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Review: Star Trek Beyond

Jul 22 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220689:42999:0[/embed] Star Trek BeyondDirector: Justin LinRated: PG-13Release Date: July 22, 2016  While many Trek fans will probably balk at this idea, Justin Lin was the exact right man to helm a Star Trek. We'll never be returning to the all out, slow-pan-around-a-star-ship, philosophical, socially aware, political format of Star Trek of yesterday because that's not what makes money, but we can have a strong mixture of action and heart. Lin brought that to the Fast and the Furious franchise in spades, turning a crappy series into something spectacular that people want to see. He did this not just through action, but by turning a cast of characters into a #family. That's what he's done with Star Trek Beyond too. The crew of the Enterprise is finally on their five year mission. In fact, they're three years into it and, as Captain Kirk's (Chris Pine) captain's log tells us, they're all getting a little bored with the daily grind of exploration. Kirk is questioning whether he wants to be a captain anymore and Spock (Zachary Quinto) is shocked to find that his elder self has passed. Luckily they're docking for resupplies at the newest and largest Star Fleet space station, but before they can settle in an alien shows up requesting help to rescue her crew from an uncharted part of a nearby nebula. The crew of the Enterprise jumps into action and promptly gets the ship torn to shreds, crash landing on an alien planet run by an evil alien named Krall (Idris Elba).  The separation of the crew after the crash landing and the relatively small scale of the story overall delivers a Star Trek that is far closer to the original series in tone than either of the previous two films. The removal of larger political pictures and the Enterprise itself means the focus lands squarely on the crew and that works wonders for finally delivering a Star Trek where you feel the crew is anywhere near the family that the crew of the original series was. Spock and McCoy's (Karl Urban) relationship is especially fleshed out while Sulu (John Cho), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) actually become characters instead of plot devices. It's clear that screenwriters Pegg and Dough Jung along with Lin have a far better understanding of what makes Star Trek special than Abrams and crew did. That doesn't mean that the movie turns its back on the new Trek formula. This is still an action movie first and a space drama second. Lin, of course, is really good at action. Again, though, the fights feel more personal and well executed than the previous films. The action is possibly even more over-the-top, and yet it feels more grounded. More importantly Lin keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout every sequence. By the time the now obligatory Beastie Boys song comes on its hard not to be cracking a massive smile no matter how much of a dour original Trek fanboy you are (and I am a big one).  It's even more refreshing that Beyond finally pulls the rebooted franchise out of the shadow of its predecessors. Into Darkness's misguided attempts to recreate Wrath of Khan made the crew seem trite and the story not hit when it was supposed to. Beyond is finally its own story, defining its own crew and creating its own feeling. While it still makes a nod here and there to the original films, it is finally telling its own story -- even if that story isn't all that groundbreaking. I must also champion the film for finally ditching the under armor uniforms that made it look like they were all on the way to bro out at the gym for a bit. The new costume design is spot on and feels much more like something the crew of a starship would wear. The redesign (yet again) of the Enterprise is pretty stellar as well.  For all the fun (and it is really fun) of the movie it isn't really pushing any new boundaries. The story may be new and the cast finally feels like it's gelling, but the plot is paper thin overall. You don't really have time to catch your breathe and think about it while you're watching, but Beyond doesn't go very far beyond in terms of pushing ideas or themes. Maybe, in this case, it doesn't have to. It's focus on the characters overrides its need for a strong plot line and it clearly cares more about hashing out the crew as people than making a profound social statement.  That focus on the crew means that this is by far almost every actors best turn in the role. Pine seems especially comfortable as a more laid back, experienced Captain Kirk while Urban's McCoy becomes less homage to the original and more something of his own. Yelchin finally gets a chance to turn Chekov into something else than a funny accent and nails it, and it's a shame we won't get to see him take the character any further.  Star Trek beyond feels like a very big budget episode of the television show, and while that was a insult for Star Trek: Insurrection, here it is a compliment. The original series and all its progeny had a sort of magic to them, and it stemmed from a crew that felt like a family. That, it turns out, was missing from this new Star Trek thanks to Into Darkness's attempts to replicate instead of create. Thankfully, Beyond brings it back and turns the franchise into something you definitely want to see live long and prosper.
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Going where no new Trek has gone before
The rebooted Star Trek franchise hasn't really had a bad movie. J.J. Abrams put together two highly entertaining pieces of cinema back to back. However, if you're a Star Trek fan Into Darkness was concerning. A...

