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Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)
Among One of the Best Films of The Year
Brawl in Cell Block 99 is the long awaited sophomoric effort from the brilliant S. Craig Zahler, the director of the 2015 surprise hit Bone Tomahawk. Brawl in Cell Block 99 tells the story of Bradley Thomas (played by an unrecognizable and equally amazing Vince Vaughn), a former boxer whose life is in a bit of a downward spiral. After he is let go from his mechanic job, he comes home to find his wife carrying on an extramarital affair. After dismantling her car with impressive accuracy, Bradley makes up with his wife Laura (Jennifer Carpenter) and the two decide to continue their marriage but Bradley wants to dabble into the criminal underworld in order to provide his future family the life they deserve. Fast forward a couple months, Laura is pregnant and Bradley is a drug runner. When a deal goes south and forces Bradley to get arrested and lose the shipment which results with him getting a light prison sentence at a cushy prison. After being visited by a drug czar's henchmen, Bradley is told that Laura and his unborn child will die if Bradley does not kill an inmate in Cell Block 99. Without giving too much more away, Bradley then becomes a one-man wrecking crew that is willing to do vile and brutal things to ensure the lives of his family are safe.
First off, this film is violent...and I mean, REALLY violent. Bone Tomahawk is a great companion piece to this film. It is very similar in the set up and the pay off is much the same but prolonged for this film. The film takes a good long while to kick off but when it does, it turns into one of the fastest paced action thrillers I've seen in a long time. It is almost as if it is two different films. The first part of the film is very grounded drama with crime elements within it. Then after Udo Kier's character leaves, it is like a storm erupts. This storm brings brutal violence, extreme gore and Vince Vaughn's impressive fighting skills and puts them on display for everyone to see in its uncensored glory. This film is amazing by every stretch of the imagination. It takes it's time with the story and immerses us within this world that Zahler carefully crafts with his script, production design and actors. We slowly become a part of this world which bodes well because I can't imagine this world going over well with someone just dropped into it. To quicken the pace would be to cheapen the work here. I'm a huge proponent of a lean running time but I was able to overlook the seemingly bloated 132 minute run time because everything was so damn well done, it didn't feel long at all. Furthermore, Zahler's love of one take fight scenes really shines here and it really gets the blood pumping. Seeing a quick edited action sequence up against something like this? There is no comparison and I wouldn't be surprised if more action directors take a page out of Zahler's vision.
Overall, Brawl in Cell Block 99 could have me going on for days upon days on how much I enjoyed it. It is a perfect balance between realism and pulp fiction, drama and brutality, production design and overall direction. It feels like a better movie than it will probably get credit for and showcases Vince Vaughn in a career changing performance that is bound to leave your jaw on the floor with how amazing he is in both a dramatic and physical sense. I can't recommend this movie enough especially if you're a fan of action films. It is far and away one of the best films I've seen this year.
This Was Just Not Good
I'm a huge fan of the Coen Brothers. To me, cinema doesn't get much better than No Country for Old Men or Burn After Reading or Raising Arizona...you get the idea. So when I heard that George Clooney was directing their next original script, naturally I couldn't wait to see it. Fast track a year and a half later and here we are. Clooney proved to me that it takes much more than a Coen Bros script to make it a Coen Bros film. Suburbicon is one of the few films that will come about where the talent attached to the project is so overwhelming and plentiful but the final product is so mediocre and bordering on bad that it leaves you scratching your head.
The film is very beautiful to start off. The cinematography is very crisp and extremely colorful which makes the setting of the 50s suburbs seemingly pop even more so. The production design and basically anything of a technical aspect is amazingly done here by traditional standards. So why is Suburbicon falling flat? Very simple: Clooney is woefully unqualified to direct a Coen Bros script as are most people. This feels like it was made by someone who watched Fargo and Burn After Reading a dozen times and decided to make this. It feels like it is an imitation and, by the end of the film, that is all it turns out to be. The cast is even really dull despite a fantastic performance from Julianne Moore. Damon can't decide whether to play it funny or serious and that really plays a big part in the violence of the film. It is comically set up but brutally executed. It doesn't feel right at all and it makes for a very tough watch.
Overall, Suburbicon is a film that will probably leave your mind as quickly as it came. It is a very forgettable film. It is a frustrating piece of cinema as well because we will always be left with the thoughts of what could have been. With the level of talent and star power, Suburbicon has no business being as dull and ragged as it is especially because in a technical sense, the film is great. But with Clooney's misguided direction and Matt Damon's very erratic performance, Suburbicon is a miss of the most disappointing fashion.
The Florida Project (2017)
DaFoe is utterly brilliant but the film leaves much to be desired.
The Florida Project is the third feature film from writer-director Sean Baker and, while being an improvement over Tangerine and Starlet, The Florida Project is still missing the heart it needs to be an everlasting and impactful film. From his cinematic conception, Baker has had a knack for showing very dingy lifestyles bursting with a color palate that would make George Miller weep. But underneath the colorful array that he includes is a superficial mess of a film. One that thinks it is smarter and more heartfelt than it really is.
Telling the story of a young girl living in a by-the-hour motel ran by a seedy motel manager (Willem DaFoe) with a heart of gold and having a drug abusing, prostitute mother doesn't exactly translate to feel good. The young girl decides to let her imagination take wind and shield her from the harsh realities of life. While this sounds like it should hit hard, it doesn't. Not even a little bit. The problem that Sean Baker has in all of his films is his characters. All of them are begging for sympathy when sympathy is the last thing they deserve. While I think the young girl, Moonee, deserves our sympathies, no one else does. Every one in this film has gotten themselves here by their own doing and Baker tries desperately to make us feel for them. It may work on some audiences but it was wasted on me.
