Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Movie Review: John Wick Chapter 2

John Wick was a bit of a surprise hit in 2014.  Directed by Chad Stahelski, who had been a stunt performer in the Matrix movies and starring Keanu Reeves, who Stahelski knew had the ability to remember longer chains of stunt moves than most actors – the story was simple and straightforward, and focused on exceptional action.  John Wick was a recently retired hitman, who had been so good at his job, he was often referred to as ‘the Boogeyman’.  John retired to be with his wife, and soon after, she became sick, and passed away. Knowing she was dying, she arranged to have a puppy delivered to John after the funeral, so that he would have someone to love.

A chance encounter with some young thugs at a gas station leads them to follow him home, kill his puppy, steal his car, and leave him for dead.  Since the puppy was the last gift from his wife, John immediately sets out on a mission to eliminate the thugs and everyone they know/work for; regardless to the fact that the leader of the group is the son of a big time Russian mob guy, who is very familiar with John and his work.  The movie also introduced us to John’s world of underground assassins and their secret hotels and codes of conduct.  The movie ended with John adopting a new dog and heading back home.

The movie was tailored to Keanu’s strengths, and the stunt work was incredible – and after those idiots killed his puppy – it was wildly satisfying to see John eliminate every single one of them.
The sequel picks up five days after the events of the first movie, with John going to get his car from the uncle of the kid from the first movie, killing countless dudes before the opening credits come up.

Once John returns home with his car, and gives it to his mechanic since it is basically destroyed, John receives a visit from Santino D’Antonio, an Italian criminal who is suddenly upset that his sister has inherited their recently deceased father’s seat at the “high table” of the “council”.  John says that he’s out, and he doesn’t want the job. Santino brings up that he has a ‘marker’ (remember that awesome Richard Greico show ‘Marker’ from when UPN was a thing?), which John gave to him – since apparently Santino was the one who helped John complete his “impossible task” when John decided to “get out”.  John still refuses, and Santino blows up his house – but don’t worry, the dog is okay this time.

John goes to the Continental (the fancy secret assassin hotel) to ask Winston, the manager, for advice, and Winston says he needs to honor the marker, then he can go back to retirement.  So John accepts Santino’s job to kill his sister, Gianna, in Rome.  We are then treated to a fun montage of John heading to Rome, checking in to the Continental there, getting a new suit, some weapons, and some building plans. He successfully gets to the sister at her “coronation” ceremony – despite the fact that she’s now being bodyguarded by his nemesis from the first movie, Cassian. I won't lie to you - the ceremony really seems to be more of a rave held at some ancient Roman ruins. She realizes what is happening once John appears in her bathroom – which is the fanciest bathroom I have ever seen – and kills herself as opposed to letting him do it.

John starts his escape, but swiftly realizes that Santino has sent his number one henchwoman, Ares, and a tons of guys after him to “tie up loose ends”.  Of course, Cassian is also after him to avenge Gianna.  John escapes and heads back to New York – but not before Santino takes out a contract on his life for seven million dollars, and sends the details to all the hitmen everywhere.  John then has to take out several professional killers before getting a meeting with the Bowery King.   The Bowery King has eyes and ears everywhere, making use of undercover spies and tells John where Santino is, so that John can kill him, put an end to this, and finally retire.

John kills another couple dozen of Santino’s henchmen in a modern art exhibit, but Santino manages to escape to the Continental, and then gloat about how he can just stay in there since no one can shed blood on Continental grounds.  Spoiler Alert – John just shoots him.  Winston is very disappointed, and makes John “excommunicado”, banning him from the Continental and all its amenities.  He gives John one hour, but also doubles the bounty – so the movie ends with John and his dog going on the run, with a fourteen million dollar bounty on his head as every assassin in the world gets a text letting them know he’s the target.

Once again, the movie is spectacular action with a fairly straightforward story.  John just wants out, and is doing what is necessary to get out.  Because of director Chad Stahelski’s extensive stunt background, the stunt work is phenomenal, and I really wish some other directors (looking at you Paul Greengrass) would watch this to see how the fights are shot from a distance away, and with limited cuts – so that you can see the skill of the actors and stunt performers.  It makes such a difference, and I really love this style.  Yes, the movie is hyper-violent, and yes, there are a ton of headshots, since that is John’s preferred killing method. 
  • This is definitely Keanu Reeves’s movie - and John Wick is right in his wheelhouse of very little dialogue, and brutal action.  Since Stahelski is so familiar with Keanu’s stunt ability, much of the action is tailored to him, and I found myself often impressed that it really is him in almost every scene. If there was double used for Keanu, I could not tell where – but I’m guessing in rolling down the cement stairs. Keanu is fantastic in this – so desperate to leave this life behind that he’s willing to get involved in that very life again with the vaguely haunted look behind his eyes anytime he thinks of his wife. And, thank goodness the dog makes it through this one.

  • Riccardo Scamarcio plays Santino D’Antonio – and he’s just slimy and horrible. He shows up all slick and fancy, demanding John’s help, and just descends into pure villainy as the movie progresses.

  • Ian McShane is wonderful as Winston – very friendly and respectful to John as long as his rules are followed. And even when John breaks them, he does what he can to give him a headstart.

  • Ruby Rose plays Ares, who is mute in this movie, and uses what I’m going to guess is assassin-specific sign language to communicate. She’s just fine, but honestly, her stunt double was pretty obvious, and in a movie that prides itself on the stunt work that was a little distracting.

  • Common is back as John’s nemesis Cassian. The fight sequences between the two are outstanding, and seem to be unending.

