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!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Movie Review: Pitch Perfect 3 (PG13 – 93 minutes)

The original Pitch Perfect was released in 2012 directed by Jason Moore, and was about college freshman Beca joining her school acapella group (the Barden Bellas) – and joining them in various hijinks as they attempted to win the college acapella competition.  Pitch Perfect 2 was directed by Elizabeth Banks and saw the Bellas struggling to pull together some of the new Bellas as each of the older members tried to consider the next step after graduating.

That brings us up to Pitch Perfect 3 directed by Trish Sie and the majority of the original Bellas have moved on to their adult lives, trying to start their careers and move forward.  Beca is working with music executives, and producing songs for up and coming stars, but feeling creatively stifled.  Invited by the current Bellas to a Bella reunion, the graduated class realizes how much they have missed each other and how badly they want to sing together again.

Aubrey’s father is in the military, and a bit of a big wig, so she gets the Bellas invited to a USO tour, that – of course – is also a competition between musical groups to see who will open for DJ Khaled and get a recording contract.  

This puts the Bellas up against country group Saddle Up (confusingly played by country group Whiskey Shivers), Young Sparrow and DJ Dragon Nutz (a rapper/DJ combo), and the band Evermoist, and yes, while that name might make you cringe, even more cringe-worthy is the way the Evermoist band members say it when introducing themselves.  “Hello – we’re (pause, whimper) Evermoist”. The Bellas do quite well in most of the concerts, and after one evening, get up to DJ Khaled’s very fancy hotel suite after-party.  

Here, hijinks ensue as Amy realizes her criminal father Fergus has found her, Beca impresses Kahled’s producer Theo with some of her mixing/producing skills, Chole flirts with military man Chicago, and the Bellas accidentally set the suite on fire. Impressed with her skills – Khaled asks Beca to open for him as a solo act, which she declines, being part of the Bellas – but the Bellas get kidnapped by Amy’s father, who is after the 18 million dollars that Amy suddenly has in a trust in the Caribbean. 

Amy and Beca stage a complicated acapella-distraction rescue, and save the Bellas just in time for Beca to get back and open for DJ Khaled, where she starts alone, but then definitely calls the Bellas onstage with her to have one last swan song together.

Overall, the movie is fun, but not as fun as some of the previous outings.  It is definitely the friendship between the cast that makes the movie so watchable, as well as the great music.  There’s less acapella in this movie than in the previous installments, which is a bit of a shame.  Also – the introduction of Amy’s criminal father is bizarre, but hey – just go with it.

  • Anna Kendrick continues to shine as Beca Mitchell, a sarcastic and witty skilled musician.  What I really appreciated is that while showing her flirtation with Theo, they don’t end up lip-locked – just working together.

  • Rebel Wilson plays Patricia “Fat Amy” Hobart, charming, fun, unreliable, and destructive.  She’s hilarious in these movies and always fun to watch.  I really enjoyed the fight scenes while she and Beca were breaking onto her father’s yacht.

  • Brittany Snow plays Chloe Beale, who is working on getting into veterinary school just before they head back on tour.

  • Anna Camp plays Aubrey Posen, who is just as tightly-wound as she has ever been, even more so now that she doesn’t have the Bellas to sing with regularly.  The sudden add-on of her father issues were a little forced, but that is how they ended up on the USO tour, so that works, I guess.

  • Hailee Steinfeld plays Emily Junk – now a senior at Barden University who goes on tour with the Bellas since Stacie is having a baby.  She’s basically there as the butt of Amy’s jokes.

  • Hana Mae Lee plays Lilly Onakuramara, the suspiciously quiet Bella who is still making crazy comments. 

  • Ester Dean plays Cynthia-Rose Adams who is failing flight school when the USO tour comes around.

  • Chrissie Fit plays Florencia Fuentes, the one Bella who seems to have her life together post-graduating, owning her own juice-food truck.

  • Kelley Jakle and Shelley Regner plays Jessica and Ashley who are “the other Bellas”.  So much so that there is a joke in this movie when Amy says, “I don’t even know why Jessica and Ashley are here.”  Jessica asks if they are talking about them, and Ashley responds that would be ridiculous.  Their fringe participation is played for a joke and is really hilarious.
  • John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks are back as John and Gail, the acapella commentating duo who are currently creating a documentary about the Bellas, so follow them around with cameras and demeaning narration.

  • John Lithgow plays Amy’s dad Fergus, and I have to say, I was completely perplexed by that. His Australian accent is just awful, and at no point does he seem in any way like a man capable of being an international criminal.  I’m sure there are multiple older Australian actors who could have done this, hell, I’m almost positive Hugh Jackman would have done it if they asked, and he would have been awesome in this role!
  • Matt Lanter plays Chicago – who is there for exposition and for Chloe to drool over.

  • Guy Burnett plays Theo – who is there to remind us how talented Beca is.

  • Ruby Rose, Andy Allo, Venzella Joy Williams, and Hannah Fairlight play Evermoist – named Calamity, Serenity, Charity, and Veracity.

Overall, the movie is perfectly pleasant, and definitely has some fun moments. It really would have benefitted from outtakes over the end credits, as the best part of the movie is the obvious fun the cast has together.

6 out of 10.  Lost points for the odd casting of John Lithgow.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Movie Review: The Shape Of Water (R – 123 minutes)

If you are a fan of Guillermo del Toro’s work, many parts of this film will feel familiar.  He has several trademarks, and they are all evident in this movie.  Chronos, the Devil’s Backbone, Mimic, Hellboy 1 and 2, Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak, and even Pacific Rim all have similar touches here and there – but always a haunting beauty that is very present in The Shape of Water.

The story focuses on Elisa Esposito – a mute janitor working in a government lab in 1960’s cold-war era Baltimore. She spends her days cleaning the lab and chatting (well, signing) with her co-worker and friend Zelda, and her evenings hanging out with her neighbor, Giles, in the apartments they have over a movie theater.

One day, a government special agent brings a creature they captured in a South American river to the lab for study.  This agent, Colonel Richard Strickland, is obsessed with getting whatever secrets possible from the creature before the Russians do.  Now, I’m not sure why that’s key, or what secrets an amphibian man could possess, or why the Russians would be interested – but hey – that’s the story.  

Strickland is cold and cruel, trying his best to swiftly ascend through the ranks of his organization by brutalizing the creature during their sessions.  One of the scientists working on the project, Dr. Hoffstetler, advises trying to be more gentle and learning from the creature, but Strickland is more concerned with cutting it open.

While cleaning the lab, Elisa forms a bond with the creature – teaching it a few signs, and finding the gentleness of him soothing and attractive.  When Strickland gets a deadline to kill the creature, Elisa masterminds an escape with the assistance of Giles, Zelda, and Dr. Hoffstetler.  Once she has him in her apartment, their bond grows even stronger (spoiler alert – yes, they have sex), and she eventually plans to release him back into the water and his freedom.

The movie is again, like del Toro’s other works – hauntingly beautiful and weirdly elegant.  It’s an odd niche that del Toro has carved out for himself, but the craftsmanship is excellent.  The color in the movie is expertly used to enhance the story.  The sets are lovely, from the lab to the apartments, everything is perfectly crafted. The music by Alexandre Desplat is also just weird enough to be beautiful and pair well with the visuals and story.  Overall, it is another stunning adult fairy tale from del Toro that will stay with you long after you see it.  The cast is carefully picked to perfectly bring each role to life.

  • Sally Hawkins is not someone I was familiar with prior to seeing this movie (and now suddenly it seems she’s everywhere, or maybe that’s just the plethora of Paddington 2 marketing?). She is so tiny and delicate, but does an amazing job of conveying Elisa’s strength and compassion. 

  • Octavia Spencer plays Zelda, and yes, the role feels like one you have seen her in before – somewhere between the Help and Hidden Figures, but since del Toro wrote this role with her in mind, that makes perfect sense.  She is brilliant as a no-nonsense woman who eventually falls into helping with Elisa’s romantic nonsense adventure.

