Posts Tagged ‘movie reviews’

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I, Tonya (2017)

February 22, 2018

Starring: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney
Director: Craig Gillespie (Fright Night, Lars and the Real Girl, The Finest Hours)

Bottom Line: Absolutely loved it. This is the story of American Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding (Robbie), her brutal upbringing by her abusive and alcoholic mother (Janney), her struggle for acceptance (despite her enormous talent) in the ice skating world because of her trashy background, her tumultuous relationship with boyfriend Jeff Gillooly (Stan), and the controversy that arose from all of these things, including the infamous Nancy Kerrigan Incident. I love the way this movie is delivered via present day interviews and flashbacks and a knowing wink that everyone involved might be twisting the truth about what actually happened. The use of multiple unreliable narrators allows the story to unfold without presenting everything as 100% factual and adds an extra layer of humor to what is easily the funniest 2017 film I’ve seen to date. I, Tonya manages to tell Harding’s story without really taking anyone’s side. Tonya Harding might be at the center of this biopic, but she’s no hero and even though the film might want you to feel pity for Harding at times, I think it clearly understands that she was an incredibly flawed human being and though she was surrounded by horrible people, she wasn’t merely a victim of circumstance – she didn’t exactly shy away from controversy. Margot Robbie and Allison Janney are brilliant in this movie, both delivering tour-de-force performances worthy of their Oscar nominations.

I, Tonya is definitely one of my favorite 2017 films. It’s hilarious and entertaining, ever-so-slightly heartbreaking, with some top notch acting from Robbie and Janney – a must see dark comedy about a troubled former celebrity that will make you laugh out loud and almost feel bad for her.

Replay Value: I would eagerly watch this again and I’m sure my wife will love it.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: Nominated for three Oscars: Robbie for Best Actress, Janney for Best Supporting Actress, and Film Editing. I haven’t seen all the movies nominated for Best Costume Design or Best Makeup, but anyone that can make Margot Robbie look even slightly unattractive probably deserves some acclaim. Also, it seems like adding I, Tonya as a tenth nominee for Best Picture wouldn’t be asking too much.

Grade: 8/10 (Must See)

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Nocturnal Animals (2016)

February 15, 2018

Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Director: Tom Ford (A Single Man)

Bottom Line: I can see how Nocturnal Animals has divided audiences and I’m actually surprise the audience score is as high as it is on Rotten Tomatoes (72%). This is likely not a movie for the casual filmgoer or really anyone that doesn’t want to think too much while watching films. I loved it though. It’s beautifully shot, extremely well acted, and the multiple narratives seem complex but are actually pretty simple and intertwine extremely well.

Here’s the gist: Amy Adams plays a woman deep into her second marriage and things seem to be falling apart between them. While her husband is away in NYC (cheating on her) she receives a manuscript from her previous husband (Gyllenhaal) that she begins reading. The story is about a man (Gyllenhaal again), and his wife and daughter, driving along a deserted Texas highway and being forced off the road by some hooligans that torment the family and eventually take off with the two women. The man teams up with a local sheriff (Shannon) to locate the two women. While reading the manuscript, Adams’ character finds herself reflecting on her own life and wondering about the choices she’s made.

I tried to type that synopsis up with as few spoilers as possible. I highly recommend watching Nocturnal Animals knowing absolutely nothing about it… like I did.

Michael Shannon gives a terrific (and Oscar nominated) performance as the Texan sheriff and the rest of the cast is great as well. Jake Gyllenhaal always seems to be solid, if not quite amazing, in any role he takes on and this film isn’t any different for him. Amy Adams’ character is quite a bit more interesting. In flashbacks, she seems genuine, somewhat optimistic, and perhaps quite a bit naive and in the present she says very little but exudes sadness and a palpable coldness. It’s a nuanced performance that will probably be appreciated more over multiple viewings. Also, it’s a bit of casting genius to have Isla Fisher in the role of the wife in the manuscript as Fisher and Adams have long been linked as doppelgangers of one another.

Nocturnal Animals is a brilliant film. If you found yourself unsatisfied when the credits started rolling, work a little harder. Do some research and figure it out. If you don’t want to do that, then Nocturnal Animals definitely wasn’t for you. This movie fires on all cylinders, while combining Western thriller with psychological warfare and a classic revenge tale. I still haven’t seen some critically acclaimed films from 2016, but right now I feel comfortable ranking Nocturnal Animals as high as #3 on my list and I won’t be surprised if ten years from now I look back on 2016 and it’s the film I remember most. I highly recommend it, but be warned: you’re going to have to use your brain because it’s not all spelled out for you.

