Rough Night (2017)

Capsule Summary (minor plot spoilers):

Rough Night is a comedy about a bachelor party gone wrong. Scarlett Johansson stars as Jess, who reunites with her college girlfriends for the big party, in Miami. Alice (Jillian Bell), Blair (Zoë Kravitz), and Frankie (Ilana Glazer) have that big blowout before the wedding, and things don’t turn out the way you’d want them to.

There are hints of the truly dark comedy Very Bad Things here, but it really isn’t. It struggles to find its voice, but without saying more, it does come to a reasonable conclusion. There is a post-credits scene that answers a question left open.

Standard Review (contains plot spoilers):

I’m not sure I can say too much without spoiling the film. As I mentioned, it struggles for some laughs along the way, trying to walk the line between a traditional comedy and a black comedy.

This isn’t a film you must see in the theater, so I’d recommend waiting for its streaming or disk release.

Wonder Woman (2017)

Capsule Summary (Minor plot spoilers):

Wonder Woman is the first big screen adaptation of this DC Comics Superhero, and it is very good. It tells a proper and complete story without any contrivances, unlike last year’s Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice , which I did enjoy, but had some issues. There is a good balance between action, drama, and comedy that is hard to sustain, but here, it works. The casting is good and the movie is without any real disappointments unlike other DC films of late.

Definitely recommended. See it in a theater for the full experience. The movie is available in 2D and 3D, but it’s perfectly fine in 2D.

There is no post-credits sequence.

 

Standard Review (contains plot spoilers):

Diana/Wonder Woman (Gal Godot) was born and raised on the island of Themyscira, home of the Amazons. Her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielson) has ordained a life of preparation. All Amazonian woman were created by Zeus, to bring order and peace to a chaotic world, corrupted by the god Ares. They are fierce, in the truest sense of the word, all trained for combat by Hippolyta’s sister Antiope (Robin Wright), but Diana has been spared this. She is the only child, but over time, grows to adulthood and secretly trains with Antiope.

One day, a pilot crashes his plane near the shores of Themyscira. It is Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). He is a spy who escaped his would-be captors, and is trying to get back to England with the information he stole. The Amazonians distrust him, and the other men who’ve chased him. Steve tells of the war going on, outside of their peaceful realm, and Diana is convinced who is behind it. She and Steve sail off to find the truth.

I’ve been on the fence with the last two DC movies that’ve come out. The first I mentioned, which I liked, but, as I said, felt contrived a bit much, though the inclusion of Wonder Woman in the story felt like it belonged there. Last year’s Suicide Squad was good, but the inclusion of The Joker into the story was really unnecessary, and distracted from the main story. The best parts of that film revolved around Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and DeadShot (Will Smith), and they should have focused on them without the distraction of the Joker (Jared Leto).

Here there is only one focus, and that’s on Diana. They play up on her naiveté early on, for laughs, but it becomes a key issue later in the plot (why aren’t we doing “this”?). You do get to see a bit of a transformation as Diana becomes the person she is supposed to be, and it seems evolutionary instead of contrived and necessary for the story to continue.

I was really pleased by the story, and I’m glad DC shifted gears to make this properly.

My only beef with the film was the final song over the credits. It’s a perfectly good song, sung by Sia, but it didn’t fit the tone of the movie. It was a little jarring in comparison to the rest of the movie.

 

 

 

Snatched (2017)

Capsule Summary (Minor plot spoilers):

Snatched is the latest comedy from Amy Schumer, and Goldie Hawn. It’s Hawn’s first appearance on screen in 15 years, and is long overdue.

Emily MIddleton (Schumer) has been dumped by her boyfriend, and resorts to taking her mother, Linda (Hawn), on the trip to Ecuador that she’d planned with him. Things go awry, and the two of them are forced to work together to escape the perilous situation they’ve been subjected to. Comedy and action sequences ensue, leading to a satisfying resolution.

If you are a fan of Amy Schumer’s humor, you will enjoy this film. Schumer and Hawn bond well on stage, and there are several good supporting performances. If you’re not a fan of her style of humor, then you probably won’t like it.

Standard Review (contains plot spoilers):

I don’t feel the need to elaborate much further on the film, but I will say that the audience and I rather enjoyed the movie. There are several good performances by the supporting cast, and there’s a subtle context about them not really waiting for a MAN to rescue them that plays throughout, but it isn’t as prominent as some people may want you to believe.

There are far more jokes than what you see in the trailer.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Capsule Summary (spoiler free):

I am Groot. I am Groot I am Groot!  I am Groot, I am Groot. I am groot; I am Groot? I AM GROOOOOOOOT!

OK but seriously, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol, 2 is the sequel to the 2014 film  that went before it.  It lives up to the original, sustaining the action, with more of an emphasis on comedy. The film slightly drags in the middle, but ends satisfyingly.

