Reviews

Birds of Prey Review

Take a less funny Deadpool plus John Wick action and slap Harley Quinn-isms, and you got yourself Birds of Prey.

Score: 3 / 5

2016’s Suicide Squad wasn’t a good movie. Out of the mess that is was, there were two shining spots, Will Smith’s Deadshot, and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. That said I always felt like Harley Quinn was a character that shouldn’t be the center of attention. So when they announced a Birds of Prey movie, I thought, well that is smart. Another questionable hero/villain team up movie, where maybe they could learn from their mistakes. They did, but it is wrapped around Harley being more than just a side character, and that kind lessened the experience to me.

First to the good. The action in this movie is awesome. It’s the best thing about this movie. It has a John Wick feel to it, which the stunt experts from that franchise consulted on it, so that makes a lot of sense. In fact, the movie kind of feels like it was cut that way to really really emphasize that the action here is the star of the show. I thoroughly enjoyed a sequence where Harley breaks into a Police Station. It’s the real gem of this whole movie.

Along with the action quiet a few of the new cast members were a real blast. Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s Black Canary, Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s The Huntress, Chris Messina’s Victor Zsasz, and Ewan McGregor’s Black Mask were all a lot of fun to watch. Where Suicide Squad had a villain problem, Birds of Prey did not. The real bummer of these new characters is that they felt like extras in a Harley story, and thus you don’t get nearly enough time with these characters as you would like.

This leads into the problem, the overall structure of the movie has Harley acting like a Deadpool of sorts and the rest of the Birds of Prey are her X-Force. And when I mean Deadpool I mean full on voiceover forth wall stuff, some vulgarity, and the main character seeming a bit off because that’s cool. It’s just Harley Quinn is not Deadpool. Margot Robbie who is an amazing actress, cannot match the Ryan Reynold’s mastery of Wade Wilson.

Also, the over reliance on the action really created a problem that Suicide Squad had. Every other seen felt like a music video for the soundtrack that Warner Bros was able to secure. It felt very noticeable, and had me wondering was a lot of this movie left on the cutting room floor? It wouldn’t shock me because the plot was very barebones, and it felt like things were just happening and less that it was a flow of character beats.

Take a less funny Deadpool plus John Wick action and slap Harley Quinn-isms, and you got yourself Birds of Prey. Its excellent action does the heavy lifting, as the Harley focus detracts from the fun new characters that feel like extras in a shallow Harley Quinn solo show.

Reviews

Underwater Review

Underwater nails tension and dread, giving us an entertaining Aliens-at the-bottom-of-the-sea movie to start the year.

Score: 3.5 / 5

Hello 2020 Movies! Underwater, you win the prize of being the first 2020 released movie I have seen to start this decade. Going into this movie I thought I would get a Alien style movie that trades space for being at the bottom of ocean. And look at that, Underwater is exactly that flavor of movie.

Now me, I like these type of movies tense space horror movies. The ones with a crew that is so screwed and one lead character that will not give up even if the end is staring them in their face with lots of teeth. So take that as you will. That said I really liked this movie. It kind of felt like Alien meets Deadspace (video game series, look it up!) in water. That’s a win in my book.

The general premise is that in the near-ish future, there is a company that drills at super deep levels into the seafloor, and at this one site miles and miles under super pressurized water, the massive building sized drill malfunctions and caused significant damage to the long tower like structure that the many workers of the drill operate in. To make matters worse the hull damage is giving way to the immense pressure of the ocean which means anyone that couldn’t take an escape pod to the surface is screwed. Oh and then there are these weird alien like sounds that can be heard out in the pitch black water. Suffice to say the crew of survivors that we follow have a good idea they are likely screwed. Yet, they have a plan. Using oceanfloor level surface tunnels and badass looking underwater space suits (they look a lot like StarCraft marines for the video game fans out there) they will travel to a decommissioned drill that may still have means of communication or escape to the surface.

