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!

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Movie Review: Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

The first Lego movie came out in 2014, and ended with the introduction of the little sister’s Duplo block creatures as they landed in the older brother’s carefully orchestrated Bricksburg. 
Since that time, Bricksburg has become an apocalyptic wasteland where everything is no longer awesome. People spend their time brooding and fighting the alien invaders when they appear, hoping to fend off “momageddon”.  Emmet, the ‘hero’ of the first movie, is still the same happy-go-lucky person, enjoying his time in the apocalypse as much as possible, greeting his friends, drinking coffee, and building dream houses for he and Lucy.  The Justice League (complete with Momoa Aquaman) heads off to fight the aliens but never returns. 

One day, a new alien appears, and everyone hides inside Batman’s lair.  The emissary kidnaps all of Emmet’s friends, forcing him to head into space to find and save them.  Along the way, he teams up with Rex Dangervest to defeat the Queen of the Sis-tar system, Watevra Wa’Nabi, who is about to marry Batman.  Batman was at first against the idea, but as soon as the Queen mentions she’s more into Superman anyway, he’s suddenly very into her.  I loved this bit – it’s just so hilarious.

Directed by Mike Mitchell, the movie is as fast-paced as the original, with superfast throw away jokes and one-liners. There’s plenty for both adults and kids.  The songs are equally entertaining, especially the “Catchy Song” used as a brainwashing tool. 

  • Chris Pratt plays both Emmet and the new arrival Rex Dangervest, who is really just a compilation of various Chris Pratt characters.

  • Elizabeth Banks is back as Wyldstyle, and I really loved the scene where someone asked her why Emmet was the ‘special’ of the last story if she did most of the work.

  • Will Arnett is back as Lego Batman, who admits to having been off on his own adventures. 

  • Tiffany Haddish joins the cast as the space queen, who is absolutely not evil. She's so not evil she has a song about how not evil she is!

  • Stephanie Beatriz plays the emissary, General Mayhem, who comes to take everyone to a matrimonial ceremony in the Sis-tar system.

  • Alison Brie is back as Unikitty, Nick Offerman returns as MetalBeard, Charlie day is back as Benny, and Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill return as Superman and Green Lantern.  None of them have any major scenes this time around, instead settling for hilarious bits here and there.

  • Maya Rudolph plays the kids’ mom this time around, insisting the Legos go into storage after stepping on a brick for the umpteenth time and getting tired of the kids (Finn and Bianca) fighting about whose Lego sets go where.  These scenes about siblings and their Legos really hit me right in the heart.  Stop making me cry in the theater Lego movie!

Overall, the movie is incredibly entertaining, and definitely worth checking out. 

8 out of 10 – yes, that song will get stuck inside your head.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

2018 Year in Review

Great News, Everyone!  It’s time for my annual year wrap-up more-detailed-than-necessary list of the movies the Academy Awards think you should see, with a follow up of what I think you should see, followed by the list of movies I personally did not like from last year.  Because, let’s face it, sometimes it’s more fun to talk about the movies you didn’t like!

Here are the top twenty from the Academy – again, pulled from who got the most nominations, thank goodness for Excel Pivot Tables.  Blurbs are from IMDB. Currently, I have seen 7 of these 20, with plans to see at least three or four more, which will bring my total over 50%, which is pretty impressive for me!  As per usual, I've included the Honest Trailer from Screen Junkies when available - do yourself a favor and subscribe to their hilarity.  

1.       Roma – 9 nominations – “A year in the life of a middle-class family’s maid in Mexico City in the early 1970s.” Directed by Alfonso Cuaron.  I know this is on Netflix, and I have no excuse for not having watched it yet, but I haven’t been particularly motivated to see it. I know that it being in black and white is not enough of a reason to hold off, but I’m also still holding a grudge against Cuaron for how much I hated Children of Men, even if Prisoner of Azkaban was great.  He’s my nemesis on my list of nemeses who have no idea they are my nemeses.

2.       The Favourite – 9 Nominations – “In early 18th century England, a frail Queen Anne occupies the throne and her close friend, Lady Sarah, governs the country in her stead. When a new servant, Abigail, arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah.” Director Yorgos Lanthimos.  I saw this, and I did not care for it.  A lot was made of the fact that it stars three female leads, impressive for any film, and especially impressive in awards-season fare. However, each of them are such terrible, evil, self-involved characters that it’s tough to care about the story.  I mean, the two ladies are literally at war for the Queen’s attention.  I also did not care for the cinematography or the score.  I will say that Oliva Coleman’s performance was pretty incredible. Not my cup of tea, and that’s okay – because according to this movie that cup of tea is poisoned, resulting in a fall off a horse and a week in a brothel.  

