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Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
A Visually Striking Sequel that is Well Worth Your Time
Visually the movie floored me. There's clearly so much intentionality and careful effort and planning that went into making that world. Villeneuve blended call backs to the original while still making this his own vision. I'll see anything he makes because I always feel like I'm in good hands with his movies, right from the opening scene.
The music had a similar feel to the visuals in that they blended old and new. The iconic "Tears in Rain" melody receives a much-deserved return in a delightfully appropriate moment. I'll give the movie serious props for providing a comforting level of nostalgia without ever feeling that it pandered.
Joi (Ana de Armas) and Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) were fantastic in their own very different ways. Joi, who plays Gosling's love interest of sorts, is essentially Samantha in Her, except she is a holographic projection instead of only a voice. Luv is Jared Leto's favorite replicant assistant and a total ice queen.
Gosling was cool and dutiful, though kind of lifeless, which I guess was on purpose since he plays a replicant (or does he?) Juxtaposing him with Harrison Ford really made the subtleties of Ford's performance stand out in a way that was absent for Gosling. But Gosling was still very handsome and that worked well with the rest of the movie, which is striking and beautiful.
Even though I didn't feel bored during any of the 164 minutes, I often felt like nothing was really happening. Even at the end I wondered what was the point. I know it was a character exploration of K (Gosling), like the first was of Deckard, and he clearly grew during the story. Still, the movie overall came across to me as heavy on striking visuals and light on substance.
Perhaps I'm demanding too much. While I enjoyed the heck out of the movie and would watch it again in a second, it fell slightly short of the profound best picture level movie that I hoped it would be. Somewhere in the two hour and 44 minute runtime is a great two hour movie trying to emerge.
All things considered, it's a pleasing complement to the original and is well worth a night in the theater.
Lights Out (2016)
It's OK, We're all a little afraid of the dark
Its brilliance lies in its simplicity. Lights out doesn't attempt to confuse anyone, nor does it look to introduce a totally original idea. Instead, it boldly and unambiguously taunts the audience with the message, "you were all afraid of the dark as kids and most of you still are."
Never has a scary movie villain had such an easy foillight. Literally any kind of lightsun, fluorescent, bright. They each work perfectly well. Shine any sort of light in the direction of this movie's monster and she disappears. Poof. She's gone and everyone is safe. Writing this, I recognize that this doesn't sound even the tiniest bit scary. Yet somehow, as I sat in my well-lit house after watching the movie, I felt afraid.
A brief telling of the plot: there's a monster-demon-ghost-girl named Diana that lives only in darkness because light hurts her, and sometimes she kills people. She haunts other people in the movie who try to not be killed by her and also they try to defeat her. That's really all there is to know. Yes, it's a very simple plot, but still an enjoyable one, at least in this instance.
Something about the beautiful simplicity of the scare tactics just worked. Nothing confusing, nothing shocking. There weren't even very many classic hanging suspense moments interrupted by loud, jolt scares. These we textbook jump scares. A seemingly safe moment with normal amounts of sound that slowly drifts to silence then POW! A jump scare.
You may be thinking, "this sounds lame. How does this brutally basic approach yields effective scares?" Great question, my astute and thoughtful reader.
I've thought about this question and come up with a few explanations. First, we owe a tremendous credit to the actress who played Diana (Alicia Vela-Baley). Her intimidating posture and sickly contorting and Freddy Kruegerish flailing arms bring to life a terrifying character, whose mere presence on screen is enough to leave viewers unsettled. There's something about crouching, and Vela-Baley is great at it. Seeing a person crouch in a well-lit area is comical. But looking at a crouching figure in the shadows, that will make your skin crawl. The other explanation that I will offer is the visceral nature of the scares. Much of the movie takes place in the dark and the dark is scary. We are evolutionarily predispositioned to fear the dark. It's a survival instinct. Don't argue with me on this. I'm right.
