Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Split - Review

Three teenage girls are abducted by a deranged stranger and held in his underground prison as his "sacred food". The situation becomes more chaotic when it is revealed that the OCD control freak is but one of the multiple personalities housing itself within the man. SPLIT is a slight return to form for M. Night Shyamalan and clearly shows that he still has some leftover talent to make a capable thriller but not enough to make a truly good one. It has some simmering moments of terror and is shot to appear as the most professional grindhouse feature Hollywood would ever release nowadays to the PG-13 crowd. However, just like the way the villain spreads mayo on bread, Shyamalan just coats the entire picture with overwrought dialogue that will leave you confused and/or bored. He also unwisely stretches the slim plot to nearly two full hours because heavens to Murgatroyd he chooses to cut out any of his precious words or one of his joke side characters. But the very worst he brings to the table is an absolutely retched backstory to the main heroine, which honestly could have been excised and not really change anything from the flat finale. The film would not have two legs to stand on were it not for James McAvoy's stunning lead performance. He's magnificent as the unpredictable schizophrenic and he expertly makes all of the highlighted personas unique thanks to excellent vocal choices and body language. Additional commendations go out to Anya Taylor-Joy, who's great as the designated final girl whenever Shyamalan remembers to have the camera focusing on her plight in order to draw full audience attention. An average enough movie to enjoy with some popcorn and an excellent display of the gloriousness that is James McAvoy. Just be sure to have your eyes ready to roll at certain times, especially once the stinger lands its thudding reveal.


Monday, October 16, 2017

Life (2017) - Review

A six man team of astronauts abroad the International Space Station retrieve a sample from Mars that contains a living organism. Nicknamed "Calvin", the new species rapidly accelerating its development and proves to be a dangerous threat to everyone on board and on Earth. The insipidly titled LIFE is general sci-fi fare, offering up no new ideas and no real thrills whatsoever. Nonetheless, it gets the job as a very mildly entertaining B-movie to waste an evening with. The film itself frankly sums itself up with its first major scene: a flashy simulated one-shot that showcases all of the main characters, yet providing no depth, and cumulates with a major space endeavor that you weren't aware was supposed to be suspenseful. The script was written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, two talented individuals who helped shake off the cobwebs from zombie and superhero films with ZOMBIELAND and DEADPOOL but couldn't do the same with their attempt at hard sci-fi. You easily expect the moments when a certain major actor bites it or when the super top secret backup plan is executed. Their answer to providing continuing conflict is to predictably drop the intelligence of the smart scientists at certain key moments and make the villainous creature way too powerful. And then you get to the ending, which does stick some of the landing and is quite cruel but again feels like something an edgy teen would have come up with in their creative writing class. Director Daniel Espinosa offers up a sleek presentation, the acting is pretty good, and the music supplies the basic space operatic notes. The only thing that absolutely sinks the film in any way is the closing credits, which are nearly ten minutes long and stupidly features the most unsurprisingly choice of a pop song in a sci-fi film. That's right, you guessed, it concludes with Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit In The Sky".


Monday, October 9, 2017

The Lego Ninjago Movie - Review

The green ninja Lloyd, along with his other color-themed and ninjutsu-trained friends, protect the city of Ninjago from the near daily attacks of Lord Garmadon, who also just happens to be Lloyd's deadbeat dad. One battle heavy day leads to complete chaos thanks to the implementation of "the ultimate weapon", causing the six ninjas to venture into the jungle for "the ultimate, ultimate weapon". THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE is an unbelievable mess, entirely incapable to firmly put itself together Lego brick by Lego brick at any time thanks to its poor storytelling, bad humor, and a total lack of direction. Three directors and nine writers, six of whom are credited for the screenplay, were somehow unable to make a sensible animated film involving toy ninjas battling their monster-like opponent and his army. Instead, they wholeheartedly steal from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's script from THE LEGO MOVIE. This film, no joke, features an outsider protagonist, a strained family relationship, a MacGuffin that's a real world item, a mentor figure who peaces out later in order to inspire the hero, an urban setting filled with a one-dimensional populace, a comedic dance song on the radio that said populace adheres to like sheep, and a chase sequence where the heroes must quickly assemble a roaming vehicle. The humor is all over the place, ranging from butt monkey burns one minute, extreme memes the very next minute, to a lawn rake gag for the umpteenth time. And do keep in mind that all of this animated nonsense is being relied by a live-action Jackie Chan as an Asian antique dealer to some "ain't I precious?" kid actor. Somehow this old guy knows emoji jargon and can narrate action sequences while also singing the lyrics to both Snap!'s "The Power" and Jim Croce's "I Got a Name".

