Archive for category Movies

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!

Top 10 Best

Bonus Choice (#11) — Hunter Killer

Michael Gor and Gerard Butler

Gerard Butler has an uneven record when it comes to the quality of his films. He doesn’t necessarily change all that much, keeping macho bravado alive while easing nicely into intellectual depth and suave charm. When he stars in a bad film, it’s more than likely the fault of the director unable to keep his overt scenery chewing in check, or a script that feels like it was written by a ten-year old. This year saw two films that highlighted Butler’s masculinity: Den of Thieves, where his machismo was on full display, and Hunter Killer, which allowed Butler to show off a gritty exterior but remain subdued, allowing director Donovan Marsh to expertly navigate the film through the murky waters of drama and tension. Everyone involved was on point, but Butler was the core that helped keep the peril, and thus the heart-pounding tension, alive.

#10 — Mary Poppins Returns

Joel Dawson, Emily Blunt, Pixie Davies and Nathanael Saleh

Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) returned and was able to fly her way into my top ten list with her no-nonsense magical touch. Blunt couldn’t quite match the same subtle transitions from hard-nosed, no-nonsense nanny to sweet, charming fun-loving whimsy that Julie Andrews delivered to the iconic character, and the songs don’t feel as natural or majestic as the likes of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, but they both came really close, giving the film the spark it needed to draw you in and keep you interested. What makes Mary Poppins Returns truly sing are Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer as Michael and Jane Banks, the children from the original film now all grown. As Michael tries to find a way to save his house from the evil bankers, Mary Poppins drops in to supply her unique brand of support by watching over his three children (Nathanael Salah, Joel Dawson, and Pixie Davies), a brood of smart, likable kids that give the film its true voice.

#9 — Bumblebee

Hailee Steinfeld and Bumblebee

Unlike a lot of people, I’ve liked all of the Transformers films. Much like Star Wars (continue reading), I can overlook the flaws and enjoy the film for what it is — a mind-numbing crash-course in entertaining chaos. Which is also what makes Bumblebee such a refreshing change. Not only does it continue the tradition of large metal robots fighting one another in completely nonsensical situations, but Bumblebee is probably the first Transformers movie that allows itself to have some emotional depth. Hailee Steinfeld does a terrific job as the eighteen-year-old catalyst to showcase the origin story of Bee (before he became a Camero and hunted down Sam Witwicky) and how the Autobots first arrived on Earth.

#8 — Instant Family

Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne, Isabela Moner, Julianna Gamiz and Gustavo Quiroz

Mark Walhberg and Rose Byrne are at their best as a couple who want to enhance their lives by adopting a child. The child they connect with, Lizzy (Isabela Moner), though, comes with a brother (Gustavo Quiroz) and sister (Julianna Gamiz), so the couple have to navigate the rigors of being parents with more than they bargained for. Because the film is partially based on director Sean Anders’s own experience with foster care, the movie works as a sweet family drama that highlights what it takes to foster and adopt a child. Nothing about raising a child is all candy and roses, and that’s shown in how the couple stress over whether they’re doing the right thing. Much like previous films on this list, it also hinges on one performance in particular — Moner, who conveys a natural conflict of emotion between body language and what she says and does. She’s a teenager who wants desperately to be with her biological mother, but needs to provide her siblings with the best life she can. All of it combines to make a film that feels true to itself.

#7 — Deadpool 2

Deadpool (with someone in the background)

Two years ago, Deadpool landed in the number 5 position on my Best and Worst List. Now he’s back with more swagger, more foul-mouthed antics and more fourth wall-breaking quips. This time, though, he’s bringing along a few extra toys to play with, including Zazie Beetz as Domino, a woman whose superpower is luck, and Josh Brolin as Cable, a man from the future whose mission to kill a young boy (Julian Dennison) is predicated on losing his daughter to that very boy. Anytime you introduce time travel into a film, it can be problematic, but Deadpool 2 gives this aspect enough importance to have fun with it, but not so much that it impairs the overall narrative. The best thing about the film, though, is its ability to subvert all expectations, something a lot of filmmakers have a hard time doing in this age of instant gratification and movie trailers that show way too much in their trailers.

#6 — Game Night

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams

Speaking of trailers revealing too much, comedies have a tendency to give away all of their best jokes in their previews. Luckily, Game Night found a way to provide a lot of great moments in the trailer to peek your interest, but then add in a secondary level of action, dramatic tension and comedic pairings that heightened the jokes and sequences that originally hooked you. There is a lot to like in the film, especially Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams, who pair together perfectly, lending the film a solid foundation that allows everyone else involved (especially Jesse Plemons as a super creepy neighbor) leeway to heighten their personalities without pushing the film off the rails. Add in a solid premise and some very well-crafted action sequences, and you got yourself one incredibly fun night at the movies.

#5 — Ready Player One

Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke

Ready Player One is one of those films that many will love for the nostalgia-heavy references, and others will hate for the same reason. It’s pretty obvious which way I fall, even though I am not a huge fan of pushing nostalgia for nostalgia sake. Having Steven Spielberg at the helm adds some extra depth as it traverses through a plethora of mostly eighties pop-culture, providing a reason for the bounty of references. The script does have its flaws (I was just as confused about why Olivia Cooke’s birthmark was so terribly disgusting, as it made her look rather cute, to say the least), but because of the richness of the Oasis and Spielberg’s flair for charming whimsicality, Ready Player One is able to do what it sets out to do — capture the imagination and transport you back to being a kid.

#4 — Black Panther

Danai Gurira, Chadwick Boseman and Lupita Nyong’o

This was inevitable. Aside from Black Panther being the highest grossing film domestically, it was also a really good film. Did I buy into all the hype the film received as the best movie in the world, ever? No. As you can see, in my opinion, there are three films this year I consider to be better. However, what director Ryan Cooglar was able to accomplish with creating a new technologically-advanced world while adding a political layer that doesn’t overpower the film was a masterful feat. In any other year, this film may have made it higher on the list, yet there were just a few other super heroes (including T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) himself) that did just enough to give Black Panther a run for supreme authority.

#3 — Incredibles 2

The Parr Family

One of those superheroes is actually a family. Many might say that Incredibles 2 was all too familiar, as it nearly recycled the plot of the first film with a simple gender swap — instead of Bob/Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) hiding his off-the-books work as a superhero, this time, it’s Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter). They wouldn’t be wrong, but one reason I felt this movie deserves its place on this list is Jack-Jack. As Elastigirl heads out to fight crime, Bob must stay home and care for the kids, and along with trying to contend with the emotions of a teenage girl and new math, Jack-Jack is his biggest hurdle after learning of his plethora of powers. The movie is light and fun and director Brad Bird splits up the “team” very successfully to speak to the greater narrative. Through some well-done action sequences and another great round of talented voices, Incredibles 2 gives us a taste of a new character that may be just what the franchise needs to give it vigor should it decide to add a chapter 3 that goes beyond shooting lasers from a babies eyes!

#2 — Avengers: Infinity War

Tom Holland, Robert Downey, Jr., Dave Bautista, Chris Pratt and Pom Klementieff

We’re seeing double with this entry. Chadwick Boseman makes it into the top 5 twice as the same character, while Josh Brolin appears as a villain in two top 10 films, the second of which is Thanos, who wants to unleash a universe-wide genocide with the snap of his fingers. Both Thanos and Cable (see Deadpool 2, above) have their reasons for being evil, but there are much higher stakes in regards to Thanos, and as the (almost) entire Marvel Universe comes to together to stop him, we get some great pairings that wouldn’t otherwise be possible or necessary. We all knew pairing Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) with the Guardians of the Galaxy would be cause for some great comedic moments, but it also gives Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Dr. Strange (Benadict Cumberbatch) the opportunity to build on their personalities to provide one of the stronger team-ups of the year. On the ground, Captain America (Chris Evans) and his band of rebels join forces with T’Challa (Boseman) in Wakanda to protect the final stone from Thanos’s clutches. The film balances its comedic moments, action sequences and dramatic flair with great care, and lends itself to a finale that beautifully sets up what will no doubt be the ultimate of cinematic experiences this upcoming April when Avengers: Endgame arrives.

#1 — Solo: A Star Wars Story

Alden Ehrenreich and Joonas Suotamo

Another year, another Star Wars making it to #1. Of course I’m biased — Star Wars will forever be ingrained in my blood, and I don’t think I will ever be able to criticize the films in a way that would keep me from loving them. I understand why a lot of people choose to focus on their flaws; in fact, I can pick out plenty of flaws in all of the movies. However, there’s a feeling that the films produce hidden under everything else, and Solo is no exception. Many argue that they didn’t need to see the origin of how Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) met, or how Han pulled off the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. But, unlike those critics, I found these moments to be entertaining, especially the Kessel Run. Ron Howard had to pick up the pieces after Phil Lord and Chris Miller apparently bungled the essence of the series, and I believe he did a fine job giving us something we could all enjoy. (I will say, if there was one thing that was completely unnecessary, it was the origin of Han’s last name. If Han had given it to himself, great, but to have it provided to him by the Imperial officer just seemed a little too asinine and off-putting.)

Top 5 Worst

#5 — Assassination Nation

Odessa Young

Within the first ten minutes of Assassination Nation, I was about ready to walk out of the theater. The style, the acting, the script — they all felt dirty, unrealistic and sadistic. I held true, though, and slogged my way to the end. Though the acting and the ideas started to become tolerable, and some of what director Sam Levinson was trying to say made sense and felt authentic, no one in the film is likable, coming off as conceited trash that deserve what’s coming to them. In the end, the movie could never get past that first impression, reverting to the lowest-common denominator of violence and political intrigue that didn’t add up to much except sickening exploitation.

#4 — Hotel Artemis

Jeff Goldblum, Zachary Quinto and Jodie Foster

With all of the terrific actors that populate Hotel Artemis, you’d expect a much better film than we actually got. Jodie Foster does nothing but attempt to provide an acting showcase, and Jeff Goldblum, though strong, is unable to convey any sort of character whatsoever. Even Charlie Day does his best impression of Charlie Day and fails. Because the characters are so bland, there’s nothing to connect to as you traverse a simplistic plot overlaying a future that has no setup whatsoever. It’s just a bunch of characters meandering about in a film with no depth and no reason to care. You’re better off seeing Bad Times at the El Royale, a much better film with a cast that actually gives a crap.

#3 — Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

Drac and Mavis

I can’t say I was a big fan of the first two Hotel Transylvania films, but at least those films had some substance to them. Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation on the other hand, feels more like Grown-Ups 2 — a chance for Adam Sandler to get together with his famous friends and play for a couple of months with nothing of importance to show for it. The film tries to set up a plot involving Van Helsing (voiced by Jim Gaffigan) and the murder of Drac (Sandler) and his monster friends, but there’s so much fluff and unnecessary scenes surrounding the main story that go absolutely nowhere. Take for example the story of Wayne (Steve Buscemi) and his wife (Molly Shannon) dropping their kids off at daycare so they can spend time on the cruise alone. It’s a z-story that has no purpose; it’s just another thing to amuse the kids and extend the run-time because the rest of the story doesn’t know where to go beyond what could have been a half-hour jaunt on Nickelodeon. In other words, it would have been better to leave the bulk of the characters at home instead of trying to stuff them all into this film and take up time and space that would have better served the core story.

#2 — Hostiles

Christian Bale

There’s no denying Christian Bale is a terrific actor; he makes every performance count and always gives 110%, no matter the weaknesses that surround him during production. The problem is, if those weaknesses are too great, no matter of performance will help. That’s the case with Hostiles, which seems to drag on in a slow, steady pace that never allows the film to provide any weight. Despite some terrific performances by all involved, the connections between characters are so bland and disconnected, that it causes the film to feel even more morose than it actually is, leaving behind nothing more than a wasteland of boredom.

#1 — The First Purge

Lex Scott Davis and Joivan Wade

I wasn’t the biggest fan of the original The Purge, but at least the film had some semblance of personality, purpose and intrigue. Not The First Purge, which finds itself retreading the same type of bland treachery as the previous two sequels but without a cast of characters or a plot to add any personality. On top of it all, the film spends so much time trying to prove a political point-of-view, making the heroes and villains literally black and white (respectively), what usually masks itself as a voice of reason devolves into nothing more than an hour-and-a-half of biased propaganda.

What do you think? Did I exclude any? Did I add something that never should have made the list? Give me your top ten lists in the comments below.

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Movie Mayhem – 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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Movie Mayhem – Instant Family

Instant Family

Instant Family — 2018; Directed by Sean Anders; Starring Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne, Isabela Moner, Gustavo Quiroz, Julianna Gamiz, Tig Notaro and Octavia Spencer

In 1993, Robin Williams starred in a film about a man so desperate to see his kids after separating from his wife (Sally Field), he turned to cross-dressing as a nanny to spend time with them every day. The film, of course, is Mrs. Doubtfire and was an instant classic, not only for its clever humor (and Williams’s winning performance), but because at its core was a strong respect for parents and children who have gone through divorce. It didn’t try to pander to anyone while depicting the hardships in sharing custody and provided an uplifting message that when a couple at odds with one another can find it in their hearts to put their children’s interest first, parents can make things work for the best.

Instant Family treads in the same waters as Mrs. Doubtfire even as it tackles a different subject altogether — foster care and adoption. Though the premise may be slightly different, what remains is the pure heart the filmmakers have for the subject and the respect they have for those individuals who truly care about giving kids in unfortunate circumstances a better, more prosperous life. Read Full Review

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Movie Mayhem – Hunter Killer

Hunter Killer

Hunter Killer — 2018; Directed by Donovan Marsh; Starring Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman, Common, Linda Cardellini, Alexander Diachenko and Michael Nyqvist

Like a lot of mainstream genres, action can be defined in several different sub-genres. A couple of examples include hardcore action, which usually includes heavy violence and gore; action-comedy, in which the action can be the product of the comedy or the reason for it; and military action, where the action is set primarily in war scenarios. Hunter Killer, the new submarine film, falls under the last example, mixed heavily with one of the hardest action sub-genres to get right, the action-thriller. There are a lot of elements that need to fit perfectly together in order to keep the tension tight throughout the entirety of the film. Director Donovan Marsh follows in the footsteps of Tony Scott, who utilized his incredible cast (including Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman) to create one the best military action-thrillers in Crimson Tide. With the exception of Gerard Butler and Gary Oldman (who only has a few minutes of screen time), there isn’t anyone in Killer that even comes close to that level of notoriety, however, Marsh is able to pull together a cast of relative unknowns that emulates the same taut atmosphere to keep your heart pounding even when there isn’t any action happening on screen. Read Full Review

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Movie Mayhem – The Sisters Brothers & The Old Man and the Gun

Sisters Brothers Old Man

The Sisters Brothers — 2018; Directed by Jacques Audiard; Starring Joaquin Phoenix, John C. Reilly, Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed; The Old Man and the Gun — 2018; Directed by David Lowery; Starring Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck, Danny Glover and Tom Waits

For a long time, especially throughout the sixties and seventies, westerns ruled the roost in the cineplexes. But as the blockbuster slowly took over and science fiction finally found a strong footing in people’s wallets, the western eroded into a forgotten medium that occasionally rears its head to peek in on what’s happening around them, sometimes to great critical acclaim (Tombstone, Unforgiven, Open Range), other times in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fashion (The Quick and the Dead, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Cowboys and Aliens) and tepid remakes (3:10 To Yuma, True Grit, The Magnificent Seven).

In that time, the western also evolved; it was no longer just your typical men on horseback in the dusty old west anymore. We now had what’s known as the modern western, which took the style and themes of the old and paired them in an era full of cars and modern technology (Hell or High Water). Two films went wide this week that convey both sides of the western coin: The Sisters Brothers, reveling in the harsh realities of a time when uncivilized gunslingers are starting to fade into the civility of the modern world; and The Old Man and the Gun, meditating on a modern bank robber who reminisces of days gone by, but is just as happy with the respect he provides his victims. Read Full Review

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Movie Mayhem – Bad Times at the El Royale

Bad Times at the El Rayale

Bad Times at the El Raoyale — 2018; Directed by Drew Goddard; Starring Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Lweis Pullman, Cailee Spaeny and Chris Hemsworth

Earlier this year, Hotel Artemis, a film with a big name cast gathering inside a hotel for various reasons, was released. It didn’t last long in theaters, and it’s not hard to understand why: the film couldn’t figure out what it wanted to be as the majority of the cast sailed through their usual schtick without much passion behind it. None of the characters were all that likable, mostly because, aside from the Doctor (Jodie Foster), we never really got to know any of them outside of their overt personalities, so their choices didn’t give us anything to identify with or hold onto. Fast forward a few months to Bad Times at the El Royale, another film with an all-star cast about a group of strangers coming together at a hotel for their own nefarious purposes. The similarities end there, as El Royale turns out to be what Hotel Artemis was hoping to be. Read Full Review

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