romance

“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-.

“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+.

Disney Remakes: and 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?”

“Beauty and the Beast” (2017) Review

You know, I really can’t take any more of these freaking live-action remakes.  Don’t give me that look.  You and I both know that they are unnecessary cash grabs that (for some reason) keep making money and stopping new scripts from being produced in the process.  I am not one of these people who complain that these movies ruined my childhood (the Internet did that long before mainstream media did), nor am I one of those people who believe that all movies that get a remake are the worst thing ever.  One of my top 15 favorite movies of all time is John Carpenter’s The Thing; a remake made by an artist who loved the original and improved upon it.  Today we have a remake that doesn’t take any risks, and amazingly it left me just as annoyed as I was with Ghostbusters (2016).

Beauty and the Beast is directed by Bill Condon and written by Evan Spiliotopoulos and Stephen Chbosky.  Stars-Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, and Kevin Kline.  Premise-When her father is taken prisoner by a ferocious beast, the young, kind, and beautiful Belle takes his place and quickly discovers that her captor may be much more than his outward appearance.

Before we continue, allow me to tick off some 90s kids; I am not that big a fan of the original Beauty and the Beast.  Of course it is one of the best films in the Disney renaissance.  Of course the animation is gorgeous.  And of course the natural romantic progression rivals that of a Richard Linklater film.  The soundtrack is tops, Gaston is the most hateably fun alpha-male in film history, and it has stood the test of time better than most kid-friendly romances.  However, I feel little personal connection with it.  It could be that I’ve never been in a romantic relationship before (maybe there were too many contrivances or silly moments in the movie), but it’s not a movie that I’d buy on Blu-Ray, cry while watching, or gush about.  It’s an excellent film, but not one of my favorites.  Hmm.  It appears that this paragraph has fallen on deaf ears.  I currently have 20 enraged Tumblr fanboys brandishing pitchforks outside my house.  Well, better get on with this review.

While Cinderella (2015) added just as many problems as it removed, and The Jungle Book (2016) improved upon the original (slightly), this Beauty and the Beast remake is content to change absolutely nothing.  I’m sure they made minor revisions here and there, but I am not employed by Screen Junkies, so it’s not my job to nitpick.  Seriously, this movie is almost scene-for-scene like the original.  I’m not racist, but it’s telling when the thing that stood out to me the most was the addition of black side-characters.  Ok, that’s not the only change that I noticed.  The best change is with LeFou’s character.  Not only does he have more dimension, but Josh Gad plays him extremely well.  He does begin as the “idiot best friend” cliché, but he has the funniest lines in the film, and his energy brightens any scene with him in it.  Other than that, everything is almost exactly the same, and that is a problem.

There are two ways to do remakes now (at least according to Hollywood): change very little and go the safe route, or change everything and act like the original doesn’t exist (or worse, disrespect the original).  Vacation (2015) and Ghostbusters (2016) obviously fall into the latter category due to their insulting writing and arrogant marketing.  Beauty and the Beast (2017) is worse than the original because the live-action CGI cannot compare to the extremely talented 2D animation of the biggest animation company of all time (to be fair, the F/X, costumes, music, and sets are pretty impressive).  Not helping the film is the cast.  Aside from Josh Gad, everyone is at a similar level of awkward.  Luke Evans can’t match the “charm” of the original Gaston, Emma Watson needs to be more expressive (in one musical scene, she stops in one spot with her arms against her sides while staring at a green screen), Dan Stevens can’t sing, especially with his distorted Beast voice, and the townspeople are all very passive-aggressive for some reason.  As far as story goes, mostly everything is the same.

Well that was a short review!  I’ll say it again, because this movie is so unnecessarily familiar, and my passive opinion of the original, I can’t muster up the rage to care, nor was there much substance in the first place.  If you were surprised to see the end of the review so soon, now you know how I felt when I first realized that I had very little to say about another dang remake that stingy executives threw money at instead of original ideas.  Beauty and the Beast (2017) gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B-.

