Posts Tagged Movies

Movie Mayhem – Game Night

GameNight

Game Night — 2018; Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein; Starring Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Jesse Plemons, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury and Billy Magnussen

The fear for any new comedy opening in multiplexes these days is the question of whether the trailer revealed too much — especially when it comes to the comedy itself. A lot of times you’ll hear someone say all the best jokes were in the trailer, which is understandable, because studios want to draw people in, so they have to put their best foot forward. But if all the best humor is in the trailer, it means the film as a whole can’t be very good, since there’s no substance left to keep you interested. The greatest achievement a broad comedy can have is to keep you laughing and smiling as you leave the theater because the elements in the trailer were no match for the stuff that wasn’t. Game Night sits on the fence between these two extremes; though most of the really good stuff is in the trailer, there’s still plenty of laughs to keep you smiling past the end credits. Read Full Review

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Movie Mayhem – Black Panther

BlackPanther

Black Panther — 2018; Directed by Ryan Cooglar; Starring Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Michale B. Jordan, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Daniel Kaluuya, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett

Bilbo Baggins, meet the man behind your nemisis, Gollum!

That’s what I kept thinking when CIA operative Everett Ross (Martin Freeman, first introduced in Captain America: Civil War) bags the nefarious Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, last seen tormenting the Avengers in Avengers: Age of Ultron). This time around, Ross goes undercover to purchase an artifact made of Vibranium (the storngest metal in the world, found only in the African nation of Wakanda) to lure Klaue into the open. But what’s that lurking in the shadows? Why, it’s T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), crowned king of Wakanda after the death of his father in a massive explosion at the U.N., who’s also out to stop Klaue once and for all. Both men want him for different reasons (Ross because he’s a federal criminal; T’Challa because he stole several pounds of Vibranium), and neither wants to give him up. What they don’t know is there’s a third player in the mix who also wants Klaue for his own purposes. Who will triumph? Read Full Review

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Movie Mayhem – The 15:17 To Paris

1517ToParis

The 15:17 To Paris — 2018; Directed by Clint Eastwood; Starring Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer

Clint Eastwood has been a Hollywood icon for a very long time. I can’t say I’m a big fan of his older material (or his acting, in general – I know; blasphemous, right!), but I am a fan of his directing, especially in the past decade or so. Eastwood has the ability to find the richness, compassion and fear of everyday life without coming off preachy, tedious or boring, allowing the characters and the journeys he develops to be relatable in a small, subtle way. Which is why his newest film, The 15:17 To Paris, is so disappointing. The true story behind the film is a testament to our everyday heroes — those who find the courage to do what’s necessary in a moment when most would run and hide — however, Eastwood can’t seem to find a way to tell the story with enough power to imbue the audience with the power necessary to care. Read Full Review

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Movie Mayhem – Winchester

Winchester

Winchester — 2018; Directed by Michael and Peter Spierig; Starring Helen Mirren, Jason Clarke, Sarah Snook, Bruce Spense and Eamon Farren

Horror films are one of the most lucrative genres in film. Not only are they relatively cheap to produce, but people as a whole love to be frightened, a combination that inherently make really good bedfellows. What’s even better — the film as a whole doesn’t even have to be that good to get people interested. In fact, people expect some level of corniness, whether it be in the acting, the plot or the deaths. This isn’t to say people don’t expect a level of sophistication, but as long as the movie is sincere about it’s intentions, it’s not necessarily required for entries in this genre. When producers do decide to elevate the material, such as in last year’s Get Out, it can add a new sense of pathos to the quality of the viewing experience. Then again, trying to add too much results in a oddly-psychedelic experience like mother!.

The newest entry on the horror block, Winchester — the story of the supposedly most haunted house in North America, once owned by Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren), the wife of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company owner, William — wants very much for you to believe that it’s more than your average horror flick. After all, it secured the likes of award winning actors Mirren and Jason Clarke as its leads. But that’s about where it ends, as it seems the budget for the cast was used to secure those two actors, leaving hardly anything for the rest, who by comparison, make it clear they aren’t nearly ready to appear alongside these well-known stalwarts.

Clarke plays Eric Price, a psychologist hired by the Winchester lawyers to evaluate Sarah’s mental capacity before ousting her as majority shareholder in the company. The reason they don’t believe she’s of sound mind and body is because of her penchant for continuously building on her mansion twenty-four seven. But is the reclusive woman truly unfit, or are there other reasons for her quirky behavior? Eric agrees to stay in the house during his evaluation, but what he finds is far more than what he expected.

Aside from its stars, it’s clear directors Michael and Peter Spierig want to elevate the material beyond a simple haunting. They do what they can to subvert the most popular haunted house tropes — person moves in; person begins to be haunted; person goes to the library or finds a box of old news clippings; person hires a priest to cleanse the home; supernatural beings are vanquished (and sometimes they come back) — by keeping the spirits from playing games with its inhabitants and giving good reason for why supernatural phenomena happen gradually throughout.

As the story goes, Sarah Winchester built the “mystery mansion” to house vengeful spirits who were shot and killed by the Winchester rifle. To do so, she built rooms that signified or recreated the place of death and locked the spirits within these rooms by a piece of wood with thirteen nails. But there’s one spirit waiting for his room to be completed, that seems to be much more powerful than the rest, gaining the ability to possess Sarah’s great-nephew (Finn Scicluna-O-Prey). This concept is interesting, and plays nicely into the overall ideas, but once again highlight the issues that resonate within the film.

