Monday, December 31, 2018

Review: Viggo Mortensen returns big in "Green Book"

Green Book Review
Before 2018 had started, I was seriously wondering what had happened to Viggo Mortensen. Did the Ranger from the North decide to be King of Gondor full time? Then in 2018, I saw that he was going to star in "Green Book," with none other than Mahershala Ali. It was going to be a true story about "Doc" Don Shirely, one of the best piano players of his time, hires a roughneck Italian Tony Vallelongia (Mortensen) to be his driver and protection as he went on tour in the Deep South of the 1960s. What begins as a shaky relationship becomes one of mutual respect and friendship.

Its of no surprise that both Mortensen and Ali are both electrifying in this. If you need any reason at all, its to watch both actors bounce off of each other. Mortensen in particular seems to disappear into the role of Tony Vallelongia, also known as Tony Lip. And who is Tony Lip? He's a hardened New Yorker, you kind of bounces from job to job, street hustle to street hustle, only to provide for his family. Whether its bouncing at a New York club or making fifty bucks eating hot dogs faster than the local fat guy, he will do whatever to make ends meet. Because of the time, its no doubt that Lip is a little racist, and comes from a racist neighborhood. One morning, when Tony wakes up, a huge group of friends are in his house to "protect" his wife from two black men working in their kitchen. Tony's wife offers them lemonade, after the men leave, he throws the cup in the garbage.

It's through sheer surprise when Tony is contacted by Doc Shirley for an opportunity of a lifetime. To travel with him on tour, being his driver and protector, making tons of money along the way for his family. At first, Tony is hesitant, because its not your normal driver gig, and Doc isn't your normal customer. But eventually, as these movies often go, Tony accepts the job with Doc and they begin their travels. All of the hints of Tony's apparent racism vanish without a trace. Its like he gets over his racism sometime off-screen. The rest of the movie he's happy to joke and act friendly toward Doc, even though we see his apparent mistrust of black people in the opening moments of the movie.

Its kind of odd, but there were a few things that were odd about the movie. Why is the movie called "Green Book" you are probably wondering? Tony is given a green book featuring all the hotels Doc will be accepted because of his race. Though it seems like we barely see it throughout the entire movie. It sort of comes off as an odd McGuffin, but perhaps not even that. You would think since the movie is called "Green Book" that the green book itself would have more significance. It doesn't, the significant thing is the relationship that forms between Tony and Doc. So why not entitle the movie "Tony and Doc?"

Perhaps I shouldn't ask such questions. There is lots of vibrant music and atmosphere in the movie. The look of the 1960's seems very grounded and well done. But like I said, the reason to see the movie is for Mortensen and Ali. Mortensen in particular hasn't been this good in years. He would mistake him for an Italian if you didn't know better. And with the weight he gained for the role, he lumbers around looking like William Forsythe. As far as "racism in the South" movies go, nothing much will surprise you here. A lot of these movies feel like they were built from a kit, and there is much predictability here. But its still a fun watch that I bet you will all enjoy.


Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018: Year In Television (The Best TV Shows of 2018)

Well, this list was very well received last year, so I thought I'd offer up my thoughts on the best TV shows of 2018. I am going to do what I did last year. I got a list of the ten best new shows and the ten best returning shows. Again, it seems that the Golden Age of Television is continuing. Not seeming to run out of breath. Although I will say that there were more great new shows coming out and it seemed like a lot of returning shows slogged a bit. I had a harder time coming up with my returning list and my new shows list is nice, but I wanted to cram several other shows into the list. Let's dig in.

Since TV seems to end for the year much earlier then movies, its easier to get my lists out faster. So without further ado. The ten best new shows of 2018.

The Ten Best New Shows of 2018

1. Castle Rock (Hulu)
Being the huge Stephen King fan that I am, this should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me. This is an awesome time for anybody who has ever liked a shred of his work, and its much more than just an Easter Egg hunt. Sure, you can spend time looking at each corner and each episode and say "Hey, its that character!" "Hey, its that place!" But the show does much more. J.J. Abrams successfully made another Mystery Box show set in the Stephen King universe. And its all a helluva ride.

2. The Chi (Showtime)
A murder in Chicago sets off a chain of events that effects the lives of several people living in the inner city. Whats great are all the performances, how the stories seem to criss-cross without ever seemingly forced or melodramatic and the guessing game that eventually takes hold as to who murdered who and why. This has set itself up for a very good second season, and I can't wait to dig right into it.

3. Sharp Objects (HBO)
I was a little worried that the same team behind this show was behind "Big Little Lies" which I thought was the most overrated thing on TV last year. Color me surprised as "Sharp Objects" is way better. Its another murder mystery, and it gets off to a slow start. If you continue on, its all well worth it with an ending that will knock you out. All this time, I thought your jaw hitting the floor was all a figure of speech. Its not, not even close. My jaw literally dropped.

4. Homecoming (Amazon)
I am going to go ahead on a limb and say that anything award worthy circuit TV related will come down between Julia Roberts and Amy Adams for women's awards. Of course I was interested in this show from the get-go. Its Julia Freaking Roberts in a crazy mystery. Another show that hits you hard once you find out what the big deceit is in the show. Riveting from start to finish, this is another well-crafted mystery.

5. Who Is America? (Showtime)
Sacha Baron Cohen has once again succeeded in creating a questionable, politcally incorrect set of personas. In a world where everyone gets so uptight about everything, I am glad he is back to shut those people up. This whole country, no matter which side of the political fence who sit on, needs a wake-up call. Jesus, God I am so glad Cohen agrees. Republican, Democrat, Independent...nobody is safe from utter ridiculous jokes and offbeat parodying done by Cohen. If we really want to make this country great again, we have to remember that we all want freedom, it just means something different to everyone. Cohen gets that.

6. The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix)
There are plenty of shows that call themselves scary. But I don't think a lot of them are legitimately scary. When I watched "The Haunting of Hill House" in October, it got spooky and cold in my house really quick. And I never really watched any episodes at night. This is a masterful scary show that has plenty of good mood and atmosphere. There are some fun twists and turns along the way and its brought to life by a wonderful cast. If you're a horror fan, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

7. Our Cartoon President (Showtime)
Like I mentioned above, we are never going to be a great, understanding nation if we are afraid to laugh at ourselves. Our current president can't seem to not take himself seriously for five seconds, which makes this show funnier than it should have been. What's even more surprising was how, Conservatives could enjoy this too if they gave it a chance? Even though its made by Liberals, I think the world would be shocked just how humanistic the show really was, while also taking every opportunity to slander the current administration. Don't worry, it does a good job slandering the other side too. Its a show that reminds us not to take things too seriously, especially politics.

8. The Kominsky Method (Netflix)
Interesting. A comedy that feels like its from HBO that you can watch on Netflix. I never would have guessed to see that in a million years. There is plenty to laugh at, but there is also a grounded human side to the show that I really dug. It feels like real life, but there is also a funny bone in the mix. Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin have never been better. I look forward to seeing more seasons of this, its small and slight, but absolutely its special.

