Transformers: The Last Knight

June 23, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Laura Haddock
Directed by: Michael Bay (“Transformers: Age of Extinction”)
Written by: Art Marcum (“Iron Man”) & Matt Holloway (“Iron Man”) & Ken Nolan (“Black Hawk Down”)

Every now and then, I take stock of all the entertainment properties I enjoyed as a child—or still enjoy screen-printed on a t-shirt—that are being made into well-meaning, if not always good, major motion pictures. All the Marvel stuff, some of the DC Comics stuff, Star Wars…it’s a fine time at the movies to be a fan of the geekier stuff.

But then there’s Transformers. It just…it breaks my heart.

We have well-made, coherent films where utterly ridiculous characters like Ant-Man and Rocket Raccoon are treated with respect and written as real characters. Meanwhile, five films into Michael Bay’s “Transformers” series, every other fucking robot is either a racist stereotype, spends half their screen time robo-farting or some other bullshit. They even got original cartoon voice actor Peter Cullen to voice Optimus Prime, and seemingly half of his lines in the latest film, “Transformers: The Last Knight” are “I am Optimus Prime!”

And I love Optimus Prime.

“The Last Knight” opens in the days of King Arthur, where a drunken Merlin (Stanley Tucci!) begs a Transformer (they’ve been here the whole time!) for help in defeating a horde of invaders. He’s given a staff, which calls upon a metal dragon. Flash forward 1,600 years and, in accordance with the rest of this series, the movie picks and chooses which plot points from the previous four films to either embrace or outright ignore. Anyway, this time Chicago stays destroyed after the events of “Age of Extinction,” and the ruins are patrolled by the Transformers Response Force, since Transformers are now illegal. A young girl (Isabella Moner) is saved by Cade Yaeger (Mark Wahlberg) after a drone strike kills her Autobot pal. She stows away with him back to his junkyard in South Dakota, where a bunch of annoying Autobots, including Bumblebee and Grimlock, hang out.

Meanwhile Optimus Prime continues his journey into deep space to confront his maker, Quintessa, to tell her to leave Earth alone. Like a chump, he immediately fucks that up and is brainwashed into becoming Nemesis Prime, now assisting Quintessa in her plan to bring Cybertron to Earth, which is actually Unicron (see the animated “Transformers: The Movie” from 1986) in order to revive Cybertron. The only thing that can stop this plan is the staff of Merlin, which can only be wielded by his last living ancestor, Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock), and she’s being sought by Sir Emund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) and his psychotic robot butler Cogman, the last guard of the Witwiccans (UGH), a brotherhood of humans who have worked alongside Transformers for centuries—you know, because they were here all along.

And that’s not even half of the junk shoved into this movie, which is bursting at the seams with so much utter bullshit you won’t even have time to catch your breath—dinosaur Transformers barfing up cars, horns emerging from the earth, a manservant droid shooting himself out of a torpedo tube to catch some fish for a pair of humans on a submarine OH MY GOD WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING? If there are some redeeming factors in this garbage fire is that “The Last Knight” is not quite as blatantly racist and sexist as the previous entries, and it’s not quite as punishingly long. Otherwise…I just can’t deal with these anymore.

The Mummy

June 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Russell Crowe
Directed by: Alex Kurtzman (“People Like Us”)
Written by: David Koepp (“Jurassic Park”) & Christopher McQuarrie (“Edge of Tomorrow”) & Dylan Kussman (debut)

I have fond memories of 1999’s “The Mummy” starring Brendan Fraser. As a goofy knock-off Indiana Jones for the CGI age, the film opened weeks before “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” and people were already camped out to buy tickets for that when I left my first screening of “The Mummy.” One of the friends I saw “The Mummy” with ducked out to wait in that very line. Oh, and the movie was fun, too—junky and shallow, sure, but fun. There’s even a pretty fun roller coaster based on it at Universal Studios!

Anyway, here we are 18 years later, and now a reboot/remake/secret sequel(?) of “The Mummy” is here, set in modern times to kick off a Universal Monsters cinematic series—dubbed the Dark Universe—which will allegedly feature an Avengers/Justice League-style team-up featuring the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Wolfman. And Universal is bringing the big guns to the fight, casting Tom Cruise as the lead, but unfortunately the movie wrapped around him is a mess.

