‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ is an ultimate letdown

Rian Johnson turned Luke into a whiny bitch hermit

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When it comes to Star Wars films, you either go big or you go home. Like a boxer loading up for one huge punch in the center of the ring, there is no halfway with these science fiction fantasy dramas. The intent should be to blow you away, leaving you in a daze of wonder as the lights come up.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi didn’t blow me away, instead leaving me with a relative nod of approval. A good, but not great, experience in the world that George Lucas dreamed up many, many years ago.

Don’t take this as a distaste for the film, because I enjoyed a fair portion of the overlong 152 minute running time. The Last Jedi is a serious case of individual spectacle with the overall perspective leaving a film fan wanting more from the experience. There were moments where the film rode high, but then long stretches where its intent seemed off and scattershot. Continue reading “‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ is an ultimate letdown”

‘Downsizing’ collapses when it gets preachy

The latest Matt Damon misfire.

Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) is a good man with kind intentions and ability, but he simply can’t reach his potential. One could say the same thing about Alexander Payne’s movie that houses Paul’s story, Downsizing.

Paul has the makings to be a doctor, but he settled on being a safety expert in a meat factory. He pushed aside his dreams in order to take care of his mother, and kept them stored permanently in order to provide for his wife (Kristen Wiig). Now, his wife wants a bigger home, and when the new wave of technology includes shrinking yourself to live in a controlled environment like a rich person, Paul takes the plunge. Let’s just say things don’t work out for Paul initially, but he keeps trying to make things right.

Downsizing suffers from a strong opening that simply doesn’t know how to progress. Payne’s ambitious premise is set up quite well in the invigorating first half of this film, showing us Paul’s sad state and the brave new world he is entering. When he lands in Leisureland and sees old friends like Dave Johnson (Jason Sudekis playing to his usual baffoon strengths) while meeting new ones like Dusan (Christoph Waltz, who gives the film much needed life), Paul is still an unhappy lug.

This tactic has worked well for Payne in the past, showing us a painfully unhappy man and turning him inside out, for better or worse. Downsizing is the third film in Payne’s “Sad Existential Man” series, following Election and Sideways. Unlike Matthew Broderick’ and Paul Giamatti’s characters, Paul just isn’t that interesting to care about what happens to him. Continue reading “‘Downsizing’ collapses when it gets preachy”

‘Call Me By Your Name’ is drowned by a Hammer

Armie Hammer is the main suspect in this film’s lack of greatness.

What if I told you one scene in a movie was ten times better than the rest of the flick? Would that make sense? First, let me tell you about the movie.

17 year old Elio (Timothee Chalamet) seemingly has it all: a leisure-filled lifestyle in the beautiful countryside of Italy; plenty of girls swooning over him, including Marzia (Esther Garrel); a music fueled mind that is quickly turning him into a prodigy. All in all, he is the twinkle in his successful father’s (the always trustworthy Michael Stuhlbarg) eye. But there’s just one thing: Elio has a crush on his father’s doctorate intern, Oliver (Armie Hammer). Their budding relationship is the backbone of Luca Guadagnino’s film, Call Me By Your Name.

Like its protagonist, this movie wants you to love it badly, and constantly vies for your attention, like Elio playing music with Oliver in the room, or chasing him into town for a lustful getaway to the lake. In the end, Call Me By Your Name fails to register because of one simple reason: Hammer is a bad actor and you never see much chemistry build between him and Chalamet, who doesn’t give a great performance either. Continue reading “‘Call Me By Your Name’ is drowned by a Hammer”

‘Darkest Hour’ is powered by a freakishly good Gary Oldman

Here is a film that informs and entertains at the same time

One of the many reasons why movies are amazing is that they can inform a younger audience about legendary historical figures. For instance, I knew little about Winston Churhill going into Joe Wright’s magnificent new film, Darkest Hour.

Sure, I knew what he was responsible for in World War II and several other high points of American history, the effect he had on battles that could have changed the future instantly, but I didn’t really “know” who he was. You can download the dates and factual information from a wikepedia page at Starbucks. You won’t truly know the man until you watch Wright’s film. Again, the power of film taking shape.

It helps to have a craftsman like Gary Oldman at your disposal, because there’s literally no role the Brit is afraid of. He doesn’t just apply a few layers of prosthetic and chew scenery as Churchill (Leonardo DiCaprio did that in Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar). Oldman penetrates the chilly yet well-meaning heart and soul of the man who stood up against the tyranny of Adolf Hitler in May, 1940-and gives an Oscar worthy performance.

I’m being serious here. Oldman is freakishly good. The Academy can just mail him an invite to the 2018 ceremony right now. With no disrespect to the rest of the year’s films and their casts, you may not see a better performance than Oldman’s through Christmas. Continue reading “‘Darkest Hour’ is powered by a freakishly good Gary Oldman”

Here’s What I Know, Volume 14: A series of thank you notes

A stream of consciousness from Princeton Heights

Here’s all the news that is fit to NOT print on KSDK News. A stream of holiday consciousness:

Thank you, Rian Johnson for turning Luke Skywalker back into a whiny bitch for the latest installment, Last Jedi. Remember 1978 when he really complained about everything and almost fucked his sister? Let’s not bring him back there. So what if he almost killed his protege because he thought the kid was going to be dark and stuff. Get over yourself. The movie was just okay and rather forgettable. Watch porn with surround sound instead.

Thank you, Joe Wright, for delivering a fantastic Winston Churchill flick. Here is a film that throttles your history senses and informs without boring the shit out of you. Gary Oldman is unreal as the aggressive Brit who told Hitler to fuck himself and launched 300 boats to Dunkirk. I left this film feeling entertained and a bit wiser.

What would Churchill say to Luke? Grow the fuck up, your weasel.

Thank you, John Mozeliak, for trading for Marcell Ozuna. He isn’t Giancarlo (or Yelich), but he looks like an explosive player who made some adjustments and will be an upgrade over Randal Grichuk/Stephen Piscotty. I wasn’t hot about acquiring Ozuna, but after talking to Marlins reporter Craig Mish, I think he will be a great fit. And only two years, and not TEN!

Thank you, Cardinals, for sending Piscotty home to care for his mother. Sure, there may have been another landing spot that brought you greater reward, but this was a classy move. Continue reading “Here’s What I Know, Volume 14: A series of thank you notes”

‘The Shape of Water’ is Guillermo del Toro paying homage to Steven Spielberg

Guillermo del Toro hits a home run

The Shape of Water is about a woman who finds love in the most unlikely of places, but trust me, it’s not what you think it is.

Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is the epitome of bittersweet complacency. She can hear others and breathe in the world around her, but she is trapped in a robotic life. Rendered mute at a young age in a tragic accident, she lives a life of following orders and others leads. She eats the pie that her friendly neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins) desires, and even smokes cigarettes on her break with her co-worker, Zelda (Octavia Spencer), even though she hates both of those things. Elisa has a soul

Elisa and Zelda work at a secret government funded laboratory buried deep in Cold War era America, circa 1962. When a mysterious creature is brought in for testing and observation, Elisa is drawn to it and forms a relationship that represents a threatening collapse to her world, but also provides the spark she has been missing.

The Shape of Water is something else. If this movie doesn’t make you feel something, contact a doctor. A unique experience that you would struggle to match with in any film released in the last 20 years. The first word that comes to mind when I try to describe visionary director Guillermo Del Toro’s new film is enchanting. Equal parts drama and thriller, this is a classic love story that will put a smile on your face. A crowd pleasing film that blends genres better than most, Del Toro takes a page out of Steven Spielberg’s book in using the science fiction film genre to create a wholly emotional experience.

The amphibian and Elisa have something in common, and a few forces try to break them apart. Chief among them is the volatile Agent Richard Strickland (played by the one and only Michael Shannon). Strickland only sees a hostile alien threat in the creature, swearing to his superiors to take it down once Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) is done running his tests. Hoffstetler may have some secrets that don’t begin and end with compassion towards a different species, but Strickland is downright sinister, and the chief bad in this film.

Del Toro’s story is built on a beautiful landscape brought to life by production design master Paul Austerberry and Dan Laustner, whose cinematography paints a pulpy noir coat of paint on a tumultuous period in American history. The look of this film provides enough style points for three films, but Del Toro’s script (co-written with Vanessa Taylor) gives it all the substance it needs.

Hawkins hasn’t been in a lot of films lately, but she makes you long for more with her portrayal of Elisa. Playing a woman torn between the fantasy that regular life can’t offer and the easy world she’s grown accustomed to, Hawkins is marvelous. Without the use of dialogue, the actress says a ton through mannerisms and expression, proving that the first form of acting has nothing to do with words, but creating emotion with your body.

Jenkins’ Giles is a brilliant yet sheltered artist, a man who doesn’t know how to properly connect with the outside world, a problem that has cost him just about everything, except for Elisa. Two broken peas in a pod, Elisa and Giles share some of the best moments in the film. Jenkins can simply do no wrong in film the past few years, an instant cinematic delight. He makes the pity and groveling of so many characters easy to get lost in. Elisa is a lot of like Jenkins’ lonely traveler in The Visitor: a regular person who gets a push from an unlikely source.

Doug Jones does a fine job as the amphibian who brightens Elisa’s life all the while being stripped of his own. Stuhlbarg and Jones provide strong work as usual, but Shannon’s pure menace is well layered. The actor is known for putting the odd seasoning in eccentricity, but Strickland isn’t a madman, just a person with his own code of ethics and raised in a time period where the government turned regular men into mercenary soldiers. He’s bent the wrong way, but Shannon gives him something extra that makes you feel sorry for him.

I’ll skip the Oscar worthy mantra and just say that whoever gets nominated in this film deserves it. They helped create a world that at first feels alien and cold, but slowly warms up. A gallery of characters actors getting their chance to shine in a director’s world that is assured and thrilling. I’m not a fan of everything Del Toro produces, but this one felt special to him, and the casual movie fan should be able to feel it.

This film was everything and more. It also tackled, ever so slightly, the despicable manner in which most people react to something foreign, and how they rush to a conclusion before asking the million dollar question: what is this thing’s purpose and how is it different from me? A thought provoking film that doesn’t beat you over the head with its morals.

In reality, water has no shape. It can be endless and dangerously absent at the same time. Sometimes, it can bring two things together, like a human to a boat or food to a creature or human. It’s connective in its strongest suit, binding a pair of forces in one spot.

In The Shape of Water, two creatures of habit find a light between them that burns bright enough for all of us to savor.

‘The Disaster Artist’ is James Franco at the top of his game

Like it’s subject, the movie is imperfect, but endlessly interesting

The definition of disaster is as follows: a sudden event, such as an accident or natural catastrophe, causing great damage or loss of life. Whoever built this word obviously hadn’t met Tommy Wiseau, because he rearranged the meaning of it.

The Disaster Artist is about one man’s improbable run from weird obscurity to filmmaker, and all the people who were affected along the way. Like its lead character, an imperfect film, but one that is endlessly interesting.

Sure, Wiseau (James Franco) had a dream, but few people really knew what it was. A mysterious loner banging around Hollywood with too much money and time on his hands, carrying an accent that sounded like a mix tape combining European and Gypsy vibes, Tommy was a character in his own ongoing movie. When we first meet him, he’s flopping around on a small stage, chewing every ounce of scenery possible during an acting class. When he finds a fellow struggling actor in Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), an unlikely friendship forms, leading to their film, the 2003 cult classic entitled The Room.

If there was a guy who could bring this B-side American dream tale to life, it was Franco, a creative giant at the top of his game. An everyman in make believe land at the moment, Franco has starred in over 140 films, directed 26 projects, and currently plays twins in the HBO series, The Deuce. Oh, he is also stacking up college degrees. Not all of Franco’s acting work is stellar, but he’s always moving. This movie seems to have slowed him down-and for good reason. What Franco manages to do with The Disaster Artist is turn Wiseau’s oddball tale into a hilarious underdog story. Imagine Rocky Balboa, if he was punching himself.

The Room was the epitome of a disastrous (no pun intended) shoot, with Wiseau slinging money-and attitude-left and right at a crew that had no idea who they were dealing with. This is the most fascinating part of the story, seeing a guy with no experience create something that seemed mad and doomed, but turned out to be an experience with endless joy. These days, The Room screens at midnight several times a year in movie theaters around the country. After debuting in one theater back in 2003, making a little over a thousand dollars on a near six million dollar budget, the film has reached cult status today.

If you left the film wondering what led to its formation, The Disaster Artist has you covered. Is the movie great? As a whole, the answer is no, but Franco deserves recognition for his work as Wiseau.

With no offense to his gritty portrayal of Aron Ralston in 127 Hours, this is Franco’s greatest achievement as an actor. Equal parts charismatic and heartbreaking, he makes Wiseau hard to keep your off of during the 105 minute film. When Wiseau is trashing sets and complaining about a woman’s body before a sex scene, you’ll shake your head and just laugh. He is irresistible, and that is the charm in Franco’s go for broke performance. Just stay until the end credits and see how close the real production of The Room matches up with Franco’s rendition. It’s freakishly similar.

The younger Franco doesn’t fare as well, often rendering Greg whiny, pretentious, and nothing near engaging. The suffering friend of an artist of chaos, there was juice to be found in the man’s personality, but Dave Franco left me with no impression other than how good his brother was. This cripples the film’s chances of resonating on a complete level. Seth Rogen puts in fine work but doesn’t stretch much from his skill set playing one of the set hands who dealt with Tommy’s craziness, and there are some great cameos from the likes of Zac Efron in the film.

The film isn’t perfect. You’ll get bored of The Disaster Artist at times (the running time feels longer), and the pacing and tone of the film flutter at times. You may check your watch to see if the end is near from time to time.

Overall, Franco does a good job behind the camera, but saves his best work for in front of it. He brings Tommy Wiseau to life, and doesn’t pull a punch in depicting a chaotic guy who made a terrible movie that got a whole lot of love. You needed a unique talent to bring that together, and Franco gives an impressive performance that will make you wonder if the actor should keep slowing down in order to produce such work. He gave Wiseau a heart, and that makes the film a worthwhile adventure.

Go check it out. Bring a weird friend with you.