Netflix review: SyFy’s VAN HELSING (season 1)

Starring: Kelly Overton (video game adaptation TEKKEN [2010], and TV shows TRUE BLOOD and ALL MY CHILDREN)

(SUMMARY)

Set three years later during a post-apocalyptic future. Vampires have taken over Seattle, Washington. In an abandoned hospital, the last Marine of his squad, Axel (Jonathan Scarfe), has been holding his position since the uprising of the vampires. His mission, to ensure the survival of a three year comatose patient, Vanessa (Kelly Overton), who has an immunity to the virus that turns humans into vampires and may hold the key to salvation.

(REVIEW)

Grr. It’s not as good as the posters make it out to be. I’ve got a lot more problems with this show than compliments, but all in all, it’s… okay.

What shall I start with?

The opening has some grim promise. You see our lone and faithful Marine Axel (Jonathan Scarfe) talking to a locked up vampire while he’s feeding her his own blood. It’s a little fucked up, but that’s what I usually come to expect from vampire stories. You’re not entirely sure if Axel’s all there mentally, but then the action starts. A group of human survivors about to be killed by a group of vampires are trying to get into the hospital that’s on lockdown thanks to some makeshift traps and barricades. He lets them in, of course, and then the first problems with the show rear their ugly heads: most of the characters are annoying as hell.

Almost immediately, the survivors are questioning Axel’s situation, exclaiming how the locked up vampire needs to be killed as well as the unconscious woman that “might” be a vampire herself, even though they haven’t an inkling of prove to back that up. For the rest of the show, that’s all these characters do. They bicker, yell, and constantly disagree. Which would be fine if it did feel like a bad sitcom the whole time. In an apocalypse, there will be disagreements on how to survive. Thing is, these people start this crap not even half way through the first episode. They barely ever show appreciation toward Axel for sheltering these people and this goes on throughout the season.

Thankfully, there’s a few characters that I liked. The three that immediately come to mind are Susan (Hilary Jardine), Mohamad (Trezzo Mahoro), and Sam (Christopher Heyerdahl). Susan, prior to the apocalypse, was Vanessa’s neighbor and friend whom has been the victim of physical abuse from asshole boyfriends that Vanessa beats the crap out of. While Vanessa’s been in her coma, she got turned into a vampire and eventually meet up after Vanessa attempts to leave the hospital to look for her missing daughter Dylan (Hannah Cheramy), but got captured by vampires. Vanessa turns her back to human, and the two rekindle their relationship, which I really enjoyed. Mohamad and Sam are the “two peas in a pod” characters that have a nice connection as well, as a pair that always looked out for each other. Mohamad’s a young man who was separated from his sister Sheema (Naika Toussaint), still locked away in a human camp overlooked by vampires and wants to find her. He’s a loyal friend to those he respects and who show him respect. He’s brave, smart, an all around breath of fresh air from all the married couple bickering. And Sam is the deaf gentle giant. Again, he’s a kind guy and his silence is, like Mohamad, a welcomed detour from the arguing.

Now for our titular character. Vanessa, for all intents and purposes, isn’t poorly written. As a character, Vanessa is tough, no nonsense, capable in a fight, but a loving mother and friend, she’s perfectly serviceable, and Overton’s performance is strong enough to carry the show, for my tastes anyway. Here’s my issue: Vanessa as “Van Helsing.” When we’re first introduced to her, she’s about to be chewed alive by vampire-Flesh (Vincent Gale), but she immediately snaps out of her coma and defends herself quite proficiently. However, she’s never quite this deadly in any other scene. She’s just a run of the mill survivor that isn’t stupid. Aside from her inability to be turned after getting bit by a vampire, and her stupid-ass ability to change vampires back to human after them biting her or her biting them (yes, that’s a thing that she does too), there’s never a moment in this show where I’m like, “Yes! That’s our new Van Helsing!” At least, not until the final episode of the season, which lasts probably a grand total of ten minutes.

I can probably guess what the structure was supposed to be and why that moment was dragged out ’till the end. It’s the “superhero” idea. Like in the TV show DAREDEVIL, the first season featured Matt Murdock/Daredevil in a borderline amateur black garb and a black mask throughout the entire first season, only giving him the iconic red suit in the final episode or couple episodes. The purpose of this, I imagine, was to create the character and build him up, getting the audience a near perfect understanding of him before going full comic book on us. But what makes Vanessa as “Van Helsing” so frustrating in this regard is that the character of “Van Helsing,” while well-known in supernatural literature, isn’t exactly a modern pop culture icon like superheroes are. Seriously, can you name a movie that came out that was about Van Helsing? I can. Hugh Jackman’s ill-fated VAN HELSING (2004), which is not considered to be a good movie. I know there’s a ton more than that, but are any of them considered landmarks of cinema or classics? Is Van Helsing truly in the echelons with Dracula, Frankenstein and his monster, and the Wolf Man? No. The character truly isn’t. Not like that. So Vanessa’s development, not just as a character, but as this generation’s “Van Helsing” was crucial to make her really compelling. Instead, she’s lukewarm. Not bad, not great.

If I were to have changed anything, I would have made Vanessa a bit more of a one-woman army. Like, everything about her personality is fine. Her backstory, all that, that’s all good. But in a fight, I would have made it like a Jason Bourne type thing. Like in IDENTITY (2002), when Jason is sleeping on that park bench and the cops try to get him to show them his papers, but when they take out their batons, he instinctively goes into combat mode and efficiently takes them out, and promptly, but subtly, freaks out after with a look that says, “How the hell did I just do that?!” You never get any real sense of bad-assery in the vampire killing department. She’s obviously not useless in a fight, but nothing on the scale of “Van Helsing.” She trips and stumbles a little too much for me to take her seriously like that.

On top of my problems with the characters, the show as a whole isn’t very well-written. One set of dialog sticks out for me.

VANESSA
No offense, but go fuck yourself.

AXEL
Understood.

VANESSA
Good, then go do it!

Ugh, this script gave me an aneurysm. Thankfully, the cringeworthy dialog sort of dissipates as the season progresses, but the way it’s structured and how every event is handled is completely inconsistent and character choices are utterly stupid. Why doesn’t Axel throw the survivors out that give him a hard time? Or kill them? Why do the survivors stay with him if they don’t agree with any of his decisions? There’s this subplot that starts in episode four “Coming Back” that focuses on a murder within the group. You wanna know what’s freakin’ frustrating? This plot thread isn’t resolved until episode eleven “Last Time.” There are thirteen episodes in this season. What the actual fuck? We’re introduced to characters that have a big role early on, leave the show, and then return only to be killed off later as soon as they reappear. Incredibly forced romance subplots that go nowhere, a questionable accent by Tom Cavanagh who is only in one episode and still whispers his lines half the time, infighting with the vampires that no one gives a shit about, the vampires in this show present themselves to be more like zombies than vampires and I don’t recall a single vampire having fangs, all these problems are littered everywhere.

That’s not to say some things are done right. There are some cool visuals, like there’s this one bit where a dude is being hung in a cold room, is missing one arm and a leg I think, and his intestines are hanging out, and he’s totally alive. That was delightfully sick. And there’s another little scene where you have vampire leader Dmitri (Paul Johanssen), his… lover? Rebecca (Laura Mennell), and Dmitri’s sister Anastasia (Gia Crovatin), and they’re sitting at a dinner table, drinking blood soup. I won’t lie, I sadistically giggled when Anastasia got up to get more blood and it’s from a corpse with her throat slit and pours blood with a ladle.

***SPOILERS***

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Here’s one plot point that went nowhere that I really wanted to see developed. So the group is hiding out in an underground bunker and Vanessa and Susan find themselves in bed, just being friends. But before long, they share a kiss. This was quite possibly one of my favorite relationships in the show and felt really organic to the story. Never mind that I’m a guy and watching two hot chicks making out isn’t the hottest thing ever, but that their relationship went in that direction felt right for the characters. Vanessa is very butch and independent, and Susan is a little more vulnerable. She looks up to Vanessa for her strength, but managed to come into her own when the apocalypse showed up. Both women have had lousy luck with men in their lives and Susan did seem to harbor some feelings for her, as demonstrated in the beginning of episode six, “Nothing Matters.” I liked seeing the two of them interact with each other and being friends. To see them possibly testing waters for a romantic fling, I was looking forward to that blossoming in future episodes.

But in probably the ultimate middle finger to my expectations, not only is their shared kiss never acknowledged again, either by the two characters, even to the point where Vanessa has about the most contrived romance that can possibly exist with a male character that she’s only known for less than a day, whose name I couldn’t remember for the life of me, but it’s revealed that Sam was the group murderer and he kills Susan. She was just starting to become a great character and then they kill her off. Fine, make Sam the killer, but it should have been any other character. Like Doc (Rukiya Bernard). She just sort of gets written out of the show randomly. Why not actually write her off more sensibly?

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***END SPOILERS***

Overall, this show isn’t the worst I’ve ever seen and would certainly prefer to watch it over many other shows that have been considered great, simply because it’s action, post-apocalypse, and vampires, so I’m pretty bias. I sure won’t go out of my way to keep up with the show as the episodes air on TV. I understand season two is underway. But yeah, I can’t claim this to be a good show. There’s some good things to keep myself interested, but if season two isn’t better by the time it comes out on Netflix again, I won’t care to sit around for a third season.

My honest rating for Syfy’s TV series VAN HELSING: 3/5

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JURASSIC WORLD (transfer) review

These “transfer” reviews are from when I only did reviews on my Facebook page back in 2015. Bare in mind when reading these, I didn’t have the same formula in my review writing that I do now, and my usual “who starred and who directed” information is completely absent, so everything “italicized” is new. With that said, enjoy this review from 2015.

Let’s face it, this movie has been in the making for a long time (since 2007, I think) and we were/are hoping that it’s been worth the wait. I won’t waste any time, I’m going to try to keep this spoiler-free, so let’s get right into it.

Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard (GOLD [2017], PETE’S DRAGON [2016], 50/50 [2011], and the upcoming JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM [2018]), Chris Pratt (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 [2017], THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN [2016], THE LEGO MOVIE [2014], and upcoming films Marvel’s AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR [2018] and JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM), Nick Robinson (EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING [2017], THE 5TH WAVE [2016], THE KINGS OF SUMMER [2013]), and Ty Simpkins (THE NICE GUYS [2016], IRON MAN 3 [2013], and INSIDIOUS [2010]). In support: Vincent D’Onofrio (CHIPS [2017], THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, MEN IN BLACK [1997], and the upcoming remake DEATH WISH [2018]), Jake Johnson (THE MUMMY [2017], MIKE AND DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES [2016], TV show NEW GIRL, and the upcoming TAG [2018]), Judy Greer (WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES [2017], ANT-MAN [2015], CARRIE [2013], and the upcoming Marvel’s ANT-MAN AND THE WASP [2018]), Irrfan Khan (The Da Vinci Code’s INFERNO [2016] and LIFE OF PI [2012]), and BD Wong (THE SPACE BETWEEN US [2017], MULAN [1998], TV show GOTHAM, and the upcoming JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM).

Directing and co-writing: Colin Trevorrow (THE BOOK OF HENRY [2017], the upcoming STAR WARS EPISODE IX [2019], and writing the upcoming JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM). Co-writing: Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES [2011], THE RELIC [1997], and upcoming films Disney’s live-action MULAN [2018] and AVATAR 3 [2021]), and Derek Connolly (KONG: SKULL ISLAND [2017], MONSTER TRUCKS [2017], and upcoming films JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM and STAR WARS EPISODE IX). Composer: Michael Giacchino (WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, ZOOTOPIA [2016], TOMORROWLAND [2015], and upcoming films Pixar’s COCO [2017] and JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM). Cinematographer: John Schwartzman (THE BOOK OF HENRY, SAVING MR. BANKS [2013], THE BUCKET LIST [2007], and upcoming films FIFTY SHADES FREED [2018] and STAR WAR EPISODE IX)

Story on top, review on the bottom.

(SUMMARY)

We open to Zach (Nick Robinson) and his younger brother Gray (Ty Simpkins) who are about to embark on a family trip to the now-opened dinosaur theme park, Jurassic World, which is headed by their semi-estranged aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard). Gray is more than excited to be in this place, but Zach seems rather detached at first, but eventually warms up. Claire is an incredibly work-driven woman who sadly doesn’t spend time with her nephews to show them the park and leaves them with their personal guide, Zara (Katie McGrath), and even reveals that her scientists have spliced together a completely new dinosaur called the Indominus Rex, revealed by Doctor Henry Wu (BD Wong) to be bigger than a T-Rex. We are also introduced to Owen (Chris Pratt), the park’s very own raptor whisperer and his rocky business relationship with Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), who admires the way Owen handles the raptors and sees these intelligent animals as weapons to use for the military against their opponents, to which Owen knows is a colossal mistake, knowing that these raptors only listen to him because they’ve built a relationship since they were hatched, and it’s not a relationship with them thinking that he’s their mother, but uneasy respect. Of course, everything starts going to hell when the Indominus Rex finds a way to escape its paddock and turns the entire park into a warzone. Now, with Owen’s help, Claire must reunite with Zach and Gray and get everyone off the island.

(REVIEW)

To be honest, I never truly believed I’d go into this movie thinking it would be JURASSIC PARK’s equal. It’s a movie that changed cinema with ground-breaking CGI, and perfectly blended horror, action, and wonder. To boot, it was a smart movie. It wasn’t just about a group of people on an island of dinosaurs that run amok. It was about how the advancement of science shouldn’t be wielded like a children’s toy and must be considered if the risks truly outweigh the reward, and shows what happens when there is no contingency plan for when shit hits the fan. Granted, it was far from a perfect movie, but mix all those fantastic elements with a hint of badassery, it’s hard to not like the film as a whole. I knew JURASSIC WORLD wouldn’t be that well-written or impactful, but I was holding out for it to be at least better than LOST WORLD. Boy howdy was I pleased.

Let’s start with what didn’t work, in my opinion. First, D’Onofrio is usually an incredible actor, and coming off his success as Kingpin from Netflix’s DAREDEVIL, I was really curious to see what he was going to bring to this film, and he brings… nothing. His character is there to provide one of the stupidest sub-plots that you can squeeze into a sci-fi like this: turn the subject matter into military weapons. Seriously, writers? It’d be better if Hoskins was like the park’s captain of the soldiers-who-hunt-dinosaurs-if-they-escape and Owen was his most trusted lieutenant who had duel jobs as the park’s raptor trainer. Instead, he’s one of those character who you can write off and the movie would progress just fine. Or worse yet, I won’t spoil anything for anyone, but he does blatantly set up the notion of a sequel. Literally, that’s his only purpose. Not someone we give a shit about. He’s just there to let us know that a sequel could happen.

While I’m on the subject of characters, I really didn’t like Zach. Now don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Nick Robinson. I’m a huge fan of the TV show MELISSA AND JOEY, and Nick is such a presence on screen, but he had to pick the most two-dimensional character that could possibly exist: I’m a moody teenager and I hate everything and I’m just going to ignore everything and listen to my music because I’m just a bad ass. You know what you little dip shit, you’re about to go to a theme park WITH F*****G DINOSAURS, AND YOU’RE MISERABLE???? HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN??? Are you all mopey because you’re leaving your girlfriend? Dinosaurs or pussy, dude? Let’s face it, dinosaurs win EVERY TIME!!! THEY’RE DINOSAURS!!! And never mind his moodiness, he has like no character arch. He comes to this island with an attitude that makes me want to throw a great big pile of shit at him *REFERENCE* and seems rather distant of his brother, or worse, is incredibly cruel to Gray for no rhyme or reason, and even once he starts to care about him… well, that seemed to just come out of his ass. Why do you suddenly care if Gray is getting the full Jurassic World experience? You don’t even want to be here, you hairy scrotum! Nick Robinson played the role well, I just didn’t like the role he was given.

Also, there’s a lot of sub-plots… and they don’t go anywhere. Owen and Claire went on one date. Okay… why was THAT relevant to the story? I think if you watched the movie and fast-forward to ANY point in the story, you wouldn’t really guess that these two had a history together. They’re not divorced, they’re co-workers who went on one date. Oh the drama…

***SPOILERS***

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Also, what’s with the sub-plot of Gray finding out his parents are getting divorced? That was clearly just added to see Gray deliver is a crying performance. As well as Simpkins delivering on that performance, that sub-plot goes absolutely nowhere. Sure both the mom and dad come to Isla Nublar together to find their kids, but… okay, are we going to elaborate on this subject at all now that everyone’s together? Nope? We’re just going to cut to Owen and Claire have a chat and cut to the credits? Cool. Thanks for telling us about a plot that won’t be developed. Awesome sauce *sarcasm*.

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***END SPOILERS***

On a slightly lesser note, why was Judy Greer in this movie? This woman’s got acting talent that can wipe the floor of most actors in Hollywood, so why is she playing a nothing character? Literally, ANYONE could have played Zach and Gray’s mom, and it would have been fine. But no, Greer plays their mom that does NOTHING in the movie other than foreshadow, which is pointless because this is JURASSIC PARK (kinda); dinosaurs running around eating people is kind of a given in this franchise. Also, why was there literally just ONE little pterodactyl with an Indominous Rex head? Anyone else think that was just random for the sake of random? But fine, whatever.

But for as much as I hate some of the characters… and seemingly much of this movie now that I’ve read through some of it, I don’t want anyone to think that I don’t like this movie. For as many problems as it has, it does a great deal more good than bad.

The moment you step out into Jurassic World itself and the immortal Jurassic Park theme starts playing, I couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear. I remember reading the review on Collider.com about how the reviewer would have been perfectly content just exploring the theme park itself and just do away with the chaos and death, and I have to say, I’m in complete agreement. The park itself is absolutely gorgeous to look at. Bright colors, large crowds, it makes the 8-year-old Peruvian boy in me giddy with delight. The fact that the movie takes a beat to actually let us in on some of the attractions, such as feeding the mosasaurus and, how awesome is this shit, lowering the bleachers below the tank water to see the reptilian fish underwater. SO F*****G AWESOME, I’M JEALOUS!!! And a petting zoo, a f*****g petting zoo. Never in my life have I ever been so jealous of an 8-year-old kid getting to hug a baby brachiosaurus, or riding a baby triceratops. Makes me wanna punch those f*****s off and have my turn. F*** YOU KIDS, I LOVED DINOSAURS FIRST!!!

Another unique thing that you might notice in this movie is that the raptors are somewhat given personalities. You can tell there’s a complicated relationship between Owen and the raptors. These are clearly wild animals that want to maim everything in front of them, but there’s clearly some kind of connection they have with Owen that makes them understand that THIS human isn’t meant for eating, but for respecting. This relationship really shines through later on in the story, both for the best and the worst, but always makes sense and even provides a couple of the tensest and somewhat heart-warming scenes. Plus, totally awesome when Owen and the humans team up with the raptors to hunt down the Indominus Rex.

The Indominus Rex is pretty fearsome for a newbie and is a rather well-written monster whose motives and actions make sense. It’s been in captivity all its life, has had no other interaction with anyone or anything other than a crane that lets it know that it’s feeding time. So when it does escape, its rampage makes sense. It’s smart, it’s vicious, it’s something I don’t want to run into on a Saturday night drive home. Nah, bro. Just nah. So no one needs to worry if whether or not the new Rex is a lame new element. It really isn’t.

***SPOILERS***

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The only real problem with the Indominus Rex is this: Owen comments after seeing all the dead brachiosauruses that it’s killing for sport. If any of you have been following the movie as it was being developed, there were some fan theories going around that maybe Indominus had some human spliced into it because the only creature on Earth that hunts for sport is a human. I guess I can chalk this one up to another plot point that doesn’t go anywhere.

