Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Captain Fantastic

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching!  The title does kinda make this movie sound like it's about a 70s era bubblegum pop band.



Captain Fantastic – 4 out of 5

I’m kind of a sucker for independent movies that center on quirky families.  They have a certain magic that the big studios haven’t been able to quite capture and the humor and heart that is contain within these are second-to-none.  That’s a big part of the appeal for Captain Fantastic for me and one of the major reasons that I found the film so enjoyable.

They look like they're about to beat the Partridge Family in a battle of the
bands contest.

Permanent camping seems nice...until I remember
I will be going boom-boom in an outhouse.
Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife Leslie grew tired of the capitalistic society that they found themselves in and decided that they wanted to start a new life for their family.  They ended up cutting themselves off from the world and started living off the land in the Washington wilderness but a mental illness drew Leslie away and to a facility to be treated.  One morning, Ben learns that Leslie committed suicide and that her father (Frank Langella) has declared Ben is not allowed at the funeral.  Upset over this and the fact that his father-in-law is going to refuse to grant Leslie’s final wishes as stipulated in her will, he gathers up his six kids and sets out on a road trip to correct these wrongs.  The biggest problem that lies ahead may end up being that a family that lived their in the wilderness might not have what it takes to interact with modern day society.

Some pictures just don't need a caption and my sad attempts at being funny.
This is one of them.

Captain Fantastic really nails everything that I look for in these independent films that center on family.  There’s a quirkiness to it that makes the characters interesting and amusing but delivered in a dose that keeps it grounded enough that it doesn’t look silly.  The film also balances humor and drama effectively well as it had me warmly chuckling at the antics of Ben and his children one moment and claiming that I had something in my eye the next.  Finally, the characters are all very interesting and developed well enough that it was easy to sympathize and become enthralled with.  Writer/director Matt Ross (you might know him as Gavin from Silicon Valley or Alby Grant from Big Love or any of the other numerous roles he’s done in his career) exceptionally crafted a film that had a simple but interesting premise and was loaded with charm, wit, and tenderness.

I wish my dad headbutted me more!

I joke about Hahn being in these films but she fits so well in them.
Another instantly recognizable element of the film is the performances from the cast.  I was extremely impressed with all the children in the Cash clan and all the actors taking up smaller parts—like one of my personal favorite actors Steve Zahn and the actress who seems to be required by law to be in any and all quirky indie films; Kathryn Hahn.  Ultimately though, the one actor who steals the show is the lead Viggo Mortensen.  Granted, the lead actor should be the one commanding the most attention but there have been many a movie that has had supporting players outshining their leads.  Mortensen is just incredible to watch and is exceptional as the incredibly intelligent but also humanly flawed Ben.  He clearly had an extreme understanding of the character and he brought him to life in a way that was undeniably real and terrifically endearing.

He also had an epic beard!

Their oldest son is named Bodevan...which is either
an extremely cool name or really bad.  There's
no in-between with that one.
The only drawbacks I found in Captain Fantastic was the development of some of the younger members of the Cash family and the overall length of the feature.  In its most simplistic state, the film is essentially about Ben and the oldest son Bodevan (George MacKay)—with the two older sisters and the middle son coming up next in the horse race that is the characters and the two youngest siblings coming in last for more comedic bits.  The issue I had was that the siblings after the oldest didn’t feel that feathered out or as dynamic as Ben and Bo.  With the family being as large as it is, it was expected that some just wouldn’t get the screen time they needed but when the story spends most of its time developing Bo and then you have Relian (the middle son played by Nicholas Hamilton) play a part in the plot where he starts to despise how the family dynamic is, it feels a tad awkward.  Granted, Relian's feelings towards his father are gestating within the story since the beginning but there's still a feeling of imbalance that I got from his part in the family compared to Bodevan's.  It’s not bad but with the film being almost two hours, I felt that Matt Ross might have been able to develop and utilize the entire family well enough that they all could have been major players in their little adventure.

Frank Langella really was the perfect actor to play the disapproving father-in-law.
Mostly because Langella always looks like he's about to say that
he's disappointed in you.

