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Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)
Beautifully Animated with a Really Funny Performance From Reynolds
I wasn't very interested when I heard about the premise of this movie, I had grown up during when Pokemon became a worldwide phenomenon but it was more a pleasant memory from my childhood then something I still had on the brain. But I saw the trailer and the part of the movie that caught my eye was the design and animation of the Pokemon. They really looked like if you had to transport the idea of Pokemon into the modern world and I was just as impressed in the movie. The animation is fantastic, there were points where my jaw dropped (there's a Pokemon battle in the middle that was better than I could have imagined it would be). Each character is unique enough to distinguish, they do a good job of bringing their characteristics to the forefront and there wasn't a time where I wasn't engaged. There were points where just the amount of work and how well it was done when it was put on the screen was amazing (I was in awe at points, it felt like being transported into my childhood daydreams). Whoever did the design and the CGI animators deserve a ton of credit, its the highlight of the movie and if you're a fan of this property, you'll be blown away.
While Pikachu has the rougher edges of the film noir filed off, it is a film noir story. My description of the plot of the movie would be "good enough." The setup as a mystery is pretty good, they give Tim a surprising amount of development with the death of his father, the strained relationship he had with him before the accident, and his dissatisfaction with his life in general. So rounding the 1/3 mark of the movie, I was also impressed with the construction of the plot. They do a solid job of still telling a detective story while not pushing the envelope too far. There's a good scene of interrogating an informant, they infiltrate an underground organization etc. and they largely pulled it off. They had yet to run out of creative ways to integrate those elements. But on the other side of the coin, I will concede that when we go into the final act, the creativity starts to sputter and eventually it runs out of gas. The ending isn't terrible but its the weak point for sure. It didn't ruin the movie but I shrugged my shoulders and had to concentrate on the action.
The main character of Tim Goodman is played by Justice Smith who you might recognize from Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. This is a big improvement, I couldn't stand him in that movie but he did a good job with the shifting tones and playing the straight man next to Reynolds eventually. I hope he's able to build off this and get more work. Reynolds is a riot as Pikachu, you can tell he's working on the fly with most of his material but his delivery makes the movie. I don't think this would have worked as well with another actor in that role, it was great casting. Kathryn Newton and Ken Watanabe are both solid in their respective roles, neither is given a lot of depth (which is too bad) but they do what they can. It was nice to see Karan Soni in a small role in the beginning and while I always get a kick out of seeing Bill Nighy, his casting might tip where the mystery is going because of the type of role he usually plays.
Detective Pikachu isn't a flawless movie but it reminds me a lot of Goosebumps, another underrated Rob Letterman movie that was surprisingly successful. Much like Goosebumps, Detective Pikachu builds this unique and fun world, features a funny and surprisingly solid lead performance (I'm talking about Reynolds, Smith is good but Pikachu steals the movie) and while there are small hangups (highs and lows in the plot, meh ending, a couple of characters being derivative) this is a much better execution than I was expecting. The critical reception for this has been a collective shrug but this is one of the few times I want to point the finger at them and ask "What were you really expecting?" I liked this movie a lot despite some minor criticisms and my actual rating for this is 8.5/10. I can't go to 9 though, if the material had a couple more winks and nods to the adult audience (the movie is very kid-friendly) e.g. the Lego Movie, I would bump it up. I saw this with my best friend and we both left the theatre with huge grins on our faces. But if you or your kids love Pokemon or would like a family friendly take on film noir with some fantastical elements, don't hesitate to see this in theatres.
Long Shot (2019)
Theron and Rogen's Chemistry Surprises, The Amount of Solid Laughs Doesn't
Romantic comedies are generally formulaic, some genres have more clearly defined rules than others, but romantic comedies almost always have the same beats and hit the same tonal notes. Some are more family-friendly and some are more raunchy. Rarely do we get one that breaks the mould and while Long Shot can't be wholly original, it does have a different type of feel. They don't hesitate to drift into a dirty joke but they pull back more times than not (there's a joke with Fred and a webcam that goes the whole nine yards but that's about it). The first and maybe most important compliment that I can give Long Shot is that it manages to be hilarious on almost a scene to scene basis. There's some really funny bits around a sudden attack on a hotel they're staying at or when Fred awkwardly tells Lance about his "romantic" encounter with Charlotte when they were kids. I was laughing consistently throughout Long Shot and so was the majority of the theatre.
Long Shot isn't afraid to enter a political discussion and I think it makes some solid points. Instead of being largely pointed one way, the argument in the movie centres around making an effort to compromise. In today's difficult political climate, that's a refreshing take and I respected the movie for it. We also get some comments on the difficulties of being a woman in a position of power. There's some solid arguments in the movie about how women are perceived, the way they have to act and the standards they have to keep. Its kept around the boundary but they're poignant nonetheless. The movie dances around serious commentary (or aspects of politics that we have largely read into), its more interested in being a romantic comedy so if you're looking for some bite in the material, I think you'll be disappointed. But the lighter touch they decide to take sprinkles in enough without being overwhelming or overstepping and it shows the creative team knows enough without being too heavy handed.
I've always liked Seth Rogen and generally I like his movies (he's not without a couple of missteps, but no one bats 1000). His performance in Long Shot is him operating firmly in his wheelhouse but he's doing good work. He has a lot of chemistry with Theron (surprisingly) and he does his part in selling their relationship. Theron has always been an excellent actress but this is a unique turn for her and a noteworthy one. She's really funny in this and her performance elevates the material, I never would have known she had comedic chops. June Diane Raphael walked a fine line in her part, she could have been a one-note downer of a character, but she manages to deliver some funny lines and bring a little warmth as Charlotte's campaign manager. O'Shea Jackson Jr. is a surprisingly versatile performer, he does solid work as Fred's best friend Lance. I also wanted to give credit to Alexander Skarsgard as Prime Minister James Steward. As a Canadian, in the beginning it felt a little cheap with them just parodying Justin Trudeau but Alexander's performance grew on me as the movie went on and he managed to also elicit a few laughs from me in his short amount of screen time.
Long Shot does so many things well but it still can't escape certain genre cliches. They do as good of a job as they can trying to create organic conflict between Fred and Charlotte but I couldn't help but feel Fred was just being too whiny and self-involved. The pair of them make interesting characters but they still can't completely sell fighting between them as a two-sided argument. We also have to get the typical ending from one of these movies, I get that audiences expect that but it did feel like someone added too much sugar and made the ending a little too sweet.
I went into Long Shot with high expectations from all the critical praise and those expectations were met. The movie has some gut-busting funny moments, a pair of stars that can play off of each other and sell their implausible romantic relationship and some sweet scenes that give the movie a little heart. It still can't check all the boxes but I think it gets the job done and gives you something to chew on leaving the theatre. Its the best romantic comedy I've seen in a few years (this includes the solid but sadly overrated Crazy Rich Asians) and I think its worth checking out in theatres. The studio screwed up releasing it so closed to Endgame but if you can tolerate Rogen's brand of comedy, don't be afraid to go see this as a funny date movie.
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Almost Perfect Capper for the MCU to This Point
If you saw Infinity War, I think you knew where the overall arc of this would go. I went into Endgame a little arrogant, thinking I knew the whole plot. But one of the big surprises that this movie drops is that it constantly subverts expectations. If you've managed to avoid spoilers, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with where Endgame goes. What I thought would take the whole movie is done and fully explored in the first 15 minutes. This is absolutely a good thing, superhero movies are always at their best when they're experimental and unafraid of abandoning the formula. While I can't say it completely split off from what was expected, I was excited with every turn or twist in the narrative and I have to applaud the creative team for not just retreading the formula and delivering something off-kilter, at least for the MCU.
Unless you aren't familiar with the marketing, Endgame largely centres around time travel and I was also impressed that they balanced this concept while running through the emotional gauntlet. Most time travel stories come in 2 varieties, the goofy comedies (I would put the Back to the Future franchise, Happy Death Day, Hot Tub Time Machine etc.) or in the completely serious (11/22/63, the Butterfly Effect, The Time Machine). Endgame puts a spin on it where the stakes are very real but you get the classic humour from the best MCU entries. Its a fine line to walk but Endgame does it as an art form, the movie is both very funny and at other points heartbreaking. Its harder to accomplish than you think (even in a normal movie as opposed to this gigantic franchise picture) but they got it done. They also handled the time travel aspect well, some movies fall all over themselves trying to explain how time travel could exist but this was a situation where other than some technobabble, they add a few lines as a catch all and then they move on. Maybe that won't be good enough for some but I just accepted it and kept going.
With so many movies and so many characters to include, doing them all justice and giving everyone ample screen time would have been impossible. But another highlight of Endgame was that they gave all the original players (Ironman, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye) a side story or mini-arc that was both respectful and added to their respective stories. Its amazing that I can say that just thinking about it now and I tip my hat to them again. I did see this with a group of diehard MCU friends and one of them was upset with how Thor was presented in this move, so it may not be flawless for the whole contingent of fans. But I didn't hear many false notes played and every bit flowed together well. I was also pleasantly surprised that Nebula (played by the wonderful Karen Gillian) got a satisfying amount of screen time that payed off well, it mirrored Gamora's (Zoe Saldana) subplot in Infinity War. The only one who I was disappointed in was our villain Thanos (Josh Brolin) who was a much more interesting character in Infinity War. You could relate to his thought process and identify with him, I feel like the support he got threw Disney off and they made him more of a sadistic jerk in this one to get the desired reaction.
This movie and this franchise features the cream of the crop with the A-list of Hollywood actors and actresses. They all excel together and apart and there isn't a weak performance in the group. This shouldn't be news, with a cast of this calibre, there wasn't even a chance that there would be a weak spot. Some people get more to do than others (I doubt you're going to see this for Don Cheadle's inclusion but if you love War Machine for example, he's not a major player in the action) but everyone does top notch work and I expected nothing less.
There's so much good here that it feels weird to say anything negative. The only thing that really caught my attention is that after the first 15 minutes, the rest of the first hour drags compared to the rest of the movie. It's not uninteresting or boring but it feels like when you're cranking your engine to start your car, you're waiting on pins and needles for the movie to really hit its stride. It gets there and it does its job incredibly but you are waiting for it to fire up for a little while. The other note I would give is that with the inclusion of so many characters, some of the appearances are a little one note. Ant-Man is there to largely dump exposition and pump up Cap and Carol Danvers is in the movie way less than what you would expect (I was in the camp that enjoyed Captain Marvel, if you didn't, this may not be such a bad thing). But these are very minor issues in a movie that scores at least 9/10 things right.
Endgame will be so many different things to so many MCU fans, whether you see it as a kick @$$ blockbuster, the culmination of the MCU to this point, the final farewell to some of your favourite MCU originals or maybe the best action movie you'll see this year. I think it does about as good of a job as you can expect (if you're even a casual Marvel fan, you're going to dig this) with the pressure, the expectations and the weight of all the success the franchise has had dominating the box office for over a decade. There are points of the movie that are slow and not as interesting but when Endgame kicks into gear, it flies down the road. I still slightly prefer Infinity War but its a 1A) to 1B) comparison as opposed to one being a 10 and the other being a 7. Unless you're suffering from serious superhero fatigue (which I wouldn't blame you for) or just dead set against the MCU, you're going to really enjoy this movie. Endgame is a 9.5/10 that checks all the boxes and caps the MCU to this point in a fun, touching and above all exciting 3 hours at the theatre.
