Author: guysgurugrades

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

My Thoughts On: “Den of Thieves”

While I’m working on in-depth reviews of Call Me by Your Name and The 15:17 to Paris (the latter of which is terrible), I’m writing shorter reviews of other flicks I saw.  Thanks to MoviePass, which you should get if you watch more than two movies a month, I don’t have to worry about ticket prices so I can see every single movie I want to without breaking the bank.  One of these movies I watched for fun was Den of Thieves, a heist thriller following a tough cop (Gerard Butler) and a group of professional thieves.

The greatest fault of Den of Thieves is that it takes itself too seriously.  What I like about the movie are the cool action sequences and Butler’s no-filter performance.  Unfortunately, it tries to recreate the hardcore drama of great heist flicks like Heat, which was great because of its thorough dedication to completing every character’s story arc (hence the three-hour runtime).  Den of Thieves focused too much on character drama, Butler has to deal with family issues but they never resolve it, and not enough time on thrills.

Nothing particularly stands out in this movie besides Butler, who can be found eating something in most of his scenes, and a plot twist that didn’t need to be there.  I think it was an attempt to make the movie stand out.  That said, these scenes revolving around family and drama are distracting at best and awkward at worst.  Throughout these scenes, at least we have Butler fully encompassing the obsessed cop who plays by his own rules.  He really does like smoking, eating, drinking, chewing, and spitting in this movie.  I think he pulled it off, but others might not.

In the end, it is the exciting action scenes that make this movie worth a watch.  It won’t leave you with any emotions or things to talk about: and that’s perfectly fine.  Den of Thieves is a passable action flick with enough 80s testosterone to keep you invested.  It gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B-.  Hey, if you want a bad heist thriller, watch the overly-convoluted Triple 9.

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Top Ten Best Movies of 2017

Last year was garbage, some positive nonsense about things getting better; here are some good movies that slipped through the sewage of 2017’s film industry.

Rules: This list contains movies from 2017 that I have watched in their entirety.  Whether I reviewed them or not doesn’t matter (I’ve linked the original reviews to each movie on the list however). The grades I gave them in their reviews are irrelevant; it is a comparison of the best movies I saw.  Only theatrical releases, with the exception of Netflix originals, are permitted.  In the event that you find yourself disagreeing with any of my choices, please see yourself to the comment section and let me know what your favorites are (believe it or not, I like when people respond to my content).

#10 – Coco

A great step forward in mainstream animation, Coco may be built on a cliché, but the overall story, characters, themes, and music were anything but.  Quite honestly, this movie is better than Zootopia because it took more risks.  They may have been very safe risks, but I appreciate any 3D animated film that tries anything different nowadays.

 

#9 – It

We begin with the best horror movie of 2017, this well-produced film interpretation of Stephen King’s famous novel.  From the actors, to the set pieces, to the terror, effort was put into every aspect of this flick.  I was legitimately creeped out in many scenes, and Bill Skarsgård truly rocked as Pennywise.  I greatly look forward to what comes next.  Thank God this film came out not too soon after The Dark Tower.

 

#8 – John Wick: Chapter 2

Remember this brutally action-packed thrill ride?  Watching the fight choreography in a John Wick movie is like… I don’t know, something awesome!  Just thinking about Wick taking down multiple assassins in the span of five minutes makes me watch to rewatch it.  Few modern action movies have the right amount of intelligence and 80s coolness, but John Wick: Chapter 2 managed to one-up its predecessor in every regard and the audience was greatly rewarded because of that.

 

#7 – Get Out

As glad as I am that the Academy recognized this film, all it truly deserves is Best Original Screenplay.  Ever since 2016’s racism fiasco, we’ll have to deal with the Academy’s trying to cover-up with excess nominations towards minorities.  That said, Get Out is still a creative mystery with an avalanche of memorable performances.  It’s definitely one of the more entertaining movies centered around racism, albeit very elaborate racism.  Honestly, that’s why it made the list, watching this movie is an unforgettable experience.  The wacky tone and even more wacky acting kept things interesting even during the slow parts.

 

#6 – Wind River

The award snubbing of this powerhouse of human drama and chilling thrills is straight up sinful.  Taylor Sheridan’s directorial debut is just as nuanced as his writing style.  Every conversation in this movie felt so natural.  Add a backdrop that is rarely scene on the big screen and one satisfying climax, then you have an A movie.  If Dances with Wolves was about Native Americans pre-colonization, then Wind River is about Native Americans post-colonization.  Honestly, it’s a shame that our treatment of the indigenous people really hasn’t changed in over 1,000 years.  Makes you think doesn’t it?

 

#5 – Split

Now we’re getting into my favorites, the absolute best of 2017.  Leave it to M. Night Shyamalan, one of pop culture’s most abused walking punchlines, to strike back with a crowd-pleasing thriller… with a twist!  Sure, the whole child-molestation thing was a bit awkward to watch in a movie about James McAvoy hamming it up, but the film remains entertaining and original (like any great Shyamalan flick).  On the subject of Mr. McAvoy, he deserved that nomination over Daniel Day-Lewis.  I said it, and I meant it.  Phantom Thread was passable, but extremely boring and the ending was really unsatisfying.  That film’s biggest fault was not giving Day-Lewis a role that only he could pull off.  He’s known for his character acting right?  It’s what won him three Oscars, but Phantom Thread is one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s less artsy works, and there is little for the cast to work with.  Needless tangents aside, I might actually ascend to Heaven when Glass is released.

 

#4 – Dunkirk

Of course the Nolan film made it into the top five.  What else did you expect?  Seriously though, Dunkirk has very few flaws.  I can look past the “weak” story since the film was more of an experience of the senses rather than the mind.  The production was flawless.  The one thing that still irks me was the decision not to directly address the Nazis as Nazis.  Whatever the reason, it’s still wrong.  If there is one thing that history needs it is clarity and context.  This is what kept it from being higher on the list.  Even so, the direction is what makes this film great.  With the exception of Inception, Dunkirk showcases Nolan at his best as a director.  I could praise the heck out of it for hours, but the real argument is the film itself.  Seriously people, if he doesn’t win Best Director over Guillermo del Toro, because we know he’s the main competitor, I WILL FLIP MY LID!  So yeah, it’s a good movie.