P.S-A very special “Thank You” to everyone who read and liked my “Inferno” post.  I put quite a bit of work into it, and even though it is the first special project I have done, I’m pleased with the results.  I now have much more confidence to start writing the next one.  Here’s a little teaser for you: it has something to do with Disney.

“Monster Trucks” Review

I expected 2 things from this movie: either a surprisingly heartwarming adventure film, or a stupidly-entertaining, cheesy, clichéd mess.  I got the latter.

Monster Trucks is directed by Chris Wedge and written by: Derek Connelly, Matthew Robinson, Jonathan Aibel, and Glenn Berger.  Stars-Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Barry Pepper, Rob Lowe, and Danny Glover.  Premise-While drilling for oil, a company unearths subterranean creatures with strange abilities.  One of them escapes to a junkyard manned by Tripp (Till), a down on his luck engineer who yearns for a life outside of his dull hometown.  When he discovers the monster, they quickly become friends, and Tripp modifies his custom built truck to house the creature.  But the corporation does not want any knowledge of these monsters to reach the public, so they hunt down Tripp’s new friend.

Did that sound like an incomprehensible (if not familiar) premise?  That’s because Monster Trucks is one of the ridiculously clichéd movies I have ever seen!  I left the theater shocked in disbelief of what I just watched.  Time to rip apart a once-respected director’s disasterpiece.

This film was produced by Nickelodeon Movies (whose production credits include Good Burger, Rugrats Go Wild, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Barnyard, and The Last Airbender), and loosely based off of the toys and famous trucks.  I say loosely because there is little to no connection to the actual monster truck toys or the real thing.  At best, we get a 3 second clip of Grave Digger (I think) on a box TV, but that’s it.  Instead, ugh, we get actual monster trucks.  One of the reasons I saw this trash was because of Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger.  These guys have turned stupid premises into great movies before (the Kung Fu Panda trilogy).  Heck, they wrote Trolls, another toy-based cash grab, and even though it was a bad film, the amount of lore and attempts at charm were decent.  I cannot believe how lazy the writing and direction is, so I guess we’ll just have to go over why.

Within the first 10 minutes, you know the movie is going to be a predictable mess.  Our first encounter with the main protagonist tells you he is your average, generic, pretty tennager who wants to leave his crummy little hometown (has this cliché seriously been around since the 40s?).  He has a bland, loving mother (Amy Ryan), and a stepfather (Pepper) he doesn’t get along with (reason-nonexistent).  Tripp is an outcast at high school, but finds solace in working at a junkyard, where his boss Danny Glover (who cares what the character’s name is) will occasionally give Tripp car parts so he can build his own truck.  We then cut to a generic oil company run by a generic, evil, rich white guy (Lowe) who doesn’t care about environmental risks.  After discovering possible sub aquatic life where they are drilling, Lowe demands that they continue.  Predictably, they unearth 3 creatures, and capture 2 while the third escapes.

If you couldn’t tell, everything about this movie is a cliché, especially the characters.  Tripp’s mom and Glover don’t get any development, Lowe is a caricature, and the supporting cast is even worse.  There is a female student, played by Levy, who enters the plot to help out Tripp with his homework (now that’s character motivation).  Of course these two planks of wood have to get together (even though they have as much chemistry as Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in By the Sea) then save these monsters.  Unfortunately, most of their scenes amount to filler.  Whenever this girl contributes to the plot, she’ll say something like, “My dad has tools” or “My dad has an empty barn that he never looks inside of.”  All this girl does is provide Tripp with Dues Ex Machina’s!  What is really annoying is that they do this at least 4 times!

Oh gosh I haven’t even gotten to the acting in this movie!  Everyone is atrocious!  Till is awkwardly strange, Ryan/Lowe/Pepper aren’t even trying, Glover has 3 minutes of screentime, and Levy is… just the worst.  Wedge must have been absent for every one of her scenes, because it’s almost like she doesn’t know what acting is.  Everyone in this movie has given good performances in the past, but that’s what happens when your script is sewage.

