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The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)
Cloverfield in Space
It's no mistake now that the team behind the Cloverfield series is simply purchasing films that are already shot or written and re-working them to fit within their "world". This entry into the series is no different, but at least we have a direct connection and explanation for things, which make this film the main one that will connect every single 'Cloverfield' entry from here on out.
In an attempt to produce endless energy, a group of people board a space shuttle known as The Shepard. Over 600 days in space with failure after failure, they finally manage to create something. But that something is not what they expected and now they have to fight to survive and deal with the horrors they've unleashed.
There is a moment in the film that is pure exposition, delivered by Donal Logue that really felt forced in there to be an explanation for the monster in the original film. It was such an awkward jumble of words that it stands out like a sore thumb. I felt like they could have delivered this information a bit differently, by someone on the ship maybe. There are other moments of missed opportunities as well, specifically when you are dealing with time paradoxes and alternate realties.
The film tries to deliver a sense of dread, but it doesn't really get there. There are moments where the weirdness explodes and we are dealing with severed limbs still working or body horror involving eyes and skin. I get the sense that they wanted these weird occurrences to really amp of the mystery. Sometimes it works, other times it does not. As a whole though, the film does deliver an edge of your seat sic/fi space survival flick.
Paramount clearly thought they had a stinker on their hands, which is why they dumped the film to Netflix. Saying this film sucks is a disservice to the material. It's ambitious enough to try and create a connecting tissue to the other films and anything else that Bad Robot wants to come up with. I applaud that, as well as their explanation for why things happened, to me is good enough. This film will be the most divisive one yet, that is clear.
Killer clowns are scary, right?
Stephen King terrified people with IT, his second longest novel next to The Stand. Bringing kids fears to life with the embodiment of Pennywise the dancing clown. In 1990, the 'epic' story was turned into a two part TV-Mini series starring Tim Curry and John Ritter. As a kid, that film was terrifying due to the performance of the friendly clown with a sinister undertone. Looking back now, it's incredibly cheesy and 'of the time'. So an update was needed and Stephen King has had a huge year; with The Dark Tower, Netflix's Gerald's Game and a new TV series The Mist, he's back in the spotlight.
In the town of Derry, Maine, kids go missing. So much that the rate is six times the national average. One of those kids is Georgie, a little boy who disappeared down the sewers. His brother Bill, has never stopped looking for him. Along with his friends, he plans to search the sewers, hoping to find at least a body. Along with his friends, known as The Losers Club, they make it their mission this summer...but when they find out the answers lead to a child killing clown, their nightmares become a reality.
IT was going to be a big success, but no one anticipated how big a success. After a massive weekend at the box-office, people are looking to be scared again, in R-rated territory no less. The road to the finish line was a long one for the film, with Cary Fukunaga wanting to write and direct. Those plans fell through and his reasons were that the studio wanted to make a generic 'jump scare' film, where he wanted to tell a deeper story about the kids. The finished film, courtesy of Mama director Muschietti manages to balance those two aspects quite well. The decision to split the film in two and use the first half to focus on the kids only was an interesting move and one that let the story breathe a little bit more. We're already being pulled in plenty of directions with the numerous characters, to have to be pulled into their adult version too would be too much.
The story has been "updated" and takes place in the 80's. Hot off the heels of Strangers Things, IT plays into some nostalgia here and it works.The kids look and act the parts very well and all have great chemistry. I was particularly impressed with Sophia Lillis who plays Beverly. She looks like a young Amy Adams and has enough charisma to have a career in the industry. With just enough sass, but obvious fear lurking under the surface, she has the most to engage with. Her nightmare sequence in the bathroom might be a tad bit of overkill and doesn't feel as sinister as the 1990's TV version. Something about the father touching the blood on the sink irks me more from the TV version than him simply not noticing the room completely covered in it in this film. It also makes the 'clean-up' part a little bit less believable here. Bill, our defacto lead character, is tormented by the loss of his little brother, this is his defining characteristic. These two characters get the most attention while we just float around the rest of the kids stories. The one with the least amount of screen time has to be Mike, who is the outsider of the group. These kids made me laugh and made me believe in their friendship, which makes the film work and connect.
Skarsgård had the difficult task of following in Tim Curry's footsteps. He does a really good job with Pennywise though. His otherworldly eyes were not CGI, he managed to move them in different directions himself and his creepy voice added to the sinister feel the character needs. One look at him and some audience members gasped. There are plenty of jump scares and the audience fell for almost every single one. Surprisingly enough, I didn't. I'll fall for a good jump scare any day of the week, but IT failed to get even one out of me. I don't know why, maybe it was the obvious horror beats leading to each one but the film didn't 'get me'. It felt scary, but not once was I scared, if that makes sense. Maybe because the whole film takes place during the daytime it adds a sense of security? I don't know, but plenty of people in the theatre seemed frightened.
Muschietti has a creative eye for the unnatural. Looking over Ben's shoulder in the library and seeing an old lady stare him down without him knowing is effective, as is the use of the stabilizing camera effects on Pennywise's face while everything else shakes wildly. Small camera movements, such as straightening a picture, are done creatively here and add to the immersive feel the film wants. Even though the film feels predictable in the horror beats, with each scare simply leading into more anticipation for the next one, the film as a whole works. IT does a great job of me wanting to see the next chapter.
The Dark Tower (2017)
Generic action sequences, oversimplification of an epic story and shoddy effects are just some of the problems....
This film, which was inspired, not adapted from the Stephen King novels of the same name, takes a sweeping epic, dumbs it down, loses the focus and lazily tries to make it look cool for a younger audience. This film is bad and I went in with an open mind, hoping to find some redeeming qualities about it. While there are some good ideas, I can't help but feel that this will be somewhat heartbreaking for fans of the books who were actually excited to see it.
Jake Chambers is a young boy who suffers from horrific nightmares. In those nightmares, he sees The Man in Black, who kidnaps children and uses a device to suck their minds right out of their head. All in an effort to destroy the Dark Tower. The Dark Tower is the centre of the universe, protecting all worlds from the evil that lies beyond, out in the darkness. Roland, the last of the Gunslingers, soldiers sworn to protect the tower, is on a mission to kill The Man in Black. When Jake discovers a portal that leads to their world, he jumps in and finds Roland. Together they must stop The Man in Black, or their world and all worlds, will end.
I couldn't help but think to myself, that people would never want to see a film that was loosely inspired by The Lord of the Rings. They would much rather see that literary masterpiece adapted to the big screen. Imagine Peter Jackson used the same characters and made a different story, but still slapped the title on it? So I can't help but wonder why they thought it would be a good idea to loosely adapt The Dark Tower and not do a straight adaption from the books. I kind of get the idea they were going for, in regards to how the book series ends, but they missed the mark and by a wide margin.
I'm sure fans of the series would pick up numerous nods to the books here and there, but that is not enough. Graffiti on the wall of Hailing The Crimson King will get a knowing nod from people, but that's it. I'm sure they would rather see the actual story from the books on the screen. Arcel and writer Goldsman, oversimplify an epic story into a 90 some odd minute shoot em up. Sure, it looks cool when Elba reloads his guns, but I want something more than that. It doesn't help that the film essentially has two and a half action sequences, which might look neat to those who haven't seen a film like John Wick.
Elba does his best with the clunky dialogue, but he can't save it. McConaughey chews up the scenery, as expected. His character is "worse than the devil". He can kill people by simply telling them to stop breathing. He does this numerous times. He can catch bullets, incinerate people, basically force anyone to do anything. Mucho powerful. But here's the expository dialogue part "Roland, you've always been immune to my magic, haven't you?" So there you have it, he can't hurt our hero in the "stop breathing" category. He can still use the force to hurl objects at him and watching McConaughey move his hands around to control items like broken glass or rocks is unintentionally comical.
Bad special effects plague this film. There is a sequence at night where a demon, which apparently breaks through the barrier, attacks Roland and Jake. It's hard to make out what it looks like, or what the heck is going on. But in the end does it matter? Who know the Gunslinger will eventually put it out of its misery. I snickered at seeing how bad they rendered humans falling around or getting hit by cars. It only happens a few times in one particular sequences, but it's something that still hasn't been perfected and probably never will.
The entire film feels clunky, unexplained or unexplored. I never got a sense of Roland's world. There are abandoned structures all over and they have no idea what they were used for, but we clearly know they are carnival rides, as does Jake. How does anyone who never read the books have a clue as to what this means. Arcel seems uninterested in exploring that side of the story and instead streamlines it from point A to point B. This isn't a story to do that, especially if the goal is to branch it off into a series. I suspect this will be the only film they make.
With generic action sequences, oversimplification of an epic story, shoddy effects and some questionable performances (Jake's friend is the biggest offender), The Dark Tower is a big missed opportunity. Here is a series that could have been several films, sweeping multiple genres and taking viewers on a ride they probably wouldn't of forgotten. Instead we get this film that I already have forgotten. Ho-hum, despite a big budget, we have yet another King adaption failure.
Baby Driver (2017)
"This one, they say that listens to the music all the time?"
Baby Driver falls perfectly in line with Wright's previous films in style, but offers a bit more in dramatic tone and a little less in comedy. The film still has plenty of funny moments, but it depicts a slight change in direction for him and one that hopefully opens more doors for original films.
Baby, that's B-A-B-Y, is the getaway driver for a wealthy criminal, Doc, who plots out the heists and never uses the same crew twice. Baby insists he is done after one last job, but Doc is willing to threaten the lives of the people Baby loves, including his new waitress girlfriend Debora, if he doesn't pull one more stunt.
Going into a Wright film, you have a sense of what to expect. Hot Fuzz was a parody of action films to the point where a simple moment of putting on your jacket was made to look like a chaotic action sequence. With Baby Driver, Wright continues this style, but squarely plants the film itself into that world that Hot Fuzz was parodying. This is done with self awareness though, and never becomes a problem. Instead, it highlights the originality of the film and the world Wright has created. It's a heightened reality and music plays an important role in it. To the point where it feels more like a love letter to music than heist films. This is even more apparent when you realize that we never really get to see the heists. We stay with Baby in the car and subvert those expectations. We are with Baby and his music the whole way.
As I said earlier, music is important to this film and ever aspect of it revolves around that. Camera work, action sequences, character movements, dialogue, plot devices, the list goes on. For something that important, the music should be good. Wright manages to explore enough genres to please most people and I found myself really digging the playlists. Music is Baby's world and we live in it for 2 hours almost non-stop. To the point where when there is no music playing, it feels out of place. I fully expect people to go out and buy the soundtrack and at no point did I feel as if any of it was forced, like Suicide Squad.
I guess you want to know about the car chase sequences, those are thrilling for people looking for excitement. Wright gives us enough unique moments to make those memorable and it's needed because car chases are a staple in Hollywood movies. You want to see something new and Baby Driver delivers enough of a spin to make it seems fresh. The film balances itself out with plenty of small quiet sequences that focus on character. Baby's dedication to take care of his aging foster father is touching. They communicate through sign language, which adds another layer to the complicated character that is Baby. Then we have some tender moments with Baby and Debora. A love at first sight relationship that blooms due to charm, appreciation of music and the aspirations to just be on the open road.
Baby Driver is stylish and charges to you at full speed. With the camera almost constantly moving, it never feels slow, even in those quiet moments. The cast nail their roles with just a hint of self awareness. Spacey can be intimidating in his sleep and Foxx has no problem playing someone with a few screw lose moments. At the very least, when you walk away from this movie you can say that you had a fun time, this movie has plenty of those moments to make it great.
A Return To Form For Shyamalan, Great Performance from McAvoy.
I get the feeling that Shyamalan wrote and directed this film, got it down to the 2 hour running time and screened it. Then the studio asked him; "Shyamalan, don't your movies always have twists? Why doesn't this film have a twist? I think this film needs a twist. Put a twist in". Then Shyamalan decides to tack some cheap ending onto an otherwise suspenseful film with a career performance from McAvoy. Now people might be upset that I said this film has a twist because saying that is in fact a spoiler. This spoils nothing. The so-called twist, if you even want to call it that, has nothing to do with the film and makes me question why the hell such a scene exists in this film to being with. Now...in saying all that. I honestly don't know if I hated it or loved it. I'm split. (Bad dad joke)
McAvoy plays Dennis / Patricia / Hedwig / Kevin Wendell Crumb / Barry / Orwell / Jade...etc. He kidnaps three young girls and brings them to his lair. The girls are desperate to escape and try everything they can, but soon realize that their kidnapper is not all there. Each of his personalities have completely different conversations with them and himself. Can they escape before "he" arrives, a yet to be discovered 24th personality?
We can all agree that when the name M. Night Shyamalan is attached to a project, the groans, the eye rolling and the utter disinterest immediately hits you. Whatever goodwill he did with his first three films seems to have been completely destroyed with The Happening, Last Airbender and After Earth. A low budget horror flick came out recently, from Shyamalan, and people were surprised at how not terrible it was. The Visit was a found footage film and Shyamalan managed to use it to pretty good results. Now he Split, a suspense thriller that boarders body horror and I think it's another hit.
The film relies, heavily, on James McCoy's performance and I'm glad to say it's really strong. He's able to snake his way in and out of the vastly different personalities on a whim and each one is as believable as the last. He gives 100% in his performance here, being terrifying, funny and sad at any moment. Anya Taylor-Joy is the 'lead' girl out of the three, we are given snippets of a backstory through some flashbacks. She's damaged and fits the victim role perfectly. The problem is that we've seen it all before, trouble girl is trapped and has to muster the strength to fight back.
Split was really fun and tense. I'd love to see Shyamalan stick to this genre and stay away from big budgets. The run time might work against the film, it runs two hours and can easily lose some material, but as a whole this film worked for me.
Secret in Their Eyes (2015)
I Haven't Seen The Original and I'm Still Disappointed.
An American remake of an Oscar winning film from Argentina with a decent cast misfires and bores the audience to death with a misguided effort. I've never seen the original film, but I know it has to be better than this wreck.
In the aftermath of 9/11, the watch on terror is at an all-time high. Two counter terrorist agents, played by Julia Roberts and Chiwetel Ejiofor are called to a crime scene because it is suspiciously close to a mosque they are keeping tabs on. The crime scene involves a dead body in a dumpster and coincidentally the dead person is the daughter of Roberts. Ejiofor becomes obsessed with tracking down her killer. Plastic face Kidman also stars.
The film is split between two timelines. 2002, when the body is discovered and more than a decade later when Ejiofor is still on the case, off the books. He's no longer part of the unit, but he seems to be the only one who cares about finding the guy who once got away. Ejiofor sells the obsession of the case, but fails to connect with Kidman when the film forces a love story between them. Kidman doesn't do much to help him in this situation, she delivers a wooden performance in an underwritten role.
The film tries to be clever and pull a fast one on the viewer, but anyone who has seen a film before can connect the dots well before the film ever reveals anything. Poor writing aside, the director, Billy Ray doesn't seem to be able to thread a suspenseful case with this story. One scene in particular takes place at a baseball game and a chase ensues. How is this not even the little bit suspenseful? Poor camera work and editing come into play as well, they seem amateurish.
At no point, did I care about either timeline, nor the character decisions. I can see an interesting story here and I can only assume it was told masterfully in the original film, here it is uninspired. A real shame, since American remakes haven't fared to well.
The Forest (2016)
Do Not Fear This Forest.
Back in the 90's, when the internet was still new to people, there was a 'fun' craze that people would send others via email. You'd open the attachment and be told to have your volume up high while starring at a serene picture. Then out of nowhere a spooky face when pop up on the screen with a loud scream. It would freak people out, a classic jump scare. This is all The Forest is, cheap jump scares.
I'm surprised at how well this horror film was received with the critics because I found it to be lacking. The premise is good enough for a spooky horror film, but The Forest never bothers to use the setting it thrusts itself in to genuine scary effect. It's sad actually, that the film fails on these levels because I can only thing, 'what could have been'.
Sara discovers that her twin sister Jess has disappeared in Japan. She was last seen heading into Aokigahara, known as the Suicide Forest. Believing her to still be alive, Sara heads to Japan and into the woods with a guide to find her.
Natalie Dormer, of Game of Thrones fame, headlines this horror flick and plays double duty as the twins. The role doesn't ask much of her, just to be scared when needed and yell her sisters name a bunch of times. Taylor Kinney ventures into the forest with her. He's a journalist that hopes to cover the story. Are things what they seem with him? Who knows, the film doesn't really bother to answer these questions.
The horror elements don't really come into effect until late in the film, by then I felt bored by the tepidness of everything. The film takes place in a spooky forest for crying out loud, but it never takes advantage of this. It's the perfect atmosphere that a better director could creatively use to his/her advantage. This is why The Forest is such a disappointment, even by horror standards. It's just not scary.
Were told not to believe what we see in the forest, I can't believe I watched this.
Swiss Army Man (2016)
One Of The Best Films Of The Year!!!!
The most original film of the year and one of the more original films of the last decade. Swiss Army Man turned a lot of people away with the weird juvenile humour consisting of farts, but I feel like those people who turned it off or left the theatre missed out on something special. Behind all the gas, the film deals with depression, humanity and what it feels like to be alive. Poignant themes in a film that isn't a afraid to make you laugh in the weirdest way possible.
Hank, played by Paul Dano, is marooned on an island and is literally about to hang himself when he sees a dead body wash ashore. He thinks nothing of it, until the body spasms and lets out numerous farts. The dead body, whom is later called Manny, played by Daniel Radcliffe, comes alive, more or less. He's able to have conversations, perform miraculous tasks and gives Hank the courage to look inside himself and answer some deep questions.
This is my favourite Daniel Radcliffe performance, is that odd to say? He plays a corpse who farts, so he doesn't have to move around a lot and he is basically stone faced the whole film, yet he brings an innocent charm to the role. He questions what it means to be alive, what feeling of love hate and depression are. Hank tries his best to answer these questions, but he might not even know the answers himself. The two bond over a few "Weekend At Bernie's" style comedy bits, which have more meaning later on when more characters are introduced, specifically Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
The title Swiss Army Man is appropriate as Radcliffe is used for various tasks. Fresh water pours out of his mouth, karate-chop action figure style arm swing, projectile mouth firing mechanism, sparking flint by snapping his fingers, among other things. Hank uses Manny's unique "powers" to help him traverse the terrain. You have to ask yourself, can you suspend enough of your imagination to enjoy the oddity of this? I don't think the film is ever really concerned with if any of these events are really happening or not. Instead it wants you to focus on the friendship these two have and despite one of them being dead, it's one of the best relationships depicted on screen this year.
I know there are people out there who dislike the film, but count me in the camp of people who really responded to it. Who knew that film about a farting dead corpse would be one of the best of the year and one of the most honesty portrays of friendship. Swiss Army Man is a win and a watch for anyone wanting something unique in their movie going experience.
Green Room (2015)
What's your 'desert-island' band?
Saulnier's Blue Ruin was a shotgun blast to the chest of intense thrills from an unknown director. I had no idea what to expect from Blue Ruin, but when it was over my wife simply turned to me and said, "That was intense". So I was excited to see his next film get some big name recognition on board. The late Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shaukat and Picard himself, Patrick Stewart showcase their talents in this nail bitter of a follow-up.
A down on their luck punk rock band take a gig at a neo-nazi club. Reluctant at first, but in desperate need for cash, they accept and play a decent gig. Just as they are about to leave, they see a dead body in the green room and bad decision are made after that. Now it's skinheads versus the punk rockers for survival.
Green Room is not for the faint of heart, I'm a horror lover and I found myself cringing every so often at the shock and awe that Saulnier throws at the screen. He's not afraid to get things going fast and when he does, he turns Green Room up to eleven. I found myself asking, how are they going to get out of this? Multiple times even. Each time an attempt was made to leave, something terrible happens and Saulnier is not one for cheap gore tricks. He is restrained and holds back until you least expect it. Then the terror unleashes on the screen and it's too late to look away. Blue Ruin was about suspense, this is about terror.
Locked up in one location, Green Room is a no holds barred 'us versus them' flick that surprises the viewer at a few turns. Most of the cast serve their purpose of being terrified for their lives and having to fight when needed. It's Stewart, known for his roles as courageous and commanding men (Picard, Professor X) that turns in a subtle and low-key performance. The man is the leader of skinheads and has the opportunity to unleash terror, but he holds back and almost has adds a fatherly figure to it. He mentors these young men so full of hate and he has to immediately take control of an out of control situation. Something about the calmness he has makes it even more terrifying. Men like this exist in the world.
Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
It's been over a decade since Mel Gibson has been in the director's chair. People have been anticipating his return for awhile now and this year he brings Hacksaw Ridge, a bloody tale about freedom and persecution.
Doss enlists into the army in the hopes of becoming a medic. During his training he is asked to pick a rifle and shoot a target, he refuses. His faith and trust in God deters him from ever holding a gun to kill a man. This does not make him popular with the men who must fight by his side. So why does he want to enlist in the war? He wants to save people and save people he does. Doss' heroics lead him to saving about 75 wounded men during the battle of Hacksaw Ridge, an astonishing and miraculous feat.
i walked away from the film with one thing on my mind. Thank God I never had to experience anything like that. Watching these characters go into battle, made me terrified for myself in that situation. Blindly firing across a barren wasteland, bodies scattered about the ground. Running directly into that gunfire....horrifying. No thank you. I don't have one tenth the courage those men had. Hacksaw Ridge is almost on the same savage and surreal level of the opening beach sequence from Saving Private Ryan. Some of the carnage is hard to watch as limbs are blown off, guts are falling out, people are set on fire. One particular sequence does seem to lean on the more ridiculous side, when an American soldier grabs the torso of a dead Japanese solider and uses it as a shield, as he runs through the battlefield. Some arguments are made that Gibson tends to favour the bloody violence and revel in it. I can see 'some' aspects of this (the aforementioned torso bit) but speak to people that were actually in war and they will tell you that it's pretty darn close to what happened. We don't have many people left who fought in these wars, so please, talk to those people. I wish I had spoken to my grandparents more often about their lives and their history.
Andrew Garfield is Doss, our lead here. He plays there role with a little bit of a Forrest Gump edge. He's innocent, plays dumb a little bit, but always seems to get the job done. He gets the girl, the respect of his allies and superiors and more. Yes, the road there was not an easy one and this is indeed a true story, but I felt the parallels there. He does a decent enough job, but nothing to really cheer about. I was more engaged with Vince Vaughn oddly enough. He does very well here in a non-comedic role. Hopefully he ventures in more dramatic roles in the near future. I feel people underestimate his dramatic roles and once he hit a streak with his comedy films he never seemed interested in going elsewhere. I hope this changes his mind.
The film can be broken down into three parts. Doss' life pre-war, Doss' life training for war and of course the actual war itself. The pre-war segment might be a tad slow for some, but everything Gibson shows us is perfectly arranged for the story and the character arcs. The film is really preachy as well, maybe a little too preachy. I understand that religion is the backbone to the story and the reason why we have a tale as astonishing as this, but with Gibson behind the camera, I felt like he upped it a tad. The juxtaposition of the peace belief by Doss with the violence of the war is a tough one to wrestle with.
Hacksaw Ridge is a great film from Gibson and I hope to see it get some recognition come awards season.
Love the Coopers (2015)
Do Not Love The Coopers.
I went and saw the film, The Family Stone, in theatres when it first came out. It received mixed reviews, but for the most part, I really liked it. It dealt with a dysfunctional family getting together for the holidays. What made it work, in my mind at least, was that the characters felt honest, the chemistry between the cast felt real and despite the many dramatic moments, it had some heart. Love The Coopers is a poor imitation of these things. I bring up The Family Stone as a apt comparison, not only because Diane Keaton is the matriarch, but because both films try to convey the same message. The Family Stone's shortcomings happens in the final act with the girlfriend "switcheroo" whereas Love The Coopers shortcomings is the entire film.
The film follows one family and their stories on Christmas Day. Keaton and her husband, John Goodman, are having one more family get together before they ultimately decide to leave each other after 40 years of marriage...depressing. Ed Helms is the son, separated from his wife, unemployed and feeling less of a man and even lesser of a father...depressing. Then we have Alan Arkin, the grandfather, who eats at the same diner everyday just to have a conversation with the pretty waitress, Amanda Seyfried, and to convince her she has value in this world....depressing. The beautiful Olivia Wilde plays the daughter. She is on her way home and is wasting time at the airport so she can spend less time with her family. She meets a good looking young soldier and convinces him to come home with her so she doesn't have to be a disappointment to her mother...depressing. On top of that...yes, there is more...we have Diane Keaton's sister, who has a strained relationship and shoplifts some jewelry for a present, only to get caught and have a thoughtful one on one conversation with a police officer...you guessed it....depressing. Did I forget to mention that the sister is played by Marissa Tomei?
Yes, Marissa Tomei, so there lies a big problem for me. The casting of this film is all over the place. It seems they wanted to cast the recognizable face and name and not the role. In this film, we have constant 'flashes of memories' of the characters when they were younger. So we flash to the sisters when they were kids. They are maybe, 3 to 5 years apart. Then we come to the present and discover that the sister is Diane Keaton and Marissa Tomei. They have a 20 year age difference between each other. On top of that Alan Arkin plays their father....he is 12 years older than Keaton. I was so confused as to how Arkin and Tomei fit into the picture for 75% of the film. I thought he was Goodman's brother and Tomei was Keaton's daughter.
While the cast does a decent job in the roles, none of the material is strong enough to hold any weight. None of the stories are engaging and it tries so hard to be emotional. I didn't really care about Goodman and Keaton's failing marriage because it never feels like the characters are really trying, or love each other, or anything at all really. The strained relationship between Keaton and almost everyone feels fake. None of these stories really work for me with the weakest one being Helms. He literally has nothing to do in this film, it's a little sad actually.
Even for a 'depressing' Christmas film, Coopers fails. For it to be depressing, I feel like we need to have some sort of attachment to the characters, I had none. Steve Martin narrates the film to give it a "Christmas story" feel, it also falls a little flat. I just couldn't find myself caring about anything here.
Doctor Strange (2016)
Decent intro to the mystic arts.
Going on to about a dozen films or so in the Marvel Universe, there comes a point when you have to present something new to the audience. Everyone was on board with the individual films, which led to the team up of the Avengers. People were blown away with how well they pulled that off. Shift to the second phase of films and we get some decent and generic sequels. Knowing early on that they had to spice things up a bit, Marvel took a chance on some third party characters, hoping that they were unique enough to be considered "refreshing". So we are introduced to Guardians and Ant-Man. This seemed to hold the fans attention for a bit longer. Now were closing in on another set of films and I'm sure Marvel was asking themselves, what can we show them now? Their answer is Doctor Strange. A wonderful kaleidoscope of imagery to grab your attention, despite the same tepid story Marvel has been chugging out for years now. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, the movies are all good in my book, but I feel that the spectacle will not be the only offering people want in the next phase of films.
Strange is a genius surgeon, the best in his field. The only thing that matches his talents is his arrogance...hmmm, sounds like another goatee wearing hero on the marvel universe. Anyway, one night while driving, he ends up in a terrible accident, which destroys his hands. Determined not to live a life of mediocrity, believing he is better than that, Strange dedicates his life to bettering himself. The search takes him to some far corners of the earth and opens his eyes to a new healing power, the power of magic. Quickly learning his new formed powers, Strange must battle some guy who has some evil plan....this is where the story gets a little generic and forgettable. So forgettable, that I forget the villains name, I only remember that he was played by Mads Mikkelsen.
That has been one universal issue that everyone agrees on when it comes to Marvel films. The lack of a compelling villain. Save for Loki, the Marvel films have continuously dropped the ball in this department. They seemed to try and steer back into the right direction with this year's Civil War, but Strange seems to throw them back down a peg as Mikkelsen is not given enough screen time to shine. Before I look anything up, if I recall correctly. He was a former student of the Ancient One, who has suffered some personal loss. This turns him evil and he teams up with a giant cloud monster to bring the destruction of earth. Hmm, some pretty hollow motivation if you ask me. So I'll copy and paste some info from the Marvel wiki to clear some of that motivation up.
Kaecilius was a sorcerer and a former member of the Masters of the Mystic Arts who became disillusioned with the Ancient One when he felt his mentor was not allowing other dimensions to come to Earth, which he believed could reunite him with his deceased wife and son. He formed the Zealots with the intention of defeating the Ancient One and bringing the inter-dimensional being known as Dormammu to Earth.
So with this new information in my mind, I still stand by the fact that these films tend to drop the ball on the villains. So where does the film excel? Well, for starters the aforementioned Ancient One, played by Tilda Swinton. I'll admit, at first I was not a fan of her. Her alien like features and dramatic turns seemed to turn me off of her acting in previous films, but I have since developed a new found appreciation for her. I guess if she sticks to genre flicks or quirky comedies, I like her. She is the highlight in Doctor Strange for me. Cumberbatch does well enough for himself, he plays the arrogant jerk to perfection, but he will have more time to develop that role. For now, this film belongs to Swinton. Rounding out the rest of the supporting cast is Chiwetel Ejiofor, with an irritating character arc and Rachel McAdams, relegated to being the girlfriend sidekick.
I mentioned earlier the kaleidoscope imagery...I literally meant that. The background images of this film were obviously inspired by the images one would find looking through the glass of the toy. Strange takes the Inception leveled effects and kicks it up a notch and to great effect. These visuals are what makes the film stand out from the other entries. Strange's first venture into other dimensions is trippy enough to warrant a viewing.
Doctor Strange is another generic entry into the Marvel franchise, but those generic entries are still pretty damn entertaining. The film fumbles with the villain and some forced comedic bits that don't land, but is strong enough entertaining you that you might not mind. It cleverly sidesteps the usual "city destruction" climax and turns it on its head. Doctor Strange is a welcomed addition to the series.
2016 has been a particularly strong year for animated films. With the likes of Zootopia, Finding Dory and Kubo & The Two Strings all vying for best animated picture of the year, it seems Moana deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as well. It's no fluke that out of the four movies I just mentioned, 3 of them belong under the house of the mouse.
Legend has it that demigod Maui stole a sacred stone, the heart of the goddess Te Fiti. The lava demon confronted him and both the heart and Maui were lost forever. Now, the world is slowly dying and someone must find the heart and force Maui to put it back. But who is this chosen one? It might be Moana, a Polynesian girl who is suppose to be taking over as chief of her tribe, but longs to sail beyond the reef. Featuring new comer Auli'i Carvalho as Moana and the most electrifying man in sports entertainment, Dwayne 'The Rock" Johnson, as the demigod Maui.
It's not surprising that I found myself tapping my feet to the songs in this film because Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of Hamilton, shares his talent with this film. I can easily see any one of the songs in this piece going up for and winning Best Original Song, giving the man the O in the prestigious PEGOT award circle. He currently has a Pulitzer, Emmy, Tony and Grammy, among more. The songs here remind me of the old-school Disney songs, easy to listen to, fun to play on repeat and important to the story. At first, I felt it was a little too on the nose with some of the lyrics, but eventually he won me over and I've been listening to the soundtrack ever since.
The film itself might lack some of the intricacies of plot heavy films like Zootopia, but this journey story is entertaining and heartfelt. The vibrant colours of the green islands and the blue sea help propel the film above and beyond what some others films have to offer. The animation takes a nice little turn for the creative when the characters find themselves under the sea in a side villains lair. We are treated with some bioluminescent sequences with another catchy tune not far behind.
Johnson is stellar as Maui, he seems completely comfortable in a voice acting role and surprisingly has the chops to sing a tune. Newcomer Auli'i Carvalho holds her own against a star like Johnson and she really gives a strong voice to a driven female character. I applaud that Disney didn't feel the need to shoehorn in a love story either. This is a tale about self discovery, not some young woman needing to find a man. Disney nods and respects their past while looking to the future with Moana. Princesses no longer need to be the 'love' goal of a man.
Moana is a visually beautiful film with great songs and a strong female lead character. There are some visually gags for the kids and a great time for adults. Moana is a great film.
The Invitation (2015)
What would you do when your friends invite you over to their house and things start to get really weird, almost uncomfortably unsafe weird. You get the hell out right? Despite the one characters constant questioning of events that take place here, he doesn't seem interested in leaving the party. If he does, we don't have a film anymore. So putting aside logic and accepting that only one person decides to leave this party, is The Invitation thrilling enough to warrant a recommended watch?
Will takes his new girlfriend to his ex-wife's house for a dinner party. All their friends are there, friends they haven't seen in awhile. Things between Will and his ex-wife is a little strained due to an emotional loss in their past, but everyone decides to look past it in order to have a good time. Throughout the night, Will suspects that his ex-wife and her new husband have other motives for bringing everyone together.
Are there other motives? Or is Will just crazy? The film lets the questionable actions of the hosts walk a fine line to make you lean either way. The hosts invite another guest that their friends do not know. This is someone they met in a grief group known as The Invitation. This guy seems a little off, but is pleasant enough on the outside to not really question anything. It's not until he gives a speech about his wife do people really feel uncomfortable and question if they should stay. The Invitation does a decent job of keeping an awkward level of suspense within the house, even if you are questioning character actions.
A key element to this film is the opening sequence when Will and his new girlfriend hit a coyote with their car on their way to the party. The coyote is injured and it's up to Will to put the creature out of its misery. That act is the core theme to the entire film. The film asks us these questions throughout.
The film's third act kicks things into high gear and the subtly of the suspense in thrown out the window for a more in your face approach. The entire film builds to this confrontation and it works for the most part. I can't help by feel that the one and only memorable things about this film though is the final shot. Which is a great shot that almost feels Hitchcockian. This single location thriller is effective enough for fans of the genre to enjoy and people looking for a good thriller won't mind it either.
Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)
This prequel has no business being as good as it is.
This prequel has no business being as good as it is. The first Ouija film came out in 2014 and quickly faded away into obscurity. So imagine my surprise when they decide to make a 'prequel' of all things. I hunch is that The Conjuring films have been pretty successful and they are set in the 70's, when things were a little creepier, no cell phones and genuine scary aesthetic. Imagine my surprise again when up and coming horror filmmakers Mike Flanagan was the man behind the camera. The underrated mirror horror flick Oculus and deaf home invasion flick Hush were two of his recent outings. Things were looking not too bad for this flick and to top it off, it received some pretty decent reviews.
Alice and her two daughters run a scam business in which they "speak to the dead". The mother justifies this business by telling her youngest daughter, Doris, that it helps people move on and get closure. When her eldest, Lina, plays the new Ouija boardgames at a friends house, she tells her mother to incorporate it into her act. She does and things take a sinister turn when they scam becomes reality.
It's hard to make a game board scary. The first film tried, failed and this one tries and succeeds for the most part. Any non-horror fan might balk at the idea that this film is good, but I consider this movie to be one of the most underrated flicks of the year. Flanagan knows how to build solid tension and he doesn't rely on cheap scares or an obscene amount of gore. This film has none of that. Careful framework and lighting is all he needs to create an unsettling atmosphere. Whenever someone decides to look through the ouija glass piece, you feel yourself tense up expecting something to happen.
Kids in horror films are the go to for anything scary. Most movies tend to cast children horribly and they end of ruining the film. Doris, played by Lulu Wilson delivers an innocent and somewhat chilling performance as the youngest daughter. Her goodbye message to a young boy about what it feels like to be strangled to death is an excellent scene to send chills down your spine. No scary images, sounds or blood needed. Just a child delivering one monologue about suffocating you.
Obviously the film is far from perfect, but it doesn't cater to the happy ending crowd either. It takes some chances and for the most part, lands them. I was surprised by how much I liked this film, which may be why the rating is higher than what others would tend to give a film like this. Had the first film never existed, this would be a bigger hit.
Money Monster (2016)
Jodie Foster probably thought she could pull of Inside Man.
Money Monster would be a better film if it were a little bit more interesting and a little less boring. My biggest complaint wit this film is that it doesn't feel like it really accomplishes anything. Even by the end, when things are revealed, I couldn't help but simply not care about any of it.
Lee Gates is a flamboyant television financial expert and recently called the stock on a company known as IBIS a SAFE BET. That safe bet wasn't exactly true, as the company lost 800 million dollars and some of that money belonged to down on his luck delivery man Kyle. He decides to take matters into his own hands and demand answers. So the logical thing to do is hold Gates hostage at his studio. It's up to Patty, Gate's studio producer, to calm him down and talk him through the situation while Kyle demands answers to questions no one seems to be asking.
I guess big name celebrities don't sell movies as well as they use to. George Clooney and Julia Roberts would have been a slam dunk success a decade ago. Now they are relegated to this mess and no one seems to care. It's not like they do a terrible job here, they are serviceable to the mediocre story. If you wanna see George Clooney act like a fool dancing around with a big gold chain around his neck and a gold top hat, you're in luck!!! Money Monster is a film for you!!!
A lot of the film centres around Clooney and Jack O'Connell standing around waiting for other things to happen. Hostage flicks have the disadvantage of being limited to the specific location where the hostages are. Yet so many of those films remain thrilling. The Negotiator for example, is an excellent film about a hostage situation. Money Monster is not. The fault might lie with the director, Jodie Foster, but I blame the script. The characters are not interesting enough, the situation does nothing to engage the viewer and the final act fails to bring any tense action to this lacking thriller.
There are many questionable moments here, but the main one is the primary focus of the film. There is no way that the producer would keep the live broadcast going through this situation. Even with the threats from the gunman, it would have been cut. For a film about the financial industry, it doesn't seem to know it very well. Nor does it seem interested in educating the viewer on how things happen. How about when they leave the studio, bomb strapped to Clooney's chest and the dozens upon dozens of civilians just standing around. The NYPD seem very stupid in this film.
I can't really recommend this film, especially when it thinks its such a smart film too. It feels like Jodie Foster had a great time on Inside Man and thought "Hey, I can pull this off"
No, you can't.
Rogue One (2016)
Hope...Rebellions Are Built On It.
Rogue One has the difficult task of being the first Star Wars spin-off and having a story that doesn't revolve around any previously known Star Wars characters. Add onto that, the fact that we already know the outcome of this story. So how do we care for a story and characters when we know the ending? Rogue One tries to answer these questions and more and actually delivers something a little different for the series.
The Empire is building a powerful weapon that can destroy planets and the rebels are losing time. Fearing the end to the cause, a rogue group of rebels take it upon themselves to strike first and steal the plans to the Death Star, which details a small weakness purposely built into the system.
Even though I sat there knowing full-well that those death star plans make it into the hands of Princess Leia, then to R2-D2, then to the rebel alliance, which leads to Luke blowing up the Death Star.....I still found myself enthralled with Rogue One. There is a lot to digest here, so let's dig in.
First, the film starts off slow and weak. We jump from planet to planet to get our bearings and are introduced to a few characters that will eventually lead the story. One such character is Cassian Andor, a rebel who first hears about this weapon. He's tasked with leading Jyn Erso to help find her father, the man who helped build the Death Star. Despite both Diego Luna and Felicity Jones being good actors, I felt a little disconnected with their characters here. Which is a shame because they are suppose to be the core emotional pull for the audience. It's their sacrifice and determination that is suppose to corral the viewers behind this team and while they try, I never felt like they really hit it high enough. Even though I was let down with their work in this film, two other characters more than make up for it. Donnie Yen's Chirrut and Alan Tudyk's K-2SO steal the show. Yen's trust in the force makes him a weapon of mass destruction despite being blind. He has numerous "kick- ass" scenes that brought a smile to my face....the man has a stick for crying out loud. Then we have Tudyk, the comic relief. His android is above and beyond more interesting and tolerable than previous tall androids from the series. Yes, C-3PO is annoying. Here K-2SO is given a winning personality and Tudyk runs with it. It doesn't hurt that he knows how to take out some Stormtroopers as well.
Ben Mendelssohn is always reliable when you need him to look menacing and play up the villain role. He does so here, to great effect. The one cast member who totally blows it though and is hilariously awful is Forrest Whittaker. I'm not sure what he was thinking when he decided to play up this character, but he ruins all the scenes he is in. He brings the film down a few pegs and is one of the main reasons why the first half of this film is rather weak. Things eventually pick up and the film finishes strong. A much better second half, which takes the film into a more war like genre, creates suspense, thrills and genuine excitement to see space battles again.
So where does this film fall on the Star Wars scale? Well, it certainly is better than the prequels and some might even say better than Force Awakens, but I feel that some hardcore fans will feel a little put off by Rogue One. It feels different. It's more depressing, more action and chaos oriented. No jedi and even no John Williams. This is the first film not scored by John Williams. It's noticeable, not bad in any way, just noticeable. No opening crawl text either. I can see these small things rubbing those hardcore fans the wrong way, but do not be alarmed, this film is entertaining and worth the watch.
Ever since Benjamin Button was able to digitally make Brad Pitt look like he's in his twenties again, films have been using this to their advantage. They have not perfected it yet, people still look a little weird when digitally altered. Rogue One does this with some key characters, mainly Grand Moff Tarkin. Great to see the man in this film and it looks pretty decent as well. Sometimes though, it might take you out of the film experience. Then we have another classic character pop up, Darth Vader. Anyone who has seen the trailers know he's here. His screen time is limited...but the second time he shows up is probably the best scene involving Darth Vader in the entire series. Bold statement, but everything about the sequence was so well executed that I couldn't have asked for anything more.
A satisfying Star Wars film that tries to be a little different. Despite knowing how it will all end, the film does an admirable job of making you care for some of the characters and giving you edge of your seat excitement and entertainment. Easily recommended.
How to Be Single (2016)
I Expected Worse...
There was one point in the film where I asked myself, why do I not absolutely hate this film? It seems to fall into the category of movies that I simply cannot stand, but for some weird reason, this film fails to make me hate it. It's not good, let's get that out of the way fast, but I did not hate this film. In fact, it has some positive things going for it. Who'da thunk it?
Alice, played by the delightful Dakota Johnson, dumps her college boyfriend in an attempt to 'find herself'. She never really got to experience the single life and takes this opportunity to live life to the fullest. Her recently dumped boyfriend doesn't take too kindly to this idea, but what can the guy do? So Alice moves to New York, gets a job and meets Robin, played by the one note Rebel Wilson. Robin is also single and loves the care free feeling of it all. She takes it upon herself to teach Alice how to milk the single life by getting free drinks, lots of sex and great parties. Alice's sister, Meg, played by Leslie Mann, let's Alice stay with her because she is too busy being a career driven doctor to have time to settle down for a family. So her apartment is usually empty, much like her love life. Which she likes to convince herself, is absolutely fine. Finally, another character that seems to have next to no connection to ANYONE ELSE, Lucy, played by the adorable Alison Brie, is determined to find a husband by using her algorithm online to find that perfect man. The big problem is that she keep running into weirdos. Will she finally see that the good looking and funny bartender that she keeps flirting with is a great match for her? Oh...the suspense.
Yeah, so this film has a lot going on...and nothing going on at the same time. We mainly follow Alice, as she fumbles her way through the single life. Going from one guy to another, trying to find someone to replace that empty feeling inside her heart after she realized she made a mistake dumbing her boyfriend. In a situation like that, it's obvious that the guy is going move on and leave YOU behind, when YOU thought it was going to end the opposite way. Oh, the irony. Her sister has the most interesting story out of anyone. She has been so focused on her career, that she neglected any form of a relationship outside of her own sister. Yet that changes when she is asked to watch a kid for a few moments while the mother goes to the washroom. For some reason, this baby wins her over and she decides she wants to have a kid. Determined to raise a child on her own, yet those plans are thrown into the fire once a good-looking young man introduces himself to her at a party and they start dating. Does he want the same things as her? A child? Or simply a 'good-time', something all young good-looking males want, according to Mann.
Alison Brie is a one note character here trying to find the right guy. Her story seems completely out of place in relation to the other ones. The only connected piece if the bartender who helps her out, because he slept with Alice and gave her some inside details about how guys think. Finally Rebel Wilson, with ZERO character development or attributes. She is literally the comic relief and nothing more. She comes in with her crazy antics and one liners about sex and then goes away. Nothing new for her.
The men in the film are resorted to background dressing. We're suppose to believe that they overcome their own hurdles in life, either by realizing they are man whores and finally deciding to move on from their depressing past. The men are plot pieces to move the other characters forward for whatever reason the story dictates. They have no real motives or desires of their own. It's all thinly painted window dressing on the surface to make you think there is.
How To Be Single avoids some clichés (the Brie storyline) and falls for others (the Mann storyline). The core message of being perfectly confident in yourself and with who you are is an obvious one when dealing with "life issues". The film offers nothing new, nor thought provoking for those living the single life. It offers a few laughs here and there, but that depends on how funny you find Wilson. Also...everyone lives in swanky places in New York...where are the toilet bowl apartments? Do they exist in this world? No way!!!
The Girl on the Train (2016)
Completely Boring and Uninspired.
The Girl on the Train is one of the biggest selling debut novels ever, a book that was fast published to nip at the heels of the success of Flynn's Gone Girl. It makes sense that Hollywood would want to capitalize on this as well. The novel of The Girl on the Train will always be in Gone Girl's shadow, whether it's warranted or not and Tate Taylor's film suffers the same fate. Fincher had great success with Gone Girl, Taylor doesn't do the book justice and the book isn't even that great.
Rachel takes a train to and from New York everyday. While on her commute she always notices one couple from one house, this is Scott and Megan. She's never met them, but she likes to make up imaginary lives for them, thinking they are the perfect couple. One day, she sees Megan with another man and it turns her whole world upside down. Yet, can her judgement be trusted? She suffers from an addiction to alcohol, something she was driven to after her failed marriage with her husband Tom. Tom just so happens to live two houses down from Scott and Megan with his new wife and child, living in the same house Rachel use to live in. Things go from bad to worse when Megan goes missing and Rachel purposely inserts herself into the investigation to find out the truth.
There seems to be a lot going on by this description, but truth be told, the film fails to have any of it be interesting. You'd think that a mystery of a girl gone missing and having an unreliable narrator make for some suspense, but Taylor never creates any. The film feels hollow at its core and unfortunately it never manages to be what it tries so hard to be, which is a successful thriller. I ask myself, at what point was this film suspenseful? All of it is held until the last ten minutes, the reveal if you will, even then it's a fizzle. The biggest problem with the film is how boring it is. I'm watching this film from a viewpoint of a reader from the book. Yet I can't help but feel that if I hadn't read the book, that the reveal at the end would still be a predictable slug. The viewer gets to the ending well before the film does and you are sitting there just waiting for this film to catch up.
There are numerous "suspects" in the film and it wants you to believe in every single one of them, but anyone who watches a film knows that none of these people will turn out to be responsible. The book is told from 3 perspectives, Rachel, Megan and Anna, who is Tom's new wife. The film tries to juggle these perspectives throughout the almost 2 hour running time and not surprisingly is fumbles. Rachel, played by Emily Blunt is clearly the main focus. Megan, played by Haley Bennett, my favourite performance, has her story mostly told through flashbacks. Finally there is Anna, played by Rebecca Ferguson, whom I didn't even recognize until I started writing this review, is given the least amount of things to do.
On the other side of things we have Justin Theroux, Luke Evans and Edgar Ramirez as the three supporting male characters. Theroux is the perfect husband on the outside, but could possibly be hiding something sinister underneath. Evans is the husband of the missing woman, a man with anger issues and abuse claims. The look of him is intimidating enough for some and finally Ramirez as Megan's therapist with questionable morals. Each performance, while fine, serves the role written on the paper and none stand out beyond the page. The one performance in the whole film that goes above and beyond may be Blunt's, to the point of annoyance. Rachel is a drunk and Blunt goes for broke with her "drunk" performance. I really hated the character of Rachel in the books and Blunt does nothing to really win me over with the performance in the film either.
The film doesn't faulted because of the performances, those are fine for the most part. It suffers from the direction. Taylor does absolutely nothing to make the film memorable, to make it look enticing, to make it worth watching. The film bored me and I don't really get bored during films. Taylor does nothing to make me care for the mystery at the core of this story. I really wanted this film to be good, to be suspenseful and work as an adult thriller. It fails to do those things and it's one of the bigger disappointments of the year.
The Shallows (2016)
"What was once in the deep is now in the shallows"
Clocking in at a quick 87 minutes, The Shallows never strays from what it knows it is, a heart thumping survival flick. The plus side to the film is that it deals with a shark and Blake Lively in a bikini for the majority of the film.
Still having difficulties with the loss of her mother to cancer, Nancy decides to put her medical schooling on hold to go globe trotting to a beautiful island her mother once went to. The perfect place to be at peace, surf and try not to get eaten by a shark. Nancy soon finds herself stranded on a rock, 200 yards away from the shore. With the shark circling her and the tide coming in, she only has so much time before hers runs out.
Ryan Reynolds, not too long ago, did a one man show in the film Buried. Now it's his wife's turn as she has to hold this film on her shoulders. Can she carry a film? When most of the shots of her lean more towards eye-candy, I'll say she serves her purpose. But, I don't want to undermine her like that. She was surprisingly good in The Town and I really like the film The Age of Adeline. Her she is relegated to screaming, talking to herself and at the end of the day....look good. She does this and while she doesn't blow anyone away with her acting abilities here, she manages to do the material justice.
Is the film scary? Not really, but it does have at least one good jump moment. I didn't feel the dread as much as the filmmakers would have wanted me to. The tension on the other hand, is indeed there. How is she going to make it out alive? Will she? What will be left of her is she makes it to the shore? A lot of questions will run through your mind when she is stuck on that rock.
The Shallows is essentially a B-Movie with a Hollywood make-over. The main draw of the flick is the shark, not much else. The film tries to give a bit of depth to our lead character, but it's extremely cookie-cutter at best. Her family drama stalls the film a bit, which is a bad thing when the film is so short. Chalk that up to mediocre writing.
Unfortunately the film has some pretty awful CGI that takes you out of the experience. Specifically, I caught myself laughing at moments when Lively was "surfing", yet it's clearly someone else and her face CGI'd on top. Then the shark itself is hit or miss. When it jumps out of the water to attack people, it's laughable. Yet when it is underwater and we see it from above, it's really menacing. The film excels with the make-up though, creating some great work on Lively for her injuries. Horror desperately needs to go back to basics, cause it works well.
With a goofy ending, The Shallows falls a hair short of being a classic shark flick. It's a decent summer film that will keep you thrilled no doubt, but it will have to sit at the back of the bus with Jaws driving and Deep Blue Sea sitting near the front.
The Conjuring 2 (2016)
"There was a crooked man and he walked a crooked mile...."
James Wan is the best horror director working today. The man knows the genre so well that he can easily manipulate the atmosphere to terrorize the viewer. Such a masterful sense of control that he can easily control your fear. With this sequel, Wan has created 3 very successful and engaging horror series.
Paranormal Investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren are called to England to investigate whether or not the Enfield family are plagued by deadly spirits or if the family is lying and the whole thing is a hoax. We as the viewer know the truth, we are with this family when the strange occurrences start happening. Yet Wan cleverly depicts such things in a shroud of mystery when the Warren's arrive to make them question if what is happening is real or not. Should they leave thinking it's fake, the terror we feel for the family will be even greater.
I believe The Conjuring to be one of the best horror films of the last decade and it's a hard act to follow. Wan tries to up the ante here with the sequel, the scares are more frequent, the demons/ghosts more creepy and the tension is tighter. I still believe the original to be slightly better because it was fresh and the atmosphere was simply brilliant, but Wan does marvellous things with the sequel.
Look to any other horror film and the artistic merit fails by comparison. Wan doesn't need blood and guts or even cheap jump scares to make the viewer scared. He simply builds tension, plays with our expectations and uses creative camera techniques to make the film memorable. One particular scene that stands out in my mind is when Ed first interviews Janet, the little girl who is the focus of the terror. The demon/ghost will not communicate unless they look away, so Ed turns his back to Janet. Wan focuses the camera on Ed, while Janet is out of focus in the background. It's one static shot where the out of focus character slowly and eerily changes into the demon/ghost. We never get a good luck at the thing, but we can see enough to know something is eerily off. Effectively creepy with the simplest camera technique. What other horror director would do something like that today?
Highly recommended for the horror fan and people who really adore the original. Wan has stepped out of the horror genre and has had success (Fast Seven), but he loves the genre too much to abandon it. The man knows how to direct a horror film and he directs this one extremely well. My one complaint is that the film is long. Clocking in well over 2 hours, it feels like it at times. I'd say to maybe take out one of the scares, but I love each one. Add to the fact that most of the effects are practical and it makes me appreciate the film even more.
"Our hope is destroyed; there is nothing to go back to."
I feel conflicted over this film because I want to like it, I want it to be successful and I believe the world created in the film can obviously be expanded upon and offer some truly great cinematic experiences. Duncan Jones, who gave us the brilliant Moon and exciting Source Code is behind the camera and brings a wonderful visual style, but as is the case with a lot of big budget CGI filled epic flicks, the visual style is not enough.
The Orc world is dying and they need to find another to live. Gul'dan unite the Orc clans together to become The Horde. He uses a magical power known as The Fel to create a portal to another world, Azeroth. The portal needs life to be sacrificed in order to work so thousands of people are captured in Azeroth in an attempt to bring even more of The Horde over to conquer the lands. Sir Anduin Lothar, a military commander leads the humans in a fight to protect their land. Along with their King, a magical being known as The Guardian and a mage in training, they need to stop the portal from being built before it's too late.
As basic as the premise sounds (evil invading / good defending) the film throws a lot at you in quick successions. I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel overwhelmed by it all. I've never played the games, so I'm sure I missed a lot of winks and nods and of course my enjoyment of it might be on the lesser side of things, but Warcraft is exciting in many sequences. Those exciting sequences astonish the eyes with dazzlingly effects. I doubt we'll see anything that looks better this year, the Orcs feel alive. In particular Durotan, an Orc that believes his leader Gul'dan is doing more damage than good. He is the one Orc that is given something that resembles a backstory. His wife gives birth early in the film and I can only assume that the child goes on to become someone important in the game franchise.
On the human side, Lothar is the character that Jones decides to focus on. He's a soldier, that's all he knows. He's even brought his son up to be soldier. His two duties in life are to protect his son and protect the King. With the invading armies of the Horde, his skills and loyalty are put to the test. The King, basically does what a King does, order people to do this, order people to do that. We get little interaction with a more humanistic side to him. Magic is also a big portion of the film, with a man known as The Guardian who holds what seems to be unlimited power and a Mage, who is still learning his spells. They fill their basic fantasy roles, but I can't help but feel that Ben Foster, who plays the Guardian, is miscast. Maybe it's his age, but I simply did not believe him in this film at all.
Warcraft is full on fantasy. Giant birds, magical beings, kingdoms and castles. For those not interested in those things, Warcraft will not convert you. In fact it will make you feel more alienated. What it does do, for me at least, is be interested in the possibility of a sequel. The film throws a few surprises at you and does a lot of set-up for those future instalments, which might not even come. As it stands, Warcraft is a film to watch on a big screen, in high definition. I totally understand why the critics hate it, why the fans love it and why I'm somewhere in the middle.
Now You See Me 2 (2016)
"We are going out with a show people will never forget."
Now You See Me 2 wins the title for most unnecessary sequel, maybe of all time. The first film was a surprise with decent twists and performances. It was a success, apparently to the point where the studio thought the audience needed more. We didn't and this film doesn't really offer anything new and it expects us to really be invested in these characters and their story. Yet neither of these things are really compelling enough for a second go-around. As a result, this sequel just manages to be serviceable.
The Horsemen are in hiding and the FBI are on the hunt for them. It's been over a year and now the stage is set for their triumphant return. Just when they reappear in the limelight, the trick seems to be on them. Their entire stage was hijacked and they find themselves at the mercy of Walter, a mad genius who needs their skills to steal a microchip. In this battle of wits, which magician has the upper hand?
I begged my wife to see The Conjuring 2, but she was terrified of the original and absolutely did not want to see the sequel in theatres. Double that for the fantasy adventure film Warcraft, so we were stuck seeing the magic heist flick Now You See Me 2...why this wasn't called Now You Don't, me and millions of others apparently will never know. Most of the cast has returned with the exception of Isla Fisher and Mélanie Laurent, with the former disappearance explained away with a few bits of dialogue. In her place we have Lizzy Caplan, who seems a lot more at ease with the cast and the material. One of the welcomed additions to this sequel.
While the original was somewhat refreshing, this one treads the same waters. I was pleasantly surprised by the twists and turns the original offered us, here everything is telegraphed and predicted a few scenes beforehand. Thus the magic is gone, to a degree. The spectacle is still there is some sequences, yet the revelation is timid. I had to stop thinking about logic a lot of times in order to enjoy the spectacle. One sequence involving the team throwing a card between each other to keep it hidden from people inspecting them, was really well done. But why do they need to throw it to each other? Why not just have one of them keep it and continuously hide it? I don't know. Double goes for a plot hole that I simply do not understand involving a fake chip and the real one. NYSM2 doesn't bother to explain much that makes sense and instead tries to explain what we already know.
As I said before, Caplan is the one good addition the film does. Most of the cast seems to sleepwalk through their roles, especially Eisenberg. The second new addition is Daniel Radcliffe, who despite playing a "magician" does his best to shed that Harry Potter persona. Between his role in Horns, here and the upcoming Swiss Army Man, I hope he manages to do it. NYSM2 is again, a pointless sequel that manages to entertain enough to warrant a view if you're a fan of the original.
Freaks of Nature (2015)
I think I'm having brain withdrawals.
So much potential was wasted on a mediocre execution. Freaks of Nature could have, should have and would have been a really fun romp with the genre and despite the pace of the film being set to go for most of the running time, lazy editing and shortcuts in the writing leave me a little than more underwhelmed.
Zombies, Vampires and Humans coexists in the small down of Dillford. The zombies have shock collars on them if they try to eat humans and are given janitorial type jobs. Vampires and humans hate each other, but put their differences aside to live their lives. When the arrival of aliens throws everything out the window in a royal rumble of sorts between the three different "species", it's up to three teenagers, one vampire, one zombie and one human, to get the town's life back to "normal".
What a wild and interesting premise. Backed up by a comedic supporting cast including Denis Leary, Bob Odenkirk, Joan Cusack, Patton Oswalt and Keegan-Michael Key in small but decent roles, Freaks of Nature seemed destined to be a cult comedy hit. Yet the sporadic writing and uneven editing end of hurting it. Some of the jokes hit, some misfire completely and the film never really reaches the absurdity of the premise. Strong performances from the three leads was surprising and fuel the film with funny gore effects. Vampires literally explode gallons of blood everywhere once they are staked. One character is eaten alive and never manages to "die" or pass out from the carnage, he comments on why he is still alive as the zombies eat his guts, or put his guts back to eat another part of his body. These little funny moments are few and far between.
I'm not sure if I enjoyed A Scout's Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse more or not, but both of those films feel similar in humour and structure. Freaks is nowhere near as smart of funny as it thinks it is. Stronger writing and a more keen sense of direction could have elevated this film into that cult status that it desperately wants to be part of. I'm a little disappointed it took the lazy route.
It also doesn't live up to that awesome poster.
Lost After Dark (2015)
This 80's Homage Flick Doesn't Work.
I thought that the film The Final Girls, which is an homage to 80's slasher flicks, embraced the genre almost perfectly, but played it too safe resulting in a mixed bag. Lost After Dark fares even worse, having zero comedy, zero fun and drags the viewer through complete boredom before the final credits rolls. The film is a chore to get through and rewards the viewer with absolutely nothing.
At their high school dance a group of friends decide to steal a school bus and go up to a family cabin for some fun. Their bus breaks down in the middle of nowhere and the kids find themselves being picked off one by one from a crazed cannibal killer. Who will survive? What will be left of them? And every other 80's horror tagline you can think of.
This film desperately needed to be played for laughs and the biggest mistake it makes is that it chooses to play everything seriously. It wants us to believe that this film could have actually been from the 80's. Yet it has none of the charm that those slasher films had, as bad as some of those movies were, they had a sense of charm. This film has zero, nada, nothing really going for it. Being intentionally retro does not equal a good film.
It purposely inserts the classic "film grain" to make it feel authentic. It never works. It even lamely incorporates the "missing reel" gag that worked to hilarious results in Grindhouse. Here it's a pathetic attempt to try and feel more genuine. It fails, miserably. Aesthetic failures aside, the script fares even worse.
It seems the only thing the writers know about are the clichéd horror stereotypes. We are given the jock, the token black guy, the nerd, slut, good-girl, etc. We are forced to listen to them spew inane dialogue back and forth in a sad attempt at building character. It never works and makes the film feel longer than it actually is. The entire first half of the film drags at a wickedly slow pace and the so-called pay off of kills doesn't ever reach its potential.
I will give the film some credit though, it surprised me with the initial death. That one moment where they manage to fool the audience and pull the rug out from under our feet is the only interesting moment in the entire film.