Month: May 2019

Movie Review – Aladdin (2019)

Category : Movie Review

Director: Guy Ritchie

Starring: Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Will Smith

Year: 2019

I just realized, looking through the cast of Aladdin and their respective filmographies, what the biggest barrier was between my desire to enjoy the movie and my ability to stomach it.  And that’s not ignoring the many smaller reasons, which I will touch on later; too many Disney live-action remakes, too much blue Will Smith, frantic camera work, and some unnecessary plot lines.  All the small issues add up, sure, but my biggest issue was with the acting, and I just figured out why; these are TV people.  I’m not a TV person, I don’t watch much, though I have obviously somewhat joined the generation of Netflix/whathaveyou bingers who keep up to date on the best shows: OITNB, Downton, Stranger Things, etc.  But I don’t watch network TV, it’s just plain bad, and the actors there are on a certain tier that I don’t like to descend down to.  But they infiltrated Aladdin, this group whose talent doesn’t activate past primetime television, and I can’t forgive this low-ceiling production that one extra misstep.

Aladdin’s just a poor boy, though his story’s seldom told.  Oh wait, no, it’s often told, including within this remake that absolutely no one asked for.  But here we go again, and for our title hero, that means another stroll down poverty lane.  Aladdin steals to earn his daily bread, and one day meets the beautiful Princess Jasmine, who says she’s simply a handmaiden named Dalia.  Aladdin’s about to tell some lies of his own, after he’s caught inside the palace by Jafar, the Sultan’s evil advisor, and forced into a mystical cave to retrieve a magical lamp.  He does the job, uses the lamp himself, and releases a genie who can grant three wishes.  Al’s first wish; to look like a prince, and so the lying begins.  That’s not the ideal way to begin a new relationship, and so Aladdin & Jasmine are off to a rocky start, made worse by the fact that Jafar wants to usurp the sultanate with the genie’s help, something all the good guys in our tale simply can’t let happen.

I don’t know how else to say it; these actors are fine, but they’re TV quality, and that’s not what I want when I sit down to watch a movie.  For people who are used to television, maybe they don’t know, maybe it seems fine, and I’m not saying that every actor has to be Daniel Day-Lewis good, but I want something a little more, which is why I don’t watch CSI Bermuda: Special Complains Department.  The quality of the acting was my biggest problem with Aladdin, it just wasn’t up to snuff, not even rivaling other Disney re-dos, like Cinderella or even Dumbo.  I’m glad the cast was diverse, no need for Jake Gyllenhaal to play Aladdin, but I just wanted the acting to be better, simple as that; it wasn’t good enough for me.  And going back to Disney remaking all of their classic hits; friggin’ stop it already, this is getting ridiculous, we don’t need another knockoff of something we care for, only to line your pockets.  You’ve heard the saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”; we need to adapt that to force Disney to shut up until they think of something original.

Now on to the other problems, because there are plenty to touch on.  Will Smith’s blue persona wasn’t as awful as it appeared to be in the trailer, but it was still dumb, and I’m glad he spent much of the time as his regular self, that was much preferred.  As Blue Genie, he looked as good as The Rock did when he played The Scorpion King, and that’s not something to be proud of.  Honestly, the animation was pretty terrible, as was the jerky camera work and the sped up movements.  And, oh dear god, the parkour; they might as well have had Michael Scott jumping on desks.  Then that girl from SNL popped up, tried to be funny, failed, messed that up, and Iago was a missed opportunity, as was Raja; I was so disappointed with almost all of Ritchie’s choices, which I guess shouldn’t be surprising.  He was the wrong director for this film, the original was not honored, and Jasmine’s new song was crappy.  I’m finding it harder and harder to remember anything good at all; the middle was OK, with the Prince Ali song, some jokes, and a cool dance routine.  But, other than that, Aladdin is just another weak remake we didn’t need, didn’t ask for, and definitely deserved better than.

