Saturday, November 18, 2017

Murder On The Orient Express (2017) - Review

International private detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) wishes to use his long trip on the Orient Express as a brief rest before his next case in London. Unfortunately for the Belgian sleuth with the wild moustache, a dead body turns up in the next door cabin and he needs to figure out which of the other passengers committed the murder before the train is freed from a freak avalanche. Branagh brings a lot of new energy in front and behind the camera to the latest adaptation of the famed Agatha Christie mystery novel to slightly mixed results. The central whodunit remains the same but there are a few wrinkles in the details of Michael Green's script that helps reshape some of the drama, most notably the changing of one character to an African-American. To further punch up the devious festivities, Branagh sprinkles in a few action sequences and carefully blocked out long takes. Unfortunately, those brief moments of action are direly shot, ultimately pointless and feature a clear stand-in of the 56-year-old actor/director. As for the cinematography, it is often graciously well shot but some artsy maneuvers, namely a lengthy scene shot entirely in bird's eye view, end up spoiling the thrills. And the less said about the poor CGI and green screening, the better. Despite these creative missteps, the film is still an entertainingly warm picture about cold blooded slaughter and the icy fractures of human suffering. All of the games of deception are pulpy fun and there's plenty of humorous dialogue and black comedy to keep you chuckling. The acting is the best thing going for the feature; all of the players get to sink their teeth into the succulent drama and have a chance to shine. Funny enough, it is Branagh himself who really takes the cake, which of course was elegantly prepared by the fine kitchen staff and made from Godiva chocolate. He wisely sands off some of the hard edges of the peculiar investigator and plays up both the perfectionistic eccentrics and the hidden tragedies of the character, making his Poirot a more dapper and tolerable version of Adrian Monk. It may not overtake the celebrated 1974 version but it gets the job done.


Friday, November 10, 2017

Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars - Review

Stuck on a military space station and tasked with turning a group of lazy, vanity-seeking Mars-born recruits into proper mobile infantry, Col. Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) sees his fortunes turn far worse when a surprise bug invasion unearths itself on the red planet. STARSHIP TROOPERS: TRAITOR OF MARS is a step in the right direction for the cult sci-fi franchise. Though it sadly still retains the odd Japanese 3D motion-capture animation look from the last movie INVASION, original screenwriter Edward Neumeier is back in the saddle as writer and boy does he have some new satirical things to say. The animated film is at its best when it focuses on some rich material that are certainly topical in our currently dark social climate. A rambunctious generation of people wired to online platforms, a glory hound with a five-letter last name who only cares about their approval rating, staff members who lavishly praise their superior or wear literal blinders, a political talk show that is legitimately called "Who's To Blame This Time?" and so on. These elements give the picture a much needed punch that is sorely lacking in the action department. Saying choreographed CGI violence looks like a video game is a way too easy knock to make in film criticism, doubly so if it's in an animated feature, but it really does here. While watching the several often mediocre shootouts and splattering of bug guts, I just couldn't shake off how much the power suits the heroes wear look like a cross between Gears of War and Vanquish, especially when they run or use their jetpacks. Or, how when Rico is sporting his basic battle gear, he looks like what you get if Xiahou Dun and Commander Shepard had a baby. Additionally, though I did enjoy the finer aspects of Neumeier's writing, the much hyped re-appearance of Dizzy, with Dina Meyer reprising the role, is ruined by a predictable twist and ultimately doesn't really matter in the end. I wasn't completely entertained but TRAITOR OF MARS brought enough vigor to barely cross the finish line and be an okay watch.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Baywatch - Review

