Monday, December 11, 2017
With how descriptive that title is, the general premise of this movie a bit self-explanatory. It centers around three billboard that are put up outside Ebbing, Missouri. Shocker, I know. And where is Ebbing, Missouri? Well, that's actually a fictional town, as is the story that goes along with this. No, this movie isn't based on a true story of events that took place near a town called Ebbing, Missouri, but it feels real enough once you know what's written on these billboards. "Raped while dying," "And Still No Arrests" and "How come, Chief Willoughby?" are the messages on the billboards. Yeah. While this specific story is fictional, the themes discussed in this movie are very real to a lot of people around the world. Frances McDormand plays a rightfully upset lady named Mildred who, according to her words in the movie, feels that the police are too busy killing black people to focus on what's really important, like finding the person who abducted and killed her teenage daughter several months back. She feels that these actions are a good way of getting their attention so that they can refocus their efforts. But of course Chief Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson, isn't happy about this, so we have a movie centered around Mildred vs. the police with the town taking their sides.
In showing this, we start from Mildred's perspective and you immediately feel bad for her. I can't imagine what it would feel like to have your teenage daughter kidnapped, raped and murdered. Even though her actions are a bit questionable, all she wants is justice and a sense of finality to help her have peace regarding this whole situation. That's an easy side to jump on and support, thus when she starts attacking the police, you're immediately on her side in this attack. How dare the police not doing anything, right? And you feel that way until you're introduced to Chief Willoughby. There's a lot of things going on with him that I won't reveal, but the gist of everything is that he's a nice, honest person who is doing his absolute best as police chief to provide justice. He represents the type of police officer that is easy to love and care about. Yes, despite how much fire police have been under recently, there are a lot of officers that are fantastic individuals who are great at doing their job. In this movie, Chief Willoughby represents those officers. Thus instead of being a one-sided attack towards police, you're able to see things equally from both perspectives. You understand why Mildred makes her decisions and you also understand why Chief Willoughby is upset at those decisions.
The movie gets even more layered than that when we dive into all of our side characters. We have Lucas Hedges playing Mildred's son. He's equally upset at the fact that his sister is dead, but he doesn't like what his mom is doing to solve everything, making for a very intense family situation. We have Caleb Landry Jones playing the kid at the office who rented the billboards to Mildred who now is thrown into the middle of this fight when he was just trying to do his job. We have plenty of other people who do support Mildred in what she's doing. And we have Sam Rockwell as Officer Dixon who represents the opposite side of the police force as Chief Willoughby. Yes, there are a lot of police officers that I do feel bad for because they are being unfairly judged and looked down up due to the actions of others when they did absolutely nothing wrong. But then you have those officers that are giving the rest a bad name. That's what Sam Rockwell is here for. He's the bad cop that you really want to hate during this movie with a lot of things that he says and does. Yet his arc in the movie is quite fascinating, proving yet again that you'd be wrong to paint everything as a complete black and white picture. There's a lot of gray in life that we sometimes choose to overlook.
The other thing that really makes this a unique movie is the dark comedy. You wouldn't think that a movie about rape, murder and police brutality would be funny, or should be funny, but this movie had me dying of laughter throughout. My whole screening was even cracking up. This was mostly due to Frances McDormand's character. She is such a crazy, intense lady that she does and says so many shocking things that will just have you rolling over. Yet the movie does a perfect job of balancing that humor with the intense, dark drama. One moment you are busting up with laughter and often the very next moment you are punched in the gut with something that comes out of nowhere that cuts deep to the core. This is a very tricky balance to find in movies. Most of the time when I'm watching a very dark film, having comedy flying out of the gate left and right would feel tonally inconsistent. I don't know how "Three Billboards" did it or why it works so well, but it does. And it's one of those situations where you have to experience it for yourself to know why. Because of this, the other nomination that I desperately hope this gets at the Oscars is a best screenplay nod for Martin McDonagh. A directing nod would be cool, too. But a screenplay nod is a must.
The biggest complaint that I have for "Three Billboards" is that they kinda wrote themselves into a corner. When you start the movie, you have the introduction with Mildred putting up her billboards and the town going into chaos because of it and Chief Willoughby approaching Mildred to try to solve this issue, but then after that you wonder where it's going to go for the next 90-100 minutes as it has nearly a two hour run time. The journey the movie takes you on is a rather crazy one. Believe me, I've only scratched the surface when it comes to telling you about this movie. There are so many twists and turns that I didn't see coming. Every time you think you know what's going to happen next, you get a pretty strong curveball, thus making for a great movie that is impossible to predict. The reason I say they wrote themselves into a corner is because after so many twists and turns, I'm not sure they quite knew how to end the movie. With what they did do, I felt slightly unsatisfied and I really want to say why, but I'm going to leave that a mystery in this review. But outside that, I was completely engrossed with this movie. It's a crazy ride that is absolutely hilarious, yet at the same time a dark tale that shines a light on the unfortunate honesty of life. I'm awarding the movie a 9/10.