  • Claudia Gerini plays Gianna D’Atonio, and has just the one scene, but that’s a lot of dialogue with John, and enough to make him question why he decided to honor the marker that Santino had instead of just running.

  • Lance Reddick is back as Charon, the concierge of the New York Continental. He’s fantastically mysterious and quietly powerful.  He also offers to dog-sit for John during his trip to Rome.

  • Laurence Fishburne plays the Bowery King, and really – like I said, is not all that helpful. I think he’s here just so that fans of the Matrix get to see the two of them onscreen together again. Which – I’ll admit – was pretty great.  Fishburne does chew all the scenery around him as he wanders around with a little white pigeon.

  • John Leguizamo shows up again as Aurelio – John’s mechanic.  He’s there to provide some comic relief early on.

  • Peter Stomare has basically a cameo in this, his fourth movie with Keanu (Constantine, Henry’s Crime, Swedish Dicks) as the brother of the Russian mob guy from the first movie.  Honestly, their scene together in Constantine was so good that I was really happy to see him here, however briefly.
Overall, the action is amazing, the story is interesting, but I really wanted him to be able to retire happily at the end!  Oh well, here’s hoping that’s the planned end for Chapter 3.

8 out of 10.  Gained points for the dog making it this time, and for a Peter Serafinowicz cameo.

Cast Interviews

Bonus - Marker - I loved this show.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Movie Review: Lego Batman Movie (PG – 104 minutes)

When the Lego Movie was a hit in 2014, the standout character was Lego Batman, the arrogant and cocky version of Batman voiced by Will Arnett who only builds in “black and sometimes very very very dark gray.” He stole every scene of that movie he was in, and so, it is basically inevitable that he gets his own spin off movie.

In this movie, we see Lego Batman back in Gotham, saving the city from just about every villain in his roster, including the very obscure villains from the Batman ’66 TV show – King Tut, Egghead, etc. Batman is perfectly happy being very much alone, and needing no one. He’s loving his lifestyle and essentially is afraid to form any kind of familial bond, due to what happened to his parents. 
The Joker, meanwhile, is of course obsessed with Batman, and obsessed with getting Batman to admit that they need one another, that they make each other better, and that The Joker is Batman’s number one villain – which of course, Batman is not interested in doing. In fact, when questioned on who is best villain is, he mentions Superman prior to Joker.

Bruce Wayne has to go to a city function where Commissioner Gordon is retiring, and his daughter, Barbara, is stepping into the role.  At the function, due to being distracted by Barbara’s loveliness, Bruce accidentally agrees to adopt orphan Dick Grayson. Barbara announces her plan for Gotham to get stronger by working together so that they will need Batman less.  At this point, The Joker shows up and gives up – agreeing to go to Arkham so that Batman will realize how much he needs him.
Batman, in a misguided plan, decides to steal a phantom zone projector from Superman’s fortress of Solitude to send the Joker to the Phantom Zone, so as to never have to deal with him again.  Alfred insists that he take an interest in Dick, who is apparently now living at the mansion?  Dick suits up as Robin and together they steal the projector, as Superman is distracted because he’s having a party with the Justice League, that Batman notices he wasn’t invited to – but doesn’t seem to mind.  

Together, Batman and Robin break into Arkham and send the Joker to the phantom zone, where he quickly assembles all the super-villains who are trapped there (Voldemort, Sauron, the Krakken, King Kong, etc..) and heads back to Gotham. Barbara locks up Batman and Robin – since he broke the law, but when Joker comes back with a whole new level of villain that the city is not prepared to deal with, she frees him, and Batman is forced to realize that he sometimes needs help – so he, Robin, Alfred, and Barbara team up to save Gotham.

Directed by Chris McKay, the action is great, the jokes are fast and furious, and the graphics are fantastic.  Obviously, I really enjoyed the Batman in-jokes, relating to all 78 years of Batman history - especially the bat-repellent spray from the Batman '66 movie. 

The performances are fun, and the message is great.  Yes, it’s still a kids movie – and yes, the middle is a little chaotic, but overall, it’s really fun.
  • Will Arnett continues to make his version of Batman all ego and strength.  It’s nice to see him realize he finally needs help, but honestly, for this Batman – it’s really out of character!

  • Michael Cera plays the overeager Robin/Dick Grayson.  I don't know why he looks like the Carrie Kelley version with the hair and goggles.  His removing the pants from his outfit so that he can move better is hilarious.  I did find it a bit weird that his background was not covered at all, but really, since his parents were acrobats who were tragically murdered during a circus performance, maybe that’s not something you want to get into in a kids’ movie.

  • Rosario Dawson plays Barbara Gordon, who will become Batgirl. She’s tough and no-nonsense, wanting the city to be able to survive without always needing to call on Batman. So, in the end, she also learns that they need to work together.

  • Ralph Fiennes plays Alfred, and makes him very supportive and British – but it’s weird because Voldemort is also in this movie, and is played by Eddie Izzard.

  • Zach Galifianakis plays the Joker, and makes this Joker a little less menacing that his recent portrayals, and a little more needy and desperate.

  • The rest are all more like cameos, since they are just a few lines here and there.  But really, the movie is most fun when multiple characters are on screen – similar to the Master-Builder introduction scene from the Lego Movie.

