Growing up with a parent from Texas comes with certain quirks. Everything needs to be cooked in cast iron, wooden planks with cutesy quotes must adorn the kitchen corner-to-corner, and Old Yeller is required viewing. The 1957 film follows some kid without any real friends who gets a dog to fill the human-shaped hole in his heart. The next hour is boring. Nothing notable happens until the freaking end, where the dog gets sick and the kid gets some pre-Vietnam PTSD when he sends Yeller to "a big ol' pupper farm in upstate New York." Still, at least the dog is good.
Even the dog is perfectly cast in the tense 2018 heist film, Widows. Brought to the big screen by the other Steve McQueen, Widows makes the hits hard, the characters palpable, the action fast, and the local politics fun, somehow.
There are few films I loathe more than The Sound of Music. Is it a well-crafted, if overlong musical? Yeah, sure. It's got the goods. Julie Andrews kills it on every level, the kids are the perfect amount of adorable yet competent, and Christopher Plummer has never not been good. That's not the cause of my cinematic pain. As a kid, my mother, who is the most wonderful human being and loyal reader of my articles, hunted down every television broadcast of the 1965 masterpiece and made the whole family sit down for them. Several times a year, we'd be POW'd in the living room, praying for something more than just "limited commercial interruption." It's a good musical, but come on! An apple a day might keep the doctor away, but apples get old real quick.
I hope that I don't ever over-watch the musical A Star is Born, because this film deserves an older Joe looking back fondly on its emotive power. Bradley Cooper stars in and directs this adaptation of an adaptation of an adaptation, and yet the tone of this movie holds classical cinema and raw emotion in the warmest of bear hugs that doesn't smell of regurgitation. This combination feels both old and new in style, while only occasionally failing to blend the two seamlessly.
Bradley plays Jackson Mane, a big-time rock star who seems to be on the downturn. His problem with alcohol bring him to conveniently have a run-in with Ally, acted with absolute gusto by the surprise sensation Lady Gaga. I say surprise only because I was maybe one of only a few to be underwhelmed by her acting on the FX show American Horror Story. Despite my impression from the exceeding of expectations, Gaga is objectively impressive in her moving portrayal of an artist on the rise entangled with the embattled Cooper. If nothing else comes from this film, a rise in future creative castings for Gaga would be a welcome and worthy result.
Rounding out the cast of characters are surprise hits and old favorites. Sam Elliot is a steady bet for anyone wanting a good performance, and his command of the scene will bring tears for many, and maybe some soft hearts from the more senior members of the audience. Andrew Dice Clay and Dave Chappelle are not only highlights in creative, effective choices, but also examples of first-time director Bradley Cooper's greatest strength: Emotion via actors. There are both occasional lulls and clashes brought out by the introduction of modern music institutions and practices that feel less than authentic, and Cooper isn't positioning himself as the most innovative newbies behind the camera. That said, the man knows how to bring the best out of each character, whether it be in their performances or his framing of moments and faces. There is something intimate in the camera angles and movements that lends itself to the realness and power of these relationships, both with the people and with the bottle. The warmth is so tangible because it hones in on the tragedy of fade and failure instead of smothering it.
With the wealth of bland blockbusters meant to appeal to the greatest common denominator (many of which I love with a passion and a fistful of popcorn), A Star is Born manages to draw in the big crowds without dulling its senses. Cooper and his cast have pieced together an emotive, powerful narrative. It even left me a little misty, and not just because I was in one of those theaters with the full food menus.
I give this film a solid 8 out of 10.
The Autumn Bomb is a tradition that I just made up, and I have a strong feeling it's gonna sweep this nation by tropical storm (too soon?). It starts with shotgunning a hard cider. Then, you snort a line of pumpkin spice. Finally, you jump into your neighbor's leaf pile with a jar of peanut butter and packet of Oreos, all with the hope of a peaceful, three month hibernation.
Until the Autumn Bomb catches on, you're probably going to be tempted to see a movie. But which one? Here is an exhaustive, unreliable guide to everything coming out this fall.
There was a point in my childhood where every stuffed animal I had was also an imaginary friend. The polar bear, the frog, even the armadillo with a barbecue stain on the front-left paw. All of them. Unfortunately for "Real Friendless Joe", the collection got out of control and cuts had to be made. It was emotional, difficult, and provided such a feeling of raw power that never manifested into superpowers like they should've. I just wanted to shoot water out of my hands, dammit!
When I pick and choose which movies to write a review for, so many others fall to the side. Between 50 hour weeks, the podcast, and gazing into the empty void that is time, I don't have the scheduling power to see and write a full piece on everything. That, and I really just didn't want to see The Nun. Still, I want to give quick reviews on all the movies I saw this year that didn't get the full review treatment. Behold, the shortened glory!
(Reviews are out of 10 possible points, with "soft", "steady", and "solid" acting as further definitions of my rating)
Growing up in a more sheltered environment, my first exposure to kick-ass, therapist-alarming violence was from one of the Turok games on my buddy's Gamecube. My parents thought we were playing jax or maybe Go Fish. The graphics were blocky, the controls as intuitive as the Icelandic language, and green blood squirted from every fleshy beasty you could aim a gun at. It was so alien to me, and pretty awesome.
Fast-forward 12 years, and now I have The Predator to scratch that itch, even if that itch probably shouldn't be there anymore. From writer and director Shane Black, this film is a semi-successor to the Predator franchise that sees Earth at the center of an intergalactic hunting trip. The Predators, themselves, are hyper-masculine aliens that look like a skinned Pomeranian and Killer Croc had a few too many cosmos at singles night and decided procreation was a better idea than going home and watching the news. When military sniper Quinn McKenna, played by Boyd Holbrook, stumbles upon a crashed ship of one of these Predators, the race is on to save humanity from the threat of bigger, beefier Predators. Assisted by a wily group of former soldiers and an evolutionary biologist, McKenna must fend off aliens and the government to save the world, and his family.
Shane Black aims for Spielberg vibes with his odd, R-rated The Predator, but can't help infecting most scenes with "Shane Black-ery". This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as the cinematic tone is decidedly 80s, with cinematography and a score that wax nostalgic. This throwback is natural and not overly done, unlike some of Shane's dialogue. Known for his quick quips and flowing conversation, Black feels stuck between action-broisms and stinging wit. When this combination works, it feels like a fluid blend of kid-friendly sci-fi and eff bomb-fueled fist bumps. When it doesn't stick the landing, however, it comes off like the one 4th grader who knows "bitch" and says it way too often in gym class.
The cast is the real shine, here. Boyd proves himself as a solid, if replaceable action hero, but it's his newfound unit that gets all the good lines. Trevante Rhodes, Alfie Allen, and Augusto Aguilera help bring some levity as former soldiers with more than a few psycho-social quirks, and Rhodes stands out as the bro to end all bros. Baxley and Coyle, played by Thomas Jane and Keegan-Michael Key respectively, are a surprise delight in their display of an oddball male bond. Also,
FACT: Sterling K. Brown makes everything better.
Where the fun dries up is in the "science lady" character, Casey Bracket. Brought to the screen by Munn, Casey is kind of a letdown, with a complete lack of real charisma and only the occasional good line. Munn has to bear the weight of Black's lackluster female writing, and seems almost tired of underwritten characters by the end of this film. When her better protagonist roles have come from Aaron Sorkin, one can guess how fed up she's feeling.
Jacob Tremblay plays McKenna's son and plot instigator in the film, whose disability takes stake in the story's outcome. The focus on his gifts come off as surprisingly empowered, yet under-baked. It's one of the many times that feel like another look at the script could've elevated the fairly standard storyline. The themes are casual and not supported by their own creators. Then again, it's a bromance shoot-em-up. What should really be expected here?
The Predator is a sloppy, chummy action movie that is pretty damn funny. If you were hoping for better female representation or an evolution in artistry from Shane Black, this movie is going to be pretty disappointing. If you just want a fun, dumb time at the movies, then The Predator is a rowdy, rewatchable crowdpleaser that has as much of a good time as you will.
I give this film a soft 7 out of 10.
(This article is a follow-up to earlier entries I penned about the fan’s predicament and what the studio should do, which you can find right here and here.)
Serotonin is most often found in either the enteric nervous system or the central nervous system. It can also be discovered tucked away in blood platelets, and is often considered the primary cause for happiness. When a film writer’s serotonin levels are low, they write up dream lists of who they want to direct a movie that’ll include a green lady and super intelligent trash panda. I have hit rock bottom.
But that’s okay! Guardians 3 is going to need a director, and I am the unpaid, wannabe Disney intern who can totally make that decision. In no particular order, here are my dumbest, wisest, and weirdest choices for the job.
(This article is a follow-up to an earlier one I penned about the fan’s predicament, which you can find right here.)
Disney CEO Bob Iger had been on vacation when James Gunn was fired from his role as director of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3, which gave some hope to fans that maybe there was some chance that the decision would be reversed once Iger made it back to the office. I personally like to think ol’ Bob likes to slap on a fake mustache and baseball cap so he can vacation at Universal Studios Orlando, but that might be a stretch, and certainly in conflict with his company. When the CEO did make it back to Mickey’s top secret headquarters, it became clear that any hope of reinstatement for Gunn was lost.
With the studio digging their heels and standing their ground, I would like to turn the discussion from “How could you?” to “What’s your next move?” It’s clear that James’s vision empowered and defined the Guardians series, and selecting a successor might prove quite the creative challenge. Convincing fans to accept that successor could be a greater challenge still. While I would love to craft a list of directors to take over the helm for Gunn, this particular piece will stay grounded in reality. Or, at least as grounded as a story with a talking raccoon and “Vin Treesel” can be.
Movie news for the last few weeks have pivoted from the James Gunn firing, to Venom saying “turd”, and back to James Gunn’s firing. Now that the decision seems to be cemented in Mickey’s ledgerbook, it’s time for Disney Studios and fans of the series to decide how to go forward.