Do you like the "Kingsman" movies?
Well, we are getting a prequel.
I usually can't stand prequels, but this franchise has been fun and I like Raph Fiennes
Monday, July 15, 2019
It seems like we are entering a period of time where we get one summer movie that only exists to please. Last year, we got "The Meg," a big-budget movie about a giant shark. I believe I remember saying that it was like those cheesy movies you see on the SyFy channel, except it happened to star Jason Statham. This year, we get "Crawl." About a strong hurricane that hits Florida and how a daughter must save her father entrenched in a flooding house. Oh, and also, they are being hunted by alligators.
Your enjoyment of "Crawl" is going to depend solely on you. Make no mistake, "Crawl" as a movie does kind of stink. But its not an offensively bad movie. Its not an embarrassingly bad movie. Its not the type of bad movie that will make you feel bad for watching it after. Its a goofy bad movie. It could very well end up ranking highly on your guilty pleasures list. The acting is better than whatever you see on the Syfy channel, so there's that. The special effects isn't bad, sorta. The movie has some one-liners that will either make you roll your eyes or snicker to yourself. Best of all, there is a sweet dog in the movie and it survives to the end. That spoiler I will share with you.
The two main players are Haley Keller and her father Dave Keller. Kaya Scodelario plays Haley and Barry Pepper (where the hell has he been?) plays Dave. Haley has been swimming for many years, and while she's been a very good swimmer all of her life, her father used to coach her. Dave is the kind of coach who is kind of cold and kind of a hard-ass, which rubbed Haley the wrong way, so he doesn't coach her anymore. Alas, she still loves him, so when a Category Five hurricane hits their home deep in Florida, she goes to check on him while their town gets evacuated. Haley finds her dad in a flooding house and like I said, alligators eventually attack. There is pretty thin layer of character development just to get things going, but not much development is inflated from there. We get just enough to set up two characters to survive and work with each other against the alligators. But do you really go to a movie like "Crawl" for character development?
No you don't. This is a great audience movie. This is something you go to a big auditorium full of people who want to see it. This is a movie to hoot and holler for. You can't get that kind of experience at home. This is not a movie you nitpick for what makes a movie a movie, because "Crawl" only exists to please, that is all.
Do you need anymore reason to see this?
FINAL GRADE: B-
Friday, July 12, 2019
Last year, Ari Aster stomped onto the scene with "Hereditary," an independent horror movie that took the world by storm and became a bold statement for Aster as a filmmaker and artist. This year, he returns with "Midsommar," another horror movie. One thing is evidently clear about Aster now that I've seen "Midsommar" and being a fan of "Hereditary," he is going to be joining a list of directors which includes Nicolas Winding Refn, Darren Aronofsky, Paul Thomas Anderson and Stanley Kubrick (may he rest in peace), where he's making movies that aren't for the whole audience. In fact, much like the directors I listed above, the audience seems secondary to the cinematic process for Aster. The horror genre is already a fairly uninviting one, simply because not everybody out there likes being scared. There are many different sides to the horror genre too though, and "Midsommar" is definitely not what people might expect.
I read and reviewed the script back in March. I remember feeling that Aster was going to have another hit on hands and it solidified him as a storyteller. I also knew that, much like his "Hereditary," this was going to divide audiences. Already on my social media accounts and looking through YouTube videos, its clear that "Midsommar" polarized audiences. The script I read was two years old and the thing I was scared of the most was that the final movie would change dramatically and lose some of its power. You may not even realize how often that happens, things change and a lot can happen to a movie within two years. Hell, Steven Spielberg changed the entire meaning of "Minority Report," simply by lifting one sentence of dialogue out of the movie's ending. The smallest details can change your movie, for better or for worse.
Thankfully, the "Midsommar" playing in theaters right now is pretty much the same as the script. There are a couple of minor changes to how we learn information and certain tweaks to things, but essentially its the same as the script. Thank god for that because it made "Midsommar" quite a frightening experience for me. There are a couple things from the script I wished we could have seen, and a scene in particular that may have explained one detail of the movie a little bit better. But Aster has already announced a director's cut so maybe I will get to see it when that is released. "Midsommar" ended up being exactly what I wanted it to be, a slow-burn, dreadful experience, filled with mood and atmosphere.
