Friday, March 24, 2017

“Life” – Great googa-mooga!

Don’t you hate it when the first half of a movie is really good and the second half is a mess of shit? Welcome to Life, a movie that builds some of the best tension I’ve seen in years, then loses its mind in the interest of novelty deaths. Life reminded me a lot of 2015’s The Lazarus Effect. It hooks you in almost immediately, sells you on a great start, then steals your wallet. But at least nobody turns into a demon in Life.

Life is your typical cabin-in-the-woods film, except the cabin is the International Space Station (ISS) and the woods are space. I should have known this movie was going to let me down, to a certain degree, by its prologue. The film opens with a probe racing through space when it gets hit by a meteor shower. Cut to the ISS where six astronauts are waiting for a probe with samples to return from Mars. Since the probe is damaged and out of control, their plan is to catch it with the robotic arm attached to the outside of the ISS. The depiction of this catch is beyond comical, whipping the arm back and causing the entire station to violently shake. Somewhere, Neil deGrasse Tyson is having a stroke. However, that’s not what makes this scene so bad (even though it’s bad enough because of that). It’s that it is completely irrelevant and unnecessary to the entire rest of the movie. If the film had started off with the probe already there, nothing in the story would have changed. I get that the filmmakers wanted to start the movie off with an action scene, but that time would have been much better spent developing the characters. Instead, all we learn is who the commander is and that Ryan Reynolds’ childhood baseball skills are vital for an astronaut.

(Mild SPOILERS ahead.)

And therein lies one of the biggest issues with most horror flicks. As a filmmaker, you have to convince the audience to care about the characters and root for them not to die, or the movie will be neither scary nor tense. Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick spend the minimum amount of effort on character development, giving us one, maybe two, things per character. This is really sad because the movie consists of seven characters and one of them is the alien lifeform brought back from Mars. We’ll come back to Calvin the Martian in a moment (no, I did not make up that name). Here’s what we learn about our characters that is supposed to make us want them to live.

The beautiful people...the beautiful people.

Commander Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya) is Russian, is in command, and is the second-best mechanic on the station. Also, she’s pretty hot.

Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds) is an American flight engineer, is the best mechanic on the station, and is the comic relief. Also, he’s pretty hot.

Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), is a British doctor from the Centers for Disease Control. She has devised all of the protocols for their experiments with the lifeform. Also, she’s pretty hot.

Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) is a British biologist (I think, but am not sure) and paraplegic. I can’t figure out how to comment on a paraplegic’s appearance without sounding like a complete asshole….so just know that he fits the visual standard of the cast.

Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada) is a Japanese pilot who watches his wife give birth to their child via Skype. He is probably as hot as a 57-year old man can be, but he’s no Ryan Reynolds. Or Burt Reynolds for that matter.

David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an American doctor who has been on the station for over 400 days. He does not want to go back to Earth because he thinks people suck. He probably was hot at the beginning of his stint, but he’s not looking so good by this point. Or maybe he is; I’m just watching the ladies. And Ryan Reynolds.

If you are keeping score, that’s four people who you are solely rooting for because they are good-looking human astronauts, a new father, and a paraplegic. Yeah, it’s safe to say that probe-catching thing was a bad idea in lieu of fleshing out these characters a little more. Without character development, that means you have to care about whatever the plot of this movie ends up giving us. If you haven’t guessed by now or seen any trailers, this movie is a survival movie. The alien lifeform escapes and tries to kill everyone on board. They try to survive and eventually realize they cannot let Calvin get down to Earth. Considering Dr. Jordan’s stance on humanity (and considering the current batch of people running the United States), I’m not so sure I’m rooting against the alien. I don’t want it to kill the pretty astronauts, but I didn’t come to this movie hoping everyone would live.

I can't quit you.

Which brings us to Calvin, the most consistently inconsistent creature since Superman. Even with the thin human characters, Calvin makes you forget them and focus on guessing when it will go Event Horizon on them. And when it does, it’s kind of awesome. The thing starts out as a single-celled organism and grows into what looks like a translucent fern, but with super strength, super intelligence, and super sight. Huh….maybe it is Superman. Anyway, everything is going smoothly until a small mishap in the lab causes Calvin to play dead. When Derry shocks Calvin with a tiny little cattle prod, Calvin attacks Derry and off we go.

I won’t spoil who dies in what order, but the moment the movie starts going downhill is right after death number one. Calvin escapes the lab room and immediately destroys the station’s communications relay with Earth. Do not ask how it knew how to do this because the movie explains it away with a single line, “Calvin is all muscle, all brain, all eyes,” – Hugh Derry. Yes, this movie wants you to believe that a single-celled organism learned astrophysics and advanced engineering by eating sugar and being “all brain.” It gets worse.

One of the astronauts goes outside to fix the relay and Calvin pops out and clings to the astronaut. In space. Now, you might not think this is so bad, that maybe this new lifeform can live in the vacuum of space. Then, you’ll remember, and be reminded on multiple occasions, that Calvin “is a carbon-based lifeform that needs oxygen and food, just like us,” again, Hugh Derry. By this point in the film, we’ve seen Calvin survive being exposed to outer space, being burned by an oxygen wand (don’t ask), and being blow-torched. Yes, I said blow-torched. Like the creatures in Evolution, this thing is practically invincible and even seems to get stronger and larger when burned, but is “just like us.” If only they had some Head & Shoulders® shampoo.

