Review: The Magnificent Seven (2016)

mag-7-header-2adam reviewMagnificent 7 (2016).

Magnificent 7 is a remake of a old western from 1960 (and then a television show of the same name from 1998). And even these are a remake of a 1954 Japanese film Seven Samurai. I haven’t seen any of these films.

The gist.

In the opening moments, we see a harsh and violent thief named Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) attack a village because they have mines that he wants. These villagers can’t do anything about it but a widow (Haley Bennett) seeks out help that can. She finds Chisolm (Denzel Washington), a local bounty hunter who takes on the job of defending this small town. He then goes out to recruit more men to help do this seemingly impossible task. He’s joined by Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Martin Sensmeier, and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo.

What works?

This is a really fun movie. This feels like it should have been a June or July release, doing what a lot of summer blockbusters failed to do. There are some amazing action sequences and fight choreography (mostly the badass Byung-hun Lee) but overall, it’s just fun. This comes out mostly through Chris Pratt’s character who absolutely revels in the chaos and has a huge grin on his face, just like the entire audience did.

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Movies like this can be a little predictable, but the journey here is totally worth it. They set Sarsgaard up to be a horrible villain (he’s a bit typecast now) and the whole movie is revving up to get revenge. It works, it’s satisfying, and it’s full of great moments.

That stuff alone would’ve made the movie good. But what adds a little cherry on top is that the casting is perfect and they deliver performances to be proud of. Denzel is one of the best, so it’s no surprise when he takes a break from the action to deliver an incredible emotional moment, but the other leads all deliver as well. This movie adds a nice layer on top of the shooting, that other movies like this would have neglected.

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What doesn’t work?

Plot-wise, this is a bit predictable but only because the original movies probably created this trope. So I have a hard time holding that against this film.

Also, the villain of the film is absolutely horrible but he only has like three scenes and you don’t really understand why he is this way (other than greed, I guess?). In a movie like this, maybe he just serves as a plot device. Someone to rally against. I wish he were a little more fleshed out but it’s understandable.

Overall…

No one should dislike this movie, to any degree. It’s fun, it’s full of great action, and it’s satisfying in the end. It’s a safe bet, for anyone just wanting some escapism. It’s not going to win any awards though, even though the performances are much better than other movies in this genre. You might forget it sooner rather than later but it’s a blast while you’re in the theater.

Rating 4 star

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Review: Mr. Church

mr-church-headeradam reviewMr. Church.

I hadn’t heard about this movie and I didn’t even watch a trailer before I walked in, so I had no idea what to expect. Eddie Murphy has been a bit absent from Hollywood lately, after his cartoony streak of The Nutty Professors and Shreks. The Eddie Murphy we see here is very different, but is that a good thing or a bad thing?

The gist.

This is the story of a young girl (Natalie Coughlin, who grows up to become Britt Robertson) who wakes up one day to find that her family has a cook, who prepares all their meals. This cook (Mr. Church, played by Eddie Murphy) is cheerful and intelligent but mysterious and soon becomes part of this family. However, things turn sour when the mother (Natascha McElhone) gets cancer and it soon becomes Mr. Church’s job to do much more than just cook.

This is very much an “inspirational drama,” so you kind of know what you’re getting here. In short, bring your tissues.

"Cook" starring Eddie Murphy, Britt Robertson, and Christian Madsen

What works?

The stars of this movie do a very commendable job, especially considering how “under the radar” this movie is. Eddie Murphy shows surprising restraint, never once resorting to the wise-cracking comedian that we’ve become used to. He even has a few very dark moments, which is likely what drew him to this project. We never really get to know him though, he remains a mystery, so the bulk of the story really relies on young Charlotte (Coughlin/Robertson). Both actresses do a stellar job, giving the movie heart, but I feel like their acting is better than the movie they’re actually in. Like they deserve better.

If you need some good cries, this movie will do it. It becomes a bit predictable for this genre, so you kind of know where it’s going, but a lot of folks will be fine with that.

mr-church-2What doesn’t work?

