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Movie Breakdown: The Neon Demon

June 23, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Bronson is a great movie.  Drive is a great movie.  Only God Forgives is not at all a great movie.  I’d love to say I’m feeling like Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest film will be this or that, but the weird trailers for it have left me unsure of what to expect.

Post-Screening Ramble:

The Neon Demon is a heady, visceral, grotesque, beautifully shot and totally weird movie that you’re either going to love or loathe.  It begins with an introduction to Jesse (a very earnest Elle Fanning), an underage girl who has made the jump from nowhere to LA in order to capitalize on the one thing that she feels like she has going for her in life – her beauty.  Right off the bat she meets Ruby (an endearing Jena Malone), a friendly make-up artist who offers her advice and help.  Only, Jessie doesn’t need any help.  She’s a real natural beauty, and everyone in town is immediately enamored with her even though she has no modeling experience.  What then follows is writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn’s thoughts on what makes someone beautiful and what people will do to either stay beautiful or become that way.  No punches are pulled.  Like I mentioned up above, it’s a film that’s all at once beautiful and disgusting, and you’re either going to be really into it or think that it’s not your cup of tea.  Personally, I loved The Neon Demon.  It’s immaculately shot, the music (and sound overall) is fantastic and Winding-Refn’s cynicism hit big with me.  I can, however, see how the film may be a real test of some folk’s patience.

Don’t see The Neon Demon because you’re hoping it’s another Drive, see it because you want something with weight here in the season of fluffy box office fare.

One Last Thought:

Whenever I see Elle Fanning in something, I always think about Dakota Fanning.  Whatever happened to her?  I’m guessing the last notable movie I saw her in was The Runaways, and that was released a chunk of years ago.

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Movie Breakdown: Finding Dory

June 16, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Finding Nemo is a fantastic film, a total classic with great characters and a wonderful story.  Can’t say I’ve ever wanted a sequel though, especially one that’s based around Dory.  I mean, she’s certainly a wonderful little fish, but that character is a gimmick, kind of like Mater in Cars, and we all know what happened when Pixar focused on him in Cars 2.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Finding Dory isn’t quite Finding Nemo, but that won’t keep you from loving it.  The sequel picks up a year after its predecessor, and everyone is all happy and feeling good about life until Dory randomly gets bonked and not only remembers that she has a family, but that she accidentally got separated from them long ago.  From there a whirlwind adventure, complete with adorable little Dory flashbacks, first film callbacks, great new characters (Ed O’Neil’s Hank, an octopus, is particularly awesome) and more – gets underway as Dory attempts to find her family.  It’s a nice film.  Not perfect.  But nice, charming and full of heart.  And to be honest, because it so so enjoyable, I won’t at all be surprised if some of you disagree with me and say it is perfect.  Personally, I believe the film has more bright-spots than anything, but it does occasionally drag and is probably 10-15 minutes too long.  I also think it suffers from some tonal issues due to the way director Andrew Stanton relentlessly tries to wring a different emotional response out of you with every single scene.  Still, some of you may not notice or even care about either of those things since the characters you love are back and have been handled with care.  C’est la vie, you know?  Now, head to theater with confidence knowing that Finding Dory isn’t Cars 2.

One Last Thought:

What’s funny and perhaps kind of odd is that my favorite character in Finding Dory isn’t technically a character at all.  You’ll know what I mean once you see the film.

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Movie Breakdown: Maggie’s Plan

June 7, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I haven’t seen any of writer/director Rebecca Miller’s other films, and Greta Gerwig has always been very hit or miss for me.  With that being said, Maggie’s Plan looks like the sort of light-hearted, borderline silly indie fare that I often dig.  Plus, I feel safe in assuming that a film featuring Ethan Hawke, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph and Julianne Moore will end up being worth my time.

