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Movie Breakdown: The Commuter (Noah)

January 11, 2018

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Pre-Screening Stance:

It’s my first film of the year and though I know it’s another over-plotted, run-of-the-mill action flick by Jaume Collet-Serra and his elderly star, Liam Neeson, my optimism is high.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Jaume Collet-Serra has somehow carved a niche into the world of action-filmmaking based solely on the strange formula of his pictures. The Commuter does not alter this trend. Liam Neeson, who has now become an actor who should be credited “As Himself,” stars as a former-cop turned insurance agent who – after getting canned from his job – is offered $100,000 to find and kill someone on his daily commuter train. It’s basically Speed meets Under Siege 2 meets Unstoppable. And though this “dream” combo does sound entertaining in the dumbest of ways, Collet-Serra doesn’t add anything new. Instead we watch an old Liam Neeson (he talks about being 60 somewhere between five to ten times in the picture) sweatily running around on a train getting increasingly sinister phone calls from Vera Famiglia while interacting with a bunch of generally lacking side characters as he tries to find a person named “Prin.” And just when you think you’ve seen enough of Neeson rolling around under trains, barking commands at people and somehow (at his self-professed advanced aged) fighting off knife-wielding opponents, the film takes a sharp turn and becomes an exposition heavy, police negotiation flick. It fits into the madcap, off-kilter world of Collet-Serra’s oeuvre – action and sweaty Liam first, sensible plot last – but is it good? No.

One Last Thought:

I’ve never seen a movie with great actors squandered so mercilessly. Patrick Wilson is a blip in this film, same with Vera Famiglia, and worst of all Sam Neill, after his absolutely brilliant performance in Hunt for The Wilderpeople is relegated to the timeless sideline of “gruff older cop.” Phew, this turd of a flick must’ve cost more then a few shiny doubloons.

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Movie Breakdown: The Post

January 11, 2018

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Pre-Screening Stance:

As much as I like Steven Spielberg when he’s in full on spectacle-mode, I really love his historical dramas.  If we’re lucky, The Post will be another Bridge Of Spies or Munich.  If he swings and misses here, at least we’ll get to see Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks on the big screen together.

Post-Screening Ramble:

There’s two sides to The Post.  One is Steven Spielberg succinctly detailing what happened when the Washington Post risked everything to expose the Pentagon Papers, a secret government report that essentially pegged the Vietnam War as unwinnable.  This is, of course, fantastic stuff.  I couldn’t get enough of both Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee, a man hell bent on doing what’s right regardless of the consequences, and Bob Odenkirk as Ben Bagdikian, a relentless scoop-hound.  They’re such great characters, and watching them develop such a massive, dangerous and important story makes for good fun.  The other side of this movie is centered around Meryl Streep’s Kay Graham, the inspirational owner of the Washington Post during the whole Pentagon Papers fiasco.  She starts out as an unwillingly decision-maker when it comes to things at the newspaper, but as the film goes on you watch her take charge of her life and her company, and it’s as equally fantastic as the more suspenseful side of the The Post.  I think it might actually be some of Streep’s best work, which somehow feels silly to note.  In any case, this is the sort of historical drama that will make you want to cheer.  Go see The Post.

One Last Thought:

David Cross plays Howard Simons in this movie, and he’s barely recognizable as the former employee of the Washington Post.  He also doesn’t have very many lines and in general he doesn’t do much of anything.  Maybe he had some scenes that got cut?  Otherwise I can’t figure out why he signed up for this one.

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Top 10 Films Of 2017

January 5, 2018

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John’s Best Films of 2017

You know, 2017 was a pretty good one for film.  I know there were too many sequels, reboots and comic book adaptations, but overall I think quite a few good to great movies were released.  Hopefully 2018 will be as snazzy or better.  We’ll see.  Anyhow, below you’ll find my Top 10 Films of 2017!  Well, it’s actually a Top 25, and I included a whole slew of honorable mentions.  Like I said, 2017 was a good one!  Read on.

PS – Scroll down to the bottom to check out Noah’s year-end film list!

