Movie Reviews

This is an archive of collected Movie Reviews from the very first to the most recent.  For what ever reason, the hyperlinks do not work and the written titles are not italicized, except for the headers.

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Blade Runner 2049

I just want this to be good. Nothing else matters. For obvious reasons, I am going to omit the usual plot summary after the introduction.

Trying to succeed Blade Runner is like justifying the existence of Big Bang Theory. It never needed to happen, it should not happen, but for some reason (you know why) it happened. The original Blade Runner is one of the most important science fiction movies ever made. It more or less created cyber-punk and showed sci-fi could be more mature and capable of telling a deep story. Of all the classics it did not need a sequel. Nobody, including other hardcore fans, asked for this. The original was just fine on its own and somehow we got 2049.

Like Force Awakens the deck was always stacked against it. Being better than a bad movie is as easy as punching a blind toddler, but being better than a genre-defining classic is next to impossible. With Force Awakens, callbacks and references aside, it succeeded by being great. As I said in the beginning, all 2049 needs to be is good and watchable.

I would have ignored it had Denis Villeneuve not been involved. So far he has yet to make a bad film with Prisoners, Sicario, and Arrival to his name. Rather than buckle under pressure he grabs the reins and leads the way in his most ambitious project yet. Being a visual director he takes full advantage of the world’s unique style. Blade Runner is saturated in neon with lived in and weathered sets, packed to the gills with people and detail. It is surprising how such elements were standard practice back in the day look like pieces of art in a time of overwhelming CG.

2049 maintains the aesthetic of decay while looking updated, being 30 years after the events of the original. It is also darker with light doused in a perpetual haze or relegated to certain areas of the setting. You really feel the world standing on the edge of total collapse, fitting perfectly in line Villeneuve’s signature. He puts the desolation on display with beautifully bleak and imposing landscapes. Most of the interiors are well lit, but emphasize the ever-present grime of the world. Being a noir, Villeneuve makes great use of the darkness to supplement the atmosphere of decay and mystery of the narrative. It helps that the practical and visual effects used in these shots are stunning.

For spoiler reasons I am going to avoid talking about the writing or acting. The latter is obvious, but judging the performances could lead to unintentional revelations. I will say that Sylvia Hoeks was the stand out as Luv, a replicant dedicated to her job, and it was nice to see Harrison Ford care about his role. The man is 75 and a cultural icon, so I understand when he wants a break. Actually, I will give away one spoiler:

The trailer for Pacific Rim: Uprising was shown and it looks like hammered shit.

A couple negatives of note are the music and the placement of a particular scene. The issue of score may have more to do with the theater in which I saw the movie. Whenever a French horn or loud synthesizer would blare, it literally shook the auditorium with a loud creaking noise. I would say about half the tracks in 2049 have this sound and it was irritating. Even Hans Zimmer would tell the composer to tone it down. As for the faulty scene, it comes out of nowhere, like it was from an older draft of the script. The lead up did not fit or feel natural given the tone. Maybe I am missing something, but that scene should have been moved or reworked.

This does not feel like much of a review with everything I left out. Without the name Blade Runner in the title, 2049 is just another great film from Denis Villeneuve. On its own merit it has enough going on that keeping you in the dark is the only respectful thing I can do. A lot of my reviews of good movies are short because why ruin something you should see for yourself? 2049 may not be groundbreaking, but it is well worth the nearly three-hour runtime. It is a great film and that is all that counts in the long run. However, I would advise watching the Final Cut version of the original before buying a ticket.

 

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

The first Kingsman was pretty good. It followed a comic book of the same name by Mark Millar, a fellow Scotsman and writer who sold out years ago. His stories are glorified spec-scripts designed to be adapted and Matthew Vaughn was up to the task with Kick-Ass and Kingsman. What makes the first movie great is how straight it plays the Bond inspired set-up, juxtaposed with violence and dark humor. Vaughn comes from British crime thrillers that share the same formula and he does it well. Kingsman was a perfect balance of stylish action and a sense of heart thanks to Taron Egerton’s Eggsy and Samuel Jackson being crazy. It was a fun, cathartic film and I have a good feeling about The Golden Circle.

After the Kingsmen are wiped out in Britain Eggsy and Merlin, played by Mark Strong, go west to the United States. They slowly unfurl a plot involving a drug kingpin holding the world hostage with a deadly virus.

It sucked.

Picture Anchorman 2; it is not a bad movie, but unlike the first it went headlong into crazy far too quickly. The previous installment built up to the insanity, letting the humanity and realism of the comedy take control. Now imagine if Anchorman 2 was Austin Powers in Goldmember and you get Golden Circle. If you feel the sudden urge to kill yourself, no one will blame you.

There is no juxtaposition, no sense of seriousness to back up the touches of humor and stylish violence. The last film took after Bond, but it was in no way a parody. The premise was a foundation for the transformation into something new and different. The self-aware quality of the first movie that was thankfully not acknowledged makes up the entirety of Golden Circle. From the get-go no one is serious about what is going on because they know they are in a movie. It is just a game and a bad one at that, yet they try so hard.

This comes through in many places, one of which being the extended cameo of Elton John. Instead of keeping him around to scream at other characters because that was actually funny, he had an action scene where he was mugging for the camera while “Saturday” played in the background. You also do not care about what is going on because there is no reason. Without the seriousness, how can the audience care if the film does not either? Eggsy had a girlfriend that was infected with the virus, but the lack of urgency and a feeling that shit is real made it totally pointless. And do not get me started on the President character or the scenes in Italy.

Jesus-fuck-my-ass.

There is no finesse or narrative flow to keep the story moving at a decent clip. Scenes just happen in a disparate fashion, one on top of the other with no sense of direction. It was as though the story had a checklist of conditions that had to be met. Rather than construct a smooth narrative where each piece flowed into the other, the editor assembled it according to the list like a doctor performing a routine check-up.

All simple stories are linear, but you can have each plot point happen with some semblance of a clean transition. There is no build up to the villain’s grand plan, the Kingsman’ investigation of said plan, and nothing especially interesting about how it all happens. Then Merlin gets killed off, Channing Tatum is frozen virtually out of nowhere, and Colin Firth is cured of amnesia 10 minutes after he is reintroduced for no reason. It does not feel good to experience, like watching a montage that was ripped apart and edited out of order.

The only good parts are the action scenes. Vaughn has not lost his touch with a ton of faux long shots and slow motion. It looks great with nice choreography and grappling that was cool, despite my desire to see that whole move-set struck from existence. The performances were also acceptable with everyone doing their part. Julianne Moore did her best as the boring villain and Halle Berry was surprisingly okay.

That is all.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is terrible. It is disappointing, not fun, and not worth your time and money. If anyone says it is somehow good they are either stupid or lying (looking at you, IGN). Wait a couple months for the action scenes to appear on YouTube and watch those instead. Better yet, watch the first Kingsman because it is fantastic in every way the sequel is not.

 

Mother!

Darren Aronofsky is a pretty good director. The Fountain is one of my favorites, Noah is rather under appreciated, and I have yet to see Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan. It is hard to put my finger on it because I am not expert, but the man knows how to put together a beautiful picture. He has a very well defined visual style in service to his films’ dreamlike atmosphere, regardless if they are fantastical or realistic. Mother! seems like a departure from his previous work, taking place in a small enclosed space with a strong feeling of claustrophobia. Was this a good change of pace or should you watch The Fountain again?

While trying to settle into their tranquil life, Him and Mother are visited by a mysterious couple looking for a place to stay at their home in the wilderness. It does not take long for the situation to spiral out of control as more and more guests come to the house.

Mother! is not a logical movie by any means, following Aronofsky’s dreamlike aesthetic from start to finish. You have to suspend your disbelief the whole way through because everything from the acting to the set is symbolic. Nitpickers will lose their mind in Lovecraftian insanity trying to understand this film with a logic that does not exist.

I will say, before I get into spoilers, that Mother! is a rare gem of horror. It touches a part of you that no jump-scare or creepy monster can ever hope to. It is something that pokes at your psyche, that awakens a fear and anxiety that most movies cannot, especially those of today. It is a deeply disturbing film and I recommend it completely, but get ready because it goes from one to HOLY SHIT very quickly.

Now onto spoilers:

The story is a retelling of the Bible. It starts at Genesis, then Adam and Eve, Cain and Able, the Flood, Crucifixion (you have no idea), and ends with Armageddon. It skips over certain details and I may have missed some things, but each character represents a key player in those stories with an interesting twist. Following the trend set in Noah, Aronofsky combines environmentalism and Abrahamic spirituality into one.

Javier Bardem plays God and he lives in a house, the World, built by Mother (Earth), played by Jennifer Lawrence. The house is Eden with everything the two of them could want. When God lets in Man and Woman, played Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, the house and Mother slowly deteriorate both physically and mentally. It is only after Man and Woman are cast out that things begin to improve, Mother becoming pregnant with His child, Jesus. Before the child is born, Him becomes more popular among new people, and they start to worship him.

That is as far as I will get with the narrative. You really have to experience first hand the horror and anxiety of the situation that follows and how Aronofsky interprets the latter events of the Bible.

Mother! is as much an art-piece as it is a think-piece. The way it is shot, the visuals, and acting lend themselves to the study of the relationship between God, the world, and humanity. When the worshipers come into the house, they destroy, and steal things without regard for Mother’s pleas. They abuse her environment because Him told them everything is to be shared and he loves them. It gets to a point where the house becomes a war-zone as soldiers, an allegory for the Romans (apt), kill the worshipers until there is relative peace.

I cannot recall the exact line, but when Mother asks why Him let the people destroy her world, his answer has a lot to say on the relationship between Man and God. Why do we exist and why does God need to be worshipped if he can do whatever he wants? Does he enjoy that we destroy everything he gave us in his name? Does he admire our devotion in the face of chaos and terror? Like I said, I cannot remember the line, but when it came up I was struck with questions of Man’s purpose. It is the oldest question in the book and Mother! tries to divine the answer through symbolism.

Then there is a question of spirituality and the world. The term “worldly” refers to things that are only temporary like sex, money, and possessions. Many faiths argue that you need to let go of worldly things to focus on the spiritual in the name of a higher power. When the worshippers destroy Mother’s house, it shows they care more about the spiritual than the environment in which they subsist, devoting their entire being to Him. This idea is striking because many Christians believe we do not need to protect the world or take care of ourselves because Jesus will return in the Second Coming and remake the world after Armageddon.

So far 2017 has been a pretty good year for horror. It Comes at Night, Split, and It have been exceptional in a time when the genre is in dire straits. Mother! takes it a few steps further by making you think while trying to disturb you. Believe the hype, ignore the critics, and buy a ticket.

 

It

I was 11 when I first saw the It mini series from 1990. My cousin or whatever had a VHS copy that we watched in his parent’s basement. He told me it would give me nightmares and my reaction when the credits rolled was “Wow, what a piece of shit.” Tim Curry’s amazing performance aside, the series is not great or scary. It was three hours of decent kid actors and awful adult actors being afraid of a clown with Rachel Dolezal hair, trolling at them with balloons. It did not help that the series was cheap as dirt and all of the characters were walking tropes. They were either bullied, abused, damaged or a stand-in for the author, and they needed to stick together because there is power in friendship. Am I watching a shounen anime or a Stephen King adaptation? Maybe because clowns were never that frightening I could not feel the fear, but I would rather sit through quality horror than Z-tier trash. And because the It mini series was an objectively bad adaptation, the movie remake falls perfectly in line with my rules. Was the film a vast improvement or somehow worse?

After a series of child abductions in the town of Derry, a group of friends realize they have had shared encounters with a spectral clown named Pennywise, played by Bill Skarsgard, that may be behind the disappearances. While investigating the monster they find it has a dark and lengthy history associated with the town.

Picture Stranger Things with an R rating and you get the It movie. It takes the kid adventure concept, pioneered by Stephen King and many 80’s films (Goonies, Monster Squad, etc), and turns it into a nightmare. It is more or less an ensemble where the fears of each kid plays into their shared goal of defeating the monster. It can become your worst nightmare made manifest and a part of their journey is overcoming what they are afraid of.

However, most of the film is focused on the kids’ friendship, and it would not have worked without great writing and acting. I cannot imagine how difficult it was to get the cast to seamlessly gel together. Everyone is their character in the purest sense, rolling with it from start to finish. Finn Wolfhard’s Ritchie and Jack Dylan Grazer’s Eddie work the best, berating and insulting one another like they’ve known each other for years. Then there is the love triangle between Bill and Ben in pursuit of Bev, played by Sophia Lillis. She is probably the standout with a ton of emotion and subtlety in her performance that will go a long way if she does not crash and burn like most child actors.

The relationship and interactions between the kids is enough to warrant admission. They carry the film like it is Tuesday and it also just happens to be rather decent horror. The jump-scares can be annoying if you hate them as much as I, but the grotesque imagery is significantly more palpable. The look of Pennywise when he transforms or contorts his body, his disguises, and hallucinations are genuinely frightening and well done. One disguise is an abstract woman with white eyes that is totally creepy, but the leper is worse.

Some of the effects-oriented horror is done practically, save for Pennywise’s monster teeth and the abstract woman, but the main issue I have is more in the execution. Loud noises and orchestra stings aside, the use of CG and weird editing drags down maybe a quarter of the scares. The abstract woman could have been done with prosthetics and the monster teeth with puppetry that was possible since the dawn of time. I do not know what it is called, but when Pennywise is charging the camera, it focuses on his face as he moves while the rest of the frame is blurred. It is like this scene from Fight Club or this from Catwoman and it was distracting. The scares would have been better if they saved the stings for after the reveal to let the audience react or take them out completely. Ambient noise and silence can go a long way; just look at It Follows and Silent Hill 2.

The last few issues with the It movie are three individual scenes. All of them are tone-deaf musical interludes that were very out of place. They happen in the midst of darkness, including a rock war after Mike sees Pennywise gnawing on a child’s severed arm, and Bev’s bloody bathroom followed by a clean-up montage. It is strange why these scenes were done this way because they take you right out of the moment. The rock war I can forgive, but the other two did not need to happen.

And now comes the most important question of all: how does Skarsgard compare to Curry’s iconic performance from the mini series? The dueling versions of Pennywise remind me a lot of Heath Ledger and Jarred Leto’s Jokers. Obviously there is only one that is great, but this time around the successor actually succeeds. Like Curry, Skarsgard uses his expressive features to his advantage, making wide toothy grins while bugging out his massive Rami Malik eyes. Unlike Curry he did not have much dialog, but focused more on using his physical presence than anything else. The guy is 6’3” in a giant costume, wearing a ton of make-up, and pulls it off in a way Curry and his legendary charisma could not. Skarsgard is physically scary where his predecessor was emotionally. I hope to see more of him in the future, especially as Pennywise.

Trying to be better than the It mini series may seem like punching a blind kid, but the remake had a lot to achieve. Other than be good the film needed to be scary and surpass or improve upon Tim Curry’s iconic performance, lest it fail. It is not just an improvement; it is a whole other animal. The chemistry and dialog of the ensemble, the horror-adventure concept, and Skarsgard’s Pennywise make it fun to watch. Honestly, it has been a while since I have felt this way in a movie. I wanted to see where it went and felt invested in the characters. Only once in a while do you get a film like this and Dunkirk in the same year. Regardless of how you feel about horror, go see it immediately.

 

Wind River

Taylor Sheridan is one of the best new talents in Hollywood. When it comes to writing he does it better than a lot of his contemporaries. His scripts are tight as a drum and to the point with great command of timing, visuals, and dialog that is so far unmatched. I wish I saw Sicario and Hell or High Water when I was in writing school. There is so much you can learn from his work and Wind River is his first crack at directing. Does he have what it takes to realize his vision or should it have been left in the hands of a professional?

While tracking down predators that killed livestock on the Wind River Indian Reservation Cory, played by Jeremy Renner, stumbles upon the corpse of a young woman. When FBI Agent Banner, played by Elizabeth Olsen, comes to investigate, she must team up with Cory to help find the killer in the unforgiving wilderness.

With three movies to his name, you can easily spot a handful of signatures in Sheridan’s work. They are Neo-Westerns with modern themes that have an honest, yet nihilistic outlook on life. His films do not shy away from the reality of situations, including violence and the nature of humanity. In Sicario, the Drug War was regarded as a conflict that needed to be fought like an actual war, without concern for conventional law. Hell or High Water dealt with a pair of brothers fighting against the system that was consuming their rustic, old fashion reality in west Texas.

Wind River is about the relationship between man and nature, not unlike The Revenant, but more obvious and to the point. Other than Banner, Cory and many of the characters are used to living out in the middle of nowhere, in the naked heart of the wild. They understand their reality as plain as anyone who grew up in such rough terrain. It influences how they see law and order, especially on the reservation. You could say the whole movie is about what Amerindians deal with in their territory if you wanted to make it political (and you shouldn’t).

Before Banner comes into the story, we get an idea of life through Cory’s perspective. It is enough to go on until we are reminded that the world we know still exists outside the reservation. It becomes frontier justice versus bureaucracy, but more in the manner in which an investigation is conducted while dealing with the elements. It compounds the feeling of being a stranger in a strange land once Banner gets shot at and has to travel long distances to get anywhere.

Granted, this is nothing new to Westerns, but what matters is the execution. Sheridan took the idea of a city slicker going out west and modernized it. The idea of reservations fending for themselves in the face of crime and corporate exploitation in a harsh environment was the next logical step. He makes it easy to understand while using common tropes of the genre. Wind River has a lot in common with the show Longmire, which does the same thing, but is darker and more violent.

In terms of direction, the film is very standard and ordinary. There are some nice landscape shots and well constructed chaotic action scenes, yet it lacked the essential ingredient to set it apart from the norm. The movie did not have Villenuve’s aesthetic or Mackenzie’s cinematography like his last two. Sheridan’s strength is definitely his writing and he needs a little more practice directing to come into his own. That being said, I appreciate his use of practical effects. The environments seemed to be shot on location, there were real blanks in the guns, and real blood in the squibs. I have a good feeling he will continue this trend in the future.

Wind River would not stand out if Taylor Sheridan did not pen the script. The directing leaves much to be desired, but if you want a simple and honestly written Neo-Western look no further. I was pretty late in buying a ticket, so you better get to the theater as soon as possible. If you missed it, I cannot recommend Sicario and Hell or High Water highly enough.

 

Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars

Starship Troopers (ST) was one of the most influential movies of my development. I was 6 when I saw it in 1998 and it has stayed with me ever since. Later I read the book and became the man I am today. Both have merits that warrant consideration, but the film adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein’s classic has left the biggest impression. And on it’s 20th anniversary we get another sequel. Was Traitor of Mars a worthy successor or does it belong among the other follow-ups?

Following the events of Invasion Rico, voiced by Casper Van Dien, is sent to a station orbiting Mars to train a group of rookies. When a Bug infestation emerges on the planet’s surface, Rico is forced to put his leadership and unskilled Troopers to the test.

From the outset Traitor is not that great. The stilted voice acting is in service to a loose series of events connected by a very thin thread. There is a clear story, but along the way there are scenes and dialog that do not serve a purpose, beyond padding out the runtime. There are no interesting story moments or exciting action sequences worth remembering. It all boiled down to Bugs getting shot or blown up.

Those issues would mean the death of any other film without the element of satire. Ed Neumeier from the first movie returned to write the screenplay and peppered the signature ST propaganda throughout. There are FedNet segments like a show called “Who Do We Blame This Time?” and the narrator wondering if a certain invasion is going to be another disaster like Klendathu. The main antagonist, Sky Marshall Snapp, treats her job like a popularity contest where she contemplates blowing up a planet to increase her approval ratings.

Right off the bat the film is not serious, hence the voice acting and lack of a solid plot. It is more style over substance, the action and violence taking center stage. At the end of the day, Bugs getting shot and Troopers ripped apart is still awesome. Van Dien certainly knew what was going on, doing his best impression of George C. Scott’s Patton while looking like Guts from Berserk (seriously, he is Guts).

While there is satire, there is no juxtaposition to sell what it all means. The first ST was set up like a fascist propaganda movie with beautiful characters brainwashed into joining the military. They are happy to go to war with no regard for their lives before they are butchered in the first battle. The film juxtaposed the idealism and patriotism of the characters with mass murder to illustrate the horrors of fascism. It takes the youngest and most fanatical of the population to throw them at a war that will not end for the sake of maintaining the status quo.

Traitor is not trying to make a point. The humorous FedNet segments and dialog do not serve a purpose other than giving you something to laugh at. For the most part, it is about Troopers killing Bugs and some moé waifu villain trying to be the best girl. Perhaps something was lost in translation, given the movie is directed by Shinji Aramaki and Masaru Matsumoto from Appleseed and Harlock. Neumeier may have written the screenplay, but more often than not scripts undergo changes in development. Unless the end result was his vision, I would love to see what Neumeier was trying to achieve.

Traitor of Mars is not a bad sequel to Starship Troopers, but I find it difficult to recommend. It lacks real heart and finesse to get you invested, superficial issues aside. The only people who would get anything out of it are fans like myself. To that end, I recommend the first movie and the book if you have seen or read either. If you really want to watch Traitor, check out Invasion first to get a frame of reference. I also recommend the Roughnecks TV series if you can tolerate the janky animation.

 

The Dark Tower

A genre unto itself, about 90% of adaptations based on Stephen King’s books are pretty bad. I saw It when I was 11 and did not think it was scary or good. Later came The Stand and it was very underwhelming despite the concept. Dreamcatcher is so baffling it is beyond description. Thankfully, some of King’s adaptations are great. Frank Darabont’s early work, The Shining, and others are all worth a watch. Now comes The Dark Tower, based on the long-running fantasy series of the same name. I have not read the books, so I have no idea how it will hold up to fan scrutiny. Was Tower one of the good ones or another dud?

In the midst of earthquakes ravaging different parts of the world Jake, played by Tom Taylor, has nightmares of a fantastical world in turmoil. He sees the Gunslinger, played by Idris Elba, fighting the Man in Black, played by Matthew McConaughey, in an endless conflict with the fate of the universe hanging in the balance.

Even before the movie came out King fans hated what had become of their favorite story. One guy I know of from BroTeam said he was going to stack up his Dark Tower books and piss on them when the trailer came out. I had a general idea of what to expect going in and I did my best to set aside my preconceived notions. All art must be judged on its own merit, not the opinion of others. It also helps that I have never read a single King book in my life.

The hate from fans I understand, but Tower really was not that terrible. If anything, the film is very mediocre and boring. It takes a long time for stuff to happen and even then there is no guarantee. The action scenes that I assume were supposed to be cool were so underwhelming I could have fallen asleep. There was potential for cool moments that were never realized because the director has no eye for action. The use of CG muzzle flashes and debris explosions did not help either.

With that said, Dark Tower could have been worse. It could have been like 5th Wave or some terrible YA movie front-loaded with a ton of crap that did not make sense. The film was at least competent and told a clear story with decent performances. However, I cannot recommend it with the inherent mediocrity. You do not feel anything that happens on screen and I am starting to think there is more in the books. If you are not up for reading, check out some of the other adaptations of Kings work.

 

Atomic Blonde

Spy movies are not my thing. Between cool moments with gadgets and action, they are just boring. Most consist of the spy going undercover, maintaining their cover, and hooking up with a beautiful woman. Then comes the final confrontation with the bad guy and a happy ending. I know not all films are created equal, but that is how spy movies tend to play out. Mission Impossible 5, Man from UNCLE, and Archer are the exception. Does Atomic Blonde belong among them or in the garbage with 007?

Working for British Intelligence Lorraine, played by Charlize Theron, is dispatched to East Berlin to track down a list of agents currently working undercover. At the same time, elements from both sides of the Iron Curtain are after the same thing.

Blonde is all style. The visuals, action, and soundtrack are in service to looking cool. It is shot and edited at a fast-pace not unlike a Guy Ritchie film with neon supers and an omnipresent blue tint. Before the ending, there are three long shots disguised as one in an extended action scene. It starts from the top of a building and works its way down into a short car chase. It was the best and only worthwhile part of Blonde.

The issue of style versus substance is universal. You can strike a balance between the two or focus on either one. More often than not, taking the style approach leaves a lot to be desired. Want more character, more meat on the bones of your movie? That is substance. If you leave it out, you will have a very superficial experience.

Despite the action and soundtrack, Blonde is pretty mediocre. It takes forever to get to the good stuff with all the setup and tropes in between. There is undercover stuff, losing tails, and subterfuge that you have seen before. You can probably figure out what happens without actually seeing the film. With the lack of substance, there is nothing to hook you in and help suffer through the monotony.

The meandering from point to point would have been tolerable if we actually cared about those involved. Theron has the screen presence to sell the character, but she has no personality beyond “I like being deceptive.” Know why Punisher is never the focus of a MAX book? Because he is a void of pure rage and instinct whose sole desire is to kill criminals. A movie all about him is like if No Country for Old Men was about Anton Chigurh. Theron is so one-note, I had to look up her character’s name afterward. The surrounding cast does their best, but even James McAvoy’s charisma could not salvage the situation. Nor could John Goodman or Sofia Boutella.

And that is Atomic Blonde. It is not the worst thing ever, but there is not much to say. The cool action scenes and soundtrack were not a good motivation to stick around. You need to give audiences an incentive to care. I cannot recommend it for any reason beyond those two aspects. Check out the soundtrack online and wait two months for the action sequences to appear on YouTube.

 

Dunkirk

This week I was faced with a choice: Valerian or Dunkirk. One is Luc Besson’s first sci-fi movie since 5th Element and the other is Christopher Nolan’s stab at the war genre. One is based on a French comic and the other follows the Battle of Dunkirk. Both have potential, but I am restricted to one film per week. It did not take long to settle on Dunkirk given Nolan’s impeccable record. Besson I trust less with his past work and that Valerian looks like an awkward Avatar clone. Did I make the right decision or has Nolan finally made a bad movie?

After retreating to the town of Dunkirk, France, 400,000 British soldiers wait for evacuation back to England. However, the Germans will not let them go so easily.

Dunkirk is the best film of the year. It is masterful in every way and you need to see it as soon as possible. The dialog, visuals, action, and audio culminate in a cinematic achievement that only comes once in a decade.

It transcends the war genre into a suspenseful tale of survival in the face of an omniscient enemy. Every minute spent waiting brings the soldiers closer to annihilation while the home front races to save them. Fully realized on screen, this premise is made doubly unnerving thanks to Hans Zimmer’s unending score. In place of his usual style, the music is atmospheric and industrial, creating a sense of dread that works well with the visuals.

And that is all I am going to tell you.

Dunkirk is one of those movies you just have to see. It is the pinnacle of visual storytelling, the closest thing to a modern day masterpiece in this world of remakes and reboots. Prospective filmmakers and screenwriters: buy a ticket and take notes because there is no better example of how to create. Drop whatever you are doing and go see it. Whether you are a history buff, a total idiot or hate war movies, you will not be disappointed.

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Technically, I did not have to see this. Homecoming is a remake of a remake of the movies that kicked off this whole thing. Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy set the standard for things to come. The pseudo-serious tone, colorful aesthetic, and sense of heart all came from those three films. Then Jon Favreau came along and perfected the formula to what me know today as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, because of a lot of studio nonsense that keeps characters like the Fantastic Four appearing alongside the Avengers, Spider-Man remained in the hands of a Sony. After a handful of anal-blowouts at the box office, the company finally allowed Peter Parker to appear in an MCU movie. Did Homecoming surpass the last two abominable remakes or is it only slightly better?

After the events of Civil War Peter, played by Tom Holland, is eager to join the Avengers. When Tony Stark seemingly ignores his advances, Peter takes matters into his own hands.

Right off the bat, Homecoming is great. Ignoring the Raimi trilogy and the rest of the MCU, the film stands on its own. You can watch it as a separate entity and miss none of the canonical details. The only bit you need to know concerns the villain’s motivations and even then it is not a big deal. Before I get into it, you should just buy a ticket and see for yourself.

I am not a fan of the character. Granted, I am fascinated by a psychotic mass murderer like Punisher, but I was never drawn to the “superhero with problems” angle Stan Lee was going for at the start. I read comics to escape real life, not to remind myself it exists. Peter Parker always came off like a whiner that should get over his issues. This time, he had my attention.

Thanks to the heart and soul Marvel puts into their work, you actually care about what is going on with Peter. A lot of time is devoted to fleshing out the people around him and his life. To be honest, I wanted to see more of what they were up to. When Peter skips out on his friends, the weight of his struggle to be a hero and a normal kid really hits you. It gets worse when he stumbles and fails because he is ultimately failing them.

For the first time ever, I actually cared about Spider-Man.

Michael Keaton was one of the better MCU villains as Vulture. On the one hand, he was a real person with relatable motivations. Like Ultron, he had a ton of personality that made him likeable and fun despite being a bad guy. It also helps that Vulture’s costume is awesome. Without hyperbole, it is better than anything I have seen in past movies. Imagine a retro version of Raging Raven from MGS4 mixed with Falcon.

None of this would have been possible if those involved did not have something to work with. Six people wrote Homecoming and it felt like the work of one. The pacing was a little stilled, but the dialog, jokes, and timing were very well done. As per your typical MCU film, it was funny in that pseudo-serious way, coupled with some John Hughes style humor. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is even referenced early on.

One complaint I have is the movie is too dark. Not in terms of tone, but lighting. During the action scenes that take place at night, I could not see a thing. I had to squint to see what was happening and it was still difficult. The last fight was so dark I missed all that Vulture goodness. There was also a scene where the Michelle character was reading Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maughm. Imagine an autobiography written to force the reader into suicide from boredom. Seeing the book on screen was depressing.

If you are like me and lost faith in Spider-Man after the last two films, Homecoming is what you need. It revitalizes the potential of the character now that it is in Marvel’s capable hands. Everything you expect from the MCU and then some is right here. If you are feeling a bit of superhero fatigue after Guardians 2 and Wonder Woman, I think this will do you some good.

My condolences to Stan Lee and his family.

 

Baby Driver

New Edgar Wright movie. How can anyone say no? Was Baby Driver another stellar entry in his filmography or has the limey genius reached his pique?

While playing getaway driver for a crew of professional thieves Baby, played by Ansel Elgort, dreams of living a normal life with a waitress named Debora, played by Lily James. Shortly after his last job his boss Doc, played by Kevin Spacey, pulls Baby back in.

As I said in my Ant-Man review, I like all of Wright’s films. They are tightly written with fantastic comedic timing, great characters, and they just happen to feature pretty decent action. The style of his movies, however, is somewhat understated. The camera work, use of music, and editing make them standout out from their respective genres. The snap-zooms and insert shots on mundane actions give Wright’s a signature edge that is all his own.

Driver is the culmination of these stylistic choices. Everything you have seen in his previous work is brought to the fore and multiplied. Close-ups, long shots, and elaborate timing make the movie what it is. It has a lot in common with a musical where the action is in synch with the beat. More often than not gunshots sound at the same time as a string of notes. Certain edits and shots are also determined by the tune in question.

For all its style, Driver does not have much in the way of substance. That is not to say it is entirely superficial. Generic is the operative word where the characters, their desires, and motivations are a vehicle for all the good stuff. Baby’s tinnitus is there to justify the use of music. Debora’s goal of a road trip into the unknown was meant to give Baby a reason to want to escape his life of crime. Basic though it may be, the sparse substance provides short breaks between what matters most.

As for the performances, everyone gave it their all despite of the lackluster material. Elgort and James worked very well together, especially come the last third of the film. Jamie Foxx was at his most intimidating as the insane Bats while Jon Hamm was the cool-headed Buddy with a subtle mean streak. Most of the cast was fantastic, but Spacey grabbed the movie by its balls. If he had more scenes, he would have stolen the whole show.

Been a while since I have written a short review. Those I save for the good ones and Baby Driver is pretty great. If you can set aside the lack of real substance, you better not miss this one. The style alone is reason enough to buy a ticket.

 

Megan Leavey

I wanted to be an MP in the Army and work in a K-9 unit. Then I realized I was not the right fit for the military and decided to play to my strengths as a writer. However, my affinity for the military did not fade and working dogs are awesome. When a film about the Armed Forces comes out I try to see it and Megan Leavey was right up my alley. Did it stand out in this month of trash or should I have saved my money for Baby Driver?

To escape the monotony of her life Megan, played by Kate Mara, joins the Marine Corps. After a disciplinary incident leaves her doing grunt work, she grows attached to a working dog named Rex.

Two years ago I saw a movie called Max. It was about a working dog living with the family of his handler that died on deployment. It was very corny on purpose. The kid character was supposed to be a twerp, the villains were supposed to be cartoonish, and the overall tone was supposed to be light-hearted. For what it was, Max was successful, a call back to dog movies that was also about being a soldier. However, the corn factor downplayed the whole thing. It was very tone deaf when the titular Max would have a fit while fireworks go off, followed by a scene of kids doing BMX stunts.

Leavey is the complete antithesis. For one thing, it is based on a true story. Instead of overt subtext about going through trauma, film is about Rex and Megan sharing a bond through war. Not unlike human soldiers, the two are inseparable and the latter half of the movie is about Megan dealing with the anxiety of being apart.

That is where Leavey does well. Mara is one of those actors that are only as good as the material they are given. While dealing with the separation she is very emotional and focused on trying to bring Rex home. There is a lot going on, whereas the first half is pretty dull. We see Megan go through boot camp and deploy with very little to keep your attention. It is just stuff that happens because that was how it played out in real life.

From what I could tell, Leavey was trying to be a Clint Eastwood film. It was very matter-of-fact, honest, and obvious. However, Eastwood knows how to bring a script to life and get good performances out of his actors. American Sniper may have been cheaper than dirt, but the themes and Bradley Cooper’s performance made it exceptional. Leavey starts with a whole lot of nothing before actually getting to something. It was more concerned with being faithful to the story than being a movie. Sully was very plain, but it was still trying to be a movie.

A couple more things irked me that other people will not care about. During the pass and review segment of Megan’s graduation from boot camp, none of the extras in formation marched in-step. Also, Mara does not look like a Marine or any service member. This is subjective, but women in the military do not look like models because they actually work. She a good actor, but I think a Katee Sackhoff or Portia Doubleday would have been a better physical fit for the part.

All in all, Megan Leavey is very average. It is not that great given the first half is a slog, but it is well meaning. It is about the bonds of war between man and his best friend. You cannot ask for more. In terms of a recommendation, if you saw Max and were left wanting, give it a look. For everyone else, unless you are a fan of the military and war movies, you would not miss anything sitting this one out.

 

It Comes at Night

June does not look good for movies. While Wonder Woman and It Comes at Night were the exception, the rest of the month is a no go for me. Cars 3 and Despicable Me 3 look like poison, Transformers 5 requires no explanation, and some true stories and comedies I do not want to see. Until Baby Driver comes out on the 29th, I will be ignoring everything else because Edgar Wright is a genius. I might see Megan Leavey because military and dogs. Was It Comes a good start to a dower month or should you see Wonder Woman again?

After an epidemic destroys civilization, a family out in the woods takes extra precautions to ensure their safety. Their simple lives turn upside down when they invite another family to stay with them.

Whatever you think It Comes is, you are wrong. The homeless-apocalypse has many tropes you can easily predict like its base genre, post-apocalypse. You know there is going to be dark subject matter and terrible things will happen to the characters. If you have seen The Road, read Walking Dead, or played The Last of Us, you have an idea of what will happen in It Comes and that is what the film is trying to do.

Paranoia plays a big part in the horror and setting. The virus in question is airborne and if you know anything about diseases, airborne is the worst. You can get it just by breathing or being near someone who is infected. Even then you cannot be sure if they are sick or if you are sick until you start showing symptoms. The characters know this and are well aware of the possibility of infection.

The conflicts deal with their survival and fear of getting sick. The characters stick to a schedule and rules that must be followed lest they risk death. Then they have to consider what other people will do to them in the event they are attacked. Many scenes are all about the characters questioning each other, arguing about breaking the rules, and trying to get a one up because they have no idea what the other group is trying to do. The individual conflicts would have been boring had the performance been less than stellar.

At the same time, as an audience member, you have your own expectations because you have seen movies. You have an inkling of what might happen and are constantly changing it up as the film progresses. In that way, It Comes puts you in the characters’ shoes. A hundred different things are going through their heads because they are so afraid and you are always thinking about what is going on. The movie is meta in this way because you are doing the same thing.

With small films it matters not the what, but the how. How movies are made is what sets them apart. While It Comes is not unlike your average post-apocalypse, it is made in a way that makes its special. The use of light and darkness is just incredible. In scenes of heavy blacks there is only one light source emanating from the characters. It conveys a sense of isolation that they experience living in such cramped quarters in the middle of nowhere. It also adds to the horror of not knowing what may be happening in the thick void around them.

It Comes at Night is borderline amazing. It is not the next best thing, but still impressive. As another annual good horror film following Witch from 2016, it does its job. It reaffirms my faith that not all contemporary horror movies are total trash and a select few creative people know what they are doing. I highly recommend giving it a look if you are a fan of the genre and post-apocalypse.

 

 

Wonder Woman

Looking back at BvS I think I was a little too harsh. It was still a miserable experience seeing a film franchise cut its own throat with a hacksaw. That being said, I take solace in knowing Zack Snyder cared about what he was doing. Unlike Brian Singer he is not embarrassed by his fandom and WB gave him the money to realize his ambition. Even Ben Affleck loved playing Batman, dull performance aside.

However, that is a fraction of merit out of a whole lot of garbage. No one else cared to make BvS great and I do not blame them. When you have a hack like David S. Goyer writing your screenplay, I would not try either. Even if WB was accelerating its plans to establish a cinematic universe, it could have been done with finesse. BvS failed on the page before it reached the screen.

Wonder Woman is in a position to subvert any apprehension one may have. It does not take place in the current timeline of the DCEU, but before. There is a lot that can be done and Goyer is nowhere to be seen. Furthermore, I have faith in Gal Gadot’s ability as an actor. She did not have nearly enough to do in BvS and now she has a chance to prove herself. I still think she is not physically built for the part. Seriously, Chun Li from Street Fighter has more muscle in her thighs than Gadot in her entire body. Does Wonder Woman’s origin make up for last year’s misery or does the DCEU need to die?

When a pilot named Steve, played by Chris Pine, crash lands on the island of Themyscira, Diana discovers that the world is in the midst of WWI. Thinking it is the work of Ares, she goes with Steve to help end the war.

WB finally did the smart thing and just copied Marvel. WW is straight up First Avenger with a little bit of Thor in the beginning. From the overall look and set-up, to the fish-out-of-water humor with Bronze Age Diana in 1918 England, it is everything a Marvel fan would expect. There is even a small team of Howling Commandos made up of token characters. It was as if WB hired people who knew what they were doing and cared about the material.

Turns out, copying the competition actually worked because WW is great. Of course, because the last DCEU movies were so bad (I don’t even remember Suicide Squad), there was nowhere it could go but up. If you can ignore the parallels, the film stands its ground as a separate entity. There is character development, theme, a clear story that has decent pacing, and humor to balance it all out. It is confounding that something so simplistic and easy is liken to masterpiece.

If you have seen First Avenger, WW is the same movie. Where Rogers was an idyllic wimp that wanted to do good, Diana is a naive warrior that wants to do good whose thinking is grounded in the Classical. Her perception of right and wrong and the concept of sides in a conflict are one-dimensional. When trying to end the war, she cannot grasp the idea of people killing people because they are all the same. To her, a Brit and a German is the same thing because they are Man. Taking place during WWI is clever because that war was so morally gray and unlike anything we had scene in human history.

Though thankfully apolitical, WW does not really do much with this idea. Beyond “war is bad,” the film, like its character’s ideals is one-dimensional and does not get into the nature of Man. It makes it clear that our need to kill each other comes from one guy and Diana needs to kill him to bring peace. That is all well and good, but there was a point toward the end that would have been a gut punch to the soul if taken in another direction. It would have been tragic, but also compelling. A lot of potential was lost trying to be heartfelt and positive.

However, WW is not trying to make you think and that is not a bad thing. If the Captain America movies explored Rogers’ need for a war to fight, you know how depressing they would have been? He would have flashbacks and fits of rage and the Avengers would get him a service dog to try and help him through his anxiety. It would be very dark and WW did not want to go down that route. What we got instead was a fun action adventure about bringing peace to the world. That is the most anyone can ask for.

Like Atlas and the Globe, Gadot carries the whole film. In between BvS and now she decided what she wanted to do with the character and pulled it off flawlessly. She plays Diana with such innocence and naiveté that the idyllic and humorous moments feel genuine. She comes from a world where myth is reality and she does not know what do in Man’s domain. Pine plays his usual “charming action man” character. He has great chemistry with Gadot and they play off each other very well. Everyone else was pretty good and it was nice to see Danny Huston and Ewen Bremner working again.

My only real gripe with WW is the action. I could tell director Patty Jenkins had no eye for it because all of the sequences were awkward. They were trying way too hard to look “cool” with a lot of slow motion and the actors doing flips because they could. Each action sequence is full of disparate “cool” moves that do not connect in a cohesive manner. Usually in an action scene, every move leads into the next naturally. Even the uncoordinated fights in Force Awakens were appealing and made sense. In WW it looks like 10 year-old me ripping off the sword fights in Mummy Returns in slow motion.

If you were dissatisfied with BvS and long for WB to get its head out of its ass, Wonder Woman is what you are looking for. It has heart and humor, something Marvel has been doing right for almost a decade. A part of me wishes it was 300 with women, but the DCEU was flawed at its inception, now everyone is playing catch-up. This was a step in the right direction and we can only hope WB puts this much effort into their next installment.

Also, my condolences to Zach Snyder and his family.

 

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

I was 11 when I saw the first Pirates (not that one). It was like something I had never seen before. Johnny Depp’s character was enthralling with a performance that I will never forget. The skeleton pirates are still awesome and the action scenes quaint compared to today. I watched it over and over to the point I ruined the disk and it remains a cornerstone of my childhood. As for the sequels, I could care less.

Even when I was young I knew something was wrong. The reuse of jokes in Dead Man’s Chest irked me, like the writers could not come up with new material. The coffin gag was nice, but the rest of the jokes are recycled. The whole “anti-pirate” subplot was also irritating. The characters would not shut up about being pirates and hating pirates and I did not care. Thank god Bill Nigh was a cool Cthulhu monster.

It got worse in At World’s End with Beckett’s character executing people for sympathizing with pirates like they were hiding them in their attics. Are these guys 18th Century Nazis? Are pirates a repressed minority? “Sir, they’re singing.” First line in the whole film and I wanted to leave. Sadly I stayed in the theater and was happy when it came to end. Then On Stranger Tides came out, but I had the good sense to ignore it. I have no idea how it ties into Dead Men Tell No Tales and I do not care. Was it terrible or did it reignite some semblance of affinity for the Pirates series?

I cannot say because I did not see it…

No, for real, I stayed home and wrote this instead. Then I watched some Trigun, an old anime from back when Saturday nights were Adult Swim and not Toonami. After that, I started a new blog for my friend’s literary magazine Ghost Parachutes. I highly recommend checking out their flash fiction, written by some of Orlando’s best.

At first I was not planning on skipping Dead Men. As a critic, amateur or otherwise, you must contend with the possibility of seeing something terrible. Regardless of what I expected and my own experiences with the Pirates movies, I had to see it and report my findings.

Aside from the fact I do not get paid for this and are not under obligation to write a review, I decided to pass on Dead Men. What changed my mind was a Sneak Peek in the previews before I think Covenant or Guardians Vol. 2? I avoid preview clips like the plague and this one was playing right in front of me on the big screen. It showed a small chuck of the film that was not indicative of the whole, but it was confounding nonetheless.

For about two and a half minutes I was witness to the worst humor I have ever seen. It went beyond copying the last success and was downright bad. “Stop talking so the girl can undress.” “Why didn’t you stop talking?” “Your profession sounds like ‘whore’ so that’s a thing.” Jack Sparrow did some Jack Sparrow stuff. Then the “anti-pirate” element came up and that was it for me.

My mouth was agape, questioning how something this awkward and stilted was given life. Did Bruckheimer not learn from the past? Did he think because Stranger Tides was successful that he could do more of the same and reap equal profits? Why? Just because something makes a lot of money does not mean it is good. Does that make the Transformers movies great? If that is the case, I should just quit and stick with the old stuff. I am not one for post-modernism, but back in the day, people actually cared about the art of cinema.

My mom was kind enough to give me four AMC passes. My parents have been very great about supporting this hobby and I could not be more grateful. I owe them a lot and the last thing I want to do is use their generosity on a Pirates film. I have one ticket left and I will be using it on Wonder Woman instead. You can only trick me so many times before I get wise. I know this is not a proper review and I am probably wrong, but please avoid Dead Men Tell No Tales. Let this series die. It should never have been a series in the first place.

Also, skip Baywatch. It deserves failure because it is a remake… and Baywatch.

 

Alien: Covenant

I have no clue why everyone thought Prometheus was too complicated and vague to understand. Some people go to a planet to find the origin of humanity and stuff happens. That is it. There is nothing complex or too difficult to figure out on your own. A lot of it can be chalked up to assumption, but because no one likes to think anymore, they needed a Blu-ray release with deleted scenes that were not in the final cut for a reason.

The dumb criticism was the progenitor of contemporary nitpicking, where every lapse in logic must be explained, or no one will like your movie. People hate Prometheus but give a pass to Star Trek: Into Darkness because it explained its plot holes? Are you serious? However, there were questions that went unanswered. I for one would like to know what came of Shaw’s journey to meet the Engineers. Does Alien: Covenant answer these questions or is it actually terrible.

While on a colony mission, the crew of the Covenant receives a distress call from a nearby planet. After landing, they discover they should have left it alone.

Congratulations, everyone that thought Prometheus was terrible! You got exactly what you wanted: a two-dimensional sci-fi horror film that explains everything so your dumb asses know what is happening without challenging you in any way! You do not have to think because Covenant does it for you! There is no nuance like the theme of meeting your maker and the horror of finding them. No! It is the same shit you have seen before! Thanks for complaining Ridley Scott into submission, one of the most prolific directors in history, pricks!

Of course this all comes down to judging a movie based on what I want instead of what it is. I like Prometheus and I expected something of equal measure, something different from the traditional Alien formula. Judging Covenant as its own entity, however, does not change that it is not that great.

From the very beginning you know what is going to happen. Everyone is going to die, a thing you saw coming happens, followed by a twist that was set up an hour before. Where the Alien series was always a slasher movie in space, Covenant is a bad slasher movie in space. The characters are more disposable than a Red-Shirt and not worth consideration. I was not at all interested in their respective plights or lack thereof. When the characters died, my reaction was “Whose that?”

The only interesting character was David/Walter, played masterfully by Michael Fassbender. He had a personality and motive that was fascinating and I wanted to see more of him. I wanted to see where he would go and understand his reasoning. Everyone else was just along for the ride. The main protagonist is only memorable because of her hair. Billy Crudup’s character is so petty and pathetic I was waiting for him to die. The rest of the characters were just meat with dialog. At least Danny McBride tried and I remember him because he did things.

At that point it became a waiting game. I sat in my seat anticipating when people would buy it based on my experiences with horror and that is the problem. I had no clue what was going to happen in Prometheus and it surprised me. It was this story that was unique with complicated themes that could have led to anything. I wanted to see where it would go because it was different. In Covenant, you know exactly what is going to happen because it is so obvious. Had the emphasis been on David’s story, there would be no issue. Take out Alien in the title and it has more in common with a Sci-Fi Channel original movie.

Being a Ridley Scott film Covenant is very well made. Like Scorsese the man is old as dirt and has not lost his edge. The movie is beautifully bleak with real, lived in sets thanks to Scott’s admiration for the practical. I wish I could say the same for the Xenomorph CG. The pacing is excellent with plenty build up packed with underlining dread that felt genuine. It is unfortunate that the sum of the film’s parts is not enough to ignore its overall problems.

I recommend Alien: Covenant if you want to see more of the same. If you want to see a Xenomorph kill stupid characters and nothing else, look no further. It is unfortunate that David’s story, the best part, is such a small component. For the rest of us, re-watch Prometheus, Alien, and Aliens. Alien 3 is okay, but not that great if I am being honest. If you can turn your brain off, Alien: Resurrection is pretty good. It is basically Firefly with blood and guts. Look to the old; ignore the new.

 

Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2

I have said on more than one occasion that the first Guardians of the Galaxy is not the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It was funny with great whit, a cast that gelled together, and had perfect direction thanks to James Gunn. The movie’s strengths were the humor and characters, which is usually what you need to make a good Marvel film. However, that was all Guardians had to offer. The main story and individual character motivations could not have been more secondary. It was a McGuffin plot about under-developed people finding a thing to stop a thing.

It is important to remember that Guardians came out of nowhere. No one outside of comic fans had any idea who Star Lord or Rocket Raccoon were. The movie had merits, but those in charge could have done better than a McGuffin story. It is the safest bet with a new property; even Force Awakens and Avengers had McGuffin plots. Then again, both titles came from an established base that everyone understood. With Vol. 2 there is more pressure to do something different. Did it surpass the first Guardians or did I waste my money?

After Rocket, played by Bradley Copper steals valuable artifacts from a powerful alien race, the Guardians are forced to flee before crash landing on a random planet. While trying to fix what remain of their ship Peter, played by Chris Pratt, is met by his long lost father Ego, played by Kurt Russell.

Vol. 2 corrects the mistakes of its predecessor. The chief focus this time around is the characters. The story is a vehicle to put them in situations so they can learn and change. There are short bursts of action between sizable chunks of different pairs of characters going through their own thing. Rocket and Yondu, Gamora and Nebula, and Peter and Ego are given ample space to have an arc.

The individual pairs culminate in the film’s perfectly executed theme of family. Where the Fast and Furious movies outright tell you they are a family, the Guardians characters are anything but. They each have desires and motivations that are not congruent with each other nor do they really like one another. Vol. 2 puts the characters into situations where they must grow and learn to live with each other.

I would go so far as to say the film has more in common with a drama than a sci-fi action-adventure. After the beginning, the tone gradually seeps into a realm of melancholy that I did not see coming. Peter tries to be a kid again while Ego steps into a patriarchal role while preparing him for an unknown purpose. Nebula’s motivations for wanting to kill Gamora go far beyond simple revenge. Yondu has the most compelling arc that ties into Peter’s. It reminded me a lot of LEGO Batman and the relationship between Bruce and Alfred.

Another element that changed from the first Guardians was the humor, but not for the better. I know humor is subjective and what I find funny borders on depressing, but Vol. 2 did not make me laugh. I get a feeling the writers noticed Drax, Groot, and Rocket became more popular than they thought, and gave them bigger parts in the sequel. While they were the standouts (Groot especially), the rest of the humor was pretty bad. It was like they were trying too hard to keep up with the stronger bits.

There is a lot of terrible faux laughter. If you want your characters to laugh at something, at least make it sound authentic. This is real laughter. In fact, none of the other MCU movies have faux laughter because they are trying to make the audience laugh. Then there was Taserface, played by Chris Sullivan, whose sole punch line is his name. Some of the gags were not clever, but they were well constructed and made sense.

Could have been worse.

In terms of the cast, everyone was on point, but the standout was Russell. The man is charisma incarnate with a filmography that rivals his costars through and through. The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, Tombstone, Stargate… Need I say more? If you ask me, Russell was overdue for a part in an MCU film. Had he popped up in the first Iron Man, he would have been Nick Fury because he played him in Escape From New York. Any hint of what he is like as Ego would be spoilers. Do yourself a favor and see for yourself.

Sequels are always a troublesome lot. It is impossible to follow up a successful previous installment and achieve the same result, unless you are talking about Winter Soldier. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 is a direct reversal of the first; the bad is good and the good bad. Though the downturn in humor was disheartening, the drama of the characters more than makes up for the lack of laughs.

 

The Circle

Tom Hanks. New movie. That was all I needed. Is The Circle Bridge of Spies or Mazes and Monsters?

While desperate to find a more fulfilling job Mae, played by Emma Watson, is hired by the Circle, a social media conglomerate. As she moves further up the chain, Mae realizes that the Circle is far more sinister than she anticipated.

With any satire it is best to not put too much thought into it. Held up to enough scrutinity most satirical works would utterly fall apart. What makes those works compelling is how they embody their respective themes. You are meant to take them at face value and acknowledge the blatancy of their message. Do you know how much sense RoboCop would make if you really thought about it? Suddenly a story about the dangers of corporatization with fascist undertones makes a whole lot less sense.

That is the case with Circle because it is dumber than hell. To think about the logistics required and level of behavioral conditioning to make any of what is going on possible would render the film even dumber. Such is the nature of satire because you cannot understand its themes without suspension of disbelief. I watched a “Midnight Screenings” review of the movie and Brad Jones could not separate logic from a story that was not supposed to be logical.

Satire is designed to make you think and Circle gives you a lot to consider. The conceit of the movie is social media is a self-creating surveillance platform. By posting information, videos, and pictures, we unintentionally create a digital profile for companies to exploit at will. It also centralizes our online activities where various processes are funneled through a single service that manages everything on top of social media. Imagine Zola’s algorithm from Winter Soldier, but with Facebook, Google, and Amazon as one company.

With a centralized Internet, you have everyone knowing everything about each other. It is not just the company running the show, but your friends, family, and coworkers. Information is out in the open and available to anyone that bothers to look. This creates a hive mind mentality where you know people before they know you and vice versa. Suddenly you do not live your life according to life, but through the filter of social media. There is no sense of discovery or the joy of meeting new people because you looked them up beforehand. And as social media grows beyond a trend, it becomes an essential part of life that everyone must adopt.

Circle presents these ideas in a way that leaves you to make up your own mind. On the one hand, being fully transparent keeps everyone honest. No one has anymore secrets because you are constantly out in the open. However, by making transparency a part of daily life, privacy dies. With a centralized Internet that becomes vital to existence, being transparent and subject to a hive mind forgoes any notion of personal solitude. You cannot do or say anything online without everyone knowing what is going on. Is being honest with the world really important enough to sacrifice your privacy?

The questions Circle asks are provocative. The actual film is pretty stupid. Why anyone would go along with full transparency is moronic. It makes sense given the Mae character is an idiot that thinks streaming her every waking second to the world is a good idea. The lunacy reaches its pique when a mob-sourced Orwellian tracking program unintentionally kills her friend. She seems totally fine with people invading each other’s privacy until people start invading each other’s privacy.

Watson was not that great in her performance. I understand mastering another accent is difficult, but she could have at least tried to sound enthusiastically inconsistent. Most of the time she was edging into Natalie Portman terriotiry. Granted, she was not as bad as the Boyhood kid as Mercer, the one who dies. Hanks was obviously the better, even though he had maybe 25 minutes of screen time. John Boyega showed up as Ty and did an adequate job. Seeing him made me want to watch Force Awakens again. Karen Gillan stood out because she had the most to do. She does a great job of showing how crazy you can get when you realize you work in a hive mind.

If you want to watch The Circle, be sure to leave logic at the door. There is not a single frame of footage that would standup to conventional rationality or common sense. See it as a satire because it was made to be a satire. Otherwise, it sucks and you lose what makes it mostly okay.

 

Free Fire

This week I was faced with a bit of a conundrum. The Promise and Free Fire were coming out at the same time and I was interested in seeing both. Obviously, if you want to maintain a budget, seeing two movies in a single week is a terrible idea. I was forced to choose between the two based on limited information. Free Fire is Ben Wheatley’s follow up to High Rise about a shootout in a warehouse. Promise is about the Armenian Genocide, a subject that gets very little attention in film.

Both stand on their own merits, but there can be only one. The subject matter of Promise is important when it comes to understanding history. Genocide is bad and the more we acknowledge and study atrocities of the past the less likely we will commit them in the future. The movie is banking on its subject, while the premise falls to the wayside. Not unlike Titanic and Pearl Harbor, Promise is a romance set against a tragedy. On the trailer alone I knew what was going to happen.

Look, the Armenian Genocide was terrible, but I do not need a film about it to know it was terrible. The fact it involved the Armenians and Turks is inconsequential because no matter which way you look at it, mass murder and/or ethnic cleansing is awful by default and must be prevented. The played-out premise did not help the movie’s chances either. The only people who should see Promise are those interested in learning about a historical event and Cenk Uygur, founder of The Young Turks. And since I am already familiar with the Armenian Genocide, that title has more offensive subtext than Cenk’s fat buffalo ass. For those reasons, I chose to see Free Fire instead.

When a group of IRA terrorists attempt to buy rifles from a Rhodesian gunrunner, the two sides start shooting at each other over a misunderstanding. Trapped in a warehouse, they try to kill each other through the night until there is only one left standing.

Free Fire was fantastic. The acting was exceptional, writing tight and funny, and the action set pieces inventive. It is not the Second Coming, but in a world of remakes and reboots, I will take anything that is original and pretty good over total garbage. Ben Wheatley returns to his small-scale roots with the bulk of the story taking place in one location. The cinematography is more personal with hand-held shots that stay close to the characters crawling through dirt and debris. It was also a breath of fresh air seeing real blanks used in real gun and squibs that are not digital.

And that is all I am going to say.

I do not want to tell you anything except to buy a ticket as soon as possible. I always try to promote original works and it is not often that they are actually good. Though not entirely without flaw, Free Fire was great and it is not based on anything. The more we see films that are wholly original, the more they will become relevant in the future. If you want a good laugh and contribute to the cause of originality, look no further.

 

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

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I talked about this a while ago, but it bears repeating. It absolutely does not matter that Scarlett Johansson was cast in the role of a Japanese character. Putting aside that we are talking about fictional people that do not exist, looking at the context of the material in question, Major being any color serves no purpose. In all her incarnations (which are remakes of an adaptation of a manga from 1989), her look has remained consistently inconsistent. Sometimes she is an older woman or a lollicon nightmare with equally fluctuating hair colors and styles. Furthermore, in a universe where people change bodies at will, the pigmentation of the bodies’ skin is utterly meaningless. If anyone bothered to actually research the source material, they would know nationality and ideology are the only cultural determinates in Ghost in the Shell. This nonsense about whitewashing could not be more pointless. With that said, was the film worth the wait or another failed adaptation of a beloved anime?

While tracking down a terrorist hacker, Major has an existential crisis. She is a cyborg and struggles with the idea of what she really is. Her questions, however, bring her closer to an answer she may not like.

When confronted with something as difficult as an adaption, it is important to understand that not everything will translate to the new medium. Game of Thrones had to fill a 10-episode quota with one hour of content each. Obviously you are going to lose a lot of what made A Song of Ice and Fire great in the process. I had the same realization with Walking Dead, but it is still baffling how hard the show runners screwed up. Rather than remove bullshit from the comics, they added more. Seriously, does anyone really care about Morgan, the Priest, or What’s-Her-Face? They get more attention in the show because AMC wanted 16 episodes per-season at 44 minutes each. If they had to meet a quota, then the writers could have, you know, actually tried instead of add more padding than an adult diaper.

Going into Shell (2017) I knew it would not be the same animal as the anime(s). With cartoons, especially those from Japan, there is a lot you cannot do in live-action. You have 90 minutes to entertain an audience and make spending their time and money feel worth it. With the Shell live action movie, there was no way we would get the same glorious violence, long digressions on philosophy and politics, or the same complex crime-drama narrative with many layers and details. Anime itself is not your typical medium and especially difficult to translate into live-action. I cannot fathom what Gurren Lagann or Kill la Kill would look like with real people.

Ignoring the source material completely, Shell (2017) is just fine. It is not terrible or mediocre, but it is not good either. Honestly, the only reason to see it is if you are a fan or you want to see Johansson in a latex body condom. There are not enough good things to make it worth the full price of admission.

Let us start with the good.

The film looks great. Every scene is full of cool stuff that was also very well shot. Even the cheap CG was tolerable because there are plenty of real things that you can almost reach out and touch. Batou’s eyes, the anachronistic cars, and make-up on a lot of the actors were such a breath of fresh air. The sets were also exemplary where they seemed lived in and fit the world. You could believe such a place exists and the advanced technology was a part of it despite the overwhelming squalor. Thanks to the directing, the aesthetics are not just background details. You are meant to see everything and immerse yourself rather than overlook them as simple visuals. It is a shame the set pieces have more substance than the rest of the film.

Story moments, scenes, and the dialog just happen. There is no real feeling or life behind it. A character will say something and it does not mean anything beyond the obvious. Then a scene pops up that does not serve much of a purpose before the start of the next. The same can be said for certain plot points like Major coming to terms with who and what she is. Unlike Suicide Squad, there is at least more to the movie, but the idea that the protagonist having an existential crisis felt meaningless is not good. If you want to feel invested, you need substance and Shell (2017) has none.

This is likely a side effect of the adaptation process, which took the Walking Dead route. Rather than build up worthless crap, the movie takes from every version of Shell and mashes it together. Not only does it adapt the movie from ’95, it takes from all the other incarnations except Arise. Kuze from 2nd Gig was the villain, Coroner Haraway and the killer gynoids from Innocence show up, and the shut down of Section 9 from the first season for Stand Alone Complex happens at the climax. There are also scenes from the ’95 movie that are straight up live action reshoots.

I imagine the point was to adapt the Shell property as a whole instead of a fraction. For whatever reason I cannot discern and it negatively affects the film. Instead of making the iconic spider-tank feel like another part of the world, it is a prop that was set up in the beginning before it comes back in the end. About two minutes later it is gone after a lackluster action scene. The sniper helicopter from the original comes in shortly thereafter, followed by Saito, who never got an introduction. Both of these elements simply appear, but instead of feeling natural, they come in at the very end because it happened in the first movie.

By trying to appeal to fans that have been waiting a decade for a live action adaptation (I wasn’t), Shell (2017) tries too hard. Yes, we fans like all the cool stuff in the shows and films, but it had meaning and a point. It was done with finesse because the shows and movies were simply being themselves. That cool stuff we liked only became cool because we said it was afterward. Rather than become its own animal, Shell (2017) willingly tethers itself to the source material without regard for its own identity. It is exactly what happened to Rogue One.

I could go on about the flaws in the adaptation process, but as I said before, Ghost in the Shell (2017) was just fine for what it is. There is certainly a chuck of good to be had, but not enough that I would give a full recommendation. It is worth a watch for the price of a matinee or a rental when the time comes. However, if you want too see a better version of the film, the original ’95 one is perfect.

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Get Out

At first I was hesitant to see Get Out. On the one hand it was advertised way too much, a sign the marketing team was afraid no one would bother unless they annoyed audiences into buying a ticket. Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken used the same tactic and that movie sucked. My other reason for wanting to sit this one out was probably the same for most: the prejudice angle. Obviously I frown upon politically motivated works that try to shove an agenda down my throat (Nick Spencer), but what made me think otherwise was that the director is Jordan Peele.

His now cancelled show Key and Peele, with his long-time partner Keegan Michael Key, had a lot more going for it than typical sketches. Key and Peele had a unique perspective as biracial men who grew up with black and white parents. Much of the comedy deals with identity in their pursuit to figure out who they are and how should they appear in the world. Keanu was not that funny, but the search for identity was still there.

With that in mind, I felt more comfortable watching Get Out to see how Peele approaches the subject matter. What had me more on edge, however, was how the film would handle as a work of contemporary horror. Does it belong in the garbage like all the rest or has Peele learned from the greats?

While on a trip to meet his girlfriend’s parents Chris, played by Daniel Kaluuya, becomes uncomfortable surrounded by so many white people. Things begin to escalate when he notices the black housekeepers acting strange.

Get Out is great. I was wrong to think it was going to proselytize socio-political nonsense at me like a Young Turks video. In fact, it does the opposite in every respect. Before I get into it, buy yourself a ticket while you still can.

The horror and prejudice elements go hand in hand in what I would like to call Social Horror. Where Body Horror makes you afraid of your own skin, Get Out makes you afraid of your opinions. Rather than shame you like I thought it was going to, the movie makes you think about your perception of culture.

Do you really appreciate people from another background or is your affection really ignorance hidden behind compliments? Are you defeating prejudice by calling out differences or contributing to it? It points out the blatant contradictions of Virtue Signaling, bringing to mind the idea that those who try to appear “progressive” are only hurting themselves and others. They organize and quantify other groups and cultures like trading cards for brownie points (no pun intended).

“How many black friends do you have?” “How many refugees will you keep in your home(s)?” “How many Asians have you slept with?” These question and more are asked by real people, in real life, especially the second one as of late.

Another example of Virtue Signaling comes from my favorite Anti-Semitic pig, Jonathan McIntosh. When Tracer from Overwatch was revealed to be a lesbian, he made a point that character designers do not understand lesbians because she is physically appealing to men. Perhaps he was implying designers are not familiar enough with different body types, but to anyone using their brain, it is clear that McIntosh is about as narrow-minded as they come. To him, the archetypical lesbian has the figure of a Walmart shopper (and I say that as one myself) with ugly, poorly dyed hair, and is a frequent reader of the Huffington Post. Using McIntosh logic, Portia de Rossi, Ruby Rose, Jillian Michaels, and many of my friends cannot be gay because they are attractive and take care of themselves.

By Virtue Signaling and trying to stand up for the LGBT Community, the “progressive” swine exposed his belief in a stereotype. McIntosh fell into the same trap and treated a group of people according to a singular and ill-informed perspective.

Leave it to an SJW to ignore nuance and context.

Get Out uses Virtue Signaling for its horror. The moment Chris meets the parents he in bombarded with condescension. The father, played by Bradley Whitford, uses black slang to appear hip and remarks that he would have voted for Obama a third time if he could (keep dreaming, Normies). He also calls to attention the employment of black housekeepers and makes sure to point out how he is ashamed of himself. The brother character, played by Caleb Landry Jones, is worse when he says Chris would make an excellent MMA fighter because his people are naturally athletic.

These moments and more are very comfortable because at one point we have all had the same experience. There is no denying that some stereotypes turn out to be true. We do not like to think they are, but more often than not they come to mind. Regardless of where they come from, we have these thoughts and Get Out uses this shame to its advantage. In fact, it goes both ways for the characters where Chris is puzzled when the black people do not act like his idea of black people. Is he really better than the white characters or is there something going on behind the scenes?

Even without the Social Horror Get Out could work on direction and aesthetics alone. There are jump scares with an accompanying violin screech, but it works with the overall tone. From the start the film is set up like a classic Twilight Zone nightmare. You would think it was made in the 70s early 80s at first glance with it glossy look and muted color scheme. Peele also proves himself to be quite handy with a camera with a lot of nice shots. There are a couple long shots around the beginning that were simple, but great. Hopefully he does more in the future.

Go see Get Out. It is excellent as contemporary horror this early in the year and provides provocative commentary on prejudice. Ignore everything you heard online from people who probably were not paying attention. The movie does not take a side and leaves you to draw your own conclusions.

 

Logan

As I mentioned in my Apocalypse review, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was the worst thing to happen to the X-Men movies. The Singer-Verse, as ComicBookGirl19 calls it, was from a time when superhero films were ashamed of their origins, embarrassed by the bravado and spandex. To compensate, a darker tone was established, all the color replaced with leather and cold, steel corridors. We did not mind the monochrome until Iron Man showed you could be awesome if you keep the color and play it straight, a tactic first employed by Raimi’s Spider-Man.

The mounting success of the MCU contributed to the gradual decay of the Singer-Verse. The leather and steel became anachronistic, a reminder of a bygone era in the superhero genre. Fox tried to keep up, but it did not help that director Brian Singer was still embarrassed by the X-Men. Matthew Vaughn successfully reset the series with First Class, Marvel’s first real competition, before Singer returned and brought it all back to square one.

That being said, it is impossible to deny that the Singer-Verse had three good things going for it: Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, and Hugh Jackman. Even when the movies were bad, that triumvirate made the experience worth the trouble. All three clearly loved their parts and over the years made the characters their own. Jackman is a special case because his Wolverine is the reason the X-Men films have lasted as long. Perhaps if Singer stopped jerking off to him and focused on being a director, the series would have turned out better.

With the Singer-Verse more or less a shambling corpse begging for death (good), it was only right to give them a proper send off. With Days of Future Past a failure, Stewart and Jackman needed a suitable conclusion to their cinematic legacies. I understand if McKellen could not be included as the man is ancient. Good thing Michael Fassbender is there to carry on as Magneto. Was Logan the final farewell these actors needed or another Singer-Verse piece of garbage?

With his health declining and Xavier dying from a neurological disease, Wolverine struggles to get by so they can live in relative peace. Things turn upside down when he becomes involved in a conspiracy with the mysterious mutant Laura, played Dafne Keen.

Logan is the best thing to happen to the Singer-Verse since First Class. Not only does it surpass David Mangold’s previous and under-ratted effort, The Wolverine, the movie stands on its own as a paragon of quality in storytelling and character. It barely qualifies as what we have come to know as a superhero film, a transcendent work that focuses squarely on the drama of the titular character.

From the outset the dark tone is obvious. Unlike the rest of the Singer-Verse, the darkness is not out of embarrassment, but in service to the tragedy. Logan is about dying heroes who are hanging on to a world that does not want them. Wolverine is bitter about life while Xavier is consumed by delusion and a hope that seems impossible. One wants to survive in the face of overwhelming despair while the other wants to thrive despite the darkness of the situation.

The conceit of the narrative is Wolverine denying the possibility that the world can get better. With the appearance of Laura, he is forced to accept the idea, but pushes back. So traumatized by the past and his current situation, he cannot open up for fear of loss. Even the strongest of influences, the clearest of proof cannot get him to think otherwise. Logan is about Wolverine learning to be a hero when there is no place for them in this new, decaying world.

With the dark tone the movie takes it all the way in the action. For the first time since the beginning of the Singer-verse, there is actual blood and gore when Wolverine pops his claws. People are stabbed, maimed, and murdered like they should have been all along. The blood and some effects are clearly fake in many places, but the fact anyone bothered to include them is good enough. We have never seen Wolverine actually kill with visible consequences. Any fan that has been dying to see him murder people will be more than satisfied.

It should be noted that Old Man Logan, a comic written by Mark Millar before he became a sellout, loosely inspired Logan. I love the book with its cool set-up, fantastic violence, and one of the most shocking twists in comics. It was impossible to adapt given the character rights issues between Marvel and Fox, which is one of many reasons why my Fantastic Four story will never be made. To anyone familiar with the book, do not expect to see Wolverine eating an inbred Hulk relative or my favorite depiction of the Red Skull gouging out Captain America’s eyes. A part of me is actually thankful the original story was not adapted because Millar’s work is already difficult enough to adapt (see Wanted, then read the comic).

That being said, Logan sets itself apart in a way that it stands alone. Take out everything X-Men related and you have a fantastic Western tragedy about a gunslinger unable to move on from the past. There are many parallels to Shane, which is referenced and quoted in the film. Logan does enough in terms of exposition that you do not have to know about the previous movies to understand what is happening. You are given bits and pieces of backstory, ideas of how the characters’ powers work, and the state of the world without a barrage of dumps to give it all away. Logan has a lot of respect for itself and trusts you to pay attention.

It is no surprise that Stewart and Jackman utterly steal the show. I think this is the first time they have been together on screen for such a long time. Their chemistry is flawless as a father/son pair. Wolverine is trying to keep everything together as Stewart holds on to the possibility of a better future. They were perfect together and I hope they do more work in the future.

As her breakout role, Keen is pretty good overall. She does not talk much for a majority of the film, but proves to be a decent physical actor. She conveys just how feral and savage she is with a stare or a scream that is not annoying despite her age. I also give a pass to her fight scenes that involve a lot of grappling, one of the most over used techniques since Iron Man 2. It works for her character because she is so small and being ferocious it makes since she would get so close to her enemies.

Logan is a sad movie. It is symbolic of an era that, though embarrassing in retrospect, represented the dawn of the superhero movie. Regardless of who or what you think started it all, Jackman and Stewart were monumental in bringing the genre to the fore. The MCU would not exist without those guys and Logan is their farewell. It is the finale they deserve and a respectful one at that. Go see it.

 

The LEGO Batman Movie

I made up my mind a long time ago to avoid kid’s movies. They were not made for my demographic and it just looks strange for a 24 year old with a red beard to be seen in a theater full of small children. One of the few times I made an exception was the first LEGO Movie. Since I was a toddler I never stopped enjoying the Legos. Each set gives you the means to make whatever you want in whatever way you want. It is like writing, but you can give your imagination a physical form unlike Minecraft, which produces more garbage YouTube channels than meaningful creations. The idea of a film based on Lego really appealed to me and I was more than impressed. Was the Batman themed follow-up just as good or did I make a huge mistake?

After Joker, played by Zach Galifianakis, turns himself in Batman, played by Will Arnett, has a crisis of purpose where his sole reason for being is gone. Alfred, played by Ralph Fiennes, decides to force him into moving on with his life.

LEGO Batman is what happens when you make the character self-aware. In the DC Pantheon, Batman is pure symbolism and does not leave room for real development. His parents died and that inspired him to dress up like a bat. That is all. Paired with the Joker you get order versus disorder and their dueling personalities types, but nothing that says anything about him as a person.

That is why Marvel is better.

Because the Lego brand exists outside of the DCEU, there is more than enough freedom of flexibility and meta-humor to ask questions that would otherwise go unanswered. This version of Batman is an over-the-top reclose that avoids relationships because he is afraid of losing people like his parents. LEGO Batman examines this idea in the heroic and personal sides of the character.

One plot thread involves the Gotham city police teaming up with Batman because his vigilante ways have not solved the crime problem. Being a loner he takes issue to this because he cannot do what he thinks is right according to his standards. At the same time, Joker feels he has a connection with Batman, who does not appreciate him, and seeks to prove him wrong. And with his reason for being gone, Batman must contend with real life. So consumed with being Batman, however, he cannot let go of being selfish and untrusting of others.

As a follow-up to LEGO Movie, the faux stop-motion animation remains consistent. Everything looks and moves like they are Legos being manipulated by hand. That was what drew me to the first movie, setting it apart and making it unique. That being said, the LEGO Batman characters appear to break themselves to perform movements outside of their limits. Traditional mini-figs have about 7 points of articulation unless you snapped their arms out of place. Their legs in the film also move in ways that are not possible with the real pieces.

The voice work was great with a cast that did a terrific job of keeping up the comedic momentum. Arnett was right back in his element as the best part of the first movie turned sole focus. Galifianakis’s style of misery brought a whole new dimension to Joker that fit this version of the character. Michael Cera was a perfect Robin because he was Michael Cera. Fiennes was also a great Alfred and Rosario Dawson played a nice Barbara Gordon. There are plenty of other comedic actors lending their voices to the many villain characters throughout, but there are too many to talk about after one viewing.

As a character piece, The LEGO Batman Movie transcends its child-centric trappings. It is something that fans of the character and regular people can laugh along with while learning about the nature of relationships. Even without “Batman” in the title, the movie would have made the same impact. If you are like me and have a strong aversion towards kid’s films, consider biting the bullet on this one.

 

John Wick: Chapter 2

The first John Wick was the third movie I ever reviewed in the bygone year of 2014. That was the first and last time I saw it, but I remember it fondly. It did something original with the gunplay, making it personal and up close using the technique known as center axis relock. While I do not know of its real-world application, it was well suited for John Wick and set it apart form the norm. The film did not take itself too seriously either, going for fun in the same vein as Commando. At the same time, it established a small wealth of lore that was easy to understand where most movies would not have bothered. Where does Chapter 2 take the Wick Mythos roughly two years later?

After finishing off the Russians and retrieving his car Wick, played by Keanu Reeves, returns home to give up his life of crime for good. As soon as he buries his weapons in the basement, however, he is visited by an old acquaintance looking to settle a debt.

I take back everything I said about Return of Xander Cage. It sucks… hard. Chapter 2 curb-stomps that film into oblivion before setting the corpse on fire and throwing it into oncoming traffic. Chapter 2 is not only a better movie, but also a better action movie that sets the standard for years to come. If its cotemporaries follow its example, then the future seems a little brighter for the genre.

Right from the start there is a perfect balance of style and substance. What started as seemingly superfluous lore is expanded upon and integrated in Chapter 2. It presents this underworld with rules, traditions, and hierarchy that the characters are beholden to and must operate within. Even if it is not important the little details of world building add leagues of depth. A single line uttered by Franco Nero’s character said more about the world than a whole page worth of exposition in any other movie.

All these details give life and meaning to the meat of Chapter 2: the action. I remember in Suicide Squad, that despite the okay combat and characters, I could not care less because there was no substance. There was nothing to enjoy or latch onto beyond the superficial. A cool action sequence is not cool unless you have something to care about or consider while it is happening.

The first half of Chapter 2 is spent building up the world and fleshing out Wick’s overall struggle to retire. With the death of his wife, he is intent on staying out of crime, but is bound by honor and the world’s rules to remain a part of it. You get what the characters are about and how the world operates before the start of the second half. There the film veers head long into the action and the style that separates Chapter 2 from its contemporaries.

Imagine if Nicolas Winding Refn, the man behind Neon Demon and Drive, decided to direct an action movie. It is strange that such a violent feature like Chapter 2 is shot with the touch of a true auteur. There is colored lighting, long shots, and meticulous set design in service to building this atmosphere of underlining dread that runs parallel with the narrative of Wick being dragged into the abyss. The ending scene in particular involves the typical house of mirrors trope on psychedelic drugs. Even without substance the film could stand on its visuals alone. All it needed was a synth soundtrack.

The action itself has been vastly improved since the first. There are more gun battles with a higher body counts, and more creative situations. As the movie progresses, Wick is left to his own devices, forcing him to improvise by disarming opponents or using his fists. There are a good handful of large, multi-layered set pieces that evolve as they wind down or ramp up. The sequence that sets off the second half begins with a subtle assassination, followed by a tunnel gunfight that ends in a brutal melee. A lot of it seems the same, but there are enough scenarios to break up the potential monotony. It also helps that the brutality of said scenarios is incredible and kind of hard to watch with how close the people are shot.

Though Reeves is not the most expressive actor, he more than makes up for his shortcomings in the physical department. From what I could tell he performed most of his own stunts to the point he looks exhausted. The gunfights show off the most skill where he practices complicated reload techniques and quick draws that are probably more cool looking than they are useful. Ruby Rose shows up as the mute Ares and almost steals the show with simple facial expressions. She has a lot more to do here than in the third XXX without cheap lesbian one-liners to remind the audience that she likes girls.

One negative that must be considered is also an important component to the story. Chapter 2 is very dark in tone, but reflective in what Wick goes through and what the world does to him. He does not want to be there, yet the powers that be will not let him go, even after he accomplishes his mission. The pace is also slow as it builds upon Wick’s suffering and it works. You feel bad for him and the brutality of the violence further punctuates how he feels about the situation.