 

#3 – Logan

The first comic book movie to be nominated for Best Writing: incredible.  It’s hard to explain how intense this movie is.  Logan makes Deadpool’s use of the R rating look like an immature student film.  The action sequences were violent and tough, the actors were giving their all, and the movie took risks.  Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Thor: Ragnarok were both funny and exciting, but they both followed many modern Marvel movie clichés.  I’ve made it clear that comic book movies are growing very stale for me (Spiderman: Homecoming left so little of an impact that I forgot I even watched it), they needed to start killing off characters to recapture my interest.  What do you know, James Mangold read my mind, as he thought up a fitting ending for Wolverine, presented it to Marvel, and they let him run with it.  Logan felt like a story that had a clear start and end.  Obviously there was a backstory and possibly a future for some characters, but the opening and ending shots made it clear that this story would be its own.  Logan is awesome and the best superhero movie since The Dark Knight.

 

#2 – Call Me by Your Name

I didn’t even know this movie existed until the Golden Globe nominations were announced (one of the reasons why awards are important).  Of course, once I read up about overwhelmingly positive audience reactions, I had to see it myself.  Wow.  Everything about this movie is beautiful: the chemistry, the actors, the Italian setting, the actors, the music, the actors, the natural relationship dynamics, the actors, you get the point.  Since I’m going to give this masterpiece a formal review, I’ll leave you with my absolute recommendation that you should see this movie as soon as possible.  Call Me by Your Name is one emotional roller coaster that stays with you long after watching it.

 

Honorable Mentions

  • The Post

The movie is really slow for the first two thirds, but the second that third act shows up, the greatness is realized in powerful acting, smart dialogue, and tense decision-making.

It’s pretty, emotional, and weird, but the acting is what really sells it.  Take that away and you’re left with a gender-bent version of Splash.

This one was just really entertaining.

Sam Elliot’s powerhouse performance carries this movie, not to say it doesn’t have any depth or humanity without him.

I wasn’t kidding.  If the torture-porn doesn’t scare you away, you’ll find a beautifully-shot mystery with enough interesting ideas to keep your attention.

Wholly original and from the point-of-view from one of America’s many cultural minorities.  It’s funny, heartfelt, and memorable.

Exciting, well-acted, and interesting.

  • I, Tonya

The acting is fantastic, the dark humor works, and I really can’t stand this movie.  Hear me out, I, Tonya is a good movie, but it is extremely depressing.  To quote a friend of mine, “Why would I watch movies that depress me when life is depressing enough?”  Simply put, it’s not for me.

  • Lady Bird

A strong script combined with a mostly-young cast make this coming-of-age story an interesting look at life.

Both The Boss Baby and Ferdinand were nominated over this exciting adventure flick.  You know what, I’m just going to let this one go.  The Academy has made worse mistakes.  Still, the animation was great, the voice actors were having a blast, and the humor was (mostly) on-point.

  • Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman is magnificent!  The production (makeup, music, sets, camerawork, etc.) is near-perfect, but the story lacks a consistent tone.  The Tube scene in particular was a good idea, but it came off as really cheesy.

 

#1 – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This movie is such a powerhouse of filmmaking.  It is the very reason why I love the art of cinema.  Martin McDonough handles so many complex themes, it’s kinda ridiculous.  There really is nothing to hate about Three Billboards because everything about the production is so strong.  I wish I could give more praise to this film, but all I can do is say there is no flaw I could find.  I may like Call Me by Your Name more, subsequently I could talk about it for a longer amount of time, but Three Billboards is simply the best picture of the year.  I watched every single nominee, there is no argument.

 

I don’t have anything more to add.  As I finish writing this, it’s past my bedtime so I’m going to sleep.  Stay positive!

Top Ten Worst Movies of 2017

For the longest time, I fought off the reality and tried to remain optimistic, but when things really went downhill for me, I couldn’t deny it any longer.  It’s difficult trying to explain what I went through when I don’t want to tell you exactly what has been going on.  This isn’t a vlog channel: I don’t get too personal in my reviews.  Just know that my life has drastically changed.  It’s overwhelming, arduous and exhausting.  Nevertheless, I continued to visit the theater.  Through it all, few things remained faithful; God, my family, and watching movies.

In that pitch-black auditorium, a few rows from the front so I have my space, my life fades away for an hour or two: replaced by a giant screen that demands my attention and sounds that make the seats vibrate.  I get to watch other’s lives/stories as they encounter happiness and challenges, love and heartache.  Sometimes it’s very moving, most times it’s just par for the course.  One thing never changes though; my confused, young mind can focus on one thing for a while.  This is a feeling that I crave, to the point of almost feeling sorrowful when it’s time to leave.  Now you know one of my primary reasons for watching movies, they are an escape like no other for me.  The films below are the 10 least pleasant moviegoing experiences I had last year.  Not because of a rowdy audience member, or too much salt on my popcorn, it’s that what I paid for turned out to be garbage.

Rules: This list contains movies from 2017 that I have watched in their entirety.  Whether I reviewed them or not doesn’t matter (I’ve linked the original reviews to each movie on the list however). The grades I gave them in their reviews do not matter; it is a comparison of the worst movies I saw.  Only theatrical releases, with the exception of Netflix originals, are permitted.  Of course, you will not agree 100 percent with my choices, and that’s OK: there were plenty of stinkers I didn’t get to see or just didn’t make the cut.  Enjoy the rage!

 

#10 – The Dark Tower

What do you call a bad Stephen King adaptation without the goofiness or awkward acting to make it worth watching?  The answer is this fantastical misfire.  Though Maximum Overdrive, Silver Bullet, and Cell are not good movies, they are at least entertaining.  With the exception of Matthew McConaughey (who seemed to be the only one onscreen who was enjoying himself), the entire production was bland, underdeveloped, and forgettable.

