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

Despicable Me 3 (Full Review)

Pixar and Dreamworks aren’t the only ones who can make great animated films. When Despicable Me first arrived in 2010, it became a surprise hit thanks to its endearing family story that molded seamlessly with a brand of Looney Tunes-like slapstick humor. But after a solid 2013 follow up film, the animators at Illumination tested their luck by making a Minions spinoff that fell flat. With Despicable Me 3, there is a need to rekindle the old magic to avoid the franchise from becoming stale.

Despicable_Me_3_(2017)_Teaser_PosterDespicable Me 3 picks up where Part 2 left off. Former supervillain Gru (Steve Carell) continues to raise his three adopted girls Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Agnes (Nev Scharrel), and Edith (Dana Gaier) while serving as a secret agent with his new wife Lucy (Kristin Wiig). After failing to capture an 80’s obsessed former child star turned supervillain (Trey Parker), Gru and Lucy lose their jobs as agents and are forced to seek refuge with Gru’s long lost wannabe villain twin brother, Dru.

If Minions almost made you forget just how great the Despicable Me stories are, Despicable Me 3 thankfully has several moments that are a pleasant reminder. The family dynamic is once again wonderfully charming and the laughs are plentiful. The biggest flaw is in the addition of the wholly unnecessary and often annoying character of Dru, but by the end even he manages to fit into the dynamic without feeling out of place. As for the minions, they are thankfully back where they belong as the comedic sideshow where most of them are involved in a plot that requires them to break out of prison.

Like the villains in the previous films, Trey Parker’s Balthazar Bratt is meant to be less of an in depth character and more of just a comedic caricature. And what a caricature he is. Dancing to Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ while doing the “running man”, the character provides some good laughs even if you could care less about why he exists. Despicable Me 3, unlike the Minions spinoff, has a better understanding of what works best in the franchise and even if the story isn’t quite as memorable as parts 1 and 2, it manages to still be a wholesome and funny family adventure.

FINAL GRADE: B

MOORE REVIEWS Grading Scale:

A = Must See/Top 10 Nominee

B = Good film. Flawed, but still very entertaining

C = Not Bad, but highly flawed/Worthy of a Redbox

D = Terrible Movie with a few redeeming qualities

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

 

 

Transformers: The Last Knight (Full Review)

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. When he first arrived he was the life of the party, but now he has to drive home and you realize that someone should’ve snatched the keys from him a long time ago. The Transformers movies started off as a goofy, but fun and action packed thrill ride with low expectations due to the fact that it’s based off of a line of action figures. But now, the series has effectively become dumb and redundant.

timthumbIf you thought that the plot to Transformers 2,3, and 4 were overly convoluted, then get ready for this shit. Yeah, I said ‘shit’, and if that bothers you then you probably shouldn’t see this movie because the word is used in every other sentence like the entire cast are fifth graders who think cursing makes them cool and edgy. The heroic Optimus Prime has left Earth in hopes of finding and killing his creator. Back on our planet, the military has outlawed all transformers and is hunting them. You’d think after the Autobots have saved their asses in four movies that they’d stop blowing up the good guys… but whatever.

Meanwhile, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) and some 14 year old we’re made to think is relevant but isn’t (Isabela Moner) are fugitives for harboring Bumblebee and the rest of the Autobots. Yeager finds a medallion that belonged to twelve ancient transformers that fought with King Arthur and the wizard Merlin, which brings him into contact with Anthony Hopkins and his annoying robot butler who want to recover the staff of Merlin (portrayed as a buffoon by Stanley Tucci) that they’ll need to keep Earth from being devoured by Cybertron, the Transformers’ home world. Laura Haddock plays Merlin’s successor (that’s a spoiler but you shouldn’t care) and Josh Duhamel and John Turturro reprise their roles for no real reason.

There. Those are the overt basics of the plot and that doesn’t even mention Autobot arch nemesis Megatron who also returns in a useless subplot. So you can only imagine how meandering this nearly three hour film is. At a certain point, there isn’t any reason to care about any of the story, because you know its eventually going to turn into a robot war with a bunch of military aircrafts and explosions. But even that action is often muddled and disorienting.

There are so many robots that you wonder if the writers even remembered them all. Constantly, at every corner one comes, makes a corny joke, blows something up, gets shot, then leaves, appearing on screen just long enough to make you question why it appeared in the first place. The dinobots return from Age of Extinction only to be inexplicably absent during the finale. And if you were excited about the battle between an evil Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, get ready to be Batman v Supermaned (“Why did you say that name!!!”). In fact, Optimus Prime is barely in the movie, so putting him on posters is like putting Hawkeye on the forefront of Avengers promotions.