I am tempted to see John Wick: Chapter 2 a second time. Despite the darkness of the tone and story it is also fun to watch from an action standpoint. Like Commando there are many scenes that will stay in your mind for days to come. The opening and ending scenes alone warrant admission. With that said, before you do anything this week, go see it, regardless if you saw the first John Wick.

 

XXX: The Return of Xander Cage

I was 10 when the first XXX came out and even then I thought it looked dumb. I was a pretty weird kid that loved Cowboy Bebop, but thought Last Airbender was terrible because of the animation. I had the same issue with movies where I enjoyed the grotesque, violence, and lots of gore. XXX did not fit my criteria and passed from memory shortly thereafter, ignorant to the seemingly immortal and eternally stunning Asia Argento in the cast. The last time it came to mind was when I saw the trailer for Return of Xander Cage. Now at 24 years old, how does this new installment appeal to my evolved sensibilities?

When a team of daredevils steal a device that can direct satellites out of orbit at will, the CIA tasks Xander Cage, played by Vin Diesel, to get it back. To help in the mission he recruits his own band of maniacs.

If the first XXX is exactly like Return of Xander, then I regret skipping it. This is by far the dumbest bullshit I have ever seen and I loved it. It was like watching a Cannon Group feature 23 years after the studio went under. I imagine the elderly Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus snorted their weight in cocaine, were inspired to rip off Fast and Furious, and came up with the third XXX.

There is a strong sense of anachronism throughout. Return of Xander is from a time in which beauty shots of women, giant set-pieces, and violent action were the norm. The problem is this should not be the case. I should not feel nostalgia in a new film because that is the only way you can do action properly. We have become so used to shaky-cam and seriousness in contemporary action trash that it has become the norm. It used to be if you wanted the good stuff, you looked to the past. In the third XXX, it feels like you are watching an update of Commando, Invasion USA, and Predator, but you do not lose what made them incredible.

Return of Xander certainly feels like a movie from long ago, but it has a surprising amount of self-awareness. It knows full well what it is and revels in the moment. The characters are not as fleshed out, but they do not need to be. Everyone involved loves what they are doing and it comes through in their performances. The action tries to be as extreme as possible with a game of hot potato involving grenades transitioning into a bike chase, a multi-layer race, and then two fistfights in a falling airplane. The film is utterly stupid, but it is the kind of stupid you can enjoy without the movie looking down on you like Transformers.

Complaining about logic in something like Return of Xander is pointless, but my brain will not allow this go unmentioned. There is a scene where Russian Special Forces drop into a party (for some reason), but the helicopters they flew in on are not troop carriers. Hinds can carry people and the choppers in the film look like Ka-52s. Also, the weapons used by the guys were not consistent. Some had different variants of AKs and another used what looked like a PDW. Lastly, they went about crashing the party the wrong way. From what I know Russian Special Forces surround a location, ask those involved to surrender, and wait a bit before saturating the place in gunfire.

That is what it is like being me. I see things that ultimately do not mean anything, but complain about them anyway. There is a lot you can say about this movie (especially the Chinese thing that I do not want to get into), but it is not worth the trouble. You are not meant to take it seriously. The actors did not either. Diesel was back in his element, Ruby Rose showed great potential as an action star, and Donnie Yen stole the show. Just have fun and do not worry about trying to challenge your intellect.

As a “Fuck You, It’s January” film, one that is well past the point of relevance, The Return of Xander Cage is great. It is the epitome of self-aware action, a callback to a bygone age where the genre was about being as stupid as the budget would allow. That being said, I recommend it as a rental. This movie is not for everyone, but it is one of a kind in regards to contemporary action.

 

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

The Resident Evil movies are a strange breed. They started out as an action oriented adaptation of the survival horror videogames, but over the years forged their own identity. Where the games remained grounded in horror with a focus on action, the films were focused on action with elements of horror. The zombies and monsters are rather superfluous, a vehicle for the characters to look cool. With each installment the movies took themselves less seriously, embracing the serious irony that has become a part of their being.

For what they are, the RE films could not have lasted as long as they did without a dedicated fan base and people that cared enough to make them. The series is full of ridiculous schlock action you could only find in anime and it helps that Milla Jovovich is a pretty great heroine. I also like the RE movies, but as with anything good they too have flaws. Where does Final Chapter stand as the series’ conclusion?

After losing the battle in DC, Alice is tasked by the Red Queen to return to Raccoon City and recover an airborne anti-virus to the T-Virus. She must then release it into the world before the remaining human survivors are killed off.

The RE films exist in a league of their own and have a persona that people recognize. It is difficult to judge them in regards to other movies. That is like comparing Republicans to Democrats; both are the same, but they very much stand apart from each other upon close observation. For this reason, Final Chapter must be judged as an RE film.

This entry is an anomaly in the series. Following Apocalypse each one has retconned itself into something different. What started as a generic zombie story became a post-apocalypse adventure, an action-horror romp, and then pure schlock nonsense. Why they would change the narrative and set-up is a classic writing tactic. In order to keep a series going, you maintain a status quo where no character or story element creates an opportunity to do anything greater. In the event such an opportunity presents itself, it is written off to bring it all back to square one. See the Walking Dead television show for many examples.

Final Chapter follows this trend by skipping over what happened at the end of Retribution, killing off all the new characters, and talking about what happened in dialogue. What makes it an anomaly is that it does not become something new. Instead it takes elements from the previous three installments and mashed them into one. You get Mad Max, Aliens, and Invasion USA in a single package. At the same time, it makes sure to keep everything within the confines of the status quo.

To say Final Chapter is ridiculous would be an understatement. If you decide to see it, be prepared for nonsense that rivals Afterlife’s ending and Retribution’s underground city simulators. There is a siege battle involving fire and a makeshift catapult, super tanks that lure herds of zombies, and more hand-to-hand fights than a Raid movie. After the midpoint, there is a sequence that is so stupid, I could not fault it because it fit so well. The scene did result in an unceremonious death a character, though. However, I could not have fun with most of the action because the film was absolutely ruined in editing.

Like Blood Wars (exactly like Blood Wars, in fact) there is a jump cut every half-second when there is even the slightest of movement. When a guy gets out of a tank, we see the hatch open, and then he is already on the outside holding a gun. It is even worse in action scenes where there is a cut right before you realize what is going on. This is a gross departure from the previous films in which the action was the series’ cornerstone. It was on full display, usually in slow motion, and fun to behold. Final Chapter is the complete antithesis and very difficult to watch.

In regards to the series as a whole, Final Chapter would be higher up if it were shot better. The previous movies were about the action and embraced the ridiculousness. Final Chapter has all that buried under the thick haze of terrible editing. That should not discourage would-be fans from seeing the conclusion to the Resident Evil film series. You know exactly what you are getting into and will hopefully find yourself satisfied. To non-fans, stay away because you will not get it.

 

Split

Going to the movies in the late 90s early 00s I had the distinct privilege of bearing witness to the rise and fall of M. Night Shyamalan. What began as a promising new talent in the realm of suspense thrillers became consumed by an ego inflated by the public’s reverence for his work. Whoever you choose to blame, the fact of the matter is M. Night made great films until he did not. Lady in the Water was the start for me and I gave up after The Happening. In recent years, however, Shyamalan appears to have learned from his mistakes and is trying to make amends, a quality not shared in directors. I skipped The Visit because I had my doubts, but Split inspired me to take the risk. Was it a worthwhile experience or is M. Night well and truly done for?

After getting kidnapped from the mall, three young girls wake up in a sealed bedroom. Their captor, played by James McAvoy, visits them periodically in different outfits, voices, and personalities as he prepares them for a mysterious climax.

My reason for seeing Split was McAvoy. He is one of the better character actors out there that does not get enough appreciation in my opinion. When put in a role, he does his best to become that character and pulls it off. It is a shame he is not in more movies, but I think I know why.

The best professionals in any career are always looking for a challenge. Whether to test their skills or to show off the size of their awesome-boner, these people pursue new opportunities beyond what they are used to. Split presented a great challenge for McAvoy where he had to play a total of seven people, four of which are dominant over the other three. He had to transform his entire performance between scenes where he adopted a different personality.

His character has an advanced form of DID where his body chemistry is dependent on whomever he is at the moment. One personality takes insulin, another is extremely OCD, and another has the intelligence of a nine year old. With each transformation McAvoy becomes that personality. He embodies their mannerisms and little quirks while injecting his inherent charisma. Beyond the display of skill, he is also very fun to watch. If anything, the best reason to see Split is McAvoy.

On the directing front M. Night appears to have gone back to his roots. The film is very small scale with locations you can count on one hand. A majority of the runtime takes place in McAvoy’s underground dungeon-home with tight spaces. The shots are very well framed with wide angles that present a faux openness while compounding the claustrophobia. There are also many close-ups that show off the actors’ expressions and help convey just how trapped they feel.

Obviously I do not want to give anything else away. Split is as much a fantastic suspense thriller as M. Night Shyamalan’s return to form. He has learned many lessons from his failures and made a movie that surpasses even his best work. Though the cinematography is near flawless and beautiful to behold, the performance by James McAvoy is brilliant. For whatever your reason or intention, you will find Split has a lot to offer. See it while you can.

 

Underworld: Blood Wars

A lot has been going on with my job that has affected my ability to write. Last week I watched and reviewed Silence in the span of two days in which I also worked 10 hours on 5 hours of sleep. Upon looking at the finished piece, I was not at all satisfied with what I had done. I believe I did not put forth as much effort as I used to in an attempt to reach a deadline and deal with fatigue. Silence was a beast of a movie and I feel I did not do it enough justice. For this reason, I have decided to increase my daylong review-delay to a whole week. This will eliminate the relevance factor, but at least I will be happy with the end result. Hopefully so will you. And now, here is why Underworld: Blood Wars sucks my balls.

After surviving the events of Awakening Selene, played by Kate Beckinsale, is pursued by Vampires and Lycans who want the location of her daughter to turn the tide of their eternal war.

There is a lot you can say about the Underworld series. They are a part of a dying breed of serious-ironic action movies that came about in the late 90s. Mummy, Pitch Black, and Resident Evil were totally ridiculous and stupid, but they knew it and were fun to watch. Underworld follows that same formula with very anime inspired elements that reveal series’ writer Kevin Grevioux to be a giant otaku. He clearly loves Vampire Hunter D and Hellsing (have you watched Ultimate yet?) and did his best to integrate similar concepts into his work.

Underworld also has cool ideas that evolved our understanding of the Vampire Mythos. As a student of microbiology and genetic engineering, Grevioux took the science of blood and applied it to movie monsters. He made vampirism and lycanthropy diseases spread through blood, genetic memories shared through its consumption, and because both kinds are changed in DNA, made their blood carriers of their powers, leading to the overarching Vampire/Lycan hybrids narrative.

Blood Wars uses those same ideas in service to the most technically horrendous film I have seen in years. I am baffled that it came from a major company and cost 35 million to make what amounts to an extended LARP campaign starring a bunch of Czechs with airsoft guns and terrible wigs. Putting aside story details that did not make sense and a magic bath of plot convenience (I am not joking), Blood Wars fails utterly on the technical front.

The editing is the chief flaw where whoever cut the film wanted to finish it as soon as possible. The opening in particular was jarring with flashes and black frames that punched me in the brain. What looked like a decent motorcycle chase was turned into hammered shit by an editor that did not care. Following the chase there was a conversation between two characters in a calm state and it was just as bad. When one finished their line, there was a very quick cut to the next character, followed by another cut until the scene was over. This bastardized editing continued throughout Blood Wars.

While a merciful 90 minutes, the editing makes the movie agonizing to sit through. Even without knowing how a film is supposed to be cut, a typical audience member knows what looks good and what looks bad. Blood Wars is technically bad even with the acceptable parts.

There is one scene that was so confounding I do not believe it was real. Perhaps I imagined this, but at the climax there is an extended sequence where two characters are staring at each other in slow motion, and their vocal gestures (grunts, sighs, and moans) are all you hear. It was like someone took all the groans from a terribly dubbed anime and put them together in a scene for no reason. Why it was included I have no idea because the film just moves on like it did not happen.

Other technical issues are peppered throughout. Similar digital effects were repeated in a couple scenes. There was also one shot of a car pulling up to a mansion that was used twice. Then there was Beckinsale’s narration at the beginning and end that explained things we already knew. For the fifth entry in the series, I doubt anyone in attendance does not know the backstory. It was worse at the end where she retells the movie, explaining the epilogue as it plays out on screen, and sets the stage for a sequel that will never happen.

Many of these issues could be attributed to the absence of Len Wiseman, who was involved in the series from the start. In fact, everyone from the previous movies was present in name only. Those guys knew exactly the kind of film they were making and put real effort into the production. What goes unnoticed is the horror atmosphere that went hand in hand with the action elements not unlike Mummy. Blood Wars tries to be all action and coupled with the horrible technical issues, negates any element of horror that could have elevated the material.

For all the bad there are some good things I feel are worth mentioning. The action scenes were okay and a little creative at the end where riot shields were included in an intense shootout. Charles Dance was a nice addition like his small role in Awakening before they killed him after 10 minutes of total screen time. Beckinsale was also great in a role she made her own. It is also important to note that she remains impeccable since the first movie 14 years ago. It is a shame she is not in more films that are actually good. And that is about it.

“Fuck You, It’s January” has officially begun. Underworld: Blood Wars is the epitome of studio apathy; a film no one wanted but they had it, and needed to recoup costs. I expect nothing less from Sony and this is not the end of their cinematic bowel movement. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, one of Underworld’s contemporaries, will close out the month in a grand finale of trash. Until then, I must dig deeper into this ever-growing landfill of movies.

 

Silence

Despite the bad reviews, I had originally planned to see Underworld: Blood Wars for review this week. I was going to share the pain with a friend until our plans fell through. Then I thought about doing an Editorial on “Fuck You, It’s January” before I discovered Silence was coming out on Thursday. Between seeing what amounts to a live-action version of Hellsing Ultimate (seriously, watch that instead of Underworld), writing about an entire month dedicated to studios taking out their trash, or a new Martin Scorsese film, the choice was obvious. Does Silence add to his already impressive filmography or is Scorsese too old to direct?

After finding out their mentor had committed apostasy while on mission, Jesuits Rodrigues and Garupe, played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, travel to Japan for answers. When they arrive, they and the local Catholic population are forced underground to escape persecution by the government.

Movies about Edo Era Japan are few and far between. The period is full of good material with warring families, samurai as a social class, and the rise of the yakuza in the wake of the Tokugawa Shogunate’s oppression. Remember 47 Ronin? That fantasy movie was based off a real event where a bunch of pissed-off warriors kill a guy and then themselves because it was not ada-uchi, a form a legally sanctioned vengeance. Then there is Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, 13 Assassins, Sword of the Stranger, and Samurai Champloo, each one taking place in the Edo Era.

Another aspect of the period that does not get enough coverage is the banning of Christianity. I understand why the Tokugawa were so brutal, being fervent isolationists and having dealt with a recent religious uprising. On top of that, it is impossible to deny how imposing beliefs onto other cultures is fundamentally wrong. However, it is important to acknowledge the darker side of history. Every nation is guilty of atrocities in one form or another. Japan is no different; they do not call it the Rape of Nanking because it was pleasant. While I do not care if a culture is in denial about their past (Germany), I think the more we know about ourselves the better.

While the oppression of the Christians is on full display, it is not the focus or a vehicle to shame the Japanese. You can look at it that way if you want to complain about something, but I feel the point of the violence in Silence is to examine the concept of belief. Without giving anything away, the story is the Crucifixion. Rodrigues is Jesus, Japanese officials the Romans, and there is a Judas equivalent that I will not spoil. The film uses these parallels to ask if the willingness to die for a faith is equal to wanting to live for it.

In the movie and history, suspected Japanese Christians were made to step on an image of Christ called a fumie. The characters undergo the process, but are executed anyway because Rodrigues refuses to trample the image. He has to prove his faith is so strong he will give it up to save innocents. The other side of the situation is the Japanese are trying to prove that foreign idols do not have meaning in their land. They reluctantly torture their own to force missionaries to understand that spreading a false faith is utterly pointless because they do not care. What is truth in Portugal is deception in Japan.

I hope that makes sense because I saw Silence yesterday and it requires a second viewing to fully understand. You can see it as a simple martyr movie like The Passion or Hacksaw Ridge, trying to convert the audience through sympathy. That being said, the film goes out of its way to avoid gratuity. The violence is presented as just naked force used against others. You are also not told which side to follow and given both perspectives. The Portuguese want to spread Christianity because they think they are right and the Japanese do not want any part of it because it is incompatible with their culture.

Getting to the point of the movie is a chore of epic proportions. Unlike most of Scorsese’s works, you will feel every second of the 180-minute runtime. Casino and Wolf of Wall Street were three hours and you can watch them without complaint. This is because Silence does not feel like a Scorsese film. The shot composition, editing, and score feel like they are from a different person entirely. There is a distinct personal quality where he had a lot of respect for the concept and the material being a Catholic himself. It is very similar to when Spielberg helmed Schindler’s List, a major departure from his previous work at the time. As a personal project, I admire Silence all the more, but it is a tough sit, even for a Scorsese fan like myself.

If you are also a fan, odds are you have already seen it. If you are not, seeing a Scorsese film, in theaters, while he is still making movies at the age of 74, is a requirement for anyone who can. Be ready for quite a challenge to endure.

 

Nothing 2

Unless you paid me, I refuse to see Assassin’s Creed. I may not be a genius, but you do not need to be Reed Richards to know videogame-movies are all bad. The same goes for movie-videogames, a lesson I learned very early in life. Assassin’s in particular makes for a terrible movie because the premise only works in a game.

The story takes place in present day, but the actual gameplay is set during the Crusades where you travel across the Holy Land killing people. Those were the fun parts with short stretches of narrative in between. If the movie was a transmedia project, where you have a film and a playable game that would be perfect. Based on past experiences, in its current form, Assassin’s Creed is not worth the trouble.

To be honest, I just want this year over with. It seems like Passengers was the last movie of this year to grab my attention. A whole lot of others came out like La La Land, Why Him?, and Fences and I could not care less. I heard Collateral Beauty was so bad it had to be seen, but I dare not waste my money. And like Moana I stayed away from Sing because I have out grown child-oriented animated films.

I am much more excited for next year. Silence is one I have been waiting for a long time. Edo Era Japan is rife with great material and the treatment of Catholics following the Shimabara Rebellion is one that never sees the light of day. While I have a few reservations, Ghost in the Shell is a controversial feature I am willing to risk my time and money to see. Alien Covenant is a given because it is Ridley Scott, science fiction, and it has “Alien” in the title. I am not looking forward to Blade Runner 2049, but Denis Villeneuve’s involvement has me curious. And before I forget, there is Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.

All in all, I am waiting for this lull to pass and for 2017 to begin. Once “Fuck You, It’s January” is over, I can start feeling good about movies and wanting to go to the theater. Hopefully the above titles are actually good and will not compound my dejection.

 

Passengers

So far it has been a good couple of years for science fiction. The Martian, Arrival, Interstellar, and Star Trek Beyond are great examples of new material that epitomize the essence of the genre. More often than not do we see movies that are science fiction in name only, using similar elements as an excuse for nonsense. Every once in a while there comes the genuine article that reminds me of why I love the genre so much. Was Passengers more great science fiction or should I have watched Assassin’s Creed instead?

While aboard the starship Avalon on their way to a new planet 120 years away from Earth Jim and Aurora, played by Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, wake up 90 years too early. As the try to deal with the inherent existential crisis, problems begin to arise throughout the ship that they must fix to keep everyone else alive, and stay on course.

That whole paragraph is as much a lie as the trailers. Whatever you thought Passengers was is entirely the opposite once you sit down to watch it. I cannot explain the nuances without spoiling key moments. It helps knowing nothing about what really happens going in. What I will say is Passengers takes a compelling look at human cooperation and purpose with its premise and characters.

Apart from that, the film is quite unremarkable. Its closest counterpart is Pandorum, an indie horror thriller about cryostasis. The aesthetic is also very unoriginal with bright lights and sleek metal sets pulled from A.I., I, Robot, and a lot of other science fiction from the past decade-and-a-half.

As tradition dictates, the characters are subject to logic and a set of rules. The Avalon is more of a luxury cruiser than a transport where only certain passengers are allowed privileges and access to different parts of the ship. Jim and Aurora are civilians, so they cannot go to ship personnel areas that would help their situation. A large portion of the first third is spent establishing how everything works before they are confronted with challenges.

On that note, Pratt and Lawrence were superb. They played off of each other rather nicely with their combined charisma. Pratt brought more humor and naiveté where Lawrence kept the film grounded with a measure of seriousness and cynicism. Their interactions inform each of their character’s shortcomings, making them all the more compatible.

Passengers may not be the next big thing, but it is good science fiction. It has everything one would expect and does it very well, despite being more overhyped than Destiny and Titanfall. If you want to see something besides the heartless, passionless Rogue One, look no further.

 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

When you reach a certain age you must come to terms with uncomfortable truths. No matter how much we want to ignore reality, some things are impossible to overlook. Maybe college was not a good idea, perhaps your money is better spent on bills, the Kardashians are more product than people, and Hillary Clinton will never be president. Acceptance is inevitable when it comes to entertainment. Walking Dead was never good after season 1, most anime is trash, Saturday Night Live stopped being watchable after they got rid of the talented people, and Big Bang Theory is a poison to rival Zyklon B. Recently, the hardest truth many of us are coming to realize is Force Awakens may have ruined Star Wars.

With the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, long-form film series have become the next big thing. Studios are building large, interconnected franchises to match Disney’s success. Warner Brothers is using DC, Sony failed with Ghostbusters (2016) and Amazing Spider-Man, and Universal is making an attempt with their monster characters. With the acquisition of Star Wars, we will see a new movie every year with every other release being an Episode.

I do not like the prospect to say the least. Star Wars was always just those main Episodes while the expanded universe was on the fringes. It is difficult to put into words, but that made the movies all the more significant. They were monolithic events that defined the universe and continued the sci-fi fantasy saga. Each one was like a long-awaited release of a new book that had new lore to discover within its pages. Even when you watch each film back to back they continue to inspire awe and I fear we will not feel that anymore.

Being a gamer I have learned that once you annualize anything, it begins to stagnate faster than the concept of honesty in mainstream news. At the start you come to really like a new piece of media before more entries follow. As you play, watch or read more, you get a little tired of it and want something different. I remember when I played Call of Duty and loved the absolute shit out if it. Now I look at Infinite Warfare and feel nostalgic for the original WWII shooter. The same happened to Assassin’s Creed and it will happen to Star Wars. Though only half of the new movies will matter, that does not change the fact there will be a film named Star Wars, with things from Star Wars, coming out every year.

That is my main concern going into Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. My other concern is the giant Tumblr in the room. At the risk of alienating my friends, I must point out the infiltration of Social Justice into my Star Wars. I understand why there is a diverse group of characters, but the inclusion of people of color is such a blatantly empty sympathy tactic. By requirement the production included one of each culture like Noah gathering two of each animal. I feel it in my gut they picked an Asian, a Black, an Arab, a Latino, and a cripple like they were checking them off a list. They had to pander to all the whiners and agitators who are so focused on diversity they are more racist than real racists.

For a while I thought my hatred of Social Justice made me paranoid on this matter until I saw that two of the film’s writers, Gary Whitta and Chris Weitz, were brainwashed ideologues. On social media they said the Empire is a pro-human white supremacist organization and the Rebels are multi-cultural. Last I checked, the Empire readily employed the help of aliens, Darth Vader had the voice of a black man, and they used Lando Calrissian for a major military operation. Furthermore, most of the Rebels were pretty white and human until Return of the Jedi.

Putting aside the fact we are arguing culture and politics in regards to pure fiction, can I not enjoy something without Social Justice Warriors trying to shove their pinko commie cocks down my throat? I stopped reading a lot of Marvel comics because hacks like Nick Spencer (hope you are reading this, prick) could not help but inject their politics into their work. Red Skull cannot be just a Nazi bastard; he has to be an analogist for Donald Trump. Angela has to fight Men’s Rights Activists that represent the Patriarchy instead of real bad guys. Hydra has to recruit from the uneducated, downtrodden Middle Class to serve as gun totting henchmen.

I cannot read, watch, or play anything anymore without seeing the agenda of a Marxist Anti-Semite buried in subtext. Suddenly being culturally colorblind is racist because we are not allowed acknowledge the quality of character. Being white, male, and heterosexual means I am racist, islamaphobic, and transphobic. Women and people of color are being oppressed by the Patriarchy using capitalism, ignoring the number of laws that already protect both.

It is bad enough that Stars Wars is on the verge of ruination by annualization. Social Justice will utterly destroy the series by breeding a political environment, whether intentional or not. The once fantastical epic about good versus evil will be saturated by manufactured diversity and outdated ideological views. Entertainment media will become the propaganda arm of mental patients that mean to divide us. I fear for the future of this great franchise, but all that matters is if the movie is actually good. Should you skip Rogue One entirely or does the quality outweigh the political motive?

Upon gaining intelligence on an Imperial super-weapon, the Rebel Alliance enlists the help of Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones, whose father is involved in the weapon’s creation.

The most difficult aspect of Rogue One to accept is that it is not a traditional Star Wars film. The look, tone, story, and characters are the complete antithesis of what we are used to. Instead of a sweeping epic with a big-picture scale, we get a personal and gritty narrative that has more in common with the likes of Fury and Cross of Iron.

Each set piece or part of the movie is liken to Special Forces wet-works missions where the Rogue One team sneaks, stalks, and kills their way to objectives. The war aspect is really brought to the fore, showing what happens behind the scenes of the exciting battle sequences we are used to. In the Episodes we always saw them up front and immediate. Here the battles are relatively small and intense until the finale where all the minute actions come to a head. There are explosions, people dying, and loud noises like the opening to Saving Private Ryan.

Rogue One does a good job of showing off this shadowy side of the universe. There was always a hint of a larger, moral grey area with the smugglers, bounty hunters, and kingpins beneath the facade of sci-fi fantasy. Here, in the context of warfare, the focus is on what the Rebels must do in the face of overwhelming odds. Imagine Czech partisans fighting an underground battle with the Nazis, but with Star Wars. On that merit the film succeeds, but that does not hide the ever-present mediocrity.

The ideas that are great and set it apart from the norm are held down by a complete lack of substance. Everything that happens, even the cool stuff, is just stuff. There are Stormtroopers, droids, X-Wings, walkers, and blasters in service to this effervescent nothing that does not go anywhere. You have a group of characters with their own personalities and quirks that leave no emotional impact during their time on screen. They are simply people with gimmicks.

It also does not help that most of the cast is more limp than a wet noodle. Jones remains incapable of emoting when her character is supposed to be experiencing true hardship. Diego Luna could not sell the troubled soldier archetype and settled on slightly bored tough guy. A master in his own right, Donnie Yen showed off his brilliant martial arts skills, while his partner Wen Jiang did not do much. Riz Ahmed, probably one of the best new talents to arrive in years, turned off said talent. Alan Tudyk stole the show as he tried his hardest to make the whole affair worth the trouble. Ben Mendelsohn should have had a bigger role as a pretty decent antagonist, but he did the best he could.

Coming back to the checklist nature of the cast, at least no one was a stereotype. Yen as the blind force-senstive martial artist could have been a problem if this were not Star Wars where people like him exist. What defined them was their roles on the team with the pilot, heavy weapons guy, and melee specialist. That being said, they still were not fleshed-out characters. I felt personality with no substance like the rest of the film. Tudyk and Mendelsohn were the only two that had anything going for them outside their archetypes. As the main character, Jones had depth, but her performance negated whatever might have been there. That is the same problem that kept Suicide Squad from being good. The select characters were only there for name recognition with no regard for making them feel like people. Joker was Joker, Deadshot was Deadshot, and Harley Quinn was Harley Quinn.

Regardless of the intent behind the casting decisions, the fact the issue of substance was baked in from the start makes whatever argument either I or others could make totally superfluous. It is like Ghostbusters (2016) where complaining about it did not matter because the movie was already terrible.

The only reason to have any sort of investment in what is going on is if you like all the Star Wars stuff without what made it great. If you want modern warfare-type combat, large battles, and a dogfight in space with all your favorite ships, this is the movie for you. I concede that there were some parts I really enjoyed like the Death Troopers, Director Krennic, and the final five minutes in which I felt excitement for the first time in two hours of nothing at all. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is not a failure, but it is not my Star Wars.

 

Nothing

Am I the only one that sees this? Since late November, nothing appealing has come out in theaters. Disregarding Arrival, Nocturnal Animals, and Hacksaw Ridge, these past few weeks have been characterized by absence. Allied looks fine but Robert Zemeckis piqued decades ago. I did not care for Fantastic Beasts even before the bad press. And after Sausage Party I cannot bring myself to see another comedy like Office Christmas Party.

I do think it is so much the movies’ fault as it is mine. Because I see so many films with a couple restrictions (no remakes or comedies) I have become fatigued. For two years I have reviewed one new release a week with maybe a dozen instances in which I wrote something else. It has gotten to a point where I barely remember them even a month after.

I forgot about Inferno a week later and The Shallows only came to mind after watching an episode of Half in the Bag. Worse yet, I forget movies that are actually good and remember the terrible ones. Why is Ghostbusters (2016) on my mind and not Swiss Army Man? Why do I complain about Suicide Squad while I have little praise for Civil War? How does God’s Not Dead 2 overshadow an exploitation masterpiece like Triple 9?

Has this once modest hobby turned into a nightmare? Am I picky about what I like and refuse to see anything I dislike, even if I must? I try my best to have fun, but the more I observe the state of movies as a whole, the more I find nothing to watch. Perhaps this is but a short lull in quality. Maybe after Rogue One I will be more willing to go to the theater.

 

Nocturnal Animals

I have had quite week to say the least. Thanks to Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and everyone that ordered something online, I worked 11 hours for five days straight putting things in boxes. I now know what it is like to work in an assembly line: it sucks ass. However, a job is a job and I have to do it if I am going to get anywhere in life. Returning to the theater after such a strenuous period was immensely forgiving. I know one of my friends mentioned Moana, but I grew out of Pixar movies a long time ago. Instead, I saw a film made by fashion designer Tom Ford.

In the midst of insomnia Susan, played by Amy Adams, reads a novel written by her ex-husband Edward, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. As she goes through the pages, she comes to terms with how the story reflects their tumultuous past.

As I have said many times, though all stories are the same, what makes them different is how they are told. You can have an ordinary crime procedural, but throw in some science fiction you gain a better chance of standing out. That is why no one confuses Ghost in the Shell with Law And Order, or Spartacus with Game of Thrones, or Doom (2016) with Call of Duty.

Nocturnal Animals is a story you have heard before, but the way it is made and told sets it apart from the norm. Like Neon Demon it is simple, but complicated with visuals and story choices that play into the underling themes. While I do not want to give the whole thing away, the movie is a romantic tragedy in the guise of an art-house thriller. A third of the story is Edward’s novel playing out in an adaptation as Susan reacts to it. As the inspiration for the novel, she notices hints to her past with Edward with accompanying flashbacks. Without them, a lot of symbolism would have been lost on me.

As a visual film, the actual imagery is nothing to cry home about. Everything look beautiful, yet none of it really struck me with awe. For the most part it looks like a rather normal movie that was put together with the precision of an auteur. Ford obviously knows what he is doing, but compared to Denis Villeneuve and Nicholas Winding Refn, he has a long way to go. The real strength of Nocturnal Animals is the performances.

Adams and Gyllenhaal were great, but Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson stole the show. Taylor-Johnson in particular makes a dramatic turn as the subtle psychopath Ray. He is as mysterious in motivation as blunt in action and he sells the hell out of it. I did not even recognize him at first. In the case of Shannon, I am quite biased because I like him in just about everything. I wrote my Punisher script with him in mind because he is absolutely out of his mind. He blends into his character Bobby, a lawman in a West Texas town whose honesty makes him both a hazard and a joy to watch. I would say he is the best part if Taylor-Johnson did not work his heart out.

I am sure there is a lot more I could say about Nocturnal Animals. On the surface it appears to be extremely simple, but I have a feeling there is much I am missing. Based on my first impressions, it works as an alternative to typical romantic tragedies thanks to the art house aesthetic and thriller angle. It is something you have seen before in a unique package and I recommend buying a ticket if it is playing near you.

 

Hacksaw Ridge

A few things before I begin:

I was just hired to work at a warehouse moving boxes and packing things. I will be there mornings for four days out of the week. As a result I am forced to make concessions for my writing activities.

First- Movie reviews will continue, but they will be a day late. I can still catch early screenings, but instead of writing reviews immediately after, I need to use that time to sleep.

Second- Videogame reviews on the Drunken Odyssey will end. I cannot fit the required writing time into this new schedule and I also do not like it anymore. I still love playing games, but I am done trying to take them seriously. After Doom and Wolfenstein: New Order I realized games were better before whiners and agitators started treating them like they were anything but toys.

I play them to have fun, not to hear Anti-Semites, racists, and Marxist feminists (yes, they are real) complain like their existence means something. For the life of me, I could not review games as if they were bigger than they were, and I hated it. The people that try to overthink toys either have mental problems, an agenda, or their lives are so insignificant they want to ruin everyone else’s enjoyment for personal gratification.

However, I value my time at the Drunken Odyssey. I learned a lot from my editor John King and will continue my writing career knowing so much more.

Three- I did not see Fantastic Beasts because I do not care for Harry Potter. Even when I was growing up it was just this thing my sister was into. I liked the fourth movie, but that was it. I am sorry to all my friends. I also skipped Bleed for This because it is the same as Cinderella Man, Hands of Stone, Creed, Southpaw, and Warrior. You know I am right.

Instead, I saw Hacksaw Ridge.

With the onset of WWII Desmond Doss, played by Andrew Garfield, enlists in the Army to be a medic, but refuses to touch a weapon. In training he must choose between standing by his morals or succumbing to hazing from his fellow soldiers.

Despite what you may think, Hacksaw is not a Christian movie. The difference between this and the propaganda I voluntarily consume because I am stupid is the latter makes it obvious. I do not need to explain the meaning behind such titles as God’s Not Dead, Temptation, and I’m Not Ashamed. Each film uses obvious manipulation tactics to convince you of a message based on an established, organized religion. Hacksaw, however, is trying to push a message based on simple moral principles.

Yes, Doss is a devout Christian, but his convictions are universal. He does not believe in killing, no matter the situation. Even if he is on the wrong end of a rifle, he refuses to fight back. That is something everyone could get behind because killing is wrong. All Doss wants to do is be a good person and care for others. It is something inherent in most humans (except sociopaths) and you do not need religion to know that. He is just a guy trying to do his part in a time when the world was ripping itself apart.

In this way, Hacksaw is very similar to Ben-Hur (1959). Judah was a Christian that wanted to be good and was tested by becoming a slave, denying temptation, and seeing his family brought down from prominence. The religious nature of the story was in the background while Judah being martyred for his values took center stage. Doss is the archetypical martyr and the whole film was a test of his principles in the face of adversity.

The movie does a great job of establishing Doss and making you care about him. He is Forest Gump without the personality of a simpleton. He is utterly innocent and idyllic, yet stubborn in his beliefs. The entire first half builds upon what Doss believes in preparation for his ultimate test. While the way he is portrayed fits the bill of the archetypical martyr in a lot of Christian propaganda, Desmond Doss was the genuine article. It is hard dispute what his life was like before the battle when the man himself was so heroic in his actions and attitudes.

The second half takes a hard left turn into terror. Where the beginning was almost ridiculous in how perfect everything seemed the battle of Hacksaw Ridge on Okinawa is a nightmare. As Patton said after observing the destruction wrought upon Germany, “You who have not seen it do not know what hell looks like.” The closest I can compare to the second half of Hacksaw is every battle scene in Tae Guk Gi mashed into one.

There is blood, guts, people exploding, dismemberment, and violence that is beyond gratuitous. Even after the bulk of the fighting ends, the environment is desolate with rotting corpses laid out across a shredded landscape ripped apart from days of fighting. I have not seen violence on this scale in a war movie since the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. It perfectly punctuates the picturesque nature of the first half where Doss was coming into his own. It makes sense that the battle is the complete antithesis because it is his test.

The insanity of the second half does not take away from the fact this story actually happened. While Doss was a real person that was as good as he appears on film, the War in the Pacific was a nightmare of epic proportions. It seems no one remembers that we even fought the Japanese for four years in some of the most brutal fighting in WWII. At Tarawa, Marines drowned after they landed on reefs while thousands died to take a single airstrip. Guadalcanal became known as the Island of Death because most of the Japanese starved to death. Iwo Jima was a tiny island that cost 36 days and 25,000 total casualties. The titular ridge was only a fraction of what happened on Okinawa.

Hacksaw Ridge is a movie with a purpose. Instead of trying to convert audiences, it presents historical figure that practiced beliefs of overwhelming goodness in war. It does not beat you over the head with how right he is, but shows you what could happen if one were to dedicate their self. Despite the gratuity, the story of Desmond Doss was respectful and told in the only way it could have been. For an honest tale of morality in the face of evil, look no further. However, be prepared for intense violence.

 

Arrival

Denis Villeneuve is one of my favorite contemporary directors. He has a talent for suspense and visuals that rivals David Fincher. Prisoners and Sicario are as haunting as they are beautiful with a physical darkness underlining the thematic dread. Based on the hype surrounding Arrival, I imagine he is set to wow me again. Hopefully it will make up for whatever Blade Runner 2049 may turn out to be. Was Villeneuve successful or did I watch Sicario again to get the bad taste out of my mouth?

After a dozen alien ships appear at different points of the globe Louise, played by Amy Adams, is hired by the US Military to translate the alien’s language. While hard at work, the rest of the world’s nations begin to falter from what they learn in their own research.

Arrival is very similar to Girl on the Train in how it uses suspense and that anything I say will be a spoiler. Rather than lie to the audience, the film tells you everything from the start, then gradually reveals itself. It is like watching Mr. Robot twice or playing the game Neir multiple times. You will not notice most of the details or understand what is happening at first. I only saw one at the beginning, but I had no idea what it meant until after the twist. You are never told what is going on, just what is happening in the moment.

In terms of science fiction, this is the genuine article. Arrival is an invasion movie about communication. Instead of studying what first contact would be like on a global scale, the story examines how we would approach visitors whose language is utterly unknown to us and vice versa. As a linguist, Louise has to not only figure out what the aliens are saying, but interpret what she is saying to ask them complex questions. The moments where she is working as the world falls apart make for some nice points of tension.

Despite the genre, Villeneuve brings his signature style. There is the heavy use of darkness punctuated by bright light with long cuts. This time, there is an emphasis on wide shots and landscapes to capture the large scope. Both Prisoners and Sicario were tight because the stories were personal. In Arrival, scenes that are outdoors are open and beautiful in their bleakness while interiors are detailed. This does not take away from the inherent suspense, but adds to it. The stakes are far reaching and the openness of the cinematography compounds that fact.

To be honest, there is not much wrong with the film. Apart from shoddy CG effects that are barely present early on, Arrival is pretty well put together with nary an issue of plot or overt technical problems. The performances were also serviceable with Adams proving she can act after sleep walking through BvS like Natalie Portman in… everything. And it does true science fiction better than its contemporaries.

I understand a lot of people in America are anxious after the election and Arrival is just what they need. It has a message that will lift your spirits if you are dissatisfied with the result. However, I recommend waiting until the 12th because tomorrow is Veteran’s Day, and that time should be spent remembering those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our great nation.

 

Doctor Strange

My feelings on Doctor Strange leading up to the release are similar what I thought of Ant-Man: it is a risk with an unknown character and a unique set-up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). All I know about Strange is he is a powerful sorcerer and was the inspiration for Doctor Orpheus from Venture Brothers. Other than a couple appearances in comics I frequent, I barely keep up with the character, and know nothing about his standing in the Marvel pantheon.

What I do know is Strange will be the first in the MCU to introduce magic. Up until now the movies were grounded in science fiction with the Thor films science fantasy. With Doctor Strange, he can summon eldritch horrors, teleport at will, and cast divination spells to predict the future. With that kind of power, who knows how he will change the MCU. Was Strange another exceptional installment or has Marvel released its first bad movie?

After sustaining nerve damage to his hands in a car accident, the renowned and arrogant Doctor Stephen Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, goes searching for a solution. While following a lead in Nepal, he joins the Ancient One, played by Tilda Swinton, who trains him in the mystic arts.

Because Strange presents a whole other dimension (no pun intended) to the MCU, the story consists of an origin and set-up. We get both where the titular doctor came from and a view of the world in which he inhabits. The concept of the Multiverse is also introduced, which will likely tie into the broader MCU. In that way the film succeeds, but Strange stumbles very hard.

A good chunk of the middle is where most of the set-up takes place and the delivery is bad. The exposition is not only slow, but also distinctly unnatural. At one point the thematic momentum is steady as Strange is being trained before it stops and we get an extended scene of Benedict Wong talking about books. Then there is a small tangent where Chiwetel Ejiofor explains how enchanted weapons work. About half of the information given is actually useful, but the delivery is so stilted it kills the flow.

I understand why this is an issue. Strange presents a new world of possibilities that adds onto the MCU where the science fiction/fantasy elements were simple to understand. This movie has the unfortunate job of explaining its ideas without the crutch of a built-in logic to ease the transition. I had the same trouble writing my FF treatment (please read it). The writers were probably so afraid of the risk that they took the easy route of throwing out a lot of information when we only needed a little. That is why the delivery feels unnatural. Had they approached the material like any other MCU film after a couple intense rewrites, this would not be a problem.

The rest of Strange is quite fun and well put together. The character himself had great development and Cumberbatch absolutely nailed him. The build up from Strange as an arrogant prick to student of mysticism is some of the best acting since Robert Downey Jr. donned the mantel of Iron Man. Cumberbatch brings whit and turmoil to the character that feels genuine. He also has the added benefit of being a fresh face much like Paul Rudd did in Ant-Man.

The highlight is the element of magic. The idea of reality manipulation, creating something from nothing, and enchanted weapons make for a lot interesting visuals and cool sequences. People run along walls and use powers that shoot out sparks while the environment shifts like a kaleidoscope. The action is also beautiful and creative, but there is not enough of it. Apart from buildings folding in on themselves and some hallucinations, there is not really enough craziness that you would expect with extra-dimensional based powers. There is a whole wealth of material out there and hardly any of it was used.

In the grand scheme that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange is a big risk that changes our understanding of the movies’ internal logic. While there are deeply flawed missteps, the film succeeds in conveying such vital information while being enjoyable to watch. It is similar to Ant-Man as a fun diversion from the main body of films. I recommend it, but be ready for a great lull around the middle.

 

Inferno

As a director Ron Howard is unremarkable. His filmography is almost exclusively adaptations and true stories with barely anything along the lines of original. This is not a bad thing. Many directors have a preferred niche and genre they favor over others. Martin Scorsese became a legend for adapting novels about the mafia, Michael Bay is all about large-scale action, and James Wan specializes in horror. Not everyone can be Stanley Kubrick with a filmography more diverse than an SJW hate mob and Howard seems comfortable with his chosen signature. Was Inferno another acceptable Dan Brown adaptation or was it terrible?

After waking up in a hospital with amnesia Langdon, played Tom Hanks, finds himself in the midst of a plot involving a billionaire trying to spread a plague to cull the world’s population. In the race to stop the spread of the contagion, he is pursued by different organizations with separate agendas.

I understand mysteries are supposed to be confusing to throw off audiences. A lie here and a red herring there are designed to lead us in a direction that makes sense before the truth is revealed. Inferno is a great mystery that throws you off with not only an unreliable protagonist, but also many players whose intentions are kept in the dark. However, getting to that point is a struggle to sit through.

If nothing else, Howard can be counted on for quality. Regardless of the material, his movies are well made, and Inferno is the complete antithesis of good filmmaking from top to bottom. The storytelling and action are a congealed mess that you must hack through to get a clear picture of what is going on. I am not surprised because this problem was shared by Da Vinci Code, Howard’s first Dan Brown adaptation, where I think he did not know what he was doing.

Information in a mystery must be clear enough to take in so it makes the reveal impactful. Inferno is so dense with information that it was difficult to follow. First you have a rogue cop trying to kill Langdon, then World Health Organization agents have their own dramatic subplot in the background, and an illuminati-type organization is doing something else on the side. Even after the reveal it does not make the most sense because the utter mass of story to absorb is too much. If the goal was to confuse the shit out of me, mission accomplished. Still does not change the fact Inferno is more bloated than a Walmart shopper (sorry; I could not resist).

As a mystery, the possibility of good action is superfluous, but I am going to talk about it anyway. Like Da Vinci Code, the action consists of running away from things and stopping to find a piece of the puzzle before more running. It is acceptable, yet poorly constructed. You have shaky cam that I will always complain about until it stops existing. Then there is a drone chase scene that is so bad there will be clips of it on YouTube in a matter of weeks. The action is also presented as if it were intense when it is not. The rather great synth soundtrack and quick cuts make you think what is happening is thrilling, except you do not feel anything of the sort. The movie was trying too hard to engage the audience when we just wanted it to get to the point. Had the action been subtle this would not be a problem.

I would go so far as to say no one really cared to make Inferno good. Howard probably did it out of obligation and Hanks more or less phoned in his performance. So did Felicity Jones as Brooks, but I have not seen her enough to tell if she actually was or if she is just a bad actress. Irrfan Khan and Ben Foster were fairly decent and made the most of the situation with their small parts.

In retrospect, I should have watched I’m Not Ashamed instead. It is Christian propaganda dancing on the corpses of children like Piers “Super Cunt” Morgan, but I would have had something of substance to write about afterward. With Inferno, all I got was a poorly put together mystery that could have been better with some intense editing. This was Ron Howard on a bad day and I recommend Angels and Demons for an example of a good day.

 

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Coming into a series without seeing the prior entries is never a good idea. Narrative information is carried from one installment to the next in a shared continuity, the lifeblood of serialized media. Granted, I saw Scorch Trials before Maze Runner and I doubt the logical inconsistencies would have made seeing the first worth the effort. I did not see the previous Jack Reacher because it looked boring. If my criticisms of Never Go Back are justified by what happened in the original, I apologize in advance for my ignorance. Was I wrong to skip the first movie or was I proven right?

While trying to form a relationship with Major Turner, played by Cobie Smulders, Jack Reacher, played by Tom Cruise, learns she was imprisoned for espionage. After setting her free the two discover a conspiracy involving the military and a private security firm and decide to bring it to light.

I am going to cut to the chase and proclaim Go Back the worst Tom Cruise film I have seen. It is not so much his fault, but everything around him. Smulders and the rest of the cast somehow get by mostly unscathed. The problems include the editing, action, story, and everything that should not be an issue. This is particularly alarming because director Edward Zwick is more than proficient at his craft. Here he is just about brain dead.

I understand action movies are supposed to have many quick cuts because it maintains the momentum of a scene. About five minutes in, there was a cut every half-second when there were two or more people on screen. When one character said their line, cut. When another character did their prescribed action, cut. Maybe there was a rush to get scenes over with, but it absolutely murdered any artistic finesse that might have been salvaged. It was like watching a YouTube video blog made by someone who sucks.

This problem affects action scenes that perpetuate the cinematic epidemic of shaky cam. I wish I could describe the handful of fights, but the camera was jerking harder than an awkward Canadian porn star, and the editing prevented me from taking in the spectacle or lack thereof. Half the time I did not where anyone was in a scene because there was cut before I had a chance to get a lay of the land. What is funny is after I got home Terminator 2 was on TV to remind me that action movies used to be well made.

Because I am making liberal use of similes, the story of Go Back is like a bad episode of NCIS… all of them. What started as a fairly decent mystery gets out of focus quickly after the introduction of Reacher’s possible bastard daughter. That story (spoilers) became superfluous after we find out they are not related, making half the film pointless. The subplot with Turner trying to take charge of the situation despite Reacher’s expertise was more interesting. It had a man versus woman feel that was not patronizing or stupid. The movie would have been great if about their conflict whilst solving the mystery, especially without the daughter character.

Any other Tom Cruise film is better than Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. I know he has a habit of phoning it in, but at least he does it with charisma. He tried his best with this one, as well as the rest of the cast, yet the sum of its parts is not enough to warrant consideration. Instead, I recommend Edge of Tomorrow, Rogue Nation, Magnolia, or anything else that is good.

 

The Girl on the Train

Let us get this over with. Was The Girl on the Train total garbage or actually pretty good?

To cope with crippling depression and severe alcoholism Rachel, played by Emily Blunt, inadvertently stalks a random couple she sees from the train every day. After an incident in which she blacked out, the police approach her when the wife of the couple goes missing. Rachel takes it upon herself to investigate what happened while fighting her alcoholism.

I cannot talk about Girl on the Train without giving everything away. I was going to compare it to similar stories until I realized if you have seen the same ones, you could guess the big revelation. All I can say is when it comes to suspense the movie does an excellent job of lying to you.

The storytelling, editing, casting, and whole scenes project a false narrative that seems obvious on the outside. The trailers were the most deceptive where they made you think Girl on the Train was a terrible pandering Lifetime propaganda piece scored by Kanye West. When you actually sit down and watch it all the way through, you realize everything you thought was utterly wrong. That is the essence of suspense and the film does a masterful job.

The cornerstone of this deception is Blunt’s character. Rachel is inherently pathetic, looking as though she does not shower, red-faced, and constantly inebriated. She carries around a water bottle that you think is full of water until she fills it with vodka. The fact she snoops on a random couple while envying her ex-husband’s new life just compounds her miserable state. Because we follow her the most and see the story from her perspective, we are tricked into seeing her views as the complete antithesis of reality. She is also a rather loathsome person who hates people because they have it better and we do not like her. That is how Girl on the Train catches you in its trap.

You should just go see it. If I say anymore it would be too easy to figure out the twist. There is no better example of how to do suspense in a movie than The Girl on the Train. Not telling the audience the whole truth is one thing, but lying to them outright takes craft that is so far unmatched with this year’s releases. See it while you can.

 

The Accountant

Sorry for the absence last week on here and on the Drunken Odyssey if you follow my videogame reviews. With Hurricane Matthew I was more or less paralyzed with anxiety over my home getting destroyed and looted by my asshole neighbors. While the storm passed and nothing was broken, I am stricken once again by our current political climate. In mere weeks I will go to the polls and pick which scumbag is best for our country. Either choice I make will have the same outcome, but I cannot shake the feeling that one is decisively better for our country than the other. I will be forced to set aside by personal bias and make my choice for the sake of America and the world. The result, good or ill, will ripple across history, and I am scared to death at what that will mean.

Jesus, that was a depressing introduction. Anyway, was The Accountant good or should you see Girl on the Train instead (review incoming; I promise)?

As a vigilante accountant Christian, played by Ben Affleck, uses his high-functioning autism to un-cook the books of criminal organizations before turning them over to the authorities. When one job threatens his cover, Christian’s skills are put to the test.

To describe Accountant as “Rain Man with guns” is apt. Christian is on a spectrum of autism that allows him to understand numbers on par with the greatest mathematicians. He is so proficient at math that he is legendary, but there is an interesting twist. While growing up, his active duty father taught him to control his disorder through intense combat training. As an adult, Christian has very clear-cut morals that he applies to his work as a vigilante using his skills as an accountant. The whole of Accountant is focused on how Christian sees the world, what he is like as a person, and what he does. The actual story is just a hook to hang the character upon and show him off. It is acceptable for the most part until you consider the method in which the story is told.

For everything exceptional about it, the movie has the absolute worst pacing. There is so much information it wants to convey and makes sure it tells you everything without finesse or theatric brevity. Spread throughout is a number of flashbacks to give you information on Christian. At the same time, you follow three other subplots that are all over the place in how they play out. First you are dealing with Christian’s latest endeavor, then his past, followed by an investigation by the FBI, and then a visit by Jon Bernthal as a hitman. There are so many moving parts that it becomes difficult to follow.

However, the story is only half the film with all of the attention is focused on Christian. If the character is not great, then there is nothing left to keep you invested. Thanks to Affleck’s performance, that half of Accountant is the reason to buy a ticket. He was totally convincing as this socially awkward savant that happens to be an expert marksman. His ticks, mannerisms, and speech exude the qualities of a man driven by obsessive precision that is his being. His interactions with Anna Kendrick’s Dana further define him as he struggles to open up and escape the confines of his own psyche. It also helps that they have the best on screen chemistry I have seen in a long time.

As a lite action movie it is passable. The very few set pieces were decent except for the very annoying shaky cam that I wish would stay out of my action films. At least it did not give me a headache like the dread-fest Jason Bourne. The pistol battles were not as awesome as John Wick and the grappling melee fights that everyone stole from Iron Man 2 were not impressive.

That being said, The Accountant is more about Christian being a high functioning autistic vigilante accountant. The action and story are just theatric devices to show you who he is. On that merit it works and Affleck absolutely sells it. If that piques your interest, buy a ticket. If the issues are a deal breaker, I highly recommend Girl on the Train as a substitute.

 

Deepwater Horizon

Well, this took longer than I wanted. I meant to put out a review for Deepwater Horizon on Friday, but I got quite hung up on some stuff, including a piece I hope to share with you all this month if time permits. So, is Horizon worth the delay or should you save your money for The Girl on the Train next week?

After arriving at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig Mike, played by Mark Wahlberg, finds the facilities and systems in desperate need of maintenance. Before anything could be done, the onsite BP executives want to commence drilling against protest from the employees that know the risks.

Horizon is the same movie as Sully, but with added fluff. Based on the trailer you can imagine what happens like a friend of mine did. You would think there would be a subplot with Mike’s wife, something with his daughter, and a number of other clichés you can find in similar films. Turns out, there are little to no clichés and anything involving the wife and daughter is insignificant or used in service to conveying important information to the audience.

Such clichés are often used to inject a measure of heart and sympathy into the characters before the disaster. Instead, the aforementioned fluff does that job. Elements of witty dialog and snappy interactions are spread throughout to give the characters substance and personality to latch onto. This is not exclusive to the main three you follow with supporting and minor players given ticks or traits that set them apart. Granted, they are small moments, but they put the characters in the back of your mind.

The rest of Horizon is classic Eastwood honesty. The facts of the event are presented clearly and without anything in between. You know what you are getting and it is also well made.

Coming off of Lone Survivor, Peter Berg brings a lite documentary style that keeps the focus on the characters, coupled with cinematic shots and fixed angles. During the disaster, the style changes to an action focus where everything is on fire and people are trying to save themselves. And because you were given ample time to get to know the characters with the fluff, these sequences are harrowing.

My only issue is the build up to the disaster. As a historical event, you know it was going to happen, but like Lex Luthor being evil in Batman v. Superman, I wish it were not so obvious. There are quite a few parts that show the sea floor and the interior of the pipe as it is on the verge of bursting with blatantly ominous music playing in the background. Also, they cast John Malkovich in the role of one BP executive. The man is an artist and plays his part well, but really? That is like casting a British person as a villain.

The other performances were stellar. The movie was made for Wahlberg to bring his charisma and timing to the part, despite the fact he did not bother putting on an accurate accent. Kurt Russell, in a role tailored to his natural badass persona, was perfect as the veteran roughneck Jimmy Harrell struggling to control the situation. The standout among the main characters was Gina Rodriguez as the resilient Andrea Fleytas. The second half of the film is where she shines as a strong woman reduced to a frightened mess unable to function.

Between Sully and Deepwater Horizon, it is difficult to choose the better. One is straight forward about the story and the other uses otherwise useless fluff to make you care about the people, while being up front about what went down. With Clint Eastwood’s involvement I would pick the former, but with the extra details and work put into the latter, I choose Deepwater Horizon over Sully. Whichever one you decide to see, you cannot go wrong.

 

Sully

A couple of things before I begin:

I will not be seeing Magnificent 7 because it is a remake of a remake of Seven Samurai, one of Akira Kurosawa’s best films. The director, Antoine Fuqua, plans on remaking Scarface. Need I say more? Also, I just got a real job at Big Bend Productions as an editor. It is still too early to tell, but I think I will be able to continue critiquing movies, and remain committed to my new responsibilities. So, was seeing Sully two weeks late worth the wait?

After landing a passenger plane in the Hudson River with no loss of life Sully, played by Tom Hanks, becomes heavily scrutinized by the Department of Transportation trying to hold him liable for financial losses.

Clint-Fucking-Eastwood is a living legend. Whether behind the camera or in front, the man knows what he is doing, and does it well. He is a model American and an even better Libertarian compared to that pipe-hitting moron Gary Johnson. He is a real life hero for his service in Korea and no one cuts through the bullshit of life to the hard honest truth better than he does.

Eastwood’s blatant honesty is most prevalent in his films. Sudden Impact, J. Edgar, Letters from Iwo Jima, and Gran Torino are blunt and straightforward about their subject matter, what they are trying to say, and are not shy about it. You know exactly what you are getting from the get-go. That being said, this sometimes leaves a lot to be desired.

On the one hand, you get what you paid for. On the other, you know what is coming, and there will be nothing more in between. Granted, Eastwood’s movies are extremely well made despite their run-of-the-mill stories. Gran Torino was a street youth movie, but it was far better put together than most. Letters from Iwo Jima stood out in the context of a war film and its portrayal of the Japanese. The only time I felt he veered away from his honesty was American Sniper with its plot punctuated by a pair of villain characters that did not make sense.

Sully, however, is so straightforward and to the point you have already seen it. He lands on the Hudson, is investigated, and comes out the hero. There is no manufactured drama, intense action beyond what actually happened, or events that deviate from history. Normally this would make any other film boring, but because Clint Eastwood was involved, Sully is one of the better movies this year. The acting is great with clean cinematography and editing that was enough to keep the film from being stale. I paid attention and I was looking forward to seeing how it would turn out, even though I knew what was going to happen.

Speaking of acting, is Tom Hanks incapable of being awesome? Even when he does not have much to go on with a character like Chesley Sullenberger, he does an exceptional job. He made Mazes and Monster kind of watchable and that was anti-role-playing propaganda. In Sully he is fantastic, while Aaron Eckhart keeps up not far behind.

If you like Clint Eastwood and his movies, you do not need me to tell you to go see his latest. It is the same honest and well-crafted work you expect from the man every American should strive to be. To the uninitiated that have never heard of the original bad-ass, shame on you and go see Sully. For once, maybe you will learn something useful.

 

Blair Witch

“Soft reboot” is a term coined by Red Letter Media in reference to sequels that continue the series while changing it completely. These films fall into a grey area where they are technically remakes, but also sequels. Therefore, I can watch them without breaking my no-remake rule. This month’s soft-reboot is Blair Witch, a follow-up to The Blair Witch Project from 1999. Did it have the same impact as its predecessor or do I regret my decision?

After new footage of his sister Heather in the Black Hills Forest surfaces online, James and a group of his friends decide to find her. In their search they are slowly driven insane by the woods.

Blair Witch lost me five minutes in when the characters were given an earpiece with a camera. There are only two real cameras and a drone and it was the dumbest. This is not found footage; this is a regular-ass movie, shot from multiple perspectives, and with normal editing. Every time there was a cut, I could tell the actors were passing around a real camera, saying their lines, and repeating the process before they had a complete scene. It is similar to how Unfriended was shot, but more blatantly produced.

What makes found footage great (when done right) is the feeling of a natural presentation. You are supposed to imagine what you are watching came from people that decided to film the world. It is an illusion with immersive qualities that put you in the shoes of the cameraman. However, when you have a dozen cameras, attached to more than one person, and very obvious production elements, you see right through the illusion.

Take for example Kenny Vs. Spenny, the best reality TV show ever made. The production used four cameras to film two guys in an apartment and it was more realistic than everything on American television. The small scale emphasized the two’s struggle of competition and the lack of major production elements made it believable. If Blair Witch Project is Kenny Vs. Spenny, then Blair Witch is Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

Believe it or not, the abundance of production does not affect the horror because the horror is already stupid. Blair Witch Project is scary because you have no idea what is going on. Maybe the woods were haunted, the characters stupid, a serial killer stalking them, or maybe the witch was real. The unknown is a fear more scary than a tangible threat. You know why you were afraid of the monster under your bed? Because you had no clue what it was. Blair Witch tells you exactly what is going on and I am going to spoil it. If you still want to buy a ticket, I hope you read the next paragraph, and decide otherwise.

The witch is real. She is a grimy Slender Man similar to Ann Coulter, who lures people to the woods to kill them. Her footsteps make loud booming noises and she knocks down trees. She has time/space powers where she makes you think it is a certain time of day and slows down your perception of time. The witch can also make you hallucinate.

The mystery and terror of the threat is utterly gone because you learn everything about it. There is no unknown, no fear of the truth, or of what was really happening in the woods. You know exactly what is going on and it is so blatant, the movie relies on cheap jump scares to compensate.

Look, I understand that contemporary horror is schlock because ordinary people just want to be startled. They do not care about craft, finesse, or the stuff that makes real horror superior. They want something to provide little bursts of excitement in the company of friends and my complaining will not stop them. On those grounds Blair Witch is fine, but for normal people, it is the dumbest. Imagine Big Bang Theory without the laugh track, irredeemably terrible even with the laugh track. Go watch the original Blair Witch Project, It Follows, or Don’t Breathe for real horror instead.

 

Morgan

This week I was faced with a choice between Morgan (a week after it came out) and Sully. One is from the son of Ridley Scott and the other is directed by the original badass Clint Eastwood and starring Tom Hanks, a national treasure. Both are associated with film legends that alone warrant your attention and they actually look pretty good. I try my best to budget my spending, especially at this current juncture in my life. My policy is to see one movie a week and save whatever else I need to see for another time. However, with two potentially good films from people who have excelled in the past, I find it difficult to pick one and postpone the other. Was Morgan the right choice or do I owe Clint Eastwood an apology?

After an incident involving a synthetic human named Morgan, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, the company who made her sends an agent, played by Kate Mara, to assess her financial value at an isolated compound. Not long after arriving does all hell break loose.

Gene Siskle, the better half of Roger Ebert (yeah, I said it), put it best when he said, “Watching girls getting stuck is entertainment,” in his review of Friday the 13th Part 4. Slashers are popular because we can watch fictional people die in creative ways without feeling bad. Could you watch an ISIL mass execution video and laugh? If you are crazy of course, but the rest of us cannot. That is why when Kevin Bacon gets an arrow in the throat it is exciting and you can take comfort in the fact that one actually died.

Morgan is Ex Machina if it was a slasher. The movie has similar themes that serve as fluff happening the background. The characters embody horror film archetypes and are also dumb as nails. I was reminded of Lazarus Effect where scientists unintentionally created a Tetsuo monster and instead of talking to it, they tried to kill it, and died in the process. In Morgan, some idiots grew a Replicant with emotional problems that were totally their fault. In flashbacks we see Morgan as a normal person that loves her friends, even though they treat her like a science experiment. She was fine and these people were somehow surprised when she started murdering them?

Stupid characters are an easy way to encourage the desire to see them die and I could not wait to watch these idiots eat it. At the same time, the movie and Taylor-Joy do a great job of making you sympathize with Morgan. She is literally a prisoner with no control over her fate. Outdoors she’s full of life and curious about nature. Inside she is a wounded animal that you want to let out. She is a sad character and you feel bad for her. By the time she goes full Jason, it is exciting because she is finally getting what she wants.

On that note, Taylor-Joy carries the entire film. Coming off of The Witch she excels in part to her giant Rami Malek eyes. She steals entire scenes because her sadness, anger, and happiness are so believable. In one scene Paul Giamatti’s Dr. Shapiro is interviewing her and the shifts in emotion gradually and subtly rise and fall to a gory breaking point. It was such an intense moment that would not have made the movie without the performances. In fact, Morgan should have been just Taylor-Joy and Giamatti talking.

The film obviously does not want to be a slasher, but it does not do much with the science fiction. The ideas brought up about artificial intelligence were done better in Ex Machina. There’s an interesting dynamic where Morgan was originally designed to be an assassin, but the scientists were training her to develop normal emotions naturally. When she is in distress, she regresses to assassin mode and lashes out. Instead of exploring this idea of a repressed killer instinct, it is a plot device to explain her efficiency at murder. She also has mental powers that are not explained nor make sense.

As a science fiction movie Morgan falls short. The themes and ideas are not given that much attention to the point I would rather watch Ex Machina. However, that is not to say it has no value as a slasher. If you want to see dumbass scientists punished for their incompetence, this is a great candidate. In terms of general horror, it does a better job than most. On those merits I recommend it.

 

Hell or High Water

I had an interesting week so far. In the midst of driving between cities, getting my vehicle AC fixed, and job related things, Morgan did not get an early showing. Rob Zombie’s 31 was an available substitute, but I did not trust myself to risk seeing his first movie in four years. Instead, I watched Hell or High Water from the writer of Sicario, and one of my favorite films from last year.

To cope with crippling debt and financial issues Toby, played by Chris Pine, enlists the help of his brother Tanner, played by Ben Foster, to rob banks in the desolate West Texas region. At the same time Ranger Marcus, played by Jeff Bridges, is closing in on catching them.

This is going to be short because High Water is better than Sicario. Without hyperbole, the writing, direction, and acting are superior to almost everything I have seen this year (excluding Civil War). I do not understand why I did not see it sooner or why it was not advertised all that much.

In school, I was taught that less is more in dialog. You do not need to explain everything word for word to the audience because they can infer what characters are talking about without going into to detail. High Water is masterfully simplistic. You learn what the brothers are like, why they are robbing banks, and their goal in short bursts. Nothing is front-loaded in a set sequence like your average story, presented only when such details become relevant. If you are looking for a film that is a great example of fantastic writing, look no further.

I expected High Water to be shot like a run-of-the-mill crime drama. What I got instead were flawless long shots with great staging. The opening scene begins is a wide panorama that transitions into more intimate composition that remains open. Actual close ups are few and far between in exchange for wide shots that rely on the physical performance and little details throughout. I may not know much about cinematography or directing and I have no idea what I am talking about, but I know great work when I see it.

The acting really made the whole movie. You can have fantastic writing and direction, but you need great actors to sell it. Foster, Pine, and Bridges were beyond natural in how they talked and carried themselves. Even the supporting actors, who I doubt were professional actors, did fantastic. If the Oscars mattered, I would give one to each person involved.

Very few films have made me this happy. Kubo and the Two Strings, Neon Demon, and Civil War were awesome, but Hell or High Water makes this stagnant year worth it. Everything about the movie is great and if you must see anything this Labor Day weekend, go see it and nothing else… unless Morgan turns out to be good.

 

Don’t Breathe

I want to begin with a warning to would-be viewers. This is a minor spoiler, but I will word it in a way that does not give anything away. If you are sensitive about media that features horrible acts against women, avoid Don’t Breathe like the plague. It takes a lot to make me uncomfortable because I am used to extremes in what I watch. This does not scare me, this makes me think, and this makes me laugh. However, when a movie involves unpleasant things happening to women (and animals), implied or otherwise I cannot stand it. It is simply uncomfortable and I had to take a shower after I got home. With that said, was Breathe exceptional horror film or total garbage?

In an attempt to escape the desolation of Detroit Rocky, played by Jane Levy, and her fellow burglars break into the home of Blind Man, played by Stephen Lang, following a tip that he has a hefty sum of cash. After they infiltrate the residence, they find robbing the blind is more dangerous than they thought.

While I have a problem with the aforementioned subject matter, it uses it to enhance the horror. You are supposed to be scared or have an adverse reaction. To creep people out you must consider all the variables of audio and visual media. A big part is subject and Breathe shook me like It Follows from last year. In that way it succeeds where contemporary horror completely fails.

Breathe is also technically very well put together in the sound department. Except for some sparse orchestra stings, the scares are indicated by environmental noise like loud footsteps, doors, and general banging. Sound is also important to the story where our “heroes” must stay quiet or they will be discovered. The use of silence works in tandem by building up the tension of the situation for some intense moments throughout.

Another point to consider is the morally ambiguous characters. Everyone has a very personal reason for doing what they do. How you see said reasons is up to you, but they come from a sympathetic place. The characters’ actions, however, create a strong negative alignment. It is difficult to really care about their problems when they are doing bad things selfishly. Then you have to question if any of them are worth caring about.

Lang is the best part by far. I have no idea why he is not in more movies or bigger ones for that matter. He has a screen presence personified by badass like an old fashion action lead. Here he takes on qualities of a predator hunting trespassers in his territory, using his body language and other senses to track down them down. He sniffs aloud and touches things like one of the creatures from The Descent and it was great.

Don’t Breathe is not a revelation in terms of contemporary horror, but it has a cool premise that uses theme and technique appropriately. Give it a look if you are a fan of the genre and have been yearning for something watchable. Before you do so, please consider the content involving women. If you are shaken as easily as I am, stay home and watch It Follows.

 

Kubo and the Two Strings

Stop-motion animation is a dying art. With the onset of computer-generated effects, the meticulous nature of the process is on the way out with very few movies seeing the light of day. Robot Chicken is thankfully still on air, but a humble 11-minute insanity fest is nothing compared to a feature-length film. That being said, the lack of stop-motion media because the process is so intensive makes those that do come out all the more special. Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, and Coraline came out years apart and I remember them like it was yesterday. Is Kubo and the Two Strings another great stop-motion movie or is CG the way of the future (always no)?

To settle a family feud Kubo, played by Art Parkinson, sets out on a journey to acquire an unbreakable sword and a set of ancient armor. A serious Monkey, played by Charlize Theron, and an amnesiac Beetle, played by Matthew McConaughey, joins him along the way.

Expressive stop-motion, like expressive CG, has a similar overdesigned aesthetic between each film. The characters in Corpse Bride and Coraline are bug-eye mutants because it is easier to show emotion in their faces compared smaller, realistic features. Everything else about the movies is designed according to a style built upon that aesthetic.

The style of Kubo is distinctly Japanese with a ton of historical and fantasy elements. The titular main character looks like Jubei Yagyu, Monkey is a snow monkey, and Beetle’s body is similar to samurai armor. Then there is the Shinto-like mythology, feudal era clothing, and origami magic taken right from Read or Die. I could go on and on about the little things I found watching.

Since Kubo is from the same people behind Coraline, the animation is flawless. In addition to frighteningly smooth stop-motion there are CG enhancements to what could not be done by hand. These effects, however, are limited. One standout was an old woman character with this detailed face that works as well as the rest. Then there is Monkey whose mouth extends outwards and the lips move around her jaws.

The voice acting adds a lot to the rather simplistic story. McConaughey has a great comedic turn while Theron keeps the movie grounded with her seriousness. Parkinson, who plays Rickon on Game of Thrones, carried the film from beginning to end as he was transformed by the story’s events. Rooney Mara played a great villain as The Sisters and the rest of the cast did considerably well despite having only a couple lines.

Stop-motion animation is practical effects on steroids. The amount of work that goes into a minute of footage is indescribable and the end result is beautiful. Any movie with stop-motion deserves your attention, both old and new. Kubo and the Two Strings is a reminder that practical effects are still incredible and it must be seen immediately.

 

Sausage Party

Seth Rogen is Adam Sandler if he were talented. His movies feature the same actors, set-up, and tropes that have become synonymous with his name. There is always weed involved, a romantic story, and James Franco. Rogen’s films are only slightly monotonous because unlike Sandler, he is not cynical about making them. He and his friends obviously like what they are doing and want to make you laugh. Was Sausage Party another great comedy or has the monotony fully set in?

A good film stands out by taking a familiar premise and doing something different in execution. The Pusher trilogy was like any other drug movie shot in a documentary fashion. Birdman was a “failed actor in search of relevance” story filmed in a faux long shot. Party should standout with its premise of sentient food, but the story and jokes are predictable.

The puns were unavoidable, yet everything else was so obvious I could write it in my sleep. There are hot dog and bun sexual innuendos, a douche being a bro, a falafel and bagel insulting each other in reference to the Arab/Israeli conflict, and Latino products being Latino. Instead of laughing my reactions included “Yep… Okay… Got it.” I was so bored I could not invest myself in what was happening because it was dull. When there were points the movie could have been interesting, it went in the complete opposite direction.

Even as I write this review I have old episodes of Half in the Bag going on in another window because I am so bored. Mike and Jay avoid comedies because they are hard to critique. You either think they are funny or not and no one shares the same sense of humor. I find Jackass and BroTeam hilarious and Party did not make me laugh once. My mom might like it though.

I have no idea why I saw Sausage Party. I should have gone to Anthropoid because there are not many films about the Nazi occupation of Europe. I would like to see a movie about the Sturmbrigade Dirlewanger. Imagine Suicide Squad if the characters committed war crimes and Amanda Waller was a child-molesting necrophiliac. Seriously, Oskar Dirlewanger makes Hitler look like Mother Teresa. Jesus, I am so bored with Sausage Party I am talking about the guy responsible for the Wola Massacre.

 

Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad should not technically exist. The tone, set-up, and characters are the antithesis of how DC has handled their films up to this point. Apart from introducing a new incarnation of Joker, I fail to see the point. Of all the available teams, why Suicide Squad? Why does Deadshot, Slipknot, and a bunch of other Randys get their own movie? Then you have the gritty aesthetic mixed with color that seems to conflict with each other. In Marvel’s case, either you go full bright (Avengers), or full dark (Daredevil) because it is consistent. Squad takes an in between approach that does not look like it will work, especially considering the other factors at play.

What gives me hope, however, is director David Ayer. I have only seen Sabotage and Fury, but I know the man cares about the craft of cinema. He applies that craft to action that rides the line between spectacle and logic where everything makes sense and looks cool. Fury in particular was framed like an old fashion WWII epic with an emphasis on the horror of war. Sabotage was ultra modern with many quick cuts and some shots captured from guns as they were fired. With that kind of talent, will Squad come out on top despite itself or join Batman v. Superman as another failure?

To combat threats that ordinary humans cannot Waller, played by Viola Davis, assembles a team of convicts with special abilities in exchange for taking time off their sentences. When a disaster takes place in Midway City, the team is sent in to rescue a high value target before the situation spirals out of control.

Style and substance go hand in hand. You cannot have one without the other unless you are Zack Snyder. Style has its merits (see Neon Demon, Drive, and Bronson), but without even a shred of substance, why bother? Substance is what gives characters, dialogue, and story flesh. It is the material that makes fiction seem real and after watching Squad I still do not get it.

On the one hand, fans of Harley and Joker will enjoy seeing their characters, but the rest of the film has no purpose. I have not the slightest idea what it was trying to accomplish. Did it want to subvert superhero genre tropes? Add a little color to DC’s grim-dark aesthetic? Challenge the idea of what makes a hero? I cannot say because there is literally no substance. It is impossible to care about those involved and the story is just stuff that happens. All of the characters are Some Guy that say and do things that ought to have meaning. I do not care about Deadshot missing his daughter, Diablo walking the path of peace, or Harley suffering from severe Stockholm syndrome. I fail to invest because the movie has no thematic meat to invoke emotional engagement.

It is the same problem with the Fox movies where producers bank on name recognition without exploiting the depth that defines character, regardless if they are superheroes or not. You cannot have a guy named Cyclops and not make him a brooding control freak trying to be a leader. That is what happened with Deadpool before people that care about the character took over. You know why Captain America is sympathetic? Because war is all he knows and he cannot relate to other people. Ayer can write characters with substance, but clearly something happened behind the scenes that screwed it all up.

Squad’s style is fine, I guess. It gets by with nice shots and the fight scenes were decent. However, as I predicted, the dark tone and fun aesthetic did not work together. The first act is most telling where everyone gets an annotated introduction with neon font before it goes right into a Call of Duty scenario. The soundtrack, which is probably the worst I have ever heard, is a mess of pop and rock that fails to make you feel happy when the movie cannot. In Guy Ritchie’s hands, this issue of tone versus aesthetic would not exist. Can you imagine the Snatch equivalent of a superhero film?

Despite those massive issues, Squad is very watchable. Totally mediocre, but I would see it again if I did not have to spend money. The idea of a penal unit made up of Z-Tier villains as super powered cannon fodder is interesting. I also liked the dynamic between the interchangeable pairs of characters and their motivations, even if it did not matter. The whole deal with Joel Kinnamen’s Flagg and Cara Delevingne’s Moone gave the movie heart and Davis’s Waller was an incredible titanic bitch that made the whole thing worth it. Also, it was nice to see Jai Courtney get his acting back and newcomer Karen Fukuhara was okay. Her costume was weird, though.

The only other problem is Jared Leto’s Joker. His take on the character is interesting, but we do not see much of him. He will pop up, disappear for a long time, and then show up later down the line to do nothing of consequence. Like the substance issue, he is just there because the studio needed a name like Harley Quinn.

Batman v. Superman was depressing because it was trying to be something it was not. It attempted to establish an entire universe in one film and compromised the themes it was trying to convey in the process. Suicide Squad, while not worth the emotional investment, impossible though it may be, it is such an improvement over DC’s last effort that I find it admirable. Someone obviously cared about doing something different, even if the end result is pretty bad overall. The movie is not perfect and you will hate it, but if you absolutely need to see something and you can buy a cheap ticket, it is a harmless endeavor.

 

Jason Bourne

I do not get the Bourne movies. The action is okay, but what else is there? The overarching story is dull spy fiction about an assassin gaining a conscience while his handlers try to kill him. I know without the CIA after him the narrative would be boring, but does the Company really operate like Columbian drug cartels? Are they so worried about loose ends they are not going to attempt diplomacy? It is such a lazy plot device and the lukewarm action does not help. Was the fifth installment an improvement or more of the same?

After an old acquaintance returns with information on his father and the program that created him Jason, played by Matt Damon, comes out of hiding to investigate. His reemergence sets off alarms at the CIA and Agent Lee, played by Alicia Vikander, makes it her mission to apprehend him.

Imagine Winter Soldier without everything cool and you get Jason Bourne. From the themes of government surveillance to moral ambiguity, it is the same film absent Captain America and the great fight scenes. Both movies would be indistinguishable if the latter were not a boring monotone slog. Instead of caring about the characters and wanting to see more action, I wanted Bourne to just get to the point and finish.

The whole thing is build-up, more build-up, and then a fight scene before the process repeats itself about four times. Because each plot point is a vignette of story and action, it kills the overall build-up to the finale. You are inundated with all this stuff in a run-of-the-mill fashion that whatever you may feel is disarmed. The tension that comes with a decent story that takes the time to build towards a monolithic endgame is nonexistent because Bourne divides its tension. At the climax, when you are supposed to feel the scenes prior led to this moment, there is nothing.

