Posts Tagged ‘movies’

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Movie Reviews: Captain Marvel, Leaving Neverland, Alita: Battle Angel and others

February 28, 2019

Captain Marvel (2019) – This was not one of Marvel’s stronger films. I really like Brie Larson, even in this movie, but she was pretty much the only shining point. It was sort of funny and mildly entertaining, but that’s about it. There is a lot of hoopla about this being a female-led superhero movie and while I’m all for diversity in films, it doesn’t mean that Captain Marvel is actually good. Marvel has some history of producing forgettable villains and this movie adds to that list. I can’t even remember the villain’s name or what they were trying to do. Pretty forgettable, but probably still worth watching if you’ve made it this far and plan on seeing Avengers: End Game later this month. 5/10 (Decent)

Leaving Neverland (2019) – I have been a staunch Michael Jackson supporter ever since I read his biography by J. Randy Taraborrelli back in 2013. I did some other digging on top of that and I came away from all that convinced that he was a misguided and naive Man-Child that was likely innocent of all the accusations against him. This documentary definitively changed my mind. There is just no way Michael Jackson is innocent. He sexually abused multiple little boys. I don’t see any reason to doubt that. The two men revealing their stories here are incredibly convincing and their motives for both hiding the truth for so long and for speaking out now make total sense to me. At this point, the testimony is overwhelming, the circumstances are undeniably questionable and always have been, and in 2019, there is no excuse for shielding a monster just because he’s one of the most iconic musicians of all-time. This is an absolute must watch, especially for anyone that still thinks Michael Jackson was an innocent dude. 8/10 (Must Watch)

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019) – I gave the first two movies a 7 and a 5, respectively, and this sequel was more in line with the quality of the second movie. Somewhat enjoyable, but mostly forgettable. 5/10 (Decent)

Alita: Battle Angel (2019) – Visually, this movie is pretty awesome, with some really good character design, and there were elements in place to make this a great underdog story, but it falls a little flat. There are some good action sequences and some fun highlights, but I wasn’t emotionally invested in the movie and I wanted to be. Rosa Salazar is fine in the lead role, but I thought a lot of the cast was phoning it in. Not that long ago, I considered Christoph Waltz for my top 5 actors list and I feel like it’s been a while since I’ve seen anything I’ve liked from him. Alita was a bit hokey and sort of bombed at the domestic box office, but I liked it enough that I’d at least watch a sequel. 5/10 (Decent)

First Reformed (2018) – This is one I’m pretty unsure about. Here’s what I know: it is powerful, Ethan Hawke is great in it, and it is a bit hard to swallow. Faith, terrorism, and mental illness are all big themes tackled in the movie and each one of those topics can be controversial, so there could definitely be some outrage while watching this one. First Reformed does a lot of things really well and I mostly enjoyed it quite a bit, even if I thought it all got a bit bizarre. I give it a recommendation, but with a warning that it could ruffle some feathers. 6/10 (Recommended)

Bird Box (2018) – Initially, I thought it was okay. I didn’t hate the experience of watching it, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more ridiculous I’ve realized this movie is. Basically, anyone that is saying Bird Box is awesome (and there are many) is either incredibly forgiving or very easy to please. This is a film that basically answers none of the questions it raises. It’s like if “Lost” only had one season… and that one season wasn’t good. Plus, Bird Box doesn’t make much sense. Apparently, some presence has arrived on earth that causes people to commit suicide if they look at it, but we never get any sort of idea what this presence looks like or where it comes from? Does that matter? Honestly, yes, I think so. Maybe a movie like A Quiet Place doesn’t answer some of these questions either, but at least it ratcheted the suspense and tension up by like a 100%. 3/10 (Bad)

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018) – A wonderful documentary about the story of Fred Rogers, a man better known as Mister Rogers and for his show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Fred Rogers was an incredible person and his level of genuine compassion for other people, and especially kids, is unmatched by any human I’m aware of. I’ve only seen two 2018 documentaries, but I’m surprised this didn’t get an Oscar nomination. If you were ever a fan of the man or the show, this is an obvious must watch. 8/10 (Must See)

