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.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Lady in the Water: “The Shallows” is an Efficient Little Shark Thriller

An easy way to describe “The Shallows” would be “it's 'Jaws' meets 'Gravity,'” but that would be somewhat inaccurate; those were Oscar-winning movies after all and this is a movie from the guy who directed Paris Hilton in “House of Wax.” But actually, “The Shallows” is a fun little shark thriller even if it's a B-movie through and through, which happens to be exactly how I take my fun little shark thrillers. Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra is the master of the “efficient little thriller” subgenre having made other “efficient little thrillers” like “Non-Stop” the efficient little airplane thriller and “Orphan” the efficient little psycho kid thriller and he's right at home with “The Shallows.” Even if the film doesn't remotely pretend to know anything about actual Great White Shark behavior, "The Shallows" is a completely watchable and suspenseful thrill ride that makes efficient use of its 86 minute run time.

There's not really much to say about the plot of “The Shallows” except that it's essentially about a woman who becomes trapped on some rocks while a hungry shark circles around her. The film's script attempts to give us a well-formed principle female character in Nancy (Blake Lively) who decides to find the unnamed beach in some unnamed foreign country that her late mother used to frequent. A Spanish-speaking man drops Nancy off, where she meets two other surfers, who, besides a drunk man, are really the only other characters in the film. But that doesn't matter, this is the story of woman vs. beast. I haven't seen a woman so pissed off at a shark since “Jaws the Revenge.”

It's no surprise that shortly after catching some waves, Nancy gets attacked by a shark and refuses to leave the area because it's been feeding on a floating whale carcass. The shark also has some kind of hook lodged into its mouth which makes me think that's reason enough for us to think that's why the shark wants to badly to eat every human being in sight. This is not a Shark Week documentary; it's a shark thriller so we can easily forgive it's lack of scientific shark knowledge and feel ok with just being scared for Nancy every time she's forced to enter the water in attempt to get to shore. She's basically stuck on the rocks with her bleeding leg, her wits, and an injured seagull who I guess is supposed to be her Wilson stand-in. She's also conveniently a former medical student which helps.

If you're not expecting much in terms of Oscar-winning writing, acting, or effects you'll have a hell of a fun time watching “The Shallows” as I did. The film is overwhelmingly suspenseful and packs enough scares to make people scared of bodies of water of any kind. Lively is good enough here; and she makes Nancy smart enough that you rarely need to smack your forehead. The shark effects aren't exactly amazing but they're convincing enough; the film is scary which is really all that matters.  GRADE: B+

Feature Trailer for The Shallows on TrailerAddict.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Fish Schtick: “Finding Dory” is as Delightful and Funny as Its Predecessor

As far as unnecessary sequels go, “Finding Dory” is actually pretty darn good. Nothing will ever match the sheer joy of the first film but this follow-up certainly makes its mark in the glorious Pixar cannon. It obviously loses some originality points for being somewhat familiar and can't match the obviously far-out antics of last year's masterpiece “Inside Out.” But why should it? In a time when sequels are so common it's a breath of fresh air just to have one that is simply great – even if it never really needed to be made in the first place. Luckily, this underwater world created by the geniuses at Pixar is brimming with enough new colorful characters and smart gags that make “Finding Nemo” one of the better “Pixar-lite” entries.

“Finding Nemo” was essentially an underwater road trip movie. Clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) was searching the open Australian Ocean for his lost son Nemo and hesitantly teamed up with lovable blue tang Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) who suffers from short term memory loss. In case you were living under an underwater rock all those years ago, Nemo was found and they all lived happily ever after. Now, taking place a year after the events of the first movie, Dory has a revelation and realizes that she has a family and may knew where to find them. This takes her, Marlin, and Nemo on a crazy adventure across the ocean in and around the Marine Life Institute which involves the voice of Sigourney Weaver in what is one of the movie's best running gags.

There are plenty of new colorful characters involved here. There's a pair of captive whales voiced by It's Always Sunny's Kaitlin Olson and Modern Family's Ty Burrell. The one who really steals the show this time is a disgruntled octopus who's named Hank voiced by Ed O'Neill. There are some truly inspired bits here as Dory, Marlin, and Nemo find themselves hoping from body to water to body of water throughout the institute trying to figure out where Dory's parents are. There's one bit involving an unfortunate stop in a kids' touch tank that is hilariously rendered by those clever Pixar people (including co-directors Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane).

“Finding Dory” may feel like a movie that doesn't need to exist, but the filmmakers have gone out of their way to assure you why it does: it's a sheer delight on every level. Like the first film, it is filled with clever humor, fun characters, a great Thomas Newman score, jaw-dropping animation, and a lot of heart. The movie also has a voice – it has a positive message about those who have disabilities – which is not entirely lost on those just looking for a fun time. It's a movie that will have you initially questioning it's existence and proving in the end that Pixar can pretty much do no wrong, because “Finding Dory” is oh so right.  GRADE: B+

Trailer for Finding Dory on TrailerAddict.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Enfield of Dreams: I Can’t Help Falling in Love With “The Conjuring 2”

Simply put, “The Conjuring 2” will not only restore your faith in movie sequels but in the studio horror film, as well. Most horror fans have had to turn to the little seen indie flicks that show up on demand or in art house theaters. Horror films put out by major studios tend to be PG-13 cash grabs and nothing more. And horror fans are lucky if they get one great horror film amongst what usually ends up being an entire series full of mediocre entries. How “The Conjuring” series has hit two home runs so far is an achievement in and of itself. The success of this film (as with the first) remains due to top-notch acting from great actors (and two of the most appealing horror movie lead characters ever created and some of the best acting the genre has seen since “The Exorcist”), sharp and interesting direction (from James Wan returning to horror form after his fantastic “Furious Seven” detour), and a solid script. Yes, as strange as it sounds, even horror films can be just plain great films, and thankfully “The Conjuring 2” gives horror sequels a good name.