Maybe biology isn't your strong point.

Here’s where it gets bad. After another death or two, the remaining humans’ plan is to trap Calvin in a module, seal it, vent the oxygen and decompress it. You literally just watched the little fucker crawl around the outside of your space station – this is a bad plan. I’m talking to you as well, writers. Just because you killed an astronaut by drowning him/her in his/her spacesuit using the leaked coolant from said spacesuit (seriously – nice!) doesn’t mean you get to slack off for the rest of the film.

By this point in the film, you probably also will have noticed the inconsistencies with Calvin’s reactions to things. They use the oxygen wands and blood droplets to lure Calvin, inferring that it can smell or see food. But if that’s the case, why would it attack a fully space-suited astronaut? How would it know the difference between an astronaut and a solar panel? Oh yeah – all brain. Calvin also starts off by not attacking until provoked. He doesn’t attack astronaut number one until shocked with the prod, doesn’t attack astronaut number two until being burned with the oxygen thingy, and doesn’t eat the rat until the rat bites it. So, when Calvin latches onto astronaut number three, I thought Calvin would not attack, but nope. The movie’s time is running out and we’ve got to get to the big climax scene with the final desperate plan.

Listening to folks’ chatter after the film, I’m not the only one who saw a half-baked movie. There was no clapping at the end of this film, no cheering. There were confused looks and mutterings. There were people wondering whether the movie was really over and if the last 45 minutes was just a prank. There were people wondering if they could unsee Calvin shoving its way down the throat of an astronaut because that’s just gross. And there was me, wondering how a movie could start off with such a great build of tension and fall apart so quickly while insisting, among other things, to ruin a very cool alien by giving it a face late in the film. Now, can I please have my wallet back?

Rating: Ask for half your money back and remember that “cacaw-cacaw” and “tooki-tooki” don’t work on aliens.

Friday, March 17, 2017

“Beauty and the Beast (2017)” – A tale as old as 1991.

I get that I am not the audience for Beauty and the Beast. I am not a fan of musicals. I am not a ten-year-old girl who doesn’t care about plot holes or young women being held against their will. I do not find buffaloes attractive, not even rich, royal buffaloes. I do not care for talking, French candlesticks playing matchmaker. Why did I go see this movie, you ask? Because sometimes I don’t have the best ideas. Also, a lack of options that fit my schedule.

To be fair, I was curious if the movie was going to be a straight, live-action remake of the 1991 cartoon or give us a new take on a tale that isn’t even as old as me (yes, I’m aware that the actual story is something like 4,000 years old). The answer turned out to be an almost frame-by-frame remake of that cartoon, but with forty-five minutes of unnecessary filler mashed in, including at least two new songs that you will definitely not remember hearing. So, if you loved the cartoon and thought Maleficent and The Jungle Book remake were anything but soulless money grabs cashing in on your nostalgia, you should stop reading now and go enjoy the new Beauty and the Beast. Nothing about the movie will tarnish your memories of the original and you will probably enjoy the movie. For the rest of you, here’s a cynical look at a movie that kind of is asking for it.

The one thing that sets Beauty and the Beast apart from Disney’s other live-action remakes is that director Bill Condon and writers Evan Spiliotopoulos and Stephen Chbosky make no attempt to tell their own story, or even put a new spin on an old tale. As I’ve said in the past, remaking a movie shot for shot is a complete waste of time. What’s more, they managed to suck out all of the charm from the original movie, mostly by virtue of it being live-action. I’m not faulting any of the actors – they were just fine – but the characters were mostly devoid of character and the actors were stuck miming and repeating what we saw cartoons do twenty-six years ago.

I wonder what they changed in the Matrix?

To begin with, the movie starts off on the wrong foot with opening narration literally describing what the audience is watching. When is this nonsense going to end? It’s bad enough to hear sports commentators on television describing the action we are watching with our own eyeballs, but those guys are incapable of enduring silence for longer than two seconds and do actually say interesting things in between the action. There is no excuse whatsoever for that to occur in a movie, especially because it’s planned out in a movie. There isn’t some bored, twitchy voiceover guy sitting on a sound stage just itching to fill an awkward silence.

Making matters worse, the writers decided to patch old plot holes (that nobody cared about) in the story of the cursing of the prince. Instead of cursing a child for refusing to let a scary stranger in the house (think about that for a moment), this remake hands us an adult prince who is a greedy, selfish, uncaring dick surrounded by others of the same nature. Yes, this movie is asking you to root for Belle (Emma Watson) to fall in love with a guy who is painted as a complete jackass. Cool.

Then, there are the servants-turned-household-objects who are nearly as loathsome as the prince. We get brief glimpses of these people sucking up to the prince prior to the curse, then watch them try to fast-forward Stockholm Syndrome in Belle while continuing to display their shallow and selfish traits that helped cause the curse in the first place. When Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) isn’t trying to make-out with a feather-duster (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), he’s bickering with Cogsworth (Ian McKellan) and wasting enormous amounts of food for a dinner party of one. And remember, they are all helping the prince hold Belle hostage, except the prince isn’t the one trying to force Belle to love him, they are. How sure are we that this isn’t really a horror story?

