Category Archives: movie review

reviews of movies

The Book of Henry is an educational disaster for screenwriters

Book-Of-Henry

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

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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)

pacific rim uprising

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)

game night movie

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.

Reactions to the winners, losers and snubbed of the 90th Annual Academy Awards (PODCAST)

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I’m back on the What Does It Matter? podcast to react to this year’s Oscar show! You can listen below or download by searching WDIM in your podcast app of choice! You can find WDIM on Facebook and Twitter, too! Drop some review love on Facebook and iTunes!

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Thoroughbreds is a movie entirely built on character development

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There’s something interesting about a movie that doesn’t rely on plot to push the story forward. When you watch a character study like Thoroughbreds, you get to enjoy a lot of nuance, and that’s become something of a lost art in the multiplex movie going experience.

Relationships, as we all know, are complicated. Whether by personalities, circumstances or happenstance, our perspectives on each other are colored by a multitude of things. How we and the ones around us react to these things is the fiber of what makes Thoroughbreds so much fun to watch. The revelations don’t come from a specific story point necessarily, but rather reactions and choices based on such a story point.

This isn’t an easy movie to talk about without spoiling it. There’s not a lot in the way of surprises or mystery as the movie unfolds at a natural and believable pace. There are certainly times when a few more story details could enhance the narrative, but with this kind of character study, they aren’t necessarily needed. Of this week’s current release calendar, critics and audiences seem to agree that Thoroughbreds is the best of the bunch, but I would go farther to say that it’s a good movie in almost any weekend. Check it out.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is your new rainy day favorite (movie review)

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It took me awhile to see this one, but I finally saw Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. It wasn’t a movie I particularly wanted to see, nor would I say that I’m glad I saw it, but I’m not sorry I did. This movie exists in a weird, cozy in between.

My formative years took place during the 1990s, so I saw the original Jumanji way back when. People that are around my age or younger might feel some nostalgia for that movie, but let’s be honest, there’s nothing great about that flick. I think the best thing you can say about it is that it has Robin Williams in it and it was different. (The 1990s were the last days of seeing something on-screen that you’d never seen before, but I digress…) This movie, on the other hand, knows exactly what it is and doesn’t take itself too seriously. In fact, despite it being redundant in some cases, I would say that Welcome to the Jungle does almost everything right. Now that doesn’t mean that this movie is great or that it should even exist, but here we are and I can at least say that it’s an enjoyable experience.

What is there to like? Watching these adults play teenagers is a lot of fun. It’s part of the aforementioned redundancy, but it’s still the best part of the movie. Maybe the most shocking thing about Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is its commitment to the characters and their development. Didn’t see that coming. I also liked how it weaved in common video game tropes and quickly explain them for anyone who might not understand the reference.

Look, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle isn’t going to set your soul a fire and I can’t imagine it’ll be the sort of thing you need to purchase on the aftermarket so you can treasure it always (“I love [Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson].  I celebrate his entire catalog.”], but if you catch it on cable on a rainy day, I bet you watch the whole thing and have a good time. I wouldn’t say you necessarily need to stop what you’re doing and rush out to catch this as it nears the end of its very impressive theatrical run, but there are certainly worse things out right now that you could see.

Red Sparrow is long on shock and short on engagement (movie review)

They gave me a choice: die or review Red Sparrow. I’m starting to think I should have picked the former.

Did you see Avengers: Age of Ultron? If the answer is no, you’re better off, but on the other hand, the quick montage we get in that movie of Black Widow’s backstory is more interesting and compelling than anything in this movie.

So if my opening joke did not properly set the tone for what follows, consider it now set.

With a 2018 release, Red Sparrow looks shockingly tone deaf in light of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, but the book was released in 2013 and it is true regardless of what year it is that misogyny and sexual misconduct are the rule of the land, so that’s not the problem. The issue is that what’s presented here is often illogical and bizarre.

I also think it’s well known that if you dye your hair blonde, you don’t go to the pool the next day because the chlorine will react to the chemicals in your hair and we’ll turn it green. People know that, right? Well, the people who made this movie didn’t know it or didn’t think it mattered.

But I know it.

That’s not killing this movie. The reason Red Sparrow isn’t a good film is at the heart of its boring plot, slow pacing, lack of chemistry between performers, lapses in directorial judgment, Jennifer Lawrence’s wavering accent, the dozen-or-so 3.5 inch floppy disks that are central to the plot even though this movie takes place in current-day and a million other things, including the delightful performance of Mary-Louise Partner, who does not seem to be aware of what movie she is in, but that’s hardly her fault. And I would be remiss if I didn’t at least hint at a scene that happens early on in the film that is so unbelievable that I just assumed it was a dream that could not really be happening in the context of this movie.

But it’s not a dream. No matter how much I want any of Red Sparrow not to be real, IT IS NOT A DREAM.

At 2 hours and 20 minutes, I think you may be begging for one of Red Sparrow’s assassins to put you out of your misery before it’s over. It has a few moments, but it generally chooses shock value over compelling content and offers little else while it slogs along with a plot that is not particularly difficult to follow but not worth the effort. If you’re given the choice of seeing Jumanji again or becoming a sparrow, probably see Jumanji again.

I, Tonya movie review: a performer’s delight with an emphasis on the journey rather than the destination

Movies are, by their very nature, destined to be viewed by a specific audience. For example, you wouldn’t send a room full of kindergarteners to watch Dunkirk. (That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t enjoy it anyway, but probably not the intention of the filmmaker.) The thing about a movie like I, Tonya is that the majority of the audience for this movie already knows key the plot points. They essentially know how the story is going to end and while that’s not the only reason you go to see a movie, it is a big part of the storytelling process and the audience anticipates the satisfaction of a well-crafted tale. So how do you do that when the audience knows what happens to the protagonist at the end film? The answer is this movie.

There are lots of movies about how characters grow and/or change during the course of the story and this is where I, Tonya really succeeds. This movie delivers multiple perspectives in a way we rarely see and does it more successfully then I could have possibly imagined. As this is the case, the emphasis of the movie is how the characters end up where they are at the end of the movie rather than their specific circumstances. I, Tonya is a question of how rather than where.

Should you take this journey? I would have to say yes. Even general audiences who may not have a strong desire for nuanced character development and even if they know the story points can still find something to enjoy in this movie. I wouldn’t refer to these roles as showy opportunities for actors such as what is afforded to James Franco in The Disaster Artist, but all the performers here not only have a great deal to do but do their jobs well. I, Tonya is the rare opportunity for viewers to make a first impression on a character and continuingly reevaluate them as the movie goes on and reach a final conclusion at the film’s end.

2017 was a good year for movies and I certainly didn’t see everything, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a movie better than I, Tonya. It’s got a compelling story but the character arcs and performances really power this movie home. The other quality technical elements have to take a backseat while the most visible members of a larger team take center stage. This movie gets my highest recommendation.

The last STAR WARS THE LAST JEDI review

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A Star Wars movie isn’t like any other movie – at least not for me, which is why it took me a few months to get my thoughts together. By the time I was just 3 years old, Return of the Jedi had come and gone and the Star Wars franchise was cemented into our popular culture in a way we wouldn’t see again until Harry Potter. Star Wars was IT and for about a million different reasons.

So what makes Star Wars so special? Timing. When it was new, there wasn’t anything like it before and it was the “face that launched a thousand ships.” It gave birth to a new era of science fiction, fantasy, adventure and more. Even Star Trek got hauled out of the attic, dusted off and shoved back out onto the stage. If it wasn’t for this movie, the theatrical landscape would look very different today.

That kinda sounded like an insult…

Anyway, Star Wars Episode 8 The Last Jedi is divisive in a way I don’t fully understand. Some people love it, some people hate it, and I’m starting to wonder if I’m the only one that’s in the middle. Well, not exactly in the middle.

So with all that said, I’m very excited about reviewing Star Wars Episode 8: Chewbacca Goes Vegan. Well, we’ll get to that. Let’s start here:

SPOILERS!!!

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