After watching the third installment in the series, it’s clear that this franchise has run dry.

Pitch_Perfect_3Pitch Perfect 3 reunites Beca (Anna Kendrick), Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), and Chloe (Brittany Snow) with the rest of the members of the collegiate A Cappella group the Barden Bellas (Anna Camp, Ester Dean, Hana Mae Lee, Chrissie Fit). Despite most of them having pretty successful careers and being in their 20’s, the Bellas are going through a bit of a millennial mid-life crisis which leads them to join a USO traveling tour for one last hurrah where they must compete with bands who don’t sing covers.

The plot to this film is scraping the bottom of the barrel so much that they’re getting nothing but wooden shards. None of it, from the flat romantic arcs to the lackluster competition, is interesting or compelling. The Bellas rival, a band of unnecessarily rude women called Evermoist… yes Evermoist…  is more annoying than threatening. The subplots are even more left field. A side story involving Fat Amy’s drug smuggling father (John Lithgow using a horrible Australian accent) is downright insufferable. It unnecessarily interjects mindless action sequences and an irrelevant rescue mission into the story that seems to only succeed in making the movie long enough to qualify as a movie and not a DVD extra.

The music is enjoyable, specifically an early rendition of Sit Still, Look Pretty by Daya performed by Hailee Steinfield and the new Barden Bellas.  But the unusually off the wall antics make the musical moments far more difficult to remember. No one asked for or needed CGI explosions and stunts in a Pitch Perfect movie. It’s just dumb and distracting and it takes away from what audiences really come for which is the singing and the camaraderie between the characters. If you’re really keen on seeing this movie, you’re better off renting it and fast forwarding to the musical parts. Thus, it gets the same grade I would’ve given a film with similar sentiments: You Got Served

FINAL GRADE: D

The Greatest Showman (Full Review)

Musicals aren’t for everyone. But I’ve been a fan of the genre since my younger days of watching Disney animated films on repeat. Great music can make a good film even greater, adding emotion and a little flare to what might normally be a bland story. The Greatest Showman, directed by newcomer Matt Gracey, features original music written by the minds behind 2016 musical hit, La La Land.

The_Greatest_Showman_posterHugh Jackman stars as P.T. Barnum, the founder of the famous Barnum and Bailey Circus which was established in 1871. Struggling to keep a job that will give his family a better life than his, Barnum sets out and recruits a host of unique individuals to form his New York circus. With the support of his loving wife (Michelle Williams), Barnum’s circus becomes a hit, with backlash from theater critics and high society threatening to damage his legacy along the way.

Virtually every cast member in The Greatest Showman is phenomenal. Jackman, who is no stranger to musical theater, triumphs vocally and emotionally in the lead role. The subplots of the supporting cast mostly hold equal weight and feel well in tune with the overarching narrative. Zac Efron stars as Barnum’s partner Phillip Carlyle, a playwright who forms a forbidden romance with a black trapeze artist (Zendaya). Keala Settle brings soulful vocals and wholesome charm as Lettie Lutz, the bearded lady. Even Rebecca Ferguson, who clearly borrows another voice for her character’s powerful vocals, entices as a famous Swedish singer who falls for Barnum.

But this is Matt Gracey’s first time directing a feature length film, and at times it is very noticeable. The film is often bogged down by rushed exposition and a few noticeable takes of poor editing. Sam Humphrey’s dwarf performer Charles Stratton seems to move awkwardly as if his legs are superimposed. His speaking voice also seems falsified, an unfortunate trend throughout the film. The music is certainly always splendid, but the obvious lip sync in a few scenes is somewhat cringeworthy to watch.

Despite the editing flaws and occasional narrative lulls, the interesting characters and brilliant music make the film easier to enjoy. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the songwriting duo behind La La Land, outdo themselves with this soundtrack. Here their musical style seamlessly molds a mix of genres like gospel and pop with a rich Broadway boldness that never manages to feel out of place in the 19th century setting. Coupled with fun choreography and some incredible visuals and set pieces, The Greatest Showman should be a delight to fans of the genre and absolutely avoidable for those that aren’t.

FINAL GRADE: B

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (Full Review)

If you grew up in the 90’s, odds are you remember Jumanji, the movie about a jungle themed board game being brought to life. Starring the late great Robin Williams, this movie has become a classic fun family film. But nothing is sacred in Hollywood. So you had to know it was only a matter of time before someone reentered the world of Jumanji whether you want it or not.

Jumanji_Welcome_to_the_JungleJumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is technically a distant sequel. Taking place years after the original, this time the board game has magically changed into a video game. After a nerd (Alex Wolff), a jock (Ser’Darius Blain), a popular snob (Madison Iseman), and a quiet loner (Morgan Turner) get detention and discover the Jumanji game, they are sucked inside where the nerd becomes the macho hero (Dwayne Johnson), the jock becomes the diminutive sidekick (Kevin Hart), the quiet loner becomes the sexy bad ass (Karen Gillan), and the popular girl becomes a tubby old male archaeologist (Jack Black). To escape the game, they’ll need to get assistance from a pilot (Nick Jonas) and defeat a villain with the ability to control animals (Bobby Cannavale).

