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Justice League (2017)
Justice League Improves Upon Similar DC Efforts and Continues to Take the DC Universe in a More Positive Direction
All of Zack Snyder's movies share strengths and weaknesses and when you talk about what he does well, action scenes/set pieces are always at the top of the list. This movie adds upon that, they deliver what you want from this type of movie. Two scenes stuck out to me, the first fight between our heroes and Steppenwolf and of course in the finale. They add new wrinkles for some of our returning heroes and they highlight what each member can do pretty well. The CGI is good and it never felt overloaded (at least for this genre). They also go to new locations that despite the fact that they're entirely CGI, I thought they looked interesting and relatively believable.
I want to touch upon the return of Superman (its not a spoiler, they show it in the trailers). I really enjoyed how they decided to handle the impact of his demise (even though Bruce Wayne has a crazy 180 degree turn in his attitude that seemed to skirt around the entire point of BvS) and we get some quiet and understated scenes with Lois Lane and Martha Kent grieving and bonding together. Even when they decide to get gooey sweet with his reunion with Lois, I thought they sold it. Instead of coming across as unemotional and distant, Clark has a lot of emotion in this and he even made me chuckle with some of his lines. He played off his Justice League teammates really well and although he seemed to be playing on a different level than his teammates, they utilize his full power set and I applaud Snyder and his team for changing up their approach.
The biggest surprise of the movie was how much I enjoyed the new members in the Justice League. Cyborg was a grounded character (at least in temperament) and even though he was full of angst, his abilities were interesting and I thought his relationship with his dad was emotional without being overbearing. Aquaman benefited from casting Jason Momoa but they are very tongue-in-cheek about his abilities and yet there was never a point I was about to start laughing at his inclusion. The Flash wasn't nearly as funny as the creative team thought he was but Ezra Miller shone through it as an actor and I liked how they decided to use him as a character. Add in that commissioner Gordon had a nice cameo and that smaller returning characters like Lois Lane, Martha Kent and Alfred Pennyworth were all nicely sprinkled in, they did a good job handling so many characters.
This is a big cast and while I can't give each of them their own paragraph, I'll do my best to give my thoughts on the performances. I already talked about Henry Cavill, he improved across the board. Ben Affleck isn't bad here but he suffers from the fact Batman is written a little more bland. Gal Gadot was also stronger in her solo effort but she's still good. Ezra Miller actually succeeds despite the material, Ray Fisher is surprisingly strong as Cyborg and even though Arthur Curry is Jason Momoa doing his thing, he's a charming guy and his charisma makes his character memorable. Lois Lane and Diane Lane are both really good with what they're given. Amber Heard was decent in her small bit and I really liked Joe Morton as Silas Stone.
The negatives of this film are pronounced but they weren't deal breakers. The first and most notable for me was the cringe inducing dialogue carries over from BvS. There are so many awkward lines and when the movie tries to be funny, I thought it fell on its face about 80-90% of the time. To be fair, there were some good lines too but I thought they were lacklustre for the most part. Some of my favourite characters from previous DC properties felt underutilized or shoved to the background. Batman comes off as a self-centred jerk for large portions of the movie and other than the action scenes, Wonder Woman's part is either to lecture the other members of the team or brood over the loss of Steve Trevor (the movie also doesn't do a great job explaining why she didn't help in other conflicts over the last century). Steppenwolf also made for a pretty underwhelming villain. I've seen worse (Malekith from Thor: The Dark World comes to mind) but this movie is built more around the heroes and the villain isn't the focal point.
People either rail against the DC Universe or they love it completely. I've been down the middle on it for the most part (I gave Man of Steel, Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman 8s or 9s, Batman v Superman was a disappointment but I still gave it a 6) and despite its flaws, this is still a solid movie. I might not be popular for saying this but I thought some of the players in BvS took some notes on what worked and what didn't and applied that to this movie, which I congratulate them for. They do a decent job setting up the new members of the team, the action scenes are good from beginning to end and I liked what they decided to do with Superman. Depending on the direction WB studios and DC decide to go, there's material and momentum to build off of in Justice League. We'll just have to see what happens, if you're a DC fan or you're craving some big action with superheroes, this will fill that spot. I would actually give this a 7.5/10 but I can't go a full 8 on it so I'm rounding down to a 7/10.
A Ghost Story (2017)
A Ghost Story Unintentionally Scares Away Anything That Could be Interesting About it
The two nice things I can say about A Ghost Story is that the cinematography and the score are well done. As much as I'm going to rip on this movie, Lowery is a capable director and has a following as an indie filmmaker for a reason. He had a very clear vision for this movie and as much as it wasn't my thing, he did execute it.
