Tag Archives: movie reviews

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Image result for pirates of the caribbean dead men tell no tales movie poster free useBeen a long time. Here’s to the return of WisTim.

Great cinema is precious, as sovereign as an angel and at times, a true blessing to behold. Such grandeur is not created unilaterally but by a team of stars both before and behind the lens. Such performance requires a certain deftness and composure. Superb film making mandates a chimerical touch, both a fascination and a mind willing to push forward both conceptually and contextually. It takes both aplomb and humility with a few pinches of stoicism.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is the pole opposite of these accolades. Dark and desolate, overused and washed up, a stain on the record of a talent beyond his years. That is what POC 5 has to offer. It presents the marketing of a new chapter to one of the better franchises of the 21st century and promptly violates the pureness of it. It is what could have happened to The Force Awakens if the people who became a part of the project decided a tonal shift or crude humor was a missing part of the single most important franchise in film history. Instead, one of the better franchises of our times has been soiled like a sacrificial lamb, though the term sacrificial suggests this was something that needed to happen and it certainly did not. Literally no one was asking for this. No one was asking for a Seth Rogen-esque script writer, one fully reliant on his audience’s enjoyment of ill-mannered bacchanals.

There is one asteroid-sized problem with this scope: a small minority of Pirates of the Caribbean fans walked into a theater, not once, twice or thrice but four times and thought, “I hope this one is like Billy Madison but pirates and Depp.” It seems fair to make this claim because Pirates of the Caribbean had made billions from its loyal fan base that, presumably, enjoyed the content as it was. I do not recall reading a protest online from viewers decrying any Pirates film, vehemently berating the producers for not including more raunchy retorts and less substance in both character and narrative. Who asked for this?

If you haven’t caught the drift yet, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a shipwreck of what was a quite glamorous creative vessel that now, hopefully, has seen its final days. Like many great athletes that can’t bear to leave the game even if it is clearly time, POC5 is a reminder that the end of something beautiful is usually quite ugly.

Johnny Depp’s most critically acclaimed role, at least in these critic’s eyes, is blinding in this installment, a nearly severed connection to the lively, clever swordsman we have come to love. The quick-witted Captain Jack Sparrow is nowhere to be found. Instead, a drunk who’s lost his edge enters from behind the curtain. The envious Sparrow never failed to be one step ahead of us or to keep us enthralled in his parlor tricks. He was a tactician with a smirk of metal as much as he was a coach with near flawless decision-making, traits quite rare among seafarers. He was a king of the dramatic and a prince of the perverse.

That beloved character is physically present but mentally unavailable. The bedrock of this persona isn’t here, nor does it ever feel like Sparrow shows up. Johnny Depp is on the screen dressed as him but the character glorified over four films is not.

It’s especially painful to watch because I can’t emphasize enough how natural this role seemed to come to Depp. It allowed him to show his polished, witty delivery and there’s no doubt Captain Jack Sparrow is the most articulate pirate I’ve ever seen. Look at this. This scene is so Jack Sparrow it’s silly. I could watch this all day.

It does nothing in terms of plot, aside from get Captain Jack to a new location, but it’s premier Johnny Depp, utilized by a scriptwriter who clearly understands the heart of the man and his character.

You’ll be hard strung to find a scene even remotely as good as that here.

I have not been beguiled. Pirates of the Caribbean 5 is not arcane, some great mystery that critics and viewers alike can’t solve. It’s simply a generation that didn’t inherit the praised talent of its ancestors and can’t help but leave a taste of disappointment in all who hoped for more.

It’s hard not to be churlish here. With another captain at the helm of the project and writer at his side, Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Men Tell No Tales falls into the pit of off-color humor, which is so tonally off the mark. Pirates of the Caribbean was flamboyant, excessively melodramatic, making a show out of life. That presentation and exuberance doesn’t arrive and neither does the type of cinematic treasure we’ve come to expect.

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. (SinisterOlympus Has FallenThe Cable GuyThe Cabin in the WoodsTears of the Sun)

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. (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. (Power RangersUnderworld: 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 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales: 46.

Prosaic rather than poetic, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales seems to miss the heart of what made Pirates of the Caribbean intriguing: that both Sparrow and the script could always add something extra that we didn’t see coming, like the scene above to surprise us. It’s a film that has betrayed its identity, and concurrently, its audience.

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Movie Review: Sinister

Image result for sinister movie poster free use2012’s Sinister was written and directed by Doctor Strange foreman Scott Derrickson, who has spent his career on a carousel of horror. Clearly more of a talent here than in the coliseum of superhero novella, Sinister is one of the more notable films of the genre in the last decade.

Sinister was sponsored by Blumhouse, a company that is both a beacon and blot on the brand. Blumhouse has demonstrated that the need to throw millions at a movie in order for it to succeed does not exist. A film can succeed on its merits alone, an important statement. Great ideas should not be skipped over because a major studio has no interest in producing them. It is of great value that art not be controlled by the business moguls, but by the artists themselves. In a way, Blumhouse gave that power back to them, while also giving studios a lesson in theatrical enterprise. The less your story costs, the easier it is to make a profit.

The downfall to this noble approach is some expulsion of honest theater and the arrival of swindlers seeking to make a quick pay day. One of the more attractive qualities to art, at least to me, is its honesty and the pedigree to which it and its practitioners hold themselves. It’s purposefully free, restricted only by the artist’s hand. Blumhouse has unintentionally spoiled the soil.

And look, film making has never been perfect. There have always been hacks trying to discover how to cheat the system or novices that throw scripts together to get a project over with, but I find the horror scene has been overflowing with them, which is a shame, because horror used to be so good. I think it can be, but if there was a staple that needed a renaissance, it would have to be horror (with comedy not too far behind).

What made horror so great back in the day was character. Yes, there were great slasher flicks back then as well, but even character drove those. Halloween is nothing without Michael just as Friday the 13th is nothing without Jason. Character is what drives a story, no matter the mode. I’m talking about movies like The Shining and The Silence of the Lambs, movies with characters so dynamic and so twisted it made your blood flow like a river.

Sinister isn’t a classic, but it does rely heavily on lead Ellison Oswald, played by Ethan Hawke. A true crime writer with an attraction to the grotesque, Ellison moves into the house where a family was murdered with the hopes of discovering what happened to the girl who vanished from the family.

In addition to being a film about mass murders and the vile routes one will go to end a life, it’s also about the seductiveness of ambition. Ellison finds a rack of 8mm tapes, all showcasing a family execution, but driven by his desire of fame and fortune, decides not to report it to the police. Ellison once had great success with Kentucky Blood, his best work, but has been unable to find that grandeur since and he’s thrust himself into obsession chasing it. The story is as much about the paranormal and ghastly crime scene details as it is about the psychological torture that Ellison is putting himself through trying to capture this nagging feeling of resolve. It clouds his judgment and very quickly, he realizes he has screwed up. There’s a scene later in the film where Oswald is watching interviews he did following the release of his big hit, a questionnaire where he talks about how the justice of the victims is far more important than his individual accolades. It’s at this point that he realizes he’s changed, and yet still, he doesn’t turn back. This character dilemma produces a reason for Oswald to push forward in circumstances where nearly everyone else would do the opposite. The scenes where you’re asking, “Why doesn’t he leave?” or “Why would you open the door?” aren’t here. This is a genuine person whose job and life purpose has become going forward.

