Archive for November, 2016

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Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them (2016)

November 28, 2016

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, Colin Farrell
Director: David Yates (Harry Potter 5-8, Legend Of Tarzan)

Bottom Line: I thought this Harry Potter spin off film from author J.K. Rowling was… okay. This story takes place seventy years before Harry Potter’s and finds noted wizard author Newt Scamander (Redmayne) and his suitcase of mysterious creatures setting foot on American soil for the first time. There was a huge difference between this story and the one we all know and love – and perhaps this will change as they unveil sequel after sequel – but the characters in Fantastic Beasts aren’t half as memorable as the ones in Harry Potter. Newt is charming and whimsical and the NoMaj/Muggle he befriends, Jacob Kowalski (Fogler), is the heart and soul of the entire film. There’s also Alison Sudo’s Queenie, who seems like she could be Luna Lovegood’s grandmother. The rest of the characters are totally forgettable. There’s no Voldemort here. Not even a Professor Quirrell. I’m not even sure I really understood what the big threat was.

You’d think the American version of the wizarding world might offer up some interesting comparing and contrasting, but the big difference pretty much comes down to calling nonmagical people “NoMaj” instead of “Muggles.” That’s about it. Also, I found it interesting how racially diverse the magical community is in 1920s America. Apparently the wizarding world is about 160 years ahead of its NoMaj contemporaries – not only are minorities integrated, they can be President. I would have liked to see how a witch of such prominence interacted with NoMaj under the guise of her perceived social standing: a segregated black woman. Alas, we don’t get such a sequence despite the fact that prejudice (think “mudbloods”) plays such a huge role in Voldemort’s rise to prominence decades later.

I don’t want to give off the perception that I thought Fantastic Beasts was all bad; in fact, I found it enjoyable. You just can’t help but compare it to the quality of the franchise that spawned it. The creatures in the film are great and unique. It seems as though Rowling spent all her time thinking up fantastic beasts instead of developing interesting characters! The best parts of the film all feature Newt interacting or chasing the creatures in his suitcase.

I think fans of the Harry Potter series mostly won’t be disappointed with Fantastic Beasts, but I felt like it paled in comparison. It’s definitely not as kid friendly as its predecessor – if I was wondering what the heck was going on with the bad guys, there’s no way young kids are going to be able to follow it. Fantastic Beasts was enjoyable, but far from great. There could be hope on the horizon as the first Harry Potter was the worst one in the series, in my opinion. Still, I’d rather see the filmmakers adapt Harry Potter & The Cursed Child than make four more Fantastic Beasts movies.

Replay Value: Not itching to see it again.
Sequel Potential: Four sequels are announced, first one is in development already.
Oscar Potential: The last three Harry Potter movies were nominated for six Oscars total – mostly for Visual Effects, which would be this film’s most likely nomination.

Grade: 5.5/10 (Watchable/Recommended)

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Creed (2015), Trumbo (2015), Popstar (2016), Star Trek Beyond (2016)

November 22, 2016

Was sick last week and watched more movies than usual, but I don’t feel like going through my whole individual review process… so here’s my quick thoughts on these films:

Creed (2015) – I love Michael B. Jordan and he’s great in this continuation/reboot of Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky franchise as Apollo Creed’s son Adonis, an unknown up-and-coming boxer that wants to make it to the big time on his own merit, yet hunts down the legendary Rocky Balboa to be his trainer. Sylvester Stallone is good in this movie, but Oscar worthy? Wow. It’s crazy that this franchise is still relevant and not terrible in 2016 – 2006’s Rocky Balboa was enjoyable too – and yet this was another solid sequel.

6/10 (Recommended)

Trumbo (2015) – This movie inspired me to write this post on the basis of another great performance from star Bryan Cranston. Here, he plays Dalton Trumbo, one of Hollywood’s premier screenwriters in the 1940s before getting blacklisted for being a communist. I’m honestly not sure what it means to be a “commie,” but this movie makes it not seem like such a bad thing and you get the feeling that The List was highly unfair. Cranston is great in Trumbo but the movie itself wasn’t all that entertaining.

5.5/10 (Watchable/Recommended)

Popstar (2016) – Andy Samberg is hilarious as Conner, the world’s biggest pop star that has to deal with flopping as a solo artist after a mega successful career in a boy band. This movie is funny, absurd, and very enjoyable.

6.5/10 (Recommended/Highly Enjoyable)

Star Trek Beyond (2016) – It seemed like a lot happened in this movie and there was a lot of action, but man, it was super boring. I really loved the first movie in this rebooted franchise, but the films following have gotten progressively less interesting despite casting huge stars in the villain roles. Idris Elba isn’t given much to work with here as Krall, spending 90% of the film unrecognizable in full makeup. Dude has way too much talent to waste his time on roles like this. I still like the cast that makes up the crew of the Enterprise, but Star Trek was in much better hands with J.J. Abrams.

4/10 (Forgettable)

I also updated my Heavy Rotation page and, as always, my 2016 albums page is being updated almost every day.

