Monday, September 30, 2019

Review: "Ad Astra" is a lukewarm yet visually arresting experience

Ad Astra Review
We've been really lucky with space movies as of late. Once the decade ends, we can look back and remember we were so happily blessed with movies like "Gravity," "The Martian," "First Man," "High Life," and to a lesser degree, "Interstellar." Now lands "Ad Astra" which only adds to the decade of space. Much like the movies I listed above, "Ad Astra" is a brilliant visual experience. There is a good reason to check this out while its in theaters. Go to the best screen you can find and the let the images wash over you. That's half the treat with "Ad Astra." We have got really good and shooting unbelievable visuals of outer space and this movie is just another wonderful example of that.

Need more? No problem. Brad Pitt leads the charge in another potent performance. Say what you will about his boyish appeal. Say what you will about his turbulent personal life. But the fact is that Brad Pitt delivers every single time he's in front of a camera. He's one of the most gifted actors of his generation, and he can speak volumes by saying little to nothing at all. There's lots of looking around and body language in "Ad Astra" and its a little amazing how Brad Pitt can create a whole character, even when there is no spoken dialogue. He leads with a wonderful supporting cast, which includes Donald Sutherland, Liv Tyler, Ruth Negga and Tommy Lee Jones, all of whom do excellent work here.

Do you believe in life on other planets? Do you think we are alone in the universe? It's an honest question. As popular as storming Area 51 has been in recent popular culture, its something many seem to be thinking about currently. Don't laugh, but I don't think we are alone in the universe. Is traveling across the universe in light speed possible anywhere else? Well, we still haven't been discovered yet. Do I think we will ever meet other life across the galaxy, probably not. But I do think its rather naive to think that we are alone. "Ad Astra" takes place in the near future, where we are actively trying to discover life elsewhere. Pitt plays Roy McBride, an astronaut whose father Clifford (Jones) disappeared thirty years ago. Roy has begun to notice several surges across outer space and he is called into NASA for a mission. It is believed that Clifford is still alive and that the surges in space are being caused by a project Clifford was in on, a project that puts the entire universe at risk. Clifford went out looking for life on other planets, and now Roy wants to bring his father home.

The movie is equal parts "2001" and "Heart of Darkness" and like I said, its a visual feast. The movie touches on lots of familiar ground. Father issues, estranged relationships, stress from work and while the movie touches on these things nicely, they don't really break any new ground. I'd say the pacing is definitely something to look out for, as it does feel long in many parts of the movie. I think the bigger questions that are presented in this film are answered in a rather anticlimactic way, which always stinks to a degree.

But perhaps "Ad Astra" will be so wild to look at that the movie's few flaws won't matter so much to you. This is a nice character-driven piece. A luminous ride through space. It is piloted nicely by Brad Pitt. There is plenty to brace yourself for, and again, find the biggest screen you can!

FINAL GRADE: B+

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie trailer



"Breaking Bad" is one of the best TV shows of the last twenty years. Just when you think its all over, despite a spin-off, we are getting a movie on Netflix.

Jesse Pinkman, Skinny Pete and Badger are all back and its nice seeing Aaron Paul back in these shoes.

The trailer itself looks intense and mysterious, kind of like the show itself. I'm definitely in.

Monday, September 23, 2019

RIP Sid Haig

RIP Sid Haig


As the outpouring of affection towards Sid Haig's passing continues tonight, I am reading over and over again that Haig was merely a horror icon. While that was a huge part of his career throughout the 21st Century, that hardly begins to define Haig's whole career.

Did you know that Haig appeared in a James Bond movie? Did you know he was one of King Tut's henchman in the 1960's "Batman" TV show with Adam West? Did you know he appeared on the TV show "Mission: Impossible?" Did you know he was a regular for producer-director Roger Corman? Did you know he had a television career that included "Gunsmoke," "Star Trek" and "Charlie's Angels?"

He was typically a villain, he showed up as a villain in many of the Blaxploitation movies of the late 1960's and 1970's. What is Blaxploitation? Sadly, its a sub-genre that doesn't really exist anymore. You could call the sub-genre film noir with attitude, but even that doesn't quite describe it. Haig showed up as a villain in countless of these films, my personal favorite being "Coffy."

