Monday, August 14, 2017

Batman and Harley Quinn - Review

Poison Ivy and Floronic Man (who?) have teamed up in order to create and unleash a deadly virus that would cause the entire world to became one giant garden utopia. Batman and Nightwing are on the case but they need the help of reformed criminal Harleen Quinzel, aka Harley Quinn, for some reason. BATMAN AND HARLEY QUINN could have been a fun ride with its titled costumed antiheroes punching and chuckling about were it not for its awful script, annoying fan service, and its absolute refusal to justify its existence beside continuing DC's gravy train of Batman-themed cheaply animated films for the home video market. The film surprisingly reveals itself in it opening stages to be set within the landmark DC Animated Universe, as the world and the characters retain their designs from the polarizing but still highly acclaimed The New Batman Adventures. Unfortunately, screenwriters Bruce Timm and Jim Krieg then stomp on the goodwill of nostalgia and bring forth a glorified television script stretched out to 70 minutes that's so rancid that it makes you wish you were watching a feature-length adaptation of "I've Got Batman in My Basement" or "Critters". Batman, Nightwing, and Harley not only fart around Gotham acting like total idiots instead of foiling the barebones evil plot, they literally fart around; at one of the most infamous points in the film, Harley proceeds to hotbox the Batmobile thanks to some nasty buffalo wings and Batman's refusal to make a pit stop. When the film isn't padding itself out with a useless subplot with unknown comic book figure Sarge Steel, an extended dancing sequence, and two full-length musical numbers, it proceeds to lovingly exploit the sexual features of Harley. This isn't a total surprise for the character as her more promiscuous side has always been hinted at or outright pointed out in the original animated series but wow, the makers just love to shamelessly showcase as many shots of her panties and butt that they can get away with while holding on to that PG-13 rating. However, the gravest offense this movie brings is its catastrophic finale. The film concludes with a very slow reveal of a potential deus ex machina, proceeds to painfully expose it to be a total farce, has one of the heroes come up with a simple solution to all their problems and then boom, straight to credits. No joke. I'm not kidding around when I say that this probably is the worst movie ending of 2017.

Despite all my misgivings at its putrid script and my downright hatred for its pathetic denouncement to the picture, I still had some very minor enjoyment with BATMAN AND HARLEY QUINN. Most of the pleasure comes from Melissa Rauch, who does a pretty damn fine job as Harley. She received much scorn from hardcore fanatics when she, not Arleen Sorkin, was announced as playing the popular female supervillain for this film, further exasperated by the fact that Kevin Conroy and Loren Lester were reprising their roles as Batman and Nightwing respectively. Once you see and hear the comedic antics and dramatic moments she pulls off here, it's safe to say that Rauch certainly proved herself as a formidable voice for the cute but deadly jester. Though the comedic script is mostly a shaggy dog, I did at least like some of the jokes, namely the always reliable Batman reaction shots. I also got a kick out of the return of the phenomenal relationship between Harley and her b.f.f. Poison Ivy, which is given a nice twist when the fists coming flying in the last act. And finally, there's absolutely no Joker at all in the picture! Thank the gods that Bruce Timm and the DC Animation crew didn't drag him out for a cheap pop. Your mileage may vary on its chaotic humor, crappy storytelling, and gratuitous titillation but at least BATMAN AND HARLEY QUINN has a few good things to keep it from being the next KILLING JOKE.


Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Emoji Movie - Review

Hidden within a nobody teen's totally-not-a-iPhone lies a living universe of apps, including the world of Messages, here nicknamed Textopolis, where the denizens consist entirely of sentient emoji icons. Gene, who's the newly assigned embodiment of the expression "meh", goes on the run from anti-virus robots after being labeled a "malfunction" by his superiors and must find a way outside his app to reset his soul and stop being different. THE EMOJI MOVIE is Sony's evil machination to pour down a belittling swill of rampant product placement, corporate interest and 100-proof utter nonsense down the throats of kids. Realizing that they need a story to sucker in children beside all the bright colors and dancing scenes, Sony Pictures Animation, director Tony Leondis and his co-writers Eric Siegel and Mike White just copied and pasted the script from WRECK-IT RALPH and scribbled some new things over it including "insert internet meme here". I'm dead serious when I say it's just WRECK-IT RALPH again but done bad because it includes the following: a goofy male main protagonist who wants to be more than just his programming, a character designated as a "glitch" whose existence could theoretically wipe out a world, a female punky outsider, a literal secret princess, an extended sequence at a candy-covered world, a party area where the "good" people hang out at, and a villainous authority figure who smiles a lot but barks out evil orders. When they aren't cribbing from Disney, the makers filled out the open pages in the script with whatever corporate sponsorship that they were able to secure. Why tell a compelling narrative of any kind when you can get some extra advertising money by shoehorning in Candy Crush, Just Dance, YouTube, Spotify, Facebook, Twitter and Dropbox? Unfortunately for them, no amount of dirty ole green stuff can clog up the massive plot holes they left bare. The Grand Canyon of these inconsistencies is that the main characters say that they need to jump through several apps in order to reach their ultimate destination except it's been very well established that they can just run around the apps on the phone's wallpaper and make the trip ten times shorter!

