BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE review

Before anyone asks, no, I’ve not read the comic book. I’m not a comic reader. Having said that, I love my superhero TV shows and movies. Say what you will about DC’s cinematic universes, it’s hard to deny that their animated films are top-notch that even Marvel doesn’t have down. I am aware of the comic book this is based on, of course, and I have a general idea of what the actual story is about, but what really sucked me in is that this will not only be the first R-rated DC animated film, but it’s featuring the returning voice talents of Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as Joker, the same men who’ve been voicing these characters for twenty damn mother fucking glorious years. Some added sprinkles in the flavors of Tara Strong, John DiMaggio, Nolan North, and Fred Tatasciore make this outing to be a delicious epic sundae.

Early reviews though seem to have this movie fairly mixed. As I understand it, the movie actually expands on the comic by giving, if I remember correctly, Batgirl an origin story as well. I haven’t read too much into the early reactions as I don’t want my review to be influenced by other opinions that would probably have me going in with a preconception that wouldn’t be natural to my mind. I’m still excited regardless. But where do I stand with the flick? Is it yet another fantastic addition to animated DC library, or is it a disappointment?

This is my honest opinion of: BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE

(SUMMARY)

Based on the celebrated and controversial comic book of the same name. Barbara Gordon (voiced by Tara Strong), aka Batgirl, fails at capturing a criminal name Paris Franz (voiced by Maury Sterling), who develops a sexual fascination with Batgirl. Batman believes that she can’t handle the case after both telling her to stay out of it and failing to subdue him a second time. Matters only get worse later on. One night, Joker (voiced by Mark Hamill) has escaped from Arkham Asylum and Batman is desperate to find him. He manages to take control of an old carnival, some lackeys with physical deformations, and tracks down Barbara at her home while her father Commissioner Jim Gordon (voiced by Ray Wise) visits. Joker shoots Barbara in the stomach which tears through her back and captures Jim, with the intention of proving Jim and everyone else in the world, is just one bad day away from being as crazy as himself.

(REVIEW)

This is probably the most fascinating and deeply complex Batman story I have ever seen. It’s also probably the most heavily flawed of DC’s animated films.

You’re reading that right. The first third, maybe half of the movie, isn’t about the Joker or even feature him in appearance or reference. In this ninety minute movie, at least thirty to forty-five minutes worth of it is about Batgirl. Yup, in a Batman/Joker-centric flick, we dedicate a good chunk of that time to Batgirl. I have a couple theories as to why this is.

Theory one: I wonder if the makers had cut out too much content from the comic and inadvertently made the intended story too short, so they needed a giant-ass filler. Having not read the comic, was it overloaded with too much exposition or whatever? Or was the story itself very short? Seems like they got all the important stuff down. But what do I know?

Theory two: they clearly wanted Batgirl to be properly established before the story got underway and to give Batman a deeper reason to hunt down the Joker for some reason. Er, well, I guess shooting Batgirl and paralyzing her is good enough motivation, but… alright, let me dive into my thoughts as to why this storyline was attached to this movie.

A lot of the recent DC animated movies, specifically the Batman ones, are all sequels to one another. SON OF BATMAN is directly followed by BATMAN VS. ROBIN, then BAD BLOOD, and so on and so forth. At the very end of BAD BLOOD, nearly all of the “Bat” characters make an appearance with one notable exception: Batgirl. She just has one cameo, right before the credits roll. What followed was JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. TEEN TITANS. Wasn’t exactly going to dive into a story featuring the fan-favorite. Fans could easily feel a tad jipped to be forced to go without a Batgirl movie. Twice now at first glance since TITANS and KILLING JOKER were next and at some point, a solo Batgirl animated film was cancelled (WONDER WOMAN sales were slow, yet it’s considered to be one of the higher grossing animated movies… you interpret that as you will). I feel like since KILLING JOKE is about Joker doing horrible things to Batgirl, the story took advantage of her lack of solo films and opted to include that story so the audience would get attached and invested in her character so we would hate or fear Joker that much more. I do want to fully acknowledge that it is very likely KILLING JOKE is just an independent story separate from the other animated Batman films and all this is just a coincidence, but the timing of it does seem to be a little odd, wouldn’t you say? Especially since they just announced that the next DC animated movie would be JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK. Again, no Batgirl solo film.