Cruise plays Nick Morton, who the script would have us believe is a criminal U.S. soldier in Iraq, a tomb-robbing looter, stealing artifacts from historical sites with his partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) and selling them on the black market. When they deviate from a mission to check out a potential location to swipe antiquities from, Nick and Chris become pinned down by enemy gunfire. A last-second airstrike saves them, and opens up an ancient Egyptian tomb in the process—which clearly doesn’t belong in Iraq. Enter Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), who along with Nick and Chris enter the tomb to explore it and, in the process, reactivate an ancient, too-evil-to-bury-in-Egypt mummy named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), and she’s looking for a mate. Since he’s the one that released her, Nick becomes cursed, able to survive a plane crash and lots of brutal punishment at the hands of Ahmanet’s reanimated goons. He also becomes the target of Prodigium, a sort of magic-focus SHIELD led by Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), looking to rid the world of monsters.

First things first, this is a Tom Cruise movie, and he’s absolutely the wrong choice. The notion that we buy into Cruise playing a war criminal is ludicrous at first, and the script, credited to three writers and three more with “story by” credits, doesn’t ever seem to be comfortable committing to the notion of Cruise’s Nick being a real shitbag. There are flashes of humor, much of it on Jake Johnson’s capable shoulders, but the film stops dead when Dr. Jekyll (sigh) shows up to exposition the whole thing into a sarcophagus. At least the Brendan Fraser movies were fun. Universal would be wise to remember that.

Wonder Woman

June 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright
Directed by: Patty Jenkins (“Monster”)
Written by: Allan Heinberg (debut)

It took 76 years for Hollywood to come around to producing and releasing a full-length live-action motion picture featuring DC Comics’ Wonder Woman, easily the most famous female superhero of all—and one that recognizably stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Superman, Batman, and cross-company rival Spider-Man in the “everyone on planet Earth knows who this character is” pantheon.

So what the hell took so long? We’re up to six Spider-Man movies, eight Superman movies, and nine Batman movies since Wonder Woman first his comic books—not to mention the one Supergirl and one Catwoman film no one was asking for. Blame it on good old fashioned sexism or misogyny if you like, or waiting for the right cultural or financial climate or whatever other baloney studios use to justify not doing something, but after the entirety of Bob Dylan’s lifetime we finally have “Wonder Woman,” and the film manages to be both worth the wait and the redemption the critically-maligned DC Extended Universe so desperately needs.

Set after the events of 2016’s “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” we catch up with Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) as she receives a delivery in her office at the Louvre in Paris: a briefcase containing a vintage photograph of Diana and a team of soldiers which she was seeking in “BvS.” Bruce Wayne tracked it down and returned it to her, triggering a flashback to Diana’s youth on the mystical, all-female island of Themyscira. There she trains to be a warrior under Antiope (Robin Wright) after protestations from her mother, Queen Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). When a WWI-era German plane breaches the island’s protective force field, Diana swims out to sea to save the pilot and British intelligence spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). His rescue, however, brings German soldiers—and the war—to the island. When told of the Great War by Trevor, Diana is convinced Ares, the god of war, is behind it all, and demands Trevor take her to the front to fight—and fulfill her destiny to destroy Ares and bring peace to the world.

Minus a junky, CGI-heavy final battle far too reminiscent of the worst qualities of DCEU steward Zack Snyder, “Wonder Woman” is a refreshingly smaller scale superhero origin story that doesn’t get bogged down in the typical traps of that very specific slice of the genre. Director Patty Jenkins coaxes a winning, badass performance out of Gadot, who wasn’t given much to do except save Batman’s ass in the character’s abridged big-screen debut last year. Diana is strong, sincere, and funny as the fish out of water in the modern world (well, the modern world of 100 years ago). Chris Pine also shines as Steve Trevor, a career soldier and sometimes smartass that’s ready to fall in step when he realizes Diana can more than take care of herself—and everyone around her.

“Wonder Woman” isn’t a perfect movie, but it hopefully marks the righting of the DC ship—and with it already angering dipshit men upset at women’s only screenings, consider me in love with this kick-ass Amazonian princess.

Baywatch

May 26, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario
Directed by: Seth Gordon (“Horrible Bosses,” “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters”)
Written by: Damian Shannon (“Freddy vs. Jason”) & Mark Swift (“Friday the 13th”)

Somewhere in the world, there’s someone upset about the state of the industry of turning corny, old TV dramas into theatrical tongue-in-cheek raunchy comedies. A grown man is angry right now because “21 Jump Street” was turned into a hilarious meta-commentary on the ridiculousness of action movies and their sequels instead of a gritty reboot, or that “CHiPs” was made into, well, I don’t know because no one saw “CHiPs,” but it looked like it was supposed to be a comedy, too.