  • Jenny Slate voices Harley Quinn, Jason Mantzoukas plays Scarecrow, Conan O’Brien plays the Riddler, Doug Benson plays Bane, Billy Dee Williams plays Two-Face (finally), Zoe Kravitz plays Catwoman, Kate Micucci plays Clayface, Riki Lindhome plays Poison Ivy, Seth Green plays King Kong, Jermaine Clement plays Sauron, Channing Tatum returns as Superman, and Jonah Hill returns as Green Lantern. Brent Musburger, Ralph Garman, and Chris Hardwick all play reporters.  Hector Elizondo plays James Gordon – and Mariah Carey plays Mayor McCaskill.  Yes, Mariah Carey - plays the mayor, and is pretty hilarious.

Overall the movie is a lot of fun, and can be enjoyed by both kids and adults – which is always a sign of a thoughtful kids’ movie. I had a great time.

7 out of 10 – I could have used more scenes with the Justice League, and with the villains, and less scenes with the message – but hey, the message is the point!

Cast interviews;

Friday, February 10, 2017

2016 Year in Review

It is once time to go through the multitudes of movies released last year, and compare what I liked to what the Academy is telling you is the best - spoiler alert, the academy and I rarely agree. The ceremony is Sunday, February 26th at 7:30 pm central.

I’ll start with the movies that got the most Oscar nominations, run those down briefly, then give you what I liked, and finally – give you what I hated, because that’s often more fun! I thought it was a decent year at the movies, but then I’m usually pretty pleased with most movies. The Italics below are the synopses from IMDB, followed by random thoughts from yours truly.  I’ll keep editing this as I see more of the movies.  

Again, I’ve included “Everything Wrong With” from Cinema Sins and the “Honest Trailers” from Screen Junkies when possible because they are brilliant – and you should definitely subscribe to their channels and watch all their videos.

1.       La La Land (14 nominations, PG13 – 128 minutes); A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles. 
It’s certainly impressive to put forth an original modern musical. Fourteen nominations ties Titanic and All About Eve for the most nominations ever, and La La Land has certainly got the momentum. I thought it was well done, I enjoyed the colors and the dancing, but I thought the story was a bit weak and the cast was really only Gosling and Stone, which worked for the purposes of the movie. I’m not sure it lived up to all the hype, but it was an interesting watch.

2.       Arrival (8 nominations, PG13 – 116 minutes); When twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks is tasked with interpreting the language of the apparent alien visitors. 
I enjoyed this movie, I liked the unique design of the aliens and their language. It is a lot of Amy Adams if you’re not an Amy Adams fan (I’m not), but it is really well done, and she carries the movie as she works through a non-linear time story.

3.       Moonlight (8 nominations, R – 111 minutes); A timeless story of human self-discovery and connection, Moonlight chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami.
Tragically beautiful, and beautifully tragic, Moonlight is an awards-season movie that is tough to watch, but exceptionally crafted. Mahershala Ali does an amazing job as the positive influence in young Little's life that comes from an unexpected place.

4.       Manchester By The Sea (6 nominations, R – 137 minutes); An uncle is asked to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy's father dies.
Yes, another year and another awards-season movie that brings up the question of whether you can separate the art from the artist.  Casey Affleck does an amazing job in this really depressing movie. However, he settled two sexual harassment suits out of court.  Can you watch this movie without that hanging over his performance? I haven’t tried yet, but I’ll let you know if I’m able to do that.
5.       Hacksaw Ridge (6 nominations, R – 139 minutes); WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people, and becomes the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot.
Another question of separating the art from the artist with the Mel Gibson directed Hacksaw Ridge. Mel is a racist misogynist – can you watch this movie without that hanging over it?  He sticks to his typical hyper-violent directing style, with a fantastic performance from Andrew Garfield.
6.       Lion (6 nominations, PG13 – 118 minutes) A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.
With fantastic performances by Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman, this true life story is winning over everyone who sees it.

7.       Fences (4 nominations, PG13, 139 minutes); A working-class African-American father tries to raise his family in the 1950s, while coming to terms with the events of his life.
Denzel Washington directs and stars in this movie based on the August Wilson play he had already done on Broadway a few times.  It's tough to get into, it basically is the play just shot on location, so the beginning feels very unnatural and talky and very much like a play.  Viola Davis is a lock for Best Supporting Actress for this – but why is it not Best Actress?  After all, she won the 2010 Best Actress Tony for the same role. Perhaps to not get between the Meryl Streep/Emma Stone battle?

8.       Hell or High Water (4 nominations, R – 102 minutes); A divorced father and his ex-con older brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family's ranch in West Texas.
Jeff Bridges is still stuck in barely understandable frontier gibberish mode as he chases down two brothers robbing banks.
9.       Hidden Figures (3 nominations, PG, 127 minutes); Based on a true story. A team of African-American women provide NASA with important mathematical data needed to launch the program's first successful space missions.
I loved this movie. It was well done, inspiring, and educational. Plus it shows what can be accomplished when people set aside preconceived notions and prejudices to work together on a common goal.

10.   Jackie (3 nominations, R – 100 minutes); Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children, and define her husband's historic legacy.
Natalie Portman plays Jackie Kennedy in a biopic.
11.   A Man Called Ove (2 nominations, PG13 – 116 minutes); Ove, an ill-tempered, isolated retiree who spends his days enforcing block association rules and visiting his wife's grave, has finally given up on life just as an unlikely friendship develops with his boisterous new neighbors.
I have no information on this foreign movie, but honestly, it sounds like a familiar story.

