Sunday, December 17, 2017

Review: "The Last Jedi" generates a disturbance in The Force

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

I saw “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” on Friday. I was expecting to see the movie, love every moment of it, then run back home to write about it. It’s Sunday night now, so obviously that didn’t happen. Honest truth, I had no idea how to properly convey my thoughts on this difficult and divisive film. Oh yes, “backlash” is abundant already on this film. It’s sad that people are just jumping to conclusions, making excuses to why the “haters” didn’t like the movie. I am hoping if you are here now, you want to have an honest idea of where I stand on the movie.

Make no mistake, I have felt a great disturbance in The Force the last few days.

If there is one word that describes my feelings perfectly, its underwhelmed. I am deeply, deeply underwhelmed by this movie. I can’t honestly say I hated the film, because simply put, I didn’t. There is so much here that Star Wars fanatics are going to love. There are moments that are going to be etched into my mind every time I think of Star Wars. There are times when I laughed, and there were times when I felt like I was going to tear up and there were times when I wanted to jump and cheer. That’s what makes “The Last Jedi” ultimately frustrating. On one hand, there is something here that will make the “Star Wars” lover in you squeal. Then on another hand, the film made me sad. It was the revelation that this new trilogy of films will just boil down to a foiled member of the Skywalker family deciding whether or not he’s going to allow the light or dark side of The Force develop him. Did we not already see this in the old trilogy.

I will say this, and I am going to tread lightly, because I don’t plan on diving into spoilers just yet. Once we are in the New Year and you’ve all had a chance to see the movie, I will come back for a Further Inspection piece, and then I will discuss all the spoilers under the sun. But there are two stories going on in “The Last Jedi.” There is a story involving Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Leia (Carrie Fisher). This story introduces DJ (Benicio Del Toro) and Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern). It also features an epic space battle that opens the film, a space battle that blissfully mixes the adventure and the emotion in one fell swoop. This was the story I liked. The second story, involves what happens once Rey (Daisy Ridley) delivers the lightsaber to Luke (Mark Hamill) and tries to get him to join The Resistance. This second story, and I can’t believe I am saying this, is the most disappointing material in the whole movie.

The second story is disappointing because it all kind of feels like “Empire Strikes Back” just with different characters. Now, I will argue that “The Last Jedi” isn’t as overtly like a remake compared to “The Force Awakens.” “The Force Awakens,” no matter what, was pretty much a damn near frame-by-frame remake of “A New Hope.” There are merely moments of “The Last Jedi,” that feel like “Empire Strikes Back.” The way Luke trains Rey in the ways of The Force. The way the final battle mimics The Battle of Hoth, (hey it’s a SALT planet this time, instead of a SNOW planet, if that’s any consolation) it all feels like more of the same. And based on how the story goes, like I stated above, it feels like they are telling the same story they already told in the old trilogy.

Here’s the kicker though. Despite “The Force Awakens” feeling like a remake, I was never bored while watching it. I wrote a manically positive review for the movie, and I still stand by that review today. I think “The Force Awakens” is still wildly entertaining, and you can tell it’s a movie that aims to please. I was bored watching chunks of “The Last Jedi.” I couldn’t believe that there are certain characters that die in such premature ways. There is also one moment involving The Force in the middle of space that is so unbearably ridiculous that it took me out of the movie for a good fifteen minutes. Come on people, I know that this is a space opera. I know that this is fantasy. But come on, how could you NOT snicker at that moment. No matter how many times I watch “The Last Jedi” I will never be able to see that moment in a serious light.

What’s funny is that not only does “The Last Jedi” remake moments of “Empire Strikes Back,” but also throws in a couple of moments from “The Return of the Jedi.” So, I am hoping that by episode nine, we see something completely original. The new characters in this trilogy, Finn and Rey and Poe and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) all have an increasingly developing story arc. Some have argued that there is no character development in this movie, and that is something I definitely disagree with. Where we found Finn, Rey, Poe and Kylo at the end of “The Force Awakens” and where we find them at the end of “The Last Jedi” are totally different places. The status quo has completely changed by the end of “The Last Jedi” and that could pay off mightly by the end of episode nine. Believe me, my fingers are crossed for that.

Overall, “The Last Jedi” is a mixed bag. It’s not terrible, its not bad. It’s just underwhelming ultimately. There is plenty I feel could have been done better and all the big moments that make me happy to be a Star Wars fan can’t get me to ignore those problems. The trilogy as a whole can still be redeemed, and if that happens in 2019, then “The Last Jedi” will end up being the Star Wars movie I watch the least for pleasure. Maybe. It’s been awhile since I took a peak at the prequels.


Friday, December 15, 2017

Review: "The Disaster Artist" is a hit! It is true! It's NOT bullshit! It is a hit! It is!

