Just Getting Started

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Just collecting a paycheck.

This film stars Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones and Renee Russo.  They’ve starred in films such as Nightcrawler, The Fugitive, Men in Black, The Shawshank Redemption, The Dark Knight, Lincoln, Captain America: The First Avenger and No Country for Old Men.

And Just Getting Started.  One of these things doesn’t go with the other.

What a waste of time.

Morgan Freeman stars as Duke Diver, the manager of the luxury Palm Springs resort, the Villa Capri.  Duke is eccentric and living the lifestyle of the alpha male of Villa Capri.  That is, until Leo (Tommy Lee Jones) comes along to steal his thunder.  Plus, Rene Russo arrives to give Duke a job performance review for the owning company.  Oh, there is a mob story and you are supposed to think that Leo was there to try and kill Duke.

Ugh.  This was written by the same man who wrote Bull Durham.  What happened?

Plus, in a world where sexual misconduct is being rightfully called out across Hollywood, both Duke and Leo treat women with a remarkably old time style.  And Rene Russo’s character of Suzie is played with such a weakness that she actually has to swoon over Johnny Mathias.

Suzie is such a caricature in the story that you cannot take her seriously, even for a moment.  She portrays everything that is opposite of a strong woman that it is appalling.

There is little to no humor in the film.  When the big laughs are having Graham Beckel’s character sit on a bucket lid to keep a rattlesnake from escaping.

Ha Ha Ha… ugh.

There is no sense being made.  You have elder statesmen of actors acting like middle school students in maturity level.  You got characters changing traits every five minutes and other characters that are supposed to be intelligent and well versed doing the stupidest things immediately.   Russo is a complete damsel in distress by the end of the film and a total incompetent, except of course when she is not and the film wants you to believe that she is more than what she seems.  And I have no idea what has happened to Freeman and Jones.

By the way, things keep blowing up and it never seems to attract the police.  Same with some high speed car chases.  I guess the cops have more important things to do than check out a retirement village.

Just Getting Started was done in the first ten minutes and the rest of the time was an unfunny, boring and predictable mess that had three actors who have seen WAY better in their time.

1 star

The Disaster Artist

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I never knew that Tommy Wiseau was inspired by James Dean.

There was a lot shown to us in James Franco’s new movie, The Disaster Artist, based on the creation of Tommy Wiseau’s movie, The Room, which is considered one of the worst movies ever made.  Franco, who directed and starred in this, did a very smart thing.  He did not spend the whole film making fun of Wiseau and The Room.  Instead, he showed us the humanity of the man and his dream.

Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) met each other in an acting class in San Francisco and Greg was immediately taken by Tommy’s passion and his ability to put himself out there.  It was something that he was struggling doing, so, despite the fact that Johnny clearly did not have any acting skill, Greg went to Tommy and asked to be his scene partner.

A friendship grew from that unlikely meeting, as Greg and Tommy moved to LA to pursue their dream of becoming actors.  However, as the pair found that it was not easy to break into show business, Tommy decided to skip the line and write, produce, fund, direct and star in his own movie.

What came forth was a movie that was downright terrible, but became a cult classic, including midnight showings that are consistently selling out.  The filming of the movie had plenty of troubles, but the result of this is hilarious.

Playing a real life character such as Tommy Wiseau is a challenge, but James Franco is sensational in the role.  James Franco morphed into Wiseau. His accent, his mannerisms, the way he is was just perfect.  Franco did not create a parody of the man.  He became him.

And Tommy Wiseau is an enigma.  The fact is that we do not know much of anything about him.  He has, what sounds like, a thick, perhaps, Eastern European accent, but he claims to have been born in New Orleans.  It is not known where Tommy gets his money and how he seems to have an endless supply of it.  He financed The Room, rumored to be over 6 million dollar, by himself.  Tommy refuses to reveal his age, as Tommy tries to pass himself off as a much young man than he appears to be.  The film does a really strong job of playing these odd mysteries off as more than just eccentric behavior.  We never do find out the answers as Tommy refuses to give any straight answers to these questions.

The movie was really funny, but there was way more depth to it besides just the humor.  The movie looked closely at the relationship between Tommy and Greg, and they were able to connect the audience to these people.  Honestly, there were several moments in this movie where I truly felt for Tommy, despite the fact that he was ridiculous and very unaware of his short-comings.  The scene where Tommy was at the premiere and the crowd was laughing, the film took several moments to focus on James Franco and his reactions were just crushing.  That would not mean near as much if this was simply a satire of Tommy Wiseau and this terrible movie.

Fact is, it is clear that James Franco and everyone involved in The Disaster Artist has a healthy respect for Tommy Wiseau and the movie that he made, even if it is the worst film ever made.  That respect comes through in the film.

Seth Rogan and Paul Scheer are in the film as part of the crew that questions the insanity that was everywhere.  They were wonderful, and it might have been my favorite Set Rogan performance ever.  They were the voice of the audience as we wondered exactly what was wrong with Tommy Wiseau.  Rogan’s delivery was pitch perfect.

The movie also showed the other side of Tommy Wiseau as well.  There were many times where Tommy was jealous or was vengeful.  He wanted things his way and if there was anything that he did not like, he did not respond well to it.  Petty things such as not allowing the crew to have water in the hot studio or verbally abusing the actors because Alfred Hitchcock did it too.

