I'm just not a fan of superhero movies outside of the Chris Nolan Batman films. But, because so many people had recommended it to me, I decided to rent Dead Pool 1 a few days ago, and see Dead Pool 2 in the theatre this afternoon.
Both films to me were worth watching. I still get annoyed as hell with all the senseless CG action, but the irreverent wit and funny pop culture references made by Dead Pool himself keep both films chuckle-funny mostly throughout. I think the fact that this franchise is hell-bent on not taking itself seriously is part of the attraction to it.
The budget of the first film was $58M, the second $110M. Both play larger than their respective budgets.
Not having the limitation of a PG-13 rating, this franchise can get downright nasty, and sometimes it's pretty damn hilarious. It's not that every joke hits, but most do. And they are an integral part of the Dead Pool character, who fits so well into our snark-filled times.
I thought Tim Miller did a fine job directing the first film. David Leitch, a former stuntman, did a fantastic job directing the second. I'm really looking forward to what this guy directs in future years.
So in the pantheon of superhero movies, the Dead Pool series is off to a pretty good start. I can't say that I'm anxiously waiting for the next installment, but when it comes out, if MoviePass is still alive and kicking, I'll take the time to check it out.
I'm a huge fan of well-craft horror. It's exciting, fun, and profitable for the studios. With the success of films like Split & Get Out, Hollywood seems to be on a decent run with the genre.
The reviews of A Quite Place have been very positive, and the film does seem to be hitting the box office quite hard. I'm glad, because I think it's a deserving entry into the genre.
John Krasinski and Emily Blunt play a husband and wife, who with their children, are living in a world that has been devastated by mysterious creatures who are completely blind, but who have incredible hearing. Make a sound that seems out of nature, and they race toward you and eat you. The family survives by living on a farm, and remaining as quiet as possible. However, they have a child on the way, and have to come up with a plan to ensure the crying newborn doesn't get the entire family offed.
Krasinski does a decent job in his directorial debut, especially given the budget. Like Jordan Peele, however, there is definitely room for growth, and I hope we see it with both directors.
There is a solid amount of tension in much of the film, but I do think they overplay the Alien moments when the monsters get too close too often. I almost wish we hadn't seen a monster until the final act. They do come up with some very creative stuff regarding how the characters handle the life within the silent world. And the family dynamic is rather well developed for this genre.
My biggest complaint with the film, and the primary reason I feel it's good and not great, is how the family obtains the monsters' kryptonite. It's not necessarily an awful solution, but I feel it is the weakest part of the script. A more fulfilling discovery would have really elevated the story. Yet, this is horror, and the way it is written is definitely good enough to make the film entertaining and profitable.
I recommend A Quiet Place. It's solid overall, and very good in parts. I'm glad it's doing well, so we may continue to see these very moderately budgeted horror films hitting the theatres. If we keep getting box office successes, eventually we may start seeing bigger budget horror films, and then we'll get a greater chance of seeing something as beautiful and scary as The Exorcist. Films like A Quiet Place, are a crucial Hollywood step to get us back to that place.
I played the original Tomb Raider video-game all the way through (late '90's?) and absolutely loved it. I played a couple of the sequels, and though the series seemed lost for awhile, it looks like Square Enix currently has the franchise going in a great direction.
I so want the Tomb Raider movies to be great. But they just aren't. And that's so disappointing.
This latest version, starring the very talented Alicia Vikander, definitely has its moments. Warner Bros. took the film franchise over from Paramount, and gave the film a respectable $100M(ish) budget.
Vikander is a terrific Lara Croft. She's beautiful, she's tough, she's engaging, she's fragile when she needs to be. However, she isn't given enough on the page to work with. The general concept of the story is solid, but the execution, from writing to direction, is far too bland. Outside of some fantastic special effects (including an awesome ship crash), there's little outside of Vikander's performance to push this film into being something special.
This is a typical Hollywood rush-to-production-too-fast tale. Much of the casting was solid (though it's hard to see Dominic West on the big screen without thinking of him as McNulty). If the script had been given more time and money to further develop the story and characters, it could have been something great. But every aspect of the story feels like it was rushed. It's just all so generic. Add to that a bombastic over-the-top score, and it almost gets annoying in moments.
There was a simple choice to make at the beginning of this project: do we choose story over style, or style over story? Time and time again, with video-game film adaptations, the studios incorrectly choose style over story, and the project doesn't live up to its potential. Unfortunately, Tomb Raider (2018) suffers from this exact same error.
It's definitely not the worst Tomb Raider movie though, and it's actually better than most video-game inspired movies. The film has done very poorly at the domestic box office, but okay in the foreign markets, so hopefully, Warner Bros. is able to make a sequel with Vikander. But I would hope that they would choose a different creative team.
Lara Croft is an excellent character upon which to build a respectable movie franchise. Hollywood finally got the lead cast right. Now they just have to write a quality script and find the right person to helm the project. A strong female lead, huge cinematic concept, built-in audience of millions—what more can you ask for?
I watched the film on a recent flight, and as a small scope $2M indie film, probably didn't miss much of the experience by watching it on such a small screen.
The story is of a young girl, Moonee, and mother, Halley, who live in a seedy motel near Orlando, occupied by live-in, low-income residents who have trouble paying the weekly rent. Halley, though outwardly fun-loving, is deeply full of anger, and is far too immature to be a responsible parent. We constantly see this effect on her daughter.
The hotel manager, Bobby (Willem Dafoe), has a good heart but has been run down by years of dealing with people who just can't seem to make good decisions no matter how obvious they are.
