King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (Full Review)

There is a scene in this film where King Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is rapidly retelling a soldier the story of his scuffle with a Viking. The soldier becomes confused and repeatedly asks for clarification. It is hardly relevant to overall plot, but ends up being a great scene in that it is a microcosm for the entire film: A scatter brained, poorly paced retelling of a story we don’t really need to know.

King_Arthur_LotS_posterThis reimagining of King Arthur, directed by Guy Ritchie, involves a war with wizards (referred to as Mages) that eventually leads to Arthur’s uncle Vortigem (Jude Law) uniting with dark magic to overthrow the King (Eric Bana) and take over the kingdom of Camelot. Before he dies, the true king preserves his magical sword, Excalibur, and helps his young son escape. Decades later, tests to find the true heir to the thrown leads to Arthur reclaiming the sword. Along with a young mage (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) and his father’s old allies (Djimon Hounsou and Aidan Gillen), a reluctant Arthur is forced to embrace his destiny and overthrow his uncle.

Conceptually, there are several elements within King Arthur: Legend of the Sword that can make you understand the attempt. The inclusion of magic and mythology is intriguing and both Hunnam and Jude Law do their best to elevate their characters from cliché caricatures with emotion and charisma. But the overall product just ends up being a convoluted and often boring mess.

Much of the blame has to go to Guy Ritchie (The Man from UNCLE, Sherlock Holmes) whose overindulgent cinematography is stuffed with hokey CGI fight sequences, dizzying camera angles, excessive slow motion effects, and awkward pacing. The rest of the blame goes to the script itself, which fails to find a central arc and instead crams far too much information and lure into a film that is moving too fast for its audience to grasp it all. Important elements are given montages that turn what might’ve been intriguing  character building moments into rapid footnotes that could’ve been left on the cutting room floor if they weren’t going to be expanded upon.

There are also far too many characters to learn and become attached to, many of which serve the same purpose. While some, such as Aiden Gillen’s Goosefat Bill and Berges-Frisbey’s mage have wit and charm, the vast majority are immediately forgettable and just take up valuable screen time that could’ve been spent elsewhere. Thus, despite having an interesting foundation, an attempt to be a unique take on a classic story ends up making King Arthur: Legend of the Sword one of the most disorienting films in recent memory.

FINAL GRADE: D

MOORE REVIEWS Grading Scale:

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

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (Full Review)

The Fate of the Furious (Full Review)

Hi, my name is Brady and I am not a fan of Fast and the Furious. I have my reasons: The action is often so over the top that it borders on dumb. Vin Diesel has the personality of a cardboard box. Tyrese’s character is just a useless clown. And the convoluted plots seem as if they were created by watching a kindergartner play with action figures. But, at its best, this franchise that has now spanned 16 years is young Expendables with eye popping action meant for mindless, “turn your brain off and watch” fun. So whether I like it or not, here we go again.

The_Fate_of_The_Furious_Theatrical_PosterThe Fate of the Furious takes place shortly after Furious 7 (If you are a newcomer to the series, you’ll need to have seen at least parts 5 through 7 to understand half of it). After marrying girlfriend Letty (Michele Rodriguez), crew leader Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is approached by a terrorist hacker named Cypher (Charlize Theron) who blackmails him into turning on his team. Kurt Russell returns as Mr. Nobody, a U.S. government agent who along with his new assistant (Scott Eastwood), assembles Toretto’s former team of thieves, cops, hackers and street racers, (Rodriguez, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Tyrese Gipson, Nathalie Emmanuel) to track him and Cypher down.

The first third of the film is almost gag inducing to anyone who shares my same sentiments about this franchise. As always, there’s a next to irrelevant and predictable street race to open the film, followed by rushed exposition, Dwayne Johnson being a real life version of The Hulk, and Tyrese’s Roman Pearce continuing to be one of the most useless characters in all of cinema. We get it. He’s comic relief, but what is his actual purpose on the team? In this film it takes him two hours to do anything worthwhile. When the cast isn’t shoving the constant concept of family down your throat (Hey guys, did you know they’re a family!), the characters are spitting out cliché line after line.

