ICE AGE: COLLISION COURSE review

Boy, this is a franchise that won’t die, isn’t it? Not that I’m complaining too much. Blue Sky is home to some pretty solid animated films over the years, including my number nine favorite movie of 2015, THE PEANUTS MOVIE (I know I said SHAUN THE SHEEP, but that could have been an accident). But it’s most famous franchise is clearly Ice Age, and this wasn’t a bad franchise to me as a kid.

I loved the first one. I thought it was funny and very memorable. Tae kwon dodo still makes me giggle and is easily the best of the franchise simply for how memorable it is compared to the others. Plus the ending of giving that kid back to his people… wow, made me cry.

MELTDOWN introduced the confused mammoth named Ellie (voiced by Queen Latifa) who thought she was a possum, due to being raised by them and having the possum brothers Crash (voiced by Sean William Scott) and Eddie (voiced by Josh Peck), both were incredibly enjoyable to watch, and eventually became Manny’s romantic interest. That’s… actually all that I remember from the movie. I don’t remember any bad guy, or what the real conflict was. I guess that means it couldn’t have been very good, but I remember liking it okay. Take that for what it’s worth.

DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS was a bit better. I remember them meeting the awesome weasel guy  (forgot his name) [Buck – voiced by Simon Pegg] with an “eye-patch” who has a rivalry with a big ole dinosaur named Rudy. This is also the movie that had Ellie pregnant and would eventually give birth to their baby girl Peaches amidst a fight against some raptors while the ground was being torn asunder. And I do remember a fun attachment that Sid had to the baby T-rexes.

CONTINENTAL DRIFT… I couldn’t tell you if I saw it or not. I know it featured Peaches as a teenager and Manny and the boys get separated from the ladies. The only reason I really remember the bad guy is because it was such an incredibly silly thing to watch as the movie clearly went the Pirates of the Caribbean route. Yeah, the bad guy was a monkey acting like a pirate. I remember thinking that the shark had officially jumped for me. I’m pretty sure I saw it and just don’t remember jack, but… yeah, that’s hard to do, especially if it was only a few years ago that the movie came out.

But one thing is universal about the franchise: Scrat (voiced by Chris Wedge) is hilarious. I remember so very little of his escapades, but whenever I watch him, I’m laughing so hard. This cute little guy and his love for his acorn and how it gets him into so much danger, it’s a riot, no matter how absurd they get, and they get pretty out there.

Now for this one. It’s being hailed as the end of the franchise (I mean in terms of being the intended final installment), which I’m not sure if I believe. The franchise has consistently made bank and anything that causes studio heads to swim in benjamins will always make sequels until it hurts them or a new idea comes along that they think will also make them filthy rich. But I’m not sure how much I’m looking forward to it. “The end of the Ice Age,” wasn’t that already tackled in MELTDOWN? Sid’s looking for love? Again, wasn’t this tackled in another movie? And IMDb’s early rating wasn’t inspiring me with confidence. 5.9/10. Wow, that’s bad. The worst rated Ice Age movie was CONTINENTAL, and that was a 6.6/10, a fairly decent rating. If the crude humor is any indication, it’s probably over-saturated with that kind of humor that I hate. So yeah, I’m going in with pretty low expectations. But how is it? Is it going out on a dignified end, or will be be grateful for natural selection kicking it to the curb?

This is my honest opinion of: ICE AGE: COLLISION COURSE

(SUMMARY)

Scrat (voiced by Chris Wedge) finds himself on an alien space ship and accidentally sends a series of meteors toward Earth that will destroy it. On Earth, Manny (voiced by Ray Romano) is having a difficult time accepting young mammoth Julian (voiced by Adam Devine) as the future husband of his only daughter Peaches (voiced by Keke Palmer). As early meteors start to hit the planet, the commotion stirs action-junkie weasel Buck (voiced by Simon Pegg) into figuring out what’s going on. He stumbles upon a mysterious artifact that foretells the coming doom. He meets up with Manny and the others and tells them that there’s a way to prevent their destruction, but it means traveling a far distance while also evading some predatory birds out for revenge against Buck.

(REVIEW)

This was not a very good movie. But you know something, I’m too old for this kind of kids movie. The first one was good, even really good. It had emotional weight that anyone can relate to. Real effort was made to make it good and it stood out. Those days are unfortunately long gone in terms of this franchise. It relies way too much on pop culture references that will eventually horribly date it and way too much immature humor.

Right off the bat, the movie opens with mammoths playing hockey (okay, they technically open with Scrat, who remains one of the best parts of the franchise). Specifically, one-on-one between Manny and Peaches. Kind of a confused joke since hockey won’t be invented for another million years, give or take. This would be tolerable if it wasn’t followed up by Peaches’ fiance… um, I actually don’t remember his name. I guess he was just so annoying that I don’t want to remember (quick interruption, I wrote this out before typing it, so I genuinely didn’t remember his name [it’s Julian], and what made me laugh incredibly hard was his voice actor: Adam Devine. Suddenly SO MUCH was explained!). What made him so annoying? He’s one of those young man characters that are fast-talking, dumb and oblivious, but still kind-hearted. The very character that describes Johnny from HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, for example. Manny insults him, he doesn’t register it as an insult, even though it’s clearly an insult. Manny says something sarcastic to him, Julian is genuinely confused. Why are these characters the go-to characters of kids films? It drives me absolutely bonkers!

To make matters worse, the movie sees fit to throw in the age-old cliché, “overbearing father’s treasured daughter is getting married to a man he doesn’t approve of.” Exactly how many movies do this? In fact, I think this movie does it worse! What was that Bernie Mac/Ashton Kutcher rom com? [it was GUESS WHO] At least with that movie, Mac’s character didn’t like Kutcher’s because of racial reasons. In MEET THE PARENTS, it was because De Niro’s character thought Stiller’s was a loser who had something to hide and wasn’t worth marrying his daughter. Here, Manny doesn’t like him because… um… reasons! That’s all I got out of that. And why is this a conflict of the story? Don’t you think, you know, a meteor shower about to destroy the world would be conflict enough?

