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. 

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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 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. 

Blade Runner 2049 (2017) Review

     These type of sequels aren’t supposed to be this good. You know the ones I mean; the ones that took decades to write direct and produce, especially if the original is a masterpiece of its genre. Blade Runner 2049 is an exception that should become the norm. A sequel that expands and compliments the original instead of negating it completely. 

     Its Los Angeles 2049, artificial humans called Replicants are now outlawed except for use as officers called Blade Runners, who hunt down older replicants. One such Blade Runner named K (Ryan Gosling) soon uncovers a secret tied to an old Blade Runner from 30 years ago named Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) that could change all of humanity. 

     Even though I gave a bare bones plot summary, I feel like I gave away too much. While Blade Runner 2049 is a sequel, make no mistake, but this comes off more like a story that took place in the same universe. This time though, the story is much more of an odyssey than the standard sci fi fare; its still a noir story except we’ve actually met the person he’s searching for. 

     I can’t remember the last time I saw an actor in a performance and thought that no one else could’ve played it, but it happened here with Gosling as K. He anchors his performance with wide eyed silence that almost comes off childlike. He’s discriminated against, by both his peers and the people he’s sworn to protect; its easy to sympathize with him, even though that’s not how he plays it. The presence that Gosling has is just completely mesmerizing. His relationship with a Siri-like application is equal parts sweet, and sad and it came off as believable. He anchors the entire film and gives it its emotional weight. 

     Director Denis Villenuve has crafted his greatest film so far; the man was wise enough to know that the reason that the original is a science fiction influence is to keep the effects as practical as possible. This feels like a world that was built and lived in for decades. It is just one of the most gorgeous films I’ve looked upon in God knows how long. Love and care went into this, and it’s there on the screen. 

     Even though Blade Runner 2049 is very much its own story, people who haven’t seen the original might have a hard time following some visual and audio clues that key us into not just into the action but the emotions as well. I do apologize if I seem to be all over the place with this review, but there’s so much to take in on a story and visual level. Like the first film, Blade Runner 2049 begs repeated viewings and analysis. Like the best films are wont to do. 

American Assassin (2017) Review

     Action movies in this day and age always seem to have the same fundamental problem that has existed since the early 2000s: the fucking gritty, sloppy edited, shaky cam style. Films like John Wick, Mad Max, and even fucking Baby Driver all seem to have learned that audiences need to be able to see what the fuck is going on. Too bad no one told the makers of American Assassin that, could’ve had a franchise on their hands. 

     While on vacation with his girlfriend, Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Bryan) watches his get gunned down by terrorists at a beach resort. Rapp takes it upon himself to take down every terrorist cell as payback. He manages to infiltrate said cell, and gets rescued by a counter-terrorism unit headed by Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) who sees his fucked up potential. She sends him off to be trained by Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) to take down former operative Ghost (Taylor Kitsch) who is in possession of a nuclear bomb. 

     Now, that’s a whole lot of plot to digest, and some of it is pretty damn interesting. The film always worked best when it was dealing with the characters and even the moral dilemmas that come with fighting terrorism. But at about the half way mark and forward this constantly happens:

     Hurley: Don’t do the thing! That’s an order!!!!

     Rapp: Imma do the thing!

     I shit you not, that happens so much that when it happened (again) during the climax of the movie, I was just about to laugh. It seems like 40 % of the dialog is just how Rapp is the best because he fits the profile and some such shit. 

     As mentioned earlier, the way American Assassin is shot and edited is just plain sloppy. I really thought we were past this trend. I can’t even seem to recall if I even got excited by the action if I could make out at times what the fuck was going on. It just sadly make the movie look cheap when its supposed to be an espionage epic. 

     I do now firmly hold the belief that you could watch Michael Keaton take a shit for 90 minutes and he’ll still be able to give a compelling performance. The man has this way of making even silly lines sound completely natural and realistic. I wanted the movie to be more about his and Rapp’s training, but that shit is glossed over. Actually, the performances aren’t bad at all; they’re just in the service of a weak ass story. Kitsch and O’Bryan both sell their parts as foils to one another but nothing is really done with it. Everything by the end just falls flat. 

     In recent years the bar has been set pretty high for action movies, and I doubt that anyone will remember this movie until it comes on cinemax. Its a shame too, because the actors have done better stuff in the past, and it shows that a weak script can hurt even the best of them. 

     

Kingsmen: The Golden Circle (2017) Review

     The first Kingsmen film came along as one hell of a surprise; an exciting, funny love letter to the classic James Bond films that came before it. 

     Now we have the follow up, Kingsmen: The Golden Circle which sees the headquarters of the titular spy agency destroyed by the villainous Poppy (Julianne Moore) who wants to poison the world’s marijuana smokers and ransom the antidote. Eggsy (Taron Egerton) seeks help from the American branch known as The Statesman, run by Champ (Jeff Bridges). Soon though, Eggsy will discover the truth about one of his fallen comrades.

     I’m sure now more than ever, that any follow up to The Kingsman was sure to suffer by comparison. The original just kind of crept up on you, eventually winning you over with its humpr, charm, and ridiculously over the top action. 

     The Golden Circle isn’t a terrible film by any means, but it is a tad bit underwhelming when stood side by side with the first one. Its a bit of a design flaw for a sequel on that there are no real surprises this time around. Not as refreshing as the original. 

     One of the weaker aspects is the villain Poppy. Julianne Moore is a fine actress, but she’s not given much in way of personality or anything to do really. Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine in the first film was a parody of classic Bond villains, but he knew he was. Moore’s character plays it straight, but by doing so she comes off as bland. 

     Another crazy thing is The Statesmen themselves; they set up this fascinating agency, but don’t do much with it. An agent by the name of Tequila, played by Channing Tatum is criminally underused by the screenplay. He’s barely in it, but when he is in it, you love the dude. Same goes for Ginger played by Halle Barry, the woman tech genius. They were some hints that she might have experienced some sexism in her work, but its brushed aside, and that just frustrated me. 

     Now, there are some fun scenes to be had. The action still remains top notch, especially at the climax of the film, and there’s a sweet love story with Eggsy and his girlfriend who is the Princess of Sweden. But the best, truly the best part is the subplot with Elton John. Thinking about, he has the best character arc of anyone else in the picture. Film is totally worth watching for it and I can’t bare to reveal anything more about it. 

     While I laughed and was fairly entertained by this installment of the Kingsmen I felt myself wanting a bit more; from The Statesmen to the villain to fucking Elton John for God’s sake, the movie did too good of a job setting these great ideas that just came up short. For some not by much, for others it may not be worth it. 

Mr. Mercedes: A Different Type of Stephen King Horror 

     Stephen King has been enjoying this bit of a resurgence lately, with It recently breaking box office records. Even though thw man has been known for his tale of the supernatural macabre, he does manage to find new ways to horrify you; and Mr. Mercedes is just that new flavor to get a taste of. 

     During a job fair, a man driving a Mercedes plows his way through the crowd injuring and killing many including a young mother and her infant child. Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) was assigned to the case but was never able to locate the killer. Two years later, now retired, Bill begins to receive messages from the killer (Harry Treadaway) taunting him, goading him to kill himself. He just didn’t count on one thing: Bill starts to fight back. 

     I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a Stephen King story that has both the elements of noir along with that of a cat and mouse game. As of this writing there have been 6 episodes (out of ten) and there is nothing supernatural about. Just the ugly depravity of human nature.

     The best thing about Mr. Mercedes is that it is a series so the characters are allowed to flourish under the episodic nature of television. Gleeson’s Hodges is a man broken, haunted by his failure to not only capture the Mercedes killer, but to keep his family together. The most shocking thing, as it were, about the series is that from the first episode we the audience know who the killer is. Treadaway’s Brady has that creepy vibe, but you can tell that he doesn’t want to be that way. Because of his introverted ways, he gets stepped on by his boss and mother, causing him to pursue a twisted sense of righteousness.  

     The series dives into some truly disturbing elements and images that will turn some people off, like the aforementioned job fair scene, but the quiet nature of the game that these to men are playing is just to juicy to pass up. These men have given themselves a perverted sense of purpose towards each other, and it’s only going to get worse for the both of them from here. 

     This time Stephen King has shown us that the monsters we should be frightened of don’t live in the sewers, but the ones that could live next door to us. 

Death Note (2017) Review

     The anime Death Note is one of the most thrilling, shocking television series that has ever been released. With its densely layered plot, complex characters it leaves an impact unlike most television nowadays. Now we have a 2017 American adaptation that does manage to capture some of the themes and complexities of the characters. While it comes up short compared to the anime, the film manages to be fascinating, and grips you from the start. 

     Light Turner (Nat Wolff) is a smart kid in Seattle, Washington who is constantly being bullied at school. One day while minding his own business, he comes across a ledger called a Death Note. A mystical demon named Ryuk (Willam Defoe) tells him that he can write a name, imagine them, they’ll die. Now with a sense of power, Light starts to kill criminals which catches the attention of the authorities and a master detective only known as L (Keith Stanfield).

     This only covers the surface of the story. I think of this as a bit of a cliff notes version, but it is a damn good one. The performances are all spot on, especially Stanfield as L. He manages to bring an eccentricity to the character that actually comes off as endearing instead of off putting. He has a vulnerability that counterbalances his seemingly supernatural ability to keep up with Light. Wolff as Light had the embodiment of righteousness down, but due to cultural differences with Japan, he comes off as more of a victim than a lauded student. It works well for this version, and gives the film its own sense of identity. 

     Unlike this year’s Ghost in the Shell, director Adam Wingard (You’re Next) has a clear love for the material. Subtle nods and ingenious explanations for using elements that were clearly Japanese but moving them over to America which somehow managed to work. The film doesn’t shy away from the horror elements of the material, and along with the music, has a distinctive 1980s vibe that took me by surprise on how well that worked. 

     While in the grand scheme of things I do prefer the series over the film, that version shook me up pretty bad with its twists, the film exists as its own beast and exists as further evidence that apparently Netflix is where you’ll get some thrilling, just damn good movies. Few movies this year left an impact on me, but this one sure did, and I hope everyone sees this movie, and then check out the series. 

Note: I chose not to dive into the whitewashing controversy because I wanted to focus the films on its own merits and its source material only.