THE DARK TOWER review

Stephen King certainly is a hit or miss for a lot of people, isn’t he? At least, as far as his film adaptations are concerned. It seems like his most celebrated films are his non-horror films, like THE GREEN MILE (1999), STAND BY ME (1986), and my personal favorite film of all time, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994). That’s not to say there aren’t some standout horror films that are considered great, like THE SHINING (1980), CARRIE (1976), and MISERY (1990). Personally, I love THE MIST (2007), but most everything else is either ridiculed, or entertainingly bad, like CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984), MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (1986), and DREAMCATCHER (2003), to name a few.

Of course, I’ve never read any of his books. Not much of a reader. But that’s not to say that anything with King’s name on it isn’t going to pique my interest. It’s so fascinating to see his on-screen adaptations be so diverse in quality. To my understanding, his novel series, The Dark Tower, is what he himself considers to be his magnum opus. A series that links many of his past novels together into a multiverse type deal. I admit, that’s pretty interesting, and I’m curious to see just how much of that will be translated to the film.

So how do I feel about this movie? It looks… basic. Don’t hang me! But it kind of does. Maybe it’s because it reminds me of a darker, more serious version of LAST ACTION HERO (1993), a campy classic of the 90’s if you ask me. I can’t claim for certainty if the Schwarzenegger action romp is technically inspired by the novel series, but the similarities are there. A kid is an adventurer of sorts, one is an action movie junkie (ACTION HERO), the other is described as an adventure seeker (TOWER), and both get whisked away into a world not like his own, and meets up with a bad-ass mutha who’s at war with an asshole, and their conflict eventually carries them back to the real world of the kid, who probably gets himself into trouble more times than he really should. Hello!?I’m sure this movie is wildly different, but it might be a little too easy to make comparisons.

Well, here’s the on-screen talent. Starring, we have young Tom Taylor (known for TV shows I’ve never heard of), Idris Elba (THE JUNGLE BOOK [2016], PACIFIC RIM [2014], THOR [2011], and upcoming films THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US [2017] and Marvel’s THOR: RAGNAROK [2017]), and Matthew McConaughey (GOLD [2017], KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS [2016], and REIGN OF FIRE [2002]). In support, we have Jackie Earle Haley (THE BIRTH OF A NATION [2016], SHUTTER ISLAND [2010], WATCHMEN [2009], and the upcoming Robert Rodriguez film ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL [2018]), Abbey Lee (THE NEON DEMON [2016], GODS OF EGYPT [2016], and MAD MAX: FURY ROAD [2015]), and Katheryn Winnick (KILLERS [2010], and TV shows VIKINGS and BONES).

Now for the talent behind the scenes. Directing and co-writing is Nikolaj Arcel, known for A ROYAL AFFAIR (2012). Co-writing the script, making for a red flag total of four writers, we have Akiva Goldsman (RINGS [2017], THE 5TH WAVE [2016], I AM LEGEND [2007], and the upcoming DC film TITANS [2018]), Jeff Pinkner (THE 5TH WAVE, TV shows ZOO and FRINGE, and upcoming films JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE [2017] and Sony’s Marvel Spider-Man spin-off VENOM [2018]), and Anders Thomas Jensen (BROTHERS [2009]). Composing the score is Junkie XL, known for BATMAN V SUPERMAN (2016), DEADPOOL (2016), DIVERGENT (2014), and upcoming video game adaptations SONIC THE HEDGEHOG (2018) and TOMB RAIDER (2018). Finally, the cinematographer is Rasmus Videbæk, known for THE ROYAL AFFAIR.

Overall, I can’t say I’m super stoked, but I’m curious enough to want to see it.

This is my honest opinion of: THE DARK TOWER

(SUMMARY)

Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) is a young boy who experiences visions of a man in black (Matthew McConaughey) who is trying to bring down a dark tower and destroy the world. Thing is, no one believes him and has been seeing therapists. But after his mother Laurie (Katheryn Winnick) feels that she has exhausted all of her options, she contacts a pair of people that will take him somewhere to get better. Believing these people, who bare striking similarities to those he’s seen in his visions, runs away to seek answers. He eventually comes to a house with a mysterious key code, punches in a set of numbers he’s been seeing and finds himself teleported to a world known as Mid-World, the world where the Dark Tower resides and has been terrorized by the man in black. His only protection: Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), who is the only one that Jake believes that can stop the man in black from destroying the tower.

