Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Fate of the Furious - Movie Review

Starring Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Kurt Russell, Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Scott Eastwood, Nathalie Emmanuel, Kristofer Hivju, Elsa Pataky, Luke Evans and Helen Mirren.
Written by Chris Morgan.
Directed by F. Gary Gray.

★★

These movies are now so loud, so huge, so spectacular, so stunt-reliant, the plot matters less and less each time. Maybe the plot never mattered. They're dangerously close to venturing into Tranformers territory. Would it surprise anyone if this franchise wound up going to space?

This centers around Dom (Vin Diesel) who's been a criminal since the first movie, but he keeps getting pardoned for weird reasons, or just on the lam with no official desire to bring him in. The latest giant international incident that's worthy of a Mission Impossible movie has the world's most dangerous cyberterrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron) blackmailing Dom into helping steal the God's Eye device (the high-tech thingy from the last movie that allows the user to see what's going on at any location on Earth), and once she has that, she's going to use to steal nuclear codes.

It's a late reveal what leverage Cipher has on Dom, but you know, not only do people die over the course of events, but he's giving her the power to start World War III. What possible leverage would make Dom do that?

Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) enlists Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Dom's crew to stop Cipher, and he even gets Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the main villain from the last movie, to help them out. Now this franchise likes to say it's about family. Han was part of the family for a few movies, and in Furious 7, Deckard killed Han. Killed him. And no one brings it up. Han's name is never said. By the end of the movie, Deckerd is embraced as a full member of the crew.

He killed Han!

I'll give you Dom not once but twice driving a car that's engulfed in flames and not getting a single burn, or Dom outdriving a heat-seeking missile, but you can't just have everyone forget that Deckard killed one of their members.

I suppose in the next movie, Cipher will return and help the crew fight a different villain. And Han will come back from the dead because *shrug emoji*.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Fate of the Furious is #1


For the weekend of April 14-16, 2017, The Fate of the Furious was the easy winner. It was the second best opener for the franchise, although well short of Furious 7's $147 million opener. It's already earned over $530 million worldwide and should get to the $1 billion mark. Fast & Furious 9 & 10 are already scheduled to open in April 2019 and April 2021.

No other wide releases this weekend. Everyone wanted to stay away from the Diesel. Next week will feature a bunch of lower budget fare. In fact, I expect F8 of the Furious to stay #1 until Guardians of the Galaxy 2 opens in May.


Opens April 21
UNFORGETTABLE with Rosario Dawson, Katherine Heigl and Cheryl Ladd.
FREE FIRE with Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy and Sharlto Copley.
THE PROMISE with Oscar Isaac, Christian Bale and Charlotte le Bon.
PHOENIX FORGOTTEN with Florence Hartigan and Jeanine Jackson.
BORN IN CHINA directed by Chuan Lu.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Ghost in the Shell - Movie Review

Starring Scarlett Johansson, Takeshi Kitano, Juliette Binoche, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbaek, Chin Han and Danusia Samal.
Written by Jamie Moss, William Wheeler & Ehren Kruger.
Directed by Rupert Sanders.

★★

I remember liking the original, but it's been 20 years, so I didn't have that necessarily bouncing around in my mind the whole time. I couldn't recall much about the story beyond what the trailers already told us.

Scarlett Johansson is Major, a cyborg where her entire body is synthetic except for her brain. (This concept feels more close to being a reality than in it did just a couple decades ago.) Major is now used as a super-soldier to stop criminals and cyber-terrorists. But it winds up turning into a quest for her to discove her real identity.

For those going in fresh, this may bring Blade Runner quickly to mind. Although some of the characters' races have been changed, the setting is still downtown Tokyo. In fact, Takeshi Kitano plays the chief Aramaki, and he says all of his lines in Japanese while everyone else says their lines in English, and everyone acts like they understand each other.

I liked the explanation for Major being a person that looks like ScarJo - her shell may be Caucasian, but her brain is Japanese. My main problem with the movie is how instantly forgettable it is. It's all visuals with no soul.

