The Grinch (2018) – A Movie Review

My six and ten-year-old daughters were very excited to see this latest rendition of Dr. Seuss’ classic, so I made a point to take them on opening night.  I believe they’ve seen the classic cartoon movie, but I don’t think they’ve ever seen the Jim Carrey live-action version.  This will be relevant later.

I have to be honest, for a Friday night, five o’clock showtime, the theater didn’t have many empty seats.  As you can imagine, most of those seats were occupied by people whose feet didn’t touch the ground.  It seems as though a lot of people were genuinely excited to see this.

At a brisk hour and a half, the new Grinch is perfect in terms of length.  It’s just long enough to tell a story, but brief enough to avoid anyone getting bored.

Well, most anyone.  More on that soon.

My daughters thought it was hilarious, cute, and delivered a nice message about reaching out to others while also forgiving past grievances.

So, for the kids, especially those who haven’t seen Jim Carrey’s version, this is probably a really cool movie.

That being said, I was bored silly.

In my opinion, you’ve already seen the best parts during the previews.  Otherwise, it hits most of the same beats as what you’ve seen before while adding new, unnecessary elements.  It’s nowhere near as clever as Jim Carrey’s movie, nor is it as entertaining.  Of course, I’m forty-one, so I’m sure I’m not this movie’s demographic.  And that’s totally fine.  I’ve got my Grinch movie, let the kids have theirs.  Just be prepared to take one for the team on this one–it’s not great.

However, there is much to appreciate.  The animation is absolutely beautiful.  The snow, the hair and fur, the Christmas lights–it’s all stunning.  The characters’ movements are also incredibly fluid and natural.  This movie looks good from an artistic and technical perspective.

There are also a few laugh-out-loud gags.  I wasn’t miserable, not by any stretch of the imagination.  And when I looked over at my kids, they both wore a smile ear-to-ear.  I honestly think your children will get a kick out of it.

Is it suitable for young children?  Absolutely.  In fact, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Grinch is the nicest Grinch you will have ever encountered.  He’s mean for maybe five minutes before he sees the errors of his ways, and he’s not even that mean.  This version is far more sanitized, wholesome, and family-friendly than ever before.

If you’re looking for a family movie, it’s hard to go wrong with 2018’s The Grinch.  The kids will love it, and it’s just short enough that the parents will be able to endure it without complaining …

Much.

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Grinch (2018)

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

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Don’t Quit On Daredevil: Season 3

ScreenRant.com is saying that a lot of people gave up on Daredevil: Season 3.  If you’re one of those viewers, give it another try.  I finished this latest season about a week ago, and I have to tell you that after reflecting on it, I think this season is my favorite of all the Netflix Marvel shows.

First of all, the smartest of all the Marvel shows got even smarter.  Everyone in this series has actual motivation.  The plot unfolds organically and without any abrupt shifts in direction or tone.  Almost everything in this season actually makes sense.  One event leads to the next, which leads to the next, which leads to the next.

Consequently, the pacing is what actually makes this season my favorite.  The Netflix Marvel shows have had disastrous pacing issues–particularly in regards to Luke Cage and Iron FistDaredevil: Season 3 moves at a quick pace, and the story keeps developing from episode to episode to episode.  Other Marvel series have felt like three or four different story arcs within a single season.  Oftentimes they have an out-of-the-blue event occur around episode 7 or 8 that changes everything.  Not so with this one.  In fact, it’s the first time I didn’t tell myself (regarding a Netflix Marvel show) that thirteen episodes was too long.  I wanted more!

I groaned a bit when I heard Bullseye would be the villain of this season because he’s about as cliched a villain as you can get.  Fortunately, they grew “Dex” Poindexter into an antagonist only as the show progressed.  Getting him to that point was a slow burn.  Best of all, they never actually called him “Bullseye.”  Dex got more and more interesting as the show moved along in large part due to his mental torment.  I won’t spoil it for you, but they were quite creative in displaying this anguish.  Poindexter does awful things in this season, yet he is not entirely unlikable.  You can’t help but empathize with his plight a bit, especially because he can turn on the charm when he wants to.  I felt his frustration at being a hero when his talent for killing was done on behalf of the government, yet, when not working on behalf of his country, he was deemed a criminal.

Of course, I love Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk.  He, too, while certainly a villain, is a complicated man who is actually worthy of sympathy from time to time.  D’Onofrio plays him with such repression–it’s something to behold.  I love that Fisk is constantly flexing his fingers or working his hands.  He always seems as though he’s just barely constraining himself.  I’ve heard some say that D’Onofrio plays him too over the top, but I think it’s perfect.  Fisks merciless intellect always makes him a formidable opponent.

Jay Ali proved a welcome addition to the cast.  He played FBI agent Ray Nadeem.  Nadeem found himself at the center of everything in this season, and suffered as a result.  Ali delivered an average man just trying to do the right thing, and he showed us just how convoluted the “right thing” can be.  Nadeem provided a necessary emotional tether to the season that helped me to invest in the entire story as a whole.

Charlie Cox, though, is what makes this season something special.  This man is the perfect embodiment of Matt Murdock.  I think leaving the costume behind, having Murdock go back to the black shirt and pants really brought this series back to it’s street-level grittiness.  Murdock’s crisis of conscience, his battle with this faith, and his obsession with Fisk drove this season forward.  Cox benefited from getting to be the star of the show again.  He didn’t have to compete with an Electra or a Punisher taking up his screen time.  He didn’t have a gang of mystical ninjas to defeat.  He just had to outsmart Wilson Fisk, which is awfully hard to do, especially when you’ve got a man throwing items in your direction at terminal velocity.  The simplicity of this intricate plot made this season very entertaining.  It never got too big, but it never felt small, either.

Is this season perfect?  No, it’s not.  I think they don’t quite know what to do with Foggy Nelson, and I personally believe that Elden Henson is playing him more and more as a type rather than as a person.  Deborah Ann Woll, conversely, has gotten better and better as Karen Page.  The only misstep they had with her character involved an entire episode devoted to her background which was completely unneeded.  I’m also not a fan of a hero fighting an evil version of himself or herself.  If you’ve seen the trailers, you know that Dex himself dons the Daredevil costume.  They have a good reason for it that serves the story very well, but it’s still a pet peeve of mine.  I guess I should be glad they didn’t put him in the comic book version of the Bullseye costume.

As always, the fight scenes were incredible.  These feel like real brawls–everyone looks exhausted by the end of them.  There’s a prison fight and a fight in a church that are just flat-out amazing.

Because of Murdock’s complex identity issues regarding his alias, his faith, and even his morals, and because of the well-paced, methodical character development regarding Poindexter, Fisk, and Nadeem, I found this season extremely satisfying.  I was hooked on Season 3 by the first episode, but if you gave up on it for some reason, I hope you’ll give it another chance.  I think you’ll end up loving it as much as I did.

Image result for daredevil season 3 poster let the devil out

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

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018) – A Movie Review

My wife and I took our daughters to see The Nutcracker and the Four Realms Friday night and I have to admit that I enjoyed it quite a bit.

I think the most striking aspect of this movie is that it looks exquisite.  The costumes, sets, and scenery are gorgeous.  It seemed to me that much of it featured real people on real sets.  There existed some CGI, of course, but generally speaking it appeared that the actors were interacting with actual props and materials.  The movie wielded a certain weight that many CGI-laden films do not.

Furthermore, I found the actors and actresses both capable and, more importantly, likable.  It’s hard not to like Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren, though, isn’t it?  Mackenzie Foy, who plays Clara, is easy to root for even while not being particularly charismatic, and her nutcracker captain, Phillip, played by Jayden Fowora-Knight, is also generically appealing if not particularly memorable.  I’d like to say, though, that I think both of these new faces have great potential.

Believe it or not, Sugar Plum stole this movie.  She crackled with electricity and proved very entertaining to watch.  Oddly enough, I couldn’t place her–I couldn’t figure out who played this fairy.  Imagine my surprise when the credits revealed Keira Knightly as Sugar Plum!   I think this is probably my favorite part ever played by Knightly.  I’ve never seen her so relaxed, magnetic, and … well, fun!

Best of all?  The ballet dancing!  It should come as no surprise that they included quite a bit of ballet in this film.  I found the inclusion of ballet inspired.  They didn’t just toss it in for the sake of throwing it in there–it serves a real purpose to the overall story and looks fantastic.

Again, the whole movie is really a sight to behold.  While the story is full of adventure and even a little creepy at times, it’s incredibly intricate at all levels.  Everything looks like a piece of art.

Both of my kids enjoyed The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, though neither of them were “wowed” by it.  Anytime we see a new movie, at least one of them usually says it’s their new favorite, but that didn’t happen this time.  I’m not really sure why.

In my opinion, you should certainly take your kids to see it.  It won’t make their hearts skip a beat, but it’s still a very well-crafted family film that will probably please everyone, albeit in different ways.

Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Richard E. Grant, Eugenio Derbez, Keira Knightley, Mackenzie Foy, Misty Copeland, and Jayden Fowora-Knight in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)

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

Mother! – A Movie Review

Though this film came out in September of 2017, I just got around to watching in on Amazon Prime Video.  I remember the reviews were mixed at best with most unable to pinpoint the exact nature of the movie.  This controversy, along with the fact that Darren Aronofsky wrote and directed it, made it required viewing in my mind.

I knew things were going to get interesting as soon as the title appeared on screen with the exclamation point appearing a few beats after the word “Mother” with an emphatic sound effect.  The punctuation seemed almost comedic in delivery, which gave me the sense that things were going to get a little crazy.

I was wrong.

Things got a lot crazy.

The premise is that a young unnamed woman, played by Jennifer Lawrence, lives in a huge house in the middle of the countryside with her older, also unnamed, husband.  Played by Javier Bordem, he is a writer suffering block.  As he struggles to create, she busies herself with repairing the house bit by bit due to a horrendous, and mysterious, calamity that occurred at some previous point.

A stranger soon appears at their door, played by Ed Harris.  He brings general chaos with him as a bad house guest after Bordem’s character, the husband (none of these characters are given actual names), invites him to stay.  Michelle Pfeiffer plays Harris’ wife, and she’s the next to show up.  She too brings bedlam.

Lawrence says very little in this film, but her facial expressions tell the viewer everything they need to know.  She is a doting wife trying to appease her husband at every opportunity, yet it’s obvious she is irritated to no end with the rude interlopers.  As are we.

As the movie continues, more and more strangers appear with the husband inviting each and every one of them in.  The wife cannot understand why he’s inviting insanity into their lives as she constantly strives for self-control.

The film next shifts into a higher gear as it somehow grows even more surreal.  It really captures the helplessness of a nightmare — it felt very much like some bad dreams that I’ve had.  Lawrence’s character can only accept impossible events as normal occurrences even though her eyes endlessly scream, “This cannot be happening!”  As we watch, we are saying the exact same thing to ourselves.

There are many theories as to what this film is about.  I personally feel that it is about the creator’s need to constantly destroy those things created.  Or maybe it’s about purgatory, and Lawrence’s character is trying to atone for mistakes made in life.  Or maybe Bardem’s character is the devil, intent upon making people suffer in their own personal Hell, one person at a time.  Or maybe it’s about the fact that no matter how much control we think we have, no matter how hard we fight to build the perfect life, the discord of the world outside will always disrupt our harmonious existence.

Or maybe it’s about none of that.

Who knows for sure?

I will say this, though — the sound effects in this movie are amazing.  I watched it on my Kindle with earbuds which enabled me to enjoy every anxious breath, every creaking floorboard, and every conversation from the next room.  I’ve never felt such impact by sound in a movie.

The camera movement also impressed me.  I love the way the camera follows characters around the house, up and down the stairs, through shortcuts from room to room.  It’s very fluid, yet also sometimes dizzying.

Finally, Lawrence absolutely portrays a sympathetic character trying so hard to deal with the pandemonium surrounding her.  Bardem plays a likable husband who infuriates us nonetheless.  Harris and Pfeiffer manage to irritate us from the moment they walk on screen until the moment they walk off.  There’s also several surprise appearances that I won’t spoil for you.

I don’t really know if I actually liked Mother!, to be honest.  It certainly captivated me.  It absolutely demanded my active engagement.  However, I’m not sure I would recommend it to the casual movie goer.  It’s definitely aimed at those with a lot of patience and a high threshold for ambiguity.  It’s a strange movie.

If you give it a watch, or if you’ve already seen it, let me know your thoughts in the comments below.  I’d love to hear from you.

Image result for mother! movie poster

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

 

 

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – A Book Review

Probably like you, I grew intensely interested in this book after watching the first season of the Hulu adaptation.  Though it’s been available since 1985, I regret to reveal that I only recently sat down and read it.

As you no doubt suspect, it absolutely lives up to its reputation.  My only disappointment lies in the fact that the Hulu series is so true to the novel that there isn’t much in the way of “surprise.”

Until the end, that is.

The last ten pages of the book absolutely riveted me.  I did not anticipate the drastic change in direction, but I found it completely appropriate and, when compared to the ambiguous nature of the exterior world surrounding Offred, satisfying.

If you are unfamiliar with general plot of the novel, it occurs in the near future.  The east coast (and maybe more) of the United States has been overrun by an ultra conservative religious group that picks and chooses Scripture to interpret literally.  Because sterility plagues the country, the commanders of this new order, and their wives, are allowed a “Handmaid,” which is a fertile woman forced into servitude.  She is there to copulate with the commander for the sole purpose of providing a child.

The story is told from Offred’s perspective, the Handmaid belonging to the commander known as Fred.  We learn snippets of her present as well as the history of her past.  The fall of our civilization as we know it, while brief and segmented in the novel, is horrifying nonetheless.

This new regime takes it upon themselves to terminate intellectuals, free thinkers, and anyone that does not adhere to their ideologies.   Women are objectified and rendered powerless, all in the name of Scripture.  Ironically, but not surprisingly, the commanders in the novel are blatant in committing “sin” without fear of reprisal.  They bask in it–in fact, they celebrate it among one another.

Most disturbing, however,  is the fact that the last ten pages gloss over all of this travesty.  Without spoiling too much, these grievous violations are looked upon as a means to an end, an uncomfortable moment in history.  All is well, and so thus we mustn’t worry too much about what happened in the past, no matter how terrible.

My fear is that this book is prophetic.  In this day and age, it certainly seems so.  It is warning us about how quickly it can all fall apart.

Image result for the handmaid's tale book cover

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

Operation Finale – A Movie Review

Operation Finale is a movie based on historical fact.  It chronicles a team of Israeli agents sent to Buenos Aires in Argentina to capture the Nazi war criminal named Adolf Eichmann.  As records show, they were delayed several days after securing Eichmann and had to keep him in a safe house as they awaited extraction.

Oscar Isaac plays Peter Malkin, an actual member of the team that captured Eichmann.  He is credited with wrestling Eichmann to the ground when the murderer sensed something amiss.  Ben Kingsley plays the high-ranking Nazi official who organized the transportation of Jews to their deaths who, along with several Nazis, took refuge in South America.

My wife loves historical movies, so we went together to see this.  She enjoyed it even more than I did, and that’s saying something because I liked it quite a bit.

We agreed that for such a complicated story, it was surprisingly easy to follow.  The editing felt very smooth and the story unfolded fluidly.  Though I can’t say I totally remember every character’s name–there were several–each appeared visually unique and had a distinct personality which made them simple to recognize.

In fact, overall all, we thought the acting was superb, particularly in regards to Ben Kingsley.  Kingsley played Eichmann as a regular man.  He did not portray him as a two-dimensional villain, nor did he deliver a pompous, raging despot.  Fifteen years after the war’s end, Kinglsey characterizes Eichmann as quiet, reserved, even gentle.  But every once in a while, you see a flash, a brief glimpse, of the conniving, murderous Nazi hiding behind those eyes.

The filmmakers utilized another shrewd storytelling technique as they revealed snippets of Eichmann’s past, little by little, in short, potent vignettes.  Those scenes eventually piece together a vision of Eichmann that is horrifying and in stark contrast to the man being held prisoner at the safe house.  I specifically loved the image of him annoyingly wiping ink off of his cuff during a Nazi meeting.  He wore the same expression upon his face as he wiped something entirely different from his uniform near a death pit.  These little touches were remarkably effective at conveying character.

Make no mistake, however, even though Eichmann seems powerless while in custody, he is not.  He’s engaged in subtle, almost imperceptible, mental warfare with his captors, and the audience is led to believe he might just outlast them all.

Though I liked the movie very much, I’m the first to admit it’s a little on the slow side.  This disciplined pacing, though, absolutely illustrates the tension in the safe house as they waited nearly ten days to take Eichmann to Israel.  During this holdover, everyone is beginning to climb the walls, and it’s Oscar Isaac’s Peter Malkin who must keep his head for the sake of them all.

Truthfully, I entered the theater believing most of the movie would occur in the courtroom.  I thought we were going to see quite a bit of Eichmann’s trial.  This did not prove to be the case, and I felt totally fine with that.  We all generally know the outcome of that trial, but I knew virtually nothing about Eichmann’s detainment.  They were smart to zero in on the more enigmatic material of the story.

Operation Finale is a period film that appears authentic in terms of both era and locale.  It does not offer much in the way of special effects.  It’s fairly quiet.  But it’s also focused, deliberate, and well-constructed.  In the end, it was nice to experience a movie intent on delivering a captivating story with superb acting.

Image result for operation finale

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

The Predator – A Movie Review

Maybe you remember the other Predator movies fondly, like me, and have an urge to check this one out, especially because it’s directed by Shane Black.

Resist that urge.

This movie is awful from start to finish.

I’ll admit that it’s got a few funny one-liners, but the general story is a convoluted mess, the characters are about as thinly developed as possible, the special effects are not particularly impressive, and it honestly made absolutely no sense at all.

Furthermore, it treated mental disorders as punchlines throughout and made a rather insensitive reach regarding autism for the sake of trying to introduce a plot element.

At least with the other Predator movies we had actual stars that oozed charisma, but I can’t even tell you the lead actor’s name in this thing.  I felt really bad for Thomas Jane, by the way, an actor I really enjoy in The Expanse.  Man, he really lowered his standards with this thing.  I typically like Olivia Munn as well, but her character was all over the place.  One minute she’s a scientist, the next she can operate heavy artillery.

Another misstep is that there wasn’t enough Predator in this thing!  We spent far more time with humans than Predators, and those humans were not at all interesting.  Sadly, I couldn’t even keep track of the Predator’s story line.  The movie introduces a ridiculous premise involving a particular Predator while providing zero background information or motivation for said Predator.

Finally, at the risk of spoiling the ending of the movie a bit, Sterling K. Brown is set up to be the “bad guy” of the film.  At the end of the movie, he’s in a group with the “good guys” trying to survive the Predator.  I literally have no idea what ever happened to him.  I asked my friend who saw it with me, and he had no idea either.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the Predator dog who decided to be man’s best friend for absolutely no reason at all.

Do yourself a favor, go see The Meg instead of this.  It’s terrible, too, but at least it attempted to make sense and was somewhat comprehensible.

Image result for the predator movie poster 2018 official

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