In Theaters: Marriage Story, Playmobil: The Movie, The Irishman, Klaus, Knives Out, 21 Bridges, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Frozen 2, The Good Liar, Charlie's Angels, Ford V Ferrari, Lady and the Tramp, Last Christmas, Midway, Playing With Fire, Doctor Sleep
Coming Soon: Jumanji 2 (or 3?), Black Christmas, Bombshell, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Cats, Spies in Disguise, Little Women, Uncut Gems, 1917, The Grudge, My Spy, Like A Boss, Underwater, The Informer, Bad Boys For Life, Dolittle, The Gentlemen
★★★½: Very Good
★★½ : Eh
★★: Could've Been Worse, Could've Been Better
★½: Is It Too Late To Get A Refund?
★: Hope You Have A Good Date
½: Little To No Redeeming Value
No Stars: Rethink Your Life Choices
Image: Divorce story.
I feel at ease enough to admit to everyone that I have personally never been involved in an actually serious relationship. Nothing that led to the possible future of me spending the rest of my life with someone anyway. Not knowing any of the emotions that come with such a relationship, I need to ask.......Is this what heartbreak feels like? Because this hurts to watch. Like a lot.
"Marriage Story" follows a separated couple, attempting to do their divorce as simply as possible. "Charlie" (Adam Driver) is a successful New York theater director, while "Nicole" (Scarlett Johansson) is a former movie actress, who regularly stars in many of Charlie's plays. The couple wants to avoid any conflict, mostly because of their young son, "Henry" (Azhy Robertson). However, despite at first agreeing to not include any lawyers in the divorce process, Nicole is convinced to hire one, "Nora Fanshaw" (Laura Dern), who urges Nicole to ask for more, such as wanting to move Henry from New York to Los Angeles. Charlie's refusal to do so leads to him hiring his own lawyer, "Bert Spitz" (Alan Alda), though he's still convinced the situation won't escalate any further. Sadly, things are going to get much uglier as the couple's case heads to court.
Both directed and written by Noah Baumbach ("Frances Ha", "While We're Young"), "Marriage Story" is yet another Netflix released film, (Like "Klaus", "The Irishman", and "Dolemite Is My Name"), that has more of a place in theaters than many lesser films, for no other reason than the film's ability to stir up more powerful emotion than any other movie this year. It's very simple sounding and deceptively staged. The movie is presented in a slightly whimsical light, with Bambach's direction portraying itself as a little quirky despite the emotional turmoil at the center of the story. The screenplay also finds humor in the situation, offering some unexpected laughs whether it be how quickly things can escalate or how outrageously (And needlessly) complicated the divorce process can be, especially when courts and lawyers get involved. Not to mention, the film's absolute joy when explaining the bizarre awkwardness that comes with everyday life. (Such as people saying things at the wrong moments, little accidents, and our refusal to accept change despite the fact that it's going to happen whether we want it or not.) It's insightful and smart about the subject, while also giving its characters, especially the leads, time for the audience to understand their motivations and resonate with their decisions. No matter how bad things get, nobody is necessarily the bad guy here. Both Nicole and Charlie are overall decent people, with their own share of personal issues and flaws, but also likability and reason to win the case. Much like their lawyers, they can go out of their way make sure that happens, and they maybe even say and do things one shouldn't say to a loved one, yet you understand how they would come to making those choices.
If nothing else, "Marriage Story" is a showcase for how well actors can convey emotions that any everyday person has ever felt, and bring them to screen in a way that connects on a level of inner humanity that's so difficult to do. Scarlett Johansson, having broken my heart already with "Avengers: Endgame" and "Jojo Rabbit", is ferociously strong. She brings out a emotional gutpunch of a performance that rapidly rockets further as the conflict increases. Adam Driver brings a wonderful sense of humor (His confused reactions to the entire situation never fails to get a laugh), and a discreet aura of tragedy. The two also have such excellent chemistry with one another that you're wishing the two would just kiss and make up, despite knowing that the spark that was there before is clearly gone. Laura Dern is a scene-stealer as the kind of lawyer who only has eyes for victory no matter what. (She also gets a brilliant monologue about society's ideal vision of a flawed woman compared to a flawed man with a biblical comparison that's impossible to unhear.) Alan Alda, Ray Liotta (as "Jay Marotta", a second, more dirt seeking lawyer that Charlie turns to), Azhy Robertson, Wallace Shawn (as a member of Charlie's theater crew), and a hilarious Julie Hagerty (as "Sandra", Nicole's mother, who still adores Charlie), all shine in their supporting roles.
The film also features the most uncomfortable, unpleasant scene in any other film this year, which is something that I can see people talking about for years to come. (I can also see this scene as something that any cinephile will use as a reference to demonstrate how good actors can be.) It's an argument between two good people at their most vulnerable, which results in back handed comments that slowly grow into rage fueled rants and words that hurts more than any sharp object ever could. In a year that featured Joaquin Phoenix stabbing a guy repeatedly with a pair of scissors, a killer demon clown eating children, and violent Swedish rituals, I haven't felt more in pain watching this moment. (It was to the point I closed my eyes a couple times.) It's an incredible moment and human despair unlike anything I've ever seen in a movie before. "Marriage Story" is bittersweet and funny, while realistically portrayed, but not exactly in a cynical manner. It just shows things for how they are, finding humor and hope in mist of all the conflict. Marriage looks hard and draining, but the film also shows the beauty that can be found within it. It proves that regardless of where it all leads, maybe the love that was there is worth it. 4 Stars. Rated R For Strong Language And The Harsh Things People Say In The Heat Of The Moment. Extra Points To The Sight And Sound Of Adam Driver Singing. Never Knew I Needed That In My Life.
Image: "Of course we'e ripping off The LEGO Movie."
I'm back from vacation everyone! Disney World was exhausting, but in the best way possible. (Shame I never got to ride "Rise of the Resistance", but "Galaxy's Edge" was still incredible. And I made a lightsaber!) Now I'm refreshed and ready to get back to work. It would be fitting enough if I was just returning in to simply review a movie that didn't even make $1 Million at the box office, it also happens to be the worst animated movie since "The Emoji Movie"......Can't believe I'm saying this.....God, I miss Florida.
Starting off confusingly due to the trailer being incredibly (And if you ask me, almost illegally) misleading, "Playmobil: The Movie" opens in live-action with "Marla Brenner" (Anya Taylor-Joy), being forced to give up her dreams of adventure to take care of her brother, "Charlie" (Gabriel Bateman), after the death of their parents. Charlie seems more upset about his sister turning into a cynical adult that doesn't play with him though, and runs off to a toy museum, where a grandly designed "Playmobil" exhibit is on display. Marla and Charlie are suddenly transported into little Playmobil figures and thrust into the Playmobil world, with Charlie taking the form of a viking and Marla just looking generic. Charlie then ends up captured by some pirates working for the big bad, "Emperor Maximus" (Adam Lambert), who is collecting all of the strong warriors to force them to fight for his amusement in a gladiator arena. Marla, teaming up with a goofy food truck driver, "Del" (Jim Gaffigan), set out to rescue her brother from Maximus and return to the real world.
You know those crappy bargain bin animated movies that are nothing more than rip-offs of much better and more successful films, that also find ways to confuse poor old people into thinking it's that one movie their kids like? That's "Playmobil: The Movie", which is based off of those building toys that kids got because parents thought "LEGO" was too expensive. A lazily constructed, poor conceived, and perplexing waste of time that clearly has nothing for adults, but also ends up offering even less for kids. The movie is actually a musical, which I had no idea about until the first moment characters broke into song, and I realized the entire film was already dead. Directed by longtime Disney animator turned first time director, Lino DiSalvo, the movie doesn't have anything truly going for it other than being the lesser version of "The LEGO Movie", and frustratingly refuses to make an identity of its own. From the unnecessary live action sequence, to the terrible songs, which are hastily written and add so very little except to pad out the already too long runtime. (An hour and forty minutes. This was an hour and forty minutes!) The animation also, while not exactly the worst you'll find, is unremarkable and really feels even more offputting because of how uninterested the direction is. Nothing stands out, the musical numbers are basic, and the film never seems to try to do anything with its animation. I know it's nothing special, but it wouldn't of hurt to at least attempt to add some kind of flair. For something that features a lot of random things just happening because the movie can't seem to shut the hell up or sit down for five damn minutes Unlike the "LEGO" movies, which can go for crazy and elaborate without feeling out of place, this movie clearly has no idea what to do with its dull product.
Thank God for the wonderful Anya Taylor-Joy for doing what she can to salvage what little the screenplay provides. She's got charm to spare, while poor Jim Gaffigan tries his best to give a laugh or two, despite the movie not offering him a single funny line. Gabriel Bateman is annoying and comes across as more selfish than the screenwriters intended. Adam Lambert doesn't do much as a villain other than be smarmy, and his entire evil scheme ends up not actually making any relative sense. The movie gives nothing for the other voices to do, which includes Kenan Thomspon (as "Bloodbones", a pirate captive of Maximus), Wendi McLendon-Covey (as "Glinara", a gender swapped Jabba the Hutt), and Meghan Trainor (as a Fairy Godmother, who....actually, I'm having trouble remembering what her purpose was here. She just sort of pops up for a song and vanishes.) The closest thing to an amusing character would be Daniel Radcliffe (as "Rex Dasher", an elaborate secret agent, who the trailers went out of the way to show off as the main character despite only having less than ten minutes of screentime). He at least sounds like he's having fun and once he's gone from the movie, he's sorely missed.
If the "LEGO" movies are a representation of what creativity and inspiration a child can find with a cool toy, then "Playmobil: The Movie" is what happens when an incredibly stupid and uninspired one is forced to make due with what he's got. The movie has no humor, a severe lack of creativity, a rather confused message (Not sure what it's trying to say exactly. What did this little adventure teach?), and worst of all, a level of boredom that feels like the the constant prods of a sharp object. It's the kind of movie that only reinforces how corporately vile some modern films can be. (Though anyone still complaining about the amount of Marvel films still have no right to complain until they are forced to watch this on a twenty four hour loop.) It really is back to work with ones like this. ½ Star. Rated PG For Constant Noise, Jumpiness, And The Millions Of Dollars That Could Of Gone To Something Good.
