The funny thing about Pixar movies is that people think they're all good. I love Pixar and I'm not here to cut them down in anyway but I'm also not here to blow smoke up their ass. It's true that over half of the greatest animated films of all time were done them but they're not all good. Cars 2 and Brave are terrible films. Many argue that Monsters University is equally as bad, although I disagree with that. Ratatouille is a Pixar film that is completely forgotten about by most people altogether. So where will The Good Dinosaur fall on that list? I have a feeling that this will be the subject of debate among Disnerds for years to come as it seemed to split the room. As far as I'm concerned, the lofty, abstract concept about a boy and his dog should have been called The Not-So-Good Dinosaur because that's what it was.
In the movie's defense, it's hard to come on the heels of Inside Out. It was just five months ago that Pixar released one of their greatest accomplishments with that film and I would imagine the shadow it casts will be long and dark. So it was an uphill battle for The Good Dinosaur from the start. However, every other misstep it took was the film's fault. None of the trailers did a great job explaining what the hell this movie was about and there is a good reason - it's strange. Basically, it's a Western film told with every cliche in the genre. It poses the question, "what if the dinosaurs never died out." Great premise! However, it says that if that happened, dinosaurs would exist still today and humans would be low on the evolutionary scale for some reason. On top of that, dinosaurs also would have developed language skills, discovered agriculture and even built structures that look like ours. I know this is a children's film but don't pretend to be clever with stuff adults would only care about but still be stupid enough that only children would accept.
"But you said it's a Western?" That's right, in every way. The soundtrack, the characters, the gorgeous animated landscapes that look real; everything is plucked straight from the pages of any John Wayne script except instead of humans, the film is about dinosaurs. I want to give The Good Dinosaur credit for being clever and creative for blending two things that have nothing to do with each other but I can't because it feels so forced. It seemed like the executives at Pixar knew they wanted to make a Western but saw the research that dinosaurs test very well with boys age 4-12, so they came up with this ludacrous plot as a way to "achieve" both an artistic goal for the company and lucrative marketing as well. (It worked, my son wants all the toys.)
Pixar keeps it in the family like the mafia. There are a few Made Men that have earned the right to be untouchable - John Lasseter (Toy Story, Cars), Pete Doctor (Monsters Inc, Inside Out), Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E) and Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille). Every once in a while they let a rookie take a shot at directing and sometimes it's their best film ever like when Lee Unkrich directed Toy Story 3 but usually it's a mess. The Good Dinosaur was directed by Peter Sohn who's been a behind-the-scenes guy for a while and lent his voice to many characters, most notably Squishy in Monsters University. The guy knew how to make a gorgeous looking film but didn't know how to make it feel original or all that entertaining.
There are some really funny moments in The Good Dinosaur. There is animation that truly astounds how realistic and gorgeous it is. But at its core it must be solid storytelling and this simply is not. The moments that it wants us to feel a human connection and emotional pull is not quite enough to get us there. If the goal was simply to be a profitable film that's no different than anything Dreamworks or Sony puts out, it achieved that. However, the problem with being the standard for superb cinematic animation is that it makes your average films feel like letdowns. Perhaps this was a script that should have gone extinct.
To the lesser informed, Bobcat Goldthwait is the crazy, screamer guy from the Police Academy movies, Hot to Trot, Scrooged and many other '80s films. That's true but there's so much more to him. He is one of the greatest working stand-up comics today and always has been but what's even better is where he's at in his film career. The man is an amazing writer and director and tackled so many genres. Films like World's Greatest Dad, God Bless America, Willow Creek and his latest, a documentary called Call Me Lucky are breaking cinematic molds and ballsy as hell. Check out this conversation I got to have with him and then watch all those movies.
When a beloved franchise comes to an end it's usually a sad event. I remember when Harry Potter finally concluded, it was not just an end to books and movies but an end to a chunk of our lives that made us feel youthful. I enjoyed The Hunger Games books and thought the movies were good but never great. But with the conclusion of the series on the big screen, am I the only person who has a feeling of relief? After seeing Mockingjay Part 2, my thought was "well, thank God that's over with." I don't even know why I felt that way? Maybe because it's such a bleak series or maybe it's because the movies never ever captured the excitement of the books but for whatever reason here we are and thank God that's over with.
