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Movie Pitch: Tarantino’s revival of Pauly Shore

Who better than Quentin Tarantino to bring actors back from the dead? None. Which is why my pitch this time is a challenging one. How do you bring back “The Weasel” Pauly Shore to the silver screen without inducing the longest and loudest groan from moviegoers since Phantom Menace? Not an easy task. Pauly Shore himself has said he would like to return to acting, maybe even a redemption tale. Not a bad place to start.

Since Tarantino seems to be in a western phase right now, and as someone who loves westerns I’m loving it, so why not continue that trend? When’s the last time you saw a train robbery on the big screen, and done well? Lets all collectively forget about ‘The Lone Ranger’ and that it ever existed though. My point being, Tarantino loves doing homages to classic cinema, so I’m sure there’s part of him that desperately wants to shoot an old west train robbery/chase sequence. Lets have the story center on a wanderer, Shore, and a group of notorious theives in say, 1880. This gets us past the civil war and gives us more latitude for widespread use of trains by this time. Shore can play up aspects of his well know character, trying way too hard to be comedic, a klutz, someone that wanders into danger with no clue how to overcome it, and maybe he accidentally causes massive havoc in the same town where a train with a huge score is moving through and thereby makes it all that much easier for our gang of thieves and bandits to get away with their caper.

From then on out Shore’s character is determined to right his wrongs and track down the gang. He searches for a tracker, say Christophe Waltz or some other equal caliber actor to weigh out Shore’s persona, and together they hunt them down following a string of robberies. Obviously Tarantino could carve out a more clever throughline than that, but in his films you never need to sacrifice character moments, or good acting, for spectacle. You could have several larger sequences in the film, but they would only be the frosting on this old west heist.. cake. I’d love to see the tables turned and have Shore infiltrate the gang and turn them against one another, or sabotage them into authority’s captivity. There are many ways this story could twist and turn. Shore’s character work would also need heavy work, but this wouldn’t be the first time Tarantino changed an actor’s life or reception, and Pauly Shore is a grown man now, its time to purge him in a trial by fire, in the end he might come out on top. It could be worth the effort.

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Review: Star Wars The Force Awakens, or “A New Hope Part 2”

This review will be Spoiler free.

Finally. It has happened. We got a good ‘Star Wars’ movie. From the moment the opening crawl descends on us until the end credits hit the screen I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face if I tried. The Force Awakens is easily the best Star Wars film in decades, and while it does have some flaws within it- the film succeeds on almost every front.

The Story follows Rey, a scrapper from the desert planet Jakku, Finn, a renegade Stormtrooper of the First Order, and Poe Dameron, the Resistance’s ace pilot among others. The search for Luke Skywalker is the main thrust of the film as the opening credits inform us, “Luke Skywalker has vanished..” and his sister, General Leia Organa begins the search through trusted X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron. From there we are quickly introduced to the previously mentioned leads and spend some time getting to know them through their actions before stumbling into the lovable scoundrel turned rebellion hero, Han Solo. The first act does an impeccable job meshing the fresh with the familiar. Finn and Solo’s banter alone is gold, but it is a relatively small moment between a litany of lovingly crafted scenes and a clear respect and adoration of the original trilogy and the world it inhabited long, long ago.

Firstly, mother of God the amount of practical effects and production design showcased in this film by itself is almost enough to wash away those feverish nightmares of senate meetings and insufferable Gungans. But enough about the terrible Star Wars movies because this one is great! Maz, a new character, runs a ‘watering hole’ that Han and the new kids eventually arrive at and it is a feast for the eyes as every square inch is packed with puppets, costumes, makeup, and props. Kudos JJ, Kudos. Even BB-8 himself (herself?) was practically created. Robots and aliens aside the best parts about the film are the new characters and how they interact within the story and world. Rey is the standout performance, a young female lead that is incredibly capable and quickwitted? Yes please. We need more of her ilk in huge pop culture films!

