Mini-Reviews – Justice League, Lady Bird, Coco & Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Hey everybody!

Welcome to another edition of Mini-Reviews. It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. I know I’ve been slacking on my movie reviews, so please forgive me for that, I have been watching movies but I haven’t had a real chance to sit down and write full reviews. So this is going to make up for it, with some of the big movies I’ve watched. Movies not included are Daddy’s Home 2, Roman J. Israel Esq., Murder on the Orient Express.

 

Been a while since I’ve done one of these, so please, bare with me. So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

*As always, these will be spoiler free reviews*

 

Lady Bird

Director: Greta Gerwig

Writer: Greta Gerwig

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Beanie Feldstein, Lucas Hedges, Odeya Rush, Timothee Chalamet, Jordan Rodrigues, Marielle Scott and Tracy Letts.

Synopsis: In the early 2000s, an artistically-inclined seventeen year-old comes of age in Sacramento, California.

 

Greta Gerwig’s solo directorial effort, Lady Bird is a great coming-of-age story following Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), who wants out of her town but is not financially able to go to a big college. It also doesn’t help that her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf) is working non-stop and thinks she should think more logically about college. During all of this, we follow Lady Bird, which is what she wants to be called, go through her final year at school, love and thinking what her future holds for her.

I had heard a lot about Lady Bird during its film festival run, and when I finally got the chance to see it, I can see why people really loved it. Gerwig’s writing was fantastical, nothing ever felt forced and Ronan is simply amazing as Lady Bird. The main thing for me about the movie is, despite the movie being set in 2002, it doesn’t really feel that way. Sure we have flip-phones and the whole, “the government is going to put trackers on us” mentally by one of the characters Lady Bird interacts with, and the news of attacks overseas by our government, but the time period isn’t really that important – at least from my point of view of watching.

The thing that makes Lady Bird work for me is the chemistry between Ronan and Metcalf. Any time they are on the screen together it makes the film pop, and it’s both fun and hard to watch as you see them argue and fight one minute and then suddenly have a heart-to-heart the next. It would be really hard to imagine if none of these ladies including Gerwig, are not nominated for the major award shows.

All in all, Lady Bird is a greatly acted film with top notch writing and humor that feels real. While I did feel it loses only a slightly bit of steam near the end, the cast and the script really make Lady Bird worth the while.

Lady Bird

4 out of 5

 

 

Justice League

Director: Zack Snyder

Writers: Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon

Cast: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Joe Morton, Connie Nielsen, Amber Heard, J.K. Simmons, Diane Lane, Henry Cavill and Ciaran Hinds

Synopsis: Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy.

 

Justice League has had a long and hard road to get to the big screen. From the scarped George Miller-directed movie, to the DCEU’s battle to get fans and critics to go all in for their movies, the movie has finally arrived and it’s just okay. If you didn’t know, Zack Snyder directed the movie at first, but had to step down for the reshoots because of the death of a loved, and Joss Whedon – who had done some script work – came in to take over.

To be honest, I didn’t have a lot of hopes for this. I still had the bad taste of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice with me, but I was willing to really give Justice League a chance. Unfortunately, Justice League was a huge misstep for me. The CGI was really off in places – I’m looking at you Henry Cavill mustache removal!

Justice League has a rather simple plot; Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) gathers together the team of the Amazon, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), the speedster Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), the loner Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and the cybernetically enhanced Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to stop the threat of Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds), an intergalactic threat that comes to Earth to find the Mother Boxes, cubes with massive power. It’s up to them to stop him and save the world.

The problem with Justice League is, besides some of the terrible CGI, is it doesn’t really take the time to get to know the new characters. We know Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman, but we get the cliff notes of Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg, which doesn’t help considering we’re suppose to care for these characters, and they’re the new big characters we’re going to follow. Miller’s Barry is too jokey; Stone’s Cyborg is a bit too stoic – although he does loosen up at the end – and Momoa’s Curry/Aquaman is a bit too “bro” for me, which is fine for a new approach, but I didn’t really get into it.

All in all, despite all that, yes, Justice League does have some fun and cool moments, but a lot of the negatives and drawbacks of the movie – some I didn’t even mention – really make it hard to enjoy the moments entirely. Justice League does take the DCEU into the right direction of more hopeful and fun, instead dark gritty. Hopefully, the DCEU continues down this route, otherwise the franchise is in a lot of trouble.

Justice League

2.5 out of 5

 

 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 

Director: Martin McDonagh

Writer: Martin McDonagh

Cast: Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Lucas Hedges, Caleb Landry Jones, John Hawkes, Amanda Warren, Samara Weaving, Kerry Condon, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Clarke Peters, Sandy Martin, Zeljko Ivanek, Abbie Cornish, and Peter Dinklage

Synopsis: In this darkly comic drama, a mother personally challenges the local authorities to solve her daughter’s murder, when they fail to catch the culprit.

 

Martin McDonagh, who directed In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, is a director that I will also keep a look out for now. When I found out about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and the cast, it immediately jumped into my “Must Watch” list, and I’m glad I did, because this was a film that really stuck with me.

The film follows Mildred (Frances McDormand), who has recently lost her daughter in a brutal way, and after the police have seemed to give up on the case, she decides to buy three billboards that target the police for not doing their jobs. The billboards get the attention of the police, more specifically Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), and the townspeople who are heavily against them. The film then follows Mildred as she deals with everyone seemingly against her, and Dixon and Willoughby trying to finally figure out the case.

There is a lot more going on in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri that I won’t even hint at here, mainly because this film really does lend itself on knowing the least amount of information possible to thoroughly enjoy it and really get into the world that this movie takes place in. I will say it’s a dark comedy, so prepare yourself for that, and if you seen McDonagh’s other films, then you’d know what to expect.

I will say Frances McDormand is great as always, but I’d argue that this movie belongs to Sam Rockwell. He’s absolutely fantastic in this, and dare I say, this is one of his best performances he’s ever done.

All in all, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a wonderfully entertaining dark comedy with great performances by Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell. Seriously do yourself a favor and try to avoid anything about the movie, and go watch it.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

4.5 out of 5

 

 

Coco

Director: Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina

Writers: Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich

Voice Cast: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor, Edward James Olmos and Benjamin Bratt

Synopsis: Aspiring musician Miguel, confronted with his family’s ancestral ban on music, enters the Land of the Dead to work out the mystery.

 

I am willing to admit that I had serious doubts about Coco. I knew that Pixar had been working on a Dia de los Muertos movie for a while now, but I was a huge fan of another Dia de los Muertos film called The Book of Life. However, Coco completely blew me away. The movie follows Miguel, who is banned from playing, listening or even thinking about music, but like all kids, he doesn’t follow his family’s rule. Miguel is inspired by a deceased musician from the town, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), and through magic, enters the Land of the Dead on The Day of the Dead to find de la Cruz and find his place in the world.

Along his journey there, he meets his deceased family and a con man named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal). But, Miguel finds out that he has to get back to the living world before he’s stuck in the Land in the Dead forever.

Like any Pixar movie, the movie has a great story, great characters and amazing visuals. The beautiful and bright colors of The Land of the Dead really pop and I kind of wish we could see more of it as a whole, and not just sections. I also liked that they really dug into the actual culture of everything, and it’s cool to see that represented in a movie like this.