Captain Fantastic takes a small speed bump in its journey in the form of some less than stellar development but, in the end, it’s not really a hit that harms the overall quality of the film.  At its core, Matt Ross still wrote and directed an absolutely stunning film that looks amazing and contains a great emotional centerpiece.  To put it in the most basic way and to have this review sound like all those critics who strive to find their sometimes snarky snippets; Captain Fantastic is pretty damn fantastic.  Now, put that on the DVD cover.  Seriously, please put that on the cover.  I wanna prove to my mom I’m not wasting my time with this hobby.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The LEGO Batman Movie

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching!  The whole way to the theater I was signing a mash-up of "Everything is Awesome" and the 60s Batman theme song.


The LEGO Batman Movie – 4 out of 5

I would hazard a guess to say that everyone thinks LEGO is awesome and I would also take a stab that everyone loves Batman.  However, if there are people that contradict my two statements, they are clearly very negative and I don’t want them corrupting and darkening my small bubble of happiness.  When The LEGO Movie came out, I was absolutely enthralled with it and still think it is one of the best animated films ever produced.  One of the many fun parts of the film was the representation of Batman and it was only natural that Will Arnett would get another opportunity to voice the Dark Knight in the spin-off; The LEGO Batman Movie.  So, how was the overall experience and how well does the first spin-off work?  Pretty well, actually!

                                                                                                   Warner Bros. Pictures
Sadly, the best DC film that has come out in the last few years.

                                                                         Warner Bros. Pictures
Sure, it's easy to say that this film was better than
Batman v Superman but...well, it was.
Batman (Arnett) lives a solitary life as a hero.  He works endlessly to keep Gotham City safe from criminals but spends his off-time alone in his vast mansion with his butler Alfred (Ralph Finnes).  When Commissioner Gordon (Hector Elizondo) announces his retirement and that he will be replaced by his daughter Barbara (Rosario Dawson), she declares that she is going to move forward and work to create a city where Batman isn’t needed.  Before Batman can object, his arch-nemesis; The Joker (Zach Galifianakis), turns himself in after feeling rejecting by the World’s Greatest Detective when he refuses to admit the two are the greatest of enemies.  However, it’s revealed that The Joker is actually hatching a plan to gather some of the most evil villains in all of existence and this plan will require Batman to understand that he doesn’t have to fight evil alone and that he can get help from Barbara, Alfred and his newly adopted ward; Dick Grayson (Michael Cera).

                                                                                                  Warner Bros. Pictures
A Joker that makes me forget all about that awful Jared Leto Joker.

The LEGO Batman Movie wastes little time in getting up and going and the whole thing moves with blazing speed.  In a rapid-fire succession, the movie tosses an amazing amount of references to seemingly every incarnation and property Batman has ever existed in, hurls an endless supply of jokes and visual gags, and throws some incredible animation that keeps the same spirit of the film that it spun off of.  It’s a fast-pace, super fun ride that is absolutely perfect for the hardcore Batman fan and all the way to every single member of the family who are just kinda Batman fans.

                                                                                                    Warner Bros. Pictures
Such an odd coincidence that I wear the same thing when I'm lounging
about in my home.

                                                                        Warner Bros. Pictures
The bald piece for Alfred makes him look like
Benjamin Franklin.
The film also has an incredible cast with Will Arnett leading the pack exceptionally as Batman in another go-around.  Additionally, he’s backed up perfectly by Ralph Fiennes as Alfred (who feels so natural in the role), Rosario Dawson as Batgirl and Michael Cera establishing a new persona for Dick Grayson/Robin.  Each of these players is very fun in their own right and all come together very well as the Bat-family.  I also really enjoyed Zach Galifianakis as The Joker because he brought his own spin on the character that matches the tone of the film but never tries to replicate what others have done with the Clown Prince of Crime.  Finally, the film has an overabundance of talented comedic players taking the roles of such characters as Harley Quinn, Scarecrow, Bane, The Riddler, Two-Face, Catwoman and a whole bunch of cameos from other properties that are far less Batman-y (including the Daleks from Doctor Who—one of my personal favorite fandoms to obsess over).  Actors like Jenny Slate, Jason Mantzoukas, Conan O’Brien, Doug Benson, Billy Dee Williams (finally being able to portray Two-Face after all these years) and more pad the cast with so much talent that I found myself wanting the more background characters to get more lines just so I can hear some of my favorite players talk more.

