Monday, November 21, 2016

Thoughts on 6 New TV Shows

1. Speechless - This is a really well-crafted family comedy, while still maintaining a modern edge. It kind of reminds me of Roseanne mixed with The Wonder Years (if The Wonder Years was a sitcom). The focus isn't just on the one kid having a disability; instead it's about how the family supports him and the difficulties that they face as a family. They don't shy away from these difficulties, and they also poke a bit of fun at themselves. The cast is great, especially Minnie Driver, and I laugh out loud at least a few times with every episode. That's really all I ask for in a comedy.

2. This is Us - As I said before, I watched this show because of its comparisons to Parenthood, and that is exactly what I need in my life right now. There aren't too many family oriented dramas on television right now. This one reminds me more of Brothers & Sisters than Parenthood, but that's not a bad thing. I like all of the characters and their complicated relationship with each other. I like that there are little twists in every episode (the biggest one is revealed in the pilot episode); it keeps the viewer engaged. The actors are all really great, and become more and more likeable with every episode - my favorite is Randall (Sterling K. Brown). He's so dorky and funny. I feel like this is definitely a show that has long-lasting potential with characters that we want to see grow every week.

3. Atlanta - Really wonderful show like nothing else on television right now. It's odd, funny, sad, sweet, and captures an authentic vibe of a particular city that is rarely seen on screen. My favorite episode of the season revolved around Vanessa and her relationship with a friend who she feels is less than "real", and is ultimately a bit jealous of (which works both ways). The way the episode ends is ironic (and tragic), but most of all, unexpected. It kind of represents the entire show in a way, nothing really goes the way you expect it to, but everything still works out (for now). I'm excited to see the continued story of these characters in season 2.

4. Designated Survivor - I'm not really into this show. I like Kiefer Sutherland, and the rest of the cast all hold their own, but I just find myself doing other things about 1/2 way into every episode. Like, all the sudden, I am washing the dishes, and I forget that I'm even watching it until my DVR asks if I want to "save or delete". I end up deleting and then just catching the important things I missed in the episode recap before the next episode. It's just not capturing my attention, and I can't really explain why, but perhaps, it's just not what my mind wants to watch with all of the craziness happening in the real world right now.

5. The Great Indoors - I watched for Joel McHale, and I will continue to watch for Joel McHale, but boy is it painful. The whole millennials vs old people is a tired plot-line, but it's also disturbing because Joel is not that much older than I am (and I am technically considered a millennial to some - the starting point varies between 1980 and 1982 - I was born in 1981). It kind of works because McHale's character has been away traveling and surviving in the great outdoors, but they just exaggerate his "out of touch" ideas way too much. It's amazing that a comic legend like Stephen Fry would be a part of such a mediocre show, which has me a little hopeful that it might get better. Maybe??

6. Better Things - Definitely my favorite show of the season - it's perfect. There are so many little moments that will stick in my head forever, and that is truly the mark of a great show (and wonderful writing). One moment is when Sam (the sublime Pamela Adlon) tells off her friend's husband (boyfriend? I don't remember) - and calls him out for being a lazy, ungrateful asshole. It's just so good. This is the same episode that features Lenny Kravitz telling Sam that she should have warned her mother that she was bringing a black man home for dinner. It's just so good. I love her relationship with her 3 children, and that they are very much their own identities instead of just typical adolescents. The whole season, although very short, is filled with quality.

Holiday Movie Preview: 5 Movies that I am Excited About

1. Jackie -  (12/2) I've heard wonderful things about Natalie Portman's portrayal of Jackie O, most critics are saying she's a lock for a best actress nomination. I believe them because when Portman is "on", she is fucking terrific (for example: Black Swan). I'm excited to see it, just for her performance, but also because Jackie's story is fascinating.

2. La La Land -  (12/9) This looks spectacular. A musical starring the dream team of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, combined with that glamorous old Hollywood feel, I just simply can't wait. It's already received strong reviews, and Oscar talk. I have a feeling it might be my favorite movie of the year (*crosses fingers*).

