Sunday, September 18, 2016

Witchcrap: The Shockingly Unspectacular “Blair Witch” Fails to Live Up to the Original

If there was ever cinematic proof that you can’t capture lightning in a bottle “Blair Witch” is all the proof you need. This third entry in a series that many don’t quite care much about and made by people who generally know what they’re doing, cannot even remotely match the awesome power of 1999’s “The Blair Witch Project.” This new take on the Blair Witch just doesn’t compare to the analogue scares of the original. There’s nothing as scary in this highly digitized world; the film should have been set right after the events of the first movie. In fact, the only thing this new movie gets right is not making any reference to the equally dreadful “Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2.”

Adam Wingard and his screenwriting collaborator Simon Barrett are great filmmakers (Every horror fan should see “You’re Next”). You can tell that they loves to make their films into little homages and but with original takes on familiar material. With “Blair Witch” it’s the first time the duo has made a sequel to a film they previously had nothing to do with. They seemed like the right guys for the job. Though, to be honest, they were screwed from the very beginning. How does one try to outdo the original? It’s so rarely accomplished well and reinforces the fact that sequels or remakes made decades after the original film are rarely successful.

The film follows James (James Allen McCune) who thinks his sister Heather (from the first movie) could still be alive in the woods where she disappeared nearly twenty years earlier. He believes a video of a woman that was recently uploaded to YouTube could be proof that she’s still alive. So he does what any other wide-eyed young adult would do, he grabs a few friends, some cameras, and goes into the same woods where his sister vanished in hopes of finding her. And then things go (predictably) horribly wrong. One girl cuts her foot almost immediately and if that isn’t enough for the whole group to turn around and just go home I don’t know what is. Soon the group gets turned around, the sun doesn’t seem to set anymore, and some kind of loud monster keeps following them. At times the shaky footage that makes up the movie feels more like “Cloverfield” than “The Blair Witch Project.” Are they being chased by a T. Rex or what?

“Blair Witch” is basically the louder, shakier, gorier, more digitized version of “The Blair Witch Project” but not nearly as scary. Sure it’s true that in the original film “not much happened” but the film was dripping with dread and it had the guts to frighten you with screams, darkness, and the unknown. Nothing this time feels remotely as genuine. When a pile of rocks appears outside of Heather’s tent it’s disturbing. When rocks appear outside the tents this time, it feels forced. The original film could easily be mistaken for a snuff film (many actually thought it was real at the time) and this one feels unbelievably manufactured. I never believed that the characters should have been filming what they were filming; and they were all rather dull and forgettable. To top it all off, the movie’s conclusion is confusing and muddled and doesn’t provide any answers, like the original, but I never felt betrayed by the first film’s abrupt ending.

“Blair Witch” is a disappointment of monstrous proportions. While I would never expect it to top the original film, it fails as a sequel by not doing anything remotely new or exciting with the already established story. At least the second movie attempted to do something different, even though it still failed. This third entry doesn’t provide any answers to the mythology created in the first film and the two films hardly even seem related save for a few creepy stick figures. Consider it nothing more than a minor ding on Wingard and Barrett’s career. But please put a fork in the found footage subgenre please, because it’s been done to death yet again.    GRADE: C

Trailer for Blair Witch on TrailerAddict.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Up in the Air: “Sully,” Clint Eastwood’s New Film, is Sullied by the Confines of Its True Life Story

The harrowing true life story that inspired “Sully” is an extraordinary one with a rare happy ending. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite make for a very extraordinary film. Clint Eastwood is a great filmmaker with a specific style (slow-burn, subtle, non-flashy are some terms that immediately come to mind). Eastwood has made some exciting thrillers and harrowing dramas and many have had decent levels of success. Many people will certainly love “Sully” but I think it’s because it features likable actors in likable roles and it tells a very likable story. Who wasn’t amazed by the “miracle on the Hudson” story that broke about seven years ago? A commercial plane hit some birds, the engines went out, and the skilled pilot make a split second decision to land the plane on the Hudson River, saving every single person on the flight. How does one make a feature film about an even that lasted merely minutes? By padding the runtime to death apparently.

