Monday, November 28, 2016

Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, & Colin Farrell
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5

J.K. Rowling may have ended the Harry Potter series, but she isn't done writing about her magical world. Her latest series Fantastic Beasts has finally hit theaters, with the first of what will be a five film series, that starts off a hundred years before Harry Potter stepped into Hogwarts. The film is centered on Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), who has come to New York City as part of his quest to save the endangered species of the magical world. These creatures live in what appears to be a suitcase, but when some of them escape and a muggle is exposed to Scamander's attempts to retrieve them, he finds himself in a world of trouble. Scamander's only salvation is that with another unknown creature and a dark wizard on the loose, there are other things to worry about, so he is sent with an agent (Katherine Waterston), and the muggle, to collect his creatures and to try to help figure out what is going on. Even though this movie takes place a hundred years before Harry Potter the special effects and especially the CGI on all the creatures involved is amazing! Even if I watched this film without the sound on, I'd still be blown away by how visually impactful it is. As for it's star, they cast one of the biggest up and comers in Hollywood, Eddie Redmayne, and he is perfect for the role. Redmayne is exactly like Harry and the kind of character Rowling loves to write about. He's this geeky, skinny, soft spoken, lovable loser, that no one would expect to be perhaps a hero in waiting. Aside from some corny jokes thrown in for the kids and die hard Potter fans, this movie was absolutely fantastic and I can't wait to see where it goes next. Rowling has stated that the other films will focus on other characters, including a younger Dumbledore, which I'm a bit indifferent to. I really liked this film, and I am curious to know what would be the point in a sequel that starts over. I'd imagine it would be to introduce everyone and then bring them all together in the end, but no matter what they do, the producers will be hard pressed to out due this film.

Bad Santa 2

Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, Tony Cox, & Brett Kelly
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Despite advertising to the contrary, Bad Santa 2 is not bigger, badder, or funnier than the previous film. In fact, this time they went too far and broke the cardinal rule of comedy. The film goes too far to be as raunchy and funny as the first film, that unfortunately it goes from funny to stupid and by the end, it becomes a farce of itself. In the sequel to this classic comedy, Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) is just as broke and drunk as he ever was, and this time he's saddled with a twenty-one year old Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), who just won't leave him alone. Just when he thinks things can't get any worse, his old pal Marcus (Tony Cox) is released from prison, and has a job that promises to make them all rich. A reluctant Willie agrees, only to find out the place they are going to hit, employs his worst nightmare, his mother. I was hoping this film would be even half as good as the first one and it certainly does have it's moments, especially when Brett Kelly is involved, but overall this movie just isn't that funny. I don't know if it's because they put it all on the table in the first film and the jokes were just all done, or if it tried too hard, but the laughs just didn't come as easily. I mean how many times can Willie curse at a kid on his lap or make short jokes about Marcus? At least it wasn't just the same film with different names and places, but the jokes are similar, the personalities have changed very little, and I really didn't laugh as much as I hoped that I would. Bad Santa 2, wasn't a bad movie, maybe I was just spoiled by the pure genius of the first film, but I really didn't think it was anything more than your ordinary run of the mill comedy. There is nothing extraordinary about this one, sorry folks.


Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, & Javier Bardem
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

In a recent Ultimate Movie Review Twitter Poll, I asked you what your favorite James Bond movie starring Daniel Craig was and you chose Skyfall. For me this was a hard choice, because Daniel Craig seems as though he was born to play James Bond. All the films he's done have been fantastic, but I can see why Skyfall won. This film stands out for many reasons, most importantly it gives us a rare look into the childhood of James Bond and for the rarest of moments we see Bond scared and on the edge of possibly giving up, but you know how the story ends, he's James Bond. If you missed Skyfall, the film is like many other stories, where an old enemy reappears, but in this case, the enemy isn't looking for world domination, he's looking for revenge against his former employers, the British Government and in particular the Double 0 program. Bond films are often times so similar that we tend to rate them based on the villain and the song, well, the song doesn't get better than the gem produced by Adele, but what about Javier Bardem? He is an Academy Award winner and for good cause, this dude was one of the scarier Bond villains to come around in a long time. The others in the Craig Bond movies were some pretty bad guys, who had done some horrible things, but no one was what anyone would call truly scary, not like the villains used to be. Bardem had that special something though, that not only made him a bad guy, but that kind of bad guy that can make audiences cringe. The Bottom Line, Skyfall wasn't my pick, but it was a close second, as this was probably the most personal and emotional Bond film perhaps in the entire series. Daniel Craig is still very much at his best, Javier Bardem is a villain who will always rank in the top ten, and who better to sing a bond theme than Adele. Wheather or not you picked Skyfall, there is no question that it is one of those Bond films that won't ever be forgotten.