Image: "So Al, we really need to talk about "Jack and Jill"?" "How about we talk about "Little Fockers" instead, Robert?"
I may be spending some time off from reviewing films this week for the most part due to my week long vacation to Disney World (Kind of hard to find time to review movies while enjoying all that Disney goodness), but thankfully, a certain acclaimed, influential member of Hollywood royalty has a new film that will help me fill my review quota nicely. Released through Netflix (Still making up for the recent loss of many fan favorite shows and movies), we have a three and a half hour epic crime drama that I watched over the course of a car ride, that left me staring at a blank screen for a good while before I finally began to gather my thoughts. Honestly, I'm still trying to gather them while I type this up.
Inspired by True Events and based on the book "I Heard You Paint Houses" by Charles Brandt (The book also shares the name with the film's alternative title), "The Irishman" tells the long and later tragic tale of truck driver, "Frank Sheeran" (Robert De Niro), who starts out delivering meat before becoming a delivery man for the Italian Philadelphia crime families. A chance meeting with Italian-American mafioso, "Russell Bufalino" (Joe Pesci) results in Frank becoming much deeper involved in the criminal underworld. As time goes along, Frank also ends up befriending the leader behind the "International Brotherhood of Teamsters" (Big time labor union for those who don't know), "Jimmy Hoffa" (Al Pacino). Throughout the film, we see these three's involvement in history (Such as the election of President Kennedy), as well as many mob dealings, whackings, political corruption, and the eventual consequences of them.
After spending some time in jail for bribery, fraud, and jury tampering (It all comes with the mobster territory after all), Hoffa returns in hopes of getting back all of the power he's previously lost. Sadly, the crime families don't like the fact that Hoffa can't seem to help himself from starting unnecessary sh*t, such as disrespecting people that no halfway intelligent person would even consider disrespecting. Despite Frank and Russell's attempts at calming things down, Hoffa turns out to be a little too much to handle and the mafia higher ups want something done about. Well, better yet, they want Frank to do something about. This leads to a mysterious disappearance that left everyone scratching their heads for years to come.
Directed by the one and only Martin Scorsese ("Taxi Driver", "Goodfellas", "Casino", "Gangs of New York", "The Wolf of Wall Street", "Silence", "Hugo", "Raging Bull". Too many films to count actually. I never realized how big his filmography was till now.), "The Irishman" isn't one of those action heavy gangster flicks. Those looking for that will be very disappointed. What the film really happens to be is a very comprehensive and intricate study into the dark depths of the mob and what is lost the longer one is a part of it. Things start off suitably twisted as the film somewhat has a sense of humor about itself, especially when it comes to how our characters treat killing and threatening people as every day things that come with the job. However, the further the film progresses, you see how a man's start of darkness can escalate and lead to very damning consequences, leaving metaphorical scars and decimated senses of humanity that can never be recovered. It's actually very quiet, slow paced, and instead of just outright explaining things in the direct moment, the film lingers on them and leaves it up to the audience to decipher on their own.
Scorsese, having made a career out of films like this and was obviously inspired by ones that came before, creates something that doesn't see the need to go for the extravagant. It's the film's quietness that makes the story so effective, along with the many and nearly excessive details to add to the realism. When I mentioned the slow pace, I didn't mean that as a bad thing. For a film that has so much story to tell and many real life connections that play a part in where everything eventually culminates. (Think of it as if Forest Gump were a gangster movie.) For something so long, you don't feel the length in the slightest, because of how tightly woven everything is and how very much fascinated you are by what you're seeing. It's helped by the occasionally funny, slightly nihilistic, and by the end, bitterly insightful, screenplay by Steven Zaillian ("Schindler's List", "Gangs of New York"). There also needs to be recognition and praise given to cinematographer, Rodrigo Prieto ("Brokeback Mountain", along with some Scorsese films like "Silence"), and film editor/longtime Scorsese collaborator, Thelma Schoonmaker. As for the film's use of visual effects, which rely on de-aging effects for a few actors (De Niro especially) during the many flashbacks and flashforwards in time, they are the kind of thing that could go horribly wrong and ruin everything that the film has set out to do. Luckily, they blend in seamlessly to the point where I started to forget what was groundbreaking CGI, really good make-up, or just how the actors today actually look. It's very understated and after a while, you don't even notice it anymore.
In a year that's been a return to form for many actors, we get some of the best performances in years from a trio of actors that have shaped what others aspire to one day become. Robert De Niro is very nuanced and restrained, with a character who tells a whole life story with a simple expression. Joe Pesci, having taken an eighteen year retirement, returns with a brilliantly calm, though threatening in an everyday businessman sort of way. It's clear that he cares for some of the people around him, but has no qualms allowing for violent acts to happen around him before carrying on with his life like nothing happened. Al Pacino, who has become a little more on the jokey side lately in the eyes of many critics, reminds everyone what kind of a powerhouse he can truly be. He devours the scenery with his mouth wide open, while taking his sweet time when finishing the meal and savoring it like the pro he is. The recognizable ensemble is made up of big and small parts, with some terrific performances coming out of everyone nonetheless, from Ray Romano (as "Bill Bufalino", Russell's cousin and Frank's lawyer), Stephan Graham (as "Tony Pro", who Hoffa has an antagonistic relationship with more than anyone), Harvey Keitel (as "Angelo Bruno", boss of the Philadelphia crime family), Jesse Plemons (as "Chuckie". Hoffa's adoptive son), Louis Cancelmi (as "Sally Bugs", a mob enforcer), and Anna Paquin (as "Peggy", Frank's daughter, who rarely says a word, especially around Frank), in a part that might seem oddly detached, but makes a strange amount of sense once you get to the end. (I get the idea it's all meant to be intentional.)
The most challenging and patiently thought provoking film to come out this year. (Maybe the last ten years actually.) "The Irishman" not getting a major theatrical release feels like a total shame. The runtime, while long, never feels that way, and the cinematic artistry in front of and behind the camera is what we go to the movies for in the first place. It just doesn't feel right that my viewing of the film was on my little phone in the backseat of a car. Scorsese proves once more to be filmmaker of unmatched quality, with the ability to inspire future fimmakers, while just plain making an immensely investing movie in the process. (While I disagree with you very much when it comes to Marvel films. I did after all give "Avengers: Endgame" the same rating I'm about to give this movie.) 4 Stars. Rated R For Mobster Language, Quick Moments Of Heavy Violence, And Fishy Conversation.
Image: "Wait! "Arctic Dogs" got a nationwide theatrical release and we didn't?"
Thanksgiving is said and done. We're all fat, regret everything we said in a drunken rage at the dinner table to the rest of the family, and some of us are currently on their way to Disney World at the moment. ("Galaxy's Edge", here I come!) December is about to be here and you guys officially have my permission to celebrate Christmas finally. See? It wasn't that hard. All you had to do was wait four weeks before you started shoving commercials, promoting products, and playing Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You" till you find yourself humming it at random like a brainwashed zombie. Let's celebrate with an early surprise Christmas gift that the whole family should enjoy.
"Klaus" follows spoiled rich twerp, "Jesper" (Jason Schwartzman), who is forced to attend his father's postal academy. After slacking off and intentionally failing at the academy in an attempt to get out of working, it's arranged for Jesper to become a postman for a little town on an island far away in the Artcic called "Smeerensburg". Given the task to deliver 6,000 letters in a year, Jesper arrives in Smeerensburg to discover that the town is a rundown, miserable mini-warzone, where the "Ellingboe" and "Krum" families have been feuding for centuries for reasons that even they don't remember. (They even have a bell in the middle of town to ring when it's time for an afternoon battle.) Jesper begins to fear that he will be stuck in this town forever, but finds hope when he comes across a reclusive and quiet toymaker, "Klaus" (J. K. Simmons).
A series of events results in a toy being delivered to a child, giving Jesper the idea for kids to send him letters for Klaus asking for similar gifts. Klaus later delivers the gifts along with Jesper, providing him with a means of possibly getting out of his current predicament. The two spark a movement as the townspeople begin to react to the acts of kindness, much to the dismay of the villainous, hate-filled family leaders, "Mrs. Krum" (Joan Cusack) and "Mr. Ellingboe" (Will Sasso). Though initially assisting Klaus with his present deliveries for selfish reasons, Jesper soon also finds himself changing for the better. Thus leading a Christmas legend that every man, woman, and child knows.
A Netflix exclusive animated film that quite frankly should of been available for families to see on the big screen for many reasons (Though the incredible animation should be plenty reason enough), "Klaus" is the directorial debut of longtime Spanish animator and designer, Sergio Pablos (Who has done work on many films such as "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", "Treasure Planet", and even created the "Despicable Me" franchise). The film is a holiday themed, sweet-natured, and shockingly funny treat with much to offer for family members of all ages. After a spending a long time trying to come to fruition and having been passed up many times, the film is created through the use of stylized and shaded animation, that is also meant to give off the feeling of traditional (And sadly, now rarely seen) hand-drawn style. It's a gorgeously artful film, with the background looking like a classic Christmas painting or something you would see in an old Children's book. It's also especially stunning when it comes to how the characters move and react, with each movement giving off a vibrant motion and adding a sense of personality to every character. Not to mention, the humor also works very well, with some clever explanations for how certain aspects of how the "Santa Clause" myth came to be and loads of good comedy that will even have the parents laughing possibly even more than the kids. I do like how the film isn't afraid to get even a little darkly comedic at times, especially with how cartoonishly violent the townspeople at first appear. (The recurring gag of a creepy little girl impaling a snowman with a carrot had be bursting out with laughter every time.)
A perfectly cast Jason Schwartzman finds charm in what begins as a very brattish, though still thoroughly entertaining, lead character, with a realistic path of development that doesn't feel forced. J. K. Simmons gives a very somber, subdued, yet very heartfelt vocal performance that doesn't actually spell everything out and leaves much to interpretation. A deliciously vile Joan Cusack and a buffoonish Will Sasso make for great baddies. Meanwhile, we get some excellent supporting work from Rashida Jones (as "Alva", a cynical schoolteacher, who spends her time now as a fishmonger) and Norm Macdonald (as "Mogens", a snarky boatman, who pops up every once in a while for no other reason than to mess with Jesper).
