Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

★★★

I felt disappointed after getting out of Thor: Ragnarok. I at least thought, that this one would be different from the other, more forgettable entries in the Thor series. With Taika Waititi directing, there were examples of his cool art direction, with the 80s infused setting (and awesome synth-y soundtrack) of the planet Sakaar. There was a lot to love in that aspect. What I found to be underwhelming mainly, was the waste of Hela (Cate Blanchett) as the villain and the wasted potential of exploring Sakaar.

Oh no! Asgard is going to get destroyed! Wait a minute, haven’t we already done this before? Because it sure seems like it. Now this time, Hela the Goddess of Death is the person threatening the people of Asgard. Sadly, Blanchett was wasted in the role. Just like mostly all of the Marvel baddies she is equally as forgettable. Her mere existence as a character is what takes away from the enjoyable parts of the movie. Since Thor is banished to Sakaar, whilst attempting to race back to Asgard before the Goddess of Death threatens other realms. My main issue and question with the story is: Why didn’t the whole movie just take place on Sakaar? Instead of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) having to race back home to fight a generic villain having him arrive back to Asgard would have been substantial. Especially with a gladiator arena thrown into the mix.

Hulk and Thor do in fact, fight in the gladiator arena and it is probably the best part of the film. One of the things I was most excited for was how the relationship between Thor and Bruce Banner/the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) was going to be handled and portrayed. There were some terrific character building moments, such as when Hulk and Thor are talking to each other for the first time in years. However, I left Thor: Ragnarok wanting more out of the chemistry between the two characters. For other characters, Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster of Sakaar was great casting. Goldblum’s odd delivery of the lines provides some great comedy. Just as equally funny with his delivery was director Taika Waititi’s portrayal of Korg, the gentle rock-giant.

Even though the design of Sakaar was pretty great, I found the CGI to be lacking in some areas. I can sense it becoming dated soon. There were some points where it looked almost like it was done by a film student, rather than a professional that works in the film industry. Such as when walls and floors were smashed. It is unfortunate to see, since these movies are being produced at a rapid speed, they have to fill the scenes with CGI instead of at least some set pieces and miniatures that would help ground the film and not make it look as artificial as it does at some points in the movie.

My overall disappointment with Thor: Ragnarok could have something to do with the past two Marvel Cinematic Universe movies setting the bar so high. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) and Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)  had fun at changing up the standard Marvel formula. Offering solid villains and good pacing. Ragnarok on the other hand, is much more generic by MCU standards. It is, by no means a bad movie, but a passable one. It did not fully embrace the weirdness of the premise and setting which is why I found it to be lacking. It is still the best Thor movie however, which is not really saying much.

 

Downsizing (2017)

My favorite thing about film festivals is that you are able to catch some movies before they get a wide release and try to get the word out to people to go and see them when they do eventually reach theaters. However, Downsizing is the complete antithesis of that statement.

The trailer gives you hope. Hope that something will be done with this interesting concept. Alexander Payne has directed and written some fine films, such as, Sideways (2004) and Election (1999) to name a couple. Movies that tell interesting stories with interesting characters on a much smaller, more personal scale (no pun intended). Downsizing is completely different in that way. I think the idea could work, as people shrinking themselves down to five inches to save the environment Unfortunately, it lacks any direction whatsoever, characters are uninteresting, and the movie is boring.

The lack of any likable characters makes this movie even harder to get through. I haven’t seen Christoph Waltz wasted this badly since Spectre (2016). Matt Damon can not do comedy at all as well. All the characters are wasted, but nothing really can compare to the character Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau). Chau plays a Vietnamese activist that sounds less like an actual person and more like Short Round from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). The comedic complexity and questionable racism of the character is that she sounds funny, which is fine, for the first minute or so. Afterwards, when you realize she is a going to be a main character, she becomes obnoxious fast. The best characters are the cameos in the movie. Notably, Laura Dern, Neil Patrick Harris and James Van Der Beek to name a few.

Do you like product placement? Not in the David Fincher way where it adds to the realism. Just overt Adam Sandler-esque product placement? Because if so Downsizing is a great fit for you! Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) works at Omaha Steaks and LL Bean, people eat at Olive Garden, Fed-Ex is mentioned a couple times, there is a giant Nabisco Saltine Cracker that is used to show Paul Safranek how small he became. All of this stuff is shoved in our faces in the worst way possible. Giving it that feeling like the reason why this is Payne’s most expensive feature yet is because of all the product placement that had to be done to get that money.