The Disaster Artist is a great movie.  I loved it.  There are so many great moments of heart and humanity, along with the humor and the oddity that made The room such a cult classic.  James and Dave Franco are great in the movie, anchoring a cast of huge acting stars, including a group of filmmakers (including Kevin Smith, JJ Abrams etc) opening the film with words about The room.

And the Disaster Artist is not only funny, but it is strangely inspirational.  Tommy Wiseau did not allow the problems circling him to stop him from reaching for his dream of making a movie.  Despite it being perceived in a manner that Tommy did not want, no one could take that fact away from him.

The Disaster Artist is a great film about the making of a terrible one.  I would recommend seeing The room before you go to the Disaster Artist because seeing The Room does help in certain moments.  The end of the film features several of the most infamous scenes from The Room side by side with recreations in The Disaster Artist and this shows the level of commitment by this cast of actors.

By the way, stay through the credits to the every end as there is a post credit scene.

The is one of the best movies of the year.  I was remarkably entertained.

5 stars

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Movie Poster

This is truly a terrible title for a really great movie.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is a fairly accurate description of the initial set up for the film, but seems to be too much of a mouthful to do this justice.

Despite the clunky title, the film is a tremendous film filled with dark comedic elements (I hesitate to call it a dark comedy), shocking moments of unpredictability and sensational performances by just about everyone in the ensemble cast.

After having her daughter raped and murdered seven years prior and seeing little advancement on the case from the local police, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) decided to take matters into her own hands and attempt to give the police a push into activity.  Mildred rented three little used billboards on a stretch of roads rarely used anymore and put up signs asking the question about why her daughter’s killer had not bee caught yet.  She called out popular local sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) on the billboards by name, starting a storm of trouble throughout the small town.

Much of the trouble is stirred up by police officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a racist, crooked cop who is known for reportedly torturing African-American suspects, but whom Willoughby keeps around because of his faith in the man inside of him.  Dixon is just about everything that you wish a police officer would not be.

Things happen in this film that you cannot believe as characters continue to escalate their behavior into ways that become worse and worse.  The film has many moments of humor, but, there are some times, when you will feel horrible for laughing.

There is no doubt that the three main actors here, Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell are absolutely brilliant in their portrayals of these complex and, and in many ways, disturbing characters.  You begin the movie expecting to be rooting for one character in particular, but not too long into it, your choice is uncertain.  All three of these actors have a really good chance of being nominated for an Academy Award for this work.

McDormand, in particular, is at her very best, arguably.  She brings such pain and unforgiving anger to her character of Mildred that, despite her doing some things that may weaken her support, you understand the lengths that she takes it.  She feels like a natural disaster, a tornado of some kind pointed in a certain direction.

Rockwell gives an impactful performance as Dixon.  This is a character that could easily become one of those one-note villains that is there simply to provide a counter balance to the justice warrior that is McDormand.  However, Rockwell creates a much more interesting character that is fully developed and one that you actually relate with, despite his own, deep seeded issues and his horrible acts of anger.

That is the truth behind this movie.  The movie is not about justice.  This movie is about grief and loss and how these emotions are capable of creating an anger that can fester and rot inside of you until it explodes, changing the person that you are and suddenly washed by a wave of hostility.

I was into much of this movie, but I must say that I did not truly like the way the film ended, leaving too much ambiguity for this film.  I am also unsure if what they were thinking about doing really fit with either character.  For such a strong film, the ending was not what I had wanted.

I was also not too impressed with the inclusion of Peter Dinklage.  His character felt like he was included because they had Peter Dinklage and they needed a role for him.  I mean, he does fine in the role, but, without this character, I am not sure how this film changes and that feels like a waste of talent.

There were other good performances in the film though.  Lucas Hedges (from Manchester by the Sea) is really good as Mildred’s son.  Zeljko Ivanek was here as another cop.  Caleb Landrey Jones has a vital role as Red, who rents the billboards to Mildred.  Red has one of the most human scene in the film, providing almost a redeeming nature for the film.  John Hawkes brings more to the role of Mildred’s abusive ex-husband than you would think possible and, Samara Weaving brings an innocent humor to the stupidity of his new, 19-year old flame.  Finally, Sandy Martin is a hoot as the trailer-park-like momma for Dixon.

This movie will certainly be discussed come award season and it will be well deserved.  With the exception of a misstep at the end, Three Billboards outside Ebbing County is a very strong film with dynamic performances.

4.2 stars

 

Roman J. Israel, Esq.

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There are certain movies where the performance of the lead actor/actress is far greater than the film itself.  Many spring to mind immediately including Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game, Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in Fences to name just a few.

Well, Denzel Washington has appeared in another movie where his performance is much better than the film itself.

Now, sometimes the great performance elevates the material and you start to see them as one and the same.  My three previous examples all received Oscar nominations for the films though none of them actually were Oscar worthy outside of individual performances.  I do not think that Washington’s new film, Roman J. Israel, Esq. will be nominated like these other films were, but it certainly falls into the same category.

The problem with the film is that there is not much more to it beside a strong and oddball performance from a great actor in Denzel Washington.

Roman J. Israel is a lawyer who has been working in a partnership with another lawyer for years.  Roman was the behind-the-scenes, legal expert and the partner was the “face” of the company.  Roman was an advocate for change within the system, carrying around a briefcase full of case action suit targeting the process of overcharging defendants to get plea bargains.

