The Hitman’s Bodyguard (Full Review)

There are few actors with the comedic exuberance of Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson. Putting the two personalities on the same screen and giving them guns and cars sounds like a match made in buddy cop genre heaven. Even with a B-movie drop back, when two actors have the right chemistry, it doesn’t take much to be entertained.

220px-HitmansBodyguardIn The Hitman’s Bodyguard Reynolds plays Michael Bryce, a topflight bodyguard whose career takes a tumble after one of his shady, high profile clients is killed under his watch. Two years later he is summoned by his Interpol Agent Ex-girlfriend (Elodie Yung) to protect incarcerated hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson). Kincaid has made a deal with Interpol that will free his wife (Salma Hayek) from prison if he can make it across Europe to testify against a ruthless dictator (Gary Oldman) who wants him dead.

Production value seems to be the film’s biggest flaw as it carries itself like a B-movie from its stock music to its occasionally flimsy use of green screen. The story is also carried out with few surprises and although Gary Oldman is a phenomenal actor, his villain is grossly underutilized. But if you’re coming to see an action movie with Ryan Reynolds and Sam Jackson, should plot and ambiance really be your number one priority?

The dynamic between the two leads works just as well as you’d hope it would. So even though the script doesn’t do anything otherworldly, it succeeds in letting both actors be themselves. With Reynolds being snarky and passive aggressive, and Jackson a foul mouthed loose cannon, the film strikes the perfect comedic chord to keep the film thoroughly entertaining even through a relatively generic two hours of over the top action sequences.

Credit is also deserved for making the two leads more than just comedians. With Jackson’s Kincaid being a murderer of corrupt men and Reynolds’ Bryce being a protector of those same men, the film manages to raise some surprisingly interesting questions about the nature of good and evil. So even though it often carries itself like something you’d find in the bargain bin, The Hitman’s Bodyguard actually ends up being a fun ride worthy of the full price of admission.

FINAL GRADE: B

The Dark Tower (Full Review)

When you think of Stephen King, horror films like The Shining, Carrie, and It are the first things that come to mind. But in his decades of creating literary classics, he’s also managed to create one of the best selling fantasy series’. I’ve never read The Dark Tower but have always been vaguely familiar with some of the story elements and concepts. With King’s track record, I went into the film adaptation of his 1982 novel with modest optimism.

The_Dark_Tower_teaser_posterThe Dark Tower film tells the story of a boy named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) who begins having visions of a parallel world. In those visions, Jake sees that a man in black (Matthew McConaughey) is kidnapping psychic children and trying to use them to destroy the dark tower that protects each world from a realm of evil monsters. Once he realizes his visions are real, Jake journeys into the parallel world and joins forces with Roland (Idris Elba), the last remaining gunslinger charged with protecting the tower.

Although the source material predates a lot of films in the genre, the fact that a film version is just being made doesn’t do The Dark Tower any favors. Several moments, like the bullied teenage main character, come off extremely cliché. The plot almost plays out like a bedtime story for children, spouting out pieces of its vast mythology and expecting the audience to catch on or not ask any deeper questions.

But there is an overall simplicity to the story that actually feels refreshing. In a time where so many science fiction films are bloated with two hour long convoluted plots and unnecessary characters, this movie feels fairly concise. McConaughey’s villain is imposing even if his motivations are juvenile, and Idris Elba delivers his performance with the necessary dose of grizzled swagger to make him both likable and heroic.

As a person who never read the books, I fully understand that there is a better version of this story. But holding it to the standard of simply being entertaining, The Dark Tower works. The action sequences, though reaching Wanted levels of ridiculous, have a keen rhythm to them that make them fairly fun. So despite the fact that it doesn’t reinvent the wheel and never truly feels as compelling as other summer blockbusters, The Dark Tower is a fairly decent time at the movies if you are a fan of the genre.

FINAL GRADE: B

The Emoji Movie (Full Review)

Pixar kind of already did this before. In fact, between talking toys and cars, the animated film giant has cornered the market on turning odd concepts into critically acclaimed, box office gold. So it was only a matter of time before someone tried to replicate the formula. Enter Sony Animations’ The Emoji Movie, an obscure idea to turn phone emojis into a kid friendly comedy.

