Review: Tolkien (2019)

tolkien headeradam reviewTolkien.

I owe my Tolkien appreciation to my parents, who had me reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings way before other kids my age. Before the movies came out, I remember writing papers in Junior High and High School about Tolkien and his brand of fantasy. And while I loved The Lord of the Rings films (and tolerated The Hobbit), I found myself far less interested in this drama based on his life (and the empty theater reinforced that I wasn’t the only one).

The gist.

J.R.R. Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) is a young man fascinated by language. As a boy, he is orphaned and falls in love with a girl named Edith (Lily Collins). He also finds himself best friends with three other boys, all fascinated by music, art, and poetry (Patrick Gibson, Anthony Boyle, and Tom Glynn-Carney). Our story is told in several time periods, including Tolkien’s early youth, his days at Oxford, and his time spent during World War 1 in the trenches. All of these eras influence his imagination and sow the seeds for what will eventually become the world of Middle-Earth.

What works?

Nicholas Hoult is great here, I think better than I’ve ever seen him. He perfectly balances the charisma of Tolkien and the alienation and isolation he feels. He has great chemistry with Lily Collins, who also does a decent job with what she’s given. The best moments of the film are centered around this foursome of friends as they debate and discuss literature and life and art. Like the story in The Lord of the Rings, it’s a message of fellowship and forging bonds with others.

There’s also some great and traumatic moments during his time in war that are quite powerful, where imagery is used as a powerful mechanism to instill emotions in us. I just wish the payoff were a little stronger, but I’ll get to that.

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What doesn’t work?

In my opening statement, I wondered if this movie could be as interesting as anything Tolkien wrote. And unfortunately it’s not. This is a fairly typical British drama, of a young man who pines for a young woman and finds many obstacles to them being together. On this front, this movie fails though because it breezes past some big moments of drama (at one point our heroine is engaged to someone else but we never see or hear about this again). People looking to this movie to scratch that romantic drama itch will likely be disappointed.

Likewise, diehard fans of Tolkien will see this movie wanting to see all the nuances of how he created this world. We get glimpses but it’s unfortunately limited. We can make some leaps in judgment on how certain things came to be, but the actual creation of Middle-Earth is mostly off-screen. We even see flashes during the war sequences of moments that resemble a dragon or resemble black riders on horseback, but even these moments are underwhelming.

So who is this movie for? I think this is the heart of the problem. There’s a very small sliver of folks who would likely be interested in both the creation of his mythology as well as a romantic drama. And even those people will likely be disappointed by the outcome. I also wanted to see glimpses of how spirituality played into this, as Tolkien and C.S. Lewis had a relationship and both discussed how religion played into their created mythologies… We don’t get any of that.

To make all of this worse, the movie is painfully boring for long stretches. Even the wartime sequences, he spends most of these sequences laying on the ground near death, watching blankly as the war erupts around him.

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Overall…

A few of you might watch this movie and say to yourself “That was fine.” That is about the highest compliment I can give. Both Hoult and Collins do a great job but the script does them a disservice, not satisfying those seeking romance and not satisfying those seeking insight into Tolkien’s creations. It’s a slow journey that doesn’t really pay off so it’s hard to really recommend this one.

2

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(Review) John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

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John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

It’s surprising to me how many people have ignored this franchise or somehow just not given it a chance. The first and second films are undoubtedly some of the best action films in the last 10 years so if you’re sleeping on this series, now is the time to rent those films and give it a chance.

The thought was that Parabellum was to be the final film in one of the best trilogies in action history, so the expectations were high. Can this cap off a truly incredible series?

The gist.

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) was a retired assassin, living peacefully, until he was roped back into the life (in the events of the first movie). He’s one of the best martial artists and skilled assassins in the world, though ends up at odds against the criminal underworld’s government, called the High Table. At the finale of movie number two, a bounty is placed on John’s head for $14 million so every other assassin and mercenary in the world is aiming for him.

As this movie opens, the clock is ticking down til the alert goes out that the bounty is live, so he has just minutes until the world turns against him. Just as he’s seeking refuge and weapons, we also follow what’s called an Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) as she retraces Wick’s steps from the last movie and clean up his mess, often with violence. Former allies of Wick’s include Winston, the runner of the Continental Hotel (Ian McShane), and the Bowery King, a man who uses the homeless of New York to traffic weapons and knowledge (Lawrence Fishburne).

When the clock starts and John Wick must defend himself, he seeks out an old ally (Halle Berry) who also has an affinity for dogs and might be able to help him. The most dangerous assassin to look for Wick is Zero (Mark Dacascos), acting on behalf of the Adjudicator.

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What works?

If you’re looking to this movie to continue its tradition of absolutely mind-blowing action sequences, you won’t be disappointed, as this film again gives you fight after fight that each feel unique and do things that you’ve likely never seen in action movies before. We’ve got fights on horseback, we’ve got a group of ninjas on motorcycles, we’ve got deadly dogs that steal the show, and we’ve got knife fights that are absolutely jaw-dropping. Whether guns, knives, or bare fists, each fight is creative, full of long takes that let you really take in the action, and generally deliver some of the best action in Hollywood.

The world of John Wick is also incredibly alive here, as we learn more and more about this criminal underground. We learn just enough to be satiated but we’re still eager to find out more. The world also comes to life beautifully, often through bright and vivid colors. The movie is neon and bold and looks absolutely wonderful.

Keanu again wows in this role, giving us a battered and broken man who still manages to defeat all odds. Halle Berry is also perfect here, though really only appears in the middle of the film. Also, a shoutout to villain Zero played by Mark Dacascos. I only knew him as the Chairman from Iron Chef America but surprise, he’s actually an incredibly gifted martial artist and I had no idea. He’s also really funny here, which was a nice change of pace.

What doesn’t work?

This isn’t a detractor but more like a warning, if you’ve somehow not seen the other films. These films are brutal and violent (there’s like 300 people killed in this movie) and some of these deaths are intense, so if you’re squeamish or triggered by knife/gun violence, this won’t be a good pick for you.

The only other qualm I have is really something I should be thankful for. This film should have been the cap to an amazing trilogy but it doesn’t end here, our climax leads into another cliffhanger, meaning we’re going to see even more John Wick in the future. I think if you go in knowing that this isn’t just a trilogy but rather a full-on franchise, you might appreciate the climax a little more.

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Overall…

These films are revolutionizing action films as we know them. The martial arts on display are top-notch and the world is vibrant. It’s nonstop action and it’s action unlike anything we’ve ever seen. There are some character moments that really let Keanu shine but the star of the film are the brutal and intense fight sequences. If you have the stomach for it, John Wick: Chapter 3 is the best there is in this genre.

5

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Review: The Hustle (2019)

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The Hustle.

A lot of folks seemed to forget this movie was coming out. Let me tell you if this is a movie you should make a point to go check out or if it’s fine to leave it alone.

The gist.

Josephine Chesterfield (Anne Hathaway) is an established and wealthy con-woman, able to acquire millions from unsuspecting men. She then meets Penny (Rebel Wilson), a boisterous and loud aspiring con-woman who tramples into Josephine’s world. Their rivalry soon ropes in a tech millionaire named Thomas (Alex Sharp) and the two must compete to win his affection (and money).

What works?

If you’re a fan of Rebel Wilson, you’ll love her here. My wife says she’s “Lucille Ball with a dash of Amy Schumer.” Her dynamic with Anne Hathaway is also pretty great. While originally an odd pairing, it mostly works. It’s a little reminiscent of Hathaway’s recent role in Ocean’s 8 so if you enjoyed that film, you might also love this. The two leads have a great time and provide some laughs.

I also appreciated relative newcomer Alex Sharp, who plays the unsuspecting tech mogul Thomas. There’s a few twists and turns involved that you may or may not enjoy but I found him mostly likable and believable.

What doesn’t work?

Rebel plays the same character in every movie. Pitch Perfect, Isn’t It Romantic, Bridesmaids… It’s almost like Kevin Hart. He does one thing really well and if you’re into that, this movie is right up your alley. I found her character to be a little grating here but I think it’s intentional.

This movie also has a humor problem (or rather a lack of humor problem). It’s fairly bland for most of its runtime, resulting in very little laughter. Leaving the theater, I was not thinking about the jokes or how much fun I had. It was a movie that happened and I watched it.

I also don’t think this movie nailed the landing. The climax is a little wonky and the movie ends on “Will we see a sequel?” note that I didn’t really appreciate.

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Overall…

This movie is the absolute definition of “average.” You might laugh, sure, but in a month, you’ll likely have forgotten everything about this. It offers nothing unique and our leads are exactly like characters you’ve seen them do before. Will you enjoy it? Maybe. Get some popcorn and veg for an hour, this movie will likely help you pass the time.

3

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Review: Detective Pikachu

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Detective Pikachu.

I’m not a huge Pokemon fan, let me just put that out there. The first Pokemon game I ever really got into was Pokemon Go, so I’m fairly new to this whole thing. So that’s the lens I’m using to review this movie, so I may be off-target from some of you that ride or die Pokemon.

The gist.

Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) gets the horrible news that his father has died. His father, a detective in the fictional Ryme City, was investigating something and seems to have gotten close to discovering the truth. Tim is confronted by his father’s old partner, a Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds), who has amnesia and can for some reason speak to and understand Tim (something never done before). These two venture out to discover what happened to Tim’s father and if he’s really dead.

We encounter an energetic young journalist (Kathryn Newton), one of the rich founders of Ryme City (Bill Nighy), and his son (Chris Geere). Ken Watanabe stars as a police lieutenant who knew Tim’s father.

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What works?

I remember reading the news that Ryan Reynolds was going to voice Pikachu and I couldn’t wrap my head around it. There’s an incongruence that I was struggling with, matching that voice to this Pokemon. But let me say this now… Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu was a genius move and the best part of this movie. He’s funny, focusing his most PG-13 version of Deadpool, but the movie also cleverly writes Pikachu, full of nods and references to the larger Pokemon world (though I didn’t always get them) and plenty to constantly be laughing about.

The second star of the film is the world that they’ve created here, seamlessly incorporating Pokemon into every nook and cranny. Every pigeon has been replaced by a Pidgey. They’re walking the streets and working jobs and it all absolutely looks fantastic. It almost requires a second viewing because some of these sequences are so jam-packed that you’ll need to rewatch the catch all of them (pun intended).

So if you’re looking for a solid comedy and you’re a fan of this world, this is a no-brainer to check it out and you’ll likely have an absolute blast.

What doesn’t work?

The first 2/3 of this movie is amazing, I would’ve ranked this movie a notch up if it had kept that momentum. Instead, the movie goes a bit off the rails in the climax, giving us a sudden threat that turns the whole movie sideways and has a thousand plotholes. This makes the climax a little more confusing than satisfying. I think even diehard Pokemon fans will agree that the movie didn’t exactly stick the landing.

This movie also has a problem with its human characters. The Pokemon were great, but the human actors alongside them were fairly weak, especially our lead Justice Smith, who I don’t think is quite ready to carry a film like this. His comedy chops don’t work and he doesn’t carry the emotional weight of the film either, instead delivering a fairly bland and uninteresting performance. Our other humans are barely in the movie but don’t really stick out much. The best human performance was probably Karan Soni (Deadpool) but he’s only in one early sequence.

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Overall…

This movie is a split decision. If you’re a fan of Pokemon, you’ll love that aspect. Seeing them come to life is astounding and the effects are surprisingly good. However, the humans are not nearly as interesting and a weird twist in the climax makes the movie end with a bit of a stumble. Most of you will still have a great time, but you might debate if it’s truly a great movie.

3

 

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Review: Long Shot (2019)

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Long Shot.

I’ve been in the mood for a solid comedy recently, amidst all the huge summer blockbusters arriving early to the party. Seth Rogen is a little hit or miss for me but I was excited to see what Charlize Theron could deliver here. Was it good?

The gist.

Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) is the Secretary of State, serving under a TV actor-turned-President (Bob Odenkirk) who has no idea what he’s doing. He tells Charlotte that he’s going to endorse her as she runs for President next. Her assistants (June Diane Raphael and Ravi Patel) have the job of boosting her numbers, especially as it relates to her sense of humor and ability to connect with her.