Lt. Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) tries to get his new lifeguard recruits in gear, including former Olympic swimmer Matt Brody (Zac Efron), so he can have some backup when it comes time to deal with a shady lady (Priyanka Chopra) operating a secret drug operation outside her fancy beach resort. BAYWATCH is in all purposes a highly mediocre product and a very lame and tame adaptation of the cheesy syndicated television series but it's shoddy construction and being nearly two full hours laugh free makes it an insufferable watch. The film had an easy opportunity mocking while also celebrating the weird mixture of goofy police procedural and frank fan service involving scantily clad ocean workers that made the show a huge hit. Instead the makers decided to go with the old stand-by of drugs on the beach and evil rich people buying up land and corrupting government officials and playing it completely straight for again nearly two hours. The rest of the so-called script is a literal mish-mash of ideas, with subplots coming and going or hitting the brakes swiftly and crashing on screen. They can't tell the full scope of Zac Efron becoming a real team player or the slow ascension of the female second-in-command because they need to have some more pointless vulgar banter between the male leads and incite more nerd spunking by having an unfunny fat guy getting close with a model making her real acting debut, I mean a highly trained and attractive blond. The humor is basic juvenile jabs, the kind you would see rampant in student films or as placeholders in real feature films until they can come up with better material. Director Seth Gordon just lets the cast just mouth off expletives left and right with no punch to any of them, praying that the gullible ones in the audience will laugh and that others will give his latest misfire a shot given its R rating. If that doesn't work, throw in an obnoxiously long gag in a morgue involving simmering gay panic and gross genitalia and bodily fluids. The cast is all wasted here, particularly the actresses who often just sit on the sidelines and spend more time wearing many different outfits than they do with actual plot importance. However, I was generally shocked at how utterly boring Dwayne Johnson is at times during the film. This guy was able to do as much as he could with awful kiddie crap like THE TOOTH FAIRY but he couldn't even make every scene in this comedic tripe barely passable.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Spark: A Space Tail - Review

Teenage monkey exiled on a floating piece of his former planet slinks away from his two guardians, a kung-fu deer and an obese pig mechanic, and sets out on an adventure to stop the evil domination schemes of a tiny statured monkey tyrant. SPARK: A SPACE TAIL is a boringly below average animated flick that will evaporate from any viewer's mind faster than you can say "let's kick some asteroids". Hell, the film isn't even bad enough to warrant it being labeled as the next DELGO or STRANGE MAGIC. The whole product is just a lame STAR WARS rip-off from the mediocre mind of writer/director/editor Aaron Woodley, complete with a whiny brat protagonist who looks out into space, a Darth Maul-esque lightsaber, "force" like powers, secret family relationships, a scene where the bad guy gloats over the hero while a spaceship battle goes south, and a musical score that has just enough minor note changes to keep John Williams' lawyers at bay. The only creative additions Woodley was able to think up are the fact that everyone can breath in space, wind can somehow exist in a vacuum, airlocks act like normal doors and don't actually lock out air, star destroyers operate just like sea battleships in space, and that black holes and worm holes are one and the same. Actually no, there is just one ingenious creation featured here by Mr. Woodley: the "space kraken", a giant space creature that acts as the film's MacGuffin and isn't a squid at all but actually a humpback whale with a mollusk shell and several wing-like tendrils that literally shits out black holes. The animation is cheap looking but decent enough for a $40 million Canadian-Korean production and some of the actors, namely Jessica Biel and Patrick Stewart, do their best but none of it can truly compensate for the ho-hum story, weak comedy, and unnecessary littering of pop songs.


Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Florida Project - Review

Just outside the pearly white gates of Disney World in Orlando, Florida lies a shabby flophouse called "The Magic Castle" where the poor and desperate try to make do with their grim situation. Over the course of one hot summer season, several of its residents, including the young daughter of an ex-call girl and the hotel's manager, partake in many misadventures that have the potential to wipe away the silver lining of their lives. THE FLORIDA PROJECT is both a magnificently charming look at childhood innocence under grave circumstances and a damning examination at the so-called 2nd happiest place on Earth. Director Sean Baker expertly highlights the colorful but depressing side of the capital of American amusement parks, where the roads are filled with tacky outlets, motels with Disney knockoff names and tourist-first mentalities, slums and swamps that go unchecked, and single parents left to wallow in their own filth. But much similar to his previous film TANGERINE, Baker counterbalances the human despair with crude yet utterly hilarious comedy, often coming from the mouth and imagination of main tyke Moonee. The film possesses some of the absolute best child actors I have ever seen, all of whom are non-professional, with Brooklynn Prince shining like a bright star as Moonee. Unknown actress Bria Vinaite also turns heads as Moonee's destructive mother, who adores her little girl but whose actions causes her daughter to be brought up terribly and her future as a parent to be in total jeopardy. And then you have the always fantastic Willem Dafoe who's amazing as the hotel overseer Bobby, who acts as a pseudo father figure for the female protagonists but is able to remain objective due to his unseen past experiences with bad parenting and awful residents. Baker does a expert job in both the directing and editing chairs, particularly with a scene at a resort thats echoes a certain Italian masterpiece, and the film is beautifully well shot thanks to the stunning cinematography of Alexis Zabe. The only trip-up that really does hurt the picture is the ending; this just landed like a deep thud in my theater and led everyone to walk out bewildered. I get what Baker was trying to accomplish with it but it's not executed well, comes off as a total cheat, and steps on the toes of a certain indie that was able to make it work. I may deduct some points because of its bizarre conclusion but I definitely see this movie growing on me further down the line.