There is a reason why I chose not to make this a spoiler review.  Judging from the sound of laughter in my theater, I can say that little kids will have a blast with it.  Not to say you (someone over the age of 14) should waste your money on it, but there is an audience that likes it.  You could probably predict every scene up until the climax.  Speaking of which, the third act (which is oddly similar to that of Starman) thoroughly defenestrated any suspension of disbelief that I still had.  The CGI is terrible from the start, but it really shows in this climax, it contains a poor use of the Wilhelm scream, physics are abused, and the ending is incredibly cheesy.  That’s it, we’re done.

Monster Trucks is not one of the worst films out there because it’s not insulting, nor offensive, just absurdly stupid.  It’s the type of movie that you would watch on a Friday night with your buddies, dollar store popcorn in one hand and alcoholic (I prefer H2O) beverage in the other, and let the belly laughs ensue.  It may not be as confusingly entertaining as The Room or Birdemic, but trust me; it’s in the ballpark.  Monster Trucks gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a D.

Top Ten Best Movies of 2016

I don’t know what to write here, so let’s just talk about some dang good movies!

 

Rules: This list contains movies from 2016 that I have watched in their entirety.  Whether I reviewed them or not doesn’t matter (links to the movies I have written about will be provided).  Only theatrical releases can be on this list.  The grades I gave them in their reviews do not matter; it is a comparison of the best movies form last year that I saw.  Finally, this is my list, with my opinions, and my praise, so enjoy!

 

#10 – Zootopia

Yes, that “rules” paragraph was copy-pasted from my other list (problem?), but here is a movie without a shred of redundancy.  My opinion has wavered over how rock solid the commentary is, but one thing is certain, Zootopia is a clever look at society with the charm and likability of a Disney renaissance film.  The characters (if they are not a stereotype) are brimming with personality, the voice acting is amiable, and the animation is some of the best 3D has to offer.  Zootopia is overrated, but for very good reason.

#9 – The Lobster/Swiss Army Man

What is dis?  Two movies for one spot?  How dare I!  It’s my list, so roll with it.  I was in a major state of hopelessness before I watched these movies.  I really needed to see something original to combat the slew of pandering garbage.  I was excited and apprehensive to see both of these films because their trailers left much to the imagination.  I’ve been meaning to talk about both of these movies since I first watched the last year, but other things took priority.  By now, you probably know the plots of these movies, and you should watch them if not.  What’s fascinating is how eerily similar they are.  Both are love stories, they each have fantasy elements, they both have a 7.1 IMDb rating, neither of them follow “traditional” writing, and they were both incredible refreshers in a crappy film year.  The casts are given a lot to work with, the soundtracks are magnificent, and the oddball humor almost always hits it’s mark.  Most critics prefer The Lobster and most audiences prefer Swiss Army Man, but as far as this Internet nobody is concerned, they are equally original, equally entertaining, and equally important.

#8 – The Magnificent Seven

Many a time has passed when I fantasize about Vincent D’Onofrio’s Jack Horne entering reality, hunting down the people who gave this movie a poor rating, and asking them in a half-friendly tone (while brandishing an axe), “Now why did y’all have to do that?”  Is that normal?  Can you blame me?  The Magnificent Seven is one of the best action movies of last year, but it is quite possibly the most underrated gem of that year.  The performances are memorable, the action is brutal, the score is incredible, the cinematography is resplendent, and the mere fact that this movie is not only the rare, “remake of a remake,” but one that manages to be good as well… it’s awesome!  This is Antoine Fuqua’s best film since Shooter in 2007.  And yet, people still call it a worse remake than Ghostbusters 2016.  For those of you who believe that, refer to this list, then this review, then get your brain checked out.  Don’t give me that look; this is a list of movies that I love.  Of course I’m going to defend them!  You get the point, you’re in for some great action when you watch this movie.

#7 – Kung Fu Panda 3

I spent at least 30 minutes debating the order of this movie and the next one on the list.  After re-reading the reviews, thus recalling why I love both of them, I still can’t decide.  I’d put them both in the same spot, but I already did that with The Lobster/Swiss Army Man, and I don’t want to annoy you that much.  Let’s just say that #7 and #6 are interchangeable.

Oops, almost forgot to talk about Kung Fu Panda 3.  I still stand by what I said in the review, “Kung Fu Panda is one of the greatest movie trilogies of all time!”  I cannot think of a film trilogy that improved each time.  Return of the Jedi isn’t as good as its predecessors, nor was Temple of Doom or Dark Knight Rises, and the individual films in the Toy Story and Lord of the Rings trilogies are equally great (at least to me).  I am thoroughly triggered over the Oscar snubbery of this film.  There was not an animated film that looked more beautiful than this one.  Nobody will agree with me, but while Kubo and the Two Strings was detailed, Sing was colorful, and Zootopia was wonderfully designed, the visual appeal in Kung Fu Panda 3 (especially during the spirit world sequences) is not to be missed.  The animation is backed by likable characters, progressive writing, and upbeat humor.  I don’t know what they’ll do with the next movie but I have confidence in this team.  Their effort shows through the finished product, which is entertainment with a big heart.

#6 – Doctor Strange

Superhero movies cannot grow old as long as Marvel keeps churning out exceptional stuff like Doctor Strange!  From the acrobatic choreography, to the charming cast, to the philosophy, to the incredible production quality (i.e. makeup, F/X, costumes, and sets), everything is impressive.  You’ll notice that there are many movies on this list that could be considered “basic entertainment,” but that is perfectly acceptable.  There seems to be two radical thoughts on how “deep” movies can be.  Either “every movie is mindless entertainment,” or “everything has to be Manchester by the Sea levels of emotionally complicated.”  There is such a thing as a lighthearted action flick with some character or moral depth.  There can also be a serious movie with a decent helping of fun action/comedy.  One of the finest examples of this is Raiders of the Lost Ark.  If you think about it, the whole point of the movie was to stop the Nazis (the freaking Nazis!) from getting their hands on a weapon that would allow them to take over the world.  Clever writing and Steven Spielberg’s direction gave the movie more of a “fun adventure” tone, despite the many aspects of it that are not meant for kids.  On the surface, Doctor Strange is a thrilling spectacle of magic, but the developed characters all have very adult reasons for what they believe in.  Bottom line, if you want a superhero flick with the excitement of a summer blockbuster but with the attention to detail of a character piece, Doctor Strange is your movie.  After all, there will be plenty of mature movies now that we are in the top 5.

#5 – La La Land

We wanted a movie with style.  We wanted a movie with originality.  We wanted a movie with effort.  In response, we got La La Land, a beautiful throwback to the musicals of the past.  I never explained how bad of an experience I had at the theater when I watched the movie.  It was… very unpleasant.  After watching more reviews, clips from the film, and listening to the soundtrack on repeat, I’ve grown to like it more.  I still don’t think that “fantasy” thing near the end should have happened, but La La Land is still a feel-good musical with irresistible actors and a soundtrack that is just as great as everyone says.  It’s a movie that sparkles with style, delivers pure entertainment, and radiates passion/effort.

#4 – Hidden Figures

This one has grown on me over time.  The cast brims with talent, every character’s dialogue is intelligent, the score is wonderful, and the pacing is really good.  It felt like I had endured the amount of time the women in the movie did.  When justice is served, it felt earned.  The lighthearted tone mirrors the movie’s most valuable asset… a sense of hope.

