Baby Driver

The Guardians of the Galaxy series has something very important in common with the new Edgar Wright movie, Baby Driver.

These three movies use music better than most films.  In fact, in these three movies, music is almost a separate character.  I would dare to say that these movies use music batter than many musicals do.

Of course, Edgar Wright and Guardians’ director James Gunn are friends and you can tell they have the same type of style.  That was a word that was in my head from the opening credits of Baby Driver… style.

Baby (Ansel Elgort) is the world’s greatest getaway driver, but he has a heart of gold.  Forced to pay back a debt to criminal mastermind Doc (Kevin Spacey), Baby shows his remarkable car driving skills on bank heists, all the while playing music on his iPod to drown out the constant ringing in his ears.

Baby has tinnitus from a car accident as a youth, but he manages it with his music.  And this film as an even more diverse playlist than GotG.  It contains everything from Beck to Queen to Young MC.

Doc has been using Baby for years, but he never uses the same crew to pull off the heists.  Some of the criminals he used were rough, including Bats (Jamie Foxx), Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza González) and Griff (Jon Bernthal).

Baby was counting the days (and bills) until he was free of the debt to Doc, but things changed when he met the lovely young waitress Debora (Lily James) and falls instantly in love with her.  He begins to plan a way to escape from the life that he was living.  Unfortunately, Doc has a different plan which involves one last big heist.

Baby Driver is a tremendous film.  So many things work well in this film.  As I stated earlier, one of the biggest things about Baby Driver is how stylish the scenes are.  There is an opening scene where Baby is fetching coffee for the criminals and he is strolling through the street, listening to his iPod, and just dancing and lip-syncing the song.  It is such a joyous scene that is reminiscent to the opening scenes in GotG (with Peter Quill dancing to “Come and Get You Love” and Baby Groot dancing to “Mr. Blue Sky”).  This really does a great job of setting the tone for the film as well as informing on the character of Baby.

The action sequences, especially the driving scenes, are off the charts.  Mostly done with practical effects, some of these scenes are breath-taking.  They are also well filmed, as you can, for the most part, tell what was going on.  It was not blurred with too much shaky camera or jump cuts so it looked better than it was.  The realness of these effects really sell the film.

The performances across the board are fantastic.  Ansel Elgort does a remarkable job with the character of Baby with a limited use of dialogue.  Again, the use of music fills out the character unlike any movie you have ever seen.  Kevin Spacey does a great job as Doc, the big bad who has a soft spot for the kid.  Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm nearly steal the show with their different versions of the bad ass criminal.  Foxx, in particular, brings a viciousness that forces Baby to take things to a place he does not want to.  The atrocious behavior of Foxx as Bats shows a side to this job that Baby has avoided.

Lily James and Ansel Elgort have great chemistry together and are very believable as a loving couple.  Here is the biggest issue that I had with Baby Driver, though.  Baby and Debora meet in a cafe where she was working as a waitress and they fall in love almost immediately.  It is too immediately to really believe.   I mean, I can see them as a couple, and I can see them being each other’s great love, but the way they first meet is questionable and then Baby does a couple of things (not really his fault… still) that makes you wonder why Debora continues to put up with him.  Certainly, for her to do some of the actions she takes in the third act, there is not enough of a reasoning.  I would have liked a little more depth to the budding relationship.

Still, that is a minor quip as the film does a great job of keeping me on the edge of my seat through an exciting and unexpected third act.  The film is very satisfying and pays off everything that it gives you.  Perhaps there is not the deepest story ever told, but I would not say that this film was more style over substance.  It is a very sweet story with great use of music that tells a violent story of vicious criminals.

Baby Driver is one of the most original films you are going to see.  It is everything from a musical to a revenge tale and it is filled with brilliant performances.  Edgar Wright has another winner on his hands.

4.75 stars

The Book of Henry

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Okay… The Book of Henry.

I had been looking forward to this movie, the newest from JurassicWorld director Colin Trevorrow, since I saw the trailer.  However, I then heard the tremendously negative reviews given to the film, and I was surprised.  So after seeing the film, I understand why some people could hate this movie.