"Klaus" is unavoidably predictable, though with a very strong message of what goodwill means and requires, you don't find yourself minding too much. It's something that everyone needs a little reminder of, particularly around the holiday season. With spellbinding visuals, big laughs, and a sincerely heartfelt (And slightly bittersweet) resolution, I see the makings of a possible family favorite. Looks like Netflix does have a couple things over Disney+ at the moment. 3 ½ Stars. Rated PG For Some Goofy Humor, Cartoon Violence, And For Getting Me Into The Christmas Spirit Against My Will.
Image: Daniel Craig deduces how the Oscars will find a way not to nominate him for Best Actor.
The murder mystery genre (or "Whodunit" if you will), was once the biggest and most sought out genre in film back in the day. In fact, I grew up with many of those films, such as "The Big Sleep" and"The Maltese Falcon" (One of my personal favorites), and of course, gotten much inspiration from those renowned mystery novels from Agatha Christie or anything involving "Sherlock Holmes". It's a classic genre that just sort vanished for the most part, with many new takes either putting new spins on it, or only being somewhat inspired by the classics. (The Guy Ritchie "Sherlock Holmes" films are fun and all, but they're very loose in adaptation.) What we need today is an old fashioned take on the genre, with love and affection for the classics, but with some modernization thrown in and a brilliant mind to put it all together. God bless you Rian Johnson for giving me an early Christmas present.
"Knives Out" starts with wealthy crime novelist, "Harlan Thrombey" (Christopher Plummer), celebrating his eighty-fifth birthday with the rest of his almost as wealthy family. Then suddenly the following morning, Harlan is found dead with his throat slit, being labeled as a suicide. While local law enforcement officers, "Elliot" (Lakeith Stanfield) and "Wagner" (Noah Segan), seem to be accepting of this ruling, Southern private eye detective, "Benoit Blanc" (Daniel Craig), believes that something more nefarious is afoot. Blanc begins questioning Thrombey's dysfunctional (Very dysfunctional) family, which includes eldest daughter, "Linda" (Jamie Lee Curtis), her husband "Richard" (Don Johnson) and "Black Sheep" son, "Ransom" (Chris Evans), youngest son "Walt" (Michael Shannon), his wife "Donna" (Riki Lindhome) and teenage internet Nazi son, "Jacob" (Jaeden Martell), and air-headed daughter in law, "Joni" (Toni Collette) and activist daughter, "Meg" (Katherine Langford). Blanc also turns his attention to Harlan's timid caretaker, "Marta" (Ana de Armas), who Harlan had a very close and friendly relationship with. As Blanc digs further into the family, he discovers just how f*cked up they all are, uncovering a tangled web of a mystery that is nothing close to what anyone expected.
Directed, produced, and written by the guy who made me realize just how horrible my fellow "Star Wars" fans are, Rian Johnson ("Looper", "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"), "Knives Out" is the kind of film that knows how to do things in a style reminiscent of the old, yet while embracing some classic ingredients, throw in the best kind of modernized filmmaking to concoct a feast of a mystery. It also ends up becoming one of this year's absolute best. With quirky direction and sharp screenplay (I know it's a pun, but it's the most fitting word to use right now), Johnson puts together an exhilarating, elaborate puzzle, while incorporating humor and some relevant insight. There's also this enjoyable level of uncomfortableness throughout the film, which plays out like a very exaggerated, but occasionally all too real, family gathering. It can range from friendly, though maybe a little passive aggressive, then shift into shouting matches over politics and the secrets that the family is clearly harboring. The humor comes from the satirical tone, which also plays around with the mystery tropes that we all know and love, and even turns a few of them on their heads.
Much like the overall mystery itself, nothing in the film is at all what it first appears. The fantastic ensemble is headlined by the underappreciated Daniel Craig, who gets to show off more of his comedic chops like he did in 2017's "Logan Lucky". With his suitably silly, though still very authentic sounding accent, Craig is a hilarious riot portraying a memorable detective that could rival enough some of cinema's best. While Craig at first appears front and center, the real star would be the great Ana de Armas ("Blade Runner 2049"), who fills out the film's emotional center in a true career making role. Together, they make for an amazing duo, that I could watch all day. The rest of the ensemble all bring their A-Game. From a delightfully smarmy Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, an especially terrific Michael Shannon, Toni Collette (Who gets some of the best lines), Katherine Langford, a especially vile Jaeden Martell, and the most brief, but wonderfully welcome presence of Christopher Plummer. Lakeith Stanfield and Noah Segan provide some extra humor, while there are a couple extra familiar faces that make appearances in small parts.
Unpredictable, and charmingly off-kilter, "Knives Out" is full of laughs and unexpected heart that turns what we at first see as a simple murder mystery, eventually evolve into one of this year's biggest crowdpleaders. It's a great time at the movies that embraces a sadly forgotten genre with nostalgic glee, without relying on clichés. It instead relies on smarts, wit, and some surprise depth, which only a true artful master of his craft can provide. Mr. Johnson, Youdunit! 4 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Language, Intention To Murder, And Truth Telling Vomit.
Image: "NYPD Forever!"
Whether or not you think the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" has gotten too big for its own good and superhero fatigue is only around the corner (Pfft. They've been saying that for years now.), one thing everyone can agree on is that some of the major actors, no matter how acclaimed and loved, just seem to have trouble finding good work outside of it.
"21 Bridges" follows NYPD detective, "Andre Davis" (Chadwick Boseman), who after the death of his cop father, became known as the one who relentlessly tracks down and kills cop killers. (Though he isn't really a fan of that fact.) When two low level criminals, "Michael Trujillo" (Stephan James) and his more ruthless partner, "Ray Jackson" (Taylor Kitsch) make off with a large amount of uncut heroin, it results in the deaths of over a dozen cops in the process. "Captain Matt McKenna" (J. K. Simmons) calls in Davis, along with narcotics detective, "Frankie Burns" (Sienna Miller), to hunt down the cop killers. To prevent Michael and Ray from escaping Manhattan, Davis arranges for all twenty one bridges on the island to be shut down, with the entire city now on lockdown for the next few hours. As the night progresses, it becomes apparent that it was either dumb luck that resulted in Michael and Ray showing up when they did, or something that may of been arranged. Davis is determined to discover the truth as the hunt continues, learning things are not at all what they seem.
Directed by Brian Kirk (Known mostly for television projects, such as "Game Of Thrones"), and produced by Joe and Anthony Russo (The guys who gave us a little movie called "Avengers: Endgame". Maybe you've heard of it?), "21 Bridges" begins with a lot of potential. The cinematography, which coveys the grand scope of the film, is impressive, and the film isn't without some thrilling setpieces. The film's faults lie with the derivative and implausible storyline, which doesn't mask the obvious twists and turns. The screenplay, by Adam Mervis and Matthew Michael Carnahan ("World War Z", "Deepwater Horizon"), also doesn't give much room for character development for most, and sadly doesn't get anywhere deep enough as it should. Sometimes the movie has a few insightful things to say, but it becomes apparent what it all means and where it's going fairly early on. The slick direction and brisk pacing, which go well with a sweeping score by Henry Jackson and Alex Belcher, still unfortunately take too long to get the plot points that you are just waiting for to happen.
Chadwick Boseman, always reliably excellent, is a great action lead , who just so happens to be a great enough actor to give more to the role than what's written. Stephan James is compelling, along with a quietly menacing, yet complex Taylor Kitsch, who shows to be a fantastic physical and expressive actor. The stellar ensemble also includes the very welcome J. K. Simmons, Sienna Miller (Though her role in everything becomes way too clear and it doesn't quite work), Alexander Siddig (as "Adi", a sophisticated fixer, who assists Michael and Ray), and a very underused Keith David (as "Chief Spencer", who plays a relatively big part early on, but just sort of vanishes later).
"21 Bridges" offers some visual flair, exciting action, and I do appreciate the film's attempts at portraying very relative themes of corruption and what is required of police officers. (Not to mention on how despite how difficult things may be, they still must remain accountable for their action and hold a higher standard for the law.) The film just loses it's way later in the last act, especially during the difficult to believe climax. (It's almost like a video game boss battle.) An entertaining action thriller for the most part, though it feels like a missed opportunity for something better and more powerful. 2 ½ Stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Violence, And New Yorker Accents.
Image: "Simba put up a fearsome fight, but now I use his carcass as a hand puppet."
Isn't it funny how things work out? We have one embodiment of endearing and likable in human form, Fred Rogers, being portrayed by another embodiment of endearing and likable in human form, Tom Hanks. It's made funnier when you know of the rumored possibility that Mr. Rogers watched "Forrest Gump" over a hundred times, and was a massive fan of the actor. Can we just start the Oscar ceremony now? Get it over with before the Academy finds a way to forget Mr. Hanks again like they do every year?
Inspired by true events, "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" follows award winning, but somewhat cynical journalist, "Lloyd Vogel" (Matthew Rhys), who has harbored resentment for his estranged father, "Jerry" (Chris Cooper), ever since he abandoned Lloyd as a child. While Jerry appears to be attempting to find a way back into Lloyd's life, he's told to interview beloved children television show host, "Fred Rogers" (Tom Hanks) from "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood", for an article on heroes. When Lloyd meets Fred, known by many to be the absolute kindest, most caring, and all around selfless person on the planet, he learns the horrifying truth.....Fred may actually be the kindest, most caring, and all around selfless person on the planet. Unable to comprehend exactly who Fred is, Lloyd becomes determined to interview him further, while his more personal and emotional issues become more apparent.
