Hell or High Water (2016): An Amazing Modern Personal Western

hell-or-high-water

   “Hell or High Water” is a fantastic modern western. It is modern in that it takes place in the current era with cars and technology unlike most westerns I’ve seen which usually go back to the Civil War Era and the surrounding time periods…and it works. This is a personal film that gives room for the characters to breathe so their motivations can be fully explored and how complicated each of them are.

   The film was directed by David Mackenzie and written by Taylor Sheridan with the producers being Sidney Kimmel, Peter Berg, Carla Hacken, Julie Yorn, Gigi Pritzker and Rachel Shane.

    The story involves the brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Howard) robbing banks in small town Texas while being hunted by Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birningham) as each of their motivations for being in this hunt or robberies is revealed over the course of the film.

SPOILERS ahead

 The Pros: The World – The world is a bunch of small dying towns in Texas. These are all towns that were bigger when the west was first settled but have died to time as so many dead industries litter the landscapes. It is a location of extreme poverty and desperation where everyone is armed…I enjoyed my time in this world because of how relevant and real it is to poverty here in the U.S. today.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and captures the rugged stretches of land that make up Texas as well as how isolated all our characters are making what connections they have with each other all the more meaningful. Giles Nuttgens did a fantastic job.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is very much a western and keeps up the dark tone of the film as at the core it is a crime and heist film mixed with a western, as we spend as much time with the Howards and their robberies as we do with the Rangers Marcus and Alberto who are hunting them. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis did a great job capturing the feel of Texas and the tension that pervades the film.

Tanner Howard – Tanner is the brother who got out of prison and had experience robbing before. He also killed his and Toby’s abusive father and from there realized he had nothing to lose. Everything he does is for his brother and his brother’s family and for the thrill of the action. He’s a fascinating character who is bad but not all bad. Ben Foster does a good job giving this guy an edge and empathy.

Alberto Parker – Alberto character is half native and half Mexican and it is through him we get the why to what the Howard’s are doing as he calls out the people their for taking his peoples’ lands and how the cycle has continued with the banks taking there. He is very by the books and even though Marcus inspires him he also critiques Marcus’s obsessions. He is shot by Tanner at the end…Gil Birningham plays him and he is easily my favorite character in this film. I wanted to know more of his story.

Ranger Marcus Hamilton – Jeff Bridges owns every role he plays and he does that once again here as a Ranger who is aging out of the force and sees capturing the thieves as his last great hurrah. He manages to avenge his partner after Tanner shoots and figures out that Toby is the one who set everything in motion and even goes to talk to him. He is filled with so much regret over the loss of Alberto and implies he may be killed or kill Toby later. Like Toby he has no peace after the events, even with retirement and being sung as hero for taking out Tanner.

Toby Howard – Toby lives for his ex-wife and kids and everything he does is to get the money and the rights to the property his mother owned that has oil on it. He succeeds but we see, especially near the end how he regrets letting his brother reek havoc as he now has the blood of innocent people on his hands. This regret is one reason we see him wising for death at the end and that he is only living for his kids, the ones who he went into crime for in the first place to get them out of poverty.

Poverty and Dying Towns – Poverty is rampant throughout the landscape in this film and we get the glimpse of so many people who only have their pride, which can motivate them to different things like the Howard’s crime spree or Hamilton’s obsession. The opportunities are becoming less and their is sadness to everything that even though Toby pulled his family out of it, they screwed over so many others and others will never be able to get out.

Land and Ownership – The theme of land and ownership is huge and starts with Alberto’s speech on how this land all used to belong to his people until like the thieves the settlers and government stole it through war and now the banks are doing the same in this dying region. It is powerful as we see how land ownership is tied to power and power through violence.

The Cons: Too Slow At Times – About halfway through it hit’s a slow part where it takes a while to pick up again before the final big heist where everything goes down. The rest of the film makes up for it, it wouldn’t be in competition for the Top 5 Films of 2016 if that wasn’t the case, but it is still a problem. A bit more action in character relationships or heists would have strengthened the film.

   This was a great film and might end up being one of the Top 5 of the year. It manages to say so much just by showing the state of so many poor Texas towns and from there you see the desperation that lead to the Howard’s taking their path of robbery to get out of it. It is really well done and I loved the levels of history, especially as expressed by Alberto and how the settlers had stolen his peoples’ land and now the banks were stealing theirs. This was a smart film that says a lot and doesn’t have a happy ending. It is a bittersweet western that deserves to be up there with the Westerns that are the greats.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10

The Neon Demon (2016): Better Writing and Exploration of Characters Could Have Made This a Classic

the-neon-demon

    “The Neon Demon” is a horror film that could have been a great classic. It had so much going for it in the themes, ideas and even the characters…but due to lack of development of the characters really failed to deliver on it’s intriguing premise making it more of a film akin to “The Lobster” rather than John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” It’s a film I’d still recommend as it is good, but it fails where it has to and that is what keeps it from being great…for my non-spoiler thoughts.

     The film was directed, co-written and co-produced by Nicolas Winding Refn, co-written by Mary Laws and Polly Stenham and co-produced by Lene Borglum.

     The story involves aspiring model Jesse (Elle Fanning) moving from a small town in Georgia to Los Angeles to get a start in the modeling business. All is not as it appears to be though as rivals have plans for her that go far deeper than she can ever realize.

Spoilers ahead

The Pros: The Premise – The premise is cool! The modeling industry in L.A. is such a great place to have the threat of confined spaces and the city and since modeling…body horror or all the different ways people try to fit in by changing their bodies…within horror and thrillers there is so much that can be done with that.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is picturesque and had so many beautiful images. Even if the images themselves were often beautiful for the sake of beauty or symbolic for the sake of symbolism, they were still stunning.

The Soundtrack – Cliff Martinez created an amazing synth heavy soundtrack that gave a sci. fi. horror feel to the film that sadly was never delivered on. I was expecting to see actual demons rather than implied demon models and some sort of real body horror or at least deep psychological horror…and while there are disturbing scenes the music was far better at tension than the story was.