Post-Screening Ramble:

In a lot of ways, Maggie’s Plan is exactly what I expected.  Maggie (Greta Gerwig as Greta Gerwig) is a sweet but unknowingly self-centered and naive woman who desperately wants to have a baby, but she doesn’t want to be in a relationship, as she’s never had one that’s worked.  So, she gets artificially inseminated and then goes about living a happy and fulfilled life?  Nope!  She meets a married man named John (Ethan Hawke as Ethan Hawke), falls in love and then starts a family in the exact way she wanted to avoid.  For a while things are fine, but then Maggie realizes that she’s no longer in love with her sweet but unknowingly self-centered and naive husband, so she launches a plan to trick him into returning to his handful of an ex-wife Georgette (a clearly inspired Julianne Moore), who he has never quite moved on from.  Yes, it’s as zany and goofy as it sounds, but here’s what surprised me about the film – there’s an overarching theme throughout it that aims to remind us all that while it may not look like it to me or you, some people are just supposed to be together.  Maggie and John aren’t unhappy, but they’re good friends at best because he and Georgette, despite their seemingly obtuse relationship, share a type of bond that can’t be explained.  It’s there, it’s real and it works in a way that makes each person better than they’d be on their own or with anyone else.  That’s just life, man.  Kudos to writer/director Rebecca Miller for packing a lunchbox full of truth roll-up in her charming little indie comedy.  See her film when you can.

One Last Thought:

In Maggie’s Plan there’s a cameo by Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill, The Julie Ruin) where she covers Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark, and I found it to be both somewhat jarring and kind of right.  Here’s the official version, if you want to check it out for yourself.

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Movie Breakdown: Louder Than Bombs (Noah)

June 6, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Everything I’ve seen/heard about Norwegian filmmaker Joachim Trier’s English-language debut seems to mark it as the type of purposefully joyless indie film often times frequented by one of its main actors, Mr. Jesse Eisenberg. Lucky, for me at least, I am fond of joyless films, regardless of the presence of Mr. Eisenberg.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Not to be too much of a pretentious fuck, but the closest thing I can compare Joachim Trier’s film, Louder Than Bombs, to is Joan Didion’s brutally, heart-wrenching memoir A Year of Magical Thinking. In that book, Didion lost both her husband and, spoiler alert, daughter in the same horrible year. In Louder Than Bombs, a trio of sensitive, intelligent male family members (Gabriel Byrne, Jesse Eisenberg, and Devin Druid) lose, in a physical sense, their mother – a famous war photographer. Grief is not a simple, linear emotional arc, as much as Hollywood tries to tell us that. And in both these texts, we are dropped into the middle of the grieving process, and instead of watching the bad stuff go away, and the good stuff get closer, it is more like experiencing a hazy cloud of memory and reflection. The audience in Trier’s film ostensibly follow a week or so in the lives of Jonah (Eisenberg), Gene (Gabriel Byrne), and Conrad (Devin Druid) – a family still speaking almost two years after their mother killed herself. This isn’t, I mean it is but it isn’t, just a weekend of healing, it’s a slow unveiling of the emotional state of each of its characters, all deeply scarred by both the death of their mother and the life that chose to live so far from them. And instead of us just watching them interact, we see their lives expand in ripples, sometimes touching, sometimes overlapping, but always rippling outwards from the grieving point. Gabriel Byrne is a joy to watch, a soft man who had lost his wife long before she died, now burdened with the all the parts of parenting he never wanted or asked for. All of the acting could be described as staid, with no one being asked to extend themselves too terribly far, but it’s a part of the picture, maybe even a part of the genre, Trier’s working with here. This is a deeply sad film, and each character (and thus actor) is so immersed in their own forms of melancholy, that even the slightest change in emotion can be identified as character progression. Trier is a very good director, but on occasion the film seems to broadcast its intent too much – this is a film about sadness, look how serious this film is – and though it never grows stiff or boring, at times it borders just on the farthest edge of manipulative. Regardless, Trier’s (and Didion’s) choice to float down from the memory cloud and spend some time here and there and everywhere in between makes for a film that gives the audience the chance to cycle backwards and forwards through the memories and emotions of the people on screen.

One Last Thought:

Jesse Eisenberg is handily the most awkward man alive. I’m always wondering if he’s going to snap and kill someone on screen or just sadly shuffle into a corner and break into tears.

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Movie Breakdown: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

June 2, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

My level of enthusiasm for The Lonely Island steadily rests somewhere around a five on a scale that runs from 1-10, so it’s kind of hard for me to not shrug my shoulders when it comes to Popstar.  With that being said, I have found the trailers to be pretty solid.