3.       A Star Is Born – 8 nominations – “A musician helps a young singer find fame, even as age and alcoholism send his own career into a downward spiral.” Directed by Bradley Cooper. I will probably watch this at some point, but this is the fifth cinematic version of the story. Lady Gaga is great, and really talented, so it’s nice to see that acknowledged.  We’ll see what the academy thinks of the rest.  Cooper is also on my list of nemeses, not for any good reason - after all, he was on Alias. I think I have started to suffer from BCoops over-exposure, and that’s not his fault, but that doesn’t mean I won’t blame him for it. Shallow is a great song, but I found myself preferring the performance of it from the Grammys last week - sans Cooper.

4.       Vice – 8 nominations – “The story of Dick Cheney, an unassuming bureaucratic Washington insider, who quietly wielded immense power as Vice President to George W. Bush, reshaping the country and the globe in ways that we still feel today.” Directed by Adam McKay.  I found Vice to be very similar to McKay’s Big Short.  It is extremely interesting and gives some insight behind the scenes of stories and scenarios that you are already aware of. Fantastic performances along with a chilling story. Essentially Cheney Palpatined most of that administration.  

5.       Black Panther – 6 nominations – “T’Challa, heir to the hidden but advanced kingdom of Wakanda, must step forward to lead his people into a new future and must confront a challenger from his country’s past.” Directed by Ryan Coogler.  In any other year, this would have been my favorite movie, but it just happened to come out the same year as Infinity War.  It’s exceptional from top to bottom. The story, the acting, the action, the costumes, the score, the songs, the entirety of the execution, it’s all amazing.  Chadwick Boseman is great as T’Challa, but he is outshined (outshone?) by the surrounding characters, especially all the exceptional ladies of Wakanda.  I believe it’s better crafted than any of the other best pic noms, and I want it to win – but in this particular situation, it really is an honor to be nominated. Maybe the stiffs in the academy are finally starting to see that big-budget superhero movies can also be quality films?  I won’t hold my breath on that one.

6.       BlacKkKlansman – 5 nominations – “Ron Stallworth, an African American police officer from Colorado Springs, CO, successfully manages to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan branch with the help of a Jewish surrogate who eventually becomes its leader. Based on actual events.” Directed by Spike Lee. This is the first time Spike Lee has been nominated as director, which seems insane.  Moving from his former muse Denzel to Denzel’s son, this movie is different, upsetting, and stylized. 

7.       Bohemian Rhapsody – 5 nominations – “The story of the legendary rock band Queen and lead singer Freddie Mercury, leading up to their famous performance at Live Aid.” Directed by…well… it’s awkward. It was directed by Bryan Singer until he got into some fights with star Rami Malek as well as having some attendance issues during work days. He was asked to not return and the movie was finished by Dexter Fletcher. Honestly, it’s been said it’s too ‘sanitized’ and ‘movie-fied’ a version of the Freddie Mercury and Queen story.  I went in knowing it would not be accurate, and I enjoyed it.  But I can honestly say it’s not a better movie than most of the other nominees.  However, Malek’s performance was fantastic.

8.       Green Book – 5 nominations – “A working-class Italian-American bouncer becomes the driver of an African-American classical pianist on a tour of venues through the 1960s American South.” Directed by Peter Farrelly, yes, one of the Farrelly brothers. Loosely based on a true story, and taking its name from the Green Book, a travel guide that was made for African-American travelers in the 50s and 60s so they would know safe places to stay where they would not be attacked or killed – my great grandmother’s house is listed as a place to stay in Marion, Indiana.  Mahershala Ali continues to be amazing, but the movie is not a comedy, so please stop lying to us about that. 

9.       First Man – 4 nominations – “A look at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.” Directed by Damien Chazelle.  I haven’t seen this because it sounded incredibly boring to me. Ryan Gosling plays Neil Armstrong during the lead-up to his famous moonwalk. Is it really that good, or is Chazelle still riding his La La Land favoritism?

10.   Can You Ever Forgive Me? – 3 nominations – “When author Lee Israel falls out of step with current tastes, she turns her art form to deception.” Directed by Marielle Heller. The movie tells the story of how desperate people can be to attain and maintain success.  With quietly powerful performances from Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant. 