The_Emoji_Movie_film_posterT.J. Miller stars as Gene, a ‘meh’ emoticon who hopes to follow in his parents lethargic footsteps (Steven Wright, Jennifer Coolidge) and present the perfect ‘meh’ face when called upon via text by his teenage user. When Gene crumbles under the pressure, the ‘Smiley’ emoji (Maya Rudolph) sends a horde of robots to take him out before the entire phone is deleted. Gene’s only help is to journey with the forgotten ‘Hi-5’ emoji (James Corden) and a mysterious hacker emoji (Anna Faris) to ‘The Cloud’ where he can be reprogrammed as the perfect ‘meh’.

Filled with enough bad puns to make a 90’s action movie director cringe, The Emoji Movie is relatively short on laughs. James Corden and Patrick Stewart’s ‘Poop’ Emoji provide a few snickers here and there, but not enough to overtake a horde of eye rolls that will undoubtedly accompany most of the people old enough to understand the film’s jokes. When it isn’t failing at puns and sight gags, the movie is trying its best to make social commentary that also feels redundant.

From the start of this predictable narrative, the film’s premise is hard to get behind. The characters that aren’t bland, like Miller’s Gene who is completely void of comedic wit, are just flat out annoying like Rudolph’s insufferable villain. Even the message, “Be Yourself”, feels wholly played out in a children’s film, so Emoji Movie never manages to stand out as something more than a weak copy cat of something we’ve seen done with more originality. Director Tony Leondis deserves credit for some solid visuals and at least making an attempt to be endearing, but by the time the credits role it’s hard to feel any emotion about The Emoji Movie other than… ‘meh’.

FINAL GRADE: D

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

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

 

 

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

All Eyez on Me (Full Review)

Having great source material does not guarantee a great movie… especially when it comes to Biographical films. Some true stories may work best as mini-series’ or documentaries, but making a feature length film requires finding the right actors and fine-tuning all of the compelling facts into a cohesive under-three hour story. Tupac Shakur is already an interesting subject, even if you were never a fan, but making a film about his life needs more than that to live up to the hype of one of music’s most iconic figures.

AllEyez_posterNewcomer Demetrius Shipp Jr. takes on the difficult role of playing rap legend Tupac Shakur, a man that went Platinum from prison and had 7 albums released after his death. Navigating through his rise to fame, problems with the law and untimely murder, the film highlights his relationships with his former Black Panther mother (Danai Gurira), friend Jada Pinkett (Kat Graham), lover Kidada Jones (Annie Ilonzeh) and violent manager Suge Knight (Dominic Santana).

As I mentioned, when making a biopic, the most important elements are landing the right cast and creating a sound story. Straight Outta Compton nailed both. The James Brown biopic Get on Up had a great cast but lacked narrative structure.  All Eyez on Me doesn’t really secure either one. The cast has a few bright spots. Danai Gurira is clearly the best actor on screen as Pac’s mother. Kat Graham doesn’t look like Jada Pinkett, but she has the mannerisms down pat and Jamal Woolard, reprising his role from Notorious, is also once again great as Biggie Smalls. But this is a Tupac movie, and it helps if the guy at the forefront can consistently carry his weight.

Shipp Jr. isn’t terrible. He definitely gets better as the movie goes along, but aside from physically resembling Tupac, it never really feels like he embodies the artist. Tupac had a boyish charm to him that made him incessantly charismatic while also carrying a serene wisdom that transcended others in the industry. Aside from spouting some Shakespeare, that intelligence doesn’t really come through in Shipp’s performance and the charm only appears in doses.

As for its narrative structure, the movie takes nearly half of its two and a half hour runtime to find its footing. The first half works like a spark notes version of Pac’s life, fluttering between scenes without cohesive transition or focus while being filled with as many cliché monologues as possible. A prison interview is used as a framing device and then is completely dropped halfway through, making the much more compelling last half feel like it has a completely different director.

All Eyez on Me succeeds in being interesting, but never thoroughly entertaining. It’s hard not to compare it to Straight Outta Compton, but considering its subject matter, those comparisons are inevitable. Without a stellar lead, and without cohesion, the movie never truly becomes the homage it wants to be.

FINAL GRADE: C

 

Wonder Woman (Full Review)

In baseball, when you’re losing, you don’t always need a homerun to restore the hope in your fans. Sometimes, you just need a solid base hit to get your team back into a rhythm. 2016 had two strikeouts for the DC Comics Extended Universe. Batman v Superman was the most dreary, self-indulgent superhero movie ever and Suicide Squad was a sloppy mess that had to rely on a seasoned cast to make it watchable. But now Wonder Woman is up to the plate, and after being one of the few bright spots in Batman v Superman, the most iconic superheroine in comic book history looks to get DC and Warner Bros. back in the cinematic game.

