Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Something's Gotta Give - 8 stars out of 10

Something's Gotta Give - 8 stars out of 10

I avoided “Something’s Gotta Give” for many years.  I’d always see it sitting in my Netflix queue or catch the opening credits on TBS and think “Who wants to watch a love story about old people?  Its DVD cover looks just like ‘As Good As It Gets,’ it’s probably exactly the same.”  Even with an Oscar nomination in Diane Keaton’s name, there always seemed to be something more youthful and energetic that I’d rather watch.  After dodging it for a decade, it inevitably turned out to be a great film that I wish I had seen a lot sooner.  “Something’s Gotta Give” is an intriguing romantic comedy that grabs your attention with the chemistry of its actors and then keeps you engaged with a story that moves in unexpected directions.  Most films create drama with a love triangle but this film has so many triangles that it is basically a lesson in geometry.  The initial love triangle is a little awkward but perfectly sets up the remainder of the story.  Jack Nicholson lights up the screen as an old-but-energetic music producer who loves to date women of a much younger age.  Keaton is a worthy adversary when it comes to putting him in his place and she hits a ton of different emotional notes throughout the film.  The montage of moments when she bursts into tears is magnificent.  Even though she gets overshadowed by the film’s lead veterans, I truly loved Amanda Peet in this film.  Keanu Reeves offers the quality of acting that we generally expect from him but gets to deliver one of the most underrated great comedic lines in all of film: [Holds up flowers] "These are for you to give me when you apologize."  The script is fantastic as it gives us an expectation and then spoils it.  You will be expecting the movie to resolve and end after an hour, and then the plot goes in a really great direction.  Especially once Nicholson sees the play.  “Something’s Gotta Give” will have you laughing out loud and loving every unexpected moment that appears from start to finish.

[Pictured: The script is great but the chemistry between every pairing of characters is what makes this film special]

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Jaws: The Revenge (1987) - 1 star out of 10

Jaws: The Revenge (1987) - 1 star out of 10

The “Jaws” series is perplexing.  The original is one of the most revered films of all time.  The original summer blockbuster.  The movie that made vacationers afraid to go in the water for years.  “Jaws 2” saw a decrease in quality as Steven Spielberg departed, knowing that it could not be done better.  After all, now that the audience had seen the shark, his Hitchcockian approach to suspense wouldn’t fly.  When that film failed and it became obvious that the series could never live up to the original, Universal decided to rely on a gimmick with “Jaws 3-D.”  The result was an abomination when compared to what preceded it.  It was so bad that they decided to completely ignore the events of “3-D,” recast the characters, and they wouldn’t even give the title a number.  Thus, “Jaws: The Revenge” was born.  It is impossible to decide whether “3-D” or “Revenge” was worse, solely because they are both so bad that they are impossible to analyze from a quality film standpoint.  Unlike the first three films in the series that were notorious for their challenging production issues and constant delays, this film was thrown together in 5 months.  The story opens in Amityville where a great white inexplicably happens to be lurking in the water, kills a policeman (who we pretend wasn’t a SeaWorld employee in the previous film), and forms a sort of psychic bond with Mrs. Brody.  She flees to the Bahamas to live with her son Mike, a graduate student studying marine biology (who we pretend wasn’t an engineer in the previous film) and to escape the shark… who manages to follow her there a day later.  This film has a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Let that set in.  Michael Caine could not accept his Oscar because he was filming “The Revenge,” but even an Oscar-winner can’t bring any quality to the silly dialogue and unreasonably farfetched story.  The acting is simply horrendous and it was a sincere challenge to get to the end of the film.  The film needs the original’s slow buildup of suspense but instead, we are left with the 10% of the film where we see the shark and the other 90% where the cast is obviously biding time until the next action sequence.  I would love to see a “Jaws” reboot someday, solely so that this doesn’t have to be our final taste of the franchise.  Whatever you do, please watch the original and let that be the only “Jaws” story that you know.  Ignorance is bliss.

[Pictured: Once you’ve incorporated a shark attacking an airplane, you know that it’s probably time to stop making these movies]

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express (2017) - 8 stars out of 10

