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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KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE quick review

For those not in the know, “Kingsman” is based on a comic book series of the same name. Actually, I think the original title for the comic was “The Secret Service” but changed the name to tie in better with the 2015 film. Fun fact of the day, this comic series actually takes place in the same universe as the “Kick-Ass” comic books, as they’re written by the same writer, Mark Millar. Something about Kick-Ass referencing something that took place in the Kingsman series.

But we’re not here to talk about comics. We’re here to talk about movies. The first film, KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2015) was wildly popular with audiences upon its release. It shot Taron Egerton to the stars, gave us one of my personal favorite newcomers, Sofia Boutella, was over-the-top violent, had a fun cameo by Mark Hamill, and was an all around fun time for all. What did I think of it? I thought it was… mostly good. While all of what I said is true, there was one detail about the film that I absolutely hated. The Kingsman training program is, obviously, very hardcore. Few people get through it. But then the final test is to get close to a cute little dog and then shoot it. Do that, and you’re a Kingsman. This pissed me off. The Kingsman prided themselves on being spies, of course, but also being gentlemen. This implies a level of grace, coolness, confidence, class. What’s graceful, cool, confident, and classy about murdering an innocent animal? Eggsy refuses to murder his dog and he’s thrown out of the Kingsman. What sense does that make?! If the dog was trained to fight back without prejudice, then fine, you gotta defend yourself and might teach you a thing or two about trust and betrayal and learning to overcome that kind of grief of killing your friend who tried to kill you. But no, Eggsy’s dog was a cute, innocent pug. Or maybe the exercise could be this: there is no failure in this test. It’s more of a placement thing. Like, okay, you murder the dog, that means you can follow orders to the tee. Field agents need to be able to do that, making you a desirable field agent. If you don’t kill the dog, you’re still a Kingsman, but because you didn’t follow your superior’s direct order, you’re assigned to intelligence work, like Mark Strong’s character, feeding tactical information, but never on the front lines himself. You know, something like that. But no, because you didn’t murder a defenseless animal, you can’t be a gentleman spy. Fuck the Kingsman, man. I never got past this element of the movie, so I personally give it a strong 3/5. As I said, the rest of the film is a load of fun.

But now we have a sequel that I know will be better than the first one. Why? Because comic book sequels have a tendency to be better than their predecessors. Plus, I’m sure there’s not going to be any more “dog murdering” bullshit to piss me off. This movie looks like it’s about the Kingsman getting wiped out by a terrorist organization and it’s up to Eggsy and Merlin, the two surviving Kingsman to work with their American cousins, the Statesman, to bring down this terrorist. As per usual, it looks fun, inventive, and bad-ass. So sign me up, bitches!

Here’s the onscreen talent. Starring, we have Taron Egerton (SING [2016], EDDIE THE EAGLE [2016], LEGEND [2015], and the upcoming ROBIN HOOD [2018]), Julianne Moore (THE HUNGER GAMES: THE MOCKINGJAY – PART 2 [2015], STILL ALICE [2014], BENNY & JOON [1993], and upcoming films WONDERSTRUCK [2017] and SUBURBICON [2017]), Mark Strong (MISS SLOANE [2016], JOHN CARTER [2012], and STARDUST [2007]), and Channing Tatum (LOGAN LUCKY [2017], THE EAGLE [2011], COACH CARTER [2005], and upcoming films with no release dates announced, GAMBIT and VAN HELSING). In support, we have Halle Berry (KIDNAP [2017], PERFECT STRANGER [2007], EXECUTIVE DECISION [1996]), Jeff Bridges (THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK [2017], SURF’S UP [2007], TRON [1982], and the upcoming ONLY THE BRAVE [2017]), Elton John (THE ROAD TO EL DORADO [2000], SPICE WORLD [1997], and 1 episode of TV show NASHVILLE [2012 – 2018]), Michael Gambon (HAIL, CAESAR! [2016], THE KING’S SPEECH [2010], HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN [2004], and the upcoming VICTORIA & ABDUL [2017]), and Colin Firth (BRIDGET JONES’S BABY [2016], NANNY MCPHEE [2005], SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE [1998], and upcoming films MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN [2018] and MARY POPPINS RETURNS [2018]).

