Posts Tagged ‘movies’

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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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Alien: Covenant (2017)

May 27, 2017

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride
Director: Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Alien, Blade Runner)

Bottom Line: Count me among the many that enjoyed, but was somewhat disappointed, by Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel Prometheus in 2012. I only saw it once and if you’re thinking about seeing Alien: Covenant soon, I’d recommend taking another look at Prometheus first. Covenant picks up about ten years after the Prometheus’ ill-fated mission, with the crew of the Covenant landing on the same planet to investigate a signal that sounds like it could have a human origin. Having not revisited the previous film, I found myself confused about a number of things. Particularly, there’s a rather strange scene in the middle of this film that involves the alien DNA and it wasn’t clear to me whether it was some sort of dream sequence or an actual revelation. I felt like this scene was meant to tell us where the aliens really originated from, but it seemed so bizarre I wasn’t sure if we were meant to believe it. I can’t really expound on this confusion without getting too spoilery, but I’ll just say watching Prometheus again will definitely increase your enjoyment of this film.

Unlike Prometheus, Convenant is an Alien prequel through and through. If fans of the series were disappointed with Prometheus‘ audacity to veer off course and try to be something different, they will probably be happy with this film. After introducing us to the crew of the Covenant and sending them to the planet containing the alien pathogen, it’s not long before we have things exploding from abdomens and covering human faces. I have to say Ridley Scott does a great job of maximizing the tension, considering everyone in the audience understands the threat this time around. The alien scenes might not be scary, exactly, but they are taut and exhilarating and the film’s score really adds to the atmosphere.

I really have to give credit to the film’s creators for taking what started out as a very simple creature, the alien, one of the horror genre’s most notable monsters, and giving it an origin that is complex and interesting. It’s the kind of treatment that I hope Freddy Krueger gets one day. Am I the only one that thinks that there’s a great Freddy Krueger origin story out there somewhere? Additionally, Scott and the writers weave the events of Prometheus seamlessly into this film and makes them totally relevant, despite the fact that it was a film that stood completely on its own.

Michael Fassbender’s performance in Prometheus as the android David was universally acclaimed and he returns here as a new android named Walter that has some updated modifications to make him more compliant and Fassbender once again delivers top notch work. I’d go as far as to say he’s even better in this film and continues to rise of my list of favorite current actors. The rest of the cast is kind of unremarkable, but it’s worth noting that Danny McBride is in this film and he’s not trying to be funny. It’s weird and it feels miscast, but I didn’t hate him in the movie and he actually does a decent job of doing dramatic acting. Katherine Waterston’s Daniels is basically a clone of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley and it’s kind of hard to ignore the similarities – or the failure to measure up. In a way, it’s actually kind of insulting.

Alien: Covenant lacks the originality of its predecessor, but it should give fans of the Alien franchise exactly what they are looking for. It’s fun, exciting, and, like Prometheus, beautifully shot. With great action and all the tropes you’d expect from the series, plus another fantastic performance from Fassbender, Alien: Covenant is a fun, if not amazing, time at the movies.

Replay Value: Prometheus has more replay value, but I never watched that again. I suppose at some time in the future, I will watch both films again…
Sequel Potential: …because there should at least one more movie before going full circle and reaching the events of Alien. It doesn’t look like anyone is officially attached at the moment, but it’s certainly in the works.
Oscar Potential: Prometheus got a Visual Effects nom, so I guess this should be drawing live at the same category. It would be strange for Michael Fassbender to get an acting nomination for a prequel sequel, but his work here is plenty noteworthy.

Grade: 6/10 (Recommended)

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Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

May 8, 2017

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell, Vin Diesel (voice), Bradley Cooper (voice)
Director: James Gunn (Guardians Of The Galaxy, Slither)

Bottom Line: I’m kind of surprised at the overwhelmingly positive reviews Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 has received because it was kind of disappointing to me and the actual critics have a tendency to be harsher, particularly on popcorn flicks. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not bad. I mostly enjoyed myself while watching Vol. 2, but the biggest reason the first film was so fun was because of how fresh and original it was – and that was made clear when repeat viewings hardly matched the joy of watching it for the first time. The action/comedy hybrid approach still works well here and Vol. 2 is plenty funny – hilarious at times even – but it’s not as funny as it wants to be. There were more than a couple of jokes that elicited no response from the audience. Dave Bautista as Drax The Destroyer really brings the laughs this time around and pretty much any time Baby Groot is on screen, you can’t help but smile.

Where Vol. 2 comes up short is mostly in the story department. It’s funny a lot of the time and the characters are as charming as they were the first time around but, without getting too “spoilery”, 90 minutes into the movie I realized we had answered the question of “Who is Star Lord’s father” and little else. What’s the point of a Guardians Of The Galaxy movie if there’s nothing to “guard” against? And because of that lack of conflict, the movie seems to drag in the second act as Star Lord gets to know his dad and the action screeches to a halt. On the bright side, Michael Rooker’s Yondu – the blue-skinned dude with the whistling arrow – is given a much deserved expanded role and his character is a surprising highlight in the sequel.

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is a fun time at the movie theater and because of that, general audiences are probably going to love this movie. If you were a fan of the first film, this sequel probably won’t disappoint you. It’s funny and charming, plus it has some emotional edge to it, but most of the movie plugs along without any real conflict and while Kurt Russell is great, as always, the character he plays feels more like DC’s Green Lantern than the quality stuff we’ve come to expect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Vol. 2 is plenty enjoyable, but all the comedy really overshadows the other weaknesses in the script and I suspect this will be more apparent on repeat viewings. And really, this movie could have used more Groot!

Replay Value: Just like the first film, this movie will never be better than the first time you watch it.
Sequel Potential: Vol. 3 already announced and release date is hinted at for 2020. Plus, the Guardians will be in the next Avengers movie.
Oscar Potential: Groot and Rocket look amazing, but the rest of the visual effects were kind of a let down. The first film got nominations for Makeup/Hairstyling and Visual Effects, but I’d say Vol. 2 probably won’t get any nominations.

Grade: 6/10 (recommended)