THE BOOK OF HENRY review

What the hell is this movie?! The advertising for this flick is beyond misleading. Oh, as of this moment while I’m writing, I haven’t seen the movie, but… seriously! The trailer starts off like a gender-swap GIFTED (2017). The kid is a genius who handles the taxes of the house, his mom works as a server and plays video games, and… pretty sure the younger brother is just cute pandering. The boy meets a girl he likes at school and then things go dark. Like… schoolgirl’s step-father may be abusive, dark. Like… end the trailer with the mom holding a sniper rifle, dark.

And then one of the film’s poster looks like this!

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There’s sniper rifles in this movie, kids! Be confused! Be very confused! But all that being said, I’m excited for this movie. It looks like it could be so insane that it’s entertaining.

Well, here’s a look at the cast. Starring, we have Jaeden Lieberher (MIDNIGHT SPECIAL [2016], ALOHA [2015], and ST. VINCENT [2014]), Naomi Watts (CHUCK [2017], the Divergent Series ALLEGIANT [2016], EASTERN PROMISES [2007], and the upcoming direct-to-TV Divergent Series ASCENDANT, due out… who knows when), Jacob Tremblay (SHUT IN [2016], ROOM [2015], THE SMURFS 2 [2013], and the upcoming THE PREDATOR [2018]), and Maddie Ziegler (1 episode of PRETTY LITTLE LIARS, 1 episode of DROP DEAD DIVA, and the upcoming animated French-Canadian film LEAP! [2017]). In support, we have Sarah Silverman (POPSTAR [2016], A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST [2014], WRECK-IT RALPH [2012], and upcoming films BATTLE OF THE SEXES [2017] and Disney’s animated RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET: WRECK-IT RALPH 2 [2018]), Dean Norris (FIST FIGHT [2017], SECRET IN THEIR EYES [2015], TV show BREAKING BAD, and the upcoming DEATH WISH [2017]), and Lee Pace (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY [2014], LINCOLN [2012], and TV show PUSHING DAISIES).

Now for the crew. Directing is Colin Trevorrow, known for JURASSIC WORLD (2015), SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (2012), and the upcoming as-of-yet-titled STAR WARS EPISODE IX (2019). Penning the screenplay is Gregg Hurwitz, known for 7 episodes of TV show V. Composing the score is the awesome Michael Giacchino, known for ROGUE ONE (2016), INSIDE OUT (2015), MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL (2011), and upcoming films SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017) and WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017). Finally, the cinematographer is John Schwartzman, known for FIFTY SHADES DARKER (2017), THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012), THE GREEN HORNET (2011), and upcoming films FIFTY SHADES FREED (2018) and STAR WARS EPISODE IX.

Overall, yeah, kind of excited, but more curious to see just how weirdly bad this movie gets. I’m just hoping for some entertainment, not expecting a good story.

This is my honest opinion of: THE BOOK OF HENRY

(SUMMARY)

Eleven-year-old Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) is smart. Gifted. He lives with his loving single mother Susan (Naomi Watts) and his younger admiring brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay). Henry also has a crush on his neighor, Christina (Maddie Ziegler), whom he starts to believe is being abused by her police chief commissioner step-father Glenn (Dean Norris). However, his efforts to trying to save her are constantly thwarted due to Glenn’s status and his age. But as he starts to put an elaborate plan together to save Christina, things go horribly wrong for Henry.

(REVIEW)

Oh man, don’t hate me, y’all, but… I kinda like this movie. I hesitate to say it’s good, but I really like a lot that I saw. Yes yes, the tone is inconsistent as hell, but I barely care.

So yeah, the movie starts off about as… well it actually starts off pretty obnoxious. You have an intellectually gifted kid who’s only with his peers because he thinks it would help him develop more appropriately, yet when he’s supposed to talk to the class about what he wants his legacy to be and the other kids are doing what the assignment calls for, he gets so annoyingly dramatic and is all like, “I don’t put stock in legacy. It’s not about what we do. It’s about who we surround ourselves with. Our friends and family.” I winced in pain from that. But honestly, my problems with the movie end there.

From this point on, it’s a long series of character and relationship development that I honestly got really hooked by. Henry likes to make contraptions. He’s a somber kid, loves his mother and brother, fiercely loyal to them, and even has a cute battle-of-attitudes with Susan’s best friend and co-worker Sheila (Sarah Silverman). Susan is a single mom, but all the household responsibilities are taken over by Henry. He pays the bills, handles bonds, banking, all that stuff while she comfortably sits around playing video games. And for the record, Naomi Watts playing GEARS OF WAR (2006) is the greatest cinematic gift to the world since a bearded, witch-hunting, flaming-sword wielding Vin Diesel. She’s deeply loving toward her two sons and has a cute relationship with Christina, though I could have done without their complicated hand-shake. Peter is… well, okay, he’s the cute-pandering kid who’s there to be adorable, but even he has some character traits. He wants to be an inventor like Henry, even though this doesn’t really amount to anything later on in the movie, and loves spending time with Henry. I love these characters and their relationship toward one another. It’s cute and it’s engaging. I loved it.

And speaking of Watts, I thought she was SO GOOD in this movie! There’s not one moment where I didn’t believe her acting. Every scene, from the happy mother, to the emotional, to the grieving, to the bad-ass, I bought everything. Sure, there’s a lot of shit that was way too convenient, like Henry overhearing an illegal weapons transaction in a gun store where a shady man drops the name of a shady character and uses that later on in the story, but whatever, the pay off was fun, making the ending feel even more victorious and Watts knocks it out of the park for me. I laughed and cried with, and cheered for her as a woman who has to learn how to learn to find confidence in herself and learn to do things on her own. It’s a nice character arch. Of course, now that I’m typing this out, everything that I’m talking about is probably the very reason why this movie is getting such low ratings and negative reviews. What kind of mother lets her eleven-year-old son do all the important housework and she literally does nothing but drink and play video games? Well, if Susan was a more despicable character who forced Henry to do that work so she could be a lazy good-for-nothing and wasn’t a loving mother, this would be a much bigger problem for me. But since it’s Henry that put that responsibility on himself and she’s just going along with it, I can’t say that I agree with them if that’s where the criticism comes from. I would understand, but I don’t agree.

Some minor annoyances in the movie before I head into spoiler territory. As much as I enjoy Silverstone as an actress, and for all intents and purposes, she’s not bad in this, Sheila is a little too 80’s diner cliché for me. She has that nasal-y speech pattern that makes her sound like Fran Drescher, and because she’s youngish, attractive, and bustier, her boobs are out in the open, it’s a little too on the nose for my taste. Thankfully, I do enjoy the playful banter she has with Henry and how she does show that she cares about him later on, lending itself to a pretty tender and heartwarming scene… er… that is if you can ignore the VERY OBVIOUS BAD TOUCH moment. What the hell, Silverman?! You didn’t argue that shit?! Actually, there seems to be quite a few of those in this movie with adults being unnecessarily close to children, but I guess this isn’t a big deal since some of those moments are between a mother and her young children, but still… half an arm distance away, y’all.

It’s pretty hard to talk about the meat of the story without getting into spoiler territory, so that’s what the remainder of this review will be.

***SPOILERS***

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Wisely hidden from the trailers, Henry dies early on in the movie. This sort of comes out of nowhere and the tone shifts tremendously. The first quarter or third of the movie is all happy-peppy family togetherness, with hints of harsh drama, like why someone should or shouldn’t interfere in public abuse and Henry’s desperation to try and save Christina from Glenn (Dean Norris). But then suddenly, we get an eleven-year-old having a seizure, then immediately told that he has a tumor that’s going to kill him. And I was remarking on the sniper rifle thing and the happy family picture above. Yeah, we haven’t gotten to that point yet, and we’re already treated to a dead child. If this is also a contributing factor to the negativity toward the film, I get that too. It’s almost fairy-tale too happy at first and then the movie throws this at the audience. It would bother me more if the acting wasn’t so damn powerful.

Yeah, the acting in these few scenes is absolutely heartbreaking. When Henry deduces that he’s going to die, he’s absolutely paralyzed with fear and uncertainty. The way he requests to be left alone, you can’t help but get invested in the emotions, especially as he later tries to set everyone up after he passes. I know I’ve rambled about Watts a lot already, but I absolutely love her in this movie and a good performance should really be commented on when it warrants. You not only see that shock and uncertainty of how she’s possibly going to take care of herself and Peter, but the utter inner destruction of knowing that she’s saying a slow good-bye to him. Both Lieberher and Watts run through gauntlets of emotions and they’re absolutely fantastic together.

And it’s here where that Silverman “bad touch” moment happens. They have a heart to heart and admit that they really do like each other and before she leaves, she plants a kiss on his lips. Yeah… it’s a little too ewie for me. Hell, I think Henry had the same reaction as I did because that kid’s eyes widen. I’m with you, kid. Ew.

So when Henry does die, he leaves behind a notebook that goes through every scenario he went through as he tried to call child protective services to save Christina, but utterly failed, going through why any official channels won’t work. And by the way, I’m declaring this a movie line, but when Peter reads Henry’s book, he runs down and hilariously shouts, “Mom! I think Henry wants us to kill Glenn!” Oh my god, I’m still laughing about that. God, I love Tremblay. Even when he’s given thin roles, he knows how to make them entertaining as hell.

Not all of the writing is good post-death scene. In fact, a couple of scenes are downright awkward. Susan is told to go home to grieve, but Sheila races after her and have a really weird and senseless conversation. It was such bizarre writing that I don’t actually remember what she was babbling about. Something about her car, or some shit. There’s also a somewhat inappropriate comedy moment when Peter’s at school with a lunch box full of unhealthy food, looking at it like he’s bored, and then says, “Anyone wanna trade from some fruit?” And then a crap ton of hands lay down fruit as they take his treats. Funny, but… this is barely ten minutes after Henry’s death scene. We’re still wrestling with the emotions of that. The comedy is really out of place here.

But these gripes don’t anchor the movie down too bad as it starts picking up again when Susan starts following Henry’s instructions, nabs herself a flawless plan to literally murder Glenn and get away with it. It’s so silly to see her taking directions from a recording, especially when Henry’s voice is commenting on things that he couldn’t possibly know would happen. But yet again, this would be a bigger problem if Watts wasn’t so damn hilarious as she discovers that she’s a pretty decent shot with a sniper rifle. Not that she ever utilizes it when she’s got Glenn in her sights, which… didn’t make much sense.

Yeah, after she drops off Christina and Peter at their school’s talent show, she’s off to try and kill Glenn. She’s out deep in the woods and you know what she does to lure him out? She makes whistling sounds through a walkie-talkie to which he follows the whistling to the designated place where she’s going to kill him. I say again, a sound that is coming from a walkie-talkie taped to a tree at least a quarter mile away in a forest… Glenn heard that whistling from within his enclosed house. It’s about as stupid and senseless as it sounds. In fact, this whole scene is pretty out there. Her arm knocks over a doohickey which does this thingy- basically, it makes a bunch of noise that she’s supposed to ignore as she snipes a child-abuser and said child abuser doesn’t hear that racket when he’s not that far away. Eventually, all that shizz opens up a collage of family photos that somehow means that Susan can’t pull the trigger. But I do like that when Glenn realizes what she’s up to moments later that he can’t fight against her determination and kills himself, eventually resulting in her adopting Christina at the end of the movie. And as anyone can tell you, I’m a sucker for adoption stories… even though that wasn’t the focus of the movie, it worked well enough for me. Sure, there’s probably a million ways around this situation for the guy. He is the police commissioner after all, and Susan’s a waitress at a diner who doesn’t know how to pay her own taxes. I can’t imagine a court case lasting long in her favor. But the fact that they decided, “Screw it, forced happy ending,” saves a little time and I liked this ending as is.

