Slender Man (2018)

Slender Man

Hallie (Julia Goldani Telles) is one of many haunted by the Slender Man

 

 

I truly have awesome friends. I am not talking about the type of friend who would watch a video online that may be dangerous. No, I mean the type of friend who (along with his two sons who like horror films) would be willing to pay for me to see a movie like Slender Man. Okay, not pay so much as throw the money on the ground and trample it. Basically the same thing.

Over the last couple years, I have seen a lot of promise of the horror genre (The Witch, Get Out, Hereditary), yet with every good movie must be a bunch of crappy ones. Well, to call Slender Man crap may insult the uses of what can be used as potential fertilizer. It is truly one plot hole short of becoming a sponge. Basically, four friends Hallie (Julia Goldani Telles), Wren (Joey King), Chloe (Jaz Sinclair), and Katie (Annalise Basso) watch a weird video that says if they see the Slender Man, they will all vanish. They watch it, and stuff begins to happen that neither looks scary, cool, plausible, or interesting.

I admit to feeling very sorry for the actors (not the characters). All are talented  but are in a script that straight up wreaks of something that smells very unpleasant. I expect that the director Sylvain White has some form of talent, but it seems put to little use here (by which I mean no use).

Parents, there is a lot of dark matter and material and stuff, so I guess I should say High School and above.

So yeah, this movie is bad. I would say more, but the horse is dead already.

 

Overall: 1/2 Star  */2

Hereditary (2018)

Hereditary

Toni Colette’ Annie is having a few issues…

Not knowing anything about a movie before you see it can be rewarding, and the most recent prime example is Hereditary. Having not seen the trailer till after I saw the film (which is rather spoiler free), my only knowledge was that it starred Toni Colette.

With vibes of 2016’s hidden gem The Witch (both films have the same producers), Hereditary starts with an opening shot that will be dissected by film buffs for years to come. What a hook from the get go. Annie (Colette, who does ravishing work) is on the way to her mother’s funeral with her family. We learn their relationship was rocky, to say the absolute least. The person her mother favored was Annie’s daughter Charlie (striking newcomer Milly Shapiro). Charlie has a peanut allergy, which I mention because that is far from her worst issues. There is also Peter (Alex Wolff), Annie’s older teenage son. While kind-hearted, he is not one to shy away from smoking weed after school. Finally, there is Annie’s husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), who I am still not sure about. Is he a dullard or just fed up with the issues in his family? I am still on the fence.

The movie plays like a crescendo of horror, in that it does not just spurt out random scenes of “gotcha” moments so much as add more and more tension. You know a movie is doing something right when you realize you have not considered containing so much tension before.

The imagery of Hereditary is strikingly effective in a haunting way. The house in which the family lives should have star credit on its own. It is as neatly polished as the small figures and sets that Annie works on. The musical score only adds to the horror we feel (as all scary movies should).

Yet Hereditary is not completely a horror so much as it also becomes some bit of a thriller. Mixing those two genres may seem easy, but not all the time. Director Ari Aster (who also wrote the script) handles the balance of horror and sadness so well that the feeling you leave with is bound to stay with you for weeks.

Parents, this is in no way a movie for children. There is mild nudity (nothing sexual) that is a little easy to miss, but the horror aspect is sure to frighten anyone under the age of…actually, any age. High School and above.

I went to this movie with a close friend of mine. I have known him for a while, and have not seen him as shaken up as he was. After the film, I mentioned we would probably need to watch five to ten Disney movies (maybe more) to brighten us up again. I even mentioned to other friends to give him a hug just in case.

Consider that a warning. Well, a positive warning.

 

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

All the Money in the World (2017)

All the Money in the World

Gail (Michelle Williams), won’t let family troubles stop her from getting her son back.

It is impossible to talk about All the Money in the World without mentioning how the movie almost never happened. While the movie is far from perfect, I find all who made the film (mainly director Ridley Scott and star Christopher Plummer) deserve a load of respect.

The film tells the true story of how a teenager named John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) was kidnapped and held for ransom until his family paid a vast sum of money. He still lives with is divorced mom Gail (Michelle Williams), but it is on his father’s (Andrew Buchan) where the money is. The teen’s grandfather, J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer, who is not related to the younger Plummer in real life), is an oil magnate, and is one of the richest in the world (if not the richest). He refuses to pay the ransom, basically giving off a vibe that would make the Grinch look like Gandhi. Gail is helped out with a co-worker of her father in law, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg).