But about an hour in, things shockingly improve. This is due in large part to the presence of Charlize Theron who noticeably brings her A-game as the film’s villain. Her cunning and ominously intimidating character seems plucked right out of a James Bond movie and provides the fuel for all of the film’s most dramatic scenes. Her portrayal even lifts that of Vin Diesel who easily gives his most believable performance yet. That’s not to say things improve too much. There’s still a bunch of off the wall plot twists and ridiculous character arcs (Jason Statham’s a good guy now? Didn’t he kill one of their “family members”?) that keep things from being too likable.

Like with all of these movies, and most in the genre, things work best when everyone shuts the hell up and drives/fights. The action manages to ramp things up to even more ridiculous levels than in previous films and as such there are plenty of moments where logic and laws of physics be damned. But seeing as how making sense isn’t a prerequisite for entertainment, the action in Fate of the Furious is pretty exciting. Coupled with a worthy adversary that helps counterbalance some of the more useless additions (Looking at you Scott Eastwood), this movie manages to avoid being terrible and winds up landing on the more tolerable end of the Fast and Furious spectrum.

FINAL GRADE: C

The Fate of the Furious (Full Review)

Ghost in the Shell (2017) – Full Review

Video game movies seem to be the hardest for Hollywood to adapt. But coming in at a close second is anime adaptations. If the dreaded Dragonball Evolution taught us anything, it’s that Americanized anime can lead to a massive failure. But with the blessing of the company that owns the source material, the latest attempt to adapt a popular manga and anime series looks to be a step up in the genre.

Ghost_in_the_Shell_(2017_film)Based loosely on Masumune Shirow’s original manga series, Ghost in the Shell takes place in a distant future version of Japan where cybernetic enhancements have become a societal norm. Scarlett Johansson stars as The Major, a revolutionary android with a human brain who remembers little about her past. As a member of a special task force known as Section 9, she fights alongside a burly officer with robotic eyes (Pilou Asbæk) and a stoic but loyal Chief (Takeshi Kitano). When the team begins investigating a cyber terrorist (Michael Pitt), the Major’s true past begins to bring her into conflict with her team and her own creator (Peter Ferdinando).

Like with Exodus: Gods and Kings and Gods of Egypt, this film isn’t flimsy because of its miscast leads. In fact, more than any misrepresented film, this one actually attempts to weave some of its primary casting choices into the plot. So while it’s still arguably unjustifiable, it doesn’t seem as blatantly egregious. The biggest problem is that Scarlett Johansson never really seems to fit the role and not just because of her race. Johansson spends the entire film operating as if her only instructions were to be robotic. The character is supposed to show little emotion, but that doesn’t mean the Major can’ have some sort of dry wit. As a result, there is virtually no charm or even interest to a character that dominates the screen time.

I’m by no means a fan of the anime, but I’ve watched some of it before, and Johansson’s portrayal fails to fairly represent what should’ve been a very invigorating character. The film’s plot, which takes no real risks and is filled with action sci-fi cliches, doesn’t help either. And while the casting of white actors in some roles are virtually explained, little to no such attention is given to the numerous other non-Japanese characters in the film. Why is a black Australian (Lasarus Ratuere) playing a character named Ishikawa? Why exactly is a Japanese company called Hanka Robotics run by a white guy?

But unlike the dumpster fire that is Dragonball Evolution, this film does get some things right. Visually, the movie is absolutely stunning and takes advantage of 3D technology. The action sequences are also smooth and exhilarating like a new version of The Matrix so even though only a handful of the characters are interesting, such as Kitano’s Chief Aramaki and the also noticeably white Pilou Asbæk’s portrayal of Batou, the movie does manage to capture the atmosphere of the Ghost in the Shell franchise.

There’s absolutely no guarantee that an all Japanese cast would’ve made the movie better or even more profitable, but it could’ve given the story more room to find a purpose or at least connect with the source material. A futuristic film where police hunt cyborgs while being lead by a cyborg could’ve worked just fine without the story hovering around its main character’s melodramatic background. As it stands this version of Ghost in the Shell is an aesthetically nice product with relatively hollow intrigue, much like the lead actress’ portrayal.

FINAL GRADE: C

Ghost in the Shell (2017) – Full Review

Kong: Skull Island (Full Review)

The last time King Kong was on the big screen it was in a three hour long Peter Jackson film with a few goofy characters and some glaring plot holes (Still trying to figure out how they got that giant gorilla back to New York City). The best parts of that film were easily the action sequences that saw Kong battling monsters and destroying planes. So this time around, in this rebooted origin story, they’re giving the people more of what they want.