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***END SPOILERS***

As much as I bash the characters, Pratt and Dallas Howard have great chemistry. Maybe Pratt makes it easy because he’s such a charismatic actor. But hey, what do I know? In fact, both Pratt and Dallas Howard are great. They’re plots go nowhere and are pretty pointless, but they play their characters very well. Especially Dallas Howard. It’s so strange, though. Her resume consists of some pretty awful movies. TWILIGHT: ECLIPSE (2010), TERMINATOR: SALVATION (2009), M. Night Shyamalan’s LADY IN THE WATER (2006), and SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007). It’s curious how this wonderful actress even has a career after being in some of the most hated movies in their respective franchises, but here she is in JURASSIC WORLD, practically headlining it and she’s great. I knew she had talent, but there was never a movie that really showcased it. This may be her best performance yet, but here’s hoping that she will get better roles because I know she can act the f*** out of a movie if she was given better material.

And there’s a nice throwback to JURASSIC PARK’s character Tim, who was a dino nerd; now it’s Ty Simpkins playing Gray. While certainly Tim was clearly more knowledgeable about dinosaurs, he was a far more annoying character than Gray. Gray is probably younger, but there’s a certain gravity that he has about him; a youthful strength that he plays so well that doesn’t feel like he’s needy or frustratingly helpless.

And yes, Jake Johnson and Lauren Lapkus are incredible comic relief.

***SPOILERS***

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For anyone who wants me to dish out my thoughts on the Indominus Rex duking it out with the T-Rex, don’t kid yourself. It’s beyond f*****g awesome. Oh my god, to see these titans chomping down on each other and f*****g each other up, oh my god oh my god oh my god, so much SQUEE, and then the velociraptor enters the fight, overload of badassery, my brain can’t take much more of this, f***, three-way fight! T-Rex and velociraptor versus Indominus Rex, holy mother of shit! And then the Indominus Rex gets it by getting eaten by the mosasaurus. In case you can’t tell, it was f*****g awesome. I mean, clearly it’s fan service since the T-Rex is clearly the fan favorite of the franchise and needed a win after getting straight murdered in the third movie by the less popular Spinosaurus. Still, the only real downside to the fight is that the Indominus Rex is killed rather anticlimactically; not by the T-Rex, but rather randomly by the mosasaurus.

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***END SPOILERS***

While this movie has glaring, even frustrating problems, there is more than enough awe-inspiring visuals, badassery, and fan service to more than make up for it. It may not have the brain of JURASSIC PARK, but it plants its feet as the second best Jurassic Park movie, which I think is something any fan of the franchise can walk away happy with.

4/5

PS: If you recall the scene where the pterodactyls are attacking the tourists, you probably remember seeing a guy fleeing from the dinosaurs with a pair of margaritas. You wanna know who that is? Famed singer Jimmy Buffett! No joke, look it up online! It’s really, hilariously, him!

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VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS review

Well this looks like a visual spectacle. Sci-fi is a wonderful way to guarantee my ass in a seat, but heavy CGI epics like this looks like… well, let’s just say the taste of JUPITER ASCENDING (2015) hasn’t completely washed out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty easy to please. I love CGI and this film looks gorgeous, but it runs a dangerous gamble of making the effects the star, rather than the actors and story. Won’t matter much to me so long as it’s fun and exciting.

Well, a little history before I get to my initial impressions to set some records straight before, God forbid, another overly sanctimonious nerd gets mad at me. As some of you may know, I’m a casual gamer, and one of my favorite video game franchises is BioWare’s Mass Effect games. Been a fan of them since its initial release in 2008 on the Xbox 360. So when this movie was announced, my first thought was that this movie was ripping off Mass Effect because the armor design for the main characters was incredibly similar to Mass Effect’s armor design for its main character. Turns out, it’s the other way around. This movie is actually based on a French comic book series called Valérian and Laureline, originally published in 1967 and ran for several decades. To the best of my knowledge, they have stopped getting made, but it’s pretty inconsistent when they stopped. Some time in the 2010s, I think. The comic company that made the comics went bankrupt. In any case, these comics have been influential in many sci-fi films, including Star Wars and Luc Besson’s THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997), and by extension, heavily influenced Mass Effect. I had it backwards. So now anyone who thought the same as me, now you know too. Although, question mark, why did the filmmakers change the title to just “Valerian” instead of “Valerian and Loreline”? I understand it would have made the title longer, but long titles aren’t new to movie-goers. LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (2003), DOCTOR STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964)? Just saying, throwing in “and Loreline” wouldn’t throw audiences off too much.

So what’s this story about? Actually, the story presented in the trailer is pretty vague. It just seems like it’s about a couple of space-faring… mercenaries? They go around a giant city with a thousand different cultures that’s about to be threatened by a mysterious dark force. I don’t know, but it looks pretty to look at.

Well, here’s the cast.  The starring duo are Dane Dehaan (THE CURE FOR WELLNESS [2017], THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 [2014], and CHRONICLE [2012]) and Cara Delevingne (SUICIDE SQUAD [2016], PAPER TOWNS [2015], and ANNA KARENINA [2012]). In support, we have Clive Owen (KILLER ELITE [2011], SHOOT ‘EM UP [2007], and CHILDREN OF MEN [2006]), Rihanna (HOME [2015], THIS IS THE END [2013], and BATTLESHIP [2012]), Ethan Hawke (MAUDIE [2017], THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN [2016], BOYHOOD [2014]), Rutger Hauer (THE RITE [2011], HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN [2011], and BATMAN BEGINS [2005]), and director-going-actor this time around, Louis Leterrier (CLASH OF THE TITANS [2010]).

Now for the crew. Writing and directing, we have famed French filmmaker Luc Besson, known for LUCY (2015), THE FIFTH ELEMENT, and LÉON: THE PROFESSIONAL (1994). Composing the score is Alexandre Desplat, known for THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS (2016), THE DANISH GIRL (2015), THE QUEEN (2006), and the upcoming Guillermo del Toro flick, THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017). Finally, the cinematographer is Thierry Arbogast, known for LUCY, FEMME FATALE (2002), and THE MESSENGER: THE STORY OF JOAN OF ARC (1999).

Overall, this will certainly be a hit or miss. My guess, I’ll like it enough for it’s special effects and cinematography. Can’t speak for the story, so I should probably keep my expectations moderate on that front.

This is my honest opinion of: VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS

(SUMMARY)

Valerian (Dane Dehaan), a cocky and arrogant space soldier, and his partner, the more professional Loreline (Cara Delevingne), his romance interest, are sent on a mission to bring back an alien creature to be the last of its kind, which is being hunted by factions all across space.

(REVIEW)

As feared, it’s this year’s JUPITER ASCENDING. And I had such high hopes, man.

The first and foremost thing that I have to say… this movie is BORING!!! Holy shit is it boring! This movie is two hours and fifteen minutes long, but its plot never takes off until the final twenty minutes. But I’m jumping ahead of myself a bit. It starts off promising enough. Some gorgeous visuals, which is all that saves this movie, impressive CGI, and an ominous tone by the end of the sequence. In fact, there’s a really neat idea in the prologue where the human race has created this space station that houses all the many cultures of the planet. Then aliens come along and the station is constantly expanded as more aliens join in until the station is so big that it has voyage into deep space. I thought that was really cool, making the subtitle, “City of a Thousand Planets” make much more sense.

But then the first red flags crop up.

We’re introduced to our titular character, Valerian. He’s supposed to be the Han Solo of the movie. He’s arrogant, yet suave and charming with a hint of self-absorption. Except that’s not what he is. He’s arrogant, oh yeah, but he lacks any semblance of legit charm and he’s completely self-absorbed, making him a character that I just couldn’t care about. Like, at all. Throughout the film. I get what they were trying to do with him. He’s supposed to be a womanizer who decides that Loreline is going to be who he decides to commit to. Thing is, this is horribly told to us via clumsy exposition. From the beginning of his character’s introduction to the end of the movie, you would never guess that he was a skirt-chaser. So why is this detail so necessary? To narrate that he has commitment issues? That’s already demolished early on because he proposes to her and commits to his suggestion throughout the movie without ever being tempted to be with another woman. And Bubble (Rihanna) doesn’t count. He never truly has a character arch that even gets you to empathize with him. This is obviously no fault on Dehaan’s part. He’s a fine enough actor who gets all the emotions down to a tee, but the way his character is written… it would have been merciful if he died in this movie.

Then the “plot” gets underway and Valerian and Loreline, who are space soldiers of sorts, and have to retrieve something that their higher-ups want. Again, the visuals are breath-taking. We’re introduced to what looks like a hilariously empty desert, but then the extras are given some goofy goggles and then we see an enormous holographic marketplace city. The movie cleverly shows that even though the city is holographic in the point of view from the tourists, we’re shown that the city Alpha, the space station that I mentioned earlier, is the real location and the tourists are holograms on the station. It’s actually really damn cool how that set-up is. In fact, one of the better aspects of this movie is how creative the technology can be. You have these boxes that act like little worm holes where if you stick your hand in them, your hands appear in the real location where your holographic image is. It’s beyond awesome.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t last long as the tech soon dives into the realm of fantasy. What do I mean? There seems to be a piece of tech for any given situation in this movie and even the established tech gets utterly confusing. Remember the goggles that make you a hologram in the marketplace? There’s a chase scene with Valerian and he gets shot at with these sticky and heavy balls on his arms that are supposed to weigh him down. In order to escape, he slams the bunched up orbs on a… sewer manhole, I think and… falls several dozen stories down… as a holographic image where he’s grunting as he’s falling through floor after floor. Um… so many questions! First off, fine, he could be grunting because his arms are getting yanked as he’s falling, but how are his arms still attached?! For someone falling several stories at the velocity he’s going, you’d think his arms would get ripped off of their sockets before long. There’s another bit where a holographic goon has his guns out in the real location, ready to shoot someone. But there’s this vicious alien dog that somehow manages to tackle the man down despite that he’s a holographic image, even though it would make more sense for it to attack the man’s hands. Also, both Valerian and Loreline have this armor, right? It’s all over the advertising and trailers. There’s a bit where the armor is basically superpowered and Valerian can run through solid steel walls at double the speed of a normal human. Thing is, Loreline gets kidnapped later on and she’s locked in a wooden basket. Um… hello?! Super suit! Use it! Or is wood the supersuits weakness?! Freakin’ blow me!

