Author: guysgurugrades

My name is Erick Phill. I review: movies, TV shows, and other odds and ends.

My Thoughts On: “Detroit”

I apologize for the lack of posts last week.  I did see this film on Friday, but it left me… contemplative.  It was necessary to sort out the emotions, let the anger cool, and then the Charlottesville drive-by happened and American media erupted.  Now, as much fun as I have writing these things, when it comes to politics, I try to stay out of political/social issues.  Mostly because I don’t trust myself enough not to say something stupid or ignorant on the Internet.  Now that I have everything figured out, let’s talk about Kathryn Bigelow’s intense, but manipulative drama.

I’ll admit, this is definitely a film that educates (somewhat), but the filmmaking approach favors harsh racism and brutality as opposed to character development and a good balance between tension and morals.  The first act is tame compared to the other two: showing us the causes of the Detroit riots in 1967.  Unfortunately, the movie forgoes whatever narrative it had to assault the viewer with uncomfortable scene after uncomfortable scene.  Seriously, A Clockwork Orange (which featured rape, torture, murder, and ultra-violence) wasn’t as hard to watch as Detroit, only difference is that Detroit focuses on the stuff that makes movies like Moonlight win Best Picture.  The film attempts something similar to what Patriots Day did, telling the larger portion of the event in one night through multiple character perspectives.  However, the pacing is terrible.  Looking at this movie from a writing standpoint, the climax starts at the forty minute mark and goes on for thirty minutes.  Thirty, incredibly uncomfortable minutes.  Most of the movie takes place at a hotel, where the main black characters (and a few others caught in the wrong place at the wrong time) are intensely interrogated by Poulter’s group of hostile city police officers.  For the sake of time (and the film itself admits that some scenes were dramatized), all I’ll say is that this is one excessive sequence.

The most interesting thing about this film is Will Poulter’s detestable, prejudiced, white-cop, antagonist.  Not only is Poulter giving his all for this character, he’s the only one who has any inner conflict.  The motivation is not clear-cut and it’ll leave you thinking twice about a character that was written to be hated.  This brings me to my biggest complaint; the movie gives you nothing to chew on.  Look, I’ve seen a lot of black history films, shows, books, etc.  I’ve noticed a few common traits and manipulative techniques.  In the end, the most effective ones where movies like Glory and In the Heat of the Night (1967).  The films that put the story and characters first before getting into the tough stuff.  I can only care so much about your movie when I cannot remember the names of the main characters as they go through these atrocities.  It’s not difficult to get the audience to cringe, police racism is a hot-button topic in America; it takes much more effort to create something that the audience can come back to.  Once the credits roll, you’ll feel absolutely terrible, then completely forget the film a week later.  Not something a filmmaker wants, regardless of the point you were trying to get across.  Detroit gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C.

Thanks again for your patience, I’m moving into my dorm next week and final preparations are being done.  However, I’ll have something on The Dark Tower on Monday.

 

“The Emoji Movie” Review

Ha heh ha heh ha ha heh heh hoooooh!  Oh gosh, I haven’t had this much fun since that NyQuil-induced fever dream where I was a black Rambo who fought off mercenaries and space aliens whilst driving in the jeep from Lilo and Stitch!  I mean that.  Granted, it is likely I lost my sanity watching/researching this atrocity of a motion picture.  Be that as it may, I have successfully maintained a crazed smile for the last 3 days, and it may turn into something worse if I don’t get this review published.  Prepare yourselves for the most numbing trek through the most stereotypical movie of the decade.

The Emoji Movie is directed by Tony Leondis and written by: Tony Leondis, Eric Siegel, and Mike White.  Stars-T.J. Miller, James Corden, Anna Faris, Jake T. Austin, Maya Rudolph, and Sir Patrick Stewart.  Premise-Gene (the “meh” emoji) causes trouble when he makes the wrong emotion, so he sets out a journey through the phone to become his assigned trait.

Where to even start?  Why, at the production company logos of course!  Yes, Sony has given us even more proof that the downfall of children’s cinema is at hand.  The Emoji Movie (20 of my brain cells die every time I say that) panders so much, it would make Michael Bay, Stephenie Meyer, and every Illumination Entertainment executive blush.  The moral-which is a cliché at this point-is the, “you be you” message that went from earnest and fresh, to tired and annoying.  To make things even better, they use all of the following clichéd lines, “Just be yourself,” “I like you just the way you are,” and “You be who you want to be.”  It’s hilarious watching these adults try to relate to kids.  Almost as fun as watching a handful of funny people phone it in.  Rudolph is playing the same character as the dog in The Nut Job, Corden is agitating, Miller’s voice naturally sounds like he’s disinterested, Faris plays a freaky hybrid of Wyldstyle and a Tumblr feminist, there’s 1,000 useless celebrity cameos, and since Patrick Stewart is more respected than the Apollo 13 crew, there’s no point in making fun of his choice to voice the visual representation of Sony films.

Some probably think this movie’s worse than Ghostbusters (2016) or Norm of the North, but I disagree.  Ghostbusters wanted to tick people off, The Emoji Movie wants to hit every single mark on the “by-the-numbers kids movie (Politically Correct Edition)” handbook.  Awkward protagonist?  Check.  Diverse-even though their personalities are stereotypes-cast?  Check.  “Don’t listen to the haters” moral?  Check.  Brightly-colored 3D animation that looks like candy?  Check.  Distracting sexual innuendos and pop culture references in a pitiful attempt to entertain parents?  Check-a-roony!  All that’s missing are some pointless pop songs in the soundtrack… spoke to soon.  They got Christina Aguilera to play a character called Akiko Glitter in a scene where our main emoji’s enter a Just Dance app and must dance their way out of certain doom.  Wow.