The Wife (2018) – I thought this might be a must watch based on the strength of Glenn Close’s performance when it looked like she was a lock to win Best Actress, but Olivia Colman ended up winning, and deservedly so – she was better (and so was Lady Gaga). Still, Close is great in this movie, if not quite jaw-droppingly amazing. Unfortunately, while Close’s performance carries the film, it doesn’t elevate the movie to high levels of enjoyment. The story rubbed me the wrong way. Sure, maybe there are women out there that will stand by while their womanizing husband takes all the credit for their hard work and talent. And maybe they will do so for decades. Are we supposed to feel sorry or root for such a woman? Actually, there aren’t any likable people in this film. Close doesn’t get much support from the rest of her cast either. The guys that play the High Sparrow and Viserys Targarean on Game of Thrones combine forces to play the douchebag husband here and I couldn’t stand watching either of them on screen and not in the enjoyable way you can hate a character, like a Joffrey Baratheon or a Ramsey Bolton. This movie is basically one stellar performance away from being horrible. 3/10 (Bad)

The Invitation (2015) – Intense and enthralling, this was a very good slow burn thriller. Between this and last year’s Upgrade, Logan Marshall-Green has been the star of two awesome, but under-the-radar movies in the suspense/horror genre. 7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

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Bumblebee (2018)

January 4, 2019

Anticipation Level: 6/10

Director: Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings)
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Cena

Because I’m an AMC A-List member now and watch a movie almost every week, I saw the trailer for Bumblebee what felt like a record amount of times over the past few months. I was sick of it, but I had to admit: it looked surprisingly decent. And then something insane happened: after seeing the trailer around ten times, I finally realized that Hailee Steinfeld was the star of the movie. An Oscar nominee at age 14 for her performance in True Grit, Steinfeld brings serious acting clout to a franchise that I stopped watching at least two films ago. She’s not unrecognizable in Bumblebee, but somehow I missed the fact that one of my favorite young actresses was on screen in front of me… multiple times. Needless to say, once I realized who the star was, a movie I was mildly interested in became a must watch.

Bumblebee was a lot of fun. It’s hands down the best film in the franchise since the original with Shia LeBeouf and I’d argue that it’s quite easily the best in the entire series so far. It certainly has substantially more heart than any Transformers movie I can remember.

Unsurprisingly, Hailee Steinfeld is fantastic. As charming and adorable as usual, her Charlie is an independent young woman that seems like an outcast as she’s reeling from the death of her father while her mother has already integrated another man and dad figure into the family. She’s a rare action movie star that we can actually empathize with and then root for. It’s another noteworthy performance from Steinfeld in a very impressive young career. Just imagine what a, say, Megan Fox would do with this role, and it’s easy to appreciate how gifted Hailee Steinfeld is.

The visual effects and sound in any Transformers movie are usually top notch and Bumblebee continues the trend of being spectacular in those departments. Altogether, the series has landed seven Oscar nominations for Visual Effects, Sound Mixing, and Sound Editing, so a return to the Oscars (the last two movies were shut out) in those categories would seem likely since the movie is actually good, but the shortlist for Best Visual Effects has been released and Bumblebee didn’t make the cut. If you liked the series enough to watch Transformers: The Last Knight, you shouldn’t be disappointed with the technical aspects of this movie.

The story in Bumblebee is actually good. I’ve already mentioned that Charlie is a character we can get behind as an audience and her bond with Bumblebee is reminiscent of what made movies like E.T. and The Iron Giant so special. The movie is also surprisingly funny, with one scene in particular (think high school revenge shenanigans) that had me laughing out loud as hard as I can remember during any 2018 release. John Cena also brings charm and humor to a role that could easily be a throwaway character and continues to be a surprising addition to any movie he’s cast in.

All in all, Bumblebee was a very satisfying experience. Transformers fans should love it and for those that have grown tired of the franchise, it is truly a breath of fresh air and by far the most pleasing film in the series. It gets a solid recommendation from me.

Replay Value: Definitely worth watching again.

Sequel Potential: The next Transformers movie will probably give us the level of suck we’ve grown accustomed to.

Oscar Potential: Having already been left off the Visual Effects shortlist, it’s probably unlikely Bumblebee will get consideration in the sound categories and has no shot at any other nominations.

Dina Meter: She would love it!

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

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Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

November 15, 2018

Anticipation Level: 6/10

Director: Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men, X2, Superman Returns)
Starring: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Mike Myers

I’m no Queen or Freddy Mercury superfan and while I recognize and enjoy the band’s most famous songs, I’m not really familiar with their discography either. With that said, I can’t speak on Bohemian Rhapsody‘s historical accuracy. I’ve read that some of the timelines presented are erroneous, but none of that affected my viewing of the film at all.

I thought Bohemian Rhapsody was enjoyable and it had some very good high points, but it felt longer than its 2 hour and 15 minute running time. It functioned much better when the band was on screen together creating their most famous content than when the film focused more on Freddy Mercury’s private life. Rami Malek was Oscar worthy as Mercury though. He gives one of the year’s best performances I’ve seen so far. The film closes with a rather spectacular recreation of Queen’s Live Aid performance in 1985. It’s a strong 15 minute set that is said to be an exact replication of that actual performance and that’s pretty damn cool.