Now for behind the scenes. Directing and co-writing is Matthew Vaughn, known for KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2015), X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011), STARDUST (2007), and the upcoming KINGSMAN 3, no release date announced. Co-writing the screenplay is Jane Goldman, known for MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN (2016), X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, STARDUST, and the upcoming KINGSMAN 3. Co-composing the score are Henry Jackman (KONG: SKULL ISLAND [2017], CAPTAIN PHILLIPS [2013], MONSTERS VS. ALIENS [2009], and upcoming films JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE [2017] and RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET: WRECK-IT RALPH 2 [2018]) and Matthew Margeson (RINGS [2017], KICK-ASS 2 [2013], and SKYLINE [2010]). Finally, the cinematographer is George Richmond, known for EDDIE THE EAGLE, KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE, and the upcoming TOMB RAIDER (2018).

Overall, I’m excited for this. Not out of my mind, but I’m pretty hyped.

This is my honest opinion of: KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE

(SUMMARY)

The Golden Circle is the largest drug cartel in the world and no one knows that it’s ran by the nefarious Poppy (Julianne Moore). She, of course, wants to hold America hostage to legalize all drugs or she won’t give up the antidote to her latest drug, which has been secretly inserted in nearly every single drug that the common person can get, which is millions. But before all that, she gets rid of the only people that she knows can get in her way: the Kingsman. Effectively wiping out all of the Kingsman, with the notable exceptions of Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong). Desperate to find help, they seek it in the form of their organization’s American cousins, the Statesmen.

(QUICK REVIEW)

Meh, it’s not bad. Not as good as the first one, but not bad.

What I liked: Moore is usually a welcomed sight in anything that she’s in, so to see her as the villain in a movie like this was a kind of shock. But as far as that’s concerned, she was a lot of fun. Hell, her intro scene is having a dude send another dude through a meat grinder and makes a burger out of him and then makes the dude try a bite. It’s pretty fucked up, but I enjoyed how deliciously sinister she was (no pun, intended, but I’m taking credit for it anyway, so…. pun intended). And I think it’s hilarious that she kidnapped Elton John for her personal amusement, who is also really funny in the film. Kind of wished we saw more of her robotic creations doing shit, but the dogs were enough, I guess.

The comedy is still there, Egerton is charming as always, as are Firth and Strong. There is a sense of fun about the film, so it’s not boring, thank God. The action is awesome and delightfully violent, and pretty creative for the most part. I’ll never get tired of seeing Whiskey’s (Pedro Pascal) laser whip. Now Star Wars can’t put a monopoly on that idea.

But now for the negatives. Despite some solid talent, like Berry, Bridges, Tatum, they’re barely in the film, or barely contribute to the story, making you wonder why they were even in it at all. Which is pretty manipulative because a lot of the marketing surrounds these characters. I didn’t like how the movie kills off the entire Kingsman organization in its second movie. I mean, wouldn’t it be better to see Eggsy and his team take down a rival organization at their peak power to really showcase their tech, their intel, and their bad-assness? Why kill them off in the second film? I don’t get it. The subplot of Eggsy and his girlfriend Tilde (Hanna Alström) is a little annoying. He’s a spy, of course he’s going to be faced with situations of seduction. How would she not know that?

And fine, let’s talk about that controversial sex scene. Honestly, I thought because Poppy (Moore) created a female robot that does the Golden Circle tattoo thing, I figured that the sex scene would be about the robot fucking a dude or something weird like that. But nope, it’s about Eggsy fingering some blond girl who is the girlfriend to Poppy’s main henchman with a tracking device shaped like a condom that he’s supposed to shove up her vagina. Honestly, maybe I’m just a guy about it, but it took me a good minute to figure out at the end of the movie that this was the big ole controversy. I mean, it’s not overly graphic in the fingering, and technically does serve the plot of the story and carries dramatic weight, albeit in the subplot that I barely cared about. But the more I thought about it, yeah, this was unnecessary. A tiny tracking device can be placed anywhere and didn’t need to be implemented like this.

Overall, yeah, not quite as good as the first film, but it’s alright. If you’re a fan of the first one, I can’t imagine you feeling betrayed or not having fun with it. But I do recommend toning down your high expectations if you have them.

My honest rating for KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE: 3/5

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