Review – It Comes at Night

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From fledgling director Trey Edward Shults and burgeoning studio A24 comes the horror film that seemingly everyone has been talking about, It Comes at Night.  A24 has quietly become one of the three most consistent and reliable studios out there, churning out quality films like they have an assembly line, while covering all genres and all types of film – from comedy to horror to drama.  Earlier this year, they won Best Picture with Moonlight and they had many other films on the tongues of fans and critics alike all throughout 2016.  They’ve come at us with such gems as The Witch, Swiss Army Man, 20th Century Women , The Monster, and others.  And now they’re back with It Comes at Night.

As is typical for A24, It Comes at Night is an adult, sophisticated film that falls within whichever genres in which it finds itself.  In this case, we’re talking horror-drama.  The title might be misleading, however, as there is no physical supernatural force at hand in this film.  Rather, It Comes at Night deals with a post-apocalyptic world that has been ravaged by a supervirus.  Clearly, this isn’t the first outlet for kind of story, but It Comes at Night approaches the idea from a smaller-scale, more personal perspective.  The title, itself, has a meaning that is best left to be discovered and even analyzed.

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The film begins with the family of protagonist Paul (Joel Edgerton) suffering a painful loss.  Immediately, the entire family is conveyed as relatable and sympathetic, forming an quick and easy connection with the audience.  When an unexpected visitor comes calling, the family must decide how best to handle their arrival in the face of the omnipresent viral threat as well as their own safety and survival.

It Comes at Night is not the feel-good movie of the year.  If you want that, head back out to Wonder Woman.  Rather, in this film, one will get a reminder of the importance of their loved ones, as well as the fragility of life.  Less obtusely, the film also serves as a commentary on the ever-present struggle between trust and paranoia in modern society.  It’s a difficult topic that is making itself known on a daily basis through our news broadcasts, at our airports, and on our sidewalks.  Few take a pragmatic approach to the topic, instead aiming to force it into a simple binary scenario with no shades of gray, but It Comes at Night does a fantastic job of contradicting that idea with some masterful storytelling.

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No matter who the audience sees as heroes and who they see as villains in this tale, it’s difficult to argue with the actions of any of the characters.  No one in the narrative wants anything bad to happen to anyone else, but each also understands that their survival and the survival of those closest to them should be most important.  And that’s tough to argue with.  As a result, the story is a challenging one to watch at times as impossible decisions are made by people who have no desire to make them.  And it starts right at the beginning.

This sort of tale can only be properly presented if the filmmakers come armed with a capable cast, and Shults has certainly done so.  The cast is small, but finessed.  Their performances can shift from endearing to heartbreaking in the blink of an eye without losing even an ounce of credibility – whether it be for the story or for their respective characters.  And that goes for all of them; no exceptions.  Riley Keough gives such a soulful, gut-wrenching turn that she nearly made me emotional at one point in the film.   Technically, it’s a horror-thriller, but there is a great weight to the proceedings and it’s difficult to remain detached from it all when the cast is so accomplished at forcing the viewer to care.

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There has been some controversy around the film as some people have complained(whined) that it isn’t what they expected.  I have two suggestions for those people.  1) Do some actual research.  If you’re so desperate to know everything you’re going to see before you see it, then do a search.  It’s easy.  And it’s all out there.  Or, preferably, 2) Don’t have expectations.  Let the filmmakers tell you their story instead of mindlessly, absurdly demanding that they tell yours.  If you do that, and you’re up for something aimed at a more refined, discerning audience, then there will be much to revel in with regards to It Comes at Night.

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Review – It Comes at Night

Review – The Mummy (2017)

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As you may be aware, The Mummy is not only a revival of the classic Universal monster who first hit the big screen way back in 1932 (as portrayed by Boris Karloff) but is also an effort by Universal to launch their own connected universe, ala Marvel’s MCU, built around their movie monster library.  To hopefully get things off on the right foot, they have enlisted the services of megastar Tom Cruise as lead protagonist Nick Morton as he takes the battle to the mummy of the new age, played by Sofia Boutella (Star Trek Beyond).  Backing the pair up is Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll, a very public casting that is undoubtedly setting up a future installment in what Universal has dubbed their Dark Universe.

