Guest Review – LEAP (2017)

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Directed By: Éric Summer
Written By: Éric Summer
Runtime: 1 hr 29 minutes

I had no idea what I was getting into when I volunteered to review Leap! for this blog. I just saw that the screening was on a morning I had free, so I said I could go, then looked it up and realized it was a cartoon movie about ballet, which made me a little nervous. I’d never reviewed a kids’ movie before, and I didn’t want to be too hard on it, but I also didn’t want to let certain things slide just because the film is aimed at a younger audience. Fortunately, this movie gave me plenty to work with to strike a happy medium.

Leap! follows French orphan Felicie (Elle Fanning) who runs away from her dreary orphanage to Paris with her best friend Victor (Dane DeHaan) to pursue an education in ballet at the Grand Opera house. She steals the identity of a rich, spoiled girl named Camille (Maddie Ziegler) to secure a place in a ballet class, where she auditions for the coveted role of Clara in The Nutcracker and is trained by the once-great ballerina turned house cleaner Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen), who teaches her to hone her enthusiasm into skill, and helps her understand where her passion for dance comes from.

Overall, this is a nice, original story, if a bit cliche. However, there are several bits of dialogue that feel awkard and unnecessary, but because the film was originally written and released in French, it could be a translation issue, or they needed filler for the animation when the English dubbing didn’t quite match the French in length. Most of the characters are well-written, although Victor’s subplot of being in love with and being “friendzoned” by Felicie throughout the movie made me roll my eyes regularly. This is a kids’ movie; why does there need to be a romantic subplot between two characters who have barely entered puberty? Maybe it’s too much to expect a movie with a boy and girl being friends with no romantic inclination.

Most of the acting is well-done. Elle Fanning and Dane DeHaan hold their own in the leads, and it’s a lot of fun hearing Kate McKinnon in a villainous role rather than a comedic one; she has such a rich, expressive voice that works perfectly for Regine, the cruel, controlling mother of Camille. Carly Rae Jepsen as Odette and Maddie Ziegler as Camille are both a little wooden in their performances, considering neither of them have much acting experience (voice or otherwise), but they’re not awful. Some of my favorite performances actually come from minor characters: Luteau (Mel Brooks), the head of the orphanage; and Nora (Shoshana Sperling), a friendly, quirky ballet student in Felicie’s class. They only have a handful of lines, but they made me laugh the hardest.

Of course, I can’t talk about an animated movie without talking about the animation itself, which is mostly beautiful. There are tons of gorgeous wide shots of the scenery, lots of fun action scenes, and incredibly realistic detail, especially in the clothing and hair. My one critique has to do with the characters’ faces, which are the most cartoon-y part of the animation. While that’s not a bad thing- it gives the film a unique look, and I prefer the cartoon-y faces over the horrifying, uncanny valley style you see in movies like The Polar Express-it does look plastic-y and doesn’t allow for much facial expression, which is a pretty big problem.

Lastly, I have to compliment the soundtrack, which is so fun and upbeat. I was a little hesitant about having so many modern artists in a movie about 19th century France, but all of the songs they use are very fitting of the tone, and the one used in the finale (Cut to the Feeling by Carly Rae Jepsen) is so enjoyable that I’m willing to forget Call Me Maybe ever existed.

While this movie has some obvious flaws, it’s one of the most enjoyable non-Disney animated films I’ve seen in a long time. If you have kids, it’s definitely worth seeing.

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Have you seen ‘LEAP’? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review – Rough Night (2017)

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Directed By: Lucia Aniello
Written By: Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs
Runtime: 1 hr 41 minutes

I’ve been lucky enough to have had two amazing friends in my life since elementary school: Sarah and Annalise. We’ve seen one another at our most awkward, share the same stupid sense of humor, and can talk to each other about anything. Despite school and work-related distances separating us throughout the years, we’ve remained close, and now that we’re all finally living and working in the same area for the first time since high school, we’re trying to spend more time together. So when I had the opportunity to go to a screening of Rough Night, a movie about long-time friends getting into serious hijinks, I knew I wanted to see it with two of my favorite ladies. While my expectations for this film weren’t high, the casting had me hopeful that we’d get at least a few laughs.

Rough Night follows bride-to-be Jess (Scarlett Johansson) and her college besties Alice (Jillian Bell), Frankie (Ilana Glazer), Blair (Zoe Kravitz), and Pippa (Kate McKinnon) on a bachelorette weekend in Miami that goes horribly wrong when hiring a stripper from Craigslist leads to a dead body in their beach house.

This movie’s biggest problem is its tonal confusion. It can’t decide if it wants to be a raunchy ensemble flick or a dark comedy (which could have been so much fun with a plot like this), so it halfheartedly attempts both. If the movie had stuck with one tone, they might have been able to pace the movie better, but because they don’t and try to fit too much into an hour and a half movie, it just feels lazy and messy.

