Review: The Meyerowitz Stories

The Meyerowitz Stories.

Streaming now on Netflix, I didn’t quite know what to expect here. Ben Stiller is coming off of his other more serious role in Brad’s Status and Adam Sandler is coming off a series of failures on Netflix, so this one was a toss up for me.

The gist.

We meet three siblings (Sandler, Stiller, and comedienne Elizabeth Marvel) who all have very different relationships with their father (Dustin Hoffman), who is an aging sculptor trying to regain his fame and glory. Our movie begins as Danny (Sandler) is getting ready to send his daughter (Grace Van Patten) off to college. The entire first third is solely about Danny and his daughter and what Danny’s relationship is with his father. In the second act, Danny disappears and we now meet Matthew (Stiller) and learn what their dynamics are. In the final act, everything comes together.

We also have Emma Thompson as the drunk wife and cameos from Candice Bergen and Adam Driver.

What works?

While this is a comedy, it isn’t a comedy like either Stiller or Sandler are usually featured in. This is smart comedy, dialogue-driven and absurd. It’s funny in its relevance and our ability to relate to it. Sandler carries the movie’s first act and he’s brilliant, sad and hurt, his anger towards his father coming out as sharp wit. He also has a great relationship with his daughter, seeming completely realistic. Stiller takes control in the second act and it’s a sharp contrast but it totally works, as we’re now seeing a character that we’ve only seen through Sandler’s comments. The mechanism of dividing this film was a great choice.

Dustin Hoffman is the star of the show though, delivering a manic and out of control performance that is hilarious at the beginning but becomes more sad, as we watch how his actions and spontaneity affect his children. It’s a great performance.

If you’re going to see this movie, it’s for the performances, featuring some of the best by Sandler, Stiller, and Hoffman. Emma Thompson feels underused as the new wife, constantly in a drunken stupor, which is unfortunate.

What didn’t work?

The movie flounders a bit in the final act, combining everything together and resulting in a bit of a slow burn and uneven ending. There are scenes that fade to black, like it’s the final scene of the movie, but it’s not. This leads you to a feeling of false endings and sometimes frustration. By the end, I just felt fatigued a bit.

Overall…

The Meyerowitz Stories is streaming now on Netflix and if you want to see some nuanced and layered performances, this is a no-brainer. It’s not a perfect film, suffering from a slow pace and uneven final act. Stiller, Sandler, and Hoffman make it enjoyable still.

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Review: Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049.

Here’s where I stood before going into this movie. I haven’t seen the original Blade Runner but I’m a huge fan of director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario). I’m thinking that most of you probably haven’t seen the original either, so hopefully this review will shed some light on how likely it is that you’ll enjoy this sequel.

The gist.

It’s the year 2049. There are artificial androids in the world called replicants, which have actually been made illegal since some of them rebelled against their owners. There are cops tasked with hunting down these illegal replicants, called Blade Runners. This movie stars Ryan Gosling as our lead, who stumbles upon a mystery that he is driven to find out the answer to. He’s a lonely guy, his only love is a holographic girlfriend played by Ana de Armas (War Dogs). His supervisor (Robin Wright) sends him on a series of missions which eventually leads him to another retired Blade Runner (Harrison Ford).

What works?

The star of this movie is the cinematography, with some absolutely breathtaking moments choreographed by one of the best cinematographers working today Roger Deakins (who also worked with Villeneuve on Sicario). The colors are vibrant and bold and the world is expertly crafted, likely a shoe in for Deakins to get the Best Cinematography award (which he’s been nominated for 13 times but never won).

These incredible visuals are paired with some amazing music as well, making this foreign future come to life with strange harmonies and tones, both simple on paper but expertly executed.

This world is inhabited by intriguing characters, with Ryan Gosling delivering an incredible performance, proving again that he’s one of the best in the business these days. He’s calm and calculated but when he shows emotion, it’s heart-wrenching. The other standout is Ana de Armas who plays his lover, though she only exists as a hologram. This movie manages to make you feel connected to her in a way that totally works. Harrison Ford is great but his role is fairly minimal, only showing up after the 2 hour mark in a movie that’s nearly 3 hours long.

What doesn’t work?

This movie impresses me but you can tell Villeneuve couldn’t bear to make many (or any) cuts to his masterpiece. At nearly 3 hours, it’s entirely too long. If the story was tight and focused, I wouldn’t mind the length, but it’s not. There are entire subplots that go nowhere, really only providing character development as opposed to plot.

Even if they couldn’t sacrifice scenes or story beats, they could’ve sped up the scenes themselves. There are many times where we just watch something happen for way too long. Gosling is browsing through computer records for five minutes or a walk down a hallway takes forever to actually get them to their destination. It could’ve been trimmed and cut and made a more efficient film.