Overall, this feels like a cheap grindhouse drama that really doesn't do any favors to the actors. The cinematography in the film is top notch and definitely shows that Baker has a visual eye but, as with his previous 2 films, the story is severely lacking. While I definitely think Baker has talent, it doesn't lie within his original stories. For those of you who enjoyed Baker's Tangerine or Starlet, give this a shot. Anyone else, you might want to skip it.
American Made (2017)
American Made is conventional Hollywood biopic filmmaking
American Made tells the story of Barry Seal, the pilot who transported drugs for Pablo Escobar from Columbia to the States. Seal was a crafty, good looking guy with a golden tongue that allowed him to operate as freely as he did. But just as crafty as Seal was, he was a daredevil. While Seal's life story is surely interesting enough to sustain a film, American Made is merely tipping the hat at conventional filmmaking and never really tries to do anything different to distinguish it from other crime films. And being directed by Doug Liman makes it feel like that much more of a missed opportunity.
American Made, while being conventional, is also very watchable. Tom Cruise brings everything Tom Cruise to the role where it is hard to distinguish whether Barry Seal was actually like this or if Tom Cruise thinks he is still playing Ethan Hunt. For me, I didn't see anything distinguishable from Cruise other than a half baked accent. This is especially frustrating because Tom Cruise can act and he can act better than most working actors. The problem is, his film choices have limited him to one liners and bombastic stunts. Not that I don't appreciate his work, I simply don't appreciate it in this film because it feels like Cruise is just getting by. I think he was an absolute miscast. The rest of the cast does well but we barely see them enough to make an opinion of them as we are with Seal for the majority of the movie which becomes exhausting.
Overall, American Made is a very conventional crime drama that makes sense for Hollywood to make. Unfortunately, those looking for a dark and gritty telling of Seal's life will be sorely disappointed as the film is the definition of conventional and plays rather light despite its dark ending. Tom Cruise makes the best out of his role and makes sure that he has more fun than anyone else...including its audience. American Made is a taxing film that relies on the star power of Tom Cruise rather than relying on the heft of its true story to carry it.
An Extreme Dose of Lynch and Kubrick come with Aronofsky's Very Pretentious Mother!
Mother! tells the story of a young woman and her older husband as they move into their dream home in the countryside. One night, an older couple shows up at their door and all hell breaks loose from there on out. Now, Darren Aronofsky has been a personal favorite since Requiem for a Dream. His sense of style and perfection to his craft always resonated in his films. The hiccup of Noah was understandable but this film is a film that just should have been better. While I did love a lot about this film, there was almost an equal amount that I didn't.
First off, I loved the sense of dread the film gives off. It is less interested in giving the audience jump scares rather than making the story and images linger in your mind like a bad dream. I loved Aronofsky's visual style here especially in his set design. The house is a character in and of itself (not to sound totally redundant). I also loved the cinematography. Much like Black Swan, this is a very sweeping spectacle of camera work that is intoxicating. As intoxicating as the technical aspects of the film are, the actual story, script, acting and overall pacing leave much to be desired.
Mother! is most certainly a film that plays with your mind but I wouldn't necessarily call this a psychological thriller. This film is a horror film that the minds of Kubrick and Lynch would bring you, not Aronofsky. The script is bare minimum, the story is paper thin and the acting is wooden and overall plain. There are no stand out performances like there was in Black Swan, The Wrestler and even Noah. It falls flat and that really takes you out of the film. Javier Bardem is another very strange casting choice. You'd think he would knock this performance out of the park but it really was quite opposite here. Truthfully, the actors don't seem like they're interested in the work until the final 15 minutes of the film and by that time, I had about given up.
Overall, Mother! is a very strange film that Aronofsky had seemed to not put that much thought into. While I do plan on watching it a second time to get the full effect of it because the last 20 minutes or so is a real mindf*** that is bound to throw everyone for a loop and/or anger a lot of people. Either way, this one is bound to be a divisive one among cinema lovers and Aronofsky fans as I doubt many average movie goers will take to this.
Good Time (2017)
One of the Absolute Best of the Year
Good Time stars Robert Pattinson as a desperate criminal fresh off of a botched bank robbery that tries to free his accomplice brother from Rikers Island before he gets sent to general population. Written and Directed by The Safdie Brothers, Good Time is an exhilarating crime drama that brings back the grit that made these types of films so palpable and treats us to both a visual and emotional journey through the underbelly of NY.
Starting off with the robbery and subsequent botching, Good Time starts off like a bullet train and doesn't let up for even a second. Centering on Rober Pattinson's Connie Nika, the film is a crime odyssey much in the vein of Scorsese's After Hours. This is a ticking time bomb of a film that brings Pattinson to his absolute best. Make no mistake, this is a master class performance from him. This is far from the performances he gives in sappy romance films. This is a fully realized performance that is bound to be talked about for years to come. But as great of a performance as he gives, the credit goes to the Safdie brothers' phenomenal script.
The story of Good Time is very race-against-the-clock. But when broken down, this is a film about a desperate guy that wants to make a change. He doesn't want the hustle and bustle of NY, he wants a farm and his brother. He doesn't want to do bad things but he's willing to do it if it advances him to get to his brother. The whole story is centered around Love, much like their previous film Heaven Knows What. Love is a central theme in Good Time and it might be hard to decipher that through its gritty absolution but the end result will surely make you realize what really was important all along to Connie Nikas. It's a truly magnificent and heart pounding film that has surprising emotional heft to it.
Overall, Good Time is a fantastic film that finally allows that NY grit back into the scene and really cranks up the tension while doing so. With a great script and an undeniably Oscar caliber performance from Robert Pattinson, Good Time ranks with the very best of the year.
Annabelle: Creation (2017)
Leaps and Bounds Better than Annabelle
Annabelle: Creation probably had all of you pondering the very thought of this horror universe and whether you could take it seriously or not. Derived from the brilliant 2013 horror film from James Wan, The Conjuring, Annabelle initially underwhelmed when the original hit theaters in 2014. However, cast all your doubts aside for this one. Annabelle: Creation is a solid throwback type of horror film that actually makes its jump scares work and doesn't rely on any forced drama or ridiculous exposition to get its point across. By many traditional standards, this film shouldn't be as good as it is but (thankfully) it is.
