Review: Bright

Bright.

Netflix is starting to step up its game and produce not only original television, but now massive original movies, which Bright is one of the biggest (and most expensive). But just because it’s big and costly, does that mean it’s good?

The gist.

Imagine if Lord of the Rings continued for thousands of years and everyone evolved just the way we have and now we have current day, where humans and orcs and elves all live side by side… that’s what Bright is about. We follow two LAPD officers, one of which is the first-ever orc police officer named Nick (Joel Edgerton). The human partner Ward (Will Smith) was recently shot by an orc, though Nick somehow let him go and Ward has the suspicion that Nick still places orcs over police, so he doesn’t trust him. The actual plot kicks in when the two of them discover a magic wand, only able to be used by magic users called Brights. A traumatized elf named Tikka (Lucy Fry) informs them that a sect of elves are seeking the wand, hoping to use it to resurrect their dark master (this group led by Noomi Rapace).

We have a few other notable actors including Edgar Ramirez, Ike Barinholtz, Margaret Cho, and Jay Hernandez.

What works?

This world is fascinating and the mythology they’re setting up here in the star of the show. There are some unexplained bits that can leave you tripping over the details (like why fairies are treated like rodents yet other races are humanized). This would have been a better television show, so that they could really dive into all of these interesting facets of the world. We see a dragon cameo at some point, but it’s never brought up. How would a dragon coexist in this world? I want to know!

I also applaud writer Max Landis (Chronicle, American Ultra) for trying to layer this film with allusions to race, not so subtly. There’s an argument that it didn’t go as far as it could have and maybe didn’t succeed as an allegory but I thought it was interesting to watch unfold.

While Will Smith is the same Will Smith we’ve always seen, the standout in the cast is Joel Edgerton, who manages to wear full facial prosthetics but still gives an incredible performance, making our lead orc a three-dimensional character. He’s conflicted about other orcs but his dedication is to the badge and he really sells it here.

Lastly, the action sequences are pretty cool. The elves especially are master martial artists, so tons of flips and wirework make their fight scenes very engrossing.

What doesn’t work?

Like I said, this would’ve been more successful as a show. They’ve already greenlit a sequel with (at least) Will Smith returning, so that’s hopeful, but there’s a lot of questions left unanswered and rich mythology they haven’t explored. A sequel might help make this first installment feel more complete.

Because this plot has to unfold and be concluded in a short span, the plot gets a little unwieldy. They want to include so much that it gets jumbled and it’s easy to lose track of what’s going on. There are a lot of characters here and it doesn’t always feel necessary. A simpler story could’ve benefited both the plot and the characters, giving us more time to really take in this world.

Along with the quick nature of the movie comes a problem with the villain (and really a lot of the supporting characters). A lot of characters feel one-dimensional. The villain’s drive is singular but I think she only says a few lines throughout the entire movie, most of them in the big action climax. Until then, she’s just a force that you see occasionally. The same is true for Edgar Ramirez, who plays an elf in the “FBI for magic” essentially. No idea who he is or what he wants, he’s just around.

Lastly, director David Ayer loves to shoot dark sequences, most of this movie taking place at night. It’s all very bland to look at and looks very reminiscent of his work with End of Watch and Suicide Squad especially.

Overall…

Bright is a mixed bag. The world is fascinating but this movie covers very little of it. Will Smith is himself but Joel Edgerton does a standup job, really serving as the only character with any sort of depth. The other characters, including the villain, get very little to do or say yet the movie has tons of characters that serve very little purpose. Since it’s on Netflix, it’s worth a watch, but just go in and enjoy the interesting world they’ve set up here.

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(Review) Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

In 1995, the first Jumanji came out and now we’re getting a sequel 20+ years later. It is a direct sequel, not a reboot, though it’s an all-new cast. I had low expectations going in, as reboots aren’t traditionally great, though the cast seemed like a comedic dream team. Let’s see if it all works together!

The gist.