Saturday, December 9, 2017
"The Disaster Artist" is a movie that is based on the personal account of Greg Sestero, Tommy's best friend. Some time after "The Room" became a huge cult hit, Greg wrote down his story that detailed this in the book titled "The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made." This is a movie that is hilariously inspiring in a unique sort of way. Franco takes the time to reward fans of "The Room" by showcasing the strange, quirkiness of Tommy and how he came to make this. We get a peek into the behind-the-scenes work that went into many of the famous clips of the movie, thus providing a hilarious romp that caused me and most of the people in my screening to die with laughter. Thus a lot of credit has to be given to Franco as a director for his brilliant crafting of this genius comedy. On top of that, we also have to give Franco a lot of credit for his brilliant acting portrayal of Tommy Wiseau as what made this movie work so well is that Franco did a nearly perfect job of impersonating Tommy to the point where it looked and felt like we were watching Tommy himself in this movie as opposed to a Tommy impersonation of which we've seen so many times. Franco had his voice and mannerisms down to a perfection.
The other thing that makes Tommy unique is that his brain simply works differently than other people. That's probably the safest way to put it rather than speculating as to what potential disorder he might have that leads him to act the way he does. What seems logical to most people just isn't for Tommy. He does his own thing. When you watch "The Room," everything in the movie is just so strange, but it all made sense to Tommy. He genuinely thought he made an Oscar-worthy film. Thus when "The Disaster Artist" explores the making of this movie, you can understand why so many people on set were so confused and easily frustrated. What in the heck was Tommy doing? What was this movie that they were making? Why was he treating everyone so poorly? Many people tried to reason with him, but it didn't work. When Tommy had his mind set on certain things, there often was no changing his mind, so you just had to roll with it. And given the lack of experience that many of them had with filmmaking, they just kinda went with it, assuming he knew what he was doing, especially given the confidence he had, when in reality Tommy was incompetent when it came to this. But he didn't care. This was his dream and he was going to follow his dream no matter what.
That's the big inspiration that one can take from this. Tommy didn't have any experience in filmmaking. Given how differently his brain worked, this was probably not something he was really capable of doing. But what he did have was a dream and the determined will to follow that dream no matter what. When film agencies refused to hire him or cast him for certain roles, he pressed forward and decided to make his own film because he refused to fail this dream. And through all the obstacles that came his way, he was successful in achieving his dream. He made his movie. Even though it didn't quite get the reception that he was hoping for given the lack of quality present, it eventually became hugely successful in its own right with millions of people around the world falling in love with it. That's quite the success story. If Tommy, who is completely incompetent at making a quality film, is able to follow his dream anyways and be successful in spite the odds, then whatever your dream is, you can make that come true as well. Regardless of how incapable you think you are or how unqualified you might be, if you have enough will and determination to follow your dream, you will be successful. That's what makes this story and this movie so special.
As is, I do think this is a solid film that is a great companion piece to "The Room," as it adds a lot of detail and context to this unique experience that you'll have if you choose to watch the movie. Yet perhaps a TV mini-series may have been able to do even more justice to this or maybe a documentary? Or, you know, one could actually go read the book that Greg Sestero wrote that actually does go into a lot more detail as one would expect. I also would make a guess that this movie does cater significantly towards people who are either a fan of or aware of Tommy Wiseau and "The Room." If you have no idea who this guy is or this movie he made, yet you decide to jump right into "The Disaster Artist" anyways, I could imagine that you might feel like you are missing something like one of those moments where a group of friends are laughing about an inside joke that you aren't clued in on. Yet the story of following your dreams is universal enough that you would probably enjoy the movie anyways. But I think at least being aware of "The Room" would really help in this instance. In contrast, that also means if you are a huge fan of "The Room" and you love Tommy Wiseau, "The Disaster Artist" becomes a must-see. My grade for the movie is an 8/10.
Thursday, December 7, 2017
So yes, "Wonder" is the movie about the kid with facial deformities who has to now go to school for the very first time. It's based on a popular book that I have not read, so that's as far as we're going with that conversation. If you're a fan of the book and you want to know how this movie compares to the book, you'll have to talk to someone else about that. I'm here to just talk about the movie that I saw. The kid's name in this movie is August "Auggie" Pullman and he was born with these facial deformities. He's understandably self-conscious about how he looks and what other people are thinking about him, given their constant stares, so he spends a lot of time wearing an astronaut helmet that would probably make Daft Punk proud. Because of this, his parents have chosen to home school him for most of his young life so that he can be protected and avoid public scrutiny. But come time for fifth grade, his parents come to the realization that they can't hide him from the world forever, so they make the tough decision that he needs to go to a public school. The longer they avoid this, the harder it will be for him to integrate into normal life. So Auggie agrees that he will honor their wishes and give it a go, which makes them all nervous despite them feeling that this is the right choice.
