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Movie Breakdown: Coco

November 20, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I hadn’t even heard of Coco until I saw a commercial for it during a football game two or three weeks ago.  That’s super odd to me, especially since it’s a Pixar film.  Is this thing getting buried?  Or is it one of those films that zigged when I zagged and therefore I just know nothing about it?  I hope it’s the latter.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Coco starts slow.  So slow in fact that for the first chunk of it I kept having to repeat “I believe in Pixar” to myself so that I wouldn’t just go ahead and write the film off as pandering trash.  It’s that bad.  The narration is grating, the characters aren’t particularly likeable, and I could not at all figure out where co-directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina were trying to take the film.

Well, as it turns out, their destination was the Land of the Dead, and once Coco’s lead character, Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), finds himself there, the film becomes a delightfully different adventure that’s complete with bright colors, inspired designs and lots of Mexican culture (the songs are particularly great).  This shift honestly bowled me over, and by the end of the movie I was right on the verge of crying my whole soul out.  I don’t often get caught up in championing a film because it prominently features a woman, a minority or whatever, as I think it just somehow lessens the act while also occasionally making bad movies seem like good ones, but Coco legit feels like a culturally significant effort.  Maybe it’s the threat of Trump’s racist wall, or perhaps it’s because I’m half-Mexican, but I walked out wanting to convince everyone to see it.  Hopefully you will.

One Last Thought:

I think I’m going to learn Un Poco Loco and then make it my default karaoke song.  It’s so damn good.  You’ll see once you watch the movie and then can’t get the song out of your head.

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Movie Breakdown: Justice League (Noah)

November 15, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

It’s hard for me to think anything but horribly negative thoughts about Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, as it is absolutely one of the biggest failures of a film, big-budget of otherwise, that I’ve ever seen. Zack Snyder and DC Comics could barely handle Superman and Batman on the big screen together, so I’m setting my expectations terribly, terribly low and hoping that I won’t lose any friendships over this one.

Post-Screening Ramble:

It’s an amazing sight to see a film company course-correct in real time. To use a gazillion dollar film as a public response to the allegations of “grim-dark” tone and bad characterization is a fascinating thing. And there is no doubt that Justice League, with it’s hand-off between Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon and it’s extensive re-shoots, is just this. DC knew it messed up, knew that its last few films leaned too heavily on early-80s darkness and tinkered with a film that would’ve followed suit to make it a beacon of the shining light of not-dark they’re hoping to be. To do so, Snyder/Whedon bring Batman (old and broken Ben Affleck) together with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot showing she’s the real deal again) to bring together a league of fresh-faced superheroes to do battle with a horned guy who wants to blow up the world for his mommy. It is, frankly, a rehash of every superhero movie up to this point and if you’re looking for narrative originality, you should steer your ship in a different direction. This isn’t a movie that purports to be anything but a classic get-the-team-together-to-fight-a-big-bad-guy, and that isn’t an entirely poor decision as Whedon uses the simplistic narrative box to build up the characters that will inhabit the DC Universe going forward. And hey, it works. The team of heroes that Batman and Wonder Woman bring together are energetic and interesting, funny and bad-ass, each gifted an original voice and the character actions to go along with them. Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen (i.e. Flash) is the stand-out, a nervous, awkward kid gifted with the ability to run super super fast, but lacking in the confidence to do so. Jason Momoa is a pleasant surprise, his late-film confession to the rest of his super-pals a strong moment of emotion in a film geared towards comedic levity. Cyborg (Ray Fisher) suffers from the enormous amount of CGI needed to bring the character to life, but Fisher manages to instill the living video game with some amount of emotional resonance. The CGI in the film is a problem. Scenes of Wonder Woman’s homeland look pulled from a 90s Myst knock-off and it isn’t a singular offense. It’s surprising, shocking even, that a movie that cost this much in an era dominated by computer graphics could look this bad. In the end though, for someone who whinged and whinged and whinged about how bad this film was going to be, it’s okay. It doesn’t do anything new, but it takes the DC Comic palate – dark and somber – and injects life into it in a way that refreshes the whole line, a way that strips away the darkness in a believable sense and sets the table for a new wave of films more in line with Wonder Woman than anything else.

One Last Thought:

DC and Marvel need to figure out their bad guys. This is the nth film from DC that features a bad guy who’s trying to blow up the entire world and goddammit, I’m sick of it. DC is full of great villains – Lex and Joker and Reverse Flash and a whole hell of a lot more street level baddies – and they don’t have to be seeking to blow up the Earth all the time. Just put some people in Gotham who are looking to kill Batman, or kill Flash or kill Wonder Woman and have them square off in an interesting way. Stop it with the gods looking to destroy everything, it’s boring and the entire movie watching world is getting exhausted by it.

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Movie Breakdown: Justice League

November 15, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

For a while now I’ve been trying to get myself excited for Justice League, but I just haven’t been able to get over the “yeah whatever” hump.  With that being said, I’ve yet to see anything about this film that makes me think it’s going to be a stinker.

