Review: Last Christmas (2019)

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Last Christmas.

It’s a little weird that nearly two months before Christmas, we get a Christmas-themed romantic comedy. I took it as a sign that there wasn’t a lot of confidence in this movie, to be able to compete in the December window. Well… let’s see if I was right.

The gist.

Kate (Emilia Clarke) has had a rough go lately, drinking to excess and failing to create (or sustain) meaningful relationships, burning every bridge. Her immigrant parents (Emma Thompson and Boris Isakovic) are at odds, while her sister Marta (Lydia Leonard) feels like she can’t do anything to win their parents’ love. Kate works at a Christmas shop in London, ran by a woman who calls herself Santa (Michelle Yeoh).

Things aren’t looking great, until Kate runs into the mysterious Tom (Henry Golding), who starts to put her on the right track.

The film is co-written by Emma Thompson and directed by Paul Feig (Spy, Bridesmaids, The Heat, and many many episodes of television).

last christmas 3

What works?

The biggest surprise here is that this movie is so much more than you’d imagine. It’s not really a romantic comedy, it’s actually a surprisingly deep look at this woman’s downward spiral and how to rebuild bridges; romance has very little to do with it. Emilia Clarke’s performance is great, especially after you come to grips with the fact that she isn’t meant to be the quirky lead looking for love, but she’s a broken and tragic character trying to find a way to be happy again. Henry Golding is also pretty fantastic, though the mystery of why he’s so mysterious can be predicted pretty early on.

The surprise comedic moments come from Emma Thompson, which I can’t say I’ve really seen before. She’s quick and every punchline hits, probably due to the fact that she cowrote the script. There’s not a weak link in this cast, everyone pulls their weight.

I wish I could really tell you why this is an interesting and surprising movie, but to do so would really spoil the plot, so trust me. This is much more than the romantic comedy you’re expecting.

What doesn’t work?

There is a bit of mystery here and unfortunately it’s pretty predictable, as you start to guess what’s going on. It doesn’t lessen the impact of what happens but some folks might think the journey there is a little formulaic.

last christmas 2

Overall…

Last Christmas is a surprisingly good time, with some twists and turns that you wouldn’t expect. Everyone delivers top notch performances, with a comedic turn from Emma Thompson that delivered a few big laughs. Don’t look up spoilers, but head to the theaters if you’re looking for a story of redemption in the disguise of a holiday comedy.

4

 

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Review: Jojo Rabbit

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Jojo Rabbit.

It’s World War II and little Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) wants to be a Nazi and fight on the frontlines, encouraged by his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler (played by the film’s writer and director Taika Waititi). At home, his mother (Scarlett Johansson) has been hiding a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie), which has little Jojo confused about what’s right and wrong. To prepare him in the Hitler Youth, we have various instructors played by Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, and Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones).

jojo 1

What works?

This is a tough movie to wrap your head around. I think it’s a brilliant satire, making the Nazis of that era laughable and ridiculous, yet it also has some dark moments of terror, as the reality of what they’re doing hits our young protagonist. It blends these things perfectly, giving us a lot of laugh out loud laughter, yet also some moments where I was absolutely sobbing. It runs the entire emotional spectrum.

The performances across the board are fantastic. Our lead has never been in a film before, but he absolutely crushes it. We also get amazing (though expected) performances from Johansson and Rockwell, as well as a confusingly funny and yet terrifying portrayal of Hitler by Waititi. The movie walks a fine balance between humor and the harsh reality of the time.

I also want to commend Waititi as a director, because there are some incredible little moments that you’d miss if you blinked, so it’s jam-packed with little jokes or subtle foreshadowing. He also brilliantly directs the more intense sequences as well, though I can’t describe them for fear of spoiling those moments.

jojo rabbit 2

What doesn’t work?

There is really only one thing that managed to knock this down a peg and it’s something I can’t really go into. There is just a big missed opportunity in the climax, revolving around Waititi’s Hitler and how this storyline is resolved. I found it unsatisfying and it deserved a better end, so the movie ended on a bit of a sour note for me.

Also, some people might have a hard time with the idea of satirizing Hitler and the Nazis. It can feel like it’s making light of some terrible people or belittling the horror that occurred. If you’re not onboard for that and philosophically disagree with this being made into a comedy film, nothing in the movie will change your mind.

Overall…

If this sounds like something interesting to you, you won’t be disappointed. You’ll laugh and you’ll cry, then you’ll laugh again. It’s a beautifully made satire, if you’re onboard with the idea that Hitler is (in this boy’s mind) a dancing and joking maniac. I found a lot to enjoy here and I think most of you will too.

4

 

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Review: Playing with Fire (2019)

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Playing with Fire.

We follow ‘smoke jumper’ Jake Carson (John Cena), a Northern California firefighter known for dropping right into intense wildfires. He’s joined by John Leguizamo, Keegan-Michael Key, and the silent Axe, played by Tyler Mane (best known as Sabretooth in X-Men). They drop into a burning home and rescue three children, who they then have to take care of for a few days (played by Finley Rose Slater, Christian Convery, and Brianna Hildebrand, who played Negasonic Teenage Warhead in Deadpool).

We also have a potential love interest (Judy Greer) and a firefighter that Cena’s character idolizes and seeks to replace someday (Dennis Haybert, 24 and those Allstate commercials).

What works?

Regardless what you think of the film, these guys committed to it. Sometimes you can tell when people phone it in, but they’re really giving it their all. The comedy is mostly carried by Keegan Michael-Key, who did manage to make me laugh. Comedic attempts were made by John Leguizamo and Tyler Mane, but I’d argue they didn’t succeed nearly as well as Key.

I also think the second half of this film worked much more than the first half. The first half is painful, full of jokes that landed flat and an extreme over-reliance on poop jokes. The second half actually had me tearing up a bit, as the movie actually had a bit of heart. It’s still not good but it did redeem the film quite a bit.

playing with fire 2

What didn’t work?

Okay, most of you reading this are either contemplating seeing this alone or you might be a parent, and you’d bring a child (or two) with you. Unfortunately, this movie doesn’t really work for either. This movie is extremely frustrating to watch, as the jokes fall flat repeatedly. You can tell it’s intended for children, as becomes apparent when the Nickelodeon Productions icon flashes across the screen. But it’s not really suitable for parents with kids either… It doesn’t appeal at all to grown folks, so you’ll find yourself extremely annoyed. And if you’re trying to choose movies that can teach your kids something, this will only teach them to steal, mess around, break things, and overall be disobedient, and in the film this disobedience always results in laughter.

When a movie is supposed to be a comedy and nearly every joke results in a quiet theater full of people, that’s not a good sign. The hijinks are cliche, the potty humor is old news, and overall this movie does nothing to warrant a recommendation. Its few heartfelt moments in the climax saved this from a terrible rating.

playing with fire 1

Overall…

Whether you’re going to see this with or without kids, this is a flop. The humor is painful, save for a few bright spots by Keegan Michael-Key. It’s predictable and cliche, including some predictable heartfelt moments in the climax that almost brought me to tears (which is an easy feat for films, so it doesn’t sway the rating that much). This movie isn’t really for anyone and that’s a bummer.

2

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(Review) Terminator: Dark Fate

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Terminator: Dark Fate.

It’s been about 18 years since Terminator 2: Judgement Day. In that time, we’ve gotten new Terminator films but nothing really felt like a true sequel to that film. Well, here we are, with a true sequel that can cap the Sarah Connor trilogy.

The gist.

Two warriors from out of time arrive in current day. One is a woman named Grace (Mackenzie Davis), who is an augmented human from the future, sent back in time to find and protect a woman named Dani (Natalia Reyes) for some yet unknown reason. The other time traveler is a liquid metal killing machine called the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) who will stop at nothing to kill Dani and change the future.