My rating: ☆ ☆



Movie Review – Kon-Tiki

Category : Movie Review

Director: Joachim Ronning, Espen Sandberg

Starring: Pal Sverre Hagen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Tobias Santelmann

Year: 2012

Though mildly interesting, the true story of Kon-Tiki, or at least this reenactment, is also mildly boring, and the result is rough waters.  Think Moana meets The Mercy, with Norwegians at the helm, and you’ll have some idea what to expect, though minus the music and without any star power.  So, really, imagine a movie about something that really happened and should be kinda cool to watch but sucked dry of all its drama and left with a skit script to see it through to the end.  That’s Kon-Tiki, a film I had been looking forward to finally catching up on for years, but one that ultimately disappointed.  Not because it’s terrible, but because I could have read two Wikipedia paragraphs instead, and saved the rest of my time for something better.

Thor Heyerdahl became obsessed with the Polynesian islands in the early 1900s, and, after WWII, decided to write a book about a theory he held that flew in the face of conventional wisdom.  He believed that the Polynesian peoples didn’t come from Asia in the west as was unquestioningly believe, but rather from the east in South America, 5000 miles away.  The tides and the winds supported his idea, but no one thought that primitive tribes could sail across that much open ocean, especially because those tribes didn’t have ships, only rafts.  So Thor attempted the impossible; he and his small crew, mostly friends from Norway, built a traditional raft using only historic materials and tools, and set adrift off the coast of Peru with the hope that their vessel would carry them 100 days west to the truth, to vindication, wonderful fame, and everlasting glory.

File this film among the strange-but-true and also among the most daring adventures ever to be adapted into a movie.  These men lay on a log raft with a small hut, a small sail, and a rudder that didn’t really work, and hoped that the currents and winds would take them across 5000 miles of open sea, based all on a theory and a prayer.  Mankind has never seemed so insignificant as the figures in this tale, as the grand scale of our world comes into focus when you float along above whales and sharks and imminent death, wondering where nature might take you.  That aspect of this plot is wonderful, as are the scientific elements, but unfortunately that’s where the positives stop, because the rest is fairly boring.  The actors aren’t known in Hollywood, the special effects aren’t good, the dialogue in disjointed, the pace drags, and although it was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2013, I’m not sure it deserves even that recognition.  It’s a poorly-crafted movie about a smartly-crafted craft, if you’re looking for a sound byte, but otherwise doesn’t offer much in the realm of cinema.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆



Book Review – Joyland

Category : Book Review

Author: Stephen King

Year: 2013

One of King’s simplest novels, and one of his easiest stories to consume, Joyland stays away from deep undertones and gruesome horror, at least to the extend that his other books delve into, and instead reads like pulp fiction, a genre King is constantly referencing and dabbling in, without usually taking the plunge.  Joyland is short for a full novel, flies smoothly by, and offers an enjoyable read, without amazing metaphors and nightmare scenarios, making it one of King’s most broad reaching and perhaps accessible.  I like everything he does, from short stories to full epics, from character studies to gross out gore, so count me in for whatever, but I think this book in particular might be one I could easily recommend, if only because it doesn’t require a devoted fanbase, just a casual audience.

Your first heartbreak can become a moment that imprints itself upon your timeline for the rest of your life, and, for Devin Jones, that melodrama is exactly his current situation.  He took a job at Joyland, a small-potatoes Carolina amusement park, to earn some money in between years of college, but at first he thought that he and his girlfriend would be able to deal with the distance.  But apparently not, because she’s off with another guy, and Devin is left miserable beyond repair.  Or, perhaps, not quite, because Joyland somehow becomes more than just a job, it becomes a home and a way of life, at least for a time, and the people Devin meets there will change his life forever.  When he stumbles upon an unsolved mystery and a young boy with second sight, Devin will have to walk down a dark path toward the truth, but thankfully never quite alone.

