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

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Doctor Strange (Full Review)

“Forget everything you think you know”. That’s what seasoned sorcerer Mordo (Chiwtel Ejiofor) tells Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) when he first encounters him. It’s a perfect mantra for Marvel’s latest addition to their vast, successful universe. A superhero film with a dash of Harry Potter and a sprinkle of Inception makes Doctor Strange unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.

doctor_strange_posterThe film stars Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange, the world’s best neurosurgeon whose ego makes Tony Stark seem humble. After a car accident leaves his hands damaged beyond medical repair, Strange pushes away his only friend (Rachel McAdams) and ventures out to Nepal in a last ditch effort to heal himself. There he encounters the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), an ageless guru who trains Mordo, snarky librarian Wong (Benedict Wong), and many others to conjure up magic and defend the world from a former pupil (Mads Mikkelsen) keen on releasing an ancient evil. Strange must put aside his ego to not only heal himself, but also summon the hero within.

One thing that makes Marvel movies so inherently watchable is their ability to add humor and charisma to everything they make. Doctor Strange is no different. Fused with a phenomenal cast and snappy dialogue, there isn’t an ounce of stiffness to speak of, giving the film loads of personality that helps usher the audience into this trippy new universe.

But it’s that trippy universe that truly makes Doctor Strange a unique film. Remember that amazing hallway fight sequence in Inception. This film has that x 10. Stunning visuals made for 3D create sequences that are jaw dropping. From intricate CGI runes and shifting camera angles to scenery that literally twists and turns like a kaleidoscope, almost every action scene is compellingly unusual but never nauseating.

Being so different from anything else in the comic book genre, Doctor Strange manages to pace things well, explaining key information when needed but never overindulging with exposition. With Cumberbatch at the helm, there is a sense of tangibility that makes it all feel possible. Even the villain (usually Marvel’s biggest weak spot) has a slight wit and intelligence to him that makes his plot seem like an interesting perspective even if it’s the same as any stock megalomaniac.

Without the subtle references to other films in the MCU and the obvious post credit connections, Doctor Strange would manage to feel like its own entity. One that is rich in lure and fascinating characters. It almost makes you wish that it was its own franchise instead of just another precursor to an Avengers movie. But even if we never get a dose of Strange as good as this film, the mark has undoubtedly been set as an entertaining and memorable one.

FINAL GRADE: A

Masterminds (Full Review)

You know a Michael Bay movie when you see it. You can usually figure it out after the tenth explosion within the first half hour. You know a Tim Burton film when you see it. It’s dark, creepy and weird. And after watching Masterminds, you’ll be fully familiar with the films of director Jared Hess.

masterminds_2016_filmJared Hess is the man who wrote and directed Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre. His films are stuffed full of social awkwardness and dry weirdness. Here, he brings a quirky take on the true story of the 1997 Loomis Fargo robbery in North Carolina. The movie has an all-star comedic cast at its disposal. Zach Galifianakis plays David Ghantt, the armored truck driver who steals $17 million. Coaxed by his former co-worker (Kristen Wiig) and her thief friend (Owen Wilson), Ghantt leaves his bizarre fiancé (Kate McKinnon) and flees to Mexico while a hitman (Jason Sudeikis) and an FBI Agent (Leslie Jones) are hot on his trail.

It’s hard to call Masterminds a good movie because it barely makes any sense. But someone can make the same claims on all of Hess’ films. At times the movie is overwhelmingly discomfited. But it is a comedy. And the most important aspect of a comedy is to make the audience laugh. If you are in the group that thinks Hess’ other movies are hilarious, then you’ll enjoy Masterminds. But if you found those movies dumb and weird… well… guess what you’ll think of this one?

Personally, I own two of Hess’ films, so you can imagine which end of the spectrum I fall closer toward. While watching this movie, there were several times when I outwardly said “This is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen.” But, some of those times I did so while holding back laughter. A few moments, like Sudeikis’ hitman using an old Mexican rifle to try and kill Ghantt, actually had me in tears. So while Masterminds is dumb and unrealistically goofy, it undoubtedly has an audience that will enjoy it.