Undeniably Charming and Pretty Solid Overall
Shazam! is of the more family friendly variety but despite having that kind of pretty packaging, there were scenes in Shazam! that were dark and unflinching. The beginning is very sobering, it's reminiscent of Guardians 1 where you think you're stepping into this zany comedy and you get slapped with a dramatic beat right off the bat. You also know that with Billy being an orphan, there will be some time spent in pursuit of his birth parents. With this being a softer entry in the genre, you would also expect a redemptive arc for Billy's mom. Ya.... that's not the case here (his subplot with his birth mom concludes in an unfortunately realistic and sadly honest way). That was impressive but add on top of that the genuinely funny humour in this that isn't afraid to wink at the audience or play with genre tropes. It very much danced around being a child friendly Deadpool without fully committing to it. I really dug the bits where they just set aside the inherent danger of the situation and just have fun with the circumstances (the scene where the convenience store gets robbed and the learning about his powers montage amp up the comedy in a ridiculous way). They stray from the beaten path in these two ways and they're the best moments in the movie. It definitely helped Shazam stand out and helped bring me in.
Shazam also embraces something that more superhero movies could stand to make a focal point. The movie is so gleeful about the superhero concept and they refuse to let the conflict bring down the fun vibe the rest of the movie is going for. Again, Guardians 1 comes to mind where there are dramatic moments at the forefront but you never stop laughing or getting bogged down by it. Shazam! is so wrapped up in the fun possibilities of a teenager having God like powers that it rubs off on you. I was never unaware when the movie would make a mistake but it was hard to be too critical of it because of how it bounced from scene to scene without getting bogged down.
The benchmark of acting in this genre has been set really high and to even come close, you have to do something pretty extraordinary. Zachary Levi doesn't hit the ball into the upper deck but this is still a homerun of a performance. He fits this character like a glove, he's so earnest in his portrayal of this teenager playing with his newfound powers that I was never not impressed with what he accomplished (even if Shazam gets a little annoying as a character, its not Levi's performance which is consistent and well done). Mark Strong was able to pull something off that many actors couldn't. Dr. Sivana is not an engrossing or deep villain, he has an interesting backstory/motivation but we spend very little time with him before he gets his powers as an adult. Its literally Strong's presence and charisma that makes it work and I thought this was a feat by itself. Getting to the kids, I thought Jack Dylan Glazer ran circles around Asher Angel. Angel isn't terrible, he's just withdrawn and unemotional where Glazer is very animated and slinging jokes constantly. The rest of the child cast gets the job done, their characters are all one note so they don't get much of an opportunity to stretch. I would also like to compliment Megan Good and Adam Brody for being pretty funny in their limited amount of screen time.
While I was charmed by this movie, I never was short of any missteps to point out. In an effort to appeal to families, Shazam falls into some of the genre cliches while it so adeptly avoids others. I don't think this was a mistake however, it felt like a concession to make the movie easier to digest for the younger audience. It led to Shazam being downright corny and I rolled my eyes a few times but while I would have liked a more unconventional film, I get why they went in the direction they did. Some of the more annoying parts (the repetitive threat of Billy "almost" running away or Billy and Freddy's incessant arguing in the middle of the film) had to be there and I had to shrug it off. The movie runs a little long at 2.25 hours, I don't know what they could have cut out but a tighter edit would have helped. I also would have liked to have spent some more time on the Wizard (Djimon Hounsou) and his conflict with the 7 deadly sins, it would have helped flesh out Dr. Sivana's character and understand the Wizard's fear of these things getting out into the world again.
Shazam! isn't a movie I'm going to visit over and over again but I had a lot of fun watching it in the theatre and for most of the run time, I had a big grin on my face. It's got problems (I saw this with a friend who was complaining about it most of the ride back) but just like the critics, I got swept up in the ride. This is good entry in the expanding DC universe and its a big leap ahead of Aquaman (which despite Momoa's bravado was still mediocre at best). I'm happy to give Shazam! a 8/10 and if you haven't gone to see it with the family (there are some dark moments so don't bring the really young children), its worth checking out in the theatre. I wouldn't recommend the 3D version though, it impacts very little and you'll get the same experience from the regular print.
Pet Sematary (2019)
A Decent Effort That Doesn't Fully Translate
One of the first aspects that caught my eye about Pet Sematary was how they did a good job wringing creepy atmosphere out of the country setting. The house the Creed family moves to is beautiful but something feels creepy about it right off the bat. The actual cemetary, the burial ground and the forest ooze sickness and regret and it helps put you in the movie. The work with the set design, the cinematography and the effects team put in a good effort.
The cast of Pet Sematary isn't full of huge names but it's largely populated by talented actors. Jason Clarke is a take it or leave it type of leading man, I like him in this but admittedly he needs the right material. He does a decent job as a tortured father who can't let go. Jete Laurence does a good job playing a scary little kid, she's actually more effective as a villain and less believable as the unaffected and innocent Ellie. Amy Seimetz is good in a pretty thankless part, conversely to the actress playing her daughter, I thought she did a better job in the early going and came off as more campy after the horror really started. The actor in the cast I was really excited to see was John Lithgow, he's a wonderful character actor and his range is impressive (check him out in How I Met Your Mother or the underrated Trial and Error). I also enjoyed him here but I was a little disappointed, his part was limited and I wish they gave him more to do.
Getting to what I didn't like about Pet Sematary, the first thing is that the movie is SLOW. I get that the point is to organically set up scares but despite a fairly quick run time (roughly an hour and 40 minutes), Pet Sematary feels long. The slowest scenes are the bits before the family members get reanimated and by the time we hit the halfway point, I was wondering if we were running out of time. It also hits the big moment and then after that, it feels like the movie is rushing to wrap up (which undercuts the tension). The next is that the movie lacks any kind of self awareness, I really liked the book but this movie left me questioning whether I'm remembering it too fondly. The theme of unbearable grief is relatable and gives the book some dramatic moments but the idea of the force that makes this possible is pretty half baked and that the reanimated family members could outwit and overpower the other members strains plausibility. The new ending is a bold choice but it only reinforces this point. Lastly, there were some big unintentionally funny moments where the theatre that I saw this in burst out laughing and I understood why.
Pet Sematary isn't terribly scary but also manages to skirt being an outright bust. The acting is pretty good, the movie is filled with creepy imagery and atmosphere and they capture the inherent pain of the Creed family. On the other end is the slack pacing, the unintentionally funny moments and how awkward some of the plot points from the book are. I left the theatre shrugging my shoulders, its not a bad adaptation, my thought on the drive back was that maybe this is just one of those Stephen King stories that doesn't translate well to film. I saw this with a friend and she was thought it was really creepy so maybe I'm in the minority. If you're a King fan, I would still recommend IT or even Gerald's Game ahead of Pet Sematary. It's good enough to check out but I think you could wait to rent it or get it on your preferred streaming service.
There's Great Cinematography and Solid Acting... With a Frustrating and Incomprehensible Plot and Payoff
Far and away the best part of Suspiria is how well it was shot. When you mention great cinematography, you're more often than not talking about movies that use rich environments to display tons of colour to help bring you into the world that they've created. The 2018 version of Suspiria does almost the exact opposite. The environment here is dingy and is dripping with a sense of neglect and conveying a harsh reality. The colour is intentionally muted and it helps show how problematic things were in this time period (which is true to the story, according to the exposition, Madame Blanc had to fight tooth and nail to keep her company open during the most trying of times). The movie manages to create more than a few scenes with a lot of tension and its done through obscuring enough of a character in shadow to make you question what's going on or using an unconventional angle to throw you off the scent of what's really happening. It reminded of someone putting their good arm behind their back and still beating you in an arm wrestling match. It's what kept my attention throughout and all the credit should go to cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom and the team for creating so much under tough circumstances.
As much as the 50 shades franchise is awful, this is another good step for Dakota Johnson to help put that behind her. I wouldn't describe her as magnetic but her dancing was impressive and I think she did a solid job at the centre of Suspiria. I'm not sure how good of an actress she is but she's rebounding well and hopefully bigger things are in her future. Tilda Swinton was good in her dual roles, there's a lot of mystery surrounding both of her parts and while she's appropriately cast in one, I think it was a nice wink and a nod to put her in the other part under heavy makeup. Mia Goth did her part as Sara, her character's gradual realization of what was really going on in the studio was the easiest part of the plot to attach myself to. I thought Chloe Grace Moretz did what she could but she was let down by her part, they introduce her so quickly and she's disappears just as fast. There are plenty of other actors and actresses in this movie but they weren't in it enough to comment on their individual performances. Some were better than others but I didn't find any awful ones to point out. It also may please fans of the original that original protagonist Jessica Harper shows up in a small role.
With the great cinematography and the largely good acting across the board, I was willing to spot Suspiria points despite the fact that the plot isn't just hard to figure out. It gets to the point that if you haven't seen the original, I don't know how you would get what's going on at all. I HATE movies that are deliberately confusing and keep the audience in the dark without providing a satisfying explanation or payoff in the end. When there's no attempt to extend an olive branch even a little, it p!$$e$ me off. If you're going to play by those rules, you better give me something good in the end and Suspiria's ending is just insane. You don't get an explanation, you get a twist or two, a bloodbath with unimportant characters you spend little to no time with and then it just stumbles to the end of its runtime. My reaction wasn't surprise or shock, it was simple WTF is going on? I understand that this is a mystery but the movie shows who the bad people are fairly quickly but doesn't give any hint at what the plan is until the climax comes about. There's a difference between cultivating a mystique and being too challenging for people to figure out. The climax also doesn't solve the problem, it just brings up as many questions as it answers and hearing professional critics fall all over themselves trying to explain away the issue just makes me want to bang my head against the wall. Just because you've seen the original or love the previous works of the director (I haven't seen Call Me By Your Name, if its good, that's great. It wouldn't change my mind about how badly this finishes up), it doesn't make this a quality product. This movie goes beyond being arty for art's sake and I'm not going to let it off the hook just because I'm not the target audience.
I keep trying to expand my horizons and check out more artistic work and films that are described as art house projects. But more often than not, I just end up either frustrated, disappointed or bored. I was all 3 in Suspiria despite the fact it features some inspired work in some areas. This is a film buff's need only apply type of picture, I think the dance torture scene is horrifying enough to recommend but I can't tell you to watch the entire movie just for that scene. If this is your kind of movie, you go ahead and enjoy it but I don't think the general audience is going to feel the same way and judging by the reviews I've seen on this site, I'm confident that I'm not in the minority. I'm giving Suspiria a 5/10 but I'm actually somewhere between a 4 and a 5.
Bold Ideas, Great Acting but the Final Product is Decidedly Mixed
The movie you think you're going to get with Us and the movie you end up getting are two different things. Normally that's a problem but I think it works
in their favour. If the movie was too formulaic or too obtuse, that would be one thing but it's clear that Jordan Peele has his own ideas and they're original enough to catch your attention. I wasn't a fan of every one of them but this movie isn't afraid to do its own thing and I have to credit Peele and his team for trying something new and being confident enough to bring it to the screen with a lot of fanfare.
One of the things I was more surprised by was the amount of comedy in Us. The trailer billed it as more of a straight horror movie. This movie is actually pretty funny when they try to be, from Gabe's corny jokes to the Tyler family's selfish behaviour, I laughed more than a few times. They also have a couple of choice references in there that made me smile. However, I don't think the movie is as carefully balanced as the best horror/comedies are. There were a few times where the audience I saw this with were laughing through some of more tense moments (the "Tethered" largely speak in grunts and the theatre I saw this in was giggling whenever one of them had to communicate) and it came of as unintentional. Us is never particularly horrifying but it is an effective thriller. So the team were able to play in both genres effectively but the tone of the movie shifts and its not always an easy transition.
