Archive for the ‘movie reviews’ Category

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Dunkirk (2017)

July 26, 2017

Starring: Harry Styles, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh
Director: Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, Memento)

Bottom Line: This is not “the best film of Christopher Nolan’s career” or “one of the best war films ever” like many critics have made it out to be – it’s not even as good as last year’s Hacksaw Ridge, which hit me right in the feels. I’m shocked at how well received Dunkirk has been because it is absolutely hollow. Dunkirk made me feel nothing. Nolan is still a master at making beautiful films – Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises were both very easy on the eyes – but this is now the third straight film of his where I’ve left the theater thinking “eh” because of his writing.

Set during World War II in the city of Dunkirk, France, Allied forces are trapped on the beach and surrounded by German troops. The story has three different timelines: one takes place over a week following a group of soldiers on the beach, a second takes place over a single day following a man and two kids from the British Empire on a boat headed towards Dunkirk to help out, and a third takes place over the course of an hour, in the air, following a couple of pilots in dogfighters. The problem with these intertwining stories is we are completely immersed into the action, from the very first scene, and there is virtually no character development so you never really care about what happens to anyone or what is at stake. Maybe just knowing this is a true story and a number of real people were in a similar situation is enough to make some people feel something, but watching a movie, following certain characters, I want to feel something about them – and I never did.

Mark Rylance does a very fine job as the ordinary British man that sails into battle and his story is definitely the most interesting. In contrast, Tom Hardy plays one of the pilots and that entire story arc is completely devoid of any investment from the audience. How can you possibly care about someone when you can’t understand a single line of dialogue they say the entire film? That’s another issue I had with Dunkirk. Even though everyone is speaking English, subtitles felt like a requirement, particularly during the flight scenes – the sounds of the jets are so loud you can’t hear anything that is being said. While that might be authentic, the audience isn’t equipped with a headset like the pilots are. I suppose Harry Styles does a fine job as one of the soldiers on the ground, but again, I wasn’t invested in his story and even though the script follows a select group of soldiers it isn’t particularly easy to tell them apart, especially since I wasn’t familiar with the actors.

So yeah, Dunkirk is visually great, as all Nolan’s films have been, but the script falls short. Even though the movie is riveting and Hans Zimmer’s score adds lots of tension, the script doesn’t invest you in the story and there is simply no emotional payoff. Maybe I will change my mind when I watch it again but I can’t say I’m exactly excited about a second viewing. I appear to be in the minority in not loving this film, so take this review with a grain of salt and go see it for yourself, but I can promise this much: there is no way my wife, a casual film watcher, would have enjoyed Dunkirk.

Replay Value: I didn’t love Interstellar or The Dark Knight Rises the first time I watched them but I did see them again. I think a second viewing of Dunkirk would be more laborious, however.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: I would be appalled if Dunkirk was the film that finally got Nolan an Oscar statue, but the praise being heaped on it makes it a pretty strong contender for things like Best Picture and Best Director. I would have no problem with Dunkirk being nominated for Best Cinematography or and visual categories though.

Grade: 5/10 (watchable)

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Moana (2016)

July 21, 2017

Starring: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Jemaine Clement
Director: Ron Clements (Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Hercules)

Bottom Line: Walt Disney Animated Studios had a pretty massive year as both Zootopia and Moana are arguably the best films the studio has produced since Tarzan all the way back in 1999 (Note: Walt Disney Animated Studios and Pixar are NOT the same company). Moana is a spectacular blend of Polynesian mythology and coming-of-age story thanks to a large team of writers collaborating on a great script with amazing songwriting contributions from famed Hamilton playwright Lin-Manual Miranda. Miranda’s work here cannot be understated: I was singing the songs from Moana for days after watching the movie and immediately added the soundtrack to my Apple Music library. Miranda has proven that he is a master songwriter and a true genius and I am actually quite sad that he didn’t win an Oscar for “How Far I’ll Go.” He even makes Dwayne Johnson sound good!

Infused with a smart, funny script seeped with mythology, memorable characters, solid vocal performances from Cravalho and Johnson, and unforgettable songs, Moana continues Disney’s best run of animated features since the early-to-mid 90s.