Wonder_Woman_(2017_film)Gal Gadot returns as Diana, the youngest of an island of Amazonian women created by Zeus to defend mankind from Aries, the God of War. Trained by her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright), Diana becomes the fiercest Amazonian warrior, much to the dismay of her protective mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). When a World War I spy named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes on their hidden shores, Diana embarks on a mission with him and his friends (Lucy Davis, Saïd Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock) to find Aries and end the war before a German General (Danny Huston) and his chemist partner (Elena Anaya) can release a deadly gas on all of mankind.

From the beginning, when we see Diana as a starry eyed little girl, the movie has a charming tone to it that never ceases. All of the supporting protagonists are likable and the chemistry between Gadot and Chris Pine always comes off as genuine. Both Diana and Steve Trevor are wonderfully layered characters that uplift each other. Diana is portrayed as a strong but naïve fish out of water who learns the nuances of mankind from Trevor while he is a brave soldier who lacks faith until being inspired by her strong willed and unyielding nature.

Great chemistry between the cast is coupled with a strong dose of well timed humor that, unlike Suicide Squad, never feels forced. It should also come as no surprise to anyone that saw the character in Batman v Superman that the battle scenes are thrilling. So despite being over two hours, the movie paces beautifully with only the beginning feeling a tad slow.

Wonder Woman isn’t without some glaring flaws. There is an overuse of CGI which often clashes with the more tangible scenes in the film that feature well choreographed fights and gorgeous costumes and scenery. The movie also has some hokey moments and lacks a strong central antagonist (The final reveal seems a bit forced). So while it isn’t quite a homerun, Director Patty Jenkins does manage to make it DC’s first film that feels smart, fun, exciting, and endearing throughout. And that makes it a solid double off of the back wall and enough to give us faith in the studio again.

FINAL GRADE: B

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (Full Review)

Few summer blockbusters have ever been as much fun as Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. The movie had thrills, humor, and charming characters. But the more movies they attempted to squeeze out of Johnny Depp’s iconic Jack Sparrow, the more the franchise began to lose its luster. Dead Man’s Chest was good, not great. At World’s End was far too long and overstuffed to truly enjoy. And… and… there was a fourth one, right? Something about Blackbeard? Anywho… this newest installment hopes to bring the Disney magic back to the eerie waters of the Pirates franchise.

Pirates_of_the_Caribbean,_Dead_Men_Tell_No_TalesThe aptly named Dead Men Tell No Tales once again finds an undead sea captain searching for the bumbling, alcoholic, but keenly clever scoundrel known as Jack Sparrow. This time, said sea captain is Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a Spaniard who once hunted pirates but was tricked into defeat by a young Jack. To escape Salazar, Jack must team with a female astronomer (Kaya Scodelario) and Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of Jack’s old ally Will (Orlando Bloom returning in a cameo role), to find a legendary trident that will grant them power over the sea.  Meanwhile, Jack’s old rival Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) seeks to save himself from Salazar and his henchmen of zombies who can’t step on land by helping in the hunt for Jack Sparrow.

Like most Pirates movies (even the good ones), the plot can get a bit caught up in itself as it lumbers on for over two hours. There are some characters, like a British Naval Captain (David Wenham), that take up too much screen time despite being both generic and unnecessary. The plot itself also carries its fair share of conveniences. But what is Pirates of the Caribbean if not an unbelievable tale hidden beneath massive set pieces and well crafted costumes?

For the most part, Dead Men Tell No Tales manages to recapture the swashbuckling fun that made the franchise so popular. Yes, the plot often seems filled with holes so big that previous films can even get sucked into them, but that doesn’t take away from the fun at all. Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush effectively step back into their roles as if they never left. Newcomers Thwaites and Scodelario provide wholesome focal points as a boy fighting to reunite with his father and a woman trying to forge her own path in a world where a woman is deemed a witch if she reads a book. Javier Bardem even manages to succeed in being a wholly threatening adversary even though he’s essentially no different from the villains in the other Pirates films.

The movie is filled with some scenes so over the top or cheesy that your eyes might fall out of your head. But those moments are eclipsed by all of the genuine laughs and charm brought to the story. With stunning CGI effects and likable new characters, this entry feels much more like what audiences fell in love with. By reconnecting with the original trilogy (something the fourth film almost completely failed to do), this new Pirates manages to give us an adventure both nostalgic and compelling.

FINAL GRADE: B