I Feel Pretty

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There has been a lot of hatred leveled at this film, and I am not certain the reasoning behind it.  Claims of “fat-shaming” seem to fall short if you, you know, actually watch the movie.  Now, if they claimed that the movie wasn’t as funny as it could have or should have been, perhaps I would agree.

Amy Schumer plays Renee Bennett, a woman who has a low level job that is matched by her low level confidence.  She sees how the world treats the beautiful people and she desires to have a part of that.  So when she has an accident during exercising and hits here head, she suddenly awakes seeing herself in a different view.  She actually sees herself the way she always wanted to be seen.

We, as the audience, only ever see Amy Schumer as she is, but the perception of herself as a beautiful woman changes the confidence of Renee so that she can get the job of her dreams, hook up with a sweet and kind man (Rory Scovel) she meets at the dry cleaners and become remarkably successful.

While there are plenty of plus sized jokes to be had here, I do not think the main message is fat-shaming.  I believe the message is clearly self-confidence leads to happiness and success.  If you believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything you want.  It does not matter what the world sees you as, but what maters is how you see yourself.

All of these fit together in a solid message that I think is worth hearing.

Now, the film itself is okay, but nothing really jumps out as great.  Amy Schumer is very good in the lead role.  She is warm and charismatic and delivers a strong performance.  Michelle Williams, who plays Renee’s boss, is really good as Avery, a rich, spoiled, yet deeply self-doubting woman (whose voice is like a baby doll).  The connection between Renee and Avery is a positive in the film.  I also enjoyed the natural feeling relationship that developed between Renee and Ethan, the man she meets in the dry cleaners.

Many of these side characters play against type.  You would expect them to respond in certain ways to Renee, but then they stop and do something different.  It had a feel of realness about it, despite the silly concept going on with them.

One problem is that the film, which is meant to be a comedy, does not have a ton of laughs in it.  It has a few that are nice chuckles, but nothing that really makes you laugh out loud.  It is more like an uplifting, crowd pleaser of a film than a comedy.  That is not necessarily bad, but fans of Schumer’s may be expecting something else.

The film does also feel fairly predictable.  You kind of know how this movie is going to go, and, in the end, that is really how it turns out.

Still, despite it not being a great film, I enjoyed watching it.  It may have felt overlong, but the message is an important one for people to hear and Amy Schumer does a solid job delivering it with some entertainment.

3.2 stars

Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare

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This one ain’t no A Quiet Place.

The latest cheaply made horror film from the new masters of cheap made horror films, Blumhouse, came out this weekend.  However, many of Blumhouse’s recent films, while cheap to produce and make, are not cheap in the area of filmmaking.  On the poster for Truth or Dare, it tells you it comes from the producers of Get Out and Happy Death Day.  Truth or Dare does not remotely come anywhere close to either of those two films in quality or entertainment value.

Well, there is entertainment to be had here, in the same manner that Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is entertaining.  It falls into the “so bad it’s good” area and there is unintentional humor to be found here.

A group of college kids head to Mexico before graduation and wind up in an old broken down monastery playing a game of Truth and Dare.  However, when they return to the  States, they realize that there is a demon that is forcing them to continue playing the game with deadly consequences.

Related imageWhere do I start?  How about the funny faces that the kids make when the demon possesses them?  It is perhaps the most laugh-inducing thing of the whole film.  It looks like a poor man’s Joker face.  Come on, that isn’t creepy.  It is just laughable.

Then, none of these characters are worth cheering for.  In fact, most of them are just horrible people.  Even the film’s supposed heroine/protagonist Olivia (Lucy Hale), who tries to get out of the Spring Break trip by going to build houses for Habitat for Humanity, is shown in the end to be a selfish, lying schemer.  What she does at the end of the film is simply impossible to believe and flies completely opposite of what this character was intended to be in the first act of the film.

When these characters die, there seems to have little to no effect on the others in their group.  They keep saying that they have lost friends to this game, but they don’t look like they are upset.  Plus, none of the deaths have any style to them.  The film is rated PG-13 so the worst death we see is one of them stabbing a pencil into his/her eye, and even that is angled so you don’t really see anything.  This film feels like a bad rip off of the Final Destination films without the creativity.

This is a bad film, but it can be funny so it is not a total waste of your time.  Don’t see it in the theater though.

1.4 stars

Isle of Dogs

Wes Anderson is back with a brand new movie, his second animation film, called Isle of Dogs.  You can definitely tell that this is a Wes Anderson film.

In a futuristic Japan, a crooked mayor exiles all dogs to a garbage island to protect the humans from the deadly Dog Flu, despite there being a potential cure being found by his political adversary.  However, the mayor’s ward, Atari, hijacks a plane and heads to the Isle of Dogs in search of his personal dog, Spots.  Crashing the plane on the isle, a pack of Alpha Dogs find him and choose to help him try and find his dog.