It’s modern day and we follow four high school kids from different pockets of the school. For various reasons, they all end up in detention and they discover a video game called Jumanji that teleports them into the game itself, where they are now characters. The nerd in the group becomes Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the brave leader of the group, while the star football player turns into the sidekick who carries the backpack of gear (Kevin Hart). The shy girl becomes a “man killer” with fighting skills (Karen Gillan) and the self-absorbed Instagram addict turns into the overweight cartographer (Jack Black).

The four of them must survive in this jungle environment, while learning about their characters’ skill sets and special powers. They also encounter a mysterious pilot who might be able to help them (Nick Jonas).

Our villain for the movie is played by Bobby Cannavale and has the power to control animals, which he uses to try to kill our heroes.

What works?

As a comedy, this movie succeeds in a lot of ways. They managed to cast four leads that all do their own unique thing very well. A lot of this hinges on playing against type. The highlight is Jack Black’s performance, absolutely convincing that he’s actually a teenage girl. He’s been a little out of the spotlight lately but this movie reminded me that he’s a comedic powerhouse.

The other three leads get their time to shine as well. The Rock is a nerd who is too shy and insecure to do anything brave, while Karen Gillan is supposed to be self-conscious and uncomfortable talking to boys, highlighted by an incredible sequence where Jack Black teaches her how to seduce.

The only weak link is Kevin Hart, though he does exactly what people want from Kevin Hart, so it’s not really a failure here, he just doesn’t play against type as much as the others.

What doesn’t work?

As a comedy, this movie is solid, however it doesn’t succeed in the action department as much. There are a few really cool sequences sure, but the visual effects are lackluster and every set they’re on looks incredibly fake. You usually don’t notice the sets and environments, so it’s a bad sign when you recognize that they’re on a soundstage somewhere.

The action is also undercut by a mediocre villain. I know he’s supposed to be a two-dimensional video game villain but Cannavale leaves very little impression here.

I think people will laugh and have a great time but I don’t think this movie is memorable, which docks a few points for me.

Also, as a content warning, they discuss genitalia a lot, which might make it awkward if you bring your kids. Not really suitable for young kids.

Overall…

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a deceptive movie because you’ll have a blast watching it, but once you start to notice the flaws, it’s hard to ignore. Every set looks fake, the visual effects aren’t great, and the villain is incredibly weak. You’ll have a fun time at the movies but I think in just a few days, you’ll quickly forget this movie existed.

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Review: Ferdinand (2017)

Ferdinand.

Here’s my history with the Ferdinand the Bull stories. I don’t know anything. I think I’m too old to have experienced whatever sort of books or shows existed before this, so I went in completely unaware and immune to nostalgia.

The gist.

We follow Ferdinand (John Cena), a bull who doesn’t want to fight but rather wants to enjoy the smell of flowers and relax and dance. However, conflict is inevitable in movies so Ferdinand finds himself at a ranch vying for the attention of one of the world’s best matadors.

Other voice talent includes Bobby Cannavale, Jerrod Carmichael, Kate McKinnon, Anthony Anderson, Peyton Manning (yes really), David Tennant, Gina Rodriguez, Daveed Diggs, and Gabriel Iglesias.

What worked?

This movie is intended for kids, moreso than other recent animated outings, and kids should love most of this. It’s bright and vivid and has plenty of wacky falls and high speed chases. Kids will laugh and laugh but then sometimes it goes deeper.

I also want to give this movie kudos for going beyond what I expected. With bullfighting comes several more deep and complex stories that Ferdinand doesn’t shy away from, including the mistreatment (and killing) of bulls in that arena, as well as the nature of turning animals into meat. This movie goes to those dark places, but if you’re bringing a young child, be prepared to debrief what a “chop shop” is and why bulls never come back.

The voice talent in this movie is nice, including a fine performance from John Cena, though it’s nothing compared to his other live action performances that maybe fared a little better.

What didn’t work?

My two major pros are fine on their own but when they come together, it can be a bit jarring. A hilarious joke followed by a comment about dying and being turned into steak. It’s dark and your kids may not be ready to face the concept of death, so just be prepared.

