Archive for category Movies

Movie Mayhem – Wonder

Feel-good movies always walk a fine line between inspirational and exaggerated  schmaltz. On one level, they present a rosy picture of the world, a near-utopia where nothing too terrible ever happens, and when it does, it’s resolved rather quickly, and on another level, they do everything they can to motivate you to be an overall better person, but try do so without sounding intentionally preachy. This mix often leads to over-the-top sentimentality, or pushes the film to become so unrealistic, you just can’t buy its sincerity. When done right, though, they leave you emotionally cleansed, joyous and hopeful for the future. With Wonder, the newest entry into the family-friendly inspirational drama based on the novel by R.J. Palacio, this line is extremely thin, yet expertly teeters on both sides without ever going too far one way or the other. Read Full Review

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Movie Mayhem – Murder on the Orient Express

Disclaimer: I have not seen any of the previous iterations of Murder on the Orient Express, nor have I had the pleasure of reading Agatha Christie’s novel on which the films are based. This review is based solely on Kenneth Branagh’s interpretation.

What makes a good mystery? First and foremost is a great lead detective who an audience can relate to, have fun with and feel invited in to join them on their quest to solve the puzzle. Second is an eclectic cast of suspects; each one with their own distinct personality and secrets lying in wait to be discovered and move the detective closer to his final revelation. Third is a bevy of overt and subtle clues and misdirections strewn about that help guide the detective through the case. And finally, there must be a great reveal, one an audience doesn’t see coming but should have with all the clues and information that have been openly provided for all to digest. Kenneth Branagh, director and star of the newest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel, Murder on the Orient Express, does everything he can to include every one of these pieces, yet forgets one very key ingredient: a blanket of intrigue. Read Full Review

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Movie Mayhem – Thor: Ragnarok

Marvel will go down in the history books as having the most ingenious, self-sustaining film franchises in movie history. Since starting their “Cinematic Universe” back in 2008 with the introduction of Nick Fury and the Avengers Initiative in the post-credit scene of Iron Man, people have flocked to the theaters to get a taste of all the interconnected stories that have since built this magnificent universe. Several other companies have tried to start their own universes to muddled results because what they don’t seem to understand in building a world like this is that you need the trust of the audience to make it work. DC and Paramount have yet to earn any confidence in characters that an audience cares about and a story that doesn’t reek of desperation. Marvel’s universe was grown organically and they built a fan base before connecting their films outside of the mid/post-credit scenes. They respected their audience, hired a team that understood the source material and loved the characters to a degree that would ground the ideas in a realistic shell, but stay true to the heart of what everyone expects from a comic-book. Read Full Review

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Movie Mayhem – Battle of the Sexes

Films that are “Based on a True Story” are made for one of three reasons: 1) they have a clear message that someone feels passionate about; 2) they tell an unbelievable or truly remarkable story; or 3) they uncover and/or showcase incredible tests of strength, honor and heroism. Going into Battle of the Sexes, I knew nothing about the events that transpired between Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). To be perfectly honest, like a lot of people, I’m sure, I didn’t even know who these people were. Because of the subject matter, I figured Billie Jean King would be triumphant, but the actual match happened before I was born, and I don’t watch tennis, so there’s really no reason why I would know what transpired between these two stalwarts of the sport. After seeing it, it’s clear that directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris had something to say with Sexes, but the execution of those messages — including equality for women in all aspects of life as well as equal rights for the LGBT community — got a little lost in translation. Read Full Review

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Movie Mayhem – Kingsman: The Golden Circle

When studios decide to make a sequel to a beloved (or financially successful) movie, they are walking a fine line. To make a successful sequel, you not only have to bring back all of the elements that clicked with audiences to begin with, but to keep it from feeling stagnant, you have to up the ante by delivering bigger and better ideas, struggles and character development. Often, these decisions fail — either the movie doesn’t go far enough and the film feels like a repetitive money grab, or they go too far, and it doesn’t feel anything like the original… it becomes too over-the-top or silly for its own good. But when you’re able to find the right balance between heightening the story, expanding the lore, and giving fans what they liked with extra bite, fans will continue to follow the characters wherever you take them. Kingsman: The Golden Circle falls into the latter category, as it brings back everything we loved of the original in a way that doesn’t make it feel like a tedious retread. Read Full Review

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Movie Mayhem – mother!

