2017

[Movie Review] The Force Returns as Beautiful as it is Dangerous in ‘The Last Jedi’

Fandom in all its forms is equal in its ability to disappoint and awe. You can’t please everyone and thus is the eternal struggle of the working artist. Rian Johnson has come from humble artistic origins to helming a geek property with a rabid fan base quick to swarm perceived failings. As a casual fan of the Star Wars franchise that will lose in spectacular faction at whatever trivia you can conjure there are few fatal flaws that this reviewer will dig up within the internal mythology. As a result in conjunction with being a fan of Johnson’s filmography The Last Jedi takes the series to near euphoric heights that previously felt out of reach.

Without boring anyone with regurgitating plot bears I’ll say just this to begin–this is not your father’s Star Wars. Rian Johnson admirably zigs when geeks everywhere expected him to zag, boldly interpreting this universe in his own unique way. By doing so the director explores complex and–sit down for this–NEW concepts behind where this universe could evolve. What that means for our beloved franchise is that characters may not behave or grow in ways we expect which many fans misinterpret as weakness in Johnson’s vision and refuse to accept a unique interpretation that isn’t just fascinating–sit down again–it also fits.

Cry for my geek cred to be revoked if you must–I don’t know how official any of these things are to begin with. So many people are focused on their own idea of how this franchise should have continued without stopping to realize we all have our own process for internalizing ideals and Star Wars is not immune to those seeds growing into something bigger or just (gasp) different from the original impetus. George Lucas opened this door for us all and were eternally grateful, but let’s face it, he nearly allowed the door to be welded shut forever. Now Johnson has stepped through the door lovingly opened once again by JJ Abrams with a swagger audiences simply aren’t attuned to–which is fine, but don’t assume that Johnson’s tune is inferior.

The Last Jedi doesn’t pander to fans coming back with rose colored glasses–especially as it pertains to Luke Skywalker or the his thus far. Sure, Luke’s arc is unexpected in how it undercuts the journey we’ve seen thus far, but The Force Awakens was criticized for not taking enough risks and following the SW formula. The Last Jedi is hitting stricter backlash for taking the risks that TFA didn’t make–further proof that as an artist you can’t please everyone.

If you can’t get on board with the story, one thing is certain–this is hands down the most beautiful Star Wars movie to date. The stunning color contrast of the salt planet with red soil during the climactic battle to the breathtaking visuals of a shattered ship after a collision at light speed. Johnson has created some of the most iconic and visually astonishing shots and sequences within the franchise to date. A throne room light saber battle takes center stage as the film’s most memorable moments–it’s color scheme, choreography, technical skill and audacity is unrivaled within the many films in canon.

The film’s biggest missteps consist of an unfortunate side mission for Fin involving a trip to an illustrious casino planet chock full of the galaxy’s most obnoxious creatures–though it does stuff in a timely and affecting theme. To counter it’s faults though, Johnson stuns with a number of clever emotional beats that pays off fumbled set ups while also having a little something to say about modern times with a wit that we simply could never have squeezed from latter day Lucas.

Episode VIII has proven to be one of the most challenging entries to the Star Wars universe when it comes to fans loyalties. It is without a doubt time for fans to let go of their preconceptions and…in the words of the wise Luke Skywalker, “Just breathe”. Rian Johnson is a filmmaker who’s passion is rivaled only by his own fandom and that’s why his direction of the franchise cannot and should not be shrugged off or maligned, but embraced with a ferocious Wookie hug. The Last Jedi isn’t just one of 2017’s best blockbuster offerings, it’s one of the finest Star Wars entry to date.