As seen above, Derrickson does not allow his characters to be the mortar of the story, an important distinction. Characters, in my eyes, should never be the filler. They should be the fountainhead, the first thing that comes up in word association. If you’ve ever watched a slasher flick, you know that is not always the case. Blase characters are easy to remove and almost effortless to write. A true penman possesses the equanimity to pore over his work for days on end, fine tuning his art with the compulsiveness of an addict and commitment of a soldier. With writer C. Robert Cargill molding a capacious lead and hypnotizing creation, Derrickson is free to devote his time to tone and lighting. The film features plenty of shadow work and red-tinted shots to add an unsettling atmosphere to the main cogs of the piece, only drawing you in more.

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. (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. (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. (Power RangersUnderworld: 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 Sinister: 85.

Sinister‘s best allegory is a black hole. It is enormously dark but increasingly enticing and soon, it’s pulling you in and it’s too late to escape. Like the abyss, Sinister is complex and inquisitive, the equilibrium of curiosity and patience. It’s one of my favorite horror films of late.

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Movie Review: Avalanche Sharks

As a kid, a shark was an animal that swam in the water. My parents reminded me every time we went to the beach how important it was that I didn’t go too far in the ocean. I had to be wary of sharks. Sharks are dangerous for obvious reasons.

However, the greatest deed that a shark ever accomplished was not in the water in which it inhabits, but on the screen. Shark movies have made history. Whether it be Jaws, a milestone in film, or Sharknado, a milestone in comedy, sharks have created their own genre. This can be accredited both to the Syfy channel’s persistence to parade some of the most bizarre scripts known to man and the concept that has turned into an enormous bandwagon for the Hollywood market. The need and demand for shark movies is insanely high, probably far higher than it should be and yet, the more ridiculous the title and the story get, the more marketable it seems to be. Sharknado was nascent and now it might be one of the most recognizable phrases in pop culture. It has spawned two sequels and despite the direct-to-DVD stipulation, fans are still talking about it. Sharknado 4 is expected to be released in July and while critics such as myself continue to question this phenomenon’s longevity, it continues to prove us wrong effortlessly and I, guilty as charged, will continue to pay for it.

A while back, before the Sharknado sequel officially came out, there was a film called Avalanche Sharks being advertised. It was rumored to be a Sharknado spinoff, although that was never confirmed. However, the idea of another shark movie even loosely connected to Sharknado was a great marketing pitch. I remember watching this trailer and the feeling I had afterwards. You would think that feeling would be one of malcontent, but I was genuinely excited. This film screams awful, from the acting seen in this minute-and-a-half clip to the special effects or whatever you want to call these visuals. It is bad, purposely so and I was thrilled.

Few films acquire such a taste from an audience. Not many people are going to watch a bad trailer showcasing an even worse film and react with a glorified acceptance speech about how he and his compadres must see this film. Whether you hate or love these incompetent products, you have to admire the marketing side of the spectrum.

With all that set aside, let’s talk about Avalanche Sharks. The plot is absurd and that’s expected and wouldn’t bother me if it wasn’t for the multitude of sideshows we get introduced to, the continual leaning of the film on these Styrofoam characters and the blatant disregard for what started the shark problem in this film in the first place. When you find out, you won’t be upset. You will be outright fuming like a Harley Davidson that’s been running for the last 24 hours and has reeducated its rider about the term “overheat”. It might be the worst cop out in film history. There’s no reasoning. It just is and by just is, I mean just is stupid.

There’s a difference, I believe, in any pursuit, between making something purposefully bad and going out of your way to make someone hate themselves for ever being invested in it. Avalanche Sharks is the latter. Will it turn me off to the shark genre? No, I have thicker skin than that, but I’m still peeved at the level of obnoxiousness this film reaches.

There is some talent required to make a film purposefully bad while still making it mildly appealing and entertaining. The Asylum is especially good at this. Believe it or not, to act bad in an entertaining way, you must have a basic understanding of how to act well. It makes sense when you think about it. To know what not to do, you need to have an understanding of what you’re supposed to do and then incorporate some of both. If you don’t know how to act and you just wing it, you end up with a movie like this, where no one has any idea how to produce anything of substance. The actors in this film have an elementary understanding of how to be a moving piece in a big picture. Aside from its blatant amateurishness, although that might be too polite a term, the acting portrayed here is lifeless and walks the tightrope of overdramatization and effortlessness.

Easily detached from the plot, my mind was the battlefield for a quandary: What do I discuss in this review: How is it possible for anyone to be this bad at anything? Are the actors trying to be this bad or are they actually this bad? The acting underscores any reasonable standard that should be held in a professional environment, even an infantile understanding of the subject of film and theatrics. I’m convinced after Avalanche Sharks’ 82-minute run time that the actors are abusive to any mind. This cast is utterly useless at something and I believe that’s the only takeaway to have after this movie: Know that no matter what you do, you’ll never be as bad at anything as the cast of Avalanche Sharks is at acting.

With the film soured as a whole, any screenwriting delights (of which there are none) are overtaken. The visual effects warrant no admiration and there are far too few sharks for this escapade to carry any enjoyment down the slopes to viewers.

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. (DeadpoolAvengers: Age of UltronThe AvengersThe BabadookInterstellar)

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. (10 Cloverfield LaneCreedScouts Guide to the Zombie ApocalypseCrimson PeakThe Martian)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Hardcore HenryBatman v Superman: Dawn of JusticePride and Prejudice and ZombiesThe Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2Beasts of No Nation)

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. (ConstantineRaceEverestHerculesThe Sentinel)

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. (War, The Ridiculous 6The Lost BoysZombeaversCrank)

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. (CenturionPlanet of the ApesStonadosRedemptionPride and Prejudice)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (CatwomanThe GunmanThe VisitThe Fantastic FourThe Boy Next Door)

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 Avalanche Sharks: 21.

This review was hard to write and if you wish to gather a gist of why that is, feel free to hit play on this Medusa. Otherwise, stay far, far away or else you might be turned to stone for a few days, too.

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Movie Review: Olympus Has Fallen

America. The world’s best and brightest. The land of the free and home of the brave, the stars and stripes, the metropolitans that scrape the sky and the country towns that remind us all of our roots. America the beautiful.

I will admit to having never traveled internationally, nor do I think there is a way to measure patriotism, but as an American, I acknowledge that Americans have a strong sense of nationalism. People here believe in this country more than they believe in themselves. We believe in the American dream.

So when I watch a film like Olympus Has Fallen that screams America, it’s incredibly hard not to enjoy it. I tabbed Olympus Has Fallen as my third favorite film from 2013, but had not reviewed it.

Olympus Has Fallen made it into my top five because of the emotion and patriotic parade it unveils in front of its audiences. Pittsburgh product Antoine Fuqua is known for his ability to convey polarizing emotion, such as in Tears of the Sun and his best work, Training Day, which earned Denzel Washington an Oscar for Best Actor. He puts emotion in a box and let’s it grow naturally. His plot work is often absurd, with Olympus Has Fallen being yet another example, but his dedication to the feel element is noticeable and worth some credit.

Olympus Has Fallen‘s plot is waiting to get put under the knife for dissection. It’s waiting for you to laugh at it, but I don’t think Fuqua cares about any of this. The opening sequences, as frivolous as they are, serve to set the stage, introduce some characters that probably won’t matter later and introduce our hero, Mike Banning (Gerard Butler). Fuqua builds his pieces like a chess amateur. He sets the board and rather than try to confuse or distract his opponent from the moves he’s making, he simply tries to outsmart him. He meets him head-on and dares him to outmuscle him. Audiences have a field day with this approach, especially when the plot is as easy to laugh at as it is here. There are plenty who can watch Olympus Has Fallen and believe this is an all-too-real possibility and others will point out the inaccuracies and implausibilities in the story’s opening frames. It gets to the point of lunacy real quick, but if you stick with it and you wait for the rally that’s bound to happen with Butler at the head, it’ll manage to echo out all of the outside noise shouting how false this movie is.

Olympus Has Fallen seeks to bring America down to show Americans’ strongest attribute: determination. America is unrelenting in its pursuit for justice, freedom and peace. If we take a minute to take Olympus Has Fallen seriously, it seems like an impossible feat. One man against a hundred North Korean terrorists in the most secure building in the world. Against impossible odds, however, America has always overcome. Whether it be international conflict, turmoil here at home, or feats on the stages of sports, America is never out.

I’ve talked about America so much in this review because that’s what Fuqua is going for here. There isn’t a lot of reasons why things go down as they do. You can question it if you want to, as well you should at some points, or you can live it. I know how the saying goes about assuming, but assume for a minute that this happened. You are one man, against a hundred. (Not one of 300 against thousands this go-around, Gerard.) The country’s foundation as we know it rests on your shoulders.

The action and the ‘Merica moments aside, there’s not a lot going on here. Butler’s Banning has some great one-liners that you like to see come out of your action heroes, but in terms of character, it’s superficial. The same can be said for the majority of the cast here. Olympus Has Fallen has little draw to anyone outside of its U.S-intended audience and the lack of personality here subdues it in the end from a critical standpoint. It’s mindless action, but has emotion entangled with it, and that emotion makes all the difference in the world.

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. (DeadpoolAvengers: Age of UltronThe AvengersThe BabadookInterstellar)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (The Cable GuyThe Cabin in the WoodsTears of the SunEdge of TomorrowThe Amazing Spider-Man 2)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (CreedScouts Guide to the Zombie ApocalypseCrimson PeakThe MartianBlack Mass)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Pride and Prejudice and ZombiesThe Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2Beasts of No NationTerminator: GenisysBlack Sheep)

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. (RaceEverestHerculesThe SentinelMad Max: Fury Road)

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. (War, The Ridiculous 6The Lost BoysZombeaversCrank)

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. (CenturionPlanet of the ApesStonadosRedemptionPride and Prejudice)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (CatwomanThe GunmanThe VisitThe Fantastic FourThe Boy Next Door)

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 Olympus Has Fallen: 84.

Did Olympus Has Fallen deserve to make my top five in 2013? Probably not. With that said, I can see why I ranked it that way. Fuqua’s piece is ready to lead the charge. All you have to do is follow his lead.

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Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 might be the most trivial piece in theaters this year. I was so livid that at one point I shouted, “That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard” in the theater (everyone got a good laugh out of that).

After Mockingjay Part 1, I was irritated and I feel I had all the right to be. Mockingjay‘s first half was a rundown mall closing one shop at a time, the demolition of the building a certainty. The characters were set to the side, the plot was more trivial than its better half and what was once an action series with questions of theology, morality and survival became a long-winded theater presentation on how to create a political campaign. Everdeen was disgusted the whole film and she had all the right to be. She wasn’t doing anything aside from modeling in front of a camera and pandering to the masses as to the good of the rebellion, which is all fine and dandy, as long as you don’t turn what takes ten or so minutes to illustrate into a two-hour lecture. The famous Lord of the Rings quote goes “butter over too much bread”. Mockingjay Part 1 felt like butter over too little bread, just stacks and stacks of butter on mere shrivels of bread that no matter how you look at it, just isn’t appetizing.

In comes Mockingjay: Part 2 to remove the stamp of disapproval from its latest installment from my memory. The film had an uphill climb ahead of it. After its first two installments were 80’s material and relevant in pop culture and in literature adaptations, for me, Mockingjay Part 1 demonstrated all that’s wrong with it. I have little doubt Collins’ novel was descriptive, thought-provoking and moderately alluring whereas Francis Lawrence’s work last year developed no cares with me.

Mockingjay: Part 2 surpasses its older sibling and with lavish strides, but that isn’t saying too much, especially when its oldest siblings, Hunger Games and Catching Fire, remain so far ahead of it.

I’m sure fans of the novels enjoy a chance to reminisce but Collins’ novel must be leagues beyond this scrap heap. The first two were capable but I haven’t seen a cash grab this desperate since The Hobbit, which was far worse I might add.

Lawrence is worthy of far better than this and the over-politicization is like watching a five-year-old try to do hurdles and continue to trip and fall on his face. It reeks of desperation and feels like a Hollywood spin on a Greek tragedy, killing characters with no development and hoping the few that remain can live happily ever after.

What Mockingjay: Part 2 does, and does so desperately, is try to return to the scenery it previously set up and what once defined this series: the Hunger Games themselves. The film playfully drops a “Welcome to the 76th Hunger Games” line in there, like, “Get excited” but does little to attract my fancy. The barbaric animalistic tendencies of the Hunger Games competitors as well as the oppression of the government produced a trampoline to elevate its story into the upper echelons of discussions of sociology, political upheaval and in what cases rebellion is acceptable. Instead, Lawrence elected to jump on a rock next to the trampoline and hold a level one course of how to make a political campaign, completly avoiding the filthy work that truly gets things done: violence, oppression, upheaval and fight, as if the topics of the first two films were of poor taste or that going further into the muck and true realities of humanity were too nasty a topic to discuss to the next generations. Instead, we see Katniss and the rebels try to defeat Panem with aggressive advertisements. Oh no!

In my opinion, Mockingjay: Part 1 went in the polar opposite direction it should have. I have yet to read Collins’ original works and frankly, after these last two films, I don’t think I have the desire to, but if these were the avenues Collins decided to deduce in front of her readers, she chose unwisely.

What I believe critics applauded about these films was their ability to narrate key issues of morality and themes of natural selection aside from the plot and script line. These last two films, they’re mashed together like a glob of Play-Doh.

Few things sadden me more than an artist halfway through a fine work and then losing the initiative to continually meet and surpass the standards it has laid before it. These last two installments put the films in jeopardy of remaining in the public eye and I wouldn’t be surprised if they faded like Narnia. The first two had far more potential than Divergent, but they either let it sit out and spoil or threw it into the oven till it was ash.

The relationship between Katniss and Peeta never reaches the depth I feel it could have nor is a dominant love triangle developed. In all of his appearances, Gale comes across as a self-righteous, judgmental and insensitive bigot. Again, I’m sure this is more accurately painted in the novel but we’re not talking about the novels right now. Right now, we’re talking about what’s wrong with novel adaptations and this is a reasonable example.

The truth is, I love novel adaptations in film. A lot of huge strides have been made in film thanks to literature. It’s allowed me to find a new passion for reading as well, which is why I’m starting my BVF series (Book vs. Film). It’s easier to write a great character in a novel than it is an original film. While I hope producers, directors and screenwriters continue to develop their own ideas and not lean on literature to keep the industry standing, there are some stories that people wouldn’t have known about if it wasn’t for the adaptations.

In my opinion, Mockingjay Part 2 is a story I could have lived my life having never known about.

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. (Avengers: Age of UltronThe AvengersThe BabadookInterstellarChappie)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (The Cable GuyThe Cabin in the WoodsTears of the SunEdge of TomorrowThe Amazing Spider-Man 2)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (Scouts Guide to the Zombie ApocalypseCrimson PeakThe MartianBlack Mass,Enemy at the Gates)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Beasts of No NationTerminator: GenisysBlack SheepTwistedParker)

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. (EverestHerculesThe SentinelMad Max: Fury RoadBlitz)

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. (The Lost BoysZombeaversCrankErasedI, Frankenstein)

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. (CenturionPlanet of the ApesStonadosRedemptionPride and Prejudice)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (The VisitThe Fantastic FourThe Boy Next DoorThe ColonyIn the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale)

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 Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2: 66.

Its plot is predictable, its characters don’t get chances for a lot of substantial non-plot-oriented dialogue and the action pieces, for the most part, are once again disappointing. I will remember the first two installments with fondness but these last two, I wish they were never made and I believe all those who are true fans of the series should be able to look at these and discern the difference in their quality level.

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Movie Review: Beasts of No Nation

It’s been a whole month since I’ve blogged. It’s been a while.

I’m dealing with a lot of things right now. I’ve still been watching and I have written some reviews, just never clicked that publish button.

Get ready for some reviews, NFL power rankings from the last few weeks and eventually, sports reports so we can recap the best and worst performances of the year.

I’m starting up a new series called BVF, or Book versus Film, in which I’ll read a book, view the movie adaptation, discuss the highlights of both and conclude which brings more to the table.

Please remember that all of my series (Winners And Losers, Best Picture Journey, and now BVF) are side projects. With winners and losers, I’m trying to see at least ten films with each actor/actress/director before I include them and I want to make sure I write the best review of a Best Picture winner that I possibly can. BVF will be more of the same. Getting novels takes time but I will have the first installment of that series posted by the end of the week. For now, let’s get into this.

Netflix has been coming out with original content for a few years now but recently decided to take that a step further, purchasing the rights to Beasts of No Nation. This is a new direction for Netflix and hopefully one that works, because Amazon Prime and Hulu are trying to grab pieces of the online streaming pie as well.

That also means Beasts of No Nation had to make a statement with both audiences and critics and has thus far. It holds a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes based on more than 100 reviews, no small feat.

Yet calling Beasts of No Nation a beast of its own would be a lie, because as much as it tries, it struggles to bust out of the cage, that cage being the bars of creativity, original story and acting proficiency.

Director Cary Fukunaga may have worked seven years on the script, but I’m unsure where all the time went. The film is based on a novel of the same name and as we’ve seen from film adaptations lately, such as The Martian, much of the groundwork is already laid down for the visual cover. A great script and dialogue born from the pen of a natural storyteller should be expected from a film sharing material from a previous work and yet so often that is not the case nor is it here.

The truth is, Beasts of No Nation is soft. A story of survival and redemption should be gripping and its tenacity should command attention. It should parade such resolve and appeal that the breathing of its audience turns shallow, they’re so fearful of what comes next. A film based on audience alignment and experience parallels should demonstrate control and a strong compass. Beasts of No Nation, however, can barely contrive enough to keep me watching.

Dramas should want to keep its audience close but Fukunaga’s West African war creation only has the gravity to keep us where we are, not the strength to pull us closer. Like a large, unwanted boulder, we find ourselves incapable of moving this story out of the way and have no choice but to tolerate it and hope it traverses somewhere that makes our time dedicated to it feel worthwhile.

I’m being honest when I say it gets somewhere but I’m being equally honest when I tell you that point doesn’t come until the last fifteen minutes of this near two-and-a-half-hour charade. A film this long should have a huge payoff but the meal I have been presented with is mere crumbs when compared to what I’ve been teased with. A story of survival, the loss of child innocence, growing up in dire circumstances and seeing the world as it is for the first time turns out to be a film about a child who loses his family, is forced into a clan and then meanders around with things surely going on upstairs that we’re not privy to until the final scenes, which by this point is like a meal I ordered two and a half hours ago finally being brought out cold.

So should you get excited for Beasts of No Nation? No, I see no reason to but despite all of the beating I’ve given it, Beasts of No Nation is watchable. The acting stints from Idris Elba and first-timer Abraham Attah are average, no doubt limited by a casserole of a script that seems unsure what it wants to taste like. A story of survival doesn’t allow for character development as much as it allows for audience connection which is why the script’s failings are so crucial to this film’s overall success or lack thereof. Attah’s inexperience as an actor does come through at times, leaving a void in the already limited narrative.

The film’s visual storytelling is where the film hits pay dirt. The scenery and tone are constant in the visual sense. There’s no doubt where we are or what situation were in. The present is made very clear to us. There’s just no urgency to move in a direction nor an aspiration to make us feel or think about the underlying meanings that may or may not be there.

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. (Avengers: Age of UltronThe AvengersThe BabadookInterstellarChappie)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (The Cable GuyThe Cabin in the WoodsTears of the SunEdge of TomorrowThe Amazing Spider-Man 2)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (The MartianBlack Mass,Enemy at the GatesAnchorman 2: The Legend ContinuesLeon: The Professional)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Terminator: GenisysBlack SheepTwistedParkerHouse at the End of the Street)

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. (EverestHerculesThe SentinelMad Max: Fury RoadBlitz)

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. (The Lost BoysZombeaversCrankErasedI, Frankenstein)

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. (CenturionPlanet of the ApesStonadosRedemptionPride and Prejudice)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (The VisitThe Fantastic FourThe Boy Next DoorThe ColonyIn the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale)

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 Beasts of No Nation: 61.

Beasts of No Nation isn’t a great film and it’s not an average film, but Netflix could have done a lot worse with their premier film. The acting turns and detail behind the camera make for a decent watch, but it’s not one I plan to revisit.

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Movie Review: Outcast

Before I start, I wanted to say thank you to everyone who read my piece, Regret, yesterday and today. Thanks to you guys, I set a new record for likes on the blog in one day. I recognize I don’t write life posts half as much as I’d like and I’ll try to make it more of a priority.

The trailer for Outcast looked like garbage. Jon’s least favorite actor is Hayden Christensen of Star Wars infamy. Outcast featured Christensen and Nicolas Cage. We had to see this.

So my roommate and I said we would see it over the summer because that was the impression that we gathered, that it was coming out this summer. Two weeks later, I’m looking through movies at Walmart and there’s Outcast. We split the cost and agreed we’d watch it for the last Bad Movie Wednesday of the semester.

So we watched it yesterday and man, did it suck.

In my last review on Crank, I talked about immediate immersion, inserting an audience into a plot with no context.

Crank did a fair job of demonstrating this type of intro. Outcast does not.

Throwing us into a medieval Crusade fight scene and taping people getting chopped and stabbed is not attention-grabbing. The only way you begin a film with a fight scene is with stellar special effects and awe-inducing stunt choreography.

Outcast does neither and accrues no connection to the characters. Had Christensen or Cage died in the opening minutes, I wouldn’t have cared. The film gave me no reason to, so why should I?

So people die and I have no cares to give and suddenly we’re in China three years later. There is no introduction of our main characters. I don’t even remember a name drop. No “how long have they been fighting”, “what bond do they have”, nothing. Whatever. I’m already cringing.

So now we’re in China and the dying emperor decides he wants his youngest son, who throughout the course of the film will prove his incompetence, inability to listen and irresponsibility, to be his successor. Guess China’s screwed.

Knowing his eldest son, a ruthless warrior, will not agree with the decision, the emperor sends his son and youngest daughter away with the royal seal.

The acting in these opening segments is especially horrid and the dialogue as unoriginal as the song, Happy Birthday. The execution of the lines is so poorly handled. I don’t know how a guy can sit in a director’s chair, listen to this delivery and be satisfied at even a mediocre level let alone a final cut standard.

Which brings me to a quick sidenote: Why are bloggers in the film community on WordPress not getting placed in the director’s chair? We have all seen films that would have been better served in an ashtray and films that shower us with spectacle after spectacle. We know what attracts and detracts. With all of the creative minds on this planet, how are we being skipped for movies when a novice like Nick Powell can direct a film? Makes no sense to me. I’m confident, either individually or together, that we could make a better film than Outcast.

There’s no acting prowess on this screen. I don’t know what happened to Nicolas Cage, if the guy has lost his mind or has simply been taking too many roles for paychecks but the guy’s got nothing. His try-hard British accent is laughable and his best acting moments are the tipping of the bottle. Real hard stuff.

College Humor did a piece a few years ago entitled “Nicolas Cage’s Agent” and the reason it remains so hilarious today is because every cent of it is true. Cage is the real life embodiment of the yes man. I don’t think he’s ever said no once in his entire life. If the guy were just starting out, I would understand his willingness to grab it all. However, Cage has talent in front of the camera. All jokes aside, we’ve seen it before. We know it’s in there somewhere, but for some reason, he continues to scribble over his name and tarnish his reputation for buffalo chips like this. The only role he’s played that I’ve read positive reviews about in the last five years is Joe.

There’s losing your way and then there’s not giving a crap and I’m starting to think Cage is the latter, which really ticks me off because he’s wasting everyone’s time. If you don’t want to do your best in something, don’t do it.

Of course, how can we forget Hayden Christensen and his mohawk. Yes, I said mohawk. For some reason, the crew thought Mohawks were a thing during the 13th century. Pretty stupid. Actually, I think the correct term would be ugly stupid. There’s nothing pretty about that.

So we got Christensen high on opium and yet his character is able to demolish a party of palace guards with his unbalanced vision, including throwing a staff 30 feet into a guy’s eye, inches from the princess’ head. Ummmmmm…..NO.

There’s no thrill to the action, the plot trudges and I really don’t want to talk about the dialogue again.

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. (InterstellarChappieAmerican BeautyGone GirlMulan)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (The Cable GuyThe Cabin in the WoodsTears of the SunEdge of TomorrowThe Amazing Spider-Man 2)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (EquilibriumDead Snow: Red vs. DeadSnowpiercerThe FamilyWhen the Game Stands Tall)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Black SheepTwistedParkerHouse at the End of the StreetThe Raven)

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. (BlitzThe PunisherDrive HardRun All NightRage)

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. (CrankErasedI, FrankensteinThe Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)

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. (CenturionPlanet of the ApesStonadosRedemptionPride and Prejudice)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (The ColonyIn the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege TaleThe GreyX-Men: Days of Future PastThor: The Dark World)

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.” (SabotageGallowwalkersTucker & Dale vs. EvilSafeWatchmen)

My score for Outcast: 18.

With a script that would bore third-graders and stunt choreography that is a dishonor to Asian culture, Outcast falls on its sword more times than Cage has in the last two years. In other words, many, many times. However, this will not be the last time you hear of Outcast: two weeks ago, producer Jeremy Bolt announced plans for a sequel. Crap.

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Movie Review: Blitz

I watched Jason Statham star in Chaos on Sunday night but don’t remember as much from the film as I would like so I didn’t write a review. To make up for it, I scrolled through my Netflix history for films I watched but didn’t review. I give you the cop-killer film, Blitz, starring Jason Statham yet again.

I’m obsessed with the guy’s accent, the power he can bring to a few lines of dark humor and the burlesque films he continually stars in. If you have no idea what burlesque is, that’s okay. I didn’t either. I’m trying to learn new words lately and expand my vocabulary.

burlesque- an artistic composition, especially literary or dramatic, that, for the sake of laughter, vulgarizes lofty material or treats ordinary material with mock dignity.

Statham’s films have that mocking gumption flavor to them but Blitz plays a stark contrast to Statham’s previous work.

One of Statham’s more memorable introductions is featured in Elliott Lester’s 2011 British crime thriller. I don’t know why but for some reason, this film seems so much older than that. It’s got a 90’s feel to it and perhaps that’s because the script seems so barren, the story so predictable and the acting so devoid of life.

Perhaps that’s being a little harsh but when I first saw Blitz on TV, I hated it. I watched it a second time with my roommate, Jon, during the fall semester and still wasn’t wild about it. I gave it a third try and I’m done with it. It’s just not my cup of tea.

Detective Sergeant Tom Brant has anger management issues, but he’s also really good at his job: getting thugs behind bars. He’s tested when someone starts targeting cops. It’s up to Brant to catch the perp and do it before he finds himself in front of the barrel.

It’s basic enough but not very complicated or intriguing and the cast list doesn’t instill much confidence either which is both this film’s downfall and Statham’s seemingly impassable barrier to becoming a brighter star on the Hollywood strip.

Statham is a hard-working actor that guarantees a genuine attempt at making a film all its own, but he doesn’t have the acting flair required to carry a great film on his shoulders. He’s one of the better action stars of the past decade and some of the stunts this guy pulls off are gravity-defying. It’s when the compass begins to point up and Statham attempts a film out of his genre that the windows fog over.

Crime thrillers are built on a story’s suspension, its ability to remain aloft and out of reach but still appeal to our sense of intrigue while it plays puppeteer upstairs. Thrillers are meant to toy with our minds and thrill us, hence the term thriller. Thrillers are meant to be manipulative. If you watch a thriller and aren’t thinking about it a few minutes after watching it, then the thrill wasn’t there, the thriller didn’t thrill and the film failed at its primary purpose.

Lester seems decided on exploring a variety of topics in his film but runs away from them as soon as he opens the envelope like a kid jumping in and out of puddles or an artist trying to dab his paintbrush in all the colors on his palette. We’ve got drugs, alcoholism and police brutality and rather than have a few minutes to decide how the audience feels about all these things, we’re swung through a drive-thru of cinema and they’re onto the next customer before they served the first one.

For example, there’s a scene where Brant goes to visit one of the new inspectors, Sergeant Porter Nash (Paddy Considine) and confides to him that he’s losing it, that he’s blacking out. Nash tells a personal tale and Brant falls asleep during it for comedy reasons. The discussion of Brant’s “losing it” and “blacking out” is never brought up again. Why’s it in there then?

Blitz teases audiences with relevant material but then, like a bratty sixth-grader, laughs in our face for believing him and instead hands us some more toothless dialogue and unrelated subplots.

Statham’s never given the chance to flex or demonstrate his forte: action sequences. Aside from a long chase scene where Statham shows us he can run and do a little parkour, Statham’s experience as a stuntmaster is never utilized. The stunts are sometimes the only entertainment you can get from a Statham film and Lester finds a way to steal that enjoyment from us, too.

Statham’s got some fun quips and jabs here and there to throw around but there’s no diversity to his character.

The subplots are a waste of time and our villain, played by Aidan Gillen, is a punk. The concept of a character not giving a crap works but the execution here is porous. Gillen is not a talented enough actor to pull this off.

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. (InterstellarChappieAmerican BeautyGone GirlMulan)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (The Cable GuyThe Cabin in the WoodsTears of the SunEdge of TomorrowThe Amazing Spider-Man 2)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (EquilibriumDead Snow: Red vs. DeadSnowpiercerThe FamilyWhen the Game Stands Tall)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Black SheepTwistedParkerHouse at the End of the StreetThe Raven)

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 PunisherDrive HardRun All NightRageZoolander)

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. (ErasedI, FrankensteinThe Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesBilly Madison)

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. (CenturionPlanet of the ApesStonadosRedemptionPride and Prejudice)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (The ColonyIn the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege TaleThe GreyX-Men: Days of Future PastThor: The Dark World)

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.” (SabotageGallowwalkersTucker & Dale vs. EvilSafeWatchmen)

My score for Blitz: 57.

It might say crime thriller on the cover, but Blitz never gets to the point of thrilling anyone. The acting aside from Statham struggles, the villain is out of his league and undercut, the film fails to take advantage of Statham’s stunt aptitude, the subplots are excessively horrid, especially the acting from Zawe Ashton, and there was a need for a stronger costar to stand alongside Statham. Luke Evans was present but given an off-the-street role. Basically, this review is short because I’m tired of devoting any more of my time to this.

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Movie Review: Drive Hard

For my brother. You’re welcome.

My brother Chris and I went to Walmart with my mom and dad the other day. Something we love to do is look at the movies and poke fun at the sludge Walmart calls film. My brother picked this up and we got a good laugh out of this. The front cover of this just screams stupid. The title is the cherry on top. Drive Hard? Really? That’s the best you could come up with?

But it got better still because it had John Cusack in it. No offense to Mr. Cusack, but I hate him, possibly more than any actor in Hollywood today. He has been in so many sewage films that watching a film that opens with John Cusack is like trying to acquire the willpower to put your head in a poop-filled toilet. It’s grotesque, it’s unsanitary and it’s unpleasant and you can’t think of any reason why you’d want to do that and for good reason: normal, sane people don’t put their heads in poop-filled toilets.

We didn’t buy it though because I had already spent money on a crappy movie to watch for you guys, which I’ll be watching and reviewing soon for your amusement.

Needless to say, I pulled an all-nighter the other day. On rare occasions, I find myself with extra energy and just don’t feel like going to bed. When I say rare, I mean like once every two or three months so don’t expect this to happen again for a very long time. Anyway, I watched Equilibrium earlier if you haven’t checked that out yet and I’m looking through Netflix and guess what’s in the New Releases section? Drive Hard.

I don’t believe in coincidences and so I felt obligated to watch this. I wasn’t looking forward to it at all. It’s John Cusack, guys. It’s like having diarrhea and vomiting while stepping on LEGOs. You wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

On the other hand, Cusack actually got a win on the board for his work in The Raven. Not overly memorable, but the guy didn’t push my buttons for once and dare I say, might have tried to act in it. Maybe Drive Hard would grant me such a mercy.

Drive Hard starts with an ad from the Australia Department of Tourism. Not really, but like Peter Jackson with Lord of the Rings, director Brian Trenchard-Smith provides us with a lot of panoramic shots of the city landscape and countryside. Australia looks like a nice place, guys.

The way this story plays out is far less exciting.

Former racecar driver Peter Roberts (Thomas Jane) is now a part-time driving instructor and is finding it difficult to provide for his wife and daughter. His wife didn’t like him driving so he quit and Roberts now has no real motivation to get up in the morning or really do anything with his barren life. It’s evident in the film’s opening scenes that his wife and daughter are embarrassed by him and view him as a nuisance more than a husband and father.

His first client of the day is Simon Keller (John Cusack) and right away you can tell something is off with this guy. Garbed in black with driving gloves on, Keller seems to be taking the whole thing a little too seriously or as Roberts is about to find out, a little too recklessly, but Roberts has no idea how reckless they’re going to get.

Thomas Jane is from The Punisher by the way and if you didn’t know that don’t worry because it didn’t hit me during the entire movie. I’m usually really good with facial recognition but it never hit me that this was the same guy. I’m sure the fact that The Punisher was such a terrible movie probably had something to do with it.

Anyway, Keller has Roberts drive to the bank so he can pay him for the lesson only to come out shooting with a briefcase and suddenly Roberts is a hostage getaway driver.

Drive Hard shoots right out of the barrel but not smoothly. There’s a difference between striving forward and getting sloppy. Drive Hard chose the latter, kerplunking and clanking out of the starting gate in a way films are simply not supposed to go. This film accelerated at a TV show pace like the whole story needed to be told in a half hour.

The blueprint for this film maintains no real intrigue and lacks a hook. The boring plot synopsis coupled with that counterproductive cover poster will most likely leave this film on the shelves in stores to be made a mockery of unless you like to willingly subject yourself to apparent trashy content. I see no real reason why you would want to pick this up. Had it not been for my brother, Chris, pulling this out at Walmart, I never would have watched this. If it looks like a B-movie and it reads like a B-movie, chances are it’s a B-movie.

I’ll admit sometimes it’s worth the risk but my experience is that the risk will end up with the prize at the end of the day. Watch what interests you, don’t pick up things that look stupid. Pretty simple.

It claims to be an action-comedy, yet remove the adrenaline-less car chase and you have little to jump at.

Drive Hard is a character-driven story. Roberts is falling into self-loathing and Keller’s a thief that delivers the pep talks and advice that Roberts so clearly requires.

These characters are not typical yet not genuine either. Keller, despite being a thief, doesn’t kill people and doesn’t lie. He’s an honest guy, something that seems contradictory of what a thief is supposed to be but I accepted it as a road less taken and expected further progression down this road. Drive Hard doesn’t go any farther.

There’s a certain irony in watching a film titled Drive Hard where there is no driving force pushing the story forward. It would be as if a NASCAR driver drove 15 laps around the track and then went for a pit stop. The mechanics fill the tank, tap the back, saying, “go, go, go” and nothing happens. They run to the side and look in the window and no one’s home. The driver has disappeared.

The laidback approach stints the tempo and tone of Drive Hard and at no point did I think anything was going to happen. There’s no engine and no conflict. Keller robs the bank and Roberts eludes the cops, but aside from the continuous dialogue between the two, there’s plenty of land ready for farming that Trenchard-Smith remains oblivious to. Instead, he swerves the camera in the direction of a corrupt police force and money laundering scheme. This refocusing mutated a subplot into a second story fighting for tape time, adding yet another negative to an already error-filled equation.

This is typical of John Cusack’s films and yes, I know Drive Hard‘s faults are not his doing. John Cusack wasn’t a negative. He was a positive.

One of Cusack’s best tools in his acting repertoire is the ability to pander and emphasize things the script doesn’t tell him to. In essence, to extrapolate some sort of character and improvise in front of the camera. Cusack has wit but is generally awkward. Dialogue just doesn’t go through him naturally.

Here, Drive Hard embraces that bumbling and makes it a part of the character rather than a part of Cusack. Keller’s sarcastic, straightforward and calm, composed demeanor will bash against Roberts’ out-of-sorts personality.

As the rubber wears down, Roberts and Keller develop a friendship in the most absurd of circumstances. The conversations aren’t devoid of humor albeit very dry and that quirkiness is what kept this vehicle going even though Cusack and Jane had to push it themselves.

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. (InterstellarChappieAmerican BeautyGone GirlMulan)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (The Cable GuyThe Cabin in the WoodsTears of the SunEdge of TomorrowThe Amazing Spider-Man 2)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (EquilibriumDead Snow: Red vs. DeadSnowpiercerThe FamilyWhen the Game Stands Tall)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Black SheepTwistedParkerHouse at the End of the StreetThe Raven)

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. (Run All NightRageZoolanderThe Expendables 3Homefront)

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. (ErasedI, FrankensteinThe Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesBilly Madison)

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. (CenturionPlanet of the ApesStonadosRedemptionPride and Prejudice)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (The ColonyIn the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege TaleThe GreyX-Men: Days of Future PastThor: The Dark World)

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.” (SabotageGallowwalkersTucker & Dale vs. EvilSafeWatchmen)

My score for Drive Hard: 53.

For once, Cusack is a highlight of a film and I mean that wholeheartedly, but Trenchard-Smith’s need for directionless subplots is such that Cusack and Jane don’t get the time they deserve or the writing depth they should have had. With no engine and no conflict, Drive Hard is about a friendship made in a getaway car and it would have done the cast and crew a favor to put a cam on the dash and just let them drive rather than continue to try to make a B-movie action flick that all in all was more at a D-grade level.

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Movie Review: Twisted

I watched this about a month ago and thought it was okay but the review for it got pushed back until I didn’t feel writing one would be fair to the material, which has happened to quite a few films this year. I’m going to try to go back to each one, watch it again and write reviews. Keep in mind that some of these were pretty pitiful and will be painful to relive. Be thankful.

It’s yet another Samuel L. Jackson movie and I’m still not sick of the guy nor do I think I ever will be. Samuel L. Jackson is the man. That’s why I made him my profile picture 🙂

However, the camera focuses on Ashley Judd’s Jessica Shepard, a crime-fighting cop brought into the world by a serial killer.

That alone is intriguing enough to hold my attention. You’d forever have self-identity issues, constantly concerning yourself, wondering if the murderous gene had been passed on to you, if your fate was already predetermined. Could you ever outrun your family’s wrongdoings?

Based off those few ponderings, I was expecting a lot from this character. I mean, this isn’t a drop in the pond of characters. This is some deep material.

Yet Twisted seems oblivious to the expectations of the audience and treats Judd’s Shepard like any other character in a thriller. No special treatment or further effort is put into her. She’s our protagonist and that’s it. The fact that her father was a serial killer and ended his streak by killing her mother before killing himself is apparently not worth remembering.

Philip Kaufman helped write the story for Raiders of the Lost Ark and directed 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. These are two successful films that had such character writing and I therefore would expect similar results from him here. Twisted was one of the last films he directed so perhaps he just lost the spark in the latter half of his career, but that doesn’t mean his product is going to get viewed any differently by me.

It’s a story that plops and plods along the road rather than sneakily skulking across dark alleyways, which is the manner you would expect a thriller to move. There’s a rat’s portion of suspense at the beginning, but it dwindles down because questionable plot points steal our attention from the tempo and tone at the beginning.

The plot ends up going ahead without its badly needed sidekick, suspense, and suffers greatly for it. Without suspense, many films in the thriller genre struggle to maintain a firm hold on our minds. Without the two-pronged attack of story and seasoning, many stories can come across as bland and seen-before ripoffs. Soon the film’s on its way down a slippery slope of bland characters, cheesy dialogue and boredom.

We’re welcomed into the film’s experience but following the opening scene, we’re almost shooed out the door by the film’s lack of self-confidence. Twisted seems unsure of who it is, as does our focal point Shepard. She has no social life outside of her interactions with co-workers. Her daily life could be summed up in three words: work, drink, sleep. Perhaps that might be okay once in a while, but on a continual basis, that’s pretty depressing.

All of the tape spent on Shepard binge-drinking could have been used on her inner demons, something we actually cared about. No need to bash me over the head with the bottle for fifteen minutes.

Despite Shepard’s mental state, she gets promoted to investigator and gets a new partner, Mike Delmarco (Andy Garcia). Her father’s partner, John Mills (Samuel L. Jackson), raised her and is now the police commissioner so I guess this is what happens when you know people. On the first day, there’s already a brutal murder and Shepard knows him. They had a one-night stand a couple of weeks ago.

That’s yet another part of Shepard’s life that I forgot to mention above. Actually, her life could be summed up in four words: work, sex, drink, sleep.

I like the sleeping with the victim aspect, but question Shepard’s choices. Hooking up in a bar doesn’t make you a bad person, but since we’re talking about someone who is in a fragile mental state, what purpose do one-night stands serve? Pleasure? That’s really all you’re getting out of it. You’re still the same distraught daughter of a serial killer you were before and you still hate yourself. Unless you add nymphomaniac to her character description, which I’ll admit I did, there’s little point to these scenes. The only possible meaning is that all the people she cares about are dying, except for the fact that these were one-night stands and she didn’t really care about them at all,. It was just a sexual hook-up. Yeah, it’s tragic but there wasn’t any lost sleep over these deaths.

Maybe that’s a little heartless on my part, but these middle segments felt overstretched like an over-sized caterpillar trying to keep its front half and its back half together. The wheels were very close to falling off this project and I’m grateful they didn’t but still frustrated this film wasn’t hitting zero to 60 in ten minutes. Let’s go! What are you waiting for? Most of these plot points don’t need to be here!

What I was looking for, personally, was a character profile and I don’t feel my expectation was unwarranted. When your Netflix summary is “Jessica, a cop, is more dedicated to her job than most of her colleagues, as she feels she has a lot to make up for: Her father was a serial killer,” I don’t feel I was being unfair with my expectations. That’s what drew me to this in the first place: cop, her father was a serial killer. That’s a catchy idea, definitely one that I’m sure hooked a lot more fish than me, but the execution is really frustrating. Twisted wastes so much time with Shepard finding bodies with the same M.O. instead of Shepard finding herself, which in my opinion, was the theme this thriller thrillingly ignored. Talk about taking the wind outta the sails.

Instead, Shepard and Delmarco serve as plot-pushers and occasionally have some fair dialogue but don’t contribute much to the film’s afterthoughts and by that I mean, no one really cares. When I leave a film, I like to sit for a few minutes and think about what quintessentially held this film together and made it meaningful/memorable. I sat and thought about Twisted and thought, “The only things this film really succeeded in were the philosophical questions presented before the film even started and casting Samuel L. Jackson because that man is hilarious and commanding in his roles.”

One of those things didn’t even happen in the movie and Samuel L. Jackson was a side role!

My anger aside, Twisted did keep me somewhat interested even though there was no suspenseful draw to it. For example, the film spends a solid half-hour if not more trying to convince us that Shepard committed these murders and I wasn’t buying it for a second. Explanation in the spoiler’s edition.

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. (American BeautyGone GirlMulanGuardians of the GalaxyDawn of the Planet of the Apes)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (The Cabin in the WoodsTears of the SunEdge of TomorrowThe Amazing Spider-Man 2Young Guns)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too.(SnowpiercerThe FamilyWhen the Game Stands TallBlack Hawk DownRed Dawn(2012))

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (ParkerHouse at the End of the StreetThe RavenDead SnowRubber)

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. (RageZoolanderThe Expendables 3HomefrontG.I. Joe: Retaliation)

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. (I, FrankensteinThe Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesBilly MadisonA Haunted House)

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. (CenturionPlanet of the ApesStonadosRedemptionPride and Prejudice)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (The GreyX-Men: Days of Future PastThor: The Dark WorldThe Sum of All Fears)

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.” (SabotageGallowwalkersTucker & Dale vs. EvilSafeWatchmen)

My score for Twisted: 64.

All in all, Twisted is not deserving of its 1% on Rotten Tomatoes, but certainly wasted a lot of potential that may have given critics the wrath required to score it that way. The acting was fine, but could not breach the proficient boundary because of the scripting. Honestly, we’re talking about Netflix here and we all know you could do a lot worse than this on there, so don’t let my frustration coming out on the page push you away from giving this a shot. I had some fun with this and I’ll give the writers props for the final third. The twist wasn’t bad, though certainly brings more questions than answers.

*SPOILER ALERT* IF YOU DON’T WANT THE MOVIE SPOILED, STOP READING!!!

*SPOILER’S EDITION*

Shepard’s an alcoholic and during one of her binges, passes out but not in the way that people usually pass out. She is very composed, clearly knows how to hold her liquor from her daily experience with it. Then out of the blue she’s dazed, confused and has tunnel vision and passes out flat in three seconds. I’m not a doctor, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how you pass out. However, I decided it was probably the film being stupid and let it pass. Then she’s drinking at home again and it happens a second time. Again, I’m not a doctor, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how you pass out.

Now, I hate seeing the doctor as much as anyone, but if you pass out like that two separate times in that narrow a time period, you go to the doctor. Shepard doesn’t do that because she’s evidently stupid.

It seemed pretty obvious that she was drugged and I guessed roofies, not because I’m a doctor but because that was the only drug I could think of off the top of my head that could do that. I looked up roofies and researched it a little, searching for if there were any symptoms of complete amnesia. Wikipedia says roofies can cause anterograde amnesia, meaning “loss of the ability to create new memories after the event that caused the amnesia, leading to a partial or complete inability to recall the recent past, while long-term memories from before the event remain intact.”

If I understand that correctly, that means Shepard would have had problems creating memories after the event and would have trouble remembering minute details during the day after. My understanding appeared to be correct as I kept reading: “In cases of pure anterograde amnesia, patients have recollections of events prior to the injury, but cannot recall day-to-day information or new facts presented to them after the injury occurred.”

What all that means is that Shepard would have remembered passing out. She would have known that she had passed out each morning when she woke up, meaning there is no reason why she shouldn’t have seen a doctor and it’s her own stupid fault for continuing to drug herself because of her own ignorance. If she had seen a doctor, she would have found out she’d been drugged and this film would have been over a lot earlier.

Finally, the twist. The whole movie it’s painfully obvious Delmarco is the culprit. He’s constantly peeking around corners, stalking Shepard a few times, smokes and was in the presence of all but one of the victims.

However, the film pegs Samuel L. Jackson’s John Mills as the killer. During a long-winded explanation to Shepard, he admits that he was the one that killed all those people years ago and then killed her mother and father and made it look like her father killed himself over guilt. Then he raised her for those 20-plus years and for some reason, decided to go back to killing people again. Nice twist, except for a few things:

How does a serial killer become the chief of police?

How does a serial killer control his murderous urges for 20-plus years?

How has he not slipped up once during all of this time?

If Mills is that good of a serial killer, how does he allow himself to be caught saying all this while Shepard’s recording all this on her phone, which is in plain sight? It’s in her hand, right next to her other hand, which is holding a gun. It is right there.

Also, if you’ve seen The Negotiator, another Samuel L. Jackson movie, you know that the film ends with Jackson’s character being shot by Kevin Spacey and while he’s lying on the floor in a pool of blood, he records the bad guy admitting to the stolen money, so in a way, this film stole this ending from The Negotiator. It wasn’t even an original idea.

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