Monday, November 19, 2018

Review: "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms" is a visual feast with a hollow story.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms Review

If there is one Hollywood studio that has really been sticking out like a sore thumb this decade for all the right reasons, its Disney. But really, should we be at all surprised? They have been a studio that has specialized in family entertainment. But purchasing both Marvel and LucasFilm in such a short span has been both a pleasure and a profit for the studio, and no matter what you think of those franchises, Disney has more than justified buying them. It looks like they will be expanding on their Marvel branch of entertainment very soon and if they do, more power to them. I just wish they could have pulled it off sooner so that certain characters could have met certain characters before contracts went bye-bye. It will also be interesting to see what happens when they launch their streaming service Disney Play next year.

Disney has also had plenty of success taking their old animated tales and giving them the live action treatment. I thought this was a needless endeavor. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't impressed by movies like "The Jungle Book" and "Beauty and The Beast" and "Cinderella." I am curious as hell about "Dumbo," "Aladdin" and my personal favorite Disney movie of all time, "The Lion King" next year. All of this success has lead them to start taking some chances, and when you start taking chances, that can't happen without some ambition and in this day and age, ambition counts for alot.

I've seen The Nutcracker play, but I vague memories of it. Because I saw it when I was in 2nd or maybe 3rd grade. I know that "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms" is partially based on "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" by E.T.A. Hoffman and "The Nutcracker" by Marius Petipa. I haven't read either of those. I am by no means an expert on this material. Neither is most kids growing up right now. Like I said, this is a wildly ambitious venture for Disney. Ambition always counts for me, and I was curious to see how this would unfold.

As with most Disney movies, "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms" is spectacular to look at. Just freaking spectacular to look at. If you need any reason to take your family to this movie, take them for the visuals. Your kids are going to lose their minds just looking at things happening on the screen. This is a movie built for the biggest screen you can find. The costume design is exquisite in the film as well. So much so that I wouldn't be surprised at all if the movie gets one Oscar nod for costume design. I don't know if costumes are things your kids look for, but they are there. So yes, the movie looks really pretty and I am sure it will absorb your children.

Your children are going to need it too, they are going to need some way to absorb and enjoy this thing. Because this is a wildly boring movie. I think little kids are going to be crawling out of their skin in boredom over this movie. They probably won't have any idea what is going on in the movie either. Even for a family movie, this film takes incoherent to a whole new level. Yes, their is a quest. Its a Disney movie for families. Of course there is a quest. Clara (Mackenzie Foy) has a mother who just recently passed away. Her late mother gave her a gift. She has to travel across the four realms in order to find a key for her gift because...well, that's a little fuzzy. Clara sure gets sidetracked on her journey. That's for sure. She sits down and watches a stage opera with The Sugar Plum Fairy (Keira Knightley) for what seems like four hours. Then I guess she remembered she's on a quest and the movie continues.

Children are going to be lost trying to follow this movie. The worst thing they could have done was not make this thing simple. That's what happened, they smothered their easy win with a bunch of fluff. There is a simple movie hidden inside "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms," but I am not so sure there is enough effort to really dig and find it. Morgan Freeman is fine in this, but he has a face that looks like it reads "Help! I'm in a dumb movie and I know it!" Keira Knightley is completely overacting here. Helen Mirren looks embarrassed the whole time. I guess I would be too.

FINAL GRADE: C-

Review: "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" is a victory lap for the Coen Bros.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs Review
Its no real secret that the Coen Brothers are some of the best American filmmakers to have ever entered the business. Over the course of their careers they have made a name for themselves with a unique visual style that has stayed persistent with their dramas and their comedies. For Netflix, they have made a Western anthology called "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs." The film features six stories that showcase every strength the Coen Brothers have ever had.

Who are the Coen Brothers?

Anybody who is a movie fan shouldn't need that question answered. But for everyone else, I'll be glad to indulge. They are guys that can scare you with their stark drama and at the same time make you laugh out loud with their comedy. They've been known to treat music like a character in some of their more musical movies. Some critics have accused them of misanthropy, but that's not true. They are just good at shaking out a laugh during serious circumstances. Its amazing that the team has been responsible for such a wide range of flicks including "The Big Lebowski," "Fargo," "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" "Inside Llewyn Davis," "Blood Simple" and "No Country For Old Men." 

The six segments aren't really connected in "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" But each movie kind represents a piece of the Old West and what the themes stood for. The first segment, which bears the same title of the film. Tim Blake Nelson plays Buster Scruggs. He's a fine dressed cowboy who plays the guitar and sings as he roams the west on his horse. He breaks the fourth wall as he begins to talk to you, discussing this and that in the west. He talks too much, he looks like he might get in hot water with some people in a saloon. But that turns out not to be the case. He's got some fast fingers and he's deadly with a gun. Its a masterful performance as Nelson easily blends smugness and sincerity into one character. Eventually, Scruggs gets in over his head and it leads to one of the most bizarre scenes the Coen's have ever crafted.

The second segment is called "Near Algodones." The segment features James Franco robbing a bank only to find out he's in over his head. He eventually gets knocked out and gets ready to be hanged, but is in the right place at the right time, Indians attack the whiter lynchers. The Coens score some jetblack laughs in this scene and its well staged. Its funny watching Franco's character cheat death a couple times over. Which I guess is his characters' MO. There are some both funny and shocking moments in this segment which I found affecting.

I could go through each segment one at a time, but I don't want to spoil anything for anyone. This is by far the best thing Netflix has released originally. All Coen fans should rejoice because its classic Coens. The rest of the segments include such actors like Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan and Brendan Gleeson, just to name a few. A perfect blend of veteran Coen actors and newcomers all working together to make something truly memorable. Bruno Delbonnel's cinematography is luminous and creates a beautiful dream that was once the old west. 

I never would have thought something like "True Grit" would ever need to be remade. But somehow, the Coen's did the impossible and I still say that their "True Grit" from 2010 was a masterful piece of work. Even though it really isn't, "No Country For Old Men" feels like a western for most of its runtime, which is one of the reasons I love that movie so much. The Coens kind of have a knack for the Western genre. I'd love it if they just spent the rest of their career perfecting the genre and bringing it into a modern age. If they decide to team with Quentin Tarantino, even better. But even though the film is released on Netflix, make no mistake. This is classic Coen Brothers and they are firing on all of their cylinders for this.

This could end up being a turning point for the streaming service. If "The Christmas Chronicles" and their "Mowgli" movie stand out like this film does, Netflix could find their footing with their more "mainstream or blockbuster" fair. I look forward to seeing how well the rest of the year turns out for the streaming service.

FINAL GRADE: A

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Review: Netflix's "Outlaw King" is fuzzy on history, but big on fun.

Outlaw King Review
One of my earliest film experiences with my Dad was watching "Braveheart" with him. That may sound funny, but "Braveheart" will always have a sentimental value to me, and it will always be one of my all-time favorites. Whether you agree or not is not the issue, that movie is intertwined in my DNA at this point. Mel Gibson played William Wallace, the Scottish freedom fighter who wanted Scotland to be run by Scots during the medieval period and fought the English to make it so. By the end of the movie, Wallace has been captured and killed. His ally, Robert The Bruce, leads the Scots to war against the English after. We get a little epilogue of Robert The Bruce, played by Angus McFadden, charging into battle with all of Wallace's old allies as they chant his name. But that's all we get about Robert The Bruce's war.

If you saw that movie in 1995 and wondered what came of Robert The Bruce, now is your chance to find out if you've got a Netflix account. "Outlaw King" is the extension of Mel Gibson's "Braveheart" epilogue. This time, Chris Pine plays Robert The Bruce. And much like Mel Gibson, I cackled through much of the movie, simply because Chris Pine's Scottish accent, much like Gibsons, is atrocious. Why can't Scots ever just be played by Scots? As much as Harry Potter sounded like a prime avenue for Steven Spielberg, imagining Haley Joel Osment as The Boy Who Lived gives me shivers. I am glad that authentic British story had authentic British actors.

All joking aside, Netflix's new original is actually pretty fun, much like "Braveheart." Although I am willing to bet that its full of historical inaccuracies. I am not sure though, I studied modern Britain when I was in college. There are just many moments in "Outlaw King" that feel a little too cinematic to be real world. But that's fine, "Braveheart'' is littered with historical inaccuracies. I don't judge movies by how well they get their history right, I judge them on how entertaining they are. I'd rip my hair out if I had to make a list of inaccuracies to..fuck any historical movie ever made.

I mean, come on. How am I not supposed to be entertained by Robert The Bruce taking a page out of Robin Hood's playbook and wage guerrilla warfare on Edward I (Stephen Dillane) because he doesn't want Scots to pay an English king taxes? How am I not supposed to be entertained by Aaron "Kick-Ass" Taylor-Johnson screaming and wailing swords around like he's on the set of Starz' "Spartacus?" How am I not supposed to be entertained by The Bruce's wife (Florence Pugh) being kidnapped by Edward I's son (Billy Howle) who is so gleefully evil, he might as well be twirling the mustache on his face? The movie is blissfully silly, but I think it works that way by design. The movie works overtime to please that only a churl will find fault. At least, that's what Roger Ebert would say.

Not everything works. The battle sequences are kind of a letdown. Simply put, they are just feel very small. This movie had a small budget and it shows. The battle scenes kind of look like a bunch of people wearing costumes and playing those pretend fighting games in the park. They don't look like epic battles from a Hollywood motion picture. Plus, once everyone gets muddy from battle, I actually couldn't tell who was a good guy and who wasn't. Which can kind of be a problem, I like knowing who I am rooting for, sometimes in "Outlaw King," it was hard to tell.

I think by design, awards seasons were definitely not on this film's mind. I think Chris Pine does enough good to carry the movie, but again that accent. What a hoot. But perhaps I am being too hard on him. Perhaps this isn't a movie you should take seriously. The actors make it count. The script really doesn't do anything obscenely stupid, it just tells an entertaining story well. You'll have to consult a History Professor to see if they are pulling their hair out because "that one battle didn't happen that way." But who cares. "Outlaw King" is a fun movie, plain and simple. So sit back and enjoy.

FINAL GRADE: B

Review: Oh momma mia! Momma mia! "Bohemian Rhapsody" mostly works!

Bohemian Rhapsody Review

I've been busy, I admit it. I am playing slight catch-up on several new recent releases. So I got to say that if any Queen fans reading tonight who haven't stumbled into your nearest theater to witness the Queen biopic "Bohemian Rhapsody" should do so as quick as you can. If you only know Rami Malek from television and one of those bad "Twilight" movies, fear not. He's a born star now, and I'm sure you'll be hearing plenty more about him in the upcoming years. This role is going to make him star. Set that to your favorite Queen music, and you've got a great time at the theater.

That's the quick version of this review. If that's all you needed, you may proceed. If you want a little more, I'll be more than happy to oblige. You see, Malek is more than just good. He's more than just playing Freddy Mercury. He's the sole reason to pay full price for a movie ticket and see this on the biggest, best screen you can find. When actors play real people, they walk the fine line between method acting and simple impersonation. Some actors fail, others come alive in way that can define their careers. Rami Malek has just defined his career. It might be strange seeing him in another season of "Mr. Robot" or whatever else he chooses to do in the future after this. Its such a strange performance. Its such a hypnotic performance. And yeah, its pretty close to award season. I can already tell its going to be a competitive year. But I usually suck, believe it or not, predicting who will make it on the ballot. But good God, come on Academy. Not saying Malek will win, but he should get the honor of nomination.

The rest of the cast? They are pretty stellar too. We got Gwilym Lee as Brian May, we got Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor and we got Joseph Mazzello as John Deacon, who round out the rest of the band. They are feeding off of Malek's work like a righteous parasite. They bounce off of Malek's work with ease and they really feel like a close band. Aidan Gillen of "Game of Thrones" fame shows up as one of their managers. Let's just say he causes all sorts of Littlefinger shenanigans, but what else would you expect from Aidan Gillen? He does a good job. Critics describe Tom Hollander as a scene stealer in his movies. I'd say he does a great job here too. Lucy Boynton plays Mary, Mercury's girlfriend. I'd never heard of her until this and I got to say that she does some good work here. The scene when Mercury comes out to her was full of emotion and she sold every moment in it.

How's the music? Stupid question, isn't it? You know if you're a Queen fan or not. All the big songs are in the movie. How Queen came up with them in the first place is nicely explained. If you're not a Queen fan, then you're probably not showing up to this are you? All I am saying is yes, you'll be rocking in the theater to this film's soundtrack, obviously. I have no idea if Malek really sang the songs himself, but if he did, bravo!

The film's big flaw is within the structure itself. I don't know how many of you have seen many music biopics. I sure have. I've seen many of the "Ray's" and "Walk The Line's" and "Straight Outta Compton's" and "Notorious'" and "Jersey Boys'" of the world. I've seen most of the other band biopics I haven't listed. Sadly, all of those movies listed above have something in common and "Bohemian Rhapsody" definitely suffers from this. Pretty much all music biopics feel like they came from a kit. They are so profoundly familiar in their structure where if you've seen one, you've seen them all. I've never taken the time to sit down and study the band Queen, but I walked into this knowing how the movie would play out, and I wasn't wrong. If Hollywood continues to churn out films about popular bands, cool. But they've got to find a way to shrug off the cliches of the sub-genre and make them feel fresh. Some great music doesn't make up for obvious structure problems.