Anyway, now we’ve got a comedic reboot of “Baywatch” on our hands—once certifiably the most popular show in the world—and I imagine there are a few lost souls desiring an existential crisis-filled lifeguard movie highlighting the psychological rigors of saving people while you yourself are lost or some other horse shit, but nope. Instead, it’s kind of just as doofy as a normal “Baywatch” episode caught mid-transformation into a half-baked mess of a comedy drowning in weak dick and boobs jokes and not much else.

Borrowing loose characterizations from the syndicated cleavage- and slo-mo-filled TV show, “Baywatch” focuses on hotshot lifeguard Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) and his posse of crime fighting lifeguards, including no-nonsense Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera) and blonde bombshell CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach). Several spots have opened up on the squad, and just in time, too—the beach (now apparently somewhere other than Los Angeles, for tax reasons I guess) is being overrun with a new drug called Flakka and a ruthless realtor (Priyanka Chopra) is looking to gobble up beachfront real estate. Enter a trio of candidates: sometime dim-bulb disgraced Olympian Matt Brody (Zac Efron), sincere, dedicated Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) and schlubby-but-determined Ronnie Greenbaum (Jon Bass). Will they have what it takes to make the squad and save the beach? Yeah, of course.

Clearly modeled after the “Jump Street” films, “Baywatch” belly flops when it comes to effective satire and face plants into the sand when it comes to raunch. Forgive my crassness here, but some movies demand nudity, and a simple prosthetic penis won’t do the trick. The screenplay, which well-known script doctors of unsalvageable crap Tom Lennon and Robert Ben Garant have a story credit on, never decides what to do with its willing cast. Is Efron’s Ryan Lochte send-up the dumbest guy in the room, or the only guy who can see how weird it is that a bunch of lifeguards fancy themselves as crime fighters? Is Mitch a bullying alpha male or a too-sincere leader? Is CJ running in literal slow motion absurd humor, or a weak attempt at “Naked Gun” style parody? It’s all these things and more, but mostly it’s an awful misfire.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2

May 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Kurt Russell
Directed by: James Gunn (“Guardians of the Galaxy”)
Written by: James Gunn (“Guardians of the Galaxy”)

The first “Guardians of the Galaxy” film was a gamble in 2014, and it paid off big for Marvel—even if they were stealthily hedging their bets by releasing it late in the summer and without a firm connection to their already-established Marvel Cinematic Universe. Filled with loveable dirtbag characters, sharp humor and enough classic rock needle drops to make Cameron Crowe jealous, writer/director James Gunn’s sci-fi comedy about a bunch of a-holes was a refreshing change of pace from the Earth-bound heroes Marvel built its franchise on.

Following the financial success of the first film, Marvel allowed Gunn to run with the series, and in the time-honored sequel tradition of “bigger and more” he turned out “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” which still delivers most of the stuff you loved about the first go-round, only this time with a lot more of it and somewhat less satisfaction.

After a prologue in 1980 Missouri featuring yet another old actor digitally de-aged (in this case, Kurt Russell) to fill in some of our heroes’ backstory, we jump ahead 34 years as the Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Dave Baustia as Drax, the voice of Bradley Cooper as Rocket, and the heavily-processed voice of Vin Diesel as adorable Baby Groot) are doing some work for hire (their price? Karen Gillen’s Nebula) protecting intergalactic batteries from a space monster for some gold-skinned alien beings called the Sovereign.

After they’ve succeeded, Rocket decides to swipe a few of the priceless batteries for himself, leading to the Sovereign forces giving chase and downing the Guardians’ ship on a remote planet. They’re saved from slaughter by a man riding an egg-shaped ship, named Ego (Russell), who reveals he’s Quill’s long-lost father and wants to show him where he came from. While Gamora and Drax join Quill, Rocket and Groot stay behind to repair the ship and keep watch over Nebula, only to be ambushed by Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his band of Ravagers out to collect a bounty on Rocket for thieving from the Sovereign.

After a mutiny derails Yondu’s original plan, he teams up with Rocket, Baby Groot, and Nebula to save Peter (and the galaxy) from the secret plan Ego has in place for his son.