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My Top 5 Actors and Actresses in 2016

November 18, 2016

I just finished watching Trumbo starring Bryan Cranston and it inspired me to think of my favorite actors of the current film era. This list in no way reflects a life time of work – so legends like Pacino, Nicholson, and De Niro are notably absent – it is simply a list of the actors or actresses I’d most like to see in a movie if it came out tomorrow:

1. Leonardo DiCaprio
2. Christian Bale
3. Benedict Cumberbatch
4. Daniel Day-Lewis
5. Bryan Cranston

Comments: Leo has been the most consistently awesome actor of the past 15 years. The Wolf Of Wall Street, Django Unchained, Inception, and The Departed were all my favorite films of their respective release years – and only The Wolf Of Wall Street represents one of his five total Oscar nominations. Dude is crushing. Bale was a great Bruce Wayne (and a good Batman) but he’s on this list for his work in The Fighter, American Hustle, The Big Short, and American Psycho. Cumberbatch has leaped up on my list because of his brillaint work as Sherlock Holmes and his Oscar nominated performance in The Imitation Game. Plus, he was perfect casting for Marvel’s Doctor Strange, giving an unheralded superhero an extra level of credibility. Daniel Day-Lewis doesn’t always star in movies, but when he does, he usually gets nominated for Best Actor and then he usually wins – he’s the only actor in history to win Best Actor three times. Cranston’s peformance in “Breaking Bad” is one of the best you will ever see. He’s just now establishing himself as a big name in the movies, getting an Oscar nomination in his first major starring role in 2015 for Trumbo. I haven’t seen The Infiltrator yet, but I’m sure he’s great in it and I suspect he’s going to be one of the most consistent actors in the next 5-10 years.

Honorable Mentions: Tom Hardy, Denzel Washington, Michael Fassbender, Jake Gyllenhall, Ryan Gosling, Idris Elba, Eddie Redmayne, Christoph Waltz

1. Jennifer Lawrence
2. Amy Adams
3. Meryl Streep
4. Kate Winslet
5. Scarlett Johansson

Comments: Jennifer Lawrence was basically unknown in 2010 when Winter’s Bone came out and garnered her first Best Actress nomination. She’s been nominated for an acting Oscar in four of the last six years, including a Best Actress win for Silver Linings Playbook, and has starred in the ultra successful Hunger Games franchise, establishing herself as the most talented and most successful young actress in the world. Adams has 5 acting nominations since 2006 and her performance in Enchanted was far better than that movie deserved. It’s highly likely that she will be nominated for this year’s Arrival as well. Not much to be said about Meryl Streep. She’s the GOAT. 15 acting nominations in her career – and only one win (a crime!). Kate Winslet has become this generation’s Meryl Streep. None of her movies really jump out at you as great, but her work in them is undeniably phenomenal. She has 7 acting nominations since 1996, but only one win (The Reader). Scarlett Johansson has quietly put together a very impressive and largely overlooked resume. Maybe it’s her overwhelming beauty or the fact she’s played an Avenger five times in the past six years, but Scarlett has been giving great performances since Ghost World and The Man Who Wasn’t There in the early 2000s. She’s still searching for her first Oscar nomination.

Honorable Mentions: Charlize Theron, Anne Hathaway, Helen Mirren, Marion Cotillard, Natalie Portman

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Francis and the Lights – Farewell, Starlite! (2016)

November 12, 2016

I was scrolling through Twitter one day when I saw Chance The Rapper mention that he couldn’t stop listening to the new Francis and the Lights album. Now, I’ve never heard of Francis and the Lights, but Chance has been one of my top 5 musicians over the past year, so obviously I trust his taste in music. He didn’t let me down.

Farewell, Starlite! is labeled on Apple Music as hip-hop/rap but that’s incredibly misleading. I had no idea what to expect, but it’s safe to say that I was NOT expecting an album with literally zero rapping on it. It’s honestly hard to categorize what Francis and the Lights is – and it’s kind of odd for me to pick this as my first Album of the Moment because I’ve never reviewed a non-hip-hop album. But the music is so good on this short 10 track album that it just has to be recognized. I guess I’d say it’s folky pop. Is that a thing? Easy Listening? I’m not sure.

The band consists of Francis Farewell Starlite (his legal name, but not his given name) and, as he says: “there are no members… it is me and whomever else is involved. Including you.” As far as I can tell, Francis is the only vocalist in the band – if there even is one – and while his lyrics aren’t mind-blowing by any means, he is clearly a master at crafting incredibly infectious songs. For instance, “Comeback” has no business being as enjoyable as it is. If you were to read this song about a friend that had to stay home while his buddies went to a fun party, on paper it would look pretty corny, but Francis’ vocals bring it to life in a way that just makes you want to smile.

While I find every song on Farewell, Starlite! enjoyable, my two favorite tracks are “My City’s Gone” and “It’s Alright To Cry.” The former features hip-hop superstar Kanye West, but his vocal contributions are limited to harmonizing the chorus. The forlorn story of a man whose hometown has become unrecognizable to him is worthy enough of my Best Of 2016 playlist. “It’s Alright To Cry” is as addictive as it gets. It’s impossible to listen to this song and not absently sing the hook for days to come.

It’s always nice when an artist that is totally unknown to you releases an album that is one of the year’s best. Farewell, Starlite! is the rare album where every song is good. While Francis and the Lights certainly is not hip-hop music, the singer’s style blends seamlessly with rap as his previous collaborations with Drake and Chance The Rapper have shown. He also features with Chance on a song on the upcoming The Hamilton Mixtape, which is to be released later this year. Farewell, Starlite! is solid from top to bottom and ranks as one of my favorite albums of 2016. Francis is a star in the making and this album is an absolute must listen.

Grade: 7.5/10 (Essential Listening/Excellent)

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Doctor Strange (2016)

November 9, 2016

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen, Benedict Wong
Director: Scott Derrickson (Sinister)

Bottom Line: Marvel continues its trend of pumping out solid origin stories for its vast stable of superheroes with Doctor Strange, the first film in the MCU to deal with the more mystical side of things. The film is basically your typical Marvel origin movie meets Christopher Nolan’s Inception, both in concept and visually. After getting in a terrible car accident that renders his hands unusable, Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) desperately seeks any way possible to regain his functionality and winds up in the Himalayan Mountains where he meets The Ancient One (Swinton) and learns about things like the multiverse, metaphysical abilities and a bunch of other things that will make your head hurt if you try to understand it all. Just sit back and enjoy the ride – it’s a fun one. The film is as visually dazzling as anything we’ve seen since Inception or Gravity and the script is sprinkled with all the light humor we’ve come to expect from Marvel movies.

From the moment it was announced, you just knew Benedict Cumberbatch was perfect casting as Doctor Strange and it’s no surprise that he absolutely crushes the role. What is somewhat surprising is how good the supporting cast is, but then again, maybe it shouldn’t be – four members of the main cast are former Oscar nominees. Though Marvel has done extremely well at casting all it’s properties, I have to say Doctor Strange is the best ensemble performance in the MCU I’ve seen to date. For a comic book film, it’s top shelf stuff. Also, Strange’s cape is the most entertaining piece of fabric since Aladdin’s magic carpet.

Marvel still has it. I see some critics are getting tired of the superhero genre, but the reality is, Marvel continues to put out quality and inventive properties. Doctor Strange adds a whole new dimension to the MCU – literally – and I’m looking forward to seeing Stephen Strange interact with The Avengers. Doctor Strange is a must see superhero film due to its strong performances and great visual effects and an all around fun time at the movies.

Replay Value: The Marvel films tend to be really good the first time you see them but dip a bit in enjoyment the second time through.
Sequel Potential: I’m sure we will be seeing Doctor Strange in upcoming Marvel films and he’ll probably get a sequel somewhere down the line.
Oscar Potential: Visual Effects will be a strong contender. The acting is great here, but nothing revolutionary and superhero movies tend to be overlooked anyway.

Grade: 7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows (2016)

November 8, 2016

Starring: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Tyler Perry, Stephen Amell
Director: Dave Green (Earth To Echo

Bottom Line: To be clear, I hated the 2014 Ninja Turtles, but Out Of The Shadows looked promising if for only one reason: for the first time in 26 years of making TMNT movies, Bebop and Rocksteady were making an appearance. Outside of Shredder, these guys are easily the turtles most popular villains and somehow we’ve gone five movies without them. Granted, the turtle costumes looked pretty hokey in 1990, so you can only imagine how bad Bebop and Rocksteady would have looked. But it’s 2016 now and we have CG and motion capture performances, so they look pretty damn good here. Plus the writers managed to nail their personas pretty well – physically imposing, mentally challenged. Better late than never, these guys are a fun addition to the franchise.

Out Of Shadows also introduces Dimension X foe Krang into the mix for the first time as Shredder and noted scientist Baxter Stockman (Perry) work together to open a portal that will allow a war machine called the Technodrome access to earth. If nothing else, Out Of Shadows works because it finally gives TMNT fans what they’ve been waiting for: all their favorite things about the cartoon series.

The film itself is merely enjoyable. It seems like the conflict is always the same: Leonardo and Raphael clash as the turtles try to learn how to operate as a team while preventing Shredder from doing whatever scheme he’s up to. There’s nothing new in TMNT storytelling here. The casting of the human characters continues to be questionable. Megan Fox as April O’Neil is just weird – she’s one of those actors that can’t really shed her own identity during a performance. She’s not April O’Neil, she’s Megan Fox in a Ninja Turtles movie. The additions of Tyler Perry as Baxter Stockman and Stephen Amell as Casey Jones don’t really help either. You’d think the guy that plays Oliver Queen would be a good choice for the hockey-themed vigilante, but he gives a pretty cheesy performance.

Out Of Shadows is a fun movie that should instill some nostalgia in fans of the old cartoon series and even though it suffers from some mediocre acting and a cliche story, it’s a drastic improvement over the 2014 version.

Replay Value: I think kids will love it, but once was enough for me.
Sequel Potential: Keep ’em coming.
Oscar Potential: None.

Grade: 5/10 (watchable)