This is what they look like at their liveliest.

Besides the tweak of the curse, the one noticeable difference in the story is the wholly unnecessary telling of how Belle’s mother died. Who has ever wondered about that? In fact, can you name any Disney hero or heroine who had two parents at the beginning of the story and still had two parents at the end of the story? Most of the heroes have single parents or no parents or were made by woodcarvers. That’s kind of Disney’s thing. Belle’s mom’s death is so anti-climactic and unimportant to the plot and Belle’s persona that it’s not even worth a spoiler to tell you about it.

The last thing about the story is the scope of the curse doesn’t explain most of what we are seeing happen. The curse is that if the prince doesn’t find love before the last petal of the rose falls, he will remain a prince forever. So, why do pieces of his castle fall off every time a petal falls? And why are all of his servants cursed as well? And why do the petals fall off much faster in the last five days of the curse? And why do the servants turn into inanimate objects at the end of the curse instead of just remaining that way? I know, I know…I’m thinking way too hard about this story.

From a technical perspective, there were some serious issues with the film. In the opening song and dance number in the village, it is painfully obvious that the village is a sound stage and you can practically see the edges of it during later scenes. For $160 million, your movie shouldn’t look like an expensive version of your high school productions. Plus, part of the charm of the cartoon was how expressive and lifelike all of Lumiere and company were. This time around, those objects were anything but charming, even little Chip. Most of them came off like kitschy gadgets you’d order from SkyMall or possessed, tacky furniture from an estate sale. In short, they didn’t feel like trapped people, they felt like talking furniture.

Even the music kind of sucked, including the original songs (and not one was left out of this bloated musical), mostly because the sound mixing was awful. That might have had something to do with the fact that the only legal volume of sound in an IMAX is bleeding-from-the-ears, but many of the songs sounded like little more than noise. I also don’t think anyone bothered to coach the actors on how to act like they were singing or lip synch at all. Like with the sets, I shouldn’t be able to tell they aren’t really singing in a $160 million movie.

It only looks like that because your head is ringing.

Like I said, I know I’m not the intended audience for this film, so everything you just read is going to persuade zero people to skip this film. And that’s fine, as long as you promise me one thing – if you go see this movie, you will never, ever, ever (ever) again complain about reboots, sequels, franchise movies, or Hollywood’s “lack of creativity.” Because, when it comes to soulless cash grabs like this, you are their intended audience.

Rating: Do not ask for any money back, not because the film is worth it, but because you knowingly paid for a movie that reshot everything down to hand gestures and outfits.

Friday, March 10, 2017

“Kong: Skull Island” – Monkey see, monkey kill.

After nearly forty years living on Earth, it’s not often that movies surprise me, but when they do it’s like I’m eight years old at Christmas again. When you’re an adult opening presents, you almost always know what’s inside that wrapping paper, but when you’re eight, that package could contain anything from an action figure to a puppy to socks. I never said the surprise was always good, but the point is that you always expected something awesome. Three decades later, after life has pretty much stomped all over that innocent optimism, every present comes with a healthy dose of skepticism and you’re pretty sure it’s not going to be awesome. In fact, you might even be hoping for those socks. When a movie like Kong: Skull Island shows up, I can hear the eight-year old inside me screaming in delight and my thirty-eight year old brain has to put him in timeout. After watching Skull Island, all I can hear in my head now is “neener, neener – I told you so” and I couldn’t be more surprised.

I went into Skull Island with sub-basement level expectations, mostly because the trailer I saw for it featured John Goodman telling us how the nuclear tests in the 1950s weren’t tests, but that they were trying to kill something. On my Movie Fixers podcast, we covered the 2014 reboot of Godzilla last month, so it was fresh in my head that Godzilla featured this exact same exclamation. Sometimes I’m a little slow, so it didn’t occur to me before watching Skull Island that it wasn’t just ripping off Godzilla. My only thought was “this is going to be a bad movie.” And can you blame me? Godzilla was a disappointment, as was the last King Kong movie (2005). The only thing I wanted out of Skull Island was for the entire movie to take place on the island. Well, wish granted…and that’s not all.

How an eight-year old reacts to socks as presents.

As it turns out, Skull Island is a companion movie to Godzilla and exists in the same cinematic universe. That realization came when the term Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Object (MUTO) was uttered, which is the very same term used to describe the monsters in Godzilla. That’s also when I realized that nuke test line was actually referencing nuking Godzilla, not King Kong, as I had assumed. Yeah, I’m as surprised by you that someone actually put some real thought into tying these two movies. That realization allowed me to forget about my expectations and enjoy a movie that turned out to be everything that Godzilla should have been.

Besides the nuke and MUTO references, the other tie-in to Godzilla is the Monarch program, headed by Bill Randa (John Goodman). Randa wants to prove the existence of MUTOs and, with the help of his assistant Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), secures funding for an expedition to a recently discovered island. Also, it’s 1973, so we get plenty of Vietnam references as well as some great music. Then, like all quest movies, an expedition team is assembled featuring tracker and former SAS soldier James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), war photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), biologist San Lin (Jing Tian), random bureaucrat Victor Nieves (John Ortiz), and a whole lot of soldiers led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). If you want to know any more about any of these characters, you will be disappointed because this movie isn’t about them, at least not directly. The only thing you need to worry about is who is going to survive and the method of death for those that don’t. I promise you will not guess most of that and you will not be disappointed.