There’s a lot of that in this movie too. Both characters find themselves in situations where they need each other’s help, but those situations are either anti-climactic, or unbelievably senseless. Like when Loreline get captured, her capture is a dim-witted alien that looks like it could put up a fight on par with a kitten. So why isn’t she just blazing through the guy and taking her payload to where it needs to go? If Valerian can single-handedly fight a legion of those things, Loreline should easily be able to fight against a fraction of those numbers. It’s total crap.

And like I said, the plot makes no sense. The two are supposed to be protecting this one-of-a-kind creature that makes valuable minerals and there’s a shit ton of people who want it, including their superiors. The problem is that neither character is on a journey to figure out who wants it for what reason, but rather just going from point A to point B just to either recover the creature from someone else’s clutches, or to keep it away from everyone. At no point does the story truly further itself along, which is where the “Jupiter Ascending” effect comes in: the effects and visuals are the stars, not the actors or the story, as previously mentioned.

So with all that being said, is there anything worth complimenting? Well, I’ve mentioned the visuals plenty of times, so that goes without saying. Also, Besson is a great director, so when an action sequence is happening, you do get to see the action as opposed to a Michael Bay film where there’s way too much shaky cam and you can’t make out what’s going on, so his vision is always appreciated. And as for the characters, Loreline is a much better written character as opposed to Valerian. She and him never truly hook up by the end of the movie. Their feelings are always addressed, even in inappropriate moments, but she’s at least grounded enough to tell him off when he’s not being professional and has a much better sense of right and wrong than Valerian does, making her much more likable. It’s just a shame that she’s relegated to being a dame in distress one too many times.

Overall, I can’t say this is a good movie. By any stretch. But there’s enough visuals for me to say that it is worth the time of day to ogle over, but that’s not enough to make a good story, which is the crux of any movie worth a damn. And because this movie is impossible to connect with, it’s ultimately boring, which is so disappointing for how interesting it looks. I may not recommend it for anyone expecting the next Star Wars, and I certainly don’t recommend it at the theaters. It might be worth a rental though. Just be ready to kill off two hours and fifteen minutes out of your day. So viewer beware.

My honest rating for VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS: a weak 3/5

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THE MUMMY review

This is the start of the Dark Universe!

For those of you not in the know, Universal recently decided that they wanted to do their own Avengers/Justice League type cross-over deal, with the Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Invisible Man, all those classic horror stories eventually coming together for… whatever reason gets asses in seats. In 2014, back when this plan was made public, the movie DRACULA UNTOLD was supposedly the start of this upcoming franchise. But I guess Universal scrapped that idea and decided to make this the start of it all.

Upon first glance at this movie, I doubt it’s going to be very good, but it looks fairly entertaining enough. I question how exactly the protagonist simply stumbles upon a sinkhole and happens to find the tomb that holds the titular mummy. Other than that, it’ll probably be a dumb but fun movie. I do enjoy some of the cast though.

Speaking of which. Starring, we have Tom Cruise (JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK [2016], MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION [2015], ROCK OF AGES [2012], and upcoming films M:I 6 – MISSION IMPOSSIBLE [2018] and TOP GUN: MAVERICK, due out… who knows when) and one of my new favorite actresses, Sofia Boutella (STAR TREK BEYOND [2016], KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE [2014], and the upcoming ATOMIC BLONDE). In support, we have Russell Crowe (THE NICE GUYS [2016], THE WATER DIVINER [2015], and MAN OF STEEL [2013]), Annabelle Wallis (KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD [2017], THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY [2016], and ANNABELLE [2014]), Jake Johnson (SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE [2017], JURASSIC WORLD [2015], and TV show NEW GIRL), and Courtney B. Vance (OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY [2016], TERMINATOR GENISYS [2015], and TV show AMERICAN CRIME STORY).

Now for the crew. Directing is Alex Kurtzman, known for PEOPLE LIKE US (2012). He’s usually a producer who will also be producing some of the future Dark Universe films. Red flag alert: three writers! Suddenly, I’m concerned. Co-writing the script are David Koepp (INFERNO [2016], WAR OF THE WORLDS [2005], SPIDER-MAN [2002], and upcoming films BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN [2019] and the as-of-yet-titled Indiana Jones movie [2020]), Christopher McQuarrie (MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION, JACK REACHER [2012], THE USUAL SUSPECTS [1995], and the upcoming M:I 6 – MISSION IMPOSSIBLE), and Dylan Kussman, who is known for stuff that I’ve never heard of. Three writers… not usually a good sign. Composing the score is Brian Tyler, known for THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS (2017), THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM (2016), and AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015). Finally, the cinematographer is Ben Seresin, known for WORLD WAR Z (2013), PAIN & GAIN (2013), and TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN (2009).

Overall, I’m not overly excited for this. Early ratings and reviews seem to paint it negatively. I can’t pretend to be surprised, but it’s Cruise. I can’t imagine this movie being boring. So… I go in with high hopes of entertainment, not the next DARK KNIGHT (2008).

This is my honest opinion of: THE MUMMY

(SUMMARY)

Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) was destined for the Egyptian throne. But when her father had a son, she killed her family, relying on magic from the God of Death, Set. Eventually set on releasing the god into the mortal world, she was stopped by her people and imprisoned in a tomb far from Egypt for eternity. In the present day, she is unearthed by a soldier of fortune named Nick (Tom Cruise) and unwittingly releases Ahmanet onto the world and must stop her from taking back what she thinks belongs to her.

(REVIEW)

Yeesh, and we thought the DC movies were in trouble. The movie isn’t very good. In fact, it’s so not good that I agree with the critics that this might rightfully stop this “Dark Universe” from taking off. Yeah, it’s that bad. It’s by no means the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but this franchise shouldn’t happen if more effort isn’t put into them. Not to mention these classic monsters that have rooted themselves so deeply in pop culture for generations deserve so much better than what this movie presents.

Eh, it’s probably best to start with the few things that I do enjoy about the movie. First off, I will never not like the double irises in the eyes. I love that look and even if this movie franchise dies, I hope that look lives on in something better. And while we’re on the subject of double-iris eyes, I really like Sofia Boutella. She is quickly making a name for herself as “the woman in make-up.” If she doesn’t have prosthetic apendages, then she’s completely undercover in some fantastic make-up, making a unanimously popular role in STAR TREK BEYOND. Now, cue that same chick in a role that, on paper, should be a match made in god damn Heaven. The original mummy was a role made famous because of the ground-breaking make-up. Her casting makes a great deal of sense. Even though the make-up is… underwhelming and nearly half the time her mummy character is CG, Boutella still makes it look good and her acting does come through.

In fact, the acting isn’t really the problem… er… except for Russell Crowe, but we’ll get to him in a little while. Cruise has a surprisingly refreshing role that is completely different from what he usually plays. In nearly every action movie, he’s confident, calculating, a tried and true bad-ass with or without a weapon. In this movie, he’s… kind of incompetent. There’s this scene in the beginning where he’s gotten himself and his partner, Chris (Jake Johnson) in a fire-fight with some insurgents and they’re cornered on a roof being shot at on all sides. Chris is panicking and Nick is shouting, “Just let me think!” After a beat or two, Nick cries out, “We’re gonna die!” It’s… surprisingly funny to see him so hopeless. Whereas Jack Reacher, or Ethan Hunt would have had a plan B through Z three times over, this character is kind of idiotic. He spends most of the movie freaking out and being confused, and gets his ass hilariously kicked by Ahmanet later on. As a result, I kind of love it. I don’t think I want to see it again, but as a first off, it was probably more entertaining than it should have been.

Beyond the actors, I do admit to enjoying the twitchy zombies that Ahmanet creates when she sucks the life-force from her victims. I don’t like that they’re CG most of the time, but it’s a fun and even creepy visual. The swarm of crows taking down that plane was also a really fun scene to watch. I don’t know, death by beaks is always a bit of twitch for me. And there’s a scene where Ahmanet hunts down Nick and shatters the glass around her, converting it back into sand, and then we get the iconic and popular sand-face effect.

So… some fun visuals, a refreshing abnormal character for Cruise, and Boutella being the best part of the movie, as seems to be a pattern with her, but… the good qualities come to a dead stop. And I don’t mean a slow petite screeching halt, I mean hit-a-titanium-wall-at-top-speed dead stop.

The first red flag is right before the movie even starts. You know how both Marvel and DC are creating a cinematic universe involving crossovers with the most popular superheroes from their respective comics? You know they’re affectionately called The Marvel Cinematic Universe and The DC Extended Universe? Well… when did any of these movies openly say that in the movies? The correct answer is that they don’t. You know why? They don’t need to be that confident. Well, guess what this movie does? It flashes it’s traditional “Universal” across the planet, but then completely circles around, and in the same shot, a new logo circles Earth and we see “Dark Universe.”

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What?

Does this movie honestly think that audiences wouldn’t know that? Even if they don’t, they’ll pick it up when they realize that Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde are in the movie. But really, if that was my biggest complaint about the movie, we’d be in a better spot. Sadly, this is not the case.

Nope. We get one of four movies that I saw this weekend that decide that it’s necessary to throw in a narration. I am getting really sick of these things. I know voice overs may be necessary to explain backstories that the movie wouldn’t otherwise showcase, therefore supposedly explaining certain details that would be random and or confusing without context. However, when a movie uses it just to talk over the events already played out, it’s wasted resources. In this opening, we see Ahmanet training to be a fighter and overlooking Egypt with pride, in a manner that she knows she will rule over it all one day. But then the infant prince is born and Ahmanet begins to worship the evil god and goes on a familial killing spree. Then she aims to sacrifice her “chosen” to the evil god and possess him so that he can enter the mortal world. Everything that I just said, it’s all visual and pretty easy to understand. The narration explaining everything that we see is completely unnecessary.

