LAST FLAG FLYING quick review

Well this is going to be rich. A man known for his comedy, a man known for his drama, and a man known for his red and blue pills sharing a movie. I can think of worst movies to see.

So… apparently, this movie is considered to be a spiritual sequel to the film, THE LAST DETAIL (1973), starring Jack Nicholson and Randy Quaid. I have no idea what this movie is. I honestly don’t know what a “spiritual sequel” is, I know what it’s trying to mean, but if you want to make a sequel to something, make a sequel to it. Who cares anymore? Cate Blanchett did it with her two Elizabeth movies, and Judi Dench did it with her two Queen Victoria movies. Well, I guess Nicholson’s retired now, but it’s possible to get a sequel up in the air with different talent behind the wheel. It happens, doesn’t it?

Speaking of which, here’s the talent. Starring, we have Steve Carell (BATTLE OF THE SEXES [2017], EVAN ALMIGHTY [2007], 8 episodes of THE DANA CARVEY SHOW [1996], and upcoming films THE WOMEN OF MARWEN [2018] and BACKSEAT [2018]), Bryan Cranston (POWER RANGERS [2017], LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE [2006], 5 episodes of SEINFELD [1989 – 1998], and upcoming films THE DISASTER ARTIST [2017] and ISLE OF DOGS [2018]), and Laurence Fishburne (JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 [2017], FANTASTIC 4: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER [2007], EVENT HORIZON [1997], A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS [1987], and upcoming films WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE [2018] and ANT-MAN AND THE WASP [2018]).

Now for the crew. Directing and co-writing is Richard Linklater, known for EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! (2016), A SCANNER DARKLY (2006), DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993), and the upcoming WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE. Linklater’s partner-in-pen, who is also the writer of the book this movie is based on, is Darryl Ponicsan, and RANDOM HEARTS (1999). Composing the score is Graham Reynolds, known for BERNIE (2011), A SCANNER DARKLY, and the upcoming WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE. Finally, the cinematographer is Shane F. Kelly, known for EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!, BOYHOOD (2014), A SCANNER DARKLY, and the upcoming WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE.

Overall, I think this could be pretty good. It’s probably going to be emotional with some solid comedy. We shall see.

This is my honest opinion of: LAST FLAG FLYING

(SUMMARY)

Set in 2003. Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell), a former navy medic who served in the Vietnam War, recently lost his only son in the war in Iraq. In his grief, he’s set out to find his old army buddies, the eccentric and fun-loving Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and the former gambler-now-preacher Reverend Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) to join him in seeing his son buried in Arlington as they question military life then and now and what it means to each man.

(REVIEW)

I liked it. I really liked it, actually.

First and foremost, the trio of actors are fantastic. The scene stealers are Cranston and Fishburne. Some of the best scenes in the movie are these two characters duking it out. Sal is basically a dick. But he’s that dick who’s hilarious and kind of awesome. He loved being a Marine back in the day, but injuries kept him out of the service. And Richard was once a hardcore gambler, probably on the same crazy level as Sal, but has since become a man of God and has simmered his temperament. So when he, a devout Christian, starts butting heads with Sal, a die-hard Atheist, the result is incredibly enjoyable. The chemistry between all three actors is amazing to be sure, but Cranston and Fishburne are positively hilarious together. Ultimately, that’s what really carries this movie to the bittersweet end.

On a side note, I’ve mentioned that there is a religious undercurrent going on in the story, conflicting beliefs going on. While I can’t say that I’ve seen a great ton of religious films, a majority of the ones that I’ve seen don’t seem to understand their own ideologies. I find it hilarious that this movie, probably more of a military drama than anything else, has a better understanding of who Christians and Atheists are and how they would really interact with each other.

I think I have only one real complaint about the movie, and honestly, maybe there’s a Marine reading this review and can clarify something for me. In the movie, Doc visits the base where his son is in his closed casket. When he decides that the circumstances of his death weren’t noble, he insists that his son be taken back to his hometown and buried next to his mother in a normal cemetery. However, Lieutenant-Colonel Wilits (Yul Vazquez) seemed unnaturally against the idea. Okay, so it was decided that Doc’s son’s death overseas was reason enough to be honored with burying him in Arlington. Okay, I get it, that’s a big deal. But this LtCol guy seems to think that a Marine is disgraced if that person is buried anywhere other than Arlington. Is… that true. I mean, okay, there’s a lot of context that I didn’t put in here, so maybe it’s best to watch the scene in question, but I don’t think Marines would be this mean-spirited about it. Ultimately, I don’t think Marines get to choose where their men and women are buried if the parents have other ideas or plans. Maybe they can offer a reason why Arlington is such an honored place to be buried, but if minds are made up, they don’t get a voice anymore, morally or legally, no matter how much they agree. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe this is something the Marines can make a fuss over. I’d love to know. But I highly doubt it.

But more fundamentally, I don’t like how this movie kind of shoehorned a “bad guy” in. It’s not necessary. The three men discussing life in the military when they were in the service, and comparing and contrasting to that life today, their religious beliefs, and Doc’s grief over the tragic loss of his son, you’d think all of these things alone would be enough conflict. The clashing of opposing opinions and ideas of these strong-willed and stubborn men, and how they manage to get along with each other, it sort of seemed like it was handled well enough on its own. Why did they need an asshole Marine in the mix? Seemed pretty pointless to me.

In retrospect, these are small problems and aren’t lingered on for too long. They’re just momentary question marks for me in an otherwise very emotional film full of laughs and ideas to make you think. I think it’s worth checking out. I’m not sure if it’s still in theaters, so when it comes out on Blu-Ray, I highly recommend a rental. While I don’t know how actual military personnel would react to this movie, I think it’s effective enough for the common man. The last mission of these men is full of laughs and emotion that will stick with you.

My honest rating for LAST FLAG FLYING: 4/5

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THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS review

Ah, A Christmas Carol. The timeless story about a Christmas grump who learns the value and meaning of Christmas by confronting his mean-spirited choices of his past, present, and possible future with the help of a trio of ghosts. It’s a wonderful story with tons of movies that showcase something different. Some more timeless than others, but they’re here and they’re always a treat around the holidays.

Surprisingly though, there’s ironically no movie about the man who created the original novel in the first place, Charles Dickens. Weirdly enough, these past few months have strangely been about authors of beloved literary classics. A.A. Milne of Winnie the Pooh (GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN [2017]) and J.D. Salinger of Catcher in the Rye (REBEL IN THE RYE [2017]). I guess it’s just been that kind of year. But who cares, so long as the story is good? Actually, this movie is something of a joke waiting to happen. It’s a movie adaptation… of a book… about the author… who writes a book. I may not be laughing out loud, but on the inside, I can’t help but bust a gut.

The story looks like it’s about Dickens not at his career best as an author. In hopes of creating a new story that will put him back in the spotlight. Creating an imaginary Ebenezer Scrooge to communicate with, he slowly, but surely, creates the novel, A Christmas Carol.

Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Dan Stevens (MARSHALL [2017], A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES [2014], THE FIFTH ESTATE [2013], and the upcoming APOSTLE [2018]), living legend Christopher Plummer (THE STAR [2017], THE LAKE HOUSE [2006], TWELVE MONKEYS [1995], DRAGNET [1987], THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING [1975], THE SOUND OF MUSIC [1965], and upcoming films ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD [2018] and THE LAST FULL MEASURE [2018]), Jonathan Pryce (PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END [2007], TOMORROW NEVER DIES [1997], BRAZIL [1985], 12 episodes of TV show GAME OF THRONES [2011 – ongoing], and the upcoming THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE [2018]), and Morfydd Clark (LOVE & FRIENDSHIP [2016] and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES [2016]).

Now for the crew. Directing, we have Bharat Nalluri, known for MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY (2008) and THE CROW: SALVATION (2000). Penning the screenplay is Susan Coyne, making her feature-film debut. Congrats, miss. Composing the score is Mychael Danna, known for THE BREADWINNER (2017), BILLY LYNN (2016), and SURF’S UP (2007). Finally, the cinematographer is Ben Smithard, known for GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN, BELLE (2013), and THE TRIP (2010).

Overall, I wasn’t expecting this to be a comedy, but I’m highly open to it. It looks enjoyable, beautiful sets and production value, and Stevens looks like he’s going to be incredibly fun to watch as this eccentric writer who gets all these ideas. I think I’m going to like this a lot.