While the performances were somewhere in the “good” to “great” range, the movie itself falls short. It’s predictable in that it hits on every note that every other drama like this hits on. You know there’s going to be tragedy and it doesn’t really do anything unique with it. It reminds me of Me Before You, the story of a young girl who becomes the caretaker of an injured bachelor and they fall in love. The writer of Mr. Church wrote this with the intention of pulling at your heartstrings but unfortunately you see the puppeteer the entire time. It’s very clear what they’re doing and there are no twists or turns that surprise you.

The main thing that compelled me was Mr. Church’s dark mysterious life but even that failed to really be anything interesting, which made the entire journey to get there uneventful.This movie was just underwhelming. Some “cry your eyes out” movies end and you feel like you were on a rollercoaster. This one, I felt like I had manipulated and it felt unearned.Overall…Great performances by Britt Robertson and Eddie Murphy can’t save this overdone emotional drama, absolutely predictable and unoriginal. The ride was interesting but the payoff at the end wasn’t worth it.Rating 3 star

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Review: Sully

sully-headeradam review

Sully.

Sometimes “based on a true story” movies can lack a little something, because we already know how it’s going to end. Most of us saw the plane sitting on the Hudson River, with cold and shivering people standing on its wings. We saw interviews with Captain Sullenberg (“Sully”). So can this movie manage to make us interested, if we already know the ending?

The gist.

In 2009, a flock of birds flew into a plane that was leaving New York City and caused both engines to go out. The pilot, Captain Chesley Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) made a decision to go for a water landing in the middle of the Hudson River. He was alongside his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart). Most of this movie takes place in the aftermath of this incident, as an investigation begins to see if Sully actually put all these lives in danger unnecessarily. This committee consists of Mike O’Malley (Glee), Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad), and several others you might recognize. We also have Sully’s wife (Laura Linney) who is scared at home, while he’s undergoing these investigations. The movie is directed by Clint Eastwood.

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What works?

The movie is entirely carried by Tom Hanks and (as usual), he nails it. With each movie he puts out, it reminds you that he is likely the best actor living today, debatably. He becomes Captain Sullenberger here, with a bit of a twist on the classic Tom Hanks “Good Guy” role. It’s a twist because Sully doesn’t know if he’s a good guy. The entire movie is him questioning whether his choices endangered all these people. He’s a good guy that thinks he might’ve done something wrong. It’s an interesting spin.

Hanks is supported by Aaron Eckhart, who also delivers a great performance, though isn’t really fleshed out beyond just this incident. Does he have a family? We don’t really ever know. Eckhart still does his best though, offering some levity to an otherwise serious film.

Like I mentioned in the intro, we know the ending. This movie plays it smart and it literally opens with the stuff we know. Surprisingly, there was a lot I didn’t know and this investigation, which is the entirety of the film, focuses on things that we didn’t really see covered in the news, meaning there was still a sense of uncertainty. I was on the edge of my seat for several moments, unsure what would happen.

The movie also smartly uses the landing several times, including focusing on some of the passengers and how they react to the landing and to Sully’s choices. Even though these characters were only in a few scenes, they managed to evoke real emotion and even had me choking up a bit. It added some real depth that I appreciated.

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What didn’t work?

On a very basic level, not a lot happens in this movie. It’s literally just a few days of investigation, with a few flashbacks thrown in. That means some of you might find it a little dull, but the movie’s use of the water landing often shook up the movie enough that I never found myself bored.

I also had a bit of a problem with Sully’s wife, played by Laura Linney. She doesn’t share a scene with anyone, in the entire movie. It’s just her, on the phone with Sully. It almost serves as exposition, so he can explain to her how the investigation is going or what’s really happening. It just felt like a very one-dimensional character really only serving as a sounding board for Sully.

Overall…

While the movie isn’t very eventful, I still found myself enthralled. It’s a new side of the story that the mainstream media didn’t cover, so you’ll likely still find yourself on the edge of your seat awaiting the verdict. Hanks and Eckhart both give great performances and, if we have a weak Oscar season, might see themselves as nominees for their work here. The performances and an intriguing new side of a very familiar event both contributed to me really liking this movie and I think most viewers would agree.

