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

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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

 

 

Wonder (Full Review)

I just recently got married. And of course, this logically leads to that inevitable annoying question: “When are you having kids?”. Parenting can be both an exciting and terrifying journey. Wonder, adapted from R.J. Palacio’s 2012 novel, is a nerve-racking, but beautiful illustration of just how nuanced that journey can be.

Wonder_(film)Wonder tells the story of a boy named Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) who was born facially disfigured. After years of spending time with his boisterous father (Owen Wilson) and being home schooled by his overprotective mother (Julia Roberts), Auggie is thrust into the fifth grade where he is forced to deal with the terrifying reality of making friends, bullying, and all that encompasses that of childhood social interaction. But it isn’t all about Auggie. His older sister (Izabela Vidovic) tries to deal with living without the full attention of her parents as well as the drifting away of her best friend (Danielle Rose Russell).

Wonder is the most heartwarming film of 2017. Tremblay is marvelously triumphant in the lead role and makes Auggie the kind and intelligent yet wholesome child every parent desires. The supporting cast also works wonders (pun intended). Julia Roberts gives heart and soul as Auggie’s mother and Owen Wilson brings his trademark exuberance and charm as Auggie’s dad. Their chemistry as a couple also gels without the slightest wrinkle. Younger actors can be hit or miss, but in Wonder, each supporting youngster (Bryce Gheisar, Noah Jupe, Elle McKinnon, Millie Davis) delivers each line with utter perfection.

Things can feel a bit too light and fluffy at times, but the drama that encompasses the story and the attention given to the supporting characters makes Wonder feel like something wholly realistic and true. Even characters you want to dislike are given depth that makes them relatable and their actions relatively understandable. 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.

FINAL GRADE: A

 

Justice League (Full Review)

Dreary, uninspired, and virtually tone deaf to the decades of phenomenal source material that came before it… the more you think about it, the more Batman v Superman feels like a train wreck. But Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman showed that DC and Warner Bros. has some footing. Now comes Justice League, the original super team of marquee heroes hoping to keep the DC Extended Universe from completely derailing.

Justice_League_film_posterFollowing the events of 2016’s Dawn of Justice, Justice League begins with Batman (Ben Affleck), his trusted butler Alfred (Jeremy Irons), and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) struggling to pick up the pieces following the death of Superman (Henry Cavill). When an alien god (Ciaran Hinds) who was once thwarted by Amazons and warriors from Atlantis returns to conquer Earth, Batman and Wonder Woman must recruit more metahumans to oppose him. Joining them are nerdy speedster Barry Allen aka The Flash (Ezra Miller), macho half-man, half Atlantian Arthur Curry aka the Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) a former football star who is fused with alien technology by his father (Joe Morton) after a near fatal accident. But to prevent the apocalypse, they’ll need to quickly gel as a team and find a way to resurrect the Man of Steel himself.

Justice League is by no means a polished movie. After an untimely and unfortunate exit from Director Zack Snyder, Avengers helmsmen Joss Whedon was brought in to finish the job. It is pretty noticeable in a few cringeworthy scenes where the reshoots and edits are glaringly obvious and out of place amidst the finished product. Not helping matters is the generic plot and somewhat rushed together opening act that attempts to pull together several characters never fully introduced on screen before.

But since when does having a flimsy plot make a superhero movie not entertaining? Audiences collectively gushed over Avengers even though it was about a random alien invasion bringing together a rag tag group just the same. And several of the touted Marvel films involve finding a magical mcguffin to thwart a megalomaniac. So the overarching narrative shouldn’t distract from the excitement when the tone is balanced, the action is intense, and the chemistry between characters works.

Justice League succeeds in the most important aspects of the genre. The chemistry between the heroes works wonderfully without compromising the more serious tone of the established universe. Affleck is brooding, but slyly exuberant and more balanced as Batman this time around. Fisher brings toughness and soul as Cyborg. Miller and Momoa are both boyishly comical in their roles and Gal Gadot is just as sophisticated and elegant as she’s been in every role as the Amazon warrior. Even Henry Cavill’s Superman, who swoops in as the team’s resident cheat code in the climax (it’s not that big of a spoiler. Trust me), manages to feel like a welcomed fit amongst the group. His charming boy scout routine works well in its small dose and manages to elevate another dull showing by Amy Adams as Lois Lane.

The action, though heavy on the CGI, is well paced and exhilarating with each team member getting a moment to flex their muscle. Several sequences, including one involving Connie Nielsen and the Amazons from Wonder Woman, are downright show stoppers. More importantly, characters finally feel true to their comic cores, so DC fan boys who have been waiting for the big screen films to be as engaging as the studio’s animated properties will have enough to feel satisfied. So while Justice League doesn’t break any new narrative ground and may only be wholly memorable to comic purists, it succeeds in rectifying the wrongs of Batman v Superman and showing that the DCEU does know how to put something fun together without completely losing its knack for spectacle and an emotional foundation.