The movie in its core plot is incredibly predictable and unsurprising, again because it’s meant for kids. If you’re looking for something that is more than just average, keep looking. This movie is as average as you can get, which is fine if you’re just looking for an hour+ of escapism with the kids.

I also dock points for every movie that features a group of animals somehow driving a car. Completely ridiculous and low-hanging fruit. Done to death.

Overall…

Ferdinand is fine. It’s predictable and average, but it does the job if you want to entertain the kids. Be aware though, that little nuggets are slipped in that younger kids may find traumatizing. I give kudos to the movie for going there, though, as the nature of bullfighting shouldn’t be ignored in a story about bullfighting.

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(Review) Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

This movie is receiving incredibly mixed reviews. Some folks praise this as one of the best Star Wars films to date, while others call it an absolute abomination. Let’s see where it falls for me.

The gist.

Almost immediately following The Force Awakens, this movie begins as the last few ships of the Resistance are fleeing from the armies of the First Order, led by General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). They’re both following orders from the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). On the Resistance side, we have General Leia (Carrie Fisher) and her second-in-command Holdo (Laura Dern). Hot-headed pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) has a plan to help them escape, tapping into Finn (John Boyega) and newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) for a daring adventure.

We also join Rey (Daisy Ridley) as she seeks out the legend Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to get further training.

We also have Gwendoline Christie, Anthony Daniels, Benicio Del Toro, and Lupita Nyong’o.

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What works?

I really enjoyed The Last Jedi but it’s not perfect.

The best parts for me revolved around Rey and Kylo Ren, a constant struggle between them. This movie features an interesting mechanism for them to share scenes together and those scenes are always intriguing and manage to add nuance to the light side versus dark side debate. These characters are constantly moving and swaying their allegiances, not so clear as “he’s a Jedi so he’s good” that we’ve gotten before. You’re never quite sure who will end up where, which is a nice change of pace.

Rey spends much of her time on-screen with Skywalker and Hamill is a blast to watch, stepping back into his role effortlessly. He’s not the same Luke though, after 30 years away, so learning what his journey has been since then is one of the best parts of this film.

I was also impressed with the new addition of Kelly Marie Tran, who goes on an adventure with Finn (Boyega). While that storyline derailed the movie in some unfortunate ways, her performance added some much needed heart to the movie.

Let’s talk about action, because most of you want epic space battles and some badass fight scenes. Does this deliver? Yes. The movie opens with a space battle that is one of the series’ best, while we also get some exciting and innovative lightsaber fights, though I don’t want to spoil who’s involved. The visuals are great throughout, luckily continuing to focus on practical effects when possible.

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What doesn’t work?

 

The biggest problem in this movie, for me, was the pacing. It’s a long movie, with several detours that were ultimately unnecessary. Finn and Rose have a substantial story arc that is absolutely unimportant and unnecessary, taking away screentime from the more fascinating characters. One of the movie’s most important plot lines is a slow-moving chase through space, an absolute crawl, until one ship runs out of gas. Yet, while this “chase” is happening, entire other stories happen, leading you to wonder how long they were really flying through space. The decision to use that mechanism for suspense was a weird choice, considering how unsuspenseful it was.

There are also a few moments that felt unearned. Epic moments, that leave you shaking your head and wondering “Wait, what?” afterwards. This felt like it should have been the culmination to the trilogy, if slightly tweaked, and I wonder how they can really continue on after this, in a way that is still satisfying.

Some folks are upset by “answers” and changes to the canon, though I don’t share those complaints. Some people feel betrayed, I don’t. I thought it was unpredictable and some bold choices were made, that’s totally fine.

Overall…

Star Wars: The Last Jedi isn’t near the top of my list of best Star Wars films but it does a great job of offering nuance and complication to something that was very black and white before. Driver, Ridley, and Hamill steal the show, with some intense action sequences and plenty of cool moments. If you’re upset by changes to the canon or character development in complicated ways, you might find yourself frustrated. The movie’s also incredibly long, it could’ve benefited from some restructuring or cutting, but I ultimately had a great time and can’t wait to watch again to catch new little details.