Replay Value: This is the kind of film that if you liked it, you’ll surely want to watch it again. Probably immediately.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: Michael Shannon was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and, in what I felt was a rather weak year for films, was probably robbed of multiple other nominations. Nocturnal Animals stuck with me way more than La La Land and Fences, for instance, and it seems criminal that the film received zero technical nods.

Grade: 8 (Must See)

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Call Me By Your Name (2017)

February 1, 2018

Starring: Timothee Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar
Director: Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash)

Bottom Line: Call Me By Your Name is naturally going to draw some comparisons to 2005’s Brokeback Mountain and that might be all the information some of my followers need to decide to stay away. But 2018 is not 2005 and we live in a much more accepting (though still incredibly prejudiced) world nowadays and maybe some of you will appreciate this for what it is: a very solid coming-of-age love story set in Italy during the early 1980s… between a 17 year old boy and a 25 year old man. Yes, not everyone’s cup of tea – and the age difference borders on suspect – but I really enjoyed it. There are some cringe-worthy moments – as is the case with lots of foreign language films – but it’s funny, moving, and plenty memorable. It’s an emotional journey you are truly invested in and the Italian backdrop really engrosses you in the story. Timothee Chalamet gives the strongest 2017 performance from a lead actor that I’ve seen to date and Armie Hammer is also very good in a role I wouldn’t have really expected from him. I also really appreciated Elio’s (Chalamet) parents (Stuhlbarg and Casar). They were very progressive and supportive of what their son was up to, which would be cool enough in 2018, but is even more remarkable for a film set in the 80s.

Call Me By Your Name was a lot of fun and highly recommended. If you’re wary about a love story between two guys then it’s probably not for you, but I thought it was one of the better overall films of 2017. I think this could easily be a film I look back on in a few years and realize it’s better than I’m giving it credit for right now.

Replay Value: The more I think back on it, the more I’d like to watch it again.
Sequel Potential: Director Luca Guadagnino has already announced a sequel, which is rather surprising.
Oscar Potential: Nominated for four Oscars: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Song, and Timothee Chalamet for Best Actor.

Grade: 7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

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So Many Horror Movies!

November 29, 2017

So last month I went to Reno, Nevada for Jason Sommerville’s Run It Up Reno (and maybe I’ll blog about that someday – it’s been on my list for a month now) but before heading to Reno, my friends and I made a stop in Hollywood to check out Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios.

For those that don’t know, Halloween Horror Nights is an event that Universal does every October where they create a bunch of haunted houses based on famous horror movie properties and these things are amazing. I think the experience is an absolute must for fans of the genre and I have gone the past two years and feel like it should be an annual tradition. Who doesn’t want authentic looking Jason Vorhees and Freddy Krueger jumping out at them?

Anyways, in preparation for the event this year, I watched a bunch of horror movies and I’m going to bust out some very quick reviews for them right now:

Saw (2004) – The world is introduced to The Jigsaw Killer and it’s a pretty fun ride. This movie is still great today and I can still remember how blown away I was by the ending the first time I saw it. I love the scene where the dude from “Lost” is in the closet and you can only see his eye. The lack of budget shows a bit now and some of the acting, particularly from the two leads, is pretty laughable. Still, even with these flaws, this is the best film in the series by a wide margin.

8/10 (Must See)

Saw II (2005) – The Saw sequels were really forgettable to me the first time I watched them. I have much better recollection now having seen most of them twice, but I remembered very little from my first viewings. The traps are the coolest thing about this series after the original movie. They can be really gross and incredibly creative. While Jigsaw coerced someone to help him in the first film, this is where we start to see that his death traps can actually inspire real life changes to their survivors – and potential apprentices for his cause.

4/10 (Forgettable)

Saw III (2006) – Jigsaw captures a doctor to perform medical procedures on him and keep him alive while his protege runs her own death trap game. In Saw everything is connected and nothing is coincidence. I think I liked this movie more than its predecessor.

