Movie Reviews

Solo – A Star Wars Story *

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I shouldn’t be surprised but this Disney Star Wars film managed to be even worse than I imagined. Just like the other three so far.

Lacking any originality, reason, or purpose this blundering borefest lasts almost two and a half hours. It’s difficult to finish in one sitting without wanting to punch yourself in the face. Speaking of faces, they cast a guy with a weird looking one to play Harrison Ford. He looks nothing like him, he acts nothing like him, and I didn’t think for one second they were the same guy. Chewie uses all of the recycled noises he made in previous films. He plays the exact same 3D chess game he played in Star Wars and The Force Awakens, and even the moves are exactly the same. You would think after 50 or so years he would get sick of it. Hmmm.

Donald Glover is good as Billy Dee. What a concept, get an actor who can actually ACT like the guy he’s playing! Woody Harrelson is just good ol’ Woody, but it was still nice to have another competent performance. Paul Bettany as the heavy is as good as you would expect a talented actor to be with a criminally lame script. Emilia Clarke is pretty much a non-character as the love interest. When she meets up with Han it is completely by coincidence, a common trope in Disney Star Wars films.

Speaking of love interest… sigh. This is the dreaded “SJW” part of the film. Lando’s “love” interest and co-pilot is a “female” droid. A droid that is really, really upset about “robot slavery.” The film fails to explain how a computer can be enslaved other than in some kind of metaphorical sense. The droids in Star Wars aren’t even very advanced machines. Nothing like the robots in The Matrix. Tape an iPhone to a Roomba and you pretty much have a droid. These things are tools, nothing more. They are given personalities to make them easier to use. Droids don’t actually have feelings, yet L3 is clearly in love with Lando and wants to fuck him. How it can fuck him without any sexual orifices is a mystery but the film makes a lame joke about it. Lando also clearly has feelings for it. I don’t get it. Why have a machine as a co-pilot? If that’s what he wanted to do then why not just plug it’s CPU into a USB port? Why would a computer need arms and legs to fly a ship? The droids in the Disney films, just like The Force and the Jedi, are completely different than in the original series. Those droids were built for very specialized tasks: protocol, interpreter, waiter, etc. But ones like L3 can do anything! Fight a war, have sex, fly a ship… who needs humans?

Nothing can be worse than The Last Jedi but this piece of crap is easily a worse film than Rogue One. Because Rogue One had 30 seconds of Vader slicing dudes in half. This has the Millennium Falcon being chased through an asteroid field to an oldie but goodie by John Williams called “The Asteroid Field.” Maybe I’m imagining it but I feel like I’ve seen that somewhere before. Hmmm. Yes, almost every beat and visual element in this film is a callback to something from the Star Wars Trilogy. I really did not expect it to be this bad, but Disney surprised me again. Just not in a good way.

Did I mention that it’s one of the most expensive films ever made? Even ILM seemed bored making this one.

1 Star War Outta 5

2018 Oscar Round-up

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The billboards in the title say this:
RAPED WHILE DYING
AND STILL NO ARRESTS?
HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?

Frances McDormand (famous for Fargo and pretty much nothing else) is the mother of a murdered daughter and uses her life savings to rent the billboards to light a fire under the cops. The DNA from the rape kit matches no known felon, there were no witnesses, and no suspects. It happens. But the angry mother must blame someone. She could blame herself as she is the one who brought a victim into the world.

Woody Harrelson is Chief Willoughby. A character who immediately is sympathetic once you realize he did everything he could to solve the crime. Oh he also has terminal cancer. The shitier cop is played by Sam Rockwell and he really is the star of the movie, as he is the only character who changes. But even though he goes from criminal assault to actually trying to do his job, I never felt any sympathy for him. Primarily because this film is just so badly written. I wouldn’t think that even a first year film student could write something so illogical and nonsensical.