Rating: A-

Beer Recommendation: Coming from a galaxy far far away–well Iowa anyway–comes Intergalactic Warrior from Toppling Goliath Brewing Company. Nestled in Northeast Iowa Toppling Goliath pumps out world class beer left and right–despite transparent contract brews that somewhat tainted their standing for passionate beer geeks across the globe. Galaxy and Warrior hops combine to catapalty a juicy yet pleasantly bitter kick of citrus that collided with a full and crisp mouthfeel. The beer’s earthy finish cements Toppling Goliath’s unique approach to hop bombs that have made them the talk of the Midwest. Pairs perfectly with epic lightsaber battles and roasted Porg.

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[Movie Review] Edgy Advertising Pays Off for ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’

threebillboards_posterThe world Martin McDonagh creates in his latest flick Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is one where there are no consequences for the horrible things we do to one another. It’s of course not necessarily a rule as some actions do carry consequences, but not in the traditional sense of how we expect those to be punished for things like–kicking children in their genitals, throwing people out of windows or throwing molotov cocktails at a police station. It’s also the type of world where the characters in spite of all their flaws and curt behavior to one another have an underlying care for one another that’s not uncommon amongst small town folk. It may only come out during some of the more dire situations and stuffed down even under duress, but it’s there and McDonagh encapsulates it brilliantly.

Several months following the brutal rape and murder of Angela Hayes her mother, Mildred (Frances McDormand) is struck suddenly with an outside-the-box idea while driving home along the highway where her daughter’s crime occurred. There, three tattered billboards stand, unused since the 80’s and Mildred wants to use them to send a message to the small town’s chief of police Bill (Woody Harrelson). The message is simple–that she hasn’t forgotten that no killer has been caught and wants answers. The billboards are innoffensive but concise and have an adverse effect on the police’s overall empathy for Mildred even as Bill regrets how the case turned out. They do however get the town stirred up which leads to the towns underlying tensions to manifest in wild and potentially dangerous ways.  (more…)

[Movie Review] ‘The Disaster Artist’ is Real Hollywood Movie!

disasterartist_posterThe cinematic embarrassment that became a cult phenomenon now has its own movie dedicated to the madman at its core. Many wondered, how could anyone make a good movie out of what is widely considered one of the worst movies ever made? Jame Franco and his team have don’t exactly that thanks in large part to its surprising earnestness in relation to its titular subject and love of the property as a whole.

It perhaps could have been too easy to make a mockery of the lore behind, The Room. A enigmatic crazy person, Tommy Wiseau (portrayed by James Franco with a bizarre accent and a dream–to come to LA with the hopes of becoming a star. In tow with his best friend, Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), the two struggle to make their dream a reality so they decide to manifest destiny themselves. Tommy conjures up a big time American drama in which he will star alongside Mark and together they will force Hollywood to know their names–and boy did they ever. (more…)

[Movie Review] You’re Gonna Want to Play ‘Gerald’s Game’

We as horror fans are lucky to have Mike Flanagan. The man is making concepts that have no right work, do so in spectacular fashion. From murderous mirrors, or a killer stalking a deaf victim all the way to making the original Ouija suck a little less–now if only someone would help Before I Wake finally see the light of day. 

Now, we’ve got Gerald’s Game. A movie that, in large part, takes place in a single location. Jessie (Carla Gugino) and her hubby Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) decide to take a trip to their lake house and in an effort to spice if their marriage Gerald handcuffs Jessie to the bed. However, when Gerald’s role playing fantasy goes awry he suffers a heart attack and dies before he can uncuff Jessie. Left in an impossible situation she is forced to confront her traumatic past while searching for any clue that help her escape the cuffs. 

How fitting for the latest Netflix Original to come out in 2017 just a month after we experienced a total solar eclipse. A similar event plays a pivotal role in Jessie’s psychological journey. The tole of emotional wounds coming to a head as she sits on the bed waiting for her death or for help to arrive. As her mind begins to crack she envisions versions of herself and her husband moving freely throughout as part of her internal thought process–both taunting her and trying help her thing logically in her predicament. 

Gerald’s Game unfolds as a dramatic psychological thriller. Part drama about a married couple’s struggles at keeping the romance alive due to hidden desires and other deeper emotional scars and part survival thriller. Gugino crushes both aspects of her character–a woman who’s dodged childhood trauma her hold life and one driven to survive when forced to examine her actions that lead her to being handcuffed to that bed. Greenwood too, compliments Gugino as a force of masculinity with complicated ties to Jessie’s deep seeded troubles. In the end the film also delivers just enough cringeworthy violence and bone chilling sound effects to gratify genre fans looking for the cherry-on-top. 

Like any minimalist thriller the struggle is keeping the audience riveted–Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard spin some incredible sequences of psychological barbs between characters. Combined with Flanagan’s visual prowess to stage a scene for maximum creep factor to provide some stiff competition to Pennywise and The Losers Club for best King adaptation of 2017. 

Widely considered one of many unfilmable King novels, Flanagan makes it look like a walk in the park. Gerald’s Game is taught, suspenseful and magnificently performed–but a shame that the vast majority of the populism will only be able to experience it on the small screen. 

Rating: A

Beer Recommendation: None at this time. Sorry, you kinky pervs. 

[Movie Review] mother! Puts the Exclamation Point in WTF!

Movie nerds bristle with excitement at the idea of a new year and a new movie from visionary director, Darren Aronofsky. Blake Swan made so many swoon at the filmmaker’s artistic prowess and delivered a gold statue at the feet of Natalie Portman. Oh, what marvelous treasures must be waiting for us with the allignment of such a bold innovative voice and stars like Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem. The film opens and like a George R.R. Martin like twist the fans and critics alike are lining up to take turns diving a dagger into Aronofsky’s divisive vision.

I never do this, but to truly dig below the surface of mother! I feel it’s important to delve into some context of why people are so split–why some might worship Aronofsky’s artistic expression while others might take their ticket stub and use it as some part of a voodoo ritual that culminates in the director’s untimely demise. Before we venture into those treacherous waters let me say this–mother! is a work of art. An interpretive painting that disgusts you, but strangely you feel compelled to keep starring and marvel at its audacity. Pretentious as that sounds, it’s a cinematic voice that should be encouraged even if it’s not something mainstream audiences have the stomach for. I encourage moviegoers to take the plunge into Aronofsky’s troubling psyche, but be forewarned that when you come out on the other side, remember…it was your choice to actually do so.  (more…)

[Movie Review] IT Redefines the Hollywood Horror Formula

Don’t get swept up in thinking nostalgia is what lends to your percepted fond memories of the original 90’s IT mini-series. It’s pretty bad. Apart from Tim Curry’s always steady and reliable acting chops the mini-series is borderline unwatchable. Luckily, a fondness for the original is not a prerequisite for digging deep into MAMA director, Andy Muschietti’s delightful adaptation.

Not without its own issues (but we’ll get to that) the latest IT pulls from the classic Stephen King novel of the same name in which a handful of bullied youths that make up The Losers Club must band together to fight an ancient evil residing in their quaint town of Derry. Iconically, the evil takes the form of many of the character’s deepest fears, but it’s hands down favorite apprearance is a f***** up clown by the name of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). This adaptation finds Pennywise’s design that if a Victorian era clown with fiendishly evil facial expressions, but played interestingly enough by Skarsgård–alternating from over-the-top giggles to a guttural sinister tone that’s as inconsistent as it is unsettling at times.  (more…)

[Movie Review] ‘Dunkirk’ is 2017’s Most Pummeling Onslaught of Cinematic Skill

The sights and sounds of war. That’s what Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is all about. Forget character and forget telling individual stories–this movie wants to put the audience on the front lines of land, air and sea to deliver an experience. Make no mistake, Dunkirk is one of the most incredible and unique cinematic experiences you’re likely to experience–and while there are a number of prolific filmmakers, few operate with such technical skill quite like Nolan.

