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

Den of Thieves (Full Review)

Den of Thieves is a high stakes thriller with a band of ruthless cops facing off against a team of convicts. It’s Ocean’s 11 meets Training Day. Well… at least that’s what they were probably going for. If you’re going to make a movie like this, you’d better cover all ground, or else you’ll risk being an occasionally fun movie with enough holes to drive an armored truck through.

Den_of_Thieves_posterO’Shea Jackson Jr.  stars as Donnie, an ex-con who is recruited to join a group of former soldiers led by Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber) and Enson (Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson). After a plot to steal an armored truck turns violent, they catch the attention of a team of vicious L.A. officers led by degenerate Nick O’Brien (Gerard Butler). Despite the police being on their tales, the crew of thieves prepares for an intricate plan to steal millions of dollars from the Federal Reserve.

There are moments in Den of Thieves that are truly intense and exciting. The cat and mouse game between Schreiber’s Merrimen and Butler’s ‘Big Nick’ O’Brien is fun to watch. Despite being a police officer, O’Brien is a demon of a character who cheats on his wife and breaks protocol at the drop of a hat with deadly consequences. This creates a film where there are no good or bad guys, but a bunch of characters with their own intriguing motivations.

But for all of the action and cheap thrills, this actually ends up being an egregiously faulty movie. The federal reserve heist, which starts off as an ingenious plan, unravels as it goes. The plan bounces from crafty to outright ridiculous and ends with several instances of poor planning that make you wonder how in the world they ever thought it could work. For instance, the thieves manage to brilliantly distract the entire L.A. police force and sneak into a heavily guarded bank but don’t account for traffic?

As a narrative, things get flimsy too often. There is far too much screen time attributed to O’Brien’s atrocious personal life. It’s necessary for character development to have a moment showing his failing marriage, but do we have to get several scenes reinforcing the fact? O’Shea’s Donnie is also recruited to be a Vin Diesel-esque getaway driver, but the skill is virtually unrelated to the overall plot. Then there’s ’50 Cent’s’ character. Placed in top billing, the character barely speaks and has an utterly irrelevant scene that is ripped straight out of Bad Boys II. A solid ending twist will help you enjoy Den of Thieves if you put forth minimal thought, just don’t expect anything groundbreaking from this one.

FINAL GRADE: C

The Post (Full Review)

Contrary to what some might have you believe these days, the purpose of the news media has always been to serve as a check on those in power. Never was that purpose more evident than in the early 1970’s in the midst of the controversial Vietnam War. Directed by Steven Spielberg, The Post tells the story of the battle to uphold that right during the height of the newspaper industry.

The_Post_(film)Meryl Streep portrays Washington Post owner Katherine Graham who is thrust into the leadership role after her husband’s untimely suicide. Her high class social life of dining with politicians is threatened when a whistleblower reveals years of documents proving that several U.S. Presidents had been lying to the American people about the lack of success during the Vietnam War. After President Richard Nixon leads the charge for a court order forbidding the New York Times from publishing the documents, fiery Washington Post editor and chief Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) decides to challenge the court’s rulings by publishing the documents under the guise of Freedom of the Press. But to do so, he’ll need Graham’s permission.

The movie certainly drags for its first third as it sets up all of the need to know details of the classified documents and attempts to establish many of its dry characters. But once it zeroes in on its main topic, The Post finds its footing and becomes an intensely gripping film. Unsurprisingly, Streep and Hanks are homeruns in their roles. Streep is compelling in the role of Graham, who navigates her difficult position of a woman in power in the 1970’s to become an iconic figure for Women’s rights. Hanks is equally brilliant and manages to brings necessary wit and drive to a film that might be a bit dull without him.

If you can make it through the sluggish beginning, The Post pays off with a smart, passionate rendering of its necessary subject matter. Like many Oscar-bate biographical films, it can feel like a drag to those who want their movies to be more entertaining than informative. But even if it does come off as something that should be shown in high school history classes, anyone watching it should come away with a greater appreciation for the media and its necessary role in our society.

FINAL GRADE: B

Proud Mary (Full Review)

It’s necessary to have some diversity in all film genres. We haven’t seen a black woman star as a no-nonsense, gun toting action hero since Pam Grier in the 70’s. In Proud Mary, award winning actress Taraji P. Henson gets to step into the shoes of a bad ass hitwoman. But just because the leading lady and the concept is good, doesn’t mean the end product will be.

Proud_Mary_posterHenson plays Mary, an assassin who takes in a young boy named Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) whose father she killed in a hit. Determined to free herself and the boy from the violent world of organized crime, Mary kills the rival mob boss that Danny worked for. The move insights an underground war forcing her to turn on her boss Benny (Danny Glover) and his son/her ex-lover Tom (Billy Brown).

