Bad Boys for Life
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Before going into this film, I knew it was based on a play of the same name. Of course, even if I didn't know this, I could have told you it was based on a play. Perhaps that's what kept bugging me throughout this movie: it was clearly a play. I could see in my mind's eye how it would look on the stage, which wasn't helped by the actors' cadence and almost continual monologues. If I wanted to see this as a play, I'd see it as a play; I watch a movie to get a more well-rounded experience.
So, aside from this film being an almost direct adaptation of the play it's based on, the next thing that caught my attention was how many tropes were contained in the plot. Honestly, with topics like mental health, marital infidelity, inter-generational conflict, and death, the plot didn't seem that original to me at all. Add to this, one of the main characters (Denzel Washington's Troy Maxon) who rambles nonsense half the time and just straight-up poor decisions the other half of the time, and I had trouble even paying attention to what was happening. Life cannot be so simply condensed to baseball metaphors.
Of course, while many elements in this movie irked me, the total of their parts ended up being somewhat tolerable. This was mainly due to the stellar performance by Viola Davis, which earned her the Best Actress Oscar. By the end of the film, despite very few surprises, the finale is at least satisfying and fitting. I'm just disappointed that more of the extensive and immersive capabilities of movies weren't utilized to bring this plot a greater depth than just a one-for-one transfer from the stage.
A theater play wrapped in a film's skin, I give Fences 3.0 stars out of 5.
One of the lesser-known Ridley Scott films, Matchstick Men (2003) could have been just another heist film, and in some senses, it is. Upon watching the film again, one can easily pick up exactly when the "long con" starts up and which events lead toward the inevitable conclusion. So, perhaps it doesn't have the ability to demand repeat watchings (past about two) on its heist aspects. However, I believe the characters are what give this movie most of its charm. After all, characters make a story, and this one has some good ones.
In one of his best "crazy person" roles, Nicholas Cage does an incredible job portraying Roy, a con-artist with severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. His performance is often difficult to watch and is cringe-worthy in the opening act. If this is what it's truly like living with OCD, I never want to joke about having it . . . ever. I'm almost amazed he even managed to con as many people as he did considering how serious his condition appears. The little tics and freak-outs Cage brings to this character make his disorder real to the audience.
Sam Rockwell ends up portraying the same kind of character he always does in these types of films, but Alison Lohman ends up being the Yin to Cage's Yang with her role as Angela, Roy's 14-year old daughter. She pulls out all the stops and tropes of the teenage girl, which makes for a convincing performance, especially since it's a performance within a performance. Because her presence changes Roy for the better, it's obvious something was missing in his life, and she managed to bring him stability by providing it. On top of all these characters, the spot-on Hans Zimmer score and choice of musical pieces to accompany it make Matchstick Men a fun watch.
A standard heist film with a non-standard main character, I give Matchstick Men 3.0 stars out of 5.
I have to admit that the plot presented in the trailers of this movie intrigued me. However, in its execution, Passengers (2016) left much to be desired. Of course, this was mostly due to the film using just enough "physics speak" to be partially accurate, but incredibly wrong. Those parts stuck out to me in this movie and I kept scratching my head while watching it and saying, "Wait a minute . . ." That being said, not all of Passengers was bad, just a pretty big chunk of it.
I did appreciate the moral conundrum that Jim (Chris Pratt) encountered in the movie's first act. It did add a bit of predictable drama to the characters, but depicting his struggle highlighted his humanity. In this plot with a clear three-act structure, this first act was the highlight that eventually devolved into a ridiculous setup for the final reveal. With each new character introduced, the tension increased in each act. And yet, I wondered if the spacecraft could have even survived that long given the issues it had.
In a story that initially felt like The Martian (2015), with bits of WALL-E (2008) mixed in (especially with Thomas Newman's musical score for both Passengers and WALL-E), the scientist in me could not ignore a few key aspects of this film. First, a simple Wolfram Alpha search will tell you that it would take 73 years to reach Arcturus at 1/2 light speed, not 30. Second, for a spaceship that is rotating, why would it need to have a separate "gravity drive" to keep things in place (other than to make me wonder why the gravity was strangely perpendicular to the rotation)? Finally, the spaceship was clearly accelerating the entire time, so I wonder if the 1/2 light speed velocity was at that point or during the whole duration of the current flight. All glaring disobediences to the laws of physics.
An excuse to have Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence star in a movie together, I give Passengers 2.5 stars out of 5.
Let's get one thing straight: computers are incredible. Each successive year that passes, I find my eyes blown away at the amazing capabilities of computers to create the kind of imagery found in movies like this. From hair and water effects to some of the more supernatural aspects, the visuals of this film are quite commendable. Sure, Zootopia (2016) looked good too, but since its characters weren't human or in a "human" environment, it was difficult to see just how amazing the visuals could be. But this was likely due to Zootopia having more focus on an interesting plot instead of stunning effects.
I am impressed that Disney has taken the leap to another non-white "princess" with Moana, but much of the cliche trappings of this type of film are out in full force. If I were to tell you Disney made a coming-of-age movie featuring the main character with an animal sidekick, a mute anthropomorphized assistant, and a magical, shape-shifting partner, you'd likely think I had just described Alladin (1992). Alternatively, if I informed you that Disney made a film set in the Pacific Ocean, you'd tell me it was Lilo & Stitch (2002).
Consequently, Moana holds faithfully to the Disney formula, despite not having a romantic side-plot (a la Mulan (1998)). Maybe these are just side effects of having non-white characters, but this also helped give it a unique cultural backdrop which was propelled along by its catchy and singable songs. If anything, perhaps it is due to our society embracing the role of independent female leaders. Sure, the main character had the help of a demi-god, but she ended up doing most of the "heavy lifting" of carrying the plot herself. She didn't need a man to accomplish her mission or achieve her dreams.
Another visually stunning Disney film with your standard Disney plot, I give Moana 4.0 stars out of 5.
Part of the trouble with the reputation of a film preceding it is the film rarely lives up to the hype. At least, that has been my experience. If I go into a movie with my own idea of what it will be and the movie delivers, I feel it is a good movie. However, if my idea of the movie is skewed based on what I've heard about it, then I might be disappointed if it doesn't match what I was expecting. This is why I'll likely watch a trailer for a film, but I won't read any reviews of it until I've already seen it.
For Amazon's successful foray into filmmaking, part of me expected a lot out of Manchester by the Sea (2016). After all, they don't necessarily have to ascribe to the same processes and procedures that hold down other production companies. Add to this my impression that the story of Manchester by the Sea was quite depressing and my mental preparation to watch a sad film. Unfortunately, because the first expectation led to an underwhelming result, the second expectation didn't have the impact I thought it would. Don't get me wrong; there are a lot of elements adding together to try and make the film quite sad. From the plot to the music, the theme of loss is strong throughout. However, the characters soldier on.
I'm not sure if it was the often confusing flashbacks or the slow plot progression (they should have just called it "Casey Affleck drives around in a jeep . . . a lot"), but there was only one truly impactful scene in the film. If the filmmakers were trying to make a movie about an emotionally numb man who successfully deals with the death of his brother, then they have succeeded.
Not as sad or as good as I was expecting, I give Manchester by the Sea 3.0 stars out of 5.