Recommended, and there are extra scenes during and after the credits, so be sure to stay if you want to see them all.

Standard Review (contains plot spoilers):

The film starts with the Guardians defending a planet from an interdimensional being. Their reward for their job is literally Nebula (Karen Gillan), Gamora’s (Zoe Sandana)’s “sister”, who will fetch a huge bounty when they bring her in. Their departure is hampered, and the planet’s leader,  Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), sends their forces to recapture the Guardian’s ship. All seems lost, but they are rescued, in a fashion, by Ego (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt’s) father. There is some credence to this claim.

Meanwhile,  Ayesha wants the Guardian’s heads. She travels to find Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his team of Ravagers, and hires him to return them. The Ravagers aren’t too pleased with how things have turned out, and agree to assist Yondu, for the time being.

Peter, Gamora, and Drax (Dave Bautista) travel to Ego’s home world, and everyone but Peter is uneasy. They aren’t convinced Ego is completely honest with them, and ask why he’s come for Peter, now? There is more to the story then he’s lead them to believe.

This is a proper sequel to the original. It definitely focuses more on the humor in their interactions, but it also plays to your emotions. Peter never knew his father, and struggles to believe. The theme of family is strong in this film, and pulls at your heartstrings.  Music was an important component in the original movie, and that continues here, but its use is not as impactful.

There are two issues I have with the movie. It has a runtime of 2 hours, 12 minutes, so it certainly takes its time to build to the finale. The story does slow down a few times, in some ham-handed ways, but they definitely do not ruin the film. The other issue I have with the film more relates to how many of the better moments are teased/spoiled by the trailer. I really wish they hadn’t used so many moments from the movie in it. There’s always that balance of what to tease in the trailer versus what to omit, but unfortunately they should have omitted more of the scenes from the trailer than they did. The trailer doesn’t ruin the film, either, but they could have used fewer crucial moments.

As I indicated in the capsule summary, there are several teaser moments during the credits, as well as one after the credits are complete. There are two minor elements that directly hint to movies that will be released within the year.

Going in Style (2017)

Capsule Summary (spoiler free):

Going in Style is a remake of the 1979 movie of the same name. The situation has the same basic premise, but it’s been modernized. A fine effort by director Zach Braff. The story is mildly tense, entertaining, and funny, and the cast of veteran actors makes it worth seeing.  Definitely recommended.

Standard Review (contains plot spoilers):

Joe (Michael Caine) is at the bank, trying to resolve a problem with his pension from the steel mill where he used to work. There have been problems because there haven’t been any deposits from the fund in a while. While talking to the unhelpful manager, the bank is robbed by masked gunmen. They are in and out with a few minutes, but not before Joe and the manager are confronted by one of the robbers.

Joe and his two lifelong pals Willie (Morgan Freeman) and Albert (Alan Arkin) find out that their pension fund is gone, thanks to some corporate trickery.  As fallout from this maneuver, the bank’s about to foreclose on his mortgage, putting him, his daughter and grandchild on the street. That infuriates Joe, who  decides that he needs to rob the bank that’s handling the pension funds.

Joe convinces Willie and Albert to join him, and the three of them find out what they need to do, thanks to a workable, but slightly convoluted stream of events.

Naturally, nothing is ever that simple, and there are complications, but that’s the fun of this film. The interplay between the three of them is wonderful, and “smooth”, because it’s clear the actors work well together. I’m surprised they haven’t appeared in other films before, because it seems like they have.  There are some other cameo appearances by well-known, older actors I won’t mention, and they properly gel with the situation. Going in Style builds to a conclusion that had me guessing to the end. I won’t say how close it is to the original film’s finale.

With the upcoming summer blockbusters about to burst on the scene, I think I can safely say this movie will make it to my top 10 of 2017.

 

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Ghost in the Shell started as a Japanese Manga (comic), was adapted to a well-received animated film in 1995, then a successful animated series that ran from 2002-2005, and then another movie in 2004, another movie in 2006, and another in 2008, and a reboot of the story in 2013.  All of these are based on the original manga, and have been received differently. When it was announced that there would be a live-action film based on it, expectations were higher than high.

Throughout these interpretations is the same basic story. It is the future. Robotics and cybernetic implants are commonplace. Many people are enhanced with implants and can do extraordinary things. That also leads to crime. Within the Japanese government, Public Security Section 9 is a force who deals with counterterrorism and all sorts of computer/cyber crime. There are variations to this in the various instances of the adaptations, but the rest of this review discusses the film in question.