25) 20th Century Women
24) All The Money In The World
23) Good Time
22) The Killing Of A Sacred Deer
21) John Wick: Chapter Two
20) Logan Lucky
19) Get Out
18) Guardians Of The Galaxy 2
17) Thor Ragnarok
16) Spider-Man: Homecoming
15) Blade Of The Immortal
14) War For The Planet Of The Apes
13) The Post
12) The Big Sick
11) Three Billboards Outside Of Ebbing, Missouri

10) Baby Driver

If Baby Driver is proof of anything, it’s that you always let Edgar Wright go full Edgar Wright.  Kudos to the guy for rallying up this rad film after that whole Marvel debacle.

09) Coco

Coco is the most culturally significant movie that Pixar has ever made.  I adore it.

08) Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi

Most fans seem to still be side-eyeing The Last Jedi, but I loved it.  Rian Johnson made a Star Wars movie that’s more about failure than success, and in doing so he pushed the franchise in a much-needed new direction.

07) Logan

Logan came out way early in 2017, but I’m still buzzing about Hugh Jackman getting to say goodbye to the titular character via a movie as fantastic as this one.  I even dig the unnecessary (and gimmicky) noir version of this film.

06) Dunkirk

I got a distinct “Oscar bait” vibe from Dunkirk before it was released, but I ended up really digging it.  Christopher Nolan keeps proving he’s one of the best directors working right now.

05) The Shape Of Water

Guillermo del Toro didn’t outdo Pan’s Labyrinth with The Shape Of Water, but he came close.  He should put out adult fairy tales more often.

04) Wind River

I really hope that Taylor Sheridan gets some recognition from the Academy for writing and directing Wind River.  Talk about an intense film.  Also, it will rip your eyes open in regards to what life is like on a Native American reservation.

03) Blade Runner 2049

This movie didn’t make a lot of money, so I guess it’s a failure?  Nope!  Denis Villeneuve made a near-perfect sequel to … well, a near-perfect movie that also didn’t make a lot of money.  What a coincidence.  In any case, I can’t wait to watch this over and over in 4K.

02) Lady Bird

Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is quite possibly the most relatable movie of 2017 and definitely one of the best coming of age films ever.  Here’s hoping she doesn’t wait long to direct a follow-up.

01) The Disaster Artist

I’ve long laughed at Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, as it’s such a weird film.  My brain just doesn’t understand anything about it, and for years I’ve watched it and totally cracked up at how bizarre it is.  The Disaster Artist, however, made me realize that Tommy poured everything he had (passion, money, weirdness) into a movie for himself and his friends, and you know what?  That should be the driving force for all movies.  I now look at The Room not as a shitty movie, but as a misguided attempt at glory.  It’s wild!  Thanks for tearing me apart, James Franco.

Honorable Mentions: Call Me By Your Name, Last Flag Flying, The Fate Of The Furious, Free Fire, Lost City Of Z, The Square, Gerald’s Game, Raw, Bad Genius, IT, Wonder Woman, Okja, Brigsby Bear, Super Dark Times, Brawl In Cell Block 99, Battle Of The Sexes, American Made, It Comes At Night, Rough Night, The Beguiled, Mother!, Ron Goossens: Low Budget Stuntman, Mary And The Witch’s Flower, Gemini, Only The Brave, Ingrid Goes West, Wheelman, Murder On The Orient Express, Atomic Blonde, Landline, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, Personal Shopper

2017 Films I Really Want To See But Haven’t Yet: I, Tonya, The Florida Project, Phantom Thread

Noah’s Best Films of 2017

2017, you were a shitty year for reasons both public and personal, and there is nothing I’m happier about than watching the door swat it on the ass as it fades into the memory books. This said, 2017 was a banner year for films of all stripes. I won’t attempt to sugarcoat a year of rampant political mayhem and horrible natural disasters by saying that artistically our filmmakers struck back against oppression and white supremacy, but I will say, it wasn’t easy making a list of my ten favorites.

But I did, and here it is!

See you later 2017, thanks for a burning brown bag of shit of a year. But also, thanks for the movies.

The Top 10 (from 10 to 1):

10. Logan, d. James Mangold

Amongst the deluge of superhero films this year (good ones, for the most part, at that) Logan stands out. James Mangold and Hugh Jackman retire the character poetically, jumping years into the post-apocalyptic future where a broken hero must protect a little girl and an addled Professor X. It sends the Jackman-version of the character into the sunset with grace and a whole lot of killing.