  • Richard Jenkins plays Giles in such a lovely way that you really feel his lonely sadness, but also his exuberance at helping Elisa when she sets her mind to freeing the amphibian man. His scenes with the ‘pie man’ that he is quietly flirting with are just heartbreaking.

  • Michael Shannon is horrific as Strickland.  I’ve seen him interviewed and I know he’s a nice guy, just a little strange, but man, no one plays terrible guys better than he does. You really cannot wait for Strickland to get his and yes – spoiler alert – he does, but it takes way too long!

  • Micahel Stuhlbarg plays Dr. Robert Hoffstetler, a scientist who is doing his best to be true to his own nature, but also his various employers. He does such an amazing job that he really stole most of the scenes he was in for me.

  • The clear star of this movie is Doug Jones as the amphibian man.  Doug has been multiple creatures for del Toro over the years – the most memorable being the Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth and Abe Sapien in the Hellboy Series.  He’s a phenomenal actor, and it’s wonderful to see him finally getting some major recognition for this role. He manages to give the creature a beautiful heart and soul that is obvious despite the species barrier.

Overall, the movie is magical and you need to see it – I will warn you, because someone was kind enough to warn me, that yes – the amphibian man does eat one of Giles’s cats! But don’t worry, it’s handled pretty well, and wasn’t as upsetting as I was expecting.  Major spoiler alert here – but I just read a theory I found really interesting – Elisa has three perfectly lined scars on either side of her neck.  We are told in the course of the movie that she was found by a river, and the scars are the result of the injury that caused her to be a mute.  The theory I just read speculated that in fact they were just undeveloped gills, and she was the offspring of a creature similar to the amphibian man.  This would make sense with the ending, since he’s got some healing re-growing touch ability.  Whether or not that’s the case, it’s still a lovely thought, and puts a beautiful end on the movie.

9 out of 10 – I’m taking off a point for the cat.  See it, it’s adult fairy-tale movie-making at its finest.

Bonus – cast interviews!
Behind the scenes:

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Movie Review: Jumanji Welcome to the Jungle (PG13 – 119 minutes)

Jumanji was originally a creepy story written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg and released in 1981.  Essentially two kids find a board game, take it home, and start playing.  The game starts brining dangerous jungle things into their house, and the danger will not stop until they finish playing.

This story was adapted to a movie in 1995 directed by Joe Johnston and starring Robin Williams and Bonnie Hunt, where they started playing when they were little – but as soon as Alan got sucked into the game, Sarah ran off, not finishing the game, and leaving Alan trapped inside of it.  Many years later, Judy and Peter begin playing the game and are shocked when an adult Alan pops out of it – having lived the last 20 or 30 years inside the jungle game.  They finish the game, and it returns everyone to not only where they came from but when they came from – giving Alan the opportunity to live his life.

In this update/reboot/sequel, a man finds the game while jogging and takes it home to his son, Alex, in 1996.  Not interested in board games, Alex tosses it aside to play his video games.  Jumani – in what I can only assume is a fit of rage from being tossed aside – transforms into a video game.  Alex picks it up the next morning to play it, and is sucked into the video game. 

Years later, in 2017, four high school kids have breakfast-clubbed their way into detention and while cleaning out the basement, find the Jumanji video game in a box labeled “donations”.   Fridge is the football star, Spencer is the smart nerd, Bethany is the self-absorbed pretty girl, and Martha is the smart, driven student. To pass the time, they pick up the video game and begin to play – each choosing an avatar, but noticing there is one that cannot be chosen – indicating it is already in play.  They get sucked into the game, and take the form of the avatars they chose.

Fridge becomes the zoologist Franklin Finbar, Spencer becomes Dr. Smolder Bravestone, Martha becomes Ruby Roundhouse, and Bethany becomes Professor Sheldon Oberon.  They quickly realize what happened, that they each have three lives, and that they each have special skills. 
Working out the goals of the game, they learn how to use their skills and their teamwork to get a jewel back from the evil Russel Van Pelt and return it to the ‘jaguar’s eye’ in the center of the game.  Along the way, they meet up with the fifth player – Seaplane McDonough who is Alex, and has been in the game for 20 years, living in a shelter originally built by Alan Parrish (Robin Williams’s character) when he was trapped in the game.  Eventually (spoiler alert), they return the jewel, and free themselves – returning Alex to when he was taken.  They each learn to be a little bit better of a person after their adventures.

This version is directed by Jake Kasdan, who is known for more comedies (Orange County, Bad Teacher, Walk Hard, Sex Tape).  It is certainly very funny in parts, and shooting in Hawaii makes it look phenomenal.  I will say that since it has a very ‘Uncharted’ type – vibe, video-game-wise, I felt that it missed some opportunities with the game aspect.  It could have had all the AI characters less colorful, with only the items and the people you are allowed to interact with in full color – something that is used in many games.  There were a few other items like that where they could have really upped the gaming aspect of the movie – but it certainly doesn’t suffer from not doing that.  The point of the movie is the interaction between the cast.
  • Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson plays Dr. Smolder Bravestone and does an amazing job of portraying a smart, tiny, video-game-loving nerd inside the body of the Rock.  He’s thrilled with finding out his skills and the body he ended up in, so much so that he hesitates on ending the game, not sure he wants to go back to his own body.  The Rock is skilled at action comedy, and he’s wonderful here.

  • Kevin Hart plays Franklin Finbar, and is equally wonderful as a guy who is used to being huge and powerful and is now frustratingly trapped inside the body of Kevin Hart – and is really just Bravestone’s weapon-carrying sidekick. The relationship between Hart and the Rock is fantastic and honestly, I would watch them in almost anything.

  • Karen Gillan is also exceptional at comedy and I’m happy she’s getting to do more of it (if you didn’t watch Selfie – Hulu that now).  As the timid Martha trapped in the kick-ass body of Ruby Roundhouse, she gets to find her own power as she pummels her way through the game, and also ironically gets taught a lesson in being judgemental from Bethany.  Also – I really loved her outrage at the impractical, skimpy video-game girl outfit that Ruby is wearing.

  • Jack Black is fabulous as the pretty, popular girl trapped in Jack Black’s body.  He manages to make Bethany – who starts out completely unlikeable – interesting and layered as she starts to bond with Martha and explain a bit why she is the way she is. 

  • Nick Jonas plays Seaplane McDonough, and does a great job of being shocked to learn that he’s been in the game for 20 years, but also rejuvenated at the opportunity to finally get out.

  • Booby Cannavale plays Russel Van Pelt, who is really just video-game-evil-bad-guy. He’s great, creepy, weird, and entertaining. 

  • Rhys Darby plays Nigel Billingsley, an AI character who is essentially around to explain the plot and goals to the playing characters. But he does so with great charm.

  • Alex Wolff plays Spencer, Madison Iseman plays Bethany, Ser’Darius Blain plays Fridge, and Morgan Turner plays Martha.  These four have just a few scenes, but they do a good job setting up their characters and showing the growth at the end.

Overall the movie is charming, fun, and action packed.  The cast looks like they are having a blast playing these roles, and that really does help make the movie more entertaining. There are a lot of really funny scenes – and those are mostly with cast talking to one another.  This is definitely at movie that would have benefitted from outtakes over the end credits.  Here’s hoping the BluRay is filled with those!

7 out of 10  - Great family fun.
Cast Interviews:

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Movie Review: Molly’s Game (R- 140 minutes)

I am not usually a fan of ‘based-on-a-true-story’ Oscar-y type movies, but I have to say – I really enjoyed this one.  Molly’s Game is based on a book of the same name, which is an auto-biography by Molly Bloom.  The sub-title of the book is “The True Story of the 26-Year-Old Woman Behind the Most Exclusive High-Stakes Underground Poker Game in the World.” Molly herself talked Aaron Sorkin into doing the movie, and after meeting her, he agreed to not only write the movie, but also direct it.  She also requested Jessica Chastain to play her, and once Chastain agreed, the movie started falling into place.