More importantly, and the thing that will put any movie on my list of anything, this tugged on every emotional string that I had. I’ll admit, I was on the verge of tears A LOT. The characters actions and even some of the music, more specifically “Remember Me” started up the waterworks.

All in all, Coco is a great film with eye-popping visuals and an amazing soundtrack. I will admit, something in the final act was a little jarring, especially for a kids and Pixar movie but I guess it worked out at the end of it all.

Coco

4.5 out of 5

 

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Mini-Reviews: Snatched and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Hey everybody!

Welcome to another edition of Mini-Reviews. Been a while since I’ve done one of these, so please, bare with me. So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

*As always, these will be spoiler free reviews*

 

Snatched

Director: Jonathan Levine

Writer: Katie Dippold

Cast: Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Ike Barinholtz, Wanda Sykes, Joan Cusack, Tom Bateman, Bashir Salahuddin, Oscar Jaenada and Christopher Meloni

Synopsis: When her boyfriend dumps her before their exotic vacation, a young woman persuades her ultra-cautious mother to travel with her to paradise, with unexpected results.

 

Snatched follows Emily (Amy Schumer), who has not only been fired from her job, but also gets dumped by her boyfriend (Randall Park) and has booked a non-refundable trip to Ecuador. This leads her to go to her overly cautious mother, Linda (Goldie Hawn), to go with her especially after discovering an old photo album that showed a younger Linda on adventures. When Linda finally breaks down, the two end up in Ecuador where they meet a pair of tourists Ruth (Wanda Sykes) and her partner Barb (Joan Cusack), who was in the Special Forces. However, Emily connects with a good looking stranger, James (Tom Bateman) who shows her a good time before taking her and Linda to see the rest of the island. The three end up in an accident with Emily and Linda being held captive, and having to find a way to escape.

The film surprisingly works when it completely goes for ridiculous moments, rather than quick-witted humor. In fact, the ridiculous moments actually made the film more bearable for me to watch. I’ve admitted that I’m not the biggest Amy Schumer fan, but I didn’t let that effect the way I watched the film, and with that said, Schumer isn’t even the funniest person in her own movie. Schumer’s Emily could come off as unlikeable and annoying, and I wouldn’t blame you, but her relationship with Goldie Hawn’s Linda is the main focus of the film.

The mother-daughter dynamic starts off almost immediately and isn’t that bad, but the real deeper moments are far apart and actually feel real and not forced. Its arguments you can with our mothers and the resolution isn’t really always there and a quick answer. Schumer and Hawn handle those scenes so perfectly that for just a brief second you forget the comedy aspect of the film.

One of the things that makes Snatched work is the supporting cast, mainly the chemistry and scenes between Ike Barinholtz’s agoraphobic adult son Jeffrey and a State Department official Morgan Russell played by Basir Salahuddin. Anytime the two are on screen, you will be laughing hard – I know I did. Then there’s Christopher Meloni’s character, Roger Simmons, who I won’t spoil, but I’ll just say this – he’s a great and welcome addition to the ridiculous that is this movie. The same can’t be said for Oscar Jaenada, who plays the man in charge that kidnaps Emily and Linda, is wasted in the film, but it isn’t his film to begin with so I can forgive that.

All in all, Snatched works when it’s over-the-top. Not all the jokes work, and even the ones that do are a little iffy. Even though Amy Schumer is the lead in the film, the supporting cast is what makes this movie work on the levels that it does.

Snatched

3 out of 5

 

 

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Director: Guy Ritchie

Writers: Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram, Joby Harold

Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Jude Law, Aidan Gillen, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Neil Maskell, Tom Wu, Freddie Fox, Craig McGinlay and Eric Bana

Synopsis: Robbed of his birthright, Arthur comes up the hard way in the back alleys of the city. But once he pulls the sword from the stone, he is forced to acknowledge his true legacy – whether he likes it or not.

 

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword starts off with a lengthy opening credits scene showing off Arthur’s father Uther (Eric Bana) facing a powerful Mage attacking his castle. It gives us a tease of the power of the sword Excalibur. After his battle, Uther’s brother Vortigern (Jude Law) plans a coup and kills Arthur’s parents, but not before they were able to send a young Arthur down the river. We jump forward in time and find a now grown up Arthur (Charlie Hunnam), who grew up in a brothel, and with his two friends Wet Stick (Kingsley Ben-Adair) and Back Lack (Neil Maskell) have a good thing going. They protect the girls at the brothel, and take a little bit of money from people on the street. However, when the seas by the castle start to recede, they reveal Excalibur, and Vortigen finds out that the sword has found a new person to wield it and use it against him.

The search wages and eventually Arthur finds his way there. When he pulls the sword from the stone and instantly becomes a target and a legend among the people. Arthur is then saved and works with his father’s old allies in Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou), Goose Fat Bill (Aidan Gillen) and The Mage (Astrid Berges-Frisbey). What follows is Arthur coming to terms with not only learning to use the sword and defeat Vortigern, but become the legend the people think he is.

Legend of the Sword has many things working for it. The Guy Ritchie touch is welcomed to a story we’ve heard, read and seen numerous times. One of the best moments in the film is when Arthur and his friends are recounting a story about a troublesome group and what happened – it’s Guy Ritchie at his finest. In fact, the film works better when it’s not focusing on the mystical side of things. Seeing Arthur as a street-level grounded character was a good way to go with his concept.

That’s not to say some things don’t work. When the film goes all in on the mystical side of things, some of it stumbles. The idea that humans and Mages are at war – said at the beginning of the film – doesn’t really pay off for the rest of the film. Other than Vortigern having some powers and the character The Mage, that part isn’t really brought up again. Even some of Voritgern’s powers that are introduced don’t really make too much sense or are never really developed. Speaking of Vortigern, Jude Law does an okay job, but his character isn’t really all that fleshed out.

When it comes to the rest of the cast, Charlie Hunnam does fair job as Arthur. Obviously, it is a different take on Arthur, and Hunnam’s performance is connected to the sword as it shows him the last moments of his parents, which already keeps him up at night. Also, his chemistry with Ben-Adir’s Wet Stick, Maskell’s Back Lack and Bleu Landau’s Blue (son of Back Lack) works really well. Astrid Berges-Frisbey’s The Mage, keeps her cards close to the vest, but her powers are on full display throughout the film. Djimon Hounsou and Aidan Gillen are there to add a boost to the supporting characters, and do a find job at that.

The third act of the film however, is when Ritchie falls into summer box office territory. It goes completely over-the-top with the special effects and mystical side of things. It also gets a little hard to follow and feels a bit out of place even within the perimeters that film has set for itself.

All in all, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword isn’t all that bad. There’s a lot of good concepts within the film, and although some things don’t really work out or are either underdeveloped or not fleshed out enough, the film never falters too much. Needless to say, this isn’t your parents King Arthur.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

3.5 out of 5

Mini-Review – Underworld: Blood Wars, Sleepless, Patriots Day, Live By Night & The Bye Bye Man

Hey everybody!

Welcome to another edition of Mini-Reviews. This is a longer one than usual, due to me falling behind. So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

*As always, these will be spoiler free reviews*

 

Underworld: Blood Wars

Director: Anna Foerster

Writer: Cory Goodman

Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Tobias Menzies, Lara Pulver, James Faulkner, Peter Andersson, Clementine Nicholson, Bradley James, Daisy Head and Charles Dance.

