Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Shallows: Might Be That One Good Sleeper Movie Of The Summer

By now, us movie lovers know exactly how the year of movies is going to play out. Jan-Feb are Hollywood dumping grounds.  There are hardly, if ever, any movies worth seeing that aren't late-December Oscar bait leftovers.  March-April give us some quieter movies but prepare us for summer. May-August is Summer movie blockbuster fare. Sept-Oct are much like the first two months but with an overabundance of cheaply made horror films.  Nov-Dec is Oscar time (probably the best months to see movies).  However, there are exceptions (ie The Lego Movie came out in Feb).  One of the biggest exceptions to the summer blockbusters are those sleeper movies that are very good but go under the radar. Last year it was Ex Machina.  Two years ago it was Chef and Snowpiercer. This year (though I haven't seen Swiss Army Man yet), the label of quietly good summer movie could go to The Shallows

I'm a big fan of aquatic monster movies.  As a kid I grew up watching Jaws, Deep Blue Sea, Lake Placid, Anaconda, etc. The best ones were the ones on opposite ends of the spectrum.  Either it's terrifying and serious like Jaws or campy and ridiculous like Deep Blue Sea. The ones that try to combine the two normally turn out pretty blah (Shark Night 3D-- terrible). The Shallows, even though it does have a couple of moments of camp, generally stays in the tension-filled thriller category like Jaws.  The film follows Nancy (Blake Lively) as she treks her way to a secluded secret paradise of a beach that her late mother had visited several years earlier. She's out to contemplate several important life decisions as well as come to terms with her mother's death. She does this by surfing. Whilst in the water, she is attacked by a shark.  She finds a small rock formation several hundred yards from the shore and takes shelter away from the killer shark.  However, she knows that by nightfall, the tide will rise and she'll be back in the water with the shark. 

So, the film is essentially Castaway but with a shark.  Or Buried but instead of a coffin-- yeah... it's with a shark.  The film relies solely on Blake Lively to carry it, which is what worried me going into it and what surprised me after seeing so many positive reviews.  I can't exactly put my finger on it, but I just don't like her. There is nothing particularly wrong with her (nothing particularly special, either), I haven't seen her in much and she hasn't been that bad in anything, but for some reason I just can't stand her. For me, the biggest drawback for seeing the film was her. However, though she doesn't necessarily blow me away with her performance, she was serviceable and the least irritating I've ever seen her. She carries the movie on her shoulders and does a decent job. I actually found myself rooting for her every once in awhile, which was surprising. 

I guess most of the movie was surprising to me, actually. There was a lot stacked against the movie. It was a shark attack movie that garnered a PG-13 rating, but the violence, blood and terror in the film aren't necessarily lacking.  In fact, there are a couple of shots where I don't know how they got away with anything less than an R. Blake Lively didn't necessarily strike me as an actor strong enough to carry a movie alone, but she did fine. And director Jaume Collet-Serra doesn't necessarily have the best track record (previous movies include Unknown, Non-Stop, and House of Wax... though I did like Run All Night) and to make a movie with one actor vs. one shark is a difficult task to accomplish.  And while the result is far from Jaws, it's probably the best shark movie since. It's also a beautifully shot film. The shots of the ocean, the beach, the waves, the underwater creatures, everything. It's actually a sight to see before during and after the thrills begin. The whole movie could legitimately be a screensaver. It's that beautiful. 

At the end of the day, yes, it boils down to a shark attack movie, but it's a very well-written, well-shot, and well-acted shark attack movie. Through the combination of practical effects and a CGI shark, the shark does look very creepy. There were only a couple of instances where I was taken out of the terror by thinking to myself that the shark looked fake or the CGI was lacking (because there's really not a ton of it). And, the last two minutes of the film is the most cringe-worthy of the entire movie (no, that's not a good thing) and should've been cut entirely. However, while The Shallows is probably only going to make a moderate amount of money, it looks like it's going to be one of the few underrated sleeper hits of the summer. If any part of the film interested you, I urge you to seek it out, just to see the gorgeous cinematography and have a little bit of fun.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Finding Dory: Does, In Fact, Just Keep Swimming

Do I even need to write a review for Finding Dory?  Is there anyone out there (who doesn't already hate Finding Nemo for some strange self-loathing reason) that thinks that this movie was going to suck? Is there anyone out there who thinks that Pixar is losing its momentum and starting to sell out sequels with zero commitment to providing above average family entertainment. Did anyone see Inside Out last year and think-- this will be the last Pixar movie I'll ever see?  Does anyone think that Dory is one of the worst characters in the Pixar universe and is least likely to deserve her own film? Of course not. If you thought yes to any of the above then you don't need to read this because you will hate Finding Dory and any sort of child-like wonderment that used to reside in your body is gone and turned to ash and salty cigarette butts. Finding Dory is yet another success for Pixar to continue on an unbelievable legacy of animated entertainment.

