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Cute but remarkable number of basic production issue
"Ferdinand" tees up the standard anthropomorphized cartoon character as you've seen in a dozen other entertainments with the obligatory dance contests, butt jokes, pathos and chases (and hey, if "Finding Dory's" octopus can drive a truck, why can't a bull?) It does these thing as passably well as necessary to appeal to the minimal age of its target demographic. So no surprises there. What is interesting are the basic production issues. Most notably is the infamous scaling problem which normally plagues creature features. The titular character weighs in at 2,000 pounds and a length markedly exceeding the average bull according to the script yet he fits through doorways, in car seats, in narrow passageways and in a china shop (the writers kinda had to do that joke) with greater or less ease. Kate McKinnon plays the Dory / Mater / Olaf / Mike Wasowski wacky friend part with in the person of a truly unattractive goat. During some scenes the character rolls around balanced on a tire presumably because the animator figured out late in the process the bull / goal scaling difference was problematic. Beyond the production shortcomings, there's also the central issue of explaining to your non-Spaniard kids about the concept that people gather in large arenas to watch a heavily armed man on foot an several others on horseback kill a bull shoved into the ring for that purpose. Next up from the studio goldfish in a fraternity house waiting for pledge week. In short, putting aside these issues, good enough for what it is.
Wonder Wheel (2017)
The Ferris wheel was cool
Woody Allen breaks a cardinal rule of film-making by strongly reminding the audience of a much better film. He double downs on the transgression by reminding them of arguably his best film "Annie Hall". Allen troubled blended family lives in the direct shadow of Coney Island's clanking Wonder Wheel Ferris wheel much like Alvy Singer's family lived under the Coney Island's Thunderbolt roller coaster. Hey, Coney Island is freaking crowded so you nab habitat where you can. Singer's family mind the placement for comedy while Humpty's family mines the proximity to a giant children's toy for angst, angst, and, yet even more angst. Understood being 82 years old at the time of the film's release doesn't lend itself to the wacky hi jinks of "Bananas" but this thing is more ponderous than "Interiors". It also feels even more derivative of other artists' style than "Interiors" was of Ingmar Bergman. Allen makes the decision to shoot large swaths of the film as one would shoot a Tennessee Williams play particularly whenever Jim Belushi is delivering one of several, tiresome monologues. It genuinely seems as if Allen recognized the casting of the stock middle-brow TV sitcom dad was a controversial choice and was determined to demonstrate he could act. Belushi can and the feat is all the greater given his Humpty has little to say behind reminding us he is a brutish but lovable alcoholic fisher with strained familial bonds. The distracting attractive Timberlake can act as well but largely that assessment comes from other, more comedic roles - here he bangs out the pseudo intellectual lines Allen's doppelganger characters (Owen Wilson in "Midnight in Paris", Louis C.K. in "Blue Jasmine", etc.) that have come to be legion. In short, less a film and more of a filmed rehearsal of a script in development.
Ready Player One (2018)
Points for degree of difficulty
Like "The Girl on the Train" and any Dan Brown book exactly what makes Ernst Cline's novel excellent makes for a just decent cinematic experience. The novel engages in dense and luxurious world-building and an intricate puzzle-box plot which unfolds degree-by-degree. By necessity of their compressed run-times, movies need to get through the set up (unless you are M. Night Shyalaman whose films constitute mostly setup). The medium limits the plot points to only a few switchbacks (again unless you are M. Night Shyalaman and you put all your switchbacks into a one big reveal). The limitations present headwinds that Spielberg takes a mighty swing at slipping but with limited success. The film's key draw, as you would expect, come from Spielberg's immersive and imaginative visuals and not from the rushed plot or flat performances. The motion picture also provides nostalgic value to those of a certain age through dozens of visual references ("there's 'Bigfoot', the king of the monster trucks back in the 80s!"). In short, to misquote the immortal words of the Gin Blossoms, if you don't expect too much, you might not be let down".