Synopsis: Vampire death dealer, Selene fights to end the eternal war between the Lycan clan and the Vampire faction that betrayed her.

 

The Underworld series started off as an interesting franchise that had some cool mythology and made Kate Beckinsale a big name to those not familiar with her. The sequel came along and was just okay which lead to a prequel for the third film. Then the fourth film came out and things took a turn for the worse. The series had lost its footing and became lost in its attempt to make itself relevant. This now leads us to Underworld: Blood Wars, which is more of the same, but thankfully better than Underworld: Awakening, which isn’t saying much really.

Blood Wars starts off by giving us a bit of a refresher on the series so far – leaving some things out – but also shows that Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is now a fugitive from the remaining vampires and new Lycan leader, Marius (Tobias Menzies), who wants the location of Selene’s daughter. The problem is that even Selene doesn’t know where her daughter is, and with the help of David (Theo James), his father Thomas (Charles Dance), and a vampire council member Semira (Lara Pulver), Selene is brought back into the fold to help deal with Marius.

Like I mentioned, Blood Wars is more of the same from the previous films – stylized action set-pieces, new mythology and characters being introduced and Kate Beckinsale in tight leather kicking-ass. Other than that, the film doesn’t really do anything that feels substantial. Things are brought up that would be considered twists or could have landed bigger if written better or anything the film did actually mattered.

The film is too rushed for its own good. Everything lands too quickly, and the final act of the film just happens. One particular part in the final act does mean something since it’s connected to the beginning of the film, but other than that the final act is structurally not sound.

When it comes to the cast, they all do the best they can with what they are given. Kate Beckinsale is the only real saving grace of the cast since she’s played the part so many times now. Theo James is just as bland as he was in the last film, while Tobias Menzies’ Marius is supposed to be this great Lycan leader, but doesn’t really do anything that frightening – also his cheap two dollar CGI wolf character doesn’t do him any favors. Lara Pulver as Semira could have been a great character if she had more screen time as could have Clementine Nicholson’s Lena, who is part of a new vampire clan, Finally, Charles Dance’s Thomas should have had more time, because you know, its Charles freaking Dance.

All in all, Underworld: Blood Wars is a passable sequel, and a better one than Awakening, but again, that’s not saying much. Things feel like they just happen, and the structure of the film is just off that you can never really feel any sort of enjoyment. One thing that really bothered me is the ending. I obviously don’t want to spoil it, but considering how it ends, it just felt like the whole film was for nothing.

Underworld: Blood Wars

2.5 out of 5

underworld_blood_wars_ver8

 

 

Sleepless

Director: Baran bo Odar

Writer: Andrea Berloff

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan, Scoot McNairy, Gabrielle Union, Octavius J. Johnson, T.I., Dermot Mulroney, and David Harbour

Synopsis: A cope with a connection to the criminal underworld scours a nightclub in search of his kidnapped son.

 

A remake of the French film Nuit Blanche, Sleepless takes place mostly in one location and is surprising a little better than I thought it would be, even though I had watched the original film years before.

Sleepless follows Las Vegas officer Vincent Downs (Jaime Foxx), who along with his partner Sean (T.I.) steal a bag of cocaine at the beginning of the film. Little do they know, the cocaine belongs to a crooked casino boss Stanley Rubino (Dermot Mulroney) who is going to sell the drugs to the dangerous Rob Novak (Scott McNairy), the son of a local mob boss. In order to get the drugs back, they kidnap Vincent’s son Thomas (Octavius J. Johnson) and demand he return their product. Of course, things don’t go over smoothly as Internal Affairs agents Jennifer Bryant (Michelle Monaghan) and Doug Dennison (David Harbour) become involved.

Like I mentioned, the film is a little better than I thought it was going to be, but Sleepless does run into some issues throughout. The film doesn’t do Jamie Foxx any favors besides making him look like an action hero. Foxx’s usual charisma is put on the backburner so he can be almost stoic at times, which is a bit of a shame. Although, the result does lead to impressive fight scenes, including a kitchen scene and a highly impressive hotel room fight.

The rest of the cast do their best with what they are given. Scoot McNairy is one of the best underrated and unknown actors around, and while he plays a villain well, they could have done just a little more with him. Michelle Monaghan plays the straight-laced IA agent who has her moments, and after watching this, I hope we see more roles like this from her, and her chemistry with the always reliable David Harbour is spot on. Dermot Mulroney looked like he enjoy playing a slimy villain, Gabrielle Union only has a handful of scenes, so her casting feels wasted and T.I. also has only a few scenes but all of his scenes feel the same when you look back afterwards.

All in all, Sleepless feels a bit hallow at times, but it does have its moments that make the price of admission worth it.

Sleepless

3.5 out of 5

sleepless

 

 

Patriots Day

Director: Peter Berg

Writers: Peter Berg, Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin Bacon, Alex Wolff, Themo Melikidze, Jimmy O. Yang, Rachel Brosnahan, Christopher O’Shea, James Colby, Michael Beach, Vincent Curatola, Jake Picking, Melissa Benoist, and J.K. Simmons

Synopsis: An account of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorist responsible.

 

Considering Patriots Day is based off a real event, and one that I’m sure most of us remembering watching on TV as the events unfolded, I’m going to play with the “no spoilers” rule here a bit. The film follows the events at the Boston Marathon and what the first responders and FBI did to find and capture the Tsarnaev brothers.

The film has a lot of players on the board, we mostly follow Boston Police Sergeant Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg), a made up character based on several people, who is at the finish line of the marathon when the first bomb went off. The events bring everyone is like Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman), Governor Deval Patrick (Michael Beach) and FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) to find Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze) and his brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff) which involved shutting down all of Boston and lead to a dangerous shootout in Watertown.

Peter Berg really does have a knack for true-story films, Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon were great films, and all star Mark Wahlberg, but the thing that makes these films, along with Patriots Day is how he handles the material. Berg treats the events with tremendous respect and never tries to feed the audience a political agenda or lean the audience a certain way. He lets the story tell itself and lets the characters come to life in their own way, even though most of the characters are based on real people. It’s also a credit to the great cast that they are able to do so.

However, with a big cast like this, the film does have a lot of characters to follow that a lot of them don’t get real time to breathe and don’t get the justice they deserve. J.K. Simmons has a small, but good, role as the Watertown sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese, Rachel Brosnahan and Christopher O’Shea play couple Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes who were close to the first blast sight, Jake Picking plays Officer Sean Collier, who was shot by the brothers, and Jimmy O. Yang plays Dun Meng, who has a dangerous encounter with brothers halfway through the film. Another thing Patriots Day falls into is some pacing issues before the final act of the film, but again, it’s the cast the keep the film together.

Two of the highlights of the film, if that’s what you want to call it considering the nature of the real life events, is the aftermath of the bombing. How Berg moves the camera through the destruction and through the eyes of Tommy is both horrifying and telling on how the first responders probably felt when they helped so many that day. The other is the shootout before Dzhokhar runs and hides in the boat he was later recovered from.

