Friday, September 13, 2019

It Chapter Two, 2019 - ★★★★

Way too long of a film but still entertaining throughout, Andy Muschietti's follow up to the 2017 hit Stephen King adaptation excels based off it's carefully crafted cast. Bill Hader, James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain are the headliners, but ALL of the adult versions of the characters we saw in IT Chapter 1 in 2017 were cast perfectly by the producers of this film. Everyone looks like a grown-up version of the child actor that played the same character, but little known James Ransone stands out as a virtual doppelganger of Shazam's Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie.

Despite the strong casting and production value, the story just isn't that engaging at times and I found myself waiting to see the excellent Bill Skarsgard return to the screen as Pennywise. Skarsgard's performance in both films is a total creepy revelation. Something the Academy should honor although we all know they never will.

This movie explores the deep inner fears of the main characters and culminates in a loud messy final 30 minutes. It's not a film I really want to see again but it did entertain and engage me. Every time Pennywise is on screen it's riveting cinema in my opinion. The ratio of Pennywise-to-runtime in this film was not as high as I had hoped for. All in all, this is worth a viewing in the theater, especially if you invested in Chapter 1. Hader and Ransone bring the comedy to help mute the overall ominous tone of the movie. In fact, my favorite scene in the whole film comes during a Chinese restaurant dinner in which the main characters meet back up in Derry and share drinks and jokes. The believable chemistry between all the adult actors is earned instantly.

Kudos to a very spry and fit Stephen King for showing up in a clever cameo. I'm interested to see where Muschietti (only 46) goes from here. It looks like a DC comics "The Flash" film is next on his filmography.

Monday, August 26, 2019

The Peanut Butter Falcon, 2019 - ★★★½

An entertaining road trip movie with some heart that features a very effective Shia LaBeouf performances and a delightful debut by disabled actor Zach Gottsagen (who has down syndrome). The film has DNA associated with Rainman and Sling Blade but shines the most when Gottsagen and LaBeouf get to display their excellent on-screen chemistry. Dakota Johnson is serviceable but forced at times as the love interest for LaBeouf.

As we go along with the two leads in their quest to get Zach to Thomas Haden Church's wrestling camp, there are a lot of convenient meet-ups with the major characters along the way. In particular, the whole sub plot of John Hawkes and Yelawolf trying to collect money from LaBeouf is really a nuisance and should have been left on the cutting room floor. I just found it hard to believe that these people kept meeting up randomly all over several locations in North Carolina. The constant coincidences took me out of the narrative at times.

That being said, this film is entertaining and worth viewing (you can wait for video). Kudos to Gottsagen for giving one of the best disabled actor performances I've ever seen. LaBeouf is at the top of his acting game here and I can't wait to see what he brings to the upcoming Honey Boy.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Good Boys, 2019 - ★★★½

Jacob Trembley puts the horrible The Predator behind him and flexes his comedic muscles in this elementary school Super Bad that surprisingly has a lot of heart. It's way over the top at times and definitely NOT a kids movie. Some big laughs are earned but a lot of what I found funny was hearing all the curse words come out of the mouths of the kids. Keith L. Williams is a find as Lucas and I expect to see a lot out of him as he matures as a comedic actor.

This is a mindless comedy that is probably best viewed at home on video.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, 2019 - ★★½

Really good creature effects but not much else redeeming in this one. It's not very scary and it moves along at a sluggish pace. The acting is forgettable but the monsters save this film from being a waste. Not too interested in the sequel that's set up at the end of the film.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, 2019 - ★★★★½ (contains spoilers)

This review may contain spoilers.

The 9th movie from Quentin Tarantino is not his best ever but it's without a doubt his funniest and "coolest" as we get an inside look at the Hollywood machine in the late 60's. The film focuses on 1969 Los Angeles as we lead up to the infamous Sharon Tate murders in the Hollywood hills. The movie looks fantastic and gives an authentic feel to that time in the movie business. We get to see numerous scenes of back-lot banter on various sets and we actually feel that we've snuck on to actual Hollywood sets.