Well, there’s no one better at fighting off Terminators than Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), who arrives and teaches both Dani and Grace some tricks to elude the killing machines. Throughout their journey, they also encounter an older version of a Terminator, a T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who is living among the humans of today.

This film is directed by Tim Miller (Deadpool).

dark fate 1

What works?

This movie is surprisingly good, capitalizing on the hype of a true T2 sequel but also delivering some great and unique moments. For nostalgia, both Hamilton and Schwarzenneger deliver, recapturing what made their characters memorable and living up to what we’d expect. The newcomers also do an outstanding job, most notably both Mackenzie Davis and Natalia Reyes. This action movie is carried by three amazing and badass women, something fairly unique. Davis has some action sequences that are jaw-dropping.

In terms of story, this also carries on the plot of T2 but also has some twists and turns of its own. I was expecting a few things to happen but was pleased when they subverted those expectations. It manages to have plenty of action, some great heartfelt moments, and just enough comedy. It’s a perfect blend. There’s also a chance this could be starting a new franchise of Terminator films and I’d be totally onboard.

Let’s talk action. The action sequences are intense and unique, especially a car chase towards the beginning of the film. It takes a lot to kill this liquid metal Rev-9 and you can tell the crew had a blast trying to figure out how to smash and obliterate him over and over. Gabriel Luna doesn’t do much and doesn’t carry the same gravitas as Robert Patrick as the T-1000, but he still does a fine job in these action moments.

PHOENIX

What doesn’t work?

The movie’s only weak link for me was the visual effects. Most of the time, it was great, including some great chase sequences, plenty of cool liquid metal effects, and lots of man vs. machine fight scenes, but it didn’t always look so polished. There’s a sequence in an airplane towards the film’s climax that looked corny, as the characters fought in this falling airplane. There are plenty of other moments where leaps and jumps and lots of other feats of athleticism look quite fake in execution, really taking you out of those moments.

Overall…

This is a great movie, though not perfect. The visuals can’t always match the movie’s ambition, but it’s grounded by stellar performances from our female leads. The action is great, the story throws you for a loop, and this truly ends the Terminator trilogy in a cool way. Will there be sequels? Likely yes. And I’m stoked for them.

4

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Review: Black and Blue (2019)

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Black and Blue.

This is a surprising time of year for a film like Black and Blue. It’s not an award-contender and it’s not a spooky pre-Halloween outing. This is the type of movie you see in January and February, with very little competition. However, in late October, this movie has an uphill battle ahead of itself as award contenders start to arrive.

The gist.

Alicia West (Naomie Harris) is a New Orleans native, who left home to serve two tours in Iraq before returning and signing up for the police force. She’s a rookie in the force, teamed up with Kevin (Reid Scott, Veep) and still learning the ropes. One day she’s asked to work a double with a new partner (James Moses Black) and she witnesses what appears to be an execution, as narcotics officer Malone (Frank Grillo) murders a young man. When it’s realized that West has body camera footage of this execution, half of the police force is out to kill her and claim that footage, before she can upload to a police server. To make this more difficult, she’s running from the police in a neighborhood that sees her as an enemy, run by notorious gang leader Darius (Mike Colter, Luke Cage). Her only ally seems to be a local market worker named Milo (Tyrese Gibson) who believes her story when everyone else turns her away.

Naomi Harris stars in BLACK and BLUE.
CR: Alan Markfield/Screen Gems

What works?

The gist here is really interesting and relevant. What’s it like for a black police officer in a predominantly black neighborhood, especially when the police have forsaken that part of town? It also manages to weave in a “survive til sunrise” story that is full of action and thrills, so this should appeal to a lot of people.

Naomie Harris is good, but the outstanding performance is surprisingly Tyrese Gibson, who gives a nuanced and complicated performance as he struggles to help a person in need while not becoming involved. In the Fast and Furious films, he’s just comedic relief, but here, there’s some surprising weight to his performance.

What doesn’t work?

