Archive for category Film

Movie Mayhem – Isn’t It Romantic

Isn’t It Romantic — 2019; Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson; Starring Rebel Wilson, Adam Devine, Liam Hemsworth, Priyanka Chopra, Brandon Scott Jones, and Betty Gilpin

Much like Adam Devine’s character in Isn’t It Romantic, I’m a sucker for romantic comedies. From You’ve Got Mail to any early 2000 rom-com starring Matthew McConaughey, there’s something about the genre that I find delightfully fun and whimsical. As they mention in this new meta-update to the genre, which takes as much joy in making fun of films in the genre as it does creating one, the ideas that romantic comedies present may be highly idealized and horribly out of touch with reality — but that’s where the joy comes in, as we all can dream of having the perfect romance play out before our eyes.

I have never been a big fan of Rebel Wilson. She’s okay at times, but I never truly bought the sincerity of her brand of comedy. It’s okay to disagree; I’m sure there are plenty of you out there who absolutely adore her. I just find her a bit dull in most of what she does and her snarky, self-loathing humor gets tired over time. But this is exactly what makes Wilson the perfect person to play the part of Natalie, a lonely architect who doesn’t have the confidence to stand up for her own ideas, no matter how good they may be.

As a fan of romantic comedies as a kid, Natalie grows up with the cynicism of her mother in regards to how these types of films represent society. One inevitable scene in the film has Natalie go on a verbal rampage for why romantic comedies are so awful, setting up her expectations for when she eventually finds herself right in the middle of one after a mugging gone wrong. Waking up in a beautifully-dressed hospital and being attended to by a man who’s too hot to be a doctor, Natalie realizes something is wrong. When she finally puts all of the pieces together, she begins her quest to fulfill her rom-com fantasy mission of finding love with the her hunky dim-bulb of a boss (Liam Hemsworth).

As expected, the script, written by Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox and Katie Silberman, is full of overt references to different types of tropes that infiltrate the majority of romantic comedies. The apartment and wardrobe are way too extravagant for anyone to afford; there’s an overly stereotypical gay sidekick and an overabundance of well-lit cinematography that makes everything seem airy and light; the set design looks like it came right out of Pleasentville; and the most common of the bunch: a best friend who’s secretly smitten for the lead, but forgoes their own desires to help them find love with the hot eye candy they desire.

It’s how they handle these tropes that make the film work on a higher level than just a knock-off satire. Wilson and Devine, bringing back the same nerdy chemistry they originally had in the Pitch Perfect series, are incredibly likeable together and, for the most part, hold back just enough to keep their relationship relatable without being annoying. As I mentioned, both Wilson and Devine’s style of comedy can be very infuriating at times, but they work well inside this particular concept where that style of boisterous intensity makes sense. Brandon Scott Jones does a really good job of pulling from classic eighties films to build his overly flamboyant character, and Priyanka Chopra makes the most of being a rich “Yoga Ambassador” who falls in love with Devine’s character after he saves her from choking.

One of the bigger surprises comes in the form of Hemsworth, who is quite funny as the clueless boss who becomes quite smitten with Natalie after their initial meet-cute when he almost hits her with his car. Like his older brother, Hemsworth has an unusual knack for creating a believable goof without going so far as to become a cartoon of himself. He fits right in with the other comedic talents in the film and doesn’t miss a step in either verbal or physical comedic moments, occasionally stealing the scenes, even when he’s simply in the background kicking a plant for fun.

The strength of the characters and how the actors play them is ultimately what helps the film succeed, despite some of the plot points that aren’t as developed as they should be. One of Natalie’s gripes about these types of films is that when there are two women in a workplace, they have to be mortal enemies. It’s a great concept and Natalie’s assistant (Betty Gilpin) in the real world becomes that enemy in the alt-verse, but the payoff falls on deaf ears as it’s never fully developed beyond that initial setup.

The film is only an hour and a half, which makes it shorter than the majority of the romantic comedies it’s parodying. I don’t normally say this, but the film could have used an extra ten to fifteen minutes, allowing it to add a few more layers to some of the ideas they present (one of which could have been to give Natalie’s assistant more to do and become integral to what happens later in the film), as well as giving us a tad bit more context at the beginning of the film before Natalie enters her rom-com reality.

Usually when there’s multiple writers on a project, the overall product suffers because things begin to get too jumbled, but with this film, the ideas translate well enough to hold your interest and the actors keep things moving at a good pace, making sure to keep everyone smiling throughout. If you’ve been craving a good romantic comedy, and are in need of a good date-night film, give this one a shot, as there’s no doubt you’ll leave the theater with just one thought — Isn’t It Romantic!

My Grade: A-

Bonus Reviews:

Happy Death Day was quite a surprise when it came out in 2017, and though I wasn’t screaming for a sequel, Happy Death 2U rises to the occasion by matching its predecessor’s quirky death for gloriously insane death (despite there being one story thread that gets dropped without any explanation). A-

Even though the third act settles into nothing more than a setup for what is more than likely a planned trilogy, Alita: Battle Angel makes up for the lack of closure with an exciting, emotional ride that envelops you in a well-constructed world five hundred years in the future. A


Next week, new movies include How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World and Fighting With My Family. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.


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Movie Mayhem – Cold Pursuit

Cold Pursuit — 2019; Directed by Hans Petter Moland; Starring Liam Neeson, Laura Dern, Tom Bateman, John Doman and Emmy Rossum

Way back in 2008, Liam Neeson did what very few actors over the age of fifty are capable of doing — after crafting a healthy career in dramatic leading roles, Neeson became a legitimate action star with a particular set of skills. He had been steadily moving in that direction for a few years prior (with roles in Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace and Batman Begins), but it wasn’t until Bryan Mills first sought vengeance on those who kidnapped his daughter that he was able to move away from the “stoic mentor” and parlay his path into a tremendous new audience that wholly embraced him as an action icon. The only question was, how long would it last before Neeson (and audiences) got burned out? With Cold Pursuit opening this weekend, we finally have our answer, as I don’t know if I have ever before seen a movie so bored with its star, its premise, or itself.

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Movie Mayhem – Miss Bala (2019)

Miss Bala — 2019; Directed by Catherine Hardwicke; Starring Gina Rodriguez, Christina Rodlo, Damián Alcázar, Ricardo Abarca, Mikhail Plata and Anthony Mackie

Some movies are great; they captivate your mind, heart and soul. Something about them viscerally connects with you; all of the elements fall into place so perfectly, it’s hard to criticize them for anything. Other movies are terrible; nothing about them is genuine. They’re sloppily made with poor direction and acting, or have a poorly executed story and pace, making them simply boring with nothing much to say. Still others, like the new cartel actioner, Miss Bala, fall somewhere in between; not special enough to sing its praises, but not bad enough to complain about.

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Movie Mayhem – The Kid Who Would Be King

The Kid Who Would Be King — 2019; Directed by Joe Cornish; Starring Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Dean Chaumoo, Angus Imrie, Tom Taylor, Rhianna Dorris and Patrick Stewart

The story is as old as time: someone ordinary, going through the motions of a mundane life, suddenly discovers he’s extraordinary and is the only person who can stop an impending evil from destroying the world. One reason this scenario is timeless is because it’s a fantasy everyone shares on some level. At one point or another, we all hope one day we’ll find our true purpose in this world, so the idea resonates on a subconscious level. The Kid Who Would Be King clearly knows this, going out of their way to mention other books and films that have done this very thing — Star Wars and Harry Potter, to name just a couple — and mixes the idea with the legend of King Arthur, a young orphan who became king when he pulled a sword from a stone.

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Movie Mayhem – The Upside

The Upside — 2019; Directed by Neil Burger; Starring Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston and Nicole Kidman

When a comedian starts out in the industry, their main goal is to make people laugh. But, just as any other profession, that can only last so long before they start to want more. Doing the same thing over and over can become labored; the soul needs more than simple repetition. This is one reason a lot of comedians at some point in their careers slowly begin to work their way into dramatic roles. Some fail to find a way to successfully transition (Will Farrell comes to mind), while others have incredibly long careers because of it (see: Tom Hanks, Robin Williams and most recently, Steve Carell, to name a few). It doesn’t mean they’ve lost touch with their comedic roots, it’s simply their way of widening their audience, and on a personal level, growing into a better performer. In The Upside, Kevin Hart becomes the newest comedian to step foot across the aisle into drama, and he’s given the perfect mentor to seamlessly make that transition.