Bohemian Rhapsody was fun movie that highlights Queen’s most iconic songs and gets a great performance from Rami Malek. There were a couple moments I found moving, but overall I wasn’t too invested in the story. It’s worth watching and is obviously a must see for fans of the band.

Replay Value: I could watch it again but I probably won’t.

Sequel Potential: N/A

Oscar Potential: Rami Malek is a strong contender for Best Actor. I can’t imagine him not making the cut at this point. I think I prefer Bradley Cooper’s performance in A Star is Born. I’d be pretty surprised to see this movie garner much other Oscar attention, but it could possibly contend in sound categories and maybe Costume Design.

Dina Meter: If I find a movie struggles with pacing a little bit, I generally think Dina probably won’t like it too much. I think she’d think was okay.

6/10 (Fun)

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Halloween (2018)

October 26, 2018

Director: David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, Your Highness, The Sitter)
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak

My goodness I loved it. I had to watch it twice to be sure, but yes, it was great. Exactly what I want from a Halloween movie.

For those that don’t already know, this Halloween is a sequel to John Carpenter’s original 1978 film only. It has nothing to do with the ten other sequels and remakes in the franchise – not even the ones with Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her role as ultimate final girl Laurie Strode.

There’s no Thorn Cult garbage here. Laurie is not Michael Myers’ sister. Michael has never had his eyes shot out, burned to death, been riddled with bullets by a vigilante firing squad, or had his head axed clean off.

He has, however, been stabbed in the eye and neck and shot six times before falling off a second story balcony.

I think. We definitely see scars of the eye and neck injuries, but there’s a cop introduced in this new movie that “stopped Dr. Loomis from killing Michael.”

I’m not really sure what that means because Loomis shot Michael six times, he fell backwards and suddenly he is gone and that is how the original film ends.

There’s no stopping Loomis. There’s no other cop interfering. Michael is shot multiple times and he survives and the supernatural mystique of a human being that kills people begins.

So I don’t know if this film is trying to revise that finale or not, but either way, Michael is in captivity in 2018 and this movie opens with some podcasters visiting him in the psyche ward and trying to get a rise out of him by flashing his old mask around. It’s a cool scene that re-establishes Michael as a human with irregular focus and total disregard for anyone around him.

He hasn’t spoke a word in 55 years. What a scary dude.

Of course the powers that be decide to transfer Michael from a psyche ward he’s been at for 50+ years and transfer him by bus on the eve of Halloween and it can be easy to nitpick some of these plot points.

Why does Laurie watch the bus pass through the gate and leave the institution but not follow it to its destination? When you meet Laurie in this film it’s clear she has spent the last 40 years preparing for the possibility of Michael’s escape and return to Haddonfield. I can’t imagine that person not making sure that bus gets exactly where it’s going.

And why did she spend all that money tricking out her house and buying guns when she could have just moved to Hawaii or something?

But I’m glad she didn’t because once Michael is loose, the magic really starts.

Michael might be over 60 years old, but he has the strength of a silverback gorilla… on steroids.

I’m okay with that. The kills in this movie (when we see them) are fun and brutal.

And Michael is scary again. The mask looks amazing. The mask has definitely had its down moments over the years, so when it is done right, it makes a big difference. I think it’s a big reason why Michael Myers works so well as a horror villain. He’s supposed to be some normal kid that just snaps for no reason and becomes pure evil. But he’s a regular dude. He could be anyone. Until he puts on the mask. And then he becomes something a bit more… unnatural.

John Carpenter returns to do the film’s score and it hits all the right notes and drastically raises the tension. The music during the scene when Laurie’s granddaughter first encounters Michael is nothing short of epic. It really elevates the moment. I was practically giggling to myself with glee during that sequence.

Director David Gordon Green also gives us a wonderful single take shot that follows Michael on the streets then through a couple of houses, as he acquires different weapons and murders multiple people before finally cutting away. It’s a phenomenal sequence and it’s easy to overlook its brilliance if you’re not paying close attention.

Jamie Lee Curtis is of course wonderful as Laurie, giving her all in a role she’s played five times in 40 years in a franchise that has really seen some low points. But she returns here to give a serious performance in a mostly serious film, putting the affects of PTSD on full display.