12.   Deepwater Horizon (2 nominations, PG13 – 107 minutes); A dramatization of the April 2010 disaster, when the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded and created the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
I really have mixed feelings about this movie – that disaster was the worst environmental disaster in recent history, it makes me uncomfortable to make a movie about it – but I know there were people on it, and their story matters too. 
13.   Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (2 nominations, PG13 – 133 minutes); The adventures of writer Newt Scamander in New York's secret community of witches and wizards seventy years before Harry Potter reads his book in school.
I enjoyed this movie, but I didn’t love it. It’s really well done, and certainly enjoyable. It’s darker and grittier than previous Harry Potter movies, but the look of the magical creatures and the case they live in is lovely.

14.   Florence Foster Jenkins (2 nominations, PG13 – 110 minutes); The story of Florence Foster Jenkins, a New York heiress who dreamed of becoming an opera singer, despite having a terrible singing voice.
I enjoyed this movie as well. It’s a true life story, but still somehow managed to feel tailor-made for Meryl to Meryl.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.

15.   Kubo and the Two Strings (2 nominations, PG – 101 minutes); A young boy named Kubo must locate a magical suit of armor worn by his late father in order to defeat a vengeful spirit from the past.
I didn’t see this when it was out, it looked interesting and reminded me of the Book of Life. Honestly, I was more interested when I thought Kubo was a girl – I thought it would be nice if it had a female hero. I was also a little confused by the lack of Asian voice actors in what was clearly an Asian story.
16.   Moana (2 nominations, PG – 107 minutes); In Ancient Polynesia, when a terrible curse incurred by the Demigod Maui reaches an impetuous Chieftain's daughter's island, she answers the Ocean's call to seek out the Demigod to set things right.
I haven’t seen this yet either, though I did intend to.  I will see it soon, at least this one had Polynesian actors playing Polynesian roles.
17.   Passengers (2 nominations, PG13 – 116 minutes); A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 90 years early.
Passengers is another movie I intended to see, but never really got around to it.  I am suffering from a little bit of Jennifer Lawrence over-exposure.  It’s not her fault, I’m just a little tired of her.

18.   Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2 nominations, PG13 – 133 minutes); The Rebel Alliance makes a risky move to steal the plans for the Death Star, setting up the epic saga to follow.
A brilliantly simple story, epically told, setting up the films you’re already familiar with using a cast of diverse actors and characters who come together to complete the mission you knew about but never saw.  Absolutely wonderful.

Everything else had just one nomination – so we’ll stop there at 18.  It’s still a pretty big list. To date, I’ve seen 8 of those 18, and I should be seeing more of them soon, but it sure won’t be all 18.
My Best of the Year, and again – it should be clarified, these are the movies I enjoyed the most, not the best quality films.  See the above if you are into film quality.  See the below if you are into movie fun and entertainment - no, they are not mutually exclusive, there are a couple that are on both lists!

19: PopStar: Never Stop Never Stopping (R – 87 minutes) When it becomes clear that his solo album is a failure, a former boy band member does everything in his power to maintain his celebrity status.
Honestly, the Lonely Island can be hit or miss for me, but this movie and it’s absurdity really made me laugh. Andy Samberg is hilarious as a popstar who leaves his friends in the dust, only to realize that he really does need them.

18: Keeping Up With The Joneses (PG13 – 105 minutes) A suburban couple becomes embroiled in an international espionage plot when they discover that their seemingly perfect new neighbors are government spies.
This is a pretty straightforward comedy, but what sold it for me was the performances of John Hamm and Gal Gadot as the undercover spies who attempt to hide out in a suburban neighborhood.

17: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (PG13 – 133 minutes); The adventures of writer Newt Scamander in New York's secret community of witches and wizards seventy years before Harry Potter reads his book in school.
Even though I did not love this as much as the Harry Potter movies, I still really enjoyed it.  The main reason was the Fantastic Beasts themselves. Beautifully brought to life inside the mystical case that magizoologist Newt carries around 1920s NewYork, I instantly found myself wanting my own bowtruckle.  I thought the end felt a little forced, in that it was trying a bit too hard to set up sequels, but the middle was just lovely.
16: Office Christmas Party (R – 105 minutes) When his uptight CEO sister threatens to shut down his branch, the branch manager throws an epic Christmas party in order to land a big client and save the day, but the party gets way out of hand...
Honestly, this surprised me. I was expecting it to be just another nonsense holiday screwball comedy, and it is, make no mistake, but Jason Bateman’s earnest performance next to T.J. Miller’s madcap performance really sell it – plus Jennifer Aniston has really cemented her ‘crazy bitch’ role to near perfection for R rated comedies.
15: Arrival (PG13 – 116 minutes); When twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks is tasked with interpreting the language of the apparent alien visitors.
It’s definitely a surprise anytime I have one of the “Oscar” movies on my list as well, but Arrival was so different and unique I wanted to include it. Amy Adams does an incredible job as a woman who is either predisposed to think like the arriving aliens, or becomes more able to think like them as she works with them. The movie didn’t have nearly enough for Forrest Whittaker or Jeremy Renner to do, but in a way, that makes sense because the story is really about her journey as she interprets the aliens language to determine why they are here, and what they want, and surprisingly, what it means for her life in particular.
14: Central intelligence (PG13 – 107 minutes) After he reconnects with an awkward pal from high school through Facebook, a mild-mannered accountant is lured into the world of international espionage. 
Sure – it’s a standard, formulaic comedy – but in casting the Rock as the outrageous one and Kevin Hart as the straightlaced one, this movie gives you just a bit extra.  It’s harmless fun, with a strong anti-bullying message, which is always good.

