Friday, June 29, 2018

The Truth About The Leads of American Animals Is That These Are Not Bright Guys And Things Got Out of Hand

When plotting out how to do American Animals, one must imagine the creative personnel involved in this project were torn between doing a documentary or a traditional narrative feature covering the real-life story of a bunch of college dudes who, on basically a lark, decided to plan a heist of their Kentucky college's highly expensive books. Trying to decide between these two ways of telling this story in movie form likely was a trying decision until somebody came up with the idea of just merging the two by way of having present-day testimonies from the people involved in this heist sprinkled throughout a traditional feature film based on these men's exploits.

Set It Up Is A Delightful Romantic Comedy With Two Awesome Lead Performances

Netflix is coming up on the third year anniversary of their big push into creating original films, an initiative that began with Beasts of No Nation. In that time, Netflix has gotten a whole bunch of movie stars like Brad Pitt and Will Smith to headline their various high-profile motion pictures, but aside from Bright (which really became more of a cosplay staple and internet punching bag than anything else), none of these movies have really garnered all that much attention, a pity for gems like Blue Jay, Mudbound or 6 Balloons. But two weeks ago today, Netflix released their first original film to really take the public by storm and it was one not based on exceptionally well-known source material or starring big names or even carrying a bunch of splashy visual effects.

The Character-centric Drama of The 40-Year-Old Virgin Tends To Be More Consistently Successful Than Its Comedy

There was a time when Steve Carell wasn't a movie star. Prior to August 2005, Carell, who had previously appeared in a number of scene-stealing roles in movies as well as starred in a handful of episodes of the American version of The Office, had never headlined a major feature film prior to The 40-Year-Old Virgin while writer/director Judd Apatow had been cutting his teeth on an assortment of cult classic TV shows up to this point. But with this raunchy comedy, both of them managed to spring to the very top of the A-list and proved to be one of the most influential forces in early 21st century American cinematic comedy, with their impact still being felt in movies made to this very day.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Is The Cinematic Equivalent To Kid Rock's All Summer Long

I sure do hope anyone who goes to see Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is familiar with every little detail of the original Jurassic Park film because this movie is obsessed to a creepy degree with homaging that particular entry in the franchise. All kinds of nostalgic fan-service moments crop up throughout the story, ranging from an appearance by the cane topped by an ambered mosquito that John Hammond once carried around to an appearance by the flipped over Jurassic Park van that fell into the T-Rex paddock to a comically extraneous cameo appearance by Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum). Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly pack their dismal script with all kinds of references to the original, a task they become so preoccupied with that they forget to make all that much that is unique or interesting for this brand new Jurassic Park adventure.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Cast Steals The Show And Then Some In The Fun But Visually Derivative Ocean's 8

Director Gary Ross proves to be a far better filmmaker helming Ocean's 8 compared to his last two directorial efforts The Hunger Games and Free State of Jones, both of which, particularly the latter disaster, suffered from amateurish direction that heavily stilted the already struggling stories they were bringing to life. However, Ross as a filmmaker still finds himself struggling with Ocean's 8 as he (along with the cinematography by Eigil Bryld and some of the editing by Juliette Welfling) channels the visual style and rhythm of Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven trilogy in a manner that ends up feeling evocative of those three films without ever being fully accurate or satisfying. It's so familiar yet distinctly not the same, it's like, as Jenny Nicholson once put it in describing a Porg toy from Target, "...waking up to everything in your house shifted a few inches to the right."

In Laman's Terms: Of Uncle Drew And Other Movies Based On TV Commercials

An image from the upcoming Uncle Drew movie.
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!

This Friday see's the release of Uncle Drew, a new comedy starring basketball star Kyrie Irving based on an assortment of Pepsi commercials that starred Irving in old man makeup as a character known as Uncle Drew getting into all sorts of basketball shenanigans. The various Uncle Drew shorts were highly popular viral sensations, garnering enough popularity to generate a feature film adaptation. Hollywood movie studios love to base feature films of all sorts of types of source material (board games, comic books, TV shows, etc.), but movies based on TV commercials like Uncle Drew are a rarer breed, mainly because of the difficulty of trying to have company mascots who feature in said 30-second long TV commercials sustain an expansive feature-length narrative.

