Isle of Dogs (2018) Review

Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs is an incredible feat of filmmaking. I have seen possibly hundreds of animated films throughout my life and I am still in awe of what I saw on the screen. Something so unique, so inspired by classic fables and stories that just resonate with you even if you don’t even love dogs.

In a near future Japan, Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) has declared that all dogs be sent to an island in exile as a “dog flu” runs rampant throughout the town. As the dogs make a life for themselves, a group of dogs find a little boy named Atari (Koyo Rankin) lands on the isle to find his dog Spots (Liev Schreiber). Lead by Chief (Brian Cranston) they set out on a trek that could lead them to a shocking discovery.

Isle of Dogs is quite simply, extraordinary. The acting, which is subtle, almost soothing, to the animation that just let my jaw drop. I have never seen a movie seamlessly integrate different styles of animation like this before. The film is just a feast for the eyes, the fantastical Japan that is depicted is detailed so meticulously that I’m certain that you could find something new every single time you watch it.

As per your usual Wes Anderson film, the dialogue and acting are subtle in every which way. I can’t imagine how many jokes slipped past because because I’m laughing and just fixated on the screen. That’s not to say there’s no heart to the story, far from it. Atari’s journey with Chief and the the other dogs will tug at any animal lovers heartstrings without getting bogged down in it’s own sentimentality.

Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs is the reason I go to the movies; to see other worlds, other cultures, and get immersed in it. It’s just such a lovely movie, so rich, stylized and beautiful. Not only is this one of the best films of the year, thus far, but it’s one of the best animated films of the decade. I forgot that films can be this good.

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Ready Player One (2018) Review

If you were born in the 80s, then pretty much director Steven Spielberg raised you. Everything from Raiders of the Lost Ark to E.T., to movies he produced like Back to the Future and The Goonies the man helped to craft 80s pop culture.

Ready Player One is an ode to that wonderful era from things like movies, music and especially video games. It’s a buffet of pop culture that may seem to be overcrowded, but isn’t overwhelming. It’s actually quite sweet, and Spielberg’s best film since Minority Report.

In the year 2045, 18 year old Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) lives in an impoverished area named The Stacks. He dreams of a better life for himself and escapes into a virtual reality called The Oasis, where you can be whoever you want to be. The creator of the Oasis, James Halliday (Mark Rylance) passes away and leaves a will detailing a contest; whoever solves the clues and obtains the 3 keys, wins the Oasis.

Along with other players, Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and Aech (Lana Waithe), the race is on to obtain the keys before the head of a cooperation (Ben Mendelsohn) gets his hands on it and destroys it.

If the plot sounds like it’s Willy Wonka meets The Matrix that’s because it totally is! And man is it so much fun to watch! Knowing Spielberg, the film is vibrant and stunning to behold. I can’t remember the last time I was immersed in a cinematic world.

The acting is on point for every single performance, but the scene stealer is Mark Rylance as Halliday. It was known that Spielberg wanted Gene Wilder to play the part, bringing the Willy Wonka motif full circle, but I can’t imagine a better performance. It so layered, nuanced, and even heartbreaking that he becomes the heart of the movie. Rylance is now not only one of my favorite actors now, but he’s one of the best actors out there.

If you have a casual knowledge of Spielberg’s films, you know that John Williams has composed the score to almost every film that he’s made. Due to schedule conflicts, Williams couldn’t score the movie, being replaced by Back to the Future composer Alan Silvestri. Jesus Christ this is his best score since Forrest Gump. He keeps the music pumping during the action, throws some cues from his earlier work that doesn’t distract at all. It felt like Halliday chose this music for his easter egg hunt.

Steven Spielberg has made some incredible movies as of late, but he has veered away from the rousing popcorn flicks that he built his career on. I have never seen such an amazing return to form, and it just proves that the man still has a thing or two to show us.

Black Panther (2018) Review

There has never been a more relevant time for the Black Panther film to come out. With the issue of representation in film being such a hot button issue, nothing made me happier to see a film starring a black superhero, especially one with this much joy and rich character development.

After the death of his father in Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has taken the mantle of King of the technologically advanced African country of Wakanda. As T’Challa comes to grips with being king, a foreigner by the name of Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) lays seige to Wakanda, forcing the King to relay on his former flame Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and his tech savy sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright) to protect his kingdom and all of its secrets.

Since a lot of people are making a big deal over a black superhero, which is all well and good, it doesn’t mean shit to me if the movie sucks. Thankfully it doesn’t. Marvel has it’s characters down to a science, and that’s where Black Panther truly shines. T’Challa is a fully realised character with empathy and a sense of duty. He goes on a spiritual journey that many of us have been on, and it gives him a true sense of history.

The MCU has been know to have some underwhelming villains for most of its run, but Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is one of the best antagonists in the series. Much like Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2, you get a clear understanding of Killmonger’s motives, hell I even found myself sympathizing with him. He was just captivating to watch every second he was on screen.

Black Panther continues Marvel’s Phase 3 overarching theme of fathers and sons. Here is a man who is trying to follow in his father’s footsteps while trying to be his own man, his own king. It even goes deeper into it’s theme; can a son forgive the sins of his father? Should he have to pay that price?

Of course the action is first rate, and you will find yourself in awe of the spectacle, but there is more than that. The issues of race, heritage, and legacy are all there to be absorbed and discussed. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but it still gets to me that a character, up until a few years ago, was considered to be a B-lister at best, has been given a treatment that is usually reserved for more prominent characters. King T’Challa is a character I can’t wait to see again.

Coco (2017) Review

Pixar has always managed to be a beacon on just emotional, original pieces of work that dive into other areas of human culture. Coco is wonderfully one of those movies that show that love, and family are universal cultural bounds that everyone can relate to.

Little Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) lives in a household where music is forbidden. But the boy has the music in him, and he sets out to follow in his great-great grandfather’s footsteps. Lo and behold, Miguel finds out that Ernesto De La Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), famed deceased singer, is his ancestor. While attempting to take his guitar, Miguel ends up in the Land of the Dead. With the help of Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), a spirit who is soon to be forgotten, they both set out to make it to the world of the living, before it’s too late.

Coco is the prime example of the beauty that can be achieved by the art of animation. The beautiful use of color and vibrancy in its shades is so refreshing to see. Most studios think that the world of spirits is some kind of Tim Burton-esque realm, but not in Coco thankfully. I felt like I was seeing something a little new; something that has been grossly underrepresented in cinema today.

Breathtaking visuals don’t mean jack shit if the characters and story aren’t up to par, and it sure is. Dare I say, that this could be one of the darkest Pixar movies to have been released. It’s not violent in a conventional sense, but it is emotionally. The mere concept of souls being wiped out of existence for being forgotten by the ones you left in the living world is equal parts morbid and macabre. I think it’s something every single one of us can connect to, either intellectually, or emotionally.

Don’t get me wrong; this is Pixar’s most beautiful, emotionally satisfying movie since Inside Out. The existential portion of the movie is something adults will understand, while the visuals and humor are perfect for children. The themes of love, remembrance and family hit me a lot harder than I anticipated. I have come to expect nothing less from Pixar, and is not only one of the best films of the year, but will be remembered for generations to come.

The Shape of Water (2017) Review 

     Director Guillermo Del Toro has always been an astonishing visual director, even when it comes to a few of his lesser films. Even then the man has had a love for everything horror and fantasy, but even then there has always been a subtle fairy tale quality to his work. The Shape of Water not only embraces these attributes, they have come together to bring a different type of film that is clearly one of his most personal movies. 

     In 1960s America, Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a mute woman working at a government facility with her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) when an amphibious creature (Doug Jones) is brought in for experiments overseen by Dr. Hoffstetler (David Stahlbarg). Elisa and the creature form a deep bond that is threatened by Agent Strickland (Michael Shannon) and his need to protect America. 

     Let me get this out of the way and say that it’s pretty obvious that this is just Del Toro’s version of the classic Creature from the Black Lagoon. Of course, it’s much more lyrical, even poetic than the earlier film. Even though the movie takes place in a bygone era of America, it feels like an entirely different world. The color schemes, with their hues of greens and blues, come off as a fairy tale. Even the musical score by Alexandre Desplat just reinforces the point, almost like something out of a French New Wave film. 

     If Sally Hawkins, and Octavia Spencer for that matter, don’t get Oscar nominations for their work, then clearly fantasy horror have no place at the Oscars. Hawkins has to give a performance entirely in pantomime, and has to rely on just her face and body movements to convey her emotions. Trust me, this is fucking hard to pull off and Hawkins makes it seem way too easy, she’s so good in this. Even Doug Jones underneath all that make-up gives such emotions, the chemistry between the two actors is better than most big budget movies that have tackled a similar romance. 

     Spencer manages to take an almost thankless role and gives depth to emotion to a woman who’s living at the height of the civil rights movement. Through the vile character of Strickland, Del Toro manages to touch on the issues of racism and sexism without getting preachy, but enhances the themes of isolation and rejection, even within our own civilization. 

     Del Toro has crafted a deeply personal work of art here, one that, yes, does pay homage to old school monster movies but that has its own qualities, it’s own take on the outcast monster story that we all grew up on in some form or another. It is just without question that this is one of the best films of the year, and needs to be seen. 

Pitch Perfect 3 (2017) Review

     Man has this franchise come a damn long way; I remember when Pitch Perfect was a coming of age take that used the power of song to over come adversity. Now, Pitch Perfect 3 still has some of those key elements, but it’s pretty damn clear that if this series doesn’t end with this installment, then we’re going to have the Fast and the Furious of a cappella singing. 

     Beca (Anna Kendrick) has just quit her job for a record label, and she reunites with the other Bellas, Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), Chloe (Brittany Snow), Aubrey (Anna Camp), Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), and even Lilly (Hana Mae Lee) who go on a USO competition for DJ Khaled. Things hot a bit of a snag when Fat Amy’s father (John Lithgow) shows up at an inopportune time. 

     I have actually enjoyed the first two Pitch Perfect films with their sweet simple stories of self-esteem and pretty fun song covers. Sure they all seem to use the same plot as a crutch, but they work due to the chemistry amongst the actors. 

     Man, did this one try way too hard to be different. 

     While there’s still a competition to be had, it feels shoehorned into the plot, and instead we get some international intrigue involving Fat Amy’s dad, which left me wondering if this was truly necessary. It does appear that the writers ran out of ideas so soon, and that maybe a ten year gap between films would have been beneficial. 

     Don’t get me wrong; I did laugh during the movie, catching myself while realizing that the story was fucking ridiculous. As a tip, think about how the first one started off, then look at what’s on the screen. You won’t be able to help yourself from laughing. Even then, the music was enjoyable, although a bit lacking, the Bellas still have that charm that we should come to expect by now. 

     There have been worst trilogy cappers, believe me, but the story needs to end here. If it goes on any further, then everything charming and lovely about the series will be lost. 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) Review

     I still remember, all those decades ago when I first saw Star Wars and I wanted to be Luke Skywalker. He was, and will always be, my first childhood hero, as surely must be the case for countless others. So know we’ve reached the 8th episode, Star Wars: The Last Jedi has everything you could want from a Star Wars flick, even if its not in the way that you expected it. 

     Picking right where The Force Awakens left off, The Resistance, led by General Leia (Carrie Fisher) is on its last leg as the forces of the New Order led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) are on the verge of wiping them out and winning the war. Poe (Oscar Isaac) sends Finn (John Boyega) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) on a mission to save the Resistance, while Rey (Daisy Ridley) finds the reclusive Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to find out her destiny. 

     The Last Jedi relies on some tried and true aesthetics that does make it come alive. While the film does manage to hit some of the same plot beats as The Empire Strikes Back, it isn’t anywhere near as bad as the previous film did when it came to A New Hope. Trust me, that’s a good thing. Some of the questions that were posed before are answered here, whether we like it or not. 

     I do have to say that the performances are on point here, with Hamill giving a truly melancholic performance as Luke, that was easily my favorite in the entire film. The weariness, the humor on display that reminds us of that young farm boy from Tatooine. It really resonate with you if you grew up with the Saga. 

     I noticed especially that the humor was kicked up a lot, and it did make me smile; Be it from Poe, or Leia herself, I was overjoyed that the movie remembered that this is a children’s film, and that my God, children do love to laugh most of all. 

     If there were any egregious flaw to the film, is that there needed to be a lot of things fleshed out. I mean, a lot of shit. The irony that this is the longest Star Wars movie sure as shit isn’t lost on me. There needed to be more with Stoke (Andy Serkis), a lot more on this pretty kick ass Casino, and way more between Luke and Rey. If anything, the movie felt rushed, almost as if writer/director Rian Johnson started to put  shit that should’ve happened in Episode IX. Maybe that’s a good thing, but it just felt lacking in this respect. 

     I did enjoy The Last Jedi immensely don’t get me wrong; there are images in this movie that will stay with me forever, and even make me shed a tear or three. I guess I wanted more out of it, more of the characters I love and cherish, and not have mysteries set up only to refer to them offhand. To be fair, I may need to see this a few more times before I can even begin to rank it, but the movie succeeds in being Star Wars and for more of you, that’s more than enough.  

The Disaster Artist (2017) Review

     In 2003, a movie was made that was so bad that it became the next Rocky Horror Picture Show in its cult like status as one of the greatest bad movies ever made. 

     That movie was The Room written, produced, and directed by Tommy Wiseau, and it is just a masterpiece of shitty filmmaking. And now we have James Franco directing (and starring as Wiseau himself) a movie based on the novel of the same name by Greg Sistero (played by Dave Franco) about how this ode to inept filmmaking got made. 

     Greg is just a struggling actor trying to make it in show business when he meets Tommy in an acting class. They form a bond, and when things don’t go their way they decide to make The Room as a way to make a name for themselves. As they assemble their crew, their friendship will be put to the test as their passion for filmmaking could cost them everything. 

     It’s difficult to describe what’s at work here. If anything this is the modern day equivalent of Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, and it takes a similar approach; it doesn’t make fun of these odd characters who at their core, just want to make a movie. It just so happens that that movie is hilariously bad. But that’s what makes The Disaster Artist work completely. The friendship that develops between Tommy and Greg is what makes it so endearing that it makes you root for them. 

     Without going into spoilers, but this film has one of the greatest ensemble casts I’ve seen in awhile with Seth Rogan playing director of photography Sandy Sinclair, and Josh Hutcherson playing Philip who plays Denny. There’s so many more but I can’t dream of ruining who else appears just for the laugh out loud factor of it all. And every single actor nails their roles. 

     To be honest, I had doubts that the movie could be pulled off because of Tommy Wiseau himself. Everybody who’s seen The Room knows that Tommy is a unique personality to put it mildly. When James Franco was announced to be playing the part, I was apprehensive that he could capture the weird nature of Wiseau. 

     Franco nailed it. 

     This is by far Franco’s absolute best performance he has ever given. The guy has always been a good actor, but this is something else entirely. As someone who has shamelessly watched The Room I know the speech patterns and syntax that Wiseau speaks in, and Franco hits every single fucking note. There were times I forgot it was Franco that I was seeing on screen. Easily, this is the best performance I have seen from a male in years. James Franco ain’t a movie star anymore; he is one of the most fearless actors (and directors for that matter) working today. 

     I thought a lot that if were possible to enjoy The Disaster Artist without having seen The Room and I believe you can. It helps if you have, don’t get me wrong, but at its core the movie is about two friends who embark on showing Hollywood what they got to offer. The fact that it was one of the worst movies you’ll ever see is irrelevant, they had a dream, a goal, and they achieved it. This is one of the best movies of the year, far and above. It’s such an inspiring tale, that deserves to be seen and praised with such high marks.  

The Punisher (2017) Season 1 Review

     The Punisher character has always been a tricky one to adapt. First, the 1989 version with Dolph Lundgren was just in name only, while the 2004 Thomas Jane version fared better but was lacking the brutality, and the 2008 Ray Stevenson was ridiculously violent, but it lacked the nuances of the character. 

     Building off of Jon Bernthal’s take from Season 2 of Daredevil, Netflix’s take on Frank Castle is world’s above the other versions by striking that delicate balance between a man dealing with loss and pure homicidal rage. Its difficult to pull off but the series managed to do it. 

     After being declared dead at the end of season 2 of Daredevil, Frank Castle is laying low and keeping to himself. But soon he comes into contact with a man named Microchip (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) who wants to help Frank take down a conspiracy involving one of Frank’s old commanders, Agent Orange (Paul Schulze). Soon Frank realizes that this conspiracy is gonna hit him closer to home. 

     As I mentioned previously, Frank Castle is a tough character to crack; having been born out of the 1970s vigilante craze (think Death Wish) the comics never shied away from having Frank be a villain. Since that paid off in his last appearance, we have him in full force now. Bernthal’s performance is spot on; he managed to give Castle layers of depth that were sorely lacking in the former takes. The man is tortured, in pain and full of rage, but you see glimpses of the man he was, and it’s pretty fucking tragic. This is the first time I’ve actually cared about what happens to him. 

     I have to say that Ben Barnes’s Billy Russo is one of my favorite characters to have been reinvented in any of the Marvel properties. I don’t want to get too much into it, but fans of the comics will recognize the name. Russo is Frank’s foil in every sense, and I was captivated by Barnes being able to convey his intentions without saying a word. The way that the relationship was able to breathe, be given context. The payoff to this relationship is just gold. 

     If there’s anything that kept the series bogged down a little is the subplot involving Special Agent Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah). I know that this plotline needs to be there for later episodes, but at times it hindered the pacing and momentum of the episodes; may have to do with the fact that I knew where it had to go, but it wasn’t that interesting and at times a tad bit annoying. 

     Through and through, this was just such a satisfying watch. Even the first episode had such a thrilling payoff that it just made me keep watching. Make no mistake, while there are some surprising moments of character nuances, this shit is fucking brutal! I was even looking away cringing at the level of savagery that is The Punisher. Of course those assholes had it coming, so it felt good seeing Castle dish out his brand of punishment. I’ve never been happier to write there words:

     Welcome back, Frank. 

Justice League (2017) Review

     Well it was nice while it lasted. After loving the fuck out of Wonder Woman I was hopeful that Justice League was going to be another upward tick for the DCEU, but instead all we have now is just a disgraceful mess of a movie that wouldn’t even pass muster in a film class. 

     With the world still in mourning after the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), Batman (Ben Affleck) enlists the help of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to put together a team that consists of Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to take down the evil Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) before he gets some boxes that would destroy humanity. 

     Fuck where do I start with this? To reiterate, the movie is a mess; the story, the characterizations, the acting, just everything. It’s so frustrating to watch because there’s a really good movie in here. Its just not a good Justice League movie. The movie starts with Superman dead and buried, how do people move on from having their savior fucking dead? Imagine that for a second. That movie is so much more interesting than whatever the fuck you want to call this movie. 

     The characters, even Batman and Wonder Woman, are painfully underdeveloped. They have no arc. All of them. They all even work together effortlessly with no conflict. I couldn’t tell you anymore about Cyborg’s character than before I saw the movie. Aquaman to me was unrecognizable from the comic, and that’s fine, but you have to tell us as filmmakers who the hell he is, what drives him as a hero. Nope none of that. And I really wish I had some seasonings, because Steppenwolf is the blandest villain I’ve seen in a film since Thor: The Dark World. Just no personality at all. I will give credit that Ezra Miller had some good moments as The Flash, but even he seemed to trying way to hard to carry the film. There was just no chemistry between any of the actors. 

     Now to discuss the stuff I liked, no matter how fleeting, there will be some light spoilers concerning the Man of Steel. 
     So Superman gets resurrected, and that’s to be expected, but the good movie in here is how his family reacts, especially his mother. I got choked up when she saw that her little boy was alive, and the overwhelming emotions that it brings. But it’s like 2 minutes of the movie. Hell, we don’t even see how the world reacts and I think it would be a pretty big deal. I can only imagine seeing an awesome movie with the world mourning the death of a god and then have them return. But I guess we’ll see a team beat up a shit villain instead. 

     I’ve waiting decades to see a Justice League live action film, and this is a poor excuse of a movie. I can’t imagine anyone feeling like they got to see their favorite characters be bad asses when we don’t even get a feel for who they are. The high benchmark of superhero movies is The Dark Knight and this movie should be ashamed of itself for believing it belongs in the same sentence as that masterpiece. Remember folks and fans alike, you deserve so much better than this. You truly do.