Category Archives: Movies

At The Movies: Justice League

DC Comics’ long-awaited attempt at putting together an all-star super-team movie has arrived. While on paper, the Justice League boasts a more powerful lineup than the Avengers, on film the A-team has nothing to worry about.

“Justice League” is a mixed bag. While I enjoyed it overall, it suffers from the usual weaknesses that plague comic book movies.

THE GOOD: The cast is the film’s biggest strength, which is key since that’s the main reason anyone is going to this movie — to see DC’s big guns interact. And it is fun seeing these iconic characters hook up for the first time.

Gal Godot’s Wonder Woman continues to be the franchise’s strongest link. She’s always captivating on screen. Ben Affleck is just as good a Batman/Bruce Wayne as anyone else to don the cape and cowl and better than some. Henry Cavill finally brings some charm and light to the previously dour Superman. I guess being reborn improves one’s attitude.

As far as the newbies, Jason Momoa — while bearing no resemblance in look or personality to his comic book counterpart — does a good job with the role of smartass/badass that is, of all people, Aquaman. Ezra Miller is fine in the comic relief role of the Flash — again playing a part that really doesn’t mesh with the comic book persona.  Last, and by all means least, we have Ray Fisher as Cyborg. It’s not that he does a bad job with the character, it’s just that the character isn’t fleshed out (irony not intended).

The special effects and action sequences are decent, especially if you love the way director Zack Snyder directs action sequences. Because this is exactly like every other movie he’s directed. Highly stylized with lots of slow-motion, sudden stops and starts, and the action usually takes place at night or in darkened places.

To his credit, Snyder does the best Batman visuals put to film. He gets that Batman should be able to move, and move quickly. He also does great with the posing.

The movie boasts a lighter tone than its predecessors “Man of Steel” and “Superman V. Batman,” which is a good thing. Joss Whedon was brought in to help Snyder finish the film and his trademark sense of humor keeps the film from being too solemn.

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THE BAD:  “Justice League” certainly isn’t the first comic book movie to feature a weak, choppy plot and a boring, colorless villain. It’s another alien invasion story, this one led by the uninspired, uber-powerful baddie Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds — not the band).

Steppenwolf has come to Earth to bring together three Mother Boxes that will transform our planet into a hellhole, the better for it to be taken over by Steppy’s boss Darkseid.

I think. The movie doesn’t do a very good job of explaining the plot at all. Nor does it adequately give us background on the new characters. I would’ve liked to have seen more of Aquaman in his element, or Cyborg before his accident.

THE UGLY: Outside of the big three, the costume designs are hideous. Aquaman looks better in tattoos and swim trunks than the thing he wears to fight evil. Cyborg is a human head on a robot body, and it’s not a good look. But the worst fashion disaster is the Flash. A guy who’s talent is running should not be wearing such an oddly jagged, busy costume. There’s something seriously wrong when your TV version looks so much better than you do.

THE SUMMARY: I think DC would’ve been wise to follow Marvel’s playbook and introduce the characters individually before bringing them together. There’s just too much going on shoved into a 2-hour time frame. Still, it’s not as dark and bleak as Snyder’s previous DC movies and the cast is strong and it’s entertaining seeing them all together.

As Superman’s chest emblem would say — there’s hope.

 

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At The Movies: Thor: Ragnarok

In Norse mythology, Ragnarok is the great final battle where the gods fight and die and the world ends. Think of it as the viking version of Armageddon.

So you wouldn’t think a movie about such an event would be a funny, fun-loving adventure — and yet that’s what you get with “Thor: Ragnarok.”

When last we saw the God of Thunder (at the end of “Avengers: Age of Ultron”) he had left Earth to seek out the Infinity Stones, which have been plaguing Marvel Studios’ movies for some time. As our new story begins, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is chained up in the subterranean lair of Surtur (Clancy Brown).

DIBDRP1UwAAtU6JSurtur is planning on bringing about Ragnarok, but his plans are thwarted by Thor’s hammer. Thor returns to his home in Asgard, only to find father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) missing and brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) on the throne. (He would’ve already known this if he had watched “Thor: The Dark World.”)

With help from Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Thor and Loki find Odin on a bluff in Norway. Odin warns that despite defeating Surtur, Ragnarok cannot be stopped. Only now it’s going to come in the form of Hela, Goddess of Death (Cate Blanchett).

As if on cue, Hela arrives. After a very brief skirmish, Thor and Loki and hurtled into space while Hela makes her way to Asgard. She is greeted by Skurge (Karl Urban), who has replaced the missing Heimdall (Idris Elba) as guardian of the Rainbow Bridge. Together they cut a bloody swath through the home of the gods.

Elsewhere, Thor lands on the planet Sakaar, a world run by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). The thunder god is quickly captured by a bounty hunter who was once one of the Norse warrior women, the Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). She takes Thor to the Grandmaster for use in his popular gladiatorial games.

The Grandmaster’s reining champion turns out to be none other than Thor’s incredible avenging buddy, the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Now Thor simply has to defeat the Hulk, escape the Grandmaster, deal with Loki, and return to Asgard to stop Hela. And all without his beloved hammer.