As a villain, Kylo Ren was better than expected. He had layers that became more intricate as the runtime trotted along, and he was ridiculously powerful with the force. Plus he actually made use of the extra crossblades of his lightsaber, nice to see they weren’t just for show. As there were a lot of homages and familiarity throughout this film there was also another shadowy figure pulling strings in the background, Supreme Leader Snoke. Snoke was but one of two CGI characters in the film, the other being Maz, and in a film with such a focus on the practical effects in the world, they stood out, and not in the best way. That’s not to say they weren’t interesting characters, just curious that they would go that route when other methods would have been more in canon with the Original Trilogy. A mild complaint in the end. There will be more to be known about Snoke as we get more of these films, but let’s hope, for the love of god, that its not Palpatine… somehow.

There is a very fine between good and evil in this iteration, and some characters straddle the line with poise, but it is an engaging turmoil that boils over onscreen for those involved. The New Order may be vague in its deliberate mission statement, but that’s okay, we all know this is the first step in a new trilogy and who wants to know all the secrets right away anyways. The film tantalizes us with homages to old but keeps us tethered to the story with the curious nature of, how will this unfold? What’s next? This is the first time in a very long time that we know not the ultimate outcome of the standing, or current, set of ‘Star Wars’ movies. The New Order’s ambitions may not be known in terms of their exact inner workings, but we do know they are incredibly ambitious with what they have created.

Starkiller Base. Is it basically a bigger Death Star? Sort of. Only way more impressive, that and it lives up to its name. I won’t go into further detail for the three people that haven’t seen the film and also happen to be reading this, but know this- It is visually, very awesome. Oh and the Dogfighting that ensues is beyond nostalgic, but also simply very satisfying to watch. That really is the core of why this movie works so well, at just over two hours long the film feels like an hour twenty at most, it’s cogs are constantly churning from action to well timed banter or spaceship battles/chases. The pace is a triumph, and more than anything else, this film is pure fun. It won’t win any oscars, and that is completely fine because all this film had to do was give us something new, something familiar, and something fun. The film succeeds on every front, and then some.

Star Wars is playing until the end of time in all theaters everywhere. May the force be with you if you’re on the internet and still haven’t seen this movie for some reason. In the end we all got a good ‘Star Wars’ movie for Christmas, go and enjoy it!

Final Score: 4/5

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Quick Thought: Chris Pratt’s Next Move

We all now know that actor Chris Pratt can play the hero, and play it well. With two mega-franchises under his belt as fan favorites dance master Peter Quill AKA Star Lord in “Guardians of The Galaxy” and raptor trainer Owen Grady  in “Jurassic World”. What we don’t know is, can he play the villain? The other side of the coin may be the sort of challenging material that the actor could go to after saving the universe, or at least a galaxy or two.

One of the biggest, and best, films of 2015 was George Miller’s ‘Mad Max’. Miller has not been subtle about wanting to make more of these films. Think about it. Chris Pratt could be quite the interesting choice for villainy in the wasteland. Pratt’s ability to motormouth through scenes with Max, or his evil underlings, would be the perfect balance to Hardy’s gruff and silent Roadwarrior. He’s got the acting chops and I would love to see what sort of performance he could bring to Max’s established world of fire and blood.

Pratt doesn’t even have to be involved in the realm of Mad Max, I would just appreciate seeing him try wildly different projects. He’s already moving in that direction with his rumored lead in ‘Cowboy Ninja Viking’ which is a graphic novel adaption being brought to the silver screen by the duo behind ‘John Wick’, Keanu Reeves’ latest surprise action hit. In  ‘Cowboy Ninja Viking’ the story follows a man who suffers from multiple personality disorder and is put into a government program to be turned into a super-soldier of sorts with the skills and abilities that come with being a cowboy, a ninja, and a viking. Sign me up, that sounds like a movie I’m willing to pay to see!

 

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Review: Krampus, a creature feature for Christmas

The wintry season brings with it the promise of gift giving, hordes of homemade delicacies, and generally warm and fuzzy sensations. This year comes a movie that would like to share the creepy side of the Christmas legend, the titular demon occasionally known as the shadow of Santa Claus, Krampus. The story opens on a wonderfully comedic montage in a typical big box store as consumerism mayhem reaches a violent fever pitch in stereotypical Black Friday style. From here until the end the message is clear to all who enter this tale, don’t let cynicism overwhelm you and make you lose hope, lest darker things come to bump in the night.