Rating 4 star

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Review: Hell or High Water

hell-or-high-water-headeradam reviewHell or High Water.

I knew very little about this movie before I sat down to see it. I think that’s a good approach but hopefully this review can help determine if this movie is your style because I imagine some of you will definitely like it more than others.

The gist.

We’ve got two brothers in Texas: Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster). When the movie begins, we see them robbing multiple banks at gunpoint. As the rest of the movie unfolds, we start to learn why they’re doing this, as well as watching the police try to figure out the whos and whys of it, led by an “about to retire” Jeff Bridges.

What works?

Our two leads in Chris Pine and Ben Foster are both fantastic. I’ve never been really impressed by Chris Pine, beyond the ability to carry summer blockbusters, but here, he really showed off some skills that I’ve never seen from him. And I’ve always been a fan of Ben Foster, I’m glad he’s still doing solid stuff. Both of these guys are the reason this score is as high as it is.

In terms of visuals, this movie has a very unique look. Everything is dirty. It even almost looks like the lens is caked in dirt, like a thin veil between us and the action. It works, at least giving the movie a distinct flair.

While the movie is generally really slow, there are a few moments that will have you jolt to the edge of your seat, and it’s these moments that are worth the price of admission.

What doesn’t work?

Aside from these few peaks, the movie has a lot of valleys. The closest thing I can compare it to is No Country for Old Men. It’s slow and methodical and every once in a while we get something jaw-dropping. This movie isn’t as good as No Country for Old Men though.

Jeff Bridges plays the man spearheading the hunt for these bank robbers and he’s probably the weakest link. His character is completely unlikeable. If you find yourself triggered by racist comments, he’ll have you wanting to leave the theater. So I was very conflicted, as he’s somewhat the morally right character in this story, though he’s so unlikeable. Maybe that’s the point? I just found his screentime to be the times that I was checking my watch mentally.

The ending is also open-ended, which might not satisfy most audiences. In terms of art, as a movie, it works. I get it. But just because it’s a valid ending doesn’t mean it’s the ending that I wanted.

Overall…

If you’re patient and want to see some incredible character work by Chris Pine and Ben Foster, you might find enough to enjoy here. It’s a slow burn, punctuated by short bursts of action and an intense climax, but many of you might get bored of the tumbleweeds and sweeping scenery shots of Texas and mentally check out before this point. If you want action, there are other movies you should check out. For me, I found enough enjoyable about this to tip it just barely into the positive.

4 star

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Review: War Dogs

war dogs headeradam reviewWar Dogs.

It took me a few weeks to catch War Dogs because the trailers didn’t really do much for me. However, I found myself fairly entertained and generally impressed.

The gist.

Miles Teller stars as David Packouz, a massage therapist who is relatively unhappy (and broke) until he reunites with an old school buddy Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) who introduces David to the world of buying and selling firearms. They’ll do anything to make a buck, including driving a shipment of guns through Iraq and other deals with the U.S. government to sell them cheap firearms and ammo. We also have Kevin Pollak, Ana de Armas, and Bradley Cooper.

What works?

While the trailers didn’t really grab me, the movie was actually really good. It reminded me of a remix of The Big Short. It examines something real but makes sure to explain it in layman’s terms, in a way similar to The Big Short. They don’t go as far as breaking the fourth wall and explaining it to you, but there’s an effort to make sure you understand what’s happening. And it’s a fascinating topic, something that most normal people wouldn’t have any idea about.

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In terms of execution, it totally works. Both Miles Teller and Jonah Hill give incredible performances, proving again that they’re a notch above other actors that got their starts in raunchy R-rated comedies. Jonah Hill is the standout though, playing the oddly eccentric Efraim, who never quite understands how deep they’ve gotten themselves.

The pacing and structure of the movie is unusual, or maybe unexpected is a better word, but it completely works. In the trailers, what appears to be the climax of the film, is actually about the halfway point and there’s a substantial storyline that follows, that the trailers don’t really get into. It’s smart because I didn’t see it coming.

I also appreciated the small but vital role that Bradley Cooper played. It plays into his charm but it has an edge that we haven’t really seen Cooper dive into yet, at least not that I’ve seen.

war dogs 2

What doesn’t work?

The only thing that doesn’t really work is that the movie feels really long. It’s not especially long, clocking it at just under two hours, but the amount of content can be a little draining. It’s a long tale that might have you checking your watch once or twice, surprised at how much story has been stuffed into two hours.

Overall…

This is a movie that looks into something crazy, something that most people wouldn’t know about, and manages to tell this story to you in a way that is both entertaining yet informative. Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, and Bradley Cooper all give great performances, though the movie has so much story stuffed in that you might become fatigued by the final stretch. This won’t win any big awards but it’s worth a look if nothing else is grabbing your attention.

4 star

 

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Review: Kubo and the Two Strings

kubo headeradam reviewKubo and the Two Strings.

Laika is a film studio in Oregon that focuses on somewhat of a lost art form. They do stop motion animation, in the vein of Ray Harryhausen who was known for classics like the Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts films of the 1950s and 60s. When you see a movie that they create, you may assume that it’s computer-generated animation (like most movies these days) but it will absolutely blow your mind when you realize that these are physical models that are being recorded one frame at a time. With all this effort, does the end product manage to impress?

The gist.

We meet a young boy named Kubo (voiced by Game of Thrones’ Rickon Stark, Art Parkinson) who is being raised by his mother in a small village, on the run from his evil grandfather. During the day, Kubo travels into the village and wows people with his storytelling, accompanied by his ability to control paper with the strum of a guitar. However, things turn for the worse when his grandfathers’ minions find him and send him on an adventure, where his only help is from a talking monkey (Charlize Theron) and a samurai cursed into the body of a beetle (Matthew McConaughey).

kubo 2What works?

Kubo and the Two Strings is a masterpiece. I don’t use that word lightly.

Let’s start at a technical level. This movie is gorgeous and vivid and full of color and all of that is made even more impressive when you consider the stop motion techniques they had to use to make this happen. The rippling waves of water, the ornate origami figures that Kubo can bring to life, and the massive monsters he has to often face. They all look stunning.

In terms of design, this movie is unrivaled. The cities and the landscapes all look fully fleshed out and detailed. The characters all have little details that make them stand out. This movie is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, managing to walk a fine line between style and substance. The movie I’d likely compare it to most would be something like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, another movie that managed to blend style, action, and adventure in a perfect combination.

Another thing that unites these two movies is music. The music in Kubo is vastly important, as it’s his guitar that allows him to fight back against these massive odds. The first time he begins to play and tells an adventure story to the villagers, my jaw dropped. The music is enchanting and perfect and manages to become a core pillar of this film.

While the story is a fairly traditional adventure story, it makes a few decisions that shocked me with how bold and nontraditional they were. It feels very familiar, but in the best way possible. The movie is about storytelling and essentially writing the perfect ending to a story, so the finale is especially poignant.

I’m five paragraphs in and still talking about stuff that I absolutely loved about this movie. I can’t dismiss the voice talent here. Carrying the entire thing is Art Parkinson, familiar to some of you as the youngest brother Rickon in Game of Thrones. He’s complemented perfectly by both Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey, who both deliver absolutely astounding and deep performances.

2100.0400.still.laika.0004_R Monkey (voiced by Academy Award winner Charlize Theron) finds herself struggling against the grip of the Giant Skeleton to protect Kubo in animation studio LAIKA’s epic action-adventure KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Laika Studios/Focus Features

What doesn’t work?

I really can’t think of much. You need to see this.

Overall…

We need to reward good behavior. This is an original movie (in an era of reboots and sequels) and it’s done in an art style that is incredibly unique. Please go see this. It’s great for all ages, as adults will find it very touching but kids will love it as well. This is a masterpiece, with beautiful animation, great voice talent, and fantastic action.

Go see this. Now.

5 star

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Review: Sausage Party

sausage party headeradam reviewSausage Party.