Through the film, we see Halley's life go from bad to worse, and Moonee is the unfortunate recipient of the consequences. Bobby attempts to do what he can to save her temporarily but knows far too well that he's just delaying the inevitable awful outcome.
The acting by the adult leads is solid, as there's so much for them to grab onto with these terribly flawed characters. It's easy to understand why Dafoe was attracted to such a low budget project.
The film does suffer at times from that low budget. And though the kids do a commendable job of acting, they're certainly outshone by their more seasoned adult counterparts.
That being said, The Florida Project is a wonderful, heartbreaking film. The script is well-crafted, efficiently establishing these troubled characters and allowing them space to interact with each other in highly dramatic fashion. By the end of the tale, it would be hard not to feel for these imaginary people, and to wonder how many real-life Americans are living the same troubled tale.
I highly recommend The Florida Project. In a time of far too many bombastic super-hero movies, this beautiful low-budget, character-driven film is a welcome change of pace.
I finally watched the 2015 film about chess great Bobby Fischer starring Tobey Maguire. Having read a great bit about Fischer's life, and being a huge chess fan, I was interested in seeing how the filmmakers tackled the subject. Director Edward Zwick has made some very good movies, after all.
Bobby Fischer was a severely troubled human being that happened to become the best chess player on the planet in the middle of the Cold War when the U.S. needed a victory against the Soviet Union. Needless to say, there's a lot there to dig from. Unfortunately, Pawn Sacrifice just doesn't dig deep enough. While it does attempt to show Fischer's descent into madness, it doesn't adequately give the reasons why he turned into the volatile person he became, why chess was so important to fill a void in his life, or the real depth of his insanity. And that's frustrating, because this is a story that deserves to be adequately told.
Also, Tobey Maguire is severely miscast. Bobby Fischer was a big framed, lanky, deep-voiced, angry man who continually looked uncomfortable in his own skin. Maguire, who looks nothing like him, had no hope of pulling it off. And this makes a script lacking in depth all the worse. However, Liev Schreiber superbly plays Boris Spassky.
The film is at its best when Fischer plays Spassky for the World Championship. But the matches are largely shot with only close-ups of the moves mixed with reaction shots of the players and audience members—we don't get a good view of what the moves actually are! That's awful. For those who understand chess, we should see the brilliant moves. And the overuse of slow motion throughout the film just makes things worse.
Making a film about chess cannot be easy, especially on $19M. Maybe this movie plays better to those who don't know a lot about chess history. I just see it as a blown opportunity. It is an almost adequate telling of very historic time, but given the rich, ample history they had to pull from, the filmmakers didn't come close to creating the film that should have been made. I gotta say, I was disappointed.
Outside of the three Chris Nolan Batman films, I'm not a huge fan of superhero movies. Even The Avengers bored me to death. I have tremendous issues suspending disbelief when it comes to bullet-proof characters that fly around and win every time.
But the reviews of Black Panther were so good I decided to check it out. I'm glad I did.
Let me start off by saying the whole concept of this superhero and his land is absolutely brilliant. This is an easy movie to fall into. The $200M budget is splashed all over the screen. The style and cinematography are very satisfying.
However, for me, it does go too far over-the-top in moments. There's an action sequence in Korea. The first part, indoors, is one of the best action sequences I've ever seen. It was blocked and shot fantastically. Then it extends outside and The Black Panther is flying around like Spiderman and I'm kicked right out of the story, knowing full well that most people in the audience enjoy that type of unrealistic popcorn fare.
One thing I love about Black Panther's storyline is there's a antagonist shift. I'm so happy that filmmakers are taking chances stepping away from the standard story format and pulling it off. Most of the characters are well-written and really well acted, and that helps one buy this extraordinary world.
The last act is huge, and far too popcorny for me, but I did really like parts of it, and I'm sure that most moviegoers absolutely loved it.
So I'd rank Black Panther above most superhero movies, though that's a low bar for me. It still doesn't approach Chris Nolan territory, but it's well worth the watch, even if you're not a big fan of the genre. It's so satisfying to watch a huge blockbuster and think 'that was worth the fortune they poured into making it.' Black Panther fits that bill.
I love it when a good Western comes out every few years. They're incredibly hard to make any money on, especially in foreign markets. So I appreciate it when studios take a chance on them. Hostiles was independently produced, and that's an even braver prospect, and though it looks like it will be hard to make a profit on the film anytime soon, I sure am glad it was made.
Hostiles stars Christian Bale as Captain Joseph J. Blocker, who in 1892 is given one last order before retirement, to escort Yellow Hawk, a sick and imprisoned Cheyenne Chief and his family, from Fort Berringer in New Mexico, back to his homelands in Montana, so that he may die there. Both are veterans of battles against each other, so there is no love lost between the two. Along the way, they pick up Rosalie Quaid, who recently survived a brutal attack against her homestead by a group of Apaches.
This is a wonderfully intriguing premise. The traveling group has struggles within itself, but also has to work together to face gruesome threats along the way. This isn't a typical story structure because there is no one, main antagonist. There are a set of obstacles, and that's fine. The most significant battle, in fact, is between the main characters and their inner demons who struggle to take them over as horrific memories of a brutal past become too much for the mere humans to bear.
This is a violent film, though some of the most satisfying scenes simply suggest extreme violence. It's also a film about redemption, not only of individuals but of a nation. There are few glimmers of hope in this bleak world, though when they do come, when these characters fight themselves to win forgiveness, it's incredibly satisfying.
Christian Bale was the perfect choice for the lead, though the acting is solid throughout.
