drama

‘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+.

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‘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+.

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 Will 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 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.

 

“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-.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” Review

I wonder how long it’ll be until Marvel finally kills off some of its main characters.  Only at that point will their cinematic universe truly open to new stories.  I say this because the formulas for the modern superhero movie are slowly making each installment more predictable.  In the meantime, we have a film that screams “capitalization.”  Either that or it’s just a sequel that pales in comparison to its predecessor.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is written/directed by James Gunn.  Stars-Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Vin Diesel, and Bradley Cooper.  Premise-During one of their adventures (and getting into trouble at the same time), the Guardians learn more about their leader’s (Star-Lord) childhood.

The biggest problem with Guardians 2 is the writing.  No offense to Gunn (whose ideas started the trend of superhero movies having retro soundtracks), but this script needed another brain working on it.  Perhaps you see it differently, but this film felt really awkward to me.  Some of the jokes felt rushed or were not delivered well; especially whenever they try to use profanity (the PG-13 rating neuters some of these jokes).  It’s difficult to phrase, but the movie doesn’t have the flow of the original.  One thing that attributes to that is the terrible cutting.  I don’t know if it was written or edited this way, but there are many scenes that cut away at inopportune times.  For example, Star-Lord is about to learn something critical about his past, but the scene randomly cuts to the subplot involving Yondu.  I wouldn’t mind as much if this was a one-time thing, however, this occurs at least 3 times.  It kinda ruins the moment.  Still, the movie isn’t without its charm.

The cast may actually be better this time around.  That’s because they have much more development.  I don’t know why critics are saying the characters aren’t fleshed out; there are more character-focused scenes than actiony, space ones.  The first movie was similar to a television pilot in terms of character.  We got their backstories, personalities, and some interplay between them.  This movie bumps it up a notch.  The drama is outstandingly affective, and it kept the movie from getting boring.  Bautista, Rooker, and Cooper, especially get to shine with their material.  Which is great considering the action sequences and CGI are way too cartoony this time around (but the sets are fantastic).

Well, that was short.  Sorry if you were expecting 20 paragraphs of in-depth criticism, but that’s really all I have to say.  In essence, it’s not as good as the first one.  Heck, the soundtrack isn’t one-fifth as memorable as the first.  The best comparison I can come up with is the difference between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back movies.  The first was much more fun and action-packed, while the second was darker and focused on the characters.  That said, most people prefer Empire Strikes Back, so I’ll let you decide if time Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is worth your time.  But for me, it gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B.

“The Circle” Review

The Circle is directed by James Ponsoldt and written by James Ponsoldt and Dave Eggers.  Stars-Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega, and Bill Paxton.  Premise-A woman snags a job at the biggest company in the world (the Circle).  No sooner has one week passed and she can tell something is amiss about the bucolic establishment and its agendas.

Wow is this movie a backfire!  Not a misfire, a great-aim-but-blows-up-in-your-face backfire.  I may fly off the handle later in the review, but considering how serious the movie is taking itself, I’d say it is warranted.  The themes and issues the film talks about are very important, and the treatment they give it is nothing short of botched.  Let’s start with the presentation.

Try as the filmmakers might, they cannot achieve the level of suspense created by other films of the “sinister corporation investigated with a twenty-something intellect as the lead” genre.  While I could point out every single comparison to The Social Network (like the electronica score and a socially awkward young intellectual getting into a prestigious corporation), that would be too easy, instead, I’ll go over how The Circle (wow that’s a boring title) fails on its own merits.

To start, the performances are quite lackluster.  With the exception of Bill Paxton who plays Watson’s dad (who has multiple sclerosis) and does the part with sympathy, charm, and good humor, everyone is collecting a paycheck.  Watson is bland, Hanks is barley in the movie, and the supporting cast is extremely awkward.  Most of the movie follows the infamous “tell don’t show” style of filmmaking; that is, all exposition, no action.  Unfortunately, the film has no idea how to maintain, or create for that matter, suspense and the result is a painfully slow 110 minutes of bland characters talking.  This is only a fraction of The Circle’s failures.  The real badness lies in the message.