As much as I like Johnson as an actor, he can be really funny even if the movie isn’t, but he is some seriously pointless talent in this movie. His character, Chris, is annoying as hell. At first, it just seems like he’s playing the hysterical cowardly type who has no sense of adventure. It’s been done, but some of his humor comes through okay. And to be fair, when he gets into a fire-fight, he does look natural holding an assault rifle. But once that bit is over, all he does is whine and complain. The worst is when he, Nick, and Jenny (Annabelle Wallis) have already entered Ahmanet’s tomb and they’ve just been attacked by a swarm of camel spiders, leading to Chris getting bit. He starts firing his rifle wildly, already a dumb-ass move because, you know, ricocheting is a thing, and starts freaking out begging to leave. I don’t know, man, if you’re a grown-ass adult and you don’t want to be somewhere, then don’t be there. It really shouldn’t be that hard.

As this happens early on in the movie, so I don’t consider it a spoiler, but Chris dies not long after. That bug bite allowed Ahmanet to possess him and he kills a dude, and then Nick shoots him dead. But his appearance is later relegated to being a comic relief vision in Nick’s head, who is obviously trying to entice Nick to making the choices that Ahmanet would want him to make. These appearances are about as annoying as they sound. Hell, there’s a good stretch of time when Johnson is completely dropped from the film and doesn’t come back until the final twenty-ish minutes.

If it wasn’t bad enough that we have annoying characters, we’re also exposed to characters we don’t care about. Take Wallis’ character, Jenny the archaeologist. Literally, this is her entrance: suddenly appear, slap Cruise, and spend a good five to ten minutes about awesome or not awesome the sex was, and that he stole a map from her. Where do I begin with this? It is so painfully obvious that these two characters are going to do that stupid cliché of hating each other, but the audience knows they’re going to hook up at the end, which they do. You see it coming a thousand miles away and it’s boring. She’s not an interesting character. You never care what happens to her, or the contrived relationship she has with Nick. She’s just the pretty face that Cruise gets to make out with and make him look good. Wasn’t this type of female character supposed to be killed off when SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007) ended and why we never really got another “Mary Jane” character? It’s sad that Wallis had this role because she doesn’t seem like a bad actress. To her credit, she’s not bad in the movie, but she’s got nothing to work with that would leave an impact on audiences.

Beyond the characters, there’s a lot of questionable story and directing choices. Like during that scene with the camel spiders, Nick is exposed to visions of Ahmanet, which clearly freaks him out. Yet, he says nothing to anyone about them and seems perfectly okay with being near Ahmanet’s sarcophagus. If that were me, I’d be up against the wall on the opposite side of the room until I was outside and able to run away like a bitch. You also have dumb characters that see something that any normal person would stay away from and call it in. But these characters do the “Alien” thing by sticking their faces in them to get a closer look and lo and behold, they get axed off. Bleh. And while Ahmanet is quick to dispatch nameless extras, she takes her time killing Jenny when she has the chance because… pudding. I don’t know, but it’s as good as any other explanation this trope offers.

And what’s with the Jekyll and Hyde stuff? Okay, in some ways, this makes sense. I mean, it’s a crossover universe with these classic monsters coming together. Jekyll is this universe’s Nick Fury, which is fine. He illustrates the scale and points the direction in which these movies will go. When it’s just Jekyll, it’s fine. But when he turns into Hyde, it’s literally just fan service. Can’t have Jekyll without Hyde, right? You can, but this movie disagrees with me, especially since his story isn’t the focus. But in addition to that, isn’t Hyde supposed to be a hideous creature? I’ve not been liking these incarnations of Hyde in recent media, like this movie and TV show ONCE UPON A TIME. In every iteration of the character I’ve seen, he’s a violent monster and such. Almost inhuman in appearance. But these movies depict the character as a charismatic and pompous dick who is more or less attractive… or in Crowe’s case, no deviation in look other than a couple warts. Shouldn’t Hyde be a complete transformation in appearance? Even ONCE UPON A TIME got that down.

Overall, it’s not a good film. The story is cut-and-paste, most of the characters range from meh to annoying, it’s littered with senseless sequences and choices, and marinated in tropes. Having said all that, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a few things that I enjoyed about it. Cruise is a humorously incompetent fighter, and of course, Boutella steals the damn show for me. None of that really makes it a recommendation, however, so I’d say you could skip it. It’s not something that you should run away from, but it’s a rental at best. Even then, that’s a pretty weak suggestion. See it if you want to see Boutella as a homicidal mummy who kicks Cruise’s ass, but don’t expect a good movie between those scenes.

My honest rating for THE MUMMY: a weak 3/5

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PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES review

Mmph…

Alright, so like most people, I’m very familiar with the Pirates movies. When CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL (2003) came out, this movie might as well have been a landmark of a film. It skyrocketed Johnny Depp’s popularity to a whole new generation of film-goers, catapulted Keira Knightly into stardom, reinforced Orlando Bloom’s talent as an action star, and made a movie that for all intents and purposes should have failed on arrival, yet gave us one of the most entertaining pirate films of all time, if not the most popular. It was an all around blast.

But then something terrible happened. The sequels were made. There is a clear passion that was put into the BLACK PEARL, but DEAD MAN’S CHEST (2006) and AT WORLD’S END (2007) felt like they were just cash-grabs. Because BLACK PEARL was so popular, the filmmakers decided to give us complicated plots involving politics, both in civilization and among the pirates themselves, forced plot lines, pointless scenes, even AT WORLD’S END has a baffling two and a half hour run time. Oh my god, are you serious, Disney?! You’re making movies about pirates, not the next gen GODFATHER (1972). Get off your damn high horses! Jesus! It was painfully clear that the first film was going to be the only good one we’d get. And unless the franchise was going to go back to its routes, simplified and swashbuckling, then this franchise needed a serious time-out… which was indeed the case, but… ON STRANGER TIDES (2011). Four years later, we definitely got a sequel that tried to stray away from what was familiar, but from what I understand, this was EVEN WORSE! How the hell do you do that?! I wish I could tell you what I personally thought of the movie, but truth be told… I still haven’t seen it. I think I told myself that if the reviews weren’t basically, “Back on track, Pirates is good again!” then I wasn’t going to see it in theaters. I couldn’t let my soul get crushed. Well… if I can survive THE BRONZE (2016) and THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY (2016), then I think I can survive movies that are more disappointing than straight up bad.

And now… another break was taken. This one lasted six years. Yeah, it’s been that long. So what do I think of this new one? Meh. It looks like it’ll be another Pirates film. Lame jokes, Depp acting weird as opposed to eccentric, and… to be honest, a little bit of a retread of the the first film. Jack Sparrow gets involved with a pair of young people who inadvertently get involved in his crap, one of them being the grown-up son Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann from the first three films, and someone enchanted by magic wants Jack dead for reasons better than he stole his ship, or whatever. I do admit though, zombie sharks are pretty bad-ass.

Well here we go for the on screen talent. Starring, we have Depp (FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM [2016], BLACK MASS [2015], PUBLIC ENEMIES [2009], and upcoming films FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM 2 [2018] and THE INVISIBLE MAN, due out… who knows when), Javier Bardem (THE GUNMAN [2015], 007’s SKYFALL [2012], NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN [2007], and the upcoming BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN [2019]), Brenton Thwaites (GODS OF EGYPT [2016], THE GIVER [2014], and OCULUS [2013]), and Kaya Scodelario (MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS [2015], THE MAZE RUNNER [2014], SHANK [2010], and the upcoming MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE [2018]). In support, we have the ever-amazing Geoffrey Rush (GODS OF EGYPT, THE KING’S SPEECH [2010], and TV show GENIUS), Kevin McNally (THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY [2016], LEGEND [2015], and TV show DESIGNATED SURVIVOR), David Wenham (LION [2016], 300 [2005], and THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING [2003]), Orlando Bloom (THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES [2014], KINGDOM OF HEAVEN [2005], and TROY [2004]), Keira Knightley (COLLATERAL BEAUTY [2016], THE IMITATION GAME [2014], and DOMINO [2005]), and… *double take* Paul McCartney??? Oh dear God, someone find the asshole producer that’s holding his family hostage!

Now for behind the scenes. Co-directing, we have Joachim Rønning (BANDIDAS [2006]) and Espen Sandberg (BANDIDAS, and the upcoming sixth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, due out… who knows when). Penning the screenplay is Jeff Nathanson, known for TOWER HEIST (2011), RUSH HOUR 3 (2007), CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (2002), and upcoming films THE LION KING (2019), and the sixth Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Composing the score is Geoff Zanelli, known for MASTERMINDS (2016), MORTDECAI (2015), and THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN (2012). Finally, the cinematographer is Paul Cameron, known for TOTAL RECALL (2012), DEJA VU (2006), and MAN ON FIRE (2004).

Overall, I can’t say I’m excited. Even early ratings are just a little too optimistically high for my taste. But here’s to a double rum and coke and some slim hopes that this won’t be awful.

This is my honest rating of: PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES

(SUMMARY)

It’s been five years since the events of ON STRANGER TIDES. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is without a proper ship and after a botched attempt to rob a bank to get back on track, he is now without a crew. Elsewhere, the young man Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), who is still cursed aboard the Flying Dutchman, and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), has spent his life learning the curses and legends of the sea and believes he can lift his father’s curse using the mythical Trident of Poseidon, which is also being hunted by a young fugitive woman named Carina (Kaya Scodelario), who is wrongfully accused of being a witch, as opposed to being a woman of science. However, in Jack’s depression and desperation for alcohol, he surrenders his magical compass, which releases the hold of undead pirates, led by Spanish Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), who has a vendetta against Jack. Running into Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who can lead him to Jack, the search begins to take control of the seas.

(REVIEW)

While I can’t say that I wasn’t entertained for a lot of the film, I can’t say that this movie still can’t compare to the first one.

