Friday, November 29, 2019

Review: Martin Scorsese has blessed us with another magnificent crime saga with "The Irishman"

The Irishman Review
Now, that I have finally seen Martin Scorsese's "The Irishman" I think I understand him much better on his stance against Marvel films. Even if I will always respectfully disagree with him.

"The Irishman" is not just another crime saga. That would be really easy for Martin Scorsese to do, but "easy" really isn't a word in Scorsese's vocabulary. He's one of Hollywood's true artists, and I really don't care how artsy-fartsy that may sound. He is constantly pushing himself as a filmmaker and as an artist and he is always trying to fill our auditorium screens with things we've never seen before. Every time he sets out to make a gangster movie, he barely ever repeats himself. 

"Goodfellas" is still one of my favorite films of all time, and what I love about that movie is that Ray Liotta's Henry Hill is a person that always wanted that mobster lifestyle. He didn't care that he was breaking several laws a day, he didn't care that he had to kill, he care that he had to steal, he didn't care that he cheated on his wife then cheated on his mistress while still cheating on his wife. At the end of the film, when he's witness protection, he hardly seems to feel any guilt with the life he chose. "These days I have to wait in line for bread, just like everyone else" he scowls at the camera as he picks up his morning paper. "Mean Streets" blended religious guilt over a mobster backdrop. "Gangs of New York" gave a glimpse of history we are never taught in schools. "The Departed" was this crazy mix of a Hong Kong remake with a true story which became 2006 biggest's and best pop culture moment. If I have a problem with "Casino," its that Scorsese made a mob movie with nothing new to say, its basically Goodfellas in Nevada.

So what is "The Irishman?" Well, along with Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood" its one of the most important movies about the current industry. When Scorsese says those things about Marvel movies, he isn't trying to bash those fans. He is trying to articulate what he sees as a problem with the current industry in Hollywood. I've already written about this a little bit myself on this site, and while I will always love the Marvel movies, I am plenty aware of the sins they have to answer for. The "shared universe" mentality hasn't been the biggest blessing for the medium. When there is only one type of movie you can see at the theater at a time, when studios aren't willing to take risks anymore and go for the easy money, that is definitely a problem. Scorsese sees it as a problem. There was a time when you could sell a movie using big actors, and that day seems to have evaporated completely from the medium. Nobody seems to want to give other movies a chance, we are just looking for the next big franchise to be obsessed with for the next decade. The beauty of movies is that they aren't one size fits all. You can communicate whatever you want with them because movies are language. A language of sight and sound. When we limit what we can do with this language, it hurts more than it helps.

Martin Scorsese is definitely obsessed with the legacy of the business right now and that's precisely what "The Irishman" is about, the legacy of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro). Its a movie about how Frank Sheeran reflects upon himself, and the guilt and the highs and the regrets he feels about the life he chose. When we meet Frank Sheeran, he's just a regular guy trying to provide for his family. He drives meat delivery trucks and after meeting some bad men, he begins selling some of his shipments to the Philadelphia Mob. When he is on the verge of getting in trouble with the law for it, its the mob's lawyer that helps him out of it. That eventually leads him to more stealing, then eventually murder, as he moves on up the chain. He becomes a very trusted man to Russell Bufalino (Joe Pecsi), a high-ranking member of the Philadelphia mob.

The movie is Sheeran's life throughout the mob, how he bounces off of other mobsters; like Felix DiTuillo (Bobby Cannavale) and Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel) and even becoming close friends with Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). This life leads to an estranged relationship with his daughter Peggy (played as an adult by Anna Paquin). The movie really isn't about one main event, but it never feels like a washed-up biography movie. By the end of the movie, we feel the man's entire legacy fall at our own feet. 

Netflix gave Scorsese an $160 million budget to make the movie, and that is pretty significant right there. It shows that Netflix is continuing to stay a power player as a source of top-notch entertainment and it shows how far Scorsese is willing to go to get his art to the masses. No studio in the business right now would give anybody that kind of money to make a mob movie, and again, that's another example of the "shared universe" business at work right now. Scorsese will jump through hoops to make his movies. "Gangs of New York" was in the works since 1976, apparently. And Scorsese also had to fight hard to get "The Last Temptation of Christ" to the screen, for an understandable reason too. Any time a movie about Jesus or God is made, its immediately put under the Scrutiny Microscope, so it is a miracle it got released at all. He is a man committed to his art, and you can see that with every frame of "The Irishman."

We will get to talking about the actors in just a minute, but I do want to take the time to say that the de-aging visual effects in this film are state-of-the-art and excellent. Robert De Niro through the years in this movie is amazing to just watch. You could put the movie on mute and be dazzled by how far visual effects have come. The same can be said about Joe Pesci too, because those effects on his character are just as good. Sometimes, you will have a hard time figuring out where the visual effects end and when make-up actually stops. Domenick Lombardozzi isn't an A-lister in the business, but he's one of those actors you'd recognize if you Googled him. He plays a character named Fat Tony in this movie, for good reason. Lombardozzi absolutely vanishes in this role, and I honestly can't tell if he's wearing make-up or if its some kind of CGI trick. Honestly, I don't want to know because its one of the best moments in his career.