It's been thirteen years since Finding Nemo swept across theaters and skyrocketed the Pixar name into superstardom. (To put this into perspective-- Finding Nemo came out the same summer as The Matrix Reloaded and Bruce Almighty-- yeah, you're getting old.) We went on a journey with Marlin (Albert Brooks) traversing the entire ocean in search of his young son, Nemo.  Along the way he bonds with short-term memory deficient Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) to aid him in his search and teach him about trust and love and all that junk that makes a decent person. Now, one year after the events of the first film Dory is still around Marlin and Nemo.  They love her, but her constant forgetting and losing her way is starting to get on their tiny fish nerves.  Suddenly, she starts to remember little aspects of her childhood and parents.  She makes her way to California, with Marlin and Nemo in tote, to find her parents at the Marine Life Institute. There, she is separated from Marlin and Nemo and finds an ally in a grumpy octopus, Hank (Ed O'Neil) to get her to the exhibit that her parents were last seen.

It could've been very easy for writer/director Andrew Stanton (who also wrote and directed the first film) to give us a repeat of the first film. Because Dory doesn't remember most things, her getting lost in the vastness of the Ocean with Marlin having to seek her out once again would've been an easy script to write.  But, it wouldn't have been original.   And while Marlin/Nemo get separated from Dory and they do technically have to "find" her... they know she's inside the Institute. There's not an entire ocean separating them.  The title, in fact, refers more to the fact that Dory got separated from her family when she was so young that they have been trying to find her ever since. It's a cute little film that has all the feel and heart of the first film, but feels like a mostly original piece.  It also could've been easy for Dory to become a caricature or an obnoxious lead character, but she's always fun and always empathetic.

The only minor complaints I have about the film is that because the film is mostly centralized within the Marine Life Institute, it doesn't feel like the same scope that the first one lived in. The first movie was populated with so many different characters and locations it was exciting to see not just where Marlin and Dory would go next, but how they would overcome the current obstacle preventing them from getting to Nemo on the other side of the entire ocean.  And while Finding Dory has some great side characters (a near-sighted whale shark, a hypochondriac beluga whale, a pair of lazy sea lions, a helper bird with crazy eyes, etc.), it just didn't feel like the vastness of the first film. And, one element that Pixar has always been exceptional creating is conflict.  There is almost always a moment or two in a Pixar movie where the conflict has come to a head and it legitimately seems like all is lost for the main characters (don't even get me started with the incinerator scene in Toy Story 3), but they come up with some out-of-the-box creative and clever way of getting out of the trouble and saving the day.  There was never really any of that in Finding Dory.  There were constant moments of conflict within the film, but they all felt like minor conflicts that had pretty quick and easy solutions. As far as the "feel" of a sequel, this one actually felt like the smaller movie, but that doesn't mean it wasn't good.  It just wasn't AS good.

Whether I'm just being nitpicky or what, Finding Dory carries over the magic of exceptional animated movies that Pixar has become now become the household name for.  Each movie seems to look more gorgeous than the last. There is so much more detail in every under the sea element and every sea creature/animal that the first movie's effects are garbage (clearly, they're not really).  It's like when you were a child and the Playstation released the PS2.  Compared the the first one, it was groundbreaking.  But compare a PS2 game to a PS4 game and there's hardly any comparison.  That's what Finding Dory is like (I was trying to figure out a less nerdy comparison, but I'm tired and thinking hurts). It's a gorgeous movie.  It's a fun movie.  It's a movie that will make you laugh, cry, and cheer. Pretty much your typical Pixar fare-- and that's almost never a bad thing.


Friday, June 24, 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence: Welcome Back To Earf

Let's just get this out of the way now.  There is a LOT that is terrible about this movie. It's mostly awful.  It's mostly the stuff of showing you your childhood through shit-covered lenses. When writers and directors are asked to produce a sequel to their own films that are two decades old-- something happens in the process and it smells a lot like stale, moldy shit.

Yet-- I say, YET-- there is a LOT that is f**king awesome about this movie.

Independence Day was my Star Wars when I was a kid. I was eight years old when it came out and my parents took me to see it at the local dollar theater.  I had never loved a movie as much as I did that one. I asked for posters, action figures, alien fighter jets, Jeff Goldblum movies, old re-runs of Taxi, and a giant alien blaster gun. I watched the movie so often I literally wore out my VHS copy that I had to save up to buy another one. I can quote damn near the entire movie from start to finish. It's where I learned "up yours". It's where Will Smith transitioned from sitcom star to movie star. It's where Randy Quaid was still someone who was allowed on screen.  And it's where Bill Pullman gave the greatest inspirational speech in MOVIE HISTORY. (Yeah-- I'm going there.  There is no better speech. Anywhere. Ever.) And due to the fact that it had a modest budget for a large blockbuster film, a lot more practical effects were utilized than CGI which allows the movie to [mostly] hold up to today's standards. It's a damn near perfect sci-fi film... okay, it's not perfect, but it's one of the most fun. Independence Day: Resurgence is not this. It's almost all the opposite of this. But, there is still some good about the film that doesn't totally Jurassic World your entire childhood.