In some ways, this works. In other ways, it’s an incredibly distracting detour. Yes, Batgirl is pretty bad-ass. She’s a fun character that seems to be like a classic Robin who’s in it for the adventure and thrill, but still has that serious edge to her. And it can’t be denied that Strong is fabulous lending her voice to this character that has so far been overlooked in the New 52 animated movies. However, I do complain that there is inconsistency in her fighting. Here’s what I mean, Batgirl has her first encounter with Paris. He escapes, she wants a second go at him. They meet again and now it’s a real hand-to-hand fight. She… gets her ass kicked. Er… okay, does Batman suck at training? Batman… who was trained by the greatest ninjas on the planet, the League of Assassins… who trained Dick Greyson who would become Nightwing… Tim Drake who would become Red Robin (Yummm – sorry, had to make that restaurant pun)… Jason Todd who would become the second Red Hood… I seriously doubt that Batgirl would so effectively get her ass handed to her BY A THUG! Even if you could argue that that she simply didn’t take to Batman’s training, explain how in another scene, she’d fight Batman himself and kick his ass?! Grr to the umpteenth power!

***SPOILERS***

 

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And… seriously, was Batman and Batgirl really a thing? Like, did they really have sex in the comics? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised if they did, but… was this something fans needed to see? Was this necessary? Was this movie going to fall apart if Bruce and Barbara didn’t fuck? It doesn’t add anything to the story, so no, it wasn’t necessary! Batman doesn’t ever show that he’s more invested in finding Joker after what he did to her. And at the end of the movie, he’s still offering to help him change and having a laugh at Joker’s joke. Shyeah, really convinced you’re there to bring him to justice for what he did to Barbara and Jim. Someone record that shit on a phone and show the Gordons. Yeah, I’ll bet they’d appreciate that scene a lot!

But I do have to say that it’s interesting to see her walk away from being Batgirl after nearly beating Paris to death. She realizes that this life isn’t for her if it means losing her humanity like that. That’s something you don’t see in many superhero movies, to be that honest with themselves that the lifestyle is too demanding.

***

 

***

 

***END SPOILERS***

But now moving on to the actual movie we paid to see: Batman and Joker. This stuff is bar-none, the best the film offers. You see how Joker was once a fail stand-up comedian trying to support his pregnant wife. As it turns out, he’s actually not a poorly written character. He’s very sympathetic and Hamill does a good job making him feel like an every-man.

All of his origin stuff is told in flashback while Joker is off doing his thing. What I really thought was interesting and unique is that this story takes different angles with the characters presented. We usually just get that Batman is trying to stop the Joker from doing horrible things because… well, that’s what they do. But this is the first time I’ve ever seen Batman actually contemplate making an solid effort into helping Joker recover, acknowledging that, in some ways, he’s not wrong. Anyone can become crazy if they had that kind of bad day, and he wants to help rehabilitate him.

***SPOILERS***

 

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***

Joker on the other hand is making his own psychoanalysis of Batman. That’s different too. I mean, one could argue that’s exactly what he does in THE DARK KNIGHT, but he’s more or less assuming, not questioning. Joker goes through his confrontation with Batman like he’s irritated, frustrated, even hints of jealousy. He can tell that Batman just had to have had a day that ruined his life to make him dress up like a bat. But clearly, whatever insanity he has, he still operates like a sane person and that seems to drive Joker crazy. He doesn’t understand why Batman is so different from him and he wants Batman to embrace his inner insanity. I just love how this story treats this side of the character. Even at the very end when Joker loses his fight to Batman, he doesn’t continue to resist. He doesn’t keep on fighting, he just gets it. He lost. He’s not overpowering Batman any time soon, so he just accepts that he’s done. But bar-none, my favorite moment in this scene is when Batman offers to rehabilitate Joker, extends his hand out to him… Joker hesitates. He’s sitting there looking at Batman’s hand and looks like he’s seriously contemplating his help. Obviously, Joker ignores the hand and quietly declines, declaring himself beyond that sort of thing now. But he does it in a way that makes it look like he wishes he could accept help. There’s so much that can be said about this scene alone, especially if you know the history behind these characters and how complicated it’s always been and I don’t think we’ve ever seen Batman and Joker like this before and it left an interesting impact on me.