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Movie Mayhem – The Best and Worst of 2018

As with any other year, 2018 saw a slew of both good and bad films, however, some films that may appear on other critics’s lists may not appear here, either because I didn’t like it as much as them, I didn’t get a chance to see it, or it was a Netflix exclusive, as I can be more selective with my choices. That doesn’t mean I didn’t see plenty of mediocre films that deserve to be part of the worst, however, the scales were a little imbalanced this year. I saw 125 movies, 61 of which scored an A- or higher (which is pretty much in line with past years), while only 10 scored a C+ or below.

As I point out every year, this list is compiled of only movies I saw from January 1 to December 31 (with the exception of Mary Poppins Returns, which I saw in the first week of 2019, but prior to compiling this list). With that said, here are my picks for the best and worst of 2018!

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Movie Mayhem – Vice

Vice

Vice — 2018; Directed by Adam McKay; Starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Jesse Plemons, Alison Pill and Lily Rabe

There’s a mid-credits scene in Vice that writer/director Adam McKay deliberately uses to get out in front of those who will say his new politically polarizing film is nothing but biased propaganda. In the scene, a member of a focus group questions the film for being biased, in which another member retorts that it’s based on facts. This eventually leads the ignorant redneck to start a fist-fight. The scene represents everything that’s wrong with American politics today, and by placing it in the film at all validates the fact that McKay is well-aware of his own personal bias — and doesn’t care. A quarter of the audience will love the film for putting a knife into former Vice President Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), another quarter will hate it for the same reason. It’s the middle half, of which I believe I am a part, that will feel as though, even if the film is based on fact, nothing portrayed can be believed because it’s been tainted by McKay’s obvious preconceptions. Read Full Review

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Movie Mayhem – Welcome to Marwen

Welcome to Marwen

Welcome to Marwen — Directed by Robert Zemeckis; Starring Steve Carell, Leslie Mann, Merritt Weaver, Gwendoline Christie, Stefaniw von Pfetten, Janelle Monáe, and Eiza González

I always tend to enjoy films that play with the imagination as a means of dissecting abstract emotions. Whether it’s a guy breaking from his mundane life to achieve an adventure beyond his wildest dreams, or kids creating their own fantastical world to cope with the suffering of those they love, these films give us permission to escape into ourselves in order to work through depression, fear and loneliness, and secure a strong, healthy pathway to heal. Welcome to Marwen, the true story of man fighting to overcome the demons that haunt him through the stories he creates with a set of dolls, portrays its hero in a serious way without taking away from inventiveness of the human mind. Read Full Review

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Movie Mayhem – Mortal Engines

Mortal Engines

Mortal Engines — 2018; Directed by Christian Rivers; Starring Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Jihae, Stephen Lang and Hugo Weaving

In Return of the Jedi, as the Rebel Alliance attacks the second Death Star, Lando Calrissian pilots the Millennium Falcon into the core to set off a few ion charges and start a chain reaction that will ultimately destroy it. As he does so, Luke Skywalker is on board the Death Star helping Anakin Skywalker find redemption. As the explosions start burning away at the core, both characters — as well as that infamous ship — are in danger. By the time the Falcon blasts from within the fire to come out (relatively) unscathed, we’re all cheering in excitement because we want to see these heroes we’ve grown to love survive. There’s a similar sequence in the new post-apocalyptic adventure, Mortal Engines, that falls extremely flat, mostly because unlike the sequence in Jedi, we aren’t invested in any of the characters enough to have that same breathless urgency. Read Full Review

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Movie Mayhem – Quick Takes 2

Quick Takes 2

Ralph Breaks the Internet — 2018; Starring the voices of John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman; Creed II — 2018; Starring Sylvester Stallone, Michael B. Jordan and Dolph Lundgren; Widows — 2018; Starring Viola Davis, Colin Fareell, Michelle Rodriguez and Liam Neeson; Robin Hood — 2018; Starring Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx and Ben Mendleson; The Front Runner — 2018; Starring Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga and J.K. Simmons

Along with holdovers and independent releases, there were three major films that made an attempt to dominate the box office this Thanksgiving. Because I all but haunted the cineplex over the long weekend, I decided to give a quick take on all five of the films I went to see. Read Full Reviews

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