THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG (2009) review

Keep ’em comin’, AMC! I’m really enjoying these re-releases!

While I can’t claim to have seen every Disney film as a kid, this is definitely one that stands out as the one I really regretted not having seen in its initial run in theaters. Why? There were a lot of reasons, especially in retrospect. This would be Disney’s final hand-drawn animated movie and it featured Disney’s first black princess. That’s pretty unheard of. Oh, who am I kidding, this is unheard of. I think I tried to watch this movie once on Netflix, but for whatever reason, I didn’t get more than a couple minutes in. I can’t remember why. Well, now I don’t have an excuse. I’m getting my redeeming moment and seeing it on the big screen.

Here’s the voice talent. Starring, we have Anika Noni Rose (EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING [2017], DREAMGIRLS [2006], FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY [2003], and the upcoming RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET: WRECK-IT RALPH 2 [2018]) and Bruno Campos (MIMIC 2 [2001] and TV show NIP/TUCK [2003 – 2010]). In support, we have Oprah Winfrey (SELMA [2014], THE BUTLER [2013], CHARLOTTE’S WEB [2006], and upcoming films THE STAR [2017] and Disney’s A WRINKLE IN TIME [2018]), Terrence Howard (SABOTAGE [2014], IRON MAN [2008], and CRASH [2004]), the ever-amazing John Goodman (VALERIAN [2017], BEE MOVIE [2007], THE BORROWERS [1997], and the upcoming TV revival ROSANNE [2018]), and living legends Keith David (THE NICE GUYS [2016], PRINCESS MONONOKE [1997], video game MASS EFFECT [2007], and the upcoming TV show Marvel’s NEW WARRIORS [2018]) and Jim Cummings (THE LION KING [1994], ALADDIN [1992], TV show CURIOUS GEORGE [2006 – 2015], and the upcoming CHRISTOPHER ROBIN [2018]).

Now for the crew. Co-writing and co-directing are Ron Clements and John Musker, both known for TREASURE PLANET (2002), THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE (1986), and directing MOANA (2016). Co-writing the screenplay, making for a red flag total of three writers, Rob Edwards, also known for TREASURE PLANET. Composing the score is Randy Newman, CARS 3 (2017), CARS (2006), A BUG’S LIFE (1998), and the upcoming TOY STORY 4 (2019). Finally, the cinematographer… this animated movie has a cinematographer? Anyway, it’s Rasoul Azadani, who made his cinematography debut. Congrats, sir.

Overall, pretty excited.

This is my honest opinion of: THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG (2009)

(SUMMARY)

Set in New Orleans, Louisiana, circa 1912. As a little girl, Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) was really close to her father, who had dreams of opening their own restaurant. However, in the present day, Tiana’s father passed away and she spends all her time working in restaurants to buy her own, even if it means there’s less fun to be had with her friends. But one day, the arrival of the charming and woman-chasing Prince Naveen (voiced by Bruno Campos) causes a stir in town as he’s set to marry a rich young girl to improve a financial crisis he’s in. However, he strikes up a deal with the local voodoo witch doctor, Facilier (voiced by Keith David), in the hopes that he’ll get what he wants faster, but is instead turned into a frog, a spell that can only be broken if he is kissed by a princess. Desperate to be turned back to normal, he finds his way to a costume party where Tiana is dressed as a princess, convinces her to kiss him, but ends up being turned into a frog herself. Now the two set on a long journey through the Louisiana bayou to located another witch doctor to help them turn back to human.

(REVIEW)

I liked it for the most part. I wouldn’t put it up there as one of the classic Disney films, but I’m glad enough that I saw it.

The best part of this film is the music. While I wouldn’t say I go to jazz clubs or anything, though I really should, I do have a small love for jazz music. I love the style, the sounds, the classy feel of it all, and the music in this film from the score to the lyrics are drenched in it. More than anything, it’s a nice movie to put on, maybe not always to watch, but definitely to listen to.

I especially enjoyed Tiana as a character. There’s something respectable about a person who has such a strong work ethic like she does. Being someone who currently works in the food industry, I can tell you that such an upbeat personality like hers is pretty hard to find and even harder to maintain. Some may argue that she’s not realistically written in that regard, but that’d be a strange unrealistic thing to complain about considering that people get turned into frogs, crocodiles play trumpets, fireflies get turned into stars, and shadow monsters come from Hell. Oh, and speaking of trumpet-playing crocodiles, I absolutely loved Louis (voiced by Michael-Leon Wooley). This guy had me rolling the isles laughing until I busted a gut. His infectious enthusiasm and love for jazz and his big dreams of playing with the greats, as well as his hilarious expressions, he’s by far the most enjoyable character in the movie. But how can I forget the living great that is Keith David as Facilier? He’s a fun villain with a cool design and even cooler powers. He charismatic, devious, and… damn, David’s voice just adds class to anything and everything. And… was he really singing?

I especially love the theme of the movie: In order to achieve your goals, you can’t keep wishing upon stars and hoping for the best. You have to work hard, work through the stress, pain, and tears. On one level, it’s nice that it steers away from the typical Disney thing where you just need to be in the right place at the right time in order to get more than what they have. And it’s also something of a stab at their traditional tropes as well, which I really found amusing.

And finally, a lot of the animation is fantastic. Never mind the background work, which is awesome as it is, but other aspects really stood out. I love how Facilier’s shadow is almost its own character, like a horror version of Peter Pan’s shadow. Really, all of the shadow animation is crazy cool, especially when Facilier summons demon shadows. Creepy, but awesome.

Sadly, the movie’s good moments are horribly mixed in with some… disagreeable stuff too.

The primary issue is that there are annoying characters that get way too much screen time. I’m not even just talking about Charlotte La Bouff (voiced by Jennifer Cody), though she is a few nails on the chalkboard to my ears. No, I’m talking about Prince Naveen himself. What an irritatingly written character! I know the whole point of him is that he’s supposed to be a womanizer and relentless flirt, but there is such inconsistency to how he’s presented. We the audience and Tiana both know he’s a clumsy and annoying flirt, but why would anyone other woman find him suave and charming? I’m sure someone’s going to call me out and say something like, “They crush on him because of his royal position and wealth, not him himself.” I get it, the movie was doing that thing where he’s supposed to be kind of unlikable in the first half of the movie, but as the story develops, he goes through an arch. He does, and his inability to be a competent human being is explained later on, eventually making him sympathetic, but until we get to that point, there is almost nothing to him. On top of it all, Campos is trying way too hard to be funny. He succumbs to that mentality that a funny voice makes a funny character, rather than a funny character making a funny voice. While I ended up liking him in the end, he was never funny.

Also, I know this actually pretty standard as far as Disney films are concerned, but… really? Tiana and Naveen knew each other for two days and he’s already ready to propose to her? Again, I know this is common in Disney films, but I have a problem with it no matter where it is. Relationships take time. Couldn’t the movie end with the two of them dating, instead of getting married? For as much as this movie made fun of the classic Disney clichés in the beginning, they sure stick to ’em a lot.

I’m happy that I got to experience this movie in the theaters. It’s a fun and enjoyable movie that’s great for all ages. The male protagonist is certainly obnoxious and for as many tropes the movie bashes, it does become prey to them. But the movie makes up for tremendously for its great female protagonist, side characters, and villain, surprisingly down-to-earth themes, wonderful animation, and the kicker, it’s spectacular jazz music. It’s not one of the animation greats, but it’s a solid and enjoyable film all the same.

My honest rating for THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG (2009): a strong 3/5

The-Princess-And-The-Frog-poster

Advertisements

PARANORMAN (2012) review – Halloween Special

Hey there, folks. Due to some personal matters, I’ll likely be taking a break from doing theatrical reviews for awhile. But because I am by my very nature, a writer, I can’t just not write. So in spirit of the encroaching holiday of Halloween, I have opted to use this month to write reviews of my favorite movies to watch this time of year, basically horror films, or Halloween-themed movies. For those of you that don’t know, I generally hate horror as a genre. Far too often the movies follow a very specific formula: stupid character making stupid decisions getting other stupid characters killed. By the day’s end, there’s nothing to invest in. It’s just gratuitous violence, which I’m not a fan of. It’s too cheap and easy. But for this month, I’ll be writing about the ones that I think break that formula and actually look like they gave a hoot about making a good movie, with good characters, good scares, and above all else, a good story. At least, for the horror films. Like I said, I’ll be touching on Halloween-themed films that could be for kids. So sit back, relax, and enjoy my opinions.

PARANORMAN

Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee (X-MEN: APOCALYPSE [2016], LET ME IN [2010], THE ROAD [2009], and the upcoming X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX [2018]), Jodelie Ferland (BIGGER FATTER LIAR [2017], THE CABIN IN THE WOODS [2012], and CARRIE [2002]), Tucker Albrizzi (MONSTER TRUCKS [2017] and ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: CHIPWRECKED [2011]), and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (TROLLS [2016], PITCH PERFECT [2012], SUPERBAD [2007], and upcoming films THE DISASTER ARTIST [2017] and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 3 [2019]).

Support: Anna Kendrick (TABLE 19 [2017], THE ACCOUNTANT [2016], INTO THE WOODS [2014], and upcoming films PITCH PERFECT 3 [2017] and NICOLE [2019]), Casey Affleck (A GHOST STORY [2017], GONE BABY GONE [2007], and GOOD WILL HUNTING [1998]), Leslie Mann (THE COMEDIAN [2017], KNOCKED UP [2007], GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE [1997], and the upcoming THE PACT [2018]), John Goodman (VALERIAN [2017], EVAN ALMIGHTY [2007], THE BORROWERS [1997], and upcoming film CAPTIVE STATE [2018] and TV revival ROSANNE [2018]), and Alex Borstein (ANGRY BIRDS [2016], TED [2012], and TV show FAMILY GUY [1998 – ongoing]).

Directors: Christ Butler (directorial debut, and only directed project) and Sam Fell (THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX [2008] and FLUSHED AWAY [2006]). Writer: Chris Butler (KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS [2016]). Composer: Jon Brion (WILSON [2017], THE OTHER GUYS [2010], PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE [2002], and the upcoming LADY BIRD [2017]). Cinematographer: Tristan Oliver (LOVING VINCENT [2017], FANTASTIC MR. FOX [2009], CHICKEN RUN [2000], and the upcoming ISLE OF DOGS [2018]).

LAIKA has quickly become a popular name when it comes to animation. While claymation and stop motion similar to NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993) aren’t exactly unheard of, they’re also not often done. But LAIKA has certainly made its career on that and they’ve certainly done a memorable job of it. From their debut in CORALINE (2009) and their most recent KUBO, they’ve done a wonderful job in creating worlds that feel surreal, dark, creepy, but overall touching and beautiful.

I actually never saw LAIKA’s second venture, PARANORMAN until later. I have no idea why, but when I finally did see it, it left a pretty decent impact on me. The story is about an eleven-year-old boy named Norman (voiced by Smit-McPhee), who sees dead people, pun intended. Thing is, while these spirits are benevolent, no one else sees them but him, and has a bit of a nasty habit of getting bullied at school and his parents being a little nasty about it. But then one day, his uncle, Mr. Penderghast (voiced by Goodman), is the only one who has the same gift and has spent decades keeping the ancient witch’s curse from wrecking terror on the town. But he dies and tries to convince Norman to take his place. But not given the best information, the witch comes back and wrecks that terror by unleashing her zombie horde.

The opening scene’s twist still takes me by surprise. As well as makes me laugh. The screaming woman and the brain stuck to her foot as she runs away from the zombie attacking her; priceless.

But more than that, this movie could almost be a spiritual successor to THE SIXTH SENSE (1999). What if Cole Sear ended up accepting his gift of seeing dead people and even embraced it? It’s a stretch in logic, sure, but it’s a fun comparison. Norman is a slightly mixed bag for me as a character. On the one hand, he is sympathetic and you feel for him for the way he’s treated. He’s a good kid and means well, doing his best to not make a scene. He’s a kid, so when it’s time for him to do something bigger than life, he’s scared, but he finds courage to do what’s necessary to save everyone, even if it means getting hurt, or worse. But my main issue with him is that he constantly tells people that he sees ghosts. At least, it’s implied that he does. Why does he do that? He’s eleven. He should be old enough by now to understand what adults will believe. At the very least, if they didn’t believe him the first time, he should be smart enough to know it won’t fly if he opens his yammer twice. Maybe if he was a few years younger, his behavior would have been more understandable, but as it is, it’s a little frustrating to watch.

The side characters are about on the same level too. Courtney (voiced by Kendrick) pretty much acts like a standard teenage girl who wants nothing to do with her brother. She does eventually go through a character arch of protecting Norman, but honestly, that arch kind of comes out of nowhere. Even when the zombies are attacking, she still treats Norman like he’s responsible for it. Never mind that zombies exist, which she barely has a reaction to, but she still treats Norman poorly, eventually abandoning him to his plan with dealing with the witch’s curse. It’s only when Norman figures everything out that she stands with him, but it happens pretty suddenly. Thank heavens this character is voiced by Kendrick, as she brings a charming energy to Courtney, otherwise I’d straight up dislike her.

Neil (voiced by Albrizzi) is mostly likable, being the only person that believes in Norman and what he can do, and does his very best to stand by him during the worst that the curse has to offer. My issue with him is that he is kind of a stereotype by constantly showing how obsessed he is with eating. And for every funny joke that he’s a part of, like refusing to leave Norman when the zombies attack in the town hall, but his muscular brother picks him up under his arm, he’s also part of an unfunny joke, like when he’s playing with the ghost of his dog and starts kissing his butt instead of his face. It’s… really strange how this pattern is repeated in the movie with the side characters.

So the characters are hits and misses. What’s legitimately good about the film. Almost exactly where it counts. For one, the animation, like all of LAIKA’s work, is spectacular. From the visuals, to the CG incorporated visuals, it’s all a wonder to behold. Norman’s home town bustles with activity and fills the streets with crowds. The yellow clouds that show glimpses of the witch’s face, those are particularly spooky and threatening and I never get tired of watching it. But above all else, my absolute favorite stuff comes from the witch herself.

