Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Stardust Is A Good Old Fashioned Fantasy Romp And A Highly Entertaining One At That!

Among his numerous hallmarks as a director, Matthew Vaughn loves to play fast and loose with the comic books and graphic novels he adapts into movies. More often than not, Vaughn will basically just run with the core concept of what he's adapting into a film to better suit his own interests and desires most notably in turning Mark Millar's grim Kingsman graphic novel into a breezy Bond homage. Even X-Men: First Class, his feature most faithful to its source material, took liberties with what it was adapting and this tendency of Vaughn's is on full display in his first ever directorial effort, Stardust, an adaptation of a Neil Gaiman graphic novel that's far more family-friendly than its source material.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Spectacle Is Pushed Into Overdrive In The Exceptionally Exciting Mission: Impossible - Fallout

22 years after the first Mission: Impossible came out, you'd think this series would have run out of creative reasons for Tom Cruise to run really fast, but not only is this franchise still going on, its last two entries have been its strongest. Christopher McQuarrie's Rogue Nation and especially Brad Bird's Ghost Protocol were the two strongest installments in the Mission: Impossible saga yet with both carrying all kinds of inventive action sequences that put one at the very edge of their seat. The newest Mission: Impossible entry, Fallout, see's McQuarrie back in the director's chair and while the results aren't quite as good as Rogue Nation and Ghost Protocol, Fallout still finds this series in superb form and delivering the kind of thrills so many blockbusters can only dream about.

The Ways That Obvious Child Excels Are....Apparent

Why don't we talk about Obvious Child more? I know the film garnered acclaim in its initial theatrical release in June 2014, but man, I feel like writer/director Gillian Robespierre's work here deserves so much more recognition than it's gotten in the four years since it first came out. With Obvious Child, she's created such an entertaining and wonderfully low-key character study bolstered by a terrific performance from Jenny Slate. To boot, this movie is all about lending humanity to a scenario that's usually reserved as a go-to plot twist in a bad melodrama or as a source of villainy in a dreadful Christian movie starring Kevin Sorbo.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout Accomplishes Mission of Scoring Biggest Opening Weekend Ever For Its Franchise

To quote Ethan Hunt from his fourth movie: "Mission...accomplished!" Mission: Impossible- Fallout managed to score the biggest opening weekend ever for a Mission: Impossible film with a $61.5 million bow. That's the second biggest opening weekend ever for Tom Cruise, only behind the $64.8 million debut of War of the Worlds, the eighth biggest opening weekend ever for a spy movie and the eighteenth biggest opening weekend ever for Paramount Pictures. To boot, this is the first Paramount Pictures release to open to over $60 million in four years, the last one was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles all the way back in August 2014.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

A Very English Scandal Is An Overly Hurried But Well-Acted TV Series

A Very English Scandal is...good, but it's one of those pop culture properties I found myself wishing I liked more. It's got a whole bunch of stuff I absolutely love in it, namely actors Ben Whishaw & Hugh Grant, unbelievable true stories and stories about LGBTQA+ individuals, but the resulting end product is more agreeable than unforgettable. Before delving into why exactly that's the case, allow me to first clarify what exactly the scandal of A Very English Scandal is. Back in the early 1960's, Jeremy Thorpe (Hugh Grant) was a high-profile member of the British Parliament when he carried out an extended sexual and romantic relationship with Norman Scott (Ben Whishaw), one that came to a heated end before the 60's themselves wrapped up.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Leave No Trace Leaves A Major Impression Through Masterful Uses of Subtlety

Leave No Trace is a movie as quiet and beautiful as the forest that the lead characters call home. Yes, Will (Ben Foster) and his daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) reside in the middle of a forest separated from the rest of the world, per the wishes of Will who wants nothing to do with modern society. The initial scenes of Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini's screenplay goes through great pains to demonstrate what kind of day-to-day life these two carry out while being so distant from the rest of the world. We also get to see how the two help each other, with Will teaching Tom various lessons about surviving out in the wilderness as well giving her a general education while Tom helps her father cope with symptoms stemming from his intense case of PTSD.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Disposable And Generic Are The Name of The (Video) Game For Tomb Raider

It's been 15 years since the last time Lara Croft got a movie adaptation, so it's about high time for a reboot according to Hollywood studio executives. After all, we got a Hitman reboot just eight years after the first time they tried to turn that video game into a movie, so MGM/Warner Bros/GK Films have been practically dragging their feet at getting this character back onto the silver screen. Alicia Vikander is now playing the role once inhabited by Angelina Jolie and the resulting quality of this new film, called Tomb Raider, is noticeably better than the original Lara Croft: Tomb Raider film from 2001, though that's probably the highest piece of praise I can offer it.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again Exceedingly Delivers On What It Needed To Get Right: Eccentric And Fun Musical Numbers

The most important question one must ask when making a follow-up to 2008's musical movie Mamma Mia! is simply this: will it have enough nuttiness and fun, frequently at the same time? A huge part of what made that original movie work was how often it just swung for the fences in terms of bringing to life eccentric musical fun, such as in sequences where men in scuba gear belted out ABBA tunes or Pierce Brosnan trying to harmonize his way through a rendition of S.O.S. By the time Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again was concluding one of its very first musical numbers with a crowd of people in graduation caps and gowns on bicycles crooning I Kissed The Teacher, well, I knew this follow-up was keeping its predecessors gonzo sense of entertainment alive and well.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Giddy On Up With Andrew Haigh's Emotional Rollercoaster Lean on Pete

Assistant editor turned director Andrew Haigh has quickly become well-known for working on films that carry a harrowing emotional quality to them, whether it's 45 Years or Weekend or Shanghai Knights. His newest directorial effort, Lean on Pete, carries on this tradition by telling the story of Charley Thompson (Charlie Plummer), a 15-year-old kid who lives with his single father, Ray (Travis Fimmel), in a trailer home in Portland, Oregon. Charley's life is one filled with struggles as his dad, who's still emotionally recovering from Charley's mom walking out on the both of them years prior, barely makes ends meet financially, spurring Charley to make some money at the local racetrack doing odd jobs for Del Montgomery (Steve Buscemi).

The Equalizer 2 Makes Money, Money, Money And Takes Surprising Win At The Box Office Over Mamma Mia 2

It's getting increasingly rare to find an instance at the domestic box office where the film everyone predicts will rule the box office over any given weekend doesn't inevitably win that weekend, mainly because such films are usually massive blockbusters that tower over the competition. But in the duel between two mid-budget sequels, The Equalizer 2 took a surprising lead over Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, the latter being the film everyone, myself included thought would rule the weekend. But it was The Equalizer 2 that managed to top the frame as the action film managed an impressive $35.8 million, up 5% from the $34.1 million bow of the first Equalizer and the third best opening weekend ever for Denzel Washington.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Skyscraper Is A Forgettable & Generic Die Hard Knock-Off

Skyscraper is very obviously being made in the mold of the iconic 1988 movie Die Hard and who can blame writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber for wanting to make a film in that mold considering both how good Die Hard is and how there's a surprisingly large number of Die Hard emulators that have turned out to be awesome, most notably Roland Emmerich's criminally underappreciated 2013 gem White House Down. Unfortunately, Skyscraper will go down in history as one of the more middling Die Hard knock-off's, one that's shockingly bland considering its central premise is all about the leading man from Faster trying to break into a massive skyscraper that's on fire.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Ritual Takes Cue From Past Horror Movie Staples To Create Something Intriguing

Don't go into the woods alone, that should be up there with not opening the door to discover where that creepy noise is coming from as go-to pieces of knowledge for horror movie protagonists looking to stay alive. That's what the lead characters of The Ritual decide to do as they head off on an extensive hike through Sweden and they want to take a shortcut to help ensure they can get proper medical help in a hurry for one of their injured friends. Part of the group is the film's protagonist, Luke (Rafe Spall), who is racked with guilt over not doing anything to help his friend during a robbery that ended up costing that friend his life.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

In Laman's Terms: Ten Years Ago, I Had The Time of My Life Discovering Mamma Mia!

Today is July 18th. Ten years ago today, in the summer of 2008, one movie opened that managed to change our cinematic landscape forever. Breaking box office records across the globe and redefining what kind of money movies in its particular subgenre could do, it also managed to meet expectations of fans who had been waiting for it for so long.  Many have tried to imitate its success in the years since its release, but on its tenth anniversary, it's easy to see that there's really one and only Mamma Mia! Oh, and fellow July 18th, 2008 release The Dark Knight was also kinda influential, though the other movie opening on that day, Space Chimps, turned out to leave way less of a mark on pop culture than expected.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Hannah Gadsby: Nanette Is A Crucial Piece of Deconstructive Cinema

Hannah Gadsby: Nanette starts out like so many of the seemingly millions of other Netflix stand-up comedy specials out there as a brief filmed segment gives way to a comedian heading out on stage and dishing out jokes to a large crowd. The comedian, in this case, is Hannah Gadsby, a woman hailing from Australia, Tasmania specifically, who begins to offer up her comedic observations on her life, including the inspiration for the title of this special hailing from the name of a woman Gadsby was briefly romantically interested in. Then, maybe about halfway through, Nanette mentions she's considering leaving the whole business of comedy, specifically the art of self-deprecating comedy that she had previously been well-known for.

Charlie Chaplin's First Foray Into Feature-Length Storytelling Was A Delightful Film Called The Kid

Transitioning from short films to feature films is a daunting prospect that many filmmakers and production companies have faced over the years, among them being Charlie Chaplin, a star of silent short films that found himself trying his hand at a longer-form of storytelling with 1921's feature The Kid. The runtime may be longer, but Chaplin's character The Tramp is very much the same fellow audiences had come to know and love while the type of physical comedy and level of quality that had made Chaplin such a revered cinematic icon in the past were very much in hearty supply on this bold new step in Charlie Chaplin's fascinating career.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Hotel Transylvania 3 Makes Waves At The Top Of The Box Office As Skyscraper Dies Hard

Audiences decided it was time for some R&R as they took a trip with Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, which got off to a great $44.1 million start (it's grossed $45.3 million domestically thanks to grosses from a June 29th screening for Amazon Prime members). Though below the $48.4 million bow of Hotel Transylvania 2, this is still above the $42.5 million debut of the original Hotel Transylvania film and the second biggest Sony Pictures Animation opening weekend ever. A premise about the Hotel Transylvania characters going on a cruise ship wasn't enough to take the franchise to the box office heights seen by recent early July animated hits like The Secret Life of Pets, but it was good enough to ensure the franchise held better in its third installment than many prior animated second sequels. If it holds like other conventional summertime animated family fare, there's a good chance Hotel Transylvania 3 manages to crack $150 million domestically.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Sorry To Bother You But Sorry to Bother You Is Excellent

It's always a treat to watch a movie that feels so much like it's own one-of-a-kind creation, a movie that wears its own unique personality as proudly as one might do showing off an Olympic gold medal. Sorry To Bother You is one such movie, with Boots Riley, previously known for his vocal work in bands like The Coup, making his debut as a director here on this satirical dark comedy to remarkable results. Riley's exceptional work as a writer and a director here echoes numerous past great satirists, most notably cinematic satirists like John Carpenter and Paul Verhoeven, in how he uses the most absurd off-the-wall storytelling details to prop up thoughtful explorations of weighty social issues.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

We Finally Get A Good Purge Movie With The First Purge

It took them four movies, but we finally got a good Purge movie. Not a great one, certainly, and it still feels like the full potential of this franchise's basic premise has yet to be tapped, but this is the very first Purge movie to actually work for me. Going back to the very first night of The Purge could have been a recipe for a fan-service heavy prequel, but aside from a laughable explanation behind where the name Purge comes from in the opening scene (still not as bad as that explanation we got for Han Solo's last name at least), The First Purge avoids the worst tendencies of the worst prequels, like shoehorned in cameos from younger versions of characters from prior movies.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Van Helsing Was Putting Universal Monsters Into Boring Blockbusters Long Before Tom Cruise's The Mummy Showed Up

Don't you hate it when a movie has an excellent opening scene and then everything that comes after it is just crummy? It's like chowing down on a delectable appetizer prior to being served rotten meat as your proper meal, the already substandard main course gets its awfulness hammered home by coming hot off the heels of the delicious appetizer you just scarfed down. That's what happens with Van Helsing, which opens with a black-and-white sequence that feels like Universal Monsters Fan-Fiction come to life as Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) plots to use a new monstrous creation of Victor Frankenstein for his own wicked devices, a plan that Frankenstein's Monster (Shuler Hensley) does not particularly care for. This results in the monster grabbing the corpse of his now deceased "father" and running to a windmill that is promptly set on fire, resulting in the apparent death of the creature much to Dracula's anger.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Excellent African Queen Makes Phenomenal Use of Its Two Exceptional Lead Actors

Akin to my experience with watching Casablanca for the first time two years ago, I realized just as The African Queen began that I was unfamiliar with the specific plot of this highly regarded 1951 motion picture. As it turns out, the story concerns missionary Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn), who, while being situated in East Africa, loses everything, including her brother, to the hands of destructive German forces. World War I has begun and all that Rose holds dear has become one of the early casualties of this conflict. Seeking revenge on those who destroyed her life, Rose procures the help of Charlie Allnut (Humphery Bogart) and his boat The African Queen for mission to destroy a ship that proves crucial to enemy forces.

It's Tough To Be A Bug But That Didn't Stop Ant-Man And The Wasp From Having A Solid Opening Weekend

The third Marvel Cinematic Universe movie of 2018 and the twentieth movie MCU movie overall debuted this weekend to solid numbers as Ant-Man and the Wasp grossed $76.5 million. That's 34% bigger than what the first Ant-Man opened to back in July 2015, the seventh biggest opening weekend of 2018 and the thirteenth biggest opening weekend ever in July. On the downside, this was one of the more frontloaded Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, with a steep 30% decline from Friday's grosses on Saturday that can be partially attributed to its Thursday night gross ($11.5 million) making up a larger share of its eventual opening weekend than last year's early July MCU movie Spider-Man: Homecoming, which actually made more on its Thursday night showings.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Two Acting Legends Can't Salvage The Disastrous Crime Thriller Righteous Kill

Let's not beat around the bush here, in the 21st century, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino have both been known to star in some crummy movies. That can be mostly chalked up to how, when you work as an actor consistently for over four decades, you're bound to show up in some dud movies, that's just the law of averages at work, but it can also be attributed to how both Pacino and especially De Niro have taken a lot of roles in subpar movies looking to either lampoon or ride the coattails of the duo's groundbreaking work in the 1970s, work so exquisite that even a billion movies as bad as Righteous Kill couldn't dilute their quality, though this 2008 disaster that unites Pacino and De Niro certainly tries its hardest to do just that.

Friday, July 6, 2018

There's Lots of Well-Done Fun To Be Had With Ant-Man and the Wasp

As the great mid-20th century philosopher The Cat In The Hat once proclaimed "It is fun to have fun, but you have to know how." That's oh so true under any circumstance, but it's especially relevant when talking about making movies that are supposed to be just light-hearted fun. If you make these kinds of films well, they can be oh so enjoyable, but if you make them in a rushed or otherwise subpar manner, you end up with something empty that's grating rather than entertaining. Just compare the best Will Ferrell comedy vehicle like The Other Guys to his worst comedy vehicle like Daddy's Home, both movies are aiming to be entertaining yukfests, but one shows craftsmanship in creating its comedy, whereas the other is a lazily constructed cash-grab that just bores rather than delights you. Both are aiming for fun, but only the one that's actually well-made hits that target.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

With In Bruges, Director Martin McDonagh Made A Phenomenal Foul-Mouth First Foray Into Helming Feature Films


Something I just discovered about director Martin McDonagh, the man behind Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Seven Psychopaths, is that he's been primarily a man of theatre in his writing/directing career. He did about a decade of consistent work in the world of plays that was showered with acclaim and Tony award nominations before deciding to direct his first feature film, 2008's In Bruges. Directing motion pictures may have been unfamiliar terrain for McDonagh, but the process of directing, in general, was not and his experience with directing plays likely informed the assured hand that guides the one-of-a-kind nature of In Bruges to such exceptional success.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Uncle Drew Drops A Character From A Pepsi Commercial Into A Traditional Sports Movie

A movie based on a Pepsi commercial? Well, if Battleship could get a movie, I suppose anything is possible! Yes, Uncle Drew, directed by Charles Stone III, is based on a series of Pepsi commercials starring basketball star Kyrie Irving, adorned in old man makeup, getting into wacky antics as the elderly Uncle Drew. These commercials went viral a few years back and now they've spawned this theatrically released motion picture, one that has decided that, in order to make the character work in a longer narrative, he should be just one player (no pun intended) in a larger cast in a straightforward inspirational sports movie, a smart move that allows the marketable Uncle Drew to headline a feature film while minimizing the risk of the character overstaying his welcome.

In Laman's Terms: Farewell VeggieTales

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!

