In Theaters: Isn't It Romantic, Happy Death Day 2U, Alita: Battle Angel, What Men Want, The Prodigy, Cold Pursuit, The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, Miss Bala, Serenity, The Kid Who Would Be King, Dragon Ball Super: Broly, Glass, Reign of the Supermen, A Dog's Way Home, Replicas, The Upside, On the Basis of Sex
Coming Soon: How to Train Your Dragon 3, Another Madea Movie/Another Headache, Greta, Captain Marvel, Five Feet Apart, Wonder Park, Us, Hotel Mumbai, Dumbo, Unplanned, Shazam!
★★★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: "Wait, you and I could be pitch perfect together."
This would be Hell for me. Look, I've come to admit that there is the occasional good (or even great) romantic comedy that I've seen in my time reviewing movies. That does not mean that I wouldn't lose my mind in a scenario like this. To me, it'd be a twisted, somewhat darkly humorous, psychological horror movie instead. I'm a horrible Valentine's Day date.
"Isn't It Romantic" follows the cynical, "Natalie" (Rebel Wilson), who, kind of like myself, has a dislike for romantic comedies, seeing them as unrealistic fantasies. Natalie works as a architect in New York, along with her best, totally into her, friend, "Josh" (Adam DeVine), and only lets her pessimism affect the rest of her boring and underappreciated life. After an accident that results in a bonk on the head (Second movie in two weeks to have that happen), Natalie wakes up in a much prettier, cleaner, and more cinematically pleasing New York. After noticing a few other quirky changes, such as cheesy love songs playing out of nowhere, every good looking guy, including dashing billionaire, "Blake" (Liam Hemsworth) being interested in her, and the fact that she can no longer drop any F-Bombs, Natalie realizes she is trapped in a PG-13 romantic comedy. Now to find a way out of this bizarre situation, Natalie decides to play out all of the rom-com tropes, hoping to get Blake to fall in love with her and return home.
Calling "Isn't It Romantic" a straight up parody wouldn't really be the best way to describe the movie. It's very affectionate in what it's joking about, and of course follows the same basic story outline you would see in your average romantic comedy. However, not only is it all done in nothing more than good fun, but it also ends up doing a legitimately better job with these tropes than actual rom-coms. The movie plays with the sets and cinematography, as well as the look and feel you would get from these kinds of movies. It looks a bit dirtier in the real world, yet in the romantic comedy reality, it looks like some kind of Valentine's Day card just vomited on screen. It's unrealistically pretty, which is exactly the point. Credit to Director Todd-Strauss-Schulson ("A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas") for putting more effort into the backgrounds, as well as even providing a couple spectacular showstopping musical numbers, which honestly have no right to be as good as they are.
Rebel Wilson, who has suffered from the Melissa McCarthy movie problem of generally just being reliant on lazy pratfalls, gets the chance to show off her charm and capabilities of carrying a film. She has excellent chemistry with Adam DeVine (Much like they did in "Pitch Perfect 2"), coming across as endearing and funny. Priyanka Chopra (as "Isabella", a model, who becomes Josh's love interest in the romantic comedy reality) is plenty pretty and looks like she's having a ton of fun, while some of the funniest moments come from the supporting cast, such as Betty Gilpin (as "Whitney", Natalie's friend in the real world, turned rival in the rom-com world) and Brandon Scott Jones (as "Donny", Natalie's neighbor in the real world, who becomes a hilariously stereotypical gay sidekick in the rom-com world). The biggest shock is how funny Liam Hemsworth is, and he steals every scene he's in, poking fun at himself a bit and showing some actual personality. A downside is that Jennifer Saunders (as Natalie's mother, who convinced her that romantic comedies are unrealistic in the first place) only pops up in one scene, though she gets a couple quick laughs.
"Isn't It Romantic" isn't without a few flat jokes and loads of predictability, though it's all done intentionally. It makes up for a few shortcomings with some good satire on the romantic comedy genre, that isn't in any way mean spirited, but instead embraces it while admitting to the typical flaws. Funny and sweet, with a bit more effort and intelligence than expected. All in all, a pretty fun rom-com on it's own. Even if falling in love could never happen this way in real life....Sorry, damn my cynical nature. 3 stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, Quick Cutaways, And Bleeped Out Swears.
Image: Ooh, who's the cute widdle serial killer?
You know, when it was announced that they would be making a sequel to 2017's surprisingly successful (And even more surprisingly enjoyable) "Happy Death Day".....This is not at all what I expected. It is a happy death day after all!
Let me try to explain this plot without spoiling too much because the less you know, the better. "Happy Death Day 2U" follows college student, "Tree Gelbman" (Jessica Rothe), having gotten through her whole ordeal in the first film, involving her being killed by a baby mask wearing psycho and being forced to relive the same day over and over. Now Tree has become a more considerate person, having found happiness with her boyfriend, "Carter" (Israel Broussard). Carter's roommate, "Ryan" (Phi Vu) shows up, revealing that he is currently reliving the same day after being murdered previously by another mysterious person wearing the same baby mask. The situation further escalates, resulting in well, complete and utter insanity, as well as the reveal to what caused the original time loop fiasco in the first place. Without spoiling too much, Tree eventually finds herself in a new timeline, reliving her birthday once again like the first film. However, things are different this time, not all of them for the worse.
Despite in this timeline, Carter is currently dating Tree's conceited sorority sister, "Danielle" (Rachel Matthews), Tree's roommate/the killer from the first film, "Lori" (Ruby Modine) no longer appears to have it out for her, and her previously deceased mother (Miss Yager) is alive and well. Now forced to choose between returning to her old timeline or staying in this new one, Tree must turn to Carter and Ryan, along with Ryan's nerdy friends, "Samar" (Suraj Sharma) and "Dre" (Sarah Yarkin) to fix the new time loop. But with yet another baby mask wearing killer on the loose and other mumbo jumbo, Tree is going to have to keep dying and resetting the time loop like before to put all the pieces together.
With Christopher Landon (A couple of the "Paranormal Activity" movies, as well as the first "Happy Death Day") returning to direct and serving as a screenwriter as well, "Happy Death Day 2U" takes a more comedic turn, leaving behind the horror elements (Though the original really wasn't much of a horror movie either). The movie also dips it's toe (Or just plain shoves it's entire foot in) into Sci-Fi territory, committing to some really crazy sh*t. It's baffling how the filmmakers came to the conclusion as to where they wanted to continue this series, but regardless of what strange thoughts were flowing inside their heads, it's a very much welcome change of pace. While the film does do what a lot of sequels do, such as rehash the popular jokes from before and even seemingly has a similar plot outline, it does so in a jokey, self referential way that's also very original.
Jessica Rothe once more shows herself to be insanely charming, having that certain delightful screen presence. She has excellent comedic range, as well as a certain sense of endearment to add to her likability, even showing a lot of strength in the film's few serious moments. Continuing with the romance from the first movie, Israel Broussard is lovable, with his chemistry with Rothe serving as a major part of the movie. Phi Vu (Who was just a small part in the first film), and Rachel Matthews get to have a lot more fun this time in their expanded roles. There are a lot of funny lines delivered from Sarah Yarkin and Suraj Sharma (The guy from "Life of Pi"), and I like where they go with Ruby Modine's character to contrast what happened to her in the first movie. The weakest aspect ends up being who the film reveals to be the killer, which feels a little tacked on and only works if you saw the first one. It's clever to keep things going and to use everything you possibly can, but the movie just delivers it in a sloppy manner.
"Happy Death Day 2U" continues the first film's eye for dark humor (Such as a Tree going through suicide montage to reset the day, that only gets more and more hilariously brutal) and a shocking amount of heart. The movie has some good character moments that feel genuinely sweet and heartwarming. (How is it the "Happy Death Day" movies know how to do this right?) It's still not quite as good or as fresh as the first film, and the movie's crazy plot twists could be seen as the movie jumping the shark (Though it's clearly supposed to be.), it still makes for an effectively original, funny, and just plain adorable horror/romantic comedy. It's an odd combination, but I'd like to think it still works for a solid date movie. Just make sure your date has a sick sense of humor. 3 stars. Rated PG-13 For Bloodless Stabbings, Cartoonish Deaths, And Confusing Multiverse Theories.
Image: That real or virtual actress or character is a real or virtual badass.
"Why are that girl's eyes so damn big?" That was the first thing everyone shouted in unison the second they saw this first trailer early last year. Just going to get this out of the way fast and say, it's not distracting. At all, really. Not sure what the filmmakers did to adjust it, or if it's something about the actress (Most likely. More on her later.), but it oddly fits the look of the final film. Something just feels right with those anime eyes, and it's hard to pinpoint what exactly it is. It may just be because when it comes to visual flair, Director Robert Rodriguez ("Sin City", "From Dusk till Dawn") and Producer/Co-Writer James Cameron ("Avatar") know how to pull off some grand spectacle.
"Alita: Battle Angel" takes place in the far future, following a war that resulted in a devastated, junkyard based city. There, the people are hoping to one day gain passage up into the floating Utopian city in the sky, "Zalem". Cybernetic scientist, "Dr. Dyson Ido" (Christoph Waltz) comes across the still working, disembodied female cyborg, which he pieces back together, using a body originally meant for his now deceased daughter. The newly resurrected girl (Rosa Salazar), whom Ido names after his daughter, "Alita", shows a remarkable amount of intelligence, despite her memories being lost. Alita shows a lot of curiosity about this new world, befriending a young, possible love interest, "Hugo" (Keean Johnson), and learns about a deadly cyborg sport, "Motorball", which is unknowingly rigged by the villainous "Vector" (Mahershala Ali).
Alita soon discovers that Ido is also a "Hunter-Warrior", which are bounty hunter of sorts, who go after the various criminals lurking within the dystopian city. Alita also learns that there is more to her than it appears, after effectively defeating some killer cyborgs, including the monstrous "Grewishka" (Jackie Earle Haley). Alita's actions also attract the attention of Vector and Ido's ex wife, "Chiren" (Jennifer Connelly), as well as their mysterious, body swapping master, "Nova", who sees Alita as a threat to his own plans. Working as a Hunter-Warrior and eventually becoming part of the Motorball sport, Alita sets out to find out who she really is and what she's capable of.
Based on a nearly thirty year old manga, turned anime, known as "Battle Angel Alita" in English, "Alita: Battle Angel" is an ambitious, visual marvel that sets out to be the next big franchise. The film's special effects are stunning, with a uniquely original look, and a lot of crazy visuals that look just like an anime brought to life on the big screen in live action form. The world created, and the characters who inhabit it, are lively and unique, with a dirty, gritty look that also gives the feel of an old fashioned Sci-Fi, action movie you would of seen in the late 80s/early 90s. It's all green screen and CGI, but it blends together seamlessly, especially during the the action scenes, which looks amazing in 3D. With such a huge, expansive world being set up, along with a lot of lore and characters to make time for, the film is packed with so much information, that you will be lost if you miss anything. This tends to be a fault in many original, franchise hopeful films like this in which the way the script takes time to explain itself (As well as it possibly can anyway) sometimes doesn't always have the appropriate flow of the standard three act story structure. The film almost seems distracted by itself at times, with big reveals and plot changes that while keep the film from being at all predictable, it also feels a bit muddled and sloppy. (Think a gender swapped Pinocchio story, that turns into a bounty hunter one, that also happens to be a bit of a sports movie with a love story. It's a lot to say the least.) However, unlike other films such as "Jupiter Ascending" or last year's "Mortal Engines", the movie offers more originality, better defined characters, and a lot of heart.