4

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Review: The Disaster Artist

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The Disaster Artist.

In the early 2000s, an eccentric millionaire named Tommy Wiseau wanted to make a movie called The Room. I’ve never seen this movie, which should hopefully you give a good idea if you need to see this movie as a prerequisite. Let’s dive in.

The gist.

The story really follows young actor Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), who struggles in acting classes because of his constant worry about people’s opinions. When he meets Tommy (James Franco), this all changes and he hopes to learn from this eccentric oddball how to put himself out there. The two of them begin making a movie called The Room, which turns out to be a very bad movie. We also have a supporting cast of notable talent like Seth Rogan, Zac Efron, Josh Hutcherson, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Paul Sheer, and more.

What works?

This is an incredibly bizarre movie about an even more bizarre movie being made, so this does require a certain penchant for the weird. James Franco is the talking point that will be continually brought up, as his performance here is absolutely bonkers, made even weirder due to the fact that he’s impersonating a real person. It starts off weird, like an extended SNL skit, but it evolves into something much more tragic and surprisingly realistic. James Franco does an outstanding job here, disappearing into the weirdest role he’s ever played (and that’s saying a lot).

The heart of the movie is actually Dave Franco. These two brothers obviously have an incredible chemistry and Dave is the one reminding us of the reality of this situation. He’s relatable and interesting and it’s intriguing to watch a normal guy try to coexist with the eccentricity of Tommy Wiseau.

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And while we watch The Room get made, I was still able to understand enough without ever seeing it. This could have been a fictional tale, for all I knew, and it would still be an outstanding piece. Even without context, this movie was hilarious. James Franco’s performance as Wiseau was weird and alienating but often hilarious. This movie is a comedy at its heart and had me laughing nonstop.

The supporting cast is also pretty incredible, bringing in a lot of big names and recognizable “Oh that person!” cameos. You can tell the Francos tapped into their social capital to get some friends on the set.

What doesn’t work?

The only distracting thing was a weird fake beard that they gave Dave Franco for the second half of the film, which looked like loose hair glued to his face. Extremely distracting.

You also might be a bit too alienated by Tommy Wiseau, as it’s hard to really root for the guy when he comes across as a loon and a creep. Some of you might veer towards “I don’t want to watch this guy anymore” and that’s totally understandable.

disaster artist 1

Overall…

The Disaster Artist is pretty amazing, featuring a performance from James Franco that will define his career. It’s hilarious from start to finish and is completely bonkers, ideal for those of you that want to watch a character piece about the weirdest character you could imagine. It can be off-putting but I found the journey incredibly satisfying and an overall good time.

4

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Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

There was a bit of hype around this movie, especially with award season coming up, so I wanted to make an effort to go check it out before it left theaters. Its cast is pretty impressive but I wasn’t sure if the movie would hook me. Let’s discuss.

The gist.

Mildred (Frances McDormand) lost her daughter, who was raped and burned to death. It’s been months and the police department in her small town of Ebbing, Missouri have given up. Police Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) has no solid leads. Mildred decides to put up three billboards on the outskirts of town calling out the Chief, which leads to a series of intense back and forth interactions. We also have another police officer (Sam Rockwell) who starts to spiral out of control, as well as Mildred’s son (Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea) who gets drawn into the controversy of the signs as well.

Other stars include Abbie Cornish, Caleb Landry Jones, Zeljko Ivanek, and Peter Dinklage.

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What works?

There are some definite award nominees here, most notably Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell. McDormand is vicious, in the way most mothers would be in this scenario. She’s unpredictable and vengeful and absolutely a blast to watch. Rockwell delivers a more complicated performance, you’re never quite sure how to feel about his character and his arc here is super fascinating. Rockwell is a solid pick for Supporting Actor, no doubt.

The tone of the movie is really interesting, similar to the other movies by director Martin McDonagh like In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. It’s witty and sharp but also unpredictably wild at times.