***SPOILERS***

***

***

Agatha, or Aggie (voiced by Ferland) brings home the emotional weight. Aggie was once just a little girl, but was accused for being a witch and was killed. But before her death, she placed a curse on the people that did her harm. The way she’s animated in her ghostly form is unbelievably unnerving, and is far more scary than half the things I’ve seen in legitimate horror films. An eerie yellow glow, electricity flying around, and constantly twitching like a glitch in video game graphics. Her face and the way it contorts, it’s all pretty frightening in its own right. But then you see her in her human form and you see a scared little girl who was just being a little girl and murdered for it. She was bullied, and she become angry, vengeful, wanted to hurt those that hurt her just as bad. She’s a victim who doesn’t want to be a victim anymore. You totally understand and empathize with Aggie. She was wronged. No one agrees with her causing chaos and destruction, but anyone can understand why she resorts to these measures. The way that she connects with Norman is the highlight of the film. In many ways, I would actually have preferred to see that she was calmed down and would come back in a possible sequel, but that would leave the ending less powerful and meaningful.

***

***

***END SPOILERS***

This movie is absolutely wonderful to watch around Halloween. Sure, it’s got its flaws in the characters, but it’s got more than enough charm, likability, and great visuals and animation to make it worth a watch. It’s not just good enough for kids, it’s good enough for adults as well. It’s a little scary, but that’s all subjective, isn’t it. Some kids will watch this and be totally fine, others could possibly get nightmares. But as with all horror-type movies for kids, they should know that there is a happy ending and that it’s okay to be afraid. Hence the theme of the movie and the most poignant quote of the film. How did that go again, Grandma (voiced by Stritch): “There’s nothing wrong with being scared, so long as you don’t let it change who you are.”

My honest rating for PARANORMAN (2012): 4/5

paranormanposter

ATOMIC BLONDE review

Aww yeah, son. It’s finally here. All that hype is about to be tested. I love a good action film, and I love a good spy film. Combine the two with a kick-ass female to helm the project, and you’ve got me saying, “Shut up, and take my money!”

The story looks like your typical betrayal-revenge thriller, but the action does look pretty awesome… eh, for the most part. I don’t know, some of the action looks a little too… choreographed. Like once someone throws a punch, it’s like there’s an obvious pause between moves so the actors and stuntmen can get into position for the next attack. The kitchen scene feels particularly heavy in this as well as that hyped up stairway scene, albeit on a smaller scale. But who knows, maybe the finished product is much more streamlined.

Let’s take a look at this on screen talent. Starring, we have the incredible Charlize Theron (THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS [2017], KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS [2016], and HANCOCK [2008]) and James McAvoy (SPLIT [2017], X-MEN: APOCALYPSE [2016], WANTED [2008], and upcoming films X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX [2018] and M. Night Shyamalan’s Split/Unbreakable crossover, GLASS [2019]). In support, we have John Goodman (VALERIAN [2017], PATRIOTS DAY [2016], RED STATE [2011], and the upcoming TV revival ROSANNE [2018]), Sofia Boutella (THE MUMMY [2017], STAR TREK BEYOND [2016], KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE [2015], and the upcoming TV film FAHRENHEIT 451, due out… who knows when), Toby Jones (MORGAN [2016], CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER [2011], THE MIST [2007], and upcoming horror film THE SNOWMAN [2017] and JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM [2018]), Til Schweiger (INGLORIOUS BASTERDS [2009], FAR CRY [2008], and LARA CROFT TOMB RAIDER: THE CRADLE OF LIFE [2003]), and in a bit role, Daniel Bernhardt (LOGAN [2017], THE MATRIX RELOADED [2003], and TV show MORTAL KOMBAT: CONQUEST [1998]).

Now for the talent behind the scenes. Directing, we have David Leitch, a former stuntman who has been a part of countless action films. His career stretches from HITMAN: AGENT 47 (2015), all the way back to Marvel’s BLADE (1998). He’ll be directing the upcoming DEADPOOL 2 (2018). Penning the screenplay is Kurt Johnstad, known for 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE (2014), ACT OF VALOR (2012), and 300 (2006). And… wait a tick, this movie is based on a graphic novel? Hmm… news to me. Apparently, it was a series titled “The Coldest City.” Anywho, the composer for the score is action film veteran Tyler Bates, known for GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017), JOHN WICK (2014), SUPER (2010), and Marvel’s upcoming Netflix show THE PUNISHER [2017]. Last, but not least, the cinematographer is Jonathan Sela, known for TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT (2017), LAW ABIDING CITIZEN (2009), THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN (2008), and the upcoming DEADPOOL 2.

Overall, yeah, this could be pretty bad-ass, so I’m stoked for this.

This is my honest opinion of: ATOMIC BLONDE

(SUMMARY)

Set during the Cold War in 1989. Lorraine (Charlize Theron) is a British spy and being called in by her superiors for a mission debriefing, detailing her assignment of tracking down a missing list that contains the names of every operative working for British intelligence.

(REVIEW)

Apologies for the delay in this review’s release. I did actually see it last week, and I had to see this again. Not because it was that good, but because I had a miserable experience watching this the first time. So before I go into the review, I’m going to start with an enraged rant about being on your fucking cell phone in the movies. So if you want to skip that and go right to the review, CTRL-F and type “HPOR”. So here we go.

So I’m watching the movie and during an important exposition scene, this woman behind me starts talking on her phone. Allow me to really describe what I mean by this. Her phone is on SPEAKER, high volume so everyone can hear, and you’d swear to God that this bitch was in the middle of an important business meeting because she’s not even making an attempt to whisper. She’s talking like normal. My favorite part of the entire conversation she’s having with who the fuck cares, at one point, she apologizes. Not to the audience who is being horrendously inconvenienced, mind you, but to the person she’s talking to, as if all the people screaming at her to get off her phone are interrupting their important conversation. It took me a good five, maybe even ten minutes to finally get up and track down an employee at the AMC that I frequent and told them exactly where to find her. By the time I got back in the auditorium, everyone was in an uproar at this bitch, WHO IS STILL ON HER PHONE!!! You know what it finally took for her to hang up? Some dude got up from his seat and got right in her fucking face. Of fucking course, in that specific moment, that’s when the employee comes in, just narrowly missing out on the mayhem.

The experience, for all intents and purposes, was fine afterward, but the sheer amount of inconsideration from this incident is beyond baffling. Fine, a phone goes off, it happens. Like me, I don’t have many people who call me and talk to me, so there’s almost no reason to care about, “Alright, one last thing. Using your phone is distracting. Don’t ruin the movie!” Oversights happen and most people are generally understanding of that. But these people (she was with a companion) literally paid twenty-plus dollars just to watch half the flick and spend ten minutes of the remainder of their time there on a conference call. People, I don’t pay money to see these movies to hear your phone chats. I don’t pay money to see your cell phone screens light up. And to go so far as to talk, whispering or full blown outdoor voices? Are you fucking kidding me? How did FIREFLY’s Shepherd Book put it?

NwmkbE5

And to everyone else who is as pissed off with this shit as I am… don’t be like me, waiting ten minutes for them to stop without telling the theater staff. I know, maybe you don’t like confrontation, or don’t like missing any part of the movie, but… if you don’t take some sort of action, they won’t stop talking. You’re going to miss out on the movie one way or another. Don’t miss out on more than you, or the rest of the audience that has a set of fucking manners, need to.