9. The Looming Tower (Hulu)
Even if you don't buy into the conspiracy theories. No matter where you stand on 9/11, you will more than likely find this show riveting. Telling the story of the investigation and information handling before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, this show was the best drama that seemingly nobody watched. Too bad too, with Jeff Daniels, Michael Stuhlbarg, Peter Sarsgaard and Bill Camp, this had the best cast of any show this year. The untold story of the 9/11 investigation is an enthralling one and no other drama was more fun to tune in for this year. 

10. My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman (Netflix)
A show doesn't have to be scripted in order to be best TV of the year. Not for me. It doesn't have to be something super-exciting or dramatic or hyperbolic. Not for me, at least. Sometimes, its amazing to sit down and watch people and listen to people talk and nobody does that better than David Letterman. He got a chance to sit down with the likes of Barack Obama, George Clooney, Jay-Z, Howard Stern, Tina Fey and Malala Yousafzai. They talk about their careers, talk about their lives before their careers, talk about nothing at all. Getting together with people and just communicating back and forth is what got us to where we are today. So I don't take talk shows for granted. There was a fun style here, and as I had to wait for each episode to air weekly, I'd be lying if I said I didn't crave it.

Amazon's "Jack Ryan," 
Netflix's "Disenchantment"
CBS's "The Neighborhood"
Freeform's "Grown-ish"
Netflix's "Everything Sucks!"
Amazon's "Forever"
Netflix's "Maniac"
The CW's "Black Lightening"
Netflix's "The Joel McHale Show With Joel McHale"

Next up, the top ten returning TV shows of the year. Shows that either had a season 2 or greater premiere this year. 

The Top Ten Returning TV Shows of 2018

1. Westworld (HBO)
Yep. I liked it that much. I am really digging this show. I think its really special. I love for this second season they've really expanded on this theme park, and discovering just how limitless the boundaries seem in this world. Not only was fun world-building, but the stories within the various characters are getting more and more engaging. It helps that such a stellar cast has come to play, and they are continually adding wonderful actors in new roles. (Peter Mullen and Hiroyuki Sanada in particular were welcome additions) I can't wait to see where this goes next, its getting more and more exciting.

2. Atlanta: The Robbin' Season (FX)
The year hiatus was worth it. The second season of "Atlanta" came back fast and furious and I am so glad it did. Once again, it pushed the boundaries of what you can do with drama and comedy, sometimes feeling like an arthouse movie that just somehow made it onto network TV. Plus, can we all just admit that Donald Glover is a national treasure? Please? Pretty please? He is doing career-best work in this show. It is continually addicting and my only hope is that I don't have to wait until 2020 for season three.

3. The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu)
Jesus Christ, this show scares me. It's haunting to the bone. I feel like I need a hug after every single episode. I don't think TV has had a darker television show ever in its history. Yet, I can't stop watching it. I can't stop this journey with Offred through this creepy future. I want to know that her and her husband and her daughter find some kind of peace in this new dark world. And I am as committed as ever to seeing the resolution though. I will say, I considered giving this show the top spot, but the finale has me a bit scared. I don't want this show to start suffering from circular plots. I don't want this to be the dark "How I Met Your Mother." There was only one book written, which means the show has already run out of material to adapt. Can they keep our attention without repeating themselves?

4. BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
I am probably going to start sounding like a broken record soon. We finished the fifth season of "BoJack Horseman." At the end of each season, I feel like I am watching a new show for the first time. Surely, a silly show about humans, humanoid animals and humanoid insects wouldn't last this long, right? There wouldn't be a weird animated comedy that told more truth about real life than any drama could? There is no way a show about a talking horse could ever really make us feel every emotion there is available to us? "BoJack Horseman" constantly surprises me, year after year. So much so, that I want a new season for the rest of my life. Episode six of this season, where BoJack speaks at his mother's funeral, was the best episode of any television show anywhere in 2018. What gets me is that he says some fairly heavy human things, then the show ends with a crazy laugh. I can't think of another show that shake a laugh at life's problems so effortlessly as I see here. Which makes this show a constant discovery every year, easily the best show Netflix has made.

5. Divorce (HBO)
A diamond in the rough. The best show on TV nobody is talking about. I get it, I get it. Its from HBO, everything the channel makes seems to turn to gold. No reason not to get into this as soon as possible though. Who would have known that the heartbreak, heartache and oddly enough, heartwarmth of a divorce could be so addicting to watch? I sure didn't. Sarah Jessica Parker is doing the work of her career and Thomas Haden Church is just being himself, being amazing as always. Get going on this one, you'll be glad you did.

6. The Good Place (NBC)
There was a new show that premiered this year called "God Friended Me" and it was show I couldn't honestly get into because it was way too preachy in its beliefs for me. I don't mind religious shows or religion in shows, but if you are going to sell some kind of agenda, you will lose me really quick. I love that we have a show like "The Good Place," a show that tackles big ideas like religion, faith and belief. It handles it all with a laugh, making it easily accessible to people of all ages and manages to not be preachy at all. Kristen Bell and Ted Danson are amazing here and each season is getting funnier and funnier.

7. Daredevil (Netflix)
Well Marvel fans, you got screwed. Just as all of Marvel's Netflix shows got better and more exciting in 2018, Marvel felt compelled to drop most of them off the platform. Why is anybody's guess, but as Netflix's fourth most popular original show, this should have been left alone. The story of Daredevil, The Kingpin, Karen Page, Foggy Nelson and the recently introduced Poindexter is a dozy for fans of the character. The Daredevil, Kingpin, Bullseye fight is some of the most intense, gratifying action in any of these shows. It seems like we are losing something just as it was getting good, but I am praying to every angel in existence that this story continues somewhere, somehow. No matter where Daredevil goes from here, don't drop these actors nor this continuity.

8. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX)
A special thanks to NBC for saving this, it will be worth it folks!

9. Big Mouth (Netflix)
I can't believe that this is an actual show that you can go watch. And thank god its animated, because if it wasn't somebody would be going to jail. Its that strange line that as I watch this show and put it all into context, I don't know if I should laugh or feel disgusted by what I'm watching. But all joking aside, "Big Mouth'' is a magnificent look at those years when you first get puberty, when your body starts to feel different, when you start to discover your attraction to the opposite sex (or same sex if you are into that), different feelings and different emotions flutter you, and its very real and very funny. And yes, lets be adults here, horniness is part of the human experience too. This is better than it needed to be, and much funnier the second time around.

10. Survivor (CBS)
Survivor would not have lasted as long as it has if it didn't evolve. No longer is it really a social experiment like it was in the early days, it has settled to be more of a gimmicky game show. No longer can somebody be voted out simply for being lazy around camp, now if you're smart, you drag those lazy people to the end so that you look better to the jury. The show now stays in one place and comes up with one cheesy theme after another. 2018's offerings shouldn't have worked. Between "Survivor: Ghost Island" and "Survivor: David vs. Goliath." I mean, I snicker just typing those out, I can't believe those titles. Thankfully though, 2018 was a good year for the old reality competition, a classic blend of new age and old school gameplay intertwined with the two best casts in recent memory.