All in all, Patriots Day isn’t an easy film to watch due to the nature of the events and how Berg was able to recreate it. The cast, despite being one person too many, does a tremendous job paying respect to people they were playing and to those affected by the actions that happened that horrible day and what happened afterwards.

Patriots Day

4 out of 5

patriots_day

 

 

Live by Night

Director: Ben Affleck

Writer: Ben Affleck

Cast: Ben Affleck, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, Elle Fanning, Zoe Saldana, Robert Glenister, Remo Girone, Chris Cooper and Brendan Gleeson

Synopsis: A group of Boston-bred gangsters set up shop in balmy Florida during the Prohibition era, facing off against the competition and the Ku Klux Klan.

 

Based off the novel by Dennis Lehane, Ben Affleck writes and directs what has become a bit of a passion project for him, so it’s a bit odd to see what became of the film. Affleck has shown he’s a great to solid director with films like Gone Baby Gone, The Town and Argo, but Live by Night will be – hopefully – the only blemish on his resume.

Ben Affleck plays Joe Coughlin, a former World War I soldier and son of a police officer (Brendan Gleeson), who returns home and starts to see himself as an outlaw and runs heists throughout Boston. He eventually falls in love with Emma Gould (Sienna Miller), who happens to be the mistress of Irish mob boss Albert White (Robert Glenister). This puts him on the sights on White’s rival, Italian mob boss Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone) who wants Joe to work for him. Joe eventually does and Maso sends him down to Tampa to run his bootlegging operation. Once there, and reunited with his old partner Dion Bartolo (Chris Messina) and they make a nice empire for themselves. That all changes when Joe starts falling in love with Graciela (Zoe Saldana), and struggles to keep his moral code in place.

Live by Night is unfortunately a bit of a mess, which is odd considering Affleck was passionate about getting the film made, and took so long to make. That’s not to say there is some great stuff within the mess, but it is the scattered material that keeps the film from being great. Not only that, the film has a bit too much going on that by the end, it feels like the film is forcing itself to tie-up the loose ends that were introduced beforehand. It’s a bit of a shame too, considering Affleck has shown he can handle himself with great material.

The cast itself is great, but it’s a shame that some characters don’t have time to expand and get developed more. Chris Messina, who is always great with the right material, playing Joe’s right-hand man Dion Bartolo could have used more time onscreen as could Elle Fanning’s character Loretta, the daughter of Tampa sheriff Figgis played by Chris Cooper. Especially considering Fanning is involved in a big subplot. Zoe Saldana also pops in but doesn’t really do much after her initial introduction, and reminding Joe that he doesn’t need to be cruel to do the life he’s involved in. Brendan Gleeson’s glorified cameo suffers just a bit due to him using his natural Scottish accent that makes it a little hard to understand. Sienna Miller’s character could have been an interesting character, but her arc gets cut too soon.

Affleck does okay as the Joe, and even though we follow him throughout the film his moments of doubt and morality being tested are usually rushed to the point that it just feels like Affleck is trying to get to the next scene, which is odd considering the film is over two hours. When it comes to working with his production designer and cinematographer, he works well. Every scenic shot is beautiful to look at, and the sets look amazing.

All in all, Live by Night has some issues that could have been avoided, but sadly they aren’t which hurts the film in the long run. The cast is great, but none of their characters are developed fully or pushed to the wayside to tell Ben Affleck’s Joe story. While the action scenes are top-notch, Live by Night is just a tad underwhelming in the long run, but in no way should change your view on Affleck’s directing ability.

Live by Night

3.5 out of 5

live_by_night_ver2

 

 

The Bye Bye Man

Director: Stacy Title

Writer: Jonathan Penner

Cast: Douglas Smith, Lucien Laviscount, Cressida Bonas, Jenna Kanell, Michael Trucco, Cleo King, Leigh Whannel, Doug Jones, Carrie-Anne Moss and Faye Dunaway

Synopsis: Three friends stumble upon the horrific origins of the Bye Bye Man, a mysterious figure they discover is the root cause of the evil behind man’s most unspeakable acts.

 

It’s a bit of a shame that after the great year horror had last year – finally – a film like this comes along and washes all that away. Apparently based off a story called “The Bridge to Body Island” by Robert Damon Schneck, The Bye Bye Man has an interesting concept that falls apart once the film gets going. That’s only the beginning of this film’s issues.

The film follows three college friends in Elliot (Douglas Smith), his girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas) and their friend John (Lucien Laviscount) who buy and move into an old house off campus. Everyone seems okay at first until Elliot finds an old coin on his nightstand left by the previous owner. He then discovers writing underneath the drawer that says “Don’t Think it, Don’t Say it” and under that are craved words “The Bye Bye Man.” At first he laughs it off, but when the three start experiencing strange things in and out of the house, they soon learn The Bye Bye Man (played by the awesome character actor Doug Jones) is indeed real, and after them.

One of the problems with The Bye Bye Man – one of many – is we don’t get a sense of the characters, and hardly care for them. Elliot is the closet one to actually having a backstory, while Sasha is just the girlfriend who, at the beginning, tries to convince Elliot that what is happening is real, but after Elliot goes along with it, she becomes a bit annoying, and John somewhat disappears for a bit and we really don’t miss him. Jenna Kanell pops in as Sasha’s friend Kim, who is a psychic of sorts and, based off the trailers, is the one that gets killed by the train, which is the highlight of her character.

However, the saving graces of the film – cast wise – is the small roles by Carrie-Anne Moss, Faye Dunaway and Leigh Whannell. Faye Dunaway appears near the end of the film and adds to some backstory of The Bye Bye Man, Carrie-Anne Moss plays a local detective that could have been played by really anyone else, but Moss adds some gravitas to the role. Leigh Whannell plays Larry Redmond a writer that “discovers” The Bye Bye Man and is involved in the best scenes in the film: flashbacks. Finally, Doug Jones does this best he can with what he’s given as the titular character.

All in all, the concept of the film sounds good at first, but once we start seeing what he does and really think about it afterwards, The Bye Bye Man fails to execute on its promise. The characters are bland and are never developed and a muddled story doesn’t help. The Bye Bye Man is almost passable film while watching, but nothing you’ll remember.

The Bye Bye Man

2 out of 5

bye_bye_man

 

Let me know what you think.

Mini-Reviews: Jackie, Assassin’s Creed, Hidden Figures, Passengers & Sing

Hey everybody!

Welcome to another edition of Mini-Reviews. So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

*As always, these will be spoiler free reviews*

 

Jackie

Director: Pablo Larrain

Writer: Noah Oppenheim

Cast: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Carroll Lynch, Max Casella, Beth Grant, Richard E. Grant, Caspar Phillipson and John Hurt

Synopsis: Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children, and define her husband’s historic legacy.

 

I’ll admit, I didn’t know too much after Jackie Kennedy before the film, besides of course her being the First Lady, and being the widow of John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated when riding around Dallas. It’s a bit of shame that that’s the only thing most people, probably, know about her. However, here in Jackie, we get to see a glimpse of what she potentially – films based on true stories are already up for interpretation – through after her husband was shot.

The film starts off with a reporter, played by Billy Crudup, coming up to the house in Massachusetts where Jackie (Natalie Portman) is staying. The reporter starts to ask her questions and we flashblack to a couple of different events: her televised tour of the White House in 1961 and the week of the assassination. Through all of it, we see Jackie as she deals with the tour, and after the assassination of her husband, the grief of she is consumed by and how history will remember him.

