Brutally honest and bittersweet, yet satisfying.
Immediately after seeing the trailer for Widows, I had my concerns. Although the only performance I was worried about was Michelle Rodriguez. I figured she would play the same typecast role she has been doing for years. The rest of this star-studded cast, I believed, would be pretty solid. I was mostly worried about a predicable, stale plot, with an obvious ending. As time went on I started to become more optimistic learning that Gillian Flynn, who wrote Gone Girl and Sharp Objects, also wrote the screenplay for this. Knowing her M.O., I believed I would get a well thought out script, well developed characters, and a bit of a twist at the end. Expectations creeped up a bit.
Unfortunately, I didn’t know the source material. Had I known, I might have been able to brace myself for what was to come. Widows was adapted from a mini-series. I think it would have greatly benefited from staying in the mini-series space. There simply wasn’t enough time to devote to all the characters and plot points they tried to cram into this movie. Every performance (including Rodriguez) was on point, they just weren’t given enough to flesh out each character. I do not know how the mini-series ended, but I hope it was done better than this. Everything seemed rushed and a bit lazy when it came to plot.
All the components are there to make this a great movie: All-Star Cast, Oscar Winning Director, Award Winning Writer, and an interesting concept. It just couldn’t bring it all together. Widows isn’t a bad movie, it just did not live up to the potential. If I were speaking to Director Steve McQueen, I would simply quote the great John Creasy, “I wish… you had… more time”.
In what is said to be Sylvester Stallone’s last run as Rocky Balboa (we have all heard that before), Michael B. Jordan is back in the ring as Adonis Creed in his quest for boxing immortality. But he is not alone in his return. Creed II brings back fan favorite Ivan Drago from Rocky IV, the man who killed Adonis’ father, and introduces his son Viktor Drago into the mix. That alone is worth the price of admission.
Florian Monteanu is cast perfectly as Viktor Drago. He is a mountain of a man. Very few people in this world could even come close to making Michael B. Jordan’s physique look small. Finally the Rocky Series has come back to the legendary intimidating opponents of the past. Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang, Thunderlips, Ivan Drago, and even Tommy “The Machine” Gunn all looked like a threat to Rocky. Mason Dixon, Ricky Conlan, and Donnie Wheeler may have been “real” boxers, but they never passed the eye test and are all forgettable antagonists. Their movies excel despite them. At 6’4″ and weighing in at 240 lbs., Viktor Drago captures the same awe-inspiring moments as his father. This guy looks like he could repeat history and kill Creed in the ring. Sitting in the theater, you can feel it when he lands his devastating blows into his opponents. It is awesome!
Creed II could have been easily turned into a movie called Drago. That would have been a very bold and interesting take, and all the components were there to make that happen. I love everything Michael B. Jordan does on screen, but in hindsight I would have been in full support of that choice. I was surprised how well developed the Dragos were with such little screen time.
Nearly all of the supporting cast of Creed is back for Creed II as well. Every single one of them turns in another stellar performance. There is a lot going on in this movie. If there is a criticism to be had, it is that. It is difficult to give weight and feeling to a situation when you are bouncing from one issue to another. While it is not distracting, a more focused direction could have been more beneficial. If you are a fan of the Rocky Series, Creed II does not disappoint. I am looking forward to the next 6 installments!
McQueen is an unquestionably skilled director who knows how to use his cast and cinematography to convey his message. In the case of Widows though, the abundance of messages never came together into a unified, compelling story which is what primarily keeps it from being great.
Outlaw King tells the tale of how Scotland won their independence from the English in the 1300’s. We have seen a version of this story in the 1995 Academy Award winning movie Braveheart. Outlaw King chooses to focus on how Sir Robert Bruce became the King of Scots, rather than on Sir William Wallace’s rebellion. It was a good idea to keep Wallace to a brief glimpse rather than someone attempting to do their best Mel Gibson impression.
Outlaw King has the impossible task of attempting to escape the shadow of Braveheart. Even over 20 years later, when you use nearly the same cast of characters as the greatest movie of all time you have to expect the comparisons. While Outlaw King may be slightly more historically accurate, it pales to Braveheart in every other regard.
