Category Archives: movie review

reviews of movies

Add I thought a Rubik’s Cube was confusing (Cube movie review)

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Sometimes you wander around Netflix and just pick whatever. If you randomly watch Cube, you could do worse.

I think the thing I liked most about this movie was its ability to make me care and like these characters. I actively rooted for them and I didn’t want them to die – this might seem like a low bar, but trust me, many movies grasp for this bottom rung and fail. Even when one character goes crazy for reasons I don’t fully understand, I just care about how this changes the way that character interacts with the others. I still care, even if it doesn’t make sense.

This is an achievement.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie do so much with so little. Man, they recycled and reused basically one set and just let the tension draw from the performances. But more than that, even when the dialogue was pretentious or unclear, the movie found a way to sell it.

Some of the performances are over the top, the last scene is too vague, but somehow, it overcomes all this. Cube isn’t a perfect movie, but it’s pretty damn good. I’m excited to watch it again, so that’s about as ringing an endorsement you’re going to get from me.

3000 Miles to Graceland is a huge pile of shit (movie review)

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I decided not to bury the lead.

So yeah, this movie is not good. 3000 Miles to Graceland opens with two silly looking digital scorpions fighting each other. The metaphor and connection to the plot is, in a word, forced. Anyway, the basic premise is five guys dressed up like Elvis during an Elvis impersonator weekend in Las Vegas rob a Casino. Your brain is going to make you expect to see a scene where they all disappear into a crowd of Elvis’s (or Elvie?), but it never happens. That’s a recurring motif in the movie; the thing the plot seems to pointing to never happens. (The studio decided not to release this movie under its original title: Shattered Expectations.)

And don’t bother waiting for the climactic fight between Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell, because there isn’t one… I guess I just made this point, so moving on.

Besides its own fundemental plot issues, the other big problem with 3000 Miles to Graceland is the characters. You sort of root for Russell, but you don’t sympathize with him, and you don’t really like anyone else. Costner is sorta fun in a bad guy you love to hate sort of way, but you don’t want him to win, and Courtney Cox is just a dispicable excuse for a character you’re supposed to relate to, because you can’t get behind a mother abandoning her son with someone who just got out of prison.

Add I was really surprised when that woman snowballed Costner, but that’s beside the point.

So you’re sitting there, watching the movie, wondering how much longer it could possibly be (it’s a grueling 2+hours), Ice T shows up out of nowhere (Howie Long also pops in and out, doing basically what he did in Broken Arrow) and gives you false hope but provides two of the biggest laughs of the movie, one intentional, one not.

At the end of the day, 3000 Miles to Graceland is bloated and pleases no one. The action isn’t exciting enough, the characters are too flat and the plot barely holds together, so you can’t write it off a genre flick when it doesn’t adhere to any conventions of any genres – except poorly made movies.

3000 Miles to Graceland is streaming on Netflix – proceed at your own risk.

Bad Samaritan or Dropped Thread: The Movie (movie review)

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Yeah, there’s a pay phone in this movie. Because those are still around.

When I go to the movies, I want to like the movie.  I’m not hoping for it to be bad.  I went into Bad Samaritan totally cold – I don’t think I’d even seen the poster.  I was ready to go with whatever story this movie wanted to tell.  No expectations, no preconceived notions, I was ready to see an entertaining story on any terms.  And for the first twenty-ish minutes, it seemed like maybe this trip to the theater might work out – there’s David Tennant, the story might have potential… and then it falls apart, piece by piece. Read the rest of this entry

Fahrenheit 451 is the latest reminder that Michael B. Jordan is your new God

I saw That Awkward Moment in 2014 because everything else was sold out. You probably don’t remember hearing about it because it’s not a good movie. Zac Efron stars and I think he has a lot of talent, but I haven’t seen him play a complex role yet. Michael B. Jordan, on the other hand, had been crushing it since then. Every movie I’ve seen him in isn’t perfect (or even good – COUGH Fantastic Four COUGH), but Jordan is never the problem. In fact, after seeing him in Fahrenheit 451, I now consider him as automatic as it gets.

But just to be clear, this movie is not great.

Yeah, Jordan is excellent. Yeah, I like what they did with social networking, but this movie could use some more world building and more character development. It’s clear enough to get by, but from a story point of view, it’s a straight A student turning in C work.

I don’t want to debate changes they made from the book or nitpick dialogue (Michael Shannon practically had to memorize a phone book), I just want a little bit more. HBO cut corners and prioritized style over substance and it shows. Fahrenheit 451 isn’t bad, but it could have been great.

If you have HBO, consider this a soft recommendation. Michael B. Jordan delivers, but that’s all anyone will remember about this movie.

Avengers Infinity War: high drama or cheap shell game? (Movie Review)

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Here we are for the third Avengers film and the 19th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe series. (“Who knows what adventures The [Avengers] will have between now and when the series becomes unprofitable.”) The MCU has been an above-average experience for me with a high point of Winter Soldier and the least enjoyable experience being Age of Ultron. Now, we get to finally see all of the different corners of the MCU come together, which turns out to be a lot of fun. But at the same time, does this story give us high drama or are the cornerstones of the plot indications of the whole thing being just a cheap shell game? Spoilers follow!

spoiler alert Read the rest of this entry

Ready Player One is the clickbait version of a movie

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“Oh my God, it’s THE IRON GIANT! I’m so excited, that’s worth the price of admission alone!” -what every executive at Warner Bros expects you to say when you see the marketing for Ready Player One

I knew going into Ready Player One that there would be a never-ending parade of nostalgia geared toward people around my age. What I didn’t realize was that it was the sole focus of the movie. While that does sound like something that COULD work, my conclusion is that it doesn’t.

And to be clear, I’m reviewing the movie only. I’ve never read the book, nor do I think that should be required for seeing the movie.

I thoroughly reject the argument that you won’t get this movie if you are not a gamer. I wouldn’t call myself hardcore, but I’ve been playing video games for nearly my entire life. The fact that the movie’s plot is covered in a video game wrapper doesn’t matter. Nearly all action adventure movies conform to The Hero’s Journey just as this movie does – there’s not really anything new happening here in terms of structure. Most adventure stories have a down-on-their-luck hero (Marty McFly, Billy Peltzer, Luke Skywalker, etc) with a love interest, then he overcomes threshold guardians to ultimately beat the bad guy and win the day. That’s just how these movies work.

The real problem with Ready Player One is the lack of world building backstory (I don’t understand how a corn syrup drought created a dystopia and so on) and a cast of characters that just don’t compel. I wasn’t actively rooting for the protagonists to fail, but I wasn’t excited when they won, either. At a late point in the movie, I just wanted it to be over because the end was so telegraphed and obvious that I was starting to get bored.

In concept, I would think I’d like Ready Player One. The movie is all about 70’s, 80’s and 90’s pop culture (which is very much my bag), but it wasn’t charming.  Instead, it’s beyond forced. Maybe that’s the problem – references work when they’re subtle, not when they’re the sole focus and reason something exists. That’s when something stops becoming a reference and just becomes the plot. Yeah, I saw the campaign poster from Back to the Future in the background, big deal. That didn’t make the movie better. Yes, I see the Iron Giant too, except this film seems to be missing the entire point of its to titular character and if you were going to ignore the moral, then why leave out the giant gun that lives inside his chest? When the good guy army was rushing toward the bad guy, I think I saw a Battletoad in there, but honestly, everything image is so saturated with characters and things that I feel like the movie is really just an advertisement for the Blu-ray. By this I mean the movie is intentionally visually dense to the point where the only way to really see all of its bloat is to watch it at home while continuously pausing it and examining each frame. I guarantee you that when this movie hits the aftermarket, you’ll see every single website in existence write an article entitled All The Stuff You Missed in Ready Player One. It’s coming, I promise you – if they’re not here already.

The thing is, I didn’t hate the movie. I wasn’t particularly bored or frustrated with any one scene, it’s just that the movie as a whole is bland. I didn’t really feel anything while watching this movie. At all. I appreciated all the work the zillions of digital animators did on this movie and I think that if Steven Spielberg didn’t direct it would be a horrible mess, but that’s about the only positives I can rattle off.

When when it comes down to it, Ready Player One is an underdeveloped movie that tries to make up for its own shortcomings with nostalgia and flashy visuals, but it’s just not enough. The only reason to see this in the theater is because every image is so cluttered that if you care about seeing every single thing, the bigger it is the better.

The Book of Henry is an educational disaster for screenwriters

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According to Liz Lemon, Tootsie (the movie where Dustin Hoffman dressed in drag to get a job) is the example they use in all the screenplay books on what to do when writing a movie. The Book of Henry is, by contrast,a clinic in what NOT to do.  It’s just- the thing is… I can’t even! Well, I’ll try to explain.

spoiler alert

Read the rest of this entry

The curious case of Tomb Raider (2018)

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Like the original, the best thing Tomb Raider has going for it is its star. Alicia Vikander is excellent and I was especially taken with how well her protagonist arc was written. And yet, this 2018 reboot is less than the sum of its parts.

I don’t know the Tomb Raider games, but I do have a basic understanding of story structure. For the uninitiated to Laura Croft like me, this movie lays out in a similar way to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. (Maybe this is a plot also found in the games, but again, I don’t know anything about that.) Our hero is going to save their father and (of course) everyone on Earth from the bad guys, who are on a quest to obtain an ancient power that would enable them to rule the world. The first problem is that the reality we are immediately thrown into in this new Tomb Raider movie is the very familiar and realistic setting of our own world. Even Laura herself doesn’t believe in a supernatural threat; this makes the journey she’s going on less impactful because of the way it’s set up. She’s going to save a father that she has mixed feelings about from a threat she doesn’t entirely believe in. This is not great storytelling.

On the other hand, Laura’s personal Arc is a well-crafted Journey. We first meet her in the ring, sparring in a gym and losing. Then we see her trying to make ends meet with a dead end job, next hoping to win money in bicycle race that she seems to have the intelligence to win but ultimately loses, and so on. We keep learning about her character: her strength, her intelligence and her grit, but she’s not an unstoppable killing machine. She loses fights and people take advantage of her, then she fights back. This makes Laura relatable and we can identify with her struggle.