Great premise, no follow-through
You imagine the premise of communities built around people shrunk to a few inches tall as a personal cost-savings / environmental accommodation came to Alexander Payne in a sudden flash of genius. And then the hard art of fashioning an actual plot after the world-building is complete became a long, circuitous slog with nearly no payoff.The events leading up to and including the process by which Matt Damon's occupational therapist character finds himself alone in the downsized community suggest a fascinating plot ahead. And it never comes. Damon dates but that doesn't work out, he parties with his upstairs neighbor, finds himself working as a house cleaner after he becomes dissatisfied with a call center job. None of these threads is interesting and dialog as sparkling as tap water provides no help. The intriguing parts of the cast receive little screen time in favor of non-native English speaking actors whose accents are too impenetrable to be entertaining. The 2 hour, 15 minute run-time also does the movie no favors with long interstitial shots of scenery which worked effectively in "The Descendants" given it's more emotional and flat-out interesting subject matter. In short (get it?!), avoid.
Frat boy humor in a high-concept package
Some interesting decisions here from Judd Apatow and company. They start with just the essential choice to parody a modestly well-know music biography - "Walk the Line" which had come out only 2 years prior. Unlike "Spaceballs", the Mel Brooks parody of perhaps the most famous films of all time and one rife for satire likely the vast majority of film-goers won't even catch most of the allusions to Johnny Cash's story such as the death of his brother who haunted him his whole life. Also, Cash's name continues to carry artistic cache unlike a John Denver or even Elvis Presley so some viewers may have found themselves offended by the send-up of Cash's life story. Another interesting choice involves using a script made up of only jokes until the final 10-15 minutes of run-time when the film becomes very sentimental finishing on an incongrously uplifting final performance of a legitimate tune. The strategy seemed to be to launch one joke after another with the idea that enough will land to make the overall experience funny. While there is some sophisticated humor (Dewey's first wife played by Kristen Wiig promises to support his muscial career no matter what before nearly instantly trying to get a legitimate job for him in a slaughterhouse even after he has become wildly sucessful), for the most part - including the actual name of the film - it is a long series of racial, scatalogical, and genital jokes. There are many Python-esque absurdist moments as well particularly focused on fourth-wall breaking (much is made of John C. Reily playing Dewey at 14, 19, and 21). In short, probrably more of a party movie for groups enjoying some inerbriates.
Cars 3 (2017)
The creativity tank runs dry
In retrospect an animated movie about anthropromorphized vehicles maybe never really had any long-term prospects but still surprising to see how quickly the series ran out of gas. By the second installment the characters already played the "let's go to Europe" card. By number 3 our hero - Lightning McQueen - (get it, his name is a reference to actor / racer Steve McQueen, aren't Easter eggs fun!) gets replaced. Maybe Thewestchestarian missed something but the plot features "2.0" (it actually says it on Jackson Storm's paint job) racers replacing McQueen's generation (which is what he did in the first film - aren't callbacks fun!). Yet the car/human hybrid, McQueen passes his baton to seems to also be a first generation car? Unwisely, this installment ventures into math which is the natural enemy of pathos. Storm cruises at 207MPH with gusts up to 214MPH but our heroine Cruz (get it? "Cruz" like in "cruising" in a car - aren't puns fun?!) tops out at 193 during training. So how is she keeping up?
Anyway, the plot not making a lot of sense and the abundant overuse of references, puns, and callbacks is not actually important. Pixar made it's name through snappy dialog (see anything Mike says in Monsters, Inc.), powerful emotional moments (see first vignette in Up), and sheer artistry (see all of Wall-E). Cars 3 just delivers little of the first 2 and the, perhaps unfairly, moviegoers have grown accustomed to the art in the Cars universe after two previous outings.
In short, kind of a meh outing but at least they kept Daniel Lawrence Whitney's Larry the Cable Guy in check in this one.
