Sunday, April 22, 2018

Downsizing

***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! If downsizing could help me achieve my dream of being a shut-in and never having to work again, I'd do it in a heartbeat.



Downsizing – 2 out of 5

Who doesn’t want to be tiny?  Like a Smurf or some tiny mythical creature that doesn’t exist like a gnome, pixie or Flat Earther with a brain?  Actually, to be honest, I don’t want to be tiny or anything remotely close to the creatures I just described.  My life is filled with enough anxiety; I can’t imagine being small and having to live with the ever present fear of being stepped on.  Well, Downsizing explores the idea of people taking a leap and willingly become small.  I liked the concept of it and had some high hopes thanks to an entertaining trailer but was incredibly disappointed with the final product.

I wanna hang out with Christoph Waltz.  I bet he has a lot of great stories.

The world is suffering from a lot of man-made problems and some scientists think they have developed the solution:  shrinking people so they have a less impactful existence on the planet.  Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to take the plunge and become small.  This change promises a rich existence but, after Audrey backs out, Paul finds his new life in a rut.   Eventually, he meets his neighbor, rich party man Dušan Mirković (Christoph Waltz), and a cleaning woman/former activist who was shrunk by her government; Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau).  Together, they open up Paul’s eyes and show him the world for the first time.

She helped open Paul's eyes to how big the world is and how easy it is to feel small and
insignifi--oh, I get the film's metaphor now.  Well, one of the dozens it brings
in but I'll get to that in a bit.

Downsizing has an interesting concept that builds on a foundation of science fiction and teases at the idea of delivering heart, humor and some commentary on things like society and environmental issues (stuff sci-fi likes to comment on).  Additionally, it has strong performances from its lead actors and has some fun cameos bits from the likes of Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Sudeikis, and more.  However, the film seems to be trying to do too much and feels like it is mishandling all the elements and themes it is attempting to explore.  The film is definitely ambitious and I really wanted to like it but ultimately the whole product felt like it bit off more than it could chew.

NPH, baby!

We got so much Laura Dern in 2017 and the world is better for it.


"Just bring the essentials..."
For a film that is literally about simplifying one’s life by making themselves small, this film really is really trying to accomplish too much with its commentary.  At points it’s making statements about how humanity impacts the environment, a different times it’s talking about social and economic barriers and the gaps between the rich and the poor, and there is even times where it is making points about living life to the fullest and talking about human drama.  This is all well and good and could have worked but the film can never manage to blend these ideas together so they feel seamless.  Instead, it feels like it is jumping from idea to idea and almost like the writers and the production just came up with new concepts to explore on the spot and decided to course correct the feature to cover them.  The whole journey feels meandering and aimless and this made it very difficult to become invested in.

The desk lamp is a pretty amusing touch.

The film does have some merits in various departments.  The entire first act of the film is incredibly well constructed.  It sets everything up very well and this solid construction is followed nicely into the first half of the second act.  It’s not until the latter half of the feature that everything starts to break down and become messy and muddled.  I really enjoyed and sympathized with the plight that Paul was going through and I way too easily saw my own existential dread that I feel toward the drudgery of life in him.  Additionally, I absolutely loved the performances.  Damon, Waltz, Chau and all the supporting players were great to watch and were doing a fantastic job.  Sadly, their strengths alone weren't enough to save this product.

Man, I have that look on my face 24/7.

I really wanted to like Downsizing.  It has some great things working in its favor.  The cast is fantasic, it’s build up and conflict establishment is done effectively well and there is some great humor and drama woven into it all.  However, the film is still a mess of commentary and tones that can’t quite mesh together.  The story is so all over the place that it feels so chaotic and unfocused.  This lack of direction ended up making most of the backend of the product feel boring and it was all too easy to lose interest.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Death of Stalin

***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! There was no stalin on the laughs with this one!  Ha ha...oh gawd, I hate myself for that one.