Likewise, Norm of the North is the stupidest animated movie of all time; but The Emoji Movie rips off Wreck-It-Ralph, Inside Out, and A Bug’s Life (without ANY of the emotional connection whatsoever).  Sony adds its trademarked product placement, this includes: Crackle, Facebook, YouTube, and at least 5 others, while subjecting the audience to every predictable joke in the book.  The logic of this movie is nonexistent, the characters are forgettable, and the film defenestrates any opportunity for actual entertainment that comes along.

When all this is said and done, The Emoji Movie will be hastily forgotten.  This movie is like Styrofoam; light, forgettable, lacking substance, takes up space, and will cause slight indigestion if consumed.  If you need more proof of this film’s objective failure, check out these facts.  It’s rated #6 on IMDb’s Bottom 100, the box office gross is $31 million ($19 million less that the budget), and take a look at the official Twitter page.  As of the time of this post, it has 13 likes.  Thirteen!  None of which were likes of Tweets posted by actual people (all companies).  No one likes this movie, no one has anything nice to say about it, and it makes me so happy because of that.  I’m not that worried or angry (I’ll leave that to the YouTube critics), the last 3 movies I saw in the theater were: The Hero, The Big Sick, and Dunkirk, everything’s gonna be fine.  The Emoji Movie gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an F, for Failure to Try.

“Dunkirk” Review

Dunkirk is written and directed by Christopher Nolan.  Stars-Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden, and Kenneth Branagh.  Premise-Over 400,000 allied soldiers are trapped on the beaches of the French city of Dunkirk with little to no means of escape.  As the Nazis close in, the evacuation options seem nonexistent, until allied civilians take matters into their own hands.

I got the credits out of the way because we’re going to dive right into the meat of this epic.  The Dunkirk Evacuation is undoubtedly one of the most important moments in history, and the fact that one of Britain’s greatest filmmakers has taken up the mantle to tell the story to the masses greatly boosts my hope for humanity.  While, the amount of respect I have for the crew is unparalleled, my enjoyment of the finished product is a little shaky.

Since it’s a Nolan film you can expect the technicals to be freaking perfect!  I saw Dunkirk in a dingy auditorium with a minuscule screen, but every bullet, bomb, and machine reverberated through me like a crash of thunder.  Add Hoyte Van Hoytema’s Oscar-worthy camerawork (the wide shots… just wow) and you’ve got yourself one immersive war film.  Oh, and let’s not forget Hans Zimmer’s intensely powerful music!  Academy, if you don’t give these two nominations, there will be blood, because they bring out the best in each other.  Supermarine alone is packed with fear and suspense, and the practical effects and sets are 100% believable.  Seriously, watching this movie is like being there with our characters because the direction is that good.

Now on to the writing, this (unfortunately) is where all my complaints lie.  When this film was first announced, I wondered if Nolan would change up his writing style a bit for it.  After all, this is his first movie based off real events.  A few of these changes would be a much shorter runtime (1 hour, 46 minutes), and a plot that doesn’t put much emphasis on character development.  It’s an experience film if anything (we get two actions scenes before we learn anyone’s name) and that works in the movie’s favor since the scope and spectacle are so engrossing.  The performances are just as excellent (Rylance, Whitehead, and Murphy especially stand out), and there are definitely a couple characters to like.

Now bear with me, because I know some of you will see these upcoming problems as nitpicks.  Truth be told, I thought the same thing, but nitpicks don’t usually get on your nerves now do they?  More or less, these are questions.  First, we never get a good look at the Nazis.  The only time we ever see actual German soldiers, it’s in the last 10 minutes of the movie, and they’re cast in shadow.  There is absolutely no adaptation of World War I or II that should sanitize how evil the Nazis truly were.  Especially since over here in America, Nazi ideologies (like white supremacy) have resurfaced (for many reasons, but there’s no time to go into that here).  This is a pure guess, but I think Dunkirk was made in a way to educate as well as entertain.  After all, Nolan went for PG-13 when some of the stuff in this film could have easily been much more realistic (aka, pretty violent/profane).  I can imagine this film playing in every school in England, and that’s great!  Young people (including myself) need to know this stuff, but playing down the evil of the most racist ideology of all time is not a wise decision.  If you want more proof, the opening credits that tell us the date and what’s happening use the term, “The Enemy” to describe the Nazis, and they don’t give the date of the event (which will confuse anyone who doesn’t already know that Dunkirk happened in 1940, before the U.S. got involved).  I apologize if I’m dragging this out; I have very low tolerance for the party that killed over 14 million innocent people.

That last paragraph aside, Dunkirk is still an exceptionally well-made thriller that depicts the horrors of war.  Considering how unbelievably bland this year has been, it’s very satisfying to see Nolan deliver once more.  The proof of this movie’s success is feeling that sense of victory even though the event was essentially a loss, and skill of that caliber simply must be recognized.  Dunkirk gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A-.