(HPOR) Now for the review.

I’ve probably said this before, but spy films can be a hit or miss for me if they’re not comedies. This is because the ones that you’re supposed to take seriously, James Bond, Jason Bourne, they have a tendency to have complicated plots that my brain isn’t calibrated to follow. I eventually tune out the politics, ramifications, and junk in lieu of waiting for the action scenes or attempting to connect with the character relationships, which is always the crux of why I end up liking them. A few one-liners never hurt either. So how does this movie rank among them? It’s good. Not great. I don’t argue the “Kick-ass action,” or “…totally badass,” comments. Hell, I don’t even argue the whole, “We now have our female 007!” comments either. But… yeah, I don’t love this movie.

The smaller issue that I have with this movie is just how drenched in neon colors this movie was. This is personal, obviously, but the very aesthetic of this film is a struggle. If it’s not bright neon colors, it’s pale white and blue. I know, I know, snow and shit, and I don’t know if I could properly explain why it bugs me. But couple that with the 80’s techno music, or whatever it was, it sort of made my eyelids heavy. It succeeds in making itself distinguished among other action-spy films, but it does it in a way that didn’t agree with me. It’s that same sensation that I get when I play a first-person shooter video game; I just get a headache after awhile, which ruins the experience some. Like I said, the majority of viewers likely weren’t bothered by this, but I was.

Another smaller complaint was the lesbian scene. Now before you feminists get your pitchforks and torches, hear me out. Setting my man-brain aside who absolutely adores two attractive women having sex, pure titillation is something I reserve for porn. That’s what it’s for. However, gratuitous sex and nudity in a movie is exploitative and, frankly, annoying. It’s there just for marketing and to get asses in seats. Now, if the story is about sex and relationships, trying to do it in an artistic way, that’s perfectly acceptable. In coming-of-age films, the exploration of sexual awakening, a character who doesn’t believe in monogamy learns to fall in love, that sort of thing, then of course, the sex and nudity is more warranted and understandable. But that’s for those movies. Action films don’t always put that kind of effort into the romantic relationships. The exceptions for me are the Bourne films and the occasional Bond film. I do not believe this film does the relationship between Lorraine and Delphine justice. While both Theron and Boutella are outstanding actresses to be sure, Lorraine and Delphine barely share any screen time together before they bang and I don’t believe the sex was truly organic to the story. It’s certainly a lighter exploitation, mostly because there are good scenes between them later, which I’ll get to, and it’s not over graphic with either the nudity or the physicality, but I feel like for the relationship to carry more weight, more time should have been dedicated to them. Unfortunately, that could have also derailed the film and not kept the story in focus if not done well, but it could have been done. The two ladies could have ran around Berlin solving pieces of the puzzle together, fighting together, it could have worked.

A bigger issue that I also had was, as predicted, some of the fight scenes felt a little too choreographed. Like I said above, the action looks like… punch! Pause. Punch again! Pause, wait for stunt actor to get into place. Punch! Okay, it’s not as bad as I’m making it out, but I feel like I could literally see the actors trying to get back to their marks and waiting for their cue. It more prominent in the kitchen during the apartment fight, and pretty brief in the balcony scene toward the climax, but it’s still there and pretty distracting. Again, this may be something most won’t notice, care about, or agree with me on, but it did feel a touch distracting to me.

The biggest issue I had with the film was how complicated the story was that I could barely follow it. Okay, so a list of all the MI6 agents is now in the hands of the bad guys. We learn that the latest agent killed was a lover or boyfriend of Lorraine’s. We also learn that there’s a traitor within MI6, code named Satchel, whom Lorraine is tasked with finding as well because it’s this person who’s leaked the list to their enemies. I know that these plot point intersect and how they’re related to each other, but… why was Lorraine in that apartment? She says she was looking for clues to Satchel’s identity, but… what was she looking for specifically? We’re not filled in on her plans or strategies, so it just looks like that scene was there to showcase another action sequence. I guess she finds that picture with Percival (James McAvoy) and her dead lover, revealing them to be friends. But that information is never brought up after he admits to it and doesn’t play a further role in anything, so what’s the point? Beyond that, characters seem to take themselves from one location to the other when it feels like it should be as simple as finding the missing Spyglass (Eddie Marsan), who committed the entire list of operatives to memory. It never truly feels like anyone is on point with their objectives. And if I can’t follow the actions and motivations of the characters… it can easily bore me. So yes, outside of the action scenes, the movie is pretty boring and not overly interesting. The pieces are there, but they don’t fit very well.

But before anyone starts thinking that I hate this film, I don’t. So let’s dive into the good aspects.

First and foremost, yes, the action is great. I’ve already mentioned how I felt the action was a little too choreographed, but I do give it some credit that the action is visceral. Dude gets hit in the face with a pot or a freezer door, it really looks like it hurts. Someone gets shot in the stomach, but still attempts to fight, it looks like a real struggle. People getting punched, or thrown around onto wooden furniture or getting whacked with lamps and shit, stabbed in the neck with a cork-screw, the action is undeniably intense and gritty. Especially with all the cuts, bruises, and blood, you feel just as exhausted as the actors do. Hell, especially in the balcony scene, I know if it were me, all battered and beat up, I’d just be like, “You know what, just go. I’m done. Have a good Wednesday.” It’s pretty awesome.

The actors also churn out solid performances and work incredibly well off of each other. Lorraine and Percival are pretty funny and I enjoy their banter. I also liked the connection that Lorraine and Delphine shared. Despite the unnecessary sex, there is a really good scene with the two of them in bed together and they’re talking, Delphine comments that her eyes change when she tells the truth and the dialog goes something like:

LORRAINE
Thanks for the warning. Now I know to not do it again.

DELPHINE
Why?

LORRAINE
Because someday it’s going to get me killed.

That’s a really poignant line. It shows that someone can spot a weakness that could potentially be exploited and she now has to compensate for it in order to cover her ass. But more than that, it’s a detail that was told to her by someone that has always tried to be on her side, and wouldn’t exploit her weaknesses. So of course, I love Boutella’s performance as this semi-innocent and inexperienced field agent who is clearly way over her head. But I really liked Delphine as a character and the impact she had on Lorraine.

There’s also a deep level of appreciation for the details. I mean, in that reveal scene with Theron, Lorraine coming out of that ice cold bath tub, every inch of her body covered in bruises and cuts. It really gives you that sense of how bad-ass she is and you feel every bit of that bruising as she does. Except everyone in the audience is a pussy because y’all be squirming in your seats and she’s just all, “Smokin’ my cig, poppin’ my pills, fuck this job, I’m a bad-ass, mother fuckers.” Pretty sure I’d be on the ground crying like my mother if a swarm of spiders were just crawling over her. And boomeranging back to the stairwell scene, I’m pretty sure Theron started that scene without a scratch, but then the bruises and cuts were all over her by the end of it. I’m curious, were those bruises… real? I mean, according to the trivia on IMDb, she cracked two teeth during filming. She really was getting slammed into walls… albeit padded ones, but how far off the mark can I possibly be? Maybe they’re digitally inserted? Either way, it’s fantastic and it’s made to look like it’s all done in one take. I can probably safely assume it wasn’t, but it’s not quite quite easy to spot where the cuts may be.

