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Movie Breakdown: War Dogs (Noah)

August 19, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Todd Phillips is one of the defining comedic directors of our time. You might not love everything he’s done – I sure don’t – but his broad-faced dissections of male relationships in times of trouble and tragedy are, well, deeply ingrained into the pop culture consciousness. So, what happens when he turns the corner and strides down the garbage-strewn alley of dark comedy? I don’t know.

Post-Screening Ramble:

From the outside, War Dogs looks like any other Todd Phillips film – there’s a couple of man-children, a road trip of sorts, a lot of bad behavior that ends in some sort of emotional, though zany, resolution. And, to be honest, it is, but War Dogs, to its credit, pushes Phillip’s almost two-decade long “analysis” of man’s never-ending attempt to, well, grow up into the darkest corner of his directing career. The film follows the true story of Efram Divoroli (Jonah Hill) and David Packouz (Miles Teller), a duo of Miami-twenty-somethings who get in too deep in the, uh, international arms game. It has all the touchstones of a Phillip’s film (That Hangover Trilogy Phillips that’s full of flash and wealth, not his more humble, more abstract Old School self) – slow-mo driving, slo-mo shooting, a male relationship that develops and changes and breaks and breaks again over the course of the film. Phillips’ films are ostensibly about growing up in the most minute of shades, and Teller’s character Packouz, does just that, creeping his way upwards from a newly-married massage therapist, unhappy with his life of day-to-day drudgery, into a multi-million dollar arms dealer with the law on his tail. Both the actors stand out here, Teller continues to impress at playing a certain type of every-bro, the cool guy you always knew might have a little more under the surface. But truly it’s Jonah Hill’s film, as Phillips let his character run wild, a sort of overweight cartoon in action, his dialogue peppered with a helium-induced titter. He’s the Devil to Packouz’s “angel” and it’s a strong performance that picks up the film when it starts to drag. Phillips does good work here, and if this is his transition into darker territory it bodes well for what comes next. Though this can be said, wrapping your film about the production and illegal sales of guns into a comedy, no matter how dark it is, is a tricky prospect. The comedy allows the average viewer, regardless of their gun politics, into the ring, but also weakens the statement – guns are bad – that the director is trying to make. At times, though again to Phillip’s credit not often, the film wants to go for an easy joke over a more difficult moment, and you can feel the pressure of the film deflate slightly. Phillips has grounded his shift in style in the works of the masters – Scorcese especially – so the film feels authentic and gritty but somehow still a part of the moneyed Miami scene. And though it never sticks out as anything particularly original – in the greater context of films or Phillip’s own oeuvre – it’s a solid flick about friendship, growing up, and a couple of bros learning to shoot guns.

One Last Thought:

I gwt Adam McKay and Todd Phillips confused easily. Their films touch, from very different angles on similar themes (man-children) and their rise to the top of comedy’s pile of butter happened almost concurrently. And then, at just the same moment, both pivot to this more political type film, as if in backrooms over expensive bourbon the two challenged each other to push the next boundary. It’s probably not true, but hey, take a look, their films weirdly mirror each other.

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Movie Breakdown: Kubo And The Two Strings

August 16, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I hadn’t even heard of Kubo or his two strings until I started getting slammed with TV spots for the film while watching the Olympics.  It looks good though.  Or maybe I’ve just been so inundated with “IT’S GREAT!” quotes that I feel the need to agree?  Guess we’ll see.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Kubo And The Two Strings is a nice late-summer gift.  The film, which is a beautiful mix of CG and stop motion, is about Kubo, a one-eyed boy who supports himself (and his despondent mother) by telling stories with origami figures that come to life whenever he strums his shamisen (a traditional Japanese three-stringed lute).  It’s not a great life, but Kubo makes the best of it and all is well … until he accidentally reveals his location to some wicked family members who want to do him harm.  This is when Kubo’s quest to save himself begins.  I know that sounds way serious – and it is in some parts, as the boy and his unlikely crew (a monkey, a beetle and a miniature origami samurai) are regularly put in scary/dangerous situations – but from the get-go director Travis Knight mixes in the right amount of humor and heart, and that steadily provides the adventure film with an overall endearing tone.

There are a couple of things – mainly some wonky voice work and a rushed-feeling third act – in Kubo And The Two Strings that have me unwillingly to declare it as good as Pete’s Dragon or Finding Dory, but it’s got such a neat story and an even neater look that I legit think it would be silly for you to not scoop up the kids and head to the theater this weekend.