Top Ten Christopher Nolan Films

If you’ve viewed Christopher Nolan’s IMDb page over 50 times, like me, then you’d know that Dunkirk is his tenth feature-length film.  This means no one has been able to make a proper Top Ten list.  Many of you will think I’m crazy for pre-writing a top ten list in anticipation for a new release (I started this thing last month).  To them I say, “Since I’m not making any money off of this, I might as well have fun.”  Anyways, today I am going to rank each respective film from one of the-hands down-best directors of the millennium.

Rules/Notes:

  • There will not be a synopsis for most of these films.
  • There will be no spoilers in this list.
  • This list is determined by: 80% overall quality and 20% my opinion.
  • Please watch every one of Nolan’s films so he never stops making movies.

No more delays, let’s begin.

 

#10 – The Dark Knight Rises (Grade – C)

Let’s start out this fanboyish countdown by saying that I really don’t like this movie!  Bear in mind, Mr. Nolan is incapable of producing anything resembling garbage, and the effort is clearly on screen.  The action sequences are well-choreographed, the scope of the movie is huge, and the music added so much emotion to every scene.  That said, the performances are awkward, it has more plotholes than The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and the social commentary was akin to a pretentious high schooler’s first social studies essay.  Some believe The Dark Knight was never meant to be a trilogy, and when you compare The Dark Night to its sequel, you can see the difference in quality.  Still, the action is jaw-droppingly cool, so it’s not a complete waste of time.

 

#9 – Following (Grade – B)

One year after releasing his short film Doodlebug (which is worth checking out), Nolan wrote, directed, produced, shot, and edited his first film, Following; about a writer who follows random strangers around to gain inspiration (until one of his targets, a criminal, shows the man his operation).   While many have said there’s nothing special about this movie (considering what the director would go on to make much better stuff), but Nolan unlocked his inner Robert Rodriguez by doing most of the work himself.   Might I say, the end result is very pleasing.  The black and white film allows for some interesting camerawork, and the pacing, while slow, builds to one stellar ending.  This low-budget gem has made it into the Criterion Collection for a reason, and is a must-see for fans of the genre.

 

#8 – The Prestige (Grade – B+)

In late 2014, a very young, and even more naive, Erick was about to do his weekly routine of ironing clothes while watching a movie.  Obviously, my attention would be more concentrated on the scalding-hot piece of metal near my fingers, so I’d typically watch something that didn’t demand much attention.  As it turned out, The Prestige was a bad choice.  After the first 2 minutes, I knew this movie was going to require the audience’s complete cooperation.  Figuring the black slacks could wait, I sat down and restarted the film.  Two mind-bending hours later, and my understanding of cinema as a whole was changed.  At that moment, Christopher Nolan became one of my favorite filmmakers.  Now that I’m older, and have studied the art form for a while, I can properly appreciate the work.  This movie does so many things right, like casting David Bowie as Nikola Tesla, treating the audience (and the subject matter) with maturity and intelligence, having Michael Caine say the word “prestige,” there’s a lot to be found with this movie.  It’s an excellent period piece drama/thriller that will require a few trips to the Internet in order to fully understand what the heck that ending was.

 

#7 – Dunkirk (Grade-A-)

I just saw this war film a few hours ago; and I will have the full review out on Sunday.  For now, it is a fine example of passionate filmmaking and attention-to-detail.  Nolan uses a very traditional approach to this one, and it pays off for the most part.  The performances felt real, the narrative is respectful (if not a bit sanitized), and the suspenseful scenes are rattling.

 

#6 – Batman Begins (Grade-A-)

In preparation for this list, I watched a butt-ton of videos on Christopher Nolan.  One video in particular puts my writing skills to shame, and ironically, it was an essay about Batman BeginsStrange.  Well, better to try and fail than regret not taking the chance.  Batman Begins is a masterpiece of storytelling, and revived the superhero genre by treating its source material in a mature fashion.  This movie features some of the best exposition any screenwriter could ever ask for, and it all balances out with moments of action, complex characters, fine performances, and an engrossing tone.  It’s one of the three pre-2010 superhero flicks that started the superhero craze, and it shouldn’t be missed.

 

#5 – Insomnia (Grade-A-)

Did you know that this is the only Nolan-directed movie that he didn’t write?  Did you also know it’s a hallmark of subtly, suspense, cinematography, and acting?  Insomnia is one of those purposefully quiet productions that-while major critical hits-typically bomb at the box office (like Take Shelter or Donnie Darko).  In keeping with that genre, Insomnia is a feast for cinephiles.  The plot is simple, two detectives are sent to Alaska to search for the man who killed a 16-year-old girl.  What unravels is Nolan at his most ruthless (by the way, this film’s rated R).  First off, my gosh, the acting is fantastic.  This has to be one of Al Pacino’s most sympathetic roles of his career.  He struggles to find this killer while also dealing with his own personal issues, Hilary Swank is supportive, but also very intelligent, and Robin Williams…this is one of his most authentic performances.  There is little to no humor in his character, but what he brings to the table is one of the most impressive breakaway performances in history.  His dialogue is limited, but every second of it is incredible.  Forgive me if this all sounds rather vague, I am nowhere near the level of intelligence that this movie is on, so it’s difficult to explain how well it’s made.  Despite this, it is one heck of a film for anyone looking for underrated classics.

