Posts Tagged ‘movie reviews’

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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)

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The Handmaiden (2016)

August 28, 2017

Starring: Min-hee Kim, Tae-ri Kim, Jung-woo Ha, Jin-woong Jo
Director: Chan-wook Park (Old Boy)

Bottom Line: There was a time when I used to watch foreign language films on a regular basis – at least the ones that got high critical acclaim and Oscar attention. But I just scrolled through all my reviews and the only foreign language film I’ve reviewed in the past five years was The Raid: Redemption. Needless to say, the scope for my love of cinema isn’t what it used to be. But I saw The Handmaiden pop up on a lot of top 10 lists last year and it was even mentioned as the best film of 2016 by multiple people and I put it near the top of my Netflix queue and it finally ended up in my mail box.

After my wife quit on La La Land thirty minutes in, I knew there was no way I was going to subject her to The Handmaiden and I have to say I’m glad I didn’t try. If I did she would probably think I’m some sort of weirdo pervert for liking this movie. It’s highly sexual and more explicit than you might expect. To label it softcore porn isn’t totally unfair, but it would be a slap in the face to what is otherwise a very good thriller with strong characters, a fun and twisted story, and some rather spectacular cinematography.

I didn’t walk away from The Handmaiden thinking it was one of the best films from last year – it didn’t resonate with me like that. But it was plenty enjoyable and at nearly 2.5 hours in length, it never felt like it was dragging. I couldn’t possible recommend this movie to most of the people that read my blog. If you don’t have a history of liking foreign language films, The Handmaiden wouldn’t be the first one I’d recommend. It’s pretty out there and I suspect it would be rated NC-17 if it was released in the United States. But to anyone that doesn’t mind broadening their film horizons and taking in cinema from other cultures, The Handmaiden is well worth a watch.

Replay Value: I would watch it again.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: No Oscar love, but it won a lot of Best Foreign Language Film awards elsewhere, sits at a 8.1 rating on IMDB, and has a metascore of 84 – obviously a very well received film.

Grade: 6.5/10 (recommended/highly enjoyable)

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La La Land (2016)

August 24, 2017

Starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling
Director: Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)

Bottom Line: It seems that La La Land is a pretty polarizing film. It cruised through this year’s Academy Awards so dominantly, with six wins, that it was accidentally awarded Best Picture before the production team corrected the error – with the whole cast and crew already on stage giving an acceptance speech – and gave Best Picture to Moonlight in the most bizarre Oscar moment I’ve ever seen. And then there’s a number of people that absolutely hated it. The number of one star ratings on IMDB are alarming and this was my own family’s thoughts:

Wife (30 minutes into movie): I’m going to take a nap.
Mom: I think I’m going to go home.
Aunt: I’m ready to go.
Me: What just happened?

I can’t say that La La Land had me in its grip at that moment, but I’m not one to give up on a movie because other people aren’t enjoying it. I think a lot of the common criticisms of this film are pretty fair, but I also found plenty to like. I seem to be in the very small minority of people that agree that it is tremendously overrated, but still actually enjoyed it.

But let’s be real: La La Land isn’t even the best musical of 2016. Disney’s Moana had better songwriting, better vocal performances, and – gasp! – a more engaging story. La La Land was great in a lot of the technical departments like costume design, editing, cinematography, set design, etc., but when focusing on the music and songs, Moana wasn’t just better, it was substantially better. The songs in La La Land aren’t nearly as catchy or memorable. I was expecting to be blown away by “City of Stars,” La La Land‘s Oscar-winning song and… well, it’s criminal that Lin-Manuel Miranda didn’t win for Moana‘s “How Far I’ll Go.” I honestly can’t think of a great musical where at least one song wasn’t stuck in my head for days and La La Land simply doesn’t have a single song like that. They are all rather forgettable.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are pretty great in this movie… when they aren’t singing. When they are singing they are merely okay. I can’t say whether or not Stone is deserving of her Best Actress win because I still haven’t seen any of the other nominees, but I thought she was pretty adorable in this role.

While I was pretty disappointed with the musical aspects of this movie, I thought the script did a good job of tackling themes of love and sacrifice and how pursuing your passion can be all encompassing, even to the detriment of your relationships. It’s sad and charming and it did resonate with me emotionally.

I can’t give La La Land a glowing recommendation. It’s obvious that it is not for everyone. The rest of my audience couldn’t make it through the first thirty minutes and I think they are pretty good representation of the casual film watcher. As a film buff myself, and a fan of musicals, I was disappointed considering all the praise and awards heaped upon this movie – it’s just not that good. I much prefer director Damien Chazelle’s last film Whiplash.

Replay Value: Can’t imagine I’ll ever watch this again.
Sequel Potential: None?
Oscar Potential: 6 Oscar wins: Directing, Cinematography, Original Song, Score, Production Design, and Best Actress for Emma Stone; plus another 8 nominations!

Grade: 5.5/10 (Watchable/Recommended)

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The Big Sick (2017) & Hell or High Water (2016)

August 9, 2017

The Big Sick (2017) – The poster says it all. This is one of the best romantic comedies in many years – maybe the absolute best of the past decade. It’s definitely the most touching film of 2017 that I’ve seen so far and I have no problem giving it my #1 ranking for the year as of early August. Star Kumail Nanjiani (of HBO’s Silicon Valley) and his wife Emily Gordon wrote The Big Sick about how they met and had to overcome both pressure from Kumail’s parents to follow the Pakistani custom of arranged marriage and Emily’s sudden illness that led to a lengthy coma. The Big Sick is filled with laughs and plenty of heartfelt moments. Kumail has a great sense of humor that he frequently delivers in a dry and hilarious manner and Holly Hunter really knocks it out of the park as Emily’s mom – I fully expect a Best Supporting Actress nominations. It’s probably too late to catch this in theaters, but I can’t recommend it enough as it’s probably the best movie I’ve seen in 2017.

Replay Value: A solid add to any movie collection.
Sequel Potential: I would say none.
Oscar Potential: Drawing live at Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay and I really like Holly Hunter’s chances of getting nominated.

Grade: 8/10 (Must See)

Hell or High Water (2016) – All the vibes of a modern day western, as a couple of Texan brothers set out to rob local banks in order to save their family ranch. Ben Foster, Chris Pine, and Jeff Bridges all give noteworthy performances with Bridges getting an Oscar nomination for his work. When I list my favorite actors, I never think of Jeff Bridges, but this move made me look over his resume and the guy is a beast and seems to be getting better with age. This movie reminded me a lot of Thelma & Louise, which is a borderline classic in my books, so if you liked that movie, Hell or High Water should be up your alley. This is definitely one of the stronger 2016 movies.

Replay Value: I’d watch it again.
Sequel Potential: None.
Oscar Potential: Four Oscar noms: Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Film Editing, and Supporting Actor for Jeff Bridges.

Grade: 7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

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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)