Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Movie Review: "Django Unchained" (2012)

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Year: 2012
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes

A German bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz buys and frees a slave named Django, who he takes on as a partner in exchange for pointing out the identities two lucrative bounties.

"Django Unchained" is a pre-Civil War western written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, who is known for his films "Pulp Fiction" and "Inglorious Basterds." It stars Jamie Foxx as the titular Django, who begins the movie as a slave, but is bought and freed by a German dentist turned bounty hunter Dr. King Schutz, played by Christoph Waltz. Dr. King Schultz is looking for two bounties of whom Django knows the identities, and in exchange for pointing them out, Schultz gives Django his freedom, makes him his partner, and agrees to help him free his wife Broomhilda, played by Kerry Washington, from slavery. Broomhilda is owned by 'Monsieur' Calvin J. Candie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, a wealthy plantation owner who is obsessed with French culture and regularly puts on 'Mandingo Fights' for sport.

Quentin Tarantino brings his unique, character-driven vision to the western genre in "Django Unchained." He dabbled in this genre a little bit making "Kill Bill," but here, he goes all out. First off, Robert Richardson's cinematography in the film is stunning and amazing. The shots are expertly crafted and can be brutally breathtaking. There are some scenes that are downright violent, but at the same time, they are artfully crafted as the deep red color of blood is juxtaposed against white cotton, and white horses, and white walls. It's oddly gorgeous. And what would a Tarantino film be without his sharply engaging dialogue? And who better to deliver it than Christoph Waltz? Both times Tarantino has employed Waltz, it has produced an Oscar-winning performance. He is absolutely brilliant as Dr. King Schultz. Jamie Foxx and Samuel L. Jackson present two characters at the opposite end of the spectrum for those held in slavery pre-Civil war. Foxx's Django is a freed slave ready to stick it to the man acting as a beacon of hope for what is possible. He starts out as a timid man, but as King Schultz trains him in his bounty hunting ways, his inner menace comes out in full, brutal force. Jackson's Stephen is a vocal and vociferous personality and gains a small amount of power by endearing himself to his owners and aiding in the oppression of his fellow slaves. Two glorious and different performances that juxtapose one another nicely. Another actor here giving an amazing performance is Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays an utterly despicable character but does so exceedingly well. He has some of the most memorable scenes in the film, even though he's only in the latter portion of the film.

Cunning, brutal, perverse, and darkly humorous, "Django Unchained" is an intense, bloody, engaging movie with stunning cinematography. It is one of Tarantino's best films.

My Rating: 10/10
BigJ's Rating: 10/10
IMDB's Rating: 8.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 87%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!

Movie Review: "Christmas Evil" (1980)

Director: Lewis Jackson
Year: 1980
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

A mentally unstable toy maker dresses up like Santa Claus on Christmas Eve and decides to reward the good and punish those on the naughty list.

We love Christmas and we really like horror movies, so it's nice when we get our hands on classic Christmas horror flicks like "Christmas Evil," aka "You Better Watch Out." The film is written and directed by Lewis Jackson, who really isn't known for much else, though he does have a little-seen horror movie called "The Transformation: A Sandwich of Nightmares," which sounds like something we needed to see yesterday. This film stars Brandon Maggart as Harry Stadling, a toy factory worker who has an odd obsession with Santa Claus. This fixation stems from an incident where he saw his mother doing a little more than kissing Santa under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. He plays out this fantasy by spying on the kids in his neighborhood, making sure to see if they are naughty or nice. When Christmas Eve rolls around this year, Harry finally dons the red suit and white beard combo and acts out his Santa Claus fantasy. He delivers presents to good and needy children and makes sure the naughty kids on his list get what's coming to them, which is sometimes an ax to the head.

When we first decided to watch "Christmas Evil," we figured it would be a cheesy Christmas horror that's so bad, it's good. It turns out, this is a psychological horror that's just plain old good if you can get past its dated exterior. Brandon Maggart does a great job as the seemingly kind-hearted Harry Stadling. He is obviously dealing with some form of psychosis stemming from his unhealthy obsession with Santa. There is a lot of tension early on as we are often unsure what Harry's going to do or how far he will go to reward and punish. We see that he is a weird guy, but we also know he has a good heart deep down which makes him a semi-relatable though crazy protagonist. Despite becoming a killer, he is a character we can root for. Does that make us psychotic? Harry has an interesting dynamic with his brother, played by Jeffery DeMunn, who feels like Harry is his responsibility. The two have a few engaging moments that lends to the movie's psychological aspects. We also love the fantastical ending, which we didn't expect.

"Christmas Evil" is a low budget horror, so don't expect any flash, pomp, or circumstance. It has a rather off-the-wall concept for a Christmas flick. It is a little slow paced, but if you give it a chance, it's totally worth your time.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 5.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~80%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Monday, December 11, 2017

Movie Review: "C.H.U.D." (1984)

Director: Douglas Cheek
Year: 1984
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 28 minutes

A rash of missing persons in New York City leads investigators to the discovery of subterranean mutants that have been eating humans. It turns out, the government has also been trying to cover it up.

"C.H.U.D" is a low budget 80's schlock horror film directed by Douglas Cheek. This is the only feature film he has ever directed, and after watching it, it's totally understandable why he never made another movie. It stars John Heard who plays George Cooper, a photographer working on a project photographing the homeless in New York City. The homeless of the city are the primary victims in this flick. Daniel Stern plays A.J. 'The Reverend' Sheperd who also works with the vanishing homeless through his soup kitchen. Finally, Christopher Curry plays police Captain Bosch whose wife has recently disappeared. These three individuals investigate these strange disappearances and soon discover the existence of C.H.U.D.s, or Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers. The further they investigate, the most it appears that the government has made every attempt to cover up their existence.

Let's rip the band-aid off quickly, shall we? "C.H.U.D." is not a good movie. There are some elements, however, that are actually decent. The creatures themselves look really good considering the movie's low budget. There are a couple moments of intense gore, especially during a scene involving a gaping wound on a man's leg. It's disgusting and cool all at the same time. The film also deals with themes of government disregard for public safety and their lack of concern for the poor, as well as rampant corporations and the fears and threats of nuclear mutation. These were all prominent social issues in the 80's, a decade dominated by commercialism, corporate expansion, and fear of nuclear power and toxic waste. Unfortunately, "C.H.U.D." doesn't build the necessary tension to explore these weighty issues and takes a while to really get going. Because of this, it winds up being very boring for most of its runtime. There are also not enough C.H.U.D.s in "C.H.U.D.," which sort of defeats the purpose of making it a horror flick. When it boils down to it, this movie is more about the men who inadvertently created the creatures and tried to cover them up with little regard for human life. Those are the real monsters rather than the C.H.U.D.s. themselves. It is just too bad the overall themes were not better explored and the story wasn't better executed. What we are left with is a poorly paced mess instead of something scary and/or insightful.


My Rating: 3/10
BigJ's Rating: 3.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 5.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 23%
Do we recommend this movie: AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE!!!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Movie Review: "The Disaster Artist" (2017)

Director: James Franco
Year: 2017
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 43 minutes

Greg is an aspiring actor who befriends a strange man named Tommy, who also aspires to be a star. After a short while, Greg and Tommy move to Los Angeles together. After a long series of rejections, they decide to go outside the system and make their own movie, which Tommy will fund with his mysterious, unknown source of wealth. Little did they know, they weren't just making a movie, they were making history.

"The Room" is a cult classic and is a perfect example of how doing everything wrong can turn out oh so right. "The Room" is not a 'good' film in the traditional sense, but to us and to many others, it is a masterpiece by being a disasterpiece of epic proportions. "The Disaster Artist" is the story of Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero, played in the film by James and Dave Franco, whose chance meeting and friendship ignited a series of events that led to the creation of the best worst movie ever made. It is a story that is so weird you'd call it unbelievable if you didn't know it was true. This film is directed by the aforementioned James Franco and is based on the non-fiction book "The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made," written by Greg Sestero. Joining the Franco brothers is an ensemble cast of talent including Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver, and so many others that have minor cameos throughout the film.

Now, seeing "The Room" may not be required to watch "The Disaster Artist," but it sure would give you a much greater understanding and appreciation of the key players involved and explain just how bad their movie was. We highly recommend seeing "The Room" first before venturing into this newer film. If you're like us, fans of the Tommy Wiseau classic, "The Disaster Artist" is an absolute dream. It really allows the viewer to get an inside look at Wiseau, Sestero, and how "The Room" came to fruition. Franco's flick explains the quirks, the craziness, and the oft-misguided passion that allowed the best worst movie of all time to flop yet somehow thrive after almost 15 years. It still leaves Tommy shrowded in mystery, and apparently, his secrets are still not revealed to this day. Questions like where does he actually come from, how old is he, and where the hell did he get six million dollars to make this movie are never answered, and quite frankly, this is part of it, and his, bizarre charm.

James Franco fully channels Tommy in mind, body, spirit, and essence. He gives a transcendent, Oscar-worthy performance that embodies the living caricature that is Wiseau. There are some moments when the two are indistinguishable. James Franco is also able to capture the outward confidence, the inner insecurity, and the intense jealousy and loneliness that plague Tommy as a person. Dave Franco becomes Greg Sestero. He mimics Greg's timidity and reserved nature perfectly, but is also able to portray Greg in his most frustrated and angry moments as well. The Francos and their supporting cast had us laughing endlessly from the opening interviews to the closing credits, sometimes to the point of tears. This was rarely achieved for us during 2017's slew of unfunny, terrible comedies.

"The Disaster Artist" is equal parts hilarious, tender, adoring, and impactful all at the same time. It's a love letter to a man who gave it his all and still completely failed... or did he? It is abundantly clear that the Franco brothers and producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have enormous amounts of adulation for the infamous man, myth, and legend that is Tommy Wiseau. Their project may mock a little bit, but it never punches down at the making of his now notorious work of cinematic art. Even if you have no outside knowledge of "The Room," it's hard to deny that "The Disaster Artist" is a genuinely fantastic, ironic, and poignant film about pursuing your dreams and never giving up, even if you aren't very talented and especially if you have a weird friend who has a mysterious source of obscene amounts of disposable income. It's an ode to dreamers, to friendship, and to not getting torn apart.

My Rating: 10/10
BigJ's Rating: 10/10
IMDB's Rating: ~8.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~93%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Movie Review: "The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)" (2017)

Director: Noah Baumbach
Year: 2017
Rating: TV-MA
Running Time: 1 hour, 52 minutes

A look at the lives and the relationships of the people in the Meyerowitz family.

Writer/director Noah Baumbach really likes making slice-of-life character sketches about New York artists and intellectual-types, and "The Meyerowitz Story" falls exactly into that same category. The film stars an ensemble cast including Dustin Hoffman as Harold, the patriarch of the Meyerowitz clan, and Adam Sandler, Elizabeth Marvel, and Ben Stiller as his three children Danny, Jean, and Matthew. Also in the film are Emma Thompson, who plays Harold's most recent wife Maureen, and Grace Van Patten as Danny's daughter Eliza. Harold is a former university professor and sculptor whose self-centered nature has created a strained relationship with his three children who seem to hate him but are always there for him. Harold's wife Maureen has been battling alcoholism, and Eliza is going to film school where she has a habit of making films where she is prominently featured nude and in sexual situations that she regularly sends to the whole family to watch and critique.

These independent films about New York artsy hipsters and intellectuals are hit or miss. Even Noah Baumbach as a director has been hit or miss for us in the past. "The Meyerowitz Stories" is a movie we really enjoyed. The acting is excellent from all of the actors involved. We don't often get to say this, but Adam Sandler gives a fantastic performance, his best since "Punch Drunk Love." Sandler does what he has always done in the past, playing a subdued chucklehead who has many awkward emotional moments and an occasional burst of rage. In the last decade and a half, Sandler has played any number of offensive, stupid characters in the films he's produced. While he's essentially doing the same schtick he's always done, minus the offense and crapping donkeys in the background, the material he has to work with here suits him and allows him to open himself up to the possibility of being a serious actor once more. We welcomed this surprising performance with open arms. Sandler and Stiller get a couple of chances to really go at it with one another as semi-estranged brothers who have virtually nothing in common except for their seeming disdain for their father. And speaking of their father, Dustin Hoffman is also pretty good as the sculptor/professor who felt he never really got his due and was so wrapped up in his work that he often neglected the majority of his children. Hell, the son he didn't neglect still isn't too fond of him either. It is clear that the choices Hoffman's Harold has made have broken his family apart bit by bit to the point of dysfunction. Thomson, Marvel, and Van Patten all do a wonderful job as well.

Full of shortcomings, this family has an interesting dynamic. We get pulled into their offbeat, but ultimately honest representation of a broken family. They may often be at odds, but they still love one another deep down, so long as they can work on their issues. Noah Baumbach has made the film feel more realistic because of its odd choice in editing. Technically speaking, scenes are ended as a character is midway through a sentence. This was off-putting and a little jarring at first, but the longer it continued, the more okay we were with it. In the end, "The Meyerowitz Stories" is a well acted, intimate, dialogue-driven drama with some humorous undertones showcasing a family who has to learn to give and take.

My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: ~7.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 93%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Movie Review: "The Man Who Invented Christmas" (2017)

Director: Bharat Nalluri
Year: 2017
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hour, 44 minutes

Charles Dickens struggles to write and self-publish one of his most famous books, "A Christmas Carol," just six weeks before the holiday.

"A Christmas Carol" is synonymous with Christmastime. It's a story that has been read and passed down for over a century. It has also been adapted into numerous films and animated specials. Actors like Alastair Sim, Reginald Owen, George C. Scott, Bill Murray, Patrick Stewart, and Jim Carrey have all played some variation of Dickens' main character Scrooge. Heck, even Micky Mouse, Mr. Magoo, and The Muppets all have their own version of this classic story. "The Man Who Invented Christmas" is the tale of how Charles Dickens wrote his famous book that imbues the spirit of Christmas into anyone who has read it. The film is directed by Bharat Nalluri and is written by Susan Coyne, based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Les Standiford. The film stars Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens who, after three flops in a row, is desperate to come up with a new book that is a smash success. His latest idea is a Christmas ghost story about a stingy miser who is visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve to warn him of the dangers of greed and selfishness. His publishers aren't all that interested in this type of a novel since "Christmas is only a minor holiday." They don't believe there is a market for it. Frustrated, Dickens decides to publish the story himself at a great personal expense, which could break him if his project fails.

Being a period piece and a biopic, there was a good chance this could have been stodgy and boring. It could have taken a very clinical look at the life of Charles Dickens, but luckily, Nalluri and Coyne do a wonderful job making this a fun and humorous biopic. The film tries to juxtapose a CliffsNotes version of the story of "A Christmas Carol" with Dickens' life itself. It draws parallels between things that happened in his life which inspired the biggest parts of his famous tale. These little bits of fan service will bring fabulous nostalgic joy to the viewer, which is what we are really in search of during Christmastime. Dickens' characters come to life all around him with Christopher Plummer playing the famous role of Ebenezer Scrooge. Plummer is magnificent as this grizzled, cantankerous, obstinate character, and the film left us longing to see Plummer play the full role of Scrooge in someone else's movie. Make it happen, Hollywood! We see how the people in Dickens' life inspired him as well, people like his father John, played by Jonathan Pryce, his wife Kate, played by Morfydd Clark, his friend and agent John Forster, played by Justin Edwards, and even his housekeeper Tara, played by Anna Murphy. All of these individuals bring their own perspective and inspiration for Dickens as he struggles with a six week deadline to complete his book before Christmas day. The acting is great as Stevens plays Dickens a little screwball and Plummer does his grouchy thing with relative ease.

"The Man Who Invented Christmas" does feel a bit schmaltzy at times, but we still had a lot of fun with it and enjoyed the film overall. It does enough different with the material that it doesn't feel like a straight remake of "A Christmas Carol," and it has a lot of wacky and heartstring-tugging moments to keep viewers interested, captivated, and longing for yuletide cheer.

My Rating: 7.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: ~7.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~80%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Movie Review: "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" (2017)

Director: Martin McDonagh
Year: 2017
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

The mother of a murdered teenage girl puts up three billboards questioning why the police haven't found her daughter's killer. This puts the police on the defensive, and the ensuing drama throws the small town of Ebbing, Missouri into chaos.

When an unthinkable act of violence is committed, it is never isolated to just a perpetrator and a victim. These heinous acts have ripple effects that impact the lives of every person the victim knew as well as those trying to bring the assailant to justice. "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" examines the after-effects of a terrible crime and show how anger and hate cause more anger and hate for one small town. The film stars Frances McDormand as Mildred, the bereaved mother of a young woman who was raped and murdered. Several months have passed since the incident and no suspects have been found. Mildred attempts to put pressure on the local police to try and catch the person/persons responsible. She purchases advertisement space on three billboards on a rural, mostly deserted street outside the main city of Ebbing, right by the scene of her daughter's grizzly murder. These three billboards criticize the police and their efforts (or lack thereof) on the case. Chief Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson, is specifically targeted, but despite not solving the murder, he is an otherwise respected and loved public official. Mildred's criticism causes a division in the town as they debate what to do about her and her billboards. Also in the movie are Sam Rockwell, Lucas Hedges, Caleb Landry Jones, Kerry Condon, Amanda Warren, Abbie Cornish, and Peter Dinklage.

Writer/director Martin McDonagh has created a provocative film with interesting characters that all hover in a moral gray area. None of the characters in this film are perfect, but we can understand where each individual is coming from and see everyone's particular point of view. We understand where Mildred is coming from, though she certainly crosses the line on more than one occasion. She is not only an anti-heroine but is anti-everything a woman is supposed to be: strong with a clenched jaw and tightened fist, unwavering in her disposition and in her right to seek the truth and obtain vengeance at any cost. She infrequently backs down from a fight and only softens when she feels she has to, particularly around her ex-husband, played by John Hawkes, who has very obviously lulled her into submission for a long time with his own fists and rage so she knows no other way to be around him. Chief Willoughby seems like a good man, but has a fair share of skeletons in his closet and makes his own shocking decisions as a result of them. Rockwell's Officer Dixon is a racist good ol' boy who isn't too bright and for some reason still has a job as a cop, but as his character arc progresses, it's clear he has a change of heart, although what it took to get there was enormous.

"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" is full of antiheroes and is steeped in irony and dark humor. It packs a strong emotional punch and is extremely relevant to the dark times we face today. Frances McDormand puts on a fantastic award-worthy performance as this extremely layered character who is tough as nails and abrasive as hell but is also tender and loving. Bottom line is, wouldn't you do everything you thought was possible to get justice for your slain child? Mildred embodies and lives this very question to the nth degree. Rockwell is also the standout for us and we fully feel he deserves a nomination for his performance. He is brilliantly ignorant, content in his racist and sexist ways, and is brutal but also kind in his own twisted way. Rockwell is criminally underlooked as a performer and he is absolutely brilliant here. The movie may be offensive to some, but we feel it is sufficiently tragic, enthralling, brutal, and powerful. You should absolutely see "Three Billboards" because it is one of the best of the year.

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My Rating: 9.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 9/10
IMDB's Rating: ~8.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~93%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!