The Hitman's Bodyguard (2017)
Could have used 20 minutes of editing
In one of the greatest moments of throwing shade of all time David Letterman once asked Arnold Schwarzeneggar if the film he was pimping required setup or was it just "an hour and a half of gunfire." This Reynolds / Jackson payday property actually is an hour and a half of gun file with 30 minutes of swear words and tepid dialog. The movie generally stands out for its sheer and willy nilly body count with extras shot and killed with little thought and often for minor offenses. The presumably more than 200 bullets that hit their mark represent a fraction of the total blanks expended during the full two hour run time. The squib budget on this clunker must of matched the costume budget of the second series of Star Wars films. If you like that sort of thing, this is the bullet buffet for you.
Those less into handgun violence and more into continuity problems will have a field day. At its amoral heart the movie is a road picture on a nonexistent road from Conventry England to the Hauge. As famously happened repeatedly in the Sylvester Stallone's "Cliffhanger" characters are unexplainablely able to find each other in complex environments. Ryan Reynolds's beard varies from more full to more sparse often in the course of the same scene. In a climatic scene a helicopter shoots, firebombs and crashes on Samuel Jackson's character and, much like happened multiple times in Suicide Squad, it doesn't even have the effect of slowing his progress.
In short, kind of a charmless braindead, morally wrong, over-long trifle that somehow attracted a compelling cast.
The Girl on the Train (2016)
Read the book
All of the elements which drove the artistic success of the modern suspenseful noir that was the book work against it as a movie. The book unfolds inextractably but slowly. The narrative perspective changes with different character's stories falling on atop the next. Much of the suspense happens within the cerebral folds of mostly the main character but often within the thoughts of other characters. The actual physical action occurs ends quickly and much happens offscreen. All of these elements make this story of a wildly unreliable narrator embroiled in a murder easy to translate into a movie. While noble, staying true to the book probably worked against the story in this case. Emily Blunt as the titular, divorced, barren alcoholic doesn't commit to a physical transformation suggested by the character in the book who slides from withsome young wife to bloated drunk between present day and flashback. Blunt needed to blunt her attractiveness more in the way Charlize Theron did in "Monster." The film treats the husband as a somewhat minor costar compared to his more central role in the book. The lack of getting to know him in the movie makes the ending less impactful and this is definitely story that lives or dies by the final reveal. In short, read the book, an engaging and well told tale.
Keeping Up with the Joneses (2016)
Not great but better than the 34 on Metacritic
Midsize PG comedies swinging for a double never seem to get any love from critics. Sure trifles like "Keeping Up with the Joneses" won't leave you in stitches but it has its moments. Most of the moments come from jokes related to Zach Galifianakis' skills as an HR professional coming in handy when dealing with ruthless thugs. Also, the friend dynamic between the always eminently watchable John Hamm playing with type as a hyper-confident man's man and the sensitive Jeff Gaffney. They both have a genuine character development arc and learn from the relationship. Some of the dialog and action sequences brings some real laughs and some real pathos but, no, none of it is a home run. In short, if you don't expect to much you might not be let down with this modest outing.
Pitch Perfect 3 (2017)
Suffers from sequel dimishing returns but worth it for DJ Khalid
Movies not originally written as a multipart series struggle to avoid a natural decline in entertaining power. The Anna Kendrick series offers a textbook example of this cinematic principle. The nerdy acapella jokes which made the original refreshing feel stale, you've seen the song battle with unusual singing groups (e.g., the Green Bay Packers) before, the big movie-ending showdown is more ritual than riveting. To its credit the movie breaks the fourth wall to acknowledge some of these tropes most insightfully when Beca explains the impromptu sing-offs and then mentions that they always seem to lose them. Like the 2nd outing the movie could have used some editing particularly around a B plot involving John Litghow as Fat Amy's father. The gravity of sequel physics might have made #2 the bail out point if not for one man - the incomprarable DJ Khalid. The possibly genius / possibly raving idiot quote machine gets a hilarious scene where he spouts inpenetrable DJ Khalid philosphy why an assistant translates for the audience ("what DJ Khalid means here is you need to let go of the anchor of the past if you want to rise to your future.") Nobody has yet heard the first 2 or 3 lines following the scene as movie-goers were still gaffawing. In short, when will DJ Khalid get his own movie?