Ehh, maybe it’s best if I start with what I enjoyed about the flick. For one thing, I do really enjoy the look of the undead. I love how they retain the form they did when they died in horrible and gruesome ways. Even the way they move, it looks like they’re moving in this real-time slow-motion. It’s really hard to describe, but its like they’re constantly underwater; like their hair and clothes wave as if they’re walking underwater. I really hope this description is enough because that’s the best I got. Give the Pirates movies some credit, they know how to design their villains and give the actors portraying them material that makes them memorable in some way. Speaking of which, I do admit to enjoying Bardem’s performance. I mean, he’s pretty one dimensional, being just a die-hard pirate hater, but he plays the role so well. You feel that burning hatred he has for all pirates, especially for Jack personally as the one pirate who bested him to the point of getting him killed, and Jack was a young and possibly an inexperienced pirate at that. I love how ruthless and heartless he is about killing any pirates around him, and you really see that discomfort when he has to spare Barbossa’s life and work with him to find Jack. Although can I just ask someone to agree with me that someone working on this movie is a big fan of the video game STAR WARS KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC II: THE SITH LORDS? Salazar is surprisingly similar to Darth Sion.

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Both characters have grey skin that looks like cracked-cement. Both are cursed with immortality, and not really alive but are literally only “alive” because of sheer hatred and anger holding them together. I mean, am I wrong?!

Of course, Rush as Barbossa is always extraordinary. Seriously, this man was born to play a pirate. He’s incredible as one. Some of the side pirate characters are fun and bring a lot of energy. McNally as Gibbs is always a hoot as Jack’s first mate. I do have to admit that the cinematography is also always great and some visuals are beautiful to look at, especially in the climax. Oh, and zombie sharks? Immediate bonus ten points.

However, that’s about all the good things I can say. This movie is unfortunately laced with far too many problems, both in story and in characters.

Let’s start with everyone’s once-favorite pirate, Jack. He has not evolved past his DEAD MAN’S CHEST curse, being nothing more than forced comedy, lame jokes, and… not even entirely useful a character. Come to think of it, what does he really do in the movie? He provides a ship for the main characters to use… which anyone can steer. He more than often gets in the way or is cannon fodder for the enemies. These movies try to keep Jack relevant by making villains that want to kill him, but that’s not enough to give him drive and motivation. It’s just more exposition that I don’t think anyone truly cares about. We learn how Jack got his name “Sparrow.” Because he looked like a sparrow in the crows nest and was named: Jack the Sparrow. It’s not even that interesting a story. Truly wasted backstory. It’s clear that his days of being a competent fighter and clever improvisor are long dead and behind him, which is a shame because we look at Jack and he’s right there. But everything that we used to love about him isn’t. He’s comedy relief, a role usually delegated to a side character, but no, he’s the focus of the story and it’s aggravating.

And franchise newcomers Thwaites and Scodelario are given really bland characters to work with. Henry is pretty one-note, and a little hypocritical. He’s constantly all about, “I’m only here to free my father from his curse,” but he manages to find attraction in Carina. I’m sure this’ll be a small problem for a lot of people, but I personally can’t stand this trope in movies. Can we just have a few movies out there where the male and female leads don’t hook up in the end? I wouldn’t even really mind so much if it wasn’t so contrived too. They almost hate each other at first, insulting and belittling each other for most of the story, so when the attraction starts, I’m left wondering where the hell this came from. And as much as I enjoy Scodelario for her talent, for as few roles as I’ve seen her in, I really don’t like Carina. She never shuts up about how educated she is and how she’s a woman of science. Also, she’s that poorly written independent woman. Meaning, she’s written like she’s supposed to be resourceful and clever, but she’s always in danger and in need of saving and the constant center of whore jokes and cliché damsel in distress situations. Granted, she contributes a little more than Henry does, as she actually knows how to translate the maps that will lead our heroes to the Trident, but useful doesn’t make a great character. It just doesn’t make them pointless. And unless I missed something in the dialog, why does she care about finding the Trident? She mentions more than a few times that she’s scientifically minded and doesn’t believe in the fabled curses and legends of the sea. Her piece of the map was the last possession that was given to her from her late father, entrusting her to find it. But it makes no sense as so why she’s invested in finding it.

In fact, come to think of it, there’s quite a few things that don’t make sense. How did Salazar get cursed with his undead affliction in the first place? Why is Jack’s signature “heart’s greatest desire” compass the key to the curse? When Jack pawns the compass for a bottle of booze, how in piss-hell does Shansa (Golshifteh Farahani) acquire it so damn quickly? Don’t give me no horse-crap that she “has her ways.” What a blanket f**king statement to hide behind! And where the hell does Shansa go? She literally disappears from the movie! Yeah, she and Barbossa meet up to exchange clunky exposition of how they met and she hands him Jack’s compass, but the next and last time we see her, she’s helping the British soldiers in finding the fugitives that escaped their custody. And why does Scarfield (David Wenham), the soldier leading his troops to sea to find said fugitives, suddenly get invested in locating the Trident? By the way, completely pointless character to have around considering the next time we see him and his troops is when they spend two minutes on screen just to die. I’d say that’s a spoiler, but that would imply that there were important characters with important roles in the story, both of which are not present when explaining these characters. And the hell was up with that bank heist scene in the beginning? The safe weighs a ton and a carriage pulled by less than ten horses has managed to not only drag this safe across town for a good ten to fifteen minutes, but the ENTIRE BUILDING ALONG WITH IT?!?!?!? Are you f**king kidding me?! I don’t remember how many horses were pulling that carriage, but it wouldn’t matter if twenty were pulling, give me a God damn break…

***SPOILERS***

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Also, I’m getting really sick and tired of these “legacy” trends. What do I mean? Carina is Barbossa’s long-lost daughter. A daughter that I’m pretty sure was never referenced in any movie until now. But since I haven’t seen ON STRANGER TIDES, I’ll pretend that’s where she was referenced. But even if so, there is no reason why Barbossa has any desire to be her father. Nothing about him ever screamed, “I wish I was a daddy.” For that matter, continuing on Carina not making sense, she finds out at the last possible minute that her father is Barbossa and after he dies for her, she immediately takes his last name as her own. No hesitation, nothing.

Look, I know everyone deals in emotional stuff differently, but speaking as a man who was adopted and never knew his biological parents, I think she processed these set of emotions way too quickly. She just found out her father is a pirate, a set of people that she’s strongly against. For the record, Barbossa is a pretty ruthless pirate too, not known to show kindness and mercy. Barely has any semblance of honor. He also just died to save her life. Um… I can safely tell you that if I found out my biological mother had a similar shady background, and if I caught up in a situation that threatened my life, and if she died to save me, I’d have ten cargo ships of mixed emotions right there. If I were to change anything, don’t have her change her last name yet. Save it for the sequel. And then in some dialog, a character is all like, “What’s your name?” She says, “Carina.” He says, “Last name?” And then she pauses. Almost like she doesn’t know what to say. But then she says, “Barbossa.” Then, like, Henry, or Jack, or whoever is all like, “Really? You took your father’s name for your own?” Then with the most subtle of emotion, she dryly says, “He was my father. Smith wasn’t my real last name.” This could have been an extraordinary foundation for some inner conflict with her. Like, she’s not proud of her name, but she carries it because the man who died to save her life deserves respect. There’s so much that could have been used for a future movie, but it’s squandered here in lieu of a contrived happy resolution.

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***END SPOILERS***

Overall, I say the movie is definitely not good. Despite the franchise constantly taking breaks, no one who works on these movies seems to understand what made that first film to special. This story is riddled with moments and characters and their choices that don’t make sense, or are even downright stupid. It’s needlessly long, characters exist to be bland, to die, or disappear altogether, it continues the trend of messy story-telling. However, I can’t deny that there are some things of merit. Bardem and Rush are great, the character designs for the villains are awesome, some of the comedy does work, and the movie does look pretty to look at. And like I said, zombie sharks. Too awesome to ignore. But none of its positives save it all that much. With a heavy sigh, I say if you wanted to skip this, you won’t be missing much. Only if you’re a die-hard fan of this franchise, which I find difficult to believe that they exist anymore, could I recommend this. Better as a rental, if you ask me.

My honest rating for PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES: a weak 3/5

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KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD review

So a lot of early buzz surrounding this flick is indicating that it’s bad. Even some reviewers that I like have labeled this as a contender for one of the worst movies of the year. But… man, I gotta ask, how? I mean, I’m going into this movie expecting a meat-head fest with over-the-top acting from both Charlie Hunnam and Jude Law, who both look like they’re going to chew the scenery. I won’t say that this movie looks good, per se, but one of the worst movies of the year? Damn, son…

Well, here’s the cast. Starring, we obviously have Hunnam (THE LOST CITY OF Z [2017], THE LEDGE [2011], and CHILDREN OF MEN [2006]) and Law (SPY [2015], SLEUTH [2007], TV show THE YOUNG POPE, and upcoming films FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM 2 [2018] and SHERLOCK HOLMES 3 due out… who knows when). In support, we have Djimon Hounsou (THE LEGEND OF TARZAN [2016], FURIOUS 7 [2015], GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY [2014], and the upcoming HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 3 [2019]), Eric Bana (THE FINEST HOURS [2016], HANNA [2011], and STAR TREK [2009]), Aidan Gillen (THE LOVERS [2017], THE DARK KNIGHT RISES [2012], and SHANGHAI KNIGHTS [2003]), Katie McGrath (JURASSIC WORLD [2015], and TV shows SUPERGIRL and MERLIN), and Poppy Delevingne (ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE MOVIE [2016], ELVIS & NIXON [2016], PIRATE RADIO [2009], and the upcoming KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE [2017]), who is indeed related to Cara Delevingne; older sister.

Now for the crew. Directing and co-writing is Guy Ritchie, known for THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (2015), SHERLOCK HOLMES (2009), LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS (1998), and upcoming films ALADDIN and SHERLOCK HOLMES 3, both due out… your guess is as good as mine. Ritchie’s partners-in-pen are Joby Harold (AWAKE [2007], and upcoming films ROBIN HOOD [2018] and THE FLASH [2020]) and Lionel Wigram (THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.). Composing the score is Daniel Pemberton, known for GOLD (2017), STEVE JOBS (2015), and video game LITTLEBIGPLANET. Finally, the cinematographer is John Mathieson, known for LOGAN (2017), X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011), and MATCHSTICK MEN (2003).