FINAL GRADE: C

My thoughts on… Lee Daniels’ The Butler

There are certain topics that will always, theoretically, make for good films. History is one of those topics. Simply put; the human race, our ups, downs, trials and tribulations, make for compelling stories. But, while it is fairly difficult for a movie based on historical events to be bad, it certainly isn’t impossible. And this is why it is necessary to review movies of this nature and not make it a foregone conclusion that they’ll be excellent films. Which brings us to the topic of today’s review; Lee Daniels’ The Butler (By the way, is there a reason why Lee Daniels was so adamant about putting his name in the title? Anyway… that’s neither here nor there… on to the review).

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For those rare historically based films that don’t work, it is usually because the film fails to strike the correct chord between characterization and the actual historical event (see Pearl Harbor). The Butler manages to avoid this problem by giving us a perspective of the civil rights era that we haven’t experienced; that of the “subservient black”. For those who might not understand going into the movie, this perspective is significant, because it is historically looked upon as a traitorous role in black history and society. The Butler seeks more than to debunk this ideal, but to provide insight into the pivotal role it played in the civil rights movement.

The film, which takes place over several decades, follows the life of Cecil Gaines, a black man who works his way up to becoming one of the hired servants of the White House. Throughout his tenure he indirectly plays witness to some of the most powerful moments in American history, but it is his relationship with his family and how they deal with those events that allows us to recognize the impact of each controversial moment. We witness sit-ins, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy, the plight of the Klu Klux Klan, the Vietnam War, and the formation of the Black Panther party. But without Cecil’s unique perspective we’d be left with something informative and interesting, but not memorable.

The film has some flaws. It gets a bit long in the tooth and some of the shots made me feel like I was watching a TV movie. Also, there is such a thing called over the top ensemble casting (David Banner and Mariah Carey????). But these flaws can be forgiven by dynamic performances elsewhere. Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey,  and David Oyelowo are all incredible. James Marsden and John Cusack’s spot-on impressions of Kennedy and Nixon are also noteworthy. 

These portrayals mesh nicely to provide us with history through the eyes of the many different people who shaped it. In the end, the most important factor of historical films is to affectively present a message.  And, despite a few aesthetic imperfections, the message of The Butler is without a doubt one that everyone who calls themselves an American should experience and understand.

FINAL GRADE: B+

 

 

June Movie Recap

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After Earth

I was initially excited about this movie. Who didn’t get goosebumps during Will Smith’s quote about danger being real, but fear being a choice? Then I saw M. Night Shyamalan’s name (Signs, The Last Airbender, The Happening). Saying I don’t like Shyamalan is like saying Fox News doesn’t like Democrats. The movie isn’t horrible… it’s just… bland. It’s slow paced, Will Smith is dry and emotionless for most of the film, and Jaden Smith can’t quite carry a movie without a supporting cast. *Sigh* So much potential wasted. FINAL GRADE: C-

This Is The End

There are certain movies that aren’t for some people. Those who are very religiously sensitive would probably be irked by several blasphemous moments in this film about the end of days. Everyone else with a sense of humor will find this movie enjoyable from start to finish. I’m in the latter category. The cast, all of whom play parodies of themselves, is absolutely hilarious and it’s evident that they have real chemistry. It’s a comedy. Don’t take it too serious and it is the funniest movie of the summer. Side note: The horde of cameos makes for a nice drinking game too. FINAL GRADE: A-

Man of Steel

Superman’s last venture on the big screen was one of the dullest superhero films ever made (Superman never threw a punch in the entire movie and technically didn’t even defeat Lex Luthor). So it’s hard not to call director Zack Snyder and producer Christopher Nolan’s reboot a triumph. While the middle of the film drags a bit and many of the supporting characters are underdeveloped, Snyder succeeds in doing something that is very difficult in this day and age; Make Superman both likable and relevant. Add that to action sequences and fight scenes that are as good, or better, than anything we’ve ever seen, and Man of Steel is just good enough to give us hope that DC Comics can finally start to compete with the cinematic giant that is Marvel. FINAL GRADE: B+