Jennifer Lawerence is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, actresses in Hollywood right now and it's safe to say that The Hunger Games put her there. Sure, she was nominated for an Oscar at 19-years-old for Winter's Bone but nobody saw it. Sure, she was great in X-Men: First Class but that movie was so overall amazing that she blended into the background. No, it was The Hunger Games that made people take notice and cast her in more challenging roles that won her Oscars. She is a great actress but I never felt like she was great in any of The Hunger Games films. Mockingjay Part 2 is no different as she plays the melancholy role of Katniss one last time in the sluggish and underwhelming final film.
Everyone is back, including director Francis Lawrence who did the last two Hunger Games films and Phillip Seymour Hoffman for his final performance. By the time four movies are made with the exact same cast, you expect a feeling of organic closeness to come from everyone but this cast feels as disjointed and distant from each other as they did in the first one. The relationship between Lawerence and her two love interests, Josh Hutcherson (The Kids Are Alright, Red Dawn) and Liam Hemsworth (The Last Song, Expendibles 2), still doesn't feel authentic. Award-winners like Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson and Jeffrey Wright (the James Bond films, Source Code) churn out lukewarm performances. In fact, if you never heard of anyone in this cast, you'd never believe that it's made up of some of the greatest actors working today. The only performance that FINALLY stretches out and shines is from Donald Sutherland who shows us just how evil President Snow can be.
Splitting a book into two films has worked only one time and that was with the final Harry Potter installment. In every other case, it's evidence that Hollywood would rather make money than make quality. The Hobbit will always be the best example of that but Mockingjay might be the second. Splitting The Deathly Hallows into two films made sense because it's over 700 pages and so much happens! Suzanne Collins' Mockingjay is not even 400 pages and is arguably the worst in the series. I was impressed with Mockingjay Part 1 because they managed to do more with the boring text than I thought anyone could but Mockingjay Part 2 proved to be the exact opposite. It's punishingly slow and spends over 20 minutes ending which is a kiss of death when the ending is as poorly written as it is. If Mockingjay was made as one film that was around 140-minutes-long you would have had a better product and everyone knows it.
This is making me sound like a hater of The Hunger Games and I'm not. Those books will always remind me of a time in my life before becoming a parent when I had time to binge-read books and I was thrilled to devour them. However, the movies never made me feel like they were respectable adaptations and the conclusion of the films proves that I'm right. I will forever insist people read the books for a great time but watch the movies only if they have nothing better to do. Perhaps this was a story that will always seem like a great idea to behold on the big screen but never actually is. Nonetheless, thank God it's over with.
There are two types of films that come out at Oscar season - those that are really good because they're entertaining and those that make a difference. Spotlight is one of those films that manages to be both. This is the true story of how a small team of journalists working for The Boston Globe were able to blow the lid off of one of the most awful and deplorable international cover-ups in the last century...The Catholic Church hiding molesting priests. If that sounds like a heavy film to watch during the holidays, I understand. Spotlight should be essential viewing for everyone though to show what tenacity for justice and standing up to power for what's right is crucial in this world.
The Oscars don't give an award for Best Ensemble and I really wish that they did. The all-star cast for Spotlight consists of Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber (Scream 3, X-Men Origin: Wolverine) and relatively unknown Broadway actor Brian d'Arcy James. All of them are excellent and all deserve nominations but if you have to pick one, which The Academy makes you do, Ruffalo walks away with it. Together they play a team that bravely digs deeper and deeper into The Catholic Church of Boston which was basically like taking on the mob in that town. There are stand-out scenes but one that involves Ruffalo reaching his peak of repulsion with these stories that still makes me get goosebumps just thinking about it weeks after seeing it.
You can always tell you're watching a movie directed by a former actor because they know how to direct other actors to perfection. Director Tom McCarthy, who you'd recognize from roles he had in Meet the Parents, 2012 and HBO's The Wire, has also directed some incredible films that nobody has seen. Besides Spotlight, which I'm not expecting to be a box office hit, he directed the incredible Win Win with Paul Giamatti and The Visitor, which got Richard Jenkins (Cabin in the Woods, Step Brothers) his first (long-overdue) Oscar nomination. McCarthy is incredibly on point with Spotlight though and proves that drama is where he should be working for a while. He has made one of the greatest movies about journalism of all time and I think it should sit firmly behind All The President's Men as one of the best.