Come to think of it, isn’t that the plot of that upcoming Bryan Cranston/James Franco comedy, WHY HIM??

You know what, now that I’m thinking about it, this movie has way too much going on. You have the “end of days” plot line, you have the “father dislikes daughter’s future mate” plot line, “Manny and Ellie are scared of Peaches going off on her own,” “Diego and Shira (voiced by Jennifer Lopez) debate whether or not they should have kids,” “Sid’s looking for romance,” and you have “Buck being hunted by birds.” Did I miss anything?! Oh my dear sweet… this movie seriously needed to stop. Pick a plot and develop that because nearly none of these plots have any real development. Not that I’m a film teacher or anything, but I’d like to think it’s pretty obvious in the film world that BIGGER MOVIES DOESN’T MEAN MORE PLOT POINTS!!! It means things have to have added weight, the stakes need to be higher, the drama needs to be deeper, it needs to mean more. COLLISION COURSE fails in this regard and it’s painful to watch.

We all know kids will watch anything, but, as the Nostalgia Critic put it, “kids deserve better movies.” I wish parents wouldn’t just take their kids to see a movie just because it’s for them. A good kids movie is something that anyone would enjoy, like Pixar, Disney, Aardman, even Blue Sky did fantastic work with THE PEANUTS MOVIE. A vast majority of those movies are timeless and can be seen no matter what time and age you’re born in. But Ice Age feels like it really needs to end. While not the most god-awful movie I’ve ever seen, I do feel like parents should just skip this one and wait for a better movie to show them.

My honest rating: 2/5

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Upcoming review:

  • BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE (animated thriller)
    • Based on the popular DC comic book foretelling the origin story of Batman’s greatest enemy, as well as hailed as one of the definitive Joker iterations.
    • Directed by Sam Liu (JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. TEEN TITANS, BATMAN: YEAR ONE, and SUPERMAN/BATMAN: PUBLIC ENEMIES)
    • Written by Brian Azzarello (BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHT – 1 segment)
    • Stars voice talents of Kevin Conroy (YOGA HOSERS, video game BATMAN: ARKHAM KNIGHT, and TV show BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES), Mark Hamill (STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS, JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK, and TV show BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES), Tara Strong (THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS, and TV shows ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN and TEEN TITANS), John DiMaggio (TV shows ADVENTURE TIME and FUTURAMA and video game GEARS OF WAR), and more.
    • trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VeNi4PfNMqI
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THE INFILTRATOR review

I feel like this movie is getting a “highly anticipated” vibe. My guess is because of the obvious star power of Bryan Cranston, thanks to his star-making role on the TV show, BREAKING BAD. Personally, I’m on the skeptical side. Why? A few reasons. Reason one: the screenwriter for this movie is Ellen Sue Brown. Don’t know who she is? That’s because she has no other writing credit to her name. This is her feature length debut as a writer. Untested, and taking directly from a previously published work can really be a hit or miss with new writers, I imagine (I’m one to talk). Reason two, the bigger reason: the director of this flick is Brad Furman. Again, it’s not an accident if you haven’t heard his name as he’s only directed three movies prior: THE TAKE (never heard of it), THE LINCOLN LAWYER (saw it and liked it), and RUNNER RUNNER (heard of it, didn’t see it, and critics panned the crap out of it). Only one of these movies held any high marks and even that might depend on who you talk to. Reason three: the trailer made it seem like the story stole from an 80’s action movie set-up: grizzled veteran of an ass-kicking occupation who is ON HIS LAST MISSION! In short, I felt like this movie was going to be a big ole cliché. I don’t know, the movie didn’t look like it’d be bad, but I wasn’t going in with high expectations. But how did it hold up? Did it infiltrate my brain and blow me away, or did I see it coming a mile away? This is my honest opinion of THE INFILTRATOR.

(SUMMARY)

Based on the autobiographical book of the same name by Robert Mazur. Set during the 1980’s. Undercover U.S. Customs agent Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston), along with his partner Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), sneak their way into one of biggest drug cartels run by none other than the infamous Pablo Escobar. But in order to get to the head hancho himself, Robert has to get close to Escobar’s top lieutenants, including Roberto Alciano (Benjamin Bratt).

(REVIEW)

I couldn’t get into it. I’m not going to go so far as to say that it’s a bad movie, I don’t think it is, but it is pretty boring. Unless you’re familiar with the book or love this kind of exposition, then the length of the runtime will be felt.

In retrospect, it is pretty hard for me write a good review for this one, mostly because in order to write a good review (in my opinion, of course) it’s best to understand the story and know what the story is getting at. I have a general idea, but if I’m right, it means there’s a lot to this story that was left undeveloped.

One issue I had was the lack of stakes this movie had. Look, I was born in 1989. During the height of Escobar’s dominion over drugs and shit, I was most likely still getting used to being bipedal. By the time I’d have been old enough to understand anything that he’s done, the world seemed to have moved on to bigger and badder things. The point I’m trying to get at is I don’t know much about Escobar or really what he was involved in or responsible for. I was a sheltered kid, what do you want from me? So I feel like unless you were following the events of that time and did your homework on it, then you could get lost. This movie won’t really fill in the gaps for you. Despite how much exposition and talking is in the movie, they don’t really up the drama to let you know what happens if Escobar’s cartel smuggles in drugs. I get it, drugs are bad. I watched SCHOOL OF ROCK and it’s various amateur knock-offs in school like most kids, but that wasn’t enough to get me invested. What happens if the bad guys win? What does America lose if Robert fails? I didn’t get any real sense of danger. You could even heighten the stakes by telling me that Escobar wanted to take over the world and I would turn around and tell you that his plan is as complicated as a cartoon sketch from PINKY AND THE BRAIN.

Probably the biggest issues that I took was the plot points that don’t really go anywhere. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but it looked like one of the bigger themes of the story is an undercover agent having to get close to his target and genuinely feeling bad for them, sort of like a more dramatic POINT BREAK. Again, I understand that’s it’s all a facade in the name of justice, but this movie looked like it wanted to go a little deeper than that by portraying the undercover agent feeling bad about inevitably having to put these people that he actually kind of sees as friends behind bars. It’s touched upon and would have been home to some decent drama, but the audience isn’t really given any time to discover any reason to be invested in, say, Roberto. He likes to cook. He thinks that without his drugs and money, the U.S. economy would collapse, and he likes to smoke cigars. That’s… all that I learned and remembered about him. That’s not enough to develop a connection. This brings me also to the criminally underused Diane Kruger as fellow undercover rookie agent Kathy Ertz. Her character is almost specifically tailored to hammer in this theme. “I feel so bad to her [Roberto’s wife, Gloria].” Again, we know Gloria (Elena Anaya) is a mom and loves her family, but that’s a bit of a cliché, isn’t it? We know she supports her husband in his endeavors, so she’s actually just as bad as he is. There’s no real character development for anyone in this movie.

Yes, Cranston is solid in the flick. I buy his acting and him in this role. Leguizamo isn’t bad either. But convincing acting doesn’t make up for an incredibly boring movie that doesn’t make me feel for anyone the story revolves around. I’m never really at the edge of my seat, wondering where the story is going to go, and by the time the first hour rolled on by, I was ready for the movie to end. If you’re a fan of these incredibly complex stories and have no problems with following it, then you’ll probably enjoy it better than I did, or if you’re a Cranston fan, but… yeah, I didn’t enjoy it. Not bad, per se, but I don’t think I could ever watch this movie again.

My honest rating: a weak 3/5

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Upcoming reviews:

BEGIN AGAIN (Netflix) review

So why did I pick to watch this one? Well, being an avid fan of writer/director John Carney’s work on SING STREET, it came to my attention that he also wrote and directed this one too. As I usually appreciate an artist’s work more when they do both the writing and directing, it just feels like more passion and/or care goes into them. At least… that’s what I imagine. George Lucas’ prequel Star Wars films aren’t considered very good, but you can tell he at least likes them, and as a fellow artist, I can respect that. But I’m getting sidetracked. I wanted to see if this movie would have the same passion put into it as it clearly was in SING STREET. So without further adieu, this is my honest opinion of BEGIN AGAIN.

(SUMMARY)

Dan (Mark Ruffalo) is a record producer who was recently let go from his job. He’s not viewed in the kindest ways to his ex-wife Miriam (Catherine Keener) and his teenage daughter, Violet (Hailee Steinfeld). Gretta (Keira Knightley) is songwriter who dated Dave (Adam Levine), a rising musician whom used to work very closely with Gretta on songwriting. Unfortunately, he cheated on her and now she wants to go back home. But not before her very good friend Steve (James Corden) drags her to an open mic bar where she winds up on stage to sing a song. As it happens, Dan is there too and thinks that Gretta has some serious talent. He strikes up a conversation with her and wants to sign her on for a record deal. Although she’s hesitant at first, she agrees. But Dan’s record company doesn’t. In order to get them to agree, Dan and Gretta decide to make an outdoor record and hire the rest of the bandmates from elsewhere to create amazing music.

(REVIEW)

Man, I gotta say, it didn’t really blow me away. I mean, it’s in no way bad, it’s good, but… ehhh, let’s get into it.

Let me start with the set-up, no comparing or contrasting here. The opening scene is Gretta performing in the bar and Dan looking on when she’s done. But then we cut to a flashback on how Dan got to that bar, and listened to Gretta’s song. Then we cut to yet another flashback of Gretta’s life prior to the bar and how she got to singing on stage. Typically, I don’t have a problem with flashback scenes. I mean, look at me, I love TV shows like LOST and ONCE UPON A TIME, and those shows have a fetish for flashbacks. But those flashbacks have a purpose, to reveal a part of the character’s personality and give a more in depth look into who they are. You couldn’t just play the events chronologically. I feel like both character’s flashbacks would have benefited by simply playing their stories in order, or simply do away with those events all together. There’s no other flashbacks in the movie and anything that has to be reminisced is simply talked about by the characters. So the flashbacks in the beginning feel… unnecessary.

Now we get into the “compare and contrast,” which I really hate to do when movies aren’t remakes of any kind to each other, but… SING STREET and BEGIN AGAIN are remarkably similar to each other. Guy wants to start a band for/with a girl, guy comes from a broken family, girl was in a broken relationship, they perform their first song in a rundown alleyway, the guy goes all Commander Shepard and recruits a squad of random bandmates, perform their music almost exclusively outside, the list kind of goes on. So… yeah, compare and contrast.

The main reason why this movie didn’t work as well for me: the music. Clarification, the purpose of the music. SING STREET’s music had a function. Every song that’s made in the movie, you know the why and how of it. Conor likes Raphina, he starts a band, makes a song about her, and she likes it. As their relationship grows, his music gets better, and the more powerful his music becomes. Each song radiates with Conor’s emotions and thoughts, almost like a proper musical. In that respect, the music in the movie is a character in itself. That’s where BEGIN AGAIN fell a little short for me. Like SING STREET, the music is great to listen to, but it feels… disconnected from the characters. Yes, Dan and Gretta both have musical backgrounds, but the nitty gritty details about their problems are: Dan is trying to make his family whole again, and Gretta’s trying to move on from her cheating ex-boyfriend. Dan and Gretta meet and make music to get their lives back on track. As far as I was able to tell, with the exception of Gretta singing into her ex’s voicemail, the music isn’t meant to express how the characters feel, it’s just a plot device. I feel like the music here is cosmetic at best, whereas the music in SING STREET was integral.

But I don’t want to make it sound like I don’t like this movie.

Ruffalo and Knightley are unbelievable. They have incredible chemistry, as does much of the cast. I read on IMDb that a lot of the film is improv. It’s pretty obvious to spot, but those are the scenes that feel like the most endearing. There’s a real connection with the actors, a comradery that feels authentic and is really engaging. To be able to capture that and make it feel organic to the story never ceases to amaze me. Like I said, the music is great. I have a leaning toward the 80’s music of SING STREET, but this stuff is very nice to listen to, a very relaxing kind of movie. Not as many heartstrings being tugged on, but it’s hard to deny the grasp the story has on your emotions.

I would say if you liked SING STREET, you’ll like this movie fine. But in my opinion, watch BEGIN AGAIN first as SING STREET is basically a superior and more enjoyable version. Expect a ton of parallels in story elements, but both are very much worth the time.

My honest rating: 4/5

MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2 review

DISCLAIMER: I never saw the first one. Strange, considering that I was practically raised on romantic comedies. How’d that happen, Mom?? Anyway, since I had nothing to compare this film to, it was a bit refreshing to go into it without expectations. Eh well, without further adieu, this is my honest opinion of MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2.

(SUMMARY)

Toula (Nia Vardalos) is still very close to her very Greek family, trying to balance her immediate family with her extended family, especially since her daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris) is so close to graduating high school and already choosing colleges. Her biggest fear though is that Paris is choosing to go to a college in New York, whereas Toula and her husband and Paris’ father Ian (John Corbett) want her to be in local colleges. To make matters even more complicated, it was recently discovered that Toula’s parents Gus and Maria (Michael Constantine and Lainie Kazan respectively) have not been married all this time due to a priest never had signed their marriage certificate. However, Maria feels like the passion is gone from their relationship is gone and wants Gus to propose to her the right way. But Gus is a stubborn soul and just wants to get it over with. So begins a crazy series of events of Toula trying to keep the family together and happy, while also trying to make things better in her own home.

(REVIEW)

It’s not awful. There’s some good and there’s some bad.

First off, the movie sacrifices common sense in lieu of the movies one running joke: this family is ridiculously involved in each other’s lives. Let’s start with the title of the movie itself. One would think from the summary that the movie would have a primary focus on Gus and Maria getting married. Problem is, there’s such a big deal about Paris leaving for college. First of all, why? Why is it such a big deal that she leaves? This isn’t exactly explored. Do parents really do this? Shouldn’t they be happy that there’s a college that suits their dreams and goals? And even if Paris’ motivations were as simple as getting away from her nosey family, could you really blame her? I know I’d passionately hate that shit.

Also, I really think it’s weak reasoning for Gus to not just propose to his wife. Look, if you’re going to have a theme about passion dying after marriage, which is kind of explored in the movie as Ian and Toula seem to have a similar issue (not a very obvious one as she comments how cool Ian always is), but the writers just kind of made it cheap. I know it’s a romantic comedy, but that’s not an excuse. Good and smart rom-coms exist and put forth strong ideas and powerfully resolve them. IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT comes to mind (sort of the golden standard for rom-coms if you ask me). This could easily be a character study in why that sort of thing happens instead of treating it like it’s a punchline to a joke that was never that funny. So I guess, bottom lined, the movie isn’t challenging. It’s just more concerned with making old people jokes (admitted, some are pretty funny).

Take note of something weird that I do. I’m highly critical of comedies that I see. Generally, if it’s not a hybrid of another genre, like action or horror, I will be looking for reason after reason to hate it before even considering the possibility of liking it. While I think comedies are the lowest form of entertainment when done wrong, like raunchy comedies, romantic comedies I’m surprisingly backwards. I look for reasons to like it. And… I did.

While the movie lacks any genuine humor, with the exception of that one sister who is talking to John Stamos’ character who she decides to flirt with by unzipping the top of her blouse to expose her cleavage to him got me howling with laughter, the movie makes up for it by having fairly likable characters.

Paris is the stereotypical teenager who wants her independence, but I suppose I’m less harsh toward her character because there is a reason behind it. She’s kind of sick of how her family is constantly up in her business, which again, is very understandable. This family she’s born into is clearly a handful and takes a serious kind of mental fortitude to come out of it with her sanity intact everyday. And she’s not annoying, despite hitting the tropes. That’s pretty rare. A shamelessly cliche character that’s not annoying or unlikable. Kampouris, well done. Hope you’ve got a great career ahead of you.

And I gotta say, Vardalos, that woman’s got a billion dollar smile. I have no idea what it is, but despite how annoyed with her character I get, when she smiles or widens her eyes, I just forgive her. She has this charm, this sparkle in her eye that adds a level of legit to the silly choices her character makes.

And I do have to give a shout out to the chemistry. Everyone works very well off of each other and I do buy the comradery. So I find myself caring about their issues, as stupid and not well-thought-out as they may be. Maybe I’m just a sucker for stories about old people still doing the romance stuff.

Wrapping this up, I don’t hate this movie. In fact, it’s pretty enjoyable. I might check out the first some day when or if there’s a week with zero new releases in theatres, but for now, I have to say, if you’re a rom-com junkie, this isn’t a bad way to go.

My honest rating: 3/5

THE SHANNARA CHRONICLES Season 1 review

I foolishly thought that I could do a review for every episode, but since so much happens in every episode, I decided to cop out and just do a review of the season as a whole, like I did with FULLER HOUSE on Netflix.

I got introduced to this show through television. Yeah, go figure. Caught a TV spot for it and thought it looked interesting. Stuck in my head enough to keep an eye out for it, so I guess it was doing something right. Post-apocalyptic sci-fi dressed up in fantasy, it was enough to keep me to watch, obviously. However, it wasn’t until later that I found out this show is based on a VERY long series of novels simply called Shannara written by Terry Brooks, starting as far back as 1977 to as early as 2015. Damn. How have I never heard of these? Because I don’t get out much, that’s why. Shut up! Anyway, this is my honest opinion of THE SHANNARA CHRONICLES Season 1.

(SUMMARY – it’s a long one)

It take place in the future. The United States is now an apocalyptic world. The country is now known as The Four Lands, inhabited by humans, gnomes, and the dominant elves. Technology is mostly gone, replaced by magic, controlled by only a few. In years past, there was a great war waged by the races of The Four Lands and an army of vicious demons, led by the fearsome Dagda Mor (Jed Brophy). Thanks to the all-magical elven tree known as the Ellcrys, the demons were banished to another world called The Forbidden. Since the demons’ banishment, The Four Lands live in relative peace.

Fast forward to the present day, young elven princess Amberle Elessedil (Poppy Dreyton) wants to be the first female to run The Gauntlet, a race through a forest while blindfolded and hands tied behind their backs, and the first ten to finish the race become The Chosen, elite warrior elves charged with safeguarding the Ellcrys. She manages this feat, but as soon as she touches the Ellcrys, she’s plagued by visions of her home destroyed and her people slaughtered, possibly as a result of her doing. In fear of what she saw, she abandons her sacred duties and runs away.

All of this is happening because the Ellcrys is dying, and therefore too weak to contain the Dagda Mor, whom has begun to assemble his army and destroy The Four Lands. This forces the human Druid, a powerful mage, named Allanon (Manu Bennett), to awaken from a deep magical slumber and to warn the elven king Eventine (John Rhys-Davies) of the looming threat.

But with Amberle missing, Allanon must locate a particularly special protector for her; a descendant of an elite protector-mage named Shannara. This descendant is in the form of a young half elf, half human named Wil Ohmsford (Austin Butler), who lives out in the country with his mother, away from civilization, learning medicine. Unfortunately, Wil’s mother dies and the young man sets out to hone his craft, but not before his mother gifts him with a set of Elfstones, said to be blessed with powerful magic that once belonged to Wil’s drunken father. But before he reaches his destination, he’s attacked by a troll and saved by a young human woman named Eretria (Ivanna Baquero), who is revealed to be a Rover, an organized band of thieves led by her jerk of a father/owner Cephalo (James Remar).

Essentially, Allanon and the events happening bring these three young people together and have one mission: the save the Ellcrys by taking it’s seed to a faraway land called Safehold. But as the tree dies slowly, the Dagda Mor’s influence grows and sends agents to weave chaos across the land.

(REVIEW)

DISCLAIMER: I have never read the books. I have read quite a few comments regarding the show on other sites and how this show’s title is the only thing it has in common with the books. My opinion of this show comes purely from a TV-watching perspective with no knowledge of the original source material.

It’s good. Yeah, I’m not sure how to describe it better than that. It does a lot of elements incredibly well, and some other elements incredibly not well.

Well, let’s dive right into it. My instincts tell me to start with the good stuff.

First of all, if you’re a fan of such works like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, then you’re probably good with diving into mythology. While I won’t say this is anywhere in the same ball park, as it is a somewhat knock off of LOTR (ancient evil attacks the land with hideous monster minions, the races band together to stop it, and it’s stopped), it is still an interesting mytho to say the least. It’s not specifically stated when exactly this takes place as the characters do reference “ancient man,” and huge world shaking events are implied between whenever “ancient man” ended and the present day of the story, but it’s still pretty clever to have a very forest-like landscape when there’s no way to maintain the concrete jungles of the past. That sadly doesn’t explain how magic replaced technology or where exactly elves, demons, trolls, and gnomes come from. They’re human sized, so my theory is possible genetic fuckery from radiation or something like that, but who knows? As you can probably tell, I have a lot of fun speculating what the history is and hope the mythology is delved into a little more if another season is announced.

The story itself is also pretty similar. Young people setting out across a vast landscape, evading enemies, all in the name of taking a small object somewhere. While the details may be different, planting a seed in a faraway land as opposed to the One Ring being thrown in a volcano, it still feels very much like a hippie Lord of the Rings story. Thankfully, the characters that embark on this unimaginative story mostly make up for it.

Among my favorite characters include Eretria, King Eventine, Allanon, and Cephelo.

Let’s start with the obvious. Eventine is played by the great Rhys-Davies. One would think that after having such a miserable time filming LOTR that he’d be done with the fantasy genre, but it’s a nice treat to see him in this show, and not even as a cameo, but a regular. And the character himself is very grounded. He understands the gravity of the Dagda Mor’s return and takes everything that Allanon tells him. He’s a smart character, or at least smart enough to listen to good advice, even if he knows the choices he has to make will cost the elves a lot.

For any of you that might be fans of the TV show SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND (or its many other titles), or DC comic’s TV show ARROW, then you’ll happily recognize the great and mighty Bennett. This perfectly genetically created living breathing bad-ass incarnate brings his pure, concentrated awesomeness to this show, and to make things unbearably amazing, he’s the show’s equivalent to Gandalf. You fucking read that right, and yes, it’s as incredible as it sounds. This guy slays demons, he tosses mother fuckers like rag dolls, he says things all sagey and wisely, he casts spells that hand his enemies asses on golden platter, oh my god I’m gushing right now just thinking about it. Every time Bennett is on screen, I will squee like a tween at a Justin Beiber concert, except Allanon would eat Beiber as a stew for lunch, so my squeeing makes sense.

Hey, if you look at Eretria, does she happen to look… familiar at all? Yeah? Can’t quite place your finger on where? Here’s a hint: Guillermo Del Toro. Debatably his most famous film. PAN’S LABYRINTH. Are your eyes widening? Yeah, bitches, little Ofelia’s Ivana Baquero is all grown up and kicking ass like a mother fucker. Eretria is the Han Solo of the group and she’s about ten flavors of fun. Sassing everyone, seducing everyone, punching everyone, she’s probably the best of the core trio.

And finally, Cephelo. Played by Remar who has probably one of the hugest careers I’ve ever seen, and yet I doubt anyone would be able to pinpoint anything he’s been in. Movies like MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION, DJANGO UNCHAINED, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, and TV shows JERICHO, DEXTER, GREY’S ANATOMY, just to name a few. This man is so great to watch on screen no matter the capacity. He brings a perfect balance of class and bad-assery that I’ve never seen replicated and maintains his hold as one of my favorite actors in Hollywood.

But now let’s get into the not so good characters. Now let me clear, Dreyton and Butler are wonderful actors, so I’m not bashing their talent. I am, however, bashing the characters they play. One of the major downsides of this show is that it feels HEAVILY like a young adult adaptation. While I’ve never read the books, I’m guessing that’s not what the books were. To make matters worse, it has all of the tropes. Chief among them is a love-triangle. Oh yeah, following in the footsteps of TWILIGHT, HUNGER GAMES, and THE IMMORTAL INSTRUMENTS, someone has to fall in love with two of the opposite gender who are jealous of each other and bicker, and all that bullshit that I wish would leave my TV shows and movies. To be fair, unlike movies that only have a couple hours to establish investment into the audience, this show has the luxury of time to delve into their relationships more and it’s handled much better than usual. The only drawback is Wil and Amberle themselves. While not the worst written characters, hell they’re not even that bad by the end of the season, but it’s painful to see Amberle constantly not try to evolve and become a better person. What with so many people counting on her, she manages to find time to get sidetracked by doubt and constantly complains about it. I know not every hero has to face danger with stonewall courage. In fact, those that are most afraid are usually the most interesting of characters. But Amberle constantly comments how she’s afraid to fail. Once in awhile, again, would be fine. She does it almost every episode if she’s not being distracted by something else. Wil is almost the exact same way, though he gets better over time. My issue with him though is that the show thinks it’s such a big decision over whether or not he’ll choose Amberle or Eretria when Eretria is clearly the better written character. It’s a shame to see such imbalance in investment, but they could have definitely been worse.

But if there is any worst offender within the long list of characters would be Arion (Amberle’s uncle), played by Daniel MacPherson. What we have here is a prince who is next in line for the throne and wants it… like, really badly. As in so badly that even Marvel’s Loki is telling this guy, “Bitch, calm the fuck down.” Dear god, this character is so god damn annoying. All he does is argue without knowing facts himself, dismissing threats as idle fantasies or the insane prattling of things he once thought were dead or no longer a thing. Even once the facts are presented and he’s unable to argue, HE STILL FUCKING ARGUES!!! Oh god, I was praying to the TV gods that this fucker would die.

I’d say one of the most intriguing characters by the end of the season is the psychic, Bandon, played by Marcus Vanco. While I sure do think he joins the group rather randomly, and he was quickly shaping up to be the show’s convenience factory (IE: Wil wants to part ways with Amberle? CONVENIENCE! Bandon tells him a psychic vision that keeps him around. Another problem in plot? CONVENIENCE! Bandon’s visions will solve everything). But as the show went on, he is heralded by Allanon as the next druid. That’s pretty cool, being trained by Allanon, the most bad-ass mage in the land. As training progresses, the Dagda Mor starts sewing his influence in the young seer’s mind and ultimately becomes a fascinating villain for the next season. I’m really excited to see where the show takes this character.

While the season ends with a lot of questions, both story-based and behind the scenes, the show it pretty solid. I definitely don’t want this show to end, but if there’s any criticism that I would off to the writers is tighten it up. If romance has to be a key player in the story, please don’t let it interfere with logic. Young characters or no, it’d be nice if they knew that there’s a time and place to bump uglies and when to shape up and grow up. Please don’t write off Bennett. I’m too excited to see him survive this season and want him to carry on into the future. Let’s tackle some more of the mythology that’s been pretty elusive this season. The story being the focus is fine for now, but you can’t have a “post-apocalyptic” backdrop disguised as a fantasy setting without some kind of explanation. But if you get green-lit for a second season, you can count on me to continue watching.

My honest rating: 4/5

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE review

Something has found us… rather randomly. Who in hell saw that trailer for this movie, and as soon as the title rolled on up, you were like, “dufuq?” But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited for it. Oh yeah, I loved CLOVERFIELD. I think it was my first found-footage film and I thought it was so well done. Yeah, plot’s thin, but a movie like this didn’t need to be complicated. Save it for the artsy-fartsy films. But anyway, CLOVERFIELD 2 was in demand for YEARS. But everything was always teased and I think the demand for it kind of died down over the years. Then what does Bad Robot do? Gives us a trailer for what appears to be a weird kidnap movie with John Goodman, and then… “CLOVERFIELD” … “10 CLOVERFIELD LANE.” What the FUCK IS THIS SORCERY!?!?!? Well, I was excited and was hoping for a solid birthday present. So without further adieu, this is my honest opinion of 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE.

(SUMMARY)

The story follows Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). She’s had enough of her boyfriend Ben (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and leaves him. On the road to who knows where, she is knocked off the road by another driver. She loses consciousness and wakes up in an underground cell with a leg injury and that same leg handcuffed to a pipe. Her captor slash savior is a skittish man named Howard (John Goodman), who owns the underground bunker they’re in and he inhabits it with the actual builder of the bunker, Emmett (played by John Gallagher Jr.), a dim-witted, but funny guy. Michelle tries to escape, but Howard tells her that something happened outside. The air is contaminated by something unknown… something that has killed people. Michelle doesn’t believe him at first, but when she encounters a survivor with a horribly disfigured face and sanity nowhere to be found, Michelle acknowledges that something has happened outside and the best course of action is to wait… in this underground bunker… with just the three of them…

(REVIEW)

I really like this movie.

First of all, the genre of the movie is more of a suspense thriller than a horror film. It relies more on the fact that you can’t trust the character of Howard. He’s a loose cannon and it’s hard to predict what he might do or how he will react to… well, anything, which I’ll get to in a minute.

In my opinion, especially now that I’ve seen the movie, the trailer for it is one of the best I’ve seen in years. Why? Because all the important stuff you see in the trailer happens in the beginning and gives nothing away.

One of my favorite aspects of the movie is the humor. Howard is clearly a mentally unstable guy, a little too paranoid for his own good. So when he utters a line like, “I know I seem like a sensible guy” I couldn’t help but laugh a bit. Or when they’re sitting around the dinner table and one of them starts talking about a game of Monopoly, again, throwing out a zinger or two, it’s a genuinely engaging moment. I think that’s one of the stronger draws of the film: the connection the characters make with the audience. While the situation is completely shady and loaded with questions, these characters still find time to try and keep hold of their humanity by cracking jokes.

And then there’s Howard. While I certainly think this character who is crazy and obsessed with “his way or the highway” has been done better before, Goodman does extraordinarily well. While it may be apparent that he’s not the most pleasant person to be around, you get the impression that he isn’t a bad guy. I mean, after Michelle gets in her accident, he saves her, and goes all medical expert on her and tries his best to keep her safe. Even some of his rules don’t seem like they’re beyond reason. But it’s not long before unreasonable rules crop up and when they’re broken or anyone does something that’s outside his comfort zone, then he blows up. He’s threatening, he’s scary, then the question of whether or not being locked in a confined space with this psycho is an improvement over whatever’s happening outside. Yet, you still believe that he has love when he talks about his daughter. Howard is definitely a great morally ambiguous character.

But I think the best part of the entire movie is how unpredictable it is. Since everything standout in the trailer happens in the first act of the story, I just couldn’t predict what would happen next and I love movies that do that to me. In fear of giving anything away, I think I’ll just leave it at that: the best part of the movie is its unpredictability.

However, for all the good this movie does, there is a bit of a downer about it: the ending.

***SPOILERS***

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Boy, I sure hope no one scrolling past this accidentally reads this, but… it’s aliens. Yeah, that’s it. Okay, let me clarify something, the ending as an isolated event separate from the rest of the movie is fine. But… since that’s a silly way of looking at a scene that otherwise doesn’t fit with the rest of the movie, let’s just pretend I wasn’t an idiot right there. This reveal is pretty lame. I guess the contaminated air for most of the movie was a toxic gas that the alien living-ships were spewing out. There’s a kind of chase scene with an alien dog and then the alien ship creature tries to eat her while she’s in a truck. She kills it by throwing a molotov cocktail into it’s mouth that I swear to god looked more like a vagina and kills the thing.

Well, that was easy! I guess it’s still better than the aliens from SIGNS or certainly WAR OF THE WORLDS, but damn, why are aliens relegated to easy kills? It’s actually pretty lazy writing when you think about it. It’s later shown that these aliens are here in bulk and it looks like they’ve got themselves a nice little foothold on our planet. How is that possible? Did our military forget about bombs? Flamethrowers? Incendiary grenades? Hairspray and bics? Come on, guys, and this is off the top of my head! This fashion designer who made a ghetto hazmat suit killed one pretty damn quick! Why are her balls bigger than yours??

Plus, where did that dog-alien go after it rudely took Michelle’s mask? It just sort of… goes away. Hey, maybe it was sick of the ending too and wanted out of the scenario. Wise call.

About the best part of this ending it the final two minutes. There’s no dialog and Michelle’s about to leave, but then she gets radio chatter from an unknown person in the nearby city asking for help from anyone who might have medical experience. Michelle can choose to say fuck that shit and roll on forward to safety, or she can go and help. She gives this look that would give Jennifer Lawrence a run for her money at the end of CATCHING FIRE, and goes for the city as lightning streaks in the sky and more aliens are seen as shadows in the clouds. Dude… fucking epic. Not quite the movie we started out with, but a nice save for an otherwise low point of the movie.

As I understand it, this ending was tacked on. It started off as just what the trailer showed: three folks in a cellar waiting for doom to pass. But J.J. Abrams came around and said, “throw this and that in there and call it CLOVERFIELD and we’ll call it a sequel.” Ehhh, I don’t like that. This story had nothing to do with it. According to eagle-eyed fans of the original who have seen this movie as well will point out only one connection: the Tagruato Corporation. Yeah, I missed that big time in the original, but apparently it’s the corporation that is responsible for discovering Clover, the monster that attacked New York in the first movie. Apparently, Howard is or was an employee of that same company.

Know what I think? This is going to end up being similar to the Cornetto trilogy (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ, and THE WORLD’S END); related, but no sequels. No future CLOVERFIELD movie will ever truly be a direct sequel to any of these movies. The only connection it will ever have is this mysterious corporation. We will likely never see Clover the monster again, or Michelle from this. This is a bit of a shame as Clover does have her fans. Granted she isn’t nearly as popular as Godzilla, which is what Abrams wanted for the movie, but she has her fanbase, and certainly Michelle was a tremendously written character, so it’s also a shame that we’ll never see her kick more alien ass. Even if we do, and CLOVERFIELD and 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE do end up being sequels and see Clover fighting aliens, A) fuck yeah, bitches, make it happen, and B) you know it’s going to be an incredibly weak connection. What, will the Tagruato Corporation just discover everything supernatural that happens in this universe? What’s next? They discover zombie robots? Actually… yeah, I’d pay money to see that. Abrams can make that seem credible.

The point is, in my opinion, if the movies are related… it will be a lame reason why. Not related, probably the better way to go and the Tagruato Corporation will just be a cheeky little wink of a connection. Honestly, though, I like both films, so if they continue to be quality work, I won’t mind in the slightest. But I am a relative fan of Winstead, so I am sad that I may not ever see her attached to a Cloverfield movie again.

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***END SPOILERS***

Overall, I like this movie a lot. It had a few problems here and there, but it’s a damn fine film. If you’re a fan of suspense thrillers, I highly recommend it. It’s a great ride and with some strong performances out of everyone involved, I don’t think anyone will be disappointed with it. Just don’t keep your hopes up with a tight CLOVERFIELD connection, it’s just not that movie. Even with it’s flaws, it’s going down as one of my favorites for the month.

My honest rating: 4/5

THE REVENANT review

Ah yes, this movie. From the moment I saw the trailer, I knew this would be yet another fantastic acting job by Leo DiCaprio. But I didn’t have much knowledge on the actual events being portrayed. Turns out, it was about the actual man Hugh Glass, a frontierman who gets mauled by a bear, left for dead by his comrades, heals from his wounds, and seeks revenge.

I won’t lie, I was sure DiCaprio was going to be great, but I wasn’t sure how this would work as an OSCAR winning movie, other than the much-hyped bear-mauling scene. But unless the execution of the story was something unique, I expected it to be a standard revenge flick. But, the Arclight in Sherman Oaks finally got the movie, and I took my first opportunity to see it. This my honest opinion of THE REVENANT.

(SUMMARY)

Set in the backdrop of 1820’s, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a frontiersman and trapper, employed by Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), working alongside his half Native American Pawnee son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), the young Jim Bridger (Will Poulter), and fellow trapper John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Their encampment is attacked one day by the Arikara, a Native American tribe, and slaughters most of the men under Captain Henry’s command. The survivors must now avoid the Arikara and hide what pelts they have left to come back for later once they reach the closest settlement with more men to back track with. However, early into their trekking, Glass sets out alone and comes across a pair of bear cubs… to which their mother attacks and mauls him. He kills the bear, but barely survives the ordeal himself, the rest of his team quickly finds him. They try to carry Glass as far as they can go, but some steep mountain climbing prevents them from going further. Captain Henry requests that two men stay behind to care for Glass until they can send help back. Hawk and Bridger quickly volunteer, but Fitzgerald also stays, knowing the younger men will need more experience on their side. It isn’t long however that Fitzgerald, whom never really liked Glass to begin with, feels like it’s better to just kill Glass and move on. But his attempts at killing him are met with resistance as Hawk protects his father. But Hawk is unfortunately knifed to death in front of Glass. Being unable to help and Fitzgerald manipulating the young Bridger to abandoning Glass leave. However, Glass never dies and some time later recovers and begins a long journey to recovery and the pursuit of vengeance against Fitzgerald.

(REVIEW)

Oh boy, get your hate messages fired up because my opinion is in the minority. It’s… really good. Not great, but, really good.

Alright, let’s tackle what everyone is saying about DiCaprio winning an Oscar for this film. I’m not going to lie, I’m not sure why everyone is saying it. Is it for his acting in the film? I might… agree, he does give an intense performance, but he’s had equally great roles that the Oscars took away from him. What I think everyone is referring to is not his acting per se, but rather the work that was put into it.

The scene where he’s mauled by the bear is the standout. As I understand it, through many different sources all being rather cryptic and secretive about how that scene was done, some of the bear is real, some of the bear is CGI, but all of it is DiCaprio. If I remember correctly, I think this was a similar technique used in the movie DR. DOLITTLE 2 (sorry to make the comparison, it’s just for an example). There’s a scene where Eddie Murphy is jogging through the forest with Archie the bear, but Murphy and the bear don’t actually share screen time. Murphy was shot first, THEN the bear, due to the dangers of a possible bear attack on Murphy, but the illusion is pretty convincing. Granted, THE REVENANT has a shit-ton more to work with, but I think the same concept is integrated here. It’s a very intense and brutal scene and the fact that DiCaprio had to endure both the freezing cold conditions of the shoot as a whole, and the intense physical endurance of this scene in particular, THAT is worthy of an Oscar: his WORK on the film, not necessarily his acting. Will he win it? I sure wouldn’t complain if he did, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s overlooked again.

I think if there’s any performance that will be the Oscar winner would be Hardy as Fitzgerald. What a slimy mother-fucker. He’s manipulative, shady, psychotic, I wouldn’t know if Hardy is just a naturally gifted actor, or if director Alejandro González Iñárritu knew how to get that cold-blooded asshole out of him. Either way, Hardy delivers the better performance, acting-wise, but it can’t be denied that DiCaprio was sure put through his own ringers.

But equal attention should be brought to the cinematography of the film. Oh yeah, that’s how good it is, people. I, Daniel J. Puyda, can spot good cinematography. There’s a lot of long tracking shots, particularly noticeable in the opening battle scene. That’s obviously not the only scene to have it, but it’s just the one that stands out the most. It’s a perfectly shot scene. Violent, intense, it’ll sure keep you awake. The whole movie is like this with the action scenes. Bravo on this department, which is some of the best I’ve seen from all of 2015.

However, it’s time to start talking about the things I had problems with, which are more or less just nit-picks. And that’s, ironically enough, the cinematography. No, not for the action scenes, but for the one-too-many shots of pretty scenery. This is starting to become a cliche for me, and not the awesome kind like capes blowing in the wind, or the superhero team walking intensely toward the camera, no the pretty scenery is starting to grate on me. Why is this such a big deal to me? Because it doesn’t really serve the story. What is this movie about? A guy gets brutally injured, on death’s doorstep, and is left for dead after his son is murdered. What does pretty landscape have to do with a random shot of pretty mountains and landscape? I just got the sense that these one second shots were put in the movie because of convenience of the crew. If the shots were meant to convey how much land the character(s) have to travel, then it would be okay. But I just found there were too many that served no purpose at all other than visual eye-candy. You’re not making a visual fantasia, guys, keep the focus on the characters. Pretty backgrounds are just a distraction from a man’s story of survival and vengeance. I know I’m lingering here, but… man does this ever bother me in movies. Thank god, there’s not too many of those in this movie, but it’s a noticeable amount to bug me.

Beyond that one rant about needless pretty shots, this film is pretty damn good. I may not love it like everyone else does, but this is a film worth seeing if you’re interested.

A strong 4/5