Kong_Skull_Island_posterKong: Skull Island takes place in 1974. Two scientists (John Goodman, Corey Hawkins) looking to prove the existence of giant monsters, journey with a survivalist (Tom Hiddleston), a photographer (Brie Larson) and a few soldiers fresh from the Vietnam War (Toby Kebbell, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham) to an uncharted island where they come in contact with the mighty Kong. After their helicopters are quickly demolished, the military colonel (Samuel L. Jackson) vows to kill the beast while a long lost soldier stranded on the island for 30 years (John C. Reilly) seeks to warn them that Kong is actually protecting the island from creatures much more deadly.

As I mentioned before, this movie is all about the action. There are several battles between Kong and a heap of slivering monsters that are just as exhilarating as the Kong vs. T-Rex fight in Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong. The early sequence that sees Kong destroying helicopters is also a fun experience. So if you’re here for that then you won’t be disappointed.

Unfortunately, that’s essentially all this Kong film has to offer. The characters, from their dialogue to their personalities all seem too much like clichés to be memorable. The lone exception is John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow, a comically noble yet relatively senile character with an endearing personality and back story the audience can actually get behind. There are other attempts at endearment, but his is the only one that doesn’t fall flat.

The film does well to keep things moving, spacing out the sluggish dialogue and weak characters with suspense and eye popping action. It goes without saying, in a movie about a giant gorilla, that some parts require you to turn your brain off and just watch. Sometimes summer popcorn movies are released in March, and Kong: Skull Island is a perfect example of a moderately fun film that’s worthy of at least one viewing.

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/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

Kong: Skull Island (Full Review)

Beauty and the Beast (Full Review)

Disney’s 1991 animated Beauty and the Beast is in the pantheon of classic animated films along with the likes of Aladdin and Lion King. As such, it isn’t really a story that begs retelling. But Disney has already proven that it can turn its animated properties into worthwhile live action films with 2014’s Cinderella and last year’s Jungle Book. With a star studded cast and a bit of CGI magic, director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) looks to make Beauty and the Beast into a refreshing take for a new generation.

Beauty_and_the_Beast_2017_posterIn case you’ve lived under a rock and don’t know the story: Beauty and the Beast is the tale of a shallow prince (Dan Stevens) who is turned into a beast by a sorceress and his servants all turned into objects. Only the affection of someone who recognizes his inner beauty can end their curse. Emma Watson stars as Belle, the humble daughter of a widowed craftsman (Kevin Kline) who defies the norms of 18th century French girls by reading in her spare time and has the unwanted affection of a pompous soldier named Gaston (Luke Evans). When her father is kidnapped by the beast, Belle takes his place as the Beast’s prisoner.

Jokes of Stockholm syndrome aside, Beauty and the Beast, while dated, is an enchanting story with a valuable lesson that life is happier when you aren’t an a-hole. The animated version was full of charm and the impressive cast does a solid job carrying the torch. Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen have fun, effective chemistry as Lumiere the talking candle and Cogsworth the talking clock. And while she isn’t quite Angela Lansbury, Emma Thompson manages to bring a similar wholesome vibe to the role of Mrs. Potts the talking teapot. Several of the characters even have a bit more weight than they did in the animated version. Josh Gad, bringing a solid dose of bumbling comic relief as Gaston’s flamboyant sidekick Lefou, is a perfect example of this.

Because no one in the cast drops the ball in their roles, the film succeeds in bringing a bright burst of nostalgia to anyone who is a fan of the 1991 version. If only they could sing as well, because the music is essentially the same and all of the songs are back but noticeably underperformed. A few new songs are also added, some welcomed, and some that feel completely unnecessary which becomes a trend for the entire narrative. While some of the changes from the animated version add depth to the story and characters, many of the additions and changed scenes serve little to no purpose and make the movie drag a bit.

Visually the movie is also a bit inconsistent. Look no further than the Beast and the enchanted objects, who at times look strikingly real and at other times look clunky and underdeveloped. The gorgeous scenery, costumes and set pieces, however, don’t disappoint and bring an added dose of French culture that pay homage to the era better than any animated film ever could.