(REVIEW)

For such hype, this movie is a letdown, but I’m not entirely sure if I was expecting anything amazing to begin with.

The setup is already confusing on its own. A series of opening text states that the Dark Tower is so powerful that it protects all the dimensions from the forces of darkness, but there’s a… what I can only assume to be a prophecy that states that there’s one child who’s mind can destroy it. That seems like a lame weakness, if you ask me. I mean, why? First off, why aren’t we done with this cliché of “chosen ones?” If a movie can start off drawing comparisons to STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999), then it’s not a great start to a film. This is only the first thirty seconds of the movie, mind you.

Then we jump to our Earth, Keystone Earth, as the film likes to call it for some reason, and we see that Jake has been drawing these visions that he’s been having for quite possibly quite some time because he has a therapist and his older brother is commenting that the therapy isn’t helping. And this is another big problem I have with movies like this: the victim of visions that goes around telling people the crazy things that he sees and expects them to believe him. This is such a tired trope too because no story that has ever existed with characters like this has ever had anyone believe them. Why would they? This is reality. We chock these things up to chemical imbalance for adults and bad dreams for kids. If Jake was in his single digit years, I might be more lenient toward his lack of common sense and understanding of human nature, but Jake is probably closer to being a teenager than a child. He’s gotta be able to distinguish what an adult would believe and not believe by now, and visions of a “man in black” and “people with fake skin,” that’s a hard pass on reality. Even the kids from the TV show STRANGER THINGS (2016 – ongoing) knew what to keep to themselves and they were definitely younger than Jake.

Even once things start coming to a head and the people with the fake skin enter his world and hunt him down at his home, he’s outrunning a grown-ass adult. A grown-ass adult that’s not even human and the punishment for failing the Man in Black is quite possibly death, so they’ve got all the motivation in the world to keep chasing him. But they don’t. He gets away. And to make matters even more outlandish, he manages to travel an unknown distance to a house that serves as a portal to Mid-World and this entire time, I’m wondering where the hell the police are. Surely the mother would have called the cops and there’d be an army of cops pulling over public transport after public transport looking for the squirt. He’s not a ninja. This shouldn’t have taken so long.

That’s probably the most obvious problem with the movie. It’s horribly written and we’re expected to suspend too much disbelief. But see, if this was taking place in the fictional fantasy world, this could make all the kind of sense it wants. But Keystone Earth is supposed to be our Earth. Physics, plausibility, you can’t chuck that into the wood-chipper with a cackling evil laugh. You have to ground these aspects in reality. Also, the villain. While I’ll go into the

But fine, you could argue this is nitpicking. Does the rest of the film hold up when Jake gets to Mid-World?

Nope! It does not! First of all, those people with the fake skin, they wear that shit even in Mid-World. Um… why? It makes sense in Keystone, obviously, but… why in Mid-World? Are these beings so ugly that even in a world where ugly is the norm they have to cover up? Seemed kinda silly to me. There’s also a scene, a little after Jake’s met Roland for the first time, and in their traveling, Jake references the Man in Black, to which Roland immediately grabs Jake by his shirt and threatens to drop him off a cliff if he’s a spy for him. Note, it’s literally just the name that sets him off. Not a prolonged conversation about him and Jake says something stupid and Roland takes it the wrong way, no, the mere mention of the name “man in black” throws him through the ringer. There’s even some weird shots too. Like, this movie was desperate to show that it’s connected to all of Stephen King’s stories. For example, Jake stumbles upon a ruin of some kind and he’s standing on a submerged-in-the-ground statue of a hand holding up balloons and a sign reading “Pennywise” from his story “It.” It’s like the cameraman and the editor knew that the sign was hard to read in pitch black lighting, so they held on to the shot for dear life. There’s even a demon that makes it’s way to our heroes and it really reminded me of that alien from STAR WARS: ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002) that slashed Padmé’s back in the Geonosian arena scene.

And really? Walter? “The Man in Black” … the name that strikes fear into the hearts of all in the known realms… the man who killed all but one Gunslinger, a legendary order of warriors that numbered in the legions, and literally has the power to command people to die and they fall down dead… his real name… is Walter?