Murder on the Orient Express (2017) - 8 stars out of 10

The latest big-screen adaptation of “Murder on the Orient Express” is much better than the critics would have you believe.  The ensemble cast does not disappoint, gathering together the talents of Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Josh Gad, Leslie Odom Jr., Daisy Ridley, Lucy Boynton (the girl from “Sing Street”), and more!  The artistry of the film is visually beautiful while the screenplay helps to enhance and flesh out Agatha Christie’s classic mindbender.  I thought that the opening sequence was a clever way to introduce us to Poirot.  Some of the train sequences felt like they were straight out of “Snowpiercer,” but how can you have a modern Hollywood film without a disaster sequence?  Purists might dislike the rewriting of a few characters (making Cruz’s character Hispanic and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo’s character Cuban to match their ethnicities) but I welcomed the additional diversification of this group of strangers.  The more distinguishing characteristics between the train passengers, the better once the twist is revealed.  My main issue with the film is that, with so many great actors and interesting characters, there simply is not enough time to utilize them all.  Branagh has had great success as both an actor and a director (earning Oscars in both categories throughout his career), and he thrives in both roles throughout this production.  His multi-faceted interpretation of Poirot is Oscar-worthy and I hope that he will reprise this role in future films.  Pfeiffer has out of vogue for many years but grabs the spotlight back as Caroline Hubbard.  Had the film been better received, I believe that this performance could have revitalized her career.  My favorite performance comes from Dafoe, who never ceases to amaze me with the number of roles that he can play in a memorable way.

The main complaint of critics is the film’s slow pace, but I found the pacing necessary to build suspense and reveal each new turn of the mystery in the proper timing.  While the final 15 minutes give the impression of dragging on, it is actually a fault in the musical score that gives us this impression.  The emotion and impressive delivery of dialogue in this finale is a worthy interpretation of Agatha Christie’s ending, but the lack of thematic variety in the music creates a disjointed feel.  The theme plays throughout an important scene, then there is a brief transition in which the music pauses for a minute, then comes back in with the same material for the next scene.  This pattern continues on for several scenes and makes it seem as if the ending drags on when all that is needed to create fluidity is a varying of the music.  I don’t know if this is the fault of composer Patrick Doyle or editor Mick Audsley, but it seems like a reworking of the music toward the end could have easily created a better flow for the film.  I suspect that the critics approached this film with the attitude that the classic 1974 adaptation of the novel was good enough and that another take on it is unnecessary.  It is a shame because, with their approval, this film could’ve been an Oscar contender for its costuming, production design, and some of its actors.  If the critics would have taken the time to view “Murder on the Orient Express” as a standalone film without comparison, they probably would have loved it as much as I did.

[Pictured: It would have been impossible to choose a more exciting cast]

Monday, November 27, 2017

Jaws 3-D (1983) - 1 star out of 10

Jaws 3-D (1983) - 1 star out of 10

The only thing worse than watching "Jaws 3-D" is watching "Jaws 3-D" in 2-D.  It certainly isn't worth watching for its silly plot and without the gimmick of 3-D, you’d might as well just watch the first one a second (or third) time.  I consider "Jaws 2" to be a bad movie which forces me to categorize "Jaws 3" as utterly terrible.  Every aspect of the film is like a punch to the Jaw (see what I did there) when compared with the original.  Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” was riveting, masterfully acted, and groundbreaking in its technical execution.  I had hoped that “Jaws 2” was merely a fluke (see what I did there with the fish pun) due to its young cast, but “Jaws 3-D” manages to be significantly worse.  The acting is so bad that half of the movie seems like they left the cameras on between takes and accidentally recorded mundane, non-emotional conversations.  I’m sure that Dennis Quaid doesn’t even bother listing this film on his resume.  One of the most bothersome aspects is the shark footage, which is painfully obvious in its use of fast motion to create a sense of speed but it just makes it look incredibly fake.  Storywise, there's actually a pretty interesting twist.  If there were some sort of redemption amidst this mess, it would be that moment of realization that the film isn’t over.  Jaws invades SeaWorld – it could have been such a cool setting for a shark attack.  But the acting and technical execution of the script are so poor that it's hard to care once the twist rolls around.  “Jaws 3-D” is a total trainwreck but there is hope for the “Jaws” legacy: the next film series completely ignores the events of this film and recasts all of its horribly acts characters.  If “Jaws 3-D” never happened, the next film will redeem this sad tangent… right?

[Pictured: The film is bad enough, but watching the originally 3-D effects in 2-D makes it that much more painful]

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Wonder Woman (2017) - 8 stars out of 10

Wonder Woman (2017) - 8 stars out of 10

"Wonder Woman" was a breath of fresh air amidst an over-saturated market of superhero movies.  Its interesting origin story pairs with a superb performance by Gal Gadot to keep us engaged from start to finish.  Her energy and charisma are reason enough to watch.  I've often complained about the Thor films because the concept of coming from another dimension and the cheesy sci-fi costumes that come along with it immediately take away the plausibility of the story.  Wonder Woman has a similar story that involves her being a god but is surprisingly more believable since their world exists within our world instead of requiring multi-dimensional travel.  I still don't love the moment when she's floating in the air for extended periods of time but I appreciate that her story feels believable.  The script has a good pace and calls on an action-packed moment at just the right moment every time.  Its twist is perfectly placed to bring closure at the moment that we would typically lose interest and then push the story in a fresh direction the engaged us until the end.  Throw in some menacing bad guys, the quality acting of Robin Wright, Chris Pine, Danny Huston, and David Thewlis, and well-executed special effects for a satisfying cinematic experience.  I especially loved the musical score by Rupert Gregson-Williams.  It offers the unique contrast of lushly orchestrated themes paired with the adrenaline-pumping electric guitar motive that drives many of the action sequences.  The range of emotions represented in this score is the icing on the cake of this complete package.  "Wonder Woman" has its cheesy moments and will never live up to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy; however, in an era where I've sworn off superhero movies, I would actually see this one twice.