Atomic Blonde (2017)
Closer to Daniel Craig "Skyfall" Bond than Archtypical Bond
Theron's polymath, polyamorous, maybe poly-nationalistic Lorainne winds up bruised and is probably an alcoholic. This makes her much less the spy-as-superhero of the early Bond franchise and much more the "Skyfall" vulnerable and brutish spy-as-again-government-asset. Unfolding as the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the plot also recalls "Skyfall" with its mixed motivations of the good guy and sympathy for the bad guy. The plot also blatantly recycles the plot of "Goldeneye" and dozens of other stories by having the spies competing for a computerized list (which was a big deal in 1989) of the world's double agents (an "atomic bomb" of info that gives the film it's name). Having said all that, the movie isn't about what it is about. Like the recent "Baby Driver", it's about atmosphere, action, tone, noir and sophistication. Like the practical effects in "Baby Driver", the practical fight sequences are breathtaking with stuntpeople being (seemingly) openly kicked down flights of stairs without an editor to rescue them. In short, a good movie to go into with one shaken and not stirred martini working against you so you let the proceedings wash over you more than think about them.
Inadvertent Rocky III remake
In this corner the champ "Rocky III". In this corner, the inadvertent remake "Southpaw". Gentlemen, keep the blows low and the fight dirty. BEGIN!
Round 1: Main character name. The champ comes out swinging with the titular title character "Rocky" invoking a time, place and ethnicity. The laughably bland main character name in "South" - Billy "The Great" Hope - sounds the writers were trying to come up with some intriguing name but eventually principal filming needed to start and they couldn't answer the question "The Great" what? Did they mean he is the Great Hope? But not the Great White Hope with it implicit kinda racist overtones? Anyway, few real boxer nicknames and no movie boxer nicknames can stand again the memorability of the "Italian Stallion". And the challenger is down and the fight end early!
Round 2: the kid: The challenger avoids the early knockout with Oona (that's a name?) Laurence's portrayal of Billy the Goat...er Great's daughter who is traumatized by the shooting death of her mother and Billy's incompetent parenting. While Laurence winds up just shouting at the televised climatic fight much like Ian Fried's Rocky, Jr. does, at least she has a character arc and some dramatic moment. Looks like the fight is on.
Round 3: the death that pushes the champion into a downward spiral: and we got ourselves a battle! We had 2 fully "Rocky" movies to come to know Burgess Meredith's Mickey Goldmill so his heart attack before the first Clubber Lang fight is affecting. However, given how much Billy and Leila rely on Maureen to parent them both, her shooting by Miguel Escobar's squad equals the pathos of Mickey's death.
Round 4: the baddie: Oh, and the champion comes back hard! The monster of 80's cheese Mr. T. somehow projects both a menacing and ludicrous screen presence. He plays the hungry, scrappy underdog that Rocky was before his Ferrari and house robot made him soft. Miguel "Magic" Escobar amounts to little more than off-the-shelf disrespectful thug with little to distinguish him from his crew.
Round 5: the savior trainer: But the challenger isn't done yet! The excellent Forest Whitaker plays the also unfortunately named Tick Willis (seriously, who came up with these character names?) He is kind to street kids and who takes on Billy when he is at his lowest point despite Billy treating him like crap and he is some kind of boxing training savant (his expertise is never explained). While the round goes to "Southpaw", Carl Weathers Apollo Creed (see, that's a great character name) is a mostly one note Rocky support system for Rocky but his physical attractiveness and easy smile makes his a highly engaging actor to watch on film.