This is what you came for.

Also, don’t worry about the plot because there really isn’t much of one. This is very much a survival movie, so the plot is “get to the chopper.” I’m not kidding, they actually have three days from the time they are dropped on the island to get to the extraction point where helicopters will pick them up. Unfortunately for them, Randa’s plan starts and ends with dropping a bunch of bombs on the island to flush out a MUTO and it’s literally the first thing they do when they get there. So, all three days are loaded with a variety of monsters, including Kong, chasing and murdering people and that’s why I had so much fun watching this movie.

Unlike Godzilla, Skull Island doesn’t try to hide its titular character. We see him right off the bat, then get oodles of screen time with Kong killing people and monsters. It’s glorious and is really the whole reason to see this movie. But there are two other components that make this film worth it. The first are the subtle and clever homages to classic King Kong. Aircraft swarming around Kong while he bats them from the sky, Kong escaping from chains, and even the damsel in distress, which somehow doesn’t come off as absurd. Brie Larson is smokin’ hot and you’d protect her too if you were Kong. The second is John C. Reilly, who steals this movie from everyone but Kong. Reilly plays Hank Marlow, a WWII pilot who crashed on the island in 1944 and inexplicably survived for twenty-nine years. He is the only character besides Kong with more than one dimension (seriously, Hiddleston and Larson are there to look hot, Jackson is doing a caricature of himself, and I’m not sure Tian said anything during the entire film) and is the one character you will be rooting for to survive the ordeal. He adds the entirety of the comic relief and saves the film from taking itself too seriously, which Godzilla really could have used.

So pretty.

What I’m really trying to say is that this movie is a movie for me. I would never defend it as being a good movie, but it’s an incredibly entertaining movie that delivers exactly what it needed to. Fantastic visuals, great fight scenes, and some monsters that will haunt your dreams (my favorite is the spider). And, as I eluded to earlier, Skull Island is the second entry in a franchise that will assuredly include more films featuring more monsters. For now, I’m just happy I was wrong about this movie because, in the end, I got a present I wasn’t expecting and it was awesome.

Rating: Do not ask for any money back as this film was everything you would want in a monster flick.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

“Table 19” – The island of misfits.

As we discussed our opinions of Table 19 following its screening, one person mentioned that there are hardly any romantic comedies being made these days. After thinking about it for a moment, I realized the only one I could think of from 2016 was Deadpool. It is too a romantic comedy, just a guy’s romantic comedy. Upon further research, it turns out she was right. According to a box office performance chart I found (, there were twenty-nine in the entire world and just three of them took in more than $10 million (How to be Single, Mother’s Day, Bridget Jones’ Baby). 2015 was even worse with just twenty-three total and only one cracking $10 million (Focus) and Focus wasn’t even really a rom-com. Of course, after watching a movie like Table 19, I can understand why there are so few.

(This is your SPOILER WARNING for a movie that deserves to be spoiled.)

Table 19 is the story of six people who are kind of terrible people sharing the worst table at a wedding. Imagine the island of misfit toys from the old Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer claymation, and imagine that you also wanted to punch the toys in the neck.

• Misfit #1: Eloise (Anna Kendrick), the former maid of honor who lost that gig due to being dumped by the bride’s brother (and best man), Teddy (Wyatt Russell). Eloise is also our main character and the person who the other misfits sorta, kinda rally behind, but only out of pity. We’ll come back to that in a minute.
• Misfit #2: A retired old nanny, Jo (June Squibb), who took care of the bride and Teddy when they were children. If you think it’s odd that someone’s nanny from years in the past would get invited to someone’s wedding, you are correct.
• Misfits #3 and #4: Jerry and Bina Kepp (Craig Robinson and Lisa Kudrow, respectively), a couple who own a diner that openly wonder why they were even invited and also openly hate each other. They have no stated connection to the bride and groom, but might be acquainted with other diner owners who were also invited.
• Misfit #5: The bride’s uncle, Walter (Stephen Merchant), an ex-con who stole $125k from the bride’s father, but did so for a good reason (which is revealed late in the film). He also fills the creepy/awkward uncle cliché we always hear about at weddings.
• Misfit #6: Finally, there’s 17-year old misfit, Renzo (Tony Revolori). Not Renzo and family, just Renzo. He’s there alone because his mother thought he’d have a better chance of meeting women at the wedding than at his junior prom. Apparently, his mom is an idiot. Like the Kepps, if he has a connection to the bride and groom, I completely missed it.

That’s five out of six people who are inexplicably at this wedding…and Eloise, who probably fits in that category as well. Don’t worry though, they will waive away this bizarre invite list as being “the people who should have known to respectfully decline the invitation, but send a gift anyway” as explained by Eloise. So, really, that’s seven or eight gremlins at this party, depending on if the mother of the bride invited them or the bride and groom themselves did.

If only he was just a wedding crasher.