The real catalysts of this movie's engine are Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt who give two of the best performances of their careers as fledgling actor Rick Dalton and his stunt man Cliff Booth. Tarantino wisely spends a lot of time with these two best friends and there are quippy lines and laughs a plenty. DiCaprio in particular plays the grizzled veteran actor role to a tee and should be in Best Actor consideration come Oscar time. Pitt is more restrained but still gives a perfect nuanced performance as Dalton's reliable buddy.

Margot Robbie is beautiful and effective as Sharon Tate in a limited role but a role that helps ground the movie in Hollywood reality. The way Tarantino sprinkles in real-life celebrities into the mix with the made-up Dalton/Booth combo is a bold choice but one that definitely pays off. The audio in this film is all over the place as Tarantino drills into your ear songs from the era as well as countless advertisements and commercials. I felt like I was playing Grand Theft Auto at times with all the in-car radio ad snippets.

This film flew by and I never really noticed the 160-minute-plus runtime while watching it. I was too invested in the two leads and just wanted to keep the ride going. It's rare that we get to see such an excellent chemistry between these two leads (and two of the biggest movie stars we have today). Tarantino was the perfect director to tell this story and to get these performances out of these actors.

NOTE SPOILERS BELOW --- STOP READING IF YOU DON'T WANT TO BE SPOILED BY THE ENDING OF THE FILM.

There seems to be a lot of controversy about the film's ending and the way Tarantino chose to handle the Sharon Tate murders. I absolutely LOVED the decision Quentin made to re-write history and have Booth and Dalton kill the Manson gang before they could get to the Polanski house. I just assumed that Booth and Dalton were gonna be slaughtered in the process but having been so invested in both characters I was downright giddy when Booth started taking out the Manson gang. Dalton's final flamethrower flambe was the icing on the cake for me. I just totally enjoyed this ending which nearly catapulted my rating to 5 stars.

This is simply a fun time at the cinema and Tarantino has given us a feel-good buddy-film that lives and breathes in a certain era.

Monday, July 22, 2019

The Lion King, 2019 - ★★★

"It's enough... to make Kings and Vagabonds... Believe the very best....." These are lyrics from Tim Rice that Elton John baked into the original 1994 animated Lion King film that helped make it such a memorable movie. Jon Favreau's CGI re-imagining of the original has it's strong suits but ultimately de-Elton's the original and with it the soul of the first film.

Can You Feel The Love Tonight is still in this film but is totally butchered with new lyrics and is played during the day time (despite TONIGHT being the title of the song). The love between Simba and Nala feels a bit forced and some of the other emotion of the original is diluted with the new CGI treatment. This doesn't mean that this remake experiment is a bad one. The movie looks AMAZING. I felt when watching it like I was watching Planet Earth on Netflix but with a more intricate storyline. This movie is a total breakthrough from a technical perspective. There really is no need for using practical real-life animals in film anymore as the CGI creatures seem 100% real at this point.

Despite the music and "soul" issues, this movie is still a joy to watch featuring high quality voice acting across the board, with Seth Rogan (Pumba) and Billy Eichner (Timon) leading the charge. It was great to hear the dulcet tones of the legendary James Earl Jones one more time as Mufasa. Donald Glover is solid as adult Simba, Chewitel Ejiofor gaves a suprinsingly nasty performance as Scar and Beyonce is well.... Beyonce as Nala.

The new song by Beyonce is not memorable, and I can only imagine what this film would have been like if they left in all the Elton John songs. It's interesting to think that one of the best movies of the year (Rocketman) brought Elton's songs to the screen again in a whole new light, while this remake stripped us of his cinematic magic.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Midsommar, 2019 - ★★

Ari Aster and Florence Pugh are both very talented artists, but this "horror" film goes so far off the rails that the enjoyment of watching it ends about hallway through the movie. Featuring what has to be the single most awkward sex scene in a rated R film, Midsommar launches into ridiculousness in the third act. It's a shame because I feel that Aster has a strong visual eye and has some amazingly shot scenes in this but he's wasting his talent by sticking with ritual films like this one and Hereditary. If you thought Hereditary went bat shit crazy at the end, this one about triples the lunacy.