Post-Screening Ramble:

I’ve seen a few people compare Popstar to Spinal Tap, and while I wouldn’t quite go that far (at least in terms of quality), I get the comparison.  The film is done in the same mockumentary style, and it certainly aims to peg artists/musicians/stars.  Popstar, however, is really frenetic and it features a lot more slapstick silliness.  In between its moments of noise though, you’ll find that the film takes dumb lyrics, bloated tours, bizarre personalities, TMI social media practices, and it eviscerates all of it with the hope that the world might watch the film and then take a moment to sincerely side-eye its musical idols.  It won’t happen, but it’s a nice thought, and I appreciate that The Lonely Island fellas (Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone) have at least floated such an grand opportunity via Popstar.

So should you see it?  Honestly, if you love The Lonely Island or you simply found the trailers to be amusing, then you already know exactly what you’re in for, and you’ll be happy with the results.  If you’re on the fence or you’re hoping for something super clever, I would advise that you dodge it.  Again, its mocking of today’s pop stars is on point, but it’s definitely a big ball of ADD goofiness.

One Last Thought:

In the film there’s a direct stab at Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ terrible (and in my opinion, wildly offensive) track Same Love, and it’s so perfect and hilarious that I almost cried tears of joy.  Those two are hacks and I sincerely hope that their pandering pile of shit song continues to be mocked.

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Movie Breakdown: Alice Through The Looking Glass

May 26, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Way back in 2010 Tim Burton delivered Alice In Wonderland.  I watched it, instantly forgot it, and then ended up rather surprised when it managed to gross over a billion bucks.  I suppose that number warrants a sequel?  If so, you’d think it wouldn’t have taken six years to churn one out, and why isn’t Burton back to direct?  Regardless, the point is that I can’t say I’m particularly excited for the movie.  Maybe it’ll surprise me though.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Like Alice In Wonderland, Alice Through The Looking Glass is a shiny, generally harmless and mostly forgettable film.  It begins with Alice (Mia Wasikowska) , who is now a sea captain, making her way back to Wonderland.  At first she’s excited to see everyone, but her happiness is quickly squashed once she discovers that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is in trouble.  He’s become certain that his long-thought dead family is actually alive, but since no one believes him, he’s depressed and withering away.  Naturally, Alice agrees to help (otherwise it would have been a really short movie), and what follows is a bunch of time traveling and general fantasy adventure tomfoolery.  Some of it is pretty cool – the sea of time that Alice traverses is very neatly designed, and Time himself is not only visually fascinating, but Sascha Baron Cohen plays the character with a perfect mix of charm, wit and seriousness.  Other parts, however, are a lot less compelling.  Everything related to the Mad Hatter is flat and uninteresting, and I just didn’t care at all about him or his missing family.  The same can be said for the White (Anne Hathaway) and Red (Helena Bonham Carter) Queens, who have their own shoehorned subplot that bored the hell out of me.  I get the need to include all of the familiar faces (it is a sequel after all), but I sure would have liked to have seen them used in a much more clever way.

If you ask me, I think you should skip the film and all of its hollowness.  Then again, it’s pretty to look at and I do suppose there are worse ways to pass the time.

One Last Thought:

I’d really like to see Johnny Depp in something normal again.  No makeup, no weird voice, no silly costume -  just regular Depp as a regular dude.  Hell, now I’m wondering if I would even recognize his bare face.

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Movie Breakdown: Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (Noah)

May 20, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Neighbors is a good flick. Funny, raunchy, Rose Byrne in full use of her lovely accent – a minor comedic gem that I find myself going back to more often than I expected. Is it sequel worthy? With Seth Rogen somehow involved, probably.

Post-Screening Ramble:

