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.

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.