Insert journalist Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen), who was once babysat by Field and reunites with her. He needs a job, she needs a comedy writer, so together they adventure forth to spice up her speeches a bit.

We also have O’Shea Jackson Jr., Randall Park, and Andy Serkis, in some age makeup that left me stumped as to who he really was.

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What works?

Surprisingly, Long Shot might be one of Seth Rogen’s best movies in recent years. At least, it starts that way, by going much deeper than I expected, exploring the idea of politics and morality, as Field (Theron) fights to push an environmental bill that other interested parties want to tear apart. It looks at American politics and how corrupted these politicians might be, or how much they can be bought for. It’s clever and relevant, and the lens of Rogen’s journalist character lets us also look at news and how we receive information in this modern day. There’s a lot going on here, that mostly worked.

The movie is also fairly funny (though I thought the movie was more witty than laugh out loud funny, which might disappoint you). It also gets progressively more typical Rogen as the movie goes on (which is my least favorite type of Rogen humor), so the final act felt a little underwhelming and maybe familiar to his other stuff as it starts to rely heavily on drug and sex humor. Might be your thing, and if so, you might love this film more than I did.

Charlize Theron knocks it out of the park here, with seemingly great and believable chemistry with Rogen. She plays a woman out of time, as she hasn’t had time to enjoy herself at all since entering the public arena. It’s nice to watch her reconnect with her youth and find joy again. She does great here.

Also shoutout to some of our supporting characters. Bob Odenkirk plays the current President and he’s hilarious in the few scenes that he’s in. Also stealing the show is one of Field’s assistants Maggie, played by June Diane Raphael. Now, this is an actress that you likely know her face but she’s never had a substantial role in a movie. Here, she nails it, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a launching pad for more leading roles.

What doesn’t work?

While the movie starts especially clever, it does devolve. There’s a scene involving our two leads taking drugs that feels very reminiscent of other Rogen films. The final act doesn’t feel nearly as unique or special as the first 2/3.

There are also some moments where the film maybe tried to insert a social message but it was off the mark. There’s a realization that one of our characters is a Republican and it feels like an after school special, feeling totally out of place.

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Overall…

Long Shot has a lot going for it. It’s surprisingly clever and witty, giving both Rogen and Theron some fun moments. However, it devolves a bit into the typical in the final act, though is definitely still worth watching. The supporting cast deliver plenty of laughs and most of you should have a great time here.

4

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(Non-Spoiler Review) Avengers: Endgame

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Avengers: Endgame.

This is incredibly difficult, to try and review a film that has kept everything shrouded in secrecy. I’ll do my best to remain spoiler-free for those of you that haven’t seen it.

The gist.

At the end of Avengers: Infinity War, the villain Thanos (Josh Brolin) snapped his fingers and erased half of the universe from existence. Now, we have to deal with the fallout. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) are floating through space, helpless and on the verge of running out of oxygen. On Earth, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is hopeless, trying to find a solution alongside Natasha (Scarlett Johansson), Rhodey (Don Cheadle), and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). We finally see what’s been happening with Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) since the snap occurred, as well as how Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) returns from the quantum realm. From the Guardians, all that remains is Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), alone on a strange planet.

This movie also features Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) as she encounters the Avengers. I won’t spoil some other very surprising characters that appear.

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What works?

Every single thing.

Now, here’s my perspective. I’ve seen every Marvel Cinematic Universe film many many times and I’m super invested in this world. This movie is made for the fans. If you’ve missed some films or aren’t super interested in what’s already happened, this film may not have the same impact on you. As a fan, this movie had everything I wanted (and even things I never would have thought to ask for).

It’s three hours long, but it didn’t feel three hours long. The times when it felt slow, it was intentional. Our characters are mourning, it shouldn’t be nonstop action. It also covers a lot of ground, with the entire plot kept under wraps. Going in, I had no idea what our cast would be doing for the three-hour runtime. And I loved that.