There has been a Queen movie circling a business for some time now. At least since I was in high school. I know that Johnny Depp for the longest time was on the radar to play Mercury. I am glad that Malek got it though, and made it his own. I am glad that "Bohemian Rhapsody" came now because right now felt like the right time. Another one may have bit the dust, but this movie sure didn't.

FINAL GRADE: B+ 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Toy Story 4 Trailer



I wrote about this a long time ago, but I didn't have "Toy Story 4"

Simply put, I thought it was a horrible idea and Pixar was going to burn down a reputation with this franchise that isn't easy to come by. Think about all the trilogies in the history of movies. Now, think of how many of those trilogies were perfect. I don't mean one good movie out of three. I don't mean two great movies out of three. I mean, how many trilogies are there in Hollywood that featured three great movies? Not good movies, great movies? There aren't many. There really aren't. In fact, most trilogies fall apart in the final act. The "Toy Story" movies are perfect all the way through. Each film is perfect.

So why Pixar wanted to squash that good work for a fourth film is beyond me. Shouldn't they just leave perfect alone? Can Pixar go 4-for-4 on the franchise that gave them their footing? Time will tell.

These days, I do have some hope though. Tom Hanks has talked about how impressed he was from "Toy Story 4" and how profound it is. Tim Allen has agreed with Hanks' sentiments. Of course, they are supposed to say these things, so maybe this is all marketing. But something gives me hope, hearing Hanks talk about things. I have hope, can they push out a perfect fourth film?

I can't wait to find out.

Detective Pikachu Trailer



What the hell did I just watch?

I'll ask again, what the hell did I just watch?

I can't fathom that this is a real thing, but apparently it is a real thing. It's been more than a real thing. There is a video game in Japan about a talking detective Pikachu. I don't know enough about video games to know if this game has made over the Pacific to America, but I am sure it is on the way if it hasn't yet. If the Pikachu in that game can talk, I guess it makes sense to hear Ryan Reynolds' voice coming out of that little, yellow, electric monster you see in the trailer above. Still, I am still having trouble believing this is a real thing, and taking the response on the internet today, the rest of the world is pretty perplexed.

This is either going to be really awesome or really awful, there will be no middle ground.

Remembering Stan Lee

To many who know Stan Lee from the Marvel movies, he may seem like a nice old man who cameos in all the films. I am sure they know he created many of the homestead characters from Marvel, but not only did he help create many characters. Not only was he the Editor-In-Chief of Marvel Comics for many years. He was one of the brains that really had a hand creating the Marvel Universe in print. There aren't many fictional universes as textured and rich as the Marvel Universe. Yes, George Lucas has made one. Yes J.R.R. Tolkein and George R.R. Martin made one. But to be honest, there aren't as many fictional universes on the level that Lee helped create.

I don't want to turn this into a DC-bashing article. But there is a reason why I am more of a Marvel boy than I am a DC boy. I definitely like DC and I am huge lover of Batman. But there is something about Marvel that I find very appealing. I've always liked the idea that Marvel felt fairly realistic. When you look at DC heroes and how they got their powers, they feel like larger-than-life, godlike figures. Heck, even Batman, a human feels like a "god" in his own right. And all the fake locations always made me feel like I was reading comic books. The secret weapon for Marvel back in the 1960's and the 1970's was that these adventures were happening outside your window. I always liked that the heroes of Marvel were ordinary people who got caught in extraordinary situations. The characters were more relatable, I thought, which is why I think the movies have been so profitable recently.

One thing Stan always hoped and dreamed of was seeing his characters on the big screen. While DC beat Marvel to it, I am happy for Stan that he got to see so many of characters brought to the big screen. Not only that, but Marvel did beat DC in creating a crossover, shared universe on screen and I am so proud that he got to view that. I hope he knows that these characters are going to live on forever, in the best way possible. The nerds won and they rule the world now. It happened without anybody really knowing it did happen. Even back in the 1970's and 1980's, making movies based on superheroes was something most studios tried to avoid, now they are so commonplace that they've been mainstreamed. I went to Chicago Comic-Con back in 2014, and I loved that there were people of all kinds and all different backgrounds there. Superheroes aren't just for nerd culture anymore, they are for pop culture period. Thanks to Stan Lee, I don't think our culture would be there right now if it weren't for his efforts.

Lee was more than a guy who did some cameos, he was a weaver of modern culture. And we are all the richer for it.