Anyway, the dimly-lit, shadowy settings are the perfect playground for visceral and pure jump scares. Director David F. Sandberg hits all the right beats in framing and lurking camera movement to maximize this simple and smart approach.
So, that's it. If you can't stand jump scares or scary movies, don't see Lights Out. Honestly, I'm not sure why you're even reading this review if you don't like scary movies. If you do like jump scares and scary movies, watch Lights Out. And maybe buy a couple extra lightbulbs or a nightlight before you do.
A Ghost Story (2017)
It's 30% Deeply Moving and 70% Deeply Boring
If you prefer a movie rich with dialogue, A Ghost Story is not for you.
There is very little speaking throughout the movie. Only one scene features much talking and it's not even a conversation. One man launches into a lengthy, detailed monologue about the infinite size of the universe and our relative insignificance within it. The man believes that the speech is profound and laudable, but in reality it sounds like something a college kid would say while high at a party.
The gist of the man's speech expresses that the universe is too vast for any of us to truly leave a legacy when we die. The ghost (played by Casey Affleck) is especially compelled by this speech because he has just died and is now especially compelled by things concerning his legacy.
The ghost observes what he cared about most while he was alive. He haunts his house. He observes his wife, struggling to watch her struggle to cope with his death. He wants desperately to comfort her, but cannot. It's heartbreaking.
In addition to heartbreak, this movie evokes many other feelings: warmth, humor, boredom. Boredom comes up a lot. For every genuinely beautiful and moving moment of the movie, there is at least five minutes of emptiness. The runtime is short, just over 90 minutes, but it feels longer and could easily have been trimmed by 20 minutes.
One scene in particular that involves a pie seems to drag on for at least four days, even though it actually only lasts four minutes. In the moment, the scene is likely unbearable to many viewers. I plead for your patience. Do your best to empathize. Think about how you would feel in the situation. Do this, and the scene becomes haunting and powerful.
That's probably the best way to sum up the moviemany scenes may feel boring if given little thought, but are actually deeply moving if given honest consideration. Not all scenes fit this descriptionsome, no matter how much your squint, are just extended moments of vapid emptiness. The emptiness outnumbers the deeply moving by about 2:1, so this movie requires patience and commitment. The movie contains no conflict, only contemplation and some glorious music.
If that sounds like enough for you, give this movie a chance. But fair warning: if you bore easily this movie will feel like a waste of your time.
Good Time (2017)
Frantic and Fantastic
If I could ever experience what it's like to be a neon light inside a crowded nightclub, I imagine it would feel a lot like watching Good Time.
This movie exudes intensity, electricity, and neonicity (not a real word, just roll with it). The opening scene provides the movie's blandest color scheme, but it's serious and compelling and important, so pay attention.
From there, the movie leaps fearlessly into a techno blasting, adrenaline surging, rush of mayhem and terrible decision making. Two brothers rob a bank, run from the police, and one ends up in the hospital. Then it gets worse.
Constantine (played by Robert Pattinson, in a career-making performance) lives a life of dysfunction. He struggles to maintain healthy relationships with family or friends or anyone. The one thing in his life that he's sure of is that he wants to take care of his brother, who has intellectual disabilities. He spends a majority of the film frantically (frantic accurately describes the mood for most of Good Time) attempting to save his brother from the trouble that he put him in. The problem is that Constantine can't even properly take care of himself, so helping his brother is far beyond his abilities.
Try as he may, every attempt to help backfires. Despite Constantine's good intentions, he is a powerfully negative influence in his brother's life. He sees himself as his brother's savior, but that's very far from the truth.
It's tempting to sympathize with Constantine. He has real moments of decency. But just when you may think this isn't such a bad guy, he showcases another instance of unsavory behavior. That seems to be the story of his lifefleeting moments of hope, followed by swift slaps of grim reality that are mostly brought on by his own doing.
In the end, his brother, Nick, becomes the more likable character. We want what is best for Nick, just like Constantine does. Because of this shared goal, I want Constantine to succeed. I have never rooted harder for a character that I didn't really want to root for. That's all because of Nick.