 

#4 – Memento (Grade-A)

“Okay, so what am I doing? Oh, I’m chasing this guy. No, he’s chasing me.”  There are so many brilliant moments in this brilliant movie.  Memento catapulted Nolan into critical acclaim much similar to M. Night Shyamalan with The Sixth Sense.  Meaning they both did something narratively that audiences had either never experienced, or weren’t expecting.  In the case of Memento, the story is told backwards.  This movie was unbelievably risky, as it easily could have alienated viewers, but pushing the boundaries of storytelling is one of Nolan’s best skills, and this psychological thriller is a fine example.  As far as second features go, this one feels like it was made by an archaic master rather than a newcomer because the quality of the filmmaking is top-notch.  Not only is Wally Pfister’s camerawork oozing with atmosphere, the constantly uncertain tone keeps you on the edge of your seat as the story unravels.  Speaking of amazing things, Leonard Shelby is one of the coolest protagonists in film history.  Guy Pearce is at his best in this film, his character design is like something out of a comic book, and his motivations make him a very sympathetic hero.  It’s one of the most original movies you’ll ever watch, and the mere idea of remaking it is asinine.

 

#3 – The Dark Knight (Grade-A)

Oh, stop crying just because the second best superhero movie of all time is #3.  If it were not for the last 10 minutes (the Joker should have died, and Batman didn’t have to take the fall for everything), it would be higher  Also, don’t be upset because Unbreakable is better than The Dark Knight.  We all know why this movie’s awesome.  Heath Ledger is the best Joker of all time, it was nominated for more Oscars than any other movie about grown men in goofy costumes, the practical effects drop jaws, and the script is packed with more smart commentary than a season of early Simpsons.  On a filmmaking scale, you could study ever frame for 5 minutes and get enough out of it to write a film report.  The Dark Knight proved that superhero movies could be dark, better than their predecessor, and make bank (over $1 billion to be precise) all at the same time.

 

#2 – Interstellar (Grade-A)

Ever noticed that this guy has a talent for titles?  Even though I’ve given this movie its own-somewhat crappy-review and talked extensively about it in the Study Scores list, I could go on forever with this one because it makes me so happy!  Oh, there are problems, but this movie requires faith from the audience to stick with it for the 3-hour runtime.  Those who do are greatly rewarded.  Many people think this was the point where Nolan ignored common sense and just wrote whatever complex nonsense came into his mind.  Whew!  That was difficult to type in and of itself.  Forgive me audience (and any future employers who may see this), but these complaints are pure balderdash!  The amount of research I put into this movie rivals that of college essay finals!  One of the factoids I came across explained that Nolan did his dang research about space, black holes, and other sciency things I can’t pronounce before writing a movie where Ron Woodroof saves humanity.  Guy’s, he knows what he’s doing.  Even if (which is a pretty big “if”) the story doesn’t grab you, the visuals definitely will.  Interstellar features some of the most impressive CGI and sets of our time.  It also features one of Hans Zimmer’s best scores.  I won’t deny, there is a bit of filler, but what’s excellent (like the action scenes) is truly magnificent.  When people talk about spiritual successors in film, Interstellar is the true sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

 

#1 – Inception (Grade-A+)

“I try to be all about story.” – The greatest storyteller in Hollywood today

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this movie (nothing of any consequence that is).  Every single thing about it works so well!  The effects (both practical and CGI) are convincing, the action sequences are creative and exciting, the actors have charisma, the ideas are interesting, the plot is original, the emotional element is strong, the music is intense, and it should have won Best Original Screenplay!!!!  Pardon me… I just can’t stand the Academy some times.  For someone to tell me they didn’t enjoy this monument, leaves me in a state of bewilderment.  Sure, everyone loves The Dark Knight, but Inception is the perfect summer blockbuster.  Action sequences that actually entertain, characters that you like, and a script that doesn’t treat you like a statistic.  I’m greatly inspired by this movie if you couldn’t tell.  It’s actually my favorite movie of all time, and for good reason.  Nolan knows where the movie starts and ends, and once the story (which he was apparently working on since Memento in ten years earlier) is perfected, the rest runs like clockwork.  You could watch this movie countless times and learn something new each time.

 

Ahhh, now that was fun!  Whether or not you like Nolan’s approach to filmmaking, you cannot deny that he has consistently delivered high-quality stuff.  The guy simply hasn’t made a bad movie, and I don’t think he ever will.  Now that being said, I’m going to go to bed, have an awesome dream inspired by Inception, and watch a lot of movies tomorrow!  Goodnight and thank you for your time.

“The Hero” & “The Big Sick” Review

Now comes that time of every year where I nearly give up hope in the film industry.  Then, out of the shadows of Sundance, came one of the most raw, emotionally compelling, and well-acted dramas of this decade.  Not too long after (one week to be precise), I was treated to one of the most original, funny, and perfectly-paced comedies of the same decade.  After posting the Despicable Me 3 review, I had to decide which of these two treasures to review first.  After way too much inner debate, it came to me, “Why not make a double-feature?”  This way, I can hit two birds with one stone and explain why these movies are a trillion times better than anything released since Logan (four months ago).

The Hero is directed by Brett Haley and written by Brett Haley and Marc Basch.  Stars-Sam Elliott, Nick Offerman, Laura Prepon, and Katherine Ross.  Premise-An aging movie star’s life changes when he meets a woman, confronts his broken family, and accepts his place in the universe.