My main complaint with the film is in the production/post style. The look doesn't pop. The resolution isn't extremely high, and the colors are washed out a bit, which is the exact opposite look I'd go for in an exterior Western epic. Though there isn't a ton of camera movement, the few pans and zooms did annoy me. Having just watched The Hateful Eight, which was shot on 70mm, the look of that Western, even on my 1080P television, looked far superior to Hostiles in the theatre.
It's not a deal killer though. I'd definitely suggest seeing Hostiles on the big screen. I think the lack of a typical antagonist might make it a bit unsatisfying for some. But for those who dig heavy internal conflicts, especially when portrayed by very talented actors, Hostiles will deliver right up until the last scene, a scene which was so satisfying for me—a brilliant end to such a long, tortured journey.
I'm a pretty big Quentin Tarantino fan. I've watched most of his movies at the theatre, and tend to like them all.
When The Hateful Eight came out a few years ago, Tarantino was knee-deep in his political drama that I believe turned a lot of people off, including me. I skipped seeing the movie. However, A couple of days ago, I finally caught it on Netflix.
One of the things that makes Tarantino's movies so intriguing is that as a screenwriter and director, he's incredibly undisciplined, but he's so talented, he can use that as an advantage to give us fascinating scenes that we're not used to getting from other filmmakers. However, because of that lack of discipline, we have to put up with stuff that is annoying in his films, i.e.: their absurdly bloated length, the mind-numbing coincidences, & the ridiculous dialogue moments. The Hateful Eight does suffer from these, but overall the powerful scenes and terrific acting makes up for it.
Make no mistake about it, this is a $45M stage play masked as a film. It's a small, simple story. That being said, it's filled with enough tension to work quite well on the screen. The handful of spaces used for the film simply work as a backdrop for the deliciously fault-ridden Tarantino characters to aggravate each other, and ultimately commit the over-the-top violence we expect. And the Robert Richardson shots look as beautiful as they should in a Tarantino movie.
Having been shot on 70mm, I should have seen this film in the theatre. However, since it's not an epic outdoor story, I don't feel horrible about not seeing it on the big screen.
I don't see any fall-off in Tarantino's work. It's been rock-steady his entire career. The Hateful Eight isn't his best movie, but the range between his best and worst film is slim. They're all very good. If the Tarantino style of storytelling is your thing, I'd definitely catch The Hateful Eight on a nice-sized TV screen, and make yourself an extra large bowl of popcorn, because it's going to take awhile to get through it.
The Guillermo del Toro film is getting much critical acclaim as award season approaches, and deservedly so.
Minor Spoiler Summary:
Set in the 1960's, a mute custodian, Elisa, works at a government lab, which has recently received an amphibious/human-like creature called 'The Asset,' which was taken from a secret location in the Amazon. The evil Colonel who captured the Asset, tortures it, and attempts to convince a general to have it killed so they can autopsy it for research purposes. Elisa must find a way to sneak the creature out of the facility, and eventually set it free.
It's a beautiful story about a lonely person who finds companionship in the strangest of ways. The characters are well written, and well cast. Del Toro doesn't pull punches in creating a terrifically mean antagonist. And as always, his setting is beautifully crafted.
The Shape of Water works best in small moments, as we see how isolated Elisa is from much of the world, and how much simple interaction with the Asset means to her. It works wonderfully when we see Elisa willing to risk what little she has to save the Asset. And it brings a tear to the eye when she tries to explain to her hard-to-convince friends how important this mission is to her.
There are some areas that trip the film up a minor bit. The free flowing camera movement is far overused. The film runs long, as, like so many recent movies, it tries to cram in two Act 2's &3's into one film. And it does push the boundaries of believability a bit too far at times. I thought the ending was especially problematic.
However, The Shape of Water is clearly one of the best movies of the year, and will go down as a classic love tale. This is the type of film that could only come from the mind of Guillermo del Toro. It will make you laugh, cry, and cheer, in truly creative ways. It's especially impressive given its modest $20M budget.
Del Toro is one of the best creative minds of our day. Don't miss out on his latest work. Catch The Shape of Water in the theatre, if you can.
Typically, I rave when storytellers try something different. When they stick to the basic three-act paradigm, with flawed characters growing through an arc while fighting through their obstacles, it all tends to be stale, unless it's somehow taken from a fresh angle.
Three Billboards smashes the basic rules. Often it's done in satisfying ways. However, as a whole, it's a hot mess, where the sum is not greater than the value of the often creative pieces.
The story is of a divorcee, whose daughter was raped and murdered. She decides to rent three billboards outside of her rural house to put controversial messages, bashing the local Sheriff for not solving the murder. That's the setup. After that, it's complete chaos for two hours.
Three Billboards excels in moments. The characters are well developed. But not a one of them is likable, except in short moments. In fact, much of the time, you'll dislike every character on the screen. They're just not slightly flawed, they're assault-people-who-disagree-with-them flawed. And they don't evolve much past that ugliness.
Yet, seeing them act like savages does have its moments. In fact, it's charming at times. Though by the end, you'd wish that there would have been more complete arcs. For me, you can create wonderfully flawed characters that you can easily fall for, but if they don't arc, it's just a trip that doesn't seem to go anywhere satisfying. That is the ultimate flaw in Three Billboards. (Along with an absurd coincidence in a key moment that is just horribly lazy writing).
That being said, if you're looking for unique moments, and like watching heavily flawed characters, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MO is for you. You have to look past the typical Hollywood stereotyping of flyover land as a place where everyone is a racist, bumbling idiot. You have to not expect satisfying character arcs. You must not be in need of a typical three-act structure. But, if you're into moments that disturb, often very interesting ways, give the movie a shot. You just might like (parts of) it.