Walter.

SO SCARY!!!

Honestly, the rest of the film is uninteresting and almost boring because Mid-Guard doesn’t look all that spectacular. I’m sure the idea is to make it look like an apocalyptic wasteland, but it’s way too visually boring. The forest scene is about the closest we get, but everything else makes you wonder how this takes place in a fantasy land instead of Earth.

***SPOILERS***

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And even when it gets to Earth, almost nothing stands out either. In fact, I’m having a hard time recollecting what even happened. I know Jake finds out that his mom dies and he is eventually kidnapped by… Walter… which leads to a shootout to save Jake’s life.

Which now brings me to my final complaint. Why does Walter want to destroy the realms? Okay, some people are psychotic and seriously should have had a loving mommy to hold them, I get that. But if I understand the movie correctly, the forces of darkness sound like demons that aren’t even of the realms of the established universes. These forces are outside of what’s known. Is Walter one of these forces? Does he somehow think he can control these forces, or think he can survive their coming destruction? For that matter, who ever created this Dark Tower, what was it’s intention? It’s primary function is to protect the realms from each other and from these forces of darkness. So why have a weakness built into it that could destroy the thing completely?

So many questions, so little care.

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***END SPOILERS***

Is there anything redeemable about the movie?

Not… especially. Some of the action is ridiculous that it got a chuckle out of me, but I have no idea if I was giggling because of how stupid it was or… nah, it was pretty stupid. I suppose the actors aren’t all that bad all things considered and I do think Taylor was serviceable enough. He sure wouldn’t have been able to carry the film without Elba around, but he wasn’t bad. And up until learning that the Man in Black’s name was Walter, I thought McConaughey was decent. He had an intimidation about him that I enjoyed watching.

Overall, though, I think this movie is a dud. By no means the worst I’ve ever seen, but for a movie with such a background, a story that intersects all of King’s stories in some fashion and it doesn’t culminate into anything of any real substance. It’s like a perfectly crafted bullet trying to be shoved into a toy shotgun; it just doesn’t work on so many levels. The actors are trying and I hope this doesn’t ruin anyone’s careers, especially the younger actors, but if this was supposed to be a introduction to this universe, the access isn’t very universal. Hell, I’d be shocked if fans of the novels would get anything out of it. I don’t recommend this in theaters and I don’t really recommend it as a rental. It’s not overly long, not even two hours, but it might feel longer for some audiences.

My honest rating for THE DARK TOWER: a weak 3/5

 

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

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

(SUMMARY)

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

(REVIEW)

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

What shall I start with?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VANESSA
No offense, but go fuck yourself.

AXEL
Understood.

VANESSA
Good, then go do it!

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

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

***SPOILERS***

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

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

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***END SPOILERS***

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

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

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Quick Netflix review: THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951)

Starring: Michael Rennie (THE LOST WORLD [1960], and TV shows: 1 episode of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. [1967] and 2 episodes of BATMAN [1966]), Patricia Neal (FLYING BY [2009], COOKIE’S FORTUNE [1999], and BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S [1961]), and Billy Gray (TV shows I SPY and FATHER KNOWS BEST).

Support: Sam Jaffe (BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS [1971], BEN-HUR [1959], and TV show BEN CASEY) and Hugh Marlowe (ALL ABOUT EVE [1950], TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH [1949], and TV show ANOTHER WORLD)

Director: Robert Wise (STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE [1979], THE SOUND OF MUSIC [1965], and THE HAUNTING [1963]). Screenwriter: Edmund H. North (PATTON [1970] and SINK THE BISMARCK! [1960]). Composer: Bernard Herrmann (PSYCHO [1998 / 1960], TAXI DRIVER [1976], and CITIZEN KANE [1941]). Cinematographer: Leo Tover (JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH [1959] and THE GREAT GATSBY [1926]).

(SUMMARY)

Klaatu (Michael Rennie) is an alien humanoid visitor that mysteriously arrives on Earth with his intimidating guardian robot, Gort. When Klaatu disembarks his space ship, he’s met with hostility from the American soldiers. His injuries are minor, but wastes no time in mentioning that he’s on Earth with a specific purpose: to talk to every world leader. However, the politics are too complicated and it’s not immediately possible. In order to understand the world he’s arrived in, he escapes confinement, and finds shelter in a boarding house and befriends Helen (Patricia Neal) and her young son, Bobby (Billy Gray), who think he’s a government agent.