The Major(Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind – her brain is placed in a completely cybernetic body. Her sense of self is called the Ghost, spirit, or soul, if you will, and her body, the Shell. As a human, she was rescued from downing, and as such, the Hanka Corporation chose her for this experiment. Deemed a success, she is assigned to Section 9. Fast forward to a year later, she is the point person on a suspected attack on a hack involving a high-level person in the Hanka Corporation. Someone is trying to steal information from him by sending a robot geisha to a dinner/reception he is holding. Something is amiss, and the Major is put on the case.

That all transpires within the first 10-15 minutes of the film, and I will not divulge any more. There is a lot of furor about the casting of Scarlett Johansson, because the Major has always been a Japanese woman.  I personally was disappointed, originally, and I don’t know why it was done, but perhaps it could have been related to getting funding/approval for the movie to be made, at all. I will say that they “address” that in the story, but I won’t say more, as it’s part of the story.

There is plenty of action in this film. It’s all highly choreographed, as have been the various animations in the past. The kineticism and energy of these scenes have been one of the most appealing aspects of the previous incantations, and here they meet expectations. The computer and hacking scenes are a little less interesting, as the previous shows have made a strong effort to ratchet up the visual nature of them. Here, they are interesting, but not as visually stimulating.

Along with the visual, there is a lot of dialogue to pad the story with “history” and explanation of the concepts. Those moments can drag for people who are familiar, but they are necessary for people who aren’t.

This film is visually stunning. This is a very rich world, and they can only do so much in a movie that runs 1:47. There are a couple of characters who are well known within the series, but are relegated to them having a scene or two that seem perfunctory, like “I’m this guy, and I do this (and then they do it)”. Again, that’s them loading up the story so there can be a sequel, or they are providing these  elements to make the faithful happy. I can’t say, though there’s a ton of material to cover for this movie so that people understand what’s going on.

One aspect of the previous versions of this show has been the music. The choices were always interesting and full, on their own. Many different styles were used. Here, Clint Mansell, an exceptional composer, has done a decent job, however none of his work was truly memorable. There’s nothing “wrong” with what he wrote, but it didn’t fully work, for me.

The background cityscape this movie exists in is full of Eye Candy – super-sized advertising via hologram, people with various implants walking in the background, crazy vehicles of all sorts and sizes, and so on. There’s a lot to see, and I suspect after several viewings there will still be more to discover.

All this being said, it is a good film. It’s an updated re-telling of the 1995 movie, with some things added on that came along from the series. The final confrontation is acceptable, but not mind-blowing.  I did see it in 3D, but there wasn’t enough that used it well (besides the city scenes) that I recommend you see it in 2D. Overall, it’s a mixed bag, and I suspect people that aren’t too familiar with the story will like it more than those who are.

 

Logan (2017)

Logan is the latest film from the Marvel X-Men comic book franchise. This review presumes you are aware of the previous movies, if not the comics. Its primary focus is on the X-Man Wolverine, aka Logan (Hugh Jackman).

It’s a few years in the future. Mutants have been eradicated from the face of the Earth, except for a few holdouts, like Logan. The remaining ones are in hiding. Logan is eking out a meager existence as a Limo driver. We see that he’s living in Mexico, and most of the money he earns is to pay for medications for Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who is very ill. Also with them is Caliban (Stephen Merchant), another mutant who takes care of the three of them.

All of them are getting by, until one day, a woman approaches Logan, and says she knows who he is. She wants to pay him to drive a little girl to a remote place in the Northern U.S.  The girl’s a mutant, too, but Logan initially refuses, for fear of being discovered, however, fate has other plans. There are people searching for the girl, and they’re not too happy. The movie becomes a chase, but that’s only a part of the story.

This is a well known story, at the fundamental level. The world-weary guy who wants to remain alone is thrust into the role of caregiver, and realizes what must be done. The first example of this that popped into my head was Father Goose, but there are many others. It’s a good story, if told well, and in this case, it is. In previous X-Men films, the mutants and their powers are at the forefront of the story, but in this one, they almost take a back seat to the plot. I am pleased that they do, which allows the writers to come up with a real story that, on its surface, is a bit silly for most of the X-Men movies.

I do recommend this film. Please note that it is rated R for violence, and there is a lot in this movie.

The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

After the success of 2014’s The Lego Movie, Warner Brothers decided to continue along the same lines, and created 2017’s The Lego Batman Movie, using the Batman character they had in that film. Batman was voiced by Will Arnett, and he returns for this film.

Batman is awesome. Everyone loves him, and thinks he’s the greatest, but, we find out his biggest fan is himself. The film starts with Joker (Zach Galifianakis) attacking the city’s power generation station, demanding that the mayor cede control of the city to him or else he’ll destroy it. Of course, Batman comes to the rescue, but not before meeting pretty much every villain that he’s ever fought, even ones I barely remember. He saves the day, yet again, but the villains avoid capture.

After this latest victory, Police Commissioner Gordon decides it’s time to retire. His successor is his daughter Barbara (Rosario Dawson). Joker returns to interrupt the celebration, and tries out a new method to mess with The Bat. It’s pretty effective.

That’s just the first 10-15 minutes of the film. I’ll spoil nothing further. The movie is fast-paced, and never slows down. Something’s always happening, or about to happen.

The Lego Batman Movie is first and foremost a comedy. There’s a lot of humor to be had, in all aspects of Batman-dom, from parodying previous iterations of the character, to making fun of the ridiculousness of some of the things he does. Almost all of it is clever and funny, a tough combination to pull off.

It’s definitely worth seeing. I highly recommend it. It’s rated PG, and all the kids in the theater really liked it, including me.

 

 

Hidden Figures (2016)

Hidden Figures is a movie whose title has a double meaning. This movie is about specialized mathematicians who work at NASA, before the launch of the first Spaceships. The “Figures” refers to both the numbers in the calculations, but also the people who performed that work.

View the trailer here.

In the 1950s qnd 1960s, Americans were working on their space program, initially under the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). In 1958, President Eisenhower essentially created the NASA as we know it today. Back then everything was new. Computers, as we know them today, were in their infancy, and the term computers referred to actual people who performed the calculations that modern computers do today. There were pools of computers who were given the task of verifying scientist’s work, and also calculating the numbers that literally got the space program off the ground.

The movie focuses on three African-American women, friends who are a part of the ‘colored’ pool of computers for NASA, at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. Segregation was still going on, and the women in the pool were loaned out for specific projects.  Each one has to overcome the biases inherent in the job, as well as the underlying  racism.

Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson) is assigned to the Space Task Group, the ones who are making the final calculations for launching and landing the actual spaceships. Given the stress of the job, no computer has lasted with the group for more than a short time. Katherine is determined to succeed, despite the situation. Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons) is an arrogant scientist who doesn’t make things easy for her.

Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) gets assigned to the engineers who are trying to get the space capsule working. She encounters less bias on the job, but still has huge hurdles to face.

Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) has become the de-facto manager of the computer pool. We find early on that she’s a tinkerer, and knows how to get things done when it’s needed. Her supervisor, Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst), is more of a roadblock to everything Dorothy tries to accomplish.

This is an excellent movie. It walks you through many of the things that had to be in place before space flight was achievable. They really took the time and effort to get the feel of it right. Speaking as The Man, I could gloss over the racism that shows up throughout the film, but I am totally unqualified to comment any further. It’s a big part of what is accomplished in the movie, but not the only part. This movie is based on real events, and real people, and it needs to stand on its own, and it does that extremely well. As a movie, it’s one of the best I’ve seen in years. I cannot recommend it enough.

Once you’ve seen the film, and you really should, come back and visit this link, which explains the truth behind the film. In order to make Hidden Figures, some of the timeline has been rearranged, and some other facts that would get in the way of making the film are combined and/or adjusted, but their impact is definitely felt.

 

Sing (2016)

Sing is a new animated release from Universal Pictures. It is a movie with music and singing, rather than an actual musical. I’ve been told recently there are pedantic people who make the distinction that a ‘true’ musical involves music, but the music is a part of the flow of the film, and it is used to express emotions of the actors singing, and, is usually is often not recognized as separate singing in the film. Sing is about performing music, and is therefore different. Just covering all bases here.

OK, now that’s out of the way, the basic story takes place in an unnamed city, presumably San Francisco. Animals live together in harmony. Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), a koala bear, owns and operates a failing playhouse that’s on the verge of foreclosure.  He comes up with one last, desperate attempt to drum up business, by holding a singing competition. Thanks to his aging, inept secretary, Miss Crawley (Garth Jennings), a lizard, the competition is announced with a much larger grand prize than Buster can afford. It draws a lot of interesting characters, such as Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), a pig who’s mom to many, many offspring, Mike (Seth McFarlane), a mouse, who’s a crooner in the style of the old Rat Pack (does that make him part of a mouse pack?), and Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a porcupine whose style leans towards thrash metal. There are many others, but only some are chosen for the competition.

This is definitely a good-natured kid’s movie, rated PG, however, it’s rather entertaining. The characters are rather fleshed out, and each has a good story, with something to prove. There is some danger involved, but nothing too wild, or even scary. It is a PG film, after all. There is humor, too. What impressed me most was the musical selection. It was pretty diverse, including some Sinatra, Beatles, and relatively current pop songs. You get the sense that the songs were chosen to distinguish the different characters, and it’s a nice blend of styles.

I rather enjoyed the film. I was also surprised that I lost out seeing it at one theater by showing up too late (it was sold out), and the next screening at another theater was pretty full, as well, perhaps due to the holiday.

The movie is available in 2D, and 3D, however, I don’t think there’s a need to see it in 3D.