I realize I’m not the target audience for this type of movie, but I’d hesitate to say that women are the target audience either. I went into this movie only wanting to laugh a bit and enjoy Anna Kendrick. My first want was satisfied, but not the second, as Eloise just isn’t an enjoyable character. The first thing we see her doing is debating with herself over what to respond with on the wedding invitation. She’s obviously fretting over who will be there, but it’s not long into the reception (which encompasses the entire movie) when we find out it’s Teddy. The next thing we see her doing is having her meet-cute with an Australian chick-magnet who calls himself Huck. If you think this is the romantic part of this comedy, think again. They will have a couple of cutesy moments, culminating in a passionate kiss, which sets the audience up into thinking Huck will rescue her in the climax, but the exact opposite happens. After the kiss, he vanishes for the rest of the film until a terrible and highly predictable reveal near the end in which we find out he’s the groom in another reception happening at the same place. And we only see him for a moment in that reveal. The words you are looking for are “I need some fucking cake.”

Rendering the Huck storyline even more irrelevant is the true romantic component of this film – that of Teddy and Eloise in which Teddy is initially presented as a complete shitbag. He dumped Eloise over text and hooked up with a snobby bitch that was second in line for maid of honor prior to Eloise’s dumping. Plus, Teddy is ugly and stupid and up until the reason for the breakup is discussed (at length), you hate this guy and are rooting for Huck and Eloise to end up together.

(Side note: Wyatt Russell is the offspring of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. Based on his nasty beard and smashed nose, which he got playing hockey, I was sure he was the offspring of Owen Wilson. This is what you focus on when a movie’s plot and characters suck.)

That guy's the love interest? That guy?

To be fair, the movie is fine until the big reveal which doubles as the standard rom-com misunderstanding. The reveal is when this movie takes a really dark turn and stops being funny. In a really bad moment of writing, Jo announces that Eloise is pregnant after witnessing Eloise puke after Teddy’s bad best-man speech and because “nannies know these things.” Soon after, Teddy and Eloise get into in the hallway, each accusing the other of sucking and being the cause of the breakup. The whole thing revolves around the pregnancy in which Teddy misunderstood Eloise saying he’d be a terrible father and Eloise misunderstanding Teddy’s response to what she actually said. This point of the movie is supposed to be where you feel bad for the couple, but you really only feel bad for the fetus having crappy parents. Hilarious, right? I have no idea how anybody, male or female, doesn’t walk out of the theater at this point in the film.

Are you wondering about the other misfits at this point? Well, don’t. Their little subplots are irrelevant and most of the comedy around them falls on its face. Renzo spends the entire movie hitting on what appear to be the only two single girls outside of Eloise, neither of which wants anything to do with him. Also, he falls down a lot. Get it? Uncle Walter wanders around making people uncomfortable and lies about who he really is for most of the time. The Kepp’s take shots at each other whenever possible and we eventually find out Bina came to the reception to have an affair because her marriage has basically been one big sham. Don’t worry though, the relationship is healed by shower sex (I am not making that up). After spending the first half of the movie with these people, you realize they are all kind of loathsome people and don’t really care that they each get a form of redemption at the end because, again, why the hell were they even invited to this movie, er…wedding.

We don't know why you're here either.

I will give the film a couple of points for some gags that did hit my funny bone, one in particular involving a red jacket that runs the course of the film. Like I said, I found myself laughing a bit early in the film and it’s too bad it didn’t commit to being a straight-up goofy wedding comedy about those weirdos in the back that everyone questions being invited. But I’m going to take those points away because the wedding reception ends up just being the backdrop for a downer of a story. They don’t even use the reception as punchline or plot device, it’s just where they are. Plus, like the feel of the movie, it goes on forever. It appears to start around midday and goes well into the night, at one point, the misfits leave the reception entirely for a least of a couple of hours.

Where this movie really fails is that it feels way too much like nearly every wedding reception you have ever been to – awkward, long, cheesy toasts, mediocre food, people judging each other, and definitely not funny. You mostly go out of a sense of obligation rather than because it sounds like a hoot. Luckily, you are under no such obligation to attend this particular reception because we’re all misfits who never should have been invited anyway.

Rating: Ask for all but fifty cents back and stop asking why they don’t make rom-coms anymore. Ask instead why they don’t make good ones.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

“Logan” – Bloody hyperbole.

As I’ve said on multiple occasions, you probably aren’t going to find more of a Wolverine homer than yours truly. I inexplicably told you to see X-Men Origins: Wolverine twice and gushed about The Wolverine without mentioning how kind of terrible the Sliver Samurai was portrayed (though I stand by The Wolverine being an excellent movie). So, when I tell you the hype for Logan is definitely overblown, know that it comes from someone who would consider buying a life-sized Wolverine statue if he wasn’t married and never wanted to have sex again.

It’s not that it wasn’t a good movie – it was, but something didn’t sit right with me after the movie was over. I’ve had almost two weeks to digest this movie since the screening and I’m still not sure what it is about the movie that left me a little disappointed. Perusing through a couple of the early reviews that are out there isn’t helping either. Those reviews read like your typical film snob reviews – praising the technical aspects and performances without mentioning even a word about the plot of the movie. And you know my priorities – plot, plot, characters, plot, technical stuff (sometimes). What good is making a technically proficient film if that film doesn’t tell an equally proficient story?