On a side note, I watched The Shawshank Redemption (a much more acclaimed Stephen King movie) last month.  Holy crap, it just might be the greatest film of all time!  I’ll eventually do a review of it, but I encourage everyone to watch it.  No, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, quite the opposite in fact, but it is the quintessential movie for those who are in a bad situation and need a message of hope.  I think I can speak for everyone who had a trashy 2017 in saying that we need a reminder that even the worst circumstances imaginable cannot truly destroy hope.

 

#9 – Life

Here’s a movie that deserves to be forgotten.  Looking back, perhaps I was a bit too angry after watching it; I must have thought I was really funny too.  Still, the screenplay was pretty clumsy.  The overdone characters, an unnecessary twist, and a tone which took itself a bit too seriously made Life one annoying movie to get through.

 

#8 – Despicable Me 3

The second I start to allow the, “It’s just for kids” excuse to be a rational reason for why 90% of animated movies are manic, 3D, and annoying, is the second I stop being a film critic.  Illuminati Entertainment makes the same movie over and over again, with the results being less rewarding each time.  Minions was terrible, but I knew I’d get nothing out of it.  Despicable Me 3 had actual characters and one of the South Park guys: I expected something.  All they did was up the stupidity, annoyance, and nonsense.

 

#7 – Alien: Covenant

What’s worse than a movie that treats its child audience like idiots?  A movie that treats its adult audience like idiots.  Alien 6 (that’s four more than necessary people), uses every horror cliché in the book and doesn’t have the characters, action, or coolness to distract you from its faults.  I really don’t look forward to watching whatever sequels are spawned from this mess.  At least All the Money in the World was decent.

 

#6 – Justice League

As typical with every DC movie after Watchmen, the more brain power you use while thinking about them reveals more problems than before.  I tried everyone: I tried.  As the idiocy unfolded throughout my viewing experience, I kept telling myself it would get better, or have a fine payoff.  No such things happened.  Instead, I was treated to Jar Jar Miller and a whole lot of plotholes.  It’s embarrassing to watch so much miscommunication between everyone in the production team.  I don’t think Ben Affleck’s movie resume from 2003/2004 lacked as much onscreen chemistry as Justice League did!  The only thing that keeps this wreck out of the top five is the fact that Wonder Woman came out the same year.  Even then, that movie wasn’t spectacular, let alone Best Picture worthy.

 

#5 – Fifty Shades Darker

Here’s a movie that must be on everyone’s worst list on principle alone.  I think it was more focused than its predecessor, but the writing was just horrendous.  I don’t know whose idea it was to add 57 subplots, none of which had to do with sex, to a movie that only needed to be one hour long instead of two.  The cast struggles to get through their scenes, a putrid soundtrack, and no lasting impact aside from disdain made this one a chore to get through.

 

#4 – The Circle

Almost a whole year went by since I saw this movie, and I don’t think I’ve grown any more intelligent in the matters of technology or the arguments for and against privacy in modern times.  What hasn’t changed is my hatred for this film which couldn’t create a compelling argument if it tried.  The entire cast was wasted, the runtime nearly put me to sleep, and as far as I know, there are no golf ball cameras in my bedroom so I don’t think I learned anything.  Honestly, most of the film’s problems would be fixed if it took itself less seriously.  That entire chase scene was the epitome of “jumping the shark.”

 

#3 – The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature

Eventually I’ll overdose on crappy kids movies, but until then, this mishmash of immature jokes, unlikable characters, and overdone plotlines is the third worst movie of 2017.  There’s a reason why the phrase, “Who asked for this?” exists.  How can someone of average intelligence choose this film over something like Kung Fu Panda, which has charm, wit, and great action?  Heck, it even has plenty of immature humor and colorful animation.  Not even Sing was as child-pandering as this Nut Job 2, and I actually enjoyed Sing!

 

#2 – Monster Trucks

Speaking of kids films that have less intelligence than kids themselves, here is the dumbest movie of 2017.  Yes, I know IMDb says it was released in 2016, but the original release year was 2015 and kept getting pushed back to 2017.  In the review I said that Monster Trucks wasn’t offensive, just insanely stupid.  Though I stand by that comment, scientists still have yet to figure out how so many intelligent human beings came together to make something so moronic.  Perhaps not enough detail went into that review: I facepalmed so many times throughout watching the movie.  The actors either didn’t care or had no idea what to do, the plot was almost a nonentity, and the characters had no depth.  Every so often a movie comes along that leaves such a little impact that it is forgotten almost instantly.  Aside from some reviews, the movie bombed financially, and no one has mentioned it since.

 

Dishonorable Mentions

The more we encourage Disney’s utterly useless live-action remakes, the less inclined they will be to try something NEW.  Be that as it may, Beauty and the Beast is a well-presented, but emotionally lifeless heap of bad musical numbers.  There was something I didn’t talk about in the review: LeFou.  If you didn’t already know, Disney made a big deal about this character being their first gay character in a film.  The problem is that I didn’t even know it was LeFou when I watched the movie.  Honestly, I spent a while wondering how I missed that, but it was made clear when I watched this video by CellSpex (which does bear a striking resemblance to a post I made 10 days earlier).  She said, “When it [a character’s sexual orientation] needs to be confirmed behind-the-scenes to be evident, it’s just another way of keeping LGBTQ characters in closets.”  That one quote completely exposes Beauty and the Beast for the fake that it is.  Unfortunately, everyone watched it and now Disney owns 20th Century Fox and has even more re-fakes in production.  God help us.

Unfunny and tedious.

Proper social commentary ≠ 140 uncomfortable minutes of racism and brutality.  This film does little else besides showcasing humanity at its worst: if I wanted to see that, I’d watch the news.

Bloated, overlong, and exhausting to watch.  Its predecessor had the right amount of charm and fun to fall back on when things got crazy.  The Golden Circle favors treating the audience to a POV shot of a CGI vagina.