Post-Screening Ramble:

It’s fine.  That’s my review of Justice League in a nutshell.  The film has plenty of things that work well – Gal Gadot’s attention-commanding Wonder Woman, Ezra Miller’s bumbly but charming Flash, Jason Momoa’s bro-y but entertaining Aquaman, a fairly lean plot (this is good since the run time is under two hours), actual chemistry between characters.  It also has a lot that’s not so great – an utterly boring baddie in Steppenwolf, video game-level CG, an awkwardly designed Cyborg. occasionally clunky dialogue, a lazy magic box MacGuffin.  I actually think that if you were to map it all out, you’d find that for everything the film gets right, it gets something else wrong.  That’s why, without a doubt, Justice League is the most average big budget affair that I’ve seen in 2017.  So, if you’ve been looking forward to it, you’ll probably be disappointed, as it just doesn’t do enough to be tagged as a home run.  If you haven’t been dying to see it, you’ll probably think it’s pretty good, as it doesn’t do anything bad enough to be called a failure.  Talk about an average affair.

Honestly, I have no idea if the DCEU is finally heading in the right direction or if they’ve taken another misstep with what they’re rolling into theaters this weekend.  All I can do is note that it’s fine.

One Last Thought:

Batman sure does seem rather under-powered in Justice League.  The guy is coming off a fight where he bested Superman AND he’s assembled a world-saving team, and yet he always seems in the way or like he might just get squashed like a bug.  It’s weird.

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Movie Breakdown: Last Flag Flying

November 15, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I’m only going to see Last Flag Flying because it’s directed by Richard Linklater.  I mean, I like the cast, but old guy road trip movies are rarely ever good.  Also, could they have made a more boring trailer for this movie?  I doubt it.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Last Flag Flying is a lot more than just a road trip movie.  It begins with Larry “Doc” Shepherd (a melancholic Steve Carell) recruiting two of his old service buddies from Vietnam – Sal Nealon (a coarse, motor-mouthed Bryan Cranston) and Reverend Richard Mueller (a very settled Laurence Fishbourne) – to help him bury his son, a Marine killed in the Iraq War.  Obviously, the end goal here for this trio of friends features a rather difficult task, and there are plenty of moments in the movie that will tug at your heart strings, but in general, Last Flag Flying is a very sharp-witted comedy that covers life (especially the growing old part) in a grounded, real way.  I related to every character in every single one of their situations in this film, and I’m not near as old as them, nor am I a veteran.  That’s how well written and dialed in it is at every turn.  In the way that Richard Linklater’s Boyhood vividly reminded me of my childhood, his Last Flag Flying is an instant reality check for me at 34.

If you have a free afternoon sometime soon, I recommend that you take a chunk of it and spend it with this film.  It’s a good one.  In fact, it’s just good enough to make me forgive Linklater for the giant disappointment that was his last movie, Everybody Wants Some.

One Last Thought:

Nice Bryan Cranston characters are … well, nice.  I think he’s at his best though when he’s playing someone like Sal, who has been bent out of shape by the world.

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Movie Breakdown: Lady Bird (Noah)

November 10, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Greta Gerwig wrote and directed this semi-autobiographical film. Greta Gerwig also co-wrote and starred in Frances Ha. This seems to be a winning combination.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Lady Bird could be Frances Ha: The Prequel, and I mean that in the best way. The film centers on the self-named Lady Bird (played by Saoirse Ronan in a role that could, maybe should, net her a gold statute in February), a high school senior figuring her life out under the iron-fisted rule of her big-hearted but mean mother. This is a charming film. A film about discovering the joys of adulthood, of leaving home, of pushing back on everything we’ve come from. Gerwig writes Lady Bird as the sort of blissfully ignorant, wildly willful personality laid claim to by high school seniors, a harsh yet lovable ball of emotional turpitude that ping pongs from friend group to friend group, hormonally pushed argument to hormonally pushed argument. The relationship at the center of the film – between Lady Bird and her mom is a beautifully realistic one. Laurie Metcalf’s Marion echoes Lady Bird’s conflicted interiors – a woman who loves her child so much but is so scared of losing her that she can’t show it – and when the two are on screen together, their acid-tongued interactions make up the best scenes in a film full of amazing scenes. Gerwig manages to take us through all of Lady Bird’s senior year of high school without the film ever dragging. We watch Lady Bird grow and change and screw up and change some more in a series of almost vignette like scenes (think Frances Ha’s sprawling timeline). There’s a confidence behind the direction, a sense of choreography and musical accompaniment, that allows the viewer to sit back, to immerse themselves in the warm, mellow flow of the film, to join Lady Bird on the bumpy road to adulthood, knowing that Gerwig is slowly taking us somewhere special.

One Last Thought:

Best use of Dave Matthew’s Band in a movie, ever.

