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

 

All Eyez on Me (Full Review)

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

Wonder Woman (Full Review)

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

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

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Full Review)

No film in Disney/Marvel’s massive gallery was as much of a surprise success as 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. The film about a ragtag group of space anti-heroes transcended its lesser known source material to become a fun summer blockbuster full of exhilarating action and humor. But it’s hard to follow up a breakout hit with something better or even just as good. Iron Man 2 and Avengers: Age of Ultron showed us, that while the Marvel Cinematic Universe always keeps things entertaining, sometimes their sequels can’t quite live up to the hype.

GotG_Vol2_posterGuardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues the adventures of a group of intergalactic heroes for hire. Returning are Drax (Dave Bautista), a slow witted mustle man who lacks subtlety; Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a rude and violent talking raccoon; Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a naive tree monster reduced to baby form following the first film’s climax; Gamora (Zoe Saldana) skiled assassin and daughter to a space tyrant, and Peter “Star Lord” Quill, (Chris Pratt), an Earthling with a human mother and an alien father he’s never met. After the crew makes enemies out of a society of genetic purists (led by Elizabeth Debicki), the Guardians encounter Ego (Kurt Russell), an antient, powerful being claiming to be Quill’s father, and his socially awkward aprentice, named Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Michael Rooker also returns as Quill’s former mentor Yondu, and Karen Gillan reprises her role as Gamora’s sister/hated rival, Nebula.

As it turns out, Guardians Vol. 2 has many of the same problems as Iron Man 2 and Age of Ultron in that it seems more concerned with making the audience laugh and giving them shiny new CGI to gawk at than with forming a coherent narrative. As such, the plot to this film is all over the place for the majority of its seemingly lengthy runtime. There are far too many threads that are overly emphasized such as a subplot about Yondu’s connection to a former mentor (played by Sylvester Stallone) and his dismissal from the bounty hunting Ravagers. It isn’t until the admittedly exciting climax that things seem to actually come together, but the means hardly justifies the ends.

There’s still a great bit of humor throughout. Dave Bautista (who has greatly improved since his acting debut) is hilarious in every scene and most of the banter between the team is fun. But even here, things don’t feel as consistently organic as they did the first go round. Too much of the jokes are awkwardly raunchy (get ready for penis jokes… yes, penis jokes), and the cartoony slapstick is so abundant that it often undermines scenes that should probably be taken more seriously.

The film manages to add some weighty emotional moments to make the story feel grounded and a bit more necessary. A few scenes between Saldana’s Gamora and Gillan’s Nebula do a fantastic job of adding depth to both characters. In fact, most of the cast deserves credit for injecting likability into each of their characters. But with the story, much of the humor, and even the soundtrack all feeling like a step down, its hard to make a case that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is memorable. Not every follow up is going to be The Empire Strikes Back or The Dark Knight, but I can’t help but feel like characters this fun deserve an adventure that isn’t predominantly a throw away.

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

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Full Review)

The Circle (Full Review)

Just how much social media is too much? Is social media and the rapid growth of technology making the world less private? Is privacy worth trading for security? These are just some of the philosophical questions that are bound to pop up in the coming years as our world evolves. The Circle, adapted from a 2013 novel written by Dave Eggers, is a story that raises many of those questions. If only it had answers for them.

The_Circle_(2017_film)The Circle takes place in the near future where people all over the world are connected through a Facebook meets Apple meets Google media conglomerate known as ‘The Circle’ ran by tech genius Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) and legal figurehead Tom Stenton. When her friend Annie (Karen Gillan) gets her a customer service job at the Circle, Mae (Emma Watson) sees it as a golden opportunity to help her ill father (the late Bill Paxton) and improve her dull life. As her career within the company rises and her relationship with a close family friend (Ellar Coltrane) begins to deteriorate, she begins to question the morality of the Circle.