(REVIEW)

Sometimes, I really hate how my primitive teen and child mind was so averted to black and white films because there a wealth of great films to witness.

Before you ask, yes, I saw the remake well before I saw the original. I don’t remember whether or not I liked it. I just knew I liked Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connelly, but I can’t say anything about the movie itself. I know everyone says it sucked, but I haven’t revisited the film since 2008.

But enough about the remake no one cares about. Let’s talk about the original! It’s so super… fantastically… not bad. I can see why this is a sci-fi classic and I agree. It’s a good movie and it’s worth checking out. There’s great atmosphere, a thick sense of ominous mystery. Because Klaatu never reveals his intentions for being on Earth until the end of the film, so you never what’s going on in his mind the entire time. He’s written so well and Rennie’s performance is so pitch perfect, that you never truly believe that he means harm, but his agenda is never far from our minds. And plus that ambiguous ending? Probably one of the most effective that I’ve seen in a very long time.

Some things don’t work for me. Obviously, it’s the 50’s, so Klaatu’s space suit looks cheap as hell, but that’s a just a product of the time, so I can’t complain too badly. I do complain about some of the writing, which wasn’t thought through very well. Like, Klaatu’s very arrival. I don’t know, maybe this was just the mindset at the time, but if you’re an alien suddenly arriving at another planet without either an invitation or some kind of heads up, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that humans would have reacted as they did: by shooting him out of fear. What the hell did he think was going to happen?!

***SPOILERS***

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And why does he think that this world was that politically united? Here’s what I mean, he’s here to talk to all the world about their atomic bombs and progress in space ships of their own. Klaatu’s people’s math is that we humans will take our bombs to space and bomb other planets. We’re a hostile race, after all. The point I’m trying to make is that he thinks it’s that easy to talk to the entire planet at once. Once realizing that it’s not that easy, why not just talk to the world leaders individually? He’s been traveling for light years. It’s a safe bet that he’s got some time on his hands to tell Earth to shape up and grow up.

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***END SPOILERS***

All in all, as much as I prattle on about my issues with the story, they’re pretty minuscule by comparison to how well executed the rest of the film is. I may not be on the band wagon that claims it to be one of the greatest science fiction films of all time. It doesn’t have the excitement of Star Wars or the unbelievable sets of METROPOLIS (1927), but it’s got great commentary, especially for the time period (Cold War), fantastic acting and character relationships, it’s a definite joy if you’re a sci-fi junkie like myself.

My honest rating for THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951): a strong 4/5

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When did Gort carry a hot blond anywhere? Patricia Neal is brunette! :/

JURASSIC WORLD (transfer) review

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

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

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

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

Story on top, review on the bottom.

(SUMMARY)

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

(REVIEW)

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

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

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

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

***SPOILERS***

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

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***END SPOILERS***

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

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

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

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

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

***SPOILERS***

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

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***END SPOILERS***

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

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

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

***SPOILERS***

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

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***END SPOILERS***

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

4/5

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

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VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(SUMMARY)

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

(REVIEW)

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

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

But then the first red flags crop up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES review

OHHHHHH MYYYYYY GOOOOOOD!!! YEEEEEES!!!

As you can probably tell, I’m so excited for this movie. But as per usual, let’s briefly talk about the legacy of the Planet of the Apes franchise. I say “briefly” because I can’t too much about the original… how many films were there? Five? I’ve never seen them. Don’t lynch me, movie buffs! I didn’t see them as a kid because, in my household, they were too violent and not meant for kids. As the years progressed and my parents stopped caring whether or not movie violence would turn me into a serial killer, which it did not, I’ve just never made the time to see them. I know the original film, THE PLANET OF THE APES (1968) is considered a great and classic film with interesting social commentary and a bunch of other stuff that I probably don’t know. The rest of the films throughout the 70’s, as I understand it, have had their own merits, but were never really as good as the first film.

But as… “not as good” as the sequels were, nothing would really gain such a bad rep as the Tim Burton remake- oops, I’m sorry, the “reimagining” – PLANET OF THE APES (2001), starring Mark Wahlberg… er, before he was great. While the make-up was praised, the acting was downright hokey, and the plot barely made sense, man, the list of reasons why this movie didn’t work could reach the moon and lasso it. For example: WAHLBERG MAKES OUT WITH A MONKEY!!! EEEEEWWWWW!!! I think I liked it enough as a kid, but as an adult, no. Just… no.

But then a great gift happened to this franchise ten years later. We were graced with a new reboot, specifically a prequel to the Apes franchise called RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011). There are so many reasons why I love this film. First off, I love Andy Serkis. I fell in love with his mocap performances in the Lord of the Rings franchise and KING KONG (2005). Since then, anything he touches is gold and I fall in love with. So when the time came for him to bring to life a new ape to cause problems for humans, I radiated excitement. And lo and behold, RISE was a mega hit and wildly popular with audiences. This was arguably James Franco’s best performance, or at least one of them, Serkis delivered incredible expression and mannerisms to his role as Caesar, with a really compelling backstory that is tragic, but set in motion a highly anticipated future.

Then… DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014) happened and brought the franchise to the heels of what the original movies would ultimately become. The title is… probably indistinguishable from RISE, but hey, it was a great movie too. I think the lead human characters were… duller than Franco was. Not by much, but noticeably not as interesting, but like it should be, the focus is on Serkis as Caesar who is only trying to provide for and protect his family and people from other humans, whose population has horribly decreased thanks to a virus and there is great tension between the two factions when they ultimately meet. Oldman delivered a great performance, Toby Kebbell’s performance as problem-ape Koba put the man on the map for me as another great mocap performer, and God damn, was I ready to see this war that’s been built up.

Now it’s here. Ladies and gentlemen… it’s here. This is arguably one of the most highly anticipated movies of this year for me and why shouldn’t it be? Apes on horseback with shotguns and assault rifles slung over their shoulders, human commandos in full assault mode, lots of snow, a human child being cared for by Caesar, and it looks like there’s plenty of apes that have defected from Caesar’s leadership and help the humans fight their own kind. I’ve got the highest of high expectations here and I think I’m still going to be blown away.

Well, here’s the incredible cast. Starring, we have Serkis (STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS [2015], THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY [2012], DEATHWATCH [2002], and the upcoming STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI [2017] and Marvel’s BLACK PANTHER [2018]), Woody Harrelson (WILSON [2017], THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN [2016], TV show TRUE DETECTIVE, and the upcoming as-of-yet-titled Star Wars Han Solo film), and young newcomer Amiah Miller (LIGHTS OUT [2016], and TV shows MACGYVER and RICHIE RICH). In support, we have returning veterans Karin Konoval (both DAWN and RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, 1 episode of TV show IZOMBIE, and the upcoming hybrid live-action/animated movie WOODY WOODPECKER [2017] and I’m pretty sure it’s a foreign film), Judy Greer (WILSON, ANT-MAN [2015], and CARRIE [2013]), mocap veteran and stunt-man, Terry Notary (KONG: SKULL ISLAND [2017], WARCRAFT [2016], and DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES [2014]), and… Toby Kebbell? (KONG: SKULL ISLAND, A MONSTER CALLS [2016], and THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE [2010]). Um… questions! Newbie support includes Steve Zahn (CAPTAIN FANTASTIC [2016], RESCUE DAWN [2006], and CRIMSON TIDE [1995]), Gabriel Chavarria (LOWRIDERS [2017] and FREEDOM WRITERS [2007]), and Alessandro Juliani (MAN OF STEEL [2013], and TV shows THE 100 and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA).

Now for the talent behind the scenes. Directing and co-writing is Matt Reeves, known for DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, LET ME IN (2010), and CLOVERFIELD (2008). His partner-in-pen is Mark Bomback, known for Divergent series INSURGENT (2015), THE WOLVERINE (2013), and LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (2007). Composing the score is the ever-amazing Michael Giacchino, known for SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017), STAR TREK BEYOND (2016), INSIDE OUT (2015), and upcoming films JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (2018) and Pixar’s THE INCREDIBLES 2 (2018). Finally, the cinematographer is Michael Seresin, known for DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, STEP UP (2006), HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN (2004), and the upcoming JUNGLE BOOK (2018).

Overall, super stoked. Don’t feel like saying more.