Jackie is not an easy film to watch, not because it’s not any good, but because the majority of the film is Jackie Kennedy trying to keep herself composed after losing her husband. And I don’t know about most people, but I think some people sometimes forget that Jackie didn’t lose the President of the United States, she lost her husband, and that’s something the film bring up. Jackie lost her husband that just so happens to be the President. It’s a fine line that the film balances pretty well.

Another fine line the film balances is not making Jackie too much of a sympathetic character. The film has no problem making her a flawed person, and if you find her actions odd or even questionable, you’re not alone. The film isn’t there to make Jackie a saint, even though she lost her husband, the things she does make you believable she may be just a bit unstable. But that’s also the beauty of Jackie, Natalie Portman does an impressive job of creating and explore the layers to this public figure that went through it all, and through a very personal tragedy in the public eye. Once you get past the accent, you can really enjoy watching Portman hit every emotion to a tee.

All in all, Jackie rests in the capable hands of Natalie Portman as she brings Jackie Kennedy to life and walks a fine line between sympathetic and flawed that makes the film and character feel real.

Jackie

4.5 out of 5

jackie

 

 

 

Assassin’s Creed

Director: Justin Kurzel

Writers: Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper and Bill Collage

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Michael Kenneth Williams, Denis Menochet, Ariane Labed, Matias Varela, Callum Turner, Khalid Abdalla, Hovik Keuchkerian, Brendan Gleeson, and Charlotte Rampling

Synopsis: When Callum Lynch explores the memories of his ancestor Aguliar and gains the skills of a Master Assassin, he discovers he is a descendant of the secret Assassin’s society.

 

Based off the highly popular and successful video game series, Assassin’s Creed was many people’s hopes to finally have a good, or at least descent, video game film. Well, while the film has some really cool and great moments, Assassin’s Creed is not the film that will change people’s perspective of the video game films. Also, for fans of the game, the film doesn’t follow a lead character from the games, but does have some big elements – at least from the games that I have played.

The film opens with a crawl of text that sets up the historic storyline and gives us the glimpse of the Assassins and their fight with the Templar. The film then jumps time as we see a young Cal finding his mother killed and his father the prime suspect. We jump again as see Cal (Michael Fassbender) getting executed to only wake up in a mysterious facility owned by Abstergo Industries. It’s there he meets Sofia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard), the daughter of the company’s CEO, played by Jeremy Irons, who runs the Animus project. A device that allows the user to see, feel and experience their ancestor’s life and memoires.

Cal finds out that he’s part of the company’s latest big project to find the Apple of Eden. The idea is the Apple of Eden will eradicate free will. In order to get the artifact they need Cal to get the memories of his 15th Century ancestor in Spain, Aguilar de Nerha, who was the last to have seen the Apple.

The film has a descent set-up, but the problem becomes the film moves too fast for its own good, and doesn’t live any of the characters breath. The first time we meet Cal really is right before he’s executed for a crime of killing someone – we find out later that he may have deserved it, but it felt like a throwaway line – but Cal is just someone walking through the paces. We never really feel connected to Cal in the real-world, which is a bit of a bad sign considering we spend a lot more time in the real-world than the past. Speaking of the past, that’s when we get to see Fassbender shine to the extreme. Aguilar doesn’t need to say much as his presences is enough to tell the story. Next to him is Ariane Labed’s Maria, who unfortunately doesn’t get fleshed out as much as she should, but shines in her small screen time with Aguilar.

The rest of the cast is just okay. Marion Cotillard’s Sofia is there to lead the “science” to the audience and give the feeling that she actually cares about Cal, while Jeremy Irons does the best he can with what he’s given. Brendan Gleeson, Michael Kenneth Williams and Charlotte Rampling are heavily underused in their small roles which is shameful in a lot of ways.

The saving grace in the film is all the past scenes. It also happens to be where most of the action takes place. Combined with the heavy score, the action scenes make the film actually worthwhile, and once they stop, it does take a lot of the air away from you. It could have also helped that all the present/real world scenes fall rather flat and the concept of what they want the Apple of Eden seems rather, to not make it sound harsh, stupid. There’s also the “bleeding effect” concept that is rather cool, but near the end of the film the effect could have used better, especially since it seemed important.

All in all, Assassin’s Creed is a film that has a descent enough set-up, but the overall execution is poorly delivered. The action scenes make up for it, but it would have been better if they spent more time in the past than the present. Things aren’t fleshed out enough and the plan by the villains is rather dumb. Assassin’s Creed won’t change the opinion of video game movie doubters, but it’s serviceable enough.

Assassin’s Creed

3.5 out of 5

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Hidden Figures

Director: Theodore Melfi

Writers: Theodore Melfi and Allison Schroeder

Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, and Glen Powell

Synopsis: A team of African-American women provide NASA with important mathematical data needed to launch the program’s first successful space missions.

 

Based on the novel by Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures is set in the early days of the space race and is also based on a true story. We focus on three African-American women who work for NASA in Katherine (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy (Octavia Spencer, and Mary (Janelle Monae). Katherine is a brilliant mathematician, Vaughan acts as the supervisor – although she isn’t – over the African-American “Computers” (the African-American women that worked the calculators), and Mary works with the engineers and hangs with the best of them. We follow the three as the space race comes to a head when Russia successfully sent Yuri Gagarin into orbit. Katherine is placed in the special task group to get the math right, Dorothy works to get her girls more important positions and be seen as an equal, while Mary takes the advice and tries to become a certified engineer. Each of them deal with their own hardships and discrimination in a time that was trying to progress.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really that excited for Hidden Figures, but I’m glad I went to watch the film. The film is really well done and has great performances by the whole cast that is lead by Henson, and Kevin Costner’s Al Harrison, the supervisor of the program. While the film follows Katherine, Dorothy and Mary, its Katherine that we mostly follow, which is fair considering we see her story at the very beginning of the film. Dorothy has to deal with Kirsten Dunst’s character Vivian Mitchell, and Janelle Moane’s Mary has a great story, but seems to take a backseat to Katherine’s and Dorothy’s arcs. Overall, their stories are an important part in NASA and the space race’s history, but each of them have their own part to play within the film itself.

The film does of course touch heavily on the race issues during the time. It doesn’t tiptoe around the issue too much, and shows how hard people of color, especially women, had during the time. There is a montage that involves Katherine running from building to building that effects her and her work, and while some will see it as heavy-handed or played out, it pays off in full effect later on in one of the most powerful scenes in the film, and one that is carried by Henson.

All in all, Hidden Figures is a great true story that many people may not know too much about. Carried together by its great cast, the film hardly lets up and if you feel yourself get angry over the treatment our main characters feel, I think the film has done its job.

Hidden Figures

4 out of 5

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Passengers

Director: Morten Tyldum

Writer: Jon Spaihts

Cast: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne and Andy Garcia

Synopsis: A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 90 years early.

 

When you get two of the biggest and popular stars in Hollywood in Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, you have to think it has to be great, right? Well, that is the case for Passengers, most of the time. The film follows Jim Preston (Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Lawrence), passengers on the spaceship Avalon that is destined to a new planet to start anew called Homestead II. However, the hibernation pods malfunction and they wake up ninety years too soon. With only a bartender android named Arthur (Michael Sheen), the two eventually develop feelings for one another until the ship starts to malfunction putting everyone still asleep and them in danger.

