Movie Reviews by Bob Garver
Robert Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies Program at New York University. More of his reviews can be found online at www.bobatthemovies.com.
Special to the Lehigh Acres Gazette By Bob Garver
2015’s “Room” never reached a wide enough audience to justify a review from me, but if it had, I would have absolutely gushed over the performance of then-7-year-old actor Jacob Tremblay. It was the kind of breakout performance that instantly guarantees an actor a lifetime of work in Hollywood. Brie Larson, who played Tremblay’s mother in the film, won the Academy Award for Best Actress, and I’d argue that he acted circles around her. Not only should he have been nominated for an Oscar, but it should have been for Best Actor and not Best Supporting Actor, for which he was unfairly pushed even though he was definitely the main character and Larson spent a significant amount of time offscreen. “Wonder” is Tremblay’s first big mainstream follow-up movie, and I’m pleased to say it’s worthy of his talents.
Tremblay stars (he’s relegated to third billing, but to me he’s the star) as Auggie Pullman, a boy with a litany of health problems, including facial disfigurement. He’s so different-looking that he usually wears a mask when he goes out in public, his favorite being an astronaut helmet. His mother (Julia Roberts) and father (Owen Wilson) decide that this is the year for Auggie to finally go to school with other children. He’s going to have to learn to navigate the social waters of fifth grade, which is hard enough without a genetic disorder that greatly affects his appearance.
Auggie initially faces ostracism and bullying. The film sadly includes some clichéd examples of both, like nobody sitting with Auggie in the lunchroom and him being singled out for peltings in dodgeball. In my experience, lunchrooms are too crowded for anyone to be able to sit by themselves, and gym teachers monitor activities way too closely for kids to gang up on “weak” players. The film does however get it right that kids will turn on their friends in a second if it makes them look cool in front of the popular kids. It’s also right about the way kids initially handle people that they don’t understand, but I think it’s off about how long it takes them to accept those people. I can see the other kids being uneasy around Auggie on Day 1, but realistically I see them warming up to him on Day 2, not a month later as seen here. Auggie is of course daunted at first and hurt throughout the film, but he has such a big heart and quick wit that eventually he wins everybody over and becomes one of the most popular kids in school.
By Bob Garver Special to the Lehigh Acres Gazette
I cannot overemphasize how badly 2017 needed “Coco.” After 2016 saw no fewer than four animated films end up on my year-end Top 10 list, this year has been one of the worst in recent memory for animation. I barely have anything nice to say about “The Boss Baby,” “Despicable Me 3,” “The Lego Batman Movie,” or “Smurfs: The Lost Village.” Critics treated “The Emoji Movie” like a sign of the apocalypse and “Leap!” was even shoddier. Even Pixar, usually the shining example of consistent greatness, had a relative misfire with “Cars 3.” But not to worry, Pixar wasn’t content to let that cash-grab sequel be their sole offering this year. Enter “Coco,” a spectacle that’s worthy of the studio’s talents and should have no trouble winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.
12-year-old Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) loves music even though his family is strongly opposed to it. His great-great grandfather walked out on his wife and daughter Coco to pursue a music career, and since then music has been strictly forbidden in the family. But Miguel has a burning passion for the art form, idolizing a singer from the 1940’s named Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Looking at an old family photo, Miguel spots de la Cruz’s signature guitar and deduces that he must be his long-lost relative. He’s got music in his blood, even if it skipped three generations. Against the orders of his family, who want him to be at home honoring late relatives on the Day of the Dead, Miguel runs off to enter a talent show. He runs into a problem when he needs a guitar and there isn’t one handy. De la Cruz was buried with his guitar, and his mausoleum is nearby, so Miguel figures it’s his birthright. Upon his act of grave robbery, Miguel finds himself whisked away to the Land of the Dead.
By Bob Garver
“Daddy’s Home” was one of the worst movies of 2015. I took two hours out of my Christmas Day to cringe through an obnoxious feud between a doting stepdad (Will Ferrell) and an underactive biological father (Mark Wahlberg) over the love of their shared kids. Because that movie had a cushy holiday opening, it made enough money to warrant a sequel. “Daddy’s Home 2” is somehow even worse, making me appreciate the few things the original did right that this one lacks. As it stands, this movie is a Madea Halloween away from being the worst movie of 2017.