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Movie Breakdown: Murder On The Orient Express

November 8, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

This one looks like it should be a winner.  It’s based off Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery, it’s got a rather big cast of famous faces, and Kenneth Branagh is a pretty solid director (especially when it comes to period pieces).  Why then do I feel like it’s going to be a dud?

Post-Screening Ramble:

I greatly enjoyed Murder On The Orient Express, but I can see how it may not fly over too well with some.  It’s a hefty, patient film that expects you to be dazzled by every shot and intrigued by every line of dialogue.  The best way – I think – to describe it is Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films without the break neck pace and stylized methods.  Detective Hercule Poirot (a scene-chewing Kenneth Branagh) is an even-keeled perfectionist who solves crimes by asking questions, observing people and thinking.  So, unlike Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock, he doesn’t punch anyone or get loaded, and his only real quirk is that things have to be even/equal/etc.  If this sounds as though it might be boring for you, then it probably will be.  If, however, you’re down for a classic who-dun-it with a pretty setting and the right amount of over-acting, then this one will delight you.

My overall recommendation is that you head out and catch Murder On The Orient Express this weekend.  Not only is it a perfect fall weather movie, but it’ll make you want to go home and toss on the classics that inspired it.

One Last Thought:

This is a beautifully shot film and I’d really love to catch a 70mm screening, but it’s being shown in that format just about nowhere.  That’s a shame.  What”s also a bummer here is that I’d like to say maybe it’ll happen down the road, but my guess is that at some point seeing a 70mm print of anything will cease to be an option.

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In Review: Austin Film Fest 2017

November 3, 2017

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At this year’s Austin Film Festival I caught six movies.  Below are my thoughts on those movies.  Read on.

Lady Bird

Plot:  Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson is about to go to college.  Like everyone at this age, she has a lot of growing up to do.

Review:  Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is one of my favorite releases of 2017.  The film is smart, funny, charming and real, and I just adored every second of it.  Saorise Ronan (as Lady Bird) and Laurie Metcalf (as Marion) turn in stellar, award-worthy performances as a mother daughter duo who just can’t seem to crawl onto the same page about anything.  I hope to see this one again very soon.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Plot:  Feeling as though the police have forgotten about her daughter’s murder case, a woman erects three billboards that sport a controversial message.  This sends her hometown into a tizzy.

Review:  Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) really goes after you with Three Billboards.  Not only is the film very funny at just about every turn, it’s also a heavy drama that will strike out and sting you when you least expect it.  If you ask me, it’s McDonagh’s best movie.

Wild Honey

Plot:  A phone sex operator named Gabby is having a rough time.  She’s lonely, she’s broke, and she’s lives with her mother.  Things start to turn around though when she gets a regular caller who actually seems interested in her.

Review:  This one has a third act that stumbles a bit and overall the film feels just mostly well made, but I liked it.  Rusty Schwimmer does a nice job as the sort of unlikable, sort of endearing Gabby, and overall there are enough funny bits to keep you interested.

Chasing The Blues

Plot:  Two collectors are on the hunt for a rare piece of vinyl that may actually be cursed.

Review:  If it were possible to toss out the predictable ending and a handful of moments where things are slightly too goofy, you’d have a great movie in Chasing The Blues.  As it stands, I think it’s a generally solid little effort.

The Landing

Plot:  Apollo 18 didn’t go well.  This “documentary” takes a look at what happened.

Review:  At first I was all about this film, but then my brain turned on and I realized there was never actually an Apollo 18 and that the documentary was a work of fiction.  This immediately made me lose all interest in it.  Just not my thing.

Bodies

Plot:  In desperate need of cash, a couple decide to engage in a medical experiment.  Things don’t go as planned.

Review:  Here’s a film that doesn’t quite know how to get out of its own way.  It has ideas flying around all over the place, and while some of them are interesting, a lot of them are total throwaways.  The acting in this one is just so-so as well.

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Movie Breakdown: Thor: Ragnarok

November 2, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Let’s face it, Thor and Thor: The Dark World are pretty shrug-worthy movies.  This isn’t to say I think they’re bad, because I generally like both films, but there’s just nothing special or really memorable about either of them.  Here’s hoping that  Taika Waititi (Hunt For The Wilderpeople, What We Do In The Shadows) can flip this issue on its head with his Thor: Ragnarok.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Like Marvel’s other 2017 releases, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Guardians Of The Galaxy: Vol. 2Thor: Ragnarok is an exciting romp that’s vibrant, funny and action packed. It begins with Thor – of course – hammering faces and then running off to Asgard to celebrate his victory.  Once there he gets into it with Loki, he chats with Odin, he meets Hella (a perfectly cast Cate Blanchett), and then wham bam he finds himself on a literal trash dump of a planet that’s ruled by a fella called Grandmaster (a perfectly cast Jeff Goldblum).  This is where Thor’s actual adventure begins, and boy is it a real damn good time from here.

If you ask me, I think all the credit for Ragnarok being a winner should go to director Taika Waititi.  He injects so much color and humor into every scene that – for once – it isn’t somewhat of a chore to watch Thor operate outside of the Avengers.  It’s not all just jokes and crazy costumes that work in Ragnarok though, Waititi delivers the loud stuff as well.  Thor is more powerful (and fun to watch) than he has been in any other movie, the big battle with the Hulk in the gladiator arena is rad, anything with Valkyrie (a perfectly cast Tessa Thompson) is great, and the climactic battle is far from a let down.

While they probably could have called the film Thor: New Zealand (I liked this, you may not) and while there are a couple of strange bits at play (the history of Asgard is nonsensical, the Heimdall subplot feels tacked on), I found Thor: Ragnarok to be a blast.  Go see it this weekend.

One Other Thought:

Don’t see this in 3D.  It’s too dark.

One Last Thought:

I would like a spinoff film that features the Taika Waititi-voiced Korg.  Few things make me as happy as that rock man with his pleasant disposition and thick New Zealand accent.

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Movie Breakdown: Tragedy Girls (Noah)

October 27, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Horror is having a moment right now. IT and Get Out are two of the bigger movies of the year and every week seems to usher in some new fright flick to the screens. Tragedy Girls looks to play with the genre using the lure of social media and serial killers as its focal point and it feels like this has been done before, but hell, I’m willing to give it a chance.

Post-Screening Ramble:

There’s a weird lack of energy in Tragedy Girls, a sort of laconic “yup, we made a movie” feel that strips it of being as good as it could be. The film centers on Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla (Alexandra Shipp), a pair of attention-seeking high school seniors who decide that to get all the likes, they’ll need to start murdering people. Both Hildebrand and Shipp play their parts to the hilt, capturing the sort of sociopathic mindset of social media-obsessed high schoolers. Director Tyler MacIntyre polishes the film into a candy confection with a heart of gore and blood, the deeper issues of friendship and status obsession just beneath the surface never getting lost in the flash. It’s a good movie, no doubt, but the meta aspect of the film – a serial killer movie about two girls trying to get famous by being serial killers – drags it down. MacIntyre is using the concept of serial killing made cool by popular culture to address the popular culture that birthed it. It’s an interesting angle, but it also makes his movie adhere to the plot points of the average serial killer film (if you’re going to, make it resonate as predictable rather than illuminating). The heroes of the story posit themselves as experts on serial killing but the main characters are also teenagers who’ve grown up watching the same movies all of us horror dorks have consumed. It makes sense for the plot, but it dampens the surprise or the mystery of what’s going to happen – we’ve seen this before because these girls have as well. It takes a film that purports itself to be high energy, teenage whiz bam whatever and makes it a sort of slow, awkward reveal. An entertaining one to say the least, but a slightly flat one nonetheless.

One Last Thought:

Craig Robinson as a sex symbol should be a thing. Like all the time.

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Movie Breakdown: 78/52 (Noah)

October 27, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

There’s a wash of these types of films these days – talking head pieces about single moments that have helped to shape or define culture – and though I never tire of endless movie trivia to recite to my friends when intoxicated, I’m most certainly curious as to what makes a film about only the shower scene in Psycho.

Post-Screening Ramble:

There’s a tendency in these sort of micro-breakdowns of films and filmic moments where the director and the assemblage of famous (or not-so famous) talking heads imply that whatever moment we’re looking at helped to redefine, well, everything. It’s a distracting tendency, one that glows with the amber hues of nostalgic remembrance, placing import where in most cases, import never existed. Alexandre O. Phillipe’s documentary 78/52 (the number of set-ups and cuts it took for director Alfred Hitchcock to call the shower scene in Psycho complete) avoids these pitfalls, instead using its “cast” of famous horror directors (Mick Garris, Karyn Kurasama, Eli Roth, etc.) and editors (Walter Murch!) and horror nerds (Bret Easton Ellis, Elijah Wood) to explore the scene, shot by shot by shot, slowly picking apart the genius that Hitchcock was able to layer into a now iconic moment. The film acts as a running commentary, with each participant being placed in front of a screen, interviewed and then shown the scene (maybe the entire film) and Phillipe documents them discussing what each individual moment entails. These are very informed film scholars and directors and dorks parlaying years of experience into a crystalline, near academic dissections of the scene. It could be boring but Phillipe layers in enough movie fun facts with the theoretical explorations of what this film meant, what each shot entailed, and what every tiny flicker of editing added up to, so boredom never becomes an issue. Instead this sumptuously black-and-white documentary highlights a moment that actually opened up the boundaries of film and laid the groundwork for a whole new international genre.

One Last Thought:

The film starts with a sort of seedy recreation of an older woman driving to the Bates Motel and getting in a shower and getting Janet Leighed and it’s not good or explained or ever looked back on. It is not indicative of the rest of the film.