There is a lot more to Passengers than the marketing lets on, so I’ll keep everything to a minimal in this already mini-review. Like noted before, when Passengers works it really works. Everything is compelling, well-acted and Pratt and Lawrence’s chemistry is spot-on, with each getting their individual big moments. Sheen as Arthur the android bartender brings the comedic relief to the film.

I will admit, it’s a bit hard to talk about the big theme and decision a character makes in the film without spoiling something, but that decision is much better to see for yourself, instead of being spoiled. The decision is something that lingers throughout the film and when its bought up it really is the heart of the film. The good thing is the film doesn’t pick a side on it. It lets the characters really be weighed up it and feels like it lets you decide whether it was right.

The film does falter at times, and that’s when the film takes a plunge. The romance story almost gets too heavy handed in the sci-fi elements, but with Pratt and Lawrence leading the charge it makes it pretty okay.

All in all, Passengers has a good setup that works when it’s in full effect, but when the film slows down too much is when the film takes a dive.

Passengers

3.5 out of 5

passengers

 

 

Sing

Directors: Garth Jennings and Christophe Lourdelet

Writer: Garth Jennings

Voice Cast: Mathew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Jennifer Saunders, Jennifer Hudson, Garth Jennings, Nick Kroll, Nick Offerman, Leslie Jones and Rhea Perlman.

Synopsis: A koala named Buster Moon has one final chance to restore his theater to its former glory by producing the world’s greatest singing competition.

 

Illumination Entertainment has been pushing Sing for a while now. The film has been promoted since early this summer, non-stop. This meant that the studio had really high hopes for the film. After seeing the final product, I can somewhat see why, but Sing doesn’t do too much to separate itself from the crowded animated crowd this year.

The film follows Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), a koala bear who runs a failing theaters. Desperate to return the theater to its former glory he decides to put an open casting call for a singing competition. The casting call gets more attention than he thought after an error and the auditions bring a bevy of talent to Moon. The ones we follow are overworked housewife Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), rocker Ash (Scarlett Johansson), smooth talker Mike (Seth MacFarlane), showman Gunter (Nick Kroll) and trying to break free from his father’s life of crime Johnny (Taron Egerton).

The film has other characters like a shy elephant in Meena (Tori Kelly), who actually can sing, but is too shy in front of crowds, John C. Reilly as Buster’s best friend Eddie, Jennifer Saunders as Eddie’s rich Grandmother, and director Garth Jennings as Buster’s secretary Miss Crawly.

Like I mentioned, Sing doesn’t really do anything special to separate itself from the other animated films this year with the expectation of having songs you may recognize. The characters are great when they have their individual moments to shine, but it’s nothing we having really seen before.

All in all, Sing has its moments, but compared to the other animated films released this year, it doesn’t really come that close. Filled with some genuinely funny moments, and standout song sequences, Sing is just an okay animated film.

Sing

3 out of 5

sing

Mini-Reviews: Allied & Manchester by the Sea

Hey everybody!

Welcome to another edition of Mini-Reviews. This time, it’s more of a mixed than it was last time. So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

*As always, these will be spoiler free reviews*

 

Allied

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Writer: Steven Knight

Cast: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Daniel Betts, Lizzy Caplan, Matthew Goode and Simon McBurney.

Synopsis: In 1942, an intelligence officer in North Africa encounters a female French Resistance fight on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. When they reunite in London, their relationship is tested by the pressure of war.

 

Robert Zemeckis is back with a World War II drama that sees two great actors come together to give the genre a little twist. So it’s a little hard to fathom how Zemeckis was able make a bit of a water-downed film with great performances, but overall the structure of the film really hurts the film.

Allied follows spy Max Vatan (Pitt) who goes undercover in French Morocco in 1942 where he meets with French resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Cotillard) to pull off a mission to kill the German ambassador. The two eventually fall in love with each other and move to London where they get married and have a child. However, Max suddenly gets called in by British intelligence and is told that his wife could be a German spy. Not only that, if it is true, Max has to kill her himself. What follows is Max’s quest for answers to something he doesn’t believe.

Allied works on some levels. Pitt and Cotillard are great together and hold their own when need be. However, the first half of the film is much better than the second half. Also, Cotillard has much more to do and is fleshed out a lot more in the first half than the second. Seeing her work her charm against high ranking German officials so they can get close to the ambassador they need to kill was fun to watch, but afterwards it becomes Max’s story on whether or not his wife is a spy and what is he willing to do to prove it’s not true. There’s nothing wrong with it becoming Max’s story, but when it does turn all its attention to him, Cotillard doesn’t really do anything until the final twenty minutes of the film.

The film also loses some of its intensity after the first half of the film. Some of the big tension moments don’t have the sense of level of urgency or intense moment of fear or not knowing, so it doesn’t really help considering this is a spy drama thriller. There are great moments, I don’t want to take away anything from the film on that front, but overall the film lacked a certain push the film needed to push it over the top.

All in all, Allied is a fine film with good performances, but the sudden change of perspective and it lack of focus and intensity like the first half hinders the film from being great.

Allied

3 out of 5

allied

 

 

Manchester by the Sea

Director: Kenneth Lonergan

Writers: Kenneth Lonergan

Cast: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Gretchen Mol, C.J. Wilson, Kyle Chandler and Matthew Broderick

Synopsis: An uncle is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.

 

Manchester by the Sea’s synopsis sounds rather simple, add in the fact that it’s getting a limited release at first will add to people’s decision to maybe pass this up. However, the film has been making a ton of waves on the film festival circuit, and is already getting people predicting this is a huge front runner come Oscar season. Finally watching the film, I can see why. Manchester by the Sea is truly one of the best films of the year, and one that is very human when it comes to dealing with loss and grief.

The film follows Lee Chandler (Affleck), a loner janitor/handyman in Boston who is a bit rude and doesn’t seem interested in anything going on around him. That changes a bit when he gets a phone call saying his brother Joe (coincidently played by Kyle Chandler) has passed away. Lee makes the journey back to the small town of Manchester to settle his brother’s affairs, which also includes dealing with Joe’s teenage son Patrick (Hedges), and Joe’s wish of Lee watching over him. What follows is Lee and Patrick’s story of the both of them dealing with the loss of Joe, and how the deal with their situation as well as Lee dealing with linger thoughts of his own traumatic event.

Like I mentioned before, the synopsis sounds rather simple but there is a lot to unpack in the film, and all of it is worthwhile. The film doesn’t rely on usual character yelling at each other before reaching that peak moment of emotions that they forgive each other and are finally happy. The film feels real, and lets every character go through their own emotions like everyone does. Everyone grieves differently, and the film shows that in its way.