“Sully” runs just barely over 90 minutes and even then it seems too long. Tom Hanks plays Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger. As we’re introduced to him at the beginning of the film he’s suffering from post-traumatic stress. He’s basically survived a plane crash and is now considered a national hero. He has complete strangers thanking him and hugging him. But we know all this stuff going into the film. The movie’s real centerpiece is the ‘event’ which is basically an extended flashback sequence towards the middle of the film. It’s thrilling and scary – most onscreen plane incidents invoke a primal fear of flying that many suffer from – but in this rare case the plane is landed rather safely (on water of course) and no one is seriously injured. But what else is there besides this well-executed and rather thrilling sequence?

Since everyone on the plane lives and the captain is considered a national treasure, who exactly is the villain? Enter the script’s version of the bad guy: the National Transportation Safety Board. They inside Sully had enough engine power to land at the airport instead of the Hudson River. The film’s final act involves a hearing in which Sully must convince the NTSB that what he did was right and in the best interest of the passengers. It’s obvious screenwriter Todd Komarnicki had to come up with some kind of conflict for Sully… apparently his post-traumatic stress wasn’t nearly enough.

Hanks is great in the role but can only do so much with his nice guy persona that’s been played out to death in movies like Saving Mr. Banks, Captain Phillips, and Bridge of Spies. The film introduce us to a few of the passengers in the hopes that we’ll care enough about them, but it’s really meaningless in the end. And it’s too bad that Emmy winners Laura Linney and Anna Gunn, being practically the only female characters, aren't given much to do.

“Sully” tells a great story but I’m not sure there’s really enough material for a feature length narrative film. This is a true life tale more appropriate for a documentarian. Eastwood, like many directors who make movies based on true events, is a little too constricted by the real life story which is so fresh in everyone’s mind. The airplane sequence is certainly thrilling but even Mr. Sullenberger himself could not save the film from what ultimately feels like big-budgeted made-for-cable affair.  GRADE: C+   

Trailer for Sully on TrailerAddict.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

House of Pain: The Incredibly Intense “Don’t Breathe” is Out of Sight

I’m a sucker for a good home invasion thriller. Especially really good ones. “Don’t Breathe” is a really good one. It sort of flips things around a bit by being from the point-of-view of the home invaders while the one being invaded is, in fact, the villain. From Fede Alvarez who directed the surprisingly good “Evil Dead” remake, “Don’t Breathe” is an efficiently made, smart, and almost unnervingly suspenseful thriller. You won’t be doing much breathing during its tightly wound 88 minutes.

Most genre fans will see plenty on influences in “Don’t Breathe.” I saw a little bit of “The People Under the Stairs” and “Panic Room.”  And then there’s a sequence that’s just as tense as the ending of “The Silence of the Lambs.” The film actually takes the less is more approach as nothing in the film is too overly graphic which is surprising considering that it literally RAINED BLOOD in Alvarez’ version of “Evil Dead.” Of course, here, you certainly won’t easily get over a scene involving a turkey baster. You’re better off not showing this movie to your relatives on Thanksgiving.

There’s nothing I like more in a fun thriller than a short runtime and a simple plot. In “Don’t Breathe” three friends make money by burglarizing homes. The unofficial leader Money (Daniel Zovatto) gets some intel that a local blind man who lives alone in a completely rundown and abandoned neighborhood has hundreds of thousands of dollars stashed away from a settlement involving the death of his daughter. They figure it’s an easy score since, after all, the guy is blind. Not surprisingly, things go really wrong, very quickly. Just imagine that if in “Wait Until Dark” Audrey Hepburn’s character was a hulking, raging psychopath.

“Don’t Breathe” is a great example of a real, creative artist at work. Sure Alvarez cut his teeth making a studio remake that ended up surprising many, but here he has much more room to making something to call his own. He layers on the atmosphere. And the characters are likeable even if the make money from ripping off others. Jane Levy plays a young woman with a young son and dreams of a better life. I love the ambiguity of the morality of characters in films like these. You end up rooting for people who aren’t necessarily “good.” Nothing here is exactly black or white. And the house itself where a majority of the film takes place is as much as a character as any of the humans.