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Movie Breakdown: Only The Brave

October 19, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy, Oblivion) knows how to make a movie that looks great, but he’s yet to make one that actually is great.  Will Only The Brave get him over the hump?  Maybe.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Only The Brave is not what I expected it to be.  I just sort of assumed there would be some male camaraderie and a whole lot of bad-ass firefighting moments loaded with slow-mo and sweeping music, but in reality, the film – and you’ll have to excuse the bad pun here – is a total slow burn.  The first chunk of it features Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) and his crew as they attempt to become certified as Hotshots, which are elite firefighters.  There’s a bit of them actually out in the woods fighting fires, but in general you see them together and/or with their friends and families.  The second half of the film is almost more of the same, but there are a couple of big scenes where you see the team at work in dangerous and difficult situations.  Surprisingly, all of this low key, dialogue-heavy stuff is what makes the movie a winner.  I know it seems like the light action would maybe work against Only The Brave, but its characters are so interesting and their jobs so wild that it’s easy to get lost in how these guys (and their loved ones) operate on a day-to-day basis.

If you know anything about 2013′s Yarnell Hill Fire, then you already know how this film ends.  It was a truly tragic moment.  I recommend that you go see this super solid movie, and then afterwards take a moment to appreciate the Granite Mountain Hotshots (and others like them).

One Last Thought:

WELP, guess who Jeff Bridges is in Only The Brave?  That’s right.  He’s goddamn Cowboy Jeff.  That means he’s played the same character in two different movies this year!  The overall Cowboy Jeff list, as far as I can tell, is now: Only The Brave, Kingsman – The Golden Circle, True Grit, R.I.P.D and Hell Or High Water.  He’s growing stronger.

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In Review: Fantastic Fest 2017

September 29, 2017

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Hey friends, here’s what I saw at Fantastic Fest.  I caught 20 films!  I actually wanted to see 30, but I got hit with a sinus infection and it totally derailed me for most of the fest.  Still, I’m calling this year a win.  Read on.

PS – You can check out which films won awards at Fantastic Fest right HERE.

Anna And The Apocalypse

Plot:  A high schooler named Anna is all set to jet out of her hometown on a solo adventure, but then zombies show up.

Review:  This holiday horror musical really came out of the gate strong with catchy songs and a great sense of humor, and for a bit I was ready to peg it as the freshest and most fun zombie flick since Shaun of the Dead.  Then the song quality started to slip, the plot got predictable, the jokes went soft, and the movie shifted to being a fairly bland affair.  I actually still think it’s worth seeing, but be sure to keep those expectations in check.

Bad Genius

Plot:  Lynn is a genius.  Her friends are not.  Lynn is not rich.  Her friends are.  So, she takes their money, she gives them correct test answers, and all is well.  For a while, anyways.

Review:  I totally had sweaty palms for a large chunk of this movie.  It’s exhilarating, which is pretty crazy since the film is essentially about standardized tests.  Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying is great as the ever-ambitious, yet ever-helpful Lynn, and I really hope to see her in more stuff soon.  By the way, there’s a twist at the end this movie that I did not see coming at all.  Also, cheating has always been cheating to me, but I can’t say I necessarily feel that way after seeing Bad Genius.  Guess I’m a criminal now.

Blade Of The Immortal

Plot:  Manji is a samurai who can’t die, and Rin is a young girl trying to avenge her parents.  They team up.

Review:  Director Takashi Miike’s 100th film is long, brutal, surprisingly funny, and really awesome.  Manji (Takuya Kimura) and Rin (Hana Sugisaki) are great in a “big brother, little sister” sort of way, and I never once stopped rooting for them to win out against seemingly everyone in Japan.  So many people get hacked up in this movie, but Miike does a great job of keeping the enemies and fight scenes varied so that nothing feels repetitive.  Well, except for the sound of limbs getting cut off.  I hope you get to see this one soon.

Brawl In Cell Block 99

Plot:  A drug runner gets busted, tossed in prison, and then given a very difficult task by a bad person.

Review:  Just when I thought that director S. Craig Zahler couldn’t get any more violent than Bone Tomahawk, along comes his Brawl In Cell Block 99.  If you’ve ever wanted to see Vince Vaughn as quick-witted, no nonsense former boxer with a penchant for curb stomping the fuck out of people, then this movie is for you.

Darkland

Plot:  Zaid is a man on the hunt to find the person who murdered his brother, Yasin.

Review:  The Fantastic Fest site refers to this film as a “realistic, culturally relevant take on Batman.”  I wouldn’t go that far.  Yes, it’s a gritty look at a normal dude dealing out justice on his own terms, but it always goes where you expect it to and I found the main bad guy to be less than memorable.  Still, it’s far from a bad movie.

Downsizing

Plot:  Cellular miniaturization has become a thing and lots of people are going “small” in order to help the environment and/or change their lives.  Paul Safranek and wife Audrey are the latest to get in on the mini-action.