3. Office Christmas Party - (12/9) I just really like the cast - Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston (I really wish these two would star in a tv sitcom together. Wouldn't that be wonderful?), Courtney B. Vance, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller. I've seen a few commercials, and it seems like it could be a fun holiday movie.

4. Fences - (12/25) "Directed by Denzel Washington" is all I really needed to know, but "starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis" is icing on the cake. A reprisal of their roles on Broadway, in which they both earned Tony awards for, is sure to be fantastic.

5. Live By Night - (12/25) Written, Directed and Produced by Ben Affleck - I am looking forward to this the most, because he's never let me down (as an actor, now that's a different story). Argo, The Town, and Gone Baby Gone are all among my favorite films. I'm hopeful that this movie meets the high standards that he's set for himself.

Thoughts on 5 Films

1. Ghostbusters - I like the original Ghostbusters movie just fine, but I don't hold it to such high esteem as others seem to. It's a fun, silly, 80s movie that can definitely benefit from a modern take. I like Paul Feig and what he is doing for women in comedies. So, I expected to enjoy this movie even though the trailer was a bit iffy. And I did to a certain degree, however, I think it could have been A LOT better. It was all sort of "meh" and forgettable. The jokes were super cheesy, and didn't even make sense (the whole Chinese food thing was dumb; there are literally hundreds of Chinese food places in NYC, why would one keep ordering from the same place if they are not happy with the service?), or they were repetitive (how many times do they test out a new "ghost weapon" only to have it backfire?). The only time I actually laughed out loud is Kevin wearing glasses without the lenses. And speaking of Kevin, how in the fuck did Chris Hemsworth outshine these four incredibly talented and hilarious women? Like, what the actual fuck!? Even in the poster, he is outshining them with his finger guns (LOL). I am a big fan of Kristen Wiig (not on SNL, though. I don't get her sketch comedy, but as an actress I think she is aces) and Melissa McCarthy is hit-or-miss (better in small doses like Bridesmaids). I'm not really familiar with Leslie Jones or Kate McKinnon because I don't watch SNL anymore (it hasn't been funny since probably the late 90s). They both were mediocre in this (I don't get the praise for McKinnon in this role - she seemed unnaturally awkward to me). The original cast cameos put a smile on my face and were utilized appropriately except for Sigourney Weaver - way to leave it for the last possible second. The absolute worst part of the movie is definitely the updated theme song. I mean, it's so bad I thought my ears might bleed.

2. Everybody Wants Some!! - It's a very typical Richard Linklater film, which, in a way, is a good thing (I adore most of his movies), however, in this case, it feels a little bit forced. It's still a very good, well-acted film, but I just didn't find anything special about it. I don't really relate to it either, but obviously I am not the intended target audience, so I didn't really expect to (it would have been a nice surprise if I did, though...). The cast is fantastic - Blake Jenner is bound to be a huge star. He's perfectly charming and introspective while still portraying that cocky frat-boy athletic star vibe. Ditto for Glen Powell (I barely even recognized good ole Chad Radwell from Scream Queens - aka, the best part of that dumb-ass show). It's also a super nostalgia induced late 70s/early 80s retro story (1980 to be precise), filled with fantastic music, hilariously short shorts, and free-spirit ideology. The gist of the movie (if there is one) is finding where you belong - the group finds themselves partying with the disco crowd, the drama kids, and the country line-dancing crew all in the name of having a good time. It's all very crowd-pleasing and fun to watch, even if it goes nowhere.