This is my honest opinion of: THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS

(SUMMARY)

Set in 1843. Famed and celebrated author, Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens), has sadly hit a low point. After writing Oliver Twist, he wrote two more stories that were not as successful. Desperate to not let his career die, as well as being low on money and a fifth child on the way with his wife Kate (Morfydd Clark), so a successful book is a must and soon. Then an idea strikes: a short comedy that celebrates Christmas and what it means, even though Christmas isn’t a big holiday. The trouble is, he has to write it in less than a month and he has no idea what to write.

(REVIEW)

I liked it. It’s actually a really interesting story and for a movie based on true events, it’s a refreshing approach compared to most. For one thing, it’s primarily a comedy. Not that I’m saying true stories haven’t been comedies before, but usually they’re dramas or have a mix of drama and comedy. I feel like this movie had comedy in the forefront.

At the center of that comedy is a surprisingly charismatic performance by Stevens. While I can’t say what Charles Dickens’ personality really was, I can’t deny that I loved the interpretation here. Dickens is like this lovable mad genius if he was a writer of whimsical fantasies. He’s loaded with energy and wonderful comedic timing. I love how he is with his children, changing the way he interacts with them as individuals, the way he gets excited when he learns of the word “humbug,” his physicality as he tries to invent Scrooge the character, it’s all incredibly fun to watch. I also really enjoyed his interactions with his young Irish nanny, Tara (Anna Murphy), who seems incredibly into his work and how he runs his ideas past her. I enjoy watching her get excited and then he gets excited, constantly feeding into each other’s imaginations and passions. And thank God this didn’t become some kind of love affair. I could have easily seen this relationship go that route, but no, it was mercifully restrained. Then again, I’m pretty sure Tara, and by extension Murphy herself, are teenagers, so it’s probably silly to worry that the story would have allowed something that creepy. But more than just Charles being funny and enjoyably eccentric, his dramatic side shines as well. I guess at the time, poverty was considered closer to a disease than a societal worry (I said, as if anything’s really changed), but he has a burning passion to tell the stories of orphaned children or homeless people. Mostly because he was one as a boy thanks to a less than careful father who got in trouble with the law. He defends them, wishes to help them at every given turn despite the criticism he gets from his wealthy peers who think that it’s a wasted subject.

But I think on a more personal level, I love this interpretation of a writer. The talking to oneself, the talking to the characters that aren’t supposed to be there, but his imagination is so vivid and real to him that he has full-on conversations with them. He’s not crazy, as he does snap back to reality when someone talks to him. As an occasional writer myself, I can say that this is also my creative process. Though to be fair, his method is more productive. The more he interacts with his imagination, the more progress he makes in his writing. I just distract myself and get nothing done. In any case, there is that psychological element that I

Oh and seriously, Plummer is probably my favorite Scrooge I’ve ever seen. Probably not saying much, considering that I’ve not seen many. Yeah, quick side note, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an entire movie of A Christmas Carol before. I know there’s a crap ton that exist. THE MUPPET’S CHRISTMAS CAROL (1992), the ImageMover’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL (2009), and I think there’s a not-so-good one that was made for TV that starred Whoopi Goldberg as Scrooge. These are the ones I remember wanting to see the most as a kid. Again, there’s countless interpretations, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one all the way though. Either way, I know what Scrooge is supposed to be like and I think Plummer needs a proper shot in the role. But if this is all we’re going to get, which is likely, then you won’t hear me complaining much. In fact, some of my favorite scenes and moments are when Charles is talking to Scrooge. Watching Scrooge berate and belittle Charles as he attempts to write, being both an influence and an obstacle for the book.

But as with most movies, it isn’t perfect. In fact, there’s quite a few question marks that I had.

For one thing, if the Dickens household is low on income, why are they still going for the lavish extremities, like chandeliers and even more hired hands? One would think they’d have to get rid of a few things to make ends meet. It’s even more confusing when the prices for their stuff is told to them as it arrives and is being put up, and they’re taken by surprise. Did no one bother to ask how much something cost? You’d think if you were low on funds, that’d be the first thing you’d worry about.

As much as I enjoy the connection between Charles and Tara, their relationship does beg me to ask one simple question. Why her? Why does Charles share his passion with the nanny and not, say, his wife? As it stands, Kate has very little character to her as it stands, other than to be the wife who accepts her creatively tormented husband, but that’s been done to death. Already, the accuracy of this relationship can be put on trial, so why not nick the nanny character and replace her with the wife? One would think she’d have a more impactful role, but she really doesn’t.

And as much as I love Charles’ presented creative process here, there is one scene that sort of subverted reality. While I’m certainly no stranger to talking to myself in a public setting, I talk under my breath. If you stare at me long enough, it’s obvious I’m doing it, but I do make some attempt at keeping it inconspicuous. It’s only in the privacy of my home and bedroom where I engage in full-on writer mode. In the scene in question, Charles is walking along the streets, having a full on conversation, out-loud, with Scrooge as if that man really was walking beside him. To make matters even more confusing, no one walking by him looks at him like he’s crazy. It would have been warranted. This is the only time where I think reality was blurred and bothered me.

Overall, despite the few problems, I enjoyed this film. Perhaps I’m a little bias, considering it’s about a writer and I’m a sucker for movies about writers. I love Steven’s performance, I love Charles and his creative process as a writer, and I adored many of the character connections. It’s a very heartfelt and interesting story and I really think everyone should give it a shot. It’s probably not in theaters anymore, as of this review’s publishing, but when it comes out on Blu-Ray, I highly recommend a rental. It’s a good flick to enjoy around the holidays. I wouldn’t necessarily buy it or anything, but it’s worth watching. It may not be a modern classic, but I think it’s a modern hit.

My honest rating for THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS: 4/5

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WONDER review

I feel like I’ve been seeing a bit of a rotation between the same kid actors lately. I don’t know, does anyone else feel that way?

Eh, who cares? A good story is all that matters.

WONDER is based on a 2012 children’s novel of the same name, written by R.J. Palacio, that went on to become a New York Times best seller… like every other movie based from that list. The book is obviously well-received and went on to spawn a spin-off, 365 Days of Wonder, and a sequel, Auggie and Me. At least… I think that’s what they are. Information is a little inconsistent and I know I won’t make the time to find them in a bookstore to confirm. In any case, there’s your history. You bookworms can correct my information as you see fit.

Now, being the uncultured swine that I am, I’ve obviously never even heard of these books. But I go to the movies pretty frequently, hence I see a bunch of trailers, and I have a vague idea of what the movie is about. It looks like it’s about this young boy who has a physical deformity and gets made fun of at school. But at least one kid is kind enough and they strike up a friendship. Basically it looks like it’s a story about acceptance of those that are different and an exploration of the life and times of a kid with this kind of condition.

Here’s the cast. We have the incredibly talented up and coming young star, Jacob Tremblay (THE BOOK OF HENRY [2017], ROOM [2015], THE SMURFS 2 [2013], and the upcoming THE PREDATOR [2018]), Julia Roberts (SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE [2017], CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR [2007], and MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING [1997]), and Owen Wilson (CARS 3 [2017], NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM [2007], ANACONDA [1997], and upcoming films FATHER FIGURES [2017] and SHANGHAI DAWN, no release date announced). In support, we have Noah Jupe (SUBURBICON [2017], 1 episode of TV show PENNY DREADFUL [2014 – 2016], and upcoming films THE TITAN [2018] and HOLMES AND WATSON [2018]), Bryce Gheisar (A DOG’S PURPOSE [2017]), Izabela Vidovic (HOMEFRONT [2013], and TV show: 2 episodes of SUPERGIRL [2015 – ongoing] and 10 episodes of ABOUT A BOY [2014 – 2015]), Elle McKinnon (TV projects I’ve never heard of), and Daveed Diggs (3 episodes of UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT [2015 – ongoing], 9 episodes of TV show BLACK-ISH [2014 – ongoing], 10 episodes of THE GET DOWN [2016 – 2017], and upcoming films FERDINAND [2017] and BLINDSPOTTING [2018]).

