The Disaster Artist (2017)

The Disaster Artist

“What’s my line?” asks Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), yet again.

What an enigma is Tommy Wiseau.

Actually, enigma is putting it lightly.

Ever since he made headlines with his masterpiece of atrocity, The Room (not to be confused with 2015’s much more superior film, Room), he is still somewhat of a mystery. Very protective of his private life, he won’t even give out his exact age (though research has shown he is now somewhere in his early sixties). He says he is from New Orleans, but now says he came to America from Poland.

One thing is for sure: It is thanks to Mr. Wiseau that we have The Room (2003).

Upon entering The Disaster Artist, I have not seen the entirety of The Room, but enough scenes to get a flavor of how awful it is. In generations to come, it’s only rival in the movie category of “so bad it is good” would be the garbage dump that is 1959’s Plan 9 from Outer Space (which I have tried at least three times to watch and fall asleep at the same time).

The Disaster Artist is based on the book by actor Greg Sestero. In the film, he is played by Dave Franco (younger brother of James). Greg is an inspiring actor, but is far too shy on stage. In his acting class, he meets the bizarre Tommy (James Franco), who has no qualm with what others think of him. After a pinkie swear at the crash site of their idol James Dean, they move to LA, in search of stardom. When offers won’t come their way (including a memorable meeting with Judd Apatow), they decide to make their own movie.

If you are not as familiar with The Room, you may wonder where Tommy is getting all this money from. The thing is, so is all of his crew (including the script supervisor, played by Seth Rogen). As stated before, Tommy is very private about his personal life, and won’t share where he gets the dough. What is important to him is that this movie is made. After writing the script himself, production goes into play.

In short, it becomes a nightmare, as Tommy has everyone (even Greg) feeling queasy. Examples include a bathroom (actually just a toilet with a curtain cover) for Tommy only, he wants to shoot using both a film camera and a digital one, and shows one of the more comic sex scenes in film history (“Why is he having sex with her belly button?”)

James Franco is simply astounding as Wiseau (both of whom directed their respected films). He has the voice down to pin point accuracy, but the performance is more than just mockery. It is moving and subtle, let alone hilarious. Franco knows about flops (he, like me and everyone else, would hate to remember how he co hosted the Oscars), but also knows how to have fun at the same time as give us a character embodiment. At the end of the film, we see a side by side comparison of the real film and the one with Franco (to make the film almost all over again is serious dedication). The comparison alone is worth the price of admission.

Parents, the movie is not for kids. There is swearing, and some (minor) sex scenes (male rear nudity, as well has frontal, though the genitalia is covered). Mature High School and above.

After the movie ended, I found out that the real Wiseau (who I now strangely would love to meet) said he would only accept one of two actors to play him: James Franco and Johnny Depp. The fact that Franco knows this material and his subject inside and out (both in front of the camera and behind it) makes me a little nervous to say that Tommy Wiseau does have a little more movie knowledge than we give him credit for.

 

Overall: Three and a half Stars ***1/2

The Rock (1996)

The Rock

John Mason (Sean Connery) and Stanley Goodspeed (Nicholas Cage) defusing a missile.

The upcoming generation (as well as my fellow millenials) will find it hard to believe there was once a movie as entertaining as The Rock. Afterall, it is hard to find phrases these days like “quality Michael Bay movie” or “entertaining Nicholas Cage film” (the latter has had better films).

Revisiting The Rock since I first saw it multiple times as a child, I realize it does still have flaws. There are the explosions that have come to define a Michael Bay movie, but at least they are there for a reason (as opposed to something like The Transformers franchise, where the explosions are there for us to look at, not because it adds to the story). There are also some rather stereotypical characters (such as the black trolley driver) as well as a huge embrace of the military (which this movie actually does with more heart than any other movie Bay has made). Still, if there is one reason to see this film, it is because of Sean Connery.

