The Disaster Artist

December 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen
Directed by: James Franco (“Child of God,” “As I Lay Dying”)
Written by: Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber (“500 Days of Summer,” “The Fault in Our Stars”)

“The Disaster Artist,” a comedy documenting the creation of the cult-classic film “The Room,” is based on the book of the same name by co-star Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell. Over the years, I’ve become intimately familiar with both stories: the over-the-top tale of the film featuring Johnny and his love for Lisa, undone by her infidelity with Johnny’s best friend Mark, and the book featuring the equally over-the-top tale of how the batshit movie came to be.

The film, like the book, chronicles the meeting of Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), a mysterious man with an inscrutable accent and long black hair who looks much older than he says he is, and Greg (Dave Franco), a fresh-faced 19-year-old struggling to make it as an actor in San Francisco in the late ’90s.

Tommy and Greg become friends–in Tommy’s case, Greg is really his only friend–and move to Los Angeles to make it big as actors, despite Tommy’s eccentric behavior and his cryptic warnings to Greg to not tell anyone anything about him and his increasing jealousy of seemingly anything Greg gets that he doesn’t, like an agent, or something that steals Greg’s attention, like a girlfriend.

After they both struggle to find work, Tommy vows to write a film for he and Greg to star in and, with Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” as his inspiration, Tommy bangs out the script for “The Room” and digs into what one character calls a “bottomless pit” of money to produce his “All-American” vision his way, including the unorthodox practice of buying film equipment over leasing it and using it to shoot film and HD video side-by-side.

Tommy himself and the script for the film baffle crew members, including the script supervisor and de facto director Sandy (Seth Rogen) and director of photography Raphael (Paul Scheer), who both nearly quit over Tommy’s outrageous behavior, only to be talked out of it by Greg, the checks that are still clearing, and the notion that no one will see the film anyway.

Of course, the film saw the light of day in 2003 and became a midnight sensation thanks to Tommy’s paying to keep it in theaters (to qualify for the Academy Awards!) and an infamous, ominous billboard that lorded over Hollywood for more than a decade.

Easily his best film as a director to date (most of them are really weird and terrible), James Franco also disappears incredibly into Tommy, making him more than just a weird accent and greasy black hair, but also leaving the mystery of Tommy effectively intact. Sure, the audience might want to know some simple things like where Tommy came from, where he gets his money, and just how old he is–but the real Wiseau has never publicly revealed that either.

Franco’s wonderful performance, like the film itself, is easily on par with the Johnny Depp-Tim Burton biopic “Ed Wood,” that film a career-best turn for both, about a delusional, never-give-up director of terrible-yet-sincere movies that share DNA with “The Room.”

The question remains if “The Disaster Artist” will play to a crowd that isn’t familiar with “The Room” and all of its foibles. As someone who has seen “The Room” a dozen times or so, this question is difficult to answer, but without a doubt “The Disaster Artist” is delightfully hilarious and, like the inimitable Tommy Wiseau, has genuine heart.

The Man Who Invented Christmas

November 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce
Directed by: Bharat Nalluri (“Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day”)
Written by: Susan Coyne (debut)

I have this thing about properly delineating the end of the year holidays that I’ve seen challenged more and more over the years. I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t want to see Christmas decorations before “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” has had its annual TV airing, and would prefer to spend the month of November awash in the browns and orange of fall and cornucopias and Thanksgiving dinner, but no—I know too many monsters who put up Christmas decorations the day after Halloween, egged on by retailers who can’t wait to sell you red and green M&Ms even when it makes no goddamn sense. Needless to say, I’m not necessarily in the right frame of mind to really enjoy a frothy eggnog of a Christmas movie before I’ve managed to replace my blood with turkey gravy, but I’ll be damned if “The Man Who Invented Christmas” didn’t win me over—which the lion’s share of the credit goes to Dan Stevens, who is quickly becoming one of the most valuable British imports since Harry Potter.