So it seems like the people who made this movie knew what they were doing… to a point.  They knew how to write a protagonist, they knew how to create and photograph action, but the story… It’s not full of holes, but it’s the opposite of compelling.  I found myself getting board, to the point of almost falling asleep during the third act, when I should be on the edge of my seat.  A woman to my right was watching videos on her phone, doing her best to respect the other theater goers by awkwardly positioning it inside her sideways held purse on her lap – but not willing to leave the theater for whatever reason.  (The seats are plush, recline and since I was fighting the sandman, I couldn’t say sh$t to her.)

Is it worth seeing Tomb Raider?  I guess I’m saying no.  Vikander is great, there are several fun action sequences, but what’s here just isn’t enough.  Maybe fans of the series will enjoy this, but I don’t think there’s enough here for general audiences and maybe not even action/adventure fans.

A Wrinkle in Time is an adequate mess (movie review)

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I can’t remember the last movie I saw that was as frustrating as A Wrinkle in Time. The trailer didn’t have me jumping out of my seat with excitement, but I was intrigued by the premise, so here I am, reviewing a movie I liked more than I didn’t and sort of recommend. Here come the spoilers! Read the rest of this entry

Pacific Rim Uprising is the best Transformers movie I’ve ever seen (movie review)

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Did you see Pacific Rim? I did. It was… you know, fine – I sound a lot more excited in the review then I am now. But that movie has Idris Elba. He makes everything okay. So I wasn’t exactly jumping up and down and sprinting to my local theater to see Pacific Rim Uprising, yet here we are and I can at least say that this movie will give you exactly what it promises: big robots fighting big monsters.

And unlike any of the Transformers movies, I can actually tell what’s happening and it’s not a confusing mess.

So now that we’ve got that out of the way, if you have any interest in giant monsters, you’ll probably like the second installment in the Pacific Rim series which I assume will go on until we’re all dead or the series becomes unprofitable. That’s not such a bad thing because these movies don’t really try to get heavy; they concentrate on doing what they do best: CGI grudge matches. This second installment does an even better job of keeping the talking parts to a minimum and making sure that they’re not excruciatingly painful. Good performances and somewhat interesting characters help – and I appreciate an attempt to do something interesting with a character – it sure goes a long way in getting this movie to the finish line.

If you’re the kind of person who wonders why inter-dimensional aliens can only transport themselves to our world through a rift they open at the bottom of the ocean and whether or not building giant robots to fight giant monsters would be the best uses of resources in a world ending event and why they can only be piloted by two people who are mentally linked, you should probably not watch these movies. They’re mostly for enjoying the spectacle, but unlike the sadistic Transformers movies, they don’t have contempt for the audience. They’re just fun, filled with wacky fights and decent character work by quality performers. It’s not the sort of movie you can debate or even talk about much, it just is, and what it is is good. I don’t think anyone will write about the Pacific Rim film series at any point when they look back on this period in cinematic history, but if you’re looking for a fun element of spectacle, you should check it out.

Black Panther overcomes traditional plot beats with nuanced characters and intriguing story details

I finally saw Black Panther and of course, no movie exists in a vacuum. I’ve seen all the Marvel movies and have generally enjoyed them (except Age of Ultron) and at this late date, there’s a lot of hype surrounding this newest MCU installment. I did my best to temper expectations and just enjoy the movie for what it is, but fortunately, it turns out that what this movie brings to the table is the perfect balance of what we’ve come to expect from the series and something new.

We’re going into spoilers from here, so you’ve been warned. Read the rest of this entry

Game Night is not a waste of your time (movie review)

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I hate to hurl a bunch of statistics at you, but I feel that they’re more relevant than usual. Out of 169 critics, 138 gave Game Night a positive review with an average rating of 6.7 out of 10. I think this, while not a ringing endorsement, sets expectations perfectly for the movie it aggregates.

If you’ve seen the trailer, I can understand that you might be filled with trepidation. The premise is so dumb even 80s comedies are blushing, but somehow, they make it work. The plot isn’t airtight and it’s fair to say that its biggest twists don’t exactly make sense, but it’s still fun. This movie tends to run the best jokes into the ground but the cast is so charming I don’t think you’ll mind.

The biggest difference between Game Night and its contemporary peers is that this movie seems to have a script filled with dialogue, setups and payoffs and is just generally trying. Most comedies I’ve seen lately rely heavily on improvisation and star power rather than any sort of attempt at something that smacks of effort.

I think the most important takeaway from Game Night is that Rachel McAdams is fantastic and she should be in every movie forever. The ensemble is strong, but I feel she’s the clear standout.

If you see Game Night, I think you’ll have a fun time at the movies and won’t feel cheated (ironically enough, The House doesn’t play by the rules). I don’t see us looking back on this movie as a comedy classic in ten years, but rather a passable evening at the movies.

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