What I liked about this movie was the tense cinematography, great visuals, fun sea space world, and Kristen Stewart doing what she does best, carrying the weight of simple premise movies with her on screen presence. The shooting style was great, sometimes capturing the mood of games (or 1917) with an almost over the shoulder view of being part of the crew. You feel claustrophobic, you feel disoriented, you feel the hopelessness of the nightmare the crew finds themselves in. It’s something that I can’t stress enough, is best seen on large screens with booming sound.

The world they created for this movie feels like it’s right at home with the aforementioned Aliens and Deadpsace’s. It’s grimy, the technology feels both old and new, and there is not a single place where you feel that the characters are safe. For just like in space, if you go outside of the station, you better have a suit on or you are gonna be jelly. They don’t shy away from just how dangerous it is on themselves without including monsters. Which when you get to the monster parts of the movie, wow are those things disturbing. It’s also with those creatures and how the crew finds ways to fight back that remind me a lot of Deadspace games, which don’t involve you being some marine with guns. In both instances these are drillers / mechanics, they have things meant to be used as tools, they just happen to be so dangerous they could be used as weapons. I loved that stuff.

So with all the said this isn’t some super deep awards bait script of a movie. It’s more leaning on the entertaining side. Which is why having an actress like Kristen Stewart helps. She’s a great lead, and gives the movie emotion. She also isn’t the dumbest pile of bricks, which a lot of these movies tend to do. When she puts herself in harms way it’s because of something that might actually help her or the others escape. That said this isn’t a character piece where by the end you have gained some great profound message. This movie is about the tension and spooks. It has a lot of that and does the job well.

Reviews

1917 Review

1917’s continuous one shot shooting style is a film-making marvel in one of the year’s best films.

Score: 5 / 5

1917 is one of the best movies I have seen. I honestly am struggling with where to begin with this one. It’s a beautiful film that well after I left the theater the emotions that it made me experience stuck with me. There are very few movies if at all that made me feel like I went on this journey with the characters on the screen, and this one I felt like I was there with them. A voyeur observer that desperately wanted to lend a hand, a shoulder, and a voice to keep going.

1917 is a war drama set during World War I. It follows two British soldiers tasked with delivering a message to the front lines to call off an attack. If they fail well over a thousand men will walk right into a trap. The problem is they must cut through enemy lines to get there and they are running out of time. Throughout the film we see the war to end all wars in painful detail, yet we also see in our two leads the different views of the war. One fighting for glory, and the other who is lost in the horrors of war itself.

I need to start somewhere with this movie so I’ll start with what has been pushed in behind the scenes marketing. This movie is shot as if it’s one continuous shot. As in, the movie doesn’t cut to different perspectives. It’s as if you are standing right there behind the soldiers, and if you want to see their faces, either the camera must move around them or the solider must turn around. There have been other movies or shows that have done scenes or moments like this, but this is the whole movie, and they don’t skip on insane action set pieces to do it. Explosions, plane crashes. It’s a technical marvel and absolute insanity that Director Sam Mendes, Cinematographer Roger Deakins, and the rest of the cast and crew were able to pull it all off.

This style of visual storytelling is much more common in video games such as Call of Duty or the masterpiece of God of War (Gaming fan? Seriously play God of War). This isn’t a negative in any stretch either this is just something that is much easier to accomplish in a game versus of a movie, and the benefits you get are immense. You don’t just feel like you are watching events playing out, you feel like you are there. I felt like I too was on this terrifying journey to save lives of so many soldiers. It’s something that is all the more amazing because you can see it on a massive theater size screen. This movie needs to be seen in a theater, so please don’t wait. When it hits your local theater make the time and get out there.

What makes this visual adventure work though is the two soldiers, Lance Corporal Blake, and Lance Corporal Schofield. Game of Thrones fans might recognize Blake who is played by Dean-Charles Chapman (King Tommen no more), while Schofield is played by George MacKay. These two take us on an emotional journey that is astonishing since they are essentially always on the move, trying to reach their destination. They give you so much in their conversations or reactions to the situations they walk into that you feel for them. You want them to make it, and you understand their emotions. You’ll be scared for them, you’ll cry with them, and you’ll feel the immense weight of what they have gone through by the end. Along the way they meet up with many excellent established actors in cameo roles, Colin Firth, Andrew Scott, Mark Strong, and Richard Madden (another Game of Thrones alum). Everyone does a great job and really brings you into every scene.

The final piece to this movie is a beautiful yet haunting score by Thomas Newman. It sets the tone of every beat. Giving us a moment to appreciate a view, sit with a difficult scene, or feel the sands of time slipping away before it’s too late. This too feels a bit like some of the great video game scores of the last decade that elevates the journey you are going on (again God of War is a great example).

I’ve seen great war movies before, but this made me feel like I was part of it in a way that I have never experienced before in a movie. The shooting style, direction, actors, score, and a crew of wizards created something truly special. It’s a beautiful yet sorrowful piece of art that perfectly captures the stories you have read about the Great War, and is easily one of the best movies of the year.

Reviews

Knives Out Review

Knives Out is a brilliantly fun whodunnit that’ll keep you entertained from the opening shot all the way to end.

Score: 5 / 5

From the minute that I read the announcement of writer/director Rian Johnson’s next film I was sold. A whoduunit murder mystery by Johnson? Count me in, then the cast was announced and I wasn’t just sold, I wished I could teleport in time and watch it right then. Sadly, time travel or speeding up time was out of my budget so instead I went about waiting. Well Knives Out is finally here and it’s one of the best movies of the year, easily.

Knives Out follow’s Daniel Craig’s private investigator Benoit Blanc as he investigates the apparent suicide of famous mystery novel writer Harlan Thrombey played by Christopher Plummer. The problem is he’s dealing with a family that is just as eccentric as the Bluth family from Arrested Development. The Thrombey’s are all pretty awful upper class human beings played by an amazing group of actors; Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, and Chris Evans. Remember when I said that casting announcement got me so excited? Yeah, you get it now. Throughout the investigation Blanc also employs the help of the home nurse / family friend Marta Cabrera played by Ana de Armas. If you haven’t heard of Armas before, this movie will make you pay attention now. And this is saying something considering the caliber of excellent actors all having a blast together.

The cast and it’s chemistry is top notch but it’s also how the story is told. Each family member giving their own narrative of the events, while Blanc and the viewers must piece together what really happened. There are twists and turns and at a specific point the story shifts in a way that makes you think this isn’t a whodunnit anymore it’s just a pure on thriller. I could say so much more about the story but I don’t want to spoil a single moment.

Amplifying the cast is a beautiful combination of set / costume design and the score. The Thrombey estate oozes with character that you’d expect out of a mystery story, and each character’s attire amplifies their very unique personalities. And then there is a score that meshes perfectly with the murder mystery genre to really ham up the fun of the plot.

What else is there to say? This movie knocked it out of the park and then into a different stadium a hundred miles away. I loved Knives Out, from top to bottom it’s one of the best movies of 2019 and a film I’m going to go back to for years and years to come.

Reviews

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Review

The Rise of Skywalker is an entertaining end to the franchise that maybe tries to do too much for one movie to handle.

Spoiler Free Review

Score: 4 / 5

And so we have arrived. The end of the Skywalker Saga, a series that has spanned generations has received its conclusion with final installment. This is a movie that not only has given itself the task of concluding the new trilogy of movies starting with The Force Awakens, but also given a larger conclusion to the six movies that came before that. It’s a tall order and one made even more challenging with a runtime of 2 hours and 21 minutes. Does it stick the landing? Were J.J. Abrams and crew able to pull it off? Yeah, I’d say so. Mostly. 

Let’s get this out of the way right now, there was always going to be a little bit of an awkward dance around how to include the only living original trilogy character Leia due to the passing of actress Carrie Fisher. The options were limited, re-purpose old deleted footage from the previous two films, try to digitally recreate her likeness? It was never going to be easy, and what they landed with by using never seen old footage works, but you can tell they had to do some delicate editing to get there. Kudos to the team and what they were able to accomplish. 

Now with that out of the way, let’s get down to the meat of this. The Rise of Skywalker is super fast paced. A movie that rarely has time to hit the breaks. What this gives you is an entertaining action adventure that leans more on action than the joy of the adventure aspect.  That runtime I mentioned before? You can feel like someone was telling them to run through moments to meet that. Why? I’m not sure, it doesn’t necessarily make the movie bad, but it almost feels like this movie could have been two movies. Like it could have taken a third of it, remixed it into the previous film The Last Jedi and given the rest of Rise of Skywalker some room to breathe. The last thing I want to mention that is more on the critical side of things is by the end of the movie, there is one particular set of moments that felt super fan service-y and not really reflective of the characters themselves. 

To the good, there’s a bunch of it. This movie finally gives us a chance to see our trio of new heroes, Rey, Fin, and Poe interact as a group for a large amount of the runtime. It’s great, the chemistry between them is strong like Rey’s connection to the Force. Another fun standout in this movie is how much humor they fire out of C-3P0. Boy oh boy does Anthony Daniels get to steal this movie in the humor department. Along the way we see some fun new characters, (Babu Frik is another gem of a character), as well as the return of more original trilogy characters such as Lando and Emperor Palpatine. Lando’s role is small but fun to see, but it’s Palpatine’s inclusion in this story that will likely make or break Rise of Skywalker for a lot of fans. I won’t say much other than I personally enjoyed the heck out of seeing the puppet master back for one more go at trying to rule the galaxy. It’s also quite interesting how much his inclusion not only brings back elements of the original trilogy but also gives us some echoes of prequels in terms of mythology. 

I’ll save talking about story details in a spoiler review but as a whole I enjoyed where it went, there is one major twist that propels the movie forward that at the beginning I wasn’t satisfied with but as the movie continued I was accepting of it. Again that’s for another talk. This movie definitely felt like one that was out to honor what came before and give a conclusion to a story that has been playing out in front of us for 42 years. 

Beyond the story, the two other major elements of Star Wars were at full display here. The visuals were absolutely breathtaking, outdoing most of what this new trilogy has had to offer. The colors ranging from bright warm smoke bombs on a desert planet to a cold icy sky filled with endless Star Destroyers. It’s a treat, and something that should be seen on a big screen to fully appreciate. Then the secret weapon of this franchise, John Williams. The master composer left no stone unturned as he weaved themes from throughout the franchise and gave us the epic finale our ears have been waiting for. It’s glorious and deserves recognition for how much he packed into it. 

Is this movie a perfect masterpiece? Does it give you the depth you’d expect out of a long-form TV show or smaller scale movie? No, but that’s not what Star Wars ever was. This was a franchise built on entertainment based around the battles of good and evil. The Rise of Skywalker delivers entertainment in spades and in the same process brings to an end to a story that began a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. 

Reviews

Jojo Rabbit Review

Jojo Rabbit is a joyous comedic journey with a heart that also happens to center around a Nazi youth with an imaginary Hitler friend. It sounds insane, but it’s the insane that you have to see.

Score: 4.5/5

Right from the start of Jojo Rabbit it is very apparent that although it is set in one of the darkest periods of human history this is a positive movie looking for the bright side in terrible times. It’s heartfelt, joyful, funny, and doesn’t dwell on the negative side of things for very long. It’s not that it is trying to hide from the bad aspects of the situation, it just bravely chooses to say “that happened, but you can still be happy.”

Jojo Rabbit follows Jojo (played by the talented Roman Griffin Davis), a young lonely German who wants acceptance and friends by believing in the Nazi propaganda. It’s when he finds out that his loving mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson), is hiding a Jewish girl in their house that the boy’s world is turned upside down. Throughout the movie Jojo’s brainwashing is challenged by the good qualities his mother taught him and a budding love for a girl he was being taught to hate.

It’s crazy that a movie with an imaginary best friend Hitler played by the writer/director Taika Waititi works so well. It works because of the excellent lead performances from Davis, Johansson, and Thomasin McKenzie who plays the Jewish Elsa. Yet it also works because of the rest of a great ensemble with the likes of Sam Rockwell, Alfie Allen, and Rebel Wilson. And I cannot forget to mention Archie Yates who plays Jojo’s not imaginary best friend Yorki. That kid is perfect in this movie and every line that comes out of his mouth is pure gold.

That’s kind of the case for everyone though because the script is just as top-notch as the cast. The word play jokes are perfect, situational gags brilliant, and the heavier moments touching. This is one of the best feel good movies of the year because it finds ways to overcome a lot of terrible things in our real human history. Leave it to Taika Waititi to find a way to make a movie with Hitler and Nazis a funny and positive joy from start to finish.

Reviews

Terminator: Dark Fate Review

Terminator: Dark Fate finally gives us a passable sequel to the classic Judgement Day.

Score: 3 / 5

There hasn’t been a good Terminator movie in 28 years. In the time since the Cameron classic Terminator 2: Judgement Day, we have had two sequels and now two retcons / reboots of sorts. Out of the four movies to come out, Dark Fate is probably the best of the bunch. That doesn’t mean it’s a great movie, but it sure feels like a step in a right direction of the franchise is ever going to continue.

First let’s get this out of the way, this movie is no Judgement Day, but what is tries to do is take echoes of Judgement Day to give viewers something to latch onto. It works. The best bits of this movie are Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger coming back together for this sequel that ignores the last three misfires. Which by the way, with how loopy the time travel is of this franchise you could argue that every movie after two did happen but it a parallel reality. Having Linda Hamilton back though really does make this feel like a true sequel. It’s a shame that it doesn’t feel like true closure for Sarah Connor as that feels like the way this movie should have gone.

I digress, should is not what is, and what Dark Fate is, well it’s another in cookie cutter Terminator movie. It gives you what you’d expect from the last five Terminator movies (well maybe not Salvation that one was an odd failed experiment), a Terminator and a protector from the future come to do battle over an under-prepared human that will one day be of grave importance to the fate of humanity and machines. This is handled by the new cast of characters. Natalia Reyes is the Dani who is essentially the new Sarah/John of this movie. Mackenzie Davis is Grace, the new spin on the protector from the future. While Gabriel Luna, plays the new Terminator Rev-9 model. Each of the actors are fun to watch but this is where the biggest issue comes in for the movie.

On the action end Grace and the Rev-9 are fun to watch, but it does end up feeling too much CGI trailer action for action’s sake rather than going anywhere interesting. Yet this isn’t the problem. The problem is there is no depth to the new cast. Grace is given the best chance out of the three new characters and while it helped make her character more interesting, it made me wish that we would have been given more of her. It felt like ideas of why she went back to protect Grace where left on the cutting room floor.

Tucked into this been there done that Terminator movie is the continued threads of Sarah Connor. This is where this the movie felt at its strongest. What becomes of the Connor legacy in this sequel is interesting, and how it all plays into T-800 Arnold is what gives this movie anything meaty to chew into. It’s a shame that this movie didn’t focus solely on Sarah for the entire duration of the movie as it feels like this movie was trying to both keep the past alive while starting a new generation to lead on the franchise. By the end it’s clear that the creative team couldn’t quite cut the cord and instead we are left with a movie that leaves us no closure of the past, and a hollow future.

Terminator Dark Fate isn’t bad, but it’s not great. It’s right in the middle. It has some fun actors, while still giving us a hit of the what made the franchise great. It’s biggest fault isn’t that it is a cookie cutter Terminator movie, it’s that it had ideas that could have been something special if they were brave enough to follow through with them.