Film Review: Darkest Hour (2017)

Release Date: September 1st, 2017 (Telluride)
Directed by: Joe Wright
Written by: Anthony McCarten
Music by: Dario Marianelli
Cast: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup, Ben Mendelsohn

Perfect World Pictures, Working Title Films, Focus Features, 125 Minutes

Review:

“You can not reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth.” – Winston Churchill

Now that there are nine or so films nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, there is more competition and it opens the floor up to more films that may otherwise get snubbed. But on the flip side of that, sometimes there are pictures that work their way onto the ballot that shouldn’t be there. Actually, it’s pretty common now. Darkest Hour is one of those films.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it enough to leave with a positive opinion of the film but if a movie is nominated for Best Picture of the Year, it had better be pretty damn exceptional.

Darkest Hour boasts some incredible acting but to be brutally honest, even great acting can’t save a disjointed and oddly paced film. While I was pulled into Gary Oldman’s Churchill, as he dominated nearly every scene, the film just shifted around like loose marbles in a shoe box. I felt like a cat watching a laser pointer.

While the film has also been nominated for Best Cinematography, I didn’t like it at all. The picture was dark and smudgy. Maybe the projector was on the fritz in my theater but the trailers before the movie all looked normal. This was a film shot with boring colors in dark places with high contrast lighting. While that can be presented well, I felt like I was watching a big television event from a major network in the ’90s and not a major motion picture on the big screen in 2018. The presentation made it feel like a mid-’90s BBC docudrama.

The strength of the film is the performances by the actors, especially Oldman and Ben Mendelsohn, as the King. The two women, Kristin Scott Thomas and Lily James, also did fine work but were limited in their roles, as Churchill was always the film’s primary focal point. Another strength was the presentation of Churchill, as Oldman’s transformation looked seamless and perfect.

The film only covers the few weeks between Churchill’s rise to the role of Prime Minister to the moment where he decides whether he is going to go to war with the Nazis or negotiate a treaty. We all know how this ends but it’s how he came to his decision that is the gist of the film’s story. While parts of the film drag and should have been whittled down, the last twenty minutes or so were really solid.

Darkest Hour was a good movie but it lacked in a lot of areas that a Picture of the Year nominee shouldn’t. But the Academy is incredibly political and that could very well be the reason why this is getting major accolades.

Film Review: I, Tonya (2017)

Release Date: September 8th, 2017 (TIFF)
Directed by: Craig Gillespie
Written by: Steven Rogers
Music by: Peter Nashel
Cast: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale, Mckenna Grace

LuckyChap Entertainment, Clubhouse Pictures, AI Film, Neon, 119 Minutes

Review:

“I mean, come on! What kind of friggin’ person bashes in their friend’s knee? Who would do that to a friend?” – Tonya Harding

I thought that the trailer for I, Tonya was really good and I wanted to see the film. The main thing I wondered about though, was how they were going to actually portray the events in the movie. Part of me felt like the film could have the effect of making Tonya Harding some sort of misunderstood cult hero or the victim. While the film does humanize her, as it should, and it also shows the abuse she dealt with throughout her life, I feel like it was pretty fair to the story, as no one other than Tonya and those around her, knew what actually happened in regards to the assault on Nancy Kerrigan.

I like the point of view that the film took, in that it was based off of the interviews and testimonials given by Harding, Jeff Gillooly and LaVona Golden. The film’s plot would often show events from the three main characters different interpretations. Tonya would tell her story, then her mom or Jeff would cut in to correct it or defend themselves. I liked the way the plot was structured and the quick cuts worked really well for that quick shifting narrative.

However, that worked to the picture’s detriment too. At least, at one point in the story.

You see, the film worked really well as just a straight up biopic for the first two-thirds or so. I was pretty engaged in the story and Tonya’s life before the Kerrigan incident. In fact, when it shifted to the incident, it pulled me away from a film I was enjoying to where I suddenly found myself knee deep in something else. I thought the film just threw itself into the incident without a better build up, as the vibe immediately felt different and it hit you out of nowhere but I guess that’s how it went down, as far as we know. It was like watching a really good story about a girl who wants to be an Olympic figure skater, overcoming all the odds, as the decks are stacked against her and then like a punch to the gut, you are reminded as to why this is a story in the first place. It just takes you out of your element.

Still, overall, the plot was well structured and the narrative curveball doesn’t do much to derail the film. It just felt like a major hiccup and then it was gone.