There's something to be said for movie audiences now that are quick to zone out of something if it doesn't blow their skirt up in the first five minutes. Spotlight isn't going to do that. This movie has one of the slowest burns I've seen in a long time and even had me thinking it was all hype all the way through the first act. But the film builds and builds on top of itself until the gravity of the unfortunately true story grips you in a way that you must recon with it and grips you with attention. Anyone with a soul will find it impossible not to be moved by the tortures that these priests put these children through and power that religion can have over people will disgust you.
I know that movies that want to win Oscars are released from September to December and the ones that feel like they have the best shot come out closer to Christmas but that's a ballsy move for Spotlight. Just like the brave journalists who exposed this story to a city/world who didn't want to know the truth, releasing a film that makes The Catholic Church look as criminal as they were this close to Christmas might be financial suicide. I hope that's not the case and everyone goes to see it. Because the holidays are a time to be thankful for what you have and feel closeness to your family I would say a true story like Spotlight couldn't make you feel that way more. It's an important film that will be shown in journalism classes for decades...or at least as long as journalism classes are still a thing.
Christmas 2001, my best friend Joey gave me Requiem for a Dream as the best worst gift I ever got. I had never seen or heard of the nightmarish Darren Aronofsky masterpiece before but he insisted that I would love it so much he just got it for me. Christmas night I made the foolish decision to watch it alone. It was everything he promised it would be but it was and still is one of the most unsettling and disturbing movies I've ever seen. Although I still own that same copy, it's one of the dustiest DVDs I have since I'm almost never in the mood to watch it again. Room is far from reaching that level of despair and horrorfic imagery but as far as touching a raw nerve, it's right on par. It's a beautifully crafted and performed movie that I never want to watch again.
Room is based on the Emma Donoghue novel which I have not read but my mother tells me was not very good. It's about a mother and son who happen to live in captivity in a single room in a perverted monster's backyard. She has lived in the room for seven years and the boy is 5-years-old. That's right, the boy doesn't know what life is like outside of the room and then one day they escape. Half the film is their life inside the room and second half is life outside. Both lives have moments of true happiness and pure pain. As a viewer, you'll find them both very hard to watch as well. Interestingly, they both feel claustrophobic and exhausting but in ways that were intended.
The mother is played by Brie Larson (Trainwreck, 21 Jump Street) and she turns in a performance that demands an Oscar nomination. It's further proof that comedic performers can often shock audiences by flexing their dramatic muscles. Larson, who's been a staple on comedic TV shows like Community, The League and Kroll Show, has secured a place in either genre for the rest of her career with this gut-wrenching and natural performance. Joining her in excellence is Jacob Tremblay (The Smurfs 2) as her son. Yeah, he's only 9-years-old but he is most of what is heartbreaking to watch in Room. His innocence oozes out of everything he does and his tears and emotional anguish feel so authentic it makes you feel like someone should intervene and help him. Tremblay and Larson are so organic as mother and son that it's shocking they're not.
Director Lenny Abrahamson knows how to capture great performances. Room is not his best work, that remains last year's Frank with Michael Fassbender, but it's close. The world he creates in Room is pretty amazing. When Larson and Tremblay are in captivity it feels almost happier than when they're free. Sure, there's nightly rapes, limited food, no fresh air and filthy conditions but the dread of life doesn't seem to seep in until they're faced with the ripple effect of what has happened to them once they're on the other side. That is all Abrahamson and how he carefully crafted scenes that involved select tones for dialogue that could be taken many different ways. The man is an actor's director and I can't wait to see what he does next.
Once again, Room is a great film but certainly not the feel-good movie of the year. I certainly am not one that turns away from emotionally challenging films but this one hit a part of my soul that felt too raw. Perhaps it's seeing the waves of pain that a single act can have on a life. Perspective makes people appreciate certain things and numb to others and Room captures that perfectly. Going into the holidays I don't expect this to get a lot of asses in seats but after the joy of the season, when winter sets in and people are in the mood for darkness and emotional empathy, Room should be viewed as a movie that demands attention...but maybe just once.
One problem with doing a press tour for a movie you've made is that you get tired and say things you probably shouldn't. In recent interviews, star Daniel Craig and director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) have both talked about how much they hated making this and are totally over James Bond films. Now, if that wasn't in print and all over the Internet, would it have been so obvious that Spectre is a phoned-in film that feels like two artists running through the motions to fulfill a contract? We'll never know now because that's exactly what they said and that's exactly how it feels.