Timecop 2: The Berlin Decision

Starring: Jason Scott Lee & Thomas Ian Griffin
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

While I loved the idea behind Timecop, I hated the first movie. I thought it was really poorly done. With such a great idea, there were so many different directions the writers could have gone in, and the one they chose was just sloppy, however they made up for that in the second one. Too bad it was done in a low budget, direct-to-video film, that starred absolutly no one of any name recognition. In the second installment of Timecop, Anti-Government Terrorists want to change the United States to make it more like the way they want it to be, and the only thing stopping them is The Time Enforcement Commission. Led by former agent, Brandon Miller (Thomas Ian Griffin), the terrorist decide to go back and take out the agents before they are able to defend themselves, with them out of the way, they'll be able to do anything they want, but the only thing stopping them is Ryan Chan (Jason Scott Lee) The top Timecop, who they thought had been stranded in the past. The story here is much better than it was in the first film and much more what I expected to see. In ninety minutes, we go from the roaring twenties, to the wild west, and even Nazi Germany on this amazing chase through time. The film is however lacking in several ways, most important of all the cast. A low budget direct-to-video film means shotty special effects and worst of all a cast of actors no one has ever heard of. Jason Scott Lee stars, and while he has the moves, he butchers a lot of lines and really hasn't mastered emotions yet. As for his counterpart, Thomas Ian Griffin, he was kind of all over the place, so this was not the kind of film that will ever be used in an acting class, but by in large the story was enjoyable and does offer some redemption for a series that had so much promise.

Django Unchained



Starring: Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, & Christoph Waltz
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Quentin Tarantino is one of the most unique and interesting writer/directors in all of Hollywood, a man who's style and wit seem to transcend time and history, but would he be able to apply this talent to slavery and the wild west, I had my doubts. Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) is not your typical bounty hunter, as he has a very unique and unorthodox way of getting his job done. Schultz thinks the best way to shock people is to free a slave, make him his partner, and let him ride into town and stay with him wherever he goes, which usually leads to shock, outrage, and more N words than your typical Jay-Z album. Eventually the successful duo goes in search of Django's wife, who is being held at the plantation of a truly evil man, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). In order to get her back, the two attempt to con the southern "gentleman", but will everything go as planned? This film is vintage Tarantino, filled with the unique characters you won't find anywhere else, ridiculous cameos you'd never expect, tremendous back and fourth dialogues, and of course the unexpected. as everything and anything will happen. Every actor under Tarantino's direction has a way of stepping up their game in his films, but Christoph Waltz was truly spectacular. There is a good reason he won the 2012 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, as somehow he manages to give an even stronger performance than he did in Inglorious Bastards. I really can't say enough about Tarantino, and out of all his films, this was the one I was the least excited about, but as it turns out, Django may actually be one of the best films he's ever done, and it is now the newest entry on our list of must see movies!

The Expendables 2

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, & Jean-Claude Van Damme
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Sylvester Stallone had a brilliant idea that came to fruition in 2010, with an action movie that brought together all the big names in the action movie genre, but there was a problem. You just can't fit every big name into one movie and give them all significant screen time, so you had to have a sequel. The more things change, the more they stay the same, however, as this time, the story was a bit better, at least for an action movie, and the cast was a bit younger, but the basic genre was still the same. Barney Ross's (Sylvester Stallone) team is once again brought together to do a job, this time there are some new younger faces, to complete what seems like what should be an easy job, what they weren't expecting was to stumble right into the middle of a madman's master-plan. As I said, the story wasn't as basic this time, things were a little more complex, but on a basic level this is still you're typical shoot em up action film, with bodies and explosions constantly coming at you. What I did like was how they change things up a bit and didn't just feature the same actors, even though many members of the team were the same. The one thing the first film was severely lacking was youth, and I don't know about you, but I'd much rather see Liam Hemsworth fighting with his shirt off than Sylvester Stallone. All in all, the sequel doesn't differ that much from the original, but where it does, only helps the series. The cast is younger, the story is better, and the action hits harder. If you're an action junkie, it doesn't get more exciting than the Expendables and the sequel will have you craving a trilogy.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Arrival (2016)

Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, & Forest Whitaker
Rating: 1 1/2 out of 5 stars

Arrival is being called one of the best Science Fiction films in years. It is one of the best rated and reviewed films of 2016, and is drawing comparisons to Close Encounters of The Third Kind, but I have a question, did they watch the same film that I did? I wasn't crazy about Close Encounters, but that movie was leaps and bounds ahead of this one. Twelve alien crafts land in random places all across the planet, and the people are in a panic. Some countries react with hostility, but the U.S. Government decides to act cautiously (yeah right), and send Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), the best linguist they have, to figure out a way to community with the aliens. The aliens, turn out to be giant octopus, whose language turns out to be ink that they squirt into the air. This movie features flashbacks and flash-forwards, that seemingly make no sense, until the end when you finally figure out what they mean and once you do, you realize that you just wasted two hours of your life. If that wasn't bad enough, the film moves at an absolute snails pace, I mean you could take everything that actually happened in the film and squeeze it into about twenty minutes. The rest is just people talking to each other about the same damn thing over and over again. Trying to figure out the same thing over and over again. Worrying about the same things over and over again. The characters have no personality whatsoever, and you might think that it's one of those slow moving weird films that all comes together in an amazing ending, but no, it doesn't. Once you can see the whole picture, as one lady in the theater so eloquently shouted out, "really, that's it, that was so stupid." Her uncontrolled outburst really sums up this entire film. Honestly I think the slower and more artistic a film is, the more the critics love it, but I am one critic who isn't fooled by great actors and emotional music, this isn't the best film of the year, this is the biggest turd of the year, and it should be avoided at all costs!


Starring: Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes, & Hugo Weaving
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Set in the Australian outback, Strangerland tells the story of a family that has recently relocated to a small town that is literally in the middle of nowhere. The move seemed like an odd choice, but as you will later find out, it was a necessary one, but needless to say no one is particularly happy about it, especially the families two kids. One day there is a report of a large dust storm headed towards town and the parents go to get their children to safety, only to discover they are nowhere to be found. The local sheriff is called in, but he's not moving fast enough for the father, so he takes things into his own hands, further complicating things. Aside from the unusual setting and circumstances of the disappearance, this film isn't all that original, in fact, except for the ending and the location, it was really very similar to the film, Prisoners. The investigation was fairly interesting, as was the setting, Hugo Weaving was good as the sheriff, but was really the only interesting character with any kind of personality or background of interest. As for the rest of the cast, they're kind of just there, they don't talk much about themselves or their past and the film has an extremely narrow focus. Nicole Kidman just cries a lot and Joseph Fiennes wants to yell at anyone who will listen, which unfortunately is us. The bottom line, Strangerland is an average, forgettable film, it has enough going for it that it will keep your attention and it moves at a decent pace, but the characters are nothing to write home about, the performances are nothing special either, and you don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand what's going on or what happened in the end. 


Starring: Ryan Phillippe, Salma Hayek, Neve Campbell, & Mike Myers
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Okay, most people wouldn't admit it, but I will. I only watched this movie for the graphic sex and nudity. Based on the trailer, I was expecting a giant orgy, filled with drugs and dance music, but to my surprise, 54 actually turned out to be a docudrama about Club 54, as seen through the eyes of a young waiter/bar tender/dancer. The film features the shady practices of the owner, the drug trade inside, the celebrity guests, and of course the eccentric regulars, in what turns out to be one hell of an entertaining film (...and the sex and nudity don't hurt either). Ryan Phillippe stars in a role that today I could never see him taking, but back in his younger days, he really excelled in. The way he was able to demonstrate how the exposure to a place like that can change a person, was truly remarkable. He literally went from nothing to a face that was known all over the city, simply because he was a waiter at 54. It went to his head and changed the whole dynamic of his life and relationship with his family. For as good as he was though, Mike Myers was the real star of the film, portraying famed owner Steve Rubell. Rubell's life was just one big party and he never slowed down or cared about what he was doing or saying publicly, and we all know how that turned out in the long run. Myers is one of those actors who is out of this world when he's cast in the right role, and terrible when he's not, but much as the case with Austin Powers, this role fit him like a glove. On the surface, 54 is a wild, raunchy film that is going to offend a lot of people, I don't suggest watching it with your grandparents. It does however, tell a very relevant and historically accurate story of the drug and youth culture of the mid-late 1970s in the big cities. 54 is sexy, entertaining, and informative, a mix that you don't often see on the big screen.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

Starring: Dylan O'Brian, Kaya Scodelario, & Thomas Sangster
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Maze Runner trilogy was one of the best book series I've read since the Hunger Games, but unlike the Hunger games, the transition to the big screen has not been an easy one. The first film in the series, was nothing like the book, as it completely failed to demonstrate the comradery among the boys, as well as eliminating key elements from the story. Apparently, I wasn't the only one who noticed this, as The Scorch Trials made sure the same mistakes didn't happen twice. Of course the same elements that were ignored in the first film had to still be excluded for the sake of continuity, but the rest of the film was dead on. In the second film, the boys learn that their rescue was only short lived, as they are still under the control of Wicked, and are about to face their second test. The group is to be dropped into the most unforgiving part of the earth, a place where the disease runs rampant, and cranks are everywhere, the Scorch. If they can survive the Scorch, the boys will have a better idea of what they are up against, and Wicked may just be able to get what they need from them to finally find a cure, that is if they make it to the end. Unlike the first film, Dylan O'Brian finally embraces the leadership role that Thomas is supposed to play in the series, and gives the film the hero to root for that it was sorely lacking. The additions of Jacob Lofland and Rosa Salazar further move the story along, as the film starts to pursue the side angles much in a way the novels did, something the first film also ignored. The narrow focus of the first film, combined with it's rushed nature, and missing elements, made it seem like a cliff notes version of otherwise terrific novel. The sequel however takes the time to properly tell the story, explore the angles, and was much closer to the original story. If you're not a reader and you were turned off by the first film, I don't blame you, but give the sequel a chance, it's a much more accurate depiction of the story.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Doctor Strange (2016)

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Mads Mikkelsen, & Rachel McAdams
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

At this point anything with the name Marvel attached to it, is box office gold, as is evident by their latest film, Doctor Strange. The Doctor is perhaps one of the least known out of all of their characters, yet he is still pulling in huge numbers. The big question is whether or not the film lives up to the hype, and I can honestly say, I'm not really sure. Dr. Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a world renowned surgeon, who is badly injured in a car accident. When modern medicine fails him, Strange starts looking for alternative treatments and finds a bizarre ancient group, that claims they can teach him how to heal himself, and do a whole lot more. The big appeal of this movie, at least for me was the special effects. I knew the effects would be good, but Marvel really out did themselves this time. I watch close to three hundred films a year, and I'm not often impressed by special effects, but the effects in this movie really blew me away. That being said, this is just one of those film you have to shell out the extra money to see in 3D. It's a completely different experience in 3D and you really will be amazed by some of the things they can do. As for the story, it really is the same thing that Marvel keeps doing over and over again. I've really enjoyed the Marvel films and while they are all unique in their own way, the underlying theme always seems to be the same. Someone gets hurt, they lose the girl they love, they find someone or a group of someones who help make them extraordinary, then they fight the bad guys and in the process get the girl. It's a formula that is in every single one of their films and it's getting a little tiresome. The bottom line, Doctor Strange is pure Marvel. What I mean by that is, it's the expected story, with unique traits specific to this character, a Stan Lee cameo, a cast full of superstars, two scenes after the credits, and perhaps the best special effects you'll ever see. If you're a fan of these films, you won't be disappointed by Doctor Strange.

We Need To Talk About Kevin

Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, & Ezra Miller
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Americans are fascinated with criminals, and most films about them either focus on the criminal or on the people who are trying to catch them. With the recent uptake in school shootings, the one element that is often overlooked is the parents and what, if any, their role is in all of this. That is the focus of award winning film, We Need To Talk About Kevin. Kevin (Ezra Miller) has always been an angry, troubled kid, brought up by an upper middle class family. Kevin had a loving family, everything he could ever want, but still orchestrated a horrific mass shooting at his school. Despite all evidence to the contrary, his mother (Tilda Swinton) can't help but think that somehow everything is her fault, and by and large the community agrees. This is far and away one of the strongest performances I've ever seen Tilda Swinton give, and that's saying a lot, because she has always been terrific. Watching this was almost difficult, as one could actually feel her pain and see in her eyes the emotional toll everything had taken on her. She did nothing wrong, but everyone from the press to the owner of the local grocery store, blames her for the actions of her son. The film flashes between before, during, and after the event to show the differences in the lives and personalities of the characters, in a way that I've never seen before, it was really ingenious. This film delves deeper into the heart of darkness and into the eyes of the unseen victims in one of the most powerful films I've seen in years. We Need To Talk About Kevin may even be too emotionally overwhelming for some, but by in large it is one of the hardest hitting and most realistic dramas you may ever find.

The Ledge

Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Terrance Howard, & Liv Tyler
Rating: 1 1/2 out of 5 stars

An all-star cast isn't everything, as proven by the independent drama, The Ledge. The film features, (big surprise) a man on the ledge of a building, threatening to jump, and when the police negotiator shows up, the man (Charlie Hunnam), through flashbacks, tells a twisted tale of love, adultery, and murder that led him to his current predicament. One of the biggest problems I have with this films is Charlie Hunnam, he was so good as outlaw biker, Jax Teller, on seven seasons of Sons of Anarchy, that I don't really buy him as this sweet, emotional guy. Not to mention the fact that he had better chemistry with Terrance Howard, who played the police negotiator, than he did with Liv Tyler, the woman he was supposedly willing to risk everything for. Together, Hunnam and Tyler seem almost uncomfortable and it wasn't just while they were talking. All of their interactions are awkward, clumsy, and uncomfortable to watch, something I assure you was not done on purpose. Aside from that, the story here, isn't even that great, The Ledge is more talking then anything else, yes I realize it's a drama, but something has to happen at some point doesn't it? I mean the endless talk is broken up by a couple of clumsy sex scenes and then it's back to talking, I really found the whole thing to be very boring, and apparently so did other Netflix viewers, as it was streaming for about two weeks before they pulled it. As I said before, the Ledge has a great cast, but besides that it's just another long, tedious, film you can live without.

Jimmy Hollywood

Starring: Joe Pesci, Christian Slater, & Victoria Abril
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Joe Pesci is one of the most underrated comedic actors in all of Hollywood. The reason is simple, Cousin Vinny aside, he's never really been able to have success on his own. Pesci is usually in huge movies, paired with other big stars, and his rave reviews fall under the supporting actor tag. Jimmy Hollywood is yet another example of Joe Pesci going out on his own and striking out big time, which is quite surprising, when you consider who the Director of the film was. Jimmy Alto (Pesci) is a failing actor in Hollywood, he's done everything he can to make a name for himself, but he never has. One night a down and depressed Jimmy finds that his car has been broken into and it's the last straw. Along with him best friend, William (Christian Slater), Jimmy decides he's going to make a name for himself by cleaning up the streets of L.A., but that doesn't go exactly as planned either. The film is Written/Directed by Barry Levinson, who is usually known for his originality, but in this case, he's got nothing more than a trailer trash rip off of The Green Hornet. The parallels are really uncanny and the originality just isn't there. Even if a film has been done before, if it's good, I can still somewhat enjoy it, but that's another glaring problem with this film, it's not even that funny! Where are Joe Pesci's legendary profanity filled tirades? Where are the classic Home Alone type slapstick moments? Jimmy Hollywood just kind of is what it is, and what it is, is slow, predictable, and done. As a fan of Joe Pesci, I had to see it, but you don't, trust me, you're not missing anything.