The Return: So, let's see, we've got a bunch of people in this cast. Most of them are legitimately unnecessary, but here we go. So, after the attacks of 1996, the world has been united and nearly all intercontinental war has been eliminated. We have also harnessed the power and technology of the aliens and beefed up our world with giant moon weapons and floating cars. There is a female President (Sela Ward) who is preparing for the 20 year anniversary of the country's greatest battle. Up on the moon is Jake (Liam Hemsworth-- I'm going to save my disdain for this man for another paragraph) who is some sort of soldier on the moon with his buddy Charlie, some little wiener kid soldier who cracks lame not-even-fit-for-the-90s jokes. Jake is dating Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe-- because original Patricia from 1996 was Mae Whitman-- best known as Ann from Arrested Development-- but it seems Egg was deemed not attractive enough to fulfill this role. Dicks.), the daughter of former President, and resident crazy bearded guy with a limp, Whitmore (Bill Pullman).  Jake has beef with Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher, also not the original cast Dylan) who is Will Smith's kid all grown up.  He's a war hero-- because Will Smith is dead. And during training Jake almost accidentally, recklessly killed him. Back on Earth-- there's THE MAN David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) trying to figure out some sort of alien signal with some stereotypical African warlord, and being followed by some frumpy American John Oliver-looking dude that literally has NO BUSINESS being in this film. My boy William Fichtner is some general or something. Finally, as far as returning characters, we have David's father, Julius Levinson (Judd Hirsch) to return for all the fun.  Oh, and that crazy doctor with the weird hair.  Oh, and Will Smith's stripper turned respected doctor in only 20 years wife.

Holy shit. I haven't even gotten to the plot yet. Making it quick-- the aliens come back pissed as all hell in a spaceship the size of the entire Atlantic Ocean.  They reign down Hell in all its forms and legitimately mess up Earth on a scale considerably bigger than last time. There. That wasn't so bad. So, let's start with what's bad and what's good about this sequel.

The Bad: Well, friends, there is a lot that is bad about this movie. I'd say that it's mostly bad. And this is due to the tiny little element of all the actors cast. This is some atrocious acting. There must be some sort of weird millennial divide of who young people wanted to see and respected on screen in the 90s compared to now. Will Smith was young. Goldblum was young (ish).  They had humor. They had charisma. They had rapport. They had character. They're damn good actors. Every one of the new actors cast are hollow and wooden and boring and terrible. Little Will Smith is awkward and trying as hard as he can to replicate that magic that Will Smith brought to the screen only to look like a cheap impression (you know, like when someone tries to do a Schwarzenegger impression but they only just, like, growl and say 'chopper'). The new President's daughter is boring. She's there to look pretty, have big eyes, and cry a lot.  Oh, and randomly get tough out of nowhere-- awkwardly. Hey, guys, Mae Whitman-- Egg-- is still acting.  And she's a good one! But, Liam Hemsworth... my God do I hate him.  I thought I hated him as whiny, brooding Gale in The Hunger Games... I did not know my level of hatred could flow get this deep. He's not even just vanilla yogurt anymore.  He's three year old vanilla yogurt that's been left in the back corner of the fridge without the top on. He knows one facial expression- douchebag.

Even a lot of the returning actors aren't that great. I mean, Goldblum can hold his own, but Pullman kinda hams it up a little too hard. But even as bad as the acting is in this film, it's nothing compared to every single line of dialogue written and then subsequently uttered.  I'm talking bad.  This is like George Lucas bad.  I'd say worse. It's nothing but plot explanation and trying to re-use old jokes from the first film.  Everything everyone says is to further the plot, but not like in an organic way.  It's used in a "man... I can't believe you've been in a coma for 7800 days" kinda way (actual line spoken in the movie).  It's there to explain the plot and the characters to you instead of just watching the movie and developing characters in front of us. I don't think you understand how bad it sounds.  If there were a part when Lame Hemsworth (haha see what I did there. I'm clever) and Not Mae Whitman were talking and one said "Hey, remember when we started dating like two and a half years ago on a Tuesday in August..." it would fit right in! Then-- THEN-- they use the same jokes from the first movie OVER AGAIN. We hear the entire speech from Pullman like three times in the movie. Will Smith's kid-- when taking out an alien-- talks about a "close encounter"! Are you kidding me??? You can't take portions of great lines from the original and write them shittier and give them to worse actors. It's nails on a chalkboard.  It's a shovel scraping the sidewalk. It's someone trying to shred a rusty spoon with a cheese grater. This is one of the only times in the last decade or so I've longed for Randy Quaid.