 

Of course, it is the making of this movie that has been the stuff of fascination. The original actor who was to play the elder Getty was Kevin Spacey. However, after reports surfaced of his many past acts of sexual misconduct, Ridley Scott cut out all of his scenes, and replaced him with Plummer (not to mention bringing back Wahlberg and Williams for reshoots), and finished in a week (with a few weeks before the film was to be released). This is not the first time Ridley Scott has had to do something of this magnitude: 2000’s Gladiator was in trouble when a few scenes were still needed after the death of star Oliver Reed.

 

The original trailer with Spacey is still online, though Scott has said he does not plan on releasing the Spacey version. It was said that Spacey’s portrayal was more dark and sinister than Plummer’s, but I for one thought it was better the less evil Plummer appeared. Of course, we cannot root for this sinister man with all his cash, yet the veteran Plummer still gives him plenty of charm that makes us realize how he got rich in the first place. It is great acting.

 

Parents, the movie is R, mainly for swearing and violence (particularly one graphic scene). There is no real sex or nudity, so I would say High School and above.

 

Had the movie not been stained with the Spacey reports, perhaps we could have watched the movie for what it is, and not for what happened off camera. I personally would like to see the Spacey version, only to compare what might have been. Of course, no amount of money will allow me to see that.

 

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

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

 

Blade Runner 2049

One of many images that are entrancing in Blade Runner 2049

Despite some holes and question marks in the screenplay, Blade Runner 2049 still manages to be the best sci-fi sequel since 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day. It is a movie that challenges the mind and brightens your eyes with some of the most gorgeous imagery of recent years. I have only seen the original once, but I know that I have to return to get some answers (though not all the questions will have them).

The plot is a lot harder to follow this time around, but not too terrible. Basically, the new Blade Runner in town is named “K” (Ryan Gosling). After reporting to his boss (Robin Wright, having a very decent year with this film and Wonder Woman) the discovery of a dead replicant who died giving birth to a child, he is sent out to erase the mistake and kill the child. As he digs deeper, he realizes he is more and more in danger. It eventually leads him to the Deckard (Harrison Ford).

I will stop there for two reasons: I don’t wish to ruin any plot points, and I am also afraid that I may have still misunderstood the plot. I can talk about a few other characters, however. Dave Bautista (Drax of Guardians of the Galaxy) is rather surprisingly subtle and reserved as a runaway replicant. The owner of the replicants is played by Jared Leto, proving to be a better villain (or is he?) than he was in Suicide Squad. One of my favorite performances came from Ana de Armas as Joi. Joi is basically Suri, but far more upgraded. She has been with K (who she now names Joe) for so long she is almost like a personal secretary. So lovely and ironic is it that she is one of the most human characters in the film.

Now we get to the visuals. They are, quite simply, marvelous and uncanny. It should come as no surprise, mainly thanks to two men. The first is director Denis Villeneuve (who recently was nominated for 2016’s Arrival). He knows how to pace the film at the right tempo: If you think there is not enough action in the film, you are not paying attention.

The second, and possibly most critical, is cinematographer and legend Roger Deakins. Here is hoping that his losing track record at the Oscars (0-13) might end next February. Watching the movie, I had that same feeling when watching films from Studio Ghibli. You could pause each shot, and look at them for hours. You know what? I take back what I said: Roger Deakins will win the long overdue Oscar, and will get a standing ovation.

Parents, even if you children may have seen the original, you should be warned that his film has a lot more nudity in it than the first one. While the only real sex is through blurry glass, there is still a bit of sound. Add in the swearing and (not so horrible) action/violence, and you have a movie for only High School and above.

I mentioned before that the plot does have some holes: one character clearly betrays another and then shows their utmost loyalty. Even so, this movie is worth seeing just for the visuals alone. They are haunting, spellbinding, breathtaking, cold,…seriously, words don’t do the visuals justice.

On the sights alone, Blade Runner 2049 is a movie that, once seen, is something we people will not believe.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

 

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

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Pirates of the Caribbean DMTNT

Javier Bardem’s Captain Salazar is out for Depp’s Sparrow in the 5th Caribbean flick.

There are fewer movie characters of the 21st century more notable, original, entertaining, or recognizable than Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. It is sometimes hard to remember how impacting he was in the original film fourteen years ago (the role earned him an Oscar nomination and SAG award). Now, in the fifth film, I feel sad to say that this character has been stretched to his limit.

At some point, all film franchises are to have an end point: It is a matter of whether to end it on a solid note (as the original Star Wars Trilogy did) or on a whimper (if only The Terminator franchise did not go past the second film, and The Transformers franchise was….well, never mind). Undoubtably, it is all about making money, so sequels are going to happen one way or another.