Telling the origin story even further, we're introduced to when the doll became an evil force rather than the banal story that was trying to be told before. Creation doesn't hold back. It is an origin story and it isn't afraid of being exactly that. It works for the film and it makes for some pretty interesting plot twists along the way. That's the beauty of this. Directed by David F. Sandberg, the director of last year's surprisingly great horror film Lights Out, Annabelle: Creation is a classical horror film that will bring fans back to the roots and will make casual audiences squirm in their seats and jump at every thud and creak. Overall, this is a rare horror prequel that works and works very well. If you're a fan of ghost movies and paranormal horror then Annabelle: Creation is a must see.
A Taut Yet Overlong Drama
Detroit is the latest addition to Kathryn Bigelow's lengthy filmography and it is the most Bigelow-esque film you'd come to expect from her. The film displays raw realism with the actors looking very real and naked from their famous personas. The story is jam packed and while I think this source material would have made a much better miniseries, Bigelow makes the story work with sacrificing some facts for the sake of cinema. The big question is: is it as good as the critics say it is? The answer: No. Not Close. But with that being said, it is a damn good movie that is definitely worth seeing.
Telling the story of three murdered African American men in a motel in Detroit during the city's infamous riots and civil rights movement, Detroit stars an all star cast that is certainly better on paper than they are in this film. John Boyega, Will Poulter, Jason Mitchell, Anthony Mackie, John Krasinski, and on and on-but none of them are really served as a main character. Bigelow is so determined on telling the facts of the case that she sacrifices good performances in order to give us a slice of reality. The film plays out like the most expensive reenactment of a tragedy on Investigation Discovery and, when looking at the facts of the case, this is the best compliment I can give the film. It sounds back handed but it is extremely informative even if it is picking a side in all of it. The one thing Bigelow does best is showing a true story like it is unfolding in front of you. She does it brilliantly in The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, but Detroit is where it is to a fault.
With a 140-plus minute running time and a gaggle of characters to keep track of, the story is just too big for a feature film and requires patience. Despite this, Kathryn Bigelow does her best to tame Mark Boal's bloated script to a digestible film and the results are mostly good. The performances from the actors are real, raw and authentic in every aspect but never enough to burst off the screen. Bigelow lets the events unfold and do that for them. Overall, Detroit is certainly a good film in need of an audience just a very patient one.
Is Climate Change is real? Yes. Is this a good documentary? Hell no.
2006 brought Al Gore's brilliant and scary documentary, An Inconvenient Truth blasting into cinemas and soon after, classrooms. With its raw exposure to a dangerous and (until then) quiet killer, Gore's position in the world went from being the biggest contested loser in American politics (until Hillary Clinton in 2016) to being a warrior for the earth. It was an amazing documentary and ranks in my top ten of all time. However, when I saw this sequel...things changed. My thoughts on climate change are cemented, it is real and anyone who argues that it's not is ill informed or just can't face facts. But one thing that is as much of a fact as climate change is how terrible a documentary and sequel this film is.
Rehashing points made in 2006 and coupling it with some pretty far fetched predictions for the future make this film more frustrating than informative. What Gore did in 2006 was he made an accessible documentary about a crisis and used it to try to create a better and more informed world. Here, Gore seems infatuated with himself and some of the film ends up feeling more about him than climate change. Ten years since his first attempt, one could feel that he could have come to the table with something more substantial than the same graphs spun differently and the same dialog written with a bit more finesse.
Overall, I feel the message is still here. Climate change is a big problem that the world faces every day and it is up to us to stop it. But it is up to Al Gore to make sure that when he wants to do a documentary, that his info can sustain a feature length film. Instead of a little bit of new information and showing how much damage we've done in 10 years, the documentary should have been much better. I wanted more interviews with people affected by the changes, I wanted more interviews with politicians on both sides. To be honest, there's more I wanted out of this film than was delivered. That, to me, represents a disappointing film. Which is so hard for me to take considering An Inconvenient Truth is one of the best documentaries I've ever seen. It is up there with Super Size Me, The Thin Blue Line, and My Brother's Keeper for me. To see this and feel as cheated as I do, it is any wonder why I don't give this a 1 on my sheer disappointment alone. But, I have to give the film credit for at least being entertaining and informative, even if much of the information is already 10 years old.
Atomic Blonde (2017)
Gives Off the Feeling of Pure Redundancy
Atomic Blonde pits an elusive and brutal MI-6 agent, Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) against hit men, secret agents, dual agents, thug after thug and (very briefly) James McAvoy. Directed by John Wick's David Leitch, Atomic Blonde is just what you would expect out of a close-to-August release. It is bland storytelling mixed with truly impressive action sequences. When the chips are down, it makes for a VERY frustrating film.
While the film is supposed to be somewhat of a period piece with taking place during the Cold War, it adopts the flaws of a handful of 80s and 90s action films in the worst ways possible. It is dull and tries to make sense of itself. Instead of embracing what could be a fun corny romp, Atomic Blonde tries being as realistic as possible despite never really challenging the characters. We never feel like they're in real danger. We never feel like there is anything at stake outside of a mysterious dossier and it translates to a pretty flat film. Leitch abandons what made John Wick so fun and it quickly turns to a drab and dull experience just after the opening sequence. With that being said, despite the film being more of the same, it still features some incredibly impressive choreography in its fight sequences. Leitch is known for impressive stunt work and it doesn't change here. You just get to thinking: had Leitch dedicated the same high standard to the story that he did for the stunts, we'd probably have a better film.