Review:  Alexander Payne’s latest film is a big slice of social satire that doesn’t quite all the way work.  I really loved the first hour and some change, but once it moves to try and actually make a point, things get messy and the film stumbles to the finish line.  Matt Damon is great in it the whole time, though.

Gemini

Plot:  Lola works for superstar actress Heather Anderson as her personal assistant.  She likes her job.  Or at least she does until Heather gets murdered, and the cops suspect that she did it.

Review:  I’ve yet to decide if the ending of Gemini is clever or a cop out, but either way, I did enjoy the movie.  I dug its overall neo-noir vibe, and I felt like it was paced really well.  On another note, I’ve really grown fond of Zoe Kravitz.  She’s got a way about her that’s hard to ignore.

Gerald’s Game

Plot:  Gerald and Jessie are a married couple in desperate need of a getaway, so they take one.  Whilst engaging in the first naughty moment of the weekend, Gerald dies and Jessie is left alone with her arms spread and handcuffed to separate bed posts.

Review:  I’ve never read the Stephen King book that this movie is based off of, so I have no idea if it’s similar or not.  What I can tell you is that I thought it was a great film.  Carla Gugino is stellar as Jessie, and the movie just wouldn’t quite work the same without her.  Mostly because a lot of it takes place in her head or via the viewpoint of her cuffed to a bed, so her reactions to things and her body in general is how you follow what’s going on.  Side note, there’s some legit gore on display here, so keep that in mind before you sit down to casually watch it some night on Netflix.

Gilbert

Plot:  This one is a documentary about Gilbert Gottfried.

Review:  If you’re a fan of Gilbert Gottfried, then I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to watch this.  It’s got some nice insight into how he got started, and you get to see him when he’s not on a stage saying crazy things.

Good Manners

Plot:  Ana hires Clara to help her around the house while she is pregnant.  Things start out great but eventually spiral down a weird hole.

Review:  There’s technically two movies to consider here, as there’s a jump forward in time that takes place around the midway mark.  Both halves are pretty solid.  I was pleased to find that the film actually turned out to be like the Fantastic Fest site described – “a Gothic fairy tale for adults.”

Jailbreak

Plot:  A gang needs to get to their recently-jailed member.  Some cops would prefer that not happen.

Review:  Jailbreak is pretty much a low rent take on The Raid.  I know that doesn’t sound all that nice, but I actually don’t mean it in any sort of bad way.  There are indeed some amateurish parts, but most of the fight scenes are well done and its swift run time doesn’t ever let it drag.

The Killing Of A Sacred Deer

Plot:  A man and his family get inundated with scary problems when an oddball teenager enters their lives.

Review:  Director Yorgos Lanthimos has quickly become a big favorite of mine.  Dogtooth, The Lobster, and The Killing Of A Sacred Deer – they’re all great films.  I don’t want to say much too much, as the movie definitely has a lot of moments that can be easily spoiled, so I’ll just stick to this – it’s fucked up story that left me with all sorts of weird thoughts floating around in my head.  By the way, Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman and Barry Keoghan deliver big time performances here.

Love And Saucers

Plot:  David Huggins swears that he lost his virginity to an actual alien.  This documentary explores his claim.

Review:  This one is only about an hour long, so there’s not much to it other than David Huggins talking about his various experiences with extraterrestrials beings.  I’m guessing that some think his stories and paintings are interesting (or maybe funny), but I mostly found them to be tedious.  Not really my thing here.

Mary And The Witch’s Flower

Plot:  A young girl finds a special flower that magically charges a broom and takes her to a school that trains witches.  From there, things don’t go quite as planned.

Review:  I’ll be honest, I’ve always found the Studio Ghibli-type stuff of the world to be pretty hit or miss.  Sometimes the movies just go on for far too long, or I don’t like the characters.  Thankfully, I didn’t run into that here.  I found this one to be a charming, creative affair that’s beautifully animated.  I’d watch it again.

Pin Cushion

Plot:  A teenage girl and her mom move to a new town.  Things don’t go well.

Review:  I didn’t like this movie.  It’s barely 80 minutes long, and yet I felt like it dragged on for an eternity.  I’m not even sure what it was trying to say.

Ron Goossens: Low Budget Stuntman

Plot:  Drunk stuntman Ron Goossens’ sleazy lesser half has tossed down an ultimatum.  If he doesn’t figure out a way to sleep with Bo Maerten, the Netherlands biggest movie star, then she will take their unborn child and leave forever.

Review:  I don’t know if you any of you have seen New Kids Nitro or New Kids Turbo, but they are some of the loudest, dumbest comedies ever.  Ron Goossens, I figured, would be more the same since it’s from that team, but it surprised me with its black comedy-lean.  I wanted to laugh at but also hold Ron (Tim Haars).

The Square

Plot:  Since this film is thick, I’m just going to borrow a line from IMDB here – “a poignant satirical drama reflecting our times.”