Round 6: the big fight: And the challenger is against the ropes! The eventual Escobar Vs. Hope or "Magic" Vs. "The Great" battle excels at verisimilitude and therefore not so much at drama. An open Hollywood secret director Antoine Fuqua missed in film school is that while audiences complain about the lack of realism in movie boxing matches, they actually want them to include dozens of uncontested punches per round. Balboa Vs. Lang includes enough haymakers to give both men CTE before the ring girl strutted around the ring with the "4" card. When Jim Lampley's monolouging during the climatic Miguel / Hope showdown is the most interesting part of the proceedings, your fight staging is a little too accurate.
And the challenger is out! There won't be no rematch or a "Southpaw" sequel for that matter. The plodding, overly serious, staging of a story that's been done better multiple times before unfortunately wastes Gyllenhaal's impressive physical transformation. In short, "Rocky!", "Rocky!", Rocky!"
Logan Lucky (2017)
Why wasn't this better?
With an interesting cast - put Dwight Yoakim and Seth MacFarland as character actors in more stuff(!) - the movie sets expectations it never quite reaches. Running breathlessly from one set piece to another, it is a bit like reading an author who only writes in very long sentences with no 6 word-er to break up the rhythm. Definitely Cohen Brothers-esque in scene structure, it approaches its surrealist scenes with a little too much self-consciousness. You can hear Soderbergh standing behind the camera saying: "this is just CRA-Z, huh?" None of the cool casting quite pans out. Channing Tatum just isn't very interesting when wearing realistically ill-fitting clothing. Hilary Swank seems to take her part with as little seriousness as she used when filming "The Core". Why was Seth MacFarland's character British? This is an auto racing movie set in West Virgina, an Englishman would have been run out of the state the moment they got a whiff of his accent. Katie Holmes does her normal technically sounds but bloodless performance. The dialog takes a lot of shots on the funny goal but lands few of them in the net. In short, maybe skip.
Not enough there there
The plot of "Hush" could be thoroughly summarized on an old Acopolco postcard (from back when people still went there). The dialog would require two postcards. This leaves us with acting. John Gallagher, Jr. plays the backstory-impaired home invader who is only slightly more effective than Harry Lime and Marv Merchants. John attempts to play the killer as menacing while still kinda inept. The limitation here is Gallagher seems like a guy in real life who asks you are and actually wants a response. Director Mike Flanigan needed someone more naturally menacing like an Alabama congressman or Andy Dick. In short, a bit off topic but if the main character wasn't deaf, would it have changed the proceedings in any meaningful way? The Westchestarian thinks not.
Tucker and Dale vs Evil (2010)
Why isn't Alan Tudyk a bigger star?
The central conceit - that the creepy hillbillies are actually the victims and the expendable college student the predators - is clever although it only carries the film so far. The true attraction here grows out of the interactions of the titular characters. Watching their friendly banter, their expression of feelings and the caring big brother / little brother dynamic makes for a compelling buddy comedy. The inclusion of, fortunately mostly cartoonish, gore does kind of reduce the warmth of the piece but it was necessary for the plot. While both Tucker and Dale benefit from excellent characterizations, Alan Tudyk shines in his role as a viewer surrogate much like the characters Kevin Costner and Tom Hanks played in their heydays. In short, there's a little too much slashy-slashy and stuff blowing up but ultimately the well-written and acted bromance elements are well worth watching
Europa Report (2013)
As interesting as "Moon" and as suspenseful as "Jaws"
The parallels to "Moon" with Sam Rockwell as a malfunctioning and unaware clone are pretty straightforward. The script operates within the limits of hard science fiction although the Europa 1 spacecraft has high ceilings and interior space that would be the envy of most Manhattan apartment dwellers. Both movies unfold quietly with expertly timed revelations that don't feel like the narrative manipulations they clearly are. Other than the realistic set feeling like a sound stage, the rest of both films feel nearly as realistic as Katherine Champion's "The Hurt Locker". The less obvious comparison here, however, is to Spielberg's original "Jaws". We only received glimpses of Bruce the Shark largely because the mechanical rig didn't work. However, the ominous, lurking, suggested but unseen presence of the eventual creature raises the suspense factor more than all the industrial- sized puppets or CGI ever could. The cast does tend to blend together a bit and the dialog lacks spark and wit but the elegant and rhythmic storytelling makes up for much of the shortcomings. In short, well worth the view.