Some of that has to do with the expository writing of the characters as well. A lot of the information we’re given about our leads is done very heavy-handedly. At first, I worried this was too harsh a critique for a comedy, but the genre isn’t an excuse for a lack of decent character development. There are plenty of comedies that manage to be hilarious and have interesting characters the audience can connect to. Bridesmaids immediately comes to my mind as an example, mainly because a lot of the radio ads I’ve heard for Rough Night announce that Elle Magazine has called it better than Bridesmaids (which makes me wonder how much the movie’s marketing team paid Elle, because….no). Bridesmaids manages to develop interesting, flawed but likable characters and share information about their pasts without dumping it all in a few seconds of sloppy dialogue. The same can’t be said for Rough Night.

That said, this was still a surprisingly enjoyable movie, mostly thanks to a strong cast that can take a weak script and make it funny. Kate McKinnon is a treasure and always makes me laugh, and her performance in this is no exception. Scarlett Johansson is a little underwhelming, as she isn’t really known for comedy, but she has a couple stand-out moments. Zoe Kravitz and Ilana Glazer have fantastic chemistry, and Zoe’s comedic timing is especially impressive. Jillian Bell does a good job at being hilarious, obnoxious, and sympathetic all at once. Jess’s fiancé Peter (Paul W. Downs) and his bachelor party buddies (Patrick Carlyle as Patrick, Eric Andre as Jake, and Bo Burnham as Tobey) made me laugh the hardest, flipping the bachelor party bro stereotype around hilariously. I also really enjoyed the soundtrack; because the group of friends met back in the mid-2000’s, there’s a lot of pop and hip-hop music from that time, which is really fun and nostalgic.

While I wouldn’t pay to see this in theaters, it’s still a fun film, so if you’re looking for something for a girls’ night in Red Box or Netflix or something, check it out.

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Have you seen ‘Rough Night’? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review: Office Christmas Party (2016)

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I haven’t been a huge fan of recent comedy films. There are a few I’ve enjoyed, but mostly they blur together in a mess of pop culture references, gross-out humor, and lazy sexual innuendo. This is exactly what I expected of Office Christmas Party, and that’s exactly what the movie delivered. However, there were a couple performances that made the film at least mildly entertaining.

Office Christmas Party follows a group of employees at a data storage company-specifically Josh (Jason Bateman), Tracey (Olivia Munn), and Clay (T.J. Miller), whose father started the company- in their effort to woo a potential client (Courtney B. Vance) to prevent their branch from being shut down. Their method: throw the most amazing office Christmas party, despite the strict instructions not to do so given by the company’s CEO- Clay’s sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston). As anyone who has seen the trailers would expect, the extravagant affair quickly devolves into a near-bacchanalian revel.

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One of my biggest issues with this movie was one that I’ve had with several comedies that have come out over the past few years: it dates itself. It makes pop culture references that might be funny when the movie comes out (and even that is debatable), but will be irrelevant within a year. At the beginning, a character shows Josh his family Christmas card, where he, his wife, and kids are dressed up as One Direction (aren’t they technically broken up now? Was the scene filmed before that happened?). During a meeting, a disgruntled employee complains about the internet’s obsession with Grumpy Cat (which I’m pretty sure stopped being a relevant meme at least two years ago). During a prayer, Clay asks God to let Prince and David Bowie know how important they were to everyone, referencing specific celebrity deaths that happened THIS YEAR. It’s a nice sentiment, and the shout-out earned a few chuckles from the audience, but even a year from now, this reference will have no context. Having so many jokes that rely so heavily on current pop culture means the humor will fall flat after a very short amount of time.

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My second biggest issue with this movie was Jason Bateman’s character. Not Jason himself-he’s a talented actor who performed well with what he was given-but his bland, middle-aged white guy with the same non-personality as countless other recent comedy; the straight man to the cast of wacky characters. Despite technically being the main character, he could have easily been removed from the film and we wouldn’t lose anything. This movie could have been a lot better if it focused more on Clay trying to run the branch and prove to his sister that he’s capable of being more than just a goofball. T.J. Miller seems capable of handling a bigger role; he was easily the highlight of the movie, and as hilarious as he is, he has a couple genuinely touching moments that show he’s able to do some serious acting. Kate McKinnon was another highlight as Mary, the socially awkward stick-in-the-mud H.R. representative; true, it feels like a character from an SNL skit, but her performance was still fantastic.

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I wouldn’t recommend seeing this in theaters, just because it is so forgettable. If you’re a fan of the cast, it might be worth checking it out on Netflix or whatever other streaming service it ends up on, but there’s no reason to catch it on the big screen.