This movie will also be in the honorable mentions on the best list.  As the year went on, this movie kept popping up in my mind.  As needlessly disgusting as this movie got, it had plenty of redeeming qualities.  I went back-and-forth on whether it deserved a spot on either lists, but I settled for mentions.

 

#1 – The Emoji Movie

Out of sheer curiosity, and a little bit of contempt, I read all 10 (out of 108) fresh reviews this movie got on Rotten Tomatoes.  One guy gave it a 2/5 so I don’t know how that equals “positive,” another required me to subscribe to their newspaper in order to read the review, three of them are in Spanish, one took me to a blank page, Common Sense Media more or less judges movies based on how little they will challenge your kids so I don’t count their opinions, a senior critic noted how bland it was while trying to keep an optimistic view, and the last two people actually praised it!  To them, it’s clever, very funny, well-animated, and “an allegory that can be read on multiple levels from the political to the religious, a rare attempt by Hollywood to come to grips with the online world…”  I’m sorry Jake Wilson, but that simply isn’t true.  Then again these guys could be writing this sarcastically, but that’s difficult to get across with just words.  In any case, the movie still blows.

Look man, there are no amount of words that can describe how evil this movie really is.  In fact, I’d have to write a 2,000-word opinion piece if I truly wanted to cover everything wrong with this movie.  Since I’d rather leave this piece of crap in the crap year that spawned it, watch this review.  Mr. Enter does a better job of summarizing both the objective and subjecting things wrong with the entire film than I do.  Whatever respect I had left for Sony’s visual media department was murdered by this tortuous movie.  The entire point of this movie is to sell a product, aka make Sony more money, and I cannot ever forgive that.

I pray to God that no company tries to pull a stunt like this ever again.  Keep in mind, human beings who eat, sleep, and breathe like you and I sat down and decided to make a movie that mocks the audience it tries to sell to.  The Emoji Movie is a pandering, insulting, sexist, clichéd, predictable, annoying, lazily-animated, sinister, useless, obnoxious, unfunny, dated, empty, stupid, sewer system filled with the most puke-inducing swill that humanity could possibly create.  It’s one of the worst movies ever made and may everyone who is unfortunate enough to know its existence be made wise as to try a bit harder in their own respective work.

And that is that on that.  I hope you guys enjoyed this extraordinarily late list.  I have gained a slightly more realistic outlook on life, and while I don’t expect 2018 to be amazing, it simply cannot be as bad as 2017 unless the nuclear holocaust happens.

Every 2017 Movie I Haven’t Reviewed

It’s no secret that my content was lacking the second half of last year.  I’ve made it clear that school takes top priority and things have been super difficult for me.  What I haven’t told you is that I’ve been seeing movies weekly and taken several notes in hopes of writing full reviews for each film.  After multiple attempts at writing said reviews, and failing to complete any of them, it became apparent that I had to attack from a different angle.

Today, I present short and sweet paragraph-long reviews of every movie that I haven’t properly talked about.  These mini-reviews will be in no particular order.  After all, I still plan on making full lists for the best and worst of the year, so I’ll save my time for those.  Jeez, I’m going to be cycling through half the emotional scale in this one post.

Justice League

The lowest expectations in the world couldn’t stop this movie from being a major letdown.  Come on DC, at this point you have thoroughly exhausted your allowed number of second chances and continue to pump out shoddy, poorly-executed nonsense.  No, Justice League does not get a free pass just because it’s not as boring as Batman v Superman or as genuinely awful as Suicide Squad.  The best way to describe it would be a prototype of a decent Marvel movie.  All the ingredients (lighthearted tone, interesting worldbuilding, sequel-baiting, forgettable villain, etc.) are there, but everything falls apart under awkward acting and confused direction.  Also, Henry Cavill’s CGI face was superbly uncanny. D

American Made

Following a style similar to The Big Short and War Dogs, American Made is another “based on a true story” film about some small-time American stumbling upon a serious amount of cash.  It’s definitely too long and I didn’t like Tom Cruise’s accent (though his performance is acceptable), but it’s not too bad.  Worth a watch if you’re into less brainy. political dramas. C+

It

This is one of the greatest horror movies of the decade.  Not only does It capture the spirit of Stephen King’s writing, but it makes the necessary updates and changes pay off.  Bill Skarsgård shines as Pennywise (the new character design is great as well), the budget is well-utilized in the F/X, and the characters are fun to watch.  It’s the rare remake that not only improves upon the original, but was necessary in the first place.  Much effort was put into this movie, and I have great respect for the filmmakers because of that. A-

The Shape of Water

There politically correct 2017; you have a gender-bent version of Splash, happy?  In all seriousness, Guillermo del Toro delivers a very artsy fantasy film with a simplistic message at the center.  The premise is indeed ridiculous, but the movie takes its time developing the characters and it engages the audience.  I want to acknowledge the incredible acting talent on display here.  Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, and Octavia Spencer bring their unique acting talents to this production and it’s worth watching just for them. The only thing I take issue with is the ending, which felt like a cop out. B+

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

This movie tries one-upping its predecessor many times, and it always results in a gratuitous scene that could have been edited down.  Not helping is the overabundance of unnecessary characters (and the even more unnecessary cameos) taking up space.  The villain is weak, the action sequences are too goofy (I know that’s the style, but does the movie expect me to leave my brain at home before I go to the theater?), the humor is very hit-and-miss and the runtime is 30 minutes too long.  Of course, I must mention the resurrection of Colin Firth’s Harry Hart which brings along the amnesia cliché, a lack of suspense (when you do a false-death, it takes away all suspension of disbelief) and more wasted time. I left the theater feeling dumber and cheated. C-

Bright

It’s an entertaining “run the gauntlet” film, a movie where the protagonists have to fight through multiple battles in a short amount of time to get from point A to point B, that takes place in a short amount of time.  I’m a sucker for movies written like this: The Warriors, Commando, 12 Angry Men, Die Hard, the list goes on.  We get some good performances from Will Smith and Joel Edgerton, and the fantasy elements are interesting enough.  Granted, this movie could have cut back slightly on the social commentary and focused more on thrills (it gets pretty pointless after a while). B-