(As usual, in order to discuss this movie and my mild disappointment, I must give SPOILERS. Also, nearly every review and soundbite for this movie talks about it being a fitting end for Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, so the end is kind of already spoiled.)

Logan picks up Logan’s (Jackman) story at least twenty years from now, which can only be twenty years from the end of Days of Future Past. Logan is scraping by as a limo driver, living in an abandoned factory on the other side of the Mexican border. With his friend Caliban (Stephen Merchant), a mutant who can sense and track other mutants, Logan is also caring for a partially senile Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), keeping him locked up in a fallen water tower to protect the world from Charles’ seizure-caused psychic blasts. Logan’s goal in life now is to save up enough money to buy a boat and go live on the ocean with Charles where they can both die in peace. Oh, and they are the last three mutants on Earth, no new mutants have been born in twenty years, and Logan’s healing powers are fading. That’s seriously the setup for this movie and, yes, I have a lot of questions.

When you're healing factor gets a large denominator.

What happened to the rest of the mutants, especially the X-Men? It’s only been twenty years.

Why is Logan’s healing factor failing? Isn’t that kind of a contradiction in terms?

Wouldn’t Deadpool still be alive?

Isn’t it a weird creative choice that one of three remaining mutants has the power to detect other mutants? Also, how did he survive whatever killed every other mutant?

Am I thinking way too hard about a superhero movie?

The answer to that last question would only be yes if critics out there weren’t literally calling Logan an early best picture nominee (seriously – Mark Hughes of Forbes said exactly that).

The actual plot of this movie is that a corporation called Transigen is making test-tube mutants and are trying to recover a bunch of child experiments who escaped Transigen’s facility. Young Laura Kinney (Dafne Keen), with the help of a Transigen nurse (Elizabeth Rodriguez), seek out Logan to help guide them to a safe haven in the Dakota area. Always, the reluctant and angry hero, Logan rejects them at first, only to be threatened by Transigen’s lead henchman, Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). Seriously, Wolverine fights a guy named Donald. Also, Donald has a Terminator hand (it literally looks like the one Miles Dyson kept in his vault at Cyberdyne in Terminator 2), as do many of his henchman. When Laura, Logan, and the henchman (and Donald) collide, the hero’s journey kicks off as Laura, Logan, and Charles take off in Logan’s battered limo leaving a pile of bloody bodies behind them.

One of the themes this movie tries to explore is Logan relearning how to care about someone (Laura), except the movie goes out of its way to show us how much he already cares about Charles and Caliban, so it doesn’t really resonate in that way. It’s really more like relearning why life is worth living, done by making Laura Logan’s “daughter.” I use quotes because Laura was injected with Logan’s DNA and given the same adamantium treatment, though she has two claws per hand instead of three (and one per foot). See what they did there? Another theme is the aspect of loneliness, which goes along with that first theme and covers the idea of being the last mutants left on Earth. The biggest problem with these themes is that the movie wants to have its cake and eat it too. All the mutants are dead, except for all the mutants Transigen is creating. Logan doesn’t care about other people except for the other people he cares about. Logan has to learn to want live, but spends the entire movie explaining how he just wants to die. Logan even has a special bullet to kill himself with even though he’s dying anyway. Mmmmm….cake.

I love you man.

Speaking of dying, I spent the entire movie wondering what was wrong with Logan, which might explain why I had so many questions at the end of the film. I really want to see this movie again to focus on what I might have missed because all I could think about was waiting for someone or something to explain why Wolverine’s healing factor was failing. In what is the weakest part of the story, Transigen’s mutant experiment leader, Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), monologues for a while, including this throwaway line “I put something in the food and water to prevent the mutant gene from occurring.” Well, that explains the no new mutant births, but doesn’t really explain existing mutant powers failing or why it doesn’t affect his new mutants. I realize it can be explained away with more DNA words, but it’s very unsatisfying considering everyone would have had the same question on their brains as me prior to that reveal. It’s also supremely unsatisfying that this movie recycled the Weapon X program storyline to justify a super-lethal ten-year old.

And this is before puberty.

Perhaps the worst part of the plot is who Logan has to fight (twice) to save the kids. Take a guess. Nope, try again. Nope, you’re not even close. He fights himself. No, really, he fights a clone of himself. All growed up and everything. I told you, cake and stuff. For whatever reason, Transigen decided to inject children with mutant DNA they collected even though they can literally clone those very same mutants. Of course, Transigen also decided to train little Laura into a killing machine, but forgot to train the rest of the kids they imbued with powers. This is painfully showcased in the climax when all of the kids suddenly forget they have powers and simply run away from the henchman. Even Laura runs, who earlier in the film took out a dozen heavily armed henchman (pun intended) all by herself. Now you can see why those other critics decided not to talk about the plot.

The good news is that the technical aspects do make the movie much better than its plot, including bumping the movie to an R-rating, which should have happened at least three movies ago. Logan’s claws finally draw blood, we get to hear him utter actual curse words instead of Sesame Street curse words, and even Charles gets to let the expletives fly, which you know is what he was thinking every time Logan walked into the room during the entire franchise. The decision to go with a grittier palate rather than a glossy polished look made the R-rated stuff feel organic rather than forced. And, yes, the performances from Jackman, Stewart, and Keen were top notch, including some great new depth to characters we’ve spent nine movies with. Oh – and did I mention the blood? If you thought Deadpool was bloody, Logan matches it in spades, as well it should.

