Justice League (2017) Review

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After 4 pre-cursor films, the League is finally assembled. Bruce Wayne/Batman senses an imminent danger coming to Earth. He learns from Diana Prince/Wonder Woman of an ancient legend called Steppenwolf and he is returning claim Earth as his own. Together the pair seeks others with special abilities to help them.

While it’s been a rocky road for the DC Extended Universe, some films faring well than others, it’s all lead to our favorite heroes to finally unite. And man, this movie was everything I wanted it to be. What makes this film a hit for me was because it was such a simple superhero story, not an over-bloated and overlong film with no direction whatsoever. The film is visually striking, and it offers plenty of fun action sequences and character interactions with the heroes we love. Sure, some of the laughs may not be funny themselves (but at least they don’t overdo it like the Marvel films), but it’s still entertaining seeing these characters together and interacting with each other, taking jabs, but also clashing with their points of view. I have to admit at the same time though the simplicity can be TOO simple. There isn’t much conflict involved with the group as there should have been, it’s slightly touched upon, but it doesn’t play as much of a part as it should. In general, I feel like they could have spent more time not only fleshing out the individual characters (more so the new additions), and giving more development of them as a group while they assemble to fight against Steppenwolf. So here’s to hoping that we get an extended cut on Blu-Ray. The villain at the center of it all could also have been shown more on his own, because as a villain Steppenwolf is pretty good, he’s all-out evil and seeks only to bring harm.

Our returning actors once again do well with their reprising roles. Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot sell it. Henry Cavill is at his best as Clark Kent/Superman, and the character in general has never been better with this current version. But in terms of our newest cast members, I welcomed them with open arms. Ezra Miller bring a lot charm and humor to this version of Barry Allen/The Flash, Ray Fisher also does well as Victor Stone/Cyborg (though he is easily the most underdeveloped of our new characters), but the standout of this movie is Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry/Aquaman. Momoa portrays the cocky, bad-ass, and very comical Aquaman with so much perfection and it only makes me more excited to his solo film next year. Our supporting characters (while they may not have much screen time) like Amy Adams, Diane Lane, J.K. Simmons, and Jeremy Irons give it their all to at least make their limited time on-screen worth it. And finally, Ciaran Hinds displays great evil in his performance as Steppenwolf. Again, more time with this character could probably have given Hinds more opportunity to push his performance even further.

While it has its flaws, I thought this was an overall fantastic and entertaining result to years of waiting. Everything you love about these heroes is present, and more than anything it makes me want a sequel even more now that we’ve had our group assembled. And going by the very last tag at the very end of the credits, I am even more excited. Not only am I excited for another Justice League film, but for more individual films for our heroes. Highly recommend this film.

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Murder on the Orient Express (2017) Review

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A group of passengers board a train. One of the passengers ends up being murdered. Everyone is a suspect. And one of the passengers is a renowned detective, named Hercule Poirot. Poirot now makes it his mission to find who the killer is and bring them to justice.

Murder on the Orient Express is another adaptation based on the novel by Agatha Christie. Unlike most mystery movies of recent like Gone Girl or The Girl On the Train, this film plays out more like the classic murder mystery story of the old days with a detective, several suspects, and clues found along the way. The film does succeed at keeping the mystery going and keeping you guessing on who the killer is until its ultimate reveal. Even the reveal itself contains a few twists. As an adaptation I think it does as well as it possibly can. However, I do have to say that the overall story works much better on paper in its novel form. So much more is able to be covered and detailed. As its own medium, as I mentioned, the film does well. But there are instances where I felt that it felt a bit rushed, and that it affected with much of the explanations that Poirot reveals whenever he finds certain clues or makes certain revelations. It’s mentioned and then it’s done without any further expansion or explantation. So basically you’re just taking his word for it. Along with this, many of the characters are massively underdeveloped and aren’t given much focus. With the exception of Michelle Pfeiffer (who is terrific in her role), along with Daisy Ridley, and Josh Gad, the other characters are just there to be red herrings. And two characters you actually forget are even there until they come into play towards the end of the film. Granted they all play a major part in the climax, we still don’t get enough of a feel of them prior. Without getting too “the book is better”, my point is that I think this is a difficult story to translate to film because the novel can so easily take its time to focus on events and characters, and with a film you’re only limited so much time. So that’s just a bit of a tip going into it. But again, it does as well as it possibly can to at least try make the film work. It’s also worth noting that towards the end, the film gets actually a lot deeper in emotion and tone than you would have expected. If there is anything I praise the film for its the terrific cinematography and the direction of Kenneth Branagh (who also stars in the film as Poirot). The scenery is beautiful to watch, and the amazing camera work and Branagh’s eye really tries to make us feel like we’re on the train, and there are many camera shots that really stand out and often with how they choose to follow the characters as they move about the train. And while the characters seem to go underdeveloped, the cast does an excellent job of really getting into the respective roles, and really turning in strong performances. Branagh presents different layers to Poirot. He delivers us comedy in his quirky detective persona, determination in his serious detective side, but then we get glimpses of a deeper and more humane side of him that’s sprinkled at a couple of points during the film and most especially at the end. As mentioned, Michelle Pfeiffer also turns in a solid performance as the wealthy, over-dramatic Mrs. Hubbard. Pfeiffer sells this performance, but then towards the end we see her turn in one great dramatic performance. Penelope Cruz is another who doesn’t get much development, but gives a really strong performance. And Johnny Depp turns in a really good performance as the most despicable man on the train. Then of course you have Dame Judi Dench as the feisty Russian princess. But one actor worth noting is Josh Gad. Between this and his performance in this year’s film Marshall, he shows he is more than capable of doing serious and dramatic roles as opposed to goofy comedy roles. So I really hope he does more roles like this and Marshall, because he really killed it in this film.