One Last Thought:

I’m split on whether or not Matthew McConaughey should be doing voice work.  He’s got such a unique drawl that it’s actually kind of distracting whenever his character speaks.

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Movie Breakdown: Sausage Party

August 11, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

This is one of those rares times where I’m rolling into a movie that I’ve already seen.  Well, sort of.  What I saw at SXSW earlier this year was a really rough cut and, while I did like it, I’m hoping that the finished version delivers an overall … um … tighter experience.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Oh boy.  When I put that in my Pete’s Dragon breakdown earlier this week, I meant it like oh-boy-this-film-so-magical-and-wholesome.  For Sausage Party, I mean it like oh-boy-this-film-is-wildly-ridiculous-so-beware.  Surely you’re expecting that though, yeah?  If you’ve watched even the shortest clip from Sausage Party, then you probably noticed the way it’s a raunchy, over the top film that shouldn’t exist.  But it does, and it’s hilarious.  It is, however, not for everyone.  The film steadily hops between being immensely offensive (so much racism), super clever (its take on religion is on point), completely stupid (the villain is an actual douche) and really gross (at one point there’s a talking used condom), and it does so in such a manic, sloppy way that it can be overwhelming.  Because of such craziness I fully expect people to either love it or hate it, with everyone forever arguing over whether or not it’s genius or just total drivel.  For now (at least until I catch it one more time), I’m down to tag it as the former.

Have a few beers (or bowls, whichever) and get yourself some Sausage Party.  You’ll laugh your head off.  Or you’ll be really annoyed by the whole damn thing.  Hard to say, really.

One Last Thought:

It humors me to no end that there’s a wide-release animated film that features both a massacre and an orgy.  Bets on when some oblivious parent will take their kid(s) to see Sausage Party thinking it’s a cute movie about food?  I say it’ll happen the second weekend of its theatrical run.

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Movie Breakdown: Florence Foster Jenkins

August 10, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

It’s been a while since I’ve cared about Hugh Grant, but Meryl Streep is Meryl Streep and the actual story of Florence Foster Jenkins is one that’s fairly interesting.  Also, Stephen Frears (The Queen, Philomena) is a more than capable director.  Could be good.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Florence Foster Jenkins is based on the true story of … Florence Foster Jenkins (played wonderfully, of course, by Meryl Streep), a music-loving socialite who garnered New York City’s attention in the 40s with a record that was truly awful.  That’s right, awful, because she couldn’t sing at all.  Making things even more interesting is that she didn’t know she couldn’t sing.  Apparently that’s what happens when you have a lot of money and happen to be surrounded by people who respect your bankroll and shelter you from the truth.  What a life!  Anyhow, it’s a legit neat story, but I have to say that the film itself is alright at best.  Not only is its run time too long, but it feels too long.  The film also has a wonky tone.  It largely plays like a big joke, as though director Stephen Frears’ main goal was to deliver a sort of “can you believe this happened?” experience and then have the world cackle, but he greets every laugh with a you-shouldn’t-be-laughing-at-this hammer to the face, and it’s so jarring that about midway through the movie I gave up on trying to figure out whether I should feel amused by and/or sorry for Jenkins.  That’s no good.

My advice to you is to skip Florence Foster Jenkins.  If you really want to see it though, at least wait until its available to watch from the comfort of your couch.

One Last Thought:

Meryl Streep should pull a Helen Mirren (RED, RED 2, Fast And Furious 8) and star in an action flick or raunchy rom-com or something.  It would be really fun to see her let loose and just have a blast with a role that’s totally out of her wheelhouse.

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Movie Breakdown: Pete’s Dragon (2016)

August 9, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

The marketing for Pete’s Dragon has been super low key (I’m not sure I ever actually saw a trailer) and all I remember about the 1977 version is that there’s a real kid named Pete and an animated dragon named Elliot.  Guess this means I’m heading into Disney’s remake with a rather open mind about it.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Oh boy.  Pete’s Dragon is a real winner, a triumphant time at theater that will delight you … as long as you can make it through the first act, which is all kinds of clunky.  Pete gets introduced, there’s a tragedy, Elliot gets introduced, some time passes, 100 other characters get introduced, and THEN the actually story gets rolling.  It’s admittedly kind of a boring stretch, one that feels like you’re watching someone meticulously line up all of their toys before they’ll let you touch anything.  Thankfully though, once director David Lowery has his pieces all painstakingly set, he delivers the kind of magical ride that will leave you teary-eyed and feeling like you should immediately run out and take your family/friends/whoever on an adventure.  If you ask me, that more than makes up for the slow start.

