Quick Movie Review: The Post (2017)

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Boy, does Steven Spielberg know how to get you into a story. Even one with a topic as dry and heavy-handed as this one. He turns moments that probably shouldn’t be emotional into things that get you pumping your fist with the win.

The Post takes place in Washington D.C. in 1971, dealing with the Washington’s Post decision to publish the Pentagon Papers, which contained thousands of pages of secret information about how the government had been lying about the actual objective of the Vietnam War.

The New York Times had already gotten some information and run some stories about it, but they were silenced by the government with a court injunction. So the Washington Post now has a choice to make. Does it run the rest of the stories at the risk of violating the court order?

Meryl Streep plays Katharine Graham, owner of the newspaper, in a brilliant character transformation. Graham has mastered the ability to exploit society’s view of her as a “dumb woman”, playing it up to her advantage when necessary.

It’s also a film about the press in general. It was a much different world back then. Newspapers seemed to have more integrity because they had to. They were society’s main source of information. They couldn’t afford to state their blatant opinions as much as today. Nowadays, there are so many news outlets that the papers can have more of a bias because there will always be an audience for them.

It’s hard to imagine this happening in this day-and-age where information can be released by anyone with a keyboard, but in 1971, if no official news outlet ran the story, it didn’t get heard.

The Post is filled with some thought-provoking and powerful messages about freedom of press and protection of the governed. It doesn’t take a political stance on any one president, but on all presidents.

The most powerful scene is when Bob Odenkirk’s character, Ben Bagdikian, assistant editor for the Post, tracks down Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the papers. They meet in a hotel room and Ellsberg discusses why he chose to disclose the information and what he’s willing to sacrifice for the truth. He asks Odenkirk, “Wouldn’t you go to prison to stop this war?” As viewers, we have to think about if we would do the same. Odenkirk responds, “Theoretically, sure.” Most of us are on the same page. It’s one of the only scenes not featuring Streep or Hanks, yet it ties the whole film together and brings the uninvested audience members into it for good.

Like I said, this is dry stuff. The details are as convoluted as the Pentagon Papers, themselves, and so the second act drags a little. But somehow Spielberg makes a gripping movie about the topic. And reels us all in by the end.

Twizard Rating: 100

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Quick Movie Review: Get Out (2017)

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Get Out is an important movie for where we are right now in this country. It’s a race-relations story that takes things to the extreme.

A young white woman, Rose (Allison Williams), takes her black boyfriend, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), to meet her parents at their rural upstate home. He’s immediately met with friendly, yet uneasy encounters with them. He jumps to the conclusion that it’s because of his race, but still tries to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

It begins with circumstances that are humorous, but that we know still occur in our society. Like blunt comments about his genetics, or awkward conversations about Barack Obama. But then it slowly adds more and more so that it soon becomes ridiculous.

Some things are almost too weird. To the point where almost every scenario exists only to support the twist at the end. So we just end up sitting there, consciously trying to take note of it all because we’re aware that we’ll be needing it again.

Luckily, the film doesn’t take itself that seriously. You might imagine writer/director Jordan Peele laughing to himself as he writes it. It’s silly, but it’s often rooted in truth. And it finds that happy medium for almost the entirety of the film. The tone is established early on. It’s not laugh-out-loud, but it’s also not too stern. And it has some touches of farce. Many touches.

I get that Peele is trying to prove a point. Actually, it’s less polemic than it is a hyper-exaggerated version of some reality (though in some cases, not entirely). It’s hard to believe that there are people out there who actually go around telling black people that they’re fans of Tiger Woods like it’s going to make them happy.

There are a lot of different pieces thrown at you along the way that you’re tempted to doubt that it will all come together in the end, but Peele gains our trust by making a smart movie to where we know it still will.

Peele has an excellent vision for Get Out. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s very good. It may not be as powerful as some would hope, but I also don’t think that was his intent.

It also should be noted that Lil Rel Howery’s role as Chris’ best friend, Rod, may be the highlight of the film. His earth-shattering comedic performance is one of the best I’ve seen in recent cinema and truly grounds this film.

Twizard Rating: 94

Quick Movie Review: The Shape of Water (2017)

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I always say that a film’s true greatness is found in how close the finished product is to the filmmaker’s true vision. This doesn’t always mean that it’s in line with our own personal enjoyment, but you can’t deny that it’s well-done.

The Shape of Water is a pretty good example. Not everyone will be into it. It’s very weird, yet it’s almost too normal to be weird.

Set in the early 1960s, Sally Hawkins’ character, Elisa, works as a cleaning lady in a government lab building. She’s mute, but can still hear. One day, she discovers a human-like animal that is being treated violently in some top secret room. It looks like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. She becomes very empathetic, and even sympathetic towards this creature, to the point of falling in love with it.

That’s when the weirdness starts. The film turns into a love story between Elisa and the creature. If you thought that Harold and Maude was too much, you’ll likely not enjoy this one either.

It all feels too relatable, while at the same time distances itself from us by using foreign examples to help us sympathize. It becomes preachy, which is actually a turn off, because of the fact that it’s a little too real. At times you just wish that it possessed more of a sci-fi tone, so then it could just be weird and nothing else.

It’s also hard to stay invested because the creature we are rooting for has few redeeming qualities. It’s animalistic and even eats cats. I mean, so did ALF, but at least he was able to joke around and cohabit with humans.

I appreciate the visionary set design and artistic direction, but it’s just too strange for me, and will be for many people. I usually don’t even mind if the themes and message of it all are too on-the-nose, but here it’s not worth sitting through all the weirdness.

Oddly enough, you still know that this is probably the exact film that writer/director Guillermo del Toro wanted to make. And that makes me respect it as art, but I just don’t really care for it as entertainment.

Twizard Rating: 82

Quick Movie Review: Molly’s Game (2017)

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A great film can present itself non-linearly and still have you understand all of the information just as well as if it were presented linearly. If it’s done poorly, it leaves you confused, but if it’s done well, you get a near-perfect film.

But along with a sporadic narrative, you also need a compelling story. Something that makes you want to follow a film through all of its twists and turns.

Molly’s Game is a film that’s appealing because it loves the grey areas. Mostly because writer/director Aaron Sorkin is a fan of these. Whether it’s in a character whose moral compass is pointing in no convincing direction, or a scenario that really has no right or wrong answer. In this case, he gives us both.

The film follows Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a former competitive-skier who, after a bad accident during a competition, drastically changes her life, eventually leading to her starting one of the biggest underground poker rings in the country.

It’s a film of epic proportions, with Chastain giving a performance rivaling her best. Molly changes so much from beginning to end, while always allowing us to see her true self underneath it all.

While a movie like The Big Short explains complicated things in a colloquial fashion, Molly’s Game requires a little bit more work and previous knowledge of poker. There’s a lot of esoteric jargon, but it never leaves you high and dry. You have to understand the game a little bit, but instead of trying to explain it in a contrived way, Sorkin opts to just keep the poker, itself, as basic as possible–not really discussing hands outside of pairs, three-of-a-kinds, and full houses.

Idris Elba does an amazing job playing Molly’s lawyer, Charlie Jaffey. He and Chastain have absolute firework chemistry. When they banter on screen you can’t look away.

Charlie is the real good guy in the movie. Molly is our protagonist, but not all protagonists come in a neatly wrapped package. Like I said, she walks the line somewhere in the middle, morally.  So if Sorkin makes his main protagonist an anti-hero, he still has to have an actual hero to represent the one end of the spectrum. Charllie is that guy. Then we have characters, like Player X (Michael Cera)–an anonymous actor who tries to ruin people’s lives by making them go broke–who represent the other end.

There are tons of things keeping this film afloat, but I suppose it could have had a tighter grip on its themes. A lot of times you get the sense that it’s merely a cool story for the sake of telling us a cool story.

Some may get the feeling of “why do we care?” Well, in a way it’s also a character study. Why do we ever care about a character study? Because the character being studied is a unique and complex individual. Not only is Molly Bloom both of these, but so are the situations she’s put herself in.

Molly’s Game has a tendency to act self-aggrandized for the sake of being cool. But it’s a cool film. Why wouldn’t it want to show it off a little? Maybe the most impressive thing Sorkin does here is make us believe that this topic is way more interesting and important than it actually is. That sounds like a slight, but it’s not. It’s actually high praise.

Twizard Rating: 97

Quick Movie Review: Bright (2017)

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Will Smith might be the very best at bringing genuinely hilarious humor to intense action films without making them feel like comedies. His jokes never cause a movie to lose its intensity, but bring a human-quality to it.

It’s a skill that fits in perfectly with Bright–a film about humans and fantasy creatures, like Orcs and Elves, living together on Earth. Smith plays Daryl Ward, a street cop who is partners with an Orc named Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton).

Jakoby is the country’s first Orc police officer. In this version of America, Orcs are considered low-class scum. Jakoby is hated by humans for being an Orc, and he’s ostracized by other Orcs for “selling out”.

The dialogue throughout the film is extremely smart. It’s like a more on-the-nose Blade Runner–and much more relatable. Because of that, you reflect on it a little bit more within the context of your own life.

The themes are heavy-handed, but not as preachy as you would think. It shows issues with racism from all sides, causing the entire audience to be self-reflective without evoking any hate or bitterness for either side.

To make the story even more interesting, it gives us a lot more to play with in terms of subplot and lore, so we can see perhaps another film set in this universe–either a sequel or a spinoff.

This is peak Will Smith–on par with anything he did back in the ’90s. Bright is easily Smith’s best movie in over 10 years.

Twizard Rating: 99

Quick Movie Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

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1995’s Jumanji is one of my favorite movies of all time. So, naturally, I was excited AND worried about the new film. Excited because I love the source material, but obviously worried that it would be bad. There was no more Robin Williams, so how could it even be comparable? I was also skeptical after finding out it was going to revolve around a video game rather than a board game. But the fact that it’s such a different concept actually prevents us from making any unfair comparisons. Luckily, nothing about this new installment feels forced or unnecessary.

In the film, four very different high school students wind up in detention. They’re forced to clean up a storage room, where they find an old video game system and begin playing the game inside, Jumanji. Seconds after selecting their avatars, they get transported into the game, becoming the adult avatars they’ve chosen.

The writers make it so the non-gaming teenagers have the weakest avatars in the game, brilliantly mimicking the frustrations of actual non-gamers all over the world.

It’s a mix of comedy and intensity, with the former being the priority. Though, the humor never undermines the action or insults the other things the story is trying to accomplish.

Many of the jokes stem from Jack Black’s character being played by a stuck-up teenage girl. So, everything he says is appropriate to that. Black is so good that you actually feel like there is a girl underneath it all.

In fact, most of the actors do a good job at this. Dwayne Johnson’s character has a timid nerdy boy inside. And Kevin Hart’s diminutive avatar is controlled by a football jock.

Jumanji is Hart and Johnson’s funniest film, individually and together. Usually movies rely on Hart to be the main focus and source of the humor, but there are other characters here to distract you from him, so when he pipes in it doesn’t feel like overkill. And seeing Johnson take on a different persona is refreshing.

This Jumanji sequel is a comedy more than anything else, and is very fresh compared to some of its contemporaries. It doesn’t break any new ground within its genre, but also never tries to become more than it actually is. Even if it’s not the perfect movie, it’s amazing entertainment.

Twizard Rating: 94

Quick Movie Review: The Greatest Showman (2017)

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The best musicals are the ones where the songs never seem out of place. Where we don’t, for a second, think to ourselves how weird it is for the characters to break into song at any given moment–however inherently strange it is anyway, if we stop to think about it. However, The Greatest Showman has several moments where you almost wait for everyone in the audience to laugh, as the musical numbers feel comedically forced. Almost as if it’s parodying a musical, itself.

When I go into a biopic, I want to get a sense that I’m being educated on the subject at hand. Making it a musical automatically takes me out of the realism of it all. But then again, that’s the spirit of P.T. Barnum. You don’t leave the theater feeling like you know a great deal more about him–even though you sorta do–because you keep feeling like you just watched a work of fiction.

It follows Barnum, played by Hugh Jackman, as he starts from nothing to practically creating the circus as we know it today.

Controversy never leaves Barnum’s side as his show is rooted in exaggerating truths. He hires a 7-foot-tall man and puts him on stilts to make him even taller. He takes a 500-pound man and tells people he’s 750-pounds. He often gets his motivations confused, sacrificing his integrity because of his love for the money and the fame.

The movie takes some great liberties with its subject matter as well. Much like Barnum, it thinks that the real-life people aren’t nearly as intriguing as the audience wants them to be. Although Barnum’s actual life may be far more intriguing than the version of him in this film.

It does do a good job at presenting the man’s flaws. With protagonists, these things often show signs of acquiescence or hesitation. But the filmmakers here don’t shy away from showing Barnum at all angles. Though he comes from humble beginnings, he tends to forget where he comes from, enjoying the high-life a little too much and letting his ego separate himself from his outcast performers.

But the character arcs are often abrupt and not gradual enough. One minute he’s doing one thing, and then all of a sudden, he’s acting like a jerk.

In his directorial debut, Michael Gracey does a lot of things right. For one, he keeps the Zendaya dialogue at a minimum. But he also does a lot of things wrong.

There are two elements that practically carry this film–the music and the era, itself–even if they’re both working against each other.

The songs are intentionally anachronistic. They’re strictly rooted in modern pop music. The movie takes place in the early-to-mid 19th century, and while pop music doesn’t quite exist then, it could have used styles of early 20th century and most people wouldn’t have known the difference. Movies convincingly do it all the time.

As a society, we’ve always been fascinated with the circus. And early circus culture has a sort of mystique to us, as many of the exhibits would never and could never happen in today’s world. But the modern music in the film practically rips us out of the time period.

So not only is the fact that it’s a musical, alone, enough to make us feel like it’s a work of fiction, but the type of music used furthers us from any sense of fact that the movie tries to establish–constantly reminding us that it cares very little about presenting a good, true story. It’s almost as if the filmmakers don’t even see this as an opportunity to educate the audience. I think they just want to entertain.

It just could have been so much better if it hadn’t concerned itself with mass appeal–just like Barnum, himself.

“A sucker is born every minute.” -P.T. Barnum

Twizard Rating: 74

Quick Movie Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

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Fans may be frustrated with the lack of twists and big reveals in the new Star Wars movie. But personally, I’m glad there isn’t anything big. We don’t want these films to merely become fan pandering. Vehicles for countless Easter Eggs with the stories becoming second fiddle.

This is the middle act of a trilogy. It’s meant to keep the story going while presenting the perfect amount of conflict and resolution, balancing both. If it tries to do too much, it risks losing its identity and any cohesiveness developed so far.

Although J.J. Abrams directed Episode 7, and is slated to direct Episode 9, it was a good choice to get Rian Johnson on board to direct this installment.

While Abrams is a lover of popcorn entertainment that’s big and full of audience-craved plot points, Johnson isn’t as concerned with that. He’s focused more on giving us what we actually need. He builds up momentum slowly and knows how to give us the proper climax.

Johnson also directed last year’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which I’m not a huge fan of, but can still appreciate. Rogue One is poetic, but doesn’t really come together until the end.

This was my fear with The Last Jedi. But since it utilizes The Force Awakens to help set up much of the story, it doesn’t have to focus on that as much here. And the poeticism works well for this one as the middle act. Though I wouldn’t want all of the films to be like this. I like my Star Wars a bit more popcorny–just like J.J. Abrams.

The Last Jedi starts off pretty slow. It takes place immediately after the events of the last film, and noticeably struggles to pick up the well-built momentum of its predecessor as well. Much of the first half is spent with Leia and the Resistance trying to survive attacks from the First Order. It’s interspersed with Rey trying to convince Luke to train her to become a Jedi Master.

This film is also much darker than the last. We’ve seen now that Johnson is also a big fan of the theme of finding hope amidst despair, yet constantly reminding us of that despair. Certain moments are very potent. Use the end of Rogue One for reference.

A truly bright spot in this film is the introduction of Benicio Del Toro’s computer hacker character, DJ. His moral compass points to neither good nor bad. He plays for himself and adjusts accordingly. And they brilliantly utilize him to parallel Kilo Ren–albeit a less monstrous version. Both men are capable of being empathetic and selfish at the same time. Del Toro’s existence in this movie is absolutely no throwaway.

As much as The Last Jedi will pride itself on staying true to its goal of telling a solid and important story first, it still has it’s fair share of surprises. Naturally though, there aren’t as many. We have to remember that these new stories must stand on their own at some point too.

As far as major plot points go, this film makes all the right decisions. It may not feel like a Star Wars film in the traditional sense, but it’s a really amazing story executed at the highest mark.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: A Bad Moms Christmas (2017)

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While sequels to movies like Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey take 25 years to get greenlit, 2016’s Bad Moms begins principal photography on its followup just 10 months after its release.

In a sequel more rushed than Porky’s 2, Bad Moms Christmas must’ve had some sort of high demand. I know I was very surprised with the first film, but in no way did I need a sequel a year later. Especially if I knew it was going to look like this.

The premise revolves around the three main characters from last time–played by Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn–having issues with their own mothers as they visit during Christmastime.

Of course, it wouldn’t be hilarious unless their moms had putrid flaws. And the writers know this as well, which is why we get cookie cutter maternal stereotypes: the over-bearing mother who never gives her daughter any space (Cheryl Hines), the mother who neglects her daughter and only comes around to ask for money (Susan Sarandon), and the high expectations mother whose daughter can never do anything right (Christine Baranski)–all three played way over the top in the most annoying and unrealistic way possible.

But that’s pretty much the whole movie. Everything the characters do or say to each other is unrealistic. The hijinks always ensues because of this. In fact, it NEEDS character responses to be impractical in order for it to exist. It merely serves to further the plot and allow the story to keep going.

Which it barely even does. Up until the last 10 minutes, nothing develops between the beginning and end of this movie. There’s just scenario after scenario of the mothers doing things to upset or annoy their daughters. It’s the final straw about eleven different times, yet there are no changes in the outcome or how the characters deal with it either way, because no one possesses any real self-awareness. The characters just keep getting angry, and so do we.

And it’s not just the lack of development that keeps it running at snail’s pace. The humor is juvenile and unfunny. So many scenes are halted by verbose dialogue that’s supposed to make us laugh. We don’t. When a film draws out comedic scenes for too long–which is a trend these days–it suspends any momentum that the narrative has built. But when it happens over and over again, there becomes almost no momentum to be suspended in the first place.

On paper, this movie should be good. But this proves that a film is so much more than its actors. A Bad Moms Christmas is a complete waste of its talents.

There are countless comedies that are forgettable, yet still give us one or two memorable moments. They won’t ever be considered classics, but they were never trying to be. You have to take them at face value. However, even at face value, this one is way below par.

Twizard Rating: 41

Quick Movie Review: Murder On the Orient Express (2017)

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There aren’t nearly enough murder mysteries made these days. They’re fun, but I get how they’re difficult to execute. In these kinds of films, you have only the facts to look at. Whereas, in real life, you can look at if someone seems like they’re lying. In a movie, everyone is lying because they’re all actors. You can’t solve it from that. So the clues are all given in what the audience–and, in this case, the detective–knows, and nothing else.

Fortunately, we’re all on the same page in this one. Often times, the filmmakers have to give the on-screen detective some bit of information that we don’t get to know, in fear that we might solve it before we’re supposed to. But here, it’s not a crap shoot because we can still figure it out if we really think about it. Yet, we still don’t–unless we already know the story.

I suppose, however, that in these instances, the film is most enjoyable for those who haven’t read the book or watched any previous adaptations. Because the best part, still, is the mystery and the conclusion, itself. If one already knows the outcome, then they are looking at other things. For me, I didn’t know the story, so with fresh eyes, I thought it was truly well-executed. Though, by others’ standards, maybe it won’t quite live up to its predecessors. Taking on a project of this nature, you can’t please everyone.

The movie starts off a little slow as our main character, detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh), is being established. We get to see him solve a case, meet with some friends, and then eventually get a telegram requesting his help solving a case in London. His friend gets him the last room left on his train, the Orient Express.

The murder on the train doesn’t occur until almost the 40 minute mark, but then it significantly picks up the pace from there without losing its identity or tone established before.

Details pile up, but the dialogue is so fluid that it’s pretty easy to follow unless you’re not a fan of movies with a lot of talking.

Where it gets the most confusing, no matter what you like, is when the dialogue relies too heavily on the characters’ names to let us know what’s going on. There are about a dozen other passengers on the train that help make up this ensemble cast–which includes Josh Gad, Johnny Depp, and Judi Dench, to name a few–and it gets hard to keep them all straight at first. But eventually we catch on.

When watching a whodunit, there is always this inherent fear that the conclusion won’t be worth the time you spend waiting for it. However, this story is one of the most famous mysteries for a reason. It’s really clever. And as someone who has had no exposure to any Poirot in his life, this film has made me a fan. Now I want to see more. This is my own benchmark.

Twizard Rating: 98