I'll mark the point where I start adding spoilers further on, below the safe stuff.
I saw the film at a midnight showing last night. Even though the reviews were very positive, I had low expectations, given my dislike of Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Fortunately, it turns out at that The Last Jedi is much better written and directed than Episode VII.
The Last Jedi actually does what The Force Awakens failed to do: it decently develops these new characters which felt so flat in Episode VII. I had thought there was miscasting done in The Force Awakens, but I now realize I was wrong: these new actors just didn't have enough material to showcase their skills. I now dig Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo Ren, whereas before I felt ambivalent about them all. And our new antagonist, Snoke—well he steals the show.
The Last Jedi is long, to the point of being a bit bloated. But most of the journeys are a lot of fun. There is humor mixed throughout, and most of it works. Where it doesn't, it's awful, because they stick it in some of the most serious points of the story. In that respect, I wish they would have learned from Rogue One, which benefited from keeping it serious.
One of the most awful parts of The Force Awakens was all the recycling of A New Hope that was done. There is some of that in The Last Jedi, but not enough to ruin the movie. And unlike The Force Awakens, the CG all looks good.
What The Last Jedi does best, is it effectively pushes characters into the struggle between the light and the dark side of the Force. Witnessing their internal battles with their identities in the mix of epic external battles is Star Wars done right.
And it needs to be mentioned: Mark Hamill's acting is superb.
I'd put The Last Jedi in the same territory as Rogue One, not as good as New Hope, or The Empire Strikes Back, but about as good as Return of the Jedi, and definitely better than the Clone Wars garbage trilogy.
Catch it in the theatre while you can.
Some things are just so dumb, they're hard to buy:
1. Why do bombers move so slow in space?
2. Why do bombs drop below the bombers in space?
3. Why are Rebel ships out of range of lasers from the Destroyers when they're still in visible range? What's exactly degrading these streams of photons in a vacuum? You can fire a laser and destroy a whole planet from space, but can't shoot a few ships that are a little ways out there?
4. What exactly was this BS that Rose and Finn figured out about the tracking?
5. If the Rebels were so close to an impenetrable base, why didn't they just go there in the first place?
6. How can there possibly be a wall considered impenetrable?
7. Why would Snoke allow himself to be killed so easily?
8. Why is Rey this incredibly powerful Jedi all of a sudden, and how did Rose become a first-class fighter pilot?
I can't believe they killed off Snoke. He was the best new character in ages, and they off him so easily like that? Off the flat characters and keep the good ones.
The entire side-trip to Vegas didn't fit the tone of the film at all. I would have rewritten and reshot that part with an entirely new concept. Benicio Del Toro's character was little more than a cheap stereotype.
I wouldn't have killed off Luke. Killing off a main character every episode in the trilogy is going to get very old.
Why is BB-8 still grossly underdeveloped after 2 films? We know who R2D2 and C3P0 are. BB-8 is pretty damn flat for being so round.
Even with all my complaints, I still loved the film. Rian Johnson did a stellar job with the writing and directing.
I'm actually looking forward to the third installation, and that's saying a lot, because after the first, I thought I'd never see another Star Wars film ever again.
I finally got around to watching the 2014 WW2 tank movie, starring Brad Pitt. I remember wanting to see the film at a theatre, but not getting around to it. Thinking it to be more grand of a film than it is, I'm not crushed that I saw it on Blu-ray.
I dig the concept: a medium-sized film about a new recruit joining a veteran tank crew, to face some of the fiercest action near the end of the war. Pitt plays the hardened veteran who started killing Nazis in Africa, and now must finish the job in Germany. His crew is tough but beat up, and has obviously aged decades in the few years they've fought. And now, in the last leg, they're forced to train a new guy.
The movie is contained, but in a decent way. Instead of massive battles, it's a handful of tanks against a couple other tanks, or a few hundred troops taking a town instead of thousands. Though it would have been nice to see the contrast between massive cinematic war scenes and those of a tight space within a tank, the film works fine in its non-huge scope, especially in an extended scene within an apartment in the ruins of a German town where the tank crew meet a couple of German ladies—a scene that is paced very well, and is written and acted in such a satisfactory way. It's in some of the slower moments that the film works best.
The different members of the crew are interesting, moderately well-developed characters, and you start feeling for them as they push through their horrific journey. I was hooked, waiting for the inevitable monster of a third act that would complete the film. But unfortunately, what played out in the last 30 minutes or so, was just far too unbelievable for me.
I still recommend the film. I think it's good. Brad Pitt, as usual, is great. But, it would have been much more satisfying for me had the third act been far more believable. I invested 100 minutes into the story, was hooked, and then the final thirty minutes played out, and I was left shaking my head.
I'm sure I'm a tougher critic on this sort of stuff than most. And budget may have had something to do with it. But, had the third act been a gem, this film would have gone down as classic. It just came up 30 minutes short.
It's been thirty years since I read the Agatha Christie classic. I was not a big fan of the 1974 film, but I sure did get excited when I heard that Kenneth Branagh was taking a shot at a remake, using 65mm cameras, no less.
The reviews were very mixed, so I went in with tempered expectations. Having loved the novel, and still remembering who committed the murder, clear as day, I was anxious to see this film, and to see not only how Branagh tackled the story as a director, but to see him as Hercule Poirot, one of the most loved protagonists in all of literature.
The film is much better than the reviews. The cast is stellar, although I do agree with some critics that the players don't seem to have the number of shining moments that they could have had. The pacing is actually terrific, with ample time given to the setup, and a pretty tight amount given to the mystery. The conclusion is handled well, with a wonderful teaser snuck in at the end. The film doesn't drag.
Branagh does a commendable job as Hercule Poroit, the perfection-driven detective that is pained by his own rigid personality which allows him to be such a world-class investigator.
There were some issues I had with direction, however. Since the bulk of the story happens within the tight confines of a train car, Branagh overcompensates with the exterior shots, which are far too grand, usually with video-game-like crane camera movements, and with far too much CG. Mixed in with an awfully bland color grading, the film doesn't feel as serious as it should.
Yet, I really enjoyed it. I don't know at what point in the story I would have figured it out. Maybe not until the final reveal. Though like any Agatha Christie mystery, the clues are numerous, and after the end, you certainly feel like a dummy if you didn't figure it out. The mystery unfolds in such a satisfying fashion.
I recommend seeing Murder On The Orient Express. It's solid. I don't think hardcore Agatha Christie fans will ever be fully satisfied with any film adaptation, but this one is definitely worth the watch. With a modest $55M budget and a solid opening weekend, hopefully, we haven't seen the end of Branagh as the amazing Hercule Poirot.
I had such low expectations for this film given the modern state of the movie industry. However, when the initial reviews came out stating that this was a worthy successor and an instant sci-fi classic, my expectations started to rise, but I pushed them back down, knowing all too well I was bound to be disappointed.
I then watched the film and realized it's one of the best movies in years and is easily one of the best sci-fi movies of all time. Denis Villeneuve and company knocked it straight out of the park.
A superbly cast Ryan Gosling plays a replicant LAPD blade runner. This newer model of replicant is designed to fully obey, and to track down older replicants who could pose danger to humans. He uncovers a mystery–one that could lead to significant consequences to the world, and must solve it by finding the old blade runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). The answers found to the mystery are wonderful. The whole concept is clever. It's storytelling done right.
The casting of this film is exceptional from top to bottom. From Robin Wright who plays Ryan Gosling's boss, to Ana de Armas who plays his simulated girlfriend, to Jared Leto who plays the very evil founder of the Wallace Corporation, one part after another is acted in ways that continually impress. There is no weak link.
But the real icing on top of the cake is the film's epic look and sound. Roger Deakins, one the most acclaimed cinematographers of all time (Shawshank, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Skyfall), absolutely stuns you with one amazing visual after another. And the great Hans Zimmer, along with a very talented sound effects and design team, finely craft the future world with amazing sounds that go straight to your core and keep you on continual edge.
Now, as a point of warning: this is not a film for the Instagram generation. It's slow, long, intelligent, and relentlessly punishing. If you favor sugar candy over a fine filet mignon, this film will not work for you. It can probably only be appreciated by moviegoers who prefer substance and depth over sparkle.
That being said, if you are a grownup who appreciates deep stories and characters, and appreciate amazing visuals and sound, Blade Runner 2049 is an absolute must-see. It's beautiful and brutal enough to make you cry. It will make you think long after you leave the theatre. It is, finally, a deserving sequel to a classic that we all loved—which in Hollywood history, is but the rarest of gems. Catch it on the big screen while you can.
At some point, an item is priced so low, it's too good to pass up. That's what's happened recently with MoviePass.
I've always loved going to the movies. It used be much more affordable to me, especially the first showings of the day. At some point, even the matinees got to a price point where I'd feel guilty going that often. Fifteen years ago, I probably saw 35 films a year at the theatre. Last year, maybe it was ten. And I live right across the street from a large AMC.
So when MoviePass announced a few weeks back that they were lowering their price to $10/month, I knew it was too good of a deal to pass up. I waited awhile, since I knew demand was heavy, and then a week ago, I ordered my card, and I tried it out today for the first time.
It's awesome. Once your card arrives, you download the app, then select the theatre you're going to (the nearest ones will be on top of the list). And as long as you're within 100 yards of the theatre, you select the movie you want to see (and the time). That activates your card to work for that particular purchase. You can then use the kiosk, or stand in line at the window. It's easy. See as many movies as you want, as long as they're not IMAX or 3D. All for only $10/month.
Now, my small drink still cost $6.10. So, hopefully they come up with a monthly service to pay for that too. But without having to pay the $10.50 for the matinee ticket, I didn't feel too guilty about buying an overpriced cup of syrup water.
If you love going to the movies, MoviePass is too good of a deal not to get. I believe it works at any theatre that accepts MasterCard. If I didn't have a full day of stuff to do tomorrow, I'd go right back to the theatre. I anticipate my films/year will head right back up to 35 or more.
It's a killer deal. I'd highly recommend it. Go see more films.
I skipped Alien: Covenant at the theatres because of the mediocre reviews. I finally caught it last week while on a plane ride from MI to CA. I'm glad I watched it for free on a very small screen because I would not have been happy if I had sacrificed time and money to see it on a big screen.
The film has a very promising premise which I won't give away. But almost every scene felt like it needed further work. I'm guessing it was grossly under-written, and at $97M, under-budgeted. They should have added another couple million for rewrites alone.
One of the biggest problems with the film is that it was hard to care about any of the characters because they were so one-dimensional and underdeveloped. A lot of the writing seemed downright sloppy. For instance, Danny McBride plays a guy named Tennessee. What an annoying, cliched name. There's one scene where the other character calls him by his name about a dozen times. The cliche was hard to handle the first one or two times. By the end of the scene, it was so annoying, I almost stopped watching.
Another big issue was that there wasn't an A-list star to carry the film. Michael Fassbender is a terrific actor. He lacks A-list shine, however. And there was nobody even close to a Sigourney Weaver. In fact, after watching Covenant, you realize how much she carried the first three films.