The best thing about both of Jordan Peele's efforts as a writer/director is that he knows how to get great performances out of his actors. Lupita Nyong'o was excellent in her dual roles here. She's best known for her turn in 12 Years a Slave or as Maz Katana in the Disney Star Wars movies but there were moments in this where I was astonished at the job she was doing. She shines the brightest in a cast where everyone pulled their weight. Winston Duke was a lot of fun as a dorky dad, I thought he was pretty funny and he pulled off the physical work in the part. I thought the two kid actors, Shahadi Wright Joseph as Zora/Umbrae and Evan Alex as Jason/Pluto were both capable and did solid work. Elizabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker were decent as the Tylers, they're characters were jerks but they played them fairly well.
Now I've got to get to what didn't work for me. I have a hard time with movies where the story turns or the creative team make decisions where they are deliberately obtuse for the sake of creating a "metaphor" or leaning into some "symbolism." People make excuses for filmmakers saying "it doesn't have to make sense" or "you get what you want out of it" but there has to be an effort to make things palatable or to try and bring the audience in (I had the same problem with the 2018 Suspiria remake). The fact that they wanted to do different things is admirable but several moments in the climax and the denouement of Us don't add up. I can't go into spoiling the movie and I do think that a movie that encourages debate is something that we need more of. I also think that no movie is ever perfect, you can always find something to nitpick or whine about. But I couldn't always just take what Us spoon fed me, there's so much to question and the film doesn't even try to answer or provide a way to the audience so they can figure it out. Maybe you'll feel differently but to just tell me to shrug it off is lazy and just an excuse (Peele has also done this better in Get Out, there's no deep explanation into the procedure but the way they presented it, I was fine that there wasn't a point by point explanation). I'd also note the final note in this movie is decidedly dark and while I liked it, I don't know if it's going to hold up to further scrutiny.
I wanted Us to be something special, I liked Get Out but I also thought the praise that movie got heaped upon it was a little excessive. It was really good but to call it a "masterpiece" seemed a little hyperbolic. So I went into the theatre hoping that this would be that striking and bold movie that I could fall in love with to hop on the Jordan Peele train. There's a lot of big ideas in Us and I thought the acting was very impressive (especially from Nyong'o) but this movie seems to play by its own rules only when it wants to, they explain so little without providing the requisite bread crumbs to follow along and while the movie has its share of funny material and thrilling moments, I didn't think they meshed well together. Peele is an exciting new filmmaker who isn't afraid to take chances or try something different. I look forward to more movies from him but I still haven't got that can't miss, have-to-see-it film yet from him (that's only my opinion). I liked Us enough to give it a 7/10 but I can't go any higher than that.
A Decent Statham Vehicle... Not Much Else Though
When Parker came out, I was ready to catch any Jason Statham led vehicle in the theatre or on DVD. I saw the trailer for Parker, and I was into it. Jennifer Lopez and Michael Chiklis were interesting casting choices and Nick Nolte had just helped make Warrior one of my favourite movies ever. Add in some fighting and gunplay and an anti-hero with a code and it looked like a drink at the bar specifically mixed for me. I had no knowledge of the previous Parker movies or the character from the graphic novels, so I just was going on the cast and the trailer. There was little else to distinguish it from other characters Jason had played but he very rarely lets me down, so I was prepared for that leap of faith.
We're used to seeing Jason Statham doing all manner of dangerous stunts and elaborate action set pieces. The key question about Parker becomes does the movie Parker bring anything new to the table to distinguish it from other Statham features? The answer is sadly no. The fighting is gritty, but it's firmly grounded in reality. The scenes don't disappoint, and I concede that Parker doesn't have to go to the levels of Crank or the Transporter series to provide an entertaining product. I was surprised at how typical and indistinguishable the fight scenes were. To be fair, this is a heist movie as well instead of just an action flick but instead of giving the audience something to talk about with people being stabbed and shot, the movie is content to fill the quota instead of expanding on it. From the action aspect, it reminded me of a not as well shot Jason Bourne where everything is quick and fast, punches are thrown and land, but you don't get the wincing from the audience or the development of Bourne as a character to make you feel that right cross instead.
The characterization goes a little deeper than normal (compared to your average action movie) for the character of Parker. We get to know Parker, his code, his friends and his relationships with the women in his life. These are all good things, it counts because the movie doesn't have much else to lean on. The problem is that there is little development for the supporting characters. Leslie's back story is told through exposition and after Hurley and Claire are introduced, they're just dropped. We also don't get much depth into Melander other than he's a no-nonsense type who will do anything to get his way. Giving Parker depth was a good decision, but a better movie would make you invest in the other characters as well even if Parker is still clearly the centre of the flick.
Looking at the cinematography and the locations where the movie was shot, it seemed like it was done pretty cheaply but the movie did have a fair-sized budget. After nixing that theory, the conclusion I came to was that I just don't think that there was a lot of extra effort put into it. It's kind of generic for an action movie and a little goofy for a heist movie. It doesn't strain plausibility more than any other studio budgeted film, but it's got a slapped together feel and could have used finer brush strokes. The final heist seemed to come together a little too easy and the scene following was a little anti-climactic. But I also concede with so many action movies coming out, to create something ground breaking can be difficult so there are obstacles to overcome.
I get a little tired defending Jason Statham sometimes. He does have some acting chops, the Bank Job, Snatch and even Crank all show that he does have range even if he doesn't often get much of an opportunity to show it. He has a ton of screen presence and an intricate knowledge of how to perform interesting action sequences. But much like the action sequences in Parker, his acting job in Parker falls in the middle of the pack. He shows up to work and goes the motions but whether it's how the character is written or what they decide to shoot, the other facets of Statham's acting don't come across. To be fair though, there is a point where Jason has to do a Texas accent and it's as bad as you expect it to be. Jennifer Lopez tried her best with a character that didn't seem very organic to this plot. Her character motivation changes on a dime and the movie can't decide how proactive she wants to be in helping Parker. She is sexy but I found it weird how the movie played up the romance between her and Parker (it amounts to nothing in the end). Rounding out the important players, this wasn't Michael Chiklis' best work. I found it hard to take him seriously as a threatening villain, I don't know if that's because he shows up as a clown in his first scene, but I didn't think it came across well regardless. It also didn't help that his henchmen were caricatures, it only made the movie rely on him more.
There isn't too much more to say about Parker. There is a saying that it's easy to review the best and the worst but hardest to review what falls in the middle. That would sum up my feelings about Parker, it's not all that good but it isn't bad either. There are decent action scenes, okay acting, spotty characterization and mildly diverting plot elements. It all adds up to a 6/10 from me.
Lovelace Boasts Strong Work From Seyfried and Sarsgaard, Interesting but Tough to Watch
To quote Zac and Miri Make a Porno "porn has now gone mainstream, it's like Coke or Pepsi but with d!*#$ in it." It's no longer something novel, it's available at any time, it can be streamed to your computer with privacy and the availability of it is almost endless. Formerly taboo stuff like sexuality and lewdness is imbedded in our culture now where back in the early days of the porn industry, it was shameful and scorned upon. Linda Lovelace was "the first porn star" and this is one of two planned biopics coming out about what she went through, her rise and fall as it were. Being involved in porn is no picnic and I mean that wholeheartedly, people join up and leave because it takes a toll on you and if this movie is to be believed Lovelace went through that and some.
The first act of this film left something to be desired. It was your very typical rise to fame arc. Linda was an interesting character, but I have seen similar character arcs time and time again. The relative anonymity of the main character, meeting their partner that will push them to the top, the disapproving parents who can't give their blessing and how the character moves on and pushes forward. Did this movie do it well? Sure, but I was still bored despite the good acting. It is only when the movie reaches the second half payoff did the movie move on to capturing something different and moving onto its own path that it became interesting and engaging (in a darker and more unfortunate way).
When it reaches that payoff, the movie becomes about Linda having to escape the demons around her, some of them which she helped create. Just like any other rise to fame movie, the top isn't all it's cracked up to be, but this movie doesn't pull any punches. Amanda and Peter let you in on how brutal the marriage is between Linda and her husband. She is trapped in a hellish situation and he is a monster. He beats her, he takes all her money, he turns people against her, and he pimps out her and her image both in front of her and behind her back. She has no one to turn to including her family who won't help because of her sordid career. It's heartbreaking to watch her struggle at certain points in the movie. It gave the audience something to chew on as opposed to the cliché it could have been.
I will start with the dual leads in this movie and they both do an excellent job. I am a fan of Amanda Seyfried, she's beautiful and talented but she's also frequently miscast. This isn't as risqué as Chloe and requires more of a complete range of emotions. I think she does a really good job here, Oscar worthy? Maybe not but this is another solid addition to her resume. This is one Peter Sarsgaard's better performances (his screeching in Green Lantern is on the other side of the spectrum). He's a force in this movie. He seduces Linda in the beginning, but you realize that he had a darker purpose for her in mind all along. He's a sadistic @$$hole, sociopathic even and through his performance, you hate him.
I was impressed with the supporting cast too. There's a lot of different people making cameos and most of them are excellent. Even in small roles actors like Robert Patrick or Adam Brody or Hank Azaria did really good work. One of the cameos I was a little confused by was James Franco as Hugh Hefner. It was such a small role for an A list star, and it wasn't all that memorable really.
The message of the movie is clearly pronounced but I didn't find it to be too overbearing. The story is more about the struggle about one woman as opposed to all women in the porn industry, but the subtext is there. I repeat what I said in the opening, the porn industry is a tough racket, especially for the female performers and it should only be entered with eyes open and as a carefully calculated decision. I think that's what Linda Lovelace was trying to say in all her work after she escaped the industry, along with having to suffer through domestic abuse. The movie's ending seems a little abrupt and mostly cuts off showing you how Linda became an activist, but the arc had been pretty played out, so I didn't have a problem with it.
What I haven't talked about yet is how this is a period piece. For being set in the 1960s, the movie acquits itself well with the sets, props, clothing and all the other facets. The cinematography is solid, and I was impressed throughout with the work put in. The camerawork is solid if unspectacular. There are a lot of scenes shot through early film filters and with a grainy screen and it all looked good. There was an effort to make the movie look and feel authentic to its time period.
Lovelace starts off slow but thankfully it gains some traction later. The story is interesting (even though the validity of it is questioned), the acting was good throughout. The elements of the time period were pronounced and on point and the main character earned the justice and peace that she got in the end (again considering what the movie tells us). Approximately halfway through the movie, I wasn't interested and had a completely different rating in mind, but I was entertained in the end and I was impressed.
A Disappointing and Puzzling Misfire
I was so sad about the result of this movie. It seemed to have so much going for it. It was built off a classically crappy predecessor so it would look good by comparison even if it wasn't all that great, they brought in 2 really unique directors who one would think they would bring a different kind of spin to the genre and an actor that was really committed to making a great movie and an accurate representation of a character they loved. It should have worked... woulda, coulda, shoulda.
If you were able to catch this movie's "wonderful" predecessor, Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) is a former stunt rider, doing all manner of dangerous stunts but he made a deal with the devil that has come to human form as a man named Roarke (Ciaran Hinds), to save his father's life. In return he had to give the devil his soul and become the Ghost Rider. The Ghost Rider is a demon charged to punish sinners, no matter what they did and no matter how brutal the manner of the disposal is. He got a raw deal as the devil killed his father the next day via a different cause and Johnny was cursed to endure as the Ghost Rider for the remainder of his days. Johnny has gone into self imposed exile to try and control his burden.
