Movie Review: Angel Has Fallen

“And it doesn’t matter what you give ’em. You’ll give it cause you don’t know any better.”

Sometimes as a writer, something very dangerous happens.

Sometimes, you begin with your compass set in a certain direction, goal in mind and as you trudge along and pick up speed, you create something far more polarizing than your primary subject.

An outstanding find, it’s become clear a better and more apt route has opened up and the primary expedition you have set out on is no longer the best option. A wise writer would abandon his original excursion and follow this new promising venture because if you leave that path behind you untraveled, you may come to regret it. The one you began is of your own making; you can return to it at any time. This new one, there’s no knowing if it will appear again or disappear like Alice in Wonderland.

Angel Has Fallen fell into a saving grace, then stepped out of it and continued along.

Angel Has Fallen Movie Poster Image

To be frank, Angel has a deflating storyboard, one so brazenly out there Willie Mays can’t track it down. To ignore the blessing from above only feels like that much more of an insult. If you’ve watched the first two installments, you know central hub Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) has saved the president from terrorists twice and the U.S. of A from complete nuclear fallout in Olympus Has Fallen.

In their infinite wisdom, the writers for this chapter decide framing Banning for a presidential assassination attempt is a feasible feat. This, of course, is in poor taste.

While betrayals are usually unseen, unpredictable and by those we least expect, Banning’s loyalty at this point is beyond reproach. When you risk your life to save your country to the extremes Banning has, the possibility of treason simply doesn’t exist. Put a camel through the eye of a needle, why don’t you?

A scheme as thin as this seems far too easy to break, DNA evidence be damned. With no clear motive, the believability index is at DEFCON 1 and so from the get-go, audience buy-in is kaput. Investigators and the media are so quick to jump on the wagon, it’s laughable.

Everything that follows loses much of its potential narrative weight because the premise is so ridiculous. Sure, we get to watch Banning lethally bully grown men for another two hours but unlike the previous two installments, which harbor nationalism teetering on xenophobia, this installment doesn’t have the emotional uproar or battle cry in its luggage. Theatrical vindication doesn’t carry the same punch.

Then the writers plop into Lucky’s pot of gold with Nick Nolte’s Clay Banning, a traumatized Vietnam war veteran who abandoned his own family because he was so afraid of himself and what he might do. Already leagues more interesting than anything we’ve seen on screen.

After Nolte delivers the film’s best dialogue, he proceeds to essentially carpet bomb an entire special teams unit in the woods surrounding his cabin like he’s still in ‘nam. The jabbering between Nolte and Butler here reminds of buddy cop camaraderie and the sequence all in all is so unexpected it’s hard not to cackle as men fly through the sky.

Following more Nolte deliverance, he’s forced off set for more “Banning plays the fugitive” nonsense.

When your supporting character reads your best dialogue, demonstrates your best personality and unearths your best scene, you do not take that character out of the movie. At minimum, you take him out entirely so as not to tease your child with chocolate before giving him sauerkraut. If not, keep him in as much as possible. Preferably, you stop what you’re writing, save it in drafts and write a movie about that guy. To bypass all of these options to tease an objectively better premise? Big yikes.

This feels like a softball pitch the crew just watched for strike three. I really just don’t get it. Banning isn’t an engaging character, first off. Wasn’t in the first two entries either. “Secret Service guy kills terrorists” is the whole Has Fallen brand and there truly isn’t much more to it than that. If Banning would have died in any of these, “Aw, shucks” is probably the emotional response.

I feel this is an ongoing problem with the writing of military characters. Instead of focusing on who these people are, we just focus on what they’re capable of, what they can do, like tools we own. Lackluster films almost dehumanize our military members to “shoot gun, take bullet for partner” status and even an action product like this is capable of more.

Once Nolte leaves serve, I’m fully out of the ballpark, headed for the exit. You just benched Mike Trout.

You do not bench Mike Trout.

The final third is fine, benign and straightforward but by that point, the audience pulled the fire alarm for an excuse to leave the room.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale. 

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (Batman BeginsThe MatrixL.A. ConfidentialHerTaken)

80-89  It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (The Conjuring 2Spider-Man: Far From HomeDumb and DumberPokemon Detective PikachuThe Matrix Reloaded)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments but it has its flaws, too. (Solo: A Star Wars StoryThe Matrix RevolutionsTriple FrontierI am LegendIp Man 2)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Mr. RightZathura: A Space AdventureBattleshipThe Rundown2 Fast 2 Furious)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (G.I. Joe: The Rise of CobraXXXThe SilenceThe Fast and the FuriousBrooklyn’s Finest)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Transporter 3DoomThe Fast and the Furious: Tokyo DriftPirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesPower Rangers)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s: full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and hopelessness. (Bulletproof MonkHigh-RiseMost Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of Angels)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (XXX: State of the UnionThe SnowmanAvalanche SharksCatwomanThe Gunman)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it than you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The ExtendablesThe Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcast)

My score for Angel Has Fallen: 57.

Failed by blueprint design and decision making, Angel Has Fallen is hopefully the last installation in an obnoxiously average franchise (Editor: A fourth edition is in development). My Olympus Has Fallen score has aged very poorly, London Has Fallen was a demonstration of why directors matter (I’ll get to that review eventually) and Angel is the stuttering drunkard trying to form a sentence.

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Movie Review: Peppermint

“How you really think this is gonna go?”

“I’m gonna shoot you in your fucking face and then I’ll pretty much figure it out from there.”

I feel like there’s a moment in every person’s life where they do something exceptional. Some do incredible things and some comparatively smaller but everyone, at one point in their life, if they think really hard about it, has done something amazing.

When you take the time to recognize that thing, sometimes it’s hard to move past it because you know that might have been your peak. There’s a possibility you’ll never do anything that great again. There’s a chance that feeling of euphoria, of wholeness, doesn’t return.

I struggle with this personally. I spend a lot of time reminiscing, thinking about things done and left undone, times in my life I could and should have been better, pieces where I’m proud of what I accomplished. Sometimes, this chain of prior success is hard to break but it’s crucial you free yourself so you can move forward.