11.   Cold War – 3 nominations – “In the 1950s, a music director falls in love with a singer and tries to persuade her to flee communist Poland for France.” Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski. This is up for best foreign movie out of Poland as well as regular best picture. Another black and white entry telling a story I have little to no interest in.

12.   If Beale Street Could Talk – 3 nominations – “A woman in Harlem embraces her pregnancy while she and her family struggle to prove her fiancĂ© innocent of a crime.” Directed by Barry Jenkins.  Jenkins follows up Moonlight with this interpretation of the James Baldwin story detailing young love in the face of prejudice and false imprisonment. I haven’t seen this yet, mainly because it just seems so incredibly heavy – it will take some doing to be in the right mindset.

13.   Mary Poppins Returns – 3 nominations – “Decades after her original visit, the magical nanny returns to help the Banks siblings and Michael’s children through a difficult time in their lives.” Directed by Rob Marshall.  I did not care for the original Mary Poppins (yes, I know, blasphemy), so I had no interest in seeing this one. Can Disney come up with some new stories? No? They’re just going to keep revisiting everything they’ve already done, whether through live-action remakes of their animated stories or with unnecessary sequels? Okay, fine.

14.   Isle of Dogs – 2 nominations – “Set in Japan, Isle of Dogs follows a boy’s odyssey in search of his lost dog.” Directed by Wes Anderson.  My guess is if you like Wes Anderson’s movies, you’ll like this one too.  A little different in that it is stop-motion, and not one of his standard looks-like-a-play movies, but still very much a Wes Anderson movie.  Also, why is it set in Japan?

15.   Never Look Away – 2 nominations – “German artist Kurt Barnert has escaped East Germany and now lives in West Germany, but is tormented by his childhood under the Nazis and the GDR-regime.” Directed by Florian Henckle von Donnersmarck. Another foreign movie, this sounds super difficult and I will not be seeing it.

16.   RBG – 2 nominations – “The exceptional life and career of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has developed a breathtaking legal legacy while becoming an unexpected pop culture icon.” Directed by Julie Cohen, Betsy West. This is the documentary, not the movie called “On the Basis of Sex”, which was recently released. Odd how sometimes the documentary and fictionalized docu-drama come out the same time. I caught part of this on CNN the other night, and man, RBG is a hell of a lady. Also – the song, written by Diane Warren and performed by Jennifer Hudson is pretty great.

17.   Ready Player One – 2 nominations – “When the creator of a virtual reality world called the OASIS dies, he releases a video in which he challenges all OASIS users to find his Easter Egg, which will give the finder his fortune.” Directed by Steven Spielberg. I read the book prior to seeing the movie, which was a mistake, because I was then very disappointed by the movie. The look was very slick, the pop culture references abound, and the action is good, but the story is choppy and loosely connected to the source material.

18.   The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – 2 nominations – “Six tales of life and violence in the Old West, following a singing gunslinger, a bank robber, a traveling impresario, an elderly prospector, a wagon train, and a perverse pair of bounty hunters.” Directed by the Coen brothers. I have no opinion here as I am still on my not-watching-anything-by-the-Coens-ever kick, so I don’t care what this is about. They are definitely on my list of nemeses.

19.   A Quiet Place – 1 nominations – “In a post-apocalyptic world, a family is forced to live in silence while hiding from monsters with ultra-sensitive hearing.” Directed by John Krasinski.  An unlikely success on several levels, I haven’t seen it yet because I was worried about being too scared, but I will definitely check it out. Are we ready for a Fantastic Four reboot with Krasinski and Blunt yet?

20.   Avengers: Infinity War – 1 nomination – “The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.” Directed by the Russo Brothers.  Somehow, the Russos managed to take a villain hinted at for the last 10 years and make him the center ‘hero’ of this story. Brolin’s performance and the exceptional effects make Thanos a compelling villain with a motivation you can almost understand. Almost…

There you have it, that’s what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences thinks are the best films from 2018. I agree with a couple, but again, I mostly prefer ‘movies’ to their ‘films’.  Here are my personal top flicks – not the best quality (definitely not the best quality!), but the ones I enjoyed the most from 2018:

1.       Avengers: Infinity War – Again, let the Russos direct everything. I loved how this movie wasted no time. It started immediately at the end of the previous movie in the MCU and was completely made for fans. If you had invested the time to see every one of the preceding 18 movies, this was incredibly rewarding. However, if you hadn’t, you could still enjoy this adventure.  The action was exceptional, the comic moments fantastic (I could watch other heroes meet the Guardians over and over) the emotional weight was real, and the end is the first time I have ‘heard’ that level of silence during the credits of an MCU movie. I cannot wait for Endgame, and though I know we’re going to lose some who have been with us since the beginning, it’s going to usher in the next set of chapters in a bold and beautiful way.  Captain Marvel is out March 7th.

