western

“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-.

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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

“The Magnificent Seven” (2016) Review

Ok, what the flying spaghetti monster is up with the negative response to this movie!?  I know Antoine Fuqua has this unfair criticism of “he only directs mindless action movies” and I also know that the mere fact that this movie is a remake makes it easy to expect pure garbage, but my gosh, this is one of the best movies of 2016!

The Magnificent Seven is directed by Antoine Fuqua and written by Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto.  Stars-Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Haley Bennet, Byung-hun Lee, and Peter Sarsgaard.  Premise-A wild western town is terrorized by an evil rich man and his accomplices.  The townspeople retaliate by hiring 7 various gunmen to fight them.

In regards to the Fuqua criticism, sure he typically makes action thrillers, but they are (almost) very entertaining.  Tears of the Sun, Shooter, Olympus has Fallen (which is much better than White House Down), and The Equalizer are all filled with tense action, and very compelling performances.  The Magnificent Seven is no exception.  Only this time, there is more to love than action.

It was a risk to have a diverse cast play the famous 7, but (unlike in Ghostbusters 2016) the change supports the plot, the cast is thoroughly enjoyable, the intention behind it was not to inspire controversy in a sad attempt to make bank, and the result is actually funny!  The 1960s Magnificent Seven had some of the most popular Hollywood actors of the time (Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen, and James Coburn to name a few), this cast is not as popular, but much more fun to watch.  Every character introduction was an explosion of joy for me (I couldn’t wait to see each character)!  Between Seven Samurai (which this was based off of), the 60s Magnificent Seven, and the modern one, Fuqua’s version is the best in terms of character.  I love Seven Samurai, but only Toshirô Mifune and Takashi Shimura stood out as memorable characters (at least to me).  The new Magnificent Seven spends just the right amount of time on each of the seven, and by the end, you will care for every one of them.  Every actor in this movie is having so much fun getting lost in their performances (and in the flawless chemistry between each other), and the audience has an equal amount of fun watching them do so.  Chris Pratt even goes out of his slight typecast personality to deliver a very cool, very unique performance.

But wait, we haven’t gotten to the technical marvels The Magnificent Seven has to show off.  You know how Fuqua’s directing style often includes quick-cutting editing and hand-held camerawork?  The Magnificent Seven is shot by Mauro Fiore (cinematographer of Avatar) and it looks beautiful.  The western setting is fully realized through his use of wide shots.  I would compare some of the cinematography to Wyatt Earp, and that movie was gorgeous!  Of course what is a western film without an epic score to compliment it?  No, Ennio Morricone didn’t compose for this movie; you’ll never guess who it is.  James Horner (along with Simon Franglen)!  This guy is dead and he’s still bringing us amazing music!  Not only that, but he had to compete with Elmer Bernstein’s Oscar-nominated score for the 60s film.  Listening to his music play in the background while watching the incredible action on screen is one of the best things I have seen in the theater this year.

Now that I got that out of my system, let’s talk about the negatives.  This movie does have a very fast pace, and that works pretty well for the most part, but it does lead to a few “coincidences.”  For one, the 7 sign on to this death mission way too easily.  It’s like, [Denzel] “Hey, there’s a town of people being terrorized, wanna help?”  [Insert any of the other 6] “What’s the pay?”  “A saddlebag of coins ‘n’ stuff.”  “[contemplates morality for 30 seconds] Uh, sure.”  Denzel’s character is the only one who feels genuinely compelled to help; everyone else joins with little argument.

Plot wise, since this is the third Magnificent Seven movie (including Seven Samurai), the plot will be pretty familiar.  This is nothing to be upset about, all remakes typically follow the plotline of the original, what matters is how well they do it (and this movie does it pretty well) and it’s not like The Magnificent Seven (1960) had that much drama in the first place.  The other main complaint is the villain.  This I kinda understand, but I don’t have an issue with it.  Peter Sarsgaard plays the classic “evil rich tyrant” trope.  His performance is extremely over-the-top, and his character has no development.  The writers throw around some religious dialogue, but (as a Christian) none of it makes sense (and I don’t think it was supposed to mean anything), and most of it comes from the villain.  The reason I don’t care that much is because this is a trope that has been around since the beginning of time!  It is a cliché that needs to die, but it is a solid setup for a grand finale, and we get that in this movie so all’s well.  By the way, the action sequences are the best I’ve seen in a modern western since Django Unchained.

Why is no one giving The Magnificent Seven the respect it deserves?  I love this movie!  And I spent a good amount of time being skeptical about it.  The actors are enjoyable, the action is top notch, the characters are likeable, and (above all) it’s one of the best remakes I have ever seen, on par with John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982).  The Magnificent Seven (2016) gets Guy’s Guru Grade of an A.

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