Now if you're like me, you look at the summary I've posted above, and you might realize; there's not a lot there. That's where the problems lie in this movie, there isn't the necessary material to go on here. The plot just keeps jumping all over the place, not maintaining the story, the character development or even the tone. It can't maintain any sense of consistency. I really think that the script was the problem here. The dialogue is really bad; it seems almost comedic, in a terrible sort of way. There is one good action scene but even that's odd, the rest of the fighting or car chases are pretty boring. The whole movie seems like it's going for the whole so bad its good feel but at the same time, there are certain scenes where it's trying to be serious. If the goal was the tipping point between utter terribleness and wonderful camp than they certainly did achieve it. But I can't see someone throwing this kind of money at a property like that. Even the jokes weren't funny. They use the typical one liners but they aren't even satisfied with that, they start to rely on one word punch lines with no setup at the end of the film.
While I mentioned that the movie seems to be played up for comedy in an effort to ease the awkwardness of it, I do have to give credit to Nicolas Cage for being 100% committed to this role. He really threw himself into this and as corny as it sounds, I could tell that he was really excited about the project. I think the material let him down, that and Neveldine and Taylor's schizophrenic filmmaking. The rest of the actors weren't very good but it wasn't so much them, it was their characters. I really like Idris Elba, he's been really good in everything I've seen him in but for a drunk monk, he's not interesting here. Ciaran Hinds is a good actor and he's entertaining as the devil at first but then the movie undercuts him completely. Johnny Whitworth was good in Limitless but he plays maybe the most uninteresting character here. As Ray Carrigan he was fine but when he later becomes Blackout, he just stares into the abyss like he froze. Lastly, I though the kid actor Fergus Riordan was pretty bad. He's really wooden and there's nothing to him for being the possible vessel for the devil.
What saves this movie from being really terrible though is Nicolas Cage's performance and that the concession that the movie does boast some really good CGI. It's easily a vast improvement over the first Ghost Rider and the character looks really cool. It lends to the action too, the scene you see in the trailer where he turns the crane into a hellish vehicle is pretty impressive just because of the CGI. In fairness to the directing team, in some scenes Neveldine and Taylor's camera work does add a little, it gives the film a similar edge that they used in Crank so well. They also bring in some cool animation in a couple of sequences. Visually, I thought they absolutely nailed it.
I kept trying to give this movie more credit than it deserved. 2 solid aspects can save a movie but it just wasn't enough here. The script deserves the blame, I think this was a project where they brought in the right people to act, film and do the CGI but the script needed to be punched up a lot, some punch up work on the dialogue would have gone a long way, let alone creating an interesting story. Those who defend this would say I'm not taking the movie for what it is, but I tried to meet it on every level, and I really was disappointed. I did enjoy this movie better than the first Ghost Rider but by the end it's a big hot mess. I would give it a 4/10 just for the sheer insanity of it but I would not recommend it.
This Is the Police (2016)
Hidden Gem of a Strategy Game
If you're really into complex strategy games that really emphasize strategy and tax you mentally, This is the Police might be too simple. But as a casual strategy gamer, there was enough there for me to scratch that kind of an itch without overwhelming detail. You not only have to prioritize which calls to send officers to, you have to balance how heavily to invest in crisis situations when there could be another emergency across town. Which investigations need to be pursued, whether to arrest or flip a suspect to take down a gang, who to back between two feuding mafia operations. It kept me busy but still didn't overload me, which helped me appreciate the game a little more.
My favourite part of the game was the character development of main character Jack Boyd and the hard choices he has to make. I love games where you get to make choices and they have weight. Boyd is cranky, disillusioned, corrupt and his patience with the criminals in Freeburg has run out (you decide how corrupt he is, choices run from casual bribes to ruthless assassinations) but he still has the makeup of a tenured official who tried to do his best to keep law and order. The game allows you to alter how he handles the twilight of his career as the police chief (insert poem about raging against the dying of the light) and once again, the creative team knows how to walk the morally grey line between making Jack a scumbag or a beaten down and forgotten hero.
This is the Police also boasts a different style of animation. Its minimalist enough to be different and but vivid enough to be pretty in its own way. I also really enjoyed the voice acting from Jon St. John as Jack Boyd. His performance was reminiscent of an alcoholic private detective in a black and white noir film, building off his well written dialogue which helped you sympathize with Jack even in his worse moments.
The low point of This is the Police is the downer of an ending. I get what they were going for and I think if you're not a Jack sympathizer, I think you'll find it fitting. But Jack goes through so much and to just slam to door shut on his legacy and his work was a tough pill to swallow. The ending missions are difficult and while it may be more realistic considering his actions, it felt like a let down.
I wasn't crazy that I didn't get to play all of the days in the game but if one of my negative points is that I didn't get to play more, that may tell you something. I really enjoyed this game, it hit a harmonious balance of decent game play and an involving story. It doesn't break new ground but it is a fun entry in the genre. If you're interested, get it on sale through Steam or on your preferred video game console.
Fighting with My Family (2019)
Florence Pugh and Stephen Merchant Help Turn Fighting With My Family into a True Main Event
Paige is easy to get behind as a character and while you're rooting for her all the way, I did like the fact that the movie also doesn't make her infallible. She's dismissive of the other women trying out because of their physical beauty and their former jobs. Surprisingly, I came down on the other women's side of the argument (how often does that happen?). I also appreciated that her training wasn't a walk in the park and how her separation from her brother deeply affected her confidence. They largely handle her "fighting" with her brother in a believable manner, its easy to understand him being jealous, as is her response to his selfishness. The Knight family dynamic is pretty realistic, they're dependent on each other and they're bond is deeply rooted in their shared love of wrestling. So I like how writer/director Stephen Merchant approached the story and these characters, it was done with some care even if the minute details were tweaked.
Fighting with My Family boasts a capable cast of veterans who know how to make the most out of the material presented. Nick Frost, Vince Vaughn, Lena Headey and Dwayne Johnson have all been around the bend and are all beloved performers for various reasons. They all have some laugh out loud funny moments at different points in the movie and its a credit to both their performances and to writer/director Stephen Merchant to get the best stuff out of them (Vaughn isn't amazing but I haven't seen him be this consistently funny in a long time). But this movie belongs to Florence Pugh and her work is the key reason that Fighting With My Family works as well as it does. She does a good job in the ring (despite not being a trained wrestler) and she capably performs both the comedy and the drama. I had only previously seen her in Outlaw King (where she also shined in a thankless part) and I think she's got the chops to do whatever she sets her mind to in this business. I also liked the dynamic between her and her co-star Jack Lowden who plays her brother Zack Knight. Their relationship is the linchpin of the movie and you get her brother's regret and jealousy through Jack's performance.
There was a time where I was a wrestling fan (not during the period this movie takes place) so I have a casual familiarity with the sport. I think the wrestling sequences are fairly well shot, there's nothing here that's going to take your breath away but there's some well represented scenes of fundamental wrestling that don't always get the attention. I also think the movie has good cinematography throughout, they walk a line where they show the not so fun side of this lives of this family without stopping the movie dead for you to wallow in their misery. It came across as authentic without being overbearing.
When I think about genres that have the most familiar plot beats or the most repeated cliches, movies about sports have to be at the top or near the top of the list. When someone subverts them (for me Rush is a good example), you really take notice and Fighting with My Family just about gets around it. Through the dialogue, the jokes and the performances, its able to dodge and weave like a crusierweight fighting the world heavyweight champ. But in the last half hour, the heavyweight finally catches it in a hold and suplexes it back into the pile of cliches. I liked Paige and the Knight family as characters but this movie got pretty cheesy at the end of it. I had to hold back a couple of groans in Paige's final moments before her first match on Raw. It didn't wreck Fighting with My Family for me but it took a little of the shine off the belt. No movie based on a true story is factual and there is always dramatic licence but even my friend who I saw this with was able to point out the non-believable parts centred around Paige's wrestling and career and even she's far from a diehard fan. So while some parts of the movie are close to the story, its obvious where the movie isn't and its too bad.
I think this is a fun and relatively unique biopic that balances well enough to get the job done. It doesn't reinvent the formula but it doesn't have to. The writing is sharp, the central performance is great and Fighting with My Family achieves what it what wants to achieve. It's not aiming for awards and its not geared toward the wrestling fanatics, its made for the general audience and to bring them into this world with a loving eye and a topical story (Paige is an underdog who helps bring legitimacy to the WWE Women's Division). I'm happy to recommend this to fans of the WWE, the uninitiated and the curious and to fans of the writer and the cast. I'd give Fighting with My Family a 7.5/10, rounding up to an 8/10.
Captain Marvel (2019)
Interesting New Hero in a Solid MCU Origin Story
I'm not familiar with the character of Captain Marvel from the comics so coming in as a fresh face, I think they did a good job of developing her from start to finish. They even utilize a couple of story devices that I'm getting sick of like the protagonist suffering from amnesia. I feel like the Bourne movies made that a popular story element and its been repeated again and again. But in Captain Marvel, it allows us to learn about Ms. Danvers without her losing her resolve or requiring a huge exposition dump near the start of the movie. They integrate her flashbacks well and in an artistic manner to make them more palatable. I was interested in where Danvers had come from and while her overall arc may not break the mould, they gradually feed you little bits of her personality. This helps keep your interest up and helps the movie get through some of the slower scenes.
I also like how the movie plays with the idea that changing perspectives on a situation can shine a light on what's really going on. There's a curveball thrown in with the Skrulls that was inspired for a comic book movie and I liked how Carol had the wherewithal to figure out what was going on and adjust. Her motivation was pure but there was room for interpretation because of how much she was altered by her experiences. It was a nice touch and I appreciated how the movie wasn't committed to a very straightforward and simplistic narrative.
The controversy surrounding Captain Marvel centres around it's star Brie Larson because of some comments she made. I think that its largely overblown and it shouldn't affect how you perceive the movie. I think she's great as Carol Danvers and her performance is the engine that drives Captain Marvel. She hits all the right beats and has the makings of a formidable player in future Marvel movies. She didn't blow me away but I expected good things and she met those expectations. Samuel L. Jackson is charming and charismatic in everything and he works well with Larson to form a pretty solid duo. Annette Bening got an interesting part as Dr. Wendy Lawson and the Supreme Intelligence and I think she made the most of her screen time. I initially groaned when I saw that Ben Mendelsohn was playing Talos, he's a great actor but he's been in so many villainous roles lately, he's being oversaturated. But due to the nice twist with his character, he sold it and was an effective member of this cast. Lashana Lynch was good with what she had to work with, her best scenes come in the last act and she got her chance to shine. I also thought Jude Law did well in his role as Yon-Rogg who serves as an early mentor to Vers.
As much as I want to tell you that Captain Marvel revolutionizes the genre and will be remembered as the pinnacle of Marvel's stable of movies, that's not the case here. I'm going to put it in the really good but not great category, objectively there's nothing wrong with that but Captain Marvel represents a solid execution of the Marvel playbook with only a few surprises. I did genuinely like the twist with the Skrulls but I'm not going to be walking away applauding how bold and fresh Captain Marvel is outside of that. The 2nd act has stretches that border on being too slow, they aren't without purpose but the pace does have a little slack in it. The only other real complaint I had was it would have been nice to see more action with Danvers using her entire power set. We get some good scenes at the end but as she even says that she's been fighting "with one hand tied behind my back."