Christina Hendricks and Keanu Reeves – These two play characters whose stories I wish we could have gotten! Hendricks plays the Manager of a modeling agency who has Jesse lie about her age to get the job (What lead her to be that way? How did she become head of the agency? I wanted to know!) and Keanu Reeves plays a corrupt owner of a motel who uses runaways for sex and exploits models. He’s an evil dude who I wanted to know on how a person could get that way…instead they are side characters who only act as motivation or threat…

The Cons: The Demons – The motivation of the demons seems to be power and destruction but I never got why. They merely existed to exist and exist as symbols of how an industry and being so focused on self can consume you and lead you to consume others. That is cool but even that idea isn’t fully explored because the characters feel unfinished. They exist as half-formed ideas which is a shame as the actress are at least decent at their roles.

Characters Never More Than Symbols Who Aren’t Fully Explored as Symbol or Character – It isn’t just the demons who have the problem of never becoming full characters, Jesse has the same problem too. Everyone exists as threat or motivation for Jesse or I guess the Demons at the end so in the end the story is not fully formed as those who inhabit it never fully become characters and are stuck existing as concepts and ideas.

     If the characters had been fully fleshed out and we had fully explored the depths of the evil of the demons and the industry as it is presented in this film this is a horror film that could have been one of the greats and truly a classic. Because it failed in execution I can only say it is really good but not great though. Lack of character exploration can bring any story down whether it is film or book and this film really suffers from that. I’d still recommend it though and I hope to see more of Refn’s work.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10

The Nice Guys (2016): A Solid Action Comedy That Celebrates Absurdity

the-nice-guys

   Shane Black is a great director…he is most in his element when he is doing buddy cop type comedies like Tony Stark in “Iron Man 3” being forced not to use his suit as an out, “Kiss, Kiss, Bang Bang” had the everyday guy in over his head in a bigger conspiracy and forced to work with someone opposite of him and that film is a classic and one of my all time favorite films…”The Nice Guys” follows that same sort of deal and is one of the greats of this year because of it.

     The film was directed by Shane Black who co-wrote it along with Anthony Bagarozzi and the film was produced by Joel Silver.

    The story takes place in 1970’s Los Angeles and follows hired muscle Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and corrupt private P.I. Holland March (Ryan Gosling) as they are forced into working together and  following up on a missing person’s case related to the porn industry and a porn film where all the cast members are getting killed.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world of the 70’s and how it is presented is wonderfully sleezy and corrupt, which is the perfect character for our main leads to inhabit as they are a part of that same corruption but have enough of a heart to shine a light on it. It’s really beautifully presented.

The Cinematography – Philippe Rousselot does a great job presenting very tightly paced scenes that give tension to even conversations between characters as everyone feels confined, even when they are running. This helps raise the tension which compliments the action.

The Action – The action is fantastic! There are quite a few gun fights and fist fights and each of the fight has stakes. Even Crowe’s Jackson who is an enforcer has a hard time sometimes which shows how strong the government agents are. It isn’t easy for these guys even when they are in their element.

The Writing – The writing is fast, witty and funny and presents the absurdity of our characters’ lives and situations. This is really what makes the story so fun as like “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang,” we are waiting to see if the characters will win despite their own flaws and everything else and this film presents that beautifully.

The Comedy – The comedy is solid and due to the absurdist nature of so much of what is going on we have jokes that are created out of the strange situations are characters find themselves in and how broken and absurd their lives are.

Holland – Gosling plays this P.I. scumbag who comes around in the end. His core question is “Am I a good guy?” Which his daughter answers with a resounding “no” at the beginning, but by the end he proves he is capable of it. A lot of the empathy for the character comes from Gosling’s strong performance as he’s an overall despicable person through most of the film.

Jackson – Crowe is the enforcer with a heart of gold as we find that his best moment was standing up and protecting people and throughout the film he is given the choice to kill or save and dealing with his core nature of being good or bad as well. Crowe is hilarious in how genuine he is in everything, even though he is a hardened killer.

Holly – Holly is the heart of the film as she is the one who inspires Jackson and Holland to be good. She also helps solve the case too as she is one of the few who knows what is going on a lot of the time or happens to be in the right place at the wrong time.

Okay: Amelia and her Activist Group – We gets bits and pieces about what they are fighting for but we never know the full corruption of what the Car Industry and Government were doing and most of the characters, including Amelia die until we can ever get to know them.

The Cons: The Villains – There aren’t really any good villains. The Doctor is interesting in that he seems to be a serial killer but they never really go into that and Amelia’s mother is just an unknown factor as are her agents. The Porn Enforcers are just sleezbags so at the end of the day the villains really bring the film down. None of them stand out on why they are fighting for what they are fighting for.

   What really brings this film down in the end is we don’t really get to know or come to care about Amelia. We know she is an activist and her bringing down the corrupt relationship between the Government and Car Industry is cool but we never get to know her as a person or get more about her relationship to her mother, who is the big bad. This film is seriously worth checking out though! This is Shane Black in his element and Crowe and Gosling have hilarious chemistry that really carries the film as each of their dysfunctions brings humanity to them. Check this film out.

Final Score: 9.3 / 10

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016): A Masterpiece of Animation With an Unforgettable Story

Kubo and the Two Strings

  “Kubo and the Two Strings” is my favorite movie of the year. Whether it was hold that place remains to be seen but thus far, it is the most perfect film I have watched this year. Not only is the stop-motion animation and soundtrack amazing but the story and characters kept me involved through the entire story, and the story starts out slow to let know become familiar with the world. You should see this film, I want more films like this to be made and it needs all the support it can get, given it is only Laika studios that is keeping this form of art alive.

   The film was directed by Travis Knight, who was also one of the producers, written by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler with the other producer being Marc Haimes.