Finally, there are a LOT of obvious plot holes and unnecessary characters. There's the warlord who looks like he's found the secret to destroying the aliens, but the information he provides isn't used by anyone. There's some weird white trash family in a car that I guess is supposed to fill the void of Randy Quaid-- it doesn't-- it's weird and makes no sense. There's a boat full of Irish pirates (I'm not making this up) who apparently have a computer that can tell how far into the Earth the aliens are drilling and how many minutes before they reach Earth's core-- and this, of course, is after all of the satellites lining the Earth are destroyed. Several instances of "accidental" run-ins lead to good things. And just the amount of characters that aren't needed is astonishing.  The frumy John Oliver pencil pushing looking dude is the worst. He's also there for some sort of comedic relief, but garners neither laughs nor any semblance of relief. He contributes zero to them movie.

So... the majority of the film sucking butt is largely due to the casting and the horrendous dialogue that apparently nobody thought twice about taking a red pen to.  Now...

The Good: The rest of it is not just good, it's great. The plot of the movie is fantastic. Obviously, sequels need to be bigger in scope and size, but this one raises the bar to an unprecedented level. The obvious choice for a sequel is to have the aliens come back in retaliation, but the way they come back and F**K EVERYTHING UP is amazing to watch. The amount of destruction is indescribable. The ideas on how to stop the aliens is great. The way that idea is shit on by the aliens immediately is fantastic. The aliens themselves kicking our asses and the resolve of the human race to never give up, never surrender is in perfect Independence Day form. Had this same script been written two, three years after the original and Will Smith wasn't killed off over a salary dispute, it might've actually been the perfect sequel to an amazing movie. Time has failed us in the writing department and the acting department... but it has helped in the visual department.  The action and destruction and devastation of the alien attacks and traps and plans and everything is a sight to see. For all of our plans, they have a bigger and badder counter-plan.  Like, this shit should be un-winnable. It's so much fun to watch-- and then they speak and the only response is to recoil in disgust in your seat. However, when the action and effects are the highlight of your film, characters and development have severely failed.

So, consensus? It's mostly terrible. But it's a lot of awesome. If there was a way that the sound could go out in your theater and you didn't have to hear a single character speak-- it might actually be one of the best movies of the year. Obviously, if you are a fan of the first film, I'm going to tell you to see this one because there are elements that are just as good if not better than the first. But, every human character (minus the Levinsons-- God I love Goldblum) is a waste of film and every line spoken is a hate crime against paper. The first 25 minutes of the film are absolutely unbearable, so that's the first hurdle.  But, then, after that is when the action picks up and as long as nobody is talking-- you're gonna have a good time.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Central Intelligence: One Hart Plus One Johnson Should've Been More Than Just A Quickie

The world of stand up comedy is a strange one. It's always a little weird who gets mega-famous and who is just a recognizable face, but no so much a name.  I've always thought that back when Dane Cook was the biggest stand up comedian of all time that a guy like Greg Giraldo (RIP) was much funnier.  Yet, the world knew Dane Cook and would never be able to look at Giraldo and name him. We've had our Original Kings of Comedy and our Blue Collar Comedy tours (the former being much funnier), we've had Louis CK become a major presence in the stand up community-- only after twenty plus years of being nearly unknown, etc. Kevin Hart is one that confuses me. I don't think he's funny. At all. I've tried to give his stand up a chance on more than one occasion, but his punchlines don't ever land with me-- most of the time because I can guess what they're going to be. He's not a great storyteller and an even worse improviser. The jokes he tells, if told by an unknown, at a shitty open mic in L.A. wouldn't garner a single laugh because there's nothing particularly clever about them. Yes, I am white and there are certain themes in a lot of black comic's routines that just don't strike home for me, but that doesn't meant I don't think they're funny.  Dave Chappelle, Bernie Mac, Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Aries Spears, JB Smooth... are all brilliant.  Hell, Chris Rock, to me, is one of the smartest and funniest stand ups of my generation.  But, I don't like Kevin Hart.  He's right up there with Katt Williams and Martin Lawrence for me in that I don't understand how they achieved super-ultra-mega stardom.  Lawrence has always been a better comedic actor, than stand up and Katt Williams doesn't deserve any audience anywhere.  Kevin Hart's stand up translates exactly into his film roles because most of them allow him to improvise and it makes every role he's almost always done into the same one-- not funny.  Central Intelligence is no different.