This may have actually been the first movie I ever saw with Connery in it (leading me to his work as the best Bond ever). I remember watching him, thinking I was looking at a true myth, a legend. That is actually the aspect of his character. When a war Hero, General Hummell (Ed Harris) finds out that the government will not pay for the efforts and recognition of men who have died under his command, he steals missiles with toxic gas that he threatens to shoot at San Francisco from Alcatraz (which he is holding 81 hostages on). The best person at working with this toxic gas is a FBI chemistry specialist, Stanley Goodspeed (Nicholas Cage). Still, the FBI needs to know how to maneuver under the island, so they release the only known man to have escaped it, John Mason (Connery).

A lot of readers know how it has been a rough many years for Cage (don’t get me started on Left Behind), but there was truly a time when he was a great actor. Here, he does his normal, over the top craziness, but only when needed (he actually only swears one time). Harris’s General is a villain, but not entirely cruel (notice he makes sure the kids leave the island before he takes it over). He does not want to kill so much as just right a wrong. Still, it is Connery who steals the show,  proving his myth and legend as a movie star.

Parents, the movie is rated R mainly for swearing and violence (though it would be violence like that of a hard PG-13 movie nowadays). There is also a brief sex scene (totally not needed) without any nudity, but a lot of sound effects. Skip that scene, and I would say middle school and above.

It is hard to think of any other Michael Bay movie that is better than The Rock. Sure, it had begun with some of the negative aspects we now see too much of in his films, but it is still a blast of a movie over two decades later.

 

Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2

Okja (2017)

Okja

Mija (newcomer Seo-Hyun Ahn) and her pet Okja…

Before I watched Okja, I noticed a number of negative reviews from users on Netflix. The main accusation: It is not for children. I could not agree more, but that does not mean the movie is bad. My conclusion is that those who did not like Okja just noticed the fact that it had a little girl and a (very big) pet pig, therefore thinking it would be a family friendly fare.

The movie begins in 2007, with the head of the Mirando Corporation Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) announcing the discovery of making super sized pigs in the effort to stop world hunger. She sends 26 of these pigs to different farm locations on the globe, stating that they will be ready for consumption in ten years.

Fast forward ten years, and we meet Mija (a young and talented actress named Seo-Hyun Ahn), who lives on a farm in the mountains of South Korea with her Grandfather and pet super pig, Okja. It is clear that Mija and Okja are best of friends (their scenes reminded me a little of My Neighbor Totoro).

One day, they are visited by the host of a TV show sponsored by Mirando, Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal). They announce that Okja has been selected as the winner of the competition, and will be shipped off to America. When Mija finds out that Okja will be slaughtered for meat, she rushes after him.

Along the way, we get some rather impressive action sequences (Mija is shown on top of a moving truck), witty dialogue (the truck driver hates his job), and rather stunning imagery. Mija also encounters animal rights activists called ALF (including great actors like Paul Dano and Steven Yeun), who want to put an end to the Mirando Corporation.

Legendary Acting teacher Sanford Meisner said, “Acting is fun. Don’t let that get around.” It can be clearly shown here in Okja. Tilda Swinton, an Oscar winner, is known for picking roles that are considered a little strange and unusual, and while her performance (as well as that of Paul Dano) seemed like it was written for them, I for one was very surprised at the performance of Jake Gyllenhaal. He has always been a great actor (underrated, in my opinion), but I never thought he could play the goof ball like he does here, and still make us forget it is him behind the mustache. It is rather brilliant work.

Parents, the TV-MA on Netflix is more than appropriate. Consider the film an R rating.  There is no sex in the film, but there is a lot of swearing. There is also a lot of disturbing imagery (especially at the end, knowing what happens to animals when they are killed for meat). Totally not a movie for kids. High School and above (maybe mature middle schoolers).

One thing about Okja you cannot deny is the originality. If a movie keeps you glued because you have no knowledge of what will happen next, it is because the movie has been completly void of any cliches one would think could happen. That alone is worthy of praise for any movie.

 

Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

Baby Groot

I have stated before that I never grew up reading a single comic book. My childhood knowledge of Marvel (as well as DC) came from movies and TV shows. Perhaps this maybe the reason why Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 did not appeal to me as much as the first (though it is still worth watching).

GOTG V2 starts off with all the Guardians (Peter/Starlord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot) defending a battery source from a giant monster. This is all done as Groot dances to ELOs “Mr. Blue Sky”, providing one of the movies many pleasant scenes.

Eventually, the Guardians are persued by a group of Golden people called the Sovereigns, led by their High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). They are after batteries stolen from them by Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper, who gives us an even deeper character this time around). The Guardians are forced to crash-land, and are met by Peter’s (Chris Pratt) long-lost father Ego (Kurt Russell).

Ego takes Peter, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and Drax (Dave Bautista, who gives the film some of its most immortal quotes) to his home planet with his assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Staying with the ship is Rocket and (the ever cute) Baby Groot (still voiced by Vin Diesel) as they watch over Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). Eventually, they are tracked down by the familiar face of Yondu (the always underappreciated Michael Rooker). He is still after Quill, after being denounced by Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone).

What made the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie so endearing was the humor, and Vol. 2 is no different (the same can also be said for the immaculate soundtrack). I won’t ruin any moments, except to say the scene stealing belongs (again) to Groot. When sent to find an item, what he returns with goes from hilarious to even a bit disturbing.

My main issue with the movie is the villain. Without saying who it is (thought it will become rather obvious), the actor is indeed a far talented one. It just seems like the Guardians have more than enough character and spunk to deserve a much menacing villian. In Vol. 2, the villian is downright forgettable.

Parents, if you kids have seen the first movie, they are fine with this one. There is some action/violence (mild), swearing, and one awkward (though funny) scene about where babies come from.

I know there are probably a lot of nods to the comics that would make GOTG V2 very appreciated by comic book fans. Good for them. I am more of a movie fan. That being said, the movie does give us some good slow moments of reflection (especially at the end, which took me off guard).

While it is not as good as the first one, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has certainly started the 2017 movie season with a bang.

 

Overall: Three and a Half Stars ***1/2

Power Rangers (2017)

Power Rangers

From left, Trini (Becky G), Billy (RJ Cyler) Jason (Dacre Montgomery), Kimberly (Naomi Scott), and Zack (Ludi Lin) disccover their path to become Power Rangers

There is no way for me to review Power Rangers without any form of bias.

I was seven when I was the Red Ranger for Halloween back in first grade, so I am the perfect target audience for this reboot. It is hard to say if the world of the Power Rangers will be able to move on from generation to generation (like Star Wars, which is the gold standard in that category), but I have no doubt that nineties kids like myself will feel a fresh breath of air with this reboot.

Basically, Power Rangers tells the story of five teenagers: Jason (Dacre Montgomery), Kimberly (Naomi Scott), Billy (RJ Cyler), Zack (Ludi Lin) and Trini (Becky G). All five hardly know each other from their High School in Angel Grove, but one day all stumble upon something in the mountains that leads them to an ancient spaceship. It is run by Zordon (Bryan Cranston) and his robot helper Alpha 5 (voice of Bill Hader). Zordon warns the teenagers of the oncoming threat of his former teammate Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks).

Aside from the original TV series (those were so the days), another clear inspiration for this movie is actually John Hughes 1985 masterpiece The Breakfast Club. It is not hard to see each of them resemble one of the original five (the jock, the beauty queen, the nerd, the punk, and the basket case), as they all meet for the first time in detention for their own different reasons. There is a scene where they all are around a camp fire to get to know one another better, and I honestly felt more moved than I thought possible.

All of the actors do rather fine work as well (Cranston actually was originally a villain in one of the original series’ episodes). For me, the key stand out was RJ Cyler as Billy. He is on the autistic spectrum (which he says to Jason, though I don’t think he needed to because it would not be too hard for us to find out). Being on the spectrum myself, I tip my hat to RJ Cyler for his portrayal.

It should also be noted that there is talk of one of the other rangers (Trini) on being a homosexual. This is mentioned, but does not go much further.