Hotel Artemis Is An Unusual But Delightful Getaway Spot

I've stayed in a number of oddball hotels in my life, including one located somewhere in Texas that totally felt like the sort of location that characters go to get either arrested, shot or both in a Coen Brothers movie, but I've never stayed at a hotel like the Hotel Artemis, a hospital/hotel exclusively for criminals located in Los Angeles in the near future. It's a place run by The Nurse (Jodie Foster) and her dutiful assistant Everest (Dave Bautista), who take care of any criminals who need some under-the-radar fixing up so long as said criminals have an official membership. The newest people to check into this hotel are bank robbers Sherman (Sterling K. Brown) and his intensely damaged brother Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry).

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Last Flag Flying Is The Newest Thoughtful & Heartfelt Accomplishment From Director Richard Linklater

Some of the most famous movies made by director Richard Linklater tend to center on youthful protagonists, like the High Schoolers in Dazed and Confused, the college-aged fraternity boys of Everybody Wants Some!!! or the lead character who inhabits numerous stages of youth in Boyhood. Linklater has a knack for writing both realistic and dramatically involving younger characters, but Last Flag Flying shows he doesn't lose his talents as a screenwriter when he's dealing with older individuals (fellow entries in Linklater's dynamite 2010's run Before Midnight and Bernie are similar showcases for this), on the contrary, he seems to thrive when given the opportunity to explore more life-experienced human beings.

Monday, June 25, 2018

All The Dinosaurs Are Running Wild as Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Has Terrific Opening Weekend

Audiences across North America partook in another trip to Jurassic World in droves as the newest installment in the dinosaur action franchise grossed $150 million in its opening weekend, slightly ahead of both expectations and pre-release tracking. That's down about 28% from the opening weekend of the first Jurassic World, but most follow-ups to movies that open to over $120 million (let alone $200 million) tend to make less than their predecessors on opening weekend and this is still an impressive haul from numerous standpoints. Most noticeably, this is the second biggest opening weekend ever for Universal Pictures and already the biggest movie ever for director J.A. Bayona by a $130+ million margin.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Ocean's Thirteen Goes Through The Motions In An Entertaining Fashion

Steven Soderbergh brought his Ocean's Eleven trilogy to a close with Ocean's Thirteen, an adventure that saw the main characters of the prior two movies (save for those played by either Julia Roberts or Catherine Zeta-Jones) embark on a heist spurred by vengeance. After Reuben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould) gets double-crossed by super wealthy businessman Willy Bank (Al Pacino), Danny Ocean concocts a plan to get some revenge on Bank by way of sabotaging the opening of his newest casino resort. This is a plan that's going to require all kinds of elaborate set-up and tricks, all in the name of aiding a friend. Despite all the hard work ahead, the other nine members of Danny Ocean's gang agree to help.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Alex Strangelove Is A Tragically Messy Coming-of-Age Comedy

Though the fact that Alex Strangelove, a movie about a high school dude coming to terms with not being heterosexual, could even exist as a reasonably budgeted feature film is very much something that could have only happened in recent years, the film's tone is more of a relic from the early 2000's when everyone was trying to rip-off the style of American Pie by making raunchy coming-of-age comedies about High School and college-aged dudes trying to "score". Though comedies starring older characters like the works of Judd Apatow and The Hangover put an end to that trend, here is Alex Strangelove, seemingly ripped straight out of that era of American comedy yet debuting on Netflix just earlier this month.

Writer/Director Brad Bird Provides A Fun Return To A Super-Powered World With Incredibles 2

The various films released by Pixar Animation Studios (there's exactly 20 of them now) has become heavily associated with the big heartfelt moments that leave adult audiences reaching for the tissues. Remember the endings of Toy Story 3 and Coco? Remember that montage of married life from Up? Remember every other scene from Inside Out? Big moments of pathos that pay off well-developed characters and result in moviegoers becoming a puddle of tears are a staple of the studios canon so it's interesting that Incredibles 2 is the first film from the studio since maybe the first Incredibles and maybe even A Bug's Life to not even attempt a moment of overwhelming poignancy, something even recent Pixar sequels like Cars 3 and Finding Dory incorporated multiple times in their own storylines.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Hedwig And The Angry Inch Is A One-of-a-Kind Musical Treat

The early years of the 2000's saw the musical, a genre that had long been seen as over-the-hill, make a big mainstream comeback in American cinema thanks to Moulin Rouge! and especially Chicago, but woe to those who forget to also credit John Cameron Mitchell's Hedwig and the Angry Inch for helping the musical get revived as a high-profile subgenre for the 21st century. Sure, Hedwig and the Angry Inch was a box office non-starter compared to the likes of Chicago, but the movie was awesome and it managed to garner the loyal following it deserved in the years after its initial theatrical release.

The Power of Holly Hunter Is Felt As Incredibles 2 Has Super-Heroic Record-Breaking Weekend That Narrowly Edges Out Opening Weekend of Gotti

Incredibles 2 was always expected to be big. Many even thought it beating out the $136 million opening weekend of Finding Dory to score the biggest opening weekend ever for an animated movie was likely. But a debut of this magnitude was something even the most optimistic box office analyst could have never expected. Grossing $180 million this weekend, Incredibles 2 handily nabbed the biggest opening weekend for an animated movie in history as well as the fifth biggest opening weekend ever for a superhero movie, the second biggest opening weekend ever in June (it's also only the second time in history a movie has opened to over $150 million in June) and the biggest opening weekend ever for Holly Hunter, beating out the $166 million debut of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice for that honor.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Writer/Director Paul Schrader Delivers Something Equally Bleak And Unforgettable With First Reformed

If you were to do a film festival dedicated solely to films that serve as morose meditations on man's relationship with God, you'd have plenty of high-quality options to choose from. Ordet would certainly be an option, ditto for Au Hasard Balthazar. If you're looking for modern-day examples, well, let's totally throw Noah and Silence in the line-up too, those two movies never get enough love. Another recent movie that totally should be included in this theoretical film festival hails from director Paul Schrader and is entitled First Reformed. If you're wondering if First Reformed is bleak enough to join the likes of Au Hasard Balthazar, trust me, it most certainly is.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Lars And The Real Girl Finds So Much Power In Kindness And A Terrific Ryan Gosling Performance

There is, to quote Avenue Q, "a fine fine line" between kindness and schmaltz. The latter element is widely detested and, not unfairly, looked at a manipulative way to generate pathos without actually generating substantive characters or plot details for the audience to get invested in. There are times where I've seen movies that get too schmaltzy for their own good (remember that ending of The LEGO Ninjago Movie that smothered the audience in too many hollow dramatic monologues?), but I'm always gonna root for a movie to charge towards kindness, even if it stumbles along the way. Kindness is such a vital thing in our lives and it's always good to see art championing it. Well-done kindness is one of my favorite things in all of cinema and you can see it in all kinds of movies like The Muppets, Blockers, City Lights or even the 2007 dramedy Lars And The Real Girl.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Original Godzilla Has Some Weak Lead Characters But An Impressively Realized Ominous Tone

If you had told any of the members of the cast and crew of the original 1954 Godzilla film that what they were working on would end up being one of the most influential features of the 20th century, they likely would have thought you were batty at best. But that's just what happened, as a somber exercise in contemplating the consequences of nuclear warfare through the prism of a monster movie turned out to be something that resonated with audiences across the globe to such a profound point that the monstrous Godzilla is still making new movies in both his home country of Japan and in the United States of America.

Fritz Lang's M Harrowingly Shows A Society In Chaos In The Face of Daunting Tragedy

Some movies are declared to be character studies, but Fritz Lang's 1931 feature M strikes me more as a larger-scale societal study. Though individual characters are found throughout the story, M is more concerned with examining how individual large pockets of society react to the prospect of terror occuring in their midst rather than just focusing on how one person reacts to such horrifying circumstances. Specifically, those horrifying circumstances are that someone in the city of Berlin, Germany is kidnapping and killing children. This is a tragedy that sends all of the residents of Berlin, Germany into a frenzy as they try to figure out who exactly could be behind such vicious slayings, with the police officers and the criminal syndicates of this town each having their own agendas in wanting to bring this killer to justice.

The Last Movie Star Traps Burt Reynolds In An Overly Conventional Tale

Burt Reynolds has been such a prominent figure of American cinema for so long now that it's easy to see an emotionally affecting movie being made out of Reynolds taking a wistful look at his career. But The Last Movie Star is not the thoughtful career retrospective Reynolds deserves, instead being something more akin to that dreadful first Expendables movie than Unforgiven in terms of quality. Writer/director Adam Rifkin delivers a story that's aiming for thoughtfulness but ends up being far too conventional and surface-level for its own good, with its most memorable traits being distracting oddball traits of the project, most notably in that Burt Reynolds is kind of sort of playing himself here.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Hereditary Is Heavily Impressive And Also Heavily Disturbing

A constant refrain from director Brad Bird is the simple truth that animation is not a genre, but rather, a medium of storytelling. Horror is similar to animated tales in this regard in that movies belonging to this format of storytelling are largely seen as being highly similar to one another whereas the truth is many different types of stories can be told in horror-based filmmaking. You can do an action movie in a horror story, you can do a comedy, you can do a psychological thriller, you can do all sorts of different types of filmmaking while engaging in the process of scaring people. The versatility of horror films as an art form gets reinforced once again in Hereditary, the feature film directorial debut of Ari Aster and a motion picture that functions more as an examination of a families psychological turmoil in response to loss than what might be considered a conventional horror movie.

Ocean's 8 Scores Biggest Opening Weekend For An Ocean's Movie While Hereditary Scares Up Big Bucks And Hotel Artemis Is Filled With Vacancies

The heist was on this weekend as Ocean's 8 scored a great $41 million opening weekend, the biggest opening weekend for any of these Ocean's Eleven movies. That's the third biggest opening weekend ever for Sandra Bullock, with this debut reinforcing her strength as a box office draw, while it serves as the fifth biggest opening weekend ever for Anne Hathaway and it's the fourth biggest opening weekend ever for a Heist movie (only Fast Five, Inception and Ant-Man were bigger). Not too hard to see why this one did well; put together a bunch of actors people like with a franchise people like and then market the movie with an emphasis on fun. The result: a box office hit.

Friday, June 8, 2018

An Assortment of Talented Actors Can't Save Gringo From It's Messy Script

Gringo is trying to be something different. Writers Anthony Tambakis & Matthew Stone and first-time feature film director Nash Edgerton clearly want Gringo to be a dark comedy occasionally interrupted by brief bits of action that has a glib view of the morality of the rich and powerful and has a sad-sack everyman protagonist that Jimmy Stewart would have played once upon a time. That's an unorthodox mixture of elements to put into one movie and that audacious spirit is to be admired. But in executing such a unique concoction, Gringo, unfortunately, winds up as a misfire, commendable artistic intentions can't mitigate the tiresome scattered nature of this project. 

Book Club Is As Paint-By-Numbers As It Is Enjoyable

Book Club is a predictable affair in many respects, that much is true. But just as The Force Awakens took a plot similar to the original Star Wars and made it fresh by having it be performed by a talented diverse cast, so too does Book Club find ingenuity in its frequently paint-by-numbers plot by making sure its the rare American comedy to be headlined by four women over 60, all of whom are portrayed by acting legends. Yes, there are plenty derivative qualities to be found in here, but choosing to create a humanizing portrait of different types of women in this age range is certainly not one of them and having that kind of unique quality serve as the foundation for Book Club helps somewhat offset its formulaic tendencies.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Tale Provides A Haunting Glimpse Into Coping With Repressed Memories of Abuse

Content Warning: Discussions of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Everyone puts a piece of themselves into the art they create, frequently in a subconscious manner. Your likes and dislikes in all sorts of areas of your life find a way to be subtly imprinted on the art you create, though many artists go even further this and create works that intentionally reflect their own lives and experiences. Jennifer Fox has gone this particular route in directing the motion picture The Tale, which chronicles her process of coming to terms with the fact that she was sexually abused as a child. Her cinematic depiction of this event is so tied into reality that the main character isn't given a pseudonym, lead actor Laura Dern simply plays Jennifer Fox herself (though there text at the start of the end credits that does clarify that certain names and locations have been changed for this motion picture).

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Trust Me, The First Season of Trust Has Pacing Problems But Also Has Excellent Performances

In the grand tradition of Armageddon & Deep Impact and Volcano & Dante's Peak comes two rival projects about the J. Paul Getty III kidnapping, the newest instance of Hollywood inadvertently releasing two pieces of high-profile media that cover the same general topic. The first of these entities arrived in the form of a Ridley Scott directed movie called All The Money In The World and was released this past December. It was a pretty good thriller that got a lot of mileage out of a great performance by Michelle Williams and placing a heavy focus on her character's perspective as she tries to navigate a high-stakes hostage situation.