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

It Comes At Night - Review

An underdeveloped virus epidemic has devastated the United States of America. The constant fear of it spreading fuels the paranoia of a small family as they come into contact and eventually welcome in another group of three to their boarded up house in the woods. IT COMES AT NIGHT is a pretentious slog, offering up nothing new to the thriller genre and possessing one of the most egregious movie titles of the year. There is no real monster, no "it" that is feared by everyone, travels under the night sky and looking for fresh meat. Instead, get ready for the shoe to drop, the "it" is really fear itself! Oh my god, I just can't believe Trey Edward Shults came up with such a brave idea for his art horror film! Honestly though, Shults fails spectacularly when highlighting the uneasiness between strangers because of the worn out script, generic ambiguity, molasses slow pacing, and the utilization of cheap jump scares and music stings when it's clearly displayed to the viewer that nothing is really there. He is so preoccupied with the film's poor overall artistic design that he literally forgets to have a proper third act, instead going with an unbelievably rushed out bleak ending that would be haunting if it wasn't so incompetently handled. Also not helping the experience of sitting through this bore is the fact that the often mute main character, played by newcomer Kelvin Harrison Jr., is a man in his twenties playing a 17-year-old who's plainly delusional at times, somehow has the same intelligence level as the little kid character, and likes to creepily listen to his parents and the adult strangers talk and get it on. The acting is fine overall, with Joel Edgerton as the intelligent yet dangerous man of the house being the sole standout, but it along with some striking cinematography can't save this direly predictable tale of distrust that produces nil scares and plenty of snores. Even those that enjoy it will never want to watch it again.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

xXx: Return of Xander Cage - Review

A revolving door of bad guys get their hands on "Pandora's Box", a mini laptop that can send satellites crashing down, and it's up to a 50-year-old man and his crew of totally extreme secret agents to get it back to the good guys. There's a lot of dumb violent fun to be had in this unnecessary sequel to a decade plus film property but RETURN OF XANDER CAGE still leaves a lot to be desired. Calling it a glorified Saturday morning cartoon would be an insult to animated television; at least the writers of those type of shows would know how to properly structure out events and have any sense of tension. The makers of this radical picture spend more time keeping it hard and warm for its star/producer Vin Diesel than they do when it comes to a sound story, listenable audio, reasonable editing, and CGI work that doesn't look like totally garbage. Why bother trying to have some actual stakes or make a believable action spy who isn't a DJ or a psychotic stuntman when we can just witness yet another scene where a hot young woman fawns and gets weak at the sight of a bald middle-aged dude with lame tattoos and an ugly furry jacket? At no point do you feel for the plight of the world because the villains only use their deadly device to destroy a Chinese restaurant in Brazil, a random Russian stadium and Detroit. Additionally, all of the anti-heroes and the anti-anti-heroes seem to get along greatly, even when trying to kill each other, and they all have a bit of telepathy because they act nonplus when someone is about to betray them. The action sequences are pretty hit-or-miss; for every sour chase scene or pointless car crash, you get a vicious shootout or Donnie Yen kicking major ass. The acting is all-around meh, largely since again most of the time is spent with just Diesel, but Ruby Rose does get to stand out as a badass sniper. The sour note in the bunch shockingly isn't Diesel but Toni Collette, who's a lifeless corpse as a ball-busting CIA head and clearly doesn't care that her poor performance spoils an expected third act turn. Skim its few highlights in YouTube video form and skip the rest unless you're having a lazy day or you really want to see more of the egotistical drivel Diesel is able to get produced in this day and age.