Replay Value: This is one of my favorite recent Disney movies. I’d be happy to watch it again today and it will be a must own when we have kids.
Sequel Potential: A theatrical sequel for a Disney animated film used to be unheard of: Winnie The Pooh and The Rescuers are the only Disney originals that got sequels in theaters. Tradition seems to be changing, however, as recent Disney films Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen both have sequels scheduled for theatrical release in the next two years. Straight-to-video sequels are common for Disney, so it will be interesting to see what happens with Moana.
Oscar Potential: Nominated for Best Animated Feature and Best Song, but lost to Zootopia and La La Land, respectively.

Grade: 7.5/10 (highly enjoyable/must see)

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War For The Planet Of The Apes (2017)

July 20, 2017

Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson
Director: Matt Reeves (Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, Let Me In, Cloverfield)

Bottom Line: Chalk up another win for the rebooted Apes franchise. War For The Planet Of The Apes continues the franchise’s trend of combining amazing visual effects with storytelling that pulls on the heartstrings and another phenomenal motion-capture performance from Andy Serkis. Caesar really has become one of the best film heroes of the past decade and it is largely because of Serkis’ nuanced acting. This role probably won’t get him that elusive Oscar nomination, but many have said it’s his best work yet. Woody Harrelson provides a worthy villain, one that will make you hate him and actively root for the apes against the humans.

The latest Planet Of The Apes trilogy has had a great run, breaking ground with its motion-capture performances and awesome CGI, while developing plenty of non-human characters. I still think the first film with James Franco was the strongest, but the last two entries have been very enjoyable as well, although not quite as memorable. This is an obvious must see if you are a fan of the franchise and an all around strong sci-fi sequel.

Replay Value: It will be cool to watch all three in sequence, but the first one is by far my favorite.
Sequel Potential: Obviously this is a franchise that will always have possibilities, but I don’t know if there are plans to continue with any of these characters.
Oscar Potential: A shoo-in for a Visual Effects nomination but the series is yet to get a nod for anything else and Andy Serkis will likely be ignored again.

Grade: 7/10 (highly enjoyable)

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The Mummy (2017)

July 13, 2017

Starring: Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Jack Johnson
Director: Alex Kurtzman

Bottom Line: Universal continues to struggle to jump start their Dark Universe, a connected cinematic world featuring all their classic movie monsters, ala the formula Marvel has made famous. Dracula Untold was the first false start and now The Mummy is supposed to finally get things moving forward but… it sucked. Okay, maybe it didn’t suck, but it was very dull and unmemorable.

We are introduced to Sofia Boutella’s mummy and Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekkyl here and there are allusions to vampires and other possible monsters, but there was very little to be excited about. You kind of hope you get to see Crowe’s Jekkyl turn into his alter-ego Mr. Hyde, but when it happens it’s kind of an “oh boy” moment. I feel like I can confidently predict there will never be a Dr. Jekkyl and Mr. Hyde movie starring Russell Crowe – the transformation was incredibly lame.

Tom Cruise does a fine job as the renegade hero and Sofia Boutella’s mummy is whatever. You’d think that a mummy movie in 2017 would be much better than the version that came 15 years before, but it’s not. The Mummy starring Brendan Fraser had a lot more of an adventurous feel to it and the lighthearted humor made it a lot more enjoyable than this one. There are some funny moments as Cruise and Jack Johnson have some pretty good chemistry, but it’s clear that the tone of this version of The Mummy is meant to be much more serious than its predecessor and it just doesn’t work that well.

The Mummy wasn’t scary and it wasn’t all that entertaining. I don’t think it was terrible and it’s not like I wanted to leave the theater, but I wouldn’t really recommend it. Not even to huge fans of monster movies. I think Universal has no choice but to move forward at this point, but they are yet to get their cinematic universe off to the start their vault of classic monsters deserve. It’s brutal to recommend a reboot after the first movie, but I don’t want to see this mummy in future movies and I have no desire to see Crowe’s Dr. Jekkyl again. The future looks grim for Universal’s Dark Universe.

Replay Value: I would never watch this again.
Sequel Potential: This is supposed to be the first in a long series of connected monster movies. However, as of this writing, only The Bride Of Frankenstein (a weird choice for the second film) has a scheduled release date and that is two years away! Johnny Depp is reportedly going to be The Invisible Man and Javier Bardem is allegedly the Frankenstein Monster, but there’s not much on the horizon. Universal doesn’t seem to have a very good plan and after two rough starts maybe this thing never really takes off.
Oscar Potential: None.

Grade: 3.5/10 (skip it/forgettable)

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Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

July 10, 2017

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Zendaya
Director: Jon Watts

Bottom Line: I loved it. Tonally, this is the Spider-Man movie we’ve been waiting for: a high school kid that looks and acts like a high school kid and is clearly in the rookie year of his superhero adventures, despite briefly dipping his head in the majors in Captain America: Civil War. While Spider-Man might have a high tech suit capable of amazing things thanks to Tony Stark, he’s still just a kid looking to help out around his borough and hoping not to be a loser at school, while waiting around hoping The Avengers come calling or he stumbles across something big.

Tom Holland crushes the role. We got a glimpse that he might be the right actor for the job in Civil War but now there’s no doubt about it. Holland is charismatic and hilarious and does some great physical comedy in the film. I think it’s safe to say that we will be seeing him as Spider-Man for at least the next decade and that’s a very good thing. He is perfect for the job and it will be fun to watch him grow up with the character.

The script in this movie was fantastic. I’ve heard people call it the funniest Marvel movie yet and maybe it is – it was basically nonstop laughs for two hours and all the jokes landed successfully. Michael Keaton plays Spidey nemesis Adrian Toomes, a.k.a. The Vulture, and, as expected, does a great job, bringing an everyday person element to the character that is usually missing from comic book villains. Toomes is a regular guy whose company strikes a huge deal to cleanup the aftermath of the first Avengers movie only to have a Tony Stark subdivision come in and take things over with little apology, despite Toomes pouring all his financial resources into the project. It’s a smart way to weave The Vulture into the MCU and screenwriters make some other genius decisions with this character as well.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is exactly what you want from a Spider-Man movie: great action, lots of laughs, a charismatic and funny hero, and a formidable villain with some emotional resonance. The film works incredibly well considering it doesn’t introduce Spidey staples like Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane Watson, or Harry Osborn. Most movies, even when they are good, you still want to end at some point, but I could’ve watched Tom Holland play Spider-Man for several more hours and I’m really looking forward to more sequels and Avengers appearances in the future.

Replay Value: I’d watch it again now and it will be a must own in my movie collection.
Sequel Potential: Avengers: Infinity War is due out next year and a Spidey sequel is announced for 2019.
Oscar Potential: Great performances from Holland and Keaton, but not really Oscar fare here. Of all the 2017 films I’ve seen so far, I’d give this one the edge in Visual Effects.

Grade: 7.5/10 (highly enjoyable/must see)

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July Movie/Music Preview

June 30, 2017

Anticipation Meter
6 – Epic
5 – Very High
4 – Strong
3 – Moderate
2 – Low
1 – Nonexistent

As I noted last month, I’m going to make these previews a bit more succinct – no more box office predictions.

MOVIES

Spider-Man: Homecoming (7th) – One of the most popular superheroes of all-time finally comes home to Marvel Studios. Tom Holland and his new Spider-Man had a great small appearance in last year’s Captain America: Civil War, blending in seamlessly with the rest of Marvel’s Avengers and setting the tone for a much younger and mouthy Spidey. Early reviews for this film have been stellar, with plenty of stuff like “best Spider-Man movie ever” and “one of the best Marvel films yet” being tossed around. I love the casting of Michael Keaton as The Vulture. I expect this movie to be hilarious and lots of fun – it has long been one of my most anticipated 2017 releases. Anticipation Meter – 5

A Ghost Story (7th) – Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara in a movie about a deceased husband returning as a ghost in a white bed sheet. The cast here is strong enough to garner my interest, but the director’s last film was Pete’s Dragon, so… Anticipation Meter – 2.5

War for the Planet of the Apes (14th) – The Planet of the Apes franchise has had an incredibly strong reboot thanks to a phenomenal motion-capture performance from Andy Serkis, a great lead character in Caesar, and some very good screenplays. The first two films in this trilogy were wonderful and early word is this third entry is right on par. Anticipation Meter – 4

Wish Upon (14th) – Joey King stars as a teenage girl that receives a music box that grants her wishes to be wealthy, popular and desired – and then the people closest to her start dying. I like horror movies, but I haven’t seen or heard anything about this one that has made me want to see it. Anticipation Meter – 1

Dunkirk (21st) – Christopher Nolan’s latest film focuses on the Allied troops that were trapped in the French city of Dunkirk during World War II. Nolan regulars Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy are joined by Kenneth Branagh and Oscar winner Mark Rylance. After Inception, Nolan was easily my favorite filmmaker, but his last two movies, The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar were relatively disappointing. I’m not a huge fan of the war genre and the footage I’ve seen of Dunkirk doesn’t have me particularly amped, but Chris Nolan is still on my short list of favorite directors so I’m cautiously optimistic. Anticipation Meter – 3

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (21st) – I don’t know much about this comic book adaptation from Luc Besson, the director of The Professional and The Fifth Element, but it looks visually ambitious. Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne are the stars in this sci-fi space adventure. The trailers I’ve seen look interesting enough and it seems like a movie that should be seen in theaters if you’re going to watch it. Anticipation Meter – 3

Girls Trip (21st) – R-rated comedy starring Queen Latifah, Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and Tiffany Haddish about a group of lifelong friends that travel to New Orleans and get into various high jinks. Sounds like another version of The Hangover and a pass to me. Anticipation Meter – 1

Atomic Blonde (28th) – You’d think a movie that has Charlize Theron playing a secret agent that’s kicking ass and making out with another woman in its trailer would be an easy sell, but I feel like I’ve seen the whole story already – the trailers have been playing in front of basically every film I’ve seen in the past two months. I will probably skip this unless it gets strong reviews. Anticipation Meter – 2

The Emoji Movie (28th) – Huh? How is this even happening? I’m not surprised though – everything’s exploitable these days. I just watched the trailer and it looks cut from the same cloth as Pixar’s Toy Story and Inside Out in that it creates a secret universe for inanimate/intangible objects – in this case, the emojis in our cell phones. On the surface, it looks like a kid’s movie made for kids, so it remains to be seen if it will have the heart and soul that can appeal to adults like the best animated features do. I’ve been surprised before though (i.e. The Lego Movie). Anticipation Meter – 1.5

MUSIC

Jay-Z4:44 (7th) – Technically, this is out already, but rumor has it that it will be widely available next Friday and that will likely be the first time that I hear it. Initially, I was skeptical: I hadn’t heard much from Jay recently that moved the meter, so a new album seemed like it could easily disappoint. However, word is this is pretty spectacular and is one of Jay’s most personal albums ever. At worst, Jay-Z is a top five rapper ever and there are very good arguments to be made that he’s #1, so any new album from him is a must listen, and early rave reviews have increased my excitement. The Ruler’s back! Anticipation Meter – 5

There’s a 21 Savage (7th) album coming out in July, but I can’t say I’m a fan. The only other names I recognize are Lana Del Ray (14th), Coldplay (21st), and Arcade Fire (28th), none of which I care about. Sounds like a good month to catch up on all the music I didn’t get a chance to digest in June.

Notable Netflix Additions

Best In Show (1st)

The Mighty Ducks (1st)

E.T. (1st)

Punch Drunk Love (1st)

Titanic (1st)

Castlevania, Season One (7th) – Haven’t looked into this at all, but love the concept.

Lion (9th)

Friends From College, Season One – interesting cast, featuring Keegan-Michael Key, Fred Savage, Cobie Smulders.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – kind of a big deal

Lastly, Netflix will be removing all Futurama content tomorrow which is some seriously disappointing news.

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Wonder Woman (2017), Baywatch (2017), 47 Meters Down (2017)

June 23, 2017

In the interest of catching up, I’m going to keep these short and sweet.