2.       Black Panther – Not just a great superhero movie, not just a great MCU movie, but a great movie.  And, while it is all those things, not enough can be said about the representation and how much it matters.  Yes, there have been black superheroes before, but this movie was filled with black heroes, heroines, and villains, and young black kids can finally see themselves in all the roles on the poster. Yes, that does matter, and yes, it is an important layer that just continues to add to the excellence of this movie.

3.       Ant Man and the Wasp - “As Scott Lang balances being both a Super Hero and a father, Hope van Dyne and Dr. Hank Pym present an urgent new mission that finds the Ant-Man fighting alongside The Wasp to uncover secrets from their past.” Directed by Peyton Reed.  Thanos may have been epically tearing through the majority of the universe on side of globe, but on the other, Scott Lang is just trying to be a good dad.  A simple tight story, introducing the Wasp and letting Evangeline Lilly kick some ass was just fantastic, and really hilarious.

4.       Spider-Man: Into the SpiderVerse - “Teen Miles Morales becomes Spider-Man of his reality, crossing his path with five counterparts from other dimensions to stop a threat for all realities.” Directed by Bob Persichetti and Peter Ramsey. I’m not sure I can remember the last time I had an animated movie on my ‘best of’ list, but this movie is exceptional!  Miles is the perfect representation of a kid with sudden powers who wants to do what he can to help, but doesn’t know how.  Guidance from multiple Spider-People from multiple ‘verses helps him along. Nicholas Cage as Spider-Man Noir was perfect casting, and the Stan Lee cameo made me weep.  Charming, sweet, touching, and action-packed, the movie is just fantastic. And yes, I'm aware that makes the top four movies on my list Marvel flicks.

5.       Crazy Rich Asians. “The contemporary romantic comedy, based on a global bestseller, follows native New Yorker Rachel Chu to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family.” Directed by Jon M. Chu.  In the same way that Black Panther was incredibly important for representation, so was this movie.  On top of that, it’s hilarious and sweet. Plus, the sets and fashion is outstanding!  We all want to walk down flooded aisles during our wedding ceremonies now.

6.       A Simple Favor. “Stephanie is a single mother with a parenting vlog who befriends Emily, a secretive upper-class woman who has a child at the same elementary school.  When Emily goes missing, Stephanie takes it upon herself to investigate.” Directed by Paul Feig. Difficult to describe and strangely compelling, this movie was a surprise for me. Anna Kendrick is charming as a woman searching for his missing friend, and between this and Crazy Rich Asians, Henry Golding should be the next James Bond.  The style, the music, and the fashion add to this crazy story to make a really interesting movie.

7.       Mission: Impossible Fallout. “Ethan Hunt and his IMF team, along with some familiar allies, race against time after a mission gone wrong.” Directed by Christopher McQuarrie.  Tom Cruise continues to give everything he has to these movies. Honestly, I can’t even begin to tell you the plot, and I’m not sure the story was that great, but man, the action was exceptional, and finally we seem to have found a good spot for Henry Cavill.  He should play a villain more often!

8.       Bumblebee. “On the run in the year 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a junkyard in a small Californian beach town. Charlie, on the cusp of turning 18 and trying to find her place in the world, discovers Bumblebee, battle-scarred and broken.” Directed by Travis Knight.  In case like me, you gave up on the Transformers franchise just before the last movie, go ahead and get back into it with this fantastic flick.  I loved the 80s soundtrack, and Bumblebee as he fights to get his memory back and protect his new friend. Also – I loved when he tried not to destroy things in the house, but did anyway. Why is he so damn cute?  That’s rhetorical, because the answer is ILM. 

9.       Creed II. “Under the tutelage of Rocky Balboa, heavyweight contender Adonis Creed faces off against Viktor Drago, son of Ivan Drago.”  Directed by Steven Caple Jr. Rocky IV was my favorite of the Rockys, so I was thrilled that this brought back Drago and introduced son of Drago.  Dolph Lundgren has a quiet, haunted vibe in this that makes you wonder what happened to his character after Rocky beat him years ago.  Michael B. Jordan continues to give Adonis Creed likeability even when he’s making poor decisions, like running into fights he’s not ready for. Rocky told you you’re not ready – listen to him!  Also, did we ever learn if Rocky got the city to come fix that streetlight?