I’m not quite sure what to make of Darren Aronofsky’s mother!. On the one hand, I was intrigued by what the writer/director was attempting to do and how he navigated the first half (or two-thirds) of the film. On the other hand, the last third is so bizarre and so disjointed and removed from all semblance of sanity, it’s hard to understand the point of the whole thing. To say the end comes out of left field would be an understatement; it felt like an abandoned child who appears out of nowhere and claims to be related to someone who just won the lottery. Aronofsky has the right to make whatever movie he likes, and he certainly has pushed the boundaries over the years with bizarre, sometimes sickening character studies. This time, though, he may have gone a bit too deep into his own head where he wasn’t quite able to find his way back from the edge of his own self-indulgences. Read Full Review

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Movie Mayhem – Home Again

Back in the early 2000s, Reese Witherspoon was the go-to girl-next-door. She was adorable sweetness wrapped in a fun, lovable piñata of joy. Her rise to fame was quick, beginning in the late nineties and culminating in 2001 with her breakout film, Legally Blonde. For several years more years, she starred in a number of fun, lightweight romantic comedies with a few dramatic parts thrown in for good measure. But as fame tends to do when actors grow older — and new rising starlets started to take roles she normally would have secured — Witherspoon fell off the blockbuster map for several years, occasionally appearing in mediocre Hollywood tripe or small indie films where she could show off her Oscar-worthy talents.

As she continued to become yesterday’s news in Hollywood’s eyes, many probably forgot how lovely she is when she’s allowed to blossom with the right material. Enter Nancy Meyers, who also found some great success in the early twenty-first century as a writer, director and producer with romantic dramedies. Now, with the help of her daughter, Hallie Meyers-Shyer, who wrote and directed Home Again, the two romantic stalwarts have teamed to bring together a fun, lighthearted romantic comedy that does everything it’s supposed to do while never taking itself too seriously. Read Full Review

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Movie Mayhem – Leap!

The one thing animation studios must do in order to give their characters life is create emotion within the eyes of those characters. It’s not easy to do; even some real-life actors are incapable of producing any type of energy within their facial features. But they say the eyes are the window to the soul, and if you aren’t able to capture that essence, audiences are unable to connect with the character because they feel fake. And giving them a strong voice doesn’t help if their eyes feel like glass, or the features in their face don’t allow for strong, true emotion. This is the main problem with Leap!, a new animated film distributed by The Weinstein Company — no matter how fun the movie may be, it grows bland because the characters all feel too plastic. Read Full Review

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Movie Mayhem – The Hitman’s Bodyguard

If they were to accurately title The Hitman’s Bodyguard, it would actually be called The Hitman and His Bodyguard. By making the title possessive, as they do, you would assume the focus of the film would be on bodyguard as opposed to the hitman, and though the bodyguard does have the stronger character arc, director Patrick Hughes tends to steer focus away from Ryan Reynolds’ Michael Bryce (aka the bodyguard) and onto Samuel L. Jackson’s Darius Kincaid (aka the hitman). It makes sense; Kincaid is the funner character, and this is a buddy action comedy reminiscent of eighties action comedies (a little Lethal Weapon meets Midnight Run), so by keeping the two characters equals in the title would have given a better sense of the film from the get-go. Read Full Review

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Movie Mayhem – The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature

I am part of the problem. What problem? The overabundance of sequels, prequels, retreads, reboots, spinoffs and the Hollywood assembly line. I wrote a speech for a class in college denouncing sequels and their brethren, claiming we should get rid of them all but confessing my own culpability in keeping them alive by continuing to feed the beast with the purchasing of tickets. I can hide under the guise of being a movie critic, but unlike professional critics, I don’t get paid to see every movie that’s released, which means every choice I make when it comes to movies is of my own volition. At the same time, you never know when you’ll find a real gem of a film. There are plenty of sequels that build on the original story, add to the lore and give a sense of closure in some areas — sequels that give us more than we thought we wanted. On the flip side, there are films like The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature, a sequel to a forgettable throw-away animated film that does nothing to enhance anything but the studio’s bottom line. Read Full Review

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