5/10 (Watchable)

Saw IV (2007) – Spoiler alert! Jigsaw is dead. Can you imagine if the Halloween series killed off Michael Myers in the third film and then made five more movies? I can. That movie is called Halloween III: Season of the Witch and it’s one of the all-time worst horror sequels ever made. I’m not really comparing the Saw franchise to that movie, but it does seem like a weird choice to kill off your prime villain when you have a horror franchise cash cow going. I think Saw makes it work though. With flashbacks of Tobin Bell as Jigsaw orchestrating things and a somewhat believable following helping carry on his legacy, the movies manage to stay fun and interesting without straying too much.

5/10 (Watchable)

Saw V (2008) – Detective Hoffman is now the primary Jigsaw killer and becomes the suspect of an FBI agent. The series continues to keep things interesting and relevant with flashbacks and backstory.

5/10 (Watchable)

Saw VI (2009) – More of the same.

5/10 (Watchable)

Saw VII (2010) – The wheels have officially fallen off. Right from the opening scene this movie feels different – and not in a good way. I do like the idea of someone posing as a Jigsaw survivor as a claim to fame and then being put through the death trap mazes, but man… this one was brutal. This is easily the worst entry of the initial run and it was bad enough to put the franchise to sleep for seven years. There’s a big reveal at the end that could have been cool in a better installment.

2/10 (Horrible)

Jigsaw (2017) – I have to admit I was curious how they could possibly reinvent the franchise. Even fans of the series probably won’t really like this movie. It’s cool to see Tobin Bell back as The Jigsaw Killer, but one has to wonder how that is even possible. The answer will likely disappoint or infuriate you. It wouldn’t be a Saw movie without the patented surprise ending and, well, it’s pretty bad. This is a completely unnecessary sequel and a poor attempt at rebooting the series.

2/10 (Horrible)

Insidious (2010) – The first jump scare in this movie is one of the best I’ve seen in recent memory. The movie itself was somewhat intriguing and the concept of The Further is pretty cool, but it was a bit slow and my friend I was watching it with was totally uninterested.

5/10 (Watchable)

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013) – This sequel is better than the first and is a really good compliment to the original – so much so, that it makes the first movie better. We get a better idea of how The Further operates and some things that were unexplained in the first movie have pretty cool reveals here.

6/10 (Recommended)

Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015) – A decent prequel that shows how psychic Elise got into the paranormal activity business and met her future associates Tucker and Specs.

5/10 (Watchable)

Sinister (2012) – A hidden gem. This movie was truly thrilling and actually quite scary. I kind of loved it. This is a must watch for fans of horror.

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

Teeth (2007) – This movie is utterly ridiculous. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it’s a movie about a girl that has teeth in her, uh, female parts. So naturally she is the subject of multiple unwanted male sexual advances and we are rewarded with more than one severed genitalia. I think this movie is meant to be part comedy, part parody, part horror and with that in mind I guess it works fairly well. Jess Weixler actually gives a pretty great performance in the lead role and I’m surprised she hasn’t seen more success in her career.

5/10 (Watchable)

The Babysitter (2017) – If you saw this on Netflix and dismissed it, you made a mistake. I very much liked this horror comedy about a kid that catches his babysitter and her friends performing a ritual sacrifice and finds himself fighting for his life. Judah Lewis gives what should be a breakout performance and is very funny in his role as the kid in this movie. Fast-paced and funny, but not particularly scary, The Babysitter was a fun, light horror flick.

6/10 (Recommended)

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Murder On The Orient Express (2017)

November 23, 2017

Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Leslie Odom Jr., Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad
Director: Kenneth Branagh (Mama, Inception, Memento)

Bottom Line: I never read Agatha Christie’s novel that this film is based on so I have nothing to say about the source material or how well it was adapted by the screenwriters. The gist of the film revolves around a rather legendary detective named Hercule Poirot (played by director Kenneth Branagh) who finds himself aboard The Orient Express when one of his fellow passengers is murdered and is put to task to solve the crime.

Branagh gives such an uneven performance as Poirot that I found myself disconnected from the film very early on. Branagh starts the film off playing Poirot like he’s a Sacha Baron Cohen character and by the time I realized this movie was supposed to be taken seriously, I was already checked out. By the third act of the film, I was thinking Branagh was actually doing a pretty good job, but by that point, I had pretty much already dismissed his performance as cheesy.

Because of this rather monumental shift in tone, I just didn’t care much about what was going on. I don’t know if it’s Christie’s novel (I’m guessing no) or if the production team just did a poor job bringing the story to life. Branagh and his cinematographer do some interesting things with the camera and there is some gorgeous set pieces in the film, but the characters are just so unbelievably dull. I didn’t care about a single one of them.

