King Arthur: Legend Of the Sword – A Movie Review

If you’re fan of either Guy Ritchie or King Arthur, I think you’ll be very pleased with King Arthur: Legend Of the Sword.

Fresh and visually captivating, you haven’t ever seen this King Arthur before.  This is an ass-kickin’ King Arthur who grew up rough on the streets in a house of ill repute.  He knows how to cheat, lie, steal, and fight without anything other than his bare knuckles.  Yet, there is a golden heart beneath the gruff exterior, perhaps even a noble one.

If you’re unfamiliar with the general story of King Arthur, his father (the King) is killed and his child, Arthur, is rushed to safety and raised in ambiguity without realizing his true heritage.  It’s only after pulling Excalibur from stone that he realizes his true calling.  This latest iteration of the iconic character follows familiar beats but also makes several significant changes to the traditional legend, most of which prove enjoyable.  I’m more than okay with Ritchie putting his own stamp on the tale – no need to show us what we’ve already seen before.

This movie depicts a grimy, dirty, gritty world in which Arthur resides, a world that is not kind to its inhabitants.  Yet, even for all the pallor, the movie retains Ritchie’s signature style.  These urchins have more hair product than you can ever imagine!  I also found it amusing that the clothing appeared strangely modern considering the era of the movie.  But you know what?  Who cares?  The movie looked good, the sets looked good, the costumes looked good, the actors and actresses looked good.  I’m not going to get hung up on authenticity – Arthur is kickin’ too much ass for me to care!

With tons of action and lines firing out of the actors’ mouths like bullets, this movie moves very quickly and absolutely entertains.  I relished that they made Arthur rakish without making him dark and brooding.  He’ll punch you in the nose, to be sure, but he’ll grin while doing so.  Make no mistake, he’s got the weight of the world on his shoulders and endures horrific hardships in this film, but you still see a charismatic, good man beneath the roguish exterior.

Ritche infused a bit of Peter Jackson’s sensibilities with his take on King Arthur.  There is more of a fantasy element than you’d probably expect, and some of the battle scenes look like they could have been pulled out of Lord Of the Rings.  However, unlike Jackson’s typical outings, Ritchie’s battles are far more intimate and willing to go smaller at times.  For the most part, those battles are fluid and look great.  But, there are a few moments in the film when it gets a little too “The Matrix” for my tastes.  You’ll know it when you see it.  Those scenes jolted me right out of the story.

I also didn’t care for the climatic one-on-one battle.  I won’t spoil it, but we’ve seen it a thousand times in most super hero movies.  I wish Ritchie had resisted the temptation to go that route while additionally forcing Hunnam to spout some awful lines (which have also been said a thousand times).

Even with all of that being said, I liked the movie.  I don’t think it’s for everyone, but if you are a Guy Ritchie fan or a King Arthur fan, you will not be disappointed.  I love that Ritchie is taking on so many English icons, and that he’s putting his own indelible touch upon such world renowned characters in his own inimitable fashion.

I’m very much looking forward to seeing this cast continue King Arthur’s story.  They have a ton of story left to tell.  If you know Arthurian legend well, they didn’t even skim the surface of his epic adventure.  If future installments are as fast-paced and action-packed as this one while still retaining a sly sense of humor and stylish delivery, I’m all in.

Image result for king arthur legend of the sword poster

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Guardians Of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 – A Movie Review

I’ll be honest and admit that when Guardians Of the Galaxy came around back in 2014, I wasn’t all that into it.  I didn’t even make it to the theater for a viewing.  Truthfully, even when it came out on video, I didn’t think it was all that great.  Funny?  Sure.  Different from any other Marvel movie?  Definitely.  Fun?  Yeah.  I liked it, but I didn’t love it.

So, with all that being said, I’d like to say that I LOVED Guardians Of the Galaxy: Vol. 2.

I won’t spoil anything in this review, but I found this installment far more funny.  These characters aren’t even trying to take themselves seriously anymore, except when they are – more on that later.

It also has a better plot that is no longer beholden to the Infinity Stones.  Elements touched upon earlier in the film came into play later in the film, especially in regards to the jokes.  But, even in terms of story, it all went full-circle and came together nicely.

The visuals are absolutely amazing.  As I watched the film, I stopped and appreciated the nuanced aliens, the diverse machinery, and how this film truly looks like it could span a universe.  (Maybe I should have said galaxy there, huh?)  It’s a feast for the eyes, to be sure.

There also existed a very cool message regarding family.  Again, I won’t spoil anything, but if the first film served as a reason to come together, this film serves as a reason to stay together.  As you can see from the advertisements, Nebula plays a far greater role, as does Yondu.  These two characters have familial ties to particular Guardians, ties that make for interesting plot developments.  I loved this film because of these character developments.  We’re seeing these characters change and grow in ways we haven’t seen in many other Marvel movies.

Of course, that’s not to say that this is a character study – not at all.  For the most part, these characters all have uproarious comedic moments.  I mean, I’m talking scenes that will make you absolutely guffaw.  Yes, I said guffaw.   But then, every once in a while, truly touching scenes arise.  Scenes that were emotional, sentimental, and tugged on the old heartstrings.  Happily, these moments did not at all detract from the film whatsoever – they only served to amplify the story line.  Were they a little syrupy?  Sure, but they worked well in a movie like this.

I also really liked that this film did not necessarily follow the tried and true sequel format.  It actually followed far more of a comic book or cartoon structure.  Once more, I won’t spoil anything for you, but this movie gives us an opportunity to see the Guardians in different situations, different dynamics, different groupings, and in different settings, and they each shine as a result.

Obviously, I loved this film far more than its first installment.  However, this movie would not have been possible without its predecessor.  I don’t mean that in the literal sense, of course.  Rather, I mean that by all the groundwork being laid in the first movie in terms of character, those characters now have a chance to break their own mold and grow in ways delightful.

Baby Groot is adorable.  Drax is hilarious.  Rocket is more abrasive than ever.  Gamora lets down her defenses.  Star-Lord becomes more than just a guy who cracks one-liners.  Nebula and Yondu?  You’ll have to see for yourselves.

Oh, and there are some fantastic cameos.  I can’t even touch upon those.  I will say this: be sure to sit through ALL the credits.  All of them.  And watch them closely.  There’s a lot going on even during the credits that’s a lot of fun.

That’s really the operative word – fun.  This is a fun movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I love it for its own sense of irreverence.

Image result for guardians of the galaxy 2

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

 

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them – A Movie Review

After somehow missing it in the theaters, I’m happy to announce I finally got around to watching Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.

First of all, I’d like to say that I’m really glad they are continuing to build the Harry Potter universe.  It’s a rich universe ripe for ample storytelling, and I think they got off on the right foot with this installment.  I especially like that they decided to set it in 1926.  This gives it a unique look while providing thousands of different narrative directions for future films.  Furthermore, setting it in New York also set it apart from the Potter films, which is vital if this new franchise is to thrive on its own volition.

I also loved the cast.  Eddie Redmayne is always interesting in his movies, and his New Scamander proved just quirky enough to be a fun, unique action star.  I loved that his Scamander seemed to have an awful time looking people in the eye.  Such a subtle, interesting touch.  Yet, despite his aloofness, he always emitted bravery and a caring heart.

Dan Fogler plays a regular guy who gets ensnared in the magical world and he is delightful.  His character, Jacob Kowalski, is lovable without being a buffoon, funny without being goofy, and has more heart than anyone else in the movie.  I believe his character really makes this film go.

I also loved “Queenie,” a character played by Alison Sudol.  She played her character with such joy, such spirit, it was hard not to root for her.  I’m so glad they seem to be having a romance budding between Queenie and Kowalski.  They are both incredibly likable — even more so when together.

Finally, it’s wonderful to see Colin Farrell back in great form.  He played a character called Graves, and I won’t say much about Graves for fear of spoiling the plot.  If you enjoy Farrell in general, you’ll appreciate his Graves.  Farrell always has so much going on behind his eyes …

So, yes, there’s a lot to like about this movie.

Unfortunately, there’s also a lot I didn’t like about this movie.

First of all, the plot proved really … cumbersome.  Considering this is an original script, it seemed awfully convoluted and felt like it was derived from some other source material.  The Potter books always served their adapted films as a crutch.  Not so with this one.  We don’t know this story and so it had to be clearer for us to follow.

Along those lines, it also ran too long.  I actually got a little bored around the middle of the movie.  Why did I get bored?  Well, the plot took a while to get going, and a lot of time got invested in showing the “fantastic beasts.”  They were cool, don’t get me wrong, but the big ones looked very “special effects” to me.  This could be because I watched the film on DVD instead of Blu-Ray, but they looked out of place next to the living actors.

I also had a horrific time understanding Redmayne.  I’ve seen several of his movies and never had such difficulty making out what he said.  There were entire lines of dialogue I missed due to a very thick accent.

I’m also not exactly sure what is going on with the main villain, Gellert Grindelwald.  … Wait, just Googled him.  … Oooooh.  That’s cool.  Wish I’d refreshed myself on all that before watching this movie.  Hmm.  I’d forgotten Gellert Grindelwald played a role in The Deathly Hallows.  Be careful to avoid spoilers, but you may want to search that name and how it relates to Albus Dumbledore.

Do I recommend this movie?  Absolutely.  It’s not perfect, but it’s very good.  It’s got some charismatic actors in place that will definitely be able to prop up the franchise as it continues.  Though I had trouble understanding his accent, Redmayne delivered a character that’s easy to support and admire.  I’m especially looking forward to seeing more of Fogler and Sudol.  All in all, I’m excited to see where this series goes!

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Passengers – A Movie Review

I love the recent resurgence of space movies.  To me, it’s a sign that we are regaining a societal urge to explore the stars once again.  Could this reflect a renewed dissatisfaction with Earthly events?  Perhaps.

Passengers did not initially demand my visit to the theater.  Honestly, I like Jennifer Lawrence, but she’s not “must-see” in my world.  The same can be said for Chris Pratt.  Both are immensely likable and charismatic, but both are also super-hot in Hollywood right now, which led me to believe Passengers could be nothing more than a vehicle for their stardom.  I did not expect an actual story with real weight.

I could not have been more wrong.

The premise is a rather simple one.  The Avalon is a star cruiser traveling 120 years to a distant colony planet founded by a mega-corporation.  5,000 passengers are on board, but they are in hibernation for nearly the entire journey, as are the 200+ crew members.  In fact, the passengers are not due to awake until 4 months before arrival.  Everyone they knew back on Earth will be long dead by the time they start their new lives.  Unfortunately, Chris Pratt’s character wakes up 90 years too soon due to a glitch in the system.  He is literally the only living person aboard the ship until … he isn’t.  That’s when Jennifer Lawrence’s character comes into play.

The story is a little bit of a romance, a little bit of a mystery, and a little bit of a thriller all wrapped up under the guise of science fiction.  There are also deeply complicated morality issues present in the story, which I definitely didn’t expect.  In fact, I think it was brilliant to cast such likable actors in roles that, at times, prove morally troubled, yet are always sympathetic.  Truthfully, this is one of those movies that inspires the viewer to start asking, “What would I do in that situation?”  “Would I really be any different?”  I appreciate films that subtly demand introspection.

So, yes, Passengers definitely had far more story than I anticipated, and that really delighted me.  Even better?  It’s a good story.  It’s a story that is easy to invest in.  These are characters who are easy to invest in.  There are questions of cause and effect, actions and consequences, internal versus external motivations, and morality that add a wonderful layer of depth.

And, as you would expect, there are also some jaw-dropping special effects.  I won’t spoil it for you, but there are a few scenes where gravity comes into play, and I’ve never seen anything quite like it.  Again, I won’t spoil it for you because it’s better to have it as a surprise, but it’s very, very cool.

Honestly, other than a few hokey lines of dialogue at the very end, I have no complaints about Passengers.  The performances were engaging, the special effects were top-notch, and the story proved incredibly complex, especially in terms of cause, effect, and morality.

Image result for passengers poster

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Nocturnal Animals – A Movie Review

When I first heard about this movie, I thought it sounded really interesting so I immediately ran to the source material, Tony and Susan.  You may remember I reviewed that novel back in October.  (You don’t?  No worries.  Click HERE to read the review.)

Sadly, I didn’t make it to the theater in time to see the film, but I did manage to finally watch it the other night on DVD.

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise of the movie, Susan Morrow is a successful art dealer and gallery owner.  Her marriage seems strained at best, and business seems to be on the decline.  This is particularly troublesome because she and her husband live a rather lavish lifestyle.  Susan appears introverted, troubled, tense, and perhaps even a touch cold to the outside world.  She soon receives a manuscript from her first husband; they divorced twenty years ago.  It’s his first novel ever to be published, and he wants her to read the advance copy.

She begins reading the novel which is titled Nocturnal Animals.  Immediately, she recognizes the many parallels between the main characters and her own life with her ex-husband.  Like the source material, the film’s novel features a family man named Tony who is driving along a deserted road with his wife and college-aged daughter.  They get into an altercation with some punks, and things get very upsetting very quickly.

The movie proceeds to focus primarily on Tony’s story but also visits Susan as she reads the novel and reflects on what purpose her ex-husband is trying to achieve by sending it to her.

So, the big question … should you see this movie?

On the one hand, it is every bit as thrilling as the novel.  Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays Ray, the primary thug destroying Tony’s life, and he perfectly encapsulates Ray’s insanity and utter evilness.  I couldn’t believe it was the same actor from Godzilla and Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Taylor-Johnson is oddly charismatic and frightening in this role.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays both Tony from the novel and Edward, Susan’s ex-husband.  I haven’t seen many of Gyllenhaal’s movies, but he really impressed me in this onel.  By far the best performance I’ve seen from him.  He totally delivered Tony’s tentativeness, his torture, but also his obvious intelligence.  This is a man on the brink … but we don’t know exactly what brink, which is what makes him so mesmerizing.

Michael Shannon portrayed Bobby Andes, the main detective trying to pin down Ray and his band of cronies.  Shannon did well with Andes, but there wasn’t much of him in the movie.  Not as much as I remember from the book.

Finally, Amy Adams played Susan Morrow.  We all know Adams is a superb actor, but she simply wasn’t given much to do as Morrow.  The movie’s version of Morrow rendered her aloof and a touch disassociated.  Always immaculately dressed with impeccable hair, Morrow appeared too perfect, too rigid, too restrained.  In fact, if we’re being honest, I saw her more as a facsimile of Tom Ford himself than an interpretation of the book’s Morrow.

Speaking of which, Tom Ford, the director, has created a beautiful film.  He provided an engaging and horrific rendition of Tony’s awful circumstances.  Everything involving Ray, Tony, and Bobby Andes oozed suspense.

Unfortunately, his take on Susan Morrow turned her into someone unrecognizable from the book and ultimately unlikable.  You see, in the book, Susan taught college English.  She read most of Nocturnal Animals on her couch.  She really came off as a regular person with relatable characteristics.  By turning her into a statuesque, terse business woman, Ford transformed Susan into someone for whom the audience could not sympathize.  Perhaps he did this on purpose.

Also, Susan’s world in the movie is pristine, avant-garde, and, in some cases, strange.  For example, the very beginning of the film starts off with a show at her gallery, and it is … discomforting, to say the least.  I can’t decide if Ford simply suffused his own world into Susan’s, or if he purposefully wanted us to subconsciously side with her ex-husband as she read the novel.

Though Nocturnal Animals looks great throughout, and though the scenes involving Tony and Ray were riveting, the parts focusing on Susan detracted from the movie as a whole, interrupted the suspense, and lacked any emotional resonance.

Image result for nocturnal animals movie poster

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Kong: Skull Island – A Movie Review

Let’s keep this fairly simple – if you like King Kong, you’ll like Skull Island.  This is Kong in all his glory.  He’s enormous.  He’s wild.  He’s vicious.  He’s easy to root for, even as he’s eating soldiers and blowing up helicopters.

Set in 1973, Skull Island is about an expedition to said island in order to beat the Russians (yada yada yada).  A team of scientists which includes John Goodman need a military escort to get them there.  More specifically, they need a helicopter unit to get them past an ever-present storm system surrounding the island.  Samuel L. Jackson commands this unit, and he’s lost his way since the very recent end of the Vietnam conflict.  He’s a man with no war anymore (yada yada yada).  Tom Hiddleston is a mercenary tracker ex-soldier hired to help them navigate the uncharted island’s terrain.  He’s also a lost soul (yada yada yada).  Brie Larson is a photographer who’s been embedded in Vietnam for years and now seeks a new angle and hopes this unknown island will provide it (yada yada yada).

Okay?  Everyone kind of has motivation and sort of a backstory (but we don’t really care because we’re all here for the giant primate.)

So this team of soldiers and scientists invade Kong’s island and he doesn’t like it.  He protects the island and its inhabitants at all costs.  He’s the top of the food chain, but there’s another species vying for his title and our heroes have seriously disturbed the natural order of things.  Plus, Jackson’s character does not like the fact that Kong killed most of his unit and he wants revenge against the king even as he loses his own grip on sanity.

I won’t spoil anything beyond that, but you can probably predict most of the movie and that’s okay.

What’s important is that Kong looks amazing.  He’s got real heft and he absolutely seems like he’s interacting with the jungle environment engulfing him.  When he’s causing huge waves, he looks wet, the water looks like its reacting to him, and everything appears natural.  When he’s jumping from mountain to mountain or sending trees flying, there is debris, there is gravity, there is air, and it all looks right.

Kong’s not the only monster in this movie, as you probably expect, and they all look really, really good as well.  You forget these are special effects when they brutally interact with each other.  They move like real creatures.  They have fur and scales and saliva and blood.  They have cuts and scars and muscles and bare patches.  It’s astounding.

My biggest complaint about Godzilla is that there wasn’t enough Godzilla!  We don’t have that problem with Kong: Skull Island.  There is plenty of Kong doing what he does best on his own turf.  No travels to the big city in this one (thank goodness)!

Truthfully, the actors were fine, but they really didn’t have to do much.  Astonishingly, these were all top-notch actors, and they played their characters well, but no one is winning any acting awards here because everyone knew Kong’s the real star.  We get just enough of each actor’s character to make us care a little about them, but not enough to make us care more about them than Kong.  That’s a tricky balancing act, but they pulled it off.  I will say this, though: John C. Reilly almost surpassed Kong in likability.  He’s a bigger part of the movie than the previews would have you believe, and he stole every scene in which he appeared.  He brought much needed levity to the film, but never in such a way that openly mocked the subject material.  All of these actors are charismatic on their own, but Reilly took it up a notch even against them.

Just remember, Kong is the star.  (Again, this is where they made a mistake with Godzilla.  They forgot who the star of that movie was.)

If you’re a Kong fan, I highly recommend you see Skull Island on the big screen.  You will not be disappointed if you’re looking for Kong in all his glory.  Be advised, though it’s PG-13, it was a tad more violent than I expected.  People had appendages pulled off, got eaten alive, were burned alive, thrown into chopper blades, etc.  There were some small children in our showing, and I guarantee you they will have nightmares tonight.  I recommend you don’t take your kids if they are younger than 13.

Enjoy!

Related image

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Logan – A Movie Review

This is the Wolverine movie you’ve been waiting for.  Who knew all it took to bring us the real Logan was a little thing like being Rated-R?

I say that in jest, of course.

Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of super hero movies being Rated-R for the sake of being Rated-R, but with characters like Deadpool, Punisher, and Wolverine, it just makes sense.  I mean, the guy has three razor sharp claws coming out of each hand.  It would be awfully hard to use those things without slicing off body parts.

In Logan, the gloves are off.

But, of course, this is not a super hero movie.  Is Logan a hero?  Oh, for sure.  But this is not the stuff of gaudy costumes, cities being destroyed, or reverberating monologues.  This is about a man fulfilling responsibilities he really doesn’t want.  This is a broken down fighter looking to get away.  This is a man who knows he’s actually not a hero, but does his best impression of one anyway.

Logan succeeds because we get to see Logan’s bad attitude in all its glory.  Unlike Deadpool who wielded “F-bombs” like sparklers, Logan mutters the “f-word” under his breath or when highly irritated.  He says it like our own disgruntled grandfathers, not like our crazy frat-boy nephew.  The profanity in Logan feels organic, if that makes sense.  It’s not forced.

Another way in which Logan benefits from the R rating is because we see those claws doing all the nasty things of which we know they are capable.  Logan pierces skulls, slices off appendages, and pokes holes into people with abandon.  The movie does not shy away from this violence, but somehow doesn’t glorify it, either.  It’s a fine line, but Logan uses violence to establish characterization in this movie, not to impress the audience.  These are people who can do very bad things in very bad ways, and there’s no getting around that bloodshed is part of these characters’ lives.

In fact, characters proved vital to making this movie so interesting.  As I said, Hugh Jackman finally gave us a pissed off Logan who begrudgingly does what he knows he has to do.  Patrick Stewart breaks down Charles Xavier, makes him vulnerable, and in doing so establishes a bond with Logan we’ve never seen before.  Stewart and Jackman are wonderful together.  Their relationship is fun, but also very strained.  Logan is now responsible for taking care of a decrepit Charles, which neither man ever envisioned.  Logan makes a lousy nurse, but the love and respect he’s always shown Charles in the previous movies is all the more apparent in Logan.  I think it took a lot of guts to show the two key figures of the X-Men franchise near the end of their lives, weakened, and relying on each other to get through the day.  But, from a story standpoint, it worked incredibly well.  If you think super hero movies are already stale, Logan is out to prove you wrong.

That’s really what made Logan so engaging.  There were actual stakes.  Set in 2029, the movie quickly established that anything is possible, nothing is off limits, and no one creatively involved is afraid to do drastic things.  Like a Cormac McCarthy novel, no sentimentality tipped us off to certain characters being safe and secure.  It felt like anyone could suffer a horrible fate at any moment.

But the heart and soul of this movie absolutely belonged to Dafne Keen, or, as she’s known in the movie, “Laura.”  This eleven-year-old actress plays this character with such a charismatic mixture of savagery, innocence, and likability that she’s impossible to resist.  The young woman holds her own with Jackman and Stewart and brings out sides to both Xavier and Logan that the audience will love.  I don’t want to give away too much of the film, but we all know from the comic books that Logan is a softie for children.  You know from the trailers that he’s charged with protecting Laura, but the real fun of the movie comes when you are shown that Laura doesn’t need any protecting.  In fact, she saves Xavier and Logan in ways they never thought possible.

The movie is not perfect, though.  We fall into a lot of X-Men tropes in Logan.  For example, we have yet another bad scientist intent on harming mutant kind.  We have soldiers hunting down mutant children with lots of guns and military equipment.  We have yet another comic book movie cliche of copying the hero to try to make a [redacted].  The plot makes sense, but only if you don’t think about it too hard.  Besides, the real meat of the film occurs through character interaction.

The good far outweighs the bad.  Far, far, far outweighs the bad.  In fact, if you only saw one X-Men movie, I would make it Logan.  But that’s because, like I said, it’s really not an X-Men movie, or a super hero movie in the conventional sense.  It’s a story about family, loyalty, and character.  It’s got astounding visual effects, but nothing grandiose.  It feels like a small, personal movie.  Most of it takes place in the desert, fields, or among trees.

Are the fighting scenes amazing?  Yes, but again, they are not the stuff of wire work or CGI wizardry.  Even if computer created, it feels intimate and executed by a human doing things within the realm of possibility.

Hugh Jackman has said this is his last Wolverine movie, and if that’s true, I’m okay with it.  I don’t think he could top Logan.  It seems it’s the character’s pinnacle, and it may be best to leave him be.

In my opinion, if you’re not averse to violence, I think you should check out Logan.   It avoids most of the super hero ground you would expect and tells an interesting story using characters with whom you can invest.  Believe it or not, you will care about Charles, Logan, and Laura in ways you never expected.

 

Image result for logan movie poster

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)