Friday, December 8, 2017

Trailer Review - Alita: Battle Angel

Alita: Battle Angel (2018)
Official Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: Rosa Salazar as the titular bug-eyed anime heroine, Christoph Waltz as a humble junkyard-diving scientist, Jennifer Connelly as an evil scary lady, Mahershala Ali as an evil mobster, Keean Johnson as a boring love interest, and Ed Skrein as an unfortunate actor who had to wear a green screen bodysuit in order to play a CGI constructed cyborg.

Scene Pop: Those eyes... My god!

Effective?: It certainly is drawing major attention just for the first look at the CGI enhanced anime eyes the makers placed on Salazar, which means the trailer is ultimately a success. But seriously, what the hell is with the ultra serious tone, the dramatic reveal of "And Director Robert Rodriguez", and the pushing of its Oscar-winning actors? It's a sci-fi action flick!

Check it Out?: Maybe for a matinee. Alita has been one of the biggest white whales in Hollywood, thanks to James Cameron's absolute refusal to let the project die despite the sheer fact that even diehard anime fans have forgotten about the OVA. It could be an averagely fun film but I do really see it becoming the next Valerian.

Trailer Review - Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)
Official Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard returning as their lame characters, Justice Smith as an annoying kid sidekick (which everyone just absolutely loved in all of the movies past the first one) and Jeff Goldblum in a surprise appearance as Dr. Ian Malcolm.

Scene Pop: Malcolm's back! Even though there's a high chance it's just for a cameo!

Effective?: Not really. It starts off explaining its premise of dinosaur conservation but then moves on to straight up spoiling a ugly looking action sequence involving an active volcano, one of the stupid ball transports from Jurassic World, and Pratt doing his best Tom Cruise by trying to outrun the ash.

Check it Out?: Signs point to no. I love J.A. Bayona but Jurassic World quickly soured on everyone's hopes and dreams of the rebirth of this franchise. That film may have scored a humongous box office take but I can see this one pulling far lower numbers, even if Bayona can somehow make the movie work beyond its sure-to-exist studio meddling and Colin Trevorrow, the man who poorly directed Jurassic World, coming back to co-write the script.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Coco - Review

Miguel is the black sheep of his large crazy Mexican family of shoemakers due to his penchant for the forbidden vice of music. An accident on Día de Muertos reveals that his exiled great-great abuelo is actually popular musician Ernesto de la Cruz, much to the annoyance of his music-hating abuela Elena. One trip to Ernesto's crypt and strum of his famous guitar later, Miguel is suddenly transported to the Land of the Dead and begins his search for his banned family member. COCO is a delightfully entertaining breeze of an animated movie, that kind your heart needs when you a little cry or a reminder about the power of family and seeking your dream. The story has a thankfully casual pace, allowing the audience to enjoy its vibrant and musically inclined adventure with low stakes. There's a nice breath of fresh air with its structure, such as how the intended antagonist may be ruthless in their agenda but you clearly can understand their reasoning and why they're wearing kid gloves to catch that kid. It's just so very nice to have an exquisite Latino-based work brimming with culture and personality that's suited for children and families that isn't polluted with obnoxious helping hands for the language or the presence of a kid protagonist with vacant eyes and no soul. The backgrounds are all evocatively rich in their depth, detail, and sheer amounts of color and filled to the brink with crowds of splendidly designed characters. The voice cast is wonderful, with Gael García Bernal as Miguel's sidekick/guardian Héctor and Alanna Ubach as Mamá Imelda beings the absolute standouts for doing the double duty of emoting their lines and belting out tunes. The music is pretty good, especially Michael Giacchino's score, but I feel bad for Germaine Franco and Adrian Molina, as all of the original songs they produced are ultimately squashed by the heavyweight beast that is "Remember Me", the new contender for your kid's favorite song by the powerhouse couple of Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Unfortunately, though I was enraptured by its world and much of the heartwarming material caused me to tear up, the film quite quickly vacated out of my senses once I walked out of the theater. It could have been the fact that the script gets way too relaxed and often resorts to cliche storytelling and predictable outcomes that we have seen in other works and/or in other Pixar movies. It could have been the great but unnecessary twist the film pulls so it can have the standard Pixar final act that always closes out the show. It could have been many other things but there just sadly isn't a ton of resonance beyond its animated beauty or touching scenes to make COCO a true masterpiece. It may grow more in my heart in time or it just may be a brief euphoric experience today due to the current state of Pixar. Oh, and as for the now infamous "Olaf's Frozen Adventure" short that plays before the movie: it is an inoffensive treat but the long pace, weird retconning, and truly forgettable songs do hurt its amusement.


Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Beguiled - Review

Set during the dark days of the American Civil War, a girls school hidden within the expansive and luscious forests of Virginia becomes further on edge when the forlorn and injured Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) of the Union Army is brought into their gothic abode. THE BEGUILED is a beautifully well staged and acted drama that is able to bring enough in its later stages in order to be truly invigorating. I haven't seen the original 1971 film directed by Don Siegel and famously featuring Clint Eastwood acting against type but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to notice the enforcement of a strong and conflicted female viewpoint to the story. The main women are smart and brave enough to overcome some of their physical deficiencies yet still struggle with the mental stress of Southern societal obligations. After all, it would unbecoming of a proper Christian gal to be lacking in manners or refuse to bequeath proper hospitality. Sofia Coppola crafts a visually gorgeous movie around the story, coupled with some amazing acting by the entire cast, but several moments of palpable sensuality and twisted mind games lack their full punch. She tries to make up for these shortcomings with some liberal usage of catty melodrama and black humor but they don't really raise the heartbeat of the picture. That is until the film lets loose all of its bubbling tension, ominous atmosphere, and Chekov's guns in its last third, crescendoing with two quiet gut punches right at the end. Another enchanting work from one of the world's best female visionaries.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Trailer Review - Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Official Trailer
Watch It Here

Person of Interest: It's got all the warriors: bearded Captain America, scared Iron Man, blonde Black Widow, new cyber-suited Spider-Man, human skinned and sure-to-die Vision, The Hulk, Scarlet Witch, Dr. Strange, Wong, Black Panther, Winter Soldier, Falcon, War Machine, Loki, Thor, and the Guardians of the Galaxy. And finally, we have Thanos complete with his space wife-beater, ugly bald head and his special gem holstering glove.

Scene Pop: I can't really pick one. Sure there are some cool shots but they feel like total audience bait, the type of crap that causes YouTubers to fake scream their heads off into the camera.

Effective?: As a teaser for its movie, yes. However, it does so at the expense of the upcoming Black Panther film. Why bother sitting through that film when you know he's going to survive his personal ordeal and team up with the reformed Avengers?

Check it Out?: Of course I'm seeing it. Why wouldn't I?! I'm just feeling a bit fatigued at this point and not as highly enthusiastic as when this whole secondary build-up by Marvel started with the Thanos reveal in The Avengers.

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 hotel's manager and the young daughter of an ex-call girl, 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.


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.


Thursday, September 28, 2017

So, About the 2017 Edition of Horrors of October...

With a heavy heart, I regret to inform you that I will not be doing the Horrors of October this year.

Though I have plenty of movies in my personal video collection and through streaming services at the ready, I simply chose to forgo the process of writing up 31 daily reviews due to several reasons. The main sticking point against doing the annual project is my current severe lack of watching movies released this year. As of this writing, I have only seen 25 movies either in theaters or on home video. Further showcasing my film drought is the sheer fact that I have not gone to my beloved art theater at all this year, which I'm still dumbfounded over for actually happening. Though I could just make time and rush through past and future 2017 film releases in November and December, I would rather get a leg up on them next month than type up a fun diatribe on some random Italian exploitation film or a generic slasher.

Another knock against doing the Horrors of October is my poor job handling last year's edition. My last three reviews were not posted while the iron was hot, coming online extremely late along with the final list and the film awards. That experience really soured my enjoyment and I'm a little afraid of it happening again.

And thirdly, I want to finally watch the first season of Stranger Things in time for the second season premiere. That would take time away from the horror films and I certainly would not want to waste a daily review slot by systematically evaluating every single episode of the beloved Netflix series.

So, since I'm cancelling this year's edition, what's to come in October? Though I am not going to be very strict about, I'm going to try to replace the 31 days of horror movie reviews with 31 reviews of 2017 films, kicking off with a planned assessment of Darren Aronofsky's polarizing mother! on October 1st. I'll also be doing a couple more listicles that have been on the back burner for a long while now.

But just remember: October is the perfect time to binge on terror. Don't let my cancellation ruin the joy of watching a ton of horror films and be swept up by the dark fall mood.

Monday, September 25, 2017

20 Horror Movies I Still Haven't Seen Part II

October is just around the corner, which means that I will once again partake in one of my favorite holiday traditions: watching a boatload of horror movies! Unfortunately, some of them escape my grasp on a consistent basis, as I often have a bad tendency of never making the right time for to sit down and view them properly. Last year I chronicled 20 horror films that still haven't been presented before my naked eyes. In the span of 365 days, only four of the titles can be crossed off the list (see what I mean about me being a bit lazy?). Still, I'm glad that said four titles (It, Let The Right One In, The Babadook, and Children of the Corn) were given their fair chance and I can sleep a little easier at night.

Here's the updated list of my top 20 unwatched horror movies, with some old titles being moved around and some new titles moving on up:

1. The Saw Franchise

The king is dead, long live the king! Jigsaw and his gory games move into the top seat since I was finally able to engorge myself on Tim Curry's brilliant performance as Pennywise the Dancing Clown and those damn pesky kids from Derry, Maine. I sadly did not take the plunge with the Saw series during last year's Horrors of Halloween and whether I want to this year before the release of Jigsaw remains to be seen. I might at least try to watch the first one just so I can cross this one off; no way in hell am I going to spread out the sequels on this list!