***

 

***

 

***END SPOILERS***

All in all, I think this movie is worth seeing, just know that the first half is all build-up to the real story and that build-up almost has nothing to do with the KILLING JOKE. But it’s certainly thought-provoking, unique, gritty, and despite its flaws, I really like it.

My honest rating for BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE: a strong 3/5

PS: Joker’s joke at the end… yeah, that was pretty funny.

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That’s all for this week, guys, but the next set of films start tomorrow and there’s a bunch of ’em (6 total). Keep an eye out for my reviews for them.

  • JASON BOURNE
  • BAD MOMS
    • trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKCw-kqo3cs
  • EQUITY
    • trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xg2TSp5tJy4
  • INDIGNATION
    • trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELKsrUssyQE
  • TALLULAH
    • trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WSz2s-Gemc
  • NERVE
    • trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AX1BTiHzq-I
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ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE MOVIE review

So as I understand it, this movie is actually based on an English TV show ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS that’s been going on for twenty years. Er… kinda. There’s only six seasons, according to IMDb. My guess is that the show’s been cancelled and restarted every few years or so, but keeping that up for twenty years? Either this show has the fiercest following that would make FIREFLY fans feel inadequate, or… yeah, I don’t know what other explanation there could be. As you can plainly tell, I have not seen this show. I haven’t even heard of it until I asked my parents about it. They on the other hand seemed very familiar with the show and seem fairly interested in the movie.

While I can’t say whether or not I’m excited for this movie as a fan of the original show, I can say what my impressions are of the movie as a standalone film. The trailer… yeah, it looked like it could be funny. The premise certainly has me interested. A couple of glamorous older women get to meet famed model Kate Moss and accidentally kill her and go on the run, yeah, looks like there’s comedy potential. However, here’s my issues with it so far, as far as the trailer was revealing. Some of the jokes and slapstick seem ridiculously forced, or trying too hard. Maybe they’re saving the best jokes for the movie, but again, I can’t say I’m overly excited. As it stands, I’m indifferent to this movie. But how is it really? Is it as fabulous as my parents make it out to be, or is it just cheap nonsense?

This is my honest opinion of: ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE MOVIE

(SUMMARY)

Edina (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy (Joanna Lumley) are not the richest women around, but they sure do love to carry themselves like they’re the highlight of high society, managing to seed their way into big parties that feature the biggest names in the modeling world. As it turns out, Edina and Patsy get word that fashion goddess Kate Moss (as herself) will be at a party on a yacht. Edina, in desperate need to save her PR agency that’s losing money, decides she wants to be Kate’s new PR. Unfortunately, she’s not the only one aware that Kate is looking for a new PR. Rival Claudia Bing (Celia Imrie) also seeks Kate Moss and the two accidentally knock Kate off of a balcony and into the water. She never rises back up, however, and the world believes that she’s dead, and Edina is blamed. Unable to deal with the public outcry, Edina and Patsy go on the run in hopes of starting a new life in a new place where their infamy isn’t known.

(REVIEW)

I feel like a lot of what I was looking at would be better understood by the fans of the show because… yeah, a lot of it was a bit out there, even for British humor.

Basically, the movie opens with whom I can only assume is their nutty friend and servant who is dressed up in… I haven’t the slightest idea what. It’s like a white leotard with yellow trunks and that leotard is coated with… inflatable cushions… I don’t have the slightest idea how to describe it.

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Seriously… what the actual fuck…

From this point on, I get some of the basics. Edina and her daughter Saffy (Julia Sawalha) aren’t the closest people. Edina’s kind of obsessed with her rich lifestyle and doesn’t always try to be a good mother. She’s by no means a bad person, but she’s got her priorities backwards. Saffy, as a result, is kind of strict toward her daughter and cold toward her mother. Again, not a bad person, especially considering who raised her, so it’s not hard to see how she ended up like she did. It doesn’t even end there, as Edina isn’t afraid to manipulate her own family to get what she wants. She drags her granddaughter Lola (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness) into her scheme to get Kate to accept Edina, even if it’s against Saffy’s desires. This is probably the most interesting stuff in the movie, as Sawalha is actually a solid actress, but none of these plot threads really go anywhere or get resolved.