Our star, Rosa Salazar (Known for a supporting part in the "Maze Runner" series) finally gets the chance to show off how much acting range she has. Mostly covered in motion capture, but using her naturally expressive face and body language, she brings to life a likable, cute, mesmerizing character, who is easy to root for, emotionally strong, and totally badass. On the topic of the whole eyes situation, I get the idea it's not just meant to give her an anime-esque, more than human look, but also meant to represent something innocently angelic and full of wonder. (Literally wide eyed). Christoph Waltz is wonderful, playing a rare heroic characters, having sweet fatherly moments with Alita. Mahershala Ali looks to be enjoying himself as a shady villain, along with a smarmy as ever Ed Skrein (as "Zapan", a rival, more violent cyborg bounty hunter) and awesomely hammy Jackie Earle Haley (Whose head is CGI'd onto a hulking robot body). Jennifer Connelly is definitely overqualified for her role, but is too good of an actress to not make it work, and while Keean Johnson does a fine job, he's out-acted by Rosa Salazar and their romance is easily the weakest part of the story. There are also a plethora of cameos and bit parts that I won't spoil, and I assume either set up for a sequel or simply were put into the movie just for fun.
While occasionally spending too much time on world building and exposition, "Alita: Battle Angel" is the closest thing to getting a live action anime you can possibly get. The film has interesting characters, a compelling lead, and a heartfelt story to go with the incredible, breathtaking effects. The film's sequel hopes do kind of get in the way, especially once we reach the end, which is sad for a couple reasons. One being that it's no longer a standalone film, but also because the odds of the movie actually getting one are fairly slim. (Having cost over $170 million, not counting advertising) It's too bad because you can see the potential and the film's endearing nature make you actually want to return to this world to see the further adventures of Alita. Destined to be a cult favorite, it's a flawed, but worthwhile experience that I surprisingly want to see more of. The eyes have it. 3 stars. Rated PG-13 For Cyborg Violence And Dismemberment.
Image: What Men Want? To be respected for our minds.... And hearts....That's all.
Anyone actually remember the old 2000 released Mel Gibson movie, "What Women Want"? (Did I just call it "Old?" That makes me feel even older!) I remember being a little kid, having been dragged to the movie, with a fuzzy memory of some things that happened in it. Mostly, it sounds kind of dated really. Not to mention, shouldn't of falling into the bathtub with an electric hairdryer have killed Mel Gibson? Why would you want to remake that?
"What Men Want" follows sports agent, "Ali Davis" (Taraji P. Henson), who, despite her qualifications, is passed up for a promotion. Ali doesn't quite get along with her many male colleagues, seeing how they look down on her and ignore her. While out with her friends, Ali meets a fortune teller, "Sister" (Erykah Badu) providing Ali with a mysterious cup of tea (Likely full of ll kinds of illegal narcotics). Later that night, a bump to the head that results in Ali waking up in the hospital, with the ability to hear the inner thoughts of men. Though of course Ali has to sort through all kinds of the awkward, gross, insufferable thoughts that we men have (Come on dudes. Be honest. We're terrible.), she starts to see this as her chance to possibly move up in the world and get that promotion. Ali decides to use her new gift on outwitting her cocky colleagues and signing up upcoming basketball star, "Jamal Barry" (Shane Paul McGhie). However, Ali will also have to win over Jamal's dad, "Joe" (Tracy Morgan), who only connects with good family people. Seeing that being in a relationship with nice bartender, "Will" (Aldis Hodge) as a way of doing so, Ali pretends that Will is her husband, and eventually starts to abuse her power. Typical comedic plotline. Kooky situations, some lies and deceit, and morals are learned. You know how this plays out.
"What Men Want" is one of those movies I was somewhat dreading, with the silly premise feeling almost as dated as the movie it's loosely remaking, and the jokes falling flat on their face with a hard thud. When it started, my fears appeared to be realized. The jokes were failing, and the set up was weak and predictable. That is only the first twenty or so minutes though. When the plot does get going, it's not much better and it falls into typical romantic comedy trappings (Which is jarring essentially since it's so unnecessary to do so), but the film's humor occasionally comes through, and Director Adam Shankam ("The Wedding Planner", "Hairspray") does the smartest thing he could possibly do and simply let the charm of it's actors completely take the wheel. Yeah, it can be seen as a little bit lazy, especially when so many other comedies these days appear to have the same thought process of just hoping their actors are enough to save a mediocre script. With all that said, I can see the mentality as to why, and it shows with how capable a lot of them are.
Taraji P. Henson (Who deserves better than almost every single movie she's in) is a strong, reliably charismatic presence. She elevates the material more than what was required for no other reason than the fact that she can. Tracy Morgan gets quite a few laughs with his Tracy Morganess, along with Josh Brener (as "Brandon", Ali's loyal, gay assistant) and Wendi McLendon-Covey (as "Olivia", Ali's ridiculously religious friend). Brian Bosworth (as "Nick", Ali's boss) and Jason Jones (as "Kevin", the dick of the movie) are essentially the closest things the movie has to antagonists, and their stories kind of peter out, though it's not like either of them are bad in the movie. The most enjoyable scenes come from Erykah Badu, who is so freakin weird that it's entertaining simply because of how odd it is. These are actually fairly fun characters and I doubt it's because the screenwriters made them that way. It's more likely because the people playing them are just giving it their all. The film's romantic subplot with Aldis Hodge (Who is also an endearing character) feels tacked on, only becoming important and relevant when the movie calls for it.
I do have to give some credit to "What Men Want" for actually committing to the R rating, since most movies like this usually cop out in that department. There are a few funny moments and the film's message ends up being a bit more complicated than expected. The story just goes down a overly silly, predictable route, that uses a few tired, annoying clichés. It could be seen as a fun, girls night out movie. You know, men want that too. Just a fun, boys night out, watching a romantic comedy together. 2 stars. Rated R For Language, Cartoonish Sexual Content, And Well, What You Expect Men Would Be Thinking About All The Time.
Image: This kid's not going to be any trouble at all.
What is it about scary children? Kids are innocent and harmless, and yet, horror movies just love making them into the symbol of our fears. Maybe it's that want for something innocent and without cynicism.....or kids are all faking it and are in reality, all beings we should be terrified of.
"The Prodigy" opens with expecting parents, "Sarah" (Taylor Schilling) and "John" (Peter Mooney) welcoming their new son, "Miles" (Jackson Robert Scott) into the world. Around the exact same time, a psychotic, hands obsessed serial killer (Paul Fauteux) is being gunned down by police. Over the years, Miles' parents notice that Miles shows signs of early development and high intelligence, though he appears to have trouble finding friends. As time continues, things get stranger as Miles starts to show a darker, more troublesome side (Such as smashing a kid's hand with a hammer, and speaking another language in his sleep.). A psychiatrist, "Arthur Jacobson" (Colm Feore), who suggests to Sarah that Miles is possessed, and now Sarah has to find a way to save her son's soul, before he does something horrible.
Directed by Nicholas McCarthy ("The Pact", "At the Devil's Door". Essentially just basic horror flicks.), "The Prodigy" is the latest in the creepy child, horror genre, and does not necessarily do anything new with it. It just does an okay job with it. After a rushed beginning and an awkward way of essentially spoiling it's twist in the first few minutes (Wouldn't it of been better to wait to reveal what's going on with the kid until later in the film?), the movie does slow down and let some atmosphere creep in. It's fairly unsettling in some parts, and while there isn't much mystery (And even when the film reveals a few more surprises, it's kind of choppily placed in there), there is some genuine suspense as you're waiting for things to escalate. It also helps that the movie's R rating actually works in it's favor, seeing that it's bloodier and more grotesque than advertised, and actually commits fully to it.
Taylor Schilling is a capable lead, having some emotional moments that work because despite the supernatural element, it's still a human situation she's dealing with. She's a mother doing whatever it takes to save her son, and is willing to even cross a few lines to do so. Colm Feore gets one of the best scenes in the film, which is suitably disturbing, but oddly funny at the same time. Then there's Jackson Robert Scott (Georgie from "It"), and that kid is spectacular. He's innocent one moment, then unpleasant the next. His stare alone is enough to make you uneasy, and some of the things he does and says (The mouth on this kid. Good lord!) just add to it.
"The Prodigy" is never particular scary, and appears to have thrown in a couple jump scares just for the Hell of it, the movie instead goes for anxiety and dread rather than traditional scares. It's effective when it works, and at times really does make your skin scrawl. It's just too bad the eventual pay off ends up feeling a little cheap. The ending ends up being way too obvious, and doesn't have that last second wow factor they were going for. At times sloppy and uneven, but not without some chilling moments and a few inspired scenes of suspense, it's fine time for anyone looking for a quick spooky thriller. Even if there are signs of something stronger hidden under what we end up getting. 2 1/2 stars. Rated R For Childishly Strong Language And Childishly Strong Gore. .
Image: Call Mr. Plow! That's my name! That name again is Mr. Plow!
Nothing more fitting than watching a cold movie, set somewhere cold, while it's freezing cold outside. Made even better by the theater forgetting what a heater is, leaving the audience to practically bundle up together for warmth. Kind of adds to the atmosphere with this one, and the off sight of everyone covered in layers of clothes, blankets, and jackets in a dark movie theater definitely matches what the movie actually is.
"Cold Pursuit" takes place in the small, snowy town of Kehoe, Colorado, where snowplow driver, "Nelson Coxman" (Liam Neeson) has just been recognized as Citizen of the Year. Coxman's son is found dead, from a drug overdose, which Coxman immediately finds suspicious because his son wasn't a "Druggie" as he puts it. Unable to move forward and causing a strain in his relationship with his wife, "Grace" (Laura Dern), Coxman does some investigating of his own, piecing together that his son was forced to overdose by the local drug cartel. Coxman sets out to take out and kill the hilariously named cartel members one by one (The names consisting of "Speedo", "Santa", etc.). The ringleader of the cartel, "Viking" (Tom Bateman), learns of the vanishing of his various men, setting out to find out who is responsible, resulting in a turf war with the Native American cartel, run by "White Bull" (Tom Jackson). While both sides duke it out, the bodies start to pile up, and Viking getting more and more desperate, nobody has any clue that all of this was started by some regular old guy out for some good old fashioned revenge. Meanwhile, young, optimistic rookie cop, "Kim" (Emmy Rossum) and her old fashioned partner, "Gip" (John Doman) do some investigating on the sidelines, trying to piece everything together.
Based on a 2014 Norwegian film, "In Order of Disappearance", which was directed by Hans Petter Moland (Returning to direct this remake too.), "Cold Pursuit" is not at all what you expect it to be. It's actually a very strange film, with a dark funny, slightly surreal tone, and to be honest, I had a fantastic time with it. It could at first glance be seen as a complete and total mess of plot points and kooky shifts from dark violence to macabre laughs, that are subtlety sprinkled throughout the film. It's not a full blown comedy, but the humorous elements are clever injected in the film, sneaking up on you when you least expect it. Such as when somebody dies, the film stops to display their name almost in memoriam. However, the hilariously high body count and the random secondary characters who find themselves also dying due to simple involvement add a little intentional laugh to it. The stormy, snowy weather gives the film a sort of apocalyptic, gritty feel, and the ensemble of characters, (Some of which either being secondary, or popping up simply to die) add a bit of depth. It's still exciting and kind of compelling, despite how out of nowhere outrageous it actually is.