Fun fact: That tunnel when Lorraine is in the car and beats dudes with her shoe? That’s the same tunnel used in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016) when Black Panther is chasing down Bucky Barnes. I part of me thought I’d recognized it, but I didn’t think much of it until I read that.

Overall, I can’t say that this is a bad movie. It’s very well done and well-executed, but I just don’t love it, or like it all that much. The visuals literally hurt my eyes and head, so it’s already hard to get enveloped by the film. Bits and pieces of the action don’t look right, and some of the character choices don’t always make sense to me, so I can’t climb on the band wagon that everyone has a ticket for. But there is a real passion behind the project that I can’t deny. To my understanding, this is a passion project of Theron’s and it really shows. It’s hard hitting, beautifully shot, fantastic acting, it’s no wonder why so many like it. I say if you like your action-spy flicks, or enjoy the cast, this is a good one to check out. It’s not a movie that I can personally see a third time, but I acknowledge it’s merits and I recommend it.

My honest rating for ATOMIC BLONDE: a strong 3/5

atomic-blonde-poster

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

valerian_and_the_city_of_a_thousand_planets_ver2_xlg

TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT review

If it makes money, why fix it?

The fact that this is the fifth movie in this franchise shows that far too many people aren’t demanding better, making this question more and more relevant to movie-goers. Why are you Transformers lovers paying for this crap? How can you stand watching the same movie over and over?

Alright, how familiar am I with the Transformers franchise? Well, to be honest, not as much as most of my peers. To clarify, I’m talking about the original cartoon back in the 80s. I never watched it. To be fair, I was born in 1989. Already, the TV show had run its course and the movie was almost old news. And no, I didn’t grow up watching re-runs. I did, however, watch the 2001 cartoon TRANSFORMERS: ROBOTS IN DISGUISE. That was how I got into the franchise. I think I got into another iteration after ROBOTS – ARMADA, I think it was called – but then I drifted away from the cartoons, despite the many reboots.

Of course, this review is about the live-action films. So what do I think of them? TRANSFORMERS (2007) was awesome. Was it a dumb action sci-fi movie? Sure, but it was a ton of fun and it gave us exactly what we wanted to see: big ass robots fighting big ass robots with some awesome action scenes, original Optimus Prime voice actor Peter Cullen returns to voice his iconic character, Shia Labeouf was tolerable as an actor, Megan Fox was… damn (in a good way), the effects were downright groundbreaking, it was a cool-ass film.

But then REVENGE OF THE FALLEN (2009) happened. If I remember correctly, that movie grossed the second highest of any movie that year and for understandable reasons. It was coming off the heels of the first film, which was popular as shit. Everyone wanted to see the sequel. We regret that. I don’t know a single person that actually thought it was good or even okay. It was a straight-up bad movie. It was horribly unfunny, characters were remarkably annoying, Fox was atrociously exploited, and it didn’t show anything new. Hell, half way through the film, they kill off Optimus Prime only to bring him back at the end. I know a lot of people will cry out against its racially insensitive characters, but I didn’t catch on to that stuff. I simply looked at it like they were unfunny “hip” characters that are obviously not “hip.” It was a messy film that relied too much on bad comedy.

DARK OF THE MOON (2011). I maintain that this was a slightly better film than REVENGE, but it’s still not that great a movie, mostly because it’s pretty forgettable. In fact, it’s more of the behind-the-scenes stuff that got the most buzz. Fox compared Michael Bay to Hitler, so she was fired and replaced by the equally gorgeous, but less talented Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (just wait for MAD MAX: FURY ROAD [2015] and all will eventually be forgiven). It was her first real acting gig, so she’s by no means the reason this movie wasn’t good. Hell, even the bad comedy isn’t memorable because we had enough of that to overload the internet from the last movie. All I remember is that it’s only a little better.

Finally, we have the infamous AGE OF EXTINCTION (2014). As it turns out, taking a three year hiatus, as opposed to their traditional two, did little to give the creators of these things time to develop a good idea because this movie is arguably the worst of the franchise. On paper, it might look like they were trying to revitalize the films. Kicking LaBeouf to the wayside and replacing him with the significantly more talented and likable Mark Wahlberg, and including the admittedly awesome-looking dinobots, this probably should have been the most passable installment since the first. Boy howdy, it sure wasn’t. Each of the films have certainly been long, around the two and a half hour mark, the first film at least earned its runtime by being awesome and exciting. None of the other films have an excuse. And this film, clocking in at fifteen minutes shy of a three hour film is the greatest offender. For a movie as long as it was, I literally remember even less than the third film. Wahlberg had a gun/sword, the boyfriend was annoying as hell, and… that’s it. What else was worth remembering? Oh, maybe the ending where Prime is off into space declaring his hunting of other Decepticons or whatever.

Now we have this thing. I don’t think it looks like it’s going to change people’s minds. Early reviews painted this movie as the worst of the franchise, which… wow, I can’t imagine that. Or… maybe I can. From what I hear, the negative reviews are totally warranted. Somehow, this franchise worked in Merlin the Wizard. Yeah, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table Merlin. That Merlin. There’s posters showing Bumblebee killing Nazis, and Christ, what is with these movies trying to rewrite history like this?! It’s a load of horse shit and totally not needed! Whatever. The worse the ideas get, the more likely this franchise will implode, fail, and then get rebooted five years later with a brand new team and maybe we’ll get a good new franchise that knows how to take care of itself. So maybe that’s how we should look at these movies. They’re getting worse, and that’s a good thing.

Well, here’s the cast. Starring, we have Mark Wahlberg (PATRIOTS DAY [2016], THE GAMBLER [2015], PAIN & GAIN [2013], and the upcoming DADDY’S HOME 2 [2017]), Optimus Prime voice veteran, Peter Cullen (THE TIGGER MOVIE [2000], and TV shows TRANSFOMERS: RESCUE BOTS and CHIP ‘N’ DALE RESCUE RANGERS), Anthony Hopkins (COLLIDE [2016], THOR [2011], THE MASK OF ZORRO [1998], and the upcoming THOR: RAGNAROK [2017]), and Isabela Moner (MIDDLE SCHOOL [2016], a bunch of Nickelodeon shows, and the upcoming THE NUT JOB 2: NUTTY BY NATURE [2017]). In support, on the human side, we have Josh Duhamel (CHIPS [2017], WIN A DATE WITH TAD HAMILTON! [2004], and TV show FANBOY AND CHUM CHUM), Laura Haddock (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 [2017] and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY [2014]), Stanley Tucci (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST [2017], THE HUNGER GAMES [2012], and AMERICA’S SWEETHEARTS [2001]), and John Turturro (HANDS OF STONE [2016], MR. DEEDS [2002], and THE BIG LEBOWSKI [1998]). On the voice-over side, we have John Goodman (KONG: SKULL ISLAND [2017], 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE [2016], PARANORMAN [2012], and the upcoming ATOMIC BLONDE [2017], and TV revival ROSANNE [2018]), Ken Watanabe (GODZILLA [2014], INCEPTION [2010], LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA [2006], and the upcoming GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS [2019]), Steve Buscemi (THE BOSS BABY [2017], HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA [2012], and FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN [2001]), Omar Sy (BURNT [2015], X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST [2014], and THE INTOUCHABLES [2011]), and John DiMaggio (BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE [2016], video game GEARS OF WAR [2006], TV show FUTURAMA, and upcoming animated film BATMAN AND HARLEY QUINN [2017] and video game CRASH BANDICOOT N. SANE TRILOGY [2017]).

Now for behind the scenes. Directing is Michael Bay, known for 13 HOURS (2016), ARMAGEDDON (1998), and THE ROCK (1996). RED FLAG!!! Three writers: Art Marcum and Matt Holloway (PUNISHER: WAR ZONE [2008] and IRON MAN [2008]), and Ken Nolan (BLACK HAWK DOWN [2001]), and all three are slated for Transformers 7 (2019) and Transformers 8 (unannounced release year). Composing the score is Steve Jablonsky, known for DEEPWATER HORIZON (2016), THE LAST WITCH HUNTER (2015), and THE HITCHER (2007). Finally, the cinematographer is Jonathan Sela, known for JOHN WICK (2014), MAX PAYNE (2008), THE OMEN (2006), and upcoming films ATOMIC BLONDE (2017) and DEADPOOL 2 (2018).

Overall, I’m eager to see how stupid this movie gets. So far, it’s already grossed a franchise-low at the box office, so it stands to reason that these movies won’t be around much longer. One can only hope.

This is my honest opinion for: TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT

(SUMMARY)

The US government has declared war on all Transformers, Autobots and Decepticons. Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) hasn’t been heard of since he ventured into space to search for his maker. Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) is in hiding with the Autobots as the government hounds for him. In the process, he’s taken on a young teen girl named Izabela (Isabela Moner), who has a knack for fixing machines, including Transformers. Things get even more complicated when Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) realizes that the remains of the dying planet of Cybertron, the Transformer homeworld, is coming to consume Earth, and an ancient relic from a thousand years ago has chosen Cade to help prevent Earth’s destruction with the help of Oxford Professor Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock).

(REVIEW)

Yup, it’s as bad as it’s anticipated to be.

I think it’s actually really important to give something away as a public service announcement. It’s not a spoiler, so don’t worry. It’s likely that you’ve seen the trailers or TV spots, so we all know the marketing surrounds Optimus Prime as the bad guy throughout. Yeah, this is a big freakin’ deception. What do I mean? I mean he’s absent for most of the run time. In two and a half hours, he has maybe two or three scenes in the first hour that last two to five minutes each and is gone until the final half hour where he does all his “bad guy” stuff… which probably doesn’t last more than fifteen minutes. Yeah, not even kidding. The main selling point of this thing isn’t even the God-damned focus.

So… what’s left? Well, nothing interesting. In fact, this thing ranges from being remarkably boring to bizarrely stupid, taking the stupidity of this franchise to a whole new level. Remember when I said that they worked in Merlin the Wizard into this movie? Yeah, this wasn’t some kind of joke. Merlin isn’t some crazy metaphor of some historical figure. No, it’s actually far worse. Merlin was a real dude. He’s played by a bearded and thoroughly unrecognizable Tucci, and is a drunken weirdo who found some lone Transformers that crashed on Earth 1,000 years prior to the events of the story and they grant him a staff that grants him powers, sort of. Merlin isn’t a magical being in this. At least, it’s not clearly established that he is. If I were to hazard a guess, the movie is trying to establish that Merlin was indeed a real person and his “magic” was just Transformer technology, which would be perceived as magic in the dark ages. But… by heavenly Jesus, why? None of this backstory is necessary. The runtime is already two and half hours and much of that could be trimmed down just by getting rid of useless mythos.

Speaking of useless mythos, this movie is beyond impossible to follow. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that it gets unbearably complicated. So, Optimus somehow gets injured in space and finds his dying home of Cybertron. There, he meets his maker Quintessa (Gemma Chan), who says that the staff can save Cybertron. This staff is apparently inside a gigantic, semi-living, ancient Transformer ship called Unicron and combining Cybertron with this thing, it will save Cybertron, but destroy all life on Earth. 1,000 years ago, Merlin was given a staff by the Transformers that came there at that time, twelve total, and upon his death, he was buried with the staff. I still have no idea what the Wicwicca bloodline is, other than it would later be called Wickwicky, which is the name of Lebeouf’s character in the first three films, and they’ve been the ones that have kept the whole “Transformers have been here for a long time” a secret from the world. Seriously, that seems like a pretty tough feat to accomplish because they’ve clearly been cropping up since the Dark Ages in paintings. Any eagle-eyed historian would have noticed something when the Transformers arrived… again… in the first film. Not to mention there’s the whole, “Bumblebee fought the Nazis” bullshit. That was in the 1940’s! Records would have existed about giant robots slaughtering Nazis. And of course, there’s how f**king stupid Vivian is. She’s this curator for a museum, or whatever, and dismisses the King Arthur stuff as mere legends, even though in a painting, there’s a clear depiction of a TRANSFORMERS DRAGON RIGHT THERE!!! How the hell does someone miss that shit?! Maybe the “magic” angle is nonsense, even in this universe, but there has to be something worth looking into when realizing that Transformers have made their way into 1,000 year old art. It’s beyond moronic that this isn’t addressed.

I know I was prattling there, but this is just what was coming out at the time. There’s probably a shit-load more to talk about and how many plot holes there are, but I haven’t the energy to try and list them all. I was tired just from the paragraph above. And that’s what the experience of watching this is: your brain gets so overloaded with complexities that eventually your mind overheats and you stop giving a shit. Oh, Cade’s been chosen by an ancient Transformer knight to… do I have no idea what, but it allows him to summon a sword and grants him super strength to block an attack from a big Transformer with its own sword. Yeah, that happens. Do you feel like you’re getting stupider just reading this? Try watching it. It’s a mental endurance test unlike any I’ve experienced in recent memory, at least from a genre that shouldn’t be that hard to entertain me with.

Ugh, what else should I say? I usually don’t mind Duhamel as an actor, but I feel like Lennox is so bland and useless in this movie that he could have been switched out with any actor and the role would have been fine. His ferocity and bad-assery from the first film has never been recaptured. Not his fault, but I wish the writers weren’t concerned with fan-service and learned how to properly develop characters. Alongside him with useless characters are Izabella, Jimmy (Jerrod Carmichael), and Buscemi as Daytrader, who is a horrible choice to voice the design of the character. I love Buscemi, but he could never voice a character that looks like a gruff, over-weight, bearded trader. It’s distracting as hell. Thankfully, it doesn’t last long. Also, the dinobots get pushed to the wayside pretty early on with no mention for where they were in the climax of the film. The baby dinobots were painful “cute pandering.” Admittedly, I want one, but they’re obvious emotional manipulation. Plus, they don’t stick around in the film long. Haddock gets brutally saddled with a ton of sexist scenes involving women only talking about being with men and how she can’t be a real woman if she doesn’t have one by her side. We also have that dumb-shit cliché where Vivian and Cade don’t get along at first but the audience knows they’ll hook up by the end. By god… the more I think about all this, the more my head hurts.