The acting is the next category where I can say I was a little mixed on things. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara are both okay in their respective roles as C and M. You spend a lot of time with them because of the movie's refusal to cut scenes down to watchable lengths but I couldn't connect with them emotionally. The movie wants to have pathos desperately but other than the fact that C dies young, why would we attach ourselves to them? Sure we watch them snuggling for 10 minutes and they seem nice, why should I care?! But what I want to reiterate is that I don't blame Casey and Rooney for it.
Getting to what I couldn't stand about this movie is the complete lack of plot progression. C dies and he watches his girlfriend M deal with his passing and move on. He then watches a family move in and move out of this house and he occasionally interacts with another ghost that has been there so long that it has forgotten who they are waiting for. The key is that large amounts of time pass instantaneously. Part of the problem is that C doesn't interact with anyone through dialogue and there's no narration or monologue to detail how he's feeling as this is happening. This is a zero sum game where NOTHING HAPPENS except for 1 or 2 instances that last for a couple of minutes max. We're literally watching him watch other people, that's the crux of this movie. This makes the movie unbearable in every sense of the word.
The next problem is the style in which Lowery decides to film and edit it. The takes last minutes and that doesn't mean anything happens. One of the most talked about scenes in this movie is where we watch M eat a whole pie over 5-10 minutes. Who decides that we needed to see that? Its IRRITATING, there wasn't enough material here for a whole movie so were these long scenes a ploy to stretch it out to feature length? If so, bravo! The critics ate this up but I refuse to.
I also want to comment on the message of the movie. They're trying to make a point about the impermanence of life and how powerful grief can be, I didn't miss the point or not get it. If you didn't pick this up, there is a big monologue by a party guest about how what we accomplish (having kids, writing a symphony, being an author etc.) is ultimately pointless and everything you do and whoever you know will eventually die or be forgotten. This is supposed to be profound but it was just pretentious. Did people not know this? I just assumed it was common knowledge. If you didn't know, life is fleeting and eventually our individual accomplishments will be forgotten. NO S#!*. That's how life as a human being is. I knew that already and I didn't need to listen to someone brag about knowing it for 10 minutes! It's not that the message is offensive, its that its delivered pretentiously and its common knowledge. I don't know why everyone sees it as this profound thing, its not.
I can appreciate their approach to this movie in trying to do something different. I didn't go into watching A Ghost Story wanting to hate it or deliberately trying to make fun of it. The long and the short of if is that very little happens in this movie and what does happen isn't interesting. It's boring throughout and you literally watch paint dry. I'm glad the critics got something out of it, I didn't find anything to enjoy. I didn't even think the acting was noteworthy and when you've got a movie led by Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, that's saying something. I have to call this movie what it is: boring and ineffective. I didn't hate this completely and my real rating would be 3.5/10 but I think audience members who aren't critics or aren't in film studies are going to hate this.
Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
Kenneth Branagh Delivers a Skillful and Slick Update That Still Has Enough Emotional Punch
As much as the Murder on the Orient Express book is appreciated as a classic, I came into this movie without knowing the story. I want to start by talking about Hercule Poirot as a character. This movie really portrays Poirot in a Sherlock Holmes "esque" light. There's a point where Hercule takes someone out with a cane that felt like he was channelling Robert Downey Jr. in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes. I don't mean this as a criticism though, the fact that Hercule is witty and funny along with being brilliant is much needed levity for this movie. Some people have complained that the movie is too comedic but without those opportunities to laugh, the beginning of this movie would be unbearably slow. Those moments are like the spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. So, I liked Poirot and you needed a charismatic character at the centre because the other characters don't get developed much until the murder goes down. This movie looks like an ensemble, but it leans more heavily on Branagh as the main character than you would think.
The plot of Murder on the Orient Express is iconic, but the way movie portrays it, there's almost little to none. We get the initial setup of everyone boarding the train and other than some preliminary chitchat between Poirot and the other travellers and a tense exchange between Ratchett (Johnny Depp's character) and Poirot, very little happens. Only after the murder happens and the interrogations begin do we get to know everyone and does the plot kick into gear. Just like any great detective thriller, we don't know what's going on and we must unravel the mystery just as Poirot does. When we get to see more about the victim's past and what how appalling his/her actions were does the emotion kick and the stakes are raised considerably.