Review: Ghostbusters

Jul 15 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220661:42986:0[/embed] GhostbustersDirector: Paul FeigRated: PG-13Release Date: July 15, 2016  Ghostbusters is a hard reboot, though it finds plenty of ways to give some clever nods to the original while still staying its own thing. Like The Force Awakens, this is basically the same movie as the original, and yet unlike that movie it stands easily on its own. We find Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) attempting to get tenure at Columbia when her book about ghosts that she coauthored with Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) pops up online. She rushes to find her old friend, who she abandoned after deciding to not believe in ghosts, but gets carried away into a ghost hunt along with Abby's assistant Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon). Turns out ghosts do exist and as legitimate scientists the gang decides to catch one and thus the Ghosbusters are formed. The team is eventually rounded out when Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) joins. Let's just say this outright: this cast is fantastic and hilarious and wonderful. Those crappy jokes from the original trailer were the weak ones from the film. Who knows why the chose them, but maybe it was because so much of the movie's best comedy comes when the cast is riffing with each other and you just can't get that in a trailer. Director and co-writer Paul Feig's screenplay is full of comedy that is both perfect for its cast and incredibly meta for a film franchise. Despite some hefty plot holes (pretty much the same ones that appeared in the original) it works. It even makes a rock and roll concert actually function again as a plot device, which hasn't been done since Secret of the Ooze made it truly cliche.  Ghostbusters purists may not be happy with some of the changes, but (1) get over over yourself, and (2) they make the movie better for the most part. For one it's a bit more action oriented, with the proton beams turning into more whip-like weapons and plenty of random ghost busting toys (a ghost shredder?) being used. This one is far more comedic than the original, darker film was too. The first Ghostbusters, and to a lesser extent the second, played it a bit straight with its characters. This new one is more flat out comedy, though it never tumbles into full on parody. It all works, and helps to make this film different from the predecessors not just because it has a cast of women, but because it actually justifies its creation beyond a cash in on a brand.   Chris Hemsworth's character deserves an entire paragraph in and of himself. He plays Kevin, the new Ghosbuster's idiotic, but oh-so-pretty-to-look-at secretary, and he might be the most clever aspect of the film. MRAs may point to him as a perfect example of a double standard as half the lines said about him would be torn to shreds if a group of men were saying it about a woman, but that's probably the point. All the comedy at his stupidity and hotness has been used over and over again to make gags about dumb, pretty women since the film industry started and Kevin is a fantastic commentary on that. He's clearly not just there to be sexy and stupid, but to be the final, meta-commentary in a female lead film. Maybe one day we won't need that and it will come across as crass, but for now it's hilarious.  The movie is flawed in a few ways. While much of it comes together fantastically, especially when its relying on the chemistry of its cast (much like the original), other parts are just too cliche to pull off. It can fall into rote tropes too often, though the cast is always there to liven them up and make them work for the most part. There's a scene of them trying out new ghost busting tools that is so clunky not even the cast's comic timing can save it, and at points the story gets rushed through too quickly. Thank goodness Feig had the good sense to cut out a dance number that plays over the credits from the main film. Yes, I know that sounds exactly like something that happens in a really terrible remake, but that's just it: Feig cut it out. Ghostbusters is crisp and funny and it lets its stars chemistry steal the show over ghost busting action and special effects. That's what made the original work and that's what makes this one work. Men or women, what it comes down to is does the cast play off each other and these four do wonders. Hollywood has been churning out old franchise remakes pretty constantly now, and the best ones make a case for themselves as their own thing. Ghostbusters does that. It's its own movie.
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It's good. Stop being assholes.
Look, I wasn't that excited for a Ghostbusters reboot. It had nothing to do with the cast being women and everything to do with my boredom of Hollywood reboots and a really terrible initial trailer. It just didn't look g...

