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.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Wine Country, 2019 - ★★

Great concept, poor execution. Rudolph is the best thing here, but too few laughs for the quality of comedic actresses involved.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Shazam!, 2019 - ★★★★½

Review coming soon...

Avengers: Endgame, 2019 - ★★★★★

Review coming soon....

Little, 2019 - ★★★

This is a funny-enough reverse Big that has a few solid laughs but never really ascends to a great comedy. Regina Hall and Marsai Martin (who co-wrote this at such a young age) are solid as they play both little and big versions of entrepreneur Jordan Sanders. BUT, the real star of this movie and someone I need to see more of (never watched her HBO show) is Issa Rae who plays Sanders' assistant. Rae's comedic timing is amazing and she gives commentary on screen to the ludicrous situation in the exact voice that we as an audience are thinking inside. Rae definitely elevates the overall quality of the movie. Rent this for a few laughs when it comes out on video.

Hotel Mumbai, 2018 - ★★★★

In the same vain as United 93, this is a harrowing, realistic "you are there" look at modern terrorism. Dev Patel and Armie Hammer simply react to all the events happening around them. The actors are solid (especially the terrorists who show absolutely NO remorse) and the script is tightly paced. I'm not sure there's anything really redeeming about reliving this and seeing so many people slaughtered for no real reason. But the film is very well crafted and a gripping, sobering ride. I would NEVER see it again, but it's worth a single viewing.

Pet Sematary, 2019 - ★★★½

Great casting especially with John Lithgow in the creepy neighbor role. I knew nothing about the King story going in as I never saw the original. Clarke is solid here and is finally a dependable leading man. There are some scares throughout but not overly terrifying. The jump scares when the trucks whiz by the road are the most jolting events of the film. Way over the top near the end and I'm not sure I loved the actual ending, but still a good time at the theater and this really makes me think about the afterlife in a different way.

Aquaman, 2018 - ★

Watched this mess on the plane yesterday. I find that I don't really care about sharks battling crabs underwater. Mamoa is a one-note actor and there's way too much grunting and screaming through lukewarm battle sequences. The CGI is overly cartoony and people "swimming" around seem so unnatural. Patrick Wilson is a total mess here and it seems that James Wan is just trying to cram him into this film because of The Conjuring. Wilson IS a good actor but he does not make a good villian. Really the only reason to watch this trainwreck is to look at Amber Heard. I don't know how DC went from this film straight into a funny and engaging movie like Shazam. The visual effects are night and day between those two movies as well.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Captive State, 2019 - ★

The concept is cool (it has a raw present day Alien Invasion feel similar to District 9). The effects are ok (despite shotty cinematography). But the Achilles's heal in director Rupert Wyatt's sci fi mess is a murky convoluted plot that never takes flight. So many useless characters are introduced and we don't care at all about any of the featured ones. At the end I was just happy that it was over and I didn't have to care about this movie anymore.

Wildlife, 2018 - ★★★½

Dano has a real eye for direction and Oxenbold is a future star. The story is a little muddled and not much of a payoff at the end. Decent film though.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Us, 2019 - ★★★★★

Jordan Peele's latest directorial effort is a film just as creepy as Get Out and features another original story concept from one of the most original minds in Hollywood. It's hard to believe that this actor/filmmaker who seemed to be on a one-note career has completely switched over to become a master of suspense, crafting unique "horror" films. Peele delivers another amazing film with Us, the story of a family who comes to grips with a carbon-copy version of themselves in a Santa Cruz beach setting.

The movie builds slow at the start but kicks into high gear when the "red" version of the family arrives. With a clever and original premise that delivers twist and turns similar to Get Out, Peele is able to simultaneously resurrect Luniz's 1995 rap hit I've Got 5 On It and 1986's Hands Across America. I won't give away any spoilers, but the real motivation of the "red" family is a great story twist that made me think about the connection of events in the film long after I left the theater.

It's really early for Oscar talk considering we just had the last ceremony a month ago, but Lupita Nyong'o is a standout amazing star in this film. Her performance as her doppelganger is so creepy and calculating that you can't believe the same actress is playing both characters. I thought she was excellent in 12 Years a Slave (her Oscar-winning role), but she's even better in this film. The rest of the cast, led by Winston Duke is strong and supports Nyong'o's herculean effort. We also get a wonderful contrasting performance by Elizabeth Moss in a supporting role. Everyone in the cast is having a blast delivering Peele's vision here.

