Finding Dory

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Pixar is on a roll.
★★★½
Movie Review #1,065

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Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. Animation, Adventure, Comedy. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. Rated PG for mild thematic elements. Released June 17, 2016. Directed by Andrew Stanton. Co-director: Angus MacLane. Original story by Andrew Stanton. Screenplay by Andrew Stanton and Victoria Strouse. Additionally screenplay material by Bob Peterson. Additional story material by Angus MacLane. Starring the voices of Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Hayden Rolence, Diane Keaton, Sloane Murray, Bob Peterson, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba, Dominic West, Sigourney Weaver, Andrew Stanton, Lucia Geddes, Bennett Dammann, Willem Dafoe, Vicki Lewis, and Jerome Ranft.

It’s rather interesting that Pixar has never released a film about everyday people like you and me, and yet we identify with their stories better than most any other movie. We can be as stoic as we want, but at the end of the day, it’s a simple truth that we, as human beings, have feelings. We know what it’s like to be an outcast. We know what it means to love, to be loved, to miss, and to be missed.

“Finding Dory” is the latest film in the studio’s canon to bring out those emotions from within us. Dory, we learn, was separated from her family long ago. She cannot remember when or how this happened; all she knows is that she loves and misses her family. Soon enough, sh pursues her burning desire to finally find them. It’s not so easy, given her short-term memory loss and her reliance on vague memories of her early childhood to figure out where her home might be. But being the determined fish that she is, neither of those have any chance of stopping her.

We needed “Finding Dory”. There’s nothing we remember Ellen DeGeneres for better than her performance as Dory in 2003’s “Finding Nemo”. Her reprise of this role makes waiting 13 years for this movie feel somewhat worthwhile. Because she is now the primary focus of the film, this sequel offers significantly more humor than “Nemo”, as well as many more heartfelt moments. We see the story this time from a different pair of eyes–a pair that offers a much deeper perspective, and which makes the characters and their situations much more relatable. Ultimately, the message about the importance of family, while similar to the message of “Nemo”, is much more strongly reinforced.

One more thing “Dory” offers that “Nemo” didn’t is a 3-D experience. Sure, seeing the movie on the big screen is enough to immerse us in the film, but the added factor of 3-D goes a long way. By 2016, or perhaps even by last year’s “The Good Dinosaur”, Pixar has perfected their execution of 3-D animation. I generally don’t appreciate the 3-D trend in Hollywood, but I’ve come to the conclusion that after being put to extremely wide usage for nearly seven years, it is here to stay. “Finding Dory” eases our worries about the 3-D trend and even welcomes us to embrace it. The way “Dory” employs it is no cash grab. It’s cinematic art.

“Finding Dory” carries a simply-woven narrative that could’ve finished in a matter of 20 minutes. The excitement throughout the film lies in how, when Dory comes closest to finding her parents, she is sent straight back to square one again. The concept feels rather repetitive, but in an otherwise perfect film, it’s a drop in the bucket.

Warcraft

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One of the stupidest, most confusing movies of the decade.
½
Movie Review #1,064

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Distributed by Universal Pictures. Action, Adventure, Fantasy. Running time: 2 hours, 3 minutes. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy violence. Released June 10, 2016. Directed by Duncan Jones. Screenplay by Charles Leavitt and Duncan Jones. Starring Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, Robert Kazinsky, Clancy Brown, Daniel Wu, Ruth Negga, Callum Keith Rennie, Terry Notary, and Michael Adamthwaite.

It’s never a good sign when the director’s close relative dies in the middle of production. Prime example: Ridley Scott in 2013. His brother Tony died while he was filming “The Counselor”, which, as it turns out, is one of stupidest, most confusing movies of the decade. That label is equally true of “Warcraft”, directed by Duncan Jones. We all mourned the death of the late David Bowie, but I’m sure Jones mourned the tragedy far more, being that he is the legend’s son. The evidence is the final product of Jones’s latest film. The movie is so painstakingly bad that it seems to be Jones’s way of taking out his wrath on the world. The message he intends to give his audience can be whittled down to a quote from “The Princess Bride”: “You killed my father, prepare to die.”