I had high expectations entering into the film.  Though I don't like Kevin Hart and generally dislike most of his films, I liked the idea of him playing "the straight man" in the film next to a weird softie-yet-badass Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.  I figured because Hart always played the arrogant loud mouth that a regular Joe out of his element would be a nice change of pace. However, he's still Kevin Hart.  And while most of his "comedy" didn't land with me (or particularly with the other members of the theater I was in), he still garnered a few laughs. He stars as Calvin "The Golden Jet" Joyner, most popular kid in high school turned normal schlub in real life. He meets up after twenty years with Bob Stone (The Rock), a rotund high schooler humiliated at a pep rally turned beefcake CIA agent. During Bob's humiliating moment, Calvin took pity on him and handed him a jacket to cover his naked body.  This act of kindness is something Bob never forgot, considering Calvin his best friend-- even though the two haven't spoken in nearly two decades. Bob, inadvertantly, and on purpose, involves Calvin on stopping an evil international plot to steal nuclear codes. Thus, this leads us to the set up of our typical action comedy.

Looking over the fact that the behavior of Bob is borderline psychotic and very stalker-like, he's a teddy bear. And The Rock is incredibly charming.  He's a badass CIA agent with a heart of gold who would do anything for his friend due to the kindness that was shown to him. Calvin, wanting nothing to do with the terrorist stoppage, fights to get away from Bob every step of the way.  There are genuine moments of great chemistry between the two of them and neither are that annoying of characters, but it's just not that funny. There are comical situations that garner chuckles here and there, but nothing is that over-the-top funny.  There is also nothing that over-the-top crazy when it comes to the action either. By trying to put a clever spin on the Lethal Weapon formula that started it all, there is neither an overwhelming amount of comedy or action in the movie, which is a little disappointing. This was obviously lower than my expectations had led me to believe the movie would've been, but had I gone in with an open mind-- it still wouldn't have been that funny.

While Hart wasn't bad, even better than just tolerable, I think his presence in the film hindered the amount of laughs it could've achieved. As stated earlier, his ability to improvise is something to be desired and he isn't able to elevate the movie above a higher plane of comedy. The Rock does his best with his character, but being the 'weird' one in the film only works if you have a perfect straight man-- think how the entire cast of Arrested Development plays off of straight-man Michael (Jason Bateman, who incidentally has a cameo in this film). So, while Hart wasn't his normal annoying Ride Along self, there isn't much by means of comedic elevation.

This is also a little disheartening due to the writer/director of the film.  Rawson Marshall Thurber might not be a household name to you, but he's done a LOT in his few films in Hollywood.  His breakout movie was writing and directing the hilarious Dodgeball and following that up nearly ten years later with the very funny but understated We're The Millers.  He's a very good writer that comes with with very original scripts.  This one felt more rushed and less developed, especially comedically, than his other pieces. I still have faith in the guy, but this one is on the lower end of the totem of what should be an even better career.

Look, I love The Rock. He's the only celebrity I follow on Instagram because he's won me over that much (okay, I follow Arnold too-- shut up).  He's great in this movie and his range as both an action star and a budding comedic actor has risen, but working opposite Kevin Hart did him and the film no extra favors.  It's not an awful movie.  I wouldn't even go so far as to call it a bad movie.  It's a it's-too-hot-to-do-anything-let's-just-see-what's-new-on-HBOgo type of movie.  You're never going to regret seeing it and when it's over you're not going to hate it, but you probably won't remember it much longer after it's done. It's like finding a dollar in the couch.  You're not mad that you found it, but the amount of things you can buy with that dollar is less than something to shout about.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Conjuring 2: A Near Perfect Sequel

Remember back in the day when everything M. Night Shyamalan touched was gold? After The Sixth Sense he became the "rejuvinator of horror" after a mid-90s lull that was very slasher heavy with films like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer.  His name was a neon sign on every poster that promised not only terrifying films, but well written ones as well.  It wasn't until The Village that he started to lose that tag.  Then, after The Happening, there was no "master of horror" any longer.  That title ended up making its way to Eli Roth... who I very much like... but I wouldn't put him anywhere near a master of horror.  Then, in the midst of the torture porn reign of the mid 00s, James Wan gave us Saw.  Now, Saw didn't necessarily pave the way for Wan's type of horror, but it was the first entry into a great career as a horror director.  Following Saw came Insidious and The Conjuring.  Both were very good horror films.  What Wan does with the atmosphere and the creepy characters he invents is something special.  He's Hitchcock with a very prolific makeup artist.  He doesn't shock you with gore. He doesn't attack you with cheap jump scares.  He's just out to scare the shit out of you any way possible. It worked in Insidious.  It worked in The Conjuring. And it definitely works in The Conjuring 2.