Overall, I won’t pretend to be ecstatic or anything for this, but I am hoping to be entertained enough.

This is my honest opinion of: KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD

(SUMMARY)

Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) was once the son of the great King Uther (Eric Bana), a war hero against a rebel mage that threatened his kingdom. But jealousy of power caused Uther’s brother Vortigern (Jude Law) to rally a coup against the king, had him and his queen killed, while Arthur was sent away into the kingdom to be raised in a brothel. Since then, Arthur grew up to be a street urchin, a talented fighter, a guardian of the women who raised him, and something of a gangster to keep everyone fairly compensated. Of course, his actions of beating up the wrong person, an ally of the now-King Vortigern, and seeks to bring Arthur in for his crimes. He is brought forward to attempt to pull the recently revealed Excalibur, Uther’s magical sword, lodged in stone and is the only one to successfully pull it out. He is taken to the dungeon an is about to be executed, but Vortigern reveals Arthur’s true heritage. And just before Arthur is executed, former allies of Uther, and a talented mage (Astrid Bergés-Frisbey) free him and attempt to guide him into taking his place as the rightful king back from his evil uncle.

(REVIEW)

I think the critics were being a little harsh on this one. Oh, I’ll be the last person to say that this was a good movie. In fact, of my co-workers that I went and saw this movie with, I’m pretty sure I liked it the least, but it was entertaining enough for me to say that I had fun.

Right off the bat, I can tell where this movie lost a lot of people. It opens on a giant fortress getting rampaged by giant elephants with bad guys on them causing problems for our good guy army. Hmm… a medieval fantasy setting with an epic battle taking place involving giant elephants and a king with a famous sword cutting down ridiculous amounts of enemies. Gee, I feel like there was a movie that did this before, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. It was about… lords and rings, and the returning of kings, I think. What was that movie called? Ah phooey, I’m sure it’ll hit me. But all sarcasm aside, I feel like it would have been so much cooler just to see a standard army of knights battling an army of mages. That was what the battle was essentially about, but they opted for a standard sword on sword battle, which doesn’t feel very fresh. And the constant shots of bad guys falling off a bridge over and over doesn’t get any cooler as the sequence progresses.

Then it took it’s sweet time to setting up that Vortigern is going to steal the throne from his brother by having him murder his wife, and a grim reaper type dude kill Arthur’s mom and defeats Uther, and sending Arthur on his way from the carnage. And then BOOM, after fifteen minutes, the movie decides to flash its title at you. And throughout the opening titles, we have a montage, one of many, that go through Arthur’s childhood all through to his adulthood faster than a bullet going through wet tissue, with a misplaced location subtext shoved in the middle of the entire thing, it’s a mess.

Folks, all I did was talk about the first fifteen, twenty minutes. Everything you can imagine through my descriptions is exactly the kind of movie you’ll be in for.

But for real, what’s good about the movie? Well… the acting is fine. I don’t think this will be considered a great Hunnam performance, but he’s pretty solid and has some very entertaining moments. The man definitely has some good comedic timing. There’s a bit where a royal guard is questioning Arthur about an incident that happened earlier in the story, explained via montage of course. While I couldn’t quote anything for the life of me, Hunnam knows how to fast-talk with the pacing of the scene and keep you engaged in all the banter that you can’t keep up with. In short, good actor.

***SPOILERS***

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And I was thoroughly happy with Law in the picture. From the moment I saw him in the trailer, he looked like he was going to ham it up and really own the scenes where he’s raising his arms to be ogled over by thousands of his subjects. Plus, he is a legitimately intimidating bad guy. Yes, he does the standard “kill innocent people” to get his way, but he murders his own wife to obtain power, murders his King-brother and his Queen, actively spends time trying to find his nephew to murder him, and at the end, murders his daughter in an attempt to keep his power… which ultimately fails.

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***END SPOILERS***

I also like what happens when Arthur manages to use the sword. Everything goes slow-mo and he starts moving super fast, cutting down anyone in his path, and can even go full Sauron (Yes, more shameless Lord of the Rings rip-offs) and hurls the blade at air, throwing groups of bad guys several dozen feet back. It’s ridiculous as hell, but it was still a fun watch. It also made me realize that if this movie was a video game, I’d play the fuck out of it. Like if it had a gameplay style like the Batman: Arkham games. Eh, just spit-ballin’ here.

But for all the entertainment provided, it’s time to call this movie out on its negatives.

I wouldn’t know how to explain this, but Ritchie’s movies always have fast-talking characters that explain lengthy exposition in just a few seconds right? Thing is, all of those characters are in modern times, or at least in a modern-ish time frame that makes sense for those types of characters. However, these characters feel like they were written for modern times, not medieval. I get it, it’s a fantasy. This movie has giant snakes, bats, elephants, magic swords, and grim reapers with dual-bladed scythes running around. The fast-talking characters really shouldn’t be the biggest issue for me. So, settle down, it’s not, but it is a distraction and takes me out of the moment.

Most of the side characters aren’t that memorable either. Funny enough, only one name sticks out. Wet Stick (Kingsley Ben-Adir). Yes, there is a character named Wet Stick in this damn movie. The dude’s name is more memorable than the character. Another character has a son… and he’s fat and reminds me of Ricky Gervais. But that’s about it. Most of characters, you can’t even remember their names. Technically, I still can’t remember Vortigern’s name. I have to keep looking it up on IMDb to remind myself. This is incredibly odd because I usually excel at remembering names from sci-fi and fantasy worlds. But this one had me just pointing and saying, “that guy.”

However, I will complain that the montage, fast-talking exposition scenes are needlessly complicated and unnecessarily long. The first scene I’m talking about is when Arthur is talking to the royal guard dude. Arthur punches a Viking who was a guest of King Vortigern. Why in hell did we need a lengthy explanation as to how those events happened? In fact, most of the montage scenes are poorly utilized, revealing an aggravating amount of junk information, like an assassination attempt on the King, or blazing through a section of the story that might actually need some development, such as when Arthur was sent into the Blacklands to learn how to control the power of Excalibur. Hell, all the giant monster encounters he has amounted to nothing considering that his sole purpose there was to learn revealing information.

***SPOILERS***

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There’s also some poorly executed scenes of big moments for characters. The biggest one that comes to my mind is after the assassination of Vortigern fails and Backlack is killed. Arthur’s had enough and no longer wants anything to do with this conflict. In a final act of hand-washing of the situation, he throws Excalibur into a nearby lake and attempts to run away. But then he dramatically goes down on his knees and the Lady of the Lake drags him into the mud, shows him a vision of the bleak future, and then emerges back into the real world with Excalibur. Hmm… so… this is basically how the sequence pans out: “Oh god, my best friend was killed! Screw this, I’m out of here! Whoa! Pretty lake lady’s telling me to nut up and go kick some ass. TIME TO GO KICK SOME ASS!!!” Yup, that’s pretty much it. Best friend dead, orphaning his son… all the motivation Arthur needed to turn his back on the cause. And all it took to kick him back into gear was a quick, “Dude, look at this shit,” and Arthur is waiting on his crew to join him in a fight. Jesus, for such a dramatic turn, it’s given no time to develop and establish proper motivation.

The editing in this movie is beyond obnoxious. You know how in MEMENTO (2000) where the editing is choppy for a reason? Well here, it’s trying to do that by revealing snippets of what the battle between Uther and the Blackland reaper dude really was about. That footage is played over and over throughout the course of the film, but by the time it reveals that the reaper was Vortigern the whole time. First off, this isn’t clever. Maybe if the reaper wasn’t shown again after that first encounter in the beginning of the film, this reveal would have been a little more shocking if it wasn’t hammered in. By showing that monster over and over, it’s like the movie was annoyingly declaring, “Pay attention to this guy! Pay attention! He’s important!” By that point, I was already sarcastically calling out that it was Vortigern. So when the reveal came along, I wasn’t the least bit surprised. But what do I know, right? Let’s pretend nobody else saw that twist coming. Vortigern is still the guy that betrayed his brother for the crown and set in motion events that got his family killed. Is it really such a stretch of the imagination that the reaper was Vortigern the whole time?

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***END SPOILERS***

Overall, as many problems as there are, I still can’t say I didn’t enjoy the film. No, I don’t think it’s good, but I definitely don’t think this movie deserves the critical thrashing it’s getting. It’s a passable enough movie to worth entertainment value. Is it one of Ritchie’s better movies? No. But will you be bored? Mostly no. Just go in accepting that it’s going to be an over-the-top fantasy adventure and I think you’ll enjoy it just fine. I might recommend a matinee showing if you’re interested, definitely a rental, but if you just can’t see yourself seeing this movie at all, you won’t miss too much. It’ll be forgotten in the grand scheme of things by the end of the year, so I wouldn’t stress too much. I sure don’t see myself revisiting it any time soon. Well… maybe the action scenes with Arthur and Excalibur. Those were fun as hell.

My honest rating for KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD: 3/5, 4/5 for entertainment value

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THE MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS (transfer) review

These “transfer” reviews are from when I only did reviews on my Facebook page back in 2015. Bare in mind when reading these, I didn’t have the same formula in my review writing that I do now, and my usual “who starred and who directed” information is completely absent, so everything “italicized” is new. With that said, enjoy this review from 2015.

Young adult novel adaptations to the big screen have a tendency to be hit or misses. The biggest of recent years is HUNGER GAMES, bar none. Certainly the DIVERGENT series has its own following, but I think the surprise hit of last year was THE MAZE RUNNER. As much as I enjoy HUNGER GAMES, I had to admit that MAZE RUNNER was probably the best and my favorite. Naturally, SCORCH TRIALS was one of the more highly anticipated movies for me this month. High hopes and all that.