Based on the 1998 Esquire article, "Can You Say.....Hero?" by Tom Junod (Who the character "Lloyd Vogel" is inspired by), "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" is not a biographical film as some might of expected it to be. Instead it's a look into a cherished man through the eyes of one who at first doesn't quite get how one could possibly be so good and still be human. Directed by Marielle Heller (Who also directed one of last year's best, "Can You Ever Forgive Me?"), with a previously "Black Listed" screenplay by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster ("Maleficent: Mistress of Evil"), the film is cleverly framed as a long episode of the original series. It opens with Tom Hanks (Who doesn't quite look completely like Mr. Rogers, but encompasses him perfectly. More on that later.), providing some introduction in homage to how it would of been done on the series, along with a whimsical score and establishing shots provided via model sets, which include cars and planes. It's a pretty brilliant way of telling the story, which is something you've seen before. You know how it plays out with the downer pessimist, who still refuses to move on from something in the past, meeting a good natured and optimistic soul who changes his life for the better. With that said, Heller's playful direction do make up for the film's predictability, and much like the real Fred Rogers, it's so endearing to the point you don't really care.
Tom Hanks gives a very emotionally subtle performance that Mr. Rogers would be proud of, and should garner award recognition simply because of what's not said. Hanks of course has to voice down, his mannerisms, and that freakin lovable smile that just forces you to smile as well no matter how much you resist. He also shows a closer look into the hidden depths of the real life person, where you get implications into his humorous side, but also maybe an underlying sadness that he rarely exhibited. It's a truly fascinating, layered role, and Tom Hanks brings it to life in a way that's thankfully not overplayed or schmaltzy. Matthew Rhys plays off of Hanks well, with some funny reactions to Mr. Rogers' quirkiness and some excellent displays of emotional turmoil. Susan Kelechi Watson (as "Andrea", Lloyd's wife, who wants him to promise he won't ruin her childhood with his article) and Oscar winner Chris Cooper are also both wonderful.
"A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" is narratively unoriginal, but that's okay, because it's heart is so strong and impact is so important that it makes for the perfect way for families to spend their Thanksgiving this year. (Well, there is also "Frozen 2"......Eh, make a double feature out of it.) Super sweet, charming, and even a little weird, it warms your heart and makes you want to become a better person yourself after humming the theme song in your head without realizing it. It's that infectious. 3 ½. Rated PG And Perfectly Suitable For Audiences Of All Ages. No Matter How Young Or Old.
Image: Elsa takes a look at some....worrying "Frozen" fanart.
I think it's pretty obvious that the people at Walt Disney Pictures had no idea how big 2013's Academy Award Winning animated modern masterpiece, "Frozen" was going to be as big of a hit as it was. From the characters, songs (How often did you hear or sing "Let It Go"? How fast did you get sick of it. Be honest.), and the non-traditional take on the Disney formula. Families loved it, and the young girls adored it even more. It was everywhere immediately after and grossed over $1 billion worldwide, and continued to annoy many for six years. (Okay, I get it. It got overplayed. It's wonderful, but Disney went a little too far when they began shoving it in everyone's face.) Now that time has passed and we've all grown up a little since then, it's only natural that the highly anticipated sequel would do the same. It just did it a bit more hardcore than expected.
After some backstory involving a mysterious feud that caused the sealing off of a magical forest, "Frozen 2" returns us to the kingdom of "Arendelle", where the ice powered queen, "Elsa" (Idina Menzel) keeps the peace, along with her sister, "Anna" (Kristen Bell), lovable talking snowman, "Olaf" (Josh Gad), Anna's boyfriend, "Kristoff" (Jonathan Groff), and his reindeer companion, "Sven". Things are not completely well however, as Elsa starts to hear a mysterious voice from the forest calling to her. When she answers the call, an ancient curse from the past is unleashed, causing everyone in the kingdom to evacuate. Remembering a legend told to them from their deceased parents (Alfred Molina and Evan Rachel Wood), Elsa and Anna must embark on a quest with their friends into the mysterious forest to discover what's causing all the trouble and put a stop to it. While in the forest, Elsa, Anna, Kirstoff, Sven, and Olaf face the unknown within the forest, along with angered spirits, dark revelations from the kingdom's forgotten history, the origins of Elsa's powers, and the heavy burden of maturity that comes with life as one gets older......Seriously. This movie gets deep.
With returning directors, Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez also returning to write the songs, "Frozen 2" this time decides to ditch the Disney formula we've become accustomed to. With bigger ambitions, the sequel is much darker than the first film, with a more complicated storyline and mature themes that may leave some of the younger kids scratching their heads in confusion. Not to say that the film isn't as charming as many of the best Disney films. The screenplay, also written by Jennifer Lee, gives its returning characters (And new ones) plenty of identifiable personality, hidden depth, and their own character arcs. Such as Elsa's yearning for how she came to be, Anna's development into an even more adult character, Kristoff's funny mini-subplot to find the right moment to ask for Ann's hand in marriage, Olaf's questioning of the ever changing world, and like the first film, the wonderful bond between the two sisters. Everybody gets their time to shine, even though there is a bit too much going on at times.
The animation and art design has improved further since the original, and its clear that Disney by this point only plans to show off what they can do. In one of the aspects this one has over the original is that the animators are allowed to take things further and make things bigger than ever before. Leaving the snow behind, we are treated to some incredible visuals, such as a sequence involving Elsa attempting to tame a literal water horse or the arrival of a tiny lizard with the ability to create a mystical fire. All of the beautiful imagery is on full display when it comes to the epic musical numbers. The songs also feel different this time around, giving off a more rock-operatic feeling. The most memorable ones being "Into the Unknown" and "Show Yourself" (Both performed by the incredibly gifted Idina Menzel, who has a singing voice that was just made for surround sound.). On the downside, while the songs are all great (And a few might make their way to getting some Oscar love when the time comes), they don't click quite as quickly as the first film's did. (The soundtrack as a whole was just as memorable as "Let It Go" was, though that song alone was almost enough to make it an instantaneous favorite.)
Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel are once more two of Disney's most expertly crafted, and well developed characters in recent memory (Not to mention, the most marketable too.). Their characters go through unexpected changes throughout the film, and both actresses do wonderful jobs encompassing those changes. Jonathan Groff is a delight as ever (And even gets his own song this time), and Sven is one of those animal Disney sidekicks allowed to have just as much fun as our main characters. Josh Gad returns to provide the film's best laughs, while remaining impossibly endearing and sweet. He brings an instant smile to your face every time he's on screen and provides comic relief for all ages to enjoy, but also has a role to play in the film's bigger picture. (Gonna be honest with you guys. I'm a major Olaf fan, and I will fight anyone who dares insult his good, warm hug loving name.) There are also a few new additions, such as Sterling K. Brown (as "Lieutenant Matthias", leader of Arendelle soldiers, who have been lost in the forest for years), who just continues to amaze me with how versatile he is as an actor.
With enchanting animation and a sense that the filmmakers understand how the fans might have grown since the first film, "Frozen 2" surpasses the original in some areas, but doesn't match it in others. The story starts to get slightly convoluted and some reveals are easy to predict. But the animation has improved and I commend the filmmakers for not simply doing the same thing a second time and instead expanding on what was set up before. The darker tone and the dealing with heavy consequences end up making the film more of a challenging experience than maybe fans might be wanting. (Not to mention, some emotional turmoil that might disturb the young ones.) Still, what we get is a worthy followup with plenty to love and even more to simply appreciate.You still will not be able to let it go, and audiences will be more than willing to journey into the unknown. 3 ½ Stars. Rated PG For Perilous Content And A Little Unsettling Death To Terrify Those Innocent Children.
Image: "Helen, If you show me you me your Oscar, I'll show you my Golden Globe>"
You want to see two experienced, talented, and always committed professionals at work, bringing a certain gravitas that only the best of the best can possibly bring to something that could of easily of been a throwaway movie? That's exactly what you're going to get here.
Based on a book of the same name by Nicholas Searle, "The Good Liar" starts with sweet old wealthy widow, "Betty McLeish" (Helen Mirren), meeting a kind-hearted, nearly stereotypical old man, "Roy Courtnay" (Ian McKellan) on an online dating site. The cute couple hit it off quickly, and next thing you know, Roy eventually moves in with Betty, though her grandson, "Steven" (Russell Tovey), doesn't trust grandmother's new friend. He's right not to, because in reality, Roy is a highly intelligent, greedy, and even ruthless con artist, who has every intent of taking Betty's entire fortune for himself. Roy is playing the long con as he weasels his way more into Betty's life, all while more of his dark and secretive past is slowly revealed. That's all the plot synopsis you need for this one.
Directed by Bill Condon ("Dreamgirls", "Mr. Holmes", "Beauty and the Beast"), with a screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher (Who also collaborated with Condon on "Mr. Holmes"), "The Good Liar" offers a simple, twisty and turny thriller, that while it doesn't avoid a few obvious reveals, is certainly makes for a good amount of darkly sophisticated entertainment. Condon is a good enough director to give the film a Hitchcock-esque feel that just so happens to be set in modern times. Even when you figure out where it's all going, you are captivated by the suspenseful direction and the smart dialogue among our characters. The way the film presents its reveals is also clever enough to make up for when you might end figuring it out long before the actual reveal comes.
Helen Mirren is her usually classy self, with a warm and gentle feeling resonating from her calm performance. You get to know her more as the film progresses and it makes her character more interesting. (Though the final outcome is something one can easily expect.) Ian McKellan is a subdued kind of evil, posing as a gentleman one moment, with a hidden sense of menace that is just lurking beneath the surface. Together, these two greats have fantastic chemistry, and every scene with them is something one cannot turn away from for even a second. (Just a simple dinner scene between the two is electric.) There are also a few good performances from some small supporting players, such as a quiet Jim Carter (as "Vincent", Roy's partner in crime) and an enjoyably obnoxious Mark Lewis Jones (as "Bryn", a former mark of Roy's).
"The Good Liar" goes a little overboard in the last act with many twists revealed at once through sloppy exposition and it does get a bit difficult to buy in these final moments. It's a fault of the film that in some ways is to be expected. However, the buildup is nonetheless exciting and bolsters brilliant actors doing what they do best. A small and short film that may not stick the landing in terms of its payoff, but quietly exciting, well made, and the best kind of diverting. These two actors could read the phone book and make it mesmerizing. 3 Stars. Rated R For Language, Some Slight Shocking Violence, And A Few Uncomfortable Revelations (One Majorly Uncomfortable One).