Set in October 1843, Stevens stars as Charles Dickens, down on his luck after a series of flop novels and in serious debt thanks to an ongoing home renovation and an ever-growing litter of children with wife Kate (Morfydd Clark). Suffering from writer’s block, Dickens is suddenly inspired to write a Christmas tale after overhearing nanny Tara (Anna Murphy) recounting an old Irish Christmas tale to the Dickens children—only thing is, Christmas at that time wasn’t a big deal, so the publisher balks at rushing production of the book. Believing in the idea anyway, Dickens decides to self-publish and takes out a too-large loan, but he still can’t get over his writer’s block. Slowly but surely, he pulls inspiration from people in real life—a skeletal waiter named Marley, his own crippled nephew—to fill out his story, but it isn’t until the character of Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) comes to life to antagonize him as a vision does Dickens’ sense of the story that would become “A Christmas Carol” truly begin to take shape.

Stevens, here again wrestling visions with a skeptical twinkle in his eye as in TV’s brilliantly trippy X-Men adjacent show “Legion,” makes for a delightfully downtrodden Dickens, running from both his own failures and those foisted upon him by his kindly but spendthrift father John (Jonathan Pryce) that put him in a debtor’s prison and young Charles in a sweatshop years ago. And Plummer makes a wonderfully devious Scrooge, inheriting a role all elderly British actors end up with at one point or another, only this time with the extra layer of interacting with and “bah, humbug”-ing his creator. While probably not exactly true to Dickens’ actual writing process, “The Man Who Invented Christmas” ends up as a nice, sugary yuletide treat served in the form of a mild twist on a story we all know by heart, like a salted caramel cookie or hot chocolate with a hint of cinnamon.

Justice League

November 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot
Directed by: Zack Snyder (“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”)
Written by: Chris Terrio (“Argo”) and Joss Whedon (“The Avengers”)

To get the obvious questions out of the way first, no, “Justice League” isn’t anywhere near as good as this summer’s “Wonder Woman,” nor is it as bad as last year’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”

It’s fine.

That this latest entry in the DC Extended Universe—Warner Bros.’ somewhat knee-jerk response to the success Marvel is having—is even coherent is a minor miracle, after months of reshoots and what must’ve been a mountain of studio notes. That the characters, including holdovers Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman and newcomers Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman, are actually fun and engaging (for the most part) is a neat surprise.

Taking place a year after the events of “BvS” left Earth without its Kryptonian hero (Henry Cavill, here softly rebooted as a corny beacon of hope instead of the grim, put-upon Jesus the previous films made him out to be), “Justice League” finds Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) working with Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) to put together a team of “meta-humans” to combat a coming threat, heralded by flying, fear-sensing bug-monster things called parademons. Turns out those things are the minions of Steppenwolf (a PlayStation 2 CGI creation voiced by Ciarán Hinds) and he’s come to Earth to re-collect some cubes called Mother Boxes to turn the planet into a recreation of his hellish homeworld, which would suck. And since Earth is now without Superman, there’s no one to stop Steppenwolf…except for the Justice League.

Like I mentioned earlier, “Justice League” is fine, even after the change late in the game from original director Zack Snyder—who stepped down due to a family tragedy—to “Avengers” director Joss Whedon. Numerous reshoots seem to have reshaped the movie dramatically, grafting Whedon-y humor onto Snyder’s shiny, grimy aesthetic. The story is boilerplate superhero bullshit, but there’s a moment in the middle of the film, when the team first fights together, that this mess gels into something entertaining—it takes you past the flaws like the truly shitty special effects, the boring-ass villain, and the short-changing of newcomers Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, and Jason Momoa. There was hope that the DCEU ship had been righted after “Wonder Woman,” released only five months ago, and “Justice League” doesn’t really answer that question in the affirmative—but maybe “not as bad as it could have been” is enough of a victory for now.

