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.


FINAL REVIEW: 3 / 5

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Beauty and the Beast (2017) - Review




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


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


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


FINAL REVIEW: 3 / 5

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.