10.   Solo: A Star Wars Story. “During an adventure into the criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his future co-pilot Chewbacca and encounters Lando Calrissian years before joining the rebellion.” Directed by Ron Howard. I loved parts of this movie, and hated some other bits.  The parts I loved were the parts with Han and Chewie, and the introduction to Lando (Gambino Lando was damn near flawless), and Lando’s cape closet.  CAPE CLOSET! Plus the reintroduction of Maul to the cinematic Star Wars universe. Please, let Dave Filoni direct a sequel that brings together all the scoundrels and bounty hunters we know as Jabba sends everyone after some sort of macguffin.

11.   Widows. “Set in contemporary Chicago, amid a time of turmoil, four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities, take fate into their own hands, and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.” Directed by Steve McQueen.  Initially, I was a little disappointed by this move, as I went in expecting an action movie, and it is definitely a drama.  Viola Davis is fantastic as a woman who will do what is necessary.  Colin Farrell is the perfect slimy politician.  I wanted a little more for Michelle Rodriguez to do, and it’s tough to not be swayed by the latest Liam Neeson nonsense, but overall, it’s very interesting and well crafted.

12.   Game Night. “A group of friends who meet regularly for game nights find themselves entangled in a real-life mystery when the shady brother of tone of them is seemingly kidnapped by dangerous gangsters.” Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein.  Expecting nothing from this movie really helped.  Jason Bateman is always great, and the idea that game-night attendees mistake a real kidnapping for a fake kidnapping does result in hilarity.  And, it features the same dog actor as number 11, Widows.

13.   Deadpool 2. “Foul-mouthed mutant mercenary Wade Wilson (aka Deadpool), brings together a team of fellow mutant rogues to protect a young boy with supernatural abilities from the brutal, time-traveling cyborg, Cable.” Directed by David Leitch.  Not as good as the first one, but still pretty damn great, this movie is directed by the stunt master behind the John wick movies.  Watching Wade attempt to assemble his own team is great, and Brolin adds another Marvel baddie to his list.

14.   Venom. “A failed reporter is bonded to an alien entity, one of many entities who have invaded Earth. But the entity takes a liking to Earth and decides to protect it.” Directed by Ruben Fleischer.  Listen, I know this wasn’t great, and you have to get past the fact that the origin is all wrong, and the giant CGI mess of a battle at the end.  But, once you are past all that, it’s pretty entertaining. Tom Hardy is a great choice as Brock, the back and forth between he and the symbiote are fun, and the scenes of Venom just Venoming around the city are fantastic.

15.   Peppermint. “Five years after her husband and daughter are killed in a senseless act of violence, a woman comes back from self-imposed exile to seek revenge against those responsible and the system that let them go free.” Directed by Pierre Morel.  This movie is very simple, very straightforward.  Woman seeks vengeance for her murdered family. Period.  It’s like one of those 80s action movies. Nothing fancy, but you never get enough of seeing the bad guys get it.

16.   The Meg. “After escaping an attack by what he claims was a 70-foot shark, Jonas Taylor must confront his fears to save those trapped in a sunken submersible.” Directed by Jon Turteltaub.  I have read two books in the Meg series (yes, it’s a series of books), and I was looking forward to seeing Jason Statham battle the giant prehistoric shark. It is absolute nonsense, and could have actually been even sillier, but still – everyone in the cast is well aware what they are making, and Statham is having a blast putting some of that Olympic-level diving skill to use.

17.   Rampage. “When three different animals become infected with a dangerous pathogen, a primatologist and a geneticist team up to stop them from destroying Chicago.” Directed by Brad Peyton.  Really, this should be tied for 16 with The Meg, as it’s a very similar deal.  I can never argue with a movie that does not lie to you about what it is.  This movie is the Rock versus giant mutated animals who want to destroy Chicago. It’s terrible, it knows it’s terrible, but hey, it’s entertaining while it is happening.

A pretty strong list, if I do say so myself. Any one of those would provide an entertaining popcorn filled afternoon.  Shifting gears, here is the list of the movies I did not like. Hated is a strong word, but I hated these.