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***END SPOILERS***

Overall, it’s not a perfect film. Far from it, actually. In fact, I hesitate to say that it’s even good, as most of the things that I love about the movie are likely the reasons why it’s not getting well received by critics and audiences. But I won’t lie. I love the acting. I love the family bonding. I love how even within dramatic shift in tones that shouldn’t work still managed to keep me both interested and emotionally invested. It’s hard for me to know how to recommend this movie and who might enjoy it. My highest recommendation is to watch the trailer and get a sense if this movie is for you. If you think it might be, play it safe and see it at a matinee screening, in case you don’t like it, you at least didn’t waste too much money. If you think it’s not for you, I can hardly argue and I see why it wouldn’t be. But as for me, I’m happy I saw this movie and do see myself revisiting it. Maybe not twice at the theaters, I certainly won’t own it on Blu-Ray, but if it was on Netflix or TV while I was channel surfing, I’d watch this again, definitely. Maybe it’s just a guilty pleasure, but it’s still a pleasure to watch it nonetheless.

My honest rating for THE BOOK OF HENRY: 4/5

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DOCTOR STRANGE review

Marvel. Once upon a time, it was just a comic book company that gave the most memorable superheroes to grace the memories of multiple generations of fans. Well, it was inevitable that their famous characters would make it to the big screen and it’s been a hell of a roller coaster especially in the past ten years with the Avengers-related films, produced specifically by Marvel Studios, as opposed to Sony or 20th Century Fox.

It seems like only yesterday that the prospect of the original Avengers was too good to be true, but fast forward to today, we’re two movies in and a slew of other superhero films in between. Some of them never having been on the big screen before, like Thor, or Ant-Man. Well guess what? We have the latest pilot to a hero, Doctor Strange.

Once again, for those of you that don’t know, I’m not much of a comic book reader. I see these movies and might look them up on Marvel’s Wiki to get some idea of the character’s history and or future. So, I know next to nothing about this character, apart from the awesome animated film DOCTOR STRANGE (2007), which I imagine will be very similar to this film. Kind of already does minus the INCEPTION (2010) look to it, which I don’t think is a bad thing. In fact, there’s a lot of things going for it.

First off, the cast is incredible. Benedict Cumberbatch (ZOOLANDER 2 [2016], THE INTIMIDATION GAME [2015], and TV show SHERLOCK) as the title character looks fantastic and will most likely be great, as he’s always great… even if the movie itself is not. I’m looking at you, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS [2013] and definitely at you, ZOOLANDER 2. Anyway, looking forward to his performance. Tilda Swinton (HAIL! CAESAR [2016], THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL [2014], and CONSTANTINE [2005]), an acting wildcard, always known for her quirky and offbeat performances, but always leaving a fun impact on critics and audiences alike. A true chameleon in the performing arts and this looks to be no exception. But anyone else getting a “white chick Morpheus” vibe from her? Anywho… we also have co-stars Mads Mikkelsen (THE THREE MUSKETEERS [2011], 007’s CASINO ROYALE [2006], and TV show HANNIBAL), Chiwetel Ejiofor (TRIPLE 9 [2016], THE MARTIAN [2015], and 12 YEARS A SLAVE [2013]), Benedict Wong (THE MARTIAN, PROMETHEUS [2012], and TV show MARCO POLO), and Rachel McAdams (SPOTLIGHT [2015], THE VOW [2012], and THE NOTEBOOK [2004]).