This is my honest opinion of: WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

(SUMMARY)

The war between apes and humans continues. In hopes of leaving the war for good, an ape scouting team brings news of a new home where they believe the humans won’t find them. However, before leaving, the humans locate the home of Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his fellow apes. They infiltrate the place lead by the ruthless Colonel (Woody Harrelson) with the intention of assassinating him. Instead, Caesar sees the corpses of his wife Cornelia (Judy Greer) and his eldest son Blue Eyes (Max Lloyd-Jones). While the humans are pushed back, Caesar tells his people to leave for their new home while he sets out to find the Colonel and exact revenge on him for the death of his family.

(REVIEW)

YEAH!!! I would argue that there isn’t much war in the movie, but YEAH!!!

Isn’t that sort of misinformation? For a movie titled “War,” it’s kind of a bummer that there’s only one or two scenes worth of warfare, and only one of those battles was actually between apes and humans. The rest of the movie is Caesar and his small group searching for the Colonel. Among other plot points, but that might give away too much. So… wouldn’t a more accurate title be, “Exodus of the Planet of the Apes” or, “Conquest,” or, “Rebellion”? I’d call this a legit complaint if the rest of the movie didn’t deliver one of the most impressive and refreshingly well-made films of the year.

Something to keep in mind when going into this movie. While all the films have essentially been about Caesar, both RISE and DAWN have given plenty of screen time to human characters, possibly for that “human connection” component that movies desperately feel like they need. James Franco for RISE and Jason Clarke and Kerri Russell for DAWN, but this movie shamelessly shines the spotlight on Caesar all the way through. What few human characters that there are get such little screen time and I say it’s about damn time. In fact, it adds this new layer that it only took me until now to realize. The way I’ve been interpreting this is that in RISE, there were a lot of human characters because, no duh, there were a lot of humans in this period of the timeline. In DAWN, we’re given a few more human characters, but I believe it’s because it was meant to convey this sense of, “All these people we’re throwing at you… that’s is. That’s all that’s left.” You know, because of the virus that nearly wiped out all of humanity. But now, years into this war, we’re given a crap ton of screen time with a large population of apes and the only humans that we see are soldiers. Not a single civilian in sight if you don’t count Nova (Amiah Miller). There’s this haunting, yet beautifully executed, atmosphere that the franchise is coming full circle and becoming that planet of apes.

Leading the way is, as always, the incredible talent that brings Caesar to life. For God’s sake, someone give Serkis an Oscar. Just shut up and hand that golden statue to him for his incredible acting using very little words and mostly just in his expressions. You could probably cut out all the dialog and know exactly what’s on his mind. In fact, I think I saw an interview that dialog was actually written for many of these scenes, but the filmmakers and actors were toying with the idea of just using the expressions to say the dialog and I think that’s why most of the scenes are like that because they worked so well. But if there’s anyone else that deserves as much praise as Serkis is every other mocap actor whose dialog is literally in sign language, like Maurice (Karin Konoval), Luca (Michael Adamthwaite), and Rocket (Terry Notary)… er, maybe more specifically Maurice, as he gets more screen time to connect with Nova. In DAWN, we know that Maurice only knew the bad side of human nature, but I like how in this movie, he comes around and cares for Nova.

This may not be the selling point for the film, but the more I think about Nova, the more I love her inclusion in the story. She’s that little girl featured in the trailer and she can’t speak for reasons that I won’t give here, but I can only give Miller the highest of praise for her acting, despite her youth. Like the ape characters, she can only act through her eyes and expressions and she’s absolutely wonderful. At first glance, you’d think she’s only there to pander to the audience that needs something cute to look at. But the story doesn’t ultimately make her out that way. There is an air of mystery to why she is the way she is and I believe that her presence in the group is a constant reminder to Caesar that, despite his loses and hatred toward the Colonel, there is a shred of humanity left in him to keep him grounded. Their relationship is a big question mark for much of the story. Whenever they share screen time, all they do is make glances and glares at each other. It’s almost like she knows that Caesar killed her father, but as the story progresses, she develops a sweet connection with the apes. I especially enjoy this moment with Luca the gorilla who gives Nova a flower to put in her hair. Giving little girls flowers seems to be a new trend in sci-fi films these days.