It was clear that Roman J. Israel had his priorities straight and that, despite being most likely somewhere upon the Autism Spectrum (though technically never stated), never lost track of who he was.  When his friend and partner died, Roman was thrown into situations that he had been shielded from for years and, suddenly, things like money and people’s opinions started to weigh heavy on the lawyer.

Denzel Washington does an amazing job creating this character and showing you how the situations really make him mortgage his personal ideals.  Washington engulfs himself in bad haircuts and misfitting suits, though you always see Denzel when watching.  He does not disappear into the role such as Jake Gyllenhaal’s in Nightcrawler, a film, like this one, also directed by Dan Gilroy.

Unfortunately, the story really wanders around too much, lacking focus for much of the film and eventually devolves into a dramatic thriller that stretches credibility too far.

Colin Farrell plays lawyer George Pierce, who hires Roman after the loss of Roman’s friend and colleague, but, unfortunately, the character of George is all over the place.  He seems to be a douche at first, and then suddenly appreciates Roman’s skills and then becomes angry with him for an error and then wants to be his friend.  I love Colin Farrell and he does a fine job as an actor in this film, but his character needed to be defined better.

Denzel Washington’s performance almost made this movie a movie that I would recommend, but I cannot quite get there.  The plot is just not there enough and the last third of the film becomes nonsensical.  However, it is clear that Denzel Washington is one of the top actors of our generation and his performance nearly pulled this film into respectability.  If you are someone who enjoys an amazing acting accomplishment, you might find Roman J. Israel, Esq. a meaningful watch.

2.9 stars

The Man Who Invented Christmas

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A Christmas Carol is one of the most famous and beloved pieces of fiction that had ever been written.  Charles Dickens wrote many amazing novels, but this is arguably his finest and greatest work.  The new film The Man Who Invented Christmas explored how a famous author like Charles Dickens creates such a classic work of fiction.

Playing like a biopic, the film adds an element of magic to the manner in which Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) created the characters of A Christmas Carol and eventually wrote the book.

Dickens had gone through a period of failure, having had three books flop after the massive success of Oliver Twist.  Seeing debt building up, Dickens set out to write a Christmas story with six weeks to go until Christmas.  These are true facts.

The film, however, takes the writing process to a different and remarkably original level.  Dickens would picture a characters, name a character and then they would appear to him.  When Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) showed up, he began to show what a rotten person he was, belittling Dickens as he struggled against the deadline, the writer’s blocks and the seemingly never ending interruptions from his family, staff and friends.

Each of these interruptions were involving some intriguing side characters in Charles Dickens’ life.  His father John (Jonathan Pryce) is a bit of a blowhard and huckster, but he is responsible for some serious baggage for Dickens.  The relationship between Dickens and his father is an important one in the creation of the character of Ebenezer Scrooge.

There is also a great relationship between Dickens and his friend Thackeray (Miles Jupp).  Thackeray was as loyal to Charles as anyone and his friendship and belief in the writer was a solid rock for Dickens.

The movie was remarkably charming. I was fully enthralled in the film as it continues, showing the “real-life’ inspirations Dickens took to create the characters and scenes of A Christmas Carol.  It was fun to hear certain well known lines from the story (ex. “if they are going to die then they should get on with it, and decrease the surplus population”) placed into the script in such a clever way.

Dan Stevens does a great job with his role, showing us a continuously nervous Charles Dickens, whose vivid imagination is amazing, but whose life threatens to drag him down and prevent him from finishing.  The flashbacks used help highlight the horrors of the young Charlie Dickens’ past were effective and brought us back around successfully to what the narrative was wanting us to understand.  Much like Scrooge, the key to Charles Dickens successful future lied in the past and the present and Dan Stevens is so likable that he makes a perfect protagonist here.

There were some secondary characters that are introduced that are not developed very much.  Charles’s wife Kate (Morfydd Clark) has a nice scene near the end of the film, but it seemed to come out of nowhere.  The inclusion of a character named Tara (Anna Murphy) seemed an odd choice and I was not sure why she was meant to be significant but she clearly was.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Man Who Invented Christmas (though that was an odd title, somewhat misleading) and I found it extremely charming.  If you are looking for a good Christmas movie this year, don’t waste your time on Daddy’s Home 2 and instead look this one up.  God bless us.  Everyone.

4 stars

 

Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond-Featuring a Very Special Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton

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In 1999, the movie Man on the Moon came out and told the story of comic Andy Kaufman, being played by Jim Carrey.  By all appearances, this was your standard biopic that we see all the time.

However, Jim Carrey had taken it to another level.

Famously reported during filming was the fact that Jim Carrey had completely encompassed the role of Andy Kaufman to an extent where he was actively, 24/7 being Andy Kaufman.

Jim Carrey took Method acting to a whole new level.

Now, 18 years later, a new documentary appeared on Netflix featuring behind the scenes footage shot for a documentary at the time showing just how lost Jim Carrey had become inside the role of Andy Kaufman… and the very special contractually obligated mention of Tony Clifton, too.  This footage is reportedly hidden away to protect Jim Carrey from himself.

These images of Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman were interspersed with a present day interview with a heavily bearded Jim Carrey, providing contradiction to the antics of the sprite that had apparently possessed the actor during the movie’s filming.

It was a tremendous documentary, with an almost unbelievable pretense.  The shocked expressions of cast mates like Danny DeVito and Judd Hirsch down to Andy Kaufman’s real family members told the story of how Jim Carrey was no longer there.  He spoke in third person when referring to Jim Carrey.  He spoke like Andy Kaufman (or Tony Clifton)

Jim Carrey with the beard kept saying that, at the time, he kept asking himself, “how far would Andy go?”