Full disclosure, I've never really enjoyed the James Bond film legacy. I know it's one of the most lucrative and longest running franchises in Hollywood history but I've always found the character misogynistic, shallow, boring and stupid. Maybe when Iam Flemming created him 62 years ago he was the opposite of those but in 2015 (hell, since 1995) this character sucked. That being said, when Daniel Craig took over 2006's Casino Royale, I became tolerant and interested. But in 2008, when Marc Forster (Monster's Ball, World War Z) made Quantum of Solace, I officially got on board. Forster bailed after that though and we were left with Mendes taking over. Mendes is a good filmmaker and the best director to take on a Bond film in the whole history of the franchise. He certainly brings a level of sophistication to the cliche genre but still can't do enough to save it.
Joining the ranks of Bond villains this time is Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained). Normally, having Waltz in your movie is enough to pull it to a passable grade but when you don't even show his face, let alone give him any serious screen time, it's a problem. Spectre is a punishing 148 minutes and Waltz doesn't really show up until the final half hour. Even when he does, he brings nothing new or exciting to the film. In Skyfall, when Javiar Bardem (No Country for Old Men, Eat Pray Love) was the baddie, he brought a fresh coat of paint on a routine bore of masterminds in these films. Waltz is a nemesis in the same ways Goldfinger or Dr. No was except in 2015 those character traits come across pathetic and cliche.
Another missed opportunity was casting Dave Bautista as a henchman who has no lines! You'd think a part like that would be perfect for a former professional wrestler, but after Bautista showed us he's capable of stealing scenes in The Guardians of the Galaxy, it's a terrible misstep to not allow him to be more than a one-dimensional goon that the franchise has trained us to accept. The only thing that was done right in Spectre, as far casting goes was finally giving Ralph Fiennes (Schindler's List, the Harry Potter films) more to do than be a yammering authority in the franchise.
I get it...I'm not the target audience for Spectre. James Bond films are made for James Bond fans, which you either are or are not. The franchise itself is tired, silly and out-of-date but when you combine that with a 007 and director who are also tired of the same old-same old, you end up with a meandering project that has interesting action sequences, a boring story, terrible performances and an overall staleness to the whole thing. Will this be the end of Bond films? Not likely. Should it be? Probably.
The Food Network has made every dummy like me think they're a "foodie" and know what they're talking about. Even worse than that though is that it's poured gasoline on the "celebrity chef" culture that exists. Yes, it's true that chefs are usually maniacs, egotists, and addicts but they're also artists in a medium that is often overlooked by the mainstream. That being said, the last thing we need in this country are more people seeing ultra cool, ultra nuts chefs making millions off of treating people like garbage in a quest to make better tasting, better looking food. One of last year's best films was John Favreau's Chef which showed a chef broken by his ego in a very funny way. That's admirable because it pokes fun while not mocking the profession. Burnt does the opposite; it is the very thing that makes real life chefs unbearable to some and that's shine fame on character flaws that are celebrated.
Bradley Cooper is a good actor who makes terrible choices on what projects he does. I know he got more money than he'll ever be able to spend on The Hangover films but besides that, he's had a string of lousy to his name. Seems like the only time he makes a truly great film is when he teams up with David O. Russell (American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook). In Burnt he plays an American celebrity chef who returns to Europe after drying out all his addictions and professional disasters. Once there he must ask for the help of people he's wronged to regain his glory. Among those players are Daniel Bruhl (Rush, Inglorious Basterds) (LISTEN TO MY INTERVIEW WITH HIM BELOW) and Sienna Miller (American Sniper, Foxcatcher). Both are fantastic in their roles of people too weak to walk away from the alpha assh*le that is Cooper's character.
Director John Wells (August Osage County, The Company Men), once again, manages to underwhelm us slightly in telling a story. Watching Burnt feels like a 90-minute-long trailer for a really great movie. Some scenes are done so well and are exciting to watch but they're part of a larger, disjointed movie that spends more time confusing and boring you with where it's going and why. It's also not helped by a script that's as cliche and predictable as any romantic drama you've seen. It's also dented by Cooper's character who seriously lacks motivation for us to want him to succeed. He's a prick who gets everyone to forgive and help him along the way and it's never really established why.