Seemingly everybody is trying to get in on the shared universe idea after seeing Marvel’s unparalleled success with The Avengers and the rest of their Cinematic Universe.  Warner Brothers has their DC Extended Universe, which is a natural fit, but beyond that, it remains to be seen if this is a good idea, in general.  Ironically, WB’s latest DCEU entry hit big, last weekend, and has taken hold of the public zeitgeist in a way that would make it difficult for virtually any film to follow – at least at the box office, if not creatively.  So, the timing of the release of The Mummy may come back to bite it, but we’ll deal with that should it come to pass (for the record, I’m predicting a weekend box office repeat at number one for Wonder Woman).

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The important topic at hand is simply whether or not The Mummy works on its own.  Forget about Dark Universes; if this film fails to stand on its own two feet, audiences might lose interest in any potential follow-ups.  Right off the bat, Universal goes out of its way to ensure that the audience understands that this is a Dark Universe film, as they’ve added a Dark Universe logo to accompany their Universal logo.  This might seem a little ham-fisted upon initial consideration, but that’s branding for you.  If Universal is going all in on this thing, they need to make sure that audiences comprehend it and begin to look for it.  They have a lot invested in the idea as well as all of these monster properties that they’ve had in their possession for nearly 100 years, so I can’t blame them for going the extra mile.  In a similar situation, any of us would be wise to do the same.

Continuing on the topic, Universal and director Alex Kurtzman let their inexperience with this sort of thing show through a scene designed entirely with the purpose of pushing this Dark Universe.  It’s forced and it feels out of place, but much worse than that, it’s entirely underwhelming.  If they want to do a connected universe like Marvel, that’s their prerogative and there’s nothing wrong with that, in theory.  It could actually be kind of cool.  But they have to understand that their properties aren’t the same as Marvel properties, so they need to take their own world-building approach and not so blatantly rip off the folks at Marvel who did it first and continue to do it best.  They stopped short of a post-credits tag with Samuel L. Jackson, but it was still a jarring and deflating diversion in the middle of a film that needs all the positive word-of-mouth it can get.

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Outside of that, I’m honestly still deciding how I feel about the movie.  I know I didn’t actively dislike it, though I disliked elements of it.  But other components were rather enjoyable.  The dialogue is on the weaker side.  It’s not uninteresting, but attempts at humor generally fall flat, despite the cast’s best efforts (especially Jake Johnson, who has excellent delivery.  But even Amazon delivers crap if that’s what’s in the box.)  The characters are mildly compelling, at best, and not particularly relatable.  I suppose that’s not a crime, but relatability helps if an invested audience is desired.  And there are clichéd action/suspense moments that don’t follow any sort of internal logic (including the infamous Stormtrooper aim).  So, bleh.

On the flip side, the cast is watchable in spite of the lackluster material they’re given.  Sofia Boutella looks to be having a good time as the villainous Ahmanet.  The action is mostly fun and surprisingly varied in style for a movie centered around a supernatural force of evil, returned from the dead.  Some of the beats and visuals are borrowed from the pair of Stephen Sommers Mummy films (both underrated and superior to this installment, as a whole.  I really miss Arnold Vosloo shouting, “ANCK SU NAMUN!!!”), but maybe we’ll just call that an homage and keep moving.  I was both pleased and surprised by the horror elements of the film.  Yes, it’s horror-action, but those Sommers films practically jettisoned horror, altogether.  So, it’s nice to get a healthy dose of it in this reboot, for a change.  The action is relatively small scale, but it’s also a hard-hitting combination of traditional action set pieces infused with ancient Egyptian horror.  It all feels at once unique and familiar, which is enough to essentially make it fresh, even in the face of so many Mummy films from decades past.