Jordan Peele has done it. He's gone two-for-two with his first two films, both earning 5 stars on my scale. I can't wait to see what he does next and I'm hoping he'll veer slightly from this type of film as I'd love to see what he can do in another genre. Go see this movie right now on a big screen and buckle up for a signature Jordan Peele ride.

The Dirt, 2019 - ★★½

Entertaining but way "extra" and over the top. I realized how free Crue songs I really know. Most of the acting is sub par but Machine Gun Kelly (Tommy Lee) really stood out as a rapper who may really have a future in acting.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Paddleton, 2019 - ★★★★

Available on Netflix, this is a small, short and simple movie with a real look at the "Right to Die" decision. This film is basically just Mark Duplass and Ray Romano on a bittersweet buddy road trip for 90 minutes. Duplass' Michael has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and enlists the help of Romano's Andy to fill and deliver a lethal prescription of pills. It's hard to believe that these two best friends have really nothing in their lives but each other, but that premise makes the movie's ultimate decision that much more critical and painful to watch. Outstanding acting from the two comic leads in muted, low key, real performances. This is a swift breezy movie to watch with real stakes at the end. While there are some dull moments (including way too much old school kung Fu movie references), this is just more proof that the Duplass brothers know how to make good movies.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Captain Marvel, 2019 - ★★★★ (contains spoilers)

This review may contain spoilers.

It's Marvel's turn to roll out a high-profile superhero in this answer to Wonder Woman. In many cases Marvel outshines DC comics here (as is common with most Marvel movies). There are elements I liked better in Wonder Woman, but overall Captain Marvel just sets up the universe going forward a little better. Brie Larson is the proper casting decision and is great in this role.

The movie is well paced and entertaining combining good action sequences with outstanding visual effects. The anti-aging effects of Samuel L. Jackson in particular are just amazing to behold. We're getting to the point where we don't even need to have actors faces appear on-screen. It's scary and cool at the same time. The biggest drawback I have with the script is the confusing introduction of the movie. During the first 30 minutes of the film it's hard to follow the timeline and keep the different alien races straight. Despite the rough start, things smooth out as the film steams along to a pivotal mid-credits stinger scene that got me all jazzed for Avengers EndGame.

My biggest spoiler-filled issue here is with Captain Marvel's space helmet. Through most of the movie we see Cap in space required to wear her crazy Mohawk helmet. However, towards the end of the movie, she flying through space without the helmet. I guess her powers got so great that she didn't "need" it anymore?

Bonus points to Marvel for putting in a cute, resourceful alien cat into this film that closely resembles my cat Chip. I had a great time watching this and can only think this will serve as a launching pad for a lot more Captain Marvel appearances in MCU movies over the next 10 years. Larson better buckle-up, because she's going to be the face of Marvel for a long time.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, 2019 - ★★★★½

This film concludes one of the best animated series in film start-to-finish. In what might well be the best of the trilogy, HTTYDTHW focuses on family and love with a pretty straight forward story of finding a new home and dealing with a ruthless villain. It introduces a love interest for Toothless in the form of a new "Light" Fury dragon.

As in the first two films, the animation is spectacular especially during the sequences of flight. The colorful phosphorous wonder of the Hidden World and especially the fine details in the granules of sand in a scene on the beach show just how far Dreamworks Animation team has come since the first film.

The voice acting is strong all-around but Kristin Wiig in particular shines as the motor-mouthed Roughnut, as she delivers the funniest moments in the movie during a rant while held captive as a prisoner. There are a few laughs throughout but this movie's drawing point for me is its heart. The final 15 minutes of the film are extremely emotional as friends and family change for the main characters. It's right up there with Coco as one of the best endings I've seen in an animated film. Thankfully we get to hear a couple final plays of the fantastic signature theme music of the series by John Powell in the closing moments, which added to the emotional pull of the film.

If you've seen either of the first two films, you owe it to yourself to witness the very satisfying conclusion to this series.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

6th Annual ARCademy Awards

You'll find the annual Oscar Preview Podcast I do with my friend Omar Latiri of Arts Review and Commentary below. Enjoy my half-assed attempt at being an aging rock-star.






Saturday, February 9, 2019

Minding the Gap, 2018 - ★★★★


Bing Liu is a budding filmmaking superstar. His very personal tale of him and two friends lives in Rockford Illinois is one of the best documentaries of the year. Liu is able to get real and raw emotion from his friends, including a remorseful and powerful recounting of a troubled marriage from his Mother. Like Jonah Hill's Mid 90's, Minding the Gap illustrates clearly how skating can be a true outlet for troubled youth in America. I actually enjoyed Won't You Be My Neighbor and Free Solo more than this, but it still is well deserved of it's Oscar nomination.