I couldn’t tell you what this movie was supposed to be about if I tried. I have never played World of Warcraft, nor do I intend to after seeing this beastly adaptation, and apparently that is an inhibiting factor to my ability to enjoy, not to mention understand, the film. World of Warcraft fans will get it, apparently. It’s like going into a movie not having read the book on which it is based, and spending two hours being told, “Sucks for you, you should’ve read the book.” My basic understanding of “Warcraft” is that the orcs are the bad guys and the humans are the good guys. The orcs are also really f–king ugly. They look like nothing more than ugly humans with prosthetic horns and tusks and an awful lot of makeup. It’s probably CGI, though, given the film’s enormous budget of $160 million. If you’re dealing with that large of a number, the CGI should at least look decent. Instead, most of the special effects appear, in an unfortunately humorous way, to have been taken directly from a video game with graphics that are, to say the least, unimpressive. Why a movie as visually distasteful as “Warcraft” was released in 3-D, while films with creative and clever visuals like “Deadpool” aren’t, is beyond me. I watched “Warcraft” in 3-D and it is the single biggest waste of the concept I have ever seen. Perhaps Universal knew they weren’t going to turn much of a profit with this film—not in the States, at least—and went with a marketing concept that would at least help it break even. Which didn’t happen at all, by the way: “Warcraft” barely grossed ¼ of its budget.

“Warcraft” is virtually all style and no substance. That’s a rather unfortunate when the style sucks and maintains no sense of originality, much less cinematic value or purpose. But I would not have preferred it to be all substance and no style, because “Warcraft” is equally anemic when it comes to substance. There are supposedly writers—Charles Leavitt and director Jones—but their job here seems to be expendable. Y’all can see that I’m not much of a writer, but I guarantee that I could sit down with a pen and a stack of paper, and within two hours, I could have written the same movie with far better dialogue—even with my below-basic understanding of the Warcraft universe. Worse yet, all we get from the cast, which is composed almost entirely of unknowns, is a flat reading. The performances are so dry and monotonous that it is very difficult to take any scene in the movie seriously. The villain Blackhand, who is chieftain of the Blackrock orcs (I had to look that up on Wikipedia and I still don’t know what it means), is voiced by Clancy Brown, otherwise known as the voice of Mr. Krabs. I think that illustrates my point well enough.

Me Before You

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As predictable a romance as any, but more enjoyable than most.
★★★
Movie Review #1,063

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Distributed by New Line Cinema. Drama, Romance. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some suggestive material. Released June 3, 2016. Directed by Thea Sharrock. Screenplay by Jojo Moyes, from her novel. Starring Sam Claflin, Emilia Clarke, Vanessa Kirby, Jenna Coleman, and Janet McTeer.

“Me Before You” focuses on a seemingly unlikely bond between Lou Clark (Emilia Clarke) and Will Traynor (Sam Claflin). Lou is a modest young woman who doesn’t believe herself to have any sort of talents, but she needs to work to put food on the table. She reluctantly interviews for a job where she must care for Will, a quadriplegic. As soon as she is hired, she likes the job even less. Will is essentially a wealthy asshole who disrespects those who help him most and uses bitter sarcasm to put some mild enjoyment in his life. Soon enough, the two get to know each other a little better. After watching the French film “Of Gods and Men” with him, Lou starts to realize that there’s much more to him than meets the eye. She soon discovers that Will is actually quite likable.

You could probably predict what starts to develop between them as we delve further into in the story.  We can’t dismiss the fact that “Me Before You” is entirely predictable, even if it wasn’t meant to be a completely unpredictable movie. This is what one might call teaching an old dog new tricks. We’ve seen this movie in its basic form a million times: where, by getting to know each other, two individuals progress from enemies to best friends to lovers. But there’s something special about “Me Before You”, and that is how the tale is told. Clarke and Claflin play their characters excellently, in a sense where the bond they develop throughout the movie parallels our own connection to them as an audience. Their less personable moments in the beginning portion of the film are offset by a brand of humor that we might expect from a British film like “Me Before You”. Neither one of these characters is the most likable starting off, but as much as they grow to care for each other throughout the film, we too start to become engrossed in their love story.