9. Get Out, d. Jordan Peele

It feels almost obligatory at this point in the game to drop Get Out on a Top 10 list, but it says a lot about just how powerful a low-budget, Twilight Zone-esque thriller climbed into the throats of America and refused to move. Peele’s a talented director, and Get Out is a jarring film that ably dances along the lines of comedy, horror and racial allegory.

8. The Big Sick, d. Michael Showalter

Perhaps the only movie I’ve ever seen that’s made me think “Ray Romano should get nominated for an Oscar.”

7. Super Dark Times, d. Kevin Phillips

This indie horror flick about a bunch of kids in the grim, depressing world of small-town middle America and the murderous act that tears their little circle apart caught me entirely off guard for a couple reasons. First, it’s a brilliant, visually exciting, suspense laden film that manages to entangle the struggles of youth with the struggles of covering a murder. And two, it’s the first film I’ve seen where the period of the “period piece” is my childhood. Sweet mortality, I beg you be kind.

6. It Comes At Night, Trey Edward Shults

All the bleak, post-apocalyptic plague horror I want or need.

5. Wind River, d. Taylor Sheridan

Anything Taylor Sheridan does, you need to see. Wind River manages to be one of the more pulse-pounding action films of the year while also addressing the horrible world White Americans have helped to create for Native Americans. It’s also Jeremy Renner at his aloof best with Elizabeth Olson continuing to evolve into a star. Beautiful film, start to finish.

4. Call Me By Your Name, d. Luca Guadagino

Guadagino is a master, plain and simple. Call Me By Your Name somehow manages to capture the throbbing loins of young love, the awkward stretch from boy to man and the languorous heat of a summer wiling away in the background. A beautiful, heart-breaking film with one of the great ending credit sequences of all time.

3. Lady Bird, d. Greta Gerwig

If I had to pick a single thing I loved most in 2017, it’d be Greta Gerwig. Her acting, her writing, her directing, her very presence are spectacular and Lady Bird seems to be the crown on a spectacular year. It isn’t a big movie – a young girl grows up in so many words – but the performances of Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracey Betts and Lucas Hedges paired with a near perfect soundtrack and Gerwig’s soft, sometimes screwball touch make this a frontrunner for film of the year. Hell, it would’ve been film of the year if not for two others. Also, DMB, I loooove you.

2. The Shape of Water, d. Guillermo del Toro

No film this year better captured mood and emotion then del Toro’s low-light, girl-meets-fishman horror-romance. This is del Toro’s brilliant answer to Singing In The Rain, a film rife with emotion but still pulsing with heart. Every actor should get nominated for it, but if Richard Jenkins doesn’t, I will revolt (quietly at home while watching The Crown).

1. Good Time, d. The Safdie Brothers

The gritty, grimy, sad, bleak and hilarious film about one smart (but stupid) brother trying to break his brother out of prison is like a mish-mash of a Cassevettes film, a drug trip and something entirely unlike anything I’ve seen before. Robert Pattinson is a revelation as the stumbling, but slick, down-on-his-luck convict Connie Nikas, and with the Safdie’s behind the driver’s seat his odyssey into the gutter is absolutely wonderful.

Honorable Mentions:

Spider-Man: Homecoming
John Wick: Chapter 2
Ingrid Goes West
Blade Runner 2049
Okja
Atomic Blonde
Brawl In Cell Block 99
Wheelman
IT
Logan Lucky
Neruda
I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore

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Movie Breakdown: Call Me By Your Name

