American Ultra is the rare action-comedy that both fails as an action… MoreAmerican Ultra is the rare action-comedy that both fails as an action movie and a comedy, but somehow manages to be a decent outing overall. Ultra is pitched as a stoner action flick, but as its "plot" and set pieces are mostly a wash, its true strength lies in the romantic chemistry of the two main leads - Jessie Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart. Notably, the truly great coming-of-age drama Adventureland showcased these same two leads, and the rapport and on-screen chemistry in both cases are so amazing that I have concluded these two are either in a relationship or were in the past. What makes this even more noteworthy is that Stewart usually has approximately zero chemistry with her male counterparts. While taking some rough notes from the Bourne series (with an amnesiac super-agent on the run from the authorities) it contains an overindulgence of carnage and murdered civilians which clashes heavily with the comedic tone. The villains are forgettable with the exception of Walton Goggins. And you can pretty much figure out the entire plot from the trailer or the first five minutes. Ultra is a competent, but unremarkable picture aside from its love story. Rent it, smoke it, toss it.
Straight Outta Compton fits the definition of an event film and has… MoreStraight Outta Compton fits the definition of an event film and has definitely managed to capture the pop culture zeitgeist, but beyond that it's a solid music biopic and a damn good movie in general. Not to say that it doesn't have its fair share of problems. I would have to agree with other reviewers that Compton is too laser focused on Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Easy-E and largely ignores the other members of N.W.A. (A quick look at the producer's list reveals the source of the bias. Self-aggrandizement's a bitch people.) But the performances contained therein are quite remarkable. O'Shea Jackson, Jr. bears an...uncanny resemblance to his father (Ice Cube) both in appearance and mannerisms and I sometimes had to remind myself that he wasn't actually on screen playing himself. Corey Hawkins's Dr. Dre was subtle and perhaps the most relatable character of the picture. But Jason Mitchell's Easy-E stole the show and his character arcs drive the plot in the same way the actual Easy-E was the arguable center of N.W.A.
But what was most striking for me personally was the authenticity. One of the primary intended goals of the filmmakers is showing the origins of the various group members in extreme poverty and crime and how that influenced their artistic expression. N.W.A.'s message was one of fire and their comradery drove it onto the world stage. That raw authenticity is something I feel contemporary rap and the Top 40's music culture of today completely lacks. Furthermore, it was also interesting and educational to see how N.W.A. was part of the genesis of modern hip hop and how they connected to many of the larger-than-life figures we know and take for granted today. But it would have been even more interesting to see the many controversies endured and (in some cases) perpetrated by our main cast, as the movie leans a bit on the hagiographic side as it nears its conclusion. This is required viewing, and a sure contender in awards season and top films lists in the months and years to come.
Based on an ancient television show that nobody seems to remember, The… MoreBased on an ancient television show that nobody seems to remember, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is Guy Ritchie's attempt at joining in on the recent spy comedy craze. It's stylish, pretty, and mostly fun, but it lacks any substantial plot or oomph to keep it in anybody's minds a month after it leaves theaters. And by pretty, I also mean the faces on screen. Every woman AND man is stunningly and distractingly beautiful, and around the halfway mark I suspected that was the point. Henry Cavill easily wins MVP with his fun, sleazy, con/artist spy shtick. (It seems unlikely that Cavill will have much a career outside of the Justice League flicks and that is our loss, as he seems to be a capable character actor.) Arnie Hammer deserves some props for his awkward, brutish Russian agent and the back-and-forth between these two forms the buddy cop, action comedy dynamic Ritchie seems to like. Alicia Vikander continues to impress as a fiery wildcard and perks up the movie a bit, while Elizabeth Debicki nailed the underplayed villainous femme fatale trope, but she is ultimately wasted.
Notice I didn't mention the plot? Because it's lame and the movie doesn't seem to really care. Blah blah Nukes blah blah Cold War blah blah ex-Nazis blah blah World Domination. Just keep looking at the attractive stars, the pleasant early 1960's setting, and the competent set pieces and don't let that worry you none. It was decent enough to where I would forgive U.N.C.L.E.'s final moments for trying to set up a sequel, but judging how this was a slight misfire and audiences seem to be ignoring it, I would say that was a bit of a pipe dream.
P.S. Hey Guy Ritchie. I'm still waiting for that Sherlock Holmes sequel. Like five fucking years later. Probably should have made that instead. Just sayin.
Most thrillers live or die with audiences based on three things: the… MoreMost thrillers live or die with audiences based on three things: the setup has to be familiar, but enticing; the atmosphere has to draw the viewer in; and any major twist has to be worth the wait, especially if it's been telegraphed ahead of time. All three elements are present in The Gift, a more than capable piece that remains razor-focused on story telling. To be honest, it's a movie you swear you've seen before, but can't quite place when, as the set-up is quite common for the genre. But The Gift has a hand of triple aces in its three lead performances. Joel Edgerton (who also directs) uses his almost martial coldness and exhausted features to hide the film's greatest secret - all while playing the stalker trope. Jason Bateman is the seeming everyman, with a bit of a slimy social-ladder-climbing streak to him. I wanted to punch him three scenes in. Most of the heavy work is done by Rebecca Hall whose perceptive and empathetic demeanor leads her on a path of discovery and lies. In fact, lies and the past are the major themes of the picture and while I wasn't "on the edge of my seat" like every other overpaid asshole who writes reviews for a thriller likes to say, my attention was held until the conclusion. I have continued to decipher it for the next few days, almost unconsciously, so take from that what you will.