The Heat

Buddy cop movies are as cliché a genre as any in film. But this isn’t necessarily always a bad thing. To make them succeed, you don’t need a good plot, story, or villain. All you need is two likable characters in the main roles. The Heat has just that. Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy are a fantastic duo. McCarthy, specifically, is even funnier here than in her famous role in Bridesmaids. And if you can make the audience laugh, we can forgive little things like a cookie-cutter plot or Marlon Wayans playing a meaningless character.  FINAL GRADE: B+    

World War Z

Remember what I said about clichéd genres? The Zombie genre is one of them. Simply put, it’s hard to make these movies differentiate themselves from one another. Dawn of the Dead, Resident Evil, Zombieland… they all kind of play by the same rules. In that sense, WWZ is nothing new. Brad Pitt kind of feels wasted in this role. He isn’t bad, but there’s just not much for him to do here. Nevertheless, the movie does at least give enough suspenseful moments to make it worth at least one good look.  FINAL GRADE: B-

Monsters University

Some would argue that Pixar has fallen off as of late. Cars 2 is one of the most unnecessary sequels ever made and Brave, although good, doesn’t measure up to such classics as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, or The Incredibles. In Monsters U, there was a huge risk to be another Cars 2. Did we really need a prequel to 2001’s Monster’s, Inc.? The answer is no, we don’t NEED it. But after watching this movie, I’m glad we got it anyway. Monsters U is amazing from start to finish. For anyone who has ever been to college, it is a nostalgic homage to everything that makes the collegiate experience worth while. Even better, however, is the messages of the film which give it a heart and soul that even the first Monsters movie couldn’t match. FINAL GRADE: A

Full Review: Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale Station

There should always be a disclaimer that comes with movies that are based on a true story. And the disclaimer should be that the term “based” means that often writers and directors will deviate from actual events in order to convey a story they want to tell or a message they want to get across. So it is important to get out and do your own research on the actual events, not just take any such movie for face value. So with that said, lets review Fruitvale Station.

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The film tells the story of the real life death of Oscar Grant, a 22-year old father of a 5-year old daughter who is incidentally killed by Oakland transit police following an altercation on New Year’s Day of 2009. The event was famously captured on civilian cell phone cameras where it quickly went viral. Director Ryan Coogler lets you know this from the opening scene where the emotional footage is shown in its entirety.

From this point on, the tone is set. And the rest of the film is left in the hands of relative newcomer Michael B. Jordan. If you’re unfamiliar with Jordan’s work, rent Chronicle and thank me later. Here, in his first major lead role, Jordan gives a performance that should launch him as one of the next great African American actors for years to come. He creates an Oscar Grant that is not a character, but a real person. He is temperamental, he is prideful, but he is also smart, resourceful, and protective. Oscar is not just an ex-con struggling desperately to provide for his family and get his life on track. He is that friend or relative that you grew up with; the one who was the most charismatic, but could never quite stay out of trouble.

It is because of this performance, that we feel like we know Oscar Grant. We scold him when he lies and cheats on his loyal girlfriend and we smile and root for him when he is a loving son and father. And this is what makes the film feel so tragic. Because all along, we know how it will end.

Coogler presents us with the perfect formula for emotional storytelling, but above all, it is Jordan who drives it home by bringing this person to life. Fruitvale Station is about true events, but it would’ve been a powerful movie regardless of its foundations on actuality. And that is what makes it stand out as a great film. It isn’t necessarily about Oscar Grant. Because Oscar Grant could be anyone.

FINAL GRADE: A

   

 

I’m here now guys… sheesh

By popular demand, I’m finally starting a movie review blog. As a theater manager I get to watch movies for free so it goes without saying that I see A LOT of movies. Unfortunately, this means I’ll have to take on the challenge of seeing movies I already know are going to be terrible (Deep sigh) but I’ll take the sacrifice. Please feel free to hit me up on twitter @B_Sinatra to request any review. Feedback is welcome. I’ll try my best to be objective and not bash every movie 😀 and in return I ask that you guys don’t bash me. Hope you all enjoy, and the first review will come real soon!