Racially insensitive comments aside (Noticed some critics feeling as if that completely ruined the film for them), Liam Neeson is superbly cast, somewhat acting as a parody of his other film roles. He's not exactly tough and his age shows, but he's a quick thinker and capable when the moment calls for it. He has some great, quiet dramatic moments, but also has some flawless reactions to some of the offbeat weirdness that happens. Tom Bateman is slime personified, and is delightfully villainous in childish fashion, with his character trying to find out who is killing his men (And doing such a crappy job of it) and trying to compete in a custody battle with his ex-wife, "Aya" (Julia Jones). Tom Jackson is one of the most fascinating characters in the movie, having an understated, yet enthralling mini-character arc. William Forsythe (as "Wingman", Coxman's former mobster brother) is excellent in a memorable, small role. Emmy Rossum and John Doman are nothing more than a subplot, but do add a little balance and lightheartedness to the violence. On the downside, while other actors (Whether they be in major roles or not) get a moment to shine, Laura Dern is underutulized and exits the movie early on.
Death and brutality is all over the place, with the film's harsh setting only adding to it, "Cold Pursuit" is a hodgepodge of quirky laughs and bloody violence. It really shouldn't work as well as it does. There are some fun twists, moments of insight, and an unpredictable story, along with some great action, disguised as a regular old Liam Nesson action thriller. However, what you get is more like a Tarantino movie, mixed with a little cartoon logic just for giggles. It all culminates in a hilariously baffling final shot, ending the film on a suitably bizarre note. It's a Frankenstein's monster of a movie, that just happens to be well stitched together, and it may have you laughing just as much as it will have you perplexed. 3 1/2 stars. Rated R For Strong Language, Gorey Violence, And The Most Onscreen Deaths I've Seen In Some Time.
Image: I think I already made this Lego movie when I was 7.
We never did really quite figure out how exactly they did it. How not only did Warner Bros. make a movie about "Legos" (The building block toys that anyone of any age can have fun with for those who don't know), but also make the film as great as it was. "The LEGO Movie" got acclaim from critics, to the point where many were upset that it was snubbed from the Oscars for "Best Animated Film" (Some even thought a "Best Picture" nominee was also deserved). Previously directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Responsible to the "21 Jump Street" films, and also make "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" possible), who can really make anything they want....except a "Star Wars" movie for some reason. The movie was an instant classic, with plenty of laughs and heart for all ages. Why should the sequel be any different?
"The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part" picks up from where the first film left off, with the young boy, "Finn" (Jadon Sand) being told by his dad, "The Man Upstairs" (Will Ferrell) that he will have to share the Legos with his younger sister, "Bianca" (Brooklyn Prince, from "The Florida Project"). This results in the city of "Bricksburg" being attacked by the invading, pre-school based "Duplos", who hilariously start to destroy everything in the cutest ways possible. Cut to a few years later and the Lego citizens have all become hardened and bitter, turning their city into a Mad Max-esque wasteland, called "Apocalypseburg". As expected, the only optimistic person is "Emmet" (Chris Pratt), who remains upbeat and happy no matter how dire things have become, much to the annoyance of everyone else. However, Emmet does reveal to his love interest, "Wyldstyle/Lucy" (Elizabeth Banks) that he recently had a nightmare of an upcoming event, known as "Our-Mom-Ageddon".
Right at this time, the Duplos return, with their leader, "General Mayhem" (Stephanie Beatriz), kidnapping Emmet's friends, including Lucy, the egotistical "Batman" (Will Arnett), sweet kitty with hidden anger issues, "Unikitty" (Alison Brie), 1980s space guy, "Benny" (Charlie Day), and pirate based talking head, "MetalBeard" (Nick Offerman). With nobody else volunteering to help, Emmet is forced to journey to the mysterious "Systar System" to save his friends, coming across multi-skilled (And very Chris Pratty) adventurer, "Rex Dangervest" (Also voiced by Chris Pratt), who accompanies Emmet on his journey. Meanwhile, Emmet's friends are brought to the system's shape shifting ruler, "Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi" (Tiffany Haddish), who assures the others that she is in no way evil, and plotting to marry Batman (It's all as hilariously bizarre as it sounds), while the coming Our-Mom-Ageddon approaches further.
With Lord and Miller serving as writers, and being directed by Mike Mitchell ("Trolls"), "The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part" has the same charm and spirit as the original, though it's obvious to state that it's not quite as good. Granted, after two spin-offs (With the almost as great "The LEGO Batman Movie", and the weaker, but still likable "The LEGO Ninjago Movie"), and a lot of hype to live up to, it's not the same, and it's best to get this out of the way early. The movie is still full of laughs, creative and incredible animation, and an overwhelming amount of weirdness and freneticism, that unlike other animated films that more so rely on that due to laziness, feels necessary. Much like the first film, everything happening in the Lego world is a metaphor for what's happening in reality between the son and his sister, which plays into how random things will happen. (Ever played with Legos? Or really any toy in general as a kid? You'd probably just make things up as you go.) There are also a few fun new songs sprinkled throughout the film (One of which appropriately titled "Catchy Song"), adding to the randomness.
The excellent ensemble voice cast, full of cameos and weird references, is a perfect collection of talent. Chris Pratt is as lovably naive as ever, while voicing another character that's essentially just a caricature of his movie roles. Elizabeth Banks and a once again scene-stealing Will Arnett are wonderful, along with smaller, but still playfully quirky parts for Charlie Day, Alison Brie, and Nick Offerman. Tiffany Haddish (Whose voice was made for voice work) and Stephanie Beatriz are delightful additions. There is an onslaught of others in tiny roles, such as Ralph Fiennes (as "Alfred", Batman's butler), Channing Tatum (as "Superman"), Jonah Hill (as "Green Lantern", who Superman still hates), Ben Schwartz (as a talking banana), Maya Rudolph (in a role I dare not spoil), Will Ferrell (in a cameo as the film's previous villain, "Lord Business"), and for some reason Bruce Willis (Why? I don't know, but it's so odd and out of nowhere, that it's freakin hilarious). The chaotic twists and turns are terrifically displayed with the building block, stop motion-esque animation, where anything can (and will) happen at any point.
While still laugh out loud, the humor isn't as strong, and maybe the film's constant moving could get old after a while to some. "The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part" may not reach the heights of the original (Not that we really should of expected that), but the heart is still in the right place and it's hard to not find yourself smiling by the end. It's a movie about finding a way to feel as if "Everything is Awesome" regardless of how much things might suck the older you get. Being happy and hopeful (even if it's unrealistic), which is the best way to describe the movie as a whole. Just something joyful for the whole family, that will have them laughing often and leaving with their hearts warmed. It's a franchise that on paper, shouldn't work, but in a way feels like something everyone should just take time to simply sit back and have some childlike fun with. Mentally, I'm no more than a child anyway.3 1/2 stars.Rated PG For Crude Humor And Lots Of Flashing Sparkles.
Image: Miss Behaving.
Sooooo,.....There was nothing else this week? It's too early in the year for something like that. A forgettable action movie to go with a forgettable weekend. It's made worse by the fact that all I have on my mind right now is "Kingdom Hearts 3" (Amazing by the way.). And a movie like this, while not the worst or even that bad per se,...You know, I feel like I'm taking way too much time to explain what "Meh" is. Odd how I'm not used to this by now....Did I tell you about "Kingdom Hearts 3" yet?
"Miss Bala" follows "Gloria Fuentes" (Gina Rodriguez), who has arrived in Tijuana, Mexico to visit her best friend "Suzu" (Cristina Rodlo). Gloria and Suzu go to a nightclub, which ends up being attacked by the local drug cartel, run by "Lino Esparza" (Ismael Cruz Córdova). Gloria narrowly escapes, while Suzu mysteriously vanishes. Gloria, who was recognized by Lino, ends up abducted by his cartel and is forced to work for them in exchange for Lino finding out where Suzu is. After unknowingly being a part of an terrorist attack on a DEA safe house, the DEA decides to target Gloria, wanting to use her as a spy. Gloria is now forced to play both sides, gaining the trust of Lino, who appears to fancy her, and find Suzu, all of which eventually connecting to the upcoming Miss Baja California Beauty Pageant.
A toned down Americanized, PG-13 version of a 2011 Mexican film of the same name that I never saw (Or even heard of before I went to see this), "Miss Bala" is a movie that you can tell that, despite not seeing the original, appears to be lacking a certain edge that was probably present in the original. The violence is quick, and the darker elements are either offscreen or mostly hinted at, keeping everything safe for the few teens who I guess Sony Pictures assumed would be interested in the move. Because of this, the film feels very generic, though not exactly poorly made. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke ("Thirteen", "Twilight", "Red Riding Hood"), the movie looks good enough, and isn't without a few cool moments of female empowerment. But the plot points are rushed through, leaving little impact, and nearly every single on is incredibly predictable.
Even though the film doesn't have much of it's own strength when it comes to story and execution, the film has star power in lead Gina Rodriguez ("Jane the Virgin"), who almost carries the entire film completely on her own. She keeps the film from totally collapsing under it's own mediocrity, showing a lot of range as an actress. She's likable, capable, and has a compelling character arc, going from an average, scared person, to an imposing badass. Ismael Cruz Córdova is a charismatic villain, with some interesting motivations and a realistic level of creepy. Many of our other villains are fairly cartoonish, as is the DEA characters as well, who vanish from the film fairly early. Then there's a quick appearance from Anthony Mackie (as "Jimmy", one of Lino's dealers), who is here only for a couple minutes, and has a story that goes down a route that feels much too sequel baity for no real reason.
"Miss Bala" is competently made, and could be recommendable simply to show that Gina Rodriguez is an actress with a wide enough range to nearly save an entire film single-handedly. It's just not as interesting as it should be, and lacks enough good qualities (or even bad ones) to warrant memorability. It's a quick sit, but a total bore. Another generic action thriller that I'm surprised I found enough to write about as it is. Oh well. Back to playing "Kingdom Hearts 3" non stop for the next 2 or 3 days. 2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Watered Down Violence, Slight Adult Content, And Shirtless Drug Lords.
Image: "Roma" wasn't built in a day.
I usually don't do something like this. If I miss a film when it's released in theaters, or simply see it months after its release date, I don't end up writing up a full review of it. On that note, I never review foreign movies, simply because I forget about them. (I saw 189 2018 movies. Cut me some slack for letting a few hard to find films slip under my radar.) "Roma" is something different though. Aside from getting a Best Picture nomination, many other accolades, and an immense amount of critical love, I had to give it a look. Movies like this are interesting entities in how the minute they end, you're left pondering many themes, and asking yourself "Did I do my Best List too soon?". The obvious answer is that I definitely did. I can make mistakes too, and not seeing this sooner was a big one.