McDormand’s character lights the police hq on fire, is not arrested or charged with any crime despite the fact that Rockwell is seriously burned. This director really doesn’t understand how the law works. Rockwell is sitting in the police station (but with earphones on!) yet he doesn’t notice the raging inferno around him. Maybe the fact that the room he is in is getting brighter and brighter would tip him off? The Rockwell cop character also beats an innocent man nearly to death and throws him out of a window in broad daylight right in front of his new captain and about 20 witnesses. He loses his job but is not arrested or charged with any crime. Is Ebbing, Missouri a town that’s in a state of anarchy or what?

This movie sucked.

2 stars outta 5

Nominations:
Best actress Frances McDormand
Best actor in a supporting role Woody Harrelson
Best actor in a supporting role Sam Rockwell

Lady Bird

This is another one of those identity politics movies that gets nominated for awards even though it’s nothing more than an after school special. But it’s got gay dudes, token minorities, fat acceptance, 9/11 references, girl power… it’s got all of that shit. It’s supposedly a coming of age story but the main character played by Saoirse Ronan learns nothing by the end and simply returns to being the exact same person she was before the movie started. It’s the story of a really lame rebellion phase. It’s also supposed to be a comedy but I didn’t laugh once. It’s boring, it’s set in 2002 for no reason, and nothing happens.

This movie super sucked.

1 star

So naturally it is nominated for …
Best Picture
Best director Greta Gerwig
Best actress Saoirse Ronan
Best supporting actress Laurie Metcalf

I, Tonya

Finally a watchable movie. It does help that I am a fan of ladies figure skating. I watched the entire 4 hour version of the free skate this Olympics, but not on NBC of course. They decided to show boring bobsledding and skiing instead. How many times can you watch someone slide down a hill before you get bored to death? But I digress. The figure skating in this movie is a special effect of course as Margot Robbie is no Olympic figure skater. She is also wildly miscast and looks nothing like Tanya Harding. The fact that Harding is frumpy white trash is a big part of her character arc so casting a stick-thin Australian fox seems misguided. Maybe she lobbied for the part… who knows, but it doesn’t work.

The skating scenes are still very well done as the camera gets the viewer right on the ice with her. The only problems come up when Robbie’s face has to be digitally placed on top of the face of the double. Sometimes it works, but most of the time it just looks uncanny. The way to go for this movie would have been to cast a real ice skater and just cast better known actors around her in supporting roles. The movie also strangely views Harding as a victim, as if she had no idea that her husband was going to have her rival Nancy Kerrigan attacked. But still this biopic was better than most of the other crap getting nominated for awards  this year.

3 stars

Nominations:
Best actress Margot Robbie
Best supporting actress Allison Janney

The Post

While perhaps a bit too long, this is heads above that other newspaper movie Spotlight that undeservedly won Best Picture in 2016. It would be quite a feat if this movie was bad considering the talent involved. Spielberg and Hanks shine as usual with beautiful lighting courtesy of Janusz Kaminski. The plot of course covers the famous Pentagon Papers which showed that the government knew the US was losing in Vietnam but kept sending conscripted teenagers to die anyways. The Washington Post thought that publishing the classified papers could potentially ruin the paper but in the end it resulted in a sales boom. Honestly my favorite part about it was just seeing how news was printed and consumed in ancient times.

3 stars

Nominations:
Best Picture
Best actress Meryl Streep

Braven ***

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Braven is a 2018 action movie vehicle for Jason Momoa. It co-stars Stephen Lang as Momoa’s dad (he looks nothing like him but whatever), and the versatile Garret Dillahunt as the psychopathic heavy.

I have to say this is probably one of the better movies I’ve seen this year. It was just refreshing to see a well-told unpretentious action movie that introduces all of the archetypes, the beautiful setting of Newfoundland, the conflict, and then lets it all play out over a period of one day.