Review: Terrordactyl

Jun 17 // Rick Lash
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In time for the weekend: B-movie review
With a clever pun served on a silver platter, Terrordactyl presents itself as a straight to video B-movie masterpiece ready to absorb two hours of your Saturday night. Hoping that prehistoric mayhem might be delivered with he...

Review: Warcraft

Jun 08 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220615:42967:0[/embed] WarcraftDirector: Duncan Jones Rated: PG-13Release Date: June 8, 2016  I will say off the bat that I have not been involved in the Warcraft universe in many years, and even then only with the RTS games, but I'm assuming that there's a very in depth, thought out and complicated world in place by now. It may help the film a lot if you know about this world, but coming from an outsider's eyes the world of Warcraft (sorry) feels hollow and cliche. Maybe that's because the game's basis was originally much the same, but however the game's world has evolved the movie can't capture it, and it's commitment to trying to do that may be it's greatest weakness. We open on some impressively done CGI and motion capture orcs as we're introduced to Durotan (Toby Kebell), a chieftain who has reservations about the obviously-evil Gul-dan's plan to use a an evil green magic gate to invade the human world as the orc's world is dying. Evil plan executed, a small team of elite orc warriors, some corrupted by said evil green magic, enter the human world and begin to build a new gate so as to open a path for the rest of the orcs. The humans (and other Alliance creatures) quickly realize they're being attacked and call upon  powerful magic being The Guardian (Ben Foster) to help protect them. Things are amiss, however, and the battle rages on with knight Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), magic guy Llane Wryne and sexy orc hybrid Garona (Paula Patton) taking the lead in orc killing.  The overarching premise is that there are good orcs out there. Durotan attempts to broker a peace with the humans as he realizes that Gul-dan's magic is evil and is what caused the death in the orc home world. It's clear this theme of telling both sides of a war is what Jones really wanted to do with the film, and at points he almost succeeds. There's a very interesting Game of Thrones political fantasy buried deep in Warcraft, but it never gets the chance to see the light of day. Warcraft has a pretty slavish dedication to the look and feel of the games, and that does it no favors. Instead of the awe-inspiring vistas of The Lord of the Rings the overall look of the film feels cheap. Armor and costume design feel like they were pulled out of a high-schooler's math class doodles, which, in fairness, most likely would be influenced by World of Warcraft. Sets are often small and fake looking and overall it just feels very cheap, like we're watching something out of early 00s SyFy. You've seen almost all of this before and done better.  It's especially odd because for the most part the orc stuff is absolutely fantastic. Character design, animation and setting all feel fresh and interesting. The motion capture and CGI technology for the orcs is spot on, though can sometimes hit the uncanny valley really, really hard. When that combines with the plastic-looking human world the entire affair feels like a shell of a fantasy world: empty except for pretty pictures and ideas too big to be executed well. The screenplay is unfortunately unbalanced as well. At points it actually shines, and you can see Jones' skills with handling genre material with a deft touch. The next moment its as clunky as as the massive orcs who are speaking it. Characters and their motivations get picked up and dropped as easily as the plethora of human knights thrown about by orcs. Massive plot points are glazed over and world creation often feels as if it was forgotten. Part of this stems from the film seeming to assume that we all have a basic foundation in Warcraft lore and part of it stems from the fact that sequels are blatantly already in the works. The story starts to stretch thin by the end and the conclusion really stops making much sense. It is far from the worst fantasy story ever put to screen by miles, but it never rings with the emotional power of truly great fantasy film making.  Jones does his best with his direction. It's easy to get into the action as he weaves together some impressive battle sequences, even using some top down aerial shots to reflect Warcraft's RTS roots. He actually does some really cool stuff that makes the film fun to watch even when it's not working as well as it could. It's just another way that glimpses of what the movie could be break out before being buried under the hollowness of it all. Have I used the term hollow enough? Warcraft isn't really a bad movie, it's a hollow one. It's surprisingly well executed visually at times, but there's nothing behind the pretty pictures. Its story is actually intriguing, but it never feels important. Its characters have depth to them, but it's never shown. Its not a mess because there is nothing to spill. The world of Warcraft (sorry, again) is a big, pretty, empty shell. 
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Not one reference to Leeroy Jenkins
When Warcraft (then World of Warcraft) was first announced with Sam Raimi directing, I thought that was pretty perfect. Raimi has a deft touch for handling things that are slightly absurd. His almost tongue-in-...


Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Jun 03 // Matthew Razak
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the ShadowsDirector: Dave GreenRated: PG-13Release Date: June 3, 2016] If you saw the first move you know that the films definitely bumped up the realism of the turtle design, and threw in a sexy April O'Neil (Megan Fox). The basics of the turtles are still the same, though. We find Leonardo trying his best to learn how to lead; Donatello acting all nerdy; Raphael having temper issues; and Michelangelo providing comic relief and pizza. The Shredder escapes from imprisonment with the help of Dr. Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) and opens up a portal to another world where Krang, an evil brain housed in a robot body, strikes a deal to bring his Technodrome to Earth. Meanwhile, Casey Jones (Stephen Armell) shows up to beat up bad guys as well, like the new created Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (wrestler Sheamus). It's a plot so contrived  and cliche (*cough* Avengers *cough*) and stupid it feels torn right from a Saturday morning cartoon, and in this case I just can't be angry at that. When the first film worked it was when it was focusing on the turtles themselves and this is once again true here. Despite a clunkly script that basically tells the actors to say every emotion they're feeling out loud, the filmmakers once again nail the ninja turtles themselves. While their character arc is simply a retread of the original's plotline (brothers argues, brothers come back together to fight bad guy), it plays well thanks to some great motion capture performances and a general feel for the characters. It's fun to watch Mikey crack wise while Raph gets angry and stomps off. They also surprisingly nail Bepop and Rocksteady, making the two as comically idiotic as they are in the cartoon, and pushing the kid-geared humor up a notch (fart jokes, slapstick, etc.) At it's base the movie just gets the turtles and villains, even if it's attempts at almost everything else are ham-fisted.  Well, that's not entirely true. Much like the first movie the action sequences in this are pretty impressive. Possibly thanks to the entirely CGI makeup of its heroes the move pulls some ridiculous stuff off including a fight in an cargo plane that's fantastic. The turtles don't get to show off as much of their actual ninja fighting skills this time around, but the big action set pieces are a blast to watch. Plus, the turtle van makes an appearance so that was my childhood dreams come true. This is director Dave Green's first big action film, and at points it's clear he needs some practice getting action to flow together, but there's promise there and an eye for what makes action work.  Outside of the turtles things are a little rougher. Megan Fox's April seems to have only made it into the movie for exposition and eye candy, the latter of which is a bit contradictory to the clear target audience of the movie. Armell's Casey Jones is charming enough, but that's really only because Armell is charming, not because of the character himself. The screenplay does no favors to either character passing most of the good lines over to Will Arnett, returning as Vernon Fenwick. Somehow Laura Liney also accidentally accepted a role in the film. I think she may have been drugged, but it's pretty clear she doesn't want to be there. Out of the Shadows doesn't quite work as well as its predecessor overall, either. It's very clear that now that they've got the green light to move forward with the series they want to make their own ninja turtle universe. Baxter, Krang and Shredder are all set up for returns, which is great, but the problem is the the film sometimes feels like its playing for the future instead of focusing on the film itself. That's pretty evident in the movies piecemeal plot and often overbearing exposition.  Still, when it comes down to seeing the ninja turtles in action the movie delivers. While many of the same issues that the first film had are still present, and at times worse, Out of the Shadows delivers the team of mutants as they've should be. It's a fun, if not entirely well executed, bit of cinema that's geared not towards the elder nostalgia nerds, but the children who it probably should be. 
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These aren't your turtles
When the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot happened I was mostly just worried since I'm of the age where I like to pretend that my generation can lay claim to the heroes in a half shell. But that's pretty ridiculous co...