"Roma" is set during the early 1970s, taking place on the Colonia Roma neighborhood in Mexico City. The story follows a young live-in housekeeper, "Cleo" (Yalitza Aparicio), working for an upper middle class family, whom she lives with. Cleo is essentially one of the family despite her living situation along with her fellow maid, "Adela" (Nancy García), lacking the same luxuries as the others (Such as sharing a tiny room). Cleo has a very strong connection to the children, while the mother, "Sofía" (Marina de Tavira) scrambles with her own issues, such as the obviously suspicious actions of her doctor husband, "Antonio" (Fernando Grediaga), who is always away on supposed conferences out of the country. Cleo also has a martial arts obsessed boyfriend, "Fermín" (Jorge Antonio Guerrero), who is revealed to be a total scumbag, abandoning Cleo seconds after she reveals that she is pregnant. This leaves Cleo being forced to go through her pregnancy alone, while witnessing the family's struggles, such as Sofía's dipping into depression, the children squabbling, upcoming political turmoil involving protesters, and her own fears of what's to come of her new, troubling situation.
Released through Netflix last November, "Roma" is clearly a very personal project of Director Alfonso Cuarón, known in this country for directing "Children of Men", "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban", and of course, the visual masterpiece "Gravity". Loosely inspired by his own upbringing in the same neighborhood in the film, Cuarón doesn't just direct, but also serves as the Writer, Producer, Editor, and Cinematographer, proving that he may be one of the greatest filmmakers of our time, considering how well he excels in every department. Filmed in black and white, it's beautiful looking movie, with some incredible shots that no one would ever think of. (The opening shot, consisting of the credits going over washing puddles and a plan being visible in the reflection, is mesmerizing.) It focuses on something that people tend to shove to the side or portray as unappealing, and instead shows it as it is, which is a story about people in the real world. Expertly written, with compelling, yet simple moments of dialogue between its fully fledged out characters, and even small bits of humor (Such as a running gag with car parking or a marching band that comes out of nowhere at out of place moments) that could be seen as tonally inconsistent at first glance. However, these little moments are first of all, necessary to balance out the harsh reality, but also feel in sync with the occasional randomness of life.
Yalitza Aparicio is the definition of what an acting revelation should be. Having never acted before in her life and having an apparent preference for being a school teacher in real life, Aparicio gives a wonderfully underplayed, quietly compassionate performance, whose strength comes from her expressions and movements. Marina de Tavira is terrific, with her character serving as an excellent comparison to Aparicio's. Cleo and Sofía are both representations of strong, full realized female characters, complete with flaws and all, as well as sympathy. With Cleo being the more optimistic one (Though she has so few people to turn to in her life) and Sofía being the more cynical one (Though she has an extensive family and is evidently richer), despite the clear differences of their lifestyles, which affect how they cope. It's a very powerful look into how these women survive whatever tribulation is thrown at them, and by the end, how they can possibly overcome it. The rest of the cast, which consists of bit parts mostly (Although the child actors are all amazing), each give similarly naturalistic performances.
There is pain in "Roma", and it's unpleasant at times because of it, making you feel everything the characters feel. Where it all leads is rightfully calm, but with poignancy and heart, and I'd be lying if I didn't bring a few tears to my eyes. The film is a compelling, strikingly gorgeous, and once you get past all the hurt and heartache, emotionally stirring. It's the best film of 2019, and I'm saying all of this about a movie that I watched on my phone while waiting up in the break room at work. It shows me that true artistry and brilliant filmmaking can come from anywhere at any moment, and you should never overlook the seemingly smaller films. It's really the best way to describe this movie as a whole. 4 stars. Rated R For Full Frontal Penis, Disturbing Images, And Strong Emotions.
Image: "Anne Hathaway is asking me to do something crazy?....Sure!".
Gotta end January with a bang right? Or I guess in this case I should consider it the cinematic equivalent of willingly driving your car into a fiery explosion, claiming it's some kind of metaphor for human motivations. Ohhhh boy. You just never know what you're gonna get during this most bewildering time of the year.
"Serenity" is set on a fishing island called "Plymouth", where we follow obsessive Fisherman, "Baker Dill" (Matthew McConaughey), whose sole purpose in life is to attempt to catch a giant fish he's nicknamed "Justice". Baker's obsession only gets worse over time, never seemingly getting anywhere close to catching the fish. However, Baker's ex-wife, "Karen" (Anne Hathaway) arrives on the island, offering Baker payment to kill her abusive monster of a husband, "Frank Zariakas" (Jason Clarke). Baker is hesitant at first (Considering how he changed his name and ran off to this island in the first place), though he considers the offer after Karen mentions how Frank also treats their son, "Patrick" (Rafael Sayegh). This right here is a simple enough premise for a film noir set in somewhere more modern. You would think that, but then things take a turn for the weird, then for the worse. Baker starts to have psychedelic visions, there's some off imagery, some guy in a suit (Jeremy Strong) keeps attempting to talk to Baker (Only to miss him by a couple seconds every time.), and it soon becomes apparent why "Aviron Pictures" decided to pull this film from it's previously scheduled September release, then pulling it from a October release, before finally settling on a last minute January release in a desperate struggle to keep people from seeing it. Judging from the box office reports, it kind of worked......I still saw it though.....
Going to have to be vague with this one, and trust me, that's going to be a really difficult task. Not just because the issues with the film come from an early, unadvertised twist. But because it might trick you into thinking it's actually worth the time seeing it. Directed by Steven Knight (Known mostly as a screenwriter, and for directing the critically liked 2013 film, "Locke"), "Serenity" has the makings of a new take on a genre we don't see much of these days.....for about ten minutes. It becomes apparent pretty quickly, that aside from cheesy writing and dull pacing, that this film has higher, more absurd aspirations. The film's incredibly serious, very heavy tone does not match the occasionally off kilter imagery that comes with where the film decides to go. The problem however is that once it becomes apparent what the twist to the story is, the film itself takes way too long to explain it. It's obvious what it is and what the many metaphors sprinkled throughout are meant to represent. For something with such an out of nowhere later premise, it's all oddly and annoyingly predictable.
Why are such good actors in this? All it does is make bad movies more depressing to talk about. Matthew McConaughey essentially just plays the same character he has become associated with in recent years. Talking in his McConaughey voice and throwing out catchphrases. And while he's good at it, we all know how good of an actor he can be and that he can do so much better. Anne Hathaway is well cast and fits the part well, doing her absolute best to make it work, despite the horrible, clichéd dialogue. Jason Clarke is woefully painful to watch, with a villain so cartoonishly disgusting, that every scene with him becomes more unpleasant for reasons that probably weren't intended. Jeremy Strong's role is out of place and shatters the tone to pieces, while Djimon Hounsou (as "Duke", Baker's first mate) and Diane Lane (as "Constance", Baker's friend with benefits) are just more good actors that this movie somehow lured into it's twisted, vortex of dreadfullness.
Pretentiously directed and lacking the actual insight it seems to think it has, "Serenity" is the kind of movie that once you figure it out, you're left begging for it to get to the damn point already. The hare-brained plot twists aren't enough to warrant a so bad, it's good viewing, because it ends up being too easy to deduce, and the film drags out its finale far too long. It's too boring to give the time of day, even ironically. The mindset behind the filmmakers is the more interesting mystery, and fittingly brings the first month of 2019 to a close. 1 star. Rated R For Sexual Content, Heavy Subjects, And Loads Of McConaughey Ass.
Image: A teenage Chris Angel discovers his mystical powers for the first time.
I'm starting to think that it's probably for the best if we just let the British make all of our family friendly, whimsical adventure movies. Aside from Disney, although they too seem to be moving away from stuff like this, it seems that we tend to screw up these kinds of movie (Or at least make them incredibly forgettable). But movies like both "Paddington" movies ("Paddington 2" was snubbed at the Oscars!) or anything from "Aardman", seem to have a little extra class, lots of quirkiness, and even more ambitions to them than probably necessary, setting out to make something stronger and more memorable. More effort when you didn't actually have to. We need more of that.
"The Kid Who Would Be King" follows young "Alex Elliott" (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), living with his mother (Denise Gough) after his dad left some time before. Alex is bullied, along with his best friend, "Bedders" (Dean Chaumoo), by the local movie bullies, "Lance" (Tom Taylor) and "Kaye" (Rhianna Doris). While fleeing from the bullies, Alex stumbles upon a mysterious sword, stuck within a stone on a construction site. Turns out it's the legendary sword of the fabled "King Arthur", "Excalibur". However, pulling out the sword awakens the evil sorceress, "Morgana" (Rebecca Ferguson), who plans to unleash an army of undead soldiers to take over the world during an upcoming eclipse, due to the current instability of modern society. Alex is sought out by the great Wizard, "Merlin" (Played in his true form by Sir Patrick Stewart and his younger one by Angus Imrie), who takes the form of a teenager, using the "ingenious" alias of "Mertin". Merlin wants Alex to accept his destiny as the new king, foretold to defeat Morgana once and for all, and assemble his "Knights of the Round Table". Left with little options, Alex ends up enlisting Bedders, Lance, and Kaye to join him in his quest to seek out his missing father, thinking he may of had some sort of involvement in this series of events, and then take the battle to Morgana herself before her demonic soldiers track them down first.
Directed and written by Joe Cornish (Who previously directed British cult favorite, "Attack the Block"), "The Kid Who Would Be King" takes it's simple, silly premise and sets out to make a family friendly, fantasy epic, complete with a sense of wonder you could only find in a kid's movie. That's exactly what you get. The movie is just plain charming, with a smart screenplay that makes it's characters likable, keeps a witty sense of humor, and knows when to calm down, despite the kookiness, and allow a little drama to sink in. It's a predictable, but very satisfying story, that addresses what elements it's borrowing (Such as the hero and his sidekick, the enemies becoming allies, and the hero understanding his own worth and finding faith in himself, not just his friends) and they work very well. The movie also has a very cool looking visual style, keeping the more realistic world simple, while incorporating the fantasy elements, which are portrayed as legitimately frightening at times. The undead skeleton army is actually really scary, and competent threats to add to the danger. However, the movie keeps it's sense of humor in tact, with a lot of funny lines thrown around and solid young actors who without them, the entire, regardless of how well made it was, would likely fall apart completely.
Louis Ashbourne Serkis (Son of Andy Serkis, and you can kind of tell) is a very commanding lead, remaining endearing and charismatic as his character grows, while also even getting a few good heavy moments of emotions. Dean Chaumoo is a lovable sidekick, while Tom Taylor and Rhianna Doris at first appear to be stereotypical bullies, they develop as characters as the movie goes along, and become humanized. Patrick Stewart isn't around much, but looks like he's having a great time, with most of his character's screentime going to Angus Imrie, who steals the movie, getting the funniest moments. Rebecca Ferguson is creepy, and though the movie tries to gross her up, is still unsettlingly attractive (Not sure if that was intentional or not. But whatever.), but is still kind of wasted, especially when she just ends up turning into a giant, snarling monster by the climax. Granted, it's the journey of our heroes and what obstacles they have to overcome, so it's understandable that our villain is just there to be the final conflict.
While Joe Cornish's ambitions for something grander do kind of drag the movie down (It's probably fifteen minutes too long), "The Kid Who Would Be King" is a delightful, thoroughly charming good time. The messages about loyalty and growing up are strong and the points made about overcoming modern cynicism are very relevant. The movie is subtle when bringing up the current world's divisiveness, and a story of those coming together for the greater good, no matter how silly it might seem at first, is something that both kids and parents should take time to see, and might even learn something from. 3 stars. Rated PG For Some Action, Adult Content, And Scarier Images Than You Would Expect.
Image: "The Ultimate....WARRIORRRRR!!!!!"
Okay, time for another confession. I never got into "Dragon Ball". Never cared for the original, or "Dragon Ball Z", or the new show "Dragon Ball Super". I personally never cared for it, thinking it was too much to get into, multiple episodes that were consisted of singular, padded out fights, and I don't know, I just couldn't get around to maybe giving it more of a chance. (Although while I'm not a fan, I know that "Dragonball Evolution" is all kinds of wrong.) I'm only here reviewing this because it's a fairly major release, and people I know have been affectionately pestering me about it, I decided to simply just go with it. It's a great way to look at this movie as a whole if you really think about it.
"Dragon Ball Super: Broly" opens with a massive, but pretty necessary backstory dump. Staring on "Planet Vegeta", the home world of the "Saiyans" (Think Superman, with a monkey tail), the inhabitants are placed under the tyrannical rule of the flamboyant and villainous, "Frieza" (Christopher Ayres). The king of the Saiyans, "King Vegeta" (Christopher Sabat) plans to have his heir, also named "Vegeta" (Voiced as an adult by Christopher Sabat as well) to be the one to eventually defeat Frieza. But it turns out the king is as jealous as he is conceited, because it turns out that another child, "Broly" (Voiced as an adult by Vic Mignogna), shows signs of becoming twice as powerful as Vegeta, and something much more dangerous. The king has Broly sent away in exile on a desolate, death-filled planet, while Broly's father, "Paragus" (Dameon Clarke), follows him. While Paragus raises and trains Broly to harness his abilities, Frieza, fearing for the loss of his power, destroys Krypton....er...I mean, Planet Vegeta, while one child, "Goku" (Voiced as an adult by Sean Schemmel) is sent to Earth.
After a few seasons of a couple of TV shows, Goku becomes a renowned hero, Vegeta grows to be a villain until he isn't, Frieza dies, but doesn't, and all kinds of Anime story arcs and fights happen. We then cut to the present, with Goku and Vegeta working as allies to protect the world. However, Frieza is back and is almost in the possession of the mystical "Dragon Balls" (Orbs of power that once collected unleash a genie dragon), and intends to use them to make himself taller......Makes Sense. But two of Frieza's subordinates, "Cheelai" (Erica Lindbeck) and "Lemo" (Bruce Carey), end up stumbling upon Paragus and Broly, who has grown to become just as strong as was predicted. Paragus has become consumed by vengeance, and wants to ensure that the Vegeta bloodline is destroyed, which is something Frieza intends to capitalize on. Hoping to get the Dragon Balls and to get some good old fashioned revenge in the process, Frieza arranges for Goku and Vegeta to fight Broly in a brutal battle to the death. However, it turns Broly might be just a bit too unstable a being to control, with an unstoppable amount of power that could cause trouble for not just both heroes and villains, but also himself.
Directed by Tatsuya Nagamine (Known for his work on several different anime series, as well as their films) and written by the original "Dragon Ball" creator himself, Akira Toriyama, "Dragon Ball Super: Broly" is probably something that will appeal to the fans, judging from the applause the audience gave the film during my showing. To say that is obvious because the movie is specifically made for them. Just giving my thoughts, which are....actually a little bit more positive than I expected. The movie oddly takes a decent amount of time to explain itself, providing a little context and backstory, which takes up the first fifteen to twenty minutes. It's still essentially nonsense and mumbo jumbo to me, but it's enough to follow what's going on. I do appreciate it though, and not enough films like this take time for something like that. The story, which is taken up mostly by the anticipated battle, isn't without a sort of over the top charm, and unlike the show, it's all in a briskly paced hour and forty minutes, instead of nearly ten episodes.
The characters are defined enough, and the voice cast are all doing good jobs with them. Sean Schemmel makes Goku a likably goofy hero, while Christopher Sabat provides Vegeta (A character he has been voicing for almost twenty years) with some great reactionary moments of humor. A delightfully vile Christopher Ayres makes Frieza into one of those villains I love, in which they are willing to do villainous things for incredibly petty reasons, and to make matter worse, are just complete dicks about it. While Broly doesn't say much, he does leave an impact as a frightening, but sympathetic character, whose story arc adds a little more depth to a movie that at first, didn't seem like it would even need to bother. The real scene stealers here are both the animation and the action, and on the big screen, it's beyond breathtaking. The varying colors, stunning visuals, and incredible attention to detail, culminate in an insane, yet oddly entrapping experience.
"Dragon Ball Super: Broly" isn't much for plotting and while providing some context, really isn't for the uninitiated. (There's this whole thing involving a silly dance that causes some sort of fusion that is brought up very late in the film), but considering I gave "Reign of the Supermen" a glowing review last week, I do feel as if I understand it a little better now. It's for the fans, and it gives them everything they could possibly want. On it's own, you can just see it as a rather absurd, but beautifully animated and solidly fun diversion. However, don't expect me to just drop everything I'm doing and become a devout fan now. I've got a lot to do these days, and a new anime obsession takes up a lot of time. 3 stars. Rated PG For Language, Violence, And Lots And Lots Of Yelling And Screaming.
Image: Heart of Glass.
This has easily got to be one of the most unique, and truly fascinating franchises that has ever been put to film. Especially since we had no idea it even existed at first. Starting back in 2000, when Director M. Night Shyamalan (Known for the acclaimed "The Sixth Sense", and the panned, "After Earth", "The Last Airbender", "The Happening", etc.) was still considered the next big thing, there was "Unbreakable". A stealth superhero movie, portrayed as a thriller that was actually a bit ahead of it's time, pointing out certain tropes that would later become the norm, as well as serving as a commentary on superheroes (And villains) in general. Sixteen years later, we had "Split", which was a psychological, hostage horror film that only in the final moments revealed it's big twist, being that it was in reality a sequel to "Unbreakable". Regardless of what you may think the final payoff ends up becoming, it's hard not to acknowledge that there is some genuine genius behind it all. But remember, geniuses are always a little weird.
Concluding what's become known to some as the "Eastrail 177 Trilogy" (It's got a nice ring to it.), "Glass" follows three individuals who all have a certain connection to each other. In a world where it appears that super powered heroes and villains exist among us, we follow superhuman security guard, "David Dunn" (Bruce Willis), who has become a cloaked vigilante, known as "The Overseer". Working with his son, "Joseph" (Spencer Treat-Clark), David uses his ability to see the crimes of people by touching them to track down an elusive super criminal publicly known as "The Horde". The Horde is actually the alias given to "Kevin Wendell Crumb" (James McAvoy), a man with twenty four different identities inhabiting his body, consisting of "Patricia", a sophisticated woman in charge, "Dennis", a man with OCD, "Hedwig", a bizarre nine year old, and a terrifying monster called "The Beast". David tracks down Kevin and a battle ensues, resulting in the both of them being arrested, and committed to a mental hospital.
This also happens to be where the madman who orchestrated David's origin, "Elijah Price/Mr. Glass" (Samuel L. Jackson) is currently being held. A psychiatrist, "Dr. Ellie Staple" (Sarah Paulson), believes that all of these abilities and comparisons to characters from comic books are nothing more than ideas that the three have planted inside their own heads, and have tricked themselves into believing. Dr. Staple intends to convince the three of this, keeping them all under lockdown. However, little does anyone know, Elijah's meticulous mind is already at worked. Elijah, a devout, obsessive believer in comics, plans to unleash the Beast and reveal what they are to the world, hoping that David will rise to the occasion to try to stop them, resulting in the superhero, comic book-esque story Elijah has been planning for years.
"Glass" is the culmination in almost twenty years of planning, and you can only expect something thrilling, suspenseful, and dramatically satisfying. For the first two acts, that's exactly what we get. The way the film establishes where these characters are since the last time we saw them, and how comic book elements can be grounded in the real world. Say what you will about where M. Night Shyamalan has gone in recent years, but one of his best talents is how low key he can make his characters, which makes them more relatable. They're all just regular people, who all just happen to inhabit extraordinary abilities. There are also some great moments of dialogue between characters, some solid action, and some captivating ideas of how people perceive and interpret comic book characters and superheroes. It's all building up to a big climax, which is exactly what everyone has been paying to see, and....well....This is where people are going to be pardon the pun, split right down the middle. Where it all ends up is not exactly where you would expect it to go, and there's something just off about it.
Despite this, it's great to see the returns of Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, and to see what's become of their characters during the time gap. It's nice to see Bruce Willis in a role that he actually cares about, and while he gets the least amount of screentime out of all the characters, there's something about his expressions (Much like in "Unbreakable") that make you feel for him, showing how much of a regular guy he is. Samuel L. Jackson is amazing once again, as a complicated, devious, and pretty charming villain with a goal that you can never quite figure out until he reveals it in a grand fashion. James McAvoy is brilliant, showing off just how terrific an actor he can be, portraying several different characters through their personalities, sometimes in the same scene. His characters are all unique with their own motives and wants (From Patricia, who is questioning her beliefs in the Beast. Dennis, who is tired of all the killing. And Wedwig, proving a weird sense of humor to the film.), and the way he allows them to inhabit his body (Both within the film, and within his actual performance.), bringing them all to life. It's not an easy role to play and one to make the audience take seriously, but he instantly entraps you, keeping you invested. Our supporting actors are all very good as well, such as Sarah Paulson, Spencer Treat Clark (Who gets a couple strong emotional scenes), the always mesmerizing Anya Taylor-Joy (as "Casey", the one survivor from the Beast's murder spree), and Charlayne Woodard (as "Mrs. Price", Elijah's mother, who still loves her son, despite the horrible things he's done.)
Frustrating, but intentionally so, "Glass" gets a little to Shyamalany, piling on not one, not two, but three last second twists in the last twenty minutes. It doesn't destroy the film completely, especially since there were a few hints dropped at certain points, but from a storytelling point of view, it's all just too much to drop on you only moments before the credits roll. It also doesn't distract from the strong start, and true greatness sprinkled throughout, though the finished product isn't probably what you expected. For better or for worse. However, up until that point, I was compelled to where it was all going, and while I personally don't know how to feel about the big (Or not so big) payoff, it's clearly the story M. Night Shyamalan wanted to tell. I'm not sure I want to get inside his head. 3 stars. Rated PG-13 For Strong Violence, Disturbing Images, And The Obligatory M. Night Syamalan Cameo.
I saw this as part of the theatrically released "The Death of Superman"/"Reign of the Supermen" Double Feature, but considering the first part was released last year, I'm just going to give a quick recap of my thoughts before moving on to the main event. (It would be weird to write a full review on something that came out a year ago.) So "The Death of Superman" is an adaptation of the classic 1992-1993 storyline of the same name (And the second adaptation if you could "Superman: Doomsday", which really condensed it all down). It's a strong addition to DC Animated Movie Universe, focusing on it's lead characters, providing some nice animation, and stunning action, with the final battle with Doomsday being a highlight. It all results in an ending that's dramatically effective, and accomplishes what it set out to do in less than an hour and a half, compared to what "Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice" failed to do in over two and a half hours with a much bigger budget. That's it in a nutshell, so now on to part two.
Set six months after "The Death of Superman", "Reign of the Supermen" opens with the world still reeling from the battle between the Man of Steel, "Clark Kent/Superman" (Jerry O'Connell) and the monstrous killing machine, "Doomsday", which resulted in the deaths of both. The death of the hero has also left many unanswered questions, not just including the fact that Superman's body has disappeared. Now there are new so called Supermen, claiming to take the place of the original, and nobody is sure how to react and who to trust. There is the cocky, teenage clone, "Superboy" (Cameron Monaghan), who was created by power hungry businessman/Superman's archenemy, "Lex Luthor" (Rainn Wilson), along with "John Henry Irons/Steel" (Cress Williams), who has created a mechanical suit of armor to honor the deceased superhero, and the more vicious, deadly "Eradicator" (Charles Halford). Then there is the most mysterious of all, "Cyborg Superman" (Patrick Fabian), a half man, half machine doppelganger, who has the most resemblance to the original Superman.
Things can only get worse when the rest of the "Justice League" is seemingly taken out of the picture, including "Diana Prince/Wonder Woman" (Rosario Dawson), "Hal Jordan/Green Lantern" (Nathan Fillion), "Victor Stone/Cyborg" (Shemar Moore), "Martian Manhunter" (Nyambi Nyambi), "Barry Allen/The Flash" (Christopher Gorham), and "Bruce Wayne/Batman" (Jason O'Mara). Superman's love, "Lois Lane" (Rebecca Romijn) is left questioning how trusting these new Supermen are, especially Cyborg Superman, who appears to becoming the most popular replacement, offering to better enhance the people of the world to protect themselves. Evil schemes are uncovered and origins are revealed, along with a connection to the villainous conqueror, "Darkseid" (Tony Todd), which threatens to end the world, and without Superman, or the rest of the Justice League for that matter, someone is going to have to save the day.
The newest entry in both the "DC Animated Movie Universe" (It's like the live action DCEU, except it's actually fairly consistent.) and the long line of straight to DVD DC animated films, "Reign of the Supermen" is yet another example of how you do these much loved comic characters justice, and why the live action films should really start taking some notes by now. For some flaws, you kind of have to be a bit more forgiving, considering the fact that it's just a straight to DVD movie released in theaters for two showings, simply to promote itself more. But even knowing that, it's still an entertaining, action packed, well made superhero movie. The animation looks great, which comic accurate designs, and makes for some spectacular action. That wouldn't be enough if not for the solid character work that's provided, which is the film's highlights and why this series has lasted so long and worked so well. The defined characterizations make up for the film's juggling storyline, which is as well done as you could possibly do with an in depth adaptation of a major, defining comic book event (Not to mention the fact that it's a story that's over twenty five years old.)
With Jerry O'Connell (Who has a certain boy scout-ish charm to his voice that fits Superman perfectly) out of most of the film, due to his character being, uh, dead, the movie's true main protagonist technically ends up being Lois Lane, and Rebecca Romijn's embodies the right amount of attitude and endearment. Rainn Wilson is essentially everything Jesse Eisenberg's version of Lex Luthor isn't, which is humorously petty, yet almost casually menacing. There is some good voice work to come out of the supporting roles, such as the still well cast Nathan Fillion and Jason O'Mara, who have been voicing these characters in these films for a while now. Due to so many arcs going on at once, some characters feel a little shortchanged, leaving some of the cast such as Cress Williams, Charles Halford, and Tony Todd (The whole Darkseid aspect is mostly just there to set up a future movie) with not too much to work with, despite all of them doing solid jobs. The most memorable new additions end up being Patrick Fabian, who is a threatening, compelling antagonist, and Cameron Monaghan (You know, the guy who plays the possible Joker in "Gotham"), is the most memorable and gets the best lines.
"Reign of the Superman" packs a lot into a brisk hour and a half, and while it's not perfect, it's still a damn good superhero movie on it's own. There are good characters, the story is dramatic, but the script is filled with enough humor to balance it out, and the themes of courage, heroism, and the simple act of wanting to do good, which is what we associate with Superman, are as wonderful as ever. (Though it's also nice that the movie also shows the dangers that likely will come from wanting to become like a figure so powerful and godlike) I can't say you should rush to the theater to see it since it was only a two night showing, but the second the DVD gets released next week, it's something any DC Comics fan definitely should want, and considering the current track record for theatrically released films based on these characters, it's something we kind of need. 3 1/2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Violence And Comic Book Physiques.
Image: "I'm not gonna' cry...Sniff....I'm not gonna' cry!"
You know what, I can admit I'm being a little lenient on this movie. From the trailer, which spoils much of the plot, and almost even straight up shows the resolution of the entire movie, it's easy to mock and throw away as just some manipulative, sappy, cheesefest, meant to force tears from your eyes. Maybe it is a little bit.......Doesn't mean it's impossible to do that right. If you don't want to be moved, well then you're a cold hearted bastard.
"A Dog's Way Home" follows the story of a half pitbull, "Bella" (Whose voiced thoughts are provided by Bryce Dallas Howard). After losing her family to Animal Control, Bella was raised by cats, living in an abandoned, collapses house until she is rescued by a young man, "Lucas" (Jonah Hauer-King) and his love interest, "Olivia" (Alexandra Shipp).Lucas and his veteran mother, "Terri" (Ashley Judd) decide to adopt Bella, who immediately becomes a beloved member of the family, and a best friend to Lucas. However, the local Animal Control officer (John Cassini) straight up has it out for the family for even having Bella, and is determined to impound her. Turns out in Denver (Where the film takes place), Pitbulls are essentially a banned breed of dog, something that Olivia refers to as "Racism for dogs". (Is this true by the way? If so, how? That's all kinds of messed up.) So the family decides to move, letting Bella stay with Olivia's family until they're ready. But Bella, not fully understanding what's going on, decides she has to return home to Lucas and leaves on her own. So begins a long journey back to her home, not knowing that her family is likely not going to be there by the time she arrives. On her quest, Bella encounters her own obstacles, as well as becoming a mother of sorts to an orphaned cougar, whom she nicknamed "Little Kitten", while showing just how loyal man's best friend can truly be.
Directed by Charles Martin Smith (Both "Dolphin Tale" movies), "A Dog's Way Home" is another dog-centric, adventure movie, which are really starting to blend together these days. At first I thought this was a sequel to the mostly meh 2017 film, "A Dog's Purpose". Mostly because, much like that movie, this one is based on a dog book of the same name by W. Bruce Cameron (Who also served as a screenwriter for this movie), but then I learned a direct sequel would be coming out later this year. It's still a very similar film to "A Dog's Purpose", with the way it's directed, written, and right down to the thoughts of our canine heroine being shown through voice over narration. The biggest difference really ends up being that, unlike that other movie, something feels a bit more authentic. Because of that, you do overlook the film's shortcomings, and focus on what it does right, which is provide a heartwarming tale of loyalty.
The focus of the film is on Bella, who is as adorable a dog as you could possibly find anywhere to the point you swear the filmmakers cooked her up in a lab somewhere in an attempt to achieve maximum cuteness. It also helps that Bryce Dallas Howard is an inspired choice to voice her inner thoughts, which only adds an extra layer of adorable to the character. You could make the argument that the narration isn't particularly necessary, but considering the alternative (Like using horrifying effects to make the mouths movie), I'll take it. Her relationship with Little Kitten (Brought to life through questionable CGI), looks unconvincing thanks to the poor effects, but is one of the strongest, sweetest storylines in the movie. Our human cast only makes brief appearances, but all do good work. Jonah Hauer-King and Alexandra Shipp are likable, Ashley Judd is endearing as usual, and Edward James Olmos (as "Axel", a homeless man, who becomes a temporary owner to Bella) shows up to be a part of the most shockingly dark and heartbreaking moment of the film, that's unsettling for sure, yet I've got to commend the filmmakers for not sugarcoating something so heavy. The whole thing with John Cassini doesn't really need to be there, other than for the story to have a villain.
Predictable and even a little cheap looking, "A Dog's Way Home" is strongest in it's emotions, and I can't deny I was still moved by the film's honest heart. The movie has some moments where it stops to bring up some darker themes, such as how a dog will remain loving no matter how poorly an owner treats it, or how society unfairly views pitbulls, which are all handled maturely for what I thought would just be a silly, simple kids movie. In a way, it still kind of is one. It's just one that knows what it is, but doesn't have any intention of half-assing it. It's sure to warm the heart of any animal lover willing to forgive a little cheese thrown in there. I'm hugging my slobbering, drooling pups as we speak. 3 stars. Rated PG For Dark Situations And Tearjerky Elements.
You see, this right here is more of what I'm used to. Not simple mediocrity, genuine surprises, or you know, anything trying to have some kind of depth. What I expect in January is incomprehensible and perplexing filmmaking, which is destined to not only make Worst Lists for for that year just when you finished the list from the previous one, but will also serve as an experience that you'll be asking yourself in a few years "Was that real?" Sadly it was.
"Replicas" follows neuroscientist, "William Foster" (Keanu Reeves), who works for a biomedical company, "Biodyne" in Puerto Rico, run by the obviously sinister, "Jones" (John Ortiz). Will is working on transferring a still functional brain from a recently deceased human body into a new, robotic body, though not of the tests seem to work out, usually resulting the brain rejecting the new body and destroying itself. Despite work trouble, Will decides to take his lovely wife, "Mona" (Alice Eve), and their three kids, "Matt" (Emjay Anthony), "Sophie" (Emily Alyn Lind), and "Zoe" (Aria Leabu) on a vacation. Will decides its a good idea to travel during a powerful storm, which ends in tragedy, with the car crashing, and Will being the only survivor. Distraught over losing his family, Will calls in a family friend/co-worker, "Ed" (Thomas Middleditch) to help transfer his deceased family's brains into robotic bodies.....oh wait. No he doesn't. Actually, since Bionyne also dabbles in cloning I guess (I'm not sure actually. The movie never makes it clear.), Will has Ed arrange for his family to be resurrected into clone bodies in his basement.
Things get even worse for Will, when it's revealed that Ed can only provide three capsules of clone goo, leaving Will with no choice but to sacrifice one of his loved ones. (Bye Zoe! You didn't make the cut!) Will works tirelessly, trying to avoid suspicion from Jones and others, while trying to get the robotics tests back on track before the company goes under, which would also in turn shut his own experiments to bring back his family. Turns out cloning causes a lot of trouble, while bringing back Mona and his kids, who seemingly appear unchanged, Will's decisions will have lasting consequences, as well as eventually attract the attention of Jones and his superiors, who if you already haven't figured it out, have nefarious purposes.