If one needed to instantly compare “The Conjuring 2” to the original I’d say it’s maybe a notch lower just because, as great as it is on its own, you’ve seen these characters in situations like this before. It is a sequel after all so it instantly lacks the uniqueness of the first time around. However, this sequel does everything right. You could say it follows the formula of the first but it also adds much depth and drama to the previous entry as well. After being called to consult on the infamous Amityville case, paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, both delightfully wonderful) are called upon overseas in England where a single mother is having disturbances in her house that are affecting her children. One disturbed child in particular, Janet (Madison Wolfe, who gives one of the most impressive child horror film performances ever), has become increasingly unstable as it’s apparent that some evil entity is causing her to practically become possessed.

Like the first film, the movie’s plot isn’t simply a haunting or a possession. It’s sort of a weird combination of both. The family’s mother played by A.I. Artificial Intelligence’s Frances O’Conner, is completely at wit’s end but the Warrens – dealing with their own familial issues – promise to only observe and help only if the case is particularly troublesome. The film’s script from Chad & Carey Hayes (along with Wan and David Leslie Johnson) interestingly deals with the concept of skepticism. In movies like this these cases are always assumed to be real – but for once the storyline approaches the subject of whether what’s going could be in fact a hoax.

“The Conjuring 2” features top notch production values all around. Wan’s direction is simply suburb. He doesn’t just rely on jump scares (though they’re there and they are, in fact, actually scary) but real frights, choosing to let scenes play out in almost unbearable suspense. The cinematography is particularly wild from the always reliable Don Burgess and matches nicely with Joseph Bishara’s creepy score.

If there’s any criticism to be had, the third act feels almost overblown compared to anything the first half (or first film) offered and takes the “bigger is better” approach. It doesn’t hurt the film in anyway but isn’t quite as strong as the film’s suspense-riddled first half. Long story short (too late), “The Conjuring 2” is a completely scary delight and proves that not all sequels suck.  GRADE: A-

Feature Trailer for The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist on TrailerAddict.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Dirty Pop: The Funny “Popstar Never Stop Never Stopping” is Predictably Ridiculous

Nothing can quite top the experience of seeing “Borat” for the first time. Its mockumentary format was nothing particularly new (see This is Spinal Tap and the rest of Christopher Guest’s oeuvre) but it’s appealing mix of wacky character interacting with unsuspecting real-life people was something so funny, shocking, and downright outrageous that no other mockumentary could barely touch it. With the glut of fairly recent concert films and other musician-led documentaries on the rise (due to the popularity of reality television, I believe) it only seemed natural that another musician focused mockumentary was going to be unleashed on the public. Who better to do it than former SNL funnyman and digital short maestro Andy Samberg? He and his Lonely Island pals Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone take on everyone from Justin Bieber to Justin Timberlake in a film stuffed with enough cameos to fill an entire season of “Will & Grace.” It’s mostly a success due to the always game Samberg and his buddies though you can’t help but feel the film is a few years too late and doesn’t quite feel as fresh and original as it thinks it is.

“Popstar” ultimately feels like a really long Digital Short, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does sort of feel padded even though it clocks in under 90 minutes. However, the film is pretty funny from start to finish. Samberg is Conner Friel who’s part of pop boy band The Style Boyz. Obviously things to end up working out so he starts his solo career as Conner4Real  which goes great after his first album Thriller, Also is a hit but his second album bombs. The film follows him as his entire career implodes even with the help of his manager (Tim Meadows) and his publicist (Sara Silverman). It is sort of refreshing knowing that his downward spiral isn’t caused by drugs as is the case with most famous people but rather the fact that it turns out he’s a terrible song writer without his two former band mates (one of which becomes a farmer and the other remains with Conner as his DJ).

The success of the film (aka how much you find it funny) will depend on how well you know the many famous people who make cameos. There are a bunch of really good and clever ones which I won’t spoil here. Though, those actors who are actually playing characters don’t really get all that much to do. Maya Rudolph and Joan Cusack’s bits are criminally short. Much of the humor comes from mocking the entire music industry and how obsessed with celebrity culture we have become as a society.  One of my favorite bits include several scenes mocking the annoyingly popular “TMZ” show in which a bunch of people sit around an office sipping from travel mugs as they mock the stupid stuff famous people do.

All of the songs, most of which feature rap, are actually decent and are generally pretty funny. I imagine the soundtrack would be a fun listen with the right friends and the right road trip. I also love how far Shaffer, Taccone, (who both co-wrote and directed) and particularly Samberg (who also co-wrote) are willing to go in the name of comedy. Sure it relies heavily on typically raunchy gross out humor but there’s something timeless about potty humor isn’t there? You also get a sense that even if this trio is making a mockery of the music industry you can tell they utterly respect it.

“Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” is just as ridiculous as its title suggests. Samberg doesn’t quite reach the comedic heights of Sacha Baron Cohen and he certainly owes a lot to the mockumentaries of the past but “Popstar” is delightfully un-PC and is certainly worth visiting particularly if you’re a fan of the Andy Samberg brand of absurdist musical mockery.  GRADE: B

Trailer for Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping on TrailerAddict.