Also, for all the phenomenal actors cast in this movie, no one really gives a notable performance. Again, I don’t know if it is weak characters or poor direction from Branagh, but I felt like pretty much everyone in the cast could have been replaced by some random actor and it wouldn’t really change anything. I can’t remember the last time Johnny Depp has played such a forgettable character – for better or for worse.

I was really disappointed with Murder On The Orient Express. When I first saw the trailer I was really intrigued – it looked great. The execution was just not good. I’m not really sure who this movie is for. I suspect Branagh thought he was making Oscar fodder, but it’s unlikely this movie is going to get any nominations. If it does, it will be for Cinematography or Art Direction, but the film has gotten such lukewarm responses that it will probably whiff entirely. I imagine there’s a good movie to be made with this story, but this isn’t the one. It was boring and Branagh seemed confused on what the tone should be. I can’t in good faith recommend it to anyone as I did not enjoy it myself.

Replay Value: I will likely never watch this version again.
Sequel Potential: Just did some digging and I see that Hercule Poirot is an iconic and prolific character in Agatha Christie canon. If this was a huge success, Branagh could have possibly parlayed it into his own iconic character. I predict this is the last time he plays Hercule Poirot on film. With so much material to adapt from a noteworthy author, however, this surely won’t be the last time the world sees the character on the big screen.
Oscar Potential: Very little. Some outside chances at the categories I mentioned earlier.

Grade: 4 (Forgettable)

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Justice League (2017)

November 20, 2017

Starring: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Jason Mamoa, Henry Cavill
Director: Zack Snyder (Man Of Steel, Watchmen, Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice)

Bottom Line: I can’t believe it. I didn’t hate it. It’s a miracle! Seriously, I really thought I would never like Justice League. Zack Snyder already disappointed me beyond belief with his abysmal Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice and I really thought the trailers for this movie looked like a total mess too. I had every expectation that it was going to suck and only a very small piece of me held out hope that it could be good.

I was so pleasantly surprised to enjoy this movie. I mean… it wasn’t amazing. It’s not going to crack my top 10 of 2017 and it’s not even in my top 3 superhero films of the year. But it didn’t suck! IT DIDN’T SUCK!!! YES!

All the members of the team get their moments to shine and the many concerns I had about Cyborg and Aquaman were quickly relieved. That’s not to say I’m looking forward to a Cyborg solo film – I really think that would do poorly – but he wasn’t cringe-worthy like I was expecting and I think he added to the film quite a bit. Jason Mamoa and Ezra Miller are great additions as Aquaman and The Flash, respectively.

Wonder Woman is still the star of this team. Gal Gadot is just perfect in that role and for whatever reason the filmmakers know how to make that character awesome.

I wish I could say the same for Batman. I like Affleck in the role, but in a lot of ways, I think Batman might be the weakest link in this crew – and it’s not because he’s a human being with no powers. Or maybe it is. A superhero like Batman worked amazingly well in the realistic world that Christopher Nolan crafted for his Dark Knight trilogy, but a movie like Justice League, which features heroes that can fly and aliens from other planets, well, Batman seems a little out of place. That seems to work just fine in an animated form, but something about seeing him involved in these crazy scenarios in live action form makes you think “maybe you should sit this one out, bud.” I dunno… maybe he will grow on me over time.

Justice League still has a really gloomy and grim setting, but there is a noticeable change in tone that adds quite a bit of humor and I think most of the jokes landed the laughs they were looking for. There are some great scenes involving Superman and Flash (weird… Superman returns – what a spoiler!) and another one with Wonder Woman’s lasso that you can’t help but think Joss Whedon added in post-production after Zack Snyder left the film due to a family tragedy. A little humor and charm certainly makes the movie far more enjoyable than its predecessor, which took itself so seriously it was almost comical.

Steppenwolf is the big baddie here and I’m honestly not familiar with him at all, despite watching the entire run of Justice League Unlimited and basically every animated film DC has released. Maybe I just missed him or forgot him, but I was pretty shocked when I heard a villain I’m completely unfamiliar with was who the JL would be battling in this movie. I thought he was okay. I guess he was believable as a formidable opponent for these superheroes, but there wasn’t anything particularly special or interesting about him.

All in all, I thought Justice League was a fun, but not great film. It certainly won’t convert anyone that’s anti-superhero movie, but it gives this fan of the genre hope for the DCEU going forward and it was honestly looking pretty grim last year. I am now looking forward to the next adventure. Bring on Darkseid!