Look, I failed Science, but even I know all of this is likely a load of crap. "Replicas" is curious film, with a weird premise and moral questions that are never answered. In fact, it's really hard not only to tell what this movie is trying to say, but also, what it's actual reason for existing is. The film claims to be directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff (Who wrote "The Day After Tomorrow") and written by Chad St. John ("Peppermint"), but it's hard to tell the movie was made by anyone with any credentials or experience whatsoever. How is it 2019 (or even 2016 when this movie was shot), and the filmmakers actually thought they could get away with a scene involving two cops standing outside in the pouring rain, yet they remain completely dry? The premise and story is so forced and needlessly convoluted.(Why clones? Why not just go for the robot angle? Why is that even there?) The tone is almost unsettlingly uneven, with odd dialogue that's over the top dramatic, but also tries to toss in a little silly humor (Such as Keanu Reeves wondering what a "Bae" is when posing as his dead daughter to her online friends), which does not belong here, and once we reach the silly, actionized climax, it almost feels like it;s been made by a completely different director. That's how a lot of the film comes across, with the movie changing ideas of what it wants to be throughout it's hundred minute runtime, which drags on forever because you can never tell when something is either going to become important or in some cases, get dropped from the film altogether. I'd say it's unpredictable, but that's just because it seemed like they were making it all up as they went along.
The poor script and unfocused direction only translates to the actors, who are certainly capable and we've seen in good things. It goes to show how bad filmmaking can essentially drain all life from actors, no matter how hard they try. It most shows with Keanu Reeves, who is painfully miscast, coming across as dull and lifeless, seemingly treating the deaths of all of his loved ones more as a minor inconvenience than anything. It's upsetting to watch, and not for reasons it's meant to be. (Also, as I'm typing this, I just read that Keanu Reeves also produced this....Why? How? Two questions that will likely never be answered.) Alice Eve is mostly given nothing more to do than to look pretty and stare blankly, which don't get me wrong, she has a great stare, but I'm having trouble telling if she was directed that way or if she just didn't want to be here. Their relationship is hard to buy, considering she remains flawless during all scenes, no matter how dirty you're supposed to get, while Keanu Reeves looks disheveled and depressed even before his family dies. Thomas Middleditch is awkwardly misplaced, and only destroys the already messy tone further. The best performance comes from John Ortiz, who doesn't so much chew the scenery, he more devours it and comes back for seconds, sliming it up like the cartoon villain he is.
I haven't even gotten to the Keanu Reeves robot, which looks like CGI you would of seen in the 90s, and has the hilarious honor of having the voice of Keanu Reeves.....This movie is a disaster, and the definition of what a January release is expected to be. "Replicas" tries to be stylish, such as slanting the camera sideways for no reason. It tries to answer philosophical, Science Fiction-eque questions, but not really. It tries to have a coherent narrative, at least until it gives up on that entirely and goes for the most bonkers of climaxes (Right down to the final shot, which I don't even know what that was trying to get across). I could really go on forever on how it gets so much wrong in terms of filmmaking, acting, writing, direction, all those things that make a movie good. It really is fascinating how some films come into existence and fade away from memory before you know it. That's the true power of a throwaway January release. 1/2 star. Rated PG-13 For Violence Towards People And Machines, Slight Alice Eve Nudity, And The Carelessly Murdering Of Both God And Mother Nature At The Same Time. Good Job.
Image: The Odd-Ish Couple.
There is one particular joke in this movie that should perfectly describe what kind of movie this is. We have a scene where our more sophisticated character takes his, um, let's just say less sophisticated friend to the opera. Of course, the less sophisticated character cracks jokes about the show at first. Jump cut to the end of it, and that same character is enthralled by it, and is the first to applaud. It's not an original jokes, nor is it inspired or even all that funny. However, it's fairly amusing, sweet, and mostly makes you smile enough to where you can't hate it. That's this movie. Uninspired, but somewhat endearing.
A remake of the 2011 film, "The Intouchables", and loosely (Very, very loosely) inspired by the true story of French rich guy, Phillipe Pozzo di Borgo, which it was based on, "The Upside" starts with the down on his luck, unemployed, "Dell Scott" (Kevin Hart). Dell has been having trouble finding work due to his criminal record and is unable to provide child support to his estranged ex, "Latrice" (Aja Naomi King). Though he's not really trying too hard to find a job, Dell ends up accidentally applying for a job as a caretaker to quadriplegic billionaire, "Phillip Lacasse" (Bryan Cranston), who instantly takes a liking to Dell's unfiltered attitude. Against the wishes of his very close assistant, "Yvonne" (Nicole Kidman), Phillip hires Dell, providing a place to live for him in his penthouse. As time goes on, both Dell and Phillip start to develop a friendship, with Dell learning how to become more responsible and to take charge of his life, while Phillip learning how to have a little more fun and to basically simply enjoy living once again.
"The Upside" is a movie that doesn't have too much to it, and sets out to accomplish one simple, but admirable goal. To warm the hearts of it's intended, undemanding audience. Granted, we did just got better versions of this kind of film recently, such as "On the Basis of Sex" and "Green Book", so this feels lesser and more disposable for a few different reasons. Directed by Neil Burger ("Limitless" and the first/not terrible "Divergent" movie), the movie looks good, though has a bit of a TV movie-ish feel. It also struggles slightly with it's tone, trying to mesh broad comedy and realistic drama. It doesn't always work, though the comedy does feel more brought down, and gets a few genuine chuckles to go with the film's heart, which truly is in the right place.
Where the film shines is with the likability and chemistry between the two lead actors, who seem at first like an unlikely pair, much like in the actual film itself. That oddly makes it work a bit better, because it feels more authentic because of it. Kevin Hart shows a bit more range than what I'm used to from him, and it's a very welcome change of pace. The movie shows he does have some dramatic chops, as well as comedic, while thankfully calming down a bit to let it all sink in. Bryan Cranston is someone that we already know can pull off both drama and comedy, and is well cast. His back and forth with Kevin Hart works because both actors are very good together, and work well off of each other. Even when some of the more humorous aspects don't quite the desired laugh, you find yourself endeared to these characters. Meanwhile, Nicole Kidman brings more to what was probably meant to be a simplified role, having fun, adding some much needed class, and remaining as charming (And as lovely) as ever.
"The Upside" drags in the middle and suffers from a few odd editing choices (Such as awkward fade outs), but when the film focuses on the interactions between Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston, which is where it should be focused on. Even when the film can't seem to avoid certain frustrating clichés, such as some forced conflicts that could be resolved with a simple conversation (Though I give credit to the movie seemingly trying to at least mix it up a little), there are nothing but positive messages and a certain charm to the movie. It's clear who it's meant for, and thankfully, it's inoffensive and likable enough that I can't help but recommend it to them. At least as something to rent and watch at home. No Oscar buzz (or Oscar hosting for Kevin Hart), but you can't hate on something for being what it is, and at least trying to be a little more while doing it. 2 1/2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Humor And Improper Catheter Use.
Image: The notoriously cute RBG.
This is likely the last movie to review from 2018, though the Academy is yet to release their nominations for upcoming Oscars next month. So for all I know, there could be something I missed that I need to seek out. I didn't see absolutely everything this last year, and you can never tell what the Academy will do. Maybe that John Travolta movie, "Gotti" will find itself swimming in some Oscar gold......Heh.
"On the Basis of Sex" follows the true story of future Supreme Court Justice/young progressive idol, "Ruth Bader Ginsburg" (Felicity Jones). We see her life with her supportive husband, "Martin" (Armie Hammer), who's struggle with cancer forces her to work extra hard in her law studies at Harvard, where she is one of the very few women there. Ruth faces more opposition from the men in charge, such as "Dean Erwin Griswold" (Sam Waterston) and "Professor Brown" (Stephen Root), and despite eventually graduating at the top of her class at Columbia Law School, she is unable find anyone willing to hire her simply because she is a woman. Cut to 1970, Ruth's hopes to combat gender inequality doesn't seem to be going anywhere, despite protests from her outspoken, activist daughter, "Jane" (Cailee Spaeny), who doesn't think her mother's methods of using the law will ever change anything. This is where Ruth takes interest in the case of "Charles Moritz" (Chris Mulkey), an unmarried man who was denied tax deductions for him to provide a caregiver for his sick mother. Seeing this as a form of gender discrimination, this time against a man, Ruth plans to use this as a way of pointing out the flaw in the system, and that if a man can be discriminated against simply because of his gender, then that means a woman can be too.
Directed by Mimi Leder, and written by Ruth Bader Ginsburg's real life nephew, Daniel Stiepleman, "On the Basis of Sex" isn't a game changer in the crowdpleasing biopic genre, but with a story like this, it's understandable to see why. While not probably at detailed as some might want, and likely not following as closely to the true story as it should (Granted, once again, we really should just be used to that by now), the movie's inspiring focus and themes are still (And always will be) relevant and important. For the kind of movie the flmmakers set out to make, what we get is still very strong and very empowering. With a sense of humor and an onslaught of charismatic charm, the movie tells it's story at a solid, capable pace, covering a lot of details in a relatively short amount of time (The movie is barely two hours), while establishing compelling characters and making sure it's political facts are easy to follow, without talking down to it's audience.
In some inerrant casting, Felicity Jones wonderfully encompasses her role. Full of personality, smarts, and strength (Not to mention, being as adorable as anyone can possibly be. Just had to throw that out there.), she is flawless, and it's a shame she's been overlooked so much this awards season. Armie Hammer also deserves some kind of recognition, having excellent chemistry with Jones, which is something very much needed for what has been called a truly loving and committed relationship in real life. Justin Theroux (as "Mel Wulf", the pessimistic director of the American Civil Liberties Union) is a good representation that even people on the right side can be obstacles, while Cailee Spaeny (Having appeared in "Pacific Rim: Uprising" and "Bad Times at the El Royale") has shown once again to be a breakout star this year. Kathy Bates (as "Dorothy Kenyon", a former feminist lawyer, who's work Ruth references to) appears briefly, but is her usual Kathy Bates-eque self and is always a pleasing presence. While our main antagonists, such as Sam Waterston, Stephen Root, and Jack Reynor (as "James Bozarth", Ruth's opposing lawyer) are good in their roles, it's hard not to see them as slight caricatures. (Granted, people with their kind of sexist, old fashioned belief systems kind of already are like caricatures, so maybe it's intentional.)
"On the Basis of Sex" maybe could of benefited from more time on the facts, but the movie sets out to give it's audience something to cheer about, and it succeeds. Well directed and written, with some compelling drama and good actors to go with a story that will continue to inspire future generations. Much like the real life Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Who makes a quick cameo in the film), the movie is still a powerhouse and you find yourself unable to not be uplifted. Hopefully I'll feel the same about the Anton Scalia story. You know who he was....Never mind. 3 1/2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Adult Content, And Good Old Fashioned Male Sexism.
Image: "These are January movies....NOOOO!"
Time to say goodbye to 2018. Sure, there are a couple Oscar hopefuls that I still haven't gotten around to and hope to make the time for, but I also need to move on to the new year and whatever Hollywood decides to dump on us during the month of January. Granted, we shouldn't assume it will all be crap this month, just like how we shouldn't assume all the great movies will come out in November/December every year. Looks can be deceiving and never assume. Kind of ties into this movie a little bit. Just a little bit.
