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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.
It's interesting to me to see how the current social climate in this country can mold a film into a Best Picture Oscar nominee. I've probably seen this same scenario a number of different times, but the reasoning behind it is what brings Hell or High Water (2016) into a different category. There have been tons of heist films, and often the robbers have a tight connection, like that of brothers. Heck, The Blues Brothers (1980) essentially did the same basic plot but with "putting the band back together" as their way of "saving the ranch."
Partly because this film seemed so quintessentially Texas, I couldn't help thinking it was a toned down version of another Best Picture Oscar winner No Country for Old Men (2007). With last year's Best Picture Oscar nominee, The Big Short (2015), showing how many honest Americans were swindled by the greed of banks, it's no wonder that this year we would see the more down-to-earth side of this financial fiasco. Not only are these robberies meant to save their home, these brothers also wanted to "stick it to the man" that put their family in such dire straits to begin with.
In the end, Hell or High Water is a pretty standard plot and it's pretty predictable from the beginning to the credits. However, when the citizens of these towns aren't concerned that their banks are being robbed and they begin to side with the robbers, you know there's something wrong with the society. Granted, this society in Texas was hit hard by the recession, so it's no wonder that they don't trust the banks that are being knocked off. It's realizations like this that help to show why a presidential candidate practically backed by big banking did not win last November.
A modern twist to a standard bank heist archetype, I give Hell or High Water 4.0 stars out of 5.
Despite all the mindless action and sex that hits the big screen every year, every once in a while there comes a film that's a little more . . . cerebral. Arrival (2016) certainly fits this category. Not only do you really have to pay attention to what's happening in this film, it makes you question how we perceive our world as it is right now. Never before have I seen the topic of encountering alien life forms approached from such a realistic and logical way. It makes sense that we wouldn't be able to understand them, so the first step in establishing an understanding is to establish communication.
Much like Christopher Nolan, who has done a number of great, "cerebral" films including Memento (2000), Inception (2010), and Interstellar (2014), I have recently come to appreciate the directorial talents of Denis Villeneuve. From his previous films like Prisoners (2013) and Sicario (2015), I've seen him deliver powerful messages about who we are as humans and how we deal with evil. In Arrival, once again the enemy is humanity itself, and the angry and violent mistrust it has against anything it doesn't understand. Fortunately, despite its repeated visual motif of black and white, Arrival shows that peace can be found in the gray area of language interpretation.
While I don't want to give away the twist of this film, I have to say that the way it was presented certainly makes for a powerful impact once it has been realized. I will simply attribute this to the talent of Denis Villeneuve and the superb screenplay used to guide the audience along to the stunning conclusion. If you haven't seen any of Villeneuve's films yet, now's a great time to start. I certainly will look forward to his next piece, if this is the type of work he's putting out right now.
A fantastic, cerebral, and realistic approach to a classic sci-fi scenario, I give Arrival 5.0 stars out of 5.
See if you can guess this movie: goatee'd egomaniac finds himself in a life-changing situation in a foreign land that makes him question everything he's ever stood for and become a superhero in the process. If you guessed Iron Man (2008), you'd certainly be close. No, this familiar plot is none other than the visually extreme Doctor Strange. I understand Marvel has a bigger plot in mind when they do these lesser-known heroes; but lately, it almost seems like they're just phoning it in. Doctor Strange merely feels like filler to get to Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018).
I will give Marvel this much: they do know how to cast a film. Benedict Cumberbatch does a superb job at portraying the eponymous Dr. Strange, fused with enough gravitas and humor to make watching him a joy. And while many will question Tilda Swinton's role as The Ancient One, especially considering the amount of Eastern mysticism included in the film's theology, she certainly makes the role work in her own way. Even the sentient cape he wears has a personality I haven't seen since the flying carpet in Aladdin (1992).
What Doctor Strange lacks in plot, it makes up for in special effects. I'm almost glad I didn't see this in 3-D, as I'm sure I would have vomited from all the swirling kaleidoscope effects seen throughout. Clearly, even though it's six years later, Christopher Nolan's Inception (2010) made an impression on the film world when it comes to these reality-distorting effects. There were even moments where I could catch the influence of The Matrix (1999) on the special effects of this film, especially when the characters decided that gravity wasn't good enough for them. Despite all this, even though I wasn't high enough to fully enjoy some of the sequences, Doctor Strange was still an entertaining film.
A visually dazzling stepping stone in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I give Doctor Strange 3.5 stars out of 5.