It could be said that Downsizing is satirical, but in order for that to be true the filmmakers would need to look up the definition of satire. The basic theme of Downsizing is about saving the environment. (I think?) The reason why I am unsure about that is because the way this is conveyed is about as well as Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010) tries to preach about environmental awareness.

Downsizing is like a Saturday Night Live skit that goes on for two hours mixed with a half-baked attempt at satire. It doesn’t know what it wants to satirize but, by golly it attempts to. Alexander Payne is a talented director and I still can not comprehend how he is attached to this horrible film. If you like the idea of Matt Damon being small with little else to offer, then this is the film for you. Everyone else should avoid this film at all costs.      

 

Lady Bird (2017)

★★★★★

I find it difficult to think that I will discover a film this year that I will love more than Lady Bird. How it came at the right time in my life, wanting to break away from my home after college; applying to universities in cities that just really want to live in. It was almost as if Greta Gerwig was tapping into my own psyche while writing this movie.

Other than just the more personal connection I felt to the story. You don’t have to be a senior in High School worrying about your future to enjoy this movie. If you like coming-of-age movies and comedies, Lady Bird will not disappoint. The opening scene immediately grabs you in (not spoiling anything though), making you pay attention and laugh at the fiery and rebellious nature that Cynthia “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) emits. Her journey through the last year of high school is one trek that most of us will or have made at some point in our lives.

As far as Gerwig’s direction went, at some points of the movie I was getting a bit of a Wes Anderson vibe from certain shots. Which is not an insult but, I found it as an interesting stylistic decision on her part. I think Noah Baumbach, gave her helpful lessons on directing and she utilized them in a movie that shot-wise has no problems.

Lady Bird is one of the strongest directorial debuts I have seen in this decade. It makes me look forward to what Gerwig’s directing future will have to offer. With her Husband, Noah Baumbach being a great director as well, I look forward to seeing how they will both inspire each other through their separate directing careers.

 

Molly’s Game (2017)

★★★★

Molly’s Game or The Movie Where Jessica Chastain Wears a Lot of Dresses is Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, and is where he has full control for the first time over everything. If you’ve seen anything written by Sorkin you know what you are in for. Incredibly fast and sharp dialogue in situations that otherwise would most likely be boring if done by anyone else. The best way to describe Molly’s Game is, the most Sorkin-esque film yet.

If not for Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba’s performance as well as Sorkin’s dialogue, direction, as well as speedy editing; this would have probably made this nearly two-and-a-half hour movie a slog to get through. The opening of Molly’s Game is both action-packed and and also metaphorical for the course her life took. The expectation that the movie would start out with poker, which is how most would expect that to be the subject that is tackled first. Instead, this provides background to Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) as a character showing her strict upbringing by her father (Kevin Costner), and her determination. Leading into what the future held for her after that one skiing accident. The surprising thing however, is that Aaron Sorkin did not even want to direct the film at first. As he said in his Q and A following the screening. He had picked directors with the producers and both the directors selected had turned down the movie multiple times, both insisting that he should be the one to direct. This is surprising to discover, because I could not really picture anyone more perfect for this movie and am glad that he turned out to be the one for the job.

Molly’s Game tries to set the record straight. Portraying Molly Bloom as an intellectual, brilliant, and independent woman. Who just happened to be a victim of circumstance. Painting the reports in the tabloids to be false. Using the movie as factual evidence supporting her. Never boring us, but keeping us interested until the very end.

Frankenstein (1931)

★★★★★

And so here I am, exactly a week before going to see a screening of Benedict Cumberbatch perform Frankenstein. and it wasn’t until today that I actually watched the 1931 classic. At only 71 minutes, James Whale wastes no time establishing everything, making this a quick and atmospheric Halloween watch.

Even though I have never seen Frankenstein, I know everything about it, the plot, “It’s alive! It’s alive!”, and of course the monster (Boris Karloff). This film has, like Victor Frankenstein’s monster itself, stumbled into its legendary pop culture status. The strongest point of this movie other than Karloff’s performance, is the atmosphere which, for a movie made in 1931 still is impressive to look at. The editing and film making represent a different more primitive time in Hollywood. The abrupt editing of scenes and the over the top delivery from some characters. None of these things even come close to ruining this film. Why not? Because it is Frankenstein. Sure there have been more adaptations of the story but this is not one of them. It makes up for the awkward moments with the Gothic atmosphere, and the studio sets add to this making it seem more like a stage play if anything else.