Ferdinand

On the way to the theater, I made it clear to my friend that, “All I want is some innocent entertainment: it doesn’t have be to Coco.”  Yet, all it took was the Blue Sky Studios logo to realize that a typically obnoxious, annoying, forgettable, bland movie is what I would get.  Obvious jokes (there is a literal “bull in a china shop” scene), annoying characters, an extremely predictable plot, lowbrow humor, and in-your-face camerawork, probably for the cheap 3D version, abound.  Honestly, all I need to prove my point is this still image from the movie.  I’m sorry you had to see that.  To be fair, John Powell’s score is great and John Cena’s voice acting is pretty good. C-

Wind River

Taylor Sheridan is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers currently working in film.  After earning a nomination from all major award academies, Sheridan made his directorial debut with Wind River, a mystery/thriller set in a Native American reservation.  In usual Sheridan fashion, the movie gets better and better as it goes on and every   single   character is fully developed and important to the story (why does that seem like a difficult task for most of Hollywood?).  Along for the ride are Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen, both giving incredible performances.  What stuck with me was one of the best third acts in recent memory and a poignant message that acts as a modern Dances with Wolves.  It’s well-worth your time and brain power. A-

Split

For all three of you who saw my Twitter reactions after seeing Split in the theater, I apologize for never getting that review out.  Simply put, I wanted to do a spoiler-free review and a spoiler-filled review, but then I wanted to do a whole M. Night Shyamalan Month thing, and I could never focus after that.  In any case, Split is fantastic!  I won’t go into spoilers (even though it is a whole year after-the-fact and you probably know the ending already), but let it be known that I love the twist and cannot be more excited.  Taking the twist out of the equation, Split is still an excellent thriller with Oscar-worthy performances from James McAvoy and Betty Buckley.  The script (mostly) makes sense, the humor works, and it boasts creative cinematography and plenty of suspense.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable viewing experience. A-

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

I’m calling it, this one will win Best Picture.  Martin McDonaugh’s script packs more punches than any other movie made last year.  Frances McDormand gives yet another emotionally compelling performance (she is the queen of playing characters who are mothers), Sam Rockwell is finally given a character who he can truly give depth to, and the supporting cast is just as good.  It’s one of the finest examples of filmmaking this decade: intelligent, funny, interesting, and full of real-life drama. A

Coco

Why yes, I did see Pixar’s newest movie and boy was I impressed.  Not only did the filmmakers completely dedicate themselves to learning about Mexico’s culture and traditions towards Dia de los Muertos, but they also had a strong story to build around it.  In Coco, themes of death, unforgiving, love & loss, tradition, and music are explored in a way that children can understand without dumbing down the messages.  Sure, it’s still a Pixar movie about two characters that don’t initially get along going on an adventure, with goofy animal comic relief and brightly colored 3D animation, but it’s an enjoyable one. A-

Molly’s Game

Aaron Sorkin’s directing style is just as fast, intellectual, and complicated as his writing style.  Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba are incredible to watch and they are given great material to work with.  I have no idea how betting or card games work, but this movie makes an effort to explain things while treating its audience with intelligence.  Molly’s Game juggles many themes and ideas, but it is very well-handled. B+

The Greatest Showman

It’s alright.  Solid production, fun, albeit too many, musical numbers, energetic cast, very predictable story.  There isn’t much else to say. B

Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

I hate The Force Awakens.  I like Rogue One.  I really like The Last Jedi!  This unnecessarily continued franchise is getting better and better, hopefully the next one can actually stand next to the greatness of the original trilogy.  Of course, The Last Jedi isn’t perfect; Finn and Rose’s subplot could have been removed entirely, the runtime is too long, and there are some inconsistencies/plotholes scattered throughout.  That aside, the action scenes were intense, Rey actually had flaws as a character (and her interactions with Kylo were great), and Luke Skywalker’s evolution as a character provided excellent drama.  Oh yeah, the hyperdrive scene was AWESOME! B

The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature

Please judge me for watching this pile of trash.  I mean it, maybe if enough people call me an idiot, I’ll stop torturing myself with these stupid 3D, animated kids’ movies. Ugh, in any case, Nut Job 2 is exactly what you’d expect whether or not you even saw the first one (which is undeniably one of the worst kids movies ever made).  Calling this movie an improvement over its predecessor isn’t saying much.  Honestly, they are interchangeable.  The main hero is unlikable, selfish, and lazy, the villains are extremely one-dimensional, and the humor is horrible.  This film thinks it’s really funny, but the jokes are just really cringey and overdone.  The plot is scene-by-scene levels of predictable, and the animation, while not the worst, is very cheap.  The color palette is very bland and they copy-past character models way too many times.  The final nail in the coffin was voice acting that sounds like the actors were falling asleep in the recording booth.  There are thousands of great stories out there that deserve a mass audience, yet this piece of trash got seven production companies to fund it (not including a Blue Diamond product placement). D

Fifty Shades Darker

I watched both Fifty Shades movies with a friend purely so we could laugh at them.  Unfortunately, they were worse than expected.  If anything, Fifty Shades of Grey was boring!  Too much plot, disinterested acting, unsexy sex scenes, and lighting that makes it difficult to see anything.  Honestly, I laughed more at my friend’s savage hatred of the movie than the infamously-funny lines the movie supposedly took from its source material.  Fifty Shades Darker was an improvement over the previous one.  I think I may be the only one who has this opinion, but hear me out.  By eliminating the back-and-forth nonsense, Anastasia and Christian were able to show some form of desire for each other.  Unfortunately, they added a fake-out death (my favorite cliché), attempted sexual assault, mental manipulation, and attempted murder: which, as we all know, belongs in any competent softcore porn.  Director James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross, Who’s That Girl) may have crafted a better sequel, but it’s still very lacking. D+

            There you have it.  Of course, I plan on seeing many others before the Academy Awards show airs, so don’t be too surprised when I eventually get my best & worst lists out.  In the meantime, Happy Late New Year!

‘Murder on the Orient Express:’ all style, no substance

*This was my last assignment for The Examiner.  It’ll probably be the last review you see for awhile.  Not only do I have finals week powering towards me like the Orient Express itself, but I have some personal things to work through which take a lot of my energy (so please be patient).  If I don’t get the chance again to say this, have a Merry Christmas!*

 

Hollywood has a serious problem with excessive remakes, if the recent fad of live-action Disney remakes is anything to go by, but when I first heard of a “Murder on the Orient Express” remake, I was excited. The original 1974 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel was OK. The actors (particularly Albert Finney’s charismatic performance as the lead) were entertaining and the mystery was interesting. However, I greatly disliked the beginning and ending. It took a while for the plot to get moving and the resolution, while original and clever, made the rest of the film feel overly-complex.

Flash-forward 43 years and multi-talented British artist Sir Kenneth Branagh brings us his interpretation of the classic book. Is it worth seeing?  Well, yes and no. We’ve got a complicated one today.

“Murder on the Orient Express” (2017) is written by Michael Green and directed by Branagh. Set in the 1930s, impeccable detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) seeks a vacation from solving crimes so he sets to board the Orient Express on its way to France. Much to his horror, a violent murder of one of the train’s passengers was committed overnight and the train is blocked by snow the next morning. Now Poirot must solve the mystery before the train is cleared and the murder can escape… or kill another passenger.

There are many things this movie does right, but there are many more it does wrong.  Branagh shines as Poirot and I haven’t seen better casting for Johnny Depp since “Rango” in 2011. However the rest of the cast, try as they might, never seem to reach their full potential (with the exception of Michelle Pfeiffer).

The movie is presented very well. Creative camerawork, grand music and sleek sets/costumes recreate a bygone era and it’s cool to see. Unfortunately, the movie is not as engaging on a story level.

While the opening scene felt somewhat cartoony, the tone changes from lighthearted and intriguing to dead serious and sad. The second half of the movie felt entirely different that the first. I don’t mind a comedic murder mystery (“Clue” is probably the best example of that subgenre), but the tone should be the same throughout. Otherwise you end up with a movie that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be.

As far as what they changed from the original, not too much. The characters are largely the same, the ending is the same (sadly) and I was left with the same unsatisfied feeling I had with the original. Both movies put too much stock in the climax (when the killer is revealed) and not nearly enough with making the characters fun to watch. Granted, they could be worse, but there is almost no rewatchability with these movies.

At the most, they added a few completely unnecessary action sequences and an additional twist which could have been cut completely. As much as I don’t want to say this, there was much more effort behind this movie than most remakes, there is no reason for this film to exist. Not even Branagh’s awesome mustache can save it.

I believe every mystery should warrant a second viewing so the audience can see what they missed or how the killer did it. Such was not the case for this remake. “Murder on the Orient Express” (2017) had just enough wit, flashy visuals and intrigue to keep my attention, but only just.

Murder on the Orient Express gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C+.

‘Thor: Ragnarok;’ an energetic, hilarious crowd-pleaser

*I would have published this review first, as it’s undoubtedly the most popular of all the movies I reviewed for The Examiner.  However, I like order, and this was the second-to-last review.  Also, I noticed that I didn’t have grades in the reviews.  The Examiner doesn’t want them, so they were not in the original reviews.  I went back and added grades to them.”

 

As consistently successful as Marvel’s Cinematic Universe continues to be, the God of Thunder does not have a standalone film worthy of his name. That is, until “Thor: Ragnarok” arrived, and it packs some punches.

Directed by Taika Waititi and written by: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost, “Thor: Ragnarok” follows Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) as they are overthrown by Hela, God of Death (Cate Blanchett). Imprisoned on a wasteland, Thor must fight in gladiatorial contests in order to secure his freedom, return to Asgard and save his people.

The general audience consensus I heard prior to watching this blockbuster boiled down to, “it’s a lot like ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,’” or “it was extremely funny.” After watching the movie, I can confidently confirm these comments. Of course, this does not sum up the entire movie: I have 350 more words to do that for you, faithful reader.

The change in tone, while very sudden and slightly out-of-character, is welcomed because the first two “Thor” films were some of the most forgettable in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. They lacked personality, but Waititi (known for his independent productions like “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”) breathes new life into the franchise with style, wit and plenty of memorable jokes.

Since the film takes many of its cues from “Guardians of the Galaxy,” there are a few things you can predict such as: a soundtrack with classic songs, self-aware humor and a color palate that would make a Picasso painting blush. I actually prefer this movie over “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”

The story is built on a firm foundation that bears more than one resemblance to the Russell Crowe film “Gladiator,” and supported by a collection of superhero movie clichés and predictable character arcs. As lazy as that sounds, I was able to ignore the narrative faults because the movie puts its focus on the character interactions, action sequences (which are absolutely incredible to watch) and worldbuilding. Seeing these new worlds, cultures and challenges face our stalwart hero is more investing than I thought it would be.

The cast thoroughly enjoys their time on screen and the script gives them plenty to work with.  The only issue I have is the familiarity of these character types. While Thor and Loki get some really good development as characters, some of the supporting cast falls into overused clichés. I’m not listing them for fear of spoilers, but if you see the movie, you can probably predict them yourself.

“Thor: Ragnarok” overcomes the narrative lows with its sense of adventure and steady sense of pacing. I wish the trailers didn’t spoil all of the shocking parts of the movie, but what can you do? The grand scale makes you feel like you’re watching a movie with gods in it. One can only wonder why it took them three tries to get it right. Either way, today’s film should not be missed, especially if you need a break from that mountain of textbooks.

Thor: Ragnarok gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B.