1.       Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom. “When the island’s dominate volcano begins roaring to life, Owen and Claire mount a campaign to rescue the remaining dinosaurs from this extinction-level event.” Directed by J. A. Bayona.  Holy shit, this was a steaming piling of crap.  Why did we fall in love with the original Jurassic Park? The dinosaurs, and the magic of seeing them on their island. The first sequence of this movie sets fire to the island, causing many of the dinosaurs to die in horrific terrible ways. It was so incredibly traumatizing, I really could not get into the rest of the movie – which then involved bringing some captured dinosaurs to a mansion where they were auctioned off to criminals and warlords as weapons. The hell with this.  After Jurassic World, which I enjoyed – I wanted a sequel with no people as Blue negotiated her way around the island, just dinosaur action. Blue makes it through this movie, and seems to rule over a small desert town at the end, so who knows what is going to come next.  At least the dinosaurs still look amazing.

2.       Robin Hood. “A war-hardened Crusader and his Moorish commander mount an audacious revolt against the corrupt English crown in a thrilling action-adventure packed with gritty battlefield exploits, mind-blowing fight choreography, and a timeless romance.” Directed by Otto Bathurst.  Okay, IMDB is lying to you with that blurb. The fight choreography was far from mind-blowing, and the romance was not timeless as the two seemed to have no chemistry and felt like they could barely stand one another.  No one was asking for another Robin Hood movie, and while Taron Egerton and Jaime Foxx are great, they are not great in this.  The story was nonsense, the action poor, and the set pieces confusing. There’s a mine, with miners.  When has there ever been a mine in any Robin Hood story?  It’s all just so unnecessary.  Also, Alan Rickman set the bar completely out of reach with his Sheriff of Nottingham, and while Kevin Costner’s accent is…let’s just say curious…that movie was almost flawless.  Stop trying to make another Robin Hood movie.

3.       The Happytime Murders. “When the puppet cast of a 90s children’s TV show begin to get murdered one by one, a disgraced LAPD detective-turned-private eye puppet takes on the case.” Directed by Brian Henson.  I feel like this one had the potential to be really funny, but felt like it wanted to earn that R rating and so sacrificed some of the comedy to the dirty-ness.  I appreciated the fact that there were outtakes over the end credits that showed that the muppeteers were having a blast making this, so good for them. Also, the sequence where Melissa McCarthy gets high on maple syrup and then gets in a fight with some muppet gangsters was hilarious, but that was the only part I found really funny. The rest wandered from awkward to gross.

4.       Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald. “The second installment on the Fantastic Beasts series featuring the adventures of Magizoologist Newt Scamander.”  Directed by David Yates.  Listen, I was a casual fan of the Harry Potter movies, and the first Fantastic Beasts was good.  But this just felt like a mess that tries to incorporate a whole lot of backstory about characters who were either not mentioned before or were connected from the other series. I kept feeling like I should have read the book first so I knew who all these people were, but there was no book for this one.  The creatures were lovely, and they looked amazing, but the rest of it was just too much. And can we all just collectively agree we are over Johnny Depp at this point? He’s definitely on my list of nemeses.

5.       Spy Who Dumped Me. “Audrey and Morgan are best friends who unwittingly become entangled in an international conspiracy when one of the women discovers the boyfriend who dumped her was actually a spy.” Directed by Susanna Fogel.  This is one that is on my worst list due to wasted potential. The idea could have been funnier than it was, and I feel like it was perhaps a little over-scripted. Hire more comedians, and let them improv a little more.  Kate McKinnon is funny, Mila Kunis is funny, and together they were funny, but the movie still fell a little flat. 

That’s it, an exhaustive summary of last year in my opinion (just my opinion – certainly not stating any of this as facts!).  Did I miss anything? We will see what the Academy thinks on Sunday, February 24th.  It will be tough, there’s no host, and they keep saying they are not going to televise some of the major categories, so who knows what is going to happen!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Movie Review: What Men Want (R – 117 minutes)

What Women Want was a movie released in 2000 starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt. A chauvinistic ad exec accidentally electrocutes himself and as a result, can suddenly hear what women are thinking. He uses that to his advantage at his job and romantically.  The movie has now been reworked and we get a flipped version with What Men Want.

Ali Davis is a sports agent working with several high profile clients in an agency in Atlanta.  She gets passed over for partner again, and is becoming frustrated with her job when her boss tells her she doesn’t understand men.  She heads out for a bachelorette weekend with some friends, and is given shady tea by a psychic. The tea and a head injury allow her to wake up with the ability to hear men’s inner thoughts.  

At first terrified, she then realizes she can use the power to land the huge new basketball prospect about to go number one in the NBA draft.  Along the way, she fumbles her relationship and pisses off her friends, because despite hearing inner thoughts, she hasn’t quite learned to listen.