If you want to watch a good old fashioned mystery film with some good twists, then this one is for you. Should you rush out to the theater and see it? Not really, but for sure check it out on video. It’s extremely well-directed, filmed, and acted, and while I had my personal issues with the narrative and structure, it’s not a huge deal breaker.

Thank You For Your Service (2017) Review

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Three soldiers return home after duty in Iraq, and each are scarred from it in their own way. They hope that returning home to their loved ones will be a positive change, but returning home turns out to be more of a challenge than they expected.

One of the biggest draws for me to see this movie was how they deal with PTSD. I loved how it was used in the 2012 film Brothers, so I was hoping for something similar with it being the main focus. For the most part (and granted I have zero experience with PTSD), it deals with it really well in different ways, but I feel like they could have gone much further with it and make it more raw. Along with this I was hoping it would show it affects their families as well. We get small bit of this, especially with Miles Teller’s character and Haley Bennett as his wife. I understand that this is a true story and how it happened, so I do have to look at it in that perspective. So for what they did establish and how they showed the PTSD was done well. The varying triggers and issues they each deal with is interesting and handled well. I was also hoping to have been given more insight to their time back in the war, but that does get established at the very end in a flashback, which makes up for it in how it was done, and in the context. Miles Teller does really well with showing his struggles with PTSD, but also him trying to deny there isn’t anything wrong in hopes of trying to be strong for his two struggling brothers who are also dealing their issues. Beulah Koale is the only one of the cast I feel didn’t really give his all, some scenes were fine, but in some it just felt awkward watching him. Joe Cole is one actor in the film whom I felt should have had much more development than what he got, and his performance from what we did get was great. Haley Bennett does a great job Teller’s concerned wife, but as mentioned, I wish we did get more from the pair’s family life. Koale’s relationship with his wife seemed almost non-existent and we got barely any insight to their lives on his return home. The one cast member I have to give the biggest shout out to is Amy Schumer, the crude and vulgar comedian turns in a very strong dramatic performance here in her very small role, but really sells her abilities as an actress towards the end in a pivotal scene with Miles Teller’s character.

While Thank You For Your Service didn’t get as raw and deep as I would have liked with he PTSD angle, and didn’t show as much of the familial relationships affected by it, the stuff it did have works well, and is serviced by (for the most part), strong performances by the cast.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017) Review

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After an unexpected tragedy, Thor finds himself going up against the Goddess of Death, his long-lost sister Hela. But when his attempt to defeat her, along with his half brother Loki, doesn’t go as planned, he is transported to a new planet that he must escape in order to save his home kingdom of Asgard. While there he is reunited with an old friend and makes a new ally.

Thor: Ragnarok is a huge turn from the past Thor films. This one plays out much more like your typical Marvel film as opposed to more serious elements. In this entry, Thor is now more of a comical smart-ass than his ever-serious and determined character. I like this version of Thor, but at the same time, I liked that he was a serious character. The Marvel films are the events of the year, and you have to see them, but I’ve never been too fond of the elementary/middle school humor of these movies, so that why I enjoyed the fact that Thor was a serious enough character. In fact as a whole, the 3rd Thor film is nothing but this type of humor. If you’re a die hard Marvel fan, you’ll love it, as for me, there was only so much slap-stick and sarcastic humor I could handle, and I feel this one went way overboard with it. Some of it really worked, and some of it just felt so forced. Despite that, this film also has a lot more fun action scenes than the others, and they’re great. Especially the scenes in which Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song plays in the background. And the big battle between Thor and Hulk is a blast. On top of this, the movie overall is just brilliantly directed in giving us a retro feel with its cinematography and soundtrack. It succeeds as being a fun, retro, comedy-action film. My issues with the comedy aside. But the comedy pales in comparison to the issue I had with the whole middle section of the film with Thor trapped in this new planet. We have JUST established Hela as the new villain and how evil she is, but then that’s just all dropped to follow Thor with this pointless plot line of him on this planet. It’s an over-extended plot device to reunite Thor and Hulk and team him up with the new character Valkyrie (whom is a great addition once she gets down her bitchy demeanor). This could have massively been condensed into a smaller act and have more of the movie about Thor saving Asgard and his battle with Hela. And speaking of Hela, it’s really disappointing that we don’t get much of her because Cate Blanchett is fantastic portraying her as the villain and I would have loved more of her and scenes with Chris Hemsworth. The threat of his home is in the balance and it’s barely even a main focus until the end when it is then completely rushed through. Chris Hemsworth does a great job with bringing comedy to the role and he has great chemistry with the rest of the cast. Tom Hiddleston of course steals the show as Loki and also brings a lot of the more comedic moments. Mark Ruffalo returns as Bruce Banner/Hulk, and he does fine with the part, but I’m not sure how I felt about how Hulk/Bruce is presented here. He was presented brilliantly in the two Avengers films, but in this movie it seems like when he’s Hulk (for much of the film) he just comes off as a child, and as Bruce, he’s not really all the clever or together, he’s really scatterbrained and it just feels off. Along with Blanchett we also have Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie added to the cast and she does an excellent job here as the more complex character in the movie as we see all these different layers of her personality, and I will enjoy seeing her in future Marvel films. Jeff Goldblum is another newcomer as the Grandmaster who is holding Thor prisoner, and while does offer some comedic moments, he overall just seems like a pointless character to have.

I know it might seem like I hated this movie, but I didn’t. It’s a really fun film that I know die hard Marvel fans will love a lot more than me, but these are just the personal issues I had with it. It’s extremely well-directed in appearance, and great performances, but in terms of script, I feel it doesn’t really have much direction at all. But once again, if you love Marvel films, you will enjoy this.

A Bad Moms Christmas (2017) Review

 

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The moms are back, and this time it’s for the most wonderful time of the year. Once again, they are dealing with the struggles of motherhood, but now it involves the Christmas season. To add more mayhem to the mix, each of their own moms are coming in for the holidays. Amy’s overbearing and perfectionist mom shows up to try and control and judge every aspect of her life, Kiki’s mom insists on spending every waking moment attached to her hip making her entire life uncomfortable, and Carla’s flakey mom shows up and she can only assume she wants something. The stresses of the holidays and now of their moms’ arrivals can only be solved by a little bad mom action and taking back Christmas their own way.

The first Bad Moms film was hilarious and the cast did a great job, and it had plenty of heart. This film isn’t any different, and I mean that in a great way. The main trio of mothers once again deliver and reprise their roles perfectly, but this time they deal with the holiday troubles we are all too familiar with. The addition of the own moms is just as great. Everything you love about the first film is here, but it’s all done with a Christmas backdrop. And that backdrop works really well to get you ready for the holidays and it gives a good Christmas feel. The heart is here as well, but it is predictable in that sense, familial love and how it’s shown and all that. But it works. If I had any complaints it would be that I would have enjoyed seeing a few more scenes between the original trio of moms doing their thing. And I would have liked to have seen more of Amy and Jessie’s new relationship and how they are adjusting to this new family and the arrival of her mother.  Most of the movie is following the original trio and the way they’re dealing with their mothers, and I’m going to complain about that because it does make it seem like a complete rehash of the original. That said, it is still hilarious all the way through, even if it isn’t as funny as the first. Needless to say, I loved this movie as much as the first film. The cast is just fantastic all around. Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn knock it out of the park once again as the original moms with their great comedic performance and the more heartfelt scenes. But the newest additions of Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines, and Susan Sarandon are really what make this a great follow up and helps it be its own movie as the mothers of the trio. Each of them give their own fantastic individual performance and play off of their respective on-screen daughters really well, and by the end you love seeing them in their own scenes. I’m legitimately hoping Baranski, Hines, and Sarandon get their own spin-off film together, because I have no doubt in my mind that that film will be just as great as the Bad Moms films. As mentioned, I wish Jay Hernandez had more to do. He and Kunis had great chemistry in the original film, and I did want to see him be able to be in the picture more, as well as his daughter in the film. Other newcomers includes Peter Gallagher as Kunis’ dad and Baranski’s husband, for most of the movie he’s the pushover husband he gets a couple of laughs, but towards the end he gets a pretty pivotal scene with Mila’s character, giving him more to do. And fresh off of This Is Us tv fame is Justin Hartley as the Santa stripper Ty Swindel whom develops a relationship with Hahn’s character. The two have hilarious and charming chemistry that you wish Hartley had more scenes, and Hartley proves he can do comedy in this film as well as he can do drama in This Is Us.

A Bad Moms Christmas does a great job of giving us the laughs, heart, and spirit of the original film, while still being it’s own film that can be watched without even seeing the first. And most of all, the addition of the new cast members is fantastic and I can only hope for a spin-off film with. This is definitely one Christmas film I’m adding to my list to watch every December for the holidays.

The Snowman (2017) Review

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Alcoholic detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) takes on a case where a killer is targeting women with one thing in common. Along the way, Hole is being taunted by the killer, while also trying to uncover the secret his partner Katrine (Rebecca Ferguson) is holding.

When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I was definitely intrigued. I then made it my mission to read the book. I wasn’t too thrilled with, but that’s a different story. The film version of The Snowman, was terrible. It suffers from an extremely weak script that is so bland, boring, and empty. While watching the film, it seemed clear that this was a rushed film. Everything just seemed all thrown together with some pretty significant changes here and there. In general, it’s just a huge mess, and even by the end there isn’t any real pay-off and it’s extremely anti-climactic. It also completely devoid of thrills and intensity.  I don’t want to go too far into book/film differences since I think comparing the two is pointless, so I’ll make this statement quick. In the novel there are several scenes that play out longer and are pretty fricken intense. However, these scenes are relegated to extremely short and boring sequences that feel half-assed. Even the mystery of the killer just doesn’t have as much presence. The whole time I was waiting for some good stuff to happen that the mystery of who the killer is doesn’t even matter anymore. So when the killer is revealed, you’re just like, eh whatever. And for the killer’s motive, it’s laughable and pathetic. As far as characters in the film go, we are given the basic ingredients to make them potentially interesting, but it’s as if the limited amount of background for these characters are just thrown at us, but they don’t do anything with them. Instead, the characters become boring and uninteresting. What’s even more disappointing is that the normally outstanding Michael Fassbender isn’t even up to par, and you can tell he’s struggling to make do with what he has. Rebecca Ferguson could have done well with her role too as the feisty but mysterious new partner for Fassbender’s character, but they just have her running around spying on J.K. Simmons’ character and not really doing anything much of interest.

This could have been a good mystery/thriller, but instead we got a terrible, terrible written script and a very clearly rushed production that hurts this film…a lot. Again, I don’t want to make this a whole book vs. movie thing, but if you have interest in the movie, just skip it and read the book. It’s much better written and has more substance and more going on than this script, even if I wasn’t entirely crazy about the book either.

Wonder Woman (2017) Review

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Diana (Gal Gadot) is a descendant from a league of female warriors. They’ve lived in a hidden location in the middle of the sea so their mortal enemy Ares (the god of war). When a young spy in WWI named Steve (Chris Pine) manages to break through the hidden barrier and discovers their world, Diana is informed the war forming outside her world. Feeling that Ares is responsible for this war, she goes with Steve to destroy Ares and put an end to the war.

After the less than impressive DCEU films of Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, director Patty Jenkins delivers the most brilliant DC film since The Dark Knight. What sets Wonder Woman apart from most origin stories is that it doesn’t drag on aspect that aren’t important. We didn’t linger on Diana’s childhood too long, nor her teen years. We are given enough of each to cover the first half hour, and from there we have Diana as a grown woman. As the first entry in a superhero film (not counting BVS), the story is really straightforward, but also has a lot of depth to it. The movie is 2 hours and 20 minutes, and never once does it drag or go by slow. Diana is an extremely compelling and strong character who isn’t tortured by demons. She’s a strong and brave woman from the start and believes in herself as well as others, especially the good in others. Towards the end we do see her falter but she does rise above it. But what’s a superhero movie without great action sequences? It does take place during WWI, and I thought this was going to make is extremely boring (like the first Captain America film), but the war is merely the backdrop and plot device. It’s not entirely focused on, nor is it the point of the story. It is what sets things in motion and what gives Diana her mission, but that’s it. But nothing has been a more exciting feat than seeing Wonder Woman kicking ass in the middle of huge battles. Along with this is the gorgeous cinematography. Another plus is that it doesn’t waste our time with pointless plot points, worthless characters, and senseless drama. It really is the superhero we go to the movies for. Gal Gadot is just incredible as our titular hero. She brings her A-game for the fight sequences and looks like a bad ass doing it. During the humorous moments it comes off as genuine and not over-done, and it’s really during the heartfelt moments that Gadot really shows how rounded of a character Diana is. Chris Pine is also portrayed as the leading man who is tough in his own way, but isn’t afraid to seek the help of Diana when he knows he needs it.

Wonder Woman is the perfect superhero film. It’s filled with fun, action, laughs, plenty of heart, and a hero worth admiring. The script itself is straightforward and consistent, and it’s all under the brilliant eye of Patty Jenkins (whom truly saved the DCEU hands-down). And the film certainly wouldn’t be complete without the outstanding performance of Gadot as Wonder Woman.

5/5