Acting-wise, the movie is just a ball to watch simply to watch the actors bounce off each other. "The Irishman" is a long movie, at three-and-a-half hours. But you never once feel like you are watching a long movie, because each and every actor is at the top of their game. The two best are easily Pecsi, who has been missing in action for way too long. Then there is Robert De Niro, giving another performance that will further define his career. Watching him work with Cannavale, Keitel, Pacino and the likes of Ray Romano, Jesse Plemons, Jack Huston, Marin Ireland and Stephen Graham. Scorsese is able to generate great performances out of all of his actors, with genuine amount of ease. Everyone is on fire here, at all times.

There are several directors who have made careers doing the same thing over and over again. Others take their usual themes and tell different stories with them, the best of the best can do that. Scorsese is one of those artists and he has once again proven why he's one of the greats.

FINAL GRADE: A+

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Review: "A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood" earns every moment of its enormous sweetness

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Last year, one of my favorite films of 2018 was a documentary called "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" which was deep dive documentary about Fred Rogers. How he used television to tap into the minds and souls of children and families everywhere, and how his big heart was real and non-jaded every day. Now, in 2019, Tom Hanks plays Fred Rogers in a film called "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood." In a time where it seems frustration, hurt and cynicism is infecting us all, its a great time to be reminded of his wonderful man.

"A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" is not the movie I thought it was going to be, which is a very good thing. This isn't one of those greatest hits karaoke versions of Fred Rogers' life. This is about a very specific moment on Fred's career. He was interviewed for Esquire magazine around 1998 by journalist Tom Junod. Matthew Rhys plays Lloyd Vogel, who is loosely based on Junod. Lloyd Vogel is a pretty cynical man himself, and he was planning to see if Fred Rogers' persona was all an act or if he really is the accepting, do-gooder that we see on TV.

Like this even has to be explored. After seeing the documentary last year, yes its absolutely true, there was nobody on Earth like Fred Rogers. I don't mean to get geeky on all of you, but if there was one real person throughout the history of the world who could lift Thor's Hammer (if such a thing were real) it's Fred Rogers and its not even close. I can't imagine a more purer soul, a shining example of the type of person I try so hard to be every day. That idea that Rogers likes you for who you are and that you are lucky to be alive, Tom Hanks captures perfectly. That giddy and witty side when creating characters, Tom Hanks captures perfectly. Having the perfect response, the right response, to any question thrown his way, Tom Hanks captures perfectly. Hanks thoroughly becomes and completely embodies the philosophy of Fred Rogers. Its a terrific, terrific performance.  

Lloyd Vogel is cynical because he's estranged by his family. He's one of those tough journalists that finds the negativity and spin on everything. His father (Chris Cooper) cheated on his mother many years ago, and was not around when his mother died. His father wants to make amends after many years, but Lloyd is having none of that. At first glance, it seems justifiable right? But that's the thing about the teachings of Fred Rogers. Not forgiving, whether your right or not, is poison in our veins and the only way we really move on is if we DO forgive those who have wronged us. Lloyd's lifestyle affects everything in his life, including being a new dad. Rogers is able to tap into this without much effort.

Seems pretty cliche, doesn't it? A cynical journalist who lives a cold life sees the light thanks to a moral figure who enters his life by chance. It seems like some kind of dumb cable movie. Yet, the script by Micah Fitzerman-Blue & Noah Harpster plus the vision of director Marielle Heller keep things on point. They are smart enough to turn these people into characters first, then allow the drama to build from there. This feels like something real, while they still layer in all the sentimental sweetness you'd expect from a Fred Rogers movie.

I like how the movie is structured. It feels like one big, long episode of Fred's show. From the beginning music, to the model sets that form a new place after each scene change. It will make you feel nostalgic for the Fred Rogers show. The movie will make you laugh and it will make you cry. It will also make you want to be better then you were yesterday, in 2019, that's a message we need right now more than ever. Not only is "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" a great movie, not only is it one of the best of the year, its a reminder of who are always supposed to be. 

FINAL GRADE: A

Monday, November 25, 2019

Review: "Midway" is a waterlogged mess

Midway Review
"Midway" is one of THOSE war movies.

What do I mean by that? "Midway" is a movie that looks like about a thousand other World War II movies, and does very little to assert itself above the rest. Its a movie full of famous to semi-memorable actors, yet the script is so paper-thin that next to zero character development occurs. Its got characters recycling the same tired story-lines that they give the word cliche a bad name. Its a movie that is more obsessed with the look and the stylized violence of the movie instead of the heroes that the movie is supposed to be about. The oddest part about it all is, the special effects look like they came from a video game. How in the sweet Hell does Michael Bay's "Pearl Harbor" from 2001 look way better and more believable than "Midway" from 2019?