‘Krampus’ centers on the Engel family (I see what you did there writers) as they begrudgingly welcome the rest of their family into their home for the Holidays. Things go awry when young Max Engel’s letter to Santa is discovered by his country bumpkin cousins who proceed to make fun of him for his continued belief in the big guy. Max then goes to the dark side by dashing his hopes that this Christmas could be reminiscent of the good ole days by ripping up his letter and throwing it out the window. Thus summoning Krampus to befall the home in a malevolent blizzard.

Directed by Michael Dougherty, ‘Krampus’ succeeds on several fronts. Firstly the production should be praised for its use of practical effects. They offer a far more palpable approach to something that is clearly a lower budget film among such giants as the Marvel Machine and the pop culture phenomenon Star Wars, which we will all be obsessed with shortly. It is refreshing to see such a reliance on costumes, props, and prosthetics. Krampus in particular is always a powerful and creepy presence onscreen. Secondly, the cast all do serviceable performances while not going too over the top, here’s looking at you David Koechner! Adam Scott was a standout to me as he wasn’t playing his typical obnoxious foil in comedies such as ‘StepBrothers’. He really sold me as the father that truly cared despite life taking its toll on him, his family life, and his marriage. Toni Collette also helped the film to stand taller through her performance as well. The two matriarchs of the film, Conchata Ferrell as Aunt Dorothy & Krista Stadler as Omi Engel, have wildly different characters and performances, but they both add to the piece as comedic relief and emotional weight respectively.

My problem with Krampus is that while it is clearly inspired by such 1980’s horror comedies as ‘Gremlins’ and the like, the film does little more than dip its toes in those waters without delivering the extra punch of scary goodness that we all want. As a PG-13 rating the film gets away with some admittedly creepy sights and beats, but it doesn’t quite get to itch that particular scratch. Walking out of the film my first reaction was that if it had gone full ‘R’ with some over the top gore it might have sold me more as a Christmas-Horror flick, but as it stands it was more like a fun ‘What if?’ Christmas tale. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the film, just that it could have gone farther in the direction that it was headed. There was also too much reliance on Krampus’ minions over Krampus himself. He was a captivating presence every time he was onscreen, but his moments were too fleeting in my mind.

There’s also the issue that almost all of the characters are not terribly likable, thus the audience almost roots for Krampus in the end and we have little to no remorse over the carnage that ensues later. The notable exceptions being Max and his grandmother, Omi. There was a singular moment in which Omi, (remember, all the Engels are the good characters) tells Max that the belief in Santa Claus is not so much based on the details about the man himself, but rather what Santa Claus represents, hope, goodness, & the sacrifice of giving. In fact that last part leads me to my biggest issue with the film.

The ending of the film leaves something to be desired though. Especially with the ‘sacrifice of giving’ lesson that Omi introduced in the third act and follows through til the end. Does the ending undermine that lesson? As I see it, yes. The lesson might have been learned, but if there isn’t any staying power in a message, then what is the point? I suppose as a Christmas tale, as well as it being ‘Horror-inspired’, then it must end with those expected warm and fuzzy feelings. The ending simply felt too predictable and a bit lacking to me.

So, if you’re a fan of campy creature features, and don’t mind a Christmas twist, then you’ll likely find merit within ‘Krampus’. Happy Holidays readers!

 

Final Score: 3/5

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Review: In The Heart of The Sea, OR “Thor & Spiderman fight a Whale”

*Note- I’ve changed to a five point rating system, it seems more relevant & useful*

Warning- Spoilers

‘In The Heart of The Sea’ is a film, directed by Ron Howard, that follows the real life tragedy of the whaling ship, The Essex out of Nantucket, Massachusetts in the early 1820’s. Named after the nonfiction book upon which the story is based, written by Nathaniel Philbrick, ‘In The Heart of The Sea’ is the story of two men and their distinct differences in leadership while on the vessel; first mate Owen Chase, Chris Hemsworth, & Benjamin Walker as Captain George Pollard. Hemsworth’s Chase is the man’s man of the picture, a seasoned blue collar Whaler that is placed on the Essex at the whim of the bureaucrats as a first mate instead of the role of Captain as he was promised. That position ends up being filled by George Pollard,  a snobbish, well-to-do blue blood with familial connections. And so the stage is set out as the two characters clash for authority and respect while out at voyage.

If the marketing of this film hadn’t informed you heavily enough the framing device utilized in the film will beat you over the head with the information that Herman Melville was obsessed by this story and that it’s details are what inspired the American literary classic ‘Moby Dick‘. We know this because the film opens thirty years after the events of the Essex as we follow a hopeful young author as he tracks down a lead to a story that has consumed him. Young Melville, portrayed here by Ben Whishaw, finds the last surviving member, Tom Nickerson, of the Essex and after much prodding the gentlemen begins to tell us his part in the tale. Young Nickerson, while portrayed adequately by Tom Holland, seemingly only exists to relay the story to our aspiring author years later within the context of the story, even though Owen Chase and Tom Nickerson are based on real life accounts of the first mate and cabin boy that truly survived the event almost two centuries ago. If the film had only used this device, of dialogue between an older Nickerson, portrayed by Brendan Gleeson, and Melville discussing these events only at the opening and close of the film it would have worked better but the film curiously plods back to get reactions of said sequences or actions, from Melville as he hears it. This is all fine and well in some regards but I really felt as though this disrupted the film’s flow.

Where the film shines is in it’s embrace of the themes of man vs man and man vs nature throughout the runtime. These moments capture what I feel the film was attempting to get more of, but failed slightly in that regard. The dialogue and tension between Pollard and Chase make otherwise longfelt sequences feel breezier. Although the film is long, I never truly felt as if the pace were particularly lacking, although admittedly I adore seafaring tales, so this might have been lost on me. Speaking of these two main characters, they represent more of the problems with the film as time goes on though. Weaknesses that lie in the characters as they are written, not necessarily the performances. There  was never enough done to make us feel particularly attached to any of the characters, and Pollard constantly makes poor, bullish, decisions that make his squaring off with the first mate less of an even footed rivalry and more of a one sided mutiny brewing as nobody liked, and isn’t meant to, the captain from the moment he was introduced to us onscreen.

When the whales finally do show up, they are menacing, or at least their actions show us that they are menacing, but we never get anything more compelling out of what they do, or represent onscreen other than the “vengance for my dead brethren” through-line. There are moments when Chase looks out upon the sea with whale blood speckling his face, almost as if he is pondering whether or not killing these animals was the right thing to do, even though his entire way of life depends on this savagery. The CGI whales do look good, but in all fairness they lack any true weight to the times they are onscreen, they are present and the white whale itself does mess their boat up royally, however there could have been other creative choices that either made the vengeful whale more intimidating, or more of a constant threat instead of the essentially one-and-done that we get when the action does go down. However there is a beautiful moment when first mate Chase seemingly realizes that they are no longer the hunters, but the hunted.

The cinematography, in my opinion, is admirably done but is not without its faults. It captures the tactile presence of the world these characters inhabit, as the boat fills with water and several characters are grabbing provisions we’ll get a close up on a wooden shelf with a whale drawing carved into the side. The boat truly feels lived in by this time. There are other moments when Howard makes this creative choice and I personally couldn’t agree more, to me it feels as though you are giving a real sense of implied time in a given place that resonates with those characters, as a closer look upon a worn in groove or another view of ropes sliding through pulleys that haul the fabric sail aloft you might be beckoned to think of the time spent out on that one boat for so long, and what it might do to a man. However, this creates a problem in that now there is almost more emotional investment in the set than the characters that inhabit it! And while I might not be all too bothered by the tight framing and almost claustrophobic camera movements at times, there can be an argument made for Howard missing out on the scope of the sea that surrounds them by doing so. Especially when you compare to the sequences of the whales that zoom way out and above the ship to give an, albeit needed, sense of scale. It simply feels disjointed when juxtaposed as they are.

Overall the film is thrilling at times and introduces us to similar themes that are far more excellently explored within ‘Moby Dick’, but the sea-faring thriller could just never live up to the bar set by the work that it inspired. If you want a movie to watch and kill some time before the new Star Wars comes out, this would be a fine, but certainly not perfect, addition.