I can’t deny that it’s very amusing to see big names like Gwendoline Christie (as herself) react so over-the-top to the idea that Kate Moss is dead, mourning and crying, it’s actually pretty funny. And that’s what kind of saves this movie; some of the offbeat humor does provide entertainment.

But there is an opposite side of the coin too. Some of the offbeat humor is not very funny. There’s a joke that Jon Hamm (playing himself) had lost his virginity with Patsy when he was fifteen years old. Wonderful, underage sex jokes. Gotta say, I wasn’t very comfortable with it. I won’t say it’s god-awful, considering it is Hamm making the joke as well, so it kind of works, but the fact that the script had to resort to this brand of humor at all just feels… American low-brow. I’m not sure what British low-brow humor would be like, so maybe some versions of bad-humor just traverse all cultures equally well.

The primary problem with the movie is that Saunders is still probably wired as a television writer. Judging from her writing credits on IMDb.com, she’s written a lot of the episodes of the actual TV show, ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS. Having never seen the show myself, I can’t attest if she’s a good writer or not, but I feel like movies are not her specialty. Maybe this story would have worked as a TV movie to kick-start another season of the show, but this movie is definitely not for a wide audience. Too much is just there for the sake of being there and no context always hurts a story.

It’s actually really hard for me to talk about this movie as it doesn’t really give me much to go on. Maybe true fans of the show would be able to ramble on about what was good, what was bad, what worked, what didn’t, but for the most part, this movie wasn’t for me. Hell, I forgot quite a bit of it and it hasn’t even been a week and what I do remember, I can’t really talk about because there’s just not a lot to say.

My honest rating: a weak 3/5

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Upcoming reviews:

  • ICE AGE: COLLISION COURSE (animated comedy adventure)
    • Directed by Galen T. Chu (directorial feature length debut) and Mike Thurmeier (ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT)
    • Written by Michael J. Wilson (SHARK TALE, THE TUXEDO, and ICE AGE), Michael Berg (ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT, DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS, and ICE AGE), Yoni Brenner (RIO 2, ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS). Story credit: Aubrey Soloman (PROGENY, TV shows ROBOCOP [1994 – 1 episode], and HIGHLANDER [1993 – 1 episode]) 
    • Stars voice talents of Ray Romano (ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT, and TV shows EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND and MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE), John Leguizamo (THE INFILTRATOR, CHEF, and THE SUPER MARIO BROS.), Denis Leary (DRAFT DAY, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, and TV show RESCUE ME), Queen Latifa (MIRACLES FROM HEAVEN, ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT, and BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE), and more.
  • BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE (animated)
    • Based on the popular DC comic foretelling an origin story of Batman’s greatest enemy, as well as hailed as one of the definitive Joker iterations.
    • Directed by Sam Liu (JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. TEEN TITANS, BATMAN: YEAR ONE, and SUPERMAN/BATMAN: PUBLIC ENEMIES)
    • Written by Brian Azzarello (BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHT – 1 segment)
    • Stars voice talents of Kevin Conroy (YOGA HOSERS, video game BATMAN: ARKHAM KNIGHT, and TV show BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES), Mark Hamill (STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS, JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK, and TV show BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES), Tara Strong (THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS, and TV shows ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN and TEEN TITANS), John DiMaggio (TV shows ADVENTURE TIME and FUTURAMA and video game GEARS OF WAR), and more.

THE INFILTRATOR review

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

(SUMMARY)

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

(REVIEW)

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

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

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

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

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

My honest rating: a weak 3/5

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Upcoming reviews:

THE BFG review

Ahhh, good ole Steven Spielberg. A household name for decades as one of the most inspirational filmmakers of our generation. So much of his work is a childhood staple, it’s hard not to be interested in anything with his name stamped on it. That’s not to say that he hasn’t had a few misfires. KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL anyone? But even his worst movies have always offered something by way of whimsy or visual spectacles. BFG looked like it’d be just that and early reviews for this family friendly movie made it seem very promising (you know, like every Spielberg film). I wasn’t sure if this was an original idea or if it was based on a previously published idea, but either way, I was very interested. Was this a giant friendly movie, or did Jack need to be here for some slaying? This is my honest opinion of THE BFG.