I love Henson as an actress. And I love crime drama. So I wanted to like Proud Mary as much as I did Salt or John Wick. But Proud Mary is a dull, forgettable mess that feels more like a TV movie. The Mary character isn’t given remotely enough to make you care about her other than the fact that she’s played by Taraji P. Henson and the plot delivers about as much nuance as my description of it. The entire story feels rushed through, with supporting characters and motives barely touched on. It almost feels like there’s about a half hour chunk of character development and exposition missing.

The action doesn’t manage to be a saving grace, except for a few scenes. Many of the sequences feel poorly edited, as if to better mask the stunt doubles. It makes for several choreographed moments where it’s obvious Taraji P. isn’t the one throwing the punches meaning her most intimidating character moments come from shooting people in the head point blank.

The soundtrack is wonderful and the mother-son chemistry with Henson’s Mary and Winston’s Danny is endearing enough to at least make you care about them and make the story not a complete waste of time. But it doesn’t change the fact that this movie is a missed opportunity. Henson is a good enough actress to warrant an action movie with a budget and story better than a BET movie you’d watch while doing laundry on a weekday afternoon.

FINAL GRADE: D

The Commuter (Full Review)

We all know the drill by now. Liam Neeson is a grizzled elder statesmen with a particular set of skills and he will do anything to seek justice or protect his family. Sometimes it makes for some pretty exhilarating entertainment. Other times, not so much. In The Commuter, Neeson reunites with Director Jaume Collet-Serra (Run All Night, Non-Stop, Unknown) for more of the same.

The_Commuter_film_posterNeeson plays Michael MacCauley, a grizzled former cop with a particular set of skills who will do anything to protect his family. After being laid off from his job in life insurance, he encounters a mysterious woman named Joanna (Vera Farmiga) on his train ride home. She offers him $10,000 to find and execute an unknown criminal witness before the train ride can come to an end. With no phone and his family held hostage, he must decide to go through with the plan or attempt to save the witness and the rest of the passengers.

Yes, Liam Neeson is doing the same thing he always does. But, here, it’s pretty entertaining. The movie plays out more like a mystery than an action thriller, with several suspects laid out for the audience to try and sift through along with his character. And unlike in many of his previous films, Neeson’s character feels much more vulnerable both physically and emotionally, which makes for much more intriguing action.

The plot and many of the action sequences are over the top. And some of it is far too similar to Non-Stop. There is also a plot hole here and there. But the players involved make The Commuter worth the ride if you don’t take it too seriously. If you’ve grown tired of these types of films, by all means pass this one by. But if seeing Liam Neeson saddle up for another wild scenario makes you sit on the edge of your seat, the many twists and turns in this movie will definitely keep you enthralled from start to finish.

FINAL GRADE: B

My Least Favorite Films of 2017

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

10. Baywatch

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

9. Pitch Perfect 3

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

8. A Bad Mom’s Christmas

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

7. The Mummy

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

6. Rough Night

“What starts off as a pretty basic story really goes all over the place as the story goes along. And not in the ‘so random its hilarious’ way, but in the ‘why is all of this happening’ way.”

5. Flatliners

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

4. The Emoji Movie

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

3. The Circle

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

2. Unforgettable

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

1. Transformers: The Last Knight

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

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

The Moore Reviews Top 10 Movies of 2017

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

10. GET OUT

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

 9. IT

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

8. SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING

“… in many ways, the story that Spider-Man: Homecoming comes up with manages to be arguably the character’s most definitive one… by making the character younger and placing him in a world where superheroes are both abundant and older, we are allowed to truly see Spider-Man’s coming of age as a likable hero.”

7. BLADE RUNNER 2049

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

6. WONDER

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

5. FREE FIRE

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

4. COCO

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

3. THE DISASTER ARTIST

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

2. LOGAN

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

1. BABY DRIVER

“Everything about Baby Driver is stylish and fun. The action sequences, which the film wastes no time getting into, are ridiculously exhilarating thanks to some jaw dropping stunt work. The music is an eclectic, but fitting mix of rock n’ roll and hip hop songs blended from different eras. Perhaps the most captivating, is how Wright incorporates the music into his cinematography, often synchronizing beats with the swift movements onscreen… Baby Driver moves at a pace that is swift but never difficult to follow. If you aren’t hooked by the opening scene, then this simply isn’t for you. As for me, I found it to be the most exciting thrill ride of the summer and maybe of 2017.”

 

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

 

 

Pitch Perfect 3 (Full Review)

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

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

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

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

FINAL GRADE: D

The Greatest Showman (Full Review)

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

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

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

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

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

FINAL GRADE: B

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (Full Review)

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

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

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

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

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

FINAL GRADE: B