King wrote this story as a pulp novel, a crime story, a dime paperback thriller; all the things he constantly talks about but rarely writes.  His books, other than his short stories and novellas, are usually much more deeply involved, but Joyland is a chance to get in and get out, to enjoy a summer with a boy, albeit one that turns deadly rather quickly.  Hey, it’s still King after all, there’s still death and sex and supernatural drama, what did you expect, but the force is toned down, and that’s why I think this novel might be one a larger audience could enjoy.  Devin in a great character, the people he meets are fascinating, and the action is cool; you can’t ask for more from a beach read or a summer thrill ride, whatever you might want to call this genre.  And the book is still written with King’s talent, his mastery for background, and his ability to transport us into a different world in the span of a few pages.  Read and enjoy, just don’t expect The Stand; Joyland is a different beast entirely.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



Movie Review – Rim of the World

Category : Movie Review

Director: McG

Starring: Jack Gore, Benjamin Flores Jr, Miya Cech, Alessio Scalzotto

Year: 2019

First off, that the professional name you go by when directing films is McG is just weird, there’s no other way to say it.  Secondly, you should probably make good movies at some point: Charlie’s Angels 1, Charlie’s Angels 2, We Are Marshall, Terminator Salvation, This Means War, 3 Days to Kill, The Babysitter.  That’s a real filmography, those are really the movies that this guy chose to help create, and so we cannot accept his credibility ever again, never ever again.  Enter Rim of the World, which just shouts “ripoff”, and, with “McG”‘s name at the top, can’t be trusted as far as it can be thrown.  In fact, since you can’t exactly throw Netflix, keep yourself as far away as possible from this film so that you don’t accidentally watch it; I’m not sure who would want to, who it was made for, or what the hell I even just saw.

Alex is an indoor kid, to put it lightly, and his mom would like him to get outdoors and talk to other kids once in a while.  That’s why she signs him up for summer camp, at the Rim of the World, an adventure experience in sunny California that should loosen Alex up and make him face his fears.  He does meet some other early-teens: Dariush the spoiled rich kid, ZhenZhen the strong silent type, Gabriel the brave and edgy.  But they don’t become fast friends instantly, it takes shared experienced to bond a group, and boy are they all about to have an experience.  Aliens attack Earth while the foursome is away from their group, and they’re left alone to fend for themselves, staying alive however they can.  Not only that, but they stumble upon the only means to save the planet, and must go on the journey of a lifetime to ensure that everyone in the entire world isn’t murdered by giant monsters.

I’m not really sure what type of movie this movie was supposed to be, but McG wasn’t the guy to make whatever that goal might have been a reality, and this cast wasn’t the team to see crap to the finish line despite itself either.  This isn’t for kids, that’s for sure, but it also isn’t for adults, landing somewhere in the tween-y middle where no one I know would want to be.  They talk regularly about sex and 90s movies, like a Seth Rogen comedy, but these kids must not know what half they’re saying even means.  I think we should wait for Good Boys if we want this raunchy style done right, that should prove to be something much stronger and much better done.  McG makes a McStake in every scene, the writing is also horrible, and man I hated these kids; they were all simple stereotypes and had no talent to elevate their crappy roles.  Rim of the World is a regurgitation of many other movies spit out by Netflix and supposed to be something cool; it is anything but.

My rating: ☆ ☆


Movie Review – Galveston

Category : Movie Review

Director: Melanie Laurent

Starring: Ben Foster, Elle Fanning

Year: 2018

So far, Melanie Laurent has only proven herself to be a mediocre director, and that had better change soon if she wants audiences to continue to give her films a chance.  She’s a solid actress, I’ve enjoyed her many times (Inglourious Basterds, Enemy, By the Sea, Operation Finale), but Breathe was only OK, safe and typical, and she needs to supply us with more of a reason to get excited when we hear that her name is attached to a movie, other than in front of the camera.  Because Galveston went down the same road very quickly, becoming something interesting that lost its magic halfway through, that started to veer off course way too soon.  And if you can’t make a killer film with Foster & Fanning as your leading pair, you might need to rethink your chosen profession.