    The story involves Kubo (Art Parkinson), whose eye was stolen by his grandfather the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and must not go out at night unless his grandfather finds him and takes his other eye. During the village’s festival he stays out too late and finds himself hunted by his two Aunts (Rooney Mara) who have come to take his other eye at his Grandfather’s behest. He must collect his father’s armor, sword and helmet in order to stop the Moon King and is helped by Monkey (Charlize Theron) and a former samurai turned into Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) along the way.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is wonderful and full of amazing monsters! From a Garden of Eyes, Witches and Gods to a Ten Foot Skeleton…this is a world that is lived in and all the powerful for it as it embraces Japanese mythology while creating a mythology all it’s own.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is beautiful, Dario Marianelli manages to create a soundtrack infused with magic that is full of power in depth, where you feel each loss and the power behind each action or fight.

The Writing – Marc Haimes and Chris Butler did a fantastic job on the writing! There is powerful drama and humor that gives it a balance that doesn’t really exist in “Deadpool”(which is a favorite film). It is their mixture of humor and drama mixed with a powerful message and characters are what made it my favorite film this year thus far.

 The Animation – “Kubo and the Two Strings” is my first Laika film. Suffice to say after this I plan on watching the rest of the films they’ve made. Stop-motion animation is a lost art that they keep alive and continue to improve upon.

The Characters – The characters are extremely memorable! Each of them is an archetype to some degree, but also manage to get beyond those archetypes in how they are written. They have humanity and flaws and it makes them worth rooting for or makes them feel threatening.

Hosato – George Takei plays one of the people in the village who takes care of his daughter who is Kubo’s biggest fan. He’s a nice solid presence in the film and in a way reminds Kubo of the fact that he believes his father to be dead at the beginning of the story and his mom is only lucidly present of him…

Kameyo – Kameyo is the older woman who is a beggar in town and the soul of the town. She is a mother figure to Kubo a bit as she is one who looks out for him and helps him with his storytelling. Brenda Vaccaro is fantastic.

The Sisters – The Sisters, who are Kubo’s Aunts are amazing! Rooney Mara gives a haunting performance as these two mask wearing witches who are so powerful that they kill both Kubo’s mother and father. They are one of the best animated threats I’ve ever seen.

Beetle/Hanzo – McConaughey is wonderful in the role of Beetle, who we learn was turned into a Beetle by the Sisters and the Moon King to punish him for leading their sister out of immortality. He has a lot of humor to him and isn’t very bright but his heart is in the right spot and he has great humor. His death is powerful too as he risks his life to protect Monkey/his wife Sariatu.

Monkey/Sariatu – Theron plays my favorite character in the film. Monkey and her Sisters are the best parts of the film. In Monkey we get the strength of her personality and her love for her son and husband while as Sariatu she is a traumatized shell destroyed by her family being cared for by her son. The dichotomy is powerful and gives her humanity and depth. She was a God and gave it up to protect Hanzo from her family…She is the best part of this film.

Kubo – Kubo is a great protagonist who feels very much like Link a Zelda game but has so much more depth and layers to him as we see him finally allowed to be a kid after he leaves the village and is collecting his father’s sword and armor. Before that he is forced to be an adult caring for his mother and making money for food. He had no childhood until his life was at risk and seeing how they explore it is something you have to see for yourself.

Facing Loss – He loses both his mother and father twice, both times as they protect him and in the story we see him face that loss and remember the memories as well as honoring them with the lantern ceremony the village does as who they both are live on in him. The missing of another never goes away, but those we lose become a part of us like the strings on Kubo’s instrument.

The Power of Story – Story is a major theme as the Grandfather is trying to force his story upon his Grandson and make him like him, the village story of his Father’s past is never finished until he becomes a literal part of it when myth (his grandfather the Moon and his Aunts) hunt him and the stories of the dead are interwoven through the film. The self and it’s connection to story is powerful…how a story can change or be erased is captured in the story of his family as at different points they lose their story.

The Hero’s Journey – Kubo’s Hero’s journey is powerful as he discovers connections only to lose them and has to adapt to change all around him. From his mother becoming Monkey, his father being a live and Beetle…to losing them both and in the end having to care for his Grandfather who loses his memory as well. Even as he discovers joy and childhood circumstances force him to lose it and from it find himself.

Okay/Pro: Raiden the Moon King – Raiden has great minions in his daughters and I liked the fact that he is like a sympathetic old man until he turns into a monster…in the story it is left open too if he ascended to Godhood and was once human or was forced into humanity by Kubo…there is so much possibility in this character that I can’t just put him as okay as he is interesting in what they do with him.

    Minus the fact that Raiden is a bit underdeveloped (though still interesting)…this is  a film that I can’t really find any faults with. Kubo doesn’t really get his happy ending, his parents are dead and he has to face it. This is a film that is well worth your time and you should really see it if you have the chance. Give strength to these stories that don’t exist as franchises and are timeless and powerful. This is the best film of the year I have seen thus far and is well worth your time, it is in the timeless stories that we are reminded of our own and this story does it with unforgettable power and beauty.

Final Score: 10 / 10. First perfect film of the year.

The Jungle Book (2016): Great Cinematography But Extremely Boring and Slow

The Jungle Book

     As someone who wasn’t a fan of the original animated “The Jungle Book,” I think this was a movie that wasn’t made for me. The original is better though by leaps and bounds…as this at the end of the day this was a film that bored me so much I fell asleep during part of it. That hardly ever happens to me during films. So before non-spoiler thoughts, the amazing voice cast can’t save this boring film that would only really work as a movie playing in the background for kids…I don’t know how much of their attention it would be able hold of it is the core focus.

      “The Jungle Book” was directed by Jon Favreau who was also one of the producers while being written by Justin Marks. The other producer was Brigham Taylor and the film is based off the book of the same name by Rudyard Kipling.

    The story involves Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) telling the story of Mowgli (Neel Sethi) and how his arrival changed everything in the Jungle while he and the other animals must deal with the threat of Shere Khan (Idris Elba) who wants Mowgli and any who support him dead.

     The film is beautiful, but that is about the only thing positive I can say about it. The Special Effects look great and manage to make some of the action meaningful, but there isn’t much to say beyond that.

    This is a film with an amazing voice cast…Murray as Baloo, Kinglsey as Bagheera Nyong’O as Raksha and Elba as Shere Khan is brilliant casting…but the writing is so bland and the characters are so one dimensional that none of it matters. Mowgli has a few chase scenes but they hold no power since he starts out doing a fake chase and the action is so slow…it doesn’t matter if there is an amazing voice cast since they just seem to exist. Nothing meaningful really happens beyond Mowgli making new friends.

    This was an uninspired film and it doesn’t give me much hope for the other films that Disney turned live action from what were originally their animated films. I hope “Beauty and the Beast” is good, but if it is like this film it is going to be really boring and not worth anyone’s time. A story has to have meaningful action and change and I didn’t see that in Mowgli’s story or in relation to the characters around him, they are all just kind of there and there isn’t any music to give it more life like the animated film where at least music can keep a boring or simple story interesting.

    If you have kids, they might enjoy it…but honestly just take them to “Finding Dory” or get them a Pixar film or “Zootopia.” That is a much better use of their time and your time and you’ll be a lot more entertained and experience a film that would actually have purpose.

Final Score: 3 / 10

Suicide Squad (2016): The DC Cinematic Universe Finally Discovers Fun

Suicide Squad poster

     Why couldn’t DC have given us a film like this sooner? This is a film that still is dark but shows that you can have fun and be dark, this is a film with a soul. It isn’t a great film by any stretch of the imagination but this is the fun that DC has needed for a very long time in their movies. This is the core reason, besides some great performances and characters that really make this a film worthy of checking out.

SPOILERS ahead

       “Suicide Squad” was directed and written by David Ayer and produced by Charles Roven and Richard Suckle.

      The film involves Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) putting together a group of meta-humans to work under the radar for the U.S. Government. Things go wrong though when one of the group, Enchantress (Carla Delevinge) rebels as well as the threat of the Joker (Jared Leto) who is seeking to save Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) from Waller and her organization.

The Pros: The Aesthetic – The aesthetic of this film is wonderful! This is a film of color contrasts where you have bright pinks, whites, red and purples with dark grey hues. Doing this ended up illustrating the personalities of our protagonists against the world they were a part of and reacted to.

The Tone – The tone is dark but there is humor that runs throughout it. This is a film that knows our heroes are crazy and broken so embraces it and lets them be themselves. This tone is a huge part of what makes this film work.

The Soundtrack – Steven Price did a great job choosing the songs for this album. We here Eminem, Queen and countless other songs that help capture the roaring crazy of our heroes and their world and situation.

The World – The world is a dark nihilistic world in which there are no heroes and a moral grey exists in all choices where there are less bad options but no good ones (Superman being celebrated for example I’d consider moral grey, he was never a hero to me in these last two films). Because of this it allows moral complexity to our protagonists and everyone’s shadow or light is revealed over the course of the film. There is good and bad that exist in all the characters in this film and no real villain besides Enchantress.

Amanda Waller – Viola Davis is amazing as Waller. She puts the Squad in line on multiple occasions and we never see her really break. She also manages to blackmail Batman into covering up her Squad’s operation and she doesn’t bat an eye when he threatens her. She knows she is the one who breaks people for the greater ends and we see that so many times in this film.

Bruce Wayne/Batman – Batman is the reason Deadshot and Harley are in prison as Batman saved Harley from drowning when her and the Joker were on a rampage and Waller gave Batman a tip to take out Deadshot when he was around. The after credits scene was him and Waller making a deal with him getting more info on the Justice League in return for him covering up the events of the film. Ben Affleck really is great in this role.

The Joker – Leto’s Joker isn’t scary, he’s a lot of fun though. The man is a high energy gangster who is all about Harley and ruling over the gangs of Gotham. In this film his soul goal is the rescuing of Harley and it ends with him succeeding. Can’t wait to see him in action again against this world’s “Heroes.”

The Squad – The chemistry between the Squad is what really drives the film. If they had no chemistry this film wouldn’t have worked and would have been a throwaway rental rather than the good film that it is.

Captain Boomerang – Jai Courtney can act! After some of his past performances I didn’t think he could since he comes off as so bland. As Boomerang he is wonderful though as he fights and trolls everyone around him but shows that he can step up for others as we witness in the final fight.

Kantana – Kantana has the Sword of Souls that holds her husband’s as she took it from the man who killed him with it and has been avenging him since. She is awesome and I wanted to see more of her character. She is the serious character contrasted by the more laid back nature that everyone else has.

El Diablo – A gangster who accidentally killed his family with his fire power and is redeemed when he uses his power to stop the villains and save the team. I liked him and felt he should have had more interactions with the team before the end.

Killer Croc – Croc is amazing and my favorite character in this film besides Waller, Joker and Harley. He is fun, comfortable in who he is and shows he has humanity and that rejection by people won’t stop him from helping them.

Deadshot – Will Smith was alright…Deadshot having a daughter humanized him and his humor worked. At times it was hard to see Deadshot since it felt like the celebrity of Will Smith melted through but other times it was clearly Smith’s version of Deadshot so I have to respect him for that. He had great chemistry with those around him and Smith’s Deadshot never stopped being an anti-hero.

Harley Quinn – Margot Robbie owned this role! Also I have to say, I’ve wanted to see live action Harley on film for a long time. Margot owns this role and I hope she gets her spinoff film. In this we see her agency in regards to the Joker with the implication that the two of them have always been broken and that’s why there is something strange between them. Can’t wait to see where her story goes after Joker broke her out at the end! The Squad was like family to her, now we’ll see if that was all words and wanting someone since she thought Mr. J was dead or if she actually meant it.

Okay: Col. Flagg – Bland protagonist overall but I like that he kept threatening the crazies. He was a person who wanted control and could never be Waller so in the end lost control and was part of the Squad.

Enchantress – A Gozeresque villain who does a lot of damage and could have been a lot more. Her “Ring” Witch form is great and I liked her in the final fight, but her motivation was weak. Everyone wants to rule the world…give us more…

The Cons: The Government – Faceless agents except for Waller. This was a missed opportunity since we could have seen more people than Waller who have valid reasons to question and be against the Justice League.