The great thing is that we spend enough time with Lee and Patrick, and get to know them. Casey Affleck continues to show that he can handle great material and isn’t just Ben Affleck’s brother. Affleck as Lee is rather intriguing to watch. A good chunk of Lee’s backstory is told through flashbacks that not only make us understand a bit of where Lee is coming from, but is tremendous effective and dramatic. I’d be surprised if Affleck isn’t at least nominated for Best Actor come Oscar season. However, it’s Affleck’s rapport with young actor Lucas Hedges that carries the middle of the film. Hedges has done some projects like Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, and even a small role in The Grand Budapest Hotel, but this really allowed him to break loose and show his range. Don’t be surprised if you start seeing Hedges in a lot more things soon. The rest of the cast fairs well too with Michelle Williams making the most of her small screen time with a powerful performance near the end of the film.

All in all, Manchester by the Sea is one of those films you should experience for yourself. It’s a very real emotional film that is lead by Casey Affleck in one of the best films of the year. All the buzz surrounding the film is completely worth it, and while at times the film may feel aimless, it’s done in a way that actually works.

Manchester by the Sea

4.5 out of 5

manchester_by_the_sea

New Podcast: Mini-Review of Doctor Strange, The Flash Loses Another Director, Ciaran Hinds Joins Justice League and Ton More

The Movie Pit Podcast is up!

It’s later than I would have liked because I miscalculated my editing time with the addition of my Doctor Strange mini-review (full written review of Doctor Strange will be posted this weekend). Enjoy everyone.

Mini-Reviews: Keeping Up with the Joneses, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Desierto, Ouija: Origin of Evil, & Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Hey everybody!

Welcome to the sixth edition of Mini-Reviews. This time, there are more movie reviews than usual. I’ve been a bit behind so this is me making up for lost time. So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

 

Keeping Up with the Joneses

Director: Greg Mottola

Writer: Michael LeSieur

Cast: Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot, Matt Walsh, Maribeth Monroe, Kevin Dunn and Patton Oswalt

Synopsis: A suburban couple becomes embroiled in an international espionage plot when they discover that their seemingly perfect new neighbors are government spies.

 

I didn’t think much about the film other than the fact it had a good cast. Ironically, I had that same feeling about Masterminds, which also had Zach Galifianakis, and while Keeping Up with the Joneses was a better movie than Masterminds, the film doesn’t do enough to warrant being a standout action comedy.

The film follows Jeff (Galifianakis) and Karen (Fisher) Gaffney, who quietly live in the suburbs. Karen is an interior designer while Jeff works Human Resources for a big company called MBI. However, the lives get turned upside when their new, and seemingly perfect, new neighbors Tim (Hamm) and Natalie (Gadot) Jones turn out to be spies. When the Joneses come clean, the Gaffney’s ended up being sucked into their mission to stop a deadly plot.

Keeping Up with the Joneses isn’t the best action comedy out, but it certainly isn’t the worst. The cast isn’t that bad and the mismatched casting of Galifianakis and Fisher with Hamm and Gadot actually works, although the bonding scenes and overall chemistry of Galifianakis and Hamm plays out better than Fisher and Gadot. There are some genuine laughs in the film, but overall the film does shoehorn in some jokes that fall completely flat. The film also does rely more on the comedy side of things rather than the action. Although the standout action sequence is a car chase that does feel a bit out of place within the movie, but one that actually works in terms of action.

All in all, the film does have a lot of issues, and while many will probably end up forgetting they watched Keeping Up with the Joneses in a few years, it isn’t completely a waste of time like some will have you believe it is.

Keeping Up with the Joneses

3 out of 5

keeping_up_with_the_joneses

 

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Director: Edward Zwick

Writers: Edward Zwick, Richard Wenk, and Marshall Herskovitz

Cast: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh, Aldis Hodge, Patrick Heusinger, Holt McCallany, Madalyn Horcher, and Robert Knepper

Synopsis: Jack Reacher must uncover the truth behind a major government conspiracy in order to clear his name. On the run as a fugitive from the law, Reacher uncovers a potential secret from his past that could change his life forever.

 

The first Jack Reacher was a pleasant surprise when it came 2012, but when the sequel was announced without director Christopher McQuarrie, fans were, respectfully, disappointed. That being said, the sequel went forward to new director Edward Zwick (Glory, Blood Diamond), who worked with Tom Cruise on The Last Samurai. However, the result this time around was not that great.

Never Go Back finds Jack Reacher (Cruise) traveling to Washington D.C. to meet up with Major Susan Turner (Smulders), who he has been talking to recently, and someone who has taken over his old unit. However, when Reacher finally reaches D.C. he finds out that Turner has been arrested for espionage, but something doesn’t feel right to Reacher and he decides to get to the bottom of it. To make things worse, Reacher finds out that there is a paternity suit against him and that he has a 15-year-old daughter named Samantha (Yarosh).

Tom Cruise really wants another franchise, and Jack Reacher could have been it if Never Go Back wasn’t such a mess. Cruise nails the no nonsense, tough guy one-liners, but having Reacher become a potential father doesn’t really fit the character, and at times, slows the movie down trying to make awkward situations where Reacher has to act like a father to Sam – and in some cases have Turner act as a mother. Some of the scenes are funny, but feel out of place next to the Reacher breaking nameless thugs’ bones, and a hitman named The Hunter (Heusinger) killing people that stand in his way.

I’m all for shaking a character up, but we’ve only had one movie with Reacher, and the first one had him as this unstoppable hitting machine that gets the job done. He’s like that here too, but it seems like he’s more tamed down this time around. There is a little more action this time around, although there’s nothing that compares to the chase scene in the first film.

The new cast is a nice addition. Cobie Smulders does the best she can with what they give her, but I kind of wished she was more important to the overall plot. Danika Yarosh as Sam, Reacher’s possible daughter, holds her own with Cruise and Smulders, but she’s sometimes left with being the person that it told to stay back or having to be saved. Patrick Heusinger’s The Hunter is an okay villain, when he’s actually being a villain, and Robert Knepper is severely underused.

All in all, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is an okay movie that happens to be a sequel. Not saying the potential franchise can’t come back, but Never Go Back was a step backwards for the character.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

3 out of 5

jack_reacher_never_go_back_ver3

 

Desierto

Director: Jonas Cuaron

Writer: Jonas Cuaron and Mateo Garcia

Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Alondra Hidalgo, Diego Catano, Marco Perez, Oscar Flores and David Lorenzo

Synopsis: A group of people trying to cross the border from Mexico into the United States encounter a man who has taken border patrol duties into his own racist hands.

 

Directed by Jonas Cuaron, the son of Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men, Gravity), Desierto is a timely film about the border of Mexico and the U.S., and while Cuaron does understand the material and issue, he rather follow the dangerous cat-and-mouse game between our leads. It’s not so much a bad thing, but Cuaron is still learning his footing in the directing game. It should also be noted that the names of the characters are never said in the film – only in the credits.

Desierto follows a Mexican man, named Moises in the credits, played by Gael Garcia Bernal, who along with a group of Mexican immigrants are coming to cross the border illegally. When the truck they’re in breaks down, they are left to walk the rest of the way in the desert. However, they aren’t alone as a man, named Sam in the credits, played by Jeffrey Dead Morgan finds them and kills most of the group. Moises, along with a few others, are left to survive in the desert against Sam and his dog Tracker.

The film is one of the ultimate cat-and-mouse game films. The majority of the film is Sam chasing down Moises through the desert, which of course, adds a lot of tension since there is not a lot of places to hide there. It’s a hell of a lot harder when you also have a tracking dog and a madman with a rifle chasing you down. The film works best when it’s a thriller of the characters on the run, but it’s once it slows down is when the film starts to show its faults.