Overall…

Without seeing the original, I still had a good grasp on what was happening here. It has intriguing characters, beautiful production design and cinematography, and the music is haunting in the best of ways. The only problem is that no one showed restraint, which could have made this movie tighter and maybe more accessible to an average moviegoer. If you have the patience and want to see an incredibly realized and fascinating science-fiction world, this will do it.

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Review: American Made

American Made.

Tom Cruise is one of the biggest stars around, the epitome of a Hollywood A-lister. Everything he does turns to gold. Is the same true for this biopic?

The gist.

American Made focuses on a single pilot that managed to make the most of a bad situation. Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) is approached by the CIA (represented by Domhnall Gleeson) and asked to take pictures of Central American countries like Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Colombia. He makes contact with the Medellin cartel and swings a deal to deliver drugs back to the United States. This is a slippery slope and he ends up moving drugs, guns, and even soldiers, while working for both the US government and foreign cartels. In the movie, we also spend significant time with his wife (played by Sarah Wright).

What works?

This whole movie relies on Tom Cruise and luckily he carries it. He’s charismatic and makes us like this character, whose questionable morals made him a bit of a villain in this whole story. We’re smartly carried along with the character, feeling like we’re somehow involved in it. The story is outlandish and the fact that it’s mostly based on a real story is intriguing.

The movie moves at a breakneck pace, filling years of events. It’s fast and fun and interesting, a lively and colorful film. The director (Doug Liman) has worked with Cruise before on The Edge of Tomorrow and they have a great dynamic together. This movie is jam-packed and it mostly works.

The supporting cast is also pretty great here, including Domhnall Gleeson, who impresses in everything he’s in. The only problem is there’s too many supporting characters that we don’t get much time with the rest of them, considering how quickly the plot moves.

What doesn’t work?

The pacing of the movie means that we get tons of characters that we don’t learn anything about and we skip moments that could’ve been milked for drama. This speed might disorient you at times, especially early on when entire years are skipped. I don’t think I’m advocating for a longer film but the amount of content trying to be packed in here is just a bit much. Not sure of a solution, though. Just a minor fault.

Overall…

Tom Cruise manages to make this slimy double-agent into a likeable presence, in a movie that moves incredibly fast and it’s a super enjoyable ride. It’s vivid and bright, with catchy music and some great found footage moments to really make this feel like a real documentary. This speed might disorient you but just hang on for the ride.

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Review: Brad’s Status

Brad’s Status.

I’ve been a fan of Ben Stiller for a long time and it’s great to see when he takes risks and does something a little more serious. I was underwhelmed by The Secret Life of Walter Mitty but this one gave me hope.

The gist.

Brad’s Status stars Ben Stiller as Brad, a father that is getting ready to send his son (Austin Abrams) to college. They embark on a college tour through Boston, including Harvard and Tufts, where Brad himself went. This whole journey triggers a lot of memories for Brad and leaves him questioning his life decisions, especially compared to his much more “successful” friends, played by Luke Wilson, Michael Sheen, Jemaine Clement, and Mike White (who also wrote and directed this film). We also have Jenna Fischer (The Office) as Brad’s wife.

What works?

This is one of Ben Stiller’s best performances, really showing a brilliant blend of drama and comedy, even his funniest bits including a hint of sadness and regret. It’s very layered.

The movie also brilliantly uses reality as a mechanism for showing what Brad is thinking. His daydreams and “what ifs” become real, so we can see the different ways his life could have gone. We also get a narration throughout the entire thing from Stiller, which gives us all the deep questions he’s constantly asking, though the narration can sometimes drag the energy down.

The other performances are great as well, including newcomer Austin Abrams as the son. Michael Sheen gets the most screentime of all the “friends” and he nails it, really putting into question everything we’ve heard from Brad. Luke Wilson and Jemaine Clement only have a few scenes, really cameos as opposed to supporting characters.

What didn’t work?

The movie can be a bit slow, as the focus on narration can mean that our characters are just sitting around thinking. There are also relatively few plot points, so it can take awhile to get from point to point.

It also may not resonate with everyone. As a 30-something looking back on his college days, this movie was right up my alley. I’m constantly questioning the idea of success and how we compare to our peers. If you’re not relating to this, I’m not sure if this movie will manage to hook you or not. For younger audiences, this may not have that same allure.

Also the movie ends on a bit of an understated note, not really the emotional punch to the gut that I wanted.

Overall…

Brad’s Status is great, if you can resonate with it. For me, I found it extremely compelling and one of Ben Stiller’s greatest performances. Some might find it slow, as it can take awhile between plot points, but I found it gripping and it caused me to even dive into my own memories, meaning this movie achieved its desired outcome.