Review: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Jun 03 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220607:42964:0[/embed] Popstar: Never Stop Never StoppingDirectors: Jorma Taccone, Akiva SchafferRelease Date: June 3, 2016Rating: R Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is a mockumentary, and a great one at that. Following, primarily, the story of Conner 4 Real, a member of the Style Boyz, who broke off on his own after a fight with whoever Akiva Schaffer played. (Not gonna lie, I don't remember his character's name or Jorma Taccone's; then again, I probably wouldn't remember Conner's if it hadn't been seared into my retina from the repeated viewings of "Finest Girl.") Anyways, he's got a documentary being made about his life to coincide with the release of his second album. People went crazy for the first one, and now he's trying to top it, by hiring a metric fuckton of producers and making something that just... doesn't work. (Except to me, obviously. I thought it was all gold, but I understand why the fictional humans in this mockumentary might not take to it.) This is the first mockumentary I've seen in a while, or at least the first one I remember seeing. It was big for a while and then kinda fell by the wayside. I get that. The joke can get stale pretty quickly, which makes Popstar's brisk, 90-ish minute runtime perfect. There's enough variety to keep you entertained but not so much stuff that it ever feels padded or overlong. The only jokes that go on are the ones where that is, in fact, the joke, and the film only goes to that well a couple times (i.e. not enough to be irritating or gratuitous).  One of the potential issues with the format is that there are only so many places it can go. And, sure enough, from the moment Popstar begins, you can (successfully) guess every single story beat. Nothing about the narrative is even sort of surprising... but so what? For a film from The Lonely Island, that's pretty much exactly what I wanted. I wanted something that felt good and comfortable and also made me laugh while putting some new music into my head to obsess over for a little while. And the film absolutely succeeded on both those counts. The "Finest Girl" song actually plays a big early role in the film, and it was kinda cool for me to see how much different and also the same the "In Concert" version of the song was compared to the music video. And I loved his song about Equal Rights (I'm so excited for when that hits Spotify), being Humble (which is already there), the Mona Lisa (ditto), and everything else. Seriously, the music here is just stellar from start to finish. If this was actually just a concert film, I would still have loved it. [When this was written, the album hadn't hit Spotify yet. It's now up, but the Equal Rights song is not available. Which is hot garbage. - Ed] But there's more to it. It's a damning indictment of our modern pop culture and the way we treat our stars. (Sort of.) Conner gets big, in part, because he connects directly with fans. He records himself brushing his teeth and posts it. Everything is out there for the world to see. As someone who watches at least a couple of Youtubers consistently, it really struck a chord not just because it was funny but because it was real. Everything about the way his persona goes from public idol to public ridicule feels genuine, even if it's turned up to 11. So many moments are exaggerated versions of real headlines. (The music-in-your-appliances dig at Apple and U2? Spot on.) It's a parody of modern music, but it's also a celebration of the same. You can tell that everyone involved is genuinely enjoying what they're doing. This extends to an expectedly large cast of cameos, who really help sell the whole thing. The likes of Usher, Nas, and A$AP Rocky all help to ground the film in a bizarre alternate reality, and every one of them puts in a killer performance. I don't really want to ruin all the cameos, and we're not talking Muppets-level stuff here, but it's a pretty packed group, many (if not most) of whom are playing themselves. Usher is particularly compelling, and when says that it was the Style Boyz who made him want to start dancing, for just a moment, I totally believed him. Because, like, duh. The Donkey Roll is an awesome dance. How could it not inspire Usher to become Usher?  It's been a good Spring for comedies. Between The Boss (which I liked, despite knowing that no one else does), Neighbors 2 (which Nick didn't like but is awesome), and The Nice Guys (which isn't as good as Neighbors 2 and has some issues with the way it handles the "hilarity" of death but is the most genuinely original comedy I've seen in a while), there's been a lot to recommend. And though I recommend all those films, to varying degrees, Popstar stands above. This is The Lonely Island at the top of their, years after leaving SNL and mostly dropping off the map. They're back and as good as (if not better than) ever. If you don't like The Lonely Island, this film won't convince you to. But if you do, you're going to love each and every moment.
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Amazing 4 Real
A couple weeks ago was the finale for the forty-first season of Saturday Night Live. At one point, fairly late in the show, a familiar title screen came up: "An SNL Digital Short" For people who loved everything from "Lazy Su...

Review: X-Men: Apocalypse

Jun 02 // Rick Lash
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My mind had accepted I’d not be seing X-Men: Apocalypse in theaters. I hadn’t seen X-Men: First Class, or X-Men: Days of Future Past in theaters, and I usually see comic book movies in theaters. Go big or go home....

Review: Hard Sell

May 23 // Rick Lash
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I want to say nice things about this film. That's the feeling I'm left with as I'm watching it. I believe I understand where the Writer/Director, Sean Nalaboff, is coming from. Hard Sell is "a coming-of-age tale ... [abo...

Review: The Nice Guys

May 20 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220584:42955:0[/embed] The Nice GuysDirector: Shane BlackRated: RRelease Date: May 20, 2016 If you've seen the cult classic Kiss Kiss Bang Bang you know that Sean Black knows his way around the tropes and cliches of noir film and knows how to subvert them beautifully. His return to the genre is exciting to say the least. The Nice Guys starts up as many noir films do with narration from one of our lead private eyes: Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe). He is soon joined in his narration efforts by Holland March (Ryan Gosling) as the two team up to find a missing girl -- Jackson out of misplaced duty and Holland out of greed. Tagging along is Holland's daughter Holly (Angourie Rice). A 70s, drug-fueled mystery unfolds replete with femme fatales, conspiracies, tragic downfalls and everything else you'd expect from a noir. Stir in some buddy cop banter (Black's other genre strong suit) and you've got yourself a perfect example of neo-noir on your hands. There's a lot to unpack here, especially since Black is clearly spending a lot of the movie simply deconstructing the noir genre. Sadly, the movies plot seems to suffer because of it. While it's two lead characters are fantastic, it's comedy crisp and its direction clever the film's story never lives up to any of it. Relying far too heavily on deus ex machina and cheap plot twists the mystery seems to be more in service of the themes than the other way around. That might be fine for an art house film, but this isn't that and it makes watching the movie start to get a bit boring. Thankfully, Crowe and Gosling are pretty fantastic together. Their chemistry takes a bit to work up, but once it does they're flinging insults off each other wonderfully. It helps that the two characters are really representations of the two major facets of noir gumshoes. Crowe's is the hard-edge moral code that classic noir anti-heroes abide by and Gosling's is the rampant self destruction and selfishness that makes them not entirely likeable. Together they basically make Humphrey Bogart in 70s suits and Hawaiian shirts. It's a wonderfully smart look at noir film archetypes made even more fun by the charm the two actors bring to the role.  On the other hand you have Holly, whose character seems almost unnecessary except to move the plot along. Her character is the worst aspect of the buddy cop movie (the unwanted sidekick) and feels especially out of place in a film crammed full of adult content. The emotional ticks she plays a part in could have been executed just as easily without her, and her involvement in some of the scenes feels inappropriate at times. She also seems out of place overall with the tone and genre of the film. A bit of 90s buddy cop movie pushing in a bit too much on what should be a noir with just a sprinkling of that genre.  I will say that the 70s are the perfect setting for neo-noir. The last decade of abandonment tinged with the knowledge that all the drugs, sex and crime we're leading to a crescendo that was the 80s. The movie doesn't quite make enough of its setting except to play off the emergence of pornography in cinema and show of some epic 70s fashion. It's another aspect that works really well for the noir part of the film, but feels like a gimmick when the more buddy cop tones play in.  The Nice Guys is a strange combination of what Sean Black does best, but his neo-noir feels awkward mixed with buddy cop. Maybe he was emboldened by his success at mashing together genres in Iron Man 3, but in this case Black should have stuck with what he does best: turning noir on its head in order to redefine it.
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Shane Black doing it oh so nice
There's something a little off about The Nice Guys. It should work really well. Two great actors who play off each other fantastically with director/writer Shane Black bringing his talents back to the neo-noir genre. Plus, it...