The conflict arises when Momoa takes his mentally ailing father to their hunting cabin to reconnect and they both discover that someone has stashed a million bucks worth of quality H in their tool shed. If you have seen Commando then you know where this is going. The criminals come at the two with paramilitary precision and weaponry and the simple blue collar father and son team must defend themselves with only a rifle, a bow and arrow, fire, and some tools. Some of the kills are clever and have never been done before. The villain is ruthless and charismatic. The setting is, as mentioned, a nice change of scenery. The music is also pretty good.

Braven is the directorial debut of long time stunt coordinator Lin Oeding. Momoa is great as the lead. I just wanted to see more of him. I would like to see a sequel to this more like Rambo II where we won’t need any exposition and we can just get to the action.

3 bear traps outta 5

A Quiet Place ***

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Plot holes the size of an Abrams tank hurt this film but I did still enjoy it and can see why it was a minor hit. It’s an interesting premise and it moves with constant tension and action. Much like with The Walking Dead the viewer is constantly befuddled by nagging internal questions like “Well why didn’t they just soundproof an apartment building next to a supermarket and just chill for the rest of their lives?” Or “Why didn’t they soundproof ANYTHING?” Or “Why don’t they watch their kids better?” Or “Why in the fuck would you get pregnant in the Apocalypse?” But other than that it’s still a fun movie. I sadly saw it in a theater with a sci-fi movie playing next door so my experience was not as “quiet” as I would have liked.

3 weaponized hearing aids outta 5

The Field (1990) ***

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I wanted to watch something Irish for St. Patrick’s Day to go along with my Guinness bread, vegan Shepherd’s Pie, and cabbage so it was finally time to watch this thing.

My initial comment on the DVD is that the transfer is of poor quality. I have only seen two other DVD/blu-rays that were this bad and those were The Whole Wide World (the Robert E. Howard biopic) and Wall Street. We are so used to seeing dust and scratch free images now that it’s unusual to see a dirty transfer. But I will say it wasn’t as bad as those other two films and it didn’t impact the experience too badly. The sound was fine.

The story is about a psychopathic old tenant farmer played by Richard Harris and his mentally handicapped son played by a young Sean Bean. They live in squalor and are obsessed with a three acre piece of land that they have worked for a generation even though they do not own it. But the Harris character ‘Bull’ McCabe thinks he owns it because he’s worked it so long. Welcome to capitalism Mr. McCabe!

He says there is a difference between “The Law” which says the owner can sell it anytime she wants to and “The Law of the Land” which he says entitles him to the field because he dug so many rocks out of it over the years. So he already is clearly not on board the reality train. But the people of this rocky, barely habitable Irish fjord are nice people and when the field goes up for auction they will allow the crazy old man to be the single unopposed bidder. Until… in a direct contrast to the worn out downtrodden Irish in comes a smooth as silk Yank, played by Tom Berenger, who offers more than the old man could ever afford.

I don’t know if this was the filmmaker’s intent but I immediately sided with the Berenger character. Not only is he a smooth dresser who drives a cool car, but his family came from that town and he wants to build a dam on the land, a project that would create badly needed jobs and cheap electricity. Set in the ‘30s this town is still such a backwater that there are no electric lights in most of the homes. But Bull can’t have this, he must have HIS land so he murders Berenger in cold blood with his son’s help. Catholic guilt is a real thing and after getting scolded by the town priest, McCabe goes “super crazy” and then the real killing in earnest begins.

The photography, locations, music, and acting are all excellent. Harris especially carries the movie. However I kept wanting to see more of the civilized American. Berenger had to be one of the most handsome men in Hollywood at that time. He just stands out so sharply against the dirt poor and crazy Irish. John Hurt is even lower class than McCabe as a toothless barely understandable stooge. Everyone but the American and the priest is dirty, drunken, and poor. So very, very poor. So it’s not exactly a “fun” movie. Many animals are killed throughout and that was a turn off for my wife. I don’t know how they accomplished the animals dying, whether they used corpses or dummies, but hopefully they didn’t actually kill them just for the movie.

So it’s probably not the best St. Patty’s Day movie to watch but the acting is so good that I have to at least give it…

3 shamrocks outta 5

Star Wars 8: The Last Jedi *

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John Williams is probably the only reason I don’t give it zero stars. It’s sad that his name has to be associated with this disaster. Same for Mark Hamill. He’s making millions off this trilogy so I can’t say I blame him for doing it, but if it weren’t for the money I’m sure he would have told Disney to take a hike after he read the script.

Luke here is a coward, traitor, and curmudgeon. Hmm, I seem to ‘member him being selfless, brave, and optimistic. He burns down a Jedi Temple and all of it’s sacred texts. He says “The Jedi must be destroyed.” WTF??

J.J. Abram’s made us care about Rey’s (the new female Luke) mysterious origins in the last movie. He made it seem like her parents were somebody. Same with the Sith Lord Snoke. We never find out who he is either. Last Order? No idea who they are or how they came to be. Clearly Disney wrote no backstory.

And yes, Leia flies through the vacuum of space without a space suit. The problem with that is 1) even Lord Vader (the most powerful Jedi of all time) couldn’t do that and 2) we’ve never seen Leia use The Force except to communicate with Luke. But now she can’t even do that, but she can survive in the vacuum of space and fly like Supergirl. And that’s a huge problem with this movie. The Force is way too strong. Luke uses it to “enter the Matrix” for chrissakes. Vader never did that. The Emperor never did that. Kylo (the new boyishly lame Vader) and Rey use it to talk across light years of space like it’s a walkie talkie. And apparently it doesn’t even take years of training to master it any more. Luke teaches Rey nothing, she just becomes a Jedi on her own.

Not only is this the worst Star Wars movie by far, it’s one of the worst blockbusters ever made. Nothing makes sense. If the chrome stormtrooper Phasma has armor that can repel blaster fire then why wouldn’t every stormtrooper have that armor? Why did Luke make a map to himself if he just wanted to be left alone to die? It’s an epic fail of storytelling besides destroying the legacy of the original movies. Everything the Rebellion fought for is completely meaningless now. Vader’s sacrifice? Pointless. It stole many of the plot points from the old movies again. It’s just a train wreck. I would compare it to The Matrix 3 or Highlander 2 for it’s incompetent mishandling of a series.

1 fan film outta 5

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me ***

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This documentary film by Drew DeNicola tells the story of a little known but influential rock band from the ’70s. If you are a fan of The Jesus and Mary Chain, REM, or The Replacements then you’ve probably heard of these guys or at least would recognize the influence. The primary force in the band was Alex Chilton, singer of the ’60s hit “The Letter.” He wrote most of the songs with lead guitar player Chris Bell. Responsible for the engineering of the pretentiously titled “#1 Album” Bell dropped out of the band after the record failed to go #1 or even close. After destroying the master tapes the rest of his life was a downward slide of drugs, depression, and religion. He died in 1978 in a car crash.

Chilton likewise was a madman and abandoned the project that he would be best known for. Big Star only made three albums with the third one not even getting published until years after it was recorded. The documentary goes to great lengths show how bad marketing and an ahead of it’s time sound kept the music from gaining popularity. Well that’s life isn’t it? No one is owed anything no matter how talented. Vincent Van Gogh sold one painting while he was alive.

This doc is very well done and engaging but because the lifespan of Big Star was so short it lacks gravitas. Chilton would go on experiment with the punk sound and became a producer for The Cramps and other lesser known bands. Even though he said he hated Big Star he saw where the money was finally and reformed them in ’90s to capitalize on the Nirvana trend. He died in 2010. It’s not a great film, but it is very good and recommended for fans of indie/alternative music.