However, it wasn't just Jacob Tremblay that I was nervous about. Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts play his parents and both of them gave performances that are better than anything I've seen from them in recent years. They are the absolute perfect parents for him as they give him just the right amount of love and attention to make sure he feels wanted and accepted. Thus when they decided that they are going to let him into the real world, I was equally nervous for them. How are they going to handle this. What if Auggie hates school? What if he's bullied? What if he doesn't fit in? This is a very delicate situation for them. What are they going to say to Auggie or do to help him? I'm not a parent myself, but I am an uncle to many nieces and nephews, thus I know that it's a tough responsibility as an adult to figure out what the best way to handle certain situations. Thus I was on the edge of my seat for this first act of the movie as we saw Auggie going to school. When the principle, Mr. Tushman, played excellently by Mandy Patinkin (Jason Gideon from "Criminal Minds" and Inigo Montoya from "The Princess Bride") treats him perfectly, I cheered. When certain kids acted poorly, I cringed. When other kids treated him well, I cheered again. This was a very emotional ride for me.
As we were going along on this ride, I started to ask myself the question that I had asked after watching the trailers. What is this movie going to do to set it apart from all the other movies? I began to imagine all the potential outcomes for this movie and I didn't see any of those outcomes as being truly unique and special. But then the movie hit me with a curveball that I wasn't expecting. We stopped. We went back in time. Then we told the same story again, but from the perspective of Auggie's older sister. The "normal" looking one. The trailers didn't clue me into this at all, thus it's almost a minor spoiler, but I do feel the need to mention in because if you had the same mindset as me going in, I feel the need to explain to you what it is about this movie that sets it apart. Most movies like this will keep telling the story from the main character's perspective, but I don't know how many of them do exactly what this does by letting us in on what everyone else is going through. Because, yeah, the older sister looks normal and thus doesn't stand out. But that's the thing. Her parents have spent so much time focusing on Auggie, that they forget about her. Not intentionally, of course. They're still good parents to her. But on her first day of school, she feels lonely and lost.
It actually took me until the end credits to figure out what the best comparison for this movie was. Initially I was thinking maybe "A Monster Calls" from last year or perhaps "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," which is the other movie from director Stephen Chbosky. While "Wonder" is equally as good, if not better than those two, it's good for completely different reasons. But at the end of the credits I noticed that this came from Walden Media and immediately the light bulb went off in my head. They're the production company that did "Holes" and "Bridge to Terabithia." That's the company that "Wonder" belongs in. Three very different stories, yes. But three family friendly movies that teach powerful lessons and all have huge emotional payoffs at the end. Because, yeah, everything in "Wonder" had built up so perfectly that when we got to the end, this movie gave me the Pixar treatment. For some reason, I'm not the type of person where tears roll down my face very often, and they didn't here. But I certainly felt this one. I think I was more emotional at the end of this movie than I have been all year. And that's with "Coco" in mind. If you are the type where tears roll down your face, you might might need to bring a few boxes of tissues to this movie.
Going into this movie, I didn't think that this would be a movie that I would label as a must see. When the trailers showed, I wasn't sure it was even a movie that I would see in theaters. Even after the positive reception and the surprising box office, I thought that this would be a good movie, but not necessarily a great one. Thus I can confidently say after seeing this movie that this is one of the surprise movies of the year, if not THE surprise movie of the year. Sure, you can nitpick certain elements of the story or the actions of certain characters. Perhaps you can claim that this has too pretty of a bow wrapped around it. I was listening to a lot of reviewers who were pointing out minor things that bothered them and I could totally see where they were coming from, but none of those things really bothered me enough for me to feel the need to point them out. I think this is an absolutely excellent film with a powerful message that just might stick with you long after you see it. Given that this is only PG, this is also a movie that you can take your kids to and in doing so, it just might be the movie that teaches them the most important lessons about how to treat others around them. It absolutely is a must see and I am giving "Wonder" a very strong 9.5/10.
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
December 1st - 3rd-
However, there were a few major limited releases to talk about that will be expanding throughout the month. The winner of the bunch of them, in terms of per-theater averages, was Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water. The movie's per-theater average came in right in between the $91,109 average of "Lady Bird" and the $80,542 average of "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" as "The Shape of Water" scored an average of $83,400. All three came in behind the $103,233 average of "Call Me by Your Name" as all four of these movies seem guaranteed to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. With no obvious front-runner at the moment, it appears to be anyone's game. For Guillermo, he's probably had a lot of fun recently with the likes of "Pacific Rim" and "Crimson Peak," but "The Shape of Water" will essentially be a return to form, giving the Academy an opportunity to redeem themselves after not including "Pan's Labyrinth" in the best picture race in 2007. "The Shape of Water" looks to be a very layered film with relevant themes that centers on the relationship between a woman and a creature that she discovers as a part of a laboratory experiment in the Cold War era. Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer and Michael Stuhlbarg star.