Replay Value: I think I can enjoy this movie multiple times.
Sequel Potential: There are 19 movies in the pipeline for the DCEU at the moment, but only five of them have actual release dates and who knows how many of them will ever see the light of day. Aquaman comes out next year and Shazam! and Wonder Woman 2 are due out in 2019. A Justice League sequel will surely get made, but everything else DC has hinted at has to be taken with a grain of salt at this point.
Oscar Potential: None.

Grade: 6 (Recommended)

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The Love Witch (2016), Hush (2016), Little Evil (2017)

September 11, 2017

The Love Witch (2016) – Curse the Best Movies of 2016 list that I saw this film on! But it’s hard to blame one list – The Love Witch sits at 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. This is one movie the critics and I did not agree on… not even a little bit. When the critics love a movie I could barely sit through, it makes me wonder what they were seeing that I didn’t. The Love Witch has gotten praise for its 1970s retro look and if there’s anything to like about this film it’s certainly the visual presentation. But I couldn’t get into the story at all and while Samantha Robinson gives a sultry performance in the lead role, she delivers all her dialog in a cadence that borders on parody and if this film is supposed to be a parody of something, I have to say it went over my head or I wasn’t paying close enough attention. I admittedly tuned out pretty early in the film and I almost quit it, so I have to admit this might not be the most fair review, but if a movie doesn’t grab my attention at all in the first 45 minutes, how good can it possibly be? The Love Witch is unrated and while it has a fair amount of nudity and sexual content, it’s not that sexy. This movie didn’t work for me as a parody, a comedy, or a horror film. It obviously has an audience, but I hated it and I doubt many of the people that read my reviews would like it either.

Replay Value: I’ve read reviews that say repeated viewings are worthwhile but that’s a hard pass for me.
Sequel Potential: The Love Witch grossed less than $300K so I’m going with none.
Oscar Potential: None

Grade: 3/10 (Skip It)

Hush (2016) – This was a solid horror thriller about a deaf woman living by herself in the woods and fighting for her life when a Jabbawockee shows up outside her window and does a killer dance routine. Just kidding. Hush is serious horror and there is nothing funny about this movie. This is a killer reminiscent of Michael Myers in the original Halloween, before he couldn’t be killed and was just your standard psychopath that really enjoyed murdering people… with a mask on. We don’t know why this man shows up outside this window or what his motives are and, let’s be honest, there are plenty of killers like that in the real world. And that’s part of what makes Hush scary: the idea that someone can be lurking right outside your bedroom window isn’t all that farfetched. Making the main character deaf certainly raises the stakes and writer/director Mike Flanagan and writer/star Kate Siegel (a married couple in real life) come up with plenty of scenarios that bring Maddie’s handicap into play. Siegel gives such a convincing performance that I wondered if she is actually deaf (she is not). Hush is a scary and fun horror film that seems to be overlooked. If you’re a fan of the genre you should definitely check this movie out while it’s streaming on Netflix.

Replay Value: I’ll probably never see this again, but it was fun enough that I would enjoy it a second time.
Sequel Potential: Horror movies always have potential for sequels… but I would imagine this doesn’t get one.
Oscar Potential: None… but Kate Siegel got nominated for Best Actress in various genre award shows.

Grade: 6/10 (Recommended)

Little Evil (2017) – Here’s another review that isn’t going to be very fair. My wife started watching this Netflix exclusive that started streaming earlier this month on her own and I sort of picked it up about 30 minutes or so into it. The gist is Adam Scott marries Evangeline Lilly and becomes step daddy to her kid, a child that may or may not be the spawn of Satan. My wife thought I would like it, but it was pretty stupid and it’s not funny enough to make up for how corny it is. Adam Scott does a fine job, but Lilly’s performance is hokey and could have been done by any run-of-the-mill actress. The kid isn’t anything special either. I may have missed the answer to this question, but I was wondering how Scott’s character decides to marry this woman while having such an apprehensive relationship with her kid. Also, the film seems to resolve its primary conflict because it’s time for the movie to end and not because of any natural progression between stepdad and stepson. Little Evil is a moderately interesting concept with a subpar execution. This movie is something to have on in the background while you’re doing something else and little more.

Replay Value: None.
Sequel Potential: Definitely potential for a sequel but who is going to want it?
Oscar Potential: None.

Grade: 3/10 (Skip It)