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Review: The LEGO Ninjago Movie

The LEGO Ninjago Movie.

Now here’s where I stand with Ninjago: I had no idea what it was when I walked into this theater, but I knew the first two LEGO films were awesome and this one looked cool on its own. I knew there was a TV show, which I went back and watched a few episodes, after I saw this film.

The gist.

There’s an island called Ninjago and the evil Garmadon (Justin Theroux) is constantly attacking it, however he’s always thwarted by a group of ninjas, led by Master Wu (Jackie Chan). These ninjas are voiced by Dave Franco, Fred Armisen, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Pena, Zach Woods, and Abbi Jacobson. One of these ninjas (Franco) is actually the son of the evil Garmadon, so is constantly ridiculed by his peers, because they don’t know he’s one of the ninjas always coming to save the day.

What works?

The strength of this movie is the visual effects, ramping up what worked in both The LEGO Movie and LEGO Batman. The action sequences are truly impressive, including giant mechs and monsters and some amazing martial arts, which were actually choreographed by Jackie Chan before being transferred to the LEGO figures. The colors are vivid and bright and the movie is an absolute blast to watch.

The plot is also relatively simple to follow, maybe intended for younger audiences. The bright colors and simple story make this an obvious choice for kids and even adults looking for some escapism.

If you’re looking for laughs, this movie will deliver as well. There’s some incredible talent here, though it doesn’t feel as nonstop hilarious as the other two LEGO films.

What doesn’t work?

I want to give kudos to the incredibly gifted voice cast here though they’re underutilized. Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick) is the comedic relief but it becomes a little repetitive, especially considering Fred Armisen and Michael Pena are both comedy powerhouses as well but have very little to do. It’s also a little weird to me that this movie continues the story of the television show but recast all the voices. That seems like an odd choice to me, though I guess it makes sense in a marketing context.

I also had a problem with Justin Theroux, playing the villain here. His shtick as Lord Garmadan is eerily similar to Batman in this world. Constant talking, quick wit, lots of jokes. I almost thought it was Will Arnett voicing Garmadan for the first few bits, which makes this movie feel familiar, maybe reliant on the same notes that worked for the past LEGO outings. So if you’re going in with a critical eye, this will feel like it’s been done before.

This movie might also be jarring for you, if you haven’t watched the show. There were inside jokes I missed and characters that I had no idea who they were. There have been seven seasons of the show, so a lot has transpired and the movie expects you to know that.

Overall…

Obviously, this movie is intended for fans of the show, so newcomers might find the film a bit jarring. It’s bright and the action is pretty incredible, though the humor is hit or miss, relying almost entirely on some cast while ignoring others, underutilizing some incredible comedic talent. This will be a fun ride but isn’t as easily approachable as the two LEGO movies before this.

 

 

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(Review) Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

The first Kingsman was a shocker, something new and exciting. It had incredible action, quite a bit of humor, and an undeniable charm. It was lightning in a bottle. Can this sequel, reuniting the same team from the first film, manage to recapture that?

The gist.

We immediately catch up with Eggsy (Taron Egerton), now a fully-fledged Kingsman, one of the most dangerous spies in Great Britain. However, not long into the movie, our new villain manages to destroy the Kingsman almost entirely, forcing Eggsy and his few allies (including Mark Strong) to find a safe place, which sends them on a journey to the United States. They rendezvous with their American brothers, the Statesmen (including Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, and Pedro Pascal).

Spoiled in the previews, Eggsy is also reunited with his former mentor Galahad (Colin Firth). They face off against a drug-dealing entrepreneur with a taste for blood (Julianne Moore).

What works?

The highlight of the first movie was undoubtedly the action, full of incredible fight sequences and innovative combat. Here, they pull out all the stops and go full comic book mode, giving us a new villain with a bionic arm, robot dogs, and more to face off against. The execution of this action is mixed, but the concept of this action is incredible. Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) fights using an electrified lasso, which creates some incredibly vivid and interesting choreography. If nothing else, the fight scenes are unique and different.

Egerton is still perfect in the lead role, complemented by strong performances from Mark Strong and Pedro Pascal mostly.

When I did my review of mother!, I noted that it wasn’t for people just looking for a good time. This movie is the complete opposite, only serving to provide bright and entertaining sequences while you eat popcorn. There’s very little to really digest here, but it’s fun and vivid and interesting. So if you just want some cool moments, funny bits, and a few hours of escapism, this will do it.

What didn’t work?

This movie lacks a few key pieces from the original, making it generally a less unique outing. The first one was surprising, with low expectations. People are expecting more from this one and I don’t think it’s really able to recapture that. It has the charm but it doesn’t feel as natural. Our characters seem driven by the plot, which is probably the movie’s weakest point (including the villain).

Julianne Moore seems to be having a good time as the homicidal drug-dealer Poppy but her story isn’t very interesting and the “save the world” conceit here is far less interesting than the premise of the first film. She does what she can but the script ultimately doesn’t give her much to do.

We also have an entire new organization and supporting cast to get to know. Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, and even Halle Berry are essentially cameos. Pedro Pascal gets the most to do and is the most successful at it. The rest are fluff and ultimately unnecessary, unfortunately.

The first movie also had a lot of humor, where this one felt… inconsistent. There are funny parts, don’t get me wrong. We have a substantial subplot involving Elton John that will entertain most of you, but the movie is lacking the overall charm and wit of its predecessor.

Overall…

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a fun time at the movies but really fails to meet the standard set by the original. The new cast members are interesting but underutilized. Our villain and doomsday scenario are underwhelming, resulting in a bit of a misfire for this franchise. Again though, this is a fun time if you set the bar low and just enjoy the ride.

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Review: mother!

mother!

I wasn’t planning on reviewing this. I put out a video here outlining what sorts of people would and wouldn’t like mother! but everyone kept asking me for a score. “Yeah, good opinion… but how would you score it?”

So I realized this can serve as a companion piece, to complement my video. You may think this movie is absolutely stellar. You may think this movie is trash. But if I had to… what would I score this? You’ve already skipped to the bottom huh?

The gist.

If you’re not familiar, mother! stars Jennifer Lawrence as a wife who is trying to make a perfect home, while her poet husband tries to write the perfect piece. What happens next is a metaphorical rollercoaster. Lawrence, our surrogate for Mother Earth, tries to make her home a paradise while her husband (Javier Bardem) invites people in, as he serves as a substitute for God. We then follow a movie that very directly follows the events of the Old Testament, as surrogates for Adam and Eve (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) bring sin and selfishness into their home, slowly chipping away at what Mother Earth has created. The movie doesn’t blatantly tell you this metaphor but it becomes very apparent, very quickly.

What works?

Director Darren Aronofsky is known for films that make you tilt your head and think. When I first saw Requiem for a Dream, my world was shook. The Fountain and Black Swan are both fantastic though leave the answers up to you. His only real misfire for me is Noah, which doesn’t deliver a religious allegory on par with the one here in mother!

You can tell that Noah didn’t really fulfill Aronofsky’s story he wanted to tell. It wasn’t enough. So here, he wrote and directed his opus, the entirety of the Bible in a two hour film, including all of his admiration for Mother Earth and resentment of God, or so it seems. He has a lot to say, so those of you looking for a meaty film to try to pick apart and figure out, this movie will leave you thinking for a long time.

Undoubtedly the imagery is what will stick with you. There are moments from this film, both great and traumatic, that are emblazoned on my mind. He’s created some incredible images and when it works… it works.

It’s all brought to life with some incredible performances, with Lawrence delivering a performance that just might nab her another Oscar nomination. She’s pushed to the edge here and her complete 180 is a sight to behold.

What doesn’t work?

The movie, in theory, is right up my alley. Up until the 2/3 mark, I was totally onboard. And then things go sideways. It’s debatable if this is intentional or not, but whatever allegory and metaphor Aronofsky was trying to pull off didn’t work for me in the last third, unraveling altogether. Metaphors blended and split and contradicted themselves. New elements were brought in that I wasn’t quite sure what they were intended for. An especially gruesome moment in the climax left me confused, either a symbol for Christ or a symbol for the environment, trying to maybe be two things at once. There were images that were more confusing than rewarding and it ultimately didn’t work for me.

I don’t dock this movie points for being shocking or bold. I appreciated that it was trying to do something different, but I don’t know if it necessarily did those things well. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s good. The metaphor went off the rails, and even if Aronofsky intended that, it didn’t pay off.

For most folks though, you will walk out of this movie disgusted and upset. The imagery is intense and the movie kicks you in the face for two hours. Aronofsky wants you to feel horrible about how the Earth is being treated, so he takes every opportunity to show just how evil we (as a people) are. Most of you won’t enjoy this or appreciate this, hence why the movie scored an F CinemaScore when it opened. I’m not docking it points for this, but you likely would.

Overall…

This is an incredibly hard movie to rate and my rating will likely be completely different than yours. Some of you might think this is a masterpiece, while others will walk out halfway through. I found it intriguing and interesting but ultimately it failed. The imagery is visceral, the performances astounding, but the message gets blurred and attempts at metaphor get confusing in the final section, sacrificing storytelling for emotional affect. I appreciate what Aronofsky was trying to do but I don’t think he did it well. My 2 cents.

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