FINAL GRADE: B

A Bad Moms Christmas (Full Review)

This year’s obligatory Christmas film that releases the day after Halloween is A Bad Moms Christmas. 2016’s Bad Moms was a wholehearted tribute to mom’s everywhere. And even though many of its raunchy jokes failed to land and its script often felt cartoonish, a solid cast with good chemistry helped it get its point across. But that doesn’t mean there’s more story to be told with these characters.

BadMomsChristmasA Bad Moms Christmas once again follows the lives of three middle-aged mothers whose individual crazy mothers come to visit them for the holidays and threaten to ruin their planned stress free Christmas. Amy (Mila Kunis)’s relationship with her snooty, overbearing mother (Christine Baranski) threatens to drive a wedge between her and her kids on the first holiday since her divorce. Sweet and docile Kiki (Kristen Bell) must find a way to tell her clingy, widowed mother (Cheryl Hines) to give her space . Meanwhile, resident bad girl Carla (Kathryn Hahn) just hopes her gambling, vagabond, mooch of a mother (Susan Sarandon) will stick around.

The first Bad Moms is hardly a year past its release, and the short time table between films is pretty noticeable in the script for this sequel. A Bad Moms Christmas seems like it was filmed in a day, with the story following a predictable arc and many of the scenes being nonsensical filler. The rushed execution also tends to rely on raunchy potty humor and foul language to get the audience laughing more than comedic timing. As a result, despite having some touch of endearment, this watered down continuation may be a fun romp for die hard mom’s who loved the first film, but anyone who expects anything better, or even something memorable, will be sorely disappointed.

FINAL GRADE: D

Thor: Ragnarok (Spoiler Free Review)

The Thor films have always been the weak link of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The first movie about the God of Thunder was bogged down by hokey human characters and a setting that skimped on the action. Thor: The Dark World was a somewhat forgettable romp with one of superhero cinema’s weakest villains. But one thing the Thor films have always had, is two great lead characters with a compelling arc. Leaving Earth behind for a new adventure, Thor: Ragnarok reunites Thor and Loki and hopes to give them a story that leaves a memorable mark on the MCU.

Thor_Ragnarok_posterRagnarok finds Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Prince of Asgard and God of Thunder, searching for his displaced father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) whose throne was stolen by Thor’s mischievous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). But finding their father quickly brings them into contact with Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death who proves to be too powerful for the two of them. Banished to a junk yard planet ruled by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), Thor’s only hope of stopping Hela is to ally with a disgraced former Asgardian warrior (Tessa Thompson) and defeat the Grandmaster’s greatest warrior… who just happens to be Thor’s old ally, The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).

Ragnarok is certainly the most entertaining of the Thor films. It paces well and there are tons of CGI filled action sequences that make for good ‘turn your brain off and watch’ fun. New director, Taika Waititi, also infuses this latest entry with loads of colorful imagery and brilliant costumes and set pieces to create a world that make the previous films in the trilogy feel a bit bland by comparison.

But the story itself is no more intelligent or enlightening than any other Thor movie. The plot, which has elements of an epic and dark apocalyptic core, falters thanks to the hordes of new characters who take turns being utter buffoons. The cartoonish tone does deliver some laugh out loud moments, but seemingly spends every available minute trying to make the audience laugh which gets irritating once you take the overarching plot into consideration.

Even characters that should be grittier, severely emotionally grounded, and enticing throughout are weighed down by disjointed wacky moments. Tessa Thompson’s drunken Valkyrie is introduced in a way that makes it hard to take her seriously until the film’s latter half while Blanchett’s delightfully sinister Hela is brushed aside in favor of Goldblum’s clownish Grandmaster. So even though characters like the Grandmaster are occasionally funny, their antics make light of serious stakes.

Ragnarok is certainly ‘fun’, but a movie about the Asgardian apocalypse that features the deaths of several characters in the Thor mythos, probably deserves to be taken more seriously. No one wants another dreary Batman v Superman, but there’s a such thing as a happy medium. Someone needs to tell Marvel that it’s okay to have characters who don’t make the audience chuckle.  When everyone is a comedian, the stakes don’t seem so threatening and when the jokes don’t land, the whole exercise feels corny. Things are smoothed over by nice psychedelic visuals, fine chemistry between the cast, and a few endearing moments between Hiddleston and Hemsworth whose brotherly dynamic has become the only reason to pay attention to Thor. But it’s still irksome that to make Thor appeasing to the masses, they had to turn it into Guardians of the Galaxy 3.

FINAL GRADE: C

A = Must See/Top 10 Nominee

B = Good film. Flawed, but still very entertaining

C = Not Bad, but highly flawed/Probably better off waiting for Redbox

D = Terrible Movie with a few redeeming qualities

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

Blade Runner 2049 (Full Review)

Wine isn’t for everybody. While some find it to be a pleasant, and bold tasting elixir that soothes the soul, others find it bitter and unsatisfying. The original 1982 Blade Runner starring Harrison Ford and directed by Ridley Scott was a technical masterpiece and a pillar for neo-noir science fiction. It is also an acquired taste. While the film gave us striking imagery and thought provoking undertones, some just couldn’t get passed the melancholy pacing. But like a fine wine, to me the original gets better with age. And over three decades later, Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario, Arrival), delivers a sequel that provokes the same sentiments.

Blade_Runner_2049_logoTo understand this sequel, it is inherently necessary to be somewhat familiar with the original film adapted from Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel. The world of Blade Runner is mostly a grim wasteland and artificial humans known as replicants are used as slave labor to keep society afloat. These replicants mostly serve their constructed purposes with obedience, but when they do go off the rails, they are hunted down and “retired” by cops nicknamed blade runners.

Blade Runner 2049 picks up 30 years after the events of the first film, when blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) was charged with retiring five replicants but ended up falling in love with one and disappearing with her. Replicants are now being made by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) to be much more subservient to the extent that replicants like Officer K (Ryan Gosling) are even being used as blade runners to hunt their own kind. When retiring a rogue replicant (Dave Bautista) leads to a shocking revelation, K is forced by his superior, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), to carry out a secret mission that could alter the fabric of society if he fails.

Like in the first, this film often moves at a dreary, sluggish pace that could be mind numbingly boring for some. But that isn’t something that should deter anyone who has ever sat down and enjoyed classic noir film’s like Casablanca or Taxi Driver. What the film lacks in suspense and action it makes up for in spectacular visuals and suave and swift performances. In those regards, Blade Runner 2049 actually manages to be even better than its predecessor.

The complexity that comes with the primary protagonist being a replicant himself adds tremendous tension to the plot. His interactions with members of both parties, as well as his struggles to understand his own humanity are gorgeously illustrated by his romantic relationship to an artificial intelligence named Joi (Ana De Armas) as well as his banter with Harrison Ford’s grizzly old Deckard. And just because the pacing tends to lull doesn’t mean the film isn’t void of some gripping action sequences. A climactic battle between K and Niander Wallace’s intimidating henchwoman, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), is wonderfully executed and stunningly filmed.

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. It is sure to bore some, but anyone with appreciation for the first will be undeniably impressed with this more than worthy successor.

FINAL GRADE: A

Flatliners (2017) Full Review

What happens when scientists look for evidence of the afterlife? It’s a fascinating concept, if only because humans have a tendency to not trust things until they’ve experienced them on a personal level. But if you’re coming to Flatliners for eerie, hypothetical answers to the aforementioned question, keep on searching because this film is basically a cheesy horror film disguising itself as something deeper.

Flatliners_(2017)A remake of an early 90’s film, this Flatliners stars Ellen Page as Courtney, a medical student who seeks to connect with the afterlife after her sister dies in a car accident. With the help of her colleagues (Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton, Kiersey Clemons), she embarks on an experiment to die and be resurrected. Despite gaining knowledge and clarity, their quest for the great beyond eventually has side effects that lead them down a dark path.

The movie spends half of its time introducing the characters who are mostly insufferable. James Norton’s Jamie is obnoxious while all of the female characters are either selfish or naively short sighted. Believing that any of them could be medical professionals is the real horror of the film. In fact, when things go south, you almost want all of them to get offed.

The horror does eventually come along and for a moment, the jump scares and eerie imagery is a bit exciting. But it all comes so fast and is resolved so easily, that the payoff isn’t worth the buildup. If you want an existential lesson on not crossing the line between life and death, you’ll be disappointed because the film drops that concept by the way side as soon as it focuses on trying to frighten the audience. Instead, you’ll get what feels like a lengthy B-movie that ends with an after school special lesson on owning up to your past mistakes.

FINAL GRADE: D

Mother! (Full Review)

Have you ever been forced to be around an awkward conversation that has nothing to do with you. Like being on a bus next to a couple and one of them is about to get dumped, you can tell everything is slowly going south but you can’t remove yourself from the area so you just have to sit there and uncomfortably take it all in. If you’ve made it through something like that, then you can make it through Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!

Mother!2017Mother! Is a really, really, abstract film. This should come as no surprise coming from the man who also directed Black Swan and The Fountain. Jennifer Lawrence plays the wife of a writer (Javier Bardem) who is supporting her husband through a stint of writer’s block by helping refurbish his old home. Their tranquil life of solitude is interrupted when the writer allows a doctor (Ed Harris) and his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) to stay in their home.

While it markets itself as something eerie and suspenseful, it’s actually more like an art film with dark undertones. The first two thirds play out like a melancholy stage play with the most tense moments coming from the sheer vagueness of the movie’s intensions. In its final act, however, the film undergoes  a complete shift in tone that brings intense clarity.

But when I say ‘intense’ in reference to the movie’s final act, I mean overwhelming more than exciting. After seemingly wandering around without concrete purpose, the conclusion brings its intentions with the subtlety of Donald Trump with a bullhorn. There is a ton of metaphorical meaning to it all with different interpretations, some that could offend, some that could disgust, some that could inspire, and some that could just flat out depress. It’s hard to call Mother! a bad film, as artistically it deserves credit for its cinematography and metaphorical nuance. But it’s equally as difficult to call something so dreary enjoyable.

FINAL GRADE: C