It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

It’s rare that a man’s story can drag you to such depths, and then lift you up higher than you were before. In my opinion, it’s the greatest Christmas film of all time, even though it doesn’t seem like a “Christmas film.”

It’s A Wonderful Life stars Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, a man who was raised to put everyone else before himself. He saved his brother from an icy lake, gave up his dreams to run his family business, and used his honeymoon cash to save that business from going under in a moment of panic. If you love your father, you can’t help but see him like he’s George Bailey, and the man is exactly the type we can all aspire to be.

Eventually, the world stops giving back to George, and that leaves him in a dark, dark place. He wishes he was never born, and then comes along an angel who shows him what that would be like. Much to his surprise, the world isn’t better off without him—in fact, it was much better with him around. In case you live under a rock and haven’t seen it, the film contains perhaps the happiest ending in the history of cinema, capable of making me tear up by thinking about it.

If I had to criticize anything, it’s that it takes George a very long time to reach his breaking point. The angelic enlightenment takes up maybe a third of the film. Still, though, there’s no guarantee that the film would be as potent if it were changed, and so I must accept it as it is.

There will always be greedy old white men trying to lay claim to civilization, and that’s disappointing. But as long as there are men like George Bailey, and as long as we can recognize them when they’re with us, it just might be a wonderful life after all.

4 Green

It’s a Wonderful Life is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital.

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Dear friend,

I saw this movie once. It was about a boy who just wanted to belong, but when he started high school, he felt like he wouldn’t have any friends. The boy met a few really cool people, and then he fell in love with this girl who was in love with someone else. This girl was so perfect, but he wanted her to be happy, so he never told her how he felt.

Emma Watson was in it. She was so great in Harry Potter, but she was even better here. Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller were beautiful too. I feel like their characters became friends of mine, if they weren’t already. I started to act like they did in the movie, and at some point my life started to resemble what happened in theirs. I had my first kiss because of this movie. I loved a girl who reminded me of Sam, and even gave her the same present at Christmas.

This movie made me cry, but I was really glad to see it. It became an inseparable part of my life, and yet one of my favorites. I didn’t like that he dated Mary Elizabeth, but neither did he. Do you ever have movies like that? I don’t know why I’m asking you, since I don’t even know if you’re real. The boy went through a lot of pain, and he had his heart broken, but at least he knew that someone loved him.

I feel like people might feel the same way as me. It would be nice to know I’m not alone.

Love always,
Charlie

3.5 Green

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital.

Please don’t think I’m depressed. I was just trying to sound like Charlie.

Why Him? (2016)

Comedies are never “good.” If they aren’t Some Like It Hot, critics never seem to like them.

Maybe there’s a reason for this—they tend to be light on story—but they’re not always as bad as they seem. Generally, they’re a good way to spend a couple hours, if nothing else.

Why Him? fits into that category. It’s not necessarily a great movie, but I certainly had a good time watching it. Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) stars as Ned Fleming, a typical dad who discovers his daughter is dating a tech genius. She invites her parents to meet the guy, and let’s just say the title says the rest.

Laird (James Franco, Pineapple Express) is infantile and revolting. He has tattoos all over his body and tries to flirt with Ned’s wife (Megan Mullally, Will & Grace). The movie revolves around him trying to convince the Flemings that he’s right for their daughter, and it’s far from an easy sell. While I can say that I didn’t always find myself invested in the story, there were moments when I simply couldn’t take the smile off my face.

I liked this film a lot. It was vulgar without being disgusting, odd without being weird, and charming without being too much. Oh, and it has a few celebrity cameos. Who said it had to be “good”?

2 Green

Why Him? is in theaters now.

Sing (2016)

This movie is going to be huge. I can feel it.

I wasn’t even going to watch it, sensing it would just be another children’s film about talking animals, but it was far and away the best-reviewed wide release this week. Plus, frankly, I needed the positivity. So, I found a way.

Sing is about Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), a koala bear who will lose his theater if he doesn’t pay the bank. He decides to have a singing competition, and tons of people show up—mostly because his dim secretary, pictured above, accidentally sets the prize money at $100,000.