I felt bad for Jerry “The King” Lawler, who seemed to take his share of grief from “Andy” and he reacted,at times, like the professional wrestler that he is.  Lawler spoke of how back when Kaufman and he were doing their wrestling shtick in Memphis how Andy would always be respectful behind the scenes and how they would plan out things together and that aspect seemed to have been pushed aside by Carrey for the sake of realism.  In pro wrestling, it is called kayfabe and Jim Carrey was all about that.

The documentary is well put together and really has a great hook with the missing footage from behind the scenes.  Just looking at the other cast members staring at Jim Carrey in disbelief is worth it, but we get more than just that.  We have a look inside the mind of two of the most fascinating comedic actors/performers of recent memory.

4.5 stars

Lady Bird

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This is not a film about LBJ’s wife, Lady Bird Johnson.

At first, I thought that this was a biopic, but, after seeing a recent trailer, I realized that I was wrong.  Instead, it is a coming of age story about a young girl and her struggles in school, in family and in life.

The film is very well done.  Honestly, there is not a huge plot involved here.  It is basically the senior year in high school for “Lady Bird” Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) and the family struggles that she faced.  Her mother is played by Laurie Metcalf, who is remarkable here.  Metcalf, whether she is in sitcoms like Roseanne or the Big Bang Theory or movies like Toy Story or Meet the Robinsons, is always fantastic.  Here is just more of the same from her.  Great work.

I also enjoyed the work of the actor playing Lady Bird’s father, Tracy Letts.  I recognized him in the film, but I wasn’t able to place him.  He was very solid as the older man who had to struggle with depression and tried to avoid being overwhelmed by the more dominant Metcalf.  He was softer and quieter and very compelling.

There were plenty of typical scenes you would see in a coming of age story revolving around the final year of high school. Lady Bird wanted to escape from Sacramento to the east coast, but her mother was against that.  In fact, her mother found many passive aggressive ways to get a message across to Lady Bird that had the teen ready to get out of the house.  There was the first sexual encounter with the band member.  There is a school play and musical.  There is the friend who turns out gay.  There is a lot of dealing with the differing class structure of the school, with Lady Bird and her family certainly on the lower level of money.

While many of these topics are dealt with in other coming of age stories, they fit together very nicely with the strong performance of Ronan, which makes these topics fresh.  Ronan and Metcalf are excellent together and you can feel the connection between them.  It’s one of those things that make you think these two women are too much alike to really get along with one another.

There is something in this film that everyone will relate to and that is what makes Lady Bird special.  It has a great relationship, albeit negative many times, between Lady Bird and her mother  and the movie rides that relationship throughout.

3.5 stars

Coco

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I was able to keep myself from blubbering out loud and the 3D glasses hid the tears fairly well.

Coco is the newest emotional wallop released by Pixar Studios in the same vein as former films Inside Out and Toy Story 3.

In the new movie, we meet 12-year old Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) as his family prepared for the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) by setting up the remembrance photos of family members who had since passed.  The family had been devastated decades ago when Miguel’s great great grandfather left to follow his dream to become a musician, leaving behind his wife and infant daughter.  Because of this betrayal, the family had rejected music in any forms and had become shoemakers.

The problem was that Miguel had music in his soul and would sneak away from his family to play his guitar, and watch movies and tapes of his hero, the late Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt).  When Miguel discovered that his great, great grandfather was actually de la Cruz, he planned on entering a talent show on Día de los Muertos, despite the objects of his family.

When she found this out, Miguel’s grandmother Abuelita (Renée Victor) destroyed his guitar and insisted that Miguel give up his dreams of music and that Miguel help fix the pictures for his great grandmother Mamá Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguia), who had started to lose her memories and was slipping away from life.

Miguel would not give up his dream, reacting impulsively and running away from his family.  Sneaking in to steal the original guitar of the legendary de la Cruz, Miguel found himself magically transported to the Land of the Dead.  There he came across the skeleton corpses of his deceased family members who want to help Miguel cross back over to the land of the living before the sun came up and turned the boy into a skeleton, trapping him in the Land of the Dead forever.

While in the Land of the Dead,Miguel meets a trickster named Hector (Gael García Bernal) who is afraid of being forgotten in the Land of the Living and agrees to help Miguel find his great great grandfather de la Cruz in exchange for Miguel to return to the Land of the Living with a photo of Hector, to keep him from fading away into forgetfulness.

Coco is a beautiful, heart-warming, heart-wrenching story of family and love and what it means to honor those who have died.  It provides us with amazing culture insights into the Mexican culture and creates a spectacular world of color and joy.

The animation is astounding once again.  Pixar has never had issues with the visual imagery of the animation and Coco is no exception.  It is full of colors, breathtakingly gorgeous and as imaginative as any world you could ever think of.

The story of Miguel is wonderful as well, full of emotion and characterization.  I will state that there is a twist in the film that I picked out, but this did not affect my enjoyment of the film.   There was an audible gasp in my theater when it was revealed so it obviously caught some people off guard.

The music was amazing, with the song “Remember Me” probably going to be remembered again during Oscar time.

The character designs of these skeletons were tremendous, taking what could have been a frightening concept and turning it into a funny, warm, almost-magical appearance.

You become so engaged with these characters, especially Miguel and Hector, that the strife affecting them really hits home hard.  The last 25-30 minutes of Coco is about as emotionally powerful as any Pixar movie had ever been.  Richness of story and theme drove home the impactful message of Coco in a sequence that, simply put, reduced me to tears.  Such a lovely and beautiful segment.

The film was emotional, extremely funny, filled with Mexican culture and enthralling music.  As if there were any doubt about Pixar after this summer’s weaker Cars 3, Coco shows the world that the studio is still capable of creating original movies with powerhouse poignant moments for the whole family.  Unlike many animated movies, Coco is for both the children and the parents.  Young and old.  Everyone can enjoy this film.

Coco is a brilliant film and one of the best films of the year.

5 stars

Wonder

Wonder Movie Poster

Hm.

Wonder was okay.  I did not love it as much as I thought I would.  I am usually a sucker for stories about kids and their lives.  Wonder just did not connect with me the way I anticipated.

Now, I did enjoy the film.  It is good.  I am going to give it a positive review, but I really expected to come out of the film with more enthusiasm.

After being home schooled by his mom Isabel (Julia Roberts), Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) is set to start 5th grade at a real school.  However, Auggie knew that he would be facing major obstacles since he was born with facial differences that had required multiple plastic surgeries.  Auggie struggled with bullies and other children who could not see past his deformity.

We got several other characters in the film that received some focus along the way.  Auggie’s sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) felt overlooked by her parents constant attention to Auggie, and she, for some unknown reason, had her best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell) stop being her friend after returning from summer camp.  Another fifth grader  Jack Will (Noah Jupe) befriended Auggie only to say something cruel within earshot of his friend.  Another student, adult suck up Julian (Bryce Gheisar) became the bully who targeted Auggie, calling him a freak.

What I liked.  Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson (who played Auggie’s dad, Nate) had a great relationship and were wonderful with their son.  I thought Owen Wilson was awesome here and I found him to the most real of all the characters in the film.  The relationship with Via was not as solid as they seemed to take for granted their daughter.  That story was particularly strong and I appreciated how Via never went full crazed teenager.  She always showed a sweetness to her brother.

There were some very sweet scenes in Wonder.  In fact, some of the scenes may have been too sweet.  I do like how the movie shines a light on a major problem we have at schools today.  The bullying problem is terrible and very few people can be as cruel as kids can be, some times without even meaning to.

I thought Noah Jupe, who had just recently been one few good things in the movie Suburbicon, was very strong as Auggie’s friend with two first names, Jack Will.  Noah carried himself very well and showed quite a range of emotion as he struggled to understand why Auggie had ended their friendship.

I think the problem I had with Wonder was that I just did not buy a lot of what happened.  I work at a school and the thought that the principal Mr. Tushman (Mandy Patinkin) would send a kid like Julian, along with Jack Will and Charlotte (Elle McKinnon with a really odd character), to take Auggie on a tour of the school.  There is no way that someone like Julian, who was so cruel to Auggie, would have fooled everyone as much as he did.  Kids would have ratted this guy out by now.  The whole set up felt forced and manipulated.

There were too many situations like this in Wonder that felt like it was trying to manipulate the emotions of the audience, dealing way too much in melodrama than in real life experiences.

I am also going to say something unpopular here, but I feel as if this was not the greatest of performances from Jacob Tremblay.  I love the young actor and he made me cry with his work in Room and in Book of Henry, but here I found Auggie to be a bit of a screaming brat at times.  I understand why, but I would have liked a little more subtlety in his performance.  Perhaps the prosthetics made it difficult to bring the typically amazing work for the young actor.  I’m sure he did his best, but there was just something that did not work for me.

Yes the movie has a great message of acceptance and kindness in the face of hatred and cruelty, and the film has a definite uplifting feel to it, covered with a gloss of sugar like some kind of breakfast cereal.  I just was waiting for something more impactful than what I got.  I am sure that many people will go to Wonder and enjoy it fully, most likely requiring some tissues (That’s you, Ambarlee).  It is a sweet family film, but you should not expect too much.

3.2 stars

Justice League

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I’ll start with this.  Justice League is good.  Not great, but good.

I certainly enjoyed this more than I did Batman v. Superman or Suicide Squad.  However, this still has some serious problems as a film.  It is a step in the right direction, though.  Should we be using that line?  “A step in the right direction” meaning that it is not as bad as you thought so it is good.  I’m not sure that is fair.

Either way, there are things I liked about Justice League.  In fact, most anything that directly involve the League members is pretty good.  I would go as far as to say that the interactions between the characters is the best part of this movie.

Diana (Gal Gadot) is still one of the best characters here, despite being less than she was in her own movie.  The scene near the beginning of the film where she saves a group of people from terrorists intent on blowing up several blocks of a city was tremendous.  I love seeing super heroes being super heroic and Wonder Woman is a perfect example of that.

Ezra Miller, though I doubted that I would like him, was really good as well.  He was the comic relief and most everything humorous about him worked.  I have heard that Flash is a divisive character- that you either love him or hate him.  Put me in the love him category.  This Flash is different enough from Barry Allen from TV to make it worthwhile.  Ray Fisher  as Victor Stone aka Cyborg was someone I did not think I would like either, but I thought his character was really awesome… maybe even the best of the characters in the film.  I did not like the look of Cyborg at all though.  I though his CGI was terrible on him and did not improve until the very end of the movie.