With a kitchen sink approach to characters, plot turns and yacht rock songs, “GOTG Vol. 2” often feels in danger of collapsing under the bloat, but ends up kept afloat mostly by the enjoyment of hanging out with these characters again and the sheer amount of laughs the screenplay doles out. The comedy MVP trophy for this outing is more than earned by Bautista’s hyper-literal Drax, who punctuates nearly every near-death experience with a hearty, infectious laugh. Like a delicious hamburger with so many toppings they spill out all over your shirt when you take a bite, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is often highly enjoyable, but next time around you’d like it all to hold together a little better.

The Fate of the Furious

April 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham
Directed by: F. Gary Gray (“Straight Outta Compton”)
Written by: Chris Morgan (“Furious 7,” “Fast 5”)

I’ve run out of ways to express my bewilderment for “The Fast and the Furious” series, so, with the latest film, “The Fate of the Furious” fresh in my mind, I’m going to go back two years and re-purpose what I wrote about “Furious 7” because the exact same thoughts crossed my mind. Sue me:

“If nothing else, the evolution of the ‘Fast & Furious’ series over the past decade and a half from low-rent meathead car culture crime movies to globe-hopping meathead action movies is worthy of some gentle introspection. How did we, as moviegoers, let this happen? How did this series go from being the “Scarface” of those guys that put neon, spoilers and Japanese letters on their cars to being Michael Bay’s “Transformers” without the transforming robots? And wait. Is de facto family leader Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) any sort of law enforcement, or is he just a civilian badass called upon by the government to…drive fast cars to get criminals?”

I fully admit, I don’t know how to deal with these movies. They baffle me. But I’ll be damned if the ramped-up cartoonish action of “The Fate of the Furious” didn’t come closer than the shaves on the scalps of the leading men to winning me over than most of the previous entries in the series, “Fast Five” excluded.

While on their honeymoon in Cuba, portrayed here as an eternal, multi-ethnic party where lawlessness is trumped by honor, Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) do the usual American touristy things, like wearing linen and engaging in high-stakes street races with the island nation’s famously old vehicles. During a stroll to a bodega, Dom stumbles up a mysterious woman named Cipher (Charlize Theron), who shows Dom something on a cell phone that’s enough to get him to betray his family (be ready to hear that word a lot) and help her execute her confusing world-domination plan.

Reminder: 16 years ago Dom was a street-racing gearhead who ran stolen DVD players. Anyway.

When Special Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) recruits Dom and his team to help swipe an EMP (again?) in an off-the-books mission that could send Hobbs to prison, Dom makes his move and Hobbs gets locked up. While inside he meets up with “Furious 7’s” villain Deckard (Jason Statham) who, while he still hates Hobbs, turns out to be a good guy now so that when they both are inevitably freed, he joins the team. Which seems sudden, but whatever.

Now Hobbs, Deckard, and the rest (including Rodriguez, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson, and a “Game of Thrones” actress, Nathalie Emmanuel, who reprises her role as an unconvincing hacker) have to take down Dom before he gathers enough weapons to start World War III on Cipher’s behalf.

Dom’s betrayal, especially as the dull, monosyllabic patriarch of the film’s oft-grunted-about family, is pretty thin gruel that no true fan will buy for a second, and new director F. Gary Gray (“Straight Outta Compton”) knows it. Instead, he chooses to showcase things like a ridiculous cartoon prison brawl involving a raging, Hulked-out Johnson (the real star of the franchise now, let’s face it) deflecting rubber bullets and punching guards through walls in his pursuit of a parkour-ing Statham or some batshit lunacy involving hacked cars remotely chasing down a motorcade and driving themselves out of a high rise parking garage to trap a Russian ambassador under piles of burning metal. By the time a few characters blasted their way into frame via jetpacks, I was damn near won over.

By the time Dom’s plot is wrapped up, though, and the movie ends with a rooftop barbecue, the stupidity overwhelms you again, and you forget about the entire franchise for another two years.

Ghost in the Shell

March 31, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Michael Pitt, Juliette Binoche
Directed by: Rupert Sanders (“Snow White and the Huntsman”)
Written by: Jamie Moss (“Street Kings”) and William Wheeler (“The Hoax”) and Ehren Krueger (“Transformers: Age of Extinction”)

In the ’90s, adolescent me had all kinds of under-the-radar alternate entertainment thrown at me by virtue of being a socially-awkward fat nerd. Some things stuck hard, like comic books, “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and “Space Ghost: Coast to Coast.” Others even I deflected, like Magic: The Gathering and anime—then only accessible on VHS from higher-end comic book shops, not counting the mass-market, sanitized Japanese exports like “Sailor Moon” and the fledgling days of “Pokemon.”

I feel like I gave anime a fair shake, though, and hyper-violent cartoons with occassional nudity was an easy sell anyway. But still, nothing. As I moved into my 20s, the ubiquitousness of DVDs led to me sampling one of the masterworks of the genre I had long heard about, 1995’s “Ghost in the Shell.” And again, it didn’t take. I shook hands with anime and we went our separate ways.

But, because genre filmmaking is a beast that can’t be satiated, it was only a matter of time before “Ghost in the Shell,” with its cyberpunk-robot storyline easily retrofitted for American audiences, was given the big-budget Hollywood treatment—and the endlessly debated, probably problematic whitewashed casting that goes with it.

Set in a future where humans augment themselves with cybernetic implants and live in cities filled with Golem-like holographic advertising avatars, “Ghost in the Shell” opens with the creation of the Major (Scarlett Johansson), the first synthetic humanoid with a real human brain inside of it under the care of Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche). Major’s real body was damaged in a terrorist bombing, so she is told, and Ouelet saved her life. Since the Major is a product of the probably-evil Hanka robotics corporation, she is of course weaponized and made to hunt down terrorists with a multinational team, including the hulking, dog-friendly muscle with cybernetic eyes Batou (Pilou Asbæk), the closest Major comes to having a partner. They’re on the trail of a super-hacker named Kuze (Michael Pitt) who’s working to assassinate Hanka scientists—but his reasons remain mysterious until the Major is able to get close to him and recover her memories, changing everything.

As a dull amalgam of “Blade Runner,” “The Matrix,” and HBO’s “Westworld,” “Ghost in the Shell” is a beautiful-looking film that proclaims to be about identity, but fails to find one of its own. Its the type of movie that, 15 years ago, cinephiles would have salivated over as showcases for their home audio/video setups—a special-edition DVD in a shiny foil packaging, all gloss with nothing underneath. It’s a shame, too, because Johannson once again proves herself to be a badass female action hero in an industry severely lacking them. After this and the travesty that was “Lucy,” can we stop dicking around and just give her a “Black Widow” movie already?

Power Rangers

March 25, 2017 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Banks
Directed by: Dean Israelite (“Earth to Echo”)
Written by: John Gatins (“Real Steel,” “Flight”)

In this, the golden age of movies based on geek-friendly properties, there are still a few outliers that commit the cardinal sin of being ashamed of their source material. Captain America wears his red, white and blue costume on screen and will soon meet up with a talking raccoon and tree-person, for crying out loud. We’re through the looking glass, people, dance with the one that brought you! These comic book-adjacent properties are thriving in an environment that embraces all of the things we might have thought were too silly to put to film 20 years ago.

Nothing quite personifies ‘90s cheese TV as well as “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” a show so earnest it makes “Saved By The Bell” look like “Beverly Hills 90210.” Even with it’s corny acting and repurposed Japanese special effects-filled monster battles, it became a sensation that’s still in production in some form today, nearly 25 years after premiering.

The new “Power Rangers,” seemingly borrows more from “Friday Night Lights,” “Chronicle” and even the “Star Trek” reboot. The film follows five bland teens as they meet in a “Breakfast Club” style detention, stumble across some color-coded power coins, gain superhuman strength, and plunge into an underground spaceship where they meet a very dickish Zordon (Bryan Cranston) who tells them they are now the Power Rangers. But before they get to don their helmeted battle armor (no spandex here) and ride in their giant robot dinosaurs, we have to suffer through a patience-testing hour and a half of plodding training montages, several horrible rollover car crashes, and a confusing sexting scandal that threatens to bring down one of the Rangers.

Why in Zordon’s name would anyone think a dour, deathly serious “Power Rangers” movie would be the way to go in 2017? Whatever the reason, it’s here, Morphin fans, so dance.