Lady Bird (2017)
Like last year's "La La Land", very good but overrated
This realistic coming of age story and ode - of all places - Sacramento, California brings an economic and family relational honesty largely missing from Hollywood movies. The biggest achievement of the movie is getting something original and human released by the modern film business. Having made that familiar complaint, likely the international grosses will be paltry - not sure Bejing movie ticket buyers will get many of the Central California references. Domestic audiences will leave with a similar reaction after viewing last year's "La La Land" - "it was very good but not as incredible you hear". Saoirse Ronan will land a well-deserved Oscar nom for her lead performance. This will cement TheWestchestarian's reputation for pop culture soothsaying given the prediction made in a review of Peter Jackson's awful "The Lovely Bones" on the eventual stardom Ronan would achieve based on her first movie.
The BFG (2016)
An annoying book gets the full Hollywood treatment
Those who have read the Roald Dahl book - particularly those who have had to read it out loud to young 'uns - remember how annoying it is. With its mispronunciations (human beans), nonsense words (swollomp), preoccupation with flatulence and weird plot elements (but WHERE IS Giant Country?) it 195 pages can seem much, much longer. Getting back to Giant Country for a moment, the book takes place in 1983 and presumably, giants have been freely moving between realms for hundreds of years. Only now Queen Victoria thinks to send in the helicopters to end the reign of terror? It doesn't even take that many of them to do it. Anyway, Spielberg's direction holds firm to Dahl's vision bringing his giants to life in a way that seems to conform exactly to how every child pictured them. Except for the uncanny valley problem. Spielberg's digital renderings are near enough to human to make the giants appear like dead-eyed automatons innervated for the amusement of popcorn-munching audiences and waiting for the sweet, sweet release of oblivion after their Spielbergian master tires of them. The scenes between Sophie and the Queen come as some relief. In short, a fully realized adaptation of the source material and all that entails. But if you have to read the book anyway, may as well see the film version.
Me Before You (2016)
The weepy "Me Before You" stars Sam Clafin, an actor so photogenic had movies not been invented before his birth, they surely would have developed once he hit puberty just so he had some way of sharing how handsome he is. Thewestchestarian wonders how he didn't get the "50 Shades of Grey" lead ahead of dead-on-the-inside Jamie Dornan. Sam also brings a delightful "English-ness" to the role overshadowing the Campbell Scott original "Dying Young". Despite her London upbringing Emilia Clarke (please consider that final "e" when pronouncing her surname Americans) doesn't bring that same underlying seriousness and gravitas that English actors contribute. The two work well together although you can see Clafin dictating the relationship and Clarke reacting to him more than acting. The story they act in is a bit what you would expect. Will's life basically went from the top of human experience to some area below average although he remains very wealthy and can afford every accommodation a quadriplegic could ask for. He deals with justifiable anger and suicidal thoughts which "Lou" holds eases but ultimately doesn't relieve. Any interesting aspect of the story is the personal growth Lou undergoes through her association with Will and, perhaps to a greater degree, his upper crust wealthy family. The movie doesn't shy away from the obvious class differences in English society. In short, you largely know where the story is headed and much of the direction is aimed at jerking forth tears but it is worth the ride.