Like science fiction movies, I will always cut a Wolverine movie some slack. I’m not sure that Logan is better than The Wolverine, but I’m sure it’s not worse. And if this really is Hugh Jackman’s last turn as Wolverine, I will be sad because Jackman never disappointed, but this is a good movie to end his run on, even if it’s not even close to a best picture nominee. Truth be told, it never needed to be because it’s freaking Wolverine.

Rating: Ask for a dollar back because a clone of Wolverine was a little too close to evil Deadpool in the Origins movie.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

“The Great Wall” – Resetting expectations.

I’m not sure how, but I managed to avoid trailers for The Great Wall until the night before the screening. I wasn’t even trying to avoid them, I just hadn’t seen any for this particular movie. Prior to seeing that trailer, I thought The Great Wall was a historical fiction in the vein of Tom Cruise’s The Last Samurai. Yes, I can hear you laughing. When I saw those weird dragon-y looking monsters in the trailer, my immediate reaction was nothing. My brain just froze for a few moments because there’s no way it saw what it just saw. Was that really Matt Damon in a medieval monster movie? Oh Matt.

The good news is that I reset my expectations by negative one million prior to watching The Great Wall, which allowed me to enjoy it quite thoroughly. Yes, I can hear you laughing. I’m not saying it was a good movie and I would never defend it if you told me it was terrible. I’m just saying I enjoyed a February popcorn flick because I had the appropriate expectations going in. Though, I do wonder what my reaction would have been had I not seen that trailer. There’s a chance I would have hated it, but I don’t think so. I probably would have just been incredulous for a while, then had that epiphany moment of “ooooohhhhh. Oh ok. Got it.”

As an added bonus, the 3-D projector got out of sync about thirty seconds into the film and almost blinded the audience. Trust me, you don’t want to see how bright the green and pink are when the projector goes on the fritz. I thought this was a bad omen at the time, but turned out to be the worst thing about a movie featuring monsters with eyeballs in their shoulders.

Somewhere, Guillermo del Toro is smiling.

While you clean up that drink you just spit-taked all over, here’s a summary of this movie’s, um, plot. Every sixty years, a horde of monsters attempts to breach the Great Wall of China to get to China’s capital so they can eat all the people there. This fight has been going on for hundreds of years and the Chinese have developed a multitude of defenses, including color-coding their army by job, developing gunpowder (or black powder, as the movie refers to it), installing massive scissors in the middle of the wall, and convincing the fairer sex to bungee jump off of giant outcroppings into the monster hordes with nothing but a spear and a hope that the monsters don’t time their jumps properly or jump in quantities of more than one.

Meanwhile, William (Damon) and his pal Pero (Pedro Pascal) are searching for black powder in order to take some back to Europe to sell and get rich. After being chased by Mongols and killing a monster, they end up at the wall and are taken prisoner by the Chinese Army. When the Chinese guard can’t find the key to open a prison cell, they take William and Pero to the top of the wall and put them in timeout (no, I did not make any of that up). The monsters attack, Willem Dafoe shows up, and William and Pero save the day. I guess all the Chinese really needed was Archery Jason Bourne.

The rest of the movie is a series of monster attacks and nifty Chinese counter-measures, with a pinch of Pero and Sir Ballard (Dafoe) plotting to escape with some black powder during the next attack and William stepping into the Hero’s Journey role of hero quite nicely. He’s reluctant at first, has a special skill, falls for the lady general, Lin Mae (Jing Tian), slays some monsters, falls from grace, gets back up again, and flies a hot air balloon running on gunpowder to save the capital. If you hadn’t figured it out by now, this movie is bat shit crazy.

Taste the rainbow.

Since I enjoyed the film, I’m not going to tear it apart any more than I already have because it doesn’t really deserve it. It knows what it is and runs with it. However, there is one plot element that is too stupid to let go and that would be Sir Ballard. He tells William and Pero that he has been there for twenty-five years, which makes no sense when the Chinese generals tell us that they kill all interlopers in order to “keep their secret.” Dafoe has no skill we are ever shown and the only reason they don’t execute William and Pero is because they brought the leg of the monster they killed and the Chinese thought it might be useful to keep the two of them around for a while. So why is Dafoe alive? Did the Chinese generals watch Platoon before they caught him and were terrified or are they just big Spider-Man fans? Either way, his character is absolutely pointless.

By now, you must be wondering if I lost my mind for during this flick. As ludicrous as this movie is, you can see that they at least tried to put some thought into elements of the film, though story wasn’t really one of them. The creatures are pretty creative, even if shoulder eyeballs is funny no matter how many times you say it. Also, the eyes are their vulnerability, so William’s ability to Robin Hood (it’s a verb now) is extra vital and kind of hilarious at the same time. I already mentioned some of the defenses, which really satisfy that 12-year old kid in me, as did the visual effects in the film. And, despite a pretty bad Irish (I think) accent from Damon, he and Pascal have a pretty good chemistry together and Pascal brings some quality comic relief to the table as well. Not to mention Jing Tian was quite good and her role as leader felt authentic. She didn’t take shit or fall into the typical trap of deferring to the hero and the movie was better for it.