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Have you seen ‘Office Christmas Party’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

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It’s been ages since I saw the first Ghostbusters movie, which was released three decades ago in 1984. I decided to re-watch the original this weekend, but I barely remembered much of it by the time I saw this reboot. I pretty much chose to stay away from all the controversy over its all-female casting, chugging it to whiny fanboys who have too much time on their hands. I mean to say that a reboot ‘ruins your childhood’ and goes on a sexist/racist tirade over a movie, then perhaps you need to find more some meaning with your life.

In any case, I approach this movie with neutral expectations, as I usually do. Now, is it necessary to reboot this? Probably not, but seeing that all the cast members are so hilarious and talented in their own right, I expect to have a good time w/ the movie. Well, for the most part I did.

The movie starts out with a ghost sighting in a haunted mansion. That incident leads to the mansion owner seeking out Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), who vehemently denies writing a book about the existence of paranormal phenomenon as it threatens her reputation as a legit science professor. Soon Gilbert is reunited with her estranged friend and co-writer of the book, Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), who’s still as passionate as ever in her ghost-hunting vocation at a tech college. Her partner in crime is ab eccentric engineer Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). When MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) reported a ghost sighting at a subway tunnel, the Ghostbusters quartet is complete. Each was given a chance to shine here and I honestly can’t pick a favorite as I like ’em all.

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This is definitely an origin story from writer/director Paul Feig (who co-wrote it with Katie Dippold), not only told the story of how the team came together, but also how the Ghostbusters logo came about. I think they’ve assembled a great cast, as the four actresses have a great chemistry together and they work well as a team. It’s awesome to see regular girls, some are nerdy and prone to fan-girling (whether it’s ghost or hot-but-dumb male secretary), get to kick ass on the big screen. We’ve seen more of supermodel look-alike heroines like Lara Croft, Wonder Woman, etc. saving the world, so it’s always refreshing to see women we can relate to have their moment this time around.

Speaking of that hot-but-dumb secretary, Chris Hemsworth is definitely game in poking fun at himself as Kevin. He’s obviously aware of his more-brawn-than-brain image and goes all out with it, though at times it feels a bit too much. He’s not quite the scene stealer here, but certainly memorable. As for the cameos of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson, well they’re amusing to see but the scenes they’re in are not as funny as I expected.
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The comedic style of this new movie is quite different from the original, for one I find that the new one has more wisecrackin’ one liners. I love the fact that the movie pokes fun at the haters…

‘It’s really easy sit there and be the naysayer when you don’t actually do anything.’ – Abby Yates

… but one of the funniest moments for me was when Leslie Jones’ character jumps into the mosh pit, but falls to the ground when the crowd moves away.

“I don’t know if it was a race thing or a lady thing, but I’m mad as hell!”

Comedy is so subjective, so you either love or hate ’em, but having enjoyed Spy (also written and directed by Paul Feig and stars Melissa McCarthy), this one seems to be in a similar vein. The funniest bits are when the cast are bantering with each other, even the slapstick stuff involving the myriad ghostbustin’ weaponry made me laugh. But I find the last act to be the weakest and I find myself wandering a bit as the CGI-fest is happening on screen.

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As with many recent big-budget action flicks like Batman V Superman, there seems to be an obsession with blowing up a city. It’s as if all these filmmakers are infected w/ Michael Bay syndrome or something. The fight scene at the end is once again filled with a city being blown to bits and the colossal CGI smash went on for way too long. I mentioned it in the Dawn of Justice review, it’s a sensory overload that feels like an endurance contest for the audience. Yes I know the original also has a big action scene at the end, but it didn’t feel as bloated as this new one. It also didn’t help that this movie also has a very weak and totally uninteresting villain. I can’t even remember what the guy’s name was who summons all the ghosts to wreck havoc among the living.

That said, I’m glad I saw this and I’m happy to say I enjoyed it overall. I’d say it’s a pretty good Summer escapist fun that pays homage to the original. I wonder at times whether they should’ve made this into a spin-off instead of a reboot, which would perhaps give the filmmakers more wiggle room to make it a different story that’s still about ghost hunting. Whether or not that’d be a better movie remains to be seen of course, but it’d be interesting to see that.

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Having seen both the original and the reboot within a week, I’m more convinced of how absurd the controversy is over the all-female cast. Just like the original, the talented main cast are the best thing about the movie. I personally think humor knows no gender. I suppose haters are gonna hate, I just can’t fathom the idiocy of it all.

So if you’re on the fence, give it a shot and make up your own mind. It’s not the best reboots out there, but it’s definitely NOT the worst. I wish this were a better movie but one thing for sure, the main cast made for a winning foursome.

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So have you seen the new ‘Ghostbusters’ movie? I’d love to hear what you think!

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