The storytelling and tone hurt the film just as much. You are constantly cutting between the CIA, Jason, then to something different, and back to the CIA ad nauseam. Everyone is either talking on a phone or looking at a computer with no sense of urgency. It is such a technical movie that everything happens in a clinical fashion. We have to see each time the characters talk on the phone or look at a computer so we know they know what is going on. We cannot just see what happens naturally or in a creative way. Every detail no matter how insignificant must be shown to annoy the audience and drag out the runtime.

Monotone is an apt description because the characters are either pissed off, emotionless, or angry for no reason. There was no humor, no sadness, or anything to induce a feeling other than agitation. There is no levity except for a line of dialog in which Tommy Lee Jones changed his voice slightly. Even if your film is horror you need emotion because it makes the characters seem human and not bored robots. Sicario, the most nihilistic movie ever, had more emotion than five minutes of Bourne.

The movie’s biggest problem is the cinematography because it gave me a headache. I do not know what director Paul Greengrass’s problem is, but he seems incapable of holding the camera straight in the midst of action, and unable to not use close-ups. On top of that, the scenes are chaotic and cluttered enough that the added shaking compounds the fatigue. I could not tell what was happening while my head pounded until I came home. Then you have the stiff close-ups of everyone’s dull expressions as they read lines like they were at a depressing Catholic mass.

If all of the Bourne movies are like this, then I am glad I never got into the series. If you are fan please explain to me why these films are so popular. Aside from the headache I have gained nothing from watching Jason Bourne. I would say it was a waste of time if I was not reminded of how much more awesome Winter Soldier is in comparison.

 

Star Trek: Beyond

When it comes to science fiction Star Trek does it the best. The shows and movies are about explorers solving problems with logic and diplomacy as representatives of humanity. I am not a fan, but I will watch TNG if it is on, and Wrath of Khan is a great standalone film. Because I do not have a bias, I can judge the Trek movies as movies and about half of them are pretty bad. Into Darkness is my least favorite because it is a remake of Khan. Instead of following up Trek 2009 in a meaningful way, the hack screenwriting duo of Orci/Kurtzman rehashed an already perfect film. There was nothing about the consequences of Vulkan being destroyed, how the event affected the Romulans, or what being admiral meant to Kirk. Cumberbatch was the highlight, but the rest of the movie was worthless. With Orci/Kurtzman nowhere in sight of Star Trek: Beyond, will we finally see a decent sequel to Trek 2009 or more faux science fiction?

After travelling into uncharted space to find a lost Star Fleet ship, the crew of the Enterprise is attacked and brought to a planet where Krall, played by Idris Elba, is gathering them for a nefarious plan.

Orci/Kurtzman’s absence from the writing is why Beyond is the best Star Trek movie since Undiscovered Country. We get a genuine science fiction narrative that does not add nonsense for the sake of spectacle and is competently written. Beyond is a technical film where every action has a purpose and the results make sense. Because the people in charge actually know what they are doing, the action sequences fit within a logical context while being exciting. The second to last major set piece is incredible and how the story got to that point made sense.

Within the logic driven plot is a character story of Kirk, played by Chris Pine, questioning his choice to join Star Fleet. He turns the same age as his father when he died and contemplates taking an office job. A part of Kirk feels he accomplished his mission of living up to his father and that his reason for being in Star Fleet has expired. His struggle throughout is finding a reason to continue.

The rest of the characters added a lot to the whole. Beyond is arguably an ensemble because each member of crew is paired with another and given an equal share of the runtime. There is something for everybody where all our favorites get a chance to be who they are while playing off of each other. Kirk/Chekov have some harrowing moments, Bones/Spock are the highlight, and Scotty with newcomer Jaylah had some nice moments. The great performances of each actor in their respective parts go without saying, Elba included.

My main problem is the shoddy CG work. Most of it was good, but with shots of people running and/or in motion, there are CG stand-ins taken directly from Blade II. They just looked terrible and I do not know why live people were not filmed and dropped into the shot instead. Everything else was fine except those instances. Also, the uniforms were inconsistent and there was a lot of shaky cam.

The Martian was the last science fiction movie that emphasized the science, but it was Star Trek that did not forget the fiction. Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future could not have been realized without the television show and movies that followed. Star Trek: Beyond is a return to form and one of the best works of science fiction this year. Even if you are not a fan it is well worth your time.

 

Ghostbusters (2016)

After a lot of thinking, I have come to the conclusion that I may have jumped the gun. I know I said I would not see it, but I believe it is my duty, as a nobody-critic, to let you know the truth. My word does not mean much and I do not expect anyone to listen. It was never my intention to control what people see. I just wanted to express myself and see if others agreed. And if you share my opinions, I hope you take heed as I carefully explain why Ghostbuster (1984) is a perfect movie.

After they are kicked out of Columbia University Peter, Ray, and Egon start a business where they investigate paranormal activity and exterminate ghosts throughout New York City. Things get interesting when their first client Dana calls in a poltergeist that is connected to something much more nefarious.

With a trio like Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Dan Aykroyd, the comedy of Ghostbusters is top notch. Their master craft shows through in the character’s interactions in a flawless ensemble. Ray is utterly enthusiastic, Egon is the calm smart guy, and Peter is just along with the ride. The conflict of their personalities makes them function in perfect harmony. Peter’s casual sarcasm keeps Ray’s fanaticism in check while Egon’s logic points them in the right direction. Murray is the focus and the funniest, but the film would not work without Ramis and Aykroyd.

The supporting characters add a lot to the comedy of the trio. Ernie Hudson’s straight man Winston, one of the more important characters, is introduced later as an average Joe trying to earn a paycheck. Sigourney Weaver as Dana has great chemistry with Murray as he investigates the strange happenings at her apartment while trying to court her. Rick Moranis was perfect as the bumbling accountant Louis struggling to maintain a consistent air of modesty to his detriment. And William Atherton is great as Walter Peck, a petulant government agent.

It would not be a ghost movie without ghosts and the visual effects are some of the best 1984 can offer. With a combination of puppetry, stop-motion, and conventional animation the various undead ghouls are brought to life. Smiler’s movements are exaggerated and gross, while the Gozer dogs are beautifully detailed, and the streams from the proton packs are vibrant. The Stay Puff Marshmallow Man would not be so iconic without the practical effects that went into his body and face. Today these effects are shining diamonds of cinematic artistry in an age where lazy computer generated detritus has become the norm.

My vocabulary is not enough to describe Ghostbusters (1984). As a comedy with the trappings of an action adventure, it is perfect. I cannot image such a film being made today because the ensemble and jokes were lightning in a bottle. They do not make them like they used to and while that prospect is dire, I take comfort in the fact that I can turn to the past, and remind myself that good movies still exist. For those reasons Ghostbusters (1984) is an essential watch. This is what you get for dancing on the grave of Harold Ramis, Paul Feig, you hack.

The Shallows

I have always been a fan of movies set in one location. Limits in budget and time can lead to interesting results, particularly in the suspense genre. Wait Until Midnight, Hateful Eight, and 10 Cloverfield Lane are fantastic and they take place in one location. Putting together a compelling story with minimal effort is the sign of a true artist. Is The Shallows another great small movie or should it have been bigger?

Following the death of her mother Nancy, played by Blake Lively, goes to a secret surfing spot to think through her issues. When she is about to leave she is attacked by a shark and is left stranded on an island bleeding into the water.

Shark movies are a precarious bunch because apart from Jaws, every one of them is terrible. What they lack is the element of suspense that made that hollowed classic great. We never see the shark or his attacks in full until later when Brody is confronted with the beast alone in the ocean. The tension was palpable because before then, he was just an observer to the shark’s terror.

Shallows is a short movie of 86 minutes and it takes a good chuck of that to flesh out Nancy. We learn everything about her in as efficient a manner as possible. We get to know her feelings, what she is going through, and why she is at the beach. When she is attacked we care about her and want to see her make it out alive.

Then there is the omnipresent shark that you know will show up the moment she steps into the water. Following the example of Jaws, the creature is hidden or obscured by the environment. Occasionally he will pop his head out before returning to the water at long intervals. It is very simple and rather unremarkable, but for a movie like Shallows, that is how you do it.

My only problem is a directing choice that I hope never becomes mainstream. When Nancy is using her phone, there is a picture-in-picture view of the screen with the scene in progress. You are watching this well shot landscape of a beach and then a video pops up in the corner or a chat window obscures half the picture. This actually happens. Are insert shots not allowed anymore? Are ass-ugly picture-in-picture graphics the new standard? If I see this in more movies, I am out.

Good shark movies are rare and The Shallows is a great find. The minimalist approach to building character and tension made the whole affair seem larger because you become so entrenched. It belongs up there with the likes of Jaws. If you want something simple and compelling that does not take up much time, The Shallows is worth you consideration.

Swiss Army Man

Have you every experienced something so good that you cannot find the words to articulate why it is good? I can explain why you should see Swiss Army Man (SAM), but I do not know where to begin. Lately I have been struggling with my introductions and this one proves the most difficult. Better yet, I think you should skip my review, and watch the movie anyway.

While attempting suicide after becoming stranded on a desert island Hank, played by Paul Dano, happens upon a corpse named Manny, played by Daniel Radcliffe, with seemingly magical properties. After the corpse helps him escape the island to the mainland, the two become inseparable.

Either way I try to explain SAM there will be spoilers. Granted, you can probably figure out the film’s whole conceit based on the trailer, but I would like to keep as much in the dark as I can. If you do not want to know anything, all I will say is that if you are looking for something funny with a macabre sense of humor, punctuated by dramatic self-discovery, look no further.

SAM is about Hank coming to terms with his loneliness and accepting who he is by communicating with Manny. Whether the talking corpse is real or not, their conversations help Hank understand himself. Throughout the movie he tries to teach Manny how to be a person by setting up various social scenarios. Because he lacks the mental capacity for subtlety and basic empathy, Manny responds to Hank with total honesty. He reveals the truth, no matter how embarrassing, and Hank is forced to confront what it means to him.

The music is more than worth a mention. From what I can tell, every track is done vocally with various tunes provided by a mix of voices from a chorus. It adds so much to the film’s natural, makeshift aesthetic where what Hank and Manny create in the wilderness is from what they find in the environment. The effects also tie very well into the aesthetic where Dano and Radcliffe are always real and the effects around them are not.

None of what makes SAM great would have been possible without the perfect chemistry of Dano and Radcliffe. They were excellent together and it would not surprise me if they went on to work together in the future.

I think this is my shortest review yet. Other than the theme and aesthetic, there was not much to say because Swiss Army Man is very good. There is nothing more I can repeat other than to see it for your self. I have not been this happy since Neon Demon and Turbo Kid.

 

Purge: Election Year

I did not see the first Purge, but I saw Anarchy and I really liked it. It had this John Carpenter feel that reminded by of Escape of New York with the premise and story. Then there is the propaganda element where the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) are the Right trying to suppress the poor and the Left are inherently good. It was ironic how the opposition contributed to the NFFA by fighting back (very Orwell) and the idea that the government killing the poor was heavy-handed, but I still had plenty fun despite the political themes. The film also made it clear that everyone purges, no matter their income or skin color. Does Purge: Election Year do more of the same or does it continue to evolve the premise from where Anarchy left off?

18 years after surviving the execution of her family on Purge Day Senator Roan, played by Elizabeth Mitchell, is running for president in hopes of ending the Purge. On the titular holiday mercenaries make an assassination attempt and her bodyguard Leo, played by Frank Grillo is forced to abandon their shelter, and escape into the chaotic streets of downtown DC.

If the title is any indication, the propaganda and contemporary parallels are in full swing. Considering the sermonizing about the System keeping people down, White Supremacist characters, and the idea of the Purge as a means to help the rich, I could not tell if I was watching a movie written by Cenk “Armenian Genocide Denier” Uygur or a Clinton campaign promo. The difficulty with talking about the film’s blatant sophistry, however, is that the background information does not make sense. I had this whole rebuttal lined up until I realized the story issues negated my whole argument like a paradox of bad writing.

According to this entry in the series, the NFFA and the Purge have been around for almost two decades. That is 20 years of Americans killing each other in the hundreds of thousands, for one day out of each year, and the NFFA reaping the benefits. One day of poor to middle class citizens wiping each other out would mean millions in profit in personal defense, funeral, and recovery spending. In that timespan of 20 years, America would be an economic paradise with better living standards and job opportunities.

However, after two decades only now are the people trying to stop the Purge? Yes, the NFFA accelerating the effects by hunting citizens with low income borders on genocide, but how is it any different than the rest of the country breaking the law? Also, if the Purge has been around for 20 years, why are they killing off the poor now? Would they not have to considering how much power they hold and that the lower classes have been diminished? At that point, only the rich would make up the remaining majority. I cannot find the answers because Election Year is too concerned with drawing parallels to our current political climate, spreading its pretentious message, and making the opposition look like racist religious nuts that enjoy killing.

Furthermore, the backstory is so inconsistent between this and Anarchy that I am convinced it was thought up on the fly just for this film. Is the Purge a new phenomenon or has it been around for 20 years because if memory serves me right, Anarchy described its Purge as the sixth annual. Maybe I am reading too much into it, but I have a feeling the writer did not think people were smart enough to notice this gross miscalculation.

Other than some grotesque imagery, there is nothing that classifies Election Year and the Purge series as horror. Jump-scares, patriotic music played over ultra violence, and bad actors trying to be scary is not scary. Most of the time I was rolling my eyes because the movie tries way too hard and thinks it is the next great name in horror. Like Anarchy, it works better as an action movie in the same vein as Carpenter, but for people who have never seen Escape from New York.

Performances were better with Grillo managing what he could while the rest of the cast pulled their share. The script is slightly better with the sermonizing reserved for making everyone but the good guys look like insane monsters. What matters is that everyone tried and that is all you can ask for.

It is not perfect, but Purge: Anarchy is leagues better than Election Year. Its message was also poorly delivered and ignorant, but it did not insult your intelligence and actively belittle you for your beliefs. The series is not supposed to be serious and it is technically satire, yet what Election Year has to say is pure ignorance. At least the last movie made a point to show that everyone is capable of being monsters, regardless of race or class. On that note, I recommend renting Election Year and watching Neon Demon in theaters instead.

 

Independence Day: Resurgence

I was four when I saw Independence Day (ID). I remember watching it over and over because I love alien invasions and destruction when done right. Now I am 24 and I see ID as passable schlock with a patriotic spin. The notion that the world follows America’s lead to fight off aliens is charming and the practical effects are a joy. The idealism is off-putting, but I understand what the film was trying to do. How does Independence Day: Resurgence (IDR) carry on where ID left off?

On the 20-year anniversary of the War of ’96, Earth is invaded again by a more menacing alien threat. Using technology adapted from the aliens, the world fights back.

I understand that my politics tend to interfere with my criticism. Sometimes it just comes out and many people do not agree with what I have to say. However, my disdain for globalism and some liberal ideals does not change that IDR is just terrible. Jane Got a Gun was so awful I do not know how it was real, but at least it was watchable in comparison.

From the start I knew there was a problem based on how fast the movie went. It moves so quickly from one scene to another that you do not have time to absorb what it happening. Because of that you are beaten over the head with repeat exposition and visual indicators to remind you of things you were already told in a prior scene. The editing is worse because there is a cut every three seconds. Even when there is no action and the scene is calm, there are a billion cuts.

The lighting fast pace is such that you do not have time to like the giant cast of characters. Furthermore, they are written so simply to the point they are one-dimensional. The returning actors at least have the previous film to establish character, but all the new people are useless. I could not care less about their various plights. I do not give a shit about Chris Hemsworth being an orphan, Will Smith’s kid watching his mother die, and the Chinese girl losing her uncle. The only character I paid attention to was Maika Monroe’s Patricia, but only because she is a great actress.

While the last movie was not perfect, I still cared about the president losing his wife, Will Smith having ambitions, and Jeff Goldblum trying to save the planet. You had time to learn about these people and grow to like them. On top of that, ID was not cluttered with a dozen other characters that did nothing. It took time with a small ensemble to develop personality and make you understand those involved. I did not care about the characters in IDR because I did not have time to care and they were so sparsely written they were not worth the trouble.

Then there is the most Roland Emmerich thing ever: The pissants. These are “characters” that hang around with the cast to provide unfunny comedy. Most of Emmerich’s and Michael Bay’s movies have them because it is great to show contempt for your audience. IDR has a nerdy government clerk, a crew of sailors that did not have to exist, Goldblum’s father, and Hemsworth’s in-the-closet co-pilot. These “people” have maybe fifteen minutes of total screen that could have been excised from the film. Because Emmerich is too lazy to write better characters he relies on pissants to compensate.

The story could not be dumber. The inciting incident is a new alien ship, not like the previous invaders, showing up out of a wormhole. Instead of listening to Goldblum, who saved the world, the UN shoots it down. They did not try to communicate with the ship or wait even a minute to consider their options. Turns out, it was a good ship sent by a coalition of refugee aliens that have been fighting the invader aliens for years. The movie would have ended, but in better hands, the story could have gone in a better direction.

After the even bigger invader ship lands over the Atlantic, the first move by the military is to attack it with everyone at once from Area 51. It is no surprise they all die and apparently that was the extent of the UN’s air force. The strategy was poor to begin with, but why did the member countries not provide their forces to help the effort? Did the nations of the world feel so safe that they were fine with having one planetary defense force based in one country? Were they not allowed to have their own army because the UN could not trust its members with the advanced weapons and flight technology? I guess that is what happens when you set up a centralized global political bloc, idiots.

Aesthetically the human/alien technology and weapons look gaudy. For some reason the engines that allow for 3-dimensional movement are placed on the outside of the jets and not integrated into the body. The jets look fine except for these weird alien circle things that stick out on their bellies. The alien ships from the first movie did not even have visible engines or exhaust on the outside. Then the human/alien rifles are too big for humans and have this triangle motif that does not work. The aliens’ guns make sense because they are tall creatures, but all we did was add a carry handle with a rail system.

The only good thing I have to say is the performances were okay. The returning cast was great save for Vivica A. Fox who always sucks. It was nice to see Bill Pullman, Willian Fichtner, and Goldblum again. Hemsworth, to my surprise, was passable and actually made an attempt to act. Everyone else sucked.

Independence Day: Resurgence is not worth your time and money. The sparse few good things are overshadowed by the sum of its parts. I wanted it to end 15 minutes in and I wanted to leave. What ever you decide to do this weekend, stay home and watch the first Independence Day. Better yet, go see Neon Demon or Civil War. That is what I should have done.

 

The Neon Demon

Of the many directors I like, Nicholas Winding Refn is probably my favorite. He focuses heavily on style without ignoring substance, something many directors cannot do. His films are colorful, beautifully shot, and the use of synth is just incredible. They also carry a very art house quality that varies between each movie. His last feature, Only God Forgives, relied heavily on symbolism to tell the story of a man rebelling against God. After repeat viewings I finally understood Valhalla Rising and it became a major inspiration. The most straightforward of Refn’s filmography is the Pusher trilogy, Bronson, and Drive. Does The Neon Demon faithfully carry on his style or has he become more accessible?

After coming to LA to make her name as a model Jesse, played by Elle Fanning, becomes the talk of the town for her perfect beauty. Her quick rise to fame attracts the attention of Sarah and Gigi, played by Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote, as the two become dangerously envious.

Art house films are simple, but complicated. On the inside they are easy to understand, yet they are constructed in a manner unique to the status quo. Making a simple movie complicated is how directors standout. The Revenant was about revenge and filmed with natural lighting. Birdman was about coming to terms age shot in a faux long shot. Without Alejandro Inarritu’s sense of style, those movies would have been no different than any other.

Neon Demon is about how beauty is all consuming. What sets the film apart is the element of horror that comes through in the aesthetic. The cinematography is fantastic as usual, but it is the lighting and color scheme that sells the grotesquery, much like Dario Argento’s Suspiria. Along with neon are highlights of shine amongst bright colors that fill the screen. The ambient synth score enhanced the beautiful lighting with a slow rumble that would build to a beat in moments of intensity.

The writing deserves a special mention. Neon Demon is a great example of how you write characters and exposition. Introductions are single lines of dialog that establish personality, attitude, and where characters will go as the story progresses. It is great writing that does not get bogged down in explanation and gives you room to think about what is going.

The eccentricity is easy to understand except for one scene. There is a part where a spoiler happens, but after a cut it seemed like it did not happen. I was confused because I could not tell if the scene was a dream sequence or real. It is the only problem I have with the movie.

The performances were pretty solid considering the material. Fanning was great at conveying naiveté while Lee and Heathcote were devious as walking caricatures of models going through emotional turmoil. Jena Malone was the absolute best as Ruby, a make-up artist obsessed with Jesse. The way she carries herself exudes the desperation of her character and it was brilliant. I would say her performance is worthy of an Oscar.

For any fan of Nicholas Winding Refn, seeing The Neon Demon is a foregone conclusion. If you are coming for the synth, cinematography, and color, you will be right at home. To ordinary moviegoers, if you have an eye for craftsmanship and the art of cinema, look no further. It is even better if you are a fan of horror.

 

Warcraft (2016)

You cannot be a gamer without understanding Warcraft. It revolutionized the real-time strategy genre and had repeat success with online roleplaying. Before World of Warcraft, it was just Orks and humans until the sequels added Night Elves, Dwarves, and the Undead. Because the wealth of lore expanded a once small universe, I find it difficult to comprehend what Warcraft (2016) will do with the material. It is a classic adaptation dilemma: What do you include to maintain the spirit of the source while making the finished product a complete work? However it goes, I hope Warcraft (2016) is at least watchable.

When conquest brings the Orks into the realm of Azeroth, Durotan, played by Toby Kebbell, feels the need to carve out a home for his family and people. Lothar, played by Travis Fimmel, is then tasked with bringing an end to the invasion.

My knowledge or Warcraft is cursory to say the least. I played Warcraft 3 and then some of WoW before it got boring, but I was not interested in the lore. That did not help my viewing experience because I had absolutely no clue what was what, and that is not a good sign when you need to reach an audience outside of fans. I cannot even judge it as a proper adaptation because I don’t know if they are going off the first game or something original.

All I could infer was characters, culture, and things that did not matter in the end. I did not know the extent of the Alliance, the history of the Orks or Azeroth, and I did not understand the deal with the mages because none of it was explained. However, it is only partly the fault of the movie because there are obvious cuts in a lot of places. I think Warcraft (2016) was much longer and editing reduced it to a more manageable length. At the same time, most of the exposition was erased, leaving nonfans lost. Had nothing been cut, an extended runtime would be a fair exchange for actually understanding the world.

The film works best from an aesthetic standpoint. It is the videogame adaptation equivalent of the Marvel movies in how it transitions visuals of the source material to the screen. The armor is colorful and totally impractical, the weapons utterly beautiful, and the architecture could not be more true to the games. Most of the time I was ogling at all the props and set elements.

The best part was the Orks thanks to flawless CG work. They are tall and broad with the iconic tusks and huge braids of hair. Though I have a disdain for CG effects, this instance is justified because the effects fit the style. Like 300, Warcraft (2016) has a visual style reliant on bright colors and overdesign. The Orks epitomize this aesthetic proudly, regardless of how they are made on screen.

The performances were all right with the cast at least trying. I wished someone went nuts like Jeremy Irons in Dungeons & Dragons. Fimmel (the only good part about Vikings) brought a lot of charisma while Kebbell did much the same in the context of a guy trying to keep his family safe in the midst of war. They really stood out from a cast that was just wanted to get through it with their dignity. Ben Foster did not care all that much, Dominic Cooper was decent, and Paula Patton made a great Ork.

As a movie, Warcraft (2016) is best described as a fans only affair. The lore side of it was lost on me because I had no clue what was happening with all the things that are never explained. It also does not help that maybe an hour’s worth of content was removed in post. Furthermore, the aesthetic and performances are not worth the price of admission. If you are a fan, you already made up your mind. If not, rent it.

 

The Conjuring 2

Along with bad government and beautiful women, Australia is known for its great actors and directors. No one shoots a car better than an Aussie and when horror was near death, James Wan was there to pick up the pieces. For Insidious and The Conjuring he used techniques and scares that showed horror could be good without being cheap and passionless. After making the glorious schlock fest Furious 7 he returned to the genre with The Conjuring 2. Has Wan breathed new life into contemporary horror or should he move on?

After a traumatic event at the Amityville house Ed and Lorraine Warren, played by Sam Wilson and Vera Farmiga, take a break from investigating the paranormal. Not long after going on hiatus, the couple hears about demonic activity tormenting a family in England, and decides to help them.

To say Conjuring 2 is the first Conjuring repeated is apt and not a bad thing. The first film was fantastic in how it handled scares, the investigative story, and the mounting tension throughout. If it worked so well, why do anything different the second time? A lot of horror series do that, but because there is a rush to meet an annual release, the series begins to decay.

The difference with Conjuring 2 is that it reinforces the best parts of its predecessor. A lot of what made that movie good was achieved in filmmaking techniques that are otherwise nonexistent in today’s horror. There are long shots, off-kilter angles, and a great use of darkness. The scares are diverse and build to a crescendo that keeps you on edge until the inevitable cut. They are simple, but clever, utilizing every trick available. One moment in the sequel was genius from an effects standpoint and how it was setup. Be sure to pay attention when it happens.

Wilson and Farmiga were right in their element. Lorraine is still a mess with her abilities and premonitions, while Ed is trying to support her and remain steadfast in their mission to help people. The standout was Madison Wolfe as Janet, the young victim of the demonic activity. Though her voice is dubbed over in the possession scenes, she shows herself to be a great physical actor, conveying the intensity, stress, and pain of hosting a demon.

While most of Conjuring 2 relies on practical effects, some parts feature glaring CG work. It just looks bad, like it was not colored according to the set lighting. I understand if the story demanded elements that could not be done practical, but if you cannot do it without looking bad, do not do it at all.

As a horror movie sequel, The Conjuring 2 is what a follow-up should be. While it is more of the same, it does exactly what made the last movie great without saturating itself. If you liked the first, you will be right at home. To the uninitiated, I highly recommend watching The Conjuring before buying a ticket.

 

X-Men: Apocalypse

The MCU is the worst thing to happen to Bryan Singer. He comes from a time when superhero movies were afraid of their source material and tried desperately to disassociate. That is why the costumes were monochrome, the characters terrible, and the stories perpetuated the overall tonal darkness. In X-Men, a series supposedly about a team, there is no ensemble, and the supporting characters do not even talk or have defined personalities. Seriously, Colossus never uttered a single sentence in Singer’s X-Men until Deadpool.

The MCU, however, takes everything seriously and does not change it. First Class was an attempt at that process and they pulled it off flawlessly. It was also technically a reboot that redressed the series after X3 and Origins. I thought the movies would continue from there… until Singer came back for Days of Future Past. While Deadpool proved you do not have to be dark to succeed, I have a feeling Apocalypse is going to do otherwise. Will Fox continue to dig its own grave beside Warner Brothers or has it seen the error of its ways?

After an ancient mutant called Apocalypse, played by Oscar Isaac, wakes up in 1983, he decides to wipe out humanity and remake the world where only superior mutants rule. To stop him, Mystique, played by Jennifer Lawrence, comes out of hiding to reunite the X-Men.

I think Singer has forgotten how to film superheroes and action in general. The first two movies were fine with X2 having some of the best sequences of the series. With the last one and Apocalypse, he has regressed to this box-standard, dull cinematography that does not work for superheroes.

Instead of spectacle and dynamic shots, there many close ups and tight angles that do not show anything but the characters in frame. There is a scene where Magneto visits Auschwitz and instead of having an emotional impact, the camera and characters are confined to a barbwire enclosure, standing there for two whole minutes. He could not have been walking around, maybe had a few flashbacks, and feel vindicated for hating humanity.

When action is happening it is filmed with no attempt at making it look harrowing or active. It does not inspire feeling because it does not appear alive and physical compared to something like this. There is a scene where Angel gains his powers and I could not tell how it was affecting him because the camera held on the metal wings sprouting out his back. The one time the action was well shot was the first Quicksilver scene.

Regardless of the poor cinematography, the rest of Apocalypse is mediocre. The issue is inherent in Singer’s X-Men where the characters do not matter. Sure, Cyclops dealt with some heavy stuff and Jean had an arc that will (spoiler) piss off fans of the Phoenix Saga, but the rest of them were just there. Nightcrawler was hanging out, Psylocke passed by, and Hank did nothing. Instead of their drama driving the story it is vice versa and the story was a poor retread of X2 with Apocalypse wanting Xavier’s power.

The worst part was how Magneto was given a family to be killed off so he could join the Horseman. Why he quit being a villain in the first place I could not figure out, even after watching Days of Future Past. He does not need more motivation because the guy has firsthand experience as a Holocaust survivor. If he just volunteered to be a Horseman or did something else that would have been fine.

It was like watching an episode of Walking Dead.

The costumes are still bad. Apocalypse and friends wear faux-armor of strips stacked on top of each other. His suit is the worst with the most strips made to look Egyptian, including some cords on his head, and a loincloth. The shoddy make-up did not help either. The X-Men wore black soft-shell uniforms from Mass Effect and it was fine. They keep the same aesthetic with their official character uniforms. Diehard fans will not like it, but I did not have a problem.

Honestly, I think I have said enough. Around about here I would talk about the acting and mention the blatantly tacked on witty banter, but because the performances were not good or bad, I do not see a point in bringing them up. They fit the characters despite being wrong and I liked the batter.

While BvS was depressing for trying to be something it could not, X-Men: Apocalypse is simply mediocre. In a post Civil War world, expectations could not be higher, and when you have a franchise that is all about character drama, why shoot yourself in the foot by making a film about anything but? I do not understand and I am not a fan of the X-Men to begin with. I just want to watch a movie and actually care about the people involved.

If you want to see something X-Men related that is good, the first two movies, First Class, and The Wolverine are great. But if you want the real X-Men, I highly recommend checking out the Epic History X-Men series from the venerable ComicBookGirl19. When it comes to all things comics, she knows what she is talking about. The first two videos are available on YouTube and the third installment will be up on Vimeo for $3.99 on the 30th.

 

The Nice Guys

The buddy genre is dead. Bret Ratner more or less did it in with Rush Hour 3 and since then, I have yet to see a proper resurgence. The genre was very much of its time with a lot of success like Blues Brothers and Dumb and Dumber. Today I cannot recall any new buddy films that have the same notoriety. Director Shane Black comes from that background as the writer of Lethal Weapon and I could not think of a better choice for Nice Guys. Has the buddy genre risen from the grave or is the corpse too far rotten?

To track down a missing girl Healy, played by Russell Crowe, teams up with a private investigator named March, played by Ryan Gosling, to help him with the search. As the two look closer, they discover a conspiracy involving government officials and pornographers.

The only thing you need to get right in a buddy movie are the characters and Nice Guys is a perfect example of how to write and cast a good pair. What makes Healy and March work is the juxtaposition of how they appear versus how they act. The former looks like a man you send to kill somebody, but has principles and is honest. While the latter is handsome, he is also a scumbag that drowns his problems in liquor.

In action, Healy’s experience and skill show as he handles situations in an efficient manner. He is very nice and approaches others with a kind demeanor. March is the exact opposite where he is a coward that cannot do anything without causing serious personal injury. Being a dejected scam artist, he exploits situations for his own benefit and hates himself.

The difference between Healy and March is what makes Nice Guys work. Both bring their own ideas and methods that bounce off one another to varying degrees. March is a bumbling narcissist, but he balances out Healy’s stubborn insecurities. These conflicting traits make up the comedy where Healy struggles to deal with March’s incompetence. One gag is March cutting his wrist after breaking some glass to open a locked door. Later he tries to toss a weapon to Healy and chucks it out a window. The two work in tandem with each other and without the unlikely chemistry of Crowe and Gosling, Nice Guys would have failed.

The two main characters make the movie succeed because the rest is not as impressive. The story is predictable and the real villains very obvious. I will leave it at that because the twist is hard to not spoil. The pacing was slow in some places. At one point Healy and March are questioning people at a party that goes on forever, then they are driving to a hotel, and the rest periods between the action feels slow. Granted, as long as the buddy pair was well established, the rest of the film could have gone either way. It is like complaining about the minimal plot in Doom (2016); you do not need context to shoot demons.

On the merits of Crowe and Gosling’s chemistry, Nice Guys succeeds where buddy movies used to excel. It sets the standard for how to write characters and cast actors that work as well as their parts do on paper. While the actual story leaves a lot to be desired, Healy and March make the film enjoyable because of who they are. If Civil War is a character driven superhero drama, Nice Guys is a character driven buddy comedy.

Give it a look.

 

Captain America: Civil War

Winter Soldier is the Empire Strikes Back of the MCU. The action, storytelling, and character development is on par with Avengers and better than the Marvel movies that followed. While I was excited for Civil War, I knew there was no way it could surpass Winter Soldier because I have idea what could be done to make it better. Not only does it deviate from the comics, the film has more characters, a deeply political story, and introduces a new Spider-Man. So much could happen and that has me worried. Was I proven wrong or will I be re-watching Winter Soldier for many years to come?

After an accident involving the Avengers in Lagos, the UN puts together the Sokovia Accords to regulate the activities of enhanced individuals. Steve Rogers, played by Chris Evans, questions the Accords while Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr, agrees to follow them, putting the two at odds. At the same time, Steve is trying to recover his old friend and former assassin Bucky Barnes, played by Sebastian Stan, before the authorities track him down.

Civil War is what Return of the Jedi should have been as it puts our heroes through more drama and obstacles to test their resolve. It takes everything from Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron and pays it off spectacularly. Character driven is the key phrase here because absolutely every plot point is carried by how they act and behave with the new challenges.

While the actual story is tacked on like an episode of Agents of SHIELD, it takes the back-est of back seats to the drama of Rogers and Stark as they have a battle of ideologies. Keeping with his anti-establishment underpinnings and knowing firsthand the ramifications of government oversight, Steve feels the Accords would take more lives than save. Tony, a creature of guilt from being a weapons dealer and the direct cause of the Sokovia disaster, is content to allow regulation. The rest of the team has their own grievances and start to take sides, including newcomer T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman.

The ideological conflicts translate into the best fight scenes of the MCU. The early spats of action are extremely creative with Cap’s shield, Bucky’s bionic arm, and a host of other elements, culminating in a battle at an airport that makes the New York attack in Avengers look like the party fight from The Room. A lot happens and it does not feel like too much. It is what you have never seen before and everything you could possibly want.

Perfection.

And in regards to Spider-Man, Civil War does more good for the character in five minutes than a single second of the Amazing Spider-Man movies.

My gripes with the film are superficial. There are a lot of CG characters that stand out way too hard. Black Panther and Spider-Man are almost always computer generated in their movements, giving me painful flashbacks to parts of Blade 2. There was also a car chase where two characters are running amongst traffic and the animation looks like a gif of people running photo-shopped over footage of moving cars. It looked awful, like Crossbones’ botched costume. In the comics he was always a regular military guy who wore a mask and enjoyed killing people. In Civil War he looks like a bad sentai villain with a hard-shell mask, power-fists, and a ton of impractical crap on a cluttered vest. But that is just me.

Captain America: Civil War is the quintessential superhero movie. It uses each of the characters’ personalities and beliefs for the basis of emotional conflict. For all the great action and humor, the film is intense with feeling as everyone’s anxieties come to a head. Civil War transcends its comic book trappings and takes on a life of its own as a full-blown personal drama that happens to be about a guy with a shield beating up another guy in power armor.

Go. See. It.

 

Keanu

Of the sketch shows on Comedy Central, Key and Peele did better than most in its lifetime. The duo’s comedy was a nice break between episodes of the venerable Daniel Tosh. They were not overly clever or too simple and used a good blend of absurdism and reference that spoke to me as a viewer. I found their remarks about growing up and the substitute teacher sketch very relatable. These days I do not feel much of that anymore and it was nice while it lasted. How well does Key and Peele’s style translate to the big screen in their first feature Keanu?

While going through a difficult break-up Rill, played by Jordan Peele, befriends a cat named Keanu who he becomes infatuated with. After his house is burglarized and the cat goes missing, Rill enlists the help of his cousin Clarence, played by Keegan-Michael Key, to find Keanu.

Comedies are tricky to review because they are so subjective. People have certain tastes that appeal only to them and no one else. Some think Spy is… funny and not garbage, while I think BroTeam is hilarious for his ironic nihilism. It is the nature of the beast and though I did not like Keanu, others certainly will.

The movie is basically a Key and Peele sketch stretched out to 98 minutes. It has the same basic setup of two guys struggling with their identity and learning how to behave with disastrous results. Unlike the show, there are no breaks between the duo’s shenanigans. You get these drawn out sections of a character trying to make George Michael seem like a gangster, a bad drug trip, and a weed dealer acting tough. They are very simple gags and situations that could have been funny had they flowed better and ended sooner. Instead, they drag on and on when you just want them to proceed. As a result, those 98 minutes feel like 120.

Batman v. Superman felt shorter.

My issue with the comedy is that there was no juxtaposition when this sort of concept really needed it. Using Dumb and Dumber as an example, the juxtaposition was Lloyd and Harry being out of their minds in a normal world. The comedy came from how they acted within that world. Keanu, as it turns out, has the same problem as Dumb and Dumber To.

Rill and Clarence are regular guys with flawed perceptions. They are about ordinary and safe as you can get. The story involves them going outside their comfort zones and acting like thugs to get Keanu back. Their idea of thugs is based on stereotypes they picked up from movies. Of course, real thugs are not what they seem on film, so Rill and Clarence would make fools of themselves and reveal their ignorance.

That does not happen. Instead, the thugs in question are actual movie thugs pulled from a Boyz n the Hood rip off. Rill and Clarence acting like idiots gets them exactly what they want with almost no consequence.

If you like Key and Peele and want to see their sketches in movie form, go see it. As a conventional comedy Keanu is certainly better than the ones I have seen and it is not bad by any means. I just did not find it funny.

 

The Huntsman: Winter’s War

Another day, another ironic adventure movie where the production knows exactly what is going on. Like a Young Adult film, you can make a checklist of all the tropes to expect: ultra violence, lots of CG, stylized aesthetic and action, hammy acting, beautiful women, muscular dudes, and a climax that involves a giant battle. A new trend in Hollywood is to adapt fairy tales through an ironic adventure lens. Hansel and Gretel, Jack the Giant Slayer, and Snow White and the Huntsman are a few recent examples. Capitalizing off the Frozen phenomenon, we now have The Huntsman: Winter’s War, a prequel to Snow White. Was it another ironic adventure in the guise of a fairy tale or does it transcend the banality?

Turns out, Winter’s War is a prequel for the first 15 minutes before becoming a sequel. When the Mirror goes missing after Snow White sent it away Eric, played by Chris Hemsworth, is tasked with the recovery and eventual storage. Things become complicated when his dead wife Sarah, played by Jessica Chastain, returns and his storied past catches up with the present.

Winter’s War proudly wears the fairy tale moniker in every aspect. The theme is love conquers all with Eric and Sarah fighting the conditioning of Emily Blunt’s Freya (how original) who trained the Huntsmen to love no one else but her. Freya turned into a hateful monster after a tragedy and set out to rid the world of love by stealing children and turning them into warriors. A quartet of dwarves that join the heroes experience their own relationship squabbles as comic relief. Later there are fairies, goblins that look like gorillas, a Norse inspired castle with an ice aesthetic, and a forest full of critters that are also part plant.

As a whole, Winter’s War is quite average and inoffensive. It has a goal and unapologetically sets out to accomplish what it wants. The hammy acting, fantasy elements, action, and feverishly romantic story serve their purpose to complete satisfaction. It does everything you expect without breaking the ironic adventure mold, but it is not bad in any profound way. The interplay and comedy of the dwarves made me smile at some points, I kind of liked the characters, and the action was decent. Winter’s War is harmless, you do not lose or gain anything, and it provides an acceptable measure of entertainment.

The cast seemed to enjoy themselves. Hemsworth and Chastain had relatively good chemistry with a couple moments here and there. She did fairly well in an action role, something I have not seen, and I think there is potential. The only problem is Chastain cannot do a Scottish accent to save her life. Nick Frost proved he could hold his own without Simon Pegg as the dwarf Nion. Emily Blunt did not go far enough to enjoy herself, playing Freya like a depressed housewife void of charisma. Charlize Theron, returning to the role of Ravenna, played the part with a tempered crazy that rose in intensity as her screen time went on. She makes me want to watch Snow White to see her performance.

What I found lacking was the subplot of Freya’s contention with Ravenna. As close siblings the former was smart and the latter had cunning. Jealous of her looks and personality, Ravenna killed Freya’s newborn baby, triggering her ice powers. She then leaves the south and conquers the north. In the main story, Freya retrieves the Mirror and resurrects Ravenna. The problem with that is Freya apparently had no idea her sister was in the Mirror. Why she wanted it is never brought up. It was not for power because she was ready to march on the south beforehand. She also did not think to consider Ravenna was behind her baby’s murder.

A good solution would have involved making the movie a straight prequel. What if Freya knew all along that Ravenna killed her baby? What if she left the south to build an army and march on her sister by claiming the north out of revenge? You could keep the anti-love idea because it was Freya trying to rekindle that motherhood by adopting and forcing children to love only her. You could also keep the Eric/Sarah plot where they maintain their bond in the midst of war. Sarah would die because of Freya’s obsession, leading Eric to switch sides, help win the war for the south, and end with a lead into Snow White.

The promotion for The Huntsman: Winter’s War made no bones about what it was, going so far as to spoil the entire plot in trailers. It knows what it is and trusts prospective viewers to understand the intent in the most honest way possible. If you know what you are getting into, you will not be surprised. If you have never seen an ironic adventure, you might enjoy yourself. The most important takeaway is the movie will not make you angry.

 

High-Rise

This week I had the opportunity to participate in the 25th Annual Florida Film Festival. If you do not already know I am very picky about what I see, avoiding romance, dramas, some comedies, remakes, and reboots. None of the available selection at the Festival grabbed my attention and I was very cautious lest I pick a movie I end up regretting. High-Rise (HR) was one I really wanted to see since it was in post-production. In doing research on J.G. Ballard’s book of the same name I was captivated and the trailers made it all the more appealing. With the US release date in flux, the Festival was my only option. Was HR worth admission or should I have seen Jungle Book instead?

To move on from a death in the family Laing, played by Tom Hiddleston, purchased an apartment at a new high-rise, populated by all manner of people. Soon, the residents find themselves unable to abandon the many conveyances and their shared environment begins to change from the inside out.

HR is a satirical examination of the world in the context of an apartment building. It reminds me a lot of Bioshock where the city of Rapture was an objectivist paradise that could not sustain itself in the long term. The titular high-rise is an isolated culture with a fully stocked supermarket, gym, pool, and spa. The residents come to depend on it so much they forget their lives outside. With nothing to break up the monotony within the tower, conflicts, hostilities, and drama become life itself.

As a form of competition the residents throw extravagant parties, using up the available food, alcohol, and electricity. It is not long before resources become scarce and the once homogenous building begins to take sides. The high-rise becomes a microcosm of society with the floors representing classes; the rich live on the upper levels, middle at the center, and the lower close to the ground. There is even a monarch or god figure in the form of Jeremy Iron’s character Royal. Each section struggles for resources to the point of violence and a rapid breakdown of civility.

The risk of pretention was strong. HR could have taken the route of Hunger Games or Elysium by holding a critical eye to class warfare, but it is more transcendent. The conflict is a result of the story’s look at the effects of modern life on human nature. Money, electricity, and convenience have become the essentials of our everyday lives, the concept of subsistence replaced by consumerism. HR looks at what happens when we go too far relying on convenience. Once it is gone we devolve into a state reminiscent of cavemen in our struggle to survive. The film also acknowledges the diversity of personality and that the resurgence of a class system in a homogenous environment is the result of who we are as people. Wilder is an agitator because he does not like being poor and is furiously jealous of the upper floors. Those above are arrogant and pompous because they achieved success and forgot what it means to struggle in the lower class.

While HR is very good overall, the issues cannot be ignored. Director Ben Wheatley is known for his surreal visuals. Kill List was the only one of his I saw and I was taken aback by the unconventional approach to suspense. At the same time, I could also tell what was happening. With HR, the eccentricity hurt the storytelling; there were a lot of moving parts that sometimes failed to work with one another. Little snippets of irrelevant scenes would pop in during other scene for seemingly no reason, interrupting the flow. Why it was included I could not figure out as the scene continued.

HR is also a thick beast of a movie that shows you everything and tells you nothing in the form of montages. It relies so heavily on visuals (you know, like a movie) that you may have to watch it a second time to fully digest what was going on. At times I could not divine why anything was happening because perhaps I missed it in a conversation between characters or another montage. My knowledge of the book helped me along, but for the average moviegoer, this is a problem.

The entire cast was fantastic. Hiddleston carried the whole thing and he was even better when on screen with Irons. Luke Evans really shined as Wilder, a man so obsessed with being happy and supporting his family he was unaware of the irony in his conflict against the upper floors. Elizabeth Moss and Sienna Miller did well in their supporting roles, while James Purefoy and huge chuck of the minor cast kept up the pace.

High-Rise is a unique satire that takes the genre and applies a beautiful artistic aesthetic. It is the kind of movie that will make you think as you ogle at the dreamlike visuals and provocative writing, punctuated by a retro synth soundtrack. Though understanding what it is trying to say takes time, High-Rise is worth the trouble. If it gets a wider release, do not hesitate to buy a ticket.

 

Hardcore Henry

I find it difficult to talk about Hardcore Henry (HH) because I am not the target audience. The film is a love letter to videogames with the first person perspective, but I am so desensitized from years upon years of consuming such media that I am unshaken by the content. Killing, blood, guts, and shooting come with the territory. After Deadpool came out I struggled to reason why everyone thought it was so extreme because I was completely unfazed. This time I will do my best to separate my natural bias and regard HH from the perspective of somebody that did not laugh in Green Inferno.

After walking up mute and amnesiac with cybernetic enhancements, Henry finds himself in the middle of conspiracy involving a corporation led by Akan, played by Danila Kozlovsky, who kidnapped his wife and wants him dead. With the help of Jimmy, played by Sharlto Copley, Henry tries to find answers.

HH has a lot in common with the Crank movies in that the conflict of the story is an excuse for ultra violence. The enemies Henry fights are cyborgs and faceless soldiers that want to kill him, and he has no choice but to retaliate. Because he is also a cyborg and an implied criminal, he knows how to fight and is adept at parkour. The action scenes are quite fun with a lot of creativity thanks to the perspective and stunts. The perspective also makes the violence personal where you seen the gore and death up close.

As an experience, the first person style makes HH especially empathetic. I find it hard to empathize with movies, but thinking back on it, the amnesia, the fact he cannot speak, and the feeling of being lost grounded you in Henry’s shoes. As an audience member you are also in the dark and trying to figure out what is happening. All the shooting and craziness has an impact because you are technically behind the trigger. It would have been easy for HH to the perspective like Birdman used the long shot, but the videogame tropes help the sense of empathy. That is why first person shooters are so popular and cathartic and it is impressive that a low budget film can inspire the same feeling.

Whoever was behind Henry had some interesting physical moments when he tried to communicate without dialog. Kozlovsky was hilarious with enough charisma to rival Tommy Wiseau and Haley Bennett’s Estelle was just fine. The standout was Copley where (without giving anything away) he played multiple characters with various personalities. He brought the comedy and heart where there was none and it was a lot of fun.

I thought I would have a lot more to say, but as it goes with good movies I keep it short because I want you to see it. I may not have reacted the way Hardcore Henry was intending, but others certainly will. If personal ultra violence is your thing, look no further. If you are afraid of heights, have vertigo, or cannot handle gore, stay home.

 

God’s Not Dead 2

Before I begin I want to make it clear my standing on Christians. Often times I refer to them as “Corpse Worshippers,” who pray to a “Corpse God,” and defame their faith for my own amusement, but it does not come from a place of malice. I do not hate Christians or other peoples of a given religion. The cornerstone of a constitutional society such as ours is tolerance of those who mind their own business. I disagree with most belief systems, but that does not mean I advocate for segregation or think they should be gassed. I have had girlfriends break up with me because I do not have religion and I tolerate their existence. In fact, a good handful of my friends are Christian and they seem fine with me. However, I can only accept a minor inconvenience before it becomes a major one.

On the blog I have a page titled “Cine-Sadism,” a series where I analyze mainstream Christian films. I have only done two and reviewed another another called War Room. All of these movies exhibit qualities synonymous with propaganda. They reinterpret elements of society through a Christian ideological lens, painting their worldview in a dangerously thick layer of ignorance. What they usually say is without God there is no morality, praying to fix your marriage is the only solution, and Atheists are inherently evil.

The first Christian propaganda movie I watched was God’s Not Dead, the story of a college student debating the existence of God with his philosophy professor. The story also followed a liberal blogger, the professor, and a Muslim student. It is a microcosm of the Christian worldview, an examination how they see those that are not themselves in the most misinformed and offensive ways possible. It exposes a degree hatred and sheer stupidity on par with The Eternal Jew. It is baffling to think people actually take such ignorance as gospel (pun intended).

Of course, it is wrong to assume these films and their creators represent all Christians, but somehow they garner success. The Kendrick Brothers, Kirk Cameron, and David A.R. White are allowed to remain relevant because Christians consume their detritus. We have come to a point where they have taken up the mantel of Social Justice Warriors and become professional victims. They create a narrative of persecution and it continues to be an ever-growing trend. Was God’s Not Dead 2 (GND2), their latest attempt to sap pity, more offensive than its predecessor or does it have something good to say?

After responding to a student’s question that equates the philosophies of MLK and Ghandi to Jesus Christ, Grace, played by Melissa Joan Hart, is reprimanded by the school board for bringing religion into the classroom. When she refuses to apologize, the incident turns into a court case that garners national attention.

The basis of propaganda is the use of anecdotal conjecture to sell an agenda. To use Goebbels as an example, his Titantic movie portrayed the ship’s sinking as a result of the upper class passengers’ snobbery and greed. Tying the cause of the disaster to persons that personify the negativity of capitalism leads the audience to think the system is inherently wrong and should be abandoned. It is a simple ploy that six million Jews can prove works affectively.

Both GND movies use the straw man method of taking an argument and dragging it into irrelevancy, blowing it completely out of proportion. If you are an Atheist, you lack morals; if you are a liberal, you are a bad person; if you are not Christian, you are the enemy. The conflict in GND1 began when the protagonist refused to sign a paper that said, “God is Dead” for his class. The professor gave him a choice of deducting his grade or debating. Instead of signing a meaningless piece of paper, the protagonist felt obligated to defend God in a class that will mean nothing after the semester ends.

GND2 does the same thing to sell an agenda of merging Church and State. In court the prosecution makes it clear that Christianity is not on trial and they intend to punish Grace because she broke the law. From that perspective, she is totally guilty, but the defense treats it like they have to defend Christ in a historical context to prove Grace was in the right. They soon bring in character witnesses to provide evidence and the movie begins to fall apart.

Our judicial system is based in law and fact. Sure, these witnesses provided context to Jesus being real, but their arguments are opinions and interpretations of an organized religion. Concepts of theology do not factor into law when it comes to crime. Just because Catholic priests are clergy does not excuse those who touch kids from punishment. To merge the rule of law with anything beyond the limitations of reality is to welcome ignorance and a collapse of common sense. That is why Sharia Law and theocracies do not work. GND2, however, would like nothing more than to impose their faith on the establishment to call the shots because they feel persecuted. There is even scene where a group of pastors are ordered to turn in transcripts of their sermons and it is treated like a declaration of war.

A religious majority, the biggest in Western society, feels discriminated against because some people disagree with them. There would not be a problem if you just kept your ignorance to yourselves. By making inroads into mainstream culture where facts and reason hold sway over delusion, you are no better than hate groups and extremists.

As expected the people GND2 disagrees with are the antithesis of real life. This time they are not as ridiculous as GND1 with the monstrous cooperate executive and sociopathic professor. The Atheist characters are toned down and rather normal. There is a married couple that worries about their daughter’s wellbeing and the defense attorney has the capacity for morality. Grace is basically a female version of Josh from the first movie, but played by an actor that does not look like Josh Hutcherson after shooting heroin into his cock. She was still a self-righteous idiot that could have solved her problem with a written apology.

The movie stumbles greatly with the prosecutor played by Ray Wise. Despite being the most sensible of the characters, he is this cunning, sinister bastard because the movie wanted a Christian equivalent of the Patriarchy. Wise seemed to enjoy himself just fine, but the way he was portrayed lends to how Christian propaganda perceives those they do not like. On top of that, I am not kidding, his name is Kane. The school board is fervently anti-religious with the principal ordering a coach to not pray at games before she tells a student to never talk to Grace.

The film’s understanding of culture has not improved with the character Martin, played by Paul Kwo, whose father disowns him for being Christian. I am just going to say it: the Chinese do not care about religion. There are anti-religious laws, but the only thing citizens are concerned about is marrying off their daughters, keeping a good job, and getting an education. Martin’s father put him in an American college for good reason, but when he converts, suddenly he is a disgrace to the family. In fact, being Christian will get him a good job in the States. I expect nothing less from the people who thought Muslims wear hijabs with T-shirts.

Idiots.

I have said before that Christian films are poison and I stand corrected. I am obviously not the target demographic and the reason I watch them is to tear their assholes in half. People are entitled to think what they want, but when dangerous ideas are shown in goddamn movie theaters nationwide, I have an ethical obligation to criticize them. God’s Not Dead 2 promotes ignorance, hatred, and theocracy in a direct contradiction to Western society. To the Christians that are actually good people who mind their own business, this is your fault. Speak up if you want to keep these movies out of the mainstream or I will not stop.

 

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice

I have a confession to make: I ironically love Man of Steel. It should be the worst movie ever with the awkward writing, overuse of CG, and bad story, but because it fails it is great. It wanted to be a Superman story in the guise of Dark Knight Returns (DKR) and fell completely short because trying to make Clark Kent a Frank Miller character is a bad idea. It was a violent, horrifying movie about a morally compromised boy scout with a messiah complex and it was spectacular. People died in droves, the supermen fights caused mass destruction, and it was all done with this air of self-importance that was so tone-deaf I am baffled it was put into production. Michael Shannon’s performance stole the show and Faora quoting Nietzsche during the Smallville fight was icing on the cake. It was a perfect mess of fandom with the backing of a monolithic movie studio and I loved every second.

Now we have Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS). You know we are off to a good start when the title is both long and more stupid than Rise of the Tomb Raider. Here the Miller influences come to a head with Batman’s costume, the power armor, and the title match. I like director Zach Snyder just fine, but what him and Warner Brothers is trying to do with DC is tantamount to suicide. They are following in the footsteps of comics after DKR and Watchman where they went dark and edgy to the point of saturation. What they want is unsustainable and I take comfort in the prospect of BvS being as hilarious a train wreck as its predecessor. Did I have a good laugh or was the 150-minute runtime equal to that of torture?

After a terrorist attack in North Africa involving Superman, played by Henry Cavill, the US government begins to question if he is really good for humanity. At the same time Batman, played by Ben Affleck, returns to the streets of Gotham following the Kryptonian invasion in search of a weapon that could mean the end of Superman.

Simple enough, right? It is an easy to follow story that makes sense until it does not. Rather than focus solely on Batman and Superman, we track Lois Lane as she tries to uncover the truth behind the North Africa incident, and Lex Luthor who is behind it all. There is no sense of mystery and nothing is hidden, the nefarious plot on full display and out in the open. You are then forced to sit there and wait for all the good guys to catch on to the mystery.

I understand Lex will always be the bad guy, but his involvement and the extent of his reach should have been teased over time. Maybe Batman and Superman figure it out as they are fighting before turning on Lex, forcing him to unleash Doomsday. That is almost what happens, but because there was no mystery and the accumulated promotional materials spoiled more plot than a Capcom trailer, you saw it coming and the momentum you expect never happens.

Waiting for the characters to get with the program is made especially miserable by the fact there was no energy to how the events took place. Things just happened in a very clinical, droning fashion that was mentally and emotionally taxing. Even the fights (except for one) were boring with dull choreography and no creativity. There was no heart or gravitas to how the plot moved or in how the actors performed. Nobody gave a shit as they spoke in monotone, without charisma and the skill you expect. Affleck was Affleck, Cavil was deadpan, and Rachel McAdams was somehow worse than Natalie Portman, a feat I never thought possible. Jesse Eisenberg tried, but he was also annoyingly inconsistent in who he was trying to be.

If you need a visual representation of how I feel after the screening, watch this video.

Amazing Spider-Man 2 is very similar to BvS and while that ought to bring to mind Lovecraftian visions of insanity, the latter is at least focused on telling a consistent story instead of a disparate mess of subplots. What makes them similar is this is Warner Brothers’ attempt to build an expanded universe by establishing everything at once. They set-up a future timeline when Batman is visited by the Flash through a portal to implant a dream of Superman taking over the world as a servant of Darkseid, who Lex alludes to at the end. Then members of the Justice League are revealed before the characters decide to bring them together.

The thing is, all of this comes out of nowhere like it was shoved into the movie last minute. The Darkseid dream and the Flash visit happen maybe halfway through and Batman never follows up on it. He does not investigate what the Flash was trying to say and moves ahead with his “Murder Superman” plan. How Lex knows about Darkseid is also never explained and the Justice League characters are introduced with video clips that were made in post for one scene. If Warner Brothers copied Marvel and actually built their world, we would have discovered the other heroes naturally. In fact, their whole approach was destined to fail the moment they decided to make BvS.

I admit there were a few parts that were… enjoyable? Jeremy Irons was a fantastic Alfred with a ton of sass and whit that fit the character. Gal Godot’s limited inclusion as Wonder Woman shows promise for her solo movie. I still think she does not fit the role physically because she has zero muscle mass, but definitely has the attitude and screen presence. I also appreciated the proud overuse of Miller visuals. Zach Snyder obviously cares about the material, but he apparently forgot that an M60 needs ammo to work and in a scene taken directly from DKR, the M60 in question was empty.

While it is certainly not the worst superhero I have seen (Amazing Spider-Man 2 is trash even without Spider-Man), Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice is a miserable experience that utterly sapped me of joy. It was not the actual content of the film, but the film itself, a hollow affair that did not care about telling a good story in its pursuit to beat the competition. I find my passion scarcely available and my desire to see Captain America: Civil War that of a starving wolf in the middle of winter. If any good can be salvaged it is that it makes me want to reread Dark Knight Returns, one of the most important comics ever made. I never thought I would say this, but Man of Steel is a goddamn masterpiece.

 

Allegiant Part 1

I have said enough about young adult (YA) movies to fill a book, which sounds like a good idea now that I think about it. Each is arguably the same movie with the same plot points, themes, and glaring contradictions to their own worlds. In fact, I have probably written that same sentence about half a dozen times. Are the people who like these films blind to how banal they are or is there a joke I am missing? 5th Wave was a joke, but I am sure that was unintentional. Because thousands of words have been spent explaining all of this, here are links to reviews for Mockingjay Part 1 and 2, Insurgent, Scorch Trials, and Paper Towns to save myself the trouble of repetition. Was Allegiant Part 1 more of the same and a waste of time as I wait for the premier of season 2 of Daredevil?

After the revelation that Chicago was an experiment by the Founders Tris, played by Shailene Woodley, and friends embark on a journey outside the wall. Entering a devastated wasteland, they are found by a group of scientists known as the Pure who want to use Divergents to help rebuild humanity.

Allegiant addressed one issue I had with the series. Before Chicago the world was pushed to the brink with the advent of genetic alteration. It reignited old prejudices and the ensuing conflicts made the world uninhabitable. To reverse the effects of a heavily altered humanity, the survivors took groups of people and put them in Chicago to cultivate pure humans (Divergents) to engineer a cure. That would explain why the people in Chicago can maintain their Faction divisions. Still does not explain how Factionless exist. Do they just stop being what they are naturally or are they capable of leaving like a Divergent? Now we are coming back to the same argument I made in Insurgent, but that is the least of the movie’s problems.

Allegiant is Breaking Dawn Part 1 with tons of padding and meandering. Instead of moving along at a reasonable pace, there are breaks as the movie explains how a thing works and why a thing is the way it is, rather than just show it. Then the characters take their time getting to where they need to go. It is a deliberate drag shared by Mockingjay with baggage that was unimportant or could have been delivered efficiently. I do not need a walkthrough of the soldier’s Ghost Recon gear or how the Pure monitor Chicago.

Just show it and let my brain do the rest.

It is a persistent problem in the series that the overall quality is awkward in a lot of areas, especially in the use of CG. The issues with Divergent were rectified in Insurgent with a consistent aesthetic and strategic use of effects. This time the production went so far backwards that every green-screen shot of the actors made me cringe. All of the shots featuring the actors with CG are ugly and the smaller digital effects were on par with a Sci-Fi channel original movie. Granted, Allegiant is bigger and the set pieces look better in comparison, but the production should have seen the issues and made concessions like putting the actors in closed spaces without the surrounding CG.

Believe me when I say that God’s of Egypt looks better in comparison.

Woodley carried the previous movies, but this time she has given up and I do not blame her. The way Allegiant goes about its plot with the padding proved too much to bear. Nobody else wanted to be there either with Theo James’ droning, Zoe Kravitz’ stiffness, Ansel Elgort’s deadpan, and Jeff Daniels’ sleepwalking. The only one that had a heart to try was Miles Teller with his usual sarcastic twerp persona. It was such a depressing spectacle and I felt sorry for them.

Another year, another poorly thought-out and contrived YA movie. In the following months I expect another and the cycle will start all over again. Usually I go more in-depth into the various story failings, but I find myself so drained of passion I must postpone the analysis for a later date in the form of an Editorial. Furthermore, I need save my energy for when I mainline Daredevil after posting this in a couple hours.

 

10 Cloverfield Lane

As a gamer I am not stranger to hype. Developers and publishers spend years promoting a game before it is even finished, building up a title so hard one becomes consumed in the prospect when they know nothing about it. It is only after the game comes out that we realize the hype was all talk and how wrong we were to buy into it. Watch Dogs, Destiny, Titanfall, and Evolve were all panned to a point we fooled ourselves into thinking they were incredible until they became a footnote mere months later.

In film promotion, the best way to build hype is to say nothing, creating a mystery we cannot help but solve. This can be done by hiding footage in trailers, making your cast and crew sign NDAs, and preventing leaks in the press. To JJ Abrams, this is known as the Mystery Box, a tactic he has used since Lost. Force Awakens garnered popularity not only because it was Star Wars, but also because there was so little information leading up to its release. Even after it was over people are anxious to find out what will happen in the sequel. I think that is why 10 Cloverfield Lane has received such attention; it has a familiar name, yet it appears to be something else entirely, and we have to see it to discover what it all means. Was the pay off meaningful or was I tricked like those who bought The Order 1886?

After waking up from a car accident Michelle, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, finds herself in an underground bunker with Howard, played by John Goodman, who tells her everyone above is dead from an unknown attack. Slowly she begins to doubt his sanity and questions what is really going on.

Obviously I cannot spoil the big reveal. It is standard practice to avoid giving away endings unless I hated the movie and do not care. What I can say is that once the mystery is solved, it becomes a different film entirely.

In Cloverfield Lane, the mystery is a chief component in how it works as a suspense thriller. Just as you have no idea what is going on, Michelle and Emmet, played by John Gallagher Jr, are in the dark as to whom Howard really is. From the outset he is quick to anger, paranoid, and obviously hiding something. Then you have the mystery and it becomes a question of would you rather live with a crazy person, or take your chances outside? The fact neither the characters nor audience have a clue and want answers ratchets up the tension as they figure a way out of their predicament with mounting risk.

That is the essence of suspense.

The movie features three actors and they were all fantastic and perfectly cast with seamless chemistry. Goodman can read the phonebook and earn an Oscar. He perpetuates the suspense by hiding what he is with a calm and collect exterior on the verge of implosion. Winstead did not need dialog to pull her weight as the emotional toil and fear was written all over her face. Gallagher had a minor part, but he did a great job as a naïve simpleton trying to do what is right in the face of danger.

10 Cloverfield Lane is a simple story about people trapped in a confined space. For its suspense and the way it builds tension makes it worth a watch. The mystery at the end is icing on the cake as it adds a whole other dimension to the situation that you did not expect. It presents a broader scenario that rewards you for sticking around and you should definitely give it a look.

 

London Has Fallen

I am of the opinion that the action genre is in dire straits. For every Raid and John Wick, there is a Taken 3, and the good stuff does not come out often. Like horror, if you want the best you go back to where it started with the likes of First Blood, Commando, and Predator. From what I know after doing research, Olympus Has Fallen is a callback to those hallowed classics. It is the archetypical 80s action B movie with an implausible concept, fast pace, and cheese punctuated by hardcore violence. In hindsight I probably should have rented it to gain more perspective in anticipation for its sequel London Has Fallen. Was it another 80s homage or should I have seen Whiskey Tango Foxtrot instead?

After the British Prime Minister is found dead, a funeral is held where a handful of world leaders come to pay their respects. President Asher, played by Aaron Eckhart, arrives under escort by his bodyguard Banning, played by Gerard Butler, before chaos erupts and all the leaders are killed. Banning and Asher struggle to get out of London as an overwhelming force bears down on them.

Homage is not the word I would use to describe London because it does its own thing with the 80s action elements. Banning and Asher have a kind of a buddy cop relationship, there are one-liners, and the set-up is bonkers with major Western leaders coincidentally brought to one place and slaughtered. Even the actors wink at the camera like they know exactly what is going on.

For the most part, however, the tone is bleak and relevant. The reason London is being attacked is because a drone strike killed the perpetrator’s daughter and other civilians. Its subject matter brings to mind the cost of drone warfare, interventionism, and cycles of revenge. I tend to be militaristic when it comes to how we should handle threats, but I was taken aback by what London was saying. It presents both sides of a scenario and leaves you to make up your own mind. Are we no better than the terrorists or is this conflict truly good versus evil and we are in the right? For me, when it comes to democracy against religious barbarism, which would you prefer?

It would not be an action movie without action and London takes a unique approach with violence that is technical and grounded in a visceral brutality. The combat is based on what a professional like Banning would do in a firefight, using distractions and other techniques that are not as ridiculous as one would expect. He does what he can to take out targets and moves on. Banning goes Rambo a few times, but only when it is appropriate to the situation. That does not stop the firefights from being great with some of the best I have seen in a while, topping 13 Hours. One moment in particular is a long shot of the characters pushing towards a fortified position with smooth choreography and camera work.

The strongest performances were Butler and Eckhart as they made a great team. The supporting cast also did pretty well for being in minor parts, but not enough to really stand out.

For a low budget, hokey action movie, London Has Fallen does a lot of things right that contemporary action has forgotten. It is not the best thing ever and it will never be as good as the classics, but it is better than what could have been. If you have a hankering for new action, I recommend giving it a look.

* * *

This is a late addendum, but I just had say it. One problem with London Has Fallen is that it did not end with the “Friends (Forever)” song from Miami Connection. It is the most 80s track ever and it would fit perfectly at the film’s conclusion. Give it a listen and tell me I am wrong.

 

God’s of Egypt

“This is schlock” was the first thing I said when I saw the trailer for Gods of Egypt. The overuse of CGI, hammy acting, and crazy story characterize it as an exercise in irony. Underworld, Resident Evil, and Fast and Furious are examples of films that try to be crazy as possible while playing it straight for fun. It is the fact they are ridiculous that makes then entertaining. Some ironic films do not go far enough to qualify like Last Witch Hunter or Victor Frankenstein. Does Gods take its premise to the max or should you see Triple 9 instead?

On the day of his coronation as king of Egypt Horus, played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, is blinded by his uncle Set, played Gerard Butler, when he usurps the throne. Later Horus regains half his sight with help from Bek, played by Brenton Thwaites, who will get his other eye in exchange for resurrecting his true love Zaya, played by Courtney Eaton.

First and foremost, Gods is not the worst thing ever like people are saying. As dumb fantasy epics go, it is passable if you turn your brain off and enjoy it from an aesthetic point of view. It is a film you can watch for the spectacle without worrying about extra-sensory stimulation, the archetypical popcorn movie. But on the basis of quality it rides the line between good and bad in the grey margin that is mediocrity.

The concept is out there and the aesthetic imaginative, yet the acting is dull and the filmmaking a mess. Butler, Chadwick Boseman, and Geoffrey Rush at least tried to have fun while Coster-Waldau and others did not bother. It is as if he wanted to get it over with before he had to go back to Croatia for Game of Thrones. Elodie Yung phoned it in as Hathor, who is supposed to be this seductive goddess and comes off like a background extra that does not want to be there. Hopefully she makes a better Elektra. Thwaites kind of tried, but his wide-eyed plucky hero routine got old really fast.

From a directing and editing standpoint, Gods gave me a headache. Conversations between two characters go as such: say your line, cut, say your line, cut. After one actor said their line, it would switch the next, and the cuts were so abrupt it was like a jump scare. There was no finesse or style, just static conversations while people walked or stood around like a Star Wars prequel. The action scenes did not fare well either with the worst choreography I have ever seen. The actors moved slowly, like they were still practicing, and this was the final cut. Then there were faux panning-shots that were obviously added in post after somebody watched Spartacus. As a result, the action scenes look like YouTube videos on the lowest resolution setting.

My main point of contention is how Gods took the bizarre aspects of Egyptian mythology and made them boring. Here, Horus is an adult and Osiris is alive, whereas in the myth he died before Isis resurrected him to conceive Horus, who then sought revenge on Set. The movie is about Set taking over Egypt and gathering the power of the gods to become the only god, something that happened in real life during the rule of Akhenaten. There was potential with that idea, which then boils down to Set wanting to rule the world and be immortal.

In the theater I was thinking of better uses for the material. There is a comic called The Wicked and The Divine where gods are reincarnated every century as pop stars and die two years later. That would make a great movie considering the pharaohs were thought to be descendants of the gods. What if the movie was about gods living among us and their existence caused humanity more harm than good? To them we would be lesser creatures or playthings. But in the end, all we got was a boring revenge epic.

And before I forget, the whitewashing controversy is not a big deal. It is the same situation with Fant4stic or the Dark Tower movie. When it comes to portraying characters in a visual medium, all that matters is the performance. Skin color should not factor into a work of fiction unless it is important to the story. Anyone up in arms about it is superficial or has too much time on their hands when complaining about deities that are anthropomorphized animals. Who knows what race they are in human form. Of course, they would have to exist in the first place because they are FICTIONAL!

It has been a few days since Gods of Egypt came out and you have probably made up your mind by now. It was not terrible, but it could have been so much more. The mediocrity of its narrative and quality of production was not enough to get it over the bar, nor did its failed attempt at schlock maintain my interest. Watch Triple 9 or Deadpool instead. If you want something Egyptian related, I recommend the first two Mummy movies and the first Scorpion King.

 

Triple 9

A couple movies came out that I am definitely going to see, starting with Triple 9. I will pass on Eddie the Eagle because it is an inspirational drama I have see a hundred times, which is why I skipped Race. Because I have to be somewhere early in the morning on Saturday, Gods of Egypt will wait till the evening or Sunday. So, was Triple 9 worth of admission or did I make the wrong choice?

To pull off a complicated heist Michael, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, is convinced by the dirty cops on his crew to perform a 999, an “officer down” call code, to keep the police busy. Marcus, played by Anthony Mackie, volunteers to kill his partner Chris, played by Casey Affleck, a self-righteous cop way over his head on the streets of Atlanta.

Triple 9 is best described as The Departed if it was an exploitation film. Every frame permeates filth that comes off the screen in a stench, covered in a sheet of grime that you can touch thanks to how close and personal the movie was shot. The violence is gritty as people are slapped and thrown around or shot at close range with plump blood bursts and general gore. The setting borders on absurd with crime scenes that involve severed heads and a dead hooker in a shopping cart while the Russian Jewish Mafia runs the city out of kosher butchers shop. It makes Atlanta look like Juarez, Mexico.

For all its craziness, however, it works because that is exactly what the movie is trying to do. It builds this bleak, apocalyptic atmosphere where anything insane that can happen does to create a sense of darkness. It fools you into thinking the characters are terrible before it shows you how well rounded they are. They are good people (kind of) that live in a chaotic world.

The main theme is nothing is black and white. Characters are compromised, violent people, but most of them have a consciousness and tangible motivations that define what they do. Ejiofor must be ruthless because the Russians are holding his son. Mackie hates Affleck until he grows on him. Their dimension transcends who they appear to be, making them sympathetic.

The film is just under two hours and it felt like three. Being an ensemble effort with multiple plotlines, you have to contend with all these things going on that must be finished, unless you want to piss off your audience. While everything is tied up, there are so many characters to keep track of it feels overly long. Furthermore, the movie does not tell you anything and leaves out information until it becomes relevant. That is the preferred way to deliver exposition, but it gives out so little so late, you will be waiting for about an hour before you figure out why things are happening.

The cast was quite large, including a few character actors from film and television. Eijofor was great as usual with Woody Harrelson as Jeffrey stealing the show. Affleck and Mackie had great chemistry and Aaron Paul as Gabe was his usual self, his character struggling with the morality of the situation. Kate Winslet was pretty weak as she sat around and talked in terrible monotone accent and Gal Gadot did nothing except look gorgeous. Norman Reedus and Clifton Collins Jr. showed up… and that is all I can say without spoilers.

All in all, Triple 9 was a good cops and robbers drama made like an exploitation film with plenty of violence and anger set against a chaotic backdrop. If you can make it through the long drag of the pacing, it is worth a watch. I also recommend Sabotage if you want another visceral crime drama.

 

Heist

You probably never heard of Heist when it came out. Like Z for Zacharia, it had a limited theatrical release before going to video. The reason I know about it is because it stars Gina Carano, an MMA fighter whom I am a fan of. In addition to being adorable as all fuck, I think it is cool she can kill people with her hands. I started paying attention to her after Red Alert 3 before I saw Haywire, Fast And Furious 6, and a direct to video feature called In the Blood. The quality of her acting is subjective, but I think Carano works best as a stunt actor like Arnold Schwarzenegger. She is certainly a better actress than Ronda Rousey if I am being honest. Did Heist prove my fandom is misplaced or was it a serviceable action movie?

In an effort to secure funds for his daughter’s surgery Vaughn, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, robs a riverfront casino run by Pope played by Robert De Niro. When things go wrong and the getaway driver abandons his crew, Vaughn hijacks a bus and makes his way to Mexico with police in pursuit.

Basic is the operative word here. If you know about heist movies, you know how it goes. You have the down trotted hero, resorting to crime, and feels justified because he is doing it to bad people. After the job goes south, the hero is left in a sticky situation, there is a twist, a big reveal, and in the end the hero gets what he wants.

Heist is a simple, low-budget Ocean’s Eleven meets Speed. A good chuck takes place on the bus as it moves across state lines. While on the move, he has to negotiate with the police, manage his unstable crew in the form of Dave Bautista’s Cox, and try to deal with hostages without coming off as the bad guy. It does what you expect and it is not especially bad in any outstanding way.

Its problems are in regards to quality. While that sounds inconsiderate because it is low budget, it has been proven time and time again that budget does not matter if you know what you are doing. The Raid cost 1.1 million and it was the best action movie of 2012 next to The Avengers. Heist cost 8.9 million and in many respects it is poorly made.

The editing gave me a headache because there was a cut to one of five angles every half-second. It was elaborate for no reason, like the director was afraid he would not get the right shot, so he filmed and used all of them for one mess of a final cut. Seriously, how hard is it to shoot four guys at a table? And then there are the CG muzzle flashes and debris explosions. Granted, Raid used them too, but only in the beginning before it became 80 minutes of a bunch of Asians cutting each other. Also, the vault set had cinderblock walls in a place that supposed to be a boat… I guess the decorators were too lazy to cover the walls in aluminum paneling and paint them a color that matched the room.

I admit Carano is not the best actress, but if you give her enough to do, she will make the most of it. As the character Chris, she does nothing in the 30 minutes of screen time or get into a fight, the area in which she is an expert. The rest of the cast did well with Morgan as the thief with a heart of gold heart. Bautista was also great and Chestnut seemed to enjoy himself in the zealous psycho role of Dog. And De Niro acted circles around the entire cast as he usually does.

All in all, Heist works as an average crime movie, but it is not for fans of Carano. While she was not every active in Fast and Furious 6, she at least had people to punch. If you like crime-dramas, I suppose it is worth a rental.

 

The Witch

The Salem Witch Trials are a stain on America’s heritage… if you never heard of Vietnam, Amerindian genocide, and Michael Moore. Before the Age of Enlightenment, everything was bad for everyone and religious delusion was common among all civilizations. Whole towns were destroyed on suspicion of possession after consuming grain contaminated with ergot, a mold with hallucinogenic properties. You could be killed for having the ability to swim or if you did not worship God the right way. The Spanish Inquisition was killing Jews centuries before “Nazi” was even a word. A lot of bad things happened at the time, opening up great potential for horror. Does The Witch capitalize off the madness of 17th Century America or does it try something else?

Following banishment from town Will, played by Ralph Ienson, takes his family into the wilderness to start anew. Things begin to spiral out of control after the crops fail and his infant son goes missing. His unstable wife Kat, played by Kate Dickie, puts the blame on their daughter Thomasin, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, as the family struggles to find answers.

Explaining what Witch did with the premise of a horror movie about Puritans would mean spoiling it. There is still plenty to talk about in terms of how it handled the element of terror, but I would like to leave as much to the imagination as I can. To that effect, I recommend skipping this review if you want to see it without knowing any details.

Implication can difficult to achieve, especially if your screenwriter is inexperienced. I had to stop implying in my work because nobody understood what was going on. The trick is to use strong visuals that tell the viewer what you want them to know without being blatant. In horror, implication can be more potent than a jump scare. From character actions to symbolism, Witch has plenty to discover if you pay attention, and some of it is quite disturbing.

Instead of being scary, Witch is mostly uncomfortable. There is a heavy feeling that evil is going on and you are in the dark. The characters sense it too and they are powerless to protect themselves. As madness erodes who they are, paranoia starts takes over. All they can do is pray and accuse, blaming each other for what they cannot comprehend. The drama is what makes it unnerving because you see good-natured people give into hysteria in the worst ways.

The performances help the implication and atmosphere. It is arguably an ensemble where the family insanity adds to the horror. Dickie is on full blast as she prays in hushed whispers and gives Thomasin dirty looks with cringe-worthy contempt in her gaze and voice. Taylor-Joy did well as the “girl everyone blames” archetype. The pain and anguish of being the scapegoat for her family’s delusion was terrifying and she sells it. Ineson was probably my favorite in the role of a withered patriarch. The guy just wants to provide for his family, but when everything goes wrong he breaks down and struggles to maintain an even temperament. It was depressing because he is one of the better characters next to the daughter.