It’s not hard to see the political themes, especially this late in the political season. Sam’s truck even has a small confederate flag and once he kills the first group of people he sarcastically says “welcome to the land of the free.” It’s not a bad thing, but Cuaron never fully develops that idea, and chooses to focus on the chase instead.

When it comes the cast, Gael Garcia Bernal and Jeffrey Dead Morgan fully invest in their characters. Jeffrey Dean Morgan doesn’t go over-the-top like he could have, but he also doesn’t see what he’s doing as wrong. In fact he barely flinches when killing the characters from far away. Gael Garcia Bernal, on the other hand, plays his character pretty straight. He’s trying to survive to make it to his kids, and does something in the film that I didn’t think the film would do. The only other character that gets some more depth is Alondra Hidalgo’s Adela.

The film does lose some steam near the end during the final confrontation between Moises and Sam because Cuaron wanted to keep the camera rolling. I’m not saying it wasn’t bad, but this is what separates him and his father in the director’s category. Although, not many directors are Alfonso Cuaron.

All in all, Desierto isn’t a bad film, but it works better when it’s a cat-and-mouse thriller rather than being a cat-and-mouse political undertone thriller. While Gael Garcia Bernal and Jeffrey Dean Morgan are on point with their roles, the overall film lacks a certain punch to put it over the top.

Desierto

3 out of 5

desierto

 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Director: Tim Burton

Writers: Jane Goldman

Cast: Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Ella Purnell, Samuel L. Jackson, Finlay MacMillan, Lauren McCrostie, Chris O’Dowd, Rupert Eveertt, Allison Janney, Judi Dench, and Terence Stamp

Synopsis: When Jake discovers clues to a mystery that stretches across time, he finds Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. But the danger deepens after he gets to know the residents and learns about their special powers.

 

Based on the novel written by Ransom Riggs – which I haven’t read yet – and directed by Tim Burton, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was a movie I was actually looking forward to despite it being directed by Tim Burton. I haven’t been a fan of Burton’s for a while, but it looks like he was returning to form with his X-Men-esque fantasy tale. Also, having never read the book, I’m judging the movie for the movie itself, and not how loyal the film is to the book.

The film follows Jake (Butterfield), who is living in Florida, and wants to do something more in his life. That just happens when his grandfather, Abe (Stamp), passes away supernaturally. Remembering some stories as a child, Jake convinces his reluctant father (O’Dowd) to go to Wales so Jake can get closure on his grandfather’s passing, and maybe find out what really happening, all the while remembering the stories of his grandfather about a woman he once knew called Miss Peregrine (Green). Eventually Jake finds out the stories of his grandfather are not stories at all, and finds Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children that has children with powers of invisibly, floatation, pryokinesis, and other peculiarities. However, Jake finds out that all of them are stuck in September 3rd, 1943. Worse of all, dangerous monsters – known as Hallows – are after them lead by Mr. Barron (Jackson).

The film works best when the fanatical elements are in full swing. When Jake direst arrives at the home and meets everyone, the film is fun. We get to see everyone uses their abilities. Ella Purnell’s Emma is the one we get to know the most as she and Jake spend the most time together, her peculiarity is air and being able to float off the ground. We also meet Olive (McCrostie), who can turn into anything she touches into fire, Hugh (Parker) who is always invisible, Enoch (MacMillan) who has an interesting ability that leads to a surprising and cool sequence near the end of the film. There are twins, Claire (Raffiella Chapman) has a mouth on the back of her head, Horace (Hayden Keeler-Stone) can project his dreams, Fiona (Georgia Pemberton) can manipulate nature, and Bronwyn (Pixie Davies) is super strong.

It did seem like Miss Peregrine was tailor-made for Burton, and Burton does his usual thing and makes sure that the whimsy never fully gets put in the background. When the film does go off the fantasy element is when the film slows down a bit, but that rarely happens in the film. However, the film does get lost in itself for a bit, which is prone to happen when you have a lot going on. There’s even one plot point bought up that gets completely forgotten about once it’s introduced.

The cast does a great job with everything they were asked to do. Butterfield’s Jake does have a peculiarity that makes sense for the film, and one that makes the film rather suspenseful at one point. Eva Green as Miss Peregrine is great to watch. Green brings a levity and grand approach to the children’s guardian. Samuel L. Jackson’s Barron character is, well, Samuel L. Jackson playing a bad guy – minus the swearing. His character is a bit too cheesy at times and just a smidge over-the-top. Judi Dench, Rupert Everett, Chris O’Dowd, and Allison Janney pop in for small roles that don’t really do too much in the film. One casting I couldn’t get over is Kim Dickens, who appears in literally two very short scenes as Jake’s mother.

All in all, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is one of the better Tim Burton films in the recent years. While the film does have some things wrong with it, the cast and whimsy of it all will keep you invested until the end.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

3.5 out of 5

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Ouija: Origin of Evil

Director: Mike Flanagan

Writers: Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard

Cast: Elizabeth Reaser, Annalise Basso, Lulu Wilson, Henry Thomas and Parker Mack

Synopsis: In 1965 Los Angeles, a widowed mother and her two daughters add a new stunt to bolster their séance scam business and unwittingly invite authentic evil into their home. When the youngest daughter is overtaken by a merciless spirit, the family confronts unthinkable fears to save her and send her possessor back to the other side.

 

A sequel/prequel to the 2014 film, Ouija – which I never saw by the way, and kind of have no intention on seeing to be honest – Origin of Evil, is just that, an origin of the evil Ouija board that causes mayhem to the people that used it.

Ouija: Origin of Evil, set in Los Angeles in 1965, it follows the Zander family in mother Alice (Reaser), eldest daughter Lina (Basso) and youngest daughter Doris (Wilson), who run séance scam, but Alice does think she’s doing good by helping people, even if it’s not really true. Desperate for money, the family adds an Ouija board to shake things up. However, when Doris starts using the board more, strange things start to happen around the family, and eventually the family finds out that Doris has made contact with actual spirits – and they aren’t happy.

Never seeing the first film (although I read what the connection was afterwards), I can only judge the film for what it was, and in part I really enjoyed the film. Origin of Evil keeps a great deal of the focus on the family, making us really care for these characters, and when everything goes to hell at the end, you do feel worried for them. It also helps that the actresses are great, but the highlight and real star of the film is Lulu Wilson, who plays Doris. One scene in particular stands out where the focus is on her and talks about a certain subject that really sticks with you, and despite the subject, I couldn’t help but laugh because it was so uneasy to hear her talk about it.

The film does have some missteps, like a subplot with Henry Thomas’ character Father Tom. The subplot doesn’t really lead anywhere, and while it gives Elizabeth Reaser’s Alice more screen time, it felt shoehorned in. The other thing is the Ouija board. The board, while a huge and really only reason the events of the film takes place, is just hanging out in the background. The film could have probably done without the Ouija board and found a way to introduce the spirits another way.

All in all, Ouija: Origin of Evil handles itself pretty well, as a horror film that also has a solid family story holding it together. While I may not have understood some of the little things that may connect it to the first film, I still really enjoyed it for what it was.

Ouija: Origin of Evil

3.5 out of 5

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