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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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Movie Breakdown: Green Room (Noah)

April 22, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin was one of my favorite films of 2014. This one is my most anticipated film of 2016.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Jeremy Saulnier is not a director who shies away from showcasing the bleakness that exists at the hearts of his characters. Though Green Room is a broad step into a more action-oriented “home invasion” type of film than the quieter, perhaps more personal Blue Ruin, both are films about exacting revenge and the not-so redemptive qualities of doing so. Green Room follows a gritty punk band, The Ain’t Rights, on the last few shows of a particularly grueling tour. These are the punks your mother warned you against – they siphon gas to drive, they rough up their hosts when his show falls through, they spit and spew and in general act like precocious fucks. For a variety of reasons the Ain’t Rights end up in the backwoods of some Washington/Oregon seeming locale playing at a venue for a bunch of skinhead, neo-Nazis. Things go badly. And then they go worse, and then a group of snot-nosed twenty-somethings are fighting for their lives against a brotherhood of racist dickheads. I haven’t listened to punk rock since I was 22, and when I did I was a suburbs kid who got his shit handed to him in the circle, but Saulnier has managed to capture the punk aesthetic without dipping into stereotype. These are kids who quote Minor Threat and play Nazi Punks to a group of skinheads; this a venue that even on screen manages to give off the subtle waft of stale beer and staler piss; this is music that gouges you in the face and drags you down the stairs – it is a rough go. But somehow, Saulnier manages to infuse the film with both beauty (it’s a gorgeously dark little nugget of lighting) and small flashes of humor (Imogen Poots really steals this show as the almost feral Sam, a punk rock girl gone too far). This feels like the dark reflection of a Joss Whedon film. The characters interact like real humans – Anton Yelchin’s Pat cries for literally the entirety of the film – but the interactions are perfectly manicured so they still resonate with the sort of fuck-off camaraderie touring bands end up developing. There are great action beats, but Saulnier doesn’t push them to be polished – this is the sloppy violence of real humans, gory and fleshy and accidental. And this is what the film seems to be saying, this is a violent moment, a “nightmare” in the words of Yelchin’s Pat, a horrible thing that just went too far, but at the end, regardless of our viewpoints or political beliefs we are all humans, and we all do the great and terrible things we do because of that version of humanity. Saulnier just wraps that lovely sentiment in barbed wire and blood. And it fucking rules.

One Last Thought:

I don’t know if anyone has ever used Patrick Stewart as well before. He’s a brutal, skinhead tactician but also a reserved Englishmen. It brings all of Stewart’s gravitas to bear on what is a terribly evil role. He is a role model and a leader to his skinhead gang, but as the film rolls out, a more and more horrible human. It’s a beautiful coin to see slowly turn and Stewart absolutely owns the role.

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Movie Breakdown: A Hologram For The King

April 21, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

I love Tom Hanks, and I liked Tom Tykwer’s work on Cloud Atlas, so therefore I should be excited about A Hologram For The King, right?  Eh.  It looks like a really generic drama, and I’ll be surprised if it turns out to be something worth cheering about.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Fish Out Of Water is what A Hologram For The King should have been titled.  Alan (played with muffled enthusiasm by Tom Hanks) is a rundown salesman trying to secure a big deal so that he can get his life back on track, but he’s in the mystical realm of Saudi Arabia, he’s totes exhausted by jet-lag, and the region’s customs are zany and just completely blowing his mind.  So what does he do?  He struggles through a variety of foreigners-sure-are-different discoveries until various metaphors are properly arranged in a row and everything is wrapped up nice and neat.  Once or twice I chuckled or felt a twinge of sympathy for Hanks’ unfortunately burdened character, but mostly I just blankly starred at the screen and wondered who decided that Dave Eggers’ A Hologram For The King needed to be adapted.

A Hologram For The King is not even close to being the worst movie I’ve ever seen, so I won’t tell you to run away from it.  Just know that it’s a generic drama that you’ll largely forget before the credits completely roll through.

One Last Thought:

After giving it some thought, I’d like for Tom Hanks to go full-Liam Neeson and start starring in action films.  It would be so weird and entertaining to see him in something like Taken.  Think about it!

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Movie Breakdown: Elvis & Nixon

April 20, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

While I was initially disappointed that Elvis & Nixon wasn’t some sort of Alan Moore-scripted super hero movie set in a bizarre alternate universe, I do think the film looks just peculiar enough to possibly be good (or at least interesting).  I’m in.

Post-Screening Ramble:

Elvis & Nixon is an odd film for two specific reasons.  The first is that it’s based on what is possibly one of the weirder true stories ever, which is that Elvis in the early 70s decided that the youth of America were in trouble (due to drugs, hippie communes, the Beatles and such), and he wanted to help.  So, he set his sights on acquiring a Federal Agent-At-Large badge so that he could use it to infiltrate and then bust groups involved in spreading drug culture (and also communism, to a lesser degree) throughout the USA.  Again, it’s a strange story, but also one that’s entertaining and deserving of its own film.

Where the movie’s other oddity lies is in its casting, and I don’t mean that in a positive way.  As much as I love Michael Shannon, he doesn’t at all look like Elvis Presley.  I only could see Michael Shannon doing an Elvis Presley impersonation.  Is it bad?  No, but it was distracting.  The same can be said for Kevin Spacey as Richard Nixon.  All I could see was Kevin Spacey (who already convincingly plays a President in House of Cards) doing his best to mimic the infamous President.  I understand that a movie like Elvis & Nixon probably doesn’t get made without names like Shannon and Spacey attached as the leads, but they’re such a distraction that it nearly neuters the story that the film is trying to tell.  Even great actors still need appropriate roles, you know?

If you see Elvis & Nixon, make sure to matinee it.