At this point in my relationship with Seth Rogen as a force in Hollywood, I’m ready to follow him about anywhere. He’s the type of actor that because of his beginnings – well made raunch comedy before well made raunch comedy was socially acceptable – struggles sometimes with credibility. That said, look at his filmography – it’s kind of amazing. Outside of Guilt Trip (which for a road trip film starring Rogen and Barbara Streisand, is nothing more than inoffensive), there’s almost nothing that Rogen has been a part of that isn’t, accounting for taste of course, entirely enjoyable and, if you dig just a hair deeper than the weed jokes and sex, pretty fucking smart. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising follows this trend, improving upon the originals themes of personal growth, while expanding the world these immature adult-children exist in. Watch the trailers and you think, “Oh, it’s like the first one but instead of frats fucking up their stuff, slutty girls are fucking up their stuff.” And yes, there are some ladies doing bad things in this (played with grace and charm by Chloe Moretz, Kiersey Clemons, and Beanie Feldstein) but where the first film addressed just how scary realizing you’re an adult is through the worldview of Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne), the second film is about just how scary it is to step away from the crown, to try to push back on the shit this world tosses at us. Briefly: sororities can’t have parties, and frat parties are date-rape festivals, so the girls of the newly formed Kappa Nu move in next door to Mac, Kelly, and their adorable daughter Stella, just as they’re on the verge of selling their house, as long as someone doesn’t fuck it up. Zac Efron is involved. The girls of Kappa Nu go on the offensive against Mac and Kelly. Lessons are learned. But at the end of the day the film, which hurtles along with brief stops for some truly hilarious moments, is a slap in the face to every dick-forward, bro-comedy we’ve had shoved down our face in the last, well, since comedy was invented. I don’t know how a bunch of white guys got in a room and wrote a beautiful feminist film that still jokes about tampons and sex, but they did, and it’s the type of thing that when your daughters are ready for tampons, weed, and sex jokes, they should be forced to watch Neighbors 2. It pulls off the bro-layer of this sort of stereotypical genre, and reveals once again, just how powerful a film that features a baby’s first vibrator and date rape jokes can be.

One Last Thought:

I was worried about Rogen’s Preacher series, and now I’m ashamed I ever doubted him.

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Movie Breakdown: The Nice Guys

May 19, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I’m excited for The Nice Guys.  Mostly because I love me some Shane Black.  Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Lethal Weapon 1-3, The Monster Squad, Iron Man 3 – that’s just a few of the great films he’s written and/or directed over the years.  Oh, and Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are pretty talented, too.

Post-Screening Ramble:

It didn’t click in my head until I was on my way home from the screening, but The Nice Guys is essentially a more accessible version of Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson’s bizarro crime dramedy from 2014).  Set in the 70s, the film follows two equally talented private eyes who share a knack for screwing up – Jackson Healy (a rough and tumble Russell Crowe) and Holland March (a soft and charming Ryan Gosling) – as they attempt to find both a missing person and a supposedly dead pornstar.  Naturally, nothing is as it seems, and the two – along with Holland’s daughter, Holly (played in wise-beyond-her-years fashion by Angourie Rice) – bumble about and cause a ruckus as they do their best to figure out exactly what the hell is going on.  Like one of writer/director Shane Black’s previous films, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the plot twirls about repeatedly so that at some point you stop bothering with trying to figure it out (this makes the big reveal zanier, I guess) and you instead focus on the characters and their shenanigans.  For the most part it works, as the characters are all so likeable that you want to spend as much time with them as you can, but I will say this, there are some plot points that totally get lost and forgotten in the film’s steady story shuffling.  Again, you may not care since you’ll be laughing and having fun, but it’s important to note that the film is shakily constructed underneath its good time outer coating.

Grab a beer and go see The Nice Guys, just don’t be surprised if you poke a thousand holes in by the time you get home.

One Last Thought:

I know it’s hard to look pretty when Ryan Gosling is your co-star, but Russell Crowe is fairly blimp-like in The Nice Guys, and it’s not good.  Russell, if you’re reading this, I forbid you to let yourself go all Marlon Brando on the world.

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Movie Breakdown: A Bigger Splash

May 18, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Luca Guadagnino, who directed the well received I Am Love, is back with A Bigger Splash.  In tow she’s got Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson and Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead).  Sounds like a winning combo to me.

Post-Screening Ramble:

“Thick” is probably the best way to describe A Bigger Splash.  Not so much on the plot-front, that’s actually easy enough to follow.  Marianne Lane (played brilliantly by Tilda Swinton) is a rock star on a post-throat surgery sabbatical in Italy with her boyfriend Paul (played coyly by Matthias Schoenaerts), and things couldn’t be better.  The two of them are hanging out naked by the pool and enjoying just being with themselves and out of the spotlight.  Then, because it’s a movie and no one can just be happy, Harry (played shiftily by Ralph Fiennes) shows up with his daughter (played precociously by Dakota Johnson) and everything just goes to shit.  Old drama gets dug up, things happen that can’t be undone and before everyone knows it, their lives are forever changed.  It’s a good story, one that’s full of ambiguous characters and an ending that arrives from outer space like a SpaceX rocket.   It’s in the presentation of the story where I think the film might prove to be a bit much for some.  The pace is deliberately slow, as director Luca Guadagnino methodically rolls out a dense tale of jealousy and all-out weirdness, and by the time the point of all it jumps out and flips on the light for you, you’re already exhausted by the whole damn thing.  I walked out mostly sure that I liked the film, but I’d be a liar if I said I haven’t flipped flopped back and forth on it about 100 times since my screening.  See it, but be sure to prep yourself for a meandering film that will test your patience.