I really feel director Pierre Morel is in this predicament. Taken was a phenomenon and as I said years ago, a classic, pure and simple but Luc Besson was the engine of the enterprise. Morel’s most notable contribution was staying out of the way.

Peppermint Movie Review

When you’re a part of something extraordinary, whether a work of art or a championship or a business, regardless of how big or small a role you played, it is natural to want to recreate that achievement. Over the years, I’ve come to believe reimagining success requires you to accept you cannot do it the way you did before. You have to work harder, think more critically and take a different approach. Those who do not adapt to life, who continue to believe the way things were done last time will work again, often struggle to revisit that level of splendor and fulfillment. Part of creating, of succeeding, is recognizing it as its own journey, unique to itself. You cannot duplicate success, only make a new one.

It’s taken me a long time to come to this conclusion. I only wish such wisdom didn’t take years to acquire.

When you don’t make these changes and utilize this knowledge, you end up with Morel’s filmography.

There have been a lot of Taken knockoffs since 2008 and a lot of vigilante justice comparatives. It’s an oversaturated story market. Everyone loves a rebel, someone who takes control in a powerless situation but the psychology, trauma and emotional weight of caped crusaders are what drive their stories. Often, the character simply isn’t interesting enough to warrant an escapade and Peppermint is one of them.

A far more interesting but less theatric premise would have been seeing Riley North (Jennifer Garner) try to move on with her life after her family’s murder, to see her rebuild herself after such a trauma rather than leap the Atlantic by suggesting a suburban housewife became a trained assassin over the course of five years and then eliminated cartel operations in one of the biggest cities in the world. Drama around such pain carries so much more weight and can lead to a much larger payoff.

To be clear, there might be five people in the world capable of doing something like this, of making the unimaginable jump from selling girl scout cookies to martial arts master and maestro of military-grade assault weapons. We’re talking about such a small percentage that it’s just very hard to believe in the material, even if you want to and when the character is as restrained as North is, moreso.

When the pool has as many people in it as the vigilante thriller, it’s hard to stick out as it is. Underwhelming writing and messaging don’t help.

I’m not going to criticize Garner here. If anything, she’s likely the main reason to click on this but a character who’s gone through immeasurable heartache and grief would never be this boring. Characters who have endured tragedy, who have suffered and rebuilt themselves, are polarizing. As a journalist, I interviewed a few of them during and after my college days, one a veteran with PTSD. He was one of the most complicated, admirable and intriguing people I ever covered, one easy to empathize with. To make Garner’s persona so dull feels insulting to the premise of everyday heroes like him.

Peppermint is a strong flavor. Peppermint isn’t.

When your writing is this blase, it’s not even worth criticizing the acting. You’re putting your cast in a losing position. With no bite to our protagonist and plagiarism to our villain, Peppermint is closer to watered down vanilla. It was hard to find a quote for the intro quip, the lines are so basic.

Morel’s background is in cinematography and Peppermint isn’t an artsy film either. Neither was The Gunman. In his pursuit of the golden fleece, he’s forgotten his roots.

I’m not gonna sit here and say Morel is a hack or a one-hit wonder. I haven’t watched enough of his filmography nor read interviews he’s done on his creative process. There’s no need for mudslinging but whatever promise Morel demonstrated with Taken hasn’t reappeared and I’m well aware, both as a person and a creative, how frustrating that can be. Something has to change with Morel and how he’s approaching his stories. If he doesn’t change, neither will the results.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale. 

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (Batman BeginsThe MatrixL.A. ConfidentialHerTaken)

80-89  It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (The Conjuring 2Spider-Man: Far From HomeDumb and DumberPokemon Detective PikachuThe Matrix Reloaded)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (Solo: A Star Wars StoryThe Matrix RevolutionsTriple FrontierI am LegendIp Man 2)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Mr. Right, Zathura: A Space AdventureBattleshipThe Rundown2 Fast 2 Furious)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (G.I. Joe: The Rise of CobraXXXThe SilenceThe Fast and the FuriousBrooklyn’s Finest)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Transporter 3DoomThe Fast and the Furious: Tokyo DriftPirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesPower Rangers)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (Bulletproof MonkHigh-RiseMost Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of Angels)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (XXX: State of the UnionThe SnowmanAvalanche SharksCatwomanThe Gunman)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The ExtendablesThe Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcast)

My score for Peppermint: 51.

With nothing stirring visually and no driving presence in front of the lens, Peppermint is a poor man’s copycat, an unoriginal work easily forgotten.

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Movie Review: Mr. Right

“Who shoots cake?”

From the moment Saint Motel’s “My Type” began on the speakers and Sam Rockwell began dancing his way across the screen, I knew Mr. Right had it.

Unique characters are invigorating. They offer a pinch of panache, a slice of seduction few other elements can. Sometimes, the guy just has “it”.

Francis has it.

Mr. Right Movie Poster Image

Clever, imaginative and nothing if not dramatic, Francis is the blood pumping through this picture’s veins. I’m not going to claim he’s otherworldly but he’s enticing. He’s…Mr. Right.

And when you scout potential, all you want in the world is to see those gifts flourish. When the script is hitting and Francis is on all cylinders, Mr. Right is fun but when things are off, the picture stumbles.

Writer Max Landis had something special here. Francis has quirk and charisma oozing all over him. He’s enthralling, magnetizing, seriously can’t get enough of it. Stuff can be hard to kindle. When you do, it’s important to keep your foot on the gas and maximize the current.

Any writer is familiar with the damnations of writer’s block. It’s nixed novels I’ve started, quite a few reviews, even poetry and some music. Coming back to those projects sometimes provides a fresh spark but often the fire has burnt out. It simply isn’t the same as it once was.

Mr. Right reeks of writer’s block. As captivating as Francis is, it’s difficult to maintain heat beginning to end. That’s not to give Landis a pass. A refined script can make it happen, plenty of films have succeeded in doing so. This sadly isn’t one of them.

It’s a huge bummer because you know it was there. It’s the one that got away, as the saying goes.

Some sequences are finely polished for an action comedy while others run rough and curt. Mr. Right doesn’t have a pacing problem so much as a quality predicament. Quite a handful of scenes push plot and little more and therefore feel so out of touch with the clips of ingenuity and flair. It’s almost as if the movie takes commercial breaks.

