Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Review: Frozen 2

Release date: November 22, 2019
Running time: 103 minutes
Starring: Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, Idina Menzel

It's Frozen 2.  If you have kids, you're going to watch it.  You don't need me to tell you anything about this movie because you already bought your tickets for opening weekend.  But in any event, Frozen 2 follows our band of sisters and friends from the first movie as they are forced to journey outside of Arendelle due to a new threat.  The group will learn about Arendelle's past, which they will need to understand to help save Arendelle's future.  

The original movie was a surprise hit that had a wonderful combination of heartfelt story, catchy songs, strong female lead characters, and the right amount of magic to capture audiences.  Frozen 2 tries to recapture this combination, and at times it is successful.  The movie starts off slowly, with an overdose of songs and some strangely off animation.  However, once the group gets past the first act, the movie really picks up.  The animation becomes more beautiful, with some really spectacular weather and elemental effects, and as always, pretty amazing snow and ice.  The songs also become more spaced out and meaningful.  

The story of Frozen 2 is decidedly darker and more grown up than the first film.  Similar to how Harry Potter became more mature as the series progressed, Frozen 2 seems to be trying to appeal to the audiences that loved the original but are now 6 years older.  However, don't worry, there is still plenty of silly humor and ridiculousness to appeal to the younger viewers.  However, a pleasant surprise was that--similar to what Pixar has mastered--many of the jokes of Frozen 2 have a double meaning to appeal to the adults in the theater.  There were plenty of times that the entire theater, adults included, laughed out loud.  And there is one song that has a fantastic, eighties inspired presentation that had the older folks enthralled.  

However, despite all this positive, Frozen 2 is not a perfect film.  The songs are entertaining, but don't have the same instant appeal as the first movie's soundtrack.  I'm sure they will grow on me (and I'm also quite sure I will be listening to the soundtrack over and over again for the next couple of years), but it seemed like they were less catchy and had more exposition to move along scenes.  Some had awkward phrasing or forced statements that didn't seem natural like the soundtrack of the original.  And the story, despite being pretty complicated with a bunch of new information that doesn't really fit with the previous movie, also wraps up extra quickly (likely to keep the movie at under two hours).  But, again, it's Frozen 2 and you know you're going to see it.  There is plenty to like and keep you entertained for the entire film, and it lets us revisit the beloved characters from this world.

Frozen 2 is a movie you know you're going to see; thankfully the beautiful animation, catchy songs, and laugh out loud moments (for kids and adults) will make you appreciate a trip back to Arendelle. 

Watch it

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Review: Ford v Ferrari

Release date: November 15, 2019
Running time: 152 minutes
Starring: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Caitriona Balfe

Ford v Ferrari tells the unlikely story of when the Ford Motor Company sought to reshape its image and start a European racing team to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans race.  Ford taps the most famous American race car builder / driver, Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) to make this happen.  Shelby, in turn, relies on his friend Ken Miles (Christian Bale), a brilliant driver and mechanic who is more comfortable around cars than people due to his tendency to say exactly what he is thinking.  These two start an unlikely odyssey to take on Ferrari in the most grueling and famous race of the year. 

Despite Ford v Ferrari telling the tale of corporate bravado, the main draw of the film are the personalities of Shelby and Miles.  These two men had very different personas but shared a love of racing and a desire to be the best.  The conflict and camaraderie between these two race icons is painful and exhilarating to watch, as is the product of their collaboration, the Ford GT40.  Damon and Bale are amazing to see, with Bale especially going all out as Miles.  

As you would expect, a movie about race cars should make you feel like you are experiencing one.  And Ford v Ferrari does not disappoint.  From the loud whine of the engines to the boom of the cars on the track, Ford v Ferrari's sound is top notch.  Additionally, for theaters that are equipped with some sort of force feedback, the vibration of the race is perfectly communicated through the seats, really making you feel like you are behind the wheel!

Ford v Ferrari tows the racing line for national pride, and thankfully stays on track.  It doesn't derail itself with unnecessary nationalism despite the clear America vs Italy rivalry.  Rather, the focus is on competition and business pride, which was a pleasant surprise.  The movie is also on the long side, but like the Le Mans race, it takes time but has a great pay off.

Ford v Ferrari is a high octane experience with fantastic acting, a compelling story, and a combination of exhilarating sound and heart pumping race scenes that will make you think you are on the track!

Watch it

Friday, November 15, 2019

What to Watch This Weekend: November 15, 2019

In Theaters: The Good Liar
The Good Liar takes a dream duo of Mirren and McKellen and weaves a tale of deception that will keep you on the edge of your seat.  For more information, check out our review!

In Theaters: Better Days

Better Days is a powerful film that tackles intense, emotional subjects.  It has strong performances, a heart wrenching story, and shows some of the darker aspects of human nature and our society.  For more information, check out our review!

At Redbox: The Peanut Butter Falcon
The Peanut Butter Falcon was a surprise hit earlier this year and is now available at Redbox.  It has nearly universal critical and audience appeal, a heartwarming story, and strong performances that should not be missed.

Streaming (Netflix): Zombieland
The sequel is doing quite well in theaters but if you still haven't seen Zombieland: Double Tap, or just want to refresh yourself on the cult classic original, Zombieland is available to stream on Netflix.  Just remember Rule #77, watch this movie!

Streaming (Amazon): Instant Family

Instant Family is a feel good dramady that tackles adoption.  It has a good combination of heart and comedy that will make a nice film to watch during this cold winter weekend. 

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Review: Charlie's Angels (2019)

Release date: November 15, 2019
Running time: 118 minutes
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska, Patrick Stewart, Elizabeth Banks

After 40 years of continued service and keeping Charlie's vision alive, John Bosley (Patrick Stewart) is ready to head into retirement after internationally running and training the Townsend Agency. Bosley is confident that the Agency is in good hands with some of his best. New Bosley (Elizabeth Banks) now steps up to work with this generation's angels: Sabina Wilson (Kristen Stewart), Jane Kano (Ella Balinska), and new recruit Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott), an engineer who developed the Calisto project, a clean and sustainable energy source that in the wrong hands could be catastrophic. The angels both take Elena under their wing and try to prevent this technology from getting into the wrong hands.

While this movie is a lot of fun and straight up silly at times, it contains a through line of female empowerment. And unlike other movies this year that attempted this but ended up reverting to the classic theme of the guy saving the day, Charlie's Angels stays true.  Female empowerment is relayed not only through its plot but through dialogue as well as a strong soundtrack that I very much enjoyed. Besides Patrick Stewart being the natural treasure he is as well as getting physical in the movie (I know WOW right!); Kristen Stewart also delivers big time. She is charismatic, bad ass, and has a funny wit throughout the film.  She was absolutely made to play roles like this. The rest of the cast is fun to watch and the best part is that you can tell the entire cast had an amazing time filming this movie.

But this movie's plot just isn't strong and for an action movie well, it simply lacks action.  On top of that, the effects were too noticeably CG at times and the film lacked suspense.  Although the tone of this movie is trying to take itself lightly, similar to movies like the Fast and the Furious franchise, it just doesn't provide a strong plot to compliment the strong empowerment message. The movie's plot and action are just average. However if you are a big fan of the franchise I am sure you will find tons of Easter eggs and references from earlier iterations (and make sure to stay through the entire mid-credit scene for extra goodies)!

If you are looking for a fun movie that has a charismatic cast and a strong female empowerment message, then check out Charlie's Angels and make sure to earn your angel wings!

Rent it

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Review: The Good Liar

Release date: November 15, 2019
Running time: 109 minutes
Starring: Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Russell Tovey

The Good Liar is a suspenseful movie where seasoned con man Roy Courtney (McKellen) tries to charm his way into the life of Betty McLeish (Mirren).  Roy hopes to get one last score and sees in Betty an easy mark.  But his efforts are hampered by previous bad blood, Betty's suspicious grandson Steven, and Roy's own slip ups as he gets deep into the con.  

The draw for this film is the powerhouse cast of Mirren and McKellen.  Both of them are at the top of their game and do a fantastic job as an older couple with a blossoming relationship, despite one of them being not all that they appear to be.  Mirren is charming and trusting, pulling you in when she wants to but also closing up when Roy gets too comfortable in his new relationship.  McKellen slides perfectly between the facade he is putting before Betty and his every day con business.  It is a masterclass in deception with McKellen completely changing his persona, from his eyes, to his gait, to his clothes, when he goes from one world to the next.  The two headliners are joined by a great supporting cast who help enhance this world and keep the film moving along.

The story of the Good Liar is well done and methodically paced.  At some points the story slows down greatly, which I believe is to give the audience time to really learn about these characters.  It can be slow but the story is always interesting.  There is enough intrigue and side plots to keep the audience entertained even when the pace stalls.  The con takes Betty and Roy all over the world with a good variety of locales contrasting the fast pace of London with Betty's quiet, suburban life.  And despite a few odd plot holes and a twist that is nearly impossible to see coming, the film tells a fascinating tale of deception that is a joy to watch, despite sometimes also being painful to see.

The Good Liar takes a dream duo of Mirren and McKellen and weaves a tale of deception that will keep you on the edge of your seat.  This is not a con, make sure to check out this film!

Watch it

Monday, November 11, 2019

Review: Better Days

Release date: October 25, 2019
Running time: 135 minutes
Starring: Dongyu Zhou, Jackson Yee, Fang Yin

Better Days is a powerful Chinese film dealing with bullying, childhood pressures, trying to rise above your station, and the intense need to succeed that some youth experience.  The film focuses on a young Chinese student about to take the Gaokao, a national Chinese college entrance exam that determines what university someone will go to, and by extension what kind of life they can have.  In it, young Chen Nien (Zhou) struggles to study and prepare for the Gaokao, while also dealing with a host of problems that shouldn't be on her plate, such as being bullied, having to take care of the household alone, and dealing with the mistakes of her mom.  However, she is soon helped along this journey by a chance encounter with an unexpected street thug Xiao Bei (Yee).  

Better Days biggest strength is the powerful performances by its young stars.  Zhou and Yee propel this emotional story forward with their strong acting.  Zhou starts off rigid, but towards the end she really shows her strength as an actor; she is refreshing and I can't wait to see what else she does.  Yee is also challenged as a street thug with a much deeper understanding of life than he lets on.  They are a treat to watch and really the driving force behind this emotional story.  And the chemistry that they exhibit really drives the story forward.  The rest of the characters are perfectly cast and they really contribute to the emotional effect that the story has on you. 

And the story of Better Days is an important one.  The bullying and ordeals that some of these kids endure is hard to watch at time, but important to show.  As more and more pressure is being placed on children to succeed, the story of Better Days and the bullying that Zhou faced is even more crucial to showcase.  The film is an emotional roller coaster with many lows and a very few highs.  The story progresses slowly, but it gives you a chance to really dig into the characters and their emotional journey.  I was never bored with this film, I simply wanted to see what happened next. 

Better Days is a powerful film that tackles intense, emotional subjects.  It has strong performances, a heart wrenching story, and shows some of the darker aspects of human nature and our society.  

Watch it

Friday, November 8, 2019

What to Watch This Weekend: November 8, 2019

In Theaters: Doctor Sleep
Doctor Sleep pairs a stellar cast, with a big score, and enough nostalgia from the original movie to keep you entertained.  For more information, check out our review!

At Redbox: Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark brings the classic horror short stories to life on the big screen.  For more information, check out our review!

Streaming (Amazon): Overlord
The alternate universe war movie tells a different side of Nazi Germany.  It has a lot of good action and what I loved most about it is that despite its clearly unrealistic antagonists, the movie is presented in a way that makes it fit into a plausible WW2 alternate history. 

Streaming (HBO): Glass
if you have the patience for Shyamalan's vision of a super hero universe, it presents an interesting premise and a chance to revisit some fantastic characters.  For more information, check out our review!