I don't want to take away from the work he did with Rob Zombie in recent years. Captain Spaulding is character that is going to live on in the horror genre now as long as we are talking about horror villain icons. Haig just had a bigger career than I feel he's getting credit for. I hope you explore every corner of his filmography.


Review: "Between Two Ferns: The Movie" is TV-to-cinema as it should be

Between Two Ferns: The Movie Review
There seems to be one commonality when Hollywood decides to bring a television show to the big screen, those movies simply become longer versions of a regular episode of said show. You see it over and over again. My favorite movie based on a TV show is "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut," one of the reasons, well, just read the title again. The movie embraces what its doing and that's part of the joke. I'm sure part of the appeal for people seeing a movie based on their favorite TV show is seeing your favorite characters doing what they usually do. But that doesn't automatically mean it makes for a good movie. Is this all we should expect from movies based on TV shows? Just longer episodes of the show with a bigger budget?

I don't know how many people would call "Between Two Ferns" a TV show. Its more of web series. But since TV has really evolved in the last decade, I have a hard time not calling it a TV show. If you've never seen a single episode of "Between Two Ferns," its a very simple set up. Zach Galifianakis plays a more mundane, dry version of himself and conducts short interviews with big celebrities. The interviews are usually just Galifianakis trying to drive his guests crazy in five minutes or less, but the show has been surprisingly funny for as long as I've been a fan. Its not material that I'd ever guessed would be movie material. So I was surprised that Netflix was even going to go there.

There were going to have to be some major changes if this idea was even going to work as an hour and a half movie. Once again, to my surprise, Zach Galifianakis and director Scott Aukerman deliver something that works. There are some big laughs throughout the movie, and this should be a delight for anybody who has ever been a fan of the web series. That typical dry humor is on full force in this movie, and some of the films victims include Brie Larson, Chance The Rapper, Matthew McConaughey, Bruce Willis, Paul Rudd, and David Letterman. 

But if you think this is just an hour and a half long episode of the show, you mistaken. The movie takes kind of a "Office" parody, as we learn about the cast and crew who put the show together. Will Ferrell plays a eviler version of himself who created the show. There is a wrap around story of a documentary crew filming Zach's day-to-day life producing the show itself and it takes "The Office" parody to big heights. Galifianakis' usual droll persona pays off big when he's interacting with the documentary crew. Lauren Lapkus is particularly funny as Galifianakis' secretary.

Where the movie falls a bit is in the second half. Sure, its a little funny when this mockumentary suddenly begins to feel like a movie, but the execution comes up a little short. The count down in the second half of the movie is almost unneeded, as its pretty funny as a false documentary in the first half. See Galifiankis' show is in danger of getting canceled in the last half the movie, and he pretty much goes and finds other people to interview in order to save his show. Again, its a sub-plot that really isn't needed and an equally convenient way to keep Galifianakis occupied to fill an entire movie. Perhaps this could have worked a little better as a short film. 

No matter what, "Between Two Ferns: The Movie" is TV-to-cinema done right. A movie that pays homage to the fans who watch it without just being a longer episode of the show. The movie takes that ambition a little too far at times, but sometimes in comedy its okay to go too far.

FINAL GRADE: B

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

A look at "Battle of Big Rock" A Jurassic Park short film



As much as I liked the first "Jurassic Park" all the way back in 1993, all the other movies in the franchise have been copies of the first. It's just excuse after excuse to get people on the island to slowly get killed by dinosaurs. Rinse, repeat. Interestingly enough, there was a concept for "Jurassic Park 4" that would have brought the franchise in a totally different direction. If you can imagine humanoid commando dinosaurs that could walk, talk and use guns, that was "Jurassic Park 4." I'm not lying. You can find concept art online.

The dinosaurs escaping to the mainland has been something that kinda been hinted at now and again in these movies. But not something that's ever really been seen full fledged. Until now that is. Colin Trevorrow, who directed "Jurassic World" has made a little short film called "Battle at Big Rock," it takes place after "The Fallen Kingdom" sometime.

It's not even ten minutes long, the biggest name in it is Andre Holland. A family is camping in the wilderness somewhere. It all feels rather genuine and authentic. We have a couple, and the man and the woman each have a child from a previous relationship. Plus, a child they made themselves. You can tell this family dynamic is rather new, since the two oldest children are still struggling to get along. That's before some Triceratops' come walking through camp.

At first there is a sense of wonder as the family watches the dinosaurs. But then, the Triceratops' are attacked, and things tip into life and death very quickly for the family. The movie is wonderfully shot and has more genuine tension then any of the actual movies. Check it out above!

I'd love to see more of these short films made!

Knives Out Trailer



I love murder mysteries where people are trapped in a house.

Especially when they've got all-star casts

My most anticipated movie of the winter!

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Review: "It: Chapter 2" aims high and eager to please, but doesn't compare to the first

It: Chapter Two Review

WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

I've been a fan of Stephen King all of my life. Easily, he's my favorite author. I read several of his stories, both novel and short stories, and I've seen plenty of the adaptations of his work (and there are plenty of those). I am 30 years old now, and after soaking up so much King in my life, I have come to a conclusion. I believe his books are unfilmable.

Its really hard to get into what works and what doesn't work in this last chapter of "It," which started in 2017, without diving into spoilers. "It" the book is roughly 1100+ pages, if I remember correctly. So that tells you right there that you have to be able to put in the time to really get this story right. Even with two movies, it feels like director Andy Muschietti is galloping through each movie in order to put so much for the book to the screen. I really enjoyed the first movie, and what Muschietti has created here with his second movie is a valiant effort. It's easily the most ambitious mainstream blockbuster you'll likely see all year, and yes, that includes "Avengers: Endgame." There are images here that I never expected I'd ever see. At the same time, after growing up with the 1990 mini-series and watching this new adaptation, I believe we haven't seen the best version of this story onscreen.

As the film opens, we see the Losers Club after the end of the first film, they make their blood oath to come back to Derry, Maine if the Pennywise The Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard) isn't dead. The kids make their blood oath. Sure, enough, Pennywise rears his ugly head again. The second half takes place 27 years later. The Losers Club have all grown up, reach different levels of success, and have forgotten what happened to them as kids. Except Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) who became a librarian in Derry. He's been keeping tabs on the crimes of the city, to make sure nothing seems suspicious. When Pennywise is literally calling them out, he calls his friends.

James McAvoy plays Bill, Bill Hader plays Richie, Jessica Chastain plays Beverly, James Ransone plays Eddie, Jay Ryan plays Ben and Andy Bean plays Stanley. Although Bean doesn't get too much screen time. As Stanley remembers his childhood, he's too traumatized and he takes his own life. The cast is great across the board, and they really dive into the material here. Looking at each actor, they look very much like their kid counterpart, to the point that it freaked me out a bit.

I'm gonna try not to play the whole "well in the book they did this" through this review. If you grew up on the 1990 mini-series and that's your sole exposure to "It," just understand that the book is much weirder compared to the mini-series. Its a typical King book. King is the type of writer where something psychologically disturbing one chapter, then a gruesome death the next chapter, then maybe some random object comes to life and tries to eat people the chapter after that. "It" throws everything King has ever represented in one book. What Muschietti chooses to keep in the movie and what he doesn't represents what works from the movie and what doesn't

One thing that strikes me is how bad the special effects work is, it shocked me. Warner Brothers is a studio that gave us "The Matrix" movies, various DC movies and the "Harry Potter" movies. Personally, I would have wanted more practical effects, or just better special effects. In the first trailer for "Chapter 2," we see the infamous scene from the book where Beverly visits her old home in Derry and has a horrifying encounter with Pennywise. The trailer sets the scene up perfectly, but in the movie, the scene falls flat due to some bad special effects.

Also, after I read the book, watched the 1990 mini-series and now this movie, I must confess, ending this story with a big fight with a giant spider is lame. I know Stephen King was inspired by J.R.R. Tolkein and "Lord of the Rings," but just because Shelob works in "Return of the King" doesn't mean six adults fighting a giant spider works in this story. Its an odd climax after so much build-up, and that rings loud and clear in this movie. It doesn't help that the design is half clown, half spider. It's odd and it certainly didn't make me feel much dread. Which is another problem with this two-parter overall. They've made Pennywise as a Freddy Kruger like character where...he's barely ever scary. In the book, Pennywise is horrifying pretty much all the way through. In this movie, there are a couple of times that he's a little too goofy and it just doesn't work.

That's not to say that this movie doesn't have some scary parts. Because King writes such strong characters, we identify with them fast. King's stories tend to walk that fine line between funny and serious, and this movie is a little too funny at times. There are just too many wisecracks between the adults in this movie, even at times where we are supposed to be feeling dread. There are also some superficial characterizations added in just for no reason at all, and never explored in any meaningful way.

SO what does work? Well, the actors are all at the top of their games here. Skarsgard is working overtime and while he's never really scary, he's fun to watch. The random reference to "The Thing" made me laugh out loud. The movie does produce some fun scenes here and there. I think fans of the book will also just be amazed by what Muschietti through at the audience. The movie gets wickedly wild in places and I loved that he really shot for the stars. 

The stuff that works here works so well that I think there's enough here to consider it a win. But again, I don't think we've seen the scariest version of this story on screen yet, but boy does Muschietti surely tries. I don't want this to sound bad, because it probably will. But Cary Fukunaga wrote a great script for "IT" in 2014, and while he got a writing co-credit on the first film and plenty of material from his script made into the first film. It wasn't his film, WB ended up passing on it. I really wish we got his movie. I really wish we got what his vision overall. Still, this will be remembered as a valiant effort, because it is.

FINAL GRADE: B

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Review: "The Peanut Butter Falcon" is a charming little film.

The Peanut Butter Falcon Review

There is always something special about "People on an Odyssey" movies that hits me in the heart

I also can't fathom that this is starring two actors I usually don't care about. 

Shia LaBeouf is an actor that has been on the rise within the last few years. He used to be a guy I couldn't really stand, but he's been really proving himself as an actor in recent years. Maybe he needed to take a step back from the mainstream. Maybe that wasn't centering his true talents. In 2016, he was in the amazing "American Honey," and I couldn't believe just how amazing he was in that. Now, he makes a great starring role in "The Peanut Butter Falcon. "A sweet, sincere and hilarious little movie about finding ourselves through the worst possible circumstances. LaBeouf plays Tyler a thief and fisherman haunted by a terrible past. He gets tangled up with some very bad guys and needs to get out of town.

This brings him into contact with Zak. Zak, played wickedly well by Zack Gottesagen, is a 22-year-old with Down's Syndrome who really wants to be a professional wrestler. So much so that he escapes the retirement home he lives in so he can find his favorite wrestler and train under him. Sadly Zak has no real sense of navigation and feeling bad for him, Tyler takes him under his wing, promising to find his favorite wrestler so he can start training. Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) takes care of Zak, and takes it upon herself to find him. 

At first, it seems like a typical buddy comedy between Tyler and Zak on the way to find the wrestler, but there is so much sincerity in the movie that it all flows away. This is a charming little story, elegantly told. The work by the three main actors is mesmerizing. Gottesagen is true discovery as a performer, and LaBeouf and Johnson have NEVER been this good before. Much like LaBeouf, Johnson is getting much better as an actress, and she was excellent in "Suspiria" last year. Here, she strikes just the right cord, never feeling phony or unrealistic.

This is a special little movie that doesn't come around often. You should check it out.

FINAL GRADE: A 


Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Doctor Sleep Trailer



I'm continually curious about this one.

I like that it is connected to the Stanley Kubrick movie, and since that movie is very different from the book, so I look forward to find out how its like the book and the Kubrick movie.

I love all the actors involved.

Its looking good.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Review: "Ready Or Not" is a wild, kick-ass, dark comedy ride!

Ready or Not Review
Its amazing sometimes how comedy seems to walk hand in hand with horror. When you look at something like slapstick, and you are seeing really awful things happening to people, and the only thing that's making you not cover your eyes is the funny situation of it all. Sometimes the situations presented in horror movies could make good comedies, and if a script was altered just a bit, could be funny as well. I love both genres dearly and when the kowtow the same line, great fun can be had. 

"Ready or Not" is huge fun. It takes a simple premise ripe for both scares and satire, and the crew wrings everything out of it they possibly can. It's brought together by a tremendous ensemble. Its goofy and gory in equal measure, and staying too self-serious but also not so silly that it comes off cheesy. 

Margot Robbie look-alike Samara Weaving plays Grace and when we meet her she's mere hours from getting married. Her soon-to-be husband Alex Le Domas (Mark O'Brien) has brought Grace to her family's secluded mansion for a beautiful wedding. They are both excited, lubby-dubby. You know the feeling if you're married at this point, its exciting for them and we feel the love. The fast-forwards to the end of the night and the couple is still very happy. Alex has one more surprise for Grace though, in fact his whole family does (that features such wonderful actors, like Adam Brody, Henry Czerny and Andie MacDowell). Czerny plays the head of Alex's family and he described a tradition the Le Domas family partakes in every time a member is married. There was a long tradition where a great Le Domas relative made a deal with a mysterious Mr. Le Bail (never seen in the actual movie), where the Le Domas family will stay rich and fortunate if they keep up a certain tradition of Mr. Le Bail's choosing. Since the Le Domas family had several game businesses, they play a game in which a player draws a card, whatever activity shows up on the card, they have to participate in.

So when Grace sits down to choose a card, she chooses "Hide and Seek." Yep, the Hide and Seek game. Seems harmless enough right? She's had plenty to drink, had a fun night, so why not, right?
Unbeknownst to Grace as she goes to hide though, that the Le Domas family plans to kill her. The Le Domas family has to sacrifice somebody to Mr. Le Bail before dawn or Mr. Le Bail will kill them all. Grace eventually catches on to what is happening to her, and she tries to survive the night as Alex betrays him family and tries to help her.

What ensues is a wild mix between "You're Next" and "Clue." A movie that successfully thrills, while also making you laugh out loud at the circumstances. It's a very violent movie, and there are some fun jumps. But this is mostly a thrilling movie, a big bloody ball of fun for fans of this type. Sure, its predictable for most of its sadly brief runtime, but there are a couple of curve balls thrown at the audience, only here and there. The fun is kept alive.

Whatever familiarity you see in this movie is taken over by how crazy a good time you are going to have. So GO and have fun.

FINAL GRADE: B+

Summer 2019, A retrospect

Other than Roger Ebert, the main voices I read in the film criticism world growing up were several online voices. They always talked about the summer movie seasons of the 1980's and how wild and fun that was to grow up in. I sat back always wishing I had a time like that in my own childhood. I didn't go to the movies enough in the 1990's to remember, because those were my formative years. My teenage years I remember vividly and the summers of 2000's were always hit or miss when it came to summer movies. I don't mean each season of each year, but mean month-by-month. I don't really remember the summer movies seasons being by-and-large that great in those days. Until the decade got closer ending, of course. Summer 2007 was good, but 2007 was just an all-around excellent year of movies and summer 2008 was the best summer movie season I ever lived through.

The last few summer movie seasons have been really good and I do wonder what kids and teenagers have been thinking, because its got to be a ball growing up in these movie summer seasons of late.

The summer 2019 was full of surprises. I didn't think I'd have a fun time with the "Child's Play" remake, but I did. I didn't think I'd like the third "Annabelle" movie, but I did. I had reservations on "Brightburn" and didn't think I'd care much, but I did. I wasn't sure how "Midsommar" would live up to the script, but it did. I wasn't sure if a third "John Wick" would live up to the first two, but it did. The summer 2019 defied all expectations.

Which isn't to say that there weren't a few disappointments. I wish I could have liked "Men In Black: International," "X-Men: Dark Phoenix" and I wish "The Lion King" made me forget about the animated movie. But we can't win them all and even the disappointments added to the flavor of what made this season a keeper.

It didn't matter if something came from the mainstream world or the independent world, it seemed like everything was playing at high pitch. Things like "Godzilla: King of Monsters" dazzled just as much as things like "Blinded By The Light" did. You could almost go to your movie house, choose something at random, and you'd be delighted.

Some quick comments on some movies that I didn't review...I wish I could say that "Tolkien," the movie about how J.R.R. Tolkien came to write "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" was something special. It ended up just being another biopic movie. Not much surprising and very much ordinary. A movie that didn't feel like a typical biopic? "Rocketman." This movie did something that I wish more music biopics would do, they turned the life of Elton John into a full fledged musical, and it works. The movie is so much fun and I think everything missing from "Bohemian Rhapsody" was in "Rocketman." "The Secret Life of Pets 2" was just a sequel and not much more. I never got around to seeing "Aladdin."

What was your favorite movie of the summer?

Bring on fall!