Thor: Ragnarok

November 2, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Tessa Thompson
Directed by: Taika Watiti (“What We Do in the Shadows,” “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”)
Written by: Eric Pearson (debut) and Craig Kyle (debut) & Christopher L. Yost (“Max Steel”)

As unloved as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “Thor” franchise has been, it’s still been able to reach the coveted trilogy status. But with the latest film, “Thor: Ragnarok,” it’s abundantly clear that Marvel has decided to burn down the boring version of “Game of Thrones” that is all the Asgard stuff and slot the God of Thunder into a more comical role with a blatant “Guardians of the Galaxy” influence. It’s a great idea, really, and Chris Hemsworth has a clear gift for comedy, but the unwillingness to make a clean break from the tedium on the other side of the Bifrost keeps “Ragnarok” from achieving the same highs as Marvel’s other cosmic franchise.

The film begins with Thor hanging in a cage, conversing with a skeleton, before destroying a devil-ish creature names Surtur intent on bringing on Ragnarok—otherwise known as the destruction of Asgard. Thor returns home with the Surtur’s crown for his father Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) throne room, only to finally uncover that his mischievous brother Loki (Ton Hiddleston) has been posing as their father since the events of the last movie, “Thor: The Dark World.”

When Thor and Loki finally track Odin down on Earth, he’s at death’s door. When he dissolves into nothingness, it allows for the coming of his firstborn, a daughter named Hela (Cate Blanchett) who is determined to rule Asgard and conquer the universe. A battle with Hela in the Bifrost sends both Loki and Thor spinning off into space, stranding the Avenger in a junkyard on a remote planet where he’s captured and sold by Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, the absolute best). There, Thor is forced into gladiatorial combat against the Grandmaster’s champion, none other than fellow Avenger Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who Thor will have to convince to help him in order to stop Hela.

New Zealand director Taika Watiti delivers solidly when “Ragnarok” goes for laughs – which are often wonderfully weird, especially anything with Goldblum – but falls into the same trap as previous directors Kenneth Branaugh and Alan Taylor before him, in that the palace intrigue on Asgard just isn’t interesting, no matter how much vamping Blanchett does in her villain role (also a bad move for the story: spoiling the Hulk reveal in the trailers, but that was probably unavoidable). Doubtless this was all at the behest of the studio at large, eager to move on to something more crowd-pleasing, but unable to resist putting a button on Asgard for the dozen or so people who could have possibly given a shit.

Happy Death Day

October 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine
Directed by: Christopher Landon (“Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones,” “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse”)
Written by: Scott Lobdell (“Man of the House”)

For a self-aware slasher movie that features the main character reliving the same day over and over again after being brutally murdered by a mask-wearing killer, “Happy Death Day” takes too goddamn long to point out just how similar the whole endeavor is to the modern classic “Groundhog Day,” saving it for the epilogue. If this were a “Scream” movie, the Jamie Kennedy archetype would have connected the dots on that shit in the second act.

In spite of that egregious pop culture reference oversight, “Happy Death Day” manages to become a clever-enough horror movie that could have been truly great given another shot of creativity and the freedom of an R-rating.

The film begins (many times) with Tree (Jessica Rothe) waking up on her birthday with a nasty hangover in an unknown guy’s dorm room. Turns out he’s a nice guy named Carter (Israel Broussard) and she went home with him last night. Being a super mean sorority bitch, Tree orders him to never tell anyone what happened, and she begins her walk of shame through campus and back to her sorority house, encountering a leering goth, an environmental protester, and a guy she ghosted. As she rolls in, her roommate Lori (Ruby Modine) offers her a homemade cupcake for her birthday—which Tree ruthlessly chunks into the garbage. Later she meets with a professor she’s having an affair with, nearly getting caught by his wife, and ignores multiple phone calls from her dad. By the time she’s going out alone for a party, her path takes her down a dimly-lit alleyway, where she’s stabbed to death by a killer wearing a mask of a toothy baby.

And then, just like that, she wakes up in Carter’s dorm again, forced to repeat the same day until she’s able to find her killer, all the while becoming a somewhat better person.

“Happy Death Day” shines when the film decides to have fun and go for laughs, which happens often—but not quite enough. Rothe turns in a wickedly bitchy performance that, again, could have been a gleefully campy classic had the studio chosen to shoot for an R-rating, throwing in more gore and some variety to its kills, a la “Edge of Tomorrow.” And though the movie doesn’t wear out its welcome at 96 minutes, some elaboration wouldn’t hurt, as several premises introduced during the movie—Tree’s mother’s death, that every time she comes back to life she carries internal physical scars from the kills—are introduced with little to no payoff. “Happy Death Day” works way more than it doesn’t, but maybe one, like with Tree, more go ‘round could have sharpened things up.

American Made

September 29, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright Olsen
Directed by: Doug Liman (“Edge of Tomorrow,” “The Bourne Identity”)
Written by: Gary Spinelli (“Stash House”)

Based (somewhat loosely) on a true story, “American Made” finds Tom Cruise finally returning to the type of role that gives him some vulnerability—something which has been sorely lacking in a decade filled with high-octane “Mission: Impossible” movies, the dull “Jack Reacher” series, and this year’s dreadful reboot of “The Mummy.”

Cruise plays Barry Seal, a TWA airline pilot who, in 1978, is bored of welcoming passengers to Bakersfield and Vancouver. While in Canada, he and other pilots run a low-level smuggling ring, bringing Cuban cigars into the United States for a few extra bucks. This attracts the attention of a CIA agent named Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) who plays into Seal’s boredom to recruit him to fly a twin-engine plane over communist training camps in Central America, snapping photos for Uncle Sam. Barry agrees, but doesn’t tell his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright Olsen), who pesters Barry for more money for their growing family. When he’s shut out of a raise by Schafer, Barry accepts an offer from the men who would become the Medellin drug cartel, led by Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejía) and Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda), to smuggle cocaine into the United States for piles and piles of cash.

When Barry is arrested and thrown into a Colombian prison for drug smuggling, Schafer again comes to his aid with an offer: deliver guns to communist-fighting Contras in Nicaragua. Again, the cartel steps in and offers to buy the guns from Barry, who becomes obscenely wealthy from the smuggling, attracting the attention of the FBI, ATF, and several other law enforcement agencies.

Directed by Doug Liman, who previously helmed the under-appreciated (and poorly titled) Cruise sci-fi vehicle “Edge of Tomorrow,” “American Made” aspires for the breezy, comedy-drama feel of “The Wolf of Wall Street” or “The Big Short” and ends up mostly succeeding. There are times when the plot feels hacked up to get the running time just under two hours, with stunted characters like Jesse Plemons’ “look the other way” small town sheriff getting featured introductions and significant follow-up scenes only to end up with little to do afterward and the sudden fore fronting of one of Barry’s vague associates in the final act.

It’s a small quibble, really, and it doesn’t do much to detract from the enjoyment in finally seeing Tom Cruise really sink his gorgeous teeth into something for the first time since “Magnolia” or “Vanilla Sky.”

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

September 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn (“Kingsman: The Secret Service,” “X-Men: First Class”)
Written by: Matthew Vaughn (“Stardust”) & Jane Goldman (“The Woman in Black”)

Look, I’m all for genre subversion—I’m no stick in the mud—but someone needs to step in and get the point across to director Matthew Vaughn that just doing that for the entire runtime of an action movie isn’t funny or entertaining without something, anything to back it up. It’s just not enough. Hey, great, your stuffy British secret agents in “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and its sequel, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” say “fuck” a lot, brutally eviscerate bad guys, and gleefully engage in anal sex in the throes of victory—that’s funny! I mean for a little while, sure—what about the story? You know, the thing that threads together all the high-velocity fight scenes?

Oh, for a story beat you’re going to go with a limp set piece that involves our hero, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), having to finger bang the bad guy’s innocent girlfriend at a music festival in order to plant a tracking device inside her vagina?

Hoo boy.