Review:  Big fans of director Ruben Ostlund’s Force Majeure should be excited about The Square, as it’s just as funny, well made and interesting.  Although, I can’t say it’s anywhere near as accessible.  This film lunges in a lot of directions and occasionally gets so dense that it can be difficult to pick up exactly what it’s putting down.  If you want a great think-piece though, then seek it out.

Super Dark Times

Plot:  Some kids accidentally do something awful.  What follows is them trying to hold themselves together.

Review:  I know the title here is Super Dark Times, but oh my is this movie is for real dark.  I was actually caught off guard by where it one went.  Owen Campbell as Zach and Charlie Tahan as Josh make for two of my favorite performances of the entire festival.  By the way, I think I’m scared of teenagers now.

Tiger Girl

Plot:  A girl named Maggie wants to be a cop, but she fails the tryout and instead is set to train to be a security guard.  While doing this she meets a rebellious young lady called Tiger, and then things go off the rails.

Review:  I was excited to see this because it has Ella Rumpf (from Raw) in it, but the film mostly fell flat for me.  I think it’s because you’re supposed to find its characters to be edgy and meaningful, but I couldn’t bring myself to like any of them.

Vidar The Vampire

Plot:  Vidar is really tired of being a farmer.  He wants loose women and stuff!  A chance encounter with a vampire Jesus may just give him what he desires.

Review:  This is one of those bonkers Fantastic Fest movies that you either love or hate because of how bonkers it is.  I wasn’t a fan.  I do think it has some really funny moments, but overall it’s definitely one of those films where me not being from its country of origin (Norway) proved to be too much of a culture hurdle.

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Movie Breakdown: Kingsman – The Golden Circle (Noah)

September 21, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I’m still smarting from the distasteful end of the mostly enjoyable original flick. I know, I know, it’s just one line about anal sex, but I’m a sensitive old man.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman – The Golden Circle follows the rules of the sequel just about to a tee. Where in the first Eggsy (Taron Edgerton) learned the ropes of being a well-dressed super spy in the service of Kingsman, in part two he’s robbed of everything he loves and forced to join up with his American counterparts – the Statesman – to solve the mystery of who done the dirty deeds (not a spoiler: it’s psychopathically nostalgic drug runner played by Julianne Moore). This is just the tip of the narrative iceberg though – Colin Firth’s Galahad reappears afflicted with amnesia, Eggsy’s girlfriend (Hanna Alstrom, the Princess of Sweden as seen in the final scene of the last flick) gets into trouble, the President of the United States is up to bad things, there’s stadiums full of cages and a secret plague slowly seeping into the drug users of the world and, I kid you not, more. It’s a stuffed film, bloated even. It feels like the penultimate issue in a crossover between two comics, the one where there’s the X-Men AND The Avengers and the bad guys and every page is a splash page and there’s twenty battles and thirty romantic entanglements and it’s so heavy you can barely stuff it under your bed so your stupid little brother doesn’t get his snotty hands on it. It’s fun – as is any movie where there’s a character named Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) with a laser lasso, and Elton John, I shit you not, jump kicks a guy in the face, but the excessive, well, everything spreads the film extremely thin. Characters from the trailers are turned into extended cameos (Jeff Bridges, I’m talking about you) and whatever subtle point about the American War on drugs that Vaughn was trying to make is muddled and underdeveloped. What really drags the film down though is that Vaughn is trying to make this more than a stylish drawn, beautifully executed super-hero spy flick. He is, because he’s a good director, trying to imbue it with actual characters with actual emotions, but with so much going on, there’s no chance that any of the emotional beats ever really land. The action though, whoa doggie, it’s amazing. There’s a fluid, whip-effect to Vaughn’s action sequences – the camera dances around and through the fights like a participant – and the director uses it to turn every battle (and they are battles) into a breath-taking rush. It’s a fun flick, don’t get me wrong, and in the hands of an artist like Matthew Vaughn, it never gets boring, never loses steam, is never less than exciting. It’s just too much.

One Last Thought:

Matthew Vaughn can’t get through a film without some sort of raunchy over-the-top bit of humor involving a female orifice. So, prepare yourself.

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Movie Breakdown: Kingsman – The Golden Circle

September 21, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

If you ask me, Matthew Vaughn has never directed a bad film.  With that being said, there’s something about Kingsman – The Golden Circle that seems off.  Here’s hoping that its flat trailers have been hiding all of the best parts.