At the start of the year I said contemporary horror is mostly trash and the only movies worth watching are from the past. The Boy was a surprise, but The Witch is superior in everyway, kind of like It Follows from last year. If you have a hankering for good, original horror, go see it.

 

Z for Zacharia

Post-apocalypse is one of my favorite genres. The appeal is the idea survivors of a catastrophe regress to a backwards state of civilization. Knowledge and basic human rights are eroded, giving way to anarchy and rebirth. In Metro: Last Light, communism makes a comeback in the Moscow Metro as well as fascism. The theme of recrudescence speaks volumes to the cost of genocide and war. The more people die, the farther we go back, wiping away hundreds of years of progress. It was not until I spent a month playing Fallout 4 I discovered a wealth of apocalyptic literature. A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Postman, and Damnation Alley are a few books I acquired and read when I can. Another I found was Z for Zacharia after I heard about the film adaptation. Though I have not read it, was it a good movie that stands on its own?

Following a nondescript nuclear disaster, Ann, played by Margot Robbie, is left alone on her family farm in a valley with a natural resistance to fallout. While scavenging for food, she comes across the first human she has seen in a long time named John, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Later they are joined by Chris Pine’s Caleb, a drifter whose intentions are unclear.

The title is a reference to a book Ann read as a child that uses Biblical names for the A-B-Cs. According to some research I did on the novel, Ann thought if A was for Adam, the first human, then Zechariah must be the last. It is a pretty simple concept that brings to mind religious undertones. There is also the idea of the valley as Eden and Ann and John are an Adam/Eve parallel.

If only that were the case because Zacharia is a boring soap opera about three people getting into drama and it just happens to take place after a nuclear holocaust. Some apocalypse stories make use religious elements in relation to the world restarting, but here the end of the world is an inconvenience. The love triangle of Ann, John, and Caleb is the focus and if you have seen any romance ever, you know what happens. There is nothing else to it, like how In the Heart of the Sea had nothing that made Moby Dick interesting.

Z for Zacharia is at least a passable romantic drama set against a backdrop of the post-apocalypse. In the process of writing this review I struggled to find anything worth talking about because it simply is not there. I cannot even work up the energy to talk about the decent performances. It only made me want to watch other movies that do the genre justice. I might pick up the book if it is better.

 

Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo

Like all entertainment media, there is a lot of trash in anime. From shounen made by committee to moe whose fans are sex offenders, anime is mostly crap with a minority of exception. Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, and Ghost in the Shell are a few titles I like, but my favorites are of the mecha genre. For as long as I can remember, giant robots have been the best ever. I do not know what it is, but they are awesome and nobody does it better than the Japanese. Gundam is where I started before I discovered Neon Genesis Evangelion.

To put it simply, Pacific Rim would not exist without the depressing story of Shinji Ikari. In a not too distant future, the world battles aliens known as Angels, giant monsters whose goal is to assimilate with the being Lilith, and shepherd the apocalypse. Humanity’s only hope is the Evas, robots biological in nature. As the pilot of Eva Unit 1, Shinji must contend with the burden of everyone counting on him and mounting depression as he learns the truth behind the Evas and his estranged father.

Neon Genesis was ground breaking for the mecha genre, presenting a world with characters that deal with real problems. Shinji is a socially awkward teenager forced to pilot Unit 1 at the behest of his father, who sees him as nothing more than an instrument. It proved a show about giant robots could be emotionally provocative and compelling.

Years later came the Rebuilds, a series of films anthologizing a number of episodes with updated visuals and story changes. Some fans like them, others say they cut too many corners and leave out the more compelling themes, but I adore the improved action, visuals, and mecha violence. There is large-scale destruction, gore, and everything anime can get away with.

Watching the Rebuilds is difficult unless you have knowledge of the original series. You cannot appreciate them as much because a lot of detail is gone or changed. You can almost turn your brain off like with Kill la Kill or Gurren Lagann, but when you are questioning why Shinji listens to a cassette player on repeat, why the ocean is red, and what is the deal with Kaworu, it can be hard to enjoy the movies when robots are not eating each other. This issue, however, is more or less non-existent in Evangelion 3.0.

Picking up 14 years after the end of 2.0, the world has been devastated by Near Third Impact. Nerv is fully controlled by Seele in their ambition to begin Human Instrumentality. The remaining survivors, still intent on protecting the world, formed Wille headed by Colonel Katsuragi, voiced by Allison Keith. In their fight against Nerv, Wille conducts a mission to rescue Shinji, voiced by Spike Spencer, who has been in a coma since he initiated Third Impact.

I imagine none of that made a lick of sense. I could explain all of it, but that would mean spoiling the last two movies, detailing the minutia of the world, and then we will be here all day. When it comes to recommending 3.0, it is definitely a fans only situation like the Entourage movie. If you go in completely cold you will have no idea what is going on. To fully understand the Rebuilds, you need to have seen Neon Genesis. This makes going into further detail an exercise in futility, but I am going to finish the critique anyway.

It is important note 3.0 was originally slated to come out on DVD (the format in which I watched it) after its English theatrical debut in 2013. Then Funimation, in their infinite wisdom, decided to keep it in circulation, and for three years there was no word on when it was coming out. While some otaku think otherwise, I say it was worth the wait.

Many of the details that went unexplained in the previous films are explained in the most blunt fashion possible, clearing up a lot of confusion first-time viewers will have trouble understanding. Some of the more important points are still left in the dark, but that was probably intentional, being a series that is not finished. Also the “science” behind why things work is better left nebulous. It is an anime about giant robots fighting aliens after all.

One aspect fans will take issue with is the characters are not themselves. After rescuing Shinji, they immediately hate him, tell him he is useless, and put a bomb on his neck that will detonate if he enters an Eva. Katsuragi is an asshole, Ritsuko is antisocial, and Asuka is less boisterous about her superiority. Long-time fans will find all of this wrong before you realize the film takes place 14 years in the future, during a time in which the world is just about dead, and the survivors are fighting a lost cause. There is a reason behind why characters are not themselves and it is just a matter of paying attention.

The fight scenes are incredible as always, if not a tad jarring thanks to the reliance on CG. It is becoming standard practice in anime to use computer-generated assets with hand-drawn animation. This paradigm shift is alarming because Japanese CG looks like Claymation if it sucked. Animations are jerky and they never fit with the backgrounds and other hand-drawn details. Some do it right like Ghost in the Shell SAC where vehicles and larger robots are CG, while others use it as a crutch. In 3.0 it is pretty bad early on, but it improves afterward.

The voice acting was great with the cast from the movies and show making their return. Nobody skips a beat with a 47 year-old Spencer belting out like he usually does as Shinji. While they do not have much screen time, Keith, Colleen Clinkenbeard, and Tiffany Grant were right at home. The standouts were Trina Nishimura as Mari and Brina Palencia as Rei. Palencia was good in the first two films, but Nishimura has really come into her own since 2.0.

If you are a fan of the show, your mind is already made up. For everyone else, if you are interested, I recommend watching all three films, one after the other so you get the full story and all the available details. Coming in at 3.0 is not a good idea unless you just want to see robots murder each other.

Deadpool

TRIGGER WARNING

I am going to say something controversial, hence the warning. Usually I tack it up there in anticipation for pissing people off, but this requires an extended preamble. Unless I am making fun of Christians or other stupid people with delusional ideologies, I really do not care if I say something inflammatory because that is exactly what I mean to do. What makes this different is that I have friends and other people that really care about the subject I am about to lay into. I have never been shy about speaking my mind and I try to be as honest as possible in my writing. Please pardon what I am about to say because in my humble opinion:

Deadpool kind of sucks.

Not the movie (we will get to that soon), but the character himself. Everyone has their favorite superhero regardless of who they are. I happen to be a fan of Domino and she is at least a C Tier Mutant, but for the life of me I cannot divine why anyone finds Deadpool appealing. He is defined entirely by his gimmick: a meta caricature designed to be ironic towards superheroes. He talks to the reader, makes witty comments, is devoid of all seriousness, and strides to act out. Basically, he is the BroTeam of comics.

In concept he is necessary to inject awareness to the medium and he works… for just a bit before the joke gets old really fast. The premise is novel and easy to understand, but like any good thing, too much of it saturates the appeal. We get it; he talks to the reader and makes jokes about comics. What else does he have? I sure do not know because apparently that is all he is: a gimmick. At least Captain America is a mascot with a personality and Punisher is a mass murderer with sympathetic problems. However, I am open to the idea of a Deadpool movie. With the rampant popularity of superhero films, I think now is a good enough time for a character of his caliber. How long did it take before my tolerance for the joke was all but gone?

After receiving a terminal diagnosis, Wade, played by Ryan Reynolds, volunteers for a procedure that will cure him of cancer and turn him into a Mutant. When he discovers the nefarious intent of those in charge, Wade breaks free and sets out on a quest for revenge as his alter ego Deadpool.

My bias towards the character stems from what I have read in the comics and a little bit from the videogame. It would be unfair to judge movie Deadpool in regards to the others because besides being entirely different mediums, the film version is fantastic. I would go so far as to say he is better in comparison.

What makes him work is comedic timing and personality, two things that do not translate well off the page, unless you have Reynolds acting it out. He is the reason Deadpool feels like a character and not a gimmick. He changes up his routine, has feelings and emotions that makes sense, and he does not overdue it. He will jump between being ironic, sarcastic, crude, and self-referential at a consistent pace that does not drag you down in monotony. More importantly, the jokes are funny with a wide range of humor.

There is something for everybody.

This is also the best non-Brian Singer X-Men movie yet, excluding Origins obviously. The man understands Mutants about as much as Joel Schumacher does Batman. He has been in charge for years and has never gotten it right. I do not even care for the X-Men and it makes me furious how much Singer does not bother capitalizing off an already good idea. How hard is it to make a soap opera with superheroes? This time, they finally got it right, giving Colossus actual lines to say and a tangible personality.

The biggest selling point for Deadpool is that it is R-rated. There was plenty of opportunity to be gratuitous, but the violence and nudity are toned down with a lot of drama and comedy in between. There is also cursing if you think that is important. I feel I cannot really talk about the adult content because I am so used to it in other stuff. I saw Starship Troopers when I was six, grew up on the Alien movies, and now I deconstruct Christian propaganda. That does not mean I did not enjoy the violence; it is just not that big a deal. Seeing people murdered in creative ways and hearing superheroes say “fuck” may excite Millennials, but for me, it was Tuesday (you are cool if you get that reference).

The only problem I really have is the violence lacked edge. It was graphic, sure, but I could not get over all the CG blood and shortcuts. There are parts where in the middle of a fight, Deadpool will become CG to do a complicated move like it was Blade 2. And I always complain about fake gore because the real thing adds so much to whatever is going on, be it horror, action, or comedy. If you do not believe me, watch Evil Dead 2, Turbo Kid, and Django: Unchained.

You know I am right.

The supporting cast did a great job keeping up with Reynolds. The chemistry between him and Morena Baccarin was pitch perfect as they bounced jokes off one another. T.J. Miller was good as the comic relief, but why you need a comic relief character when your protagonist is the comic relief does not make sense. Newcomer Biranna Hildebrand did a decent job as Negasonic Teenage Warhead. Ed Skrien was fine in the villain role, but the disappointment for me was Gina Carano as Angel Dust.

Please do not misunderstand; I am actually a fan of hers and she is a pretty good stuntwoman, but why she was cast as a Z Tier nobody that utters maybe four lines of dialog was such a waste. She definitely has better acting chops than Ronda Rousey and nobody gives her the opportunity. If you ask me, Rousey should have been Angel Dust and Carano should be cast as Domino for that X-Force movie becuase they are basically the same person.

In the end, I was surprised to say the least. I still do not like Deadpool, but his movie is the best thing to ever happen to him. It had great comedy, violence, and it was an all around good time. I was going to see Zoolander 2 tomorrow, but after this I doubt a washed-up Ben Stiller and irrelevant Owen Wilson could even try to be as funny. You think nostalgia is going to win me over like everyone else?

NOPE!

 

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

I was 17 when I saw Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (PPZ) on store shelves and my reaction was, “That looks okay.” Zombieland came out the same year and I was like, “Seems fun, but Jesse Eisenberg sucks.” Then Walking Dead premiered and I said, “This is a pretty decent show.” Four seasons later, “Oh, wait, no.” Then Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse came out and with a groan I said, “Just fuck off the edge of my dick.”

Call me a snob or a purist, but when something I like is saturated I start to hate it, like watching your favorite movie over and over. Sooner or later people try things to make what they like seem fresh like a reboot or sequel and zombies have gone the way of vampires. When it comes to the undead, I stick with the old stuff like Romero, Shaun of the Dead, and the Walking Dead comics. The only good example of recent zombie media that comes to mind is Wyrmwood. Is PPZ worthy of incineration or is it a fresh take on the genre?

Following the outbreak of a zombie plague in England, the Bennet sisters are trained to defend what remains of civilization. On the cusp of Armageddon, their parents attempt to marry them off to rich socialites. In finding a suitor, Elizabeth, played by Lily James, develops a grudge against Darcy, played by Sam Riley.

I do not know why I bothered summarizing the plot. If you are even passingly familiar with literature or women for that matter, you know what Pride and Prejudice is about. In PPZ it is the same story in every way, but there just happens to be zombies. Without them, odds are everything would have happened as it did in the source material. And that is the problem; the zombies are inconsequential to the story.

In this world, British aristocracy is in full swing and the undead are a contained inconvenience. It would make more sense if the Bennet sisters had to be married to help assist the Crown with skilled fighters. Actually, why is the aristocracy still around? I would assume after the loss of a strong central government, the outlying hierarchy would resort to feudalism to sustain themselves. That would lead to families marrying off sons and daughters to increase their power base. Why bother taking a familiar story, applying a weird idea, but do nothing else with the details that do not make sense in the context of the changes?

As far as everything else goes, PPZ is all right when it comes to PG-13 zombies. The gore is not impressive, many of the kills are out of frame, and the make-up relies heavily on CGI. The pacing is wonky as it awkwardly moves from one point to another. I understand it is a parody, but even parodies need finesse. Performances were okay with Matt Smith standing out the most as Collins, whereas everyone else just did their time and moved on. Jack Huston was also in it as Wickham, which gives me an excuse to use this clip.

Overall, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was unremarkable. It did not do anything special with the material or the concept of zombie overrunning pre-Victorian England. To be honest, it is mostly average and it does not inspire much feeling in me. Maybe the book does it better and this was the result of adaptation. For “Baby’s First Zombie Movie,” it works as a primer to the harder stuff. But if you are a fan like me, stay home and look for Wyrmwood online.

 

Hail, Caesar!

The Cohen brothers… That is all that need be said. These guys have proven time and time again they know how to make a movie, be it behind the camera or pen. No Country for Old Men, True Grit, The Big Lebowski, Raising Arizona, Bridge of Spies… What more proof does one need? And now there is Hail, Caesar!, a comedic noir throwback to Old Hollywood. How does it measure up to their past work?

While managing the ins and outs of Capitol Pictures, Ed Mannix, played by Josh Brolin, becomes entrenched in an extortion plot after the kidnapping of Baird Whitlock, played by George Clooney. Things heat up as more figures in the business get involved while Mannix questions his station in life.

Caesar! is a day in the life of Old Hollywood from the perspective of a fixer, the guy who keeps actors in line, and makes sure everything goes according to plan. It has all the trappings one would expect: pestering paparazzi, complicated deals, a production in flux, and manufactured gossip. The movie uses the basis of the period to build upon elements of comedy and satire in its depiction of the business. It is unique in regards to the Cohens, but if I had to tie it back to their previous films, Caesar! is Lebowski and Raising Arizona.

The characters are outrageous caricatures. Baird is full of himself as much as he is an idiot. Alden Ehrenreich’s Hobie is a John Wayne parallel and an even worse actor. Tilda Swinton’s Thora and Thessaly are nosey reporters looking to exploit any story they can get their hands on. The story itself borders on the absurd with Mannix constantly at odds with who he is, making regular trips to confession for every transgression. In a meeting with a rabbi, priest, reverend, and patriarch to discuss the content of a script, the four get into a theological argument on the meaning of Christ. Without giving anything away, the people behind Baird’s kidnapping personify Old Hollywood’s fears and the pretense of artists.

The scale of Caesar! feels very small. Most day in the life stories do not qualify for epic status, while others are good at appearing large. I got the impression of a grand scheme in the background, but with everything Mannix had to deal with, the subplots did not fit in a cohesive manner. All the situations sat under the umbrella of Old Hollywood, yet they did not come together. However, it is not totally disjointed because everything works in regards to what Mannix goes through. The events coincide with his job because that is what he has to contend with as a fixer.

There were a lot of big names in the cast in addition to Brolin, Clooney, and Swinton, while the others played minor characters for maybe two scenes. Ralph Fiennes was a director that had to contend with Hobie’s terrible acting, Scarlet Johansson was a cynical starlet impatient with the minutia of the business, and Jonah Hill was there for literally three minutes. Why hire such talented people and barely use them? I thought they would play a bigger role in trying to find Baird like the trailers implied. It seems justified, however, because each were a part of the film’s various situations.

Is Hail, Caesar! another great movie by the Cohens? Well, it is certainly good, but the way it is structured hurts the story until you see what it is trying to do. One thing I can say for sure is that is funny and weird in that Cohen brothers way. If you are interested in other stories about Old Hollywood, Sunset Boulevard is a classic and Ed Brubaker’s The Fade Out is fantastic.

 

Jane Got a Gun

TRIGGER WARNING

Before I reached the Age of Reason last June, I was an unapologetic follower of the Feminist Frequency. At the time, I still did not take games or movies seriously, but I must confess their chief mouthpiece Anita Sarkeesian had some valid points in regards to narrative. I agree that the damsel in distress is a played out and dated story that could use a little reimagining. And then their anti-capitalist, professional victimhood, racist, man-hating, and petty delusional rhetoric came to the forefront. I finally realized Sarkeesian and her cohorts are unequivocally WRONG and their idea of feminism is the direct opposite of real equality. Feminist Frequency does about as much good for women as an episode of Charmed, all of them.

In a spat of nostalgia, I revisited their infamous YouTube channel and found a review of The Force Awakens. As per her usual shtick, Sarkeesian addressed the film’s inclusion of female characters and people of color without once referring to how they are as characters. Her analysis was motivated by pure ignorant vanity, absent any grain of thoughtful consideration, a common thread in her work and those of similar disposition. All that matters to these people are if you are a woman, colored, nonwhite, and not a capitalist.

Before I knew Jane Got a Gun (JGG) was even out this weekend, I read a handful of reviews that seemed unable to talk about it without calling it a “feminist film.” It feels like just because it stars a female lead, the movie is somehow feminist. That is like saying gay male porn is pro-MRA because it is wall-to-wall with dick, Hurt Locker Army propaganda, or Evangelion Christian for its use of religious imagery. Has the art of analysis truly devolved to that point? My lesbian friend likes stories about women and she did not want to see it because the title sounded stupid. I admit the reviews I saw also talked about the quality of the film, but calling something by what it simply appears to be is not how to judge anything in an intellectual manner. It is a blatant tactic readily employed by Sarkeesian and friends and because I am not ignorant, I will judge the movie as it is. Was JGG a good western or were the reviews right to be narrow-minded?

After her husband angers the local gang, Jane, played by Natalie Portman, enlists the help of her ex-lover Dan, played by Joel Edgerton, to defend her property from the coming retribution.

Simple enough, right? Too bad the entire film is a botched job of epic proportions. I am not exaggerating; everything is wrong in JGG. The acting, writing, story, and camera work are the absolute antithesis of a good movie. Instead, it is the perfect January Movie, not good or good bad; just plain damn bad. I have been waiting with bated breath for the real garbage and it was not until the end of the month that it was set loose.

Making a western throwback should be the easiest thing in the world. You have people living on the edge of civilization, outlaws, and cowboys in stories about property disputes, grazing rights, revenge, and folks just trying to get by. The entire genre is filled to brim with narratives that have been done over and over because that was the West. An entire generation grew up with this stuff. John Wayne would not have existed without the western! But those behind JGG have never seen one in their life.

The story is an easy revenge tale about a character under attack by people who wronged her. Clint Eastwood’s Sudden Impact is basically the same movie, also with a significant female role. Jane’s whole reason for getting involved, however, is passive because she was not seeking revenge. The only reason there was trouble in the first place is because of her husband. She decides to take a stand and do what is right, but if she is not involved in the larger conflict, why make her the focus? After the event that would prompt revenge, she moves on like a normal person. It should have been she was the outlaw in question and her need for revenge gets her husband into trouble, making her an active character. Even to the wrongdoers she is not a big deal. Their goal is the husband. Going back to Sudden Impact, Jennifer hunted down and killed her rapists because they raped her.

JGG is a great example of how not to shoot a movie. As far as I could tell, every shot was of individual actors in a given scene with many close-ups and coverage on their faces. There is no sense of spectacle or artful composition. It is just people talking or doing mundane tasks, sapping the energy that would have made the film bearable. There is a sequence involving some explosions and the director felt it was a good idea to keep the camera focused on the interior while the explosions happened on the outside and obscured. There are also no shots that give a clear picture of the environments. Because the focus is on people, it is hard to get an idea of what everything looks like. As a result, the setting of New Mexico looks like some dirt piles, a couple cabins, and half of an Old West town set. Is it me or did George Lucas direct this?

Edgerton is one of three writers, of which he has experience with The Rover and The Gift. I get the feeling he wrote a better story, which was then tampered by the other two who do not know how cinema works. In movies you can tell what is going on by simply watching. Emotion, story, symbolism, and conflict can be conveyed on a visual basis without the need for audible explanation. This should not be a problem for screenwriters. I understood that even before I went to school to learn how to write film. Apparently, the people involved with JGG forgot this important axiom. As a result, there are long stretches of dialog repeating things we already figured out from the visuals in a scene before. It is not like we are too dumb to assume what happened to warrant an explanation. Worst yet was a part when Jane explained to Dan her tragic story, while it plays out in a flashback. Said information was already conveyed throughout the film beforehand, compounding the amount of droning dialog that drags the runtime of 98 minutes.

A movie with a lot of talking would not be so bad if well written and acted. Since JGG’s script is poor, it was up to the actors to salvage what they could before they utterly failed. Apart from Edgerton, nobody bothered to try and fix the damage. Ewan McGregor as the villain Colin did not care in the slightest. He did not try to be menacing or crazy like an archetypical bad guy. I get the feeling he had to pay off a television and decided to phone his performance for quick cash.

And then there was Portman… Holy shit… I expected bad, but I could not believe what I was watching and hearing. She has one tone and it is mono throughout the whole thing in every situation she is in. There are exactly two scenes where she raises her voice and the second was the worst hysterical, emotional breakdown in the history of acting. What was supposed to be a really sad moment made me cringe and laugh out loud. Any more detail would border on insult and I would rather not make fun of Portman for being a terrible actress.

I would say skip Jane Got a Gun, but its promotion has been less than sparse and it did not receive an early screening on Thursday. I did not know it was even out until 12 hours ago. If you knew and have even a passing interest, stay far away if you like good movies. For better examples of westerns about revenge I highly recommend, True Grit (2010), Django Unchained, Hateful 8, The Revenant, and The Outlaw Josey Wales. Furthermore, if you want something that has real feminist themes, watch the new Battlestar Galactica, Xena, Buffy, and Haywire.

 

The Finest Hours

Every military branch has a rival they insult on a regular basis. The Army makes fun of the Air Force because they do not know how to infantry, the Marine Corps hates the Army for being pampered, and the Navy looks down on everyone not them. It is a part of the culture, a kind of camaraderie common among team-based groups without regard for who is better or more important. But the branch that gets the most grief is the Coast Guard.

Next to Reservists, Coasties are the Navy equivalent of toddlers in life jackets according to everyone else. Sure, they have the most vital domestic job of securing our coastlines, but that does not stop other branches from making fun of them. One movie about the Coast Guard that comes to mind is The Guardian, a terrible one thanks to the casting of Ashton Kutcher. It did not set a good precedence following the revelation of The Finest Hours, which was then delayed past its holiday 2015 release. Does it make a better case for the much-reviled branch or should it have been shelved permanently?

In the middle of a hurricane, a tanker ship is torn apart by waves, leaving only the stern with a limited time before it sinks. Faced with suicidal odds, Webber, played by Chris Pine, takes a crew on a small boat to attempt a rescue.

In general Hours is very okay. It is straightforward about its premise and does not really try to be interesting or complex. This is a common problem with movies based on true stories. You either go the route of exaggeration or stick with the source material and make it boring. Now, Hours is not boring and it is not bad by any standard. The best word to describe it would be simple; as plain a film about a suicide rescue mission as you can get.

Basically, it is the Cost Guard.

That is not say it does not have noteworthy qualities. It has a very Spielberg feel with an authentic presentation of the 1950s. The look is saturated with a brownish/amber color scheme punctuated by bright light. Everyone talks with a thick Boston accent, wears period clothing, and everything has a consistent rudimentary feel. The sets are nicely realized with the ship being the best. There is also a lot of CGI that fits the overall visual style.

With its average presentation, however, Hours is totally devoid of tension. It is story about four guys riding through a hurricane to rescue the crew of a ship that was split in half and I could not feel any of the fear, urgency, or sense of scope. I do not know what it was. I am sure there was tension, but if so, I did not feel any. The whole movie just glazed over me like a fine mist. It was pleasant at times, but nothing extraordinary. I think the problem stemmed from the performances. Pine, Casey Affleck, Eric Bana, and Holliday Grainger were static, awkward and phoned in, especially Pine and Affleck. I do concede that their characters are supposed to be awkward, but it sucked out the energy. How can I get invested when everyone seems to be sleepwalking through their roles?

As a result, the supporting cast was left to do the best they could. Ben Foster managed to stand out a bit as the grizzled veteran Livesey. There were some fisherman characters that popped up for a few scenes and the ship crew was mostly distinguishable. Graham McTavish also stood out, but only to me because I know he does a lot of voice work and he was on Outlander before I stopped watching from boredom. The man has the gravelliest Scottish accent ever and it was a shame he had to sound like an American for this.

And that was The Finest Hours, a very simple and plain true story that will not offend anyone or make you feel anything to be totally honest. At this point I am struggling to even talk about it. It is so ordinary you know what will happen and you know what to expect. If you know what you want, odds are you will find it. It rides the line as a January film that is not the worst thing ever nor the best.

It is, after all, a Coast Guard movie.

 

The Boy

I am going to do something a little different this time around. Because contemporary horror is so banal you can fill out a checklist of its tropes, I am going to guess the entire story of The Boy. As I write this introduction, it is Friday the 22nd and I am two hours from my showing. Everything I predict is based on what I know of bad horror and what I have seen in the promotional materials.

The doll is possessed by a boy named Brahms. He is a malevolent spirit that tormented his parents until they figured out if they let him kill women, he would leave them alone. Every year, they hire a nanny to look after the doll as a sacrifice. I have a feeling Rupert Evans’ character helps the parents acquire offerings. They hire Lauren Cohan, who gets wise to the charade, and tries to find out why the doll is so spooky. She discovers what is going on and at the climax, the spirit will posses Evans and try to kill her. Something might happen where he turns into a good guy and kills himself with the doll, setting himself on fire or blowing up the house. Then the spirit will posses Cohan and go out into the world.

Was I proven correct and is contemporary horror creatively bankrupt?

From here on there will be spoilers as I carefully explain how wrong I am. If you want the bottom line recommendation, skip to the very last paragraph.

Boy bills itself as a run-of-the-mill horror movie with jump-scares and all manner of garbage. That makes its marketing brilliant because 90% of the time, dumb teenagers want to see something that will make them scream or laugh out loud. While it is a detriment to the genre as a whole, jump-scares put a lot of butts in seats and the people who promoted Boy knew it. They totally fooled me because what we got instead of supernatural horror was a psychological thriller.

Any instance the supernatural happens in a dream sequence or is a fabrication via editing. In the end, the doll is nothing more than a component in a scheme by Brahms, who has been living in the crawlspace of his parents’ house for 20 years. He used the many passages to make it look like the doll was literally walking around and haunting the place to satisfy his psychotic needs.

Boy did a great job of making you think it was supernatural. At point-of-view shots, the camera films from waist-high angles while strange noises and crying echoes through the house. After Cohan moves in as the nanny, her clothes and jewelry go missing as she steadily goes crazy. When she comes to the conclusion the doll is alive, rather than freak out, she becomes excited at the prospect of interacting with a ghostly entity. She also develops a motherly bond with it and that is where the movie stumbles.

Prior to becoming a nanny, Cohan was involved in an abusive relationship. Right before the climax, we learn that in addition to having an unhinged partner, she also had a miscarriage. Being a traumatic event for anyone involved, she has enough anxiety to trigger her erratic behavior towards Brahms. Here is the problem: Lauren Cohan is far too adorable to be that crazy. They did not put any make-up on her, but I did not buy the whole stolen motherhood set-up. She needed strong visual indicators to make it believable like dark spots under her eyes or frilly hair. Even when she first laid eyes on the doll being coddled by the parents she was like “You guys are freaks” and thought it was creepy. She did not care about the doll replacing a dead kid narrative until after she figures out it is haunted, like the miscarriage arc was shoved into the script last-minute.

The movie also has pacing issues. The introduction was short as it ought to be, but the middle took up most of the runtime with no even spacing between events. It was all over the place where Cohan’s dress is stolen, she is locked in the attic, followed by more weird shit. Then the motherhood stuff happens, and the third act is about 10 minutes with the ex showing up, the twist, the confrontation and the conclusion. Fantastic Four was in much the same state, but Boy was not as frustrating and it worked better in comparison.

Everything else about it was pretty decent overall.

Is The Boy as good as It Follows, Krampus, or Green Inferno? No, but it is leagues ahead of The Gallows, The Forest, and The Lazarus Effect. My faith in contemporary horror is, for the moment, restored until I am reminded in spring that nothing good lasts forever. If you long for the days of good horror, give it a look while you still can. It is better than a January movie has any right to be.

 

The 5th Wave

Before I begin, I feel it necessary to express my feelings on the Oscars “controversy.” Normally I do not get involved with issues that are meaningless to the point thinking about them taxes on one’s intellect, but I have been so annoyed by the fallout I cannot ignore it. To put it simply, Alejandro Inarritu (The Revenant) is Mexican, Hiromasa Yonebayashi (When Marnie Was There) is Japanese, and three of the five nominations for Best Foreign Language Film are from non-white countries. If people stopped worrying about how someone looks or what genitals they have, then maybe we could see the reality of the situation and judge people as people. Did you ever consider that the reason why no colored actors were nominated is because no one was good enough? If you are so desperate to have diversity in an awards show that will mean nothing the second it is over, I recommend researching all of nominees to satisfy your racist beliefs before making judgments. You have a brain for reason, idiots.

* * *

We have been here before, young adult (YA) genre. Female protagonist. Love triangle. Familial devotion. Psychological trauma. Dystopia. Obvious antagonists. Allegories. And stupid names for things. It was not long ago you showed promise and after so many years of annual releases, the banality of your existence is impossible to ignore. Since Hunger Games wrapped up I expect an endless precession of YA adaptations to fill the gap. Maze Runner is a broken wreck and Divergent is boring, yet their completion feels obligatory. If only you could die so I do not have to repeat myself.

I have said on more than one occasion (I think) that all movies are same story repeated ad nauseam, but the way they are made is what sets them apart. Django Unchained and Conan are about slaves getting revenge, but it is the genre, and setting that makes them different. Of course, not all YA are created equal with a good helping of romance, fantasy, and dramas, but the most common form is the one I described above. Because Hunger Games was so successful, every new movie since will follow that formula. Is 5th Wave another failed clone or should Katniss Everdeen make way for what’s-her-face?

Following the arrival of a large spaceship, a series of disasters gradually kill off humanity as the aliens begin to take over. After her little brother Sam, played by Zachary Arthur, is drafted into a resistance force and her father killed, Cassie, played by Chloe Grace Moretz, goes on a journey across the devastated landscape infested with alien drones to save him.

This movie is bad. It is every YA title ever butchered in all the ways you can possibly screw up a film. Its genesis, I feel, is one of cynicism. Desperate to save face after losing Spider-Man, Sony decided to capitalize off the success of the YA genre. So, they took a modestly successful book kids have probably read and adapted it with little to no effort. I assume they thought they could recoup costs on brand recognition and genre without considering the quality of their work and what it will mean for the poor saps involved.

Problems started within the first 20 minutes and it only got worse.

The biggest issue is the character of Cassie. We know next to nothing about her and we do not learn anything else as the story progresses. She cares about her brother and has an existential crisis when confronted with the prospect of killing people, but it is never said why she cares so much. It could be the familial devotion trope, but often times in fiction there is a concrete reason behind it. Did something happen to Sam in the past that would make Cassie extra protective or was he adopted and she is just trying to a cool sister? I would not know because this movie did not make it clear enough. At least in Twilight we understood from the outset that Bella Swan was a dick-hungry sociopath.

The real bad guy, however, is made blatantly obvious yet played off like a twist come the climax. Spoilers, it is the military under alien control that took the kids after they massacred their parents in a barn. I would have been shocked if I was not rolling my eyes and groaning. Another give-away was the soldiers’ nonchalant exit from said barn like they did not commit a war crime two seconds ago. Their plan is to use an army of children to wipe out the remaining humans in complete their takeover. I understand this is an allegory for adults using kids to fight their wars because we are totally living in the late ‘60s, but how they do it defeats the whole purpose.

The age of recruits range from about nine to the late teens, which are then organized into squads. Basically, you have toddlers running around in combat gear with weapons that are bigger than them. I get they are being used as cannon fodder to finish a job the aliens could have done themselves, but when it comes to organizing a basic military outfit designed for attrition, they are about as competent as General Westmoreland. Shaka Zulu in the 1800s made use of all age groups in his army, but they were organized according to age in a way that gave them a tactical advantage. Obviously the very young would stay behind to guard the camp while the teens and elders did the fighting. Here, the aliens just threw everyone together expecting it work, and ended up foiling their own plan when the kids were slaughtered. Even Hitler would say they are trying too hard.

In addition to being a poorly thought out narrative that needed to be gutted and put back together, 5th Wave is not especially well made. Some areas that stuck out were insert shots of alien drones flying around that were obviously shoved in post-production. Between cuts there will be a single shot of the drone passing from one end of the frame to another. I guess they were trying to make up for the fact there are virtually no visual indicators of the aliens’ presence. One shot that made me gasp was one of a controlled human walking down a hill with a rifle. About 10 minutes later, after a chunk of time has passed in the story, the same human with rifle walking down a hill is repeated at what looked like a flopped angle; the same shot with the frame flipped over. It was jarring and an elementary mistake an editor should know to avoid. And for a movie so inexpensive and flawed in form, I cannot fathom why anyone in the production thought using CGI was a good idea. Wow, is all I can say.

All of these problems culminate in an experience that makes 5th Wave utter trite, until you take into account the intent. This was an attempt to capitalize off the success of the YA genre and it fails spectacularly. The way it fails in the story, effects, and general design makes for some funny moments. Between rolling my eyes and contemplating getting a refund, I was laughing at the awkward dialog and botched tropes that make YA boring to watch. In retrospect, 5th Wave is not a bad movie, but a good bad movie.

Like its many problems it started at the beginning where Cassie was recounting the waves that came before. While her dull voiceover plays, we see a plane casually fall out of the sky as she looks on with about as much emotion as Liam Hemsworth. Then it smash-cuts to these scenes of poorly animated tsunamis demolishing cities, and back to Cassie walking through her neighborhood after a flood. The next cut shows the affects of a virus with body bags lined up in a stadium and then a grave where her mom is buried. The emotion bares it all and you do not know what to do because you are being jerked around every other cut.

The best came later when she meets the hot dude archetype named Evan, played by Alex Roe, who is obviously an alien. Thus began the movie’s awkward attempt at a Twilight style romance. They look longingly into each other’s eyes, get into suggestive situations when he shows her how to disarm someone, and have pent-up sexual tension that pays off in most telegraphed way possible. Later she sees him taking a bath and makes a face that says “Oh, I need to have him in me.” It got even better when Evan had to explain why he is a good alien. “I always thought love was an instinct, until I met you… I can human or alien, but I’ll a human to be with you, girl.” I am clearly paraphrasing, but Jesus Christ this material is solid gold. You just have to see it.

The performances were nothing special and nobody really had fun with their roles like Michael Sheen from Twilight. They either took it seriously like Peter Facinelli, tried their hardest like Ashley Greene, or did not give a shit like Robert Pattinson. The only standout for me was Maika Monroe from It Follows, who played this emo survivalist named Ringer. She wore eye shadow in every single scene like it was tattooed to her face while she threatened to murder most of her costars. It is as if her character did not want to be in the movie, but Monroe played it so well I could not tell if she was just being herself.

5th Wave is terrible is every way a movie can be, let alone one of the young adult genre. But on the basis of irony is a great watch if you are interested in the spectacle of failure. It is the new Twilight and the first good bad movie of 2016. If there are sequels just as terrible, I cannot wait. It belongs up there with Space Mutiny and if you want a similar experience, I recommend it for a matinee with friends for good old riff.

 

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

TRIGGER WARNING

When discussing an issue political in nature, divisive does not even begin to describe the opinions of those involved. There will always be multiple sides to an argument that disagree like an orgy of snakes eating each other’s tails. On the matter of the 2012 Benghazi Attack, you have the die-hard Clinton supporters that take everything she says as gospel, and the other side uses the attack and controversial aftermath to criticize her.

Both sides have their merits and as an Anarcho-Capitalist that leans either way of the American political spectrum, I understand where they are coming from. As Secretary of State at the time, Clinton was responsible for installing an ambassador to a hostile region and I commend her for taking the brunt of the blame. Where I stand is the complete opposite. I am not a fan of Clinton by any means because of her nonchalant dismissal of the 2nd Amendment, but I am not opposed to her on any other front. My stance on Benghazi is one people seem to ignore amongst the political upheaval.

How, in fuck, do the words “obvious” and “out in the open” apply to a Blacksite? I know the CIA annex was not technically a Blacksite, but it was sure treated as such, and if you are in the business of intelligence gathering, you must have a set-up to avoid domestic suspicion. It is peace of mind, a safe place to analyze data, and the annex was the most exploitative target any would-be terrorist could ask for. They did not do a good job of hiding it and the CIA usually operates everywhere, no matter how dangerous, in deep cover. And in their stupidity, they sacrificed four Americans to keep their not-so-inconspicuous presence in Libya a secret. Fuck you guys, from the bottom of my heart.

That is the part of the story a lot of people do not consider: the battle between a handful of operators and the attackers they buried full of bullets. Those guys matter the most. They did not care about a low profile or their jobs when they charged in to save Ambassador Stevens because they swore to defend their country and its people. Clinton and the politics mean nothing considering what these guys did. 13 Hours presents an opportunity to see what went on that fateful night from the perspective of the heroes that survived it. Unfortunately, Michael Bay’s name is on it.

Usually I put an obligatory plot summary here, but I already covered what this movie is about in the last four paragraphs. Moving on.

I am one of the many critics that do not like Bay as a director. As a person, he seems okay despite being a California native. He appreciates the military and America, goes for authenticity when depicting branches of the Armed Forces, and has a pretty good eye for shooting action. My problem lies in what a lot of audiences do not notice and why he is such a box-office draw. His defining characteristic is excess. Big explosions, mass destruction, ultra-violence, and beauty shots of women are pushed to the extreme in chaotic mixtures of 100+ million dollar budgets. He is a 80s action schlock director in the 21st century and he knows what people want. The issue is the intent I feel when I see his movies, especially the Transformers films. At the risk of making this review longer than it should, here is a very graphic analogy of what I mean:

Imagine an amateur pornstar as the audience and her dude-bro male costar as Bay. The amateur has high hopes this shoot will help jumpstart her burgeoning career. All she has to do is let the dude-bro jerk-off onto her face for the money shot. What she does not know is he has syphilis and he is intentionally spreading it as a hazing ritual for new girls. She does not know what is coming, but she is willing to do it for her career. The amateur also has thing for that kind of action and she figures if it gets her ahead in the business, why not enjoy it? The dude-bro is also having fun spreading a communicable disease for laughs.

Watching a Michael Bay movie is the cinematic equivalent of condescension. He knows his audience is made up of mouth-breathing idiots that will eat any kind of shit if it tastes good. These people exist: they were in my theater watching Agent 47, and Bay gives them all the best flavors. Terrible special effects, bad story, worthless characters, mass destruction, and everything he knows his people like as he collects tribute in ticket sales, a typical ploy of corporate Hollywood. The man has good qualities and this is definitely not one of them. I may hate people that like bad movies, but I do not stoop so slow as to exploit and manipulate them. It is like pushing a paraplegic down a flight stairs or beating up the mentally handicapped.

Thankfully, 13 Hours is an entirely different kind of Bay. Gone is the excess and debauchery, replaced by a tempered vision brought to fruition with a grounded approach that treats the subject matter with respect. The depiction of violence is still vivid and disturbingly beautiful, but it does not take that extra step into gratuity. People are torn to shreds by 50 caliber guns while dust and debris blasts off the environment with every explosion and shot. It feels authentic and restrained, a word I would never associate with Michael Bay.

The movie has a lot in common with Black Hawk Down in how it portrays the battle as a matter-of-fact. It presents the event as it happened in a plain light. It is pragmatic and concerned about showing you, rather than impressing you. Even the more strange moments feel like they belong in a country that has been tearing itself apart for years. 13 Hours becomes surreal and sentimental in parts before dragging you back into reality as characters fend off attacks and beg for help that never comes.

That being said, a good portion of the movie is a mess. There is a continuity error where a character was holding something in one shot then nothing after a cut. Some of the sweeping shots of terrorists dying will show terrorists that were already killed in a previous shot, but at different angel. The editing in general was disjointed. At some points Bay leans a little too hard on his propagandist trappings when characters talk about their families. Some of his signatures are present with caricatures like the clumsy translator and two brothers with chrome AKs. 13 Hours is also a slow burn of 144 minutes. The beginning could have been reintegrated where we learn about characters, politics, and the situation before the battle starts.

The performances were quite standard as most of the characters are grizzled professionals with years of experience between them. Strangely enough, the actors did a good job of making them stand out. You get a small feel for who they are and after a while they become easy to distinguish. For me it was Max Martini as Mark Geist, this daunting figure that does virtually nothing in the story, but has a presence that makes him unique. Or maybe it was just me. John Krasiniski did well as the main character Jack Silva… and that is about it. Everyone was serviceable for who they had to be and it worked.

I spent a good 2/3rds of this post talking about stuff other than the actual film. Bottom-line, 13 Hours is a good movie that has a goal and accomplishes it in a way that feels genuine for the intent. It does not do much of anything else to be honest, but I still like it and when a movie is good, my reviews tend to be short. That says a lot for a January film. Go see it.

 

The Forest

I have seen enough contemporary horror movies to know all the tricks. There are jump-scares everyone sees coming, dumb characters that do not use reason, and a twist you can guess minutes before it happens. These films are shovel ware dumped into theaters to turn a profit from the stupid teenagers. Worse yet, they are not even bad by conventional standards. Contemporary horror is the epitome of banal, painfully average and predictable in whatever forms it takes. Of all the films I have seen in my year(s) as a critic, It Follows and Green Inferno are actually great. Does The Forest break the mold?

No.

After her twin sister goes missing Aokigahara forest, a place in Japan where people kill themselves, Sara, played by Natalie Dormer, goes to find out what happened to her. Upon entering the titular forest, she discovers it is a far more sinister place than she once thought.

After seeing a modest handful of these movies (two) and watching reviews for others, horror has reached heights of banality that would make Blake Snyder piss his coffin. The Lazarus Effect and The Gallows were so average in every respect I had no energy to work up any amount of vitriol. They are plain in concept, empty in scares, and so painfully ordinary in execution that in my criticism I was drained of emotion. All I could feel was the heavy weight of disappointment knowing this is the state of horror.

The jump-scares, found-footage, dumb characters, and even worse filmmaking have become standard practice and show no sign of going away. To that end, I am done being indecisive and depressed. From now on, the nothingness of contemporary horror will be treated like any other terrible movie. I did not even want to write this. I saw it Saturday, slept, and did not start working before late afternoon. As I wrote the last few paragraphs, I watched It Follows and Fury Road. I should just end it here because there is no point, but Forest deserves it.

First and foremost, Aokigahara is not mystical, but it certainly has a history of weird stuff. You can make all the excuses you want as to why people kill themselves there specifically until you realize Japan has a high rate of suicide. It is normal and one likely reason people die in Aokigahara is because the forest is actually quite beautiful, despite all the corpses. It is a nice place to die.

While it is a neat concept to build a story on, Forest screws it up. It is established halfway through that Sara’s twin has anxiety issues from an event in their childhood. She is the most normal of the two, but before Sara enters the forest, her guide tells her it has the power to make people see things. And for someone mostly all together in the head, she loses it minutes after going off the main path, having auditory hallucinations, followed by physical ones, and is convinced her guide is trying to killer her.

What would have been better is if there was no indication you hallucinate in the forest, only that it was implied to be mysterious. With a family history of mental illness, it would make sense if Sara had latent schizophrenia that was just now coming to the fore, hence the hallucinations and strange behavior. There would have been this build up to Aokigahara being a hellish environment that eats peoples’ sanity, until it is revealed to be a product of hearsay due to its reputation, and that Sara is plain crazy.

Would you not want to see that movie? Does it sound better than the actual premise? I made that up while watching the damn thing and all I got in the end was mediocre! Instead, the forest is actually haunted and after Sara starts showing symptoms, her guide continues to act suspicious, giving her more of reason to suspect him of foul play.

The one nice thing in Forest is Dormer and I am not saying that just because she has angelically good looks. She is a decent actress that did what she could with this detritus. Sara gave her a bit to work with come the time she goes crazy. It was an admirable attempt for something so worthless.

Do not see this movie. In fact, I would give up on all horror made after 2010 or so and stick with the old stuff. The Thing, everything made by Cronenberg, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Shining, Halloween (remakes included), Devil’s Reject, Texas Chainsaw Massacre (original, duh), and Evil Dead 2 are great movies the trash of today cannot hope to emulate. It Follows is one of the rare exceptions and The Forest is another piece of shit.

 

The Revenant

What better way to start off the year than with an actual good movie. For those who do not know, Fuck You It’s January is the month studios dump their leftovers from fall, films that have no hope of recouping cost, been on the shelf for years, and ones they simply do not care about. Before the inevitable schlock storm I will endure starting tomorrow with The Forest, I was fortunate enough to discover The Revenant came out amid the garbage. Was it the last hope I have for a good movie this month or has my suffering only just begun?

Following a bear attack in the Dakota wilds, Glass, played by Amsterdam, is left for dead and his son killed by the treacherous Fitzgerald, played by Charles Bronson. On sheer will he survives and embarks on a quest for revenge, making his way back to civilization through hostile territory.

Revenant is what Hateful 8 would have been if Quentin Tarantino were an indie artist type. Both movies are very similar with their themes of revenge, racial conflict, and abundance of landscape shots. Rather than use revenge as a means to an end in story, the film takes on spiritual aspects. Mysticism and nature play a big part as the natural harmony of the wild is disturbed come the advent of the Louisiana Purchase. Pioneers encroach on Amerindian land, taking resources and upsetting the balance, prompting local tribes to retaliate. This sets off an endless cycle of revenge to a point no side is better than the other. The pioneers are trying to make a living, but end up destroying the environment. And the Amerindians want to protect their lands, but horribly mutilate and kill the pioneers. Both sides must go against what is right to survive until everyone is dead and there is nothing left but shades of grey, the balance restored.

The movie explores the idea of natural balance in regards to revenge. It makes a point that whatever happens is simply fate, an inevitable outcome that cannot be avoided. What counts in the end is how you behave throughout your life. In the movie, good characters endure a lot of torment, but those who did bad things are eventually punished far more severely. It is karmic retribution in the purest sense of the word. Even if you attain success from amoral actions, you get what is coming. It is just a matter of submitting to inevitability and letting whatever happens happen. What is good stays good and the bad is redressed. Loose threads always tie themselves up like the movie’s many story arcs. To fully explain would mean giving away a lot of what makes it great.

The process of watching, however, can be difficult because Revenant takes a long time to get to anything important. A majority of the runtime is dedicated to scenes of Howard Hughes literally crawling through the wilderness and surviving for days at a time. There were quite a few key moments along the way, but between those are long shots of him walking up hills, flashing back to the past, and more crawling. There is maybe an hour’s worth of filler that could have easily left out and it would not have changed anything.

Though Hateful 8 was beautiful to look at thanks to the use of real film, director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu made the simpler choice and just shot places that look amazing with his signature finesse. Winter never looked so good with wide shots of mountains, rivers, and forests at the right time of day to make them appear dream-like. Close-ups on the actors and environments are some of the better shots. You see every detail in the underbrush, grimy bearded faces, and frosted plants in stasis. While it is beautiful, Revenant is also a very physical movie that has an aura many movies struggle to convey. Thanks to the cinematography, you really feel what the characters are going through as they wade through snow or run around in wet woolen clothes in the middle of winter. If you think cold weather is nice, this movie will make it seem horrible.

The visceral aspects of the film would not be without the dedication of the cast. I cannot imagine what they must have gone through. Calvin Candy’s Oscar is well overdue and he once again knocks it out of the park. Bane had a great turn as the villain and I expected nothing less. The real standouts for me were Domhall Gleeson as Henry and Will Plouter as a young Jim Bridger. The former has come into his own in recent years with Frank, Ex Machina, and Force Awakens, and this instance is no different, playing an Army officer dedicated to his job and men. The latter shows promise as a naïve and very green pioneer that has a long way to go before reaching the heights of legend associated with the real figure.

If you are like me and know of the garbage that usually comes out in January, watch The Revenant to remind you that good movies exist. It is a provocative film that has a lot to say on karma, revenge, and environmental balance. Without those elements and the artistic choices in the cinematography, it would be just another survival epic. If the 156 minute runtime is too much for you to handle, Force Awakens is still out and still awesome.

 

The Hateful Eight

What better way to end the year and cap off my first 100 reviews than a Quentin Tarantino film. The man needs no introduction. Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Inglorious Basterds, and Django: Unchained are some of my favorites, with their exceptional quality of filmmaking and gleeful violence in the spirit of cult classics. I was nonetheless excited to see his latest in an actual theater. Was The Hateful Eight another worthy entry in Tarantino’s filmography or should I have seen Force Awakens a third time?

Stuck in the middle of a blizzard with seven strangers, Major Warren, played by Samuel Jackson, becomes a key player in a conspiracy by the outlaw Daisy Domergue, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, and another individual. The group spends the whole storm trying to divine her accomplice.

In regards to the rest of his films, Eight is Basterds meets Django with the revenge element reserved for only a part of the story. The amount of monologues and conversations between characters is pushed to the limit with the entire first half devoted to talking and some pretty good shots of the snow covered landscape. Afterwards the classic ultra violence is kicked into high gear as the mystery unfolds between blood splatters and death. If the whole movie were the second half, I would not have to talk about the issues with the rest of the movie.

There is no denying Tarantino can write dialog like nobody’s business. The opening of Basterds has about as much tension as It Follows and the conversation between Walken and Hopper in True Romance is the reason anyone remembers that movie. What those films have in common is the lengthy dialog is scattered throughout with plenty of breaks in between. For every sit-down in a diner, there was a witty digression into the European concept of the cheeseburger; for every diatribe about slavery, there was a bloody shoot out in a fancy house.

Eight is front loaded with endless expository dialog about what the characters did in the past and why they are passing through the region on their way to the next town. A lot of it is repeated in different ways when it would have been better saved for later. One moment is when Warren talks about Confederate soldiers hunting him down after the Civil War. It comes up twice on the way to the cabin where the movie takes place and again in a conversation with Bruce Dern’s General Smithers, where it was relevant. While too much dialog, even if it is good, can be a problem, it is a useful problem in regards to Eight.

The main theme is one of racial conflict. Smithers and Sheriff Mannix, played by Walton Goggins, are both Confederates, and Domergue is your average racist. For the whole runtime they are at odds with Warren, calling him every offensive epithet in the book while remaining untrusting for his association with the Union. Without giving anything away, him and another character come to a mutual understanding based on morality and the basic concept of justice. They transcend their ideologies and color for a common good, which I feel speaks to Tarantino’s own values. And all of that is established in the character’s long conversations and exposition at the beginning. It takes a long time for any of it to mean something, but I think it was worth it, despite the fact it dragged the pacing to an agonizing crawl.

As for the rest of the movie, the choice to shoot on film was a good decision. It brought out the landscapes covered in snow, various scenery pieces like a forest of birch trees, and mountains in the distance. Personally I do not think what you shoot with matters as long as the movie is good, but in this situation it warrants mention. Force Awakens was shot on film, but it was not treated like a benchmark for showing how beautiful everything looked, and most of that movie was great enough that it was not important.

Jackson was his usual charismatic self, doing and saying everything with a sense of style that has only gotten better with age. Kurt Russell was in his element as the bounty hunter Ruth and Domergue’s captor. He was fun with his firm adherence to the law and short spats of heart that penetrated his seemingly ignorant personality. Goggins had a great turn as a doddering middle-aged lawman desperate to capture the glory of the old days. The rest of the small star-studded cast pulled their weight with Tarantino alum like Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and James Parks.

Die-hard fans do not need me to recommend The Hateful Eight. Like myself, they will buy a ticket regardless. However, I can separate my bias enough to see the obvious flaws and advise caution. If you can stand long conversations of labyrinthine dialog, by all means give it a look. Otherwise, I recommend Basterds and Django if you want something with the same premise, but easier to watch.

 

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

For the remainder of the month I will be on vacation with family. I do not know if there are any theaters nearby, but Movie Reviews will be on temporary hiatus. In that time, I will post substitute content to make up for the absence.

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When I was growing up, I had the unique opportunity to see the original Star Wars trilogy on VHS before the rampant, unprovoked tampering perpetrated by George Lucas. Though great movies, they did not have as big an effect on me. The prequels came out when I was seven and with my demographic in mind, Episode I really hooked me. I did not know any better, as I was barely old enough to really think critically. My ignorance lasted for years as the prequels passed into memory. They were very much of the moment where I only liked them when I saw them. After Episode III, Star Wars was very much concluded to me, and I moved on with my life.

Then Plinkett happened.

It was the 80-minute review of Phantom Menace that made me realize how much of an idiot I was growing up. The depth of complexity in the breakdowns of each film opened my eyes to what the prequels truly mean in regards to Star Wars and movies in general. While Plinkett and everyone at Red Letter Media taught me much about storytelling, I learned to appreciate the value of the series and what it means to me as a movie buff. It ignited a sense of loyalty and I became a real fan.

With the advent of a true follow-up, I was both amazed and wary about Disney continuing the saga. In many ways, I would prefer if they released just another three movies and worry about spin-offs later. With Marvel they are at least tame in what is put into theaters, but I feel the rot of saturation coming on. However, the one thing everyone can get behind is that George Lucas is nowhere in sight. We can rest easy knowing that greasy shyster has no say in the future of Star Wars like a castrated child molester or a dead one. But you are not here to read about my personal history with the saga. Was Force Awakens the revival we have been waiting for or are the prequels somehow good in comparison?

Following the end of the Galactic Civil War, the heroes of the Rebellion passed into legend while remnants of the Empire retreated inward, and restored themselves into the First Order. On the hunt for a reclusive Luke Skywalker to help repel this new threat, Poe Dameron, played by Oscar Isaac, acquires a map to his location before Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, comes to collect the information for himself.

All of that information is presented within the first 3 minutes of the movie, from the title crawl onward. None of it is a spoiler, so please do not freak out. I will not give anything away in this critique. I will also withhold information if finding it out on your own is worth the surprise.

To put it bluntly, Force Awakens is New Hope with the same beats, but different story. All movies share a common thread of conventional plotting detailed in Hero’s Journey or Save the Cat if you like banality. What sets them apart is narrative and even though Force Awakens is packed with references, homages, and everything eagle-eyed fans will spot, it has a compelling new story, the kind Star Wars needed after Lucas almost killed it.

The classic symbolism is also present, but subverted in a way that complements the film’s more grounded, universal themes. The most obvious example is Finn, played by John Boyega. He starts out as a Stormtrooper, a Nazi allegory who is conditioned to obey orders and get killed. With Finn, he is very much cannon fodder, but after a traumatic moment, he breaks down and goes his own way. In a small way, it makes light of what real soldiers go through in war, where they are trained to be fearless until they lose their nerve.

When it comes to the actual story, a lot is left open-ended. Character arcs start and do not finish, useful information following certain events is non-existent, and details about people and places is left for implication and speculation. Missing information is understandable because giving everything away would stagnate the story and it was left open to complete in Episode VIII. In that way it is acceptable, but what made New Hope great is that it worked as a standalone title with its plot threads tied up in a neat bow. Force Awakens still works, but the incomplete feeling is too strong to ignore.

Because the prequels were so gaudy with the over-use of CG, the effects have been a great point of conversation while Episode VII was in development. I can confirm practical effects are utilized quite often in many aspects. Most of the CG is reserved for the intense space battles, giant ships, and beautiful landscapes. The use of actual Stormtroopers played by actors was a real high point for me personally. The sets were superb in the seedy grime of reality where everything had a texture you can almost touch. I know I am over exaggerating, but after the prequels, every real inch of this movie was a masterpiece. Even the saber fights are superior and they are completely devoid of grace and choreography.

The cast is what really makes this movie. Boyega plays a fish-out-of-water who knows nothing about the world except for the First Order. The end result is a genuinely funny performance that stole many scenes. He had great chemistry with Daisy Ridley’s Rey, a Luke parallel who lived most of her life fending for herself. Her resourcefulness and independence come through in Ridley’s breakout role with great charisma and emotion. Driver is no James Earl Jones, but he brings a certain menace to Ren that fits well. He is both unstable and creepy, alluding to his storied past and conflicted mental state, and the voice oscillation more than helped. Isaac was fantastic as always and the returning cast fit right back in. Harrison Ford seemed to enjoy himself for the first time in a while and it was a real treat to see him in one of the roles that made him famous.

One fault in the cast was Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma. For a character that was so hyped up, she did not do anything compelling. She just stood there, dwarfing everyone, in her nice chrome armor, and said maybe four lines. While I take issue with the character in general, I have a feeling this was intentional. I do not know if this is true, but I think there is a lot more to her that will be revealed in the sequel. Looking at New Hope, Vader was not that big a deal until Empire showed us he is more involved. Perhaps Phasma is the same. I would certainly like to see Christie better utilized.

If you have not already, go see it. It is a new Star Wars movie that does not include George Lucas. How can you not watch it in theaters? I spent a 1000 words carefully articulating why Force Awakens is great. Go see it already. Leave!

 

Trumbo

As a fervent anarcho-capitalist with many radical ideas of my own, I harbor great contempt for ideologies that prohibit the freedom of thought, personal defense, and economic gain. Systems that promote control and regulation directly contradict what it is to be human and they must be eradicated with extreme prejudice. But I am not enough of an anarchistic maniac to oppress and discriminate against those I disagree with. Doing so would make me no better than the systems I oppose. The most reasonable course of action when dealing with people you disagree with is calm, professional debate… or make of them whenever possible.

Apparently, we forgot this simple concept in not only today’s social climate, but during the Red Scare of the ‘50s. Many lives were ruined as ordinary people lost their livelihoods to paranoia and turned on one another to avoid persecution. Thanks to the Blacklist, many in Hollywood were named and their careers ended because no one would hire them. Does Trumbo paint a true to life picture of that turbulent time or did it try too hard?

Bryan Cranston plays the titular character, a registered communist and screenwriter known for Roman Holiday, Spartacus, and Exodus. Come the Red Scare, Trumbo resorted to writing B-Movies under a pseudonym to support his family. As time went on, he gained more notoriety to point he was writing award winning films that would eventually end the Blacklist.

And that is about it.

Trumbo is a very straightforward biopic about a period rarely touched upon when it comes to movies about Old Hollywood. It is detailed and extensive in what it covers between 1947 and 1960. You learn about the Hollywood 10, the internal relationships of both the business and the personal lives of those involved, and the affect of Trumbo’s schemes on his wife and three children. The movie has great depth for what it portrays and that is the problem.

Like Straight Outta Compton, Trumbo is so dense it is overwhelming to point you question why certain things were included and why they were so drawn out. The lead up to Trumbo’s incarceration was pointless because it is already established he is more or less out of the picture as a screenwriter who must go outside the system to work. There was all this detail and build up to something that could have started right at the beginning. Learning about Trumbo’s family, his associates and the other Hollywood 10 did not need 40 minutes of screen time. If you ask me, the film would have been better if it focused on the creation of Spartacus in the guise of a heist or spy movie.

I started paying attention to Breaking Bad about the time it was ending and AMC was showing a marathon of the past seasons. It did not take long for the show to affirm Cranston’s skill as an actor and Trumbo is no exception. From a humble voice actor of anime, to a two-time award winning communist screenwriter, the man knows what he is doing. He has equal parts charisma and subtly as Trumbo outwits the Hollywood system while trying to retain his sanity.

Everyone else in the cast was passable and carried their weight. Elle Fanning stood out as Trumbo’s daughter Niki, struggling with her father’s anxiety. John Goodman played a minor role as Frank King, a producer of B-Movies who is pragmatic enough to hire Trumbo despite his politics. Louis C.K. shows up as Arlen Hird, one of the Hollywood 10, and did a good job as a victim of the Blacklist that remains stalwart in his convictions.

Considering the density of its narrative and wealth of history, Trumbo is difficult to recommend. On the one hand, it is full of depth when it comes to depicting the minutia of the period. On the other, there is so much going on that the film bloats itself by trying to cover all of it. If you do not know anything about the era, you will certainly learn a lot. But if you want something restrained with a consistent, linear plot, buy your ticket and wait about 40 minutes after the start time before entering the theater.

 

The Night Before

My opinion of Seth Rogen is negative to say the least. Obviously I do not know him as a person, but as an actor he is the flattest of flat-lines. He seems incapable of really being a character other than himself, except when he was baked in Pineapple Express, Steve Wozniak in Steve Jobs, and a Travis Bickle parallel in Observe and Report. I never saw the appeal and I do not understand how he can have such a following without Judd Apatow. Since he is on all sorts of drugs in The Night Before, however, I was not dreading my inevitable admission. Was it an entertaining performance or does the overall movie hurt the experience?

After losing his parents on Christmas Eve, Ethan, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, starts a yearly tradition with his friends Isaac and Chris, played by Seth Rogen and Anthony Mackie, where they celebrate to excess all night. A few years later, the boys learn of a mythical party that goes on in secret, but they can never find it. On the last night of the tradition, they finally acquire invitations and set out to gain access.

Proving my theory that the worse the trailer, the better the movie, Night Before is actually quite good. In simple terms, it is A Christmas Carol on literal drugs. Each character has their own problems they are trying to work out that coincide with the past, present, and future. Instead of seeing ghosts, they have visions of their respective timelines through different types of weed that cause hallucinations, setting the stage for their arcs.

While that is a good set-up for a Christmas comedy, Night Before is very serious about its themes and what the characters go through. A lot of it centers on getting older and growing out of habits you were accustomed to when you were young. It also touches on loneliness and coming to terms with who you really are. It was surprising considering what I saw in the trailer and I was more than pleased with the result.

Rogen’s Isaac provided a lot of the comedy as he tried to navigate the world while on a different drug in every other scene. Some of the better parts were after the first 20 minutes where things began to escalate in the story. Levitt is one of those actors who can play just about anyone and he sold Ethan as a naïve, depressed loner obsessed with nostalgia. Mackie, on the other hand, did not do much for me. He worked as the character, but there was not much that stood out in his performance. He was certainly himself that is for sure.

The Night Before is a great little movie that takes common Christmas tropes and gives it an Apatow/Rogen twist. I would go so far as to say it is the comedy equivalent to the horror of Krampus. Between the two, both do well to subvert you expectations, and either one will do if you are looking for something unconventional. If you want a straight comedy with relatable themes, give Rogen and friends a chance. Better yet, save your money for Force Awakens.

 

In the Heart of the Sea

At this point, do any movies not Force Awaken matter? As I write this, I am seven days from my screening. I bought the ticket the second pre-sales became available and every day since has been an agonizing wait, like I am waiting for the release of MGSV or Fallout 4 all over again. All the movies I have seen this month (those reviews incoming) mean nothing to me and every dollar I have spent is one that could have been used seeing Force Awakens multiple times… you know, if it is good. Studios should have understood this fact when they planned their films’ release dates. Ron Howard sure did not know when he delayed In the Heart of the Sea. Is it enough to make me think twice about Star Wars (no) or should it have been pulled from theaters entirely?

On his latest voyage as First Mate on a whaling ship, Chase, played by Chris Hemsworth, develops a contentious relationship with the Captain, who he believes stole his most desired position on the grounds of status. The two men put aside their rivalry, however, when they come upon an infamous white whale that will come to inspire Moby Dick.

It has been a while since I have seen a movie about sailing ships. The last one I recall was the third Pirates of the Caribbean, which could have been better had the production taken its time and actually put some effort into it. Heart of the Sea is less an action movie and more of a period drama about one man’s struggle to succeed in life for personal gratification. It is also a story of survival that involves the entire crew of the ship after disaster strikes.

The film has a very physical feel to it. The characters, being veteran sailors, bare old scars from events that are never mentioned, sun baked skin from years out at sea, and scraggly beards from lack of maintenance. Their conditions come to worsen later in the story. Though there is a lot of CG, there is still a consistent effort to show the realism and grime of being on a ship. From start to finish it looks like everything is coated in a thin film of dirt. At sea, the movie takes on a feeling of dryness, like you are right there under the sun for all hours of the day. After the first whale kill, the sailors get into the grind of harvesting what they need from the beast in gory detail, blood and bits of flesh building up on the deck.

These feelings are mostly achieved in the cinematography. Ron Howard has a real eye for shot composition and here he gets as personal as possible. Special care is taken to highlight the characters features and physical conditions. There are also many angles from seemingly random places that focus on the sets like the deck of the ship and the shaft of a spear. The camera is so close, water often splashes onto the lens.

When it comes to the whole, however, Heart of the Sea does not do much of anything else. There is some subtle commentary on the oil industry and the idea of nature as a living thing, but nothing overtly compelling. Nor are the performances especially exceptional, even after the actors emaciated themselves for their roles. They did nail the Boston accent without sounding like idiots, though. By and large, the movie is a simple story about survival that works as just that. There could have been a lot more as welcome additions to an already passable narrative. It is just a matter of how you see it and what you are looking for.

In the Heart of the Sea is nothing special and it will not do anything for you like the story it inspired. If you want an ordinary survival story that is also a well-shot period drama, I recommend buying a ticket. Then again, as I alluded to in the introduction, save your money for Force Awakens.

 

Krampus

The many genres I try to avoid at all costs include romantic comedies, remakes, romance movies in general, and Christmas movies. Please understand, I do not hate the holiday, but I cannot stand the terrible music, the scumbags that do Luminaries, Christian fanatics screaming about a fictitious “War on Christmas,” and of course, the awful movies. Quite literally, every single film is the same, with the same story about a dysfunctional family, shenanigans that punish them for being dysfunctional, and then the conclusion where they come together, united under the Christmas spirit of not being shit. These films are just terrible and I jumped ship years ago when I saw the pattern of monotony.

There are, however, a few… okay, one Christmas movie I know of that is actually fantastic. Nightmare Before Christmas is so great I have been a fan since three years old. The grotesque imagery, amazing effects, and memorable songs captured my imagination and influenced the way I see the world and my perception of art. Christmas Vacation is quite famous, but I have not seen it all the way through to know for sure. When I saw the trailer for Krampus, I was nonetheless interested with its campy feel and unique premise. Did I find another great Christmas movie or did I make a horrible mistake?

While apprehensible relatives come to visit on the last week of Christmas, Max, played by Emjay Anthony, finally snaps and abandons his belief in the holiday spirit. Little did he know, he was the only thing keeping his family from the wrath of Krampus. When a freak blizzard descends upon the neighborhood, the family is trapped as they are punished for their blasphemy.

Irony is a double-edged sword in film. There is a balance one must achieve between having a fun premise and performances that illustrate the actors’ self-awareness. Any imbalance in those areas can throw off an entire film like the Twilight Saga, Batman and Robin, and Transformers (all of them). Furious 7, the Riddick movies, and the Underworld series find their balance by being outlandish and taking it seriously. They do not directly acknowledge how crazy everything is and simply go with it. They do not insult the audience by laughing at themselves or doing what they think we want to see.

That is what makes Krampus work. It knows what it is and loves it. The possessed toys, comically outrageous relatives, and fantastical elements are played completely straight. The eccentricity and craziness of it all complement the comedic feel and horror aspects of a mythical being that punishes the naughty. It is a perfect monster (no pun intended) that also works as a good Christmas movie. The dysfunctional element is obvious, but rather than have each character resolve their own issues, the family comes together in the process of survival and fighting back.

Casting funny people was the best decision the production could have made. Though not a complete comedy, the movie is subtle about its humor to maintain the overall feel. Adam Scott as Tom does pretty well as the miserable patriarch trying to deal with everything in a calm manner before he throws himself into action. David Koechner played his usual character of the hardcore redneck Uncle Howard who is really the most capable of the family when it comes to fending off sentient gingerbread men. Conchata Ferrell is the reckless Aunt Dorothy whose nihilism and honesty push the cast to look at themselves while being offended.

The camp factor is strong, but it could have been stronger. Krampus is very Sam Rami with the use of comedy and horror. His films are almost entirely gore oriented, which enhances the humor because it is so ridiculous. Gallons of blood would have made this movie twice as funny, yet I understand the lack of gore. Apart from maintaining the PG-13 rating, Krampus is a very grim movie with a shocking ending that would have been thrown off by too much comedy. It maintains its balance in a consistent manner and there is no reason to add more to the formula, unless it wanted to go full comedy.

Nightmare Before Christmas is still the best there is, but I am willing to admit Krampus does a great job subverting your expectations. It is the kind of Christmas movie that almost never comes round and is the perfect theater-going experience for the holidays. If you like horror or the Santa Claus mythos, you can go no wrong. Best of all, it is not Love the Coopers.

 

Victor Frankenstein

My reasons for seeing Victor Frankenstein (VF) are two fold:

Lately I have become a bit too cynical in how I feel towards many new movies, especially over the past month. Preconceived notions can deter anyone from doing what they used to love and that goes doubly for film criticism. I let my interpretation of the trailer influence my decision to see it, thus hurting my quota of weekly posts. The stress of the holiday also played a part in it, but I should have made this and my other work a priority alongside everything else that went on. Rest assured, December will not be so bad as I have dedicated the weeks leading up to The Force Awakens to prepare posts ahead of time in a more consistent manner.

And secondly, I wanted to see VF after I discovered Max Landis was behind the script. He is responsible for penning Chronicle and American Ultra, but the reason why I like him is how outspoken he is about the business of Hollywood. Landis works on the inside and knows all too well how corporatization affects creativity, culling the potential of original works. He was very vocal about how American Ultra failed against sequels and IP related works when it opened, arguing that non-IP movies are treated second rate because studios feel they are too much of a risk. I symptomize with his opinions and so I felt obligated to see VF. Was Landis’s latest true to his views or is he all talk and I should have stayed home?

Summarizing this story is redundant because anyone with a cursory knowledge of film or literature knows about Frankenstein. The difference here is VF is told from the perspective of Igor, played by Daniel Radcliffe. The titular mad scientist himself, played by James McAvoy, is more of a supporting character and Igor is his storyteller. From there the differences end as Victor attempts to bring life to death.

VF is another ironic movie in the same vein as Hellsing, Resident Evil, and Underworld. Like those works, the film knows what it is and runs with it, playing with its gothic macabre aesthetic in about every way you can imagine. The setting of Victorian London is steeped in heavy blacks and greys with period consistent buildings, smoke stacks bellowing black smog, people wearing loud elaborate costumes, and interiors rife with detail both large and small. The machines and contraptions Victor uses are Tesla nightmares of copper wires that spit out electricity and complex gears that crank with a harsh sound of metal on metal.

McAvoy also knows what kind of movie he is in and enjoys every minute of it. He epitomizes the mad scientist archetype with toothy stares of glee at his own genius, long rants about the potential of his work, and one drunken tangent on how human birth is possible with a bucket. McAvoy’s performance was the definition of ham and he was having so much fun, you could see Radcliffe trying to keep a straight face in a few scenes.

Speaking of which, Radcliffe did a serviceable job as a destitute freak turned scientific socialite. Between Igor and Victor, the former had the heart while the latter was driven by rationality and ambition. Igor did what the role entails by supporting Victor, but on an emotional level that Radcliffe more or less achieved. The rest of the cast struggled here and there. Jessica Brown Findlay’s Loreili had little screen time, but that is probably thanks to her role as the love interest. Andrew Scott from Spectre showed up as Inspector Turpin and learned how to be a bit subtler about the fact he is the antagonist, even though it is still way too obvious. His performance is basically an impersonation of Nelson van Alden as the clam fanatic and I rather liked it. But Scott is no Michael Shannon that is for sure.

The biggest problem with VF is a strong feeling of studio interference. I am not just saying that because of Landis’s opinion on the system, but because it is very obvious. There is an air that a lot was left out or replaced. It seems there were supposed to be a lot more plot points, some supporting/minor characters are under utilized, and the ending is blatantly tacked on. There is also a lack of set-ups and pay-off, something all screenwriters know to include. Landis is no John Milius, but I know scripts often change in the process of filmmaking, and that is especially so in modern Hollywood. At that point it becomes difficult to judge whether or not the problems of the story are the result of interference or bad writing. You really cannot blame anyone and your only recourse is to point out the issues and see what happens.

Victor Frankenstein is a fun little movie and a good distraction if you are looking for something ironic. However, I feel I did not see the real movie. I saw a film that wanted to be something different and its benefactors would not let it. Had it not been for McAvoy, this movie would be dead in the water. If you like good actors hamming it up, give it a look. Otherwise, stay home.

 

Mockingjay Part 2

In the year and two months I have been a critic, it did not take long before I started beating a lot of dead horses. This year alone I have made the same consecutive points on four different spy movies, two Christian propaganda pieces, three finding your self dramas, and three suspense thrillers. It is to be expected, as all movies are interchangeable with the same stories, premises, and character archetypes. It is the nature of the beast, but I try my best not to repeat myself in each review. And of the movies I have critiqued, there has not been a more bludgeoned steed than that of the Young Adult (YA) genre.

I only reviewed three (four if you count Divergent), but what I have to say I have already gone into excruciating detail. The dystopia settings are metaphors for school, puberty, or childhood; the villains are allegories for adults; and there is always some form of a caste system that reflects a clique or gang. Genre movies tend to stay within their own confines, but YA is adherent to point every movie is near indistinguishable. At that point it becomes a question of quality and of the YA I have seen Hunger Games is the best.

Complaints about the logic of the world aside, the setup is better with its commentary on the nature of television. The examination of classism I disagree with completely, but it makes a reasonable argument unlike many anti-capitalist twerps. Hunger Games’ brand of satire has a lot in common with Robocop with a reality enhanced by extravagant elements. Instead of an apocalyptic Detroit, we have a Huxleyan oligarchy. Cooperate funded crime is replaced by an annual competition where kids kill each other to keep the Districts in line. And rather than a cyborg cop, we have a girl who has PTSD and uses a bow. It is a weird series, but it does YA better than most. Does Mockingjay Part 2 finish on a high note or is it another in a long line of failed conclusions?

As District 13 makes its final march on the Capitol, Katniss, played by Jennifer Lawrence, is sent in on a mission to assassinate President Snow, played by Donald Sutherland. Her will and emotions are put to the test as she loses friends and learns what may come of her actions.

The element of PTSD played a big part throughout the series, but Part 2 makes it the focus, in addition to a commentary on the nature of war. Katniss is visibly withered. She wants to rest and keep out of the remaining conflict, but is bound by her convictions to keep going. Her dedication, however, exacerbates the trauma from the Games. By the end it gets worse with a major death and a very graphic massacre I did not see coming. It plays a key part in Katniss’s development, punctuated by a somber yet bittersweet period of recovery.

Lawrence once again puts her talent on display as she proudly drags the movie by its adolescent balls. She easily steals the show with great attention in the subtly of her voice and expressions. For most of the runtime she is reserved and inconspicuous, hiding her feelings before the war ends and she lets it all out. For an actress who held her own in American Hustle and won an Oscar, I am surprised she brought such talent to a YA series, easily over shadowing her costars in her fantastic performance.

And now onto why Part 2 does not work.

The film was 137 minutes and it felt like 180 thanks to its stalwart adherence to the source material. Based on the pacing and structure I can tell they pulled it right from the book and did not bother adapting it for the screen. Though I have never read a single book in the series, I have studied screenwriting, and I know a poorly edited script when I see it. There are numerous redundancies and wasted screen time with enough content that could have been slashed out and assimilated into Part 1 if the studio cared about quality over quantity.

The biggest redundancy happens at the beginning when Katniss demands she be sent to the Capitol to kill Snow. President Coin, played by Julianne Moore, refuses, but she goes anyway. When she arrives, however, the camera crew from Part 1 is already there and it is mentioned they were sent with the intention of escorting her. If that is the case, why did Coin order her to stay? Is it like a Wicker Man thing where she has to go on her own to make it look genuine? There was no reason for it if Coin intended to send her anyway, using up roughly ten pages’ worth of script.

The main reason for the poor pacing and the intense feeling of a slog is the way it was written. The film plays out like a book with long tangents of people walking in silence, pointless descriptions of things, and digressions that did not need to be there because we already know what is happening. The instances where characters are walking, nothing happens except for some nice displays of scenery. The petty love triangle between Peeta and Gale, played by Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, could have been resolved, Katniss’s suspicion of Coin more explored, and her rehabilitation of Peeta accelerated had the characters been talking on the move! Instead they walk for long stretches of time, stop, and talk at length about the plot like the Stars Wars prequels. Information is presented in a way that the movie literally pauses to tell the audience what is going on. And the narrative weight of what happens is muted because all of it was used in Part 1 like Smaug in Battle of the Five Armies.

I could talk about the acting, but it does not matter because Lawrence owns this movie. Sutherland seemed to have fun as the villain and I wish there was more of him. Hutcherson did pretty well shifting between weak-kneed Peeta to brainwashed maniac. Hemsworth… I do not want to be insulting, but the guy should take lessons from his brother. Moore was boring, Woody Harrelson under utilized, and Philip Seymour Hoffman did what he could. I liked Jena Malone, but as with the rest of the supporting cast, she was barely there. It is depressing because those characters are more interesting.