Wonder Woman (2017) – I loved it. This movie made me incredibly happy. The DC film universe looked in grim shape after Dawn Of Justice but Wonder Woman was a huge win for them – both critically and in its record-breaking box office performance. Gal Gadot does a GREAT job. Not only is she absolutely stunning in the titular role, but she is convincingly HEROIC. I’ve seen the movie twice and the scene in No Man’s Land gave me goosebumps and a huge smile both times. Wonder Woman might have a slow build to this epic moment, but there’s no hesitation in Diana’s resolve: she says she wants to go where the war is and she doesn’t think for a second before jumping right into the line of fire. Chris Pine is a great addition to the cast, as he has plenty of chemistry with Gadot and adds a nice dose of humor. The script does a great job of infusing small bits of comedy into a serious war time setting, without taking anything away from the gravity of the situation. I do think the climax got a little bit… extravagant and silly… but the rest of the movie was fantastic. Wonder Woman is a great comic book film and the best superhero origin movie since Iron Man in 2008.

Replay Value: I saw it twice during opening week and I’d be happy to watch it again right now. It will be a must own in my movie collection.
Sequel Potential: You don’t make heaps and not get sequels. I’m sure DC will fast track another Wonder Woman movie, but first up we will get the two Justice League films and I’m still concerned about those movies, even with Wonder Woman‘s success and the involvement of Joss Whedon.
Oscar Potential: It’s a very good superhero movie, but not really Oscar bait. There is always a chance for technical nominations but most likely it will just whiff entirely.

Grade: 7.5/10 (highly enjoyable/must see comic book movie)

Baywatch (2017) – I was really hoping Baywatch would be a solid 21 Jump Street imitation, but it’s not nearly as clever or as smart. In fact, Baywatch is nothing more than your average stupid, raunchy comedy. The script is absolutely terrible, but at least Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron give their roles some life, as less charismatic leads would render this movie completely unwatchable. The supporting cast range from totally forgettable to borderline bad and while Jon Bass has some funny moments, his character really shows no indication he would actually make the cut in the stiff competition there is to become a Baywatch lifeguard. So the reason he makes it is so we can laugh at his ineptitude and misfortune. Baywatch is a stupid, silly movie that you can safely skip in the theaters and wait until Red Box if you must see it. For what it’s worth though, the three people I saw it with seemed to be pretty satisfied.

Replay Value: Once was enough for me.
Sequel Potential: Baywatch hasn’t exactly smashed at the box office and it got destroyed by the critics, so it’s sequel chances are pretty low.
Oscar Potential: I could see some Razzie potential for the script.

Grade: 4.5/10 (forgettable/watchable)

47 Meters Down (2017) – This is a movie that I probably would have never seen in my life under any other circumstances, but after All Eyez On Me got demolished by the critics, the friends I was staying with in Vegas decided they wanted to see this instead. I basically had no expectations for what looked like a B-level Jaws ripoff starring Mandy Moore, so anything north of horrible was going to be a surprise to me and, well, I was surprised. The plot is trite and silly: two sisters vacation in Mexico after one of them has a big breakup and they wind up on a sketchy-looking boat with a sketchy-looking crew and then go underwater in a sketchy-looking cage so they can go shark-gazing and prove how not boring they are. I have to admit, 47 Meters Down made me incredibly uncomfortable. I’m claustrophobic and watching these girls not only be trapped in a cage, but also submerged underwater with a depleting air supply really hit my weak spots. I seriously had thoughts of walking out of the theater – that’s how much the situation was making me squirm. Just thinking of myself in that situation was unbearable – I’d be dead in minutes because of a panic attack – but I detached and got through it. Oh yeah, there are sharks in this movie! And they are actually well used, with the dark and murky water creating some tense and scary scenes. 47 Meters Down isn’t groundbreaking or particularly good – and the ending was kind of questionable – but it made me uncomfortable enough to get a thumbs up from me.

Replay Value: Not much, but I suppose I could watch it again.
Sequel Potential: The Sharknado sequels won’t stop coming, so maybe?
Oscar Potential: None

Grade: 5.5/10 (watchable/recommended)