The performances in this movie are all fantastic. Allison Janney steals every scene that she is in and her Oscar nomination is well deserved. Margot Robbie was spectacular as Tonya and Sebastian Stan, who I am mostly familiar with as being the Winter Soldier, was the real surprise of the bunch, as he plays a character so far outside of what I’ve see from him. It’s like he went from a badass like John Wick to Kip from Napolean Dynamite. It’s a hell of a transformation from his most famous role.

I don’t think I, Tonya is anywhere near a Picture of the Year contender and it wasn’t nominated. However, the performances have been justly considered and Robbie and Janney are up for Oscars. I think Janney has a real shot but Robbie has much steeper competition in the Lead Actress category.

Film Review: Ingrid Goes West (2017)

Release Date: January 20th, 2017 (Sundance)
Directed by: Matt Spicer
Written by: David Branson Smith, Matt Spicer
Music by: Jonathan Sadoff, Nick Thorburn
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell, Billy Magnussen, Pom Klementieff

Star Thrower Entertainment, 141 Entertainment, Mighty Engine, Neon, 97 Minutes

Review:

“…and also, no Batman talk!” – Ingrid, “What am I supposed to talk about? I don’t know these people!” – Dan, “Talk about something cool, like food or clothes or Joan Didion!” – Ingrid

I wanted to see this in the theater around mid-2017, when it came out. But it was only in my town for a cup of coffee and I was traveling for work at the time.

The film follows a young woman, Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza), who obsesses over social media and stalks the girls she follows, trying to emulate them and essentially become them. The opening scene sees the final moments of her “relationship” with one of the people she follows. We then see her move on to Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen), a girl who lives in California. Ingrid takes the inheritance from her mother’s death and moves to Cali, in an effort to become friends with Taylor and to emulate her cool, social media projected lifestyle.

The film’s cast is rounded out by O’Shea Jackson Jr., who plays a lovable character who is an aspiring screenwriter and has an obsession with Batman, Wyatt Russell as Taylor’s disenchanted and withdrawn “artist” husband, Billy Magnussen as Taylor’s incredibly douchey brother and Pom Klementieff in a fairly small but important role, as she drives the initial wedge between Ingrid and Taylor.

I liked this film for a lot of reasons but mostly because of how good Aubrey Plaza was in it. She is able to convey loneliness and an obsessive need for belonging in such a sad and tragic way that you almost excuse her behavior and just want to help her. She’s not dissimilar from a lot of people out there who obsess over this new breed of celebrities: social media “influencers”.

Really, Ingrid just wants a friend and wants to feel like she is someone but completely misses out on the fact that social media is mainly just manufactured bullshit that people use to project their ideal persona. None of it is really genuine or real and the film doesn’t just examine Ingrid’s side of the equation, it also examines Taylor’s and who she really is. This is kind of a necessary movie for this day and age.

In the end, Ingrid actually has what she needs in the character of O’Shea Jackson Jr.’s Dan. He loves her, cares for her and treats her better than anyone else in the film and ultimately, even when she burns him, he doesn’t leave her side and is a good support system.

I do have a problem with the film though and that is in how it wraps up. The first 90 percent of the picture was really good. I just felt that maybe the writers didn’t know how to conclude the story after using this well-crafted tale to make their points. Ingrid’s actions just feel too predictable at the end and the final moment brings things full circle to a point where you know that Ingrid didn’t really learn the lessons she should have and she’s now attained the superficial and artificial online life she craved.

Despite an unsatisfying ending, the rest of the story was well paced and pieced together nicely. The film is accented by nice cinematography and really effective lighting. Plaza and Jackson were the real highlight of this movie and had spectacular chemistry.

Film Review: Hostiles (2017)

Release Date: September 2nd, 2017 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: Scott Cooper
Written by: Scott Cooper, Donald E. Stewart
Music by: Max Richter
Cast: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Adam Beach, Jesse Plemons, Rory Cochrane, Ben Foster, Timothée Chalamet, Jonathan Majors, Q’orianka Kilcher, Paul Anderson, Stephen Lang, Scott Wilson

Waypoint Entertainment, Le Grisbi Productions, Bloom Media, Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures, 133 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve killed everything that’s walked or crawled. If you do it enough, you get used to it.” – Captain Joseph J. Blocker

Hostiles came into the theater with a lot of praise from top critics. Entertainment Weekly referred to it as “…the best western since Unforgiven.” That’s a pretty bold statement but when looking at traditional westerns from 1992 up until now, it’s a statement that’s not too far off. It’s a superb picture, through and through.