Chris Pine does a fine job of portraying Robert Bruce despite his mullet and sporadic Scottish accent. I was most disappointed with Stephen Dillane. I was very much looking forward to him as King Edward. However, he was not as intimidating and seemed far less regal than he did as Stannis Baratheon in Game of Thrones. And of course you cannot have a medieval epic without a James Cosmo cameo (you will recognize him when you see him).
All in all, Outlaw King is a good Netflix watch on a lazy Saturday afternoon, but it won’t be winning any awards.
Bohemian Rhapsody tells the origin story of the band Queen. This is a fun ride that follows Farrokh Bulsara’s transformation into front-man Freddie Mercury through Queen’s unforgettable performance at Wembley Stadium for Live Aid. If you are a fan of Queen and want to hear Queen’s songs throughout, you will not be disappointed. It is chock-full of their greatest hits.
It is hard not to have a smile on your face each time a new song is written. This is one of the strengths of Bohemian Rhapsody. It is fascinating to watch genius at work developing songs that would soon be immortalized. Then to see them played on stage with such passion and vigor through Rami Malek’s terrific performance as Freddie Mercury is an experience that leaves the audience wanting more. Malek will surely draw the attention of the academy.
There are those that were hoping for a much darker version of Queen’s story. They were wanting the secrets of Freddie and Queen exposed. To witness the ultimate lows of each band member to create more drama. They would call Bohemian Rhapsody’s interpretation “safe”. Not to say that heavy issues aren’t addressed. Bohemian Rhapsody dives head first into Mercury’s confusion over his sexuality and how he wanted to deal with the disease that eventually took his life. They could have devoted the entire movie to either of these topics, instead they chose to focus on the music and the band. While it wasn’t dark enough for some, it hit exactly the tone that was intended. It was an entertaining tribute to one of the world’s greatest musical groups of all time.
First Man is the story of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. Director Damien Chazelle is reunited with Ryan Gosling in this very-not-like-La La Land biopic. Chazelle has to be commended for his willingness to tackle remarkably different styles and genres each time he takes his place behind the camera. Unfortunately, First Man falls short of showcasing the talent of this young director.
First Man brings to the big screen what it feels like to be crammed into a rocket and shot into space. The film keeps space travel small and gives the perspective of how Neil must have felt. Chazelle attempts to create tension and suspense each trip into space, although that is a difficult task with such a well-known story. We all know Neil does get to the moon and that Neil comes home safely. The missions Armstrong completed for NASA are represented well on screen, however, they monopolized much of the runtime that could have been used to further explore Neil the man.
The hope for First Man was that we would get to know Neil Armstrong. We already know what he did. The unexplored territory is to tell the story about the man behind one of mankind’s greatest achievements. Not enough time was devoted to his life outside of space exploration. Neil’s relationship with his children is more confusing than impactful. Claire Foy does a wonderful job as Janet Armstrong with limited screen time. She is simply underused which further emphasizes what First Man is missing.
One of Chazelle’s strengths in Whiplash and La La Land was his ability invoke emotion from the audience. First Man, on the contrary, reads more like a documentary. It tells us what happened as opposed to investing us into the lives of the Armstrongs.
The fourth remake of A Star is Born gave Lady Gaga her first big screen leading role. Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut will probably encourage him to try it again soon. They both appeared to be seasoned veterans at their new undertakings. The original music throughout makes it very hard to forget this movie as it will be stuck in your head for days. Sprinkle in a little Sam Elliot and you got yourself a winning recipe. The academy will undoubtedly take notice.
Cooper and Lady Gaga have great on-screen chemistry and their story starts off pretty perfectly. The first act of A Star is Born could rival any other in 2018. All of the character’s relationships were developed organically and never forced. There are times you want to be fed more backstory, but you are often left hanging.
The performances of Andrew Dice Clay and Dave Chappelle will be overlooked by most, but these two previously AWOL comics surprisingly held their own in dramatic roles. I half-expected Pauly Shore to show up at the end and earn a best supporting actor nomination. Unfortunately, there is no Pauly, but you do get Lady Gaga stealing the show. Not only as a singer, but as a charismatic actress as well.
Be warned, the emotional roller coaster ride A Star is Born takes you on could give you whiplash.