The murder mystery at play here is also really intriguing, as we slowly learn more about what happened. You’ll be on the edge of your seat as the movie twists and turns.

What doesn’t work?

The biggest detractor for me is that the movie doesn’t quite have the resolution most mainstream audiences will want. I don’t want to spoil much but when the credits rolled, I was left very much unsatisfied. And that’s a bummer because this movie was an absolute joy before that. The movie “is about the journey,” says the director, but many audiences won’t find peace with that.

I also found one performance hollow and distracting, that of Abbie Cornish, who plays the wife to Woody Harrelson. Every time she was on screen, it felt inauthentic. Her more emotional moments didn’t ring true for me and detracted from the payoff of those moments.

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Overall…

This movie was close to being amazing, I loved most of the film leading up the final moments but the movie ultimately lost me. Those of you with a willingness to embrace the mystery (and if you don’t need resolution) will likely love this movie even more than I did. There are a few Oscar-worthy performances, so if you want to be keen on those picks, consider checking this out in the next few weeks.

4

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Review: The Star (2017)

The Star.

Here’s the thing, this movie is targeted at a very specific audience. It’s overtly religious, not shying away from the spiritual aspect of the Christmas story, and it’s also really silly, with animals falling down stairs every few minutes for laughs. If you enjoy both of these things, will this movie work for you?

The gist.

The Christmas story (the birth of Jesus) is retold from the perspective of talking animals, led by a donkey (Steven Yeun) who must help Mary (Gina Rodriguez) and Joseph (Zachary Levi) get to Bethlehem before the baby is born. The donkey is assisted by a dove (Keegan-Michael Key) and a sheep (Aidy Bryant from Saturday Night Live). There’s also a trio of camels who travel with the three wise men, voiced by Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, and Tracy Morgan. Other voices include Ving Rhames, Gabriel Iglesias, Kelly Clarkson, Anthony Anderson, Patricia Heaton, Kris Kristopfferson, Kristen Chenoweth, Mariah Carey, and Christopher Plummer.

What works?

Like I said in the intro, this movie is for a specific audience. If you want a movie that you can take your kids to, that outlines the trials and tribulations of Mary and Joseph, this is it. It’s a gateway to a discussion about the Biblical stories in a way that kids can understand.

This movie benefits from an absolutely bonkers cast that I almost can’t believe. The performances are mostly great, with the standout being Aidy Bryant as a sheep named Ruth. It’s a testament to Aidy’s comedic talent when she outshines the rest of the talent here. Zachary Levi and Gina Rodriguez also give great performances as our human leads.

The Star is also surprisingly funny, though it doesn’t always work. When it does work, though, it’s charming and quirky, usually from its excellent voice cast.

What doesn’t work?

Herein lies the problem. The Star is trying to be a funny animated movie, like a Madagascar or Shrek, though the movie is also trying to be a serious tale of the birth of Christ, so this blend is sometimes very tonally confusing. Our little donkey prays for God to help him, then tumbles down a mountainside. It’s sometimes hard to distinguish the comedy from the overly serious.

The comedy also doesn’t always work. It’s trying to appeal mostly to kids, so the physical humor is incredibly abundant and for adults, it might become grating.

And while I don’t dock points here for the movie’s premise, I would argue that it isn’t done necessarily well. For a kid’s movie, there is very little explanation given for anything. Words like “Messiah” are thrown in, but a kid would have no idea what that means. You might need to walk them through it. “Well, here’s why they’re running from the King…” It’s a movie for kids but somehow assuming they know the story already. I’m not sure if it succeeds at what it sets out to do.

Overall…

The Star is a fine outing, if you’re totally okay with a religious story and tons of animated goofs. The problem is the mixture of those two things, which is probably why we don’t get a lot of Biblical comedies in theaters. It’s an odd balance, resulting in a movie that is just fine. I laughed a few times, the performances were good, but this movie ultimately falls a little flat. Those of you with inquisitive kids might have a better time here than most.

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