About what you expect
A movie produced on the same material 25 years after the heyday of a television show will take a toll on quality. At the time, the Dawn French / Joana Lumley show traded on its subversive material and outrageous performances. Since then the world has moved dramatically toward the outpost the two established for themselves putting the show's aesthetic somewhere in the middle of the culture. So relying on the same shock value jokes from the early 90's results in the film's now mildly eye-raising but still mostly funny lines. All of the standbys from the original appear: Eddie gives her daughter poor parenting advice, her daughter lectures her to be more conservative, Lumley pulls out her "Pat Stone" routine at one point, she blacks out, etc., etc., etc. Vintage stuff if a little worn. The softness of the script benefits from a very long list of cameos although American audiences will miss many of the local British faces who didn't quite become global names. In short, like "Zoolander 2", AbFab the movie relies more on nostalgia than good writing but for hardcore fans that may be enough.
Certainly, Zach Galifiankis and Kristen Wiig aren't quite as funny as they believe themselves to be and they struggle to carry the underwritten "Masterminds" but still, the film is an innocuous curiosity. Telling the real-life story of a David Ghannt who managed to rob the Loomis Fargo armored truck he was responsible for without having formulated any type of plan to avoid detection or to escape. If Ghannt actually anything like Galifiankis' redention of him, he likely was destined for jail the first time someone gave his access to a large amount of cash. Wiig's Kelly was simply the first to manipulate him into doing it. Wiig plays both sides with Kelly portraying her as aggressive and slutty but never doing more than appearing in a sports bra. Luckily Jason Dudekis doesn't appear into well into the film so we are largely spared his contribution. The jokes mainly are represented by a scene used in the trailer where David and Kelly slam into an unmoved security gate in a BMW providing a twist on a thousand similar movie scenes where the gates fly away from the impact. It's not a great joke but it's not awful either. In short, that a good way to sum up the film.
The Lego Batman Movie (2017)
Worth it for the Gymkata reference alone
Seriously when Dick Grayson references the 80's Kurt Thomas vehicle to nowhere "Gymkata" the rest of the film could have been deeply mediocre and still be totally worth the price of admission. However, Chris McKay and 9 other writers load this fourth wall exploding reference machine with every conceivable Easter egg back to The Batman's first appearance in "The Detectives" comic books in the 1930's. Highlights include recent references to the idiotic "Suicide Squad" and moldy references to the departed Prince's 1989 "Batdance". McKay's true genius will turn out to be crafting a movie that all but requires multiple viewings to get the most out of the dense but fast moving jokes. As a motion picture, it's also not bad. It doesn't fully have the heart of "The Lego Movie" and you can see the ending coming as far away as Arkham Asylum but the plot is a serviceable enough platform from which to launch more quips and 4th wall breaks than "Deadpool". The script also offers eminent quotability and you'll be sharing your favorites with your friends until people unfamiliar with the film tell you to shut up. In short, if you are a Gen-Xer or older, plan to see it again and agin.
The Maze Runner (2014)
Maze Runner: The Search for Women
An extended pack of newly pubescent boys wanders parent-less in a lush "Glade" (did Albert originally pen that name? It seems a little college freshman 101 English for a kid) and yet they display no obsession with the lack of women? Did the wiping of their memories also give them an interest in gardening to the extent that they are reluctant to try to solve the ridiculous cement maze that surrounds them? In real life, the lack of female companionship would have meant more boys would be volunteering as maze runners than hanging around building lean-to's as occurs in the film. Teresa's arrival - the first woman many had seen in 3 years - might have started an out and out civil war. Putting the sexual (or lack thereof) politics aside, the movie presents a fairly book-y device of a government in crisis using scarce resources to build a massive climate-controlled, cyborg filled intelligence test which takes 3 years to produce results. Couldn't they just have administered the Wechsler and saved themselves 2 years, 11 months, 3 weeks, 6 days and 23 hours and a billion dollars? Applying a fair amount of disbelief the story itself is a relatively straightforward one of group problem solving under adverse conditions. The twists at the end are dopey but do serve to set up a half billion dollar sequel. The characters and their characterization leave the audience whispering: "who's he again?" Only Will Poulter's "Gally" distinguishes himself as the voice of conservatism against the more charismatic, liberal Gladers. His views are compelling and one assumes had the grievers not mounted a mass attack, he probably would still be the Glades's democratically elected leader. How he shows up at the end of the film makes no sense within the story's own logic - remember the giant metal blades shut beyond the group? In short, a not un-entertaining also-ran among the "Hunger Games", "Divergent", dystopian future subgenre.