Here’s some context. I like Seth Rogen and I tend to even like his stoner-comedies that he’s known for. Movies like Knocked Up, Super Bad, and This is the End were all awesome. I’m also not especially prudish, I don’t mind things that might be offensive or things that might be especially provocative. For the sake of satire, I totally get it and can appreciate it.

This movie though… was too much.

The gist.

Frank (Seth Rogen) is a hot dog. He’s madly in love with a hot dog bun by the name of Brenda (Kristen Wiig). They’re anxiously awaiting for the Fourth of July, where all the humans will show up, buy them, and then bring them to the wonderful “beyond.” Things start to go crazy when a bottle of Honey Mustard (Danny McBride) is returned to the store and breaks the bad news that the “beyond” is really a horrifying place, where humans murder and eat all the food. This triggers a whole adventure to find the truth.

Along the way, they cross paths with a very literal douche (Nick Kroll), who becomes the villain of the story.

We’ve got other voices such as Michael Cera, Salma Hayak, James Franco, Bill Hader, Jonah Hill, David Krumholtz, Edward Norton, and Paul Rudd.

This is an R-rated movie and would be an X-rated movie if it wasn’t animated food products, so please do not bring your children.

sausage party 2What works?

It’s a fun idea. You can tell they literally had a list of funny moments and tried to come up with a plotline to make all those things happen. An entire list of puns. The trailer is enough to satiate that need though, an entire movie of obvious jokes was a bit too much.

Okay, my brain is hurting from trying to think of other stuff that worked here.

What didn’t work?

This just might be the worst movie I’ve ever paid money to see.

Let me clarify. Some of you might love this, if you find that you like stupid movies. The audience was full of teenage kids snickering everytime a hot dog cursed, so the level of humor here is relatively low. Those people were howling with laughter though. Me, not so much.

I chuckled probably two or three times legitimately, where some gag worked (there was a Terminator 2 reference that was probably the funniest joke of the movie for me). Some times when I chuckled though, it was because I couldn’t believe how bad this was. The humor was flat for me, from the very beginning. The movie opens with a musical number that was painful to listen to and the “jokes” were just inserting a food pun and then adding some sort of sex innuendo. Even if you found yourself laughing at those, it would likely get old extremely quick. I get why the language would be funny. It’s a contrast to the fact that it’s 1.) a cartoon and 2.) about hot dogs. I get it. However the language became a crutch and stopped this movie from ever really becoming witty or clever.

Again, I’m not a prude, but this movie made my stomach churn. The sex wasn’t just sex but it was like… incredibly gross. The ending scene, which many people are talking about, is some of the most vile and grotesque stuff I’ve ever seen. Some of the audience was howling, but I almost had nightmares last night. It pushed beyond what has ever been done in a mainstream movie with things I’m surprised even an R-rated movie could get away with. The pseudoviolence and massive sexual encounters, mixed with this cartoon food motif, just grossed me out and I probably would have walked out, if not for the fact that I wanted to review it and tell you to save your money.

sausage party 1I’m really surprised that other reviewers that I’m usually pretty on-par with are all saying this movie was about average. I found very little redeeming here.

The animation looks like it’s a high school kid’s project. The plot is about as cliche as I’ve ever seen, though replaced with food instead of people. The “jokes” are just puns played out over and over. “It’s a Muslim food and a Jewish food fighting, that’s funny right? No?” It all just felt very lazy. Some people are claiming this movie talks about “important things” but it’s not. We’ve seen movies that criticize religion before, but in much smarter ways (see: The Invention of Lying). This felt lazy, amateur, and incredibly superficial.

But again, I emphasize. Some of you might love this. For me, it was an absolute dumpster on fire. For you, this could be your new favorite movie.

Overall…

Sausage Party was a funny commercial when it only lasted two minutes. A whole movie takes that idea and hits you over the head with it, with superficial plotlines, lazy jokes, and attempts at shock humor that will not only offend most of you, but will potentially traumatize you. This movie was not for me at all, and I like to think I have a good eye for satire. And this wasn’t it.

Rating 1 Star

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