The actual animation within in the film is significantly hampered by the law of diminishing returns. There are some moments that are impressively and uniquely thought out, particularly a fight over a rope bridge and a hide-and-seek gag where the set is arranged to appear like a real life Lego diorama. Unfortunately, the public has already seen the goofily stilted Lego rigging and brick film based comedy in two previous movies, including one that came out earlier this very year. The same can go for Mark Mothersbaugh's score, which is largely fine yet sounds too familiar to what he did in THE LEGO MOVIE when it is not buried behind all of the dumb noise and fury. That just leaves the acting department to help make the movie truly stand out but unfortunately even the talented cast has their limits. Dave Franco is quite great as the angsty but kindhearted Lloyd and has wonderful chemistry with both Justin Theroux as the Will Arnett-sounding Garmadon and Olivia Munn as his Elizabeth Banks-sounding mom Koko. These three actors help save the picture to a small degree mainly because they can carry the tender moments of the script and make them pretty heartwarming. Too bad the rest of the comedic cast is left empty handed and totally unable to breathe any life into their minifigures, save for maybe Kumail Nanjiani as the worry wart of the group. Good luck trying to remember any of their names, especially if you didn't watch the separate animated television series or have a kid to inform you. THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE just barely, barely squeaked by from receiving my lowest rating but it is nonetheless one of the most aggravating films I sat through this year. Even the large family crowd that saw this with me were left speechless and offered up nearly no laughs. Even the very youngest Ninjago fan will find this to be a trying experience.


Yu-Gi-Oh!: The Dark Side of Dimensions - Review

Yugi Muto and the rest of his card-battling friends are about to graduate high school and follow their respective dreams. Unfortunately for them, long-time nuisance Seto Kaiba wishes to duel one last time with Yugi and the Egyptian spirit that once resided in him by any means necessary. Trouble is then made double when a mysterious Egyptian classmate reveals that he possesses a dark power and wants to remake the world as he sees fit. At first, I was quite enjoying YU-GI-OH!: THE DARK SIDE OF DIMENSIONS as I still possess a fondness for the shonen franchise. I had a wide smile from ear to ear seeing the old gang back together, including their famous English voice actors who were thankfully hired again, and it was great seeing old card favorites such as Celtic Guardian, Dark Magician Girl and Monster Reborn. But nostalgia can only go so far, especially when you realize that nobody's favorite Tristan Taylor is featured and brings nothing to the picture yet Mai Valentine continues to be missing in action. No rose-colored glasses can cover up how tedious the film moves along, largely thanks to its two main plots being totally ridiculous and/or beyond trite. Kaiba's scheme to waste so much money, manpower, and the patience of the audience just so he can continue his quasi-homoerotic rivalry with Yami Yugi is impossible to accept rationally. He glares and scowls at Yugi, proclaiming that he has to bring back "the Pharaoh" or else but he doesn't follow it up with any legitimate threat. As for the more sinister and world-saving plot, it is just a treasure trove of well-worn anime cliches: humanity is cyclic and evil, the power of friendship can conquer all, have faith in yourself and your tools and so on. The movie is a little over two hours and yet the makers couldn't even work up some exciting card battles to break up the tedium of its story. All of them are littered with confusing alternative rules of play, a bunch of unknown cards that all feel the same, and a whole bunch of boring looking CGI dragons. Also, of the five duels present here, one is a simulated dream scenario, two end in a no contest due to outside distractions and two feature literal deus ex cards as the final blow. Even the hardcore fans will have some trouble if they go with the subtitled version of the film, as it retains the Americanized names and the dub script including all of the improvised lines that clearly aren't being spoken by the Japanese cast. If you want to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the franchise and have some closure to the original series, there is some fun to be had but all of the groans and eye-rolls it will generate from you will make it an one-and-done watch.


Thursday, October 5, 2017

Personal Shopper - Review

Maureen (Kristen Stewart) spends her melancholic days running all over Europe as the clothing assistant to a famous but temperamental fashion model. She's also a medium, which proves to be a dangerous side job when her determination to contact her late twin brother causes her to be stalked by an unknown visitor. PERSONAL SHOPPER is a nicely unconventional art piece, able to weave together supernatural spooks, unsettling thrills and a moving look at sorrow and estrangement. Its opening scenes is a bit tough to swallow as it's everything you fear would happen in a horror art film: the main character slowly walking around a spacious house and trying to hear and locate every creak and crack in the night. Thankfully, after another session of ghost hunting, the movie properly gets going, as it ramps up the tension and cranks up the emotional instability of Maureen. The true highlight of the entire picture is a pretty fearful sequence involving the Chunnel and nonstop exchanges via iMessage between the heroine and an unknown and possibly phantasmal caller. That may sound kinda goofy to feature in a ghost movie but writer-director Olivier Assayas pulls it off effectively while also connecting it to his subtle critique of the power of technology and the modern day alienation of humanity. However, though I was enraptured by his calm but chilling exploration of fashion and the unknown, Assayas annoyingly bungles it up at times thanks to his awful decision to end several scenes with a fade to black. Additionally, one of the film's big reveals ends up being too obvious and causes the film to lose significant steam. But no matter what good or bad elements Assayas brings to his own baby, none of them can outshine the stellar lead performance by Stewart. She's constantly naked on the screen, figuratively and literally, as she wonderfully paints out all of the eccentricities of her solemn character and is able to easily display inner turmoil swiftly and softly. Worth seeing just for Stewart but also a nice little haunt to be caught up in.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Shack - Review