You should definitely go see Pete’s Dragon this weekend.  And do yourself a favor, don’t re-watch the original, don’t compare it to the original, don’t read any other reviews (it’s really easy to spoil), just go and soak up all of the magic that the film has to offer.  Also, be sure to take your kids.

One Last Thought:

This summer has been so weird.  Who would have guessed that the most magical, heartwarming film to be released would be David Lowery’s remake of Pete’s Dragon and not Steven Spielberg’s The BFG?  I mean, Lowery’s last film was 2013′s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints!  Maybe the world really is about to end.

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Movie Breakdown: Suicide Squad (Noah)

August 4, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

After Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, I have a bone-deep weariness about anything DC tries to bring the big screen. Clearly they’re trying to get as many properties on screen as possible to see what works and what doesn’t and that, yee Distinguished Competition yee, is a terrible idea. But hey, David Ayers has made a few decent films and they’ve got a cast that if used properly might just be able to turn this into something that doesn’t resemble Juggalo Avengers.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Suicide Squad is a step forward for DC, just not a very good step forward. When the film was announced a few years back – amongst thirty other films DC was hoping to produce in the next decade – it was supposed to be the segue film that would sate DC-hungry fans while the next piece of their Justice League opus was being produced. But, BvS was a, frankly, terrible film forcing DC to reconfigure the whole future of its franchise and thrusting Suicide Squad into the “I’m going to fix your entire shared universe” spotlight. It isn’t a good place for any film to be in, and it bodes especially poorly for the very messy, very scattered Suicide Squad. This is basically the anti-Avengers: shadowy government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis in a chilling performance) knows that in the wake of Superman’s life and death, that a new wave of meta-human threats are going to start popping up more, so she knows that she’s going to need a Black Ops team of her own “meta-humans” to push back. Thus, she gathers a team of the worst supervillains around – the “Suicide Squad” of the title – to do the bad things that need to be done to keep the world spinning. It’s pretty much The Dirty Dozen with supervillains. Well, The Dirty Dozen with supervillains and a confusing muddled plot that leaves a selection of good performances adrift in a movie that happily slips into the worst tropes of a superhero film. There’s good to be had here: Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is off-kilter in a truly endearing way and Will Smith’s Deadshot is a legitimate character with a solid narrative on which to build a film on. There’s bad too: Jared Leto’s Joker is a non-entity, a sort of 80s crimelord with shitty tats and a cackling laugh. As John Laird told me, you could remove this character from the film and nothing would come of it. Mostly though, the film is just mediocre, a melange of overly-familiar scenes broken up by nonsensical action, who-gives-a-fuck story developments, and a pair of bad guys who look pulled from a PS1 Conan the Barbarian game. There are storylines and reveals in this film that clearly had different endings in some other cut, but because this film needed to be exactly what it is, all of it just feels mashed together into a bizarre mix that almost works if you look at it very broadly. However, as soon as you start digging past the visuals and the snappy dialogue and the weirdness, the whole thing just collapses. Somehow though, and I think DC should thank BvS for being so pointedly awful, you don’t walk away from this film hating it, you walk away feeling like hey, DC seems to be making some steps in the right direction. Which, in a summer season that has produced next to nothing good, is almost a positive review.

One Last Thing:

David Ayers needs to get someone to edit his soundtracks. This is a relentlessly loud and obnoxious film. Just one song after another song slammed onto the screen, always in service of announcing some crazy new thing. It made me feel like an old man.

One Other Last Thing:

This movie is going to kill with a certain crowd. The audience I saw this film with ate it up from start to finish, cheering at every moment of, well, anything. Lord help us.

And One Other Last Thing:

I really think that at this point in time we can start making comparisons between Trump and Hillary and DC and Marvel. DC wants to lay its underformed wang on the table and just shock people into giving a shit about its films. While Marvel, though still occasionally dropping the ball, is like Hillary, forged in the fires of birthing a new world of shared universes, a big, slick machine everyone’s always waiting on to fail. Am I right?