‘Blade Runner 2049’ is a pretty-looking film with one terrible ending

*The second review I did for The Examiner.  I’m not particularly fond of this one.  I didn’t even include a paragraph about Philip K. Dick’s great influence as a writer!  Anyway, here you are.*

If movies were only judged based on visual presentation, then today’s review would be nothing more than 500 words of, “go see this movie right now.”  Unfortunately, there is a certain thing about “Blade Runner 2049” which needed more work; the story.

Directed by Denis Villeneuve (“Arrival”) and written by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, “Blade Runner 2049” is a direct sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1983 film, “Blade Runner.”  The movie follows ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling), a new blade runner, special police officers that hunt down rogue replicants, who discovers a deeply-hidden secret about the history of the replicants (the “race” of androids made of organic matter designed for specific services).  Both films are adaptations of Philip K. Dick’s famous novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”

There is little else I can reveal about the plot without giving away anything vital.  Well, anything the trailers haven’t already spoiled (they definitely should have not revealed Harrison Ford’s involvement).  In any case, this movie does require a lot of patience from its audience, which is good.  “Blade Runner 2049” is not the fun, action-packed, “Star Wars” type of science fiction that typically dominates the genre.  However, when a filmmaker chooses to tell this type of story, one that is very visual and quiet, taking its time to develop the world and characters, there simply must be an excellent payoff at the end.  “Blade Runner 2049” does not have that payoff.

What makes this critical storytelling error even more disappointing is that the first two acts are amazing.  The set design, Roger Deakins’ gorgeous camerawork, colors, and the music blend together to create a beautiful spectacle that completely made me forget I was watching a movie.  Ryan Gosling is also excellent.  He gives a largely emotionless performance (which is necessary within the context of the story), and there are a few choice scenes that showcase his abilities as an actor.  Because of this, ‘K’ is one of the most sympathetic movie heroes of all time.  The audience watches him search endlessly for the truth, as well as how it affects his philosophy.  It’s the kind of head-scratching stuff you’d find in a “Matrix” film.

The movie falls short once the third act begins.  In addition to an underdeveloped villain, the final 40 minutes drops a “big reveal” which makes a good chunk of the first two acts completely unnecessary.  In a nearly three-hour-long film, the worst thing the film can do is waste the viewer’s time.  Imagine nearly graduating, but right before the semester ends, it is announced that all graduating seniors need to re-take their generals.  It makes no sense, infuriates everyone, has little point, and turns what should have been a great ending into a waste of time.

Again, “Blade Runner 2049” has two wonderful hours of intrigue, suspense and character, but the last 40 minutes ruins a good portion of it.  Considering that the ending is the last thing the audience sees before leaving the theater, it dampens the entire experience.  An experience that does not live up to it’s predecessor.

Blade Runner 2049 gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C+.

‘American Assassin’ delivers high-octane thrills, but little else

*Here is the first actual review I wrote for the paper.  Came out nicely I think.  The different writing style is the result of following the rules of the class.  For example, the titles are newspaper headlines.  Once again, I apologize for the lack of posts lately.  From now on, I will post my reviews one day after they are released in The Examiner (that’s the law).  Look forward to reviews of: Blade Runner 2049, Thor: Ragnarok, and Murder on the Orient Express (2017) these next two weeks.  Thank you, and let me know what you think!*

 

Of the many highly anticipated films of 2017, the big screen adaptation of Vince Flynn’s (what a cool name) best-selling novels about a counter-terrorism agent rank pretty high.  The Minnesotan author’s works have ridden the New York Times bestseller list for multiple weeks.  Unfortunately, Hollywood took the easy route again, and left us with a watered-down imitator.

“American Assassin” is directed by Michael Cuesta and written by: Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch, Edward Zwick, and Marshall Herskovitz.  The film follows Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brian), a young man who loses his fiancée in a terrorist shooting and sets out to eliminate radical organizations.  He is recruited by CIA agent Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) who along with former Navy SEAL Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) train him to prevent global terrorism acts.

The story about a rogue intelligence agent who plays by his own rules has been done before, to varying levels of success.  In the case of “American Assassin,” the genre familiarities greatly outweigh the positives.  Not to say those positives are not worth mentioning.

O’Brian plays the “lone wolf action movie hero” very well.  His dry, almost emotionless approach to playing Mitch Rapp fits the character, and the hand-to-hand combat scenes are believable because of his devotion to learning the choreography and use of weapons.  Keaton provides charisma as the typical, tough, wise, mentor.  While it’s great to report that no fault can be found with the cast, the same cannot be said for the screenplay.

Even though the premise is solid and promises one tense picture, what the film ends up being is a predictable mess of poorly-shot action sequences and way too many scenes of government-driven dialogue.  Which sounds interesting, but there is actually very little substance in this movie.

Similar to this year’s “Power Rangers” and “Ghost in the Shell,” there are enough decent characters and potentially interesting stories to spawn some much better sequels.  However, that doesn’t forgive the lack of effort with the first film.  Much of this problem comes down to how fast the story goes.  There is never enough time devoted to the characters before they are thrown into the next big action scene.  Needless to say, the movie could have used another 30 minutes in the runtime, and the result would have been a much more investing story.

As far as how faithful this film is to the source material goes; head writer Stephen Schiff explained in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter that, “Most of what’s in the movie is not in the book.”  This includes a villain whose entire character is an overdone cliché.

This is perhaps where the movie missteps the worst.  The villain is almost exactly the same as: Tai Lung from “Kung Fu Panda,” Kaecilius from “Doctor Strange,” or Anakin Skywalker from “Revenge of the Sith.”  Instead of having Rapp battle terrorists, he fights a boring former American soldier.  This change simply takes away the entire purpose of Rapp being a counter-terrorism agent.

The last thing worth noting is the implied moral dilemma.  The main motivation of the protagonist is revenge, which is not a biblical principle.  An eye for an eye is not the best way to create peace, and yet, the methods the United States use to fight terrorism often function on a basis of “the ends justify the means.”  “American Assassin” understands this question and devotes dialogue to discussing how Rapp combines rage and impeccable skills to make the world “safer.”  Considering American’s current culture of hatred and lack of understanding, this is certainly a topic that should be discussed.