There is a strong theoretical core to The Circle as it does manage to raise all of the questions mentioned earlier, but overall this is a film that collapses on itself without truly understanding what it should be. After taking far too long to introduce actual conflict, the film teeters in its final act when it doesn’t quite know how to answer all of its many hypotheticals. Emma Watson’s character goes through tragedy as a result of the issues brought up, but the resolution matches neither the build up or the lesson that should’ve been learned.

We are asked by the narrative to think about what social media means to our societal privacy. We are asked to wonder how much information is too much, and yet… the film’s climax veers off into a hardly relevant commentary about corruption. As a result, The Circle ends up like an uneven equation. It raises questions then responds with an answer to one that was never asked.

The lack of resolution wouldn’t be as frustrating if there were other elements that made the film worth while. But the performances are mostly flat, save for an underutilized John Boyega as the one questioning cog within 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. Several characters also have uneven arcs like Gillain’s Annie, who goes from peppy Circle subordinate to paranoid, jealous, pill addict without any real transition. And sure, thought provoking films don’t necessarily need to have all of the answers to the questions they raise, but The Circle comes off like a film that doesn’t even know what questions its asking.

FINAL GRADE: D

 

 

The Circle (Full Review)

Free Fire (Full Review)

There’s nothing like a movie that takes a simple concept and is able to turn it into something entertaining. Some films don’t need elaborate plots or huge set pieces to be exhilarating. With Free Fire, Director Ben Wheatley takes pages out of the Quentin Tarantino book of storytelling and delivers a hilariously kinetic film held up by a captivating cast.

imagesFree Fire takes place in the 1970’s and is almost entirely set in a Boston warehouse. Brie Larson plays Justine, a liaison helping a group of Irishman (Cilian Murphy, Michael Smiley, Sam Riley) illegally purchase assault rifles from a group of shady gun dealers (Shalto Copley, Armie Hammer, Babou Ceesay, Jack Raynor). When an altercation leads to shots being fired, the deal turns into an all out gun fight with everyone trying to make it out alive.

As I mentioned, Free Fire feels very much like a Tarantino film (think Reservoir Dogs or The Hateful Eight). 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. The characters, from Armie Hammer’s suave trash talking Ord to Sharlto Copley’s weaselly Vernon, are all charismatic degenerates that make you want them killed just as much as you want them to survive.

If the film has a flaw, it is in those occasional dry spots where characters seem to be firing back in forth with no rhyme or reason. But that’s almost part of the fun. The only characters that seem to remain calm are too busy trying aimlessly to keep their moronic allies alive. As a result, 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.

FINAL GRADE: A

Free Fire (Full Review)

Unforgettable (Full Review)

Here we go again. Another film about a crazy love triangle that ends in a same sex brawl. Hollywood seems intent on pooping one of these out at least once a year. And if you’ve read my reviews of Boy Next Door, The Perfect Guy, or When the Bough Breaks… you can probably guess which direction this review is going in.

Unforgettable_2017_posterRosario Dawson stars as an internet blogger and former victim of an abusive relationship who moves across the country to live with her new fiancé (Geoff Stults). As she attempts to build a loving relationship with her new beau’s young daughter, she soon finds herself dealing with his psychotic baby mama (Katherine Heigl) who will do anything to get her family back.

Heigl’s character takes crazy ex  to the extreme, and she fits the role perfectly (although I’m not sure that’s a good thing). Her bug eyed performance almost makes the movie delve into the “so bad it’s actually good” territory. Almost. The movie as a whole is too busy being held back by sheer narrative incompetence to find even B-movie enjoyment. Dawson’s character is a moron who makes so many poor decisions it’s hard to actually pull for her and Stults has the personality of a wet paper bag.

The movie plays out exactly how you’d expect, without a single thread veering into anything truly suspenseful all the way into an ending that laughably attempts to set up a sequel. So Unforgettable ends up being the most forgettable movie I’ve seen in a while. It’s almost mind boggling that writers keep finding new spins on the same concept and yet have failed to make any of them truly interesting or memorable. The real question is, which actor with a flailing film career is going to pop up in the next one?

FINAL GRADE: F

Unforgettable (Full Review)