*Before I continue, let it be known that any plot points I bring up are in the trailers*  Basically, the entire goal of the Circle is to have universally access to everything happening at all times with everybody.  This is achieved via tiny cameras placed anywhere and everywhere.  There would be no more secrets, and the word “private” would be nonexistent.  Yeah, if your initial emotion is fear, then your second is confusion.  The biggest problem with this movie is how unbelievably unbelievable it is.  There could be some business practices that I’m not aware of, but there is no conceivable way that this companie’s plan could be carried out in any form of reality.  The film takes itself so dang seriously, but it fails to account for things like: religious/moral beliefs, the law, age, race, social status, and human nature!  The nail in the coffin is the fact that we just had a movie about how corporations spying on us are wrong.  I think it was based off a famous fugitive… a privileged intellectual who got into a super influential organization… I think it had social commentary as well… oh yeah!  It was Snowden in 2016.  That same year, Jason Bourne and Now You See Me 2 used that message as a subplot.  Answer me this, if this message has been universally written about and discussed (it’s still a hot-button topic today), how can so many people buy into the Circle’s idea of no personal freedom or privacy?  It’s based on a book.  Well, then the screenwriter should have adjusted for what changed in the world (as the novel was published in 2013), or *GASP* write an original movie!  I already have a premise, set the film after the plan for world transparency has been enforced, and go from there.  At the very least it would be something we’ve never seen before.

This script came from the back alleys of Tumblr, I just know it.  Not only can you predict every twist and turn of this plot, but the social commentary is extremely propagandized and over-the-top.  Instead of subtle storytelling and detailed exposition scenes, we get one-sided fallacies posing as intellectual arguments.  What makes it even worse is how PC the movie is.  I stated that this movie (whose only non-white main character has all of 5 minutes on-screen) ignores variables like race, laws, and whatnot.  Well, it’s also very ethnocentric.  I can imagine showing this movie to different cultures around the world and seeing them look at it with confused/unconcerned expressions.  I wouldn’t care so much about this if the movie didn’t constantly act like, “This could really happen!  Be scared!”  Obviously, our world ain’t perfect, and technology has been abused by many to gain access to other people’s information.  However, The Circle seems to forget, the generation it’s aiming for distrusts big businesses almost as much as the government.  What makes it worse is that the characters are too bland to be relatable.  Watson’s character can’t seem to decide if she’s for or against the Circle.  Her character arc is extremely rushed, most of the supporting cast is simply forgotten about, and the ending fails to conclude each  character’s story.  Oy, what a mess.

The most you’ll get out of this movie is a reminder to keep your computer’s security system up-to-date; and a bit of contempt for the careers of everyone involved with the film.  Except for Paxton of course; that man couldn’t give a bad performance if he tried.  The Circle gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a D.

Ok, so where the heck have I been?  In short, I finished my final exams and the Top Ten Best Study Soundtracks list in the same week and it left me completely drained.  It took me some time to acknowledge it, but I needed a rest.  Not helping was trying to write this review in my exhausted state.  I scrapped at least 3 drafts of this review because I couldn’t get enough energy to complete it; the results were unsatisfying.  To remedy this, I took last week off.  Now I’m back to work and ready for action.  There is much more going on in my life, but that will have to wait for another post.  Also, I will get to reviewing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 as soon as I can.

Disney Remakes: Their Effect on the Industry

“Really?  Another online millennial complaining about remakes?  Let me guess: he hates the Ghostbusters remake, lives in his parents’ basement, and thinks his opinion is the only correct one.”  Hey!  I’m moving into a dorm in August…  Anyway, let’s talk about something that has been punching my frontal lobe for over 2 years.  I kept my patience during Maleficent, I tolerated a remake that added just as many problems as it fixed (Cinderella 2015), I gave Jon Favreau the proper praise for his Jungle Book, and I’ve completely forgotten Pete’s Dragon (2016).  However, what I, and most others judging by the reactions, did not know was that Disney had been planning a massive “remake” franchise.  This very concept infuriates my creative core, and this post is essentially going to be an informal essay on why I believe so.  If anyone wants to challenge my undeniably logical arguments, then make your way to the comments, where I eagerly await to enter “YouTube comment debater” mode!  In all seriousness, I’d really appreciate your feedback with these projects; it’s one of the best ways to learn.  Rant time!