This version is directed by Adam Shankman, and I have to say, I never cared much for the original.  This version is rated R, and certainly has funny moments, but is definitely not the best thing you’ve seen lately.  Shankman lets the cast run a bit wild, which is best for this circumstance.  The story is not original, and it follows typical rom-com patterns perfectly.  As long as you don’t expect too much, you’ll be fine with this slice of nonsense.

  • Taraji P. Henson plays Ali Davis, and really, this role suits her. She’s determined, aggressive, and wants to succeed at any cost. Realizing what others really think of her gives her pause and she re-evaluates her priorities. Henson is great at big comedy and hasn’t had the chance to do it in a while.

  • Richard Roundtree plays Skip Davis, former boxer and Ali’s dad. He only gets a few scenes, but manages to convey their entire past history as well as how over-protective he’s been as a father and why.

  • Josh Brener plays Brandon Wallace, Ali’s assistant who is ready to move on to a new position, but she keeps holding down in place. He also proves himself to be one of her truest friends, which she realizes by the end.

  • Brian Bosworth plays the boss, Nick Ivers. He’s content with his boys club and asks Ali to ‘stay in her lane’ because she doesn’t react well to men. 
  • Max Greenfield plays Kevin Myrtle, Ali’s co-worker and surprising ally.

  • Aldis Hodge plays Will, a local bartender who Ali begins to fall for, and then mistakenly uses as a ‘fake family’ in order to woo a new big client.  Standard rom-com fare here where she falls for him, screws it up, but then uses a big dramatic gesture to get a second chance.  Aldis is great and beautiful, but very two-dimensional here – he still ends up better than Kellan Lutz who gets a one-dimensional role in the beginning.

  • Tracey Morgan plays the father of the new potential signee. He’s not really acting, just playing Tracey Morgan, which is fine for this.

  • Phoebe Robinson, Wendi McLendon-Covey, and Tamala Jones play the three best friends who get Ali into this situation, and then she upsets when she tells them the truth about what their husbands/boyfriends are thinking.

  • Erykah Badu plays “Sister”, the psychic who comes to the house for the party, but then also operates out of the back of a beauty salon.  She was such a surprise to me and really stole every scene she was in.

Overall, it’s not great, it’s not anything you haven’t seen before, especially if you’ve seen the other one. It’s raunchier than necessary, but it definitely has some funny moments. The cast all seems to be having a lovely time together, and sometimes that can save a flick.

6 out of 10 – completely average, not necessarily a bad thing, but also not a great thing.

Bonus - A reminder that Aldis and his brother Edwin play the two kids in Die Hard 3 who bring Sam Jackson the radio in the beginning. Also that he was on Leverage, which was a fantastic show.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

LAMBs Devour the Oscars 2019: Visual Effects:

Visual Effects (VFX) is imagery created or manipulated outside the context of a live action shot in filmmaking.  The Academy Award for Best Visual Effect was first awarded in 1929, when it was called Best Engineering Effects and went to the best picture winner – Wings.  It officially became a regularly awarded category in 1938, but it was still sporadically given.  From 1939 to 1963 the “Best Special Effects” Oscar was for visual and audio effects combined. In 1964 they separated, and this was changed to Best Special Visual Effects. 
In case you are curious, past winners include Mighty Joe Young in 1949, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea  in 1954, The Ten Commandments beating Forbidden Planet in 1956, Cleopatra in 1963, 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968, Bedknobs and Broomsticks in 1971, Star Wars in 1977 (Empire and Jedi also won their years), Superman in 1978, Alien in 1979, and Innerspace beat Predator in 1987.  I love Innerspace, but there’s no way tiny Dennis Quaid inside Martin Short is better than the Predator.  Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) superstar Dennis Muren holds the record for most wins, 8.

This year, there are five nominees for the award:

Avengers: Infinity War – Dan DeLeeuw, Kelly Port, Russell Earl, and Dan Sudick
Infinity War starts in space in the ruins of the Asgardian ship. Thanos, the mad Titan, uses the one infinity stone he already has (the power stone) to eliminate half of the Asgardians, pummel Thor and Loki, demand the space stone, and then just has a straight up fist fight with the Hulk.  This is the first 15 minutes of the movie and the effects are already incredible.  The center to this entire movie is the performance-capture depiction of Thanos by Josh Brolin as he goes from place to place, collecting the six stones which he needs to establish balance in the universe.
The result allows Thanos to be the center of the film, and the exquisite performance by Brolin is almost enough to make you see Thanos’s point….almost.  The movie also includes a battle with aliens in New York during which two wizards with digital powers, one digital Iron Man, and one digital Spider-Man pretty much lose to two completely digital aliens.  There’s also a visit to Titan, Thanos’s home world, which is now in ruins – but then Thanos uses the reality stone to give everyone a peek at what it used to look like.  ILM created an incredible battle sequence in Wakanda that just about uses every digital trick in the book. 