As an ending, Mockingjay Part 2 ties up the series pretty well. Katniss is put through her paces and reaches the peak of her development in a fantastic way thanks to Lawrence’s performance. If the film were easier to sit through I would recommend it on that fact alone. It is an arduous experience that could have been avoided with better writing. If that is something you can stomach, give it a shot, but this is a fans only situation.

 

Spectre

If you frequent my blog you know I am not fond of the 007 series and the spy genre in general, unless it is Archer or Secret Warriors. Rogue Nation and Man from UNCLE were pretty good, but I have never liked Bond and I do not understand why he is so popular. I would rather skip the infiltration scenes, the tension of maintaining cover, and the digressions with beautiful women in favor of the action and gadgets with nothing in between. It is not that each entry is the same because you can apply that logic to all movies. I just do not find them fun or interesting. I am familiar with the Daniel Craig films, but Spectre will be judged on its own merits. Was it another run-of-the-mill 007 movie or have I been converted?

Following a clue left by the previous M, Bond, played by Daniel Craig, discovers a plot that involves the world’s intelligence agencies. He goes deeper into what it all means and finds a connection he never expected.

If you have seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier, you have seen Spectre. Point for point it is the same exact movie, with the same themes, number of action scenes, and character motivations. The only difference is Spectre is duller than a monochrome butter knife. Though I am not a fan, I cannot imagine anyone passingly familiar with 007 would find this a worthy entry.

A consistent air of apathy permeates throughout. Nobody, from the actors to the production, cared about making a good movie. They sauntered through the process in a state of unconsciousness, casually putting together boring action scenes devoid of excitement, and reading lines like priests at Catholic mass. Spectre is such a lazy movie that rather than do its own thing, it steals from those better while uncharacteristically remaking itself. There is a twist at the end that contradicts what the series is known for and what the Daniel Craig movies have done so far. The reveal scene was also the worst part as it is basically this from the mouth of a two-time Academy award winner.

The whole movie drags its feet from one point to another with no regard for pacing, stretching the runtime to an unbearable 148 minutes. Story moments that would have resolved themselves quickly meander about and take their sweet time getting to the point. It deliberately withholds information to keep you in your seat, even as it gives everything away in the minute details. But when the movie comes full circle, we already know what is going on, and it plays it off like a surprise. And when you think it is all over, another ending comes in like it was shoved into the final cut last minute.

The action scenes are the most underwhelming I have ever seen in any movie. They make the go-cart chases in Space Mutiny look like Fury Road. In the first pursuit sequence, halfway through Bond and his prey decide to walk as if to catch their breath before continuing. The ensuing “fight” is kind of cool, but feels generic and one-note with its use of helicopter stunts that get old really fast. It never felt exciting, nor did the other sequences.

The acting is the definition of phoned-in performances. Everyone was tired and disinterested, going through the motions so they could move on to better movies. Craig did not care in the slightest, probably because it was his last 007 movie. Christoph Waltz left his charisma at the door as Oberhauser, making for his most disinterested performance yet. Lea Seydoux was practically invisible as the traditional Bond Girl archetype Madeleine. Ralph Finnes’ M sucked, Ben Wishaw’s Q was sleep inducing, and Naomie Harris was wasted as Moneypenny. The worst was Andrew Scott who was so callous in hiding that his character is a bad guy (spoiler, whatever) I figured it out upon his introduction.

Spectre did not make me angry. It did not inspire the vitriol I feel for movies like Taken 3, Transporter: Refueled, and Agent 47. It is so utterly worthless I cannot work up the energy to hate it. It has no purpose as a 007 entry or a regular movie for that matter. To all fans of the series, I feel sorry for you. Watch Archer instead. If you want to see the same premise done correctly, there is a no more perfect example than Winter Soldier.

 

Burnt

Because this is a short review and I cannot think of a clever introduction related to the subject of cooking, I would like to begin by explaining why I am not going see Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse:

When a movie knows what it is, be it good, bad, or fun, it tends to imbue a strong sense of irony that lets you know it does not take itself seriously to the point of self-deprecation. A lot of films do it right like the Underworld series, the first two Mummy movies, Doomsday, and a majority Vin Diesel’s filmography. Those are fun titles I enjoy watching because they enjoy having fun themselves. But there are some ironic movies that are so ironic they give off an air of self-importance, a false sense that they are funny because they are making fun of thing they are about. This arrogance can be found in the Transformers series, Adam Sandler movies, and when I saw it on full display in the trailers for Scout’s Guide, my immediate reaction was an eye roll, followed by a loud “Fuck right off.”

It is perfectly fine to be ironic and parody the zombie genre, but if you are so blatant without any sense of creativity, do not bother trying. Every funny bit Scout’s Guide might do is one I will see coming because it looks that lazy. Maybe it will turn out better after release and I am just being a snob. That remains to be seen after I post this and look up the reviews. Oh, and I will not be seeing Our Brand is Crisis either because I find Sandra Bullock insufferable as an actress. It is no offense to her as a person. I just do not like her or her movies.

Anyway, how was Burnt?

After three years of a self-imposed exile, Adam, played by Bradley Cooper, returns to the business of gourmet cooking to earn his third Michelin star at a new restaurant. He assembles a team of other chefs and puts them through their paces with his intense personality and high standards.

Burnt is Aloha if it were not directed by an ass-hole. What makes it an ideal redemption story is how we actually see the protagonist behaving like a prick before the moment where he learns to change. We come to understand through his behavior and exposition that he is a very unlikable person with many enemies that have good reason to hate him. We are given no reason to like Adam and it is not long after his introduction we would rather see him fail than succeed. But as he opens up to other people and learns from his mistakes, we come to sympathize with his character and appreciate it when he does something good. That is how you do a redemption story, Cameron Crowe.

Git gud, scrub.

If Paul Walker did not exist (oh, wait), Cooper would be the king of average white guy actors. Except for American Sniper, I have never seen him play anyone other than himself, and that includes Guardians of the Galaxy. He is very unremarkable with his cool guy persona that does not elicit any kind of reaction from me. It seemed to work in Burnt because his character thinks he is best thing ever, but it was still a run of the mill performance. Daniel Bruhl was pretty decent as the restaurant owner Tony. I have not seen him since Inglorious Basterds and I would like to see what he does with Baron Zemo. Sienna Miller as the struggling mother and love interest Helene was also fine, but there was nothing to distinguish her or anyone else from each other.

Burnt is a simple movie that is not wholly remarkable or original and nothing sets it apart in narrative or filmmaking. While it is nothing special, the film is at least watchable. I did not hate it and it did not make me angry or bored. If you have a desire to see something new this week, Burnt will do. There are, however, better movies still playing like Sicario, The Martian, Bridge of Spies, and Steve Jobs if you want something more.

 

Steve Jobs

Even though I use Apple products, I think Steve Jobs is a little overrated for his accomplishments. If you look back at the origin of Apple, Steve Wozniak had way more to do with its creation. He knew the hardware, how to make it, and had better intentions. As far as I know, he just wanted to make computers accessible to everyone without cost. Jobs only provided aesthetic suggestions to make it look good while behaving like an egotistical motivational speaker. He is more of a glorified mascot with a notorious mean-streak than an artist. There is no denying a keen attention to how something looks is vital to a product’s appeal, but you should not credit the man for things he had nothing to do with.

Since his passing, Jobs has been the subject of many television documentaries and gained the status of cultural icon. The first movie about him came out two years after his death and stared Ashton Kutcher, which is why I did not see it. Today we have Steve Jobs with a better director, Danny Boyle, writer, Aaron Sorkin, and a far better actor, Stelios (name gag). Did I learn anything new about the man behind Apple or does it reaffirm my standing on his exaggerated importance?

Following the success of the Apple 2, Jobs, played by Bobby Sands, is on the verge of revealing the Macintosh in the midst of company in fighting and drama concerning his estranged daughter. As the years go by, problems escalate and Jobs takes drastic measures to stay relevant and learns to change who he is.

Steve is a weird movie to say the least. It is not so much a straightforward biopic as it is a character study. The history of Apple plays out as a subplot with the entirety of the focus is on Jobs. It complements his development where he begins as a maverick that drifts to some semblance of normality with every moment in his life. Each point in the story presents some kind of conflict regarding either the relationship with his daughter or the company. His growth is on full display as every resolution leads to a different state Jobs’ personality.

While the structure of Steve is basic storytelling, it is executed like a play. A majority of the locations even take place in auditoriums. Each of the three acts is centered on a reveal presentation of products at different phases of the company’s history and the corresponding events in Jobs’ life. The entire movie is conversational as the characters talk about the presentation at hand and more personal matters. It helps to have some knowledge of Apple as a lot of what is talked about is not widely known. The flow of the story is exceptional. The transitions from subject to subject feel natural and paced in a consistent fashion.

Character pieces are acting oriented and Steve is full of fantastic performances. Archie Hicox is great in just about everything. No matter the genre or character, he will do his very best and make it feel real. Paul was Jobs in every way, from the look and voice, to his infamous intensity, and stole the show. He had great chemistry with Kate Winslet’s Joanna as she tries keep up with his eccentric personality and ridiculous demands. Jeff Daniels as John Sculley probably had the better scenes with Magneto as they got into these screaming matches of some of the best acting I have seen recently. Seth Rogen was probably at his very best in years as Wozniak, capturing his modest personality with near seamless ease.

Steve Jobs is an interesting exploration of technology’s most iconic and controversial figures. It is also one of the best movies of the year thanks Boyle’s signature unconventional direction, Sorkin’s perfect script, and David’s flawless performance. If you want to know how to write story and dialog, look no further, and go see it while you can.

 

The Last Witch Hunter

For those who do not know, a good-bad movie is a movie that was made with good intentions, but fails utterly. The failure is what makes it hilarious. The Room, Samurai Cop, Miami Connection, and Twilight are awful, but it is because they are so terrible they are fantastic with bad acting, effects, and even worse story. I laugh harder watching those films than actual comedies.

Another side of the coin is movies that are not necessarily bad, but we watch them on the basis of ironic fun. When compared to ones of higher quality, Underworld, Resident Evil, and Fast and Furious do not hold up, but they are fun regardless. Vin Diesel is a cool enough person he is proud to have built his entire career on ironic movies. He has the right charisma and iconic distinction that he has rose to heights on par with Schwarzenegger and Stallone. Is The Last Witch Hunter another signature Diesel film or something different?

After the death of a friend, Kaulder, played by Diesel, searches for the truth behind the suspicious circumstances of his passing. It is not long before he discovers it was the work of an ancient power that threatens humanity and Kaulder is put to the greatest test of his immortal life.

Witch Hunter knows what it is. It knows it is cheesy and unoriginal in the vast sea of religious-fantasy. Preacher, Spawn, Prophecy, and Witchblade pretty much started and ended the genre as fast as it arrived. Some of the titles were good like Evangelion, but it did not take long for the genre to play itself out like an assisted suicide. The dark tone, trench coats, predictable references, and tired realistic reinterpretations (looking at you, Constantine) proved too obvious and boring to hold anyone’s attention. And do not get me started on Charmed. Witch Hunter is a love letter to the genre and wears its banality on its sleeve. It does not care what you think or what you have to say.

The problem that keeps Witch Hunter from even qualifying for good-bad status is how serious it is. It is so fixated on its premise it does not try to have fun nor does it possess any sense of self-awareness. The movie is serious to the point it keeps its actors from having fun. Diesel usually has charisma, but you get nothing here. It felt like Rose Lesile as Chloe was being pushed from scene to scene with no time to really do anything with her character. Michael Caine as Dolan 36th seemed to know what kind of movie he was in, but had little more than five minutes of total screen time. Elijah Wood was also present, but not enough to bother talking about.

There is nothing unintentionally funny, bad acting, awkward special effects, or inconsistencies in the plot. It is a plainly made movie that had everything going for it in the exact way it wanted. The beginning was nice with Diesel in a comical wig and beard before it transitions into the dull monotony of the rest. I sat in my seat with a neutral expression, watching what was happening with about as much excitement as a Catholic mass. Nothing made me mad, nothing made me think, but worst of all nothing made me laugh. At least it was not as boring or stole from good movies like Hitman: Agent 47. It was not that terrible

If you are into the religious-fantasy genre, you will find a lot to like in The Last Witch Hunter. It has witches, shadow organizations, potions, spells, and supernatural hangouts that fans will find comforting. But if you are expecting the entertaining schlock readily associated with Vin Diesel, look somewhere else. All three Riddick movies are still awesome and Babylon AD is very underrated.

 

Bridge of Spies

Films about the Cold War are steadily going the way of the WW2 subgenre. With such a wealth of history and years’ worth of developments, it only makes sense movies would draw from what went on in those dangerous times. You had clandestine operations, nuclear tension, proxy wars, and of course, espionage. Thanks to 007, spy movies have dominated the Cold War subgenre almost to the point of banality. It is not often, however, we see espionage in the context of reality. It is always in some form or another fictitious and romanticized with fancy gadgets, beautiful women, and eccentric villains that have more in common with cartoons. Bridge of Spies seems to subvert those expectations with its portrayal of the 1960 U-2 incident. How does it handle real-life espionage in an industry obsessed with the fictional?

I was delighted to find Steven Spielberg was at the helm of Spies. He might have sounded like an idiot for his comment on the superhero genre, but I still respect him as a creator. I grew up on his movies and as I got older I learned to appreciate their more artistic qualities. In recent years he has not been very active as a director, taking up the role of a producer on a variety of projects. When he would direct it was nonetheless notable and Spies is his return to form.

Following the apprehension of Soviet spy Rudolf Able, played by Mark Rylance, the US government makes insurance lawyer James Donavan, played by Tom Hanks, his defense attorney. After saving Abel from execution, an American spy plane crashes in Russia and the pilot Francis Powers, played by Austin Stowell, is captured alive. With two lives at risk, Donavan must organize a prisoner exchange lest America and the Soviet Union go to war.

Spies feels like pre-2000s Spielberg. Gone is the conventional editing and camera style he adopted following Saving Private Ryan, replaced by a more classical aesthetic similar to Schindler’s List, the most well made movie since Citizen Kane. While it does not achieve that level of depth, Spies is still a beautiful work. With the many long shots are few cuts in between that show great detail in the sets and composition. There is an emphasis on heavy lights and darks punctuated by shines and twinkles, keeping with the noir feel. In many places there is no music as the tension builds, relying on visuals, environmental audio, and acting to convey emotion. The best scenes are at the beginning and when Donavan goes to East Berlin. There are no subtitles, but you can figure out what people are saying based on body language and tone of voice.

Being a movie with a classical feel, the pacing is a slow burn of 142 minutes. Spies takes a long time to get to its plot points and does not move on until it explains everything it has to say in great detail. It is slightly forgivable as the story is based on true events, but there was plenty of content that could have been cut and streamlined to make it a far better sit.

It is no surprise Hanks was great. He steals the show in just about everything he is in. As for the rest of Spies’ cast, they did an admirable job keeping up. Rylance was believable as a spy in his twilight years… and that is about it. Nobody really stood out because they probably knew it was pointless and I do not blame them. Hanks is that good of an actor and trying to upstage him is futile.

Bridge of Spies is a treat for fans of Spielberg. It is everything he used to be before falling into mild obscurity. I do not know if this is a return, but it more than makes up for the years of absence. It is also a great historical drama for those fascinated by the Cold War. If you can stand the runtime, consider getting a ticket.

Beasts of No Nation

I do not mean to sound creepy, but I find the concept of child soldiers rather interesting. It says a lot about the pressure of cultural masculinity and the glorification of war. Growing up we, are often forced into the role of a strong, idealized male regardless of what we really want. Action heroes in movies become our role models before we realize they are all just killers. Child soldiers bear the brunt of this zeitgeist in the worst way possible. In no time they learn the truths of life and become utterly consumed. They accept their roles as men, content their childhoods are beyond lost in face of life long trauma.

Never is the culture of masculinity more prevalent than in Africa. Many tribal customs revolve around masculinity like female circumcision, breast ironing, and the participation in war. From Shaka Zulu to Charles Taylor, it has become commonplace to see children too small for their AKs fighting alongside adults. With an excess of orphans and the consumption of drugs, including gunpowder, using kids has become easier as times grow more dangerous. The issue, however, has received limited converge in entertainment. Blood Diamond and MGSV are the best examples I can think of that feature child soldiers. What does Beasts of No Nation have to say on the matter?

In the midst of the Sierra Leone Civil War, Agu, played by Abraham Attah, becomes orphaned after government soldiers kill his father. Wandering through the jungle, he happens upon a group of rebels where he is trained to fight under the leadership of Commandant, played by Idris Elba.

Beasts is not your average war movie. It is not straightforward nor does it tell you anything. Whatever we learn comes through in the acting and light narration. Aesthetically it has a lot in common with Apocalypse Now, deliberately surreal and dreamlike with bright colors and unconventional editing. There are many long shots and slow pans in the midst of chaos, set to a score of ambient noise or nothing at all. It bears a very natural quality as it takes place entirely outdoors and naked to the elements. I found myself immersed, the very atmosphere of the environments coming off the screen. You can almost smell the bodies under the sun or jungle in the aftermath of a battle.

Being his first staring role, Attah did a great job. He gives Agu an inherent innocence that slowly wanes as he becomes assimilated into the life of a soldier. A part of his childhood remains, but forever changed by the horrors he has seen and inflicted upon others. Elba carries his share of the movie along side Attah. His charisma and intensity complement Commandant’s fierce leadership style as he inspires his men to fight. He is both scary and compelling, a man whose sole purpose is war. He is similar to his soldiers, but all the more worse.

Beasts of No Nation is a movie you do not see too often. It is a provocative, tragic art film with beautiful, striking visuals. It is important for what it has to say on being a soldier, young and old, but it is not for the faint of heart. If you have Netflix, definitely give it a look. Best of all, it does not cost the price of a movie ticket.

 

Crimson Peak

Guillermo del Toro is one of the best things to come out of Mexico since rodeo sports. His movies are just plain awesome with a keen respect for the craft of film and storytelling. He is one of few contemporary directors that did not fall into the banality of corporate Hollywood. Like a family friendly Tarantino he venerates movies of the past and assimilates them into a modern context. Blade 2, Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Pacific Rim are rife with practical effects, clean shots, and an emphasis on aesthetics in the cinematography. They can be enjoyed for both their beauty and entertainment. Since Pacific Rim I have been anticipating Crimson Peak. Was it another stellar entry or do I have too much faith in del Toro?

Being a director with a wide array of interests, each movie has been different in genre and concept. Pacific Rim was kaiju, Hellboy supernatural action, and Pan’s Labyrinth historical fantasy. Each has little details consistent with del Toro’s love of Lovecraft, gore, Spanish History, and the power of practical effects. Peak is definitely one of his movies, but it also felt the most unlike what I am used to.

In the midst of writing her first book, Edith, played by Mia Wasikowska, meets Thomas, played by Tom Hiddleston, a British socialite seeking money for a mining project. The two eventually marry and travel back to England to stay at Thomas’s mansion on Crimson Peak. It is not long before Edith finds there is more to her new husband and the home they share with his sister Lucille, played by Jessica Chastain.

Peak is a combination of horror, suspense, and mystery in a gothic Victorian setting. It strikes a perfect balance and plays out in a way that one does not overshadow the other. It does suspense the best, as you have no idea what is happening at any one point. The movie tells you everything about the situation and leaves you to form your own conclusions.

Without giving anything away, the revelation was good, but I wish it were more than what I expected. I called it a third of the way through and a part of me assumed it was deliberate, like a red herring. Considering this was from del Toro, I expected to be more surprised by something crazy, yet came from it unfulfilled. I had many ideas for what was probably going on behind the obvious and when it was the opposite, it did not sit well with me. The true reveal is still compelling, but I wanted it to be that and then some.

Peak is del Toro’s attempt at old fashion macabre. He takes the aesthetics and techniques of classic horror like Dracula, Dr. Caligari, House on Haunted Hill, and modernizes them. The most obvious indication is the mansion set. It is as much a character as the actors with a distinct atmosphere that permeates from its mere existence. Its design is deliberately strange and otherworldly with a hall shaped like a keyhole and a foyer that raises four stories with a winding staircase. Above the foyer a hole remains open to the elements, letting in the cold and wet to further damage the interior. The mansion is slowly sinking into the earth as mud seeps between the floorboards and the walls decay without repair. The gothic style is on full display with darkly ornate moldings and castle-like details that reflect the mansion’s storied history.

Color plays a big part in conveying emotion and story by the shade of the area in question. Before going to Crimson Peak, the film is bright gold, a sign of relative happiness. The mansion itself is coated in blues, greys, and white, neutral colors that could mean anything. Above all is the color red, shown brighter than everything else. Its meaning, however, is quite ambiguous and further explanation would give too much away.

The scares are slightly reliant on stings of music when they would have been better served in silence. Some of the stings are the ghosts’ indescribable wailing, but it does not change the fact they are stings. On sheer grotesquery alone the ghosts make for great scares as I learned after the halfway point. There is a shot of a door closing and it is the most unsettling image in the whole movie thanks to the look of the ghost and simple uses of lighting.

Though the mansion is the best character, Chastain carries the entire film. She is at her very best and most terrifying because she does such a good job of hiding it. With expert subtlety she keeps her true motives and emotions out of sight, while appearing earnest and straightforward. She is a bigger mystery than the story itself. Hiddleston and Wasikowska were also great, including Charlie Hunnam in a minor role, but with respect, Chastain surpasses them all.

Crimson Peak is a fine addition to Guillermo del Toro’s varied filmography. It is a beautiful work of art that uses elements of mystery with suspense-driven horror. Though it falters with what could have been, it is a worthy experience. Give del Toro the appreciation he is often denied by seeing his latest work.

 

The Martian

I apologize for being late on posting. It is purely the fault of my own. Please excuse my tardiness. Also, I will not be seeing The Walk because director Robert Zemeckis is creatively washed up (insert Cast Away reference here). Side note, I was actually in the Twin Towers a year before 9/11. The Statue of Liberty was tiny from up there. The One World Trade Center, however, looks like a modern art dildo.

* * *

Since I could remember I have been interested in all things space. It is not totally on my mind every waking hour, but when I think about it I am confounded by how awesome it is. The possibility of exploring a planet other than our own or travelling vast distances to discover what lies beyond is what keeps my attention to the stars. When it comes to the celestial bodies in our system, I think the Moon is underrated, but Mars will always hold a special place in my heart. It is a cool place I would like to visit and the Science Fiction genre thinks much the same.

Movies about Mars have steadily fallen by the way side. Mission to Mars and Red Planet were my favorites back in the day, but upon revisiting them I found they do not hold up. Next came John Carter, which is still great despite everyone saying otherwise because they do not know how to have fun. Three years later we have The Martian, based on a book I have not read. Did it do my favorite planet justice or should I have read the book?

I was elated to find my favorite director, Ridley Scott, was at the helm. If anyone can do sci-fi right, it is the man who changed it forever with Blade Runner, one of my favorite movies. It came out in 1982 and Scott did not return to the genre until 30 years later with Prometheus, but because people are stupid nobody liked it. On top of that, his brother Tony committed suicide, which could have contributed to the creation of Exodus, a movie I was a little too kind to. It was not good and not terrible, but it did not feel like Scott at all. With Martian, however, I can safely say he has made his triumphant return.

While on an expedition to explore a region of Mars, Watney, played by Matt Damon, becomes stranded in a storm as his team flees to safety. Alone on the Red Planet, Watney must try to survive while NASA devises a way to deliver more supplies or mount a rescue mission.

The theme of Martian is global cooperation. Despite wars and petty disputes, exploring and studying space is something every nation can get behind. When Watney is discovered alive, the whole planet comes together to save him. The personnel behind the rescue are multiracial, multi-gendered, multi-religious, and China offers to let NASA use their propulsion system when attempting to launch a supply rocket. It reaffirms that space travel transcends Earth and makes us see ourselves from the perspective of our humanity, bringing us together better than any worldly cause.

Scott is a movie buff’s director. He knows the value of the craft of filmmaking and sees the corruption bureaucracy has wrought. He is as old school as you can get, subverting conventions while being accessible to contemporary audiences. He takes his time delivering story in a clear and consistent manner without looking down on his audience by giving everything away. Scott is also a big fan of practical effects, real sets, and real locations, making strategic use of CG when there is no other option. I wish he would use more miniatures, though.

Martian is very much Scott’s rebirth, a nostalgia trip to his early years. The opening credits sequence is a borderline copy of the Alien opening with a similar font and score. The look and feel is clean with steady shots that show every element of scenes from action to set pieces in a simple, beautiful way. The Mars environment looks authentic with colors consistent with the actual planet and not some desert filmed through a filter.

The weakest part of Martian is also its performances. Being a large cast I understand if it was difficult for anyone to standout. For me I have always seen Damon as Generic White Guy. While he puts effort into his roles unlike King Generic White Guy Paul Walker, I never see him as anyone other than himself, and he did not feel like the character Watney. My least favorite performance was Jeff Daniels as Sander. I understand he is an allegory for NASA’s arrogance, but I could not tell if he was willing to let Watney die or save him because of how transparently inconsistent he was as a prick character. There were a couple standouts like Jessica Chastain and Chiwetel Ejiofor, but nobody else to warrant mention.

The Martian is what Science Fiction used to be and what we need in our time. Like the genre specifies, it uses fact to enhance its fiction while delivering a compelling message that speaks to our humanity. Definitely get a ticket it if you want to see modern sci-fi done right. But if the genre is not your thing, Sicario is still fantastic.

 

Sicario

My review of The Martian will be up tomorrow. You might have difficulty deciding which to see because both are fantastic.

* * *

The Drug War is one wrought with chaos and stalemate in an endless cycle of violence that has gone on since the early 70s. Though not as important as the fight against Muslim Extremism, it is a war nonetheless. My dad was even a part of it in the late 80s. The epicenter of this conflict lies just south of the border. It is our Troubles; Mexico, America’s North Ireland; Juarez, our Belfast; and the cartels, the terrorists we must eliminate to bring some measure of peace to both countries. But unlike the time when Britain tried to tame the Irish over territory, our war is about a substance.

The inspiration for many crime and action movies has been the Drug War. From Scarface to even Commando in some ways, cocaine, explosions, and sociopaths go together about as well as the UN and incompetence. Of all those films, however, few are actually about the War. Sabotage is the best example I know of and now there is Sicario. Was it a conventional action movie or did it have something more to say on the Drug War?

Upon discovery of a mass grave connected to a major cartel, Kate, played by Emily Blunt, volunteers for a CIA taskforce dedicated to causing chaos in Juarez, a hotbed of anarchy and criminality in Mexico. But as she soon finds out, the morals of her commander, Matt, played by Josh Brolin, conflict with her own as she gets to the bottom of what he is really after.

Sicario takes a pragmatic approach to examining the Drug War. Human nature plays a big part as the characters accept a portion of Americans enjoy recreational substances. It is not until the worst-case scenario presents itself they realize the depth and depravity cartels go to for their business. When confronted with such madness, they reply in the only way the enemy would respond: more madness. The film asks how far can one go on compromising their principles for some semblance of order in a war with no conceivable end in sight? The answer is a moral quandary many will struggle with by the conclusion.

Classification by genre is difficult. It is certainly a crime drama, but with director Denis Villeneuve at the helm, Sicario is better suited as a suspense thriller. With his minimalist style from Prisoners, he brought a level of unease that would not have worked in a typical crime drama.

Camera angles are cut down to about two to three with a scarcity of cuts in between. Shots hold on characters and scenes for long periods of time with little to no score. The tension full atmosphere reaches uncomfortable heights and never goes down until the end. Even the landscapes bear a lingering menace as the camera pans across barren terrain at a slow track. The best shots are so good I cannot describe them without spoiling them.

The reserved performances from all sides of the cast helped the atmosphere as much as the direction. Benicio Del Toro’s Alejandro, however, not only stole the movie, but also killed and disposed of the corpse in pieces. He is scarier and more sinister in every way possible than Johnny Depp’s James “Whitey” Bulger and he does it on sheer presence alone. He has maybe a page worth of lines total and does nothing to make you fear him. Blunt and Brolin managed to keep up and came through with the former’s hardline black and white morality and the latter’s developed pragmatism.

Sicario and by extension Prisoners is the way you do suspense. It is perfect in that regard while providing a commentary on the Drug War and some action sequences akin to The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. And if you are a Punisher fan like me you will find many parallels to Nathan Edmondson’s arc. Jon Bernthal even shows up for a brief appearance, bringing to mind the idea of Villeneuve directing a possible Punisher movie.

A man can dream…

 

Turbo Kid

Do not read this review. Go on iTunes or Amazon, rent Turbo Kid, and you will have the best time of your life. You like 80s? Sam Rami? Mad Max? Ever wanted to see them combined into one package well worth your time and money? If you want to know why it is so good, keep reading.

In a post apocalyptic world of 1997 Quebec, The Kid, played by Munro Chambers, rides through the wasteland in search of the few remaining resources. On one trip he comes across Apple, played by Laurence Leboeuf, an odd girl enthusiastically desperate to be friends with him. But while cultivating their friendship, the two become involved with the warlord Zeus, played by Michael Ironside.

Turbo Kid is all about fun. It uses the camp of classic 80s movies and the charm of Rami without being ironic or parody. Every aspect, from the acting to the story, is done in an earnest fashion. The movie is quite ridiculous, but takes itself seriously to the point of intentional comedy.

The characters ride around on bicycles while trying to appear intimidating. When one loses his hand, he curses with a cigarette hanging out his mouth, blood shooting in all directions from the wound. Another acquires a weapon that makes people explode into crimson vapor, yet treats it like something normal. The last couple scenes alone are funnier compared to recent comedies.

A part of the fun is the relationship between The Kid and Apple. The cute factor is strong as her enthusiasm makes even the most conventional of moments have genuine heart. She is virtually oblivious to the harsh setting, treating a corpse as if it were still alive or losing her mind over ordinary things. Like anyone in his situation, The Kid finds her strange before warming up to her. They become the beating heart of the movie we want to see come through to the end.

Most of the gore effects and kills were done practical, looking pretty good considering the low budget. There were places with some CG blood, but where it could be done real it was satisfying, the largest sprays a joy to behold. The soundtrack goes along well with the authenticity and feel, saturated in the synthesizers of new retro.

Performances were great. Aaron Jeffery as Frederic played a hilarious faux badass cowboy who gradually becomes an Ash parallel. Chambers and Leboeuf had nice chemistry and played their respective roles well. Both had a kind of starry-eyed naiveté that made them feel like real kids in the post-apocalypse, more so with Leboeuf. Ironside enjoyed himself like he usually does, but I feel he was slightly miscast. Kurtwood Smith would have been better suited as an intimidating main antagonist.

And that is all you need to know. Go watch Turbo Kid. Right now.

 

The Green Inferno

TRIGGER WARNING

Internet activism is the worst thing to come out of the Information Age. Where a select few would brave picket lines, now everyone can say they contribute to a cause from the comfort of Starbucks. The martyrdom of MLK and Gandhi has been reduced to the push of a button, perpetuating a false sense of righteousness and a cult mentality. Even worse are the causes consumed by the delusion of self-importance, blinding activists to their utter meaninglessness when compared to real issues. While everyone was dumping buckets of ice on themselves, ISIS raped and pillaged its way into Iraq. Petty squabbles take center stage while true crises are pushed to the side. Even the UN took time out of their day being useless to listen to weak-kneed fools talk about how some people said something mean on Twitter and that it has something to do with feminism. If these people were real feminists they would take up the gun and go to Iraq where real women are being victimized by a real patriarchy. Then again, their fanatical adherence to political correctness prevents them from criticizing other groups while remaining ignorant to fact they are bullies themselves.

The idea of seeing fake activists punished for their incompetence got my attention when I heard about The Green Inferno. Never have I wanted to see a handful of worthless college liberals eaten alive more than in the two years I have waited for its release. Did I find sadistic enjoyment in director Eli Roth’s first movie in a while or should he go back to the drawing board?

I am not overly familiar with the cannibal genre. My knowledge is based on reviewer videos from the Cinema Snob and some light research. Cannibal Holocaust is the most well known and notorious. It was the first found-footage movie, featured video from real executions, and showed the murder of live animals. I watched the scene where a turtle is butchered and it was quite disturbing to say the least. The impact was immense at the time, attaining a cult following, media attention, and creating the cannibal genre. Like most movies from that era, it influenced the childhoods of directors of today. They pay homage to those obscure works and Green Inferno is Roth’s tribute to Cannibal Holocaust.

Desperate for a cause to call her own, Justine, played by Lorenza Izzo, joins a student activist group to fight deforestation in Peru. On their expedition into the jungle, however, their plane crashes and the students find themselves in a situation they never expected.

I went in with the mindset of a fan of Roth’s type of movies. He is not unlike Tarantino, Zombie or Rodriguez with his respect for old movies and an appreciation for the art of cinema. He is serious about the state of modern movies, but his work does not come close to how he carries himself. Despite their content, Cabin Fever and Hostel are peppered with jokey and out-of-place moments that would not work in the hands of another. At one point a virus is eating some teenagers and then an autistic kids starts shouting about pancakes. This ties back to the nature of his contemporaries where Roth is paying homage to his slasher and exploitation influences.

Green Inferno is no different. The opening credits sequence is similar to Cannibal Holocaust and one specific set piece is a direct callback to that image. You know the one. Thankfully, Roth had the good sense to not kill any animals, treating them like pets and giving them a lot of screen time. The characters are archetypical teens from classic ‘80s horror with the virgin, stoner, fat guy, nerd, slut, and the jock if he was a cultish liberal idiot.

The element of fun is what sets Roth and his contemporaries apart. For his generation, exploitation and slashers were entertaining and he wants to do the same in his own using those familiar tropes. In that way, Green Inferno is a horror comedy and the actors knew it. By the time things get dire and horrifying, the tone goes lighthearted with the characters making sarcastic remarks after their friends die. Even the kills are hilarious because of how ridiculous they are. I caught myself laughing when someone’s eyes were gouged out or when another was ironically torn to pieces. Perhaps it is just me, but Roth’s movies are just plain fun and I had a blast.

The cast did a good job and put forward all they could. Izzo was the best, the fear in her performance real in the more terrifying moments. Her character has the best arc come the end that sells home the movie’s message. Ariel Levy played the cultish liberal Alejandro and he was every fake activist you can imagine. He was the kind of character you see complaining about problems that do not exist and you will want him to get what is coming. The indigenous tribe is the real star of Green Inferno. They are a real Peruvian tribe that Roth was able to convince to work with after showing Cannibal Holocaust. They were very enthusiastic on screen and had as much fun as I did watching them.

Some problems are forgivable given the scale and each one contributed to the other. There were computer generated effects that looked terrible and out of place, though few and far between. The practical effects more than made up for it, but the variety was sparse due to the lack of good kills. The first signature death was the best and those afterward could not measure up. There was potential for the very last kill involving ants, but I suspect the production was too pressed for time and resources to do anything more.

The Green Inferno is not for everyone. The horror and gore elements are meant for a specific audience that see Roth’s movies for what they are. His latest is his most entertaining and a joy to behold for any gore hound. If you want to see social justice warriors eaten alive, this is your movie. And for those easily disturbed, Green Inferno is a Disney movie compared to Cannibal Holocaust.

 

The Scorch Trials

The YA genre is gradually becoming the next battleground for studios to compete. Lionsgate first asserted their dominance with Twilight and has grown increasingly broader in what they adapt. Come the end of the self-proclaimed saga, studios rushed to fill the void, but Lionsgate was prepared with Hunger Games and garnered a consistent profit with each installment. They further supplanted their hold on YA with the Divergent series to some success. Other studios have tried to dethrone Lionsgate like Fox with Maze Runner, the male counter to Hunger Games. Does its sequel show promise for a sustainable future or will the studio go the way of Sony and submit to those greater?

Because I did not see the first Maze Runner what I have to say must be taken with a grain of salt. In preparation for the screening I did some research, watched a few reviews, and found the movie was very similar to Divergent. While the weird names for ordinary things, the gallery of archetypical characters, and banal dystopian aesthetic do not bother me, the inconsistencies of the world does and Scorch Trials raises a lot questions that should never have been brought up.

After escaping the Maze with his friends, Thomas, played by Dylan O’Brien, is taken in by a group of survivors headed by Janson, played by Aiden Gillen. After uncovering shocking revelations about the group they escape to face the Scorch, a ruined city consumed by sand and infested with a far greater menace.

The nonsensical motivation and point behind why anything is happening was avoidable had whoever wrote this used logic. The premise of the Maze Runner series is a bunch of teenagers were put into a maze by a cooperation called W.C.K.D. to test their immunity to a virus that turns people into clickers from Last of Us. The Maze accelerates natural selection, putting Runners through its complex obstacles, and killing the weak like a complicated version of Auschwitz. Those who make it out are taken by W.C.K.D. to synthesize a cure by harvesting their biological material in the most horror-movie way possible.

I understand the need for antagonists to do bad things, but it is revealed in Scorch Trials that W.C.K.D.’s methods are the most contrived, unnecessary, and stupid plot conveniences since Star Trek: Insurrection. When one of Thomas’s friends gets infected, a doctor takes his blood and as she synthesizes the cure, with no complex equipment, she says young people are inherently immune and the cure cannot be manufactured. That is why W.C.K.D. is so extreme in their efforts and why the whole story falls apart.

Why do they harvest hundreds of kids for something that can be done by taking blood? I understand their goal is to create a vaccine, but would it not be more efficient to produce some kind of cure, even if it is temporary? It seems easy to make as the doctor took a couple vials worth of blood. Imagine how much could be produced from a whole pint and she made it in a tent in the middle of the desert! W.C.K.D. is not only wasting test subjects with their convenience-maze, but killing off the cure for something virtually unattainable without spending years’ worth of human lives. And if they already know young people are immune, why go to the trouble of wiping their memory and putting them in a maze with no guarantee they will actually make it out? I get the allegory of adults living through the young, but you could have done that without making yourself look like a bad writer.

All that aside, the rest of the movie was quite decent. It does away with the YA tropes in exchange for a zombie apocalypse feel and a helping of Mad Max. It barrows from Land of the Dead and Resident Evil: Extinction as the characters wander through a buried cityscape while avoiding Cranks, fast zombies. The environments are dotted with little details and feel lived in, the inhabitants making the most of their rundown existence. It is not very creative like Fury Road, but it was an admirable attempt at a post-apocalyptic world.

As a zombie movie goes, it is baby’s first Romero before he made Diary and Survival of the Dead. What it does is not unlike any zombie film as the survivors make sacrifices, hide infections, struggle moving from place to place, and cautiously interact with people they do not know. It does everything every movie has ever done in an unremarkable fashion. If you know the genre you see it all coming with little to no hint.

The acting was also unremarkable. O’Brien played the usual ordinary hero and it showed in his performance. He reminded me of Paul Walker as a cipher for the audience to latch onto, while the rest of the cast played actual characters. The other young actors, however, did not stand out beyond their conventional archetypes. Gillen seemed to enjoy himself on a break from being Petyr Baelish. I wish he used his regular accent, though; American does not suit him. Giancarlo Esposito showed up as Jorge and had a little fun as the leader of a survivor group, getting some laughs out of me at the end.

If you are a fan, nothing I have said will keep you from seeing The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, like a negative review of a Marvel film. As a zombie movie, it is nothing to get excited about for anyone familiar with the genre. If you like The Walking Dead you will be satisfied with its mediocrity. For anyone in need of a different take on the zombie apocalypse, look no further than Wrymwood: Road of the Dead on iTunes.

 

Black Mass

The Departed was the second Scorsese movie I ever saw. I knew it was a remake of a Hong Kong film, but I did not find out until recently the character of Costello was inspired by real-life Irish gangster James “Whitey” Bulger. Scorsese often takes many liberties with his work, giving actors room for improv or injecting moments of comedy to lighten the tone in some places, even though it may not fit with the events of the movie. The story of Bulger, however, is one devoid of light, as he became the most notorious gangster in America. Does Black Mass play into his dark history or forego reality for something theatrical and audience friendly?

In comic book movies, the hero is only as good as the villain. Since Dark Knight the demand for better antagonists has increased, setting high standards for all movies to come. Heath Ledger showed one must dedicate themself to the character, going so far as to change their emotional and mental state to be consistent. Skill above all determines the quality of the villain and Johnny Depp as Bulger excels as one of the best new villains in movies today.

Black Mass follows the rise and fall of James “Whitey” Bugler in the 70s and 80s as kingpin of South Boston. Capitalizing on his friendship, FBI agent Connolly, played by Joel Edgerton, forms a partnership with Bulger where both would help each other to bring down the dominant Italian mob. However, the plan quickly backfires when Bulger uses the opportunity to assert his dominance over the city while manipulating the authorities.

Depp is the reason Black Mass works and why you should see it. I would go so far as to say he is on par, if not better than Ledger’s Joker. Subtlety is a big part of why he is so affective. Over the course of the story, Bulger slowly becomes more unhinged with every tragedy in his life. It also plays into his developing relationship with the FBI, raising the stakes as he grows bolder in his actions and business dealings. Bulger starts out relatively likable then progresses into psychopathy, killing people in broad daylight and being genuinely scary with his newfound power. In lesser hands the character would have been no different than any other Irish gangster and Depp made him a straight-up horror movie monster. His particular whispering cadence and general appearance plays a big part in enhancing Bulger’s presence, but his eyes sell it more. Depp wears these bright blue color contacts and like all color contacts, they hide pupil dilation. As a result he looks like a predator for most of the runtime and Depp knows it, keeping his eyes wide open and hardly blinking when he is not wearing sunglasses. The image of his face alone is enough to inspire fear.

The rest of the cast was acceptable, but I do not blame them as they struggled to keep up. I am sure all of them knew they were secondary to Depp and made the most of it by dueling Boston accents. Edgerton felt a little generic as the crooked agent that has to justify Bulger’s madness. He reminds me of Matt Damon’s character from The Departed if Colin were more obvious about his intentions. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Bulger’s brother, but he does not do much in his allotted time. A host of other known actors show up like Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Adam Scott, and Corey Stoll, and do nothing that warrants mention.

Black Mass had issues with its style as suspense-thrillers can be difficult to film in the wrong hands. While director Scott Cooper does a good job, there were plenty of missed opportunities to put the acting on full display and let the cast drive scenes. Between some great shots are too many cuts to different angles that would have been better served in a minimalist fashion. The long shot method is made specifically for performance driven movies and for building tension and it was used only once. If Paul Thomas Anderson were behind the camera this would not be a problem.

Regardless, Black Mass is the kind of gangster movie that does not come around too often. It shows the reality of crime and the kind of people behind it in an unfiltered light. Most of all, it is Johnny Depp’s return to making good movies with his most memorable character yet. Go see it.

 

90 Minutes in Heaven

Disappointment is a word that readily comes to mind when I think of M. Night Shyamalan. What started as a promising career with his first few movies spun quickly into mediocrity and degradation. The Happening was the last film I saw and I am glad I got out before The Last Airbender, Devil, and After Earth, solidifying my decision to abandon the once promising director. Since I have little hope for his redemption after so many years of floundering, I have chosen to not see The Visit in exchange for my newfound niche.

I have decided to review all major releases of Christian films in addition to actual movies if I can afford it. They will become an official part of the regular reviews while Cine-Sadism will serve as an in depth analytical series… that is, when I get back to it. Second up to the chopping block after War Room is 90 Minutes in Heaven. Was it more propagandist dribble or something else?

Before admission I came up with a not-too clever title called 90 Minutes in Hell. While it is the easiest joke one could make, it does not reflect well upon the movie I saw. Where the Christian films I have seen misrepresent various peoples and ideologies to the point of ignorance and insult, 90 Minutes does not have a message built on hatred and inferior beliefs. It is a simple story with simple ideas and only goodwill in mind. I was expecting to loath this movie and found my feelings changed upon viewing. However, a more appropriate title would be 121 Minutes of Boredom.

After a car accident claims his life, Don, played by Hayden Christensen, finds himself in Heaven before he returns to life 90 minutes later. While recovering in the hospital, Don becomes despondent and rejects the help of his friends and wife Eva, played by Kate Bosworth, because he did not want to leave Heaven.

That is a summary for an idea that does not take a whole lot of contemplation. You have the potential for a story about someone going through an existential crisis that would make for a decent movie. That would be the end of it if 90 Minutes had any idea what it was doing.

The problem most likely stems from the fact it is an adaptation of a book. When adapting any property it is important to consider what is filmable and relevant to plot structure and what should be left out. Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and the works of Stephen King have all been culled of content that would not work in the realm of film with varied results. Though I have not read the book, I get the feeling 90 Minutes had about as many useless scenes, pointless subplots, and redundant dialog as its adaptation.

At one point Eva seeks representation to help pay for Don’s medical bills only to find she has no case within the first hour, which is never revisited. There are scenes of Eva packing, getting drive thru, and pulling the blanket off her bed that served no purpose whatsoever. Characters repeat lines that were said mere minutes ago and have circular conversations that go nowhere. 90 Minutes is so padded it reminds me of a Twilight movie devoid of fun. I could have taken the script and brought it down to an appropriate 100 minutes or even 90 if the production had a sense of humor. I understand the point was to show what Eva went through caring for Don, but that could have been done within 45 minutes or so, as well as Don’s discovery he was pushed out of Heaven to spread the word of its existence, which does not happen until the last 15. So much time is wasted throughout that it takes forever for the movie to get to the point it is trying to make.

Compared to most Christian films, 90 Minutes is made exceptionally well. It shows mostly in the visuals with cleanly shot scenes and thoughtful composition with attention to detail. Actors and set elements are arranged in a consistent manner that looks great on screen. Its simplicity in how it was shot and edited was to its advantage.

The acting was also acceptable. Though George Lucas permanently damaged his career there is still hope for Christensen. He put genuine emotion and effort into Don’s moments of happiness and pain. It goes without saying he also pulls off the mustache rather well, like an American version of Freddy Mercury. Bosworth was fine, but she was not at her best, which did not go well because she was the main focus of the story for the middle chunk.

90 Minutes in Heaven was a surprise. I expected trite Christian propaganda and found a real movie. Its message does not appeal to me, but at least it was not offensive. The failings of the story and writing, however, keep it from being better than those of its genre. If you are a Christian you will like. As for everyone else, do not bother unless you like sitting until your ass falls asleep.

 

Transporter: Refueled

The state of the contemporary action genre is dire to say the least. Unless you are talking about the Raid series, John Wick, or Fury Road (which I am watching as I write this), new action movies have not the grit, intensity, or cool factor from those of the past. True action heroes like Rambo have been replaced with gravelly voiced antiheroes with more daddy issues than Shinji Ikari. The badassery of John Matrix has been exchanged for boring clean-cut professionalism. And the cold efficiency of Paul Kersey was dumbed down into superfluous fight scenes absent creativity.

The one to blame for this degradation is screenwriter Luc Besson. It started with The Professional, a film that tried too hard to be cool. Then came the original Transporter movies and Taken, putting the final nail in the coffin of ’80s action. Now all we have are films emulating the success of Besson, choking the market in banal monotony. Does Transporter: Refueled (TR) compound this trend or does it change the game?

Here is the short answer.

While on a routine job, Frank, played by Ed Skrein, finds there is more to the assignment when his employers kidnap his father Frank Senior, played by Ray Stevenson. Frank then becomes the reluctant participant in a complex scheme by a team of former prostitutes hell-bent on getting back at their pimp.

The whole time I was watching TR I was fighting to stay awake. I was so bored and unfazed I could have taken a nap and wrote this regardless of what I missed. As an action film about cars it is so restrained and ordinary in its stunts it feels like a movie made 20 years ago that sucks. Five minutes of Fury Road is more superior to TR’s entire hour-and-a-half.

A staple of Besson movies is the generic Eastern European villains and exotic women. In TR these characters’ accents are so thick the dubbing of their voices cannot keep up, making for awkward moments of incomprehensible dialog that does not match the actors’ lips. Maybe it is just my difficulty understanding the French accent, but if audiences cannot figure out what anyone is saying in your movie, maybe you were better off making the whole thing subtitled. The dialog was not even written well and there is so much of it I wished I brought earplugs. For 96 minutes you have to listen to bad-sounding actors say awful lines. Their phoned in performances could not save this terrible script. On top of that, why would you hire foreign actors, make your setting foreign, but have everyone speak a language that is not their own nor consistent with the setting?

TR was an editing nightmare. There are many quick cuts and different angles of the same shot lazily slapped together with no sense of cohesion. Everything is so fast and jerky it was difficult to follow, even as I struggled to keep my eyes open. It reflects poorly on the director as it implies he took footage from random places, shot with no hindsight of how the scenes were supposed to look, and cut it together in post-production like a reverse Terrence Malick.

I could go on but I see no point in continuing to explain why Transporter: Refueled is not worth anyone’s time. This movie was so monotonous I cannot find the energy to finish explaining why. Though not awful in general, it is a boring sit with no redeemable qualities. I do not think fans of the Transporter would even like it. If you want real action, look no further than classic Schwarzenegger, Bronson, Stallone, and Norris. As for me, I am going back to playing more MGSV.

 

War Room

I am going to try something a little different this week. No Escape came out and I really do not want to see it. It looks like Hotel Rwanda if it was boring and stared an actor that has not been relevant in about a decade. I may consider seeing We Are Your Friends, but if I wanted to watch a movie about a group of musicians splitting over personal issues, I would watch Straight Outta Compton or every music movie ever made. Instead, I am seeing War Room, a Christian film.

If you have read my posts called Cine-Sadism, you already know my stance on the genre. In situations like this, I tend to wait until the movie comes out on DVD so I can analyze it in depth. I admit I am behind on posts and have a backlog of Christian movies waiting for me to dissect with a hacksaw. But I must put something out and since I am not seeing No Escape or We Are Your Friends, I have chosen War Room, a situation that reminds of the time I had to see The Longest Ride. Did I regret my decision?

Propaganda is built upon conjecture and contrivances to fortify the views and opinions of a given movement upon a selected populace. Whether it is a negative or positive message, propaganda uses ideas and concepts prevalent to the movement, be they true or false. Either way, both must be consistent with said movement to garner support from the populace.

Joseph Gobble’s The Eternal Jew was able to demonize an entire culture of people on the basis they are good with money. Vladimir Putin justified the annexation of Crimea in a speech on Victor Day, eluding its “liberation” to Russia’s triumph over the Nazis. I.S.I.S. advertises its might by showing people drowning in a cage, decapitations with det-cord, homosexuals thrown from roof tops, mass executions, discrimination against Iraqi ethnic groups, and the rape and enslavement of women.

Christian films are propaganda. They use ideas and concepts taken from their faith and apply them in a fashion that enhances the message that Christians are awesome. As a nihilistic anarcho-capitalist, these movies are obviously not for me, but when seen by an outsider, they do not paint a very appealing picture for how Christians view the world’s people. God’s Not Dead was my first foray into the genre and boy, was I surprised.

Basically, if you are an Atheist, you are a rude, sociopathic tyrant; if you are Muslim, you hate women and scrutinize how they dress before beating them; if you are a Liberal, you are a cantankerous, cancerous (literally), snob; and if you a greedy business man, you do not care for the lives of others. But if you are a Christian, you are a cool guy who will be rewarded for your worship, and those who do not believe are punished because they’re inherently bad people. War Room is not as insidious, yet it has no problem targeting women to push its message.

While enduring a turbulent marriage of constant arguing with her husband Tony, played by T.C. Stallings, Elizabeth, played by Priscilla C. Shirer, seeks the help of prayer on the recommendation of Clara, played by Karen Abercrombie. With her goal in sight, Elizabeth makes a war room out of her closet, a space reserved for prayer as she seeks God to fix her marriage.

War Room’s message is not all bad. It advocates a need for families to communicate and actually be there for each other, a struggle many real couples go through. Tony and Elizabeth are never there for their daughter because of their jobs nor do they have any real love for one another. The movie shows relatable problems the characters overcome and come back stronger like most stories should. That would be the end of it if the subtext of the message were not so damning.

When Elizabeth seeks counsel from Clara, she fervently wants to go on the offensive against the way Tony treats her. But Clara suggests the opposite. She wants Elizabeth to submit and pray to God to fix her marriage, claiming Satan is taking over her life and depleting the joy she once had. Clara is saying there is no point in trying to be active in her marriage because the Devil is in control.

Delusion aside, the idea of submission in a bad relationship is never a good idea. There is no denying prayer and meditation have their benefits to one’s state of mind, but if you are praying for something that can be fixed by having a conversation with your partner and doing nothing else, it simply will not work. It encourages the problem and is counter productive to healing. One cannot guilt their partner into changing by letting them go on hurting the relationship. It is like saying “When the gunman realizes that nobody else is armed, he will lay down his weapons and turn himself in,” because that makes total sense!

Sure, your husband beats the piss out of you to the point your eye is about to fall out, but as long as you let him punch the other side of your face and keep praying for God to make him stop, it will turn out all right, honey. Do not call the police; that will only make Satan angrier.

Obviously I am overacting and overthinking, but it is movies like this that make me proud to be a male feminist. Too often do real world women suffer injustices based on religion and outdated ideals. They are denied basic rights like education, birth control, and a driver’s license on the grounds of delusional beliefs, and there is often no support system to improve their lives when faced with discrimination. If I had my way, I would take my rifle, fly to Iraq, join a Kurdish unit, and kill the shit-lords that want to force those hateful vales onto everyone else. But here I sit, complaining on the Internet in my apartment. If my useless ramblings have any merit, you will see the damage movies like War Room and God’s Not Dead do upon a world consumed by the inferior beliefs of fanatics in all aspects of culture, be it religious or political.

As for the rest of the movie, I do not understand why it was released in theaters. Like all Christian films, its quality is that of a TV movie with ordinary camera work and serviceable production values. It is as if George Lucas were behind the camera with the number of shot-reverse-shots, scenes of people sitting down, and the intentional absence of craft to quickly push the movie into distribution.

With all Christian movies comes the signature endless expository dialogue, “comedy,” forced scenes that would have been better-served cut, and awkward moments that seemed to be written by aliens or Tyler Perry. War Room ironically has so little faith in its audience it has to spell everything out. Then again, considering the target audience, it is not surprising they would need a little help to figure out what is happening. Speaking of the audience, the rather large, church-like gathering of families and friends in my theater apparently posses a sense of humor that found every contrived attempt to be funny incredibly hilarious. Of the 120-minute runtime, there were maybe two instances in which I laughed. On top of that comes more cringe-worthy moments than the entirety of The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lava Girl. You could make a drinking game for every time you squirm in your seat and be dead an hour in.

On a lighter note, the acting was quite good. Shirer and Stalling were very emotional in the scenes where they undergo a religious awaking and I was convinced of their tears. Both, however, were a little weak early on. I got the feeling they were there for the paycheck. The worst scene was when Shirer walks through her house trying to cast out Satan, which was applauded by my so very competent audience. I would have laughed if I were not so dumbfound by the sheer camp of it all. Abercrombie was dedicated to her part as a black version of Sophia from Golden Girls and had great timing with her jokes.

Christian movies are poison. They uphold ideas that are a detriment to common sense and take us steps backwards into ignorance. I advocate freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and more so the right to bear arms, but when something or someone perpetuates harmful beliefs that actively destroy the foundations of logic and goodwill, it needs to be put down with extreme prejudice. In simple terms, do not support movies like War Room. If you need to see something this week, Straight Outta Compton, American Ultra, and The Gift are still in theaters. Better yet, save your money for the coming release of MGSV because who needs Jesus when you have Big Boss?

 

Hitman: Agent 47

…I paid money to see this… I paid money, $11.58, to sit through a 90-minute waste of time, which could have been used for something far more constructive. It was not even that bad, just boring, soulless, and contrived. Is this the state of action movies? Have filmmakers become so pretentious they think they can wow audiences with their choreographed fight scenes that look so fake, it is as if the protagonist and henchman rehearsed it beforehand? Never in my life have I felt so smart in a theater than when I was watching Hitman: Agent 47.

While on a search for her father, Katia, played by Hannah Ware, finds out she is the target of Agent 47, a mythical assassin known for his efficiency in closing his contracts. While fleeing for safety, she finds there is more to the situation than she once thought.

Hitman thinks it is cool. It takes every opportunity to impress you with a lot of flash and is so transparent, it would have been offensive if it were not boring. Hitman would not have been cool 10 years ago. What it does has been done before in better movies. The close melee grappling was taken from Iron Man 2, the ballet-like gunfights from Equilibrium, and the daddy-issues story from every action movie ever. Hitman is so desperate to try and look cool it has not the spine to be its own movie. It steals from good movies because the people behind it have no sense of creativity. And do not even get me started on the use of CGI. The whole affair was anti-climatic and boring to the point I considered walking out.

Hitman is not even a good hitman movie. Having a mass murderer as the protagonist can be difficult, but even stories about killers can be interesting. The Iceman was about the most notorious hitman in American history and it is better than a lot of direct-to-video movies. Hitman is so obsessed with looking cool it forgets to try something for itself and suffers the consequences of a derivative premise and action. In the hands of the Cohen brothers, it would have made for a suspenseful crime drama similar to this.

The story is a joke. Not only was the twist spoiled in the trailers, there is an overload of exposition at the beginning that is repeated, followed by the characters meandering about before a plot convenience puts them back into it. Motivations go unexplained and plot threads left in the open with nothing to tie them up. For a film that calls itself action, there are enough calm moments of pointless drama for a Lifetime channel original movie. Between the breaks 47 and Katia constantly talk about his lack of humanity or her latent abilities. It becomes so repetitive and uninteresting I find it difficult to continue writing about it.

Even though the characters use a lot of guns, the production had no idea how they were supposed to work. There are two scenes where a pistol runs out of ammo and the slide remains forward. When a handgun is discharged, the slide pulls back to release the spent cartridge. At the last round the slide is locked back, but for some reason this does not happen in Hitman’s world. Also, the sniper rifle 47 uses is impractical. It is a long bolt action that seemed to chamber a 7.62. In the game he used a WA 2000, a bullpup with a three-foot profile that chambers a .300 Winchester, a much bigger round. The weapon was small and compact enough to fit in a suitcase. Though the rifle seen in the movie could be effective, it is far too big for subtle transportation and aesthetically unappealing.

Do not see Hitman: Agent 47. It steals from better films you should watch instead. If you want a good recent movie about killers, American Ultra is a fun choice. Death Wish 4 is what a hitman movie should be and it might have inspired the videogame series. The Iceman is another great one you can watch on Netflix.

 

American Ultra

I did not know how to start this review. I was going to write about how good stoner comedies are few and far between and ask if American Ultra is one of the good ones. As I pondered this, I could not get into it because I am not familiar with most stoner comedies besides Big Lebowski and Pineapple Express. And so I thought it best to tell you how I really feel because for the first time in a while, I found a movie I can relate to.

It is not that I am a stoner or a sleeper agent, but how I relate to the problems of the main character Mike, played by Jesse Eisenberg. As much as I dislike the idea of sympathizing with a protagonist played by my least favorite actor, I cannot deny my feelings for the sake of this critique or my dignity. If you would like the bottom line recommendation without my whining, you will like Ultra if you want action in a dark stoner comedy that is also an original work.

Since I graduated from college my anxiety has gotten bad. I often overreact for various reasons, mostly related to finance. About three weeks ago my neighbor’s toilet overflowed and he did not realize it was happening before I went up to his door and told him it was raining piss from my ceiling. My room being ruined was bad enough, but the clean up process was worse. My mom hired a dehumidifier crew to blow fans that would run all day and night for a week before they were removed. This doubled my electric bill and the cost of using the equipment was incomprehensible. Since then, my room has been repaired, but I cannot shake the burden it put on my family, not to mention what the renovations will cost in the future. Knowing this compounds my anxiety to the point I am considering medication, a thought that is not helping either, especially in the midst of an election I cannot get out of my head.

I saw myself in the character of Mike. He struggles to do good by his girlfriend, but is constantly held back by intense panic attacks and a reliance on drugs. He knows he is not the best of guys and tries his best to improve. No matter what he does, however, Mike cannot break free of his personal problems and feels he is letting her down. That is what it is like knowing you have a condition you think is affecting those around you, despite what they say. Even when good things happen they never feel good because you are in an endless battle with your emotions to try and relax. On that level I related to Mike and found it comforting he overcame his anxiety by the conclusion.

But how was the rest of movie?

While working as a convenience store cashier, Mike comes across a mysterious woman, played by Connie Britton, who awakens latent super-human skills in him. With the aid of his girlfriend Phoebe, played by Kristen Stewart, Mike tries to find answers while CIA operatives pursue him.

Ultra is an odd one in comparison to stoner comedies. For one thing, the comedy is pitch black with sarcastic meta-humor punctuated by massacres, the aforementioned panic attacks, brutal melee fights, and implied psychological torture. It is hard to shock me, but in a movie I thought was going to be the spiritual successor to Pineapple Express, it was jarring to see a character calmly walk through a police station with a SAW, blasting officers like she was the Punisher. It has a very John Carpenter feel with a lot of self-deprecation that works if you think of it outside of films about potheads. But the inconsistent tone will throw off your balance if you are expecting something normal.

As for the action, there were quite a few kills I do not want to spoil because they are pretty good. Scenes are shot well with a little shaky cam that does not feel disorienting. The choreography was exceptional with an emphasis on creative hand-to-hand combat. It was clear Eisenberg was doing his own stunts as he reached for anything close by to use as a weapon. One of the better parts was at the end when Mike was in a shopping center packed with enemies and nothing but stocked shelves at his disposal.

Eisenberg was great, but Stewart was at her best. I like the Twilight movies for how bad they are and it was nice to see her in something she actually cared about. Though Bella Swan ruined her career, Stewart has enough ability to reinvigorate her image and come out on top. She was also one of the better characters as a strong reliable damsel. Walton Goggins had a minor role as Laugher and really stood out as the true antagonist, opposite Topher Grace, who played himself. Britton was not there either, but her character was secondary, an acceptable excuse.

My reason for liking American Ultra is very personal. To that effect, my word on the subject is heavily biased and not reflective of most potential viewers. As an action movie about a pothead, it works better than most contemporary titles that are not called The Raid. If you want original action, get a matinee ticket, or check out The Guest, another self-deprecating story about a super-soldier.

 

Harbinger Down

I would like to preface this review by saying I donated to the Harbinger Down Kick Starter when it was in development. Passing judgment on something you contributed to can be difficult because you want to believe you got your money’s worth. At the same time, you are obligated to support it, even if it turns out bad, which is why I avoid those situations. That being said, my contribution to the film will not affect this critique.

* * *

Practical effects are a lost art. Looking back at movies from years ago I find the craft in making them far out weigh CG of today. Practical effects not only look better, but are also cheap. Blood squibs and rubber puppets cost nothing compared to fake monsters made on a computer. Go back and watch Jurassic Park or The Thing if you think I am wrong. Harbinger Down (HD) bills itself as a practical effects monster film that wants to bring back the old days. Is it a good movie with great effects or is it a bad movie with great effects?

Judging the quality of a low budget film in regards to the mainstream is tantamount to overcompensation. It is like judging an indie videogame on the criteria of a triple-A title. To be unbiased is to remove all preconceived notions in forming an opinion and judge a given work on its own merits. HD has merit, if not a little flawed.

For a college science project, Sadie, played by Camille Balsamo, takes a trip on her grandfather’s crabbing boat to study whales in the Bering Sea. While trying to observe the animals, she comes across frozen wreckage in the ice and discovers it is a downed Soviet spacecraft with a terrible secret.

The quality of HD is reflective of a Sci-Fi channel original movie, but compared to something like this, it is an actual movie and not bad at all. It holds true to its promise to use practical effects with the creature, miniatures for larger shots, and sets that were filmed on a sound stage. Any CG present was obviously for what could not be done practical and looks better than anything on the Sci-fi channel.

HD is best described as a spiritual successor to Thing with similar shots and a familiar prop. The aesthetic is also reminiscent as it takes place at one location, surrounded by ice, with a grizzled crew, and features a monster that can change its shape. The difference is the creature cannot mimic other life forms, but can morph from a liquid to a solid and absorb DNA.

Like the alien from Thing, it takes on many forms related to sea life with a heavy Lovecraft influence. It looks great and is well choreographed, shot hidden in shadow like all movie monsters should be. The way it sounds is also visceral and gross. The imagination is there, but a part of me wishes the HD creature were more consistent than a mish-mash of tendrils and mouths. I remember the dogs, Palmer, and the spider from Thing because they had a defining feature that set each of them apart. HD has a couple different versions of the creature, but not enough to be memorable and unique. It feels like a lost opportunity because there are a lot of scary things in the ocean.

Compared to a similarly low budget movie like Sharknado, the actors in HD took the project seriously and did their best as relative newcomers. It was an admirable effort and I commend them, but Lance Henriksen as Graff carried the entire film. From start to finish he is right in his element and at his best.

The Thing and Jurassic Park are considered marvels of today where studios forgot the value of practical effects. In that regard, Harbinger Down is also a marvel, and a fine example that you can make a movie with real craft and creativity. If you like practical effects as much as I, support the film by renting it on iTunes for the price of a comic book.

 

The Gift

For someone who watches a lot of movies, the genre of suspense is a tough sell for me. At one point, every plot point becomes predictable and the twist more obvious depending on how much information I can glean before viewing. The basic principle of suspense is a deliberate withhold of information so the audience has no idea what is going on. The secretive nature is what makes suspense so potent as made apparent in Wait Until Dark, Eastern Promises, and M. Night Shayamalan before the decline. The Gift is Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut in the genre. Was I surprised or did my predictions come to fruition?

It is frustrating when I can figure out how a movie will turn out before I see it. I knew what was going to happen in Days of Future Past right after The Wolverine and for the life of me I could not get into it. I admit I called it in every way with Gift all the way down to the twist, but the execution and meaning behind the events of the story make it exceptional.

After moving into a new house, Simon and Robin, played by Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall, stumble upon Gordo, played by Joel Edgerton, a high school acquaintance of Simon’s. As the trio engages in a mild friendship, Simon becomes wary of Gordo’s behavior as long buried memories resurface and Robin more suspicious of her husband.

It is obvious Gift is about bullying. There was more than enough information in the trailers to imply as much and it does not take a lot of thinking to figure out what is going on. As someone who dealt with bullies in high school, the movie is true to life and what happens to victims years later. I, however, did not turn into a vengeful psychopath. I just stopped thinking of people who harass others as people, which in turn gave rise to nihilism.

The method of the revenge was clever and made Gift more surprising than predicable. I knew what was coming, but the meaning behind the twist was compelling enough for me to forego explaining in further detail for fear of spoilers. It is not at all what you are thinking if you came to same conclusion as I. It enhances the message of how bad bullying can affect a victim’s mental state and life and that is all I will say on the matter.

Being his first major film as a director and one of many as a writer, Edgerton has potential. He knows how to handle lighting and shot composition with a touch of noir that harkens back to the 50s and 60s. That being said, his performance was not all there, but it is understandable as he was behind the camera for most of the time. Bateman felt real as the repressed bully that undergoes a turn as Gordo’s advances become more intense. He had great chemistry with Hall who played the more reasonable half of the couple.

The Gift is a great suspense thriller. It is tight and simple in both plot and scale, as it does not try to be extravagant or overly complex. It is very similar to Wait Until Dark and if you are a fan of that movie, I recommend buying a ticket.

 

Straight Outta Compton

In high school American History class, we were given a general breakdown on how rock ‘n’ roll influenced our culture following the 60s. Rap is a genre I feel shares a common chain of events. You have its cosmopolitan roots on the west coast, the surge of fame and emergence of various groups, before the assimilation into mainstream music, and the stagnation we see today. Because of its impact, more people should know how rap music came about. Does Straight Outta Compton (SOC) provide a keen insight into the origins of the genre or was I left wanting?

As a veteran nihilist who does not care about music unless it is good, I feel I learned a lot about the history behind modern rap. It follows the perspective of the three main members of NWA from ’86 to ’93 and takes its time to show what they were like as people. It is so detailed it quickly becomes the movie’s biggest problem.

Frustrated with a job that does not allow him to explore his creativity, Dr. Dre, played by Corey Hawkins, enlists the help of his friends Eazy-E, played by Jason Mitchell, and Ice Cube, played by O’Shea Jackson Jr., to purse a new kind of music. Their success turns into ambition as they set off on a path to fame and fortune.

SOC focuses on the three founding members of NWA. Other members MC Ren and Dj Yella are present, but inactive as characters. We see where each of them came from, how they contributed to the group, and what happened after the split over issues with manager Jerry Heller, played by Paul Giamatti. It is an ensemble effort as we gain an in depth perspective on how they developed their music and changed over the years. The movie is very dense in that regard and where the main issue begins to arise.

SOC leaves no stone unturned when it comes exploring the life and times of NWA. It is so thorough and detailed the two and a half hour runtime becomes overwhelming. I was reluctantly checking my watch as I waited for an ending that did not come until an hour later. It is still a great movie that is relevant to today, but there is an excess of information that would have been best served cut down or in two separate films.

All ensembles require chemistry and the cast of SOC feels like they have been friends for years. They even look like their character’s real life counterparts with Jackson Jr. very similar to a young Ice Cube. Everyone was good in terms of performances as they convey the lives of men that go from down-on-their-luck artists in Compton to superstars. Each changes in different ways with E becoming arrogant, Dre cautious, and Cube smarter about the business side of music. Hawkins was the standout in a more dramatic sense.

As I have already pointed out the major flaw, I could not find any other issues. It is worth mentioning SOC has a very humorous side in addition to the tense and serious moments. However, it is also very specific and I do not think many people outside of African Americans will understand. Since I grew up on Chappelle’s Show, I am in the minority, no pun intended.

Straight Outta Compton is an insightful look into a music genre that many have yet to realize the impact on our culture. It gives more than enough information to the uninitiated on how modern rap music came to be. If you can stand the runtime, I recommend giving it a look.

 

The End of the Tour

Trying to articulate the lives of authors is complicated to say the least. Beneath the quirks and rituals lies a litany of personal problems and troubled histories that influence what they write. Of course, not all authors are strange and damaged people, but the best ones like Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Stephen King, and Chuck Palahniuk certainly are. I never heard of David Foster Wallace until I saw The End of the Tour (TET) trailer and after seeing the movie, it makes sense why people regard him as a genius. Is the portrayal true to the life of a writer or is it a pretentious farce that thinks it knows what it is talking about?

It is difficult to judge the authenticity of a pseudo-biopic about an individual you know nothing about. As I have not read Wallace’s work or done much research, I cannot attest to the accuracy of TET. That being said, Jason Segel’s performance makes me believe otherwise.

After the release of Infinite Jest, David Lipsky, played by Jesse Eisenberg, a Rolling Stone journalist, is sent to interview Wallace at the tail end of his book tour. David learns the intimate details of Wallace’s personality over the course of a five-day interview.

Segel’s performance is what drives TET. Aesthetically, the movie is very ordinary with nothing special going on nor a sense of craft prevalent. It is presented in such a way that makes it actor driven in regards to Segel from the perspective of Eisenberg.

Since the movie is not directly about Wallace, we extrapolate information based on what is learned by the observer Lipsky, our window into the life of the reclusive author. Through the questions and answers, we develop a keen understanding of Wallace’s beliefs and motivations and Segel does an excellent job of making him feel real, the goal of every actor. You understand Wallace’s existential turmoil and depression in not only words, but also body language and tone of voice. It is a dramatic change of pace from his usually comedic roles.

I ought to talk about Eisenberg’s performance, but at the risk of betraying the standards I have set for myself in my critiques, I will leave my personal bias out and say he was serviceable yet unremarkable. He did not play a character nor did I feel he was anyone but himself.

The End of the Tour is an insightful look into the personality of David Foster Wallace and a good representation of what authors are like. If you yourself are a writer, you will certainly appreciate it.

 

The Man from UNCLE

A lot of movies came out in the past two weeks and I will make an effort to see them. Tomorrow I am going to The End of the Tour, followed by Straight Outta Compton, and The Gift on Sunday. I may see Shaun the Sheep because I love stop-motion animation. I will not see Ricki and the Flash because if you can divine the major character arcs, the beginning, middle, and end of a movie based solely on the trailer, there is no point in seeing it, unless you are a fan of Meryl Streep, which is a valid reason… kind of.

* * *

Guy Ritchie is one of my favorite directors. His best work was Snatch, a London gangster ensemble revolving around a diamond heist. On top of being funny, the film was stylish in its direction. Scorsese would be an apt comparison as Ritchie makes liberal use of slow motion, montages, and unconventional editing. Recently he has fallen by the wayside, but made a steady return to form with RocknRolla and the Sherlock Holmes movies. Is The Man from UNCLE proof of his reemergence or does Ritchie have a ways to go?

Surprisingly, UNCLE is probably the most accessible and conventional movie of his filmography. There is plenty of style and humor reminiscent of Ritchie’s past work, but there is also an obvious sense of restraint.

To thwart a plot by former Nazis to build an atomic bomb, the CIA and KGB set aside their differences and join forces. They each assign one of their best agents: Solo, played by Henry Cavill, and Illya, played by Armie Hammer, to infiltrate the organization. East and West come to a head as the two agents have conflicting interests and methods for completing the mission.

UNCLE feels like Ritchie has grown as a filmmaker in the same sense as Quentin Tarantino. He retains his signature style yet does not go too far. The days of a scene like this are not gone, but used sparingly in exchange for something more normal. When Ritchie indulges himself, it is nonetheless glorious with comic book style paneling, the excessive use of licensed tracks, and humor, especially at one part involving Cavill and a truck.

In terms of a spy movie, UNCLE is like a serious version of Archer, but not too serious like the cancer/rampage episode. Solo even looks like Archer and Illya a Russian version of Barry. It is set up like a buddy cop movie that is funnier than Spy and less boring than 007. The film even has a bit of the early ‘60s charm of classic Bond with stylized car chases and gunfights.

Performances were solid all around. Cavill’s American accent is flawless with a cadence that speaks to his character’s posh nature. Hammer, who should be in more movies, played Solo’s opposite as a pragmatic and unhinged KGB agent. He was believable in the part as his character undergoes the biggest change. Alicia Vikander returns from Ex Machina and makes the most being the ambiguous Gaby. Newcomer Elizabeth Debicki is unrecognizable in the amount of makeup she wears as Victoria, the archetypical femme fatale. She looks like someone to watch out for in the near future.

The main problem with UNCLE is one of tone. While it has a lot of humor, action, and serious moments, there is a lack of balance that needed to be redressed. Some times there is too much or too little, throwing off the movie as it shifts between tone. It makes the experience difficult to sit through at times, but it is more consistent than Fantastic 4.

The Man from Uncle is a good movie. It is simple to understand, easy to get into, and worth a sit. Fans of Guy Ritchie will appreciate how his style has evolved. But if you wish to stay home, as I have said in the last two spy movies I reviewed, you can never go wrong with Archer.

 

Fantastic 4

First of all, there is nothing wrong with casting a black actor in the role of a white character. Being an adaptation, it is perfectly reasonable for artists to take liberties in whatever way they see fit. And second, if you are making a big deal about something as petty as the race of a fictional character, in a fictional movie, you are no better than the third wave feminists, social justice warriors, and progressives who demand the forcible inclusion of diversity in entertainment in perpetuity. Just because someone does not add enough black people, Asians, or women in their content does not mean they are racist or sexist. Art is not a Canadian film school. Stop whining and let creators do what they want. There are more pressing matters that need attention like ISIS, Russia invading Ukraine, the government taking away our right to defend ourselves, or climate change. Find some real problems, idiots.

* * *

It is an accepted fact the Fantastic Four (FF) movies by director Tim Story are awful. They come from a time when super hero films were afraid of their roots and modernized to the point they had none of the color or excitement that made the source material memorable. While the FF movies were pulpy like the comics, they were still modernized and rendered dull, no thanks to the horrible special effects and sitcom antics. Ironically, the Roger Corman version from 1994 is said to be better in comparison and like today’s Fantastic 4 (F4), it was also made so a company could hold onto the rights. Does this new version fail just as hard or has Fox found its footing?

I do not read the Fantastic Four comics. I would like to because my favorite author, Jonathan Hickman, wrote for the series, but my wallet cannot take the gutting. The appeal for me is not the team, but their antagonist Doctor Doom. Of the entire Marvel rogues gallery, Doom is the most interesting. He is a dictator with an inflated ego and speaks in the third person, but he also cares about his subjects. To protect them and his domain of Latveria, Doom dabbles in arcane magic and technology at the cost of becoming a villain. He is an explorer of sorts and a great antagonist that was butchered in last two movies by making him boring and restrained like every other bad-guy before Heath Ledger’s Joker. Toby Kebbell’s Doom is a decisive improvement, but he suffers from a retread into modernization, a problem the movie shares.

After creating the world’s first inter-dimensional teleporter, Reed Richards, played by Miles Teller, is given the opportunity to build on his discovery at the Baxter Foundation, an institution for science prodigies. But when an experiment involving his friends goes haywire, they are gifted with extraordinary powers the government seeks to exploit.

That summary took two sentences and 51 words. In an ordinary plot, that is your first act. The second is longer as the characters are put through a test and the third is a wrap-up the length of the first. That is how stories have been written since the existence of storytelling. F4 is 100 minutes long and the first act is almost half that, while the third act is 10 minutes of a boring fight because the committee who made this movie is about as incompetent as the idiots behind Amazing Spider-Man 2 (ASM2).

However, F4 is really not that bad, all things considered. After seeing the reviews when I returned home, I find the hatred and comparisons to ASM2 rather unfounded. There is no denying the pacing is elementary to the point of retardation, probably a result of studio interference and the mess of its production, but F4 is inoffensive. The plot is coherent and the story clearly defined, whereas ASM2 had no story and no cohesion. That still does not make it good, though.

The main issue is F4’s adherence to the old way of making superhero movies. From the color pallet, to the choice of wardrobe, the tone is dark and clad in leather. The scientific idealism and celebration of imagination from the comics is replaced with government oversight, military application, and narrow-minded businessmen who over-react for no other reason than they are written to. Johnny Storm hates his dad, Sue Storm is an antisocial plank of wood, Ben Grimm has a history of abuse, and Richards feels alone because he is smart. Everything and everyone is damaged and wrought with personal problems in a failed attempt to be edgy. Boredom quickly set in as the 100-minutes felt like two and a half hours.

My personal problem is Doom himself. While he is better than the Julian McMahon atrocity, Kebbell’s is just as boring. He starts off as a scientific anarchist and very anti-establishment. After participating in the teleport experiment, he develops powers and a god complex in the alternate dimension, and returns to Earth because he feels the government is encroaching on his new home. It makes sense, but comics Doom makes more sense with villain logic. There is no mention of movie Doom being Latverian royalty or the country existing apart from on paper and in scenery. Had movie Doom been royalty, it would make sense because he comes from a place where he is superior. Instead of feeling his home is threatened by the government, he would feel obligated to better Latveria and wipe out his enemies. An anti-establishment character would not suddenly want to destroy the world he obviously cares about regardless of how long he was stuck in another dimension.

The acting was… acting. No one was remarkable or memorable, Jamie Bell’s talent under utilized as Grimm.

What could have been an opportunity to make something fun and unique was wasted by a production that was too afraid to try something different. Fantastic 4 is absent ambition and suffers the monotony pre-2008 superhero movies endured. It is not painful to sit through like Amazing Spider-Man 2, but it is not worth a sit either way. Go see Ant-Man instead.

 

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

The only Mission Impossible (MI) movie I have seen is the third one and I hated it. It felt like bad television with petty romance shenanigans, a jokey tone, and kind of boring overall. As far as being a spy film, I did not like it in that regard either. I am a fan of Archer, MGS3: Snake Eater, Secret Warriors, The Activity, and Fury: My War Gone By, but the 007 series and the like do not register with me. A common element of the spy genre is the gradual infiltration into the villain’s ranks and the build-up of it all is so boring. I skip over the femme fatale stuff, glamour shots, and sexuality bits for the gadgets and action set pieces. I tried watching Skyfall not long ago and was hitting fast-forward when Bond was not doing something interesting and when Javier Bardem was not on screen. Was MI: Rogue Nation more boring or have I found a spy movie that is actually good?

While Rogue Nation is certainly more fun than a 007 film, it falls prey to the same issues I have with the genre. Compounding my animosity was the very thing the series is known for. The stunts were so good I wanted to watch the movie at home so I could skip to what I paid money to see.

After the US government dismantles the Impossible Mission Force, Ethan Hunt, played by Tom Cruise, goes on the run in pursuit the Syndicate, a terrorist cabal of disavowed spies dedicated to causing chaos worldwide. Ethan enlists the help of his old team while avoiding apprehension by the CIA.

The stunts are what make Rogue Nation and the reason to see it. It opens with its biggest and steadily dolls out the rest on a smaller in scale. While that may sound counter to how a film ought to progress, it works in favor of the story and feels appropriate. From the beginning Ethan is nowhere close the villain, so the stunts are large and complicated. From a fight over the stage of the opera, to a multi-layered car chase, the set pieces are grand. Towards the third act, the trail gets smaller and the action more contained as he closes in. Though the trailers gave away what the stunts are like, I would be doing you a disservice giving away any more detail and you should just see for yourself.

If you decide to see Rogue Nation, however, you must contend with its problem of pacing. It is not so much the story that drags, but the long scenes that go slower than they need to be. Characters stand in frame and take their time getting to the point like it was a Twilight movie. What should have been tension building instead felt like padding. Its 131-minute runtime seemed like twice that as I shifted in my seat in discomfort. Rouge Nation’s story is well plotted, but it needed at least two more sessions in the editing room.

I do not normally talk about music because most movies do not put a lot of effort into their score. Rogue Nation’s music is remarkable not in quality but use. During the action there is no score as the characters are locked in a struggle. In moments where the characters are heroic, the music will kick in to enhance the heroism. The best moment by far was during an opera show where the music was the opera itself and little to no dialog.

I like Tom Cruise just fine as an actor, but when it comes to playing a character beyond doing his own stunts, he is still himself. The real standouts were the supporting cast. Newcomer Rebecca Ferguson brought a great physical performance as she also did her own stunts. Simon Pegg had as much screen time as Cruise, playing his usual dopey nerd character that fans will find familiar. Jeremy Renner made the most of his minor role, including Ving Rhames and Alec Baldwin.

At this point I mention any present negatives. Apart from the pacing there really is not much else. I could talk about the use of CG in some of the action scenes, but it is justified and used appropriately. Not all stunts can be totally practical and Rogue Nation is strategic and deliberate to the point it does not feel overwhelming.

While I am still apprehensive toward the spy genre, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation showed it can be fun and enjoyable. I do not know how I will feel about Spectre in November, but I am hoping it will at least try to entertain. If you like action with a variety of stunts and you can stand a slow pace, get a ticket. If you are like me and refuse to see a spy movie regardless, there is plenty of Archer on Netflix.

 

Vacation

I knew Vacation came out on Tuesday. Unlike Entourage I kept my self appraised and planned accordingly to catch the early showing. But as I got dressed to leave, it literally rained piss from my ceiling. Apparently, my neighbor upstairs did not realize the tank on his toilet was backing up before I banged on his door. Thankfully maintenance showed up the next day to dehumidify the ceiling. As I type this on my couch there are a number of fans blasting air in my bedroom.

* * *

Blockbuster fatigue is a feeling where the amount summer movies becomes overwhelming. If I had blockbuster fatigue I would not have liked Ant-Man as much as I did. What I have is remake/sequel fatigue because the idea of a creatively bankrupt film industry stealing good ideas from the past is horrifying. Remakes/sequels are the reason I dread being a critic and it has gotten so bad I would quit if this were not important. Fury Road and Dumb and Dumber To are the exception, but after Terminator Genisys I saw the gradual degradation of originality and I cannot take it anymore. Was Vacation the final straw or is there some semblance of hope for the future?

I do not think sequels/remakes will break me until the release of the new Ghostbusters. Even now I am bracing myself and contemplating what I will say, but that is a review for another time. It is difficult to judge follow-ups without considering the previous installments. Some are so dear to our hearts it is difficult to remember all art must be seen for what they are alone and Vacation has enough merit to stand in contrast to the first.

After realizing his family is drifting apart, Rusty Griswold, played by Ed Helms, decides to take his family on a road trip to Wally World to reenact the trip he took thirty years earlier. Shenanigans ensue.

Vacation is a celebration and subversion of the first film from 1983. There are some barrowed plot points, but there is enough difference to make it unique. Like Dumb and Dumber To, it knows it will never be as good as the first and acts accordingly, making jokes and story elements relevant to today while paying homage. In terms of a modern comedy it would border on classic if there were no connection to the original.

For once the jokes are actual jokes with real set-ups and pay offs. Insult and shock humor is present throughout, but not to extent it takes over the entire film like Spy and other terrible comedies. Even if you have seen the red-band trailer where some of the better jokes are spoiled, there is a lot throughout that makes up for it.

The main cast had great chemistry and brought their own personal touches to the characters. Helms plays Rusty like Clark Griswold with that always optimistic in the face of adversity attitude and stalwart positivity. Christina Applegate plays an active role as the wife Debbie and holds her own like her time in the Anchorman movies. The two son characters played by Skylar Gisondo and Steele Stebbins worked well with the leads while being exceptional on their own.

The various cameos were almost better than the main cast. In the second half they become more frequent and really shine through each time they are on screen. Chris Hemsworth takes over the role of Cousin Eddie as Uncle Stone, the exact opposite of Randy Quaid. Charlie Day’s scene as a rafting guide is reason alone to see this movie. The venerable Chevy Chase shows up and makes the best of it as an elderly Clark running a bed and breakfast with Beverly D’Angelo returning as Ellen.

While Vacation is good overall, there are some negatives that warrant mention. CG is used for a car roll and a fly-over of another on a road. No, seriously. The most common car-shots ever and they used CG. Another part was that scene with Hemsworth. It was shot long and intercut with reactions to Rusty and Debbie when it would have been funnier uncut from start to finish.

Of all the recent comedies I have seen, Vacation is second below Ant-Man. If you are a fan of the original, give it a look. If you have never heard of the Griswolds, see it anyway. You will not be disappointed.

 

Paper Towns

I find it hard to be the judge of a Young Adult movie about high school because I did not go to normal high schools. The first two were on military bases, the second of which was so awful I would prefer not to remember I was there, and the last was an all boys military school where I enrolled willingly. Therefore, I cannot imagine what it must be like for normal kids to go to a normal school. With this in mind, I pondered how I would react to Paper Towns (PT). Was I able to judge the movie on its terms or did I find myself laughing at the characters’ fake problems?

I would not be a critic if I did not allow movies to stand on their own merits. Opinion is criticism, but too much of it can negatively affect the judgment and recommendation of the media in question. And so, I took my pragmatic nihilistic self out of the equation and found a quality film in PT.

In the midst of his senior year, Q, played by Nat Wolff, becomes the reluctant participant in a breakup revenge plot by his neighbor Margo, played by Cara Delevingne. After fulfilling her plans he finds himself infatuated, but before making a move she disappears. Q then follows a series of clues Margo left behind to divine her location with the help of his friends.

PT is a finding yourself drama in the context of a high school student. Q is the aimless male protagonist set in his ways and Margo is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl that makes him think twice about who he is. Usually I hate this genre with a passion, but unlike Aloha, PT has a point, you know what is happening, and the characters are likeable. Despite the fact I cannot care about problems that do not exist, especially in real life, I kind of cared about what the characters were going through and wanted to see them succeed.

I believe a part of my feeling is from how well acted the movie is, in addition to the writing from author John Green (Fault in Our Stars). Wolff was believable as the dopy overachiever, but Delevingne showed great promise in a debut role. Though she needs to work on the American accent, I believe we can expect a lot of good in Suicide Squad and beyond. Austin Abrams as Q’s friend Radar had great comedic timing in scenes I assume were improvised. The weakest performance was Halston Sage as Lacey, but I think it is more the fault of the script that made her the “misunderstood blonde.”

Issues arise in the pacing as the film takes its time getting to anything relevant. It was nearly two hours and it could have ended in 90 minutes had Q been proactive in his pursuit of Margo. I know you cannot do much while in high school, but if he cared about finding her, Q would not have waited days before making the effort instead of talking about it in voiceover. Furthermore, whoever in wardrobe put Abrams in a UF Gator shirt, how dare you make me see that crap super-imposed on a theater screen. You should be ashamed of yourself.

And that was Paper Towns, a simple movie in the ever-expanding genre of Young Adult. If you liked Fault in Our Star, it is very similar in tone, but with a road trip-mystery angle about people finding themselves. It has more than enough humor to balance out the drama and I recommend it. Then again, Ant-Man is still out and still awesome, but both are better than Pixels.

 

Pixels 

When I was young I was a big fan of Adam Sandler. His movies were immature and nonsensical, but they were still fun and I enjoyed them quite a bit. Before I was allowed to watch Jackass, there was the physical comedy of Water Boy, Happy Gilmore, the Wedding Singer, and the raw hatred of his characters to make me laugh. He was my only accessible source of the closest to adult comedy I could get and it was the best of times. Now that I am older, I still like those movies and they still make me laugh. If that is the case, why am I not a fan anymore?

It is less a matter of my age as it is a steady degradation in the quality of Sandler’s films. I first noticed it in Click where I could not feel it had anything special or distinct. Sure, the stopwatch angle was something, but when you break it down, it is the same plot of A Christmas Carol, like it was copied and pasted for ease of dismissal. Furthermore, Sandler did not play a “character.” Happy Gilmore, Bobby Boucher, and Robbie Hart are memorable characters, and I do not remember a thing about the guy from Click.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry was when I saw a pattern. All stories, with the exception of something like I’m Not There, follow Joseph Campbell’s Heroes Journey. Sandler’s films use the same method with plot points that have reverberated throughout his movies since the beginning. I dismiss the assumption all films are the same for following Campbell’s structure because it simply is not true. Star Wars and Avengers have a lot in common, but there is so much to distinguish them it does not make any sense to judge on equal terms. When I looked back at Sandler’s movies, I noticed all of them have the same characters and narratives with nothing to set them apart.

And I did not stop seeing it.

Next came Don’t Mess with the Zohan, an attempt at an Israeli action comedy that would make Yonatan Netanyahu spin in his grave and Golan Globus commit ritual suicide.

At 18 I watched Grown Ups and found myself disappointed in the man I once called funny. There he was, standing with other failed comedians and SNL co-stars he conned into joining him for a tasteless, predictable, and joyless spectacle about old friends having a collective mid-life crisis. At that point I did care anymore. Here was a man I looked up to, reduced to a talentless schmuck who somehow thinks he can keep going and we would not notice how far he has fallen. I had neither the nostalgia nor the will to keep watching and my admiration struggled to recover.

And then Just Go with It happened.

I saw the movie, but I did not hear it. I was on a plane coming from Germany when it came on the screen. I had my iPad with Ghost in the Shell to keep me company, but Just Go with It was still playing out of the corner of my eye, and I could not help paying attention. As I watched it, with no sound mind you, I saw the absolute annihilation of any respect I had left for Sandler. It was not a movie, but a slow torture and vivisection of the fan I used to be. The product placement, beauty shots of resorts, and the infinity of monotonous plotting and predictability dissipated who I was and replaced it with anger. I saw not a funny man but a wastrel of lesser character than filth. I saw a villain that has done more damage to the Jewish people than the Holocaust. Sandler was officially nothing to me.
In the years that followed he would never change and I was not the only one who saw the decay. Red Letter Media put best in their analysis of Jack and Jill, bringing to light the rampant commercialism. Worse still was his failed attempt at adult comedy with That’s My Boy, the dreaded sequel that somehow beat Pacific Rim out of the box-office, and the reunion with Drew Barrymore that no one asked for. Now comes Pixels, a film I will certainly hate, but considering the set-up of videogames invading Earth with the theme of nostalgia, I found I could probably relate and enjoy it to some degree. Has Adam Sandler made his first good movie in almost a decade or was I wrong to trust my heart?

When it comes to new movies, I have not trusted my heart since I saw X-Men Origins: Wolverine. What I thought was going to be a good movie based on the trailers was one the worst pieces of garbage I have ever seen before Amazing Spider-Man 2. Thanks for that Gavin Hood, you hack. But I am not enough of a scumbag to hate everything. I give new films the benefit of the doubt, to let them speak for themselves before I render judgment. Being critical of entertainment media in a vacuum is tantamount to artistic fascism. Did Pixels have what it takes to stand on its own, regardless if my preconceived notions?

Well, I would not know because I DIDN’T FUCKING SEE IT!

Did you honestly think after spending 882 words explaining the genesis of my animosity I would actually see Sandler’s new movie? Have I not been clear? I am often told I do not explain myself enough in my work, but when I say someone is worse than the Holocaust, I think that is pretty clear.

I know I have a professional obligation to see new films and I know not all of them are going to be good. You cannot possibly think I did not know what I was getting into when I chose to make this hobby a job. I accept that Taken 3, Aloha, and Longest Ride were unmitigated trash and I do not regret seeing them. Even bad movies have their merits on the basis of irony. The Loft was stupid, The Room hilarious, and Miami Connection was pure insanity. For Christ’s sake, even the Twilight movies can be enjoyed for how funny-bad they are. Seriously, have you seen Breaking Dawn Part 2? It is genius! I have sat through and studied Christian propaganda. I have wasted power on my computer streaming a Tyler Perry movie so I could write about how offensive it is, when it does that on its own by simply existing. I am used to watching bad movies, but I refuse not see an Adam Sandler movie.

Unless there is money in it (which there has not since I started reviewing back in September), nothing can convince me to see Pixels. If I do get paid, a portion will go to compensation for the ticket and to keep me from killing whoever had the nerve to endorse my suffering.

So, if you have read this far, you are probably wondering why I have not ended this little tirade of mine. Being a critic it is my job to give a well thought out opinion and recommendation of the movie in question. I have taken a total of 1,157 words to articulate my opinion, but I cannot say if you should see Pixels. It would be dishonest of me to tell you not to see a film I have not seen myself. I am sure you can form your own decision based on what I have written.

To that effect, I recommend watching this review from Bob “MovieBob” Chipman. Say what you will about his redder than a Soviet’s blood on krokodil politics, his pandering to people I do not wish to mention because I do not want that kind of attention (which I will probably get anyway), or his whining on Twitter. I have been watching Chipman’s videos since his beginning and his movie reviews formed the basis for my own when I started out. He is one of my inspirations and the reason I chose to be a movie buff. His review of Pixels is both funny and shocking because he is the target demographic, and if you inspire such anger in your own audience something is horribly wrong.

I also recommend doing your own research. When I want to buy a new videogame, I consult multiple critiques and play-throughs before I make my decision, unless we are talking about The Phantom Pain and Fallout 4. The same applies to film, comic books, and even news agencies and political parties if you want to have nightmares. It is important to consider all sides of an argument to get a well-defined perspective. I would know because it took six years and five movies for me to realize Adam Sandler is a slobbering cunt.

 

Trainwreck

Apart from unintentionally infecting the world with that limey pissant known as Russell Brand, Judd Apatow is the reason R-rated comedies did not die after the turn of the century. With the help of Paul Rudd, Will Ferrell, Seth Rogen, and James Franco, he directed and produced a number of exceptional films that put Adam Sandler to shame (then again, Sandler puts himself to shame). They feel genuine with relatable themes and jokes that are actually funny. An Apatow movie is like Saturday Night Life if the actors and writers knew how comedy worked. Can Trainwreck measure up to his past works or should you give it a pass for Ant-Man?

If you read my previous review, you should see Ant-Man regardless. There is no reason to not see it, but that does not mean you should skip Trainwreck. It was a really bad move for both to come out at the same time. Nevertheless, one or the other will do if you are looking for a good comedy this weekend.

Comedian Amy Schumer plays Amy, a magazine staff writer who enjoys her life of alcohol, limited marijuana use, and tempered promiscuity. But while writing an article on sports physician Aaron, played by Bill Hader, she cannot handle feeling she wants a serious relationship and struggles between giving in or moving on.

If you have seen one Apatow directed movie you have seen them all. When you break it down by plot points, Trainwreck lines up with 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. One can predict the moment of change, separation, and redemption on timing alone. What keeps the linearity in check is the humor of each film. All three are virtually the same, but they are defined and remembered for their comedy. Whether its “You know how I know you’re gay” or the “Chairs” scene, no one cares about the story as long as it has moments that make you laugh.

Trainwreck is no exception. Because Apataow employees professionals, they work in perfect harmony to make the humor consistent between each scene and character. And like many times before, there is a lot to enjoy, the difference being Schumer’s unique perspective.

To put it simply, at the risk of garnering unwanted attention, her style is feminist in the context of equality. She is very casual about sex, body issues, and stereotypes in relation to masculinity and treats men as equals rather than opposites. As the writer of Trainwreck, she applies her voice and structures the story around someone who is forced to grow out of her preferred lifestyle, a reverse 40-Year-Old Virgin.

Everyone on the cast did well, providing their respective levels of comedy depending on their parts. Schumer proved she could hold her own against veteran Hader. Even Lebron James and John Cena carried themselves, playing caricatures of their personalities. Dave Attell shows up as a homeless parody of himself. I do not know if he is a bum in real life, but it was a great touch.

The one negative I find is the lack of a blooper reel. Did something happen that put a stop to including outtakes at the end of movies? Apatow’s bloopers are always great and it is a shame I have to wait till the DVD release to see them.

I recommend Trainwreck, but only after you see Ant-Man. Both are fantastic comedies worth your time and money. The latter is more fun where as the former has a ton of relatable themes consistent with Apatow’s signature. To that end, it is a question of personal preference. But you should see Ant-Man even if you do not want to.

 

Ant-Man

Of all the Marvel films, Ant-Man seems like the riskiest move yet. Like Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy, it is important to consider that mainstream audiences may not be familiar with the character(s) and you cannot ignore the pre-production controversy amid creative differences. On a personal note, watching the trailers gave me a feeling I cannot accurately describe. It seemed as though the studio was playing it too safe, taking the Iron Man route with a helping of self-deprecation, while not being afraid of its comic book roots. Going with a template that has worked in the past is a staple of storytelling, but still I find it unsettling what I may find upon admission to Ant-Man. Am I overreacting or is it Marvel’s Heaven’s Gate?

Playing it safe is the worst thing this movie could have done. What I thought was a retread of old ideas and a potential failure as the result of cooperate interference is instead a thoroughly enjoyable and Marvel’s most unique movie to date. If my word has any merit, you should stop reading and go see Ant-Man immediately.

In an attempt to get his life and family back together, ex-con Scott, played by Paul Rudd, does what he does best and burglarizes an expensive home at the behest of his thief friends. What he finds instead is the Ant-Man suit of former SHIELD operative and super scientist Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglas. After putting on the suit, Scott experiences its shrinking capabilities and becomes the reluctant participant in Pym’s plot against his own company and former ward Darren Cross, played by Corey Stoll.

Where Guardians of the Galaxy failed in my opinion, Ant-Man succeeds. Both are the same in terms of eccentricity and level of humor, and both are centered on retrieving a McGuffin to stop the bad guy. The difference between the two is a focus on story reinforcing character.

The narrative of Guardians does not change the characters, with the exception of Starlord because the main protagonist must always change by story’s conclusion. Everyone else remains much the same before and after they form the team. Gamora stays the same, Drax does not know how to change, Rocket is still crazy, and Groot is Groot. Guardians’ plot was a vehicle for its weirdness and humor, but it left its characters behind.

Ant-Man’s heist narrative affects everyone, even the villain to some degree, but when you’re a psychopath with a pseudo-Electra complex (I know that does not make sense, but see the movie and try to explain it better), you can only spiral further into insanity. Scott begins as a criminal who thinks criminality is his sole solution to doing good and becomes a genuine hero. Evangeline Lily’s Hope learns to trust others while making amends with her estranged parent. Even the minor characters that have no real involvement in the story are different by the end.

Another exceptional aspect of Ant-Man is its comedy. Edgar Wright might have left before filming, but he still wrote a script with his name on it. I have seen and own all three Cornetto movies and Scott Pilgrim and as a fan, I can safely say Wright’s latest is just as good. He makes great use of the Marvel property and the idea of a hero that can shrink in both the gags and action sequences. Even the ants are excellent as Scott’s sidekicks with their own insect-specific personalities. Ant-Man is what Honey, I Shrunk the Kids wanted to be, but did not have Wright’s talent and imagination behind it.

Everyone on the cast did well. Rudd was a nice choice for a thief seeking redemption that does not know how to handle a world of superheroes. Lily could have easily taken over the movie with her strongest performance yet. It is hard to judge if Douglas did Hank Pym justice because both versions are different. Comics Pym is naïve and unaware when his creations may do more harm than good, and movie Pym is the exact opposite. To that effect, Douglas was believable as a kind of older, seasoned Tony Stark without the sarcastic whit and playboy personality.

At this point in my critiques I usually mention the faults, but I cannot find any worth talking about. I would say Ant-Man runs a little long if the whole 117 minutes was not enjoyable to sit through. You will want all that and more from beginning to end. Were it not for Fury Road, it would be the best film I have seen this season. It is Winter Soldier perfect.

Why are you still here? Get a ticket already!

 

Self/less

At face value, Self/less appeared to be ordinary science fiction about body switching with the theme of immortality. Simple enough until I found out it was directed by Tarsem Singh, the man behind, The Cell, The Fall, and Immortals. My opinion immediately changed in anticipation for his signature Jodorowsky-on-steroids style and surrealist aesthetic. Is it another crazed fever-dream of Tarsem’s imagination or is it as ordinary as I was led to believe?

While he has not abandoned his eccentric use of camera and scene composition, Self is Tarsem’s most accessible and normal movie to date. For a man known for being an artist in the sense of a painter in the director’s chair, it was confounding to see his name attached to such a plain film.

After a fatal episode as a result of terminal cancer, Damian, played by Ben Kingsley, seeks out the mysterious Albright, played by Matthew Goode, to help transfer his consciousness into a younger body played by Ryan Reynolds. A few weeks after the procedure, Damian experiences hallucinations of memories that are not his and sets out to discover their meaning.

To put everything in perspective, the only film of Tarsem’s that I have seen is Immortals, a movie many probably do not remember exists. I am familiar with The Cell from Nostalgia Critic’s review and I just watched the trailer for The Fall. What all three have in common is a style not unlike a classical painting, vibrant with color and detail. The design and set up of each scene is arranged in such a way they work as still images and frames of film. Immortals is basically Greek Mythology paintings, mosaics, and bas-relief sculptures brought to life. They are meticulous in their appearance and it is obvious a lot of effort was put into making the elements of each scene work in perfect cohesion.

Self is an ordinary story with a contemporary aesthetic, but Tarsem makes the film look more than how a normal director would shoot it. Even with a muted color pallet of blues and skin tones each scene is a cleanly shot tableau. Instead of creating sets with an artistic flair, there are nice arrangements of ordinary elements in room settings that have absolutely nothing going on, but look great. Self succeeds in a strictly visual sense if you do not factor in the story.

I have said before to make plot work you need to create conflict. This usually involves characters withholding information from each other or details deliberately kept in the dark. There is nothing wrong with that as long as you do it right, but that does not stop people like me from complaining. Said complaints require spoilers, but if you have seen movies and watched the trailers, you already know what is going to happen.

Damian is led to believe his new body was grown in a lab before the transfer. After the fact, he finds out the body was originally a person with a family who willingly gave himself to Albright to pay for his daughter’s cancer treatment. As a cover up, the family was told he drowned. The conflict of the story is built upon the idea that Albright tore a family apart to provide a service for Damian. All of it could have been avoided if both parties told each other the truth. If Albright told the family their Dad voluntarily sold his body to save his daughter, then Damian would not have been compelled to shut down his activities. But because the story needed a villain, our protagonists are in constant danger because they “know too much,” when knowing all of it beforehand would have saved everyone a lot of trouble.

Overall, there was nothing else wrong that requires mention. It can feel long at times as the story takes a while to get to the heart of the conflict, but if you do not mind slow-burn science fiction there is no problem. The acting was exceptional for most of the cast. I thought Matthew Goode was great as a cold and calculating mad scientist while Ben Kingsley made the most of his short screen time in both a physical and emotional performance.

Self/less is a good movie. It is not extraordinary or groundbreaking, but an acceptable distraction if you are looking for something to see this weekend. It has plenty of visuals that will satisfy any fan of good cinematography. On top of that, it is original sci-fi, something the industry is in dire need of.

 

The Gallows

There are a lot of movies I will make an effort to see and some I will skip. I will see Self/less tomorrow because there was no early screening (not a good sign), followed by Magic Mike XXL if I can get a girl to join me, and possibly Me and Earl and the Dying Girl if I can afford it. I will not see Minions because I am not a child or Amy because, no offense, I do not want to watch a two hour documentary about a junkie.

* * *

Regardless of my professional obligation to critique new releases, I try to avoid seeing modern horror movies. It is not that I am a snob or easily frightened, but because they are modern horror movies. With the exception of It Follows, Insidious, and The Conjuring, the genre has gone from interesting and unique, to cheap shovel-ware reboots, sequels, and prequels in an attempt to capitalize off dumb teenager who know not quality. You can apply the same reasoning to the film industry as a whole, but horror has been hit the hardest. Original works are starved of creativity, plagued with jump-scares, and built on elements barrowed from better movies. Is The Gallows among the bad or should you give it a look?

While not terrible when considering other modern horror movies, it is not good either. Gallows is exactly what you expect with plenty found footage tropes, cheap jump scares, and a contrived ending that does not make a lick of sense.

To help his friend with a girl, Ryan, played by Ryan Shoos, convinces his girlfriend Cassidy, played by Cassidy Gifford, and said friend Reese, played by Reese Mishler, to break into their high school and destroy the set for a play called The Gallows. Unbeknownst to them, the theater is haunted by the spirit of Charlie, an actor who was killed in an accidental hanging during the play years ago.

If you have seen any found footage movie, you have seen Gallows. It is not at all special in what it does for horror or the style. It is so ordinary and predictable I knew exactly how it was going to play out, except for the ending which was clearly added in post-production. Whilst plugging my ears in anticipation for the jump-scares, I found myself bored and wanting to leave the theater.

But it is not a bad movie.

Gallows is about as average as average can get. The predictability and shameless use of tropes compounded its banality. Worse yet was seeing what could have made the movie better rendered moot by the lack of creativity and gross miscalculations in what makes a scene scary, achieving its goal as modern horror.

The most glaring problem with Gallows is the use of ambient sound. Apart from long spans of silence that signaled a coming jump scare, a low hum plays at points of ghost shenanigans, negating any attempt at building tension and allowing the audience to feel terror. There was one moment that could have been genius if the composer would stop copying Akira Yamaoka (you are cool if you get that reference). It Follows had ambient sound, but the way it was shot and put together created an atmosphere that worked in tandem with the music. Gallows has no atmosphere and made no attempt to create an environment compounded by fear.

Surprisingly, there was one aspect I enjoyed. The character of Ryan reminded me of me if I were in a regular high school. He does not care at all being a theater technician, making fun of the drama students behind their backs, abusing them, calling them nerds, and taking every opportunity to make a point his apathy. I know bullies are terrible, but Ryan was a bully one could like on the basis of irony. He was so nonchalant about the situation I wish the whole film were about him actively destroying the dignity of theater.

If you like good horror that is actually scary, do not see The Gallows. There are more than enough titles worthy of your time. But if you are a teenager who likes these movies because you do not know quality (and I know you exist because four of you sat behind me at the screening), you will like it.

 

Terminator Genisys

When I was five or six, Terminator 2 (T2) was the first movie I ever liked. It was a great experience with action, guns, the post-apocalypse, and robots mashed into one. It made me an instant fan of Breacher (name gag) and inspired me to seek out the rest of his filmography. As I grew older I came to appreciate its more overlooked qualities. Like Blade Runner showed how sci-fi could be dark and compelling, T2 was a fine example that a plot about cyborgs from the future can be written with a consistent and competent plot. Not since Godfather Part 2 has there been a sequel held in such high esteem. And like Godfather the third installment was less than serviceable and a fourth did not help either.

The biggest problem with T3 is its complete disregard for T2. Judgment Day could not have happened unless FOX was starved for cash and decided to ret-con the theme of choosing your own destiny into inevitability. So, after all the hard work of our heroes, the world was going to end regardless. On top of that, T3 was just generally bad with no characterization of John Matrix, CGI in place of effects I know can been done practical, and the complete disregard for what made T2 good. T4 was an improvement, but it was not smart enough to learn from its predecessor. Now comes Terminator Genisys (T5), a movie that appears to rewrite the entire series. While it looks interesting, it remains to be seen if it has what it takes to honor T2.

Many will find a lot to complain about. Many will say it is convoluted, leaves a lot of unanswered questions, and does not make a whole lot of sense when considering a few minute details. But do you know what everyone will agree with? Terminator Genisys is at last a worthy follow up to T2.

In post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, Kyle Reese, played by Jai Courtney, is tasked with going back in time to protect the mother of the resistance leader John Connor, played by Jason Clarke. After arriving in 1984, however, Reese finds not only is Sarah Connor, played by Emilia Clarke, in no need of protecting, she is aided by an older T-800 Terminator she nicknamed Pops, played by Dutch, and has anticipated Reese’s arrival for years.

Trying to explain a science that does not technically exist is futile, but in my Project Almanac review, I believe I explained it the best I could with movie logic. Please refer to this link before I begin my breakdown of the plot.

The Terminator series follows the Theory of Divergence where multiple timelines branch off from several points in a linear sequence. Judgment Day happens regardless of whatever changes are made in the past, but each change creates a new line. According to T5, 2–4 did not happen. Sarah was saved by Kyle, gave birth to John, and trained for the apocalypse.

However, like anyone with a time machine and a brain, Skynet learned if it sent a T-1000 to Sarah Connor’s childhood, it would have a better chance of finishing her off. At the same, a hacked T-800, Ben Richards, was also sent back to rescue Sarah and train her up to peak fighting condition for the attempt on her life in 1984 and beyond. Because the events of 1984 were going to happen regardless, Kyle is sent from an alternate branch where John has experienced the timeline of T1. And that is where the convolution begins.

The biggest problem many will face is the realization T5 is a direct sequel to 1 and does not follow the cannon of the series. It is difficult to comprehend being a franchise of four movies, but when you consider the logic and competence of 1 and 2, it makes total sense Skynet would set in motion ways to prolong its existence with a time machine. To put it bluntly, Terminator Genysis is a bigger ret-con than Silver Age Captain America and Chris Claremont’s X-Men combined. Putting your mind to it and thinking as though the last three movies did not happen will greatly help your understanding of what is going on. Pay attention and use your brain.

It is obvious T5 learned a lot from the last two films, most notably in the effects. The robot on robot fights show actors smashing each other across obvious sets with plenty of debris and destruction. Even better is a car chase where a school bus is flipped end over end. The makeup is also real with Julius Benedict donning facial prosthetics for battle damage. It is unfortunate, however, there were no animatronics in place of the skinless machines and a little too much CGI in places that would have looked better like this. It can be forgiven considering the scale, but nothing beats miniatures. Ever.

Performances were good all around. It was nice to see Courtney putting more effort into a character and Emilia Clarke proved she could be more than Daenerys Targaryen. Jason Clarke pulled his weight and J.K. Simmons brought some welcome comedy to the mix as O’Brien. It is no contest Harry Tasker takes the cake. No offense, but you are stupid to pick anyone else in the cast. Not since Sabotage has the man appeared more at home in a role in recent years and it must be seen for any admirers of Bar Patron (from The Rundown).

For me personally, the major problem with T5 is how big it feels. I know summer movies are supposed to be epic, but the story was so small it felt awkward and unnecessary with large set pieces and a scarcity of calm breaks in between. It also dragged the pacing to a crawl that could have ended 90 to 100 minutes in.

All in all, Terminator Genysis was a fun experience with plenty of action everyone can enjoy. It belongs third when stacked up against 1 in the middle and 2 on top. There is nothing overly wrong with it for anyone to make a fuss. If you do not agree with my findings, it is still better than the last two.

 

Ted 2

I may not be the biggest fan of Family Guy anymore, but the first Ted was actually okay as modern comedies go. Where Spy failed with its insult humor, Ted had that in addition to Seth MacFarlane’s signature references, a touch of the awkward, plenty of shock, and moments of absurdism with the motif of a talking bear as an allegory for growing up, succeeding where comedies from this past decade have failed. Does the sequel improve upon its predecessor or does Ted 2 make Blues Brothers 2000 look like The Blues Brothers?

Comedy sequels are always troublesome. Nine times out of ten they are terrible or not as good as the first. Either they do not go far enough, do too much, or ruin the reputation of the first. Dumb and Dumber To was clever in its use of subversion by destroying any hope of following the first because it knew it was impossible, celebrating Dumb and Dumber as a classic. Ted 2 is not a classic by any means, but it is worth a watch.

In an attempt to better their marriage by having a baby (yeah, that’ll work), Ted, played by Seth MacFarlane, and his wife Tami-Lynn, played by Jessica Barth, attempt to adopt, but are turned down because Ted is technically not a person in the eyes of the law. As a result his life begins to unravel and asks his best friend John, played by Mark Wahlberg, to help prove he is a person in court with their lawyer Samantha, played by Amanda Seyfried.

What makes 2 work is how much more there is compared to the first, but not enough that it is too much. Ted was in that MacFarlane sort of way grounded in reality, with relevant themes and jokes that did not go too far. 2 is also restrained in the level of overall content, but said content has been ramped up. Jokes are more crude, situations graphic, absurdism increased, and the scale of camp higher. It is very similar to Family Guy after it was resurrected, where you could not enjoy it if you took the show seriously. Ted 2 wants to be a straight comedy that does not care what anyone thinks.

The jokes included are both original and rehashes. While borrowing from your previous work is frowned up, 2 updates Family Guy’s gags to set them apart. The best jokes are original, of course, with one including a cameo of Liam Neeson, the theme song from Jurassic Park, and another with Patrick Warburton and Michael Dorn at the New York City Comic Con. Ironically, the end goal of 2 is to prove Ted has sentience, which was the plot of a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, and Patrick Stewart is back to provide narration. It is a nice bled of the clever and immature one can enjoy as long as you do not take it seriously.

While there are those who will, the major undeniable problem I find with 2 is its length. 115 minutes is not a lot, but there is a strong sense the film drags. It is very dense in how the story plays out, escalating from small-scale comedy, to courtroom drama, road trip, and ends with a huge joke fight. There is so much going on it can feel overwhelming. The road trip sequence could have been cut to make the film easier to sit through.

If you plan on seeing Ted 2, I strongly advise going in with an open mind. There is no reason to take any comedy seriously, especially ones made by Seth MacFarlane. If you are expecting a follow-up exactly like Ted, you will be sorely disappointed like Brad Jones of the Cinema Snob. Seriously, it was not that awful, Brad. Did your shoulder injury also break your ability to have fun or is that just the medication?

 

Max

When it comes to having an emotional reaction towards movies and/or general entertainment media, I am about as apathetic and unfeeling as Geralt of Rivia. Apart from anger and offense when I watch something made by Michael Bay, they leave no lasting impression because movies are a complete fabrication on part of people trying to make money. There are a number of works I hold in high esteem like Blade Runner and Apocalypse Now, but I am not enough of a fanatic to make a religion out of Death Wish or commit a crime in the name of Patton. People who lose their minds over Sansa getting raped or the eternal maelstrom of hilarity that is GamerGate have severe personality disorders that need attention. But what happens when a movie makes me feel?

Before the trailer started I knew the dog was going to die in Max. After all the films I have seen you cannot fool me with a heart-warming story about an animal and expect me to believe said animal will live to the end. I may be realistic and practical in my thinking, but I am not enough of a cynical monster I would not care about a movie involving a dog. Dogs are awesome and I do not like to see animals killed in movies or in real life. Did Max make me feel something or did its faults reaffirm my conviction to take nothing seriously?

Max unapologetically tells the story of a disgruntled youth finding happiness and a sense of belonging through a just as damaged animal. Behind its starry-eyed venire is a story about a soldier coping with the loss of his best friend in an environment beyond the battlefield. With all its sincerity, however, Max makes more than a few missteps into the realm of Christian propaganda.

After the death of his brother in Afghanistan, Justin, played by Josh Wiggins, becomes the reluctant owner of a service dog named Max, a Belgian Malinois. Together they must learn to live with each other and change if they want to get along.

When I say Christian propaganda, I am not referring to the overall presentation/purpose of the film. One could argue a story that focuses on soldiers with an Americana aesthetic is propaganda, but what separates Max, Act of Valor, and American Sniper from God’s Not Dead is their honesty.

The basis of propaganda is a perpetuation of falsehoods and sensationalism. Joseph Goebbels took the delusional ideals of Nazism, the growing popularity of anti-Semitism, the sheer visual presence of the Nazi Party, and convinced a whole country to support a madman. He took advantage of peoples’ fear and hatred in the same fashion Christian directors promote their agendas.

Their messages are not as dangerous as what the Nazis had in mind, but that does not change the fact the most offensive Christian films are built on lies conjured by prejudice. God’s Not Dead made Atheists look like heartless condescending monsters, Liberals like cancerous (literally) hate mongers, and Muslims like woman-beating iconoclasts. The message and intention of the movie, evident in the title, hides the fact it uses deception to push its agenda on its audience.

Max and films alike do not have to lie to get their message across. War, personal loss, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are real issues that need to be addressed in their fullest. American Sniper did it the best by showing Chris Kyle, an all around ideal paragon of heroism, as human as possible. At home he constantly struggles with rehabilitation back into life as a civilian, a spouse who worries, and the notion he is powerless to keep his friends alive when in combat. That is what separates realistic war films from actual propaganda that has to lie.

Lengthy digression aside, how does Max share elements of Christian films? The problems lie in the feverishly botched dialog and characters that irritated me to no end. Where God’s Not Dead had no clue how Atheists and Muslims worked, it is almost as if Max was written by aliens who have no concept of how people talk to each other and behave. “Misinformed” and “out-of-touch” are keywords here.

The younger characters exchange lines so awkward in delivery and content I was squirming in my seat. I admit I am old, but Jesus Christ, do kids still refer to each other as B? Did the child actors even bother to speak up about what was coming out of their mouths? Maybe it was the fault of the director, but I have a feeling whoever wrote this also wrote the 90s abortion that is Airborne.

The issue with the characters can be justified by the story. In most cases one must fabricate conflict and crisis to give the plot weight. A perfect example is in Adaptation where Nicholas Cage struggled to make a boring story exciting for audiences. The same can be said in the case of Max, but that will not stop me from talking about the most glaring problem-character and making this review longer than it aught to be.

Justin is the most petulant little twerp I have ever seen. He grew up with two family members in the military, has more stuff in his room than I ever had at his age, and parents who thanklessly provide all those great things. But because the story needs a flawed protagonist, Justin is ungrateful to the bother that gave his life for his country, is extremely disrespectful for a kid who is supposed to have grown up in the South, and pirates video games for a profit when he could be an employee at a business his father conveniently owns. He changes by the time the film concludes, of course, but the time before was so infuriating I wished Justin was real so I could scalp him.

Other problems bugged me to no end.

How does a civilian teenager get access to a secure military installation where K9 units are developed and trained? Do they let people in based on the honor system or are the guards really that stupid? Why does a location that supposedly takes place in Texas look like North Carolina? How did an enlisted Marine gain the ability to transport weapons and explosives from Afghanistan to the States with intent to sell and why was their no formal investigation by the Department of Defense when discrepancies were uncovered? Is a slap on the wrist standard punishment for losing captured enemy firearms? Do Mexicans like My Chemical Romance (MCR)? No, seriously, there was a Mexican character wearing an MCR shirt early in the movie. It did not make any sense to me.

Anyway, the cast itself delivered serviceable performances. The standout was Thomas Haden Church as the father Ray. He really sold the idea of being a parent and veteran who struggles with being called a hero and unintentionally responsible for the death of his son. Luke Kleintank put his best sociopathic foot forward as Tyler. As an antagonist he wants to make money through illegal means, but has enough of a conscience to keep everything on an even keel. It is undeniable the dog who played Max stole the show. Imagine Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of Chris Kyle in canine form, with ticks and behaviors not unlike human soldiers with PTSD. Either he was trained to act in such a way or he was an actual service dog.

Problems aside, Max has enough honesty on the subject of soldiers returning home to overlook a few of its faults. It is still very much a dog movie about a boy and his companion improving each other’s lives. If you prefer something realistic without the sentimental undertones and propaganda feel, American Sniper or Act of Valor will serve you well.

 

Gemma Bovery

This week Ted 2 and Max are coming out. My plan was to see both on the same night, but my local theater is playing the latter before it is gone after Thursday. Show times are subject to change, but my plan for now is to see Max first and then Ted 2 on Friday. Hopefully AMC will post more times in the near future.

* * *

My review of Dope brought to mind the issue of judging movies at face value based on promotional materials. Trailers often provide misinformation that severely affect one’s perception of the title before their expectations are shattered upon viewing, boosting the level of discovery. In the case of Dope, I was expecting a comedy and got a tone-deaf slog that does more damage to race-relations than a reference I find too soon to make at this time. When I watched the trailer for Gemma Bovery, I assumed it was a typical romance about a foreigner falling for the temptations of a foreign land. Was the movie far different than what I expected or did I guess correct?

Surprisingly, the end result was the former. I am not one for romances, at least the ones made by Nicholas Sparks and Tyler Perry, but I am perfectly fine with romantic elements in movies outside of the genre. Shaun of the Dead is a perfect example as well as some romantic comedies. Bovery is not a straight romance with its unique blend of genres.

After a pair of English expats move to Normandy, France, husband and wife Charlie, played by Jason Flemyng, and Gemma Bovery, played by Gemma Arterton, baker and bibliophile Martin, played by Fabrice Luchini, becomes convinced the couple is a direct parallel to the characters of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Martin’s fascination with the strange turn of events drives him to observe Gemma as the plot of the story begins to manifest in reality.

The film is an adaptation of Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel of the same name, which is technically an adaptation of Flaubert’s novel. I cannot attest to the accuracy of the film, as I have not read either works. Therefore, I recommend reading a different review if you are looking for comparisons to the source material.

Bovery has very foreign humor, both British and French, with a consistent element of gothic that ties it together. It could be considered a dark comedy, especially at the every end, but in the build-up before the tone is very light-hearted with shenanigans involving Martin stalking Gemma, engaging in unintentionally sexual situations, fighting his urge to give into temptation, and his prophetic machinations based on Flaubert’s novel. The presentation compounds the charm until the conclusion brings it full stop into tragedy.

It does not affect the overall movie nor does it feel out of place, but there was so much build-up and the other elements so tame, it felt like a punch in the gut. The tragedy was so effective it was hard to comprehend what actually happened because we cared about the characters and believed they have what it takes overcome the odds.

The aesthetic of Bovery is simple yet beautiful. There are maybe a total of six locations and their respective exteriors, shot in springtime, and through a lens that brightens light and color into a blurry watercolor look. It emphasizes the natural beauty of the environment and the underlying naive romanticism of the story. The film could have been shot in a very general manner, but it was a nice touch I feel requires mention.

The strongest performances were Arterton and Luchini. She was believable in English and French as a foreigner dumbfounded by her surroundings, falling for its temptations, and struggling to move on from her past. Luchini carried the movie and provided much of the comedy. Like Arterton, his wide-eyed wonder at meeting the personification of his favorite novel felt genuine.

Being a French movie, as I stated in my review of The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, if you do not like reading, you will not like Gemma Bovery. But if you are interested in a unique story with romance, comedy, and tragedy and do not mind the language barrier, give it a look.

 

Dope

This week nothing came out that many people would find relevant. I am still reviewing the movies that did, of course, but at the same time I have a ton of schoolwork I must complete and another important development I will share when the time comes. Next week will be better with Ted 2 and Max… hopefully.

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In a world where trailers are an art form and borderline hard to miss on a variety digital platforms, it is difficult to go into a movie without a single hint or notion of what it might be. As a critic I find it important to avoid trailers as a means of having no expectations for a subject before viewing. It allows the film to speak for itself without the help of its promotional material. Such was the situation going into Dope. Did my decision for vacancy prove useful or should I have known what I was getting into?

Watching the trailer would not have changed what I feel about Dope. Trailers give a general breakdown on what movies are about and still I find myself confused by what I just watched. Perhaps it is because I cannot relate to teenagers growing up in Inglewood, California or maybe Dope has a crisis of identity.

Malcolm, played by Shameik Moore, is a 90s hip-hop buff who wants to go to Harvard. After accepting an invitation to a birthday party in the hopes of a potential hook up, he and his hipster friends find themselves caught in the middle of a drug deal gone wrong. When it seemed like just another day in a dangerous neighborhood, Malcolm becomes the reluctant owner of said narcotics and must sell them off at the behest of an intimidating crime boss.

Dope’s identity crisis is that of its tone and purpose. Taken at face value, it appears to be a comedy similar to Superbad with an early 90s LA aesthetic. There are plenty moments of humor and situations of hipsters being hipsters in the hood until they are over shadowed by gang warfare, teenagers pushing drugs, tension-packed stand-offs, elaborate scheming that would make Walter White blush, and a quick digression into inspiring underprivileged youths while contradicting its own message. It was confusing and especially shocking at the very end.

The central conceit of Dope is Malcolm choses to do well in school, have high aspirations, and works to better his life and mind. As a result he is seen as a geek and endures routine harassment from students of a lesser sort. He is inherently good and does not let anything get him down, but as film progresses he assimilates himself into a life of crime that could have been avoided had he been his regular honest self. And at the end, where Malcolm narrates his Harvard application essay, he calls attention the epidemically common misconception that young black men are criminals, when in reality they are like everyone else, of course. The problem in regards to the film is Malcolm is still a criminal doing criminal shit!

You can be the nicest, smartest person in the world who people love and admire, but if you are a mass murderer, it does not matter how nice and smart you are. Hitler was a vegetarian who loved animals and enforced conservation laws that preserved Germany’s wildlife when he was in power, but he was still Hitler! This same gross miscalculation in Dope perpetuates the stereotype that if you are black, young, and male, you are a criminal who will always fall into a life of violence and condemnable activities.

Maybe I am as far from the target demographic as possible to fully understand what the film was trying say and gravely misinterpreted its message. An average white guy does not usually see movies about black hipsters. But upon revelation of the conclusion, after what started as a promising comedy, I cannot in good conscience recommend Dope to prospective viewers. Though not at all bad and mostly funny in some places, the ending replaced my hope with a sense of dread and discomfort. I recommend Friday, Top Five, or The Boondocks as worthy substitutes if you must see something his weekend that is not Jurassic World.

 

Jurassic World

For my generation, Jurassic Park is our Citizen Kane. Where Orson Welles revolutionized what you can do with film, Steven Spielberg wrote the book on how to use visual effects in ways that are now mythological. The complexity of animatronics gave the dinosaurs more life and personality than anything created with a computer. Of course, Jurassic Park used CGI in tandem with the practical, but it was the practical that stood out. From the contraction of a T-Rex’ pupils, to the large-scale robots, the dinosaurs felt alive. Each movie applied the same visual techniques and in the years after, when there were no more Jurassic films after 3, CGI took over the job of true artists and consumed the film industry. Henceforth, practical effects and the movies that used them have become legend.

That creates and interesting dilemma for Jurassic World (JW). Park was very much of its time, when CGI was in its infancy. Looking at it objectively, the movie succeeds mostly on nostalgia and the admiration of fans, thus negating the potential of JW if judged in regards to the originals. A fanatical love of the past was not the mindset I wanted going in, as it would profoundly affect this review, unlike what many other fringe-critics might do. Does Jurassic World stand on its own or did it need more time in the incubator?

If I were to rank the series, JW is third under 3 (yes, 3 is that good), with the first obviously on top. It has everything you expect: dinosaurs, pulp science fiction, an emphasis on the business side of running a theme park, and the underling theme of man meddling with nature. Its biggest flaw is a lack of focus.

After the events of the original movies, Jurassic Park has been rebranded as Jurassic World, revitalized into a fully functional theme park of over 20 thousand guests. In an effort to remain relevant, Park Director Claire, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, enlists the help of her geneticists to craft the first dinosaur hybrid, the indominus rex (D-Rex). But when she underestimates the creature’s capabilities, the D-Rex escapes captivity and wreaks havoc on the park.

The issue with focus is in regards to the story. The other films had two or three plotlines with a common thread of the park. In JW, there are maybe five, all of which still tied to the park, but there is so much going on it is almost difficult to keep up. I say almost because you can figure out what is going, even though there is a lot to take in. The story had many layers that needed to be peeled and discarded.

On a positive note, it was far easier to follow than Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Regardless of plot issues, JW is still quite good. There are more than enough scenes of dinosaurs in their natural habitat, interactions with humans, and plenty of intense dino-on-dion fights. Though more is not always best, the slow pace and minimal exposure helps stifle the excess. Even the D-Rex, long after it was revealed, is sometimes hidden throughout. If it were completely hidden like a classic monster, it would have emphasized the menace and terror of having an intelligent predator as big as a dinosaur.

Fans of Park will find a lot to enjoy. BD Wong’s Dr. Wu returns as the chief scientist of genetics and one other character that unfortunately is not Jeff Goldblum. On a deeper level, JW uses the nostalgia of the first film to celebrate its legacy.

The movie knows it will never be as good and acknowledges Park’s legendary status. The characters visit the original setting, tinker with the night vision goggles, drive one of the jeeps, and one character wears a shirt of the iconic logo. Said character, Jake Johnson’s Lowery, alludes to the previous failures while dinosaur figurines decorate his desk. He represents the nostalgia and serves as a buffer between the old and new. Claire even criticizes him for holding onto the past, reaffirming the new park will do just fine.

Overuse of CGI aside, Jurassic World is beautiful. It has a color pallet of greens and blues that compliments the lost world/classic Hollywood aesthetic. Contemporary elements like an excess of glass and shiny metals are tailored to a point they do not affect the overall style. For me personally, JW has nothing on the beauty and mayhem of Fury Road.

I can imagine a lot people were rather turned off by the inclusion of Ty Simpkins, the kid from Iron Man 3. Upon viewing, he was harmless as Gray, an exact parallel to Tim from the first film. His brother Zach, played by Nick Robinson, on the other hand was kind of ridiculous. I understand he is supposed to be an apathetic teenager obsessed with his phone, but his character was so blatant it was like listening to a Linkin Park song. Vincent D’Onfrio’s villain Hoskins was also blatant, but he was more of an active character. Howard probably had the best performance as she goes from a money-hungry cooperate type to tough survivalist who realizes her mistakes. Chris Pratt brought his usual charm to Owen that fans of his will certainly appreciate and had good chemistry opposite Howard.

One complaint I have is very personal and has no correlation to the quality of JW. In a scene after the D-Rex escapes containment, a helicopter equipped with an M134 minigun is sent out to kill it. However, the man behind the gun fails to even get shots on target and instead makes a trail in the dirt. Let me be clear, no one on this planet, soldier or otherwise, could ever miss with an M134. That weapon will hit whatever you aim at, the molecules around it, and everything behind. I suspect the gunner was a Democrat or European. If Jesse Ventura were on the trigger, the D-Rex would have been dog meat.

You should see Jurassic World. Fans and ordinary moviegoers alike will find a lot to enjoy. There is no denying the use of CGI takes away the magic of the series, but it still feels like a Jurassic Park film while standing on its own. It is a noteworthy entry in a so far pretty decent summer film season.

 

Spy

I did not want to see Spy for the same reason I skipped both Paul Blart movies. As biased as this sounds, the only comedic actor to successfully pull of the fat-person shtick is Chris Farley. From Saturday Night Live to Black Sheep, the man used a combination of heart and charisma to make him more than just another fat guy. He worked hard, no matter how obnoxious he had to get, and became a legend. After his passing, the vacuum was filled with half-hearted imitators who thought they could live up to his standards based solely on their body image. People like Kevin James can only dream of reaching such heights. The few actors to come close are Rebel Wilson and Will Sasso, who in a sketch from Mad TV called to attention the notion that being fat somehow makes you funny. The only actor I am still unsure of is Melissa McCarthy.

Spy is my first exposure to her style of comedy. Perhaps it would have been best to get acquainted with her past work to establish an understanding of her shtick. However, I believe going in cold may help this review and recommendation for those in a similar position. Did McCarthy rise as high as Farley or does she have a ways to go?

Being unfamiliar with her work it is hard to judge if Spy is good. I will admit to some funny moments that made me laugh. In that regard the film achieves its goal. At the same time, the level of humor is less than serviceable. Farley’s movies were not exactly highbrow either, but they at least had actual skill and talent behind the comedy.

McCarthy plays Susan, a CIA analysts partnered with veteran secret agent Fine, played by Jude Law. After information on the Agency’s entire spy network is compromised, Susan is sent into the field with minimal training to stop a terrorist plot by Rayna Boyanov, played by Rose Bryne.

The problem with the humor is the complete lack of set-ups and pay-offs. Like traditional plotting in storytelling, the best jokes begin with a set-up, followed by the pay-off with the punch line after some indeterminate about of time. The timing can be any length as long as you end with a proper pay-off. Here is a good example of a simple joke from Police Squad.

There are no real jokes in Spy and the humor is relegated exclusively to reactions, insults, and cheap gags where a corpse evacuates its bowels and McCarthy falls down. There is nothing clever, interesting, or well constructed, as if no one involved really cared about making even a decent effort. There are no set-ups and no pay-offs, exchanged for scenes of characters berating each other and their reactions. Either McCarthy did not care enough to come up with decent material or writer/director Paul Feig has no grasp of what makes good comedy.

There were some moments I feel require mention. Jason Statham plays a parody of himself as Rick Ford, a delusional agent who boasts to having a slew of extraordinary experiences, all of which are references to Crank and Transporter. Peter Serafinowicz in a minor role as agent Aldo sexually harasses McCarthy every time they are together. I am in no way condoning sexual harassment, but it made for some funny scenes. Miranda Hart as Susan’s awkward friend Nancy had a couple nice moments toward the end.

Like Entourage, recommending Spy is difficult because Melissa McCarthy has a well-established fan base. If you are a fan of something, even if it is stupid, do as you wish regardless of what some pretentious critic says. For everyone else, if the entire movie were about Jason Statham’s character, I would tell you to get a ticket. If you like elaborate insults and the reactions of those being insulted, look no further. A far better alternative if you want a good espionage comedy is the entire series of Archer. You can never go wrong with Archer. Ever.

 

Entourage

Before Tyrion Lannister there was Ari Gold. And before Game of Thrones there was Entourage, one of three series that truly defined HBO (not including Six Feet Under). It brought a kind of satire not seen often in television, a humorous look into the glamour and materialistic bureaucracy of Hollywood from the perspective of an actor, his friends, and agent. I must confess to seeing only a few seasons and not the end, but it was more than enough to leave an impression. When I saw a theatrical follow-up was on the way, however, the potential quality of the adaptation came into question. Does Entourage do the show justice or does it make the Sex in the City films look like Citizen Kane?

Thankfully, as a stand-alone feature, Entourage holds its own on the silver screen. If you are fan or even passingly familiar with the series, the movie will make you feel right at home. There in lies the problem most film adaptations of television face. Though there is plenty of exposition to get the audience up to speed on the characters, non-fans will have trouble understanding why Ari is the better than everyone else and why Drama is Drama. It walks a very thin line between accessibility and exclusivity.

After a failed marriage, Vince gathers Drama, E, Turtle, and his agent Ari for a risky move into his directorial debut. When money troubles halt production, Ari uses his explosive anger and wit to secure funds at the cost of submitting to the prime shareholder’s son Travis, played by Haley Joel Osment, and his obnoxious demands.

In simple terms, Entourage is a standard episode with an added 44 minutes. It has two extra subplots to involve the whole crew and the same structure and plotting as the show. Everyone has an equal share of the story with the focus on Ari trying to get more money for Vince’s movie. The weakest subplot has to be Turtle’s where he attempts to date MMA fighter Rhonda Rousey with no overarching consequences to the main story. It is not so much a problem considering the other plots connect and wrap-up nicely in comparison.

The same humor is present and accounted for with the signature banter between characters and exaggerated portrayal of the business of Hollywood. Peppered throughout are over a dozen cameos of actors to enhance the satire and create a sense of pseudo-realism. To newcomers, most of the humor is borderline sexist if your feelings are easily hurt. To that effect, the film is tailored more for men, but if you enjoy bro-comedy there is plenty to go around.

One negative I find is in the visuals and overall aesthetic. The show was very much grounded in reality despite being satire, but the adaptation uses its budget to bring the glam and lucre up to 100. Everyone is beautiful, wears expensive clothes, drives expensive cars, and has giant houses. Obviously the movie is about Hollywood stardom, exaggerated though it may be, but Entourage overdoes it in such a way it kills the atmosphere and sense of realism. As painful as it is to admit, it reminds me of Sex and the City 2.

Another problem is the inclusion of British television personality Piers Morgan as one of the cameos. Who in their right mind thought it was a good idea to cast that pretentious limey slag in any part of this movie? Was it you, Wahlberg? Sure, he is present for maybe five minute total, but in those five minutes I found myself so personally and profoundly offended, I had to make mention in my review. Seeing that misinformed proponent of yellow journalism do anything on screen almost ruined the experience. Maybe after you do research and actually be an American, your opinion on my right to bear arms will mean less so than it already does, Morgan, you Christo-fascist twerp.

Entourage is difficult to recommend. If you are a fan, you will certainly enjoy it. If you are not but you have some interest, I advise doing light research on the characters and story before buying a ticket. If you are still unsure, it is a far better alternative to Aloha.

 

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

This week I am taking a light vacation for a few days. Reviews for Entourage, Spy, and Insidious: Chapter 3 will be days late as a result. I apologize for the inconvenience.

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Since Get Hard I have been reluctant to see most comedies. I am now more than ever hesitant about anything I do not already find funny. Though it appeared charming in the trailer, I did not go into The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared expecting to laugh. Was I proven wrong or am I right to think comedy is dead?

I am not sure it is that comedy is dead, but contemporary comedy is on its way to the grave. Since 2000, I cannot recall a decent comedy that did not feature Will Ferrell or was not made by Judd Apatow. As the years went on, the standards of humor degraded and wasted away into un-funny jokes based solely on awkward situational gags. With that came an appreciation for classic comedies and 100-Year Old Man does its best to emulate those hallowed works.

The story follows Allan, played by Robert Gustafsson, a retired bomb maker perpetually oblivious to the world around him. On his 100th birthday Allan is drawn away from his retirement home by the sounds of explosions and embarks on an unintentional journey. Along the way he picks up a variety of followers while avoiding a gang of skinheads that want a suitcase Allan took for himself.

100-Year Old Man feels like a mix of the best of Monty Python, The Blues Brother (the first one, of course), and Forest Gump directed by Swedes. On top of the pursuit, road trip, and life story elements is a kaleidoscope of the most ridiculous dark humor I have ever seen. Allan and his companions actively kill, injure, and dispose of corpses in such a way to be played for laughs. While that does not sound like an ideal comedy, the film uses its theme of accepting fate to make it work.

Right from the start Allan believes he should go through life according to whatever happens around him. He is of the opinion thinking too much gets you hurt and one need only go with the flow of reality and/or fate, no matter the outcome. He understands he has no control over what goes on in the world and whatever happens to him was simply meant to.

The first victim dies after the characters forget they left him in a walk-in freezer before they hide his body in a crate like it was a casual process. Being a comedy, the shock is played for laughs because they accept their accidental killing of another human being and deal with it as if it were an ordinary event.

In an obvious allusion to the Forest Gump influence, between scenes from the present are flashbacks to Allan growing up and experiencing a variety or historical events like the Spanish Civil War and the invention of the Atom Bomb. The flashbacks further establish Allan’s acceptance of fate and how it has made his life wholesome and rife with unique experiences.

One negative I am reluctant to point out is the foreign-ness of 100-Year Old Man. American audiences who have never heard of Monty Python will be confused by the style of humor and take it way too seriously. Another aspect conventional audiences will find issue with is the use of subtitles because the film is Swedish. Then again, mainstream moviegoers usually have no interest in foreign movies.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared was an interesting end to my week that more than made up for the rage inducing shit-storm of Aloha. It reaffirmed my appreciation for classic comedy and inspires hope of a reemergence in the near future. Definitely go see it if you can.

 

Aloha

Usually I begin my critiques with an introduction that illustrates my feelings before seeing a movie or a brief history of the title in question. Hours before viewing I will write the intro and fill out the rest after. Upon my return from the theater, I found my feelings so profoundly changed I erased my work and started over. I understand most movies are made for specific niche audiences. Some people like horror and those same people do not like dramas as much as others. Aloha is certainly not a movie for me, but that does not change the fact it does more damage to Hawaii than the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Aloha is a finding-yourself drama (FYD), a specialty of director Cameron Crowe. The basic structure of an FYD involves an arrogant/depressed protagonist going through a transformation by way of a usually female opposite. While that may sound interesting, most FYDs are trite pretentious crap. This is all dependent on execution, of course, and Aloha was more botched than a lethal injection.

Five minutes in I knew it was terrible. Even worse was my professional obligation to stay in preparation for my critique. Watching Aloha was an experience akin to a pervert exposing himself in an attempt to get noticed, as if Cameron Crowe was actively shoving his cock in the face of the audience.

The film took every opportunity to show how quirky and full of life it was with overly expressive characters that make no sense as real human beings. Everyone from Bradley Cooper’s Brian to a worthless child character is an exaggeration with traits and ticks blown up for the sake of being strange and different. It uses this eccentricity to project genuine heart and Aloha is so transparent in the process, it is practically invisible.

It also does not help that the film thinks it is too good to be clear about what is happening in the story. I am all for subtly, but when the plots of Only God Forgives and I’m Not There are more defined it is time for a rewrite. You have failed at cinema if your audience has no idea what is going on before the start of Act 2. Some elements were more obvious, but nothing is clearly explained until whatever was supposed to happen is made apparent 15 minutes after it happens because the film is so cluttered and ambiguous.

On a positive note, the acting was acceptable and inoffensive. Cooper was his himself, Rachel McAdams as Tracy did fine, and Emma Stone played the thoroughly squared away Captain Ng well. Bill Murray as Carson did not care enough to act, but I do not blame him. The real standout is John Krasinski as Woody. He had maybe five lines between huge chucks of silence and stole the whole movie.

Aloha sucks. If you plan on seeing it, I advise consulting your physician because you have brain damage. Almost a day later my rage has yet to fully diminish. I only hope tonight’s indie release, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, calms my mood and helps me forget I ever saw Aloha. Thanks, Cameron Crowe. Feel free to fuck off the edge of my dick.

 

San Andreas

As appealing as the prospect of seeing California swallowed by its own incompetence seemed, I did not want to see San Andreas (SA). To be entirely honest, disaster movies are more boring than entertaining. Maybe when I was younger I enjoyed watching a volcano suddenly appear in the middle of LA, but now that I am older, I find more satisfaction in personal disaster in the same vein as Jackass and action movies that feature a lot of violence and gore. However, I will admit I ironically enjoyed the large-scale destruction of Man of Steel, whereas others took it too seriously being a Superman movie. The only aspect of SA that made the inevitability of seeing it bearable was the addition of The Rock, an actor so charismatic and full of enthusiasm, he made Pain & Gain good. Does he save San Andreas from being CG drenched slog or can the film stand on its own?

Beyond the cast I knew nothing about SA going in. 30 minutes later, I thought I was watching one of Roland Emmerich’s annual popcorn schlock features. Even the font of the title cards matched his style. It was not until the end I discovered it was the work of Sam Peyton, a relatively unknown director. And therein lies the singular issue that brings the movie down. No matter how you look at it, no matter the excuses you could make, San Andreas is an unremarkable disaster movie, if not a copy of similar titles.

The Scorpion King plays Ray, a rescue-helicopter pilot in Los Angeles. When his estranged wife and daughter are caught in a cataclysmic earthquake along the San Andreas Fault, Ray uses his honed survival skills to save his family from an ever-worsening crisis across the state of California.

Roland Emmerich is a formulaic director. His adherence to the method of which he structures character and story makes Blake Snyder, author of Save the Cat, look like a good writer.

His characters are the most blatant thread throughout his filmography: male protagonist with relationship issues, estranged wife/girlfriend of protagonist, smart/eccentric daughter/son, rich minor character that dies or becomes humbled, scientist that nobody listens to, and miscellaneous supporting characters that are in some way related to the main cast.

The disaster or event involving the characters happens in an obvious sequence: family estrangement made clear, disaster start, destruction, characters caught in destruction, escape, save, escape, save, harrowing failure, feigned death, resurrection, and happy ending where the estrangement is resolved.

That is the Emmerich Formula and the foundation for which other disaster movies are built. Take every disaster movie you can imagine, line them up side-by-side, and they will match each other beat for beat. Sure, all movies are the same, but it is different when an entire sub-genre adheres to the same structure as if it were afraid to try something new. That is the problem with San Andreas and the only reason it fails.

To my surprise, Mathayus (you are cool if you get that reference) was not the focus of the film, a minor flaw that would have helped the movie. The real protagonist is Ray’s daughter Blake, played by Alexandra Daddario, an actress with eyes so blue I am convinced she is a Fremen from Dune. Blake endures the most, isolated in San Francisco where the brunt of the earthquake is being felt. She uses her wit and will to get to safety and wait for help in a very physical and emotional performance. I like Sarge, but Daddario made the character her own in an emerging line of new strong female characters.

Like The Age of Adaline, San Andreas is painfully average without the pain. It is not good and it is not bad. Those who have not seen a disaster movie will certainly enjoy it. But for everyone else, it is nothing special and will leave no lasting impression beyond Daddario’s performance. I recommend Tomorrowland or Mad Max: Fury Road if you must see something this weekend.

 

Tomorrowland

I would like to apologize for being late on my posting. I started writing when I got home and passed out halfway through. By now you have already made up your mind about seeing Tomorrowland, but if you are still on the fence, it is well worth your time and money.

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I want to preface this critique by saying I will not see Poltergeist (2015) because I already did. By that I mean the 1982 version, the only version anyone should be watching. Reboots and remakes make me hate movies, especially when the remake in question is of an already perfect film. There are exceptions, of course (The Departed, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Heat, True Grit, and Dredd), but if you remake something that did not need to be remade (RoboCop, Arthur, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, The Wicker Man, and Total Recall), you are a talentless hack so devoid of skill and artistic integrity, you are less than human. If you take my word for it and avoid seeing Poltergeist (2015), should you go see Tomorrowland (TL) or give Mad Max: Fury Road a second look?

Short answer: go see it. There is no denying the film’s message and overall agenda, easily dismissing it as starry-eyed Disney propaganda. But what would you rather watch: a movie that says intellect and creativity are important components to making the world a better place, or a movie that says a good Atheist is a dead Atheist? If you picked the former, you will certainly enjoy TL. If you chose the latter, watch God’s Not Dead, and then kill yourself.

Freed of her purgatory as a Nicholas Sparks doormat character, Britt Robertson takes the lead role of Casey, a young woman dissatisfied with a world that seems to be taking steps backwards from progress. After failing to thwart a demolition crew from taking down a NASA launch pad, she happens upon a mysterious pin that transporters her to the futuristic utopia of Tomorrowland. Compelled to visit the fantastical metropolis, Casey sets out on a journey to discover its location and the meaning behind the pin.

TL is very similar to Andrew Stanton’s John Carter, a movie that failed because audiences took it a little too seriously than the people who made it. It is not as if the production did not care, but the filmmakers were being as earnest as possible in their adaptation of a story that did not care for science and logic. Sure, it does not make sense that Carter can breath on Mars, but who cares? Do all movies have to be serious and realistic? The film knew what it was: a sci-fi fantasy depicted in the classical sense, made all the more better by its honesty and unapologetic adherence to being a fun story. Despite everything that people thought was wrong with it, John Carter succeeded and Tomorrowland is its better half in every respect.

There may be an agenda at play in the subtext, but TL can be enjoyed on a thematic and creative level. It is old fashion pulp science fiction, ripped straight from the imaginations of 1950’s futurists, and the retro covers of Popular Science. It has everything from jets packs and flying cars, to a rocket built under the Eiffel Tower by Tesla, Edison, Verne, and Eiffel himself, with the capability of extra-dimensional travel. Imaginative is the key word with everything that could be possible present and accounted for on screen.

TL celebrates its message as much as its creativity. Only in a Disney movie will you find a deceptively positive outlook on the worst parts of life, except TL tells you how to make it a reality. It does not lie about the world being a dangerous place. The start of the film makes it absolutely clear we are in many ways on the road to disaster before it shows the characters actively working to make a difference. It shows what a few people can do and then what many can do. If the final frames do not inspire you to actually do something with your life, get ready for a Mad Max future.

George Clooney was his usual Clooney-self as Frank Walker, and Raffey Cassidy is a welcome surprise as Athena, but Robertson stood out the most. She brought real charisma and heart to Casey, giving her a sense of realism despite being a hyper intelligent teenager. It was good to see Robertson put forth her all into making the character believable and sympathetic. That Nicholas Sparks slag Sophia is nothing more than a footnote compared to Casey.

The main problem with TL ties into Hugh Laurie’s Governor Nix. The issue is not his performance because Laurie is great as usual, but the time in which he is on screen is a direct result of the film’s backward pacing. The total runtime is 130 minutes and it is not until the last 45 the entire point of the story is made clear, brought to a climax, and resolved. The first 85 are almost entirely set-up and action, giving us plenty of character moments as they work towards their goal. But there is very little to no information given about why they need to get to Tomorrowland. The incentive to care is certainly present, but it would have helped if their goal were made clear and obvious.

I get the impression this was the result of writer Damon Lindelof trying to build the point of the film as a twist, saving the really meaty parts for a finale. That might have worked for a television show, but in a movie where it is essential to tell the story in a compressed manner, you must give the audience a concrete reason to sit and watch the entire feature. You can build to a finale reveal over the course of 13 one-hour episodes, not in 130 minutes.

That being said, Laurie’s justified villain speech in the last 15 is well worth sitting through the first 85. The man should be cast as Doctor Doom if Marvel ever gets back the rights to Fantastic Four.

Tomorrowland is a fantastic summer movie. It is an enjoyable spectacle of imagination and creativity with an important message. You can safely see it and feel good about having fun and an emotional reaction. There is something wrong with you if you do not feel something toward the end. But if you are not interested, Fury Road has not gone anywhere.

Mad Max: Fury Road

TRIGGER WARNING FOR ALL AUSTRALIAN READERS

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The idea movies like the Wrymwood: Road of the Dead, The Rover, the Saw series, and Daybreakers could come out of a country so borderline fascist and inept in every possible way of being a sensible government in an attempt to emulate the worst parts of America as Australia, is a bigger mystery than how Somalia is a utopia in comparison. I suppose the Ozploitation genre is a result of repressed emotions while living in a nanny state of gun prohibition, negative gearing, a refugee crisis (Nauru Detention Centre), a Liberal Party that makes our Democrats look like decent people, media censorship regulations that seem to be run by Jack Thompson and a cabal of dumb Christian mothers, a fishing industry with no idea how conservation works in tandem with hunting, and more fracking of the country’s primary water source (the Great Artesian Basin) than the entire run of the new Battlestar Galactica. At this point, Australia, I am torn between making fun of you for being the poster child for terrible government or thanking you for creating Mad Max and setting the standard for the post-apocalyptic genre.

In retrospect, the Mad Max trilogy is more charming than revolutionary. It brought to life the what-if scenarios of a world bereft of resources after a war or series of wars waged over what little remained, a future better suited for today’s Australia. However, director George Miller did not foresee the emergence of renewable resources and the end of the Cold War in the decades that followed.

In that way, the films provide an interesting insight into what could be if the world lost its mind and reverted back into barbarism, with the added benefit of modern transportation and firearms. Furthermore, I see the trilogy as a microcosm of Australia’s burgeoning film industry of the 70s, with Miller making the first film from scratch and improving with each installment. He sped up the footage to make the vehicles move faster than they were, used cameras in ways that became dogma by which all cars should be filmed, and used practical stunts and dummies for most of the crash scenes, a lost art in a world of CGI. The films’ treatment of narrative is also important to note. Though Max is the title character, he is mostly a silent, passive protagonist throughout. It allowed him to be a surrogate for the audience to which the world of the Wasteland could be built and experienced from the relative perceptive of a newcomer.

30 years later, George Miller has returned to the series he created with Fury Road. In its development came talk of practical effects and the potential it was indeed a sequel and not another reboot in the long list of unnecessary remakes that have plagued theaters for years. Does Mad Max: Fury Road jumpstart the genre or did it come a few decades too late?

If you are a fan of The Walking Dead, Fury Road will make you hate it and all the other gritty depressing post-apocalyptic titles that have come out since The Road. In place of gloom and predictable power struggles between rival survivor groups comes a vibrant creative aesthetic splashed in color, a fully realized world, and a tsunami of vehicular violence and slaughter that makes the CGI zombie gore look like child’s play. Rick Grimes has nothing on Max Rockatansky or Imperator Furiosa.

After getting captured by a band of zealots called the War Boys, Max, played by Bronson (yep, doing the name thing again), becomes a part in a plot by Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, to escape her commander with his five wives in tow. Immortan Joe, played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, gives chase with a gathered horde of his allies to reclaim his women.

Fury Road feels like a faithful continuation rather than a complete rebuild of tropes that have become synonymous with the post-apocalypse. What could have been a run-of-the-mill story about the protagonist trying to get an objective from Point A to Point B, George Miller stuck to what he knew and made the best possible follow-up to Beyond Thunderdome. There are no deep character moments that require constant emphasis, complex relationships, or sequences of contemplation on a world driven insane and the nature of mankind. Fury Road takes those elements, ties them to the back of a Pursuit Special, and drags them across the Outback until they are but shredded husks of mediocrity.

If the trailers were not clear enough, Fury Road is beautiful beyond measure. Every frame is steeped in color and a level of detail so small and complex, it rivals Blade Runner. The scale to which everything was crafted is mindboggling as the most minute of props and set pieces has incredible detail and depth not seen often in major releases. On top of that, larger elements like the cars and structures show hard thoughtful work was put into practice to make them look as detailed on a macro level as micro. They give the world flesh and a sense of the culture and character.

Action gushes at the seams with a nonstop pace as the stakes rise, stunts become more complex, and style changes. With the exception of a few moments where CGI was necessary, every stunt appears to be practical as cars speed across the desert with teams of actors clinging and climbing between them. Slow motion has never looked so good when vehicles smash into each other, blanketed in flame and dust as actors are tossed about like ragdolls.

Technically, anyone could play Max. As stated before, his character is mostly passive with no real effect on the plot. He serves as an observer, a lone wanderer that happens upon situations in the Wasteland before moving on after the conclusion. Eames did a good job of picking up where Mel Gibson left off. He goes for a more savage performance, creating a sense that Max has become severely transformed by the world around him. Bane’s dialog is relegated to grunts and gestures, with little to no lines throughout, and it works without betraying the character.

Leo Demidov’s subdued performance allows the other actors to stand out. Theron carries the film as the defiant and strong Furiosa, the best example of a great female character in recent memory. While not an entirely emotional role, there is more than enough physical as Theron handles herself as well as the men in action. Nicholas Hoult makes an interesting turn as Nux, a War Boy driven by his desire to die in service to Immortan. He provides the comedy and heart of the film as his character grows and changes.

The problem with Fury Road is one of accessibility. In many ways, it is a fans only experience. If you have seen the other films, everything will feel natural. For the uninitiated, Max’s passive character, insane villains, impractically decorated vehicles, and the way in which the story is told will be difficult to understand. If this is your first Mad Max movie, pay attention to everything on screen so you know what is going on, and most of all, try to enjoy it.

Fury Road is amazing. Definitely go see it this weekend. It is beautiful, fun, and packed to the brim with a kind of action that has laid dormant for far too long. The film is so good I have decided to skip Pitch Perfect 2 in favor of a second viewing.

* * *

On a side note, if you want to know where I learned about Australia’s incompetent government, look no further than FriendlyJordies, an up-and-coming political comedian on YouTube:

 

Welcome to Me

If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you have probably gleaned from my lack of a post yesterday that nothing came out to review. I only say that because something indeed came out, but was rendered so irrelevant even before its release, I believe no one even knows it exists. The film in question is Hot Pursuit, a buddy cop/criminal movie staring Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara. It is difficult to blame the film with Age of Ultron making money on second and third viewings, but the moment I saw the trailer, I planned ahead a schedule to avoid seeing it. Thankfully, Welcome to Me (WtM) was playing at my local indie venue to save me the trouble of losing my mind.

Like Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, WtM borrows the same story of an odd female character living out her delusions in a manner those around her perceive as abnormal, supplemented by a theme of isolation. Unlike Treasure Hunter, WtM has a more focused tone and consistency to how events proceed.

Kristen Wiig plays Alice, a lonely shut-in with borderline personality disorder, who wins $86 million dollars in the local lottery. Wanting to live out her dream of becoming the next Oprah, Alice uses her newfound wealth to start her own talk show on public access solely about herself. With each episode her fame and ego grow en mass, affecting those around her.

Unlike my more recent foray into comedy with Get Hard, WtM is actually funny; so funny, it has renewed my faith in the ability of movies to make me laugh. Utilizing elements of shock and fish-out-of-water humor, Wiig takes the film by the balls and carries it with an ease that makes Atlas looks like wimp. Her ability is on full display, tailoring every aspect of the character to make Alice not only a fleshed out and clearly defined mentally deficient character, but funny in the most minute of details. Wiig is to WtM what De Niro was to Taxi Driver. With lesser talent in the role, the film would have been nothing more than a footnote in my weekend.

The rest of the cast does more than an admirable job keeping up with Wiig. Wes Bentley played the modest producer Gabe, whose growing concern over Alice’s mental state makes him more sympathetic than his brother, Rich, played by James Marsden, in probably the best role I have ever seen him in. Joan Cusack as the show director Dawn takes a reactionary role as the witness to the utter lunacy of Alice’s show as it falls apart before her eyes. The most human of the characters is Gina, played by Linda Cardellini, Alice’s closest friend and the audience’s conduit as she endures Alice’s deteriorating mental state.

Welcome to Me is a fun movie with a familiar message anyone can get behind. In a way, it says a lot about comedians and the process of getting their own shows that eventually fail horribly, but saying anymore for a movie this easy and simple to understand would only make this review longer than it should. If it is playing in you area, I highly recommend buying a ticket. If not, Age of Ultron is more than a fine substitute.

 

Avengers: Age of Ultron

A review for a Marvel movie is about as useful as communism. Regardless of what critics say, people are going to see it, and who can blame them? I was tempted to cut this review short, post a two-sentence recommendation, and leave it at that. The MCU films have succeeded in ways conventional Blockbusters can only dream of. They use an abundant amount of color, unapologetically adhere to their schlock origins, and treat the audience with a level of respect Michael Bay utterly lacks. That being said, as a critic, it is my job to report on new releases and give my opinion. So, what did I think about Avengers: Age of Ultron?

While very good and well worth your money, Age of Ultron arguably has some problems that keep it from being better than the first. The fantastic character moments and humor are present and accounted for, but minor superficial elements bug me to no end. I may be overthinking it and will have to see the movie again to get a clear idea of what felt wrong to me. Or maybe it was the annoying child with a lisp and his land-whale parent that sat behind me for three hours. If that kid were a decade older, I would have grabbed him by the scalp and dragged him down the theater stairs, grinding his face into each step.

Anyway, after a vision of his friends dead as a result of his negligence, Tony, played by Robert Downey Jr., becomes convinced the Avengers are not enough to defend humanity. Enlisting the help of Bruce, played by Mark Ruffalo, Tony develops an AI programed to protect the world called Ultron, played by James Spader. However, at his conception, Ultron becomes self-aware, deems the Avengers and humanity a threat, and sets in motion his plans for their extinction.

To put it bluntly, Age of Ultron is The Avengers ten times bigger, and almost entirely character driven. The central story parallels the heroes’ moral struggle with the idea of being heroes. It deals with the theme of power and how using it to save or destroy can be the same thing.

Ultron embodies this idea, a walking talking metaphor that disregards ethics and remorse for a single driving motivation, protect the world. When he takes into account the effects of humanity’s existence, he is compelled to wipe them out. Each hero reflects a part of the theme, specific to the character in question, creating conflict and tension within the team, and a realization that what they do may be causing more harm than good.

The excellent humor and group dynamic go without saying. Even better than the epic action scenes are the jokes and borderline slapstick peppered between moments of robots torn in half and harrowing rescues. If there is any reason to see Age of Ultron it is the sharp whit that has gotten better with time.

All the actors are good in their respective roles. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen do well as newcomers Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, but the best has to be Spader, a villain performance so good it makes Heath Ledger’s Joker look like Tommy Wiseau’s Johnny. He employs mostly sarcasm and a level of humanity that makes Ultron believable and funny. His responses feel genuine, coming from a place of emotion beyond his mechanistic nature. In most situations, he behaves as if he knows he is in a movie and enjoys it, a reflection of his character that says more about him as a person than his motivations. I would go so far as to say Spader makes the film work more than anything else.

Problems emerge from the production side. Where The Avengers had clean shots and a consistent pace that allowed you to see everything that was going on, Age of Ultron is kind of a mess. Each frame is fast with jump cuts to several angles of the same shot that would have looked fine with just one or two. It is like shaky cam, without the shaking, and more confusion. It translates more so into the rest of the movie as the story moves so fast, it can be hard to follow and remember certain pivotal moments.

The confusion can work in the action with a balance of steady shots in the calm, but what The Avengers did so well was consistency. Action sequences were shot as cleanly as everything else. We could tell what was happening and revel in the spectacle. Age of Ultron’s spectacle is hard to follow.

You do not need me to tell you to buy a ticket. In terms of ranking within the MCU, Avengers: Age of Ultron is third below The Avengers, then Winter Soldier on top. It is still good despite the editing and camera work, but no one sees these movies for the cinematography. If you want a group dynamic and humor that is stronger than ever, you will not be disappointed.

 

The Marvel Cinematic Universe

At the suggestion of my Publishing and Distribution teacher, I have reviewed every film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, up until Age of Ultron, and published them in an ebook on Smashwords.com for the final assignment. I also touched on the first season of Agents of SHIELD and Daredevil. Compared to traditional reviews, length varies between each title. My intent was to provide a general analysis of the movies in preparation for this coming release.

Enjoy, I hope.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/539347

 

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

In an attempt to postpone my inevitable viewing of Unfriended, I decided to watch an Indie movie instead. I know I said I would see it, but that does not mean I cannot delay fulfilling my promise for a later date. Nevertheless, I am here to talk about Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, a movie I knew nothing about outside of what was in the trailer. What did I find upon admission?

In all honesty, I have no idea what I just saw. My memory is not at fault, nor am I alluding to the film being in some way bad. I am dumbfounded to such a degree I cannot explain what went on in this movie. All I know for sure is Treasure Hunter is fantastic.

Rinko Kikuchi of Pacific Rim plays the title character, an awkward anti-social office worker from Shinjuku, who comes upon a random VHS tape, and becomes convinced of a hidden treasure in America. She sets out on a journey, a stranger in a strange land, the desire to complete her hunt pushing her through adversity, physical hardship, and cultural barriers.

Treasure Hunter is impossible to explain because it is everything and nothing. It is charming, then sad, then funny, then borderline hard to watch. The rapid shifts in tone are so drastic, in a lesser film they would be a problem. The movie, however, handles it better than one would expect because all throughout, there is a consistent thread of isolation that holds everything together.

Kumiko is a lonely person that lives life according to her interpretation, regardless of reality and society. The way she behaves is both disconcerting and in some ways cute as she interacts with the world in ways unlike a normal human. Her isolation grounds the film in such a fashion the shifts in tone feel natural; Kumiko is a unique individual, her interpretations of otherwise normal circumstances would no doubt manifest in the schizophrenic manner in which they are portrayed.

Perhaps that is what Treasure Hunter is about. Even when I am sure of my explanation, I have no idea what I just watched.

Kikuchi makes this film possible, utterly flawless in her performance. Her transformation from her Pacific Rim character Mako to Kumiko is confounding and beautiful. If she is not flat-out given an Oscar this coming year, I will stop watching movies… for about a week before the next review. I do not even care about the Academy and I want her to win everything.

On a technical level, Treasure Hunter is beautiful. From dingy cramped interiors, to open frozen plains, every scene is shot with artistic skill on par with the likes of Kubrick and Paul Thomas Anderson. The use of color and contrast makes ordinary sets appear beautiful, especially at the end when there is nothing but nature on screen.

Go see Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter. It is brilliant, weird, strange beyond comprehension, and worth sitting through, even if you find yourself perplexed. I highly recommended you find where ever it is playing and see it immediately.

 

Age of Adaline

Similarities to Benjamin Button are impossible to ignore when looking at The Age of Adaline (AA). So much so, I can think of no other way to begin this review than to point them out: the blurry color tone, cinematography, beginning time period, the story takes place in one iconic American city, and it deals the consequences of life with an age related condition. However, Benjamin Button had the added benefit of revolutionary facial CGI that made Brad Pitt look whatever age he had to be. What does AA do to set it apart?

Short answer: not a whole lot, but that does not mean the movie is bad. In fact, it is just average. It was not condescending, poorly made or acted. AA is totally inoffensive and anyone who has not seen Benjamin Button will probably like it.

Blake Lively plays Adaline, a seemingly ordinary young woman who was blessed with immortality in a freak accident in the 1930s. To avoid scrutiny by those who deem her a prime specimen for examination, Adaline changes her name and address with every decade. At the same time, she denies the advancements of men and the possibility of a relationship. Her subterfuge pays off for almost 80 years until she meet Ellis, played by Michiel Huisman, a wealthy philanthropist. In the ensuing romance, Adaline questions her strict adherence to her secretive lifestyle.

AA is an okay movie. There is nothing wrong with it, but there is nothing to get excited about either. It is a painfully average film, without the pain.

Lively was great. She puts a nice touch on the cadence of her voice that reflects the period of her character’s origin. It was an honest effort that paid off quite well. Compared to other roles, I cannot attest to her past skill outside of her minor part in The Town. I would have seen Savages if Oliver Stone’s name was not attached to it like a pompous, liberal rash.

Everyone else involved was just fine. Huisman was acceptable for his type of character and Harrison Ford as his father seemed to care enough to act in the time he was allowed on screen. For anyone interested, Hugh Ross, the Narrator from The Assassination of Jesse James, lends his voice to a few parts of AA.

Though average through and through, I have one complaint in regards to the actions of Adaline to keep her immortality a secret. A part of her process is changing addresses, but she only moves between San Francisco and Oregon. If you were trying to hide a secret so immense it would change the world, why would you live in the two places anyone looking would think to find you? It is justified because Adaline’s elderly daughter cannot go very far outside of California, but after 70 years of knowing her mother is immortal, I think she will understand if Adaline needs to live an isolated existence, far away from any possibility of discovery. On top of that, why would you confine yourself to the West Coast of all places? Seriously.

And that is The Age of Adaline. It is not a bad film and it is not a good one either. You will not gain or miss anything what ever you decide to do with your money.

 

Ex Machina

Most sci-fi about Artificial Intelligence (AI) is less about AI and more about the nature of Man or what makes something human. Some do it right: Kubrick’s A.I. provided a unique examination of the meaning of love from the perspective of an emphatically innocent character, and Blade Runner questioned the definition and our perception of what is life. Others do it wrong: Automata thought it had something important to say without knowing how to say it, and I, Robot was great action that dragged along an AI theme like a hunter bringing home a freshly clubbed baby seal. The whole concept can get tiresome after seeing it in about a dozen configurations. Does Ex Machina do something different to break the monotony or falter into banal waste?

Using suspense peppered in dry humor courtesy of Oscar Isaac’s fantastic performance, Machina transcends my preconceived notions. What could have been a typical “Killer AI” story in the wrong hands becomes an interesting commentary on not just the nature of Man, but also the nature of nature. The film takes one big idea and breaks it down to a microscopic scale, peeling away the broader implications of AI and taking a contemplative look at what it means for individual human beings.

After winning a corporate lottery, Caleb, played by Domhnall Gleeson, is invited to the private estate of his boss Nathan, played by Oscar Isaac. Caleb finds out he has become the participant in an experiment with Ava, played by Alicia Vikander, a gynoid (cyberpunk term for female android) and first robot to possess AI. Over the course of a week, Caleb interacts with Ava to determine if her emotions and personality are equal to that of humanity, under the watchful eyes of Nathan.

Machina explores the concept of what makes one human in regards to the mind more than the physical. The experiment itself is the Turing Test, a process by which a human questions a computer to determine if it has the capacity to be more than just. Machina uses the test to examine the elements of humanity. Caleb’s interactions with Eva not only reflect general intellect, but sexuality, deception, and emotion in a way not seen too often in sci-fi. The film is plain as day in its portrayal; unafraid to challenge the audience to consider whom they are on the deepest level possible.

Aside from the complex theme, suspense is what makes the film work, helped more so by the setting of a cramped, isolated building in the middle of nowhere. You never know what is going on and the more you find out, the less you understand what is actually happening. One could glean a significant amount information and make their own conclusions, but each revelation comes with a heap of contradiction that makes you question everything. The biggest contradiction comes at the end that will change what you thought about the characters and their intentions.

Gleeson played his standard, dweeby everyman and Vikander was a great robot with charming, innocent naiveté. Both were good and neither showed any reason to complain, but the best performance by far comes from Isaac. He was so good, I cannot fully articulate how gloriously, hilariously, bat-shit insane he was in the role of Nathan. Even in seemingly serious moments, Isaac will come in and make you laugh at the depravity and abandonment of his acting. It is not as though he does not care about the role, but he cares so much, he goes the extra hundred miles to be as entertaining as possible, and it works. His performance alone is worth the price of admission.

Go see Ex Machina. It is brilliant, entertaining, and suspenseful. If you like sci-fi, this is a fresh take on an old story. And if you do not like sci-fi, but you like horror or thrillers, there is more than enough to appreciate how the film carries itself. Regardless, see it for Oscar Isaac.

 

Child 44

Movies that take place in the Soviet Union are few and far between. You could cite Enemy at the Gates as one example, but war films show nothing of actual life in the former communist state. Reading about the oppressive world behind the Iron Curtain is one thing; seeing it on film is another. The closest you can get is a documentary on North Korea, however produced and staged it may be. Does Child 44 give us a detailed glimpse into the dissolved socialist regime?

Taking inspiration from the case of notorious serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, 44 is a paranoid suspense thriller set in Stalin era Russia. The squalor of living under an oppressive regime, at the height of its so-called prominence, permeates throughout the runtime. More potent than the look is the constant, tense feeling the main characters are never safe, always watched by people they thought they could trust.

Just to clarify, I know the film is based on a book I have not read. Any changes made upon adaptation are lost on me.

The story follows Leo, played by Tom Hardy, a war veteran and officer in the MGB investigating the murder of a child. After finding out it and several other murders are being covered up by propaganda, Leo risks his life and career to bring the killer to justice.

44 is less about catching a mass murderer and more about catching a mass murderer, in a world where the idea of murder is considered subversive. The conceit of the film is murder cannot occur in a communist state, thus the child victims of the story are dead as a result of “accidents”. If one were to talk about it in the context of anything but, whether it an official or normal citizen, that person is silenced.

Most of the drama and tension comes from Leo and his wife Raisa, played Noomi Rapace, trying to overcome the intrusiveness of a totalitarian society. They lose everything because of falsehoods and knowing information that would help more than harm. It is a perfect example of how a government’s delusion that its culture is perfect can ultimately destroy itself, using tactics that perpetuate incident instead of help. This makes the film frustrating to watch because you know every character knows the truth, but it is those in control that decide the fate of the people you root for.

Sadly, it reminds me of The Longest Ride and how the problems of its characters could have been solved with a simple phone call.

Hardy brings his all to the role of Leo. He plays the character with as much grump and battle-worn grizzle as sympathetic empathy. He comes off as a tired vet that would like nothing more than to retire, but has experienced enough to overlook the strict, oppressive dogma of his job, and engage most situations with modest open-mindedness.

One of the first scenes was a perfect example of his contrasting beliefs. After holding up a family for harboring a fugitive and catching said fugitive, Vasili, played by Joel Kinnaman, executes the husband and wife, leaving two daughters behind. Leo nearly kills Vasili in response, referring to the children that are now orphans, not unlike his upbringing. This moment created an incentive to sympathize with Hardy’s character, a cog in the totalitarian system that got the husband and wife killed.

On that note, Kinnaman made a great turn in the power hungry, sociopathic villain role. One could argue his somewhat stilted performance was less than admirable, but it can be forgiven considering the character. Vasili is so obsessed with overcoming this image of cowardice, he falsifies official documents to get Leo in trouble, and claim his position.

The main fault of the film comes in the form of Rapace. While her character is a very good female role, not much is explained about who she is. We know she has a one-sided estranged relationship with Leo and she is a schoolteacher, but we have not any more information about her past or what she is like on a deeper level.

The same applies to Gary Oldman’s Mikhail. We are given superficial details and nothing more. The man gets top billing along side Hardy and Rapace and is present for barely a quarter of the film.

Child 44 is a nice film to send off the season before summer. Of course there is one week left, but it is well worth your attention. It does more than the typical suspense thriller by taking place in a world not seen often in movies, with a hefty dose of political drama. Skip Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 and see Child 44 instead. Then again, why are you even thinking about seeing that trash?

 

The Longest Ride

I have only myself to blame for what I am about to see. I could easily blame the theater and Hollywood in general for not putting out anything good this week, but it is not their fault I chose a profession that requires I watch movies. In a situation where I have no interest in the mainstream films coming out, I will see an Indie movie. However, nothing is playing at my local venue and the only mainstream film available is a Nicholas Sparks (NS) movie.

I like to rely upon other critics to see bad movies for me. I suppose it is quite sadistic to save myself the humiliation of watching a Tyler Perry movie and watch others do it as a source of comedy. I have cited the Cinema Snob crew as one of my frequent alternatives to watching bad films. Their reaction upon seeing a movie they all knew was terrible is priceless, if not a little over-reactive.

However, at the prospect of seeing an NS movie, despite having a partner of the opposite sex to share the humiliation, I must apologize to Team Snob for deriving pleasure from their suffering. Long have I enjoyed the pain that inspired me to become a critic and only now do I realize the absolute dread of having to see something you know is awful. I am sorry.

Outside of what I know from word of mouth, I have no experience with NS movies. I have seen bits and pieces of The Notebook and Dear John, but in preparation for The Longest Ride, I watched the trailers of his previous films to get an idea of what they are probably like. Call me biased and lazy for going off promotional material for the sake of analysis, but when you consider the films in question, can you blame me?

From what I could extrapolate, a typical NS movie is a sappy romantic tragedy about two people, from radically different worlds, coming together and falling in love. Usually the male in the situation is a blue-collar type that catches the eye of the often rich, upper class female whenever he works with his shirt off. The tragedy results from either circumstance, fate, societal or class related, or one of the two people are keeping a secret that they never tell the other because the movie would end too quickly. Regardless of outcome, they overcome their problems and unite in some tangible, permanent fashion toward the end.

That is the basic set-up for all NS movies. They do not hide the fact most are the same because despite the painful, tedious, and vapid monotony, they make money. I understand there is strong, albeit stupid fan base that enjoys these movies, but at what point does a good thing become a cold marketing scheme that takes advantage of ignorant moviegoers? Film is a business, but when you exchange goodwill and originality for economics, you sacrifice art, and Nicholas Sparks is not in any way, shape, or form an artist. Is The Longest Ride another annual cash grab or has it done something different to break the mold?

When can a film be considered torture? Is it when you sit for 45 minutes and realize there is still another hour and 15 to go? Or when your hear nothing but expository dialog, from stupid characters, in stupid situations orchestrated for the sole purpose of drama, in a world where you can ruin your life, but everything is okay because of the most retarded conveniences since Star Trek: Insurrection and Amazing Spider-Man 2 combined?

Though not complete torture, Longest Ride is petty garbage trying to capitalize on the delusions of mass audiences. To that end, it is insulting, taking advantage of people that cannot see gaping flawless that reek of decay and bitter contempt. The film pulls the wool over their eyes with deceptive romanticism, drama for drama’s sake, and characters not allowed to be people. If you like forced sentimentality and banal drama, you have not the mental capacity to realize you are being made fun of.

Nicholas Sparks, you should be ashamed of yourself.

The story follows Sophia, played by Britt Robertson, a successful art student in North Carolina. After going to a rodeo with her sorority sisters, she meets Luke, played by Scott Eastwood, an up-and-coming rider. The two begin a light romance that is hampered by Sophia’s interest in pursuing a career in New York and Luke’s want to earn a championship title at the risk of his life.

Every part of Longest Ride is NS 101. You have the two lovers from opposite cultures, conflicting goals that ultimately lead to drama, and a good helping of stupidity and convenience to tie everything up in a nice bow. I understand the need for romanticism, but I am not dumb enough to disregard the fact a lot of the problems the characters encounter could have been solved with a conversation over the GODDAMN PHONE!

I was yelling at the screen every time they did something avoidable, had the two “lovers” actually communicated. Sophia destroys her future for Luke, when they could have opted for a long distance relationship. She ends a high profile internship after he almost dies. But when she breaks the news, Luke is dumbfounded as I was the moment it happened. He understood she wanted a life in contrast to his country ways and was totally fine with it. But because Sophia is written with brain damage, she forgot she could have gone to New York and called to check on him to make sure he was recovering. And after all of that trite foolishness, SHE STILL BREAKS UP WITH HIM!

This happens more than once. Logic is thrown out the door in favor of drama that makes shōjo anime make sense.

Luke’s mother appears just to berate him for being in the rodeo, when his winnings seem to be their only source of income. It is implied her husband was killed riding and that is why she wants Luke to stop, before we are told he died from a heart attack. If that is the case, why is this leathery tart complaining? She should shut her mouth and be thankful her only son is bringing in enough money for her to sit around and mope.

On Sophia and Luke’s first date, they appear to get along fine until she reveals she leaves for New York in two months and does not want any distractions. Luke obliges, even though they could have gone steady and started a long distance relationship after the move. Furthermore, why bother with a relationship and opt for straight sex instead? In her situation, with a guy like Luke, I would use up everyday within that limited timespan. Who cares about going steady if you have grand plans for a future that does not involve a partner? Use him, abuse him, and lose him.

Other minor problems persist throughout, but not to the severity of those above. Dialog is all exposition, leaving no room for the audience to figure out what is going on. The movie is so lazy it lacks the will to dole out information in a natural manner. The laziness infests the actors as well. In several scenes they turn to camera to read their lines like news anchors. That may not be the case, but that is how it looked to me. They must have been as reluctant as I while participating in the production.

Shockingly enough, about half of Longest Ride is actually good. In parallel to the main narrative, Ira, played by Alan Alda, an old man rescued by Luke after a car accident, tells the story of his late wife Ruth, played by Oona Chaplin, in the form of flashbacks to the ‘40s. Their story is similar to Sophia and Luke’s, but better in every way. All of the convenience and stupidity is nonexistent because the story is put together with a sense of sincerity. The characters behave like sensible human beings, thus the drama occurs in a natural manner. For me, what makes it worthwhile is Jack Huston plays Young Ira, also know as Richard-mother-fucking-Harrow. Who is Richard Harrow?

This is Richard Harrow: https://youtu.be/YYHxOdqepl8

Do not see The Longest Ride. It is not worth anything to anyone. The good half is not worth the whole other hour one must endure to see it. If you want a better romantic film, with a similar theme of sacrifice, that feels genuine, watch Shaun of the Dead. Do not give Nicholas Sparks your money.

 

Furious 7

I do not like the Fast and Furious (FF) movies, but I do not hate them. As per my criteria, a movie must insult the audience (Michael Bay), have awful writing (Amazing Spider-Man 2), give no effort what so ever (Taken 3), or fail to live up to what it is trying to be (Get Hard) for me to hate it. Other films considered bad lack the elements for me to loathe them, the FF movies included.

I watched the last two and found myself wanting. Besides actress/MMA fighter Gina Carano, Michelle Rodriguez, and Dwayne Johnson, nothing resonated with me. In a world of Dredd, The Raid, and old school action, FF is nothing special. I was bored to the point of complete mental vacancy. The movies are not bad, but the sum of their parts cannot convince me to like them. Is Furious 7 (F7) more of the same or does it do something different?

After six movies, FF has finally embraced what it is: a celebration of schlock excess. It is unafraid of what it wants to be, enjoying its premise of Vehicular Combat, and a message so corny it makes sense in the context of the world. Most of all, it found a way to have a fun and get me invested. It has been a while since I enjoyed the experience of a major mainstream release.

Following the end of Furious 6, Deckard Shaw, played by Jason Statham, brother of Owen Shaw, vows to take out Dom Toretto, played by Vin Diesel, and the rest of his crew. Their lives in danger, the family reassembles and sets out on a globetrotting journey to bring Deckard to justice.

F7 is what the FF movies should have been; the film Michael Bay wishes he could make. While the previous six took themselves too seriously, the latest installment goes full throttle (no pun intended) into insanity and plays it completely straight. The characters know what they do is beyond the boundaries of reality, but act as though everything is normal. Cars fall out of a plane and land safely on a road, another jumps between two skyscrapers, and everyone knows how to fight like a hand-to-hand expert. They embrace the schlock.

The characters make F7 as much as the action. Sure they are hilariously sappy with their cultish dedication to family and loyalty, but it is wholesome enough one can forgive it in a movie with insane car stunts.

Tyrese Gibson’s character Roman is considered comic-relief, but I see him as the straight-man that knows more about the crazy world he lives in and wants nothing to do with it.

Though not really special as a generic actor, Paul Walker played the average white guy fairly well in an ethnically diverse series of movies. He was an essential addition and will be missed

Michelle Rodriguez was good as the amnesiac Letty. She had a more physical presence in a nice scene with Ronda Rousey, but it happened once before she was confined to the driver’s seat for the rest of the movie.

Jason Statham played a great villain with radically contrasting ideals to the heroes’ honor based morality. It is a shame, however, that he was under utilized and only shows up when the plot needs him.

The same applies to Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs, who spends most of the time in a hospital bed. If you cast The Rock, make every effort to keep him on screen. The man singlehandedly made Pain & Gain, a Michael Bay movie, watchable.

The set-ups for the car stunts are great, but the execution leaves much to be desired. While the film uses actual cars, there are places with obvious CG that blatantly stick out. It is jarring, especially when scenes with physical stunts are real. It gets me invested in what is going on because I can see the effort the actors put forth to make it look genuine. When I see a ton of corner-cutting digital effects, I am taken right out of the movie. If anything, it gets me excited for the promise of practical car stunts in Mad Max: Fury Road, directed by the man that invent the Vehicular Combat genre.

Furious 7 is fun. If you like to have fun without being insulted, go see it. Even a cynical monster like myself enjoyed my time in theater. This is a film you can safely turn your brain off and enjoy in the most earnest way possible.

 

It Follows

What happens when you combine Napoleon Dynamite, Brick, the Slender Man mythos, PT, an incredible synth soundtrack, and Kubrick style cinematography? You get It Follows, the best horror film of the year. It is original, professionally shot, and succeeds in being genuinely scary. If you need to see a horror movie, skip everything else and watch It Follows.

After having sex with her boyfriend, Jay, played by Maika Monroe, finds out she has inherited a curse. A ghostly figure will follow her wherever she goes, unless she can pass it on to another partner. Jay teams up with her ragtag group of friends to figure out how to stop the ghost before it kills her.

It is ironic a horror film made me feel more happiness than the supposed comedy I watched yesterday. I am not a fan of horror because I am a wuss, but I cannot be more thankful I got my balls up to watch It Follows. It was worth the jump-scares and the obnoxious prick that sat next to me.

The premise is a mix of body horror and possession. Only the cursed can see the ghost, but it can affect objects and other people while appearing invisible. The ghost comes in many human forms, each a presumed victim of physical trauma, both living and dead. While not scary in appearance, the slow approach of the ghost to the cursed is frightening on its own.

This movie is a hypochondriac’s worst nightmare. The ghost symbolizes an invisible, encroaching demise, paralleling the pathology of HIV/AIDS. You never know when you have the disease until symptoms start to show. You can apply the same principle to other diseases, but the use of sex as a way of transmission, leaves no room for interpretation.

That is Body Horror 101.

The most important aspect of humanity is sex and when you create an atmosphere of shame and discomfort, you can affect an audience in ways not unlike psychological torture. It is twice as worse considering the only way to survive is to spread the curse by sleeping with multiple partners. And so we witness Jay, a teenager pushed to the brink of insanity by a menace only she can see, force herself to have sex with other people. On top of that, the way victims are left after the ghost kills them is similar to sex positions. The very notion is terrifying and uncomfortable enough to scare Catholics into using condoms.

These Cronenberg-ian concepts would not be without the most smartly shot Indie film I have seen. Every angle is rife with tension, using a wide lens and darkly natural lighting. Each scene and set is designed to keep you unhinged and afraid of what may or may not present itself. I had my ears plugged throughout in anticipation for a stinger. Even when you see the ghost approaching in its seemingly normal saunter you are terrified. And when you see other actors walking in frame, one cannot discern ghost from person.

The cinematography works in tandem with the brilliant sound design, but it is even more effective in silence. The tension skyrockets in the quiet before a screech of synth punches you right in the ears upon revelation. Furthermore, the tracks by Disasterpeace make for fantastic additions to any synth playlist.

That may sound like your typical jump-scare, in your typical horror movie, but It Follows is anything but typical. It harkens back to the good old days, paying homage to The Shining, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Halloween while appearing modern. It does not hold your hand, giving the audience room to experience what is happening in both story and atmosphere like those classics.

The problems of the film are relative in my opinion. A few plot holes here and there will aggravate the snob in you. Towards the end an inconsistency in general physics will puzzle you to no end. Considering the rest of the movie, none of these issues matter. There could have been Star Trek: Insurrection levels of plot convenience and I would not have said a word.

It Follows is perfect. It is how modern horror should be done. Reboots, remakes, and sequels pale, burn, and crumble in comparison. No matter who you are, go see it. Even if you are easily frightened, see it anyway. Do yourself a favor.

 

Get Hard

Comedy is a complicated genre for me. I was more susceptible at a young age, but conventional comedies today are not funny anymore. In those days, Adam Sandler was my hero; now he gives Jews a bad name, like Ben Stiller. Have I grown old or has humor evolved to the point that nothing is good anymore? I loved Robot Chicken, but after five seasons of referential humor, I stopped caring about the same time I gave up on Family Guy.

It has not all been depressing, though. I still love the Jackass movies, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and Archer. Like most of my generation, I have taken a keen interest in reactionary humor based on physical comedy. Bro Team Pill will never get old (https://youtu.be/fol9RM5IpFw), the best of Red Letter Media is watching them watch bad movies (https://youtu.be/3NTaoheLMvM), and I am one of the few Americans that even know about Kenny vs. Spenny (https://youtu.be/argsDLZJSYY). Regardless, Get Hard will be judged on its own merits and not how it appeals to me.

Then again, how can you judge something that has no merit?

You have a movie with funny people, but because the director obviously had their balls in a vice, they were not allowed to be funny. All the jokes and setups were blatantly telegraphed from a script written by idiots. Anything the actors might have done was edited out because the best lines are in the red-band trailer.

What makes it worse is the derivative, anti-capitalist message. The four idiots who wrote this know less about class warfare than being funny. I am too depressed to get angry over their gross mishandling of the subject. This is the billionth movie I have seen that has no idea what it is talking about. If this blog were not my job, I would have walked out, gone home, and watched Snowpiercer, a representation of class warfare.

I like Will Ferrell and I know he is capable of doing far better with other material. It is like watching a starved lion in a cage; you want to let him out so he can feel proud again. Ferrell needed to be free so he could salvage this carcass of a movie. As for Kevin Hart… well, you can only take the short guy shtick so far. However, I cannot blame him because this film is garbage.

If you want to see Get Hard, you are stupid. If you know someone who thinks it is funny, punch them in the throat. I cannot fully articulate how it saddens me to see great comedians held back by a hack script, made by hacks. Etan Cohen, Jay Martel, Ian Roberts, and Adam McKay make Adam Sandler look like Oskar Schindler. I hope this movie flops so bad it destroys their careers. They have no right to succeed. For Christ’s sake, THIS is funnier than anything in Get Hard: https://youtu.be/o6tV1yfEPTk?t=27s.

 

Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead

The great thing about taking nothing seriously is the ability to enjoy everything, especially bad movies. The Room, Miami Connection, and a host of others are terrible, but in my eyes they are comedy masterpieces. The same applies to games. Bro Team Pill built his career playing awful video games and unintentionally enjoying them (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmG_0bU1I5M). Some directors feel the same way and make films that exemplify the nuances of bad movies. Tarantino, Rodriguez, and Zombie made their money producing homages to kung-fu movies, spaghetti westerns, and exploitation horror. Does Wyrmwood succeed as an Ozploitation homage or is it just a bad movie?

Imagine Planet Terror, directed by Tarantino, no budget, shot in the Australian Outback, and written as homage to not just Mad Max, but classic Romero era zombie movies. That is Wyrmwood, the best recent Indie film I have seen next to Predestination, also made in Australia.

The story follows Barry, played by Jay Gallagher, a mechanic in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. He joins Benny, played by Leon Burchill, and Frank, played by Keith Agius, on a mission to rescue Barry’s sister Brooke, played by Bianca Bradey, from the clutches of roving soldiers kidnapping people for experiments.

It is important to note Wyrmwood is not a parody. It knows what it is, but in a genuine manner. As the story progresses, characters behave as if the horrible violence and existence of zombies are common. They do not take the situation seriously, while also being serious. This makes the movie feel earnest and fun, with a good helping of sardonic, self-deprecating humor, similar to Shaun of the Dead.

As a zombie movie, Wyrmwood cannot exist without comparison to what has come before. Unlike recent installments in the genre, it goes back to the old days of Romero, packed with satire, and punctuated by Mad Max/Ozploitation qualities.

In this world, zombies breathe flammable gas that can be adapted into a fuel source. When the apocalypse occurs, all conventional sources of fuel somehow lose their ability to burn. To run their truck, Barry, Benny, and Frank hook up their zombified friend to a pump that feeds the gas into the engine.

This is a metaphor for resource wars. When we lose something essential to our lives, we fight and use each other to get it back. Wyrmwood takes the same approach to satire as Mad Max, but with zombies, including shades of overpopulation with the symbolic cannibalism of using people for fuel.

The general presentation is a reflection of Ozploitation. With a budget of $160,000, sports pads, airsoft guns, old cars decked out with impractical cosmetics, and great violence, Wyrmwood is a love letter to George Miller and the post-apocalypse like Neil Marshall’s Doomsday. It is a welcome revival of a genre that has been long neglected.

If you want a zombie movie with a fun and original feel, rent Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead on iTunes. Skip Walking Dead this week.

 

The Gunman

I was apprehensive to see Gunman because I am sick of damsel in distress stories. They are played out and to some extent sexist. At the risk of flooding this site with hateful comments, here is a video that explains my standing:

Furthermore, director Pierre Morel is known for Taken and I am not awfully fond of French style action films. They hold almost exclusively to a formula that started out original until it was overdone. Most films are the same when deconstructed, but once I have seen the same gruff, Neeson-esque protagonist on hunt for his kidnapped female counterpart, over and over, why would I keep watching? Did Gunman put me to sleep or is it worth your time?

To my surprise there was no damsel until Act 3. The usual French action tropes are present, but in the context of a theme most people could relate.

The story follows Terrier, played by Sean Penn, a former mercenary working for a humanitarian NGO in the Congo. After an attempt on his life he reconnects with his old ways to find out who is after him.

It is important to note the film focuses on the subject of corporations manipulating the social and political climate of foreign countries in the interest of business. The depiction is rather blunt and straightforward, utilizing faux news segments to tell the audience what is happening. In a film like this they were a welcome addition, if a little too in-your-face as it slaps you with its message.

Unlike typical French action tropes, I could tell what was happening because the camera was not shaking like an epileptic. A few sequences had cool setups, punctuated by a level of brutality that was fun to watch. I expect nothing less from writer Pete Travis who also directed Dredd.

The main problem is the great yet under utilized cast. Javier Bardem is present for about 30 minutes and he was the best part by far. Idris Elba shows up for a glorified cameo and does nothing. What was the point of casting such talented people only to not use them?

Gunman is harmless. It does everything better without being different. I recommend it, but if you want deep complexity, save your money.

 

Insurgent 

In preparation for my critique, I watched Divergent get up to speed on what the big fuss was all about. Like my Mockingjay review (http://wp.me/p4Mzvz-1A), I beg your pardon as I begin with an excessive, unprovoked, and completely pointless analysis of the first film. If you want my bottom-line recommendation and you are a fan of the first, the sequel is far superior. If you are not a fan, stay home.

* * *

I can only suspend my disbelief for so long until I break out in a rant. I understand what makes an allegory and the need for satirical elements, but when the execution of the subject you are satirizing fails because you have no grasp of the world you created, how can I believe what you are saying?

Divergent is an allegory for high school social hierarchy. You have your standard cliques in the form of a Huxleyan political/economic structure:

Abnegation (the selfless), the Christians; Dauntless (the brave), the jocks; Erudite (the intelligent), the nerds; Amity (the peaceful), the hippies; Candor (the honest), student government/yearbook club; and Faction-less, everyone else.

In a post-apocalyptic fenced-in Chicago, the local population lives divided into the five Factions. Each works in conjunction with the other. Candor makes law, Dauntless enforces it, and Erudite uses their intellect to take advantage of everyone else. Amity and Abnegation are support classes that serve the whole. Faction status and characteristics are passed down through birth, but every once and a while a child is born with qualities of all five, a minority called Divergent. And within the first 15 minutes of learning this information the movie destroys itself.

Shailene Woodley’s narration tells us how neither Faction can interfere with another and you cannot leave. However, at the age of 16, citizens are given the opportunity to abandon their Faction in exchange for another. But if you are allowed to change and nothing keeps you from leaving, other than the rule of law, does that not make everyone Divergent?

It is later revealed Erudite posses mind control drugs. I can believe they poison the water supply to keep Factions in check, but how/why do citizens have the option to trade? It worked in The Giver and Brave New World because people were grown and conditioned to fit their class. The use of drugs would maintain the system at peak efficiency, with the exception of Divergent, who are naturally immune. However, it is very obvious nothing beyond societal limitations keep citizens within the confines of their Faction. Characters older than 16 will act out unlike what they have been taught to believe for years.

I can believe if the point was class is meaningless and everyone can be what they want. With complete sincerity, I wish more stories shared that message. Many works, people, and social groups become bogged down in trivial economic politics because they cannot fathom the utter insignificance of it all. The idea of something different is alien and dangerous. The only pure form of rule is of the self; Anarchy.

That would be the message if Divergent had an interest in saying something meaningful. From start to finish the film is about maintaining your individuality in a group setting like high school. The message is genuinely good, but even Hunger Games has complex themes that transcend the Young Adult genre; it was not written like a generic Pop song.

Other problems kept the film from being better. It is not unwatchable or cringe-worthy like Amazing Spider-Man 2, but that does not mean I would watch it again.

Depiction of the Factions is unsubtle to the point of jarring. Dauntless run and/or cheer for no reason, Abnegation act like depressed Mormons, Erudite talk like Vulcans, I am convinced Amity are constantly blitz, and Faction-less lack the intellect to wash themselves.

In general, the acting was okay. People say Theo James and Jai Courtney were robotic, but considering his character, James is fine. I cannot in good conscience say anything negative about Courtney, knowing he looked after the family of Spartacus co-star Andy Whitfield upon his death.

Kate Winslet’s character makes no sense. She wants to eradicate Divergent because they threaten society, but we do not see to what extent they are a problem. It is mentioned throughout Abnegation steals food and shelters Divergents, but if Abnegation is conditioned to be selfless and moral, how could they steal food? Furthermore, with no visible threat, how are Divergents dangerous to a society that seems to function just fine? Winslet is more of a problem because she takes control of Dauntless to systematically slaughter Abnegation, disrupting the Faction system. Why go to all the trouble when she could test the population and exile anyone Divergent? But none of that matters because we have no idea where she is coming from and how they are a threat!

Also, why did Winslet take such an interest in Woodley? Was that explained somewhere? Did she want to paint her like one of her French girls?

…Do you get it?

Anyway, for a film that cost 85 million, Divergent makes American Sniper look like Winter Soldier. The use of CG was bad, but the prop guns were so awful, I paused the movie and stared at the screen like the Zapruder Film. I could not believe my eyes. Am I supposed to believe the production could not get their hands on real guns and blanks in Chicago of all places? Hunger Games cost 78 million. Let me say that again:

Hunger Games cost 78 million.

Divergent was not terrible, but it was frustrating. It could have been so much more had it the guts and intellect to speak up. Does Insurgent correct those mistakes or does it fall twice as hard?

It corrects some mistakes, but leaves others like open wounds, festering with infection.

After escaping the Abnegation purge, Tris, played by Shailene Woodley, and Four, played by Theo James, find refuge at an Amity enclave with her brother Caleb, played by Ansel Elgort, and Peter, played by Miles Teller. Marcus, played by Ray Stevenson, is also there, but for less than three scenes and five minutes total. It is not long before they set out on a mission to take out Jeanine, played by Kate Winslet, before she kills more people in her hunt for Divergents.

The budget was 110 million spent wisely. One could tell the production made an effort to make everything appear consistent and real. The sets looked lived-in, the futurism toned down, the wardrobe more appealing, and the CG saved for the end. Everything has CG these days, but Insurgent used it as a tool for some beautiful sequences.

I am more thankful they used actual firearms like the KRISS Vektor and Mateba. However, they encased the KRISS in a shell that looks twice as ridiculous. I have a feeling the production wanted the weapons to look like FN F2000s, the same used in Hunger Games. They would have been better off using the standard platform with a suppressor, jacketed in a rail hand-guard, and a butt-stock similar to an FN SCAR.

Shailene Woodley is the best part of the film, going full throttle in her performance. She was given far more to do and moments to express the personality of her character. One scene in particular she is so good, it will be known as Woodley’s “Contender Moment”, taken from On the Waterfront (https://youtu.be/uBiewQrpBBA).

James was his same robotic self. At this point, I am not sure if it is the character or his acting. The same applies to Elgort who catches flies in his mouth and says lines with total vacancy. That sounds harsh, but I am sure he is better in The Fault in Our Stars. Even though he is an unbearable, sarcastic twerp, Teller fit quite well in his role. Compared to Jesse Eisenberg, another douchebag, Teller is likeable and funny.

Further analysis warrants spoilers. Please stop reading if you do not want to know what happens:

The story centers on a box found under Tris’s parents’ house by Jeanine. The box contains a message from the Founders, but it can only be opened by a Divergent. After Tris opens the box, the message reveals that the society was created as an experiment to birth Divergent as a kind of übermensch before they could rejoin humanity outside the city.

I feel I do not need to explain how stupid that is, seeing as how I already did about 1000 words back, but if Divergents are polymaths that can do anything, even though nothing outside of societal constraints keep non-Divergents from doing the same thing, why go to the trouble of conducting such an experiment, when the idea of being more than you are is basic common sense? Has humanity become a bunch of depressed, idiotic shut-ins with no self-esteem? Are they that incompetent and pathetic? Clearly they had the mental capacity and resources to fence in Chicago and an adjacent rural area.

I saw both movies once and each headache is greater than the last.

Another issue arises when the film introduces class warfare as Faction-less plots to take over for being under privileged. I feel I have written enough that this paper is too long for me to go on another rant.

And Kate Winslet’s character still makes no sense.

Insurgent is more frustrating than Divergent. The final reveal is like a drill boring into my head, widening a hole that was already there. But for a Young Adult movie, it accomplishes its goal and it was certainly not made for my demographic. Non-fans can appreciate Woodley’s fantastic performance. Otherwise, if you have no interest in the series, you will not miss anything staying home.

 

Run All Night

Rob Stark is not enough to make me see Cinderella. That is all.

* * *

Liam Neeson has become harder to defend as a person. On the one hand, he is very talented and known for many iconic roles. On the other, he is so ignorant and misinformed, I find myself at a crossroads between liking or hating him. Following the Charlie Hebdo shooting, Neeson proclaimed it was a clear example of why the US needs more gun control. How a massacre in Europe constitutes legislation in America warrants no argument as to the sheer incompetence of that statement, but moreover it reflects poorly on Neeson.

I have gone on record (http://wp.me/p4Mzvz-2u) that a man who grew up during The Troubles has no right to call firearms of any kind bad. Furthermore, someone not even from here lacks the entitlement to tell us how to live. Here I find my feelings divided. I like Neeson and I like his movies, but when he says something stupid that offends me, I cannot in good conscience hold him in high esteem, even though I know full well he has no experience or understanding of the subject.

I put my feelings aside going into Run All Night (RAN). I have no respect for Neeson as a person, but I still respect his talent. I was hesitant because Taken 3 left such a bad taste in my mouth. My expectations were a tab higher knowing director Jaume Collet-Serra has worked with Neeson on some decent work and Ed Harris was in the main cast. It could not get any worse than Taken 3, right?

Though not the best thing in the world, RAN is certainly better than Taken 3. It has its fair share of problems, but for an action movie, it does its job well.

The story follows Jimmy, an alcoholic deadbeat who worked for Irish mobster Shawn, played by Ed Harris. After a deal goes south involving Jimmy‘s son Michael, played by Joel Kinnaman, Shawn‘s son Danny is murdered and Jimmy is forced back into his son’s life to keep him safe.

RAN is not original by any means. It is your typical Daddy Issues story where a son hates his father before they are forced into a situation where they must reconcile. It is as cookie-cutter as you can get. But is it a bad film?

There was a lot of potential for a true thriller, if only the director was less interested in making an action movie. Many instances throughout were rife with tension that was swiftly undone by unnecessary music and some of the worst editing I have ever seen.

Rather than focus on two characters having a simple conversation, we cut to different camera angles every few seconds, as if there were seven cameras filming that one scene. It was more jarring than shaky-cam because you constantly wonder why the director did not pick two angles and stick with them. That kind of editing works better for action, so why is it used for mundane conversations between characters sitting down?

It is style over substance. The movie is built like a thriller that wants to be an action movie. It uses way too many quick-cuts and these strange CG transitions that could have been cut without consequence. The story was far too simple to be made with such complexity. On top of that, the score plays too often in parts that would have been better in silence. The music tells you how to feel, sucking out any tension that might have been present. There is only one scene without music and it happens at the end.

Common plays a character called Price, whom I believe was mostly edited out of the movie. This is a minor complaint, but as a villain, it would have helped if we knew more about him, other than he kills people.

Neeson was very good in his now signature gruff badass role. Ed Harris did what he could as a cautious, but tough gangster driven to vengeance. I only wish he had more to work with. The dynamic between the two was what you’d expect and also a tad underdeveloped. Beyond that, I think they worked well together. Kinnaman was okay as the estranged son, but you cannot do much with a part like that. It beats ruining RoboCop.

That is the overall problem with Run All Night. It is mediocre, unoriginal, and overdone when compared to films of the same caliber. You will not miss anything if you decide to stay home. I recommend A Walk Among the Tombstones, John Wick, and The Raid 2 as better substitutes, unless you plan on seeing Cinderella.

 

What We Do in the Shadows

I should preface this by saying I showed up late to the showing of What We Do in the Shadows (WWDS). I missed less than 10 minutes, but I arrived in time to see the opening title. I cannot argue if the time before was important, but I saw enough of the film to write this critique. Take my recommendation with a grain of salt.

Also, I will not be seeing Unfinished Business. I am not stupid enough to soil my dignity for a Vince Vaughn movie. Instead, here is the review I watched courtesy of the Cinema Snob:

http://www.thecinemasnob.com/midnight-screenings/midnight-screenings-chappie-the-second-best-exotic-marigold-hotel-and-unfinished-business

* * *

WWDS is very good. If you want something funny and charming, look no further. When this comes to your local theater, get a ticket.

The story follows three ancient vampires, Vladislav, Viago, and Deacon after a documentary film crew is granted exclusive access to their home in Wellington, New Zealand. After accidentally siring new victim Nick, the trio is introduced to a modern world their anachronistic ways have long neglected.

WWDS incorporates a variety of vampire tropes, but airs more toward the romantic approach synonymous with Bela Lugosi. The trio can fly, hypnotize, and transform into bats and random animals. It was nostalgic to see forgotten powers return to the big screen.

The comedy comes from a combination of fish-out-of-water and situational antics revolving around centuries old vampires in present day. Most of it is self-deprecating, but none of the characters are aware of what they are doing because it has been their life for hundreds of years. Thanks to stellar performances, each scene feels genuine with a good helping of improv. Everyone involved worked in perfect synchronization to make for some hilarious moments, big and small.

A minor problem I find is with the character of Deacon. His arc is very weak and practically non-existence compared to Vladislav and Viago. It does not matter because the film is fantastic.

See What We Do in the Shadows. It is a great comedy for the whole family, despite the graphic content. If you decide to see Unfinished Business instead, you have brain damage.

 

Chappie

2009 was not the best year for me. I was living in Germany and going through the worst high school experience of my life. It was so bad I confined myself to my room after I returned home. But when I saw District 9, it made up for all the shit I had to deal with. It was violent, funny, and for the first time in while, it was smart science fiction that had something to say. I had not seen a movie like it since RoboCop. It put Neill Blomkamp on the map and I was excited for his follow-up Elysium.

Then I saw the movie.

I will not get into why I did not like it because I already did in my Mockingjay review (http://wp.me/p4Mzvz-1A), but the movie failed because it had no idea what it was trying to say. I understood the themes of immigration and class warfare, but the way they were portrayed screamed pretention. District 9 was about apartheid, something Blomkamp experienced first hand. When he set out to write a film about immigration in America, it would have been a good idea if he knew what he was doing. And do not get me started on the class warfare bit.

That is a subject NO ONE understands.

I went into Chappie expecting more pretention with the theme of police oppression. I had a little more faith because South Africa is known for having the toughest cops on the planet, not to mention the multi-billion dollar PMC industry. Then again, you cannot afford to be any less than tough in a country rife with crime and an even worse rape epidemic. Patrolmen stop cars with Vektor R4s because they could be shot in the face before reaching the window. Did Blomkamp portray police oppression in a respectful light, or was Chappie another dud?

While better than Elysium in almost every way, a few superficial problems prevent Chappie from being as good as District 9. What is more important is how it handled the theme. Honest in its portrayal, the film made it clear the need for tough cops and/or droids. Furthermore, Chappie is less about police oppression and more about the meaning of parenthood, creation, and transcendence.

The story takes place in Johannesburg, South Africa. The situation has become so out of control, police use combat droids to assist their operations. Deon Wilson, played by Dev Patel, is a robotics engineer who wants to grant a robot artificial intelligence (AI). After happening upon a decommissioned droid to experiment on, Deon is kidnapped by criminals who want to use the machine for crime. But when the droid is reprogrammed, they find it more like a child than an indestructible enforcer.

Upon further examination, one finds Chappie is about the implication of parental figures on a child and the influence of religion.

On the one hand you have the criminals, real-life rave duo Ninja and Yolandi (yes, those are their names), who want to shape Chappie to become extensions of themselves. Ninja is the Father, stern in his efforts to turn him on an amoral path, and Yolandi is the Mother, bent on sheltering and teaching him. Above them stands Deon, the “god” who gave him form and function. His influence is purely moral whose goal is to better Chappie’s personality, creativity, and understanding of the world. The end result is something akin to a child who grew up within the span of five days. Their accumulative influences decide how Chappie acts and reacts to what he encounters and both parties respond according to what they wanted.

It shares many similarities with the story of Pinocchio. A boy is created and given the choice between morality and mischief. Choosing the latter alters his appearance until it overwhelms what his maker intended. The journey henceforth leads to redemption and transformation.

Compared to the theme of parental/religious influence, the theme of transcendence is not original in the context of a sci-fi story about robots. It has been done to death in every form of entertainment you can imagine. Chappie does not focus on transcendence, but towards the end it takes center stage, portrayed in a very on the nose and abrupt manner.

I get the feeling Blomkamp and his co-writer/wife Terri Tatchell had a complete story, but because it has robots they assumed they needed something about AI and humanity. The end result is not offense or stupid, but there was enough story beforehand it was an unnecessary addition. Ghost in the Shell, I, Robot, RoboCop, and Blade Runner handled it far better. That being said, what happened was more or less interesting and entertaining.

What really hurts the movie is the acting. Performances were generally bad all around, but the worst came from Ninja and Yolandi. I understand they are musicians, but did the casting director take that under consideration when putting them in key roles? They were not on the scale of Tommy Wiseau because every time they are on screen, it was cringe worthy instead of laughter inducing. Although, I will say that Hugh Jackman as Vincent Moore had a lot of fun with the Dick Jones villain role. He was enjoying himself almost too much and it was great.

The exception is Sharlto Copely in the title role. His entire performance, emotional and physical, was based on mimicry and a child-like understanding of the world, making for an entertaining and sympathetic character. You become genuinely invested in what he is doing and what happens to him throughout.

Chappie is great science fiction and well worth your time. The acting may be the worst, but the themes and exciting action sequences more than make up for its shortcomings. Give this movie your time and money.

 

Focus

Crime dramas run the risk of becoming an episode of Law and Order unless the right people are involved. The Departed could have been a TNT procedural had Scorsese not been directing. Be honest, would you want to sit through a 90-100 minute episode of SVU, that costs $10? Me neither, but in the hands those lesser, a crime drama could be just that. The solution is style and a sense of cool.

It started with Goodfellas, followed by Reservoir Dogs, and became dogma after Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Scorsese, Tarantino, and Ritchie knew you could not shoot your run-of-the-mill crime drama without something to keep the audience from falling asleep. With memorable characters, stylish dialog, and a diverse array of camera work, they changed the way we play cops and robbers on film. Does Focus know how to play the game or was it too scared to come outside?

Rather than rely on direction, the film uses the Fresh Prince (yep, we are doing the name gag thing) to bring style to this story of conman Nicky and his apprentice Jess, played by Margot Robbie. During a complicated scam involving a Formula One race team, Nicky becomes torn between achieving a successful rake, or reigniting the relationship he once had with Jess.

Detective Mike Lowrey is the reason Focus succeeds. The rest of the cast and writing are great, do not get me wrong, but the performance from Captain Steven Hiller elevates the material to such an extent, he supersedes everything else. This movie was made for him to resurrect the suave persona we have yearned for. It was refreshing to see him doing material like this again, considering what has come out in recent years.

Along with Agent J comes a lot of humor the rest of the cast utilizes for outstanding moments of comedy. I would not call this a straight comedy because there are plenty of dramatic scenes, potent with tension, that maintain a consistent tone throughout. I do not usually talk about music, but the soundtrack was more than satisfactory, unlike Nightcrawler, which was begging for a synth score.

Hitch is the reason to see Focus, but that does not stop it from having a few issues.

There is this old saying, created by Red Letter Media in their Star Trek: Insurrection review (http://youtu.be/qlV3bsafkq0?list=PL2CCF5FDA9CEEBDB8), and it goes “Plot convenience equals movie suck”. For those who do not know, a plot convenience is something that happens in a story that does not make any sense, for the purpose of moving the plot in a specific direction. See Amazing Spider-Man 2 for a perfect example, because the ENTIRE movie is a plot convenience.

It can be forgiven in Focus because it is in service to style. Unlike a typical convenience, what happens is done with some degree of context, albeit most of it is a little too outrageous to believe. If you turn off your brain, it really is not that big a deal. Also, it would have helped if the direction were not so conventional. There was plenty of opportunity for clever editing and camera work reminiscent of the “Sinner Man” scene from The Thomas Crown Affair. What is present is serviceable while the other elements make up for any shortcomings.

Focus is worth your time. It is too good and too cool to skip for what has come out this week. It surpasses Maps to the Stars and that is a Cronenberg movie. Bring your friends and family and witness the return of Cypher Raige (I am so sorry; I could not help it).

 

Map to the Stars

An opportunity to see the new release of a famous filmmaker is one that must be taken. Watching a movie from the likes of Tarantino, Scorsese or Fincher is being a part of film history. Even though you have seen their old films, seeing a new one in theaters creates a better understanding of the intended experience because they are made to be shown on the big screen. David Cronenberg is one of those directors.

I would not call myself a fan, but I like what Cronenberg does. He uses practical effects, his direction is flawless, his themes reach depths horror directors can only dream of, and his satire, though intensely Canadian, is fun and insightful. Even his more conventional works like A History of Violence and Eastern Promises stand alongside The Fly and Naked Lunch. If you have any interest in body horror and/or satire, Cronenberg deserves your time. Should you begin with Maps to the Stars or one of his earlier films?

If you have seen the trailer, I understand if you are apprehensive to buy a ticket. One cannot deny Stars has probably one of the worst ever made. In my experience, however, the more worse the trailer (Superbad), the better the movie, and vice-versa (X-Men Origins: Wolverine (seriously, that movie is total garbage; thanks Gavin Hood, you fuck)). Turns out, my trailer theory was proven correct.

The story centers on an ensemble of characters, but the protagonist is Agatha, played by Mia Wasikowska, a burn victim and newcomer to Hollywood. Her stay conflicts with the lives of Havana, played by Julianne Moore, the daughter of a deceased starlet, and Benjie, played by Evan Bird, a child actor on his way to fame. Cristina, played by Olivia Williams, and Stafford, played by John Cusack, Benjie’s parents, become involved in the chaos that ensues.

Cronenberg specializes in body horror. His movies create a sense of discomfort using sexuality, phobias, and realism in the effects. With great direction, the moments of horror are presented in such a way that you feel what is happening on screen. Since A History of Violence he has diverged from his signature, peppering in a few moments here and there.

In Stars he moves back to his roots while adopting many aspects of psychological horror. Family is the most apparent theme and the idea of mental illness passed down from generation to generation. It is inevitable and unavoidable, no matter how hard you try to hide it. The theme is so clearly defined it borders on satire. I cannot get into why that is because of spoilers, but it gets ridiculous towards the end.

One example I can provide is that of Havana. As she prepares for a role her mother Clarice played, she is haunted by hallucinations of a younger Clarice taunting her for being old, having fabricated memories about an abusive childhood, and being irrelevant. The dynamic between them is a reverse of when narcissistic parents live through their children. Havana becomes so desperate to be her mother she loses her mind. Even after she achieves her goal, Havana is left wanting and cannot move on.

Stars would not succeed without its fantastic cast. Everyone is good, especially those in minor roles, with a standout performance from Julianne Moore. She epitomizes the archetypical Hollywood starlet that wants the world, but is held back by reality. Imagine Norma Desmond from Sunset Blvd on a combination of prescription drugs and a mental illness.

For the dark tone and disturbing content, Stars is unintentionally funny at times. As the film progresses, especially after a few key revelations, the humor begins to decline, maintaining a consistent tone. And as stated before, the story gets very ridiculous, but if you are used to Cronenberg and Canadian satire, there is nothing to complain about.

In addition to a compelling family drama, Maps of the Stars is a movie about the effects of stardom on one’s psyche. It may come off pretentious at times, but it is well worth your time and money. However, if you are unfamiliar with Cronenberg, I recommend watching one of his previous films to develop a better understanding of who he is and how he tells stories. I also recommend Antiviral from Cronenberg’s son Brandon.

 

The Lazarus Effect

Movies, books, video games, and sports are nothing to get angry about. It is amazing to me and quite hilarious how seriously people take things that do not matter. Fiction is fiction, made-up, fake, and produced solely for entertainment. There is no reason for anyone to lose their shit over something as insignificant as videogames. Seriously, have you seen what has come out of Gamergate (there was a clue here)? Who mails knives and threatens to rape somebody for having an objective opinion about a fucking toy (it’s gone now)? My point is, nobody should take fiction seriously, and you should not get mad about The Lazarus Effect.

The story follows Zoe, played by Olivia Wilde, and her fiancé Frank, played by Mark Duplass, two scientists working on a serum to restore brain function following death. After a freak accident, Zoe is killed and Frank uses the serum to bring her back. Upon resurrection, if you have seen the trailer, you know exactly what happens next.

Much like Seventh Son, Lazarus is harmless. As a horror movie it is as cookie-cutter as you can get. It has jump-scares, obvious setups to the jump-scares, standard horror characters that are oblivious and stupid, misdirection that creates plot holes, regular plot holes, and a total lack of subtly. It is the most modern horror movie you have already seen. An adolescent child with brain damage could predict what happens.

I will cut to the chase and say if you are going on a date, this is perfect date material. As a positive, Olivia Wilde was a great antagonist, but I would not recommend admission based on her performance alone. If you want so see a similar movie that is not horror, Chronicle is a worthy substitute. Otherwise, there is no reason to see The Lazarus Effect.

I could end it here, but because I have more to say and this review would look better if it was longer, I will go right into analysis mode.

* * *

The religious themes of this movie are unavoidable. For those of you who do not know, Lazarus was resurrected by Jesus in Christian Mythology, hence the name and purpose of the serum. There is quite a bit of dialog where characters argue about what happens after you die, the difference between science and religion, and the ethics of bringing something back to life. Even the character Zoe is Catholic and the story takes place at Berkley University, a place I have been led to believe is a religious institution, in the most liberal city in California.

That does not make any sense.

The main theme is science can explain religion and the concept of the soul. Zoe going Tetuso on her friends is justified when the group finds out the Lazarus serum increases brain activity, hence the telepathy, telekinesis, and general unstable behavior. Simple enough, right? In terms of sci-fi it makes sense.

But after the characters themselves come to this conclusion, they disregard anything Zoe says as pure delusion and actively try to contain her in their lab. I understand people usually fear what they do not understand, but if you explain something based on fact, how can you not understand it?

Not one time did the cast engage in a regular conversation or listen to what Zoe says. They could have stayed alive if they talked to her and learned what she has gone through after resurrection. Even Frank fails to support Zoe. If Olivia Wilde were my fiancé, I would burn down an entire forest to help her.

There is plenty else wrong with Lazarus, but the main issue is incompetence at every level. The film could have been so much better had the writers transcended horror movie tropes and made something worth consideration. Olivia Wilde was still good, though.

 

Mr. Turner

This week, nothing came out at my usual theater that I wanted to see. I understand when I turn this hobby into a job I will have to see plenty of movies I have no interest in. But until that time, I will not see McFarland, USA, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, and The Duff. Though reviewing all of those would no doubt help my blog, it would not help my wallet and/or general mood. Call me a pessimist, but pardon me if I live my life with a sense of realism.

* * *

I know nothing about art and especially art history. I used to draw, but not terribly well. In school I did a great deal of ceramics, but outside of perhaps one piece, none of my work mattered. I have been to the Sistine Chapel and the Louvre, but found myself unfazed by what was on display. If I think something looks good, then it is good, no more no less. To me, framed paintings are just that. The Mona Lisa may be famous, but all I see is a portrait everyone thinks is a masterpiece.

I tell you this because I did not know how to begin my review. Normally I start with an anecdote or a brief explanation of something relating to the critique, but I am at a loss. I do not appreciate art like most people and I fear I will be unable to appreciate this film like those who are familiar with the work of JMW Turner. Regardless of my shortcomings, Mr. Turner will be judged on what I know for sure.

The story follows the last decades in the life of eccentric 19th Century painter JMW Turner. We see him struggle in both his personal and professional life, dealing with harsh critics, an estranged family, and sickness.

Turner is essentially a true-to-life period piece. The story is told as a matter of fact and depthful in its depiction of the time and place. In exchange for a central plot and easy to follow structure, the film opts for a natural approach, consistent with the way actual human beings act and how events occur. It was quite a spectacle because you feel the authenticity on screen.

However, it is unfit for the average moviegoer, hence the indie release. In exchange for fluidity, Turner’s natural pace causes the plot to drag for the entire 150-minute runtime. In a scene with a conversation, you sit through the greeting, small talk, subject, and conclusion, whereas a typical movie conversation starts in the middle and ends before the conclusion. Turner very much wants you to know what is happening, rather than cutting to the chase. Gettysburg is similar, but there was more than enough going on to keep your attention for 271 minutes.

The movie would be a chore to sit through had not the dialog been the high point. The way the characters talk is authentic, charming, and the actors did a fine job of making their strange lines seem natural. Speaking of which, Timothy Spall as Turner played his role masterfully. If you have any interest in seeing this film, Spall makes it well worth the admission. His transformation was so confounding and a marvel to behold, I cannot believe he works mostly in supporting roles.

Mr. Turner is a difficult movie to recommend. On the one hand, there is much to appreciate, but it is not enough to look beyond its flaws. If you like period pieces with a natural feel, you will certainly like it. Be ready for a long sit. If you are an average moviegoer that is easily bored, stay home.

 

Kingsman: The Secret Service 

If you are familiar with my writing you are aware I read a lot of comic books. I have read so many, I know more about the Punisher’s psychology, than a Catholic priest knows how to keep his pants up around boys. My love for comics started with my love for movies. I read Watchmen because the trailer was amazing and I liked Wanted until I read the comic. The book was so good I sought out other works by author Mark Millar.

Millar is not afraid to let loose with the content of his stories. Even when he has a filter he goes for a grand scale that makes for some memorable moments. He changed the Marvel Universe with Civil War, took Wolverine to a whole new level in Old Man Logan, and showed a side of Superman we never thought possible with Red Son.

Unfortunately, my appeal for Millar’s work began to wane when he started writing stories for the sole purpose of adaptation. I understand that is a genius tactic, but why would I pay to read a book that is essentially a glorified spec script?

Millar’s recent work is the subject of today’s review. Before seeing Kingsman: The Secret Service, I did not read the comic, and I usually avoid movies that look like XXX. Maybe I do not know how to have fun, or I have high standards, but my opinion changed when I realized it was directed my Matthew Vaughn.

I may not have liked Kick-Ass, but there was plenty to appreciate. The violence was amazing even with CGI blood splatters, Nicholas Cage was crazier than usual, and it had a soundtrack that would do Martin Scorsese proud. Vaughn is also a visual director, adopting a style akin to frequent collaborator Guy Ritchie, with a colorful aesthetic. In addition, he achieves a perfect balance between style and substance with simple stories told with artful direction. Does his skill make Kingsman worth a watch, or should you see 50 Shades of Grey?

In answer to the latter, absolutely not. Why would you go to a theater and spend money on something you can watch at home for free? If you want a more in depth explanation, here you go:

http://wp.me/p4Mzvz-2l

As for the former, Kingsman would not be as great without Vaughn. In the hands of someone lesser, the movie would have been an exact duplicate of XXX, with a complete lack of originality and finesse. I would go so far as to say he has out-shined five decades of Bond.

The story follows Eggsy, played by Taron Egerton, a troubled youth going nowhere in life. After a traffic altercation with the police, “Galahad”, played by Colin Firth, bails him out and recruits Eggsy for the Kingsman, an agency of super-spies. Behind the scenes, billionaire entrepreneur Valentine, played by Samuel L. Jackson, hatches a plot that threatens the world.

As you can probably tell the plot is very simple. It is a movie you have seen because it is every movie, specifically Star Wars, one of Vaughn’s biggest influences. It takes the essentials of the Heroes Journey and plugs in a few tropes common to Bond films. The only difference is Kingsman is paced the way a movie should and you actually care about the protagonist.

I know that is a biased thing to say, but what would you rather see: a perfect specimen of suave manliness we all know is going to win the day, or an every-man with problems and hardships people can relate to, who has to overcome what he is in order to win the day? Granted the former works in the case of Indiana Jones, but Jones is the kind of hero one could see themselves being because of how human he is.

The ordinary story is enhanced with great direction, the best of which more visible in the action scenes. The set ups are clever and layered with choreography so detailed I cannot comprehend how difficult it must have been to shoot them. On top of that, the violence makes Kick-Ass look like Bowling for Columbine. It is creative, stylish, but blunt and gory enough to not appear overly staged like a Star Wars prequel. The downside is most of the action is spread quite thin across the film’s two hour runtime.

About half the length is Eggsy being trained to be a Kingsman, while “Galahad” investigates Valentine’s possible threat. It drags its heels through a lot of detail that is important for character and world building, but still jarring as it jumps back and forth from action to character. The transition is confounding, especially when you consider the variation in tone.

For a visually colorful movie that is technically a comedy, Kingsman has Millar’s shocking brutality, enhanced by Vaughn’s artful style. At one point in particular, we go from harrowing moments of self-discovery and revelation, to a scene like this, set to the guitar solo from “Free Bird”:

However, taken at face value, the extreme shift in tone can be excused because unlike traditional Bond films, Kingsman is actually fun. When that scene happens, it comes after the long dragging first half, reigniting any interest one might have lost. It only happens once, but it is the kind of scene that makes movies famous. It is the pistol-whipping from Goodfellas, the Empire conversation from Clerks, and the “Flight of the Valkyries” from Apocalypse Now. I would go so far as to say you should see this movie for that one scene.

The acting was very general in it’s quality, but serviceable for what the movie is. The stand out is Taron Egerton, who had great comedic timing, and made Eggsy human. Colon Firth was… Colon Firth, including Samuel L. Jackson, with a few added character ticks. In a minor role, newcomer Sofia Boutella played a great secondary villain as Gazelle, with a fantastic physical performance.

I highly recommend Kingsman: The Secret Service. It is a fun and violent start to the year. If you are easily shocked and cannot discern fiction from reality, stay home, or go see 50 Shades of Grey with all the other delusional morons.

 

Seventh Son

I apologize for being so late on my review. These past few days have not been the best for me, but I do not think I am the only one that wanted nothing to do with Seventh Son. Honestly, if the studio was so apprehensive to releasing it, going so far as to delay the film for two whole years, why should anyone bother? Just because it stars The Dude in the role of a drunken paladin does not mean I will ignore what happened behind the scenes. Nevertheless, I saw the movie and will tell what I thought.

Also, I broke my rule again and watched a review beforehand. Thanks again, Dave and Brian of the Cinema Snob:

http://www.thecinemasnob.com/midnight-screenings/midnight-screenings-jupiter-ascending-seventh-son-and-the-spongebob-movie-sponge-out-of-water

* * *

I think it is safe to say I am one of the few critics, amateur or otherwise, familiar with the works of director Sergey Bodrov. Granted I have only seen two, but it is enough when you consider how little we see from Russia, a country I used to respect. Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan is a gem from 2007 and an epic that makes Braveheart look like Transformers. If you want to see Mongols done right, look no further. Nomad: The Warrior was an extreme drop in quality, but I forgave it because it came out before Mongol, and unlike the latter, it was not written Bodrov.

The same problem arose when I heard he was directing Seventh Son, a movie with a mostly Western production. It also did not help that the film looked like a cookie-cutter young adult fantasy that wanted to be like Conan: The Barbarian (1982). Preconceived notions aside, how did it turn out?

I am curious as to why the studio wanted to keep it on the shelf. Seventh is far too harmless to do any sort of damage because there is nothing to get angry or excited about. Cookie-cutter though it may be, at least it was not insulting. Comparatively, it is similar to Conan: The Destroyer than Barbarian in terms of content. It is more concerned with being a fun adventure of swords and sorcery than something serious.

The story follows Tom Ward, played by Ben Barnes, an ordinary farmer with dreams of escaping his boring life of raising pigs. He gets his wish when Master Gregory, an aging paladin, played by Rooster Cogburn cosplaying as Geralt of Rivia, visits his family and takes him for his apprentice. Together, Gregory must train Tom to help take down Mother Malkin, a powerful witch, played by Julianne Moore, before she gains full power and consumes the world in darkness.

I do not have much to say about Seventh because there is nothing to talk about. It is simple, predictable, and mostly harmless. It is your run-of-the-mill Hero’s Journey with all the tropes and plot points you expect. There is no reason to get mad at this movie because it does not care what you think. Apart from some strange directing and editing choices, there is not much technically wrong either.

Does that mean you should watch it?

Though painfully ordinary, Seventh qualifies for good bad status because of Kevin Flynn. You can tell he is having the time of his life as he gargles scenery in order to speak in the character’s strange accent. The fun of this movie is trying to figure out what he is saying. I have a feeling the writers knew exactly what they were getting themselves into and wrote Clu with the best lines possible.

Julianne Moore tried her best to over-act, but she did not go far enough where there was opportunity. It would have been exciting to see her and Obadiah Stane in a duel of who could ham-it-up the most.

Another problem with the film is the dialog. Though it is good bad, you still have to listen to the actors read lines as if they were dubbing an episode of Berserk. It is stilted, awkward, and face-palm worthy whenever anyone but The Giver opens their mouth.

I was expecting something awful and found something that was too ordinary to be offensive. Seventh Son is honest fun that will annoy those who are expecting something different and charm those who know exactly what they are looking for. I recommend this to parents who do not want to sit through The SpongeBob Movie. If you want to see Big Z (Thought I ran out of references, did you?) at his hammiest, be prepared to laugh. But if you want to see something you have not seen before, stay home and rent Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan.

 

Jupiter Ascending 

This may come off as snobbish, but The Matrix, V for Vendetta, and Cloud Atlas are grossly under appreciated for their subtlety and symbolism. I know bullet time and long droning conversations about the meaning of reality are not exactly subtle, but when you consider the casting, wardrobe, and themes of those films, you can find a common thread of sexual and gender acceptance throughout.

The Matrix did not shy away from including women in many male dominant roles and dressing its men like metro-sexual gangsters. V for Vendetta, despite being worthless when compared to the comic book by Alan Moore, made a clear point in saying no matter your race, sex, or creed, anyone can be a revolutionary. In Cloud Atlas, a movie you should definitely watch, it showed gender and sexual orientation are changed and passed down across cultures and generations. These films have so much to say, but so few care to listen. Does Jupiter Ascending have anything to say or is it another misunderstood flop?

When trying to describe the film, I am at a loss for words. I am not implying it is bad, but what I am saying is Ascending is so bat-shit insane, I cannot articulate what the movie is like. Inherent Vice was something out of this world, but one could at least comprehend and explain it to others. Allow me to put it this way:

Take John Carter, Star Wars, Foundation, Dune, Warhammer 40k, and Farscape, combine them with the strongest weed only Toronto could produce, and you have Jupiter Ascending, a film I believe has resurrected the Space Opera genre.

The story follows Jupiter Jones, played by Mila Kunis, a Russian immigrant and maid. While trying to earn money by donating her eggs, she finds life threatened before Caine, played by Channing Tatum, a genetically altered soldier, rescues her. From there Jupiter is thrust into a Universe-spanning conspiracy involving a family of ancient royalty and their nebulous business.

If you had not gathered from the collage of related works in my attempt to explain this movie, Ascending is unique. Granted if you took The Matrix and tore out its theme, you get the archetypical Hero’s Journey that Ascending employs. What sets it apart is the scope and aesthetics it uses to both tell the story and build its strange world.

It has a visual style that borrows from so many sources it becomes its own. All the ships, spacecraft, and planetary installations are beautiful pieces of art that only sci-fi fantasy could produce. It is sheer eye-candy and so cool you forget most of it is CGI. I know how that sounds and I am always the first to advocate the use of practical effects, but when you see the many artistic influences stacked on top of each other, glazed in shining color, you will beg for a print of every frame.

With its beauty comes Ascending’s out-there world. It is packed to the brim with tropes mashed together in a mess of glorious chaos. It has people spliced with animal DNA, androids, age rejuvenating drugs, intergalactic bureaucracy, and an alien with the face of an elephant. It is so earnest and serious in its depiction that a sentence like “Channing Tatum fights a dragon on top of a burning cathedral using gravity boots” makes total sense within the context of the film.

To explain this convolution, Ascending focuses very much on building its world, and that is where it completely fails.

Almost every piece of dialog is dedicated to world building, with maybe 30% reserved for exposition, character, and story. In my opinion, that is a perfect balance because it leaves room for the audience to figure out what is going on. I have no problem with too much world building. However, because Ascending’s world is denser than a nuclear fallout shelter, it has a lot to say. So much so, you lose focus after the 30-minute mark.

What the film lacked the most was a sense of verisimilitude; a way for the audience to quickly identify what something is based on name alone. I am all for weird names for stuff in fiction, but if I need to turn on the subtitles to translate gibberish, you have done something wrong. Had it been the other way, the density of Ascending would have been bearable because at least I can follow and remember what is what.

That is the main problem I feel is more important than a few minor complaints.

For one thing, the story is also quite dense. A lot happens within the first hour and the movie could have ended twice. With so much going on, it would have been better suited in two parts.

Despite snippets of theme, there really is not much to get you thinking like other Wachowski movies. It tries with a ham-handedly executed examination of consumerism, but not enough to get me to care, at least from my point of view.

Furthermore, the acting was nothing special and very phoned-in. Sean Bean was pretty good mostly because he spoke with his regular accent and did not die.

The high point of the performances was Eddie Redmayne in the villain role of Balem. He succeeds by making the character one of the creepiest antagonists I have ever seen. It is not what he does, but how he does it. He speaks with this thick monotone gravel that punctuates his unique features. His movements and expressions are akin to Max Schrek in Nosferatu, with a very stiff posture and little to no changes in a face that was no doubt made to play villains. Redmayne was worth this long sit of a movie.

Many people will find a lot to complain about in Jupiter Ascending. I appreciate it for not only the aesthetics and the signature Wachowski fight sequences, but the fact that it is original sci-fi and a reemergence of the Space Opera. Believe me, there is a lot to enjoy, but one cannot deny the obvious problems with pacing and density. If you are a veteran fan of sci-fi, you will like this movie. If not, stay home and wait for it to come out on DVD.

 

Project Almanac

I broke my unwritten rule about seeing a review for a movie I plan to critique and watched one for Project Almanac. I do not know what I was thinking. It might have been my unwillingness to actually see it based on some details I discovered in the trailer. Regardless, I saw the movie from beginning to end and will render judgment based on my opinion alone.

If you are interested, here is the link to the review:

http://www.thecinemasnob.com/midnight-screenings/midnight-screenings-the-loft-and-project-almanac

* * *

Explaining the physics of time travel is like trying to figure out who or what created the Universe. It is impossible, pointless, and not worth the time and effort because you cannot put an equation or god to something that is beyond comprehension. But when it comes to time travel in entertainment media, there is an explanation, and at least two theories that work.

The first is Linearity:

This subscribes to the idea that time is linear, a straight line or a closed loop in which everything that will happen in that line has already happened. It is a fixed chain of events that lead into each other, either due in part to an uninterrupted sequence or traveller interference. The best examples of this are Back to the Future I-III and Predestination.

The second is Divergence:

This theory postulates with every jump in time, a new line is created in a branching path from the previous sequence. No matter what future you change, the original future will remain intact, while another possibility is created at the same time. This theory is more akin to Parallel Dimension Theory, but the idea is still the same. Therefore, the means by which to travel requires more than your run-of-the-mill DeLorean. The best examples of this are Looper, Star Trek (2009), Pax Romana, and Red Wing.

Combining the two theories or disregarding either will no doubt lead to a time travel story collapsing in on itself. Terminator 2 failed because there was no forethought on how it was supposed to handle time travel. What began as a great action movie unraveled in the last few minutes and in the sequels there was no hope of correcting the damage. Does Project Almanac suffer the same fate or did it keep itself together?