Best hard scifi since "Moon"
PwC's Abbott and Costello routine with the Academy Award Best Picture envelopes should have been used as an opportunity to have a rethink. "La La Land" despite it's 6 (or was it 7?) wins was certainly not as good either this film or "Hidden Figures". "Arrival" is more the narrative sister of "Hidden Figures" than it is "Contact" to which it has been extensively compared. First, it does not share the disastrous Deux Ex Machina second act of the Jodie Foster vehicle, instead of using a "Pulp Fiction"-esque nonlinear structure to present a tight narrative from start to finish. Second, the science shares co-pilot duties with philosophy throughout "Arrival" while "Contact" eventually devolves into an "I am your father" search for identity and failure of the movie to dance with the rationality that brought it. The invited cast to this dance acquits themselves well throughout the proceedings although theoretic physicists don't generally look like Jemery Renner. Amy Adams' doughty-named Louise is reflected in her own look somewhat past the spring of her days in knockoff Rom Coms such as the formulaic "Leap Day". The story very much is not a knockoff reflecting vital current issues in scientific thinking including the limits language imposes on thinking and implied limits on the human mind. Having said that the original 1998 publication date means we don't see the application of artificial intelligence that would certainly have been brought to bear should the alien visits have occurred in 2017. The story also gifts college film studies' professors with fertile discussion questions for their classes. It also reinforces the principle that all great movies have a great question at their core. The visuals, while very serviceable, are not quite at the same level of greatness as the questions raised in the script. The heptapoid aliens Abbott and Costello look more like forearms and hands thrust down from the top of the screen into a fish tank in need a cleaning. The alien ships they inhabit look more like one of those brown nuts you need a metallic nutcracker to open and our limited view within the ship is a square hallway which more like an especially deep storage unit than anything else. One wonders expects the giant hand creatures reach down and wipe it with a Clorox clean-up wipe after the humans leave for the day. In short, while not visually arresting, "Arrival" is a smart, taught story which asks much of its audience and potentially was the best film of 2016.
The Edge of Seventeen (2016)
Reminiscent of Savage Steve Holland's"Better Off Dead"
Kelly Furmon Craig pays homage - perhaps subconsciously - to the Savage Steve Holland and Steve Hughes dramadies of The Big 80's with this winning portrait of way over dramatic teenagerhood and the consequences it brings. Hailee Steinfeld nails how every glance, conversation, and text can seem life or death when you are on the edge of seventeen (thanks, Stevie Nicks!). She also nicely mixes in the subconscious search for a father figure after watching her own die of a heart attack. Her surrogate father lies in the person of the bitter, jaded English teacher Woody Harrelson who gets many of the film's best lines (these are not plentiful; having said that the writing is generally good). As an aside, kudos either to Craig, the makeup staff and/or to actor Eric Keenleyside who plays the father and even before his fatal heart attack appears like a man somehow looks like he's overdue for a terminal cardiac episode. Anyway, Steinfeld's Nadine so wraps herself in her own teenage narcissism that when we meet Harrelson's Mr. Bruner's family it feels like a revelation but is only because we have been seeing the world through Nadine's limited vision. So the movie excels in tone, realism and, to a degree comedy but nearly all limited to the Nadine / Bruner dyad. The script could have used some punching up when it comes to side characters including Haley Lu Richardson's Krista and Hayden Szeto's Erwin. Neither is given more to do than to be The Best Friend and The Silver Medal Love Interest respectively. Remember Anthony Michael Hall in "Sixteen Candles" doesn't get top billing but nonetheless, Hughes kept him integral to the plot. In short, while not quite the classics "Better Off Dead" or "Sixteen Candles", the movie contributes an entertaining and somewhat original interpretation on the subgenre.