I really want to rail further against the absolutely horrendous plot including how the makers don't know how cell phones work, how they developed a romantic subplot only to then drop it in a catastrophic fashion or the dystopian hellscape they created where the real world consists entirely of everyone speaking to each other through emojis not texts but let's move on to the film's other detriments. The movie is flat out unfunny. All of the humor is groan worthy at best and whenever a joke falls on his face the makers just toss in an ill-advised movie reference. The most torturous running gag even for little kiddies is when Gene's meh parents, voiced by Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge, go on the search for their son and have every conversation with each other play out in a lifeless tone. Speaking of the cast, they are utterly wasted by the tripe beings they lent their voices to. I don't know who got it worst: Anna Faris as one of the worst written female leads in a modern animated film or Sir Patrick Stewart forcibly spewing out poop puns as the poop emoji? The lone stinker in the bunch however is the otherwise talented James Corden as Hi-5, who's naturally the high five emoji. A character that could have been written out of the movie and nothing would change beside the lack of fat jokes, Hi-5 further becomes a burden to the picture thanks to Corden's obnoxious delivery and unceasing dialogue. THE EMOJI MOVIE is about as soulless as you can get with an animated feature. Not since FOODFIGHT! has there been this big of a corporate infused mess. But hey, at least there are no food Nazis and rampant sexual themes in this one, save for a internet porn joke.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 - Review

Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and his fellow gang of galaxy-saving misfits find themselves being the prime target of several parties. A gold-skinned, genetically perfect race known as The Sovereign want their heads after Rocket steal the space batteries that he and the crew were hired to protect; Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his rebellious Ravagers subsequently become The Sovereign's personal goon squad to bring the Guardians to their scheduled execution; Nebula still wants to best Gamora in combat and scrub her sister from existence; and a bearded man named Ego (Kurt Russell) arrives to spend some quality time with his supposed lost son Star-Lord. Though not a planet-jumping adventure flick like its previous entry, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 is an intriguing yet slow-moving sequel that spends more time with a heady discussion on the concept of god and its parallels to the relationship between a father and son. This will greatly disappoint those coming into it looking for more big CGI battles to munch popcorn to and for any advancement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Writer-director James Gunn does include these elements along with his standard rowdy humor and pop culture mentions but they are all substandard this time around. The violence is chiefly and stupidly directed for 3D purposes, thus making it practically useless to view its full potential in the future, and the wild slapstick does bring some hearty laughs but it doesn't feel as fresh as it once was. For example, Drax's unstoppable fit of laughter was one of the best jokes in the first film and here it's repeated nearly nonstop during the first half. The actors are all still great and each are given a moment to shine but the real standouts are Karen Gillan as a more fleshed out Nebula and Pom Klementieff as the wonderfully naive servant Mantis. The production design is absolutely gorgeous, from the new costumes to the warped out spaceships to the breathtaking CGI vistas and buildings that reside on Ego's personal planet. The pop song laden soundtrack once again compliments the visuals significantly, particularly the use of Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" and a special song by Cat Stevens at the very end. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 may be seen as a disappointment by Marvel fans for its lack of Thanos and talk of Infinity Gems but its true sequel approach allow us to enjoy a fun movie about theology and what makes a family and deepens our love for these quirky characters. It wants to be THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK of its franchise and it does so for better or worse.


Sunday, April 30, 2017

My Tops of 2017 - April

GET OUT wasn't just an amazing horror film or a comedy film, it was a masterpiece.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was satisfying at best but will evaporate from the public consciousness, the same fate all Disney live-action remakes share.

THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS was a fun popcorn flick with some cool action sequences that nearly fell up due to Vin Diesel's acting and egotism.

● Overall Film Count: 7 ●

So yeah, about me going out to see more movies this month...

