My Depression

So much has happened,

yet so little at the same time.

I don’t know what this space is now. So many years ago, this was where I discussed art, the tapestries of words and film that intertwined itself with my heart, made me feel alive. It was a podium for posturing, a metronome of melodies and meanderings, a lexicon of letters and lessons learned through film, sports and my life. It was how I expressed myself, explored myself. It was how I said I love you to me.

It was taken from me, not by anyone or anything. I took it from myself. I told myself it didn’t matter, I didn’t matter, that what I said, what I conjured, painted and crafted with all the passion I could produce and all the breath I could breathe, wasn’t good enough.

I’ve dealt with depression most of my life, all throughout my 20s and my way of dealing with it was to not, to not only allow it to speak but to offer it a seat at the table it did not deserve, to let it spew self-hate, disgust and distaste without so much of a retort in protest. Depression is a sickness, a poison of the mind, a creature whose sole pleasure is destruction of the soul.

I allowed it a platform by shaping it as motivation initially. I used it as fuel for my ambitions, energy for my academic endeavors, protein for my physical aspirations. That worked for a time but hate corrodes all. Like a medication, a little self-deprecation to motivate me wasn’t enough anymore. I needed more and like an addict, I despaired for it. No one was going to give it to me. Few people then went around telling people they sucked, they were garbage, they should quit. Even now, strangers don’t generally bump into you and call you a slur that should walk into traffic.

But I did.

If I did poorly on an exam, if I fell short in basketball practice, if I performed poorly in the studio or messed up a relationship, I said those things and so, so much more.

“You’re abhorrent.”

“You’re a disease, a tumor, a cancer. You need removed and tossed away.”

“Your friends don’t even like you. They’re embarrassed by you.”

“Your family is ashamed of you. They’ll never respect you. You’ll never bring honor to the family.”

When the girl I loved left:

“No one’s ever gonna love you.”

When I lost my scholarship:

“You’re pathetic.”

When my grades fell:

“What a sad excuse for a creature.”

When I failed to develop a career:

“Your whole life is a mistake.”

Every pitfall, every misstep, whether small or large, I lit fire to myself.

“It’s all ruined. It all needs cleared, burnt to ash.”

But I couldn’t. For all my shortcomings, I’m a person, not a piece of lint or a slice of timber.

And so I shamed myself more. I hurt more. I struggled more. I tortured myself emotionally and psychologically to the point of no return, to the point I lost joy, happiness and most important of all, hope.

I had dug a hole so deep trying to take myself off this planet that I forgot the sky. It was just filth, worms, gnats and sewage and I was just stuck in the muck, telling myself if I just dug a little further, there’d be air on the other side. The air was above and behind me, it had always been there but I had forgotten. I had left it behind.

My life had been like this for so long, for so many years that I could barely see the stars in the night sky, the wonders of light that used to speak sweet nothings in my ear: “You can be anything if you put all of yourself into it. You can be the star of your own sky.”

By the time I looked back and realized what I had done, it was too late. I was too far gone.

Friends and family tossed rope down the hole but I was crumbled on the floor, stuck in the quicksand of negative self-talk I had foolishly fed for so many moons. I couldn’t even muster the strength to move let alone stand. The shovel laid in front of me, covered in blood and gunk, chipped and hacked through all the rubble I’d fought through. It was like the nub from Shawkshank Redemption (spoiler alert but if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s on you.) What was I to do with that?

With hope sniffed out, I lived in the darkness I allowed depression to manifest. People begged me to change and I wanted to but I didn’t know how and even now, I still don’t.

Eventually, many of the people I grew up with, who loved me, gave up. There’s only so much yelling down the pit one can do. The pen is mightier than the sword but I was the one with the pen, the one least equipped to write the messages I needed to hear, needed to echo echo, needed to believe.

Now the loneliness I had told myself I had, that no one was there for me, was more honest than ever.

I have lost so much. I’ve lost everything.

Turns out you can burn it all away. Some days I feel I don’t even know myself, like my id left me with everyone else.

So I’m rebuilding, assembling what I can with what I have to try and get out of this chasm. I want this blog to be one of those tools.

So expect more pieces like this, ones with depth discussing not just my life but so many other lives. I have some sports stuff I’d like to get around to, some films I’d like to ponder but I truly don’t know where I go from here. Learning to stand again as a 29-year old is pretty humiliating and it will be some time till I can walk.

I may never run again. My younger self was so much smarter, so much stronger. I wish I could apologize to him. Maybe that’s what my next piece will be,

If you’re reading this and you relate, feel you may be in this hole with me, know I believe in you. Whatever you’ve done, I believe in your redemption and salvation. You have talent, skills lost but that can be regained.

The prefix “re” comes from Latin and translates to “again; anew.” You may never be who you once were. A sorrow and sadness comes with that, an emptiness which may never be fully filled.

But rebirth, renewal, refresh? Those things ARE possible.

I find it so easy to believe in others, a Herculean task to believe in myself. So do me a favor. I’ll believe in you. You believe in me.

Together, we’ll see the sky again and rejoin the stars.

Love, Peace and Respect,

Tim (No one likes this photo because I used a filter on it but I always have)

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Movie Review: Alien vs. Predator: Requiem

“That’s crazy. The government doesn’t lie to people.”

Excellent quote.

Piggybacking off my commentary of Alien vs. Predator, monster movies are easier when your monster’s the focal point. Characters in monster novels, especially when thinking of the Godzilla chronicles, are generally typecast and easy to remove. This leaves the genre with a limited ceiling but success and enjoyment is still very much in play because we didn’t come for Joe, Andy and Beth. We came for the big, scary guy.

I think we all want more from our monster stories. As I said last post, character takes these fictions to another level and it’s a shame more of these storyboards don’t take that into account. As in every story, character matters.

The Alien franchise never delivered and AVP made no such shipments. If you expected different from Requiem, sorry.

Requiem is almost universally hated and for some fair reasons but I truly enjoyed it because I accepted it for what it was. It does watch like a fan film, likely a reason for some of the vitriol sent its way but I also feel it demonstrates a higher respect for the material than its former self ever did. It accelerates faster and certainly musters a higher top speed. It’s just an altogether better vehicle.

While the Strause brothers supplement a round of AVP with a character lineup reminiscent of a Scream remake, the roster provides more balance than Anderson’s rout, though perhaps just so. As with AVP, no dominant people were available for taping but the writing at some select points shows improvement. Since I introduced the quote opener to the blog posts, I feel I have an even keener sense for quality quips. AVP had none, minus the Italian phrase I included and “My experts tell me it’s a pyramid”, which is so painful I couldn’t find the strength to type it. Requiem, while still lacking in scripting, at least provides a few jabs of joy.

As is typical with many monster themes, underwritten, uninviting characters are aplenty in our second installment but with one significant difference: our monsters spend much more time on the catwalk.

This alleviates a lot of Requiem‘s problems. When you allow your monster to envelop your film, to dwarf everything around it, as it should, the fact the dwarves are meaningless matters little. No one screams about the Godzilla enterprise and says, “BUT THE CHARACTERS!” That criticism only rears its head when the monstrosity isn’t towering over our heads. No one complains about ants when something’s blocking out the sun.

Characters in enterprises like this are fluff. If you’re not making a sincere attempt, best not to bother. Anderson pretended. It did not go down the gullet smoothly. The Strause brothers knew better.

So while time spent on these papier mache characters is indeed a waste, much tape is stolen away from them and granted to the main attraction. Due to this, their frailty isn’t as noticeable. Many sequences involving our aliens and predator are interwoven with these stand-ins so you can’t press “skip” to the next chapter. Aliens and predator are always right behind pizza boy, convict and sheriff. This weaving strengthens character impact and prevents them from being fully discarded. No attachment or sincere care can be afforded to these people but we are stuck with them. Keeping these humans around affords our creatures the opportunity to inflict chaos and a lot of damage. While Anderson’s Alien vs. Predator had the chance at a slow kill in a remote location, a perfect setting for atmospherics, the Strause Brothers throw these demons into society and let them work. Lower ceiling, higher floor.

It’s a lower ceiling product because growing tension and uneasiness isn’t on the table. This is more a “go, go, go” movie, one that won’t attempt character building or lore manifestation. Stories without character can only go so high whilst leaning on visuals, cinematography and other side chicks.

Anderson’s AVP had a lower floor because if you fail to conjure that uneasiness or cajole viewers to frighten, your movie becomes lackluster and dull. If the potion you spend a considerable time mixing doesn’t work, everything falls apart like a new house built on shaky foundation.

If Anderson’s AVP was a botched visit to a gourmet restaurant (high ceiling, low floor), Requiem is your preferred fast food chain: not good for you but quick and easy.

This 2007 production offers more visual flare, universe gadgets (the liquid that instantly dissolves crime scenes/victims seems especially useful) and more quality time with our favorite fiends. Sometimes, that’s enough.

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. (Angel Has FallenG.I. Joe: The Rise of CobraXXXThe SilenceThe Fast and the Furious)

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 Alien vs. Predator: Requiem: 75.

This grade won’t age well but Anderson’s Alien vs. Predator left such a gross taste the flavor of just about anything was welcomed. Requiem just happened to be the beneficiary.

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Movie Review: Alien vs. Predator

“La luna del cacciatore.”

The last time I talked about Paul W.S. Anderson was years back on Death Race, a movie without story or character but an obsessive-compulsive need to break things. What I said then remains true: Anderson is a pyromaniac, a filmmaker seduced by explosions and unbridled chaos. A neglectful storyteller through and through, Anderson’s struggles with person and plot continues in 2004’s Alien vs. Predator.

The Alien quadrilogy is a garbage fire of a franchise, a series I reviewed on this blog long ago. The conceptual design of the aliens was never a problem, only the meat and potatoes of a creation that never figured out how to do its job. Alien 3 remains one of my lowest scores and even at the top of its powers, the franchise never got high off the ground before falling off a precipice. The series always struggled with the hallmarks of sci-fi horror: tension and character. There was never any trepidation with those films, even the original Ridley Scott helmed and the sequel James Cameron captained. Both great directors responsible for some of our time’s greatest stories, neither could muster the grip and adrenaline a monster tour requires.

Sigourney Weaver’s lead was never endearing nor demanding of respect, a role that felt more character model than human being. Cameron’s Aliens was the closest the series ever got to competent but still remained run-of-the-mill.

If anything, the franchise demonstrated one of the cardinal sins of monster movies: if you’re not going to put your monster on screen often, you better develop atmospherics that keep your audience invested, whether soundtrack, dialogue quips or lore.

A character presence, like Bryan Cranston in 2014’s Godzilla, does the world a lot of good. Even Matthew Broderick held his own in the ’98 version at times.

Slow burners who only tease the behemoth need strong character writing and acting turns like Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman in 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Monster movies require their own center of gravity to foster engagement. Without that, they fall out of orbit.

Finally, the tonality of a monster exodus speaks volumes. Volumes should be spent developing it.

Monster flicks are far more complicated than we give them credit for. As the Alien franchise demonstrated, even great directors sometimes fall short. Yes, you need to create a scary being but you need to find ways to interact with your audience outside of that Frankenstein. You need personas, a visual department, sound editing and mixing and a titillating score.

So when you read Paul W.S. Anderson on the opening credits, “oh boy” seems a fair retort.

Mr. Anderson’s skillset does not bode good tidings for this task. Sci-fi monster pictures require tact. Anderson has about as much as a T-Rex in a china shop. Anderson’s blockbuster, “explodee boy” style of filmmaking doesn’t pair well with suspense, another staple of sci-fi monster tales. It’s a poor directorial choice, plain and simple.

Because when Anderson isn’t directing loud and abrasive action sequences, Anderson is bored and so is his work. Alien vs. Predator is a vehicle that goes 0 to 60 in ten seconds. It takes a loooong time to get going and while that’s good for the monster movie formula, it’s bad for Anderson’s style. A well-versed director would take this time to establish strong character whilst instituting an existential feeling of dread. Anderson spends this time running plot.

No compelling character, even a half-interesting one, arrives on set of Alien vs. Predator but that won’t stop Anderson from allocating a ton of screen time to them, including the stereotypical “I’m a father” trope foreshadowing a character’s imminent death. Anderson’s dialogue is usually choppy and AVP is no different. At points, Anderson confuses cringe for wit. Stale jokes really suck the air out of a room quick.

Gasping for oxygen, our leads aren’t in a hurry to deliver us to urgent care or to lively content, instead gazing at compass watches and cataloging the journey’s latest finds. Even Anderson’s visual ability feels abandoned in set design. In addition to being an insubstantial story, AVP‘s not an aesthetically pleasing one. Much of the background reminds of watered down liquor. A pyramid precipitated by aliens should establish wonder and artistry, not a novice attempt at modeling.

With so much wrong surrounding it, the few sequences our principal characters arrive seem hopeless and short-lived. The battles also feel very one-sided. We’re told the predators fight aliens, hundreds of them, to demonstrate their worthiness only to watch two of our three predator allies go down to one alien in a five-minute span. I’d say it really takes the wind out of the sails but the ship had already been anchored.

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. (Angel Has Fallen, G.I. Joe: The Rise of CobraXXXThe SilenceThe Fast and the Furious)

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 Alien vs. Predator: 50.

In what is becoming a run of “This Has Not Aged Well” posts on this blog, Alien vs. Predator is a shockingly stagnant monster sampling, one without visual gravitas or any sort of tenacity.

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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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