I, on the other hand, loved it.

The Book of Henry is one of the most original films that have come out this year and it dares to take risks in their storytelling that most films would shy away from.  Some o those risks do not pay off, but I am here to tell you that I believe most of them do.

The film has a ton of outstanding performances as well.  Naomi Watts does a brilliant job as Susan, the mother of two young boys. Susan is unconventional as a parent, spending more time playing video games and goofing off than being your typical single parent.  The reason she can afford to do this is her oldest son, 11-year old Henry (Jaeden Lieberher, from Midnight Special and St. Vincent) is a genius, wise beyond his years and has been able to stash away quite a nest egg for the family through playing the stock market.  The other son Peter is played by Jacob Tremblay (from Room) and he is once again showing that he is an amazing powerhouse actor, as well as being the personification of cuteness.

Now, I do not think I can continue talking about this movie without going into the main story points and so, from this point on, this review will be going spoilers.  Be warned, if you want to go in this movie without the knowledge, you need to skip the rest of the review or come back after you’ve seen it because the trailers do not do a good job of showing you what kind of a movie this is.

SPOILERS

Okay, you’ve been warned.

As the movie progresses, we meet the neighbor girl Christina (Maddie Ziegler), who is shown to have a good relationship with Henry and his mom.  What Henry does not say is that he has been trying to get people to investigate Christina’s step-father, the Police Commissioner Glenn Sickleman, for child abuse.  The movie does not go into detail about the abuse, but it does imply that the abuse is of the molestation angle.  Henry goes to the principal of the school, he tries to call social services, but the highly connected Sickleman avoids the suspicion.  After failing with all of the normal attempts to get help for Christina, Henry comes to the decision that there is only one way to help her.

At this point, the film does not tell us specifically what Henry is thinking, but you can infer it by the boy’s actions.  He is plotting to kill Sickleman.

However, this is interrupted.  We had seen Henry have several headaches as the first act of the film moved along.  I actually thought to myself, “Uh oh,” when he sat up to take the aspirin in the night.  Henry has a seizure and winds up in the hospital, needing emergency brain surgery.  Unfortunately, the surgery is unable to remove the full tumor, and Henry winds up dying.

Yup.  This, I am certain, is one of the main parts of the film that has caused people to hate on The Book of Henry so much.  The death of Henry brings about a severe tonal shift in the film, from what seemed like a really smart kid coming of age story, to a much darker, child cancer death story.  Plus, it happened really fast.  The whole hospital sequence was about 10-15 minutes of screen time.

It was also uncomfortable because we saw Henry taking care of details, arranging the stocks and the money, so his mother would be okay.  He also spoke to his brother, in a very powerful scene, where he told him to make sure that their mom got his red journal.

This was the next shift in the movie, as inside the red journal was all of the observations and attempts Henry had made to try and help Christina.  There were also detailed instructions in the journal on how Susan could assassinate Sickleman.

Susan went through all of the other attempts again, but she eventually came to the same conclusion that Henry had… that killing him was the only way.

The third act of the movie was Susan preparing for, by following Henry’s directions (which included a tape in his own voice) the murder of the Police Commissioner.

Usually shifts in tone are problems for me in a movie, but this one was purposely done and I think it works very well.  You have three distinct acts of The Book of Henry and each one has a tone of its own, growing darker with each scene.

Some might claim that the story became crazy and unbelievable at this point, and I can see that argument, because it is definitely something that we haven’t seen before.  However, if you look at the character of Susan, I believe everything makes perfect sense.  Susan is shown as a woman who needs Henry’s opinion/guidance about just about every aspect of her life.  She is like the child in the relationship, even going as far as acting out by playing video games and getting drunk with her friend (Sarah Silverman).  He boys still know they are loved, and Susan is shown as a caring, compassionate and loving mother, just not a responsible one.  She needed to have Henry’s input…she even questioned herself about signing the permission for the doctors to do the emergency brain surgery as she wanted to “talk to Henry about it.”  So, in her hour of grief after Henry’s death, his instructions arrive and she just goes about doing it because that is how their relationship always went.