Anyway, “The Golden Circle” kicks off with Eggsy coming to blows with a former would-be Kingsman Charilie (Edward Holcroft)—now a bad guy with a robot arm—who tries to kill him in a high-speed car chase through London. Thanks to a piece of his cybernetic arm left behind to hack the system, villainous, ’50s-obsessed drug kingpin Poppy (Julianne Moore) is able to destroy every Kingsman save Eggsy and gadget-whiz Merlin (Mark Strong). Activating their doomsday protocol leads them to seek help from the Statesman, another covert operation based out of a Kentucky distillery. Led by Champ (Jeff Bridges), agents Tequila (Channing Tatum), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) and Ginger Ale (Halle Berry), the Statesman offer up their services to the Kingsman, and reveal that oh, by the way, they have Harry Hart (Colin Firth), Eggsy’s Kingsman mentor—thought to be dead after the first movie—in their care. See, they swooped in and saved him, but he has amnesia and thinks he’s a butterfly scientist. Of course, since his help will eventually be needed to take down Poppy (who’s kidnapped Elton John, playing himself), Harry will need to have his memory restored as quickly as possible.

Like most of Vaughn’s movies, “The Golden Circle” thinks it’s way more clever than it actually is, and comes across pretty icky at times. Whereas one of the final shots of the first film was a POV shot of Eggsy looking down at a princess’ bare ass—prior to the aforementioned, eh, anal sex—the sequel ups the creep factor by having the camera follow Eggsy’s finger down the woman’s body as he slips on a finger condom and slides his hand into her underwear and then changing to a shot of the interior of the woman’s—you know, forget it.

Besides shit like that, the movie wastes its new stars. Hallie Berry brings nothing, Jeff Bridges chews up a few lines and Channing Tatum, introduced in a puzzling yet southern-fried scene, sits out most of the movie, with the heavy lifting of the Statesman done by Pascal’s Whiskey, one of the few bright spots until the script decides to deal with him otherwise. But hey, at least Elton John gets a couple of funny moments.

Home Again

September 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky
Directed by: Hallie Meyers-Shyer (debut)
Written by: Hallie Meyers-Shyer (debut)

I guess there’s an audience for the kind of movie “Home Again” is—a fluffy tale of a rich white woman in her 40s who, while more than comfortably wealthy, is struggling to start some basic bitch-type job like design or decorating for other latte-and-wine-sipping women, who then encounters decent men so saccharine, the woman invents problems to have with them, turning the guy missing a dinner (due to life-changing career opportunities, no less!) into a betrayal tantamount to infidelity. Oh, and don’t forget the woman’s adorably plucky daughters and her no-nonsense mother!

That audience doesn’t include me. But if the large contingent of women in their late 30s to late 40s that showed up to the screening I attended and laughed at every hackneyed joke and hissed at every extremely mild bad thing a man did, well…who am I to judge?

Oh, yeah, a film critic.

Anyway, “Home Again” opens with a flashback montage narrated by Alice Kinney (Reese Witherspoon) as she remembers her late father, a philandering, genius director of romantic comedies in the ‘70s who fell in love with his leading lady Lillian (Candice Bergen), a pairing which begat Alice. His immaculate Los Angeles bungalow is now Alice’s, and she uses the home as ground zero for a fresh start with her two daughters after her marriage to record executive Austen (Michael Sheen) and fleeing New York City.

While out celebrating her 40th (oh no!) birthday, Alice runs into three good-as-gold 20-something filmmakers (Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky and Nat Wolff), fresh off a hit short at SXSW out in L.A. to make it big—and due to sitcom-like circumstances, they all end up living in Alice’s opulent, well-furnished guest house. As the film chugs along to tinkly piano beats, Alexander’s director, Harry, falls for Alice and they begin a mildly naughty sexual relationship, while Rudnitsky’s writer, George, takes to Alice’s neurotic aspiring writer daughter, becoming her mentor. Meanwhile, Wolff’s actor character, Teddy, remains present in a lot of scenes without really doing anything. Conflict only arises artificially, though, when amazing career advancement opportunities come up for one character that mildly inconveniences another—Harry meeting with producers causes him to miss a dinner with Alice, George takes on a script polishing job, Teddy reads for a pilot, and Harry gets pissed because…I don’t know, he’s an auteur? Oh yeah, then Michael Sheen shows up to reclaim Alice from these young whippersnappers, and…eh.