Funny I mention "Pearl Harbor," since this movie spends much of its first hour remaking that movie. Since "Pearl Harbor" wasn't even close to being a movie to be remade, I am puzzled director Roland Emmerich decided to go that direction, yet here we are. The thing Michael Bay got right in an otherwise crappy movie was the ugliness of war and the shock of that day, so many years ago. In "Midway," the Pearl Harbor attack looks so much like a video game that I can't for the life of me imagine what Emmerich was thinking. I am also baffled, Roland Emmerich gave us "The Patriot," while historically inaccurate to the max, "The Patriot" is actually a very entertaining movie. "Midway" is overlong, the dialogue is corny and stale, instead of intense, witty and memorable like "The Patriot." We don't have a single character to hang onto in "Midway," whereas in "The Patriot" we actually had several to hold onto. I also have to say I believed in the decapitation by cannonball much more than any dogfight in "Midway."

"Midway" is full of good actors. People like Woody Harrelson, Aaron Eckhart, Luke Evans, Patrick Wilson, Dennis Quad, Mandy Moore, Darren Criss, Jake Weber, Alexander Ludwig, Ed Skrein and Nick Jonas. That's one helluva cast to just fucking waste, yet Emmerich finds a way to do so. Nobody is made believable in any way. Everyone is given personality ticks rather than actual traits. They look like cardboard cutouts from other, better movies instead of actually giving life to the people they are supposed to be playing.

Despite the bad special effects, Emmerich sure does try hard to stylize the violence onscreen. Therein lies the problem for me. Anytime a war movie glorifies the violence, it fails in my eyes. The best war movies show us just how ugly and terrifying war actually is, because of this, we come to appreciate more the men and women who put on those uniforms and defend our freedom. Our troops aren't action heroes, they are several steps above that. War isn't an Xbox game, its something real and raw, and the best war movies showcase that. The "Saving Private Ryans" and the "Thin Red Lines" and the "Apocalypse Nows" and the "Black Hawk Downs" and the "Gettysburgs" and the "Glory's" and the "Platoons" and the "We Were Soldiers" of the world are best of the genre because they display what war actually is, and they do so without winking at the audience. They show us what it means to be in any line of the military and even if some of those movies tell fictional stories, they still respect the people they are supposed to be about. "Midway" is just a glorified fever dream that goes through the motions.

But hey, Woody Harrelson's fake hair is pretty hilarious.

FINAL GRADE: C-

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Review: Harriet is rousing entertainment, but hobbled by strange decisions.

Harriet Review
I can't believe that a Harriet Tubman movie has been in the works for 25 years and is just now making its way out into theaters. She's a woman who escaped slavery then went on thirteen separate missions to rescue slaves. She ultimately was able to grant 70 slaves their freedom through her rescue missions, including family and friends. She was a scout and spy during the American Civil War. She was instrumental throughout the Underground Railroad and the Woman's Suffrage Movement. To have a movie take that long to get on the screen almost feels like blasphemy.

I also read that despite being white, Julia Roberts was considered for the role in 1994. Which is easily the most fucked up thing I read all day today.

Now that "Harriet" is here, how is it? I can tell you its well acted. I can tell you its well staged in structured. There are moments that are both rousing and crowd-pleasing. Harriet Tubman, played so effectively by Cynthia Erivo, running through the forest with several escaped slaves while "Sinner Man" by Nina Simone plays in the background might be the best moment in any movie of the year. Harriet Tubman isn't just a person rightfully recognized in history, she's an American badass. At the same time, the movie has many of the same norms as most slavery movies have. If you were to edit these movies together at the right time, they would all look the same. The villains in this movie are so cartoonishly evil that I can't believe they don't have mustaches to twirl. 

Cynthia Erivo brings much grace to her portrayal of Harriet Tubman. She plays her as strong-willed and intelligent, exactly what is needed to do this role well and she runs with it. She is guided by an amazing supporting cast. Janelle Monae has been on fire as an actress since 2016 (see both "Moonlight" and "Hidden Figures") and she doesn't disappoint here. Vondie Curtis-Hall. Leslie Odom Jr. Jennifer Nettles. Omar Dorsey. The cast here is stacked, and they all help paint this very ugly portrait of what life was truly like back then and just how dangerous is what to go on the run from a system that broke the people trapped in it. Its a harrowing journey at times, but phenomenal and educational at the same time.

The only things that really hurt the films are clear. One, as I stated above, the movie relies a little too heavily on passed slavery movies. It takes its ques a little too religiously to ever feel original. Trust me, no matter how many movies of a particular genre are made, there is always room to stand out. Two, something weird happens throughout this movie and I never knew it about Tubman. Tubman had superpowers. Legit superpowers. She could talk to God. That may sound snarky and cynical, but I don't mean it to be. She spends lots of time talking to God in this movie, and every time she does, she conveniently gets out of a dangerous problem or something of the sort. Sure, she could have had good intuition. Many people around the world have that gift. But the movie makes it feel like she has superpowers, and the movie fails in any way to communicate that in any other fashion.

