Coco Review

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Coco isn’t perfect, but what it is is an absolute joy to watch. The film proves that Pixar is still at its best when tacking new ideas rather than going back to the well.


After a pair of entertaining, if not particularly impressive, sequels to previous films, Pixar is back to once again create an animated feature with a completely original story. If there was a fear Pixar had been losing its mojo, those fears have been laid to rest with Coco, a beautifully crafted and emotional story about music, chasing dreams, and the importance of family,


Miguel is a young boy living in Mexico who dreams of being a musician. The only problem is that Miguel’s great-great grandmother abolished music from the family after her husband left her to follow his dream of being a musician. The hatred of music has been embraced by the ensuing generations, leading Miguel to keep his passion a secret. Miguel decides to chase his dream by entering the local talent show on the Dia de los Muertos, when the people of Mexico honor their deceased ancestors, but Miguel’s grandmother destroys his guitar, leading the boy to take the one belonging to his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz, a local man who became a massive star, and whose crypt resides in town. Upon using the guitar, however, Miguel finds himself transported to the land of the dead, where he meets his deceased family and tries to find a way back home.


That’s a fairly long setup, and Coco does take its time getting going, which is likely the reason that, at nearly two hours, this one of the longer animated movies you’ll find. At the same time, it’s difficult to criticize the movie too much for this decision. The topic of family is central to the story that Coco is trying to tell, and as such, you need to spend some time with Miguel’s family in order for any of that to matter.


Once the story does get going, however, you’ll likely be swept along with it. It goes to interesting places and meets interesting people. Stray dog Dante is as fun an animal sidekick as Disney or Pixar has produced, and his tongue animation alone is worth checking out. Hector (voiced by Gael Garcia Bernal), a lost soul who Miguel enlists into his cause, is entertaining, and just as musically talented as Miguel. Though it’s probably Miguel’s deceased Mama Imelda (Alanna Ubach) who steals the show. Anthony Gonzalez’s turn as Miguel is equally solid. While the character is yet another Disney protagonist with parents who “just don’t understand,” Miguel is far from the worst example of this storytelling cliche.


To answer your major question yes, Coco is going to tug at your heartstrings, and if you’re the sort that gets a bit choked up at Pixar movies, the same thing is almost certainly going to happen here. Bring tissues.


While not a musical in the traditional Disney model, music is a bigger part of Coco than it has been in any Pixar movie to date. Kristen Anderson-Lopez of Frozen fame wrote the films original songs and while the Mexican influence means they sound nothing like “Let it Go,” there’s just as good a chance you’ll be humming the music to Coco on the way out of the theater.


It’s wonderful to see a culture that rarely gets attention be given such a major stage as a Pixar feature film. Most people probably know little about the Mexican Day of the Dead, and while some liberties are certainly taken with the mythology behind the holiday, the passion and reverence with which Pixar approaches the material is clear.


Coco is a film that kids will enjoy. Having said that, it’s a remarkably mature story. Pixar movies have never hesitated to deal with adult themes, like mortality, and as you might expect, a movie that deals with ancestors that have passed on doesn’t shy away from it. Coco, however, takes things a step further with quite possibly the darkest turn we’ve seen in a family movie for some time. It was a somewhat shocking moment.


It’s not the only time the movie attempts to pull the rug out from under the audience, though it’s the only one that lands perfectly. The other big “twist” will probably still be a surprise to the kids in the audience, but the adults will see it a mile away, which isn’t to say it won’t still be emotional for everybody.


Calling Pixar’s animation visually stunning seems like an exercise in the obvious, but Coco is truly lovely to view. The Land of the Dead is bright and colorful and full of so much that it’s almost distracting. Special recognition needs to go to the alebrejas, the spirit guides which consist of multiple animals combined together into several unique creatures. Each combination is bright, beautiful, and unique.


Coco isn’t perfect, but what it is is an absolute joy to watch. The film proves that Pixar is still at its best when tacking new ideas rather than going back to the well.

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12 Strong Review

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AppId is over the quota

12 Strong knows it has an interesting story to tell with a unique perspective, and it tells it well with a collection of talented actors and some legitimately gripping action.


As long as people continue to go to war with one another, we will continue to see war movies. After all, stories are built on conflict — the greater the threat, the greater the stakes — and the battlefield contains extreme, escalating conflict. Of course, because of their ubiquity, there is a certain necessity to somehow stand out from the crowd, and deliver something that audiences don’t typically see. This isn’t ultimately the greatest strength of director Nicolai Fuglsig’s 12 Strong, which takes audiences back to the Middle Eastern conflict following September 11th. However, the film does have a seriously impressive story to tell that is supported by a rock-solid ensemble and wonderfully intense photography.


Set in the immediate aftermath of the aforementioned fateful day, 12 Strong begins with Capt. Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) learning about events at the World Trade Center on his home television in Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, but before we can even learn his wife’s name, he’s back at work. While his active service in Special Forces is meant to be over, the attacks by the Taliban inspire him to stand and fight rather than ride a desk. His team’s Chief Warrant Officer, Hal Spencer (Michael Shannon), convinces their Colonel (Rob Riggle) to put Nelson and his men back in action, and within hours the unit (Michael Pena, Trevante Rhodes, Jack Kesy, Austin Stowell, Austin Hebert, Kenny Sheard, Geoff Stults, Thad Luckinbill, Ben O’Toole, Kenneth Miller) finds itself shipping off to Afghanistan.


With a harsh winter approaching in a matter of weeks, the mission drawn out is straight-forward: the Taliban has occupied the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, and the Special Forces will drive them out. The only way to accomplish this assignment, though, is with the assistance of the Afghani people — specifically the Northern Alliance military front led by the notoriously stern and strict General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban). Riding on horseback through the desert, Nelson’s unit and Dostum’s followers cooperate and use their combined resources and terrain knowledge to take the fight to their shared enemy and score the first victory in what would develop as the War In Afghanistan.


The film is based on the book Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton, and while there ultimately isn’t anything in it that elevates it to the level of “Great” from a stylistic or narrative perspective, 12 Strong is successfully compelling and reveals details of a heroic and teamwork-driven endeavor that most Americans probably don’t know about. The 12 soldiers of the title faced unique conditions in their quest for immediate retaliation after September 11th, certainly the most notable being their mode of transportation, but what’s easiest to appreciate is the movie’s focus on cooperation. Many war films about America’s modern Middle Eastern conflicts fall into the trap of painting a nation vs. nation/ideology vs. ideology backdrop, but 12 Strong clearly demonstrates the incredible importance that Afghanistan soldiers had in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.


Looking at the actors names mentioned above you’ll notice that the cast is stacked with some big time players — and the movie thankfully employs them well, even as the ensemble regularly finds itself split into groups over the course of the story. As you might expect, some of the Special Forces soldiers get a lot more screentime than others, but the positive spin is that it effectively utilizes the best of them, even while showcasing some well-worn cliches. We’ve seen soldiers bonding with young kids in-country countless times in other war films, but Trevante Rhodes still manages to sell it. There’s always that one guy who cracks the jokes to break the tension, but Michael Pena is straight-up a great casting choice for that part.


Naturally, Chris Hemsworth and Navid Negahban are 12 Strong‘s true leads, and thankfully they deliver the best turns of the group. In the case of Hemsworth, his recent track record has amplified his comedic talents, but he successfully reminds us here that he can sell serious drama just as well. And while he’s obviously nowhere near as big a name, Negahban portrays Dostum with a fantastic enigmatic complexity that both earns an air of respect and keeps you guessing what he’s going to do next.


Stylistically, the movie has its moments in its quiet scenes, but first time director Nicolai Fuglsig really shows what he can do when the action is at its hottest. The Danish filmmaker got his start as a photojournalist and earned attention for his coverage of the Kosovo War — and that experience-aided eye is clearly on display in 12 Strong. There are many airstrikes depicted throughout the movie, and the resulting explosions are so big you actually question how safe they were to shoot. The very realistic environments seem to only further enhance the performances, and with everyone at full intensity, it really brings you to war with its battle sequences.


12 Strong isn’t a film that we will be heavily reflecting on when we get closer to the end of the year and look back at both the best and worst that 2018 had to offer — but it is a surprise as a January release. It knows it has an interesting story to tell with a unique perspective, and it tells it well with a collection of talented actors and some legitimately gripping action. Furthermore, it pays great respect to heroes who should and will go down in the annals of history.

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Winchester Review

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They have produced a work that is utterly toothless and boring, full of nothing but cheap jump scares timed out around a trope-filled plot that audiences have seen hundreds of times in bad modern genre films.


Peter and Michael Spierig, best known as the Spierig brothers, are talented filmmakers, just a couple years removed from their excellent, twisty sci-fi feature Predestination. Helen Mirren, of course, has established herself a cinematic legend after decades of work. And Jason Clarke has been considered a solid go-to-guy in Hollywood since his breakout in Zero Dark Thirty. Given the talents of all these people, you’d think that their first collaboration together, the new horror movie Winchester, would have a lot of potential, but unfortunately you would be very wrong. Instead, they have produced a work that is utterly toothless and boring, full of nothing but cheap jump scares timed out around a trope-filled plot that audiences have seen hundreds of times in bad modern genre films.


Based on a script by the Spierig brothers and Tom Vaughan, Winchester transports audiences back to the year 1906, and is amazingly the first film to explore the story of the famed Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. When controlled by Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren), the widow of gun manufacturer William Winchester, the estate was constantly undergoing remodeling, with Sarah claiming to be haunted by the spirits of thousands of victims killed by her company’s products. A seemingly endless series of rooms continued to be added with no real logic, leaving the place a labyrinth of odd hallways with doors and stairways going absolutely nowhere.


The story begins with Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke), a grieving, whoring, laudanum-addicted psychiatrist living in San Francisco, being called on by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company for a special evaluation — brought in to assess Sarah Winchester’s mental competency. Board members are concerned that the widow has completely lost it and is not fit to run the company; while she counters that everything she claims is real, and that she is horrifically cursed by the weapons from which she has profited. A man of science who is constantly repeating his philosophy of mind-over-body, Price is a total skeptic who doesn’t believe any of it, but starts to have his mind changed by visions of the dead while staying at the house with Sarah’s niece (Sarah Snook) and her young son (Finn Scicluna-O’Prey).


With some filming actually done at the real Winchester Mystery House, you’d think that the real star of Winchester would be its immensely creepy, unique setting — potentially densely explored in Kubrickian fashion — but the fact that it’s not is just the first of many, many things wrong with the movie. In the entire 98-minute runtime, there is not a single sequence where a character gets lost in the maze-like structure, the narrative instead settling for poor exposition about locked rooms full of both peaceful and vengeful spirts, and scenes simply set in weird-looking portions of the building. Ultimately it’s a textbook case of telling instead of showing, with far more time devoted to characters talking about the weirdness of the construction than any actual exploration of the property (scary or otherwise).


The movie’s inability to take advantage of the most interesting aspects of the true subject matter is immensely frustrating, but what makes things worse and turns Winchester into an all-out exhausting experience are the endless jump scares. Any attempt at being “creepy” totally falls on its face (up to and including a dead-eyed redheaded child slowly singing “Beautiful Dreamer”), so the film entirely depends on flash appearances of creepy faces and sharp crescendos in the score for any energy whatsoever. They give you a jolt the first couple of times, but they eventually get so remarkably rote that you can actually count down the seconds before a painted face appears in a door way or over a character’s shoulder. If the music weren’t so loud at particular moments it could easily put you to sleep — which is really something that is extra horrible in a horror feature.


You’d like to think that the clout of Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke would be enough to elevate them above the material, but rather than thinking, “These are some good performances in a bad movie,” this is more of a “Why the hell did they sign on for this project?” situation. While Dr. Eric Price is certainly a character with plenty of defects and has an established backstory involving a wife who killed herself, he has no real personality, and gives Clarke nothing to work with that doesn’t feel tired and overdone. Mirren, meanwhile, never actually gets to do anything interesting as Sarah Winchester, as any mystery surrounding the character’s strange beliefs are totally killed by the fact that the movie makes no mystery of them at all (rather than ever appearing unsettling or weird, she is simply just correct — which isn’t doesn’t exactly inspire any spine tingles). It fully comes across as a paycheck move, as it’s hard to see what it could be that the performers found inspirational in the story being told.


The horror genre in Hollywood has been on a wonderful hot streak in the last couple years, but Winchester is the kind of movie that reminds you how easy it is to swing and miss with a scary flick. You expect a lot more from the players involved, and definitely hope that they will do better the next time out, but that also doesn’t do much to lessen the disappointment.

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Justice League Review

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AppId is over the quota

Justice League is rough, uneven, and downright ugly at times, but stripping away those serious flaws reveals a near-perfect take on heroic icons, a step forward for the DCEU, and a promise of greatness to come.


In 2012, Marvel released The Avengers and fundamentally changed the idea of what’s possible in blockbuster filmmaking. Five years later, DC has finally managed to bring its own superhero team to life with Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and while the result is enjoyable, it also could be better. While it’s nowhere near as innovative as its Marvel counterpart, and kind of a hot mess in a few fundamental ways, Justice League is also an insanely fun time as it absolutely nails these DC heroes, offers up some phenomenal fan service, and promises a ton of hope for the future of the DCEU.


The Superman (Henry Cavill) has perished, and the world is in peril. Still haunted by visions of an apocalyptic future, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) continues to investigate Earth’s metahumans, and along with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) recruits a speedster named Barry Allen a.k.a. The Flash (Ezra Miller), a water-powered Arthur Curry a.k.a. Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and cybernetically enhanced Victor Stone a.k.a. Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to form a ragtag team. Unfortunately, Bruce’s visions start to become fully realized with the arrival of Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) and his Parademons – an alien force hunting three hidden devices known as Mother Boxes in hopes or reshaping the world. Knowing that their help is needed, Earth’s hidden champions come out of the shadows to form an uneasy alliance and usher in a new age of heroes.


In a clear response to the critical reaction to the franchise’s 2016 entries Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, the doom and gloom feels supplanted in Justice League by a palpable sense of fun and raw adventure. Hans Zimmer’s moody melodies have been replaced by a more booming and kinetic Danny Elfman score, and there are far more quips to go around – particularly among the youthful newcomers. Certain heavy-handed melodramatic moments feel reminiscent of the previous films (particularly the opening credits sequence), but one thing is clear: DC wants their team-up movie to show audiences a shift towards the tone of its classic animated properties or the recent Rebirth line of comics. Less grit, and more of the heart, humor, and heroism that the icons are supposed to embody.


That’s important because, much like Wonder Woman, Justice League represents a vital step forward for the DCEU. The movie is a misshapen screw in an IKEA furniture set: it’s malformed and doesn’t exactly work as it should, but it’s still functional and will hold things together at the point its needed in the larger construction. It makes the occasional awkward stretch to get certain characters and potential storylines in place for the future, but by the time it’s over, you have a clear idea of where DC wants to go. More importantly, once the credits start rolling you’re sold on each planned solo movie that the franchise is developing.


For everything that Justice League does well regarding tone and table setting for its characters, it’s also forced to contend with an incredibly uneven central story. The film regularly grinds to a halt for forced exposition dumps, and while it’s nowhere near as sloppy as Batman v Superman or as aimless as Suicide Squad, it also feels overly stuffed with insignificant subplots to push the thin story forward in between quippy dialogue and genuinely badass action. Even at a lean two hours (including credits), it still feels like Justice League could’ve been shorter with some tighter writing and editing.


In the face of Justice League‘s narrative faults, the heroes pick up the slack and carry it across the finish line. Pretty much everyone is solid across the board. Gal Gadot continues to bring a regalness and wisdom to Wonder Woman that’s impossible not to fall in love with; while Ezra Miller and Jason Momoa both bring fun energies to the ensemble as Flash and Aquaman, respectively — Miller being full-on awkward and nerdy, Momoa being cocky and boisterous. Ray Fisher similarly turns in a good performance as Cyborg, although (by his very nature) his constant state of evolution makes him somewhat less defined. Then there’s Ben Affleck, who finally gets a chance to deliver a Batman that feels ripped straight from the pages of DC Comics. Fans and DC insiders alike have talked about Affleck’s questionable return to Batman after Justice League, however, if he goes out on this performance, it would be going out on a high note.


Praise can’t be handed out to every character in the film. Not much can be said about Superman’s presence in the movie without delving too far into spoiler territory, but it’s not a spoiler to say that Justice League is the stiffest and least comfortable that Henry Cavill has looked in the role. More significant, unfortunately, is that Steppenwolf is arguably one of the worst villains that we have ever seen in a DC movie. He gets a few charming one-liners, and he’s certainly a faithful depiction of the character, but he’s also roughly as compelling as Enchantress from Suicide Squad (a.k.a not very), and as visually impressive as a character from a PlayStation 2 game.


The digital effects used to create Steppenwolf are worth taking a moment to point out, because on the whole Justice League‘s visual effects are distractingly bad. From the CGI used to create characters like Cyborg and the Parademons, to the obvious green screen backgrounds used in sequences on Themyscira and Atlantis, the film just looks fake – certainly affected by the behind the scenes complications and heavy reshoots that the film encountered through production. It’s forgivable in some of the blockbuster’s more fun moments (of which there are several), but a movie this important and massive has no right to have its digital aesthetic flaws.


Moving beyond the core Justice League ensemble, the film is packed with a wide array of notable supporting characters, including some who only get a few scenes. Luckily, the film does a fair job of keeping things moving in such a way that its army of side characters never bogs it down. We bounce from Henry Allen (Billy Crudup) in prison to Mera (Amber Heard) in Atlantis to Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) on Themyscira, but Justice League never slips into Spider-Man 3 territory and feels overwhelmed by its cast. The film has pacing problems, but they aren’t generated from its character usage, and it does manage to move quickly between these locales, and set the table in a way that feels relatively natural.


Justice League is rough, uneven, and downright ugly at times, but stripping away those serious flaws reveals a near-perfect take on heroic icons, a step forward for the DCEU, and a promise of greatness to come. Even with its imperfections, it’s a damn good time that captures the spirit of the mythos, demonstrating that DC has finally found its footing. We cannot wait to see where all of the seeds planted in Justice League go from here.

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Pitch Perfect 3 Review

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AppId is over the quota

Pitch Perfect 3 is light on logic or plot, but heavy on humor. The Bellas has ventured into the ridiculous, but the shift may reward open-minded fans looking to laugh.


Despite the abundance of franchises in Hollywood, comedy series remain tough nuts to crack. The funny franchises that pull it off manage to do so by embracing what works and evolving the rest, and that’s more or less what Pitch Perfect has managed to accomplish going into its third installment. Trish Sie’s Pitch Perfect 3 is rough, unevenly plotted, and cliche in almost every way imaginable, but it’s also a genuinely funny film that gets by on the chemistry of its cast.


Picking up with The Barden Bellas in their post-college years, Pitch Perfect 3 focuses its attention on the idea of the quarter-life crisis. Each of the graduated Bellas hates her current situation, and many of them desperately want to return to their golden years as a capella stars. When a planned “reunion” by Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) doesn’t go according to plan, Aubrey (Anna Camp) decides to use her father’s military connections to get Becca (Anna Kendrick), Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), Chloe (Brittany Snow), and the rest of the Bellas added to the lineup of a European USO tour that doubles as a competition in which the winners get to open for DJ Khaled. Meanwhile, a mysterious and malevolent presence (a delightfully campy John Lithgow) from Amy’s past returns and threatens to tear the Bellas apart.


Those are the two main plot threads of Pitch Perfect 3, and while they’re definitely not inventive (if anything the film feels like it was shot off of a first draft script), they definitely provide a framework to let the cast have fun. Pitch Perfect 3 throws everything at the wall, and while a significant portion of the jokes doesn’t land, there are still plenty of laughs to be had here. In fact, while Pitch Perfect 3 is not the funniest movie of 2017, it’s arguably the funniest broad comedy of the year (and possibly even of the last couple of years).


As usual, Rebel Wilson gets the lion’s share of the laughs while Anna Kendrick plays the level-headed hero as Becca, but it’s also reasonably clear that Pitch Perfect has made a valiant effort to go full ensemble this time around and give everyone a little bit more to do. This shift works for some (Anna Camp and Brittany Snow) better than it does for others. (How is Hailee Steinfeld still playing the straight woman in this franchise after The Edge of Seventeen?) But by and large, Pitch Perfect 3 will generally keep audiences laughing from start to finish — even if the humor is fairly sophomoric in nature.


Of course, the extent to which Pitch Perfect 3 eventually deviates from the original premise of the franchise is something that might not necessarily sit well with fans. After all, this series started off as a simple story about a collegiate a capella troupe, and now they’re going on globetrotting adventures full of explosions and international intrigue. This shift has the potential to jar certain segments of the fanbase, but it needs to be said that it actually feels like a shift that this series has a unique ability to pull off. From the moment Aubrey projectile vomited in the first film, it became abundantly clear that Pitch Perfect would operate with one foot firmly planted in the absurd. Pitch Perfect 3 has taken that one step forward in the vain of the Jump Street franchise by essentially turning Fat Amy into a super spy, and if you’re willing to roll with that change, then everything else should work for you here.


Building off of that idea, though it may seem blasphemous, it is worth mentioning that the a capella aspects of the Pitch Perfect franchise may have (weirdly enough) become one of the more unnecessary elements of this universe. The Barden Bellas and their college-based antics were obviously our way into this world when the original Pitch Perfect debuted back in 2012, but now that we have come to love other aspects of these characters, it’s worth wondering if it’s a necessary plot element anymore. Music will always play a significant role in the dynamic of these characters if future movies happen, but we’ve reached the point where we just like hanging out with these weirdos regardless of what they’re doing.


That’s not to say that the music in Pitch Perfect 3 isn’t worth your time as well. For the most part, the a capella sequences continue to impress, and there’s one scene in which Becca tinkers with a rudimentary House beat by DJ Khaled (who is never not hilarious in anything), that’s surprisingly catchy. That said, the music is slowly but surely moving away from its status as the meat of these stories. Yes, we do get another Riff-Off in this movie, but it wears out its welcome quickly as we realize that we just want to get back to what these films still do well: the jokes and the Bella chemistry.


All in all, Pitch Perfect 3 is light on logic or plot but heavy on humor. The Bellas have ventured into the ridiculous, but the shift may reward open-minded fans looking to laugh. It’s the furthest thing from high culture, but that’s never the role that it wants to inhabit in the first place.

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Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle Review

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AppId is over the quota

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle isn’t one of the best movies of the year, but it is, without question, one of the most fun movies of the year. The cast is excellent and they overcome any of the film’s shortcoming through pure force of charisma.


It’s clear that we’re officially running out of nostalgia properties to reboot when Hollywood settles on a reboot/sequel to a relatively inconsequential movie like Jumanji. The original film wasn’t terrible, though it found its followers over the years. If the original Jumanji is truly a dearly remembered film from your past, then you may be upset to learn that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is about as far from a faithful sequel as you can get. However, if you’re ok with the new movie just being fun, you’re in for a treat.


This version of Jumanji follows four high school kids who get stuck in detention together one day. Each one is a fairly standard stereotype. The nerd (Alex Wolff) and the jock (Ser’Darius Blain), former friends from grade school, got busted because the former got caught doing the latter’s homework. The outcast (Morgan Turner) made an unintended rude comment to the gym teacher, and the social media princess (Madison Iseman) got busted for using her phone in class. It’s the Breakfast Club, minus the criminal.


While serving their punishment together, they find an old video game system already loaded with a Jumanji video game cartridge, having seemingly evolved itself from the original board game. Upon starting it up, they get sucked into the world of the game, each high school stereotype becomes a very different video game trope. The nerd turns into the muscle-bound hero Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson). The jock becomes the sidekick, Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), the outcast becomes the sexy martial artist Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), and the princess becomes the overweight (male) scientist, Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black). Upon arriving, they’re met by an NPC (Rhys Darby) who spouts pre-rendered expository dialogue that explains they must take the Jewel of Jumanji across the jungle back to its resting place in order to break a curse on the land, all while avoiding the evil John Hardin Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale). Only by beating the game, can they escape it.


What follows is a combination video-game action movie and body swap comedy, and the two different concepts work remarkably well together. This is mostly thanks to a rock solid cast who takes a fairly paint-by-the-numbers plot and infuses it with humor and charisma, which carries the audience through from start to finish. Dwayne Johnson has proven before that he’s the perfect combination of action hero and comedian, and any role where he’s able to show off both sets of skills is worth watching. Karen Gillan pulls off her fight scenes as well, if not better, than Johnson, all while complaining about the impracticality of her Lara Croft-inspired outfit. Kevin Hart’s internal jock may be furious that he’s the sidekick, but he still gets a few moments to shine himself. The highlight, however, may be Jack Black who is shockingly good at playing a 15-year-old girl. The combination is able to be funny without coming across as creepy.


While most movies based on video games reject the mechanics of health bars, extra lives, and level-based progression, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle embraces these very concepts. Each character has various strengths and weaknesses which come into play, just as they clearly would if this was an actual video game.


Of course, the problem with making a plot which is designed to look like it came from a video game is that video game plots are usually pretty lame, and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is no exception. Video games have stories which exist primarily to serve the gameplay, and Jumanji has a story which exists to serve jokes and action sequences. It’s pretty paper thin beyond that. Luckily, those jokes and action sequences are fun, so you won’t really care that the plot barely holds together.


If you haven’t seen the original Jumanji you’ll be fine. However, Welcome to the Jungle does take a moment to nod to the first film’s star, the late Robin Williams, in a way that feels good and will make fans of Williams, and Jumanji, smile.


Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle isn’t one of the best movies of the year, but it is, without question, one of the most fun movies of the year. The cast is excellent, and they overcome any of the film’s shortcoming through pure force of charisma. This is one video game movie that won’t leave you wishing you’d spent the last two hours playing it, instead.

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Maze Runner: The Death Cure Review

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AppId is over the quota

Maze Runner: The Death Cure is for diehard Maze Runner fans only. Between the extended wait, the extended length, and the characters without character, it’s unlikely anybody else will have the constitution required to get the end of this maze.


Due to a tragic accident on the set of Maze Runner: The Death Cure, the third entry in the dystopian franchise was delayed a long time. Now it’s here, which is likely good news for those who have been waiting for a culmination of the story. If, however, the extended delay made you forget The Death Cure was even coming, you’re likely better off just continuing to forget.


Maze Runner: The Death Cure picks up where the last film left off. Our hero Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) has joined a group of resistance fighters in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where the human race has been nearly obliterated by disease. The organization WCKD (known as Wicked, because subtlety is a skill we’ve lost in the future, apparently) is experimenting on those immune to the disease, like Thomas, in hopes of finding a cure. After having kidnapped several survivors, including Thomas’ friend, and fellow immune, Minho, at the end of the last movie, the new one opens with an attempted rescue. The rescue doesn’t go according to plan, however, leading Thomas to take a small band to infiltrate The Last City, WCKD’s stronghold, and the only real civilization left.


First thing’s first: you’d better be up to speed on your Maze Runner history, because The Death Cure doesn’t bother to explain anything about the previous two films. Considering the delayed release, a little opening summary wouldn’t have been out of line, but instead, we drop right into the action and the story continues as if you had just finished watching The Scorch Trials. While this isn’t necessarily the end of the world, you’ll pick up enough of the plot details as you go, the problem is that this approach means that The Death Cure is utterly incapable of standing on its own as a film.


Characters aren’t introduced so much as they appear. These characters may have understandable motivations for what they do that was explained at some point previously in the series, but it’s never mentioned here. Perhaps they have grown or changed as people over the course of the films, but they certainly don’t do that in this movie. Certainly, even if you found something worth loving about our heroes in a previous film, you’ll have to simply remember that it happened, because here everybody is little more than a cog in the machine that is the forward progression of the plot.


That plot is nothing to speak of. Even if you’re not up to speed with the Maze Runner series, there’s little that will surprise you if you have even a passing familiarity with this genre.


That doesn’t mean there isn’t fun to be had in the familiar story. The action set pieces are exciting enough. The opening bit with the train, and a later one with a bus, are certainly entertaining, even if they’re just as patently unbelievable as the rest of the plot. How exactly did everybody else know exactly where the train would stop?


However, those fun moments are few and far between. With a runtime of two hours and twenty minutes, you’ll be spending a lot of time with these thin characters and warmed over plot. Maze Runner: The Death Cure is too long by half. You want to commend The Maze Runner for not doing what every other literary series adaptation has done in recent years and split their final book into a pair of films, but The Death Cure begins to approach the length of two movies. You think it’s going to end after the first action finale, but then it keeps going and has another action finale, followed by a wrap up that wants to give The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King a run for its money.


Maze Runner: The Death Cure is for diehard Maze Runner fans only. Between the extended wait, the extended length, and the characters without character, it’s unlikely anybody else will have the constitution required to get the end of this maze.

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The Post Review

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AppId is over the quota

The Post boasts a stunning ensemble of extraordinary character actors sinking their teeth into a riveting screenplay, all choreographed by a genius filmmaker who is firing on all possible cylinders.


In the past, there have been two types of Steven Spielberg films. Amistad, Lincoln, Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List fall under the umbrella of Important Historical Significance, solemn movies that aim to educate while also allowing the masterful filmmaker to recreate moments from our collective past. On the flip side, Spielberg has his Popcorn Blockbuster itch that he regularly scratches in movies like Jurassic Park, the Indiana Jones franchise, Minority Report or Catch Me If You Can. Spielberg’s goal in these exercises is mainly to entertain, using every trick in his bag to coax you to the edge of your seat and stay there for as long as he chooses to hold you in his grip.


The Post, Steven Spielberg’s exceptional new film about the vitality of journalism, might be his first movie to weave both genres together, pouring a valuable history lesson into a briskly paced race-the-clock political thriller that pushes all the right buttons we need in a crowd-pleaser. Shot and edited in a seven-month span, The Post boasts a stunning ensemble of extraordinary character actors sinking their teeth into a riveting screenplay, all choreographed by a genius filmmaker who is firing on all possible cylinders. The Post is the best movie I saw this year, and likely the most important movie you’ll see in several years.


Though set in the past, The Post speaks to our modern time. It lays out a handful of storylines, all centered around the acquisition of The Pentagon Papers, classified documents that seemed to prove that multiple U.S. administrations had misled the American public with regard to our motivations to stay involved in the Vietnam War. Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), an opponent to the ongoing war effort, photocopied the documents and began leaking them to The New York Times. When President Richard Nixon filed an injunction against the Times preventing them from publishing any more information that was found in the Pentagon Papers, Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) sensed an opportunity to carry the torch of journalism and bring the truth to his readers.


Simultaneously, the Washington Post was in financial straits (and if you wonder how relevant this subplot is, ask any journalist who still holds a newspaper job in 2017). Publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) took over the family business following her husband’s suicide, but faced a predominantly-male board that doubted her abilities. At the time that Bradlee was pushing his editorial team to acquire and publish the Pentagon Papers, thereby inviting the wrath of a vengeful U.S. President, Graham was facing heat from shareholders demanding that the Post do nothing to rock the boat of a potential financial merger that would bring stability to the paper during a time of need.


The Post is a rollicking journalism movie, easily the best of its kind that seamlessly joins the ranks of such crackling chase-the-breaking-story thrillers as All the President’s Men and the recent Spotlight. (Screenwriter Josh Singer, who won an Oscar for Spotlight, does a pass on Liz Hannah’s original The Post script, and their collaboration is spectacular.) But The Post seems even more entertaining because every line of the crisp and efficient script lands in the hands of an outstanding character actor, as Spielberg has recruited the deepest bench in recent acting memory. Aside from his two astounding leads (Streep and Hanks haven’t been this good in years), The Post sets up and knocks down breathtaking scenes that feature the likes of Bob Odenkirk, Carrie Coon, Bradley Whitford, Alison Brie, Jesse Plemons, Sarah Paulson, Tracy Letts, David Cross and Bruce Greenwood. Seriously, for anyone obsessed with the nuts-and-bolts workings of how a Hollywood masterpiece can come together, Steven Spielberg’s The Post can and will be a Master Class that is studied for decades by filmmakers, actors and below-the-line talents for generations to come.


On top of the exquisite craftsmanship that goes into the entirety of The Post, it’s the timeless message that make this movie important today. Politics aside, the term “fake news” has become a buzzword aimed at facts one doesn’t agree with, or seeks to discredit. Journalism is a tireless practice, and one dedicated to unearthing the truth, regardless of who it affects. The Post humanizes the men and women who tackle the difficult effort of following a developing story down every avenue, and bringing the results to the people, even when they might not want to hear what is revealed. Journalism is never not important, and the defense of a free press is a message that’s crucial now, and important to audiences of any generation.


The Post is a fantastic film filled with incredible performances, all servicing an important message that speaks to our time. There isn’t a false step in the entire production, and it’s mind-blowingly inspirational that a filmmaker like Steven Spielberg can recognize the magnitude of a particular screenplay, recruit the best-of-the-best to help him tell it, and then deliver an airtight and intelligent package that entertains, informs, challenges and delights. The Post is, to me, the year’s best film. See it at all cost.

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Daddy’s Home 2 Review

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AppId is over the quota

Daddy’s Home 2 is as much of a mean-spirited, emasculating, uneven celebration of both the alpha and beta male stereotypes as Daddy’s Home was before it. They just decided to dress it in an ugly Christmas sweater this time out.


There’s no place like home for the holidays. Every year we’re told as much, and it’s a sentiment that still holds up. But if your home was filled with vicious relatives that couldn’t get along and a chaotic atmosphere that only brought more disaster with each coming day, you’d probably find a nice hotel somewhere and ride out the storm in the comfort of some solitude. But if you can’t escape real life relatives that do activities things during the holidays, you can take comfort in one thing you can skip this holiday season: Daddy’s Home 2.


Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) and Brad (Will Ferrell) have changed a lot since the first time we saw them. Their co-dad’ing skills are sharp, their friendship is strong, and everything seems to be working out fine. With the Christmas season upon them, and the pressure of another two house celebration getting to everyone involved, it’s decided that this year will be one, big, two family celebration — complete with two very different grandpas (Mel Gibson and John Lithgow). Needless to say, chaos ensues, old wounds are opened, and a cell tower is destroyed.


If you haven’t seen Daddy’s Home and are afraid you’ve missed all the set-up you need to enjoy for Daddy’s Home 2, don’t be: almost every gag from the first film is repeated in the sequel, right down to the product placement friendly dialogue praising the glory of the Ford Flex. Admittedly, comedy sequels are hard, as coming up with fresh gags for an established pair is rough, resulting in some more obvious dialogue. But if you didn’t laugh at Will Ferrell crashing a motorcycle into a Ford Flex in Daddy’s Home, then you’ll probably grimace when he manages the same feat with a snowblower.


And for a film that’s supposed to celebrate Christmas, Daddy’s Home 2 barely touches the yuletide season– except for some late third act action and a running joke involving Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas Time?” Other than that, the same mean spirited dickery that prevailed throughout Daddy’s Home shines right through its successor, only there’s now two granddads, another mom, and another stepdad in the mix. And despite the comedic chops of folks like John Cena, Mel Gibson, and John Lithgow, there’s no saving Daddy’s Home 2 from taking after its cinematic father.


There are a couple positives that come out of Daddy’s Home 2, and for a moment it feels like a totally different movie could have saved the franchise. Between the moments of tit-for-tat between Mel Gibson and John Lithgow, and one multi-dad gag involving the thermostat of the cabin they’re all sharing, there’s actually some laughs to be mined from this boring ore. The chemistry between the granddads is so good in the fleeting moments it’s allowed to shine that if they were to propose a spin-off following the two men’s exploits, as hinted at the end of thefilm, an R-rated version of such a prospect could be a funny concept. At the very least, it’d be funnier than two Daddy’s Home movies put together. Hell, the PG-13 Christmas action thriller within the movie, Missile Tow, would have been a better experience, as that film was at least intended to be ridiculous and cliched, with Liam Neeson as its knowing lead.


Daddy’s Home 2 is as much of a mean-spirited, emasculating, uneven celebration of both the alpha and beta male stereotypes as Daddy’s Home was before. They just decided to dress it in an ugly Christmas sweater this time out. Being the total antithesis of a feel good holiday movie, it provides us with two more entertaining films that could have taken its place, and lets us only dream about those better days. It is as lazy as it is unfunny, dragging an hour and forty minute window into an eternity of pain. If anything, this is the movie Mark Wahlberg should hope Jesus forgives him for.

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The Cloverfield Paradox Review

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AppId is over the quota

The Cloverfield Paradox uses its duration efficiently, mixing thrills and heart into a cocktail that makes for an effectively surprising film.


Over the past couple of months, a game has been playing out between audiences hungry for the film we now know as The Cloverfield Paradox and the studios behind the making of it. Now, Paramount and Netflix have fulfilled their eventual endgame, surprising fans with a release date being revealed just moments after the film’s fate was confirmed. While this movie is not the best entry in the universe it has made its home in, it’s still a welcome addition to a canon that just might continue to pay off into the future.


Here’s what the surprise movie is about. With the world in the midst of a global energy crisis, a space station is created in order to conduct top-secret research deemed too dangerous to be done on Earth. After years of firing its particle accelerator, the crew of the Cloverfield space station seem to have finally made their breakthrough… but at a terrible cost. Now, with a situation wholly unknown to its crew, and their situation becoming more dire as time marches on, this team of scientists is racing a clock to solve some serious issues, and they just might tear each other apart before finding a solution.


There are some advantages and drawbacks that come with the Cloverfield name, and The Cloverfield Paradox definitely has both. Much more in line with the first film from 2008, we follow a group of characters who are banded together in a tense situation. But the entire experience is a positive one, as the film tells a tense sci-fi story that truly puts it cast through the paces. And with an all-star cast that includes Daniel Bruhl, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Elizabeth Debicki, David Oyelowo, Chris O’Dowd, and Zhang Ziyi, there’s an ensemble that helps keep the wheels in motion, with a perpetual motion that never lets up.


At the heart of it all is Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s functional lead, Ava, who provides the heart and soul of The Cloverfield Paradox. While her backstory has elements to it that are a bit routine, Mbatha-Raw never treats them as such. It’s her nuance that actually makes the entire film work, as without Ava’s journey, the narrative wouldn’t be as compelling. Watching Ava struggle with the quandary of her home life versus the mission to save humanity is what some of the best sci-fi is all about. If it wasn’t for that very human anchor in the film’s structure, the rest of The Cloverfield Paradox would spin off into space.


With a running time that clocks in under two hours, The Cloverfield Paradox uses its duration efficiently, mixing thrills and heart into a cocktail that makes for an effectively surprising film. However, there’s one key portion of the film’s story that’s been teased in its advertising that manages to fall just a tad flat. With the promises of explaining how the Cloverfield universe came about, The Cloverfield Paradox attempts to do just that with some light exposition in its first act. But besides that blink-and-you-miss-it moment, the film really doesn’t go too deep into tying this movie to the original movie, or in placing the three Cloverfield movies together. This doesn’t sink the entire film, as the portion of the story that must have come from the God Particle storyline written by Oren Uziel makes up for the film’s narrative meat.


The Cloverfield Paradox, at its minimal worst, is an example of what happens when a movie doesn’t fully integrate itself into a franchise as well as it could. But with the majority of the narrative running at breakneck pace through a pretty effective (if familiar) story, it’s hard to notice until you’ve reached the end of the film, and even by then, it’s more of a head scratcher than a vase smasher. Through the grace of Netflix, The Cloverfield Paradox has officially pulled the most Cloverfield move in the book, as it’s gone from trailer to release in the shortest window possible with a surprise release. Let’s just hope that if Paramount and Netflix are looking to keep the franchise alive in the years to come, they do so with a little more coherence.

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