Now for the crew. Directing and co-writing the script is Stephen Chbosky, known for THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (2012), writing the screenplay for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017), and creator of TV show JERICHO (2006 – 2008), and the upcoming PRINCE CHARMING, no release date announced. Chbosky’s partners-in-pen, making for a red flag total of three writers are Steve Conrad (UNFINISHED BUSINESS [2015], THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY [2013], and THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS [2006]) and Jack Thorne (a bunch of unknown TV projects and the upcoming comic adaptation, THE SANDMAN, no release date announced). Composing the score, we have Marcelo Zarvos, known for FENCES (2016), THE GOOD SHEPHERD (2006), and TV show THE BIG C (2010 – 2013). Finally, the cinematographer is Don Burgess, known for SAME KIND OF DIFFERENT AS ME (2017), ENCHANTED (2007), CONTACT (1997), and the upcoming AQUAMAN (2018).

Overall, I think this movie can easily be good, but risks being just a little too obvious and probably won’t go as far as it can go, if what I read about the book is true. I’ll likely explain myself in the review. Mean time…

This is my honest opinion of: WONDER

(SUMMARY)

August “Auggie” Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) was born with a genetic defect that required several surgeries to allow him to see, hear, and speak properly. Though he lives life as normally as possible, he is left with a disfigured face and scars. Still, he a nice kid and is transitioning from homeschooling with his mom Isabel (Julia Robberts) to his first day in middle school at a public school, much to the concerns of his loving father, Nate (Owen Wilson). Though his first day is rough, he does eventually start adjusting to life in school, and we learn about the lives around him as well.

(REVIEW)

I think this is one of the sweetest movies I’ve seen all year.

Say what you want about THE BOOK OF HENRY, I think Tremblay is a on a winning streak. This kid is such a good actor and he cranks it up ROOM levels here. Auggie is a sweet kid who struggles with his handicaps, looking down to avoid eye contact, is mostly quiet, but he’s funny, charming, weird and gross, you know, like every kid his age. But as much as he has his fun, he’s still hurt by the name calling and the things kids say behind his back. Kids have said that if anyone touches him, they get the plague. Another says he’d kill himself he looked like Auggie. Not to mention the bullying from Julian (Bryce Gheisar). As someone who was bullied in school as well (albeit a bit more mildly than Auggie), I get his mannerisms. An unwillingness to talk, about the specific problems or in general, looking down avoiding eye contact, which I still do as a twenty-eight year old adult, keep to myself, few friends, there’s a lot that I personally relate to and Auggie will definitely tear your hear out, and I mean that in the best possible way… if you couldn’t tell.

And the rest of the cast does really well too. You can argue that the characters may not be all that interesting, but I would argue that this isn’t meant to have the deepest characters, just good and likable. That’s exactly what we’re given. Roberts as Isabel and Wilson as Nate are both so likable as loving parents. I especially like the moment when Auggie comes out with Jack Will (Noah Jupe) at the end of school and Isabel is completely dumbfounded. When Auggie asks her if it’s okay if he comes over to their house, she’s all like, “Okay… I have got to be cool.” I don’t know, I love seeing that in parents, who are actively aware of how they present themselves to their kids’ friends. It tickles me.

I think if there’s any character outside of Auggie that really had some complexity was Via (Izabella Vidovic). While an incredibly loving sister to her younger brother, she’s still affected by a surprisingly honest sense of jealousy of her parents devoting so much of their attention to Auggie, rather than her. Thing is, I’m probably making it sound more mean-spirited than it is, but I like that about her. She knows why her parents show him more attention because he’s the one who has to live with his face and how many kids may make fun of him for it. She is incredibly understanding, but it sure does come at its own cost. She’s left out of simple conversations of just being asked how her day went at school, to bigger things like whether or not she should invite her parents to the school play that she auditioned for. But she never succumbs to being a rebel, changing her look to get attention, doesn’t act out beyond normal teen angst, she’s just a kind, sweet girl that wishes she could be afforded the same attention her brother gets. Also, her best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell) totally ignores her at school, which drives her into a tailspin. She also gets into a cute relationship with Justin (Nadji Jeter), the “theater nerd” that motivates her to audition for the school play, which Miranda is also in. In retrospect, Via might be the best character in the movie. She may get a great deal of screen time, but I almost wouldn’t mind a spin off movie with just her.

***SPOILERS***

 

 

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There are even moments that I feel like I should be outraged with and call “foul and unrealistic,” but even that doesn’t seem to be too far off from reality. Specifically, after Julian is brought to the principal’s office for his mean photo toward to the end of the movie; the photo that photoshopped out Auggie in the class picture and then wrote “No freaks allowed” on it. His parents are called in, clearly rich and pompous people. The mom admits to doing the photoshop herself. First off, there’s no way on God’s green Earth that this woman has any idea how to use anything related to computers. She probably only knows how to check her email for the next business meeting that will raise money for rich people, or whatever. Second, she claims she did it because she wanted the people that visit their home to ask about their son, not Auggie. Um… is this a common thing for this family? Do guests look at the class photo, take one look at Auggie and spend the duration of their stay asking questions about that boy? I have a hard time believing that. Even if that were the case, then maybe they should take a hard long look at their lives and accept that maybe the reason why they’re asking about Auggie more than their own son is because their family isn’t very interesting and their son is an uninteresting suck-up.

 

I wanted to be so mad at how these parents treated the situation, fueling their son’s cruel habits, and even blaming Auggie for their son’s actions without holding him accountable for anything. But the more I thought about it… no, that’s exactly what parents to these types of kids do. They’re high off of believing that they’re the perfect family and that they have no problems to speak of. But when the first problem rears its ugly head, they deny it, or try to pass it off as someone else’s problem that got in the way of their perfection.

 

My only real issue with this scene is that we see Julian’s guilt over the photo. Thing is, we never see him act guilty over anything he does, so his humanity is pulled out of nowhere, which is pretty clunky. If we were occasionally shown moments of him feeling bad about his actions, this would make more sense. Heck, none of this even explains where the bullying comes from. Sure, one would think the more vicious bullying, like direct name calling, would be a result of borderline abusive parents who insult their own child. Not unlike physical abuse, the whole point is to feel empowered over someone smaller and weaker, which Julian is clearly doing. But his parents strike me more like the absentee types that never show him the love that most parents show their kid. So I would imagine his type of bullying would be more akin to subtly talking down to him and proclaiming how rich he is and how much better he is, rather than putting him down like he does in the movie. Something more subtle and snobbish, rather than verbal attacks. But hey, I’m no psychologist. Maybe bullying of any kind can come from any number of sources. I just didn’t buy the connections here.

 

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***END SPOILERS***

Unfortunately, the most glaring problem, which honestly isn’t even all that big, that I have with the film is that there’s characters that are introduced, and get nice enough backstories, but we’re still not privy to who they actually are. Specifically, I mean Miranda. I like her backstory, that she was a close friend of Via’s when they were little and looks to the Pullman family as her second family, but when she went to camp over the summer, she wasn’t fitting in, or whatever the case was, and decided to pretend that she was Via. She claimed to the others around her that she had a disfigured brother and suddenly became really popular. But when she got back, she had made new friends, and was ridden with guilt upon meeting Via again, having spent months pretending to be her. Russell is certainly a charismatic enough actress to carry the role, but we never really see Miranda and Via make up as friends. It literally happens out of the blue. In a lot of ways, I wish we’d gotten more of her and her relationship with the protagonist family. It’s more of a case of being told her relationship to the Pullman family, rather than being shown the relationship.

In fact, that’s kind of a smaller issue with other characters as well. In the beginning of the story, we’re introduced to three other kids, Jack Will, Julian, and Charlotte (Elle McKinnon). At a glance, it’s like the movie is saying that these three kids, as well as Auggie, are going to be the most central to the story. While that’s true for Jack Will and Julian, I was a little bummed out that Charlotte wasn’t as central. Why? Because she was actually kind of funny. She’s this little girl who acted in commercials and is totally prideful about it, but not in a mean-spirited way. Just in an overly-proud kind of way. She’s not stuck-up, she just did something “famous-related” and is boasting, but she’s not an unlikable kid. In fact, throughout the film, she has a sort of admiration for Auggie and doesn’t like it when the other girls talk mean about him. It’s a shame she kind of gets thrown to the wayside for Summer (Millie Davis). Don’t get me wrong, Summer is a nice enough character and Davis is a good enough actress, but the character could have so easily been Charlotte that it’s a wonder why she wasn’t.

***SPOILERS***

 

 

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Also, did the movie ever really explain why Jack Will said that mean thing about killing himself if he looked like Auggie? I mean, I didn’t read the book, but I read about it online and he said what he said because he was just trying to be friends with Julian and he wanted to fit in by saying what they say. But this movie completely sidesteps that. They just get on MINECRAFT and apologize and that’s it. Maybe that fight between Jack Will and Julian softened Auggie’s edges, but it was still a mean-spirited moment that barely has a resolution. But I guess that fight and the surprisingly effective guilt-ridden face on Jack Will’s face after learning that Auggie was in the Ghost Face costume when he said what he said was enough.

 

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***END SPOILERS***

Overall, this was a cute film. Tremblay is still a wonderful talent, Vidovic knocks it out of the park as the sister, Roberts and Wilson are ridiculously enjoyable and heartfelt, and the support kids do a great job as well. Some likable characters don’t get enough screen time in my opinion, and some things are explained in a clunky kind of way, but the movie definitely lives up to the name, so I highly recommend it. I might even consider owning it on Blu-Ray when the time comes. This movie doesn’t blend in with other kids films because it was made to stand out.

My honest rating for WONDER: a strong 4/5

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WONDERSTRUCK review

Hmm, so it’s based on a book, huh? Never read it, so I can’t decide if I’m excited or not. Hell, even after seeing the trailer a couple times now, I still can’t really decide. The story looks like it’s about this boy living with his single mom. He doesn’t know who his dad is, but happens upon some evidence that he might be an astronaut. His mom doesn’t give any information, but he acquires some more evidence that takes him on a journey through the city – New York? – he lives in, alone, happens upon a friend, and all the while, his journey is being mirrored by a flashback of, I think, his mother when she was a child and possibly all culminating in the boy learning the truth of his real father.

Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Oakes Fegley (PETE’S DRAGON [2016], 3 episodes of both PERSON OF INTEREST [2011 – 2016] and BOARDWALK EMPIRE [2010 – 2014]), introducing Millicent Simmonds (feature film debut; congrats, miss), Michelle Williams (CERTAIN WOMEN [2016], I’M NOT THERE. [2007], HALLOWEEN H20: 20 YEARS LATER [1998], and upcoming films THE GREATEST SHOWMAN [2017] and VENOM [2018]), and one of my biggest Hollywood crushes, Julianne Moore (SUBURBICON [2017], FREEDOMLAND [2006], and THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK [1997]).

Now for the crew. Directing, we have Todd Haynes, known for CAROL (2015) and I’M NOT THERE. Penning the screenplay, as well as being the original novel’s author, we have Brian Selznick, known for HUGO (2011), as well as the novel for that movie. Composing the score is Carter Burwell, known for THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017), A GOOFY MOVIE (1995), and RAISING ARIZONA (1987). Finally, the cinematographer is Edward Lachman, known for WIENER-DOG (2016), I’M NOT THERE., and SELENA (1997).

Overall, I think the trailer is a jumbled, incoherent mess, but I wager the movie itself is going to be alright. It’s got some good talent in the spotlight and behind the scenes, so I think it’ll be solid.

This is my honest opinion of: WONDERSTRUCK

(SUMMARY)

Set in 1977. The story follows young Ben (Oakes Fegley). His mother Elaine (Michelle Williams) recently passed away from a car crash and he’s been living with his aunt, uncle, and cousins. Happening upon some clues as to who is father might be, or rather where to find him. However, an accident happens, getting struck by lightning, and his hearing is destroyed. When he wakes up in the hospital, he sets out to New York from Minnesota to find his father. Simultaneously, we are shown a separate storyline set in 1927, following a young deaf girl named Rose (Millicent Simmonds) who sets off to look for Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore), a silent-movie actress that she idolizes.

(REVIEW)

Correcting myself: Ben thinks his father was an astronomer, not an astronaut.

I’m a little conflicted. On the one hand, this movie is pretty boring and takes way too long to get to where it’s trying to go, but on the other it’s heart-warming, emotional, and even has a style to it that I got into.

Let’s talk about those negatives. If you read my summary, you noticed that this movie is basically two stories in one. Ben’s story in ’77, and Rose’s story in ’27. Here’s the thing, there is zero fluid transition into her story. The pop in so randomly that it’s almost painful to sit through. The moment something’s going on with Ben, the scene ends and then BAM!, we get more with Rose. There’s no rhyme or reason as why the movie cuts to her, it just chooses to and this is pretty consistent throughout the movie. Even when you get something of a breather from them, the story will immediately flash back to Rose and you’re reminded of your borderline frustrations. I can see someone getting legit upset with these choices.

Also, I can’t claim to know how deafness works, but I’m calling this movie out… if someone is holding a landline to their ear, and a lightning bolt strikes the telephone wire the landline is connected to, that person doesn’t get electrocuted and go deaf (at least, not in the way it’s portrayed here)! This movie isn’t some weird fantasy taking place in 1977, it’s a drama. No fantastical elements at all. And yet, this bizarre crap happens.

***SPOILERS***

 

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And let’s be honest here, Jamie (Jaden Michael) is a pointless character and serves only to pad out the runtime. Really think about it. Ben is on a journey to look for his father that he never met. Jamie can point him in the right direction. But because he’s a loser with no friends, he sabotages Ben’s plans so the two can hang out. In a way, it’s more creepy than anything and this takes up a good twenty or so minutes of the movie. So it’s really hard to feel for the Jamie when Ben explodes at him angrily. You’re 100 percent on Ben’s side and it’s kind of a wonder why they remain friends when they reunite later on.

On the flipside, just like Ben’s adventures in the museum being a pointless detour, Rose’s time in the museum isn’t any better. Eh, rather it feeds back into what I said about it taking its sweet time getting to where it wants to go. Like, she explores the museum, and for awhile, I thought this was going to end up being a tour of the museum and expand into New York as seen by a young deaf girl. But nope, this extended stay in the museum has one solitary purpose. The curator of the museum is, TWIST, her older brother Walter! That was, what, half an hour of build up that should have taken half that time at worse?

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***END SPOILERS***

Having said all my complaints, which so hurt the film in the long run, there are some undeniably good things about this movie that I couldn’t help but get attached to.

Despite Fegley being a pretty solid actor for his age, it’s ironic that his story doesn’t pick up until after his adventures in the museum, and the majority of the film is held up by Rose’s story. Yeah, the character with the most random placement is actually the best part of the movie. Never mind that young Simmonds is a very good young actress who acts mostly through her expressions, but the style in which her story is told is the most compelling and clever, both visually and on a storytelling basis. It’s all in black and white, like an old-timey movie. More than anything, it’s a silent film. Zero dialog, just pure score and very minimal sound effects. You know how in old films, the dialog is through cutting to a quick single sentence quote? That’s cleverly done via the characters writing on notepads. While Ben has Jamie utilize it when they’re talking to each other, I feel like it stands out much better in Rose’s story, simply because of how infrequent they are. Not to mention, the her journey is chock-full of surprises, which I’ll tackle in the spoilers.

And as much as I think the scenes with Jamie are padding, it’s hard not to get sucked into their connection. I thought the scene with Jamie teaching Ben the alphabet in sign-language was a cute moment as he’s sharing half his sandwich with him.

***SPOILERS***

 

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Originally, you just think that Rose is living with her mean dad and that she wants to travel to New York to find the actress she really likes. Turns out, the actress is actually her mom, who quite possibly abandoned her to pursue a career in acting, as evidenced by her frustration in her being there at all without the least bit of love to show for her daughter. Hell, neither of her parents seem to care much about her, with the notable exception of her kind older brother, the curator, which, despite my complaints about the build-up to the surprise, was in fact, a good surprise.

Hell, circling back to the very first scene with her, you’re kind of lead to believe that the silent-film approach to Rose’s story is just a weird artistic direction the movie takes. But no, it’s not until the second-ish scene where you realize, “Oh! She’s deaf!” Even that was its own little twist.

And the best part of the film is definitely the climax when Ben meets older Rose, played by Moore in a dual performance. This got raw for me. After an hour and half of building up, we finally get why we’re seeing Rose’s story at all. She’s Ben’s grandmother! I mean, none of this ultimately becomes a huge surprise once they start piecing everything together, but when Ben learns that his dad died a long time ago, you feel every ounce of those emotions between Ben and Rose and their utterly sweet connection. Never mind that Moore is so incredible that I bought that she knew sign-language (maybe she actually does), but you see her thoughts racing across the screen through her eyes like subtitles, but not a single word is spoken from her and it truly incredible to watch these two actors work off of each other. To be honest, with the exception of Jamie popping in at the last minute, these series of moments are perfect. Perfect enough to choke me up, anyway.

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***END SPOILERS***

I might have to admit bias toward the movie, especially at the end, but despite its glaring flaws, I like this movie. If the transitions between Ben’s story and Rose’s story were more imaginative and sensible, this might have been a pretty unique and stylized movie. The visuals for the 20s and 70s are fine in of themselves, but it could have gone above and beyond. And there’s probably way too much of this movie that could have been cut down to flow more nicely and suit the narrative better. But I can’t ignore the emotions I felt and I simply adore the young actors, Simmonds highway robbing the show like a champ. By the end of the day, I’d say despite my liking for the movie, it’s probably not going to be for everyone. I can see the more boring aspects of the movie either putting you to sleep, or enticing you to watch something else. But I really think that if you give the movie a fair shot all the way through, the payoff is worth it. I still recommend it as a strong rental, or at a discount theater. I don’t see myself owning this movie, and probably not remembering it months later. Having said that, I was struck with wonder… eventually.

My honest rating for WONDERSTRUCK: 4/5

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JUSTICE LEAGUE review

Man, are my nerves on edge today.

The DC Extended Universe has been something of a hit and miss, hasn’t it? People were incredibly split about MAN OF STEEL (2013). Some loving it, some hating it. On a personal level, I loved it. I thought it was a good update to a character that the filmmakers were trying to make a little more realistic. Clark Kent isn’t a complete boy scout, but he constantly tries to do the right thing and restrains himself. I loved the action, I loved Michael Shannon, it was a really good time that I still enjoy to this day.

But then BATMAN V SUPERMAN (2016) happened and it’s pretty widely accepted that the film isn’t good. On a personal level, I agree. It was a colossal disappointment. I thought Superman would have learned his lesson about not killing people, but the filmmakers betrayed both the character that fans of loved for decades, and even betrayed their own established character in MAN OF STEEL. The rivalry between Batman and Superman makes no sense, Lex Luthor makes no sense, coupled with an awkward performance out of Jesse Eisenberg, who is otherwise a terrific actor, it was an all around mess and one of the biggest let-downs to an epic team-up that should have been so much better than it was. But it wasn’t all bad. Wonder Woman’s appearance was awesome, as brief as it was. Batman in action was the coolest we’ve seen him outside of the animated shows. Alfred was awesome, reminding me a ton of Bruce Wayne from the TV series BATMAN BEYOND (1999 – 2001), watching the action from the batcave and feeding tactical information to Batman through an earpiece, and the visuals are pretty good.

Then came SUICIDE SQUAD (2016). Again, pretty divisive. I thought it was… okay. Not the best not the worst. I thought Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn was solid, Will Smith reliably brings his cool with him, I liked Cara Delevingne’s design as Enchantress (first form only), the soundtrack was awesome and it was an overall fun flick. But Joker was botched by Jared Leto, most of the other characters get no screen time and we don’t learn anything about them, the action is sub-par, and the story largely makes no sense. Regardless, you can tell that this is where DC overhauled its inner workings and brought on new talent for its future endeavors, as SUICIDE SQUAD was intended to be a much darker film, but reshot a lot of the film to add in the comedy. Imagine this movie without it. I shudder to think about it.

But then enter WONDER WOMAN (2017). Yes. A thousand kinds of yeses. You can read my reviews of each of these movies, obviously, but this was the game changer. It was dark, it was light, and it brought forth a character we’ve never seen on the big screen and did fantastic justice. One of my favorite films this year and arguably one of my favorite superhero films of all time. I still watch it and can’t get enough.

Having said all that, we now have… this highly anticipated film. Now, when I say that, I don’t necessarily mean that people are claiming it to be amazing. We’re just anxious to know just how “mixed” this bag will be. Will it be more good than bad? Will it be another BATMAN V SUPERMAN? No one knows but the critics know, and they’re unanimously saying that it is indeed mixed, which is a shame. I love these superheroes. I grew up with the animated series JUSTICE LEAGUE (2001 – 2004) and JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED (2004 – 2006) and still occasionally revisit as an adult today. This is a movie I’ve wanted to see for years. But I don’t know why we’re getting it so soon. We’ve not seen The Flash have his own movie, or Aquaman. Neither Superman nor Batman are well-defined characters in this established universe. So what gives with jumping so many guns? Warner Brothers needs to stop trying to play catch-up with Marvel Studios and just focus on creating one good movie like they did with Wonder Woman.

Well, here’s the cast. Starring, we have Gal Gadot (WONDER WOMAN, TRIPLE 9 [2016], FAST & FURIOUS [2009], and upcoming films WONDER WOMAN 2 [2019] and FLASHPOINT [2020]), Ben Affleck (LIVE BY NIGHT [2016], HOLLYWOODLAND [2006], MALLRATS [1995], and upcoming films THE BATMAN and the untitled The Accountant sequel, neither film has a release date announced), Jason Momoa (THE BAD BATCH [2017], BULLET TO THE HEAD [2012], TV show GAME OF THRONES [2011 – ongoing], and the upcoming AQUAMAN [2018]), Ezra Miller (FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM [2016], TRAINWRECK [2015], WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN [2011], and upcoming films FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD [2018] and FLASHPOINT), and Ray Fisher (BATMAN V SUPERMAN, 1 episode of TV show THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB [2015], and upcoming films FLASHPOINT and CYBORG [2020]). In support, we have Ciarán Hinds (HITMAN: AGENT 47 [2015], THERE WILL BE BLOOD [2007], THE SUM OF ALL FEARS [2002], and the upcoming RED SPARROW [2018]), J.K. Simmons (THE SNOWMAN [2017], SPIDER-MAN 3 [2007], THE FIRST WIVES CLUB [1996], and the upcoming FATHER FIGURES [2017]), Amy Adams (NOCTURNAL ANIMALS [2016], CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR [2007], DROP DEAD GORGEOUS [1999], and the upcoming DISENCHANTED [2018]), Amber Heard (I DO… UNTIL I DON’T [2017], ALPHA DOG [2006], NORTH COUNTRY [2005], and upcoming films LONDON FIELDS [2017] and AQUAMAN), and Henry Cavill (BATMAN V SUPERMAN, THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO [2002], TV show THE TUDORS [2007 – 2010], and the upcoming M:I 6 – MISSION IMPOSSIBLE [2018]).

Now for the crew. Directing, we have Zack Snyder (BATMAN V SUPERMAN, LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA’HOOLE [2010], and DAWN OF THE DEAD [2004]) and guest-director Joss Whedon, who also co-wrote the script (AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON [2015], SERENITY [2005], BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER [1992], and the upcoming BATGIRL, no release date announced). Whedon’s partner-in-pen is Chris Terrio, known for BATMAN V SUPERMAN, ARGO (2012), and the upcoming STAR WARS: EPISODE IX (2019). Composing the score is Danny Elfman, known for TULIP FEVER (2017), THE KINGDOM (2007), MEN IN BLACK (1997), and upcoming films FIFTY SHADES FREED (2018) and DUMBO (2019). Finally, the cinematographer is Fabian Wagner, known for VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN (2015) and 6 episodes of TV show GAME OF THRONES (2011 – ongoing).

Overall, I want this to be good, but I doubt it. I think it’s going to have good things in it, but it comes down to the ratio of the good and bad stuff. I think… it’s going to be okay. I’m optimistic that I’ll like it enough, but it won’t be good and for the first ever Justice League film, it deserves better.

This is my honest opinion of: JUSTICE LEAGUE

(SUMMARY)

With Superman gone, Batman (Ben Affleck) is encountering more and more otherworldly creatures that he believes are the first sign of an incoming invasion. Turns out, the invasion has already begun. On Wonder Woman’s (Gal Gadot) island home of Themyscira, the netherworldly blood-thirsty conqueror of worlds known as Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) has returned and taken their mother box, one of three ancient devices of pure power, and is set on finding the other two. One protected by Atlantis, and the other hidden away where no one could find it. In order to prepare for the invasion, Batman and Wonder Woman set out to find other gifted individuals, the speedster Flash (Ezra Miller), Atlantis’ king, Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and the formerly deceased young man now reborn as a machine made from the mother box’s technology, Victor Stone, aka Cyborg (Ray Fisher).

(REVIEW)

I got my wish. It is, indeed, better than SUICIDE SQUAD. In fact… I don’t think I have too many problems with the movie in general. Or in all likelihood, I set the bar low enough that as long as it did enough right for me, then it was going to be enjoyable enough.

While the characters aren’t exactly the most complex, there is a wonderful likability to them. Each actor is charismatic enough to hold my interest and I like seeing them work off of each other. And you get to see them do their thing, which is probably the hallmark of any proper superhero film. Batman uses a criminal by dangling him over the ledge of a building to lure out a parademon and uses one of his nets to try and capture it. Wonder Woman bursts through doors and beats the crap out of bad guys, while defending innocent hostages from machinegun fire by deflecting the bullets with her bracers. Clearly she got more powerful since World War I because she definitely didn’t have super speed before. The Flash’s super speed looks different from what we’ve seen in both the CW’s THE FLASH (2014 – ongoing) and from Quicksilver from both AVENGERS: ULTRON (2015) and the more recent X-Men films, which I thought was impressive. Also, it looks like he’s a lot faster than those characters. Aquaman… eh, I think we’re going to need to wait until his solo movie comes out before we see him at his best, but his look is great, and Momoa is very personable. I’m looking forward to that solo film. I think Momoa will carry it well enough. I think the two best-written characters are Flash and Cyborg. Flash’s backstory seems pretty faithful to his source material, at least, from what I know of it. His father, Henry (Billy Crudup), is in prison for murdering his mother when he was a child, even though he didn’t do it. Barry’s emotions really come through. Some great drama, and it’s kind of heartbreaking to see, especially considering how fun and funny he is later on. Cyborg struggling with his new life as a someone who isn’t an organic human anymore. He’s clearly angry and depressed. It’s a shame that the story doesn’t lend to more of him, but that’s why he’s getting a solo movie as well. I guess that rumor of FLASHPOINT co-starring both Flash and Cyborg was just that; a rumor. I think that would have been fun.

***SPOILERS***

 

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Is is really worth going through the trouble of saying that it’s a spoiler that Superman is back? I mean… it’s the Justice League! Of course Superman’s going to be in it. Oh yeah, like DC is going to let their most iconic character stay dead.

In any case, there are some fun, albeit pointless, scenes with him. When he’s resurrected and briefly evil. Specifically, he’s beating the crap out of the team right away and when Flash tries to step in to help by running behind Supes, you see the most subtle of eye movement, clearly keeping up with the fastest man alive. The look on Flash’s face is utterly priceless; the most epic look of “@#$% my life” I’ve ever seen on an actor.

Also… while I am more than giddy that Cyborg says his signature line, “booyah,”  – I’m a big fan of the cartoon TEEN TITANS (2003 – 2007) – it could have been utilized much better. How about when the team is wailing on Steppenwolf, someone knocks him in the air, and Cyborg turns his arm into a cannon, and screams the line, and fires an epic blast at the bastard?! Why save it for a borderline whisper after the fight is over? This isn’t a legit complaint, obviously, but it’s not as fun as it should have been.

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***END SPOILERS***

Well, I can’t avoid the negatives forever. It’s time to address them.

First and foremost, Steppenwolf is about as generic a bad guy as you can get. There’s no real character to him. Recently, someone tweeted that Steppenwolf is the worst character ever and Joss Whedon liked the tweet, putting him under fire from other fans. I’ll post a link below in a minute for more details, but if this movie is any indication… yeah, he kind of is. Sure, it’s probably not the most professional thing in the world to be agreeing that the villain of your movie is the worst, but… I don’t know, I think it’s just honesty. In any case, I think someone woke up with a sandy vagina if they’re going to be spouting, “You are a repulsive person,” or whatever the hell that person said. A bit of an overreaction there. I think our President is a slightly more repulsive person. Just saying. Whedon liked a comment – not made a comment, liked a comment – that a COMIC BOOK VILLAIN was not very good. Trump just lifted a ban from hunting elephants. Clearly these men are on the same repulsive playing field. In any case, I agree. Steppenwolf was not a good villain. As copy-paste as you can get.

http://www.digitalspy.com/movies/justice-league/news/a843204/joss-whedon-steppenwolf-justice-league-twitter-mistake-criticism/

***SPOILERS***

 

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Also, some of the re-writes, or original darker moments are a little too obvious sometimes. I hate to swing back around to this same topic, but Superman is supposed to be a twist, so… when he’s resurrected, he is insanely brutal, grabbing Batman by his jaw. Not even his neck, his @#$%ing jaw! And he spouts the same line Batman said to him in BATMAN V SUPERMAN, “Do you bleed.” Compared to how light he is in the rest of the film, this is ridiculously unfitting.

Oh, and we really are stuck with Eisenberg’s performance as Lex Luthor. A part of me was hoping that he went a little cartoony insane because of Steppenwolf’s coming, but now that he’s dead, Lex would have some clarity  and act less… loony. NOPE!!! WE’RE @#$%ING STUCK WITH IT!!! Ugh… as interesting as it would be to see an Injustice League fight the Justice League… not with our current line-up. It’s just not compelling enough right now.

Also, I really think it was a bonehead move of the League to completely forget about the Motherbox. What I’m referring to is when Superman is brought back to life. By this point in the story, Steppenwolf has already managed to get two of the three Motherboxes and seeks the third one. They use it to bring Superman to life, they fight him, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) shows up to calm him down, the team all goes, “That sucked,” but then… Steppenwolf literally pops out of nowhere to nab that third and final Motherbox out of the Kryptonian ship. Um… hello?! Look, a resurrected Superman is all well and good, but Steppenwolf’s final piece of his puzzle for ultimate world destruction is literally just sitting by itself in the open where any satellite, or dumb teenager with a toy drone with a camera attached to it, can see from up above. Even if not, don’t you think that’s kind of an important whats-it to NOT be leaving around unattended?! Pretty damn stupid how that turned out.

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***END SPOILERS***

Before I wrap up, here’s what I want to see in future films. Some of it repeated, hopefully the rest will be new. From Aquaman, I want to see a better explanation of how Atlantis works. Here’s what I mean, are these aquatic people incapable of speaking under water? Do they seriously have to open a bubble of air in order to speak to one another? Because that under water fight scene, as great as it looked, no one’s even so much as grunting. So… are they just holding their breath for an insanely long amount of time, or… how does this work?! Thank Christ this movie is coming out next year, so I hope to see this place get explained better. And dude, more of Mera (Amber Heard). She looked awesome and bad-ass. I want to see an army of deepsea creatures laying waste to his enemies. I want to see a Megalodon named fluffy. I want to see a ten story tall squid. NO! OH MY GOD, A REAL LOCH NESS MONSTER!!! Or surprise me with a creature that doesn’t exist at all. Get creative, DC! From Wonder Woman, I think it’s best we don’t venture into the past. It’s already been somewhat explained that she sort of shut down for a century after losing Steve Trevor, so let’s not try and make a movie to justify it. World War II, Auschwitz, Vietnam, Korea, there’s too many conflicts to try and explain away. Keep it in the here and now. Eh, I’m pretty sure Patty Jenkins will be back to helm the project, so I have faith that I won’t be disappointed no matter what the creative direction goes. FLASHPOINT, man, don’t make it hard to watch. I’ve seen FLASHPOINT PARADOX (2013) and I’m still disturbed by that. Wonder Woman straight up murders children! Just… no! I’ll take the ending though, taking a note written by his father to his son in Flash’s time, causing Bruce Wayne to cry. That’d be awesome. Cyborg… maybe a nod to the Teen Titans? Or… I guess, considering Parker’s age, maybe just the “Titans?” I know there’s already a TV show in the pipe, TITANS (2018), but hey, they’re separate universes. Who cares about confusing anyone at this point? And Batman… man, I hope Affleck doesn’t retire from the character. He’s solid and you really buy it. I’d like to see Batfleck versus Deathstroke. That would be awesome!

Overall, I think it’s worth checking out. I don’t think I cared too much about the problems, maybe a couple, but if you’re going in specifically to look for some, I wager you’ll find them. It’s a pretty basic comic book movie and I can see that statement alone pissing fans off. The Justice League shouldn’t be a “basic” story, especially for a first outing. It should have been bigger and better. Since DC has been trying to copy Marvel and their crossover universes, how about learning from them first. Don’t play catch-up, go at your own pace. But if you’re going in to have a good time and just see these characters work together and off each other, then I think it’ll do it for ya. Don’t expect anything huge or amazing, because it really isn’t, but it’s still a good enough time in my book. Uniting the League was underwhelming, but not too disappointing.

My honest rating for JUSTICE LEAGUE: 4/5

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MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017) review

Please be good… That’s pretty much all I can say to this movie.

A little background on the film, as there’s a bit of history. In 1934, famed novelist Dame Agatha Christie wrote the novel, Murder on the Orient Express, known in America as Murder in the Calais Coach. It followed the exploits of Christie’s first published character and arguably her most famous, Detective Hercule Poirot, appearing in thirty-three novels and many more other forms. Specifically, Orient Express was Poirot’s eighth outing in Christie’s books. The book would eventually be adapted into the movie, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS in 1974, which included a pretty star-studded cast, like Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman, Anthony Perkins, Michael York, and Jacqueline Bisset, just to name a few. Hell, I might check this movie out in the future if I have the time. It would be adapted two more times in the future. In 2001, it was adapted into a TV movie movie starring Alfred Molina. Ha! Even Japan adapted it into a TV mini-series in 2015, which… I believe it still going. IMDb doesn’t credit it having an end-year. Hmm.

Fast-forward to 2017 and we have, yet another, remake. So what does this movie look like it’s about? It looks like it’s about this luxury train, holding a colorful cast of characters. Someone is murdered, but everyone is a suspect, and it’s up to the “world’s greatest detective” Hercule Poirot, to figure out who did it. Seems pretty standard, but neither this book, nor this character, would be so popular if it wasn’t better than “standard.”

Here’s the star-studded cast. Starring, we have Kenneth Branagh (DUNKIRK [2017], VALKYRIE [2008], and WILD WILD WEST [1999]), Daisy Ridley (STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS [2015] and upcoming films STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI [2017] and PETER RABBIT [2018]), Lucy Boynton (REBEL IN THE RYE [2017], SING STREET [2016], MISS POTTER [2006], and the upcoming BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY [2018]), Josh Gad (MARSHALL [2017], LOVE & OTHER DRUGS [2010], 21 [2008], and the upcoming FROZEN 2 [2019]), and Michelle Pfeiffer (MOTHER! [2017], HAIRSPRAY [2007], SCARFACE [1983], and the upcoming ANT-MAN AND THE WASP [2018]). In addition, we also have Judi Dench (VICTORIA & ABDUL [2017], PRIDE & PREJUDICE [2005], and TOMORROW NEVER DIES [1997]), Penelope Cruz (THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY [2016], BANDIDAS [2006], and VANILLA SKY [2001]), Johnny Depp (PIRATES: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES [2017], SWEENEY TODD [2007], DONNIE BRASCO [1997], and upcoming films SHERLOCK GNOMES [2018] and FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD [2018]), Derek Jacobi (CINDERELLA [2015], THE GOLDEN COMPASS [2007], and THE SECRET OF NIMH [1982]), and Willem Dafoe (THE FLORIDA PROJECT [2017], MR. BEAN’S HOLIDAY [2007], BASQUIAT [1996], and the upcoming AQUAMAN [2018]).

Now for the crew. Directing is… *double take* seriously, dude?! Kenneth Branagh?! No complaints now. Anyway, he’s known for directing CINDERELLA (2015), SLEUTH (2007), HAMLET (1996), and the upcoming ARTEMIS FOWL (2019). Penning the screenplay is Michael Green, known for BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017), LOGAN (2017), and GREEN LANTERN (2011). Composing the score is Patrick Doyle, known for THE EMOJI MOVIE (2017), IGOR (2008), HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE (2005), and the upcoming ARTEMIS FOWL. Finally, the cinematographer is Haris Zambarloukos, known for DENIAL (2016), THOR (2011), SLEUTH (2007), and the upcoming ARTEMIS FOWL.

Overall, I’m pretty excited for this. Can’t wait.

This is my honest opinion of: MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017)

(SUMMARY)

Famed detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) has just wrapped up a case and is making an attempt to go home and rest, hoping aboard the luxury train a friend of his owns, where Hercule meets a colorful group of people, one of them being a shady fellow named Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp), who mentions that he has enemies and they’re coming after him and wants to employ Hercule to protect him. Hercule refuses and as a result, Ratchett is murdered that night, repeatedly stabbed to death. Hercule, unable to turn away from these events, attempts to figure out who did it.

(REVIEW)

I liked it. It’s got some style, which Branagh always has up his sleeves, and some great performances and talent. It’s not perfect, in fact there are some awkward moments that are a little too obvious for me to ignore, but it’s still a fun time.

Actually, I’m going to get the awkward notes out of the way and they mostly revolve around Branagh’s performance. There’s these really odd sequences in his private time when he’s reading a book and laughing. Thing is, his laugh is, well, awkward. It’s the laugh of a cartoon character; really high-pitched and child-like. I know Hercule isn’t supposed to be Batman-serious when he’s working, but these lighter moments may be a little too light. But there’s a flipside to this coin. Early on, we learned that Hercule has no interest in seeking romance as there’s already someone special in his life, Katherine. We don’t know what happened to her, but Hercule makes a huge deal about it. How so, you may ask? He hold a small picture frame of her in both hands and constantly says, “My Katherine,” in Belgian. This happens at least three times during the movie and it always starts with that line. But more than that, he talks out loud to the picture. Not in a reminiscent tone, or a therapeutic conversation way, but in a crazy stalker kind of way. Yeah, it’s pretty weird and a little uncomfortable. To make things even stranger, this subplot of “his Katherine” amounts to nothing in the story. It doesn’t really play a part in any decisions he makes. I suppose someone could argue, “No! It’s the one time he shows vulnerability and it’s through Katherine that he learns to think with his heart, not his head.” Well that’s certainly a cop out and a little too convenient and vague. We don’t know Katherine, so we can’t intimately know the impact she had on his way of thinking.

Thankfully, the rest of the movie is pretty solid.

The first thing I noticed was how great the cinematography was, and if you know me, I only notice it when it’s the best of movies, and here is no exception. This film feels huge. Wide shots of cities that look gorgeous. That’s another thing about this movie, there’s not a single frame that isn’t stunning. With the exception of one bit with Poirot walking through the train with Caroline (Michelle Pfeiffer) where every second a window frame blocks the audience’s view of the actors and would induce a headache if it lasted any longer, this is a very pretty movie to look at. If nothing else, you could put it on and have it in the background on your TV and class up your living room.

***SPOILERS***

 

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The cast of characters is way too big for me to go through, and honestly, most don’t get much screen time, so I wouldn’t be able to comment anyway, but I’ll mention the standouts.

Pfeiffer is… well, what do you think? She shines radiantly in this flick and is probably the best character. Her granddaughter was killed, her daughter died not long after, and her son-in-law killed himself in grief, and she wants revenge. So she managed to recruit every single person that was related to her family and the failed case that didn’t bring in John Cassetti. She organized everything and made everyone play a part and everyone affected by Cassetti’s actions got a turn in stabbing him to death. That was some powerful shit. And she rips your heart out when she confesses. You really see that fire in her eyes, wanting to take responsibility and let these people live real lives and not let Cassetti ruin them, as justice failed.

Surprise second favorite goes to Gad as MacQueen. Usually, I associate this man with playing annoying and not-funny comedy roles. I can’t name more than two films where he played drama. But lo and behold, like most funny people, he does drama pretty well as the son of the disgraced lawyer who didn’t pin the crimes on Cassetti in time before the long-standing wrongfully-accused woman committed suicide. I believed that he was angry at his father’s fall from grace and it would have been a pretty easy sell to get him to play a part in Cassetti’s organization, right by his side no less.

Hell, even Depp wasn’t too bad. That’s pretty rare for the man, especially these days. The moment he comes on screen as Ratchett, you don’t like him. You know this man is a slimy dick-weed who needs that pretentious mustache slapped right off his face. But you also understand that subtle urgency in his tone that he knows his enemies are close by and knows that he has no extensive means of protecting himself outside of his single handgun. He’s clearly a weasel, but he is a man asking for help and afraid for his life. It’s not until later on when his true identity is revealed that we might actually be on the murderer’s side. Despite how brief Depp’s role is, it’s probably for the best as it’s a solid reminder that the man is a good actor when given something good to work with.

I also give some major props to the writing in that, despite most of the characters not getting much screen time, I find it bizarre that I can still identify most their connections to the child that was murdered prior to the story. Caroline was the mother, MacQueen was the son of the disgraced lawyer, Dragomiroff (Judi Dench) was the godmother, Hardman (Dafoe) was the lover of the accused woman who committed suicide, Pilar (Penelope Cruz) was the girl’s nanny, Elena (Boynton) was the older sister, and Doctoqr Arbuthnot (Odom Jr.) was a war friend of her father’s. The only characters whose connections I didn’t remember were Mary (Daisy Ridley), Edward (Derek Jacobi), Count Rudolf (Sergei Polunin), and Hildegarde (Olivia Colman). I know there were others, but I don’t even remember their character names, let alone much else. But I’m surprised I remembered that much about them. Usually, movies like these, the details go over my head faster than a bullet leaves the barrel of a gun, so I was impressed enough.

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***END SPOILERS***

While this isn’t necessarily a complaint toward the movie, I do think you should go in with a certain mind-set. What I mean is, if you’re anything like me, and you like “whodunnit” stories and you actually like to sit with the detective and figure out who did it as they do, then you might be a tad disappointed. While the movie as a narrative flows swimmingly enough, if you wanted the movie to take a breather and let you try and figure out who did it with Poirot, then the movie is a little too fast-paced for that. When he finds a clue, he knows exactly what questions to ask and knows exactly where to find answers. In that sense, the fun is a little stale and you have to go in knowing that this movie is self-contained and won’t engage audiences that effectively.

Overall, I can’t say that I’d see this movie too many more times in future, or certainly not owning it on Blu-Ray, but I had a fun time with my one view, so I am going to recommend it as a matinee screening, or a very strong rental. It’s visually appealing to look at, the sets are gorgeous, the cinematography incredible, the performances solid, and the characters largely memorable. But because I couldn’t engage in the story and figure out the mystery with the Poirot, the fun is hampered, and being the reason why repeat viewings would be vastly limited. Still, I enjoyed myself and think it’s worth a watch.

My honest rating for MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017): 4/5

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THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE review

Back to back roles of playing servicemen of some kind, eh, Miles Teller?

Based on true events, it follows a group of men in the military who return home from Iraq and struggle with PTSD, readjusting to their home lives. It sounds pretty standard as this isn’t an idea that hasn’t been tackled before. Having said that, it’s probably going to be decently acted.

Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Miles Teller (ONLY THE BRAVE [2017], DIVERGENT [2014], and 21 & OVER [2013]), Haley Bennett (RULES DON’T APPLY [2016], THE EQUALIZER [2014], and MUSIC AND LYRICS [2007]), and Beulah Koale (6 episodes of TV show HAWAII FIVE-0 [2010 – ongoing]). In support, we have Amy Schumer (SNATCHED [2017], TRAINWRECK [2015], and SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD [2012]), Brad Beyer (42 [2013], THE GENERAL’S DAUGHTER [1999], and TV show JERICHO [2006 – 2008]), Joe Cole (WOODSHOCK [2017], GREEN ROOM [2016], and SECRET IN THEIR EYES [2015]), Keisha Castle-Hughes (STAR WARS EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH [2005] and WHALE RIDER [2002]), and Kerry Cahill (FREE STATE OF JONES [2016], TERMINATOR: GENISYS [2015], and SNITCH [2013]).

Now for the crew. Writing and directing is Jason Hall, making his directorial debut as a director, but he’s previously written AMERICAN SNIPER (2014) and PARANOIA (2013). Composing the score is Thomas Newman, known for VICTORIA & ABDUL (2017), JARHEAD (2005), and PHENOMENON (1996). Finally, the cinematographer is Roman Vasyanov, known for THE WALL (2017), FURY (2014), and END OF WATCH (2012).

Overall, this is probably going to be pretty good, so I remain optimistic.

This is my honest opinion of: THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE

(SUMMARY)

Set in 2008. Adam Schumann (Miles Teller), Solo (Beulah Koale), and Billy Waller (Joe Cole) are army veterans who just came back from Iraq. Adam pretends that he’s okay coming home to his wife Saskia (Haley Bennett), his daughter, and their infant son, but he’s struggling with what he’s experienced overseas. Solo’s girlfriend is pregnant with their first kid and he struggles with hallucinations and reverting back to his past drug addiction. Billy’s girlfriend took all their furniture, leaving him with nothing, and shoots himself in the head right in front of her at her work. Adam and Solo continue to seek help for their trauma, but things are never that easy, and their reactions aren’t always the best choices.

(REVIEW)

I think I’m still processing it for the most part. I think my true feelings about the film will be spewed out in the review as I write it. As it stands though, it’s a very interesting take on a topic that’s been done before and I learned a thing or two, which is probably one of the more important aspects this movie gets right: education for the uninformed.

So as per usual, Teller delivers a solid performance. He’s engaging, nuanced, delivers a likability to Adam Schumann, he’s pretty good. Adam comes home and at first, you think he’s adjusting well enough, doing the typical thing. Spending time with his family, going to the bar with his boys and blowing off steam, making laughable asses of themselves. But the more the movie unravels, you see that it’s all an act. He has suicidal thoughts, wishing he was dead, but you would never really get his feelings as you see him playing with his daughter. And if there’s anyone that delivers an equally solid performance is Koale for his role as Solo (apologies for not knowing the man’s full name). If Adam suffers from more subtle PTSD, then Solo suffers worse. Whereas Adam just has dreams reliving the worst of his experiences, Solo has hallucinations, mood swings, even violent outbursts. And because we learned that he was a former drug addict prior to his service in the military, it doesn’t become a shock when he starts to relapse. And it’s not as simple as just having that urge either. He tries seeking help, but it’s constantly not granted, so in spite of how heartbreaking it is, you get why.

That’s another thing that I really appreciated about this film. Very little is sugar-coated. This isn’t a story about soldiers coming home and denying that they’re traumatized with rage outbursts, screaming that they’re okay and they don’t need help until the very end of the movie. No, this is the story of soldiers who know they’re messed up in the head and actively seek and want help, especially after their friend and comrade, Billy, commits suicide. Thing is, the help is denied to them. Not because they system is being run by sick assholes who don’t give a shit about them, but rather this film acknowledges that the system is just overbooked. Thousands upon thousands of war veterans seek help every day from all over the country and the system just can’t help them all.

Oh, and bar none, even though she’s only in a support role, this is Schumer’s best performance in her entire career. How she got to be a part of this project, I’m positive I don’t know, but that she’s here and does a solid job is not an unwelcomed sight.

***SPOILERS***

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If I had a complaint about the film, and I genuinely do, it’s how Adam’s trauma is presented. We know half of it is because Michael Emory (Scott Haze) was shot in head, the bullet taking two inches off his brain, and as Adam tries to carry him down a flight of stairs, he accidentally drops him and nearly kills him. The other half is when James Doster (Brad Beyer) tells Adam to stay behind and he take his place on his rounds to Adam can talk to his wife, Doster is instead killed in action from an explosive and Solo unknowingly blamed Adam out loud to him. I Neither reason is bad or doesn’t make sense, but what doesn’t make sense is this: why are they particular shocks to us?

Here, let me explain. The opening sequence of the film is the aforementioned Adam accidentally dropping Emory. We largely assume for the entire story that this is the reason why he’s traumatized. But we don’t learn about the circumstances of Doster’s death and its effect on Adam until the end of the film. Why? I simply do not believe that the causes of PTSD should be treated like some big dramatic twist. Neither explanation is any more or less dramatic for Adam’s trauma, so why treat one reason that way over the other?

If I were to change anything, I would say that in order to maximize the shock or empathetic value of Adam’s trauma, either explain it by revealing both reasons in the beginning, or save them for the third act. If the movie wants us to understand what Adam is going through and why he’s reacting the way he does, then put all the cards on the table in the beginning and let the events unfold as they may. Or the movie can have the audience be like Saskia and keep us in the dark as to why he’s traumatized until later on for the big reveal, showing us the events themselves. As it stands, it feels odd and I didn’t agree with the choice.

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***END SPOILERS***

Overall, this movie is good. It’s an eye-opener and even a little hard to sit through knowing certain facts about the realities of war vets with PTSD. But it’s effective and provides a level of understanding that many may not have. It’s a respectable film and it’s very much worth watching. I question the placement of certain events in the story, but I do recommend the film. It’s an important one, in my opinion.

My honest rating for THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE: it’s a must-see

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