What Men Want, 2019 - ★★½

Unfortunately all the funny moments were in the trailer. Taraji is game but the rest of the cast is kinda lukewarm. Super weird resurgence by Brian Bosworth and a random cameo by Karl Anthony-Towns. Definitely wait for video for this one.

Friday, February 8, 2019

The Prodigy, 2019 - ★★★

Slightly above average "horror" movie that wouldn't have worked as well without a pretty solid child actor. Orange is the New Black's Taylor Schilling is effective as a loving and concerned mother of a "possessed" child Miles. There are some jump scares but this feels more like a serial killer thriller than a traditional horror film. The story is kinda hokey in parts and Peter Mooney (a Chris Evans wannabe) is god awful as Miles' father. You can certainly wait for video on this one.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Wife, 2017 - ★★★½

It's hard to review this movie without giving a huge spoiler. In a story that's not what it seems at the beginning, Glenn Close plays the wife of an American author about to receive the Nobel prize for literature in Sweden. Close delivers a slow burning performance that really builds to a breaking point near the end. Throughout the first half on the film I was pretty confused as to why Close was tabbed as the front runner for Best Actress. My confusion totally vanished towards the end of the film. This movie is definitely slow at times but rewarding in the final third. Jonathan Pryce is effective as "The Husband" in his most prominent role since Evita. This is the best I've ever seen Glenn Close and she really does deserve the win she will get in a couple of weeks.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Three Identical Strangers, 2018 - ★★★½

Interesting story, but this movie suffers from telling the main story in the first quarter of the film. The rest of the movie is kinda sad and serves as a show drain from the initial excitement. Still, well crafted and worth a viewing.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, 2019 - ★★½

Saw an early screening of this follow-up to the AWESOME original Lego Movie and I have to say I was a little disappointed. The movie isn't bad, but it just doesn't feel very fresh after experiencing the original and the Lego Batman movie. We have most of the same characters and voices with the addition of Tiffany Haddish as an evil queen.

The script by Lord and Miller is solid, and there are some good jokes and gags sprinkled throughout but overall it just feels a bit lazy and tired. Not as inventive and engaging as the animated Spider-Man film I saw last month. Worth a watch, but certainly no one needs to rush out to a theater to see it.

In what is surely an analogy to the current political climate, this film proclaims what I feel about Lego Movie 2: Everything's NOT Awesome.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Glass, 2019 - ★★★★

M Night is not at the top of his game but he is still an accomplished filmmaker and has made a solid conclusion to a comic book trilogy with Glass. There first half of the film is show and plodding but things wake up when the super trio of Bruce Willis (David Dunn), James McAvoy (The Beast) and Samuel L Jackson (Mr. Glass) plan their escape from a psychiatric hospital. Night explores some awesome and unique camera angles during the escape and follow-on battle. He still had that great visual eye as a director. The star of this film once again is McAvoy who goes bananas playing 24 different personalities and actually improves upon his Split performance. It's also nice to see Spencer Treat Clark again playing the role of Bruce Willis' son which ties in well to clips from Unbreakable that Night mixes in.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Escape Room, 2019 - ★½

Pretty much a waste of time. The room design is pretty cool overall but the story is a mess and the film can't decide how it wants to end things. Awful acting all-around but that was expected. There really was a way to make this movie a better experience in the hands of a more capable director.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Upside, 2017 - ★★★½


Based on a true story, The Upside gives us some outstanding chemistry between two actors who know how to be charming and hilarious. Kevin Hart is perfectly cast in the fish out of water roll of Dell, an ex-con who ends up impressing a wealthy quadriplegic Phillip Lacasse played by Bryan Cranston and becoming employed as a full-time care giver.
Hart is able to be Hart in this film, commenting on all the new tasks he has to learn with a variety of hilarious scenes including an awkward catheter removal sequence. Despite his real life Oscar hosting drama, he remains a likable and charismatic comic genius. Cranston being confined to just using his head to act, shines and reminds us just how charming and effective he is as an A-plus actor. The two leads alone make this a movie worth watching.
The Upside is not amazing or really powerfully moving as a drama, but it works so well in key scenes with Hart and Cranston playing off each other. Nicole Kidman's Yvonne is a necessary albeit under-used supporting character but her sparse involvement in the story makes the end of the film less impactful. In fact, the end of the movie was the biggest drawback for me. The story just seems to end abruptly and didn't feel very satisfactory.
This movie is worth a viewing but you can probably wait for rental/streaming.