The Big Sick is directed by Michael Showalter and written by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani.  Stars-Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, and Ray Romano.  Premise-A Pakistani stand-up comic meets a Caucasian girl, who’s studying to become a therapist, and a relationship blooms.  However, the cultural barrier between their families proves to be a difficult hurdle to leap.

I’ve grown tired of reviewing movies that (while popular) are unimportant.  The stupid action romps (The Great Wall, The Fate of the Furious, etc.), the forgettable cash grabs (Alien: Covenant, Despicable Me 3, etc.) and all the above-average superhero flicks!  Apologies if I sound melodramatic, after watching these two movies, it’s much more obvious how generic this year has been.  By the end of this review, you’ll feel the same way.

Both of these films are dramedies, and while The Hero is more focused (and thus more effective) with the drama portion, The Big Sick soars with its upbeat, wildly varied humor.  Every single character gets plenty of time to shine, and once the second act shows up, the jokes are much more frequent and will induce belly laughs.  Oh, and Bo Burnham plays a wise-cracking friend. I rest my case.

The Hero isn’t bereft of a joke or two, but they are few and far between.  Instead, it plays to its strengths of relatable human issues like accepting fate/mortality, loss of popularity, broken hearts, and addictions.  Things get really serious with this movie, but unlike with Manchester by the Sea, the main character actually has a few bright moments in his bleak life, thus it doesn’t just come across as, “Feel sorry for him!  Feel sorry for him!”  Many critics have pointed out the clichés, but I think they’re overcome by the earnest writing and compelling performances.  Oh yeah, can we please take a moment to discuss the acting with these movies?

I can already see a SAG nomination for The Big Sick, which makes sense considering that everyone has ample screentime (especially Nanjiani and Romano), but there is one particular veteran who steals the show today.  The Mustache himself, Samuel Pack Elliott.  I’ve thought long and hard about how to properly overstate how honest, emotional, and convincing his performance is, but the best thing I can come up with is this…mildly sassy statement, “If Sam Elliott doesn’t get an Oscar Nomination for Best Leading Actor I will pitch a fit which will be heard around the world and the ears of the innocent shall bleed at its wrath as every single Academy member will suffer a marathon of Adam Sandler productions, Clockwork Orange style.”  It’s some dang powerful stuff.  The Hero is worth watching purely to see Elliot finally receive a leading role in film that showcases his best.

The last things to talk about are the stories, and there are definitely some clichés with both films.  However, if the casts weren’t enough to remedy that, the narrative of The Big Sick takes many twists and turns.  It’s almost like watching a documentary because of how detailed the main character’s life is.  Not one part of it is left to the wayside; his family, friends, job, personal aspirations, uncertain beliefs, heartache, and personality are all fully developed.  The tone never gets too sad or too sentimental, the writers knew exactly when a joke was necessary (and the joke was always funny).  The Hero is a genuine, straight, story of a man’s life and it works well; well enough to bring you to tears if you’re not made of stone.  I urge you, and you, and you, and you to watch at least one of these movies very soon.  You will not regret it.

I hope this post was to your liking as I greatly enjoyed the writing process.  This isn’t something I usually say, but please support these films by watching them or bugging your friends to see them since these are the types of real films that audiences deserve.  As for me, I’m going to buy some Lone Star Barbecue Sauce and expand the cultural diversity of my friend group.  The Hero earns Guy’s Guru Grade of a B+ and The Big Sick earns Guy’s Guru Grade of an A-.

“Despicable Me 3” Review

What did I say?  The box office success of Minions-combined with a bunch of apathetic reviews-have now provided subpar animation companies with the perfect excuse to make pandering garbage.  While everyone was saying, “Minions isn’t the best movie ever, but it’s harmless,” they were making this absolute mess of a film.  I will not pull any punches in this review, so if you are a die-hard fan of this franchise, leave now or learn to accept the fact that different opinions exist.  Let the roast commence.

Despicable Me 3 is directed by: Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin, and Eric Guillon.  It’s written by Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio.  Stars-Steve Carrell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, and Pierre Coffin.  Premise-After meeting his long-lost twin brother, Gru must decide between reverting back to his evil ways, or focusing his energy towards his family; all while a new villain is devising something sinister.

Where to even begin?  There’s nothing redeemable about this flick.  Everything is just different shades of toilet scum brown.  Quite possibly the ugliest of these aspects is the story, which I can only describe as: the most pathetic excuse for a screenplay that’s so devoid of substance and humor it might as well have been written by Tim Herlihy.

If you couldn’t tell this pandering nonsense wasn’t trying, just take a look at the characters… or empty spaces.  Steve Carell (whose voice acting practically made the character in the first film) shouts every one of his lines, and the brother of Gru is basically Gunter from Sing.  The villain is even worse!  This franchise has seen some truly forgettable villains, but I was optimistic to see the new guy.  After all, they casted Trey Parker, a voice acting/comedic genius, to voice him.  Well, someone was collecting a paycheck.  This guy is quite possibly, the most generic villain in an animated film of the last decade.  First, his backstory (mind you, this info is in the trailers and the first 5 minutes of the film, so there are no spoilers).  His name is Balthazar Bratt; an 80s TV star who was rejected by Hollywood after outgrowing his starring role.  That is all there is to his personality.  We don’t know if he has a family, what he did after he lost fame, or how he has all those fancy gadgets you saw in the trailers.  Secondly, Bratt’s dialogue.   It consists of painful, annoying, outdated, unfunny 80s references and slang.  The last time someone was ignorant enough to intentionally write a character like this was in Mars Needs Moms, the biggest animated box office failure of all time.  This also gives the filmmakers a reason to force in some pop songs because, “Generic 3D Animated Kids Film.”  The rest of the cast is just forgettable, but Bratt takes the cake in terms of blandness.