While I mentioned that "The Shape of Water" was the winner of the bunch in terms of per-theater average, The Disaster Artist was the winner of the limited releases in terms of actual box office gross as it nearly cracked the top 10 with $1.2 million. The difference was that "The Disaster Artist" opened in 19 theaters as opposed to the two theaters that "The Shape of Water" opened in. The per-theater average of "The Disaster Artist" was $64,254. It also looks like it will be expanding faster as it's schedule to add around 800 theaters this next weekend. "The Disaster Artist" sees James Franco directing and starring as Tommy Wiseau, who is known for making the notoriously bad film "The Room" in 2003 (not to be confused with 2015's "Room"). "The Room" is such a bad film that it's gained status as a cult classic due to some claiming that it's one of the best "so bad it's good" films. Rather than spending 103 minutes making fun of Wiseau and his awful movie, "The Disaster Artist" instead takes the time to tell Wiseau's story as an individual whose brain simply works differently than your average human being. While not guaranteed for best picture, "The Disaster Artist" certainly looks to get love in some categories, with Franco for best actor being its best bet.
The third major limited release is certainly the lesser of the three both in terms of box office and reaction it's received thus far and that would be our yearly Woody Allen film Wonder Wheel. It's rather impressive that Woody Allen has made at least one film a year from 1982 to today. That filmography goes back even further to his directorial debut in 1966, although he wasn't quite as perfect in hitting every single year during those early. With such a high volume of films put out, the question every year becomes is this an on year or an off year. Unfortunately it's been more quantity over quality for Woody in his later years as "Wonder Wheel" appears to be yet another off year with a current score of 42 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and a per-theater average this weekend of $28,111 from five theaters. Which isn't bad, but leaves much to be desired for compared to our other Oscar hopefuls. "Wonder Wheel" is set at Coney Island in the 1950's and stars Kate Winslet and Jim Belushi as a couple whose relationship is a bit rocky, which causes Kate to start seeing a lifeguard played by Justin Timberlake, who at the same time is also having a relationship with the husband's daughter.
Finally, it's worth noting that Titanic is in theaters yet again for it's 20th anniversary, giving it a chance to add to its already huge box office total, although it only opened in 87 theaters this time around with a total of $415,000, which equates to a per-theater average of just $4,770. With a small theater count and box office total, this probably won't be around for too long, which is OK because these anniversary releases usually only last a few weeks anyways.
December 8th - 10th-
The most notable limited release this weekend will be the limited release of Neon's I, Tonya, which is geared to give a lot of awards love to lead actress Margot Robbie as figure skater Tonya Harding. On the surface it might not seem like a movie about a figure skater would be of any interest, but there's a lot below the surface that makes the story of Tonya Harding an interesting one. In 1991, Harding was the U.S. champion in figure skating as well as the World Championship silver medalist. She was also a two-time Olympian and two-time Skate America champion. The drama with her comes in 1994 where she was involved in a scandal where someone was hired to break her opponent's leg, which is the focus of "I, Tonya." The movie was the runner-up for the people's choice award at the Toronto International Film Festival, behind the winner "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" and has also been nominated at the Gotham Awards and Film Independent Spirit Awards, with many more nominations sure to come. In addition to Margot Robbie getting a lot of love in the lead actress categories, Allison Janney is also getting a lot of love for supporting actress.
December 15th - 17th-
As far as how much money "The Last Jedi" will make, it's worth noting that "A New Hope," "The Phantom Menace" and "The Force Awakens" were all event films. "A New Hope" in 1977 was Star Wars exploding onto the scene whereas "The Phantom Menace" and "The Force Awakens" were Star Wars returning to theaters after a lengthy hiatus. With both the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy, none of the ensuing sequels were able to match the box office total of the first movie of each respective trilogy. Thus it wouldn't be fair to expect "The Last Jedi" to match or top the $936 million domestic total of "The Force Awakens." If "The Last Jedi" were to follow the trends of both previous trilogies, "The Empire Strikes Back" fell 31.9 percent while "Attack of the Clones" fell 29.9 percent. Using those two percentages as a high and low, that would mean "The Last Jedi" gets between $637 million and $663 million. If it bucked the trend and fell softer, a 20 percent drop would equate to $748 million. Regardless of what happens, anything above $600 million should be considered a win. For future reference, the final movies in each trilogy both increased from 20 to 25 percent over the middle chapter. That's a range of $768 million to $834 million for Episode IX.
The only movie choosing to directly challenge "The Last Jedi" by opening on the same opening weekend is the latest animated film from Blue Sky, that of Ferdinand. While it may seem like a foolish choice to do so, counter-programming a Star Wars film with a family-friendly movie for the young kids has worked just fine the last few years. "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip" pulled in a decent $85.9 million domestic total while running at the same time as "The Force Awakens" while Illumination's "Sing" pulled in an excellent $270 million after starting just a week after "Rogue One." In fact, "Sing" ended up topping the final gross of "Moana," which opened just a month earlier. So "Ferdinand" is in good position if it manages to capture the attention of family audiences during Christmas. It's only competition will be families trying to catch-up on "Coco" during Christmas or if they choose to take their kids to "Jumanji," which opens less than a week later. "Ferdinand" is the story of a bull who isn't very good at being bull, but attempts to do his best to become a better bull. Outside the last Ice Age movie, every one of Blue Sky's movies has fallen somewhere in the $100 million range.