Not a lot seems to happen here, but that’s about par for this genre; they’re meant to scare you, not preach a life lesson. Winchester, though, has a nagging atmosphere without purpose. Not only do they do hardly anything with the possession aspects, but Sarah’s niece (Sarah Snook) and great-nephew have almost nothing to do with the overall story other than to pad the run time of the script, making it more a distraction than anything else. Then there’s the neglect to focus on the more intricate, maze-like quality and oddities of the mansion itself. They mention the fact that it’s not your ordinary house and there are a couple of moments that lend themselves to the plot, but the Spierig brothers never really utilize this aspect of the home, which keeps the viewer from truly investing in the abnormal bizarre that’s been constructed.

The Spierig brothers do, however, offer up a quiet message dealing with loss, letting go of the past, and having the courage to move on after someone you care about passes on. In that way, Eric is very much like the spirit that haunts the family, they just show their grief in very different ways. This juxtaposition does add a little depth to the characters, and Clarke does a good job of showing a deep, ingrained pain without hitting you over the head with it. With that said, the climax doesn’t quite feel as powerful as it should have. All of the elements are there and everything is set up nicely for a powerful moment of clarity and release, but something is still missing. We’re not told enough or given enough information to truly connect with Eric’s past, and therefore when the climactic moment comes, I know what I was supposed to feel, I just couldn’t find a way to ingest it.

Whether the events of the film are true or not is up to you to believe, but as a horror film, Winchester does what it can to elevate itself among your typical haunted house movie but can’t keep from feeling like a run-of-the-mill haunted house flick with top-tier actors. Then again, isn’t a simple story with a strong spirit who wrecks havoc on the lives of the living exactly what the general horror fan expects?

My Grade: B+

Bonus Review:

For a movie that is full of the three C’s — coincidence, contrivance and convenience — Maze Runner: The Death Cure is a fun escape that does what it needs to entertain fans and close out the intriguing  trilogy with satisfaction. A-

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Next week, new movies include Fifty Shades Freed, Peter Rabbit and The 15:17 To Paris. 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 – Quick Takes

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Hostiles — 2017; Directed by Scott Cooper; Starring Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, John Benjamin Hickey, Wes Studi, Jesse Plemons and Ben Foster; Forever My Girl — 2018; Directed by Bethany Ashton Wolfe; Starring Alex Roe, Jessica Rothe, Abby Ryder Fortson, and John Benjamin Hickey

The only new major release out this week was Maze Runner: The Death Cure, but since I didn’t get a chance to see it, I decided I’d give everyone quick takes on a couple of movies I did see this weekend — one that came out last year and just now went wide enough for me to check out, and one holdover from last week I didn’t intend to see. Read Reviews

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Movie Mayhem – Den of Thieves

DenofThieves

Den of Thieves — 2018; Directed by Christian Gudegast; Starring Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and O’Shea Jackson Jr.

Gerard Butler has worn many masks throughout his career. After breaking into the zeitgeist as a six-pack wielding warrior, he’s taken on a menagerie of roles in many different genres, most prominently in action and romantic comedy. I’ve enjoyed the vast majority of them (the most obvious exception being Gods of Egypt), and am generally excited to see what he’s got up his sleeve next. Why? He’s not a character actor like Gary Oldman, who’s able to disappear into a role with ease, and tends to play the same rugged, sarcastic chap across all of his films regardless of genre, but the honesty of knowing he’ll never be an Oscar winning actor carries over on screen, reflecting the passion he has for whatever project he’s in, no matter how good or bad it may be. Read Full Review

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Movie Mayhem – The Commuter

TheCommuter

The Commuter — 2017; Directed by Juame Collet-Serra; Starring Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson and Sam Neill

A few years back, at the ripe age of 56 years young, Liam Neeson turned the tide of his illustrious career and became a household name for a second time — as an action star! It wasn’t as if he wasn’t unfamiliar with action, having starred in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and Batman Begins, but up to this point, the majority of his films had been more romantic fare and dense drama. Then Neeson claimed his “particular set of skills” and started kicking villainous butt across the silver screen. Some of them were high-octane thrillers that kept us glued to our seats, and others… not so much. At 65, you wouldn’t think he’d be continuing to pound the grindstone like he has, but he must know a good thing when he sees one, as Neeson is once again back in reluctant hero mode in The Commuter. How does this action-thriller stack up against to the rest? Let’s find out. Read Full Review

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Movie Mayhem – Best & Worst of 2017

I saw ten more movie in 2017 than I did 2016 (that’s 117 for those who are counting), and the reason I bring that up is because there was one less movie (57 as opposed to 58) that earned a grade at A- or above. (I’ll let you be the judge of what that actually means!) Like all year-end lists of the past, this one will only include films I saw in 2017 (or that came out in 2017, but earned award recognition), which means films like Molly’s Game (which, after seeing it, would have landed in the #4 spot had I seen in two weeks ago), I, Tanya and The Post weren’t considered, but films such as Patriot’s Day (which was officially released in 2016) were. With that said, here is what made going to the movies in 2017 both great and a bit terrible.

Let’s find out.

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Movie Mayhem – Coco

Ever since they revolutionized animation with Toy Story — the very first fully computer-animated feature-length film — back in 1995, Pixar has been a pillar of creativity. With twenty-two years and nineteen movies under their belt (not counting shorts and spinoffs), they haven’t been perfect every time, but even their worst outing tends to be better than the majority of films that hit the multiplexes these days. Aside from pushing the boundaries on photo-realistic animation and their incredible consistency (kudos to keeping John Ratzenberger employed!), the one component that makes Pixar such a powerhouse in the animation world is their insistence on telling a good story above all else. To do this, they populate each and every story with strong characters and an amazing heart, allowing them to pull at your heartstrings like a master puppeteer. Not only that, but they aren’t afraid to take risks. A kids movie with an old man at its center? A space opera where two words take up the bulk of the dialogue? A tasty treat about rats in Paris? A colorful tale dealing with death and protecting your heritage? Read Full Review

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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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