The overall conflict is poorly done as well.  There are around 5 different plots the movie juggles, but they all conclude in rushed ways.  The most egregious of these being the main plot that sets the movie in motion.  I can’t tell you what it is exactly, but let me put it this way.  The third act of this movie is so rushed; they do not properly wrap up the main conflict.  There is no scene where we see the problem resolved, just one line of dialogue saying that everything is right as rain (I always loved that “tell don’t show” screenwriting technique!).  There’s also a subplot where the minions are on their own little adventure; it accomplishes nothing besides showcasing how pitiful the slapstick is.  If you’ll recall, Despicable Me had some pretty funny moments of physical violence.  This is because the characters moved somewhat realistically, and when they were hit with a hammer, crushed by the Moon, or blown up, they reacted accordingly.  It is APPALLING how ineffective the comedy in Despicable Me 3 is.  Throughout the entire runtime, this was my expression.  My final piece of evidence for the lack of effort is the Minion dialogue.  When watching the first film, it was interesting to see what words they would come up with.  Heck, there is a WIKI page for their language (“Minionese”).  To quote Channel Federator, “Minionese is a mix of: French, English, Italian, and Spanish with a hint of Korean and Russian tossed in.”  However, most of what the Minions say in this movie is either English or Spanish.  It’s almost like the writers gave up on their own fictional language.

I’m getting tired of this.  I wouldn’t care as much if Illumination’s first Oscar-nominated film wasn’t Despicable Me 2, and if they didn’t release the surprisingly entertaining Sing last year.  On one hand, I know they’re better than this, but on the other, Minions grossed over $1 billion, so why do they have to try anymore?  Don’t look at me like I haven’t been patient.  I like the first two Despicable Me movies (despite their many flaws), and I gave Minions a chance to prove itself.  Audiences, I urge you, skip this garbage (wait until DVD if you really want to see it) and watch a Pixar film instead.  Not only will you actually enjoy the experience, your kids won’t be dumber after watching it!  Despicable Me 3 gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a D+.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” Review

You know what?  I’ve been too hard on Sony.  Sure their films may be the worst excuses for cinematic entertainment this side of Happy Madison, but they built themselves up as an electronic manufacturer.  Heck, of the three different Blu-Ray players I’ve used, the fastest, least temperamental, and most reliable one was from Sony.  However, I’d be lying if I denied my enjoyment of watching them run around like chickens with their heads chopped off after a terrific three-punch combo of getting hacked in 2014, striking a deal with Marvel in 2015 (one that cancelled many Spider-Man projects), and releasing one of the biggest box office bombs in 2016 (Ghostbusters) while I listened to the La La Land soundtrack with Sony earbuds.  Bliss.  Anyways, today we are seeing the highly anticipated result of that Marvel deal, and I can happily report that this movie is decent.  Not an A, not great, not even that memorable, just decent.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is directed by Jon Watts and written by: Johnathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, and Erik Sommers.  Stars-Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jacob Batalon, Robert Downey Jr., Jon Favreau, and Zendaya.  After the events of Captain America: Civil War, young Peter Parker must responsibly balance his superhero life (in which a new threat has appeared) with his personal school life (where his relationships are crumbling).

Now that you’re properly making this face (and thus I have your attention), we can talk about another movie with a 90%+ Rotten Tomatoes rating that I don’t agree with.  Bottom line, Spider-Man: Homecoming is far better than its two predecessors, but in the end, I was left slightly disappointed.  I didn’t have any monstrous expectations for this movie (save for wanting it to be better than the Andrew Garfield flicks), but there were defiantly some distracting flaws.  Before I get into that, I need to give credit where credit is sorely due.

This movie passes the Politically Correct test (the one that made Ray a perfect, aka boring, character in The Force Awakens) by having a multiethnic cast.  And unlike in Beauty and the Beast (2017) where black people were casted as regular townsfolk (when in reality, a slavery system was well-established in France in the early 1700s), it works because present-day New York is wildly diversified.  Not only that, the cast is top-notch!  Tom Holland is thoroughly enjoying every single second of screentime he gets, and the supporting cast shines as well.  The best comedy in the film comes from the interplay between the characters; which is great because the rest of the humor is pretty stupid, as are some of the character decisions.  Seriously, you could make a compilation of characters saying that they should be discreet, and then immediately getting found out.  I can only tolerate a bunch of “supposedly” intelligent, secretive superheroes/agents discussing top secret information in an occupied high school bathroom, for so long

To make things worse, two of our main characters have crippling errors.  The first is Spider-Man himself, and his problem is that he’s invincible!  In the original Sam Raimi film (which is better than this movie for the record), whenever Spider-Man took a blow, you could tell it hurt.  During the final battle, he was almost beaten to death!  In this movie (in which Peter is still learning his powers), he gets knocked around, but the impact is nonexistent.  It’s almost like they used a CGI puppet whose outfit never takes damage, or looks even the slightest bit dirty.  It makes for some suspense-lacking action sequences.  The second poor character would be Michael Keaton’s Vulture.  While Keaton is great as always, his character is just another “common man” cliché, and he’s not interesting enough to make up for it.