Frankenstein has cemented itself in its legendary status is everything that came after it and the influence of it still shines bright through all horror films in some way and a good place to start for anyone looking to study the genre.

Hoop-Tober Film #7 of 35 

The Babysitter (2017)

★★½

McG’s The Babysitter is a movie that could have only really thrived on a service like Netflix. I doubt that most (including me) would go to a theater and see a movie such as this. It doesn’t set out to be high art of any kind, which is completely fine. It just aims to be entertaining, scary and funny; and at least it succeeds at the first one.

At a lightning fast 85 minutes, this movie just flies by. Even though the editing had some odd choices, such as editing animated text into scenes (maybe to capitalize on people making GIFs?) or a strangely-inserted POV sequence it was never dull as everything is so nicely condensed and nothing is focused on for longer than it should be. One editing choice that I also found to be unnecessary was the use of flashbacks to scenes from earlier in the movie before Cole (Judah Lewis) would do something. It ruins some of the intelligence of the movie and was just plain lazy to blatantly tell the audience.

With a one exception, the characters in this movie don’t matter. The main character, Cole though an arc that feels rushed and happens mostly all during the finale. Bee (Samara Weaving), was the best character undoubtedly. Weaving helps bring her character to life, making her a charismatic, funny, and relateable character…who happens to be a psychopath. Bee’s friends however, are all just stereotypes that have been recycled again and again from other high school coming of age films. Which, by the looks of it seemed to be the intention but, it was an unsuccessful attempt at that. All of Bee’s friends were rarely ever funny and just came off as cannon fodder for the gruesome violence that entailed. The worst of these performances however, was Bella Thorne’s as Allison; the high school cheerleader archetype of the movie. Her comedic delivery and acting in general was horrendous and the movie would have been at least marginally better if she was not cast in the movie.

The Babysitter borrows from many other, undoubtedly better movies. Most notably, Home Alone (1990). It is a bit of a genre-Frankenstein of some sorts. Not really being scary and not being very funny either. It’s just a short and entertaining “turn-your-brain off” movie that best watched on late sleepy nights

 

Blade Runner 2049

 ★★★½

This is easily the best looking movie of the year. Part of my enjoyment in writing this review is picking the shot from the film I wanted to use for my blog entry. All of them were contenders. At nearly three hours long, this is a sci-fi epic. I found Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 to be a flawed, yet interesting addition to the universe of Blade Runner.

2049 explains much more than its predecessor does. The original Blade Runner (1982) managed to be more of a mood piece than a full-fledged action movie and this film is the exact opposite. Which is not a bad thing but not necessarily fully a good thing either. Personally, I found the ambiguity of the original Blade Runner (the 2007 Final Cut, of course) to be one of its strongest qualities. Connecting to the film’s themes of morality and liberty as well a leaving the ending more up to the viewer’s interpretation to what will happen to Decker and Rachel.

Denis Villeneuve continues his streak of making at least one film a year. This being his fourth year in a row. It baffles me how he manages to do it. Considering that the quality of his films have not gone down and have all manged to be at least consistently good. This movie is the most ambitious and most expensive of all of his movies and Villenueve still manages to continue with his streak. The shots are full of color in this movie and are just terrific to look at. I love how much variety there is in this film especially. Every scene is staged to perfection. I don’t think a better director could have been chosen for this movie.

Hans Zimmer handled the score for the movie, and lacked the amount emotion that Vangelis’ score had. Zimmer’s score fell back on not reusing sounds rather than having a central tune to the film. It puzzles me why they didn’t just get Vangelis to score the movie again or they could have even gone for a more unknown musician than Zimmer. I found the music to be the most underwhelming part of the film, which was very disappointing considering how iconic the original’s is.

2049 is a movie that while I may consider it to be unnecessary, is good at what it does. While a bit long, and lacking in its score. The film manages to add to the world of Blade Runner which helps provide for a good sequel. That while I felt was disappointing, ended up being much better than I would have expected when it was announced a couple years back.