The goofy humor, which gets less funny with each film, has finally hit rock bottom. There’s barely a chuckle to be had. There’s no Bernie Mac, T.J. Miller or Anthony Anderson here. No one brings the physical comedy that made Shia LaBeouf necessary. Mark Wahlberg looks bored and the feeble attempt at romantic chemistry between he and Haddock is lifeless. So by the time you actually get through the two hours of bull crap and get to the climactic battle, you just feel exhausted. There are just too many characters that are lackluster and irrelevant.

This series has run its course. The writing no longer makes any sense and other than Bumblebee, no character is truly likable or memorable. Even Fast and the Furious knew how to shake things up a bit. Enough with the transformers made to be stereotypes and the quirky, dumb humans searching for some magical McGuffin. The animated films and TV shows can be taken more seriously, so it’s clear that this franchise needs new blood. This is supposed to be Michael Bay’s last time directing Transformers. But after watching his final monotonous entry, it just feels like we’ve already been enablers to our drunken friend who ruined the party.

FINAL GRADE: A big fat Decepticon sized F

The Mummy (2017) Full Review

Welcome to the age of cinematic universes. Marvel did it. DC is doing it. Even Lego has one going. And now Universal is trying to cash in on the action by using their old monster movies. The Brendan Frasier Mummy movies weren’t the greatest, but there is a fun 90’s camp feel to them that makes them enjoyable. Looking to launch their interconnected Dark Universe, The Mummy tosses Tom Cruise into the fold to reboot the series.

The_Mummy_(2017)Cruise stars as US soldier, Nick Morton, who scrambles around the middle east with his friend and fellow soldier (Jake Johnson) recovering artifacts from insurgents to sell on the black market. After stealing a map from an archaeologist (Annabelle Wallis), he inadvertently releases Princess Ahmanet, (Sofia Boutella), an evil mummy who wants to turn him into the god of death and unleash hell on earth. Oh yeah… and Russell Crowe plays Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde ‘cause cinematic universe and stuff.

The movie certainly earns points for some solid special effects and a few successful jump scares, but it’s hard to ignore how out of place everything is. Tom Cruise has never been one for slapstick humor, and this movie is full of zany jokes that would work best if Brendan Frasier were the one leading the charge. Instead, this movie switches between horror and campy action adventure, never truly settling on a correct tone and fading into a failed attempt to be what it thinks audiences want to see in a summer blockbuster.

Cruise is also not the only one out of his element. Russell Crowe is useless, to both the plot and as a casting choice and Annabelle Wallis’ Dr. Halsey is dull and unoriginal. And if the meandering story and unnecessary easter eggs don’t make it completely obvious that this movie is designed to set up spinoffs and sequels, the somewhat inexplicable ending does its best to shove that concept as far down your throat as possible. There are worse films to watch, even in the Mummy franchise (Scorpion King anyone?), but 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.

FINAL GRADE: D

Baywatch (Full Review)

If you’re like me, you remember the concept of Baywatch more than the actual show. David Hasselhoff and women in skin tight swimsuits solved crimes as lifeguards on the beaches of Los Angeles. Somehow that was a premise good enough for over a decade of television episodes. If there’s a property that seems ripe for a comedic parody film, it’s this one.

Baywatch_posterIn this adaptation of Baywatch, Dwayne “The Hulk” Johnson takes over Hasselhoff’s role of head Emerald Bay lifeguard Mitch Buchannon, whose job becomes a bit more frustrating after his boss (Rob Huebel) sticks him with arrogant Olympic Swimmer Matt Brody (Zac Efron). When a club owner (Priyanka Chopra) begins smuggling drugs on their beach, Mitch and fellow lifeguards Stephanie (Ilfenesh Hadera), CJ (Kelly Rohrbach), Summer (Alexandra Daddario), and chubby oddball Ronnie (Jon Bass) take on the role of self appointed beach vigilantes to try and stop her, much to the dismay of actual area policeman, Garner Ellerbee (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).

Marketing itself as a comedy for wide audiences and not just fans of the television series, poking fun at the fact that the original cast carried themselves as if they were filming Law and Order, and not a cheesy drama that was just a reason for people to gawk at supermodels, should’ve offered the opportunity for heavy laughs. And yet, the cast of this film version of Baywatch operate almost exactly like their small screen predecessors. Throughout the movie, it is reinforced that this should be a job for the police and that Mitch and his crew are out of their league. Instead of at least crafting a resolution to show that both sides could help each other in protecting the bay, the movie ends up being a tale of superhero lifeguards who can and will recklessly take matters into their own hands with positive results. And maybe that was the point, for Dwayne Johnson and cast to embrace the ridiculousness of the source material by attacking it with the same seriousness. The problem with that is that it makes Baywatch the movie as terrible as the TV show.