All in all, this is still a movie worth seeing. So much of it is so good that the couple small gripes I have didn't derail it all for me. This is a movie that sometimes raw, and absolutely emotional. 

FINAL GRADE: B+

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Review: "Motherless Brooklyn" is a nice announcement for Ed Norton, but lacks a pop

Motherless Brooklyn Review
If you are a fan of Edward Norton, you have probably heard any or some behind-the-scenes rumors around his name. Here's the thing about Edward Norton, he is absolutely relentless on both himself and the actors around him because he wants to deliver the best possible product. Doesn't make him a bad person, but its easy to see why some directors or some studios would label him "difficult to work with." Back in 2012, he was all set to play Hulk in "The Avengers," and he met with Joss Whedon. One of the big things Norton requested was a shot at the script, and there was no way producer Kevin Feige wouldn't ever let any of his actors do that. Norton wants the very best at all times, that rubs people the wrong way and but for some it does the opposite.

So one could only imagine what the set of "Motherless Brooklyn." Edward Norton not only stars but directed, produced and wrote the script, which is based upon a novel by Jonathon Lethem. Set in the 1950's, Norton plays Lionel. A man with Tourette Syndrome, but because of his photographic memory, he's an excellent detective. He works along side Gilbert (Ethan Suplee), Danny (Dallas Roberts), and Tony (Bobby Cannavale). These guys have all known each other since childhood and work for the guy who rescued them from an abusive orphange, a guy named Frank (Bruce Willis). 

Not to jump into spoilers right now, but when investigating a shady business deal, Frank is shot and killed. Lionel begins an investigation of his own to see who got Frank killed and why. Lionel's investigations lead him to a woman named Laura (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who is helping a woman named Gabby (Cherry Jones) who are fighting forced gentrification in the city, all being done by a ruthless city councilmen Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin).

If you didn't think that was enough stars, the movie also stars Leslie Mann, Michael K. Williams, Willem Dafoe, Fisher Stevens and Josh Pais. Every single performance, big or small, is at the top of its form. So its really hard to even begin talking about who sticks out here. Everybody is great. The movie feels like a mixture between "Once Upon A Time in America" and "Chinatown," and Norton fills his movie full of mood and atmosphere. Norton also does a splendid job taking us all the way back to the 1950's.

When it gets down to it, "Motherless Brooklyn" isn't a complicated story, but it takes its time getting to the end. It drags in places, it over-explains in places, its a movie that didn't need to be nearly as long as it should have been. In the end, you may be checking your watch a few more times then you anticipated. Its too bad, because Norton really does a great job as a first-time director and I can't wait to see what else he's capable of. He's just going to have to watch his pacing his next time around. Alas, "Motherless Brooklyn" is still worth the trip.

FINAL GRADE: B

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Review: "Lady and The Tramp" is "just" another live action remake

Lady and the Tramp Review
When I wrote my review of the live-action "Lion King" earlier this year (and its still crazy to even call it that) I expressed my disappointment with how its basically just a cooler looking version of the old film. Most of the live action remakes coming from Disney had something new, provocative and neat about them. They felt like updates, other than the obvious no more animation. But I just didn't get that from "Lion King," which made me sad because its my favorite Disney movie of all time and I think it deserved better than what it got.

I can say the same thing about "Lady and the Tramp." Its basically a glorified versions of the original. Nothing super new is added. Except maybe no more racist cats? Which is definitely a good thing. But that's the real major change, from what I remember at least. I think Justin Theroux and Tessa Thompson do good voice work. I think each human actor is cast pretty perfectly here. Hearing Sam Elliots voice come out of a dog's mouth might be one of the highlights of the year. But really, this is just a remake for a remake's sake.

Its so eerily similar that it makes it tough to review...

Review: "Noelle" is a familiar but sweet seasonal greeting.

Noelle Review

Its official. DisneyPlus is live, and the conglomerate seems poised to continue taking over the world. So let's say you are among the countless who ordered the app and are now hard at work streaming and seeing all the possibilities that lay before you. One of the pressures of any streaming service is the making of original content. There are probably several people who have collected Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars movies over the years. So there needs to be more to draw people to these services, and Disney is trying to prove they are ready for the task of wowing patrons.

It seems "The Mandalorian, "the new Star Wars live-action show, is destined to suck all the air out of the room when it comes to conversation around DisneyPlus, so the big question is, what else is on the app? One is a new movie called "Noelle" a family comedy starring Anna Kendrick and Bill Hader. With those two right there, that's a decent draw that I was personally interested. I love both of these actors abashedly and I was curious to see what they were up to here.