Image: They're no Angels.
I need to ask something. Is "Charlie's Angels", which is originated with the late 70s TV series about crime fighting women answering to some unseen dude, really something that has stood the test of time enough to warrant reboots, revivals, and a film series? I don't know anyone who's ever talked about this, and yet, it's survived longer than a lot of franchises. Guess just a bunch of butt-kicking ladies is all you need to make something last four decades.
A sort of sequel to the McG directed um, things that happened in the early 2000s, "Charlie's Angels" begins with the revelation that the "Townsend Agency", owned by the voice in a box, "Charlie" (Voiced by Robert Clotworthy), has gotten bigger and better, thanks to retiring operative, "John Bosley" (Patrick Stewart). A team of "Angels", including "Sabina Wilson" (Kristen Stewart) and "Jane Kano" (Ella Balinska), under the supervision of another "Bosley" (Djimon Hounsou), are sent to assist a programmer, "Elena" (Naomi Scott). Elena has created an energy device for rich tech billionaire, "Alexander Brock" (Sam Claflin), only to discover that it can easily be weaponized. (How do these people keep making these devices for the average public that can also be used by terrorism?) The Angels are forced to run, along with Elena, when they are attacked by a deadly assassin, "Hodak" (Jonathan Tucker), meeting up with a former Angel turned Bosley (Elizabeth Banks). When it becomes apparent that there might be something shady going on, Elena becomes an honorary Angel to assist in tracking down the missing device and keep it out of the hands of the villains, while uncovering a deeper conspiracy in the process.
Directed by Elizabeth Banks, "Charlie's Angels" is just as cheesy and ludicrous as it sounds. To a certain degree, that's sort of the point though. Those looking for originality with the film's plot or unpredictability with the storyline are going to be disappointed. The film embracing its silliness and set out to provide a nicely done, smooth and shiny, and most importantly, perfectly safe, popcorn action movie. The twists and turns are easy to decipher, mostly because you've seen this outline in other, even better, movies. Where the film succeeds is what it plans on giving its audience and how flashily it does it. Banks, who also wrote the screenplay, is very capable behind the camera, providing some nicely over the top, but clever action setpieces, along with an eye for location. (The film jumps around to a few exotic and beautiful locations, which are all given much of the spotlight.) There are also a few good laughs sprinkled throughout, which shows that things are thankfully not being taken too seriously.
Our likable cast makes up for what are written as fairly generic roles. First, all eyes are immediately directed towards Kristen Stewart, who steals the show easily. She's an absolute delight, providing the most humor, and injects a ton of personality into the film with her character's slightly bombastic nature. Naomi Scott gets stuck with a predictable character, and while you do question how much she actually contributes by the end, she's still too charming an actress not to enjoy. Ella Balinska gets to take part in the most physical scenes, and is a total badass, showing a lot of promise as an action heroine. Our supporting cast includes a perfectly professional, yet playful Elizabeth Banks, a vile and menacing Jonathan Tucker, a humorously weird Sam Claflin, and Patrick Stewart, who looks like he's having a jolly good time. Meanwhile, Djimon Hounsou and Noah Centineo (as "Langston", a scientist/love interest to Jane) have little to do with underwritten parts.
Not exactly anything memorable or deep, "Charlie's Angels" leaves a lot to desire when you realize how good modern action films can be. (This seems so small and insignificant compared to the "Mission: Imposible" or even the "Fast & Furious" franchises) However, it is meant to be a goofy flick that just so happens to gear itself towards the ladies, and they deserve these kinds of movies just as much as we guys do. Fun, but in a junk food sort of way. Honestly, it's exactly what you would expect out of a "Charlie's Angels" movie. 2 ½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, A Surprising Amount Of Death, And A Lack Of Emotional Reaction To Said Death. (People Get Over Things Really Quickly.)
Image: Batman and MATT DAYMEN!
I've never been much of a car person, but I think that most of my issues lies with the fact that I've grown up in a time when cars had more and more generic looking. Take a look at old cars, such as the cars in this movie. Each one is slick, colorful, and unique in their own way, where even the same brand, has its own style and personality. What can I say? They were just nicer.
Based on a True Story and set in 1963, "Ford V Ferrari" follows "Carroll Shelby" (Matt Damon), owner of "Shelby Automobiles"/former racing driver, who has just been propositioned by "Lee Iacocca" (Jon Bernthal) to help "Ford Motors" create a car fast enough to defeat "Ferrari" at the upcoming "24 Hours of Le Mans". (Think of the most epic sports car race, that just so happens to go on for an entire day.). The owner of Ford, "Henry Ford II" (Tracy Letts) is in a bit of penis measuring contest with the owner of Ferrari, "Enzo Ferrari" (Remo Girone), and has only given Shelby a short time to make the seemingly impossible happen. So Shelby turns to the best mechanic and driver he knows, "Ken Miles" (Christian Bale), who is well known to be quick tempered and to put it nicely, a little difficult work with/talk to/straight up be around in general. To provide for his wife, "Mollie" (Caitriona Balfe) and son, "Peter" (Noah Jupe), Miles take the job despite knowing well not to trust Ford's way of doing business. Having to balance out troubling odds, the competition, and the dick-ish higher ups at Ford, Shelby and Miles set out to create a new racing car fast enough to defeat Ferrari.
The definition of an underdog story, "Ford V Ferrari" is the kind of grand crowdpleaser that can only work with an immense amount of talent, the ability to keep the audience emotionally invested (Meaning the perfect combination of both humor and drama), and that extra bit of humanity that anybody of any background can relate to. Directed by James Mangold ("Walk the Line", "3:10 to Yuma", "Logan"), with a sharp and tight screenplay by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth ("Get On Up", "Edge of Tomorrow"), and Jason Keller, the film finds balance among the fast paced racing action, visual spectacle, and compelling human story at the center of it all. It's not to say Mangold certainly has an eye for amping up speed based thrills during the exhilarating racing sequences, which are beautifully filmed, closely coordinated, and jaw dropping in scope.
Matt Damon gives a strong, subdued performance, while Christian Bale (Clearly having lightened up over the recent years) is thoroughly charismatic and is a total delight every time he's on screen. Together, these two make for one of this year's best onscreen duos (Along with DiCaprio and Pitt in "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) as you find yourself wanting to spend more and more time with the characters as the film goes along, and compelled by their stories. (Not to mention the friendly arguing and even occasional moments of manly bro on bro violence is entertainingly real.) The supporting cast is strong, including Caitriona Balfe (Who has excellent chemistry with Bale), a great Jon Bernthal, an amazingly commanding, yet slightly buffoonish Tracy Letts, a smarmy and antagonistic Josh Lucas (as "Leo Beebe", Ford's number two, who cares more about selling a product than anything else), and an endearing Noah Jupe. Our characters, most of which based off of real life (Or at least inspired by them), stand out, which for a film that intends to get its audience cheering, laughing, and emotionally charged, that's exactly what you need.
While things get a little rushed towards the end (There ends up being a bit more to the story after everything is seemingly resolved), "Ford V Ferrari" is exciting, funny, and heartfelt. It makes for a fitting tribute to those chasing after a dream, despite having to deal with many challenges at once, whether it be your rivals or even those meant to be on your side. (Corporate douchebaggery has been, and always will be one of those things everyone will have to contend with.) It's a movie for everyone, with plenty for enjoy for vehicle enthusiasts and those just look for some good old fashioned inspiration. 3 ½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Vehicular Destruction, And Lots Of Trash Talk.
Image: "Soooooo? What are the bases for dogs?"
Disney has got to be the most powerful, capable, and diabolical organization in the world today. Not only do they own many properties, such as "Stars Wars", "Marvel", "20th Century Fox", and basically most of your childhood. (Not to mention they also essentially murdered the "X-Men" franchise with the Fox buyout. Granted, it was near death anyway. It was a mercy killing.) Now they have their own "Netflix" equivalent with the recently launched "Disney+", which includes a massive portion of what they've given us over the years, as well as some high anticipated original content., thus ending the "Streaming Wars" before they began. They truly are an unstoppable, yet oddly generous empire aren't they?
A live-action remake of the 1955 animated classic of the same name (Remember, Disney just loves doing those these days), "Lady and the Tramp" tells the story of cute little Cocker Spaniel, "Lady" (Voiced by Tessa Thompson), who is adopted and loved deeply by her owners, who she only knows as "Jim Dear" (Thomas Mann) and "Darling Dear" (Kiersey Clemons). Life is good for Lady, along with her close friends, such as the uptight Scottish Terrier, "Jock" (Voiced by Ashley Jensen) and the slow, but sweet Bloodhound, "Trusty" (Voiced by Sam Elliott). However after the birth of a new baby girl, Lady starts to realize that she might be on her way to being neglected in favor of the newborn. Following an incident with with Darling's "Aunt Sarah" (Yvette Nicole Brown), and her nasty (But less racially insensitive) cats (Voiced by Nate Wonder and Roman GianArthur), Lady finds herself on the street. With help from an unnamed and loner Schnauzer-mutt, referred to only as "The Tramp" (Voiced by Justin Theroux), Lady must find her way home, while learning to appreciate the outside world, and possibly finding love along the way.
Probably the most simplistic, and surprisingly, one of the stronger of the recent remakes, "Lady and the Tramp" makes up for an admittedly limited budget with plenty of charm and genuine sweetness, even if once again, it may or may not be very necessary. Director Charlie Bean ("The LEGO Ninjago Movie") provides the film a beautiful look, matching the early 1900s look perfectly in a glossy fashion. (Sort of like a Christmas card brought to life.) The blending of real life and the CGI effects on the animal characters can be somewhat offputting at first (And certainly lack the immense amount of detail given to Disney's previous live-action adaptations like "The Jungle Book" or "The Lion King"), but thankfully, they're all very lively, adorable, and full of unexpected personality of their own. It's a few minor theatrical elements, which would explain the studio's decision to release the film through their streaming service rather than in theaters. (Although, it still deserved a theatrical release more than "Playing with Fire" or last year's "Show Dogs" did. Even this would of looked more fitting on the big screen than those movies did.)