#3 – Captain America: Civil War

In a world when audiences across the world are massively disappointed by one of 2016’s biggest misfires (Batman v Superman), Marvel will release a film (no, an event) that will remind us that superhero movies can have compelling story arcs, characters with character, mind-blowing visuals, incredible fight choreography, and a perfect balance of comedy and drama.  To those who have been picking apart every single word in the script, aren’t you taking this superhero movie (that doesn’t’ take itself that seriously) too seriously?  I really like Daniel Brühl’s villain, he had a plan that is legitimately intelligent.  The tension between the 10+ main characters (I’m still amazed at how well they wrote everyone) created more suspense than waiting for the airport scene (that takes really competent direction), and of course, the freaking battle sequences alone make life worth living.

#2 – Hacksaw Ridge

It came down to a tough decision between this move and number 1.  Hacksaw Ridge is one of the two movies of 2016 that drove me to tears (the other was Patriots Day, specifically the ending).  There are so many things this war drama does right… only the direction of Mel Gibson could have done it.  Andrew Garfield shines (as does the rest of the cast), the character’s actions support the message, the technical aspects are a spectacle, and that M.M.M montage cannot be forgotten.  This movie spends it’s time setting up the compelling characters before throwing them into the horrors of Hacksaw Ridge.  It is very hard to watch this movie, but the amount of care and respect that went into it is awe-inspiring.

 

Honorable Mentions

A sequel that ups the characters as much as the production quality, The Conjuring 2 has the dramatic heft to support the terrifying story.

Why wasn’t this nominated for any Oscars?  Seriously, Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter are spot on, their relationship progression felt natural, the time period is captured very well, and the movie doesn’t focus purely on politics.  As far as romances go, it’s one of the best.

After Barbershop 2: Back in Business, this movie had very little to live up to.  But under the competent direction of Malcom D. Lee, a fully-utilized cast, fast-paced humor, relatable characters, and engaging social commentary, The Next Cut became the best film in the trilogy.

  • Arrival

I never got around to reviewing this one because I couldn’t’ form an actual opinion.  One (or four) thing’s for sure, the story is original, the visuals can’t be beat, the score is chilling, and it requires you to use your brain.

  • Nocturnal Animals

This is one of the most elegant movies I have ever seen.  The score (especially “Wayward Sisters”) is beautiful, Tom Ford’s vision is remarkable, the performances (especially Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon) are excellent, and the story is intriguing.  Nocturnal Animals is one experience you won’t soon forget.

  • Loving

It suffers from Jeff Nichols trademarked slow pacing, but Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga’s performances are unbelievably endearing.

Top notch technicals are really second to the incredibly respectful direction, intense acting, and genuine drama.

It has plenty of issues, but the climax is awesome, the characters are likable, and the presentation is amazing.

This movie wasn’t meant for me, but I still appreciate what it accomplished.  It’s a superbly acted drama about regular people (something we don’t get enough of).

  • Lion

The first third is quite boring, but the second Dev Patel (congrats on the Oscar nomination man, you deserve it) arrives on screen, the movie gets better and better.  Not to mention Nicole Kidman’s heartbreaking acting and a tear-jerking climax.

Sing is one of the most innocently enjoyable films I’ve seen in quite some time.  Energetic animation backs up extremely likable (and perfectly casted) characters, completed with a terrific soundtrack.

 

#1 – Hell or High Water

While Hacksaw Ridge was tear-jerkingly dramatic, Hell or High Water is a slow-building, character-driven film about family, banks, old age, regret, and morality.  I can’t describe how detailed the screenplay is.  I’m’ looking forward to Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River because this guy knows what makes any compelling movie… characters.  In Hell or High Water, there is the black and white law, but there are also desperate people who have to break that law to survive.  None of the awards for this movie truly tell you how exceptional the cast is.  Chris Pine and Ben Foster have incredible chemistry, as do Jeff Bridges and Gil Bermingham.  There is such an attention to character in this movie, it is amazing.  This is the type of mature, important film that was so sorely needed in a year of “junk food movies.”

 

There you have it.  We went through a crappy film year, but made it out (as we always do).  I appreciate each and every one of your viewership.  There was more than one personal challenge for me last year, but when I get notified that “X liked your post,” it tells me that someone listened, and it motivates me to work harder.  – Erick

My Thoughts On: “Hidden Figures”

First, off, sorry about the extreme lateness of this.  I was sick for most of last week, and the Mission to Mars review was the last thing I wrote before sick brain took over.  The Untouchables review was posted before this one in order to stay on schedule.  Since then, spring semester has started, and I have lots of work to do.

What makes Hidden Figures an interesting specimen is the tone.  The movie follows three black women who worked at NASA during the American/Russian battle for space control.  Because of these women, the U.S. was able to be the first global superpower to put a man into Earth’s orbit.  This took place well after the Civil War, but the tension of inequality is still present everywhere in this movie.  It could be because of the PG-13 rating, but this movie never gets really violent, profane, or gritty.  As a consequence, the dramatic heft is not nearly as impactful as other movies of this sort.  Initially I thought this was holding the movie back, but it actually works.  This movie doesn’t take place during a war like Glory, nor are its white characters as racist as the ones in The Help.  Instead, these women have to overcome prejudice in the workplace, at the school setting, and in being recognized.  Oh, there are “big” moments, and they are used at just the right times.  Honestly, I appreciate the way this movie was written.  As a positive guy, I don’t think every movie needs to have the heartbreaking dramatic heft of Glory (although we still need movies like that every now and then).

The fact that everyone was bringing their A game to this project helps quite a lot.  Every one of the actors has a unique role to play and a unique personality.  To me, the best performances come from Octavia Spencer (an overworked/underpaid leader of the “Negro computer team”), Jim Parsons (finally breaking type-casting as a prejudiced NASA manager), and Kevin Costner (the devoted director of the space project who doesn’t care about race or sex, only proficiency).  The work from these three is some of the best in their careers.  Hidden Figures is worth watching purely for the cast which also includes  Mahershala Ali, Kirsten Dunst, and Taraji P. Henson.

I didn’t like this movie as much as I wanted to.  It’s a fine biopic with a great score and more lighthearted direction than expected.  There were a few moments that dragged (to the point of feeling redundant), but I see the effort on and off-screen.  Considering how many black films we got last year, I’d say this was one of the best.  Hidden Figures gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B+.

My Thoughts On: “La La Land”

*Sigh*  I can’t wait until I get to the point in my career when I get invited to AFI and I can see these movies before anyone else.  Then I don’t have to wait to see it at a theater in a different city that has a limited showing… in January.  That same theater that takes over 20 minutes to get through a line of 15 people and causes you to miss the supposedly “jaw-dropping opening musical number.”  Grrr.

Just like Manchester by the Sea, the positive reaction to this movie was overwhelming.  As such, it is impossible to go into the movie without having some expectations (though I keep mine in check as best as possible).  So did the movie impress me?  With the exception of the screenplay, everything is aces.

As far as musicals go, this has got to be one of the best of recent years.  The “animated musical” genre is still going strong (Frozen and Sing being two of the most popular).  However, the genre that includes Singin’ in the Rain, The Sound of Music, and The Wizard of Oz has been all but forgotten.  More “trendy” movies like Pitch Perfect and Into the Woods could be considered a subgenre of the classic musical, but they don’t come anywhere near the quality of La La Land.  Since you most likely know the plot of this movie, I’ll just get to the criticism.

There is not a word for how impressive this direction is.  Director/writer Damien Chazelle brings his passion project to life with the detail of a Kubrick film.  The tracking shots in this movie rival that of The Revenant, the performances ooze with energy and talent, the sets capture the tone and time period with panache, and the lighting/use of color is scintillating.  Not to mention the soundtrack.  Oh my gosh, the music in La La Land is amazing!  The dance sequences are perfectly choreographed, and the score elevates each frame with ease.  If you play an instrument, you’ll probably love this movie.  On a presentation level, you could mistake it for the juiciest steak from the most refined restaurant in the richest part of New York City.  Sadly, on a story level, it’s got as much substance as a Big Mac.

I like this style and I like these actors, but the script is quite clichéd.  This could be from the fact that this genre doesn’t focus on story.  Which is fine, but when you don’t care about the script at all, we get Mamma Mia! and Flashdance (forgettable characters and over-the-top scenarios serve as filler to the musical numbers).  Thankfully, La La Land has more to offer than those films.  However, there are more clichés than I’d like.  The “starving artist” the “naive/hopeful new star” the “boss of the protagonist who doesn’t like their creativity,” and the “bubbly upbeat friends of the protagonist.”  There are a 1001 different things going on with the two main characters, but I didn’t get very engaged because they didn’t stand out as much as the movie’s style does.  I could have accepted this issue, if it weren’t for the climax.

Without spoiling anything, this (mostly linear) story randomly does a few loop de loops, then goes backwards, then skips forwards, and left me utterly disappointed.  I really don’t know what is going on when this part of the story was written, but it certainly wasn’t helpful!  I spent two hours with these characters only to have some out of left field thing make all that character development seem pointless (no, nobody dies).  It also reminded me that almost every supporting character in this movie is either a hindrance or a jerk to the main characters.  I’ve never said this before, but it would have been better if the story stayed on its predictable path instead of what actually happens.

Of course I enjoyed this movie, but I do not love it (even though I really wanted to).  It is worth seeing just because more movies like this need to be made, but the story needed a rewrite or two.  La La Land gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B.

My Thoughts On: “Hacksaw Ridge”

Oh, hello Mel Gibson.  Fancy seeing you in the director’s chair once again.  What are you making this time?  A historical biopic about a soldier who never fired a bullet in combat?  You don’t say…

In all seriousness, Hacksaw Ridge is one of the best movies of 2016; I consider it on par with Saving Private Ryan.  What I find interesting is how every aspect of the movie complements each other.  There are few things that show up everything else.  You know how the best thing about Inception is the writing, or the best thing about Blood Diamond is Leonardo DiCaprio, or the best thing about God’s Not Dead 2 is that it’s better than the first?  In Hacksaw Ridge, everything is on the same level of greatness, but it is a pretty venerable level.  Some of these casting choices (particularly Vince Vaughn as a tough military sergeant) had me worried, but the performances are fantastic.  Andrew Garfield has to do a lot of smiling and pull of a thick southern accent, but I think this is his best work since The Social Network.

I said that every part of this movie compliments the next, but that doesn’t mean that there are no moments that stand out.  In fact, this movie only gets better as it goes on.  Hacksaw Ridge is one of the best titles I’ve ever come cross.  Hacksaw Ridge is where the last third of the film takes place, and every second of that act is amazing.  Essentially, the company Private Desmond Doss (played by Garfield) is a part of has to climb a ridge on the island of Okinawa in order to defeat the Japanese.  Even though most of the film is spent (wisely) building character, but the real trials occur on that “God-forsaken ridge.”  In fact, that is where this movie’s M.M.M is.  This scene is a montage of Doss finding wounded men and bringing them to safety.  If I tell you anything more about that scene, the impact will be sullied.  Just know that the music, Garfield’s performance, cinematography, and pure directing genius of Mel Gibson make this scene one of the most inspiring tearjerker moments in the history of cinema.  The movie says that he saved 75 men; Doss himself says it was 50, and fellow men in his company said it was 100, all I know is that this montage is incredible.

I know some people don’t like this movie.  For some it could be too violent, one-sided in its portrayal of war (history is written by the victors people), or the acting doesn’t resonate.  Whatever the case, I think we can all agree that Private Desmond Doss is a true American hero.  Throughout the movie, he faces opposition with his family, romantic life, on the battlefield, and persecution with his own unit.  Despite this, Doss remains himself; he never loses his faith, nor his optimism.  Speaking of faith, I think we just found a good Christian movie.  The moral of the movie is not “be a Christian,” its “stay true to your beliefs,” and during a time in America where people have lost their hope (quite easily actually), it is inspiring to see someone stay rooted in their faith even when certain death is only a few yards away.  Hacksaw Ridge gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A.