If you’re going to revitalize an old, popular property you can go one of two ways: Do the exact same thing over again or try something new. Welcome to the Jungle does more of the latter and it makes the film much more successful. This movie doesn’t try to be anything like the original, instead focusing more on the gimmick of being set in an adventure video game while keeping the same family fun tone.

The cast is what makes the movie a thoroughly entertaining experience. Johnson, Hart, and Black are all equally hilarious and play their roles well. They take turns owning each scene with some memorable physical comedy. The one weak link is Gillan, who is understandably a bit out of her element in a comedy. The younger cast isn’t terrible, but they aren’t on screen long enough to come off as anything more than stereotypes.

There are a few cheesy moments and the story is basically void of any real twists or turns, but the action is popcorn movie good and the laughs are heavy. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle ends up being a movie worth a watch with moments that resonate well after its viewing. If you disassociate it with the original, it becomes that much more enjoyable and it could easily be just as memorable for a new generation of younger viewers.

FINAL GRADE: B

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Spoiler-Free Review)

I thoroughly enjoyed The Force Awakens. It was a fun and exciting revitalization of the Star Wars franchise that brought interesting new characters along with some solid nostalgia. But J.J. Abrams’ Episode VII did have one predominant flaw in that it was far too much like the original Star Wars film. But fear not die-hard and casual Star Wars fans, new director Rian Johnson (Looper, The Brothers Bloom) brings a follow up that is unique and full of some of the series’ biggest narrative risks.

Star_Wars_The_Last_JediEpisode VIII: The Last Jedi picks up right where its predecessor left off. The resistance, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), hotheaded pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and enemy defector Finn (John Boyega) continues in its struggle to overthrow the oppressive First Order, led by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), and Leia’s own son Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Meanwhile, newly force sensitive Rey (Daisy Ridley) encounters Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on a remote planet in hopes that she can be trained as a Jedi knight and convince Skywalker to end his self appointed exile and aid the resistance.

As mentioned earlier, The Last Jedi succeeds in taking chances with the directions of its characters and presenting a narrative that is nothing like any Star Wars film before. The intense and emotional action keeps things constantly entertaining and provides several jaw dropping sequences sure to make fans of the genre giddy. The climax, which features gorgeous imagery and a few notable duels, is an absolute marvel. The movie also manages to answer most of the questions raised by The Force Awakens, making the non action heavy sequences feel just as suspenseful.

But alas, The Last Jedi isn’t without its flaws. Star Wars is already bursting with characters and yet the filmmakers felt the need to add several more. Many of the new characters, like Laura Dern’s Admiral Holdo and Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico are superfluous, albeit interesting, additions, but others like Benicio Del Toro’s eccentric hacker, ‘DJ’, feel  almost completely unnecessary. The host of new faces often makes characters like Boyega’s Finn feel less important to the overarching plot. The movie also drags on a bit too long, clocking in at a very noticeable two and a half hours with a few scenes, particularly in the middle, feeling like they could’ve been drastically shortened or completely left out.

The special effects also feel like a bit of a downgrade with many of the practical effects gone with J.J. Abrams and replaced with heavy CGI. Not to say that the film doesn’t still have some grand sets and wonderful costumes, but many sequences reminded me of the clunky, intangible visuals of the prequels. Much of the humor in the film is also marginally successful with many gimmicks and quips feeling a bit out of place for a Star Wars movie.

But despite its nitpicks, The Last Jedi is one of the best Star Wars films to date, because there are simply too many things to love about it. The revealed secrets and character development of Rey and Kylo Ren are intensely captivating. The chemistry between Leia and Poe Dameron feels as genuine as a mother and son. And if The Force Awakens belonged to Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, The Last Jedi absolutely belongs to Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker making his brief appearance in the previous installment worth the wait. The iconic jedi’s bold arc is the bedrock of the film, and Hamill’s sensational performance lays the groundwork for this undeniably unforgettable sci-fi adventure.

FINAL GRADE: B

 

 

 

The Disaster Artist (Full Review)

If you’ve never seen Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 film The Room, then you should really treat yourself. It is a masterpiece of poor acting, terrible writing, inept editing, and lousy production value. Oddly enough, those same qualities are what make it one of the most rewatchable movies of all time and has helped it gain a cult following since its release. The Disaster Artist is the bizarre but heartfelt story of the making of the famous “best bad movie ever made”.

TheDisastorArtistTeaserPosterDave Franco plays struggling actor Greg Sestero, the man who also wrote the book that this film is based on. While attending acting classes in San Francisco, Sestero meets and befriends the eccentric Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) who convinces him to move to Los Angeles so they can both pursue their acting dreams. When they continue to struggle to become major Hollywood stars, Wiseau decides to write, direct, and star in The Room despite not knowing the first thing about filmmaking. With Sestero uncomfortably along for the ride as his co-star, Wiseau sets out on a disastrous production path that threatens to damage his friendship with Sestero.

The film is bursting with charm thanks in large part to the two leads. It’s no surprise that James and Dave Franco have great chemistry (they are brothers after all), but the two actors fall beautifully into their roles. James Franco is easily the most notable, with a transcendent performance that  completely embodies both Wiseau’s odd mannerisms and personality.

Budding with marquee actors in supporting roles (Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Alison Brie, Paul Scheer) and some hilarious cameos from a few A-listers like Zac Efron and Bryan Cranston, The Disaster Artist moves at a steady comedic pace that drives home the sense of uncanny humor and heart that both Wiseau and his terrible film possess. The end product is a hilarious tale of friendship that illustrates the beauty and danger of never giving up on a dream. And everyone involved, including the real life Tommy Wiseau, deserves a standing ovation.

FINAL GRADE: A

Coco (Full Review)

No one brings grown men to tears like Pixar. Up, WALL-E, Inside Out, any Toy Story movie… those are just a few of the instant classic films that the Disney owned studio has created. Their newest film, Coco, is another example of their ability to create emotional, yet fun animated, family entertainment.

Coco_(2017_film)_posterCoco is the story of a young Mexican boy named Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) who loves music and has dreams of becoming a famous musician. But Miguel is forbidden to play or even listen to music due to his great great grandfather walking out on the family to pursue life as a musician. So, his great great grandmother Imelda (Alanna Ubach) instilled a generational hatred for music that keeps Miguel from following his dreams.

But on Dia De Muertos, a holiday when deceased ancestors visit their living relatives, Miguel discovers that his great great grandfather was a famous musician named Ernesto De La Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) and decides to sneak into his grave site and steal his unique guitar to perform at a talent show. The act of thievery traps him in the land of the dead where he must travel to find Ernesto before the holiday is over or be trapped forever. Helping him on his journey, is a trickster named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) who needs Miguel’s help to preserve his memory in the living world less he cease to exist.

Coco is nothing short of a marvel of storytelling. Like many of the Pixar films, the story is a brilliantly paced adventure with the appropriate touch of heart and Disney fairy tale magic. Though as hard headed as he is brave, Miguel is a character that is easy for audiences to gravitate toward and his companion Hector is charismatic and holds a backstory that is equally heartwarming. What stands out most about the perfectly crafted script, is that it allows each of its characters to grow so that by the end, Miguel learns the value of family, and the family feels genuinely apologetic about holding him back.

One of the greatest hallmarks of Pixar isn’t just its intricate storytelling, but also its attention to detail. Coco is even more visually stunning than Pixar’s greatest creations. The animators craft the land of the dead as a marvelous spectacle of light and sound. Little details like the texture of objects, the flowing of water, and the complex movements of fingers along a guitar make the environment feel as real as a live action film.

As a children’s film, it may not be as splendid for the youngest of viewers. There are a few eerie and dark aspects to the film, like murder, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise from a studio that has never shied away from the concept of sudden death before. There also aren’t as many heavy and memorable comedic moments as you’d find in some of the Pixar classics, but holding Coco to the standard of family films rather than Pixar greats makes it a sensational creation none the less. Coco succeeds in delivering its message with near tear inducing effectiveness and also deserves the utmost credit for being true to the heritage and culture of its setting.

FINAL GRADE: A

Murder on the Orient Express (Full Review)

Who doesn’t love a good murder mystery? This genre can be just as suspenseful as any action movie and just as emotional as any drama. And when at their best, murder mysteries can give us some amazing twists and turns. First published in 1934, Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie is one of the most iconic in the genre and makes for a compelling film adaptation.

Murder_on_the_Orient_Express_teaser_posterKenneth Branagh (Thor, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Cinderella) directs this film and plays the lead role of Inspector Hercule Poirot, the world’s greatest detective in 1934. After solving a case in Jerusalem, Poirot is invited by his train conductor friend (Tom Bateman) to take a vacation aboard the Orient Express. But his leisurely trip is cut short when a shady businessman (Johnny Depp) is murdered on the train. Among the suspects are the businessman’s secretary (Josh Gad), a rich divorcee (Michelle Pfeiffer), a doctor (Leslie Odom Jr.), a mysterious governess (Daisy Ridley), a stingy princess (Judi Dench) and her assistant (Olivia Colman), a deeply religious former nanny (Penelope Cruz), a racist German (Willem Dafoe), and a slew of other passengers with dirty secrets.

The film’s murder mystery aspect doesn’t disappoint. The clues are strategically relayed to the audience through the eyes of the wise and charismatic Poirot so that things never drag. Every so often, a new wrinkle is introduced to throw the audience off of the scent so that by the time the truth is revealed it feels genuinely surprising and exciting. Each cast member effectively does their part and their characters are each given enough flaws to make even the most likable a logical suspect.

Things aren’t all perfect. There is a ton of information thrown into the movie that at times make things difficult to follow. It also feels like there are a few too many suspects to keep up with. Some characters are underdeveloped and their arcs are tossed to the wayside making them feel wholly unnecessary except for a scene or two. The film’s narrative attempts to make some moral commentary that feels somewhat preachy by the climax, but overall it shouldn’t distract from a story that delivers on intrigue and suspense.

FINAL GRADE: B