Tessa Thompson and Justin Theroux end up serving as excellent casting choices for the leads, and even have some good chemistry together despite their voices coming out of a couple of talking dogs. Sam Elliott and Ashley Jensen are hilarious comic relief, perfectly cast as these characters, while we get welcome small voice roles from Benedict Wong (as the voice of "Bull", a bulldog) and Janelle Monáe (as the voice of "Peg", a singing Pekingese), who also contributes to the film's soundtrack. On the human side, Thomas Mann and Kiersey Clemons are good, though they don't really have much to do. Meanwhile, Yvette Nicole Brown and Adrian Martinez (as an overly into his job dogcatcher) make for amusing antagonists. There's also a brief appearance for F. Murray Abraham (as an Italian chef), who gets to be a part of a re-imagining of the iconic spaghetti dinner scene.The film offers more diversity and inclusion this time, which is nothing but commendable. On the downside, the film's lack of a musical focus takes away from the impact of the songs, both new and old.
It's still hard to tell if all of these remakes (With more on the way) are good for the film industry, even when they're well done, but "Lady and the Tramp" at least offers up something that at least tries to standout, even while not really deviating from the original that much. The film looks pretty, offers good humor, and the kind of heart that will without a doubt delight families willing to give it a look after a long day of streaming movies they've already seen a million times before. Also, "Darkwing Duck". They have all of "Darkwing Duck" and both "DuckTales" shows on there too. See? You feel like you should, but you just can't hate Disney. 3 Stars. Rated PG For Some Dark Moments And Improper Ways Of Running Restaurants.
Image: She is really elfing cute.
Let me get this out of the way quickly so we can get into the review. It's November! Early November still. Christmas is over a month away and I would prefer everyone to take their time to enjoy it. It's the most wonderful time of the year, and yet, every year it gets shoved in your face earlier and earlier in an attempt to profit off of it. Can't we just appreciate the holiday when it's actually time to celebrate the holiday? Give Thanksgiving their own movie already. Ok, now back to the main topic.
"Last Christmas" follows "Kate" (Emilia Clarke), whose life has become a disastrous wreck of unluckiness and cynicism. Working at a year-round Christmas store owned by the self-named, "Santa" (Michelle Yeoh), Kate avoids constant calls from her overbearing mother, "Petra" (Emma Thompson), lacks any real interest in both her work and her life, and just keeps making terrible decision after terrible decision. But when Kate randomly bumps into the charismatic and insanely cheerful, "Tom" (Henry Golding), he begins to help her see a more positive side of life, breaking through her cynical outlook. While hanging out with Tom, Kate stars to readjust her own life, while also learning to become more selfless and happy to those around her.
A film that could of simply been called "Christmas Romantic Comedy: The Movie", "Last Christmas" has a bit more going for it than the genre usually allows. Directed by Paul Feig ("Bridesmaids", "Spy"), with a screenplay by Emma Thompson and Byrony Kimmings, the film is given a slick look, with an attractive aesthetic and attempts at more serious realism. It gets a little dark at times, and handles some heavy themes with respect, such as some allegories to "Brexit", that while a little sloppily injected into the story, are very relevant today. The film falters when it comes to dialogue, predictable plotting, and just the fact that it's still a romantic comedy throughout, complete with all of the flaws one can expect from that genre. (As you all already know, I've never really been much of a fan.)
Luckily, even when the dialogue (Which is a little too kitschy at times) fails her, Emilia Clarke is too adorable and easy to love. Not to mention Henry Golding is both unfairly good looking and so damn charming. The two of them are a joy to watch, sharing excellent chemistry in both the comedy, romance, and even the drama. There are a few delightful supporting parts from Michelle Yeoh (Who gets some of the funnier lines) and slightly weird Emma Thompson. The film unfortunately builds to an incredibly obvious late twist that takes too long to reveal and was something that one could almost see coming from the trailer. (The title itself almost spoils it.) Maybe the movie should of included the twist a little earlier and worked the story around it better, instead of waiting too long to the point the audience has already figured it out.
"Last Christmas" is like Christmas candy, in which is sugary and sweet, though something that's also for the undemanding. It's basically something you could find on the Hallmark channel, except with a bigger budget and a skilled director. An okay date movie for anyone willing to jump into Christmas a little early, though for any fellow Grinches out there, it's something you could skip. 2 ½ Stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, More George Michael Than Necessary, And Spiritual Uplifting.
Image: Maybe we should all know more about this story.
The first thought that entered my head the minute I saw that Director Roland Emmerich ("Independence Day", "The Day After Tomorrow", "White House Down") was doing his own World War II war/epic/drama, literally the first statement that entered my head was that this was going to want to be like Christopher Nolan's "Dunkirk", but will likely end up like Michael Bay's "Pearl Harbor".. WEll, at least it's not "Pearl Harbor.".
"Midway" tells the true story that followed the aftermath of Japan's attack on "Pearl Harbor", and the United States' counterattack, leading the eventual "Battle of Midway" during World War II. The film mostly focuses on fighter pilot, "Richard "Dick" Best" (Ed Skrein), who is part of the upcoming attack, which is now orchestrated by "Admiral Chester W. Nimitz" (Woody Harrelson). Meanwhile, Intelligence officer, "Edwin T. Layton" (Patrick Wilson), who previously warned that relations with Japan were not as good as everyone thought, struggles to figure out the Japanese forces' plan of attack.
"Midway" has a lot going for it, and plenty of detractors that set out to keep it from reaching a level of inspirational greatness that the story deserves. Emmerich and screenwriter, Wes Tooke (Known mostly just as a producer), essentially create a cheesy action film that just so happens to be set during World War II. For a real life story such as this, it's a fine line between what could almost be seen as too corny to the point of offensiveness. This movie thankfully doesn't quite take it that far, and even when it does get a little over the top, you somewhat welcome it just because you like seeing true heroism on display in a way that causes for a round of applause. It's also just a little sloppy. Emmerich has never been one for storytelling or character development, though he admittedly can make a good action scene. The intense setpieces and solid special effects are certainly engrossing, and I appreciate the film not being held back by its PG-13 rating, still finding ways to show the true horror of war without relying on excessive violence. (However, the film's need to poorly placed green screen just serves as a constant distraction.)
The film's screenplay sadly does not allow for much character despite the large ensemble cast. Ed Skrein fits the bill for the slightly cocky, yet determined and selfless hero, though his accent kind of slips from time to time. Patrick Wilson and Woody Harrelson are both excellent, as are Luke Evans (as "Commander Wade McClusky", Best's superior), a suitably gruff Dennis Quaid (as "William Halsey", Commander of Best's division), and the very welcome, though underused Aaron Eckhart (as "Colonel Jimmy Doolittle", who planned out the "Doolittle Raid", the first retaliation after "Pearl Harbor"). The cast also includes Nick Jonas (as "Bruno Gaido", a carefree pilot), Mandy Moore (as Best's wife, "Anne"), among other recognizable faces in small parts. I do appreciate the film providing a little extra depth to our antagonists, with Tadanobu Asano (as "Admiral Yamaguchi") and Etsushi Toyokawa (as "Admiral Yamamoto"), who are portrayed as soldiers through and through. It would of been too easy to have them as simple villains, but instead the film shows humanity during a time of war, without neglecting the heavy casualties and unspeakable horror that it caused.
"Midway" is a well intentioned mess, trying to do too much, while remaining a crowdpleaser. There is some unexpected depth and not without moments of power, but the cornball dialogue and clichéd execution of drama, keep the film from being much more than something that you likely would of been showed in pieces during History class. Just safe enough, though not exactly the representation heroes deserve. 2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For War Based Violence.
Image: "Ooh, I thought you were Dwayne Johnson."
Every couple weeks I'm left wondering how exactly certain films find their way into a nationwide release on theater screens, where other grand cinematic experiences such as "Avengers: Endgame" only earlier this year were enjoyed by millions. Millions just waiting to see something that they never could of imagined seeing anywhere else, but on the big screen. Was there something about a baby crapping into John Cena's face that just screamed "Yeah. That's what the movies are made for!"?
"Playing with Fire" follows a a group of wildfire fighters (Or "Smoke-Jumpers"), led by superintendent, "Jake Carson" (John Cena), or "Supe", as he's called. Jake, along with his number two, "Mark" (Keegan-Michael Key), the wimpy "Rodrigo" (John Leguizamo), and the non-speaking "Axe" (Tyler Mane), rescue a trio of kids, "Brynn" (Brianna Hildebrand), "Will" (Christian Convery), and "Zoey" (Finley Rose Slater). Unable to get the kids to their parents, Jake and his crew are left with little option than to take care of them for the time being, despite the upcoming arrival of division commander, "Richards" (Dennis Haysbert). Of course cartoonish antics ensue and the kids find their ways into warming Jake's stoic heart.
From Nickelodeon Movies (And boy does it feel like something that wouldn't of been out of place premiering on that channel, instead of in theaters), "Playing with Fire" is a movie with a premise and a simple story outline, but nothing else. Directed by Andy Fickman ("She's the Man", "The Game Plan", "Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2"), the film looks so cheap despite apparently nearly costing $30 million (At least according to Box Office Mojo), and Fickman doesn't even remotely try to cover up how blandly uninteresting the film presents itself. We get the same repeating locations, lazy scene setups, and a lack of visual interest, which makes for a short, yet boring and unbearably diluted to the point of awkward. (It's almost like the movie is pausing to wait for a laugh track that never comes.)
We have capable and charming cast here, who do what they can with what little direction is given to them. John Cena, who has proven to be a skilled comedic actor, is likable and looks to be having fun. The material isn't very funny at all, but you can still tell he's not bad at what he does. Others like John Leguizamo, along with the reliably cute and lovable Judy Greer (as "Dr. Hicks", Jake's reliably cute and lovable love interest), have the most simple of roles to give. Keegan-Michael Key gets some of the film's more amusing moments, mostly because the sight of a slightly maniacal Keegan-Michael Key just appearing in a cartoonish fashion, is somewhat entertaining. I'm also very weirded out by how the twenty-three year old Brianna Hildebrand (Who many of my fellow geeks remember from "Deadpool", and also often cite her as being quite on the attractive side) looks like she's thirteen. This leads to be either think that the filmmakers found a way to make her look younger (Which considering this film's lacking production values, I find unlikely), or this was probably filmed some time ago. (I need confirmation on this!) The rest of the kids find themselves in the realm between childishly stupid and slightly psychopathic.
"Playing with Fire" has too much potty humor and an intentional lack of intellectual appreciation for what makes for good family entertainment (Though the film is oddly obsessed with "My Little Pony". Like really, really obsessed with it.). It's too juvenile to recommend for adults and too dumb for kids, and you get the idea that's exactly what the film was going for. It exists for the people involved to mess around and have a little fun with each other. (It's something Adam Sandler and Tyler Perry have made careers out of) The downside of it all is that nobody watching is having fun, and I sure as Hell don't think it had any business being in theaters. 1 Star. Rated PG For Laugh-Free Jokes And Lighter Fluid Consumption.
Image: Obi-Wan Kenobi, avoiding the urge to use a "Hello There!" right now.
Stephen King (Author of "The Shining, "It", "The Dark Tower", "Carrie", too many to list off of the top of my head) has got to have one of the largest and most expansive novel libraries of any author I've ever seen. (Not to mention, nearly every book is hundreds of pages long. How does he have the time to write all of these?) This has led to King having a new film adaptation a couple of times every year due to their popularity. (Both "It" movies being so successful probably helped too.) It's also funny how one of the most beloved cinematic adaptations of his works, "The Shining" (Directed by Stanley Kubrick), is one that King has infamously loathed. So the idea of a sequel, which is itself an adaptation, that sets out to pay homage to the original film, while keeping in line with the author's source material, is a task that only a capable director can accomplish.
Years after the original story, "Doctor Sleep" opens with "Danny Torrance" (Ewan McGregor), who is gifted with an ability referred to as "The Shining" (A mystical ability that allows him to see the dead, feel them, and connect with others with a similar power), is still haunted by what transpired at the "Overlook Hotel" (You know, where his dad went crazy and tried to axe him to death.). Danny has been able to lock up the ghosts of his pasts (Quite literally), but has turned to alcoholism and depression. Things start to take a turn for the better when Danny meets "Billy" (Cliff Curtis), who helps Danny improve his life and get a job at a hospice, where he helps those dying find peace in their final moments, earning the nickname "Doctor Sleep".
Years later, Danny is in a happier place, while communicating through his shining ability to communicate with a young girl, "Abra" (Kyliegh Curran), who shows her own remarkable shining power. Abra's life is put in danger when she uses her gift to witness the brutal death of a young boy (A bloody Jacob Tremblay cameo) at the hands of a deadly cult called the "True Knot", led by the creepy, yet unsettlingly attractive, "Rose the Hat" (Rebecca Ferguson). The cult feeds off of children with the shining, and Rose has her sights set on Abra. Danny must use his power to protect Abra from the True Knot's clutches, while at long last confronting the leftover inner turmoil and trauma he experienced as a child.
Directed by Mike Flanagan ("Ouija: Origin of Evil") and based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King, "Doctor Sleep" is not exactly a horror film, despite being a direct follow up to "The Shining". It's more of a suspenseful supernatural drama, that just so happens to feature some truly frightening horror elements and dark themes that will keep you up at night. Flanagan beautifully creates an eerie ambience, along with a unique eye for a large scope and stunning cinematography, which subtlety brings you into the tense atmosphere. There are some captivating setpieces and surreal imagery that messes with your head. (It's also helped by how well the film looks in IMAX. It's something that would of made Kubrick proud.) While not exactly scary in the traditional sense (That may be intentional though. The film doesn't seem to have the intention of going for scares.), much like the original film, there is this sense of dread that creeps its way into focus and keeps you on the edge of your seat. The screenplay (Also by Flanagan), takes its time to world build without going overboard (At two and a half hours, the film is able to keep itself focused despite many plot elements.) and gives its characters room to develop into their own.
Ewan McGregor, who has been having a much deserved comeback as of late, is quietly terrific. He doesn't overdo it his character's inner struggle and portrays it in a realistic fashion, along with bringing his natural likability. Rebecca Ferguson is monstrous and starling villainess, whose humanity and beauty make her all the more chilling, going from calm and almost soothing, to violent and sadistic on a whim. Kyliegh Curran, in one of her first major film roles, gives a strong and commanding performance, while we get good work out of Cliff Curtis, and suitably creepy turns from Zahn McClarnon and Emily Alyn Lind (as two of Rose's vile cult members). There is also a brief, but memorable and welcome presence from Carl Lumbly (as the ghost of "Dick Hallorann", the cook with the shining from the original film), replacing Scatman Crothers, in some pretty spot on casting.
"Doctor Sleep" stands on its own and the more you think about it, the more it hits you. The film only falters a bit in a slightly predictable last act, which kind of just becomes a greatest hits edition of "The Shining" (It's expected, but considering how well the film has kept itself separate from the original by this point, it wasn't necessary.), and the film certainly won't have the impact of the influential classic. That's not exactly something that's shocking however. What we get is a very uniquely gripping and unsettling thriller, that stops to let its humanity shine through. I hope Steven King will approve this time.3 ½ Stars. Rated R For Disturbing Themes, Bloody Images, And Soul Sucking Hippies.
Image: "Now we wait for the box office recipts!"
Animation, especially in this country, is still something that struggles to have itself taken seriously. Unless they're Disney, Pixar, and sometimes DreamWorks, they are seen as nothing more than kids stuff. It makes it harder for any non-major studio animated film to be acknowledged or receive much success. It would be nice to see something from anyone else deliver some quality animated entertainment. Granted, when we have movies like this, you're not helping the cause!
"Arctic Dogs" follows small arctic fox, "Swifty" (Jeremy Renner), who dreams of becoming a "Top Dog" for small town Arctic delivery service, much like his idol, "Duke" (Michael Madsen). However, Swifty is well, not a dog, and his cranky boss, "Magda" (Angelica Huston), has him sent over to packaging along with overweight polar bear, "PB" (Alec Baldwin) and stoner albatross, "Lemmy" (James Franco). Swifty gets his chance when his longtime crush, "Jade" (Heidi Klum) asks him to deliver a package outside of town to a hidden laboratory, where a suspicious walrus, named "Doc Walrus" (John Cleese) and his army of puffins are up to something dastardly. Through a series of events, the other top dogs go missing, the town is plagued by mysterious earthquakes and a sudden rise in temperature, and Swifty is left to become the one delivery person in town, becoming a hero to the townspeople. But Doc Walrus' evil plan is soon revealed, which threatens to destroy the town, and it's up to Swifty to rally everyone together to save the day in the tamest, most child-friendly way possible.
Directed (And Co-Written) by Aaron Woodley ("Spark: A Space Tail". Remember that?) and released through a group of studios you've never heard of, "Arctic Dogs" is the kind of film that has no business being in theaters at all, let alone in November of all times. (January? Maybe.) A lazily bland and shockingly convoluted mess of ideas that doesn't even offer good enough animation or enough laughs to make up for it. The plot is jumbled, with too many characters and undercooked plotlines going on at once. (It feels more like it was meant to be a TV series, but someone decided to culminate everything into an hour and a half long movie.) Nothing meshes together well, and the below average animation lacks any sense of identity or personality of its own. (Most of the characters look the same, or have the most basic of traits provided to make them stand out just enough.)
The movie also earns the award for most insane and out of place casting I've seen in a kids movie. Jeremy Renner (Who also contributed a few songs to the soundtrack), continues a descent into madness. If the recent rumors of abuse and doing cocaine with teenagers weren't enough, his character just isn't quite as likable as the film tries to present him as. Some voices add very little, such as Heidi Klum (who at least sounds like she's having a little more fun with her other character, "Bertha", a conspiracy theorist otter), Michael Madsen, Laurie Holden (as "Dakota", one of the Top Dogs), and especially Alec Baldwin (Who is obviously just here for a paycheck). Others like Angelica Huston and Omar Sy (as "Sal", another conspiracy theorist otter), are at least trying to inject some life into a lifeless script. The most enjoyable characters end up being a bizarre James Franco (Who somehow gets at least a chuckle or two), and a criminally underused, yet still very much welcome John Cleese (Who has enough personality to make anything entertaining). These two characters also have the most identifiable traits out of the cookie-cutter cast. (The Doc Walrus design, which is a fat walrus with robot legs and other villainous gadgets, is at least visually amusing)
While also suffering from an unfocused plot and poor pacing, "Arctic Dogs" is short of smarts, humor, and personality. The film isn't quite as insultingly bad as say "Norm of the North" or "The Emoji Movie", but it just comes across as too lame and stupid. Even the youngest of kids would like find this unbearably flimsy, especially when good family entertainment can be something that anyone of any age can enjoy. All this will be remembered for is for the future investigations into how in God's name this movie got released nationwide in 2,800+ theaters. Now there's a conspiracy. 1 ½ Stars. Rated PG For Snow Puns, Poopie Humor, And Puffin Abuse.
Image: I guess she'll be back too.
It's fitting that a franchise that deals with alternate, bad timelines, in of itself, has its own timelines and continuities represented by mostly mediocre to bad films. Inspired by the James Cameron directed fanboy classics, "The Terminator" and "T2: Judgement Day", we've had "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines", "Terminator Salvation", and the more forgettable "Terminator Genisys", and now they've all been wiped from the main timeline in favor of what I can only assume is one final attempt at a reboot. Fourth times the charm?
"Terminator: Dark Fate" opens decades after "Sarah Connor" (Linda Hamilton) prevented the rise of evil AI, "Skynet", and saved humanity from suffering an apocalyptic event. Sadly, it turns out that fate really wants humanity to die at the hands of killer machines. A young woman, "Daniella Ramos" (Natalia Reyes), or "Dani" as she's called, finds herself the target of a relentless, liquefied Terminator, "Rev-9" (Gabriel Luna), who has no intention of stopping until she's dead. Luckily, Dani also has a protector, in the form of an enhanced human soldier from the future, "Grace" (Mackenzie Davis). When it appears that Grace and Dani are about to meet their ends at the hands of Rev-9, they are rescued by an even gruffer Sarah Connor than before, who has spent the past years hunting down rogue Terminators after suffering a terrible tragedy. It's revealed that in a new bad future, another evil AI, known as "Legion" has taken over, and sees Dani as a threat to it's tyrannical, human free utopia. Sarah, Grace, and Dani must form an uneasy, but necessary alliance to escape Rev-9's clutches, and track down a mysterious set of coordinates that should help our heroes avoid their....wait for it.....Dark Fate.
Directed by Tim Miller ("Deadpool"), with James Cameron returning for a producer/story credit, "Terminator: Dark Fate" decides to play more to the series' strengths, with tension and action, while not exactly giving anything new. Not just in what we've already seen before in this series, but also in other big franchise films like it. In a way, it's reminiscent of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" (I know I'm not the first person to make this comparison.), which is both a good and a bad thing. It's embracing what fans loved about the original, while making way for newbies to find something to enjoy. (Also, lots of inclusion. If you're not a fan of women and minorities in roles of importance, you're going to likely leave unhappy no matter the quality.) However, it's also very predictable and kind of safe. That is likely a flaw with the film's screenplay, by David Goyer, Justin Rhodes, and Billy Ray, which is plenty serviceable, but nothing game changing. Something that's very noticeable considering that the series was originally a game changer for modern blockbusters.
Linda Hamilton is thankfully more of a badass than she was before. She's tough, capable in a fight, and underneath the snarky attitude, there is a subtle layer of sadness that humanizes the character. It's not overplayed and gets just enough focus to make for a compelling arc. Mackenzie Davis, who has been proving herself to be a very talented actress, especially when it comes to physicality, adds some variety to the typical time traveling being character. Natalia Reyes does some okay work, but her story is incredibly obvious and derivative of other strong female characters. (Most of which come across as a bit more believable.) Gabriel Luna is a menacing baddie, while Diego Boneta (as Dani's brother) doesn't serve much purpose. The one everybody has been excited to see would be the original Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger (as a retired "T-800" model, who has become a family man named "Carl"). He's not in the film much (And to be honest, the trailers spoiled what could of been a great reveal), but he steals every scene with a surprising amount of depth and some much needed humor.
"Terminator: Dark Fate" offers little originality, but provides some good specials works, explosive action, and a dark, moody story that finds a way to keep one's interest, even when you know what's coming. It is fascinating to see the possible tragic outcomes of what we assume is a happy ending, along with the idea that despite one's actions, the possibility of humanity causing its own doom, is something that this series has addressed from the start. An exciting and solid follow up that may not reach the heights of what came before it, yet at least remembers why it worked so well in the first place. 3 Stars. Rated R For Bloody Violence, Language, Scary Skeletal Machines, And Synthetic Nudity.
Image: It's not delivery....It's Digiorno.
2019 has been one of the most.....let's just say unique years for film. Loads of blockbusters, sequels, remakes, big time disasters, along with more mainstream foreign films and others that just plain well, strange. (Where do we classify "The Lighthouse" exactly?) Our best films have included the ultimate superhero crossover, a bunch of toys questioning their existences, a family lying to their dying grandmother about her cancer, and the story of a homicidal clown, which somehow ended up being more depressing than anyone expected. Now we have something that is truly unlike any other movie we've had this year, and one that will certainly creep its way into your memory for a long time.
Set in South Korea, "Parasite" follows the unemployed, depressingly poor "Kim" family, consisting of father and mother, "Ki-taek" (Son Kang-ho) and "Chung-sook" (Jang Hye-jin), along with son and daughter, "Ki-woo" (Choi Woo-shik) and "Ki-Jeong" (Park So-dam). The Kims have so little that they steal wi-fi from nearby homes, fumigate their place via leaving the windows open when the fumigator comes by, and usually scheme their way into getting any kind of money they possibly can. Ki-woo's university friend, "Min-hyuk" (Park Seo-joon), is leaving to study abroad and asks Ki-woo to take over as an English tutor for "Da-hye" (Jung Ji-so), the daughter of the incredibly wealthy "Park" family. The Parks, which also consist of parents, simply referred to as "Mr. and Mrs. Park" (Lee Sun-kyun and Cho Yeo-jeong), and a young son, "Da-song" (Jung Hyun-joon), have clearly way too much money and lavishness at their disposal, and Ki-woo sees an opportunity. After arranging for the rest of his family to be hired for various jobs under fake names and getting the rest of the Parks' help fired, such as longtime housekeeper, "Moon-gwang" (Lee Jung-Eun), the Kims are free to worm their way into the Parks' home and experience true luxury for the first time in their lives. However, there is a hidden darkness underneath all of the fun, and a secret within the Parks' household unveils a horrifying secret, leading to deadly consequences.
From acclaimed director, Bong Joon-ho ("Snowpiercer", "Okja"), "Parasite" is a much darker, more intricate film than it would at first appear. Joon-ho's surreal directorial style gives off a somewhat haunting aura, which spreads throughout the film despite it not being obvious that it's even there. It's beautifully crafted and well thought out, taking a sudden, though not completely jarring, shift part way through. The memorable screenplay by Joon-ho and Han Jin-won is full of great character moments and a darkly weird sense of humor. There's a sense of unease, especially while you watch some fairly unlikable characters doing scummy things, though you also oddly find yourself drawn to them as well.. You find yourself questioning who you sympathize with more. There's the Parks, who are clearly too rich to the point where they appear to live in another world, not noticing the endless poverty surrounding them, and are too damn stupid to see when they're being taken advantage of. However, they're kind, don't set out to hurt anybody, and there is still a familial love that anyone can relate to and understand. The Kims are dastardly schemers, who lie and step over others to get what they want, without caring about the consequences. With that said, the position they have been put in is all too real, and the desperation each person will do to protect their family is all very easy to understand.
The excellent cast finds the humanity of each character despite their flaws. Song Kang-ho is especially wonderful, along with equally strong work from Jang Hye-jin, Park So-dam, and Choi Woo-shik. Lee Sun-kyun is given surprising depth, and some humor from a delightfully over-dramatic Cho Yeo--jeong. Also, credit to Lee Jung-eun, who becomes more important later in the film. There are layers to each character, and each one's true motives are not at all what you would expect. Unpredictable would be the best way to describe the film, and what the film reveals itself to be in the second half will leave your jaw dropped throughout the rest of the runtime. When it becomes apparent what the point is, your perspective on everyone and everything within the film will be completely flipped on its head.
"Parasite" is the kind of film that was made for discussion, with anyone who sees it likely coming up with their own interpretations. For me, I see it as a look into the absolute worst of both worlds that can be created only through such a high societal discrepancy between those with too much and those with nothing. (This is also something that, while relevant in South Korea, is also something that's relevant just about anywhere.) It's shown to us in a strange and humorous, yet unsettling and eventually tragic fashion. It's a thing of beauty that will have you captivated by every frame, leaving you with no intention of looking away. Unexpected and deviously brilliant. This one will stick with me for a while. 4 Stars. Rated R For Adult Content, Language, And A Few Things I Can't Even Talk About Without Spoiling.
Image: "What do you mean there's no app for that?"
There's always a handful of movies where I just say, "Look. I'm late reviewing this, hardly anybody saw it, and the only reason I'm even thinking about it is because of my obligation to what I do.". So we're going to get through this one quickly so we can move on to more memorable material. Or maybe it's just guilt.
"Countdown" follows aspiring nurse, "Quinn Harris" (Elizabeth Lail), who downloads an app that seemingly predicts how long you have until your death, called "Countdown" (The app also states that she only has a couple days left to live). Like most teenagers, Quinn doesn't think much of it until she notices people that she's met who happened to have also downloaded the app are winding up dead. When she apparently breaks the user agreement, a demonic, cloaked figure begins to torment her with horrific images. Unable to delete the app or get a new phone, Quinn meets "Matt" (Jordan Calloway), who also downloaded the app and only has a short time before a supposed death. So the two of them team up to find a way to avoid the ticking clock, while the relentless demonic presence hunts them down.
Made of a budget around $6 million and directed by first timer, Justin Dec (Known for mostly short films and as a production assistant), "Countdown" is the kind of cheaper horror film that's made specifically to appeal to teenagers looking for something disposable and trashy. It's practically a subgenre, much like those cruddy made for theater Lifetime dramas, in which it's not meant to be good per se. Just entertainingly dumb enough to draw out a small crowd of people looking to yell at a movie. What's too bad is that the movie really didn't have to be that way. The film seems to rely on cheap horror, lame jump scares, and a predictable story to go with the silly premise. However, occasionally the film embraces a surprisingly solid sense of humor about itself and acknowledges the ridiculousness with a few good one liners, funny situations, and some admitted cleverness. The film is full of holes, but the script has a refreshing way of going about it and offers some satisfying, if not still somewhat absurd, explanations. (The code to the app is made up of demonic Latin. That's actually kind of inspired.)
Some of the actors also do fine jobs with what given. Elizabeth Lail is charming and thoroughly capable, even carrying the film's more dramatic moments as professionally as one can despite the film's dependence on the more basic elements of horror. Jordan Calloway and Talitha Bateman (as "Jordan", Quinn's rebellious younger sister) do solid work, while Peter Facinelli (as "Dr. Sullivan", Quinn's rapey superior) is a walking stereotype. Some good laughs come from Tom Segura (as "Derek", a snarky phone salesman) and P.J. Byrne (as "Father John", who just geeks out over demonic things), who provide unexpected levels of intentional humor.
"Countdown" has the makings of a fun, tech-based dark comedy, but instead decides to be a generic, forgettable horror movie instead. There's little to be scared about, and when the film isn't offering anything of amusement, you're left to pick apart how stupid everything is. (Logically, people would of caught on to if this was real or not. We literally record and tweet everything these days.) Something meant to be nothing more than a time waster, though it could of tried a little harder to be something more enjoyable. Maybe they should remember that there are film critics that take their job pretty seriously. Just saying.2 Stars. Rated PG-13 For Nightmare Faces, Sexual Assaulting Doctors, And Nerdy Priests.