Category Archives: movie review

Movie Thoughts: John Wick

johnwickThe unwritten code of Westerns is that you don’t ever, under any circumstances, harm a man’s dog.

This code also applies to the retired hitmen.  At least, that’s what John Wick tells us.

An elaborate revenge story is kicked off when a trio of guys break into John Wick’s home to steal his car and end up killing his dog as well.   Little did these guys know that Wick is a retired hitman who recently lost his wife to cancer and that the dog was a gift from her so he would have something to care about besides his grief and pain.

What follows is an hour plus of John pursuing the ringleader of this gang of idiots through multiple layers of organized crime and the use of a large amount of ammo.  One area I’ll give John Wick credit for is that the movie occasionally sees our hero running out of ammo and having to reload.

The film gives us a good backstory for John, detailing how he was one of the most feared hitman out there and the circumstances that led to his retirement.  An early, memorable scene finds John digging up his basement to unearth a suitcase full of gold coins that he will use to finance and pay-off various figures during his long vendetta.   The coins are even used to pay a cleaning service to remove the bodies of half-a-dozen or so men who come to John’s home after the mafia puts out a bounty on his head.

John Wick is a clever, entertaining revenge flick that has superbly choreographed action sequences and just enough character insight to make us root for its central anti-hero.  I’m not sure why I hadn’t seen it before watching a few weeks ago.  But after watching it, I can see why the movie has garnered a following and prompted two sequels and an upcoming fourth entry.

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AFI Movie Club: The Wizard of Oz

wizardofoz1Like many people my age, I looked forward to watching The Wizard of Oz each year on CBS.   The movie would dominate discussion on the playground the next day and you felt like you were missing something if you hadn’t watched it and couldn’t participate in the conversation.

But before I watched the movie for the inauguration of the American Film Institute’s Movie Club, I’d say it’s been at least two decades since I watched the movie.  It’s not for lack of access — no longer must I wait for it to show up on CBS or one of the Turner movie channels since we long ago added it to our DVD collection.   But it’s a film that has become such a part of the tapestry of our popular culture that it’s easy to feel lately, even if “lately” is twenty or so years ago.

I won’t say that watching it this time felt like it was new. But, it felt like I was discovering an old friend again.*

* A friend that will probably get a lot of viewing once Shortcake discovers the film.  She wasn’t engaged with the film yet and I distracted her during some of the “scarier” moment with the Wicked Witch of the West pulling her shenanigans.  Continue reading

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Movie Thoughts: Men in Black International

mibinternationalWith the comedic chemistry on display between Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson in Thor: Ragnarock , reuniting them for a potential reboot to the Men in Black franchise seems like a no-brainer, right?

Which is why it’s a bit of a head-scratcher that Men in Black International isn’t funnier or more engaging than it turns out to be.

Thompson plays a young woman who has an encounter with an alien and the infamous MIB young in life.  Avoiding being neutralized, she makes it her goal to find the famous agency and become part of it.   It’s in the first half-hour or so as we see Thompson’s Agent M (as she will become known) trying to find the infamous shadow organization that this latest installment is at its most fun and clever.  But it’s once she finds the agency and becomes a probationary agent that things become a bit less fun overall and the movie grinds to a halt a bit.

Which is kind of a shame because Hemsworth’s Agent H, who is living off the fame of one famous night three years before where he helped saved the Earth from invasion, seems like he should be a lot of fun to spend screen time with.  He’s arrogant, brash, and at-times in over his head. And while Hemsworth and Thompson clearly have chemistry, the script doesn’t really do them many favors once they get together.  There isn’t quite the same level of odd-couple chemistry that made Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith work so well.

A CGI-alien voiced Kumail Nanjani livens things up in the last hour a bit.  Indeed, I found myself wishing that maybe a spin-off series with the CGI alien and Agent M might be in the offing — or a web-series at least.

As with other entries in this series, the story hinges on retrieving an alien item before various nefarious parties get hold of it. The script tries to give us a bit of a twist with a potential mole inside MIB, but I’d honestly guessed the identity of this player long before the script gets around to filling in H and M.   It’s as the movie is wrapping up and  possibly setting up a new franchise that things start to get interesting again.  Though given that the film didn’t set the box-office on fire, it seems like it may have been too little, too late.

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Movie Thoughts: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

expressWhy is every property a candidate for film franchise these days?

For all the strengths and weaknesses of this new adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express may have, the biggest takeaway I had was the feeling that since Sherlock Holmes didn’t spawn a new franchise of films , why not try with Hercules Poirot now?

And if we are to have a Poirot series of films, I guess Orient Express is a good starting point. It’s arguably one of Agatha Christie’s best known stories featuring the Belgian detective and his mustache (more on that later).  But, it’s still a story that’s had multiple adaptions on the large and small screen.

I’ve never seen any of the previous adaptations of Murder on the Orient Express.  However, I have read the original novel, so I knew the solution to the mystery before I sat down to view the new version that hit theaters last year. Continue reading

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Movie Thoughts: Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond

jim&andyJim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton

For a couple of years in the late 90’s, actor Jim Carrey seemed to be moving beyond the screen persona he’d honed in the Ace Ventura movies and The Mask and was really challenging himself (and his audience) as an actor. This period led to some great movies by Carrey including The Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and the Andy Kaufman bio-picture Man on the Moon.

Carrey’s performance as Kaufman in Man on the Moon generated critical buzz and even had some speculating that he could get an Oscar nod for the year.  Carrey never got that Oscar nod (though he did joke about it on the Oscar broadcast that year) and, in many ways, those three films stand as some of the best work Carrey has done.

So, it’s interesting that twenty years after Man on the Moon hit theaters that a new documentary would reveal that maybe Carrey wasn’t so much acting in the film as channeling the spirit of Andy Kaufman.  Early in the documentary Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, Carrey tells us that he spirit of Andy Kaufman came up to him, tapped him on the shoulder, and told him that he’d be taking over for the duration of filming.

Behind-the-scenes footage seems to support this with Carrey not breaking character as Kaufman or his alter-ego, Tony Clifton.  That footage, originally banned by Universal because it made Carrey look like an asshole, forms much of the documentary along with a new interview from Carrey, looking at not only his time on the picture but also his career as a whole.   

In many ways, Jim & Andy feels like a lost extra from the DVD release of Man on the Moon.  The footage will also make you want to immediately seek out the original Man on the Moon and visit it again.

But the more the movie goes along, the more I couldn’t help but wonder if Carrey was pulling a Kauffman-like prank on that has gone on for these twenty years. The footage seems to indicate this could be the case, but it’s never entirely clear one way or the other. (Which, on some level, would make Andy Kauffman proud, I suppose).  

Focusing on only on Carrey, the film never allows us to see reactions or reflections from the rest of the cast and crew, except in the footage taken during production.  Part of me can’t help but wonder what certain participants made of Carrey’s dedication to the role and the craft and how they feel about it today. (It’d be interesting to see what Jerry Lawler thought of things, for example).

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t come up with any answers but instead leaves it to you to decide.  

 

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Movie Thoughts on The Dark Tower

darktowerpostre.jpgEarlier this week, news broke that Amazon will be adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings novels as a multi-season television series.  Hearing this news, I couldn’t help but wish that Stephen King’s epic Dark Tower series could get that epic treatment instead.

Lord of the Rings has a well-done, much-loved pop culture adaptation of the original source material*.  The Dark Tower novels don’t. Even with this year’s long-awaited big-screen adaptation.

*And yes, I know they left out some of the most beloved characters and combined some character arcs. But honestly, I think the movies are better off for it! Continue reading

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Monday’s Movies: Catching Up

mondays-movie-jpg1

Thanks to my local library, I’m catching up on some movies I missed while they were in theaters.  Here are some (hopefully) short thoughts on some of what I’ve seen lately.

Terminator: Genisys

tgOne of the hallmarks of the Matt Smith era of Doctor Who was a heavy reliance on the implications and mechanics of time travel.   So it’s interesting to see Smith join the Terminator franchise in an entry that has a heavy reliance on the implications and mechanics of time travel.

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Movie Review: Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens

star-wars-force-awakens-official-poster.jpgThe latest entry in the Star Wars universe is subtitled The Force Awakens.  But it could also easily have the subtitle Where’s Luke?

The driving force of the film is the search for Luke Skywalker.  Between the end of Return of the Jedi and the start of Force Awakens, Luke has gone missing, retreating from the galaxy.  Now with the new First Order trying to fill the void left by the Empire, the galaxy needs Luke and the light side of the force more than ever before.

J.J. Abram’s The Force Awakens walks a fine line between nostalgia and giving us new elements in a “galaxy far, far away.”  If you’ve seen the trailers or heard any of the casting news, you know that certain members of the original trilogy are back and that others cast a giant shadow over events unfolding.

Each of the original cast members slips easily back into their familiar and iconic roles and the script does each of them justice — even though it’s Han Solo and Chewie who get the most screen time of our original crew.  It’s an interesting contrast to the 1999’s The Phantom Menace where it felt like we were having familiar characters introduced simply to include them in the narrative rather than the characters serving an actual purpose in the story.

But it’s the new cast that works well also.  It’s a rag-tag group of orphans brought together to form a type of family.  From the best pilot the new rebellion has in Poe Dameron to stormtrooper gone rogue Finn to salvage collector Rey.   In many ways, it feels like the script for Awakens is trying to build its own, new version of Han/Luke/Leia.  And, for the most part, it succeeds.  Daisy Ridley as Rey is the highlight of the new good guys.  Scenes when she and new bad guy Kylo Ren square off are among the highlights of the film.

The script finds a nice balance point between homages to the past and tips of the hat to the original trilogy while still standing on its own to set things in motion for the next trilogy of films we’ll get over the next couple of years.

From this point forward, it’s difficult to talk much about the movie without giving away SPOILERS.  I’m going to put in a MORE jump here so if you don’t want to know, you won’t accidentally get spoiled.    Continue reading

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Short Movie Thoughts

All the President’s Men

Based on the true story of the journalist duo that pursued the truth behind what happened at the Watergate hotel, All the President’s Men is like catnip to aspiring journalists.

But this one feels more like a police procedural than that of crusading journalists relentlessly pursuing the truth along the lines of Walter and Hildy from His Girl Friday. This one shows Woodward and Bernstein pursuing leads, getting doors shut in their faces and going down blind alleys in the quest for a story. It also gives a hint of the frustration of waiting for things to come in, all while the ticking clock of deadline looms above.

And yet for all of that, the film is never dull. A lot of the credit goes to director Alan J. Pakula and the script by William Goldman. Even knowing how it all ends, it’s still compelling to watch how it all unfolds.

My high school journalism teacher showed this to us in class over the course of several days. Back then, we came away shocked that she’d be allowed to show us a movie that used the f-word this much. This time around, I’m impressed by the acting, writing and directing. Continue reading

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Comic Book Friday: Avengers: Age of UltronReview

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-PosterTopping the first cinematic assembling of The Avengers is a tall order.    The first installment (and culmination of Marvel Studios’ Phase One) had just about everything you could want in a superhero movie and built on the elaborate foundation and expectations put in place by the first half dozen or so Marvel Studios projects.

Three years later, the Avengers assemble again with even higher expectations and a couple more movies and a TV show laying the foundation for it.

The result in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, a movie that comes close to the dizzying heights of the first but doesn’t quite achieve the same feeling of geek nirvana the first one did.    Well, at least not upon first viewing.  I have a feeling this is one that will be viewed and dissected by many (including yours truly) multiple times when it hits home-theater later this year.

If the original was about bringing the group together, Age of Ultron is about tearing down the group.  The second installment is heavier on plot and introduced several new characters to the Marvel Studios universe.   The biggest plus of Age of Ultron is that Joss Whedon is able to find time for each character to get a moment or two to shine — even some of the more secondary characters who you have felt got the short end of the stick in the last film.  The biggest beneficiary is Hawkeye, who we find out more about his character and has more shining moments in this film than his last two Marvel Studios appearances combined.

It’s hard to discuss the film too much without SPOILERs.  So, if you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend you stop reading now and come back when you have…. Continue reading

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