Dean Norris (from Breaking bad) played Glenn Sickleman and he is great at being the slimy, beneath the surface scum who was abusing his step daughter.  There was even a scene where I thought the movie was implying that he had killed her mother/his wife.  Norris does an outstanding job of giving those clues without having to say it through dialogue.

In the end, Susan chooses not to shoot Glenn because she realized that Henry was just a kid and, despite his brilliance, this was not the way to go.  This is one of the reasons why I believe that this movie was not about Henry, but instead was squarely about Susan.  She was the one who learned something about herself, finding change.  Now, the manner in which she comes to this revelation is a bit ham-fisted and not as subtle as most of this movie had been.  The third act with the set up of the assassination attempt was the weakest of the film, but the ending does prove to be satisfying for the audience.  The ending was very much like a literal Rube Goldberg machines that we had seen Henry working on.  Probably the biggest issue with the ending is how perfectly everything gets tied up in a little bow, including how Susan is able to adopt Christina (by forging adoption papers— thanks Henry).

Looking at the reviews, I see all kinds of divisiveness among the reviewers.  Complaints about shifting tone, plausibility, and manipulative are scattered throughout.  I understand all of these complaints and I can even see where they are coming from, but I respectfully disagree.  The Book of Henry was fully engaging and entertaining, tugged at the heart-strings and was filled with tremendous performances by a talented cast, in particular its child actors.  I have not mentioned Maddie Ziegler yet.  She does not have much in way of dialogue, but she emotes such feelings and pain through her expressions and body language that she does not need words to tell us what is happening to her character.  Her dance at the talent show, which convinces the principal to finally do something, is a beautifully executed scene.  I have seen and heard some critics making fun of this scene and I am unsure why they are.  They made it sound as if the dance magically convinced the principal of the abuse, and there is some of that, but I choose to look at it as if the principal always knew the truth.  Henry had told her several times, but the dance brought her to a point where she could not deny what she was seeing before her eyes any longer.

The whole tape with instructions bit was kind of off-putting.  It was very much like 13 Reasons Why (from Netflix).  The voice of Henry served as an internal narrator for Susan, and some times the tape would say something that Henry couldn’t have known about when he was actually recording the tape.  For me, I explained this away by thinking that the tape itself was more of what Susan was hearing inside her grieving head.  I believe that we did not hear the tape as it specifically was.  We heard it through the POV of the unreliable narrator of Susan.

Jaeden Lieberher is magnificent as this genius boy, who is more of an adult, but who can still approach circumstances in childish manners.  The decision to plot a murder is an emotional response to not knowing what to do next, and it might be something that a child would come up with.  Lieberher is wonderful here and his chemistry with Naomi Watts is off the charts.  His connection with Jacob Tremblay is like that of real brothers.  And Tremblay is such a special actor.  Tears came to my eyes when Jacob said to his mother that he had wished he was the one who died, because people would be less sad if Henry had not died.  The pain was real and gripped at him.  It was a great scene.

There might be some pacing issues with The Book of Henry as the story does plow through some time frame quickly, and I can understand why some may not like what happened, but it was a wonderful experience being surprised in a film.  When Henry got sick, I did see that coming from the headaches, but I thought maybe that his death might be at the end of the film, not ten minutes later.  Though it was a sad loss, I marvel at the bravery of the narrative to try to do it.  This is an uncommon film and that is a joy because Hollywood tends to send us cookie-cutter movies.  I appreciate something that goes against the grain and tries something different.  The Book of Henry is certainly that.

4 stars

 

The Girl With All the Gifts

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I was running through some of the streaming services I subscribe to looking for a good movie for a Saturday night.  I came across this on Amazon Prime, and it piqued my interest.  Seeing Glenn Close in this film gave it some credibility and, since it indicated that it had seen limited release in the US, it could go with the list of other 2017 movies.  It was called The Girl With All the Gifts.

I never thought it would be as tremendous as it turned out to be.