3 Big Stars Outta 5

Star Trek Beyond **

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Star Trek: Generations looks like Citizen Kane next to Star Trek Beyond. At least I felt some emotions during the former. Beyond is an exciting non-stop thrill ride, but nothing else. There was zero character development or arch, even for the villain. Spock gets to do absolutely nothing of significance. It really is Fast and Furious with space ships. It is not even a science fiction film, but an action adventure. There were no Romulans, no Klingons, or any of the famous Star Trek civilizations. The Enterprise crew is defending a space station and that’s the whole movie. Simon Pegg lied through his crooked teeth when he said this would appeal to Star Trek fans. Star Trek usually involves science and exploration. Neither were present in this movie. But if shoot outs, death defying stunts, and racing are your things, you will love it. The action is top notch as ILM threw everything they had on screen. The movie is so beautiful, it’s really a shame that they couldn’t find a story to tell. They could have grabbed any old Star Trek comic book or novel and just made that. But instead the plot merely leads us from one action set piece to the next. It is by far the weakest of the three reboots yet not as bad as Star Trek: Insurrection.

2 Nanobots Outta 5

Pegg also made a cringe worthy intro to the movie begging people to stop watching Netflix and go to obsolete theaters instead. They’re getting desperate. Make good movies and they will come. But this empty vfx-fest will play just fine on a 60″ home theater screen.

Hell or High Water ***

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Hell or High Water is a modern cops and robbers drama set in west Texas. Jeff Bridges continues his streak playing tough grizzled lawmen. Chris Pine delivers another great but understated performance as Bridges foil. I could watch these two read soup cans back and forth to each other all day. But sadly they only interact once in the entire film, but boy it’s some damn good acting. Ben Foster, who was probably cast because of his role as Billy Badass in 3:10 to Yuma, essentially plays the same role in this film. He and Pine are brothers and bank robbing partners. I don’t really buy Foster in this role. He’s supposed to be a tough guy but he doesn’t look so tough. He’s got a nerdy kid kind of face, which was covered up by a beard in 3:10 to Yuma and that helped immensely. He is probably most famous for playing Angel in X-Men 3. His character, unlike Pine’s, is also fairly one-dimentional. He also looks a little bit like Sean Penn which is maybe why I don’t like his face.  Tongue He also happened to be engaged to Penn’s ex, Robin Wright.

But this is really Bridge’s movie. He’s given more screen time than Pine and is on the side of lawful good. Pine is supposed to be the robber with the heart of gold, but it’s a highly unsympathetic role. The plot is dead simple Western formula: the two brothers’ family ranch is about to get taken over by the evil banks and they have only a matter of days to get the money to pay off the mortgage and liens. Even so, robbing banks is still a stupid and dangerous way to help your family out. You can see a bit of Heat in this film, where they want you to feel sympathetic for the cops and robbers, but not enough time is spent with Pine to really get to know him.

There are enough twists in this otherwise formulaic crime movie to keep it interesting. It’s also always nice to watch a film shot somewhere other than Los Angeles.

3 Foreclosures Outta 5

Baby Driver ***

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Heralded by critics as one of the best films of the year, Baby Driver deftly moves it’s crime/thriller/comedy story along at a fast clip yet it lives in a world of quirky unreality. Much like Edgar Wright’s other films Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim, the laws of logic and physics take a second seat to the action. People don’t die after getting shot. Bullets don’t impact main cast members even though they are clearly standing in the way of them. Crimes of murder and felony bank robbery are punished with light sentences. Rather than sweating bullets during a robbery that would guarantee 30 to life, Baby sings along to his mp3s with a smile.

So once you realize that this story doesn’t take place on Earth, but rather in a manchild’s imagination, you can at least enjoy the ride. Car stunts are great as is the cast which includes Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal, and Jamie Foxx who blows everyone else off screen.

Like Guardians of the Galaxy the film utilized a plethora of ‘70s R&B hits. I don’t know, I just don’t think a 20 year old kid would be into that stuff. They try to explain why (his Mom was an R&B singer) but I still find it unlikely. It’s just a movie trope right now, ripped off from Tarantino movies of the ’90s.

It’s worth watching but this story could never happen.

3 stars outta 5