If you didn't like the Wendell and Dom alliance from "Survivor: Ghost Island," that season might have been a hard sit for you. Luckily, I loved those guys but I remain perplexed that nobody decided to break them up, leading to an easy climb to the finals. In "Survivor: David vs. Goliath," the characters were so memorable and the editing so unpredictable, it made each episode a treat. Production was smart to keep its new advantage, the hidden immunity idol nullifer, a one-and-done use. And the scarce advantages lead both of these seasons to have better gameplay. We can only hope that production learns from this great year and tries to match it for the foreseeable future. 

NBC's "The Blacklist"
NBC's "Superstore"
Netflix's "F is for Family"
CBS's "The Amazing Race"
FX's "American Crime Story"
FX's "Archer: Danger Island"

I've got lots of end-of-the-year lists coming. Its that time of year again. I still have to cram in some last-minute movies for my list for that. But continue to tune in this week. We are going to have a nice look back at 2018!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Review: "Mary Poppins Returns" is certainly majestic, but she wears out her welcome

Mary Poppins Returns Review

In a world where Hollywood is vastly recycling our pop culture and looking towards nostalgia at an alarming rate, I guess it was only a matter of time before Mary Poppins would be making another visit to our silver screen. Sure enough, in 2018, she does indeed return. She wears the skin of Emily Blunt, and she once again makes a visit to the Banks children. Michael is all grown up, played by Ben Whishaw and his old family home is being repossessed by a bank and its greedy boss (Colin Firth) unless Michael can pay the loan off by Friday. Why this prompts the return Poppins is anybody's guess, but hey the movie needed a story.

I'll say one thing, Emily Blunt is FANTASTIC. Of course this isn't a surprise, as Blunt is fantastic in everything. But she brings a unique charm and warmth to the character, and yes she certainly can sing. Its more than believable when she starts wowing the children of Michael; Annabel (Pixie Davies), John (Nathaniel Saleh) and Georgie (Joel Dawson). In fact, the children themselves do good work too. If a movie like this is going to work, you need children you can act. You need children who can ooh and aah really well at all green screens so we can make sure and suspend our disbelief. The children do just that, because things do get a little crazy.

I am blown away by how well the old school animation of Disney still rides up well with today's live action. This movie does take its ques from the previous film and the live action characters meld with the old school style of animation quite nicely. The musical numbers are...actually hit or miss. I don't think there is a stand out song. I don't hear a new song for the ages. I don't hear any Oscar contenders. Which I found to be a little disappointing. The music is a main component of the movie, and its really important. I wish I could have heard that importance with my own ears.

The movie itself also runs a little long. There just so many imaginary destinations and musical numbers and running off with Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda, a character that could have easily been written out of the script.) that can all happen or only so long until it comes off boring. Then you throw in Meryl Streep's most hideous and overblown cameo in decades, and you throw in a last minute musical number right before the credits that serves no purpose other than to kill more of your time. Suddenly, you begin to think that the movie will never end. If you keep your eyes peeled, you'll see cameos from the original cast and an actor here and there that you recognize. Sure, that's cool and all, but it just feels like we are treading water. We are hitting the accelerator in our car but going nowhere because we are stuck in mud.

Plus, "Mary Poppins Returns" is just too sweet. If I remember correctly, it only takes a spoon full of sugar to make the medicine go down.


Sunday, December 23, 2018

Review: "Roma" is film poetry and a masterclass film of 2018.

Roma Review

Soapy water rushes over a tiled floor as the opening titles reveal themselves at the beginning of "Roma." A new Netflix original film that feels so beyond their input thus far that it almost feels like a prank. The soapy water is created by Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) a housemaid for a wealthy Mexican family during the early 1970's. She works closely with Adela (Nancy Garcia). The family Cleo and Adela work for consists of Sofia (Marina de Tavira), Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) and Sofia's mother, Teresa (Veronica Garcia). Antonio and Sofia also have four children and a family dog who seems to shit everywhere. Cleo and Adela do much for Sofia and Antonio's family, but they also have lives outside of work. No matter, the children seem to love Cleo very much and Cleo in particular is treated almost as a member of the family.

"Roma" weaves from character to character without really created a framework or structure. I've read other critics say that the movie feels like you are stepping into someone else's head and viewing their memories. Honestly, as much as I hate to directly quote others, there is really no other way to discuss or even describe "Roma." There isn't any manufactured music to fit a scene in "Roma. "There are no quick sound effects to jerk out an emotion from the viewer. Instead you hear the sound of wind, you hear the sounds of the city, whatever is going on outside. Perhaps you hear a radio turned on in a room nearby. Perhaps you hear a dog barking a few blocks away or some water leak coming from somewhere. There have been so many movies made where directors, actors and writers try to imitate life without much overt storytelling, creating "slice of life movies." Even those movies feel like they came out of a fictional kit at times. "Roma" is the first movie I can think of where it felt like a director simply pointed a camera at a family for weeks and weeks and the movie he made from cut and pasted from the footage he gathered. Yet, there is still engaging stories being told, and director Alfonso Cuaron makes it all look effortless.

You know Alfonso Cuaron whether you realize it or not. He maybe a filmmaker who hails from Mexico, but he's had much success here in America. Remember "Gravity" from 2013, with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney? Where Cuaron created a breath-taking look into outer space and used every techno tool to his disposal to create something that felt original? That's Cuaron. Remember "Children of Men" from 2006? The futuristic story of men not being able to produce sperm and women now cannot make babies? And how the first baby born in decades sets off a series of unfortunate political events? That's Cuaron. Remember "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," an entry in the series that is still hailed as one of the all-time best? That's Cuaron. Its odd, because it feels like Cuaron has been working for years and years. But altogether, he's only directed eight films and done some documentary and television work. The thing is, every time he sets out to make a movie, he is constantly improving his voice, constantly raising the bar, and seemingly constantly pushing himself as an artist. "Roma" is not only directed, written, produced and edited by Cuaron, but he also is responsible for the lush cinematography you see. Not bad, because this is the most beautiful recent black-and-white movie in a long time.

"Roma" may seem like random scenes at first glance, but its anything but. It just seems like the plot and various subplots seem to converge all at once. Antonio is a successful businessman, responsible for work that keeps him away from home. This beings to strain his relationship with his family and has huge repercussions later. Cleo has a boyfriend named Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) a wild martial arts enthusiast. When Cleo finds out she's pregnant, she is poised to learn that this fun kid has no desire to be a father and how confrontation later changes everything for both of them forever. Cuaron wisely yet carefully takes jabs at the American class system and how nothing will change for the better if nobody actually tries to make anything better. Its amazing how Cuaron takes a sleight-of-hand approach, gently pushing his opinion on matters without every coming close to going full political in his discussions. And again, the movie is equally amazing because it never feels like its about anything, yet its about many things. The movie never stops playing like a bunch of memories, never takes you by the hand to remind you that you're watching a movie. No melodrama, no cheap thrills. Its all realistic drama from start to finish.

Each actor in the film is a discovery. But easily the best of the bunch is Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo. I know it doesn't happen very often, but this non-American actress needs to be nominated come Oscar time. She is a walking piece of poetry in this movie. And there is no ounce of nuisance or entitlement to her work. To say she is a natural is almost an insult to anybody who has ever used the phrase. Its funny, because Aparicio doesn't refer to herself as an actress, so I am honestly not sure you'll ever see her in anything again. It sounds like her casting was almost a fluke and Cuaron has stated that "Roma" took a long time to cast. I can understand too. When you are making a movie this grounded, each actor, from the adults to the children to the extras, have to be method acting. Its a precious juggling act that I can't imagine even trying. The entire cast deserves kudos for the impeccable work on display here, all beyond description.