In a world where people worship everything and value nothing, I have found that I value the many messages present within La La Land (2016). While simultaneously shining a harsh light on the hypocrisy of Hollywood and showing how our dreams and passions move us to make tough life decisions, I found myself deeply moved by the narrative presented within this film, not only as a lover of movies but as a creative artist myself. This film is for the dreamers. It's for the people who never give up in pursuing what they want out of life. It's for those who have a talent screaming to be noticed by others.
Aside from literally being the best musical I've seen in nearly more than a decade (Chicago (2002) is the only recent one that comes to mind), what I found most impressive about this film is that it is only the second directed by Damien Chazelle. For those who may have missed it, his previous work, Whiplash (2014), was an extreme look at the commitment a musician will take just to be a part of something bigger. With this in mind, we find that Chazelle has a passion for music that is easily grasped through his use of expert cinematography.
Much like The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), La La Land makes me feel like the world would be a much better place if people sang and danced at the drop of a hat (or stop of a car). But even with the almost cliche "romantic comedy" beginning, where La La Land differs from these films is the depth that it explores the relationships between two dreamers. While we always want our life partners to succeed in their dreams, it can be difficult to find a balance between somewhat contrasting goals.
A must-see film for anyone who aspires to something greater in their life, I give La La Land 5.0 stars out of 5.
For many years, Mel Gibson has been at the center of controversies and other unwelcome attention-grabbing incidents. While this normally kills any actor's chances of reviving their careers, Gibson has instead managed to remain somewhat unscathed by retreating into his other skill: directing. As we've seen from some of his other directorial efforts, he is skilled behind the lens, even if many themes remain the same. From Braveheart (1995) to The Passion of the Christ (2004), Gibson has a tendency to be pretty brutal in the imagery he brings to the screen. Granted, this is partly due to the semi-factual source material.
In his latest work after a long hiatus, Gibson brings us the brutality that is World War II. Hacksaw Ridge takes some time to get to its emotional center, but the unfortunate side effect of this is a series of characters that feel almost comical in their exaggerations. From Andrew Garfield's goofily grinning Desmond T. Doss to Hugo Weaving's alcoholic Tom Doss, the reality of war easily sets in once Desmond is allowed to deploy to the Pacific theatre and "fight" with his fellow man, attempting to do what no one else is willing to: save more lives than he ends.
The brutality of Hacksaw Ridge is clearly portrayed by Gibson's directing, most of the time being a bit over the top. Partly because everything in this film seemed overly exaggerated, it's almost hard to take it very seriously. Sure, the religious themes intertwined with the duty of going to war were an interesting combination and the real-life story of this human savior was inspiring; but at the end of the day, the other aspects of the film seemed to lessen these impacts.
A brutal look at the true cost of being a conscientious objector during war, I give Hacksaw Ridge 3.5 stars out of 5.
Back in the early days of the rising popularity of the superhero movie, long before cinematic universes and multi-film crossovers, there were a handful of films that brought these comic book characters to the big screen. From Spider-Man (2002) to X-Men (2000) to The Punisher (2004), one of these films was none other than Daredevil (2003). For many years, I had seen these films, even going so far as having seen Hulk (2003). The one I had not seen was Daredevil, mostly because I had heard it was so bad. I had seen Hulk, so I knew how bad they could be.
Now that a Director's Cut of Daredevil was available, I heard it improved on the original and decided to just skip the original cut entirely. With no understanding of what the film used to be, I can say that the Director's Cut isn't completely terrible. Sure, some of the lines are goofy, and the actors chosen for the roles might not have been the best choices, but it's a solid film. I did find it interesting how many actors who have had better success with directing were present in this film. From Ben Affleck (The Town (2010) and Argo (2012)) to Jon Favreau (Iron Man (2008) and The Jungle Book (2016)), and even a cameo appearance by Kevin Smith (Clerks (1994) and Chasing Amy (1997)), these actors definitely work better behind the camera.
Even with the Director's Cut being a supposed improvement on the film, there still seemed to be too many sub-plots all running at once, each one of which I felt didn't get nearly enough screen time to fully explore what was happening. Another problem with this film is that it has not aged well. From the soundtrack being clearly inspired by the music of the time, to the CGI showing the limitations of the computers at the time, all these things just scream "2003" to me.
Probably not as bad as it could have been, I give Daredevil (Director's Cut) 3.0 stars out of 5.