"Noelle" is the story of the Kringle family. The Kringles have been serving the people around the world for two thousand years. Each male lead of the Kringle family has been Santa Claus and they have passed the torch of this legend, generation through generation. The movie opens with the recent Santa coming home on Christmas Eve after a hard night's work of deliveries. Santa then delivers his gifts to his two own children, Nick and Noelle. This Christmas in particular is special for Nick, because Santa has chosen to begin training Nick to take his place in the Santa mantel. As Nick begins to be excited, Noelle asks what she can do to help, but since she's already in charge of Christmas cards, her father gives her much good stroke.

In typical Disney fashion, can you tell where this story is going? Just like with any other Disney movie featuring a Disney princess, Noelle wants to do more during this time to help people and to make them happier that time of year. As Noelle and Nick get older, they are played by Kendrick and Hader respectively. Nick is having trouble adapting to becoming Santa, and he's feeling the pressure of filling his father's shoes. When Noelle suggests taking a vacation, Nick takes it and blows it out of proportion. He leaves and never comes back, with Christmas Eve just days away, Noelle must find Nick so that he can deliver gifts.

Just discussing the plot, you probably know where this movie is headed. I am sure traditionalists will hate everything this movie stands for. Especially with the slight controversy last year when a petition was created to make Santa Claus gender neutral. The movie doesn't focus on whether or not Santa should be a man or a woman, but rather reminds us that the most important thing to remember this time of year is be good to each other, make sure we are all happy. The world is a dark place most of the time, and its the holiday season where people inspire good in each other and that's what its all about. This is all wrapped in the typical Disney anesthetic, and its a mostly entertaining package.

Like I said, Kendrick and Hader have great chemistry together, and their relationship is the glue to the whole movie. They both do good work here. Shirley McClaine does funny work as Kendrick's elf sidekick throughout the movie. Bill Eichner appears as Kendrick's cousin who assumes the Santa mantel and uses a technology app to determine who has been naughty and who has been nice, and it s a very touchy app to say the least. This presents one of the most interesting concepts of the movie, and creates the usual villain of each Disney movie, but this sub-plot is swept off the rug fairly quickly, which I thought was a mistake.

The bottom line though is that families will probably enjoy this one during the upcoming Christmas season. 

FINAL GRADE: B

Monday, November 11, 2019

Review: Spoilers A-plenty in this review of "Terminator: Dark Fate"

Terminator: Dark Fate Review

The "Terminator" franchise has become a mightly vexing franchise. The third, fourth and fifth movies in this overlong franchise merely only served to continue to fold reality onto itself. They also set up movies that we were never going to see. Once one of these sequels didn't stand on the same legs that the first two films did, they would be welcomed by a new team behind the next sequel. Most of the sequels don't feel connected to the larger story, and I think as shattered timelines have become more and more apparent, where the story actually connects and disconnects has become harder to determine.

I was partially hoping that "Terminator: Dark Fate" would handle some of that. At least the best to its ability. Now, on the other side of the movie, it only throws yet another wrench into...whatever this franchise is supposed to be at this point. Is it the most entertaining sequel we've had since 1991? Yes, that much is true. I liked watching scenes in this movie. I liked how things were staged and shot. The action sequences will make love to your eyeballs, that much is certain. "Terminator: Dark Fate" is a great movie to look at, no doubt about it. But I've always thought that this franchise really revolved around three people and one machine. This is the story of John Connor, leader of the human resistance against the machines, this is also about his mom, Sarah Connor, who is working in the past to protect the future. This is a movie about Kyle Reese, who went back in time to protect Sarah from the machines killing her, which lead to him fathering John. Finally, this is the story of the T-800, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who goes on quite the journey of his own as a character. Even including what happens to him in "Dark Fate."

We are moving into spoiler territory now. There is literally no other way to discuss the successes and failures of "Terminator: Dark Fate" any further without getting into spoiler territory. So if you haven't seen it, bail out now. I hope you come back to read along after you've seen it.

In the first ten minutes of "Dark Fate," the entire story as we know it is left hobbled. Because John Connor dies in the first five minutes. We get a voice over by Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor (an actress I've missed for awhile now, if I'm being completely honest.) A different T-800 comes months after the events of "Terminator 2: Judgement Day" and kills young John Connor (still somehow looking like a young Eddie Furlong, special effects these days, man). That may seem edgy and cool to some of you, but it kind of betrays what this movie series was always about. Yes, the third, fourth and fifth sequels in this franchise were unpopular and I don't mind if we whisk those movies away like they didn't happen. But this entire franchise as a whole is about John Connor getting to the future to take the Earth back from the machines. He may never stop the coming of the machines, but he will end the war. This franchise was the Connor's story, and when you kill the golden goose in the first five minutes in an anti-climatic fashion, this begins to feel more like a perverted fanfiction.