Written and directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer, who herself is the daughter of romantic comedy directors Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer, “Home Again” isn’t far off from her mother’s output—and weirdly ignorant of how actual one might be successful as a filmmaker in Hollywood. You know, if your parents aren’t successful filmmakers and give you a hand up in the business. And it’s also weird that you’d let three men–complete strangers, sort of a diet “Entourage” crew—shack up with you, as a single woman, with two elementary school age daughters just because your daffy old mom suggested you be a “patron of the arts.” There is no home in “Home Again,” at least not one that exists in any other world but the Meyers-Shyer family.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

July 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Colin Firth
Directed by: Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element,” “Lucy”)
Written by: Luc Besson (“Taken,” “The Professional”)

These days, original sci-fi at the movies requires a pretty big buy-in. The stuff with less fantastical elements, like “The Martian” or “Edge of Tomorrow,” tends to satisfy adult audiences with gritty, somewhat-based-in-a-possible-reality plotting, while the more “out there” stuff—think “Jupiter Ascending” or “John Carter”—lands with a thud. That any major studio is still giving money to directors to chase these wild geese into non-profitability is, I suppose, something to applaud, and even though these filmmakers have amazing visions, the fact is that the movies are either achingly bad and/or no one seems to give a shit about them.

As a master of Eurotrash action, Luc Besson is no stranger to ambitious sci-fi. From the delightfully weird “The Fifth Element” from 20 years ago or the godawful “Lucy” from 2014, his movies are at least unique if not always, well, any good. His latest film, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” is clearly a passion project, based on a French-Belgian comic you’ve never heard of called “Valerian et Laureline.” Besson has put together a visually amazing, inventive world—too bad his characters can’t carry the load.

After a prologue featuring the evolution of the International Space Station into an orbiting monstrosity known as Alpha set to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” “Valerian” diverts into a dreamy, sun-soaked day-in-the-life of a race of beach-dwelling aliens, who look like albino Na’vi from “Avatar,” wash their faces with pearls, and keep as pets colorful little creatures who eat and reproduce those same pearls. When destruction comes for their world in an intergalactic war they aren’t part of, one of the aliens sends a psychic signal out through the universe, rousing our hero Valerian (a sleepy, Keanu Reeves-sounding Dane DeHaan) from a slumber and some ill-defined almost-sex with his gorgeous partner, Laureline (bland, store-brand Emma Stone substitute Cara Delevingne). They’re both some sort of intergalactic special agents, tasked with stealing some artifacts from a Jabba the Hutt-ish crime lord in an interdimensional flea market and protecting the Commander (Colin Firth) as he tries to figure out just what the heck is going on with a surge of radiation in the core of Alpha.

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is a wonder of production design and fairly wondrous set pieces—nearly undone entirely by a pair of low-wattage leads and too-frequent diversions into goofy Looney Tunes-style cul de sacs.  The aforementioned heist in the market that spans dimensions—shoppers wander around an empty desert lot wearing goggles and transporter boxes on their hands so they can see and interact with vendors in a parallel dimension—is an amazingly batshit idea that makes me smile just thinking about it, and Besson (as usual) peppers it with weirdo military agents and obnoxious American tourists. But then, at some point, we have to get back to DeHaan and Delevingne and listen to them flatly spar about potentially getting married, despite no clear evidence of chemistry between the two. Later diversions include singer Rihanna as a shape-shifting stripper who helps Valerian rescue Laureline from what might as well be a giant stewpot in a sequence that climaxes with a cartoony eye-cross-only missing tweeting birds—none of which has fuck-all to do with the plot (that feels lifted from “Serenity” anyway). Luc Besson, you madman. If you could focus (and cast better) you’d be a modern-day cinema hero.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

July 7, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr.
Directed by: Jon Watts (“Cop Car”)
Written by: Jonathan Goldstein (“Horrbile Bosses”) & John Francis Daley (“Vacation”) and Jon Watts (“Cop Car”) & Christopher Ford (“Cop Car”) and Chris McKenna (“The LEGO Batman Movie”) & Erik Sommers (“The LEGO Batman Movie”)

No one wanted this, the third different Spider-Man film franchise from Sony in 15 years. Most of us liked the first two films starring Tobey Maguire from director Sam Raimi. I guess someone liked enough of Marc Webb’s first film in the 2012 reboot starring Andrew Garfield and a pre-Oscar Emma Stone to warrant the sequel that killed that franchise.

Spider-Man’s origin story, like Batman’s, should be etched in stone somewhere on a list called “Things We Never Need to See Depicted On Screen Again.”

But of course, in this golden age of comic book films, the most popular, kid-friendly hero can’t stay benched. Marvel came a-calling, offering Sony a deal they couldn’t refuse: let Spider-Man (which the studio has the film rights to) join Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe and we’ll let you borrow elements for the MCU for stand-alone Spider-Man films, which sputtered out after “Amazing Spider-Man 2,” just as Marvel was kicking things into overdrive. This marriage begat the latest film featuring the wise-cracking web slinger, “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

Picking up just after the events of 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” which is recounted by Peter Parker (Tom Holland) via social media videos, “Homecoming” focuses on Peter’s high school life while he awaits another call from Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to join up once again with the Avengers. Meanwhile, Peter dons his Stark-made Spidey suit—filled with tech, natch—to stop petty crime around New York. When Peter runs across some criminals using salvaged Chitauri tech, he inadvertently stumbles into the path of arms dealer Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a once-honest man driven to the underworld when the government and Stark muscle him out of the salvage business. All this while he’s trying to win the affection of cute older girl Liz (Laura Harrier).

I don’t know  that “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is the best Spider-Man movie—a distinction that still belongs to Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2”—but it’s certainly the most fun. The movie is a genuine laugh riot at times, shamelessly aping the ‘80s output of John Hughes to mine hilarity from teenage awkwardness. Holland’s Peter feels like the first real “teenaged” Spider-Man we’ve ever gotten, and his clumsy pining over Liz and his nerdy goings on with best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) are fun enough even without the web swinging. Alas, this is Marvel movie, though, and previous viewing of damn near everything that came before it, though not absolutely required, is highly advised. Though not as hefty a presence as marketing may have implied, Tony Stark hangs heavy over the film, especially in the suit, which at times makes Spider-Man seem more like a kid version of Iron Man that swings from webs instead of flying than the webhead everyone loves (also, where’s the spider sense, or the super strength?)

Still, “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” almost improbably, delivers an essential, delightful version of a movie no one wanted in the first place.

Transformers: The Last Knight

June 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Laura Haddock Directed by: Michael Bay (“Transformers: Age of Extinction”) Written by: Art Marcum (“Iron Man”) & Matt Holloway (“Iron Man”) & Ken Nolan (“Black Hawk Down”) Every now and then, I take stock of all the entertainment properties I enjoyed as a child—or still enjoy screen-printed on a t-shirt—that are being made into well-meaning, if not always good, major motion pictures. All the Marvel stuff, some of the DC Comics stuff, Star Wars…it’s a fine time at the movies to be a fan of the geekier stuff. But then there’s Transformers. It just…it breaks my heart. We have well-made, coherent films where utterly ridiculous characters like Ant-Man and Rocket Raccoon are treated with respect and written as real characters. Meanwhile, five films into Michael Bay’s “Transformers” series, every other fucking robot is either a racist stereotype, spends half their screen time robo-farting or some other bullshit. They even got original cartoon voice actor Peter Cullen to voice Optimus Prime, and seemingly half of his lines in the latest film, “Transformers: The Last Knight” are “I am Optimus Prime!” And I love Optimus Prime. “The Last Knight” opens in the days of King Arthur, where a drunken Merlin (Stanley Tucci!) begs a Transformer (they’ve been here the whole time!) for help in defeating a horde of invaders. He’s given a staff, which calls upon a metal dragon. Flash forward 1,600 years and, in accordance with the rest of this series, the movie picks and chooses which plot points from the previous four films to either embrace or outright ignore. Anyway, this time Chicago stays destroyed after the events of “Age of Extinction,” and the ruins are patrolled by the Transformers Response Force, since Transformers are now illegal. A young girl (Isabella Moner) is saved by Cade Yaeger (Mark Wahlberg) after a drone strike kills her Autobot pal. She stows away with him back to his junkyard in South Dakota, where a bunch of annoying Autobots, including Bumblebee and Grimlock, hang out. Meanwhile Optimus Prime continues his journey into deep space to confront his maker, Quintessa, to tell her to leave Earth alone. Like a chump, he immediately fucks that up and is brainwashed into becoming Nemesis Prime, now assisting Quintessa in her plan to bring Cybertron to Earth, which is actually Unicron (see the animated “Transformers: The Movie” from 1986) in order to revive Cybertron. The only thing that can stop this plan is the staff of Merlin, which can only be wielded by his last living ancestor, Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock), and she’s being sought by Sir Emund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) and his psychotic robot butler Cogman, the last guard of the Witwiccans (UGH), a brotherhood of humans who have worked alongside Transformers for centuries—you know, because they were here all along. And that’s not even half of the junk shoved into this movie, which is bursting at the seams with so much utter bullshit you won’t even have time to catch your breath—dinosaur Transformers barfing up cars, horns emerging from the earth, a manservant droid shooting himself out of a torpedo tube to catch some fish for a pair of humans on a submarine OH MY GOD WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING? If there are some redeeming factors in this garbage fire is that “The Last Knight” is not quite as blatantly racist and sexist as the previous entries, and it’s not quite as punishingly long. Otherwise…I just can’t deal with these anymore.