I want to go through the cast name by name and give them all credit but there's just too many names. Branagh is a little over-the-top as Poirot but I would argue that the movie needed that. Its a very theatrical performance (considering his background, it makes sense) but without him chewing the scenery, the movie would have dragged. Michelle Pfeiffer sold out in her role as Caroline, it was nice to see her again. Daisy Ridley shines as Mary Debenham, I hope she keeps picking up more work. Leslie Odom Jr. had a lot screen presence as Dr. Arbuthnot. I appreciated the fact that Johnny Depp pulled back a little as Ratchett but he still borders overacting. If there was anyone I didn't like; Judi Dench was so stiff she was annoying but that was also how the character was written. I normally like Josh Gad but with the screen time divided between so many actors and actresses, he was kneecapped by a lack of room to show his stuff.
When you can't bank on the character development or the plot, you need top notch window dressing to help move things along. Luckily the Orient Express is up to the task. The visual effects, the costuming and the exotic atmosphere transport you to another world. I've seen it done more impressively but they really do a stellar job since the movie had a relatively modest budget ($55 million). We get to go to Istanbul, Jerusalem and travel in snowy vistas. We also get to see past events through an old-timey projector and the characters watch it like a movie. Branagh is wise to linger on this stuff and it adds to the escapism that the story can provide. When you go to a period piece movie, you want to be wowed and dropped off in this new world and I think Murder on the Orient Express accomplished that.
I came out of this movie wanting to go read the book, so I don't want to be too critical. But the biggest downfall of this movie is that much like the train the characters are travelling on, the movie takes a while to start picking up steam. The opening with Poirot is fun but after that first 15 minutes, the movie slows to a crawl. It relies on Branagh and the beautiful vistas to carry it and while I remained interested, I think a lot of people will be mentally checking out. But the movie does get going and I think if you're willing to be patient, you'll get what you want in the reveal.
Talking about that reveal though, I thought it was fantastic. I want to credit Agatha Christie for originally conceiving it but I also want to credit Branagh and the writers for doing a solid job of yanking the rug out from under you. Its an excellent wrap-up and I was emotionally impacted by it. It was unpredictable, fresh and through the efforts of the excellent cast and the shocking nature of the crimes, it raised the rating I was going to give the movie by at least a half a point.
I was excited to see this movie and although it wasn't amazing, I wasn't disappointed by it either. This is an adult movie though; the trailer makes it look there's going to be more action and there isn't. If there weren't funny jokes sprinkled in, the movie would be too dry and other than the fans of the book, the rest of the audience would be bored to tears. I went in a group of 3, 2 of us liked it and the 3rd said it was boring and disappointing. If you like mysteries or period piece movies, this will be up your alley. I left wanting to read this book and they hint at a possible sequel that I would also be interested in seeing. If you're a relatively patient moviegoer that appreciates lavish set dressing, good acting and a unique twist, I'd recommend checking this out.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Thor Ragnarok is Just What the Doctor Ordered For This Franchise
A lot of people act like Thor is one of Marvel's lesser properties. I actually have a soft spot for the first Thor. It was surprisingly funny, it translated some pretty out there ideas into being plausible and Chris Hemsworth made for a charismatic hero. That being said, Thor: The Dark World was disappointing and before any promotional material was released, I don't think anyone was expecting much from Thor 3. I have to credit Waititi and his team for bringing a different kind of style to this movie. We've seen the neon colour palette in other comic book movies (Guardians Vol. 2, and Suicide Squad come to mind) but this addition is welcome here. It brings life into the movie, the action scenes are well shot and they use the CGI to create some cool looking characters. This could have been treated as a minor project that didn't garner much attention from the studio but they didn't sell out and they put the effort into this to create something memorable.
The previous Thor movies have spent a large chunk of time on Earth, sometimes to the movies' detriment. They make a good decision to only spend a chunk on Midgard and take you to new places and introduce new characters. In fact, they dispatch of Thor's band of merry men so quickly I almost started laughing. Sakaar is so different and the hype around the gladiator games on it are a lot of fun. I also thought they created some interesting characters, Valkyrie, Grandmaster, Skurge and Korg all have their moments. There's a lot of funny dialogue and while the other entries in the Thor franchise dipped their toes in the comedic pool, Ragnarok dives in with mostly successful results. The friend I went to see this with said it was a little too goofy at times but I think they hit a nice balance.
Chris Hemsworth has everything you need to be a leading man, he just has a hard time getting good projects (Rush was awesome, Ghostbusters..... not so much). He slips into Thor like a glove and he carries this movie with ease. Tessa Thompson was the ace up this movie's sleeve. She's funny in her own right and she handles her supporting part easily. I would love to see her in another Marvel movie. Loki is probably Marvel's best villain and Hiddleston is a star for a reason. He always steals scenes as Loki and this movie is no exception. Idris Elbas is decent, Anthony Hopkins doesn't have to do too much, Goldblum is having fun as the Grandmaster, Karl Urban is funny and I enjoyed Waititi's voice performance as Korg. Mark Ruffalo has always been good as Banner/Hulk and one of the best parts of the movie is his confrontation with Thor. I also want to credit Cate Blanchett, I don't Hela is among Marvel's best written villains but it's her performance that makes Hela formidable. I'm not going to mention any of the cameos but I thought the one from another major Marvel franchise was pretty pointless and underwhelming.