The small British film took a new look at a topic that has been very overused for the last several years:  zombies.  I know, I was doubtful too.  The idea of zombies has really been overplayed for the last several years, since The Walking Dead brought these slow movie creatures back into the forefront of pop culture.  Yet, The Girl With All the Gifts did something that I did not think was possible.  It took the genre of zombie movies and brought some originality and creativity to it, proving that with smart scripts and well developed character, any genre can show new life… if you forgive that pun.

We are introduced to young Melanie (Sennia Nanua) as a captive in what appears to be some military base.  Buzzers indicated it was time for the young girl to get into the wheelchair and prepare to be strapped in– by gunpoint, by the military men on duty.  Once strapped in safely, Melanie, along with a group of other children, are taken to a classroom to begin their lessons.

The entire situation was very mysterious and does a wonderful job of creating a mystery in the mind of the viewer.  You do not understand what is going on, but the questions you have are extremely compelling.  And Melanie is an exceptionally bright and likable child, despite the children being called “frickin’ abortions” by the military men.  She seemed to have a special relationship with the teacher, Miss Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton).

And Melanie also seemed to be treated differently by the head doctor of the project, Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close).  However, Dr. Caldwell and Miss Justineau had differing opinions on the state of being of Melanie.

When the base is overrun by the “Hungries,” Helen, Dr. Caldwell, Melanie, along with military men Sgt. Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine) and Kieran Gallagher (Fisayo Akinade) go on the run in an attempt to reach safety.

There is a seriously tense and frightening film, creating the tension through great use of tone and placing these characters that we have grown to connect with in some tremendously awkward and suspenseful situations.  The music of the score behind the scenes is used brilliantly, tapping into the feeling of dread and uncertainty that the audience is feeling.  There were some scenes that had me holding my breathe in anticipation.

The more we learn as the movie progresses, the more horrifying the setting becomes.  When we find out where these special children come from and why they are different than the other “hungries,” well, it is the stuff nightmares are made of.  This whole horror is juxtaposed with how much we love Melanie and how brave and caring and curious she is.  She has a loving personality and a need to know how the world works.

The end of the film does not take an easy way out.  In fact, it is almost as disturbing as the beginning of the film, and while it may not be the most satisfying of all possible endings, the conclusion makes perfect sense with how the story and the characters had progressed through.

The Girl With All the Gifts is an example of a limited release film that I may not have had a chance to see because it is not released near my home, and I am very grateful that it was available on Amazon for me to see it.  It is a rare gem of horror that truly brings a genre back to life.

4.6 stars

The Bad Batch

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You can’t get further away from Aquaman as this one.

Dry, post apocalyptic desert all around, Jason Momoa (our future DCEU King of Atlantis) and a little girl (Jayda Fink) traverse the dangers of the Mad Max-lite world in the new film by Ana Lily Amirpour.

The movie also follows the misadventures of Arlen (Suki Waterhouse), a girl who wound up in the desert, cast out from society into this desert wasteland.  Arlen is captured and has her arm and leg amputated for food.  Yes, the people in this desert have become cannibals to survive.  She is able to escape and finds herself into a group of people who provide her with a false leg so she can get around.

After recovering, Arlen set out to gain some vengeance on the people who cut off her appendages, shoots a woman, and winds up with the little girl known as Honey.  However, Honey winds up with the Dream (Keanu Reeves) in his small cult-like Utopia.  Arlen meets Momoa, gets taken away, and heads through a psychedelic world to find Honey again, for…you know.. reasons.

The story unfolds sloooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooowly.  The first hour or so of the movie was remarkably dull and had very minimal dialogue.  Honestly, I am not sure much about what happened or why some of these people did what they did.  I understood why they resorted to cannibalism.  Other than that, most of the motives in this movie were enigmatic.

There was a Hermit (played by Jim Carrey) and his purpose is a complete mystery.  He is silent throughout and he pops up randomly a couple of times to provide… um… comedic relief?  Not really sure.  The effects on Carrey were top notch.