December 22, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I haven’t seen anything but enormous praise for Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name.  Here’s hoping it really is one of the year’s best films.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Is it weird to want to note that if you like Brokeback Mountain or Moonlight then you’ll love Call Me By Your Name?  I suppose that it’s no different than saying you’ll like Rocky if you love Raging Bull, but it sure does feel a little odd, like it somehow generalizes Call Me By Your Name.  Maybe I’m just overthinking things here?  In any case, director Luca Guadagnino’s latest film is beautiful.  I’m not sure it’s for everyone, as it is a fairly pretentious effort with a solid runtime (2 hours, 12 minutes), but those that can look past some of its more highfalutin moments will find an impactful movie that details a young man’s first love.  Personally, I found Call Me By Your Name to be fantastic.  Its slow, relaxed pace made me feel like I was actually spending a summer in Italy with the film’s leads, Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Arnie Hammer).  Not to mention that there being no rush to shove the story forward allows for more than enough time to take in every moment and to fully attach to the characters.  I also have to applaud the way that the patient, warm film provides little meandering moments that make you feel nostalgic about your own first love.  What great work by Guadagnino.

I highly recommend that you go and get lost in Call Me By Your Name.

One Last Thought:

Between Lady Bird and Call Me By Your Name, Timothée Chalamet has had one hell of a year.  I’m guessing he’ll start popping up in everything now.  I approve of this.  On another note, it caught me off guard that he also played Matthew McConaughey’s rough and tumble teenage son Tom in Interstellar.

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Movie Breakdown: All The Money In The World

December 21, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I no longer know what to expect from Ridley Scott.  It’s either forgettable stuff like Exodus and Alien: Covenant, or something award-worthy like The MartianAll The Money In The World worries me a bit because it seemed to have zero buzz before Christopher Plummer replaced Kevin Spacey.

Post-Screening Ramble:

In case you don’t know, All The Money In The World is based on the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III and the efforts that his mother, Gail Harris, went through to get his billionaire grandfather, Jean Paul Getty, to pay the ransom.  It’s a hell of a story, mainly due to Gail’s refusal to give up hope and JPG’s unwillingness to cough up any measure of cash to save his favorite grandson, and director Ridley Scott does a great job of diving into its details while also managing to keep you on the edge of your seat.  There are a couple of oddball things, like Michelle Williams uneven Gail and Mark Wahlberg’s surprisingly muted Getty-lackey Fletcher Chase, but Christopher Plummer as JPG and Romain Duris as the kidnapper Cinquanta are both stellar.  Also, as I alluded to up above, the film is just an all-out entertaining ride.  It’s certainly dialogue heavy, but it’s snappy stuff that steadily keeps the story moving forward.  Also, what happened to that teenage boy is simply fascinating.  Expect to want to hit Wikipedia for more info before the credits have scrolled off of the screen.

Go see All The Money In The World.  It’s one of the better movies that Ridley Scott has put out recently.

One Last Thought:

I think that All The Money In The World shouldn’t be seen solely because Christopher Plummer stepped in for Kevin Spacey at the last possible minute, but he really is the best part of the film and one of the main reasons to watch it.  Go figure.

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Movie Breakdown: Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle

December 19, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Despite having a cast I generally like, I scoffed when Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle was announced.  No one wants that!  Then I saw the first trailer and actually found myself chuckling.  Maybe I want that!

Post-Screening Ramble:

Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle is slow to start, but once it finds its footing, it becomes one of the more fun films of 2017.  Its story is pretty simple – the board game from the original movie transforms itself into a video game, and then four kids get sucked into it.  Once inside they realize that everything is setup like an actual video game – there are levels, they have limited lives, each of their avatars have certain strengths and weaknesses – and then they get on with figuring out how to complete it so that they can go home.  The film itself then harkens back to 1995′s Jumanji while tossing in a healthy bit of The Wizard Of Oz.  In the game Spencer is a hulk of a man (Dwayne Johnson) and Martha is a badass (Karen Gillan), but in real life they’re both people who are rather unsure of themselves.  Bethany’s avatar is a portly cartographer (Jack Black), but she’s actually the quintessential pretty girl who could really use a dose of humility.  Fridge is a selfish, big time football player, but in Jumanji he’s a small guy (Kevin Hart) and he has to humble himself so that he can properly support everyone else.  Obviously, it’s all a bit basic, but not only does this approach allow each character to grow, it also sets up a whole slew of funny scenarios.  I laughed a lot.  I also cheered quite a bit, too, because while the movie may be an overtly silly affair (complete with chunks of low brow humor and questionable CG), it has a lot of heart.  Oddly enough, that’s how I think of the original film as well.