In the end, “American Assassin” is a barely-serviceable action thriller.  The action scenes are worth watching and the two leads entertain, but the characters and story needed much more work.

American Assassin gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C.

Story Article (what I’ve been up to)

Hello everybody!  Nice to see you again.  The last two and 1/2 months have been indisputably exhausting for me, and things like: watching movies, Tweeting, and breathing have been pushed to the back of my mind to make way for everything college has to offer.  Never in my life have I worked as hard as I am now, and let me tell you, God is certainly using this rattling culture shock to change me.  I’m more excited (and worrisome) than ever before.

If you didn’t know (which makes sense since I have not been very specific), I’m enrolled at The University of Northwestern – St. Paul, and my major is professional writing (couldn’t you tell?).  One of my classes is a journalism workshop.

“What do you create in that class?” you may ask.  Why, The Examiner, the school’s newspaper, of course!  There are over 25  student writers in the class who report to specific sections (feature, lifestyle, opinion, etc.) and are assigned stories by a section editor.  I’m writing for the lifestyle section (because it deals with entertainment, something I understand), and I’ve written two stories for it so far.  It’s taxing work, but my gosh, it’s satisfying and is giving me some genuine experience.

I’d like to talk more about what’s happening, but I have much work to do.  I’ll leave you with the links to see what me and my fellow students are creating.  By the way, I am still seeing movies and I have a few ideas for the future, so don’t think I’ve quit this blog.  Also, you should know that I write differently for college classes, so tell me what you think.  See you later!

The Examiner’s official website.  They are working on the site, so it might be a bit difficult to work with.

My first story.  I’ll post my reviews for the paper in my blog.  I have permission to do this, don’t worry.

Update-College Move-In/My Thoughts On: “The Dark Tower”

Oh boy, it’s finally that time.  In four days, this guy will be moving into a dorm and will be earning his BA in the next three years.  To be clear, I have been in PSEO courses for the past two years (earning college credits in high school in order to skip the obligatory general courses required for a degree).  I commuted from home and had much more time to watch/review movies.  Since this is my first semester for real, there will be fewer posts.  This is due to a combination of: getting used to the new schedule and setting, not having my car (it would be a hassle to take it with me), and the lack of a job.  I’m not broke, and the school has a bus so there will be a few reviews here and there.  When in doubt, check my “About” section for the most updated version of my schedule.

You may have noticed that the website has not changed, though I said there were a few things I wanted to change in the last update.  Well, a lot of it has to do with the fact that this website costs me nothing.  I would have to pay a monthly fee to have complete control over design and presentation; but since I don’t have a job, and do not get paid for these reviews, it will stay this way for a while.  Sorry (unless of course you don’t mind how it currently is).  Now let’s get to the main attraction.

The Dark Tower is the newest entry into the “disappointing Stephen King adaptation” genre (along with The Shining Mini-Series, Dreamcatcher, Maximum Overdrive, Thinner, Lawnmower Man, and The Langoliers).  Of course Mr. King’s legacy has brought us some of cinema’s most famous stories like: Shawshank Redemption, Misery, Stand by Me, Carrie, and Kubrick’s The Shining.  Considering that he’s published over 250 novels, short stories, etcetera, Hollywood will squeeze every last penny out of his bestsellers.  Today, we have The Dark Tower, a film so standard, so lazily-executed, you’ll forget it 1 hour after leaving the theater!

The main problem with The Dark Tower is the utter lack of detail.  You know how Peter Jackson made Lord of the Rings (the story that was supposedly impossible to adapt) into movies?  It was not by pure luck that the end result was near-perfect.  The books told of fantastic battles, memorable characters, and one heck of a universe!  The Dark Tower shares many of these traits: multiple books, loyal fanbases, both stories are fantasy epics, and their film adaptations were both highly anticipated.  Only difference is that you could see the effort and love behind every scene in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  The Dark Tower felt like it was written by a Sony computer, shot by a hummingbird, edited by a cocaine addict, and directed by a coffee table.  This is an enormous shame because the marketing was great.  The two leads looked cool and the action sequences promised some stunning visuals.  In reality, the characters are blander than bread, the PG-13 rating ensures that all the potentially awesome violence is gone, and the story is a compilation of fantasy movie clichés rather than an original story.

Despite the short runtime, the pacing is boringly slow and there are more “talking head” scenes than you would ever want in a Stephen King adaptation.  When the action does show up, it’s only slightly less generic than Power Rangers (2017).  The aforementioned neutered rating prevents any real impact, the camera does whatever it wants, and the actors, much like the audience, look uninvested.  The story is even worse.  Most of the narrative is a mishmash of King tropes, and all the interesting stuff is not explained.  Who built this tower?  Why are there so few people protecting it?  What is the backstory (and motivation for that matter) of our antagonist?  Where do these alternate beings come from?  None of these vital questions are answered very well, if at all.  The best we get are a handful of references to much better King adaptations in one pathetic attempt at fan service.  For all of you who subscribed to the “Stephen King universe” thing, I didn’t see any overarching plot that connected to any other one of King’s works.  Granted, I haven’t read The Dark Tower novels so the connection could be in the books, but it’s certainly not in this bare bones flick.  The only mildly entertaining things about the film are a few cool slow motion moments and Matthew McConaughey (who you could tell was enjoying every second of screentime).  Unfortunately, that only goes so far, especially when the climax, the final battle between Idris Elba and McConaughey, is the definition of “all buildup, no payoff.”  This confrontation was almost as bad as Batman vs. Superman… almost.

Bottom line, The Dark Tower is a thoroughly skippable waste of time and money.  Quite a shame too, because many potential fans were likely turned off from King’s (supposedly) great magnum opus epic.  As for me, I’m much more apprehensive about the new It film.  The Dark Tower gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C-.

Thanks for understanding my transition into college life; I’ll get back to reviews once everything is sorted out.