I was lucky enough to see this with 2 friends and we all walked out of the movie shrugging our shoulders but largely singing Captain Marvel's praises. We all agreed that it featured good performances from the cast, that they weaved the Carol Danvers storyline into the larger MCU as well as they could have (including utilizing some well worn plot threads like the hero having amnesia or the twist reveal of the real antagonist) and that Captain Marvel amounted to artistic and fun execution of the MCU origin story. I don't think this will be remembered as one of the best MCU movies and much like recent comic book movies Wonder Woman and Black Panther, it will have a hard time living up to all the hype surrounding the production. There are some slow stretches (mostly in the middle) and while it executes the formula well, there isn't much that's going to shock or surprise if you're familiar with most of the movies in the MCU. But this is a movie that at minimum achieves what it wants to achieve and has some shining moments scattered throughout the film. As long as you haven't turned against it already, I think you'll have fun with Captain Marvel and its worth checking out in the theatre.
Everything Continues to be Awesome in The Second Part
The Lego Movie 2 picks up immediately where the first one left off and I liked the direction they took the story. The plot is even more zany, the transition from scene to scene barely gives you room to breath but this is a charming element that keeps the dynamic energy of the movie pumped up. They build on the characters in a meaningful way (Emmet's happy go lucky personality clashing with the dark and broody environment that is Apocalypseburg). My best friend pointed out that they trick you into believing you're spending more time with your favourite side characters from the first one when they get very little meaningful screen time which is too bad. The original featured a moment in the 3rd act where the story shifted dramatically, the rug pulling moment from the first one (the reveal of Lord Business and how the story was really playing out) is a bigger shock. The same moment in The Second Part is more evident and alluded to throughout but it doesn't take any of the emotional punch away from it. I actually thought the message of the movie was very heartfelt and it was the one area that surpassed the original.
Even if you played with LEGO as a kid, I doubt your imagination could have matched what they do with the animation in both entries of this franchise. You have rolling seas of LEGO that could rival the visual style of Disney's best or entire worlds comprised of bright colours with characters dancing on a giant pink wedding cake. The frenetic pace of the movie makes that style even more impressive, things change so quickly and with such variety, there's always something eye catching or stunning to keep your eyes busy. I loved all the different environments that we were introduced to through the imagination of these kids. The character design is also great, the new characters they bring in with the Duplo figures and Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi have unique features that separate them from the rest of the pack but are nonetheless fun.
The Lego Movie featured an "awesome" catchy song in the centre of it, I defy anyone with any kind of a heart to deny that they were humming Everything is Awesome a couple of days after checking the original movie out. I don't usually comment on a movie's soundtrack, but I thought the musical numbers in here were a lot of fun and they added something to the movie. Both of Queen Watevra's songs (Not Evil and Gotham City Guys) were well written with some funny meta material tossed in (plus Tiffany Haddish did a passable job delivering them) and Everything is Not Awesome helped punctuate one of the movie's darker moments in a sweet way. The Catchy Song doesn't hit the peak that Everything is Awesome does, but the soundtrack was surprisingly memorable overall and bringing back The Lonely Island for the credit song was a nice final touch.
The humour was one of the defining parts of The Lego Movie, not only were the jokes firing like they were shot out of a mini-gun but they were very self referential and carried the original directors' signature style (Phil Lord and Chris Miller who only return as screenwriters in this one). This also carries over to good effect. There were a lot of jokes aimed at the adults in the crowd and most of them had me laughing. There's a couple of gags where they overplay their hand (the joke with the banana should have been done once or twice) but I was impressed overall.
Almost everyone returns from the first one in the voice cast (Will Ferrell's limited involvement is played up for laughs) and there wasn't much of a change. Chris Pratt and Elizabeth Banks are still great as Emmet and Wyldstyle. Pratt pulls double duty as Rex and I thought I was going to get annoyed with the second character, but he pulled it off. Will Arnett is still perfectly cast as the voice of Batman, Tiffany Hadish and Stephanie Beatriz were good additions to the cast as The Queen and General Mayhem. Alison Brie, Charlie Day and Nick Offerman were wonderful as holdovers from the first one.
The Second Part is a stellar continuation of the franchise even if the first is still the better film. It moves at a fast pace, there's more than enough jokes that will have both the kids and the adults laughing (even if the first one is still funnier), the voice work is still top notch and I think it even surpasses The Lego Movie with a genuinely sweet emotional message. I think its a great movie for the whole family and if you enjoyed the first one, this is a no brainer to go check out. This is the sequel that the franchise deserved and considering how big of a letdown Ralph Breaks the Internet was, I was just happy they were up to the task of carrying this franchise forward.
Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
An Impressive Sequel, Magnificent Work From Landon, Rothe and the Crew
Happy Death Day wasn't my favourite movie from 2017 but it was in my top 10 and it qualified as the biggest surprise of that year for me. It was a solid slasher movie with a lot of funny material and a unique take on the time loop concept. The trailers for Happy Death Day 2U didn't deter me from seeing it but it looked like they could be repeating the successful formula from the first one. What may be the most surprising part of Happy Death Day 2U is the fact that other than providing a recap of the first movie, so little of it is recycled. This isn't a horror movie, its a science fiction/comedy mashup with horror and romance elements thrown in. It not only works but it works so well that it rivals the first one in execution for me. They broaden the scope of the movie and it switches genres. I can't think of another sequel (I'm sure there has been somewhere, I just can't think of one off the top of my head) that boldly chooses to go in a completely different direction. It not only makes that choice but it succeeds at it completely. The best part is that 2U is that while it is inventive, it retains a lot of what worked previously. The sense of humour carries over and there's more than enough funny material to go around. I laughed a lot throughout it was key that they kept things light to keep the pace up.
The movie choosing to change things up was the biggest surprise but the wonderful development of the characters was just as impressive. Tree's development into being a better person was a highlight of the original Happy Death Day, it added an interesting dynamic to the story. Tree continues to grow (no pun intended) and I have to hand it to writer/director Christopher Landon for developing the characters further with new aspects without just repeating the same arc. With Tree facing the same scenario but with many changes, the characters are the same yet completely different and it keeps things intriguing. While 2U was funny there were also some emotional moments that were very heartfelt. I liked how the original included the evolution of Tree's relationship with her dad, they double down on that in this one with the surprise inclusion of someone from Tree's past. The genuine joy that comes out of that realization for Tree and the pain that it causes later had a lot of pathos that you wouldn't expect from this type of movie
Jessica Rothe's second performance as Tree is a fantastic work. 2U requires so much varied work from her doing physical comedy to involving drama and she pulls it off handily. She's outstanding here and I really hope she's on her way to bigger things because this is a great follow up performance. Almost the entire supporting cast returns and they all perform capably. Rothe and Israel Broussard still have a lot of chemistry as Tree and Carter, and their relationship has some sweet moments scattered throughout. I liked that they gave both Rachel Matthews and Ruby Modine different things to do as Danielle and Lori. They both were fun to watch. I also thought Phi Vu was better utilized in this movie as Ryan, it was cool that they took a minor character from the first one and expanded on his part. Vu's performance helped make that a solid choice.
I'm sure plenty of people will be complaining about the genre shift and tonal change from the first entry in this potential franchise and while I did have to adjust but it didn't bother me. I only had a few complaints when it comes to this movie. Just like the first one, they border on having too many twists when they're wrapping up. I liked all of them but the movie wants to bring a lot of new elements in at the end and the final 15 minutes feels a little overstuffed. They also jam some of the more juvenile bits of humour in the very beginning and the very end of the movie that can feel a little out of place tonally.
I was a huge fan of the first Happy Death Day and if you made me pick I still think the first one is a better stand alone film. But Happy Death Day 2U is wildly creative, the script is really sharp and Jessica Rothe proves how wonderfully versatile she is in another great lead performance. People always complain about sequels just being carbon copies of the original or that the plot is recycled or how originality in movies is dead. I was blown away by how Landon and his team were unafraid to blaze a different path with the continuation of this potential franchise and give the audience something fresh to chew on. If you're stuck on having another slasher movie, this might not be your cup of tea but I can't recommend this highly enough. If you enjoyed the first one and can keep an open mind, go see Happy Death Day 2U.
Hit and Run (2012)
Hit and Run is a Flaming Wreck of a Misfire
If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. I guess that's the approach director/actor/writer Dax Shepard took when making the action/comedy Hit and Run. He filmed the movie, drove the cars, wrote the script and was even involved in the casting process. He brought in his real life girlfriend Kristen Bell and got his good friend Bradley Cooper to do it for free. Now what you as the viewer have to decide is that is it noble that Shepard decided to undertake this project when he would have to shoulder the responsibility or is it incredibly self-indulgent that he had to be so involved?
This movie is more or less about one thing (not the stale jokes) and those focal points are sick looking cars. If there is a defense to be made for Hit and Run it is that it features some awesome automobiles and interestingly shot car chases. Now they don't make sense, they defy logic and physics in certain cases but they are cool to look at and they were diverting enough. I will also give credit to Dax Sheppard for doing all his own driving in the movie as most actors would pass that off but he took it head on and my hats off to him for that.
I didn't enjoy the acting but the biggest problem with this movie is definitely the script. Very few of the jokes hit (maybe one for every half hour) and I wouldn't blame the delivery from the actors/actresses because they don't have a punchline or even an ending to them. On that level, Hit and Run is very reminiscent of Tower Heist. There is a lot of "high minded" jargon with no actual payoff. Not only is that offensive but the movie is highly prejudicial with its treatment of LGBT community and some of the jokes border on racist. I'll laugh at risky jokes, but they have to be funny, you can't put a stereotype on screen and make jokes at his expense, it's just plain tired. There is also a scene in the trailer where tells Charlie that he was sexually assaulted in prison and the first thing Charlie does is try to guess what race the offender is based on prejudicial notions. The film isn't trying to be nasty but compounding on top of the fact that the jokes aren't funny is that the movie is just throwing insults at certain groups for comedy. Again, it's not new or offensive to target certain demographics but you have to be funny, otherwise you're just going to piss everyone off.
A final note on the script is that the characters behave in ways that make no sense in the context of what's going on around them. Charlie has to make an effort to lose blank in one scene, so what does he do? He does doughnuts around him for 2-3 minutes before taking off. How is that the right action in dangerous circumstances? Also in a pursuit by Charlie heads into an abandoned airfield which only has one entrance and one exit, how is he supposed to lose them there? Why Annie would put her teaching certificate in a photo album when she's going to need that for any job application? Its little things that hold the plot of this movie up for scrutiny and before you say "Why would you give The Dark Knight Rises a pass for plot holes and get mad at this movie for the same thing?" I would tell you that this movie doesn't have the redeeming qualities to distract you from the gigantic plot issues.
The acting in this movie ranges on mediocre to terrible. I think the actors that acquit themselves best are the 3 headliners. Dax Sheppard and Kristen Bell are both easy to like (Kristen is an underrated talent that's finally getting her due) and they play off each other very well. They aren't bad but they aren't particularly interesting or funny, especially when you reach the plot twist that the entire movie relies on. They certainly can't elevate the dialogue or the ideas which is too bad. I was hoping that Bradley Cooper would be able to turn the movie around as he doesn't show up early on but he's not funny or even memorable either, despite the crazy hair he's sporting. He's a really good actor but the material pulls him under and even he can't rescue Hit and Run. Chenoweth probably got the only solid laugh of the movie from me but she's barely in this. Lastly, Michael Rosenbaum and especially Tom Arnold are embarrassing themselves here.