One Last Thought:

A Bigger Splash has 300% more Ralph Fiennes penis than I was expecting to experience.  Then again, I suppose I’m not ever really expecting to see his dude bits in any flick, so it’s possible that this stat of mine is useless.

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Movie Breakdown: The Angry Birds Movie

May 17, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Years and years ago I was pretty addicted to the Angry Birds game.  Then it drifted from my mind and I haven’t actively thought about it since.  I assume that most of you are in the same boat?  Either way, I expect that the movie will either be a nail in the coffin for the franchise, or it’ll reinvigorate it.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Everything you’re expecting (if you’re expecting anything, that is) is present in The Angry Birds Movie.  There are angry birds, shifty pigs and various bits of lore to help fluff the movie and convince you that the video game franchise is deserving of a feature-length film.  Unfortunately, that’s about all there is to The Angry Birds Movie.  If you’re thinking “well, shouldn’t The Angry Birds Movie be fully based on the Angry Birds game”, then know that I agree.  I just think that adding in some other elements – clever jokes, memorable characters, a good story – would have been a solid move, and the fact of the matter is that The Angry Birds Movie skimps on these items in favor of simply hoping you’ll buy into the film based on how often it references the game.  I need and want more!

The Angry Birds Movie isn’t terrible, it’s just really mediocre.  Unless you have a small child that really wants to see it or you just happen to be obsessed with the game, then I don’t see any reason why you should seek it out this weekend.  You’d be much better off spending time with Zootopia, 2016′s best animated film (so far).

One Last Thought:

Will there be a new Angry Birds game based on the Angry Birds film that was based on the original Angry Birds game?  I hope not.  Such a thing may end the world immediately.

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Movie Breakdown: The Meddler

May 11, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Despite having one of those this-is-surely-a-bad-romantic-comedy type titles, I have faith in The Meddler.  The cast is great – Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne and J.K. Simmons – and I’ve liked a couple of writer/director Lorene Scafaria’s previous films – Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World and Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

Post-Screening Ramble:

The Meddler is a really endearing little film.  Marnie (Susan Sarandon in full-on charm mode) is a widow who has recently jumped from NYC to LA with the goal of being closer to her only child, Lori (Rose Byrne in full-on anxiety-riddled mode).  How sweet and wonderful, right?  Nope.  Marnie now only has Lori in her life, and because of this she’s just about as overbearing as can be.  She calls constantly to check-in, she frequently pops by Lori’s house unannounced, she hires Lori’s therapist as her own, she sees and does stuff for Lori’s friends without her.  It’s all too much.  With that being said – and all of the credit here goes to writer/director Lorene Scafaria – Marnie’s meddling is presented in a way where you can’t help but feel sorry for her.  She’s lost, unsure of how to cope with the death of her husband, and so she’s fumbling about and trying really hard to do everything but get on with her own life.  It’s truly a tough spot, one that’s impossible to disregard in a “oh just get over it” kind of way, but thankfully Scafaria never lets Marnie’s journey feel too heavy.  Sure, there are moments where you’ll want to crawl into the screen and hug everyone, but the film has a great sense of humor, and once Zipper (J.K. Simmons also in full-on charm mode) comes around and connects with Marnie, you’ll find yourself feeling all warm, mushy and confident that everything is going to be OK.

You should consider trading this weekend’s CG craziness for a big helping of heart via The Meddler.

One Last Thought:

Rose Byrne has become one of my favorite actresses.  She totally owns every role that she lands, and I appreciate that.  Also, it’s kind of crazy that by next Friday (May 20), you’ll be able to go to the theater and see her in three very different films – The Meddler, X-Men: Apocalypse and Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.  Go Rose Go!