A few of the contestants—a shy elephant, an overworked housewife, a gangster rat, and a gorilla son of a criminal—get real arcs, and so you get a feel for who might succeed. To my surprise, though, it didn’t actually play out like I thought, and the filmmakers should be given real credit for that. This film, especially for a children’s movie, did a great job of keeping me on my toes, always anticipating what might come next.

Well before the ending rolled around, I was sold. This being a film about a singing competition, there were some truly magnificent numbers, and they weren’t even limited to the final act. Jennifer Hudson covers The Beatles at the beginning—oh my goodness. I was tapping my toes and smiling from ear-to-ear, which many movies just don’t get from me.

The animation, too, was absolutely stellar. It might not have been as wholly original as Zootopia, for example, placing animals in a distinctly human world, but it was so well done that I didn’t care. Watch for a flood scene before the third act, and you’ll see what I mean.

Like I said, I wasn’t planning on watching this film. It’s a busy Hollywood season, after all, packed with far more enticing movies for a grown-up crowd. I could not have been more surprised, though, and in the best possible way. This is a truly entertaining film, maybe the most enjoyable of the year. It’ll make you want to sing along.

3 Green

Sing is in theaters now.

Ms. Crawley reminds me of Kate McKinnon’s Kellyanne Conway.

Collateral Beauty (2016)

You’ve been played. 100%.

I’m sure you think you know how this story plays out, but you’re wrong. The commercials have been lying to you. As much as this is about Will Smith, he’s not the main character, and that’s not even the half of it.

Those abstract ideas from the trailer—Love, Death, and Time—aren’t spirits. They’re actors hired to play the roles. Will Smith’s coworkers are not concerned about him, they’re worried that his spiral into depression is going to tank the company. The woman they hire to track him takes phone videos in portrait orientation, which may be the biggest sin of all.

I knew this going in because I read what other critics had to say, but I still feel tricked. Collateral Beauty is about a lot of things, some actually kind of touching, but it’s chiefly about using the people you love. Every character goes on a journey, which is good, and the performances are totally committed. Whoever arranged the dominos in this film should win a prize. Everything, really, is good—except for the story at the heart of it, which used to be considered the most important part.

Oh, and there are a few plot twists at the end that really don’t make sense to me. One of them seems like too much of a coincidence, one like a sick illusion, and one that literally seems impossible. I think the filmmakers are just trying to screw with us.

There’s a moment early on in the film, where Whit (Edward Norton) figures out that the only way to treat an insane person is to embrace their reality. Play their game and have a little fun with it. If you do that with this film, you might like it, but if you don’t… I swear, you’re going to feel as miserable as many of the people in this film.

2.5 Red

Collateral Beauty is in theaters now.

The Sound of Music (1965)

Dame Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer
Austria, Nazis, it’s far from a bummer
Musical numbers and children who sing
These are a few of my favorite things

(dun-Dun, dun-Dun, dun-Dun, dun-Dun)

First is a nun with the name of Maria
Mother Superior has an idea
Man needs a governess, and so she goes
Where we proceed from there, everyone knows

(dun-Dun, dun-Dun, dun-Dun, dun-Dun)

All of the scenes are as moving as ever
These are the songs I’ll be singing forever
It’s so romantic and thrilling to see
Any critiques you’re not hearing from me

When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When you’re feeling sad
Curl up on the sofa and turn on this film
And then you won’t feeeeel sooo baddddd!

4 Green

The Sound of Music is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Ummm… What did I just watch?

I can’t recall being this disappointed in a film in quite some time. I almost don’t know the words to say, without spoiling anything.

Let’s start with something else. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child continues to be a smash hit on the West End, but for many who read the script, it came across as a bastardization of the Harry Potter series. It featured a lot of the characters we’d grown to love, but then forced them into a tale that wasn’t good enough to justify its own existence. For many of the books’ loyal followers, it served as little more than a well-intentioned, treasonous mess.

Before you dismiss my opinion as an originalist rant (or something), there was a lot of good in this film. There were times where I really enjoyed it. I just can’t say those good times were even remotely offset by the offensively bad mistakes made in the storytelling.

I will list those in detail in white ink below, but let’s get to the spoiler-free material. Rogue One is about a group of Rebels who plot to steal the plans to the Galactic Empire’s planet-killing Death Star. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is the daughter of the man who designed it, however reluctantly he may have done so. It is suggested that there is a fatal flaw in the weapon, one that will be exploited by Luke Skywalker in Episode IV, and the plans will reveal that flaw.

The other Star Wars films, easily classified as space operas, seem nuanced when compared to this. So many of the lines, no characters being spared, are overacted and overwrought, to the point where I was almost embarrassed to like it. (I didn’t know that Sith Lords could be punny.)

Not only that, but the story is all over the place. The first fifteen minutes alone bounce around the galaxy at an almost dizzying rate, trying to set up a world of information to be used later—and that’s not to mention the jarring lack of a title crawl. Every so often, a back-and-forth scene will try to ramp up the tension, only to resort to the same tricks it’s used before. There are so many characters vying for your sympathy, you might find it hard to care much for any of them.

I had a similar problem with director Gareth Edwards’ previous film, Godzilla, which I found to be epic in scale but lacking in human presence. If we were made to just admire the images, it would be an excellent film, but I just found it hard to care much for a bundle of newcomers that might not be in the next films for a reason. I kept asking myself, “What’s the point?” and I couldn’t always come up with an answer.

On the bright side, though, there were some really excellent moments. The space battle over Scarif just might be the best of the entire saga, and the Imperial Star Destroyers are clearly models (that’s a good thing, believe it or not). Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO is a great, dry comic relief. It’s clear that a lot of care was put into recreating the universe of the original trilogy, especially as they fit the end of this film into those ones for continuity.

But alas, I was left disappointed. I was expecting another Force Awakens, but that film was new and exciting and uncharted. This one is terminal, an exercise in explosive futility. I almost felt cheated by the experience, and I really hate to say that. This was supposed to be so good.

If we are to be cursed children, which I’m afraid will happen, may the Force be with us all.

2.5 Yellow

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is in theaters now.

And now, for the SPOILERS…

Did you hear that? I think it was the sound of Peter Cushing rolling over in his grave. Given that they could make alien creatures look photorealistic, I don’t understand how Grand Moff Tarkin could look so animated. The same goes for Princess Leia.

Also, if the entire film had been Darth Vader killing people like he did at the end, it would have been a great movie. Otherwise, Vader was pretty lame for this whole movie. I want Angry Vader all the time.

Why weren’t a lot of the scenes from the trailers in the movie? It’s more than just cutting-room floor business; these seemed like pretty critical plot points that got shifted (in reshoots?). They used to carry the data across the beach, and Jyn used to find a rising TIE Fighter at the end of the platform. And the rodent man was supposed to laugh from the gun ship.

Why did I never consider that Kyber crystals could be what powered the Death Star? And speaking of the Death Star, I almost rolled my eyes any time that Krennic was onscreen. Ben Mendelsohn is a great actor, but talk about chewing the scenery.

I had so many more thoughts that I’ve just now forgotten. They’ll come to me, I’m sure, and then I’ll be grateful I didn’t keep adding them.

Office Christmas Party (2016)

Please don’t see this film. It will be a waste of your time.

I know you want to see it. I like this actor and that actor too. It looks really good, yes. But you’re essentially paying to throw them in a room as comedians and see what happens. The funniest part, and I’m not kidding, is the bloopers at the end, when they really let loose.

It’s just lazy. Office Christmas Party sounds like a working title. The funniest lines were definitely not in the script. At the beginning, Jason Bateman gets off a train that says “NOT IN SERVICE.” I feel like the filmmakers went in knowing that they would have a hit even if they barely tried, thanks to all the actors, and so they quit trying.

If you’ve read the title, you basically know what it’s about. A business branch might close in Chicago, and their only hope is to throw a Christmas party so wild that they entice a certain client. Nearly every role is played by a familiar face, and I will admit that it’s vaguely pleasing to see them all go crazy. But for a comedy, it’s absurd, not funny, and I want to laugh far more than three times when I see a comedy.

On the bright side, though, every single actor in this cast is committed 100%, and you can’t fake that. It saved me from hating this film. Olivia Munn, in particular, is excellent, far more than I expected after X-Men: Apocalypse. The cinematography is also pretty good, while I’m at it. But then again, if anything less than the best had signed on to this film, it wouldn’t have been made it wouldn’t have worked at all.

If you have time to waste and the money to blow, and you’re still determined to see it, go ahead. But I won’t be joining you. I knew this film would be a waste of my time and it was still disappointing, so forgettable that I barely remember seeing it a day later.

This isn’t just a film that makes you want to avoid Christmas parties. It’s also a film that makes you want to avoid an office entirely. Don’t you have something better to do?

1 Yellow

Office Christmas Party is in theaters now. See literally anything else.

Frozen (2013)

Let’s face it: this film either melts your heart or leaves you cold.

That humor should tell you how this review will go.

I, despite all the fervor that surrounds it, love this film so much. I can understand why you wouldn’t—you probably have a child, or a radio, or a friend, or literally no sense of compassion—but I still love it as much as when I saw it opening weekend.

Frozen is about Anna and Elsa, two royal sisters in a fictional kingdom. They used to be best buddies, but now they’re not, and it’s because Elsa possesses a dangerous ice power that she can barely control. As Elsa nears her coronation, Anna hopes to find her true love, and for the first time in forever, there is hope of it happening.

That is, until Elsa’s powers wreak havok at the coronation reception. Nobody else knew about her powers, not even the memory-wiped Anna. Queen Elsa is shamed and banished to the wilderness, and before long the kingdom is covered in snow. The only way to fix it is to find Elsa and get her to make it stop, which proves to be more than just a fixer-upper, but Anna knows she can do it.

Joining them are Kristoff and his reindeer, Sven, as well as the adorable snowman, Olaf (Disney does seem to have a hard time choosing one pet sidekick…). There are songs and trolls and ice monsters, and as a children’s film, it is really well-imagined stuff. There is even a modern twist ending regarding true love thawing frozen hearts, but you knew that already. I don’t know if there’s a first-world human alive who doesn’t know the plot of this movie by now.

I, for one, get all weepy at the most insignificant of moments, since the film is so well established in my heart. I always want to build a snowman. It might make you sick to watch, and that’s okay too.

The songs are still fresh to me (and Oscar-winning), the art direction is still astonishing, and the casting is still iconic. All things considered, I won’t be letting this one go anytime soon.

3 Green

Frozen will be shown tonight on ABC’s Wonderful World of Disney.

Miss Sloane (2016)

Full disclosure: Jessica Chastain (Crimson Peak) is my favorite actress. She has been for a while. Therefore, I will find merit in every project she does (but why would she pick a bad script?).

Now, let’s get on with it. Miss Sloane. Brilliant film. Don’t listen to the critics.

Miss Sloane is about political lobbying in Washington. In my mind, it fits in perfectly with the likes of Scandal or House of Cards, though closer to the latter. Jessica Chastain plays Sloane, a Machiavellian lobbyist in DC who is brought onto a case about gun control. In case you want to dismiss it already as a “liberal film,” you shouldn’t. Miss Sloane will take whatever side will better advance her career, although she is personally on the side of stricter regulations, and the film presents arguments for both sides.

If politics are your drug of choice, you’re already going to love it. But here’s where it gets interesting for everyone else: Sloane is always a step ahead of her opponents. Always. Even when you think she’s not, she is. I had my hand to my mouth in a few scenes, and several audience members were in audible shock.

Chastain, even objectively, is incredible. She makes it look effortless. No matter what the other critics have said about the film, they have all seemed to agree that she, and her performance, is a force of nature. Every rapid syllable is handled with ease, and even though her character is wickedly diabolical, you can’t help but hope she’ll succeed.

I know I said I wanted Amy Adams to win an Oscar for Arrival or Nocturnal Animals, but it’s Chastain’s time too.

If you see it, which I hope you will, go in knowing that you won’t be able to see most of it coming. Prepare to be shocked. Miss Sloane is going to be one step ahead of you; she says it in the very beginning. Rarely have I been played this well, and rarely have I loved it this much.

3.5 Green

Miss Sloane is in theaters now.