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I’ve already seen some critics wield the tired expression “joyless” as a sword against the film, and I call foul.  Firstly, the film aims  for light moments.  It doesn’t necessarily succeed, but it tries.  But, even if it didn’t, so what?  It’s bad enough that all of the studios seem to believe that if their big-budget films don’t play like a Marvel film, they’ll fail, but now some critics are basically telling them that they’re right.  Blockbusters don’t have to have comedy and lightness to be “joyful”.  Joy can come from other places, varying based on the individual viewer.  In general, I personally get joy from exquisitely crafted action scenes.  And horror.  And a masterful acting performance.  And lots of other things.  I’m sure a lot of people will get joy from this film just by looking at Tom Cruise for two hours.  “Joyless” is not a legitimate criticism; it’s a personal preference being projected as a fact.  You know what’s joyless?  Reading those short-sighted, uninsightful “reviews”.

That’s not to say that The Mummy is perfect or will be enjoyed by everyone.  Neither is the case.  I mostly enjoyed it (I liked it more than Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales), but not with any sort of overwhelming enthusiasm like I felt for Wonder Woman.  If nothing else, at its best, the film is a fairly unique take on the Mummy mythos that stays true enough to still feel familiar and faithful.  At its worst, it tries too hard to sell an audience on the Dark Universe before they’ve even been completely sold on The Mummy.  So take all of this and do what you will with it.  The movie is probably worth a look if this sort of film is your thing, but there are definitely better – and more important – films out there, right now.

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Review – The Mummy (2017)

Review – Wonder Woman

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It’s finally here.  Seventy-six years after her creation by William Moulton Marston, there’s finally a Wonder Woman movie.  By comparison, it took Kick-Ass only two years to get a movie.  That’s more – so much more – than a little absurd, when you stop to ponder it.  The long-overdue film is the fourth chapter in the DC Extended Universe (following Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad), as Warner Brothers continues to do their best to bring their popular library of characters to the big screen in glorious live-action.  Now, some parts of the DCEU have admittedly been more glorious than other parts.  But Wonder Woman was supposed to be the one to finally give the DCEU a critical feather in its cap, in addition to a financial one.

I’ve personally been looking forward to this one for a long time.  I don’t necessarily mean a Wonder Woman film, in general, but this specific film.  Gal Gadot’s dramatic debut in full Wonder Woman gear in last year’s Batman v Superman might have been my favorite film moment of 2017.  It gives me chills every time I watch it.  Every single time.  Then, the San Diego Comic Con trailer dropped last July and set the world on fire.  I was cautiously optimistic with each promising new morsel of footage, reminding myself that Suicide Squad looked good in all of the promotional materials, as well, yet turned out to be a creative disaster.  But this Wonder Woman footage felt different.  It felt sophisticated and mature.  And director Patty Jenkins (who was originally slated to direct Thor: The Dark World for Marvel) clearly demonstrated a poise, respect, and sense of responsibility towards the character, understanding that Wonder Woman is an important and iconic figure.  I kept the faith.

 It paid off.  Boy, did it pay off.

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Despite the fact that I really liked two of the first three DCEU films, there was something missing from all of them.  I didn’t even realize it until I was watching Wonder Woman, but when it hit me, I immediately knew it to be true.  So what does this film have that those others didn’t?  Charm.

It would be easy for me to sit here and say that Gal Gadot is entirely responsible for said charm, because she is overwhelmingly charming.  As Diana of Themyscira (as she is known in the film, sensibly enough), Gadot exudes what many will likely label an endearing naiveté, but that would be a misnomer.  In order for her to be naïve, she would also necessarily possess a certain amount of ignorance.  And while Diana is certainly perplexed by the ways of the world outside of the home she grew up in, her moral center comes not from ignorance but from heart.  The world outside of her home bends over backwards to excuse and justify hate, murder, and general wrongdoing.  Diana has no time or patience for such inanity.  That idea isn’t entirely new in the world of genre filmmaking, but seeing the way that Diana handles her objections, and Gadot’s embodiment of all that the character stands for, is immensely satisfying as a viewer.

Gadot, in general, is simply spectacular.  I’m a huge advocate for Henry Cavill’s Superman (sorry, haters; he’s perfect in the role), but Gadot carries over the momentum from her show-stealing appearance in Batman v Superman and shows the world that it wasn’t a fluke.  Gadot is Wonder Woman and she’s also my favorite performer/character combination in the DCEU.  Her first appearance in costume in this film is every bit as momentous and impactful as her arrival in Batman v Superman, but carries additional weight, buoyed by the development of the character that led up to the seminal moment.  Seeing her become – truly become – the character that has long deserved this film is chill-inducing, on multiple occasions.  Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is now the DCEU’s MVP.

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Chris Pine is also spot-on as Steve Trevor.  Diana is not solely responsible for the film’s charm, because Pine is right there alongside her, ready to serve up his own heaping helping.  Steve is irresistibly likable as the guy that all guys should strive to be, since Superman, Spider-Man, and Captain America aren’t realistically attainable.  He’s grounded and entirely believable, regularly reacting to Diana in the embarrassingly American way that we would all have been trained to react, while also striving for more than what he has been told he should be.  Steve and Diana have both been indoctrinated by their environments and blinded to certain truths of the world around them.  As a result, neither would know how to handle the unexpected without the other.  They are perfect complements and Pine is remarkable, turning in the best genre performance (so, that doesn’t count Hell or High Water) of his career.

But that’s not all the charm.  No, no, not by a long shot.  Allan Heinberg’s screenplay dovetails perfectly with director Jenkins’s sensibilities and, together, they work hard to provide a fluid narrative that unfolds organically but doesn’t forget that life is made of the small moments.  This entire story – not just the climax – is a journey for both Diana and Steve.  Diana, in particular, is learning about the world outside of Themyscira for the first time in her life, and she’s doing it against the backdrop of World War I.  But life isn’t only made up of death and suffering – not even in wartime.  There’s so much more, and every moment provides something new for Diana.  My favorite scene is a quiet one of dialogue in a boat.  No punching, no shooting, no Lasso of Truth . . . just talking.

And, despite the quantity of humor being low, the quality is high.  Just a couple of minutes of humor made Wonder Woman a funnier film than the entirety of Suicide Squad.  Unlike that film, Heinberg’s Wonder Woman script understands that character-derived reality is what’s funny – not forced and unoriginal “jokes” and one-liners.  It adds a sincerity to the film that has also been somewhat – though not quite entirely – absent from the DCEU, up to this point.

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The whole film reeks of that sincerity.  Jenkins never attempts to sell the audience anything or to try to convince the viewer of something that they aren’t going to be able to easily believe.  The characters play honestly.  The story unfolds naturally.  No tricks.  No gimmicks.  Just great storytelling by great filmmakers.  It’s confident.  And, therefore . . . it’s charming.  And, for that, the whole film is lovable.  I love it.  I love it unabashedly.  I love the film, I love Gadot, I love Pine, I love Jenkins, I love Diana, I love Steve, I just love the whole freakin’ thing.  I hated that I hated Suicide Squad.  I grew up on Marvel, but I still love DC, too.  I want them to succeed.  I root for them, every time out.  And, this time, they succeeded.  And I’m thrilled.

So, we have a job, everyone.  We need to reward them for it.  We need to show them that this is what we’ve been waiting for from them (it is) and we need to show them that female characters and filmmakers are just as viable as male characters and filmmakers (they are).  We need a huge opening weekend.  So go.  Go see it.  Maybe more than once.  Because you’re going to love Diana.  And then, we can all love her again in November, when Justice League drops.  Because I think she’ll bring in more people than anybody else in that film.  Step aside, Batman.  It’s Diana’s world, now.

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Review – Wonder Woman

Review – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

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Unlike many, I have no strong feelings towards Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise.  I liked the first three (I actually preferred the second one, Dead Man’s Chest, above the others as it was the best mix of character, story, and spectacle) and didn’t much care for On Stranger Tides, but I was never extraordinarily enthusiastic about the series, nor did I feel any vitriol towards it or any of the individual films.  So, I went into this fifth installment with no particular expectations and an open mind.

Dead Men Tell No Tales is, true to the title, a tale told by living men (and women), and that tale is one of the search for Poseidon’s trident by Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley).  The film falls in nicely with the original trilogy (On Stranger Tides remains on the outside looking in) in terms of the story arc and tone.  After largely abandoning loyal fans of the series with a total change of direction in On Stranger Tides, Disney and new directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg do a course correction and return to the story of the characters that put the franchise on the map.

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Along the way, there are some fun and innovative action set pieces, continuing a property tradition.  The climax is especially unique with some sleek visuals that will set this film apart from its summer competition.  For me, however, these action beats came too far apart.  When something exciting isn’t happening, the narrative significantly slows down and even feels like it’s almost at a dead stop in a couple of places.  I actually found this to be true of the other films in the series, as well, which is why I’ve never been over the moon about them.  And this is as much a dialogue problem as a story problem.  The characters are interesting and quirky, but most of what they have to say . . . well . . . isn’t.  Having said all of that, when things pick up steam, the film moves along nicely.  Yet, while the story has real stakes, it also plays it safe.  I can understand that; there’s a lot at stake with this film and Disney needs the old fans to return and leave happy if the franchise is to continue.

They also need new blood to inject some hope for the future into the property.  And they found some.  There are a couple of new primary cast members in Thwaites’s Henry Turner and Kaya Scodelario’s Corina Smyth.  Both actors do well and the characters are important to the overarching Pirates mythology.  They have worthwhile character arcs and will likely be welcomed by fans.  Whether or not this leads to some enhanced level of stardom will depend on a number of other factors, but these are good roles for both of them to increase their profiles.

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Then, of course, we have the returning Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbosa and Johnny Depp as the ever-popular Jack Sparrow.  Rush is as perfect as ever for his part and Depp seems to relish being back in the only role people care to see him in, anymore.  I’ve tired of Depp, myself, but I have to admit that Jack Sparrow is his baby.  All of his zany, over-the-top characters that have caused so many of us to grow weary of seeing him pop up in what often seems like everything began with Jack Sparrow.  It was his first role of this nature and it’s still his best.  Even when the dialogue doesn’t play as funny as screenwriter Jeff Nathanson seems to believe, Depp’s delivery gives it a boost and often makes it funny in spite of itself.  The film isn’t hilarious, despite Depp’s earnest efforts, but its hit ratio is unquestionably much higher than that of Baywatch.

If you’re a diehard franchise fan, don’t leave until the credits have finished rolling (if you’re truly a diehard franchise fan, you’ve already seen the film and sat through the credits, by now).  The movie feels like a final chapter, nicely tying up longstanding unresolved plot threads and leaving the characters in comfortable spots that can be envisioned as a final farewell to them.  And then the post-credits stinger happens and potentially changes everything.  My guess is that Disney and the floundering Depp wanted to give a go at reviving the property one more time to see how much mileage is left.  The main narrative is crafted as a last adventure but, if it breaks out and the audience tells them that they missed it and want more, they’ve left themselves an opening.

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Ultimately, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (ugh.  What a clunky title.) falls under the same umbrella as many other sequels that have come along in 2017, such as Underworld: Blood Wars, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, and Rings: great for those who are fans, but nothing to convert those who have already decided they aren’t into the series.  I felt pretty much the same as I did about the first three Pirates films (it’s absolutely better than Tides).  I thought it was fine.  It had high points and it had some problems.  Didn’t love it.  Didn’t hate it.  I appreciated the action and Depp’s efforts and I see potential in the new faces, but it’s not a particularly compelling journey for the entirety of the running time and I would have loved some dialogue that could have kept up with the cast.  Bottom line: if you like the other movies in the series, you’ll like this.  If you don’t, you won’t.

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Review – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Review – Baywatch

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I never watched “Baywatch”.  Not one episode.  But, being a kid and teenager in the nineties, it was definitely on my radar.  I reached my twenties in the nineties, so it’s not as though I didn’t know who Pamela Anderson was.  But, even then, my standards were high enough that I didn’t watch original syndicated scripted programming.  No thanks.  No “Baywatch”, no “Hercules”, no “Xena” . . . nothing like that for me.  Almost all I knew about “Baywatch” was that it starred a number of attractive people and audiences loved to pretend that they hated it and didn’t watch it.  Except for me.  I really didn’t watch it.

When I saw the trailer for this 2017 film adaptation starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Zac Efron, I was immediately glad that director Seth Gordon and Paramount apparently decided to go the tongue-in-cheek route.  Had they presented it straight up as an action-drama (as the show was always marketed), it would have never stood a chance, and I certainly wouldn’t have bothered to see it.  As a comedy that appeared to be poking fun at itself, there was potential.  And it seemed like the perfect vehicle for the People’s Champion and our next president (#JohnsonHanks2020), the Rock.  I deemed it worthy of a chance.

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It turns out that the movie takes itself far more seriously than the marketing lets on.  Baywatch follows head lifeguard Mitch Buchanan (Johnson) and the new guy on the team, Olympic champion Matt Brody (Efron), as they investigate a criminal organization that has plans to do stereotypical organized crime stuff, which Buchanan is determined to keep far away from his beach.

As I said, I never watched the original show upon which this film is based, but I was never under the impression that it was any sort of crime program.  Whether it was or not, the film should not have been.  Aside from the lunacy of a bunch of lifeguards taking the law into their own hands (which the film directly addresses, to its credit), it just isn’t what I expect audiences want from Baywatch – and it certainly isn’t what the trailers and television spots communicate as the narrative center of the film.  Yes, elements of it were advertised, but it seemed like background noise, playing second fiddle to Brody’s attempts to prove himself worthy to Buchanan.  It’s not.  The film is a crime drama above all else.  The marketing department clearly had a better sense of what this film should be than the filmmakers, themselves.

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On top of that, the story is not only ill-conceived, it’s also poorly written.  I might have begrudgingly accepted the narrative had it been in any way fresh, compelling, or even logical.  There’s one moment in a police officer’s office that might actually be the least-believable thing I’ve ever seen in a movie.  Any.  Movie.  Less believable than Bruce Banner transforming into the Hulk.  Less believable than the end of Vacancy (watch it.  The end is awful but the rest of it is actually pretty great.).  Less believable than Katherine Heigl falling for Seth Rogan.  It strains credulity to the point of overly-dramatic eye rolls.  And much of the rest of the plot isn’t far behind.  If there’s some sort of internal logic within the film that allows that sort of thing – even if it wouldn’t make sense in the real world – then, okay.  But there isn’t.  It’s just lazy, brainless writing.

What comedy there is almost falls entirely flat.  I think I chuckled four times (in two hours – a chuckle every thirty minutes, on average), and never even came close to laughing out loud.  Most of it is sophomoric humor devoid of anything resembling wit.  There’s an audience for that, but it’s relatively small.  I’m okay with virtually any style of humor as long as it’s clever and unpredictable.  Instead, Baywatch mostly just serves up crude language and tries to pass it off as comedy.

“Well, Stephen, I hear all that.  But I just want to go for the hot girls/guys!  I saw that ‘graphic nudity’ warning in the explanation for the MPAA’s rating.  That’s all I care about!”  Great.  Then, you should stay home.  The trailer is as sexy as this movie gets.  That ‘graphic nudity’ warning is not what you think it is.  The sexiness is worth a PG-13 at most (and a soft PG-13, to boot).  In fact, the film as a whole does nothing to earn its R-rating.  It has plenty of profanity, graphic nudity that’s played for shock factor and comedy (ahem . . . “comedy”), and some violence, but the movie in no way needed to be R-rated, nor does it feel R-rated until someone forces out an f-word.

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The film honestly presents as a bait-and-switch on an audience that will be expecting an uproarious, raunchy comedy and will instead receive an uninspired, uninteresting crime movie.  I have to say, none of this is the cast’s fault.  Each of them does everything they can to make it work – especially Johnson and Jon Bass (Baywatch hopeful Ronnie Greenbaum).  I felt bad for the main trio of female lifeguards (Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, and Ilfenesh Hadera, playing Summer, C.J., and Stephanie, respectively) because the writing did nothing to differentiate one from the other.  As far as the filmmakers are concerned, they play the Brunette, the Blonde, and the Ethnic One.  Again, this is not their fault, and they each inject their own quirks into their performances whenever they can.  But it truly feels like this was written by someone from a Facebook message board who always thinks that they could make a good film, without ever having even considered what goes into actual filmmaking.

I guess if you’re a diehard fan of any of the cast members, you should still see it.  And if you just really love uninteresting, cookie-cutter crime stories or comedies that aren’t funny, then you should also see it.  But, I was hoping for something light, bright, and satirical.  Instead, I got a carrot on the end of a very long, boring stick.

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Review – Baywatch

Review – Alien: Covenant

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I became a fan of the Alien franchise later in life (relatively speaking).  Despite the fact that not all of the films have been of the highest standard, I remain a fan.  I love the character/creature design, probably as much as any other property out there.  I love the versatility of the franchise and how it can be horror, suspense, action, and science-fiction and it can either be these things alternatively or simultaneously.  I also loved Ridley Scott’s Prometheus – one of the many prequels (now four, though the AVP films are not canon) to his original Alien.  I still consider Prometheus to be the most beautiful film I’ve ever seen in 3D.  So, yeah, I’m – in general – a fan.

Now, Ridley Scott returns to the franchise with a sequel to Prometheus, but another prequel to Alien, with Alien: Covenant.  The reviews have been solid, though I’ve stayed away from reading them in detail.  The one complaint I’ve picked up on is that it’s “more of the same”.  Well, to that, I say, “Great!”  That’s what we want, right?

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Despite being a fan of the Alien property, I’m back-and-forth on Ridley Scott, himself.  Outside of this particular film series, I have largely found him underwhelming.  Don’t read into that.  I don’t actively dislike him or his work; I just don’t typically find myself enthusiastic about it.

So, sitting down to watch Alien: Covenant, I was hopeful, but without extraordinary expectations.  That was probably the perfect mindset to have.  The film is pretty great, but not anything that’s going to blow people’s minds.  Michael Fassbender returns to the franchise after his first appearance in Prometheus and he gets a lot to do.  I would imagine he’s thoroughly enjoying himself in these films because not only does he get to participate in something fun that has a true legacy in the film world, but he also is afforded the opportunity to show great range in his acting ability.  Most of the other characters in Covenant – aside from Katherine Waterston’s Daniels and maybe Danny McBride’s Tennessee – are largely forgettable.  But Fassbender, due to both his own talents and the writing, leaves a lasting impression that will begin to cement a permanent association between him and Alien in the minds of casual moviegoers.

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The claim that the movie is “more of the same” is only half-true.  As I mentioned, the Alien franchise lends itself to many different genres.  In the past, individual movies in the series have opted to choose one of these genres and run with it.  Alien was primarily horror, James Cameron’s Aliens was barnburning action, and Prometheus was philosophical science-fiction.  Covenant embraces the established history of the property and does it all.  For most people, one of the aforementioned triplet of earlier Alien films is likely their favorite and, no matter which of the three they prefer, they’ll get a taste of it in Covenant.  There are two ways to look at this.  On one hand, one could say that this creative approach prevents the film from staking a claim to its own identity.  On the other hand, one could also say that this is the first film to truly be all that a single Alien film can be.  None of it feels forced, because it’s all been previously established and can be easily believed as the situations surrounding the protagonists shift.  I prefer the second point of view because I don’t feel it’s my place to stifle the vision of someone like Ridley Scott, even if I’m not his biggest fan.  He gives the viewer a taste of everything and it all goes down easier than a spoonful of sugar from Yondu.

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The pacing is a little slow at the beginning and might turn some people off if they’re expecting wall-to-wall action.  I can understand that, but the payoff is worth the wait.  There’s some intense, breathtaking action mixed in with some tortuous, wonderful suspense.  One scene in particular reminded me of Steven Spielberg’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park (you’ll probably know it when you see it) and another features the most unfortunately timed alien attack in the franchise’s history (you’ll definitely know it when you see it).  It’s such a joy to behold and is one of my favorite film moments of the year.

Ultimately, Alien: Covenant succeeds at its primary goal: to entertain.  It adds to the mythology (though maybe not quite as much as I would have liked) and nicely closes the circle created by the overarching series narrative, while leaving room for more to be filled in, down the line.  The film doesn’t break any new ground – whether it be within the franchise or in the film world, in general – but it provides plenty of everything that has made the Alien films so popular and lasting for the last 38 years.  It will be overshadowed by bigger, shiner films over the course of the summer, but should thrill fans of the series, nonetheless.