I did get angry watching this movie and about 2/3 of the way in; I considered walking out. I desperately wanted to go along with it because I thought it had a good trailer, a solid premise and an interesting cast but I was dead wrong. There are few things worse than a confusing, stupid and terribly unfunny comedy. Sure, there are cool cars, but I'll go watch the Fast and the Furious franchise (even though the mileage on those movies is decreasing) for that, at least they succeed on some level. I would give Hit and Run a 3/10, it legitimately p!$$ed me off . I don't want to blame Bell or Cooper too much for this but because he did it all himself, he has to take the blame as well as the credit and there's more than enough blame to go around.
Your Highness (2011)
Maybe They Shouldn't Aim for the Easy/Dirty Jokes 100% of the Time?
Genre mash-ups are fun, there are plenty of good examples: Pineapple Express (buddy comedy mixed with stoner film mixed with action flick), Beverley Hills Cop (crime drama mixed with comedy), Priest (western mixed with science fiction) among many others. So why not take the guy who directed Pineapple Express and a script by one of the stars of that movie and throw it in the medieval times? Because that sort of humour only works in certain scenarios. I'm not saying that this film didn't work on some level but at the same time the film isn't as genius as it sounds on paper.
The two best performances in the movie come from the 2 supporting leads. Natalie Portman is gorgeous as Isabel and is trying her hardest to sell her character. She commits and proves that not only can she play the badass despite her uncommon build for an action hero, but she has good comic timing. James Franco is also solid as Fabious. His character is probably the easiest to like and he can also be funny in the right project. The problem with the acting otherwise is our lead is playing the exact same character he always plays. I think Danny MacBride is funny but it's the same character from Pineapple Express just as a lead character and in the medieval ages. He does deliver some good lines, showing why he was so memorable in Pineapple Express or his TV projects like Eastbound and Down, but I am growing tired of how one note he can be. Zooey Deschanel wasn't used capably at all. She can be funny but not here and there just isn't much for her to do. Justin Thereoux was a throwaway bad guy, he looks funnier in the trailer than he really is. Toby Jones embarrasses himself though, I felt really sorry for him because I really like him in everything else I have seen him in.
Getting to some of the more negative aspects, the writing in Your Highness is downright lazy. I was laughing but I was ashamed at times for doing so. At points it was literally just dirty language jokes for 5 minutes at a time and it was groan worthy. They take some jokes too far (there's a joke about a minotaur d!$* that goes on for what seems like hours) and some don't make sense (the whole scene with the tribe of naked women was stupid) but that's the way the movie is pitched and that's how the movie is.
The plot is hard to follow too, not in complicated way but in a way that we as the audience are just told not to worry about it. I'm think scattershot with the story might be the right expression. The movie is more concerned with having Danny MacBride looking like a fool. The story comes in second to dirty jokes every time, much like every terrible R rated comedy you've ever seen. An R rating has to be utilized properly, only so many movies can just get away with dropping in bodily function jokes instead of an actual story. It's a get what you pay for scenario but there is absolutely zero depth to this movie period.
Now I've complained a lot about the acting, but I will admit that the movie was funny in a juvenile sort of way. It's the kind of stuff that you don't want to laugh at but you do because it's just so ridiculous. There are about 50 different d!$* jokes, I kid you not and I laughed at a lot of them. I liked the opening sequence with the dwarves too, I chuckled a lot. The effects were good too, surprisingly so in fact. There are decent creature designs and the Minotaur was pretty good. It was
I would describe Your Highness as very hit and miss with a lot of range between the 2 ends of the spectrum. It was funny when the jokes hit but things flopped hard in certain scenes. I think I was going to be kinder to this movie before I started writing this, but I did enjoy Natalie and James, plus there are funny jokes, its just not consistent. I give this movie a 5/10 and I think that's letting it off the hook for its flaws. I would recommend this movie to fans of Danny MacBride or fans of David Gordon Green's comedic directorial efforts, keeping in mind that it is not as good as a lot of his output (check out Pineapple Express or Joe). Lowered expectations are key to enjoying this film and if you keep that in mind, you just might have some fun.
Criminally Underrated and Extremely Involving
Formula One racing isn't a sport that I watch regularly but I certainly respect it more than its competing leagues. The tracks are complex, the opportunities to pass are limited and the pit stops must be carefully timed. But this movie isn't current F1 racing, this movie largely takes place in the late 1960s till the mid 1970s where it was far more dangerous and that much more invigorating because of it. We get a classic storyline of two rivals with two very different styles, they had to respect each other due to the sheer magnificence of their driving.
There are so many things that I want to praise this movie for. I guess I'll start with how thrilling the world of 1970s Formula One is. The cinematography, the sound effects and the camera angles make this as close to a racing experience as you can imagine. I literally felt like I was in one of the cars racing and I haven't had a theatre experience like that in a while. It was like being on a roller coaster, I got caught up in the "Rush" so to speak. The racing sequences are exciting, and the movie does a great job reminding you of how dangerous the sport is. One of the taglines for the film is "more powerful than the fear of death is the will to win" I couldn't agree more. People are decapitated, ripped apart, cars burst into flames, this is not a sport for the weak hearted. The movie is involving, white-knuckle tense and I couldn't turn away for even a moment.
Perhaps the biggest credit to Rush is how balanced and even the story is between the two main characters. Neither man is a hero, they both are arrogant jerks who are only interested in their own success. Lauda is cold, calculating, pompous but he has the wit and the skill to back up his big talk. Hunt on the other hand is like the handsome jock you knew in school. He is just as cocky, determined and unlikeable as Lauda but has the drive to win and the silver tongue to gain acceptance from the racing community. The movie does a great job showing you the virtues and faults of both men and amazingly enough you want both to come out on top. A good comparison on how well layered and how well balanced the characters are would be Warrior, another favourite of mine. It's a feat in storytelling and they pull it off perfectly here.
The acting in the movie is superb to say the least. Both leading actors give excellent nuanced performances that would be worthy of Oscar consideration. Chris Hemsworth seems like a logical choice for the charismatic and determined Hunt. Detractors from this movie claim that it's another typical Hemsworth performance, but I was really surprised with how effective he was at portraying the gauntlet of emotions that Hunt goes through. He has a ton of natural screen presence, but this movie shows he's got real leading man skills (outside of Thor) If I was forced to pick between them though, I would credit Daniel Bruhl with the best performance. I've only seen him in Inglorious Basterds but in this movie he does a flawless accent and has so many levels to his acting job as Lauda. You believe he is Lauda and he's just so wonderfully unlikeable, I would give him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Lauda is a complex man with a strict code and due to Bruhlh's performance he's captivating.
I've talked about the dual leads enough but another pleasant surprise about this movie is that it features some strong female characters. Olivia Wilde is only in the movie for a short period of time but she's good. Olivia is more known for her amazing good looks but she's a better actress than she's given credit for and has done some good work (House, Deadfall etc.). She's talented and she makes the most of her screen time. I also really enjoyed the performance of Alexandra Maria Lara as Marlene who is the woman who eventually marries Niki. She's feisty and she's a good match for Niki. She's strong, beautiful and she plays a critical role in shaping where Niki heads in the course of the movie. With a cast that lacks proven Oscar contenders, the acting is Oscar calibre and is one more firing piston in the proverbial engine that is this movie.
Much like any classic, the movie runs the gauntlet of emotions so well. This movie was sold to audiences through the trailers as an action/sports movie but it's more of a drama with some solid action scenes in it. I've gone on about how much it involves the audience in its plot but what I haven't mentioned is how tense and thrilling the end is. Its lean back in your seat and hold your breath type nerve wracking. The movie has its comedic moments as well, largely thanks to Hemsworth's charm and timing. The movie touches all the bases, making you want to cheer your favourite racer when they cross the finish line first and then drop your jaw in awe when they risk it all, almost killing themselves in the process.
Rush had all the action you could want but turned out to be a superbly crafted drama. It's a beautiful movie with some Oscar calibre acting and wonderfully stylish moments. It's my favourite movie of 2013 and it's one of the bigger pleasant surprises I've ever seen in a theatre. I'm giving Rush a 9.5/10 rounding up to a 10/10.
A Less Than Heroic Conclusion That Gets the Job Done
I saw Unbreakable far past when it premiered in theatres and I saw Split after it was released on DVD. I feel like I'm in the minority because I liked all 3 of the movies in this trilogy but I don't really get the cult following they've inspired. But people remember these characters and I liked the direction that they're creator (M. Night Shyamalan) decided to take some of them. David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is dealing out justice as part of a vigilante team with his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark). Their cover as owners of a security supply business was a nice touch. Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) is being held in a psychiatric ward and him being so heavily medicated to dull his intellect made some sense to me. I also thought bringing back Casey Cooke (Ana Taylor-Joy) as a sympathetic character towards Kevin (James McAvoy) was a step in a different direction (it didn't make a ton of sense, with what he did to her fellow captives, she's willing to hug him and hold his hand?). The only character that didn't feel natural was Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), the movie needed someone like her and the idea surrounding her character was interesting. But they make it pretty obvious she has ulterior motives from the start, and I was never able to buy into her trying to help David, Elijah and Kevin. So, while they didn't nail every transition, the creative team did a good job updating the characters and showing their growth.
Most superhero movies follow a similar formula and play the same beats in the song but one of the aspects that made Unbreakable special was it sought to tell a story of people with extraordinary abilities in a semi-realistic scenario. It didn't come down to a huge battle at the end and the movie had very real consequences for the world they constructed. That effort continues over into Glass. There's a focus put on the highly personal conflicts between the 3 main characters of the story and while they obviously didn't have the budget to do some jaw-dropping sequence, they still provided the requisite action to satisfy that part of the genre. I've said in a couple of my other reviews, it doesn't have to be about the world ending conflict every time. Give us some characters that we can attach ourselves to and create natural conflict as organically as you can (e.g. Wade Wilson and Francis/Ajax in Deadpool). I think they succeeded in doing that.
The big stars from the previous movies in the Unbreakable series all return in Glass, but one member of the cast gets more screen time than the other two. The sheer amount of energy and passion in James McAvoy's performance is stunning, he never comes across as scary for me but the acting gymnastics these characters put him through is crazy. I really enjoy watching McAvoy running well past 100% and he chews scenery in the most fun way possible. His performances in both Split and Glass make both movies worth checking out. Samuel L. Jackson is great but for being the titular character, he's in the movie far less than you would expect. I heard a lot of criticism about Bruce Willis' acting going in, but he did a fine job. You can tell its not him doing the action scenes any more, but he didn't phone it in like the reviews claimed he did. Spencer Treat Clark and Ana Taylor-Joy are strong in their supporting parts. I didn't think Sarah Paulson was up to the task but its not so much her performance as what she's saddled with.
I've been pretty positive so far, but Glass has a fair share of missteps. The first is the glacial pace that the movie goes along at. The action scenes are few (that's by design) but the movie fails to compensate and some of the scenes in the hospital come off as unnecessary or boring. The next is that the movie stretches plausibility pretty liberally. The amount of money invested in Kevin's, Elijah's and David's rehabilitation is a dead giveaway, the traps put in place can too easily be circumvented and Shyamalan puts a few too many twists in Glass and it makes the ending tough to swallow. The last problem is the poor dialogue which undermines many of the emotional scenes.