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Moving on, it’s probably a good idea to mention the strangest new character to the line-up, Bad Ape (Steve Zahn). Basically, he’s about the only other ape that actually talks other than Caesar, but is a little crazed. So contrary to his name, he’s one of the good guys. And he’s the comic relief. I know, right? Zahn as comic relief. What else is new? Thing is… his character may be a hit or miss for a lot of people. Bad Ape… if I understood him correctly, grew up in captivity and had a child, but at some point escaped. I think there’s a real sadness to the character. He’s barely holding it together, but there’s still a cheeriness to him that makes you feel bad for him. Some of his mannerisms may feel a little too hokey, but I think this is tapping into a new dimension for apes: PTSD, or depression. Either or. Whatever happened to Bad Ape was left pretty ambiguous. Still, this is definitely one of the better performances that Zahn has dished out. I don’t know how well received his character will be with general audiences, but I think it just narrowly missed being annoying and remained nuanced.

And now… the unspoken American treasure himself… Harrelson. Can this man do no wrong? Talk about intimidation personified. From the moment he appears on screen in the movie, he’s covered in camo face-paint and stares down Caesar after seeing what he’d done. This moment is dripping with unbelievable tension, and runs a serious gauntlet of emotion. Caesar’s devastated by seeing the bodies of his wife and eldest son, but seething, primal rage at the Colonel. And he is definitely staring at Caesar like he’s confused at who he just killed, but you see his own hatred for the apes. All of this you can immediately pick up with only two shots between two characters. The thing I appreciate most is that he isn’t a pure-blooded monster. Once again, I find this brilliant subtlety to his character. While he’s certainly a soldier through and through, he did seem to lament the fact that he didn’t kill his intended target and quite possibly murdered a pair of innocent lives. There is a sense of respect that he shows Caesar. But make no mistake, these characters are hardcore enemies and want nothing but the other’s demise.

***SPOILERS***

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I think having had enough time to really process the film, I do have one legit complaint. The movie is a touch repetitive of the previous films. I mean, really think about it. Other than we don’t get much warfare in the movie, the second half to final third of the movie takes place in a concentration camp for the migrating apes that the Colonel happened upon. Didn’t we already see apes in cages? I mean, Caesar was born in a lab where they were experimented on. He freed a ton of apes in a zoo who were mistreated like none other and broke free. Why are we seeing this concept again? This could have easily been a variation  of the “Rise” of the planet of the apes story, but no, the movie’s title implies that we’d see more warfare. Not more captivity and jail-breaking. Hell, DAWN had more warfare than this movie did. We’ve already seen Caesar become the leader that lead to the apes’ independence. It’s a little too rehashed for my taste.

Also, I did find Red Donkey’s (Ty Olsson) redemption to be a little forced as he hasn’t had many problems with letting the humans killing his own kind. At least he gets killed for his sins.

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***END SPOILERS***

Overall, while the movie’s title is misleading, it’s hard to deny how beautifully well-done this film is. Wonderful special effects and mocap talent, a simple story interwoven with complex ideas, and keeping its fanbase looking forward to the next installment and where this story can be taken. I love this movie and I highly recommend it to anyone who’s been a fan of this prequel series thus far.

My honest rating for WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES: a strong 4/5

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THE BAD BATCH review

Awww yeah. Love my post-apocalyptic films.

Not much of a story of how I got into this. Saw the trailer, looked fucked up, wanted to see it. It’s got Aquaman and John Wick in the film and it’s somehow about cannibals. What’s not to want to see? But… it’s a romance film? Really? Calling it out, I’m guessing whatever romance elements are in the movie are the reason why the film is getting less than stellar ratings and reviews (IMDB = 6.0/10, and RottenTomatoes = 43%). Regardless, I’m interested, so we’ll see how I feel.

Starring, we have Suki Waterhouse, for some reason credited as an “introducing” in the the trailer (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES [2016] and the Divergent Series INSURGENT [2015]), Jason Momoa (BULLET TO THE HEAD [2012], CONAN [2011], TV show GAME OF THRONES, and upcoming DC films JUSTICE LEAGUE [2017] and AQUAMAN [2018]), Keanu Reeves (JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 [2017], THE NEON DEMON [2016], and THE LAKE HOUSE [2006]), Diego Luna (ROGUE ONE [2016], THE BOOK OF LIFE [2014], CONTRABAND [2012], and upcoming films FLATLINERS [2017] and the remake SCARFACE [2018]), Jim Carrey (DUMB AND DUMBER TO [2014], KICK-ASS 2 [2013], and SIMON BIRCH [1998]), and Giovanni Ribisi (PAPA HEMINGWAY IN CUBA [2016], AVATAR [2009], and FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX [2004]).