Now, I wanted this movie to be better than it ended up being. It’s fine but that’s really the highest compliment I can give.

The biggest weakness here is that the movie doesn’t surprise you at all. If I told you the gist above, you can probably connect the dots and predict how this will play out. There are no twists that are really surprising and even the climax is just about as predictable as it can get. The ride is fun, which is why I’m scoring this right down the middle, but this is a forgettable movie that doesn’t do anything risky or new.

And while Naomie Harris is good most of the time, there are quite a few melodramatic moments that really don’t fit. Something bad will happen and the movie will go into slow motion and she’ll scream in angst. It’s a bit over the top, though I blame the director and editing team for leaving these moments in the film.

I also had a problem with Mike Colter, who played the lead in Luke Cage. Here, he’s supposed to be this threatening force but ultimately his role in a bit underwhelming and the arc of the character is a letdown. Not sure if he was miscast in this role or the writing didn’t work for his character.

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Overall…

While the premise sounds promising, Black and Blue ends up being a fairly tame and predictable journey, with the highlight being a surprisingly good performance from Tyrese Gibson. It’s a decent ride, with plenty of action moments and suspense, but it’ll be ultimately pretty forgettable in a few days after you see it.

3

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(Review) Zombieland: Double Tap

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Zombieland: Double Tap

It’s been ten years since the first Zombieland and now we catch up with our crew. We have the reckless Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), the neurotic Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), and the two sisters (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin). When this movie begins, they’re making their way to the safest place they can imagine: the White House. Their calm and safe existence there is thrown off when Little Rock (Breslin) falls for a free-spirit from Berkeley (Avan Jogia) and they run off together.

Columbus and Wichita (Stone) also have a bit of a rough patch, resulting in Columbus finding a new love interest, Madison (Zoey Deutch). We also have supporting roles for Rosario Dawson, Luke Wilson, and Thomas Middleditch.

Woody Harrelson (Finalized);Jesse Eisenberg (Finalized);Emma Stone (Finalized);Abigail Breslin (Finalized)

What works?

Like the original Zombieland, the sequel is highly stylized, as text flies across the screen as Columbus recites his rules for surviving zombies. It’s a funny movie also, full of clever one-liners and witty banter. The surprising highlight for me was the addition of Zoey Deutch as Madison. I could see some audiences being really annoyed by her character, but I found her 85% of the time to be really funny, usually the funniest when she wasn’t even the focus. It’s a big 180 from her role in The Politician, so this girl has range.

Out of the original four, I think the highlight this time around was Eisenberg, especially in his interactions with Thomas Middleditch, who plays a doppelganger of sorts to Columbus.

In terms of action, this movie also has its fair share, considering the threat they’re up against. The action sequences are fun and rightfully suspenseful, especially the climax of the film. The gore is over the top, yes, but obviously fake so it shouldn’t bother most of you too much.

What doesn’t work?

Out of the core four, I think Breslin maybe got the short end of the stick. Sometimes when child actors grow up, they don’t quite keep their charm. I worry that this might have happened to her, because her scenes felt brief and uneventful. And while I know Emma Stone is immensely talented, her role here had her relegated to love interest with very little else to do, so the women didn’t fare too well this time around.

And like I said above, I feel like Zoey Deutch was a hilarious addition, but I could easily see some people really disliking her / that portrayal.

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Overall…

This isn’t a great film but it’s a fun film: lots of creative killing of zombies, some hilarious back and forth, and a flashy visual aesthetic to keep you entertained. The addition of Zoey Deutch will be divisive, I found her to be hilarious, and the role of the women in general is downplayed and relegated to romance. If you enjoyed the first Zombieland, this one likely won’t disappoint.

4

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New7Wonders of the World

We’re excited to share three videos highlighting the New7Wonders organization and their worldwide voting competition to choose the wonders of the world. The first video highlights traditional wonders of the world, the second video highlights natural wonders, and the third highlights cities that are wonders unto themselves.

Enjoy!

 

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