The Death of Stalin – 4 out of 5

I’m not really a history buff but I do like a good comedy—and when the comedy goes dark, then I will jump at the opportunity to see it…even if it involves a history lesson (a history lesson that is, for the most part, almost completely inaccurate).  Add in the fact that The Death of Stalin has some great talent in it and has been getting tremendous reviews, I went into this film with some high hopes.  The feature didn’t disappoint.

One complaint I did have, though, was how they spoiled the fate of Stalin
in the very title of the film.

After a cerebral hemorrhage incapacitates Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin), the members of the Central Committee panic over how the country will be run in the man’s absence.  The head of the NKVD; Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale),  decides that Deputy General Secretary Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) should take leadership because he can be the easiest one to manipulate.  Matters quickly start to spiral out of control as the other members of the committee; Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) and Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin), get involved and all hell breaks loose in the form of scheming and backstabbing.

That's a whole lot of awesome in one screenshot.

Overall, I really enjoyed the dark comedy that is The Death of Stalin.  It has a really strong cast, the story flows very well, and the humor is all kinds of dark and witty.  Yes, the film isn’t historically accurate—hell, the actors aren’t even doing Russian accents—but that’s okay.  The film’s emphasis is lampooning the change in power and the madness of plotting and scheming rather than expressing something that can be used to make education fun.  That’s honestly why I think this film was so amusing:  The humor came first.  Maybe it's because Michael Palin was in it but the film had a very Monty Python-esque approach to its historical storytelling...but with significantly less of their trademark goofiness and more of their insightful and amusing insights.

Jason Isaacs looks like a man who shouldn't be able to pull off funny but rather
just be a dude who can make you shit your pants with fear from just a
look but, damn, was he funny in this one.

The element that really backed up the humor of this one is the performances.  Yes, the writing is great but the cast really made that writing sing.  Everyone is riding that perfect line for the tone the film delivers.  At first it was strange to see these Russian character have very un-Russian accents—especially in the case of Steven Buscemi—but I was amazed at how quickly I was able to look past this and become engrossed in what was occurring.  The only real problem I had was with Jeffrey Tambor and that had everything to do with me being unable to separate the art from the artist and the accusations of sexual misconduct that has been brought against him.  It didn't toss me out of the feature or make me deny he was giving a great performance but the notion was constantly in the back of my head every time he was on screen.

Hearing about the accusations against Tambor, I can no longer reference his
Arrested Development line, "Pop Pop horny, Michael," without feeling weird.

Dark comedies are not everyone’s cup of tea.  They are definitely an acquired taste but that’s really the case with all types of humor.  From a personal standpoint, I really enjoy dark comedies and The Death of Stalin is definitely entertaining.  The tone they brought has the right level of over-the-top mixed with the bleak gags and it is delivered superbly by a fantastic cast.  Overall, it’s a fun, very skewed look at history and told in a very gratifying lampooning fashion.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight

***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! Gotham by fart-light!  Get it, gaslight, fart-light--I am really sorry for that one.  I'm tapped and that's all I could come up with.



Batman:  Gotham by Gaslight – 4 out of 5

I’ve never actually read the graphic novel that Batman:  Gotham by Gaslight is based on.  I’ve heard of it and learned the basic storyline but have never actually read it.  It’s always been one of those books I’ve intended to read but just never got around to it.  That being said, I can’t say I was too interested in actually watching the animated film.  I used to rave about how awesome DC animated movies were but the last few have been greatly disappointing.  Whether it is because they cram too much stuff into their short running length or the fact that DC just can’t escape their gross misogyny towards their female characters, lately I’ve felt their product has been on a very noticeable decline.  Amazingly, this one bucks that trend.

Batman tries to assure the bad guys that the brown haze he just entered
through wasn't his farts.  (If you're counting, that's two immature fart
jokes I've made in this review...so far.)