This is also a chance for our original six Avengers to really shine, especially considering how huge our cast has gotten. Some folks complained about Infinity War that it put characters like Steve Rogers and Black Widow in the backseat (and didn’t even feature Hawkeye). Here, they all get moments to shine. They’re complemented by other characters, including a great performance from Paul Rudd as Ant-Man and some more nuance to the character of Nebula, played by Karen Gillan.

Without spoiling the plot, it’s buckwild. This is stuff that I never would’ve hoped for, but is a love letter to the 21 films that predated this one, even making you appreciate some of those older films more after watching this one. It’s a crazy adventure but it totally works, resulting in a climax that is everything my 10-year-old self dreamt of and may be the most intense climax in a superhero movie to date.

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What doesn’t work?

The only people that will leave disappointed are those that are far removed from this world and therefore not affected by this. If you haven’t seen all the films, if you’re just a casual moviegoer, this film won’t hit you as hard as diehard fans.

Overall…

For those that live and breath these films, this is a satisfying climax in many ways. There’s intense action, yet plenty of smaller character moments that really reward you for ten years of following this franchise. See this on the biggest and best screen you can find, it’s definitely worth it.

5

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Review: Missing Link

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Missing Link.

Before I go into this review, I want to gush for a second over the film Kubo and the Two Strings, which snagged my #1 Film of 2016 distinction (so, obviously I was a fan). Laika, the company that creates these films, is based outside of Portland, so I have some hometown loyalty as well. Let’s see if this newest film can meet those high standards!

The gist.

Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) is obsessed with finding and documenting rare creatures. In the opening sequence, he’s tracked down the Loch Ness monster and is trying to snag a photo of it. When he receives a cryptic letter beckoning him to the Pacific Northwest of America, he follows the leads and encounters a Sasquatch initially called Mr. Link (Zach Galifianakis) that yearns to unite with his cousins in the Himalayas (the Yeti). To get there, Frost must confront an old flame (Zoe Saldana) and outmaneuver a killer of monsters (Timothy Olyphant) who seeks to erase Mr. Link from existence.

 

What works?

Our voice cast here is pretty incredible. Jackman and Galifianakis get the most to do and their chemistry is totally believable. Galifianakis also delivers one of his sweetest and most sincere performances, maybe ever. He makes this huge Sasquatch feel real and authentic, making us root for this creature that we’ve only just met. He does an incredible job here.

I also want to shout out Timothy Olyphant, who voices a hunter who tracks our heroes throughout the film. I’ve been watching Olyphant most recently in Santa Clarita Diet so I would’ve thought that his voice would stand out, but he does some great character work here and is totally unrecognizable, which I always appreciate.

The real star of this movie however is the way the movie is made. Check out the video right above here, but these movies are crafted in such a way that seem impossible. It appears like these characters were created in a computer somewhere, not molded and placed physically on a real set. It’s a tremendous amount of work and I wish a snippet played before the feature film that showcased how this was created (by the time the credits roll and you see some behind the scenes, it’s almost too late). If you’re at all curious, watch that video above and prepare to have your minds blown.

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What doesn’t work?

It’s hard to not compare this film to Kubo, which is now the gold standard for this type of work. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite reach those heights. While there are more locations featured here, as they literally travel the world, I didn’t have the same “wow” moments that I got in Kubo. Yes, it looks like a wild wild west Santa Ana. Yes, that snow looks semi-real as they hike through the Himalayas. But it’s not jaw-dropping. Even the story itself feels smaller and simpler, a basic journey from one place to another. Our characters exchange dialogue but there’s not a lot of growth or development, although the movie tries to make you think that there is in the final act.

This movie also feels a little bit more juvenile, aimed at kids as opposed to all ages. There’s a lot of pratfalls and physical gags that made all the kids in my theater roar, but it’s a little done-to-death for adults.

Overall…

Missing Link is a great time, with both Jackman and (especially) Galifianakis delivering great performances. The highlight though is sitting back and watching the majesty of this movie, realizing they shot everything one frame at a time with physical models. It’s incredible. Unfortunately, it feels a little less impressive than the prior Kubo and the Two Strings and aims itself at a younger audience, resulting in a different experience than I was hoping for. Still a great time, if this looks like your cup of tea.

4

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