                                                                                                    Warner Bros. Pictures
For example, when I heard that Jason Mantzoukas was the Scarecrow, I
really wanted that character to have a ton of lines.

                                                                       Warner Bros. Pictures
Ha ha!  It's funny and really weird at the same time!
As much as I enjoyed The LEGO Batman Movie, I honestly didn’t find it as enjoyable as The LEGO Movie.  My biggest issue I had with the film is that it moves really fast—almost too fast.  The plot rarely wastes time and it often feels like it is in a race to get to the finish line and keep the plot rolling along.  It moves so rapidly and at such a feverish pace that it became difficult for me to take in everything the film was throwing at me and kinda robbed the story of its emotion.  While the movie does do a good job at establishing how Batman is lonely and in denial over said loneliness, I found I had a hard time sympathizing with Batman over those feelings because everything is speeding along at a breakneck pace.  It felt really difficult to really engage with the heart and charm at the film’s core when it was too busy rushing to get to the next plot point.

                                                                                                    Warner Bros. Pictures
Had this been made during a different time, there would have been a
"It has a hemi" joke here.

While I did find that The LEGO Batman Movie had some problems with pacing, I ultimately really enjoyed it and laughed quite a bit.  The cast is fantastic, the animation looks terrific, the humor is endlessly hilarious and the references and Easter Eggs it throws in are fun to look for and take in (and this one is overflowing with them).  Overall, it’s a wickedly fun movie that can exist with its flaws and is one of those times where a spin-off felt justified and worked effectively well. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

John Wick: Chapter 2

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching!  This movie is basically like being punched in the face by awesome incarnate.



John Wick:  Chapter 2 – 4 out of 5

I’m an unapologetic fan of Keanu Reeves.  I always hear people slam the guy for not being a most excellent actor (and I won’t deny there are some roles he clearly wasn’t right for) but for the most part I’ve discovered that he’s been the right pick for the right movie.  I mean, the guy has been able to be both the chosen one in a new era cyber punk action extravaganza and be a party dude who travels through time in a phone booth—not to mention he was also paid by the FBI to surf.  If you remember my review for John Wick (and if you don’t, it’s here), I absolutely LOVED the film.  When the sequel was announced, I was all-in and didn’t need a trailer to sell me on it.  I was such a fan of the first film that John Wick:  Chapter 2 was one of those films where I will make the time and spend the cash to see this one opening weekend in the theater—and boy, it sure lived up to my expectations and the standard set by the first one.

                                                               Summit Entertainment
Oh man, imagine a John Wick video game that had the fight
mechanics of the Batman Arkham games!

After the events of the first film, retired hitman John Wick (Reeves) is seeking to return to his quiet life but crime lord Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) needs him for another job and is calling in a huge favor to get it.  You see, Santino was the man who made it possible for John to leave the assassin life behind and now he is using that as leverage to get John to kill his sister (Claudia Gerini).  With his sister out of the way, Santino will be able to take her seat among the rest of the crime lords.  When there’s no other options left, John accepts the job only to learn that he may not get out of this one alive.

                                                                                                 Summit Entertainment
But, in fairness, a lot more bad guys won't get out alive either.

John Wick:  Chapter 2 doesn’t try to change the formula but, at the same time, isn’t doing what a lot of sequels will do and just try to rehash what you’ve already seen.  Sure, it’s still an action extravaganza with Reeves kicking ass and popping off an insane amount of headshots but rather than have a story where his motivations are the same as last time (Spoiler Alert:  We don’t have to see a dog die this time) we have a story that is expanding on his journey of trying to be an assassin who is out of the game and the previous events that ended up forcing him back in and onto a path of vengeance.

                                                                                                 Summit Entertainment
"Here, have a cookie."