About a week ago this past Monday, I came back from a glorious trip to New York City that was basically life-changing, I spent five tremendously exhilarating days up in the city that never sleeps with a whole bunch of the best friends you could ask for. Obviously, such a high-quality trip would deliver all kinds of fond memories for those who went on it and one of the best memories I have in my time in New York came about when me and my friends were walking about at night en route to a tavern. One of my pals, a native to New York, calls out "Just keep walking guys!", prompting me to start to sing out some lyrics from the VeggieTales song Keep Walking.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Tag Is It, With It Being "A Middle-of-The-Road Comedy"

For over 30 years, five childhood friends have managed to stick around in each other's lives thanks to engaging in an expansive game of Tag that takes place every single May. Once that month starts, all bets are off and this group of guys never know when one of their best buds will show up out of nowhere to declare that they're "it". The five friends are Hogan (Ed Helms), stoner Randy, paranoid Kevin (Hannibal Buress), cocky businessman Bob and the king of this tag game, health nut Jerry (Jeremy Renner). Jerry has never been "it", not even once, but Hogan is getting the other three guys together with the intent of finally making sure Jerry gets tagged just once.

A Man of Kindness Is The Subject of The Excellent And Emotionally Powerful Documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Kindness is so important. Considering how pervasively cruel the world can be, we owe it to ourselves and to those around us to try and impart kindness whenever we possibly can, even if such kindness manifests in the smallest of ways. But that's not really the default behavior of far too many in this world, with selfishness instead being the de facto behavior that people (myself, unfortunately, included) tend to engage in even subconsciously. If only we could look beyond ourselves and think about the well-being of others, maybe the world would be a better place. Maybe the world would be a little bit more like Fred Rogers, the subject of the documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor? and a source of hope for so many over numerous decades.

A Tennis Rivalry Makes For Erratically Interesting Drama In Borg vs. McEnroe

Borg vs. McEnroe is the movie version of a cake that's been taken out of the oven too early. All the ingredients are in place for something delectable, but it's managed to come out undercooked. A little more time spent in the oven, or in this case more time spent polishing up the script, and something truly special could have been created here. The version of the movie we do get is about the real-life rivalry between tennis players Bjorn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) and John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf) that came to head in a pivotal 1980 Wimbledon Championship tennis match. We get to see them prepare for this major tennis court duel as well as flashbacks showing how they got to their current stages in life.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Zany Satire of Showgirls Is Equal Parts Entertaining And Impressively Thoughtful

Content Warning: Discussions of sex (it's a review of the most high-profile NC-17 movie of all-time, what did you expect?) and sexual assault ahead. 

What Ishtar was to the 1980's, Showgirls was to the 1990's, a unique high-profile movie that generated all kinds of scorn and became known as an all-time entry in the halls of bad cinema. But just like Ishtar, Showgirls has been given a hefty critical re-evaluation in recent years, with praise of the film being widespread enough for the project to warrant a theatrical screening at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City on Sunday, June 24, 2018 that I was lucky enough to attend. What better way to watch Paul Verhoeven's incredibly divisive motion picture for the first time than on a 35mm print projected on the big screen? Even if the film was terrible, the experience itself was too good to pass up!

Sally Potter's The Party Is An Agreeable Gathering

Dinner parties rarely go according to plan in the movies and Sally Potter's The Party is no exception. A gathering for Janet (Kristen Scott Thomas) to celebrate her being appointed to the position of minister of the UK Health Service ends up spiraling into a lot of chaotic drama that rarely involves Janet. First her husband, Bill (Timothy Spall), announces he's dying and later states that he's also been carrying on an affair. then a coked-up Tom (Cillian Murphy) has his own insecurities relating to his marriage to hash out while Jinny (Emily Mortimer) and Martha (Cherry Jones), who are expecting a child, find themselves caught up in a potentially devastating argument.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Finds A Way To Top The Box Office Again As Sicario 2: Age of Ultron And Uncle Drew Have Solid Bows

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom topped the box office once again this weekend with a $60 million sum. That's a hefty gross and only the 26th time in history a movie has grossed over $60 million on its second weekend of domestic release. However, it fell 59% from opening weekend, the largest second-weekend decline of any film in the Jurassic Park franchise. Still, with $264.7 million accumulated in ten days, it's already the third biggest Jurassic Park movie ever and looks set for a domestic gross of at least $370 million. It's also already grossed a little over $930 million worldwide and with those kinds of massive foreign box office grosses, that means any kind of domestic box office, good or bad, is just gravy.