3. The Shallows - *Spoilers ahead* I thought this was going to be a trashy B-rated shark movie (in the same vein as Piranha - don't judge me; I totally like that movie), but it's not. It's actually really good. The premise is pretty terrifying (sharks don't scare me, but they are super scary in movies!), and Blake does a terrific job. I thought it might get dull with the story just focused on her sitting out on a rock by herself, but they smartly added a scene-stealing seagull to keep the audience interested. I think it's pretty dumb for someone to go out surfing by themselves, but people do it all the time - I guess it's part of the whole adrenaline rush that some people yearn for. When I was a kid, my cousin used to take me out surfing with him before the sun would rise and it was terrifying. I just remember the waves hitting me so hard and not knowing which way to swim because there was no light. I have a lot of respect for surfers - it's a lot harder than it looks and the waves and rocks just beat your body to shreds. It's super weird that she's a Texas surfer because I literally had a conversation with my boyfriend about Texas surfers the day before I watched this movie (he brought up something about someone surfing in Texas and I laughed because that seems so unnatural but I looked it up and it's totally a thing!). Anyway, back to the movie, I love that the main character (although dumb for surfing alone) does some pretty smart things to try to save herself. Ultimately, she is saved by someone else, but it's only because she did something smart. I knew from the beginning that the guy that drove her there would be the one to rescue her (when he says that he lives nearby - ultimate foreshadowing moment). There are some very effective moments - the image of the shark inside the wave is super cool, and the fact that we don't really see that much of the gruesome shark attack - just Blake's reaction to it, and the aftermath. The only thing that ruins the movie a little bit is the cheesy ending - she's the witness to a horrific tragedy of watching three men brutally die, suffered a trauma herself, but sure, a year later, she's a doctor and ready to get back into the ocean. It just doesn't work.

4. Sing Street - There is massive amounts of praise for this movie (97% RT score)....and I...I just don't get it. There is always one movie every year that is universally praised that I don't like, so I guess this is this year's gem. A lot of people compared it to Begin Again (same writer/director), which is a movie that I enjoyed, so I am surprised that I didn't like this. It's not a bad movie, by any means, but it's just really dull and cliched, and the acting is a bit off, and the wardrobe department had a freaking field day with over-the-top 80s outfits, and the main couple have zero chemistry, and the songs are pretty awful, and...I'll stop now because I think I've made my point. The plot is pretty idiotic - he starts a band just to impress a girl he *just* met (not because he's passionate about music). Sure, it can be argued that he is using this whole band idea to avoid real-life problems like his parents separating and being bullied at school, but that feels like an afterthought, and some of it is dropped altogether - like, what happened to the whole "black shoes only" thing? Product of some choppy editing issues, perhaps? Or did I miss something? I admit, I was bored, and when I'm bored, my mind wanders. Anyway, the most mind-blowing part of the movie is that the brother is played by Jack Reynor - yes, *that* guy from the last Transformers movie who was the worst part of the movie (and that's saying a lot). HOLY HELL, he's not actually *that* bad.

5. Amanda Knox - Fascinating documentary. I'm not really a fan of the genre because I feel like the stories are all a bit skewed propaganda by the filmmakers masquerading as "truth". I think we are going to see a lot more of these types of stories with the popularity of Making a Murderer and the resurgence of interest in the O.J Simpson case, etc. This wasn't a story that I followed very closely - it seemed like a tabloid story - young women are murdered all the time, I didn't get why this one was so heavily publicized. I understand it a bit more after watching the documentary. It's fascinating that the Italian investigators participated in this so willingly, and still seem to fully believe that what they did was right. They really slut-shame this girl to submission, right? She *might* like kinky sex, so she *must* be a murderer, seems to be their line of thinking and it's quite disturbing. It's also disturbing that a journalist would admit ON CAMERA that he did not fact-check his sources. His excuse is that he didn't have time and someone else would scoop him. JESUS CHRIST. Although, I do feel like Amanda still has some mental issues, and may in fact, be a bit psychotic. If it's true that she was making out with her boyfriend at the crime scene and did cartwheels during the first interrogation (both of which she doesn't deny), that's a bit mental, right? She describes herself as "awkward", but that's beyond awkward. It doesn't make her a murderer though. And there seems to be very little evidence of her guilt - her DNA would be all over the murder scene unless it was sterilized, and it wasn't. It's still kind of hilarious that the United States would criticize Italy's mishandling of the evidence (I mean, we've fucked up murder investigations since the beginning of time). The documentary is certainly enlightening, but it is very one-sided - pointing to Amanda's innocence (which according to the courts, she is), which is exactly what I expected.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

3 Thoughts on Doctor Strange

1. The effects - Absolutely phenomenal special effects. The only way to describe it is a little bit M.C. Escher, a little bit Christopher Nolan's Inception, and a whole lot of "WHOA!". My mind was fully blown right from the very first scene. You can kind of see the effects during the trailer, but it's so much more beautiful in full sequences on the big screen. I rarely like watching movies in 3D, but I have a tinge of regret at not watching this in IMAX 3D because it's probably even more spectacular.

2. Benedict Cumberbatch - I think I've made it clear in the past that I'm not really a fan. He's okay. I don't really get the hype and I really don't get the whole "Cumberbitches" thing. I don't see anything above average enough for him to have such a cult-like following. And yes, I've seen Sherlock (it's decent but Elementary is a hundred times better, as is Jonny Lee Miller in the role of Sherlock). He's alright in this role, but the whole narcissistic, self-involved asshole turned superhero has been done before and in much better hands (*cough* Robert Downey Jr.). I never really feel like at any point in the movie he overcomes his own indulgence to transcend dimensions. He's told over and over again by The Ancient One (the always spectacular Tilda Swinton - someone who seems to transcend dimensions in real life) that "it's not about you"; and yet it's still about him even through the end. The supporting cast, though, is near-perfect. Aside from Swinton, there is Mads Mikkelsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Benidict Wong - all are perfect. The only reason it gets downgraded to "near-perfect" is because of the mediocre Rachel McAdams (I like her, but compared to the other actors, she is the obvious weak link).

3. The MCU - A lot of people commented on how different this movie felt from other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I disagree. It felt very on-par with the Thor movies, which were also based more on fantasy and "different" worlds than our current world. It's far better than the Thor movies, but it's still as ridiculous (and I say that with love). I prefer the stories of Iron Man, Spider-man, etc.; the stories that, although are fantasy, still take place in the "real" world, not some alternate dimension with mythical creatures, spells that can reverse time, etc. I guess I just prefer science over magic, which is exactly the opposite of what this movie/character represents. That being said, I still love Guardians of the Galaxy, so if it's done well, I will embrace it. I just didn't connect with this one on any level whatsoever. It will be interesting to see how all of the movies connect, though.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Thoughts on 5 Films

1. Trumbo - Bryan Cranston is, indeed, excellent - I'm not sure it's an Academy Award worthy performance, but it's definitely a solid portrayal of Dalton Trumbo. The famous blacklisted screenwriter is a great person to focus a film on, but this movie was pretty disappointing for me. I don't really feel like it told me anything that I didn't already know, and I don't really think it depicted the intensity of the issue. There was one really strong scene (where Trumbo compares rounding up Communists to rounding up Democrats) that stuck with me, but I just feel like a story of this importance should have many more of those moments. It was just a linear, factual, and very dull story. The supporting cast was filled with talented people - Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Alan Tudyk, Elle Fanning, and Louis C.K. Plus, the guy who played Kirk Douglas was scarily spot-on.

2. Now You See Me 2 - I think I liked the first one. I remember it having a good ending that I should have expected, but for some reason I didn't - which I guess is the whole point of movies like this. I love the cast - especially Dave Franco (he's one of my favorites ever since he was on Scrubs). They lost Isla Fisher (whom I adore), but they gained Lizzy Caplan (whom I also adore), so no complaints from me. I don't think this one was as clever as the first, but I like that the story seemed like a natural progression to the first one; It made the sequel seem necessary. I really enjoy Daniel Radcliffe - especially in this role as "the bad guy" (and an uber prick). I like that you don't really know who is on their side, and who is not, up until the very end. They did a good job with the twists, but I just think it was expected to not trust anything or anyone, so it loses the audience investment.

3. The Neon Demon - I loved it. Like really loved it. I think people get turned off by NWR's style because they just don't get it. Yes, it's not subtle. But who says that it's supposed to be? Who cares if the story is so simple if it's told in such a stunning way, isn't that really what matters in the field of film-making (and art, in general)? It doesn't need to be abstract to be odd and beautiful, and I think people confuse his style as something abstract, when in fact, it's really obvious. The story is about a young, beautiful, and innocent girl who moves to L.A to become a model. She encounters three women in the industry - one is jealous of her youth, one is jealous of her beauty, and one jealous of her innocence. And they literally try to steal these things from her. It's really that simple. However, through the use of beautiful imagery, poetic dialogue and a gruesome turn of events, the story becomes really compelling. And oh so gross. Sooooo gross. It personifies the ugliness of jealousy and narcissism. The cast is stunning - Elle Fanning is perfect, but Jena Malone somehow manages to steal the spotlight. I like that it's a female story with men relegated to supporting roles - and the only seemingly "nice guy" is the one that's knowingly dating an underage girl (pretty strong statement there, I think). This movie will definitely be in my Top 10 of the year (right now it's number 4).

4. London Has Fallen - The only thing I remember about Olympus Has Fallen, was the ridiculously brilliant line, "Why don't you and I play a game of fuck off. You go first.". I was hoping for something as ridiculous with this movie, but no such luck. I mean, the whole thing is definitely ridiculous - in order to pull off this terrorist attack they had to infiltrate the police, the EMTs, the Queen's guards, etc., and an actual line is "it must have come from someone inside". UM FUCKING DUH. The only truly shocking thing about this movie is how they get actors like Jackie Earle Haley and Melissa Leo to participate in such nonsense. They don't even get to do much, just stand around a room and act terrified. I enjoy Gerard Butler very much because he's either really great in a role, or really hilarious in a role, but either way, I am entertained.

5. Zootopia - I don't actually enjoy animated movies as much as most seem to. The last one I really liked was Brave (Inside Out did nothing for me. I know, I know...I'm a monster). I LOVE this one - love so much that it might make my Top 10 list of the year. It's so relevant to everything that is happening in our country right now (and around the world). It's an allegory for the BLM movement, immigration, sexism, the societal effects of bullying, and just so much more. I think everyone can find a way to relate to it (specifically for me, it's when she walks into the police precinct with all of the animals that are bigger than her - this is how I feel on a daily basis. I'm very tiny, and people don't take me seriously because of this). The messages are extremely overt and obvious - which it needs to be because it's for kids. There are still some great moments for adults, though - like the sloths at the DMV. Kids will laugh because of the simple humor of sloths being slow, but they've never experienced the painfulness of dealing with the DMV. It's just hilarious, and super cute. Also, Jenny Slate has a terrific voice for animation.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Thoughts on 5 Films

1. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates - Some funny moments, but ultimately a forgettable and unoriginal comedy. I feel like ever since Bridesmaids succeeded with the "raunchy funny females" type comedy, some movies just really try to out-do the raunchiness but they forget the essential part about being funny. Aubrey Plaza - raunchy but not funny at all. I really, really want to like her (and I ADORED her on Parks & Recreation), but every role she's done is just really terrible. She's not a very good actress. Luckily, the other actors (Zac Efron, Anna Kendrick & Adam Devine) are all strong enough to make up for her performance. The storyline, however, is a bit all over the place, and unbelievably ridiculous. And none of the characters are likeable in any way whatsoever, which is weird for a movie like this. Literally all of them ruin someone else's life in some way during the course of the movie, but all is forgiven in the end. There is no sensible character motivation other than getting to the next plot-point. It's just dumb.