The film should also reveal how selfish our two main protagonists are, thinking more about what they want and need instead of the needs of Honey.  The final scene drives that home with a somewhat cold brutality.

I’m really not sure what I watched.  Perhaps this is meant to be a new take on the genre, but the shocks were few and far between and the rest was nonsensical.  Momoa reminded me of WWE wrestler Roman Reigns every time the camera stopped on him and his lack of connection to anyone or anything made me not give one fig about his character.  I didn’t care about any of these characters and that made this excursion into the Bad Batch very dull.

I did become hungry for spaghetti.

1.8 stars

 

 

 

Wilson

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Based on a graphic novel, Woody Harrelson plays Wilson, a grumpy, lonely, middle aged man who misses his ex-wife. Complaining about everything, Wilson rediscovers his ex-wife, only to find out that he had a teenage daughter that he never knew he had.

Woody Harrelson is well cast as the neurotic Wilson, odd and obnoxious.  Though he is the type of person who can get on your last nerve, there is something about the likable loser that is sentimental.  In the hands of a lesser actor, the character of Wilson could really be off-putting, but Woody Harrelson plays it well.

The story itself never really connects completely.  It jumps from scene to scene with minimal connective tissue.

That connection is Wilson.  He initially starts with the dog, Pepper.  Then, he goes to find his ex-wife Pippi (Laura Dern).  Then he convinces Pippi to stalk the daughter that she put up for adoption, Claire (Isabella Amara).  Wilson goes to jail.  Wilson tries to adapt to the outside world after prison.  He hooks up with the dog sitter.

All of these moments are strung together haphazardly but much of it works because of Woody Harrelson.

The scenes with Wilson and Claire were sweet, but they ended too quickly.  The film, which had seemed to focus on the parent-child relationship, switched gears again.

All of the things that Wilson goes through seem to have low stakes for the character most of the time which makes the movie weaker.  Wilson could have been a considerably more deep story of this curmudgeon and his struggles to get through the rest of the world.  Instead the movie chooses the sentimental path.

That is not a bad thing, but it certainly changes the tone of the film.

Woody Harrelson is good in this movie and it was funny and sweet.  It is worth the time it took to watch it.  I just see what could have been a really strong movie hidden among the sentimentality.

3 stars

Transformers: The Last Knight

What a piece of crap this movie is.

Seriously, I hated this film.

Explosion.  Yell.  Explosion.  Yell.  Explosion.  Explosion.  Crappy dialogue.  Awkward joke that is not funny.  Explosion.

The film was a frenetic mess, from start to finish.  There were so many jokes that were being cracked, but none of them were funny.  There were not any laughs.  It was so loaded full of garbage and crap.

I am not going into detail on plot, because, honestly, I am not sure what that plot was.  It was painfully convoluted and did not focus on the Transformers.

The film started off in King Arthur times and showed the knights and Arthur hoping that Merlin can pull out the last minute help.  This was about as much positive as I can get.  I was interested.  And then Merlin started speaking, and suddenly it felt like a Monty Python skit.  Merlin was shown as a joke, who was drunk and …ugh.  It lost me at that point.

So maybe Optimus Prime, one of the greatest characters of all time, can pull the film out of the downward spiral, right?  Wrong.  Optimus Prime is in the film for, perhaps, 15 minutes, tops.  Megatron is in even less.

The film is not about the Transformers.  It is about the human characters.  Plus, there are so many characters that are crammed into this film, and many of them are unnecessary.  The young girl, Izabella (Isabela Moner), who one of the trailers focused on, is there for a while at the beginning and showed up at the end, but was gone for a good hour + in the middle.  And she has no real reason to be involved in the story.

Another character… is the character played by Anthony Hopkins.  I hated this character.  He was obnoxious and idiotic.  He is one of the great actors in movies, but he was terrible here.  It was possible that he was having fun, because he did have a smirk throughout the film.  I’m glad he had fun, because I did not have any fun watching it.