Still suffering from intense inner turmoil due to the disappearance and murder of his youngest daughter, Mackenzie Phillips (yes, really) seeks to find some closure when a strange letter signed by God is delivered to his mailbox, asking him to spend a weekend at his/her little home in the wilderness. THE SHACK potentially could have been a great exploration of human suffering, salvation, and the power of love and forgiveness via the framework of a Christian film but alas it's a painfully long experience of predictability and schmaltz. The grimness and blissfulness of the story should been carefully balanced out in order to ring out every worthy tear and existential question out of the viewer. Unfortunately, director Stuart Hazeldine doesn't care about that and would rather just smother every frame with as much syrupy tripe that he can get. His utter lack of genuine care is best exemplified when "Mac" walks from the snowy real world to a lush area of heaven; the camera is pulled so far back that you'll easily notice that the crew just dumped a ton of fake snow in the middle of a prosperous forest and didn't choose to keep it out of the frame. The script doesn't actually showcase faith at all, instead relying on simple riddles and generic phrases to push the plot forward: Don't get stuck in the past, someone's form of good is someone else's form of bad, to heal you must forgive, etc. Why should the three screenwriters give a damn when the director isn't and they can just coast on pure hibbidi jibbidi bibbidi swibbidi? They certainly also didn't care about further addressing why "Mac" is a murderer in his own right, making sense of why "The Holy Spirit" likes to collect human tears, or tying up the two and quarter hour picture better than "it was all a dream... or was it?" The only redemptive elements of this film comes from the acting department. God bless this cast because they desperately tried to resuscitate this lifeless corpse, particularly Octavia Spencer who tries to dig real deep in one scene. Unfortunately, the film rests entirely on Sam Worthington as "Mac". I don't hate the actor as much as the rest of the Internet but oh my god, this is his worst performance to date. He spends the whole film saying his lines in a constant whisper, he can barely cover his Aussie accent, all of his facial expressions and tones of voice are the exact same, and he just loves to pout around like he just got cut from the football team. The movie isn't as bad as other Christian crap films but it's too much of a chore to ever watch again and offers no real substance.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

mother! - Review

The wife of a reclusive poet with a bad case of writer's block tries to fix up their isolated manor house all by herself. Unfortunately, her mental well being and status quo with her husband begins to unravel when uninvited guests begin to intrude into the home. Watching MOTHER! is like receiving a sucker punch from a velvet-gloved fist; you'll be shook up by its distressing ferocity only to find yourself caressing the wounded skin and pleasurably licking up your blood. That is if you're ready and willing to accept Darren Aronofsky's gonzo direction and his penchant of being absolutely pretentious into your life. Aronofsky is clearly invoking the works of Roman Polanski and Luis Buñuel in the early goings of his wannabe masterpiece. However, it pretty much feels more like a student filmmaker's artsy-fartsy take on THE MONEY PIT but with putrid jump scares and extensive padding. The only things keeping the picture in check are the actors, the brilliantly unnerving sound design, and the closeup-only cinematography that will leave some beyond queasy. And then with a flick of the wrist, Aronofsky allows the film to go complete bonkers. The movie doesn't just go off the rails, it keeps tumbling and crashing into the ground until landing perfectly on a second set of rails only to then sprout wings and fly into the sun. I can see and interpret what the film is obviously trying to ultimately say through different viewpoints but any general viewer and/or Jennifer Lawrence fanatic will believe it to be utter hogwash. I certainly agree with those naysayers on several elements, particularly the unbelievably stupid double twist ending that everyone can accurately predict, including right when the film is going to do the proverbial smash cut to black. Lawrence rightfully needs to be highly commend for her naked willingness to be put through the ringer, from the small slights she must swallow by her "new friends" to the violent endurance of the movie's second half. Javier Bardem is also pretty amazing, showcasing what could possibly be the nicest husband from hell we have ever seen on film. MOTHER! will piss you off to a degree but its ravishing boldness and refusal to compromise makes it one of the most spellbinding experiences of the year.