They had some good secondary characters.  Jeremy Irons as Alfred and JK Simmons as Commissioner Gordon were solid and I enjoyed the use of Lois Lane (Amy Adams) as well.  Diane Lane was back as Martha and she had some nice scenes.

This next section is a spoiler….. so SPOILER

The return of Superman(Henry Cavill) is perhaps my favorite part of the film. I would have liked it if there was more of an arc to the story involving Superman, but this was the Superman that should have been here the whole time.  When the newly alive, but not quite right Superman fights the other Justice League members, I was engaged.  Unfortunately, the movie brushes over Clark’s return and makes his comeback less emotional than it should have been.  However, I was really afraid that we were going to get another “Martha” moment, and the film avoided that, so there is that.  In the end, I really liked the Superman we got here.  END OF SPOILERS.

The film had a more fun feel than the other DC movies of late. You can tell that there was some kind of edict that Warner Brothers had given to make their super heroes less dark and gritty.  I am not saying that it is on the level of tone of Marvel, but it is distinctively different than previous DC movies.  Honestly, if they continue this tone, which still had some darkness to it, they might have more success.

Now, there are still lots of issues here.  The story is very thin, and actually seems very much like The Avengers.  There is a disposable feeling to this film.  It is not an epic film that one would think of when they think of a Justice League film.

One of the biggest problems with the Justice League has to do with Superman.  The film wants you to believe that the world is mourning Superman and that they really miss the beacon of hope that he was. The problem?  We had never seen this Superman in the DC Cinematic Universe.  In Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman, we saw a dower and depressed Superman because the world looked upon him as an alien that was a problem, and a danger.  Not the heroic super hero that inspired a generation.  This, I think , is another example of why they needed a Man of Steel 2 before this film so they could have transitioned Superman from the emo Superman into the person beloved by the world.

I did not like the way the character Aquaman (Jason Momoa) was shown here.  I had some high hopes for Aquaman, but I just did not enjoy his character.  I had little reason to cheer for him. The whole section with Mera (Amber Heard) felt like a scene that was wasted.

I thought they went too far to the other side with the character of Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck).  They tried to make him quippy, but most of his quips did not work.  This was a solid portrayal of Batman, but I did not like his Bruce Wayne.

However, easily the worst part of this film was Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds).  I hated every moment that character was on the screen.  He was nothing more than a giant CGI character… and a bad looking CGI character.  It was Green Lantern Paradox bad.  He had no characterization, no motive, no traits.  Anyone complaining about Marvel villains should never make that point gain.  Steppenwolf was one step above the Enchantress from Suicide Squad.  As much as I was enjoying the interaction with the Justice League members, the Steppenwolf moments were as bad as anything that we had seen.

I don’t know why DC movies feel the need to have the “everything is red” background in their final CGI fights.  It looks terrible.  B v S did it.  Suicide Squad did it.  Even a good movie like Wonder Woman did it too.  It is like the world has to be an apocalyptic flavor to it for DC to end a movie.  Admittedly, I liked the final act of this movie, but the look of the film was just so reminiscent to the other films.

The story of Justice League has gone through many twists.  Zack Snyder, who is still listed as the director on this, had to leave the project because of a family tragedy, and Joss Whedon, comes in to finish it.  He oversaw many reshoots and rewrites.  They had to cut a chunk of the movie when WB mandated that the film come in under 2 hours and it was reportedly 2 hours and 45 minutes. Every other day there is a story about Ben Affleck wanting to get out of the Batman role.  For the amount of melodrama involved with this film, it is impressive that there are positives to it at all.

And there are many positives to Justice League.  In fact, it is a fun movie that is mostly entertaining.  The missteps do not ruin the movie and the iconic heroes are well done, if not simplified.

3.65 stars

The Babysitter

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I finally got around to watching this on Netflix tonight.  The Babysitter has been available on the streaming service since October 13th, and it had been on my queue to watch for several weeks now, but the time just never seemed to work out.  Until now.

And hey… I enjoyed it.

Young Cole (Judah Lewis) is a twelve-year old boy who is apparently afraid of everything.  Bullied and attacked at school, Cole has few people that he cares for.  One of those few people was his babysitter, Bee (Samara Weaving).  Cole’s growing attraction to the beautiful babysitter leads him to wonder what she would do when he went to sleep, so Cole decided to stay up one night to see exactly what happened past hours.  Little did he know about the horrors he was about to discover.

The Babysitter is a horror/dark comedy/coming of age movie mash up, and all three of the genres shine through.  There are some really funny moments mixed in with some very bloody and shocking moments and all the while you are rooting for the young protagonist who finds himself stuck in the middle.

Admittedly, the film never officially gives you any answers about exactly what was going on, but it was clear that Bee and her clan of hench-people were up to no good.  These others with Bee included the more well known actors Bella Thorne and Robbie Amell.  It was fun to see these two running around, trying to take care of the Cole problem the group suddenly encountered.

There was some funny lines.  Robbie Amell’s character was running around without a shirt on for most of the film, and when Cole asked why he did not have a shirt, Bella Thorne’s character made a reference to his physique.  It was like a soap opera, trying to get the shirt off their hot male leads.

There was actually a real relationship between Cole and Bee, and that made her betrayal all the worse.  The film took some time to show this relationship and that helped us develop both of those characters before all hell broke loose.