2. The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Also receiving a higher bump is the silent classic starring Lon Chaney. I DVR'ed the movie when it aired on TCM last year, thus giving a cleaned up version of the film, but didn't get around to watching it in time for my October reviews. It's still on there though!

3. Pulse

Now here's the biggest jump up the card. My interest in the j-horror film about the internet turning evil and mass suicides significantly increased this year when it received a special blu-ray release via Arrow Video. I placed an order for it thru Amazon back in July, only for it to be constantly delayed and just recently canceled outright a couple of days ago. I should have just picked up a copy when my local FYE was closing up shop.

4. Lifeforce

Here Comes A New Challenger! I've been meaning to watch the last of the three films director Tobe Hooper did for the Cannon Group. Invaders From Mars was a hoot one lazy school day and I frankly just love the gonzo gorefest that is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. This sci-fi epic with its plot about space vampires led by an always-naked villainess has alluded me for some time, largely due to being out-of-print for a long while. Luckily, the great folks at Shout Factory gave it a spiffy blu-ray release, which thankfully includes the director's cut, so I can partake with this possible hidden gem from the recently departed director.

5. The Others

Nicole Kidman must continue to be haunted by the ghosts in her new house as my desire for the very acclaimed gothic horror film remains the same.

6. Fright Night

I can't keep calling myself a horror-comedy lover when I keep on skipping out on one of the granddaddies.

7. The Descent

I continue to pass by perfectly used copies of this spelunking horror film nearly every week at my usual shopping spots but I need to raise my adoration for Neil Marshall to finally take the plunge. Maybe another viewing of Dog Soldiers or curling up to Centurion on Netflix will help?

8. [REC]

The found footage film fever has finally waned here in the United States so maybe it's time to check out the acclaimed Spanish horror film featuring an ambitious reporter, a live camera, and one fateful night in an apartment building.

9. Silent Hill

I still haven't downloaded a digital copy of the original video game on my PS3 and I still haven't check out Christophe Gans' loose take on the eerie, fog-covered town.

10. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

I must confess: I haven't watched all of the Friday the 13th films. I have seen Jason Takes Manhattan far more times than I have with the middle trio of Part IV, V, and VI. Of those three, I have to go with The Final Chapter since it is often selected by fans as either the very best or the second best film of the franchise.

11. Irreversible

Dropping down three spots largely due to its nature of not being what you would normally refer to as a horror film, I'm not still afraid of ruining a perfectly nice evening with this dark mediation of revenge, rape, and relationships.

12. The Devil's Backbone

Guillermo del Toro is flying high at the moment, as his new film The Shape of Water drew raves at the Toronto Film Festival and won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Time to finally pop my Criterion blu-ray copy of this anti-war ghost film in!

13. May

Another big jump goes to one of Roger Ebert's most treasure horror indies he ever reviewed.

14. The Orphanage

The general ho-hum response to A Monster Calls hurt my opinion of giving J. A. Bayona's debut feature a chance.

15. Cujo

Had to have another Stephen King film on this list as I took off the two for last year's iteration. Coming in the same spot as Children of the Corn is the evil dog flick that like Children is popular with audiences but is often derided by critics save for Dee Wallace's performance.

16. Drag Me To Hell

Still love Sam Raimi but the sting from some of his recent films continue to prevent me from checking out his humorous horror film about gypsy curses.

17. Christmas Evil

I still would love to check out this psychological holiday horror film but it again might be caught up between the Halloween and Christmas festivities.

18. Ginger Snaps

Thoroughly enjoying Emily Perkins's role as the young version of Beverly Marsh in the 1990 take of It recently has helped keep this Canadian cult film about female werewolves on the list.

19. Jeeper Creepers

Oh boy, here we go. I was interested in this horror film back in 2001 thanks to its self-aware nature and its creepy tale of a road trip gone wrong thanks to the curious nature of human beings and a humanoid monster wearing a trench coat. Then I looked up Victor Salva, the film's writer-director, and proceeded to stop in my tracks. It was my experience with Powder all over again. Now I have watched a lot of films directed by and/or starring people who have done criminal deeds, including several films by Roman Polanski, and can objectively judge them for their work. Victor Salva, on the other hand, is a pretty damn tough pill for me to swallow. I really, really need to just jump into the deep end with this one.

20. Castle Freak

One of my favorite podcasts is The Flop House, where three film buddies "watch a bad movie and then talk about it". One of its longest running joke is whenever co-host Stuart Wellington talks about or recommends this Stuart Gordon film, since he helped create a controversy over the film's supposed inclusion of a man's ding-dong being ripped off. Since I've seen some of Stuart's other favorite film picks, including The Invisible Maniac and its "death by submarine sandwich" scene, I think it's time to watch this one.

Again, this was a lot of fun writing up. Part III is sure to come next September. I do feel a bit bad for Jim Mickie, as he and Stakeland was knocked off in favor of a rabid St. Bernard, a naked space vampire, and a trench coat wearing moth man.

Will I watch any of these films next month? Maybe but I unfortunately have some bad news to discuss...