13: Warcraft (PG13 – 123 minutes) As an Orc horde invades the planet Azeroth using a magic portal, a few human heroes and dissenting Orcs must attempt to stop the true evil behind this war.
No, this wasn’t great, but it looked good.  I enjoyed the silliness of it – Ben Foster being completely insane, Travis Fimmel cashing in on his Vikings-ness, and Paula Patton being green.  I never really played any of the games, so I can’t even tell you if it was good on that level, but I sure did enjoy the nonsense once I stopped trying to figure out what the hell was going on.
12: Criminal (R – 113 minutes) In a last-ditch effort to stop a diabolical plot, a dead CIA operative's memories, secrets, and skills are implanted into a death-row inmate in hopes that he will complete the operative's mission.
This is on the list because it surprised me. I wasn’t expecting anything from this movie, especially since it was Ryan Reynold’s second body/age switch movies in the span of a few months.  In this one, they shove his brain inside Kevin Costner’s head, and it was really fun to see Costner’s horrible criminal character bumble his way into being a hero because of the Reynolds in his brain while Gary Oldman and Tommy Lee Jones chased him down.

11: Pride and Predjudice and Zombies (PG13 – 108 minutes) Five sisters in 19th century England must cope with the pressures to marry while protecting themselves from a growing population of zombies.
Here’s something that delivered on the title. It’s exactly what it says it is.  I really enjoyed it – and again, I had not read the book, so I can’t tell you if it delivers on the written version, but it sure was some absolute zombie fun nonsense.

10: Assassin’s Creed (PG13 – 115 minutes) When Callum Lynch explores the memories of his ancestor Aguilar and gains the skills of a Master Assassin, he discovers he is a descendant of the secret Assassins society.
I was a little surprised by this one too – I was expecting to hate it, since I really love the games. It has enough of the games to feel familiar, but enough new to start a franchise (if it does well enough).  Honestly, my favorite part was near the end as a new team assembles, and prepares to go on their next adventure.  Basically, that’s where all the Michael K. Williams was, and that’s what I wanted more of.
9:  Hidden Figures: (PG, 127 minutes); Based on a true story. A team of African-American women provide NASA with important mathematical data needed to launch the program's first successful space missions.
Again, I just loved this movie. It is a true life story that I was not familiar with, but that everyone should learn. These women were incredibly strong and inspirational, and the movie tells their story, including the rough parts, but still manages to stay uplifting. It’s outstanding.
8: Bad Moms (R – 100 minutes) When three overworked and under-appreciated moms are pushed beyond their limits, they ditch their conventional responsibilities for a jolt of long overdue freedom, fun, and comedic self-indulgence.
This is another movie that surprised me. I wasn’t really expecting anything, but the trio of Mila Kunis, Katherine Hahn, and Kristen Bell were absolute genius. The movie is really fun, but what’s even better are the interviews over the end credits with the actors and their moms.

7: Star Trek Beyond (PG13 – 122 minutes) The USS Enterprise crew explores the furthest reaches of uncharted space, where they encounter a new ruthless enemy who puts them and everything the Federation stands for to the test.
Finally one of the new Star Trek movies that I can really get behind. And ironically – yes, this is the one that felt like a long episode. With the inclusion of a new badass alien warrior and a villain whose motives are shady, this finally felt like the opportunity for the new cast to step out of the superior shadows of the previous cast and have their own adventure.  It’s basically an action movie set in the Star Trek Universe.
6: The Accountant (R – 128 minutes) As a math savant uncooks the books for a new client, the Treasury Department closes in on his activities and the body count starts to rise.
Another surprise was this Ben Affleck thoughtful action movie.  Anna Kendrick and Jon Bernthal play supporting characters in a simple story with an interesting twist at the end.

5: Magnificent Seven (PG13 – 133 minutes) Seven gunmen in the old west gradually come together to help a poor village against savage thieves.
We’ve had so many versions of the original Seven Samurai story by this time, I was almost positive we didn’t need another one, especially since I was particularly fond of the TV show version of the story from 1998.  But, the saving grace of this story you’ve seen a hundred times before is the cast.  Vincent D’Onofrio, Ethan Hawke, Byung Hun Lee, Martin Sensmeier, Manuel Garcia-Fulfo, with Chris Pratt, and Denzel just Denzeling his way through this western – it’s exceptional.  Fun, action-packed, and satisfying.  

4: Deadpool (R – 108 minutes) A fast-talking mercenary with a morbid sense of humor is subjected to a rogue experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers and a quest for revenge.
There was a lot wrong with the Wolverine movie from 2009, but one thing that was right was the casting of Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool – even if the portrayal of Deadpool was completely wrong. Luckily, Reynolds never gave up on wanting to make a Deadpool movie true to Deadpool, a wise-cracking, fourth-wall breaking, mercenary who brutalizes his way through the Marvel universe. This movie delivered – on every level. The action is great, Reynolds is great, the comedy is great, and it’s really really violent.  It’s what Deadpool fans, and probably Deadpool himself, wanted.

3: Doctor Strange (PG13 – 115 minutes) A former neurosurgeon embarks on a journey of healing only to be drawn into the world of the mystic arts.
Marvel continues to deliver, even when tackling characters that seem a bit difficult to translate. The trippy 1960s universe of Doctor Stephen Strange is beautifully brought to screen in this movie, telling the simple tale of a doctor who thinks of himself as a god – who is then lost when he loses the use of his hands, and finally looks to places other than modern medicine to save himself, which of course, leads him to end up inadvertently saving the world. I cannot wait to see Doctor Strange interact with other Marvel Characters.