When we do see the Transformers, they do look good.  The special effects of the movie is one of the strengths of the film.  One of my previous criticism of other Transformers movies was that I had trouble telling the different Transformers apart.  That is not as much of a problem this time as, especially the Autobots, were distinctive enough with their designs and their color patterns that I could tell the difference with the others besides just Optimus and Bumblebee.  The Decepticons, however, were pretty interchangeable with their designs.

I have heard that some people liked the action involved in the Last Knight, but I found it dull and repetitive.  It was the same kind of stuff from every Transformers movie.  That is one of the big issues with these films… there simply is no originality.  We have seen everything before, and you can only see so many things blow up before it gets boring. The slow motion is annoying too.  There are so many of the typical Michael Bay, the director of all five Transformers movies, tropes found here that it can anger someone.

After about an hour and a half, I was thinking that the film had to be over soon… however, I then thought, wait… Optimus Prime has yet to reach earth from Cybertron.  That thought really depressed me.  I was ready for this film to be over ten minutes into it.  The whole Merlin bit just destroyed any potential hope I might have had of finally finding that Transformer movie that is good.  The Last Knight is not the one.  It is one of the worst movies of the year so far.

0.6 stars

All Eyez on Me

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I have never been a rap fan, but the biopic Straight Outta Compton was well done and entertaining, so the next biopic from the time, on the enigmatic figure Tupac Shakur, must be equally engaging, right?

No so much.

To be fair, I did not hate All Eyez on Me, but the biopic was distinctly flawed and played like a basic cable movie with considerably worse language.

The film looks at the life of rap prophet Tupac Shakur, from his early days in New York City as the step son of a Black Panther to his days as a gangster rapper under the label of Death Row Records.

Tupac is played by Demetrius Shipp Jr., who has an uncanny resemblance with Tupac, and who brings an innocence to the role that was unexpected.  Fact is, Shipp seemed to portray Tupac as always in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I have a suspicion that it was not quite as coincidental as the film make you believe, and the film suffers by trying to make Tupac look .  Still, Shipp is one of the stronger parts of the movie.

I also could not believe that Michonne was here playing Tupac’s mother.  Danai Gurira, who plays Michonne on the Walking Dead and will be in the Marvel Studios Black Panther movie next year, does a fine job as Afeni Shakur, the revolutionary turned drug addict mother of the rapper.  The fact that I did not recognize her as Michonne until late in the film speaks to how effective she was in the role.

The film is just too long.  At 2 hours and 20 some minutes, All Eyez on Me felt longer.  It had some pacing issues, where many of the scenes felt like they were included to make sure that certain boxes of Tupac’s life were checked.  There were many scenes that could have used more of an analysis, diving into the whys and the hows.  Because of that, the film has a disjointed air about it.

One of the most interesting aspects of the life of Tupac was, unfortunately, his death at 25 years old.  Shot while in the car of his partner Suge Knight (Dominic L. Santana), Tupac lingered for several days.  The murder had never been solved.  This is an area that I would have liked to have seen more in this biopic.  You could still have dealt with the rest of Tupac’s life, but by flashback, interweaving it with the questions that was brought up.  Everyone knew what the end of this film would be, so instead of taking the safe route and just going through his life, why not be like Tupac and take some storytelling risks?

I also must say that I did not like hearing the “n-word” as much as I did.  I do not understand why the African-American community uses the word in their own conversations.  Of course, I am not black and I have no right to criticize, but the word has such a hatred to it, I wish it was not used as it is.  Sure, the word is used in real life and certainly during the time period that this film took place, and it makes the film more realistic, but I just wish it was not as prevalent as it is.

It is too bad that this is not a deeper look at an individual who is still idolized to this day for the voice that he had as a rapper and poet.  Despite some decent performances, I think All Eyez on Me missed the opportunity to really look at something creative and culturally important.

2.5 stars

Cars 3

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Cars would not be my favorite Pixar franchise.  I thought Cars was okay, but nothing special and Cars 2 was tremendously terrible.  So I approached the third installment in this series with a lack of interest.

It was fine.

There is no doubt that this is considerably better than Cars 2.  The film returned to focus its attention on Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and also returned to the world of racing, instead of trying to jam Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) into a heist movie.