As a musical, the vocals all being a noticeable step downward is a bit of a crutch that is hard to overcome when you’re attempting to remake a beloved classic. With an updated narrative that is more in depth but also more cluttered, it’s difficult to consider this version better, as good, or even inherently necessary aside from a pleasant dose of diversity to its cast. Beauty and the Beast ends up being a fun trip down memory lane that is at times visually captivating, but if you’re looking for the definitive version of this classic fairy tale, look up the 1991 version.

FINAL GRADE: B

Beauty and the Beast (Full Review)

Fences (Full Review)

Denzel Washington. There are very few people in existence who can give a monologue like him. But he might have met his match, at least for this film, in the form of fellow Oscar winning actress Viola Davis. Like Denzel, Viola can shine even in mediocre films. The two sensational performers join forces as Denzel steps behind the director’s chair to adapt August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning play.

fences_filmFences stars Denzel as Troy, a 53 year old former Negro League baseball player struggling to make ends meet as a garbage man with his wife, Rose (Davis), in 1950’s Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Together, they navigate Troy’s struggles with his mentally handicapped brother (Mykelti Williamson) and his rocky relationship with their teenage, athlete son (Jovan Adepo) and Troy’s illegitimate, musician oldest son (Russell Hornsby). As an original play, the film is low on thrills, but heavy on drama and emotion. The movie itself feels very much like a play and with that comes the pros and cons of most stage play to movie adaptations. The movie is long and very slow, but dragging moments are lifted by the sheer power of the two leads.

To no surprise, Washington and Davis are both brilliant in their performances. Washington is both charismatic and emotionally jarring. His scenes with Jovan Adepo provide some of the best dialogue on film. But when the real drama sets in toward the end of the film, Viola Davis takes the lead as the most magnetic person on screen. Her portrayal is filled with the soulfully endearing passion that makes her the hero of the entire narrative.

If you go in knowing that the film will be methodical then the sluggish pacing won’t be nearly as off-putting. Filled with magnetic monologues from not just Davis and Washington, but every major player, Fences is a movingly poignant story of African American culture in the 1950’s that is beautiful to witness. And I can die happy knowing that two of the best in the business were able to bring it to life.

FINAL GRADE: A-

Fences (Full Review)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Full Review)

Even if you like the Star Wars prequel trilogy, it’s hard to ignore why many don’t. The characters were never as charismatic or likeable as the ones from the original films and the overkill on CGI made the universe feel less tangible. But never fear prequel haters, now Disney is in charge of Lucasfilm and their here to right the wrongs in the form of spinoff films like Rogue One.

rogue_one_a_star_wars_story_posterRogue One focuses on the events leading up to the very first Star Wars film (Episode IV: A New Hope). The Evil Empire has just finished their planet destroying super weapon known as The Death Star with the forced aid of a brilliant engineer named Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). Little do they know, Galen has created a weakness in the Death Star and has sent message to his long lost daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones), on how to access it. Now, the rebellion’s only hope lies in Jyn and a motley crew of rebels to steal the schematics before an Imperial General (Ben Mendelsohn) can track them down.

Rogue One does in two hours what the prequels failed to do in three movies. It perfectly molds an intricate yet acutely focused plot seamlessly into the overall Star Wars mythos while also delivering characters that are memorable and endearing. The evenly paced story is perhaps the most well written since The Empire Strikes Back. From a blind warrior fateful to the force (Donnie Yen) to a rebel assassin (Diego Luna), to an Imperial deserter looking for redemption (Riz Ahmed), each character is well rounded and poignant. Alan Tudyk’s performance as K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial droid, brings excellent comedic timing and a dry wit that rivals only R2-D2 in loveable Star Wars lore.

There is plenty of fan service to go around too. The film is packed with several cameos and easter eggs as well as a brief but memorable scene that exemplifies why Darth Vader is such an imposing character. But most importantly, despite piggy backing on the original Star Wars several times, it manages to feels like it’s own film. If the primary films are considered a space opera, then Rogue One puts the ‘War’ in Star Wars. The thrilling final act feels like Saving Private Ryan in a galaxy far far away.

I enjoyed The Force Awakens, but even I had to admit that it’s story arc felt too much like a retread. But Rogue One delivers  something original and gripping while still feeling like a missing piece of a larger whole. With a fantastic cast of characters, gorgeous scenery, and riveting action sequences in droves, Rogue One succeeds in being the prequel Star Wars film diehard fans have been waiting for as well as an entertaining ride for anyone who enjoys a good war epic.

FINAL GRADE: A

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Full Review)