The film, however, is not all bad. The cast is exceptional. Charlize Theron and James McAvoy are incredible together. Theron's determination to deliver a strong female character is abundantly clear and it pays off. Lorraine is such a great character for Theron and allows her to continue to deliver strong women on screen. Despite the story being weak in its knees, the characters are strong and the performances are even stronger especially Theron. Overall, Atomic Blonde is a let down when considering the talent behind the camera. While Leitch hits nowhere near the mark that John Wick hit, he still hits in certain spots by delivering awesome action and a strong character.
A Tense Film That Is Hardly the Average Summer Blockbuster
Dunkirk marks Christopher Nolan's return to cinema and it is as bombastic as one would hope. Featuring a fractured sense of story telling, a shockingly great performance from Harry Styles and some of the most breathtaking cinematography I've ever witnessed, Dunkirk is without a doubt one of the most solid summer blockbusters in recent memory. Despite all that is perfect with the film, it does suffer from some glaring storytelling issues that, while many may enjoy, I found to be unnecessarily tedious.
While many of you will probably hate on me for saying this, I simply have to say it: Christopher Nolan is overrated. There is no other way about it. The man has given us classics but flawed classics, at best. However, Dunkirk is a perfect response to my feelings towards Nolan. The film is extremely fast paced which is something that plagued Nolan since Batman Begins. Here, he is restrained and it pays off quite beautifully especially when you factor in the brilliance that is Hoyte Van Hoytema's outstanding cinematography. The film is big and Hoytema's determination is shown through every frame. He is dedicated to capturing beauty and here is no different. Hoytema serves as a very suitable replacement for Wally Pfister.
The film, while being 106 minutes long and probably Nolan's most accessible feature to date, also is very scarce when it comes to dialog and general character development. There are very few characters here that will have you standing and cheering for. I mean, you're going to cheer at moments in the film. It is geared to do just that. But it won't have you gravitating towards Styles, Rylance, Hardy or Murphy. Quite frankly, they all have (with the exception of Styles) minimal screen time. Those looking for a Tom Hardy war movie better think again. This isn't about one soldier, it is about all of the soldiers. No one is more important than the other.
Overall, Dunkirk is an exceptional addition to Nolan's impressive filmography. Crafting a unique war film that doesn't rely on overtly patriotic moments to move it forward is hard yet Nolan makes it seem effortless. The film relies on the courage and sheer will power of the human soul and that is something only the rarest of war films can do. Despite some wonky story telling, Dunkirk is nonetheless exhilarating and should absolutely be seen on the big screen.
The Big Sick (2017)
A Touching, Yet Overlong Romantic Dramedy
The Big Sick is probably the best received dramedy I've seen since maybe Knocked Up. Produced by Knocked Up's Judd Apatow and directed by Michael Showalter, The Big Sick has mostly nailed its behind the scenes team and they don't let us down here. The Big Sick is funny, heartfelt and, at times, very moving but it does not change the fact that it is 20 minutes too long and harps on the same jokes when it backs itself into a corner. Showalter and his brilliant cast made up of Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan and Ray Romano, make The Big Sick a very nice watch but they make it good enough to make you wish it was a better film.
The Big Sick tells the story of a Pakistani born comedian (Nanjiani) who meets and falls for a college student (Kazan) at one of his shows. The film then chronicles their relationship as they combat their cultural differences, both presented by society and themselves. The story is unique and very organic. It takes experience to write something like this and it really comes through here. The script is very close to perfection regarding story but it is bogged down by listless banter that continues on for a bit too long in certain takes. This is not the script. Much of the banter feels genuine, which is awesome, but it feels too long during certain sequences. By the end of the film, it gets a tad bit annoying to see actors flounder during moments of comedic banter. It works most of the time but those moments that don't work feel slow and unimportant. It sticks out like a sore thumb amidst comedic genius and fits the Judd Apatow standard for comedy: he simply gives us too much and we just end up not caring about it.
Despite the film feeling too long at times and the banter feeling over indulgent, The Big Sick is a film that EVERYONE can relate to. No matter if your relationship is interracial or not, the film goes beyond that. It touches base on what it's like dating someone of another religion, another political belief, another...whatever. It is relateable on multiple levels and, for that, The Big Sick is definitely worth checking out. The leads in Kumail Nanijian and Zoe Kazan are incredible and the two bring both gravitas and realism to their roles. Overall, I think the movie (while overrated) is a good romantic comedy. However, when compared to other romantic comedies, The Big Sick is in a masterclass by itself. If you like romantic comedies, this is a must see.
A Cure for Wellness (2016)
A Bloated Yet Gorgeous Mess
A Cure for Wellness is the latest addition to Gore Verbinski's filmography and while it has more things wrong with it to count, it boasts enough visual style to keep the film's imagery as intriguing as possible. Telling the story of a young hot shot businessman named Lockheart (Dane DeHaan) as he must go to Switzerland to locate a missing business associate which leads him to find an institution that appears to force sicknesses on its patients. The film's cast includes DeHaan, Jason Isaac and Mia Goth, all of which do their best with what they have. On paper, this film seems like an amazing mystery thriller that cannot be missed. The reality is this is a ridiculously overwritten, overlong, and idiotic film that could have been so much more.
First and foremost, Verbinski's script is incredibly bloated and really doesn't have a pace to it. It moseys along like a lug and lands with a heavy handed thud. Personally, the film felt as if it was trying to emulate films like Shutter Island and Gothika. Instead, it feels like an unoriginal mix of those films and it really becomes annoying especially when the film could have easily been a great film at 90-100 minutes. The fact is, at almost 2 hours and 30 minutes, the film feels like a four epic that HBO should have made. It never reaches its full potential and leaves interesting points throughout the story on the table in the same hasty fashion they were introduced. The biggest issues that I think many people will have with the film are the runtime and the illogical and weak script. The more positive portions of the film are certainly its cinematography and its cast. The cinematography by Bojan Bazelli solidifies a certain and very interesting take on the material that plays into the tension the film wants you to feel. Even if the story doesn't get that feeling across, at least the images do.