I'm even going to complain about the effects. At times the Aliens looked awful. Other times they looked alright. Maybe another few million would have fixed that issue as well.
The premise was clever, however. I can see why the pitch was bought. But, this is yet another classic case where the film went into production long before the script was ready. My guess is that if Fox had ponied up another $50M for bigger stars, better effects, and most of all, better writing, Ridley Scott would have had a lot more to work with.
I've been a big fan of the Daniel Craig Bond movies, especially of Skyfall, which I thought to be the best film in the entire series. When Spectre came out, I passed on seeing it in the theatre, primarily because of the mediocre reviews and word-of-mouth. I finally watched the 24th installment in the series, on my tablet, while on vacation, and I now regret not seeing it on the big screen.
The opening scene takes place during the Day of the Dead in Mexico, and it's an extraordinary series of long, epic, tracking shots that effectively pull the viewer back into the Bond universe. The main aspect of the plot is set up rather quickly, as is the ovearching mystery. Another tremendous, tense, action scene unfolds in Italy, complete with the requisite eye-popping car chase.
Sam Mendes excels at making these huge, action films. The cinematography is top notch, with one stunning composition after another. Though most of the complex action sequences are cut well, there are issues, which get to the core of the film's main problem.
Spectre has all the elements of a grade-A Bond film: intriguing plot, terrifying antagonist, excellent acting, grand action-filled scenes, a beautiful femme fatale. But the second half of the film has something that is the Achilles' heel of these type of movies: believability issues.
There are a handful, maybe more, of instances that are ridiculously unbelievable. These almost all happen in the second half of the film, and the closer you get to the end, the more frequent they are. And it's a shame. You spend millions of dollars setting up an elaborate action sequence, but blow it on the writing, because the escape is far beyond the scope of believability. It's a few instances of lousy writing that end up preventing Spectre from being a fantastic chapter in the Bond series.
That being said, I enjoyed it much more than I had anticipated. It's better than the critics gave it credit for. And I still have enormous hope for the next installment now that Daniel Craig has finally signed on. And I do wish I had seen those action sequences on the big screen, even with the let-downs.
Spectre is one of those rare cases where a movie costs $250M, and you look at it and say, I can see where all that money went. Perhaps another $500k on another draft would have been money well spent, however.
Incredible reviews aside, the reality is that Dunkirk is an excellent film, but not an excellent film compared to other Christopher Nolan films.
Nolan made an interesting choice in approaching this story. He took the enormous historical event of the Battle of Dunkirk, and decided to tell it via three relatively small plot lines. Each is well crafted, and the glue that holds the harrowing scenes together is Hans Zimmer's wonderfully chilling score. The acting is solid. There are great moments of visceral impact. At times the cinematography is excellent. At times it's a little blasé. Though at its best, as in scenes of ships sinking, and soldiers fighting for their lives via canted angles, the film delivers brilliance.
Dunkirk is a showcase of a monstrous event. There are few character arcs, few deep relational interactions, few moments when a character's growth wows us. Instead, the wow factor is in the showcase. Therein lies the problem. Dunkirk is a $100M film. It plays much smaller than a recent $40M war film, Hacksaw Ridge, which had the deep emotional arcs satisfyingly imbedded into it, along with wow moments far more impactful than those found in Dunkirk.
I recommend seeing Dunkirk. It's much better than the vast majority of war movies out there. Yet, coming from whom many consider to be the best director of our day, Mr. Nolan was outdone by Mr. Gibson, and not by a narrow margin.
The other day I watched the film for the first time since I was a kid. The 1973 Western was directed by and starred Clint Eastwood. I had forgotten what a good film it was.
We see few Westerns made today because they tend to do horribly at the international box office. I think High Plains Drifter could be made today and could probably see profit. The beauty of the film is in its simplicity. It's based on character much more so than plot.
Clint plays a stranger who rides into a small Western mining town, gets into immediate trouble at the saloon, proves his skills at shooting a revolver, and is then hired to defend the town against a gang who will be coming to cause havoc. What makes the film so interesting is the cast of characters that inhabit the town, and their interaction with the stranger who has them do outrageous things in preparation for the final showdown. It's that simple. They prepare for the gang, and then the gang rides in at the end.
The film ends with an ambiguous/supernatural tone that isn't needed at all. It tried to go a bit too far. But besides the over-the-top reveal, it worked well throughout, and in very limited locations. Ninety percent of it takes place in a small town, one that was obviously built for the shoot. There are the scenic shots of the vast plains of the American West to add cinematic value, all of which looked to be simple, easy-to-shoot setups.
Fascinating characters who are well cast are what makes High Plains Drifter work. It is in some ways the anti-Western with a true anti-hero. It relies on character to make up for the limited space in which it takes place. It hits its notes well, and besides the disappointing try at the end, it doesn't attempt to be more than it should.
It's definitely worth the watch.
This is full of spoilers, so please don't read on if you haven't seen the movie.
Kenneth Lonergan wrote an incredible script. However, I'm not satisfied with his ending. This is the second fantastic movie from 2016 (the other being Hell or High Water) that went with a soft ending to the detriment of the film. This is breaking with the tradition of having a climax, and then a denouement to finish the story.
Manchester by the Sea ends with Lee, sitting at a dinner table, telling his teenage nephew Patrick that the family friend George will adopt him so that he can stay in Manchester. In the following scene, Lee and Patrick walk down a road, bouncing a ball. Lee tells Patrick that he can't stay in Manchester because he "...can't beat it," meaning he can't beat the bad memories of the place, and that he'll look for a two-bedroom apartment so that Patrick can visit him. The film closes with the two going out on the boat to fish.