Now for behind the scenes. Directing and co-writing is Scott Derrickson (DELIVER US FROM EVIL [2014], SINISTER [2012], and THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL [2005]), which makes me a little twitchy. He’s primarily known for horror films, and one horribly panned remake of a classic sci-fi film. A superhero movie seems a bit out of his league. Even the stuff he’s only written don’t seem to be anything special or worthwhile, but I guess we’ll find out soon enough. But if Derrickson as the director made me nervous, take a gander at what makes me downright frightened: three writers. Derrickson’s partners-in-pen are Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill. Spaihts is a newcomer with only two films under his belt, the critically panned THE DARKEST HOUR [2011], and the critically controversial PROMETHEUS [2012]. But he’s slated for a ton of projects in the near future, including the amazing-looking PASSENGERS (2016), THE MUMMY (2017), PACIFIC RIM: MAELSTROM (2017), and was announced to write VAN HELSING, due out… sometime in the future. Cargill is also pretty new, having only done the Sinister films with Derrickson. If I had to deduce anything, Derrickson and Cargill know each other and at least make the movies they want to see, but adding Spaihts could make the writing go either way and seriously make it choppy. Composing the music is the ever popular Michael Giacchino, known for ZOOTOPIA [2016], INSIDE OUT [2015], and a whole lot of J.J. Abrams’ projects. He’s also slated for ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY due out later this year, WAR OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017), and THE INCREDIBLES 2 (2018). Finally, the cinematographer is Ben Davis, a veteran of Marvel (AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON [2015] and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY [2014]), and fantasy films (WRATH OF THE TITANS [2012] and STARDUST [2007]), so we can definitely expect this movie to look gorgeous, huge, and all around epic.

All in all, I’m super hyped for this, and early ratings only have me even more excited. IMDb has it at a 8.0/10, which is fantastic and RottenTomatoes has it at a 91% (both as of 11/2/2016), so this looks like a big winner. This is my honest opinion of DOCTOR STRANGE.

(SUMMARY)

Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a brilliant neurosurgeon. Cocky, arrogant, and self-centered, yet harmless enough. But after getting invited to a special engagement, he gets into a horrible car accident. He survives, but his hands are horrible damaged to the point where he will most likely never be able to perform surgery ever again. But Strange can’t accept that and is willing to try any surgery, no matter how expensive or experimental, whatever gets him back on track. But everything proves fruitless until he hears about a case about a guy who was paralyzed and one day was walking again. Speaking with the man, Strange is directed to a place called the Kamar-Taj, in the Himalayas, where the man was taught to walk again. Strange spends the last of his money and makes his way there and eventually discovers Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who leads him to The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a supreme master of the mystical arts; magic. Turns out, Strange has entered this place of mysticism at a complicated time, as The Ancient One’s most talented pupil, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), became enamored by the power of The Ancient One’s long time enemy known as Dormammu, and seeks to give Earth to him for total domination. But Strange is there to heal his hands and get back to the way things used to be. But as the threats become closer and more direct, Strange must choose to become a sorcerer and help defeat the mystical evil that threatens the world, or turn his back on this new reality.

(REVIEW)

OOOOOOHHHHHH MYYYYYYYY GOOOOOOOD!!! WOOOOOOOOOOO!!! Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, where I even start?! AAAAAHHHHHH it was so awesome!

Okay! Composure! I got this.

Let’s start… like I always do, with the cast. Cumberbatch as Strange was awesome. He’s a slightly different approach to the 2007 animated version, who was more of a serious asshole, rather than a ego-centric likable jerk, but Cumberbatch is really nails everything. He looks great as the hero in the red cape and shining green gem. I bought him as a surgeon. “Please cover your watch.” Oh man, his comedic timing is pitch perfect. As per usual, Marvel movies are proving to be more competent comedies than actual comedies and Cumberbatch’s brand of fun is much welcomed. Beyond the funny moments though, he does very well with the more dramatic stuff too. There’s a scene where he’s in his apartment after his accident and Christine (Rachel McAdams), his former girlfriend, is trying to be supportive and take care of him, but Strange is a legit asshole to her. When he learns of the mystical dimensions, he’s seriously in wonder. Even when he’s training and asking questions, there’s never a sense of asking to respond, he’s genuinely trying to learn. It’s always an appreciative feat when they don’t make the learning-hero a whiny baby when he fails. Oh sure, you see frustration and a burning desire to scream and curse, even give up, but he never does. He keeps trying.