2. Demolition - I wasn't expecting to connect with this movie in the way that I did. I mostly watched it for Jake Gyllenhaal. I've never really found him attractive (the whole puppy dog eyes thing just doesn't do it for me), but he just gets better with every movie - and his talent is definitely attractive. He's excellent in this movie - probably my favorite male performance of the year (so far). The movie was about loss, but it is so much more honest than most movies dealing with this subject. He is a man whose wife is tragically killed in a car accident, yet he doesn't feel her loss like everyone expects him to. Through his use of angry letters venting to a vending machine company, we learn that he wasn't really in love with his wife. He cared for her, yes, but he remembers her telling him that he never paid attention, and now that she's gone, he agrees. He doesn't really know who his wife was because he was self-involved, and his need to be loved was more important than loving someone else. It's deeply honest, and almost destructive for him to come to this realization but it lifts this invisible weight off of him. The movie goes a little literal with this idea by having him demolish random objects, his home, his relationships, etc., but it's very effective. Overall, that's how I would describe the movie - very effective. There are a ton of little moments and connections, stunning imagery, thoughtful dialogue, and it's all just very effective.

3. Dirty Grandpa - Coincidentally, I watched this movie the day after Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates not realizing that it also starred both Zac Efron and Aubrey Plaza. And again, Plaza is really awful. Her lines are cringe-worthy so it's not entirely her fault. I was expecting an over-the-top raunchy comedy, but actually, this movie is very sweet. The "message" is don't spend your entire life living up to someone else's idea of "happy". The "dirty Grandpa" (Oh, De Niro, please stop), is just trying to rescue his grandson from living a life of mediocrity and disappointment because he missed the opportunity to save his son from it. I wasn't really expecting to get anything out of a movie like this, so that was a pleasant surprise. They could have made a solid comedy with this plot, but they ruined it by soaking it in crude (and not funny) jokes. The movie is just filled with really low points (pedophilia is never funny), but there are also (very) few really high points (Efron doing the Macarena...naked). Also, I forgot that Efron can sing! I try to blackout his High School Musical phase, because it's so terrible and he's so great now.

4. Eddie the Eagle - The trailer for this movie was just so typical '90s feel-good, sports-theme movie, I just HAD to see it. It has everything you expect from this type of movie - the underdog, the disenfranchised coach, the training montage, etc. Plus, Taron Egerton is sooooo HOT (but, umm...., not in this movie. Not at all. It's so weird.). It's such a cheesy, predictable movie, but it's exactly as it was advertised. The story is pretty interesting, but they definitely made it more dramatic for the screen. It's weird that this happened during the same Olympic games as the famous Jamaican bobsled team, but also, I think these stories probably occur during every Olympic game - everyone has a story, it just takes someone to write it...right? It's also interesting that they actually changed the qualification rules so that this never happens again. And, really, it shouldn't. I mean, people spend their whole lives training for this event. It's unfair to have someone undermine all of their hard-work. I know we're supposed to root for Eddie, but I kind of agree with the "villains" on this one. Otherwise, it's a super cute, super charming movie.

5. Star Trek Beyond- I enjoyed the previous two Star Trek movies. I don't fully understand the mythology behind it all because I've never really been a Star Trek fan, but overall I find the movies enjoyable. I didn't realize that Justin Lin directed this one until it was over, but that totally makes sense because it felt more action-packed than the previous ones - and the action is spectacular. It's similar to Lin's previous work (The Fast and the Furious franchise) in that it just gets straight to the point, and straight to the action. I love J.J. but his directorial style is a little all over the place. I feel like this and X-Men Apocalypse are the best blockbuster action movies of this year, and yet nobody is talking about, at all. I loved seeing J.J. Abrams favorite, Greg Grunberg, in a quick blink-and-you'll-miss-it scene. I love that J.J. still supports his early team of actors (Grunberg is from Felicity). This is the first film in the series, in which I actually like most of the characters. I guess getting to know them a little more helps. Chris Pine really annoyed me in the first two, but he was tolerable in this one. I like the back and forth between Bones and Spock, and I really like the character Jaylah. Overall, this is simply just a fun, action-packed summer blockbuster. Expectations = met.