Cars 3 features an aging Lightning McQueen, trying to stave off the oncoming might of a new wave of young and technologically superior racers.  Unfortunately, Lightning has a terrible wreck and it puts his future into question.

Changing this to an underdog story fits this franchise much better than the previous one did, and the limiting of Mater to a few short scenes was, most likely, a bright move.

Instead, we see Lightning trying to retrain to return and recapture the glory of his past.  He fins a new sponsor (Nathan Fillion), a new trainer Cruz (Cristela Alonzo) and a new purpose.  However, the new way of training was not having the desire effect, so Lightning needed to look into the past to finds his new inspiration for the future.

Cars 3 is definitely formulaic. There is nothing in the story that we haven’t seen before.  In fact, if you were to compare it, the story compares very closely to several Rocky movies (in particular Rocky 3).  Although this type of formulaic storytelling is common for many animated films, Pixar movies are generally held to a higher standard.  Cars 3 does feel like the laziest of the Pixar movies.

The first part of the film is unexceptional, if not dull.  The film really starts to pick up when Lightning and Cruz go out to the beach to start their “unconventional” training.  There is a sequence with Lightning and Cruz at  a demolition derby that is probably the strongest sequence in the film.

The final race was both predicable and a bait-and-switch that I did not like much.  Without spoiling too much, there was a scene earlier in the film where we see an old race featuring Doc Hudson and I knew exactly how that film would factor into the finale… or at least, I knew somewhat, because there is a change that happened that kind of made me roll my eyes and made me question the legality of the situation.  I thought the ending was weak.

The animation is tremendous, and certainly is on par with the best of Pixar.  The cars themselves as well as the background at the racing tracks and the environments are beautiful once again.

There is a lacking of real emotion that usually is included in Pixar animations, but there is a nice message of believing in yourself and not giving up and parts of the film are reasonably entertaining.  This is no The Incredibles 2, but Cars 3 is better than Cars 2.

3 stars

 

Rough Night

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My friend Chris suggested that I send my intern to see Rough Night and skip it myself.  That was Chris’s suggestion for Chips also.  Boy was he right about Chips.  That thing was a steaming pile.  However, I did not hate Rough Night.  I would even go as far as to say that I kind of liked it.  (By the way, I do not have an intern… it was just a joke.)

Jess (Scarlett Johansson) is going to get married so she is going to have a bachelorette party with her college friends, organized by her “best” friend Alice (Jillian Bell).  The four college friends also included former flames Frankie (Ilana Glazer) and Blair (Zoë Kravitz) and, despite Alice’s objections, the weekend also included Jess’ friend from Austrailia, Pippa (Kate McKinnon).

Alice planned a weekend of debauchery and drug use and, although reluctantly at first, Jess and the others joined in.  When the women ordered a stripper, the night took a distinct turn for the worse.  The stripper turned up and is accidentally killed, leaving the five women to question what they could do.

I will say right away that the trailers for this film did not interest me much because they focused on the “party girl” aspect of the film.  It made the film look like a big drug-fueled, party film and those types of movies rarely interests me.  And that was what the first 25-30 minutes of this movie was like and I could feel myself checking out.

Then the stripper died, and things became considerably better.  The film became darker, the comedy became funnier, and the pace picked up dramatically.  I found myself enjoying much of the remainder of Rough Night.

I also thought that this would be too much like “Weekend at Bernie’s,” and, though there is some of that as well, it did not dominate the film.  The second part of this film is like “Weekend at Bernie’s” crossed with “Very Bad Things.”

The cast is definitely a strong point.  Scarlett Johannson is great as the straight-and-narrow, “I’m running for public office” Jess.  Later in the film, she is able to break out some Black Widow moves as well.  Kate McKinnon is spot on as the Vegemite-loving Aussie.  Jillian Bell does go over the top too much and the jealousy she showed toward McKinnon was too cliched.  Bell’s character seems to resemble a character that might be played by Rebel Wilson.

The film kept flashing back to Jess’s fiance Peter (Paul W. Downs), who had received a weird phone call from Jess and was worried that she wanted to break up with him.  I enjoyed these scenes with the uncharacteristic Peter almost as much as the main characters.  I believed that the time spent with Peter really improved the humor of the movie.

Now, the story needed to be better.  It felt too much like a network sitcom with some penis jokes.  The premise, however, works fine, but the story itself unravels as the film progresses.  There are too many predictable aspects to the plot, and I think this could have been a really great comedy with better writing, because the cast is tremendous and they all work extremely well together.  I believed that these five women would do anything for each other.

I have said before that a comedy that makes me laugh can cover up other flaws in the film, and, once the stripper died, Rough Night made me laugh.  The chemistry with the women was great and I enjoyed the flashes to the fiance and his desperation.  On the whole, this could have been better, but really I expected it to be worse.

3.2 stars

 

47 Meters Down

Image result for 47 meters down movie poster

I do like me some shark movies.  I love Jaws.  I enjoyed The Shallows.  I even like the Sharknado series when it is being roasted by the RiffTrax guys.  So 47 Meters Down felt like it was heading into a nice niche in my viewing ballpark.

However, I disliked the movie quite a bit.

Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) are sisters and vacationing in Mexico after Kate broke up with her boyfriend.  In order to show the boyfriend that Kate was not “boring,” the girls, who had hooked up with a couple of men in a bar, decide to go scuba diving in a shark cage.  Unfortunately for the sisters, something went wrong and the cage broke free from the boat and they wound up on the ocean floor, 47 meters below the surface of the water.  And… sharks.

There were several problems I had with 47 Meters Down.  The biggest reason was that I had no reason to care about either of these women.  They were very sparsely developed cardboard cut outs of people.  In Jaws, we spend a lot of time getting to know Brody, Hooper and Quint.  We even get quite a bit of development of the Blake Lively character in The Shallows.  These two girls felt as if they were nothing but disposable horror movie characters.  The remainder of the supporting characters are nothing.  There was some potential for these men involved with the girls being something more than just two men, and the captain of the boat could have been a fascinating character (and they even teased it a bit), but there was nothing done with him.

There were also a lot of dumb things done in the film.  That is not uncommon for many film, especially those kind of films that depend on fear or suspense to grip the audience.  Horror movies are some of the worse offenders of this trope.  And these two characters do some really dumb things during the movie.

There was serious problems with the time passage here, because the film uses the air tanks running out of oxygen as a way to create tension in the audience, but I did not understand why the air was being used so quickly.  It seemed as if it was supposed to be a longer period of time than what we saw on screen.  They talked about how being hysterical would use up air, but the girl who was in more control of her emotions actually lost the oxygen first.  It made little sense.

Another pick was an argument used to get Kate to agree to go into the cage, something she was not looking forward to doing, was that she could make her ex-boyfriend jealous with the pictures they took.  Yet, the girls did not bring a camera.  They had to borrow the camera of the guys they were with.  Yeah, nice planning ladies.  SPOILERS…And when they invariably lose the camera, it gets swallowed by a shark in one of the moments that caused me to laugh out loud.  End of SPOILERS

To be fair, some of the shots beneath the ocean were tremendous, and the presences of these massive sharks are always intense.  During these moments, 47 Meters Down is its strongest.  There is some suspense created as the sharks swim past the cage and you see these giant creatures.  They just seem to become too comical when doing their actual attacks.  This shark also comes out of nowhere multiple times.  I wonder if the shark can teleport, because you would think that you would know when a 20-foot shark was coming up on you.  The shark turned into a series of jump scares and that took me out of the movie.

And the ending… well, I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I disliked it a lot.  I’ll leave it there for now.

There are a few moments in this film that create a feeling of claustrophobia, but the characters are flimsy, despite the actresses being reasonably solid, the dialogue is weak and the choices made are laughable.  I was checked out several times thinking about things like how sound waves travel through water instead of being engaged in 47 Meters Down.  It feels like a wasted opportunity to do something engaging.

2 stars