"Escape Room" follows a group of six strangers, all given a puzzle box that once opened, invites them to test their skills in an immersive, seemingly impossible escape room. The group includes, smart girl "Zoey" (Taylor Russell), who never takes risks, snarky loner, "Ben" (Logan Miller), scarred former soldier, "Amanda" (Deborah Ann Woll), goofy dad, "Mike" (Tyler Labine), cocky corporate businessman, "Jason" (Jay Ellis), and the nerdy guy, "Danny" (Nik Dodani), who won't shut up about how much he knows about escape rooms. The game at first seems simple enough, with the group being locked inside a seemingly normal room, but things take a terrifying turn when the room suddenly turns into a giant oven and tries to burn them alive. After escaping the first room, the group finds themselves in another one, this time apparently transporting them to log cabin near a frozen lake. The group also starts to discover hints and clues that have connections to their own personal lives and certain tragedies that befell them. It becomes clear that something nefarious is going on and the group is going to need to put their heads together if they are going to survive the many deadly traps set up in each room, while coming to terms with their pasts.
When I think of the typical January release, what usually comes to mind is cheap, lazy, and horror. They are the kind of film that gets popped out the minute the year starts, mostly because it seems like a guaranteed minor success. "Escape Room" has pretty much all of those tropes and trappings written all over it, though to give credit to the filmmakers and Director Adam Robitel ("Insidious: The Last Key", which was also a January release), a lot of creativity and twisted imagination went into this. It's a cool premise, and the movie has a pretty strong start, setting up the characters we need to know quickly, and leading them into the actual escape room at a fast pace. The escape rooms and traps they have to overcome are pretty cool, if not illogical. The film never explains how exactly the unseen villains are capable of something like this, and the movie itself suffers from unrealistic looking effects, which consists of a lot of green screen and bad CGI. It still makes for a few fun setpieces, such as an upside room where the floor keeps falling every few minutes, or a topsy turny room of black and white, which is meant to make the characters delirious.
The characters themselves are interesting enough, and while it's fairly obvious which are the ones who are going to live the longest (The ones who get the most screentime clearly), you find yourself invested thanks to a sense of humor and some mystery to keep you guessing. Taylor Russell is a sweet, likable lead, who gets a few strong moments of emotion. Logan Miller provides some snarky humor, along with an intentionally annoying Nik Dodani and an endearing Tyler Labine. Deborah Ann Woll is excellent, getting the sturdiest story arc. Jay Ellis gets the most predictable arc out of all of the characters, he does a good job playing up the uncaring, unlikable jackass of the group. The deaths are tame, because of the PG-13 rating, but unique in their own way and can come out of nowhere, which is fitting for a movie where survival through puzzles is the hook. One false move leading to instant death.
"Escape Room" offers pretty cheap, cheesy thrills, which is something that isn't unwelcome. There's some genuine competence behind the camera, good actors in front of it, and enough originality to make for a nice suspenseful thriller. Then the film kind of throws a lot of that out the window in the last five minutes. It's not so much a bad ending, as it is a really confusing one. It seemingly ends, then continues with a scene that was clearly added through reshoots, and then just keeps going with a strange little stinger that I guess was meant to set up for a sequel of sorts. It feels like something out of a spy movie, rather than a psychological thriller, and it's awkwardly stuffed in there at the last second. It doesn't completely destroy the movie and it's understandable that it can be a little difficult to properly end a movie like this in a way where everyone will feel satisfied, but it's just a bit too silly for something that has some actual sharpness to it. It's an enjoyable diversion regardless, even if the movie falls apart in the final moments. Honestly, considering the films I'm used to seeing around this time of year ("Mortdecai", "Norm of the North", and most of the lousy, hastily thrown out horror movies hoping to draw in some stupid teenagers), I welcome something, while flawed, just going for fun and at least trying to give it a little extra something. An escape, if you will....No, no. That's stupid. 2 1/2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Puzzling Peril And Illogical, Impossible Illusions.
Image: Wait....What have you done with Christian Bale?
The filmmakers have taken up a very risky, difficult task. Portraying Dick Cheney. Lets be honest, regardless of what they did, someone would still be pissed off, especially in today's divisive political climate, which also something that like him or not, Cheney may of had a role in creating. You can't make him some kind of monster, because he's not. He's human being, who people may not agree with politically or even morally. You also can't quite make him likable because....well, even people who "Like" Dick Cheney don't necessarily...um, "Like" him. Then again, it's not like he's going to care what you think of him. I'm guessing that must be very liberating.
Narrated by a mysterious Jesse Plemons (Who doesn't reveal his connection to the story till the end), "Vice" follows the life of former Vice President, "Dick Cheney" (Christian Bale). We are shown his relationship with his family, along with his wife, "Lynne" (Amy Adams), as well as his political rise, starting off as a protégé under President Nixon's Chief of Staff, "Donald Rumsfeld" (Steve Carell). Cheney is shown to be quite the politician, acting quick on his feet, savvy, and even a little ruthless in how he plays the game of politics. Eventually, we get to Cheney accepting the role as Vice President, under "George W. Bush" (Sam Rockwell), who Cheney doesn't see as the most promising of Presidents. However, working with his own team under Bush, which also includes Rumsfeld, Cheney sets out to make a legacy of his own. With the September 11th terrorist attacks, sparking so called "War on Terror", Cheney would become one of the most powerful (If not most powerful) Vice Presidents in American history. Controversy ensues.
Directed and written by Adam McKay, known for "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy", and the critically acclaimed/Oscar nominated "The Big Short", "Vice" is more political satire, than biography. So at times the film can veer into comedic farce, perhaps a bit more than a lot of people would like. For what we do get, while some important, interesting aspects of Dick Cheney's political career that seem lacking, the film's strongest parts carry it through. I do think taking a more darkly humorous approach to the true story does work in the film's favor, portraying fairly recent events in a suitably uncomfortable, but easily digestible way, and the same goes for the politics itself. Much like "The Big Short", it's smart enough to know how to explain it all. It's very funny, most of which comes from the film itself mocking some of the most baffling parts of this administration. There are times though where McKay's style, which very original and clever, gets in the way somewhat, hitting some things a little too on the head, while not focusing enough on what could of been necessary to the story. The fact that it seems that Cheney and Bush hate each other's guts right now, I feel as it that should of been mentioned a little more than Cheney simply looking at him as an idiot to manipulate.
In terms of make-up, it's all amazing and deserving of recognition. Everyone looks flawless, and the actors really do make it feel as real as possible. Christian Bale, who I swear is willing to chop off a limp or two for a role, is truly brilliant. Cheney isn't a monster. He's human, and his motivations are realistic and even relatable. Bale's performance, which matches his mannerisms perfectly, shows what kind of person he is, and why he did the things the way he did. You may not like it, but you get it. Amy Adams, whose character is sort of Lady Macbeth-eque, is also phenomenal, and even she has human scenes, despite the filmmakers clearly not being fans. Steve Carell, while still good, probably plays his part a little too much like a caricature than he probably should, Tyler Perry (as "Colin Powell", the Secretary of State, who questions many of the political decisions made) is excellent in his small role, and Jesse Plemons is a ton of fun, though really odd, especially when we learn what is role actually is. He's a scene-stealer, who doesn't get near enough screentime, Sam Rockwell is awesome, getting down a lot of Bush's expressions, gestures, and voice. You end up wishing he was in the film much more than he actually is. There are also a slew of cameos and recognizable actors who appear throughout.
At times the editing choices can a bit much and the film's wrap up comes too quick, "Vice" is a fascinating watch, and worth it alone for Christian Bale's stunning transformation into Dick Cheney, who's final scene is surely the reason why he's garnered so many award nominations. It's also just an interesting, if not surreal look into politics and how one person can have so much involvement in so many life affecting choices. And despite how frightening that sounds, many of us have just accepted that (Or even wanted it.). People want easy when it comes to politics. 3 stars. Rated R For Strong Language.
Christmas is over, and the year itself is nearing it's end. Time to start seeing what I can cram into my "Best" list, and as everyone knows, you're always having trouble getting everything you want on there. Sadly, you still don't have enough room and something great has to get left out. On the other side of the spectrum, making a "Worst" list? Easiest list ever.
A parody of the adventures of the admired fictional detective, "Holmes and Watson" follows "Sherlock Holmes" (Will Ferrell) and "Dr. John Watson" (John C. Reilly). Holmes is a smart, but egotistical detective, who has closed off all of his emotions at a young age due to excessive bullying. His only friend is Watson, who is a ridiculously loyal companion. Holmes is scheduled to testify against his arch nemesis, "Professor Moriarty" (Ralph Fiennes), arriving only to reveal that the Moriarty custody must be a fraud, since it's unlikely to Sherlock that his rival, "Inspector Lestrade" (Rob Brydon), would ever have any role in catching him. Believing the real Moriarty has left the country, Holmes and Watson are invited to the palace by the Queen (Pam Ferris) herself, where they discover a corpse and a clue left by Moriarty, which also reveals that he plans to assassinate the Queen.. In a rather convoluted and forced series of events, Holmes convinces himself that this is in fact not Moriarty's doing, but someone pretending to be him, because....I really don't know actually. Holmes and Watson are given a couple days to solve the case, finding distractions with their respective love interests, a weird girl with a cat-like mentality, "Millie" (Lauren Lapkus), and a fellow doctor, "Grace" (Rebecca Hall), as well as learning the importance of their own friendship. ,
Another collaboration between Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly ("Step Brothers" and "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby"), "Holmes and Watson" sounds like a funny idea and when the film starts, with a carttoonish, dirtier sense of humor to contradict the proper, elegant accents, it does get a few laughs. For about five minutes. Then it gets old very, very fast. You realize early on that there was more put into the premise, rather than the script and direction, both done by Etan Cohen ("Get Hard"). I know it's all just a complete farce, so that means plotting is secondary. But it's hard to ignore how stupid and predictable it all is because it's not very funny, meaning you have no choice but to focus on how lazy it is. It's a bad sign when you can tell word for word what the jokes are going to be. (When the "Titanic" becomes a plot point, how would anyone be surprised what jokes are going to be made?) The film just stops dead simply to do a couple skits that don't move the film forward, and feel like padding for the relatively short runtime.
Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly are great comedic actors, and even here, they still work well off each other. It's just when the jokes are tired and shockingly dated (Why are there "Trump" jokes in this? How are there "Trump" jokes in this?), you're more annoyed that they're not in something better. Rebecca Hall and Lauren Lapkus actually do get a couple funny moments, along with a quick cameo from Hugh Laurie (as "Mycroft", Holmes' equally smart brother). I can never be mad at the absolute cuteness of Kelly Macdonald (as "Rose Hudson", the horny housekeeper of Holmes and Watson), even if her role is just absurd. Then we get to Ralph Fiennes, whose perfect casting is deserving of praise alone. However, it's followed by removing that praise and replacing it with harsh, brutal criticism and detest for the fact the film does nothing with him, only appearing for a total of five minutes. How the Hell could you do that? Why would you do that? You had all the pieces in place and you willingly crapped all over it!
A fun concept, completely butchered by a lack of inspiration and a sense of cheapness, "Holmes and Watson" is dumb, but not the right kind. The jokes are obvious (Such as poking fun at the slo-mo sequences from the Guy Ritchie films) and the film's few laughs can cover how poorly conceived and executed the film's all over the place, made up on the fly plot truly is. It's odd that in the year with two Sherlock Holmes parodies, the one called "Sherlock Gnomes" might be slightly superior. 1 1/2 stars. Rated PG-13 For Lactating John C. Reilly And The Obligatory Will Ferrell Shirtless Scene. (Can He Not Get Naked In One Movie?)