movie

‘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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‘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.

“The Emoji Movie” Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dunkirk” Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Hero” & “The Big Sick” Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Despicable Me 3” Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Baby Driver” Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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