Another popular trend has been the rival of live-action musicals during the holiday season. The latest in that trend is the new musical The Greatest Showman. Previous holiday musicals have included film adaptations of "Les Mis" in 2012 and "Into the Woods" in 2014 with last year's "La La Land" being an original musical. "The Greatest Showman" is also of the original variety and actually includes some of the same songwriters from "La La Land." The musical is centered around the story of P.T. Barnum as he went from nothing to creating a worldwide sensation by inventing the show business. The movie has a rather large cast that is led by Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum and is accompanied by the likes of Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, Zac Efron and Zendaya to name just a few. As you might expect, the movie is loaded with all kinds of performers who all look to put on quite the show for audiences. Initially this was seen as a potential Oscar front runner as "La La Land" and "Les Mis" both did rather well on the awards front, but recently it has lost a bit of steam with the awards crowd as the marketing appears to be targeting general audiences instead, which is totally fine and should be able to attract a decent amount of people who love musicals.
There's usually at least one adult-targeted comedy that comes out during the holiday season and this year's version is Father Figures. The movie stars Owen Wilson and Ed Helms as two twin brothers who learn that their mother, played by Glenn Close, has been lying to them about their father for their entire life. She had previously told them their father has passed away, but now she reveals that their father is alive, but she actually has no idea who she is, so the two brothers go on a road trip to find their father. Potential father figures for Wilson and Helms are played by J.K. Simmons, Katt Williams, Terry Bradshaw, Ving Rhames and Christopher Walken. It's hard to predict how well comedies like this will do as some that you think might be hits become duds while others come out of nowhere to be mega hits. As an attempted comparison, though, our last two adult comedies during Christmas were "Why Him?" from last year and "Sisters" from two years ago, which made $60.3 million and $87.0 million respectively. The director here is Lawrence Sher in his directorial debut. He is known best as the cinematographer for the Hangover trilogy as well as other similar movies.
In what I'm guessing will be more of a moderate release as opposed to a major wide release, we have Downsizing, the latest movie from director Alexander Payne. Most recently, Payne wrote and directed the 2013 film "Nebraska," which was nominated for six Oscars, all in major categories including best picture, best director, best original screenplay and best actor. Payne has also found Oscar love with movies such as "Sideways," "The Descendants" and "Election." So it seemed like a good bet for him to find more love, especially with "Downsizing" being a social satire wherein Matt Damon's character feels like he will solve all of his problems if he were to shrink himself, only to find himself with a different and perhaps more challenging set of problems. "Downsizing" hit the film festival run, but didn't exactly get the praise that Payne was probably hoping for as it currently stands at a 64 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning that this one will probably be left out in a race that has so many other major contenders. Yet with this unique premise, this could still find an audience among general moviegoers.
The fourth wide release of December 22 is probably another small to moderate wide release and that is All the Money in the World. The story behind this movie is actually quite fascinating. As is well known by this time, Hollywood has decided to have a zero tolerance policy towards sexual assault and sexual harassment in the work place. Many people are coming forward with allegations towards all sorts of celebrities, which in turn is rightfully causing the careers of many of these perpetrators to be in serious jeopardy. One of said people who has been completely disowned by Hollywood is Kevin Spacey, who was originally set to star in this film. When all of these allegations came out towards him, Spacey was cut from the film and replaced with Christopher Plummer. Thus two weeks and $10 million of reshoots were commissioned to refilm these scenes, which began on November 20. Instead of postponing the film because of that, TriStar is maintaining this December 22 release date, which is a pretty insane commitment. This will certainly give the film a lot more attention than it probably would've initially had. The movie, by the way, is the true story of the kidnapping of a 16-year-old boy wherein his mom is begging his billionaire grandfather to pay the ransom.
The final movie to talk about on this release date is the latest from legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg as he delivers The Post. This is a movie that will be released in just four theaters this weekend as it gets its Oscar-qualifying run in before expanding nationwide in mid-January, but we might as well talk about it now while we're in the Oscar mood this month because this is definitely a major contender. At this point there isn't really one major front runner like there usually is at this point, which should make the awards season interesting, but it's worthy of mentioning that the National Board of Review named "The Post" as their best movie of 2017, which in turn means that this could end up as our best picture winner, which would give Spielberg his first best picture win since "Schindler's List" in 1994 and 10th overall best picture nomination. The movie sees Spielberg taking on the story of the Pentagon Papers, which was a major battle between the press and the government in the 1970's as the government, through four U.S. presidents, were covering up their involvement in the Vietnam War. Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks are the leads in the movie.
Last but not least, we have the directorial debut of writer Aaron Sorkin with Molly's Game. Sorkin at this point in his career is a very well-loved screenwriter as he won an Oscar for "The Social Network" and got nominated for "Moneyball." He also wrote "A Few Good Men" in the early 90's and most recently "Steve Jobs" while also being the creator of the TV series "The West Wing." His first dive into directing has at least gotten the attention of various critics and if received well it's feasible that this could sneak into the best picture race, although currently you can say it's one of the many on the fence. The movie stars Jessica Chastain, who is overdue for another nomination after just missing out on several acclaimed roles. She was previously nominated for "The Help" and "Zero Dark Thirty." In "Molly's Game," Chastain stars as Molly Bloom, who became the target of an FBI investigation that zeroed in on her underground poker empire that included celebrities, athletes, business tycoons and the Russian mob. "Molly's Game" debuted at Toronto International Film Festival to solid reviews and co-stars Idris Elba, Kevin Costner and Michael Cera.
