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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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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)

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.

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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Beauty and the Beast 2017 is worth a watch but doesn’t justify its existence

Remakes. Why does Hollywood make them? The answer is almost always because movie studios are owned by corporations with stockholders and board members and their supposed to turn a profit and nothing turns profit quite as easily as known intellectual property. So, like in all business, the goal is to make money rather than create a quality product. That’s okay, I don’t have any problem with capitalism. What I do have a problem with is remaking a movie that was a perfectly good film in the first place. What’s the point? If you’re not going to do something better or at least different, why even bother? Well, again, that’s an artistic question and we all know that the reason this movie exists is financial. With all that being said, let’s talk about the 2017 remake of Beauty and the Beast.

SPARED NO EXPENSE!

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John Hammond cast this movie.

When it comes to this movie’s cast, they spared no expense. The list goes on and on: Emma Watson, Ewan Mcgregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Kevin Kline, Stanley Tucci, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad… Was it worth it? Sure, I think so. Everyone turns in a fine performance. I don’t think I would have cast Kevin Kline regardless of how much I love him because I just don’t think he’s right for this particular role, but it’s not like he’s distracting or a deterrent to the movie. That’s more of a matter of taste then a critique.

EXCEPT FOR WHEN THEY DID
This movie has a ton of digital characters, digital camera moves compositing together real actors and digital sets and all sorts of computer gobbledygook. And I gotta to tell you, it doesn’t all look great. I did tend to think that the characters made of objects looked pretty good, but sometimes, the Beast just didn’t look right. I’m not sure if it’s the way they designed him or maybe just his hair, or the fabric simulation, but mostly I think it was just that the rendering of the Beast himself didn’t fit with all of the lighting. He particularly stuck out in the library. This is the Beast at his most video gamey-est.

THE MOVIE AS A WHOLE:
I need to get down to it: yes, this movie is good. Is it great? I don’t think I would go that far. The problem is that this movie does not exist in a vacuum; the original Beauty and the Beast does exist, I have seen it and the first version is the superior production. This new remake shows no restraint; it features ill-advised CGI, uneven pacing, dialogue where none is needed and the new original songs… yeesh. Here, I can tie two points together: the original animated film cut out a song called “To Be Human Again” that they added back to an anniversary DVD release. Once you hear it, you’ll know why they cut it out in the first place. Meanwhile, this live action remake feels as though it inserts new songs because someone at Disney insisted that this movie be 2 hours ong, featuring new songs that could possibly get nominated for best original song at various award shows and because the movie had to add something new while taking zero chances.

If your part of the hardcore Disney audience then chances are you’ve already seen this movie and I’m probably not going to change your mind. If you’re too young for the original then it’s possible you weren’t even aware of the animated version and may have no use for comparisons. Either way, I would say that while this movie is good enough, it’s far from great and it’s certainly not a new addition to the Disney classic catalog of films.

GENERAL GRIPES
There was a point during “Be Our Guest” when I was completely confused – I didn’t know where they were or what was happening… and did the Taj Mahal make an appearance?

The Beast is not compatible with the light in the library and in other moments throughout the film.

I’m sorry, say that again? The Enchantress gave the Beast a book that allows him to travel through space?  (But not time, because that would be ridiculous.  And also make the movie five minutes long.) She has the ability to create this book or at the very least has it and this is what she does with it? That kind of took me out of the movie.

There were a few moments where I expected them to up the visual ante from what we saw in the original and boy does that not happen. There’s just nothing as grand or as exciting as the big wide Ballroom shot from the original in this new dance sequence. There’s just not. I know it’s hard to show us something we’ve never seen before at this point in twenty-first century, but that shot was composed on a computer in the early 90s. Now entire movies are made with computers so I was expecting something but I got nothing.

Ugh, that Beast song. I’m not a fan of the new songs in all their blandness but the Beast’s solo effort has got to be the worst of the bunch.

Annihilation movie review

My understanding is that Annihilation is only getting a theatrical release in the United States, or it is only getting a streaming release in Europe. Apparently, the studio does not think that there is a big audience for this movie and the poor showing at the box office so far seems to be proving them right. I saw the trailer for this movie many times during the course of 2017 and it didn’t exactly have me running to the theater. It is a shame though; there’s lots of cool stuff to look at in this movie and I’m glad I saw it on the big screen.

Anyway, I did see this movie today. You know what I thought? It was okay. Maybe I’d even go as far as to say it was pretty good. On the other hand, outside of the production design and a few story elements, I wouldn’t say this movie isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel. That’s the thing about the trailer for this movie: it promises a lot, but doesn’t offer much.

Okay, I’ll get off the trailers back. The movie itself has an interesting protagonist and I like very much what they’ve done here. Natalie Portman’s character is interesting, complex and the movie does a good job of combining character elements with the plot. I also enjoyed the tension, but on the other hand the slow burn pace only works some of the time. The movie isn’t too long, but I did catch myself checking my watch once.

I would say sci-fi and thriller fans would enjoy Annihilation. I can’t recommend it for general audiences though. It definitely doesn’t pass the Mom test. (Mom, if you’re reading this, don’t go see this movie. You will not like it.) I just checked this movie’s average score on Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s at 7.6, which I think is fair. It even be a little harsh. I think I’d give this movie an 8 out of 10. It’s a “Walk, Don’t Run” movie for fans of these genres only. In case it doesn’t go without saying, I wouldn’t take any children to Annihilation, but I would think adults with patience and a strong constitution will probably enjoy this movie.

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