Parents, the movie is PG-13 for good reason. There is obviously a good amount of action (which was awesome to look at), some swearing (like that a normal junior high kid would hear), and a little bit of revealing clothing (we see Kimberly take her shirt off to jump in a lake, wearing only her underwear. This lasts a few seconds). Basically, middle school or above.

Though my inner seven-year old would love to say this is one of the best movies in the world, I am old enough to know it does have flaws (the scenes for Jason having to be on house arrest were not supportive, nor made much sense when thought about). Still, this is one reboot I hope has some good longevity to spare (and is far better than the 1995 film).

All nineties kids, you know what I am going to say…

It’s morphin’ time!

Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

 

Kong Skull Island

The King has returned.

Were he alive, I would think my dad would have loved this movie.

Back as a kid, he got me hooked on King Kong with the 1962 Japanese film King Kong vs. Godzilla (a movie you can never convince me is anything but great). If I remember correctly, I wanted Kong to win while my older brother was rooting for Godzilla (SPOILER: Kong wins).

Over the years, I have seen a few other monster movies, from the great King Kong remake in 2005 (a film my dad did not like) to the Godzilla films of 1998 (a let down) and 2014 (mildly good).

In Kong: Skull Island, the movie is set in the 1970s just after the Vietnam War. A researcher Bill (John Goodman) and his assistant Houston (Corey Hawkins) get the ok to explore a new island found on satellite photos. Of course, they need a military escort, which is led by Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson, of course). Joining their crew is tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston, proving he can be more than Thor’s adopted brother Loki) and photographer Mason Weaver (Oscar winner Brie Larson).

What I liked about this film was that, unlike other films when we had to wait a while to see the star (and really, who else would steal the show over Kong?), director Jordan Vogt-Roberts gives us a look at him rather soon into the movie. The same can also be said about some of the other creatures in the movie (I feel I should note there are some giant ants that look like spiders, for those of you who have arachnophobia).

Parents, the movie is rated PG-13 mainly for the swearing (I counted one F bomb) and the action (the violence is there, but is not any worse than that of The Lord of the Rings movies). Middle School and up is fine.

There are some scenes that seem tacked on that make the movie go on a lot longer than it needs to, but there are plenty of action scenes that make the movie more that worth recommending. There are some scary moments, but not any that will haunt your kids for days. If anything, they are the sequences that make kids turn away, yet look back in an instant.

To see the cast and crew treat a film icon like King Kong with this much honor and respect (which is really all Kong ever wanted) is a breath of fresh air.

(Note: There is a scene after the credits, which, if it is telling the truth, will have me buying tickets in a heartbeat).

 

Overall: Three and a Half Stars ***1/2

 

Hidden Figures (2016)

hidden-figures

(From left to right) Mary (Janlle Monae), Katherine (Taraji P. Henson) and Dorothy (Octavia Spencer) are enjoying some downtime.

I was asking myself the simple question of “Why?” a lot when I was observing Hidden Figures. That is not meant to be taken as a negative comment. The “Why?” is for why it took so long for this movie to be made. I mean, these women seem to be far ahead of their time, trend setters that are (in my mind) not even that far behind names like Rosa Parks. At the beginning of the film, they experience the “God ordained miracle” of seemingly chasing a police car in 1961.

There are good reasons and bad reasons why the true story of Hidden Figures finally came to the big screen in 2016. One of the best reasons is the casting. The trio of Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae as friends who have the brain power to work for NASA are played brilliantly. Henson is the main role as Katherine G. Johnson. She is a mathematics wiz who is brought to work for getting the numbers right on upcoming space launches to keep up with the soviets in the space race. She is under the rather tough but kind eye of her boss, Al Harrison (the always lovable Kevin Costner), as well as many of her cohorts. It is mainly her co-worker Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons, aka “The Big Bang Theory”s Sheldon Cooper) who can’t stand her.

Octavia Spencer’s Dorothy helps with assigning other African-American women to tasks, yet she does not have the title of supervisor, despite her requests from Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst). Monae’s Mary is the one who can blow her lid at a moment’s notice, yet needs to complete some High School level classes to be a full engineer.