Is there anything redeeming about this movie? Nothing that truly saves it. Wahlberg is passable. Hopkins is kind of enjoyably hokey and zero-shits-given about his performance. Maybe the climax is a little different than what we’ve seen with some big-scale visuals. While it’s clear that this movie is more of the same, it’s more of the same in all the wrong places too. It’d be one thing if it was just boring action and useless characters with wasted actors, but there’s still a plethora of groan-worthy humor, sexism, stupid mythology additions, and marketing that lies to your damned face, barely delivering on its promised premise to the point the movie basically doesn’t. “More of the same” shouldn’t give this movie a pass. We should know what we’re getting ourselves into, but if we can predict all these horrible tropes that have become all too familiar with these things, then this shouldn’t be a shrug followed by a “whatever.” This should be the final straw in which audiences don’t see them. With good franchises going strong with better stories and characters, Transformers should be fizzling out now. I urge audiences to not see it. Or, if you have to, and I can’t believe I’m actually suggesting this, don’t pay for this. Sneak in to the auditorium, but don’t give Bay, his writing team, or the studios that greenlight these projects your hard earned money.

My honest rating for TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT: 1/5

tf5ovbb-1

KONG: SKULL ISLAND review

Hey! A reboot of King Kong because… that’s not a trend in Hollywood.

Okay, to be fair, it’s not quite that simple. This movie is supposed to be building up to a crossover fight between Kong and Godzilla. Of course, that’s only going to happen if this movie does well. But considering the star power, I’d say the movie has nothing to worry about.

So how do I feel about this movie monster that’s about as old as cinema itself? Well, I gotta say that I’m not as familiar with it as I probably should be. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I saw the original KING KONG (1933) and I see it as an incredible cinematic accomplishment for its time. It may not hold up that much, but any film buff will still look at how creative the film-makers had to get to make the effects they had. It’s obvious and dated, but still great in it’s own right and should be respected. I also saw the Peter Jackson remake KING KONG (2005) and I thoroughly loved it, arguably because I’m bias toward Jackson and love his work no matter what. A bit unnecessarily extended, but I didn’t mind so much. But as for anything inbetween 1933 and 2005, I never kept up with the Kong franchise. I know he has a son, there was another remake before Jackson’s, there KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962), eh, as you can see, my knowledge is pretty limited. But the size and scope has always been a point of fascination and what each new iteration brings makes this a not surprising fan favorite of film-goers everywhere.

Now what do I think of this one? It looks pretty fun and awesome. It’s not going for a full-on remake, and I doubt there’s going to be a running commentary on humanity. It seems to be mostly just focusing on big monsters fighting each other and having humans in the mix. Not entirely dissimilar to GODZILLA (2014) for that matter. I doubt it’s going to be great, but it seems like it’s not trying to be. It’s pure action and chaos and if that’s what you’ve always wanted to see, then I’d say that’s what we’re going to get. Not much to say other than it’ll be a welcomed birthday present.

Well let’s take a look at this star-studded cast. Tom Hiddleston (I SAW THE LIGHT [2016], THE AVENGERS [2012], and THOR [2011], and the upcoming THOR: RAGNAROK [2017]). I mean… damn, I love this guy. He brings such a great charisma to the screen and is great in everything that he does. Who doesn’t love him as Loki? But I’m always interested in him branching out into other roles, so I’m very excited to see him here. Oh, and by the grace of God, Brie Larson (ROOM [2015], 21 JUMP STREET [2012], and TV show UNITED STATES OF TARA, and the upcoming AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR [2018] and CAPTAIN MARVEL [2019]). How can you not be excited to see her in this? With her unbelievable talent and ability to command the screen without having to try, I personally think she’s one of the best actresses out there and can pull off both comedy and drama with ease. I can’t wait to see her roles in these upcoming action flicks. In support, we have John C. Reilly (THE LOBSTER [2016], GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY [2014], and WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY [2007], and the upcoming Wreck-It-Ralph sequel due out 2018), Samuel L. Jackson (XXX: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE [2017], THE LEGEND OF TARZAN [2016], and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER [2014], and the upcoming THE INCREDIBLES 2 [2018]), John Goodman (10 CLOVERFIELD LANE [2016], TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION [2014], and PARANORMAN [2012], and the upcoming VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS [2017]), Toby Kebbell (GOLD [2017], A MONSTER CALLS [2016], and FANT4STIC [2015]), and Shea Whingham (STAR TREK BEYOND [2016], and TV shows AGENT CARTER and BOARDWALK EMPIRE).

Now for the crew. Directing is Jordan Vogt-Roberts, known for THE KINGS OF SUMMER (2013) and is slated to direct the video game adaptation METAL GEAR SOLID, due out… who knows when. RED FLAG ALERT!!! Three screenwriters: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly. Gilroy is known for NIGHTCRAWLER (2014), THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012), and REAL STEEL (2011). Borenstein is known for GODZILLA (2014) and TV show MINORITY REPORT, and is slated to write the upcoming GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERS (2019) and GODZILLA VS. KING KONG (2020). Finally, Connelly is known for MONSTER TRUCKS (2017), JURASSIC WORLD (2015), and SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (2012), and is slated to write both the upcoming Jurassic World sequel (2018) and STAR WARS EPISODE IX (2019). Composing the music is Henry Jackman, known for CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016), BIG HERO 6 (2015), and WINNIE THE POOH (2011), and is slated for the upcoming Wreck-It-Ralph sequel (2018) and KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE (2017). Finally, the cinematographer is Larry Fong, known for BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016), SUPER 8 (2011), and WATCHMEN (2009), and is slated for the upcoming Predator reboot/sequel THE PREDATOR (2018).

Overall, I’m pretty stoked. I’m not expecting anything tremendous or ground-breaking, but it doesn’t look like it’s trying to be. I say I’m going to like it enough. Big monsters fighting each other. Sounds like the perfect movie for my inner teenager.

This is my honest opinion of: KONG: SKULL ISLAND

(SUMMARY)

Set in 1973. Bill Randa (John Goodman) works for an organization called Monarch, a group bent on discovering the unnatural occurrences around the world. He’s also considered a nut-job by his government superiors who don’t want to finance his latest venture: an expedition to Skull Island, an uncharted island that satellites only recently took a picture of. Against better judgment, the expedition is green lit, along with a military escort, led by battle-hardened Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). Bill and his associate Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) hunt down specialists to join them, including ex-SAS James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). When they arrives, they successfully navigate through the unnatural storm that keeps the island hidden, but their troubles only get worse as the military escort is attacked by an enormous ape. The survivors are spread out. Packard with his men, trying to survive the many other unnatural creatures of the island, and James and Mason meet the local natives, along with World War II pilot Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), who warns them that the giant ape, Kong, is the island’s protector, and isn’t the true threat they all face.

(REVIEW)

AWESOME!!! Holy shit, this was a bad-ass thrill ride! I was totally right. If you thought you were going to get an action movie with Kong fighting other giant monsters, you’re going to get all that, and it’s glorious. There’s… some annoyances, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that this is high-octane and very enjoyable.

We’ll get to the negatives in a minute, but first, everything that makes it awesome.

Alright, so to clear up some confusion, Kebbell isn’t Kong. Well, not really. The truth has some details that need following. Kong’s physical presence is played by Terry Notary. Notary is a respected stunt performer and coordinator, movement choreographer and coach, and mocap performer. He’s done some extensive work from X2: X-MEN UNITED (2003), Tim Burton’s PLANET OF THE APES (2001), THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008), The Hobbit films, and will be in the upcoming WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017).

http://ew.com/article/2016/05/11/kong-skull-island-toby-kebbell/

Kebbell, whom has done mocap work before, is actually just there for Kong’s facial expressions. I honestly put down this information more for myself because a ton of the central hype on my end came from the notion that Kebbell would be Kong. In a sense, I wasn’t wrong, but the assumption that he was 100 percent Kong was 100 percent wrong. Hey! That kinda rhymed. Either way, Notary and Kebbell do a great job bringing Kong to life, arguably creating the most bad-ass Kong ever put to screen. Er… at least as far as I’ve seen.

Still, it’s gotta put Kebbell through some kind of existential crisis when he’s physically on screen… looking up at a fictional giant ape partially played by him… it tickles me to think about that sort of thing.

Every action scene is intense and visceral, really cool call-backs to the original film. Like, you’ll have camera shots looking down both openings to the helicopter the hapless soldiers are in and from the opposite opening, you’ll see Kong looking through it, roaring. It’s not unlike being on the Universal Studios tour ride in Universal Studios theme par in California. Just with a, you know, Vietnam War feel to it. Kong’s grabbing helicopters, breaking them in half, throwing them at each other, so it never gets old. Thankfully, Kong’s not the only threat our heroes face on the island. Four story tall spiders, a giant octopus, vicious limp-dismembering birds, and the Skullcrawlers, of course. But no dinosaurs? I don’t know about that, filmmakers. I like seeing my dinosaurs.

The acting is also really good, as you’d expect from everyone on screen to deliver, the cinematography is gorgeous and well-shot, giving a great sense of size, urgency, and danger, the humor is great and Reilly steals the show, and the effects are pretty impressive for the most part.

Well, now it’s time to run through the negatives.

I don’t really know why Packard goes this insane. I mean, I think I know what they’re trying to get across. He’s fanatically loyal and caring toward his men, while also making him sort of the Captain Ahab character, seeking revenge against the larger than life monster, but… why? We don’t really see him have a connection with his team, for the most part. He’s sure obsessed with finding Chapman after their initial skirmish with Kong, but beyond that, he’s just your run-of-the-mill, tough-as-nails leader of his military squad. Also… you’d think a military officer of repute would understand the concept of battle, and that soldiers tend to die in hostile environments. I’d have liked Packard better if his primary concern was to get the remainder of his men out alive. Or meet halfway and want the rest of his men to get out alive, but he stays behind to try and kill Kong. I don’t know, there’s ways to work around this character and make him more interesting. Of course… how mad can I be at this movie about that considering we’re blessed with a pissed of Samuel L. Jackson staring down a pissed off King Kong? It’s glorious in its own right. I just wish it made more sense for the character.

Also, I do have to voice some mixed feelings about Kong’s backstory. Yes, Kong has a backstory. I won’t claim to know if Kong has had a backstory before, but… if I remember correctly from both the original and Jackson’s remake, Kong never had a backstory. He was just a monster that existed and stupid humans needed to accept that. Here, he had parents who were killed by the Skullcrawlers and now he’s the last of his kind. So, mixed feelings implies there’s something I like about it, and something I don’t like about it. What I like is that this gives Kong a special hatred toward the Skullcrawlers and adds a little weight to his mere presence. In the original, you just sort of assume that he’s the only one of his kind. But this has him as the last of his kind, and there’s an implication that he’s still pretty young. Marlow utters a line that goes, “he’s still growing.” So in a way, you empathize with Kong a little more than usual. But therein lying the problem. In both the original and remake, you already do. Both explore the cruelty that he faces when he’s brought to civilization, so you grow to feel bad for him through what happens to him. In this movie, it’s telling you to feel bad for him because his parents were killed. Well that’s not an overdone backstory in action movies. At this point, the movie might as well have put Kong in a bat-cowl and cape. Batkong? Copyright! In any case, that could debatably be subjective and not bother anybody. What I think is a legit problem is that it’s pointless to the monster. I mean, if you took out his backstory, what do you really take away from him? Would you ever look at the character and think to yourself that he was truly affected by the death of his parents? Do those details matter? Because I really don’t think so.

And speaking of the monsters, aren’t the Skullcrawlers a bit recycled from the monsters Godzilla fought in the last movie? I mean, they’re big and they scuttle on two arms. Seriously, anyone else feel the same way? Doesn’t it kind of suck out the threat level if they feel like the same enemies that were fought against in the previous film? I don’t know, I didn’t like them. Not very imaginative to me. I would have preferred to see Kong fight more recognizable monsters, like giant spiders, I still miss those T-Rexes, and pretty much anything else other than… arm-scuttling beak monsters.

***SPOILERS***

***

***

I’m also not a particular fan of characters being unceremoniously killed off. Extras die all the time on screen, sure, but I’m talking the ones with names, developed personalities, backstories, the works. Like, we’re clearly supposed to like Chapman. He’s a caring and concerned individual toward his commanding officer and he writes to his son and his team teases him about it. He’s the lone survivor in his helicopter and he watches Kong fight and eat an octopus. Literally, he shares an entire scene with Kong. Likely for that tongue-in-cheek humor, Kebbell having a slight hand in the mocap of Kong’s facial features. But he’s got some serious screen time. But he dies. You’d think a character who is that nice of a guy would carry some emotional weight. Also, he’s a significantly more interesting character than, say, Reg Slivko (Thomas Mann), who plays that clichéd young guy who panics a lot, isn’t confident in any of his teammates to keep him alive, even though they do for the majority of the movie, it’s annoying. I liked Chapman, I didn’t like Slivko, but the writers clearly disagreed with this notion.

And there was no reason for Cole (Shea Whingham) to die. Don’t get me wrong, his character is kind of funny. He’s that quiet, but respected, and ball-busting sort of character whom has no real development, but he’s so awesome in how he doesn’t give a shit and how short he can be with characters. But you do see a sense of loyalty in him and the deaths of his comrades clearly affect him in his own way. But again, he’s killed off because… the script demanded it. Believe it or not, screenwriters, you can have a bunch of characters survive a story. It may not be as fun, granted, but let’s have better reasons to kill off cool characters other than, “It’s been two minutes, someone should die.”

***

***

***END SPOILERS***

Overall, I’d say if all you wanted was to see big monsters beat the crap out of each other, that’s exactly what you’re going to get, in the best way possible. But if you were looking for a true update to the Kong monster that will stand the test of time like it’s 1933 original… eh, shelve those expectations. This is an action movie, through and through. Don’t expect any poetic “It wasn’t the planes. It was beauty that killed the beast” stuff. So if that’s what you’re looking for, then I highly recommend this movie to anyone interested. Oh, and stick around for post-credits scene. It’s pretty awesome.

My honest rating for KONG: SKULL ISLAND: 4/5

kong_skull_island_ver10_xlg