Director Taika Waititi (who also plays the friendly rock monster Korg) has put the Thor franchise back on top after a disappointing second outing. The laughs are welcome and plentiful, but there are also some grim, violent moments and some touching ones as well. The film has heart as well as humor, thrilling action, outrageous costumes and nifty special effects.

Some old favorites had to make way for all the new faces, but the additions brought a fresh feel to the film. The Thor franchise continues to prove it has the best villains in the MCU, with Blanchett’s Hela proving just as wickedly entertaining as Hiddleston’s Loki.

And it’s nice to finally see the Hulk get a voice and a personality beyond “smash.”

Granted, some of the comedy is overdone and the light-hearted tone doesn’t always mesh with the end-of-the-world plot. But as a big, goofy, sometimes absurd, superhero tale it gets the job done.

2017 hasn’t been a great year in many respects but it’s been an impressive one for superhero movies. “Thor: Ragnarok” joins “Guardians of the Galaxy 2,” “Wonder Woman” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” as stellar action-adventure entertainment. Will “Justice League” be in the same league? We’ll know in a few weeks.

 

At The Movies: Suburbicon

George Clooney and Joel and Ethan Coen have teamed up to make some fine films. “Suburbicon” is not one of them.

Directed by Clooney and written by Clooney, the  Coen brothers and Grant Heslov, “Suburbicon” starts off as some kind of social satire then veers into a bleak crime drama. The two elements never intersect in any meaningful way and the result is a disappointing mess — especially given the talent involved.

6277303633381048b2a7a04c96275bea_300x442The story centers around Nicky Lodge (Noah Jupe), a quiet boy growing up in the all-white enclave of Suburbicon in the 1950s. A black family has moved in next door, much to the horror of the other residents. This is played for laughs in the beginning, but soon takes a dark turn.

Nicky lives with his father Gardner (Matt Damon), mother Rose, and Rose’s identical twin sister Margaret (both played by Julianne Moore). One night a pair of burglars show up and in the commission of their crime, Rose is killed.

I can’t say much more without spoiling the plot, which unfolds at a snail’s pace.

Nicky befriends the boy next door (Tony Espinosa) and that’s the flimsy way in which these two story lines connect.

“Suburbicon” is pretty much “Fargo” but without the Francis McDormand character who gave that quirky murder tale its heart and brought some light to an otherwise morbid story. I suppose Nicky is supposed to fill that role, but he isn’t nearly as compelling.

A shout-out should be given to Oscar Issac who gives a brief but memorable performance as an insurance investigator. He’s one of the few highlights in this misfire. The film looks good and has a definite 1950s America feel about it.

One expects the unusual and fresh from the Coen brothers, but there’s nothing original about stating that there’s a dark side to suburbia, and “Suburbicon” doesn’t bring anything new to the table.

 

 

 

At The Movies: The Snowman

I can barely generate the strength to write my thoughts on “The Snowman.” Which is fitting, given how lethargic the actual film is.

Based on a crime novel by Jo Nesbo, this thriller (and I’m being generous using that word) stars Michael Fassbender as Harry Hole, a detective in Norway with a once stellar reputation who now lives life awash in alcohol and ennui. Why is he this way? Who knows? Director Tomas Alfredson can’t be bothered to give us much in the way of motivation or back story for many of the characters involved, including the lead.

MV5BNDg1NjYyMTEyOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzY4MDMyMzI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_One day Harry gets a mysterious note with a drawing of a snowman at the bottom. Shortly thereafter, women start disappearing. The crimes always happen when it’s snowing, and a snowman is left at the scene.

The events are similar to a series of crimes 9 years earlier. Those killings were investigated by Gert Rafto (Val Kilmer), another broken-down, alcoholic detective. Why is he that way? Who knows? I can only assume the cold and bleak climate really wears down crimestoppers.

A new detective (Rebecca Ferguson) is investigating the crimes, but Harry butts in because he doesn’t have anything else to do. (Not a lot of murders in Oslo. Maybe that’s why he’s depressed.)

The story slowly, ploddingly, ambles along to its not terribly shocking conclusion. The great J.K. Simmons gets dragged into this for no apparent reason. The film has a decent cast, but they’re wasted here. There’s also some graphic violence, but not attached to much that would attract horror fans.

“The Snowman” does get decent marks for atmosphere — you certainly feel trapped in a bitter, bleak environment as you’re sitting through it. And it does make something of a case for visiting Norway — there are some beautiful scenery and some frightening roads traveling through lovely, stark vistas.

But overall, the movie is an unfocused, muddled mess of undeveloped characters and plot.

 

At The Movies: Battle Of The Sexes

I don’t know enough tennis lingo to write a clever intro, so I’ll just say it straight: “Battle of the Sexes” is an entertaining look back at a gimmick tennis match between Billy Jean King and Bobby Riggs that was meant to settle the score between women’s libbers and male chauvinist pigs.

Ah, the ’70s. Life was so much simpler then.