I was honestly surprised at how much I ended up digging Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle.  You should go check it out.  By the way, even though the movie has some cursing and a handful of violent deaths, I’d still take the kids.

One Last Thought:

You know, I’d totally watch a whole movie that’s just Jack Black portraying a teenage girl.  The man is really good at it.  Who knew!?

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Movie Breakdown: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

December 12, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

The teasers for The Last Jedi have been great, the early reviews have been very positive, and Disney supposedly liked it so much that they felt comfortable enough to give director Rian Johnson his own Star Wars trilogy.  I couldn’t be more excited to see this thing.

Post-Screening Ramble:

The Last Jedi is a tough one to review without dipping into spoilers, but I’ll do my best since it’s definitely a film that’s best seen with no knowledge of what’s coming.  Here’s the gist – Rey is on a mission to recruit Luke Skywalker to help fight the First Order, who are bearing down on the rebel army.  Now, here’s what I generally thought about The Last Jedi – I loved it.  The film picks up right where The Force Awakens ends, and then it plows through a ton of plot before gracefully throttling down and leaving you feeling spent.  I was honestly really surprised at how much ground the movie covers.  Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) are certainly at the center of it, but there’s also quite a bit that happens with Luke (Mark Hamill), Leia (Carrie Fisher), Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), Snoke (Andy Serkis) and Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), plus more with newcomers Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), DJ (Benicio Del Toro) and Holdo (Laura Dern).  Seriously, there are a lot of storylines and characters, but thankfully writer/director Rian Johnson does well to keep The Last Jedi from ever feeling cluttered.  Speaking of Johnson, he also deserves kudos for the breezy pace that never falters over the film’s two and a half hour runtime, and for masterfully providing emotional heft to an oft-loud mix of action and humor.  Movies like The Last Jedi don’t often garner “best director” awards, but I really believe he should be in the running this year.

Go see The Last Jedi, as it’s one of the best Star Wars entries.

One Last Thought:

There’s definitely a variety of similar plot points in regards to The Force Awakens/A New Hope and The Last Jedi/The Empire Strikes Back, but I’ll say this, I have no idea what to expect from the impending third movie.  It definitely seems as though it could end up being the one entry in the new trilogy that’s fully unique.

One More Last Thought:

After watching The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, I now believe that clunky dialogue is just an overall Star Wars thing that can’t be solely blamed on George Lucas.  I mean, Laura Dern is an incredible actress in what’s one of the best movies in the franchise, and yet her character talks like one of those moms that can’t remember how to say the name of their child’s favorite band.

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Movie Breakdown: The Shape Of Water

December 8, 2017

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I’ve been anxiously awaiting Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape Of Water ever since that first teaser rolled out way back when.  It looks like it has somewhat of a Pan’s Labyrinth vibe, and I’m all about that.

Post-Screening Ramble:

For me, The Shape Of Water ranks just under Pan’s Labyrinth when it comes to Guillermo del Toro films.  It’s centered around Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute woman who works as a janitor in a research facility.  She lives a somewhat stilted life, but her besties – one is her sassy co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and the other is her gay neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) – and her daily routine keep her going.  And that’s it!  Just kidding.  Eventually Elisa’s quiet existence gets blown away by the arrival of an amphibian man at the lab.  There’s also the presence of the creature’s capturer, Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), that throws her for a loop.  Weird but beautiful things then happen.  Actually, beautifully weird is probably the best way to describe this fairy tale for adults (it frequently earns its R-rating).  There are so many lovely things in the movie.  I couldn’t get enough of Elisa’s endearing interactions with her friends, and I really enjoyed how loyal she is to them and vice versa.  The film itself also just has an underlying sweetness to it that’s difficult to not get caught up in.  Then on the other hand it has some stuff that’ll make your brain go “UH UH.”  Again, it’s beautifully weird.  Do yourself a favor and see it as soon as you can.

One Last Thought:

The Amphibian Man from The Shape Of Water.  The Faun and The Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth.  Abe Sapien from Hellboy and Hellboy II.  The Silver Surfer from the movie that doesn’t deserve a name mention.  Doug Jones deserves a lifetime achievement award.  Someone make that happen.

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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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