THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS review

Newcomer animation studio Illumination Entertainment… well, what can you say about a studio with only six films under their belt? The two Despicable Me films (the first one I liked; never saw the second), the spin-off MINIONS (enjoyable), their only live-action film HOP (never saw), and now this one.

At first, this looked promising and that teaser was pretty funny. Then the trailer showed up, and… well, it still looked promising, but some of the humor was showing signs of immaturity. But the cuteness factor was still selling me, so I knew I was going to see it. In the end, I guess I had some high expectations. Were these secret lives worth knowing about, or was ignorance bliss? This is my honest opinion of THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS.

(SUMMARY)

Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) is a pet terrier who lives a pampered life with his owner Katie (voiced by Ellie Kemper) whom he loves when she adopted him as a puppy. Even though he hates it when she leaves for work everyday, he still finds time to hang out with other pets in the apartment he lives in: a condescending cat named Chloe (voiced by Lake Bell), a dachshund named Buddy (voiced by Hannibal Buress), and a pug named Mel (voiced by Bobby Moynihan). For all intents and purposes, Max’s life is great. Of course, that all changes when Katie brings home another dog; a briard (possibly) named Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet). Immediately, the two don’t get along as Duke bullies his way into Max’s comfortable lifestyle and knocking Max out of the way. But before long, he learns how to get Duke to do as he says by acting out while Katie isn’t home, blaming any damage to the apartment on Duke as Katie knows Max wouldn’t misbehave. But as Max and Duke are out being walked by a dog walker, Duke manages to break him and himself free of the walker and tries to get rid of Max to live in Katie’s comfortable home all by himself. But things go south as they come in contact with animal control, a cute, but homicidal bunny named Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart), as they try to find their way home while settling their differences.

(REVIEW)

With something of a heavy heart, the movie is just okay.

I’m sure he’s a really funny comedian, but as far as this movie is concerned, C.K. isn’t. Because Max is such a bland character I feel like you could have gotten any other actor to portray him, which kind of defeats the purpose of hiring a comedian. This is another problem with the story: Max is not very interesting. He feels like a recycled character that the audience has seen a thousand times in other kids movies. He’s not particularly “bad” per se, but there were better characters in the story.

This brings us to Duke, who is probably the cardinal sin of the flick. The issue with him is that this movie wants me to buy is this: Duke is adopted and he comes into Max’s life starting off as a bully. But as soon as things go south and they have their little adventure in the big city, we’re forcibly supposed to care about how scared he is of the pound. So what? You were a jerk to Max the moment Katie left. Karma sucks, you jerk. Duke gives no reasons for the audience to care about him, so when Max suddenly feels empathy for him, it’s not earned from a story-telling standpoint. I feel like it would have worked better if Duke came into the home, but didn’t start off as a bully. Instead, he came in trying to make things work with Max, but because Max is so used to being the only dog he inadvertently becomes a bully himself keeping Duke in line and out of the way. But because Duke is a much bigger and much more intimidating dog than Max is, Duke uses that to his advantage to be more comfortable and forces a sort of harmony between the two of them. I know that the movie is trying to make it seem like there is no bad guy between the two of them, but no, Duke was kind of mean, so why should we care if he’s afraid of going to the pound? I mean, we do later on learn why he was a stray in the first place, but it feels inconsistent. It’s never explained why he started off as a jerk toward Max, or why he suddenly accepts him later on.

Wait a minute… a non-human character that has a human owner that the two share a special bond… then a new non-human character arrives causing problems, and the two non-human characters get separated from home and have to find their way back while learning about each other and becoming friends… oh my god! It’s TOY STORY!!! I just realized that while writing this review! I can’t believe it took me this long! Wow… well, I guess if you’re an animation studio that needs to rip off a superior one, might as well rip off from the best.

Other issues that I had were that the jokes weren’t always that funny, there was a lot of immature, almost gross-out humor, some animal designs were questionable, among other things. But I don’t want it to sound like that I hate this movie because I really don’t. There were a few things that saved it for me. Chief among the saving graces are the characters Gidget and Snowball.

Many of you may remember Jenny Slate as Bellwether the sheep from ZOOTOPIA, and like in ZOOTOPIA, she’s very funny. Gidget is designed so adorably and it is pretty charming to see her have such a crush on Max. But more than her cuteness she’s actually kind of awesome. She’s not afraid to interrogate a guy for information. She’s not afraid to get down and dirty. She’s not afraid to get violent. An argument could be made that she’s just crazy and taking her crush too far, but dear God, is it entertaining to watch.

Now let’s talk about Snowball. As most people probably already know I’m not the biggest fan of Hart. Not that he’s a bad guy or anything, or not even a bad actor, but he often just plays the same annoying characters over and over and it’s just riding up on me. This role works perfectly because Hart is basically always playing a cartoon character anyway. Snowball is hilarious he’s psychotic he’s not he’s off his rocker and it’s so funny. If the killer rabbit from MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL needed a personality, this would be it and it’s glorious.

So aside from it being a painful rip-off of one of the greatest animated movies of all time, and having less enjoyable characters, I can’t deny that Gidget and Snowball made me laugh and I hope Illumination makes spin-offs of these characters. Kids will like it enough, but for you adults out there, it might take some soldiering through in certain areas. By no means awful, but lackluster protagonists and a generally unfunny movie just shows that this secret life wasn’t anything special.