We jump forward in time. Sarah Connor is getting old but she still kicks ass. We are introduced to some new characters. Mackenzie Davis plays Grace, a resistance soldier who comes to the present from the future, not to protect Sarah, but to protect Dani. Dani is played by Natalia Reyes, and she is apparently a leader in a resistance movement in the future who leads a revolt against an army of machines. Of course the machines don't want that to pass, so they send a REV-9 played by Diego Luna. The most lethal machine created by Legion.

Wait, what? The evil machines hail from Skynet, Shawn. Except not in this story. Grace and Dani will cross paths with Sarah, because of course they do. Grace will reveal that Skynet nor John Connor exist in Grace or Dani's future. Dani is the sole leader of the resistance against Legion, an AI that tried to take over the world. It was at this point where I had to make sure I was still watching a Terminator movie. Now, I kind of buy the idea that a new group of evil machines rise in this future. Sarah Connor makes it clear in the opening monologue that her actions in "Terminator 2" ended the timeline of Skynet, even though Skynet just kept sending back machines to kill John, which they succeeded at. If they did succeed, where did Legion come from? And if Legion is a separate entity, did they just rip-off the look and design of Skynet's terminators? Diego Luna's REV-9 is basically every main evil terminator from the first three movies put together and it shares the likeness of the terminators too, you'd think a different entity would have their own designs. I guess Skynet should have put a patent on those designs.

The rest of the movie is just Sarah, Dani and Grace throwing everything at this evil robot that just keeps coming. The action is thrilling enough, and the women do a good job making the audience believe in this world. Grace is also a cyborg, so you can expect some really cool action scenes involving her character. But most of the movie is just these women trying to get to safety, away from a character that is nearly impossible to kill. Until they meet Carl.

The whole reason Sarah crosses paths with Dani and Grace is because she is receiving encrypted messages warning her of incoming terminators from the future. Because Grace is a cyborg she can trace where these messages are coming from, which leads to Carl. Guess who Carl is? Carl is the T-800 who killed John years ago. Played once again by Schwarzenegger. Somehow, even though he's a machine, he is aging. Also, because his purpose was to kill John and that purpose was fulfilled, he served no other use to Skynet so he's just...chilling in our present. So he acted like a real human, adopted a family and...get this...he grew a conscience.

I think this is a fascinating idea that is executed mediocre as fuck. I like the idea that machines would evolve passed their programming. I like the idea of a machine trying to understand humans, trying to get itself to think and behave like us. That could have lead to a Terminator movie unlike any other. The way its executed in this movie makes it come off like a plot convenience, instead of something they will explore in detail. It works as the bridge to get Schwarzenegger across, so he can start shooting guns and blowing things up. Because he's lived with humans and pretended to be one for years now, he understands us better, therefore he's sorry for killing John and now that's enough for our main characters to trust him so that he can help them fight REV-9.

Would you be surprised if I told you that they brought back the T-800 just to kill him all over again?

While I am glad the actors all came to play and how its very nostalgic to see Hamilton and Schwarzenegger together again. I am not sure there is enough here for a homerun out the ball park. The movie presents some interesting ideas, but only uses them because the plot requires them, not to tell a deeper story. At this point, time as folded so much on itself that these movies aren't making much sense anymore. This is becoming more discombobulated than Fox's "X-Men" movies. I don't mind jumpstarting this franchises and starting from a new point, but if you are going to ignore and erase EVERYTHING that came before and EVERYTHING that makes this story what it is, then it will soon enough not look like Terminator anymore. All the cool action and all the special effects and all the fun one-liners won't make the fans happy again.

FINAL GRADE: C+

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Review: "Doctor Sleep" is the best Stephen King adaptation in years

Doctor Sleep Review

Its really been no secret since I started writing this blog how much I love Stephen King. Even though I like him very much as an author, I think any fan of his can at least partially agree that Hollywood never really figured out his adaptations. Great adaptations of his work are few and far between, and most of his best adaptations aren't even for his horror stories. There have been plenty of good ones, but those that really endure? I wouldn't say many.

One of the best adaptations of his work was Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining," and it feels a little ironic to say that, because the way Kubrick made that movie, its really not an adaptation. In the straight structured way we think of. Sometimes, I feel like directors won't adapt a story or make a remake...they make REACTIONS to things. Stanley Kubrick is a reaction to Stephen King's "The Shining." Its got the spine of King's book, but Kubrick grew some nuts and made a movie that said, "you know, here's how I would improve the story." That may make Kubrick sound conceited, but I don't mean it to be. Anytime somebody goes to make a movie, they have a chance to say something. I find it captivating when a director chooses to add criticism in something they are merely adapting.

Stephen King wrote "The Shining" in 1978. Kubrick's movie came out in 1980. If you didn't read the book or see his movie or if you even missed the 1997 mini-series, here's the breakdown. Jack Torrence is a recovering alcoholic that is trying to make ends meet. He takes the job of a winter caretaker for the Overlook Hotel which closes every winter. He takes his wife Wendy with him along with their son Danny, who has a variety of powers; mind reading, seeing events from the past and future, stuff like that, these powers are called "The Shine." Danny soon finds out that the Overlook Hotel is haunted, which amplifies his powers to the point that the hotel is dangerous for both him and his family.

