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

Advertisements

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

IT (Full Review)

You can count on one hand the amount of horror films I’ve reviewed. That’s because, to me, the genre has become hellishly stale. Jump scares accompanied by long gaps of mediocre character building simply doesn’t interest me anymore, and rather than paste that opinion on every horror review I do, I simply just ignore them. But there’s something intriguing about scary movies where kids are the stars. Unlike the films with adults as the leads, these stories are more likely to be void of the asinine decision making that often plagues the genre. IT, a remake of the classic Stephen King novel and film, is a perfect example of how much more interesting a film can be when you’re actually latched on to the pieces involved.

It_(2017)_logoIT begins with a boy and his brother. Stuttering teen, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) makes a toy boat for his little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) that ends up floating into a gutter on a rainy day and bringing him into contact with creepy Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgard). One year later, Bill and his band of bullied friends known as the Losers Club (Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Jack Dylan Grazer, Chosen Jacobs) begin searching for Georgie and the other kids that have gone missing in their town which brings them face to face with the evil personification of fear itself.

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. There’s an evident touch of heart to this film that makes its message of getting over loss and facing fears wholly relatable.

Aesthetically there is a lot to love about the film as well. The effects and scares are done without much hokey CGI and makes the movie feel more tangible like the 80’s horror flicks of old. Skarsgard’s performance as Pennywise the Clown is also magnetic. The entity itself probably won’t scare any full grown adults who aren’t afraid of clowns, but the portrayal moves and speaks with a subtle eeriness that would be undeniably terrifying if you switched places with any of the teenagers involved.

Our desensitization to the genre, thanks to the over saturation of horror films, may make the scares relatively weak for many. If I were in my early teens watching it, the film would probably give me nightmares for life, but even as an adult the movie garners appreciation for its tactics. 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. No matter how irrational it may be, fear is incredibly encompassing and running from it only makes it stronger and this concept comes across in full force making for an entertaining journey whether it scares you or not.

FINAL GRADE: A

Ingrid Goes West (Full Review)

September isn’t exactly a month that begets movie going. It’s pretty much the month where everyone focuses on the beginning of football season. But if you’re willing to search for a gem, there is always some lower budget film with a solid cast that can catch your eye and hold your attention. For September 2017, that movie is Ingrid Goes West.

Ingrid_Goes_WestAubrey Plaza, who produced the film, stars as Ingrid, a neurotic millennial fresh out of a mental institution after pepper spraying a presumed friend who failed to invite her to her wedding. When she inherits thousands of dollars from her deceased mother, Ingrid decides to move to California for a fresh start. There she begins stalking an Instagram socialite named Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen) with a seemingly perfect life. But after entering Taylor’s circle, Taylor’s tool of a brother (Billy Magnussen) threatens to unearth Ingrid’s unhinged ways and ruin her newfound friendship.

Nearly all of the characters in this black comedy are hard to find favorable. Ingrid is despondent, creepy, and willing to go through anything to be likable no matter how self-destructive. Olsen’s Taylor and her Californian friends and family are all either insufferably shallow or grotesquely pretentious. But the performances are the driving force that help prove the film’s point. Plaza’s grounded portrayal as the mentally unstable Ingrid feels tragically real in today’s social media obsessed society that places influence on appearances.

The heart and soul of the film ends up being the surprising romance between Ingrid and her Batman obsessed land lord (O’Shea Jackson Jr.). Jackson Jr., in his first major role since Straight Outta Compton, has organic chemistry in every scene with Plaza. The two characters unexpectedly coming to love and understand one another is what pushes this film to being enjoyable and not just an uncomfortable testament to our own society’s scary narcissism.

FINAL GRADE: B

 

 

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

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