In a Victorian Era Gotham City, women are being murdered by Jack the Ripper.  James Gordon (Scott Patterson) and the rest of the police force seem to be taking their investigation of the crimes lightly due to the fact that the victims are “ladies of the night.”  This upsets stage actor Selina Kyle (Jennifer Carpenter).  Since the police are no help, the wealthy Bruce Wayne (Bruce Greenwood) has taken to the night as the masked vigilante; Batman.  The public fears that Batman and the Ripper are the same so now it’s up to the hero to calm the citizens and save the city.

Wait a minute, The Shadow is Jack the Ripper?!?

Gotham by Gaslight has definitely been one of the better animated films DC has put out in some time—especially one that is R-rated.  After Deadpool’s success, Warner Bros. operated under the false premise that the reason it was a success was solely due to its rating and they started to bring out R-rated animated films and even boasted that their extended cut of Batman v Superman was R-rated.  Thinking the rating was some sort of magic glyph resulted in the exact thing one would expect from this line of thinking:  The movies all felt like gimmicks.  The ratings were never justified and it seemed it was just there as a marketing ploy to get the money from people who use ratings to prove they are “big boys.”  At its worse, WB used this as an excuse to treat their female characters even worse and pretend they are just objects to be lusted after.  This time around, the rating doesn’t feel 100% superfluous or like it’s there just to get their female characters to be sex dolls.  There is some choice language used but it mostly got the R-rating for its violence.  In my opinion, the violence isn’t super strong but, in its defense, the feature feels like it isn’t using a rating as a goal for its violence and, instead, just used its violence for the purposes of the story—which is, in my opinion, how a rating should be justified.  It’s all gotta come down to what works for the story, not for a rating.

One thing that hasn’t dipped in the world of DC animated films is the voice acting.  Bruce Greenwood returns to once again voice Batman (he voiced the B-man in Batman:  Under the Red Hood and in Young Justice) and he really has a voice to give the hero the life and gruffness he needs.  Jennifer Carpenter is Selina Kyle (Catwoman) in the film and, even though I couldn’t stand her in Dexter, I thought she did a terrific job in this role.  There may not have been a lot of big names in this film but there wasn’t anyone slacking in their job.  This Victorian era Gotham was brought to life fantastically with the cast.

Had this been some other DC animated films, there would have been an
extended scene of Selina in her dressing room.  DC gets really gross
with their female characters.  It's like they don't realize it's 2018.

Like I said, I never read the graphic novel this feature was based upon but I was familiar with its story.  So, naturally, I was a little surprised with the differences this one brought in.  This isn’t a complaint but rather a nice surprise.  This adaptation brings with it an unexpected twist that was completely different than the book and this was very shocking to see played out.  It offered up a nice surprise and a unique take on the source material.

Some men just want to watch the world burn.  In this case, the man is Batman.

The only thing I didn’t care for with this film was some of the character designs.  Like most DC animated films, this feature doesn’t look much different from what came before them and, in this case, what we saw on Batman:  The Animated Series.  However, there was something about the way the females and children were crafted that disappointed me.  There was a simplicity to them that made their designs feel lazy and kid-like in their creation—which is exceptionally strange considering this is an R-rated cartoon.  I will grant that the male characters aren’t drawn with tons of detail or complexity but simple clothing, simple structure and lifeless eyes given to the children and the female characters were not befitting of this project.  For example, Pamela Isley (Poison Ivy) is a burlesque performer at the beginning of the film and her design looked almost expressionist because she was so basically crafted.  I expected the typical look I've seen before but, at the same time, was kinda hoping I’d see something with some more detail added to it.  It might be time for DC to start to shake things up and try out some new looks.

I get it that their designs aren't the most detailed but this just feels too simplistic.

Batman:  Gotham by Gaslight is definitely one of the better DC animated films I’ve seen recently.  I like its approach with adapting the source material, the voice cast is great and it doesn’t feel like it superfluously has an R-rating but, rather an R-rating that works for the story.  Finally, the story unfolds very well and the tale never feels rushed or overloaded.  I was disappointed with some of the character designs and feel like this approach might be wearing thin and it’s time for some new looks but it’s still a very entertaining movie.  And, thankfully, there’s no gross treating women like sex objects—something DC loves to do in their animated films (which is incredible because this film literally has sex workers in it and I would have thought DC would have gotten really gross and creepy with that).