Instead of being a spoof, the film wants to be an action movie with self-reverential humor and carries itself as if its rescue sequences are actually intensely thrilling. But the entire time it just feels like you’re being told a boring, over exaggerated story that might be more interesting if you were a lifeguard. It doesn’t help that many of the scenes don’t feel remotely realistic due to an overuse of green screen, which just seems lazy considering the movie is set on an LA beach.

Occasionally the movie makes up for its atrocious attempt at being exciting by throwing in some good laughs. But there aren’t as much as you’d think. The movie follows my comedy pet peeve of having its biggest laughs in its trailers and too often it relies on gross out humor or Jon Bass’ character being the awkward antithesis of the typical Baywatch lifeguard. And it’s a shame, because we know from past films like Central Intelligence and Neighbors that Johnson and Efron are capable of being hilarious with both delivery and physical comedy.

So if you’re expecting a comedic parody, you’ll only be satisfied about 20% of the time. As for the purists, I’ve never met an actual fan of the TV show so I don’t know if it’ll be pleasing to them. Sure, the men look like gladiators and the woman are stunning, but who the hell cares if you have to sit through two hours of lousy plot and cheesy action?

FINAL GRADE: D = Terrible Movie with a few redeeming qualities

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

Snatched (Full Review)

Amy Schumer can be an acquired taste. Her stand ups are hit or miss, but her last film, Trainwreck was a charming and enjoyable romantic comedy thanks to solid help from Bill Hader and, oddly enough, Lebron James. In her new film, Schumer enlists the help of long time American sweetheart Goldie Hawn.

Snatched2017posterSnatched stars Schumer as Emily, a lazy middle aged woman who is justifiably dumped by her boyfriend and fired from her retail job in the same day. Instead of canceling a romantic getaway out of the country, she decides to take her sweet, but annoying mother (Hawn).  On their trip, Emily’s carelessness naivety leads to the two being kidnapped by a Columbian Drug lord (Oscar Jaenada).

There are certainly some good laughs to be had in spurts and it’s always good when those moments come in scenes that aren’t in the trailers, but Snatched ultimately suffers from almost trying too hard. It works best when its able to play off of Goldie Hawn’s ditsy charm and Schumer’s raunchiness. Too often, though, the film gets overtly wacky. From Ike Barinholtz’s over the top portrayal of Emily’s nerdy mama’s boy brother to a nonsensical and ill fitting scene where an alien-like warm has to be extracted from Schumer’s mouth, the movie doesn’t seem to know what kind of comedy it wants to be.

Christopher Meloni, Wanda Sykes, and Joan Cusack pop in with some fairly comedic supporting roles, but none of them are on screen long enough to fully compensate for the movie’s overall cartoonish tone. If you aren’t a fan of Amy Schumer, this film won’t come close to winning you over, but if you are, Snatched won’t be a bad viewing even if you do forget about it existing in a year or two.

FINAL GRADE: C

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

Bad Moms (Full Review)

Poor mothers. They live for us, would die for us, and yet we aren’t always as gratifying to them as we should be during our awkward adolescent years. So a movie where moms get to cut back and have some fun should be a welcomed concept for not just the moms out there, but for anyone who has ever had a mother figure. Add some raunchy ‘R’ rated flavor to the mix and we’ve got ourselves a surprisingly fun movie in Bad Moms.

bad_moms_posterMila Kunis, who stills looks the same age she did in That 70’s Show, plays lead mom, Amy; a mother of a brainy girl too concerned about college while still in junior high and a son who is too lazy to apply himself. Dealing with kids and a boss that don’t appreciate her (Clark Duke), and a deadbeat husband (David Walton), Amy finally decides that enough is enough. With the help of a negligent, promiscuous mother of one (Kathryn Hahn) and an uptight, overstressed stay at home mom (Kristen Bell), Amy decides to be a bad mom and do what she wants for once. Christina Applegate, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and Annie Mumolo co-star as a trio of snooty, sinister PTA moms hell bent on making Amy and her friends conform.

At times, the story falls dangerously close to being as over-the-top corny as The Boss. Moments like a destructive trip to the grocery store come off as more cartoonish than outright funny and some of the characters like Jay Hernandez’s overly perfect love interest to Amy are about as realistic as a talking sponge. Most of the movie’s laughs are when it isn’t trying to be gut bustingly funny. The banter between the women, usually when driven by Hahn’s hilarious character Carla, is usually what works the best.

Where Bad Moms really succeeds is in its endearing message. Our moms, the women who gave life to us and would do anything for us, deserve to have enough appreciation to where they don’t have to be negligent just to feel like they matter. And by the end of the movie, we feel genuinely happy at where the three mom’s are in their relationships with their families. A nice touch during the end credits, which has the actresses being interviewed with their real life moms, adds just enough to make Bad Moms a feel good movie that is the perfect date to treat mom to.

FINAL GRADE: B-