One thing I really enjoyed about this movie is how they develop the reality that Wick exists in.  We already knew why he left the job behind but in this one we see the actual cost of doing so.  Additionally, the film also expands and develops the organization that he is a part of and does so in a way that is very amusing and endlessly interesting.  For example, a mini-Matrix reunion takes place as Laurence Fishburne plays a unique character from Wick’s past and his involvement in the organization is incredibly unique and really turns this whole crime syndicate into something a little more entertaining than just your run-of-the-mill crime lord stuff you usually see in movies of this sort.  Finally, what I really enjoy about how they develop this reality is the way everything unfolds.  Never does the movie resort to lazy exposition where they are basically explaining the whole company to the viewer but rather we, as an audience, are put into the middle of it and context and dialogue clues allows for the development to take place.  It really made me intrigued with how this organization worked and really makes me want to learn more in the potential third film.

                                                                         Summit Entertainment
John Wick is such a badass that just this stern look he has knocked
three people over and prepared their skulls for the impending bullets.

Similar to the first film, Chapter 2 has another great cast of actors who all feel perfect for their roles.  The returning members like Reeves, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick and John Leguizamo all do their jobs perfectly (although Leguizamo has an even smaller part than last time).  This go-around Reeves feeling like an even bigger badass and that ain't a bad thing at all.  New additions to the cast like having Ruby Rose and Common as fellow hitman really add some extra badassery (totally a word) to the film’s already bubbling badass broth.  The film also has some great bit parts played by Peter Serafinowicz and (one of my favorite character actors) Peter Stormare.  Finally, the film’s antagonist played by Scamarcio has the right flare in his performance to be a new, modern era crime lord.

                                                                                                 Summit Entertainment
The moment I saw Peter Serafinowicz I started to giggle...because I thought
about how funny he was in Spy.

Now, the heart of this film is the action because the first film delivered ultra-slick, hyper cool and fast pace action as Wick grappled, kicked, punched and shot his way towards revenge.  Hell, he literally hit a guy with his car and shot him through the roof as he rolled over the vehicle—that is just awesome.  Basically, the bar was set high and this one did not fail to meet those standards.  This time around, John is taking on even more people and it is presented with tight editing and music that fits exceptionally.  Actually, there doesn’t even have to be music because they even play with that formula and have a brawl between Wick and Common’s character and it is brutally awesome to watch.  Another nice approach to the budding Wick franchise is how the film does not comply with modern action film tropes and never relies on shaky cams to put the viewer into the action.  Director Chad Stahelski is able to work angles and frame the action in ways that you are right there watching John pummel people and put a bullet into their grey matter but never are distracted by blurry movements and an inability to make out what is happening that is often seen with an over-reliance on shaky cams—all the while taking place in locales that are as interesting and as unique as the fighting occurring.

                                                                                               Summit Entertainment
I guess being hunted down by Ruby Rose isn't a bad thing...
I would actually be really okay with it.

As much as I enjoyed this film, it is not without a drawback.  For the most part, I found this film to be a perfect example of a very entertaining action film.  You have a badass lead character, sweet action that is capable of throwing in some amusing gags on occasion, and a terrific cast but there was one point I feel the film fell a bit flat with and that was the antagonist of Santino D’Antonio.  While the feature does do a great job of establishing who his is in relation to John’s past and does a fantastic job at delivering the motivation for him to do this job, the story does falter with establishing the character’s own motive.  While it’s easily understood why he wants John to knock off his sister, the very stakes of this man taking her place never really feels like it has any weight to it.  A single threatening line is given about the implications of him in power but it’s never really developed on because the story changes focus and it becomes about Santino taking care of John.  Ultimately, however, this is a very minor complaint and did little to stop me from enjoying myself with my gigantic tub of popcorn at the theater.  All it did was push this from 5 out of 5 to a still very great rating of 4 out of 5.

                                                                                                 Summit Entertainment
Even a master assassin has to take his dog out for walkies.

Overall, I found John Wick:  Chapter 2 to be another exciting and engaging action film that is far more satisfying than most sequels usually end up being.  While I didn’t find it as impeccable as the film that started this all, I think it lands insanely close to it.  Additionally, with the incredible ending it provides, it promises a third film of immense proportions.