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Movie Breakdown: X-Men: Apocalypse

May 10, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Initially I was pretty excited about X-Men: Apocalypse.  Bryan Singer back once again to direct the franchise he helped jump start, the always stellar Oscar Issac as the super baddie Apocalypse, the eternally hot Olivia Munn as Psylocke.  Yes!  Then came a slew of mediocre trailers.  Oddly enough though, what really muffled my enthusiasm was a recent viewing of X-Men: Days of Future Past: The Rogue Cut.  I found it to be fairly terrible (bad pacing, too many characters and subplots), and it left me feeling like Singer in full control may not be the right move after all.  Uh oh.

Post-Screening Ramble:

I hope you’re ready for X-MEN: PLOT-POCALYPSE.  Young versions of Jean Grey, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Storm and Angel all get introductions of varying depth.  Moira, the CIA agent from X-Men: First Class, gets tossed back into the mix with Professor X.  Mystique is now a mercenary and that’s sort of explored.  Magneto’s newfound “normal” life gets a bit of screen time.  Psylocke gets a brief moment.  Apocalypse gets an intro, and then a re-intro later before setting out to acquire his four horseman.  Quicksilver is back with his own personal mission.  There’s even a cameo from that one guy (and his infamous buddy) who you know just has to be in the movie (and has briefly been shown in the trailers).  Holy cow.  I’m not even sure if that’s everything.  Seriously, there are so many character intros/re-intros/updates and subplots and whatever that the movie’s first two hours really drag.  No worries though, right?  There’s a memorable fight with Apocalypse at the end!  Well, no, not really.  That, CG-heavy, completely mundane conclusion is actually the weakest part of the film.  Sorry, friends.

While X-Men: Apocalypse is no where near as terrible as X-Men: The Last Stand, it’s not particularly good either.  It certainly looks like a legit X-Men film (more so than any of the ones that have come before it, and I expect that hardcore fans will love this), but Apocalypse is simply bogged down and made dull by its over-abundance of characters and the obtuse way it attempts to not only lay the groundwork for future entries in the series, but also to “cleverly” connect it to previous movies.  See it if you’re a mega-fan, but even then you should keep your expectations firmly in check.

PS – If you’re curious about the cast – they’re all OK at best in the film.  Can’t say it’s their fault though, as none of them are really given a chance to shine since the movie has far too much crap going on at all times.

One Last Thought:

X-Men Apocalypse baffled me to the point where I honestly don’t even know what I want out of an X-Men film anymore.  Might be time to give the franchise a breather.

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Movie Breakdown: Captain America: Civil War (Noah)

May 6, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I mean has there ever been a summer blockbuster that’s garnered more hype from the nerdier side of the critical spectrum? I can’t recall, but I’ve been sweating nerd juice for weeks in anticipation of this one.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Well, I mean, wow, just wow – Captain America: Civil War as a big-budget, action spectacular with some through-line of emotional and political resonance is probably the very pinnacle of the form. This is the summer blockbuster as a piece of art. All of the tenants of the genre are here – fight scenes, bombast, overwhelming plot details, a tinge of bloat – but somehow, the Russo Brothers and their hard-working screenwriters have managed to make it feel seamless, to somehow include a roster of characters so numerous that any intelligent creator of narrative visions would laugh in the face of whomever offered them the script. They’ve done this and they’ve still maintained the relationships that make the whole damn thing work. It’s not a complicated story: bad things happen in the wake of the Avengers trying to stop a criminal, the government decides that they need monitoring, and well, a line is drawn in the sand – Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) on one side, Captain America (Chris Evans) stoically on the other. It is a testament to the work that Marvel has done in introducing this enormous collection of very specific individuals to the world meticulously over ten years, because in a film like this the Russo Brothers don’t need to dick around telling every story – the audience recognizes these faces and if they don’t remember every facet of their character arcs, they at least know enough (Ant-Man: guy with criminal past who can shrink) that the interactions between them have weight and credibility and mean something. There’s a moment in the end when the Winter Soldier and Captain America are just laying into Iron Man, and the camera keeps cutting into his helmet and has his armor depletes you can almost feel Tony Stark’s little heart breaking, that this beautiful thing he created has fallen so badly apart. And you realize that even if these characters are wearing armored pajamas and have crushing metal arms and super hero battle suits, that, well, you’ve really ended up feeling for these folks. To those films to have to follow in the wake of this behemoth, I pray for your soul, because, well, this film is near fucking perfect.

One Last Thought:

Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) is pretty much everything you want from the character and he would be the fresh-faced star of this film … if not for Tom Holland’s pitch perfect Spider-Man. I have hundreds of Spider-Man comic books at my parent’s house and I’ve been waiting for the true realization of the character – a little bit emo, a lot slapstick, still a badass – to come to the screen. And finally, finally, he has.

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Movie Breakdown: The Man Who Knew Infinity

May 5, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I hate math.  However, there are plenty of math-centric movies that I love (A Beautiful Mind, The Imitation Game, Good Will Hunting – just to name a few), so it’s possible that I may end up being into The Man Who Knew Infinity.

Post-Screening Ramble:

The Man Who Knew Infinity is the story of Srinivasa Ramanujan, a pioneer in mathematical theories, who in 1914 made the trip all the way from East India to Cambridge University to work with a professor by the name of G.H. Hardy.  Does that sound interesting to you?  If so, then I advise that you skip the movie and simply read the man’s Wikipedia entry.

Every now and again in school when I could actually do a math problem in my head, it would annoy me to receive a note telling me to show my work.  So, I think it’s hilariously ironic that my biggest issue with The Man Who Knew Infinity is that I don’t know a zero bit more about Ramanujan’s work than I did before stepping into the theater.  Nothing is ever shown or explained!  Characters just talk on and on about groundbreaking formulas, and the importance of them all is never once discussed.  I guess I’m just supposed to believe/know that Ramanujan was brilliant?  Regardless of that, the film is also hampered by the fact that it’s a real bore.  For the most part, it’s comprised of scenes where Ramanujan (played over-enthusiastically by a lazily cast Dev Patel) runs into a room, exclaims that he’s solved something impossible, then Professor Hardy (played with the right amount of gravitas by Jeremy Irons) tells him he needs to provide proofs, then Ramanujan pouts, and the process starts over.  Though, to director Matt Brown’s credit, he does clumsily intersperse a few moments where Ramanujan deals with racism and whatnot.  Thanks, Matt!  Otherwise your whole film would have just been about indescribable equations.

Skip.

One Last Thought:

I’m starting to get rather tired of Dev Patel.  He always plays the same wide-eyed character with good intentions, and it’s time for him to do something else.  Maybe he could try being a wide-eyed character with bad intentions?  Just spit-balling here.

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Movie Breakdown: Captain America: Civil War

May 4, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

In my opinion, 2015 wasn’t a great year for Marvel.  Sure, they made a ton of cash, but The Avengers: Age of Ultron wasn’t exactly good, and Ant-Man was okay-but-largely-forgettable.  Does this mean there’s a “where’s there’s smoke, there’s fire” situation, or am I just overthinking things?  It may be the latter, as the early word on Captain America: Civil War has been so immensely positive that it’s difficult to not believe that everything is actually just fine in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is by far and away my favorite Marvel movie.  Aside from being a very well made film, I greatly appreciate that it does more than introduce a new set of characters and then hint at a bigger story to come.  There’s real Marvel Cinematic Universe-wide altering events (like the disintegration of SHIELD) that happen, and it carries a tone just serious enough to let you know it’s more than another superhero adventure.  Thankfully, Captain America: Civil War is more of the same, and once I see it again, I may be set to call it my favorite Marvel film.  Clocking in at roughly two and a half hours (with two post-credit sequences), the movie is a fantastically crafted (way to go, Anthony and Joe Russo), full-on nerdgasm.  Familiar faces show up, new ones are swiftly introduced, and then they’re all set down a path that ultimately redefines the MCU.  I laughed, I shook my head in disbelief, I felt sad and, most importantly, I walked out of the theater as ready as can be to see it again.  It’s a pretty easy film to spoil (so you may want to watch what you read until you see it), so I’ll avoid details and just leave you with this – Black Panther is awesome, Spider-Man is awesome, the chase sequence is awesome, the airport scene is awesome, the finale is awesome.

See Captain America: Civil War ASAP, folks.

One Last Thought:

I know it’s been said before, but it really is crazy to see Captain America, Iron Man, Black Panther, Spider-Man, War Machine, Ant-Man, Vision and so many others all on the SAME screen.  And they’re in full costume!  And they’re well cast!  And they’re involved in a good story!  How wild.

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