Roy is a two-bit mob enforcer in New Orleans, coming from a life of crime and resigned to the fact that he will always be living on borrowed time.  When a woman comes between he and his boss, the hitman becomes the hit, and he barely escapes being murdered.  During the set up, Roy frees a young woman who was also scheduled to be eliminated, and they skip town together.  Her name is Rocky, she’s a teenage prostitute, and she just wants to get some semblance of a clean life back, so that maybe someday she can start over again.  On their long getaway toward Galveston, Texas, Roy and Rocky stop in the small town of Orange, where they take Rocky’s little sister Tiffany from their abusive step-father, making it a trio who hit the road and then hole up in a cheap motel for a week, laying low while the heat dies down.  The relationship formed between Roy and Rocky becomes something that neither is willing to give up, but when the butcher’s bill comes due in the form of Roy’s old boss, someone will have to pay.

Laurent is a Hollywood actress, as well as a French film star, so I’m sure she knows her stuff when it comes to American cinema, but something about Galveston struck me as dishonest, or at least without that personal touch that’s so important, becoming just another crime movie when the place and time and people, which all were pivotal, should have been the pieces that made the magic happen.  I liked The Florida Project, it felt transportative, and I loved Hell or High Water, which focused on a specific area until audiences felt like they had lived there all their lives.  That’s what Galveston was missing, that honest quality of being real and raw, instead always seeming like a cheap copy of something better (maybe the book).  And again, Foster is brilliant, Fanning is astronomically improving; if you can’t succeed with them you need to see yourself out the door.  They are why this movie worked at all, their performances, and I was definitely invested for most of the journey, really getting into the story and the characters.  But then the bottom dropped out toward the end, and like I said, Laurent couldn’t weave in anything wonderful other than what was occurring naturally between her stars, and that’s a big problem.  She needs to deliver the next time out, to show us that she isn’t only a surface director, that she can go deeper, because audiences only give so many chances.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆



Movie Review – John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

Category : Movie Review

Director: Chad Stahelski

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Ian McShane, Asia Kate Dillon

Year: 2019

While John Wick 1 surprised and John Wick 2 gave fans more of what they wanted (if at a lesser quality), John Wick 3 failed to do anything other than throw some random punches, most of which didn’t land.  The phenomenon of the first film can’t be overstated; it came out of nowhere and blew us all away.  It was fun, fantastic, high-energy, high-gore, took us deep into a cool underworld, and let us enjoy ourselves.  Much like Fury Road did for explosive action, John Wick tried to do for close combat, and mostly succeeded.  The sequel tried to give audiences more of the same, more of what we desired, and, again, for the most part was successful, although the acting took a turn for the worse.  The third installment, which apparently isn’t the end of a trilogy, can only wildly slap at shapes in the dark, never showing us that it has any idea what it’s doing beyond being nonsensical, gratuitous, and ultimately dull.

First he tried to get out, but he was pulled right back in.  Then a debt was cashed in, and he had to fight one more time.  Now he’s broken all the rules and must pay the price, which is, of course, his life.  John Wick might be the best to even answer the phone when a hit was ordered, but now others in the secret world of assassins have been tasked with taking him out; how’s it feel to be on the other side, John?  A bounty has been placed upon his head by the High Table for breaking the ancient pact, and his friends have been forced to turn on him, or be excommunicated themselves.  How will Wick survive the night, let alone long enough to collect all his debts, burn all his bridges, and turn the tide of the war in his favor?  But I wouldn’t bet against this man, especially, ahem, since they’ve already announced a fourth film in the franchise.