Insidious 2 wasn't nearly as good as the first one, but Wan went a different direction.  He was looking more at the mythology of the world surrounding the story and less about trying to scare his audience.  There were still some great scares, but not nearly as terrifying and effective as the first one. He went back to his roots with The Conjuring, but nothing was overdone. In most of the movie it was almost subtle horror partnered with some very creepy moments. The Conjuring 2 forgoes all subtlety and goes balls out to not only entertain, but literally try to make you shit yourself in fear. Six years after the events of the first film, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are back and called to Enfield, England to help a family with a little poltergeist problem.  The Catholic church has decided to bring them in to decide whether or not the paranormal events occurring in the house are, indeed, real or if it's just another elaborate hoax. Inside the house is the Hodgson family and the youngest daughter, Janet is getting all kinds of terrorized. So, the Annabelle doll busters (please don't equate the movie Annabelle to The Conjuring... it has about as much relation to that movie as Son of the Mask does to The Mask) step in to do a little "this house is clean"-ing.

What could've ended up being a typical haunted house movie elevates itself above the rest with a great script, some very capable young actors, and a wonderful director who should never stop making horror movies. What separates Wan's films from other throwaway haunted/poltergeist/possession movies is that he, first, acknowledges horror tropes and then gives them an ironic reversal. Standard haunted-kid fare dictates that kid sees ghost, tells parents, ghosts hide, parents don't believe kid until it's too late.  Not this fucker.  This ghost DGAF's about who sees this haunting. The minute the mother is brought in to look under the bed, the shit hits the fan. Then, there's also that slow build up in most horror movies that reaches a climax of ultimate terror (or cheese, depending on the film).  Not this movie. It begins with a fright and doesn't let go.  It's not a roller coaster ride, because at least on a roller coaster there are moments of levity.  This is like being stuck upside down on a roller coaster and if you fall out, there's a meadow of knives waiting for you.

Then, there's just the aura surrounding the movie. Wan does so much with a simple steady shot on screen. In every scene there's always a bit of shadow lurking around the corner that your eyes keep darting to because you know there's something ominous hanging out waiting to strike. When he's not focused on a close-up shot of someone making you question what the hell is just on the outside of the screen-- he's closely following the character. You don't get any extra view of what the character can't see. You get to establish and escalate your own fear as the character does in real time. This raises the stakes and the fear factor within the film.  The main entity in the film is a demon dressed as clergy and, it might've just been me, it was effective enough that it didn't have to pop out of any corners (though it does a few times), just being on screen for a brief period of time sent goosebumps down my arms.

And yes, there are a few jump scares, but they don't feel cheap.  After ten solid minutes of just dread and terror, Wan throws one in to not only make you scream, but immediately make you laugh.  It's like the peak of each scene.  Get your heart beating, get your brow sweating, get your hands clammy, BOOM, a moment to laugh it off before we rinse and repeat. Farmiga and Wilson are both great, once again, and the actress who plays little Janet is also fantastic with a lot of the film riding on her shoulders, she carries it successfully. My only complaint with the movie is just a small one. In Wan's horror films he uses very minimal, if any, computer animation (as far as the ghosts go) and sticks with good old fashioned scary music and makeup.  In one scene, there is a child's toy with a drawn man inside which manifests itself into a walking, stalking being and it does look a bit cheesy.  It's a scary idea that should've added to the intensity of the film, but it just felt a little fake and cornbally-y.  Other than that, it was very chilling.

James Wan is our master of horror right now.  And he's been so good and so successful that we're not going to get another Wan horror for awhile (he's currently working on Aquaman).  So, unless he pulls a Shyamalan, we're just going to have to wait.  He's not every one's cup of tea, either.  If you didn't like Insidious or the first The Conjuring, then it's highly doubtful that you'll enjoy this one either.  I'm just a huge fan because these movies, especially this one, actually do scare me. This is no easy feat. There's a certain combination of atmosphere, intensity, creativity, uniqueness, and all around effectiveness of a scary movie to actually get me frightened, and Wan has done this-- several times. These are movies that have the feel of the old Hitchcock 50s quiet but deadly era, but revamped for a 2016 audience. I, for one, hope that once he's done making the big bucks with Marvel, he'll be back to try and scare us again.


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Warcraft: Internet Users Hate This Movie So I Don't Have To

Instead of watching this dumpster fire myself-- I decided to seek out the best of the worst user reviews the internet had to offer on sites like IMDB, rottentomatoes, and metacritic, etc. These are the highlights:

"Every scene after the first one demolishes any hope I had of this being an enjoyable experience. It's obvious that a ton of hard work went into this film from many talented artists, technicians, and professionals, but the truth is no matter how much lipstick you put on a pig..."