In Laman's Terms: Happy Tenth Anniversary To Kung Fu Panda!

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!

Twenty years ago, DreamWorks Animation started off with a clear goal in mind: become the first American animation studio that could rival Disney in the realm of animated motion pictures. After all, they had the former of Disney animation Jeffrey Katzenberg, steering the ship, that alone made people think this could work. The studio started off on an ambitious note with grandiose titles like The Prince of Egypt that had a scope of storytelling and darker tone separated from animated fare from Disney. But ambitious dramatic fare (as well as using hand-drawn animation) was put on the backburner once Shrek became easily their biggest movie. Suddenly, comedies crammed with celebrities and bathroom humor were the go-to movies for the studio and there was no going back.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Week Of Is A Middling Comedy That At Least Improves On Recent Adam Sandler Vehicles

As far as general comedies go, The Week Of is just kind of "eh". It's more pleasant than funny, it's plot structure of revolving around the week leading up to a wedding gives it some form of narrative focus, but it totally stumbles in trying to create a schmaltzy third act around characters who haven't qualified as all that humorous let alone worth engaging in emotionally. But since Adam Sandler is playing more of a human being here than a wacky vocally high-pitched caricature rejected from Saturday Night Live, plus the bathroom humor has been limited to just an old man constantly needing his diaper changed, it isn't all that grating and that makes it practically a masterpiece compared to most of Adam Sandler's leading man efforts and especially when compared to his other Netflix efforts.

George Lucas Took Moviegoers For A Spin Through The Past In American Graffiti

George Lucas has become highly synonymous with Star Wars, to the point that he hasn't directed a motion picture that wasn't set in the Star Wars universe in 45 years (this isn't counting how he was apparently the director of reshoots for the Lucasfilm drama Red Tails). But not only did he direct two non-Star Wars movies, his last feature film prior to the original Star Wars was a pop culture behemoth in its own right. That movie was American Graffiti, a dialogue-driven comedy that feels like a precursor to certain Richard Linklater movies like Dazed And Confused, a sharp contrast to the cosmic VFX-heavy productions that Lucas would commit himself to in the years ahead.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Exciting Gruesome Action And A Clever Lead Character Are The Best Features of Upgrade

Upgrade takes place in a near future world where technology is omnipresent and Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) doesn't like that one bit. He's an old-school kind of guy who spends his day fixing up classic vehicles and refuses the aid of technological advancements as much as possible. Despite being a guy who despises technology who lives in a world run by technology, Grey has a pretty good life, especially since he's married to the love of his life, Asha Trace (Melanie Vallejo). But everything changes for him when Trace is killed in a mugging that also leaves Grey paralyzed from the neck down, a condition he learns can be reversed by the placement of a cyber-enhancement chip called STEM into his spine.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Solo Tops Weak Post-Memorial Day Weekend Box Office As Adrift Sets Sail, Upgrade Puts Up A Fight And Action Point Collapses

In its second weekend of release, Solo: A Star Wars Story wasn't able to bounce back from an underwhelming opening weekend. The Ron Howard directed movie plummeted 65% to gross another $29.2 million, giving it a 10-day domestic total of $148.8 million. This kind of second-weekend drop in the mid-60% range is typical for movies opening over the Memorial Day weekend frame, though some features that have opened over this holiday weekend, namely MIB 3, have managed to avoid such a steep decline. This is the second biggest second-weekend drop ever for a Star Wars movie and the ten-day total of Solo is still behind the three-day opening weekend of Rogue One. I'm thinking we're looking at a final domestic gross between $215 and $225 million here.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Losing Ground Helped Break Ground In The 1980's With A Gripping Tale of A Relationship Falling Apart

In the early 1980's, long-overdue history was made as the first two American films directed by black women were released. The first of these was the 1981 feature Will directed by Jessie Maple, while the following year would see the release of the subject of this review, Losing Ground, a drama written and directed by Kathleen Collins. Given the immense subjugation facing women and especially women of color in the film industry in that era (as well as in the modern-day world), the unprecedented achievements made by both Jessie Maple and Kathleen Collins simply getting their individual features made was astounding while further impressiveness can be found in the fact that Losing Ground was a high-quality directorial debut for Kathleen Collins (I cannot speak for the quality of Will having not seen it myself).