Since this is sounding deeply dramatic, let me reiterate, this isn't a plodding sob story. The frantic pace, ludicrously rousing music and color scheme will make your eyes bug out and your hair stand up. Actually, you may literally stand up at certain moments because of the intensity.
See Good Time if you're up for an intense crime thriller. Just don't forget to think while watching. There's more to this movie than neon and techno.
Ingrid Goes West (2017)
The Actors Carry This Complicated Social Media Satire
Aubrey Plaza has a knack for choosing the right small, just off the radar indie projects. In the past, she starred in overlooked gems such as, The To Do List, Safety Not Guaranteed and The Little Hours, which came out earlier this year. Ingrid Goes West is her most recent indie gem, and perhaps her best.
Ingrid Goes West features Plaza as Ingrid (duh!), who has some umm let's call them social issues. She equates passing interactions on social media as meaningful friendships. These virtual relationships quickly turn into real obsessions.
Her latest target is a California Insta-girl named Taylor (played by Elizabeth Olsen, whose stock is rising rapidly of late), who responded to one of Ingrid's carefully thought out comments on her latest food photo. Taylor's winking advice to "check it out next time you're in LA" is all the incentive Ingrid needs. She grabs her backpack full of newly-received cash (no spoilers on how she got the money) and headed west to spy on Taylor/become friends with Taylor.
Through some mild stalking and other questionable behavior, Ingrid becomes fast friends with Taylor. Desperate to win and retain Taylor's affection through any means necessary, Ingrid takes advantage of her overly trusting landlord/next-door neighbor and Batman superfan, Dan (played by O'Shea Jackson Jr. who is about one more praiseworthy performance away from breaking free from people calling him "Ice Cube's son" and just calling him O'Shea Jackson Jr.) At first, Ingrid pays little attention to Dan unless she needs something from him. But he soon shows her that he's the only one that truly likes her for who she really is. It's the most heartfelt moment in a movie that often hides behind its humor.
Of course, with Ingrid things cannot remain rosy for long. She's a tornado of dysfunction and terrible decision making. Her dream world unravels and in the end the audience is faced with a rather confusing message about the value and dangers of social media.
The movie's stars make everything work. Give credit to first-time director Matt Spicer too, but it's hard to imagine pulling off this level of emotional vacillation with any other group of actors.
Especially in the opening 20 minutes or so, each passing moment evokes a new emotion so rapidly and seemingly randomly that it's almost as if Spicer was tossing dice and choosing a different emotion based on the roll. We dart between heartbreaking, heartwarming, hilarious, and shakily anxious. This is not a comfortable viewing experience.
We catch of glimpse of Ingrid's humanity early on and she remains empathetic throughout despite behaving in mostly distasteful ways. Plaza deserves commendation for her performance, which is both nuanced and unhinged.
Ultimately, Dan reigns as the most likable character, even if he may be the most naïve. In a story of full of phonies, he always stays true to himself. That has got to count for something.
IT Delivers the Scares and Humor in an Endlessly Fun Ride
Don't overthink it. Don't overthink IT.
That's a plea from the novel's author himself, Stephen King. He didn't want anyone to delve too deeply into analyzing this movie, so respect the man's wishes. He knows his work better than anyone else possibly could. After all, he wrote it.
I understand the temptation to explore the layers of IT. We see the themes of community, transitioning to adulthood, bullying, racism, friendship, yada, yada, yada. I'm telling youdon't fixate on that. Focus on IT. And by IT, I mean not only Pennywise the Dancing Clown, but also the embodiment of all your worst fears, everything that IT can be. Because that's what this movie is really about above all elsebeing afraid.
This 2017 adaptation of IT provides a litany of reasons to be afraid, not the least of which is Bill Skarsgard's terrifying, devious, vicious performance of the infamous clown. This is very much of modern version of Pennywise, equipped with special effects to illustrate his shape-shifting abilities and showcase his considerable power.
There's nothing cheesy here. Pennywise is only ever funny and charming as a means to lure children. The humor is intentional when it hits.
The most brilliant element of IT is its self-recognition. The movie (or its writers) understands that stories of this ilk (i.e. an unstoppable monstrous figure is killing people) are inherently kind of silly. Take Michael Myers, for example. Sure, his is scary, but he is also partly ridiculous and silly because it's ridiculous and silly to believe that a human child would ever turn into an unstoppable killing machine that has no reason for killing and also cannot be killed by gun shots or fire or seemingly anything else. The movie makers understand this and respond accordingly by embracing the silly: they make the unstoppable killer a dancing circus clown.
Now, I understand that to many people clowns are terrifying even if they aren't killing anyone. That's fair. Clowns don't really stir up those fears in me, but I find dolls endlessly creepy, so I get it. The fact remains that Pennywise most commonly takes the form of a clown, and clowns are silly. So, the movie also contains some appropriate silliness. The kids make crude jokes. A lot of them. Some of the things that Pennywise does blur the lines between silly and scary. Certain scenes, or at least certain moments within scenes, can be perceived as either scary or silly.
The movie navigates this blend of silly and scary brilliantly. The scares begin early and strike with ferocity. The jump scares come only as necessary; they do not wear out their welcome. There's also a satisfying sprinkle of disturbing images and prolonged stints of dread to deliver frights. Many of the scariest moments contain no surprise element. The movie simply presents a terrifying image then shoves in down your throat until you gag on the creepiness. If this sounds uncomfortable that's because it is.
After moments like those, the silliness provides a much-needed dash of comic relief to ease the tension. Other times the silliness lulls the audience into a false sense of security before slapping them in the face with something horrifying. This makes for an unpredictable and endlessly entertaining thrill ride.
Entertainment is the primary goal of this movie, perhaps the only goal. With that in mind, don't think too much about how absurdly useless or villainous the adult characters are portrayed. Don't think too much about the one-dimensional and token nature of many child characters. Most of all, don't think too much about how this movie is different from the book (books and movies are separate entities; of course they are going to be different!).
Don't overthink this movie. Just sit back and enjoy the silliness and scares. From the spectacular opening scene to the warm and comforting conclusion, this movie aims to entertain. It delivers.
Love Actually (2003)
It's not Love Actually; It's a Cheesy Love Fantasy
Love Actually is a lot like actual loveit's wonderful until it isn't. Then everything blows up, leaving you to pick up the pieces of your devastated reality.
Relax. I'm only kidding. Love really is wonderful, even the struggles. The movie Love Actually, not so much.
The first 30 minutes or so are downright hilarious, featuring a mix of charming British humor and broader spectrum jokes as well. The setup of each storyline features likable characters in relatable situations. You root for everything to work out. You want all of them to be happy.
Then, through no fault of the characters, you change your attitude. Instead of rooting for the characters, you become apathetic, at best. Why? Because the movie makes every story nauseating with irritatingly manipulative music, cuts to closeups of hopeful or gleeful faces to force viewers to elicit the "hooray" emotions. It's all very painful and frustrating.
The movie is called Love Actually (which is a great title, by the way), but so little of what occurs in the movie can be passed off as something that would actually happen. A more appropriate title would be Love Fantasy.
Thirty minutes into the movie (again, the beginning shows promise and is mostly delightful), all the believable buildups have morphed into shameless fairy tale-like sequences. It's all a bunch of love at first sight silliness. Sorry if this sounds too harsh, but there is no love at first sight. The very concept is shallow and supposes a fundamental misunderstanding of what love is. There can be attraction at first sight, or lust at first sight. But not love.
The most ghastly instance of using music to manipulate the viewers comes during a scene when two people, who have never spoken a word to each other because they don't speak the same language, develop feelings for each other. That is an interesting idea that could have been quite moving if handled deftly. Instead, moment is bit more blunt. The music indicates that the man develops loving feelings for the woman when she takes off all her clothes to jump in a lake. Viewers are led to believe that the man felt little for this woman until he saw that she looked good in her underwear, after which he fell in love with her.
So, I guess the message is that you can love someone that you've never spoken to as long and the other person is attractive. It's basically a different version of that thing in movies when the dorky girl takes off her glasses then everyone realizes that she's beautiful and then the main guy character can love her now. The biggest difference between those two cases is that the dorky girl removing her glasses moment usually happens in a movie that clearly isn't taking itself too seriously, whereas Love Actually is posing as a movie that represents realistic love. That's sad to me because many viewers, especially the impressionable young ones, may walk away from this movie confusing attraction for love.
Since I'm unleashing all my grips with this movie, I may as well mention one more. This one didn't so much make me mad, as much as it confused me. It also kind of funny in a way. I'm talking about the portrayal of the U.S. President (the movie takes place in England). It casts him as this arrogant, smug, woman harassing pig. Basically, he's a bully. So, when one of the British characters stands up to him, the music swoons once again, indicating to the audience that they should be happy that the American jerk couldn't push people around anymore.
To be honest, I have no idea if this is the perception that people in England have of Americans. Perhaps it is, and the viewers from England really did applaud this moment. But I personally found it all to be laughably cheesy.
That's a pretty accurate summary of my take on the movie overalllaughably cheesy. I'll just leave it at that. I recommend that you take a hard pass on Love Actually.
Annabelle: Creation (2017)
Too boring, too predictable
If you haven't watched the first Annabelle movie and you want to see Annabelle: Creation, don't worry. You can skip the first one, and you definitely should skip it. The movie is a train wreck.
Since this movie is a prequel to the previously released Annabelle movie, the end of Creation (fake spoiler alert because this isn't actually a spoiler because it's super obvious) leads into the other Annabelle movie. So, if when you watch the end of Creation you wonder, "why did the story end that way?" Just Google the opening of the other Annabelle movie and find out. Or don't bother. You'll be fine either way.
Okay, now that that's out of the way, we can begin.
Director David F. Sandberg's greatest skill is his ability to craft compelling stories that lure in audiences, put them on the edge of their seats then scare the crap out of them, all in the span of about two minutes (for proof, check out his YouTube videos).
He doesn't waste anyone's time. He knows the viewers are here for a quality scare, so he doesn't bother with empty moments of unnecessary setup. He leaps right into the scares. I commend him for that approach. Seeing him execute this style numerous times is what makes Annabelle: Creation so disappointing.
The first 20 minutes reveal the difference between this all the other of Sandberg's filmsnothing really happens. Sure, there is a crucial plot point and the stage is set. But that all could have taken place in a few measly minutes. I don't know why this movie dragged out multiple stretches, especially the beginning. I was legitimately bored at times; that's a bad sign when watching a horror movie.
In addition to the movie containing too many extended empty stretches, it was also far too predictable. At times, I called sequences shot-by-shot. I'm decent at predicting plots in movies, but I'm no genius clairvoyant, so if I can tell what is about to happen, that's another bad sign.
To be fair, certain moments are frightening. Sandberg adroitly utilizes frames with dim focuses and pitch-black backdrops that cause viewers' eyes to dart between the trembling character and what may be lurking in the shadows. He mixes in a thoughtful blend of jump scares and moments of dread that terrify because of the anticipation of what is about to happen.
If you're not sure what the difference is between the two types of scares, imagine this: you're washing your hands at work and a spider suddenly crawls quickly out of the faucet, causing you to gasp (that's a jump scare). After you frantically splash water toward the spider trying to wash it down the drain, you see that you have spilled water all over your pants, so now you realize that you have to walk down the hallway past your co-workers with what looks like a giant pee stain (that's the anticipation scare. And yes, this one is worse).
I hope Sandberg continues to take a moment in each of his feature films to pay homage to his short films. I won't spoil the specifics on the one he chose for this movie, just know that long-time fans of Sandberg will enjoy the nostalgia.
The bottom line is that this movie will scare you. You will likely also feel bored at times and frustrated with the decision-making of the characters. But hey, that's standard for horror movies. So, if you can put up those drawbacks for an adequate number of quality scares, Annabelle: Creation may suffice just fine for a night-time fright.
Wind River (2017)
Taylor Sheridan depicts another dilapidated region of America
If you've seen any of Taylor Sheridan's previous work, you probably noted that he has a certain style. He tells stories about ways of life in dilapidated regions of the country. He blurs the lines between "good guys" and "bad guys," instead framing the status of the selected region as the truest villain. What's right and wrong, considering all the unique variables of each story, is not always clear. At least, that was case in Sicario and Hell or High Water.
In Wind River, the region is still presented with all the strain that is causes on the lives of its residents, but a much more obvious villain is revealed before the movie is over.
Hell of High Water frames the crumbling economy of a certain Texas region as the real source of evil, rather than any characters. Whereas in Wind River the source of evil is definitely the rapist. I mean, the rapist attempts to blame the cold and silence, but his actions were clearly much worse than bad weather.
Sheridan's previous films also left doubt about who were the heroes, who the audience should be rooting for. This time it was much less ambiguousthey were the people searching for the rapist.
An emerging theme in Sheridan's movies appears to be Tarantinoesque eruptions of violence, sometimes near the conclusion. They don't always reach the levels of the Django Unchained shootout, but Sheridan clearly isn't shy about showcasing the unforgiving damage that can be inflicted by firearms.
Complaints, I have a few. On more than one occasion, I legitimately could not understand what a character had said, so I was left wondering if I missed something important. I'm not sure if this manner of speaking was a choice made by the actors or if this was a decision made by Sheridan to establish a certain tone. Either way, I could have used less mumbling.
The other complaint that I have, and this is more serious, the middle third of the movie felt like it contained a lot of empty moments. This may or may not have been related to the times that I couldn't understand what a character said. Still, the movie could have used a bit of its fat trimmed. It wasn't as crisp and clean as Hell or High Water and Sicario. And I know I keep comparing this movie to Sheridan's others, but that's bound to happen when a writer sets the bar so high with two gems.
On the whole, I consider this a success for Sheridan in his directorial debut. I'd happily watch another story of his about justice and an overlooked culture.
The Boss Baby (2017)
Give into the Cuteness
First of all, recognize that this is a children's movie. So, a completely coherent plot isn't even the icing on the cake. It's more like one extra and very beautiful icing flower on top of the icing on the cake. What I'm saying is not all kids' movies totally make sense, so don't get too mad at Boss Baby for not totally making sense.
The standard movie of this ilk is littered with inconsistencies and overlooked logical flaws. In that sense, Boss Baby is a standard movie.
In a much different sense, Boss Baby is far, far from standard. It's brimming with creativity and bold stylistic choices. Not everything works, but enough does to justify the attempts.
The creative dynamic comes from the nature of the storytelling. The movie unfolds through the wildly inventive eyes of 7-year-old Tim. His boundless imagination makes him a questionable narrator, like Amy Dunne in Gone Girl, except he's not a psychotic murderer.
At any moment, Tim can suddenly morph into a ninja (to give one example) and his perceived world morphs accordingly to fit his current fantasy. This creates a number of whimsical and forceful action sequences that will mesmerize children and should keep adults at least mildly amused.
Digging a bit deeper, the movie is really about the love between brothers. Well, that and the obvious yet still funny metaphor that babies are really in charge. The brotherly moments work surprisingly well for the most part. They even elicited in me some of the intended emotions during a few key scenes when the baby realized that Tim cared for him and vice versa.
Despite being completely predictable, these moments are still touching. Maybe it's the cartoon cuteness or maybe the filmmakers tactfully achieved something here. Either way, it works.
Overall, I came away more satisfied than I anticipated, partly because I accepted Boss Baby for what it was. Your kids will enjoy this movie. If you relax your critical analysis, and most importantly give into the cuteness, you may enjoy it too.