I'm not really a fan of the horror genre. Mostly, I feel the plots are contrived, the characters are downright idiotic, and the violence is over-the-top. Of course, when I heard about Tucker and Dale vs. Evil years ago, I said, "pass." The friend who suggested I see it assured me that it wasn't like all the other horror films. The fact is, it is exactly like all the other horror films, but it is self-aware of this fact. Because the film is self-aware, it recognizes every single horror genre trope and makes fun of it.
As time went by, more people suggested I see this film, so I finally caved during a slow weekend at home. Being the self-aware film that it is, the plot is simple and the production values are limited, at best. What really makes the film enjoyable to watch is the fact that the whole premise is practically a "comedy of errors." Lack of communication just adds to the hilarity as a bunch of cliché college students find themselves killed off one-by-one by their own bad luck. If I were to compare this to another, well-known horror franchise, this film has the setting of The Evil Dead (1981) with the comedy of Army of Darkness (1992).
Unfortunately, because it holds to the tropes of the horror genre, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil doesn't have much to offer other than a funny commentary on the horror genre as a whole. The independent nature of the project and limited budget really show through, even if the comedy is spot on. The main characters of Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are worth the watch, regardless.
An amusing examination of the ridiculous nature of horror films, I give Tucker and Dale vs. Evil 3.0 stars out of 5.
Years ago, when Disney acquired Lucasfilm, I had worried that they would ruin one of the most beloved sci-fi franchises ever to grace the big screen. That being said, Lucasfilm's prequel trilogy showed us all how it could happen. Around the same time, I started to notice the quality of Disney's animated fare was drastically improving, even outpacing Pixar. The proof to finally win me over was the way they have expertly handled the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With all this in mind, I was curious how this side-story to the main Star Wars saga would play out.
First off, anyone worth their salt in nerd-cred knows that the original Star Wars is based off samurai films. Gareth Edwards (who directed the Godzilla (2014) reboot) certainly made this influence obvious in Rouge One, especially in the opening sequence and with the inclusion of a Zatoichi-like blind swordsman. At this point, all he needed was to add in the "war" to Star Wars, and suddenly we have a gritty plot that ends exactly how those who have seen A New Hope (1977) expect it to. In fact, there were moments where these scenes could have been the beaches of Normandy or the jungles of Vietnam, it was so easy to see the references.
While I found many of the characters to be somewhat one-dimensional (since their main objectives were either survival, duty or revenge), I did appreciate the scene-stealing K-2S0 (Alan Tudyk) to lighten the otherwise oppressive mood of the plot. Visually speaking, the battle sequences (especially in space) were phenomenal, and the first firing of the Death Star was a fantastic scene embedded in my memory for its sheer awesomeness. Even so, the CGI Governor Tarkin was still on the edge of the uncanny valley, even if it was on the more realistic side.
A film that successfully answered some questions from the original Star Wars, I give Rouge One 3.5 stars out of 5.
Back in 2002, The Bourne Identity redefined not only the action film aesthetic but the modern spy thriller as well. While some elements of the Bourne films have been good for action films, others are now trite and cliché. If you were to break down the "Bourne formula", these four elements could be used to make any action film in the "Bourne-style":
Car chases with spectacular driving in "common" vehicles
Brutal hand-to-hand combat using everyday items
Shaky camera movement during action sequences
"The chase" where eventually the protagonist gets away, achieves his objective, and escapes into the shadows once again
Because the Bourne films are so formulaic, I found Jason Bourne (2016) to be no different. That being said, the film was still a fun and intense ride to watch. Now nine years later from the last in the "true" Bourne storyline (we'll just forget thatThe Bourne Legacy (2012) happened), technology has vastly improved, making this film seem more like a crossover ofJames Bond and Person of Interest. This, I feel, was Jason Bourne's strength. Casting the incomparable Alicia Vikander (hot in her burgeoning career), was a smart choice and made this film enter the "new era of espionage."
Furthermore, including the subplot focusing on technological privacy pulled straight from our current events helped to pin this film into the collective popular culture in which we now live, instead of just being a series of chases in foreign lands. I also appreciated the inclusion of some semblance of a plot in this film, as it felt like Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) had not gotten very many answers in the last three films. At least this time around we learn something about him and his motivation; since the amnesiac super-soldier archetype can really only go so far.
Another great Bourne film with a contemporary twist, I give Jason Bourne 4.0 stars out of 5.
Perhaps the most controversial film of this summer, Suicide Squad (2016) tells a story that is necessary to highlight the eventual superhero team of the Justice League (2017). While I am aware of the real-life drama surrounding the film, including Jared Leto's method acting, director David Ayer's uncouth comments, and the fandom's revulsion of its negative critical reception, I will try and give an unbiased review here. After all, sometimes the greatest art can stand apart from the artists who create it. Decades from now, most will have forgotten the controversy, resorting to Wikipedia for a reminder.
In the realm of superhero films, the motif has always been a dichotomy of extremes. Good vs. evil. In reality, things aren't nearly as clear-cut as this. Sure, there are those who do wrong and those who do right, but each side will have their own motivations. What Suicide Squad does is break down the stereotype of the villain. No longer are they purely the psychotic mayhem-inducing individuals who seek world domination. Through this film, we see that the driving force behind these villains is plain and simple. Human, even. It's love. Love drives Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) to endure the Joker's abusive relationship. Love motivates Deadshot (Will Smith) to do whatever it takes to see his daughter. They are human, flaws and all.
Now, I do agree that the plot was confusing at times and the objectives of the team didn't usually make sense, but perhaps the biggest weakness of this film was due to the number of characters. With a two-hour runtime, it's difficult to get into the full backstory of everyone in the Squad. It's clear that Deadshot and Harley Quinn are the stars of the show, but there are a few surprises, especially with El Diablo (Jay Hernandez). In an Avengers-esque film like this one, it would have been nice to give each villain their own standalone film before bringing them together, so I suppose we'll just have to wait for any sequels to flesh out the other characters instead.
A good balance to hero-centric films like The Avengers and Justice League, I give Suicide Squad 3.0 stars out of 5.
As is the case with the rest of Hollywood right now, Pixar is cashing in on the nostalgia factor of their previous films. Just like Monsters University (2013) before it, Finding Dory (2016) brings together the same team of voice actors who brought their respective originals to life more than a decade ago. And while this sequel was more akin to the likes of Toy Story 2(1999), the amount of time between the two films really gives Pixar the chance to show off how much the power of computers has advanced in that time.
Unfortunately, while the visual style has been drastically updated, the plot has not. In its purest essence, Finding Dory is just like Finding Nemo (2003): a fish separated from its parent tries to find their way back home while the parent does everything in their power to find their child. I would have liked a bit more originality from Pixar, but lately that hasn't been the case (I'm more inclined to think Disney now holds this distinction). Now, while the plot seemed derivative, the undertones were much darker than before. Some segments are downright scary, but not just because of the creatures lurking in the deep.
I will applaud Pixar for bringing to light the struggles of mental illness to a generation of children (and adults) who might not understand the challenges of living with a mind that doesn't quite work the way it should. Even if it was done in parody, I actually partially agree with The Onion's review of this film, since it shows the amount of trouble Marlin (Albert Brooks) has to go through just to care for Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), who cannot really care for herself. The voice of this new generation of children is embodied in Nemo (Hayden Rolence), who preaches acceptance of Dory's "differentness" instead of trying to get her to conform to the world around her. Fortunately, this heavy subject was punctuated with moments of levity and humor (also with disabilities as the butt of the joke) that made it less depressing than it could have been.
A visually stunning piece from Pixar that merely re-hashes the journey of the original, I give Finding Dory 3.5 stars out of 5.
I like movies as much as the next connoisseur of film, but clearly the Coen Brothers like them more than I do. Specifically, they like the films made during the "golden age" of Hollywood: the 1950's. From action-packed westerns, to Biblical epics, to underwater choreography, to big-budget musicals, these films exemplified a Hollywood that was on top of its game. Unfortunately, as is the case with any great success, it can be hard to maintain over time. In what could be considered a "love letter" to a Hollywood of the past, the Coen Brothers bring all these films together in Hail, Caesar! (2016).
While I could appreciate the references made throughout this film, many of them felt quite disjointed. Sure, there's the tie-in to real-life Hollywood fixer, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), but he merely acts as a link between scenes of grandeur meant to show how well the Coen Brothers can follow the homages of the famous films they're parodying. In fact, some of these segments are almost uncomfortably long, with little point other than to show off a well-known genre or style (or to beat a joke to death). As a result, the pacing of this film feels quite staggered and the plot on the light side.
Admittedly, Hail, Caesar! is fun, with some good bits interspersed throughout. The "red scare" starting to gain relevance in the timeframe leads to quite a bit of comedy, the meeting to ensure nobody is "offended" is hilarious, and even some of the film segments are amusing as well. We do get to Channing Tatum's singing and dancing skills on full display in this film, but it's hardly enough to save it from itself. Don't get me wrong, I appreciated what the Coen Brothers were trying to do here (and it wasn't necessarily to poke fun at Ben-Hur (1959)), but it never felt coherent enough to be good.
Working more as a history lesson in film than a straight-up comedy, I give Hail, Caesar! 2.5 stars out of 5.
While it is rare to find a film by/starring Charlie Chaplin that isn't uproariously funny, the depth of the drama of this piece certainly shows the range everyone's favorite silent actor could perform. Chaplin will always have the little idiosyncracies in the way he moves, but when they're applied to a washed-up drunk, suddenly they take a much more serious turn. Films like The Dictator (1940) and Monsieur Verdoux (1947) certainly have their amusing moments, but work better as social commentaries, or at least are more direct about their message than the earlier films like The Gold Rush (1925), City Lights (1931), and Modern Times (1936).
What's really interesting about Limelight is it feels almost as autobiographical as it does groundbreaking. I mean, if we were to name one famous actor who excelled at playing a "tramp", Chaplin is the only one who would come to mind (although Buster Keaton, who also appears in the film, might come close). The fact that Calvero (Chaplin) was famous for the same schtick, and now he finds himself irrelevant perhaps speaks to Chaplin's alienation in Hollywood due to his outspoken opinions on world politics at the time. But what speaks to the audience the most is the flawed nature of the characters. One is a psychosomatic depressed ballerina, the other a textbook alcoholic comedian struggling to find relevance.
There have been a number of recent films which have tried to do a similar plot to Limelight justice, and each has taken their own spin on it. From The Artist (2011) and its silent film star pushed out of the spotlight by the technological advancement of "talking pictures" to Birdman: or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2015) with its alcoholic, washed-up actor searching to remake himself in spite of his past success, neither fully captures what Charlie Chaplin could in Limelight.
Not a Chaplin film you'd expect, but a superb dramatic piece nonetheless, I give Limelight 4.5 stars out of 5.
Sometimes the enjoyment of a particular film almost guarantees I'll go to see the sequel. Now You See Me 2 (2016) is no exception. I really liked Now You See Me (2013) because the genres of "magic" and "heist" merge so easily together. Now three years later, and I certainly looked forward to this sequel, despite not knowing how the plot could advance any further than it had at the end of the first film.
While the sequel did not disappoint, with numerous illusions, plenty of action, and loads of comedy, it felt like it was the same old gimmick as the original. Sure, there was a little more exploration into "the Eye", but most of the plot of the second film centered on the consequences of the robberies from the first film (almost weighing it down, in my opinion). The addition of Daniel Radcliffe as a winking nod to his Harry Potter character was fun as a reveal, but didn't offer much in terms of plot development. In fact, I almost liked Woody Harrelson playing twin brothers more, but that's likely due to the comedic value.
Unfortunately, because Now You See Me 2 focused almost entirely on the background of Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), I felt it was held back to its full potential. None of the other characters really grew that much, but they were rewarded for working together (after running into a few snags), much like they did in their first appearance on screen. Don't get me wrong, the formula works for me and I was entertained, but maybe this franchise would have been better served as a TV series instead of a potential film trilogy.
After watching The Legend of Tarzan (R), the one unanswered question I had was, "Why was this film even made?" If this was to cash in on the plethora of live-action reinterpretations of Disney animated films, it might have held closer to that story. If this was to make a point about racism, it was making the wrong point. If this was because it's a recognizable name with a hunky-looking protagonist, then I think they probably hit the mark.
While the scenery is certainly immersive in this adaptation of an Edgar Rice Burroughs character, much of this film pulled me out of the illusion of the African jungle. Right off the bat, the "registered trademark" that appears after in the title reminds you that there is already plenty of media about Tarzan, and another movie probably doesn't add to it. Secondly, while a star-studded cast is a good way to get audiences into the theater, the likes of Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, and Margo Robbie didn't seem to be portraying their characters as much as they were just themselves in period-accurate clothing. Finally, the CGI of the animals fell into the "uncanny valley" for me, none of them seeming realistic or even interacting with the characters at all.
Since this was not an "origin story" film, the flashbacks to fill in the backstory, being disjointed in nature, felt like they took away from the flow of the plot. That's not to mention that the plot (and any of its sub-plots) felt contrived and cliché. Furthermore, in a day and age filled with racial tension and strife, having a white man come in and save the day while at the same time physically beating up on Africans felt a little bit too culturally insensitive to not say anything about it.
Another mindless summer movie with nothing new to offer, I give The Legend of Tarzan (R) 2.0 stars out of 5.