In regards to the fight scenes, remember how inventive Raimi’s camerawork was in the original trilogy?  Well, shaky-cam and bland action set pieces are now a part of the Spider-Man canon.  These action scenes are very standard fare, which sucks because watching Spider-Man swinging around the skyscrapers of New York City should always look awe-inspiring.

Though I thrashed the living heck out of this movie, it is still an entertaining, funny, promising start to the newest interpretation of this character.  While writing this review, I realized that I held this movie up to Captain America: Civil War (as that was Spidey’s last appearance).  I love Civil War because it had complex characters, drama, and pure entertainment working together in perfect harmony.  Homecoming only has the latter, but it puts every ounce of effort into it.  After all, Spider-Man has always been very popular with younger audiences.  Hence why there was a greater focus on humor in the movie, it’s in an awkward high school setting, and there’s a lot of dialogue devoted to Tom Holland geeking out about his powers (take a shot every time he says “awesome”).  Taking this into account, Spider-Man: Homecoming is an enjoyable, if not safe, entry into the franchise and it gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B.

“Baby Driver” Review

Remember A Cure for Wellness (all 10 of you who saw it)?  An original thriller, from one of the most interesting directors working in the industry, whose trailer showed much promise but disappointed due to bad narrative choices?  The punchline is that Baby Driver is a major disappointment.

Baby Driver is written and directed by Edgar Wright.  Stars-Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Lily James, and Jamie Foxx.  Premise-Expert getaway driver Baby is forced into one last job before he can leave the business.  Unfortunately, there are many more distractions, dangers, and unforeseen variables this time.

In the same vain as A Cure for Wellness, I don’t like Baby Driver because of how amazing it could have been.  I realize I’ve said nothing about the actual movie yet, but this foundation needs to be set, otherwise you’ll not understand why I don’t like this movie as a whole, because it has a lot going for it.

For starters, Elgort is outstanding.  His graduation from the “teenage drama novel” genre is seamless as he can carry this movie purely through his subtle, but charming performance.  Another high point is the outstanding soundtrack!  You know how a lot of recent action movie trailers obnoxiously sync up punches, gunshots, etc., to their royalty free loud music?  Well, Mr. Wright somehow improved and transformed this concept into its own character.  Every song choice is accompanied by fast editing, cinematographer Bill Pope’s long takes, and Elgort jiving to them.  I know, this sounds like some “hip” car or iPod commercial, but it just works (I really cannot explain how, it just does).  Unfortunately, that’s where the positives end.

As I stumble my way through this misfire, be wary of the difference between wasted potential, and an actual bad thing about the film.  For example, wasted potential is found in the form of casting Kevin Spacey as the villain, but making every single line of his dialogue 1 of 2 things: a clichéd “bad guy boss” line, or something that makes him look like an idiot.  You could tell from the trailer that he was not to be messed with (“Your girlfriend’s cute.  Let’s keep it that way.”), but it’s never explained why the audience should be intimidated by him.  The most we get is that he has higher ups, and that’s a flimsy reason (he doesn’t even have bodyguards).  Not helping are some braindead decisions he makes.  Like hiring a crazy Jamie Foxx (whose temper and personality are an obvious liability) for simple bank robberies, and trusting his driver who is clearly not committed to the job.  On the other hand, an actual bad thing about the movie would be Baby’s babe (I’d tell you her character name, but I think it would be a spoiler, so we’ll just go with Lily James).  She has absolutely no character.  Aside from a fantasy of driving forever while listening to music, she is nothing but a nice piece of a** for Baby to fawn over so the plot can move forward.  These would be simple distractions if not for one more thing… this film gets worse and worse as it goes on.

I’m reminded of Bolt, a movie that also started with a fast-paced chase that left you begging for more.  Then it turned into a complex character piece with way more drama than the opening suggested.  The same effect happens with Baby Driver, only it’s not as original, not as funny, and doesn’t have John Travolta.  By comparison, the third act is something out of a Michael Bay film.  I’m not dreaming this up; there was a notable drop in the pacing, energy, and style.  The climax is especially terrible.  For starters, it doesn’t one-up the opening (which is a requirement for action films), it drags on and on, and the overall big brash explosiony angle they went with doesn’t belong with the rest of the movie.  The ending is arguably (if there was anyone who would argue it) even worse; mostly because, it’s so CHEESY.  I may sound whiny about this, but since the climax/ending, is what you remember the most when you leave the theater, it left a very sour taste in my mouth.

Is that a look of denial on your face?  Perhaps you’re thinking, “Who’s this talentless nobody?  How and why did I find his amateur blog and continue reading the first thing I saw?”  First, ouch.  Second, I felt a similar feeling of disbelief upon leaving the theater.  We’re talking about Edgar Wright here, who always delivers when he’s behind the camera, so I looked for reasons why this happened.  To my knowledge, there are no sources to confirm this, but I chalk the Hollywoodization up to the production company… Sony.  It wouldn’t be the first time they ruined a movie (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) with their childish insecurities of, “we have to make sequels!”  It also wouldn’t be the first time Edgar Wright was screwed over by a producer (Ant-Man).  I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I disagree with literally everyone when it comes to Baby Driver which gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C+.