"Every minute was pure torture. Apparently this appeals to some group of people but I'm at a completely loss as to how or why."

"Uwe Boll is known for making worst movies based on games, but even he could not make it worse than this one!!!" 

"This movie is possibly the worst movie I have ever seen, including any Adam Sandler movie produced."

"Pretty unbelievable that post-production didn't decide to destroy all evidence of this movie ever being made in order to save their own careers as well as those of the rest of the cast."

"This movie has about as many laughs as a root canal."

"There is a lot of running around and yelling and go to the place and get the thing, but none of it is particularly entertaining."

"The lines were so woodenly delivered I thought I was watching the Phantom Menace."

"This film misses the mark and seems like it was made without any idea of what actually makes a story engaging."

"If you watched this movie with someone who said they loved it, you might want to reconsider your relationship with them."

"The plot that feels more like a first chapter in an endless, tedious saga of movies full of noise and CGI."

"Not a great movie or even a good one, but the air conditioning in the theater was cold."

"Every single actor really hates being in this movie and they don't even have the decency of hiding it."

"For the price of admission you can go buy a cheese-grater at Walmart, run home and use it to attempt self pleasure and achieve a more satisfying experience."

"The only thing worse than this movie are the people who are big fans of the game feeling pissed off about how bad the reviews are."

"It's the Transformers of fantasy movies."

"You don't even learn character names until 20+ fucking minutes into the movie."

"It's all too similar to sitting down at a friend's house, watching him play a game for two hours then jerking off into his bowl of Funyans and asking you-- 'you mad bro?'"

D (based off avg. critic scores) 

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Lobster: Funny, Dark, Disturbing, And Not At All What You Think It Is

Do me a favor. You've seen a trailer for The Lobster?  A little thirty second TV-spot, maybe? Some sort of advertisement for the film where you have a bit of an idea what it's going to be like and based off of that, you've decided whether you not you want to see the movie? Yeah-- forget all of that. Take any of those preconceived notions out of your head because I'm telling your right now-- the movie is not like that at all. The first maybe ten to fifteen minutes of the movie are-- the rest-- not so much. While the trailer may suggest that it's that quirky indie-comedy screwball Colin Farrell In Bruges-type mixed with some Wes Anderson... the result is something completely different, though incredibly unique. I honestly cannot tell if I absolutely hated the movie or if it was brilliant.

What the trailer shows is essentially the set up for the movie-- an alternate universe where if you're single, dumped, or lost your significant other, you have 45 days to find another love or you'll be turned into an animal of your choice. Single people go to a hotel in search of finding another true love. There, men and women co-mingle hoping to find a single common bond between them (such as two people prone to nosebleeds) which helps in aiding the love process. It really has no meaning in finding love whatsoever. Colin Farrell visits the hotel knowing that if he doesn't make it, he wants to be turned into a lobster. Also at the hotel, visitors go out into the woods hunting "loners" (defectors of love), and with each loner killed, they earn another day at the hotel. It's a quirky premise that, after explained, winds up much differently than expected (which I still can't decide if that's a good thing or a bad thing).

What Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos has done is build a whole dystopian world with a darkly funny idea and fully examines what society values in terms of finding a partner. It's an examination of today's technological world in which finding a mate is of the utmost importance, but not very difficult to do. With dating sites, apps, Tinder, etc. finding someone who shares at least one common bond with you, in order to strike up a text-based conversation is truly easy-- but does it signify love? Maybe, maybe not. It's also an examination of loneliness-- something another dark comedy did last year (Anomalisa).  Both films were unapologetic with their somber tones and painfully humorous moments, but they're not exactly the most fun films in the world to watch. While The Lobster begins very quirky, where it winds up is more terrifying and violent.

To give you a complete rundown of the film, and even reading the entire plot synopsis on Wikipedia, makes the film sound as though it is quite funny, in a really bleak way. Yet, after the first twenty minutes or so, loses all humor viscerally. There are moments of extreme violence that seem to come out of nowhere (especially towards animals-- so if you're particularly sensitive to that, this is definitely not a movie for you). The movie may have a very poignant message and outlook on relationships and love, but it's not necessarily enjoyable by general film standards.  It's an arthouse piece, but it never feels too douchy ("art" for the sake of "art"). It's a screwball comedy that never feels to funny.  It's a thriller that never feels too thrilling. And the ambiguous ending to the film may leave most viewers with a bad taste in their mouth. The one thing I can totally give the movie is that Lanthimos doesn't ever look down on his audience. He's very specific about every scene and never dumbs down or sits and explains anything. It's all played out so that the audience is in on the joke. And the joke is quite unique-- though I'm not sure if that's the film's weakness or the praise I can give it.

