Mother! (Full Review)

Have you ever been forced to be around an awkward conversation that has nothing to do with you. Like being on a bus next to a couple and one of them is about to get dumped, you can tell everything is slowly going south but you can’t remove yourself from the area so you just have to sit there and uncomfortably take it all in. If you’ve made it through something like that, then you can make it through Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!

Mother!2017Mother! Is a really, really, abstract film. This should come as no surprise coming from the man who also directed Black Swan and The Fountain. Jennifer Lawrence plays the wife of a writer (Javier Bardem) who is supporting her husband through a stint of writer’s block by helping refurbish his old home. Their tranquil life of solitude is interrupted when the writer allows a doctor (Ed Harris) and his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) to stay in their home.

While it markets itself as something eerie and suspenseful, it’s actually more like an art film with dark undertones. The first two thirds play out like a melancholy stage play with the most tense moments coming from the sheer vagueness of the movie’s intensions. In its final act, however, the film undergoes  a complete shift in tone that brings intense clarity.

But when I say ‘intense’ in reference to the movie’s final act, I mean overwhelming more than exciting. After seemingly wandering around without concrete purpose, the conclusion brings its intentions with the subtlety of Donald Trump with a bullhorn. There is a ton of metaphorical meaning to it all with different interpretations, some that could offend, some that could disgust, some that could inspire, and some that could just flat out depress. It’s hard to call Mother! a bad film, as artistically it deserves credit for its cinematography and metaphorical nuance. But it’s equally as difficult to call something so dreary enjoyable.

FINAL GRADE: C

 

Advertisements

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (Full Review)

2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service was stylish, campy, action packed, outrageous fun. It was a refreshing call back to the James Bond films of old and it ended up being a surprise hit and one of my personal favorite films of that year. But if Hollywood has taught us anything, it’s that following up a hit is not an easy task.

Kingsman_The_Golden_CircleKingsman: The Golden Circle once again follows Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the young agent of the Kingsman tailor shop in London that moonlights as an undercover intelligence agency. When a former rival (Edward Holcroft) resurfaces and compromises the agency, Eggsy and Kingsman tech guru Merlin (Mark Strong) are forced to journey to Kentucky and team up with their American sister agency, the Statesman (Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, Pedro Pascal). With their resources combined, the Statesmen and Kingsmen will have to work together to stop Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a deranged Martha Stewart-esque leader of a drug cartel.

The new characters, mainly the Statesmen, all feel like caricatures. But in a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, that isn’t a problem at all. As for the new villainess, Julianne Moore’s performance isn’t quite as charismatic as Sam Jackson’s in the previous film, but her actual motives are a bit more inspired and nuanced. Where The Golden Circle slips is in its narrative flow. There is a needless twist that the movie could do without and the story often creates loose threads that are tugged at but never fully explored. There’s also such a thing as overboard when it comes to quirky cameos (Elton John has entirely too much screen time).

But with Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class) thankfully back in the director’s chair the tonal aspects of this film are almost identical to its predecessor. The action, humor, and style of this sequel all feel organic so there’s no real reason to dislike this film if you had any sort of appreciation for the first. Colin Firth (in an only moderately forced return) is a welcoming presence as Eggsy’s mentor Harry. Taron Egerton once again brings boyish charm and sincerity to the lead role and Mark Strong again feels like the cool, British uncle we all wish we had. With camaraderie and some brisk action choreography, Kingsman: The Golden Circle has enough of what audiences will ask for to offset any lingering side effects that inevitably come with being an unnecessary sequel.

FINAL GRADE: B

IT (Full Review)

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

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

Anyone who was captivated by the Netflix series Stranger Things will absolutely enjoy IT. The camaraderie of the teen protagonists is almost identical and the film does a sensational job of making each character necessary to the story. There’s an evident touch of heart to this film that makes its message of getting over loss and facing fears wholly relatable.

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

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

FINAL GRADE: A

Ingrid Goes West (Full Review)

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

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

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

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

FINAL GRADE: B

 

 

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

Atomic Blonde (Full Review)

The lone hero action adventure is slowly becoming one of the easiest genres to spot a breakout hit. We already know about James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Ethan Hunt. But newer films like Jack Reacher, Salt, and John Wick have also been thrilling. On the surface, Atomic Blonde has a seasoned leading lady and an all-star supporting cast, but great action films aren’t built on good acting and interesting concepts alone.

Atomic_Blonde_posterCharlize Theron plays British intelligence agent Lorraine Broughton. In the heart of the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, she is tasked by her superior (Toby Jones) with going into Berlin, Germany and recovering a list of secret government agents that has fallen into the wrong hands after being stolen from her lover (Sam Hargrave). To accomplish this deadly mission, she must link up with a loose cannon British agent (James McAvoy) while also looking over her shoulder at a CIA head (John Goodman) and a mysterious French photographer (Sofia Boutella) who have suspicious motivations.

Director David Leitch got his start orchestrating stunt work for films like V for Vendetta and Fight Club and his mark on this film is evident in every fight scene. The action sequences in Atomic Blonde are all beautifully brutal and intense. Charlize Theron executes each one with keen detail and athleticism that is impressive from start to finish. But even through these thrilling moments, it’s hard not to be distracted by virtually everything else in the movie.

The plot of the film is the biggest problem. There are far too many threads to keep track of. There’s a revenge tale, a double agent subplot, and a race to get a German  mole (Eddie Marsan) to safety. So much is revealed without proper context that it’s hard to keep track of what you should actually be focused on.

The double agent subplot takes the most focus, but only toward the latter half of the film. And even that aspect seems squandered. The movie tries so hard to point things in one direction, but the evidence is so staggering toward one culprit that the inevitable twist seems obvious. It doesn’t help that we’re not really given a reason to care about Theron’s character. She is tough as nails and relentless, but her personality is as wooden as they come. Sure, Keanu Reaves’ John Wick was stoic, but he had love for his wife and a puppy to give his character some semblance of a soul.

The story isn’t the only issue. Leitch still seems to be honing his directorial skills. The narrative structure lacks fluidity and the film tries to infuse 80’s pop music throughout, but more times than not it just comes off as overbearing and annoying. The best non-action oriented aspect of the film is clearly McAvoy’s performance, but none of the other actors are given much opportunity to show any nuance. So while Atomic Blonde undoubtedly has some entertainment value, it isn’t anything close to resembling something worth latching on to when the credits role.

FINAL GRADE: C

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