Overall, A Cure for Wellness leaves much to be desired. Despite a more than able cast and beautiful cinematography, the film just can't hit a stride. The hard truth is that it is a boring movie that is poorly written and ends up making you feel more annoyed than anything. While the images and cast may be attractive, there are simply too many issues with the film to recommend.
A Ghost Story (2017)
A Bold, Powerful and Beautiful Film
A Ghost Story marks David Lowry's return to cinema since his 2013 indie hit "Ain't Them Bodies Saints". Telling the story of a young couple (Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara) who buy a home and plan to start a life together in it until tragedy strikes. The Man suddenly dies and leaves the wife to fend for herself and build a life in the house by herself instead of with the man she loves. All while she is going through this in reality, the Man begins to haunt the home in a classical white sheet donning way. Throughout the years of being trapped to haunt this home, The Ghost also has to witness the love of his past life continue on without him and experience the moments of life without him. It is a beautiful and heart wrenching film that delves deeper into what grief does to not only a person but to a ghost.
Whether you believe in an after life or not, A Ghost Story isn't worried about your beliefs. It plays out like a fantasy and that's how it stays which really bodes well for it. It never reaches beyond what is happening with the Man and the Woman and, of course, the House (which becomes a character in and of itself). David Lowry does a great job at setting up a "what if" scenario that all you can do is ask yourself, "what would I do in this situation?" The scariest part of that is there is literally nothing you can do. That rationalization is probably scarier than most horror films out today.
The film itself is a very digestible 90 minutes which is of a perfect length for this film because it doesn't go overboard and forget what it is. It's a horror film that is light on scares but heavy on thoughts and brains. There's no real scares. The big scare is putting yourself in the shoes of the ghost. What would you do if you had to witness your loved one go through grief and you couldn't do anything about it? You couldn't comfort them. You couldn't hold them. You could just watch. What if the person you loved moved on from you? What if they forget you? These questions are what made A Ghost Story scary for me. The level of helplessness that the film portrays is horrifying enough to remind audiences that death is still scary.
Overall, the film is an experimental ghost story that shows Lowry in top form both as a writer and a director. The crass nature of reality is that death is lonely and he captures that perfectly. While many who take a look at the poster will certainly think that the film is just another horror movie trying to capitalize on some paranormal money, A Ghost Story is much more than that. It is beautiful to watch, heart wrenching to experience and an absolute delight cinematically.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
The Best Spider-Man Film in Quite Some Time (Maybe Even Ever)
Spider-Man: Homecoming pits Peter Parker against The Vulture in Marvel's latest adaptation of its oldest and most recognizable hero. Directed by Jon Watts and starring Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey, Jr and Zendaya, the film relies on both CGI and heartfelt performances to make it work and it most certainly works way more than it doesn't. Despite some irritating comedy and an odd performance from Zendaya, Spider- Man: Homecoming is one of the better MCU films that will surely enjoy some love from fan's and audiences alike.
First off, the film is a very easy and definitely the most accessible Spider-Man film. There really isn't anything new to see here regarding story. Like DC's Batman, Spider-Man's backstory is common knowledge at this point and the film doesn't waste too much time on telling it. I'm shocked that a third rendition of Spider-Man was able to be thrilling again let alone interesting. So much so that the fact that it managed to hold my attention even through the same story is a helluva feat that Watts captured beautifully. While I really liked the way this film told it's story, I wasn't so much a fan of the humor of the film.
The humor used began as light but was then relied on a little too much. While we all have grown accustomed to Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark and his incredibly snarky wit, the humor was less welcomed with the supporting cast especially with Zendaya as Michelle. Michelle is a really awkward character that could have benefited from either better dialog or a better actress to land those comedic moments better. Either way, the character and performance didn't bode well with me but the audience seemed to enjoy her quite a bit. Personally, as far as humor was concerned, Jon Favreau as Happy was the source of my entertainment as he is in it a surprising amount of time and doesn't disappoint. As for the rest of the cast, all were pretty standard for a comic book film outside of Tom Holland.
Tom Holland is superb as Peter Parker. He brings a light to the character that has been missing from all the previous cinematic renditions. It's pretty simple...Holland plays Parker as he is written: a teenage kid. He really does embody what it means to be Peter Parker and relishes in the performance. It's not over the top, it's played just right. And with a great hero, there's a great villain. Michael Keaton is tremendously menacing as Adrian Toomes aka Vulture. He really lays on the sinister nature of the character and the scenes that he shares with Holland are very good.
Overall, Spider-Man: Homecoming is probably the best rendition of the titular character that audiences have seen. Tom Holland and Michael Keaton are tremendous in the film along with much of the supporting cast. Jon Watts delivers to audiences what any up and coming director could ever hope for: a really enthralling and invigorating summer blockbuster. Homecoming is bound to go down as one of the finer installments of the MCU and one of the best blockbusters of 2017.
The Beguiled (2017)
The Cast Elevates This Well Made but Wholly Unnecessary Remake
Don Siegel's The Beguiled is an underrated gem of the 70s that went pretty much unnoticed for quite some time. So when Sofia Coppola announced that she was remaking the film, it was kinda surprising. Surprising because who in the hell would remake The Beguiled and kinda not surprising given the subject matter and timely political message that it could push. Despite it being such an out of left field choice for a remake, the end product is a very well made and perfectly acted film. Starring Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst and Colin Farrell, The Beguiled tells a story of wounded Civil War solider that seeks medical attention from a house of women in the rural South. Upon his arrival at the all-women facility, passion and lust become abound when the soldier begins to romance the women one by one. With each relationship he starts, jealousy arises between the women which leads to a shocking act of desperation.
Personally, I thought the film was paced very well. It flowed very fluidly and was actually surprisingly funny. Granted, this is a borderline dark comedy at times but it works very well due to the impeccable acting from the cast. Kirsten Dunst gives the performance of her career here and really carries a lot of the film despite her role being somewhat limited considering the impact she has on the film. I wouldn't rule her out of the competition at the end of the year. She really does a great job. Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell also give really tremendous performances that just elevate Dunst that much more. Elle Fanning is as sultry as can be but less impressive because the role is not much different from her character in Ben Affleck's Live by Night. Despite this, the film keeps a genuine tension throughout it whether that'd be violent or sexual is completely up to whatever side of the 93 minute running time.
Make no mistake, The Beguiled is most certainly a well acted film but it feels like it is unnecessary. At times it feels a little more political than it needs to be and, a majority of the time, feels like it could have been a better film especially considering the immense talent in front of the camera. Overall, the film is far from being the average remake. It is well paced, has brilliant performances and keeps a steady handle on itself as a potboiler thriller with a hint of dark comedy. It is far from great but definitely worth watching.
And I Thought The Mummy Was Bad...
I will keep this one as short as I can. I was conflicted on even putting this review up but I figured I endured the brutal two plus hour running time so I figured I'd vent very briefly about this film. This is not even a movie. This is a CGI spectacle of epic proportions that succeeds as a mindless, action driven cartoon show made for a crowd of toddlers. I contemplated walking out after the first ten minutes in which a voice-over so horribly and distressingly bad overtakes a story set up that can only honestly have been concocted by an eight year old and written in crayon. The cast is exceptional on paper but ends up hitting every dull note in the book. Even the most hardcore of Tramsformers fans will have to dig deep to enjoy this one. If this is any indication of what passes for a summer blockbuster then I think the 2017 summer season is in big trouble. Watch at your own risk.
Rough Night (2017)
A Mildly Funny Film That's Been Done Before and Better
Let's be honest here...Rough Night is probably the most unoriginal idea to hit theaters this summer. It has the storyline of Peter Berg's 1998 film Very Bad Things with a Weekend at Bernie's twist. Starring Scarlett Johansson, Kate McKinnon and Zoe Kravitz, the film's star power seems to have no shortage but the film's screenplay doesn't know what it wants to be. There are far too few thrills to classify it a thriller and, as far comedy is concerned, it is severely lacking. So we're given this cookie-cutter film that does its job (more or less).
The film opens Hangover style, it introduces us to the gang of girls as they make their way to the bachelorette weekend to end all bachelorette weekends. Scarlett Johasson plays the bride to be while her bridesmaids are either overly sexual or prudes. There is not much of an in-between. No character felt real. They all felt like they were written specific to this event and that really didn't bode well with me. In a situational comedy like this, it helps to have a character we can relate to. This film really doesn't have a relateable character, just mere pawns in the film's game. The story itself moves pretty well through it's self proclaimed rough night but doesn't really latch on to you as a viewer. You're pretty much there to watch the ride...nothing else.
The cast here is probably the best part of the film. Between the gravitas Johansson brings to the screen and the intrigue of Zoe Kravitz and the off the wall banter from Kate McKinnon, it would be a lie if I said they weren't at least fun to watch. The problem the film has is its dialog. If the film's goal wasn't to promote feminism and a pro-female image, I'd say it is passable. But the film portrays women either as sex-crazed drunkards or uptight prudes and coming off of Wonder Woman, this film seems like a slap in the face. Maybe it is poor timing or maybe it is true, only time will tell.
Overall, the film isn't horrible. It features good performances from Kate McKinnon and Scarlett Johansson and makes the best of its boderline terrible script. It sustains its 101 minute runtime and fills them with countless penis jokes (Jillian Bell relies on them annoyingly too much) and features some decent moments of situational comedy that could have landed way better but they still land nonetheless. Either way, it is a passable film but not one that I'd recommend spending money to see in the theater.
All Eyez on Me (2017)
An overlong and superficial mess of a film
When I think Tupac Shakur, I think poet before rapper. For a man that made a career out of being a rapper, his lyrics and his music fit the soul of an aged poet. And like most people, he was a flawed man that was prone to the violent underbelly that often lurks in the Hip-Hop world. You take a man like that and many would be flabbergasted to even believe his life story as fact. The larger than life being of him should have made a great film. Instead, Benny Boom's All Eyez On Me is a vague biopic that never comes close to reaching the heights of Tupac's life and career. Plagued with a poor script, bad acting and lazy direction, All Eyez On Me falls very short of the extremely high expectations for this film.
The film itself is poorly written. While some scenes are tense and Boom does achieve a sense of uneasiness, he completely fails at conveying any real drama with his actors. The film also is simply glossing over Tupac's life and leaving the viewer to rely on what fan's would call common knowledge. While I did know a little more than your average Joe, I couldn't imagine the film playing to the overall masses who do not know these little trivias about the man himself. It was pretty annoying. While the script is partly to blame, my biggest complaint lies with the most important part of the film: Demitrius Shipp.
While I can't deny Shipp looks exactly like Tupac, I have to say the man is terrible as Tupac. He doesn't have the voice, bravado or swagger of Shakur. He feels like a simplistic imitation of him that, with more work and direction, could have been something. Afeni Shakur is portrayed by The Walking Dead's Danai Gurira. Gurira is criminally underused here and really never lives up to the potential that her role could have had. Dominic Santana as Suge Knight is extremely corny. He plays the character like a mix between a street thug and a lost puppy. Whatever he was going for, it didn't land at all.
Overall, All Eyez on Me is a film that relies on the glitz and glamour of Tupac's life instead of what made him who he was. The film tries to capitalize off of the major success of the much more superior Straight Outta Compton. While it does have energetic music sequences that seem to sacrifice story for a cool editing trick, it never really recovers from erratic scenes of drama that really never land and a really dull central performance from Demetrius Shipp.
The Mummy (2017)
Among The Worst Summer Blockbusters I've Seen
The Mummy has had countless iterations of the character grace the screen for the better part of the 20th Century. With the 1932 original and the fun but lazy 1999 remake and anything in between, we pretty much got it. It can be scary or it can be action packed as it seems Hollywood has left there to be no in between for this type of film. Unfortunately neither of those extremes apply to this one. The Mummy is a pandering and very meager attempt at cashing in on a potential franchise. It's sad to watch because it feels like the studio made this. This doesn't feel organic in any way, shape or form and relies on CGI filled action sequences, Tom Cruise, and cheap scares that end up being unintentionally funny to progress the story. None of which comes off the way it should.
The story is absolute crap to put it as lightly as I can. It is plotted so on-the-nose that you can't have anything left up to your imagination except for some scenes of violence that may have been too much for a PG-13. Outside of that, everything is spoon fed to us as the audience. Instead of making you feel like you can keep up, the movie treats its audience like we are stupid and still expects us to continue watching. Honestly, I almost walked out at certain points, it got that bad. Especially during the scenes with Crowe's Jekyll, which are so heavily plot oriented that you can't get a feel for his character and when you get the chance to, it fails, crashes and burns.
The cast is surprisingly strong on paper but director Alex Kurtzman fails to utilize them in roles that best suit them. Tom Cruise is really the only cast member that fits the part which, when considering what genre we're talking about here, is a horrible thing. Courtney B Vance, who delivered an awards caliber performance in American Crime Story, is watered down to nothing more than a mere walk on role. Russell Crowe is so obviously doing the film for the paycheck, it feels like he isn't even acting and he is just reading queue cards.
As a fan of the cast and the 1932 original, I was left completely disappointed by everyone here. Director Alex Kurtzman, who went from directing a small indie to all of a sudden directing this big bombastic action summer blockbuster, feels out of his element here and misses the beats of a good action movie and completely neglects everything that could make a great horror film. The Mummy is by far one of the worst blockbusters in recent memory and stands as a major misfire for Universal's Dark Universe and Tom Cruise.
It Comes at Night (2017)
It's Decent Enough But Far From Great
It Comes At Night tells the story of a family who is desperately seeking refuge from an unknown entity only to stumble across a family who takes them in but soon discover that their fear and paranoia may get the best of them all. Ever since this premiered at the Overlook Film festival, this has been on every horror fan's list of films to see, including my own. After finally getting to see the final product, I was left riddled with confusion and anger over the film but I couldn't hate it.
First off, anyone who is a fan of slow burn horror will probably like this film immensely. Even though the film is 97 minutes, it moves at a snail's pace sometimes. Director Trey Edwards Shultz proves that Krisha was not a fluke here but he also proves that storytelling is still a bit of a weak point. It Comes At Night suffers from the same things that Krisha did. It has a weak and thin script but a strong enough idea in it to float it. Despite this, Shultz does a great job with his cast. Much like Krisha, had any other cast been chosen, I doubt this film would be half as good as it is.
The film's cast is extremely strong and small enough so that you actually care about these characters which is hard to find in horror. Starring Joel Edgerton, Riley Keough, Chris Abbott, Carmen Ejogo and Kelvin Harrison, Jr., the film is electrified through these actors and you can absolutely tell. The story is paper thin but mysterious enough to keep a mild interest. When you combine that with this cast, you have a decent enough horror film that is slightly above your average Netflix fare.
Overall, It Comes At Night was a bit of a disappointment considering the hype it has. The final product is muddled and confusing but still well acted nonetheless. Joel Edgerton leads a fine cast that gives us some truly terrifying performances which elevates the very thin plot. If you are a fan of slow burn horror films like last year's The Witch, then you might enjoy this one.
Wonder Woman (2017)
This is One Surprisingly Good Movie
Wonder Woman is the latest film in the (up until now) failed DCEU and it seriously kicks some ass. With the 2016 arrivals of Batman V Superman and the atrocious Suicide Squad, expectations were tempered with this film and rightfully so. Batman V Superman may have redeemed itself with a self-indulgent but much needed director's cut and Suicide Squad...well, yeah-that just was terrible so any pessimistic antics regarding this film are sort of justified given the track record thus far. Well, I can say without a doubt in my mind, this is one seriously cool film. Directed by Patty Jenkins and also stars Chris Pine, Danny Huston and Robin Wright, Wonder Woman is the DCEU's Marvel equivalent to Thor and it is just as good, if not, better.
First off, the film is very informative even to a layman. It doesn't treat things as common knowledge but it doesn't hold your hand either. This is a smart movie when it comes down to it because it doesn't rush anything. Everything in the film flows naturally, it doesn't feel like these characters are boring or that the story is not engaging. The pacing is very well set and for a film that is pushing 150 minutes, that's impressive. The acting is also surprisingly great. Gal Gadot as Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman is probably the most perfect casting in cinema history. Gadot is fierce, brave and absolutely stunning in her portrayal. It reminded me a lot of Christopher Reeve when he was Superman. The supporting cast lead by Chris Pine is also great. Pine is proving himself to be one great actor. With last year's Hell or High Water and now this, Pine is slowly proving what it means to be a movie star. Another stand out in the film is Danny Huston who seems to relish in villainous roles. Huston is really great here and I'm hoping he gets the credit he deserves. While there is much to praise with this film, there is also so issues I had with it as well. Many people were actually comparing this film to The Dark Knight at my screening. As much as I did like this film, I am also here to say: No. Not even close.
The issues I had with the film were more so directed in the way of the script. While I thought the pacing was great in the film, I thought some of the dialog was horrendous and cheesy. The film does escape and shed some of the very things that landed DC in hot water but it also can't seem to escape one very damaging part of DC: bad dialog. While I am sure that many people are not going to care about a misplaced line or two in between Wonder Woman kicking butt and taking names during trench warfare, it does become a bit of distraction during the less exciting moments. The moments between Pine and Gadot are very melodramatic and feel more like a soap opera at times. Many people will like it, I personally thought the cheeky stuff was more so thrown into the film rather than feeling natural.