Words fail me to describe this film any further. I don't know how Netflix got their mits on something this special, but it goes beyond anything they have ever released. I think 2018 will finally be their year for the Oscars, because if the Academy ignores "Roma," it truly is a disservice to cinema. The film is motion poetry, unlike anything I have had the pleasure to see. I have it on in the background as I write these words to you tonight and I am still taken aback how certain things were pulled off. This is what filmmaking is all about telling a story that makes us feel we share the moment along with the characters. I can't believe this exists, and if you take the time, neither will you.


Review: Netflix's "Bird Box" is a cool concept with tense situations, but suffers bad timing.

Bird Box Review

Sometimes a movie is affected by the recent release of a similar movie. We've seen it happen time and time again in this business. If you have watched Netflix's "Bird Box," the new thriller fresh out at the start of the weekend, you no doubt got "A Quiet Place" vibes from it. As well as maybe some "The Happening" vibes, the 2008 thriller from M. Night Shyamalan. If I had to describe "Bird Box," I'd say it was "A Quiet Place" mixed with "The Happening." In "A Quiet Place," we see a family living in a post-apocalyptic world, talking only in sign language. For the rest of the movie, the audience has to figure out why. "Bird Box" almost feels like one of those low-rent, knock-off movies that gets made months later by the SyFy channel. The movie also deals in a post-apocalyptic landscape, but this time, everyone is blindfolded, and the audience needs to find out why!

The thing is, "Bird Box" definitely doesn't have the SyFy channel budget. The visuals are actually pretty good here. The film also boosts itself with an all-star cast. Not only do we follow Sandra Bullock into this world, but she throws herself at the role with a sheer ferocity. Bullock was also executive producer on this movie, and I also happen to know that this film was based on a book. There was something about this story that obviously inspired Bullock, and I was curious to see what that was. She leads an all-star cast including Sarah Paulson, John Malkovich, Trevante Rhodes, Tom Hollander, Jackie Weaver, and even the Eminem feuder himself, Machine Gun Kelly. This is a very well acted movie, and I plan to get into specifics here in just a bit. But there is much here that works. 

When similar movies come out only a mere ten or so months apart, its tough not to play the comparison game. And I hate to say that the tension created by John Krasinski in "A Quiet Place" was so profoundly powerful, and there isn't a single scene that holds a candle to anything Krasinski did in "Bird Box." In fact, there is lots of pedestrian tension in some parts of the movie. There is a "been there, done that" quality to much of the structure of the movie. I am curious to actually read the book now, because it seems like the author, or maybe just the film's screenwriter, saw lots of horror movies. This feels like a homage showcase at times. There is a scene reminiscent of "The Mist," one reminiscent of "Mad Max." Hell, at one point, there is a moment that channels "Deliverance." I've seen all of those movies, and any time I sit down to watch a new thriller or a new horror movie, I don't want to see things I've seen already. A new twist is always a key.

"Bird Box" certainly starts off well. But after so many great examples of our world suddenly going to hell already out there, its tough to get that kind of material wrong. Sandra Bullock's Malorie and Sarah Paulson's Jessica are in a car, suddenly people just start killing themselves. They hear earlier in the movie that this is happening across the globe, without a single explanation why. They begin to realize that having your eyes open outside is making people go mad. Is it a biological weapon? Something supernatural? No exact answer is given, sure some hellish lip service is made, but no real explanation. I get these movies are ambiguous sometimes, but I'd absolutely love for a movie with a high-concept like this to really explain what is wrong. Characters like Freddy Kreuger, Jason Voorhees, Chucky and Pennywise are alive and well in our pop culture canon because they became full-fledged characters. All we know in "Bird Box" is there is some kind of evil force that messing with people's minds, forcing them to kill themselves. If you close your eyes and board up your windows, you'll be okay. But no source is explained for this haunting.

Malorie eventually seeks refuge in the home of Douglas (Malkovich) who he unwillingly allows to become a safe haven for survivors. The rest of the movie is a typical survival movie. There is talk of rationing food here, there is a daring mission to get more supplies here. And does a character let somebody else from the outside world in to reek havoc on the survivors in Douglas' home? Don't make me laugh. "Bird Box" kind of slips off of the audience because its so painfully familiar in parts. Not to say all of it is wrong. Because its not. The stranger one character sadly lets into the home is a mental patient named Gary. Played by the great villain actor Tom Hollander. Seriously, his entire stretch of the movie set me on edge, and it just goes to show how committed to villain material this guys is. Malkovich is Malkovich. I'm also going to tell you...if you don't know Trevante Rhodes yet, you will. Trust me you will. He's got a LONG career ahead of him and we will all be richer for it.

We are living in a time where brands rule all, so when people take a chance on something that feels more original, you want those movies to work so badly. "Bird Box'' definitely comes close, but I really wanted more. Its well acted, and at times, its every bit the movie its trying so hard to be. In fact, it feels disjointed between the good work and bad work and it feels like a great movie kind of just got away from them. Still, it feels like Netflix is changing, and I hope they continue to release ambitious, challenging work like what we see here.


Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Review: The Spiderverse is a helluva place!

Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse Review

"It a great time to be a comic book fan!"

I've heard this sentence over and over again as I've grown older the past decade. Hell, I've used the sentence myself as I've grown older the past decade. But as a comic book fan and as a superhero fan, we are living through a golden age we never thought we'd see. The first major superhero movie was "Superman: The Movie" with Christopher Reeve, which came out in 1977. The next major superhero franchise wouldn't start until 1989 with Batman. And even though we got characters like "Blade" and "Spawn" and ambitious stuff like "Mystery Men" in the 90's, superhero movies were approached with a great deal of skepticism. It wouldn't be after the one-two punch of "X-Men" in 2000 and "Spider-Man" in 2002 that the business would really take off. Even though we got a bunch of superheroes in the 2000's on film, it was all handled in a very tame way. If you want a crazy story, read about Tom Rothman and his time working for Fox and how he nearly torpedoed the entire "X-Men" movie franchise. Why? Because he didn't believe in it, even when it was making the studio money. Lots of people didn't believe that a superhero franchise could be a multi-billion dollar money making machine.

Today, every superhero character you could possibly heard of (and some you definitely haven't) has a movie franchise. And if they don't have a movie franchise, then they have a live-action television show. And if they don't have a live-action television show, then I can bet good money they've got either a movie franchise or a live-action television show being made, processed or pitched as we speak. Superheroes aren't just popular right now, they are omnipresent in our pop culture right now. You maybe a DC boy, and you may not like what I have to say, but you have to thank Marvel for the most part for why we are here right now. DC certainly helped us get started making these movies, but it was Marvel that proved just what you could do with it and how much you could bend it. Never in my lifetime would I have guessed that I'd see a cohesive fictional universe spreading across several film releases, but here we are, experiencing it at ground zero.  

While I love that every superhero and their mother is getting a moment in the sun, its not what I'm most excited for. Anybody can make a superhero movie now, and everyone can make them somewhat lucrative. The moment I've been waiting for is now. What we are seeing in 2018. When we can make movies like "Avengers: Infinity War" and now..."Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse" this feels like the big payoff comic fans have been waiting to see on the big screen. We've allowed this popular thing to get really weird, and fly off the rails. And the business, the box office and the audience are only going to reap the rewards. "Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse" is a helluva ride and it proves that it doesn't matter how "comic booky" these comic book movies get, just as long as they are made with the same amount of confidence, heart and soul that the best are made with.

Miles Morales isn't a character that many people know about. But there are currently two Spider-Men running around right now. I haven't read too many Morales comics yet, but I know he's a boy who also got bit by a radioactive spider. Peter Parker eventually meets Morales and trains him to be like him, a hero with spider abilities. Eventually in the comics, Peter Parker dies and its Morales who steps in as the new Spider-Man. Morales is a very different person compared to Peter Parker though, and I'm glad that Sony didn't just treat Morales as "black Peter Parker." Sure, he's also a high school kid, but he's got a different family, a different upbringing, and even a different culture. He's a black superhero, and that makes him stand out in a unique way. I love that the movie embraces that and showcases how different Morales is as a person. They do it just fast enough that it doesn't feel like dragging exposition but not long enough to get bored. Especially when things get really weird.

See, there's a bad guy who has a particle accelerator and he wants to use it to travel to other dimensions. Using this machine, he draws aspects from other Earths to his homeworld, which is why other "Spider-Men "begin showing up in front of Morales. A kid who just gained spider abilities may be weird, but when he's confronted with a beer-gut Peter Parker, and a Spider-Man from the 1930's and even a talking pig with spider abilities...things get even weirder. Of course, there is a special artifact that can turn the machine off, that Peter Parker calls a "goober," and the team of Spider Heroes must put the goober inside the particle accelerator otherwise it will destroy the planet.

Oh yes, of course there's a goober. Of course, there is a colorful machine that is very bad. Of course, there is a special thing that can turn the evil colorful machine off. We've been seeing this same structure in most superhero movies now for awhile. I love that "Spider-Man: Enter The Spiderverse" plays by the same superhero movie rules, but also finds a clever and creative way to poke fun at those rules. This is a movie that knows exactly what it is, and its willing to play with you and if you play along, you'll have a great time. How the origin story works in this movie is also full of laughs. The movie rolls all over the floor trying to please you and trying to deconstruct the norms we've seen before.

Now, let's talk about the animation, because there is a reason why this movie got a Golden Globe nod and I'm betting it will get an Oscar nod too. This is some of the most uniquely original animation you will see in a movie theater this year. It literally looks like a moving comic book, but its also lush and luminous to look at. Not only that, but the style of each character is represented in the animation. Spider-Ham looks exaggerated, Spider-Man noir has very noir-ish style, and Penni Parker; a girl who uses a Spider Robot, is all anime. Not only is it something to see all these different styles of animation playing on the same screen, but its also amazing how creative the backdrop of the movie is itself.

There's a ton of great voice talent here and I am now sold that Shameik Moore has big things ahead of him. Check him out in "Dope," he's the real deal and I hope he gets more Spider-Man movies out of this. Chris Pine and Jake Johnson voice two different versions of Peter Parker, and I love how they contrast one another. Liev Schreiber probably does my favorite voice-work in the film. Pay very close attention to when his Kingpin is on screen, he sounds like a real world Italian gangster, he DOES NOT sound like Liev Schreiber, he may just have a career in voice work. Mahershala Ali, John Mulaney, Hailee Steinfeld, Nic-Freaking-Cage...all of them do wonderful work that fits their characters. 

"Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse" just blew the doors wide open on the possibilities of what a superhero movie can be, and what they can do. Now, skepticism is no more. There is no longer an excuse to what a superhero movie can and cannot do. The age of restraint in this genre is over. The year 2018 proved that enough time as passed, everybody seems to get it now. So its time to get weird. And as my favorite Batman once said, "you want to get nuts? Come on, lets get nuts." I want to see more movies like this now. The audience has proven their game and Sony has proven that they can make beautiful, confident, fun, and emotionally-engaging movies that will have the audiences coming in droves. Oh yes, there are some surprisingly emotional moments so human and grounded here that it will make Pixar blush. They nailed this thing on every front, and now I can't wait to see what the future brings.


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

What is Onward?

What is "Onward?"

Apparently, its an upcoming movie from Disney and Pixar. Thankfully, its not a sequel to the studios impressive stack of movies. They are making something original again. In my mind, when Pixar is working in non-sequel mode, they make some of their very best work. Apparently, Chris Pratt and Tom Holland will be joining Octavia Spencer and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the movie. Good to know both Star Lord and Spiderman didn't turn to dust. It looks like for this Pixar movie, they will be taking us to a fantasy world, where Pratt and Holland will be voicing two elves. The two elves will be searching for a special type of magic that will allow the two elves to spend one last day with their deceased father. 

According to my source, the movie will be full of all sorts of fantasy creatures but will not feature any humans. Good. There is always a need to push a human character onto movies like this as if we can't engage in other beings. If anybody can make sure we feel empathy and emotions towards any sort of being, its Pixar. I mean look what they've done with toys and mice and robots and superheroes and monsters and bugs and ghosts and cars and dinosaurs and fish. Hell, even feelings have feelings in Pixar movies. If anything, it will be interesting to see how Pixar bends their own formula. 

I like the cast and I am willing to see a trailer.


Catching Up

This is the time of year where I am watching so many movies at one time, I forget to post a review or thoughts on this website. I do apologize for that. But December is traditionally the month where critics of any kind get ready to release their end-of-the-year lists. I love this time of year. I love trying to sum up what the year meant to me. Of course, there is no event that will have a longer positive affect on me than the birth of my first daughter. That takes the cake this year for sure, and no matter how many ups and downs I had this year, 2018 was a win simply because my daughter was born. But that's completely personal.

When it comes to movies, like every December, I am hard at work. I am re-watching certain movies. I am seeing tons of stuff for the very first time. I spend each week of the month cramming in as many last-minute movies as I can. I've got some reviews I will be preparing for the weekend. But I will say right now, if you need something to rent. Check out both "Searching" and "Peppermint" if you haven't yet. Those are both available to rent, however you even do that these days.

"Searching'' is the best possible example of modern thriller that I can name. If Alfred Hitchcock was omnipresent and was still making movies today, he probably would have made "Searching" himself. I have to admit though, I was ready to hate it. It is structured much like those stupid "Unfriended" movies. The entire movie takes place on a computer screen or cellular device screen. There is never any regularly filmed actor action. The whole thing is told through technology and screens. John Cho plays a loving father who is trying to cope with his daughter after his wife is killed after a long battle with cancer. One day, she goes missing. The entire movie is how the father uses technology to learn what happened to her. Even though there is a unique hook that the entire movie rests on, the movie still carries every bit of emotion, every tense bit of set-up, and keeps you well on the edge of your seat. Sometimes movies that are built on a gimmick hardly work, but "Searching" definitely delivers the goods. Whatever you think is going to happen by the end of the movie, let me tell you, it ain't happening!