The rest of the cast is solid but unremarkable, but I will say I loved the duo of Nick Castle and James Jude Courtney as Michael Myers. They nailed it. Even when Michael is unmasked, he is seriously intimidating and ruthless. You know… like most men in their 60s.

I thought this was a great Halloween movie, but it should be noted I am a horror film fan boy. It pays tribute to the original, gives subtle nods to the other sequels it otherwise ignores, and really understands how to create an atmosphere that makes Michael Myers work. The duo of David Gordon Green and Danny McBride clearly understand what makes the franchise tick and what fans of the original movie would want to see.

The ending of the movie was cool, if not entirely satisfying, and I liked Halloween enough that I’d like to see everyone come back for another one. More more MORE please!

Michael Myers done right is a thing of beauty. Halloween is a must watch for fans of the franchise and I give it a strong recommendation in general.

Replay Value: I liked it more the second time and I’m kind of itching to see it again.

Sequel Potential: Evil never dies.

Oscar Potential: None.

Dina Meter: She had fun watching it.

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

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The Endless (2018)

October 21, 2018


Director: Aaron Moorhead, Justin Benson (Spring, Resolution)
Starring: Aaron Moorhead, Justin Benson, Callie Hernandez

This is a pretty bizarre movie from the guys that made Spring and Resolution – neither of which I have seen. Both directors also star as brothers that revisit a death cult they escaped/left when they were younger. The movie is definitely intriguing, as watching the brothers unravel the mysteries of their old stomping grounds is both enthralling and slightly chilling. The Endless is largely a slow burn thriller with elements of horror and sci-fi/fantasy sprinkled in, while still managing to seem grounded in reality. I was certainly drawn into this world and highly invested in seeing what was going to happen. The movie is seeped in mystique and looks fantastic. The filmmaking duo made me enough of a fan that I want to check out their previous films. The Endless is weird and features no famous actors, so general audiences might balk at it, but I thought it was very solid.

Replay Value: Not a must rewatch, but I wouldn’t mind revisiting this again.

Sequel Potential: I’ve heard this is set in the same movie universe as Resolution. I don’t know if that makes it a sequel or if it indicates that more movies could occur in this universe, but the story of these two brothers is probably over.

Oscar Potential: The Endless got some film festival love, but no Oscar attention. It’s been making the rounds since spring of 2017, but technically wasn’t released in the U.S. until a year later. I’m not sure what calendar year it would be in Oscar contention, but I’m sure it will be overlooked, even though the Visual Effects were quite awesome.

Dina Meter: I would expect Dina to be done with this movie in less than 20 minutes.

7/10 (Highly Enjoyable)

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Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

October 18, 2018


Director: Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods)
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman

This movie had some serious potential with an electric cast in a Quentin Tarantino stylized mystery written and directed by Drew Goddard, a dude mostly known for writing and directing the unique and awesome horror flick The Cabin in the Woods and for creating “Daredevil”, easily the best Marvel series on Netflix.

I wanted to like it so much. All the ingredients for an awesome movie were there and for the first third of the movie, I was enthralled with the snappy dialogue and the intrigue surrounding all the mysterious visitors of Lake Tahoe’s El Royale hotel, which is literally split in half by the border of California and Nevada. I’ve thought about the film quite a bit and it’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly what went wrong, but I can say with certainty that the pacing was brutal at times. No one is going to criticize this movie for lack of character development, as each individual gets back story and plenty of screen time, but Bad Times at the El Royale has a tendency to reset just as things are getting really interesting. For instance, like many Tarantino films before, the movie is told in chapters and just as a chapter climaxes and something shocking happens, the scene cuts and we move on to another chapter and new point of view. Some might enjoy the slow burn of building back up to that climatic moment, but if I had to guess what made the pacing of the movie a bit excruciating it would be this tendency.

The cast is mostly great. Jeff Bridges is always very good and I enjoyed Jon Hamm also. Although I have zero interest in the 50 Shades of Grey series, Dakota Johnson has been captivating in other roles, particularly A Bigger Splash, and she is good again here. Chris Hemsworth plays against type as Billy Lee, a cult leader and possible pedophile. He’s very loose in the role, dancing, smoking cigarettes, and really seeming to enjoy doing something different. It’s a stark contrast to the stiff (although sometimes funny) Thor we’ve been watching him play for the past decade. He’s definitely villainous in this movie, but I enjoyed his screen presence.

Another point where I feel the film suffers is when Cynthia Erivo’s character is the focus. She’s an aspiring songstress that is headed to Reno for a small gig singing in a Keno lounge. I think Erivo’s acting is plenty good, but she sings at least four different songs in the film and the movie comes to a screeching halt whenever this happens. The songs are all slow, long and not particularly interesting and her performances aren’t nearly captivating enough to justify it. I know I reached a point where if I had to listen to her sing again, I was going to literally groan in agony.