The Disaster Artist Review

Oh, hai James Franco. You make good Hollywood movie.

Deep down in my Man Cave at home, I have hundreds and hundreds of movies in my home theater. One of the films amongst my collection is “The Room.” It’s been dubbed the “Citizen Kane” of bad movies, but its also developed a cult status, and has had sold out screenings take place all around the world. Now, why would I buy the “Citizen Kane of Bad Movies” and add it to my collection? Possibly for the same reason why its developed a cult status. Don’t get me wrong, “The Room” is a incoherently bad movie, on a narrative and logical level. But there is something about the strange performance of Tommy Wiseau, the director, writer, producer and lead star of the film, which is, dare I say, endearing. The film is so willfully bad that its funny. And its crazy to me that Wiseau set out to make a drama, and ended up making a comedy.

“The Disaster Artist” is based upon a book by Greg Sestero, who was the second lead in the film “The Room.” Apparently, Greg Sestero was an aspiring actor living in San Francisco in the late 1990’s when a met Tommy Wiseau. Tommy was an odd fellow, who loved deep American values and he loved movies. He sounded as if he had an Eastern European accent, but when asked, he would say he’s from New Orleans, Louisiana. Greg was struggling in his acting classes, but Wiseau saw something special in him, and he invited Greg to Los Angeles with him (because he apparently had an apartment in BOTH San Francisco and Los Angeles) so that they could pursue acting together. Just as long as Greg didn’t ask about Tommy’s shrouded past nor talk about Tommy to their peers. After many years of failed attempts to break into the acting scene, they decided to make a movie themselves. Wiseau buys top-of-the-line camera equipment, hired personnel and they got right to work. Tommy never disclosed where he was getting his money from, but apparently costs for the film ballooned to five million. The shooting of the film itself was a nightmare for many involved, simply because Wiseau had no directorial experience.

Greg’s book is intended to be autobiographical and Wiseau claims none of it, if any at all, really happened. But James Franco shoots the book in an honest yet heartfelt way. There are moments of “The Disaster Artist” that are laugh out loud funny, and moments of deep, personal anguish. I always get a tad nervous when movies try to walk the tightrope between drama and comedy, but James Franco pulls it off flawlessly. Not to mention that James Franco disappears into the skin of Tommy Wiseau, becoming the man completely. I don’t know how many of you have actually seen “The Room” or heard Tommy Wiseau talk before, but he does sound like he’s from Eastern Europe and while he seems incredibly nice, he does come off a little odd. James Franco captures that with a powerful accord. I don’t know how Academy voters are going to react to this, but I absolutely believe that James Franco deserves the nomination for Lead Actor this year, as well as a Best Director nod.

The rest of the cast is equally solid. I will let you all in a little secret here, I have never been a huge fan of either of the Franco brothers. I’ve always thought Dave has ranged from good to mediocre, and James absolutely makes me cringe when I watch him in Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” movies. But I have to say that Dave also delivers an incredible performance. Full of innocence and excitement and you feel this, you feel his emotions. In fact, “The Disaster Artist” is filled with lots of actors I do not normally like who deliver some good performances. Zack Efron does some brief yet strong work, and in his couple of scenes, he had me in stitches. Seth Rogen does great work here, as does Alison Brie. Josh Hutcherson. Jackie Weaver. Hannibal Buress. Paul Scheer. Everyone down to the smallest cameo, like Bryan Cranston. Everyone delivers. Everyone makes their moments in front of the camera count, no matter how small their role may be.

“The Disaster Artist” could have been a shameless vanity project. It’s a gamble that it got made in the first place. But what James Franco does is focus on an endearing friendship that buds between two unlikely people. The movie has some insightful things to say about friendship, and how it’s a joy some days and how other days it can be a chore. But it also says that we need to keep our eyes open and try to get to know all the people we meet in our lives, because we never really know if those people will change our lives for the better. Not only that, but the film also has some smart comments on the creation of art in Hollywood. It’s a tough business to break into, and that can sometimes destroy people. But when thinking of art, no matter if its movies or music or whatever, once you’ve created it and delivered it to people, it belongs to the audience. Tommy Wiseau set out to make a drama out of the room, but something else was released in theaters in July 2004. You may have set out to say something with your art, but what translates out to the audience is what it ultimately will be about. I honestly don’t know if I can name another movie that really dissects that creative process in such a funny and smart way.

“The Room” may ended up being a disaster. But James Franco captures that sometimes wild, sometimes enraging, sometimes sincere and all-around crazy time perfectly in his movie. 


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Annihilation trailer 2

From the guy who made "Ex Machina" in 2015.

Making some really exciting Science Fiction.

This film just shot up to the top of my most anticipated films of next year list!

Final "Bright" Trailer

If there is one movie I've been immersed in this year, surprisingly enough to you, it's been David Ayer's "Bright."

I read a few scoop pieces in 2016 about how Ayers was going to regroup with Will Smith from "Suicide Squad" and they were going to make some kind of "fantasy cop movie." Sounded a little weird, a little cheesy and even a little bit fascinating at the same time. During the Super Bowl this year, we saw that small spot, not giving much away. I have to admit, I was intrigued. I started paying closer attention to "Bright," this fantasy cop movie that Ayers was making. I even got my hands on a script for the movie, it was the first script review I ever wrote for my site here. I have to admit, I enjoyed what I read. I plan to give it one more look before next weekend, but I did enjoy what I read.

What "Bright" could be is the first streaming franchise. There is a juicy hook for a sequel at the end the script, and I am hoping the script hasn't changed much. Ayers did say in a recent interview that he really liked working for Netflix, and that they allowed him to make the movie he wanted to make. Sure, he took a little jab at Warner Brothers, but that interview gives me hope that there is no middle party muddying up a good script. Now I can't wait for the finished result. Heck, I even like Will Smith's Big Willie Style persona here. Also since I think Ayers got Smith to give one his best performances in awhile, I have faith.

This hits Netflix next weekend, I am dying to take a look at it.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Review: Gary Oldman delivers all sorts of goods in Joe Wright's "Darkest Hour"

Darkest Hour Review

Did any of you catch the 2018 Golden Globe nominations? If so, then you probably saw that Gary Oldman has been nominated for his work in “Darkest Hour.” After finally seeing the movie myself, it is no surprise whatsoever that has been nominated.

For me, that’s never a surprise when Gary Oldman delivers an unbelievable performance. Because, remarkably enough, this feels like something Oldman is always doing, and I can’t believe he never gets the attention and discussion I feel like he deserves. He should be the male Meryl Streep, though lots more likable. I think this because he seems to vanish in his roles all the time. How can someone watch something like “The Fifth Element” and NOT be totally taken aback when the realize the villain of that movie is Gary Oldman. Or how about his work as Dracula? How is the guy who was in “The Contender” also be the guy in “The Professional” and how is that guy the same guy from “Air Force One” or “Lawless?” My favorite example is Oldman’s work as Drexel in “True Romance.” A role wear Oldman plays a wigger pimp who is viciously ruthless. There is a verbal showdown that escalates to violence between Oldman’s Drexel and Christian Slater. I have seen the movie about a dozen times now, and that one moment still makes me tense up. When I show that movie to friends, they are stunned silent throughout the scene, then finish it with a deep sigh of relief. All in part from Oldman’s talent.

Some actors only disappear into a role once, Oldman made a career out of it. That’s why I totally buy his transformation into Winston Churchill, during the early days World War II, when he was appointed as Prime Minister. Oldman once again completely becomes Churchill, almost as if he evaporated into the skin of the man himself. It looks like Oldman put on a tremendous amount of weight, and I really can’t tell if he actually did or if that is mere movie magic. He completely transformed the way he talks, the way he moves, and he completely reinvented his mannerisms. This is what method acting looks like, and when it’s at its absolute best.

Funny, because the movie is actually full of stellar performances. Lilly James has had an absolutely great year of movies. “Baby Driver” STILL makes me swoon. And now, she caps off the year with another memorable performance. Here, she plays Elizabeth Nel, who was the personal secretary to Churchill throughout the war. It plays out mostly like typical Hollywood, but it never becomes weird or awkward or romantic. And James does great enough work that their subplot counts. Ben Mendelson plays King George VI who eventually appoints Churchill to his position, and he does a fine job here. Kristin Scott Thomas plays Churchill’s wife and she’s as stalwart and stern as he is, Thomas once again displays some raw talent here. Even old Stannis Baratheon himself, Stephen Dillane appears as Lord Halifrax.

Joe Wright has a keen eye for detail here. As it feels like every costume and piece of scenery is absolutely lived-in. Any time I am watching a biography film and it feels like I just stepped off a time machine, that’s a good sign in my book. I don’t like cheap looking sets and costumes, it really is distracting to me. Either it all counts, or none of it does, so I like the extra detail in these biographical films. The cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel is that typical rough-edged, rugged look that appear in most World War II movies, but its totally fitting here. The music by Dario Marianelli is powerfully suiting.

The story of “Darkest Hour” is kind of familiar at first glance. It feels like a movie we have seen before. It feels like an alternate version of “The King’s Speech.” We’ve seen plenty of films where a person of power has to prove themselves during a moment of extreme crisis, and that’s essentially all “Darkest Hour” boils down to. The thing is that Oldman is so unfathomably good here that he makes the good stuff stand out and the mediocre stuff disappear. There have been plenty of movies that were good but were elevated to great thanks to a particular performance, I think a modern example of that is here, Gary Oldman with “Darkest Hour.”

Oh, and Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” is a perfect companion film to this. I can’t wait to have both in my possession and have a nice double feature.


Review: "Wonder" is Wonderful.

Wonder Review

There is a type of movie that I really can’t stand. And it’s the tearjerker. Now, I don’t necessarily mean romantic movies, or sad biographies. I would call something like “The Notebook” a romantic movie, not a tearjerker. Sure, “The Notebook” is sad, but it doesn’t shamelessly rip tears out of your eyes. That’s the type of movie I can’t stand, when its specifically designed to jerk tears out of you. Those emotions are artificial to me, not organic and if I can’t reach an emotional crescendo by myself, then it doesn’t work.

One of the best recent examples of this I can think of is “A Dog’s Purpose.” It’s a movie that came out earlier this year, that I missed in theaters and then finally caught up with when it was hit home viewing. The movie is only designed for people to go clamoring for their tissue boxes, without a story or emotional arc to support it. It simply makes up rules as it goes. The movie basically revolves around a dog who lives the life of a different dog after it dies, then miraculously finds its first owner. It’s a terrifically stupid idea on paper, and I wish I could been present for the pitch meeting for this. Is there any scientific evidence or religious dogma that says dogs just go into the body of another dog after they die? Do they recognize smells from old lives? If so, how? The movie doesn’t even try, it’s too busy trying to jerk those tears out of you.

I didn’t have high hopes for “Wonder,” because I couldn’t get a good read on it. I couldn’t tell if it had a genuine story to tell or if it was going to just set up sad scene after sad scene and win the audience’s affection through waterworks. Thankfully, it’s the former, because “Wonder” is actually a brilliantly told film. Sure, it has its sad moments, but it doesn’t lean on those moments like a crutch. Instead, “Wonder” relies on good acting, good storytelling and genuine emotion in order to reach its audience and it’s impeccably successful in its actions.

Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) is a fifth-grader who has been homeschooled most of his formative career. He has been homeschooled because he’s afraid to go to a real school with peers, he was having a rare medical condition called “mandibulofacial dysostosis” which required much surgery as an infant, and now his face is suffers heavy scarring. Auggie wears an astronaut helmet to cover his face. As Auggie gets older, his parents Isabel (Julia Roberts) and Nate (Owen Wilson) worry about his future, and they enroll him at a private school for his fifth-grade year.

Sometimes, the movie feels like its going to be Auggie’s story, and at its center it truly is Auggie’s story. But its also sort of amazing how the movie also focuses on how Auggie affects many people’s lives. The film shows how Auggie’s sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) struggles with her parents constant monitoring of Auggie and how she sometimes feels left out. The film deals with the many classmates of Auggie, some of them friends, some of them friends by the end and some of them not friends at all. The film has some things to say about bullying in our school systems that I found significant. The film deals with Auggie’s principal (Mandy Patinkin) and how a certain teacher (Daveed Diggs) touches Auggie’s life. It’s all handled with a genuine amount of ease. Everything is handled with delicate care and never once feels too bloated with story.

So much of the film hinges on Jacob Tremblay. Who was so powerfully good in 2015’s “Room,” that I can’t say I’m surprised he can carry a movie here. Tremblay is a bright, bold, young performer and he’s got quite the career ahead of him if he wants to manage it. Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson are always reliable, dealing some good performances here. I have always loved Pantinkin ever since I saw him on Showtime’s “Homeland” and he does some great work in his small, brief moments here. But it’s really Tremblay who really steers this thing. He is funny at moments, tender at others and he is constantly etching in the details.

There are some classic tearjerker moments in this movie. There are many times when Auggie comes home crying, not wanting to go to school the next day. There are some serious family arguments we feel like we’ve heard millions of times before. There are the bullies that grow consciences. There is even a moment when I thought that “Wonder” was just going to become the same kiddie tearjerker like we’ve seen to hell and back, but it didn’t. Not quite. It stayed the course of the new and the fresh and I salute the film for that. There are moments when you think “Wonder” will tip into that territory, but there is so much uplifting entertainment here that feels real that I still really liked it.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Trailer Two of "Ready, Player,One"

There is a book I am planning to power through from January to March, and that book is Ready Player One.

The second trailer makes the film look fantastic. Again, we are visually assaulted by popular culture references. This may not be for everyone, because it seems we are living in a world where our popular culture is affecting everything. But perhaps this film will be a comment on all of that, perhaps the movie will have something to say about that. Stephen Spielberg is actually pretty good at hiding mountains of meaning in his movies. Perhaps, he can do the same here?

is that Depeche Mode in the beginning of this trailer? If so, extra points Warner Brothers!

I can't wait for March 30!