I joke, but we know John Wick’s life isn’t really in danger, as long as there is more money to be made by the studio; he’s too valuable to be killed off.  Not that knowing that ruins the action, it’s typical enough for us to know the plight of the hero without being too worried for him, that’s part of suspension of disbelief I guess, and I’m fine with that.  But it does make two hours of guns being shot in John’s general direction a bit less exciting, since you know he’s gonna be OK.  There were scenes here in which literally dozens, maybe even a hundred, bad guys are shot one at a time, wave upon wave of fonder for Wick and his friends to feed on.  By the end, I was honestly bored to death; after the 900th shooting you start to be immune to the violence.  You shut down because, hey, what else are you going to do, and the blood starts to lose its appeal.  That’s exactly what happened this third time around; I had seen the same thing so often that I simply didn’t care to watch anymore.

Those looking for that sort of action won’t be disappointed, there’s gore galore, but the multiple it-factors in the first film are why we fell in love, not because Wick can shoot henchmen, those movies are a dime a dozen.  All that heart and intrigue and humor were gone the third time the plot was recycled, and no one seemed too interested in bringing anything to the forefront that would make an actual good film; they probably already knew we were hooked and didn’t care about us getting fed anything real.  But that wasn’t even the biggest problem I had with the film, the over-action was perhaps expected, but I didn’t know that the acting would be so god-awful.  Even Keanu seemed checked out, or to have shed whatever it was that pushed John in the first flick, because his character was completely DOA.  And dear god was everyone else so much worse.  Ian McShane and Halle Berry were fine, I guess Laurence Fishburne and Lance Reddick were too, though they weren’t anything to write home about.  The major problem was Asia Kate Dillon, who was horrendous, unspeakably awful, and never should have made it past OITNB.  Also, are you kidding me, the main villain is the guy from Iron Chef who does a flip at the beginning of the show?  Seriously?  Like, seriously?  Don’t forget Anjelica Huston with the worst Belarusian/Russian/generic Eastern European accent you will ever hear, no way, can’t forget that.  These poor choices show just how much magic was left in the hat, and it wasn’t more than a pinch, not nearly enough to make a third film stand up, not even with horse rides, killer dogs, big guns, and ballet dancers.  I think it’s safe to say that the shark was legitimately jumped, and the fall back down to Earth was more painful than I had expected.

My rating: ☆ ☆



Movie Trailer – We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Stacie Passon

Starring: Taissa Farmiga, Alexandra Daddario, Crispin Glover, Sebastian Stan

Release: May 17th, 2019

This trailer is hilariously bad and this film will be too.

Movie Trailer – Terminator: Dark Fate

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Tim Miller

Starring: Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes

Release: November 1st, 2019

As much as we want this movie to be good, we need to start mentally preparing ourselves for the truth; it won’t be.  The first two were great, obviously, but the rest are trash, and this latest addition will be no different.

Movie Review – Gosford Park

Category : Movie Review

Director: Robert Altman

Starring: Every British Person

Year: 2001

I was impressed by Gosford Park when I watched it as a teenager and as a budding movie buff, probably because of the complexity of the social situations Julian Fellowes was able to weave between the upstairs aristocracy and the downstairs service class, a relationship that I had never even considered before.  How he (and Altman to some extent, although he’s never impressed me as a director, and you can feel that this is Fellowes’ baby, especially given what we now know about what he would go on to do) was able to create this world made up of two parts, and how he depicted them struggling against one another, is pretty spectacular, and is the key reason to watch this film.  The other is the cast, because it’s enormous and talented, but that’s really where the positives end; unfortunately Gosford Park doesn’t stand up in the post-Downton era.

