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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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. 

     

Leatherface (2017) Review

     I’ve always had a bit of a volatile relationship with the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series. Although the first film is an endurance of horror neo realism the sequels have, well, been lacking sort to speak. Now we have the newest prequel, and second film to be called, Leatherface that attempts to answer questions that at least I wasn’t asking. 

     The Sawyer clan lead by Verna (Lili Taylor) has been broken up by the police lead by Sheriff Hartman (Stephen Dorff) after not being able to prove that they killed his daughter. So 10 years later, Verna attempts to get her children back from the mental institution, four inmates have escaped with a new nurse (Vanessa Grasse) and go on a rampage. 

     You’re probably wondering, “Wasn’t there already a prequel literally called The Beginning?”  Yes. Yes there fucking was, but that was to the shit remake from 2003. This one is a prequel to the continuity established by Texas Chainsaw 3D. Pretty much just the first film and the aforementioned film. 

     Alright, now that I needlessly cleared that up, to the film itself. It’s alright. I mean it has it’s flaws like painfully underdeveloped characters, some way over the top acting, and dialogue that would make Tommy Wiseau proud. Some can be forgiven for just being the trappings of what the fimmakers believe to be of the genre, but you can aim higher though. Just a little bit higher. 

     Lili Taylor though is a gem of an underrated actress, always has been. She would always play soft spoken vulnerable characters but here as the matriarch of the Sawyers she plays the exact opposite of that, and its pretty damn cool to see her do something different. I just wished it focused more on her character instead of the dipshit roadtrip from hell storyline. 

     The cool saving grace from said storyline is that out of the the male characters, you really can’t be sure who Leatherface actually is. Since he was a minor when taken, he was given a different name. And while the filmmakers have fun with this, there do sneak in some dirty pool thinking they’re clever. Once the reveal comes though, the film becomes interesting again. 

     This shot at a prequel is way more successful than the last time, when I almost renounced my love of horror films because it was that much of a steaming pile of horse shit. The reveal of how Leatherface got his mask was actually given some weight, and I thought it was cool and a little sad. I guess I should give up on the fact that this series isn’t going to go back to the original’s style of having a lack of gore and high amount of tension. It makes me a little sad, but hey at least I didn’t give up the will to live after seeing this prequel, so good job?

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. 

Cult of Chucky (2017) Review

     We’re seven films in, and 29 years later, into a franchise that many folks have all but forgotten. Chucky has always been a part of my childhood, and lead me to an intense distrust of dolls, that through the highs and lows I always stuck by him. Friends till the end, right?

     Following the events of the previous movie Curse of Chucky, this new installment titled Cult of Chucky, sees Nica (Fiona Dourif) locked up in a mental institution having been framed for murders that Chucky (Brad Dourif) committed. With the doll making his way through the asylum, Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) makes his way to put a stop to Chucky’s reign of terror. 

     Seven films. Seven fucking films into a horror franchise about a homicidal doll should be this fucking unique and refreshing. I know a lot of you wrote the series off by now, but this goes into some uncharted territory. It plays up the mystery angle again, like the first one and Curse to be fair, and it creates some tension. Again, this is part 7! It absolutely works! Somehow it made it work!

     The film can’t help but falls into some standard clichés that are trapping of the genre, like you know who’s going to die, or who’s a villainous character, all that stuff. But the film is smart enough to realize that, and just embraces its trappings instead of being embarrassed by them. 

     The smartest thing Cult manages to pull off that the humor of the film has to come from Chucky himself, not the other characters. Rather the cheesy humor that put a lot of people off of entries like Bride of Chucky. It juxtaposes itself incredibly against the unbelievable amount of gore. Its been awhile since I saw a horror movie just love its buckets of blood. 

     The genius part of the movie comes in the third act that I can’t bare to reveal because I don’t want to rob you guys of the sheer lunacy that it has. But if you put thought into what the film shows you, then holy shit is it ever terrifying (while also laughing my ass off, not going to lie). If you’re at all a fan of Chucky, then you owe it to yourself to see this one. I know I already can’t wait for the next one. 

     

Gerald’s Game (2017) Review

     Stephen King to me has always worked best when he deals with real life terrors than his supernatural ones. Gerald’s Game deals with some truly disturbing horrors that will make many people squirm, and that is what King has always excelled at. 

     Jessie (Carla Gugino) and her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) take a trip up to theor cabin in the middle of the woods to spice up their marriage. During a kinky bout of role playing, Gerald has a heart attack while Jessie is handcuffed to the bed out of reach of the key. When delusion starts to set in, she starts to confront the demons of her past.

     As far as Stephen King stories go, this is one of his darkest, unique tales. Basically, to a certain extent, this is Gugino’s show. And I have to say it’s one of the best performances I’ve seen all year. You see the exhaustion in her face, the desperation she must be going through. Gugino is one of the few actresses that can play determination yet still be vulnerable. Its just compelling to watch. 

     The film does utilize some flashbacks that reveal the true nature of her torment, and it’s the most difficult thing to sit through. Henry Thomas, who plays her father in these flashbacks, gives a chilling performance that demonstrates the extent of evil. Director Mike Flanagan recognizes that in order to make horror effective for audiences is to recognize the characters as actual human beings, which in this case, makes the movie work. 

     Yes, Gerald’s Game not for everyone, and the ending does come off a tad bit forced, but the agonizing journey that Jessie experiences is cathartic, and incredibly tense and you’ll feel a relief when its over. And that has always been to me the most amazing thing about horror films. Truly, one of the best films of the year, not just for horror fans, but for everyone who sees it. 

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. 

     

Top 5 Non-Horror Stephen King Films

     In honor of horror novelist Stephen King’s birthday, I spent some time putting together the best non-supernatural stories that he had written. Some completely underrated, some that are obvious, and some that will surprise you. So starting with…

5. Apt Pupil

     The story of a boy (Brad Renfro) who finds out that his old neighbor (Ian McKellen) is a Nazi war criminal and blackmails him into telling him stories of the atrocities that he committed which begins to affect the boy. 

     This is one of those “tough to watch” films in that the horrible shit discussed is rooted in such a real life evil. You see this boy decend into evil, while the Nazi begins to take delight in the influence that he has over him. The ending of the film (changed from the novella) speaks volumes about the corruption of the human soul, and the reaction of the character played by David Schwimmer (yes, that guy) is the devastating reaction that any decent human being would have. True monsters can be human sometimes. 

4. Secret Window

     The story about a writer (Johnny Depp) getting over a divorce, trying to write a novel to get over his troubles. But one day he is greeted at the door by a stranger (John Turturro) who claims that the man stole his story. 

     Here’s a movie that was sadly overshadowed by its somewhat predictable ending, but the journey leading up to it is nothing short of compelling. Depp gives one of those now rare performances where he is subtle, and calm. The backstory of how he ended up getting divorced is heartbreaking, and the discovery of all that stays with you. Especially once you realize what the title truly means. 

3. Dolores Claiborne

      An old woman dies under the care of housekeeper Dolores Claiborne (Kathy Bates), leading her to be the prime suspect in her alleged murder. When her daughter Selena (Jennifer Jason Leigh) comes back into town, the truth starts to rear its ugly head. 

     If there is one movie on this list that more people need to see, it’s this one. Jesus Christ, is everything on point in this film, from the acting to the writing to the direction, just everything. But I do have to warn you folks, that the truth revealed is ugly as fuck. I mean, Stephen King doesn’t fuck around here. It made me uncomfortable, but it made me see things in an entirely different light, and that good and evil are not so black and white. 

2. Stand By Me

     A dramatic tale of a writer reminiscing about the one summer where he and his three friends went on a trek into the woods to find the dead body of a boy their age. 

     Yes, Stephen King wrote this one. This has been hailed as the ultimate coming of age movie, and they’re not wrong. Everything in the movie feels so true, so genuine, like a long ago memory. This is the prime example of King’s focus on characters over plot. It feels like you’re hanging out with these kids. The sad thing is the movie gets more difficult to watch as you get older; it’s a beautifully bittersweet reminder of those carefree summers. 

1. The Shawshank Redemption

     The now classic story of prison inmates Red (Morgan Freeman) and Andy (Tim Robbins) and the bond they form over the years at Shawshank Penitentiary. 

     Maybe along with Stand By Me, nothing gets a more shocked reaction that this was written by Stephen King. The movie is just a drama; no creatures or superpowers in the mix, just the story of trying to live in prison. To me, there is no better life affirming film than this one. Hell I’m getting teary eyed as I’m writing this. I think back to this movie, and I think of the characters as my friends. Sorry, just thinking about the ending. The happiest ending that you’ll ever see in film, and the one movie that proves beyond all measure that hope is the best of things. I can never recommend a movie highly enough. 

     So there you have it, some movies that prove that Stephen King is not just about the supernatural. The man is a master storyteller, and these flicks are some of the best movies ever made. Give yourself a treat, and watch them.