Saturday, March 31, 2018

Ready Player One Is, For Better And For Worse, A Traditional Action Blockbuster

After a whole decade of being absent from the realm of American blockbuster cinema, director Steven Spielberg returns to the genre he helped bring into existence with Ready Player One, an adaptation of a 2011 novel penned by Ernest Cline. Given just what a tremendous track record Spielberg has with blockbuster fare (I'd personally say his only two real misses in that subgenre would be Temple of Doom and The Lost World), the idea of him returning to rollicking escapism science-fiction blockbusters sounds like a winning prospect, though the excerpts I've read from the Ready Player One book (which, for full context, I've never read in full) did make the source material he was adapting seem more creepy than exciting, thus diluting my excitement for this newest Spielberg fetaure immensely.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Relying Solely On One-Note Gags Being Run Into The Ground Is A Bad Move For Game Over Man!

Workaholics is a television program that ran for seven seasons on Comedy Central, with it's run garnering high levels of critical acclaim. A large number of my friends adore the show and especially enjoyed the performances from the three lead actors on it. Having not seen the program myself, I can not offer my own two cents on Workaholics, I can only say that everyone I've spoken to that has seen it loves the show and its trio of leads. I bring up the positive reception garnered by Workaholics among my friends and colleagues because the new movie, entitled Game Over, Man!, it's three lead actors have starred in and wrote is absolutely awful and I always feel gross just writing wall-to-wall negativity. Making movies is a hard process, as is the process of landing any kind of acting work, so some notes of positive reception towards other pieces of art stemming from the people behind Game Over, Man! feels in order.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

A Futile And Stupid Gesture Is Tragically Messy And Middling

The prospect of David Wain, the man behind Wet Hot American Summer, doing a movie chronicling the rise of National Lampoon and how that impacted one of its creators, Doug Kenney, is one that sounds oh so promising in theory, especially since one would think Wain affinity for stylized humor would mean that it'd be impossible for such a film to feel like a typical Hollywood biopic. Unfortunately, that very same film, entitled A Futile And Stupid Gesture, does indeed end up suffering from feeling too routine, a word one usually doesn't think of when discussing David Wain's work, but here we are.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Death Wish Is An Ineptly Made As It's Lead Performance Is Dreadful

I can think of numerous ways you could remake Death Wish as an entertaining movie in 2018, but the actual Death Wish remake we got from director Eli Roth earlier this month is the complete opposite of the best way to approach remaking this 1974 action film. The premise for this new take on Death Wish is set in modern-day Chicago with Paul Kersey (Bruce Willis) as a doctor who lives a happy life with his family consisting of wife Lucy (Elisabeth Shue) and a daughter, Jordan (Camila Morrone), who is about to head off to college. Paul's chef character flaw in the eyes of the movie is him being a sissy, as demonstrated by him not only refusing to beat up a foul-mouthed attendant at his daughter's soccer game but also letting his wife stand up for him in this argument. What a loser! 

Unsane Is Another High-Quality Thriller Effort From Director Steven Soderbergh (SPOILERS WITHIN!)


While I mentioned in my review of The Informant! that a number of Steven Soderbergh's most famous movies revolve around comedic crime capers, for me personally, I think my favorite Soderbergh mode might be when he decides to go into the thriller genre. He's made a number of forays into this genre in this decade, specifically, Contagion in 2011, a terrific sweeping look at how a disease affects numerous different individuals and Side Effects in 2013, a twisty-turny thriller with great performances from Jude Law and Rooney Mara. The newest example of how good Steven Soderbergh is when he's working in the world of thrillers is the motion picture Unsane.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Top Gun May Have The Need For Speed, But It Also Needed Some Energy And Fun

1984's Risky Business was what put Tom Cruise on the map, but two years later, his position on that map as a movie star of note was cemented with Top Gun. A box office and pop culture phenomenon that's still impacting cinema to this day, Top Gun was the film that solidified the kind of crowdpleaser action blockbusters that Tom Cruise is still most famous for headlining in the modern-day world. But is there more to this Tony Scott directed movie than just a popular Kenny Loggins song? Sadly, in my viewpoint after watching this one for the first time, there really isn't. Top Gun is instead one of those hugely influential movies that's far worse than the motion pictures it ended up influencing.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Marx Brothers Are Delivering Constant Quack-Up's In The Excellent Comedy Duck Soup

One interesting thing about watching all of these classic movies for the first time is getting to go do research and see how these films were received in their original release compared to their modern-day reputation. Duck Soup, like fellow 1930's comedy classic Bringing Up Baby, is one of those motion pictures that received mixed reception in its initial release before later gaining higher marks. But back when it came out in 1933, Duck Soup was seen as a lesser effort from the Marx brothers and also failed to make all that much money at the box office. Of course, today Duck Soup is regarded as one of the best pieces of cinematic comedy ever made and for good reason, the film is absolutely hysterical.

Robots And Monsters Fighting Aren't Enough To Keep Pacific Rim: Uprising From Being Underwhelming

I loved the first Pacific Rim from 2013. I know some didn't care for it because they thought it was too goofy or messy, but I thought it worked like gangbusters. Guillermo Del Toro's ode to the monster movies that shaped his entire cinematic sensibility was full of lovingly rendered awe-inspiring imagery and an uplifting message of unity that resonated deeply with me. The prospect of returning to this universe was a tantalizing one for me, especially since Del Toro publicly said he had plenty of ideas for follow-up stories in this universe. We've finally gotten a sequel in the form of Pacific Rim: Uprising, though not with Del Toro either writing or directing the project (he only produces) and boy does that make all the difference in the world in terms of quality.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Pacific Rim: Uprising Tops The Box Office With So-So Results While Sherlock Gnomes Is Left Clueless

Black Panther's reign at the top of the domestic box office came to a close this weekend as Pacific Rim: Uprising managed to be the number one movie in North America. With $28 million, this sequel was down 25% from the opening weekend of the first movie. That's a slightly better than usual retention for sequels coming more than three years after their predecessor, but it's still a disappointing bow for a big-budget blockbuster (for comparison sake, fellow March-released blockbuster Jack The Giant Slayer debuted to $27.2 million five years ago and was considered a massive bomb). The fact that it didn't go lower can be attributed to its distributor, Universal, going all-out with its marketing, including rampant ads during the Winter Olympics. This one took in $122 million overseas this weekend, a decent sum that still feels under expectations given how this project was made almost primarily for foreign audiences. With Ready Player One inbound and a B CinemaScore from audiences, expect Pacific Rim: Uprising to struggle to get past $70 million domestically.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Informant! Show Matt Damon In Top Form But Steven Soderbergh Has Done Better


Director Steven Soderbergh loves movies about criminals with some of his most famous works (namely, the trilogy of Ocean's Eleven movies or Out of Sight) exploring crooks in a light-hearted manner, while one of his most acclaimed dramas (Traffic) explores various avenues of criminal activity. His 2009 effort The Informant! falls in between these two groups of movies in terms of tone, there's a wry playfulness to this specific Soderbergh meditation on criminal activity, but it's also clearly supposed to be more contemplative about specific sociopolitical issues compared to his more jaunty explorations of law-breakers.

Friday, March 23, 2018

A Fantastic Woman Is A Fantastic Motion Picture

Hailing from director Sebastian Leilo, A Fantastic Woman is the most recent winner of the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award, with its victory nearly a month ago cementing it as the first Chilena film in history to win that prestigious award. That put the motion picture and its star, Daniela Vega (who was also a presenter at this year's Oscars ceremony), on many people's radars. For those eager to know if A Fantastic Woman is indeed living up to the hype it's generated, I can say confidently that A Fantastic Woman (my first foray into the world of Chilean cinema) is indeed a great movie on its own terms.

Thoroughbreds Expertly Uses A Grim Tone And Great Performances To Make A Memorable Film

Something I've really liked seeing in recent movies about teenagers is interesting subversions of typical movie teenager stereotypes. I have no clue if this is accurate or not, but the past few years feel like they've been populated by movies about teenagers made by adults who never get to see humanistic portraits of who they were as teenagers. This means numerous unique visions of the teenage existence have managed to come forth in recent years, many of them in the form of character-centric drama/comedy hybrids. Thoroughbreds is yet another entry in the canon of unique modern-day teenager-oriented fare, but it's a different animal tonally and in terms of what kind of themes & characters it wants to explore compared to its brethren.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Hurricane Heist Is Nowhere Near As Much Fun As It Should Be

The trailer for The Hurricane Heist is a work of art. So cheesy it should come with a warning for the lactose intolerant, the trailer tosses out one gloriously cheesy line of dialogue after another at the viewer while being accompanied by the pulsating rhythm of The Scorpions Rock You Like A Hurricane. By the time the trailer concludes, right after it's seemingly ended, with massive on-screen text flying towards the screen talking about how much money the bank robbers have stolen, you'd be nuts to not have high hopes for what kind of lunacy the actual Hurricane Heist movie could deliver. Alas, this is one of those motion pictures that were better off as a trailer, way better in fact.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back More Than Earns the Distinction of Being One of Tom Cruise's Most Tedious Movies

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is the perfect movie for people who were chomping at the bit to see a Tom Cruise blockbuster worse than The Mummy. It's a total snoozefest for everyone else, one that can't even muster up enough competent fistfights to satiate action film junkies. This Edward Zwick directed project looks and acts like a USA Network TV movie that inexplicably managed to cast one of the biggest movie stars of all-time in its lead role. While I found the first Jack Reacher to be a mixed bag, that very same motion picture looks like a John Wick movie in comparison to this turkey of a sequel.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Game Night Is A Highly Enjoyable Comedy With An Outstanding Jesse Plemons Performance

Well now, Game Night is quite a surprise and a very funny surprise at that. Jason Bateman, after starring in a recent string of subpar live-action comedies like Office Christmas Party and Horrible Bosses 2 (though, to be fair, more unorthodox roles in the likes of Zootopia and The Gift have made excellent use of his many talents as an actor), has hit upon another winner here and he's not the only actor who works exceptionally well here, far from it. Before we dive into the specifics of which cast members excel and why, let's get the story of Game Story straight, which, like many comedies, wring humor out of plunging normal people into heightened circumstances.

Extravagance And Subtlety Go Hand-In-Hand In Love, Simon

Just as many movies about teenagers in the 1980's looked to John Hughes as their creative guiding light, 2010's movies about teenagers turn to John Green for inspiration. Not every single movie about teenagers is like this (The Edge of Seventeen, for instance, isn't really all that reminiscent of Green's works), but it's hard not to see how the author of books like The Fault In Our Stars has influenced modern-day media about the struggles of teenagers, especially in terms of how dialogue spoken by teenage characters is written. I wouldn't want every movie about teenagers to feel like it emerged from the shadow of John Green, but The Fault In Our Stars was an extremely well-done motion picture, so I say there are worse films that movies like Love, Simon could be emulating.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Black Panther Spends Fifth Week At The Top Of The Box Office While Tomb Raider Underwhelms, Love, Simon Does Solid Business And I Can Only Imagine Stuns

Nothing can stop Black Panther. The Marvel Studios mega-blockbuster was number one at the domestic box office for the fifth weekend in a row. Amazingly, this makes it only the second movie of the 21st century to remain at the top of the box office for five weeks straight, with Avatar being the only other 21st-century movie to accomplish such a feat (The Sixth Sense was the last movie prior to Avatar to be number one at the domestic box office for five weeks straight). Grossing $27 million this frame, Black Panther fell only 34% from last weekend and had the fourth biggest fifth weekend in history. Black Panther has now grossed $605.4 million domestically and should surpass the $623 million cume of The Avengers by next weekend to become the biggest Marvel Cinematic Universe movie and biggest superhero movie of all-time. Oh, and it's also got $577 million overseas for a $1.182 billion worldwide box office haul. Looks like Disney may just end up making some profit on this one...

Friday, March 16, 2018

Even By The Low Standards of Video Game Movies, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider Is A Boring Bust

Today, Alicia Vikander's new take on the character of Lara Croft debuts in theaters nationwide. I won't be able to see that new Tomb Raider movie for a few days, but for now, I can offer my two cents on the very first time Lara Croft came to the big screen back in June 2001. To this day, this feature, entitled Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, is still the biggest video game movie of all-time domestically and it's hard to say if anything in the near future will be able to usurp it for that title. Even in among the dismal pantheon of video game movies, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is a particularly tedious motion picture that manages to make Prince of Persia: Sands of Time look like some kind of masterpiece by comparison.

It's No Mystery Why The Thin Man Is So Entertaining When It's Lead Performances Are So Enjoyable

My first thought after finishing my first ever viewing of the 1934 thriller The Thin Man was "Wow, what an enjoyable film!". My second thought after finishing my first ever viewing of the 1934 thriller The Thin Man was "Thank God Johnny Depp never got to star in a remake of this." Depp was slated to play the lead character of these Thin Man movies Nick Charles in a Rob Marshall directed motion picture back in 2011/2012 and good gravy, that just sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. Just imagine Mortdecai waltzing around in the 1930's solving crimes while wearing an assortment of funny hats and making goo-goo eyes at an actress at least twenty years younger than him. Jesus Christ, I'm almost certain that's what his Thin Man movie would have ended up as.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Painless But Messy LEGO Ninjago Movie Needed to Show More Discipline In It's Storytelling

Walt Disney once said "For every laugh, there should be a tear." A large swath of modern animated family movies have taken that axiom to hear, particularly the films made by PIXAR which frequently leave adults sobbing as much, if not more so, than their young offspring. The LEGO Ninjago Movie is an example of taking this saying too far, an odd occurrence given how well the other two LEGO movies (The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Batman Movie) were at deftly mixing wacky humor with heart. But that's just happened, as this feature film adaptation of the LEGO Ninjago toys shoves far too many badly-executed attempts at tugging on the heartstrings into its story.

Tampopo Cooks Up A Highly Entertaining Time

"Anyone Can Cook", as one of the most famous movie chefs once said, and that extends to widows who now own a small ramen noodle joint and are also the lead character of the Juzo Itami motion picture Tampopo. This joint is where Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and Gun (Ken Watanabe) end up stopping for a quick to bite to eat while working only to discover a shop in dissaray that could use some help fulfilling it's full potential. Running this eatery is single mother Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto), a lady who is fully committed to doing whatever it takes to making her ramen noodle shop something special. Though Goro is hesitant to the idea at first, Tampopo is able to convince him that he can use his culinary expertise to help her improve substantially as a cook.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Harrison Ford And Tommy Lee Jones Chase Down Winning Performances In The Fugitive

Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) is having a lovely evening. He just had a wonderful time at a fundraiser, he performed his duties admirably during an impromptu surgery and now he's headed home to his loving wife Helen (Sela Ward). This evening takes a turn for the gruesome once Richard arrives home to find the corpse of his wife, whose been murdered by some unknown one-armed intruder. All of the evidence on hand points to Richard Kimble being the one who killed his wife, so he's incarcarated for his crime and sentenced to death row. While on a bus trip to prison though, a fatal car accident leaves the prison bus in shambles, giving Richard a chance to escape.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

A Wrinkle In Time Tends to Stumble But It Also Tends To Inspire Mightily

The best part about A Wrinkle In Time is that it certainly maintains the weirdness of the source material it's adapting. Those worried that Madeleine L'Engle's original novel would be translated to the silver screen with all of it's more unusual tendencies ironed out can relax, director Ava DuVernay's adaptation of this book certainly does not reduce L'Engle's work to being a Hunger Games or Harry Potter knock-off. In the process of adapting such an unorthodox piece of literature, you get a movie that has a far bolder vision than your run-of-the-mill live-action family movie and thoroughly successful elements to its name while also having its fair share of stumbles along the way.

Bringing Up Baby Is A Highly Entertaining Comedy, Screwball Or Otherwise

The screwball comedy was as prominent a fixture of movie screens in the 1930's as knock-off's of Porky's were in the 1980's or knock-off's of The Hangover were right after that Todd Phillips movie hit it big at the box office. "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" as they say and whenever a big comedy strikes gold at the box office, there's bound to be successive movies all too happy to flatter that successful project by way of mimicry. Is it any surprise then that we had a lot of screwball comedies competing for eyeballs during the 1930's given how many of them were turning out to be true blue moneymakers?

Black Panther Tops Box Office For Fourth Weekend In A Row While A Wrinkle In Time And Strangers 2 Have Decent Bows

Black Panther became the first movie since Star Wars: The Force Awakens two years ago to top the American box office for four weeks straight. Grossing another $41.1 million, a 38% dip from last weekend, this Ryan Coogler directorial effort had third biggest third weekend in history, only Avatar and Star Wars: The Force Awakens had better third weekends. The film has grossed $562 million in 24 days and now looks all but guaranteed to surpass the $623 million cume of The Avengers to become the biggest Marvel Cinematic Universe title ever and the biggest superhero movie in history. Can it become only the third movie to ever gross over $700 million at the domestic box office? We shall see how it holds over the Spring holidays over the next few weeks. At the very least, I'd say it still has about $100 million left in the tank.

Friday, March 9, 2018

People Are Already At War With Themselves Before Any Weapons Are Fired In From Here To Eternity

Remember Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor? The internet, and also Team America: World Police, have turned that movie into such an endless punchline that it feels almost pointless to critique this motion picture once again, but for the purposes of this review, I feel it is imperative to do so. The feature film that Roger Ebert once accurately described as "...a two-hour movie squeezed into three hours, about how on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese staged a surprise attack on an American love triangle" (God bless Roger Ebert) failed to make a compelling drama all about small-scale human drama that transpired before, during and after the real-life attack on Pearl Harbor for too many reasons to count. There's no single solution to all of them, but if Michael Bay and company wanted a better blueprint for how to make a drama that incorporates Pearl Harbor into its plot, maybe they should have looked to 1953's From Here To Eternity for inspiration?

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Wings Is Soarin', Flyin',There's Not A Star In Heaven It Cannot Reach

This past Sunday, The Shape of Water became the ninetieth motion picture to win the Best Picture Oscar. The expansive group of film that have won this award over the years include everything from a Lord of The Rings movie to a musical adaptation of Oliver Twist to John Ford's How Green Was My Valley. Surprisingly, amongst the ninety movies, only two of them are silent films. One of them, The Artist, came out relatively recently in 2011 while you'll have to all the way back to the very first Academy Award ceremony to find the only other silent movie awarded the Best Picture ceremony. Yes, the very first Best Picture winner, Wings, is the only other silent movie besides The Artist to win this highly pretigious war.

The Breadwinner Puts Traditional Storytelling And Hand-Drawn Animation To Good Use

The importance of stories is the foundation on which The Breadwinner chooses to build itself and it proves to be to be quite the strong foundation. Hailing from Cartoon Saloon, the Ireland-based animation studio behind Oscar-nominated features like The Secret of Kells and Song of The Sea, The Breadwinner begins by establishing the relationship between father Nurullah (Ali Badshah) and his young daughter Parvana (Saara Chaudry). While selling items in a local marketplace to make a living for their family, Nurullah attempts to educate his daughter, frequently through the method of telling her stories. Neither the attempts at education or him telling her these stories interest Parvana all that much.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Despite Being About A Real-Life Genius, A Beautiful Mind Is A Pretty Thoughtless Movie

Russell Crowe has had quite the odd career hasn't he? Now, he's a famous actor, no one would ever deny that, but after headlining two back-to-back Best Picture winners (Gladiator and the subject of this review, A Beautiful Mind) and scoring a Best Actor win, the guy starred in two big projects (Master And Commander: Far Side of The World and Cinderella Man) that underperformed financially and then headlined the box office dud A Good Year in November 2006. In the nearly twelve years since then, he's only starred in a handful of movies and mostly stuck to supporting roles. Not an odd career trajectory at all for a leading man to shift into supporting roles, it just feels, to me anyway, like Crowe's time as a leading man came and went in the blink of an eye given how buzzy he was at the start of the century.

Red Sparrow Is An Empty Spy Thriller With Only A Dark Tone And Poor Treatment of Women To Its Name


A dour tone is not a bad element for a movie to have. It can be a quite useful element in fact! Just look at classic movies like Bicycle Thieves, Ordet or Au Hasard Balthazar, all motion pictures with a somber atmosphere that make that downtrodden aesthetic because it suits the story they're telling. A well-done bleak movie can be incredibly powerful to watch, but on the other hand, a film that mistakes the act of being grim for being inherently contemplative is one that can get tiring to watch awful quickly. Red Sparrow, the newest collaboration between director Francis Lawrence and Jennifer Lawrence after their work together on the Hunger Games sequels, is very much one of those movies that doesn't know how to properly use its solemn tone.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Black Panther Conquers Weekend Box Office For Third Time As Red Sparrow And Death Wish Underwhelm

Another weekend, another impressive showcase of Black Panther's box office prowess. This time around, the King of Wakanda led the box office with $65.7 million, the third best third weekend in history (only Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Avatar fared better) and only dipping 41% from last weekend. The film has now grossed $501.1 million domestically, crossing the $500 million thresholds in just 17 days, making it the third fastest film ever to gross over $500 million domestically. The box office performance of this project is truly outstanding and it's guaranteed to now surpass the $623 million domestic box office total of The Avengers to become the biggest Marvel Cinematic Universe film of all-time.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

One of Sam Rockwell's Best Performances Emerges In Duncan Jones Debut Project Moon


Tomorrow night, Sam Rockwell will almost certainly take home his very first Academy Award for his role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a major victory for one of Hollywood's most entertaining yet oddly underappreciated character actor. For those who are looking at all the acclaim Rockwell has garnered in recent months and find themselves wanting to seek out other noteworthy performances from Mr. Rockwell, well, there's certainly plenty to choose from (he's a hoot in Galaxy Quest, for instance) but for my money, one of his very best dramatic turns came nearly a decade ago in the 2009 film Moon, which served as the directorial debut of Duncan Jones.

Though Plagued By The Same Problems of It's Predecessors, Maze Runner: The Death Cure Ends It's Series On A Decent Note

Divergent couldn't do it. The Mortal Instruments, The Fifth Wave and Beautiful Creatures, none of them got past one installment. But The Maze Runner did it, it managed to be one of the few movie adaptations of a young-adult book series adapted in the wake of the success of The Hunger Games to actually not just get a sequel but also adapt all the books it was supposed to adapt. Only Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Twilight have managed to do that, so take a bow Maze Runner, you earned it. Plus, unlike Hunger Games, this series ended on it's best entry yet, even if this newest adventure, The Death Cure, is still plagued by the problems that haunted its predecessors.

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Sting Makes Pulling Off An Entertaining Heist Look Effortless

If there's one ingredient that's crucial to making a proper good heist movie going, it's getting lead actors who are endlessly charismatic, the kind of people who can always keep your attention as they portray morally dubious individuals trying to pull off a big job. Getting Robert Redford and Paul Newman together to headline The Sting means that that pivotal element is already well taken for, these two are thoroughly engaging actors on their own merits and have winning chemistry together. The compulsively watchable lead actor part of the good heist movie equation has been well taken care of and thankfully The Sting manages to give this lead duo plenty to do in the course of pulling off a seemingly impossible heist.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Douglas Laman's Top Fourteen Movies of 2017

Here we are again, time to make the annual list chronicling the best movies to come out in the past year. For 2017, there were a bevy of titles to choose from and I came way short of fitting everything I adored from 2017 into this piece (how did Coco, Dunkirk or Logan not end up on this list??). But I did manage to narrow things down to 14 titles. Like in years past, I organize all the titles alphabetically save for one film I've chosen as the overall best motion picture of 2017. If you'll join me now, I'd like to take you on a journey through what I consider to be among the very best cinema had to offer in 2017.

We begin with the end of a life in....