Thursday, November 30, 2017
On that note, "Lady Bird" is a movie that has achieved quite the remarkable feat on Rotten Tomatoes. With 181 reviews counted as of the publishing of this post, it has maintained a perfect 100 percent. That's the highest number of reviews ever counted for a movie that stayed at 100 percent on the site. The previous high count for a 100 percent film was "Toy Story 2." Thus one could say that it's the best reviewed movie ever on the site, as some outlets have reported. But that wouldn't be completely true because Rotten Tomatoes actually keeps an updated list of that on their site in which they use a weighted, Bayesian formula based on several factors in which "The Wizard of Oz" is currently in the lead. "Lady Bird" is currently No. 37 on that list, behind other 2017 films "Get Out," "The Big Sick," "Dunkirk," Wonder Woman" and "Logan," with the potential to climb higher as more reviews come in. But that's beside the point. A perfect score is hard to maintain and it's really impressive that it is nearing the 200 review count without getting a single negative review. That doesn't mean all 181 of them have crowned it as the best movie of all time. That just means all of them have at least given the movie a pass. Not one single Grinch has hated this movie. Knock on wood.
However, as we continued through the film I found myself absolutely shocked as to how much I was enjoying this film. I've liked plenty of high school dramas, from older ones like "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" to more recent ones such as "Easy A" or "The DUFF." Even this year's "Spider-Man: Homecoming" falls into that category. But I kid you not, never have I been this invested into a film from this genre as I have "Lady Bird." When I began to think of comparisons, it's not those previously mentioned movies that came to my mind first. There were two other movies that came to my mind that DID make my top 10 lists in their respective years. The first being "About Time" from 2013 and the other being "Boyhood" from 2014. "About Time" is a small film that looked like it was a typical romance drama with time travel elements, but ended up being more about the relationship between a father and son that was deep and emotional. "Boyhood" is a rather epic movie filmed over the course of 12 years that is about a family living life from when the boy is six years old to when he is 18 years and moving onto college. Take that idea from "Boyhood," except only do one year instead of 12, then add in the deep parent/child relationship from "About Time" and you have "Lady Bird."
Even though this movie is about Lady Bird living life during her senior year, the movie is centered around the drama between Lady Bird and her mother. What makes this so fascinating is how real this feels. Greta Gerwig, who is mainly known for her acting, steps into the director's chair for the first time and you know from the very first sequences of the movie that she just gets it as a writer and director. She knows what it was like to live as a senior in high school and she has crafted a film that perfectly represents that period of still being quite immature, then transitioning to adulthood. In fact, Greta Gerwig went to a Catholic high school in Sacramento, California, so you could almost say that this movie is semi-autobiographical. That's what it feels like, anyways. This feels less like a movie you are watching and more like footage from an actual family trying to make it in the world. I said earlier that Lady Bird is a girl trying to get away from her horrible family. Truth is, her family is not horrible at all. That's just what it's like from her perspective, which is typical for a high school student. The mother in this movie, played by Laurie Metcalf, is a fantastic mother who is struggling to figure out how to raise such an independent-spirited teenage daughter.
In short, the relationship between a parent and child, regardless of situation, can be a difficult relationship due to the fact that both often have the same personalities. When both have strong personalities, those personalities can clash really hard as the child wants to be independent but the parent wants to be stern because they want what's best for the child. The child will be angry and mad at the parent and want to get away while later in life, after coming of age, the child will then realize how great the parent was. They will grow up and have children of their own and turn into the parent that they once clashed with. This relationship and this bond was captured so perfectly in this movie that I fell in love with it. Helping this out, I think Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf both gave brilliant acting performances that are well worth the Oscar nominations that they better both get. As far as Saoirse Ronan goes, I've been following her for a while. I first noticed her in "Hanna" in 2011 and have loved her ever since. Each one of her characters is quite different, but she plays them all so well. Yet Lady Bird might be my favorite character she's played. And I'm also happy that I now know how to pronounce her name. You say it "Sersha." As in rhyming with "inertia."
I started this review by talking a lot about the Rotten Tomatoes score and I want to end this review by following up with that. Just remember, a Rotten Tomatoes score is the percentage of critics who gave the movie at least a pass. A movie in the 90 percent or higher range does not necessarily mean that everyone thinks the movie is the greatest movie ever made. It just means that a lot of people enjoyed it. Given how much buzz "Lady Bird" is receiving on the awards front, my biggest fear is that it will receive too much buzz. I would absolutely hate it if the second wave of people went in expecting "Lady Bird" to be the greatest movie ever made and walked out deciding that they hated it because it didn't live up to these lofty expectations. "Lady Bird" is a smaller, homely-feeling movie about what it's like to transition from adolescence to adulthood. And it does a perfect job at that. Go in with those expectations and I think you will fall in love with this as I did. The only thing that upset me was that the movie ended. While it absolutely ended perfectly, I wasn't ready for it to end. I wanted to keep going with this story and these characters to see what happened next because I was so invested. I think that's the sign of a truly great movie and thus I am confidently giving "Lady Bird" a 10/10.