I haven’t been a huge fan of director Scott Cooper’s work. I didn’t care too much for Black Mass and I thought Out of the Furnace was pretty mediocre; I’ve yet to see Crazy Heart, even though I’ve been meaning to. I think Cooper certainly has a good eye and he’s great at building suspense but I thought Black Mass suffered from a narrative standpoint, as it seemed to rely on people already knowing its story, while Out of the Furnace was initially engaging put tapered off pretty quickly. With Hostiles, I was pulled in from the opening scene, fully engaged throughout and thought the narrative was really strong, well paced and subliminally sweet underneath all the violence and racial tensions. I feel like Hostiles was a body of work that benefited from the director learning from his past hiccups and thus, really coming into his own in a new way.

The film was so amazing and visually enchanting that it’s the first film I’ve been to in years, where the theater was full and everyone actually stayed off of their phones and shut the hell up for the duration of the picture, which must have been hard for them, as this was over two and a half hours with all those friggin’ trailers.

The story sees a war hero have to transport an old Indian chief from New Mexico to Montana, where he is to be buried on his sacred land. The hero, played by Christian Bale, wants nothing to do with the mission and even tries to bait the Indian once they get far enough away from his fort in New Mexico.

As the story progresses, we meet a woman whose entire family was slaughtered by Indians. The journey is long and arduous and the party encounters many enemies, some Indians and some white men. By the end, we see personal biases fade and a family dynamic develop between this small group of people who started the journey with hatred for one another.

The film had a perfect cast. I’ve been a fan of Wes Studi and Adam Beach for a long time. I’ve actually loved Beach as far back as 1998’s Smoke Signals, a fantastic Native American coming of age picture that everyone should experience at some point.

Additionally, Bale was stellar, as was Rosamund Pike. I liked seeing Jesse Plemons play a nice character and it was cool seeing Timothée Chalamet in this, as he’s a young actor who is quickly becoming one of the best talents working today. Rory Cochrane was a pleasant surprise in this, as I’ve followed him since his teen pictures Dazed and Confused and Empire Records in the ’90s. There are also small but pivotal roles played by Ben Foster, Stephen Lang and Scott Wilson, who was pretty much the antithesis of his most famous character, Hershel from The Walking Dead.

The cinematography was handled by Masanobu Takayanagi, who also did The Grey, which I loved but most people didn’t. He has a real talent for capturing incredibly majestic landscapes. Here, he had some vast and beautiful country at his disposal and made the most of it.

Max Richter provided the score and did a fine job with the film’s music. He most recently worked on Miss Sloane and Arrival before this.

I would say that Hostiles is as good as the critical hype. I love westerns and it’s rare that I get to see a really great one come down the pipeline.

Film Review: Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters (2017)

Also known as: Gojira: Kaijū Wakusei (original Japanese title)
Release Date: November 17th, 2017 (Japan)
Directed by: Kōbun Shizuno, Hiroyuki Seshita
Written by: Gen Urobuchi
Music by: Takayuki Hattori
Cast: Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Yūki Kaji

Toho, 88 Minutes

Review:

While I have been anticipating this since its announcement some time ago, I didn’t have extremely high hopes for it, as there hasn’t really been a Japanese produced Godzilla animated feature before. I’m also not a huge fan of anime but I do regularly return to some of the classics, from time to time. For example, Robotech is one of my most loved things ever.

Well, I’m going to be blunt: this was terrible. It’s slow, it’s boring, everyone in it is extremely unlikable and it has a giant plot hole large enough to suck Godzilla in.

The plot hole made the film pretty unwatchable. I couldn’t just ignore it and it was a testament to how awful the writing was. You see, humans escaped Earth, which has been overrun by kaiju with Godzilla as their king. For decades, the human race has pushed out further and further into the cosmos and in that time, food and oxygen became scarce. People started dying, some committed suicide and most of the humans that fled Earth are already dead at the start of this movie. So, afraid that they’ll never get to the planets that they set out for, an angry kid decides that going back to Earth to fight Godzilla is the best course of action for survival. The humans then use a warp drive to get back to Earth in literally one second. So, all these people died over the course of decades for a trip that took one second with warp drive? And why not then just use the warp drive to get you to your far off destination? At this point, I was already over this stupid fucking movie.

Then there is everything else wrong with it.

The main character is such an unlikable brat you just want to punch him in the dick. I fucking hated this character and wanted him to die as soon as possible. He doesn’t die by the way, the film ends with a moment that tells you that this screaming emo douche will be back, front and center, in this film’s sequel because I guess this is the start of a trilogy.

Another problem is that I (and I’m sure many people) only watched this for Godzilla. You don’t really get to see him, other than quick flashbacks, until the last third of the film. He also looks an awful lot like the most recent American version of Godzilla, as opposed to the dozens or so Japanese versions. Everything up until Godzilla shows up is just drawn out and boring as hell. This just isn’t an exciting movie and once it should be exciting, you don’t care about any of the characters because they all suck. The terrible characters make it so that the action scenes lack any sort of emotion. This is a soulless, terrible, cookie cutter, basic bitch, anime shitshow.

In regards to the animation, I didn’t like the Godzilla character design. Also, the action stuff is a combination of traditional animation and CGI, which seems to be the norm in anime these days and I don’t like it. What I did like about anime, when I was younger, was the talent of the people who drew these films and shows. It’s similar to how I love classic Disney animation but don’t really give a shit about Pixar, even if the stories are good. But just like I prefer practical effects over a ton of unnecessary CGI, I feel the same way with animation. Yes, that’s my personal preference but I know I’m not alone here.

Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters isn’t anything I ever asked for and now having seen it, it isn’t anything that I want. I’ll probably watch the sequels because they are Godzilla movies but I doubt that anything will happen in this series that will make me appreciate them.

This just barely escapes the mechanical maw of the Cinespiria Shitometer. Just barely.

TV Review: The Toys That Made Us (2017- )

Original Run: December 22nd, 2017 – current
Directed by: Tom Stern
Written by: Benjamin J. Frost, Nicholas Ferrell
Music by: Tim Burns

The Nacille Company, Netflix, 4 Episodes (so far), 46 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I had no idea that Netflix was even working on this documentary series. I discovered it as soon as it dropped on the service and I actually hit “play” without even putting it in my queue first.

The first season, which is all that has aired, at this point, features only four episodes but they were all pretty damn good.

The four episodes covered the history of the toy lines for Star WarsBarbieMasters of the Universe and G.I. Joe – all household names and all franchises.

I can only assume that the next batch of episodes will feature Transformers and Hello Kitty. At least, they seem like they are missing their honors but four episodes wasn’t enough to start this show on. I feel like they should have, at the very least, given us a half dozen.

Still, this documentary series is fun and incredibly informative. It talks to the people who were there and who worked on these famous toy lines. It goes through their genesis, their production, their release and ultimately, how they became cultural juggernauts. The documentary also does a good job of showcasing other things that were spawned from the toy lines like movies, TV shows, comics, spinoff toys, etc.

The Toys That Made Us is a solid and thorough look at the toys that actually made us. As an adult, it is cool riding on this nostalgia train and actually learning how these things we loved so much, came to be.

Ranking All the New Movies I Saw In 2017

2017 is over and although I already ranked all the summer films, as I will probably do every year, I also wanted to rank all the new films I saw that came out in 2017.

There were some things I wanted to see but I don’t get everything where I live, even if my local theaters are finally getting better at bringing in some good indie movies. So if something is omitted, it is because I couldn’t see it or just wasn’t able to catch, as some indie stuff comes out really briefly in my area. There is also the possibility that I just didn’t want to see a certain movie, which is why you may notice that the newest Transformers or Justice League are missing.

So here is my attempt at trying to quantify the films I’ve seen in 2017.

1. The Florida Project
2. Get Out
3. Thor: Ragnarok
4. It
5. Blade Runner 2049
6. War for the Planet of the Apes
7. Baby Driver
8. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
9. Logan
10. Brigsby Bear
11. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
12. Spider-Man: Homecoming
13. Atomic Blonde
14. Kingsman: The Golden Circle
15. The Disaster Artist
16. T2 Trainspotting
17. Dunkirk
18. The Big Sick
19. Lady Bird
20. Wonder Woman
21. Detroit
22. Murder On the Orient Express
23. Kong: Skull Island
24. The Shape of Water
25. Lucky
26. Goon: Last of the Enforcers
27. Power Rangers
28. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
29. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
30. Fist Fight
31. It Comes At Night
32. The Hero
33. Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi
34. Ghost In the Shell
35. Cult of Chucky
36. I Don’t Feel at Home In This World Anymore
37. Alien: Covenant
38. The Mummy
39. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
40. The Dark Tower
41. Bright
42. Life
43. The Babysitter
44. Logan Lucky
45. Death Note