"Peppermint" stars Jennifer Garner. Its pretty much set up like another "Death Wish" style movie. A woman's entire family is gunned down by bad guys. She tries going after the bad guys the legal way. It doesn't work because of a wrongheaded, corrupt system. So she takes the law into her own hands. Its a movie we've seen a thousand times before. So in a situation like this, what I look for the most is how much I care about the characters. I love a movie where somebody kicks lots of ass, but do they deserve that time to shine? Garner throws herself at this role, and it pays off in a big way. There is just enough emotional heft to make it count. I may not be over-the-moon for the movie, but I highly recommend it!

I was reading online last week and came across an idea that a film critic I like is going to approach. I was so inspired by the idea that I think I am going to take it on myself. Every year, anybody who is a critic of anything, whether its movies or TV or books or comics or food...makes a top ten list of the year. More often than not, no matter what someone writes and no matter how respected they are, people will just argue their list. "This should be higher on the list! This should be lower on this! Where's this, that and other thing!" You see it everywhere on this time of year. Even the legendary Roger Ebert has been quoted as saying "Nobody says my list is just fine." What is it about entertainment that makes us so defensive? And what is it about the number ten that each list maker has been following for the end of year since the dawn of existence? Does it have to do with the ten commandments? Just a guess.

I think I've always done a good job making top ten lists every year. But there is certainly more than ten movies that define my movie year. Thankfully on my own site, nobody has been openly hostile, but the biggest complaint I get every year is "Shawn, I haven't heard of half the movies on your list." I get it. I'm a movie nerd. I look under every rock trying to find anything and everything that I can possibly watch. I watch stuff that I think looks bad, simply to see if there is anything good hidden inside. If you picked a movie at random, I would probably happily sit down to watch it with you. Its just the way I'm wired. So why not make a list that focuses on that wiring issue? Without making it so long that it just comes off as a big list of movies?

So I'm going to try this...

There are five movies I have in my head right now from 2018. They are movies so special that they tower over everything else I have seen this year. Those are definitely my top five and I will publish a top five and discuss why I love those movies so much. Go ahead and try to guess them if you wish, but I can assure you, its not the top five you think it is. Along with the top five, I am going to publish a list of 25 more movies that I found essential during 2018. Things I watched repeatedly, things that hit me on a personal level, things had a certain feature that I thought made the year memorable... all of those will be published in the 25 list. Alphabetically, with no rankings whatsoever! With a brand new format, I hope that you guys will engage with the list in a brand new way.

There is still plenty of stuff I am planning on seeing before the years over, so this could change. Maybe the top five will become a top six. Maybe some things I am thinking of adding will fall by the wayside. I don't know. I just think 30 is a decently paced list where you can a really good understanding of just how good 2018 truly was. Only time will tell though. My list isn't coming till January though, because I work until the very end of the year to see everything I possibly can!

Enjoy the rest of the year and stay tuned to January.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Godzilla: King of Monsters second trailer

When Hollywood began its marketing for "Godzilla" in 2014, I loved just how chilling many of the trailers were. Because lets face it, it would be creepy as shit if giant monsters where just walking the earth. Especially if one of them breathed fire. While the second trailer of "Godzilla: King of Monsters" is a little bit more playful in tone. We are looking at an apocalyptic landscape of a world being torn apart by a monster war. Its thrilling, but its equally chilling.

We've got a landslide of wonderful actors in this. Vera Farminga, Sally Hawkins, Kyle Chandler, Zhang Ziyi, Charles Dance and Bradley Whitford all in the same movie gives me many happy thoughts. Millie Bobby Brown who has grown immensely from her popularity on "Stranger Things" looks like she's having a good time here. I also love that Ken Watanabe returns for seconds in this movie. So on the human side of things, we've got a great cast to look forward to.

The monsters themselves are quite lovely I must say. We get Mothra, the giant moth. We get a good glimpse of Godzilla. We get a good glimpse of Rodan and King Ghidorah too. All of the monster designs are breathtaking. We got introduced to Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah at the end of "Kong: Skull Island." But I don't think we can count on a King Kong appearance. I am sure they are saving him for the Godzilla versus King Kong movie that is on its way. This movie is bound to be a monster overload. So exciting.

Review: Netflix's "Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle" is neither a children's movie or a blockbuster

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle Review
Andy Serkis is our great digital star. From portraying Gollum in "Lord of the Rings," to King Kong in Peter Jackson's recent remake of "King Kong," to Cesar in the "Planet of the Apes" prequel trilogy" all the way over to Supreme Leader Snoke in the latest "Star Wars" movies. He's certainly helped change the way we view special effects in Hollywood and pioneered what actors could do along with the new technology. Its always a pleasure to see an artist push themselves, trying once again to break new ground. Andy Serkis has now stepped into the director's chair for "Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle" which yet another live-action retelling of "The Jungle Book."

Serkis' movie has had a rough upbringing. It was originally made in 2016, but he there was time set aside for technology to catch up ever slow slightly to fit Serkis' vision. Plus Paramount Pictures wanted to distance themselves from Disney's "The Jungle Book" that came out that same year. This was bound to be yet another example of Hollywood studios going toe-to-toe with identical material. Every once in awhile movies with the exact same premise find themselves battling for the dollars, and one is usually triumphant and the other loses. Serkis' "Mowgli" kept getting pushed back until Paramount didn't know what to do with it. So they did what any studio would do in this day and age, they sold the movie to Netflix!

Netflix has released the film this passed weekend. And Disney's "The Jungle Book" is still so fresh in memory that its hard to set that film aside while watching "Mowgli." Although, I will praise Serkis for not simply doing a simple adaptation of the Jungle Book. Rudyard Kipling had many writings about Mowgli and the Jungle, and I've never read his stories. So who knows how book accurate this movie is. But its certainly not a children's movie. "Mowgli" is a rather mature portrayal of Mowgli and his animal friends. Well, at least most of the time. Tone is the biggest and most noticeable problem with "Mowgli." Serkis is caught between making a kid-friendly movie and also making a Jungle version of "Lord of the Rings." There are definitely some cool decisions and its often bracing at times. But the tonal shifts are so limp and so confusing that its hard to focus on the film.

Focus seems to have gone every which way during the making of "Mowgli." Not only is tone a huge problem, but so is deciphering what the movie is about. I think overall its about a boy who gets lost in the jungle and he's having a bit of an identity crisis. Is Mowgli a being of the jungle or is a boy destined to be a man? That's a good story to tell, especially when using characters from "The Jungle Book." But I'm not entirely sure that's this movie. At least not for the most part. I can't tell if Serkis is also telling a story about jungle politics. I can't tell if telling a story about man's fear of the unknown. I can't tell if he's telling a simple good guys versus bad guys story. Or maybe he's telling a story about a boy who wants to fit in? Its tough to tell and there being no focus in the storyline can be daunting at times.