As we all know, Walt Disney was (among many things) a brilliant businessman.  While fighting his way through war, financial insecurity, securing the rights to stories he wanted to tell, and starting his business, Disney was diligently creating one of the world’s most diversified, universal, influential, powerful, profitable, and successful companies in the history of man.  However, the company had to start somewhere.  Before you think this post is a biography of Walt Disney, fear not.  This is only context for how we got to present day Disney, because the film portion of Disney Studios was based off of adapting previously published stories.  Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937), Cinderella (1950), Sleeping Beauty (1959), and many others were all books with similar settings.  All Disney did was adapt them into animated films for child audiences, but oh, did he do it well.  It took very little time for the business to launch, fast-forward about a century or so, and we are at present day.

Mickey Mouse is kicking butts and taking names.  After procuring Marvel and Lucasfilm, they’ve had an almost monopoly-like control over the box office.  If you add the box office gross of The Jungle Book (2016), Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, and Zootopia, you get over 4.1 BILLION dollars!  Do you know how much money that is?  Disney certainly does, because they have greenlit over 5 completely unnecessary live-action remakes of their classic films.  Take note that only 1 out of those 4 movies was not based off a familiar product (Zootopia).  This brings me to my first argument (no, it’s not because these movies “ruined my childhood”); these remakes have no point.

To properly explain what makes a great remake, let’s talk about the greatest film remake of all time, John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982).  I read John W. Campbell Jr.’s Who Goes There? (the short story the movie is based on), I watched The Thing from Another World (1951), and I watched Carpenter’s 1982 remake, if there is anyone who understands this story, it’s me.  What I find fascinating is that Carpenter’s version is more faithful to the short story than the first film.  The Thing from Another World is passable, but it has many problems.  So, what does horror master Mr. Carpenter (hot off of Halloween and Escape from New York) do?  Take what made the original work, update the production design, add more character development, and pull no punches.  If you haven’t seen The Thing, please get yourself a copy and watch it because it’s one of the top ten best horror movies of all time.  This is because the material was updated for a newer audience, and the idea behind the remake wasn’t, “Hey, let’s capitalize on something we know made money before!”  The Thing (and others like Scarface, True Grit, and both Magnificent Seven films) proved that remakes can be even better than the original.  So why then is a company known for its creativity and creating warm childhood memories deciding to rehash those memories under the guise of calling them “reimaginings?”  The short answer is that guy in the title picture.  The long answer is more complicated.

In my minor experience, Hollywood likes to play it safe.  The pattern is so universal, audiences expect to see crap in January, blockbusters in the summer months, and Oscar-bait come September.  I somewhat understand this (school’s out in summer, take advantage of more people having more time), but at some point, it becomes a very dangerous tradition.  I’m sick of companies refusing new ideas in place of making money, especially if they have too much already (just think of the last production logo you saw on the big screen).  I want to show you this tweet by CinemaSins.  This is what ticks me off the most.  How many Pulp Fiction/La La Land/Inception scripts were rejected in place of giving us a remake that really has no purpose?  What about the next Steven Spielberg who was left in the waiting room?  Sheesh, The Blair Witch Project was made with sixty-thousand dollars, Star Wars cost $11 million, Hell or High Water required $12 million, and the list goes on.  At this point, “Hollywood is out of ideas” is a freaking punchline due to how many retreads we get.  However, there is hope, in the form of the person reading this post right now.

Check out this screenshot from Rotten Tomatoes (taken a month ago).

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The audience has a lot of control over what is made for them.  This is a no-brainer, you pay money for a certain thing, and more of that thing is made for you (supply and demand).  These companies are merely giving the people what they want.  In the case of positive feedback vs financial revenue, the greenbacks always win.  Because of this, the response is not the problem, that 98% is.  I’m not saying it’s your fault that these sterile remakes are popular (there are so many variables at play), but it is your responsibility to be a “smart shopper” as it were.  One of the main reasons I review movies is to help people decide if something is worth their valuable time and hard-earned money.  Some movies are torture for me to sit through (Vacation 2015), some are delights (Kung Fu Panda 3), and some are just bland and generic (most modern remakes), but the knowledge in knowing that someone is listening keeps me going.  As someone who writes proactively and wants to make movies, it pains me to see the same thing over and over.  What I’m talking about today may not be as horrid as Freddy Got Fingered or Norm of the North, but while those were original products that faded away because of their awfulness, these remakes are setting a trend that smaller, greedier executives will follow, and… it’s a dang shame.

