Friday, December 29, 2017

Water You Waiting For? Go See The Thoughtful And Engrossing Romantic Monster Movie Drama The Shape of Water

Fairy tales have always been used to impart larger ideas regarding the societies they originated in within the confines of something palatable to the general public and Guillermo Del Toro, a fellow whose filmography clearly indicates a love for fairy tales, has used his movies that are heavily informed by fairy tales of old as ways to explore all kinds of weighty ideas or societally relevant concepts. The Devil's Backbone is ostensibly a ghost story but it's also a tale of how people show off their true selves in times of war while his project most explicitly evocative of fairy tales, Pan's Labyrinth, is set in the real world conflict of the Spanish Civil War. Even his movies about robot and monsters punching each other takes time to demonstrate how walls dividing countries only create more problems, a concept that's become all the more relevant as the years go by.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Huh, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle Is Actually Solid Family Entertainment!

I'm not sure a Jumanji sequel (yes, this new Jumanji adventure is a follow-up, not a remake or reboot, to that 1995 family film that I haven't seen) was exactly necessary, but it's here as part of Sony/Columbia's ongoing attempt to exploit any potential franchise from their library of movies, and luckily, it's one of the better results to emerge from this initiative. It's not really memorable or all that inventive but it passes the time nicely and the actors in the lead roles are utilized quite well. Never would have thought the best aspect of a 2017 Jumanji follow-up would be the way it allows actors to really excel and show off their talents, but here we are!

John Boyega Excels In The Grueling Lead Role of Imperial Dreams

"Pull yourself up by your bootstraps". That famous phrase gets touted a lot in regards to someone not being able to live up to their full potential or realizing their goals as if saying such a phrase will immediately spark in a person the idea to finally go out there and live out the idealized version of their own life. But for many, it's not as simple as just "pulling yourself by your own bootstraps", there are more complex issues, both large and small in scale, to face on a daily basis that hinders one's ability to complete even the most basic tasks of trying to improve one's station in life. How can one even begin to pull themselves up by their bootstraps if their arms are being so heavily weighed down?

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Too Many Generic Storytelling Turns Hinder The Interesting Titular Lead Character of Carrie Pilby

Being intellectually gifted has served Carrie Pilby (Bel Powley) well in some areas of her life, such as her academic pursuits that had her skipping grades like crazy and then going to Harvard at a young age. On the other hand, that same IQ has left her distancing herself heavily from people, meaning she's a 19-year-old with little to no social experience. Her therapist, Dr. Petrov (Nathan Lane), suggests Carrie Pilby put together a list of goals (which consist of stuff like "Going On A Date" or "Make A Friend") that she can achieve in the coming months so that she can begin to expand her horizons in meaningful ways.

Pottersville Is Strange Yuletide Fare That Embraces Sentimentality Over Laughs

We typically cast Michael Shannon in dark, foreboding roles that take advantage of the man's ability to play intense characters so well. But Shannon can play different kinds of characters equally well too, just look at last years Midnight Special which has him deliver some of his best work as a man just looking to get his super-powered son to safety. For Pottersville, Shannon steps into the realm of comedy, an area he's not entirely inexperienced in (he was in the David Wain spoof comedy They Came Together as well as having a key supporting role in The Night Before) and one he could flourish in given the right project. not that project.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Wowzers, Good Time Is Excellent And Visually Magnificent Crime Thriller Cinema!


Good Time feels so much like a singular movie, like it's the manifestation of a precise one-of-a-kind take on the crime thriller genre. Directed by Ben Safdie and Josh Safdie (the two are commonly referred to as The Safdie Brothers), there's plenty of elements here that are immediately distinctive, most notably the visual aesthetic that leans heavily on a bright neon-infused color scheme that coats every environment the story wanders into which range from a bail bond office to an amusement park. Then there's the score by Oneohtrix Point Never, which pulsates right in your ear with its idiosyncratic sound as well as the camerawork that comes up with truly inventive ways to frame various intensity-driven sequences.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Man Who Invented Christmas Is Fine-ish Festive Fare