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Review – Alien: Covenant

Review – Colossal

Colossal

Finally!  I’ve been trying to see this movie for about a month, now.  I’m a fan of both Jason Sudeikis and Anne Hathaway (her portrayal of Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises is every bit as spot-on as any other comic book-character performance ever has been), and the premise of the film sounded interesting and unique.  I definitely went out of my way to see it, today, when I didn’t really have the time to do so.  That should speak to my desire to catch it while I had the chance.

I’m so glad I did.  Colossal is one of those independent films that has wide appeal, but a small marketing budget.  I’m not going to get into the specifics of the story, as that’s better left discovered as one watches, but the narrative at its core is that a giant monster appears in Seoul, South Korea, and down-on-her-luck Gloria (Hathaway) from New York City comes to the realization that it’s somehow connected to her.

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On the surface, Colossal is a four-quadrant-appealing science-fiction dramedy with a high entertainment factor and lots of fun to be had.  And, if the viewer chooses, they can see the film as that and nothing more.  But how shortsighted that would be, because there is a plethora of subtleties existing between the lines and underneath the surface of this film.

Colossal functions as a parable about irresponsible alcohol use.  It also works as a deconstruction of the entitled male who feels he is owed female companionship because he’s nice and polite.  And it also serves as an illustration of the idea that we are all responsible for our own lives and the life we live is the life that we choose.  There is a lot of substance to this film and while some of it is less subtle than other aspects, it’s all worth telling and it flows organically.  Nothing is forced, nothing is beating the audience over the head, and it all plays out very naturally.

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Mixed in with all of this is the fun science-fiction component that’s not quite like anything I’ve seen before.  It’s certainly reminiscent of the Japanese Kaiju films, but with an added element, here, and an added twist, there.  The story is pleasantly unpredictable without ever becoming gimmicky.  Writer-director Nacho Vigalondo elegantly avoids tropes and clichés, making a quirky film feel very earnest and relatable.  There are moments of lightheartedness, but I would hesitate to call it a comedy.  This is a thoughtful, well-meaning film with a point to make, and Vigalondo refuses to allow said point to get lost among a lot of extra-curricular activities or slapstick, just to get a few laughs.  If it doesn’t contribute to the film, as a whole, then it isn’t in there.  Vigalondo utilizes very efficient storytelling techniques, much to the film’s benefit.

Colossal rests firmly upon the shoulders of Hathaway and Sudeikis.  Hathaway, as always, is splendid – fully grasping the fact that acting is a subtle art form.  Truly great acting performances lie in the small moments – the fine detail – and she is a master of the little things.  The role doesn’t push her to her limits, but Gloria is a very complex character and Hathaway handles the delicate balance of her disparate and maturing personality traits with the ease of an auteur.

Playing Gloria’s childhood friend, Oscar, Jason Sudeikis gives his best performance to date, showing that he’s capable of more than just comedy.  As complex as Gloria is, Oscar is at least her equal in that regard and Sudeikis is required to go places that no other role has ever taken him.  And he excels.  He may have gotten just a little hammy at the film’s climax, but that would be the only time; otherwise, he turns in a supremely excellent performance that could very well open some doors for him, elsewhere in Hollywood.

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Speaking of the film’s climax, while I won’t speak of the events that occur, I will state that the ending is clever, natural, and very satisfying.  The more fantastic events of the film get the requisite pseudo-science explanation, and that’s all they need.  The movie isn’t about the literal monster in Seoul.  The metaphor at the heart of the film is what matters and it and the characters are extremely well-served.  I found myself completely invested in everything that was occurring during the film and surprised at nearly every turn of events, despite thinking afterwards that there were no other logical ways for the narrative to proceed.  Along the way, Vigalondo exquisitely navigates the special effects around his limited budget.  Whereas many would see that budget as a limitation, Vigalondo instead uses it to place the emphasis on the characters and make the audience feel everything through them.  The way he handles it is simply genius.   Colossal is compelling, intelligent, and heartfelt and is a must-see for any self-professed film-lover.

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Review – Colossal