Friday, November 24, 2017

Movie Review: “Coco”


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

Article first publishedpublished at

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

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

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

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.