In conclusion, I hope that you now have an understanding as to why I despise this business practice.  Throughout writing this, this thought never left my head, “Perhaps I’m just stating a clichéd criticism.  Maybe all of this will not change anyone’s mind.”  However, I don’t care.  It feels good to finally get my thoughts out there in a formal fashion.  Even if I have no impact, movies could be much, much worse.  At the end of the day, the audience decides what to spend money on.  I leave you with this, what film will you support?  A prettily-disguised cash grab, or a work of ambition that doesn’t fit into “the norm?”

“Fate of the Furious” Review

I have a confession to make: I haven’t seen: 2 Fast 2 Furious, Tokyo Drift, or the 2009 Fast & Furious.  I say this because Fate of the Furious is more continuity-heavy than Furious 7 (and because I’m honest with my audience).  In addition, Fate of the Furious is not as simply enjoyable as Furious 7.  Yeah, that’s a good intro.

Fate of the Furious is directed by F. Gary Gray and written by Chris Morgan.  Stars-Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Scott Eastwood, Tyrese Gibson, Charlize Theron, Chris Bridges, and Kurt Russell.  Premise-Dom’s crew must track down their leader after he goes rogue for a mysterious woman.

Yes, greedy Hollywood producers have predictably stomped on a dead actor’s grave while greenlighting 100 more unnecessary sequels.  Even though the tagline for the previous film was, “One last ride,” the plot wrapped up nearly every character’s arc, and the emotional ending that brought tears to audiences eyes were all clearly saying, “That’s all folks,” you cannot argue with the 1.5 BILLION dollars Furious 7 grossed.  Because of this, we have an action film that pushes the envelope in more ways than one.

I know I’ll be called a hypocrite for thoroughly enjoying Furious 7 and then disliking the sequel (even though they are basically the same movie), but here is the game changer: the amount of drama.  In Furious 7, the most serious it got were those amnesia flashbacks.  However, things get really personal with Fate of the Furious.  Charlize Theron (collecting her paycheck while sporting a really stupid haircut) plays the villain whose entire character is written straight out of “Psychopathic Antagonist” Volume 1.  She speaks only in evil whispers, has a weird character design, and manipulates the main protagonist by using the most predictable cliché in the book (can’t say it because of spoilers, but you could probably guess what she does).  These movies are at their best when the drama is light and the over-the-top action is high.  Sadly, every scene with Theron is very hard to watch.  Not to say that what she does to Dom is a bad motivation; it’s because these movies should never be this depressing to watch.  Especially when these scenes are preceded/followed by the goofy characters joking around.  To be honest, I would have enjoyed the movie much more as a whole if these scenes were cut, because once my suspension of neutrality is broken, other problems stand out much more.  One of these problems is the clichés.  Unbelievable physics and invulnerable characters are acceptable (if you watch any of these movies expecting realism, show yourself out), but you can predict pretty much every scene, and that is a bore.

On the bright side, the action scenes are awesome!  If the previous film was too unbelievable for you, the races, chases, and shootouts are well-choreographed and fast-paced.  If you switch off your brain (a requirement at this point), these action sequences are a marvel.  Heck, the New York portion of the film is more over-the-top than any GTA 5 stunt video you’ll ever see.  Another notable scene takes place in a prison, and it gives The Rock his most awesome movie moment since the montage in The Rundown.  The rest of the cast is decent as well.  While Gibson and Bridges teeter on the edge of annoying and funny, Eastwood/Russell and Statham/Johnson have great chemistry, and the rest of the cast is fine.

Ultimately, this movie is exactly what you’d expect.  Transformers levels of stupidity, clichéd plotlines, and a whole lot of testosterone-fueled explosions.  If the filmmakers didn’t inappropriately try their hand at drama, then the film would require nothing from its audience.  After all, that’s why these movies are successes: dumb fun without the emotional connection.  Fate of the Furious gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a C-.