Battle-of-the-Sexes-poster-500x732Emma Stone stars as Billy Jean King, a star of the women’s tennis circuit who isn’t happy that men are paid substanially more than women to hit a small round ball back and forth over a net. When she fails to win concessions from tennis commissioner Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman), King and some of her fellow players split off and start their own circuit. Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman), made the tour possible by snagging financial support from Virginia Slims cigarettes.

Cigarettes and sports. Life was so much simpler then.

Meanwhile, former tennis great and full-time hustler Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) is looking for his next big score. His gambling addiction is about to cost him his marriage, but he can’t stop. He sees the growing women’s movement and the backlash against it as his big ticket to renewed glory.

King wants nothing to do with this scheme, but when Riggs defeats tennis pro Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee) in a highly publicized bout, Billy Jean realizes she must take to the court. But as she’s about to step into a very big spotlight, she’s also struggling with a very private concern — her own sexuality.

Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, “Battle of the Sexes” is your standard feel-good sports drama. It’s elevated by strong performances from Stone and Carell. The story delivers an even-handed approach to both players and I would have liked to have seen more of their relationship.

 

 

 

 

At The Movies: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

If you enjoyed the hyper-intense action, crude humor, offbeat villains, dapper heroes, and frenetic energy of the 2014 spy-comedy-action thriller “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” well, the sequel serves up more of the same.

Based on a comic book by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar, “Kingsman” is about a top-secret British spy organization where everyone has cool-but-deadly toys and dresses impeccably. The film opens with a blistering fight/chase scene as our hero, Agent Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton), gets ambushed outside Kingsman headquarters.

Kingsman-Golden-Circle-intl-poster-600x887Eggsy — and the whole Kingsman organization — has become the target of this episode’s outlandish villain, Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore). Poppy is a drug kingpin who runs her secret criminal enterprise, The Golden Circle, from a hidden stronghold in Cambodia.

When Poppy wrecks havoc on the Kingsman operation, Eggsy and Merlin (a.k.a. the guy behind the computer, played by Mark Strong) are forced to flee to the U.S., where they hook up with their American counterpart — The Statesman. Operating out of a distillery in Kentucky, the group is led by Champagne, a.k.a. Champ (Jeff Bridges). Champ’s crew is made up of whip-wielding Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), gun-toting Tequila (Channing Tatum), and Ginger Ale (a.k.a. the gal behind the computer, played by Halle Berry).

Also hanging out at Statesman headquarters, much to Eggsy’s and Merlin’s surprise, is Kingsman supreme Harry Hart (Colin Firth) — presumably shot dead in the first film. Harry is suffering amnesia since being shot in the face, so Eggsy will have to wake up his mentor before they can team up and take down Poppy.

Directed once again by Matthew Vaughn, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” is ridiculous and over the top in every way — just like its predecessor. Yes, it’s not as fresh the second time around but the movie still manages to pull off more surprises than most of today’s films. The action sequences are impressive and the actors are charming.

Once again the film’s main weakness is its villain — Moore is just as absurd as Samuel L. Jackson was in the first film — and not always in a good way. Batman villains in the Adam West days were more subtle. I suppose that’s the point but it is hard to take threats seriously when they come from such whimsically weird characters.

Some people will complain about the movie’s 2.5 hour running time, but for a change I am not among them. It really didn’t feel like that long a movie when I was watching it and usually I’m ready for a film to be over at the 90 minute mark.

 

 

 

At The Movies: It

When did clowns get such a bad reputation? They used to be fun-loving jokesters — stars of TV, the circus and children’s birthday parties. Think Bozo, Ronald McDonald and Red Skelton.

Now, they’re better known for being creepy.

Some of the blame no doubt goes to Stephen King, whose 1986 novel “It” centers around a murderous, maniacal clown named Pennywise. It was made into a popular TV miniseries in 1990 and now comes the big screen version.

stephen_king_s_it__2017____poster___1_by_camw1n-daa4tl6Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) is an evil, magical thing that feeds on fear and comes up out of a well to terrorize children every 27 years. He meets his match, though, when he takes the little brother of Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher).

Bill is convinced his brother isn’t dead and spends the summer of 1988 searching for him in the small town of Derry with his loser friends — Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Stan (Wyatt Oleff), and Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer). They are later joined by the new kid, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the tomboy Bev (Sophia Lillis) and the outsider Mike (Chosen Jacobs).

Their tormentor – besides the killer clown – is town bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton). Bev’s father (Stephen Bogaert) isn’t very nice, either.

The kids just want to have a normal summer but horrifying visions keep getting in the way. Images that adults can’t see. This leads to not one, but two, showdowns with Pennywise in an abandoned house.

“It” is a decent, if long, old-school horror movie. It relies more on sudden shocks and scares — and actual character development — than gore and torture. I wasn’t all that impressed with the horror aspect of the movie, but there were one or two shocks. I was mostly interested in the kids and their relationships. The young actors were all pretty engaging.

The movie runs more than 2 hours which is a bit much for this sort of thing. And it’s clearly set up for a sequel so we can watch how the kids as adults deal with Penny. I’m betting we won’t have to wait 27 years for it.