Atari is not actually the main character.  That would go to the Alpha Dog, Chief (voiced by Bryan Cranston).  Chief is the lone voice of opposition to helping the boy, trying to get the rest of the group to follow him away.  He is always getting outvoted, so he has to go along with them.

Let’s start with the positives, because I think there are plenty of those.  The animation is wonderful and feels original.  It is unlike most anything I have seen and I did enjoy looking at it.

Another positive is the great voice cast.  Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Scarlet Johansson, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Yoko Ono, Tilda Swinton, Ken Watanabe, Courtney B. Vance, Liev Schreiber, and Bob Balaban are included.  Many of these actors are regulars in Wes Anderson’s films and have a comfort level with the material.

The story felt simplistic, yet needlessly complex both.  The villainous mayor and his political plans never really make sense, outside of the fact that he and his years of ancestors were cat people.  There is a political agenda in this movie and it is not that hard to see what Anderson is implying about the mayor and his manipulation of the public.

I also have a bit of a question on why this is set in Japan in the first place.  With the dangers of making an analogy between what is happening to the dogs and what has happened to other races being taken to interment camps, I am not sure Japan was the wisest choice.  I believe Anderson meant to infuse the Japanese culture into the story, which he did, but I am not sure that it truly aided the movie or is worth the potential trouble.

Plus, an argument could be made that there is the “white savior” in this story, thanks to the young girl character Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) who stands up to the mayor and helps save the day.

Another issue is that the film does not always translate the Japanese language for the audience.  They pick and choose when they translate and, since that is what Atari speaks, the film is in danger of isolating one of the main characters from the audience and thus not giving the crowd a real reason to cheer for the boy.  The dogs speak English, however, and I felt considerably more connected to them than I did the boy.

Isle of Dogs is a good movie that has some great touches to it, especially if you love the Wes Anderson eccentric films of the past.  However, there are some distinct questions in choices made by the director that might have limited the reach of the film.  Still, I liked more than I disliked.

3.5 stars

Rampage

The latest video game based movie is Rampage, starring The Rock.  Over the years, we have had very few video game movies that are worth anything.  The video game this movie is based on is one of the simplest games you are going to play so there aren’t a ton of expectations for a brilliant film.

However, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is always entertaining and is worth watching in just about anything he does.  This film came from the director Brad Peyton who brought us San Andreas and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.  This film falls right into that company so you should know what to expect.

Primatologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) works at the San Diego Zoo and has a special relationship with an albino ape named George.  When George is accidentally exposed to a dangerous gas, he begins growing and starts becoming much more aggressive.  Turns out there are two other animals that had been exposed to the same gas and have been turned into giant beast.

Davis does everything he could to keep George calm, but when a group of government agents arrive, led by cowboy-like Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), they take control of George.  Unfortunately, two evil villains at the company whose experiments led to these accidental transformations are looking to draw these monsters to Chicago so they can make money out of the situation.

The three monsters arrive in Chicago and start crushing the city.  And Davis and Naomie Harris arrive to try to stop George.

Okay, so Rampage is a stupid movie.  There are so many moments that are so ridiculous that you can’t believe it.  Some of the characters are poorly written and have terrible dialogue.  Another problem is how these characters suddenly come up with ways around impossible situations- from out of nowhere.  The old Batman (1966) series would have Batman and Robin solving riddles and making illogical guesses that always turned out to be true (like Glu Glutton’s Glue Factory).  There are a lot of “Batman Leaps” in Rampage.

And yet, there is just something entertaining about The Rock and monsters destroying Chicago.

Yes, the two villains are simply horrid.  They are some of the worst villains to grace the screen in a long time.  Still, villain Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman) gets one of the funniest (albeit unintentionally) exits of the film.  I actually laughed out loud when she met her fate.  These villains are total failures and they threaten to turn this movie from a silly B-movie monster flick into a terrible movie.

Thankfully, The Rock is here and he is one of the most charismatic actors we have ever seen.  He can make the worst film watchable.  He does it here as well.  However, the Rock does feel like a video game character himself since he seemingly could not die.  He went through a lot of stuff here, but it never appears to stop him.

The monster fights were actually pretty good.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan felt like he was playing a movie version of Negan (from Walking Dead), and yet I liked him.  He is one of those charismatic individuals whom may come close to The Rock.  He is just enjoyable to watch, and he is fun to root for here.

Sure, there are plenty of moments where you can’t help but roll your eyes at the ridiculousness of it, but you can be entertained by Rampage.  You have to approach it in the right manner.  This was never going to be an award winner.  It is a big, dumb action movie, with giant monsters.  If that is enough, then there may be enough here for you to have a good time.

3 stars

Chappaquiddick

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Chappaquiddick tells the true story of a political scandal that ended the presidential run of Edward “Ted” Kennedy in 1969.

Kennedy, brother of President John Kennedy and candidate Bobby Kennedy, was planning a run for president in 1972 when his car went off a bridge into the water, claiming the life of a political strategist Mary Jo Kopechne.

According to the scandal, Ted left the scene of the accident and did not report it for 9 hours, thus leaving Mary Jo to die in the submerged car.

Ted Kennedy, played here by Jason Clarke, is shown as a damaged man who was desperately seeking the attention and approval of his father Joe (Bruce Dern).  Too drunk to be driving, Ted drove the car off the bridge.  However, the film does not show us how Ted escaped the car or why Mary Jo (Kate Mara) could not.  According to the film, Ted retreated to the party that he had come from to find his two friends/associates Joe Gargan (Ed Helms) and Paul Markham (Jim Gaffigan) to help him.  They returned to the scene of the accident and tried to get into the car to save Mary Jo, unsuccessfully.  Joe and Paul left Ted with the expectation that he would report the accident, but he does not until the next morning.

The film indicates that Mary Jo survived for a while breathing in a small pocket of air in the car.  Had Kennedy called immediately, would she have survived?  He certainly believed that after he and his friends had returned that she was already dead, thus reducing the immediate need.  This was still left up in the air for the audience to infer what happened.

The film also played with the spinners after the event happened.  They were coming up with reasons why this had happened and how they would make it not destroy Kennedy’s career.  They kept claiming he had a concussion and was in shock.  Though the film hinted that that was not the case with a flash to the face of the doctor, I do believe that the film showed Kennedy in a state of shock after the events happened.  Maybe not concussed (though I would believe it), but certainly diminished.  Was he thinking straight?  I don’t know.

The performances were strong.  The story was well tole, but it did feel as if there could have been so much more to this story than what we got.  Maybe a mini-series on TV would be more effective.

What the film does very well is show the character of Ted Kennedy and the drawbacks he has.  The relationship between Ted and his father was very compelling and I could have used more of that.  It really was a psychological character study of a man who some believed would be president, but who failed to live up to the dynasty of his family name, especially inside his own head.  Ted’s lack of confidence lead to this entire situation, while the strength of his last name led to the lack of results in the criminal case.  I think there is no doubt that this prevented Kennedy from becoming president.

I still wonder how Ted Kennedy escaped from the car while Mary Jo did not.  There are several questions in this film that are left unanswered.  Sure it would have called for speculation, but some of that would have helped the overall quality.  Still, good performances, in particular from Jason Clarke, Ed Helms and Bruce Dern, carry this to a decent biopic.

3.35 stars

 

Blockers

This past week, The Top 10 Show did the Top 10 Raunchy Teen Movies list and I had a definite problem filling my list (which I do every week after their podcast) up with films. In fact, I could only find six that I could rank.

Now, Blockers would be number one on that list.

As I stated, this genre of film is far from my favorite, but I really found Blockers to be more than just the sex jokes and the raunchy teen film.  It had some real heart, some very strong characters and a lot of really funny humor.  Who would have guessed?

Three senior girls(Kathyrn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan and Gideon Adlon), who had been best friends since the first day of school, make a pact that all three of them would lose their virginity on prom night.  #sexpact2018.  Their parents (Leslie Mann, John Cena and Ike Barinholtz) accidentally discover this pact and decide that they would prevent their daughters from being successful in their pursuit of sex.

And so hilarity commences.

There were several things about Blockers that caught me off guard.  Mainly, I really liked how the story played the girls part of the story in a realistic light and showed three young female characters who were strong, brave and knew what they wanted.  These three young ladies were very different, but their friendship absolutely came through on screen and that chemistry between the three of them was a huge plus for the movie.  It was especially nice to see this type of a film coming from a female perspective that did not feel the need to play the girls off as the victims or as naive.  And all three actresses do a fantastic job, in particular Geraldine Viswanathan, who looks like a star.

The other half of the film featured the adults, chasing their daughters and this part of the film was considerably more slapstick or cartoonish, and these three actors do a great job with that.  Leslie Mann is great here, bringing the most experience in the role.  John Cena continues to show that he has skill in comedy and, while he still is learning, he provides a very solid and believable performance.  However, Ike Barinholtz was probably my favorite character because of how much his character played with the expectations of who he was.  He was shown originally as a scumball who cheated on his wife, but we learn more and more about him and we see him play against that type most of the time. This sets up the emotional reveal at the end that is a very strong pay off.

Most importantly, this movie has laughs.  It is well written and expertly executed, which is even more amazing when you consider that this is director Kay Cannon’s directorial debut.  She does an admirable job of balancing the two parts to the story and creating a group of characters in this ensemble that really stretch across the spectrum seamlessly.

The trailers make this look like a film that relies on the low brow humor, but I did not find it that way.  Sure there are jokes that would fall into that, but there are many other instances that are extremely funny and, most of those low brow jokes actually do fairly well.

However, I had to deduct a huge part of the score because of an extended puke scene and I HATE puke scenes.  Sure, this scene was not particularly realistic in its projectile vomit use, I still hate those.  I just do not like them.  It is a personal preference.

I also liked the three boys whom the girls take to prom.  Each of them play on typical stereotypes of characters but switch things around to make them fresh.  They felt like real kids who might actually like being together.

I will say that there were a couple of moments at the end of the movie that did not necessarily ring true.  At least one of the storylines between the parents and the kids turned out to be too easy of a fix- almost as if it were on a sitcom that had reached the end of the episode and needed to wrap up.  It felt as if the girl (without spoiling) should have been more angry with the parent than what she was.

Either way, Blockers was considerably better than I ever thought it would be.  It was very funny, keeping me laughing consistently throughout, and had unexpectedly sweet and pretty developed characters.  There are great performances and these characters end up playing against type.  Blockers is a very entertaining comedy, and that is something I don’t say too often.

4 stars

(sorry Chris…)

 

 

A Quiet Place

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Hoo-boy.

A Quiet Place is a horror/thriller, heavy on the thriller as I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, desperately looking to grasp on to anything to brace myself.

I have not been this full of tension and apprehension in a film in a long time.  And A Quiet Place starts off filled with this intensity and just never lets up for the entire 90+ minute run time.  I felt the need to inhale and try to be as quiet as I could while in the theater just because…

A Quiet Pace is the story of a married couple, Lee (John Krasinski) and Evelyn (Emily Blunt), who are the parents of three children (Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, and Cade Woodward).  This family lives in what seems to be a post apocalyptic world where alien monsters arrived and, while blind, respond violently to any sound that is made.  So in order to avoid being immediately slaughtered by these hideous creatures, the family is forced to live their lives without making any sound whatsoever.

Therein lies the tension because the human race is not meant to be a quiet race.

John Krasinski is also the director of this film and he does an absolutely tremendously spot on job.  Despite the fact that the dialogue is basically eliminated from the film, the manner in which he tells this story is amazing.

One of the best parts to me is that Krasinski does not waste time with endless exposition explaining what has happened to the world, or how this family has survived up to this point.  None of that is important.  Krasinski provides some newspaper clippings that help fill in some of the blanks, but the rest of it is left up to the imagination of the audience.  The cold open begins with a black screen with the words 89 days on it.  This tells you that whatever it was that caused this apocalypse has happened.  Then after the opening (which leaves you breathless, by the way) the film jumps to day 472 (around there).  Because of that, it seems obvious that this family has spent most of the last 390+ days figuring out how to live with the minimal use of sound.

And I accepted that completely.  I did not feel the need to know every little detail about how things work or what had happened to get them to this point. The film drops you into this point in time and you go with it.  Exposition weighs down so many movies that the distinct lack of exposition was a novel way to go.

The sound editing of this movie is absolutely brilliant.  The silence is played perfectly, and every little sound is masterfully placed for maximum intensity.  There are some jump scares, but they are well done and are placed int he film in exceptional locations.  They fit and this movie by no means depends on them.  They are just simply another tool that this film uses with utmost proficiency.

Then, the performances are mind blowing.  Emily Blunt has so much skill in conveying what she needs to with her face and her body and her attitude.  Krasinski is powerful here and he had me completely engaged with his character.  Both main children, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe are amazing.  Simmonds is in real life deaf and so is her character Regan, and the film does this very creative technique to demonstrate that whenever Simmonds has the point of view.  It was very effective.

They also showed the use of sign language, which was one of the way this family communicated with one another and it was compelling.  I have never seen someone yelling at each other in sign language, but I did see it here.  Amazing job by these actors.

There is a great connection between these characters who are dealing with so much more than just these monsters that will kill them if they make any sound.  There are intricate problems between each character and these actors bring out the best in each other.

Another great thing is this family of characters are shown to be very intelligent instead of the bumbling idiots that usually take up horror movie space.  I love that.  They were doing things that made sense and even those choices that might not be wise are done in service to the characters.  It is apparent that the characters are the most important part of this story and everything else just goes to help show who these characters are and how they are going to grow.  And you believe it totally.

The creatures were made by Industrial Lights & Magic (ILM) and it shows because these monsters are terrifyingly authentic and look to be right out of someone’s nightmares.  There is no troubled CGI here.  However, Krasinski wisely does not over use the shots of the monsters and use them at the proper time to illustrate the characters and the terror of the situation.

There are so many moments when I was simply holding my head and wondering if this film could be more tense…and then it topped itself.  I legitimately came out of this movie with a physical visceral anxiety, amazed at what I had just seen and shaken by the process of seeing it.  I sat through to the end of the credits not because I wanted to see them or expected any post credit scene, but because I needed to take a breather.

This is maybe my favorite movie of the young year so far.  I was completely invested in the film and the characters as I gritted my teeth and held my breath through each anxiety filled scene.  A Quiet Place is an original film with great performances, a well-told story that does not bog itself down with unnecessary exposition and tension from the get-go.  Great job to all involved.

5 stars

 

Best F[r]iends

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Building on the cult classic status of The Room and the recent success of James Franco’s film based on the making of that film, The Disaster Artist, stars and creators of The Room are back together for the first time since.

Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero, who were Johnny and Mark respectfully in The Room, bring their “acting” chops to Best F[r]iends, a weird and eccentric movie that goes all over the place incoherently while displaying the idiosyncrasies of the one and only Tommy Wiseau.

Oh, and it is Part 1.  Part 2 comes out in June.

Greg Sestaro plays Jon, a drifter who shows up with blood on his shirt (never explained, by the way) and a lemon in his pocket.  He winds up crossing paths with an eccentric mortician who makes masks for corpses that have been scarred in their deaths.  He also apparently pulls out their gold teeth to store in his back room.  Jon realizes that he could make some money selling those gold teeth as dental scrap and steals some from his new best friend.

Okay, that’s as much of the plot that I am going to explain (mainly because I am not sure what else happened).  This is nowhere as bad as The Room, however, it is nowhere as fun as The Room was either.  Sure, this new movie has moments of Tommy Wiseau that are vintage Tommy Wiseau, but there seems to be more of an attempt to string together something of a story here. Perhaps the fact that Tommy Wiseau was not directing this helped (directorial duties fell to Justin MacGregor).

These characters changed motivations and personalities from scene to scene…sometimes within a scene even.  In particular, Wiseau’s Harvey was wildly inconsistent in his character choices and thoughts.  The film starts many different potential storylines but drop them just as quickly.

It really made little sense and unfortunately was just not as humor-inducingly bad as The Room.

However, Tommy Wiseau does say, “Oh, hi Jon.”

What more could you want?

1 star

The Death of Stalin

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Not quite a biopic here.

More of a farce than a history lesson, The Death of Stalin is uproarious and consistently funny as you see a great comedic cast bring humor to the last days of the violent Soviet leader and the ensuing struggle for power that followed.

The great cast here included an exceptional turn from Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev.  Buscemi plays Khrushchev as a manipulator and an opportunist, taking the events surrounding the death of Stalin and morphing them into ones that would benefit him.  Jeffrey Tambor is wonderful as the wishy-washy Georgy Malenkov.  Simon Russell Beale appears as Lavrenti Beria, another member of the Council of Ministers and head of the secret police.  Khrushchev and Beria clash with one another because they both have their eyes on the head of the Soviet Union in a post-Stalin world.

It is a very dark comedy, however, as many scenes were very brutal, despite being played for comedic effect.

Clearly, the farce is not specifically concerned with details.  For example, there isn’t any Russian spoke in the film.  They all just talked in English, as if they were all just naturally English speakers.  It was kind of funny at times, and I would be lying to say that it did not disrupt my viewing at least a few times.

The film did not fail to play up the seriousness of the times in the USSR, as people were being killed for reasons only familiar to Stalin and many of the normal Soviets were frightened of their leader.  The scenes where the theater owner makes the orchestra stay and re-play their concert a second time because Stalin wanted a copy was a great example of the fear the Soviet people had to endure.

Oh, and Adrian McLoughlin as Josef Stalin is a thing of beauty.  The tyrannical dictator was played much like an unruly youngster with too much time on his hands. And yet, they never backed away from showing how evil Stalin was.  It was a very nice juxtaposition of the character.

The Death of Stalin was a good time involving some of the darkest times of the world.

3.65 stars

Ready Player One

Based on the best selling book of the same title, Steven Spielberg’s new directorial effort is the CGI heavy Ready Player One, which if nothing else, shows how amazing Spielberg is at compiling character’s rights for a movie.

Not sure how he was able to navigate the rights issue, but there seemed to be no lack of nostalgic characters in the world of the Oasis, the futuristic virtual reality that most of the human race escapes into to avoid how terrible their lives are in the real world.

Steve Jobs-like creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance) has died and he pulled a Willy Wonka on the world.  He hid three keys in his VR World and said that anyone who could find them would be given all of his money and the rights to control the Oasis however they choose.  Problem?  No one can solve the riddles.

Enter our hero- Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), who, as his avatar Parzival, enters the game with his own desire to find the keys.  While inside the VR, Parzival meets Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and he immediately falls for the hot gamer chick.  However, he has no time for romance because the evil corporation IOI, led by evil CEO Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) is also hot on the trail of the keys for their own nefarious purposes (mainly dealing with advertisements a la Net Neutrality).

I have mixed feelings about this movie.  There was just something about the film that I did not enjoy.  It was extremely long, and felt it too.  The first half of the movie felt like an exposition-heavy, info dump that I found very dull.  I understand that it is challenging for a movie with this much of a mythology to introduce said mythology to the audience without it feeling like an exposition dump, but I feel that someone the caliber of Spielberg could have found a more successful way to do it.

The villain of the story came off to me as unbelievably one note.  I thought Sorrento was nothing more than an evil corporate figure.  They tried to connect him to Halliday in flashbacks, but none of those were very effective.

I was not a fan of the dialogue used by the characters, particularly in the Oasis.  The different avatars were clunky and undeveloped and most of the humor hit the skids.

I also found much of the film predictable and lacking the adventurous spirit that I had hoped it would have.

There were some things that I did enjoy.  There were a couple of the big set action pieces that were effective.  I did not hate the race for the first key.  I loved the trip to the Outlook Hotel for the second key and the third act super slugfest was fun.

The biggest reason these were fun was the nostalgic factor.  It was fun seeing these different characters and objects appearing here.  The film had everything from the Deloreon to the iron Giant to Batgirl, TMNT, King Kong etc.  It was a feast for the eyes trying to spot all the different characters that were seen on screen. I did love the use of a certain character by the villain in the third act, even though his use of that character did not really fir with the villain’s character.

I really did like Olivia Cooke in this role as well.  She was so sweet and lovely that I was charmed by here the entire time.  I preferred her real world persona to the avatar in the game.  Tye Sheridan was fine as Wade, which is about the best thing I can say. I liked his avatar much more.  The rest of the group of kids and gamers were pretty underwhelming, if not basic stereotypes.

If you think too much about ready Player One, the story and the common sense falls apart.  It works much better if you just do not think about it and allow yourself to fall into the days of your youth.

This felt like one of those 1980s movies that I would have loved when I was younger, but not like near as much when I looked back upon it as an adult.  Something bugged me about the film through much of the run time and I could not put my finger on it.  There were definitely sections that I liked about the movie, but that nagging feeling just never fully went away.

2.75 stars

Pacific Rim: Uprising

Big, loud, dumb and cheesy.

About what you would expect from a movie featuring giant robots fighting giant monsters.

I was not a fan of the first Pacific Rim film.  I found it to be dull and lacking any real story, which I think most people would agree with.  So I was not really looking forward to the sequel to the film, and, while I was not that bored during the film, there is no doubt that the non-robot/monsters part of the story left a ton to be desired.

The film tried to make up for that lack of script by casting John Boyega as the lead role of Jake Pentacost, the son of Idris Elba’s character in the original movie.  Boyega, much like Elba, is a strong actor with a ton of charisma that can help overcome a script that may not have what it needs.  A lesser actor would have failed miserably.  Boyega carried much of the story, at least what there was.

The action of the film was pretty solid, definitely better than the Transformers movies.  You could see what was happening most of the times here.  However, there was a significant lack of Kaiju presence in most of this film and if you were anticipating a lot of Jaeger vs. Kaiju action throughout the film, you may be disappointed.  There is several Jaeger on Jaeger action though.

Jake had left the Jaeger program because of troubles and he comes across a Jaeger thief/inventor in 15-year old Amara (Cailee Spaeny) who was ripping off Jaeger junkyards for spare parts. Then, they are both captured by the Jaeger people and forced to join the Jaeger training program.   Jake returns to his old stomping grounds with the same swagger as before.

Then, rogue robots.

That’s basically it.  There is a sub plot with drone robots looking to replace the two-man tandems that run the Jaegers, and that leads to the worst plot twist of the film featuring Charlie Day’s character of Newt from the first film.

Of course, everything that you thought might happen in the film happens just as you think it would.

Having said that, the third act fight sequence with the actual Kaiju was decent and the special effects are fine.

The group of young pilots that Amara joins at first are the least developed, singularly unimpressive group brought together in a long time.  There was the blonde Russian (I think) who was supposed to be the mean one toward Amara. There was the guy who had his shirt off showing off abs and a waistline that had to be CGI because no human being could look like that.  There was the other guy… um… who SPOILERS is there to die.  I think there were more, but they were less memorable that this crew.

Steven DeKnight directed this sequel, and he does a decent job.  As I said, the action looked pretty good and was the best part of the film.  It just needs more of a script.  I did not hate this movie, but there are so many things that could make it better.

2.6 stars

 

Unsane

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The newest movie from director Steven Soderbergh looked different to me.  I had no idea why but there was something noticeable about it.  It was only after I finished watching the film that I found out the reason for it.

Soderbergh filmed the movie on an iPhone.  An iPhone 7 Plus to be specific.

Oh.  That’s why.

The first part of the film was noticeable, but soon, I had adjusted to the differences and was engaged in the story being told to me.

