FlixChatter Review – COCO (2017)

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Directed By: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
Written By: Lee Unkrich, Jason Katz , Matthew Aldrich & Adrian Molina
Runtime: 1h 49min

Before I get into this review, I want to address one of the main arguments I’ve heard about it: that Coco is a rip-off of DreamWorks’s 2013 film The Book of Life. I don’t think this is a fair assessment. The only major similarity is that they’re both centered around Dia de Los Muertos, the Mexican holiday honoring the dead. Besides that, each movie has different storylines, tones, and animation styles. If there are going to be two movies about a holiday from an underrepresented culture, all the better.

The young protagonist Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez)

Coco is the story of Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a young aspiring musician whose family bans music from their home after Miguel’s great-great grandfather abandoned his wife and daughter (Miguel’s great-grandmother, Mama Coco, played by Ana Ofelia Murguía) to become a famous musician. On El Dia de los Muertos, Miguel breaks into the tomb of his idol, the famous Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), to borrow his guitar for a talent contest. As soon as he strums the strings, he is transported to The Land of the Dead, where, along with his new friend and guide Hector (Gael García Bernal) he learns more about his family and their past, and the role music has played in it.

Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt)

This is easily my new favorite Pixar movie. The story is so unique, and there are some surprisingly dire stakes and dark twists, but it’s still accessible to all ages. Yes, it’s a kids’ movie, but it’s a kids movie that is centered around a holiday dedicated to the dead, which isn’t exactly a light subject. The film handles the subject beautifully, though, sending a strong message about the importance of family and remembering lost loves ones, passing stories from generation to generation. And, of course, the end of the movie will make you cry, because PIXAR THRIVES ON YOUR TEARS. If I had to nitpick, I’d say that some of the exposition about Dia de Los Muertos felt like someone reading from a Spanish textbook, not like a grandmother (Renee Victor as Abuelita) explaining it to her grandson (Anthony Gonzalez as Miguel), who would presumably know about the holiday already anyway. It’s not a huge deal, but it still stood out to me.

Renee Victor as the voice of Abuelita

A strong script like this requires a strong cast to bring it to life, and the cast of Coco is fantastic, but there are a couple actors who especially stand out. Anthony Gonzalez is incredibly talented for such a young actor; he manages to be endearing without being cloying and holds his own alongside veteran performers. Gael García Bernal (AKA my celebrity husband ever since I saw El Crimen del Padre Amaro in college) is wonderful as Hector, giving both excellent comedic delivery as well as genuinely touching, emotional performances.

In addition to the acting, the cast is made up of incredible singers. The music in this movie is easily my favorite thing about it, blending a mix of classic Mexican folk songs with original pieces. The styles range from ranchera to Golden Age Mexican cinema ballads, and it’s all masterfully performed by the cast. Anthony’s voice is angelic but surprisingly full; I was delighted when he first burst into “Un Poco Loco,” his big number he performs with Hector. I had no idea Gael could sing so well (my only experience hearing him was in the baffling cover of “I Want You to Want Me” in Rudo y Cursi), but he has such a warm, rich tone, and his lullaby version of “Remember Me” is heart-wrenching.

Miguel with Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal)

I didn’t realize Benjamin Bratt, the actor who voices famous musician Ernesto de la Cruz, could sing as well; I had to check IMDB after hearing his smooth, booming voice to make sure it was actually him singing (the insanely talented Antonio Sol sings for the character for “The World is Mi Familia” and “La Llorona,” but Bratt holds his own in “Remember Me” and “Much Needed Advice”). The musical show stealer, though, is Alanna Ubach as Mama Imelda. Her rendition of “La Llorona” toward the end of the movie is phenomenal. My only complaint is that its her only full song in the movie.

Miguel with Mama Imelda (Alanna Ubach)

The only thing more vibrant than this film’s soundtrack is, of course, its animation. Pixar has really outdone itself with this movie. It’s as technically impressive as its predecessors, with incredibly realistic detail, but Coco is so much more colorful and imaginative than anything I’ve seen from them so far. Their interpretation of the Land of the Dead is breathtaking, and the way they animate the movement of its skeletal citizens is so creative. I especially love the brightly-colored alebrijes, these fantastical creatures ranging from cute and goofy to majestic and intimidating. There’s too much to take in in one viewing-so, obviously, I plan on watching this multiple times.

Not only is this my new favorite Pixar movie, it’s my favorite movie I’ve reviewed this year. It’s incredibly well-written, the acting is solid, the music is moving, and the animation is visually stunning. I strongly recommend checking this out if you get the chance. You will not be disappointed.

laura_review


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

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TCFF Indie Film Spotlight: Laura Gets A Cat + Interview with writer/director/star Michael Ferrell

Thanks to FC blog staff Laura Schaubschlager for conducting the interview with writer/director Michael Ferrell. I figure since her name is Laura and she has a cat, it’d be fun for her to watch the film and ask the interview questions 🙂

Laura Gets A Cat is a fun, relatable movie that makes some creative choices with the ‘young person trying to find direction and purpose’ storyline.

Laura is a talented yet unsuccessful writer in her early 30’s living in New York City. She has a boyfriend who provides little excitement. Her two best friends who seem to have achieved all their hopes and dreams, if only to spite her. Good thing she lives mostly inside her head, daydreaming about all the wonderful things happening in her imaginary life. After she starts an affair with Ian, the performance artist and local barista, real life proves too complicated. She packs up a suitcase and moves to a small beach town in North Carolina. Even as she gets involved with some guy who lives on a mattress in his buddy’s garage, she hopes that Ian will bolt from his life in New York and chase her down. Through this series of troubled relationships and disconnected friendships, Laura learns that peace of mind is not necessarily found by chasing it.

 

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Q: How much of this movie, if any, is inspired by real-life experiences?

The best way to explain it is: all of it. And none of it. It’s totally fiction. What’s most inspired by real life are the themes explored in the film. Laura and the people around her are in their 30’s mostly and dealing with the things that people in their 30’s are dealing with. There’s a thing I’ve heard often for writers; make it specific and truthful and it will be relatable. I strive for that. But still it’s all made-up make-believe.

Q: Why did you choose Wisconsin as Laura’s home state? How do you feel having a character who is a Midwestern transplant in NYC resonates with audiences?

Interesting that you picked up on that because it’s just mentioned in one line! Here’s the thought process when I’m making up something like that, my inner monologue as I remember it:

Hmmm, her childhood was probably somewhere specific. But not southern. Not California. Somewhere midwestern. But she threw off her accent a long time ago. She never quite fit in or felt at home. Somewhere she wanted to leave behind, but also somewhere that was encouraging, stimulating in some way. Maybe somewhere she took for granted. How about Wisconsin?

And there ya go, she was from Wisconsin. Also when I was younger I dated a couple girls from Wisconsin so maybe it was just that.

Dana Brooke as Laura

Q: The soundtrack for this film is excellent. What kind of work went into choosing which songs to include? What kind of music did you look for regarding creating a tone for the movie?

Thanks! The music we use in the film is entirely musicians that we know personally. We have my friend Melvyn Brown playing guitar and singing a song in the film. My friend Jeff Laughlin’s voice running throughout the film. David Mosey, who is friends with Chris Prine, our editor and co-producer. And Devin Sanchez, co-producer and actor, found the closing credits song from a friend in our neighborhood in Jersey City who heard the young woman playing on the subway platforms!

Even the background music in the various locations are all friends’ songs. So being able to collaborate with them and take their music around the country is a real honor for us.

Chris Prine is also the music supervisor. So the credit is his. He was also editor and music supervisor for our first film “Twenty Million People,” also featuring some great music. (Which you can watch online now: twentymillionpeople.com).

I think maybe the music fits the tone of the movie because it’s a lot of indie rock ballads. And if our film were a song, it would be an indie rock ballad. It’s probably just that simple.

And if it were a style of craft beer, I’d say it was a pale ale. Not too hoppy, but not super light either. I can think of these all day, this is fun.

Q: At the beginning of the film, Laura vents to her friend Heidi about how people seem to expect her to be more stable, exclaiming “I don’t even have a cat!” Why does having a cat represent stability or direction?

Well, it’s probably the first step for a lot of people, right? Being able to take care of a cat is like the bare minimum of adult responsibility. There’s also a line in the film that explicitly states that adulthood is NOT “steps on a ladder, like this, this, this, then this.” But if it were steps on a ladder, it might go:

Cat
Boyfriend/Girlfriend
Move in together
Dog
Marriage
Kids
House
Divorce
Just Kidding

Of course some people just don’t like pets. Or kids. Or houses. Or marriage. So there is no normal, and that’s definitely one of the themes of the film. But just because there is no normal doesn’t mean that when the time is right, one shouldn’t embrace these, or other, aspects of adulthood. Ah, the things people in their 30’s are thinking about.

Dana with writer/director/star Michael Ferrell

Q: In addition to writing and directing Laura Gets a Cat, you also co-star as Ian, the coffee shop manager with whom Laura has a relationship. Did you write the role specifically intending to portray it yourself, or did you consider casting someone else first?

It was the easiest role to cast! No, actually, it’s kind of hard to explain how I write for myself as an actor. But I’ll try anyway.

I always intended to play the role of “Ian” after I wrote the screenplay. But usually, if I’m writing something and think “This could be a part for me,” I’m not glued to that idea. I could keep writing and it evolves into, “Oh, actually this part would be better for my friend Josh,” or Ryan Gosling, or whomever.

Even after writing though, it doesn’t mean that the role is cast. Along with Devin and Chris, we have to make sure we’re objectively making the best decisions for the film. (Ryan Gosling is always the best decision).

But I grew up as an actor and have been acting in my own work for almost 20 years, so for me it seems natural. This will sound really pretentious but it’s how I express myself, artistically. I write and I act. A lot of my role models; Woody Allen, Ed Burns, Julie Delpy, Spike Lee, they write and they act in their movies. Not out of vanity or because they think no other actor could do it, but because that is how they tell stories, for whatever reason.


Laura Gets A Cat is playing at Twin Cities Film Fest on
Wednesday October 25th – 5:10 PM
If you haven’t got your tickets yet, get it
here


Thanks Michael for chatting with us!

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.

laura_review


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

FlixChatter Review – Annabelle: Creation (2017)

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Directed By: David F. Sandberg
Written By: Gary Dauberman
Runtime: 1 hr 49 minutes

I’ve never understood why people find dolls in horror movies scary. They can’t bend their limbs, they’re usually made of porcelain or plastic or something else not very durable, and they’re usually not any taller than your knee. You can just drop-kick the thing away from you. As someone who is thoroughly unimpressed by possessed dolls and hasn’t seen any of the other Conjuring series movies (I KNOW, I’m a bad horror fan; I promise they’re on my list), I didn’t expect this movie to be that scary. I was wrong.

In Annabelle: Creation, a group of orphans (Lulu Wilson as Linda, Talitha Bateman as Janice, Grace Fulton as Carol, Philippa Coulthard as Nancy, Lou Lou Safran as Tierney, and Tayler Buck as Kate) and the nun in charge of them, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) move into the house of Esther and Samuel Mullins (Miranda Otto and Anthony LaPaglia), who have opened their home to the girls after losing their own young daughter, Bee (Samara Lee), twelve years earlier. After Janice finds a mysterious doll hidden away in Bee’s old bedroom one night, things quickly take a turn for the horrifying.

What makes the Annabelle doll work in this movie is that it’s not overused to the point of being silly. It’s prominent, obviously, but it’s mostly shown in shadowy angles and blurry shots that make its presence even scarier. As Father Massey (Mark Bramhall) explains, the doll is a conduit- a tool for the demon to use to gain footing in the world of the living. As creepy a the doll is, the demon itself is even more frightening. The special effects in this movie are excellent. The few glimpses we get of the demon’s true form-specifically, the way it morphs and moves-are truly unsettling, and there’s one moment we see it in Bee’s old bedroom that left me really shaken. All of this, combined with superb pacing, keeps the suspense high throughout the whole movie.

That said, this movie isn’t flawless. Much of the dialogue between best friends Linda and Janice is so unrealistically cheesy it would make Little Orphan Annie cringe. It’s not the actresses’ faults-we already know Lulu Wilson has serious horror acting chops after last year’s Ouija: Origin of Evil, and all of her and Talitha Bateman’s non-verbal acting is great. It’s either a writing problem or a directing problem. On the subject of writing, Mrs. Mullin’s explanation for the supernatural ocurrences toward the end of the film is both heavy-handed and vague; if there had been a little more foreshadowing earlier in the movie, I might have been able to accept it more easily, but for a movie whose title implies we would be learning where the evil entity tied to the Annabelle doll comes from, it could have been more fleshed-out.

Overall, though, this is a fantastic, genuinely scary horror movie. I would definitely watch it again, and now I want to marathon the other movies in the series as soon as possible. If you like horror, you should absolutely check this out.

laura_review


Have you seen ‘Anabelle: Creation’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review – Atomic Blonde (2017)

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Directed By: David Leitch
Written By: Kurt Johnstad (screenplay)
Runtime: 1 hr 55 minutes

When I found out I would be reviewing this film, I pulled up an article on it for a little background information-and made the mistake of reading the comments. They were mostly all the same, with guys accusing Atomic Blonde of being pandering and asserting that the movie is unrealistic because women are too frail and weak to be badass action heroes. It was infuriating, and it made me hope that that this movie would be amazing, just to spite the trolls. Fortunately, I was not disappointed.

In Atomic Blonde, an adaptation of the graphic novel series The Coldest City by Antony Johnston, MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) recounts her mission in Cold War Berlin to track down a list of double agents to MI6 executive Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and CIA official Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman). From the moment she meets up with fellow agent David Percival (James McAvoy), Lorraine is plunged into danger and intrigue as she works to complete her mission.

This is an incredibly fun action movie. The fight choreography is impressive, ranging from creative and graceful to realistically graphic, and even some of that is surprisingly gorgeous; there’s one scene where blood is spattered on a large painting of a woman’s face right on her mouth, making it look almost like a messy lipstick kiss. Having it all set to a phenomenal soundtrack of 80’s rock makes it even more entertaining. 
 The technical aspects of the movie are impressive as well. The editing is tight and creative; one moment that stands out is in a scene where a body being thrown into a river, and as soon as it hits the surface, the scene cuts to Lorraine’s face breaking the water as she sits up in a bathtub. There are several gorgeous, well-balanced shots. The film overall is dark and gritty but glossy, which is perfect for a graphic novel adaptation, although the green filter is a little overused.

It can be hard to critique acting in a movie like this when so much of the focus is on the action and visuals, but Charlize Theron and James McAvoy still manage to shine in their roles. Theron is cold, calculating, and tough but still shows brief moments of panic and sadness without being melodramatic. McAvoy is so much fun to watch in this as well; he is so good at acting goofy but still a little unhinged and sinister (as proven in Split earlier this year). My one critique is some of their line reads are hard to understand, but I’m not sure if they’re mumbling or if there’s a sound-mixing problem.
 If you’re looking for a fun, beautifully-shot action movie to see this summer, you should definitely check this out. Ignore the trolls.

laura_review


Have you seen ‘Atomic Blonde’? 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.

laura_review


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

Guest Review – Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell no Tales (2017)

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Directed By: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg
Written By: Jeff Nathanson
Runtime: 2 hrs 9 minutes

When I saw the first trailer for the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, I nearly sprained my eyeballs from rolling them so hard. While the first movie was enjoyable and still holds up as a fun adventure flick fourteen years later, the series has overstayed its welcome. The second and third were decent, but the fourth made it clear that these movies are pretty much just vehicles for Johnny Depp to ham it up as Jack Sparrow over and over, which I have issues with for a couple reasons. First is the domestic abuse allegations that came to light last year, which completely destroyed his likability for me-and for anyone who comments that Amber Heard is lying or it’s her fault: SAVE IT. While the allegations have changed how I feel about Depp, they’re not what this review is about, but if you insist on going there, I will fight you. Personal feelings aside, Depp’s acting hasn’t impressed me in a long time. His performances have become very one-note, not helped by playing the same character since 2003, which Disney has used as the primary marketing ploy for this movie. Because of this, I worried that they were compensating for an overall weak movie by putting most of the focus on its most popular character. With the fourth movie being so forgettable, my hopes weren’t high for this one.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales introduces us to Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of original trilogy hero Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). Henry has been spending most of his life searching for the mythical Trident of Poseidon, which could be the key to rescuing his father from The Flying Dutchman’s curse. Hoping his father’s old friend Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) can help him, Henry teams up with the pirate, along with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a scientist trying to navigate a mysterious map her father left her with when he abandoned her at birth. Along their journey, the three are pursued by Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his ghostly crew, who want to prevent Jack from using the Trident to escape their revenge.

This movie’s main problem is that it tries to fit too many individual backstories into two and a half hours, leading to fan-fiction levels of bad, clunky exposition. We have Jack’s history with Captain Salazar, Henry’s lifelong mission to rescue his father, Carina’s mysterious parentage and struggles as a female scientist in the mid-to-late 1700’s, and even previous Pirates villain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) gets a forced backstory shoved into the last half hour. The magical item the characters are searching for is poorly explained; it’s just supposed to “break all curses,” which is incredibly vague. If this had been the start of a new trilogy, the pacing could have been better, but because this is (supposedly) the last film, everything is crammed into one movie, and it’s a mess.

That said, the writing isn’t completely hopeless. There is a surprising amount of genuinely funny dialogue, especially among Jack’s crew. I also enjoy that the main female character’s defining characteristic is her scientific prowess and having to deal with men not taking her knowledge seriously. It’s refreshing having a leading lady who’s more than just the romantic interest; her intellectual expertise is instrumental in reaching their goal.

Regarding the acting, I have mixed feelings. Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow was…fine. He plays the character the same way he always has, so while he doesn’t bring anything new to the role, at least he’s consistent. The two young leads, Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario, are decent but not especially memorable, although Kaya shows a little more promise than Brenton. Geoffey Rush is always fun to watch and gives an enjoyable performance here, brief as it is. My favorite, though, is Javier Bardem, who is so good at making anything sound menacing in that deep, gravelly voice. Hearing that he was playing the villain made me a little more excited about seeing this movie, and he did not disappoint.

There are other positive aspects of this film as well. Like its predecessors, Dead Men Tell no Tales is a visually interesting movie. The action is good and the fight choreography is fun, although it gets buried in some of the larger crowd scenes. The character design and CGI for Captain Salazar and his crew is truly spooky; even his ship looks scary. The costumes, hair, and makeup are beautifully detailed. The soundtrack is as epic as ever; although Hans Zimmer isn’t the main composer for this film (his protégé Geoff Zanelli is), his famous theme is prominent throughout the movie, and I will never get tired of hearing it.

Overall, this is a decent adventure movie. The storytelling is poor and some of the acting is underwhelming, but some of the dialogue is fun, and it’s pretty to look at. Good job, Disney. You made a better Pirates movie than the last one (although that bar wasn’t set very high). Now, please, for the love of God, stop.

laura_review


Have you seen ‘Pirates 5’? Well, what did you think? 

Spotlight on [ + review] of indie comedy ‘We Make Movies’

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A hilarious and heartfelt look “behind the scenes” as a group of college kids spend their summer making a movie for their town’s Film Festival. Cameras chronicle the tumultuous ups and downs as an egotistical student Director rounds up his friends (and some bystanders) to help make his masterpiece: a movie that blends together all the greatest films ever made.

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Laura’s review:

I love mockumentary-style comedies. Christopher Guest movies always crack me up, and The Office is one of my top go-to binge shows on Netflix. So I was delighted to have the chance to watch We Make Movies, an independent film by Matt Tory, when I found out it was the same style as some of my favorite comedies.

We Make Movies follows a group of college-aged individuals, led by wannabe filmmaker Stevphen (Matt Tory -and yes, I did spell the name right), in their journey to make a great movie for their small town’s film festival. Stevphen is joined by his best friend and loyal assistant producer Donny (Jordan Hopewell), their friend and the movie’s straight man Garth (Jonathan Holmes), Garth’s acting classmate Leonard (Zack Slort), and Donny’s cousin Jessica (Anne Crocket). The group struggles with filmmaking logistics as well as personal conflicts behind the scenes.

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I really enjoyed this movie. I laughed out loud multiple times (especially at the titles of some of Stevphen’s previous movies), and was impressed by most of the cast’s acting skills. Jordan Hopewell as the lovably dorky Donny was especially hilarious, and Jonathan Holmes as Garth struck a great balance of being the exasperated voice of reason while still bringing a lot of humor to his character. The writing overall was fantastic, with several hilarious one-liners and sight gags.

That said, there were a couple problems I had with this film. The main one had to do with Stevphen. While it can be interesting and funny to have an unlikeable main character, Stevphen is a little too one-note. He has absolutely no redeeming qualities: he’s pretentious, jealous, and self-absorbed. They try to give him a bit of a character development at the end of the movie, but by then it’s too little too late. Leonard, the lead actor in Stevphen’s movie, had similar flaws, but he was also self-conscious, which added at least some depth; I’m not sure why they couldn’t do that with Stevphen.

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Jessica has a similar problem: her character is underdeveloped. I’m not sure if it’s the acting or the way the character was written, but it was unclear if she’s supposed to be a deadpan pessimist or the straight woman to Stevphen, Leonard, and Donny’s ridiculous behavior. I worry that, as the sole female character, she was just there as a romantic interest, and as such didn’t get as much effort put into writing her.

Despite these complaints, We Make Movies is a genuinely funny, enjoyable comedy, and I hope to see more from Matt Tory soon.

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Guest Review: The Great Wall (2017)

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Directed By: Yimou Zhang
Written By: Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro and Tony Gilroy
Runtime: 1 hr 43 minutes

I’m so happy they cast Matt Damon as the lead in The Great Wall. Middle-aged white men are dangerously underrepresented in Hollywood nowadays, and giving recognition to a criminally underused actor was such a brave, progressive decision by the filmmakers.

Am I being too subtle in my sarcasm? I might be laying it on a little too thin. In all seriousness, I won’t make this entire review about whitewashing in Hollywood (although, obviously, it will be addressed), since A) there would be too much to talk about for one post and B) this movie had other problems in addition to casting a white actor as the main character in a movie set around a Chinese landmark…like the fact that it’s in 3D. Oh, boy.

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In The Great Wall, two European soldiers named William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) are searching China for gunpowder and stumble upon the eponymous structure in the midst of an attack by a horde of massive reptilian beasts that have been plaguing the country every sixty years. The men assist the soldiers, led by Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing), in attempting to defeat the monsters once and for all.

One of my biggest questions during this movie was “What nationality is Matt Damon supposed to be?” Saying he half-asses whatever accent he’s attempting is generous; he quarter-asses it. It sounds like a lazy blend of Irish and Scottish, although at one point when he responded to a question Tovar asked him in Spanish, I thought for one glorious moment he was supposed to be from Spain and was going for an imitation of Sean Connery in Highlander before we eventually find out the character’s name is William.

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Seriously, there is no good reason to have a European character as the lead in this movie. William and Tovar could easily be completely removed from the film without affecting the plot. They try to make it out like William is this big hero, a huge asset to the Chinese army’s cause (because obviously what this massive, finely-tuned army really needs is one white dude with a bow and arrow to save the day), but the only role William and Tovar serve is exposition, clueless foreigners for the Chinese army to explain why there are lizard-dog monsters attacking the Great Wall. At best, they provide some comedic relief, but it ranges from cliché to cringe-worthy, including an especially stupid moment where Tovar grabs a bright red cape from a fallen soldier and waves it, toreador-like, at one of the creatures; apparently the writers took some of their comedy cues from old Bugs Bunny cartoons.

On the subject of Tovar, I do love Pedro Pascal, especially after seeing him in Game of Thrones a couple seasons ago (R.I.P., Oberyn), and he does a good job with what little he’s given, managing a balance of being humorous and a little menacing. I really hope to see him in more major films, just not any that are…like this.

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While the writing and casting of this movie are problematic, it still is visually stunning. The costumes are especially beautiful, with the brightly-colored armor vibrant against the gritty background. The soundtrack is lovely. A lot of the battle action is really cool to watch, with some incredibly well choreographed moments. There are some breathtaking wide shots of the scenery, marred only when they do running close-ups of the wall and cheesy CGI arrows as an excuse for 3D. While there is a lot that is fun to look at, there is no reason for it to be in 3D, and the shots that are clearly in the movie for the 3D are so forced.

If you just want to see some pretty scenes and creative monsters, check this out. Otherwise, I’d recommend avoiding this hour and a half of stupidity.

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Have you seen ‘The Great Wall’? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review: RINGS (2017)

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Directed By: F. Javier Gutiérrez
Written By: David Loucka, Jacob Estes and Akiva Goldsman
Runtime: 1 hr 45 minutes

I get scared pretty easily. Because of this, a lot of people are surprised when I tell them how much I love horror, but I think that’s why I love it: it doesn’t take much to scare me, no matter how cheesy the movie, so it’s easy for me to become engrossed in it. One memorable exception to this is 2002’s The Ring. I saw it for the first time in middle school and was severely underwhelmed. Maybe it was because I had waited until it was on DVD to watch it, and all of my friends who had seen it in theaters months before had overhyped it. Maybe watching it in the safety of my brightly-lit living room took away from the terrifying atmosphere that would have been created in a big, dark auditorium. Maybe it’s just a non-scary, overrated horror movie. Either way, because I was so unimpressed by the original, I didn’t expect much from a sequel released fifteen years later.

Rings follows Julia (Matilda Lutz) as she tracks down her boyfriend Holt (Alex Roe) at his college after he stops responding to her calls. She discovers he has been participating in an experiment run by his professor, Gabriel (Johnny Galecki), involving a mysterious video that causes its viewer to be killed by the ghost of a young girl named Samara after seven days. The only way to prevent this fate is to have someone else watch the video before the seven days are up. In an effort to break the chain, Julia and Holt embark on a journey into Samara’s dark, tragic past.

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Making a sequel to a movie that centers around an outdated piece of technology already sets Rings up for failure. The idea of a haunted VHS tape being scary in 2017 is pretty ridiculous- hell, even a haunted DVD or Blu-Ray would feel outdated, considering how many people stream video now. Granted, Gabriel adapts the VHS to a computer file for his research, but the idea that this VHS would have still been floating around after fifteen years instead of collecting dust somewhere is far-fetched even for a horror movie. Even if they had updated the story by putting the video online, my suspension of disbelief wouldn’t stretch so far that I would accept that something like that wouldn’t go viral, leading to a ridiculous amount of widely publicized mysterious deaths.

In addition to the problems with the video logistics, the plot in general feels kind of lazy. At first, it seems like it’s going to be a more scientific, analytical look at how this deadly video chain letter works, but that storyline is soon abandoned when Julia and Holt visit the town where Samara was buried in order to discover the significance of that location. The former could have been really interesting if it had been the focus of the film, but instead we end up with more of the same: exploring creepy old places full of the same creepy imagery. I can’t even really say if the acting was good, because the cast didn’t have much to work with.

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Even if you can overlook the problems with the plot, there is little visually impressive about this movie. Samara’s first appearance is completely CGI’d, which looks surprisingly bad for 2017 animation. The same reveal could have easily been done through practical effects, which would have been much creepier and less jarring than CGI. Most of the movie has the same overused blue tinge seen in countless horror movies, making it feel even more unoriginal. Many of the images used in the movie are directly recycled from the first film. There was one scene I really liked at the beginning of the movie, a wide shot where Gabriel is facing wall-to-wall/floor-to-ceiling windows, looking out at a storm, and the view outside the window briefly flickers to a scene from the video. It was beautifully shot and wonderfully creepy, and there were a couple other short scenes involving Julia being trapped in small, dark spaces that were genuinely suspenseful, but one good shot and a couple decent scenes aren’t enough to save the movie.

I don’t even know why this got a theatrical release. The entire feel of this movie is “direct to streaming/digital download.” If you’re easily scared and very bored, maybe check this out once it’s on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Otherwise, don’t waste your time or money.

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