When a film has Mr. Right, has the “it” I mentioned, the errors pop out like a triple rainbow. You’d have to be blind not to see it. This only makes Mr. Right‘s shortcomings all the more frustrating. I criticized director Paco Cabezas years ago for his narrative choices and story editing in Rage. Seems like history repeating itself.

When you have a golden goose character, it’s a wasted play every time you take him off the field ‘less you have a strong role player you can sub in when he’s out of the picture. Tim Roth is always fun but doesn’t get on screen anywhere near enough. Anna Kendrick’s awkward but adorable shtick makes its annual appearance but her character has a low ceiling and there’s only so long writing gymnastics can keep the ball rolling. Special kudos to RZA’s showing but he’s a play off Francis, not one by himself.

In news that may surprise you, the film’s best moments are when Rockwell and Kendrick share the stage. There’s a clear chemistry there and they bounce off each other well, leaving Mr. Right resembling a trampoline park. Scenes that involve neither them nor Roth are dying for a skip button. It stalls momentum so yeah, I guess there is a pacing problem.

A movie gifted with Rockwell’s jubilant energy should be ashamed. You can sometimes discern an actor’s emotions from their performance and my deductive skills tell me Mr. Rockwell was having a blast on set, really hamming it up. That’s not a given in any profession but Rockwell truly brings his A game, portraying Francis as the jack-in-the-box he is. He brought life to this when so much around him tastes stale and bland.

It doesn’t happen often but sometimes I watch a movie, really enjoy it but come away feeling disappointment. Such is the case with Mr. Right because while the chemistry between leads Rockwell and Kendrick nears enveloping at points, the film as a whole misses the target.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale. 

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (Batman BeginsThe MatrixL.A. ConfidentialHerTaken)

80-89  It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (The Conjuring 2, Spider-Man: Far From HomeDumb and DumberPokemon Detective PikachuThe Matrix Reloaded)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (Solo: A Star Wars StoryThe Matrix RevolutionsTriple FrontierI am LegendIp Man 2)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Zathura: A Space AdventureBattleshipThe Rundown2 Fast 2 FuriousDoctor Strange)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (G.I. Joe: The Rise of CobraXXXThe SilenceThe Fast and the FuriousBrooklyn’s Finest)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Transporter 3DoomThe Fast and the Furious: Tokyo DriftPirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesPower Rangers)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (Bulletproof MonkHigh-RiseMost Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of Angels)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (XXX: State of the UnionThe SnowmanAvalanche SharksCatwomanThe Gunman)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The ExtendablesThe Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcast)

My score for Mr. Right: 64.

Despite ending with a thud, the spin of Rockwell and Kendrick makes Mr. Right deserving of a view but only that and nothing more.

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Movie Review: The Conjuring 2

“After everything we’ve seen, there isn’t much that rattles either of us anymore. But this one…this one still haunts me.”

When I first started this blog years ago, I was not a fan of the horror niche. I felt the genre had lost its way, had become infested with copycats, jump scares and murder porn. It was a desecrated canvas and there was mounting evidence to support that stance. If you’re a long-time reader, I’ve written about quite a few of them.

But I persisted on and over this period have found homages to classic horror (The Shining, The Silence of the Lambs, etc.). Scott Derrickson’s Sinister, Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, Mike Flanagan’s Hush, Joss Whedon’s The Cabin in the Woods and Jordan Peele’s Get Out all remain personal favorites of mine and through more exposure to the medium, I’ve found more fertile crop than I originally believed to be there. The garden of horror is not all dead and unkempt after all.

I still find uncovering these gems to require significant effort and research one need not do to find a good action flick or laugh house. Perhaps due to marketing budgets, most horror flies under the radar and goes unnoticed by the general public without significant limelight. They don’t get the fanfare of a Marvel installment or star-studded drama. They operate in the shadows, as horrors are apt to do.

The Conjuring 2 Movie Review

Add The Conjuring and its sequel to my trophy case.

My biggest takeaway from these first two pictures? Director James Wan gets it.

Horror, perhaps more than any other genre, requires dominant direction. Horror is not about script and story so much as aesthetic and tonality. A monster’s presence in a room says more than any quip of writing generally will. When done correctly, the two elements can amplify each other and serve as respective soundboards but a dread’s weight in a house pays huge dividends then and later.

Its predecessor had it and so does The Conjuring 2. Wan is no fluke, no one-time occurrence.

Chilling on a continuous loop, the 2016 installment contracts the spine and leaves you unknowingly shortening your breath, at times at the brink of gasping for air like on the edge of a mountain. Every scene offers the prospect of a new terror, leaving you analyzing every shot like an I Spy book. No detail, color scheme or piece of set design goes unseen during The Conjuring 2. It demands your full attention.

While the lore and the characters offer their own accolades, this sequel is so visually gripping they pale in comparison. That is likely one of the few downsides. The Conjuring 2 is simply so commanding optically, it almost leaves you in a state of paralysis, unable to perceive your immediate surroundings, as if in a trance. You expect the worst and yet you still find yourself in its clutches.

To say I was enamored with The Conjuring 2 might be an understatement. Wan’s prowess with captivation is extraordinary. Truly mesmerizing. It’s as if he has your eyes on a string, magnetized to whatever he chooses. The film’s sound editing only furthers the maestro’s orders. You dare not take a breath without his say so.

With apt steering and stunning finesse behind the camera, all that’s in front of it runs like a smooth red wine. The story line is certainly disturbing enough to garner interest. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson perform admirably in their reprisals of Lorraine and Ed Warren, paranormal detectives. While such things are easy to discount in conversation, you’re ready to believe just about anything after viewing. Wan’s otherworldly handling seems capable of making anything believable.

There is a need for a more domineering heft from Farmiga and Wilson or any other character who comes on screen to match Wan’s intensity. Despite surreal experiences, the Warrens seem rather plain and composed. This doesn’t lend well to theatrics or impressions. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say underwritten but certainly underdeveloped compared to the two pieces’ finer points. Against all the greatness on screen, character is rather lacking in these chapters and that’s what prevents The Conjuring 2 from endearing itself as an extraordinary product.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale. 

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (Batman BeginsThe MatrixL.A. ConfidentialHerTaken)

80-89  It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (Spider-Man: Far From HomeDumb and DumberPokemon Detective PikachuThe Matrix Reloaded,Wanted)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (Solo: A Star Wars StoryThe Matrix RevolutionsTriple FrontierI am LegendIp Man 2)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Zathura: A Space Adventure, BattleshipThe Rundown2 Fast 2 FuriousDoctor Strange)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (G.I. Joe: The Rise of CobraXXXThe SilenceThe Fast and the FuriousBrooklyn’s Finest)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Transporter 3DoomThe Fast and the Furious: Tokyo DriftPirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesPower Rangers)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (Bulletproof MonkHigh-RiseMost Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of Angels)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (XXX: State of the UnionThe SnowmanAvalanche SharksCatwomanThe Gunman)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The ExtendablesThe Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcast)

My score for The Conjuring 2: 84.

When your leading lad is this forceful, it’s impossible to fail. Wan’s direction alone demonstrates The Conjuring 2‘s quality and right to fame but a memorable character to balance the scales limits how high it can go.

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Movie Review: Zathura: A Space Adventure

“Don’t worry! I’ll get another lamp!”

Jon Favreau’s 2005 piece was a favorite of mine as a youth and as we’ve seen these last few weeks, those have not aged particularly well but much of Favreau’s wit and charm remains.

Zathura: A Space Adventure was originally a children’s book written by Chris Van Allsburg, the creator of Jumanji. That’s not much of a surprise given the subject matter but while the similarities are glaring, the differences are even moreso.

Both naturally cling to a family-fun ecosystem and carry the same motifs and thematic elements (sentient board game, struggle for adolescent identity to name a few). Both are enjoyable, lighthearted experiences which pay homage to childhood wonder and imagination. Fantastical thinking was Jumanji‘s calling card. Not surprised Zathura took that, too.

Zathura: A Space Adventure Movie Review

But while young Josh Hutcherson and Jonah Bobo are endearing, Zathura is missing a key ingredient Jumanji couldn’t help but flaunt: Robin Williams.

It’s now been over six years since his tragic death and I still tear up thinking about it. Robin meant the world to a lot of people, especially those who have struggled with addiction, depression and anxiety. He was someone I looked up to because I myself have had to fight such things during my life. He was a beacon for people like me.

The masterclasses he put on screen were just as powerful. He truly was one of the greatest. He was personifying, exuberant, dramatic and perhaps most of all, genuine. Such sincerity can only come naturally and Robin was nothing if not real.

Jumanji needed that third character to keep the pieces on the board moving. Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce were not going to cut it and that’s not a shot at them. The same could be said for almost any child personality. The argument could be made they’re often the hardest to write. It’s difficult to develop depth with people that young.

And yes, Williams overpasses them for the spotlight but he also leads them forward ala a parent taking their spawn by the hand.

Not only does Zathura not have Williams, it doesn’t have a third character for half the movie. Hutcherson and Bobo are fine but there’s only so much dialogue that can go through the two. While adorable, they’re not enveloping. They lack panache, as children often do and Zathura is begging for a dominant presence.

It never gets it. Kristen Stewart plays a stereotypical teen who only really arrives for the final third and Dax Shepard is more a parent keeping the kids from wrestling than a Teddy Roosevelt. “Behave, you two! Your turn, Walter.”

This leaves the viewer with the underwhelming feeling of watching their neighbors play a board game. I would gladly watch Robin Williams play Connect Four before I’d suffer my neighbors playing Zathura because personality often makes games what they are. If Michael Jordan had been a mute, his feats would remain astounding but his brand would not exist. His language, his aura, his drive, his showmanship, his vigor, that’s what people truly remember about Jordan.

MJ playing anything would be encompassing. Whatever your opinion of Conor McGregor, his hyperbolic arrogance is his identity. Tom Brady seemingly wills things into existence. That’s what you remember. That’s what resonates.

And so Zathura doesn’t reverberate at all, its positives overshadowed by a tidal wave of character rigidity, everyone in their own little box like a doll set. It’s a complete disservice to all it does well.

Favreau’s practical effects and modeling give the picture visual grip, an ode to a simpler time of filmmaking (Star Wars, the Godzilla classics, etc.). Someone who watches many stories has an appreciation for such things, in particular non-CGI marionetting. Set design also requires a deft touch and keen eye. I give it points for that.

Favreau’s humor comes across on a few occasions. You can’t help but chuckle and earmark it for later.

But neither of these things are Robin Williams.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale. 

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (Batman BeginsThe MatrixL.A. ConfidentialHerTaken)

80-89  It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (Spider-Man: Far From HomeDumb and DumberPokemon Detective PikachuThe Matrix Reloaded,Wanted)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (Solo: A Star Wars StoryThe Matrix RevolutionsTriple FrontierI am LegendIp Man 2)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (BattleshipThe Rundown2 Fast 2 FuriousDoctor StrangeJohnny Mnemonic)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (G.I. Joe: The Rise of CobraXXXThe SilenceThe Fast and the FuriousBrooklyn’s Finest)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Transporter 3, DoomThe Fast and the Furious: Tokyo DriftPirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesPower Rangers)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (Bulletproof MonkHigh-RiseMost Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of Angels)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (XXX: State of the UnionThe SnowmanAvalanche SharksCatwomanThe Gunman)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The ExtendablesThe Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcast)

My score for Zathura: A Space Adventure: 65.

While I applaud the modeling, practical effects, story premise and Favreau’s trademark jests, Zathura as a whole lacks charisma in the character department and an adventure without thrilling personalities begins to feel weighted awfully quick.

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Movie Review: Transporter 3

“Do I look like a man who came halfway across Europe to die on a bridge?”

A long time ago, I expressed my enjoyment of the original and initial sequel, both penned by famed Frenchman Luc Besson and directed by Louis Leterrier. While not world-class or earth-shattering, The Transporter served audiences an original dish and Statham staple. It spawned a trilogy and TV series. Job well-done.

In comes Transporter 3 to ruin the fun.

It is sometimes quite astounding what one seemingly small change can do to something. If one wire isn’t connected correctly, a car won’t start. If one line of code is incorrect out of ten thousand, a website develops a bug.

When it comes to the material of Besson, a change in director shouldn’t be a momentum shifter.

But it was here.

Transporter 3 – Francis Anderson

Olivier Megaton assumed the position for our third installment and his editing style is jarring at best, nauseating at worst. Intentional or not, cutting and pasting this many times is detrimental to pacing. Last post, I called script writing a pillar of storytelling. Editing is another.

The most lasting impression Transporter 3 leaves are shots so disorienting they resemble a blurred collage of thrift shop knickknacks. It’s splatter art on steroids but not in the true sense of the form, where perhaps an abstract can be uncovered if you stare at it enough or an image can be released by a trained eye. This is more like someone loaded a .50 cal with paintballs and went to town. Whatever was there when we started is long gone and what was made initially was melted a while ago.

Transporter 3 is what happens when you put a photo album in a blender and spend two hours trying to piece it back together. Megaton is obsessed with cutting things into smaller and smaller pieces. Call it art if you want. I call it lunacy. In the words of Dr. Seuss, “a crumb that was even too small for a mouse.”

It’s no surprise Megaton found himself influenced by a music video director at the onset of his career. His technique screams it. This is papier-mache on tape.

Imagine you gave a kid a puzzle, right? Kid’s excited, takes the puzzle, throws it in a wood chipper and then starts trying to put those threads together.

That’s not creative. That’s disturbing.

Megaton does so much splicing with this it’s astounding he didn’t create another species. It’s especially noticeable during the film’s fight sequences. Any choreography loses all fluidity once Megaton gets a hold of the silver. While almost any other director, including the aforementioned Leterrier, would let the stunt work speak for itself, Megaton won’t allow it. The immeasurable amount of fissures in these scenes eliminates any momentum they would generally offer the story. Any adrenaline rush is thwarted shortly after descent.

Imagine jumping out of a helicopter to snowboard down a mountain only to have a rope yank you back up just as you were about to touch down. Now imagine that 50 times in a little over 100 minutes. Say hello to Transporter 3.

This takes the Transporter saga’s silver bullet out of the gun. The stunt work is the crème de la crème of these movies and you’re taking a royal dump on it.

As with all art, something different sometimes is good. This is not one of those times.

With its quarterback benched by the coach, the rest of the unit predictably struggles to perform. Besson’s writing isn’t as sharp as previous installments but is also under more scrutiny without fire hoses or roundhouse kicks to retain some of our attention. The dialogue clunks and clanks far more than it clicks. Given Megaton’s tight grip on the reins visually, it’s not hard to assume he holds a short leash elsewhere. Noticeable plot holes arise a few more times than one would come to expect from dear Luc.

Some of the acting isn’t particularly crisp (Rudakova wasn’t ready for a lead role fresh out of a New York hair salon) and even Frank Martin’s character base seems uncentered. With Fracture Freddy at the controls, the tonality of the film is in the gutter and so is the production as a whole.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale. 

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (Batman BeginsThe MatrixL.A. ConfidentialHerTaken)

80-89  It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (Spider-Man: Far From HomeDumb and DumberPokemon Detective PikachuThe Matrix Reloaded,Wanted)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (Solo: A Star Wars StoryThe Matrix RevolutionsTriple FrontierI am LegendIp Man 2)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Battleship, The Rundown2 Fast 2 FuriousDoctor StrangeJohnny Mnemonic)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (G.I. Joe: The Rise of CobraXXXThe SilenceThe Fast and the FuriousBrooklyn’s Finest)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (DoomThe Fast and the Furious: Tokyo DriftPirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesPower RangersUnderworld: Evolution)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (Bulletproof MonkHigh-RiseMost Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of Angels)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (XXX: State of the UnionThe SnowmanAvalanche SharksCatwomanThe Gunman)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The ExtendablesThe Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcast)

My score for The Transporter 3: 43.

If there’s any positive takeaway from this outing, thank God Megaton never got a medical degree. I shutter to think what this guy could do with a scalpel. Transporter 3 is a trauma of self-inflicted wounds, stifled from growth at nearly every well of opportunity. What a mess.

I discovered while researching this film there is a fourth Transporter installment. Its director? Camille Dellamarre, Megaton’s regular chief editor. Lord have mercy.

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Movie Review: Battleship

“It’s the North Koreans, I’m telling ya!”

I rant a lot about script writing on here because I believe it to be one of the pillars of storytelling. To be clear, script writing and plot lines are different things. One can be good and one bad in the same story.

For example, most quality comedies such as ones helmed by Adam Sandler during his prime, Will Ferrell and Jim Carrey have bountiful scripts but rather bland plot lines. The dialogue, the comedy is the driving force. We remember the quotable lines, the fervor in the delivery. We don’t reminisce about Ace Ventura catching the dolphin or Buddy the Elf fixing the engine on the sleigh. We glorify the performance of the characters, not the people who tell actors where to go scene to scene. The plot is just an Uber from A to B, not that important. It’s the writing that truly matters.

But just as talented penmanship can shoulder a film, it can also drag it down. A competent plot can find itself sunk by an inkblot. Conversely, a strong script can keep a disheveled outline on its feet. One is simply more valuable than the other often times and Battleship is a serviceable demonstration of that.

Movie Review Battleship (2012) | The Dynamic Universe Blog

From a framework standpoint, Battleship makes some questionable narrative choices. Some bother me out of personal preference but others I find to be misguided selections. For example, within the first ten minutes of the picture, Alexander Skarsgard certifies himself as the best actor on set. Whether through character draw or personal ability, Stone Hopper and himself are the most polarizing. Taylor Kitsch can’t compete, no offense meant. His role is lifelong screw-up who’s hard to sympathize with.

Skarsgard find himself out of the picture within a half hour. Questionable.

I understand Brooklyn Decker is a supermodel who’s very nice to look at but every second we spend with her, away from the picture’s main course (battleships), is wasted time.

The subplots in this film are fragile at best, parasitic at worst. At times, it feels their presence is solely dictated by a run time quota. Whether director Peter Berg’s intention or not, these secondary stories are not supporting the main arc; they’re supplanting it. Any scene which does not involve a battleship, alien weaponry or military equipment on screen is null and void. That is the meat and potatoes of your story, Peter: battleships and aliens. Given the characters you have (this is a “make things go boom” movie so you can guess the level of character we’re dealing with), why would you ever subvert your greatest asset for them? It just makes no sense to me and I took off quite a few points for it. Bad plot is bad.

And Liam Neeson is in your movie, Peter. Can we find a way to get him on screen for more than 10 minutes? Nothing quite grinds my gears like bringing in big name stars to read a page of lines and piss off. Most people in Hollywood have the talent level to play “Fleet Admiral”. You hired Liam Neeson. Why bother if this is what you want executed? If your intent is to get people to buy tickets by plastering his name in the trailer, it’s disingenuous and below you. Be better and that goes for all production studios who do this shit, too. Grow up.

The visuals are engaging and you can see Berg made some strides since he made The Rundown, which I discussed just a few weeks ago. The CGI is more polished, dictated more acutely but never reaches a level of surreal imagination. There’s still a few rungs up the ladder Berg has yet to climb but progress is progress and I’ll give him credit where credit’s due. To see someone improve in their passion is encouraging if nothing else.

But the thing that holds this intricacy of character portrayals, plot chronicles and explosions together are screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber. Without them, this film is sunk and beyond repair. So much of their dialogue and banter keeps you invested as a viewer in scenes which carry no other attractive attributes. CGI done well means little if the context surrounding it is flat. No one likes flat pop. The possibility of death and any building of tension or emotional response off of it doesn’t exist if the characters are trite.

Good writing can cover those holes sometimes and the Hoeber brothers are by far Battleships‘ strongest destroyer, without question. There are quite a couple scenes which come to mind when I recollect what I watched here and none of them involve the action sequences or the subplot leeches. None of that is memorable or executed to a proficient level to hold a space in my short-term. In one ear, out the other, as they say.

The quips are what continue to ring upstairs for me. My takeaway from this film is likely biased given my writing background and education. If I had gone to school for film or animation, maybe I’d feel differently but given the splotches the film showcases to the naked eye, I’d say that’s unlikely.

I’m not a film expert, have never proclaimed to be, likely never will be. I don’t know much of the terminology of the profession and I’m certainly not up-to-date on the latest in computer imaging and digital design. I am someone with two eyeballs though who’s watched more movies than anyone I know and I think that counts for something.

If you’ve only seen a handful of apples in your life, your imaging of what an apple looks like will be based on that. That’s basic psychology. The more apples you look at, the more you taste, the more refined your picture.

I’ve watched enough movies, specifically ones illustrated and marketed like this, to know: the repartee, the wordplay, is what keeps the propellers turning. It was the one thing keeping me on my toes, the one thing that cracked smirks.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale. 

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (Batman BeginsThe MatrixL.A. ConfidentialHerTaken)

80-89  It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (Spider-Man: Far From HomeDumb and DumberPokemon Detective PikachuThe Matrix Reloaded,Wanted)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (Solo: A Star Wars StoryThe Matrix RevolutionsTriple FrontierI am LegendIp Man 2)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (The Rundown2 Fast 2 FuriousDoctor StrangeJohnny MnemonicJason Bourne)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, XXXThe SilenceThe Fast and the FuriousBrooklyn’s Finest)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (DoomThe Fast and the Furious: Tokyo DriftPirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesPower RangersUnderworld: Evolution)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (Bulletproof MonkHigh-RiseMost Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of Angels)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (XXX: State of the UnionThe SnowmanAvalanche SharksCatwomanThe Gunman)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The ExtendablesThe Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcast)

My score for Battleship: 66.

Battleship is more Independence Day than it might want to admit but it has many of the same elements: nationalism, machismo, youthful arrogance and oh yeah, aliens. Shame it couldn’t produce the same notoriety because as it is, Battleship is two writers away from being completely forgettable.

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Movie Review: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

“If you’re gonna shoot at something, kill it. Otherwise, take up knitting.”

When I talked about G.I. Joe: Retaliation years ago, I said this original installment had built something small at minimum and it was a disservice to start over.

While I still subscribe to that thinking, hard not to understand the want to clean house.

Stephen Sommers’ 2009 installment was not attractive to begin with and has aged poorly since. The attention to detail in the visual sections is especially unnerving, a slop so heinous he was nominated for worst director at the Razzies. While some design elements show promise, the computer graphics are unfocused and lack a crisp finish. Eye candy is often a must for these blockbusters. What we get here ain’t candy. More like unseasoned green vegetables.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra Movie Review

With its focal lens blurred, many of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra‘s action sequences are cut off at the knee mid run. Just when you feel like some momentum is building, it’s chopped down by another unrendered vessel. This happens on a continuous loop, beginning to end, no remedy in sight. Eventually, you stop getting invested in the propulsion the film’s accruing. You know you’re about to get disappointed again. A car chase in the second act is by far the film’s best work but no other set pieces come close to approaching that level before or after.

G.I. Joe was a big brand when I was a kid and while it was never Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Pokemon for me, I subscribed to it. The latest in weapons and defense tech, the most grandiose of explosions, it’s hard not to get at least a little excited about that.

Yet it’s very taxing to get energized about The Rise of Cobra. It’s like you have to make yourself work to enjoy it. Most of the action is so dilapidated by its own incompetence it takes you out of the experience more than pulls you in. The Rise of Cobra doesn’t excel in the personnel department either.

G.I. Joe feels more like Average Joe here, colorizing some characters in one shade rather than several. Some personalities show promise (Snake Eyes most of all and he doesn’t even speak) but others are so far below the line they should be ascribed to it’s easier to shed the dead weight. I suppose they did with the sequel but less effort required if you just did it from the get-go.

Remove some lines from Channing Tatum and Marlon Wayans early and the picture has close to little bravado, which is rather shocking considering military machismo is the G.I. Joe calling card. The movie’s comic book tonality comes across but not its emphatic personality, which, again, is the shtick of the stamp. This demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the material or an inability to translate it.

The Rise of Cobra doesn’t even feel like a G.I. Joe film. It behaves like a special unit 80’s TV show like The A-Team but with more corniness and fewer enduring qualities. Some lines of dialogue are especially painful and for a story rewritten as many times as this was, you wonder how many more times it would have taken to get it right.

Tatum’s Duke, our lead character, could not be any less interesting while also amassing unlimited abilities at will. After complaining about transferring to the air force in the film’s intro, Duke pilots like Han Solo in the final stages. He’s also capable of driving submarines through closed courses and operating million-dollar robot suits in the span of days.

Main characters are not always the stars of the spotlight. They’re sometimes overshadowed by the film’s christened funny man or an antagonist. There’s nothing wrong with that and often a main character more subdued does the film a great service. Here, Tatum is so far down the rabbit hole any time spent on him feels misused and with much of the picture revolving around him, the result is as to be expected.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale. 

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (Batman BeginsThe MatrixL.A. ConfidentialHerTaken)

80-89  It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (Spider-Man: Far From HomeDumb and DumberPokemon Detective PikachuThe Matrix Reloaded,Wanted)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (Solo: A Star Wars StoryThe Matrix RevolutionsTriple FrontierI am LegendIp Man 2)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (The Rundown, 2 Fast 2 FuriousDoctor StrangeJohnny MnemonicJason Bourne)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (XXXThe SilenceThe Fast and the FuriousBrooklyn’s FinestDeath Race)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (DoomThe Fast and the Furious: Tokyo DriftPirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesPower RangersUnderworld: Evolution)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (Bulletproof MonkHigh-RiseMost Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of Angels)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (XXX: State of the UnionThe SnowmanAvalanche SharksCatwomanThe Gunman)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The ExtendablesThe Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcast)

My score for G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra: 59.

A surprisingly proficient twist is encumbered by glaring plot holes, nauseous conversations and myopic direction. I just don’t understand why it’s so hard to make a movie about toys. The trademark should write itself but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles couldn’t do it and neither could this. Sidenote: a prequel surrounding Snake Eyes is due in theaters this fall and they’ve done another recast. Yay.

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Movie Review: The Rundown

“Does that look like a refrigerator to you?”

Fresh off Bulletproof Monk, we move to Peter Berg’s The Rundown, another of my childhood favorites.

This one was another mistake, clear as day to me now. Crazy how much people change in 10 years.

Yet, like with Bulletproof Monk, I can see why I was drawn to it.

There’s something very likable about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. A talented showman from his days with WWF/WWE, he’s quite capable of a convincing performance.

Then, I look at his resume and I just…ugh.

Doom, The Tooth Fairy, The Game Plan, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Hercules, San Andreas. It’s not good, folks. His name will likely come up in one of the next episodes of Winners And Losers and it’s not looking like he’s gonna be the last one standing in the ring this time.

Despite all that, I still feel drawn to the guy. He’s got panache and a lot of confidence and I guess it’s hard not to be lulled by that.

He carries that same ego and tenacity in his first lead role. Brazen and emboldened, the Rock is…well, the Rock. He’s gonna mess you up and Berg can’t help but remind us of that early.

The Rundown‘s opening sequence is one of its numbered highlights but that’s not to say the film straight stalls out and nosedives the rest of the way.

There are a few dialogue morsels sprinkled throughout, most funneled through Christopher Walken. The Rundown prides itself on its action comedy identity and so runs its mouth a lot, echoing give-and-go banter between Johnson and costar Seann William Scott during large swatches of the viewing experience.

This budding camaraderie helps time run smoothly early but as the film progresses, begins to become more of an annoyance than aid. It’s as if the film had begun to transform into a Scott movie. The dialogue begins to invade American Pie territory and that’s when it’s hard not to abandon ship.

Once the writing tidbits begin to dwindle, the picture starts to lose its luster. While Berg came into shooting with the intent to focus on stunt choreography and action design, there are significant spreads of the film which involve none, leaving the production solely reliant on this brother bash-type trash talk. When it’s working, it’s corny and awfully frat boyish but at least sustaining tread. When it’s not, it’s mind-numbing.

These vocalized vomits are Scott’s forte, sadly. Each of his films tend to introduce themselves as a pleasant but raucous evening of booze and babes, jokes and jabs thrown amongst bros all in good fun but eventually, as is usually the case, the night comes to the generally inevitable conclusion of a passed out partygoer fresh off disposing of the night’s stomach deposits.

I’ve seen this story before.

So while The Rundown earns points early, the midpoint of the film is likely the tale’s precipice. From here, our story squanders valuable time on treasure discovery and whipper snapping, something it simply can’t help itself from indulging. These scenes are plot pushing at its finest and are very easy to discount when you recollect the film’s happenings during the credits. Try to remember them. They help explain the aftertaste later. Is that….vinegar?

Rosario Dawson and Walken don’t get anywhere near the amount of screen time they deserve, especially in the back half and I suspect that’s one of the likely causes for this roll down the mountain.

The picture goes out swinging with an action sequence in its final third, trying to corral its audience back. While enjoyable, the punches it misses over the course of the run time linger in the mind more than the ones it hits.

Despite how it’s aged, I’m gonna miss The Rundown. I’m clearing my bookshelf and there are a lot of films that likely won’t make the cut. This was probably the last time I ever watch it, a movie, like Bulletproof Monk, I’ve watched a dozen times but is time to let go.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale. 

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (Batman BeginsThe MatrixL.A. ConfidentialHerTaken)

80-89  It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (Spider-Man: Far From HomeDumb and DumberPokemon Detective PikachuThe Matrix Reloaded,Wanted)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (Solo: A Star Wars StoryThe Matrix RevolutionsTriple FrontierI am LegendIp Man 2)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (2 Fast 2 FuriousDoctor StrangeJohnny MnemonicJason BourneSuicide Squad)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (XXXThe SilenceThe Fast and the FuriousBrooklyn’s FinestDeath Race)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (DoomThe Fast and the Furious: Tokyo DriftPirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesPower RangersUnderworld: Evolution)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (Bulletproof Monk, High-RiseMost Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of Angels)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (XXX: State of the UnionThe SnowmanAvalanche SharksCatwomanThe Gunman)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The ExtendablesThe Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcast)

My score for The Rundown: 62.

If nothing else, The Rundown served as a platform for Dwayne Johnson’s career. Berg gave the potential this guy had a spotlight and the rest is history but as a product, The Rundown reminds me of Conor McGregor these days. It has boisterous flair and almost endearing arrogance, a true talent for histrionics but an inability to make it 12 rounds or execute at the critical moments.

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Movie Review: Bulletproof Monk

It’s been over a year since I’ve reviewed a film. Over the last few weeks, I’ve read all of my critiques and have been reminded how bad I used to be at this. Chunky, repetitive, wordy and hyperbolic, many of my earlier pieces often resembled the same criticism I was dishing out. They’re truly hard to read, so poorly edited. Maybe some day, I’ll go back and rewrite them. Far too much plot summary, far too little analysis and some of the scores have aged terribly.

Thankfully, I was also told how good I used to be. It took many years to get there but when I was at the top of my game, truly turning on all cylinders, I felt I was churning out professional-level content. I found my reviews on the Matrix trilogy (The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions) particularly good. The Tim’s Favs page is currently under construction (Construction finished 3/31) but will continue showcasing this blog’s finest works. Maybe you’ll join me on a brief trip down memory lane.

These first few critiques I turn out likely won’t be at that proficiency. It may take a few weeks, even months, to return to form but I’m confident I’ll get there. Because I’m good enough.

Glad to be back doing what I love. Onto our feature presentation.

“Why do hot dogs come in packages of 10, while hot dog buns come in packages of just eight?”

Because hot dog companies hate us?

2003’s Bulletproof Monk was one of my childhood favorites. All children, people in general, make mistakes and this was one of mine. That said, I can see why I was drawn to it as a minor.

Bulletproof Monk Movie Poster
Monk on a Mission

Bulletproof Monk sought to defy commonly-held beliefs such as gravity. If you simply believed it didn’t exist, that you could step on the air like a stone, then you could. That type of fantastical thinking is very attractive to an impressionable mind. Part of being young is finding ways to imagine, discerning ways of thought which make life more exciting than it is. It’s why kids pretend to be superheroes, why they act in general because even at a young age, kids can understand how monotonous life can be.

So when a movie tells you gravity is below you and you can defy physics and dodge bullets, yeah, I can understand why my younger self would be awestruck. Anything that encourages breaking out of the box of rational thought. Kids need to be told anything is possible if they work hard enough, try hard enough, think hard enough. Kids need to believe that. That belief spurs creativity and ingenuity, drives them towards who they’ll become.

Many movies targeted at younger demographics are like this but the ones that separate themselves as E for Everyone do so through material which can be appreciated by all audiences. There are a plethora of ways to do this: inferred humor is a big one. Many times when you go back and watch the films you enjoyed as a kid, you find a lot of comedy your younger you never recognized. Quite a few of the animated Disney classics did this and I promise you, plenty other characterized stalwarts partake as well. Even artwork and voice acting can be appreciated regardless of age range.

Bulletproof Monk is so far from that and for reasons of its own making.

The introductory scene features a poor attempt at green screen. I will hear no arguments about the time the film was made. I talked about The Matrix not long ago. We know what was possible then. This was far below that line.

It’s lazy, honestly. That type of laziness doesn’t sit well with me as an artist, as a critic, as a viewer or as a person. This was your best effort?

Some competent wire and stunt work is overshadowed by that imposing mess in the backdrop. What are we even doing here?

This isn’t the last time you’ll see a lack of effort show up on the silver. That type of failure and seemingly complete disregard of detail is why Paul Hunter never directed another feature film.

Despite an absent director chair, the writing from Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris keeps the picture above water some of the time but it also struggles with such jagged cuts the delivery is impossible to perfect. Somewhat refined one moment and brutally elementary the next, it’s difficult to maintain any sort of pacing, especially with the structure given by Hunter. With rather blasé plot points, Bulletproof Monk‘s footing is almost entirely bolstered by dialogue and action sequences. That’s a tough bill for many screenwriters, particularly ones who were brought in to write for a kung-fu comic film. Too much talking and not enough kung fu, Bulletproof Monk is far too reliant on its characters, personas who from the outset were not meant for such manual labor.

Chow Yun-Fat’s monk is quirky and socially awkward yet extremely likable, a tender balance the duo of writers are unable to steady for the entire run time. As has become a staple of this blog, a film of two halves. While it lasts, Yun-Fat demonstrates charisma and personality. When the film becomes too plot-centric and backs away from him, you can almost hear Yankee Stadium crumble in the distance.

The mysticism and mystery behind kung fu and, in this story, an almost magic-like quality, is an interesting commodity this film has at its disposal but Hunter never goes to the well with the exception of one scene. When you’re a kid, the alluring hint of such themes is enough. When you’re an adult, hard not to question why there wasn’t further discussion on such a fascinating topic. Dive into the philosophy, immerse your audience. No one likes a tease.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale. 

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (Batman BeginsThe MatrixL.A. ConfidentialHerTaken)

80-89  It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (Spider-Man: Far From HomeDumb and DumberPokemon Detective PikachuThe Matrix Reloaded,Wanted)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (Solo: A Star Wars StoryThe Matrix RevolutionsTriple FrontierI am LegendIp Man 2)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (2 Fast 2 FuriousDoctor StrangeJohnny MnemonicJason BourneSuicide Squad)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (XXXThe SilenceThe Fast and the FuriousBrooklyn’s FinestDeath Race)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (DoomThe Fast and the Furious: Tokyo DriftPirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesPower RangersUnderworld: Evolution)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (High-RiseMost Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of AngelsCenturion)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (XXX: State of the UnionThe SnowmanAvalanche SharksCatwomanThe Gunman)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (Cats, The ExtendablesThe Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborg)

My score for Bulletproof Monk: 37.

I’ve watched this film at least a dozen times and with each watch, things become more abundantly clear: Paul Hunter was out of his element and the writers and visual crew weren’t skilled enough to bail him out. An idea which had promise was lit like a birthday candle, then squashed by a vengeful brother and that was that. A prime example of art that has not aged well as it dissolves into the deep recesses of history.

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