We also get Mahershala Ali (who was brilliant in Moonlight) as Col. Jim Johnson, who fancies Katherine (she lives at home with her mother and three daughters: her first husband is mentioned but never reveals how he died).

One thing that I must admit is a negative about the film is that, being released in 2016, we have seen so many movies reminiscent of this before. Of course, we know of the racism in the 1960s (the violence is hardly mentioned since the film is PG), and the movie really does not give us anything completely surprising that we have not already seen in other movies.

Parents, when I went to see this, I had my heart warmed when I saw a lot of young children at the movie (no older than 9 years old or so). It is a good history lesson of a movie, with a few bits of swearing that is not heavy. Basically, if your kids ever learned about this period of history, they would be more than fine seeing this movie.

Undoubtably, there is another positive about this movie coming out in (late) 2016. Everyone knows the past year was hard on a lot of people, and we as a nation (and worldwide, really) have forgotten more than to just love one another. We forgot that there is another thing we most do before that: it is called respect. For those who forgot that, Hidden Figures is for them.

Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2

Lion (2016)

lion

Dev Patel as Saroo, with Rooney Mara as Lucy, in “Lion”

Sometimes, the simple power of the story overtakes your criticism. While Lion has some moments that I would question, there is no doubt that the end result of the narrative is simply engrossing and human.

Directed by Garth Davis, Lion tells the amazing true story of Saroo, a young indian man who was adopted by Australians as a child, only to venture out to find what happened to his family he lost as a five-year old (with much help from the wonders of Google Earth). The film starts with Saroo as a child (played by a wonderful newcomer named Sunny Pawar). He ventures out with his brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) to gather food when circumstance force Saroo to be taken away. Some of these scenes do tend to drag on a bit for me, but Pawar is more than up to the task of carrying it all on his small shoulders. Eventually, he meets his foster parents, played by David Wenham and Nicole Kidman. They also adopt another child, Mantosh.

The second half of the film is showing Saroo as an adult (now played by Dev Patel). He juggles trying to cope with his family problems (his brother Mantosh is rather uncontrollable), he wishes not to tell his parents about his yearning to find his birth mother, and even has trouble expressing himself to his girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara). All the actors handle themselves well, especially Patel and Kidman. There is a scene between these two that I felt was a little unneeded at first, but it is affective nonetheless. It reminds us that Nicole Kidman is not a past Oscar winner for nothing.

Parents, the movie does have some rather mature themes, and a bit of sensuality. There is not much swearing I can remember. Basically, middle school and up would be ok.

Again, I mention that there are some parts of the movie that did not work for me and may have dragged on, but by the end (which I won’t give away), I did not care. It is still a heck of a story that is more than worth being told.

(Note: The meaning of the title Lion was something I was questioning, but it does make sense by the end).

Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2

Moana (2016)

moana

To tell Moana no when she asks for help is not a good idea…

The main thing that makes Moana work is the title character. She is the evolved form of Disney princesses back from the days of Snow White and Cinderella. This princess gets the job done with or without a prince, and that is that. As the character Maui tells Moana, “If you have a dress and a sidekick, you are a princess.” (That chicken sidekick of hers is great because it actually acts like a chicken.)

Credit definitely should be given to the break out performance by first timer Auli’i Cravalho. Certainly, she is a new star for the cinema world to behold. Her Moana is the daughter of Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison), whose main rule is to never leave the island for any reason. No going past the reef”, he says, even when there is a shortage of fish nearby.

Eventually, Moana is moved to leave the island in search of the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson, who, as a nineties kid, will forever be “The Rock” to me.) He has stolen a stone that he wished to use and help the humans, but the idea back fired, and he lost his magic hook in the process which gave him the ability to morph into any animal he wishes (his main choice was that of a hawk.)

While Cravalho shows she is a star that is here to stay, it is Johnson’s performance of Maui that reminds us what makes him so gosh darn charming in the first place. Basically, he plays a Disney version of “The Rock” (no threats or swearing). Who else could brag about himself, and actually have conversations with his tattoos (there is even glimpse of him raising the eyebrow that made me smile, ear to ear).