I don't have many complaints about Ragnarok but there are a few. I thought the movie started pretty slowly, there are funny moments in Thor's early adventures but there is a ton of hype around this movie and I was questioning if this was going to meet those high expectations. The stuff surrounding Odin didn't pack the emotional punch I think they were going for. But I also think the movie picked up steam as it went along so that corrected the problem. Again, not all of the cameos are great, the movie is littered with Easter eggs so it was inevitable that some of them are hit or miss.
I think this movie delivered what you would want going into it. There's lots of fun and creative action scenes, plenty of hilarious jokes and some good characters to latch onto. Thor: Ragnarok is every bit a worthy entry into Marvel's canon and I think it will wash some of the disappointment away from the Thor franchise. Among the 3 Marvel releases I saw this year, I'd put it ahead of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 but behind Spiderman: Homecoming. If you're a dedicated Marvel fan this is an easy choice to see but I think the uninitiated will be charmed by this too.
Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010)
Really Funny and Surprisingly Tender for an R-Rated Horror/Comedy
Tucker and Dale is so good in many different ways but the first and most noticeable is the very believable friendship between the characters. The movie is deliberately playing into the stereotype that the backwood hillbillies are always the villains and it makes the movie smarter than your average horror movie. But I couldn't help but be taken aback by how sweet Tucker and Dale's bond is. They aren't the sharpest tools in the shed (especially Dale) but you would swear Tudyk and Labine had been hanging out for years. Add in the fact that Allison is well rounded and willing to look past Dale and Tucker's appearance (even to the point where it's a tad unrealistic) and you have some genuinely fun and interesting characterization. Hitting the mark on this aspect will paper over some of the movie's flaws and this part is so exemplary, you would swear this was written by Edgar Wright (Labine/Tudyk reminded me of Pegg and Frost in the best possible way).
Of course, if the actors and actresses hadn't held up their end, the writing wouldn't be as evident. I can't credit Tudyk and Labine enough, they both completely sell out as their characters and they both perform admirably. They work well together, and they work well individually, and they had me rolling I was laughing so hard. Katrina Bowden is also great as Allison. She's gorgeous but she's also funny in her own right. She helps sell an unrealistic romance that could have been groan inducing. The other actors and actresses get the job done in their respective parts.
Lest you think this is a straight comedy, Tucker and Dale vs Evil packs all the gore you want in a hard R-Rated horror movie. Tucker and Dale aren't directly responsible for the horrible fates that the "college kids" all suffer and each of them are maimed or killed in a unique and funny way. Limbs are lost, buckets of blood are sprayed, and one character is even halved (I won't spoil how). If you're a little squeamish, this movie isn't on the level of torture porn but its far from PG-13 material (there are good PG-13 horror movies, but you must go one direction or the other, Tucker and Dale vs Evil isn't one that's up in the air).
Most importantly for a horror/comedy, this movie is hilarious from start to finish. Craig and Jurgenson are smart enough writers to know which horror clichés to play with and the movie is packed full of winks and nods to where horror movies usually go. I always appreciate a movie that can effectively include meta humour and this is one of the sharper examples. The material becomes even funnier with the endearing sweetness in the delivery from the cast.
The missteps in this movie are small and completely forgivable. Chad becomes a little too over-the-top by the end and although what they decide to do with his character is interesting, it stretches plausibility. I don't know if its how the character is written or Jesse Mosses performance. Some of the kills are better than others but there aren't any that are embarrassingly bad.
The cult following this movie has garnered is well deserved. I got shades of Wright/Pegg/Frost from this but this movie stands on its own and deserved to be seen by a wider audience. I would love to see a sequel to this if the could retain the key pieces and find some new things to point fun at. If you're thinking about checking this out, I would recommend you do so.
The Snowman (2017)
The Only Thing That's Criminal About The Snowman is the Waste of Talent of Everyone Involved
The nice things I can say about the Snowman are brief but I feel that its important to mention them. The cinematography is solid, they capture the beauty of Oslo well and it makes for an interesting backdrop for this murder mystery. They take advantage of the environment to create some beautiful moments and I'll give them credit for that. The next thing is that I'm sure this book is interesting because despite The Snowman's every attempt to divert my attention through its lack of storytelling polish, I was interested on where the story was going to end up. Other than that the acting was okay? That's about all I got.