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
While I'm very familiar with "A Christmas Carol," I'm less familiar with Charles Dickens himself and the events that led up to the publishing of this classic novella. Thus I found this movie fascinatingly educational. Here we start with Charles Dickens celebrating the enormous success of his novel "Oliver Twist" in 1839, which was quite overwhelming for him in certain instances. Fast forward a few years until October 1843 where Dickens has since experienced, according to the movie, three straight flops, putting him into a bit of a predicament moving forward with his career. Looking at Dickens' bibliography, I'm guessing that these flops were "Nicholas Nickelby," "The Old Curiosity Shop" and "Barnaby Rudge." I don't know enough about Dickens to know if flop is the right word for these books, but I can say with confidence that "Oliver Twist" and "A Christmas Carol" are certainly more well-known. Thus we have a movie in "The Man Who Invented Christmas" that is not only an insight into what inspired "A Christmas Carol" and what Dickens went through in trying to get that story finalized, but we also have a movie that dives into the mindset and life of a writer while they are experiencing the valleys in between their peaks of success.
That of course isn't the main focus of this movie. But I found it to be an interesting side note. Whether or not you are the one writing the reviews or simply consuming the material, whether it be books, movies, TV shows or whatever, it's good to remember that this is someone's life work over the last however many months or even years. With that perspective in mind, I think it becomes easier to at least do a better job of respecting the material. The main focus of this movie, though, is the other aspect of writing. Bringing a story to life. Which can be equally as challenging, if not more so. Because we have this thing called writer's block that every writer goes through. I know I do all the time when I'm writing these movie reviews. It took me a bit of time to figure out exactly how to approach this one and I got stuck a few times along the way. Sometimes these reviews come easy for me. Other times they're really difficult. Even if you're not in the writing field, we've all been to school on some level and have been asked by a professor to write a paper. Sometimes we get those papers churned out really quick. Other times we get stuck. So yeah, I think we all know what Charles Dickens is going through to some degree, which made this a fun watch, at least for me.
Speaking of writing, the challenge with this movie is how are they going to manage to make a movie about someone writing a book interesting? It's especially tricky considering we all know how this story turns out. Because, spoiler alert (but not really), Dickens successfully writes "A Christmas Carol" and everyone loved it. There can't be too many twists and surprises with this movie, so they had to come up with a way to make the journey interesting. I personally think they did a great job at that as the approach here was to make the characters themselves show up once Dickens nailed them down in his head. As the saying goes, once you have everything in place, the story writes itself, right? I found it to be a blast to watch Dickens interact with all of these characters as it almost took him by surprise when characters would show up and argue with him about how things were going to turn out and what the right thing to do was. Specifically the interactions between Dickens and Scrooge were priceless as the two would banter back and forth quite a bit during this process. This was helped by great chemistry between Dan Stevens as Dickens and Christopher Plummer as Scrooge, the latter now has to be included in the conversation of one of the best portrayals of Scrooge.
I don't know what Bleecker Street's plans are with this movie's expansion throughout the holiday. It only opened in around 600 theaters and didn't have the best per theater average during that opening weekend. So this might be the type of movie where you will have to go on a bit of a hunt to figure out exactly where it's playing. But if you're a fan of any version of "A Christmas Carol," I would highly suggest you make that hunt because this is a solid companion piece to "A Christmas Carol" as it provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes look into what went into the writing of this story. We get a good look into what life can be like for a writer in general, which can help us more appreciate the final results of their work. But it was also fun seeing this specific story come to life as Dickens is interacting with his characters as they show up and help him in writing his story, which felt very metaphorical for what was going on in Dickens' head and the movie does a great job of successfully pulling at your heartstrings in a way that a holiday movie should do as we see this story go from an idea in Dickens' head to a published novella that really did help revolutionize how people looked at Christmas back in the day and continues to do so today. I'm going to award the movie an 8/10.
Wednesday, November 22, 2017
"Coco" is the story of a young boy named Miguel who is an avid lover of music. The problem with this is that music is banned in his family due to actions of Miguel's great-great-grandfather, a musician who abandoned his family to pursue his music career. That made his great-great-grandmother bitter towards music, so she refused to allow it in her household and the tradition of no music passed down through the generations. This sets up a conflict with young Miguel who has to pick between following his musical career or honoring his family and he is angry at his family for not letting him pursue his music career, so he is leaning towards leaving his family to play his music. Through a series of events, Miguel ends up in the Land of the Dead during Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, where he has to get the blessing from his ancestors or remain their forever, and they're also wanting him to promise to never play music before they give him their blessing, so this leads us through a rather eventful journey through the Land of the Dead as Miguel tries to resolve this conflict. As far as why the movie is called "Coco," it's actually a very beautiful title for the movie, but I'll let you discover the specific reasons on your own as minor spoilers would be required to elaborate.
The reason why I love "Coco" so much is that it ended up being the exact movie that I hoped it would be. This is a very Mexican movie and I mean that in the best way possible. It felt like a movie made by Mexicans that was intended on being released solely in Mexico. I almost felt like it would've been more appropriate to watch the Spanish version of the movie with English subtitles as if this were a foreign film. In fact, while typing this review I've been listening to the "Coco" soundtrack on Apple Music, which has all the English songs and the Spanish songs. I think I like the Spanish version of the songs better than the English versions that I can understand because they are just so pretty. Now I'm certainly not an expert on Mexican culture and tradition, even though I have plenty of Mexican friends. What I do know is that this movie was released in Mexico on October 27, shortly before Day of the Dead, and is now the highest grossing movie ever in Mexico, passing the previous record set by "The Avengers." I've also read reactions from people there who have praised the movie for doing a beautiful job of honoring their culture. So I feel confident in declaring that this movie does indeed do a beautiful job of honoring this great culture and tradition even though I'm not an expert.
Continuing this Mexican theme, as I went and re-read my review of "The Book of Life," one thing that I noted in that review is that a good portion of the cast were American and it seemed like they were also dumbing down this holiday for an American audience by spending a while explaining what this holiday was while being nervous to immerse themselves too much, as if they would lose their American audiences that the movie seemed intended for. This is definitely not the case here in "Coco" as they dive right into this holiday and these themes without spending any time explaining the holiday, as if they already know that their target audience is well aware of the holiday. And just by looking at the names of the cast members on IMDb, I'd be willing to guess that most of the cast are either Mexican or have Mexican heritage, which I think is a good thing. Sometimes Hollywood feels the need to cast American actors to play or voice foreign people as if they wouldn't make money otherwise. Then we have cries of white washing throughout the internet. Even though I think people go a little overboard with these complaints, it is nice when a movie that's intending to honor a culture actually uses actors who represent that culture. That makes a big difference.
When it comes to animated films, often the stereotype is that these movies are for kids. Yet I think we all know that when it comes to Pixar, their absolute best movies are the ones that resonate just as equally, if not more, with the adults than the kids. Movies like "Toy Story 3" and "Inside Out" are fun enough for the kids, but the themes present are ones that are better understood and appreciated by the adults watching the film. I honestly think this is exactly where "Coco" stands. There's enough in here to grab the kids' attention and help them have fun, but if you're going to "Coco," you're not going to so that your kids can have a fun time at the theater. You're going for your own personal enjoyment while hoping that your kids enjoy the film as well. In fact, if I were to pick a side for this movie, I'd say this movie is more for adults and less for kids. And in true Pixar fashion, "Coco" does an absolutely beautiful job at tugging at your heartstrings. If Pixar movies in the past have made you cry, then don't leave your box of tissues at home for this one because you're going to need them. And then you're going to go home with a new or renewed desire to research your own ancestors and learn of their stories so that they won't be forgotten for future generations.
In summary, "Coco" does everything that we've come to expect from a Pixar movie. The reason why I've been so harsh on recent Pixar movies such as "Cars 2," "Cars 3," "The Good Dinosaur" and "Monsters University" is that I know what Pixar is capable of and I thus I have a very high bar for them when I go into a new Pixar movie. While that might seem unfair, movies like "Inside Out" and now "Coco" prove to me that it's OK to have these high expectations because Pixar is still capable of meeting them. In terms of where "Coco" ranks among the Pixar classics, I'm having a tough time figuring out a specific ranking in my head just because Pixar has made so many good movies and this is their 19th feature-length film, and this will be the 15th one that I think is really good. What I'm more comfortable with at this point is separating these movies into categories. In the top category that I would label as Pixar classics, I currently have "Toy Story 3," "Toy Story," "The Incredibles," "Monsters, Inc.," "Finding Nemo," "Inside Out" and "Up." "Coco" will now join that group. That should make you excited. The only reason I'm not giving it a perfect score is that it took a bit getting started and is slightly predictable. That said, the grade that I'm settling with for now for "Coco" is a 9/10.
P.S. - Before you get treated to this new Pixar classic that is "Coco," you will be subjected to a 21-minute short film called "Olaf's Frozen Adventure." This will be a good time to go to the bathroom, stretch your legs, go buy some concessions or whatever it is you do to prepare yourself for a movie because this little holiday short film is way too long and really annoying. And this is coming from someone who still really likes "Frozen," despite the fact that it has become the cool thing to hate the movie. I like the two story arcs that Anna and Elsa go through. I like our side characters, including the normally hilarious Olaf. And I really enjoy the music. And I respect the fact that it has become this young generation's version of "The Lion King." And I didn't even mind our little "Frozen Fever" short film in front of 2015's "Cinderella." But this short film made me want to melt Olaf and banish Anna and Elsa to a deserted island. I don't think this is indicative of how "Frozen 2" will turn out because I think Disney's main team of animators and writers will take special care of that one. But if I'm wrong and it is, we are all in trouble. Perhaps your young girls will enjoy seeing their favorite characters again, but for me I was really just wanting "Coco" to start. Fair warning.