Coming from Aardman studios (who gave us Wallace and Gromit and the… MoreComing from Aardman studios (who gave us Wallace and Gromit and the truly excellent Chicken Run) we have Shaun the Sheep based on the series of the same name. The plot is simple: a clever sheep and his friends have to find their amnesiac owner who is lost in the big city and return him to their country farm, while avoiding animal control. But the execution is beyond clever - it's fucking genius. The movie is completely rendered using clay animation and not one word of dialogue is used. If it wasn't a children's movie, I would be tempted to call it a wordless work of existential art. But beyond the concept, Shaun the Sheep is an adorable experience for children and their parents and for the odd filmgeek like me who can enjoy the sincere, touching moments in addition to all the slapstick.
It seems that close to a year ago everybody on the damn planet had… MoreIt seems that close to a year ago everybody on the damn planet had already decided that another Fantastic Four movie was going to be terrible and the rights should have been sold to Marvel/Disney - the "correct" owners in the view of most. I am quite convinced that even if Fantastic Four 2015 wasn't pretty terrible, most fanboys would have condemned it for even existing. And that, honestly, pisses me off. I firmly believe that every movie deserves its day in court, regardless of background or any questionable business decisions involved in making it. But after having thoroughly examined the accused, I have no choice but to pass a guilty sentence on most counts.
The first half is surprisingly good, being mostly well-intentioned soft science-fiction, resembling something between Interstellar and Tomorrowland. It's actually commendable that a modern superhero film take a deliberate pace and reserve action for the final reel. It also features an effectively creepy series of scenes where our heroes are struggling to adjust to their newfound powers/afflictions while being prodded and observed by indifferent scientists. It's chilling PG-13 body horror, and clearly influenced by David Cronenberg. The cinematography is impressive and the visual aesthetic and effects are a giant improvement over the cheap and campy looking two previous installments. It's clear that director Josh Trank (an indy director who made Chronicle) wanted a complete film with these elements and wanted to avoid typical superhero tropes. However, the second half is absolutely terrible and resembles something that was tacked on last minute. The plot becomes forgettable and rushed. The main villain gets shoved in 20 minutes toward the end. The final confrontation lasts less than 3 to 5 minutes, if that. The action is awkward and schlocky. And worst of all - it's boring. It also strays too far from the source material and barely resembles what a Fantastic Four movie should look like. (There fanboys. I threw you a bone.) Dr. Doom has a brief, cool scene in which he murders a dozen scientists by exploding their heads, but it's fleeting. The cast (which has received immense criticism) tried earnestly to make the most of a questionable script. Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, and Reg E. Cathey deserve citations of valor for courage under terrible circumstances. The rest failed to make an impression.
This is largely the result of 20th Century Fox hijacking the project and forcing the second half to more closely resemble the superhero movies they want to compete with. But it was rushed and half-assed. The strain shows and I wonder what Josh Trank's uncompromised sci-fi vision of a Fantastic Four movie would look like. We will probably never know, and what we have here is a disaster on all fronts. But to be fair, the reason for Fantastic Four's box office woes probably has more to do with the lack of action than its merits as a cohesive film. Remember, audiences pay to see tons of stupid movies, as long as jokes, tits, or explosions are in order. But Marvel Fans can rejoice, as Fox will undoubtedly sell this franchise to Marvel/Disney with only X-Men and Deadpool stubbornly resisting acquisition into the MCU. If you have to see this, rent or stream it. Enjoy the first half and cry yourself to sleep after watching the second.
Subtle, easy-going, and charming, Mr. Holmes is a pleasant diversion… MoreSubtle, easy-going, and charming, Mr. Holmes is a pleasant diversion which will cater to certain crowds turned off by most summer fare. Largely playing like a glacially-paced BBC television movie (it was produced by BBC) the plot revolves around an elderly Sherlock Holmes living in the country, suffering with memory loss, befriending an intellectually curious young boy, tending bee hives, and occasionally having flashbacks. That's pretty much it. And that's all it really needs to be. I would be remiss not to compare this to Still Alice, which also features a protagonist with genius level intellect succumbing to Alzheimer's despite their mental tricks and stubborn refusal to surrender. (Though this is far less depressing.) A significant theme in Mr. Holmes is reality vs. myth, as Holmes tries to distinguish himself from the heavily fictionalized version with mixed results, while trying to desperately remember his last case and why he retired from his chosen profession. This is Sir Ian McKellen's show without question and an example of how excellent character acting and star power can hold most films afloat. He fits into the character like a glove and he easily could have played Sherlock Holmes decades ago, or his spiritual grandson James Bond. The flashbacks to the last case and post-war Hiroshima were interesting and the film's ending managed to complete any lingering character arcs in a way most movies utterly fail. An excellent rental or download to watch on a calm, relaxed evening with a glass of wine.
Minions by no means needed to exist, and it is testament to how… MoreMinions by no means needed to exist, and it is testament to how obnoxiously popular the little yellow monstrosities from Despicable Me have become over the years. In fact, one could say that they have eclipsed the franchise that spawned them. Keep in mind they were created primarily as comic relief and were never intended to be the focus, until now. This creates its own unique problem, as the minions worked better in the first two Despicable Me outings where they were allowed to bounce around the edges of the plot without affecting it - those movies had enough narrative structure and character arcs to anchor the whole thing in a slightly meaningful experience. That is not the case here, but it still doesn't change the fact that Minions is a lot of innocent, mindless fun. The movie has enough action, laughs, and a fun 1968 setting that overcome any narrative shortcomings... to a point. Sure, this is mostly a victory lap from Universal Studios and Illumination Entertainment now that they have a franchise to compete (financially) with Pixar/Disney and Dreamworks, but it's a fun victory lap. Throw in a killer 1960's themed soundtrack, a fun turn by Sandra Bullock as a psychopathic megavillain, a couple of funny references, a bunch of slapstick, and you have a great rental movie that will shut the kids up for an hour and a half. And who knows...it might shut you up too.