I have to believe this was a better book. The story of Harry Hole investigating The Snowman killer has all the classic trappings of a good detective story. The violence is pretty brutal, the characters all have a twisted sense of morality and I didn't find it predictable. The Snowman fails at translating this because they fail to properly connect aspects of the story. We spend a good amount of time with Val Kilmer's character Rafto for a very minor reveal and then he's just gone for the rest of the movie. There are red herrings that occupy big amounts of screen time that are also dropped without a care. Some subplots have no purpose (who cares about his relationship with his stepson? It has nothing to do with anything!) and some just fade out into nothingness. I can't believe someone with Alfredson's ability would just fumble all of these basic things. There are a couple of stories about the troubled production that I'm inclined to believe them after viewing the final product.
The Snowman doesn't lack for interesting characters. If Harry Hole was in a more complete picture, he'd be a great protagonist. His relationship with Katrine (as a non-romantic partner) made for a decent pairing. You also have some suitably slimy people operating in town (Arve and Vetlesen) to point the finger at. The raw materials are there but other than Hole and Bratt, none of them are developed. The beginning of movie highlights this, we get some shockingly graphic scenes with a boy and his mother being abused by a guest. Only after that do we meet Harry Hole and then that scene isn't even referenced till 3/4 of the way through the movie. We also get very little dimension about the Snowman killer after he's revealed. The movie just rushes into the finale, why does he leave snowmen outside? Why did he commit these crimes years ago and only recently decide to continue? These questions go unanswered (there are very minor hints dropped but I think we were due a better explanation) and it just added onto the frustrating experience.
The largest problem with The Snowman is that baffling editing choices. Not only is this thing hacked up to death, it can't do even the bare minimum to help the story get along. There are scenes where you can't possibly understand the actions of the characters, not because they're poorly written but because of the bizarre scene transitions. People's motivations change on a dime, weapons disappear without an explanation and it was hard not to burst out laughing. I kept throwing up my hands and asking Why? What? How? so many times in this movie. It was honestly ridiculous, I don't want to blame the editor completely as the director admitted 10-15% of the script wasn't even filmed. There is also so much key dialogue said off screen that it makes the movie look sloppy. Would it been hard to throw a little more money into this to create a passable product? I guess that's not up to me but I can't imagine it would have been that difficult.
I'm just unloading on this movie but I want to make it clear, I don't blame this misfire on the actors/actresses. I really like a lot of this cast. Fassbender is a great actor that can play in many different genres. He's decent as Harry Hole but he lacks the material to shape Hole into a memorable detective. I also really like Rebecca Ferguson, outside of MI: Rogue Nation, she just has a hard time picking worthwhile projects. She also does good work but her character is just so bland that you can only care about Katrine so much. Poor Val Kilmer, he looked like he was trying but this movie made him look awful. J.K. Simmons is fine but his accent is iffy and you think he's going to play a bigger part but he doesn't. Charlotte Gainsburg drifts in and out of the plot and she's undercut by the treatment of Hole's family issues.
In the middle of this movie, I was around a 5 on it. Sure, its remarkable how bad it is considering the talent involved but as I mentioned, the mystery of who the killer was did keep me relatively interested. To my disappointment, the wheels fall off the cart completely at the end. Characters are left hanging without any kind of a resolution, the reveal comes completely out of nowhere and the ending is just thrown together and unsatisfying. The action is poorly filmed and it was hard not to walk out early with the final confrontation being so groan worthy.
This is one of those times where the reviews on this are pitch perfect. If you're a fan of this book, I am so sorry. I can't remember another time where there was this much talent both behind and in front of the camera yet the end result is a dull and mishandled mess. I hope that this movie is a distant memory in the careers of the people involved. The only way I'd watch this again is with a case of beer and I were playing a game with some friends where you drink when something is unintentionally bad.
Happy Death Day (2017)
Carried by a Breakout Lead Performance, Happy Death Day Utilizes a Familiar Premise to Deliver Lots of Fun
Every negative review for this movie is going to point out that this movie is built around a concept that we've seen before. Our protagonist is forced to live through the same day again and again. Groundhog Day and Edge of Tomorrow (both excellent movies) made this idea popular and for some people, they won't be able to get past the fact that this isn't brand new gimmick. I don't have a problem if movies borrow from other movies, they just need to do it effectively and put a fresh spin on it. Happy Death Day certainly accomplishes that. At the beginning, the journey hits the first couple of familiar notes but when Tree starts to realize what's happening, that's when the movie shifts gears. They aren't afraid to play with Tree's tragic end day after day and the movie functions for whole periods as a straight comedy. Luckily, this movie is really funny when it wants to be. The writers know enough to play with certain genre clichés and there's a surprising amount of tongue-in-cheek humour here. The marketing for this is a little misleading, it makes this movie look like a traditional slasher movie when it really ends up being a mishmash of comedy, mystery and horror
Other than the living the same day plot point, Happy Death Day centres around the mystery of who Tree's killer is. The movie throws a bunch of obvious red herrings at you right off the bat and I was glad they took it a less obvious direction. I don't think they overplay their hand either, there are a couple of hints here and there but I think you'd have to be pretty perceptive to guess the twists and turns that Day's plot takes. If I had one complaint, there was a point where they looked like they were heading towards a very sentimental resolution that could have been corny. Its a case of me wanting that for these characters. They bypass that though and keep going and while I understand the decision, I might have preferred that wrap-up instead.
Another turnoff for certain audience members might be Tree's personality as a character. She's a real b!#@% when we first meet her and I'm not exaggerating. The first time she meets her killer, I wasn't feeling sorry for her. But even when she's at her worst, she still has a certain charisma that you want to keep rooting for her. Writing characters that aren't perfect and are selfish that you want to follow is an art that so many horror movies get wrong. I liked how Tree grows (no pun intended) and by the end I really wanted her to find a happy ending somehow.
I don't often get to really discover actors and actresses. Most of the movies I watch are pretty mainstream and by the time someone becomes a lead, you've probably heard about them from somewhere. I wasn't familiar with Jessica Rothe at all but she anchored this movie as Tree. This is a stand up and take notice kind of performance, she's multi-faceted in handling both the drama and the comedy in this movie. I hope this movie is just a stepping stone to bigger things for her and I think the last time I walked away from a movie so impressed with an actress I didn't know was Margot Robbie in The Wolf of Wall Street. Israel Broussard is easy to like as Carter, he's easy going enough that his character's relationship with Tree builds up organically. Rachel Matthews is funny as Danielle Bouseman, she's playing a very stereotypical character (stuck up sorority rich girl) but she nails it. Ruby Modine is sweet as Lori and Charles Aitken is appropriately slimy as Gregory Butler,
I couldn't believe how charmed I was by this movie. I didn't plan on going to see this, it was a very spur of the moment thing and walking out of the theatre I was blown away. Happy Death Day isn't the best movie I've seen this year but its the biggest movie-going surprise of the year for me. It features a great turn from an up and coming actress, a good mystery, some well placed meta humour and a willingness to play within its central conceit. The marketing for this movie doesn't show how creative and fun it is and I would urge you to give this a shot. We've come off the summer blockbusters and we're still too early for the awards contenders so if you're looking for something to check out, Happy Death Day is an extremely fun hour and a half at the movies. Also, make sure to show up on time, there's a gag pulled with the opening credits that hints at what's to come.
Sucker Punch (2011)
Ambitious to a Fault, Sucker Punch's Story and Style Drag Down Great Visuals and Decent Action
Sucker Punch is the story of Babydoll and her journey to escape her past. The story has some very serious undertones and I can respect the attempt to tell this deep and encompassing story. There are layers upon layers of symbolism and hidden meaning. The ambition to try and tell this kind of story is admirable but where Sucker Punch falls down is trying to interweave these elements together. It isn't the plot holes (there are a few) or the implausibilities (there are even more) that drag this movie down, its the plot collapsing in on itself that does Sucker Punch in. Executing this kind of movie would be hard for an expert filmmaker and they can't stick the landing.
Snyder and his team drop Babydoll and her comrades into crazy fantasy after crazy fantasy to establish a metaphor for them gaining what they need to execute Babydoll's plan. This is where I have to give them a backhanded compliment. Snyder's visual sensibilities are perfect for this and each level he creates is impressive. It's like watching this team of girls execute missions in a video game that spans decades and different worlds and that's definitely entertaining. The problem is that they have no sense of continuity and although I perfectly understood the metaphor they're going for (how this is an escape for Babydoll's horrific reality), the execution of it is clunky. The technology in each setting varies wildly (samurais with railguns? Mech suits in WW1? Fighting orcs with assault rifles?) and there aren't any consequences to the action. The action within them is solid but they make little to no sense and the fact that they are Babydoll's escape shouldn't distract you from the fact that they don't have any purpose within the story. Add in Scott Glen's character Wise Man, who delivers advice that is confusing and seems to hold almost no relevancy to the current situation and Sucker Punch is frustrating to watch.
You don't see many action movies led by a female ensemble and that's one of the more refreshing aspects of the movie. While I think this movie has more than its fair share of shortcomings, I don't want to blame the actors and actresses. I don't think that anyone really shines through but you can only do so much with the material you've been given. Emily Browning is pretty wooden but I think that was a deliberate choice. I just had a hard time getting attached to her because of it. The rest of the main cast are all well cast but there is little to distinguish between them. If I had to single one out of the group, Jena Malone is the next best. Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung amount to window dressing which is too bad because I wish they'd been given more to do. Abbie Cornish is way too serious, Oscar Isaac is way too cartoonish as Blue and while Carla Gugino is well suited to her role, her bad accent undercuts her performance.
The defenders of Sucker Punch always point to the action as one of the saving graces of this film. This has always been another strong point of Snyder's work and while I think this movie delivers on the required set pieces, watching it a second time I wasn't astounded or blown away by the battle scenes. It merely comes across as serviceable as opposed to something jaw-dropping. The problem is that with this movie tripping over its own feet in other key areas, it needed to be something unique away to distract from those flaws.
I honestly believe that Zack Snyder wanted this to be an empowering movie for girls/women. The movie unfortunately moonwalks into being really sexist. The entire group of girls are beautiful but the movie takes every chance to show off their figures or accent the revealing clothing they're wearing. I get that most blockbusters featuring young and attractive women do this but we approach Michael Bay territory here. Add in the fact that in the most consistent fantasy that Babydoll has, they're all burlesque dancers who are only useful when dancing/putting on a show for their clients and it gives the movie an overall feel that this is just a teenage boy's fantasy. Either that or they're directly pandering to teenage boys, could be either option.
There are other things to comment on including a really terrible soundtrack (the music is mostly made up of covers of famous rock songs that completely miss the mark) and an ending that can't get the movie out of a serious tailspin. This is one of the more divisive blockbusters that has come down the pike and while I'm pretty critical of this, it isn't a flop for the ages. Snyder and his team really swung for the fences and while I credit them for trying, Sucker Punch adds up to a big and embarrassing whiff.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Beautiful Atmosphere and an Interesting Mystery Help Blade Runner 2049 Continue a Classic Story
I've only seen the original Blade Runner once and it was a long time ago. I liked it but I just haven't got around to revisiting it. I mention this because even though I'm not a die-hard fan of Blade Runner, I still found the plot of 2049 engrossing. It's a well put together mystery, I found that they constantly took the plot in unexpected directions and other than the trailer spoiling the return of Deckard, I was always excited about what was going to happen next. The movie pulls an excellent bait and switch at the end that really surprised me. They made the right decision to not repeat the formula of the first one and take the story to a new place. They also create some compelling subplots which is something that few movies get right.
The biggest star of this movie is the cinematography and the excellent work of Roger Deakins. The original was noteworthy with the special environment that Ridley Scott and his creative team brought to the screen. That was continued here if not improved upon. The look of L.A. in 2049 they decided to go with isn't completely distinct but it was a little more understated (I'd compare it to the 2017 Ghost in the Shell but less fantastical). My favourite scene might have been a shootout in a defunct club where the lighting and the background show are turning on and off. I don't hesitate to praise when a movie looks good but this is an exemplary example of using visuals and atmosphere to help build on a strong story.
Blade Runner 2049 returns very few of the characters from the original film but they manage to breathe life into this movie through the new ones they created. Officer K isn't the most lively protagonist but he gets an eye-opening character arc that kept me involved. Deckard doesn't appear till later in the movie but he remains interesting and what they decide to do with him makes his appearance worthwhile. I also really liked some of the smaller supporting characters. Sapper really helps kick off the movie, what Joi represents is extremely emotional and Mariette is so mysterious that her involvement brings up more and more questions. Add in that Niander Wallace and Luv make for pretty menacing villains and you have a pretty well-rounded and fascinating script.
I don't think that the actors/actresses will be the focal point of the awards attention that this movie will get but that doesn't mean there aren't exemplary performances. Gosling is good as K, he's deliberately robotic and he accomplishes a lot through his subtlety. Harrison Ford isn't in the movie as much as I wanted him to be (he's still one of my all-time favourite actors) but he holds up his end. He works with Gosling well and they have a solid rapport. Surprisingly, I really liked Sylvia Hoeks. She stole a lot of her scenes and I thought she was great even acting against a stacked cast. Dave Bautista showed he has a lot more range than people give him credit for. Jared Leto is in a very Jared Leto role (deliberately weird and hard to understand) but he does it well and although he might be a little creepy, the guy is still a great actor. I also want to credit Ana de Armas, she was distinctly warm and she showed a lot more emotion than I had seen from her previously.
There were points in this movie I could have rated this a 9/10 but some small things that I had to dock the movie for. Even with a compelling story, the movie has such a long run time that it couldn't help but drag. There are certain scenes where the movie wants you to really drink in the environment but they could have edited it a little tighter. They also couldn't help but lose me at points through how much artistic flair the utilize. Villenueve is an authority in this area and while I appreciate an artistic approach to this science fiction tale, for me they overdid it a little.
I was surprised how much I ended up liking Blade Runner 2049. I think if you're a big fan of the original, you'll love this to bits. This is successful in bringing in the uninitiated but I think fans will enjoy this even more. I haven't been on board for all of Villenueve's films but this is a good combination of his artistic style with enough of a commercial element for the masses. I'd give this somewhere between an 8-9 but with the extremely long run time, I'll give this an 8/10.
American Made (2017)
American Made is An Exciting Trip Piloted Expertly by Liman and Cruise
This is one of those stories that is so crazy that you can't believe it could be true (I'm not sure what is and isn't 100% factual). The fact that this guy could be recruited and get swept up in so many different cons is unbelievable. Compounding that, the fact that he didn't get how dangerous this was is remarkable. The people behind this movie could spin straw to gold but I think the movie benefits immensely from having a compelling story to draw from. You also get some understanding about politics during the Cold War. The film is smart enough not to get too bogged down in what could be dry/heavy material and they wrap it up with some style to make it easier to wrap your head around it.
I think Barry Seal as a character will divide audiences. The movie tries to portray him as a thrill seeker who had exceptional skill but couldn't see past the end of his nose. Other people might view him as an opportunist that made a fortune playing one government agency against another and he personally helped further the drug trade in the U.S.A. I came down in the middle on him. I think the movie probably glosses over some of his darker aspects but he was ultimately a pilot whose greed and attitude both helped and hurt him. I tend to enjoy characters like this as protagonists, it's not always fun to follow the boy scout. Seal ends up being the sum of his decisions for better or worse and despite his missteps, I couldn't help but feel sorry for him when they reached the epilogue.
I think this was an excellent role for Tom Cruise to take. It can be hard to separate him from Ethan Hunt (his Mission Impossible character) and I like seeing him play more morally grey characters. He's charming as Barry Seal but he never portrays him as a hero. He's not a villain either but Cruise elevates his game to sell how Seal got caught up in this success and struggled getting out. His Cajun accent is decent and he did a good job. I was surprised how much I liked Sarah Wright as Lucy Seal. She's a pretty face for sure but her character has a little more depth than I anticipated. Her performance reminded me of Margot Robbie's performance as Naomi in The Wolf of Wall Street (if you pitted them head to head, I'd still pick Robbie but Wright more than held her own). I like Domhnall Gleeson in other things but I didn't think he was as good in this. His character couldn't seem to pick a lane between being very straight-laced or being a slick double-talker and I don't think he was charismatic enough to make me remember Schafer. Jesse Plemons and Caleb Landry Jones are good as Sheriff Downing and JB but they're not in the movie for very long. I'd also credit Alejandro Edda, Mauricio Mejia and Jayma Mays for being solid in their respective supporting parts.
I was surprised at how American Made had a go-with-the-flow tone. It isn't hard to draw parallels between Seal's carefree attitude and how they decide to tell his story. The movie moves fast and it was pretty funny. They don't skate around how ridiculous Seal's situation is and they have no problem laughing along with you at his lack of common sense. His choices are taking him and his family down a path that almost everyone can see coming except him. They make the right call in keeping things light for the majority of it and I was laughing through most of the movie. But when the movie needs to show the consequences for his actions, the tone shifts appropriately. This can be jarring but I think they handled it about as well as they could have. Whether you like Seal or don't, his end is shocking but more or less expected.
Most of my problems with American Made are small and easy enough to toss aside. It took me a little time to get invested in Barry's story, the movie wasn't as strong at the very beginning. There isn't much exposition and you have to float for a bit to grasp Barry's ongoing dilemma. But after a while, I caught up with the pace of the movie and I couldn't help but enjoy the ride. The other thing is that while the ending is properly dramatic and is a punch to the gut, the overall arc of the story is easy to plot. Stepping back from the story, it follows the same major beats as many other movies in this genre. We rise and we fall with Barry and while I thought the story carried me through most of those quibbles, for the more discerning viewer, it might be hard to look past.
Doug Liman and Tom Cruise seem to be a good match for each other and they deliver an exceptional rise and fall caper movie. I love Edge of Tomorrow and they didn't disappoint in their follow-up. This is an interesting story that manages to be entertaining while sneakily teaching the audience about some of the inner-workings of the U.S. government and how they handled foreign conflicts in South America in the 1980s. I don't think this will make my 2017 top ten but I would be happy to see this again. I would encourage Liman and Cruise to continue making movies together and I would recommend this movie to anyone interested in a fun crime story that happens to be a period piece.