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. 

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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. 

     

Thor: Ragnarock (2017) Review

     The last Thor film, The Dark World, is still the worst Marvel film from their output. The first one being a silly lighthearted affair, but man that follow up… such a piece of shit. Well, I’ve never been happier to see an entry just improve so exponentially. I actually walked out with a smile on my face, instead of punching anyone in the face. 

     Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is trying to find his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) with the help of his douchebag brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). They both come across the Goddess of Death, Hela (Cate Blanchett) who wishes to rule over Asgard. Thor, now defenseless, finds himself on a strange planet run by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) and has a run in with a long missing friend… Its the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).

     Clearly Thor: Ragnarock is the best of the Thor films, and so much fun. The best moments involving Thor in his other appearances are the humorous ones. Hemsworth has such great comedic timing that in retrospect, made the Dark World such a bore was the lack of humor. Everyone in the movie has phenomenal comedic moments, and I want to see Thor and Hulk cause some more shit. They are so good together. Blanchett’s Hela is a character so rich and evil, that makes you wonder why the hell she wasn’t in this series sooner? I was scared of her, because Thor was, and you can clearly see why when presented with the film. 

     More than anything I was awestruck by the musical score from Mark Mothersbaugh. Director Taika Waititi was clearly going for an 80s retro feel, and that score really brought that feeling home, with sparing use of synth, but once in use the aesthetic truly came alive. 

     I’m impressed by the fact that Marvel Studios is three for three in one year of releasing movies. All have succeeded in just being pure pieces of entertainment while actually having both thematic and character arcs. I officially can’t wait for the next adventure these guys get into, and with this being the 18th movie in a franchise, you know that’s some high fucking praise. 

Stranger Things 2 (2017) Review

     Now that I’ve let this second installment of Stranger Things sink in, I’ve come to realize that the show made an 80s reference that might have escaped some; that the sequel is better than the original. The stakes are higher, the character development more pronounced, the overall story more satisfying. Oh and the budget is larger. That’s totally an 80s thing. 

     It’s been a year since the events of Stranger Things and everybody has more or less moved on with their lives. Will (Noah Schnapp) is still recovering from the Upside Down, Joyce (Winona Ryder) has a new guy in her life, Bob (Sean Astin), Mike (Finn Wolfhard) is still holding out hope that Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is still alive somewhere. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Calab McLaughlin) are vying for the affection of the new girl in town, and Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is still with Steve (Joe Keery). Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) is still pinning for Nancy. Hopper (David Harbour) is hiding a secret for everyone else’s good. 

     This is just the bare minimum set up for Stranger Things 2 everything else unfolds at a breakneck speed that can cause you to binge the shit out of it. I took my time and let it breathe so I could absorb the themes and references that the show is making. 

     The casting of Sean Astin as Bob is a stroke of genius because of the fact that he played Mikey in the 80s classic The Goonies. And I have to say that that man is the real MVP. He managed to take a character that could’ve been so annoying, but instead made him funny, warm, and even sympathetic. You usually don’t have characters like this in sequels typically. 

     What the Duffer Brothers have manage to realize in the horror genre is that symbolism and metaphor are aplenty. The love triangle between Dustin, Lucas, and Max (Sadie Sink) is something so embedded into the tribulations of growing up. Every person in school, no matter what age, has been through that. The show always excels when dealing with real issues amongst pure supernatural terror. 

     This season is at its core, about growing up and the confusion that brings; who we are, and how the world works (a theme heavily played up in the much mangled 7th chapter). There really isn’t any lulls in the episodes, but I don’t imagine anyone just jumping in at this point. The first season is mandatory. 

     There’s a lot to dissect and pick a part here, but that will arrive in do time. Everything is on point for this season and its still a fun ride to experience. 

     

Happy Death Day (2017) Review

     It’s difficult to find a fun horror movie nowadays. Yes, a horror movie is supposed to scare you, but you’re also supposed to enjoy it. Kind of like a rollercoaster. Happy Death Day has the right mix of jump scares, but it also has an enjoyment factor that is lacking from modern day horror flicks. 

     College student Tree (Jessica Rothe) wakes up in a dorm room belonging to Carter (Israel Broussard) and high tails it out of there. Later that night, which is also her birthday, on her way back to her dorm she gets murdered by a masked killer. 

     And then wakes up back in Carter’s dorm, repeating the day. Getting murdered. Again. Repeat. She realizes that to stop the loop she has to find out who keeps killing her, or be trapped dying forever. 

     Alright, let’s not kid ourselves, this is Groundhog Day but with a slasher. And that’s completely fine. It’s a fresher take on an old troupe, and you unexpectedly get sucked into the story. The story thrives on the misdirection that having the events repeat themselves entails. 

     You would think that having a gimmicky premise would mean that the characters don’t mean shit, and some don’t, but Rothe’s performance as Tree is the backbone of the entire movie. If you don’t give a shit about her situation then the movie becomes a waste. But I did end up caring about her. She starts off conceited and self absorbed, and then realizes the value in her actions. Like Bill Murray in Groundhogs Day. 

     By the climax of the flick, I genuinely found myself caring about her situation, and I wanted her to succeed. It just felt great to see a horror movie that I rooted for the protagonist, while still laughing and being enthralled in the narrative. Its a simple film that achieves so much more that it needs to. 

     

So the Halloween Franchise is basically a Choose Your Adventure Series Now. 

     So now that I am finally able to digest the fact that original Halloween star Jamie Lee Curtis is returning once again to Haddenfield, I’m able to finally get excited that my favorite horror series is back after a scant 9 year absence. No biggie. 

     What is a biggie though is that series co-creator John Carpenter said not to long ago that this latest entry will disregard everything that came after the original Halloween. Yes, this is a growing trend in horror now, but Halloween has actually done this before. Multiple times to be honest. There are so many timelines to this series you can legitimately pick where you want the fate of Michael Myers to end up. Let me guide you around this fun mess: 

Timeline A: Halloween (1978) & Halloween II (1981)

     Considering the fact that Halloween II (1981) picks right up from where the first one left off and that this movie was meant to be the end of the Michael Myers storyline, I’ve included it as its own timeline even though all the sequels featuring Myers do acknowledge this one. It also famously establishes that Michael and Curtis’ characters are in fact brother and sister. It became the foundation for all of the sequels that followed. 

Timeline B: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989), Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

     Also known as the “Jamie Lloyd Trilogy” these three movie have Myers waking up from a coma and going after Laurie’s daughter, his niece. This eventually leads to the whole Cult of Thorn storyline that attempts to explains Michael’s evil, but it literally ends up being a mess. 

Timeline C: Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), Halloween: Resurrection (2002)

     Halloween H20 was the first film to disregard a timeline, mainly films 4-6, and it’s ok if you stick with H20 but no. They had to do Resurrection and its a vile worthless piece of shit of a movie. Watch it if you want, I don’t have shit else to say about it. 

Timeline D: Halloween (2007), Halloween II (2009)

     The infamous Rob Zombie movies. Here the slate was completely wiped clean and he did his own thing. While I don’t agree with every single thing that he did with his take, at least this has an end. With an actual sense of finality, there is a fucked up sense of closure. 

     Now with the new Halloween coming out next year being touted as ignoring all the other films, including the 1981 Part II which timelines B and C acknowledge as being canon, that means a new timeline that has Laurie and Michael not being brother and sister at all. Which means its back to basics for Myers, who’s back to being a force of evil. 

     I suspect that 2018’s Halloween will bring some sort of ending to the series, but either way it’s both sad and exciting that it’s ending. Oh well we can always choose which way the story of the Night He Came Home will end. 

Note: As have maybe noticed that Halloween III: Season of the Witch isn’t included as it doesn’t feature Michael Myers at all. It was an attempt to start an anthology series that quickly fizzled out. It is worth a look though, once you accept the fact that the Shape is absent.