The film tells the story of British forces trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk simultaneously awaiting rescue and intermittent air attacks at the hands of Nazi forces. Nolan’s focus is that of human resolve and wordless heroism. It is true, there are few characters you can attach yourself too, but that’s not the point. Dunkirk is a film you simply live as an audience member. In the grips of war, the British forces are constantly being bombed from the air as they await military boats to take them home–said boats are themselves under attack, so the soldiers are in a harrowing fight for survival. Dunkirk’s entirety pulls the audience from those breathless sequences to show intercutting sequences of a civilian boat headed to the beach to help save soldiers and the air forces en route to pick off the enemy planes attacking the boats.  (more…)

[Movie Review] A Warm and Welcome Homecoming for Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man

spidermanhome_posterWith great power, comes great responsibility, John Watts. It’s one thing to have Spidey somewhat back in the hands of Marvel Studios, it’s a whole other thing to deliver a portrayal of Peter Parker’s alter ego that can wipe the slate clean from sins passed. Watts has come from ultra low budget horror, Clown, to helming what is hands down the greatest Spider-Man film to date.

Sam Raimi and Marc Webb both tried and–to certain degrees–failed to deliver crowd pleasing adventures for everyone’s favorite web-slinger. While these were not the first efforts to bring the character to the screen in one way or another, of the most modern attempts it would seem the third time (third iteration anyway) was the charm. Tom Holland’s first appearance in Captain America: Civil War gave legions of fans hope for the impending reboot as it certainly appeared that finally the tone and personality of Peter Parker and his arachnid alias had been captured. Spider-Man: Homecoming extends that and more with nearly the entire high school setting.  (more…)

[Mega Movie Review] Catching Up on 2017

13886469_1267046413328617_7042198926381498825_nBusy time of year folks, so apologies to anyone who actually looks forward to my latest reviews. I didn’t want everything I’ve seen to fall by the wayside, so here are some brief thoughts on everything I’ve seen so far in 2017 but haven’t had time to sit down and put full write ups on. Sit back relax and “enjoy” some candid hot takes on these 2017 releases!

Kong: Skull Island – Come for the star studded cast then shove them aside for the awesome creature fights. Kong is visually impressive, but it lacks humanity in a pretty comical way. The characters very much feel like empty shells taking us from one place to another to be bait for the eventual breathtaking spectacle of the Kong fights. In spite of the lack of characters to hang your hat on this was still a pretty tremendous and crowd pleasing theater experience. Rating: B+

Gifted – Sort of let this one get lost in the shuffle. This is a very understated film. There was almost no marketing push and it just sort of appeared in theaters with little to no fanfare. If its still out there though, get out and see it. I could have used a little more closure for some of the relationships and perhaps a little more emotion out of Chris Evans’ character, but this has been the most affective dramas so far this year that also happens to have a pretty delightful sense of humor. Rating: A- (more…)

[Movie Review] ‘Logan’ Infuses Heart and Violence into a Potent Cocktail

logan_poster-tgofWhile superhero fatigue still has me in its icy grip, along comes Logan to warm that chill–at least temporarily. Perhaps it’s the, at times, overwhelming violence or the emotional vulnerability of being a new dad that makes the arc Wolverine’s final chapter that much more effective. Whatever way you look at it, Hugh Jackman’s curtain call as the claw wielding potty-mouth is a fitting and emotional bow that might rely a little too much on its R rating and hero cliches.

Picking up in 2029 where mutant residency has since passed, Logan spends his days driving a limo for drunk brides and frat boys chanting ‘Merica near the US/Mexico border. South of the border Logan lives with Caliban (Stephen Merchant) and an aged Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart with his most powerful portrayal as Professor X to date) suffering dementia and the occasional population crippling seizure. With his health steadily declining and his body unwilling to heal like it used to Logan begrudgingly accepts to transport a young mutant, Laura (Dafne Keen), with powers strikingly similar to his own, North across the Canadian border and hopefully to safety away from the research facility tracking her down. (more…)