Sawyer (Claire Foy) has just moved away from her home in Boston with little reason and took a job across country, where her stock was rising.  The problem was that there was clearly something from her past that was bothering her, preventing her from moving on with her life.

Sawyer does what many people might do… approach a therapist allowing herself a chance to talk about the issues of her life.  In fact, Sawyer felt good about the session and wanted to schedule something for later in the week.  Then, the therapist asked her to fill out some paperwork and wait in the lobby.  Before Sawyer knew what had happened, she was being admitted involuntarily to the mental institution in an insurance scam.

Bu that was not yet the worst part.  Sawyer began seeing her stalker David (Joshua Leonard) working at the institution as an orderly named George and no matter who she tried to talk to, no one believed her.

Was Sawyer facing imminent peril or was this all in her own mind?  There were parts of the movie that played up the possibility that Sawyer was actually crazy and all of this was in her head.  That aspect of the film did not last long enough, as I would have liked to seen it played out more.  The fact is that this plotline was dropped rather quickly, although there were still minor hints throughout.  Had they tried to swerve at the end, it would have been troubling.

I must say, though, I was not a huge fan of the way the film did end.  Without spoiling anything, I would have preferred a different ending than what we got.

However, that did not ruin the film.  As soon as I adjusted to the different camera work until that ending, I was thoroughly engaged and intrigued by the film.  Claire Foy was remarkable as Sawyer.  She brought the character full circle and really played the fear and the pain that the character was feeling while acting out in ways (some violent) that kept us guessing whether or not she was truthfully sane.  Foy is easily the strongest pert of Unsane.

I also really enjoyed Jay Pharoah as Nate, a fellow inmate at the mental institution who makes friends with her and tries to help her along.

Joshua Leonard was another strong performance as David/George.  As I said earlier, I think the film may have dropped the George reveal too early, but Leonard brought some real gravitas to the part.  Leonard who was in the original Blair Witch Project has had a solid career since in these types of films.  And honestly, he did a fantastic job of making me hate this character he played and making me hope that he would get what was coming to him.

The filming on the iPhone 7 was an interesting choice by Soderbergh because it was effective in creating a certain mood for the audience.  It allowed some deeply claustrophobic shots and some atypical shots.  Once I adjusted to the manner in which the film was going to look, I was able to marvel at what could be done with technology today.  Soderbergh was able to take us right inside the mind of Sawyer and show us how she was dealing with these moments of insanity, whether around her or inside her own head.

Though there are some issues with the story and some plot contrivances that were stretches, I enjoyed this movie very much.  An excellent performance from Claire Foy anchored the film and helped cover any problems up.  A very solid psychological thriller with horror elements, Unsane is a tense and thrilling ride.

3.8 stars

 

 

 

Tomb Raider (2018)

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Video game movies are typically poor.  Perhaps it is because they try too much to stick to the way the video game presents the story.  Or maybe they just believe that the audience will simply be there because the I.P. is known.  I don’t know, but the track record is pretty poor.

The new rebooted Tomb Raider is not going to end the talk about the weak video game movie, but it is not too bad.  There is one main reason why Tomb Raider succeeds, and her name is Alicia Vikander.

Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is an independent woman who, despite being heir to a huge fortune, refuses to sign the papers that would give her access.  The reason?  Her father disappeared seven years before and by signing those papers, Lara would have to admit to the fact that her beloved father (Dominic West) was truly dead, and she was not ready to do that.  However, through circumstances, Lara discovered the truth about what her father had been working on at the time of his disappearance and she took off to see what she could find.

I was not a fan of the Angelina Jolie Lara Croft films or the video games, so I was easily able to step into this film without any predetermined opinions, and what I was able to come away with was something I can remember since seeing Ex Machina and The Danish Girl.  Alicia Vikander is absolutely gorgeous.

Vikander commands the screen like few stars today do.  She is amazingly beautiful and I would be willing to watch her in just about any movie at any time.  Vikander is not just a beautiful face and an unbelievable physical being, but she is also a tremendous actress.  She brings more to the role of Lara Croft than you would think could be brought.  In this film, there was not a great deal of dialogue for her to use, but you could always see the compelling and depth of emotions from Vikander via body language and facial expressions.  She is the type of actress that you simply cannot take your eyes off and she elevates this material.  I am absolutely certain that had this role been any other actress, I would not have enjoyed this film in the manner that I did.  Alicia Vikander is a total star.

Then, I really enjoyed the first two acts of this movie.  Lara Croft was not made out to be a super hero.  She had flaws and she failed as she moved along in her life.  This made her even more relatable of a character.  The scene with the bicycle race at the beginning of the film is a perfect example of this (which also was a fantastic action scene).

Another great thing about Lara was she is portrayed as being very smart and, I believed that, because of the way Alicia Vikander played her.

Now, the third act crumbled as the story took a turn into a different type of movie with a ridiculous premise and story twist that came out of nowhere.  There were several puzzles for Lara to solve to make it through the tomb and the problem with those was none of them were puzzles that could be solved by the audience.  It took much of the fun from the film.

The villain was played by Walter Goggins and he was a one note villain who was after what was inside the tomb for reasons… but none that made any sense.  Goggins is a great actor, but this role was so thin that it would not matter whom you placed in this role.  It would all be the same.

There were some very strong action pieces, such as Lara Croft hanging off a crashed airplane above a waterfall or a chase scene though London after some pickpockets.  Yet, I was not much of a fan with the action pieces in the third act, particularly the final fight with Goggins.

Still, there is more here that I think is good than is bad, and this film has the unbelievably talented and attractive Alicia Vikander making a perfect Lara Croft.  I think if they make more films in this franchise with the current crew, this could be just the beginning of something excellent.   For now, this film will have to settle for being fun and an overall good time.

3.3 stars

7 Days in Entebbe

In 1976, an Air France Flight was hijacked and taken to Entebbe, Uganda and held hostage in an attempt to force the Israeli government to release a group of known terrorists.  This led to one of the most daring rescue missions ever attempted.

Unfortunately, at times, 7 Days in Entebbe felt like 7 days watching it, as the film failed to tap into the natural suspense that encompassed the real life situation.

Wilfried Böse (Daniel Brühl) and Brigitte Kuhlmann (Rosamund Pike) were two German activists/terrorists who helped mastermind the hijacking, but they seemed to have more of a fluffy, kind-hearted side to them.  And they weren’t Nazis for sure, as they said several times, despite separating the Jewish people from the rest of the group.

The rest of the terrorists were from Palestine and they were trying to receive not only money from Israel, but also the freedom for other Palestinian terrorists.  The battle between Israel and Palestine rages to this day, despite plenty of attempts to bring the hatred to an end.

The film bounced around from Wilfried and Brigitte to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (Lior Ashkenazi) to soldier Yoni Netanyahu (Angel Bonanni).  There was really no one for the audience to cheer for.  The film does try to humanize Wilfried and Brigitte but neither of them caught my attention outside of the fact that I have always enjoyed the work of Pike and, particularly, Daniel Brühl.  The lack of a protagonist for this film really limits how the audience is able to connect and harms the narrative.

The pacing of the story was slow and made the whole story boring.  Then, when the actual rescue mission was under way, it was underwhelming.

The best part of the film was a very strange dance/musical number that started the film and was intertwined within the rescue mission itself.  This was energetic and entertaining, even if I had no idea why it was included or what it was meant to represent.

This does not reach the limits that this story could have reached and turned one of the most amazing rescues in recent history as a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it typical third act plot point.

2.4 stars

 

Gringo

Here is another one of those comedies that is just not funny.  I was not looking forward to this one and I was not surprised.

Harold (David Oyelowo) is a mid-level employee at a company run by crooked Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton) and sexpot Elaine Markinson (Charlize Theron).  The three of them head to Mexico to do stuff (I honestly don’t remember why) and Harold disappears.  Harold runs afoul of the local drug cartel, many locals looking for him and other various sundries.  Meanwhile, Richard and Elaine returned to the USA but have to reconsider what they had planned when Harold called them saying he had been kidnapped.

To start with… this plot is needlessly convoluted despite not having any depth to it at all.  There is a plot involving a pot (aka marijuana) pill that involved Amanda Seyfried somehow, a drug cartel leader who seems to love the Beatles, Harold’s cheating wife (Thandie Newton), a sexual encounter between Richard and Elaine, Elaine trying to stab Richard in the back by going out with Cameron from Ferris Buehler, and Richard hiring his conveniently mercenary brother (Sharlto Copley) to bring Harold back.. or kill him depending on the scene.  Actually Sharlto Copley was probably the most entertaining character in the film.

Of course, Charlize Theron is magnificent to watch on screen as well.

After that… not much here.

Harold is a major problem.  You see, at this plant in Mexico that the three of them go to see, Harold seems to have done a lot there because everyone knows him.  So much so that the Drug Cartel leader thought that Harold was the boss.  Harold is shown as a whimpering, weak willed man, except of course when the plot needs him to do something else.  There is a scene where he is being kidnapped by the drug cartel and he grabs the guy sitting in front of him with a gun, causes him to shoot the driver and is able to buckle his seat belt before the car goes into a massive crash, killing the captors.  Where did he get these skills?  Later, Harold shows off some shooting skills that we never knew he had.

Watching David Oyelowo try and play this was very hard to watch.  He is a much better actor than the crap he was asked to do.

A mess of a film that I have already spent too much time on.  It’s late.  That’s all I have to say… turn your clocks ahead remember!!!

1.5 stars