The Mummy

June 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Russell Crowe
Directed by: Alex Kurtzman (“People Like Us”)
Written by: David Koepp (“Jurassic Park”) & Christopher McQuarrie (“Edge of Tomorrow”) & Dylan Kussman (debut)

I have fond memories of 1999’s “The Mummy” starring Brendan Fraser. As a goofy knock-off Indiana Jones for the CGI age, the film opened weeks before “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” and people were already camped out to buy tickets for that when I left my first screening of “The Mummy.” One of the friends I saw “The Mummy” with ducked out to wait in that very line. Oh, and the movie was fun, too—junky and shallow, sure, but fun. There’s even a pretty fun roller coaster based on it at Universal Studios!

Anyway, here we are 18 years later, and now a reboot/remake/secret sequel(?) of “The Mummy” is here, set in modern times to kick off a Universal Monsters cinematic series—dubbed the Dark Universe—which will allegedly feature an Avengers/Justice League-style team-up featuring the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Wolfman. And Universal is bringing the big guns to the fight, casting Tom Cruise as the lead, but unfortunately the movie wrapped around him is a mess.

Cruise plays Nick Morton, who the script would have us believe is a criminal U.S. soldier in Iraq, a tomb-robbing looter, stealing artifacts from historical sites with his partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) and selling them on the black market. When they deviate from a mission to check out a potential location to swipe antiquities from, Nick and Chris become pinned down by enemy gunfire. A last-second airstrike saves them, and opens up an ancient Egyptian tomb in the process—which clearly doesn’t belong in Iraq. Enter Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), who along with Nick and Chris enter the tomb to explore it and, in the process, reactivate an ancient, too-evil-to-bury-in-Egypt mummy named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), and she’s looking for a mate. Since he’s the one that released her, Nick becomes cursed, able to survive a plane crash and lots of brutal punishment at the hands of Ahmanet’s reanimated goons. He also becomes the target of Prodigium, a sort of magic-focus SHIELD led by Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), looking to rid the world of monsters.

First things first, this is a Tom Cruise movie, and he’s absolutely the wrong choice. The notion that we buy into Cruise playing a war criminal is ludicrous at first, and the script, credited to three writers and three more with “story by” credits, doesn’t ever seem to be comfortable committing to the notion of Cruise’s Nick being a real shitbag. There are flashes of humor, much of it on Jake Johnson’s capable shoulders, but the film stops dead when Dr. Jekyll (sigh) shows up to exposition the whole thing into a sarcophagus. At least the Brendan Fraser movies were fun. Universal would be wise to remember that.

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