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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Category Archives: 3-3.5/10

Unlocked (2017)

Spies don’t even spies.

After failing to apprehend the terrorist behind a Paris attack that claimed dozens of lives, CIA agent Alice Racine (Noomi Rapace) is forced to spend the rest of her days in in London, living and working the boring task of being a caseworker. Out of the blue, though, her mentor (Michael Douglas) unexpectedly calls her back into action when the CIA discovers that another attack is imminent. And just like that, Alice is thrown back into the dangerous life of being a spy who has to get any sorts of information, by any means whatsoever. And that’s exactly what happens, although, it’s a lot more violent than she’d ever expected, especially when information she’s able to draw out of a suspect is compromised and she becomes a target of every government agency known to man. Now, it’s basically Alice back on the run, without any idea of where to go, or who to turn to, except to just use her smarts and ass-kicking abilities.

Who’s the more bad-ass one here?!?!

You wouldn’t know it, or hell, even think about it, but Michael Apted’s probably one of the best directors ever. Now granted, he hasn’t necessarily changed the way we watch film, or take it in, but what he has proven, is that no matter where he goes, what he takes on, or whatever the hell it is that he’s doing, he remains consistently good at it. Sure, you can say all that you want about some of his flicks, like the World is Not Enough, or even Nell, but the man has made some pretty great movies, over the past 40 years.

Which is why something as boring and silly as Unlocked feels like a bummer and an overall waste of everyone’s time and talent, his especially.

Which is odd, because spy-thrillers seem to be Apted’s niche; these dark, dirty and twisty tales of intrigue and violence seem to be up his alley, considering he knows how to keep the tension going, even when we’re not sure where the story’s are going. That’s what sort of happens to Unlocked at first, until it just loses all control and hope in ever making sense, or even being entertaining.

See, the best part of these so-called “spy-thrillers”, is that while they are twisty and turny, they still at least have some sense of understanding and cohesion. Meaning, there has to be a rhyme and a reason for someone to turn out to be, I don’t know, either a spy for another agency, or not actually dead all of this time – throwing those twists out in the air and out of your ass, doesn’t quite work. The best part of these thrillers is being able to follow along with everything, but also not knowing what to actually expect next, and yet, still have an idea of where it could go.

Make any sense?

Come on, Mike! Really?

Probably not, but hey, it’s whatever. Unlocked is the kind of thriller that doesn’t ever make sense of itself, its characters, where it wants to go, or hell, what it even wants to say. There’s a lot of twists and turns for sure, but none of them ever make any sense. And when it turns out that we get a twist, a character has to go on and on for a four-five stanzas about why they did what they did, why they were deceitful, and why it’s for the greater good. Which isn’t to say that we don’t see these twists coming from a mile away – one particular character’s evil motivations are noticeable from the very beginning – it’s just that they’re so stupid in the first place, that to have to explain them, more and more and why they should make sense, doesn’t work. It’s sort of like telling a joke – if you have to explain it, it didn’t work and therefore, isn’t funny, or effective.

That’s how it is with Unlocked‘s non-stop twists and turns: They don’t make sense and probably weren’t ever supposed to. Which is sometimes fine, but the movie’s not all that much fun in the first place, with Apted turning in a disappointingly workmen-like direction, where it seems like even he’s bored. Hell, the ensemble who, for some reason, is quite stacked, even feels like they’re giving it their all, but ultimately, fall prey to lame editing and an even lamer script.

Noomi Rapace, as usual, is a bad-ass and knows how to play it, but who her character is, or what her motivations are beyond “saving humanity”, is never quite clear; Michael Douglas shows up to sort of chew scenery; Toni Collette, sporting an Annie Lennox-do, is pretty bad-ass, but also randomly here; John Malkovich sort of chews scenery, too, although why he’s even here in the first place is a total question-mark (I’d ask the same thing about Douglas, although one close look will actually show he produced the damn thing); and believe it or not, the best of them all is Orlando Bloom who, sporting a ridiculous cockney-accent, a crap-ton of tats, and gelled-up hair, seems to be having the most fun, playing up a rare villainous role.

He may be in the wrong movie for this much fun, but hey, I want that movie instead!

Consensus: The cast does definitely try, but through it all, Unlocked is too boring and over-written to really work as a smart, fun, and exciting spy-thriller, despite what Apted’s previous credits may have you hoping and wishing for.

3.5 / 10

“Oy, mate. No mo’ pirate movies for may!”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

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Lemon (2017)

So, wait. What does the fruit have to do with it all?

Isaac (Brett Gellman) is an actor just trying to make it big. However, he finds out that each and every role isn’t quite for him. The only thing in life he has to rely on is his girlfriend Ramona (Judy Greer), who also happens to be blind. But then, she walks out on him, sending his life into a free fall. Now, he does his best to direct a staging of Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” while also trying to stay close with his family and also maybe even attempt a new love in his life.

In the world of comedy, there’s this general idea that there are no rules. The only rule there is, like at all, is that your comedy has to be funny. If not, you’ve failed already. Meaning, you can be offensive, you can be mean, you can be off-putting, hell, you can even be in the most poor taste imaginable – as long as you’re funny, then all is fine and right with the world.

Another weird supporting performance from Michael Cera in the year 2017.

But after watching something like Lemon, I sort of feel like there needs to be a few more rules added on to that very small list.

Lemon is so clearly straining itself to be weird, odd, and random that it’s not just obvious, it’s downright annoying. It’s the kind of movie that, like last year’s the Greasy Strangler, is so wrapped-up in its strange little world, that it’s actually interesting to see where it navigates through and where it goes; except in this case, Lemon isn’t all that interesting. It wants to be and definitely thinks it is, but it isn’t.

If anything, it’s just another case of an odd indie-comedy that’ way too bizarre for its own good and never really makes sense of itself in the meantime. It’s like Tim and Eric-level comedy, but instead of actually being so twisted, it doesn’t matter if any of it makes any sense, it’s just so weird and twisted, that who really cares. I almost want to say the word “dull”, but it’s too strange for that.

It’s just boring, really.

Thinking of something completely and utterly random.

There’s at least ten minutes or so of this hour-and-20-minute-movie that has, at the very least, some laughable comedy, but it’s not really due to the script, or what jokes are being set-up. It’s mostly due to the fact that there are the likes of Martin Starr, David Paymer, Fred Melamed, Shiri Appleby, and Rhea Pearlman, all singing a nutty song about Motzaballs. Without any of them, the scene just wouldn’t have worked, but because they’re all such respected talents in their own rights, getting stuck working with silly material like this, it’s actually chuckle-worthy.

Oh, and that’s another thing about Lemon – its cast is quite stacked. Clearly everyone is here either as favors to Gellman, or just because they had a chance to let loose for a bit, but even some of them feel a bit wasted. Judy Greer plays a blind woman who is basically just used as a one-joke punchline the whole time; Nia Long plays a possible love-interest here who, despite seeming she like she’s in on the joke, doesn’t really have much else to bring here; Michael Cera plays a self-serious actor and isn’t funny; Gillian Jacobs has like two or three scenes with Cera and yeah, isn’t given much to do; and yeah, I’m sure there’s more.

Basically, everyone here feels like their wasted. Even Gellman himself who, no matter what he seems to show up in, is awfully fun to watch. Here, because he’s playing such an odd character, doesn’t actually get the chance to really be the usual compelling we see from him and know him especially for, whenever he decides to rear his bearded-face into something. He channels something different that we haven’t seen from him before, but in a way, it’s hard to not wish for him to go back to the old ways.

Consensus: Odd and crazy, yet, with nothing really funny, Lemon tries very hard to make people laugh and squirm, and stretches itself way too thin it trying to do so.

3 / 10

Yeah, don’t ask. I couldn’t even tell ya.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Good German (2006)

Who needs Nazis when we can just face ourselves?

Jake Geismar (George Clooney), an Army correspondent, helps his former lover, Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett), comb post-World War II Berlin for her missing husband, who is wanted by not just the American forces, but the Russian ones as well. However, the plan to find him gets a bit out-of-whack when Jake’s driver, Tully (Tobey Maguire), a soldier with all sorts of connections to the black market decides that he wants to get involved with finding this guy, while also getting some of his own issues solved in the meantime. Still, Jake and Lena want to find their man, so they trust Tully as much as they can, until it becomes an all-out, drag-out battle between good, evil, Nazis, Americans, and Russians. Basically, it’s a good old-fashioned war and it’s up to all the players involved to get out of it, alive and well.

Did men really look that handsome? Probably.

There is no denying that with the Good German, Steven Soderbergh is paying an homage to the noirs of yesteryear. The look, the feel, the sound, hell, even aspect-ratio, feels as if it was transported from the 40’s and brought right to our screens again. It’s a seamless production that obviously cost a lot and it shows – there’s not a single flaw to be found in the way everything looks and just goes to show that Soderbergh, despite how much flack he may receive for it, truly is a neat-freak. He knows what he wants and he gets it.

Shame he just didn’t get his way in the story.

Cause once you get past the glossiness of the production, the Good German just doesn’t work. It’s style works and is neat, but the story, the characters, the conflicts, the twists, the turns, the revelations, the possibility of anything ever making sense, just never fully come together. It feels as if the production itself was rushed, either to get the movie done in time for awards season, or that the production was so dedicated to making the flick looking great, that they forgot to really focus on the sort of stuff that matters.

And with a lot of Soderbergh bombs (which there aren’t many), that seems to be the one issue: The script just isn’t there. A good portion of this has to do with him not always writing his scripts and in the case of the Good German, which was written by Paul Attanasio, this is especially the case. It tries to take on so much, with so very little context, and in a run-time that should feel light and almost breezy (105 minutes, mind you), for some reason, it feels longer. Most of this is due to us not really knowing what’s going on with these characters, this mystery, or even what’s at-stake; the fact that the whole movie begins with us looking for some character’s husband, already shows you that there’s a problem.

No! Do something fun!

Then Tobey Maguire shows up and yeah, it’s hard to really figure everything out.

Which isn’t to say that Maguire is a problem for the movie, because in hindsight, he’s probably the best thing for it. His character is so goofy, wild, and unpredictable, that he feels like he deserves his own movie, where the focus is primarily on him, trying his best to navigate throughout this world that just doesn’t know what to do with him. Maguire’s best in these sort of unhinged performances and his performance as Tully, is up there with one of his best.

But once again, he just doesn’t have a movie to fully service him like he deserves. And because he’s so off-the-wall, it’s easy to see that he doesn’t fully fit in with everything else going on around him. For instance, in the context of what the movie’s trying to do, his out-of-control performance doesn’t really connect and feels like something of its own different creation, one that’s obviously more interesting and fun to watch, than whatever the hell the Good German turns into, with Clooney and Blanchett giving, unfortunately, boring performances. They, like everyone else here, try, but the script’s just not there and when that happens, what’s the point?

Oh wait. That’s right. A paycheck. Never mind.

Consensus: Even with the style down perfectly, the Good German can’t quite get past the “homage” phase, and into becoming something of its own that’s compelling, interesting, and worth watching.

3 / 10

“We huntin’ Nazis.”

Photos Courtesy of: Warner Bros. Pictures

The Weight of Water (2000)

Yeah, or something.

Newspaper photographer Jean Janes (Catherine McCormack) travels to the Isles of Shoals off the New Hampshire coast with her husband Thomas (Sean Penn), an award-winning poet, his brother Rich (Josh Lucas), and Rich’s girlfriend Adaline (Elizabeth Hurley). The reason for this little excursion, other than just some nice time to pass-by between friends and family? Well, she’s actually researching the murders of two immigrant women in the same area that occurred around 1873, and were done by Maren Hontvedt (Sarah Polley). And through flashbacks, we find out more about that story, as well as the story with Jean, on the boat, and how she’s trying to come to terms with her husband and his possibly philandering ways. After all, they haven’t been connecting as of late and it seems like Adaline is bringing out the worst in Thomas and making it seem like he doesn’t need her around anymore. Meanwhile, Maren has her own problems to deal with, which is why she eventually snaps and decides to go off and kill.

Yeah, I’d get on that boat.

The Weight of the Water is a beautiful-looking movie that clearly put all of its time, effort and money into its style. And yes, it pays off. It’s not easy to make a movie about two centuries, taking place in two different locations, and somehow make it all look seamlessly pretty and well put-together, but at the same time, different. Everything that takes place on the boat is light, sunny, and bright, whereas everything that takes place in 1873 is cold, dark, damp, and pretty depressing, both in terms of story, as well as the look. And once again, yeah, that all works.

It’s just a shame that nothing else does.

Because while the Weight of the Water gets by on the look and feel, it can’t quite do the same with its story and the structure. In other words, it just doesn’t work; playing around with two different subplots, with two different time-zones, is a hard trick to pull-off and if neither story is interesting, then it absolutely won’t work. And that’s basically what happens here – it would have helped had one story been, at the very least, compelling to watch, but neither of them.

If anything, they just feel long, overdone, and muddled, almost to the point of where you wonder if director Kathryn Bigelow knew she didn’t have a story to work with, or just didn’t care and decided that it was time to make a movie. After all, this was her first movie after Strange Days and while she may have still been in movie-jail for that movie’s undeserved bombing, she found a chance to make another movie, regardless of whether or not it was already troubled to begin with.

The same face everyone in the 19th Century had. Apparently.

Either way, it’s easily Bigelow’s worst movie and it’s a shame, because not only are her talents wasted, but so are those of the casts.

Or, most importantly, Sean Penn. For some reason, Penn seems bored here. It’s not as if we haven’t seen him like this before, but it’s odd watching him in this role, where his character is supposed to be flawed and conflicted, yet, at the same time, not really giving off any sort of emotions, or feelings to that. It all feels like a lot of it was edited together to make it all work, because Penn, clearly doesn’t seem invested.

And honestly, I don’t blame him. Josh Lucas and Catherine McCormack try, but they too, are dealt the crappy-hand of having crummy characters with zero development. Elizabeth Hurley actually fares better off because she’s playing a sexy and mysterious seductress who may, or may not, have sinister intentions beneath it all – it’s what Hurley’s done all throughout her career, but it’s always worked for her and it’s crazy to say this, but yeah, her performance is the stand-out. Sarah Polley is good in a relatively silent role, but it also feels like her story deserved its own movie, where she didn’t need to get taken down by whatever was going on on the boat.

Cause really, who the hell cares about rich, fancy people and their boats?

Consensus: No doubt a beautifully polished movie, the Weight of the Water is also a poorly-written mix-and-mash that never fully comes together and only wastes the talents of the cast, as well as Bigelow. Oh well, it seems like they all bounced back.

3 / 10

Good thing everybody got the sunglasses memo!

Photos Courtesy of: Dreamland Cafe

The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

Just watch the X-Files.

John Klein (Richard Gere), a respected journalist, loses his wife (Debra Messing) one night, after she takes the wheel of their car and sees a strange figure attack her. Cut to two years later and John has found himself in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, where there has apparently been many sightings/clues of a secret ghost out there, and John thinks he has the answers to all of the clues.

Saying that your movie’s story, no matter how creepy or strange it may be, is a “true story” or “based on a true story”, makes it seem like such a manipulative-way for the filmmakers to have us take the material more seriously. I mean, it did somehow work with movies like the Blair Witch Project and Cannibal Holocaust, but that was all because it looked and felt real, and also, nobody really had any idea whether to prove it false or not. However, stories like these where everything dark in the world seems to come up, doesn’t make it more freaky because it’s “based on a true story,” but instead, how about this, just makes it more dull.

However, don’t go up to director Mark Pellington and tell him that this material is, in fact, “dull”, because he’ll try his hardest to prove you wrong with any trick he can pull out of his director’s hat. Every chance that Pellington gets to make us forget what type of lame story we’re seeing, he capitalizes on it and gives us something to treat our eyes and for the most part, yeah, it actually works. The constant barrage of tricks and effects that Pellington pulls off aren’t all stuff we haven’t seen done before, but at least he makes a conscientious effort to really pull us into this state of paranoia and fear. You can tell that Pellington comes from a long line of directing music-videos, and it works for the overall atmosphere and tone of the movie.

The color blue is always a sign that something bad is 'a brewin'.

The color blue is always a sign that something bad is ‘a brewin’.

But just like most directors who have a music-video background, they just can’t quite get the narrative.

See, with Pellington’s direction,  no matter how hard he tries to keep our minds off of it, he still can’t get past the fact that this story is relatively boring. The pace is always off, with the plot constantly starting-and-stopping, and then never knowing how to pick itself back up again. Pellington knows how to freak us out, but to keep our interest is a whole other issue right then and there, and it’s hard to keep total invested interest.

As for the story, it isn’t terrible; there’s an idea of an mystery and having no idea what’s going to happen next, but it happens in such short spurts that it hardly almost matters. We get way too many scenes where it’s just Gere talking to some weird thing on the phone and says something disastrous is going to happen, it does end-up happening, and Gere runs around looking for an explanation by talking to random people as well as that weird thing. You can only watch Richard Gere run around, looking like a bewildered-fool so many times, and by the 45-minute mark of already seeing this 20 times, it’s hard not to be done here.

And oh yeah, Gere is terribly bland as John Klein and even though it seems like the dude should have more emotions and ideas in his because he for one, went through a terrible life-crisis like losing his lovely wife, somehow doesn’t. Instead, you don’t care about him, the paranoia he’s going through, the sadness he went through with his lost wife, and worst of all, you just don’t feel like the guy’s actually scared. Yeah, Gere puts on that scared-expression plenty of times, but it came to a point of where it seemed like the only skill the guy could pull out of his one-note bag of expressions and it made me realize why I have never cared for Gere in the first place.

Something I sure he’s really broken up about.

Generic Richard Gere look #2

Generic Richard Gere look #2

Laura Linney is pretty dull here, too, as the country bumpkin police officer that made me want to give Frances McDormand a call. Linney’s does what she can, but all she really does is put the same expression on as Gere has, try to look scared the whole time, and in the end, somehow act like she’s the one after his heart and can save him from all of this pain and fear he’s had to deal with throughout the past two years of his life. I’d be able to believe that these two would have some sort of a romance between one another, if the film ever alluded to it throughout the whole two hours, but it rarely ever does and when it seems like Linney goes all goo-goo eyes over Gere at the end, it was just dumb and a contrived way for the movie to bring these two together at the end. An end that was, yes, pretty cool to look at, but also, an end that signified that this long movie was finally over and I could get on with my life, forget about Gere, forget about Linney, and hopefully, watch a better movie before the day was up.

Consensus: Mark Pellington is a fine director that does all that he can to keep us awake throughout the Mothman Prophecies, but the script and story think otherwise, and sort of carry everything down with a dead-weight of total and complete dullness.

3 / 10

What I should have done from this movie.

What I should have done from this movie.

Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.Com.Au

Fifty Shades Darker (2017)

Not enough sex. Seriously.

After her fling with billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) just wants to get on with the rest of her life. She’s the assistant at an independent book-publishing company, where she hopes to one day get a bigger role in the company and make a name for herself. But for some reason, she still can’t seem to shake the feeling of Christian off of her. He knows this, which is why he goes after her, looking to start up another relationship, but this time, with more boundaries and less wild-play that could potentially hurt her, and give him more pleasure. It’s a fine line that the two walk, but eventually, they both find each other falling more in love than they did before, even if there are certain factors surrounding them that don’t look too brightly on their relationship. Those including a former flame of Christian’s, Mrs. Robinson (Kim Basinger), and Anastasia’s boss (Eric Johnson). There’s also a weird girl (Bella Heathcote) lurking in the shadows every time Anastasia and Christian are together and neither of them know exactly why.

Uh oh. Lip biting? Yeah, it's definitely going to go down!

Uh oh. Lip biting? Yeah, it’s definitely going to go down!

In all honesty, there’s not really all that much of a plot to Fifty Shades Darker. Instead, it’s more like there’s about five or six scenes of dialogue, then a steamy sex scene, and then that same cycle, over and over again. There’s no real tension, no real drama, no real character-development, there’s not even anything resembling a conflict – it’s just a bunch of hot, attractive people talking to one another about stuff that doesn’t really matter or even make sense, or having hot, naughty sex.

But hey, at least the sex is kind of hot, right?

And if that’s all these movies are going for, then yeah, they sort of deliver on that element. The first movie actually cared a tad bit more about its story, which is why it was probably lacking so much in the sex-department (I’d rather watch the first 100 times straight than sit through this pile again). But here, they make-up for all of that; both Anastasia and Christian get naked, get spanked, get felt, get hot, get naughty, and most of all, they get f***ed.

But honestly, there should be so much more to a movie than just that, right? Especially to a movie that’s nearly two hours, right? And especially to a movie that’s directed by James Foley, right?

Speaking of that fella, what is he doing here? I understand having a paycheck gig to put a down-payment on that beach house you’ve been working for your whole life, but he’s doing another one of these for next year’s Fifty Shades Freed. So what’s going on here? The movie looks great and definitely has that lush look and feel to it, but everything else about it is just so dry, so boring, and so poorly-done, you wonder if anyone showed up for work. Foley’s good at taking these small, intimate stories about human emotion and make it all work, but here, he just seems like he was snoozing the whole time, waiting for that money to roll on in.

Of course, he’s made some bad movies in the past, too, but this is the bottom of the barrel for him, and everyone else involved.

Dakota Johnson was pretty good in the first movie and was more or less, the saving grace. Her Anastasia in that movie was a smart, strong and sometimes sassy young gal who was approaching this adult-hood with a wandering eye and it was interesting; you almost got the sense that she knew she was better than the material she was working with and because of that, it helped her character. But here, there’s nothing to her; she’s bland, uninvolved and seems to know that she’s working with junk material and isn’t doing anything to help it out. Johnson’s actually been quite impressive in the past year or two since the first movie, which is why it’s a shame to see her so tired and bored here.

Eh. Eyes Wide Shut parties are more exciting.

Eh. Eyes Wide Shut parties are more exciting.

Same goes for Jamie Dornan, who with the Fall and Anthropoid, at least showed that he had the chops to be a compelling presence. But his Christian has nothing to him; he’s supposed to be this slightly weird and creepy guy, but if anything, he just seems like a really hot guy with a bit of a temper. He’s supposed to be scary and a little dangerous, but it never registers. Of course, that failed accent of his probably has something to do with it all, too, but regardless, his performance is just stale and it’s a shame.

And them together, there’s just no fireworks whatsoever.

Sure, they rip each other’s clothes off, they hump, and they kiss, but really, there’s no spark between any of them. Some of this may have to do with the fact that they don’t really like one another in real life, of course, but besides all of that, they just don’t have anything going for them, or their relationship. The movie tries to frame it like they’re falling so desperately and passionately in love, but it doesn’t matter. We don’t care. They don’t care. And ultimately, the movie doesn’t care, either.

But hey, we’re getting one more of these, so we better suck it up, right.

Consensus: Boring, bland, and uninteresting on every level, Fifty Shades Darker feels like there was hardly any effort put into it, except when it came time to take the clothes off and screw.

3 / 10

"I told you you were going to like the way you looked. Hell, I guaranteed it."

“I told you you were going to like the way you looked. Hell, I guaranteed it.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Ouija (2014)

Causal Saturday nights with friends has never been so much fun.

Following the sudden death of her best friend, Debbie (Shelley Hennig), Laine (Olivia Cooke) miraculously stumbles upon an antique Ouija board in her room. In a way to say goodbye to her long, lost friend, Laine plays around with it, but somehow, wakes up an evil spirit that begins to toy around with her and all of her friends. The spirit itself is called “DZ” and as more and more strange events begin to occur, Laine tries to figure out just what the spirit wants, rather than fighting with it and basically, getting nowhere. But as Laine and all of her friends delve deeper into DZ’s intentions and history, they suddenly find that Debbie’s mysterious death was not unique, and that they will suffer the same fate unless they learn how to close the portal they’ve opened.

What’s worse than movies based on board-games? Bad movies that aren’t totally even based on actual board-games. If anything, Ouija may have been a commercial to get the old school, retro and hip Ouija-boards back on shelves for a younger, much cooler audience of kids, but if anything, it just shows us why Hollywood, or most importantly, horror movies have been running out of ideas.

Nope. Not a mirror. Sorry, honey.

Nope. Not a mirror. Sorry, honey.

What’s next? A Monster Trucks movie?

Oh wait.

Anyway, in his directorial debut, co-writer/director Stiles White seems as if he’s trying to make something, almost out of nothing; the premise is tired and boring, but for whatever reasons, he sets everything up in an interesting manner. There’s a whole lot of exposition thrown at us from the beginning, like the rules and regulations these evil spirits and monsters have to follow in order to kill these kids, which may seem monotonous, but actually works, as it helps us get in the mind-set of what to expect. So often, horror movies just assume people know what they’re dealing and let creepy stuff happen – to understand what our evil forces are going to do to our protagonists for the next hour-and-a-half, and what can stop them, actually helps in the long-run. It shows that White at least had some nugget of an idea of what he wanted to do with this movie, because surely, the rest of the movie doesn’t show it.

Though it is interesting to have these characters all come together after a friend’s death, the movie doesn’t do anything with any of them to really flesh them out, or even make them slightly interesting. Sure, it’s a horror movie and often times, it’s best to just forget about characters and just let the spooky stuff happen, but honestly, there’s not enough spooky-stuff in this 90-minute movie to really make the lack of actual character-development fine. If anything, it’s far more jarring and noticeable, what with the movie featuring one too many scenes of these characters sitting in rooms, chatting with one another, and not really seeming as if they’re friends at all – they all seem like actors, meeting for the first time and forced to speak some cheesy lines, so that they can collect their paycheck, go home, and continue reading whatever script is up on the coke-infested table next.

Many friendships have been made, and broken because of that board.

Many friendships have been made, and broken because of that board.

Nothing wrong with that, actually. In fact, that’s a pretty great life.

But of course, Ouija itself doesn’t show many signs of life. With the exception of the initial scene of the teens messing around with the board and blaming one another for moving it around and playing jokes, the movie never really seems to have much of any fun. If there’s any tension or suspense in the air to be had, the moment that White senses it, he jumps back and instead, continues to plod his way, further and further into silence that goes little to anywhere. It reminded me a lot of Annabelle (another Fall 2014 horror flick that clearly was made for brand-name recognition) in that it had everything that resembled a movie – protagonists, antagonists, story, conflict, etc. – but for some reason, there’s just nothing there. It feels like White and his crew all knew that the movie just had to make some money, so it didn’t matter if it was actually effective, scary, or even the least bit entertaining.

As long as the kids are still lining-up to buy tickets to see it, then who the hell cares, right?

Consensus: Without hardly any tension or fun to be found, Ouija feels like a waste of a potentially solid premise, all in favor of studios making more bank.

3 / 10

Oh, Olivia. Just stay away from horror flicks. Do more interesting indies. Please.

Oh, Olivia. Just stay away from horror flicks. Do more interesting indies. Please.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Sea of Trees (2016)

Life is better than the woods. Trust me.

After a great tragedy leaves him numb to the rest of the world around him, Arthur Brennan (Matthew McConaughey) decides that he’s just about had it with life. So, in one last act of giving himself what he wants, he decides to travel all the way to Tokyo, or more importantly, the Aokigahara forest. Why? Well, the forest is actually nicknamed “the Suicide Forest” for, you guessed it, all of the suicides and deaths that occur here. But when Arthur gets there, he encounters a Japanese man, Takumi Nakamura (Ken Watanabe), who wants to kill himself as well, but for some reason, isn’t as definite about it. Then again, neither is Arthur. So the two decide to try and get out of the forest, but for some reason, they can’t seem to find a way out and continue to get injured on the adventure out. Meanwhile, Arthur constantly thinks about the life he had back in America with his wife (Naomi Watts), that may or may not have lead him to Japan and, subsequently, made him want to take his own life.

Two people who are clearly not on the same page. "Page", meaning script.

Two people who are clearly not on the same page. “Page”, meaning script.

The big question on most people’s minds about the Sea of Trees is one thing, “Is it as terrible as people have been making it out to be?” Well, the answer is, “kind of, but not really”. For one, it’s a bad movie that seems awfully misguided – rather than being a deep, interesting and heartfelt meditation on life, death and one’s existence, it’s just one dramatic moment, after another of people appearing sad and that’s about it. There’s supposed to be more heart and emotion in the proceedings, but for some reason, there just isn’t. Everything’s as dry as paint that’s been on a wall for a week and it’s an even bigger shame because the cast and crew, on a good day, can absolutely work wonders.

However, this wasn’t a good day for a single one of them and it’s very apparent while watching it.

And it’s weird because when Gus Van Sant misses, he usually misses his target in a crazy, almost insane way; sometimes, he can often get too experimental and wacky and just lose sight of what he was going for in the first place (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues). However, the Sea of Trees is a miss from Van Sant that’s a lot more like Last Days, or Paranoid Park, where it seems like he’s actually so bored with the material, that he doesn’t really care about doing anything interesting, experimental, or even the least bit exciting. He’s just sort of there with the material, filming whatever he thinks needs to be filmed and, essentially, living up to the legend that Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back made fun of all those years ago.

This is odd, too, because Van Sant is actually a very inspired director, but here, he just loses that sense of inspiration; the story is supposed to be filled with so many emotionally-strong moments where people break-down, cry, and air out their feelings for compelling moments, but none of it ever registers. It’s actually kind of weird, really – it’s the one and only bad movie that, for lack of a better term, is just boring. The people in it and acting seem like they’re trying, but to what effect? When there isn’t a script or a direction to really work with, what’s the point?

Well, there isn’t one really, but at least they all seem to try.

Matthew McConaughey seems like a very smart choice for this lead and works quite well, as usual, but his character is so blandly-structured, that he just doesn’t feel like anything, or anyone. He’s just a sad dude that we’ve seen before in other movies and that’s about. His scenes with Naomi Watts, who is playing McConaughey’s wife, are awful; most of the time, they’re fighting about stuff we have no clue about, and when they’re not doing that, they’re trying so hard to create any sort of romance and chemistry that’s just nowhere to be found. Once again, on a good day, McConaughey and Watts can create all sorts of sparks and work wonders for good material, but the good material just isn’t here for them and instead of their scenes being insightful, they’re just annoying.

"Not alright, alright, alright."

“Not alright, alright, alright.”

But it’s an even bigger shame to see Ken Watanabe here, because he too is trying, but also has such a dull character to work with, you wonder if he’s even trying after awhile. Of course, he most likely was, but the scenes he has with McConaughey lack any sort of energy that can be found in the actor’s back-catalog. And yes, even random appearances from Katie Aselton and Jordan Gavaris can’t do anything to save the Sea of Trees, or its actors.

Everyone’s just having a bad day and it’s hard to change that when it’s so obvious.

Which brings me back to my original conclusion: Is the Sea of Trees awful? Not really, but yeah, it’s still bad. It looks great, has the occasional moment of good-acting, and yes, does bring one or two surprises to its story. But the rest of the two hours is just plain and simply put, boring. It’s hard to really care for a movie that does some small things right, when everything else that it seems to be aiming for, they miss and just don’t know how to do right. There’s no one to blame, it’s just a thing that, unfortunately, can happen every once and awhile.

Consensus: Despite a promising cast and director, the Sea of Trees is a bland, uneventful and honestly, boring piece of drama that never gets off the ground and felt more like a chore to make, as opposed to a joy or a pet-project, which it should have felt like.

3 / 10

"Look, over there is a good movie. Hopefully. Let's go find it."

“Look! Over there! A good movie! Let’s go find it”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Bronze (2016)

Third is the one with the treasure chest.

Back in the 2004 Olympics, Hope Greggory (Melissa Rauch) made the news when she came in third as a gymnast. She had an inspirational story to go along with her whole performance, and because of such, it made her a star. However, it didn’t last long, and now, many years later, she’s still trying to recapture that same sort of infamy she had almost a decade ago, by using it to her advantage at local restaurants and stores in her hometown. But the sad reality is that she still lives with her dad (Gary Cole), steals money from him and his job, and doesn’t really seem to do much with her life except just piss him off, or piss on the other people around her. But it all changes when, one day, her old coach tragically commits suicide and leaves an option up to her: Train a newly-developing talent (Haley Lu Richardson) for the Olympics and she’ll receive half-a-million dollars. Hope doesn’t really care about helping others, but she likes the idea of all that money, so she decides to take on the task, even if that means having to re-visit old demons and friends that she felt better leaving in the past.

That sort-of duck-face doe.

That sort-of duck-face doe.

For a lot of comedies, having detestable characters can sometimes work. Someone who is just so mean and nasty to the world around them, in ways, is pretty funny and honest – it’s easy to relate to a person when your deepest, darkest fears, are brought out by these people and their bursts of anger, however many or limited they may be. But then again, there is something to be said for having detestable characters in a comedy, just for the sake of it.

And that’s the biggest issue of the Bronze.

While it’s nice to see a movie so clear in defining a solid portion of its characters as “a-holes” and not really leaving much of a gray-area, the issue it runs into is that when there’s so many a-holes, what do you do when your movie wants to rely on heart, emotion and inspiration? To just be terrible the whole time, making evil jokes towards characters who probably don’t deserve it, doesn’t quite cut it – sometimes, it’s best to have at least two characters that you can, at the very least, sympathize with. They hold the ship together, even when it seems like the ship is drowning in its own anger and turmoil.

But it also doesn’t help if your characters are being mean to those around them, for no reason and not really having anything funny to say or do. In fact, most of the issues with the Bronze would have probably been forgiven and forgotten about, had the movie itself actually been funny – but nope, it isn’t. What it really is is an excuse to watch a bunch of people say mean things to one another, for the sake of doing so, add some sports in the mix, and yeah, that’s about it.

And honestly, I don’t even think it’s an excuse.

There is a small bit of heart to be found in the flick, and while the movie doesn’t try and get too awfully sentimental, sometimes, a little bit of that can help and go an awfully long way. Movies like Bad Santa, or Bad Teacher, where even the smallest glimmer of light shining through all of the crudeness, can sometimes make a movie better, just because it tries its hardest to paint this character in at least something of a different light and above all, show shadings. In the Bronze, we get some of those shadings with Hope, but they don’t feel believable, deserved, or all that earned; it’s as if the movie knew that it was just way too mean and had to make sure everybody got their hugs at the end of the day.

Eh. Who cares, really?

Eh. Who cares, really?

Which yeah, is perfectly fine (I like hugs), but it doesn’t work here. Melissa Rauch is fine as Hope, showing off a mean side that hardly ever goes away, but despite this being her own script, it’s surprising how very little she gives herself to do. You almost get the sense that she wrote a lot of this movie, with the idea that she would step into the role and have the chance to say all of these terrible and nasty things to people around her. She sure is having fun, but is anyone else? Not really and that’s the biggest problem.

Of course, others in the cast are a little bit better, but they too feel like wooden-shaped caricatures in a movie that wants to be cruel to them, but also give them some cake, too. Thomas Middleditch is great as someone Hope calls “Twitchy” and is fun to watch, but also has a heart to him that’s effective; Gary Cole is good as Hope’s supportive dad; Haley Lu Richardson is constantly sunny-eyed and bright; Cecily Strong plays the lower-class mother of the gymnast and is just over-the-top; and Sebastian Stan clearly seems to be having fun, playing and acting like a total d-bag. The best scene is probably between him and Rauch, where they have sex like you’d expect self-centered gymnasts to have sex like.

But unfortunately, despite it being the funniest scene, it’s also the most imaginative and original, something clearly missing from the rest of the Bronze.

Consensus: Mostly unfunny and unpleasant, the Bronze loves that it gets to be mean and say nasty things, but it never becomes fun or interesting to watch any of it happen.

3 / 10

Soak it in, honey. It don't last forever.

Soak it in, honey. It don’t last forever.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Celebrity (1998)

Never mind. I’m fine with being a peasant.

After divorcing his wife, Lee (Kenneth Branagh) now has a new mission in life and that’s to be dive deeper and further into the entertainment industry, where he’ll be able to wine and dine with all sorts of celebrities, be a part of their lives, and see the world through their eyes. However, Lee gets too close to some and often times, he finds himself struggling to keep himself calm, cool, and collected, while all sorts of decadence and debauchery is occurring around him. Meanwhile, Lee’s ex-wife, Robin (Judy Davis) is trying her hardest to live life without fully losing it. While she’s working at a talent agency, she doesn’t really know where to go next with her love life. That is, until she meets the charming and successful TV producer Tony (Joe Mantegna), who not only strikes up a romance with her, but also brings her into the celebrity-world – the same one that Lee himself seems to be way too comfortable in.

Pictured: Not Woody Allen

Pictured: Not Woody Allen

In the same sort of spirit he had with Deconstructing Harry a year earlier, Celebrity finds Woody Allen with a fiery passion to get something off of his chest. However, instead of throwing all of his anger around towards those around him who he holds most near and dear to his life, Woody positions everything towards the whole celebrity culture in and of itself. Which isn’t to say that he makes fun of celebrities and mainstream talent (which he does do), but more or less that he criticizes the whole idea of being an actual “celebrity”; in Woody’s eyes, it isn’t if you have any talent, per se, is what makes you the biggest and brightest celebrity, sometimes it just matters who you’ve slept with and whether or not you’re at the right place, at the right time.

Sounds pretty smart and interesting, right? And heck, you’d even assume that someone who has to deal with celebrities, pop-culture, and tabloid sensations as much as Woody Allen has had to, that there would be some shred of humanely brutal truth, eh?

Well, unfortunately, Celebrity is not that kind of movie.

Instead, it’s one where Woody Allen tries to recycle old themes and ideas that he’s worked with before, but this time, with a much larger ensemble, more unlikable characters, way more of a disjointed plot, and well, the biggest issue of all, no originality or fun. Even in some of Woody’s worst features (of which there are quite a few), you do sort of get the sense that he’s still having fun, even if he doesn’t totally feel any sort of passion or creativity within the project itself. Here, with Celebrity, a part of me wonders where the inspiration actually began – I already know where it ends (at the very beginning of the flick), but why did Woody want to make this movie, about these characters, and using this story?

The question remains in the air, as there’s so many characters to choose from, it’s hard to really pin-point which one’s are actually more annoying and underdeveloped than certain others. But to make that decision a little easier for yourself, just watch whatever Judy Davis and Kenneth Branagh are doing here because, oh my, they’re quite terrible. And honestly, I don’t take any pride in saying any of that; both are extremely likable and interesting talents who have honestly knocked it out of the park, more times than they’ve actually struck out, but for some reason here, they’re incredibly miscast.

Seeing as how he never worked with Woody before, it’s understandable why Branagh was miscast, but Judy Davis?

Really, Woody?!?

Anyway. the biggest issue with Davis is that her character is so over-the-top, neurotic and crazy, that you almost get the sense that she’s doing a parody of what a crazy person should look, act and feel like. It’s never believable for a second and just seems like an act, above everything else. Then again, when compared to Branagh’s impersonation of Allen, Davis almost looks Oscar-worthy, because man oh man, he’s even worse. Though it’s never been too clear who’s idea it was to have Branagh act-out in every Woody-mannerism known to man (I say it was Woody’s, but hey, that’s just me), either way, it doesn’t work and just hurts Branagh; his constant flailing around, stuttering, pausing, and general awkwardness is painful to watch because, like with Davis, we know he’s acting. We never get a sense that he’s actually “a person”, but more or less, “a character” that Woody has written and made into another version of him.

Bebe knows best.

Bebe knows best.

And while nobody else is bad as Davis and Branagh, they’re not really all that much better, either. In fact, despite the huge list of impressive names, no one here really stands-out, or is ever given as much time as they should; Joe Mantegna and Famke Janssen are probably the only two who get actual real time in the spotlight, whereas all of the names get pushed to the side for what can sometimes be constituted as “glorified cameos”. Even Leonardo DiCaprio, in his very young-form, shows up, curses a lot, assaults Gretchen Mol at least a dozen times, snorts coke, has sex, and never hits a single comedic-note.

Of course though, that’s not Leo’s, or anybody else’s fault, except for Woody Allen himself.

While it may appear like Celebrity is Woody’s worst, it really isn’t; it’s got a funny moment or two spliced between all of the silly love-triangles and pretentious speeches, but there’s not enough. And honestly, Woody really missed the opportunity on reeling in to Hollywood and the celebrity-culture itself. Clearly, he knows a thing or two about it, so why not let your feelings heard loud and clear for the whole wide world?

Couldn’t hurt, right?

Consensus: Despite an immensely stacked and talented list of actors, Celebrity fails by not being funny, interesting, or original enough of a Woody Allen comedy, that sometimes wants to be satire, but then, other times, doesn’t want to be.

3.5 / 10

They've stopped following Gretchen around, but they haven't stopped following Leo. Thankfully.

They’ve stopped following Gretchen around, but they haven’t stopped following Leo. Thankfully.

Photos Courtesy of: A Woody a Week

Now You See Me 2 (2016)

David Blaine was more convincing.

After fleeing from the public eye, the Four Horsemen (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Lizzy Caplan) Dave Franco) have now decided to get back in the game of stealing from the rich and giving back to the poor, all for the beloved and mysterious “Eye”. However, they all land themselves in some deep water when a billionaire who’s money they once took (Daniel Radcliffe), wants them all to do another heist, but for him only. The Horsemen have no option, so obviously, they set out to make sure that the heist goes as perfectly planned as possible, even when there’s the unpredictable factor of magic around. Meanwhile, FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is still trying his hardest to keep his disguise, while also trying to hatch together some sort of plan his own plot against Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), a man whom he blames for the death of his dad, some many years ago. But eventually, he’s going to have to run into the Horsemen and help them get out of this sticky situation, alive, well, and still capable of performing tricks for the greater good of society.

Lead 'em, Jess-man.

Lead ’em, Jess-man.

The first Now You See me was fine. At the very least, it was a lazy summer blockbuster that used fancy, cool-looking visuals as a way to say, “Oh, wow. Magic!”, when, in reality, all they were doing was trying to hide the fact that there were no real believable plots or twists in their own story. Instead, they were just phony, but because they’re taking place within a story that features a bunch of people performing and acting out magic tricks, then yeah, fine, they don’t need to make any sense.

But honestly, that was the least of my problems with that movie and, to a greater extent.

While I can get over the sheer manipulation of their twists and turns, I can’t get over the fact that Now You See Me 2 has more characters than the first, but at the same time, still doesn’t develop any of them. And that’s a huge problem when you take into consideration that the characters from the first movie still have nothing to them other than, uh, well, that they’re “magicians” and uh, yeah, that’s about it. Sure, they all have backstory, but a personality other than snarky? Not really.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that, had it not been for some of the great actors in these roles, these two movies, as well as the characters themselves, would just absolutely fail. No one really has anything going for them and because the actors themselves are so vibrant and fun to watch in almost everything else they do that isn’t this, it’s kind of hard not to feel disappointed. You know that almost everyone here is better than what they’re being offered, yet, they don’t seem to care about that fact; they’re getting paid, so why the hell should they better?

If anything, though, Now You See Me 2 does remind the world that Lizzy Caplan deserves every role offered to her, if only because she truly is the real deal. Even though a lot of the material handed to her is pretty bad, she handles it all so perfectly; she’s called on to be the smarty-pants, call-it-like-it-is character who says whatever she wants, whenever she wants, and to whomever she oh so pleases. It’s a role that she seemed pitch perfect for in Mean Girls, however, hasn’t done in quite some time. Thankfully, she gets a chance to do that here and shows that this isn’t just a man’s playground – sometimes, a woman has to come in and show everyone else up.

And yeah, everyone else is fine, too.

Harry's evil? Oh my!

Harry’s evil? Oh my!

Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Mark Ruffalo, and Dave Franco all do what they did in the first and it’s what they always do best: Just read lines. Newcomers like Jay Chou and Daniel Radcliffe almost don’t matter, because the script seems to have so much going on at times, that when it comes time for them to actually matter to the plot, it’s hard to care. Chou himself feels like a shameless way of ensuring that Now You See Me 2 will be an international hit, whereas Radcliffe, bravely playing against-type, never seems serious or evil enough to play someone as twisted and sick as he’s made out to be here.

In fact, I’d say that’s how it is for the rest of the movie. Because everyone involved with Now You See Me 2 takes itself in such a jokey way, none of it ever registers as being a really gripping, emotional, or thrilling movie. That’s fine and all, if all you want to do is entertain people, without offering anything beneath the surface, but sometimes, you need an extra push or pull to make it work. Now You See Me 2 exists in a world where everyone follows each other with a joke about something that isn’t funny, or makes no sense, yet, no one seems to really care; they’re all just laughing, smiling and moving on with their day.

Once again, that’s fine, but Now You See Me 2 isn’t a really fun movie. There’s maybe one or two sequences that really work, but other than that, there’s just too much talking going on about stuff that nobody cares about, or has any clue of, and way too many surprises that make literally no sense. Yes, I know that’s the beauty of film, in how they can transport us to this world where realism and simplicity doesn’t exist, but seriously, I need to have some grasp on reality. It doesn’t need to be firm – it just needs to be there so that I’m reminded that once the movie’s over, I can go home and just sit down, wait and pray that they don’t announce a third movie.

Just please. No.

Consensus: Squandering an immensely talented cast, Now You See Me 2 is an obvious cash-grab with little-to-no personality, a confusing, almost nonsensical story, and a bunch of characters who, quite frankly, are hard to care about at all.

3.5 / 10

"Rain, rain go away, that's what all my haters say."

“Rain, rain go away, that’s what all my haters say.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (2009)

Just when you thought playing video-games was “cool” again.

In Bangkok, M. Bison (Neal McDonough), an evil, maniacal, and powerful crime boss, cobbles up all of his henchmen (Michael Clarke Duncan, Josie Ho, Taboo) to begin a bid for power in the city’s slum. They take out all of their competitors, so that the fruit is all theirs to sow and if anybody gets in their way, well, they won’t be in it for much longer because they’ll be dead. However, when you’re as bad of a guy as M. Bison is, chances are, after awhile, people are going to start getting ticked at you and rise up to take their power back. That’s exactly what Chun-Li (Kristin Kreuk) does when her father is all of a sudden kidnapped by Bison. Why? Well, Bison believes that the man has a certain skill that’s perfect for whatever evil stuff he has planned. But in order to get back at Bison and all of his evil a-holes the right way, she’ll have to be trained by the smart martial-arts master, Gen (Robin Shou). Meanwhile Interpol agent Charlie Nash (Chris Klein) teams up with Maya Sunee (Moon Bloodgood), to figure out just what’s going on and hopefully, get to the bottom of all the violence before it’s too late.

So, uh, Asian or not?

So, uh, Asian or not?

Why aren’t there any “good” video-game movies out there? Sure, you could make the argument that there’s been a few, every so often, that have been “serviceable” at best, but really, that’s if we’re grasping at straws. What that question really means is why there isn’t one, clear-cut, definitive video-game adaptation that almost everyone can agree to as being “good”. Some will say that has to do with the fact that video-games are meant to be played and not watched, therefore, they aren’t fun and lose their edge, while others will say that it has to do with some of the video-game material being so cheesy and odd, that to adapt for a movie, would be defeating the purpose altogether.

So, with all that said, is Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li a “good” video-game movie?

Nope. Actually, nowhere even close.

However, it also isn’t as terrible as people make it out to be. The reason why so many people ragged on this movie in the first place is because, yes, it’s awfully miscast. There’s no denying that. Neal McDonough can play these evil, sick and twisted baddies in his place, but he does some weird accent as M. Bison, to the point of where we don’t know what nationality he is, nor does it seem like he knows. It may not seem like much, but it’s hard to be scared of the villain of the story when he sounds like an odd mix between Sean Connery and Ivan Koloff.

Oh and, yes, there’s Chris Klein. If there’s anyone I feel bad for in this world, it’s Chris Klein. In all honesty, I do believe that the guy’s a good actor, when he’s given the right material to work with and right direction from people who actually know just what the hell to do with him; Election is a perfect example of Klein hamming it up, yet, also knowing his strengths and weaknesses, which may have to do with the fact that Alexander Payne is just great at directing actors, but still, it’s a good performance nonetheless. Here, Klein is left without a paddle, wading through corny-as-cob dialogue that no classically-trained thespian could ever get through without choking a bit, let alone the guy who played Oz.

And honestly, I could go in deeper and deeper as to why he’s so bad, but I think much of the internet has already made material for that. If anything, the script is what really makes everyone and everything, well, “terrible”. Every line is coated in cheese, characters that are supposed to be cool and tough, just sound like morons, and nobody can ever be taken seriously, even though that’s clearly the intention. Which is fine to not be taking seriously – after all, it’s a video-game adaptation we’re talking about here – but there’s something to be said for a movie that wants to portray its heroes as absolute gods and its villains as downright spawns of Satan, yet, can’t help but have everybody launch into sweet and cool ass-kicking kung-fu when push comes to shove.

Even Moon has no clue what he's doing here.

Even Moon has no clue what he’s doing here.

And yes, the sweet and cool ass-kicking kung-fu is actually why the movie isn’t as terrible as some make it out to be.

In the spirit of the video-games, Legend of Chun-Li gets the action as right as it possibly can. It’s goofy, wild, hectic, over-the-top and as bloodless as you can possibly get when all you’re doing is portraying people getting their asses kicked left and right, which is all that it needed to do and be. Sure, the dialogue and characters are awful, which is why it’s easy to lose interest in these bits and pieces, but when the gloves come off and people are ready to throw down, well, the movie’s entertaining. It’s pretty awful, but it’s awful in a kind of fun way, which also has a little something to do with why the action here works.

Of course, nothing else seems to really work, but that’s fine. At least 35 minutes of this movie’s 95-minute run-time is dedicated to action; in between are long patches and stretches of talented actors getting saddled with awful dialogue, characters who we never get to actually know or understand, other than that they’re characters in a video-game, and a plot about how Chun-Li is going to rise up against the oppressor that seems so half-baked, that I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if this was somehow left in there during post-production, when everyone involved seem to give up, call it a day, and go home, acting as if this never actually happened.

Problem is, it did and there’s no denying that fact.

Consensus: Though it gets the action right, Street Fighter: the Legend of Chun-Li is still poorly-acted, horribly-scripted, and just damn silly at times, that you wonder if anybody cared, took this seriously, or wanted to be elsewhere.

3 / 10

"Don't worry, honey. Your career will get better. Mine, unfortunately, not so much."

“Don’t worry, honey. Your career will get better. Mine, unfortunately, not so much.”

Photos Courtesy of: Games Retrospect, Aceshowbiz

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

It’s like the Walking Dead. But with people who clearly bathe.

In the 19th century, a mysterious plague turns the English countryside into a war zone. On one side, there’s the rich and powerful human beings who have their balls, drink their tea, and get on with life as if there’s no issues, whereas on the other, there’s flesh-eating, walking and sometimes, talking, zombies who are always hungry for their next meal. Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) lives on the side of the humans, obviously and is something of a master of martial arts and weaponry, who not only finds herself interested in, but joined with Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley), in fightin against the zombies. While, in all honesty, Elizabeth can’t stand Darcy, she respects his skills as a zombie killer and finds that appreciation soon turning into affection – something that neither party thinks they are quite ready for. But while these two are busy figuring out if they’re going to wipe out all of the zombies together, or not, there’s Mr. Wickham (Jack Huston), who is trying his absolute hardest to figure out a way to live side-by-side with the zombies, and not have there be any issues or harm done to either side. He too wants Elizabeth, but also has something of a troubled history with Darcy and his family that carries into his life today.

Uh oh. Somebody's now gone and pissed-off Cinderella!

Uh oh. Somebody’s now gone and pissed-off Cinderella!

Let’s be honest: A movie adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was never going to work. Even the book itself, doesn’t quite work. Sure, it’s a clever joke – Jane Austen story that just so happens to feature zombies in between all of the kissing and lavish parties – but it’s one that can also grow tired, if you don’t find interesting, or clever ways to keep it worth telling, again and again. That’s the issue with the book, just as it’s the issue with the movie; there’s an idea that the movie wants to have it both ways, but also doesn’t know if it wants to settle on any one side in particular.

For one, it clearly wants to be a Jane Austen adaptation, where the heart, the romance, and the tragedy is felt through every frame of the picture. But, at the same time, it also wants to be a silly, rumpus and sometimes, funny, zombie flick where people all dressed-up in 18th century attire go around, slaying zombies everywhere they look. Both movies on their own can work, but together, they just don’t mesh well and honestly, director Burr Steers has a difficult time of adjusting between the two stories.

Is it necessarily his fault? Not really.

As I said before, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was never going to really work as a movie; it doesn’t really have any clear-cut audience that it would appeal to most, and for those people who it may appeal to, will still probably find themselves wanting more. While there’s plenty of romance, and kissing, and extravagant parties here, there’s not all that much zombie killing and action which, after awhile, can get to be a tad bothersome. After all, it’s a movie with “zombies” in the title, which makes it seem as if it’s going to take that very seriously and do everything it can to deliver on its promise.

But unfortunately, it doesn’t. Instead, it just constantly has a battle with itself as to whether or not it wants to be a period piece, as well as a zombie action-flick. Which isn’t to say that the movie takes itself too seriously; there’s quite a few moments of actual hilarity, but they’re mostly all reliant on Austen’s actual source material and not the added bonus of having zombies involved with the story as well. Sure, you can’t be mad at the movie for wanting to tell its timeless tale, but you can’t also expect the movie to be all about that side and forget about the whole zombie-angle too, right?

I don’t know. Either way, I think I’m losing track of my point.

Yummy.

Yummy.

The point is that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a misguided attempt at a fun, almost goofy movie. It’s neither fun, nor goofy, but instead, just boring. Steers has shown that he has a knack for comedy with flicks like Igby Goes Down and 17 Again, but when it comes to action, he seems ill-prepared and advised. The fact that we don’t get much action to begin with is a problem, but the fact that we hardly get to see any of it when it is actually happening, is also a whole other problem that makes it appear like the action was a second-thought for Steers. Maybe it was, or maybe it wasn’t, but either way, it’s hard to get enthused about a movie that doesn’t do much of anything.

Of course, the cast is here to try and save the day, but unfortunately, they too are kind of left in the cold. Lily James is bright and bubbly as Elizabeth, but after this literally being her fourth or fifth period piece in a role, I think it’s safe to say that maybe it’s time for James to shake things up. Maybe her appearance in Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver will be that change-of-pace she so desperately needs, but either way, yeah, it’s time for a new gig. Same goes for Sam Riley, too, who despite showing a great deal of promise in Control, nearly a decade ago, hasn’t quite shown any bit of charm or personality in the subsequent years. Maybe that’s too much to ask for, but he’s quite dull here and it really makes me wonder if it’s just him, or the terrible script he’s given to work with.

It’s probably the script, but hey, I’ve got to ask these questions, people!

There are others like Charles Dance, Jack Huston, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth, and Lena Headey who all show up and their stuffy outfits, who all do fine, but it’s really Matt Smith who brings some fun and excitement to the proceedings. In fact, had Pride and Prejudice and Zombies been a lot more like his character, it would have been a much clearer, and more exciting movie. But instead, it’s a misguided attempt on cashing in on a trend that, honestly, seemed like it died nearly a decade ago.

Am I wrong?

Consensus: There’s two movies within Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and none of them quite work whether together, or apart, making it a very uneven and dull film, that tries to have it both ways, but ultimately, fails at having it either way.

3 / 10 

Jane Austen always did love bad-ass chicks.

Jane Austen always did love bad-ass chicks.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

High-Rise (2016)

Happens at Marriott Inns all the time.

Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Middleston) moves into a towering London skyscraper where most of the rich and powerful upper-class people live on the tippy-top, and the lower-class, mostly poorer people live on the bottom. Laing for himself is somewhere in the middle of everything and soon finds himself accepted by both sides of the spectrum; he enjoys the lavish and exquisite parties that the upper-class has, but he also enjoys having a pretty wacky and wild time with the lower-class ones as well. Mostly though, he’s just trying to play it safe, live a simple life, make some friends, and not get dragged-up in anything too complicated or whatever. However, that all changes when the two classes begin to clash over, well, everything. Power starts going out, supermarkets start running dry, and somehow, more and more people are fighting. Even though the police are around, they don’t seem too interested to get involved, which means that it’s mostly all up to the tenants to solve these issues. This, as expected, leads to some disastrous and downright deadly results.

If he's shocked, something's got to be really screwed up there.

If he’s shocked, something’s got to be really screwed up there.

There’s a good half-hour or so where I was totally on-board with High-Rise and everything that Ben Wheatley seemed to be doing. The tone is off in that we get a sense of this where we are, but we don’t know what to make of anything just yet; we know that something bad is going to happen, but how, why and when? These are questions brought up by Wheatley who seems to, at times, be feeding us a pitch-dark comedy that doesn’t want to clue us in yet of just what its intentions are, or where exactly it’s going to go.

And yes, in a way, I ate all that up. The movie not only looks great, but there was something about its world-building that kept me interested, even if it did seem like Wheatley was plodding his way along something of a plot. Wheatley seems less interested in plots such as these, and more interested in just figuring out more about these characters and the world that they’re surrounded by – while some of it seems real, for the most part, it isn’t. This is a scarily idealized world that we’re not necessarily to be happy about, but still want to see stuff happen in and that’s how I felt watching High-Rise.

And then, that all changed.

For one, Wheatley loses all sorts of focus with this and never seems to know what he wants to do, or say with this material, except just do the same thing, over and over again. Without saying too much, a lot of terrible stuff happens to a lot of people in here and while I’m all for it, there came a point where I was wondering if it was going to mean anything for any reason. Wheatley has shown in his past few movies that he doesn’t mind killing people in ugly, heinous ways because it either, A) looks cool, or B) is cool, which is a-okay with me, but there has to be some sort of reason, or at the very least, some sort of connection to it; to just give us bloody and horrific acts of violence for the sake of it, can not only get real old after awhile, but it just makes you seem lazy. Rather than seeming like the talented and cool kid who can find all sorts of meaning in a painting of a red box, you still seem more like the kid who doesn’t get it, so rips it off the wall and lights it on fire.

That poor child being brought up in a world like this.

That poor child being brought up in a world like this.

Maybe that’s a huge generalization to make, but it’s not a hard one to make after watching High-Rise. There’s a lot of good in the movie, most definitely, but there’s also a whole hour-and-half where the movie does the same thing, again and again, and there’s nothing to it. None of these characters ever feel like real people we care about, nor does any of the action hit close to home because, well, it’s all an over-the-top cartoon. The tone may be dark and eerie, but not for a second did I take anything seriously what anyone did or said. Wheatley may have, but it sure as hell didn’t transition to the screen.

And this is a huge shame, because the cast he’s got really does try their best with all that they can do, but it’s really Wheatley’s show and he doesn’t really allow for anyone to grow beyond him, or the material.

Hiddleston is basically doing exactly what he did on the Night Manager, except seeming more clueless about the world around him than ever and it’s no fun to watch; Sienna Miller is fiery and hot, but has some weird subplots going on that never materialize, nor make any emotional impact; Elisabeth Moss shows up as a pregnant housewife who has a bit of an interesting dark side to her, but it’s so mushed in together with the rest of what’s going on that it almost feels like an afterthought; Luke Evans has some fun, but ultimately, goes down so many wild and wacky paths with his character that he never feels like an actual, living and breathing human being; and Jeremy Irons is, yes, pretty freaky, but that’s all he is. He never becomes detestable, nor does he ever go beyond just being “a scary dude” – he’s supposed to be the main villain of the story, but really, I just didn’t care.

Maybe that’s the point, but honestly, who knows? I clearly sure as hell don’t, as shown by my rating. Maybe I’m stupid.

I do know that.

Consensus: High-Rise toggles with interesting and eerie ideas about social classes and economics, but never makes much sense of them with a story that works, or actually intrigues past just being a bunch of bad things happening, for whatever reasons.

3 / 10

Going up, Mr soon-to-be-Bond.

Going up, Mr. soon-to-be-Bond?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Hardcore Henry (2016)

It’s like “Smack My Bitch Up“, but for an-hour-and-a-half.

A man wakes up in a Moscow laboratory to learn that he’s been brought back from the dead as a half-human, half-robotic hybrid. He has no memory of his former life, except only what a mysterious woman (Haley Bennett) who claims to be his wife tells him. For one, he finds out that his name is Henry and that he doesn’t have a voice to speak with. But before he can even get his voice activated, a bunch of evil and dangerous thugs storm in, kidnap her, and lay waste to all of the other scientists who are trying to help him out. Eventually though, Henry ends up roaming the streets of Moscow, where he constantly meets up with a fella named Uncle Charlie (Sharlto Copley), someone who takes on many different forms and doesn’t seem to ever die. With Charlie, Henry starts to understand his new abilities and begins to search the city, far and wide, killing almost every person in sight that poses him any threat, so that he can save his wife from mystical psychopath (Danila Kozlovsky), who seems to have ulterior motives in destroying the world.

Or something.

If you have a fear of heights, good luck.

If you have a fear of heights, good luck.

The whole gimmick surrounding Hardcore Henry is that everything is filmed with a GoPro, having us see and experience everything through Henry’s eyes. And like most other gimmick movies, your enjoyment of the actual flick itself relies on whether or not you mind the gimmick in the first place. If you don’t mind the gimmick and feel like it’s interesting, almost ground-breaking way to film full-length feature flicks, let alone, action ones, then yeah, Hardcore Henry may be your cup of tea. However, if you think it’s just a manipulative way of making some very dry and conventional material appear to be more than just that and do mind the gimmick, then yeah, Hardcore Henry won’t be for you.

Just as it wasn’t for me.

And honestly, I’m surprised by that. For one, I don’t mind gimmick movies, so long as they make sense in the grander scheme of things and actually make the movie more of an interesting watch. All of the found-footage movies that have been shoved down our throats since Paranormal Activity hit the big screen haven’t so much as bothered me, as much as they have gotten lazier and lazier as time has progressed and the inventiveness of the formula went down the tubes. Gimmick movies don’t have to be manipulative, nor do they have to be bad, they just have to make sense of themselves and give the audience any reason to actually care, which is why I haven’t had much of a problem with the found-footage flicks, so long as they were actually good and seemed to do something the least bit compelling with what they were presenting as “new”, or “ground-breaking”.

That’s why Hardcore Henry, despite it trying to do something new, interesting and compelling, also doesn’t quite work. It’s gimmick in that everything is filmed in the first-person doesn’t ever make much sense, except that it’s supposed to make all of the gruesome and hectic violence appear more crazy and insane. That does the ticket, however, for all of the wrong reasons. One of the main reasons why so many people have an issue with the found-footage movies is that a lot of them rely on the actual actors themselves, holding the cameras and moving along with them everywhere they go. Obviously, this gives a greater sense of realism, but it also makes the camera move more frantically, give people headaches, and not actually allow for anything to be seen.

Basically, all you have is a lot of shaking and moving around, but without anything actually being seen or enjoyed.

That’s the same issue I had with Hardcore Henry. While Henry himself may be running, jumping, flying, soaring, kicking, punching and going all over Moscow, we hardly actually see anything. When Henry is sitting still and looking all around him, we can see everything because the camera itself is still. However, when Henry is engaging in some sort of action, everything is shot and moved around in such a frenzied way, that it’s hard to make up what’s actually going on and/or whom is doing what to whom. We hear a lot of crunching, breaking, and shooting that seem to imply that there’s some sort of brutal violence occurring, but we hardly see it. The times we do see it, it’s raw and disgusting, in the right ways, too, but it’s very rare when we do.

If you have a fear of law enforcement, good luck.

If you have a fear of law enforcement, good luck.

This leads me to wonder the simple question: Why can’t Hardcore Henry just be another action flick filmed in the conventional, yet simple manner? I get that the appeal of the movie is that everything is seen in the first-person, making you feel as if you’re actually in the mind of a savage, robotic killer, but the fact that the movie is relying on this gimmick actually ruins it. There’s no denying that there’s a true and fun bit of energy surrounding this movie and the way it approaches all of the cruel and ballistic violence it has, but it’s all channeled through a gimmick that not only brings confusion, but ultimately, doesn’t work.

The other parts of the movie that do work, like Sharlto Copley’s appearances, all feel thrown into a flick that wants to have fun with them, but ultimately, fall back on a crutch that brings us right back to the gimmick. It’s not a terrible gimmick to have, but it also feels like you’re watching a video-game; the kind of video-game that may be fun, however, because you’re not playing it and somebody else is, it doesn’t really matter what happens. You’re just sitting there, awaiting your turn, and expecting that person to die or fall at any time so that they can give up the controller and you can have your time.

Except that you never have your turn. The movie ends without you ever having your fun, but instead, watching and dealing with the fact that somebody else got the chance to play, and you didn’t, and may never get the opportunity again.

Now, does that sound like fun to you?

Consensus: Even with its frantic and fun energy, Hardcore Henry still can’t get past its distracting, sometimes infuriating and always confusing gimmick that doesn’t offer much, except nausea and disappointment.

3 / 10

If you have a fear of murder and/or death, especially good luck with that one.

If you have a fear of murder and/or death, especially good luck with that one.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Welcome to the Punch (2013)

Why can’t gangsters and cops just get along?

Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) is going damn near-obsessed with Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong), a notorious British gangster who shot him in the knee, left him injured, and with a burning flare of revenge in the pit of his stomach. So, in order to get this criminal, Max decides to devise a set-up in which they’ll use Jacob’s son as bait. The plan sort of works, but it sort of doesn’t; while Jacob shows up, he still doesn’t fall prey to the tricks and trades of Max, therefore, leading to another battle of gunshots and violence. Meanwhile, the city’s law enforcement is cracking down on crime by issuing in new, state-of-the-art facilities and plans, all of which seem to promise a better, less-criminalized future for London, but really, seems like it may just be a pipe dream. After all, when you have cops as unprofessionally obsessed as Lewinsky handling very serious, almost life-changing cases, it’s hard to wish for a better tomorrow, when the present is already so screwed up and muggy.

"You fell for the free ice cream bit, too?"

“You fell for the free ice cream bit, too?”

Welcome to the Punch is, for lack of a better term, a very bloody, very violent, and very dour adaptation of cops and robbers. I say this intending for it to sound so exciting and fun as you’d expect something along those lines to be, but in reality, I can’t help but let you know that the film is very far from being exciting, or better yet, even fun. If anything, Welcome to the Punch is so cliched, serious and boring, that by the end, you may actually want to go out and play a simple, seemingly harmless game of cops and robbers yourself.

If you want to add the guns, the violence and the cursing, then sure, knock yourself out, but trust me, the entertainment you’d find with that game, you won’t find here.

A big part of that has to do with the fact that writer/director Eran Creevy doesn’t seem to know what to do with his set-up. While you can’t say the story here is particularly “original”, or even “surprising”, per se, there’s still a lot of promise up in the air. British gangster tales like this, when done right, can be every bit as compelling as they were back in the heydays of cinema – you just have to find the right approach and spin to make them as such. Creevy seems like he’s interested in these kinds of characters, but doesn’t know where to go with them, what to do with them or how to do anything that doesn’t bring anybody’s attention to far better, more engaging movies of the same genre.

Sure, this is expected with the British gangster genre, but still, there should be something different to make a note, instead of nothing. The violence and the few action-sequences we do get are, thankfully, fun and slick enough that they nearly save the movie, but everything else, when there isn’t shooting, or killing, or bleeding, or stuff blowing up, is just dull. Creevy seems to have a bright idea of staging action-sequences and how to get them going when push comes to shove, but actually getting there and bringing enough tension and turmoil to the action-sequences, he seems to have issues with.

Nobody lives in London except for James McAvoy, apparently.

Nobody lives in London except for James McAvoy, apparently.

This is a big problem, too, considering that he’s got a very solid cast to work with, yet, also seems to saddle them with dry, almost two-dimensional characters. McAvoy’s Lewinsky is so unrealistic and ridiculous, that he’s already hard to sympathize with, but McAvoy tries. We’re supposed to believe that a character like this would be such a live wire that, despite him brimming with rage and anger, he’d still be able to maintain himself in a place of professionalism and handle such a high-profile case as this. We don’t get to know anything more about McAvoy’s Lewinsky, other than that he’s obsessed with catching his shooter and that’s it.

Yawn.

Mark Strong’s Jacob seems like he’s going to be more than just your average British crook, but turns out to be just that. Sure, he’s not a total bad guy, but other than the fact that he seems to be doing everything for his son, there’s no real development to him that sets him apart from the rest of the other gangster characters who show up here. The only aspect is that he changes his mind about killing McAvoy’s Lewinsky, which almost doesn’t matter because, well, it’s hard to really care for that character in the first place.

Other welcoming presences show up like Peter Mullan, David Morrisey, and Andrea Riseborough show up and try their damn hardest to add some bit of electricity to the movie, but ultimately, seem like they’re not given anything in return for their efforts. Everyone here reads their script and does their absolute best, but Creevy isn’t really there to pick up the rest of the slack; they’re all sort of left working with thin characters we don’t come to care about, nor really identify with. They’re just place-holders for a bunch of action-sequences that, yes, look nice, but ultimately, don’t add up to much other than a bunch of in-focus explosions.

Give me a Diet Coke, Mentos, and a video-camera, and honestly, I could do the same thing. Except that it wouldn’t cost over 10 million dollars, nor would it be 100 minutes – it would cost five bucks, and last only about two minutes. Everybody would be a lot happier and not feel as if they’re time was just wasted.

Basically, the opposite feeling you get from Welcome to the Punch.

Consensus: Despite a great cast, Welcome to the Punch flounders their talents on a lame script, predictable storytelling, and uninteresting characters that are only meant to push us to the next action-sequence.

3 / 10

"Just do it. Make this thing interesting."

“Just do it. Make this thing interesting.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Zoolander 2 (2016)

Male models are still funny, I guess?

After the death of his wife, Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller)’s life basically imploded. First of all, The Derek Zoolander Center For Kids Who Can’t Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too actually collapses due to faulty construction. Then, he loses his son to Child Protective Services. And his best friend and closest confidante, Hansel (Owen Wilson), gets disfigured and is forced to leave the spotlight, never to be heard from again. All of this culminates Derek in leaving the rest of the world himself, venturing out to the far North where nothing, or nobody, can bother him. That’s until Billy Zane (Billy Zane) comes into the picture and warns Derek that known celebrities are not only being mysteriously killed, but reenacting one of Derek’s most famous looks before doing so. This leads Derek back to finding Hansel and figuring out just what this is all about. Eventually, with the help of former swimsuit model, now turned Interpol agent, Valentina (Penélope Cruz), Hansel and Derek find out that the one going after them and killing all of these celebrities just so happens to be their arch-nemesis Mugatu (Will Ferrell) who, despite being locked-up for all of these years, still holds a grudge and wants to take over the fashion world, once again.

See! Tiny cellphone joke! A! HA!

See! Tiny cellphone joke! A! HA!

Zoolander isn’t a classic by any means, but it’s still a very funny movie. It’s stood the odd test of time as some sort of “cult classic” that may not be as smart as it thinks, but in by doing so, somehow was actually smart. I don’t know. It’s the kind of movie that I’ve seen so much now, whether through TV re-runs or with my buddies that, by now, the movie’s been so imprinted into my mind that I know almost every line of dialogue and I still find it funny.

This is everything that Zoolander 2 is not and it could have been so much more.

But it didn’t really have to try at all and that’s one of the biggest surprises about Zoolander 2. Even with the likes of the original crew back and ready for action, there seems to be something missing in that Zoolander 2 is just the same joke, over and over again, but this time, there’s nothing funny about the joke. The first movie at least made the joke about how models are dumb and went far and wide with it, but here, we’re supposed to take that joke and think that’s just about it, with a slew of cameos thrown in for good measure.

In a way, too, it’s almost as there are so many cameos from totally random people celebrities here, that it’s almost as if Ben Stiller himself knew that he was working with bad material and thought the best way to hide behind that fact was to have people like Sting, or Neil deGrasse Tyson, or even Justin Bieber show up for extended cameos to distract everybody from the real problems with the script. But that’s the issue, the cameos aren’t funny, the script blows and the same joke, being hit over our heads, over and over again, goes nowhere and doesn’t seem to really land, even if the story is basically about this whole conspiracy involving male models.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t some laughs to be found, but really, they are few and far between, which mostly has to do with the tone.

The first Zoolander kind of existed in this ridiculous world where people acted-out in strange, over-the-top ways but this second movie only seems to flirt with that world. Instead now, the jokes are a bit more mean-spirited and most of all, just call-backs. I get that  tiny cellphone in the original movie was funny for its time, to have it now be 2016 and have not one, not two, but three jokes about said tiny cellphone is just overkill. There’s so many other callbacks that continue on in this movie, almost everyone failing harder than the one before it and just makes me wonder why Stiller was so off-point here?

The future of the Zoolander franchise that will never work out. Thank heavens for that.

The future of the Zoolander franchise that will never work out. Poor guy.

Clearly he has a sort of love and adoration for these characters, knows that there’s a huge audience out there for this product, and typically, doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to take on a whole project on his own and just go through the motions. Say what you will about some of his choices, but mostly, Stiller has been smart with the movies he’s decided to write and direct, all of which being more ambitious and surprising than the last. That’s why Zoolander 2 not only finds himself back in his comfort-zone, not just as a director, but as actor, but also reminds us why some Ben Stiller movies can be so grating to watch.

We know that there’s more to him than this, but why is he putting this out? Was it for the money? Or was it just because he wanted to get the crew back together, one last time for the hell of it?

Regardless of what the reason was, he’s not the only one who gets caught up here, showing that they have better stuff to do. Owen Wilson tries as Hansel, but with the exception of orgy jokes, there’s nothing else holding him together; Kristen Wiig’s character is supposed to be the head fashion designer who can’t walk, talk or emote right because of all the surgery she’s had and while it can be funny at first, it goes on way too long; Will Ferrell shows up late in the game as Mugatu and seems like he wants to do more, but only has a certain amount of time to be funny and it’s not much; Penelope Cruz tries to bring more to her standard agent role and she shows some personality, but it doesn’t go far enough; and yeah, the cameos. There’s so many here, most of which are surprising, but really don’t pan-out to being much else but just cameos and that’s it.

They’re not hiding the fact that Zoolander 2 stinks, even as hard as they may try.

Consensus: Even despite the original not being a great movie, Zoolander 2 still is no excuse for the likes of Stiller, Wilson, Ferrell, Wiig, Cruz, and everybody else to be wasting their time with such lame material as this that has nothing else to say other than just to say, “models are stupid”.

3 / 10

Todd makes any movie better. So why wasn't this his?!?!

Todd makes any movie better. So why wasn’t this his?!?!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Regression (2016)

Satanists are always hard to trust.

During the early 90’s in Minnesota, Detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) is called on to the case of John Gray (David Dencik), a father who, believe it or not, actually admits to the accusations put on by his daughter that he molested her. The daughter, 17-year-old Angela (Emma Watson), however, has no actual recollection of it, throwing Kenner for a loop and confused of where to go next with his investigation. So, the only way he sees fit is to call up a known expert in the field of psychology, Professor Kenneth Raines (David Thewlis). What Raines will hopefully be able to do, using experimental techniques, like “regression”, is regain Angela’s memories, and hopefully make better sense of what exactly happened that night. But once the dreams become clearer and clearer, Kenner soon discovers that there may be more going on with this case than he had originally thought. For one, the Satanic cult may have been apart of the situation all along. And, even worse, the rape could have not been a rape after all and instead, be a Satanic ritual!

Regression1

He’s mad.

Basically, Regression is a police procedural, courtesy of FOX, CBS, NBC, or any other station that holds conventional cop shows, with a tad bit more cursing, smoking, blood, gore, and Satan stuff. While that may actually sound fun, I can assure you, it really isn’t, as Regression is as simple and as boring as they come with a movie of this nature. See, what’s weird about Regression isn’t how it doesn’t really go anywhere surprising or different from what we’re all used to expecting, it’s that it doesn’t seem to go anywhere at all.

If you pay close enough attention in the first half-hour, it becomes painfully clear just where this movie’s going, what happened with the case, and just what could possibly happen to each and every character here. In that sense, Regression is already over. But for some reason, the movie still feels the need to continue on for the next hour and 45 minutes, disregarding the fact that it’s already spoiled itself by being lazy and unsurprising and is now, quite simply, just wasting our, as well as itself’s own precious time.

Which is probably the biggest and greatest sin a movie could ever commit.

But Regression does it in the first 30 minutes. After these 30 minutes, the movie tries to offer-up a twist here and there, but really, it just seems like it’s making excuses for being boring. Which is to say that yes, Regression is a very slow movie, but even worse, it’s uninteresting. Rather than this movie actually being a study about Satanic cults, their affect on small communities, and the fact that 1990, in which this film is set, was supposed to be a very “popular” time for Satanic cults in the mainstream American media, the movie seems more content with just focusing in on this one particular case, where people do a lot of talking, but nothing really happens.

Instead, we just sit around, watch and wait for the conclusion to eventually come around. Although, writer/director  Alejandro Amenábar does try to liven the movie up with some oddly-placed, but nonetheless, spooky dream-sequences throughout, they’re really not enough to save this movie from being utterly dull and a tad bit unmemorable. After all, it’s just a cop movie, about one cop trying to solve his own case, in which the devil, or Satanists, may or may not, actually be involved.

She's sad.

She’s sad.

Either way, it’s hard to care.

Which is a problem when you have the likes of Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson in your movie. Though both of them are clearly trying with the material, neither actually get the utmost perfect opportunity to really make this movie at all interesting. Hawke is basically playing another routine detective who, after a failed marriage with his wife, seems to be obsessed with this one case, can’t shake it, and can’t seem to let go. It’s an obvious road that Regression takes with this character and while Hawke does try to do something with it, it basically goes nowhere and feels like another case of Ethan Hawke getting saddled with some pretty bad, overly serious material that he is most definitely better than.

Same goes for the likes of David Thewlis, David Dencik, and Dale Dickey, all of whom show up and do their thing, but really, are in a movie that doesn’t have anything to do for them, other than cry and stare a lot. Emma Watson, despite being advertised quite heavily with this, really isn’t in the movie all that much, despite being the central plot-point to this whole story. If anything, I’d say that Watson’s in about 15 minutes of this movie, which are actually the best scenes because we see her and Hawke’s character actually drop all of the mopey crap and just act alongside one another. It’s a small bit of pleasure to get from a movie that is so drenched and covered in its own moodiness that, by the end, you’ll just want to see go back to their own respective careers, where they’ll, hopefully, continue to make better decisions in the near-future.

And stay away from lame horror-thrillers like Regression.

Consensus: Part horror movie, part psychological thriller, all pretty boring, Regression seems like it could play and mess around with so much, but really, just goes down the same, narrow and conventional road we’ve seen movies like this take before, except this time, with more cops.

3 / 10

But together, they look as painfully bored as two actors can get in a movie that they clearly don't give a flyin' hoot about.

But together, they look as painfully bored as two actors can get in a movie that they clearly don’t give a flyin’ hoot about.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Hitman: Agent 47 (2015)

Video-games should just stay as such.

When he was recruited at an early age, Agent 47 (Rupert Friend) was forced to become a ruthless, emotionless and unforgiving killer. For whatever shady reasons they may have been, he was basically trained to be an assasin, and through plenty of genetic defects given to him over the years, the powers that be have ensured that there’d be no distractions for Agent 47, so that he could keep his eyes on the prize and the job, no matter what may have gotten in his way. Now though, many years into the program and out into the field, he’s assigned a mission where he must use his skills to team with a mysterious young woman (Hannah Ware) to take down the evil Syndicate. For some reason, the said Syndicate wants this mysterious woman and Agent 47, but at the same time, they also want to use the technology used in Agent’s program to build their own army of enemy ruthless, highly-trained killers. Now, being forced with a dilemma, Agent 47 has to think of what’s best for him, this mysterious woman, as well as the rest of the world, considering it’s not just him who will be affected, but the rest of society and if the evil Syndicate has it their way, then the rest of the planet will be bowing down to them.

He can run.

He can run.

Honestly, we probably didn’t need Hitman movie in the first place and we sure as hell didn’t need a reboot made some eight years later, but here we are now. Not only do we have one lame Hitman movie, but we have another one that wastes another talented cast, on material that could be somewhat promising for a movie, but once again, like most other video-game movie adaptations, still suffers from the problems that there’s just no way certain material from a video-game, no matter how good or fun it may be, can translate to the big screen. Sure, you could make the argument that Prince of Persia was at least serviceable, but if that’s the bar, then it’s not a very big one.

And Hitman: Agent 47 doesn’t reach that same bar, but it still shows signs of trying to.

For one, the action-sequences of the movie are very good and feel very much in place with the actual video-game itself. They’re fun, exciting and silly, just as a movie based on a video-game should be. Same goes for the rest of the movie, that not only looks slick and pretty, but also feels like it exists in this imaginary world where people are downright evil and/or plain and simply good; though this is completely over-the-top, weird and unbelievable, the movie is, like I’ve said, based on a video-game, so it makes sense that the world it depicts would not be the same one you or I live in nowadays.

That’s why, for the longest time, all plot-issues aside, I was willing to give Hitman: Agent 47 the benefit of the doubt; it may not be the best movie, but as a late-summer blockbuster, it’s got some fun to it. But really, after awhile, it all goes away once we realize that there’s actually no story to this thing, nor is there actually any characters worth caring about or getting invested in. You could make the clear argument that in some video-games, like in Hitman, you don’t actually care about the characters, their development, or plot progressions, like as you would with a movie, and are more concerned with just getting to the next level and looking cool and skilled in front of your fellow pals, but I’d have to disagree with that. Certain legendary games like Grand Theft Auto, Assassin’s Creed, Max Payne, and yes, even Hitman, all have certain qualities to them that make it clear that, if anybody wanted to, they’d have enough material for a well-done, interesting and compelling movie, but for some reason, the promise has been lost in the jumble.

Of course, Assassin’s Creed won’t be coming out until later this year so we don’t know how it’ll turn out, Max Payne‘s movie was pretty lame (if a bit of a guilty pleasure for yours truly), and there will probably never, ever be a Grand Theft Auto movie if those within Rockstar Games are still alive and breathing, but the two movies of Hitman, although containing some fine and fun action, still don’t have the right story or character-development to help the movies work fully. And even though there is quite a few action-sequences here in Hitman that do the trick, there’s still not enough to ensure that the fans of the video-game will be able to get by and be happy with; there’s a lot of down time that’s focused on the backstory of Agent 47, his childhood, and just exactly what this shady agency is all up to, but really, it’s all quite boring and just seems placed in here for some perspective. Had these elements been done with at least a little more effort, there wouldn’t have been such a problem, but sadly, it’s just kind of boring and uninteresting.

He can pull out duel-pistols.

He can pull out duel-pistols.

Not at all like the game.

Which is a shame because, given the cast involved, there should be more material here to help make things better. Rupert Friend plays a cold-blooded assassin here, like he does on Homeland, but because this one is far more closed-off from the rest of the world, as well as to himself, he does a lot of brooding and staring – none of which are actually ever compelling. Friend tries, don’t get me wrong, but he’s clearly working with material that’s limited him to just doing certain emotions and leaving it at that. Hannah Ware is pretty, but really, her character is here just to keep the plot moving and that’s about it.

The one I’m most definitely surprised to see here is Zachary Quinto. Quinto’s actually a pretty interesting actor who will, of course, take the occasional mainstream role in something like Star Trek or What’s Your Number, but also has a pretty solid work in lower-key films like Margin Call, or in TV shows like the surprisingly great the Slap, Hannibal, and most especially, Girls. So that’s why, to see him in something as lazy and uninspired as this, you have to wonder: Just how much of a financial bind was he in? Did he think there was something inherently interesting about his villainous character that just ticked his fancy way too much to turn away? Or, was he just so desperate for any sort of money he could scrounge up for the summer? Whatever the answer may be, I’m not sure, but it’s a shame to see him here, even though he is giving it his all.

Something that I wish those behind the actual movie decided to try and do, too.

Consensus: Another video-game, another lame film adaptation, Hitman: Agent 47 works well when it’s kicking butt, taking names and not bothering asking any questions, but when it tries to focus on other aspects that make movies good, like plot, or characters, or emotions, it breaks and reminds us why the video-game itself is so entertaining to play in the first place.

3.5 / 10 

He can even beat up Spock. Hell, Agent 47 can do just about anything.

He can even beat up Spock. Hell, Agent 47 can do just about anything.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The Island (2005)

Everyone’s afraid of dying. Or looking ugly, too, apparently.

Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) seems to be living the full and complete life that every person on the face of planet should be. Not only does he have a nice job, but keeps a steady diet, has a good amount of friends, a rather exciting night-life, and seems to be getting closer and closer to his goal of reaching “the Island”. “The Island”, for those who don’t know, is a vacation resort of sorts for those workers who show the best performance and are definitely deserving of being given some sort of gift. Issue is, “the Island” isn’t actually what it appears to be – cause, for one, there actually isn’t an Island. Instead, it’s just a lie that’s just told to Lincoln, as well as all of his other fellow friends and confidantes who live with him in this community of sorts. And once Lincoln becomes wiser to what’s actually going, he grabs his best, perhaps closest, friend from the community, Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson), and sets out to discover the truth of what’s really going on and figure out why so many people are after him and trying to kill him. The answers to his questions aren’t what he wants, or expects, but still, questions he has to live with and make something of.

Make-out already and make Mikey happy!

Make-out already and make Mikey happy!

For awhile, the Island is actually a pretty solid sci-fi flick. Sure, you could definitely make the case that it’s just ripping-off almost every sci-fi flick to have come out in the past few decades that also have to do with clones ( mainly Logan’s Run), but really, it’s hard to hate the movie for actually setting something interesting up. Even though to us, the audience, we know that each and everyone of these characters are just literal clones in this huge machine that doesn’t care one lick about them, seeing how they figure it all out, react to it, and find themselves getting out of and away from said machine is, believe it or not, compelling and exciting. There’s still a few plot-holes and silly moments here and there, but overall, the Island‘s first-half finds Michael Bay taking a backseat to his idiosyncratic tendencies and just allowing for the story to tell itself.

But then, as expected, it all goes to hell once Bay realizes that he’s making this movie and can do whatever he wants.

This means that, yes, there’s a whole lot of explosions, gunshots, cars flipping over for no reason, people yelling, carnage, and most of all, product placement. None of which are actually ever exciting, fun, interesting, compelling, or feel pertinent to the story; instead, they just feel like Michael Bay taking over the wheel and going crazy because, well, he can and who is going to stop him. After all, he’s the commander of his own ship, so why should he have to listen to others when they tell him that he may want to tone it down a bit on the general havoc his movies seem to wreak?

They wouldn’t because they’d be out of a job, that’s why!

Two Obi-Wan's? Look out, Ani!

Two Obi-Wan’s? Look out, Ani!

However, it should be noted that there is at least something of a thoughtful movie tucked deep down inside of the Island, which makes it slightly better than some of Bay’s worst, but not really. The idea of these clones having hardly any life or humanity for that matter, but yet, still feeling and expressing as if they were just like humans, is a neat anecdote that, once again, has already been touched on before in sci-fi, but here, still feels like it could make the story more than just another sci-fi blow-em-up, courtesy of Michael Bay. This especially comes into play during the later-act, when Lincoln wonders what it is about his existence that he wants to save, nor why it is that he cares so much about anything at all; somewhere, the movie’s crying out desperately to be hear and understood, but it’s not getting the right guidance from Bay and it creates a jumble of a movie that wants to be two different things, but ultimately, ends up becoming one thing – which is another hectic piece of action that only Bay can produce.

And like is the case with most of Bay’s movies, the Island features some very talented people, doing some not-so very good things with their time. However, if anything, it shows that Ewan McGregor is still a very good leading-man in an action film, even if the material isn’t always there for him. Sure, he’s charming and slightly cool, but he’s also likable and seems like a genuinely smart creation that, may not have the fullest idea of what’s going on, but is at least going to take some sort of initiative to figure something out and not just stand around all day, being dirty, yet, still looking pretty. As his romantic love-interest, Scarlett Johansson does what she can here with such a limited-role, but because she’s in a Michael Bay movie, she’s mostly used to look hot, run around, and get kissed by the sexy male lead.

Obviously, Johansson has more to do with her time nowadays, but still, it’s a tad disappointing knowing what we all know about what she’s capable of doing.

And yeah, the rest of the cast, like Steve Buscemi, Sean Bean, Michael Clarke Duncan, and Djimon Hounsou all show up and try to add a little something more to the proceedings, but really, they’re just around to deliver corny lines and that’s it. Bay doesn’t really care about them, nor does he really want to give any of them enough efficient things to do with their time – he just wants to see stuff blow up and people kiss.

Which is basically Michael Bay’s career in a nutshell.

Consensus: Despite a strong start, the Island soon turns into another one of Michael Bay’s crazy, overstuffed action pics that, once again, wastes the talent of everyone involved, most importantly, a smarter script that may be lying somewhere out there.

3.5 / 10

Just die already so we know it's the end of the movie.

Just die already so we know it’s the end of the movie.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins