Collateral Beauty

“I was hesitant about watching this one because it looked kinda dumb in the trailers. And as the reviews started coming out, they all affirmed that yes this movie is as dumb as it looks. However, I’m very loyal to Edward Norton, so I really had no choice. I just now realized my loyalty means I’ll be obligated to buy this and watch it again later. Oy.

Hey look, we’ve reached the second paragraph, which is generally where I give you the plot summary. The trailer actually presented a slightly different version of the story than what actually happened. Will Smith plays a guy who lost his daughter a few years ago, and he’s never been the same since. The way the trailer presents the story is that in his plunge towards madness, he starts writing letters to the universe, specifically to death, time, and love. He then starts being visited by these higher powers that try to help him thru his grief. The people around him think he’s losing it. The way it played out isn’t too far from that, but they key difference is that first his colleagues think he’s losing it, so then they hire actors to play those universal forces and visit him. It’s a very different thing for him to be magically meeting with those abstract concepts vs meeting with people pretending to be them.

Not that it really made it any better. The movie was overly sentimental and emotionally manipulative and very trite, which is sad because it’s a waste of such an incredible mix of actors: the aforementioned Smith and Norton, Helen Mirren, Keira Knightly, Michael Pena, Kate Winslet, Naomie Harris. With smarter material, this could have been something fantastic. Alas, that’s not what we got, and I’m really having a hard time understanding how/why they all signed up for this.

Collateral Beauty – \m/ \m/”

Chef

“I couldn’t watch another episode of Big Bang Theory, at least not right away. And pretty soon, I wouldn’t be able to play another quest in Wow. That just meant straying from the Black Friday TV binging and into the Black Friday movie stash I had brought with me. Chef, I’d picked up for two bucks.

This movie was released about two years ago, and I remember it being somewhat of a sleeper hit. I’d never so much as seen a trailer for it, but it appeared in theaters and stuck around for a while. The buzz was generally positive, but it never really peaked my interest enough to choose it over the summer blockbusters it was up against. An end of the year wrap up I saw described the movie as “”Your Mom’s favorite of the year””.

Written, directed by, and starring Jon Favreau, Chef follows a, um, chef, who’s feeling creatively stifled in his big restaurant job. Hoping to reclaim some of the joy that comes with the freedom in his work, he buys a food truck and drives it across the country with a close friend and his not so close young son. There’s lots of food and lots of feels.

I get why this movie ended up being so well received. It fits every requirement of a feel good family film, beat by predicable beat. But watching it over the holidays when I didn’t have too much else going, it was nice. There’s a reason the formula works over and over again, and to top it off, we had a good cast (John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara, Bobby Cannavale) to really do it right.”

Sing!

“I briefly mentioned this at the end of the previous post, but as per usual, I’m in Texas for the holidays. yay. (She said with every ounce of enthusiasm she could muster). And also as per usual, my favorite escape is to the movies, especially to the Alamo Drafthouse (srsly, when the heck is the LA one gonna open already?). I told my mom to drop me off in the afternoon. I’d watch two movies, get lunch, and she could have the car to run errands grab me in time for dinner. Perfect. Well less perfect was that my original choice to follow up Passengers was cancelled, so I had to improvise and kill an hour reading and then saw Sing, a lower priority movie on the list, but better than going back home.

Of course there’s gonna be some cheesy animated movie released around Christmas. Some years they’re worth seeing. Some years they’re not. I’d put Sing, this year’s offering about a bunch of animated animals with celebrity voices competing in an American Idol-esque singing competition, somewhere in the middle. If you hafta take the kids to something, sure. Otherwise, you’re not really missing a whole lot.

With the exception of Pixar, which is usually strong on it’s own no matter what, these animated films are made or not by their voice cast. Sing was pretty solid there. My favorite was Taron Egerton’s gorilla Johnny, especially since I had no idea that boy could sing. I also liked Seth MacFarlane’s rat-pack-esque mouse Mike. The troupe was led by Matthew McConaughey’s koala, Buster Moon, the owner of the theater organizing the event. And it was very much all McConaughey all the time, so if you can’t stand his voice, avoid this movie.

It was cute, but not particularly funny to those in the audience who don’t need a booster seat. For those of us watching with an adult milkshake (yay Drafthouse!) it was ultimately unremarkable and unmemorable. Doesn’t mean it was unenjoyable, just something that’ll get lost in cinema history pretty quickly. Hopefully, Hollywood will give Egerton more excuses to sing soon!!

Sing – \m/ \m/ \m/”

Passengers

“I jumped right into the short lived job when I moved out to LA, so I didn’t really get much of a chance to explore my new home. I had so many things I wanted to do in the city that I would have to find time for. When I was laid off, one of the hidden blessings that I saw in it was that I would now have that time to have fun in the sun of SoCal. And by the sun, I mostly mean the bright stagelights, because now I’d get a chance to go to various show tapings. As part of this period of “”funemployment”” I had two solid weeks of such events, including seeing Chris Pratt on The Late Late Show with James Corden and Jennifer Lawrence on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Of course now is when I realize that while I took pictures of the bus that she defaced on the show I never Instagrammed them. Oh well. But yeah, as if this movie wasn’t already at the top of my Christmas priority list, I really was obligated to see it now.

Right so we established that this movie stars Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. The two are passengers on a spaceship that is headed for a new settlement far far away. Exactly 120 years of travel in suspended animation away. Except these guys wake up with 90 years still left on the clock. Uh oh.

First of all, yay for original movies! Even if they’re not perfect, they still get major points for effort. And this is an original story that asks tough questions and has an emotional impact. The flipside though is that being so small scale, the story was a little thin, and more of a problem was that almost every beat was predictable, especially towards the end. (Could that sentence have had anymore commas?)

However, the saving grace of the film, and what made it worth watching despite the flaws in the screenplay was the chemistry between our two leads. These two are superstars because they’re likeable and good at what they do. Together, they were electric on screen. What happened next in the story wasn’t as important as their next interactions. That’s what made the movie fun to watch. Well that and the beer that I had with it since I was watching it at the Alamo Drafthouse back home in Texas.

Passengers – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n”

Fences

“Movies based on plays don’t often work. By design, plays often have to be limited in what physical locations they visit. The actors fill the stage, and it all works out. But when you take that small scale onto the big screen, it often feels claustrophobic. However, with the text is rich enough to permeate the entire screen and the performances are so strong and overpowering (in a good way), then you don’t have the space translation problem. You have a fantastic piece of cinema.

Adapted from August Wilson’s Tony winning play, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reprise their Tony winning roles as a family in the 50’s trying to deal with the struggles of racial oppression and poverty. Sound heavy? Oh yeah, it is. Very much so, but damn is it incredible to watch.

Denzel is tied for front runner of the best actor race. I’ve been going back and forth on my pick, but he’s absolutely deserving. The dialog is so dense and non-stop and he handles it like the pro that he is. Viola, almost a lock to win supporting actress (though you could argue that she really should be lead), brings such an intense level of emotion. Need I say anything else to plug this film?

Fences – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

“Unlike some, I was not at all wary of a Star Wars spin off, non-saga film. Even the word “”prequel”” didn’t scare me in this context. The idea of getting a new story that gave some added details to a world (or galaxy far far away) that we know and love. Actually, I was mostly amused that it was an entire movie built around correcting one of the perceived logical flaws of A New Hope. Specifically, how could the big and powerful death star be destroyed so relatively easily, but something as simple as an blasting a specific spot on the outside? No really, this entire movie is built around rationalizing that. Love it!

Another thing I love, Star Wars has really been kicking ass when it comes to diversity. Our main lead is one badass tough girl (a la Rey last year) and our co-lead is Hispanic. Rock on! Although my favorite character is our shiny new droid, K-2SO, voiced by the incomparable leaf on the wind Alan Tudyk.

As a movie, I didn’t leave as excited by it as others did. I was all about the feels and all about the nostalgia and all about the characters, but less about the action sequences and simple story. I think I need to give it another watch (I was kinda sleepy when I went). I had an opportunity to go today, which would have worked out time wise as the best double option, but didn’t feel up to it and rather opted to trim down my watch list with something new. I’ll get there.

Rogue One – \m/ \m/ \m/”

Office Christmas Party

“I didn’t get an office Christmas party this year. My job back in Boston had great ones that I loved going to. They started at the CEO’s house and kept getting bigger. The last couple years they were at a country club. The best were the couple times we had live band karaoke. Or the year there was a mashed potato bar, in the addition to the raw bar (yay oysters!) that was a staple of the country club parties. When I’d found out that I wouldn’t be able to stay on as a remote employee last year, it was right before what would be my last office party with them. The night had a twinge of sadness for me. The job I got set up with out here in LA was a remote gig, and most people were in Canada, so I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be getting a holiday party this year. What I didn’t expect was that the primary reason I wouldn’t get a party was that the Canadians would lay me off at the beginning of December. Yeah. That happened. I don’t wanna get into it now, but I’ll just say that I do ultimately think it’s for the best, so I’m trying to enjoy the first long break I’ve had since I was 12. But it did put this movie in some really weird context for me.

Office Christmas Party features a treasure trove of comedic actors: Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, TJ Miller, Jennifer Anniston, Rob Corddry (he was co-hosting the trivia night I go to a couple months ago!), Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell, Randall Park. That list is reason enough to see the movie, and I should stop the write up there and go play Wow. This merry band of funny people are employees at a failing branch of a large technology company. The only hope is to land a major client who happens to be visiting the office on the day of their “”non-denominational holiday mixer””. So they up their party game to show the potential client a good time, and all hell breaks loose.

This movie really hit the sweet spot for most of the cast, giving all of ’em ample opportunities to be irreverent and hilarious. It just took a while to really start getting to the good stuff. For a party that the movie’s titled after, a lot of screentime was spent just setting up for it. I ended up not caring too much about the events of the party itself, but more on the character interactions, just waiting for the next clever and possibly profane statement. And there was always another statement coming. And it was glorious.

Office Christmas Party – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n”

La La Land

“So excited to see this one. “”They don’t make ’em like this anymore!”” is the comment that keeps getting repeated about it. This being an old Hollywood style romantic musical. From Whiplash director Damien Chazelle, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are struggling artists in Los Angeles, she an actress and he a jazz pianist, who are searching for love, fulfillment, and purpose.

I’m of two minds about this movie. Yes, it’s beautiful and artistically I love everything about it. But take out the music and the fantasty elements that it allows for, and you have a decent but unremarkable story that we’ve all heard before. However, I think the artistry is enough to overcome that. If these movies were coming out of the woodwork, I think I’d be more hesitant to praise this film, but I can see why it makes sense to stick to a solid and familiar foundation. I’m just saying that I would have preferred a little more unconventional style, but that is purely opinion.

The music grew on me throughout the film. Again, I’m more into modern musicals, particularly rock operas, and this was very much going for classic. By the time the tunes were familiar, I was loving them. It just took me a little while to get there.

I know we’ll be talking about this more as awards season progresses. For now, while it’s not my favorite of the contenders, the magnitude of it and the flawless execution are solid enough for me to support it as the frontrunner it appears to be. Besides, I could watch Ryan Gosling sing and dance until eternity. That right there is worth recognition!

La La Land – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Air

“Really quick one to get out of the way as a warmup. In continuing tradition, I picked up quite the haul of movies on Black Friday. Most of them I’d seen, but there’s a handful of completely new to me ones. Technically, I think this one was acquired shortly after, but it was still lumped into the pile of ’em.

In this movie that you never heard of, Norman Reedus is doing a favor for Walking Dead writer Robert Kirkman who produced this film by starring alongside Djimon Hounsou. It’s a future where our air has become toxic, and in order to allow civilization to continue on, scientists and others important for our survival have been put in suspended animation in some sorta space craft or something? I couldn’t really tell. And our leading men are the crew on the next shift to protect the precious human cargo and maintain the environment. But of course things go wrong.

You know how sometimes when you watch a movie you can’t get fully absorbed into the world? You see the actors on the set, and can’t get past the fact that they’re on a set. Yeah, this was one of those. It just didn’t work for me. Honestly, I have no idea what happened for the second half because I mentally checked out. At least Reedus is very pretty.”

Miss Sloane

“My interest in this film was two fold: I know nothing about lobbying (other than a general feeling that I don’t think I like lobbyists) and was interested to learn what that’s all about, and secondly and more importantly, I wanted to see Jessica Chastain wield power and kick some figurative ass on screen. I still haven’t gotten over her in Zero Dark Thirty (that motherf-bomb line KILLED me and should have won her an Oscar) and I wanted to see her take on a role with similar claws. Coming right on the stylish high heels of Anna Gunn in Equity are power women in power suits the next trend in Hollywood? Oh God, I sure do hope so.

Right so as our title character, Chastain is a lobbyist (I think we covered that) who takes on the impossible challenge of getting some gun legislature to pass. I know just enough about politics to concur that those things unfortunately never have much hope. So she’s got her work cut out for her. I do feel like I learned some about the process (which only helped to further frustrate me with our current system) but there was still a lot of confusion on my part. It was a constant game of cat and mouse meets bait and switch that was hard to fully follow.

Chastain is awesome, of course. I had awards hope for her, but the film doesn’t seem to have gained enough traction for that. She’ll get there one day. We’ve got some other stellar ladies Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Alison Pill. Even if I couldn’t follow the details of what was going on, I could follow their passion. And that was enough.

Miss Sloane – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n”