This all leads us to "Doctor Sleep," a book that Stephen King wrote in 2013, which was sequel to his 1978 book "The Shining." Its a story that follows Danny Torrence, who is now an adult and who uses his powers at a hospice home to calm those who are about to die. Eventually a connects with a teenage girl named Abra who has some of the strong "Shine" powers of her own. This catches the attention of a cult called The Tied Knot, they are a group who may or may not have Shine powers, but they feed of people who do, and its giving them quasi-immortality. They intend to go after Danny's new friend Abra, and Danny plans to do whatever he can to make sure they don't.

The 2013 book may be a sequel to King's 1978 book, but "Doctor Sleep" the movie is a direct sequel to Kubrick's "The Shining." Much like Kubrick's original movie, don't plan on this sequel being very faithful to the original book. It is a movie that very much embraces the style of Kubrick's movie, without ripping it off completely. The way The Newton Brothers use pieces of the original score from "The Shining" and blending it into their new cold-blooded score is amazing. The way director Mike Flanagan recreates the 1980 feel of the first film in a couple of flashback scenes is monumental. It looks like you are watching the original movie, just with different actors. But lets talk about those different actors. Alex Essoe only appears as Wendy Torrence in a few scenes, but she does an incredible Shelley DuVall impression. Remember how Shelley's voice went up when she was acting hysteric in "The Shining?" Essoe does that perfectly. There are actually a couple of examples of old characters coming back from the original Shining, played by different actors, that is just jaw-droppingly awesome. But I don't want to give away all of the movie's secrets. Just know its a movie like this that proves all that current James Dean bullshit is just that...bullshit.

Ewan McGregor and Kyleigh Curran have a wonderful rapport as Dan Torrence and Abra. There is an easy chemistry that they develop from the beginning. They are total strangers to each other, but the movie gets us to buy their quick friendship and allows us to care about them. Because when Rebecca Ferguson shows up as Rose and brings the freaky Tied Knot around, things get creepy in a hurry. Ferguson has been building a strong filmography in just a few short years, and this is one of her best performances yet.

The movie builds a genuine unease over the course of its long running time. It never feels boring, it never feels like its stalling. Its scary in moments, its very creepy throughout and its delightfully weird in moments too. It features everything you'd really want from a Stephen King adaptation and it does so with ease. Mike Flanagan really dug deep to make this thing a profound adaptation and he mostly does an incredible job.

FINAL GRADE: A

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Review: Netflix's "The King" is an intense history lesson

The King Review

Its a curse the rate Netflix releases original content, because its really easy for good stuff to get lost. I want people to check out "The King." Its got a great cast, some good cinematography. I am not exactly sure just how historically accurate much or any of the movie is. I know its based on a William Shakespeare play, so take that what you will. But hey, when can historical accuracy really play into many of these movies?

Produced by Brad Pitt's Plan B studios, "The King" tells the story of the rise of King Henry V and his campaigns in France. Ben Mendelsohn plays King Henry IV, and at the beginning of this movie he's this smarmy guy obsessed with war. He plays King Henry IV with all the smarmy glee that we've seen Mendelsohn muster over the last few years now. His own allies challenge the need for war and getting what they deserve for helping him, but King Henry isn't interested. Eventually his allies turn on him, and a drunk, burly Prince Henry V (Timothee Chalamet) steps in to stop the bloodshed, in a one-on-one fight with the other commander.

As King Henry IV's health begins to decline, Prince Henry V is usually absent. He has never agreed with his father on how to rule, and he's been well aware of the deceit that clouded IV rule. Henry V doesn't want that title, he doesn't want to rule, though circumstances will eventually lead him to do so. Eventually the two things Henry V wanted to stay away from, war and deceit become shining definitions of his own rule.

The acting, all across the board, is phenomenal. But lets start with Robert Pattinson, because his career has been a gold mine of performances recently. He plays a French Prince that tries very hard to intimidate Henry V to keep him out of France, even though France supposedly challenged him. Pattinson's work in this movie is unreal, I can't explain it any other way. He's got a crazy French accent, and while I have seen and understand criticism that has been floating around the accent, I dug it. He giggles and he acts like a total madman. I love that there still naysayers out there regarding his Batman role. Because recently, no two roles of his have been alike. "Good Time," "The Rover," "The Lost City of Z," "High Life," "The Lighthouse," and now this. No two roles are alike and he's building a very unique filmography here.

Joel Edgerton, always reliable, gives a splendid performance as Falstaff, a character that has shown up in a couple of Shakespeare's plays. He's quite good. Jared Harris. Thomasin McKenzie. Dean-Charles Chapman. These are some actors who we recognize and all do to-notch work here. Within the wonderous sets and backdrops, this is another one of those time machine movies that work really well.