Now for behind the scenes. Writing and directing is Ana Lily Amirpour, known for short films. I guess this film has no score, so I’ll jump to the final crewman, the cinematographer: Lyle Vincent, known for a ton of unknown projects.

Like I said, I’m interested. Something’s telling me I’ll find the romance elements out of place or pointless, but I might like the movie just fine. Besides, Jim Carrey in a movie about cannibals? Sold.

This is my honest opinion of: THE BAD BATCH

(SUMMARY)

Set in a post-apocalyptic setting outside of Texas, Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is one of the “bad batch,” someone not fit for civilized society and must find a way to live in wasteland desert. Almost immediately upon arrival, she’s ambushed by a group of cannibals, who cut off her leg and arm. Managing to free herself from chains, she also kills one of them, and escapes into the wasteland again where she’s found by a quiet hermit (Jim Carrey) and taken to a safe haven settlement known as Comfort, headed by the charismatic leader known simply as The Dream (Keanu Reeves). Months later after healing and getting a new prosthetic leg, Arlen heads back out in the wasteland to find those who deformed her.

(REVIEW)

Yeah… as much as I love my post-apocalyptic stories, this was sadly not as good as I’d hoped. I hesitate to say that it’s even good.

Thing is, the movie doesn’t start off bad. In fact, I kind of got sucked into it. I enjoyed the lack of dialog from Arlen and the vast landscape of the wasteland. Granted, I wasn’t getting any real semblance of her personality through all this, other than… she likes make-up and probably needs an attitude adjustment considering her laughable “bad girl” attire, consisting of a hat with middle fingers stitched in. But then she’s captured by the locals, immediately gets her arm and leg sawed off, it was grotesque, but in all the right ways. She covers herself in her own shit, kills the bitch who was about to cut more of her off, and escapes via laying on her back on a skateboard. I won’t lie, the visual is actually pretty funny.

Remorsefully, the movie mostly falls flat from this point on. Maybe a surprisingly realistic “homeless man” performance by Ribisi is very humorous, but now it becomes a really stale revenge flick that’s been done in better amateur films. Literally, she has a gun, finds one of the cannibals that stood by and watched her get mutilated and decided to take in Honey (Jayda Fink) and take her away from her father, the Miami Man (Jason Momoa). This movie is a bunch of walking from one place to another and randomness to boot. Arlen gets high, wanders into the desert, meets Miami Man, they talk about nothing that matters, and the list goes on. Nothing makes sense. There’s barely a plot that even the movie itself doesn’t seem to care about.

Never mind that, there’s also a ton of missed opportunities. The Dream has a bunch of hot women that worship him, most of them are pregnant, and all of them carry assault rifles. We never see them use it. Earlier in the movie, we saw that the cannibal community has a shit-load of hugely muscular Adonises, and it’s clear that the people of Comfort don’t like the cannibals. I don’t know about the rest of you, but two plus two equals four. If you have a league of intimidating cannibals and a group of armed pregnant women with guns, you obviously pit them against each other together because… God damn it, why wouldn’t you do that?!

I’m also not entirely sure why this movie insists on partly classifying itself as a romance. Nothing in this movie is romantic. The ending where Arlen wants to stay with Miami Man and Honey where they eat Honey’s pet bunny? That was funny, but… I don’t think that’s enough to call it a romance film, dark or otherwise. THE LAKE HOUSE (2006) had a man run over another man doesn’t suddenly make the romantic drama into a crime thriller. Fine, whatever, most of the movie doesn’t make sense, I should be used to this shit by now.

Overall, there’s not a lot to say because… it’s dull. It’s boring. I can’t say it’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s definitely not good. It’s not without some bursts of enjoyability, but a lack of consistency doesn’t make it worth a watch. I’m not saying avoid it at all costs, but I don’t think it’s worth anyone’s time.

My honest rating for THE BAD BATCH: a weak 3/5

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