I know it’s been said over and over again but with a summer full of retreads and sequels it always seems to be a nice little thriller that gets the job done. It’s a frightening, efficient film and fans of the genre will certainly be pleased with it. This one is bound to be a classic and only promises even more great work from Fede Alvarez and his team.  GRADE: A-

Trailer for Don't Breathe on TrailerAddict.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Wiener Takes It All: “Sausage Party” Brings New Meaning to the Term ‘Food Porn’

“Sausage Party” is as filthy as you would expect a movie called “Sausage Party” to be. At first it’s a tad jarring to see a bunch of animated characters who are everyday food items like honey mustard, ketchup, sausages, and hog dog buns to be using the f word every five seconds. Initially it seems like the screenwriters were more interested in overly vulgar dialogue than creating a good story but once you really get into “Sausage Party’s” plot and its delightfully controversial ultimate message (there is no God!) it’s much easier to sit back and ride this R-rated train of profanity and hilarious debauchery all the way to its shocking climax. It's like a cracked-out version of "Toy Story."

A majority of “Sausage Party” takes place in a supermarket. All the food items have human features and talk to one another, though to the humans they appear as everyday inanimate objects. These food items believe that humans are like Gods who “choose” them, take them home, and eventually end up in “The Great Beyond.” Of course we all know what happens to food that gets bought from the supermarket. The film follows a foul-mouthed sausage voiced by Seth Rogen named Frank (what else?) who lives in a package with a bunch of others sausages including Carl (Jonah Hill) and the slightly deformed Barry (Michael Cera). Frank has dreams of being “chosen” and going to the Great Beyond with his girlfriend Brenda Bunson (she’s a hot dog bun and she’s voiced by Kristen Wiig). One bad thing leads to another and Frank and Brenda find themselves knocked out of a shopping cart, determined to get back to their shelves before the big red, white, and blue sale begins the next day.

On their adventure back Frank and Brenda meet lots of interesting characters on the way. There’s the Jewish bagel named Sammy Bagel Jr (Edward Norton) who has a rivalry with Kareem Abdul Lavash who’s a Middle Eastern flatbread voiced by David Krumholtz. Then there’s Teresa del Taco, a lesbian taco shell who’s totally crushing on Brenda. And in one of the film’s weirdest and funniest bits a wad of gum takes the form of Stephen Hawking complete with electronic voice and wheelchair. It’s only appropriate in a movie like this that the main villain literally be a douche named Douche (The League’s Nick Kroll) who’s hell-bent on revenge after his nozzle gets bent. There are plenty of clever and witty and borderline offensive characters based on various races, ethnicities, and stereotypes. They leave no one left to be offended. It’s pretty glorious. Not to mention the completely shocking NSFW ending that almost got the film an NC-17 rating. Seriously.

Pardon the pun, but even though the film started off a little rocky for me, “Sausage Party” eventually grew on me. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who were responsible for the delightfully depraved “This is the End” and co-writers Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir offer an ultimately witty script fully realized by directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon. The computer animation is appropriately crude and the film probably overstays its welcome a bit but it eventually won me over. It’s utterly ridiculous in all the right places and actually has something to say about this world in-between all the vulgarity, drug references, and raunchy humor. Sure, some of this humor is a little too on the nose but as long as you’re willing to go along for the ride it won’t leave a bad taste in your mouth.   GRADE: B  

Trailer for Sausage Party on TrailerAddict.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Harley & Me: “Suicide Squad” is a Big, Ol’ Entertaining Mess

“Suicide Squad” has been bashed so much for the past week I don’t feel the need to keep it going. Though, at the same time it can’t quite be defended. It’s not really a great movie, but when you look back at other not-so-great super hero adaptations (ie “Green Lantern”) you realize it’s entertaining to a certain point and nowhere near as bad as many claim. Hot off the controversially received “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” Warner Bros has given us their latest attempt to cash-in on what those Marvel geniuses have been working on for nearly a decade. It’s certainly something you can’t build overnight. “Suicide Squad” is at least an attempt to give us something a little different from the DC world and at least it’s one not directed by Zack Snyder. Initially visually appealing, with an obvious but enjoyable soundtrack, “Suicide Squad” is entertaining enough, and even though it's basically a mess and generally underwhelming, it does feature a few decent performances by actors who should have had their own movies before this ultimately convoluted film made it to the big screen.

“We’re bad guys,” the clown-faced Harley Quinn says at one point, and that’s true though the movie tries so hard to make them likable you feel like your own morals are being compromised. But she’s so charming! And she is. It’s because she’s played by Margot Robbie, who has been destined for stardom since her breakout role in “The Wolf of Wall Street” just a few years ago. Even if I don’t quite get her character – or why the corrupt intelligence operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) would want her non meta-human skills for this group of meta-human criminals, but more on that later – Robbie fits so nicely into the role she could have easily headlined her own film. The fact that her onscreen lover Joker (Jared Leto) is so oddly not thought out (is he just a clown-faced Scarface or what?) feels like a gross miscalculation. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Leto’s performance, I just don’t get this version of the character or how he really fits into this story (he’s not even part of the Suicide Squad). I don't even remember him making a joke. 