The story starts in the early 2002, Molly was ranked the number three female Moguls skier in the United States, and was on her way to qualifying for the Olympics that year in Salt Lake City.  Her father was a psychology professor and her mother was her coach.  Molly was ready, but had a freak accident on the slopes, resulting in a horrific crash that complicated results of a surgery she had already had on her spine. It shifted her plan for her life, which had been Olympics, then law school – so, in order to refresh herself before starting law school, she headed out to Los Angeles for some sun.
While out in L.A., her father refused to help her financially, so she started working as an assistant to a real estate agent who eventually asked her to help out with his weekly poker game.  Molly researched everything having to do with the game, and eventually worked up to ‘running’ the game.  When the real estate guy inevitably fired her, she was ready – and took his list of rich and famous friends to host a game in a hotel in L.A.  There, “player X” an unnamed movie star (rumor has it the character is meant to be Tobey Maguire), assists her by bringing in wealthier people for him to play with and win from.  When the bottom falls out, he pulls the game away from her, and she moves to New York to start again. 

When Molly was running games in Los Angeles, she was very careful to never break the law, she paid taxes on the tips she received for running the games, so stayed very legal.  Once she moved to New York - that changed.  She started taking a ‘rake’, which seems to be a percentage of the pot in order to cover any losses by big players.  She started taking drugs to stay up all night, and eventually got in with the Russian mob, as they started attending her games, without her knowledge. 

She ends up going to a lawyer to get some assistance after the FBI raids one her games and arrests most of her employees.  He works through her story and in spite of himself, ends up on her side.  He encourages her to take a deal to lessen what could be her sentence by ‘selling out’ the big names that played at her games, but she refuses, not wanting to compromise their privacy. 

As with any Aaron Sorkin written movie, the dialogue is fast paced, witty, and entertaining.  The movie is mostly people standing around and talking about poker, which is not something I find that interesting, but the way it is written and shot really draw you in to the story.  Like the lawyer, you find yourself on Molly’s side, even if you originally did not intend to be. The cast shines because the writing allows them to do so:

  • Jessica Chastain really carries the movie as Molly.  Even at the moments when Molly is at her most arrogant and unlikable, Chastain finds a way to keep her relatable.  It really is an amazing performance.

  • Idris Elba plays the lawyer, Charlie Jaffey, and from what I understand about the original meetings between Bloom and Sorkin, his character asks a lot of the same questions of Chastain’s character that Sorkin asked the real Bloom.  Elba is quietly confident – the accent is a little curious, but his determination to do the right thing for his client is impressive.

  • Kevin Costner was the real surprise for me. He seems to just be getting better.  As Molly’s father, Larry, he is very hard and judgemental, and has very little screen time.  He shows up just when she is at her lowest, and in about a ten minute scene where he gives her ‘three years of therapy in three minutes’ brought me to tears.

  • Michael Cera plays Player X, and if it was Tobey Maguire in real life – you can absolutely believe it from his performance.  Smarmy and superior, he’s fine when he’s on Molly’s side, but the instant he turns on her, he completely trashes her.

  • Chris O’Dowd plays Douglas Downey, a regular at Molly’s New York game who helps her unknowingly get involved with the Russian mafia, and then is the one who gets her raided by the FBI.

  • Jeremy Strong plays Dean Keith, who seems to be a fictionalized version of the real-life Darin Feinstein, a co-owner of the Viper Room where Tobey Maguire first started the poker games.  He’s just terrible, treating Molly as useless and only there to do what he wants.

  • Graham Greene plays Judge Foxman who gets Molly’s case and actually has one of the most interesting bits in the movie, with very little screen time.

Overall, the movie was really interesting and really well-crafted. The performances were wonderful, and I am eager to see if it wins anything!  Definitely check it out – you don’t necessarily have to see it in a theater, but I think you’ll find it interesting.

7 out of 10 – Gained points for Idris Elba, and for Kevin Costner being a great actor?!?
Bonus - cast interviews!