The drive-ins did finally open mid-month but I was either rained out or didn't have the strong urge to venture out. Regardless, I at least got to see the two heavy-hitters of the season and what will sure to be either my top film in the entire year or in my top five. Plus, I still haven't seen a straight up stinker yet!

Best Films of 2017

1. Get Out

2. The Lego Batman Movie

3. Logan

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Fate of the Furious - Review

DSS agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and the Furious gang have a tall order this time around: they must work alongside their former foe Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) in order to take down Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), who has gone rogue and teaming up with the cyberterrorist "Cipher" (Charlize Theron). Most viewers will use the old adage that THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS shows that the franchise is running on fumes but I feel that it just squeaks by as serviceable action entertainment. Make no mistake though, there's a lot of issues brought forth by the makers that make the running time of two and a quarter hours a slow ride. The film kicks off with a beautiful yet way too long prologue in Cuba simply so they can have the requisite street racing sequence the franchise is forever tethered to feature in each and every installment. This part ends with the grave decision to show Dom getting blackmailed by "Cipher" in person, thus immediately ruining the entire tension of the picture. The rest of the story then becomes a confusing juggling act fueled by the egotism of the film's lead star/producer. The good guys are often pushed to the side and treated as total losers, due to being constantly outsmarted by that super strong Dom and his magnificent brain and driving skills. Meanwhile, everything with Dom is spelled thoroughly out, from the early reveal of why he pulled a heel turn to what he has planned to take down the baddies. That latter element not only robs whatever tension the pic has left but will cause you to immediately think about all the other giant plot holes littered within the script. These unanswered questions include: how is "Cipher"'s plane forever flying in the air? How could Dom make some outside contact despite being under heavy surveillance? And finally, the big one, why is "Cipher" going to great lengths having Dom steal a bunch of things just to steal something that is easy to hack and literally out in the open and in the middle of nowhere?

F. Gary Gray should have been a great pick for this film due to his previous experience with car heist flicks with the 2003 remake of THE ITALIAN JOB and his recent critical success with STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON. Unfortunately, he slips and falls mightily in this endeavor. The mammoth amount of CGI work ruins any vision he had in mind and he has a terrible rampant habit of slow-mo shots in order to benefit the 3D patrons that are now and forever nonexistent. Worst, the climatic finale involves everyone literally driving in a straight line and yet there's no grasp on where everyone is, how many evil trucks are left, and where's the finishing line. Funny enough for this car movie, the best action sequences are the hand-to-hand ones, namely a prison riot chase between Johnson and Statham and an amazing and hilarious gunfight with the latter actor against an army of goons at the end of the film. These two moments do suffer from a little too much shaky cam but the testosterone is overflowing and the violence is sensational. The majority of the actors seem to be on auto-pilot, save for Johnson and Statham who have a rich buddy cop camaraderie between them. Diesel, on the other hand, is far too grumpy and boring to take serious this time around, save for one scene where he actually remembers to act. However, everyone's Stella Adler compared to Scott Eastwood; the film tries to openly mock his shortcomings by having the characters nickname him "Nobody" in order to curb audience rejection but he really sucks out all of the charisma in every group scene.

I'm only giving THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS a slight pass because the overall enjoyment factor is still slightly above average. I was not a fan of the mediocre script and direction, Diesel's insecurities on full display, the terrible trap music that floods the soundtrack, the entire act in New York City, or the flagrant sequel setup ripped straight up from a saturday morning cartoon. Seriously, it's so blatant, I was expecting voiceover legend Frank Welker to be ADR-ed in, scream vengeance and have his evil cat bellow out a meow. Nevertheless, I could still find excitement in the car chases, the pro wrestling fights and again, that Statham showcase at the conclusion that is sure to rank up as one of the best moments in the entire franchise. Hopefully Diesel will find some humor in his life and learn to play with others, letting his fellow actors look strong in the expected next two films. If not, the fate of this series is surely doomed.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Beauty and the Beast (2017) - Review

A tale as old as time repeats itself as Disney continues its strong willed campaign to earn more money off their old properties with a modern live-action take of the beloved 1991 animated classic. As much as I really wanted for this remake to succeed with ease, making all of the previous Disney reimaginings to be the rough drafts they were, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST sadly doesn't excel beyond being just a serviceable distraction. The story stays close to the Disney version for the most part but screenwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos put some effort into updating the text. They spackle some of the glaring plot holes of the original film, bring more characterization to the characters and the townsfolk, and even have time to go straight to the source material and include the original conflict of the fairy tale with Belle's father taking a rose from the Beast's garden. Despite all of these welcoming new spins and turns to the story, the two writers instead create a whole new set of problems for the audience to swallow. Belle comes off as a total hipster, believing she's a "fearless" independent woman who likes to read yet she often changes her mind on the whim and is as vapid and shallow as the "little" people in her little town. Belle and the Beast now have even more tragic backstories that are eye-rolling at best, with the lame search for what happened to the heroine's mother oddly being a crucial subplot. The possible fate of the Beast's servants is now more horrific and disturbing, greatly overshadowing the fate of their master to remain a beast forever. But the most detrimental addition is the fact that the central romance is not something created organically but due to some divine intervention. I would like to continue ranting about more odds and ends in the story, such as how Belle's farm is strangely within the town, the very stupid new magical item bequeathed by the Enchantress, or the totally tubular version of Chip who skateboards on a saucer, but you get the point that this screenplay is even more flawed than what was presented back in 1991.

Bill Condon's direction is often quite beautifully extravagant, particularly the many crane shots and the scenes that greatly utilize the widescreen format. But the real beauty lies within the production design, which is just a magnificent achievement in terms of scope and detail. Unfortunately, both of these beauties are hampered often by the sheer dumb decision to color correct the film and make everything look dark grey, dark blue, and dark orange. The editing leaves a lot to be desired; this remake is 45 minutes longer than the original, causing the story to flow like maple syrup from the tap, and is heavily beset with a ton of terrible transitions and fade-to-blacks. The cast is filled with talents yet they are very hit or miss. Emma Watson is somewhat miscast and doesn't have a great singing voice, Dan Stevens' turn as a more flippant Beast is fine but layered behind CGI and an altered voice, the actors behind the servants are either underused or way too shrill, and Luke Evans and Josh Gad as Gaston and Le Fou respectively steal the show with their more nuanced and devilish cartoon figures. Of course, the real star of the film has to be the legendary score by Alan Menken and the songs he co-wrote with the late great Howard Ashman. Sadly, to accompany the new story changes, Ashman's legendary lyrics in nearly all of the songs have been crossed out and replaced by ones supplied by the dastardly Tim Rice. Once your ears hit upon these alterations first with "Belle", your enthusiasm for the music instantly drains and remain stagnant through the rest of the feature. As for the new incorporated songs that are solely here in order to earn Best Song Oscar nominations next year, they are all goofily overblown and lack a real soul. I will say though that I did like CĂ©line Dion version of "How Does A Moment Last Forever", which plays over the imaginative first set of ending credits. And the less said about Ariana Grande and John Legend's take on the pop version of the title track, or hell even Emma Thompson's movie version, the better.

It would have been a tall, tall order for the 2017 version of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST to top the 1991 animated film, which is so beloved in this reviewer's heart that it basically has ownership of my right ventricle. Unfortunately, it misses wildly but not to the point of being a total failure or even as bad as Disney's THE JUNGLE BOOK last year. It's a must-see for art and design fanatics, an one-and-done watch for the hardcore Disneyheads, and something to burn a Saturday on for the general public and bored kids. If you somehow think I'm way too hard on it, at least I didn't say that I would rather watch the infamous animated direct-to-video sequels than this live-action remake again. Those ones were really bad at the time and continue to be terrible drecks, no matter how many times Disney tries to re-release them. This film, on the other hand, will have its time and place but will eventually be an afterthought as all will want to curl up with the original evermore.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Charlie Murphy - RIP

Charlie Murphy has died from leukemia. He was 57 years old.

The older brother of comedy legend Eddie Murphy, Charlie seemed destined to remain in the shadow and in the entourage of his much more successful younger brother. He was often regulated to bit roles during the 80's and 90's, only able to have a brief moment in the sun when he got to play the antagonist in the cult comedy CB4. He also helped his brother create the genuinely awful story and screenplay for Vampire In Brooklyn.

His fortunes quickly changed in the mid-2000s when he participated on the super successful Chappelle's Show. He became well known on the show for "Charlie Murphy's True Hollywood Stories", a series of sketches where he stood in front of a green screen and rattled off goofy tales of him hobnobbing with other celebrities during the 80s. Murphy and Dave Chapelle would then reenact the events to humorous effect. The most famous iteration of this segment of course had to be his violent spats one night with funk superstar Rick James, whose real-life self would pop up to repeat to the audience that, "cocaine's hell of a drug."

His work on Chappelle's Show allowed him to kick start a successful stand-up comedy career. His acting gigs greatly expanded and he was often put to great use doing voiceover work, most notably his recurring role as idiotic rich white boy Ed Wuncler III in The Boondocks.

He will be missed.