Friday, December 8, 2017

Movie Review: “The Disaster Artist”


The Disaster Artist

***** out of 5
104 minutes
Rated R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity
A24

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Oh hai! A lot of films have vied for the title of “worst film ever made.” OK, maybe not vied for, but a lot of them are certainly deserving. There are those just trying to be bad — Sharknado — and those so inept it boggles the mind like Birdemic. Or even better, The Room. Some may hail Ed Wood as the worst director of all time, but you have to consider when his films were made and their budgets.

In the case of director/producer/writer/star Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, Wiseau makes Wood look like a true auteur. And according to James Franco’s biographical film The Disaster Artist — based on co-star Greg Sestero’s book of the same name (co-written with Tom Bissell) — at least $5 million was somehow sunk into it. Considering that amount was disclosed while still filming means there was even more to be spent. Probably the most telling aspect of all.

There’s no denying, The Room is a terrible film, but it also deserves the “praise,” cult status, and even celebration it has developed over the years. On the flip side, Franco’s The Disaster Artist is a smartly written, brilliantly directed, and hilariously acted piece of filmmaking that manages to be so surreal and authentic that it damn near feels like a documentary. The Disaster Artist is a spectacular glimpse behind the velvet curtain at just how wrong a production can go before it even starts.

It’s 1998, San Francisco, and Greg (Dave Franco) is an aspiring actor suffering through classes with no prospects. Until the day he bears witness to Tommy (Franco) literally hanging from the rafters during a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire in class. The two strike up a very unexpected friendship as Greg learns that Tommy has money coming from somewhere and an accent from nowhere. Eventually, after they move to L.A. together, Tommy gets the brilliant idea to make his own movie since no one in Hollywood will cast them.

The Disaster Artist is surreal to the extreme. It’s a film based on a book based on the production of one of the worst films ever made. What we also have is one of the year’s best films based on one of the worst films ever made. Franco pulls triple duty as director/writer/star (much like Wiseau himself) — word on the set is that he directed the film never breaking character — and puts in his best performance yet. It truly is a transformation. I know I would never want to spend time in Tommy’s skin, so thank you, Mr. Franco!

The rest of the cast are every bit as good as James. His younger brother Dave gives his all bringing a sweet naivete to Greg who just wants to become more than a bit player in one episode of Malcolm in the Middle. The rest of the Franco gang shows up with Seth Rogen stealing scenes as Sandy Schklair, the poor script supervisor who is continuously blown away with Tommy’s ineptitude. He just can never wrap his head around why they would build an alley set when there’s a literal alley right outside. It’s also pretty amazing to watch scenes from The Room reenacted with the film’s actors doing everything they can to be as bad as the original cast didn’t know they were. Prepare for lots of cameos.

If you haven’t seen The Room, see it before going into The Disaster Artist. But there’s still plenty to love if you go in blind. James as Tommy is a revelation and career milestone — as is the film itself. Considering where it all began just makes the film an even bigger accomplishment. It seems critics can be scared to declare comedies as best films of the year, but for anyone who’s ever been wanting to, here’s one of the best. The Disaster Artist is a comedy so good it’s tearing me apart!

Friday, November 24, 2017

Movie Review: “Coco”


Coco

**** 1/2
109 minutes
Rated PG for thematic elements
Walt Disney Pictures

Article first publishedpublished at TheReelPlace.com

It was only a matter of time until Pixar finally got back to business. After trudging their way through Cars 2, Brave, Monsters University, The Good Dinosaur, and Cars 3, it’s nice to see them make their way back to glory with Coco. While some may find the marketing a little misleading — the title takes on a whole new meaning by the end credits — Coco is set around Dia de los Muertos, but that’s not what the film is actually about.

Coco is really a fantastic story about the power of remembering those who have departed ways with their earthly bodies. Director Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) and co-director Adrian Molina bring the feels — and plenty of laughs — to a celebration of all things family showing that our friends to the south have way bigger hearts than most of those residing here in the States.

Miguel Rivera (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) is a 12-year-old living in fictional Santa Cecilia, Mexico with his shoe making family. Miguel is convinced his family is cursed and explains how his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (voiced by Benjamin Bratt) was crushed by a giant bell during a concert. Miguel believes Ernesto is his great-great-grandfather who abandoned his mother to chase his dreams, leaving all music banned in his family through four generations.

With music as Miguel’s passion, he wants nothing more to perform at the annual Dia de los Muertos talent show. Something he can’t do after his grandmother Abuelita Elena (voiced by Renee Victor) smashes his secret guitar. Miguel hatches a plan to steal Ernesto’s guitar from his mausoleum causing him to be swept away to the Land of the Dead where he is set on a quest to find a way back before he’s stuck there forever.

For an animated film, Coco has more plot than necessary — and runs just a touch too long — but that’s exactly where Pixar excels: focused on story and characters more than selling toys or filling in release date gaps. (Think The Incredibles, Up, or Ratatouille.) Coco is an astounding visual playground that will look amazing even if you’re not living nearby a Dolby Vision theater or pick it up when it hits 4K on home video.

The voice cast are all loveable and the songs hit home — not surprising when they’re co-written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the Oscar winning husband/wife team behind Frozen. The songs are charming, but “Remember Me” and “Un Poco Loco” are definite earworms. Unkrich may not be firing on Toy Story 3 cylinders, but Coco is still hands down one of Pixar’s best in years — at least since Inside Out. The cultural aspect is just the icing on the cake. You will need plenty of tissues for this one.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Movie Review: “Justice League”


Justice League

*** 1/2
120 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

As painful as the DC Extended Universe’s (DCEU) growing pains have been, it pleases me to say that Justice League finally puts things on the right path. While still not up to Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) standards, it’s at least better than Batman v Superman and is Oscar-worthy compared to Suicide Squad.

It was most unfortunate the circumstances that Zack Snyder had to leave his project, and as fun as JL is, Joss Whedon still may not have been the best replacement. It’s no surprise that the man who was able to pull off two Avengers films would get called up to bat for DC’s supergroup. But Whedon definitely gives it everything he’s got to cobble together what Snyder had already filmed.

In the aftermath of BvS — with Superman/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) dead and buried — Metropolis is still trying to pick up the pieces of their beloved city. A new threat looms in the form of Parademons unleashed by Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds). Now, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) is putting together a superhero dream team — Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), The Flash/Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg/Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) — to save Metropolis and the world.

If there’s one thing immediately apparent about the absence of Snyder, it’s Justice League’s tone. With Danny Elfman behind the score — utilizing themes from Wonder Woman, Man of Steel, his own Batman themes from the Tim Burton films, and John Williams’ Superman — the film kicks off to an almost campy start. But don’t worry, Snyder’s over-stylized action scenes remain intact. The good news is he filmed this one with a brighter scope and a bigger lens. This is the least dark DC film in years and it’s the best thing that’s happened to the DCEU.

Filled with action scenes that may be over the top, they’re finally edited with precision — there are even some long takes (gasp!) — and a grandiosity that fits the kind of movie you’d expect a film like Justice League to be, you never get lost in the action and always know what’s going on. Which says a lot when you consider most of them revolve around six to (minor spoiler alert) seven characters.

Justice League only really suffers from a pacing issue. The setup covers too much ground too quickly leaving the middle to sag, all before it kicks into hyperdrive for the DC-prerequisite CGI overloaded finale. Also, some of the characters aren’t what they should be. Batman is a punster now and Barry Allen is really Wally West. Cyborg gets the short end of the stick with the least characterization, so hopefully there’s an upcoming extended cut in our future. This may be one of the few times a superhero movie is too short.