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Dave Made a Maze

***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!  I guess you can say this movie is...a-MAZE-ing!  Ha ha ha ha.  Don't worry, I kicked my own ass for that one.



Dave Made a Maze – 4 out of 5

“There’s no originality in entertainment anymore!”  I hear people shouting this all the time.  In the comment sections, from my friends, all I ever hear is how there are no more original movies.  That everything is a sequel, reboot or remake.  Like a fool, every time I hear this, I talk about how, thanks to streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, we have hundreds of original films being produced every year and the ones you are complaining about are just what you are focusing on.  This is just met with an even louder “There are no original movies anymore.”  Anyway, Dave Made a Maze is one of those incredibly original films that supposedly don’t exist…and it’s really great!

You wanted originality, it's not often you get paper bag puppets in a movie.

"Get in, losers.  We're going mazin'"
Dave (Nick Thume) is a struggling artist who can’t seem to keep his mind focused on a single project.  One day, his girlfriend Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) returns home to find a cardboard maze in the living room.  From inside, she hears Dave state he built a maze and he is now trapped in it.  Gathering their friend Gordon (Adam Busch), they team with a documentary filmmaker named Harry (James Urbaniak) and together they enter the maze to retrieve Dave…but they are shocked to learn the maze is bigger on the inside, filled with hidden dangers and booby traps, and contains a vicious Minotaur that is out to get them.

It's definitely cool but it lacks the coziness of a pillow fort.

This movie is a unique exercise that feels like one part experimental theater, one part comedy, one part fantasy and topped with a smidge of horror.  All of this is blended together for a truly one-of-a-kind quirky feature that, chances are, you’ll never seen anything remotely like again.  Add in some fun performances and some truly creative moments that play off the film’s themes, tones and atmosphere and it creates for a very enjoyable film.

Sure, the maze is dangerous but it looks cool as hell.  I would venture into that thing
in a damn heartbeat.

Honestly, having James Urbaniak in the film is a HUGE
plus because that dude is awesome!
The very concept of the film is simple but effective with its fun factor.  It’s just an artist who is lost in his life as he reconciles his adulthood with his creativity.  The way the maze is mirroring his inner turmoil and doubt is fantastic and makes this seemingly goofy film way deeper than it appears.  The creativity that exists with Dave Made a Maze doesn’t stop with just the storytelling and symbolism but the very sets themselves and plot elements are all pieces in this interesting work of art.  The sets were really constructed out of cardboard and no two rooms look alike.  I was endless intrigued with how the locations were constructed and composited and they all ended up their own unique piece of art.  This is also transferred to the dangers that are present in the labyrinth.  Not to spoil anything but there are some lethal things happening in this cardboard maze but, rather than see blood and guts, we see crafting supplies taking their place.  It made for not only great gags but road signs that show that the maze was its own reality with its own rules, with no connection to the real world.

Yay, it's a party!

The final piece to this puzzle that makes this such an entertaining film is the cast.  There’s this odd down-to-earth quality but sorta aloof sensibility to every player and to the characters themselves.  At their core, they all come off like people you’d know in your own life but, as the story progresses, you start to see how each of them is just off enough where they fit right in to the oddity that is this feature.  Essentially, everyone almost feels like a part of the maze themselves.

This oddly dangerous maze is looking better and better than real life with every
passing second.

Dave Made a Maze is a really fun, entirely original film that goes wild with its creativity.  The replay value of it might not be the strongest and some of the humor isn’t something to cause riotous laughter but it’s a lot of fun and does an amazing job of blending genres.  People will still naively claim that Hollywood (the general term being used here to describe the industry) doesn’t make original films anymore but, as this one proves, they are out there and you can see them if you open your eyes and pay attention.