Slipknot – Shows up and has his head blown off. No character at all.

Slow Motion Action – I hate slowing down fights, this slowdown almost ruined the final fight which had been fine prior. There is no reason to do this and it is stupid almost every single time it is used.

Too Much Tell Not Enough Show – We get a lot of backstories told to us that should have been shown in character interaction not Waller or someone else telling us the backstory. The Squad’s chemistry could have easily revealed those stories naturally.

    At the end of the day this was a good film that I would recommend. DC finally discovered these things called jokes and fun and actually managed to use them! See Snyder, these aren’t alien concepts! I didn’t like Ayer’s bullet time stuff but he did a good job of choosing this cast and letting their natural chemistry flow through the sometimes stilted dialogue. This is a flawed film but it is a film I’d watch again if only for the soundtrack and all the scenes with Joker, Harley, Killer Croc and Amanda Waller. DC, pay attention to this film, don’t lose the ability to laugh at yourself and have fun. The Suicide Squad new this and in the end it was part of the reason I cared about what happened to them. Ayer has finally brought humor and heart to a franchise that has desperately needed it.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10

Star Trek Beyond (2016): The Reboot Series Finally Captures Classic “Star Trek”

Star Trek Beyond

    “Star Trek Beyond,” is a film that best captures the spirit of the Star Trek Franchise than probably “The Undiscovered Country.” That film has a better story and is one of my all time favorite Star Trek Films but this film is still really good and I enjoyed it a lot more than “Star Trek Into Darkness,” which at the end of the day depended way too much on conspiracy and fan service rather than showing the spirit and cost of adventure the way this film does. Non-spoiler thoughts…this film has great action, comedy and characters and is well worth your time to see it on the big screen.

    “Star Trek Beyond” was directed by Justin Lin, written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung and produced by J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci and Bryan Burk.

     The story takes place 3 years into the 5 year mission and Kirk (Chris Pine) finds himself at a crossroads with the possibility of promotion and Spock (Zachary Quinto) is pulled back into Vulcan after a major death.  They and the crew are put to the test though when they are lead into a trap and must face Krall (Idris Elba) who destroys their ship, forcing them to adapt to the planet and keep him from getting the superweapon he seeks.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – This movie captures the wonder of the World of Star Trek. We get the Utopia of Yorktown, the horrors of war via Krall and tons of alien species and first contact opportunities.

Yorktown – Yorktown is a like a giant snowglobe in space and looks like how I always imagined a advanced space station actually looking (in the tv shows they never were able to capture it like it is on film, they are just stations, this is a city). I loved this area and I like that we spent time here to humanize our crew and see how the Federation has achieved Utopia.

The Writing – Minus the writing of Krall, the writing is a major pro. Every character is given things to do, characters change and aren’t just rehashing the same story (Kirk, Spock and Uhura had the same story twice in the last two reboot films). Simon Pegg being a Trekkie and one of the writers is one reason I think why this worked so much.

Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and stunning and captures the old look of the show while modernizing it for the screen. It feels dreamlike and from it the adventure of this great series.

The Comedy – The comedy is gold, especially anything with Jaylah and Scotty and McCoy and Spock. The dialogue is quick and witty and always moves the action forward.

Use of Ensemble Cast – The cast all has things to do and it keeps the story strong! Uhura and Sulu are protecting the hostages and the device, Chekov is with Kirk, McCoy is Spock and Scotty is with Jaylah. Each of them are working to find one another and defeat Krall and it leads to great comedic and dramatic moments.

The Cast – The cast is the strongest part of this film, these actors have come to inhabit these characters.

Chekov – R. I. P. Anton Yelchin…you really inhabited this role. This is a film where Chekov is with Kirk for a lot of it and later teams up with Scotty since he knows tech. almost as well. We see him be the hero and the problem solver and his relationship with Kirk is pretty great. You’ll be missed Anton…

Sulu – John Cho is fantastic as Sulu and in this we get to meet his husband and daughter at Yorktown and from there see the reason why he is fighting so hard to defend it. In this he get to see him fly the Franklin, fight with the Enterprise until Krall’s drones destroy it. It is great seeing him and Uhura team up.

Uhura – Uhura is the primary protector of the hostages and the device that Krall is trying to get. She only loses when Krall threatens a crew member forcing the crewman to reveal her hand and where she’s kid the device. Uhura is ready to die to protect it though. We also see that her and Spock still have a great relationship even though they may or may not have broken up. Zoe Saldana is fantastic.

Scotty – Simon Pegg is really great in the role of Scotty and in this we see him as the major problem solver, whether it is fixing the Franklin, finding the crew and Krall or working with Jaylah on traps.

McCoy – Karl Urban really owns the role of McCoy and in this we get to see his friendship with Spock grow as they are stuck together for most of the film. It is great seeing their dynamic as McCoy’s cynical optimism is contrasted beautifully with Spock’s cold clear logic and duty driven decisions. This eventually leads to them taking on Krall by kidnapping one of the drone ships since Spock needs someone to monitor his injury he received when the Enterprise was destroyed and McCoy is the only one who knows about it.

Spock – Spock is faced with a decision in this…to stay with the crew or to return to Vulcan to help create more Vulcans. Ambassador Spock has died and no Vulcan is once more lacking limited leaders and there still aren’t very many of them. Over the course of the film he decides to stay for the crew though, not because of future Spock and I really like that. He discovers that it is out on the frontier he can protect Vulcan best and the realization that the entire crew is his family now and will be (he sees a picture of the crew when they are older that Ambassador Spock was keeping).

Kirk – Kirk like Spock is faced with a decision to stay or get a promotion and go as when we first meet him his life on the ship has become mundane and he expresses how trapped everyone feels out in space for so long. It is powerful as he is really talking about himself. Krall reminds him of why he is out there too and even though he loses the Enterprise he decides to stay to Captain and because the Captain of the newly built Enterprise-A we see being built at the end of the film.

Jaylah -Sofia Boutella is awesome as Jaylah and I hope she becomes part of the main crew. She is the one who helps them all team up as her home is Krall’s old Federation ship the Franklin. It is thanks to her and Scotty that they get it running and are able to use it as a base to free the hostages and to confront Krall and his drone forces. She also has a somewhat romantic thing with Scotty and is an orphan whose been fighting Krall all her life. Suffice to say she is awesome.

The Idea of Krall – The idea of Krall as a former Space Marine turned alien warlord is cool. Peace doesn’t work for everyone, especially those who gain honor from combat and live from it (one reason the Federation fights the Klingons every generation even after the treaties). There was so much more that could have been done with this idea if he had just been fleshed out more as a character.

Remembering the Dead – R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin. Both of them were given time to be remembered as Spock remembered Ambassador Spock and the final scene was fade to black with “For Anton” in memory of Anton Yelchin. The two of them were amazing and have left a legacy on this universe and the world.

Okay: Krall/Balthazar Edison – Idris Elba is good at humanizing this ex-marine turned alien Warlord and his acting is great, it is just the writing for Krall is only so-so so I’m putting him at okay. We never get explanations of why he turned into an alien or how using people turned him back into a person.

The Cons: Villain plan – The villain plan is to destroy Yorktown, which if Krall want the Federation at war, that isn’t going to help…since there is no way could escape, it was do the most damage and die…which I expected more from a man who had lived hundreds of years. He should have had a better plan.

How did Balthazar become Krall and Revert Back? – Balthazar was a M.A.C.O. (Pre-Federation Marine) who is maid captain after the Xindi and Romulan wars and finds himself abandoned on the planet. Something happens that causes him to become the alien Krall and he is using people to turn back into a person. This is never explained.

Pacing – The pacing can be a bit jarring at times. Sometimes everything is going too fast and we have no time to really soak in what our characters are going through, and other times we linger too long. This is most true at the beginning but by about a third of the way through the film this isn’t as much of an issue.

   The villain isn’t bad but he is where most of the holes in the plot are. Sometimes the pacing can be a little jarring, and I was bored at one point because of it…but the payoff when they arrive on Krall’s world is fantastic and almost everything after that works. This is a film that reminded me why I’m a Trekkie and I can’t wait to go back and review the other films so I can rate them all against one another. This a film well deserving of it’s place in the Franchise and some of the most fun I’ve had at the movies this summer.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10

Ghostbusters (2016): A Decent Comedy With a Villain and Climax That Don’t Work

Ghostbusters 2016

   For being one of the most politically controversial films this year, “Ghostbusters” was actually enjoyable. I wouldn’t go so far as calling it great as it did have a major villain issue and the finale went on a lot longer than it should have, but it had enough going for it in the main characters and the comedy that I was entertained. This film didn’t have to be made, as goes for most films that have been turned into soft reboots and Franchises and that mentality is one I dislike in Hollywood as I want more original stories. Given all of that though, if you are looking for a decent comedy you will no doubt be entertained by this film.

  The film was directed by Paul Feig who was also one of the writers, with the other writer being Katie Dippold. The producers were Ivan Reitman and Amy Pascal.

   The story involves Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) seeking out her friend Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) from her past when Abby publishes their book on the paranormal and ghosts and Erin realizes her tenure at Columbia at risk. When they reunite they find themselves pulled into the paranormal and must stop the villain raising ghosts around town while facing the city of New York who doesn’t believe them.

The Pros: The Comedy – The comedy is a lot of improv but works overall. This is largely due to the chemistry between the leads. I prefer the dry humor of the original but these 4 ladies are fantastic.

Charles Dance – He plays Wiig’s boss at the University and is great at being stuck up and overly conservative. He only has 2 scenes but they are quite funny and that is largely due to Dance’s charisma.

Kevin – Hemsworth is an underrated actor and this movie really showed that he can play both the hero and the dolt as Kevin is a hilarious beefcake model who has to learn basic skills over the course of the film.

The Cameos – Murray as a skeptic, Aykroyd as a Cabbie, Ernie Hudson as Toles’s Uncle and Potts as the Hotel Desk Clerk where the most memorable ones. I would have preferred a sequel and passing of a baton if they were going to make this film but since they didn’t, I’m glad they got to at least show up to remind us of the classic film that started everything.

The Leads – The four leads are the best part of the film. It was very smart casting on Sony’s part as this could have easily been with the Adam Sandler crew (seriously Sony, stop giving him money) or any other comedy group. I liked who they chose since they weren’t going for a 3rd film.

Dr. Erin Gilbert – Wiig is great at being the nervous professor who is always trying to overcompensate. She is someone who is unsure and is the who really helps illustrate the quirks of the others. Her arc is getting confidence and healing her friendship with Abby.

Dr. Abby Yates – It is Melissa McCarthy, she is one of the better comedians when she is in her element and given decent writing. She is here and it is awesome to see her in the Aykroyd role as the believer in the paranormal who is the most competent businesswise because she’s had to live off nothing because of how out there her career is.

Jillian Holtzmann – Jillian is crazy and offputting and was probably my favorite character in the film. She’s very much someone who isn’t quite there and because of that her friendship with Abby made sense. McKinnon is fantastic and I can’t wait to see her in other stuff.

Patty Tolan – Leslie Jones does a great job as the one who knows what is going on and whose fear was the most believable. She sold a lot of the scenes for me because of how in it she was. Her scenes were the most natural it felt like too and it felt like she wasn’t doing as much improv as the others which gave strength to the overall film.

Okay/Con: Been Here Before – The original “Ghostbusters” is a classic for a reason and I have fond memories of it and look forward to reviewing it, “Ghostbusters 2” pretty much re-did the same story over again in a weaker way and plotwise this story suffers from the same problem. I hate that this is common and this was a rightful issue with “The Force Awakens.” If you are going to have original characters, tell an original story. The Four starting a ghost hunting business and having to face their own doubts, the city as an enemy and a supernatural foe is exactly “Ghostbusters 1 and 2.” This main cast deserved better as they had good chemistry.

The Cons: The Villain – I can’t remember his name or anything about him besides the fact that he was someone who hated being bullied so wanted to bully the town. He dies, becomes a ghost, posses Kevin and wants to cause the Fourth Apocalypse. The fact that his name isn’t even memorable and his actions are cliche are a major problem with the film.

The Climax – The fight goes on way too long and just keeps going and going. The animation isn’t all that great for the ghosts either so it stands out as well. I missed how quite and subtle so much of the action was in the original compared to this. This one is going loud and “Marvel” Movie climax and it takes away time from our characters who we really needed more time with to get their motivations more fully.

  This is a film that could have been awful, the trailers certainly made it look like it would be awful…and if the villain had been more front and center as unmemorable as he already was, the climax gone on another 5 minutes…it would have been worse. Luckily the actual film itself was entertaining. The humor worked for the most part, I cared about the leads and if you are looking for a decent comedy this summer, you will probably enjoy this.

Final Score: 7.6 / 10

The Lobster (2016): A Great Concept Film on Relationships That Never Delivers

The Lobster

       “The Lobster” is a film that could have been a favorite film had it been more succinct, knew more clearly what it was trying to say and had cut some of it’s scenes down. It isn’t a bad film but the longer the film went on the less I liked it. It started out great and by the end was merely good. The whole idea of critiquing courtship, love and relationships is really cool, and there was so many ways this film could have worked. Non-spoiler thoughts, it is worth checking out, it just isn’t great, it is only good.

    The film was directed by Yorgos Lanthimos who also was one of the writers and producers. The other co-writer was Ethymis Filippou and the other producers were Ed Guiney, Ceci Dempsey and Lee Magiday.

       The film takes places in a dystopian future in which all people must be in a marriage or else they are transformed into animals. They also hunt the loners a rebel group who lives outside the hotel. The story follows David (Colin Farrell) who finds himself single when his wife leaves him for another man forcing him to find a partner in 45 days or else he’ll be transformed into the animal he chose, a lobster.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is cool and left me with questions…what lead the world to become only run so that marriage is what matters over all else? The idea that people could be transformed into animals is really cool as well and the film does a good job showing that presentation (and leaving the question open if the transformations ever really happened). So there is a lot to like about the world.

The Premise – A person having 45 days to find a partner is a fascist dsystopian world is an interesting one. There is so much you can do with it.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is a beautiful and does a great job giving the film a modern feel but also an older feel too, which is the nature of dystopia. This is the future but has reverted to a twisted version of the past.

The Characters – The characters are interesting and most of them manage to be 3 Dimensional even though their names present them as concepts.

Lisping Man – John C. Reilly is good at non-comedic roles! In this he plays the Lisping Man who is insecure because of his lisp and wants to fit in to the group. He is punished for masturbating at one point and has to put his hand in the toaster when it is turned on. It is implied he is changed into an animal as he would have been punished after David steals his stuff when he hunting David after David has become a loner.

Hotel Manager – Olivia Coleman makes a wonderful villain. She is empathetic and harsh and in the end meets her own tragic end when her husband claims to love her but shows he will shoot her if it means his survival, destroying their relationship which was the plot of the Loner’s Leader.

Heartless Woman – The Heartless Woman is a great antagonist as she kills David’s dog that belonged his brother and we see her cruel to all those around her. She is transformed at the end so is given a just end.

Loner Leader – The Loner Leader is driven to destroy all relationships (except her parents). I never got her motivation as it seems her and the Maid are together at one point, but then she kills her to keep control over the Short Sighted Woman…I liked her as a character but her lack of motivation was a con.

the Maid – I liked the Maid. She saves David from the Hotel and works with the Loners, even though their leader has the Short Sighted Woman kill her to keep control over the Short Sighted Woman. I got her motivation though, she was in an abusive relationship that society kept her in, the Loners were her out.

Short Sighted Woman – Rachel Weisz is a good actress and is pretty intense in this where she communicates in commands at first but grows to have communication through eyes and hand signals with David when they are getting around the Loner rules about no relationships. She is blinded by the Loner Leader at one point which leads David to rescuing. I hated that she had her agency taken away and never had a name as she was the one telling the story and is set up to be David’s equal.

David – Colin Farrell is a pretty fantastic actor. In this he is a bigger awkward guy who doesn’t get people but shows he will do anything to have connection and to survive…to a point. At the end we never know if he stabs his eyes with the butcher’s knife to stab his own eyes out so he and the Short Sighted Woman can be blind together.

When Commonality Leaves in Relationship – All the relationships are based on past commonality or false commonality (one person creates bloody noses on himself so he can be with a girl who actually has that problem). I think that is the need for connection and how commonality is that first step. This plays it to it’s absurdest conclusion.

The Awkwardness of Courtship – The awkward courtships show how people will work in any social environment no matter how unhealthy (the loners and the hotel) to find and be with someone and how it is awkward within the confines of communication allowed and on the dependence of commonality in order to communicate.

The Cons: The Pacing – The pacing was all over the place. Some scenes lingered way too long, at one point after the Hotel it feels like it should be over and other scenes are short like when the Short Sighted Woman and David get together. This film needed a better editor.

The Ending – Does he cut out his eyes or not? If they want to leave it ambiguous, why not when he escapes the Hotel since the Short Sighted Woman serves no purpose within her own agency.

The Narrator – The narrator interjections from the Short Sighted Woman were annoying at times. I kept looking for the character but she doesn’t actually appear for a long time.

The Short Sighted Woman’s Story  and Dis-empowerment of a Lead – This character is made blind and everything she does is for David. At times it looks like she wants to escape because she has a desire to do so but that stops after she is blinded. She is someone who has been out in the wilderness a lot longer, she deserved to have more of an identity that didn’t revolve around David.

   This was a good film but the cons eventually overwhelmed everything else. A more powerful concept film could have achieved the same purpose in a lot less time. A perfect ending would have been him escaping the hotel and leaving the rest up to mystery as even the Short Sighted Woman is never given name, even though she is the narrator and seems to be set up as a main character when we see that she is a loner and can give that perspective…that never happens though because she is more concerned telling David’s story, and as great of job as Colin Farrell does, detached characters can only give so much before they become boring. His character eventually suffers from this due to pacing. I would still recommend this film though, for what it is, it is worth checking out.