One Last Thought:

You know, I don’t think it would be all that bad if someone actually moved forward with an Elvis & Nixon superhero team-up movie.  Elvis, I imagine, would be kind of like Tony Stark – crafty, suave and funny, and Nixon would be, well … he’d probably just be Nixon.  Either way though, I’d watch the hell out of that film.

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Movie Breakdown: The Huntsman: Winter’s War (Noah)

April 20, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Did you, or anyone you know, see Snow White & The Huntsman? I mean, I know a few of us might have soldiered our way to the cinema to ensure that our viewing of everything that’s every featured K-Stew was seen, but for the rest of the sanity holding world, I’m pretty show this was a no-go. So, no-go, why do you get another show?

Post-Screening Ramble:

I think it’s safe to say that the question you should have looming over your the entire time you’re watching The Huntsmen: Winter’s War is “Why does this movie exist?” Why does a fairly undeveloped character, from a massively underwhelming film, a film that made chump change in today’s billion dollar market, need a sequel? I guess there’s something to say about the vacuum of fantasy franchises clogging the market. And it could be that with Lord of the Rings a distant memory, some bearded exec is hoping another film with dwarves and goblins and hirsute men fighting could be the proverbial “gold mine.” Another question to ask would be: why does a prequel/sequel that no one seems to want have a cast that features Chris Hemsworth (the titular Huntsmen), Jessica Chastain (the titular Huntsman’s boo), Emily Blunt (bad ice lady), Charlize Theron (bad gold lady, returning for another dose of evil), and a bevy of some truly great Brits resigned to peripheral comedic roles? I couldn’t tell you, but they’re here and they somehow manage to elevate this cliche-riddled, romantic fantasy to somewhere just below decent. In the past, bad things happen and because of the bad things Freya (Blunt) is turned into the Ice Queen and she recruits an army of children (ahem, Huntsmen) to kill her enemies (because, if I watched this right, that’s what people do). Love, forbidden as it might be happens between the Huntsman (the famous one) and another huntsman (the Jessica Chastain one) and they’re banished from the kingdom and, well, seven years later, uh, and then, dwarves, and mirrors and fighting and, hell, it all just blurs down into another CGI-heavy attempt to get a little bit of that nostalgic LOTR money. And you know, as a one time purveyor of bottom of the barrel fantasy novels (Dragonlance, I miss you!), the Huntsman’s trek, with his trusty dwarves at his side, to find the Magic Mirror and return it to Sanctuary kind of works. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, or do anything of particular note, but it has an okay time playing around in the old fantasy sandbox and yeah you’re going to walk out and try to remember if you just saw Willow or Lord of the Rings, but hey, a bunch of great actors wearing funny outfits and hitting each other is actually pretty alright.

One Last Thought:

This film is pretty much hamstrung by its sequel/prequel structure. The entire time I sat there wondering if something someone was saying (I write those innocuous words because none of the names of any character really stuck in my craw) was an allusion to the first film and that I was supposed to say, “Oh! That makes sense, that expands this universe to a new level!” If it did though, I couldn’t tell, and this film, which posited as just an original bit of fantasy filmmaker could’ve been at least a mild a surprise, just sloughs down the drain, another sequel no one is going to give a shit about.

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Movie Breakdown: The Jungle Book (Noah)

April 15, 2016

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Pre-Screening Stance:

Jon Favreau has been sort of fussing around in his own private playground post-Marvel, and his output has been dodgy at best. His upcoming, almost entirely motion captured adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book hasn’t been helped by its saccharine, generic trailers, but, hell, maybe Favreau’s indie sojourn Chef helped stoke his old fires a little bit.

Post-Screening Ramble:

It isn’t that films that are entirely motion captured are the world we live in now, it’s that we are proud of this achievement. As much as we applaud someone like J.J. Abrams for bringing practical effects back to Star Wars, the press tour for The Jungle Book has been an almost non-stop lovefest for the green-screened, mo-capped world Mr. Favreau has created, with actor’s applauding the fact that they didn’t even have to show up on set. It could be frightening, it could be a further stumble down the CGI-whirlpool that will inevitably suck us all down, but in Mr. Favreau’s capable hands, The Jungle Book isn’t only a technical marvel, but a surprisingly straightforward and endearing take on the classic tale. Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a small boy living under the purvey of jungle animals, mainly wolves and a panther, in the heart of, well, the jungle. It is an idyllic upbringing until a vengeful tiger, Shere Khan (Idris Elba), begins hunting him, forcing him out on his own to discover who he really is. This really might be the first truly successful marriage of motion capture with story. This an almost entirely immersive experience. Even though you are fully aware as an audience member that the world you are looking at is just pixels arranged in different patterns, at some point, early on, the brain just lets go, and there you are, an observer of this magical world of talking jungle animals. It’s amazing, but everyone has slogged through a slickly made mo-cap film, searching for the non-existent heart at its digital core. The Jungle Book transcends its genre. Though newcomer Neel Sethi borders just on the edge of winking rapscallion, for the most of the film’s running time he manages to imbue his quirky, well, childness, with layers of believable emotional output. His interactions with non-existent creatures (Bill Murray’s fantastic bear, Baloo, at the top of the pile) are genuine, authentic relationships and though yes, Favreau so painstakingly detailing his world and his animated movements is a big part of it, Sethi’s ability to stand ground with some of the great actors of all time, is at the heart of it. And, well, that’s where Favreau really scores, he doesn’t sacrifice heart for form, and he doesn’t sacrifice technological wow for overabundant emotional outpouring. No, instead he creates a classic coming of age story, but just uses the next wave of technology to make it very much his own.

One More Thought:

This has still not sold me on Warcraft: The Movie. But it has sold me on Favreau making more films.

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