She's trying to decide where that knife should go.

Yes, this movie definitely belongs in February and sounds like a cheesy SyFy channel flick, but I feel like the filmmakers gave this film an honest effort. Maybe I was just in the right mood after watching the abysmal Fist Fight two nights earlier, but sometimes that’s all that matters. Yes, I can still hear you laughing.

Rating: Worth a Redbox rental unless monster siege movies are your thing – then you’ll love this movie.

Friday, February 17, 2017

“Fist Fight” – I ignored the red flags.

I wish someone had punched me in the face when I decided to watch this movie. Even before I said it out loud, just thinking that thought should have caused someone to run through my door and cold-cock me. I knew – KNEW – Fist Fight was going to be a terrible movie after watching the trailer, but I convinced myself that at least Charlie Day would be funny, so I’d give it a shot. Sometimes my brain is a real jerk.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with how the movie release game is played, here are a couple of red flags you should look for before committing your money and time to watching a movie. As I write this, it’s 9:48pm on Tuesday, 2/14, and there are zero reviews of this film posted to Rotten Tomatoes. Unless the movie is called Star Wars, the only time there are review embargoes this close to wide release is when the studio knows its movie is shit. That’s red flag number one and the last time I saw this kind of embargo was for Independence Day: Resurgence. Yeah.

Red flag number two is when even the wiki page for the film doesn’t have a plot summary or even a plot section. I have never seen this for any movie until now, though to be fair, that one sentence premise is the entire plot of this movie. That’s also the point – the first seventy-five minutes of this ninety-one minute film are foreplay, followed by two minutes of banging it out, followed by eight minutes of cuddling. Wait, hold on…I’m not being fair. The first seventy-five minutes are the kind of foreplay where the other person is either asleep or hypnotized by the shape of the ceiling texture, followed by two minutes of banging it out, followed by eight minutes of wondering how your genitals already feel like a crab-infested lagoon. You’re welcome for that image.

Red flag number three is Ice Cube in a comedy. The man has one character mode called “Fuck you.” This works in very specific movies and none of those movies are comedies. Against my better judgement, I watched Ride Along and regretted every moment of it, so this really should have been the flag that saved an hour and a half of my life. Like I said, sometimes my brain is a real jerk.

I honestly can’t remember if I laughed during the movie, but I seem to recall finding the horse running through the hallways of a high school amusing. But that’s definitely the only time I laughed, if at all. Not even Charlie Day could save this chili-fart of a film, as a trio of writers and one director delivered what can only be described as what a dog is thinking right before it starts licking its own crotch. And that’s closer to literal than you think, as this film featured a multitude of bad dick jokes that even a first-grader would frown at.

The look you get when you realize you've been had.

Obviously, the lack of comedy is the biggest reason why this movie sucked, but the second biggest reason was that it was impossible to suspend my disbelief, even for as shallow a movie as this. The setup in this film is that it’s the last day of school at Roosevelt High School and the entire senior class is committing as many senior pranks as they can. Paint bombs, vandalism, assault, toilet-papering, horse-theft and more with nary a cop or campus security to be seen. Meanwhile, the principal (Dean Norris) is firing more than thirty teachers because this isn’t a real high school. When some kids mess with Mr. Strickland (Cube), Strickland smashes a bunch of electronics and hacks a desk to pieces with an axe (with a kid barely escaping) in full view of a class full of students and Mr. Campbell (Day). Rather than have him arrested for assault with a deadly weapon, the principal merely fires Strickland after Campbell corroborates the kid’s story. Strickland tells Campbell they’re going to fight after school and Campbell spends the next sixty minutes trying to get out of the fight. At one point, he even calls 9-1-1 to report the threat and the responders laugh at him. Har-har-har – bite me.

If at all.

Perhaps the dumbest thing that happens is the sanctimonious shit coming out of Strickland’s mouth through much of the film. Displaying a level of Trumpian hypocrisy, Strickland lectures Campbell that telling the principal about the axe incident comes with consequences and that Campbell should take responsibility for his actions. Nevermind that this prick is shirking the responsibility of having just attacked a student with an axe because someone “told on him.” Couple that with the insane level of pranks that would definitely get every student expelled and we have a movie that comes off like what Betsy DeVos and other school voucher proponents must imagine public schools are like as they buy off another congressman.

As I hinted at earlier, there are about two minutes of fight scene that would have been far more worth waiting around for if the rest of the movie hadn’t sucked balls. Tracy Morgan and Jillian Bell round out the supporting cast and both are competing with each other to see who can be the least funny. The answer is neither are the least funny because Dean Norris and Ice Cube are in this movie. And, if your brain is as big a jerk as mine and prevents your legs from walking your body out of the theater before the end of the film, be prepared to watch Campbell and his elementary-school daughter close out the film with a dance number featuring Big Sean’s “I Don’t Fuck With You” which is basically the song version of every Ice Cube character. Man I hate my brain for this film.

Rating: Ask for all of your money back and punch the movie poster on your way out of the theater.