It's tough figuring out if I didn't enjoy watching it because of the idea I'd already established in my head that the movie would be, or because it just wasn't something that I enjoyed. It's a very messed up movie in the sense of what happens to characters on screen or where the story ends up taking its main character. It's one of those situations where if I explain to you everything that happens, it sounds pretty wacky and unusual, but watching it play out isn't very pleasant (at least to me).  But it's in that retelling of the story that makes me ponder the actual brilliance of the story and the script.  The execution may have left a pretty salty taste in my mouth, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's bad. Loneliness and the way it affects all is not something that is every going to be pleasurable to watch, especially if it's looked at harshly, but that doesn't mean the end result has failed. So, I don't think that I can recommend The Lobster to anyone (especially if you had the same expectations as I did going in), but that doesn't mean the movie failed.  It's probably one I'm going to have to sit on for awhile. I'll probably never watch it again... but who knows?


Saturday, June 4, 2016

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping: Like A 90-Minute Digital Short

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping has two things working against it immediately. The first is when someone compares a comedic film to a "full length SNL sketch".  This normally means that what would usually make a four minute sketch on Saturday Night Live pretty funny, doesn't necessarily translate to an entire movie. It will usually have one to two good hearty laughs while the rest of it falls flat. The second thing working against the film is, sadly, Andy Samberg. He's a good comedian in small doses, but he's never really been leading-man material. While his Digital Shorts on SNL were the highlights of the show for a few years, his schtick gets old very quickly, and his humor doesn't land with a lot of viewers. Hot Rod even took a few years to get the "respect" it has. But even Brooklyn Nine-Nine never really hits that comedy tentpole of being something memorable, and even though I know there are a lot of fans of the show (I am not one of them), it will be forgotten as soon as it finishes its run. Though Popstar has both of these aspects working against it-- somehow it manages to work through these obstacles to produce a very funny film.

The film is shot like a mockumentary a la Spinal Tap about world famous pop star Conner4Real (Samberg) and the events leading up to the debut of his second album, subsequent tour, rise and fall. Among his entourage is his DJ Owen (Jorma Taccone), his manager (Tim Meadows), his publicist (Sarah Silverman), as well as plenty of other recognizable faces showing up as themselves in hilarious cameos. Conner began his career as one of a trio in a boy band known as Style Boyz, the third member, Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer), has since quit the music industry to be a farmer and amateur wood worker. Conner, due to fame and ego, parted ways and has become a major solo artist. However, his second album is hailed as one of the worst of all time which leads to his public and personal downfall from the music industry, despite several attempts to keep himself relevant.

As far as plot goes, it's pretty standard and predictable. But, that's almost the point of the movie. It's a straight up parody of everything pop culture and music, as well as an indictment of it. The film tackles everything from fame to songwriting to holograms to product endorsements to well, musician documentaries.  I actually think the best parody of the entire film was the one that exposes TMZ for the room full of fuckbois they truly are (God bless you, Will Arnett). What The Lonely Island has done, in their debut film, is show the utter ridiculousness of the way pop culture is looked at today. With high egos being caught by cell phones, a single slip up can cause the catastrophic downfall of a once beloved icon.  That, and well, writing shitty songs.  Thankfully, this isn't what the film aims for-- some strangely preachy and symbolic movie full of deep thematic elements that illicit philosophical conversation.  It aims to make you laugh at as many dick jokes as they can and still be funny.

Conner is probably Samberg's best character, and the perfect one for him to play.  He's always been good at playing gratingly cocky characters that have little to no wherewithal.  Some work, like Hot Rod, and some feel unbelievably forced, like Brooklyn Nine-Nine. But, with Conner, there's a nice balance of cocky idiot, with real human emotion. He's dumb and cocky, which leads to hilarious results.  But, when he's not focused on himself, he's actually got heart, which makes him likable. With The Lonely Island backing him, Samberg has never been better. Every song feels like its own Digital Short, and each song would actually make a good one. They're all catchy, hilarious, and classic Lonely Island. All of the cameos are fantastic.  It's actually a shame they show the Seal/wolf scene in the trailer because it's one of the funniest of the movie.  To me, I actually thought Tim Meadows was one of the funniest highlights of the entire film.  It's good to see him getting work again.

I'm guessing that Popstar isn't going to bring down the house with box office numbers, but what I'm willing to bet is that it will have a Hot Rod effect.  The few that see it in theaters will give positive word of mouth to the film so that when it's available through all digital means, it'll make up the money it inevitably loses in this loud and packed summer lineup.  Popstar is crude, crass, profane, but all servicing a very funny movie.  It's stupid without ever being too dumb.  It's smart without ever becoming intelligent. Not every scene lands its jokes, but the movie will make you laugh throughout-- like watching "Dick in a Box" thirty times in a row. And that's essentially all I wanted from it.