That first trailer for The Man Who Invented Christmas invited a good amount of mocking scorn when it was first released and really, can you blame anyone? Just watch this thing, it seems like a parody of what a prospective biopic drama of Charles Dickens would be like:

Denzel Washington Decides To Fight The Law And Nobody Wins In Roman J. Israel, Esq

The new Dan Gilroy movie, Roman J. Israel, Esq., reminded me explicitly of last year's two Illumination Entertainment movies, The Secret Life of Pets and Sing (boy, I'm sure you're all tired of hearing that oft-repeated comparision, huh?). Like those two 2016 animated features, Roman J. Isreal, Esq. seems to have started out as a basic one-sentence pitch (what if Denzel Washington played a morally virtuous lawyer who becomes corrupt?) that people were understandably enamored with and then nobody bothered to flesh it out beyond that, resulting in a motion picture that tries to be a thoughtful character-drvien drama but it has no meat on its bones, it's skinnier thematically than a praying mantis.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A Great Cast And Confident Directing Make The Brothers Bloom A Delight

The occasionally wacky humor of Star Wars: The Last Jedi was a surprise to many viewers of that space opera, but thinking on it, that sort of humor feels like trademark Rian Johnson, especially in regards to his 2009 feature The Brothers Bloom, which is chock full of stylized gags that feel heavily reminiscent of Monty Python or perhaps Wes Anderson. It takes a little while to get into the heavily ridiculous aesthetic of The Brothers Bloom, but taken as a whole, it's easy to see why Rian Johnson decided to go full-on silly since he's doing an extended homage to the caper subgenre with this project and that's a section of cinema that's well-known for its heightened tendencies.

Monday, December 18, 2017

"That's How We're Gonna Win This War...Not By Fighting What We Hate, But Saving What We Love": A Look At The Hopeful Heart of Star Wars: The Last Jedi

"He who has health has hope; and he who has hope, has everything." - Thomas Carlyle


2017 has been such a rough year, holy smokes.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore Starts Out Strong & Gloomy But Can't Sustain Its Momentum

For his first feature-length project as a director (and his second foray into such a field as a writer), Macon Blair quickly establishes a glib view of humanity that's dragging the lead character of I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore, Ruth Kimky (Melanie Lynskey) down. Every day she see's people polluting the environment with their cars, random strangers acting cruel to one another and everyone around her constantly acting so so selfish. Her idea that everyone else on this planet is just selfish and cruel gets reinforced when her home gets burglarized and the law enforcement officers in charge of the case don't seem to be in too much of a hurry to solve the burglary.

A Quiet Passion Certainly Makes Its Voice Heard By Way of Being Emotionally Engaging

Though I'd heard some positive buzz floating around for it over the last year, A Quiet Passion had flown right under my radar during its theatrical release. Luckily, I managed to catch up on it a few days back and very early on in this movie's runtime, a sequence occurs that managed to convince me that I was about to watch something special. The scene in question depicts Edward Dickinson (Keith Carradine) and his three children, one of whom was famous poet Emily Dickinson, pose for a photograph. The camera positions each of these four people in the middle of the shot and stands back a ways before slowly pulling in. As the camera gets closer and closer to Edward and his siblings, their faces begin to morph into older versions of themselves, with the offspring of Edward Dickinson gradually transforming from children to adults, all of it occurring in a single uninterrupted shot.

"This Is Getting Out of Hand! Now There Are Two of Them!": Star Wars: The Last Jedi Avoids Sophomore Slump And Has Massive Box Office Bow

Star Wars: The Last Jedi was a movie whose box office performance I was most curious to see given how prior sequels to big record-breaking blockbusters had performed in the past. Most movies that open to over $150 million end up having sequels that open below their predecessors, with the occasional exception of something like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (which went up 5% from the first Hunger Games) and The Dark Knight Rises (which went up 1.5% from The Dark Knight). The Last Jedi was down from The Force Awakens (how could it not?) but that's the only real complaint you could lob at the title as it ended up generating a massive $220 million opening weekend.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Room Will Tear You Apart With Confusion And Yuks

I've been hearing jokes centered around various lines and situations from The Room on the internet for as long as I can remember. You'd think that would diminish the experience of seeing the actual movie for the first time, but on the contrary, seeing the whole thing in full really is a whole other type of experience unto itself. Tommy Wiseau's attempt to channel the works of Tennesse Williams is thoroughly sincere and 110% committed to itself, but what it's committed to is absolute madness. It's a unique kind of madness though, the kind that could only come from the mind of Tommy Wiseau for better and for worse.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Force Is Strong With Writer/Director Rian Johnson's Work On The Excellent Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Waking up this morning after seeing Star Wars: The Last Jedi last night, I was shocked to discover that the film has already generated a bunch of controversy from various corners of the internet populated by Star Wars fanboys who are irritated that the feature didn't spend its runtime clarifying every aspect of Supreme Leader Snoke's backstory or validate their fan theories that have been stewing int he two year gap between The Force Awakens. It's been kind of fascinating to watch this unfold since none of this stuff was anywhere near my mind when I exited my screening of The Last Jedi (though I'm notoriously anti-fan theory and, for that matter, never had any expectations that The Last Jedi would flesh out the backstory of Snoke).

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Five Disney Brands That Never Managed To Take Off (In Laman's Terms)

In Laman's Terms is a weekly editorial column where Douglas Laman rambles on about certain topics or ideas that have been on his mind lately. Sometimes he's got serious subjects to discuss, other times he's just got some silly stuff to shoot the breeze about. Either way, you know he's gonna talk about something In Laman's Terms!

So apparently, sometime tomorrow, Disney will officially announce that they've acquired all the media assets of 21st Century Fox, which includes the movie studio 20th Century Fox. To put it simply, I absolutely hate this news from top to bottom. I hate how it removes high-profile competition for Disney, I hate how now so many major American movies will be controlled by one studio, I hate how Disney will effectively be giving the Murdoch family $60+ billion to expand their Fox News state media emporium to a worldwide audience, I hate how Disney will likely shutter indie movie studio Fox Searchlight....there's just so much to hate here.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Song to Song Is Out of Tune And Devoid of Substance

Here we go we go again.

Yes, Terrence Malick returned to the silver screen this year with Song to Song, his fourth directorial effort in the last eight years, a stunning turnaround in terms of output considering the long gaps of time between projects in his filmography prior to 2011. Now he's just churning these things out like a madman and while his work ethic that's rivaling Ridley Scott or Takashi Miike is admirable, the quality of his recent efforts suggest he should maybe chillax, take a breather and come up with some kind of imagery or atmosphere he wants to exude before filming a movie instead of just tossing a bunch of major actors into a number of disparate locales and calling it a day.

James Franco Finds The Humanity of Tommy Wiseau In The Thoroughly Entertaining The Disaster Artist

In June 2003, a small independent movie called The Room premiered and soon caught on like wildfire with the general public not because of how good but rather just because of how much of a staggering misfire it was. The Room was a one of a kind vision from Tommy Wiseau, the man who had starred in the project in addition to writing and directing it, whose nonsensical plot, memorably off-kilter dialogue and the strange acting coming from Wiseau in the lead role all combined to make it an instant midnight movie staple that people have been enjoying for over 14 years now. For such an iconic movie, one from such a singularly unique mind, you've gotta imagine there would be an impressive story behind how it got made.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

CHiPS Will Drive You Up The Wall With Its Abysmally Unfunny Attempts At Comedy

Look, when I said I wanted Michael Pena to headline more movies, I didn't this.

There's a lot of things that one could describe as odd about CHiPS on a basic conceptual level beyond the fact that human beings funded a major feature film adaptation of the 1970's TV show CHiPS in 2017. Most notably, the screenplay for CHiPS, which has its script credited solely to Dax Shepard, who also directs and headlines the film, seems to be channeling classic action/comedy cop movies (the kind Shane Black popularized) with extended action sequences, most notably one introducing us to the films antagonists played by Vincent D'onofrio, that are played entirely straight-faced. It then moves into the kind of raunchy foul-mouthed humor you'd expect from a D-grade R-rated American comedy in 2017.

Coco Tops Pre-Star Wars Weekend As Disaster Artist Flourishes And Morgan Freeman/Tommy Lee Jones Just Getting Started Stops Cold At The Box Office

For only the third time in 2017, a single title has managed to be number one at the domestic box office for three weeks in a row. Following in the footsteps of The Fate Of The Furious and The Hitman's Bodyguard, Coco led the 2017 box office again with $18.3 million. That's only a 33% dip from last week, a better third-weekend decline than Moana and on par with the 33% third-weekend drop of Tangled and on par with the $18.5 million third weekend sum Moana had last year. With $135.5 million in the bank so far, this one's playing only 7% behind Moana through the same point and has already handily surpassed $123 million domestic cume of the last PIXAR movie released at Thanksgiving, The Good Dinosaur. How high this one goes at the domestic box office will depend on how it holds in the face of the deluge of newcomers coming out during the holiday season, but right now it should handily surpass $200 million, becoming only the second animated movie of 2017 to gross over $200 million.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Douglas Laman Returns To The We Love To Watch Podcast To Talk Iron Man 3

The fine folks behind the We Love To Watch podcast invited me back onto their podcast to kick off their A Very Merry Shane Black Christmas month by talking all about Iron Man 3! Prepare for plenty of interesting discussions on the merits and faults of Iron Man 3 and the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole as well as numerous instances of us getting hilariously sidetracked in our discussion of this movie. Click here for the podcast or listen to it on the Soundcloud box below!

The Lovers, The Lovers, The Lovers, You Don't Treat Me No Good No More

Once The Lovers starts, the marriage between Mary (Debra Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts) is not in the middle of a rough patch nor is it about to hit a speed bump that interrupts romantic paradise. No, the moment the story begins, it's pretty damn clear that these two have drifted apart from one another for eons now. They're both seeing other people behind the other's back, with Michael striking up a romance with dance instructor Lucy (Melora Waters) and Mary engaging in an affair with writer Robert (Aidan Gillen). Each of their affairs have gone on long enough now that Michael and Mary's secret romantic partners beg them to cut off the marriage that has been going on for so long now.

Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri Pokes And Prodes The Audience With Realistic But Occasionally Shallow Vulgarity

Expectations are a funny thing. I walked into Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri certain I knew just what kind of film I was about to watch and walked out of my screening having just witnessed a feature that played against my expectations in many respects. The premise of this new Martin McDonagh motion picture had me expecting a film that was rife with relevant social commentary and instead the final project itself starts out by positioning itself as something akin to that before transitioning into a story that's more about dealing with general themes of loss and grappling with said loss.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Holiday 2017 Box Office Predictions

Wait, it's really December 2017? Where did the year go? Well, if it's the start of December, that can mean only one's time for my Holiday Box Office Predictions essay! Yep, for the fourth year in a row, I'm here to speculate on the box office performance of the various movies being put out in wide release over the next three weeks! Before we go further, you should note that all the opening weekend predictions cover only a movies 3-day opening weekend (spanning from Friday to Sunday) and that the only movie expanding from limited release into wide release over the next three weeks covered here is The Disaster Artist. Wonder Wheel, The Shape Of Water and Darkest Hour are all supposed to go into wide release over this period, but The Disaster Artist was the only one with a projected theater count to work with and that really does help things out when trying to predict how a film will fare when it goes into wide release.

With all that out of the way, let's look at my predictions for how things will go down at the box office over the holiday season of 2017!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Jenny Slate And Director Gillian Robespierri Reunite To Answer The Call Of Landline

Back in the bygone year of 1995, the Jacobs family is undergoing tons of familiar strife from all of its individual members. There's wife-to-be Dana Jacobs (Jenny Slate) whose impending marriage is giving her plenty of anxiety and leading her to cheat on her husband while her younger sister Ali Jacobs (Abby Quinn) is a rebellious 18-year-old who has turned to drugs and shirking school. These sisters have entirely different personalities, with Dana being more anxious while Jacobs is a foul-mouthed whirlwind of rebellion, but they're both trying to put on an exterior built on a facade to conceal their internal woes and that helps them connect even in the most turbulent of times.

Coco Livens Up The Top Of The Box Office Once Again As Various Arthouse Releases Make Tons Of Money

So the post-Thanksgiving 2017 weekend was a departure from past post-Thanksgiving frames in that all but two of the holdovers in the top 12 had weekend-to-weekend drops under 50%, whereas it's typical for most movies to lost over 60% in the post-Thanksgiving frame. What caused this? I don't have a clue, maybe it's the large amount of movies with positive buzz in the marketplace (Lady Bird and Three Billboards have oodles of critical accolades and awards attention to their name while Coco and Wonder both have an A+ CinemaScore grade stirring up audience goodwill) or maybe it's because a bunch of these holdovers are centered around the holidays or even just winter in general.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Deck The Halls With Anything But A Bulldog For Christmas

Bulldogs, like any dog in existence, are adorable. Just look at this little guy on a skateboard:
Or this bulldog who is just so happy about his costume!
See what I mean? These are precious puppers! So you'd think a movie called A Bulldog For Christmas would be a guaranteed success, the biggest can't miss proposition for a movie in history. But A Bulldog For Christmas misses the mark simply by ignoring the bulldog of its title for long stretches of its runtime! Yes, the movie A Bulldog For Christmas shunts its titular canine off to the sidelines for the majority of its plot even though the only reason any human being would watch this movie would be to watch the bulldog shenanigans. It's like if someone made a Star Trek movie and filled the runtime with a boring cooking video instead!

The premise of A Bulldog For Christmas is the same kind of plot we've seen tons of times before in that magical subgenre that revolves around a heavily flawed human being turning into a household pet to learn a lesson about better appreciating their family and life itself (The Shaggy Dog and Nine Lives are famous examples of this subgenre). Here, the person getting turned into a bulldog is college student Sally Kroger (Marylee Osborne) and you can tell she's a troubled soul because she returns home from college covered in piercing and attire that some old out of touch studio executive from 2005 thinks all the cool Goth kids are wearing these days.

Sally wants nothing to do with her families tradition of going to their deceased grandfather's winter home and celebrating Christmas and thus, she is visited by some kind of magical entity known as Chips (Henrique Couto, who also directs this project) who proceeds to turn her into a bulldog so she can learn a valuable lesson about appreciating her family and the spirit of the holidays. Wicked Uncle Randall (Vincent Holiday) shows up soon after Sally has turned into a dog proclaiming he wants to sell the grandfather's house for large sums of money because the prospect of suddenly turning into a dog wasn't enough conflict for this movie.

The absolute strangest part of A Bulldog For Christmas is how little of it actually concerns the titular bulldog. There are two brief segments of the movie that run about a minute each that are solely devoted to footage of the titular bulldog running around in a backyard that are easily the highlight of the whole feature, it's just so much fun to watch this doggo run around and being happy. Aside from those momentary distractions though, A Bulldog For Christmas shuns its lead canine to the sidelines, typically just going back to it so that Marylee Osborne can deliver wry voice-over quips, including one that leads into a confusingly executed fart joke.

When we're not watching medium shots of a bulldog accompanied by banal voiceover work, A Bulldog For Christmas concerns itself with treating the struggles of its various family members as serious as possible. Way too much screentime is handed over to characters delivering somber monologues reflecting their inner emotions while neither the performances nor the writing of these extended dialogue pieces are anywhere near good enough to warrant so much screentime being devoted to them. There's one scene in particular where Peggy Kroger (Erin R. Ryan) wistfully monologues about her woes for what seems like an eternity while her boyfriend tries to propose to her that becomes more and more like nails on a chalkboard as it goes on.

The character-based drama takes up so much of the story of A Bulldog For Christmas that long stretches of screentime without a single appearance by a bulldog. And when that bulldog does show up, it's usually so more tedious voiceover one-liners can rear their head or, in one instance, it's so that the mom of the Kroger family can claim that all bulldogs are "ugly". Bulldogs aren't ugly! What is ugly is the weird green-screen that shows up throughout the film, though at least such distracting backgrounds are bound to capture your attention, unlike the monotonous dialogue.  Ugh, A Bulldog For Christmas is so boring and lacking in bulldog shenanigans, you're better off just watching gifs of bulldogs like the one below: