Tag Archives: 2017 movie reviews

Movie Review: Wind River

Image result for wind river movie poster free useAfter writing Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan was reportedly the latest prodigy in the streets of theater. My film compadres were saying it, the critics were parading it and I decided to pull this one out and see if the tales were true. I plan to see the two previously mentioned works as well so I can make an educated opinion.

Boy, has the Sheridan experiment not gotten off to a good start. Wind River is a stalling truck caught in a snow drift. It surveys its landscape and the harsh life all who remain suffer but also can’t help being a funeral that’s surprisingly hard to empathize with. You almost feel bad being so disconnected from it but the project is so barren that you feel like you’re mourning the life of emptiness itself.

A murder on an Indian Reservation in the void of Wyoming should carry a tempo that mimics a trudge through the storm but the pacing is so stagnant that one can’t help but continue to flick their head around to see if they’ve moved at all in the last 20 minutes. The phrase is “the tortoise wins the race” but this reptile is dead on arrival. I was very patient with this film, and as someone who’s already very patient, that meant giving this picture a lot of leeway. My brethren gave this film high praise and so I waited for it to move. I poked it a few times before flipping a table and pronouncing, “This thing’s dead, goddammit!”

Wind River doesn’t make a sound. It is eerily quiet, but after days of inaction, leads to a walk through a morgue rather than an intense murder mystery suffocating in a tundra. Jeremy Renner can work on his cowboy look all night long but it’s still not gonna make Wind River a natural disaster even remotely interesting. Imagine wandering through a hurricane and giving zero cares in the world, thoroughly disinterested by the day’s proceedings like a preoccupied millenial, except in this case you’re grazing through the least exciting storm known to man that still somehow earns the title “hurricane.” That’s Wind River.

That was overdramatic even for me. Wind River is not the least exciting storm ever. That would garner it an accolade.

Renner and Elizabeth Olsen struggle to do much with a story that is starved of dialogue and greatly lacking in the “stuff to do” department. The account of a pillage is dragged across a cheese grater for nearly two hours. It’s a story that has been stretched too far. I’m not sure if Sheridan had a cramp in his pen hand or struggles with thoughts that exist outside a movie’s borders. I’ve watched more entertaining episodes of Law and Order: SVU.

It’s not complex enough to warrant a feature-length work and it shows in the final cut. The flatness of this movie cannot be overstated. It is exceptionally dull.

A knife without edge offers little tenacity and Wind River doesn’t dazzle your eye either. As much as I enjoy watching Jeremy Renner’s stunt double bounce on a snowmobile, the organic wilderness around you is begging for a pedestal. The visual department fails to capture the aged relic of the past, one of the pieces that has gone mostly untouched by the modern world. A blistering behemoth with a personality disorder, regularly fluctuating between storm and calm, is underappreciated here. There are a few select shots which grant us a brief showcase, but we should be engulfed in the black hole, disturbed by the unknown and carry a caged paranoia.

Wind River is frustrating because it has an avenue for success. Similar to The Road, it has ample opportunity to display color palette and lighting as well as sound design. It forgoes audible creation, deciding on unnerving silence that doesn’t harness fear as much as it thinks it does and displays inexperience in its visual carving, leaving the film neither smooth nor fine-tuned with sharp edges. It looks like a log that was hacked by a teenager with a chainsaw. It wasn’t done out of rage. It was performed by an unguided hand.

Renner’s lead lacks the composite of originality and fronts a frontiersman with little bite and less bark. With an inability to stir intrigue and Olsen being almost entirely useless as a rookie on the scene, Wind River‘s character output is anemic. It will lose its grip on viewers early. The public is far more impatient than I am.

With little chill, Wind River is fully reliant on Renner, who in my experience doesn’t possess that level of talent. The only development of note is the hunter being the victim of a hunt himself. There’s not enough character molding going on here.

You can tell Sheridan was pulling for a winter western but Wind River has neither the cold nor the grit. It’s rather mellow for a western, solemn to the point of feeling sorry for itself. Sheridan manages to drizzle a few lines of concrete here and there to keep myself interested but I’m being left on a thread waiting for the beauty I was told appeared.

Drowned in a grief with surprisingly little punch, Wind River doesn’t emote much feeling in me. I’m left distant from a work where the goal should be to bring me closer, not only to adjust to the environment but to understand the gravity of the situation and bear the weight of loss this tale is buried in. The film never bothered to knock on my door and see if I was home.

If you enjoy plot pushers, Wind River might meet that criteria. It’s not a film that carries off-screen presence. It leaves me starved for content.

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. (Captain America: Civil WarDeadpoolAvengers: Age of UltronThe AvengersThe Babadook)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (The ConjuringSinisterOlympus Has FallenThe Cable GuyThe Cabin in the Woods)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (Ip Man 2Ip ManKong: Skull IslandThe InvitationHush)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (The RoadDoctor StrangeJohnny MnemonicJason BourneSuicide SquadBatman Forever)

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. (Tommy BoyDeath NoteTrue Memoirs of an International AssassinThe Great WallRobin Hood)

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. (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesPower RangersUnderworld: EvolutionBatman & RobinBloodsport)

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. (Most Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of AngelsCenturionPlanet of the Apes)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (The SnowmanAvalanche SharksCatwomanThe GunmanThe Visit)

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 Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcastSabotage)

My score for Wind River: 57.

If the phrase, “well, it’s either half empty or half empty” was a thing, I’d use it here. I’ve now watched Wind River two times more than I would have liked and I promise there will not be a third. There wasn’t much reason to watch it the first time and there certainly wasn’t to go looking for a second viewing. Skip this one.

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Movie Review: Kong: Skull Island

Image result for kong skull island movie posterKing Kong will forever be a blot on Peter Jackson’s filmography. I will be watching that movie this week and I’m not looking forward to it. King Kong‘s pacing never falls into sync, nor does the movie ever become about King Kong, which is probably the most fatal of all the flaws that movie has.

Where King Kong dramatically fails at presenting King Kong as this monstrosity to be feared, Kong: Skull Island commits the opposite cardinal flaw: character writing.

If you want to see a good old-fashioned monster movie, Kong: Skull Island is for you. We have a monster tearing stuff apart and beating things senseless at will with no collateral damage to be concerned about. You can watch this film completely unabated. That also means there is no tension here, which is a rather monster-sized problem for a monster movie. A behemoth is certainly threatening on size alone, but the suspension of those killing strokes is the difference between a good and great movie, a distinction that director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, swinging the baton in only his third concerto, doesn’t have the experience to recognize.

Watching Kong smash things and find creative ways to shoot helicopters out of the sky is certainly interesting. Watching an ape punch other monsters in the face will certainly lead to giddy rounds of applause and shocked exclamations of “NO, HE DIDN’T” from the crowd, but watching Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson and John C. Reilly get together for a character lineup as depressing as the Browns depth chart is ultimately a mortal wound.

Brie Larson won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 2015, yet the script gives her nothing to work with. The intimidating presence that is John Goodman is given a few introductory scenes to rev up the engine that is the plot before falling into the shadows, never to peek out again. Tom Hiddleston is underused to an absurd proportion, leaving only Jackson and Reilly to instill some sort of human presence through their charisma alone.

Vogt-Roberts made his name via Kings of Summer, a coming-of-age tale predicated by human interaction. Kong: Skull Island is the exact opposite of that, and not in a positive way. It makes you wonder if the writer of Kings of Summer, Chris Galletta, deserved the credit.

I’ve held on to this review a while, longer than I had planned to, but it has allowed me to ponder what I’ve seen a while longer and the more I think about it, the more I realize there’s no human connection here. Jackson’s version had human connection to the point of overdramatization and eventually became a disorganized piano, with keys switched all over the board that no one could play a coherent tune on it, only select phrases via luck. Vogt-Roberts, with a finely tuned organ, has, essentially, slammed on the keys like a raging toddler, producing such a weak plot line that he then got up from the organ, went up to a chalkboard and wrote, in crayon (just because), “KONG SMASH THINGS.” Again, if you want a stereotypical monster movie, the theaters have one for you, but if you’re looking for a great Kong movie, this isn’t it. It’s quite a ways away from that.

If it wasn’t for the masterpiece that was Logan (I want to watch it a second time before writing a review, but if you haven’t seen it yet, strongly encouraged), it would appear 2017 is the year of the non-existent character. By that, I mean star-studded casts assembled with the visage of potential but are actually more of an obscene gesture to people who pay to see this content. It’s rude and, more importantly, at least to me, blatantly negligent.

This is why I’m grateful for Kong here, just as I’ve been thankful for Godzilla in plenty of movies and the rather large distraction he provides to the apparent anarchy around him. 2014’s Godzilla had a pull over its audience begotten by command and tease. It had the ominous wind, the pounding of the unseen drums and the horror that Bryan Cranston’s dialogue can provide. It had the pulse-pounding fear and the violin strings. Hell, it had a score that did something for the film. Watch the trailer and remember what this film offered audiences. Kong doesn’t have any of it.

The tone is more, “Action movie for seven-year-olds! Rawr, Slam, Clunk” than “This could be the end of life as we know it.” There’s not much drama here to bring us to the realization of this discovery. I mean, we just found a skyscraper-sized ape. There’s one character in the movie saying, “Wait. Are we really not gonna talk about what just happened?” The line is in there for comedic relief, but it’s a legitimate question for a moviegoer who wanted a true experience. Completely unintentionally, the writers poked a hole in the fabric.

And look, that fabric is pretty much shredded by the end. There aren’t any consequences. There’s no love lost for even one character, though at least Jackson and Reilly are given something to work with. They are by far the most worthwhile personalities here. It’s just a movie that you could get away with watching once and never seeing again. Besides, it’s not like there are any characters asking for you to come back.

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. (Captain America: Civil WarDeadpoolAvengers: Age of UltronThe AvengersThe Babadook)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (Olympus Has FallenThe Cable GuyThe Cabin in the WoodsTears of the SunEdge of Tomorrow)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (The InvitationHushGhostbusters (2016)BatmanFree State of Jones)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Doctor StrangeJohnny MnemonicJason BourneSuicide SquadBatman Forever)

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. (The Great WallRobin HoodUnderworldThe Do-OverX-Men: Apocalypse)

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. (Underworld: EvolutionBatman & RobinBloodsportWar, The Ridiculous 6)

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. (Most Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of AngelsCenturionPlanet of the Apes)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (Avalanche SharksCatwomanThe GunmanThe VisitThe Fantastic Four)

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 Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcastSabotage)

My score for Kong: Skull Island: 79.

Kong: Skull Island is an improvement from Jackson’s version. The action sequences are entertaining, the visuals competent though not overreaching and the zoo of creatures we run into is enough to keep some fascination along for the ride, but once that adrenaline wears off when you leave the theater, you realize there wasn’t a character you could care about. You also realize that it doesn’t have a dramatic gut punch, something that just feels needed in a movie with a monster of that proportion.

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Movie Review: The Great Wall

Image result for the great wall movie poster free useThe Great Wall isn’t great and I doubt anyone’s surprised. The trailer for this film looked awful, showcasing awkward line delivery and rather straightforward character arcs. While I am going to spend a fair amount of page bashing this film, I want to say up front this movie isn’t apocalyptically bad. I was expecting it to be, but it does offer some surprises.

Director Zhang Yimou, who’s been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film three times, has a solid resume, producing most of his work in China and Hong Kong. Known for his color palette and cinematography, Yimou demonstrates these attributes in The Great Wall, though neither to the quantity or splendor most of us would prefer. A drama would have been nice but Yimou can’t prevent himself from being a storyteller that wants to awe and shock people through vision rather than capable filmmaking or a conscious script.

Although, I will give him credit for avoiding what I felt would be this film’s biggest hurdle: taking itself too seriously. There are plenty of films I want to take themselves seriously and don’t. It’s unfortunate that’s how it turned out but sometimes it works itself out in the end. Concurrently, there are directors that want to turn everything they do into the most dire of affairs in every aspect, to the point their ambition hinders their product. This is often the case when I sit down for a foreign film. I am well aware that all foreign films are not like this. I just seem to find all of the ones that are, for some reason. All of this goes to say, I was thankful when Matt Damon and his compadre started cracking jokes. That moment of recognition, when you know your film doesn’t have the gravitas to pull off the compelling, is uber-important.

Yimou doesn’t give up on the seriousness, nor do I think he should have, instead trying to balance the seesaw of tension by himself between what may be too much humor and what needs a laugh dropped on top of it to simmer everything down a little. While I commend the effort he puts in to try to keep this ship straight, it’s as difficult as it sounds and he can’t pull it off, mostly because his script writers are sawing off half the contraption with some straight invalid characters (I still, after more than a week, can’t explain why Willem Dafoe is in this) and nauseating line delivery. Watch the trailer above and try to tell me Damon’s “We came to trade” line belongs in any movie. Try to make a semi-decent argument and put it in the comments. That line in the trailer might be the iceberg to the film, honestly. Don’t get me wrong, this ship takes plenty of hits along the way, but this behemoth is the one that puts her down for good.

Which means, most of the talking in this film isn’t relevant. Usually, when I review a foreign film, I have to talk about the already inherent disadvantage it’s at because of the need for subtitles. This film doesn’t have that wall, though it does have the wall of relevancy to face up against and doesn’t fare so well with that. Some narration is needed for the organization of the plot but otherwise, a majority of the dialogue could be removed and you’d still get as far with the story as you would with it in. The characters just don’t mean anything. Yes, we get a few chuckles early as I mentioned above, but there’s a substantial difference between a one-liner machine and a character and we don’t even have a machine here. More like a one-liner chicken having a seizure in the middle of a species war.

Some of the action sequences are attractive enough to hold one’s attention though nowhere near the command of focus a movie that essentially doesn’t have characters requires. Some are plain illogical but at least it warrants a laugh. There’s one scene in particular where Damon’s buddy throws an ax off target and Damon shoots it three separate times with three separate arrows to correct its trajectory. If you enjoy this type of content, you might find yourself halfway to the road of enjoyment. You just need to decide how large the chasm is between badass and stupid.

There are some nice shots from the cinematographer here, with Yimou no doubt having some influence given his past experience as one. There’s also some knowledge passed on about the Great Wall that peaked my interest and shows you some of the inner workings of one of the world’s greatest wonders, though a quick look on Wikipedia may disappoint you either a lot or a little, depending on how much of it you believed.

Despite how underwhelming this film is, I am glad to see it do well at the box office (thus far, $320 million on a $150 million budget) because it means more foreign films will get money thrown at them and, more importantly, it means a real shot at the world spotlight.

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. (Captain America: Civil WarDeadpoolAvengers: Age of UltronThe AvengersThe Babadook)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (Olympus Has FallenThe Cable GuyThe Cabin in the WoodsTears of the SunEdge of Tomorrow)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (The InvitationHushGhostbusters (2016)BatmanFree State of Jones)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Doctor StrangeJohnny MnemonicJason BourneSuicide SquadBatman Forever)

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. (Robin HoodUnderworldThe Do-OverX-Men: ApocalypseD-Tox/Eye See You)

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. (Underworld: EvolutionBatman & RobinBloodsportWar, The Ridiculous 6)

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. (Most Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of AngelsCenturionPlanet of the Apes)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (Avalanche SharksCatwomanThe GunmanThe VisitThe Fantastic Four)

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 Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcastSabotage)

My score for The Great Wall: 52.

Great legends have great characters: Achilles, Leonidas, Robin Hood, King Arthur. The Great Wall doesn’t have one and that’s what drags this film down more than anything. All we can hope for is a better movie in the next worldwide chapter of Chinese cinema.

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