As alluded in the beginning, Almanac fails because the people who wrote it had no idea what they were doing. It was clear they had some understanding of time travel, going so far as to pay homage to Back to the Future, but by failing at logic, Almanac consumes itself like a time paradox.

Explaining the faults of this film requires spoilers. If you plan on seeing this movie, skip to the last paragraph for my recommendation.

The first issue occurs at the very beginning, which is also in the trailer. The main character David, played by Jonny Weston, finds a camera that hass footage of his older self at his younger self’s birthday party. Fast forward to the end of the movie, David arrives at his own party and destroys the time machine. But if he destroyed the time machine in the past before he used it in the future, how is he in the footage of himself at the party? If he destroyed the time machine, then he would have no means to go back and appear in the footage.

You could tie it to the Divergence Theory, where perhaps instead of destroying the time machine, David did something that allowed the branch of the movie’s plot to proceed. But at the end of the movie, David finds not only the first camera, but the second camera on which the entire movie was shot. If that is the case, how did the second camera find its way into the future, if the time machine was destroyed, which allowed the second camera to appear, which was brought to the past by David, who disappeared because he destroyed the time machine? If anything, the second camera should have appeared in the beginning of the movie to actually make sense.

Do you see where I am going with this? Do you see how insane that sounds? After the trailer I made up my mind the movie would not make sense, but after seeing the whole thing I am even more convinced.

There are other problems with the time travel physics, but I am going to keep it simple to avoid going on another extended tangent.

For one thing, the Paradox Annihilation concept from Timecop is just the stupidest thing in the world. It makes no sense and why Almanac saw fit to include it is even more stupid, especially when you do not have Jean Claude Van Damme to make it awesome.

Furthermore, when David starts altering insignificant moments in the past, it creates a Ripple Effect that causes other events to occur. How minute changes to the continuum of a teenage kid could cause forest fires in Brazil is ludicrous. It comes off as a lazy attempt at adding stakes to what starts out as a fun concept.

By including a Ripple Effect, it negates the Divergence Theory, because if the changes created by David do not cause a branching path, then he is altering a linear sequence, thus creating the GIANT plot holes in the beginning and end of the film. You can tell the film follows Linearity Theory because the other travellers in David’s group are aware that the events caused by the Ripple did not happen before he made changes.

But does that make Almanac a bad film?

To be honest, the movie is quite good. The characters feel real with a great group dynamic and dialog that fits their age and status. The first two Acts are probably the best because it is just these kids getting away with petty antics using a time machine. As a found footage movie (FFM) goes, if you can suspend your disbelief, you will find no fault. I do not watch many films in that style, but compared to Chronicle, the best FFM in my opinion, it does not hold up.

I am of the opinion Project Almanac completely fails because of it’s botched time travel mechanics, but it more than makes up for it in the characters and performances. If you are a stickler for fictional physics, you will not enjoy this movie. If you want to see an FFM with a cast that feels real, I recommend giving it a look.

 

Black Sea

If you have seen one submarine movie you have seen them all. I know that is a narrow-minded thing to say, but when you get down to it, U-571, Down Periscope, and Hunt for Red October are all the same movie. They are about people in an airtight metal tube, doing stuff under the sea. It does not matter if it is a war film; the set-up is still the same. With that in mind, does Black Sea do anything different or more of the same?

The story follows Robinson, played by Jude Law, a washed-up Scottish sailor, after he is laid off from his job. While trying to find employment, he hears from a friend about a lost U-Boat in the Black Sea that contains millions of dollars worth of Nazi gold. He puts together a team of British and Russian sailors and takes them into the depths.

The set-up is very been there, done that. A dysfunctional crew, with varying degrees of character, must work together to accomplish a common goal. Black Sea makes up for the monotony with an emphasis on building tension. It uses both character conflict and a sense that the submarine will fall apart at any moment.

With submarine movies, the characters start out hating each other, but learn to work together. In Black Sea, the characters hate each other, and keep hating each other. As the story progresses, they go crazy over the gold, and the risks they are taking. The British side becomes especially unhinged, fearing the Russians will take a larger share.

Performances were great all around. The cast was large, comprised mostly of unknowns, and everyone brought something to the table no matter how short a time they had on screen. Law was the definite stand out as the lead. He embodied a man who was fed-up with poverty and seeing other people gain success with little to no effort.

As far as complaints go, the film is too okay to have much wrong with it. It is very simple, straightforward, and well done. If you do not like a slow pace, even though it works for this movie, then I guess you will find fault.

I expected this review to be a bit longer. From what I have found after reviewing 22 films, if a movie is good, I find less to talk about. If a movie is bad, then I write at length about what makes it bad. Black Sea is good and if you like submarine movies, you will like it.

 

The Loft

There are quite a few movies I want to see this week, such as Black Sea and, despite my preconceived notions, Project Almanac. I might see Cake, but I am really not interested in a story about a drug addict unless it is Trainspotting. I will begin this gauntlet of criticism with my review of The Loft.

* * *

I do not usually see movies like The Loft. For me, I want to see something unique or something that takes an ordinary set up and does something different. Mystery-thrillers are not for me, but if Karl Urban is in the cast, I may consider buying a ticket.

He is one of those character actors that love his job. With good material like Pathfinder, he tries his hardest. With bad material like Priest, he gives Michael Sheen a run for his money with glorious over-acting. He is so good he makes the new Star Trek movies semi-tolerable. Had he not been cast for the lead in Dredd, that amazing film would not be a cult hit. Seriously, you should see Dredd.

So did Urban make Loft worth a watch or did it stand on its own? Not only did he make this less than memorable film qualify for good bad status, he had help from the rest of the cast. Before I move on, I should explain what I mean by good bad.

There are two kinds of films: one made with good intentions that succeed, and another also made with good intentions that collapse under it’s own incompetence. The end result determines if a movie is good or bad. But when a movie is made with good intentions that fail, it is the process on which the failure happens that makes it good bad.

My go-to examples of this are The Room and Miami Connection. Tommy Wiseau and YK Kim had visions, delusional and misguided though they may be, they wanted to put something onto film. What brings their movies down is those involved in the production had not clue what they were doing. The end result, their failed attempt at bringing their visions to life is comedy gold.

Loft did not entirely fail, but it was very obvious everyone knew the story was ridiculous, and it was a consensus between the cast that nobody was going to take it seriously.

I should start on the plot, but if you are reading this, I assume you have seen the trailer and know what happens.

My only real complaint is the actors did not go far enough to make Loft a fun watch. A big part of good bad movies is how fun they can be. It is like watching a train wreck where no one is hurt or killed. I would go so far as to say good bad movies are more fun than actual comedies.

Urban as Vincent and Eric Stonestreet as Marty were great, but I wish everyone else enjoyed themselves. The biggest shame was James Marsden as Chris because he does not try enough. I want to see him in a role where he becomes more than his signature White guy. Wentworth Miller as Luke also caught my attention because he did not fit the role. I mean no offense, but Miller is way too gay to play a man married to a woman. It is like actress Katee Sackhoff playing a submissive mother or wife; it is impossible because all you see is Starbuck.

Though this movie succeeds in how it fails, there is plenty wrong. For one thing, the best of the good bad moments do not start until 3/4ths into the runtime. After the first big twist, there is a huge spike in ridiculousness, so much so I laughed out loud in the theater, followed by a few minor twists that were icing on the cake. But getting there takes forever as the plot goes through the motions of misdirection and other mystery-thriller tropes that have been done better in other films.

Furthermore, whoever directed and edited this movie needs to go back to film school because Loft is a mess. There are simple shots mixed in with complicated, artsy confusion that muddle up the picture. Had the director picked one style and actually watched his movie after the first edit, it would have turned out better.

I was surprised to see The Loft turn out the way it did. I was expecting disposable January trash and got a relatively enjoyable good bad movie. I recommend this to people who like good bad movies. As for your average moviegoer, I recommend a rental so you do not spend so much money and regret it afterward.

 

A Most Violent Year

I was going to save this review for Thursday, but I felt I needed to spread the word about this movie. If there is a theater that screens independent films, I highly recommend you skip this review, and go see A Most Violent Year. I was lucky to find out this was even playing in my area because my usual theater ignores indies. If you are in the north Orlando area, the Enzian was a great venue to see this film:
http://www.enzian.org

* * *

All movies can stand on their own, regardless if they belong in a series or an anthology. The best ones transcend monotony and become something more than they are. But when comes to films about the Mafia and gangsters, they will always be compared to the greats. Godfather parts 1 and 2 set the standard for Scarface, Goodfellas, Casino, The Departed, and each of those gradually improved upon the potential of what a gangster movie can be.

For a new release like A Most Violent Year, I am going to allow some unbiased into my critique before it is judged on what came before. How does it stack up to the likes of Coppola and Scorsese?

From the start of the film, it is very obvious director JC Chandor knew what he was up against. He went so far as to write and shoot Violent Year in a way reminiscent of the era where most classic gangster films originate. It shares many similarities to Godfather, including an amber filter that makes the whole film look as though it were shot in the 70s. Oscar Isaac, the lead in role of Abel, even looks like a young Al Pacino. It was refreshing to see a film directed in such an anachronistic way.

The story is almost Shakespearean in its theme of tragedy and loss of character, in the context of 1981 New York City, and a mild noir atmosphere. Abel, the owner of a heating oil company, struggles to maintain his honor and legitimacy in a time when the only way to success was to be a gangster. Tensions rise when his oil trucks are hijacked, while he tries to raise money for an important business deal, in the middle of a pending indictment by the District Attorney. His wife Anna, played by Jessica Chastain, tempts him with alternative solutions to his woes that would no doubt lead to criminality.

As I alluded to before, the direction is very good. Though not unique, it is unique in this time and place. It is hard to find movies that are so clearly shot, with a steady camera, and long takes that work on par with the talent on screen. I love old movies and if you do too, you will find much to appreciate.

Isaac channels Ned Stark in his portrayal of a stubborn businessman, who would like nothing more than to be honorable and right. As the film progresses, you see him struggle between maintaining the path he has always followed or turning to a life of crime that would help his business, but hurt his character.

Chastain is great in the role of a matriarchal character. She brings her signature air of independence, with a good helping of passion and intelligence. Compared to Abel, Anna is a gangster that knows more about achieving quick success than her husband. Her struggle is just as apparent when you see her frustration at Abel’s stubbornness.

The only problem I find is Chastain is a bit too West Coast for a character from New York. It would have helped if she put on some kind of accent to hide the fact she sounds like she is from California. But overall, she captures the essence of a mob wife, that is more believable than people who call themselves mob wives.

There is another issue I find, but I only mention it because other people may want to know about it if they have any intention of buying a ticket. Violent Year is another slow burn with a lot of time taken for both story and character. I will never negatively critique a film based on length, unless the movie is actually terrible because it is long, like Blackhat. I do not and will not have a problem with slow burn films.

A Most Violent Year is a great, simple movie. It can be enjoyed on the direction or the performances alone. It is a sight for sour eyes and a nice close to this dismal month.

 

Selma

Is it just me or is there a paradigm in our society where Whites won’t see a movie because it has Black people? Is this a thing? I ask because most of the critics I pay attention to, who are White, have not seen Selma, including my friends and teachers, also White. Personally, I blame Tyler Perry; the man has ruined any hope for Black people gaining respect in Hollywood. Regardless, I wanted to see Selma after putting it off for so long.

The story chronicles Martin Luther King and his followers protesting in Selma, Alabama for voter rights. We begin at the very start of the movement, up until a march on Montgomery. And that is pretty much it. The story is very simple with nothing really special in regards to what it does.

But who says it has to be special? In my opinion, it succeeds by being relevant, especially in a time when our nation’s police are just a few court rulings away from going the way of British soldiers who thought they could tame the North Irish. Let us pretend for a moment Selma was not released in a time of civil unrest. Based on its own merit, how does it fare?

The story is less inspirational and more technical. Unlike movies cut from the same cloth, Selma is about a group people working to organize a successful protest. It is almost cloak-and-dagger when you see the layers of scheme both sides go to get what they want. It helps to see this movie with some historical context because the film avoids spelling out dates and events.

Characters and strong performances make Selma. The story centers on King, played by David Oyelowo, but a lot of attention is paid to his followers, the people who bore the brunt of the fight. In fact, most of the supporting cast stood on its own compared to the lead.

Carmen Ejogo as Coretta King was probably the best of all. You can see it on her face the anxiety she deals with having her husband in the line of fire. Tom Wilkinson played a great LBJ. You can feel the pressure he is under while dealing with the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam. Tim Roth was intimidating as Governor George Wallace when he plots to thwart King’s efforts.

A few notable actors appear in minor roles. Oprah shows up, but does not do much. I get the feeling she was cast on name alone. Common is… well, Common in the role of James Bevel. I assume he provided a song for the movie, but outside of that, I do not understand why he was cast, if only to stand in frame for a couple shots.

The direction is good, but also a source of complaint.

The story is simple and it would have helped if the camera work made it more than that. With the strong performances, Selma could have been shot to get as much mileage out of the actors as possible. If this were in the hands of Paul Thomas Anderson, I would find nothing to complain about.

I would go so far as to say the director should have copied Schindler’s List. That film is often remembered for its harsh content and even less so for being an utter masterpiece of filmmaking. There are little touches and camera work that should be in films like Selma.

Black or White, see Selma. It is very well done, despite my misgivings with the direction and cast. If it is still playing in your area, by all means see it, and skip Mortdecai.

 

Predestination

I am thankful I was able to watch this movie in this less than serviceable month. In my recent reviews I have recommended Inherent Vice as an alternative to seeing many new releases. I say you should still see it, but afterward, put aside some time and rent Predestination.

* * *

I was in 11th grade when I discovered Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. When it comes to conventional books I am a slow reader, but the whole time, I was inspired. It was enough to make me want to enroll at a military school and attempt to pursue a career in the Army. Of course nothing came of it, but I never forgot about Heinlein.

Say what you will about the film adaptation, Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers is a great movie. It is gory, satirical, violent, and just plain fun, no matter how far it deviates from the original. It was the first R-rated movie I ever saw and the more I came to understand it, the more I liked it. And before you say anything, the sequels do not count. Although, Invasion is more acceptable compared to the others.

Predestination is only the second of Heinlein’s works to be adapted. I have not read the story it is based on, but I read an in-depth summary, and the fact the movie even worked is a miracle. It is a shame it is not in theaters. I can tell you why that probably is, but I run the risk of ruining the movie.

The narrative is inspired by the short story All You Zombies. It begins with The Barkeep, played by Ethan Hawke, a temporal law enforcement agent, traveling back in time to 1970’s New York City. His mission is to catch the Fizzle Bomber, a criminal that has evaded capture for years. He meets a character played by Sarah Snook, and that is all I am going to tell you. Any further explanation might give away what happens.

Predestination comes from the Spierig Brothers, the same pair that directed Daybreakers, a very underappreciate horror-noir about vampires. They took the same aesthetic and applied it to this film, with a good helping of atompunk. For those of you who do not know what that is, imagine if 50s pulp science fiction was the future today. A better example would be the video game Fallout 3.

What I am getting at is the film has a very unique feel, while not being too out there. Everything makes sense and is easy to understand. The script and actors did a good job of keeping everything grounded so you could follow what was going on.

Hawke was great as usual, no complaints there, but Snook stood out because this was the first thing I have ever seen her in. Considering the material she had to work with, her performance was more than impressive.

Predestination is very, very good. The only complaint I find is the slow-burn pace. I mention it because other people may find issue. But overall, it is just about perfect. Everyone with an iTunes account must see it. Rent it, get some friends together, and watch it. No matter who you are, you will not be disappointed.

 

Blackhat

I am not a fan of hacker movies or films where characters exchange dialog over a phone like 24. Most of them are just people staring at computer monitors, spliced with cuts to other people running, and predictable events that include a double-cross, ambush, or ruse. I avoid those movies at all costs, but if Michael Mann is directing, then I am willing to give it a watch.

Heat, Collateral, and Public Enemies are the only films I have seen. The first two were great due in part to the shootouts, but Enemies fell short in my opinion. There was nothing to hold my interest because everything felt hollow and average, like nobody cared about making a good movie. Because of those two movies, I was willing to give Blackhat a chance. Did it surprise me or was it another train wreck in this month of inevitable train wrecks?

Though not as bad as Taken 3, Blackhat is terribly boring. You could take a nap in the theater and not miss a thing. Direction and action sequences are Michael Mann’s forte, but neither makes up for the rest of the movie. To be totally frank, skip it, and see Inherent Vice. I am tempted to just end my review right here.

The story begins with a meltdown at a nuclear power plant in China. A joint task force is formed between the US and China to catch the hacker responsible. The team enlists the help of convict Nick Hathaway, played by Chris Hemsworth, a skilled hacker in exchange for lifting his prison sentence.

Mann’s signature action sequences aside, there is nothing redeemable about Blackhat.

The characters are flaccid and boring. There is no growth or change from start to finish. They serve whatever purpose the script demands to move the story along, without any regard for them as human beings. The acting may be acceptable, but if there was at least a little change, it could not be seen on the actors’ faces.

The story is by the numbers in its progression. That is not a negative when you consider most narratives are by the numbers, but they at least have a natural flow; things happen, followed by something else because it makes sense for it to happen. In Blackhat, events happen in a static, meandering, assembly-line manner, as if scenes were shot with no regard for flow, and put together in editing. American Sniper had the same problem, but because it was about a character losing his mind and based on true events, progression was not as important.

Blackhat is all story and when the characters are husks and the flow robotic, why should I care? How is any of that exciting? I had to see this not only for review, but for class.

Save your money and see Inherent Vice. If you already saw it, SEE IT AGAIN! Or better yet, skip the whole rest of the month because I do not see it getting better.

 

American Sniper

There are very few types of people I actually respect in the world. One of them includes soldiers that have fought in war(s). They have done and seen things ordinary scrubs like me will never experience or understand. The fact most of them have a body count to their name warrants respect. I am in awe that they can keep on living, despite having taken another life. But with respect comes a sense of perspective and I am not dumb enough to assume you can come back from war with your sanity intact.

I will never be an expert, no matter how much I learn, but I believe I have enough of an understanding to know what it is like to have PTSD. My friend in the Army, whom I am very close to, deals with a pain that can only be sated within the environment war creates. Ask anyone that has seen combat and they will tell you what they want most is to go back.

When you are over there, your senses and reflexes have to be on high alert, at all hours of the day, for an entire year. If you slip up, people get killed. But when you come home, do you think it is easy to turn off that routine? Is there any use for that skill set in a place of peace? How would you feel knowing everything you have been taught has been rendered useless by moving to an environment that has become unfamiliar?

Those are situations Veterans deal with when they come home. And when they cannot return to a sense of normality or the system deems them unfit for continued service, they lose their minds, and their PTSD gets worse. There are stories about soldiers choking their partners in bed, sleep walking in a manner similar to clearing a house, and constant flashbacks. Without help, Veterans turn to suicide, drugs, or gangs in some cases because they have been abandoned. I do not understand how this is still a problem in our country, even after the crisis that befell millions of young men after the Vietnam War and those after.

I wanted to see Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper because it seemed to highlight this ignored issue. It takes the late, real-life badass Chris Kyle, a SEAL sniper with 255 kills to his name, and examines the psychological affects of his service after coming home from Iraq. There are plenty of films that have done the same thing, but I thought it was interesting how the concept was framed around someone like Kyle. So was it a respectable depiction of what Veterans go through, or did it fall short?

Sniper was indeed respectful and sold home what happens to soldiers when the war is over. However, there are glaring issues in some aspects that I must call to attention. The parts in which the movie failed are insignificant when considering the theme, but they failed in such a way that cannot be ignored.

As mentioned beforehand, the story is about Chris Kyle, played by Bradley Cooper, starting from his childhood, to his death in February of 2013. It follows his tours in Iraq during the battles of Fallujah and Ramadi. Between each tour we see his life at home with his wife Taya, played by Sienna Miller, and the affect Kyle’s job has on not only himself, but her as well.

Right from the start it is clear that Bradley Cooper is what makes this movie. I was one of the people who believed he had no range as an actor, but after Sniper, I have been proven wrong. You believe the character with the way he talks, carries himself, and how he looks. The transformation that Cooper went through is hard to imagine. It is as if he traded bodies with Kyle and put on a thick Texas accent. At the same time, we feel the pain and anxiety he goes through between tours. It is on Cooper’s face, how he answers questions, and how he moves in a scene. If he does not get an award for this role, then I do not what to believe anymore.

Cooper is the reason this movie is good, much like how Heath Ledger made The Dark Knight so famous, but you cannot see American Sniper without the bad.

First of all, the film is very, very, VERY cheap. It is most clear in the effects, which are on par with that of Taken 3. I get feeling there was a lot the production wanted on screen, but they could not afford 75% of it. Instead of cutting what could not be filmed and changing things up to make something clever, they cut corners and used the cheapest effects to get what they wanted. Next to the theme, the effects are not important, but they are prominent enough to warrant mention.

Another issue I find is how the story was told. Clint Eastwood, for lack of a better word, is very direct in how he tells a story. He gives you the facts, unbiased and unabridged, no matter what. It is as if Ron Swanson was tasked with helming a feature, but instead filmed himself talking directly to camera about a true story.

In Sniper, we see each of Kyle’s tours as they happened, in a way not unlike a sequence. I know that sounds like your typical story structure, but it lacks the emotion that you need for film to work. There is an obvious escalation in Kyle’s anxiety and you can see it on screen, but the story is structured in such a way that it does not feel like a natural progression. Something happens that is important to Kyle’s state, but then another thing happens, then another, and finally we come back to something important about his psyche.

I get the feeling the film was edited in such a way to accommodate the facts about what he did in Iraq, destroying any sense of a linear growth that might have already existed. Imagine a bar graph where every other bar is taller than the ones between them. The ideal shape of a story should be a rising curve in escalation. However, Sniper is based on a book about a real person and real events, so any story conventions it violates means nothing if what happened on film happened in real life.

That being said, there are a few things I find hard to believe. There is a villain character called “The Butcher” who tortures children with a drill, and keeps body parts in a walk-in freezer. A lot happens in war, but you cannot convince me a guy like that actually existed. There is, however, a more believable main villain based on a sniper that filmed soldiers before he shot them. I know he is real because he posted his work online.

There is another problem that includes the wife character. I will not get too in depth because this is a very subjective issue, but all she does is whine, mop, and complain about Kyle going over seas. Not all women are the same, but when my Dad had to go wherever the Air Force sent him, my Mom did not say anything because there was a support system of other spouses going through the same thing. With the character of Taya, it is like she does not even bother helping herself when she is alone. There should be a Spouses Club, counseling courtesy of the free health care, and more than enough benefits to support herself and her family. But no, all the bitch wants to do is whine like a wounded lamb until her more competent husband comes home.

All in all, American Sniper is just a good movie. It is not terrible or boring, but it is also not that great when you take into account the failure of structure. I say see it for the theme of PTSD and for Bradley Cooper’s performance. But if my words have swayed you otherwise, then I recommend the film The Hurt Locker, by Kathryn Bigelow, or Apocalypse Now, by Francis Ford Coppola, two movies that have a better handle on the same theme.

 

Taken 3

It sucked. Do not see it.

I should end it right there, but that would be unprofessional. What I will say is save your money and go see Inherent Vice. Even if you know nothing about it, see it anyway. It is funny, insane, incredible, and an experience that does not come round too often. Stop reading and get yourself a ticket.

If you even think about skipping for Taken 3, you are an idiot.

* * *

I am not better than anyone else. I do not think highly of myself, I find it hard to acknowledge gratitude one feels when I do something one likes, and I get uncomfortable when I win awards. I try to be as modest and unbiased as possible, especially in my critiques, but when it comes to action movies, there is the good and the bad. Sure you can argue for those that are good-bad, but for me, after seeing Gareth Evans’ The Raid series, I am confident there will never be something that good for years to come. And the Taken series does not even come close.

Taken is more akin to something on the Disney Channel and more boring. I understand it is PG-13, but if you want good action, you cannot go wrong with an R rating. The best action films push the envelope with their content because the genre is not built to have restraints. Furthermore, and this is a complaint exclusive to myself, it does not help that the human trafficking premise was done better in Punisher: The Slavers by Garth Ennis. Perhaps that makes me unfit to review this movie, but I am going to do it anyway.

Before I go on, I must let you know I did not see Taken 2 because the first one was so uninteresting. Anything that happened in 3 that pertains to 2 was lost on me.

You can tell from the prologue that 3 sucked. Compared to the first, it is worse; does not even qualify for good-bad status. What makes it especially bad on a personal level is I am staying up late to write this, after seeing two movies on the same night, something I have not done for a review. I cannot believe I spent money on something I am losing sleep over, and I have class in 12 hours.

The story is… *shakes head* Jesus Christ… Bryan Mills, played by Liam Neeson, is framed for the murder of his wife Lenore, played by the seemingly immortal and beautiful Famke Janssen. He sets out to find her killer while avoiding the persistent and intelligent Detective Dotzler, played by Forest Whitaker.

I really want to end it right here. Either you take what I am saying to heart or you are somehow a fan of these movies and will disregard anything I say.

Whoever shot and edited this film needs to see a doctor because everything was shaky, unclear, and edited in a way that implies the production thought the audience was too stupid to focus. It seems to be a new trend in Hollywood to make shot-cuts as fast as possible to keep our attention. It is about as insulting as a Michael Bay film.

It also does not help that everything felt super cheap. I imagine the production had grand ambitions, but a meager budget. Rather than cut down on what the wanted and settling for simple, they cut corners using special effects so cheap it makes Sharknado look like Interstellar. Battlestar Galactica used similar effects, but only in moderation and in situations where they could not be done practically. In 3, it is so jarring and obvious how bad they were; I could not believe this was released in theaters.

The plot was… Whatever. I do not care anymore. What are you expecting? I mean, why would you go to the trouble of framing a guy who has a history of being an elusive assassin? And at the end, when you have an opportunity to get away with what you have done, why would you actively provoke said assassin into chasing you by taking his daughter?

Dredd and The Raid took place in one location, had simple stories, and they are both far superior films that you should be watching… after you watch Inherent Vice.

Believe it or not, there were a few things I liked, one being Liam Neeson.

As an actor, he has the versatility of a Stoner 63: he can be emotional and heartfelt in dramas, or loud and nasty in action. The man was Oscar Schindler, Michael Collins, “Priest” Vallon, Ra’s al Ghul, and Aslan, within the span of a decade. I have problems with him as a person, like his stance on gun control:

I find it strange that a man, who grew up in Northern Ireland, has a problem with firearms, when the IRA were putting nails in their bombs and setting British soldiers on fire. But no, guns are the problem; not weapons that can kill and maim swathes of people in less than a second, and not the terrorists that used them on pubs and churches.

However, I am willing to look beyond my issues and regard Neeson as untouchable for his skill and history as an actor.

Forest Whitaker was all right as he made the best of a terrible script. Maggie Grace was decent as Kim; no real complaints there. There were a couple good fight scenes like one in a convenience store and one where Neeson stops a plane from lifting off with a car. Granted they were hard to follow because the cameraman was having a seizure, but they were cool once you figured out what was going on.

So yeah, Taken 3 is not worth anything. I feel bad for saying all of this, but the movie deserves it. It was worse than Big Eyes. It is even more depressing because I saw it right after Inherent Vice; I traded a wonderful experience for something that makes me want to drag a box-cutter across my throat. I do not even want to edit this paper. I want to go to sleep and forget about the 11 dollars I paid for this crap.

Inherent Vice

To my surprise I found a showing for a film I actually wanted to see this month. I am relieved to not be stuck with Taken 3… which I am also reviewing. Without further delay, here is my critique of Inherent Vice.

* * *

I would not say I am a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson (PTA), but I like his films, at least the ones that I have seen. There Will Be Blood was the first movie I ever analyzed, Magnolia showed me a side of Tom Cruise I never thought existed, and The Master was just very, very good. Where the stories are not exactly original, the way PTA tells them, with artful direction and fantastic performances from the entire cast, makes for a great watch. So is Inherent Vice another exemplary feature, or something else entirely?

Not only is it something else, Vice exists on a whole other plain. This is a film so insane you will find it hard to comprehend anything upon reflection.

The film begins with “Doc” Sportello, played by Joaquin Phoenix, a drugged-out PI, receiving a visit from his ex-girlfriend Shasta, played by Katherine Waterson. Shasta lets him in on a plot to have her current fling, a successful real-estate tycoon, thrown into a mental institution in a bid to steal his money. Doc takes the case and embarks on a ride wilder than he anticipated.

What starts as a simple noir detective story in 1970’s Los Angeles turns into a multi-layered journey of Lovecraft-ian insanity. I am exaggerating of course, but I dare you to see this movie and try to understand exactly what is going on. You are given so much information that eventually becomes impossible to piece together because everything else is a mess, a beautiful, hilarious mess.

Arguably it is a simple film, but the way it is directed and how the actors play their parts, takes you through so many loops you become convinced you are as high as the characters on screen. It inspires not confusion, but obnoxious fits of laughter; you will be out of breath and questioning everything at the same time. Imagine The Big Lebowski if the whole production was on a cocktail of weed, heroin, and psychedelics. It is quite possibly the funniest movie I have seen this past decade and it is impossible to make sense out of it.

For a PTA movie, I feel it is unnecessary to talk about performances because they are always fantastic. Phoenix was an absolute blast, but my money is on Josh Brolin as “Bigfoot” Bjornsen, a clean-cut model police detective, pressed from a mold of John Wayne and Bill Paxton. He represents the unhinged and aggressive nature that has become associated with the LAPD. What happens at the end with his character is so incredible, it puts the “Milkshake” scene from There Will Be Blood to shame.

On a side note, there is a cameo so out-of-nowhere (to me, at least) I let out an audible squee in the theater. I did not feel embarrassment because I was too busy gawking at what was happening on screen.

As far as faults go, I find it difficult to get into them because there are none to speak of, but that does not change the fact there are issues of a subjective nature. Fans of PTA may not like its radical departure from what they are used to. It is almost as if a different person was directing under the name of Paul Thomas Anderson. For newcomers, they will feel Vice’s length, but then again, what else do you expect from people who like Transformers and other worthless schlock. The story can feel incoherent at times, but that is the point. If you are not confused the first hour in, then you are doing it wrong.

All that aside, the humor and performances make up for anything one may find wrong. The funny moments are what sell this movie and they are the reason you should see it, even if it is your first PTA movie.

Inherent Vice is a film that must be experienced. I do not know why you are reading this; you should have been out the door hours ago.

 

Big Eyes

Tim Burton was my childhood.

I watched Nightmare Before Christmas when I was three and it has shaped my personality ever since. I like his other films, but I am not enough of a weeaboo to turn a blind eye to his faults. And after Dark Shadows, I lost complete faith in his ability as a director. He abandoned any sort of artistic versatility in favor of doing more of the same; whether it be shoving in daddy issues, using actors we pretend are still good, or abandoning any sense of narrative coherency and structure. 90’s Burton was a genius, but 00’s Burton is a hack that makes things according to what will sell, desperately clinging onto what made him famous. His latest release is a perfect example of his creative bankruptcy.

Big Eyes is the story of Margaret D. H. Keane, played by Amy Adams, an artist whose signature is painting children with large eyes. The film details her time working in the shadow of her husband Walter, played by Christoph Waltz, a skilled con artist (no pun intended) that takes credit for her work. As his fame grows, so does her anxiety about lying and the sense of under-appreciation.

After seeing Big Eyes, I am convinced Burton has forgotten how to make movies. I understand this is a true story, but the way things happen is so incoherent and out of place, with no regard for transitions or information before hand.

Characters are introduced and you never see them again, subplots begin and end, and problems are presented and solved all in one scene(s), with 90 seconds between each moment. It was hard to believe that something so simple was a chore to understand. Had things been spaced out and explained, it would make the movie far better.

I find it hard to articulate in words, but it reminds me of a Jodorowsky comic; something happens, then another thing, and another thing. It is a mish-mash of stuff that is easy to follow, but so incoherent, you become lost and confused as to why anything is happening. Jodorowsky can get away with it because he is Jodorowsky, but with film, unless you are trying to be artsy, stick with a traditional Three Act structure that makes it easier to tell a story like that of Margaret D. H. Keane.

In fact, artsy movies are more coherent than Big Eyes. It baffles me that something like Only God Forgives, from Nicholas Winding Refn, is easier to follow than a biopic about an artist.

This is a problem that first presented itself in Dark Shadows. Things just happened because they happened, with no clear implication before hand. Eva Greene was great in that movie, but she could not make up for the mess that could have been fixed in editing.

All problems aside, Big Eyes’ is at least inspiring. It is about a woman, victim to the misogynistic social norms of the 50’s, who achieves success over a man. We see the emotional turmoil Margaret endures when Walter exploits her talent and it is harrowing when she gains the power to fight back.

From a performance standpoint, Amy Adams did a good job of showing Margaret’s feelings on screen. Her detached expressions and sullen voice sell how tortured she is living in the shadow of a cruel man.

Speaking of performances, Christoph Waltz was one of the better parts of this movie, even though he was miss-cast. He brought his usual charisma, but for a character like Walter, charisma is the last thing he needed. Since Waltz is naturally charming, even when he plays a Nazi, the deceptive and cunning nature of Walter becomes moot because you end up liking him. Perhaps that was the point, but the moments when he is overacting and enjoying himself, you like his character more.

It is like staring into infinity. I get the feeling Waltz knew the material was bad and he made a bet with Adams to see how far he could take it before Burton told him to stop. It is quite entertaining.

Now I have already said a lot of bad and I find it unnecessary to go on, but I need to explain a plot hole that utterly destroys any chance of this movie being good.

So after Margaret becomes Walter’s “money printer”, they agree to keep it a secret because they are technically committing fraud. Among the people she is not allowed to tell is her own daughter and her friend DeeAnn, played by Krysten Ritter. But before Margaret ever met Walter, she was painting Big Eyes using her daughter as a model, and it is implied DeeAnn knew Margaret before she moved to San Francisco. In the first scene after she moves, she talks to DeeAnn about selling her art. And when Walter meets Margaret, her daughter points out that she watched her mom paint her early Big Eyes.

So after her daughter and DeeAnn find out her secret, 10 years later in the timeline of the movie, it is meant to be a big reveal. But if they already knew Margaret painted the Big Eyes, why was it such a surprise and why did they not say anything after Walter put his name on them? Need I say more?

Big Eyes is a broken movie and painful to sit through because it is from a man that was my major artistic influence. Burton’s first couple of movies will always be around, but seeing his talent wane before my eyes is like watching somebody get raped; I want it to stop and have the perpetrator punished. But that is just from my perspective. How was the movie overall and is it worth your time and money?

Short answer: not at all. The theme is inspiring and Christoph Waltz’ performance makes it qualify for good-bad status, but you have to deal with an absolute mess to get to it. You should save your time and money for a rental.

What a disappointment.

 

The Imitation Game

I do not understand the appeal of Benedict Cumberbatch. He is a great actor with a memorable voice, but how he came to be a sex symbol, I will never know. I suppose that is why his films become as popular as they do, regardless of how bad they are. In my opinion, Star Trek Into Darkness was only watchable because of Cumberbatch as Khan, and the best part of the Hobbit movies was Smaug. It will be interesting to see what he does with the character of Steven Strange in the coming years. So is The Imitation Game just another bad movie made better because of Cumberbatch, or is it genuinely good?

It is not often we see the British side of WWII in film, or at least I have not. From a historical standpoint, we know they were entrenched in an air war that left many civilians displaced in and around London. What we overlook is how desperate the situation truly was. Britain became the sole target of the Nazis, an army of unmatched industrial efficiency and technology. They had rockets, superior numbers, and enough fanatical insanity to over-use it.

The only way Britain survived was a stalwart resolve and those little advances in technology that turned the tide. Imitation Game is about one of those advances. But rather than focus on the creation of a decryption computer, the story is about the man who made it.

Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, a brilliant yet awkward mathematician, and secret homosexual. After the start of WWII he is hired by British Intelligence to crack the Enigma code used by the Nazis. Turing must master his faults in order to work with a team of other geniuses if they want to bring a swift end to the war.

In many ways, Imitation Game is similar to Unbroken, but unlike the latter, there is a consistent effort to flesh out the main character of former, as well as the supporting cast. We learn everything about Turing from flashbacks to his past and future, and the way he carries himself, thanks to a fantastic performance from Cumberbatch. Everything is implied in Unbroken; we are meant to assume what Louie Zamperini is like as a character based on very little direct information. Both ways work, but Imitation Game gave us more of a reason to care about Turing because we learn so much about him.

Furthermore, the lesson or theme of Imitation Game is a hundred times more potent and meaningful than what Unbroken tried to say. It is about overcoming your faults to persevere against adversity, punctuated by one’s struggle with sexuality, and also gender in the case of Keira Knightley’s character Joan. I find it both relatable and more original in regards to Unbroken. They are basically the same story, but when you make it about a man with a defective personality, and a socially unacceptable sexual orientation (in the period of the film), it makes the eventual perseverance all the more heartfelt and compelling. Unbroken is just your run-of-the-mill inspirational true story with an easy to read and predicable narrative.

Cumberbatch really makes this film. If there were any doubts of his versatility as an actor, they are surely unfounded based on his performance. He is so thorough and subtle in his portrayal of an awkward genius you forget he is an actor playing a part in a film. It is quite a spectacle because you believe every second he is on screen. All I can say more is he deserves an Oscar.

The supporting cast was serviceable for the roles they played, the highlight being Knightley. In my opinion, she was the reason why Cumberbatch was so good because the chemistry punctuated the two character’s struggle with adversity. Her character Joan is brilliant, but she is unable to exploit her abilities because people see her as just a woman. Though not as strong a performance, Knightley did a good enough job as a parallel to Cumberbatch. I think she provided an outlet for those who could not relate to Turing’s awkward behavior. In other words, she was an equalizer.

There is not much wrong with the film and believe me, I have tried to find something. In terms of storytelling and production, everything was serviceable and simple, without being offensive or overdone. The film relied more on performances, but it did not cut corners in everything else.

The only problem I can find is a single plot hole that still annoys me hours after seeing this movie. I am not a genius, but the fact that a handful of mathematicians could not figure out this elementary level problem baffles me. Either this was written for the sake of adding tension, or this actually happened in the events the movie is based on. I refuse to reveal what the plot hole is because you will be screaming at the screen the moment it comes up.

In conclusion, I highly recommend seeing The Imitation Game. If you want an inspirational movie, it is far superior to Unbroken and more relatable, at least in my case. Even if you hate the genre as much as I, you will enjoy this movie based on the because of Cumberbatch alone. As a WWII movie, it provides an interesting perspective from the Intelligence side of the war, and how important they were to the soldiers that did the fighting. But if you are homophobic or misogynist (or both), you will not like this movie, because you are a piece of garbage.

 

Unbroken

It probably does not help that I did not want to see Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken the moment the trailer started. Apart from how the film was promoted so much I started to hate it, the “inspirational true story” angle did not work on me at all. It is the most overplayed, stupid, and boring concepts in storytelling. You will never convince me a movie like Miracle or those similar are good; they are garbage.

Furthermore, based on information provided by the rampant advertising, the movie is about a soldier in WWII taken prisoner by the Japanese, and the depiction of the Japanese is exactly how I expected. I understand at the time, the Axis Powers were some of the worst human beings on the planet, but as of late, the portrayal of the Japanese in film has been borderline racist.

I know full well the atrocities they committed against the Chinese in Manchuria, and believe me when I say, General Shiro Ishii of Unit 731 makes Josef Mengele look like Mother Teresa, but in films like Yimou Zhang’s The Flowers of War, the Japanese are made out to be barbaric, ignorant, and monstrous to point of being cartoonish and offensive, without any sense of rationality or honor.

Once again, they were the worst, before we humbled them with atomic fire, but can we at least get a respectable depiction like in Clint Eastwood’s Letter From Iwo Jima? In that film, we understood the Japanese as fully fleshed-out people; even the crazy ones were relatable. Everything else I have seen is disrespectful and gross. For Christ’s sake, Nazis in film are better rounded than the Japanese!

And that brings us to Unbroken.

In the Land of Blood and Honey was Jolie’s directorial debut, which she also wrote. I feel bad for insulting one of the hottest mothers in existence, but it really was not that good of a movie; the kind you absolutely do not want to start with if you want to be a director. It was well meaning with its intentions; a story about Bosnian genocide, a topic people of my generation probably know nothing about, but it fails entirely in execution.

The elements were there; a story about love and survival in one of the worst European conflicts since WWII, but the lack of focus and a schizophrenic structure made the film a struggle to sit through. Valhalla Rising and Only God Forgives from Nicholas Winding Refn had their own ways of telling their strange stories, but they were at least coherent and focused. Both are very abstract art films, but you can figure out what is happening, with a little bit more thought required.

In Blood and Honey, everything was all over the place, the characters’ personalities and motivations went more up and down than an erection, and it was harder to follow what was going on because some information is given that is never explained. There is so much implication, but it is even harder to understand what is being implied because we do not know what is happening. We are meant to assume we know what is happening.

It was clear to me that the film was made and released on clout alone. I would not call it a vanity project, but I assume Jolie thought it would gain notoriety because her name was on it, and it was a subject she genuinely believed in. But a reputation does not make a good movie, a lesson made evident with the film After Earth.
As a directorial debut, it would have helped if she took note from works similar to hers. Blood and Honey would have been amazing and more compelling had it been modeled after Schindler’s List. But as it stands, her film is a mish-mash of scenes that only work together if you disregard the basic tenants of structure.

I could go on forever, but I will move on and tell you about Jolie’s latest release. Have the problems of her first feature crept into her second, or has she learned her lesson?

To my complete and genuine surprise, she has indeed learned her lesson. With assistance from the Cohen brothers providing the script and adopting a look and feel similar to a Clint Eastwood movie, Jolie made up for her flawed debut in more ways than one. It has its issues, but compared to Blood and Honey, it is quite exceptional.

It reminds me very much of J. Edgar in style and structure. I would not call it a copy, but I was glad to see Jolie barrowed the directorial techniques of her contemporaries. The script was also a contributing factor after the Cohens took charge of writing and made everything work. However, I think the movie would have turned out better had they also directed.

The story follows Louie Zamperini, played by Jack O’Connell, an Olympic Athlete turned bombardier at the start of WWII. The film chronicles his life from a mischievous childhood, to a brutal few years as a POW in Japan. You can predict where the story will go because this is something you have seen before.

It does not do anything different, but because it is a biopic, all the tropes and clichés are admissible. If you watch the trailer, then see the movie, and complain about how predictable it was, you are stupid. Unbroken does not hide what it is; it knows it is a true story about courage in the face of adversary, and if you could not figure that out based on the promotional material, you have not watched enough movies. If that is the kind of movie you want to see, you will not be disappointed.

It serves its purpose well.

In addition, the movie feels like it is fishing for Oscars. Using those tropes and clichés, against the backdrop of a story and period relatable to Baby Boomers, the movie was made to be a nominee for the awards season. That is not a bad thing, but it reinforces the feeling of how manufactured the movie feels. Compared to other titles like any Adam Sandler or Transformers movie, Unbroken at least had more effort put into its production.

The first half feels very cheap with CG effects that were serviceable in some places, but awful in others. I do not know how much this movie cost, but it shows loud and clear. It gets better in the second half because nothing else requires the use of CG, creating a sense of realism that really makes up for the first half.

Performances are the main strength of the film. O’Connell does a decent enough job with the material. You can really see the torture he put himself through to immerse himself in the role of a prisoner of war. That being said, moments of O’Connell playing Zamperini in a normal setting were practically non-existent. This is a minor complaint, but it would have been nice to see how he would act in an ordinary situation.

Another performance of note is Takamasa Ishihara as Watanabe, the commandant of the POW camp, and Zamperini’s primary abuser. He was good as an antagonist, with a cold stare on par with Ralph Fiennes as Amon Geoth from Schindler’s List, but that is about it. There is promotional material selling him as a well-rounded villain, but I do not see it. Nothing against Ishihara, but Watanabe is about as plain a villain as you can make. It feels like Jolie and Ishihara had a very clear idea of what they wanted to do with the character, but it was not put to film; there was implication without anything implied. All he has going as a character is how scary he looks.

Speaking of which, the portrayal of the Japanese was more respectable than I predicted. No one is inherently evil, or cartoonish to the point of being racist. The way they act is not unlike people just doing their jobs because their leaders told them to do it. The fact we do not see them do anything terrible helps this idea. Even Watanabe, a guy who looks like a scarier version of Byung-hun Lee with an insatiable bloodlust, exercises some degree of restraint when beating Zamperini.

There were a few minor problems that are not important, but I need to address them:

In the beginning, something happens that is not explained before hand. You can make your own assumptions, but it would have been better had there been an explanation.

The brother character, even though he is in the movie for maybe twenty minutes, is there solely to deliver inspirational advice. Granted he is gone before you realize he is there, but his purpose for being is a joke.

Usually I do not complain about length, but this was a very long sit. You will feel the movie drag at times where you just want it to move on. It is not painful to watch, but it is tedious at times.

I recommend Unbroken if you want to see a biopic about a WWII veteran who fought in the Pacific, a subject not seen too often in film. As stated before, it is long, tedious, and something you have seen before, with the theme of persevering in face of adversity. If that is something you want to see, buy a ticket. Otherwise, save your money for The Imitation Game or Big Eyes, which I have yet to review.

 

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

For the sake of brevity, there are a few things I must get out of the way:

I have not read the books. All the information I know is based on the movies and what I learned from other sources.

Runtime will never be an issue. If you complain about the length of a Lord of the Rings (LotR) movie, why are you even here? Do you know how stupid you are?

The budget of each film is equal to that of the entire LotR trilogy. Sure they make the money back, but that does not excuse the utter waste of resources for something that should not have cost that much. This makes the handling of the Spider-Man and “DC Comics” movies look competent.

There is no need for a trilogy based on The Hobbit, but it is understandable when you consider the inclusion of the expanded LotR universe. I say the more, the merrier.

The use of special effects for the orcs is redundant. Keep in mind, the orcs in LotR were all done with practical effects, real actors, and they looked a billion times better than all of the creatures in the Hobbit movies.

Azog, the Defiler would be a better character had he been real. The actor that provides his voice, Manu Bennett, is the scariest looking dude you will ever see. In addition to a constant mad-dog scowl, the guy is a mountain of muscle that makes most Hollywood pretty boys look like twinks. All you have to do is shave his head, apply some facial latex, paint him white, and you have yourself a memorable villain.

With that out of the way, let us get on with the review.

* * *

Like Mockingjay, I find my review of The Battle of the Five Armies unnecessary; everyone is going to see it, no matter what I say. I grew up on LotR and the appeal of those films has lasted to this day. The characters, aesthetic, and scope are so memorable they rival that of Star Wars. Because of that fame and fan devotion, the Hobbit movies will always have an audience yearning for more Middle Earth, and my review is not going to change their minds.

The first two movies were good, but because we were already familiar with the world going in, the sense of discovery was stilted. Those really great moments of note were few and far between. It reminds me of the game Fallout: New Vegas; the world was new, but the mystery of exploring a post-nuclear holocaust world was non-existent because we have been there before in Fallout 3. So has Five Armies pushed for something new, or more of the same?

The story picks up right after the end of Desolation, where Smaug is unleashed to wreak havoc on Lake-town. I would put up a spoiler warning, but I think you already know what happens. After the dragon is felled, word spreads that Mount Erebor and its riches are free for the taking. Armies of men, dwarves, elves, and orcs march on the Lonely Mountain to stake their claim for the purpose of wealth and politics.

When considering the trilogy as a whole, in my opinion, Five Armies is second, with Desolation on top, and Journey below. It was indeed a fun watch, but it felt more like a reluctant continuation, than a step-up from what had been done.

I get the impression some of the events should have been resolved in Desolation, with more time spent on building up to the inevitable battle. The Hobbit movies are very dense, but what the last two did so well was space it all out. All the mythos and tidbits of information were doled out in moderation with good pacing. Here, everything was rushed to get the battle over with. If anything, the movie would have been better had it took its time.

The problem arises in the beginning, where Smaug flies from the mountain and sets Lake-town on fire. The sequence was so short and rushed, it would have been far better had it capped off the end of Desolation. This further cements the fact that actor Benedict Cumberbatch, the voice of Smaug, is too good to be present for only ten minutes. If he were killed off in Desolation, it would have made his departure in Five Armies less disappointing. What a waste of talent.

The strength of the film is definitely the battle. We see the armies of four different races, clad in different suits of armor and weapons, before they fight in ways that make them distinct from each other. It was a delight to see the precision and grace of the elves, the systematically confrontational tactics of the dwarves, and imaginative ways the orcs went about their strategy of sieging a fortified position with unique military assets.

The entire last half of the film is seeing the armies go at it and it is glorious. Multi-racial soldiers combine and fight as a singular, if not disorganized unit to win the day. Tensions rise when moral wanes, innocents die, and the lines of battle collapse in on themselves. Towards the end there are one-on-one battles that mimic the creative set ups of the previous trilogy. If anything, the battle is reason alone to see Five Armies.

The main problem is not only how rushed everything feels, but also the overuse of CGI. I know I mentioned it it in the beginning to get it out of the way, but after seeing this movie, I am compelled to talk about it. The unnecessary CGI cuts more corners than the Star Wars prequels and the paper documents on an episode of the new Battlestar Galactica combined. I was so taken out of the movie because I know for a fact most of the effects could have been done practical and would have looked far better than anything created in a computer. I could not be more disappointed.

All in all, The Battle of the Five Armies is a nice conclusion to the Hobbit movies. It delivers on its promise of an epic battle that fans will enjoy. Best of all, it makes me want to go back to the original trilogy, and I plan to do so right after I post this. Before you see it, I recommend going back to Desolation to refresh your memory of the events leading up to the battle. If you plan on seeing anything this weekend, make sure this is one of them. Take your kids to this instead of Night at the Museum 3 or Annie.

 

Top Five

My first exposure to Black comedy was The Chappelle Show at the age of thirteen. To this day, I can quote the entire “Charlie Murphy: True Hollywood Stories” sketch about Rick James, in my sleep. It has never and will never get old for me, unlike most sketches. The show itself was done so well, that Dave Chappelle lost his mind trying to keep it going. Everything after on “Comedy Central”, except Tosh.0, has failed to live up to what it started all those years ago.

My interest in Black comedy has since waned. There were moments when I’d find other shows or comedians of note: The Boondocks was great; Kat Williams’ sass is a riot; Key Peele is a nice diversion; and Loiter Squad is the closest I will ever get to a Jackass revival. None of them, however, can fill the void left by The Chappelle Show.

Even though nothing else appeals to me, I find Chris Rock to be unique voice in comedy that warrants attention. He talks about what you expect, but he comes off as truthful and rational, taking into account the context of a situation.

The best example is his skit “How To Not Get Your Ass Kicked By The Police”, where he equates a beating by police, to the confrontational behavior of a suspect. He fails to assume that perhaps the police in question could be racist, but the conceit of the sketch is still sincere and most of all funny.

Outside of some comedy shows, and his role in Kevin Smith’s Dogma, I was not wholly familiar with Rock going into Top Five. To my surprise, I was not in the least disappointed.

The story is one of creative bankruptcy, addiction, and an entertainer’s struggle for reinvention. Rock plays Andre Allen, a successful comedian turned actor that longs for something outside his comedic persona. The movie takes place over the course of a day in New York City, with Andre in the midst of promoting his new film. Chelsea Brown, played by Rosario Dawson, is a film critic that is shadowing him for an interview. Behind the scenes, Andre is getting married to Erica Long, played by Gabrielle Union, a prominent reality TV star whose fame mirrors that of Kim Kardashian.

The film seems entirely improvisational as Rock does his usual shtick, with Dawson to provide a reaction and a difference in perspective. It makes everything seem all the more real and genuine, especially in the interactions between characters.

It also helps the theme, a dilemma I believe everyone can relate to. We get the impression Chris Rock has once been Andre Alan, a comedian who believes he cannot be funny without a few drinks before a show, a reflection of the late Robin Williams’ struggle with alcohol. Andre wants to remain sober because he wants to be on top, but being on top means giving in to mainstream entertainment and sacrificing what dignity he has left.

There is a great juxtaposition between Andre and Erica; one is genuinely talented, and the other was made talented via network television. Andre is opposed to the idea of a televised wedding and the reality show in general, but if he wants to be a success, he has to become like Erica and take direction. Erica is in the same dilemma; if Andre does not go along with the whole charade, she will have nothing left when her show falls apart. She possesses no talent other than looking pretty and being an imposter.

A variety of comedians show up as cameos. They provide a few funny lines that make their appearance worth while, some of which I refuse to spoil because it makes the surprise all the more potent. There is one cameo so out-of-nowhere, so unbelievable, no one is going to see it coming or understand why this person agreed to appear in such a way. The cameos also help the theme, creating a sense that they too have struggled with being funny and staying relevant.

Top Five is very funny. I may have a better understanding of Black comedy compared to other White people, but I think even they could enjoy the humor. There is a joke about Tyler Perry that is so good, it gave me a sense of relieve knowing other Black people think Perry is a bad writer and a misogynist. They are also mature and come as natural because of how improvised everything feels.

The faults of the film lie in the dialog that is obviously scripted. It happens mostly in the beginning when two characters are dumping exposition in a very awkward manner. I think neither actor wanted to say it, but they needed to get it out of the way so they could move on.

Furthermore, the editing comes off as unfocused and disjointed. There will be cuts to scenes of little significance, before going back to the scene at hand, or a bad shot here and there. It was jarring because this happens all throughout the film, but the dialog makes it worth the struggle.

If you have ever struggled with being creative or had a crisis where you felt you need to change everything about yourself, Top Five is very relatable. But if you have no interest or are better off than the characters in this film, save your money for Battle of the Five Armies.

 

Exodus: Gods and Kings

It has certainly been a while since my last movie review. I am relived to return to my usual work and share my opinion of the latest releases. On top of that, I want to make it clear that I will not address the controversy associated with Exodus because it is an imaginary problem. I understand giving the whitewash to stories that feature non-Whites is a problem, but this is movie, a piece of art, and art does not have to be taken seriously. The race controversy is not worth anyone’s time and energy when most of America’s cities are on the brink of The Troubles levels of un-rest.

* * *

As a film buff I owe director Ridley Scott a lot. He introduced the world to Xenomorphs with Alien, my first favorite sci-fi movie, and he made Blade Runner, the film that made me want to be a writer. I respect him as an artist and a game-changer in cinema. However, I understand where he has made mistakes and for the record, Prometheus is not one of them. Robin Hood, Body of Lies, and Hannibal are not the best of films, but Scott has also been the victim of studio interface with Legend, Blade Runner, and Kingdom of Heaven, a film with a far superior director’s cut. So where does Exodus rank in Scott’s filmography?

The story is so familiar I feel no need to summarize. As far as I understand, it is faithful to the tale of Moses freeing the Israelites and leading them out of Egypt.

What sets it apart is how relevant the story feels with parallels to class warfare, police oppression, and the subject of Israel as a state. It is subtle in that regard while maintaining a sense of ambiguity. We know who is supposed to be good and evil, but they behave like ordinary people, reacting to situations like one would expect. Sometimes the roles change where the actions of Moses are as questionable as Ramses is sympathetic.

Like Gladiator Scott channels Old Hollywood with huge sets and A-list actors on an epic scale, supplemented by a helping of brutality within the limits of a PG-13 rating. It is reminiscent of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, sprinkled with hints of realism that make the impossible believable. It treats the divine influence on Moses as hallucinogenic where he sees and hears God when there is nobody talking to him.

God as a character is brilliantly juxtaposed with his actions in the film. He is manifested as a young boy and what he does to the Egyptians is so horrible and over-the-top, it makes sense God would be a cruel, angry child.

The strength of the film comes from the relationship of Moses and Ramses, played by Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton. The chemistry is strong and they match so well that once separated, both change radically. They cannot live without each other, making Ramses’ downfall all the more inevitable and tragic. Even after so much upheaval and harrowing circumstance, neither find it within themselves to kill the other.

Bale brings his usual intensity to Moses, going from accomplished military leader to messianic revolutionary hell-bent on saving his people. It was a good performance, but Edgerton gives it his all and more in my opinion. As the story progresses we see him become unhinged, visibly and emotionally affected by the departure of Moses and that which no man can control. In a way he plays Ramses with a hint of Marlin Brando, constantly moving and touching anything in reach. I cannot recall a scene where he does not have something in his hands or is not moving.

The fault of the film lies in the supporting roles. It is not that the performances were less than serviceable, in fact they were decent, but they were also nonexistent and underutilized. Most of the lines were given to Bale and Edgerton while the rest of the cast had little to nothing to say. There would be some expository dialog or reactions here and there, but it was incredibly scattershot. With actors like Ben Kingsley, Sigourney Weaver, Aaron Paul, and a host of familiar faces, it is a shame they had nothing to do but stand in-frame.

The lack of strong supporting roles might be the result of studio interference as it is very clear Exodus had a Kingdom of Heaven style reaping. There is nothing on the relationship between Ramses and his mother and Kingsley had maybe a few scenes where he did something of substance. I understand the film was probably cut to make the runtime audience-friendly for the target demographic. And because the story is so familiar it makes sense to avoid retreading information that is common knowledge. But in my experience, if Christians are willing to sit through a sermon about the length of a Lord of the Rings movie, then they can handle the extra half-hour that was cut from Exodus. Furthermore, if you cast talented actors only to have their performances slashed from the theatrical cut, why go to the trouble of casting them in the first place? It is as if Terrance Malick edited this film.

Though this is technically a religious movie, outsiders can enjoy Exodus: Gods and Kings for its action and performances. The Plagues sequence alone makes it worth admission for those interested in apocalyptic levels of disaster. The old guard of film can find much to appreciate with its grand spectacle, strong leads, and classic feel. This is certainly an Oscar contender and an excellent weekend distraction that all can enjoy.

 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

This is going to be a long one as the analytical part of me seeps into my criticism. If you want the bottom-line recommendation, go see it, and save this review for when you have more time.

* * *

Reviewing a movie like Hunger Games is like McDonalds posting the nutritional facts about their menu; it is not going to stop people from eating their food and this review is not going to stop you from seeing Mockingjay. And why should you not? The first two were great with a fantastic performance from Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss and good direction. Give or take a few issues of theme, the series is an interesting satire of Reality TV and the system of social class.

As an adaptation, I cannot attest to any changes from book to film because I have not read the books. My judgment will be based on the film alone and how it relates to previous installments.

The story picks up after the end of Catching Fire where Katniss has been drafted into the rebellion against President Snow. The story centers on her becoming a propagandist tool to inspire the rest of the Districts to join the reclusive District 13 against the Capitol. Plutarch, played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, and another entertainment director named Cressida, played by Natalie Dormer, work together with Katniss in the production of emotional and convincing messages to spread throughout Panem.

The tension and conflict of the story comes from the chess match played by the rebels against the Capitol. While one side has Katniss, the other has Peeta, played by Josh Hutcherson. When she puts out a message displaying the atrocities of President Snow, Peeta is shown on camera denouncing the rebels and asking for a cease-fire. With every message, his physical condition deteriorates, along with Katniss’s willingness to participate in the cause.

Like the previous two the strength of the film is Jennifer Lawrence. This time she plays Katniss with an air of helplessness, as she is unable to really participate in the fight. When she does, her loved ones and innocents are put in harm’s way. It is an interesting spin on her stubborn, yet damaged character.

Performances were generally good all around. The synergy between Hoffman and Woody Harrelson as Haymitch was a great watch as they worked to make Katniss a genuine symbol of revolution. It is a shame we lost such a talented actor. Julianne Moore did her best as the stoic and contemplative President Coin of District 13. Liam Hemsworth was finally given more to do as Gale and shows he can be a decent actor, despite his faults. Hutcherson’s subtly was multiplied ten fold as we see his character very reluctantly participate in a spin campaign under threat of violence.

These are minor problems with the film, including a series-long issue that I will address shortly.

For one thing, there is not a whole lot of action involving Katniss. She shoots down a jet like she did in the trailer, but that is it. I understand she has a more complex role to play in the story, but it would have been awesome to see her impaling Peace Keepers with arrows.

Speaking of action, there are scenes of citizens revolting in the other districts, but not enough of them. Those present are serviceable for the PG-13 rating and also quite good. What they lack is a visceral edge; a sense that the citizens, limited by their technology compared to the Capitol, are fighting their guts out to be free. Had the film gone into Snowpiercer levels of violence, it would have made those scenes far more harrowing, while at the same time giving the film an R rating, and it’s young audience intense, horrible nightmares.

There are also issues with the editing at the climax. The events that took place were hard to comprehend because the scenes jumped ahead and skipped much of what was happening. Later it made sense in context, but it was still disorienting. While the climax was going on, Finnick, played by Sam Claflin, was giving a monologue for a propaganda message. His delivery was so good, yet it was neither seen nor heard all the way through because of the schizophrenic editing. In the hands of a different editor, the climax would have been masterful, combing both the monologue and the suspense of the scene I refuse to spoil.

The biggest problem that has persisted throughout the series is the theme and how it collapses in on it’s own world. Hunger Games captures the exploitative and sensationalist nature of television quite well, but where it falters is the disparity between the rich and poor.

The poor of the Districts are portrayed as ordinary, well-rounded people, and the rich of the Capitol are these pampered elitists wearing layer upon layer of make-up and equally gaudy hairstyles. It is as if the movie is trying way too hard to show the differences between class, while giving the audience a clear indication of who to root for. But at the same time, why does the Capitol need the Districts to do their bidding if they can manipulate the ecology and weather of a contained environment (the Games Dome) with Star Trek levels of technology, that would otherwise eliminate the need for a social class system or labor on a scale as massive as the Twelve Districts?

I understand Hunger Games is technically a satire and satires are supposed to have this cartoonish edge, but there has to be some sense of realism and logic to the world and it’s characters.

Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop had outlandish characters, but they at least had goals and personalities that were believable and did not break under their own weight. Alex Murphy wanted to be a good cop to keep is family fed, Clarence Boddiker wanted to be a criminal to make money, Bob Morton wanted to get ahead on the corporate ladder, and Dick Jones wanted to remain at the top by any means. Everything everybody did in that movie made sense and it was believable in the context of the world.

In Hunger Games, I am forced to question why anyone is doing anything, when the Capitol can grow/change whole biomes and animals at will. It reminds me of Neil Blomkamp’s Elysium.

Prepare for an intense digression:

Aside from the poor handling of its theme, one similar to Hunger Games, nothing makes sense. If an orbital platform can generate it’s own atmosphere in open space and sustain itself for years on end, with super heal-everything medical equipment, why does it even need to be around Earth, especially when there probably is not that much to gain from a planet that has been poisoned beyond repair? Sure they find gains in cheap labor, but only to make money that is basically useless. Furthermore, why can it not defend itself from non-citizens attempting to land if it is a sovereign body, in a world where the rule of law and government has broken down planet-side? And on top of that, if you can create your own atmosphere, without the need of an airtight environment, why not colonize the Moon, Mars, or any other planet within reach of your advance spaceflight capabilities? The action sequences are good and Sharlto Copley is delightfully insane as Kruger, but when I have to question everything else on screen, the film falls apart.

End of intense digression.

Coming back to Hunger Games, you can argue that the ridiculous aesthetic and government of the Capitol is the result of whatever catastrophe made the world of Panem what it is. After this disaster, knowledge of serfdom, slavery, mass murder, and ritual sacrifice would have been lost on the survivors generations after, which would give way to the creation of the Capitol/District system. This helps prevent the theme implosion, but you cannot disregard the lack of basic common sense. However, it is still more believable than Elysium.

If you are familiar with the series, odds are you are going to see this. If not and you are looking to get into it (and you should), I highly recommend seeing the last two films before seeing this one. As I said before, I have not read the books and have no idea about any changes to the plot that may discourage fans. In relation to the films, I would say this is the second-best, under Catching Fire. However, if you do not care at all about the series and are reading this just because, I recommend watching Joon-ho Bong’s Snowpiercer for one of the best examples of civil revolt in film. Be prepared for Korean movie violence and Captain America himself, Chris Evans, talk about eating babies.

I am not kidding.

 

Dumb and Dumber To

The word “betrayal” has become synonymous with sequels for decades-old films. For me, the continuation to a movie I like requires my attention, regardless of reviews. And then I see it…

It is beyond disappointment when you wait 10 years only to have your expectations utterly destroyed. Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day, Blues Brothers 2000, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, and the Star Wars prequels are betrayals to everything fans stand for. These movies ruin reputations and beloved histories of franchises. Nothing inspires more anger than an installment that insults the original.

I’ve felt the pain of these films and the last thing I wanted to see was a sequel to a movie that was my childhood. But in the end, Dumb and Dumber To was actually okay. It wasn’t an insult, it didn’t try too hard, and it understood there was no chance of surpassing the original.

The story is as seen in the trailer:

Lloyd wakes up from a 20-year coma that turned out to be prank on Harry, who later reveals he needs a kidney. In pursuit of a donor, Harry finds out he has a daughter that could provide a viable replacement. And so the pair set out on a cross-country road trip for the kidney.

Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels are the reason to see this film. Neither has lost a beat after 20 years; the chemistry renewed as the two bounce jokes off one another. They’ve also added little touches to their personas without changing the characters.

Spread throughout are homages to the previous film that don’t come off as recycled gags, but as winks to the fans. One scene is a love letter that quickly turns into an acknowledgement that the movie will never be as good as the first.

What kills the movie is a failure of juxtaposition. What made the first film funny was that Harry and Lloyd were cartoon characters in a world with realistic consequences. The comedy came from their interactions with reality, but when reality is just as dumb as the main characters, you create a farcical paradox where nothing works.

Though Dumb and Dumber To is not all that good, the characters make it worth a watch. If you just want to see Harry and Lloyd one more time, you’ll be pleased. But if you’re bored and have no interest at all, go see Interstellar.

 

Interstellar

In all honesty you should skip this review and go see the movie. It’s not to avoid spoilers because I don’t mention any, but to enjoy the experience without any prior information. Words cannot do the movie justice; had I no desire to make a career out of this hobby I’d end my critique right here. So put the computer on Sleep and get yourself a ticket.

* * *

Let’s talk about Christopher Nolan.

It’s undeniable the Dark Knight trilogy made the once reclusive director a household name, especially after the mind-bending Inception and controversial Man of Steel. But with every ambitious project and Hans Zimmer score we overlook the essential parts that would otherwise alter our opinions of Nolan’s films.

Let’s face it: The Dark Knight was only good because of Heath Ledger and Rises had more plot holes and conveniences than Star Trek: Insurrection. We watch these films, find the parts we like the most, and venerate the whole regardless of any faults.

However, the reason we go back is not for what we like, but for Nolan himself. Where he fails in story and character he makes up in technicality, using practical effects and direction that bring a unique simplicity to each film. Though Inception was confusing for those who lacked common sense, everyone could get behind the crazy moving sets or the vehicular sequences of the Dark Knight trilogy. To put it simply, Christopher Nolan is a hipster Michael Bay that doesn’t hate you and respects film as art.

And that brings us to Interstellar.

In recent years the Sci-fi genre has been in a state flux. Every once in a while there’s something smart and original that becomes overshadowed by dumb garbage. If you disregard Marvel and DC adaptations, there wasn’t a whole lot of unique science fiction released in the last few years. To find true works, one must go far and wide, whether on a computer or on foot. The prospect is grim, but Interstellar has brought new light and the possible future of the genre in film.

Christopher Nolan has made an ode to Kubrick and Roddenberry that is equal parts spectacle and a tale of humanity’s reach beyond Earth and ignorance. It is epic in scope with practical sets, effects, and visuals that set the standard for the film vision of space. The use of sound and score puts you in both the pilot’s seat and the shoes of the astronauts as they witness their home collapse into apocalyptic chaos only to find new worlds that challenge their perception of normality. I can only imagine what it must be like to see this film in IMAX-3D.

At this point I find it unnecessary to talk about the story if you haven’t already decided to see the movie.

Matthew McConaughey is at his best, rivaling his role in True Detective as Cooper, a pilot turned farmer after a global catastrophe forced the world’s population to turn to agriculture for survival. One day NASA recruits him for a mission to save humanity that transcends the boundaries of conventional physics.

And that’s all I’m going to say.

Regardless of minor plot issues, its borderline pulpy nature, and three-hour runtime, Interstellar is a rare achievement. It is a film that must be seen in whatever format affordable. Don’t bother seeing anything else this week.

 

Nightcrawler

In an age of the Internet, a commentary on the shameless depiction of violence in televised news is like comparing a Neo-Nazi to a Mormon sister-wife. Those who complain about this contrived issue need only look up “Execution video”, on any search engine, and find their minds changed beyond repair. It’s true the media sensationalizes current events, but your regulated news channel has nothing on the Cartel bandito decapitating a pair of snitches with a chainsaw. Nightcrawler is built around this idea, coming off as rather pretentious and heavy-handed, but its focus and reason for buying a ticket is the man behind the camera.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, a wide-eyed sociopath with a liberal helping of OCD. In pursuit of a career, Louis becomes a nightcrawler, an amateur cameraman that drives around Los Angeles listening to a police scanner to film accidents for profit. After many successes, Louis’s cool exterior begins to deteriorate as he moves up the ladder, hell-bent on sating his hunger for carnage and wealth at all costs.

Nightcrawler is similar to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, a story about a cabby spiraling into insanity. But where De Niro’s Travis as morals, Gyllenhaal’s Louis is soulless and irredeemable. He is a man of opportunity, thinking only of himself as he manipulates and deceives to get what he wants. He has no regard for human life, only interacting with those who fit into his plan for success.

It is undeniable that Gyllenhaal is the reason to see this movie. His subtlety and methodical speech sells the character in a performance unlike any other seen this year. With every movement, stare, and spoken word, Louis becomes a more realized, and chilling to watch in action. An Oscar nomination goes without saying.

As a character piece, it’s difficult to point out flaws when the film’s essential part is undoubtedly perfect. We see much of Louis’s life as we grow to understand his emotionless personality and various obsessive ticks. This is the first half of the film and the set up for a story doesn’t happen until long after the fact. Normally this would be a problem in a conventional narrative, but since the entirety of the focus is on the character, a traditional story is unnecessary. Of course you could build a consistent beginning, middle, and end around the character, having his development coincide with what happens, but it would have cut-short the performance and leave much to be desired.

The film is a slow burn of just under two hours and you will certainly feel its length. What Louis does can be hard to watch, but movies are spectacle as much as art, and Nightcrawler is a spectacle of character.

 

John Wick

The current state of the action genre is nebulous to say the least. On the one hand we have the straightforward Dredd, and the self-indulgent Expendables, supplemented by the annual Liam Neeson revenge/mystery. All are serviceable, becoming the First Blood/Commando of this generation; new archetypes for what we will know as the go-to action template for years to come. But this only compounds the problem of monotony in film where everything starts to look the same. This brings us to John Wick, a movie you have seen over and over again.

The plot is the definition of simple:

A former hitman loses his wife and tries to move on by taking care of a beagle puppy she left behind. Said beagle becomes the embodiment of her memory and his reason for going on. But after earning the ire of Iosef, the son of a Russian Godfather, played by Alfie Allen, the puppy is murdered in the ensuing burglary of his home. This sets Wick off (no pun intended) on a tirade of bloody revenge.

Ultimately the plot doesn’t matter in regards to the rest of the film. For those who watch movies, this kind of story is as common as white on rice. There is not much you can do in a narrative that has been done so many times I could fill the entirety of this paper listing off titles. But where Wick conforms, it makes up for it in action and tone.

Combining the close-quarters of a brawl with the put-down power of a pistol, the fight scenes bring a new take to shoot-outs. Most, if not all of the kills with guns are point-blank with Wick dispatching his foes close enough to feel their final breath. It puts a brutal spin on an elementary fact of the action genre, something not achieved since Raid: Redemption. If there is any reason to see this film, it is the gunplay.

What Wick also does well is where it falls short. After the beginning it becomes apparent the film does not take itself seriously. The actors behave likewise, making an effort to ham-it-up for the sake of dry, yet decent humor. The only downside is there wasn’t enough ham. Michael Nyqvist, the best of the performances, was drunk and high as the Godfather Viggo, playing a charismatic caricature of a gangster, having the most fun with the material. It’s a shame Keanu Reeves did not enjoy himself as much, but his typical, blunt acting works to film’s advantage.

The world of Wick is so comically dumb it’s brilliant. Being a criminal means you belong to a cultish guild, where everything and everyone is paid off in gold tokens, the police leave you alone, there are cleanup crews for crime scenes, and there is a hotel/neutral zone exclusive to gangsters and killers alike.

The ridiculousness of these ideas, juxtaposed with Wick’s utter seriousness, enhances the self-deprecation while making it serious. Simply put, John Wick has been affected by his years as a hitman, whereas those of the guild go through the motions of criminality as if they were born into it. He is the only one aware of what he has done and the people he kills do not know, nor care they are evil. For him, murder is an awful thing, but he has a noble, sympathetic reason behind it.

Another film that does this the best is Punisher: Warzone, a love-letter to the fans. The villains are walking jokes while Frank Castle is cold and humorless. Castle takes no enjoyment in his actions, refraining from one-liners, and overtly elaborate kills, favoring simple and efficient methods. To quote comic book writer Garth Ennis, “Frank Castle makes the world sane,” in the same vein as John Wick.

Bottom line, the film needed more ridiculous, but it is nonetheless enjoyable with unique gunfights, and simple camera work that will make you wish shaky-cam was banned. However, if you find yourself wanting for something sweeter, I highly recommend Punisher: Warzone for how well it handles the same themes.

 

Fury

In 1998, Steven Spielberg set the standard for war movies with Saving Private Ryan. He took an archetypical narrative and filmed it Gonzo, putting the camera in the middle of the blood, guts, and heroism. There have been many imitators, resulting in successes like Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, and others not exclusive to the genre. A true follow-up, embodying the personal experiences of soldiers in WWII, has not been achieved. However, Director David Ayer’s Fury did something else entirely.

Ayer takes a note from Sam Peckinpah’s Cross of Iron and coats every part of the film in dirt and grime. In the same fashion, the characters are war-weary tankers that have killed and destroyed for three straight years across two continents. Their nihilism takes the anti-war themes of Private Ryan into snuff film territory; they are aware of what they have done, they know they are monsters, and do not care. The war has turned their patriotism into shell-shocked barbarism. All that holds them together is camaraderie and their rational superior “Wardaddy” Collier, played by Brad Pitt.

The focus of the film is the tank crew. Under Wardaddy is Bible, a pious turret gunner played by Shia Labeouf; Gordo, an alcoholic yet clear-minded driver played by Michael Pena; and Coon-Ass a loudmouth Redneck not afraid to speak his mind played by Jon Bernthal. After losing his bow gunner, Wardaddy is sent Private Norman Ellison as a replacement, played by Logan Lerman. Ellison is an ordinary Army clerk before an error in the system put him in the bowels of Fury. Throughout the film he must set aside his idealism and moral virtue if he wants to survive.

The film was shot in the guts of a Sherman tank where the characters have lived since the start of the war. We see the routine of loading massive rounds into the turret, the limited perspectives of the gunner and driver, and the personal items of each soldier. The best part of the experience are the sounds; from the thumps of Nazi boots climbing outside, the prang of spent shells hitting the steel floor, to the echoing gong of opposing rounds bursting against the hull.

The film’s strengths are in its theme and how the actors reflect it in their performances. War is a loud, nasty business and each character is affected in different ways. What they share is sorrow, irreversibly changed with no hope of returning to who they once were. The best example of this happens at the Midpoint where the war goes quiet and the tankers struggle to find peace without debauchery. It was a great moment of acting from Shia Labeouf where he says virtually nothing, but you can see on his face what he is feeling as Michael Pena recalls a story about horses on D-Day.

The few problems the film has are superficial. We never really hear the character’s names; I had to look them up. Performances make the characters, but it would help to know them by name. The editing was spotty in some places where a scene cuts too early, but it is not enough to ignore the film outright.

Fury is well worth its length as a new yet old take on the genre. The realistic way it handles effects in its battle scenes is reason alone to see it.

 

Dracula Untold

After the trite, misogynist epic that was the Twilight Saga, it is fair to say the general movie-going public is tired of vampires. HBO’s True Blood, a series I enjoy, became a convoluted mess of supernatural tropes, but is less painful to watch than Stephenie Meyer’s testament to female slavery. It seemed the four years of Bella and Edward ruined vampires, until the first trailer for Dracula Untold.

It was interesting to see a film that combines the history and myth of Vlad Tepes with Bram Stoker’s fiction. His extreme acts of horror warrant a movie unto themselves, but it is hard to imagine a film about a man, impaling hundreds people to save himself, making it’s budget within the first week. Untold, however, found a way to make a murderer sympathetic.

The film begins with an origin sequence over the narration of Vlad’s son Ingeras, played by Art Parkinson. He talks about the Turkish Empire enslaving male children of Transylvania to be soldiers. The greatest of them was his father whom became known as the Impaler for his ruthlessness.

In the present Vlad, played by Luke Evans, is king of Transylvania, and a family man struggling to move on from his past. All seems well until a Turkish envoy demands the first-born male children for Sultan Mehmed, played by Dominic Cooper. The request brings back memories that become exacerbated when Mehmed asks for Ingeras as a hostage.

Knowing how outmatched he is Vlad refuses and seeks out a dark legend. Said legend is the Master Vampire, played by Charles Dance, a small, but fitting role for a man of his charisma. After they meet, Vlad drinks the Master’s blood and gains the power to save his family and fight the Turks.

What makes the film work is its B-Movie feel. The actors know the premise is ridiculous, but they go along with it because Untold wants to push the vampire mythos; it’s having fun and wants explore what is possible. Despite the absurdity, the characters act like any person would in their situation.

The only problems with Untold are that it doesn’t go far enough. A good amount of Verhoeven-style gore and dismemberment would have helped with bat-assisted impalements and eviscerations. Mehmed needed more characterization and some historical context for those not familiar with the period.

Performances were good with Evans doing a great job of portraying a battered old warrior trying to forget. The supporting roles of Parkinson and Sarah Gadon as Vlad’s wife were acceptable given their parts. The best performance by far was Dance. The man was made to play a vampire and with the aid of make-up and voice mixing, he is easily the best part of the film.

Though not wholly unique, Dracula Untold was a fun watch, the kind of movie you can keep your brain on, and enjoy for its 92 minute runtime.

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2 thoughts on “Movie Reviews

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