My honest rating: 3/5

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Keep an eye out for the next batch of films this weekend:

  • THE INFILTRATOR (technically, it’s already started playing in some theatres, so… “upcoming review” on this one)
  • GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)
  • CAFÉ SOCIETY
    • Woody Allen film staring Jesse Eisenberg, Steve Carrell, Kristen Stewart, and more.
  • EQUALS
    • Sci-fi (indie?) film staring Nicholas Hoult and Kristen Stewart.
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OUR KIND OF TRAITOR review

When I found out that this was based on a book, I immediately watched this trailer and thought, “Yeah, that sounds about right.” I feel like there aren’t many unique minds that capture such complex stories like these as novelists do compared to screenwriters. But either way, I was certainly intrigued. Ewan McGregor has been a great actor in my book, even since the days of the Star Wars prequels. Stellan Skarsgård is… hit or miss, depending on the material he’s given (THOR: THE DARK WORLD anyone?), but is generally a good actor. It looked like a well-crafted enough story with a ton of layers, but I was ready to see what this was all about. This is my honest opinion of OUR KIND OF TRAITOR.

(SUMMARY)

The story follows couple Perry (Ewan McGregor), who’s a university professor, and Gail (Naomie Harris), who’s a lawyer. They’ve been having a hard time connecting lately, mostly because of Gail’s work schedule and Perry having had an affair with a student of his. In an attempt to reconnect, they go on holiday to Morroco. While at a restaurant, they meet a kindly but eccentric gentleman named Dima (Stellan Skarsgård). Inviting the two of them to a party, he pulls Perry aside to a private place and reveals that he’s actually a money launderer for the mafia, claiming himself to be the best. Well, the new leader of his group, The Prince (Grigoriy Dobrygin), is threatening Dima and his wife and children. Desperate for protection, he intends to hand off vital information to Perry to pass on to the British government. But politics and clever enemies prevent things from happening easily and the deeper in to this mess that Perry and Gail go, the more perilous everything becomes.

(REVIEW)

DISCLAIMER: I have never read the original book.

No joke, I think I missed the first five to ten minutes of this movie, something I very rarely do, so this review might be a tad unfair because I feel like I missed so much context, but here we go just the same.

Meh.

Skarsgård is probably the standout of the movie, mostly because he’s given the most to work with, but even then his character feels really recycled. How many movies have there been throughout cinematic history about defectors selling out their partners or leaders for protection? He’s a ruthless, merciless killer and manipulator, but he’s a loving father and husband. I feel like there’s countless of these characters. I should go on record and say that he’s by no means a bad actor in the movie. Far from it. There’s just nothing that makes him a character that will stand the test of time, or even really in Skarsgård’s resume.

I suppose the only really great moments are when he’s interacting with his kids. Dima does seem like he has a great connection with his kids and some genuinely funny banter. About the only person in the family that serves no purpose was the wife. Pretty sure her only role in the movie was maintain her worry-face and have a three second scene of her crying. Seriously, what did she do in this movie? Did she even have a line?!

And speaking of underused actors, McGregor. Again, I love this man. I think he’s a great actor and has proven it time and again (REVENGE OF THE SITH, TRAINSPOTTING), but… am I the only one who feels like he’s constantly playing characters that get roped into situations by chance that he doesn’t want any real part of (MILES AHEAD, THE PHANTOM MENACE)? I feel like it’s getting repetitive. Not that it’s his fault or anything, a man’s gotta work, but… damn, Hollywood. Give this guy a juicier role! Once again, like Skarsgård, he’s not in any way giving a bad performance. Again, we’ve just seen this performance before, both from him, and a thousand times in other movies.

If you really want a broken heart, let’s talk about Harris. Dear fucking lord, this is a wonderful actress. She was the creepy crab goddess thing from the second and third PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, she was the bad-ass black chick in 28 DAYS LATER, she was the comedy relief Moneypenny in the two latest 007 Bond films, SKYFALL and SPECTRE… fuck you, Hollywood for giving this amazing woman this dull role. Seriously, I think Gail was pointless. Take her out of the story, let her stay at home while Perry does all this dangerous shit, and the movie would progress just the same. Yeah, Dima keeps requesting Gail to accompany Perry on all their undercover “ops,” but… fuck, man, all she does is stare at Perry lovingly when he shows off his convictions and make googily eyes when he’s being a good man. Again, she doesn’t really do anything. This is a role you could give to anybody. Literally anybody and it would have worked just as well. A moment of silence for Harris’ wasted time (her paycheck better have been sweet, or… I’m gonna complain about that too, by gum!).

I’m not even sure if I can even really talk about what I really liked. The only thing that prevented me from nodding off from boredom was the star power and performances that these actors are giving their all in. Maybe a few clever bits here and there, maybe one or two awesome scenes, but it just doesn’t make up for the lack of originality or anything that’s particularly exciting.

And the sad thing is, this movie has potential. I’m sure you bookworms could talk my ear off about how nuanced and complex the novel is by comparison, and I would believe you (so shut up), but that didn’t translate into the film. This movie could really have crafted a really great story about the complexities of right and wrong, the subtle consequences of walking away, the inner turmoil of a man completely out of his league all in the name of doing what he believes is right, there was some serious drama that could have been played up, but wasn’t. At the end of the day, it’s a pretty forgetful film. Unless you’re a fan of the cast, you probably won’t get too much out of it. For me, everyone prevents it from being awful, but it’s lack of drive to be anything great or memorable make for a poor experience. Not the worst, but I could live without seeing it a second time.

My honest rating: a weak 3/5

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Upcoming review:

  • THE BFG

THE LEGEND OF TARZAN review

Upon first glance at this movie, I thought it’d be an overblown mix between Disney’s TARZAN and Lord of the Rings. None of this was a bad idea, I suppose, but was it really necessary? But you know what, I like the cast. Alexander Skarsgård (TV show TRUE BLOOD) seemed like a fun choice for the title role and Margot Robbie (WOLF OF WALL STREET and FOCUS) seemed like a solid choice for Jane. Should I even bother with saying my love for Samuel L. Jackson, Djimon Hounsou (BLOOD DIAMOND and Marvel’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY), and Christoph Waltz (INGLORIOUS BASTERDS and 007 SPECTRE)? Yes… yes, I should, but then we’d be here all day and I’m here to talk about the movie all these fine folks are starring in. So the acting talent is there. All that’s left if a solid story and good writing to carry the rest. Is this the story that makes legends, or is it the overblown special effects bonanza that it looks like? This is my honest opinion of THE LEGEND OF TARZAN.

(SUMMARY)

Set in the backdrop of the 1880’s, Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård), now going by the name of John Clayton, has left his life in the jungle behind and has since fully integrated into the high society of London, England, with his beautiful wife Jane Porter (Margot Robbie) at his side. But trouble is afoot back in Africa when the villainous Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) has come in contact with an African tribe’s chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou), who has been obsessed with killing Tarzan for years. They make a deal: bring Mbonga Tarzan and Rom can have his people’s valuable gems. Meanwhile, back in London, a Civil War veteran and American ambassador of sorts by the name of George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) wants John’s help with investigating some disturbing reports that the innocent tribesmen where John grew up and befriended, as well as Jane when she and her father lived there, were being taken away as slaves to build a railroad. John agrees to investigate with George, and the two men, as well as Jane, return to put a stop to the slavery.

(REVIEW)

I really liked it, but I can’t deny that there are some problems.

I’ll start with the good. The visuals in this movie are really fun to look at. In a Tarzan movie, you want to see Tarzan swinging around on his huge-ass vines, which is exactly what you get and it looks great. To see Skarsgård interacting with the animals, yeah, you can clearly tell their CG most of the time, but he interacts with them so well, it makes everything okay. Interacting with CG creatures can’t always easy, but Skarsgård makes it look easy and natural. While I could use more from him as far as acting power is concerned, he’s a good physical actor (no perverted quips, please), and he does do well with what little he’s given. It’s the quieter moments when his acting really shines during the flashback scenes.

Like many heterosexual men when WOLF OF WALL STREET came out, I became a fan of Robbie. Yes, I am aware of how attractive she is, but that’s not impressive (an attractive blond woman in Hollywood? Gee, I’ve never seen that happen). What’s impressive was how talented of a relative-newcomer she was. She was charismatic, bad-ass, and pretty funny in her own right. Her talent here… she might be a scene-stealer. Yeah, Robbie is phenomenal as this plucky and adventurous woman who loves to defy her enemies. Not to mention, I love watching her make such a flawless connection with the native people. There’s really a sense of familiarity and friendship between her and the tribes, translating to probably the sweetest moments in the movie. While I may argue that Jane is a little too damsel-in-distress for my taste… eh, she could have been Kate Capshaw from INDIANA JONES: TEMPLE OF DOOM. Jane at least throws punches, makes use of her talents of communicating with the captured tribes to plot escapes, so she could have been written a lot worse, but it’d be hard to argue if anyone claimed that she was just a tool; someone for Tarzan to save.

Once again, Jackson, Hounsou, and Waltz… they’re all amazing, although I think the easiest jokes to make are the following: Jackson is a Civil War vet who carries two revolvers… he’s basically playing his HATEFUL EIGHT character and Waltz is just playing… well, himself. None of this is a bad thing, mind you, it’s just a funny observation. However, if there is any character I wanted to give a shout-out to, it would be this one: anyone a fan of TV’s DC’s LEGENDS OF TOMORROW? Guess who plays Waltz’s right hand henchman. BAM! Vandal Savage himself, Casper Crump. Every time the guy was on screen, I kept wondering, “Why are you so familiar? The epic face fuzz, the slimy smirk, the self-absorbed personality.” When it finally dawned on me, I went full giddy. I really with I had known that while watching the movie. Those scenes would have been so much more enjoyable for me.

So the visuals and most cast are pretty solid, but now it’s time to dive into the negatives, of which there are a few.

First off, when is Hounsou going to get his big break? This man is so often playing characters that don’t showcase his talent as an actor, or he plays characters that are so minor, no one has any real time to grow attached to him. BLOOD DIAMOND can’t be his magnum opus. I mean, no one’s complaining if it were, but he needs equally great movies under his belt. I hate seeing him relegated to throwaway characters. He’s too good for that shit.

There’s also a lot of boring exposition about treaties, and the distribution of territories and bankrupt kings and whatnot. All of this is pretty head-scratching and not very interesting. Usually, especially in sci-fi and fantasy stories, exposition is needed to understand how certain things work, like technology or magic, and I can follow that stuff pretty easily and get sucked into it like a true nerd. These elements don’t bother me like they do most people. However, in a movie so grounded in the real world (or rather “trying to be” would be more accurate), the movie talks about this stuff like the audience is paying attention. We’re seeing a Tarzan movie. We want him to swing on vines, fight jaguars, humorously meet Jane, all that good shit. When the hell did anyone ever care about land distributions? Sure, the slavery element was handled very simply, and is dealt with very simply. So why bother with all the politics? No one cares about which tree belongs to which ruler from that one country.

However, the ultimate set of sins for the movie, which really hurt it, are the many plot elements that are unnecessary or go nowhere.

For example, rolling with Hounsou’s character, the movie opens on this subplot of vengeance against Tarzan. Thing is… this subplot is so drastically overlooked by the rest of the film, you could easily cut it out and miss nothing.

In the beginning of the movie, Tarzan is about to go back to the jungle and Jane wants to go with him. At first, the interaction is interesting. Jane makes the remark that she “wants to go home,” making the obvious implication that the jungle was her home, seeing as how she spent a lot of time there. But as Tarzan walks away, he says, “We are home.” See how interesting this idea is? Jane misses the jungle more than Tarzan does. He’s so integrated into his life in London that it almost seems like he doesn’t want to return. What does this have to do with the rest of the movie? Absolutely nothing. Once Tarzan returns, the first thing he does is drop his backpack and nuzzles with a trio of lionesses. He’s not rusty in the slightest. They recognize him, he recognizes them. His hesitation is never brought up again.

***SPOILERS***

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To make matters worse, the ending of the movie is he and Jane have a baby a year after the events of the movie and it’s implied that they’re staying in the jungle. At no point do we see Tarzan rebuild his connection to his former home that would lead him to wanting to stay and not return to his home in London, making this ending really tacked on.

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***END SPOILERS***

Finally, the movie’s mature tone feels a little all over the place. The movie starts off with all that boring talk of treaties and bankrupt rulers, and even goes into a pretty hardcore battle scene between soldiers with guns and tribals with spears. You see soldiers practically crucified. There’s another scene with a man getting brutally pulverized by apes. You get a pretty up close and personal look at it too. This is pretty dark stuff. The rest of the movie isn’t nearly that dark. Yes, people are killed, and they’re legitimately tragic scenes. But with the exception of these two scenes, the film never returns to this brutality. Even Disney’s animated Tarzan wasn’t afraid to the shadowy body of a corpse being hung. Why be so dark and violent in the beginning if there wasn’t going to be any real follow-up?

Overall, yeah, I think the movie is solid. The cast is great all around, ninety percent of the visuals are amazing, and if you’re looking for a Tarzan movie, this isn’t a bad way to go. Just bear in mind that there is very boring talk when the story deviates from the important elements and side stories that don’t mean anything. By no means a bad movie, it is flawed, I’m still giving it a recommendation.

My honest rating: a strong 3/5

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FREE STATE OF JONES review

I think the easiest joke I can make is: “THE PATRIOT… but Civil War.” I mean, am I wrong? His son dies right there in the trailer! Whatever, I like Matthew McConaughey! He’s a great actor who has evolved from his youthful days of bad romcoms into a credible actor doing some damn fine films. But enough about that, I have to say… yeah, I kinda wanted to see this movie after watching the trailer. It still looked a tad predictable, but still enjoyable. Not gonna lie though, I had a hard time swallowing this “Confederate soldier fighting with black people” pill. But that’s probably one of the highlights of the story, about how this man who used to think a certain way learns that we’re all the same deep down. Wow… that was schmaltzier than I thought it’d be. Okay, that’s not what I want out of this movie now. But regardless I’m interested. But was the fight for freedom and equality going down in the history books, or was this just Oscar bait that even Youtube would forget? This is my honest opinion of FREE STATE OF JONES.

(SUMMARY)

Based on a true story. During the American Civil War, Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) survives a battle against the Union. Unfortunately, he loses his oldest son in the fight. Unable to care for the war anymore, he returns home as a deserter to bury his son. Not long later, he hears word of how a local farm is being ransacked by Confederate soldiers unfairly and decides to teach the woman and her daughters to defend their home. The soldiers return and leave, but swear to bring justice upon him. They do eventually return and Newton is injured by a dog. He’s found by a local woman who hides him in a nearby swamp, along with some runaway slaves. Soon, Newton starts teaching these men to fight against the Confederates. Success reaches out to other local farms and join his cause in fighting the South’s armies until the end of the war. But is freedom really freedom in this country that is divided, whether or not there’s a war going on?

(REVIEW)

While I am endlessly grateful that the movie went in a direction that I couldn’t predict, it does feel a little… disjointed. Depending on who you are, this might be a good thing. For the price of one ticket, you get three movies. In this two and a half hour historical piece, there are three stories going on. The first is the Civil War stuff where most of the marketing makes you believe the movie is about. The second is after the war and we get the seeds of living in a post Civil War America where black people and whites who supported blacks are treated with hostility and violence. The final story is a rather clumsily added flashforward bit about a great grandchild of Newton that has black (the ethnicity, not the color… in case my grammar was abhorrent) blood in him, which means he can’t marry the white woman he’s in love with. These moments are so incredibly out of place that I thought another movie was spliced over this one.

I almost feel like this movie should have been its own kind of trilogy. The Civil War stuff is interesting, the post war stuff is interesting, hell, if we had more development time with the flashforward scenes, I’m sure those would be interesting. But slammed together, you have a movie that’s probably an hour too long and development ends up lacking in other areas. Having the Civil War and post war stories might have worked if this was more of a special on the history channel, as this movie does feel like it’s more concerned with informing us about what happened, rather than why or having us really emotionally invested. In retrospect, the movie could have delivered exactly what the trailers promised, and audiences would have been thoroughly pleased. The trailers almost suggest that the entire movie is just about Newton organizing farmers’ wives and even children to rebel against the Confederacy. That is exactly what you get for the first hour and a half. But as soon as the war ends and the South is reintegrated into the North, the move just completely shifts gears and talks about the early years of segregation and racism. Very different subject matter. I know this movie wants to talk about this man and his incredible accomplishments and all that, but if we can get sequels, prequels, and whatever else, a film series about this historical event isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.

The unfortunate disadvantage of this movie, and I’m not even sure if it’s the movie’s fault, but a lot of the slower scenes, particularly in bayou toward the first half hour, the characters talk incredibly quietly. If this is supposed to be a set of scenes to establish character or anything, it was not shot very well because I couldn’t understand a single thing anyone was saying. Again, it’s entirely possible that the auditorium I was in simply had its volume down too low, but once the action scenes start kicking in, it’s loud and ironically I can hear the characters just fine. So when you have a quiet scene with characters talking under their breath, it translates into “boring.” And there are quite a few of these boring scenes, making the movie pretty slow. At an hour and a half in, I was ready to clock out and go to the next movie. But it just keeps going with storylines that aren’t as exciting to watch. If you want to make a period movie about racism post war, great, more power to you. But keep it separate from the other story you’re trying to tell.

God, I feel like I’m ranting in circles here, but that is the ultimate downside of the movie is that it’s throwing three stories at you when and it really hurts the film in my opinion. But I don’t want to harp on the movie too much as there are good things in it.

For one, McConaughey is actually pretty legit here. You see the eyes of a man who doesn’t want to fight a war that he doesn’t believe in and I really do believe his performance. Maybe I don’t know why Newton simply ups and marries a black woman when he did have a wife and child before going into hiding only to be reunited some years later… and all living under the same roof, which would have been interesting grounds to develop on, but that sort of just happens… but I like I said, McConaughey is really good despite that.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw is actually really engaging as well as Rachel. In fact, she probably has the best character arch in the entire movie. Rachel starts off as a standard house slave with some skill in medical practice, but as per usual of the black community back then, she couldn’t read well and would occasionally sneak in some reading lessons from her masters as they teach their children. But over time during her time with Newton, Rachel learns how to read, and even fight in battles. If you think about that, she’s a black woman who was basically a war veteran. How accurate this is, I sure haven’t the foggiest idea, but if it is true… respect, girl. If it’s not true, don’t tell me because the badassery is too awesome and I don’t want it ruined. And after being a war vet, she winds up teaching kids how to read as well. She’s about the only character that feels like she went places in her life. This is Mbatha-Raw’s best role to date in my opinion.

The movie is far from perfect. It’s way too long and should have been chopped up into three movies instead of one long one. But what saves it from being bad is the core cast. McConaughey maintains his stance as an A-list actor in my book, but Mbatha-Raw is such an absolute scene-stealer, I might go so far as to say that I wish the movie was about her. I sure don’t hate the movie, but I do have to say, “viewer beware.” It’s a long movie. You will feel the length well before it ends. But it is an interesting story and you’ll want to see where it goes, but this is probably the first time that I say wait for it to come out on Netflix or Redbox. You’ll definitely need to use the pause button and take a break from it as it progresses. But it’s not a bad movie, it’s just a lot to watch and process.

My honest rating: 3/5

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Upcoming review:

  • THE NEON DEMON

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS review

Not gonna lie, the success of the first movie was a surprise, especially considering that Michael Bay’s name is stamped all over it, despite not directing the project himself. But where there’s a successful movie in Hollywood, there’s bound to be a sequel. An inevitability in this day and age.

Before I get into this review, here are my thoughts on TMNT as a whole. I’m actually not the biggest fan. I never read the violent original comics. But as for the 80’s kids cartoon, I didn’t always watch it. I saw a few episodes here and there, and I liked it well enough, it just wasn’t that show that I grew up with. I’ve actually never seen the original movies, or at least, not that I can remember. However, the one television incarnation of TMNT that I did like was the series back in 2003. I also really enjoyed the 3-D animated movie, TMNT (2007). Love it or hate it, Nolan North voiced Raphael. That’s the voice casting to end all voice castings of the character! No one’s topping that! Did I also mention James Arnold Taylor voicing Leonardo? I don’t care who you are, this was the best movie out of all the movies, if not for the professional voice acting power itself.

As for the new Michael Bay-produced movies, I may not have hated the first one, but I sure didn’t think it was any good. Should probably suggest that I wasn’t initially looking forward to the sequel. But the trailer got released and… well, I admittedly got really hyped for it. Especially the announcement of Krang and Stephen fucking Amell as Casey Jones, the inclusion of one of my favorite actresses EVER, Laura Linney, this was actually shaping up to be a fun ride. So… was it? This is my honest opinion of TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS.

(SUMMARY)

The ass-kicking turtles are back, yet the team seems pretty divided on the subject of being accepted by the general masses; being ready to try, or to remain hidden and let Vernon (Will Arnett) be the city’s celebrated hero that brought down Shredder (Brian Tee). Elsewhere in town, April O’Neil (Megan Fox) thinks that the brilliant-but-insane scientist Baxter Stockman is in league with Shredder and discovers that he is about to be broken out by his Foot Clan during a prison transfer. Joining him on his transfer is the eccentric duo, Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen Farrelly), and helping oversee the transfer is the wise-cracking officer Casey Jones (Stephen Amell). April gives the turtles the information to make sure the transfer goes swimmingly. Turns out, the information is accurate and the Foot strikes. The turtles unfortunately don’t succeed in keeping Shredder in place, but not in the traditional way: Baxter has a teleportation device powered by mysterious alien technology that he thinks will teleport Shredder to Baxter’s building, but instead accidentally teleports him to another dimension where he meets the grotesque brain-squid known as Krang (voiced by Brad Garrett). He wants Shredder to assemble this device that Krang sent to Earth that broke into three parts, one of them held by Baxter. Assemble the remaining parts and Krang will come through with his destructive Technodrome and take over the world with Shredder. Returning Shredder to Earth and recruiting Bebop and Rocksteady to transform them into creatures to help fight the turtles. Infiltrating Baxter’s building April catches wind of the plan that Shredder has and now it’s a race to prevent Krang coming through to protect the world.

(REVIEW)

Holy crap, what an improvement over the first!

The biggest problem that the first movie had was trying (and miserably failing) to ride the wave of current superhero movies by trying to balance dark and fun. While Marvel succeeds at this, Ninja Turtles isn’t that kind of story. It was never supposed to be taken seriously, it was supposed to be fun, and that’s what the first film missed the point of.

SHADOWS clearly understood this and embraced its own insanity by giving us, you guessed it, TURTLES! Another big complaint that the first movie had was a little too much Fox as April, to the point where the movie was more about her than it was about the turtles. Um…not smart. While we do get a big of April in this movie as well, it’s far better balanced leaning more toward the turtles, their internal struggles as individuals and a team. This of course is actually where the heart of the movie is and it really works. Donnie (Jeremy Howard) has come up with a formula that can turn the turtles into humans and be able to wall among them as equals, something that both Raph and Mickey want. But Leo doesn’t and this leads to tension between the brothers and made for some relatively interesting drama. I’ll get to why I call it “relatively” interesting, but I’m not done gushing.

Bebop and Rocksteady, hell YES, what an awesome pair of additions. I may not remember these guys from the cartoon, but I know a great deal of the fanbase has wanted these two bad guys appear in a movie since the original live-action films. Well, I feel confident that the fans have their live-action Bebop and Rocksteady in spades. These guys steal the show. They have a genuine comradery that’s incredibly fun to watch and they are ruthlessly savage when fighting the turtles and they aren’t a glorified cameo either, they’re in the movie a lot as the bumbling brown-nosing henchmen. One of the things I really appreciated about their debut is when they transform, they aren’t tormented by the transformation like Green Goblin in 2000’s SPIDER-MAN. Hell, it’s not even a simple acceptance of situation like Dr. Doom in 2015’s FANT4STICK, the Joker in 1989’s BATMAN. Instead, they take the time to celebrate how amazingly awesome they became. That’s refreshing.

Oh my god, Krang. Krang was unbelievably enjoyable and you can tell that Garrett is having a boat-load of fun with the part and plays it so over-the-top, it’s equal parts hilarious and threatening. It’s kind of ironic how bad guys these days in superhero movies have to be complex and deep, or boring and uninteresting. When was the last time we got just a straight-up campy villain with one-dimensional motivations that was this funny? The correct answer is, we haven’t. The villains really steal the show in this movie and it’s great.

Amell. Jesus, talk about a touch of real class…er, you know, in a Green Arrow kind of way. Amell is fantastic as Casey. He doesn’t quite act like Oliver Queen, he’s a little more comedic…remorsefully, not quite as bad-ass, or…useful. Yeah, I know Casey is a fan favorite, but this was probably a little too fan-servicey. His role in the film feels like it was just to steal a phone and allude to an attraction between him and April. Boy, that’s a concept, the eye-candy of the flick has eye-candy. I do believe that if you took Casey out of the movie, the movie would be just fine. But you know what? It doesn’t matter because STEPHEN AMELL, BITCHES!

The same sort of goes for Linney as Chief Vincent. Again, don’t get me wrong, I love Linney and I love that she’s in it. Better with than without. But… her role isn’t necessary. The turtles don’t need their own personal Commissioner Gordon. But hey, if I said Amell was a touch of class, Linney is a touch of divinity.

But for as much good the movie does, there were a couple of oopsies it makes, one not so big, one sorta big.

The first was a story element and I promised I’d touch upon this. When Donnie discovers the formula to turn the turtles human, Leo tells him to keep it a secret. I really hate when characters have to make big decisions on behalf of other characters instead of letting them make their own choices. It’s so sleazy and inconsiderate and really hate the motivations behind them. Always trying to convince the audience that they’re trying to get them to accept their situation as is, but really they’re just selfish and fearful. It’s a cliche and no one likes it. This would be a lot more unbearable were it not for the appreciation that it’s pretty much resolved in the next scene, so hence it’s not dwelled on for long.

The real problem is actually related to this sequence, but really, it’s a nitpick as well.

***SPOILERS***

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Toward the end, Leo offers the formula to Raph and Mickey to see if they really want to take it. Raph decides that his “no” will be a dramatic “throw this shit at the wall.” Um…dude, that stuff can turn you human. No, I’m not saying he should have taken it and abandon his turtle persona, but think of the possibilities! Ninjas are all about stealth. What’s stealthier than being known as a turtle and then infiltrate a human bad guy’s lair AS A HUMAN! I’m sure Donnie could synthesize a modified formula that would make it less permanent, but no, destroy one of the best weapons that a ninja could ask for. Makes sense.

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***END SPOILERS***

This movie earns its title: OUT OF THE SHADOWS. Ironically, while the code of the ninja usually involves operating IN the shadows, the first film kept itself in the shadows; almost ashamed of being a Ninja Turtles movie. But this movie decides to say, “Screw it.” It’s come out of its own shell of embarrassment and embraced its own ridiculousness to deliver one of the funnest movies of the year. No, it’s not perfect, but considering how much it blows the previous movie away, it’s hard not to be impressed with it. Highly recommended to any and all, it’s worth it.

My honest rating: 5/5

Teenage-Mutant-Ninja-Turtles-Out-of-the-Shadows-Movie-Poster

Upcoming reviews:

  • LOVE & FRIENDSHIP
  • THE LOBSTER
  • POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING
  • ME BEFORE YOU

KNIGHT OF CUPS review

Terrence Malick. I am familiar with the name, but not so familiar with his work. As I don’t have the mental calibration for highly artistic movies, I have a hard time wanting to see them. But I’m always down for anything with Christian Bale. I wasn’t sure what to make of the movie, but it was the final movie of the week that I needed to see, so I gave it a shot. This my honest opinion of KNIGHT OF CUPS.

(SUMMARY)

Rick (Christian Bale) is a successful writer in Hollywood and enjoys several perks of his upper class life-style. But as strange events happen around him, he reflects on his past relationships, the tragic loss of one of his brothers, and to make sense of his life as a whole.

(REVIEW)

It’s not bad. Never in my life have I seen such a senseless, yet marinated in heightened-sense movie. Alright, so like I said, this is an art-house project. I think the genre is called “experimental.” Defined as (by Wikipedia): “…a mode of filmmaking that rigorously re-evaluates cinematic conventions and explores non-narrative forms and alternatives to traditional narratives or methods of working.” Yeah, there’s my discount dollar store research into the genre. But to a caveman film-goer like myself, it’s an artsy-fartsy movie.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experimental_film

But it this a bad thing? Eh… not really, but that doesn’t mean that it’s all that great. It’s kind of funny because I left the movie basically saying that I liked it, which may come as a confusing statement to a co-worker and friend whom I told I liked it. Well, it’s been awhile now and I’ve had adequate time to let this thing sink in and to proper convey how I feel about it.

Let’s start with what I liked. The protagonist of the story is Rick and his reflection of his past interactions with women he’s loved to his family, what I noticed is that Rick doesn’t emote, or really react to the character he’s interacting with. If interpretation was the goal, mine would be that this is because he’s legitimately trying to learn from those experiences and remaining objective as he’s remembering. Through the voice over work of the women he’s with and the emotions they’re dishing out, we learn what their relationship was about and why it ended. Very little dialog is ever traded between the characters on screen. At least, nothing really heard, but you feel every inch of the emotions being conveyed. From the love, the lust, the anger, the frustration, everything. That was pretty interesting to watch.

But honestly… that’s about all that I liked. I’m trying really hard to find something else that I liked and… I just can’t think of anything else.

One of my bigger gripes was that Bale’s back… in fact, almost every character’s back, is constantly facing the camera. Maybe I’m spoiled on my stage acting, but backs to the audience (or camera, in this case) of this magnitude is a big no no for me. I didn’t even know this was something I didn’t like!

And as much as I liked the reflective take of not showing emotion during interactions, there are still a few scenes where he does. But why? Are these taking place during the present? Are these memories just so intense that he has to remember his emotional reactions too? That’s make a little sense if it was consistent with his romances as well. Fine if one relationship wasn’t as interesting as the other, but show some emotion when we get to the big ones that got away and meant something. I won’t say he doesn’t at all, but it just feels a tad random I guess.

Also, some of the dialog is incredibly pretentious. “What’s your address?” “Why do you want to know?” “Because I want to write you a letter.” “What will you say in the letter?”

… Riveting.

It’d be one thing if the dialog was just bad, like the Star Wars prequels. When their lines are spouted, a person could get a giggle out of it. When it’s pretentious though, it just hurts your brain. People don’t talk like this. People say stupid things all the time, but how many people do you know try to talk like they’re a higher life-form? Alright, maybe a few, but stupid things are said more frequently than pretentious things.

At the end of the story, I’m not sure what the end goal of the movie was. I know this is supposed to be a philosophical take on romance and other things, but… philosophy, almost by nature, is something that can be argued. In order to argue, I have to know what the argument is and… man, it’s not clearly said. Or, in all probability, the argument is so ungodly complicated that even if I had an argument against whatever they were arguing, it goes so far over my head that I can’t argue… in short, I’m not smart enough to argue. Kind of like someone who solves a calculus problem in front of me, but I ante up by saying, “two plus two equals fish (if you don’t know this reference, I will throw a fish at you)!” We’re just on two different wave-lengths.

It’s actually pretty hard for me to talk about this one because I just don’t have enough experience in “experimental” films, or possibly the proper mental capacity to comprehend them. In either case, it can’t be denied that this is a pretty unique film compared to everything else that gets released every week. Whether or not it sticks with you if entirely for you to decide. I liked certain ideas in the movie, but for the most part, I guess it’s just not my cup of tea.

My honest rating: 3/5

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR review

Like every horror movie that I don’t care about, this one crept up out of nowhere. The only reason I knew this even existed was because my schedule for work came out and the title of the movie came up. Saw a trailer for it and knew this would be chalk full of jump scares, but I didn’t have high hopes that it’d be a challenging story or outstanding in any way. Out of the four new titles that came out this week, this was the one I was looking forward to the least. But since I like to talk about films, even bad ones, let’s get right to it. This is my honest opinion of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR.

(SUMMARY)

Maria (Sarah Wayne Callies) and Michael (Jeremy Sisto) are a loving married couple who decide that they want to stay in India to raise their, as of yet born children. Everything is great with their two children, their son Oliver (Logan Creran) and daughter Lucy (Sofia Rosinsky) until a tragic car accident causes Maria to drive off a bridge into a river with her and her kids trapped inside. Unfortunately, she can only save Lucy and is forced to leave Oliver behind to die. The incident has left her with nightmares and an inability to move on and be completely disconnected from her family. This all changes when their housekeeper Piki (Suchitra Pillai) tells Maria about a ritual in a temple that can bring Oliver back long enough for her to say her final farewell. His spirit will be on the opposite side of a door said to hold the dead spirits at bay and that she is not to open the door under any circumstances, no matter what is heard. In a desperate attempt to give it a try and provide closure, she performs the ritual and it works. However, the exchange is too brief for Maria and opens the door. She returns home, but then her home is haunted by the evil presence of the dead Oliver and the ever looming threat of the temple guardian that wants to bring him back to the world of the dead.

(REVIEW)

Ugh… Where do I even begin with this?

Alright, the premise had a lot of promise. I have no real problem with buying that Maria and Michael are a happy and stable couple, and I have no problem with Callies performance as a grieving mother who wants to move on from the tragedy and be a part of her family’s lives again. In fact, Callies performance is damn good in this movie. Unfortunately, there’s so many tropes that are not only annoying, but insultingly recycled.

Here’s the opening scene: Maria and Michael are walking along the beach happily celebrating their upcoming child and debate whether or not they should stay. They come across a little girl and Michael asks her if the two of them should stay. The little girl then creepily points at her and her face gets all horror-fied. You know what I’m talking about. Her face magically becomes pale, eyes go white, the veins in the face turn “bright black” if that makes sense, and the voice distorts unnaturally and makes a noise, like a scream or something. Then it’s revealed that this scene was a flashback.

Um… that image of a horror-fied face is not a normal nightmare that people have, especially when it starts off so lovey dovey. Even if you wanted to give the argument that this kind of nightmare is common, that’s still pretty disjointed and confused, considering that the rest of the movie is loaded with scary imagery that pops in and out. Every other movie-goer would be thinking that nightmare of hers is supernatural. This is, once again, confused as nothing supernatural has happened yet to warrant that. Honestly, you could have taken out that split-second horror-fied moment and the very next scene with Maria hitting her husband awake would have still been… disjointed, but less annoyingly so.

From this point on, it’s all drama, which is good because any horror movie worth a fuck would TRY and get the audience to care about the characters. And then we’re introduced to Piki and her ritual in the temple. First of all, why not go with her and make sure she does everything correctly? Fine that she has to be in the temple alone to talk to her dead son, but make sure you’re there to tell her not to go down the creepy hallway, down the creepy stairs, tell her that the creepy statue of the temple guardian will indeed come to life and fuck your white bitch ass up left and right around this country if you open that mother fuckin’ door! All this information seems pretty relevant and might have been extra incentive for the dumb bitch to not open that mother fuckin’ door!

But whatever, she goes to the temple, does everything she’s supposed to and has a pretty powerful brief talk with Oliver. Well, surely she wouldn’t be so stupid as to open the mother fuckin’- GOD DAMN IT, WHITE BITCH, YOU OPENED THE MOTHER FUCKIN’ DOOR!!! Who should I blame here? The dumb white bitch who was told to NOT be a dumb white bitch, or Piki who didn’t elaborate on any rhyme or reason as to why that mother fuckin’ door shouldn’t open?

Well, she does and the house becomes haunted by Oliver’s ghost. He begins to have interactions with Lucy as well as Maria herself. At first, it’s some cheap stuff, like a self-playing piano, a moving chair, a falling book, that kind of thing and everything seems benign. But… question, Oliver’s ghost… why only them? What, is your dad not worth haunting? Does he have a proton pack on standby in the closet and you know better than to haunt that fucker? And why are you also not haunting Piki until later? Why are ghosts in these movies so selective in their haunting?

But I have to admit, this is where some good development comes in. Oliver seems to calm down when Maria reads the The Jungle Book to him and seems to have an established personality. Sort of like they did with THE BOY; giving the supernatural a character, instead of relegating it to a plot device.

Problem is… that plot point goes down the shitter because Maria still suffers from supernaturally nightmarish dreams, and Oliver attacks Lucy. To top it all off, when Piki figures out what Maria did, she reveals that Oliver is a malevolent spirit and “no longer her son.” So why does Oliver want Maria to read to him? Um… because “evil!”

Now let’s talk about the temple guardian. To the film’s credit, the design for the guardian is pretty creepy. It’s got four arms, two covering its feminine face and crawls around on the others. Two days later, and I’m still unsettled in the dark in my own house. Hell, last night, I had to open the window so it’d be less quiet in my room. Having said all that, this guardian is probably the worst part of the movie.

First of all, it’s a complete rip-off of Samara from the Ring franchise and the ghost kid from THE GRUDGE. It moves like Samara, the stop-motion movement with it’s bones cracking with every movement. That’s the Ring rip-off, and its Grudge rip-off comes from the sound it itself makes; the half groaning, half burping sound.

Now that you can easily picture that because unimaginative monsters are easy like that, the guardian makes no sense. Maria’s first encounter with her is almost pointless. It grabs her ankle, Maria falls down and crawls away, pursued by the thing, and then it does the most horrifying thing imaginable… it DISAPPEARS!!! Er… what? Well… what was the point of that? It didn’t do anything. It grabs Maria’s ankle and then leaves. What, is that just how temple guardians shake hands?

And there’s so many other questions that have to be asked. If the guardian’s purpose is to bring the escaped spirit back to the world of the dead, why is it attacking Maria? Trying to punish her? Bitch, you tripped her. That’s not punishment, that’s rudeness. What efforts is the thing making to try and bring Oliver back? All this thing does is make random as fuck appearances and attacks Maria. For all intents and purposes, shouldn’t the guardian and Maria be on the same side? Wouldn’t the situation benefit from some cooperation and an attempt at communication? Why were you crawling around when you first met Maria? The audience is shown that you can clearly walk, albeit sluggishly (again, nothing is scarier than a monster I can outrun by walking at a half brisk pace). And what’s with the cannibal tribal dudes? They do the EXACT same thing! They just stand around, point, look creepy, spout gibberish, and don’t contribute anything to the story until the end, and even then, it’s like… weak, bro.

***SPOILERS***

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And that ending. I don’t have the vocabulary range to properly express how stupid it is. So Oliver possesses Maria in the end and she is ritually killed by the tribal dudes and the guardian finally shows up to do her job, reveals her fuck-ugly face and drags her and Oliver to the world of the dead. Maria wakes up dead on the other side of the mother fuckin’ door of the temple. Clearly some time goes by as Michael is on the other side, clearly having performed the ritual to say his final goodbye. Heh, well guess what fucking happens. HE OPENS THE MOTHER FUCKIN’ DOOR!!! Then roll credits.

Once again, where do I start?

Where did you learn this ritual? Piki’s dead and I’m assuming no one walks around arbitrarily talking about performing rituals that allow them to talk to their dead loved ones. Fine, an argument could be said that Piki told Michael where Maria went as she was gone, but then one would think that a lesson would have been learned as his wife was being gutted by tribals and a creepy stop-motion living statue playing peek-a-boo with her. Don’t fuck with shit you don’t understand, mother fucker. Why are white people so fucking stupid in foreign places?

And Maria. Dear sweet, beautiful Maria… how long did you need to acknowledge that you were dead and on the wrong side of the mother fuckin’ door? You seemed to have all your faculties in order as your husband was about to open the mother fuckin’ door. You knew he was there. You had ample time to tell him not to open the mother fuckin’ door. So why didn’t you tell him not to open the mother fuckin’ door? Now you’re going to come back as a bitch and haunt your husband and daughter, probably end up killing them too. Congrats on your foresight, woman.

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***END SPOILERS***

This movie had a strange effect on me. The more I thought about it, the more I hated it. But the more I was writing about it here in my review, the more I was laughing at how bad it was. I wish I could call that a positive, but as I was watching the movie, I wasn’t enjoying myself. It was just a bad movie. Yes, Callies was great in individual scenes, but a horribly written character effectively overshadows her talent that I know she has. Yes, the creature design is creepy, but it’s also a stupid creature that contributes very little to the overall plot and is far from original as far as its animation is concerned.

My honest rating: 2/5