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.


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...

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Annabelle: Creation - Review

A nun and a small group of orphaned girls find residence at the remote home of a former toymaker only to get tangled up by the ghost of his late daughter and the dark forces seemingly coming from a creepy doll. All of that plus a ton of crappy jump scares in the prequel to a reviled spinoff of THE CONJURING, featuring the most overrated modern horror "icon" of our time. ANNABELLE: CREATION might just be another lame, average hauntfest for many viewers, the type that will tide you over one lazy night, but I frankly could not stand any of it. The script has a gardens of whiskers on it and is chock-full of useless padding, plot holes and sheer dumb character behavior. For example, the film has a cast of six girls but only four of them have anything to do: the two not-really-mean teenagers and the central duo. Meanwhile, the middle two tweens, one of whom is the token black character, just stand around when they aren't talking about boys. The story also never explains why the girls refuse to close doors during scary scenarios, never even try to physically destroy the evil doll, or why in the hell the closest that was supposed to contain the evil spirit still has a working lock on it and is not barricaded from outside interference. The major frights are all so unbelievable telegraphed and they of course end with a sudden boo. The only emotion that these supposed shocks can barely draw out of the viewer is pure sheer laughter; whether it was the opening car accident, the chair ejection or the swapping of black puke, I couldn't stop mocking these poorly produced spooks. I can't even give any praise to anyone in the acting department, as all of the young female actors go through the motions. I felt particularly bad for Talitha Bateman, who could have broken out from this picture as the polio-stricken and ill-fated main protagonist but she's not very great in the first half and she's absolutely not scary in the slightest during the second half. However, the ingénues are all Oscar caliber performers compared to dramatic heavyweights Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto, who just sleepwalk throughout the entire movie. That goes double for Otto since she legitimately spends the majority of her time on screen laying in bed with a dumb tin mask on the left side of her face. And to top it all off, this prequel to a spinoff sets up another separate spinoff to the CONJURING franchise thanks to a stupid insert scene in the beginning and a stinger at the end. Actually, I can end this review with one good thing to say about it: at least director David F. Sandberg did a marginally better job here then when he made LIGHTS OUT.


Saturday, September 16, 2017

It (2017) - Review

The summer of 1989 should be one of the best times to have as a kid, particularly with what's playing in movie theaters, but for the kids of Darby, Maine, it was 90 days to stay alive. Pre-teen Bill Denbrough and his fellow six outsiders try to uncover the mystery behind the overwhelming cases of kids disappearing and why they themselves all seem to experience separate frightening encounters with a deadly clown. IT is an effective horror show that will satisfy Stephen King fans for the most part and keep some viewers up all night due to its terrifying frights and disturbing content. Unfortunately, there are a couple of issues that prevent it from totally being a new classic, most notably some very questionable revisions to King's text and material that seemingly was cut from this theatrical release. Updating the timeframe of the scenario from the late 50s to the late 80s is a bold and winning element, as it allows the film to a give out a sharp critique of the still resonating nostalgia of the times and deliver a swift stab at the then clean image of movie kids such as the ones in E.T. and THE GOONIES. But what really doesn't work by the three credited screenwriters, including Cary Fukunaga, are the changes given to some of the main characters. Bev, the sole female in the group, gets the blunt of the misjudgments, as the abuse by her alcoholic father is even more extreme, she's constantly slut-shamed throughout the town, and her innate ability to be a sharpshooter with a weapon is excised so she can later be a damsel in distress. Ben also gets it bad, as the overweight kid is now no longer the third main protagonist, has no real backstory or no parents either, and oddly siphons off Mike's job as the group's resident historian. These and more slights will certainly piss off the King fanatics but the makers at least try to make it all work in their original way despite the bad taste. However, I can not really forgive the amount of times the film tries to shortcut through the proceedings. The movie changes gears constantly in terms of its speed of storytelling, slowly letting the characters develop one minute and then on a dime we've suddenly taken a jump and at the next series of scares. Scenes and proper transitions seem to missing outright; the most egregious example is when the band just quickly gets back together before the final battle, forgoing how all of the previous bad blood between the kids was resolved. The fact that a director's cut has recently been announced for home video outright tells you this theatrical cut is riddled with gapping holes.

Despite these glaring faults in the story department, director Andy Muschietti and his crew still craft a genuinely engaging dark fairy tale. Not a total surprise given it is coming from the same mind behind MAMA. Muschietti once again shows how great he is at getting great performances out of child actors and putting them through the ringer with some hellish CGI nightmares chasing after them. Make no mistake, he doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the violence and child peril but he thankfully does skip out on including the book's most infamous moment. He does however trip up again when it comes to the climax; he simply lets bad shaky cam and confusing editing overcome the artistic palette. The entire cast of child actors are pretty fantastic and surely will cause everyone to have their personal favorite. Jaeden Lieberher and newcomer Sophia Lillis were very endearing as Bill and Bev respectively but I pull for Jack Dylan Grazer as the real showstopper, speeding through his humorously overdone lines and nervously fidgeting around as the hypochondriac Eddie. As for Bill Skarsgård playing the titular character, aka Pennywise the Dancing Clown, I thought his take was overall fine. Similar to how Tim Curry's legendary performance of Pennywise was based on 50s culture, namely what if Bozo the Clown was mixed with a Catskills comic, Skarsgård's version relishes the sinister flamboyance of Freddy Krueger and the severe grotesque nature of 80s monster movies. Much props also go to Benjamin Wallfisch's hauntingly creepy score, particularly during the rain-soaked prologue. IT is a perfect horror movie pick for the season but those seeking a little more substance to the overall picture will have to wait longer to see if the eventual director's cut delivers the goods.


Friday, September 15, 2017

The Belko Experiment - Review

The All-American staff at an isolated corporate office in the middle of Colombia suddenly find themselves on edge when they are locked inside the building and a mysterious voice over the intercom forcibly asks them to kill each other as he sees fit. Refusal to do so will result in a major headache for everyone via the remote detonation of hidden explosives in the skulls of all the employees. THE BELKO EXPERIMENT is a pretty damn amazing twist on BATTLE ROYALE, courtesy of horror director Greg McLean and writer-producer James Gunn. McLean expertly executes a palate of striking visual designs and wisely knows when to ratchet up the tension or when to show the bloodshed. Gunn's script brims with unconventional flourishes, such as its willingness to dispense shades of grey to the main conflict, and makes great use of switching between drama and comedy. The two work in tandem to craft a colorful cavalcade of characters that you can keep track of and feel for, even if they suddenly decide to keep a butcher knife in the belt. Everyone in the cast is perfectly suited but Tony Goldwyn absolutely steals the show as the company's COO who's equipped with Special Forces training and a conflicted mindset on who deserves to be left alive. But now let's now address the elephant in the room: the movie can accurately be labeled as this generation's POLTERGEIST or the next CABIN IN THE WOODS. Despite the very bloody efforts McLean accomplishes with the picture, any viewer will see it more as Gunn being the sole auteur. The cast is littered with many actors who've often appeared in Gunn's films, including his own brother in a major supporting role, and his unique voice in the writing often dominates the visuals. It also doesn't help that John Gallagher Jr. as the main male protagonist has a scraggly beard and the same mixture of heroic and goofy mannerisms as Chris Pratt. However, the biggest issue against the film is that it oozes out all of its satirical juices by the halfway point, right when the terror becomes too real and the bodies begin to fall faster. The makers try to bandage it all up in time for a final battle amid a PowerPoint presentation but it's too little too late. The hits just keep coming after that though because the ending is just rotten, especially the concluding sting that stupidly sets up Blumhouse's version of CATCHING FIRE. Be sure to give this demented cult feature a gander, especially if you're sick of re-watching OFFICE SPACE for the umpteenth time.


Free Fire - Review

An arms deal between the IRA and a South African gunrunner goes south due to a dispute between their cronies, thus setting off a relentless fire fight amid a derelict warehouse. FREE FIRE is a disappointing chore to sit through despite having hot shot British genre director Ben Wheatley at the helm and the promise of a nonstop gun battle. The vast majority of the film is literally just the gun battle, where everyone has unlimited bullets until the script says so, are constantly limbing and/or wiggling on the ground due to the heavy amount of flesh wounds, and speak nothing but the same lame jabs at each other. The great cast of actors this film possesses all are just wasted because their characters are just stock gangsters in 70s garb and you never care who lives or dies. That's including American outcast Brie Larson, whose character would have been better suited being scribbled out of the script entirely due to her lack of impact on the plot save for the stupidly predictable ending. Wheatley tries to liven up the violent festivities with some nice little duels between rivals but they are spoiled by the generally hectic and confusing editing, the garishly grim lighting, and the "Wright wannabe" pop soundtrack. Don't let the talented troupe and the consistent sounds of pistol fire fool you into enjoying this completely. You're better off playing with a bucket of green and tan army men than watching this action flick a second time.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Hounds of Love - Review

Angsty Australian teen Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) sneaks out of her mother's house for a late night party only to end up in the perverse clutches of John (Stephen Curry) and Evelyn (Emma Booth), a dysfunctional couple that perform their sadistic and murderous deeds within the suburbs. HOUNDS OF LOVE can be artfully gripping and very tense at times but it ultimately ends up being just another brutal thriller to throw on the pile. First-time writer-director Ben Young tries to spruce up the picture with some super-slow-mo dolly shots, adjusting the mise en scene enough to pop out from the deliberate fluorescent lighting, and adding some choice pop songs on the soundtrack yet it sadly doesn't mean a whole lot when the story is so cookie-cutter. Just right now while you're reading this, you've already figure out how it will all end, who will be left soaking in their own blood and who will be left standing. One of the very few original plot elements this way-too-long nail-biter offers up is a montage set to a Cat Stevens song that ends up being one big cruel joke on the audience. The film thinks it's expertly touching upon themes such as a woman's identity in a complicated relationship and the psychological warfare between unstable partners but it barely explores them beyond the surface level. For example, we often see the delicate breakfast preparations Evelyn accomplishes for John, making his toast extra buttery and put in a straight line, only for it not to matter in the slightest because nobody ever eats in this movie. The acting is all around just fine with the exceptional of Booth, who gets to sink her teeth a little more as the demented put-upon lover to a volatile sexual predator. It may not be a game changer but HOUNDS OF LOVE just sneaks by as a well-made creeper. Just be prepared for some extreme material and an abundance of scatological terror.


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 its 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 Céline 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.

Friday, March 31, 2017

My Tops of 2017 - March

LOGAN allowed the X-Men franchise to get darker and depressing, thanks to James Mangold's exceptional vision of a gritty modern western in the disguise of a superhero flick.

● Overall Film Count: 4 ●

Oh boy, this was a wasted month for me. I skipped out on several chances and right when I was ready for the drive-ins to open, a horrible winter storm bares down on us. I really need to hike up my britches next month.

Despite some minor mixed feelings, I'm confident enough to put Logan on the Best list. Who knows, maybe it will later beat Lego Batman as a better superhero movie in my opinion.

Best Films of 2017

1. The Lego Batman Movie

2. Logan