If you haven't read the script or have only seen previews, the story is fairly simple. Dani (Florence Pugh) is a girl suffering from severe anxiety, she's got a boyfriend named Christian (Jack Reynor) who she's kinda-sorta on the outs with. She's got some trouble with her family. Christian is ready to break up with Dani when her sister commits a murder-suicide, killing herself and her parents. Christian then remains with her. By chance, Dani finds out that Christian and his friends Josh (William Jackson Harper), Mark (Will Poulter) are going with Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) to Pelle's Swedish village for a midsummer festival, which is rarely held. While Dani and Christian bicker about Dani not knowing Christian was going, he awkwardly invites her along. Seeing it as an avenue to get away, she agrees.
There is definitely a familiarity that sets in when Dani and the group settle in Hasingland for the festival. If you've seen plenty of cult horror movies, you know everything looks stunning, and beautiful and everybody is so happy and chipper. Everybody starts taking drugs and going on trips and it all looks like a fun free-for-all. But slowly and surely, dread starts to set in. Something bad is going to happen to someone, right? Someone is going to get sacrificed, right? I have heard some people complain about predictability in "Midsommar," and yes, once it really gets going, its not surprising how things end up. If you are fan of movies like "The Wicker Man" or the criminally underrated "The Sacrament" or the segment from "V/H/S 2" called Safe Haven, you know something bad is going to happen in paradise. But that's the cult horror genre. Slasher movies are all pretty much alike but do Ghostface, Leatherface, Freddy Kruger and Jason Voorhees have lots in common? Not really. You could stack up several movies in one genre and call them predictable, but its the smaller details that shine through. Deeply analyzing "Midsommar," "The Wicker Man," "The Sacrament" and "Safe Haven" would prove that all four of those movies are very different from each other in many ways.
As "The Wicker Man" was a police story with a shocking ending, "Midsommar" is a horror version of a bad break-up. Christian is constantly looking for an out with Dani and when tragedy strikes her life, it makes it difficult for Christian to find an out. They barely seem interested in each other at the Swedish commune and Christian even forgets Dani's birthday. After reading the script and seeing the movie, Christian is definitely a jerk. He represents something toxic for Dani, something she needs to rid herself of and she'll be much better.
Not only that but the movie is very much about community and family. Dani loses her family, and while in a toxic relationship with Christian, life seems very dour at the moment. What "Midsommar" proudly proclaims is that whether your close to your family, or your best friends are considered your family, or both, you need community. You need a core group of people you can count on to be there for you and to love you. If you don't have that, you are adrift and you may not come back from it in a positive way. Realizing you've found your people is one of the most uplifting experiences one can actually have. And yes, "Midsommar" is definitely the horror version of that too, but its incredibly important to the movie.
One thing I can agree with dissenters on is the pacing. When I initially read the script in March, the script did not read like it was a long movie, and at two hours and thirty minutes, you definitely feel that timing. Yes, I like slow burn horror, its some of my favorite kind of horror. But there is definitely a difference between Making The Audience Feel The Dread and Boring The Audience To Tears. I think Aster walks between those two differences like a tightrope sometimes in this movie. Sometimes the movie is on the verge of getting away from him.
In "Hereditary," Toni Collette gave a masterful performance, and the only bad thing that came out of that is she was not nominated for an Oscar for her incredible work. Florence Pugh gives a incredible performance here as well. She drives the whole thing. She makes you feel her anxiety and uncertainty. She sells the idea of the fear and confusion she's feeling from the strange cult she is watching unfold in front her eyes. Its a grand performance, something that can make somebody into a star and now I am really excited to see what she has to offer when she shows up in the "Black Widow" prequel Marvel is making. Poulter and Harper do good work as Christian's friends, giving life to two characters who seem fairly one-dimensional on the page. I also have to say that Blomgrend was absolutely perfect as Pelle, there is a subtly charming/ subtly creepy vibe Pelle is supposed to have and I think Blomgrend focused that energy well. The commune at Hasingland, it is full of charmingly creepy people, and the Swedish actors chosen here all do impeccable work.
The cinematography by Pawel Pogorzelski is breathtaking, making "Midsommar" the most gorgeous horror movie in recent memory. It certainly makes "Midsommar" a bit unique in the way that horror is all seen throughout the day. Even in "The Wicker Man," much of the strange and off-putting material in that movie happened at night. There is something extra shocking about seeing stuff happen in the sunshine and Aster uses that to his advantage.