Final Score: 3.5/5

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Rant Time: Moments don’t make the movie

Over the last few years there has been a common concern between fellow filmgoing friends and myself. Mainly that while popular films might have incredible moments sparsed throughout their runtimes, those moments don’t represent quality storytelling overall and that spectacle drives ticket sales while cinematically speaking some films have been lacking. I know there comes a time to debate what type of film deserves what level of expectation, but this has happened enough, even discounting blockbuster carnage a la ‘Transformers’ aside, that it is a legitimate concern.

This was most recently brought back into the forefront of our minds upon an initial viewing of ‘The Amazing Spiderman 2’. Yes, a bit late, but none of us had been particularly enthused with the first outing with Andrew Garfield’s attempt at the character, so it took awhile before any of us were that excited to see the sequel that ruined Sony’s Spiderverse anyways. This film is a prime example of what I’m talking about. Many, but not all, of the Spiderman scenes in the film were fun and more accurate to the character than the initial film, bombastic, aerial, slow-mo fun. That being said, those were almost entirely the only points of the film that either made sense (When did Peter Parker become so whiny and quote “Edgy” anyways?) or were even all that engaging. I could probably cut twenty minutes of the film where Garfield is simply staring open mouthed like an idiot for no reason at all. Admittedly, I am biased here, this film is not my cup of tea, or my Spiderman to be honest. There are fleeting moments when Garfield pulls off aspects of the character wonderfully, but they are tarnished by its overlong runtime, questionable tonal shifts, and musical score throughout.

Godzilla was another hit that confounded me entirely. Let me say first however that I do have a love for monster movies, particularly for ‘The King of Monsters’ himself. Gareth Edwards adaption’s popularity is so very odd to me in that it A) killed off the only compelling character in the first twenty minutes, B) focused on easily the most useless and uninteresting protagonist I’ve seen onscreen in years, and C) ignored its title character for most of the movie. Don’t get me wrong, there are awesome moments here and there, but the film denies us several fight sequences, tries desperately to get us to care about a character that doesn’t even seem to want to be involved in the story much less lead us through the plot, and wastes the few good actors they do have in its ranks, namely Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, and Elizabeth Olsen. If only they had killed off Aaron-Taylor Johnson instead, the film would have been far better.

James Bond returned this year in ‘Spectre’ which brought Bond back to the Whiz-Bang adventure stylings that would be more fitting for Pierce Brosnan’s Bond than Daniel Craig’s. While there are indeed moments of excellence, that opening sequence alone was worth the price of admission, they cannot mend serious flaws that hurt the film otherwise. What’s particularly disapointing here though is that the last James Bond film ‘SkyFall’ had been a profound story for the character, questioning whether or not He is still needed, the film challenged the audience to rethink what Bond meant to them and his relevancy in the medium, ‘Spectre’, on the other hand, nestled back into the tired tropes of the double O agent and neglected to challenge the character, or audience, hardly at all. Relying on a formula that’s been done time and again can only do so much, especially when the shadow of the previous film stands as tall as ‘Skyfall’ does. Audiences’ memories aren’t that bad.

So, we should come to expect more from our films given how many we churn out each year, right? As an informed audience, we should want our art to challenge us, ask us the hard questions, show us the hard truths, and be better than we expect. Not all movies have to go through the gauntlet because of audience demands though, and I get that, but shouldn’t we want more substance out of our stories than just being entertained? Some films are simply pure entertainment, and that’s fine! However we shouldn’t let this permeate a majority of the movies being made. A variety throughout the cinematic landscape is certainly wanted, and needed! Personally, I want to see more films that inspire people, make emotional connections, and showcase ourselves onscreen in the best light.

It should also be noted that this is by no means to say that we don’t have nuanced and complex films solely relying on spectacle. This year alone has had many worthy additions, ‘Mad Max’, ‘Inside Out’, & ‘Creed’ are all magnificient in their own rights and are only a fraction of the quality content out there. So, my point is get out and see a film outside of your comfort zone, it might challenge you in a way you never thought possible! See something new!