 

Kong: Skull Island

March 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts (“The Kings of Summer”)
Written by: Dan Gilroy (“Nightcrawler”) and Max Borenstein (“Godzilla”) and Derek Connolly (“Jurassic World”)

What if “Apocalypse Now” was remade today, but with a twist:  instead of the Viet Cong, you replace them with King Kong? While the movie isn’t shameless enough to title itself “Viet Kong,” instead “Kong: Skull Island” foregoes subtlety—and, damningly, simplicity—to sort of retell Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece with a giant ape and connective tissue to other giant monsters in the pipeline ready to star in their own film franchises. In short, “Kong: Skull Island” is a weird fucking movie, albeit one that squanders that weirdness by bogging it down in a swamp of exposition, an overabundance of characters, and weird shifts in tone.

After a prologue shows us a pair of pilots, one American and one Japanese, crash landing on an island in the South Pacific during World War II and encountering our title character, we’re thrown ahead nearly 30 years to the waning days of the Vietnam War. Satellite photography and mapping is all the rage, and would-be explorer Bill Randa (John Goodman) uses the threat of Russian discovery to convince a senator to finance an exploratory mission with a military escort to Skull Island, which is permanently surrounded by storms.

The military enlists Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), a career soldier looking for a fight after having to “cut and run” in Vietnam, and his men to facilitate the expedition. Along for the ride is former British special forces tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), the latter of which provides the story with its inevitable “Beauty and the Beast” allegory. As soon as the team arrives and sets off bombs for, uh, some reason, they’re met with a fury by Kong himself, swatting helicopters out of the air and leaving Packard with a thirst for revenge.

Cool monster fisticuffs aside, “Kong: Skull Island” ends up a mess as we’re expected to follow too many different poorly-drawn characters (big ape included) as they make their way across the unclear geography of Skull Island, during which moments of would-be or unintentional comic relief mar what comes down to a movie about a crazed Samuel L. Jackson taking on King Kong. I mean, that sounds badass, right? But then what the hell is with Tom Hiddleston tossing on a gas mask and grabbing a katana to knife through a flock of pterodactyls in a poisonous gas cloud in slow motion? Is THAT supposed to be badass? Because it’s just sort of laughable. And the glut of characters leaves fine actors, like Goodman, Brie Larson, Shea Whigham, and Toby Kebbell, either stranded with nothing to do or with so little motivation the whole thing feels like a byproduct of bad editing.

Logan

February 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen
Directed by: James Mangold (“The Wolverine”)
Written by: Scott Frank (“The Wolverine”) & James Mangold (“Walk The Line”) and Michael Green (“Green Lantern”)

In the 17 years since Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” birthed the modern comic book movie, there have been a sizable number of really good films in the genre—but transcendent ones are as rare as adamantium. 2008’s “The Dark Knight” obviously makes that list, and many would put 2012’s “The Avengers” right behind it, followed in some circles by last year’s “Deadpool.” And now, nearly two decades after his first, career-making appearance as Wolverine, Hugh Jackman and director James Mangold join their company and outdo every film in the X-series—and most comic book movies, period–with the R-rated “Logan.”

Set in 2029 after something mysterious (and blissfully unexplored) left most mutants dead, “Logan” opens with Jackman’s erstwhile berserker X-Man, weak and hungover, sleeping in a limousine. When a group of guys try to steal his rims, Logan can’t muster the strength to take them down—until a shotgun blast to the chest awakens his anger and he cuts them to ribbons. Later, he’s met by a woman named Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) who offers him $50,000 to take her and her young daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen) to North Dakota—both of whom are also wanted by a ruthless, robotic-handed mercenary Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). When the shit hits the fan, Logan and an elderly, dementia-addled Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) escape in the limo with Laura, who mysteriously mirrors Logan in both rage and the presence of razor-sharp claws that extend from her appendages.

Clearly owing a debt to the financial success of the brilliantly profane and grisly “Deadpool,” Jackman and Mangold were taken off the PG-13 leash, free to pepper “Logan” (seemingly not beholden to much of the series’ notoriously convoluted timeline) with all of the fucks and gory decapitations that have been missing from the character’s DNA. It pays off, too, allowing the film’s achingly bleak, last-of-its-kind tone to wash over everything without the compromise normally required for something meant to sell action figures and breakfast cereal. 17 years later, after pretty great movies (“X2,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past”) horrible duds (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) and underappreciated turns missing just a little something (“The Wolverine”), Jackman—in what he insists is his final performance in a role he 100 percent owns—finally has his comic book movie masterpiece.