2: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (PG13 – 133 minutes); The Rebel Alliance makes a risky move to steal the plans for the Death Star, setting up the epic saga to follow.
Not a shock here, I really loved this movie. I wasn’t sure about opening up the Star Wars universe to varying ‘stand-alone’ films, but directed Gareth Edwards really proved me wrong. The story is simple, we know in Episode IV, Princess Leia is trying to get the stolen plans to the Death Star back to the rebels so that they can mount an offensive.  But how did she get those plans? This whole movie is how she got those plans, and that’s really it. Honestly, I liked this movie more than Episode VII. It’s cleaner and simpler, plus introduces a really diverse team of unique characters – each of which is worthy of their own spin-off movie.  They come together here and eventually gel as a unit thanks to the focus of the importance of their mission. Eventually, they are successful, and we’re left with an action/war movie that just happens to be set in the Star Wars universe with epic battle sequences, and easily the best Darth Vader sequence ever put on film. It’s a triumph – and even if you’re not a Star Wars fan, you should check it out.

1: Captain America Civil War (PG13 – 147 minutes) Political interference in the Avengers' activities causes a rift between former allies Captain America and Iron Man.
My favorite of the year. Really – it’s almost a tie between this and Rogue One, but this movie managed to delicately balance the two view points of the split avengers (we need more government control so that someone can keep us in check! Vs. we need to be operate as we see fit to save as many people as possible!) without really suggesting which stand is correct (Cap’s stand is correct).  Chris Evans continues to grow into Captain America and make what was a fairly two dimensional character deeper and more relatable as these movies go on.  With what is possibly the best comic-book movie action sequence ever, a fantastic use of AntMan, plus the introduction of what could become our best SpiderMan, and finally the beyond epic introduction of Black Panther to the screen; the movie is near-flawless entertainment. It builds towards a huge conflict, but just before the end, takes a quick turn into a deeper, more personal conflict between two friends, as one feels betrayed by the other. Some stated this was anti-climatic, but personally, I thought it was a beautiful finish for such a large movie. The Avengers are left split, but with no doubt that they will be able to reunite when needed. 

Once again, Marvel wins, and I cannot wait to see what they do next. And since that’s GOTG2 – I’m willing to bet they’ll be the top of my list again next year.

Equally if not more fun to put together, my worst of the year, or – those that I really did not care for!
8: XMen Apocalypse ( PG13 – 144 minutes) After the re-emergence of the world's first mutant, world-destroyer Apocalypse, the X-Men must unite to defeat his extinction level plan.
I like the idea of rebooting the franchise by giving us the same characters younger, and I didn’t mind the new cast, but honestly, Bryan Singer just got Apocalypse wrong. It’s a shame, because he’s an incredible villain, and I was looking forward to this, but again it’s a little Mystique heavy, due to JLaw’s fame, and it just didn’t make as much sense as it should have, or any at all.

7: Gods of Egypt (PG13 – 126 minutes) Mortal hero Bek teams with the god Horus in an alliance against Set, the merciless god of darkness, who has usurped Egypt's throne, plunging the once peaceful and prosperous empire into chaos and conflict.
Here we have that movie about ancient Egypt starring zero, count ‘em, zero Egyptian actors. I love ancient Egyptian mythology, and the story here is actually not bad, and some of the effects are interesting to look at.  However, the movie is really, really miscast and the leads are unlikeable.  Gerard Butler chews all the CGI scenery, and does what he can to cheese his way through, but it’s not even enough to make this fun-bad. It’s just bad-bad.

6: London has Fallen (R – 99 minutes) In London for the Prime Minister's funeral, Mike Banning discovers a plot to assassinate all the attending world leaders.
Two Gerard Butler movies back to back in the bottom list.  I really enjoyed Olympus Has Fallen, but this sequel really took a wrong turn. It’s surprisingly violent and racist, and once you tune out to all that nonsense, it just becomes boring – a huge sin for an action movie. If you do watch it, be sure to check out the scene where Morgan Freeman is clearly not there, but a double is.

5: Independence Day: Resurgence (PG13 – 120 minutes) Two decades after the first Independence Day invasion, Earth is faced with a new extra-Solar threat. But will mankind's new space defenses be enough?
Talk about wasted potential. This movie could have been really big and really fun, but it just attempted to give you more of what you loved from the first one! Bigger ships! More Judd Hirsch! More bickering pilots!  More Brent Spiner! But, I didn’t want any of that. Honestly, none of the young squad was watchable, I would have preferred a movie with just Jeff Goldblum as he tracks down and studies the aliens that were left here as they attempted to call back to their home planet for a rescue. Nevermind a bigger ship or alien queen. Smaller would have been a smarter way to go for this sequel.

4: Jason Bourne (PG13 – 123 minutes) The CIA's most dangerous former operative is drawn out of hiding to uncover more explosive truths about his past.
Good lord, Paul Greengrass – the Steadicam was invented for a reason. There is absolutely no reason to use a shaky hand held camera for every single scene in a movie, especially scenes focusing on cell phone with a text message you want us to read! We can’t read it – because the camera is shaking!  A waste of Vincent Cassel, a surprisingly engaged Tommy Lee Jones, and not enough Riz Ahmed. Might be time for Bourne to retire.

3: Masterminds (PG13 – 95 minutes) A guard at an armored car company in the Southern U.S. organizes one of the biggest bank heists in American history. Based on the October 1997 Loomis Fargo robbery.
I know that this was made several years ago and just recently released.  And I know the point was that the heist-pullers are dumb, but sheesh – they are so dumb that they become really unlikable and unwatchable.

2: Batman v. Superman Dawn Of Justice (PG13 – 151 minutes) Fearing that the actions of Superman are left unchecked, Batman takes on the Man of Steel, while the world wrestles with what kind of a hero it really needs.
Sigh, I wanted this to be good, I really did. My Batman is Kevin Conroy and all the pieces of the 90s Animated Series. My Superman is Tom Welling and cast from Smallville, but with the Tim Daly Justice League Unlimited Superman in there too.  This movie got so much wrong.  Superman is still mopey and dark, and really self-centered – we get it! Your planet blew up!  

Jesse Eisenberg was 100% the wrong choice for Lex Luthor and comes off whiny and idiotic instead of as a dangerously brilliant supervillain, which is what Michael Rosenbaum’s was, and would clearly grow into Clancy Brown’s elegant, charming, super-evil choice.  The pre-assembling of the Justice League feels forced.  I did like Batfleck, and thought the scene that looks like a level of Arkham Asylum was fabulous. I enjoyed Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, and feel cautiously optimistic about her stand alone movie. I hated that Batman was so easily manipulated, he should be far smarter than that, and I hate that Batman is the one assembling the Justice League at the end.  Go back and watch the premiere episode of the Justice League animated series. Superman wants to assemble the league and asks Batman to stay.  The response? “I don’t work well with others, but when you need me, and YOU WILL, you know where to find me.”  Do yourself a favor and go back and watch that series - the DC animated universe so far has been much better than the live action one!

1: Suicide Squad (PG13 – 123 minutes) A secret government agency recruits some of the most dangerous incarcerated super-villains to form a defensive task force. Their first mission: save the world from the apocalypse.
The movie I disliked the most last year. The only reason this is above BvS is that movie actually had some pieces I liked. This had none. NONE. The movie is so choppy that some characters are introduced in one scene and killed in the next while other characters have three introduction sequences. It has way too much of Jared Leto’s horrible portrayal of the Joker and that’s after half his stuff was edited out of the movie!  

It has way too much Will Smith and Margot Robbie for an ensemble movie, but that’s what you get when you cast big movie stars in an ensemble movie. It wastes Viola Davis, who is actually a pretty good choice for Waller (tough after Pam Grier and CCH Pounder have already done her brilliantly), and has the most ridiculous villain and villain plot ever. I liked the end scene with Waller and Wayne talking, mainly because I like those two actors, and the scene was very juicy – like Waller’s steak – but I hated the content of the scene because Batman would never, EVER, ask Waller for help.  

Whatever, this is what you get when DC insists on making movies using people who are not fans of the original material and don’t care what fans of the original material think.  

The director, David Ayers, started off the premiere screening of this movie by yelling “F*ck Marvel!” at the audience. Well, perhaps if you payed more attention to the way they have carefully crafted their movies, developed their characters, and perfectly blended drama, action, and comedy instead of cussing them out at your screenings, you could make a better product.

There you have it, a fairly comprehensive look at what was released last year.  If that doesn’t give you a bunch of things to add to your Netflix Queue, I don’t know what will!  Did I miss anything? Was there something you loved from last year that I should see? Let me know! 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Movie Review: La La Land (PG13 – 128 minutes)

Far and away, the awards-season juggernaut this year is Damien Chazelle’s La La Land.  Billed as an original modern musical that tells a love story between a young jazz pianist and an aspiring actress in modern Los Angeles, it has, to date, been somewhat unstoppable. It was nominated for seven Golden Globes and won all seven.

La La Land opens with a spectacular song and dance number (Another Day Of Sun) executed on one of Los Angeles’s many backed up highways choreographed by the brilliant Mandy Moore.  It is a very catchy tune, and the bright colors and fantastic dancing can really suck you into the story.  Essentially it sets up the ‘idea’ of Los Angeles as the place people come to attempt to ‘make it’ in the entertainment industry.  The number also introduces us to the two main characters in the movie, Sebastian and Mia.  Mia is sitting in her car running her lines for an audition and Sebastian honks at her as he moves around her. I say the two “main characters”, which is a bit of a misnomer since they are really the only two characters in the movie. 

We follow Mia to her audition and quickly learn she’s been doing this for a while, and is growing tired of the audition process while working at the coffee shop on the Warner Brothers backlot.  We then follow her home where her roommates talk her into going out to a Hollywood party.  

Underwhelmed at the party, Mia leaves, only to find that her car has been towed.  As she is walking, she enters a club where she sees Sebastian playing piano.

The movie then jumps back to the encounter on the highway and we follow Sebastian to sit in front of a Samba/Tapas restaurant that used to be a jazz club, and back to his apartment where his sister has broken in and is insisting on setting him up with someone, and then forcing some quick character development on us by telling us how much he is obsessed with jazz. We follow him to the club Mia will later spot him at, and learn that he was recently fired by the owner because it is Christmas time, and instead of playing Christmas standards, Sebastian is playing his own jazz.  The owner has agreed to give him one more chance, but he wanders off the set-list again, playing his own number when Mia walks in and spots him.  He leaves after getting fired again, brushing past Mia as she was about to speak to him.

We then follow the two of them around a bit until they run into one another at yet another party.  Sebastian is playing keyboards with what seems to be an 80s cover band.  They have a conversation, and he walks her to her car where we get another little song and dance number.

He then shows up at her work, and they walk throughout the backlot while they both give some background character development and he explains jazz to her and why he loves it, and why he’s obsessed with ‘saving’ it by opening his own club and playing traditional jazz.  She explains why she wants to be an actress.  Upon getting a callback for one of her auditions, he suggests that they go to see Rebel Without a Cause.  She agrees, forgetting that she had a dinner scheduled with her boyfriend.  At dinner, she hears jazz over the speakers in the restaurant and promptly decides to end things with the boyfriend and go meet up with Sebastian to see the movie. 

Time passes, we get some dating montages as they move in together, and Mia feels motivated by Sebastian’s passion to write her own one-woman play. Sebastian, overhearing a conversation between Mia and her mother, takes a job playing keyboards in his friend Keith’s band, which is more jazz-fusion, so he essentially ‘sells out’.  He ends up on tour for a while, she finishes the play, and they have a big fight just before her play premieres. 

Well, no one shows up to the play, including Sebastian, who comes late because he had a photo shoot with his band. Mia basically gives up and goes home to Boulder City, Nevada (which is about 4 hours from Los Angeles, in case, like me, you were wondering about that).  Sebastian is feeling sorry for himself that she left, and gets a phone call meant for her from a casting agent. He drives out to get her, and let her know she has the audition.

She nails the audition, and gets the part, which shoots in Paris for seven months.  Since he’s about to go back on tour – they essentially say goodbye, promising that they will always love one another.
Spoiler alert – I’m going to tell you the end here, so stop reading if you don’t want to know.
The film jumps ahead five years, and we learn that Mia is now a huge star, with a husband and baby. Sebastian has his club, and seems to be very successfully playing his traditional jazz.  One night, Mia and her husband are out and about, decide to skip a dinner and walk into Sebastian’s club.  Mia and Sebastian lock eyes, and we get this entire fantasy sequence of how different things would have been if they had spent the last five years together, but it ends suddenly, and Mia and her husband leave the club, and Sebastian goes back to playing.

Damien Chazelle previously directed Whiplash.  I thought he did a wonderful job with this – I love the single-shot opening, I loved the colors and general look of the film.  Story-wise, it’s pretty weak, but the story is not the point of the movie.  I will say that Gosling and Stone together are fantastic. Their chemistry is great, and this being their third film together (Crazy Stupid Love – watch that, and Gangster Squad – don’t watch that), they have a naturalness together.
  • Ryan Gosling plays Sebastian and was certainly fine. The dancing is good, the singing is okay.  Really, he delivered on what he was asked to do, and honestly, he’s best when he is given funny moments.  I’d like to see him shift to a pure comedy. 

  • Emma Stone plays Mia, and again, she is certainly fine. The singing and dancing are good, and the vunerability and innocence play, as well as the frustration and determination.

  • John Legend has about two and a half scenes as Keith, the guy who asks Sebastian to play in his new band.  He’s pretty good in those scenes, but since he’s basically playing himself, it doesn’t require much stretching.

  • J. K. Simmons has basically a cameo as the restaurant owner who fires Sebastian twice.

  • Tom Everett Scott randomly shows up as David – Mia’s husband.  And the three girls that play Mia’s roommates are pretty fun, and they get to participate in the dance number to get her out to the party.

Honestly, that’s about it for the cast. You’ll notice that in their multiple Oscar noms they have no one nominated in the Supporting Actor categories, because there really are no supporting characters. They lost the SAG Award for best ensemble to Hidden Figures because that movie truly had an ensemble cast, and this one is really just the two of them.  

Personally, I thought the movie was okay, but it’s not really in my wheelhouse.  It was well executed, well-directed, and well-performed, and it is certainly more enjoyable than most award-season movies.  By that I mean that they can often be exceptional quality, but really depressing stories.  La La Land is certainly light and fluffy, and I think is nominated as much as it is because of the musical aspect, which is pretty rare these days.

So – it’s nominated for fourteen Oscars, tying All About Eve and Titanic for the most nominations ever. Is it that good? In my opinion, no – but it’s got the momentum.  Will it win all fourteen? Again, in my opinion, no, because we’re starting to see the backlash that often comes from the frontrunner when it gets out in front too early. 
The main criticisms that I have heard as part of that backlash are that it’s too Hollywood-inside, it’s too white, and it’s too inconsequential, among others. 
Yes, as they are both aspiring artists in modern L.A., it’s very relatable for anyone in that position – for everyone else, it is not relatable.  But; the music and design of the movie overcome that un-relatability issue, I think.  It’s watchable as spectacle for us ‘regular folks’, but not because we relate to the characters.
Yes, it’s certainly very white for a movie with a character that is all about ‘saving jazz’ which is historically an African American Music.  The members of his band are black, and John Legend has his two and a half scenes. Again – since there are only two main characters and both of them happen to be white, there’s not much to be done there. 
Yes, it is inconsequential, or – as I said, fluffy.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but when you put it next to Hidden Figures, or some of the other nominees (Hidden Figures was my favorite), it does seem much less important.  That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be there, as the award is for craftsmanship, not necessarily importance, but importance does weigh in.  

I would add in as a criticism for me that I didn’t really get the ending. The movie is already light and fluffy – why not let them end up together and finish with an epic reuniting song and dance number? And really, in five years they grow that far apart that she’s married with a kid and they clearly haven’t seen or communicated with each other at all in that time? That felt a little untrue to the rest of the film, but hey – it did allow for that amazing fantasy sequence at the end, so I’ll give it a pass I suppose.

Overall, the movie was fine – I’m glad I saw it, but I will probably not watch it again.  You should see it, but you can certainly wait to rent it.
6 out of 10 – Bonus for random Tom Everett Scott and the dance sequence through the sets at the end.

Cast Interviews