Final Score: 8.3 / 10

Finding Dory (2016): A Brilliant Exploration of What it Means to be Dory

Finding Dory Poster

    For sequels that didn’t need to be made, this is a really good sequel. Pixar is one of those studios I’ve come to expect quality from and they continue this here as this is a film that will pull on your heart strings and gives our characters complete arcs and a fantastic adventure for it all to take place in. My non-spoiler thoughts are basically that you should see this film. It is no “Inside Out” or the untouchable Pixars but is is really good and is well worth your time.

   The film was directed by Andrew Stanton who also wrote the story and screenplay with Victoria Strouse also writing the screenplay with him. The producer was Lindsey Collins.

   The story involves Dory’s (Ellen DeGeneres) search for her parents when a memory is triggered that she lost them a long time ago and that they are at the Jewel of Morro Bay, California. This leads to her Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) traversing there to help her remember why she is searching and to find them again.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The World of “Finding Dory” is an amazing one! Whether it is in the reef or the Marine Life Institute Pixar’s diverse assortment of characters creates a rich world where the relationships only make it greater.

The Soundtrack – Thomas Newman once again creates gold! I have yet to be disappointed by his work and here he does a good job of capturing Dory’s terror of being lost and her joy of being reunited once again with her family.

The Animation – It’s Pixar, their animation has only gotten better with time. You can see the details on the fish, from their expressions to their scales…Pixar continues to create animation that looks so alive.

The Opening Scene – The opening scene is touching and sad as we see that Dory getting lost is what lead to her forgetting what she was looking for (her parents) that lead to her finding Marlin in the first place. Her parents help her with memory games and we see where she gets her songs and sayings from…they were to help her remember to find her way home.

Dory’s Memories – Dory’s memories are some of the strongest moments as we see her connection to characters and what they mean in those flashbacks, even if Dory doesn’t get their meaning fully…we do.

The Characters – Pixar has always been very character driven in it’s productions and this film is no different. The characters are what make this film besides the action, score and animation…and we get many more amazing characters.

Fluke and Rudder – These Sea Lions played by Idris Elba (Fluke) and Dominic West (Rudder) are hilarious and sadly also a bit of bullies. They help Marlin and Nemo get into the Marine Institute but they are also always picking on Gerald, who isn’t all there. They provide great comedic relief though as they are the one who call the birds to pick up Nemo and Marlin and witness the journey and escape at the end.

Destiny and Bailey – Destiny is a Whale Shark and Bailey is a Beluga Whale. Destiny was Pipe Pals with Dory when they were kids and is near sided so is always crashing into the tank. Bailey believes he can’t use his sonar…their arcs are coming to count on one another and have great chemistry with one another and Dory. Destiny was played by Kaitlin Olson and Bailey by Ty Burrell…both were fantastic.

Hank – Ed O’Neil plays my favorite character in the film. He is a red octopus who was traumatized by his experience in the sea so just wants to live out his life safe in a tank. It takes his adventure with Dory to realize he does care about people and to soften him up. He becomes part of her family by the end. His dark humor is great with Dory’s idealism and I’m glad we get to spend so much time with him.

Marlin and Nemo – The classics are back from the first one and much of their journey is finding Dory while Marlin learns to both respect Dory and her disability and also to let Dory be free in herself…an arc her parents also have to go through. I’m glad we didn’t spend as much time with these two as their arcs were largely in the first film.

Jenny and Charlie – These two are Dory’s parents and their arc is learning to trust their daughter and let her be herself and make her own choices. This understandably hard as they’d been waiting for her for years outside the Institute after she got lost…but she demonstrates that they raised her well and that she may not remember always but she knows how to survive, plan and to help others.

Dory – Dory is the main character of this film and her relationships are what define the film as we see her help her parents, Hank and Martin grow to accept her fully just as she learns fully to accept herself and her own power. As someone who found this for myself living with aspergers this is huge. Dory’s story is one of empowerment and shows that no matter how hard things get, going forward you can change your circumstances and find those who accept and love you.

Living With a Disability – A huge theme of the film is what it is like to live with a disability. As one who grew up with Aspergers I can relate to this, you face challenges were early on you do need help on and there are some things that never go away…even as you find ways to face those challenges and to grow from them to the point where you can be successful and stand on your own and from it live with the dignity everyone deserves.

Disabilities and Dignity – Dignity is a huge theme of the film as it is when Dory is shut down and hurt that she really goes off and gets lost…it is when the support is there that it is easier to face her memory loss and it is from dignity that she finds self respect and respect from her friends and family.

Okay: The Marine Life Institute – I think this was meant to be shown as positive sine the animals are all to be released into the wild (except those that are too sick) but it is still an antagonist I guess? The Marine Life Institute and their role in the film is ill-defined and more could have been done to explore the different animals’ relationships to it.

Cons: Drags in Places – There are some action sequences that go on a bit too long, especially at the end where Dory panics…the scene could have been shorter and still had the same impact with her finding her parents, same goes for the escape at the end. Some scenes just go on too long. If more had been cut I’d have easily given this a 9.

The Treatment of Gerald Versus the Theme – Gerald is a Sea Lion that also appears to have a mental disability but it is largely played for laughs. This struck me as off as the whole point of the film is accept people with all their quirks and that all deserve dignity. I don’t think Gerald ever got that from others.

   This was a really good Pixar film and one I’d highly recommend. It is bound to make you tear up at least once as Dory’s story is one that many people are no doubt familiar with. Dory gives a human face to what it is like to live with disability and the film is wonderful at respecting her dignity and personhood as we see just how great her family is by the end of the film. The only contradiction to this is the treatment of Gerald who is bullied and looks like he is also facing some sort of mental handicap. Gerald deserved respect just like Dory. Outside of this problem and some pacing issues this was a really good film. If you are fan of Pixar or animation you won’t be disappointed.

Final Score: 8.8 / 10