It does feel a little long at almost two and half hours. There is a slow stretch of film before it really gets to the good stuff. There is also an epic battle scene, but also one of those scenes where you can't figure out who is on whose side. It seems like everything is a lead up to the final five to ten minutes, and that is what made the movie something of note. No matter what we try to do, living in a world of monarch's brought out the worst in people. Sometimes becoming what we don't want to be was unavoidable. I don't know how much of it is real, I'm sure there was plenty there that was for show. At the end of the day, "The King" is gritty entertainment.

FINAL GRADE: B

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Review: Eddie Murphy hasn't been this alive in decades in "Dolemite is my Name"

Dolemite is my Name Review
Who remembers early Eddie Murphy?

I know that may seem tough because Eddie Murphy, up until a few weeks ago, hadn't been himself in decades. That's not hyperbole, that is simply fact. Eddie Murphy in his early prime has not been the same Eddie Murphy we saw throughout the 2000's and even most of the late 1990's. Eddie Murphy in the early 1980's, had a special type of hunger as a comic. He mastered the type of humor that wasn't just funny, he was dangerous. That dangerous hunger would eventually filter into Eddie Murphy's movie roles and his skits on Saturday Night Live. There is a humor to Eddie Murphy movies from the 1980's that is just uniquely his. He was literally one of those guys who couldn't be matched by any other comic actor at the time.

Then suddenly the dream died. Some say he turned into Elvis, some say he he got into his own head. I have no idea. But in the middle of the 1990's, Eddie Murphy simply stopped being Eddie Murphy. When he started to sign on for family comedy over family comedy over family comedy, it seemed as if he can clipped his own wings. Did he seriously vanish so far up his own ass that he forgot who he truly was? At the dawn of the 2010's, Murphy simply disappeared, only coming out to occasionally voice Donkey in a random "Shrek" movie. Gone was the unique humor and the dangerous vibe of his laughs and in was a period of time where he was playing simple variations of the same person. When he showed up for the 40th anniversary of Saturday Night Live, he seemed like all he wanted to do was quickly get off the stage that it was staggering to watch, and he wasn't even on for very long.

I didn't think we'd ever see real Eddie Murphy again. But hey, I've been wrong in the past and I was wrong again. "Dolemite is my Name" is Eddie Murphy revitalized. This is the first time in decades where Eddie Murphy is wide awake, and the result is a movie full of a zany yet inspirational energy. There is a method to the madness that is so addicting to watch. This is a movie that made Eddie himself again, and its just one of them any highlights of the film.

"Dolemite is my Name" tells the true story of how comedian and actor Rudy Ray Moore made the film "Dolemite." It made me laugh a bit because just around the time "Dolemite is my Name" appeared on Netflix, "Dolemite" from 1975 starring the real Rudy Ray Moore made its way onto Amazon Prime. "Dolemite" is a blaxploitation movie, a sub-genre that was big throughout the 1970's, movies by black Americans, starring predominantly black Americans. The genre sustained much controversy, as the movies were usually crime dramas and it depicted blacks as criminals in many films. But the sub-genre is celebrated because these were the first movies in which black actors were the leads. Not the sidekicks, not the villains, not the comic relief, they were the leads.

Dolemite is a character Moore created, he's a smooth-talking, bad attitude having pimp-with-a-heart. The movie depicts his outrageous adventures and misadventures  as a tough-as-nails guy. Oh, and all of his women know kung-fu. Because of course they do. This movie was made at the height of the grindhouse era. The movies didn't have to make sense as long as they were entertaining. I watched "Dolemite" before watching "Dolemite is my Name" and it certainly enriched the experience.

Its amazing stacking Murphy next to Moore because Moore had a bigger stature. But there is no denying that Murphy definitely becomes the character. Murphy's usual sharp wit on full display here, as if he was born to play Rudy Ray Moore. The film opens with a great scene where Moore is trying to get a Disc Jockey (played by Snoop Dogg) to play certain songs and its not going well. We meet Rudy Ray Moore at a very desperate time in his life and its amazing how quickly the movie paints this picture without falling to cliche like a crutch. When Moore says "I don't have anything anybody wants" he means it and we feel it.

Eventually Rudy Ray Moore does find his step. That one thing we all want to find, that one foot in the door. Then more steps are taken past the door and forward and forward until Moore has carved his own version of the American Dream for himself. The movie may feel structured like similar movies, but the unrelenting humor throughout and the amazing work by Murphy keep you engaged. I am also baffled that such a sincere and inspiring movie had the word "motherfucker" spoken at least 400 times. Murphy is working with a great cast, including Keegan Scott-Key, Wesley Snipes, Craig Robinson, Chris Rock, Mike Epps and great discovery in Da'Vine Joy Randolph. The look and sound of 1970's Los Angeles is mesmerizing. 

The thing is though, the special effect is Eddie Murphy. I've missed and oh yeah, he's back. Hopefully here to stay.

FINAL GRADE: B+