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Movie Breakdown: Suicide Squad

August 3, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

The R-rated (it’s actually PG-13, oops) Suicide Squad is the newest entry into the DC Extended Universe.  It’s being sold as Guardians of the Galaxy meets Deadpool, which sounds like a blast, but I’m hesitant about buying into the marketing hype.  Will Smith hasn’t had a good blockbuster in a very long while, and I’m not much of a fan of director David Ayers (Fury, Sabotage).

Post-Screening Ramble:

Suicide Squad is a big mess.  It’s poorly paced, not well made (some of the CG looks lifted out of the 90s), the overall plot is weak and doesn’t make a lot of sense, the casting is hit or miss (go away, Will Smith), and – here’s the most damning part – the whole film is over-stylized and reeks of TRYING TOO HARD.  Suicide Squad so badly wants to be what its marketing has been selling it as – Guardians of the Galaxy meets Deadpool – but director David Ayers clearly had no idea how to pull that off.  So, along with his own sloppily injected ideas, he delivered the easiest parts to lift from each of the aforementioned hits – classic rock tunes and curse words.  Unfortunately, he didn’t manage to implement those bits any better than he did his own.

With all of that being said, I – somehow – didn’t actually hate Suicide Squad.  The first act is brisk and fun, and there are some good performances – Jared Leto’s Joker is solid, Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is fun, Jay Hernandez’s Diablo is on point and Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller is adequately frigid.  It’s just too bad that once the fighting begins, the film completely crumbles and loses any discernible reason for the characters or the “story” to even exist.

If I were you, I’d save the cash and wait to see the movie via Redbox (or whatever you prefer) later this year.

One Last Thought:

Oddly enough, I wish that Will Smith had starred in Independence Day: Resurgence instead of Suicide Squad.  At least there his Will Smith as Will Smith shtick would have been easier to swallow.

One More Thought:

To be honest, I won’t be surprised if I liked Suicide Squad more on a second viewing.  I also wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up liking it less.

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Movie Breakdown: Don’t Think Twice

August 2, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Judging by the charming trailers and the praise I’ve seen floating around in my feeds, it seems as though Mike Birbiglia’s Don’t Think Twice is a worthy follow-up to 2012′s Sleepwalk With Me.  I’m excited.

Post-Screening Ramble:

While I wish this wasn’t the case, I didn’t much care for Don’t Think Twice.  I found it to be an uncomfortable film that’s mostly full of unlikable people, and there were numerous times throughout it where I was tempted to turn it off so that I could get out from under its umbrella of sadness.  Don’t get me wrong though, it’s not that Mike Birbiglia does a lackluster job of directing the film or that any of the performances are bad, I just simply couldn’t relate to any of it.  I’m not really a big fan of improv (the story is essentially centered around it), and all of its characters are so self-tortured that I spent the majority of the film wishing that I could step into the screen and violently shake them.  Hell, even as I write this review I’m getting pissed off just remembering even the smallest details about that obtuse lot.

Anyhow, I get what Birbiglia was aiming for – to show that being funny isn’t easy – and I think he adequately gets his point across, but the folks on display in his film are so morose that it squashed any measure of sympathy I may have been willing to conjure up for them.  Surely that wasn’t an intended side effect, yeah?

Don’t Think Twice didn’t work for me, but you may love it.

One Last Thought:

I liked seeing Keegan-Michael Key in a film where he plays a normal dude who doesn’t yell all of the time.  Granted, in Don’t Think Twice his “normal” guy is someone who routinely makes up characters who yell a lot, but I’m down to toss aside that little detail and focus on his more quiet moments in the film.

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Movie Breakdown: Jason Bourne

July 27, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

The Bourne Trilogy is pretty damn great.  The Bourne Legacy isn’t terrible, but I can’t say I’ve ever really wanted to revisit it.  As for Jason Bourne, I want it to be good, but if it isn’t, I’ll just treat it like I do its aforementioned semi-sequel and pretend it doesn’t exist.  Easy come, easy go!

Post-Screening Ramble:

Like pretty much every other major film that’s rolled out this summer (it hasn’t really been a great one, has it?), your approval or disapproval of Jason Bourne is going to be dependent on what sort of film you’re expecting.  If you’re simply down to see some familiar characters doing some espionage-type things, then you’ll probably be into it.  If you’re wanting a worthy entry into the Bourne series that expands the original story or at least starts an interesting new thread for the character, then the film may disappoint you.

To me, The Bourne Trilogy’s greatness stems from 1) Bourne being a great character and 2) The way each entry in it is essentially a chase film with spy elements.  The poor, goodhearted Bourne is on the run and he’s trying to figure out his past.  And there’s satellites and laptops!  Ah!  Jason Bourne, for whatever reason, alters this formula.  There’s definitely some chasing (the scene in Las Vegas is particularly exciting) and a mystery (albeit a lazy one) for Bourne to solve, but overall the film puts Bourne, his plight and his muscles in a corner while it focuses more on its various CIA characters.  Each of the shady figures have their own sneaky agendas (career advancement, internet policing, etc), and Bourne simply serves as a device that moves their plots along.  Yes, that’s right, the movie may be called Jason Bourne, but its titular character is practically a sub plot.  Go figure.

As I said up above, if you just want a spy flick with some action here and there, then see Jason Bourne.  Those of you hoping for more though should just wait and catch it on the small screen.

One Last Thought:

Alicia Viklander is the best part of of Jason Bourne.  She’s such an alluring presence on the screen.  On another note, I hope her Tomb Raider movie doesn’t suck.

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Movie Breakdown: Nerve

July 27, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I like Emma Roberts and Dave Franco, but Nerve looks pretty silly.  Also, my lack of excitement for the film isn’t helped much by the fact that the duo behind the internet-kitschy Catfish directed it.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Nerve has a fun concept, but it’s not particularly well executed.  The film starts by introducing the photography-loving, non-risk-taking Vee (Emma Roberts) and her two best friends – a nerdy fella who is obviously in love with her, and a girl who is a bit of a daredevil.  It’s the latter who introduces Vee to Nerve, an underground game that’s quickly becoming a hit.  Via the app you can either watch people take on dares, or you can actually accept some of your own.  Naturally, Vee should be a watcher, but in an attempt to prove that she’s not who people think she is, she starts accepting dares.  This is when she meets Ian (Dave Franco), and the two pair up and have a glorious night!  Or not.

For the first solid chunk of Nerve, I was into it.  Sure, the film takes a little bit to get going and it’s shot in a unfortunate OMG-tech-is-so-kewl kind of way, but Roberts and Franco have solid chemistry, the “dares” properly ascend from cute to exciting/dangerous, and I found it easy to buy into the idea of everyone loving a game where you wander around obsessed with either garnering attention or watching others live.  Somewhere near the third act though the film just totally falls apart.  Weird motives and masked characters pop up without any explanation, things go from exciting to silly, and the movie just loses all momentum.  Talk about limping across the finish line.

If you decide to catch Nerve, keep your expectations in check.

One Last Thought:

If those vids of kids climbing skyscrapers and cranes make you grab onto your chair because somehow you’re afraid you’re going to fall to your death, then Nerve may not be for you.

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Movie Breakdown: Captain Fantastic

July 22, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Viggo Mortensen is an all-time favorite of mine, and he just so happens to be in Captain Fantastic.  This automatically means I’m excited to see it.  Granted, it certainly doesn’t hurt that the trailers have made it look like a quirky good time.  Also, I’m intrigued by the fact that Matt Ross (Gavin Belson from Silicon Valley) both directed and wrote the film.

Post-Screening Ramble:

It’ll be interesting to see how people react to Captain Fantastic.  The film follows Ben (played with spirit by Viggo Mortensen) and his pack of kiddos as they undertake a road trip in order to attend their mother’s funeral.  I suppose that sounds fairly normal, but what provides a bit of a twist is that Ben and his family live off the grid, deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest.  There the kids go through daily physical training sessions and they’re home-schooled on advanced subjects.  The whole lot of them seem rather well adjusted, very intelligent and happy, but as the film glides along you start to see that all isn’t well in the perfect world that Ben believes he has built for himself and his family.  His kids may be able to survive in the woods and have full-on philosophical discussions, but their social skills are poor, they’ve never had the chance to apply most of what they’ve learned, and they’re often in situations that the outside world considers unfit and/or dangerous for a child.  Should Ben and his family live how they do?  Should he put an end to it and place his family in society?  The film looks at both questions, and while I don’t really think it ever fully commits to saying yes or no to living on or off the grid, it does endearingly try to at least remind the world that regardless of whichever lifestyle you choose for yourself and your loved ones, flexibility is a must.  Now that’s a message I can get behind.

Go see Captain Fantastic.  It has heart and it’s funny.

One Last Thought:

As of now, Viggo doesn’t have any other films lined up, and that’s a damn shame.  Here’s hoping he doesn’t stay off the big screen for too long.

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Movie Breakdown: Star Trek Beyond

July 21, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Let’s face it, just about everything in regards to the marketing for Star Trek Beyond has been decidedly weird.  It’s like the studio wasn’t really sure who to sell the movie to – Trekkies or normies – so they just mashed the two marketing campaigns together and went to work.  Perhaps this approach stems from it being directed by action-junkie Justin Lin and written by super nerd Simon Pegg?  Either way, I hope it’s a success.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Star Trek Beyond is a fun film.  There’s a lot of neat visuals, good laughs, big action and everything else that one might expect from a summer blockbuster.  I guess the real question is whether or not that’s what you want from a Star Trek film.  If it is, then you’re going to like it.  I certainly enjoyed its various quips and explosions, and I walked out of the theater feeling good about what I had seen throughout its brisk two hour run-time.  However, those of you hoping for the series to go all-in on deep space exploration or to grow its main characters, I think you’re going to scoff at Star Trek Beyond.

As you may remember, Into Darkness ended with the Enterprise setting off on a five-year journey into deep space.  Beyond picks up about midway through this excursion, but the crew’s mission just so happens to be next to a newly built space station-world-thingy, so at no point does it seem as though they’re really on their own or doing any measure of exploring.  On the character front, Uhura, Sulu and Chekov are all around, but mostly just as familiar-face fodder, while Bones and Scotty are given a good chunk of screen time in order to give the film heart and humor.  None of them evolve in any way, though.  As for Kirk and Spock, both are given seemingly important subplots (hint: neither really want to be in Star Fleet anymore), but aside from the introduction and conclusion of their separate plans, nothing is ever discussed or even revealed.  It’s so useless!  And what’s even weirder is that I’d say these parts should have just been cut, but the amount of screen time they take up is so inconsequential that it doesn’t matter.

If you want sci-fi fun, go see Star Trek Beyond.  If you want sci-fi headiness and character development, don’t go see Star Trek Beyond.

One Last Thought:

This probably goes without saying, but this series just won’t be the same without Anton Yelchin’s Chekov.  He played the character in such an animated, inspired way.

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Movie Breakdown: Lights Out

July 20, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

James Wan has reached a point where if his name is attached to a horror film, then it’s probably worth checking out.  With that being said, even if I didn’t know he produced Lights Out, I’d still be excited to see the film since the trailers for it have been rock solid in a “should I watch this if I enjoy sleeping” kind of way.

Post-Screening Ramble:

If you just want to have a good time, then I think you’re going to dig Lights Out.  Like The Babadook, The Conjuring, It Follows and other recent horror hits, it features a slew of suspenseful scenes with well done jump scares occasionally peppered in just to make sure you steadily feel on edge.  From there, to be honest, it’s hard for me to say much else about the film.  It has a super brief hour and 21 minute run-time, and its story, which is essentially about a family desperately trying to figure out how to deal with an unwanted guest from their past, isn’t particularly layered or drawn out.  The movie starts, a rather bad thing happens, some relevant info gets uncovered, scary things happen, and then before you know it the film is in its final act and barreling towards a conclusion.  That’s it.  So, as I noted up above, if you just want to watch something that will be fun and perhaps give you the willies, then go see Lights Out.  You can even leave your brain at home!  On the flip side of that, if you’re looking for some kind of game changing, in-depth monster flick, then you may want to seek a different film out.

One Last Thought:

Lights Out reminded me just how much I like and appreciate Maria Bello.  I should revisit some of her older films, especially History Of Violence and Thank You For Smoking.

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Movie Breakdown: Ghostbusters (2016) (Noah)

July 15, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Amidst all the sweaty-man web-trolling, my only instinct – regardless of the absolutely subpar trailers – is to root for this film. Also, Paul Feig, when he’s on, is a comic genius. When he’s not, well, he makes The Heat.

Post-Screening Ramble:

For all the hype – negative or otherwise – that’s been lofted around about an all-female Ghostbusters reboot, I have to say I was expecting to either love or hate Paul Feig’s new film. Sadly, I walked out of the theater, thinking nothing more than, “Wow, that really wasn’t a very entertaining movie.” Which with a cast of women (gasp) this endowed with the ability to be funny, feels particularly egregious. And it’s not just the humor that falls flat, it’s the story and the ghost logic and everything else that in 2016 should be wrapped up in a neat little bow, yeah, all of that stuff just trips on the curb and bites it. The film starts with Professor Erin Gilbert (Kristin Wiig, who has still somehow not discovered how to maximize her abilities) finding out that her old friend Abby Yates has started selling their old book about the scientific proof behind the paranormal. Through a series of ham-fisted plot developments, Yates, Gilbert and Yates’ partner, the surprisingly unfunny Kate McKinnon, end up discovering a ghost, and then, discovering a ghost conspiracy. Somewhere along the way, Patty (Leslie Jones), an MTA officer/New York history buff, joins up and then wham-bam-thank-you-ladies, it’s Ghostbusters time. Other stuff happens and big, super-saturated ghosts walk around New York City, and Chris Hemsworth plays dumb and good-looking really well, and then a vortex opens and then, well, not to spoil anything, but the Ghostbusters save the day and the film ends. And, honestly, my viewing of the film was about as entertaining as that last sentence. The film feels soft, like a bunch of corporate suits sat in a room and gave Paul Feig exactly the percentage of funny, heart-warming, improvisational and crass he was allowed to add to the film to still make it potentially (because there’s a good chance this film bombs huuuuuge this weekend) tentpole franchise. And that’s the problem, this isn’t a movie made to make people laugh (though it tries hard, I’ll give it that), it’s a film made to usher people, softly back into the world of Ghostbusters so in two years or four years or every other year, they can pump out another half-baked comedic “meh” and a bunch of folks who don’t even want to step in the same arena as offensive, will crowd the theaters to see if Slimer makes a doo-doo joke. After everything, months and months of lady-bashing and high-octane nerd-assaults against this film, what it comes down to has nothing to do with which naughty bits are hanging between the legs of the stars or if it maintains the spirit of a film that was made back in 1984 – it just isn’t a very good movie, and that’s really all that matters.

One Last Thing:

For a movie that “pushes the boundaries” because it has four women as its stars, it really toes the line of caricature with Leslie Jones’ Patty character. All the other white women in the movie are scientists and Patty pulls tickets at the subway. Beyond that though (which is frankly, enough) Jones jokes are all built around this sort of “aw shucks, ghosts are crazy” humor that appears a little too frequently for modern sensibilities.

Another Last Thing:

The new Ghostbusters theme is awful. I’m not going to try to paint various shades of opinion here, it’s just terrible, perhaps the worst part of the entire film. Well, aside from the even more awful bro-screamo-metal band that plays for two and half minutes for no reason whatsoever.

And One Other Last Thing:

There’s a dance scene that the credits roll over that I’m glad did not end up in the finished cut of this film. That is all.

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Movie Breakdown: Hunt For The Wilderpeople

July 14, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I’ve been so anxious to see Hunt For The Wilderpeople that I’m worried my expectations are far too high.  Fingers crossed that writer/director Taika Waititi (What We Do In The Shadows, Boy) and the venerable Sam Neil hit it out of the park.

Post-Screening Ramble:

On my press comment card for Hunt For The Wilderpeople, I simply wrote: “Did my heart just melt?  Yes.”  That’s because it had, in fact, just melted.  Even as I sit here now, a few days after my screening, I still get all mushy just thinking about the film.  It’s centered around Ricky (a perfectly cast Julian Dennison), a boy with a troubled past who is shipped out to the New Zealand “bush” for one more shot with a foster family before he gets planted in a juvenile prison.  There he meets the very standoffish Hec (a perfectly cast Sam Neil) and – due to a handful of unexpected hiccups – it’s not long before the two find themselves deep in the wilderness on an adventure that forever changes both of them.  As you’ve probably already guessed, the “changes” consist of coming of age while a mix of clever jokes and tragic things happen.  Be prepared for a full on dramedy, friends.

By the way, I had a hunch going in that it would be a Wes Anderson-esque affair, and it did turn out to be a film that feels rather influenced by the famed auteur.  I will say this though, I never felt as though writer/director Taika Waititi was deliberately trying to copy him.  It’s more the tone of the film that comes off as particularly familiar.  In the end though, you won’t really care, because you’ll be too busy having your pants charmed off of you.

Please go see Hunt For The Wilderpeople immediately.

One Last Thought:

I’m a bit perplexed as to what should be expected from Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok.  I love the guy, but he’s an odd choice for that gig.  Here’s hoping he nails it and ends the reign of decidedly average Thor entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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