The Great Wall

February 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Andy Lau
Directed by: Yimou Zhang (“House of Flying Daggers,” “Hero”)
Written by: Carlo Bernard (“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”), Doug Miro (“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”) and Tony Gilroy (“The Bourne Ultimatum”)

For those prematurely concerned with another Hollywood whitewashing of Asian culture when “The Great Wall” was announced with star Matt Damon, rest assured: this is most definitely a Chinese movie with Americans along for the ride. With most of the dialogue in Mandarin (with English subtitles) and some of the Chinese film industry’s biggest stars in actor Andy Lau and acclaimed director Zhang Yimou, “The Great Wall” doesn’t feel culturally compromised (at least to this ugly American), but it doesn’t ever fully embrace its potential for mash-up weirdness either.

When a pair of European men, William (Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal), narrowly escape a monstrous creature while on the hunt for black powder in China during the Song dynasty, they stumble across the Great Wall as the color-coded soldiers prepare for an attack by the Tao Tie. The Chinese army, made of up archers, wall-walking infantrymen, and rope-assisted crane fighting women, are defending the capital from the creatures (essentially telepathic monster dogs who came to earth in a meteor and represent greed!). When William proves himself to be an effective warrior, he earns the trust of Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing) and devises a plan alongside the Chinese soldiers to defeat the dog-monsters once and for all.

While “The Great Wall” isn’t a bad movie, it is mostly a boring one—and one that leaves what could be epic multicultural weirdness on the table. Damon is fine, if not totally committed, to the role of a semi-scoundrel looking for honor, but the trio of screenwriters (including frequent Damon collaborator Tony Gilroy) fail to drum up much internal conflict for William—or anyone else for that matter. “The Great Wall” presents its conflict (the fight against the telepathic dog-monsters from space), the threat they pose (the dog-monsters have breached the Great Wall) and the unlikely secret weapon Damon introduces (a magnet!) that can help take the Tao Tie down and save the planet in the process. If that sounds potentially bananas, especially in the hands of Zhang, you’d be right. But “The Great Wall” never lives up to its batshit crazy potential.

Split

January 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable”)
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan (“The Visit,” “After Earth”)

Former Hollywood golden boy M. Night Shyamalan has been working on a comeback for longer than he was at the top of his game, and since the double-sided nadir of “The Last Airbender” and “After Earth,” Shyamalan has gone small, like a former world-class athlete rebuilding his game in the minors. 2015’s “The Visit” was a fun found-footage horror romp with zero big stars and a sly wink at the audience from time to time. With his latest, “Split,” Shyamalan starts to play a little hero ball like it’s 2001 again, shooting to spin an intimate psychological thriller into an epic tale of supernatural ability using showy performances and, yes, a twist–with mixed results.

At a birthday party for popular high school student Claire (Haely Lu Richardson), the quiet, introverted Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) remains an outcast, invited only so it wouldn’t be awkward in class. When it’s time to go, Casey hitches a reluctant ride with Claire, Claire’s dad, and Claire’s friend Marcia (Jessica Sula), only Claire’s dad is knocked out before he can get in the car and the three girls are taken by a stranger named Kevin (James McAvoy) and locked in an underground bunker. When the girls come to, they find that Kevin suffers from dissociative identity disorder, and they’re visited and/or tormented by several identities including manically methodical Dennis, taciturn Miss Patricia, and lisping 9-year-old Hedwig. These identities are revolting against the reasonable artist persona Barry, who keeps trying to break through and reach psychiatrist Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley) — who likens Kevin’s disorder to superhuman abilities — before an unknown entity known as “The Beast” arrives to devour the captive girls.

While McAvoy’s go-for-broke performance as the multiple personalities is bold and grimly funny at times, the nearly two-hour run time leaves a few aspects teetering on the brink of annoyance (I’m looking at you, Hedwig). Also puzzling is the inclusion of a grossly depressing backstory for Taylor-Joy’s Claire that does essentially nothing for the plot accept to provide a head-scratching end to the climax and an icky aftertaste in the epilogue. Why her character was made to suffer that fate to have such a confusing payoff is a mystery.

So, let’s talk about the twist—which, really, has more in common with the Marvel school of post-credits stingers that open up the movie’s world instead of turning what we just watched on its ear. It’s a bold decision, for sure, and it’s hard to decide if it’s a brilliant move or a boneheaded one. Either way, it will make you leave the theater talking. Although it’s a little like watching Kobe Bryant back in the day score 60 points in a game—thrilling, to be sure, but maybe an indicator that Shyamalan hasn’t quite learned his lesson.

Next Page »