Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Yesterday, 2019 - ★★★

Danny Boyle is an interesting directing choice for this fantastical look at a world in which the Beatles don't exist. This film tells the ridiculous tale of an English pub singer Jack Malik who is the only person to remember the Beatles after a massive worldwide blackout. He writes down all the songs he can remember and makes a new album featuring the ripped-off work. All-along trying to win the heart of his lifelong crush in Lily James.

While newcomer Himesh Patel is excellent in the lead as Malik, the rest of the supporting cast stumbles a bit especially Kate McKinnon as an annoying cobble of characters she's played on SNL. Game of Thrones' Joel Fry is a bumbling mess as Patel's best friend. James is quirky and real, but her connection with Patel feels a bit forced at times.

The biggest issue I had with this movie is the story and the lack of explanation. We never get any follow-up as to why Patel (and two other random people) remember the Beatles. As Patel meets up with a legendary Beatles band member at the end of the film, there's no explanation as to if the Beatles ever existed at any point in time. Also we find out that Coca Cola and Harry Potter never existed as well for no good reason. There's a lot of unknowns that scream of lazy script writing that made me frustrated at times. The core concept is great, but the execution is lacking and I really expected more from a movie with Danny Boyle at the helm.

That being said, this is still a very fun movie to watch and there are laughs to be had here and there. Hearing Beatles anthems in a "live" stadium environment is also a treat similar to Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman. Just don't expect a lot of the story to make sense.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Spider-Man: Far from Home, 2019 - ★★★★ (contains spoilers)

This review may contain spoilers.

After his second solo film and 5th portrayal of Spider-Man, it's safe to say that Tom Holland has cemented himself as the best actor to portray the web-slinger on-screen. His Peter Parker / Spidey performance in Far From Home is the glue that holds this wild movie together.

I'm going to go ahead and spoil some of the plot details for you here, so if you haven't seen this, come back and read the rest of this after you go out and see it.

Overall I thought the Mysterio villain (portrayed by the always-effective Jake Gyllenhaal) plot twist was well done and another crafty way of bringing back some highlights of prior Marvel films. However, I thought the idea that drones could create such vivid destructive illusions was a little far fetched, even for a comic film. Once the threat is revealed to be an illusion, it's hard to understand how an army of drones could create all the weather effects (especially wind) that the innocent bystanders feel. All of the visuals make sense based on holographic projections, but the destruction and force-related effects don't seem possible. It's a small nitpick in an otherwise great film.

Watching Holland and his high-school classmates (led by the hilarious Jacob Batalon as Ned) interact with their surrounding and idiot teachers on a Eurotrip was a delightful follow-up to the somber events of EndGame. Bonus kudos to Angourie Rice for following up her Ashley O fandom from Black Mirror with a comic turn as Ned's European love fling.

The moment that Holland totally nails comes near the end of the film where he kisses MJ (Zendaya) for the first time. His reaction as he leaves the embrace that he's been spending his whole summer trying to achieve is priceless. Holland is playing someone 6 years younger than his real age but he time-and-time-again nails the youthful exuberance that makes Spider-Man a unique hero. Despite a few plot holes and cinematic Sam Jackson overload, this is yet another fun and effective time at the movies courtesy of the Marvel machine.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Triple Frontier, 2019 - ★★★½

Total guys movie and a callback to the 80's team-up action adventure genre. Affleck is running the show here but Hunnam and Issac bring their share of testosterone as well. The story ain't that original or memorable, but the cast definitely has chemistry and the high stakes towards the end makes this a worthwhile viewing.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Toy Story 4, 2019 - ★★★★½ (contains spoilers)

This review may contain spoilers.

I'm not sure if we really needed another Toy Story film after being 9 years removed from the previous edition, but we get one none-the-less and director Josh Cooley's version is a solid effort with a serviceable story by Rashida Jones. Most of the gang is back together again and Andy has finally been replaced in the narrative by Bonnie (which was hinted at with the conclusion of Toy Story 3).

The plot focuses on a new homemade toy that Bonnie crafts together in kindergarten, a spork monstrosity named Forky. Forky (voiced wonderfully by Tony Hale) doesn't realize he's a toy and it's up to the rest of the gang to keep him with Bonnie as she goes on a road trip. Woody ends up meeting us with his long lost crush Bo Peep (once again voiced by Annie Potts) at an antique store.

The rest of the voice cast is really good including a clever turn by Mr. Everything these days, Keanu Reeves as Canadian daredevil Duke Kaboom. Christina Hendricks lends her sweet convincing voice to Gabby Gabby, a 50's era doll without a voice-box. Key and Peele play Ducky and Bunny respectively and seem to be sort of forced into the story a bit. They are funny at times but just seem to be extra fluff (pardon the pun) on top of an already crowded cast.

After having recently watched all 3 previous films in succession over the weekend in preparation for this film, it's really amazing just how much Pixar's animation prowess has grown since the original film. Sequences with rain near the beginning of the film seem like they were put into the film to have the Pixar animation wizards flex their muscles. Simply put, no Pixar movie has looked as smooth and refined as this one. I found myself marveling at the porcelain texture of Bo Peep and the lifelike faces and eyes of the humans in the story that totally contrast against the lifeless primitive human figures in the original film I had just re-watched. 24 years of CGI technical innovation is easily summed up in comparing Toy Story and Toy Story 4.

SPOILER BELOW

At the end of the film we see Woody stay with Bo Peep and leave the rest of his gang (and his kid Bonnie) behind. I'm assuming this means that Toy Story 5 will not include Tom Hanks. It seems that Hanks is hanging up his cowboy hat and spurs, leaving this role. That final nod made the goodbye scene with Woody and Buzz a very emotional moment. I had a few tears. It lifted my rating a full star because I realized that for two toys to hug and leave me with that powerful of a feeling is really a tribute to Pixar and the character development they've put into these 4 films for nearly 25 years.

This is a worthy addition to the Toy Story franchise but it may ultimately be the weakest of the 4 films despite a welcome addition to the cast with Forky.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Secret Life of Pets 2, 2019 - ★★★½

A father's day trip to the movies for me today. The kids liked it well enough but it definitely was not as good as the first film. Kevin Hart shined a lot more as Snowball in the first film. He doesn't have much to do here and his role is kinda wasted.

The crazy cat lady angle was pretty spot on and Tiffany Haddish's Daisy was a welcome addition. Bonus props to Harrison Ford for voicing the grumpy farm dog with the same gruff personality Ford bring to his interviews. If you liked the first one, you'll like this one, just don't expect anything mind-blowing.

Murder Mystery, 2019 - ★★★

Harmless fluff that has it's funny moments. Sandler and Aniston have good comedic chemistry. I guessed who the "Murderer" was halfway through the movie though. Worth a watch, but don't expect too much.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Rocketman, 2019 - ★★★★½

Taron Egerton is a full-blown Hollywood star after this fantastic turn as Elton John in Dexter Fletcher's Rocketman. As a biopic/musical of the life of the English musical legend, this film stands out as the PROPER way to do a rock biopic. A much more accomplished and engaging experience than the bland Bohemian Rhapsody from 2018, Rocketman delivers on all levels thanks to inventive and creative musical numbers and strong performances all around.

Jaime Bell shines as Bernie Taupin, John's frequent collaborator and songwriter. Bell brings a loyalty for Taupin and we really understand his platonic love for John which built one of the most prolific collaborations in the history of the music industry. Richard Madden (Game of Thrones, The Bodyguard) is excellent as well as John's manager/love interest John Reid. We get two strong turns by Bryce Dallas Howard and Steven Mackintosh as John's disapproving parents. All of these characters end up explaining why John's life turned into a symphony of drugs and alcohol which Fletcher ends up illustrating brilliantly through fantasy sequences perfectly timed to John's discography.

The real meat of this film comes from two sources: Elton John's wonderful song catalog and Egerton's dynamic and personal performance. From the get-go we know that Egerton is going for it full blast. He's very engaging and outgoing as John, delivering one hit after another. His singing is actually very good and makes me fully enjoy his performance far more than last year's undeserving Best Actor winner Rami Malek. Let's hope the Academy at least honors Taron with a best actor nod after the complete control that Egerton brought to his portrayal of Elton John.

This film just works from start to finish and is really a fun ride in the theater. I found myself listening to the Elton John catalog days and weeks after I saw this. This is a great tribute to an influential musical pioneer and a fun film that has a lot of rewatchable potential.

Booksmart, 2019 - ★★★½

Olivia Wilde's directorial debut is clever and witty, featuring a great performance by Jonah Hill's sister Beanie Feldstein and a solid supporting turn by Kaitlyn Dever (Beautiful Boy) as two best friends finishing out their days in high school. The movie has some clever scenes and is written well but ultimately doesn't really deliver as many laughs as I was looking for. There are slow moments and it seems that Feldstein really is the only one bringing her true "A" game.

Wilde's direction is very good though and her choice of musical scoring is very effective. I feel she has a future behind the camera as well as in front of it. It was nice to see her include her husband Jason Sudeikis in a handful of scenes as the school principal. While the film tries to hard to push the played out Superbad theme of one "wild and crazy night" it manages to be relatively entertaining throughout. Definitely worth a home viewing and I'm thinking that Feldstein is about to break out as a true young star with her next film.

Ma, 2019 - ★★★½

Tate Taylor's Ma is an interesting take on the high school party scene and what happens when a social outcast tries to take revenge later in life. This is an Octavia Spencer vehicle all the way and she simply dominates every scene she's in. You can't take your eyes off her and you know she's just having a blast playing the role of "Ma" a local mother who invites high schoolers into her basement to party with friends.

What starts out as a seemingly friendly gesture from Ma turns into a typical horror gross-out slash fest along the way. Supporting turns from Luke Evans, Juliet Lewis and newcomer Diana Silvers help move the story along, but we're always just waiting for Ma to get back on screen. The movie really goes over the top towards the end and it's really not inventive or memorable overall. I did enjoy Octavia so much that I would recommend a home viewing here.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, 2019 - ★★★

This is more of the same and just a continuation of the first film. In a ways, watching this type of film this feels a lot like playing a video game (Uncharted, God of War, and other third person action games). There are levels setup between nearly useless plot advances and narratives. Reeves, Fishburne, Berry and others service the story well and bring their top bad-ass personalities to the table, but overall it's just more of the same. I find myself zoning out in some of the fight sequences because it's so repetitive. There's a lot of gross out moments in this one including the knife to the eye early on. However, I can only take so much of the same punch-kick-punch then pistol to the face or skull over and over again.

I'm not sure if I'm ready for a fourth film but I bet we get one. Maybe I'm just burned out from watching all three films for the first time in a span of a couple weeks. Worth watching if you've seen the first two, but expect more of the same and not a lot of imagination.

Bonus kudos to Mark Dacascos who went from being the chairman in Iron Chef (SECRET INGREDIENT) to going toe-to-toe with John Wick.