And not to mention, Rocket and Groot are featured in this. A foul-mouthed space raccoon and a teenage tree with a bad attitude should be the win-with-no-contest point for any visual effects Oscar. 

Christopher Robin – Christopher Lawrence, Michael Eames, Theo Jones, and Chris Corbould
In Christopher Robin, the adult Christopher played by Ewan McGregor has become swamped by his work life and has been neglecting his personal life, planning to send his daughter to boarding school.  
His childhood friends, Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore and the rest show up to remind him who he is, and where he came from (it’s basically the same story as Hook). 

The visual effects are used to bring to life the plush friends from the Hundred Acre Woods in a live-action sort of way. They look a little too real, and in my opinion come off more terrifying than cuddly, but still – an impressive feat. McGregor was grateful to shoot with the plush versions of the characters while having the voice actors on hand to give him something to react to.

First Man – Paul Lambert, Ian Hunter, Tristan Myles, and J.D. Schwalm
First Man is the based-on-a-true-story of test pilot Neil Armstrong as he prepares to be the first man on the moon.  The effects in this are largely used to recreate the details of the late 60s space race, and the missions leading up to Armstrong’s step on the moon.

Instead of using green screens, they created LED displays of projected images to simulate the exterior views from the spacecraft, both of earth and space. Director Damian Chazelle believed this would help the performances of the actors because they could stay in the moment, and not be distracted by a large sheet of green.

Ready Player One – Roger Guyett, Grady Cofer, Matthew E. Butler, and David Shirk
Ready Player One is directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the book of the same name from 2011, in which Spielberg is name-checked a whole bunch of times.  The movie follows the story of Wade Watts, a kid living in 2045 who spends most of his life in the OASIS, a virtual world where you can be and do pretty much anything you want.  One of the co-creators of the OASIS, James Halliday, has passed away, and left an ‘easter egg’ somewhere in the OASIS that will allow the holder to own the system.  Wade and his friends, Aech, Art3mis, Daito, and Sho are racing to find the egg before Sorrento and the IOI, a company that wants to start charging everyone for using the OASIS.  Almost the entire movie is visual effects because it all takes place inside the virtual world of the OASIS.  Part of the fun of this is recreating famous pop culture references from other movies and TV shows. 

While it all looks amazing, it often is a bit overwhelming, and doesn’t really allow you to focus on any one piece.  The stand-out sequence is not from the book, but a unique sequence for the movie that recreates the hotel from The Shining.

ILM used a combination of the original footage and digital add-ons, along with post-processing aging to make the new footage indistinguishable from the original.

Solo: A Star Wars Story – Rob Bredown, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan, and Dominic Tuohy
Solo feels like a space western, and follows the story of a young Han Solo, escaping from indentured servitude on Corellia by joining the Imperial Navy in the hopes of returning to Corellia someday to rescue his love, Qi’ra.  Along the way, he meets the Wookie warrior Chewbacca, the gambler Lando Calrissian, and other characters we meet for the first time. 

Solo partners up with Tobias Beckett to run a scam for the crime boss Dryden Vos all while trying to evade the Cloud Riders, led by Enfys Nest.  The effects are once again by ILM, and include incredible shots of a train heist through snowy mountains, a gambling hall with incredible alien patrons, Lando’s cape collection, and of course, we finally get to see the beloved Millennium Falcon make the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.

The look is lovely, and the action is spectacular - even if pieces of the story were a little weak.

Who Should Win:
Without a doubt in my mind, Infinity War should win. The sheer amount of world-building done was mind-blowing, not to mention the exceptional performance capture technology with multiple characters. The final Wakandan battle sequence and the devastating after-effects of THE SNAP all speak to visual effects used at the very highest level to enhance the storytelling of a masterpiece.

Who Will Win:
Infinity War. But, the Academy has a habit of preferring a ‘film’ over a ‘movie’ which is frustrating because this is one of the few categories where ‘movies’ get nominated and recognized.  In addition to that, they love when effects are used to tell a true story.  It would make me angrily yell at the TV, but I could see First Man getting the trophy.

Who do you think deserves the prize this year?