The only other character that was interesting was played by Will Smith – a gifted actor, who gets extra points for sitting out Independence Day Resurgence earlier this summer. He plays Deadshot who by my calculations feels like DC’s version of Deadpool. Maybe it’s because their names are so similar and the fact that they’re both guns for hire? Deadshot, who has a disturbingly good aim, is basically a serial killer but he has a young daughter who he doesn't get to see anymore since he was captured by Batman (Ben Affleck returns). There are a bunch of other sorted characters—portrayed by a decidedly diverse cast of actors—which the movie takes nearly 45 minutes to explain in one of the longest sequences of exposition in cinematic history; and yet you don’t really get to know any of them. Harley Quinn and Deadshot are the only ones worth caring about and the filmmakers know it.

Remember I mentioned Viola Davis? She’s here on a break from teaching law students how to get away with murder to form a secret squad of bad guys for… doing stuff? Some evil enchantress figures into it somehow and causes some kind of mass chaos in Midway City which is supposedly DC’s version of Chicago. In exchange for basically being forced into this “Suicide Squad” the prisoners are granted shorter prison sentences. The second half of the movie is watching these bad guys let loose on a nearly devastated and desolate city as they try to catch the really, really bad guy.

There are fun songs that blare on the soundtrack and there is a cool candy-coated color scheme that director David Ayer initially presents which is pleasing to the ears and eyes but the movie is mostly just bombastic. The movie moves along swiftly for the most part but I imagine most film goers who aren’t into comic book movies will be bored endlessly. I’ve certainly built up my tolerance for these films so I got through it mostly unscathed. The whole thing certainly feels like a disappointment compared to its catchy marketing. The tone is somewhat odd; parts are funny, parts are overwhelmingly dark. Was this supposed to be the darker DC version of “Guardians of the Galaxy?” Perhaps its biggest problem is another case of too many cooks in the kitchen, or perhaps “Suicide Squad” just wasn’t the best direction to go in post “Batman v Superman.” I’m sure there’s a lighthearted and fun superhero movie in the DC cinematic universe somewhere. “Suicide Squad” certainly isn’t it.  GRADE: C+  

Feature Trailer for Suicide Squad on TrailerAddict.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Trek the Third: “Star Trek Beyond” Maintains the Energetic Fun of Its Predecessors

I’m now at my all-time record of most Star Trek films seen by me. I count 4, which includes all three of the rebooted series, and one “Wrath of Kahn” (thought by many as the original series’ highpoint). For the record, I couldn't quite make it through "The Motion Picture, "The Voyage Home," or "Generations." It’s actually possible that the latest entry “Star Trek Beyond” could actually be the best of the bunch. The first movie did an amazing job of making a somewhat unappealing thing very appealing to a lot of people. The second movie was just as fun (if not more so) but still angered a lot of those avid “Trekkies.” This third film, while seemingly upping the ante on action and spectacle according to the trailers, is actually a really fun rescue mission movie. The plot is simple enough which gives plenty of time to devote to the characters who we’ve gotten to know over the past few films. This Justin Lin-directed “Star Trek Beyond” is engaging and purely fun, escapist entertainment. And best of all you don’t even need to be a Trekkie to decipher any of it.

Things haven’t been too prosperous for the crew of the USS Enterprise since the events of the last film. The film opens as Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) laments about taking an Admiral position on the space station known as Yorktown, with intentions to promote Spock (Zachary Quinto) to captain of the Enterprise. Spock is stressed about learning about his older self having passed away (and he and Urhura (Zoe Saldana) have amicably split up). the Enterprise is soon back off to work, this time on a rescue mission to help a survivor from a rescue pod. Not to anger too many nerds out there: not surprisingly, “IT’S A TRAP!” The Enterprise is completely ambushed and left nonfunctional in a truly nail-biting action sequence. The crew is left mostly stranded and separated from each other and they must attempt to rescue a majority of the Enterprise crew from the evil clutches of the villainous Krall (Idris Elba). The MVP of “Star Trek Beyond” is also a new addition, her name is Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) and this black and white streaked lady is a really great addition to an already enjoyable romp.

“Star Trek Beyond” promises all of the action, fun, and spectacle promised by the relaunch of this series way back in 2009. There’s not much exploration here for the real fans but it’s probably for the best because this is an exciting movie that hardly lets up. Fast & Furious director Justin Lin has taken the reigns from JJ Abrams, who was too busy directing another nerdfest known as “The Force Awakens.” At first Lin seems like a strange choice until you realize what a visual delight “Beyond” truly is. There’s a real sense of camaraderie amongst the Enterprise crew with plenty of enjoyable family/workplace dynamics which makes sense since he did the same with the “crew” from the Fast & Furious films.

The script also feels refreshing and on point which is probably because it was co-written by Scotty himself Simon Pegg and Doug Jung (who also plays Sulu’s husband). And even if the plot remains slightly dark, there’s plenty of humor to be had here. The banter between Spock and McCoy (Karl Urban) is of particular delight.  As always, the film features state of the art visual effects and production design, not to mention a fun soundtrack as well. I’m not sure how much fans of the original show and movie series will enjoy this latest entry, but I certainly found it to be a trek worth taking.  GRADE: A-

Feature Trailer for Star Trek Beyond on TrailerAddict.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Dark Shadows: “Lights Out” is a Surprisingly Effective Thriller

Most people are scared of the dark. It’s a reason why so many scary movies are set at night. The new movie “Lights Out” truly understands this concept and plays it for all its worth. After all, there’s nothing scarier than being attacked in your own home by an entity that exists in the darkness. Sure it seems easy to just turn on the lights, but the movie finds fun and creative ways to keep those lights off and scare the bejesus out its audience who probably expected yet another dumb PG-13 horror crapfest. A crapfest this is not: it’s a truly effective scary movie that has a lot to say about serious subject matters like fragmented families and mental illness. The film features a truly clever and well-executed concept and winning performances. And it has plenty of scares up both sleeves.

I should have suspected that when I found out Maria Bello was in “Lights Out” that it was a good sign. The actress has had her fair share of duds but she’s talented and severely underrated. She plays grief extremely well (just see “Prisoners”) and her take on mental illness is on full display here. She’s Sophie and her young son Martin (Gabriel Bateman) lives with her. Sophie is estranged from her oldest daughter Rebecca (Theresa Palmer) who herself is hesitant to make her relationship official with Bret (Alexander DiPersia) a guy she’s been seeing for several months. After a fairly recent family tragedy, Martin’s been having trouble in school; he keeps falling asleep in class and doesn’t seem to be getting much sleep at home. He has his reasons: a creepy silhouetted woman keeps showing up at night in his bedroom when the lights turn off. Even Rebecca begins seeing the disturbing apparition. And it turns out that Sophie has some of her own, not so crazy, secrets which are affecting her children.

“Lights Out” is practically brilliant when compared to most modern studio horror movies. Like “The Conjuring” films, “Lights Out” offers up much more than just fun scares. There is dramatic weight to the story and fully realized characters that only help make the movie scarier. After all a movie can only be truly scary when you actually care about the people you’re watching. Many horror aficionados might rightfully see some comparisons to the recent Australian thriller “The Babadook;” both films deal with subjects of mental instability, grief, the relationship between mother and child, and both feature creepy shadowy figures who wreak havoc on the main characters. 

Even removing the scare factor, the storyline is actually pretty fascinating and well-developed. Screenwriter Eric Heisserer, whose writing credits also include the remakes of “A Nightmare onElm Street” and “The Thing,” and “Final Destination 5,” finally gets to make something that feels like his own; though it’s based on first time feature director David F. Sandberg’s short film of the same name. What a delightful debut it is. He gets terrific performances from his actors; Bateman gives an almost flawless child performance while veteran Bello has truly brought her A-game. Palmer is incredible likable here and her onscreen romance with DiPersia is realistic and palpable. These are all people you want to root for.

Here’s the bottom line: “Lights Out” is an impeccably crafted, written, and acted supernatural horror film. It feels like something we haven’t really seen before while at the same time feels comfortingly familiar. And best of all, it’s actually scary. It’s a perfectly refreshing antidote to the sequelitis that’s been going around this summer. Don’t forget to hit the lights on your way out.  GRADE: A-

Trailer for Lights Out on TrailerAddict.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Golden Ghouls: The Hilarious New “Ghostbusters” Most Definitely Isn't a Bust

Remember back in the day when the most controversial movies were about Jesus or shoving sticks of butter in odd places? Now it's about comedies involving characters busting ghosts. Oh the horrors of someone's childhood memories being reworked for a quick buck. 1984's “Ghostbusters” was, and remains, a popular movie choice for a lot of the movie-loving public. The franchise was already technically ruined by the much-maligned sequel. And people are being thrown a completely new version featuring some of the funniest ladies in Hollywood. So what's the problem? Sure this remake doesn't really NEED to exist but neither does Ben-Hur, The Fly, The Thing, Ocean's Eleven, or The Departed – and they turned out just fine (We can conveniently ignore the fact that Ben-Hur is getting remade yet again this August). So how is this new “Ghostbusters?” It's a comic delight from start to finish, with a completely game and hilarious cast, fantastic visual effects, and some of the most fun 3D work I've ever seen. Ever. In other words, it's a blast.”

We can all drop the term reboot when it comes to the new “Ghostbusters.” If this isn't a sheer remake then I don't know what one is. This new entry follows best friends and scientists Abby (Melissa McCarthy) and Erin (Kristen Wiig) as they hesitantly team up with fellow scientist colleague Jillian Holtzmann (Saturday Night Live's current MVP Kate McKinnon) and MTA worker Patty (Leslie Jones, also of SNL) to form a group of paranormal experts to help rid New York City of recent ghostsly apparitions. It turns out ghosts are in fact real and there seems to be a human responsible for the uptick in paranormal activity. The ladies rent out the space about a Chinese takeout place and hire Kevin, a hunky but dumb as dirt male receptionist whose only qualifications are his Ken doll good looks. He's played to the hilt by Thor himself Chris Hemsworth, who is unsurprisingly good at playing stupid. The guy is certainly an underrated comedic talent.

The film is directed by Paul Feig who is mostly known for his comedies starting Melissa McCarthy. For the record, the original film was directed by Ivan Reitman who was at the time mostly known for his comedies starring Bill Murray. Is this new version as good as or better than the original? That is besides the point. On it's own terms, it's often hilarious and has a nice visual style. Anyone who found the pacing of “Bridesmaids” to be a tad slow should have no complaints here. Feig and co-screenwriter Katie Dippold seem to know exactly what they're doing and what they hope to accomplish from a female-driven fantasy comedy. The smart script addresses the real-life controversies surrounding the film in clever ways and smartly addresses the silliness that is a team of people who bust ghosts for a living. Let's not forget that hilarious “Jaws” reference.

The films visusal's are true treat. The special effects are flashy and colorful. Sure it may not be as scary as the 1984 film but I always wasn't an adult when I saw it. The emphasis here is more on the comedy elements which makes sense because these four women are absolutely hilarious. But even if this is more of a comedy, the film's visuals are a real delight, including some of the most impressive 3D work I've ever seen on the big screen. In the IMAX 3D version things fly right out of the frame itself and over the black bars at the top and bottom of the screen giving the whole thing an extra dimension that is extremely cool.

“Ghostbusters” is a real treat in what many have considered a lukewarm summer movie season. It's a film that proves that just because it's a remake doesn't mean it can't be a blast anyways. If you're a fan of any of these ladies or this series you'd be doing yourself a favor to check out “Ghostbusters.” See it out of sheer curiosity, and stay because along with “Captain America Civil War,” it's the most fun movie of the summer.  GRADE: A-

Feature Trailer for Ghostbusters on TrailerAddict.

Monday, July 04, 2016

The Apes of Wrath: “The Legend of Tarzan” is an Abs-olutely Fun Adventure

It turns out “The Legend of Tarzan” is more than just not-very-subtle marketing featuring a ripped Alexander Skarsgård. This new adventure is yet another adaptation of the classic Edgar Rice Burroughs (and it certainly won't be the last) character who's raised by gorillas in the jungles of Africa. This new adventure, of the hundreds of adaptations since the early 1900s, is the first big profile release since Disney's 1999 animated hit. “The Legend of Tarzan” is traditionally told and ends up being a rousing adventure story in the vein of “The Mummy” or “King Kong.” Is it altogether “necessary?” Probably not, but at least the spirit of the character and the sense of adventure are alive and well in this big budget extravaganza.

This new Tarzan adventure saves the origin story to flashbacks and instead takes place after Tarzan (Skarsgård) has already assimilated back into regular society. He goes by his birth name John Clayton III, drinks tea and is married to his beloved Jane (Margot Robbie). The film's main plot revolves around the evil Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), on behalf of the king of Belgium, trying to exchange the jungle man known as Tarzan to an African tribe in exchange for valuable diamonds. John agrees to visit is African home and those he remembers from his past, reluctantly letting Jane tag along until the homecoming becomes an unexpected rescue mission. Soon John must become the vine-swinging Tarzan once again and restore order to the jungle.

Is “The Legend of Tarzan” silly? Of course it is; it's about a man raised by gorillas who swings from vines. There's a reason why that scene from “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” was so negatively received; people swinging from vines is a silly concept in the modern film age. That doesn't mean that this new Tarzan is a heck of a lot of fun. It's like a fun safari adventure that reminded me a lot of Peter Jackson's “King Kong” remake. Sure the visual affects aren't all that amazing but they get the job done. This isn't up to the level of “The Jungle Book” which had Oscar-worthy CGI animals.

The actors here were pretty decent. Skarsgård is fine in the title role and he certainly looks the part. His Tarzan is a man of few words (of which are written by co-writers Adam Cozad and Hustle & Flow's Craig Brewer) and I believed him and Jane were in love. Robbie is set to become a household name any day now. Waltz choose the scenery as another over-the-top, but entertaining villain. And Samuel L. Jackson feels predictably out-of-place as George Washington Williams but he's certainly adds the requisite comic relief. Director David Yates, who spent half a decade directing the latter Harry Potter movies, feels right at home here. The movie's African accented music score from Rupert Gregson-Williams is a standout here. The film flows nicely, I'd be lying if I didn't get caught up in the story as predicable as most of it is.

“The Legend of Tarzan” is just a fun throwback adventure. It sort of reminds me of a fun 90s adventure with modern effects. The actors are good, the direction is fine, and the story movies along and isn't overly complicated. I can't account for how much the story aligns with the original source material but it feels like a proper modern live action version of the character. Sure there aren't any fun songs here like the Disney classic but it all goes down smoothly; for a fun diverting adventure you could do a lot worse.  GRADE: B  

Feature Trailer for The Legend of Tarzan on TrailerAddict.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

A Night to Dismember: “The Purge: Election Year” is Another Serviceable Purge Entry

Is it just me or is “The Purge” film series basically just the action horror version of “The Hunger Games?” Both series are about corrupt future societies in which people murder each other once a year. Anywho, “The Purge: Election Year” continues the tradition of presenting a new night of the annual Purge, a night in which all crime, including murder, is legal. This third entry, however, is more overtly political, literally. The corrupt New Founding Fathers of America have now also made it legal to murder political leaders of all levels which doesn't bode well for a Presidential candidate who vows to end the annual night of murder if she's elected president. It's not a coincidence that this film is being released just months before our own Presidential election (or on the 4th of July weekend). The horror genre has never been known for being exactly subtle when it comes to social and political commentary.

The third entry in this wildly interesting, if sometimes flawed, series is probably equal to the second entry in terms of quality. It's certainly much more like the previous entry, than the home invasion thriller concept employed in the first film. “Anarchy” felt much more like an 80s John Carpenter action thriller than a stander horror film, while this third entry takes a foray into the political thriller genre.

The movie initially sets up two stories that eventually converge. We're introduced to presidential hopeful Senator Charlie Roan (Lost's Elizabeth Mitchell) who wants to end the Purge. Her entire family was murdered eighteen years earlier and has dedicated her life to making sure the annual night of murder ends for good. These films have always shown that while the American government claims this night has made the economy better and the yearly murder rate drop significantly (as people can “purge” their bad thoughts legally every year), the annual night of chaos is actually a way to cleanse the country of low income people who tend to be the targets each year. The film also focuses on a convenience store owner named Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson), his employee Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), and friend and EMT worker Laney (Betty Gabriel). Joe has decided to haul up in his store and protect it as his Purge insurance rates have inexplicably skyrocketed.