Boss Baby still #1, Smurfs #3


For the weekend of April 7-9, 2017, The Boss Baby won again. I wonder if its success can be credited to appealing to adults who wouldn't begrudge taking their kids to it (how many kids will get a Glengarry Glen Ross reference?), as opposed to Smurfs: The Lost Village, which looks more like kids-only fare.

It managed to hang on to #1 over Beauty & the Beast thanks to adding a handful of screens while Beauty lost a handful.

Going in Style performed about as expected, just a pleasant cliched movie to appeal to seniors.

The Case for Christ scaled back its screen count, but this allowed its per-screen average to look good. It's also one of the few PureFlix titles to score at least 70% at RottenTomatoes.

Your Name made over $300 million overseas but it's getting its US release now.



Opens April 14
FATE OF THE FURIOUS with Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron and Kurt Russell.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Life - Movie Review

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare and Olga Dihovichnaya.
Written by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick.
Directed by Daniel Espinosa.

★★★

Yes, Life borrows from many movies that have come before. Gravity, Alien, The Thing, and a dozen other titles. But it's good at what it's doing.

Six people aboard the space station have received some samples from Mars, and within them, they find a dormant organism. It is the first proof of life beyond Earth. Nicknamed "Calvin", the organism grows from microscopic to about the size of a flower until it goes dormant. During this time, we get the wonder of discovery and get to know the people on board.

Once Calvin starts killing people, the movie kicks into high gear. Calvin only gets scarier as he gets bigger, and he feels like a very smart animal determined to kill off anything that would threaten him. It. This sinister plantlike octopus spider thing floating in zero G with everyone else.

It's not as majestic as Gravity or as scary as Alien or as thoughtful as Arrival BUT!... for what it is, it delivers on the thrills and the special effects. I wish it had been more successful at the box office. I would have watched a sequel.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Boss Baby Bests Beauty at Box Office


For the weekend of March 31-April 2, 2017, The Boss Baby was the big winner. It had been tracking to be close with Ghost in the Shell two weeks ago, but it overachieved. Big-studio animation continues to be a cash cow.

Ghost in the Shell might have suffered some last-minute backlash due to the "whitewash" controversy. Taking a popular manga and 1995 animated movie and changing the races of some of the characters from Japanese to Caucasian might have turned some people off. On the other hand, I don't think this movie gets greenlit with this budget unless they had a big name to headline it. Catch 22.

The Zookeeper's Wife went with a smaller opening and managed to best Ghost in the Shell in the per-screen average category.

Beauty & the Beast should cross $400 million domestic tomorrow, and I'd say passing the $1 billion mark worldwide is guaranteed.

Power Rangers had the biggest drop in the top ten. Those who wanted to see it, saw it, and it should plummet quickly in weeks 3, 4 and so on.



Opens April 7
SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE with the voices of Mandy Patinkin and Demi Lovato.
GOING IN STYLE with Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Alan Arkin and Matt Dillon.
THE CASE FOR CHRIST with Mike Vogel, Faye Dunaway and Robert Forster.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Belko Experiment - Movie Review

Starring John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, John C. McGinley, Melonie Diaz, Michael Rooker, Owain Yeoman, Sean Gunn, Brent Sexton and Josh Brener.
Written by James Gunn.
Directed by Greg McLean.

★★½

This lean, mean movie functions as corporate satire while engaging in Hunger Games shenanigans in a high-rise office building. It is kinda like Office Space meets Battle Royale.

Belko is a US corporation based in Colombia. The workers have tracker chips injected in them in case of kidnapping. The building they work in is a fortress. The movie all takes place over one day, where the 80 workers trapped inside are told by an intercom voice that there are three stages to their day. Stage 1: Kill two people in the next half-hour or four people will die. Spoiler: they don't comply and then four random people have their heads explode. Stage 2: Kill 30 people in the next two hours or 60 of them will die.

You have the normal guy Mike (John Gallagher Jr.) who seems to figure out quicker than everyone else what's going on; you have the business-friendly COO (Tony Goldwyn) who turns things into Lord of the Flies faster than what most of his co-workers prefer, while the movie has 80 people, the movie does a good job of making you feel like you can keep track of where most of them are throughout.

My problem is how predictable the final act was. I'm fine with the contrived setup and the journey, but it's too easy to figure out who the final handful of people are going to be.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Beauty & the Beast still #1, Power Rangers #2


For the weekend of March 24-26, 2017, Beauty & the Beast held strong. It's very rare a movie can open that huge and then have less than 50% dropoff in its second week. It looks guaranteed to pass $400 million domestic and getting to $1 billion worldwide is very doable. This movie is about as big as Rogue One. Disney is having an amazing run right now.

Of the new releases, Power Rangers did the best. Strong opening, justifies a sequel.

Life couldn't overcome it looking like an Alien ripoff, despite some star power. It baffles me why the final TV ads for the movie shows one of the movie stars getting killed.

CHiPS bombed. Maybe there's a limit on making R-rated romps out of harmless 1970's TV fare. I don't think we can expect an R-rated Little House on the Prairie anytime soon.



Opens March 31
GHOST IN THE SHELL with Scarlett Johansson, Juliette Binoche and Takeshi Kitano.
THE BOSS BABY with the voices of Alec Baldwin, Lisa Kudrow and Steve Buscemi.
THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE with Jessica Chastain, Daniel Bruhl and Johan Heldenbergh.

Monday, March 20, 2017

I Don't Feel at Home in this World Anymore - Netflix Review


Starring Melanie Lynsky, Elijah Wood, Jane Levy, David Yow, Devon Graye, Gary Anthony Williams, Christine Woods, Robert Longstreet, Derek Mears, Lee Eddy and Macon Blair.
Written & directed by Macon Blair.

★★★

This Sundance entry went straight to Netflix, but that's not a bad sign. Netflix is a good home for quirky fare that might be hard to market on big screens.

The film centers on Ruth (Melanie Lynsky), a normal woman who's getting just a little bit fed up with how people are jerks. Then when her house is broken into, she decides to take matters into her own hands to solve it. She enlists the help of her quirky neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood), and the two set out to find her stuff.

The movie does a good job of balancing humor with the darker and darker waters in which it treads. Ruth and Tony meet more and more dangerous people the more they look, but it's all handled in a believable way. And it builds to a genuinely tense third act.

Most indies, people don't see them until they get to DVD/Netflix/HBO, etc., so it's nice that Netflix is able to be a player in the market to pick up titles like this. Between this and I Am Not a Serial Killer and Hush, Netflix is showing it can be good for low-budget genre fare.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Beauty & the Beast sets March box-office record


For the weekend of March 17-19, 2017, Beauty & the Beast had the largest March opening of all time and actually the seventh largest opening of any month ever. When final numbers come out it could slip behind the $169.18 million set by the final Harry Potter movies. (Emma Watson can now claim she is in two of the ten highest openers of all time.) It's the highest opening ever for a non-sequel. It's the highest opening ever for a PG movie.

The Belko Experiment was an after-thought on 1341 screens.

Logan and Kong: Skull Island had expected drops, when facing such a juggernaut.

La La Land dropped 70%, finally out of the top ten.



Opens March 24
POWER RANGERS with Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Elizabeth Banks and Bryan Cranston.
LIFE with Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds and Hiroyuki Sanada.
CHIPS with Dax Shepard, Michael Pena, Jessica McNamee and Vincent D'Onofrio.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Kong: Skull Island - Movie Review

Starring Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Tian Jing, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz, Jason Mitchell, Toby Kebbell, Thomas Mann, Shea Whigham, Eugene Cordero, Marc Evan Jackson, Terry Notary and Richard Jenkins.
Written by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein & Derek Connolly.
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts.

★★★

This is like a Jurassic World sequel in a good way. Assemble the crew, get them to the island, and then let the monster-movie hijinks ensue!

It's 1973. Vietnam is winding down. John Goodman gets things rolling as the man who's seen satellite photos of the mysterious Skull Island and wants to lead the expedition. He gets funding from a skeptical senator (Richard Jenkins). He finds some experts and a military escort to go with him. This movie actually borrows a lot from Vietnam movies in their looks, sound, and feel. Particularly Apocalypse Now. They have to helicopter through a severe storm just to get to the island.

They don't know what they'll find, but they're greeted by King Kong. Kong is the star of the show. He knocks their helicopters down and the survivors are forced to scramble and make their way to a rendezvous point on the other side of the island in three days. Along the way they meet a lot of other fantastical creatures. (I'm okay with a giant spider, but why was there only one giant spider?) They also meet a WWII pilot (John C. Reilly) who's been stranded there for 27 years.

Oscar-winner Brie Larson plays a photojournalist, Tom Hiddleston is top-billed as a survivalist/tracker, Samuel L. Jackson is the colonel who turns into Ahab after Kong kills so many of his men. It's a true ensemble effort. Straight Outta Compton's Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell are here, as two very different characters.

Bring on Kong v. Godzilla!

Kong: Skull Island gets $61 million


For the weekend of March 10-12, 2017, Kong: Skull Island exceeded expectations. Final numbers have it over $61 million domestic.

Many of the holdovers did positive business. Logan's drop of 56.9% is pretty good for a movie that opened that high. Get Out only went down 26.5% in its third week and has now outperformed Fifty Shades Darker domestically.



Opens March 17
BEAUTY & THE BEAST with Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans and Josh Gad.
THE BELKO EXPERIMENT with John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn and John C. McGinley.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Logan gets $88 million


For the weekend of March 3-5, 2017, Logan opened huge. Deadpool and Logan have shown you can still have a blockbuster superhero movie if you're rated R. (If your production budget is half of what you'd spend on Spider-Man).

Also newsworthy is how Get Out only slid -15% in its second week. To have any movie do that in March is almost unheard of.

The Shack has to be happy, demonstrating modest Christian-themed movies can still find audiences. Before I Fall never really found its marketing hook.

Table 19 is another example of how Anna Kendrick isn't really much of a draw outside of Pitch Perfect movies.



Opens March 10
KONG: SKULL ISLAND with Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Logan - Movie Review

Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook, Dafne Keen, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant, Eriq La Salle, Elise Neal and Elizabeth Rodriguez.
Written by Scott Frank, James Mangold & Michael Green.
Directed by James Mangold.

★★★½

This is Hugh Jackman's seventh and final time to play Logan, the Wolverine, (nine if you count his uncredited cameos) and I don't think the actor could have asked for a better swan song for the character that made him famous.

It's 2029. Almost all of the mutants are dead. Logan is working under his alias James Howlett as a limo driver, scrimping and saving for a boat that he and the 90-year-old Professor X (Patrick Stewart) can buy. It's rated R so these X-Men have fouler mouths than we've heard, and we see Wolvy's claws kill quite a few people.

It turns out there's a little girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) who has similar abilities to Logan, and mean men with guns want to find her. Logan would love nothing more than to send her away, but Professor X urges him to help her. They're just south of the border from El Paso but they need to get her to a safe haven in North Dakota.

The main hunter of Laura is named Pierce, played with evil drawling glee by Narcos's Boyd Holbrook. He has an army of Reavers to help him catch Laura, but after Laura or Logan killed the twentieth guy, I can't help but think if any of the Reavers questioned if they're in the right line of work.

There's a gritty sadness to this film. Logan's a tragic character. His quick healing and slow aging means he has outlived all of his friends. I honestly would support acting nominations for Jackman and Stewart for their work here. The script gives them a lot to tap into.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A Cure for Wellness - Movie Review

Starring Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth, Harry Groener, Ivo Nandi and Celia Imrie.
Written by Justin Haythe.
Directed by Gore Verbinski.

★★½

This isn't a smooth journey. It's a meandering journey with peaks and valleys, with some elements that work better than others. Nevertheless I was along for the gothic ride.

(Stefon voice): "This movie has everything! Corridors, swimming eels, catacombs lit by hundreds of candles!..."

It starts with Dane DeHaan (Chronicle), an actor who usually resembles a younger, skinnier meth-addicted Leonardo DiCaprio. He's an ambitious executive at a large soulless Wall Street firm. He is tasked with going to Switzerland and finding their CEO, who disappeared there three weeks ago to a spa retreat. He gets into an accident after arriving, thus making him a patient in need of recovery. Jason Isaacs play the suspicious doctor who runs the facility.

Parts of the movie reminded me of Shutter Island, with a central character whose grip on reality becomes questionable the longer he's at this remote location.

I was entertained throughout, even though I knew I was watching an imperfect vehicle for Gore Verbinski's gonzo imagination. Have I put enough caveats around this? I liked it, though I'm cautious about recommending it to too many other people.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Get Out - Movie Review

Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, Lakeith Stanfield, Lil Rel Howery, Marcus Henderson and Betty Gabriel.
Written & Directed by Jordan Peele.

★★★½

Jordan Peele of Key & Peele fame has created a bizarre horror-comedy that plays with social commentary without sacrificing laughs or scares.

Daniel Kaluuya plays Chris, a young African-American man who's about to go visit his girlfriend Rose's parents' house in the Hamptons. It's a Guess Who's Coming to Dinner scenario, even though Rose has assured him her parents are progressive as can be.

And they are, though those there's something off with these upper-class WASPs. They're trying a little too hard to relate. They have a black groundskeeper and maid who don't seem right. They have a locked basement. They have a party where all of their other rich old friends are gathering, and all engage in uncomfortable racially-lined banter.

By the way, this movie still would have worked if Chris was white, and this would have been more about the generational divide, but by adding that extra element, the movie has that much more to say.

Get Out is #1 at box office


For the weekend of February 24-26, 2017, Get Out was the big winner. This was the second film script from Jordan Peele (his first being last year's Keanu), and this was his big-screen directorial debut. The other new releases couldn't crack the top ten.



Opens March 3
LOGAN with Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook and Stephen Merchant.
THE SHACK with Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer and Radha Mitchell.
BEFORE I FALL with Zoey Deutch, Jennifer Beals and Elena Kampouris.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Complete List of 89th Academy Award Winners


BEST PICTURE - Moonlight
BEST DIRECTOR - Damien Chazelle, La La Land
BEST ACTOR - Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
BEST ACTRESS - Emma Stone, La La Land
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS - Viola Davis, Fences
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY - Manchester by the Sea
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY - Moonlight
BEST ANIMATED FILM - Zootopia
BEST DOCUMENTARY - O.J.: Made in America
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM - The Salesman
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY - La La Land
BEST FILM EDITING - Hacksaw Ridge
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS - The Jungle Book
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN - La La Land
BEST COSTUME DESIGN - Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING - Suicide Squad
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE - La La Land
BEST ORIGINAL SONG - “City of Stars,” La La Land
BEST SOUND EDITING - Arrival
BEST SOUND MIXING - Hacksaw Ridge
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT - The White Helmets
BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT - Sing
BEST ANIMATED SHORT - Piper

Jimmy Kimmel was overall okay as the host. I liked his opening monologue. I liked his running gag against Matt Damon. I thought the tour bus was a funny idea. I thought parachuting in snacks to the audience should have been a one-time thing. Tweeting Donald Trump wound up taking too long and didn't work.

This will be remembered for the Price-Waterhouse screw-up of handing Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway the wrong envelope so Dunaway announced the wrong winner for Best Picture. The La La Land crew handled it with the most possible amount of grace one could in that circumstance, and it also led the Monnlight crew to go through the emotions of being told you lost but actually winning. I watched that entire scene twice, watching the rpducers scramble behind people while the LLL producers were giving their thank-you speeches.

Total wins by the Best Picture nominees:
La La Land - 6
Moonlight - 3
Hacksaw Ridge - 2
Manchester by the Sea - 2
Arrival - 1
Fences - 1
Hell or High Water - 0
Hidden Figures - 0
Lion - 0