Perhaps one day Ari Aster will have his own personal "Drive" and he'll make something so profound that it sticks with all audiences. For right now, Aster is making the type of horror that I buy into. All of sudden it seems something woke up in the bowels of Hollywood and people are making horror movies strictly for me. I don't like most of the found footage stuff. I don't find gore and blood scary. I don't find teenagers who can't act dying in grotesque ways scary. My favorite kind of horror involves tension, mood, atmosphere. I like the feeling that nothing is what it seems. There is some stuff in this movie that happens off-screen, and while some may not like that they didn't get to see what happened to a particular character, that stuff scares me more when handled right. When a director makes my head spin imagining the fate of a character, that's scary to me. My expectations were incredibly high for this one, and it just plain worked for me. But I can understand why it doesn't work for everyone. But knowing cult horror and folk horror, I don't know how it could have went any other way. You know the kind of horror you like, so if this sounds up your alley, take the ride. Aster has proven he's one of the greats.
FINAL GRADE: A
Wednesday, July 10, 2019
Have you ever imagined being the lead singer of a certain band? Have you ever wondered if you could choose the career path of a particular band or singer, which one would you choose and why? Not only that, but have you ever wondered if a particular band from the 1950s or 1960s didn't exist, and you wrote their songs, would they still carry the same popularity today? Many people have theorized if The Beatles formed today instead of back then if they'd really be as big today as they were back then. Simply because music is so different today, although can any song of today beat the lyrical meaning of The Beatles?
That is precisely the game being played in "Yesterday." Himesh Patel is an actor I am unfamiliar with, but he plays Jack in this movie. Jack is an aspiring singer who just can't get his foot in the door. He can barely get his foot in any type of door and he feels like abandoning his passion for music completely. One night, driving home from work, he gets hurt during a power outage. After recovering, he slowly begins to realize that nobody around him recognizes any Beatles songs. Not any obscure Beatles work either. Nobody recognizes "Yesterday," or "She Loves You" or their biggest of big hits. He Googles it and finds out that somehow after the outage, The Beatles simply disappeared from existence.
Sounds like a goofy premise in order to celebrate one of the best rock'n'roll bands in history? Oh yes, that's entirely true. For the first hour or so, the movie is a celebration of the music and the work done by The Beatles. Jack uses the Beatles music to get into the music scene and he quickly becomes popular. Gets noticed by a record label. Swoons people left and right. He even beats Ed Sheerin in a song writing and performance contest (Sheerin plays himself in this). For the first half of the film, it does feel like a silly yet sincere way to celebrate the music of the Beatles.
For the second half of the movie, it suddenly becomes an episode of Sesame Street. The movie takes a left turn into moral fable with outcomes so pedestrian you'll think the movie was made for children. Jack is close friends to a girl Ellie (Lily James). Does he want to be more than friends? Will his newfound fame interfere with that relationship? Will Jack admit to plagiarism to choose Ellie even though The Beatles no longer exist and he doesn't really have to? These are all outcomes that come a mile away. The movie makes no effort, to venture into new avenues and never tries to make anything new or exciting. It just kind of happens and ends.
Kate McKinnon shows up as a record label producer, the kind that doesn't have the best intentions for Jack. If she were a dude, she'd definitely have a mustache to twirl. She has some good funny material here and they make use of McKinnon's comedic timing well. I think Patel is good actor and does exactly what is needed to sell the strange idea at the heart of the movie. I don't know if he does the singing in the movie or not, but I think Beatles fans will enjoy the renditions of the old Beatles tunes. They are very well done and if Patel sings then he is a remarkable performer.
Is this a movie Beatles fans will like, yeah probably. Is this a movie that I think celebrates the Beatles? Ehh, I'd say that's 50/50. I think the movie would have been stronger overall had it remained to its convictions. But I guess movies like this have to have some kind of story for people to maybe enjoy. I did like the music and I did like the performances, but I think "Yesterday" ends up being a little too fluffy.
FINAL GRADE: B-
Monday, July 8, 2019
Review: "The Last Black Man In San Francisco" is elegant indie film in the midst of summer blockbusters
The Last Black Man In San Francisco Review
There is a pretty bizarre scene right in the middle of "The Last Black Man In San Francisco." As we see the main character sitting, waiting for his bus. Another gentlemen joins him on the waiting bench. This gentlemen puts down a protective plate on the bench to sit on. The gentlemen is also completely naked, absolutely no stitch on the guy. Somehow, our hero is unfazed by this. The two men begin to discuss how San Francisco has changed over the years. How new people have come out of nowhere to claim a city that has always been there's.
One of the many themes of "The Last Black Man In San Francisco" revolves around those claiming something as theirs, possibly not understanding what is precious and important about what they are claiming in the first place. "The Last Black Man In San Francisco" at its core is pretty simple. Jimmie Fails plays a fictional version of himself (he also co-wrote the movie and based it partially on his own life) who hangs out with his friend Monty (Jonathon Majors). At the beginning of the movie, he comes across the house his grandfather built, and he constantly has to correct the real estate agent showing the house. Jimmie's grandfather did really build the house after he came home from World War II and Jimmie sees this house as his birthright. As the agent fumbles his facts, it becomes evidently clear that nobody will understand the importance of this house over Jimmie. The two friends embark on a journey that will connect with their past, challenge their friendship and make them see a city they don't recognize anymore in a different light.
It's interesting how that happens. I currently live in Aurora, IL (forty-five minutes southwest of Chicago) and I have lived here since the tail-end of 2012. But I grew up in Peoria, IL (two and half hours south of Chicago), ever since I've been in Aurora, I rarely go to Peoria. Especially since my parents moved up closer to me ever since I brought my first child home. When I set foot in Peoria, I find myself not recognizing the city I grew up in. Anybody who is a newer resident of that town doesn't even know what it used to be like. You definitely get a sense of that same feeling with Jimmie and Monty. They both love and hate the city, and they know they can't love San Francisco without hating it too.
There is a magnificent rapaport between Fails and Majors. Danny Glover plays Jimmie's grandfather, who also does some good work here. Jimmie is challenged by James Sr., played by Rob Morgan. Morgan is an actor who seems to have shown up in every Netflix original TV show and movie at this point, and he always delivers no matter what. The acting is solid all the way around.
This time of year, its always the summer blockbusters that get all the glory. So its important to see something smaller. This is an elegant story. But strange and silly throughout and challenges you with a host of themes that are easily relateable.
FINAL GRADE: A
Tuesday, July 2, 2019
I wonder if every high schooler wished they had an adult who invited them into their house so they could drink and smoke weed. I'm sure my high school friends and I would have got into drinking quicker than we did had that been the case. But alas, nothing of the sort ever happened. Such is the case for "Ma." A group of teenagers one day try begging adults to buy them alcohol, and Sue Anne (Octavia Spencer) takes them up on it. Then eventually she invites the group over to her house, sets some ground rules and allows them to party at her house. Sometimes she even participates in the fun times. Sounds cool, huh? Ripe for satire.
The movie actually takes a huge left turn. "Ma" ends up becoming a horror film. Its got kind of a predictable outcome but Octavia Spencer is so good that she keeps you watching. There are some twists and turns along the way, but ultimately its a horror movie with no scares. Instead, its a dark moral fable that asks the audience not to bully people and to never accept alcohol from strangers.
Diana Silvers plays Maggie Thompson, who moves to Ohio with her mother Erica (Juliette Lewis). This is her hometown and she needs to find work because Maggie's father left them. Maggie quickly meets friends and starts flirting with boys when they meet Sue Anne. When they first start going to Sue Anne's house, it all seems fun. Sue Anne does some questionably weird things at times, things in which any teenager would get the fuck out of that house pronto. But hey, you know teenagers HAVE to be dumb in horror movies otherwise the sub-genre can't function. Soon enough, Maggie gets the idea that Sue Anne is out to harm them.
Sue Anne is, at the very least, an interesting villain because she's very much a victim. Much like Freddy Kruger, Sue Anne is making the children suffer for the sins of the father. Maggie begins to fall for a boy named Andy (Corey Foglemanis) whose father Ben (Luke Evans) knew Sue Anne as teenagers, along with Erica. Erica, Ben and their friends as teenagers did something very, very horrible to Sue Anne and now she's getting her revenge. It plays for a nice dramatic left turn, but with the concept of a woman who invites teenagers over to drink and smoke weed, the possibilities are endless and the movie just never aims high.
The acting is okay, all the teenagers are fine. They serve a certain purpose in movies like these, and the kids roll with it as best they can, making their characters' dumb decisions seem tense. The all-star of this is no doubt Spencer. She throws herself into her role and takes the whole thing seriously. She even almost makes you buy into the absurdities of the movie. Most of the other well known actors are fine, but not used much. Luke Evans is fine, although its never explained how an American teenager developed a slight British accent as an adult.
While some moments in the film hurt, and while Spencer is really great. "Ma" kinda just feels lukewarm from beginning to finish
FINAL GRADE: C