Film Review: Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)

Also known as: Austin Powers 2, It’s Shagging Time (working titles)
Release Date: June 11th, 1999
Directed by: Jay Roach
Written by: Michael McCullers, Mike Myers
Music by: George S. Clinton
Cast: Mike Myers, Heather Graham, Elizabeth Hurley, Michael York, Robert Wagner, Seth Green, Mindy Sterling, Verne Troyer, Will Ferrell, Clint Howard, Burt Bacharach, Michael McDonald, Rob Lowe, Jeff Garlin, Elvis Costello, Jerry Springer, Rebecca Romijn, Woody Harrelson, Charles Napier, Tim Robbins, Willie Nelson, Fred Willard, David Koechner, Tony Jay (narrator)

Moving Pictures, Gratitude, New Line Cinema, 95 Minutes

Review:

“I can’t believe Vanessa, my bride, my one true love, the woman who taught me the beauty of monogamy, was a fembot all along. Wait a tick, that means I’m single again! Oh behave!” – Austin Powers

Out of the three movies in the Austin Powers trilogy, this one is my favorite, even though all the films are really close in overall quality.

There are a few reasons why I like this one slightly better.

First, I like the plot better than the first movie. It’s more complex, more interesting and doesn’t simply try to rehash the beats of the first picture. There’s also a time travel element that works for me, even though it quickly breaks the fourth wall dismissing the paradoxes and narrative problems it creates. Because, honestly, this is a mindless, fun Austin Powers movie and you shouldn’t be thinking that hard anyway.

Second, I loved all the new characters from Mini-Me, Fat Bastard and especially Rob Lowe, as the younger version of Number 2.

Third, this has Heather Graham in it as the main “Powers Girl” and she’s always been a favorite of mine and certainly my favorite babe in a film series packed full of incredible, badass babes.

Apart from those three things, this film is just as fun and entertaining as the first movie. Additionally, the cast seems much more at-home in their roles and they’re even better than they were in the previous film.

I also like this chapter because it shows you which jokes sort of become reoccurring gags. Many of these bits became staples of the series while also becoming one of the more endearing things about this goofy, amusing franchise.

It’s also obvious that this movie had more money to play around with. There are bigger, better sets and more of them. Dr. Evil gets multiple lairs and each of them are much grander than the previous film’s underground bunker.

All in all, this is still solid, fun escapism and it made me smile in a young decade that hasn’t been very kind to most of us.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Austin Powers films and other ’60s styled spy spoofs like the Dean Martin Matt Helm movies and the original Casino Royale.

Film Review: Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)

Also known as: Zombieland 2 (working title, unofficial title)
Release Date: October 9th, 2019 (Taiwan)
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Written by: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, Dave Callaham
Music by: David Sardy
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Rosario Dawson, Zoey Deutch, Avan Jogia, Luke Wilson, Thomas Middleditch, Bill Murray (cameo), Al Roaker (cameo)

2.0 Entertainment, Columbia Pictures, Pariah, 99 Minutes

Review:

“[first lines] Welcome to Zombieland. Back for seconds? After all this time? Well, what can I say, but thank you. You have a lot of choices when it comes to zombie entertainment, and we appreciate you picking us.” – Columbus

Being that my fairly recent rewatch of the original film showed me that it didn’t age well, I wasn’t super gung ho to see its sequel, ten years later.

However, after being somewhat annoyed by the opening narration, which itself felt dated, I was at least pleasantly surprised to discover that I mostly liked this movie, even though it didn’t need to exist and didn’t do much to justify it being made.

I’ll admit, I liked all these characters from the first movie and it was cool checking in on them a decade later. You’re quickly filled in on what has happened in the time that’s passed but there isn’t really anything unexpected other than Little Rock being college aged and having the feeling that she needs to leave the nest and have her own experiences. This of course leads to the adventure in this film, as the other three set out to find her, after she takes off.

There are other new characters introduced and they’re all pretty decent, except for the douche from Berkeley but then again, you’re supposed to hate him.

At its core, this is really just more of the same with some weird subplot about a hippie commune full of pacifists that have somehow survived more than a decade into a zombie apocalypse, living in an unsafe high-rise with loud music, firework shows and no weapons. But hey, this is comedy, so whatever, right?

I liked the addition of Rosario Dawson and Zoey Deutch to the cast. I don’t like that they left Zoey behind with the dumb hippies though, as she’s probably just going to die.

Anyway, I’d probably say that this is fairly consistent with the first movie and rate it the same. It didn’t blow my socks off but it was a decent escape from the very real COVID-19 drama for 99 minutes.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: the first Zombieland film and possibly the series, but I haven’t watched it yet.

Vids I Dig 182: Whang!: Woody Harrelson: The Worst Reddit AMA Ever! – Tales From the Internet

Taken from Justin Whang’s YouTube description: Reddit AMAs have become standard for celebrities on promotional runs, just as common as talk show appearances. And to this day, Woody Harrelson’s AMA promoting the movie Rampart in 2012 remains one of the most disastrous, most well remembered AMAs of all time, and set the standard for what not to do when promoting a movie on reddit.

Film Review: Venom (2018)

Also known as: Antidote (fake working title)
Release Date: October 1st, 2018 (Regency Village Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Written by: Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, Kelly Marcel
Based on: Venom by David Michelinie, Todd McFarlane
Music by: Ludwig Göransson
Cast: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Reid Scott, Jenny Slate, Michelle Lee, Woody Harrelson (cameo), Ron Cephas Jones, Emilio Rivera

Columbia Pictures, Marvel Entertainment, Tencent Pictures, Arad Productions, Matt Tolmach Productions, Pascal Pictures, Sony Pictures, 112 Minutes

Review:

“Eyes! Lungs! Pancreas! So many snacks, so little time!” – Venom

If I’m being completely honest, my hopes for this film weren’t too high. However, my minimal expectations were exceeded in a lot of ways.

I guess the acting prowess of Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed can go a log way as all three were pretty damn good in this. Hardy really takes the cake though and even if his Eddie Brock differs a lot from the comic book version, I still liked this interpretation of the character. I kind off miss the blonde boxy buzz cut but that’d probably look silly in 2018… or just too f’n badass!

Anyway, this film had to create its own story, as they didn’t have Spider-Man at their disposal to tell the story the right way. Plus, even though this is put out by the same studio that owns the Spider-Man film rights, it’s not really clear if this even exists in the same universe. There are no signs to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe; none that I saw, anyway.

I liked this film’s plot though and the way that Venom comes to be, worked for me. I wasn’t too keen on Riot being the big bad of the movie but there wasn’t a whole lot they could do being that this was a self-contained movie that doesn’t seem to bleed over into the larger Spider-Man world. Plus, this takes place in San Francisco, as opposed to New York City, which could also have been a way to distance it from Spidey (and his friends and allies), at least for now. There are other symbiotes in this that aren’t just Riot, however. But he’s the only one that actually matters to the larger story.

My one big complaint about the film is the pacing. The first half hour moves at a crawl but once things get going, it really gets going. But then it moves almost too fast. From what I understand, there was a lot of footage cut from this movie. It was initially being made to have an R rating but very late in production, they decided to go with a PG-13 rating. There are moments where it seems as if something violent was lobbed off and it created some bad, choppy edits. Also, it feels as if some key narrative moments were worked out of the plot, after the film was fully shot. Like I said, it starts at a slower pace and then speeds up very quickly and it just feels like there are some time jumps and key things missing. Maybe this can be rectified with an R rated cut or an extended edition once this hits the streaming market.

I thought that the action sequences were a mixed bag. The first big one, which sees Brock on a motorcycle trying to evade big SUVs through the late night streets of San Francisco was superbly done, even if it threw a tiny bit of cheese at you. The final battle between Venom and Riot on the launching pad wasn’t so good. I mean, I’ve seen much worse in comic book movie finales but it was just a CGI shit festival and hard to differentiate between the two aliens. Couldn’t Riot have been a different color than dark grey? In the comic books, symbiotes have lots of color variations. Also, it would have helped if Venom had his iconic emblem on his chest and back.

One thing that stood out for me was the score. Often times it was subtle and atmospheric and then in big action scenes it would become a nice punctuation to the over the top adrenaline rush. The score during the motorcycle chase was stellar and it reminded me of the blockbuster scores of the ’80s to mid-’90s.

Venom is far from perfect but it’s got a lot more going for it than against it. Most importantly, it has my favorite mid-credits scene out of any of these comic book movies. It was chilling, generated the right kind of emotion in me and it made me want the follow up now, as opposed to three years down the road. If you’ve read the earliest Venom stories back when they were new, you’ll probably feel the same sense of awe when you get to this moment at the end of the film.

While this might not be as good as most of the movies in the MCU, it is more fun than most of them and to me, that’s really important.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the harder edged Marvel movies as of late: Logan, the Deadpool films and I’m assuming the upcoming New Mutants movie.

Film Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Release Date: May 10th, 2018 (Los Angeles Premiere)
Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan
Based on: characters created by George Lucas
Music by: John Powell, John Williams (original Han Solo and Star Wars themes)
Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo, Paul Bettany, Jon Favreau (voice), Warwick Davis, Linda Hunt (voice), Clint Howard, Anthony Daniels, Ray Park, Sam Witwer (voice)

Lucasfilm Ltd., Walt Disney, 135 Minutes

Review:

“I hate you.” – Lando Calrissian, “I know.” – Han Solo

*Warning: there will be spoilers… and probably some ranting!

At one point, Star Wars was the biggest pop culture thing in my life. Over the years, a lot has changed: ownership of the franchise, the fan base and most importantly, the canon. I’m told that decades worth of novels and comic books on my shelves are irrelevant now. I would have been able to adjust to that if the new additions to Star Wars were better than the stories given to us by dozens (if not hundreds) of authors that have been enriching the mythos for over 40 years. But so far, Disney has done nothing but drop the ball. Granted, I did like Rogue One but that’s just one film out of the four that Disney has done and I still have my fair share of issues with it.

Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t a bad film but it isn’t a very good one either. Frankly, other than a few sequences, it was kind of boring and unexciting. But then there were the politics in it, which is something I usually stay away from talking about but if this film is going to beat its audience over the head with its fucking nonsense, just as the other Disney Star Wars films have, I have to speak up.

When Disney bought Star Wars from George Lucas, most people were ecstatic. People were espousing things like, “Finally, George Lucas is gone, we can forget about those terrible prequels!” and “Disney will fix the franchise!” Yeah, they fixed it, alright. If by “fix” you mean “neuter”.

Kathleen Kennedy and Disney have already run this franchise into the ground and it happened a lot quicker than I thought it would. Their first attempt at Star Wars isn’t even three years old yet but based off of the audience’s response to this film and its incredibly lackluster opening weekend, I think that the public’s opinion is abundantly clear.

There is already Star Wars fatigue and it came so damn quickly. Had these movies been great or at least, very good, people would still be enthused. And if Disney wasn’t milking the franchise to piggyback off of known characters like Han Solo, Boba Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi for their spinoff films, maybe they could actually move the franchise forward.

In regards to the movie Solo, as this is a review of it, let me talk about the positives.

First of all, I really liked the train robbery sequence. That was the highlight of the film and one of the best, if not the best sequence in the Disney Star Wars films. It was creatively done, well thought out, well executed and just a good time.

Second, I liked the tone of the film. The atmosphere was dark and brooding, which enhanced the story, the peril the characters found themselves in and the life they were living, which is one of crime… even if Solo is considered to be a hero.

I also liked Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian. There are certain moments in the film where Glover is talking and you literally hear Billy Dee Williams’ voice. He definitely prepped for this role and really studied Billy Dee Williams. He is kind of the antithesis to Alden Ehrenreich’s Han Solo but I’ll get to his performance in a minute.

I thought that Paul Bettany as the villain was a strong positive. He didn’t have the sort of weight that a traditional Star Wars movie villain should have but he nailed the part, hands down. But I’ll get into the villain problem in a minute, as well.

The other big highlight of the film was the conclusion. I liked the Darth Maul cameo and am genuinely interested in what it means for Star Wars going forward but I hope it is to tie into the Obi-Wan movie and not a sequel to this film, which they should not make. I also liked the reveal of who the Marauders were and that whole sequence on the beach between them, Beckett, Solo, Chewie and Qi’ra.

I thought that the pace of the film and its progression were good, even if a lot of the stuff wasn’t as interesting as the filmmakers probably thought it was.

But on to the negatives.

I like Alden Ehrenreich as an actor but I didn’t like him trying to play Han Solo. The character is so distinctly Harrison Ford and Ehrenreich tried to nail it but fell short. I thought his comedic timing was off, his mannerisms didn’t work and “the cool” felt forced. The thing is, he could have just been his own character and this film would have worked better. He didn’t have to be Han Solo, this could have been a Star Wars heist movie with all new characters, punctuated by its main player that was more of an homage to the Han Solo archetype and not Solo himself. This would have served Ehrenreich’s talents better and opened the door to a new thread in the grand Star Wars universe.

Next up is Emilia Clarke. I don’t know what it is about her but I just don’t like her. Granted, I’m probably the only person on Earth that can’t get into Game of Thrones but that’s also not just her fault, it’s that whole thing. Anyway, Clarke is just an incredibly one-dimensional and boring actress. She makes me feel absolutely nothing. She’s no different in this. Her character felt soulless and just made me yearn for her death and for Han to hurry up and go meet Leia.

Then there is the Woody Harrelson problem. For the record, I love Harrelson. I always have, ever since I was a young kid watching Cheers with my mum and granmum when it was still broadcasting. The problem with Harrelson is that he is such a distinct actor that it is sort of distracting in a film like Star Wars. All I ever see is Harrelson, which most of the time is a good thing, but in a Star Wars picture, it just pulls me out of the movie. I think that the original Star Wars films were so magical due to George Lucas finding the right kind of talent from a pool of unknown actors. He did use a few well-known actors but their parts were perfectly tailored and fit them. But really, we’re just talking about Peter Cushing, who was primarily a low budget horror actor, and Alec Guinness, who had a long filmography but was never as recognizable or as famous as Woody Harrelson has become.

Earlier I mentioned the villain problem about the movie, even though I praised Bettany’s performance. You see, his baddie here was just some low level crime boss. Okay, maybe he’s a high level crime boss but him being the big bad would have been like Return of the Jedi expanding the Jabba the Hutt stuff to two hours and cutting out the second and much bigger half of the film. The Jabba stuff is solid but a gangster is not the type of villain that really brings a high threat level in the Star Wars universe. Frankly, Solo felt like it should have happened in an episode of Clone Wars or Rebels and not on the big screen for over two hours.

The biggest blight on all of Star Wars history though has to be Lando’s droid Che Droidvera a.k.a. L3-37. The droid was a wisecracking feminist revolutionary because robots apparently have gender in Star Wars now and are fighting for equal rights or something. Basically, this was Disney’s attempts at bringing gender politics into a Star Wars film in a cutesy and funny way. It’s not that I’m against feminism or equal rights, but this was absolute retardation of the highest caliber. I don’t bitch and moan about SJWs because sometimes those bitching about SJWs can come off as terrible as SJWs themselves but Jesus Jeff Goldblum Christ, man! Is this what Star Wars is now? A political and social platform for Hollywood holier-than-thous to sneak their messages into mindless entertainment used for escapism? You know, escapism: where people want to escape the real world for two hours because of real world problems and issues?

Then again, we’re dealing with people whose only counterargument is to point and call those who disagree with them “racist woman hating alt-right Nazis.”

See what I’m saying, though? In a world where people espouse politics and aren’t even minutely rational about it, you sometimes need to escape. But when that escape is inundated with that same irrational political bullshit, you look for another form of escapism. Hence, why this movie isn’t the success that Disney was absolutely sure it would be.

People just didn’t have the interest in this movie like they did with the old school Star Wars films before it.

Reason being, The Last Jedi mostly sucked and it pushed its politics on the people. People responded by telling Solo to “go fuck itself” when they didn’t rush out and buy tickets opening weekend. In fact, this is the first Star Wars movie I didn’t see within the first few hours of its release. I waited over a week and really, that wasn’t even over politics it was over The Last Jedi just sucking as a whole, politics aside.

Last week, I started organizing and cataloging my comic book collection. I came across my massive collection of Star Wars Dark Horse stuff from the ’90s and ’00s. I flipped through a lot of them, re-familiarizing myself with the stories. It really just reinforced my sentiment that the Expanded Universe, that has been washed away with the Disney tide, was so much better than what we have now.

Those Clone Wars tales with Quinlan Vos and all that Knights of the Old Republic era stuff were great Star Wars stories. Jacen and Jaina Solo were infinitely better characters than Kylo Ren and Rey. Well, at least Disney kept Thrawn relevant but Mara Jade is bantha fodder.

Solo: A Star Wars Story just doesn’t work. But hey, at least I got to see Lando, even if it wasn’t Billy Dee Williams and it wasn’t in The Force Awakens where Lando and Han should have had a reunion.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Disney Star Wars films.

Film Review: Zombieland (2009)

Release Date: September 25th, 2009 (Austin Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Written by: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Music by: David Sardy
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Bill Murray, Amber Heard

Relativity Media, Pariah, Columbia Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Are you fucking with me?” – Tallahassee, “Uh, no. You should actually limber up as well. Especially if we’re going down that hill. It is very important.” – Columbus, “I don’t believe in it. You ever see a lion limber up before it takes down a gazelle?” – Tallahassee

I know that a lot of people absolutely love this film. I like it too but I wouldn’t say that I love it. In fact, I haven’t seen it since it was in theaters. I just never really felt like watching it again until now.

To start, the cast is great and I like the chemistry between all of them. But let’s be honest, Woody Harrelson is the scene stealer and the real star of the picture, even though this boasts the talents of three young stars who would all have great careers beyond this movie: Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin. But even when the legendary Bill Murray shows up for a cameo, Harrelson steals that scene as well.

But it is the characters that make this movie work so well. They all just gel and you genuinely care about them, even though you just get to scratch the surface with this quartet at only an 88 minute running time.

I guess the only really big negative about this film is the finale. The girls decide to go to an amusement park for fun, albeit when it’s dark out in a world that is plagued by zombies and no security guards. Somehow, the park has power, the girls turn all the lights and rides on and are suddenly shocked when they are immediately overwhelmed by zombies.

Before this idiotic outing, the film spent an hour showing that these girls were smart and cunning con artists. So their complete stupidity to set up the big final battle is just baffling as all hell. And while I can suspend disbelief, I can’t ignore blatant and colossal idiocy.

And how the hell did they control the rides while riding them? Carnival rides aren’t automated, they have operators that hit buttons on a control panel to start and stop the ride. In the real world, one would have to ride while the other one had to hit the buttons on the control panel. I mean, despite the cool fact that we got to see zombie mayhem in a theme park, the set up and reasoning behind the sequence is asinine and ludicrous.

But the movie is supposed to be fun and I get that but I can never accept the rampant stupidity of the characters in the last twenty minutes.

All that being said, there isn’t a whole lot here that’s unique. There are zombies and you have to survive. There really isn’t anything about this movie to make it special and there isn’t an original twist that allows it to be its own thing in a genre that ran its course a long, long time ago. I mean, you could say that comedy is the twist but this is far from being the first zombie comedy.

I guess the only thing that works is that I like the characters and the actors. Well, I’m not a big Eisenberg fan but he was fine in this role, as it’s sort of the type of character I imagine him being. Woody Harrelson is, by far, the real highlight and the Bill Murray cameo is a lot of fun.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Shaun of the DeadCoootiesScouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

Film Review: Out of the Furnace (2013)

Also known as: Dust to Dust, The Low Dweller (both working titles)
Release Date: December 6th, 2013
Directed by: Scott Cooper
Written by: Brad Ingelsby, Scott Cooper
Music by: Dickon Hinchliffe
Cast: Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Forest Whitaker, Willem Dafoe, Zoë Saldana, Sam Shepard, Tom Bower

Appian Way Productions, Scott Free Productions, Red Granite Pictures, Relativity Media, 116 Minutes

Review:

“Working for a living? I gave my life for this country and what’s it done for me? Huh? What’s it done for me?” – Rodney Baze Jr.

*written in 2014.

Out of the Furnace is produced by Ridley Scott and Leonardo DiCaprio. It also stars Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe, Casey Affleck, Forest Whitaker, Sam Shepard, Tom Bower and Zoe Saldana. With all those names, one would expect a pretty compelling film. What I saw was actually a disappointment.

Written and directed by Scott Cooper, who did the highly acclaimed Crazy Heart, this film falls sort of flat.

In a nutshell, the film was a bit slow and it felt mostly uneventful and very predictable. Where there were good spots to build some serious tension, the ball was dropped. In fact, tension was nearly nonexistent except in quick instant doses where it appeared and ended within a short single scene. There was no build up, no real emotional investment to be made in the characters and it was a string of missed opportunities for a better story or at least a more layered story.

Part of the problem with the film, is that it is a revenge story where the victim being avenged was an unlikable prick and an idiot. I was more invested in seeing the evil asshole in the film get taken out over how he treated his date in the opening scene than what he did to the idiot prick.

The film’s climax, the big payoff for the revenge we’re supposed to be wanting, is pretty straightforward, there are no surprises and it plays out as expected and I felt no emotional pull in the end.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad film, it is just that I was expecting something of much better quality with all these people involved. It is slow, seemingly pointless and a forgettable film. Nothing sets it apart, nothing makes it special or memorable. It just simply exists, as a story of mostly unlikeable characters that no one will want to relate to.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: Scott Cooper’s other films.

Film Review: No Country For Old Men (2007)

Release Date: May 19th, 2007 (Cannes)
Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Written by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Based on: No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Kelly Macdonald, Woody Harrelson, Barry Corbin, Beth Grant, Stephen Root, Garret Dillahunt

Scott Rudin Productions, Mike Zoss Productions, Miramax Films, Paramount Vantage, 122 Minutes

Review:

“I always figured when I got older, God would sorta come inta my life somehow. And he didn’t. I don’t blame him. If I was him I would have the same opinion of me that he does.” – Sheriff Ed Tom Bell

While the Coens have made some fantastic films over the last several decades, going back to 1984’s Blood Simple, this picture is in the upper echelon of their rich oeuvre. Yet, in a lot of ways, it calls back to Blood Simple in style and for blending together different genres in a unique way. It is also very similar to Fargo, as both films follow a small town cop dealing with a grisly crime from out-of-towners and it is accented by a lot of violence on screen.

Some have called No Country for Old Men a western, others have called it a film-noir. While it takes place in more modern times than the traditional settings of those genres, it does share elements of both. It is very much a neo-western and also a neo-noir in its narrative style. I think that is a big part of what makes this such an extraordinary picture though. It is a hybrid and reinvention of multiple styles but it all weaves together like a gritty, balls out tapestry of masculine intensity.

Other than being in the very capable hands of Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, the film boasts an incredible cast, mostly of badass men.

First, you have Josh Brolin and this is the role that really put him on the map and sort of resurrected his career, as he isn’t remembered for much before this other than in his teen years when he played Brand in 1985’s The Goonies. He was perfectly cast here, as a hunter who stumbles upon a drug deal gone bad, takes a case of money and finds himself in way over his head. Essentially, the hunter becomes the hunted.

Then you have Javier Bardem as the evil hitman Anton Chigurh. Bardem’s Chigurh has become one of the greatest villains in movie history, mainly because of how unusual he is as a person and in how he executes his targets. Chigurh is scary as hell, period. His method of killing is to use a bolt pistol on his targets. A bolt pistol is a tool that uses compressed air to send a bolt through the heads of cattle before their slaughter. In a sense, Chigurh is a remorseless, cold blooded killer and his choice of weapon goes to show that he sees human beings as nothing more than cattle that need to be put down if they find themselves in his path. Although, the fates of some characters are decided by Chigurh flipping a coin, similar to Two-Face from the Batman franchise.

The film also gives us Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson and Barry Corbin. Jones plays the sheriff that is trying to contain the violence that is running rampant in his county, Harrelson plays a bounty hunter and acquaintance/rival of Chigurh, while Corbin plays a sort of mentor to Jones’ sheriff character. With Jones, we see a sheriff that also finds himself in over his head and is admittedly “outmatched” by the evil in his world. Harrelson, while a bounty hunter, finds himself in the sights of another killer. Like Brolin, these other characters are also on the side of the coin that they aren’t familiar with.

No Country for Old Men is known for its level of violence. While there is a lot of it, I don’t think that it is as violent as the book. However, seeing it come alive on screen is effective. It isn’t done in a way that is gratuitous or to be celebrated or used as a cheap parlor trick to sell the movie, it is presented in a way that shows it in a negative light, something that the sane characters abhor. It exists as almost a commentary against itself but to also shed light on a very real level of violence that exists along the U.S.-Mexican border. While this takes place in 1980, not much has changed in that region.

Two things that really make the film as impactful as it is, on an emotional level, are the film’s score by Carter Burwell and the cinematography by the veteran Roger Deakins. For Deakins, this film was sandwiched between his work on In the Valley of Elah and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. There are some strong visual similarities between the three films and they are three of the best looking motion pictures of 2007.

At this point, No Country for Old Men is considered to be a classic and for good reason. It won four Oscars, the most important being Best Picture. It also won for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh. It was also nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. It shared the most nominations with There Will Be Blood but it beat it out in awards won. As to which is better, that’s open for debate.

Rating: 9.25/10

Film Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Also known as: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (stylized on screen)
Release Date: September 4th, 2017 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Martin McDonagh
Written by: Martin McDonagh
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Lucas Hedges, Abbie Cornish, Samara Weaving, Caleb Landry Jones, Clarke Peters, Željko Ivanek, Sandy Martin, Brendan Sexton III, Kathryn Newton

Blueprint Pictures, Film4 Productions, Cutting Edge Group, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 115 Minutes

Review:

“What’s the law on what ya can and can’t say on a billboard? I assume it’s ya can’t say nothing defamatory, and ya can’t say, ‘Fuck’ ‘Piss’ or ‘Cunt’. That right?” – Mildred Hayes

I’ve been hitting the theater, trying to catch up on some of the indie films I’ve been missing. Luckily, I have a lot of days off to use between now and the end of the year, so playing catch up should be fairly easy now that Cinespiria has gotten through Darktober and Noirvember and there isn’t a theme for the month of December.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was a really nice surprise. While I did expect to enjoy it, it wasn’t as straightforward and cookie cutter as I anticipated. But I probably should have known better with Martin McDonagh in the director’s chair, as In Bruges and Seven Psycopaths weren’t films that one could label predictable.

This picture has a magnificently solid cast but so did Seven Psychopaths and McDonagh has shown that he’s fully capable of managing an ensemble. Although, while this is an ensemble piece and everyone is well beyond satisfactory, Frances McDormand’s Mildred Hayes is center stage in just about every scene and she really put the weight of this picture on her back and succeeded, giving us another masterful performance. She is a tough cookie and she never relents in her quest to find justice for her raped and murdered daughter.

Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell both do fine in this film, as well. Both men play cops and, at first, based off of how the story starts, you aren’t really a fan of either man. Harrelson’s Sheriff Willoughby wins you over fairly quickly, as you sympathize with his illness and the toughness of his job and a system that can’t always catch the bad guy. Rockwell’s Dixon is incredibly unlikable for two-thirds of the film but there is a real turning point where the angry boy with a badge becomes a man. Both cop characters, like all the characters can’t not be affected by the events of the story. People change and this is a film about character evolution and redemption, just as much as it is about justice or lack thereof.

This is the second film where I’ve seen Caleb Landry Jones play a nice and decent character, a departure from the psychos he played in Get Out and the revival of Twin Peaks. This guy has come along way since I first noticed him in X-Men: First Class and he’s really carving out a nice career for himself with a good amount of diversity in his roles. I hope to see a lot more from him in the future.

We also get to see character actors John Hawkes and Sandy Martin and both shine in their small but influential roles. Clarke Peters shows up and I always get excited when I see him, as he was one of my favorites in the underappreciated HBO show Treme. Another HBO alum, Peter Dinklage of Game of Thrones, plays a nice and sweet character in this. Brendan Sexton III, probably most remembered as the young shoplifting shithead in Empire Records and as a bully in Welcome to the Dollhouse, plays a character not too dissimilar from his earliest roles.

Three Billboards is a film that carries a lot of emotional weight and unfortunately exists in our sad reality where sometimes the worst people get away with deplorable acts. The film ends with two of the characters having to make a grave choice but we do not get to see what they decide to do. Like these characters, you want justice for Mildred’s daughter but you also have to ask yourself where the line is drawn while understanding that nothing will bring her back.
Rating: 8.25/10

Film Review: War For the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Release Date: July 10th, 2017 (SVA Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Written by: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves
Based on: characters created by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Judy Greer, Toby Kebbell

Chernin Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, 140 Minutes

Review:

“I did not start this war. But I will finish it.” – Caesar

I’ll be honest, I’ve never disliked a Planet of the Apes movie. Yes, I even found enjoyment in the Tim Burton one with Mark Wahlberg from almost two decades ago. The current series of films has also been pretty spectacular. I wouldn’t expect this one to be any different, especially after reading the great reviews and seeing how excited the fans were after checking it out. I’m a bit late with this review, as I was in Las Vegas for work all of last week, but I made this a priority once getting back to my normal schedule.

War for the Planet of the Apes is absolutely incredible. Nowadays, I try not to build up expectations in my head, before seeing a film, due to countless times where I have been massively disappointed. Truthfully, this picture exceeds whatever I could have anticipated.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the plot. Based off of the marketing, it seemed like it would be more of the same from the previous film but realistically, this is its own story and differs greatly from any Apes picture before it. It isn’t just all out war between apes and man, it is a story of one ape’s quest for justice against a lone man who just happens to lead an army. In a lot of ways, this plays more like a gritty spaghetti western than any other film genre.

I’m glad that the trailer didn’t really give the gist of the story away and it focused on the big action sequences. Granted, that is what gets asses in seats for summer blockbusters. It is just refreshing to see a film come out and still have some surprises and tricks up its sleeve without the trailer spoiling the whole thing.

One of the film’s many great aspects that I was really impressed with was the score. It was a real throwback to a time when films had powerful music and distinct themes. Blockbusters today have pretty generic and canned music that just doesn’t resonate or capture the imagination like the big films of the 1970s and 1980s. For example, you can probably remember the theme for Superman or Batman from that era but I bet you can’t even think of what Iron Man or Captain America’s themes sound like. Hell, do they even have distinct themes? The score done by Michael Giacchino for this film is astounding and it really encapsulated the spaghetti western vibe of the picture while still maintaining a consistency with the scores of the previous two Apes films. It did stick out like a sore thumb at times but that is due to how unbelievably good it was. It carried an instantaneous realization of just how mundane modern film scores are, which is only to show how powerful, meaningful and magnificent this film’s music is.

Additionally, the cinematography is utterly breathtaking. The huge shots of landscapes and wilderness are majestic. The snowy forests create a totally different tone as the film progresses and it sets it apart visually, from the previous two chapters in this Apes series. The film is cold and bleak but there is always that glimmer of hope, as if spring is just around the corner.

The CGI effects are some of the best I have ever seen. Where just a few years ago, CGI characters still didn’t fully look real and it could be a bit of a distraction, you never question the authenticity of what your seeing on screen. In fact, the apes in this picture are at the forefront more so than the previous two movies that relied on a bigger human element to propel the story forward.

War for the Planet of the Apes is the perfect end to this series of three films. It truly creates a three act trilogy that is powerful, moving and the best overall iteration of the Planet of the Apes franchise. Sure, the original 1968 movie is a classic but its sequels never quite lived up to it. With this series, each film progressively gets better. Granted, the door is left open for more movies but a fourth one will most likely have a clean slate after the events of this chapter.

This film, more than any other, really adds more credibility to the argument that the Academy Awards need to start recognizing the acting performances of those playing digital characters. Andy Serkis never disappoints and from an acting standpoint, this film is the greatest thing he has ever done and this statement comes from a guy who adored his role as Gollum form The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies.

War for the Planet of the Apes is the best film in the entire franchise. The original was damn good and still holds up incredibly well but this new picture is truly exceptional. The acting, the direction, the cinematography, the score, the plot: all of it is as close to perfect as you can get in a film with so many fast moving parts. It has more emotional weight than any of the eight Apes pictures before it and it embodies the entire spirit of the series.

At this point in the year, War for the Planet of the Apes may be 2017’s best motion picture. And honestly, 2017 is panning out to be a much better year for film than I had anticipated or hoped for.

Rating: 9/10