Just a quick recap on the families: Brad (Ferrell) and Sarah (Linda Cardellini) have one son of their own, and Brad is stepdad to Sarah’s son and daughter that she had with Dusty (Wahlberg). Dusty is stepdad to a girl that his new wife Karen (Alessandra Ambrosio) had with Roger (John Cena). Four kids, five parents, and for this movie we’re adding two grandparents. John Lithgow is Brad’s dorky dad Don and Mel Gibson is Dusty’s estranged father Kurt. Since the movie promises to be about daddies, the majority of the screen time goes to Brad, Dusty, Don, and Kurt.
By Bob Garver Special to the Lehigh Acres Gazette
It’s been over two years since we’ve seen Thor (Chris Hemsworth), which seems like forever in Marvel Cinematic Universe time. He missed the dissolution of The Avengers in “Captain America: Civil War” and the rise of several new superheroes. We missed a lot with him as well. He broke up with his girlfriend and got himself imprisoned by a fire demon. The demon wants to bring about Ragnarok, or the destruction of Thor’s home planet of Asgard, which essentially means the end of everything Thor holds dear.
Thor kills the demon in about a minute and returns to Asgard expecting a hero’s welcome, only to learn that he’s missed a lot there too. His wise father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) has exiled himself to Earth and his troublesome brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is now posing as the king. The brothers travel to Earth to bring Odin back, only to discover that they have a long-lost sister named Hela (Cate Blanchett) who is bent on taking over Asgard and conquering the universe, not to be confused with the flat-out destruction of Asgard that is Ragnarok. To give herself an unfair advantage, she traps the brothers on the waste-disposal planet of Sakaar.
By Bob Garver
I had never seen any of the “Saw” movies prior to “Jigsaw.” The first seven films all came out before I was doing this column regularly, and I had no desire to pump money into a franchise that promoted unapologetic gore. That isn’t to say I didn’t do my research in preparation for this film. I knew that the action would be based on elaborate traps devised by John “Jigsaw” Kramer (Tobin Bell). I knew that his motivation is to make people who have disregarded human life in the past find new respect for it… if they survive. I also knew that Jigsaw himself died in the third movie and his plots are usually carried out by some sort of disciple. Oh, and the puppets, I knew about the little red-eyed puppets that ride tricycles. I still don’t know why I’m supposed to be scared of them, maybe that’s explained in an earlier installment, but I knew about them.
The movie features five “players” trying to survive Jigsaw’s traps. Whoops, make that four. One poor chap gets pulled into a moving buzzsaw in the first minute. C’mon Jigsaw (or mastermind du jour), the guy was barely conscious, you can’t possibly think that’s fair. The remaining players are Anna (Laura Vandervoort), Ryan (Paul Braunstein), Mitch (Mandela Van Peebles), and Carly (Brittany Allen). Anna helps another player survive the buzzsaw, and Ryan shoves one down, so there are your hero and villain, respectively. They’ll probably be the last two left – Mitch and Carly, thanks for playing. And I’m not so sure about you, Anna. You were chosen as a player for a reason, chances are you’re the worst one of all.
By Bob Garver
Tyler Perry has been writing, directing, producing, and starring in movies about his Madea character for over ten years now. So how is it that this movie is so incompetently made? If this were a first-time filmmaker, I could maybe chalk the film’s painfulness up to inexperience or a lack of resources. But as this is Perry’s 17th directorial effort, and these movies do well enough that he can easily arrange financing, I don’t feel unreasonable in saying that “Boo 2! A Madea Halloween” is simply the work of a hack.
As with the first “Boo!” the story sees spoiled teenager Tiffany (Diamond White) defying her father Brian (Perry) and sneaking off to a frat party on Halloween. The party is taking place at a remote lake where young people were killed a few decades earlier, so Tiffany might be in danger. Brian’s Aunt Madea (also Perry) feels the need to come to the rescue, and she drags along her brother Joe (Perry again) and friends Hattie (Patrice Lovely) and Bam (Cassi Davis). Trouble is indeed afoot because partygoers are being picked off by a pair of masked figures. Could the murderers from all those years ago be back to finish what they started?
By Bob Garver
This movie didn’t need to work very hard to gain my favor. It’s an R-rated movie starring three actors who are really good at swearing. Ryan Reynolds brought crude humor to new heights last year in “Deadpool.” Salma Hayek always sounds exquisite and exotic when she goes on profanity-laced tirades in English or Spanish. Then there’s Samuel L. Jackson, who is widely considered one of the best cussers in cinematic history, particularly when it comes to a certain word that starts with M and eventually contains an F. If you were one of the people who was disappointed that Jackson’s one use of the MF word got bleeped out in the needlessly PG-13 remake of “Robocop,” fear not, he more than makes up for it here.
To be clear, I am not impressed by naughty words alone. Often I think of people who use these words as deviants because they can’t express themselves without jumping to words they know to be taboo. And of course the words are inappropriate for most occasions. But an R-rated movie about snarky adults who constantly find themselves amidst gunfire and explosions is definitely the right occasion, so I don’t feel guilty about laughing at the swearing in this movie.
By Bob Garver
“Leap!” is an animated kids’ movie that teaches the lesson that if you work hard and practice every day for years… you’re a sucker. Just be a natural and cut to the front of the line. Elle Fanning voices Félicie, an aspiring ballerina in 19th-century France. She and her inventor best friend Victor (Nat Wolff) escape their rural orphanage and its surly supervisor (Mel Brooks) and run off to Paris so they can follow their dreams. Victor bumbles through an off-screen subplot where he becomes an apprentice to Gustave Eiffel, but the movie mostly focuses on Félicie, and it’s worse off for it.
Félicie is taken in by Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen), a former dance prodigy whose career was cut short due to injury. Odette now holds down two jobs as a cleaning woman, one for the Paris Ballet Academy and the other for Madame Le Hout (Kate McKinnon). Le Hout’s daughter Camille (Maddie Ziegler, best known for voicelessly dancing in Sia’s music videos, here proving less adept at dancelessly voicing) has been invited to audition for a role in “The Nutcracker” for the Academy even though she’s not a student. The arrogant Camille damages Félicie’s prized music box and Félicie steals her invitation. Suddenly the plucky orphan is in contention for the role of a lifetime. Two problems: 1) The director (Terrence Scammell) is prejudiced against Félicie because she’s not a student and vows to cut her from the multi-day audition the first chance he gets, and 2) she’s a terrible dancer. She had a few nice moves while goofing around the orphanage, but she’s in no way prepared for actual ballet.
By Bob Garver
You’re probably expecting me to trash this movie. And make no mistake, it deserves to get trashed. Its script is horrendous, its editing is a joke, its jokes are painful, and all the metallic whooshing and clanging get old real quick. It’s the same collection of complaints I always have about the “Transformers” movies. But I can’t work up too much ire for this movie for the simple reason that at this point I’m just too numb.
This is not some sort of submission to the “Transformers” franchise. I am not saying “We all know these movies are dumb, so just turn off your brain and enjoy the ride.” Nor am I saying “These movies are all terrible and people just keep seeing them anyway, so I guess they can just keep doing whatever they want until one of them bombs.” What I am saying is that relative to what I’ve been seeing lately, this movie isn’t that bad.
By Bob Garver
I’ve found that the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies benefit from low expectations. Take the original, “Curse of the Black Pearl” from 2003. At first, it seemed like a bad idea to invest so heavily in a pirate movie (two words: “Cutthroat Island”) based on a Disney theme park ride (three words: “The Country Bears”). But the movie pulled a huge upset and proved the naysayers wrong: it was funny, it was exciting, Johnny Depp got an Oscar nomination for playing the mischievous Captain Jack Sparrow, and it made a ton of money. Then came three sequels that were maybe good for a handful of chuckles and one or two decent action sequences apiece. The franchise got old and wore out its welcome. Early word on “Dead Men Tell No Tales” was that it was a pathetic, desperate attempt to extend the series. It’s not that bad. It’s on the same level as the first three sequels. It’s nowhere near as good as the first film, but it’s better than what I expected.