One of the strengths of the movie is the fact that it really feels as if it knows exactly what it is and that the film itself is on on the joke.  It is certainly campy, and makes one think of some of those cheesy 1980s slasher films, but with more heart.  There was definitely lots of blood splatter around, but it feels so cartoony with its representation of the gore that it would not be a bother to anyone worried about blood.

Judah Lewis carries this film on his youthful shoulders and he just adds to a list of solid performances by child actors this year.  His relationship with Samara Weaving, who also is excellent in her role, is the center of the movie.  The Babysitter was a good time and would make for an enjoyable weekend night at home.

3.7 stars

 

Daddy’s Home 2

Daddy's Home 2 Movie Poster

When I went to see Daddy’s Home, I hated the first part of the movie.  Maybe even the first two acts.  I sat in my seat thinking to myself not just whether this would make my worst movies of the year list, but exactly what number it would be.  Then, something strange and unexpected happened.  The third act got better, caught my interest and saved the movie.  I still did not give it a great score, but my opinion changed and it avoided the worst movie of the year list.

Cue the trailers for the sequel, Daddy’s Home 2.  I actually found them entertaining.  I laughed several times at them and I, surprisingly, was looking forward to this film.

Brad (Will Farrell) and Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) had gotten the co-parenting thing down pat and were preparing to have an all-family Christmas together when it happened.  Dusty’s obnoxious father Kurt (Mel Gibson) decided to invite himself into the mix.  Throw in Brad’s over-emotional father Don (John Lithgow) and you suddenly have a severely combustible situation.

Making it even more uncomfortable, Kurt was continually trying to undermine the fragile relationship between Brad and Dusty, playing the two off each other with snarky comments and sabotage.

I have never liked Will Farrell much.  Every once in a while he does something that I think is good, but the good certainly does not out weigh the bad in my opinion.  This is his typical dumb comedy where, in place of intelligent or well-written dialogue or funny situations, Farrell does a pratfall or slams himself into the ground.  Once you’ve seen that, it really isn’t funny again.  Unfortunately, much of the best comedic parts of Daddy’s Home 2 is found in the trailers.

I do think that Farrell and John Lithgow are interesting together and this relationship could have been something that the film grabbed onto more, but it is really a side note. The storyline with the kids of the families was simply atrocious and promoted the worst examples for kids.  At one point, Dylan (Owen Vaccaro) was asking about advice for girls, and Dusty told him to go shove mistletoe above her, plant his “spaghetti slurpers” on her and then slap her on the butt.  In today’s world of sexual abuse and misconduct in Hollywood, a time where people like Harvey Weinstein, Andy Signore, Kevin Spacey are being brought down because of their inappropriate sexual advances toward others, to encourage that sort of behavior as something that can be funny is at best irresponsible and at worst criminal.

The comedy in this film might appeal to some.  There were people in the theater I saw this film in that seemed to think this was all funny.  I understand humor is subjective, but I found myself wondering exactly why these people find this obnoxious, borderline offense humor funny.  Daddy’s Home 2 takes the lowest level of comedy, mean-spirited and low bow, and presents it as funny.  I might have giggled a couple of times.

Mel Gibson was not funny.  He was too close to real life to be funny.  Plus, the character of Kurt does not earn his ending in the movie.  He never gets his learning moment and the film expects you to just accept that he now wants to improve his relationship with Dusty.  It came out of nowhere after making this guy the most obnoxious and cruel character in the film.

The film tried another third act come from behind here as well with a somewhat funny use of the song by Band Aid, “Do They Know It’s Christmas.”  However, the entire situation is soooooooooooo over the top that it stretches credibility and lost me.  The song itself was enjoyable to listen to and this was as close as I came to caring about anything in the movie.  I wonder how many people actually know that song and does it deserve the main third act focus?

Another problem with the film is that John Cena’s character Roger shows up late in the film.  The John Cena cameo was one of the best parts of the original film, but this one felt like the same old thing.  Then, with the ending segment, it felt as if the film was trying to bring together Dusty and Roger, as if that was the main relationship needing to be fixed.  It made no sense and it really undercut the finale.  Perhaps if this was the main conflict int he whole movie, like the original kind of set up in the closing minutes, but it was not.  It was tacked on to get John Cena into the film.

There are so many dumb scenes strung together ( a hunting scene, a bowling scene, the Nativity scene, a tree shopping scene) and none of the scenes had a through-line.  They were all patched together for the sake of that scene’s bad joke.

There is also a post credit scene that fits perfectly with this film.  It was mean and sad and made you feel depressed for poor John Lithgow.  I love John Lithgow, but this was an insult to him.

Daddy’s Home 2 took all of the worst parts of the first two acts of Daddy’s Home (including, literally some of the same jokes) and crammed them into the full three act structure of this movie.  The writing should have been so tighter and funnier, but there was simply nothing much here to enjoy.  One more film for the bad Will Farrell list.

1.3 stars

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

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I had never read the Agatha Christie book, nor had I seen any of the other movie versions that preceded this new film version of Murder on the Orient Express, directed by Kenneth Branagh, so I was entering this film with brand new eyes and an excitement to match.  I also avoided reviews for this film, after a quick, early glance at Rotten Tomatoes.  Decent early score, so I was hopeful.

In the end, I liked the film, but it was not near as great as I had hoped it would be.

The world famous detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) had some free time on his hands, but there was no rest for the little grey cells.  He was called for another case and had to get on a train, the Orient Express.  Suddenly, there was a dead body on the train and a cabin full of suspects.  Could the masterful Poirot solve the murder?

I hope so, because I figured it out pretty early.

There are some really great things about the film, starting with Kenneth Branagh.  His take as Hercule Poirot is wonderful and he does a fantastic job giving life to one of Agatha Christie’s most famous characters.  Poirot is well developed, we have a connection to him and Branagh fills him with some great, subtle character traits that really humanizes the detective.

The film also looks tremendous.  The cinematography is top notch and the surroundings of the Orient Express are breath-taking.  There are great shots inside the train as well, showing that Branagh has quite the grip on the understanding of how to shoot in the tight spaces as well as the snowy exteriors.

There is a wonderfully talented cast in the film.  Unfortunately, it feels as if the film does not do a suitable job of allowing this amazing cast to show what they can do.  With the exception of Branagh (who was tremendous), Josh Gad, who played MacQueen, and Michelle Pfeiffer as Caroline Hubbard, the cast was wasted on background characters who seem to be nothing more than window dressing.  Honestly, I did not care for most of these characters.

The murder mystery was pretty disappointing as well.  That was mainly because it was too filled with exposition and it kept bringing new characters and pieces to the puzzle that the audience could not possibly have known.  Part of the fun of the murder mystery is being able to play along with the detective.  That was not done here.  I still guessed the eventual reveal so the film lacked in an enjoyable pay off.

Because of the last few problems, the film did feel as if it dragged on.  It was certainly a slow burn of the film, which I liked at first, but quickly found it turning dull.  Then Poirot seemed to solve the case from out of nowhere and the film took a strange path.

Still, I think the film was a decent watch and there is no doubt that Kenneth Branagh was special as Hercule Poirot.  It is a beautiful film to watch, but the fact is that the story lets the film down and the great cast is wasted.  Still, if you like murder mysteries, or an Agatha Christie story, then this might be a decent time at the theater.

3.3 stars

 

Killing Gunther

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The mockumentary style of film has been around for several years now and we have seen areas from heavy metal music to dog shows.  You can now add hitmen to the list of topics covered with the new Taran Killam film, Killing Gunther.

Blake (Taran Killam) assembled a crew of young, up-and-coming hired assassins to help him kill the “white whale” of contract killers, Gunther.  Problem was that no one knew who Gunther was or what he looked like.  So, kidnapping a camera crew, Blake insists that they film everything as they attempt to take the place at the top of the heap by killing Gunther.

There are some definitely fun things going on in this mockumentary.  A very strong cast helps to give the film its needed gravitas as this group of assassins find themselves one step behind Gunther at every turn.

In the most intriguing casting of the film, Arnold Schwarzenegger played the role of Gunther, and, though we do not get much in way of screen time from Arnold, he is clearly having a great time hamming it up and chewing every last bit of scenery in the scenes that he does find himself in.

There are also some good side characters, especially Donnie (Bobby Moynihan of SNL fame), who is an explosion expert and Aaron Yoo as poison expert Yong.  Cobie Smulders appears as one of Blake’s former flames, Lisa.

Though there is fun to be had, it does feel like the concept is stretched a little thin.  It is as if it would have been a great short film or perhaps a great sketch on SNL, but for a whole 90+ movie, it did feel a tad dragged out.

The ending is a cop out and I wished they would have stuck with what appeared to be the original ending.  Still, there are good enough moments of humor and satire to recommend this film.  Seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger in the role makes everything worthwhile.  Just know that Arnold does not arrive until later in the film so you are not disappointed.

3.4 stars

A Bad Moms Christmas

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I had gone to Bad Moms last year and found it to be a surprise. It was way funnier than I ever thought it would be and it was an enjoyable comedy.

Then, the very next year, they turn around and make the sequel, basing it at Christmas time.

This one… not near as good.  In fact, I found this one tedious and annoying.

The three “Bad Moms” return for this film, but this time, each of their own moms come to visit for the holidays.  Amy (Mila Kunis) and her mother Ruth (Christine Baranski) have a complicated relationship where Ruth s always trying to push Amy for more, and Amy feels under appreciated.  Kiki (Kristen Bell) and her mother Sandy (Cheryl Hines) are suffering from Sandy being too close to her daughter.  Finally Carla (Kathryn Hahn) and her mother Isis (Susan Sarandon) rarely see one another,only when Isis needs money for her gambling problem.

I bet you can figure out what happens in this movie.  Just like a television sitcom, the groups go through over-the-top moments that are meant to be funny and by the end of the movie, they all learn lessons and become better people.

So, since the story is so familiar, if not downright repetitive, this movie depends on the comedic aspects of the film to carry it through.  Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, none of the gags of the movie hit and it is distinctly unfunny.  Sure there are a few moments (mostly involving Kathryn Hahn) that are funny, but they are few and far between those moments that we have seen in any number of comedies like this.

Sure the cast is likable, but there is just nothing original here at all and the story is lazy.  The ending sequence simple put feels like the wash and rinse writing that we have seen a million times.  Christine Baranski, while a great actress, is basically playing a version of the character she plays on the Big Bang Theory.

It really feels as if the quick turnaround from original hit movie to sequel hurt this film. It feels rushed and the humor suffers from it.  Where as the original film had a distinct flare to it, this one lacks anything that will stand out, with an exception of Kathryn Hahn and one of the Santa strippers.  Many times comedies have a difficult with sequels and, to me, this one is no exception.

2.1 stars