(SUMMARY)

Ten year old Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is an orphan girl. She tries to be good in the orphanage she lives in, her curiosity gets the better of her one fateful night. Looking out her bedroom window, she happens upon a skulking giant (Mark Rylance). Her presence catches his attention and out of fear of her telling the world of his existence, he kidnaps her and takes her away to a faraway land called Giant Country where he intends to keep her forever. But the two eventually strike up a friendship and Sophie becomes privy to the dangers of the land, primarily that although the big friend giant, or BFG as Sophie will end up calling him, is not a fan of eating humans, his brethren that are twice his size are more than happy eating people, placing Sophie in particular danger. But BFG wants to protect her and she wants him to stand up for himself and not live in fear of his own people.

(REVIEW)

UPDATE: Yeah, it’s based on a book. DISCLAIMER (obviously): I never read it.

You know what, I kinda liked this movie. I may not think it’s the best Spielberg movie ever made, but if you’re looking for a flick that showcases what Spielberg is primarily known for, you’ll find it here.

Somehow, nearly every Spielberg movie manages to cast great child actors. This is no exception. Young Barnhill is absolutely wonderful as Sophie. She’s a brash young lady, but has a heart as big as her giant friend. Barnhill interacts with her CG environment very well, and that can be difficult even for seasoned actors, but Spielberg definitely knew how to give her the right direction. I hope we see more of this young girl and look forward to her next big picture.

Moving on to the growing popularity that is Rylance. Most of you will remember him as the Russian spy that befriends Tom Hanks in BRIDGE OF SPIES. Hell, you should remember him because he won an Oscar for his performance. Personally, while I didn’t think he was bad, Rylance’s character just felt a little too boring for my taste and wasn’t very memorable by comparison to his competition. But if you wanted to see what Rylance was capable of, this movie will do it for you. Rylance as the BFG was so charming and so enjoyable that he feels so real at times. Yes, the character itself is computer generated, but the way they capture his expressions, his voice, it’s a brilliant and engaging performance that I don’t think another actor could have pulled off in the same way.

Speaking of computer generated, yeah, it’s phenomenal. The subtleties of the lip movements, the wrinkles around the cheeks and eyes and…. oh my god, the eyes! I think the animation and the realism of the eyes blew me away the most. In anybody else’s hands, I feel like the primary focus would have been to make the eyes enormous and simply showcase size. But Spielberg was smart enough to make sure that the emotion was the centerfold of the close-ups. Honestly, it’s breath-taking. Maybe the brethren giants are easier to spot, but when it was done right, it’s hard not to be impressed.

I think there are some clunky choices to justify how a giant has evaded public sight this whole time. Throwing over his over-sized black blanket to make an entire street seem like a dark alley or whatever, or hopping on the back of a pickup truck with big ole feet sticking out, it gets pretty ridiculous.

The movie does start to show some serious problems toward the last half hour.

***SPOILERS***

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So by this point, BFG has stood up for himself against his kin. In order to make life more peaceful for BFG, Sophie decides to conjure up a dream from all the remaining dreams that were collected to enlist the help of the Queen back home and utilize her military to attack the giants. Somehow, simply revealing a giant to the Queen and her forces wouldn’t be enough to convince them that giants exist and eat humans. Nope, they have to make the plan more complicated because… special effects and run times!

And, while I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy this series of events, the story detours horribly when BFG enters the palace for food and drink. This scene lasts a good ten minutes, so if you’re not enjoying yourself like your five year olds probably are, then this would be the scene to get up and take a bathroom break because it has no real point. The easiest joke to make is, “Yeah, possible impending doom upon the people of England via getting eaten alive by ruthless, bloodthirsty giants. No one cares about that, we need tea and biscuits, stat!” Priorities? What’s that?

***

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***END SPOILERS***

And I can’t believe that in one night, I saw two movies that showcased farting on multiple occasions and it’s the one with the crazy island-stranded dude talking to a corpse that gets it right and not a Spielberg film. Seriously, there was no point in that. And why did Spielberg insert that stuff in his movies anyway? Why is he making such weird additions to his movies? Has that always been a thing and I just never noticed?

Honestly, there’s a lot to enjoy in this film. The two leads share incredible chemistry, despite probably having very little real interaction with each other. The CG is extraordinary and, most importantly in a Spielberg film, it’s got just enough fun and whimsy to be a good time. It makes a few lame choices that don’t make a whole lot of sense that prevent it from being very good, but it’s hard not to recommend it. If you’re a Spielberg fan and want to take the kids to see a wonderfully put together story, I say this is right up your alley.

My honest rating: a strong 3/5

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Upcoming reviews:

  • CAPTAIN FANTASTIC
  • THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS
  • MIKE AND DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES

THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR review

For those of you that don’t know, I wasn’t that huge a fan of the Purge series. The idea can be fun in a twisted sort of way. I mean, a whole day where crime is legal, even murder? Not the worst idea for a sick movie, but probably difficult to pull off. The first movie proved it, and in a fairly lazy way. The first film, to me anyway, was just a standard slasher horror film with a “crime is now legal” mytho. There was no point in that backstory. I love Lena Heady as an actress, even Ethan Hawke, but with the exception of the bad guy, I thought this movie was dull.

The sequel felt more like what THE PURGE was supposed to be. A guy roaming the streets of a city coming into contact with other “Purgers” (don’t remember if that’s what they were called) and wasn’t confined to one setting. You got to see other people killing and looting. Plus, I enjoy Frank Grillo as an actor. But beyond him, the film was overall pretty forgetful. Like… I don’t remember anything specific, other than a resistance movement at the end.

Now we have a third installment and while I’m excited for the inclusion of Elizabeth Mitchell, whom I have had a massive crush on since her TV days on LOST, I still can’t shake that this movie doesn’t know what it’s own idea is and that it’s still taking itself way too seriously. But in any case, I was hoping for good performances to save the flick, not a good story. So, do Mitchell and Grillo get my vote for “most awesome pairing,” or it this election as silly as our current one with Donald Trump? This is my honest opinion of THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR.

(SUMMARY)

America is on the brink of change thanks to the efforts of one brave senator, Charlie Roam (Elizabeth Mitchell), who is trying to end the annual Purge: the one night where all crime is legal, including murder, all in the name of expunging the violence in our souls. However, as Charlie’s campaign for the elimination of The Purge seems to be in the bag, the New Founding Fathers of America (the NFFA) decide that this year’s Purge will be special: no political figures are exempt from being Purged. This puts Charlie on lockdown and her best defense is her trusted bodyguard and fellow Purge survivor, Leo Barns (Frank Grillo). But when the NFFA turn to dirty tactics by hiring ruthless mercenaries to get at Charlie directly in her home, she and Leo must escape into the bloody night of carnage and death. With the help of deli owner Joe (Mykelti Williamson), his assistant Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria), and EMT Laney (Betty Gabriel), they must survive the night so Charlie can put an end to this one horrible night that costs America is very soul.

(REVIEW)

While I can’t deny that I got what I wanted in some aspects (solid performances from the core cast) and even some improvements over the original two making this latest installment the best of the franchise, it’s still not… good.

So let’s start with what I liked.

Yup, Mitchell and Grillo are my favorite parts of the movie, simply because of fandom. Charlie is this no nonsense politician actually trying to make a positive difference in America (proving without a shadow of a doubt that this is a fantasy film because no politician goes for that) even if it means at the cost of her own life. She’s constantly between a rock and hard place throughout the film, surviving The Purge like everyone else so can continue her crusade, but she can’t retaliate against the NFFA because it goes against everything she’s trying to accomplish: an America without the need to resort to violence to solve problems.

However, due to her unorthodox methods of constantly challenging the NFFA directly and putting herself in danger even during peace time, this makes her consistently difficult to protect. And that’s the primary source of Leo’s headaches, who is still awesome. He’s that kind of guy that is always prepared for the worst case scenario. Got a group of guys surrounding the senator for protection? No trust for you, fuckers! Hidden passage! I love characters that are prepared like that.