Bad Times at the El Royale has some things working for it, particularly strong performances, cool and shocking moments, and plenty of intrigue, but pacing really hurts the overall enjoyment and the eventual revelations are a bit uninspired. It’s a Quentin Tarantino impression that will just make you wonder how much better it would have been if it was actually a QT film.

Replay Value: It’s not a must rewatch, but I could maybe do it again some day.

Sequel Potential: It wouldn’t make much sense to do one.

Oscar Potential: I’m going to say none.

Dina Meter: If this movie bored me at times, I’m sure it would bore Dina to death. I would not suggest that she needs to watch it.

5/10 (Decent)

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Venom (2018)

October 17, 2018


Director: Ruben Fleischer (Gangster Squad, Zombieland)
Starring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed

Venom was a mess long before it hit theaters, so I’ve never really thought it was going to amount to much of anything. This movie has been in production since before the Sam Raimi Spider-Man franchise died and rumors of Spidey-related spinoffs abounded after the series rebooted with Andrew Garfield. So after Disney and Marvel reacquired the film rights to Spider-Man and Sony decided to plow forward with a Venom movie anyway, well, I just didn’t see how that could end well.

I actually thought this movie had nothing to do with the current Marvel Cinematic Universe, but after doing some digging it looks like I could be wrong. Maybe? As late as June 2017, Marvel’s president Kevin Feige said that Venom is solely a Sony project, but the Sony side of things have claimed that their new universe will be “adjunct” to the MCU and that Tom Holland’s Spider-Man may even appear in future films. I’m not an expert Venom historian, so I don’t know if it’s possible to pull off a Venom movie without Spider-Man and not piss all the fans off, but I imagine DC trying to do a Joker movie without Batman and – wait… that is actually happening.

Then they cast Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock and I was officially bewildered. Was there actually hope for this movie? Well, the trailers looked awful and critics were crucifying it, so heading into my viewing of Venom I was expecting to to be absolutely terrible.

Honestly, I didn’t like it much, but I have definitely seen worse. The first hour or so of Venom is brutally boring. We are introduced to Eddie Brock’s world and watch as everything quickly crumbles around him. I actually thought three different people were going to tell him to “have a nice life” in a 10 minute span, but somehow the screenwriters resisted the urge to have Michelle Williams say it during their breakup scene. Basically, the first hour of the movie is a sequence of moments that you can already imagine Eddie Brock getting redemption for in the third act. It’s very formulaic and not at all interesting.

Meanwhile, Riz Ahmed’s character is a super rich science type that has acquired a bunch of symbiotes and he’s trying to figure out how to unite them with a host so that he can… honestly, I don’t remember what he’s trying to do. He probably plans to sell them as some sort of super soldier.

The movie does pick up once the Venom symbiote finds Eddie Brock. It gets very slap-sticky and starts to feel like a buddy film and the humor elevates enough that it made me laugh a few times. Most importantly, the pace and action are picked up significantly.

I think Venom looks terrible in this movie. For 2018, the CGI is awful. Venom looks incredibly fake and the climax of the movie literally looks like two giant wads of silly putty doing battle with each other. It is absurdly terrible. The special effects in this movie are a total embarrassment.

Venom managed to exceed my expectations, only because they were very, very low. This is not a good movie. All the characters are stale and uninteresting, Eddie Brock isn’t really someone you want to root for, and the performances are very uninspired. Tom Hardy is okay, I guess, but Michelle Williams’ talent is totally wasted and I’ve seen Riz Ahmed in some great roles (Nightcrawler, “The Night Of”), but he is straight up laughable in this movie. You think these things might be salvaged a bit when Venom is on screen – and to some degree they are – but the Venom personality is actually kind of stupid and annoying. Plus he looks really cheesy.

But what do I know? This movie has a 7.1 rating on IMDB and an 88% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, all while breaking October box office records. It’s an absolute smash hit and the general public seems to really like it, so… maybe you will too.

Replay Value: The thought of sitting through the first hour again sounds painful, but I could do the second half.

Sequel Potential: It looks like this will reach $250 million domestically so a sequel is inevitable. I don’t have much interest in Sony’s superhero movies and their history doesn’t suggest they are going to step their game up.

Oscar Potential: Zero.

Dina Meter: Dina might enjoy this more than I did, but I would be surprised if she watched it and said “that was good!”

3/10 (Bad)