At Gosford Park in England in the 1930s, tradition still clings on for dear life while the times change around the old manor house, its estate, and the people who call it home.  Not as many nobles still hold land, title, money, or to the old ways, but William McCordle does, and he’s throwing a grand party with all of his family in attendance, which means all the people who rely on him for their wealth are coming to grovel and beg, cheat and steal.  Each invitee brings with them their own staff; maids, valets, the whole nine yards.  That means, underneath the main house, a warren of passageways is alive with activity, washing clothes and preparing meals and putting out fires.  The staff have their own lives, their own troubles, which are bound to mingle with those of the upper dwellers, that’s just human nature, whether the rich want to acknowledge the poor or not.  And when the master of the house winds up dead, it may be the least likely candidate who did the deed; in other words, maybe this time the butler really did do it.

Gosford Park is less a who-done-it and more a who’s-who, which is fun in its own right, no one was asking for Clue 2, but also isn’t exactly what I would have preferred.  I remember liking it more when I was young than I did this time around, partly because it only dabbles in comedy, only touches on murder mystery, never committing to any one course of action, always falling back on the idea that we’ll be impressed by the English manor atmosphere and the stellar cast.  And I was intrigued, I would go on to love Downton Abbey, and this was the start of that great show, so give credit where credit it due, but this is almost a first draft, where Downton is the incredible final product.  This film is often just a tease, not a bite, and that’s no good, especially with all this talent (too much probably) ready to create wonderful characters, if they had just been allowed more time/more of a chance.  Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, Charles Dance, Tom Hollander, Bob Balaban, Ryan Phillippe, Stephen Fry, Kelly Macdonald, Clive Owen, Helen Mirren, Eileen Atkins, Emily Watson, Derek Jacobi, Richard E. Grant, Jeremy Swift; holy cow.  One of the strongest casts ever, a superb idea that would become a near-perfect show, and a film that was nominated for tons of awards; but I think it watched better when it was brand new and impressive because of that, it doesn’t quite hold up after seeing Downton Abbey through and knowing what more can be done with more time and more detailed backgrounds.  I would recommend the show, not the movie, because although the comparisons are many, the qualities don’t match up.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆



Book Review – True Grit

Category : Book Review

Author: Charles Portis

Year: 1968

True Grit is one of the easiest novels I’ve ever read, and I don’t mean because it was so simple it took no effort to read, I mean that the time I spent with it in front of me felt like time I spent listening to a fascinating person tell their equally fascinating story with a smooth flow and an honest charm that kept me from being able to even blink, I was so curious to hear what happened next.  It’s less a book and more a memory, and it feels every inch our own true story, like we were along for the ride every hoof print of the way.  Charles Portis barely wrote a thing other than this book, but it doesn’t matter, he gave us something special, and for that he will always be remembered.  So will True Grit, a simple tale with only three real characters, and a Western experience like no other.

Mattie Ross is not the type of girl to take life’s punches and not punch back, even during the time of the American West, when women weren’t expected to say boo.  Mattie has much more to say than that, and she has a knack of getting her way in any situation, even aged only 14 years.  When her father is robbed and killed by a hired man while traveling on business, Mattie makes up her mind to travel herself; first finishing the business and then tracking down her father’s murderer.  To help her, she enlists the aid of Marshall Rooster Cogburn, a man known to understand the territory they will be forced to travel in to catch the crook and seen as a rugged peace officer who has, as they say, grit.  But he’s not the only one, Mattie is herself a tough cookie, and along with another lawman, a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf but pronounced LaBeef, they will set out on an adventure of a lifetime.

Like no other book I can think of, True Grit feels like sitting around a campfire and listening to a mighty Western tale, one full of simple choices and brave deeds in turn, one told with embedded language that you begin to understand as you listen along, and which begins to feel like your own story by the time it winds down.  Mattie is an awesome character, just awesome, and Rooster is no less so, this bear of a man who you quickly understand is all Teddy underneath.  And talk about history; if you’re into this sort of thing this book reads like a time capsule or time travel, as you learn more about guns and vittles and horses and outlaws than you ever knew you wanted to know.  A combination of adventure and instruction, wry humor and real heart, Portis’ claim to fame is not simply worth your time, it’s worth your bookshelf.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