December 9, 2018

Movie Review #54 Bohemian Rhapsody

Ready Freddie?

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, and Directed by Bryan Singer and Dexter Fletcher

We are the champions…of 2018 films! 

It’s the fall when the serious contenders come to the cinema. Just one week ago we crowned Creed II the best of 2018 and in true Rocky fashion he gets knocked down (hopefully only to get back up in Creed III) by an uneven, super loud biopic, that for my money has the best performance of the year thus far. 

So, we all know the drama (if you are a movie nerd like me anyway), Sacha Baron Cohen, then Ben Whishaw, finally Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury. Dexter Fletcher (Eddie the Eagle) then Bryan Singer (X-Men), then Singer fired back to Dexter Fletcher, it was a rough road for this Queen biopic, but finally it has arrived. To be honest I was exhausted by the drama surrounding this film prior to its release and expected all that drama to lead to a bad film (a la Get on up, the should’ve been better James Brown biopic), but I gotta say rarely has a movie been as bad as Bohemian Rhapsody and still be irresistible. It starts off very rocky with bad teeth and makeup, slowly gains steam while fudging facts and time lines, then finishes with a huge rock anthem crescendo. I don’t know if it was intentional, but the films sort of plays out like a Queen song. 

Director Bryan Singer (or Dexter Fletcher) bring the life of the rock band Queen to the big screen, choosing to focus on front man Freddie Mercury and the music. Rami Malek plays enigmatic lead singer Freddie Mercury with amazing enthusiasm. Credit to Malek although his makeup is awful (maybe the teeth shouldn’t have been that big?) he still shines (I think as rumored he would make an excellent Bond villain). Not many other cast members shine through the often lazy screenwriting, Lucy Boynton plays Mercury’s ex-wife Mary Austin, Ben Hardy, Joe Mazzello, and Gwilym Lee play band mates Roger Taylor, John Deacon, and Brian May all adequately. Huge Queen fan Mike Myers shows up for a memorable scene. The film has a whole host of problems (it’s shallow, sexless, a little unprepared, and again doesn’t seem to care too much about the facts or the timeline), but for some reason you can’t take your eyes or ears off it. I’ll give whichever director credit for the ending (correctly choosing to close with the 1985 Live Aid concert performance), the crowd is bad CGI, but the vibe and sound editing is spot on. I think that scene alone that goes on for almost 20 minutes makes this film. Look I’ve heard about the bad reviews and I agree with some of the criticism; if what you wanted from this film is an honest biopic that takes you behind the complicated curtain of probably the first major figure to die of AIDS, you will leave unhappy. I thought that’s what I wanted (I wanted to see a scene of Freddie and Michael Jackson fighting while trying to do a duet), but what we get here is a more intentionally cookie cutter film, that skirts here and there on the more controversial points of Mr. Mercury’s life, but never gets too close as to cause a fuss, instead it celebrates the music. If the music was bad maybe that would bother me (or others, it is the #1 grossing biopic of all time), but you know what? The music is incredible. SEE IT

(The Shawshank Scale 1-10) A strong Oscar worthy performance and a fun ride down Greatest Hits lane is enough to earn Bohemian Rhapsody a strong 6.5 on The Shawshank Scale (and at the time of this review, #1 film of the year). 

Ranking the Top 10 Queen Songs (cause why not!):

1. Under Pressure (for my money the best Rock Collaboration of all time).
2. Bohemian Rhapsody (such a weird song that I first found in Wayne's World)
3. We are the Champions (just an epic gut punch of a rock anthem)
4. Crazy little thing called love (Rockabilly that works in the best way)
5. Another one bites the dust (Best bass riff pre-chilli peppers)
6. We Will Rock You (Another rock anthem that never really gets old)
7. I want it all (Most underrated Queen Song, great a cappella opening)
8. Somebody to love (Beautiful, heartfelt track)
9. You’re my best friend (A smarter song than its given credit for)
10. Fat Bottomed Girls (Yea, just pure fun)

Shouts: Don’t stop me now and Killer Queen (and no I don’t like the Bicycle Race song, I know that’s controversial).  

November 25, 2018

Movie Review #53 Creed II

Creed II (2018) Michael B. Jordan, Sylvestor Stallone, Rebecca Tessa Thompson, and Dolph Lundgren. Directed by Steven Caple Jr. 

A champion has risen, and his name is Adonis Creed! 

Steven Caple, a relative newcomer director who has mostly TV credits to his name takes the fertile Rocky franchise reigns from Creed director Ryan Coogler and Sly Stallone to carry the Creed franchise into the next phase…and he nails it! Now maybe one thinks the story of Adonis Creed (played well again by Michael B. Jordan) fighting the son of Ivan Drago (a very solid and worn looking Dolph Lundgren) writes itself and does not require a skilled director to make watchable (um yea that’s a fair point), but think again because not only does Caple Jr. pay proper homage to all the Rocky films of the past, but he treats Rocky IV like it should be treated (THE BEST OF THE ROCKY FILMS). I was unprepared for just how much Ivan Drago is in this film, and I was surprised by the choices the filmmakers made for him and his son (played quietly well by Florian Munteanu). My one small beef is that we really don’t get that end conversation between Ivan and Rocky (played again near perfectly by Sly Stallone, who has really hit the sweet spot with this character), they share a few scenes, but I wanted a little bit more. A nice touch is bringing back This is Us star Milo Ventimiglia who played Rocky’s son, Robert Balboa in 2006’s Rocky Balboa (A film I liked quite a bit) and even more shockingly they brought back former Sly Stallone girlfriend Brigitte Nielsen (Ivan Drago’s former wife). 

I mean in an age where fan service is rampant (Star Wars, Marvel and DC Universe’s, Harry Potters world of wizarding) why not give a little fan service to the Rocky fans? I think the difference with this fan service is that it is well thought out and well made. I honestly could see a few more Oscar nominations coming for this film (Creed famously earned Sly a Best Supporting actor nomination which he should have won but was held out of the Best Picture category).  Tessa Thompson brings some wonderful realism to the film (and mostly ditches the weird Philly accent from the first film) and Phylicia Rashad again kills it as Mary Anne Creed. Rarely do sequels please the soul as much as this one does (this is really the 8thRocky film, just incredible when you think about it), but make no mistake Creed II delivers and delivers big. You will leave theaters pumped, SEE IT!

(The Shawshank Scale 1-10) In 2015 I gave Creed a 6.5 on the Shawshank Scale and this film was just one end credits conversation with Rocky and Ivan away from besting that. Perfect fan service, great cinematography again, cool cameos, and Dolph Lundgren being a believable dad, all equal a very solid 6.5 on the Shawshank scale (and at the time of this review, #1 film of the year). 

Question: How many more Creed films can they make? I think if they hung it up after Creed II, they will have definitely righted the wrongs of Rocky V and left this franchise with an undeniably positive legacy. Sly was nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for the same character (Rocky), I mean that is crazy. Pushing forward with more Creed films and perhaps actually killing Rocky on screen may risk tarnishing what Sly and everyone else worked so hard to fix (starting with Rocky Balboa and then cementing in Creed II). That said Michael B. Jordan is great as Creed and perhaps he could move forward without Sly and that would be worthwhile. I don’t know if they should make more of these, but I know that if they make another, I’ll be there to pay to see it. 

Ranking the Rocky films (cause why not!):

1. Rocky IV (If he dies, he dies)
2. Creed II (He is just a man…be more a man than him)
3. Creed (One step at a time, one punch at a time, one round at a time)
4. Rocky Balboa (The last thing to age on somebody is their heart)
5. Rocky III (What’s your prediction for the fight? PAIN)
6. Rocky II (You’re gonna eat lighting; you’re gonna crap thunder!)
7. Rocky (He doesn’t know it’s a damn show! He thinks its a damn fight!)
8. Rocky V (He says he wants to fight. I told him to get married)

July 29, 2018

Movie Review #52 Mission Impossible: Fallout

Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018) Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, and Alec Baldwin. Directed By Christopher McQuarrie

Your mission, should you choose to accept it is to keep raising the bar on a franchise that I don’t think many people thought would survive as long as it has, while you’re at it try turning character Ethan Hunt (that did not exist on the TV show) into a modern day American James Bond…this message will self-destruct in 5 seconds.

Director and Writer (and frequent Tom Cruise collaborator) Christopher McQuarrie (maybe best known for writing The Usual Suspects) accomplishes a lot with Mission Impossible 6, he effectively gives Ethan Hunt (Cruise in rare form) a bit more depth and motivation, he  gets the supporting cast to do a lot more (Pegg, Baldwin, Ferguson and Rhames all excellent) and serializes the franchise more than ever before (a lot of pieces from the past films are brought together in this film, anyone remember the wonderful Vanessa Redgrave character Max from the first film?). In today’s IP world that is what you want. This franchise has had an amazing eclectic group of directors all with different visions, (De Palma, John Woo, JJ Abrams) McQuarrie is the first director to do 2 films and his steady hand and (silly at times) but correct for the material writing style fits this franchise like a glove that can stick to walls. He balances giant set pieces with just enough twisty plot mechanics that you are thoroughly entertained.  I like that Cruise and McQuarrie have a fun working relationship going, (it didn’t work when they collaborated on The Mummy or Jack Reacher), but it works wonders here. Cruise has enough self-awareness (or we think he does) in his own celebrity that he pokes fun at himself a lot. They have the formula, other than maybe giving Hunt a bit more background and making him a tad more mortal, they aren’t re-inventing the wheel here, add a formative bad guy with a crazy nonsensical dooms day plot (Henry Cavill is very solid, mustache an all) and throw in enough twists that you can play the mission impossible theme beyond and boom (yea explosions also) you got yourself a crowd pleasing sequel (See: Fast and Furious um any of them after 3). I think the best thing about this Mission is that they lose a lot, they get beat up a lot, and they even have a death (no spoilers sorry) that adds a layer to the IMF that will be interesting going forward.  I would love to see the tone shift a few more times in films to come (how about a De Palma comeback with a little Oceans 11 vibe and slightly less action?) but even if it doesn’t I’m  very satisfied with this franchise. It may not feel as consequential as Marvel or DC films, it may not be as emotional as Fast and Furious films, and it isn’t as cool as Bond films (yet), but if I’m paying for DOLBY sound and a 15$ tub popcorn this is the summer movie I’d want. SEE IT!

(The Shawshank Scale 1-10) So the rare franchise that seems to be getting better each time out, I gave Rogue Nation a strong 6.5 in 2015 and although it is tempting to mark this one a notch  higher I will stick with 6.5 on the Shawshank scale. A very fun summer action movie that has perhaps saved the mostly mediocre summer of 2018. 

Question: Is Ethan Hunt America’s James Bond? I’ve read some reviews heaping praise like "Mission Impossible is better than Bond" and so on and I don’t agree, to me they are apples and oranges anyway. We except Bond and his often awful behavior because of his long history on page and screen, the Hunt character has none of that to work with, only now are they giving the character Hunt some layers.  Also we are way to divided a nation to ever have the singular patriotic drive of a character like Bond and we don’t have a queen (Oprah is close yes), so I don’t think it works the same for us. I do love the suave way Hunt ironed out his ex-wife (Michelle Monaghan) drama in front of his new girlfriend (Rebecca Fergusan) what an amazing moment in MI6 (does it really go that smoothly?). I also think the Ethan Hunt character is mostly Cruise, so if you really wanted a James Bond level character you would have to make Hunt the character more than just Cruise playing Hunt and I am not sure that is possible (although impossible missions is kinda their thing so you never know). People accept new Bonds like they would never accept a new Hunt, I think if one of the Chris’s (Pine, Evans, Pratt, or Hemsworth) played Hunt it wouldn’t feel right (Renner's character William Brandt was at one time sort of in line to replace Hunt, but that never would've worked, though I want to see his character back) so my answer is no. When Cruise hangs up the mask, I think the franchise will shift or reboot entirely.  There is room out there for both Bond and Mission Impossible, they are more different than similar. Something tells me if they crossed over Bond would steal Hunt’s girlfriend and Hunt would be ok with it, then they would just go their separate ways.

Ranking the Mission Impossible films (cause why not!):

1. Mission Impossible
2. Mission Impossible 6 (Fallout)
3. Mission Impossible 5 (Rogue Nation)
4. Mission Impossible 3
5. Mission Impossible 4 (Ghost Protocol)
6. Mission Impossible 2

June 4, 2018

Movie Review #51 Solo: A Star Wars Story

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, and Donald Glover  Directed By Ron Howard

What are the odds that Star Wars INC. is just a publicly traded company that will do anything to increase profits for its shareholders even if it means destroying (by over saturation and poor storytelling) one of the most beloved movie franchises in the history of cinema? Never tell me the…eh screw it. Solo (A Star Wars Story) kinda sucked (I don’t want to bury the lead here), Ron Howard (of F**king Apollo 13 and Gung Ho, two of my very favorites) sort of just showed up with half a movie already made (Lord and Miller of The Lego Movie Fame were shockingly fired after spending over a 100 million or so on stuff Disney deemed unwatchable) and he mailed the rest in. A few decent set pieces and some interesting performances could not save this shockingly inessential and frankly boring Star Wars film. I rarely go out of my way to attack a film but this film insulted me. I was always nervous that Disney was just piecing these things together after a shaky but fun Force Awakens felt choppy, then a weirdly edited Rogue One showed up only to be saved by a stellar last 15 minutes, a sloppy and bewildering The Last Jedi didn’t help, and finally the coup de gras, a sleepy, unenthusiastic Han Solo movie seals it for me, they are making this shit up in post (why they need to make 2 Stars Wars films a year is beyond my understanding, oh no wait: money).  Alden Ehrenreich is no Harrison Ford but doesn’t totally stink, his character is very poorly written however (what is his motivation again? Is he a good guy? Oh ok your literally spelling it out he is a good guy, please don’t show me the dice again…smh), Donald Glover seems like his Lando is in a different movie, though he is fun to watch, Woody Harrelson and Emilia Clarke are fine, but what are their characters doing again and why do I care? I mean there are double crosses that could be interesting but are never fully embraced, there is a cool heist film in here but its chopped down to a 10 minute set piece (maybe that train robbery should’ve been the whole film), and there are some fragments of character development (Thandie Newton was great and I liked the robot revolution stuff led by L3—37 voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge), but nothing is allowed to breath. Disney is so cookie cutter it can’t commit to making anyone good or bad except maybe Paul Bettany who is clearly counting his star wars bucks while evil laughing his way to the bank. We hop from planet to planet so much, (similar to Rogue One) it is hard to follow why we are anywhere and for what reason. Han is seemingly a smuggler who should be a cynical jerk but this movie goes out of its way to run away from that, giving multiple moments to things I’m pretty sure Harrison Ford’s Han would never do (I mean he would crash the Falcon for sure, but give away his loot…um no).  I may be grading Solo on an unfair curve but is it too much to ask to have a compelling and true to the character story ready before the cameras start rolling? Father son Lawrence and Jonathan Kasden  wrote this film, but I have a feeling they were noted to death and I’d bet my Lego Millennium Falcon their script is not what this film ended up being.  I wanted to like this film, I went in with an open mind, and I came out of it utterly disappointed, I took a week to see if I was being too reactionary and now I can safely say Solo is watchable for sure, but it is the first Star Wars movie you don’t have to see (not in a theater, not anywhere), and you will be fine.  Skip It!

 (The Shawshank Scale 1-10) I had a bad feeling about this film, for good reason. Ron Howard I love a lot of your work, but drop the IP stuff and stick with the biopics, never has the galaxy felt so far away. BTW the score was the worst ever in a Star Wars film. I give it a paltry 5.0 on the Shawshank Scale and I will list Solo as the first big disappointment of 2018.  

1.       Return of the Jedi
2.       Empire Strikes Back
3.       A New Hope
4.       Revenge of the Sith
5.       The Force Awakens
1.       Solo: A Star Wars Story
2.       Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
3.       The Last Jedi

April 29, 2018

Movie Review # 50 Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers:  Infinity War (2018) Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans , Zoe Saladana Directed By Anthony & Joe Russo

10 Marvel years, 18 Marvel films, (and billions of dollars made), all presumably connected in the same expansive universe leading toward this one epic battle (or at least Part 1 so far of this battle), Directors Anthony & Joe Russo (The Winter Solider, Civil War, & Community and Arrested Development fame) bring the Mad Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) to the Big Screen in a starring role no less, so that he can unite the Infinity Stones and attempt to bring about great death and destruction to half the population of the universe, including potentially some of our favorite heroes.  Hey the Russo brothers had a gargantuan task, not only make a film that is entertaining, but also Marvel dared them to be different while still making sure every (or most) of your favorite heroes received great moments (while continuing to set up presumably more and more expanding)…their solution: Make the big bad the star. Really that is the most shocking thing (we are spoiler free here) about Infinity War, the star is really Thanos, for the first time in this Marvel Universe (that has had numerous useless villains) the villain is the star (look Keaton and MB Jordan were both good villains and Loki was um fine, but this is breaking new ground). I don’t know if they succeeded perfectly (I am a big fan of Winter Solider and outside of the end of Civil War that is also a great film), Infinity War clocks in at 2 hours and 29 minutes, but I think maybe it needed to be a bit longer (or have a better editor).  I would’ve traded some goofy exposition (by Bruce Banner) for a better opening and I would’ve certainly traded several minutes of that Wakanda battle sequence (where they were fighting the Outriders, some random dog/dinosaur things…dogosaurs?) for some more intimate battles, but given the sacrifice all these Marvel films make (CGI for story always), the Russo brothers have to be commended overall. The one thing this move has that other Marvel films lack is finally some consequence, failure leading to consequence (and at times it actually can be a bit emotional), I said it the second I walked out of theater, and I’ve heard it 1000 times since (we are all right btw), this is Marvel’s (and this generations) Empire Strikes Back, it is dark and the ending is not hopeful.  I think because Thanos gets so much backstory (which was a choice I liked), it does create some problems for characters that fall by the wayside in order to give other characters more closely connected to Thanos a chance to advance his story (Gamora really has a nice arc here), Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans) to me was one of the characters that I was hoping for more, but I’m sure that those that got short changed here (Um Hawkeye and Ant-Man) will be back strong in Infinity War 2 (or whatever they call it). I thought Tom-Vaughan Lawler as Ebony Maw was the standout newcomer, he overshadowed solid performances by Carrie Coon (Proxima Midnight) and Peter Dinklang (Eitri). I think most people will enjoy this film, Marvel mostly delivers on its promise to unite their heroes from all corners of the Marvel cinematic Universe for an epic climax to Phase 3, some bad CGI and some lazy storytelling can’t stop this film from entertaining, ultimately it will suck you in and since it leaves you wanting more you will be back (Just like Thanos) SEE IT!  

(The Shawshank Scale 1-10) A bevy of stars, some fun dialogue juxtaposed with some emotional losses, fun pairings of stars that had not interacted yet,  a very commendable bad guy, and giant set piece’s (that often make no sense, Thanos at one point throws a moon at Iron man, what?) all equal a worthy 6.5 on the Shawshank Scale for me. There is so much going on in Infinity War, it gets a bump in rewatchability because you have to see it at least 2 3 times just to figure out what the hell happened. 

1. Capt. America The Winter Soldier
2. Avengers
3. Civil War
4. Iron Man
5. Guardians of the Galaxy

1. Age of Ultron
2. Thor The Dark World
3. Iron Man 3


April 23, 2018

DVD Review #48 The Greatest Showman

The Greatest Showman (2017) Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Zendaya Directed By Michael Gracey
A relative newcomer to the Director’s chair, Michael Gracey  attempts admirably to bring P.T. Barnum out of the tent (and off the stage) to take on the big screen.  The movie works best when it clings to being a celebration of humanity through great characters and wonderful songs and works least when it attempts to rush past a lot of complicated P.T. Barnum quasi history. I am all for print the legend over the truth, but it can be difficult to skirt both lines, when this film attempts to, it kind of fails. I wish it had scrapped more P.T. Barnum stuff and focused more on the Zac Efron and Zendaya stuff (they had nice high school musical like chemistry).  Hugh Jackman (who I believe this is a bit of a passion project for him and he did well as the film made over 400 million worldwide) does a great job as P.T. Barnum (who knew Wolverine could sing and dance like that?).  He maybe feels a little old for the part at times (circa Kevin Spacey playing Bobby Darrin in Beyond the Sea), but he is no doubt a showman and when the song and dance starts, he nails it. Michelle Williams isn’t given enough to do as Charity Barnum, but Keala Settle kills it as the bearded lady Lettie Lutz (she gets the showstopper This is Me). I loved it at times especially when the songs were good, but I can’t forgive it for feeling like it is rushing through a lot of story (for a film well over 2 hours, it felt too short).  I think I now understand why it didn’t get nominated for Best Picture. I will say though this film has earned it's success, people love it and that is a testament to the music and feel good moments which there are many (maybe not true, but they make you feel good). I don’t think it will sneak into my Top 10 of 2017, but it definitely is worth seeing. I have a soft spot for musicals and this one is good enough to earn my recommendation. SEE IT!

(The Shawshank Scale 1-10) Great music, awesome performances, convoluted and poorly paced storytelling equals a sturdy 6.0 on the Shawshank Scale. I was going to give it a bump because Zac Efron managed to keep his shirt on, but maybe the film could have used a little Efron peck magic.

April 1, 2018

Movie Review #49 Ready Player One

I loved the Ernest Cline Novel Ready Player One, it was the most fun book I read last year (I didn’t read many to be fair), that said what I found a pop culture extravaganza held together with warm adolescent love and video game rules, many called a flawed book (it’s a lot to get into to). When Steven Spielberg was announced as the director of the film version I was nervous, although he is without a doubt one of the most prolific filmmakers of my life, if not the most prolific, I have found that lately his films although very good, have been short of great. His serious movies (The Post) have a little too much fun and his fun movies (The BFG) have been a bit of drag. I was worried he would gloss over the dark stuff too much, which he did, but not enough to make me not like it. READY PLAYER ONE (2018) Spielberg brings the book alive, it's a tad overbearing but still a lot of fun. Relative newcomer Tye Sheridan (X-Men Apocalypse) does a fine somewhat bland job as protagonist Wade Watts/Parzival. Oliva Cooke is much better Art3mis and steals much of the film (in part due to the changes made from book to film). I could complain about the changes but Cline himself co-wrote along with Zak Penn (The Avengers/X-Men Last Stand) so if he is okay with what they did, it’s hard for me to not be ok with it. Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One) shows up as Sorrento, but the character did not get proper screen time and he has a climactic moment in the film which is just nonsensical (kind of want him to stop playing bad guys now). Also TJ Miller has a bit part that is funny, but totally out of place. I was curious to see how many rights to films, games, and music they would end up getting, and although they did manage to get quite a bit, it still isn’t as much as I wanted  (where was the RUSH music?).  Spielberg has an obvious love letter to Stanley Kubrick in there that although isn’t in the book, it does fit nicely here, I’m sure it’s polarizing and maybe a tad selfish on his part, but I liked it (a cool Chucky cameo works well also). The ending was interesting; I liked the teenage romance stuff, but was left feeling cold overall, it felt a tad lackluster. I’ve said this many times, if the story you want to tell takes 3 hours, then make a 3 hour film (nobody complains that The Godfather is too long!), this film felt like it needed another half hour. 

The Shawshank Scale (1-10) I’ll give it a very sturdy 6.0 on The Shawshank Scale and recommend it. My sense is those who loved the book will find issues, those who felt the book flawed may think the changes were improvements, and those who have no idea what the book was will have a fun ride. SEE IT!

1. Jaws  "You all know me, You know How I earn a livin"
2. Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade "I like the Austrian way better"
3. Schindlers List "I pardon you"
4. E.T. "Is he a pig? He sure eats like one"
5. Saving Private Ryan "All we can do here is die"
So close: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Catch Me if You Can, Jurassic Park, and Hook.