Monday, July 31, 2017

Review: Ape Prequel Trilogy...strong! A review of "War of the Planet of the Apes!"

War of the Planet of the Apes Review

If you told me fifteen years ago that one of the trilogies of films I'd care about the most in my mid to late twenties would be a prequel trilogy about "Planet of the Apes," I probably would have laughed in your face. That horrid Tim Burton remake in 2001 left a bad taste in my mouth. The older series ranges from great to good to strange. When I think of my overall favorite series' of films, "Planet of the Apes" isn't one I revisit very often. I didn't think a prequel to this series would add up to anything. Prequels in general are a wet blanket, not much tension, emotion and depth can be made when the audience already knows how everything ends, and the studio system will just make safe product just to wring in every last penny a franchise is worth. 

But these overly-long titled "Planet of the Apes" trilogy of film prequels are not your average film. Each and every one of these films packs an emotional, harrowing punch. They create characters we care about then throw them in impossible situations. The special effects to make believable apes has never been better and all of this effort is made in service of a story full of tension and depth and lots of emotion.

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" was 2011, and that revolved around finding your family, finding your place in the world and what to do when those two needs don't cross paths. Its about carving a spot in the world for yourself when the world will try to keep it from you. "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," may still be my favorite in this trilogy. About a group of beings trying so desperately hard to keep some kind of peace in a dystopian future, while others become consumed with their hate like a harking disease. Then there is "War of the Planet of the Apes," and telling from that title, one would think its the big tamale, the final battle. In lots of ways, it is that, but in just as many ways, it is not that. It would have been very easy to simply turn this entire trilogy into mindless action pictures, and I have to give Fox credit for telling a smart, character-driven story in each of these three movies.

In "War of the Planet of the Apes," Caesar (Andy Serkis) has made a new home deep in the woods. There is a military group of humans called Alpha-Omega that is trying to reach Caesar to kill him. These humans are accompanied by apes who once followed Koba in the previous film. Once the latest skirmish with Alpha-Omega leaves some of Caesar's loved ones dead, he goes on a revenge mission, which leads him down the path to meet The Colonel, played by Woody Harrelson. People are always surprised when I talk Harrelson in serious movies. And while Harrelson may have a line or two that is meant to be funny, he's a snarky, murky villain throughout the entire film. But much like they did with Koba and even Gary Oldman in "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," there is a side of Harrelson's Colonel that we recognize. He's not some villain twirling a mustache.

The other great character in the film is portrayed by Steve Zahn, another actor who we usually see in crazy comedies. He plays Bad Ape, a zoo animal that got infected by the Simian Flu long ago and who becomes an ally of Caesar as he goes to confront The Colonel. Zahn has some of the funniest moments in the film just by being innocent, not by being a slapstick character, its amazing how much material in this film feels natural instead of forced. The result is one of the best performances by Zahn in a movie ever.

I have to hand it to today's affects. It seems like the detail in which these apes are brought to life gets more and more impressive every time I sit down to watch one of these. The dirt matting their fur, the snow falling on their faces, it has more detail than you could possibly imagine and I feel they've never looked like they do here in the previous movies. 

But the genius of "War of the Planet of the Apes" and the entire trilogy as a whole is the amazing way Matt Reeves gets the apes to become entire characters and as they tell a story that will cut deep for many viewers. I am not sure everyone who goes into "War of the Planet of the Apes" will be satisfied, because its not a big battle sequence after another. These films have always put character, theme and story first, its not just another action movie. But don't take my words too literal, there are some good action pieces in this. They are just relatively small scale for what we imagine seeing in a summer blockbuster. For a trilogy to come out this emotionally powerful through a major studio system is a triumph in itself.

Will we see more movies? I am not really sure. For hardcore "Planet of the Apes" fans, there are still some events from the previous movies that we haven't seen play out yet, but could very well in the context of this prequel if they choose to make more movies. Telling from the success this last film has had, this is still a bankable franchise and if they keep making movies as piercing as they are exciting, it will remain that way. But if they choose to end it here, it has made a high watermark on Hollywood.


RIP Sam Shepard

RIP Sam Shepard

The show business lost another legend tonight, Sam Shepard has died at age 73. Shepard was an actor of film and television, as well as an award winning playwright. 

Even though it was not even close to his first role, the first major film I remember seeing with Sam Shepard in it was "Black Hawk Down." He played William F. Garrison, the general who led the attack into Somalia that went disastrously wrong. Its amazing watching Garrison's attitude and demeanor changing from the beginning of the film until the end. There is a great exchange between Shepard's Garrison and Mr. Otto, played by Harry Potter's George Harris. Its a miniature battle of the wills, an explanation of what each side is fighting for, what they represent. Its an amazing display of talent. Its equally amazing watching Garrison go from cocky to scared to embarrassed by the outcome of the raid. Its an awarding performance by Shepard.

From that point, I kept a close eye on the world of Sam Shepard. I caught up with "The Right Stuff," one of the most wonderful films of the 1980's, and featuring an awesome performance by Shepard. I caught up with "Steel Magnolias" and "Days of Heaven." I would continue to watch his newer work in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" and "The Notebook," and "Mud" and "Brothers." There was "Out of the Furnace" and "Midnight Special." These all featured prominent and momentous performances by Shepard. Featuring a wide net of range, he was never an actor who merely did the same thing each year. Even when he played a tough guy in two movies, there was something different brought to the table with each of the tough guys. Too often, actors get bogged down to playing the same character each movie, but Shepard brought something different each time. 

Shepard was one of those rare supporting actors that will be gravely missed.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

What "Easter Eggs" can you find in the new Dark Tower Promo?

One thing that made Stephen King's "Dark Tower" series fun to read was how it connected nearly all of King's previous and future work together. As I read new material from King, I always keep a close eye on every detail, just to see if I can find clues that tie it back to "The Dark Tower." It always makes me a little more excited to see what King does next. Because whether its a big way or in a subtle way, if you have King books in your home, they probably connect somehow back to the dark tower.

We saw a little of that in the first trailer. We saw the photo of the Overlook Hotel in the doctor's office of where Jake was speaking. We also see him come across an abandoned circus that clearly says Pennywise, which references a certain clown we'll see in another King adaptation later this year. But we just couldn't tell the extent of this. Well, the new promo released this year is not shy about the many connections to other works by Stephen King. Just take a look yourself.

We see the photograph of the Overlook again, we see the abandoned circus again. But we also see a woman walking a Saint Bernard dog, which is a direct reference to "Cujo," about a dog that got rabies. There are also twins, which apparently connect back to "The Shining," even though there were not twins in the original book, they became quite popular from the movie. The Rita Hayworth poster from "The Shawshank Redemption" is visible in the trailer. The number 19 is important in several of King's works, especially in the first Dark Tower book, and is widely represented here. There is someone playing with the possessed car from "Christine." The book from "Misery" is seen, as well as a clue from "Mr. Mercedes." I think I found them all.

While I like that they are able to connect this work to the greater King mythology, that doesn't automatically make the movie good. I am still very much on the fence of whether or not to get excited for this. I think a sequel to the franchise is just a cheap way of just doing whatever they want with the iconography here. I would have rather seen a straight up adaptation. I am hoping and praying this works, but taking The Dark Tower and making a familiar, tit-for-tat, action movie out the story is lazy and not what the books represented at all. I am praying they have something very special planned since this is a sequel to the books.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Review: Everything about "Valerian" is long and motionless.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Review

In 1997, there was a science fiction film that I fell in love with called "The Fifth Element." I was blown away by the look of the future, the fun adventure in the film, and just how bloody interesting it was. That film was made by Luc Besson and he created a unique look at the future, something we weren't seeing much of at the time. "The Fifth Element" was not big at the beginning, but it eventually developed a cult following, and now its a big favorite for a significant amount of fans. Luc Besson returns to the future with "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets," an adaptation of a French comic book.

I wish I can say the same positive things for "Valerian," which I am just going to abbreviate as "Valerian," I have no pleasure to write out the name over and over again in this review. I don't think "Valerian" is going to have the same kick after it vanishes out of theaters soon. I don't think it found an audience when it was released over the weekend and I don't think one will pop up now or anytime later. "Valerian" does not have the same energy as "The Fifth Element" did, it does not have the same sense of adventure. It does not have the same memorable characters or emotional depth. "Valerian" is just kind of there. Yes, its visuals are great, this I will give the film. I can spend possibly two thousand words on how beautiful the various sites, aliens and futuristic hardware is in this movie. I could turn the volume off of this movie and just view it as a silent movie, and I would probably like the movie much better.

But "Valerian" isn't a silent movie. It takes place in the future, on board a space station called Alpha. What started out as any old space station quickly became a place where people all over the world could congregate with species from all over the universe. They began sharing their technology, sharing their knowledge and sharing their culture with each other. It became a very peaceful place. We follow Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) who are police men working on the city of a thousand planets, which is what Alpha eventually turned into. They make a good team and as you could have guessed, a romance between them begins to blossom.

For being a peaceful place for countless different races from all over the universe, not all is well on the city of a thousand planets, there is a conspiracy which got an entire planet destroyed. There are those trying to cover up that this specific planet was destroyed. Valerian and Laureline plan to find out what that is. The problem is that the mystery of the film is never really intense, interesting or even mysterious. Once the culprit is revealed, its pretty clear that you will be able to find out that they are the villain of the movie. Plus, the evil plot, really isn't interesting either.

I have watched Cara Delevingne in a couple films now, and I honestly don't see the appeal. She just comes off as a blank who memorizes scripts, not a full blown actress. I don't get any emotions from her. I don't feel anything from any of the characters she creates. I really don't see her appeal. Because, honestly, she isn't that good looking either, so I don't see how she can even serve as eye candy. How is she still getting work when there are far more talented, far better looking actresses her age out in the world? I don't get it. Dane DeHaan is usually an actor that I like, but I think he's an actor that works well in grounded, dramatic stuff. When he stars in high concept fare like this and "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," he's too hammy, too quirky and I don't believe in the characters he plays. I think certain actors can fit certain styles, and no matter what they can do other styles. I mean, I can never imagine Daniel Day-Lewis doing a superhero or supernatural film, I think DeHaan might suffer the same problem.

Yes, Rhianna shows up. She's fine I guess. But nothing special.

Its too bad, because its clear lots of creativity and care went into the creation of the visuals. Much like "Ghost In The Shell" earlier this year, "Valerian" is masterful just to stare at. Its pretty easy to get lost in the film's visuals. But no creativity and care went into forming a compelling story to tell, nor making up genuine, unique characters. At nearly two and a half hours, its a pretty long movie for a story that really doesn't do much. "The Fifth Element" is a fairy simple story, but Bruce Willis had a compelling character to play, as did Milla Jovovich and Gary Oldman. There was a sense of fun and adventure and it was also marvelous to look at during that particular time period. "Valerian" accomplishes not even half of that. Its a clear that Besson is a visual artist, but I guess the story's get away from him every once in awhile. Or maybe this comic book wasn't worth adapting.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

San Diego Comic-Con Trailers...everywhere!

This weekend was the annual San Diego Comic-Con. As always it was a banter year featuring tons of new information about some coming attractions. Like always, there were trailers. Lots and lots and lots of trailers. Below is literally every and all trailers you would ever want to see from Comic-Con. There is all sorts of stuff you can enjoy here. From movies and TV. I can say that the trailers I liked the most included "Kingsman 2: The Golden Circle," that looks like its going to be a shit-ton of fun! I liked the "Thor 3" trailer, and our first looks at Fenir, Surtur and a talking Hulk was awesome. This doesn't look like the average Hulk movie, and that's exciting. Surprisingly enough, the "Justice League" movie looks awesome. I really enjoyed the footage there. I think "Ready Player One" is going to blow us away when we see it. I am very much looking forward to "The Defenders" on Netflix next month, I am so excited I just might finish "Iron Fist" soon. I also liked the "Stranger Things" season two trailer!

 I think "Bright" could also end up being a big deal for Netflix this Christmas. I read the script and it looks like its going to play pretty close to the script I read. I think I am going to re-read it soon. Its a great script up until the anti-climatic ending, so I hope the ending has cleaned itself up by then. But overall, this should be a big hit in their film department.

 The season eight trailer for "The Walking Dead" looks fine, season seven was fine, this trailer looked fine. I hope its the big bananza it's aiming for. But the show is hit-or-miss these days. "Jigsaw" looks like absolute shit and more of the same. "Pacific Rim: Uprising" looks fine too, but I am not sure that movie needed a sequel, no matter how good I thought it was.

 But, like I said, any trailer you could possibly want to watch is below. Enjoy.

Movie Question- Do you believe there is a difference between "Best Film of All Time" & "Favorite Film of All Time"

Movie Question

Best Film of All Time & Favorite Film of All Time-The Difference?

I have been fascinated by the world of film all my life. No surprise that I decided to start spewing my opinion on the matter for free for the last few years, huh? For the longest time, I always felt that a movie someone considered the "Best Film of All Time" were the same as "Favorite Film of All Time." I mean, if you consider something your favorite, that has to mean its the best right? Can those two terms be that different? Don't they walk hand and hand?

No. Yes. Well, maybe. It depends on who you talk to. I have read critics and movie fans alike make two different lists when discussing the films they love most, A Favorite List and Best List. Others have said to simply state that a movie is better than the other is arrogant, and all they can really divulge are their favorite films, the movies they resonated most in a given time period. Movies are art, and art is subjective. So can there really be a "Best Film of All Time?" What makes a film better than another? I have consulted friends on this matter today. Because honestly, I have struggled putting my feelings together on this. I know its the most important issue in the world, but since I run a movie blog, I decided to discuss it today. Since I have never discussed it here before. Several online voices have tried to break down the difference between "Favorite Film" and "Best Film" and there have been debates over it all over the internet as well. So I wanted to throw my two cents at the matter.

Based one what I have read and what people have said about it, there are things I agree with and things I may not necessarily agree with. I would agree that there are varying levels of greatness, even when it comes to great movies. I don't think that every movie has to be a technical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual achievement in order to be a great movie, simply because not all movies are designed that way. I love the movie "Independence Day" which is a "B-Movie" style alien invasion film from 1996. It is clearly inspired by the 1950's alien movies that came before it, and lots of stuff goes boom in the film. There is funny material and adventurous material. But its not a technical nor is it intellectual. It doesn't bring anything particularly new to the genre. But does that make it a bad movie? No. But how does it compare to say, "Citizen Kane?" I have a hard time putting "Independence Day" above "Citizen Kane," but then again, why would you be comparing those two at all?

If you look at the AFI Best List, or the Sight And Sound Poll that happens once a decade, or the Best Films of All Time List that the late, great Roger Ebert published before his passing, you will see while some of the same films show up across these lists, you will even see them on other lists too. Anybody who truly loves movies has taken a stab at creating a "Best Films of All Time" list, and while films like "The Godfather," "Citizen Kane," "Casablanca," "2001" and "Singin' In The Rain" have all appeared in those lists, the order is different and it doesn't seem any film critic or film historian or film analyst can agree on what the truly best film of all time is. Most of those lists are based on votes anyway, which means the placing on the list is based on the most votes. Which means we really don't know just how many people are in consensus on the best of all time.

But why is it generally the same movies in same "Best of" discussions? Why when there is a massive world of film out there that expands by each weekend? Who decides what movies are the best? A bunch of film analysts and cinema snobs? How can you honestly become an expert on something that is, by design, subjective? It seems when people discuss films like "Casablanca" and "The Godfather," they consider them the best because they are culturally important, influential to the greater language of cinema, they change the world of movies in some way. I can absolutely agree with that. Some movies are more important, more influential to cinema, and change the game of movies as we know it. Not all movies do this, but there are some that have. Its part of what makes those movies great. But does that mean something that isn't a game-changer or isn't influential is suddenly not great? Absolutely not. Like I said, there are varying degrees of greatness. I think more than anything, the lists presented by AFI and Sight and Sound are more measures of influential and important films, rather than the best films. 

I say this because, movies are art. I don't think there is anything scientific or mathematical about movies. I don't know if you can honestly say that a movie is the best in stone cold fact without sounding like a snobbish asshole. If you mix the colors blue and red together, you get purple, that is a fact. The Allied Forces defeated the Axis Forces during World War II. That is a fact. Those things are backed by the scientific method and primary sources proving them correct. But how do you take a movie is the best by fact? Sure, there are a handful of movies considered the best. But that's the thing, they are considered. They are considerations, not law. And when people discuss and list the "best films" there is even disagreement in the ordering of the films themselves. No two people ever agree.

This is why I am convinced that "favorite films" and "best film" go hand-in-hand. All people are different and what we get out of movies are so different. They are also art, and art has always been subjective. The way people react to art is so complex that the mere way of listing a group of movies and ranking them over others is hard to distinguish. I would agree that there are varying degrees of greatness and I would say that if I made a list of my favorite films of all time, and the films that I believed are the most important, or movies that I feel have changed cinema the most, those lists would look different. I would probably put films like "Citizen Kane," "Apocalypse Now," "Casablanca," and "Gone With The Wind" on that list. Sometimes my lists wold overlap, like with my favorite film, "The Maltese Falcon." I love Humphrey Bogart, and he gives the best performance in that movie which I have ever seen him in. I think the characters and the music and the story and the actors fuse together in a way I find obsessive and brilliant. But I feel the movie is also important because it gave birth to an entire film genre...the film noir. A genre we still feel the affects of today. How can it not be an important film? How can "Pulp Fiction" not be an important film? For completely affecting cinematic output from 1994 until today. For putting independent cinema on the map in a huge way and pretty much keeping it there now. For showing just how well you can tell a good story un-chronologically. But neither of those movies come up as much as they should, because the critics don't put them there.

That's the tricky thing. Listening to those critics. Yes, I will say that the average critic is much more informed in film that the average Joe Schmoe who likes film. I try my darnest to cram as many films I haven't seen before, new and old, into each year. I treat it like a goal every single time our calendars reset. I get lucky if I come anywhere close to 200 titles. The average critic sees 300-400 new films a year, that's a lot of new movies each year. So yes, a critic is well informed. Maybe that is why they are much better at picking the "Best" films of anything. But even the decisions they make are personal decisions, so much of picking the good and the bad of any type of art comes down to personal taste that I wonder if a best can really be picked.

So whether as you pick your end-of-the-year lists, and you wonder whether to call it a "favorites list" or a "best list," remember its up to you. I love movies for varying reasons. I re-watch lots of stuff for varying reasons. I love the crazy carnage something like "Braveheart," or "The Expendables" or "The Rock" offers. I love films like "Lawrence of Arabia" or "The Apartment" or "Taxi Driver" because I love seeing what inspired who to make movies and how it has affected the business, both good and bad. I love watching "Ghostbusters" because I love the way it blends special effects and comedy, and it has never been done on the level that you see there. I love "The Godfather" films because, even though they are romanticized, its an amazing journey filled with characters that I love. I love watching "Goodfellas" because its a more personal, more realistic take on the gangster movie, which lies its power. I love watching "There Will Be Blood" because of Daniel Day-Lewis. Yes, that film has many other technical accomplishments to its name, but Day-Lewis' performance is so amazing, it infects the rest of the movie like a virus. I love watching "The LEGO Movie" because its completely in love with being a movie. I love watching "Phantom of the Paradise" because...well...there is nothing else like it.

I think those movies are some of my favorites. They are also some of the best to me? They are interchangeable and what you think of the movies you watch depends on you.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Review: "Dunkirk" is a realistic, harrowing look at war and survival.

Dunkirk Review

Way back in 2012, I was student teaching at a middle school in Iowa, I was a social studies room for 8th graders. The classes were learning about the American Revolution and we showed them the film "The Crossing," where Jeff Daniels played George Washington, and it was about how a group of American soldiers during Christmas 1776 and told the true story of how they captured several Hessians soldiers. I remember seeing the part where Washington successfully captures the Hessian leader. In the days that followed, I remember one of my students coming up to me, disappointed. They asked me why there was a fight between Washington and the Hessian leader. I would later discuss in the class that followed that the action movies we like to watch isn't real life, and while war can be very brutal and deadly, its not the least bit exciting.

I think that's the biggest problem that war movies face, kow-towing the line between being a historical drama and a straight up action movie. I don't think any kind of war movie or military movie should feel like an action movie. I think it sets up a disservice to the memory these soldiers leave behind. I think its a huge mistake to make these video game franchises out of war, trying to turn the very role of war as some kind of sensory high. The biggest lesson war films try to teach us is that war is hell. Soldiers aren't action heroes, they are a different kind of hero. A hero that is real, authentic and honorable. So while I think "Dunkirk" is a great film. A completely mesmerizing and intoxicating experience, those expecting something along the lines of "Inception" should be warned off.

What Christopher Nolan has crafted here is a deeply human, deeply realistic take on defense and evacuation of Dunkirk in France. The film follows three stories. One take place on The Mole, the beach in Dunkirk where 300,000 British and French troops waited to get to Allied territory as the Nazi forces began to surround them. Another story follows the commandeering of private ships for the British Navy to ride those trapped troops to safety and how a normal civilian took it upon himself to make sure as many soldiers reach the safe haven. The last story takes place in the air and follows a pilot keeping the Nazi bombers away from The Mole. There is not lots of fighting or typical "battle scenes" in any of the stories. But Christopher Nolan is able to build intensity and heart-wrenching depth out of his characters and the slow burn pace at which he chooses to tell his story. 

Most of all, Nolan shows us that war is Hell. When violence does break out, its a horrifying nightmare that sweeps into the souls of the characters we meet. We see it in their faces and in their emotions how much they are trying to survive. As we meet Commander Bolton, played by Kenneth Branagh and Colonel Winnant, played by James D'Arcy, they are not the typical stiff upper lip, heroic leaders. These are men who know full well that the decisions they are about to make don't include making every soldier on the beach safe, and it clear that the very thought tears them up inside. There is powerful spark of humanity etched into the entire story of "Dunkirk" and the result is harrowing.

Tom Hardy plays one of the pilots that is trying to give more time for the destroyers and private boats to pick up the soldiers on the beach. Much like with Bane in Nolan's "The Dark Knight Rises," Hardy speaks through a masked speaker throughout most of the film. I think Hardy is amazing how he is able to act pretty much through his eyes. In two movies, we have seen that you can cover up half his face and he can still deliver the emotional depth of a character just as well as if we could see his entire face. Its also amazing that he is pretty much in a claustrophobic state, sitting inside a cramped fighter plane, for his entire appearance in the film. He does outstanding work here, and as always, has some of the highlights of the film at his disposal.

Mark Rylance plays a different kind of hero in this movie. He's not a soldier. He isn't a participant of the Royal Navy. He is just a man who chooses to do some good during a time of great upheaval. Under the discourse of the Navy, Rylance takes his own boat out to sea to help in the evacuation effort. He doesn't allow the Navy to take his boat because he doesn't want any more young kids putting themselves in harms way. He is fully capable of putting matters in his own hands for the greater good. He believes that if can give his sons the blessing of fighting in the war, then he can participate in the effort. One of the first people he rescues is a soldier played by Nolan regular Cillian Murphy. Murphy plays a soldier who is really suffering the mental breakdown of war, and how Rylance chooses to care for this soldier creates some of the best and most provocative drama in the whole film and the choices made during this segment of the film were rewarding at each turn.

Some of the best acting came from the story on the beach. We follow Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) as he gets out of the city of Dunkirk and tries to get off the beach, time and time again, as the boats and beach continue get ravaged by the Nazi forces. He meets various troops and helps them out in their needs. He befriends a private played by Harry Styles...yes THE Harry Styles. Harry Styles disappears in his role as the private and there is no typical singer charm in his acting, apparently he beat out hundreds of other actors for the role and I firmly believe it. He's got some real strength as a performer and this is definitely something he could do long term.

I don't want to over-hype anything here, because I don't think that Nolan is quite on the level of Alfred Hitchcock or Stanley Kubrick or even Steven Speilberg yet. But I think he's getting pretty close. I will firmly say that Christopher Nolan is one of the best modern filmmakers in the business right now. "Dunkirk" is another masterwork from the director, which is further cementing his legacy in the world of Hollywood.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Disaster Artist Teaser Trailer

This could very well be the best movie of the year. It has the absolute potential. 

I have been wildly curious about this movie ever since I started reading about it last year. If you know your cult classic movies, if you know your comedies, and if you have a love for seeking out the worst of the worst movies to see to believe, then you've probably heard of Tommy Wiseau's "The Room." "The Room" has been dubbed the "Citizen Kane of Bad Movies." Its been called one of the worst movies ever made. Yet, people can't deny the power of his awkwardness. "The Room" is a simple story. A man who is dedicated to his girlfriend is blindsided that she is cheating on him with his best friend. Plenty of room for intensity and depth. But Tommy Wiseau made something terrible. There are several logic and narrative flaws, it feels like your watching a soap opera on TV, except worse, the acting is bad, entire subplots go nowhere, I could on and on. Yes, "The Room" is terrible, but its a fascinating kind of terrible. I have not seen too many movies that were so bad, they are funny, but "The Room" is so bad its funny. That's why it grew in the oddball popularity it has. Tommy Wiseau not only wrote and directed the film, but he was the lead star, and his performance is so one-of-a-kind strange that you have to see it to believe.

I mean, just see this to believe it.

And remember, this was supposed to be a serious drama.

Apparently, the story of how "The Room" got made is just as fascinating as the film itself. Tommy Wiseau's co-star Greg Sestero wrote a non-fiction book called "The Disaster Artist," which was about Greg Sestero's experience making "The Room" and his unlikely, weird relationship with Tommy Wiseau. The book is finally being adapted into a movie. James Franco will portray Tommy Wiseau and his younger brother David Franco will portray Greg Sestero.

I have normally been weary standing in James Franco's corner. For much of his early career, I was not a big fan of his. There have been good points in his career, and when he's making comedies and playing silly goofs (Saul from "The Pineapple Express" comes to mind) that's usually my favorite work. I am hoping Franco really hams it up as Tommy Wiseau, the weirder he chooses to go with this character, the better this movie is going to be. It seems like he's created a crazy Wiseau accent, and he seems to embrace the eccentric personality of Wiseau. Even though the teaser is incredibly short, this could be one of the James Franco's best performances.

"The Disaster Artist" is building a great cast. Josh Hutcherson plays Philip Haldiman; who portrayed Denny in "The Room." Zak Efron plays Dan Janjigian; who portrayed Chris-R in "The Room." Ari Graynor plays Juliette Danielle; who portrays Lisa in "The Room." Jacki Weaver plays Carolyn Minnott; who portrays Claudette in "The Room." If you know the movie, you know that these actors both talent and look-wise will be great in these roles. This could end up being the best thing Zak Efron has ever done. Seth Rogen will play a script supervisor who ended up directing giant chunks of "The Room." Alison Brie will appear as Greg's girlfriend, Sharon Stone will play Greg's agent and Greg Sestero himself will play a casting agent! Bryan Cranston, Kate Upton, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Randall Park, Hannibal Buress, Judd Apatow, J.J. Abrams, Danny McBride, Adam Scott, Kristen Bell, and Keegan Michael-Key are also confirmed to appear.

Even the real Tommy Wiseau will cameo in the film!

As a fan of "The Room" who has been charmed by the innocent stupidity of it. As somebody who gets a kick out of Tommy Wiseau in general. I am dying to see this movie. It looks like this will be a good one!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Review: "The Big Sick" is a romantic comedy for those who hate romantic comedies.

The Big Sick Review
"I wish I could just, get into a relationship and relax"

I don't know if that's the exact quote, but I know its close. Its a moment when a Pakistani woman is having a real discussion with Kumail Nanjiani, the lead character of "The Big Sick," playing a fictional version of himself. Kumail is a Pakistani American who has parents with traditional Pakistani values, and all movie long they are trying to get Kumail to meet several potential Pakistani women for an arranged marriage. Kumail isn't interested though, he's not interested in any of the women. Why? Because he has a crush on a different girl. The rub is that this girl he is crushing on is a white woman, which is the mortal sin according to his family. But as Kumail stands in front of the home of his parents' latest marriage candidate, there is a very real moment. A moment where the candidate unleashes everything that bothers her about the old traditions from their old country. It shows that not only is it tough to meet all these potential marriage candidates if you are a Pakistani male, there is tons of pressure on Pakistani women to be the best possible candidates. Its a very real moment that hit in the heart in a way I wasn't expecting.

This is what separates "The Big Sick" from several other romantic comedies. Yes, this is a movie about a romance between Kumail and Emily (Zoe Kazan) the white girl he falls for. Yes, it is an incredibly funny. But this is not the same kind of romantic comedy we are used to. I detest most romantic comedies. They are so sappy, so cheesy, so full of grotesque one-liners that I can't focus on the films on its own terms. I have known people who have watched boat loads of these movies and feel like that is how love is really like. But romantic comedies are not a reflection of real life. They are fairy tales. They are phony. They are so far from real life that its almost scary. Its sad that people watch these movies and expect to have their happily-ever-after in a similar fashion. Not trying to say that I don't believe in love. Because I do. I married the woman of my dreams, of that I am positive. But it was a long road to figure out how right for each other we were, and I will admit that there were many times before our engagement that we nearly called it quits. Another thing "The Big Sick" says is that love is not easy. I wholeheartedly agree. Love is never easy. Whether its with your spouse, or your family or your best friends or shit, even your dog. Love is not easy. You have to work at it, you have to throw your entire self at it. You have to grow with it. Most romantic comedies never show that.

I think "The Big Sick" feels revolutionary in the genre because its based on a true story. This is Kumail telling a fictional version of how he met his white wife. Maybe that's why Kumail and Emily don't feel like the typical characters we encounter in romantic comedies. This is not a movie about a loser guy who miraculously gets the girl whose out of his league. This isn't a movie where two people come together, tears them apart, and then fate brings them back together. These are real people, authentic people. They have their own baggage, their own quirks, their own insecurities. Their relationship blossoms slowly, and builds authentically. I think that's why so many people are identifying with this movie, because its a romantic comedy that is about real people. 

Kumail and Emily find out they like each other. They begin dating. Kumail doesn't tell his family that he's dating a white girl, or otherwise his mother will "fucking ghost him" as his brother Naveed (Adeel Akhtar) tells him. Kumail can't help his feelings, he really likes Emily. But he hasn't told her about his family's expectations or the dozens of marriage candidates he secretly meets. Emily finds out the hard way about Kumail and his secrets, and she leaves him. He tries to get her back, but to no avail. Then she gets a really bad infection and spends several days in the hospital, and while she is there, Kumail examines his life and tries to figure out what he truly wants.

The film works not only because it feels real, but oh my goodness, its funny as shit. Kumail is hilarious all by himself, and does a good job bringing the laughs. He is a stand-up comedian, and lots of the movie is dedicated to his stand-up routines, and its all very funny. The movie features several hilarious situations. As much as I love the cast, I think the work done by Adeel Akhtar is the very best. Adeel steals the show as Kumail's brother and viewers should keep a close eye on him in each scene he's in. You will also love the work done by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, who play Emily's parents. Kumail's friends played by Kurt Braunohler, Aidy Bryant and Bo Burnham all have time to shine. In fact, it seems like each character, whether they are leading or supportive, all do solid work. 

Its amazing how shockingly "real life" this film feels. I would really wish that every romantic comedy felt this way. Its amazing to me that within two weeks of this roller coaster of a summer we have had, movie wise, I have seen two of my favorite films of the year in that period. Between this and "Baby Driver," I can only hope the hits keep coming.


Review: "Despicable Me 3" charts into new territory and is better for it!

Despicable Me 3 Review

I think the "Despicable Me" movies are fun. They aren't great or mind-blowing, but fun. I have enjoyed the characters. I find Gru funny and he brought to absolute tremendous life by Steve Carell's voice. I like Gru's adoptive daughters. I like his new wife who is voiced by Kristen Wiig. I love all the dog-gone minions. I like Gru's assistant, Dr. Nefario and how I can't hear a single aspect of Russell Brand's voice in him. Shocking I tell you. Its been a fun series, its been safe and ultimately familiar. But its been a fun series. I don't think the second film really did anything better than the first movie, and I don't think the series has lived up to its potential.

"Despicable Me 3" is a representation of what I personally look for in sequels. Most sequels just remake the first film, they don't expand on the characters or presents new challenges to them. I find nine out of ten sequels frustrating because its just putting the characters into a similar situation as the first film, but just slightly different. In the first "Despicable Me," Gru learns not to be a villain and learned to love his daughters. In "Despicable Me 2," Gru learned to use his villain skills to be a hero and learned to love a woman. They are very similar movies. One thing that is, at the very least, refreshing about "Despicable Me 3" is that its not really about Gru learning something new. It just simply puts its characters into a new challenge and expands the mythology of its characters. That's what I hope for in every sequel I sit down to watch.

The film opens with the introduction of Balthazar Bratt (voiced by Trey Parker of South Park), an old 1980's star who has turned into the next big supervillain. Gru and his wife Lucy Wilde, who are now employed by the Anti-Villain League. The capture of Balthazar Bratt goes less than well, and when the Anti-Villain League gets taken over by new management, Gru and Lucy are out of the job. The minions want to return to a life of crime, but Gru refuses, so the minions leave Gru. With no job and no more minions, Gru is abruptly visited by Fritz (Steve Coogan), who is the butler of Gru twin brother Dru. Gru never knew he had a twin brother and he and his family go to visit him. Dru doesn't just want a family reunion though, he wants something very specific from Gru. What is it and will Gru accept? And what is Bratt up to?

There were several moments in this film where I thought I had the film all figured out. But "Despicable Me 3" surprisingly throws curve balls in nearly every corner. I liked, at the very least, being on the edge of my seat. I liked that each character had some sort of challenge to face. Gru meeting his twin brother and having a new revelation. Lucy adjusting to being a mom and trying to do right by Gru's daughters. Dr. Nefario is...well...occupied by something cold. The minions go on their own way, but they eventually miss Gru. There is something that each character faces, and I think parents who have been watching along with their children will find something new for the characters to face, and I hope you enjoy. This is not just the same thing over again, this feels fresh. Which is nice.

The animation is, as to be expected, luminous. But I will admit that the animation has always been a little too cute for me. In fact, that is the biggest nitpick I have had for this entire series is that everything about these movies are cutesy. The humor, the visuals, the screenplay...its all very cutsey-poo and on-the-nose. I don't think it all lands every time. This is what separates the other animation studios from Pixar, they make movies for everyone. The other studios make animated movies for kids. I think the themes in this movie are universal, so that's a step in the right direction. But it what keeps this franchise in the fun zone and not something important. Something more that is very clear they are reaching for.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

RIP Martin Landau

RIP Martin Landau

Martin Landau has passed away at age 89. When you have a guy who was in the game for as long as he was. When you have a guy who has several TV and movie roles to fill his resume. When you have a guy who has a wide assortment of roles to discuss. It can be incredibly hard to know where to start. Martin Landau is an actor I enjoyed both on my television set and in the movies. I guess the best way to discuss the works of Martin Landau is to just jump right into it. Try to discuss what made his career so special and how he touched so many people's hearts.

I can't discuss Landau's television career without mentioning "Mission: Impossible." This may surprise some people, but I loved the original "Mission: Impossible" show. I absolutely adored the work Landau did on the show. I loved his character Rollin Hand. He was the first real master of disguise. That was a skill James Bond never really had in his arsenal. Before "Mission: Impossible" began the use of those freaky masks, there was Rollin Hand, who was the master of disguise. Landau did some of the finest work of his career on that show. He helped bring the show into its peak of popularity. He also just created a wonderful, memorable character. The next big thing to look for in his television career was the "Twilight Zone" episode "Mr. Denton on Doomsday." One of the few episodes that dove into the Western genre. 

Martin Landau is also special for me because he was a central character in one of my favorite films of all time. A film that has stuck with me and has remained one of my favorite films of all time since high school. I am speaking of Woody Allen's "Crimes And Misdemeanors." A movie featuring two stories that blend together. Landau plays an eye doctor who has gained much power and privilege in his life and his community as a doctor. The only bad area of his life is his mistress, the woman he's been having an affair with for seemingly many years. The mistress (played by Anjelica Huston) plans to meet with Landau's wife and spill the beans on their arrangement. He turns to his brother who has connections to the mafia, and he decides to have his mistress killed. The guilt over that decision haunts him for awhile. Landau plays a man who is a pillar of his community, he is shown in a positive light and a good man. He watch this good man descend into darkness just to keep his hands clean. But if he had to walk into the darkness just to continue the life he always knew, was he ever a good person in the first place? Should he have pushed that button if he couldn't live with it? What's even crazier is that eventually he loses his guilt and its like his mistress never existed. How can you just one day wake up and forget a person you had an entire life with? Landau's work in this film is fascinating and he kept my interest every single time I sit down to watch the movie.

We could go on and on about the great parts of Landau's career. We have to mention "North By Northwest," the first Alfred Hitchcock film my father ever presented to me and featured a great performance by Landau. There is also Tim Burton's "Ed Wood," Which features a great Landau performance. In fact, if you check into "Frankenweeine" he did a voice for Burton for that film. Landau appeared in "Cleopatra" and if you honestly have the time and the attention to watch that movie, have at it. Also, there was a time when I was a big fan of pro wrestling. Yes, go ahead and laugh but it was when I was a kid. I enjoyed WWF and WCW, but I leaned on WCW more. So when they made a movie featuring the WCW wrestlers, I got a kick out it. There is a small role from Landau in the film "Ready To Rumble" and he made me laugh out loud.

Martin Landau will be missed.

RIP George A. Romero

RIP George A. Romero
There is a reason why "The Walking Dead" is a hot sensation right now. There is a reason why we had a huge sleuth of zombie movies between 2002 through 2009. There is a reason why zombies have assimilated themselves into our popular culture, here to stay. There was a man you popularized zombies. A man who made the slow-moving, green-faced, moaning former humans so much fun to discuss, debate, and dissect as we move through the years. That man was George A. Romero and he is no longer a man on Earth.

The best of the horror genre (and even the science fiction genre, especially the science fiction genre) has always been socially progressive. George A. Romero was making big moves in the movie business before anybody else did. In 1968, Romero made is first film. A zombie film of course. It was "Night of the Living Dead." In the heat of the 1960's, there weren't many African Americans showing up in films, and if they did, they were rarely leads. "Night of the Living Dead" featured a black actor as its lead, something that was completely unheard of at the time. But, that wasn't just some stunt. Romero didn't just make zombie movies, they were never just people surviving the night against a hoard of the undead. If that's all you saw, you are seeing it wrong. Romero's films have always been social satires. If you look at "Dawn of the Dead," a film that got remade in 2004, originally was released in 1978. It was about a group of survivors in the midst of a zombie apocalypse who barricade themselves in a mall. Of course, for some reason the hoards of zombies showed up at the mall? It was a metaphor for how Americans are so handcuffed and addicted to consumerism. Romero may have populated the weirdest monsters in the history of the horror pantheon, he made movies that were about us.

If you look at "Land of the Dead," "Day of the Dead," and "Diary of the Dead" Romero never just gave us more of the same. He made movies that took a different piece of our society and our culture and stuck it under a microscope. He was never afraid to challenge or sometimes confirm our beliefs. Other than making zombie movies, he made the original "The Crazies" in 1973. He also directed "Season of the Witch," Stephen King's "The Dark Half" and was a long time producer of the television show, "Tales from the Darkside," a show I enjoyed dearly growing up. He's been a producer on nearly every remake of his films. He's contributed to lots of horror movie specials on TV. He has been dubbed "The Godfather of the Dead" and "Father of the Zombie Movie." For good reason, we don't get zombies in popular culture without him. If we did, it would have come WAY later, like when Max Brooks writes "World War Z," maybe. We have lost a living legend tonight, may he rest in peace.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Review: "Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie" is the surprise of the summer.

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Review
I can usually get a pretty good read on a movie just by watching the trailers. I can get a good idea if I am going to like a movie or if I shouldn't even waste my time on it. But sometimes I get surprised. I figured I would probably like "Captain Underpants." I grew up reading the books, read my first one in fourth grade, now working at a daycare center, its fun watching children learning to read discover this series for the first time. Like I said, I expected to like this movie. But I didn't expect to borderline love it.

Besides "Shrek" and "Kung Fu Panda" have been the biggest hits DreamWorks has ever had in their animated department. And even most of the sequels on those two franchises vary from good to mediocre. DreamWorks animation has always been a poor man's Pixar, and while I have liked some DreamWorks films, I have always loved Pixar. It seems like the animated movies DreamWorks makes were movies that only catered to the children in the audience, it didn't matter that those children were usually coming to the theater accompanied by a parent. Was there any material for the adults in the room? Unfortunately not, by and large. while Pixar makes movies for the entire audience. "Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie" is a movie that is for everyone. There are things everybody will laugh about, there are things that everybody will be affected by. This is not something you need to take your children to and then you turn your brain off after a long day at the office.

George Beard (Kevin Hart) and Harold Hutchins (Thomas Middleditch) are two best friends in middle school. They love pulling pranks on their school principle Benjamin Krupp (Ed Helms) and working on an independent comic book in their treehouse called Captain Underpants. After pulling off a crazy prank, the friends are caught and Krupp arranges for the two friends not to be in the same classroom anymore. They boys hypnotize Krupp into believing that he really is Captain Underpants, and soon their superhero creation has come to life. Which also follows by his adversaries coming to life as well.

How do the boys hypnotize their principal? Well, its a little far-fetched. But hey, its a kids movie. There are some logical issues that you sometimes have to excuse. What's most important is how slick and sleek the animation is, even though it is like a frame-by-frame recreation of the illustrations from the books. All of the voice actors do really good work. But the thing that gets me the most is that there are some good laughs sprinkled throughout the entire movie. I also really enjoyed that there are some good lessons to be taught in this movie. This is a good example of how children don't always get what they want in the world, even at a young age. That sometimes they will have to compromise. I think these are very important lessons to learn, even as a child.

Plus, the movie is just a ton of fun. They have taken all of the young fun of the books and translated it perfect to screen. Yes, this is a very silly movie and adults, depending on how big your tolerance for silliness is will determine how much you like this movie. But for me, liking the books as a fourth grader, I can honestly say DreamWorks did a good job adapting this material. They add a little something to an otherwise goofy storyline, and they hired some fine talent to bring it to life. You just might end up being surprised, like I was.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Quentin Tarantino to tackle Charles Manson?

Quentin Tarantino is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers. But, kinda like Sylvester Stallone, he kinda breaks my heart.

He's the kind of guy who likes to talk about his ideas for movies, even though he can't get to every idea at one time, and sometimes they fall by the wayside. He has talked about making a sequel to every movie he's made ("Vega Brothers" starring John Travolta from "Pulp Fiction" and Michael Madsen from "Reservoir Dogs," "Kill Bill: Volume III" "Killer Crows" about black troops in the same World War II universe as "Inglorious Basterds"), he was in talks to direct a James Bond film at one time, he has talked about a 1930's gangster movie, a 1970's spy film, various book adaptations, a kung-fu film completely in mandarin, a science fiction film and, dare I say it, a kid's movie.

Quentin is a happy-go-lucky guy who likes to hear himself talk, for better or for worse. It stinks because I would happily sit through any of those ideas I listed, I would have loved to see him make a "Marvel's Luke Cage" movie (Can Netflix PLEASE hire him to direct an episode for season two?) I love Tarantino's style and I love the way he likes to take his fetches and his tropes and play in different genres with them. He was exclusively a slick crime guy in the beginning, nowadays he plays with the genres that inspired him. I love it, and I would pay him to do more of that if I ever obtained the funds.

Apparently, the story of the day yesterday was that Quentin Tarantino's next film will "takes place around the events" of the Charles Manson Murders. Let me be clear, this is not some kind of adaptation of Charles Manson. People seem to be in complete uproar yesterday, thinking Tarantino would glorify Manson. Read carefully there, "takes place around the events." I am betting that the film will revolve around some cops on the trail, or taking care of case that is inspired by Manson. Something of the sort. I don't think we are going to get a straight up adaptation of Charles Manson, but the it will be in the background and it will be important towards the story Tarantino ends up telling.

Word is that Brad Pitt and Jennifer Lawrence have been approached about the film, as well as Margot Robbie and Tarantino-regular Samuel L. Jackson. (Because of course Samuel L. Jackson will be in it) The idea of both Robbie and Lawrence in a Quentin Tarantino movie makes me smile from ear to ear. I hope it works out in some capacity. (Apparently, Lawrence was up for the lead female role in "The Hateful Eight.")

The bottom line is this, I love Quentin Tarantino. I will watch anything and everything he is linked to. But, goddamn, I would kill to see his 1970's spy film. Tarantino has said many times that he plans to retire from directing once he's made ten movies. This Charles Manson movie will be his ninth film. Goddammit Quentin, if I don't see your 1970's spy film, I am going to kill you!


Are there any positive aspects regarding the 2017 summer box office slump?

I've been reading a lot on the internet about the movie business. I have been all of my life, and within the last few weeks, everybody keeps talking about the big box office slump we are in. I have been reading that the box office is down 8% in revenue this summer. There are several writers who are already writing obituaries for the Hollywood industry. But the thing is, the movie business is truly not going anywhere. Lots of people are merely comparing the box office records to those of last year, which was a record-breaking year. Just like with any business, there are highs and lows, and 2017 is featuring a slower summer. That isn't good for the studios, because the summer is the season that turns studios into money machines. Or at least, that's the plan each year. It doesn't always work, but to compare a record breaking year to a year that is only half way done seems a little unfair.

Why is the box office down 8%? Well, its honestly hard to say. I am no expert on box office figures and I have never paid much attention to it. I don't think a good film can be measured by how much money it makes, which is why box office numbers are figures I have never discussed on this blog. I like or dislike movies based upon how they make me feel. I could care less how much money they make. I don't think it has to do with streaming services. Between Hulu, Netflix and Amazon, we have not seen any streaming service really breakout yet with a cinematic hit. Netflix kills it with their original television shows. But while I personally love "Beasts of No Nation" and "Okja," there original films have seen far less hits. Nobody really talks about them. Perhaps one day these streaming services could break out with some great films, but it has yet to be determined.

I can only guess that people are starting to suffer from franchise fatigue. It seems like moviegoers of all types are finally ready for some originality, and we are not getting it. Its easy to see, I have been pretty critical of the movie business recently, simply because everybody is doing the same thing. Every studio wants a brand that they can turn into the next big movie franchise, it has to be based off of something, because if that's the case, there is already an internal fan base. Then a studio can plan sequels, prequels, spin-offs and be set for a decade. The problem is that studios will set a release date; before a script is in place, before production has started, before half the cast has been picked. Usually there is a "writing room" so that five or so writers can work on one script. The entire making of the movie is generally rushed in order to make the date, depending on how much time the studio grants the filmmakers, which varies. The best case scenario gets you the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the worst case scenario gives you "Batman vs. Superman" or more recently, "The Mummy."

Certainly not every major studio release is a major tentpole release, but movie theaters across the nation are littered with sequels, prequels, homages, and adaptations, and there is little to no risk in the business anymore. Like I wrote a few weeks back, its starting to cause problems in the business. Audiences are beginning to see that everything feels the same when they go to the theater, so they feel the need to save their money on other stuff. People seem to be taking word-of-mouth in a more literal manner. Also, for the first time in forever, critics and audiences are starting to see movies eye-and-eye. That rarely happens. It seems the audiences are agreeing with the "tomato meter" much more often than they did, even, say, last year. It seems critics and audiences alike are starting to want more from their films than just more of the same.

The thing is, will studios see what is happening this summer, take it to heart, and try to improve their offerings next year?

Its hard to say, because even though the box office took a hit this summer, the season isn't over. Who knows what kind of business "War of the Planet of the Apes," "Dunkirk," "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets," "Atomic Blonde," "The Emoji Movie," or "Annabelle: Creation" will bring in. There have already been some substantial hits this summer, "Wonder Woman," "Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2," "Spider-Man: Homecoming," "Baby Driver," and yes, "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Transformers 5" have all made decent money this year. While many of those are sequels, it should be noted that "Baby Driver," is an original idea that is taking movie theaters by storm. Another movie with the same traction is "The Big Sick," which I will be seeing and reviewing this Saturday. In a summer season this competitive, its tough for the independent films to stick out, but both "Baby Driver" and "The Big Sick" have been shining through, making names for themselves. All proof that audiences are pumped and primed for new ideas.

The rub is, the studios will only see the revenue earned, and continue down the same path. Even though there is a box office slump. The box office goes up and down every few years, so will that mean anything changes at all? I can only hope that the studios will pull the reins on all their big franchises and say, what can we do differently to attract the audiences? I hope that is what they do. I am an optimist when it comes to the movie business. At least at heart I am. My brain is a realist towards Hollywood, and its always tough getting your heart and your head together sometimes. I don't know what the future will bring, I just hope something positive comes from the box office numbers of summer 2017.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Review: "The House" bets big and loses all its money

The House Review
There is nothing I hate more than writing a bad review of a movie full of people I like, full of people that I find funny. I especially hate writing a review of something that I thought looked funny. You always hear stories of parents doing anything for their kids. Parents willing to go several extra steps just to see their children happy. I have known several parents who pride themselves on making their happiness secondary to their kids, and it always puts a big smile on my face. Never ceasing to remind me of the unconditional love that hides in the surfaces of the Earth.

Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler play Scott and Kate Johansen, a loving family to their daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins). Alex is heading off to college and she got accepted into the school of dreams. She will need a scholarship, she is going to need some kind of extra money to get in, and the Johansen's are happy to help with it. The problem is that due to one piece of bad luck over another, the Johansen's do not have the money to support the tuition bill, and the scholarship they relied on fell through. Feeling distraught, the Johansen's go out gambling with their best friend Frank (Jason Mantzouskas) and they decide to open a backdoor casino to make enough money to send Alex to college.

Now that's a concept rich with potential for laughter. You normally can't go wrong with the typical good people doing bad things situation when it comes to comedy. With a cast featuring Ferell, Poehler, Mantzouskas, Allison Tollman, Nick Kroll, Rob Huebel, and Jeremy Renner, you'd expect this would be one of the highlights of the year. I will say I did laugh here and there. All of the laughs in the movie are thanks to Mantzouskas, who easily steals the show. But other than that, "The House" is a letdown.

I was really disappointing that Ferrel and Poehler, who I can always count on to get me giggling in a theater, didn't make me laugh once. Why did the screenwriter not give any of them a decent line, a silly situation, a weird voice at bare minimum? These are our two of the funniest people of their generation, but more than that they are the two leads in a freaking comedy movie. Give them some material to work with. If you can't laugh at the two leads in a comedy movie, that screams red flag in my mind. 

My major gripe with "The House" is that they never try to make the concept very funny. When I think of people put in an extraordinary situation, I think of "The Hangover," that's about a group of friends that just wants to show their buddy a good time in Las Vegas before he is married forever. There are very bad decisions made throughout, but it takes a crazy concept, embraces the crazy and the results are maddeningly funny. A family deciding to turn to a life of crime in order to get their child to college is a crazy concept, so take the rails off of it. Its a little sad that I can guess from the opening moments that the family is going to get caught, learn a nice life lesson, then their child will get to college anyway, through some legitimate means. Would it be okay to really move outside the box on this?

Hollywood has been phoning it in and playing it safe for a while now, and the results end up watching a comedy with very funny people in it, then sitting in the theater bored. This has got to stop.


Monday, July 10, 2017

Jigsaw Poster

The "Saw" franchise is returning this October with "Jigsaw."

Does anybody honestly care?

You can say what you want about the "Paranormal Activity" franchise but one thing I will always love about that franchise is that it killed "Saw." I loved the first "Saw" movie, simply because it was a slasher film on a level we'd never seen before. The sequels are more of the same. The series eventually just amounts to a contest of how the filmmakers can gross out the audience. How many clever ways can a film crew come up with killing people. None of that is particularly interesting without some substance or character development, so I never ended up caring about the series. There is a certain horror fan that loves the gore, the violence and the interesting killings. And the other horror fans like to actually feel scared.

You know, like a horror film SHOULD do.

I suppose now that the "Paranormal Activity" series is (apparently) done, I suppose Lionsgate thought it was a good time to revive their piggy bank franchise and see how much more money they can squeeze out of this. The thing is, did many people miss the "Saw" franchise. I don't hear people screaming for more "Saw" movies over the years. I didn't hear anybody cry when they stopped making them, so is there still an audience for this franchise? 

I don't get the appeal. I must have missed something. But whether I am ready or not, "Jigsaw" is coming this October.

Review: "The Bad Batch" --Can a film be a trainwreck and a triumph?

The Bad Batch Review
Like most people, when I see a movie, I either like it or I don't. Its a common reaction when anybody decides to watch a movie, watch a sporting event, listen to music, read a book, so on and so forth. You will either have a positive or a negative reaction to it. Maybe sometimes it will be uneven, maybe there will be things you like and things you don't like, but your heart tends to pull further in one direction over the other. There have been plenty of movies I have liked and possibly just as many as I have detested, but there aren't too many that I both like and dislike so much that I can't figure out where my heart truly lies. Such is the case with "The Bad Batch."

"The Bad Batch" is like an artsy-fartsy "Mad Max." It takes place in a dystopian future. For reasons never explained, parts of Texas have been shut down and walled off by the rest of society. Whenever this society deems someone deplorable, they are taken out of society and are forced to fend for themselves. A girl named Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is thrown into this undocumented world. And only a mere few minutes into walking in this deserted wasteland, she is abducted by two people on a golf cart. She taken to a place called Comfort, which is a colony of cannibals. Her leg and one arm is cut off for consumption. She is held prisoner for her body parts, until she escapes. 

I should say up front that "The Bad Batch" will feel like a silent movie to most, there is little to no dialogue in the movie, and there are entire stretches of film with no talking at all. Its a ballsy move to make, and I think it will lose some members of the audience, you feel something happening on screen should involve talking. Me? I liked most of it, but there were parts that didn't work for me, just like with every movie. I think there is only enough material in "The Bad Batch" for a short film, and that material got stretched across two hours. That's easily the biggest problem with the film. Others may say that its a weird silent film, and its definitely very arthouse in its execution. But its well made execution. I just wish it had more story to serve for all the eye candy.

Its interesting because all the good stuff is so good that it feels like it should be in a movie with a better screenplay. The visuals of Comfort and other places Arlene goes are striking. The costumes are mesmerizing. The cinematography is top-notch. There are several well-known pop songs that are used to a haunting and sometimes dreary effect in the movie. Jason Mamoa gives a wonderful performance as The Miami Man, a cannibal from Comfort who is at odds with Arlene. Giovanni Ribisi, Diego Luna and even Jim Carrey show up and disappear in roles that you'll miss if you blink. Its a very well acted movie, and Keanu Reeves of all people gives a performance high in his career.

But like I said, it features a story so paper thin that it should have been a short film. Like something you make in film school, not something you prepare to release to the masses. Plus, it a little disappointing to see so much good work go towards something that doesn't have much going on in it. Its tough watching so much good work go towards a story so sloppy. But I am at odds with "The Bad Batch," because there are characters and moments in this film that have ingrained themselves into my brain. Will they still be there a week from now? A month from now? Who knows. They certainly have potential. "The Bad Batch" is a movie you feel emotionally more than anything else, and its a movie I think I may revisit just for certain scenes. I am just not sure if I will want to watch it all the way through again.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Review: "Spiderman: Homecoming" is sure to get your spider sense tingling.

Spider-Man: Homecoming Review?
If you were to ask me who my top three superheroes of all time were, I'd say Batman, Wolverine and Spider-Man without breaking a sweat. Those three have been my top guys all my life. Sure, I have discovered other favorites over the years, but those three have always been the most appealing to me. Spider-Man in particular, has always been a character of intrigue. He's somebody that got his powers at fifteen years of age. As he grew up, his tales were always compelling. How can you balance work, a social life and being tracked by Kraven The Hunter?

The Sam Raimi "Spider-Man" movies get a lot of hate. Which is funny because it seemed like everybody lost their minds for them when they were released. Is it suddenly cool to hate them now? Yes, the first two Toby MaGuire movies were not bad. I would still say, to this day, that "Spider-Man 2" is still one of the finest superhero films of all time. Yes, "Spider-Man 3" was a mess, but its not one of the worst things to happen to cinema ever. Like some do try to argue. I am not sure why Sony felt the need to try to tell Raimi what to do with the franchise after making so much money for them, not once, but twice. Raimi never liked the character Venom. Never understood him or his popularity. So why force him to use Venom in his third film? Just because fans want it?

I don't think "Spider-Man 3" is nearly as bad as either two of the Andrew Garfield "Spider-Man" movies. Two films that played so closely to the anesthetic created by Raimi that I wonder why they even made them at all. But it was more than that. Characters were given ticks and mannerisms, instead of character development. The villains and their terrible plots barely made sense. And I also don't mind some logic flaws in my superhero movies, sometimes its required. But when they pile up like a weekend to-do list, its makes me upset. I am still to this day relieved we never got a third or fourth film, nor any of the spin-offs they had planned.

I am hoping Sony doesn't take it too personal that the best "Spider-Man" movie yet came along with the aide of Marvel. It feels so good to have the character under the Marvel banner. Not just to simply say "Hey, I wonder what Spider-Man would do interacting with MCU's Iron Man." That's not the reason I want him with Marvel. There are lots of haters out there who love to spew their ranting tirades all over Marvel's success. They say all the MCU movies are alike, they take each movie with a fine toothed comb and gently weave it through the fabric, determined to fined the smallest of nitpicks, then will obsess over found nitpicks. The MCU has been so successful because Disney is hiring people who are passionate about these characters, and it pays off every single year.

"Spider-Man: Homecoming" doesn't waste time with Peter Parker's (Tom Holland) origin story. Because honestly, do we need another Peter Parker origin story? You got two within a decade of each other already. "Spider-Man: Homecoming" features faint discussions of Peter being bitten by a spider and why life is hard on him and Aunt May (Marissa Tomei), and honestly, that's all we need. Spider-Man is pretty simple hero to understand. He's a high school kid that got bit by a spider, that spider gave him superpowers. His Aunt and Uncle took him in after his parents died, then when his Uncle was gunned down by thugs, Peter chose to use his new powers for good. Pretty easy material to understand. I loved just being able to jump right into this adventure.

But the film doesn't pick up where "Captain America: Civil War" left off. In fact, we go all the way back to 2012. When the only letter 'A' on the Avengers Tower was the Stark A. We return to see a salvage company cleaning up after The Battle of New York. This salvage company is run by Adrian Toomes (Micheal Keaton). As Toomes and his men are working one day, they are interrupted by the newly established U.S. Department of Damage Control, a Tony Stark created organization that will oversee all clean up of superhuman messes. Toomes and his men are suddenly out of the job, and he and his friends Herman Schultz (Bokeem Woodbine) and Phineas Mason (Michael Chernus) are out for revenge. 

Eight years later, we catch up with Peter Parker after his time in Berlin. He goes day-by-day at his high school. Crushing on girls, Liz (Laura Herrier) in particular, getting picked on by Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) and hanging with his friend Ned (Jacob Batalon). But he's got a hunger in him, everyday after school he throws on his spider suit and just helps out around the city. He's anxious for Stark to call him again so he can go on another big mission with The Avengers, but Stark doesn't know he's fully capable of that yet. This will eventually lead Parker to run into Toomes, who has been designing new-age weapons from Chitauri weaponry, Ultron scraps and even Crossbones gauntlets. Will Parker be in over his head?

I knew the moment I saw Tom Holland as Spider-Man that I was going to love him. He nearly stole "Captain America: Winter Soldier" away from everyone else. Being only around twenty years old, he's a much more believable high schooler than MaGuire or Garfield ever were. Plus, he's got the best personality of the three. There is an extended scene where Peter Parker made a home movie during his time in Berlin, and watching him be a teenager and geeking out by the very sight of Captain America? Its believable. I'd geek out if I was suddenly confronted by superheroes and I am almost thirty. But Holland isn't playing a handful of ticks, he brings real depth and development to Peter Parker. The only thing missing from Holland's Peter Parker is his spider sense. What's up with that, Marvel? But now, I want him on twenty film contract. Right now. I want to see him fight Mysterio and Morbius and Scorpion and Chameleon. I want him to meet Black Cat and Miles Morales and The Shroud. I want him to grow up and take pictures for J.J. Jameson. I want to see him marry MJ. I want him to found Parker Industries. I want to see all of this with Tom Holland at the helm, he is the character straight out of the comics.

Jacob Batalon and Michael Keaton will probably be the two other performances you'll love the most. I love how once Ned accidentally finds out Peter's secret, he's suddenly a geek. He wants to know everything. I love that Ned can still be Parker's best friend after learning such a massive revelation. In some ways, Batalon nearly steals the show. He's got most of the big laughs from the movie, and makes them sincere and hilarious in equal measure. Then there is Keaton, playing his third winged creature based person, and I honestly feel he can do no wrong. When he lowers his voice in that dark cackle like he did in "Birdman," I love it. There is a moment between Spidey and Keaton in the middle of the movie, just the two of them sitting in a car, and I think its one of the best hero and villain exchanges in all of superhero movies. My eyes were glued to the screen and my hair was standing up. We don't see tension like that flair up too often in these Marvel movies, then so swiftly flow back into some laughs. Its like watching a master juggling act at a circus.

The rest of the cast is solid. Laura Herrier is adorable as Liz, Marissa Tomei continues to be good as Aunt May. Robert Downey Jr and Jon Favreau are as reliable as always, and no this is not a "Spider-Man and Iron Man" movie. Don't let the marketing fool you. This is a Spider-Man movie, through and through. Iron Man just happens to have a semi-long cameo in it. But this is Peter Parker's story, which is something I did like. I love that the character is in the MCU now, but I don't need a thousand reminders telling me he is. Iron Man is used sparingly in this movie, and that was the right move to make.

I think people suffering from superhero action fatigue will appreciate how downgraded "Spider-Man: Homecoming" is. Yes, the character did run around with The Avengers from time to time in the comics. But he was mostly a street level hero. He mainly operated in New York City, keeping the city itself safe, not always running off to thwart a planetary crisis. This movie keeps everything close to the ground, but the emotion and characterization make up for its nonexistent gargantuan battles. That's not Spider-Man, and I don't think every superhero has to be this big, epic thing. Marvel treats its characters with respect, and I applaud them for it. Not to say the action in this film isn't exciting, because it surely is. It features some of the coolest action in any "Spider-Man" movie. Ever.

There are definitely some "Breakfast Club" beats in the film that I found endearing. In this film, Peter Parker's surroundings become a big part of the movie, almost a character unto itself. Like I said above, Peter Parker is a compelling superhero because he has so much going on in his life. How does he choose between going to the homecoming dance with the girl of his dreams or stopping Toomes from stealing some highly classified pieces of machinery for nefarious purposes? Its a tough decision, and director Jon Watts makes sure you feel every emotion throughout. There is some very funny material here, as well as some strong adventure and yes some tender moments. Its all handled flawlessly. With "Clown," "Cop Car" and now this, Watts is becoming a director who has made three very different films. That's really hard to do in this day and age, and I salute him for it.

So, in short, Spider-Man is real and he's finally home. Thank God. I look forward to seeing him in "Avengers: Infinity War." I look forward to seeing future solo adventures with the character. Especially after a mid-credit scene that drops some big hints on what Spider-Man may face next. For the first time in a really long time, I am completely energized by a character I have loved all my life. I couldn't have asked for more.