The one thing that's great about Burnt is its authentic feel of what it's like to work in a kitchen of a high-end, gourmet restaurant. That might have been helped by bringing on the most famous and notorious celebrity chef in the world, Gordon Ramsey, as an Executive Producer. I'm sure that he was one of the main reasons why Burnt feels like it's a documentary at times. I give all the performers credit for learning several cooking techniques that aren't as easy as they appear too. Even though more attention to detail was paid in this than it was in Chef, it still didn't achieve the romance for food that Chef produced so well. Burnt feels like a film that talks about how food is 80% passion but Chef made you believe it.
Overall, Burnt is a fine project that will make you hungry and dishes up some delightfully intense and fun scenes but still lacks a certain ingredient to make an award-winning meal. The performances are meaty and flavorful but the total execution is all flair and no substance. If more time was spent on how it was prepared and not how it appears on the plate it would've been more satisfying. See what I did there? I feel so clever.
Listen to Gavin's interview with actor Daniel Bruhl about his new movie "Burnt":
The old expression "more boring than watching paint dry" is cliche but always gets the point across. However, if you were to tell me that the movie Drying Paint was made and it's 90 minutes dedicated to watching paint dry but Danny Boyle directed it and Aaron Sorkin wrote the script, I would still be there on opening night with a big grin on my face waiting on the edge of my seat. They are both true wizards in their chosen field yet had never worked together before. Boyle has made 28 Days Later, Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, Sunshine. Sorkin has written The Social Network, NBC's The West Wing, Moneyball and A Few Good Men. When I found out that they were joining forces I didn't care what it was about. When I found out it was about the late Steve Jobs I couldn't have been more excited. The result wasn't what I thought it would be but it was still just as amazing.
Let's forget that a movie was made about Steve Jobs just two years ago. That film was a disaster on all fronts and it started with casting Ashton Kutcher as the titular character. In Boyle's Steve Jobs, Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class, The Inglorious Basterds) not only plays Jobs but totally becomes him. Fassbender is never a let down and he's in every single second of this film. He carries the movie on his skinny shoulders and disappears into the role. He's joined by Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels (listen to my full interview with him below), Kate Winslet and the amazingly underrated Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man, Men in Black 3). With the exception of three different actresses playing Jobs' daughter, that's pretty much the whole cast and everyone is absolutely brilliant. The most shocking is Rogen who proves that he's capable of doing dramatic work once again.
Danny Boyle is a director who has an aggressive style that's somewhat like Oliver Stone's but not manic and fueled by drug flashbacks. No matter what genre Boyle covers, he still manages to insert his unique brand to the material. In Steve Jobs, however, that brand almost fades away. Prior to seeing the film I would think that would be disappointing but it's actually impressive. Boyle shows a level of restraint on Steve Jobs that he's yet to do and makes the whole film feel like a stage play. It wasn't that long ago that Boyle won awards for directing a stage version of Frankenstein and the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics so I wonder if that live experience had a lasting impression on him.
But a bigger explanation for why Steve Jobs feels like a stage play is because of the way that Aaron Sorkin wrote the script. This is where some people may not enjoy the film at all. Yes, this is a true story of the events that played out in Jobs' life but this is NOT how it happened. This is a fictionalized true story which is something that sounds like an oxymoron. Sorkin didn't want to write a cradle-to-grave script nor did he want to repeat himself after The Social Network and the result is genius, in my opinion. He breaks the film up into three separate acts taking place in 1984, 1988 and 1998. Each act is about 40-minutes-long and plays out in real time in the wings of the theater before a massive product launch. In each act he's visited by Rogen, Daniels and Stuhlbarg each playing friends and co-workers of Jobs. Yes, it's true that it didn't go down the way it does in the movie but what is being said did happen in some form or another. Think about it as if Charles Dickins wrote A Christmas Carol about a real Scrooge but told the story that way instead. Rogen, Daniels and Stuhlbarg are sort of like Jobs' Ghosts of Apple Past, Present and Future. This might be a turn off to some but I thought it was amazingly creative.
It's been well publicized that Sorkin grew to not like Jobs as he wrote this script. That's apparent at times and you wonder if the cruel genius that he's portrayed as isn't all that accurate. Steve's daughter was a consultant on the film so you have to believe that it is which makes the scenes involving their relationship all that more heartbreaking. The one thing I didn't expect to do while watching was cry but I did...a lot. As hypnotic and crackly as Sorkin's dialogue is in everything he does, he still manages to capture humanity, pain, ego and genius in Steve Jobs. It's a biopic movie unlike any I've seen before and it deserves the awards it most certainly won't win.
Listen to Gavin's interview with Jeff Daniels here: