The film adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen is an example of something that works beautifully on the stage, but never quite connects on the big screen. It's an odd experience, because the film itself is faithful to the source for the most part, and does no disrespect to it. There's just something curiously flat about this film, and I think a lot of elements contribute to it. The direction by Stephen Chbosky (Wonder) is lifeless, as are the musical sequences, which aside from a few select instances, are usually filmed by simply showing the actors just standing around, singing to each other.
And yet, there are moments here that still resonate. How can they not? This is a powerful story that's been flatly told on the big screen by a cast that is sometimes giving it their all, and in other cases, seem a bit adrift. It was an odd experience watching this film, because I have such strong memories of seeing the original Broadway cast back in November 2016, just two days after it had started performances. It resonated so strongly with me that I was moved to tears by certain moments and songs. I went to see a touring production in Chicago in early 2019, and again, had the same experience. Now here is this movie, which managed to produce hardly a sniffle from me. I don't think anything has been lost in translation, necessarily. I just think the big screen is not where this musical belongs.
There is simply a stiffness to this material that I did not detect the two times I saw it on the stage, and I think there are two key elements that lead to this. One is how Chbosky has decided to shoot this as a standard drama film, and not as a musical. Save for one number that comes about the 30 minute mark or so ("Sincerely, Me"), there is no real choreography here. He seems to be going for a kind of realism approach, which doesn't work when your characters are breaking into song. And so, we get a vast number of musical sequences that consist of absolutely nothing but characters standing or sitting across from each other, singing, or sometimes walking while they sing. Not that the story of Dear Evan Hansen needs a lot of grand flash and spectacle, but it also doesn't need to be this visually drab. The fact that only the song I mentioned and one other ("You Will Be Found") are the only two that have anything visually interesting happen during them makes this feel very dragged out and pokey, much more than it did on the stage.
The other contributing factor to this film's lack of power over the original is its orchestrations, which sound a bit weak and thin, and genuinely make every song sound exactly the same. I have listened to the Original Broadway Cast Recording of the show numerous times, and it's never felt quite as repetitive as it does here. Like the film itself, there is something flat to the score and the songs that made it into the film. (Some have been removed, and two not in the original have been added.) There is nothing off or necessarily "wrong" about how the Tony-winning score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (they did the songs for La La Land and The Greatest Showman) has been interpreted here. It simply feels thinner and more similar than the orchestrations on the stage. The songs were a big part of the production's power, and hearing them played here in such a skimpy way, it has definitely lost something.
This is despite the film's casting of the original Broadway star, Ben Platt, in the title role. Platt, who turned 28 on the day the film was released, looks a bit awkward blown up on the big screen playing the 17-year-old Evan Hansen. This is obviously nothing new in Hollywood, since actors pushing 30 (or older) have been playing teenagers in films for decades. Still, the make up and Platt's presence up on the screen is more awkward than how he came across on the stage nearly five years ago. There has been some controversy behind the casting, since his father Marc Platt, is credited as the lead producer of the film. The truth is, Platt is still wonderful in the role, and is in strong voice. He simply has physically outgrown it. I'm sure there will be many fans who will be happy to just get his performance captured on film. I just wish it had happened sooner, or perhaps if the original Broadway production had been filmed similar to last year's Hamilton.
His Evan Hansen is a socially awkward and depressed High School Senior who feels invisible to everyone around him, has a hurried mother (Julianne Moore, underused here) who always seems too busy for him, and the one person at school who talks to him is "family friend" Jared (Nik Dodani), who seems like he barely tolerates his presence. The plot is kicked off when Evan is at school, writing a letter to himself, which his therapist has recommended as an emotional exercise. Said letter is intercepted by school hothead Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan), who runs off with it. Days later, Evan learns that Connor has taken his own life, and that Evan's letter was found with him. His grief-stricken parents (Amy Adams and Danny Pino) mistake it for a suicide note that was directed at Evan personally, and believe that Evan was friends with their son.
Evan makes some weak attempts to deny this, but it's not long before he is telling a string of lies about the time he spent with Connor in order to ease the grief of the Murphy family, including Connor's sister Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever), whom Evan has always secretly admired from afar, and now gets a chance to talk to for the first time. The lie spirals into an anti-suicide project spearheaded by a fellow student Alana (Amandla Stenberg), a rousing speech that goes viral on line, and ultimately Evan feeling divided between the lie itself, and who he really is and was before this all happened. The story's focus on social media, and how a personal tragedy changes how other people see you are just as powerful as before, but the weak musical sequences keep on getting in the way here, rather than adding to the power of the story like it does on the stage.
Dear Evan Hansen is a missed opportunity, and might have been better suited on the big screen not as a musical, but rather as an adaptation of the novel that came from the musical. If the filmmakers were trying for a starkly real look at the story, having its cast engaging in lifeless musical numbers was not the way to go about it, and perhaps a more straight forward dramatic approach would have been preferred. There is just something off about the film in general, and yet, there are also plenty of moments that work. It's a frustrating film, especially for those who know the power that it holds on the stage.
Joe Carnahan's Copshop is well-paced and acted, but I never got into it, because of its script. It's the kind of script that tries to mix bloody, horrific violence with ironic humor. Here is a movie where dead bodies litter the screen, people are constantly backstabbing and blowing each other away, but their dialogue is made up out of movie references ("You look like Tom Cruise in that Samurai Movie nobody saw".) and "clever" dialogue where the characters discuss the meaning of deja vu and share sandwich recipes in the middle of life-threatening situations.
Nobody here gets to talk like a human being. If everybody around you were constant wise asses and continuously referencing pop culture and 70s music like these people do, don't you think it would get old after a while? And that's a shame, because the film is slickly made, and has a lot of good performances. Its problems lie solely with the fact that the script credited to Carnahan and Kurt McLeod won't let these people just shut up and kill each other. No, they have to launch into scripted dialogue about what pirates used to call a cease fire. By the time a hired killer was insulting a crooked cop about his weight, and then immediately started talking about Chris Hemsworth in the Thor movies, I just wanted it to stop.
The action covers a very busy and blood-soaked night at a small Nevada police station, most of it centered around a rookie cop named Valerie Young (Alexis Louder). She brings in local lowlife Teddy Murretto (Frank Grillo) after he sucker punches her during a brawl outside of a casino. Turns out, he wanted to get arrested, as he's on the run from a hitman by the name of Bob Viddick (Gerard Butler) who wants to silence him for good. Bob cons his way into the prison as well by posing as an alcoholic, and with the two now sharing nearby cells in lock up, things escalate quickly. There's also a few crooked cops for Valerie to deal with during the night, as well as an assassin (Toby Huss), who is also after Teddy, but will pretty much murder anyone else who gets in his way in the process, and does so, until everyone inside the police station is dead except for our central cast.
Copshop is one of those movies that wants you to know that it is "cool" and ironic almost as soon as the characters start opening their mouths. Nobody can just shoot or kill anyone, oh no, they have to share witty banter first. It's also not surprising that Valerie is pretty much the only one in the entire station can handle the situation, as the filmmakers make her out to be not just the only decent person in the entire movie, but also the only one in her department with any scrap of intelligence. Most of her fellow cops get killed by acting very stupidly in dangerous or suspicious situations, and if they happen to be crooked or dirty, they make dumb mistakes during violent gun battles. I get that the movie is trying the Tarantino approach, and is mixing classic film genres with classic music and witty dialogue, but Tarantino knows how to make this stuff work.
Carnahan frequently seems at odds with himself. He constantly wants to show intense action and gruesome kills, but he also wants us rolling in the aisles with what these characters are saying to each other before they shoot each other in the head. If you're going to pull off a mix like this, you need to be as precise as a surgeon with a scalpel. I never got that feeling from this screenplay. The jokes and dialogue seemed forced and labored. Like I said, the movie is well made, and everybody up on the screen is selling this material the best they can. They just can't rise above it. I wanted to like this more than I did, but the whole artificial feel I got from the entire enterprise prevented me.
I'm sure there is an audience for this, and it will probably have a long life on streaming, which is where a movie like this feels like it belongs. It's a low budget movie that gets to show off some talented character actors, and I guess it succeeds at that level. I just didn't enjoy it whenever the actors started reciting the dialogue.
Clint Eastwood has directed and starred in some great movies. This time, however, he has decided to direct and star in Cry Macho. This is a movie that goes beyond merely being slow and plodding, and simply becomes lifeless, inert, and dead in the water as it goes on. This is one of the few films I can think of where nothing happens. And by nothing, I mean nothing original, noteworthy, exciting, dramatic, or engaging.
There are moments where the film resembles an experiment to see just how lethargic and uninteresting a movie can be before the audience gives up hope. It did not take me long until I wanted to bail out. How could Eastwood, who is responsible for Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby, be behind this? Even at the age of 91, he should have been able to tell that there was nothing to work with here. He plays Mike Milo, a rodeo star long past his prime with a long history of personal demons involving a dead wife and kid, a back injury, as well as too much drinking. A year after his boss (Dwight Yoakam) fires him for being over the hill, he approaches Mike with the proposition of going to Mexico in order to get his 13-year-old son Rafael (Eduardo Minett). Rafael has been living with his wealthy mother over there, and Mike's former boss fears that he has taken to a life of crime, and wants Mike to drive across the border and bring him back to him.
Rafael's mother, Leta (Fernanda Urrejola), lives in a sprawling mansion, and surrounds herself with some of the least effective or threatening goons ever captured on film. She warns Mike that he will never find the kid, as she doesn't even know where he runs off to. One minute later, Mike finds Rafael at the cockfights, where he competes with a rooster named Macho. Mike convinces the kid to come with him back to Texas to live on his dad's ranch. From there, the movie drags its way from one encounter to another. The two try to stay ahead of the local law, those hired goons, ride some horses, get their truck stolen, steal a car of their own, and befriend a pretty and widowed restaurant owner named Marta (Natalia Traven) who lives with her young daughters. All the while, Mike bonds with Rafael, though truth be told, the chemistry that Eastwood shares with Minett does not quite match the chemistry he shares with Macho the Rooster, who follows them around everywhere, and even gets the last line in the picture.
Cry Macho is a screenplay that's been floating around Hollywood since the 70s, and has almost been made numerous times with a variety of stars ranging from Roy Scheider, Burt Lancaster, to even Arnold Schwarzenegger in the lead. From the evidence of the film I watched, I have no idea why so many people were desperate to make this. It has absolutely no impact, no dramatic angle, and what little amount of character building there is to be had is so shallow as to be non-existent. I was never involved in any way, shape or form. Sure, there are some nice shots and images here, but that comes with the territory when Eastwood is behind the camera. It doesn't help that the kid who is supposed to be at the center of all of this is a crashing bore, and young Eduardo Minett never builds him into someone the least bit interesting at any time during the film.
I again have to ask, why this movie? Why were so many talented people dying to make this for well over 45 years? There's no evidence of anything appealing up on the screen. Every emotion and scene is spelled out as if the movie somehow thinks the audience can't figure it out. The movie simply drags its feet for 105 minutes, supplying nothing to the audience. Nothing funny or clever, nothing exciting, nothing dramatic, and certainly nothing worthwhile. It's like sitting on a long bus ride through uninteresting scenery, and you're stuck sitting next to a snoring old man, only this time, that man just happens to be Clint Eastwood. The movie has the dry, lifeless tone of a barren desert with the sun beating down on you. You just want to pack up and go home long before the experience is over.
I can enjoy movies where not much happens, and have enjoyed plenty in the past. But Cry Macho simply seemed content to offer me nothing other than the occasional nice image. I expect more from Eastwood. Things like character, development, or good gravy, a plot worth giving a damn about. This time, he lets me down.
Malignant is what happens when a talented director like James Wan (The Conjuring franchise) just says "screw it", and decides to make the most bat-crap bonkers horror movie that he can imagine. The end result is not exactly scary, but it's certainly never boring. This is a movie that pays tribute to 80s slasher films, body horror, cheesy detective thrillers, even cheesier paranormal thrillers, and a touch of Stephen King in a way that almost has to be seen to be believed.
If that sounds like kind of a mess, that's because it is. But like I said, it's certainly never boring. Wan has usually tried to emphasize atmosphere and suspense with his past films, but he goes for broke here, and gives us a movie that would be funny if it didn't take itself so damn seriously. That won't stop the audience from laughing, though. You can't build a movie around a plot and a final revelation like this, and not expect the people watching it to laugh out of disbelief of what they're looking at. My only guess as to how a movie like this even got the go-ahead from a major studio like Warner Bros. is due to Wan's past success. He got a blank check, and swung for the fences here. I kind of admire the film for that. But I don't know if I can label this a good movie.
The plot is centered on Madison "Maddie" Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis), a Seattle-based woman who is pregnant as the film opens, and lives with her cartoonishly drunken lout of a husband, Derek (Jake Abel). Through forced exposition, we quickly learn that she has experienced multiple miscarriages over the past couple years, and that Derek likes to smack her around. Not to worry, though, as Derek's not in the picture for very long. A shadowy figure appears in their living room that night, watching television, and gives the abusive hubby an early exit from the film. Maddie suffers from yet another miscarriage from the trauma of the event, and is comforted by her sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson), while a pair of police detectives (George Young and Michole Briana White) are suspicious about her husband's murder when they learn about his violent history with her, and that there was no forced entry in the house the night it happened.
The film's body count quickly rises as more murders happen, all of them committed by that same dark ghost-like presence that has a disfigured face that is hidden behind a mess of black, oily hair. The murders seem to be connected to doctors who once worked at the Simion Research Hospital, a shadowy building that once existed on a wind-swept cliff above raging waters, and looks less like a place you would go for medical care, and more like the kind of place Dr. Frankenstein would have if he could afford it. Maddie seems to have a connection as well, as she begins to witness all of these murders play out in her head. It's like she's standing there whenever the murders occur, so she can inform the police who the victims are, and where the crimes occurred before they are even called in.
What does it all mean? I don't think the filmmakers even know, as the screenplay frantically digs up Maddie's past, drops one surprise revelation after another onto our laps, and finally just gives up on even trying to make sense of it all, and gives us a blood-soaked final 15 minutes that is hands-down the most insane conclusion to a mainstream horror movie I have seen in a long time. Malignant is not trying to be artful in any way. The characters are stock and barely developed, the music score pounds at your skull as it tries to overplay the suspense, the dialogue and the acting is hammy and obvious, and the villain at the center of it all is a ghostly figure that can manipulate electricity and all household appliances, and apparently can only speak through radio signals. And no, the movie doesn't come close to explaining why exactly.
As long as you know what you're getting into here, and the kind of movie Wan is making, I think some fun can be had. You're not supposed to take a moment of this seriously, which is why it's surprising that the movie doesn't have much of a sense of humor to itself. Maybe the fact that the actors are taking this so seriously is supposed to be the joke. After all, the secret to successful comedy is acting like what you're saying is not funny. Regardless, the movie is quite gruesome throughout, though nothing quite prepared me for the climax. It's the kind of "let's throw everything at the wall and see what sticks" conclusion that we seldom see in major Hollywood releases these days.
I kind of want to recommend Malignant, but my better judgement as a critic prevents me, because it's not a very good movie. Still, I say that with a wink and a smile. Some would label this a guilty pleasure, but that's taking the easy way out. I say it's crap, I know it's crap, and I kind of strangely admired it for what it was.
I didn't believe a single thing that happened during Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, but luckily, I don't think I was supposed to. This is probably the single most goofiest movie the Marvel Studios has ever done off of one of their comics, and yes, I realize that is saying something. I may not have believed what I was seeing at any moment, but the fact remains, I was having more fun watching it than any other blockbuster I can think of this past summer. If there was ever a reason to return to the theater during these current times, it's this.
We live in a cinematic landscape that is dominated by the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and considering that they are releasing two more movies before the year is over, it's obviously not slowing down anytime soon. Saying this, it takes a lot for one of these movies to stand out, especially one such as this that is supposed to kick off a new character into its expanding world. Shang-Chi does this with a knowing sense of humor, some spectacular action set pieces, a pair of memorable lead characters that I look forward to seeing more of, and an overall sense of wonder that a lot of bloated spectacles can't match. Sure, the movie is frequently busy, and the climactic battle is probably more chaotic than awe-inspiring, which is a common thing with Marvel. But, again, I just want to stress how much this movie does right. This is the best stand-alone film off of one of the comics that the Studio has done in a while, and was able to reach my inner ten-year-old, who loves goofy movies like this.
Yes, I do have an inner ten-year-old. I feel that if we lose that, we lose a big part of ourselves. It's the part of me that can smile when a movie presents me with a storyline where its hero starts out as a parking valet, and ends the film riding on the back of a dragon in order to save a mythical hidden land that is under attack by soul-sucking demons. As the film opens, Shang-Chi goes by the name of Shaun (newcomer Simu Liu, making a big first impression here). He lives in San Francisco, seems to be going nowhere in life along with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina, hilarious and scene-stealing as always), and is quite happy with that fact. But then his past catches up with him when a bus ride to work turns into the first of many standout action sequences. Not since Speed has mass transit played such an integral part to a hero's story. Ultimately, it is revealed that Shaun is not who he claims to be, and has a secret history regarding his thousands-year-old Chinese warlord father, Wenwu (Tony Leung).
Turns out Dad possesses the Ten Rings, which not only makes him the most powerful man in the world, but nearly immortal. He trained his son to be a powerful martial arts assassin, but Shang-Chi left that life behind, changed his name to Shaun, and has been living a carefree life until dad's army of thugs (including a burly guy with a retractable machete arm) tracked him down. Our hero also has a sister he left behind named Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), who is just as skilled in fighting as the rest of the family, and a connection to a hidden land that has existed for centuries behind a living maze-like forest. I loved how Katy takes all of this information. Awkwafina brings the right amount of "What the hell am I looking at" sense of humor as she learns these things about her friend. That's actually the best trait of this movie. It knows that this is all ridiculous, and treats it with the right amount of seriousness and proper goofiness. There's a chance for Ben Kingsley to memorably return as his character from Iron Man 3, and naturally a lot of set up for what Shang-Chi's role in the future Marvel timeline will be.
I like the way this movie handles its main characters. One of its two leads is pretending to be normal, while the other is being thrust into an impossible situation, but is willing to go along with it, probably because she wants to know what's going to happen next, just like the audience does. The wordplay and chemistry between Liu and Awkwafina is amazingly displayed here, and I look forward to seeing it grow in future installments and cross-overs. Were it not for these performances and their dialogue, this would probably be a pretty standard hero origin movie, albeit one with some wonderful martial arts action and special effects that grab your eye. (Those dragons!) It's not the first movie to drop ordinary people in fantastic situations, but it does do it a lot better than just about any other recent attempt I can think of.
There are some shortcomings to go along with it all, obviously. While I liked Xialing, and her story arc about how her misogynist father never let her train to fight alongside her brother, so she had to do it in secret, she never comes across as developed or as strong of a character as I think she's intended. There's also a CG sidekick who never quite clicked with me named Morris. It's a furry thing that kind of sounds like Cousin It from The Addams Family, and looks like a failed design for a stuffed merchandise toy. Intentionally so, I believe. Both Shang-Chi and Katy have the right reaction to it when they see him for the first time. Still, he's a bit unnecessary, other to provide someone for Kingsley to play off of. I always figured Kingsley had gained enough clout in Hollywood to where he didn't have to resort to having a furry CG sidekick, but I guess not. And as mentioned earlier, some of the movie is quite busy and chaotic, but I guess that comes with the territory.
What's truly important here is director Destin Daniel Cretton (Just Mercy) has successfully made the leap from smaller films to gigantic blockbusters on his own terms, and has done so with a sense of wit and great style. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings manages to be a total entertainment, even with the occasional wrong step, and is well worth the trip to the theater to watch. This movie exists to make its audience want to see more, and it does that effortlessly.
I am a rabid movie fan since 1984 who calls them as he sees them. Sometimes harsh, but always honest, I offer my 'reel opinions' on today's films. I don't get money for my reviews, and I have to pay to get into every movie I see (even the really awful ones), so what you will see here is the true reaction of a man who is passionate about film. - Ryan Cullen