Enter the newest film in the universe (or seas?) of the Pirates of the Caribbean films (I still have yet to see the fourth one in its entirety, but the third at least gave us a solid ending to it all). Depp is back as Sparrow (if he wasn’t, there would be no audience), and he is basically the same, nothing more or less. After a bank robbery (which I could not believe at all was plausible) goes wrong, his crew abandons him (many of the same actors since the first film). Eventually, Jack comes across Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a scientist (though accused by others for being a witch) on the search for Poseidon’s Trident. Also on the search is Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley). Whoever gains the trident can reverse any curse (in Henry’s case, he wants to free his father from the curse he has had since the third movie). The trouble is that hot on their trail is Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), out to kill Sparrow for cursing him (curse the curses!) to be a half ghost creature along with his crew. He has asked for the help of Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush).

As I think of it, one of the nice things of the film is that the story is not that hard to follow (which can happen a lot in summer blockbusters). Each character has his/her reason for reaching Poseidon’s Macguffin (oops, I mean Trident), and none are totally completely complicated reasons.

The special effects are nice, but, again, nothing we have not actually seen before in the other movies. There are a few exceptions, and the one I wish to talk about is one of the more unrealistic action sequences I have seen in some time. A certain character is in a guillotine, about to have their head sliced off. In the chaos of being rescued, this character is having the blade inch toward his/her neck back and forth. I sat there, wondering how any of that could happen in real life.

Some of the CGI is neat, mainly of Salazar’s crew. The bodies are not skeletal remains (as was the case in the first film), but just sections of skin we might see. This does give a bit more menace to Bardem’s performance as the villain, but I kept thinking that he came into the series too late for me to take him completely seriously enough.

Parents, if your kids have seen the original film, then they should be fine. However, there are some suggestive comments made with the humor, which, for the record, I hardly smiled at all during.

Sadly, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is doing what The Hobbit trilogy did to the original Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It seems to be staying way past its welcome (and I mean WAY past, so much so that I made it in caps and everything.) In my mind, I kept thinking the title should have read “Dead movie franchises should stop telling tales”.

Throughout most of the movie, only one word came to mind.

Lame

Overall: One and a Half Stars * 1/2

The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

the-lego-batman-movie

Batman (Will Arnett) with Robin (Michael Cera), Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), and Alfred (Ralph Fiennes).

Even before we saw the wonder (yet somehow no Oscar nomination for Best Animated feature) of The Lego Movie (2014), Lego has give us countless laughs with Lego video game versions of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Marvel, and The Lord of the Rings (to name a few). There second movie is now The Lego Batman Movie (who also had a good video game), and it is as fun and entertaining for kids as it will be for adults much like its predecessor.

Returning is Will Arnett as Batman, who ranks up there with some of the best to play the caped crusader. His voice is (literally) pitch perfect, and (as the comedian has shown us before) he has uncanny comedic timing. He basks in how great he really is. All that changes when commissioner Gordon plans to retire and have his daughter Barbara (Rosario Dawson) take over. During this time, Batman/Bruce Wayne unknowingly agrees to adopt a young orphan Richard Grayson/Robin (Michael Cera), who is as optimistic as they come.

Even those who like the character Superman (who does have a brief moment in the film), more will agree that no one has better villains in the comics than Batman does, and we get a glimpse of all of them (even the dreaded condiment man). Batman inadvertently hurts the feelings of the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) when he states the Joker is not his greatest enemy. This leads the clown prince of crime to try to unleash villians from everywhere. These in include 80s monsters (aka Gremlins), Lord Voldemort, Lord Sauron, and “british robots” (aka Daleks from Doctor Who).

Parents, for the most part, the film is ok for kids (there is one joke that is a bit edgy when Batman first meets Robin), but that aside, the movie is ok for kids (I would say 7-8 and up).

Like The Lego Movie, this film has a lot of jokes adults will get that the kids won’t (my favorite is when we see Batman’s ultimate secret movie library). I have not even words to describe the stellar animation (which will give Disney animators goosebumps). It is also full of easter eggs that will require a second or third viewing.

Which I would gladly pay for.

Overall: Four Stars ****

Fences (2016)

fences

Troy (Denzel Washington) gives one of his sons a good talking to…

There will be no “Oscars So White” at the Oscars this February.

After two years of no recognition for anyone in the black community who make movies, it was as if Denzel Washington just said “Ok, I will put a stop to that” and decided to direct Fences.

The movie is based on the play by the late August Wilson (who had worked on the screenplay before his death in 2005). After he won a Tony Award for his role, Washington brings his Troy Maxson to the big screen. Troy is a garbage man who works during the 1950s alongside his best friend Jim Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson). Married to his wife Rose (Viola Davis, who also starred with Washington on stage), he has two sons, Lyons (Russel Hornsby) and Cory (Jovan Adepo). Lyons is a struggling musician, who does seem to come by to ask his old man for ten dollars on every one of his dad’s pay days. Cory is finishing High School, hoping to play on a football scholarship, which Troy is against. There is also Troy’s brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson), who suffered a brain injury during the war.

All the acting is stellar. Once again Denzel Washington gives us more reason to believe why he is one of the most talented actors to grace the silver screen. This performance ranks up with some of the best work that he has ever done. As I was watching him, I realized you could take any thirty seconds out of his performance, and it would be able to be used for him when announcing him as a Best Actor nominee (which it is pretty much impossible for him not to be).

There are secrets that are exposed, things that are brought out into the light, and all of this is handled so well we forget who the actors are. We don’t sense “Oh look, Viola Davis is acting right now.” We sense that Rose is expressing herself and showing us pain that we hope no one else has to go through (though sadly some do). This may finally be the chance Davis gets at winning an Oscar, and it will be well deserved.

Parents, I am glad to say the movie is PG-13, and for the right reasons. There is swearing, but it is mainly for the thematic material in the film (there is no sexuality, but some suggestive talk). I would say mature middle schoolers and up.

One thing about Washington’s performance is that it is so great we forget he directed the film as well. There is certainly a sense that the movie feels almost like a play, but a movie at the same time. While the movie is not perfect (it drags a little at times, mainly at the end), it is certaintly one of the best movies of 2016.

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

Debbie Reynolds (1932-2016)

debbie-reynolds

Reynolds as Kathy Selden in “Singin’ in the Rain”

Barely a day after the death of her daughter Carrie Fisher, we have now lost Debbie Reynolds at the age of 84, after suffering a stroke.

She starred in movies such as her Oscar Nominated role in The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), and How the West was Won (1962). Still, despite all this and more, she is forever remembered as Kath Selden in Singin’ in the Rain (1952), considered by many (myself included) to be the greatest movie musical ever made.

When I finally discovered Singin’ in the Rain as a young teen movie goer, I admit not to noticing her talent (I was more intrigued by Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor). Still, her singing and dancing at only the age of 19 were quite remarkable. It also did not help that she was ridiculed by the superior Gene Kelly (something he admitted to later) for not knowing all of her dance moves (lucky for her, Fred Astaire chimed in to help her out).

Anytime I watch Singin’ in the Rain (one of my favorite movies ever), I marvel at how much training and time and dedication went into the dance numbers. Reynolds was not even much of a dancer before she made the movie, yet was known to have popped blood vessels after the “Good Morning” number.

In short, she was a warrior.

 

 

 

Children of Men (2006)

children-of-men

Clive Owen and Clare-Hope Ashitey in Children of Men

My favorite movies are the ones that get better and better the more you see them. I have only seen Children of Men for the first time just recently, but I am sure my hype for the movie will grow the more I see it.

Before he won the Oscar for Best Director for his stellar Gravity (2013), Alfonso Cuaron directed (and wrote the screenplay with writers Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, and Hawk Ostby, based off of the book by P.D. James) this film about a post-apocalyptic world in 2027, with the weirdest (at least that is how it feels at first) pandemic imaginable: infertility (it is described by a prior flu outbreak, I believe.) An ex-activist named Theo Faron (Clive Owen). We see the start of the film as showing parts of his daily life (the first movie that came to my mind in the start was Blade Runner), with his talks to his good friend Jasper (Michael Caine, proving once again there is not a role he cannot play).

Eventually, Theo runs into his ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore), who introduces him to Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey). She is the first woman to become pregnant in years. What the movie does so well is show how precious life really is. There is a scene where Theo and a hand ful of other characters (including a young Chiwetel Ejiofor) are talking about how to handle the situation. Everyone has different views, but they know to lose Kee and her baby would be to lose all hope.

Now to the near immaculate film making. There are tracking long shots in this film that are on par with some of the best known films ever made. It is hard to put to words: the ones that come to my mind are visual, poetic, haunting, charming, epic. Children of Men is one of those futuristic films where it does not look like a world we would like to see (in such films as Star Wars, though that was, of course, a long time ago), but one that could (sadly) have potential to happen.

Parents, though there is no sexual material, there is one brief glimpse of nudity as Kee tries to show she is pregnant (why we need to see her fully nude is beyond me). There is also swearing and violence, but neither that any teenager in this day and age has not seen in other movies or video games. High School and above would be ok.

In many ways, I think Children of Men is a forgotten version of movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) or Star Wars (1977). It is a movie that is going to be known as being ahead of its time. It is not as good as those movies mentioned (it does seem to start off a bit slow), but the journey is impossible to forget. By the end, you will feel like I did, and hope to never take children for granted ever again.

Overall: Four Stars ****