[Pictured: Gal Gadot absolutely kicks butt in this role.]

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Jaws 2 (1978) - 3 stars out of 10

Jaws 2 (1978) - 3 stars out of 10

“Jaws” is a masterpiece.  I always wondered why the first film in the franchise focused on the three male leads and didn’t take time for us to get to know any of the other characters.  “Jaws 2” answers that question.  Hot off the heels of Steven Spielberg’s 1975 blockbuster, Universal saw a huge money grab: create a sequel but forget the story, the shark is all that matters.  They couldn’t get Spielberg to do another film.  They couldn’t get Richard Dreyfuss to sign on.  Roy Scheider was only there due to a contractual obligation.  And the end result is a bunch of sailing sequences and annoying teenage interactions that buy time until the next shark attack.  By focusing the story on teenagers, the quality of acting is very low and you can tell that Scheider felt stifled by a film where everybody wants to see the shark instead of his lead character.  Everything success that the original film had in building suspense, showing character transformation, creating memorable moments, and engaging the audience is completely lost on this sequel.  Sadly, “Jaws 2” embodies the stereotype that we have built around this series.

[Pictured: "Jaws 2" is all about the shark and leaves every shred of quality behind]

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Big Sick - 9 stars out of 10

The Big Sick - 9 stars out of 10

I adored "The Big Sick" for its concept, realism, and ability to infuse comedy into a dramatic situation without becoming an uncomfortable dark comedy.  But why did they need so many f-words?  Unfortunately, this is a prime example of the modern culture of comedy.  Dozens of f-words weren't necessary to create the realism of this plot nor did they make any moment funnier than it would have been without them.  And yet, Hollywood has dictated that a film cannot be considered “funny” without an explosion of profanity (see every Melissa McCarthy film ever created).  The true shame is that this film is full of important messages about love, race, forgiveness, and self-discovery, but its audiences will be limited solely based on this R-rating.  With an adjustment of unnecessary f-words and sacrifice of a few sexual jokes, this could be an incredible PG-13 dramatic comedy that parents could use to teach their children important lessons about the modern world.  But then it wouldn't receive any Oscar nominations, so Emily Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani did what they had to do.  I don't blame them, but I wish that their incredible script could be experienced by a much wider audience.

Now that I've gotten that rant out of the way, I was completely mesmerized by this unique story and haven't been able to get it off of my mind since.  When you consider the pieces of this puzzle - a Pakistani stand-up comedian, an average American girl, the debate between love and arranged marriage, cultural tradition, goofball parents with their own baggage, and a medical tragedy - there is no way that these pieces should fit together.  And yet, this unbelievable/illogical story is based on true events so it has to work!  I believe that the key is the film’s tone.  The events of the story easily could have been romanticized into an overdramatic, far-fetched story.  They also could have focused on creating a sense of humorous irony around the unfortunate circumstances of the characters as we’d expect from a dark comedy.  Instead, Nanjiani and Gordon incorporate lighthearted dialogue throughout the story’s saddest moments in the same way that someone might make jokes at a funeral, allowing the moments to remain sad but maintaining a sense of happiness.  The end result feels organic and real with everything culminating in the perfect ending.  The ending's subtlety probably has RomCom fans upset that they don't get a super-emotional, tear-jerking ending, but it is necessary to preserve the realism of the story.  Nanjiani is the perfect lead character with his natural comedic timing and there is nobody better suited to tell this story than the man who lived it.  I love the casting of Zoe Kazan as she has an attractive-but-typical appearance, an endearing personality, and plays perfectly off of Nanjiani’s comedy.  She is the real reason that we want them to be together.  The depth of the cast comes from veteran actors Ray Romano, Holly Hunter, Anupam Kher, and Zenobia Shroff who use their acting chops to round out the otherwise young cast.  These supporting characters are well-developed with a clever contrast that helps to embody the conflict between the leads: one set of parents delivers comedy and a sense of adaptability while the other pair is more serious and deeply rooted in tradition.  Overall, I give the acting high marks as Hunter, Romano, and Nanjiani create impressive emotional moments.  I found “The Big Sick” to be topical toward many of today’s issues while maintaining a timelessness that will keep it relevant for many years to come.  I will probably never watch it again due to its extreme use of unnecessary profanity but I will always appreciate it for being a triumph of storytelling and character development.

[Pictured: You will fall in love with Nanjiani and Kazan from the very first Uber ride]