But ultimately, “Me Before You” is not as much a love story as it is a reflection on the meaning of life. The two have grown extremely happy with one another, but it has also become increasingly evident that Will just isn’t the same person after the accident that left him paralyzed. This tragic realization is what leads to a heartbreaking conclusion. The message were left with is that love conquers all, but it doesn’t change all. You don’t often find an ending so beautifully honest in a romance movie; certainly not in 2016.

The Program

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Not the Hollywood movie that it started out as over a decade ago, but still far from terrible.
★★★
Movie Review #1,062

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Distributed by Entertainment One and Momentum Pictures. Biography, Drama, Sport. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes. Rated R for language. Released March 18, 2016. Directed by Stephen Frears. Screenplay by John Hodge, from the book by David Walsh. Starring Lance Armstrong, Jesse Plemons, Lee Pace, Chris O’Dowd, Guillaume Canet, Denis Ménochet, Edward Hogg, and Dustin Hoffman.

If we truly live in a society where a person should be defined by a single controversy, then perhaps we should stop recognizing “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” because one of its stars is a child molester and another one of its stars killed somebody while on vacation in Ireland. My point stands with many celebrities, including Lance Armstrong. I will not defend Lance for his actions with regard to cheating in seven consecutive Tours de France. But at the same time, I will never view him as anything less than a hero. I respect the man, and I view him as an icon for determination, hard work, and perseverance. Let’s not forget, Lance has accomplished outstanding feats purely through his own effort and willpower. He fought through three separate cancers almost simultaneously, and he raised over half a billion dollars for cancer research through his foundation (Livestrong). If you think either of those can be done easily, I challenge you to accomplish either one of them.

“The Program” depicts Lance in a fair and respectable light. We see him here as a man we can admire and enjoy. That works well in contrast with the film’s titular focus: what the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has called “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program” in the history of pro cycling (which, I have come to understand, is a sport in which doping is fairly common). In layman’s term, Lance is an antihero in this movie. There are many scenes in “The Program” that feel inspiring. We see Lance pay a hospital visit to young children battling cancer. In one instance, Lance ignores the busy fundraising schedule that has been laid out for him, in order to spend time getting to know a particularly shy cancer patient. This scene, along with a handful of others, is truly touching. However, we must balance those moments with the ones that stand in stark contrast, where we watch Lance and his teammates lying down as they intravenously feed EPO into their bodies.

Ben Foster may hardly look like Lance, but he sure does a damn good job playing him. This man’s completely unrecognizable face adds further authenticity to the character he develops; as does his use of performance-enhancing drugs while filming, a method unbeknownst to the entire cast and crew until after the film was completed. In a film that features Dustin Hoffman in an important role, you’ve got to hand it to the guy who not only outperforms Hoffman, but also matches the creative forms of method acting on which Hoffman has built his entire career.

But acting alone isn’t enough to develop a character or his story to their fullest. That’s the one problem that appears to pull “The Program” below its potential. Despite ever enthralling rise and every shocking fall Stephen Frears’s film presents, the script never truly digs as deep as we’d like it to. Rather than elaborating on many specific moments, the narrative seems more concerned with shifting chronologically from event to event. I would imagine the storyboard could parallel a timeline one might find on a museum wall, with numerous event and descriptions that give us just enough information. But “just enough” on a museum timeline is a bar set much lower than “just enough” on film. As the young ones on a series of AT&T commercials told us a few years ago, we want more, we want more, we want more.

You don’t expect any meta dialogue in a straightforward, biographical drama such as “The Program”, but in a way, it’s there. A film about Lance Armstrong had been in development since the early 2000s, so we’re treated to entertaining discussions among Lance and his teammates about who will play him in the movie. At an early point, Matt Damon is in consideration, and it is set to be a Hollywood movie. It’s rather unfortunate how drastically the project changed after Lance’s fateful revelation in 2011. The film they are discussing finally came to fruition over a decade after development started. It’s the very film we’re watching. But rather than a Hollywood production with Matt Damon, it’s an independent film, produced outside the U.S., starring the still up-and-coming Ben Foster. What’s more, you more than likely had not heard of “The Program” until you stumbled across this review. The good news is, it’s far from a terrible movie. Lord knows the Hollywood movie could have been an utter misfire, and I’ll take a decent movie that no one has heard of, over a pile of shit that everybody and their dogs knows about, any day of the week.