Starring: Dylan O’Brien (DEEPWATER HORIZON [2016], THE MAZE RUNNER [2014], TV show TEEN WOLF, and the upcoming MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE [2018]) Kaya Scodelario (THE MAZE RUNNER [2014], CLASH OF THE TITANS [2010], MOON [2009], and upcoming films PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES [2017] and MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE), Aiden Gillen (SING STREET [2016], TV shows GAME OF THRONES and THE WIRE, and upcoming films KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD [2017] and THE LOVERS [2017]), and Patricia Clarkson (ANNIE [2014], FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS [2011], and THE GREEN MILE [1999]). In support: Ki Hong Lee (THE MAZE RUNNER [2014], TV show THE UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT, and upcoming films WISH UPON [2017] and MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE [2018]), Thomas Brodie-Sangster (STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS [2015] and TV shows GAME OF THRONES and THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO, and the upcoming MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE), Dexter Darden (THE MAZE RUNNER, JOYFUL NOISE [2012], and the upcoming MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE), Giancarlo Esposito (MONEY MONSTER [2016], THE USUAL SUSPECTS [1995], TV show ONCE UPON A TIME, and the upcoming MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE), and Jacob Lofland (FREE STATE OF JONES [2016], MUD [2012], TV show JUSTIFIED, and the upcoming MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE).

Directed by: Wes Ball (THE MAZE RUNNER). Written by: T.S. Nowlin (PHOENIX FORGOTTEN [2017], THE MAZE RUNNER, and upcoming films PACIFIC RIM [2018] and MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE [2018]). Composed by John Paesano (ALMOST CHRISTMAS [2016], THE MAZE RUNNER, TV show DAREDEVIL, and upcoming film ALL EYEZ ON ME [2017] and TV show THE DEFENDERS). Cinematography by: Gyula Pados (MILLION DOLLAR ARM [2014], PREDATORS [2010], BASIC INSTINCT 2 [2006], and upcoming films JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE [2017] and MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE)

Story on top (SPOILERS), review on the bottom.

(STORY)

The story picks up almost right after the first film. Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), Minho (Ki Hong Lee), Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), Frypan (Dexter Darden), and Winston (Alexander Flores) are herded by their armed rescuers into a facility ran by Janson (Aidan Gillen). They are given functioning showers, fresh clothes, good food, all that stuff, even getting in touch with other teens who survived their own maze trials. Pretty much everyone but Thomas is taking this like it’s a good thing. Thomas thinks this is too good to be true. This is because every so often, Janson takes a small amount of the teens to what is said to be a farm where nothing but good things happen… but they’re never seen again. Things are only getting shadier when the longest lasting resident of this facility, Aris (Jacob Lofland), includes Thomas on the facility’s secrets. Covered bodies are taken to a restricted area and Thomas wants to see what this place is hiding. He has a particular vested interest in this secret when Teresa is hauled away and won’t let him talk to her. Successfully lifting a keycard off of a security guard, he and Aris gain access to the secret room and see the surviving kids that were previously hauled away are being harvested; blue liquid from their bodies. They aren’t awake during this, but don’t appear to be alive either. Things only get worse when Janson appears. Neither Thomas nor Aris are caught, but they discover who is really behind this facility and all its goings-on: Ava Paige (Patricia Clarkson) of the sinister organization WICKED: World In Catastrophe: Killzone Experiment Department, responsible for the kids going through the maze trials. Thomas rallies the rest of the Gladers and try to escape. They eventually find Teresa and successfully escape into the Scorch: the name given to the post-apocalypse world outside. Their destination: to find a resistence group fighting WICKED called the Right Arm, who will hopefully protect the Gladers. Unfortunately, this is a long journey to the mountains in the distance. Meaning they have to evade a ton of Cranks, the zombie-like beings infected by the Flare Virus. Sadly, after an encounter with a horde of Cranks, Winston is infected. After reaching safety, his infection is too great for him to continue and is left behind, but not before being given a gun to prevent the infection from turning him… which he does use. But the rest of the Gladers continue onward. One night of rest, on the verge of passing out from no food or water, Thomas sees an encampment of some kind in the distance, right in the nick of time to get caught in a lightning storm. They successfully enter the camp and are brought to their leader, Jorge (Giancarlo Esposito) and his daughter Brenda (Rosa Salazar). They aren’t the Right Arm, just some regular survivors out in the Scorch, but do indeed know where to find Right Arm. After eliminating the antagonistic relationship between them, Jorge agrees to take the Gladers to Right Arm. This is complicated suddenly when WICKED, led by Janson, attacks. Most everyone escapes, but Thomas and Brenda are separated from everyone else. They evade WICKED, but finding their way underground. They come across more Cranks and Brenda gets infected. They find their way to a small city of survivors hoping to find the others. They meet a sketchy individual named Marcus (Alan Tudyk), an owner of a club for getting young people high. He’s also revealed to be a secret ally of WICKED, sending anyone immune to the Flare Virus, and happens to also know the location of Right Arm. Everyone is reunited and the location of Right Arm is revealed. They move out and finally encounter the Right Arm. Turns out, the majority of them have moved out, but a few are still behind tying up loose ends. It’s here the Gladers meet Mary (Lili Taylor), once a WICKED scientist who jumped ship when their experiments were too unethical, and does her best to give Brenda a sedative for her infection. But as soon as everyone’s got room to breathe and figure out their next move, the peace is interrupted as it’s revealed that Teresa regained her memories and believes in WICKED… whom she calls to tell them where they are. WICKED attacks and rounds the survivors up, ready to herd them away. But one final bout of resistance, only Minho is captured. Promising to not leave him behind, Thomas decides he’s going to find Ava and kill her.

(REVIEW)

I liked it, but I don’t think it’s as good as the first one.

Let me start with what I enjoyed and thought this movie did right.

Unlike HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (2013), which there’s a serious argument that it’s the exact same movie as the first one, SCORCH TRIALS is definitely not a rehash. There are no mazes in this movie. It’s very much an odyssey film with a variety of visited locations, truly getting out of the maze and that one-note Glade. The movie does a great job at creating atmosphere and a sense of mystery, invoking curiosity from the audience. The action scenes haven’t changed. They’re very well executed, tense, exciting in all the right ways and that’s what I loved about the first one. I’m glad that remained intact. I also enjoyed their take on their zombies. I mean, no, running zombies aren’t anything new, but I like how this particular virus has varying effects on a host: particularly the scene where Thomas and Brenda are evading the Cranks underground. The zombies seem like they can meld with their surroundings, like twigs and leaves growing out of their bodies, I liked that. Too bad we don’t get to see more of it, but what can you do?

***SPOILERS***

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One of my favorite elements about this movie also is, with the exception of Janson, most of the antagonists of the story aren’t clearly defined bad guys. Characters like Ava, and later Teresa, seem to actually kind of wrestle with their own morals and decisions. They don’t seem like they want to hurt anyone, but are indeed those kind of characters that believe that the ends justify the means. Those are always more interesting characters to me and create the best kind of drama.

Also, I LOVE this movie’s climax. Whereas the ending of the first movie drove me ******* insane, this one is done SO much better. There’s no bullshit complicated explanation of anything, even though there’s no easier explanation as to why the maze trials were necessary to begin with… I should probably stop expecting that to change. Sad. In any case, it’s chock-full of tension and some serious “oh shit” moments that I genuinely didn’t expect. Thomas coming out like he’s going to suicide-bomb the bitches? Damn, dude. I mean, I figured that he’d use the bomb, but I was thinking he’d use it against WICKED, not on himself. Granted, this “suicide to prevent the bad guys from winning” thing’s been done before. Hell, HUNGER GAMES beat this movie to it years ago, but that was predictable and nearly brushed aside to hurry up the ending. This was actually done fairly well and treated pretty emotionally as the Gladers rally around Thomas in support of dying so WICKED doesn’t win.

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***END SPOILERS***

And the best parts of the movie, do I really need to say them? Giancarlo Esposito from TV shows BREAKING BAD and ONCE UPON A TIME, and the insanely talented and hilarious Alan Tudyk from TV shows FIREFLY and SUBURGATORY. ‘Nuff said, mother ********. Granted, Tudyk only has a bit role in the movie, but Esposito is a supporting character that we can expect to see in the inevitable sequel. Price of admission was worth it on their merits alone.

For me, as much as there was to like about it, there’s an equal amount of stuff I didn’t like.

For one, Esposito and Salazar excluded, new characters get criminally side-lined in one way or another. Aris feels like he’s an important character in the first act of the film, but as soon as the Gladers leave the facility into the Scorch, he is immediately regulated to near-extra status. He may get one more line later on in the film, but I have to kind of hold in my laughter when I thought that the line was literally meant to shout at the audience, “REMEMBER HIM??? HE’S IN THE MOVIE TOO!!! HE DID STUFF IN THE BEGINNING!!! REMEMBER, AUDIENCE???” Then gets side-lined again. Kind of lame.

***SPOILERS***

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Weirdly enough, the opposite is done for secondary characters that were barely in the first movie, but treated like huge characters here. I am talking about Winston, of course. I don’t even remember him from the first movie. But he’s treated pretty big here… at least, that’s what the movie thinks. He dies, and while the scene is handled pretty well, you don’t really know who Winston is and his death feels like a cliff-note in the grand scheme in the movie. An odd choice, as you can identify characters in the first film, you knew who was who, and who was important, but here, not really.

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***END SPOILERS***

Despite how intense the action scenes are, I am starting to get a little annoyed with shaky cam. I usually don’t mind it, but I’m starting to get a lot more distracted by this style of filming… getting annoying. It makes sense for found-footage films, but we can get a little more creative with our camera usage other than forcing the poor image capture devices to experience 10.0 earthquakes.

Honestly though, the worst part of the film is its predictability. Oh my god, I feel like I’ve been duped in so many aspects. I thought that Janson would be a morally ambiguous character. Turns out, he’s the ONLY character that’s as bland as they come. He’s a straight-forward dick character with no depth and therefore, no one gives a shit. Certain reveals are too obvious and should have been a shit-ton more shocking than they ended up being, which is UNFORGIVABLE in film. I can’t even get into this subject because there’s too much to get into.

For all its flaws, this was a sort of flat-line as far as the story is concerned. It’s not a bad movie, but it didn’t go up as much as it should have. Whereas the first movie was pretty damn good, this one is just okay. I still enjoyed it, but there are just too many odd choices in this to be better than its predecessor.

3/5

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