Overall, Wonder Woman is a great addition to the superhero genre. It has heart, it is lighter than other DC films but also has the edge it needed to be a cut above the rest. Fans of Wonder Woman comics should be pleased and tickled pink by this lovely film adaptation and those of you who were skeptical can breathe a sigh if relief because this movie is definitely worth the price of admission.
Much like the show it's based on, this is STUPID!
A little over 20 years ago, the world was introduced to Baywatch the TV show. This was an awesome show for any pre-pubescent boy or middle aged pervert who liked to watch Pamela Anderson run in slow-mo. Much like the TV show, the film is all brawn and beauty and doesn't have a brain cell to its name. Starring Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario and Dwayne Johnson, the cast can't even save this atrocious excuse for a film. It is far from the comedic romp that was promised in the trailers. The film takes itself seriously and then other times it knows it is a parody. The only problem is, the filmmakers and writers can't decide on a tone. This really killed the film in more ways than one. Those who are expecting another Neighbors will be sorely disappointed and those of you wanting to see Dwayne Johnson kick some ass, you get to see that a little bit but there is much MUCH more to this film that could have been. I normally would go into a longer review and really talk about the film itself but I stopped myself short of this because any longer than this and it would simply be a waste of time, much like this film.
The Wizard of Lies (2017)
De Niro's performance is reason enough to watch.
The Wizard of Lies chronicles the infamous Wall Street meltdown that was Madoff's Billion Dollar Ponzi scheme in Barry Levinson's woefully flawed but still engaging film. Starring Robert De Niro and Michelle Pffeifer, The Wizard of Lies features a strong cast of seasoned actors that give their best on screen. De Niro particularly is very strong here and gives his best performance in close to a decade. However, the film suffers from a broken and jumbled script that leaves for a somewhat confusing watch.
The film begins with an interview between Madoff and the subsequent author of his unofficial biography. He begins telling the story at the end of the meltdown on the eve of his arrest and starts from there. From here on out, we're told the story in chunks and pieces, from one perspective to another and totally abandons all formality regarding coherent storytelling. Instead, Levinson creates a deeply personal character study that paints Madoff as a sociopath and a white collar criminal mastermind who would rather blame the victim than himself. While it is engrossing to see De Niro as Madoff, it is barely enough to sustain its bloated runtime.
The film is engrossing to watch. There's no denying it but as the minutes ticked by, it all started to feel redundant. It was more so just dragging the entire Madoff family through hell for the remaining hour of the film and it becomes exhausting after awhile. In a way it was very much a Greek tragedy of epic proportions that just didn't seem to end and by the time it decided it wanted to, you were already checked out 10 minutes prior. Despite this, the ending is satisfying for those wanting to see karma at its best or a tragedy at its worst, whatever way you want to look at it.
Overall, The Wizard of Lies is a missed opportunity more so than not. While it is great to see De Niro and Pfeiffer in top forms, it would have been nice to get a more coherent script from a story that literally writes itself. While anyone expecting a film in the vein of The Big Short will be let down by this, The Wizard of Lies benefits from being a deep character study that shines a (small) light of one of the most tragic mysteries of the 2008 financial crisis.
Vincent N Roxxy (2016)
An Inept Nihilistic Attempt At Art
Vincent N Roxxy is a crime thriller from writer-director Gary Shultz and stars Emile Hirsch and Zoe Kravitz in the titular roles with the supporting cast made up of Emory Cohen and (briefly) Kid Cudi. The story sounds a helluva lot better on paper than how Shultz constructs it. Instead of grasping on to the story and themes at hand such as toxic masculinity or uncontrollable rage, Shultz gives a bare bones effort with a script that it is so poorly written, it felt like a first draft.
First off, the film is 106 minutes and feels a half hour too long. The beginning starts strong and bombastic, introducing our titular characters through a car accident in very pulpy fashion. Then the film tries its hand at being a film grounded in realism for the remainder and it fails just as bombastically as it starts. Hirsch plays his role so much like Gosling from Drive that it is hard not to assume Shultz had the film on repeat during the writing process. Vincent is a cold man prone to violent outbursts much like Gosling's character in that film. It worked for Drive, it fails miserably here. Zoe Kravitz is slowly becoming one good actress and for every step forward there is bound to be a step back somewhere and that is where this film comes in. Her performance is lucid and barely there, so much so that you wonder if she was just doing this for a paycheck. No matter how often we can fault the actors, the real culprit here is Gary Shultz.
The screenplay is so under-cooked that it really makes me wonder if this was a first draft and, if so, why the hell was it allowed to be shot? It is an answer I doubt we'll ever know so we can only assume. The script works against itself at every moment it gets. First we're with Vincent and Roxxy as they talk about sticking together despite not knowing one another and then Vincent (who is supposed to be street smart) tells this woman, who was just accosted by some pretty angry gangsters about money she owes, where he is heading and living. It all felt so ridiculous and ill plotted that I almost gave up after seeing that scene come in so early in the film with barely any character development. Furthermore, Shultz then takes Vincent on his own for awhile. He gives him a couple subplots that go nowhere and then sets him up for the finale to finish the main story that was left abandoned after the first 10 minutes. All in all, it's horribly plotted and the ending is one of the worst in recent memory. I'm all for some dark endings but ones that have points and this one didn't. Honestly, this is an ending that is violent for the sake of being violent and is a half- assed attempt at being edgy and dark. It all translates the same: it is rather banal.
Overall, Vincent N Roxxy is one of poorest written films I've seen in recent memory. With Refn's Drive serving as a painfully obvious homage to the film, it is hard to take any of it seriously especially when none of the actors seem like they are into it in the first place. While I do credit Shultz for sticking to his guns, he really should have looked into a rewrite or two before settling on this very murky and muddled vision of something that could have been great.