Post-Screening Ramble:

I went into Kingsman – The Golden Circle not expecting much and feeling a little miffed about it being two hours and twenty minutes long.  I walked out anxious for the third entry and wondering why the movie didn’t run another 15 minutes or so.  Eggsy/Galahad (Taron Egerton) is back, but he’s not the immature, lost kid from the first film.  He’s a Kingsman vet, he has a steady girlfriend in Princess Tilde (Hanna Alstrom, the … backdoor girl from the end of the last movie), he’s got good friends, and all is well.  Naturally, no one in a movie can be this happy, so his life hits a real speed bump when a drug lord named Poppy (Julianne Moore) poisons people all over the world (via her products – weed, cocaine, etc.) and also wipes out the Kingsman.  This sends Eggsy/Galahad and Merlin (Mark Strong) on the run and into the hands of the Statesman, the American equivalent of the Kingsman, which features Champagne (Jeff Bridges), Ginger Ale (Halle Berry), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) and Tequila (Channing Tatum).  Also, somehow someway, the original Galahad (Colin Firth) pops up, and then there’s a real damn party at play with far too many characters.  The movie works though, as the majority of the folks on the screen take a back seat in favor of a wildly entertaining amount of pure comic book-inspired action.  Kingsman – The Golden Circle is a blast.  Yes, there’s too much going on and not enough time for you to get to know most of the movie’s inhabitants, but you won’t care because you’ll be delighted by just how outright bonkers this sequel is on all fronts.  I mean, there’s a laser lasso!  And robo-dogs!  And so much more!

You’re not going to find anything at the theater this weekend that’s more fun than Kingsman – The Golden Circle.  By the way, I’d re-watch the first one before you see part two.  There are a lot of references from it that get quickly thrown around.

One Last Thought:

I think it’s time that Jeff Bridges create a new favorite character.  He’s now played the same cowboy in Kingsman – The Golden Circle, True Grit, R.I.P.D, Hell Or High Water and whatever else.  And yes, I know that the majority of those aren’t even bad movies, I just want to see him do something else.

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My Must-See Films At Fantastic Fest 2017

September 19, 2017

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Oh my.  Fantastic Fest is here!  I usually like to somewhat blindly jump into the fest and let the films surprise me, but this year I decided to take a different approach and actually make myself a short list of movies that I have to see.  Below you’ll find those selections.

PS – I used Noahphex’s Youtube compilation of FF trailers.  You should check it out!  He’s got just about all of the fest’s films there.

Blade Of The Immortal

I can’t believe this is Takashi Miike’s 100th film.  That’s crazy.  On a related note, this adaptation of the Blade Of The Immortal manga looks like a lot of fun.

Brawl In Cell Block 99

Vince Vaughn beats up a car in the teaser for this movie from S. Craig Zahler (he did the excellent Bone Tomahawk).  That’s some Street Fighter 2 kind of stuff.  I’m in.

Wheelman

I haven’t seen anything else by Jeremy Rush, the writer/director of Wheelman, but I really like Frank Grillo (Captain America: Civil War), producer Joe Carnahan (The Grey, The A-Team) and car chases.

Gerald’s Game

The teaser for his Stephen King adaptation by Mike Flanagan (Hush) makes me feel uneasy.  I’ll rally up though just so that I can watch Bruce Greenwood handcuff Carla Gugino to a bed.

Super Dark Times

Super Dark Times registers to me as a fairly silly name, but the movie actually looks like it’s a rather twisted affair.  I like it when coming of age movies go dark.

Good Manners

I love the mysterious tone that’s all over the trailer for this film.  I’m also really into the way the Fantastic Fest site describes it as a a “gothic fairytale for adults.”

Applecart

I can’t quite figure out why this is called Applecart, but it looks like a a pretty interesting horror film.  I can’t wait to watch everything go wrong for all the characters in it.

The Killing Of A Sacred Deer

I really love writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, so of course I’m excited to see his follow-up.  He has a super weird sense of humor that I just really enjoy.  Also, I’m intrigued by Alicia Silverstone’s supposedly awesome appearance in this movie.

The Square

Because Force Majeure is so damn great, I’m down to watch anything from writer/director Ruben Ostlund.  With that being said, I do hope that The Square is a worthy follow-up.

Downsizing

This one from Alexander Payne is the Fantastic Fest closing film this year.  It looks as charming as can be.

Bad Genius

i wanted to see this film before I even made it halfway through its trailer.  Down with standardized tests!

Ron Goossens Low Budget Stuntman

This is the latest from the team behind the really dumb but really funny New Kids films.  I won’t be missing it.

Blue My Mind

Here’s another Fantastic Fest entry that looks like a messed up coming of age tale.  I’m in!

The Cured

A movie that takes place after a world-conquering zombie virus been cured?  That sounds neat.

Les Affames

Here’s another interesting-looking zombie film.

The Merciless

Few things at Fantastic Fest go over as well as Korean gangster films.  This will be a lot of fun to watch with that crowd.

Gemini

I love the look and feel of this film’s trailer, and the Fantastic Fest site compares it to Drive, Nightcrawler, Heat and The Driver.  That sounds like a winner to me.

Darkland

Everything about this movie looks intense.  Guess I’ll have to drink during it.

There are a handful of films that don’t have trailers out, but I think they sound neat.  Here are those picks with links to their Fantastic Fest pages.

Thoroughbreds (black comedy!)
Revenge (survival horror!)
Anna And The Apocalypse (horror musical!)
1922 (Stephen King adaptation!)

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