One of the better elements that I wish I saw more of was how the two worked together. There’s a scene where Charlie and Leo are followed by a drone from the mercs and Charlie gives Leo the exact distance away from them and how high up it is, and he shoots the drone right out of the sky no problem. I love when writers are considerate enough to maoe sure in survival situations that the characters actually work together as a team. I think I see too many stories where someone in the group is too much of a hinderance in their survival that you just want the idiot to die so the bad-ass can live.

And another shout-out to Williamson, Soria, and Gabriel for handling their roles really well too. Joe is a very sympathetic guy as well as the comedy relief, so his comments are always welcomed when he’s on screen. Marcos is probably a nice representation of minorities able to succeed in America despite asshole politicians trying their damnest to get in the way. Finally, we have the resident (Marvel’s) Punisher of the group, Laney. If Grillo ever had a run for his money in bad-assery, it’d be this bitch-shootin’ gal. Driving around trying to help people one minute, then pulling out shotguns and blowing faces off. Don’t piss off EMTs, I guess.

But I’ve gone on long enough about the characters…which was all that was saving this movie.

At the end of the day, this movie is still pretty forgetful. I mean, I’m all for over-the-top, bat-shit crazy performances like Raymond J. Berry was trying to portray, but I think it’s a little too out of place simply because the rest of the movie doesn’t really follow suit. In a movie like JUPITER ASCENDING, Eddie Redmayne’s performance isn’t weird to watch in the grand scheme of things because the rest of the movie is reliant on the audience believing that bees can sense royalty in humans, that rulers want to marry their reincarnated mothers, among so many other silly things that flood the movie. That’s the continuous problem with The Purge franchise. There’s not enough silly for these films to work, despite how silly the premise is. Like all the rest, it takes itself way too seriously and needs to overhaul itself to embrace it’s stupid-but-fun ideas. Instead, audiences get a little too much politics and a little too much strategy that even the crazy visuals won’t hide how lame these movies are.

I can’t deny that at least we’re getting better characters, but now we need a consistent environment that suits what these films feel like they should be going for. In the end, it’s just too unimaginative to revisit. I love Mitchell and Grillo and the rest of the core cast, which prevents me from hating it, but it’s still hard for me to enjoy the movie as a whole. I think if you’ve been a fan of the franchise thus far, you’ll be fine with this one. It’s more or less the same as the last. But if you’re like me and you want something a little more than what’s delivered, you’re not missing much by staying home.

My honest rating: a weak 3/5

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THE SHALLOWS review

2016 has been an odd year for horror films. This first half of the year provided, like, six horror movies and only two of them were any good. But now that the summer line-up is under way, the good ones are rolling up and this looked like it’d be awesome. Blake Lively is usually a hit or miss for me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a genuinely great movie with her in it, but I know she can be a fine actress if given the right material and direction. This looked like it’d be it. I looked at this movie and got really excited for it. I think my hype was to the point of something like the next gen JAWS. I mean, look at this set up. She’s half naked, stranded on a tiny ass rock bed just barely above the surface of the water, bleeding from her leg, a great white shark circling her… man, it just looked like a damn good survival/horror flick. I don’t think I’ve been this excited for a horror movie since… er, well, the last one (THE CONJURING 2). This was one I was really excited for. Did this movie need a bigger boat, or does it have a great set of powerful teeth? This is my honest opinion of THE SHALLOWS.

(SUMMARY)

Nancy (Blake Lively) is a medical student currently on vacation, searching for her late mother’s favorite surfing spot in Mexico. Upon arrival, it’s a beautiful and serene beach, pretty isolated from the nearest town. She’s also a surfer and joins a couple local boys in catching some waves. As it gets later in the day, Nancy comes in contact with a great white shark, first knocking her off her board, then getting a chunk of her leg bitten. Taking refuge on a tiny rock island that will inevitably be swallowed by the ocean during high tide, Nancy must find a way to survive the predator before starving, dehydrating, and bleeding to death.

(REVIEW)

My expectations were happily met.

Up top, I mentioned that Lively is a hit or miss for me. Well, this was a hit. There are a couple of moments where she didn’t put enough effort in a yell, like getting someone’s attention on the beach, but I attribute that to bad directing more than anything as she will clearly scream for help realistically a second later. Regardless, Lively was solid. I like how she talks to herself like she’s her own patient in a hospital, using beside manner, walking herself through the treatment of her wounds, it’s a nice little touch. Plus, I love her little relationship with Steven Seagull. This isn’t shown in the trailer, but she’s stranded on her island with a seagull with a dislocated wing. At first, she sees the thing as a pest, but of course, that does change.

This movie does a really good job of creating a sense of dread and hopelessness. It seems like for every attempt she makes to make life easier for her, it’s thwarted somehow. Whether because of the stinging coral reef under her, stinging her feet, or that damn shark not cutting her any slack, it all builds up big time to Nancy almost looking like she’s ready to give up. You really feel her pain along the way too. Her leg bite doesn’t look like it’s giving her a tickle and to see her “sew” it up with her earrings and no anesthetics to numb the pain, it was a serious challenge not to cringe and fidget in my seat (apologies to the woman I was sitting next to).

I also have to be honest, and this will most certainly get a few people upset with me, but… I would rather watch this movie than JAWS. Let me be clear though, I do not hate the movie. Steven Spielberg is a huge part of my childhood and he’s made some truly remarkable and timeless movies over the course of his career. JAWS is no exception… as far as “remarkable” is concerned. The movie was impressive for its time and delivered some great characters and memorable performances. But I’m sorry, that shark is fake as all hell by the today’s standards, and there’s far too many frustrating cliches that make this movie unbearable to watch. And to think that this is probably the movie that started the cliches of today. Monster attacks and kills, douchebag person in power refuses to do anything sensible in fear of losing money and/or popularity, dismisses all logic and the safety of those who would give him money and popularity when the monster is “caught,” and only does something good and smart when the monster kills more innocent people. It’s unbelievably stupid and painful. Honestly, half of the movie’s events wouldn’t have happened if the story had smart and concerned people. THE SHALLOWS has none of these cliches. It’s far from perfect, it has its predictable and even unnecessary shit, but it cuts to what this movie is about pretty quickly, is never boring, is relentlessly brutal (climbing on the carcass of a not-quite-dead whale), and keeps you on the edge of your seat to one of the most harrowing climaxes I’ve seen in a long while from a shark movie. Is it better than JAWS? I doubt it. JAWS actually had a cultural impact, making people genuinely afraid to go to the beach in real life for a little bit. But this is a much more bracing movie and if there was ever going to be a solid update to a real survival horror flick with a shark, you aren’t going to do better than this.

And here’s a plus: all of the movie’s scenes do not take place at night. Nearly every bit of the action happens during the day time; bright and shining sun up above (minus the climax). How often does that shit happen? Kudos for this movie to have the temerity to try and pull that off and succeed with flying colors.

And I never get tired of good underwater and surfing cinematography. Clear blue oceans never stop being gorgeous.

Steering away from all the positive I have to say, why was this movie PG-13? I mean with all the creature violence and detailed injuries in the movie, I feel like this should have been rated R. Not really a complaint, just… weird.

And I did mention there were some imperfect moments. There’s this scene were a drunk local appears in the movie and the predictability meter in my head went haywire. You know exactly what this guy is going to do the moment he appears on screen (though this scene does go from painfully predictable to happily predictable pretty quickly). You could have cut this bit out and the movie would have progressed just fine. Although, clocking in at under an hour and thirty minutes, I guess if they hadn’t had this scene, it would have been categorized as a short film.

Also, and this is the stupidest moment in the movie, when you hear someone shout “SHARK!!!” at you when you’re in the ocean, no human being would ever shout back, “there’s no sharks out here!” These particular characters could have easily heeded her warning and still got themselves eaten without being written as total fuck-tards.

Honestly, this movie was pretty damn good in my opinion. With some tweeks to a couple of scenes, this would have been a great film. But as it is, it’s incredibly well-done, very intense, and ridiculously engaging and satisfying. If you like a good story about survival against the odds, this is highly recommended.

My honest rating: a strong 4/5

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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

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