Unbreakable, Glass and Split all fall into the middle for me, they've definitely got their respective strengths, but I feel like their weaknesses are glossed over by their cult fan bases. The acting (McAvoy's performance especially is something to behold) and the commitment to telling a more grounded and intimate story keeps Glass interesting when the run time really begins to wear out its welcome. But M. Night is his own arch-nemesis because the pacing, the dialogue, the character choices and the twists (both of the minor and major variety) are all lacklustre. Even though I liked Glass more than I didn't, this is a disappointment considering the anticipation surrounding the Unbreakable sequel. I left the theatre feeling conflicted about Glass and while I think this will be a love it or hate it type of movie, it accomplishes its goal to expand this universe and pose a few questions about how superheroes and villains would function in today's world. I'd give Glass a solid but unspectacular 6.5/10 rounding up to a 7/10. If you're a fan, check it out in theatres but newcomers could wait on this if they're too busy.
Escape Room (2019)
Escape Room Stretches its Interesting Premise Into a Solid Horror/Thriller
Escape Room is another feature that is trying to start a franchise by keeping the budget down, so it doesn't have to gross a ton to break the bank (or to get the approval for the sequel). Normally, this might be considered a negative, but I think the creative team did an excellent job with the set design and the visual work for the traps. Each of them is frightening or pushes the envelope and the work done on them was good enough that I wasn't constantly questioning the logistics or how certain facets of the traps were plausible or implausible. They look great for a movie with a smaller budget and it was a pleasant surprise.
The escape rooms not only looked great, but I also really enjoyed the design of the traps and how the puzzle pieces fit together on how to solve them. It showed some imagination from the screenwriter, director and puzzle designer and the unpredictability sold the danger in each environment. The scarier elements of each room really show off how much potential this premise has (if you can forgive the fact it has similarities to Saw and Cabin in the Woods). Some levels in the game are stronger than others (my least favourite was the ice room) but I also liked how the solutions to the problems incorporated teamwork and outside the box thinking. Again, there's a surprising amount of inspired work in Escape Room and I appreciated that effort instead of just phoning it in.
While there's some interesting elements to the problems and environments our characters face, I wish the same detail had been applied to the script. The main group (comprised of 6-7 people) are all distinctive but they can't escape cliché when it comes to their personalities. We have the nerd, the pretty boy jerk, the social outcast etc. and I had hoped they would transcend such simple descriptions. As we find out more about them, you can understand how they're all bitter and why they don't want to trust each other but I think they could have worked a little harder on creating more unique characters. This is made worse by the dialogue being a little stilted. Almost all the jokes in this fall flat and it makes it harder to bond and root for our heroes (or villains depending on which character you're talking about).
Escape Room follows in the foot steps of other horror franchises like Saw and Final Destination in its premise, the plot progression and ultimately the actors and actresses they cast. I've already mentioned that Escape Room looks great on a modest budget, but it also follows the proud tradition of hiring so-so actors to fill out the cast. I thought there was 1 clear standout performance and it came from Deborah Ann Woll as Amanda Harper. The participants/players in Escape Room are neither pure victims or virtuous heroes but Deborah shone through and brought the most emotion to her arc as Amanda. I kept hoping she was going to get more screen time and she did the best she could with what could have been a very forgettable character. Tyler Labine was the next best, he's a good character actor and while they desperately needed to punch up his dialogue, he still managed to get a couple of genuine laughs out of me and he had a few effective dramatic moments. I think the rest of the main cast (Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Jay Ellis and Nik Dodani) were okay but they played a little too far into type. For example, Taylor is a little too reserved, Jay is too mean without any provocation and Nik Dodani is forced to keep playing the same note in his acting repertoire. They aren't helped by the dialogue and character development, but they all get the job done.
Escape Room benefits mostly from a great premise and low expectations. My best friend recommended this to me, and his recommendation carries weight. That's what convinced me to go see it. The puzzle design, the interesting set pieces and the overall look of the movie carry it past some of the more implausible moments and while the acting is a mixed bag, the cast does what they can while the material and dialogue try to drag them down. The ending features a nice twist, but it risks pushing the movie into some goofy territory to setup a sequel. I would love to see a sequel to Escape Room, it would give them a chance to build off this debut feature and further shape the idea into a really good movie (e.g. how they took the original Purge movie and drastically expanded on the idea in the sequels). I would give Escape Room a 7.5/10 for delivering a better than expected horror thriller but I can't go all the way to 8/10 because of some of the bigger problems. I'll round down to a 7/10. Its worth checking out but if you can't catch it in the theatre, I think you could stream it at home and have a good time.
Holmes & Watson (2018)
BIG Swing and a Miss From Ferrell and the Gang
I loved Will Ferrell's comedies as a teenager, the original Anchorman and Talladega Nights might be among my favourite comedies of all time. The last Will Ferrell comedy I really loved was The Other Guys. As the years have gone by, I haven't outgrown his movies, but I've realized Will always pulls from the same bag of tricks. When he has some decent material, you can count on him to be funny (the movies I mentioned above, Stranger Than Fiction) but if there's a crappy script or nothing to build off (Get Hard, The House, Daddy's Home 2) he just flails around and embarrasses himself. I don't want to let John C. Reily, Rebecca Hall, Lauren Lapkas, Ralph Fiennes or Steve Coogan off the hook either. None of them come out of this looking good, I felt sorry for them, but they took the cheque and agreed to be in this. I don't like to blame actors and actresses for a movie's failing, especially when its evident they didn't have material to work with, but this movie falls so flat it is embarrassing and nobody elevated themselves beyond the material.
A lot of the material for the comedy isn't period accurate, there's jokes around things like selfies and outright allusions to Donald Trump (which I normally would have laughed at, but it was too obvious). That's okay but they contrast that with decent looking sets and costuming to make the movie relatively accurate to the setting in time. This movie had a decent budget and they put it to good use. It makes the movie seem off and pulls the movie out of the decent work that the set designers, makeup artists and wardrobe did.
With all this complaining, you might think I'm a Sherlock Holmes purist or offended by the idea of a parody of Arthur Conan Doyle's work. This isn't accurate, I really dug the Robert Downey Jr. version of Sherlock Holmes and the Benedict Cumberbatch/Martin Freeman show. These characters are ripe for a comedic take but Holmes & Watson reeks of improv comedy. That can work but this probably wasn't the right property to do that with. This movie also does every gross-out joke including one where Watson is lactating from poison. Again, gross-out humour can work but it needs to be done with some tact and this felt like just pandering to the lowest common denominator.
By the halfway point I was embarrassed to be in the theatre watching this. I'm not above admitting that I chuckled a few times, mostly from jokes delivered by Rebecca Hall and John C. Reily but this was probably the worst movie I saw this year. The stuff that falls flat doesn't just awkwardly hit the ground, it burrows into it. I was hoping that Ferrell and Reily working together again would break Ferrell's recent streak but that didn't end up being the case. Avoid this at all costs whether you're a Sherlock fan or not, I'm giving this a 3.5/10 rounding up to a 4/10.
DC Takes a Step Back in AquaMEH
When I talk about movies I didn't like, I like to start with the positives before I start complaining nonstop. I'll talk more about Jason's portrayal of Aquaman but the biggest thing Aquaman has going for it is his casting in the central role. He wills this movie past some of its worst moments. I liked the design of some of the creatures of the deep, the CGI is all over the place but there were moments in the movie that the look of Atlantis and the underwater kingdoms were pretty cool. The action set pieces also had their moments, there were some fleeting bits in the final fight that caught my attention. I also thought there were minor character turns that made the characters easier to relate to (the one that comes to mind was when Arthur and Orm were about to do battle in the Ring of Fire and Arthur mentions that all he wanted as a kid was to meet his half brother and tell him that he wasn't alone and that they could get through it together).
There aren't going to be many positives for the rest of this review. The first thing that I didn't like from Aquaman was how the movie expected you to be emotionally invested in things without any setup. So much of the dialogue (much of it coming from Mera played by Amber Heard) is just an exposition dump, the movie shows you very little but insists on describing everything. Orm wants a war with the surface people because of the damage they are doing to the ocean, maybe showing us some of the problems the surface people are causing would bring the audience around to seeing things from his point of view instead of some CGI flashes? Orm's goal is to bring most of the oceanic kingdoms together but they have deep seeded grudges against the Atlanteans, could we see some of the problematic backstory that caused the clans to break apart? Why should we be invested in these things when we were just introduced to them and have no context? Seeing some of that would have been better than the whole desert sequence which had nothing interesting except more terrible one-liners. Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is just a hired gun for the enemy when you boil it down, why do we need to spend so much time with him when you could cut him out of the movie completely? Lastly, why should we care about the budding romantic relationship between Arthur (Jason Momoa) and Mera when the characters have no emotional connection when she shows up and they haven't spent more than a couple of days together? I could keep going but the movie acts like we already have a deep connection to Arthur Currie and Atlantis but minus a few moments in Justice League, this is their introduction.
About halfway through Aquaman, I realized if the cast didn't include so many actors and actresses I liked, I really would have turned hard on this movie. Jason Momoa has a bunch of charisma, he's easy to like and that carries over into this movie. There are times where his enthusiasm is so infectious that I started to get distracted from how cringe-worthy his dialogue was. He can't save the movie with the terrible jokes and lines he has but he did what he could. I felt sorry for Amber Heard when I watched Aquaman. She seemed like she was one big break from hitting the big time for a while there (to reach the Jennifer Lawrence, Brie Larson or even Anne Hathaway level) and this still isn't the right vehicle. Just like Jason, she's saddled with bad dialogue and an uninteresting romantic subplot, but she gives it her all. I thought Patrick Wilson gave the most committed performance, he's a regular collaborator with James Wan and while he's far from a memorable villain, he really delivers his lines like he was reciting Shakespeare. He's the type of actor I like even when he's not in great stuff and that continues in Aquaman. Temuera Morrison was my next favourite character, the best parts of the movie are when he and Momoa are hanging out in the beginning and they really feel like they could be father and son or at minimum friends. Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren and Willem Dafoe showed up for work but just went a little over the bare minimum when it comes to the energy in their performances. The most over-the-top acting comes from Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Manta, I almost was laughing when he had his big dramatic moment early in the film. Manta is a hugely unnecessary character in this however, so I'll give him credit for doing the best job he could even if he was chewing the scenery.
I'm not a DC hater I really enjoyed Wonder Woman and I enjoyed Suicide Squad despite its peaks and vallies in quality. I also like BvS, it got better with the ultimate cut but its a mixed bag of a movie. I went into Aquaman with low expectations, but the decent Rotten Tomatoes score gave me hope. I don't think this movie was as all over the place as Suicide Squad or Batman v Superman. It stayed at one level consistently, but it was consistently mediocre or bad. The likeable cast couldn't save this and while I didn't outright hate it, between the terrible dialogue, the embarrassing score (covering Africa with Pitbull? Really?) and the script elements that feel way too familiar or were covered better by better movies (think about the similarities between the arcs of Atlanna and Janet Van Dyne in Ant-Man and the Wasp), this is a disappointment and when I left the theatre with my friend and we were laughing at the movie. This is a 5/10 and I feel like I'm being generous.
A Darkhorse Candidate for My Favourite Movie of the Year
I didn't think much of the animation style of this movie when I saw the trailer, it didn't catch my eye and before I learned more about who was involved, my first thought was that it might be a straight to VOD or Blu Ray release. Getting to see it in the theatre, I was blown away. The animation is fantastic, it has its own sense of style, but the colour palette is bright, and the movie is constantly moving throughout its environments. It looks as good as any big studio animation movie for kids if not better. What makes it even more amazing is how the action scenes are put together. They're stunning, the movie is inventive with how they use their characters and you never lose focus of what's happening, but you feel the hits and each character gets bad@$$ moments to show what they can do. In a bloated superhero movie landscape, to get something that kept me this engaged from a visual standpoint is impressive.
I prefer my superhero characters to have rough edges and to have some flaws when they dole out justice. Its one of the reasons superheroes like Ironman or anti heroes like Deadpool work so well. I liked Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) as a character because he has a hard time picking up how to be Spiderman, because he has a hard time making the tough choices and because he's so new to this job. He also has some relatable problems (being homesick, trying to live up to expectations, having to choose between what's right and what's easy) that help endear him to the audience. He's a good kid at a difficult time in his life. I also like the fact that they have other superhero characters like Jake Johnson's Peter Parker, Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) and others to provide some contrast to his style of being Spiderman. But you also have more human characters such as Jefferson (Brian Tyree Henry), Aaron (Mahershala Ali) that present more real-world consequences and represent the different branches he could take depending on what he chooses to do. Especially with his family, things get dark and they really sell the drama of what's going on with Miles and the consequences of his actions.
You've got both the action and the drama but the best part of Into the Spider-Verse is the comedy. This movie is gut-busting hilarious, the dialogue is razor sharp and they aren't afraid to get meta or to poke fun at the genre. I saw this with a friend and she described it as Deadpool for kids with the film pointing out dialogue boxes, going into comics for visual representations of origin stories and pulling scenes out of the Sam Raimi Spiderman movies and making jokes about them. So much of the funny content in this movie comes from the alternate universe Spidermen and Spiderwomen and more specifically the Jake Johnson version of Peter Parker. He nails line after line and left me giggling every time. One of the small complaints I had about this movie is that it was so entertaining as a comedy, when it got dramatic (and to be fair those parts are done well too) I waited on the edge of my seat till the jokes started flying again.
The voice cast is good across the board and other than my continuous praise for Jake Johnson, everyone does at minimum a descent job. Again, some of my favourites were the alternate universe Spidermen with Nicolas Cage, John Mulaney, Hailee Steinfeld (Gwen is in that category) and Kimiko Glenn all doing unique takes on their characters to round out the cast. Chris Pine is solid in his all too brief appearance as Peter. I really like Mahershala Ali and Brian Tyree Henry as Aaron and Jefferson. Liev Schrieber does what he can as Kingpin, he doesn't get many dialogue heavy scenes, but he gets the job done. I also thought while Shameik was decent as Miles, he gave more of a nondescript performance.
This movie was an outright joy to watch. I had heard it was good going in, but it surpassed high expectations. My advice is don't just lump Spider-Verse into the group, it represents what superhero movies need to do to avoid plateauing. You have to change things up and try new things and I think this version of Spider-Man did that for sure. I'm eagerly awaiting a sequel from the same team and although I was late to see this, don't make the same mistake if you love this genre. I wholeheartedly recommend Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and I was close to giving it a 10/10 but I'll still go 9/10 for a couple of small missteps.
Vampyr is an Imperfect Product That Gets Enough Right to Make it Worth Picking Up
Checking out the marketing for Vampyr, the game sells itself on not only showing the "darker" side of being a vampire (as opposed to something like Twilight) but also on the player's ability to choose how much of that dark nature that's going to be revealed. Outside of combat, the player has the choice of drinking the blood of the non-playable characters they meet or leaving them be. This is one of the better aspects of Vampyr, to get more XP from drinking these character's blood, you have to get to know them a little better, to help treat their sickness and consider the consequences of what their absence would mean to those around them. Its a clever twist compared to most sandbox single player adventures where the player can murder anyone they want and face little consequence. I love games where choices matter and to help immerse you into this world, they create some characters that you aren't just willing to lead into a dark alley for nefarious purposes. Its not a ground-breaking achievement, but I did like the effort put into that aspect.
Moving from the supporting characters to the main character, Dr. Jonathan Reid is an interesting character to follow throughout Vampyr. He's my kind of protagonist, he's an anti-hero who is trying to come to grips with not only his new sickness but also the world he's come back to. He doesn't beat around the bush when he's questioning/interrogating those around him, he's helpful to the less fortunate but critical of the selfishness and lack of professionalism of his friends and colleagues. Your choices affect his demeanor, but his personality was about the right mix of ingredients for me. I also thought some good voice work from Anthony Howell helped sell the dilemmas that he faces throughout the game.
While there is a good amount of investigating to do in this game, the player can engage in a fair amount of combat as Reid. This is probably where the game runs into difficulty. Reid's actual combat style isn't new and the character progression down the skill tree is solid if unspectacular. But the two things that really got me were how repetitive the fight sequences were. You move from one end of London to the other and you still come upon the same groups of vampire hunters with the same number of people and even the same type of fighters. By the end of the game, I wasn't concerned with picking up XP from these fights anymore and largely ran, dodged or walked away from these fights. The other thing that bugged me is if you choose to try not to embrace as few citizens as possible, the boss fights are unreasonably difficult. There isn't a big variety in how to defeat these enemies, so you have to keep doing the same combos and attacks, but you also have to be more and more precise depending on how often you have leveled up. Vampyr lets you know, if you're having trouble, embrace more people for more XP but the game also lays on the guilt trip if you choose to do that. So, I felt like the game was pulling me in one direction but almost requiring me to go in the other just, so I could progress.
The Vampyr story is another beauty in the eye of the beholder aspect. Dr. Johnathan Reid is a gifted surgeon and a pioneer in the field of blood transfusion. He returns from war in France to his home of London, England but is immediately knocked out, transformed into a vampire, presumed dead and pitched in a mass grave. London is being terrorized by the Spanish Flu epidemic and few chances are being taken. Reid wakes up and unfortunately bites the first person in the vicinity because of the magnitude of his thirst for blood. Unable to come to grips with the murder he just perpetrated, he flees the area and tries to adapt to not only his new surroundings but to his new lifestyle as a vampire. This premise was interesting enough to get me on board, but the game lacks the non-stop action that many gamers will crave. The creative team does a pretty good job however spinning this narrative and combine that with some solid character development, you've got a story worth keeping up with.
I foresee this game gaining a cult following. It won't be for everyone and it's not like Vampyr's problems are hiding in the shadows like Dr. Jonathan Reid. You pick up on them rather quickly (frustrating and repetitive combat being the biggest) and if you're not invested in the characters or the premise, I would bet you'd be turning off your preferred gaming console (PS4, XBOX One or PC). But I did like the premise, the characters, the atmosphere and parts of the story and that kept me going. I would love to see a sequel to this because if they can improve upon some of the missteps in Vampyr, I think you would get that unanimous approval from the gaming community. Reid is an interesting enough anti-hero (depending on how you choose to play him) and he could anchor another game. The finished product is decidedly mixed, but I fall into the niche this game was aiming for. I give it more credit because it wasn't a AAA release, it was done on a moderate budget for a video game studio and while the lack of polish the game has is evident, they still created a game that's a new take on a vampires in video games and had enough style to standout. I wouldn't recommend buying Vampyr at full price, but I got it at a 50% off sale and I'm happy with the purchase at that amount. I'd give it a 7.5 out of 10 rounding up to an 8/10.
Adam McKay and His Stellar Cast Deliver a Funny and Thought Provoking Movie
I was able to see this at an advanced screening. What got me excited to go see Vice, along with the stellar trailer, was Adam McKay's involvement as the writer/director. His work on the Big Short was amazing and he's shown a lot of growth as a filmmaker. This was a big subject and with his ability to explain complicated issues, I was sure I was in for something memorable. I left the theatre impressed with the fact that he was able to replicate his style in Vice. He has the unique explanations and jokes down pat and while I wanted even more, the movie kept me entertained throughout with lots of laughs and some gripping drama.
With McKay being a famous democrat supporter, do you think he was a big fan of Dick Cheney (played here by Christian Bale)? The movie is definitely of the mind that he's a manipulative force that cares little for humanitarian solutions to terrible problems throughout the world as opposed to a patriotic visionary. But despite that, I was shocked that the movie tried to give Cheney some humanity through his interactions with his daughter Mary (Alison Pill). He also has a couple of tender moments with his wife Lynne (Amy Adams). I read interviews that McKay did where the question was if his movie about Cheney would be poorly received by both sides of the American political aisle. Is it too harsh for conservatives but too light for liberals? I think this is accurate, Cheney is sculpted throughout the movie he starts out as a dolt but slowly grows into his role and develops fangs of his own. It may be too middle ground for some, but I thought they played it almost right. Cheney's ending monologue shows how he really feels about his legacy (its right out of the House of Cards playbook and it was the best moment of the movie for me) but I'll credit McKay for holding back a little bit as opposed to going for the jugular.
If the subject matter doesn't immediately catch your eye, maybe the star-studded cast will. Christian Bale stars as our protagonist Dick Cheney, he's a total chameleon and I honestly forgot I was watching someone performing as Dick Cheney. The awards and accolades he's going to get for this are well deserved. The supporting cast are equally up to the task, Amy Adams does a wonderful job as Lynne. She's a veteran and she is owed just as much credit as her male co-stars for taking what could be a forgettable part and doing a lot with it. I thought Sam Rockwell did a more understated job as George W. Bush than I expected. He plays up Bush's confusion and ignorance, but his portrayal isn't as malicious, and I think he was great. Steve Carell has turned into an elite dramatic actor, he gets the job done here, I think he has the least amount of meat to his part but he's solid. There were lots of recognizable faces in cameo and brief supporting parts, some of my favourites were Jesse Plemons, Alfred Molina, Tyler Perry, Alison Pill, Naomi Watts and Don McManus.
I'm happy to keep showering this movie with praise but I also didn't completely fall in love with it. The first third to half of the movie can drag, it contains a lot of pertinent information about Dick and Lynne Cheney and while there are moments, there were stretches where I was waiting for it to pick up the pace. Vice has the wild sense of style that I wanted from it, with the cutaways for jokes and visual representations and they brought the laughs. I just wanted more of that in Vice. The trailer for this movie portrays Vice as a straight comedy, this movie also packs a lot of drama (its more dramatic than McKay's previous work the Big Short) and its deeply affecting. But while there are some small concessions to the Cheney family (more than I expected them to) the direction of the slant on Cheney's story is decidedly one way. I went to this advance screening with a conservative friend and it wasn't his cup of tea.
I love the direction that McKay's work is going, I still prefer the Big Short to Vice because it was more comedy than drama and it was such a fresh take on a complicated subject. While he also does a decent job of explaining the intricacies of Cheney's backroom dealings, he never loses sight of the point he's trying to make. Cheney's reign as VP led not only the USA but the free world in the direction we now find ourselves currently sitting in. This is another movie that knows who their audience is and disregards the rest, if you're conservative or a republican voter, don't expect different than what you see in the trailer. This isn't a heroic tale of Cheney, his family or his colleagues and while I was surprised that they gave Cheney some humanity, he's the villain of the piece for sure. I really enjoyed this but I'm firmly at an 8.5/10 and I must round up to a 9/10. If you're in the target demographic for the movie, are interested in seeing a funny but informative look about the George W. Bush administration or want to see what should be a big contender come awards season, Vice is definitely worth showing up to the theatre to see.