Things turn bad for Senator Roan (and her head of security Leo – Frank Grillo from the last film) when the NFFA announce that politicians are no longer immune from the horrors of the Purge. And let's not forget the borderline psychotic and Roan's political rival Minster Owens (Kyle Secor) who continues to support the Purge. The film then turns into a political thriller as allies becomes enemies and Roan is forced to run for her life on the deadliest night of the year.

“The Purge: Election Year” is a perfectly serviceable edition to this fascinating film series. I'm constantly impressed with the places writer and director James DeMonaco is taking this series, even if nothing in this third entry is outright frightening or particularly scary. It's atmospheric and creepy for sure with no shortage of crazy people in scary masks doing truly messed up things. You pretty much know what you're getting into when you see a Purge movie and it meets expectations while saying something about society. I certainly admire it more than I actually love it but the sheer amount of creativity going on here is definitely admirable.  GRADE: B  

Trailer for The Purge: Election Year on TrailerAddict.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Goldblum is Off the Rose: “Independence Day Resurgence” is the Lackluster Sequel You Were Expecting

Is it safe for someone to admit that their preferred 1996 summer blockbuster of choice was not, in fact, “Independence Day?” I always preferred “Twister.” There’s nothing wrong with “Independence Day;” it is certainly a big budget fun alien invasion movie in the style of a 1970s Irwin Allen disaster flick. And let’s be honest with ourselves, it’s not really a very good movie. It makes sense then that I felt completely underwhelmed by “Independence Day: Resurgence.” My dislike of it has nothing to do with any kind of Star Wars prequel fanboy hate whatsoever. When it comes right down to it, “ID4-2” is frankly dull, incompetent, and just plain stupid.

No one really goes out of their way to praise the body of work of director Roland Emmerich. The guy is mostly known for his large scale on-screen disasters, some of them good: “2012” was goofy fun, as was “The Day After Tomorrow” but his 1998 version of “Godzilla” was a disaster in more ways than one. I’d be lying if I said “The Patriot” wasn’t my favorite of his films. “Independence Day: Resurgence” is a definite low for the filmmaker in a career filled with lows. While his films are nowhere near as terrible or utterly bombastic as say, Michael Bay's, there is a glaring sheen of incompetence in this latest effort.

“ID4 2” takes place twenty years after the events of the first movie and the world has moved on. They’ve rebuilt bigger and better than ever, while even harvesting a lot of the advanced technology brought to Earth by those pesky aliens. This world doesn’t feel like the same world from the last movie, it feels way too advanced and unrealistic. The United States now has a female president played by Sela Ward who spends the entire movie doing her best Hillary with regrettably slicked back hair look. She’s not the only one who needs a makeover, former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) has some serious post-traumatic stress issues and is in serious need of a hairbrush. His daughter Patricia is all grown up and played by It Follows’ Maika Monroe. She’s with hotshot military pilot Jake (Liam Hemsworth) because movies like this need love interests obviously. Will Smith is nowhere to be found so we have his son Dylan (Jessie T. Usher) filling in. That wacky scientist Dr. Okun (Brent Spiner) is back, somehow surviving a twenty year comma, waking up to his life partner (John Storey), which was an unexpected twist in a film otherwise riddled with clichés. Indie actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, playing a scientist, looks mostly confused throughout the film as if she either lost a bet or mistakenly got lost getting back to Lars von Trier’s set. Most of the actors look pretty bored.

Oh, and don’t even make me try to describe the film’s plot. The aliens actually aren’t done attacking Earth and send a mothership down to kill everyone, again. And again no one listens to Jeff Goldblum (or his father). Characters inexplicably die, or end up not dying in confusing ways. The action scenes are so shoddily filmed and terribly jumbled together that I felt like I was trying to decipher some three year old’s abstract drawing. There’s no real sense of time and place; characters are on the moon one minute and then on Earth the next without much explanation and in the meantime I generally lost interest. Especially in the lame attempts at humor from the film’s five screenwriters who I’ll give a break to by not actually naming them. Oh and the visual effects are just plain terrible considering the film’s budget was twice as big as the first film. And that movie won a freaking Oscar for its visual effects (over “Twister” I might add).

So yeah “Independence Day: Resurgence” is bad. I didn’t like it. It’s not a good sequel. But you know what? It doesn’t profoundly change or affect my life in any way and it’s very possibly that a lot of people out there will find it fun and enjoyable. I’m still sticking with “Twister.”  GRADE: D+

Feature Trailer for Independence Day: Resurgence on TrailerAddict.