A Walk to Remember

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This one is syrupy enough to suck the whole state of Vermont dry.
★½
Movie Review #1,061

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Distributed by Warner Bros. Drama, Romance. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes. Rated PG for thematic elements, language and some sensual material. Released January 25, 2002. Directed by Adam Shankman. Screenplay by Karen Janszen, from the novel by Nicholas Sparks. Starring Shane West, Mandy Moore, Peter Coyote, and Daryl Hannah.

A brief note to the reader: I am returning to reviewing mostly older movies now, since it has become increasingly difficult to find the time and money to visit the movie theater on a regular basis. I suppose this is a better idea, anyhow, because let’s be honest: a Netflix date is just as good as dinner and a movie, and it’s far cheaper and far less time-consuming.

You can’t go wrong with Nicholas Sparks. His books have been adapted into eleven different films so far, seven of which have been released over the last seven years. His movies have an average Rotten Tomatoes score of 24%, with all but one of them falling somewhere between 8% and 32%; the outlier is “The Notebook”, whose middling score of 52% seems almost too good to be true. And yet despite the quality of these films, as well as the fact that most are released during the dump months of January and February, the films inspired by his books have reeled in a total of nearly $890 million worldwide.

The man practically gets away with murder, and there’s nothing that makes that more evident than the lasting popularity of “A Walk to Remember”. It was released 14 years ago and only managed to reach #3 at the box office, but somehow, it’s become something of a cult classic in the time since. That’s to say that it is better “remembered” than Sparks films that grossed nearly twice as much, such as “Nights in Rodanthe” (2008) or “The Best of Me” (2014). How the film managed to succeed so well is beyond me, but I guess Father Time is the only man alive who can polish a turd.

I guess it was a bit of a mistake to tell my girlfriend that I hadn’t seen “A Walk to Remember”, because I wouldn’t have ended up watching it if I hadn’t. It’s not that I don’t like syrupy “chick-flicks.” I think they can be quite amusing, especially when the amusement isn’t intended. “A Walk to Remember” is a prime example of that. The dialogue is a choppy bastardization of how real people speak in normal conversation, both by writing and by performance. Just as laughable is the soundtrack. There is some good music here, and most of it is from the Christian rock band Switchfoot. Unfortunately, those songs that we actually enjoy are recycled several times throughout the movie. What’s more, the rest of the soundtrack highlights the exact sort of music from the early 2000s that we were all glad we’d forgotten: post-grunge and alternative rock. Not the enjoyable kind that we got from bands like Linkin Park, but rather the kind you get from unknown bands like Cold and Fuel. I like the idea of using up-and-coming bands in teen movies, because young people truly do like to listen to new artists. But when you look back on a movie and realize that those bands never even became famous, it’s a little embarrassing.

I cannot judge how faithful “A Walk to Remember” it is to the book on which it is based, but having seen other Nicholas Sparks movies, I will attest to the fact that it adheres very faithfully to the formula that pervades Sparks’s filmography. Rebellious boy and goodie-two-shoes girl meet, try not to fall for each other, but end up doing so anyway. I’m not good at predicting movies. My mother is, and I’m always amazed by it. But I suppose I amazed myself when I was watching this very movie, so much that I felt like my mother. I was predicting the movie left and right. It wasn’t even twenty minutes into the movie that my girlfriend decided to ask me if I had actually seen it.  “This is my first time watching it,” I responded, “and yet it seems I have already seen it a million different times, under a million different titles.”

Sisters

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Very funny, until it starts to feel like a disaster movie.
★★½
Movie Review #1,060

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Distributed by Universal Pictures. Comedy. Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes. Rated R for crude and sexual content and language throughout, and for drug use. Released December 18, 2015. Directed by Jason Moore. Written by Paula Pell. Starring Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, Ike Barinholtz, Dianne Wiest, Madison Davenport, Dan Byrd, James Brolin, John Cena, John Leguizamo, Bobby Moynihan, Greta Lee, Rachel Dratch, Kate McKinnon, Chris Parnell, and Paula Pell.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are a really, really funny pair.  If you don’t believe me, go back and watch clips from the Golden Globes, which they co-hosted from 2013 through 2015, or their respective impressions of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton on Saturday Night Live.  That being said, their collaboration in “Sisters” offers many good laughs.  But unlike their comedy as a standup pair, “Sisters” has a plot, and it often seems to stand in the way of humor.

“Sisters” reunites sisters Kate (Tina Fey) and Maura Ellis (Amy Poehler).  Kate is a careless woman who works as a hair stylist from home, and doesn’t even bother to do a good job with that.  Even her teenage daughter is embarrassed by her sloppy way of life, and so she moves out frequently and refuses to tell her mother whom she is living with.  Maura, on the other hand, enjoys helping people.  She’s a nurse, and she’s starting to find a new life for herself after a recent divorce.

One prominent message here is that people don’t change.  The two recount stories of when they were teenagers: Kate was a party animal and would host house gatherings that she dubbed Ellis Island on a regular basis.  Maura would be the “party mom” during these parties, which essentially means that she made sure nobody died from choking on their own vomit, and of course that she served as the designated driver at these parties.  Now, both of them are in their forties, and their house is being sold.  Kate wants to bring all their high school friends back for one last ride at Ellis Island.  However, she also needs a place to stay, having been recently evicted.  Maura agrees to the party, and vows to help Kate get back on her feet again, but only under one condition: that she gets to party this time and Kate gets to be the “party mom.”

The cast is complete with members and recent alumni of Saturday Night Live.  Fey and Poehler, as already mentioned, make as great a team on film as they do on the late-night program.  Maya Rudolph plays a former wannabe who never got invited to the Ellis Island parties, and wants revenge when she finds out she wasn’t invited to the most recent one, either.  Rachel Dratch, Chris Parnell, Paula Pell (who also wrote the screenplay), and Kate McKinnon all have their moments to amuse, as well, but the one whose performance truly takes the cake is Bobby Moynihan.  Moynihan plays a guy who loves telling jokes but isn’t funny.  But he seems ignorant to the fact that nobody’s laughing, which makes his character a laughing matter, anyway.  Kudos for the scene where Moynihan snorts cocaine and poorly impersonates the movie “Scarface”.  Maybe the one character who delivers more laughs in the entire movie is John Cena, who plays a muscular, overly serious drug dealer.

If the Ellis Island reunion were a normal party, this movie might have been a fun, albeit predictable, time.  It certainly starts off that way, but it doesn’t last long.  What starts as a house party becomes an out-of-control apocalypse in “Sisters”.  Every step in the process of gradually demolishing the Ellis house is meant as a joke, but the feeling seeing it all happen grows tiresome and even a little stressful to watch.  Watching a character on drugs spray painting a gigantic penis onto a wall is rather amusing.  Seeing a group of Asian characters pour an entire container of laundry detergent into a washing machine to make a giant bubble bath flood the house, not so much.  At that point, we’re not laughing; we’re dreading the conclusion.  By the time the conclusion finally arrives, there’s a massive sinkhole in the family’s backyard, and the house is in absolutely no condition to be sold anytime soon.  Sure, the idea of destroying a house on the market can be very funny; I just feel writer Paula Pell took the concept way too far.

National College Decision Day

Today is National College Decision Day, and I would like to formally announce where I will be going to college.

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Starting this August, I will be studying at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, otherwise known as UNC Wilmington or just UNCW.  I’m planning on double-majoring in Film Studies and Political Sciences.

Not familiar with UNCW?  To some, it’s the school that (barely) lost to Duke this year in the NCAA Tournament.  To others, it’s the school near a beautiful shore called Wrightsville Beach.  To me, it’s the school that I visited about two years ago and have been madly in love with ever since.  I’m not gonna lie: moving from Pennsylvania to North Carolina for college isn’t going to be an easy change.  But it’s 100% worth it: I’m going to be living in the Hollywood of the East!

A few fun facts about Wilmington:

  • It was settled along the Cape Fear River, which might ring a bell if you have seen the film Cape Fear with Gregory Peck or the remake directed by Martin Scorsese.  I still haven’t seen the older version, but I highly recommend the remake.  It’s one of those movies that you forget about for some reason, but then you hear someone mention it in conversation and suddenly you remember what a great movie it is.  (I wrote a review on it a while back, while I was on my Scorsese marathon.  Click here to read it.)
  • The Cape Fear River is a blackwater river.  As in, old black water, keep on rolling, Mississippi moon, won’t you keep on shining on me….okay, I’m getting a little sidetracked.
  • The riverfront in Wilmington was named the Best American Riverfront in 2014 by USA Today.
  • Screen Gems has a studio in Wilmington.  In fact, it’s the “largest domestic television and movie production facility outside of California,” according to Wikipedia.  And no, I’m not citing an edit that I made myself.
  • George Washington Glover is buried in Wilmington.  He was the first husband of Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the religion of Christian Science.

And, since it’s the Hollywood of the East, here’s a list of just a few films that were shot in Wilmington:

  • A Walk to Remember
  • Blue Velvet (another David Lynch movie, Wild at Heart, mentions Cape Fear and Wilmington in the beginning, as well)
  • The Conjuring
  • The Crow (the movie that killed Bruce Lee’s son)
  • Enchanted
  • Firestarter
  • The Hudsucker Proxy
  • Iron Man 3
  • Maximum Overdrive (the only movie Stephen King directed)
  • Safe Haven
  • The Secret Life of Bees
  • Sleeping with the Enemy
  • Tammy
  • Weekend at Bernie’s
  • We’re the Millers

I’d say the next four years of my life are going to be pretty enjoyable.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

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Zack Snyder’s weakest movie, but Ben Affleck makes a great Batman.
★★
Movie Review #1,059

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Distributed by Warner Bros. Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi. Running time: 2 hours, 31 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality. Released March 25, 2016. Directed by Zack Snyder. Written by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer. Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, and Gal Gadot. With cameos from Charlie Rose, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Dana Bash, Kevin Costner, Nancy Grace, Anderson Cooper, and Brooke Baldwin.

By now, everybody and their dog has seen the viral “sad Affleck” video, where Affleck looks extremely forlorn as he hears an interviewer tell him that his newest film, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”, has been receiving mixed reviews. Let’s give the guy a break, though. He has every right to be sad. I can’t say just how much it sucks to know that you’ve given a great performance in an otherwise half-baked movie, but I would imagine that it sucks quite a bit. Expectations have been all over the map since Affleck was cast as Batman. His performance in “Batman v Superman” is comparable to, and perhaps even better than, Christian Bale’s performance in Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy (2005-2012). Unfortunately, the rest of the film doesn’t hold a candle to those three superhero greats.

Hence why “Batman v Superman” may not be as accurate a title as “Batman v Batman”. We sit through the entire movie wondering which Batman is better: Bale or Affleck. No one gives a shit about Superman, other than for the fact that without Superman, we wouldn’t have Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Except for those among us who do appreciate a wooden, monotonous Superman, none of us really cares to watch Henry Cavill’s performance as the alien/superhero. His did a fine job in “Man of Steel”, but that performance looks like a should-have-been Oscar winner in comparison to his effort in “Batman v Superman”.

Where “Man of Steel” played out like a genuine superhero movie, “Batman v Superman” played out like fan fiction. The writing is shoddy, the dramatic setup unrealistic and the dialogue forced. I’m betting that the screenplay would be an enjoyable read simply because poor writing can be a reader’s guilty pleasure. On film, though, that can feel rather confusing. I’ve always been a huge fan of Zack Snyder’s, as is evidenced by the fact that I gave rave reviews to “300”, “Watchmen”, and “Man of Steel”. In my opinion, those are modern classics, and I might be the only one in the world who thinks so. It truly says something when, despite my admiration for the director, I am willing to admit that his latest film could have been a hell of a lot better.

By the Sea

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Complete and utter merde.
½
Movie Review #1,058

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Distributed by Universal Pictures. Drama, Romance. Running time: 2 hours, 2 minutes. Rated R for strong sexuality, nudity, and language. Released November 13, 2015. Directed by Angelina Jolie Pitt. Written by Angelina Jolie Pitt. Starring Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie Pitt, and Mélanie Laurent.

“By the Sea” marks the tenth anniversary of Brad and Angelina Jolie Pitt’s meeting each other on the set of “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”. Once again, the two play a couple whose marriage is crumbling, except it’s less interesting this time.

The first hour of “By the Sea” bores us with the dull and depressing details of this declining marriage. Brad and Angelina are vacationing in the south of France. He wants to go there to cure his writer’s block, even though she clearly wanted the trip to be romantic getaway. Worse yet, he gets distracted from his writing and instead drinks every day away. Meanwhile, she takes walks around the beaches and starts spying on their newlywed neighbors through a hole in the wall. Somehow, the script manages to waste an entire hour by repeatedly glossing over the same events. It runs out of things to say pretty damn fast.

Just when you think it can’t get much worse, the story goes from banal to weird. Angelina shows Brad the hole in the wall, and they grow obsessed with watching their neighbors make love on a daily basis. There’s a voyeuristic aura to these scenes that makes them increasingly uncomfortable. But Brad and Angelina are a lot kinkier than we thought. Somehow, watching their neighbors have sex reignites their own love for each other. Their marriage starts to seem fine again, because of that creepy-ass hole in the wall.

“By the Sea” seems like a story of the marriage between Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. If only Jolie Pitt’s writing was half as good as theirs. Don’t get me wrong: Angelina Jolie Pitt is a decent director and a wonderful actress. But her ability to write amounts to rubbing shit on 120 pieces of paper and calling it a screenplay. It’s heinously bad. So bad that her writing cuts heavily into her ability to deliver in the role of Vanessa.

I’m not even sure if we’re supposed to be commiserating with Vanessa. On an objective level, she deserves better. Her husband is a drunk, she has nothing to do all day, and she’s essentially trapped until he finally writes the novel he’s been obsessing about. But the film seems to bias more toward the husband. It’s made clear to us that the depressed wife is to blame for their crumbling marriage. Clearly, her depression is causing her to distrust her husband and become a manipulative bitch. And for the record, those are not actual signs of depression. They’re signs of Jolie Pitt trying to get away with being stupid. We’re never able to get into the mind of the protagonist/antagonist because she’s so goshdarn shallow.

“By the Sea” is a boring chronicle that ultimately goes nowhere and means nothing to its audience. The best the film has to offer is a nude Angelina Jolie Pitt. Even so, watching her have sex with her fully clothed husband in a bathtub is too dumb a sight to dismiss without laughing.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

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The title is “WTF” in the NATO alphabet.  Which makes sense.
★½
Movie Review #1,057

whiskey_tango_foxtrot

Distributed by Paramount Pictures. Comedy, War. Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes. Rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content, drug use and violent war images. Released March 4, 2016. Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. Screenplay by Robert Carlock. Based on the book “The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan” by Kim Barker. Starring Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina, Christopher Abbott, and Billy Bob Thornton.

Where the art of film meets the art of deception lies the craft of film editing. You can quite literally turn anything into its polar opposite this way in a matter of a few clicks. Coke becomes Pepsi. A Hillary Clinton campaign ad becomes a documentary on the charitable deeds of Mother Theresa. A dry, bleak romantic drama becomes the trailer for a wonderfully upbeat, hysterically funny comedy.

That last one has a name: “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”, which is “WTF” in the NATO alphabet. The title has absolutely nothing to do with the film itself, other than that it describes the reaction you’ll have watching it. It’s almost adorable that directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra think this film is a comedy. It’s a shame it was marketed as such. “WTF” is a comedy in the same way “Billy Madison” is a drama. That movie had some sentimental moments, particularly in developing the relationship between the titular character and his love interest, but overall it’s just a silly Adam Sandler comedy. Likewise, “WTF” just isn’t that much of a comedy.

This is an interesting story that has been bled dry as a bone. An unmarried journalist is sent to Afghanistan to document her experiences during the War on Terror. It’s a very unique story starting off, but then said journalist’s boyfriend cheats on her, and the story whips around into a traditional romance movie. It becomes a story about a shallow woman who is trying to decide whether or not she has romantic feelings for some British guy she is staying with in Afghanistan (the horribly miscast Martin Freeman). Is Hollywood truly advancing as fast as society? Because by now it’s pretty much common knowledge that a woman is allowed to be single. She doesn’t need to be by a man’s side her entire life, particularly I’d she’s Tina Fey and he’s some ugly, creepy British guy from “The Hobbit”. If you can picture what a ’90s Julia Roberts movie would look like with Tina Fey and without very much humor, you can probably skip “WTF” because you already know what’s going to happen.