“Southside with You” Review

This is the first time I have reviewed a romance film since I began this whole critic thing.  You don’t need to be an astrophysicist to know that most critics don’t like romance films, I am no exception.  Often time, they will be cheesy (High School Musical), over-the-top nonsense (My Super Ex-Girlfriend), focus on random musical numbers (Mamma Mia!) rather than a coherent story, or will simply be the one of the worst things ever made (Twilight).  Heck, even Gone with the Wind was ruined for me by a pathetic, manipulative, annoying, man-eater female character as the lead.  In addition to this, I am not one for politics.  I don’t pay attention to the news, get involved in internet flame wars about it, and I don’t have nearly enough of the facts to belong to a particular political affiliation.  Now that we have the pleasantries out of the way, let’s talk about one of the best romances of the 2010s.

Southside with You is written and directed by Richard Tanne.  Stars-Tika Sumpter, Parker Sawyers, and Vanessa Bell Calloway.  Premise-Southside with You shows the story of a 1989 summer when Barack Obama attempts to win the heart of his crush, Michelle Robinson.

During this time of political overload in the U.S., it is incredibly refreshing to see a film that doesn’t shove agendas down your throat.  Southside with You only focuses on the date.  What makes the film work are two incredible performances from Sumpter and Sawyers.  They are portraying Michelle/Barack in their twenties, and you can see them adopt the characteristics of each person rather than being insulting impressions of them.  Initially, it looks like they have no chemistry, but after you realize that perhaps this is what happened on the actual date, you will be thoroughly invested in their story.  The progression of their relationship feels genuine, and that is because not every moment is sunshine and rainbows.  There’s the initially awkward moments, the conflicting personalities/backgrounds, and the love of each other’s company.

Tanne does an admirable job with the setting of the film, as well as the soul of Chicago.  The soundtrack is beautiful, the costumes are simple yet elegant, and the dialogue is near-perfect.  The film addresses racial/sexism issues, but not beyond “racism/sexism is bad and it’s a problem with society.”  Some would prefer if it took more risks, but I think that it’s ok.  I’d rather they stay focused on the excellent romance.  It’s not an awkward teen drama, or a sickly-sweet childish love story, or an elegant Disney fairytale, just two people spending a day together.

If there was anything that I didn’t like, it would be the cinematography.  The camera is either too close up or very low to the grown most of the time.  Not as bad as Ben-Hur (2016), but pretty distracting.  Also, some scenes drag on a bit.  Most of the film is Obama and Robinson talking.  While these scenes do tell us about the two, it’s not as exciting as the moments in the film where they have to work out their differences or overcome a societal obstacle.

The last thing I have to talk about is the M.M.M scene.  Yep, a romance with a Movie Minute of Mastery, who knew?  *NO SPOILERS* It takes place in a church where a town meeting is being held.  The whole group (townspeople and priest) are black, and they have just been denied by the state to build a community center for their children.  The priest asks Obama to give a speech on what they should do.  The dialogue as a whole in this movie is excellent, but this particular scene is so freaking good!  The words that are spoken are just the right words, Parker Sawyers is thoroughly convincing, and this scene is a great example of how Obama became such a powerful orator.  It is this scene that disproved any remaining doubts I had about Southside with You.

2016 is a year where people (not just people on the internet) are quick to shout their opinions and demonize others.  You see it in politics (with the election coming up), in the media (where cops most notably are under fire), and in film (where everyone was scared to be honest about the terrible Ghostbusters remake in fear of being the target of a witch-hunt).  To see a first time director make all the right decisions with his screenplay makes me so happy.  To be honest, Southside with You is up there with End of Watch (the best cop movie of modern cinema), High Noon (a film about doing the right thing when no one else will), and The Social Network (self-explanatory) in the category of “movies that people living in 2016 need to see.”  Southside with You gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A-.

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