Justice League may come with the same amount of problems as the rest of the DCEU, but at least there’s now a sense of forward progression and even more so a sense of fun! This is what we expect when we walk into a DC film and it’s about damn time. With James Wan’s Aquaman next on the horizon — and Shazam, Wonder Woman 2, Cyborg, and Green Lantern Corps in the wings — we can finally look forward to the DCEU lineup.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Movie Review: “Murder on the Orient Express”


Murder on the Orient Express

** 1/2 out of 5
114 minutes
Rated PG-13 for violence and thematic elements
20th Century Fox

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com


We regularly hear about casts having fun on set. Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is no exception. Except the actors are starring in one of the year’s most boring movies. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again. It’s just sad that even Quentin Tarantino did Christie better and The Hateful Eight was only an homage. Sadly, it’s all downhill when things should be picking up the pace and don’t be surprised if you find yourself fighting to stay awake before the credits roll.

It’s 1934 and renowned detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) is on the case at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. After closing, he’s on his way to relaxation, but just wouldn’t you know it, he’s soon aboard the Orient Express and a murder is afoot. With a long line of suspects — Miss Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley) in the dining room with the candlestick, Dr. Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom Jr.) in the library with the rope, Hercule’s old friend/Express owner Bouc (Tom Bateman) in the kitchen with the poison, Hector MacQueen (Josh Gad) in the hall with the knife, or Caroline Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer) in the conservatory with the revolver — we know for sure it’s not Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp), the unlucky victim, leaving Poirot up to his mustache in red herrings.

Screenwriter Michael Green has been involved in some great films recently (Blade Runner 2049, Alien: Covenant, Logan, and TV’s American Gods) but he’s on autopilot just as much as Branagh is. It starts of wacky — OK, so it’s a comedy — but slowly, very slowly, it starts to take itself way too seriously. If we don’t care about who gets killed, then why do we care for a second whodunnit?

Branagh plods things along, whipping his ridiculous mustache from suspect to suspect, all while you can’t help but wonder when it will finally get interesting. I’ve never read Christie’s novel, but let’s just say that even in the final roundup things get more convoluted than she probably ever could have dreamed.

It’s all parlour tricks as Branagh tries to keep you enthralled when you’re bound to be snoring. The film is way too long and doesn’t even run a full two hours. There is a lot of setup to get through and it takes forever just to get Poirot even on his fateful train ride. It also doesn’t help that our protagonist comes across as a super-serious mix of Inspector Clouseau and Ty Burrell’s Jean Pierre Napoleon from Muppets Most Wanted.

The marketing for Murder on the Orient Express has gone out of its way at making the film look classy and old school. And Branagh does manage to make a lot of it feel that way, but that’s not always necessarily the best approach. A slow burn works in these types of films. Watching this is like watching a boiling pot. Eventually you’re going to tune out and wonder what else there is to do making this Murder on the Orient Express not worth punching your ticket.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Movie Review: “Thor: Ragnarok”


Thor: Ragnarok

***** out of 5
130 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive material
Marvel Studios

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Of all the Avengers, the one with the rockiest big screen efforts has been Thor. Kenneth Branagh’s first entry was entertaining in a universe-building/Shakespearean way, but The Dark World does not hold up in repeat viewings. While it’s nothing new for sequels to feature rotating directors, Alan Taylor (TDW) — of Game of Thrones fame — took the material way too seriously.

Good news everyone! Marvel has upped their game and brought in Taika Waititi — one of the funniest comedy directors working today — to save Thor’s solo entries. Believe the hype. Thor: Ragnarok is not just one of the best entries of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s also one of the funniest films of the year!

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been off on his own adventure looking for Infinity Stones and has wound up imprisoned by the fire demon Surtur (Clancy Brown). Thor learns Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is not on Asgard and the Ragnarok prophecy may soon become reality. Thor takes on Surtur, making his way back to Asgard where he finds the Bifrost guard taken over by Skurge (Karl Urban) and hilariously bad theatrical reenactments are under way portraying a vital moment from The Dark World.

Thor quickly realizes that Odin is actually Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and the two must now find Odin. With the help of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), they make their way to Norway to say their goodbyes to their father. To rub salt in the woods, now Hela (Cate Blanchett), Odin’s first born, arrives, destroys Thor’s hammer, and sends the two brothers crash landing on the garbage planet Sakaar. Here, Thor and Loki must team up with Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), and a fallen Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), to escape the clutches of the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), return to Asgard, and save their beloved realm from annihilation.

It certainly feels like with every MCU entry we all gather around proclaiming it’s nothing like anything they’ve done before. In the case of Ragnarok, it’s more true than ever. Waititi brings his deadpan humor along for the ride to play off Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost’s already hilarious screenplay. The action scenes and comedy help the pace fly by, despite a few early pacing issues. Some scenes feel like they run a tad long as if watching a director’s cut, but you can see how much Waititi is relishing his chance at helming a huge blockbuster.

Directed with abandon, the film is a huge joke machine firing on all cylinders. We’ve seen Hemsworth do comedy before, but working with Waititi brings out the best of his funnyman side. The rest of the cast all work remarkably well together — Thompson comes close to stealing the show — and Goldblum is at his delirious best.

In case you were picking up on the psychedelic vibes in the trailer, they aren’t lost on the film. Sometimes they can be mismarketed and feature a totally different tone — not here. Ragnarok sets out to do one thing, and that’s Ragnarok your soks off. The best thing to do is run out and see the film on the closest IMAX screen — it’s been specially formatted during scenes to fill the screen — and buckle up for Marvel’s wildest ride yet.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Movie Review: “Kingsman: The Golden Circle”


Kingsman: The Golden Circle

**** out of 5
141 minutes
Rated R for sequences of strong violence, drug content, language throughout and some sexual material
20th Century Fox

Article first published at TheReelPlace.com

Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service was a huge breath of fresh air for the spy genre. Which says a lot in a year that had a pretty good run for spy films. From Kingsman to Spy to Spectre, 2015 was a lot of fun. So, how does Vaughn’s sequel The Golden Circle stack up? While it may still be every bit as fun as the first, it does have a tendency to get caught up in some instances of sequelitis. With co-writer Jane Goldman returning — along with the main cast who didn’t die in the first one — The Golden Circle returns our beloved Kingsman to the big screen with gusto. Hopefully, with Vaughn’s announced trilogy — and spinoffs — we can let this one’s shortcomings slide as a case of middle-child syndrome.

Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is loving his life as a Kingsman. Saving the day suits him far better than trying to rue the day, even if he’s still trying to get over the death of his mentor Harry Hart (Colin Firth). After a run in with Kingsman-reject Charlie (Edward Holcroft) and his new robo-arm, Eggsy is trying to do the one thing Harry never could: have a relationship with Princess Tilde (Hanna Alstrom). Soon enough, Poppy (Julianne Moore), a maniacal drug cartel entrepreneur — the titular “Golden Circle” — blows up Eggsy’s flat, along with the Kingsman compound.

Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) are all that’s left and initiate the Doomsday Protocol, taking them to Kentucky, where they meet their cousin affiliates, the Statesman. Now, Eggsy and Merlin must get over some heavy trust issues and join forces with their new partners — Tequila (Channing Tatum), Ginger (Halle Berry), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), and their leader, Champ (Jeff Bridges) — to save the world again after Poppy uses her drug running to kidnap Elton John (hilariously playing himself) and prepares to unleash her “Blue Rash” toxin across the world. Something the President of the United States (Bruce Greenwood) plans to use in his own personal war on drugs to wipe out the “criminal” population of the world.

If there’s one thing Vaughn revels in, it’s aspiration. Poppy may sound like just another villain, but Moore relishes playing against type as the antagonist. She brings a glee to Poppy’s plotting that keeps her just this side of unhinged, making her a pretty scary foil. In an early scene, we find out that to enter Poppy’s golden circle of trust, she makes new recruit Angel (Tom Benedict Knight) kill another member and eat him as a big juicy burger.

If there’s one thing Vaughn needed, it’s an editor. Clocking in at whopping 141 minutes, the film can barely sustain the runtime. A few snips could have slimmed down the shenanigans — as fun as they are — to make the film even faster paced than it is. It also suffers from Lord of the Rings syndrome with plenty of false endings and too many climaxes. Just when you think the movie is reaching the end credits it takes off on another denouement. But it’s all in good fun mind you. The cast are all perfect, even if Tatum exercises his use as yet another episode of stunt casting. Hateful Eight anyone? And Berry never gets a chance to step up and earn her rightful place amongst her fellow Statesman. Something even more glaring considering poor Roxy (Sophie Cookson) gets taken out in the Kingsman estate explosion.

However, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a whole load of fun and offers glimpses of Vaughn unchained, for both better and worse. While I have loved every single film he’s made — Layer Cake, Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, and the first Kingsman — it feels as if 20th Century Fox is maybe granting him a little too much freedom. But I definitely don’t want to see him hand off the reins to anyone else. He knows what makes his Kingsman films work, and just because The Golden Circle may feel a little long in the tooth, it’s still a cool movie, and one of the most fun playing right now. With such a horrible summer behind us, it’s nice to be able to enjoy heading back to the theater.

Blu-ray Review: “The Mummy”

With cinematic universes all the rage in Hollywood, it was only a matter of time before Universal would come calling with their classic monsters. After sputtering out of the gate back in 2014 with Dracula Untold, they set to work on figuring out a way to make it happen. Unfortunately, they’re still trying to figure it out even though they already have a slew of A-list stars attached to unannounced projects. With Dracula behind them, they set their sights on another heavily branded property, cast Tom Cruise to lead the way, and The Mummy came flopping out of the gate.

Burdened with scathing reviews — not from this guy mind you — this Mummy is everything we liked about the Brendan Fraser/Stephen Sommers film: big, dumb, fun. I’m honestly not sure if Cruise will be returning, but he’s having every bit as much fun here as he is in any of the Mission: Impossible films. It’s a shame it didn’t find a larger audience because it really is a lot of fun if you turn your brain off for a couple hours. And sometimes that’s more than enough to make up for being a little below average on the story scale. With Russell Crowe and Atomic Blonde/Kingsman’s Sofia Boutella tagging along for the ride, The Mummy may be able to find a second coming on home video with Universal releasing it on Blu-ray in a BD/DVD/Digital combo pack September 12.

In present day, Henry Jekyll (Crowe) has discovered an ancient tomb beneath the streets of London. In Iraq, soldier-of-fortune Nick Morton (Cruise) discovers an ancient Egyptian tomb housing Ahmanet (Boutella) — an Egyptian princess mummified after killing her father for birthing a son, forfeiting her heritage as ruler — after his sidekick Chris (Jake Johnson) calls in an airstrike. Meanwhile, Jekyll’s assistant Jenny (Annabelle Wallis) uses Nick to transport Ahmanet back to London where Jekyll has ulterior motives for her arrival. But just wouldn’t you know it, Ahmanet turns Chris into a cursed zombie only Nick can see, and now Nick and Jenny must find a way to stop Ahmanet from turning the world into her personal ancient sandbox.

Universal unwraps The Mummy on Blu-ray framed in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio housed on a 50GB disc. It’s becoming very interesting to see the difference between films shot on film versus digitally when upsampled from 1080p on a 75” 4K TV. 35mm has a more filmic texture to it, however, some of the sharpness takes a tiny hit. Detail isn’t quite as outstanding through most of the film as it probably is on the 4K disc, which is ironic considering that in HD, the film’s CGI looks better than it did in theaters. Blacks are slightly brighter than they should be, but considering the amount of scenes taking place at night or below the surface, it helps to make sure shadow detail is top notch. That being said, crush is never a problem. Aliasing and banding are absent, colors are natural if on the desaturated side a lot of the runtime. That is at least whenever they’re, again, either inside a building or down below. Whenever it’s daytime or a scorching desert scene, contrast runs on the hot side, but it’s supposed to. It’s hot!

The Dolby Atmos mix (downsampled to 7.1 Dolby TrueHD for those of us unequipped) is the typical blockbuster showcase of aural assault. That is, when characters aren’t chit chatting. But surrounds make sure to engage during the loud action scenes with the music and sound effects never drown out the dialogue. Directionality is spot on with bullets, flying glass, and blowing sand enveloping the room on cue. In a surprise move for Universal, the only two additional soundtracks are Spanish and French 5.1 DTS tracks. Subtitles are also limited to English SDH, French, and Spanish.


Universal tries to give audiences more bang for their buck in the special features department. Touting “Over an hour of behind-the-scenes action” on a sticker across the slipcover, it starts to feel like a bit of a chore to sit through. A few are more fun than others. An “Audio Commentary” kicks things off featuring Director/Producer Alex Kurtzman joined by Boutella, Wallis, and Johnson. This is your typical audio commentary if ever there was, but Johnson is always fun to just kick back and listen to talk about anything. The two best featurettes are “Life in Zero G: Creating the Plane Crash” (7:32) and “Cruise in Action” (6:09). “Zero G” takes us aboard the “Vomit Comet” and shows us how they pulled off yet another crazy Cruise stunt idea with “Action” elaborating on that and showing the cast doing a lot of their own stunts alongside Cruise.

Considering how long the rest of the special features are, it surprised me to find only four “Deleted and Extended Scenes.” Included are “Beautiful, Cunning, and Ruthless” (1:44), “Your Friend is Alive” (0:55), “Sand In My Mouth” (1:03), and “She’s Escaped” (1:14); needless to say, none of them add anything had they been included. “Cruise and Kurtzman: A Conversation” (21:15) is the director and star sitting around patting each other on the back while they wax nostalgic about their big plans to modernize the franchise while being a launchpad to an extended universe. “Rooted in Reality” (6:52) extends this conversation as the cast and crew, yet again, discuss how the film was modernized.

“Meet Ahmanet” (7:39) is a nice feature dedicated to Boutella, with special mention of her body double, contortionist Claudia Hughes. “Becoming Jekyll and Hyde” (7:10) could have been subtitled “Everyone Loves Russell Crowe” as everyone talks about how awesome it was to work with him and to watch him go up against Cruise. “Choreographed Chaos” (6:35) quickly glosses over the effects/stunt work of Ahmanet’s climatic glass/sandstorm and “Nick Morton: In Search of a Soul” (5:43) covers the never-ending internal battle of good versus evil as Nick finds a way to come to terms with the end of the film. “Ahmanet Reborn” (3:52) closes things out and is an animated graphic novel covering Ahmanet’s story.


Plain and simple, The Mummy never tries to break down walls or reinvent the wheel. It’s a standard Cruise vehicle filled with lots of action scenes and fun characters you don’t mind following around for a couple hours. It’s way more fun than it has any right to be — Johnson in particular is hilarious coupled alongside Cruise, hopefully a sequel can focus more on their relationship if we happen to get one — and is way better than its reputation. It arrived with critics hating it — myself not included — and wound up being a pretty big box office flop. However, for those willing to kick back and have some fun, The Mummy features pretty great video, fantastic audio, and enough special features to choke a camel. It may not be the best film of the year, or even the most fun, but The Mummy is far from a waste of time and there’s plenty to enjoy in the safety of your own home where no one can say they saw you at a showing and have to hide your shame from being seen at one of the year’s biggest flops.

Article first published on Blogcritics.