Now we come to the music. Lin-Manuel Miranda is the main mind behind it all, and this was just before his stage musical “Hamilton” (of which I am a fan, and still hope to see someday on stage) became the monster hit it is today. I confess, I think Moana has good songs, but a few too many songs. Most are good, but I did not find the urge I had after seeing a movie like Frozen to go and download the songs from Itunes. There is one song with a crazy crab character that is gorgeous to look at, but drags on too long.

Let there be no doubt: stunning is a gross understatement to the visuals of this movie. While movies like The Little Mermaid and Finding Nemo (and its sequel) proved the wonders beneath the ocean, Moana proves things above the ocean can be visually appealing as well.

Parents, it is a Disney film, so basically anyone can sit through it (there are not too many heavy dark moments in the film).

At the moment, I don’t feel Moana will be in the pantheon of Disney masterpieces such as Fantasia, Pinocchio, The Lion King, Bambi, or Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Still, Moana is, in every sense of the cliché phrase, fun for the whole family.

Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

fantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them

Eddie Redmayne is Newt Scamander, on a trip through New York that is not as he planned it…

Fantastic Beasts and where to find them does what it is meant to do: introduce us to characters that are magical in a magical world. It does not do much more than that, but what it does do is done pretty dog gone well.

For those of you who know nothing about the Harry Potter universe (and if you are one of those, just stop reading now and read the original books, see the movies, and then come back to see this film), Newt Scamander (Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne, proving yet again to any naysayers that his talent as an actor is quiet something to watch) is a magizoologist. He arrives in New York in 1926 (in the Wizarding World, this is seventy years before Harry Potter ever attended Hogwarts). A mishap occurs with a no maj (a non-wizard, aka “muggle” in Great Britain terms) named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Folger), resulting in many of Newt’s kept beasts are let loose in New York.

At the same time, Grindlewald (who will eventually confront Dumbledore) is on the loose, killing no majs and wizards alike (whether he shows up or the rumors about the actor who plays him are true, I will not say, though you may have heard by now). Investigations are led by the Wizarding President Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo) and auror (a wizarding version of the police) Perceveil Graves (Colin Farrell). Graves is also trying to get help from a troubled boy named Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller, from The Flash). Graves is also trying to stop the dangers of Newt’s beasts. Assisting Newt and Jacob  are witches Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) and her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), who can read minds. Others with minor roles include Oscar winner Jon Voight, Ron Perlman, and Zoe Kravitz (daughter of Lenny).

I admit a lot is happening on the screen, both special effects wise (which is obviously something spectacular to see) and screenplay wise (which is not too much to handle, but is close). Creator/writer/household name known everywhere J.K. Rowling wrote Fantastic Beasts and where to find them back in 2001 one for Comic Relief (it is meant to be one of the eventual text books at Hogwarts). I have never read it (though the original Potter series I consumed like oxygen), so I can’t say whether or not it is true to the source material completely or not. However, Rowling herself wrote the screenplay (her first), so really, who are we to disagree with her?

Parents, the PG-13 rating is not meant to say that you can’t take kids to this. If they have seen the original films (and if they haven’t, what are you waiting for?), then they are ok with this. There are a few curse words, nothing at all sexual, and quite a bit of action/peril. It is a little more on the side of the last few films of the original series, which makes sense, since films five six seven and eight were done by the same director, David Yates.

I hear now that we are getting more films to follow-up on Fantastic Beasts and where to find them. This does not excite me so much as it worries me. When The Hobbit films came out, I thought it was a mistake to add so much that it took three films to make the story complete (by the end, it all seemed superfluous). The same could be said for franchises like Pirates of the Caribbean (we are getting another one), Star Wars (kidding! kidding!) and Transformers (totally not kidding, and sadly another is coming out next year). Thankfully, if J.K. Rowling is still doing the writing, I have some hope for the Wizarding World.

 

Overall: Three and a Half Stars ***1/2