My Thoughts On: “Wonder Woman”

Yeah, I posted a review on Thursday and a “my thoughts on” on Monday… moving on.  I figured that I should briefly talk about a movie that will definitely make it to every critic’s best of the year list.  Thankfully, I agree with everyone on the basis that this is the best movie (tied with Man of Steel in my opinion) in DC’s cinematic universe.  However, there are many things holding it back.

Most of my complaints lie within the story, which needed a few revisions.  For one, the whole movie is a flashback started with narration (two of the most overused storytelling techniques of modern time), and the first third is exposition-overdosed.  Also, the lore and message is very confused.  The movie goes to great lengths beating you over the head with its mythology, but the message (which is handled well) kinda fights against the mythology.  Honestly, I wouldn’t mind so much if it didn’t sit in the back of my mind when the epic action sequences (accompanied by some outstanding music) and fun character interactions are taking place.  The movie walks a fine line between fighting for feminism, and being sexist.  For example, all the male characters are introduced as stereotypes, whereas all the women (aka, the Amazons and a useless comic relief) are portrayed like Zeus’ gift to a world dominated by sexist, violent, pervy, one-note idiots.  Thank real God, Patty Jenkins gives all of her characters more dimension as they spend time together and become friends.  Eat that 2016 Ghostbusters.

Despite its shortcomings, I actually experienced something that I haven’t yet felt in a DC movie… pure enjoyment.  Each DC movie has its moments, but Wonder Woman managed to bring out my inner 9 year-old, and considering the last superhero movie to accomplish this was Captain America: Civil War (which had much more going for it), you can color me as one satisfied customer.  Wonder Woman gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B+.

“Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” Review

Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry!  While I could annoy you with excuses reasons as to why it took me over 2 weeks to publish a review (like realizing that the seats at my new AMC get booked really fast), that would be weak and unprofessional.  Instead, I’ll talk about my firsthand exposure to the horror of… pre-movie commercials!  I drastically overestimated how long it would take me to get to this matinee, so I had about 40 minutes of filler to sit though before the movie actually started.  Now, I’m not talking about the trailers for movies that will play in a theater, I’m talking about those ads that air when you’re taking a pee-break from PBS.  Lo and behold, I’m stuck in a scratchy chair, without the use of my phone because I ran out of data, and the commercials are unbearably generic.  All except for the one where I got to see Mark Wahlberg talk to Gumball Waterson.  That was fun.  Once the nightmares concluded, I could finally be treated to one of the most potentially-abhorrent adaptations of all time.  Let’s begin.

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is directed by David Soren and written by Nicholas Stoller and David Soren.  Stars: Thomas Middleditch, Kevin Hart, Ed Helms, and Jordan Peele.  Premise-The lives of two joke-making schoolkids are forever changed when they hypnotize their mean principal into becoming Captain Underpants (a superhero the boys created for their comics).

Remember when Blue Sky Studios released The Peanuts Movie 2 years ago?  It was an adaptation of a classic source material meant for children, animated in energetic 3D, everyone thought it would suck, and by a miracle from heaven, it was actually good.  Well, DreamWorks seems to have taken a few notes from the most forgettable animation company of modern time and the result is a thoroughly passable venture.  I love Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants novels.  Clever humor, satirical storytelling, and a thorough understanding of the spirit of childhood.  When I first heard the mere idea of a film adaptation, I could not fathom how they could stretch the stories into 90 minutes.  Then again, The Peanuts Movie did it right, let’s see how Captain Underpants accomplished this.

The first thing I must praise is the voice-acting.  While Middleditch sounds way too old to voice a 9 year old (Harold), Kevin Hart actually changed his voice for this role (unlike in Secret Life of Pets).  Also, Jordan Peele is excellent (he voices a white kid, and I couldn’t tell it was him), and Ed Helms’s energy as the hero is impossible to resist.  What’s better is that the animation brings each of these characters to life.  You guys know I’m not that big a fan of 3D, but its best uses are with adaptions like Wreck-It Ralph, The Peanuts Movie, The Angry Birds Movie.  The character designs are perfect, and the fast-paced writing allows for some entertaining slapstick and visual gags.

When it comes to the story… eh, it’s hard to talk about.  In regards to my question about how they could get 90 minutes out of a book with less than 150 pages, the writers attempted to combine the first, second, and fourth novels.  I say attempted, because the narrative is very disjointed.  If you never read the books, it’ll be less distracting, but certain scenes felt out of leftfield.  There are also a few terribly-sung musical numbers (I get the point, but Middleditch can’t sing), and there are a few clichés that grate on you.  Despite this, the writing is actually more intelligent than you’d expect.  This movie has an unholy amount of self-awareness.  There are just as many jokes for adults as there are for the kids.  And by “adult jokes” I don’t mean gross sex puns, or obnoxious stereotypes (the ones that made The Angry Birds Movie so unfunny), I mean self-referential humor that pokes fun at clichés of the genre.  Obviously, this wasn’t done as well as say, The Lego Batman Movie, but it is no less appreciated here.  Above all, the show knows it’s for kids.  There are a few fourth wall jokes here and there when the characters talk directly to the kids in the audience.  Wouldn’t you know it; the children in the theater loved it.

Alright, another one bites the dust.  I hope you enjoyed this review, because I recommend it to anyone with kids or fond memories of the novels.  Heck, I wrote a book report on this series a few years back, and I can comfortably say that I enjoyed watching an animated, middle-aged man parade around in his underpants for 90 minutes.  More reviews coming soon!  Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B.