Swinton churns out a delightful performance as well. I feel like with every wise line, there’s a lingering punchline just waiting to happen. But more than that, you feel the frustration she has that her teachings have been called into question by one of her more gifted students and doesn’t want to train another. The threat of Dormammu is enough and now she has to contend with one of her own. Granted, her change of heart in training Strange is pretty easy, but you do see her having pride in his progress, her faith in his abilities.

McAdams as Christine Palmer is a wonderful little addition to the story as well. In fact, Christine’s dynamic with Strange is almost on par with that of Tony Stark and Pepper Potts. They are so funny and work incredibly well off of each other. Granted, Pepper had a more involved role in Tony’s arch as a hero than Christine did for Strange, but they probably have the most entertaining “romantic” relationship since Tony and Potts. You could also make the strong argument that Christine’s character was pointless; write her out of the story and it would have progressed just fine. But as true as that might be, she’s still an enjoyable enough character to be fun to have around. Here’s to hoping for a more involved role in the future.

I’ve been hearing one or two professional critics out there calling the movie “familiar.” That’s very hard to argue, and in fact, I do not disagree. Having not read any other reviews out there in depth, I imagine one of those reasons is because this film is basically IRON MAN (2008). Really think about it. You have an ego-centric protagonist, brilliant in every way in his field of expertise, a beautiful blond woman that he works with and is sort of a lover, is in some way separated from his home to a foreign land, triumphantly returns home a changed man, all the while fighting an evil dude whose backstory involves betrayal, and has the same abilities as he does. This is what I have to say:

I do not care! In fact, I might prefer STRANGE over IRON MAN.

Here’s the thing, while IRON MAN is definitely a movie that any fan should appreciate the most (starting the Avengers-related films, as well as re-energizing Downey Jr.’s career), the visual spectacle alone makes STRANGE more worthwhile to rewatch. What is the climax of IRON MAN? Tony fights in the streets, and on a rooftop. While fine for the time, the movie is a little dated in that respect. I know a lot of critics and general audiences would prefer some variation – no destruction of cities – in their superhero movies, but… I kinda like that stuff. I like big, I like world-shaking. Unless a Marvel movie is going to not have that kind of destruction at the end, say like in CIVIL WAR (2016), then it has to do something unique with it other than have a half-assed excuse for a couple of characters to fight again, unlike in CIVIL WAR. At least with a city being threatened, you have built-in stakes. What were the stakes in the climax of CIVIL WAR? Tension between Tony and Steve? That’s been there since the beginning of the movie. What are the stakes in the climax of STRANGE? A city being destroyed. Not unique, but not unimportant.

Also, the opening of the movie is basically GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014); the bad guy making a dude’s head… not there anymore.

Speaking of bad guys, Mikkelsen unfortunately joins the ranks of bad and underdeveloped villains, but honestly, like a comically bad Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees movie, I’ve just gotten so used to it that I stopped caring. If we get a good one, sweet. If we get a bad one, that’s pretty standard now, so I’m not overly bothered by this (waste of Mikkelsen’s talent, though). And it’s never quite explained why Dormammu wants Earth so badly. If there’s infinite dimensions out there, what makes this very specific dimension the prize of prizes? Eh, again, comic book movie villain logic, I guess. Honestly, every single problem that I think most people will have with this film don’t really bother me. I sure have my questions, but… eh. Whatever.

Overall, I don’t think I can recommend this movie enough. I’d say this stands pretty well on its own and you don’t need to see the previous Marvel movies in order to understand it, though there might be a reference or two that might fly over someone’s head. It’s a wonderfully executed fantasy and action film, marinated in great performances, marred only by some of the trippiest and mind-screwing visuals since INCEPTION. Seriously, it’s like looking through a kaleidoscope the whole movie. Entertaining and engaging, this is probably one of the best superhero movies of the year.

My honest rating for DOCTOR STRANGE: 5/5

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