The reason why this ending is so unsatisfying is because it ends with a reveal and not a completion of Lee's character arc.
A much better ending would have been: Lee drops off Patrick at George's house. They hug and hold back the tears outside of the house as Lee hands Patrick off to his new family. Let gets in his car, turns it on, and starts backing out of the driveway. He stops at the end of the driveway. He contemplates. A tear drops down his face. We see a CU of his hand fumbling around the keys near the ignition. The hand shakes. He turns off the car. Cut to Black.
This would have shown that Lee finished his arc: that he had grown to a place where he'd be willing to face all of his demons in order to honor his dead brother and take care of the nephew who he really loved.
I can't argue with Lonergan's decision. He made one of the best films of recent memory. However, I'm sick of these soft endings attached to otherwise fantastic films. This devastating film would have been so much better by alluding to greater hope for Lee's future. It would have made all the pain that we suffered while watching through the incredible sadness dissipate away in a most satisfying way.
Pop the balloon. Don't let the air squeeze out of a pinhole leak. That's no way to end a great story.
Unfortunately, I didn't get to see the film in the theatre, so like most of the world, I waited around for it to get to Amazon Prime. I'm not sure why, but for some reason, I didn't believe I'd like this film as much as the critics. Maybe it was the Matt Damon connection, not sure.
Turns out, I was wrong. Manchester by the Sea is one of the best American films in recent memory.
For a sub-$10M picture, this film is extremely well-crafted. Yes, there's the occasional poorly framed shot, or cut that doesn't work as well as it should. But for every one of those instances, there are many compositions and sequences that blow you away. There are scenes that are fantastically well done, like a funeral scene without dialogue. It's done entirely in slow motion (and I usually detest slow motion) under music, and all you can do is read the actors' lips, but you don't need to, because the performances are so strong, you understand what was being said.
I now understand why Casey Affleck won that Academy Award. This is a performance for the ages. Kyle Chandler and Michelle Williams are superb as usual. And Lucas Hedges kills it as the teenager trying to deal with the death of his dad. But the excellent casting doesn't stop there. From top to bottom, this film is solidly acted.
Yes, this movie is heartbreaking. It's so emotional, it's hard to sit through at times. But it's so well written, acted, and directed, it's something to be appreciated. The nuances in the relationships are absolutely incredible. It makes this story believable. The scenes ring so true, it's almost as if the film bar has been raised.
There are two minor problems with the film. First, it pushes too far in some instances. A bit of restraint would have been more effective. And second, (minor spoiler alert), I'm not a fan of the soft ending.
That being said, Manchester by the Sea is a prime example of storytelling done right. You could teach a semester-long filmmaking class on this movie alone. So if you haven't seen it, grab that Kleenex box, and turn on your Amazon Prime.
One last note: thank God that Matt Damon had to drop out of the lead because of scheduling. Without Casey Affleck, this wouldn't have been half the film it turned out to be.
My rating: 9.8/10.
With a 98% RottenTomatoes rating and an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, I was looking forward to seeing Hell or High Water. I hadn't heard a negative thing about it, but unfortunately wasn't able to catch it during its short run in theatres. After all, who could pass up seeing Jeff Bridges play a Texas Ranger in West Texas? That alone sounds like a formula for great success.
The story covers two very seasoned Texas Rangers, one played by Bridges, the other by Gil Birmingham, who chase a couple of young bank-robbing brothers played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster. The relationships between each pair of partners is what makes the film. The brothers, in dire straights, have nothing but deep, open love towards each other. The Rangers, coming from a more reserved generation, show their fellow admiration through more strained methods. Bridges, as we would expect, is absolutely terrific in the role. We feel his pain as he nears the end of a career that is the prominent part of his life, in a vast, barren world that doesn't seem to give a damn.
The open plains of West Texas are the perfect landscape for this story, and DP Giles Nuttgens captures them well, allowing the film to play much bigger than its meager $12M budget. But, this movie isn't at its best in the grand exterior scenes. Where Hell or High Water really shines is in the confined hotel room, where the two Rangers have to indirectly discuss life, or in a backcountry steak house, where they have to show ultimate respect to an old, ornery waitress who commands nothing less.
If I had to nitpick the movie, I'd point to the soft ending, which I'm sure many people found underwhelming. It was a creative choice that plays on the long, slow life of the Rangers in that part of the country. It's delivered with a little tack hammer that I'm afraid will keep this movie from having a chance of winning Best Picture. But I was okay with it.
The four leads did a fantastic job. However, I feel that if a bigger name was attached, the movie would have had better success at the box office. This is a modern Western, and any Western tends to run into trouble with the international box office. Having a not-too-successful domestic release, the foreign release was very limited. When a critically-acclaimed Western sputters with movie-goers, that doesn't bode well for green-lighting future pictures in the genre.
Yet, I still loved this film. Yes, a greater punch in the gut at the end would have made me love it more. That being said, I do feel Hell or High Water is very deserving of its Best Picture nomination.
My rating: 9.1/10
I recently rewatched The Sixth Sense for the first time in years. I remember seeing it in the theatre in 1999 and being absolutely wowed. I've seen it several times since and have read the script more than once. I still absolutely love this movie. Everyone raves about the twist, but I love everything else about it as well: the pace, the dialogue, the compositions, the acting—it's all fantastic. It's one of my favorite films of all time.
Although officially M. Night's third film, I feel to most of us, it feels like it's his first. It gave us enormous expectations for his future films. They came, and each one, unfortunately, seemed to be a little worse than the previous. For every person that loved Signs, a few less loved The Village, and a few less loved Lady in the Water.
None of M. Night's movies resonated with me nearly as much as The Sixth Sense, but I found some amazing quality in all of them (I didn't see The Last Airbender or After Earth). I did see The Visit, M. Night's 2015 low-budget return-to-horror flick, and liked it a lot. I'll go see his upcoming film Split as well. I think for too long he was far too intent on smacking us with a twist ending. None could ever live up to The Sixth Sense reveal.
M. Night comes out with a new film about every couple of years. That means that he's probably only taking six months or so to write each script. I wonder what would happen if he took a couple of years to write each script and came out with a new film every 3-4 years. I'm not sure he could afford to do it, but I bet it would increase the quality of his films dramatically.
I'm still an M. Night Shyamalan fan. I hope he ends his career with films that are his best yet. That will be tough to do. A good sabbatical might do him well in the mean time.
My rating for The Sixth Sense: 9.7/10
This morning I rewatched Rogue One, this time in 2D on a normal=sized screen. In my previous review, I pointed out the two biggest flaws I found with the film: weak character development and an almost complete lack of LS's. Since 3D tends to make big shots look small, I was interested to see the film in 2D to see if it played larger.
During the second viewing, I had the exact same problems I had during the first. The character development was thin. Who the hell is Saw Gerrera? Why is he in this film? Cassian Andor? What's his backstory? At least we learn a little about Jyn, but not enough to make her as satisfying as she could be. Bad-Guy Orson? Why wasn't he developed at all?
Seeing the film in 2D did very little to hide the fact that besides the large XXL CG shots, 90% of this film is shot too close.
When low-budget indie filmmakers shoot their films, they often rely heavily on MCU's in order to hide the fact that they can't afford extensive sets to paint the background with. It makes the film feel low-budget. There is never an excuse to do this in any large action film that you don't intentionally want to feel cheesy.
An example: what does Saw Gerrera's HQ's look like? We only see tight shots of it, along with terrific XXL's when it comes crumbling down. But we never get a feel of size and shape like we did inside of Jabba's chambers.
This is most noticeable in the first two acts. By the third act there are so many CG shots, it covers it up some. Having to squeeze in a big Walker does force the LS. But in crucial moments, the MCU's are used as cheats and it's very annoying. One example is when Jyn jumps onto the data storage tower. We correctly start with a LS of her jumping, and then cut to a MCU of her arm and head as she grabs the tower. This is a cheat. They then do it correctly with Cassian, showing his whole body make the jump. It's much more satisfying.
If 20% of the shots were shot too close or too zoomed in it would be annoying. But with a Rogue-One, it's the vast majority of shots. I guess the director, Gareth Edwards, and the cinematographer, Greig Fraser, have to share the blame. There just isn't any excuse for a movie with a $200M budget to be shot like this.
I still loved that third act though. And of course I still loved Felicity Jone's performance.
Although a very good film, with an outstanding third act, Rogue One has some serious flaws. But I guess with the subpar quality of the last few Star Wars films, we should be happy with the greatness that does exist within it.
Two viewings of Rogue One is satisfying. A third would be too many. That puts the film close to Return of the Jedi quality, and a huge notch below New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, yet far above the other films.
Few things are as frustrating as what has been done to the Star Wars universe, post-Revenge of the Jedi. While most people seemed to think that The Force Awakens was adequate redemption for the three films which preceded it, I disliked the film, and thought it to be a squandered opportunity.
Hence, when I walked into the 3-D, AMC-mini-IMAX viewing of Rogue One, I came with low expectations. Very few films would justify my losing of a Jackson and +2 hours of my time. But Star Wars still holds a strong place in my heart, and I wasn't going to wait around to watch this film on my TV.
First the bad news: Rogue One mostly squanders two acts on mediocre film craftsmanship and character development. There are far too many MS's and MCU's prior to the third act, making the film look cheap. The occasional XXLS looks fantastic, but there is an extreme dearth of LS's, to the detriment of the film.
There is not one character in Rogue One that is as well established or as engaging as Luke, Han, Leia, Ben, R2D2, C3PO, or Vader. Though I liked many of the characters, they were awfully thin. Some of the casting was great. Felicity Jones was fantastic in the lead as Jyn, and Ben Mendelsohn of Blood Lines fame, is terrific as a higher-up Emperial officer. How the hell they returned Peter Cushing from the dead, I'll never know, but they did it in very convincing fashion.
To repeat: the biggest flaw of this film is the weak character development.
After those two very mediocre first acts comes some of the best Star Wars filmmaking we've ever seen. The third act is an enormous, world-class crafted, epic masterpiece that is as great as any of the previous Star Wars films. It's a battle that happens on land and in space, with a well-paced build-up of tension, that leads to a fulfilling transition into A New Hope.
If only the characters had been crafted as well as the ones in New Hope.
However, this is a one-off, and as a big spectacle popcorn movie, it greatly succeeds. I couldn't fall into it during the first two acts, but I'm sure most people did. I enjoyed the hell out of the third act up on that big screen. To me, it is easily the fourth best Star Wars movie, and is a much better film than The Force Awakens.
Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes that Disney has made with the Star Wars franchise was separating from Michael Arndt during the early stages of pre-production on The Force Awakens. He is exactly the type of scribe they need to bring Star Wars back to where it deserves to be.
Though I had my issues with it, Rogue One, if for but 30 or 40 minutes, brought me back to the Star Wars of my childhood. And for that I'm happy and satisfied. And just to be clear: I think Felicity Jones is a huge star in the making.
My rating: 9.3/10