But maybe you won't pay attention to all the narrative flaws. Because my freaking god is this movie gorgeous to look at. The animal designs for Bagheera (Christian Bale), Kaa (Cate Blanchet), Baloo (Serkis), Shere Kahn (Benedict Cumberbatch), Raksha (Naomi Harris), Akela (Peter Mullen) and any all other animal characters is beyond top-notch. There was a mesh of special effects and motion capture that brought the animals to life. How motion capture played into is anybody's guess but its definitely kind of freaking and kind of remarkable to see a Christian Bale-like face on that of a panther. Certainly an interesting choice that I think overall did payoff. Its a gorgeous, gorgeous movie and it certainly seems like Serkis is channeling Peter Jackson after years and years of working with him.

I think Rohan Chand is a great Mowgli, and I think he did exactly what the script calls for. The other humans are bit of a letdown. Simply because, absolutely nothing is done with them. Mowgli makes his way into a human village. He meets and befriends Messua, played by Freida Pinto. She becomes a surrogate mother. At least I think so, I am pretty sure Pinto barely speaks the entire movie. Her subplot has absolutely zero development. There are human characters here that are simply too wooden for my taste and the human village detour is a story plot that goes nowhere.

When its all said and done, I think you'll have a great time thinking about how "The Jungle Book" did better and had this been a real box office battle, Disney would have prevailed. Instead of getting lost in this movie, you play the compare and contrast game, which I'm sure wasn't the intent.


Friday, December 7, 2018

Avengers 4 trailer is here...and the official title is...

It was back in October 2014 when Kevin Feige announced the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase Three. He announced we'd get movies like "Doctor Strange" and "Thor: Ragnarok." He told us "Black Panther" and "Captain Marvel" and "Captain America: The Serpent Society" were on the way. By the end of the night, even that was a huge joke...leading the official announcement of "Captain America: Civil War." There was even an announcement for an "Inhumans" movie that never happened. But the biggest announcement of that night was announcing "Avengers: Infinity War" and at the time we'd get "Infinity War: Part I" in 2018 and "Infinity War: Part II" in 2019.

Since then, Marvel has done some course correcting. They made room for "Spider-Man" and more "Ant-Man." They took "Inhumans" out. They bumped "Black Panther" to a different release date. Things have been moving along and we finally got to "Avengers: Infinity War" last year. Which ended on a crazy cliffhanger. Long before the release of "Infinity War," Marvel announced that the fourth Avengers film would not be Part II. That the fourth film would have a style and story of its own. The title has been kept secret, for almost a year. I was kind of baffled. Infinity War ended on a cliffhanger, of course this is Part II even if they didn't want to call it Part II.

Speculation went into overdrive. What will the movie be called? Some said "Infinity Gauntlet" following the stories in the comics. Some suggested "Annihilation" and even "Endgame" became popular. Well, everyone that guessed "Endgame" ended up being correct. It was announced with the first teaser trailer that "Avengers 4" is officially called "Avengers: Endgame" and it will be arriving in theaters on April 26th, 2019. I can't fucking wait.

Some Marvel fans have been picky about this trailer. I get it, even if I wholeheartedly disagree. They are called "TEASER TRAILERS" for a reason. They are meant to tease, and I think it certainly did that. None of our surviving heroes are in a good place. Stark is stuck in space, presumably with Nebula, and he's running low on food, oxygen and morale. Back on Earth, Banner, Black Widow and Cap are all crying and distraught. Their Avengers building in upstate New York all but abandoned. Thor wears street clothes, looking sad. We only see Thanos' armor hung like a statue to be canonized and worshipped. While we see only his arm, still donning the destroyed Infinity Gauntlet, walking around his planet. There are absolutely no action pieces, and there is real not indicator of where the storyline is going to go. I was a little disappointed to see no sign of Rocket either.

But we DID see Hawkeye, but he's not Hawkeye anymore. He's in his full Ronin gear, and he's looking sad. The main theory that I am sure is correct is that Hawkeye's family that we met in "Age of Ultron" disappeared after Thanos' snap, which of course led Hawkeye to mentally snap. But man, does he look cool in his Ronin garb.

No sign of Captain Marvel either, but I am sure Marvel will release a full "Endgame" trailer in March, presumably sometime after the release of her movie on March 8th. Rest assured though guys, Brie Larson is set to appear in the fourth film. Nick Fury didn't call her for no reason.

I love this trailer. I love that we finally got something. Its small, but its breaking the internet faster than Wreck-It Ralph did. It's setting a huge tone and I can't wait to discuss what else happens, what the story will be and what certain scenes mean. (There is a big theory going around that the Scott Lang we see in the trailer isn't really Scott, but a Skrull) So have fun hatching those and Marvel has done it again.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Review: "Ralph Breaks the Internet" doesn't necessarily break the first film, but its still good

Ralph Breaks The Internet Review
"Wreck-It Ralph" was a fun little awesome movie. Its no surprise it rang so true to many people. It was a clever take on video game culture and the tropes that have materialized from it, and that's saying something coming from Disney Studios. There were some fun parodies of classic video game characters. All of this was swept into an engaging story for people of all ages told with characters that stole hearts. Sure, the movie just boiled down to a typical Disney "Be a good person and eat your vegetables" fable, but the fun and characters ultimately won me over. They seemed like they won over tons of people. Plus, the left and right slugs to the video game world was fun to see too.

So of course we get a sequel, and while its six years later, its clear that there is still gas left in this tank. The film has been doing well at the box office so far. But money has never been an issue with me, I don't care how much money a movie makes. All I care about is how good a movie is. good is "Ralph Breaks the Internet?" Overall, its pretty good. I don't know if I would call it a better movie than the first, but "Wreck-It Ralph" almost felt one-of-a-kind. I would have loved another movie dealing with video game culture, but perhaps they told all the story they could with that venture. And the only other option was to tell the story they present here.

The movie picks up in real time. Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) are still the best of buds. They love playing in their designated video games. But Vanellope in particular is getting tired of the same thing every day. These fictional games our main characters inhabit are supposedly old and these characters have seen everything. All hidden tracks, all hidden characters, there is no more maps to clear, no new territory to discover and no more Ermacs. Ralph wants to help his bored friend, so he is able to create a new race course in Vanellope's racing game. While Vanellope loved Ralph's efforts. Ralph accidentally breaks down Vanellope's game and the arcade owner shuts the game down. Leaving all of the characters from Vanellope's game "homeless." The arcade needs a certain amount of money to fix the game, money the arcade doesn't have. 

So Ralph does what we usually see in these Disney movies. He goes on an adventure to get the money. By trying to make money on the internet. Because we all know how hard and frustrating that can be. As much as the first film was a comment on video game culture, Disney does a great job commenting on the internet. Sometimes, surfing the net can feel like the digital wild west, that's exactly what the internet looks like in this movie. A big, loud, free-for-all and its all overwhelming to Ralph and Vanellope, just as it can be overwhelming to anyone whose never used it before. I really dug the look of the inside of the internet in this movie.

The voice work is top-notch here. Our favorite characters from the first film, voiced by Jane Lynch, Jack McBayer and more. Gal Gadot and Taraji P. Hensen give voice to two newest characters, Gadot voices a character from an online video game and Hensen gives voice to an algorithm of a YouTube parody, and they do wonderful work here. Fans of all things Disney will have a fun time with the characters and their voices. The scene in the trailers where Vanellope meets every single Disney Princess features voices from nearly all the original movies, even going back years. There is also a scene where Vin Diesel voices Baby Groot, and Stan Lee snuck in one last cameo. So there are little things that people will soak up and enjoy.

The thing is, this story is really no different from the first film. Ralph, whether he's trying to do good or do bad, ends up just breaking stuff. No matter how hard he tries, he ends up ruining good things for those he cares about. Then he learns his lesson and he has to repair the damages he created. Sure, he's not concerned about being a villain anymore. But now he's trying to be a good friend, and how that can consume someone under circumstances. The film resolves itself using the spine of the first film as a blueprint. 

The film is certainly very clever once again and I am sure many people of all ages will find something to enjoy here. But underneath it all, its just another sequel. Albeit an enjoyable one.


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Review: "Bodied" is the most original, most daring, and one of the absolute coolest movies of 2018!

Bodied Review

In a world where our local movie theaters are bombarded with superhero flicks, book adaptations, true stories that aren't true and movies based on something your grandpa liked when he was six, its hard to push for originality. Its even harder when the studios are more business-oriented than they've ever been in history. If you want a movie that's even remotely original, you really have to work to find it. Don't get me wrong, I have truly liked a lot of the movies that fit those descriptions above. But over-saturation of anything in the market isn't good for it. Film will only stagnate if studios refuse to try anything new. If you are willing to do that legwork, it can be big fun for you as an individual. I had one of those experiences today. 

I am kind of surprised that "Bodied" isn't getting the mainstream big weekend opening I think it deserves. Its a movie being produced by Eminem, and you'd think that he could create a decent brand name for himself. He is one of the biggest rap stars in the business right now, for better or for worse and his name could easily sell tickets. I think a movie about rap battles could do fairly well in a movie theater too, I mean, who remembers just how popular "8 Mile" was at the time in 2002?

"Bodied" was directed by Joseph Kahn and at first, I thought Kahn was really starting to branch out into new territory. And truly he is, but he is beginning to create a visual signature that is very much him. He is beginning to punctuate his movies with his own unique style and I can't wait to see how his career progresses. You may know Joseph Kahn. I was ready to write him off in an early age with the awful "Torque" that came out around 2004. Then he made a short film adaptation of Power Rangers, which you can bootleg online for free without going to prison if you know where to go. Its badass but its weird watching it because badass isn't necessarily how I'd ever describe Power Rangers. Kahn really got on my radar though with 2012's "Detention" and if you haven't seen that movie yet, oh my God are you missing out. Its another film that just feels original, almost like punk rock. It's a John Hughes-esque teen movie wrapped in an alien invasion with a character that feels like they should be in "The Fly" with Jeff Goldblum. On paper, it doesn't make a lick of sense, but its so confidently brilliant that you will hand yourself over to it.

Joseph Kahn has made yet another weird masterpiece in the form of a rap battle social satire. Again, I would have never guessed that rap battle and social satire would go together. But when you take time to think about it, of course it makes sense. Rap music has always been smothered in social ques and history, why would it be any different now? It isn't just about rap battles though. Calum Worthy plays Adam and Adam is a college student at Berkeley. He is writing his thesis paper on using the n-word in rap music and to research, he goes to a rap battle competition. He somehow gets wrapped up in rapping at the battle himself and he quickly swept away in his research, and also battling on his own. 

The movie is pretty reminiscent of "Fight Club" in some ways. There is a dark tinted cinematography that really highlights the themes of the movie. We also watch as Adam slowly falls down this strange rabbit-hole of a world where anything goes, where you can say anything in order to win a battle. If you are a racist, sexist, asshole in a rap battle, does that mean you are a racist, sexist asshole in real life? Does your rap battle persona a reflection of who you are as an individual? For a movie based on its concept, I think people will really be surprised just how deep "Bodied" cuts and just how clear-eyed it is in its convictions.

Its a movie that plainly states that context matters. That's important, because its driving me nuts today. We are living in a world where everyone gets offended by what somebody says or what somebody does and in most cases, its all false reaction. We are not taking time to really research and understand what others say and do, we simply do the simple task and read a headline or look up a carefully curated quote and think we have all the answers based on tall tales and half truths. We are living in a world where a person of power literally said truth isn't truth. This should scare us all but at the same time, it should remind us that the context of what someone says or does matters and that's what we should be looking for in our news, other media and everywhere now.

I will say that Calum Worthy can act and he sure as shit can spit some game. In fact, the movie is filled with rappers I've never heard of but who can give up some decent performances. Charlamagne tha God, Dumbfoundead, Big T, Daylit...I've never heard of any of these guys. But they sure can act. To be honest, the only guy you'll recognize is Anthony Michael Hall, and he does good work here. I love it when casts of complete unknown come together and rip shit up in the best possible way. Which is exactly what happened here.

YouTube Originals have made a gigantic leap forward this year. I have yet to watch a single episode of Cobra-Kai but I hear its amazing. "Bodied" is freaking amazing too. Absolutely unlike anything playing in cinemas right now. A defiant original, and showcases what Hollywood has forgotten over the years. How originality and creativity will always triumph over familiarity.


Review: "The Grinch" is a fun little update.

The Grinch Review

I recently rewatched the 2000 "The Grinch" movie, the one where Jim Carrey pretty much disappeared into the role of the Grinch. That snobby, green monster who pesters the Who's of Whoville and isn't a big fan of Christmas. The film that was directed by Ron Howard. I remember it was one of the worst reviewed movies of that year. When I originally saw it, I was in 5th grade and I remember seeing it in a sold out theater. I still think the make-up is beyond effective. But it is kind of a goofy movie, although I am not sure its still one of the worst movies of that year.

The Grinch story is pretty straightforward story. There is a place called Whosville, and the Who race of that town LOVE Christmas. They spend many a time decorating, buy, selling, wrapping, cooking, baking, all-things Christmas. There is also a Wh- or whatever The Grinch is, there's a green monster who lives in a cave-of-sorts on the outskirts of Whoville and he despises Christmas. So much so that he plans to steal the holiday away from the Whos. His plan is successful, but instead of feeling despair, the Whos embrace what the holiday actually means, which changes The Grinch's feelings on the holiday as well. It's a story we know and it is easily digestible.

Illumination doesn't really try to reinvent the wheel here. They've certainly added content that, if I remember correctly, wasn't in the original story by Dr. Suess or the original 1966 animated film. The film features the same exaggerated, cartoonish animation we've come to expect from the studio. There is a lush, colorful quality to it that is quite beautiful. Just like the "Despicable Me" movies. Movies like this come out to appease the children. They will love the animation, they will love the goofy nature of the movie, they will love the laughs. 

I'm sure all audiences will get a kick out of it. I for one, laughed quite a bit throughout the film. There are a bunch of funny situations in the movie. Benedict Cumberbatch's voice work is, as expected, incredible. Cumberbatch has got one of those voices that would be perfect for the character, and trust me, he uses it well. He helps set the fun mood of the entire movie. The scenes added to the movie are set in order to make you laugh. This is a movie that aims only please.

Because of that aim, its really hard for me not to recommend it. Its a great holiday movie and a wonderful movie to watch with your family this season.