Review: Cash Only

May 20 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220586:42954:0[/embed] Cash OnlyDirector: Malik BaderRelease Date: March 13, 2016 Rating: NR Elvis Martini is down on his luck. After he inadvertently murdered (manslaughtered?) his wife in an arson attempt to get some insurance money from his house, he finds himself the landlord of a janky apartment building renting to some terrible tenants who, for the most part, don't pay their rent or, ya know, care about anything at all. He lives with his daughter, who plays video games all day (at least two console generations behind, but more like three to five), because her father can't afford to keep her in school. He owes some people money, and in the process winds up on the wrong side of some dangerous people. His daughter gets kidnapped, and suddenly he needs to get $25,000 together by midnight in order to get her back. For this story to work, you have to find Elvis Martini a relatable character, one you can root for and feel for. You need to develop a bond that will override your general distaste for the bad things he does and the way he hurts people in order to deal with the aftermath of a very stupid thing that he did. If you don't make that connection, then you're just watching a bad guy do bad things. But not, like, interesting ones. Just bad ones. At one point, soon after his daughter is taken, Martini asks one of his tenants for help. The tenant, a weed grower living in the basement, says no, because Martini's a bad dude who did bad things and is getting what he deserves. It feels like cruelty on the grower's part, like the movie wanted me to think, "Wow! What a terrible human being!" And, sure, that's not a great look for the character, but he was right. Plus, the entire movie is about how terrible Martini is at paying back his debts. The grower has no obligation to give his landlord thousands of dollars (that he'd probably never see again) for any reason. As a person who doesn't want to see anyone's daughter get eaten by dogs, I wanted him to help, but I really can't blame the guy for saying no. And maybe I wouldn't have felt that way were it not for Cash Only's biggest problem: It is anchored around a performance that never quite clicks. Everything about Nickola Shreli's performance just feels the slightest bit off. The words are fine (and written by Shreli, which is interesting), but there's a disconnect between the words and the voice at times, and there's almost always a disconnect between the voice and the body. This is especially true near the end, where Shreli' lack of affect becomes downright bizarre as it's played against an admittedly over-the-top caricature of an Eastern European mob boss. This scene, which I'm fairly sure was supposed to inspire tension, merely elicits confusion, because everything is in place... but it doesn't quite work. Parts of it do, but the overall effect is just kind of flat. There's yelling and screaming and barking, but it's – to quote people smarter than me quoting Hamlet – full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. But it goes beyond the narrative into the production itself. It doesn't feel motivated. Take the camerawork: I like handheld camera movement. I use it a lot in my own projects, because I think it can be extremely effective at adding a sense of urgency to a moment or giving the whole moment an air of instability. And, given its sequence of events, it makes sense that Cash Only is a film that heavily utilizes handheld camera work. There are a lot of shaky shots, sharp pans, etc. But the problem is that there is a fine line between Effective and Exhausting, and Cash Only doesn't walk it so well. Sometimes the intensity of the movement felt unmotivated; other times, particularly during runs, it felt like the operator forgot they were supposed to be pointing the camera at something in the first place. It's just shake for the sake of shake. And that's what this movie is, really. Shake for the sake of it. Story for the sake of it. Action for the sake of it. Cash Only isn't bad or anything, and there are worse ways you could spend 88 minutes, but it's not particularly good either, and there are a whole lot of better ones too. Like rewatching Taken. Yeah, just do that instead.
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For a Klondike Bar
What would you do to get your daughter back from an Eastern European mob man? Your first answer is probably, "Become Liam Neeson." And that's basically the correct answer, even if it's laughable for a whole host of reasons. B...

Review: Captain America: Civil War

May 03 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220556:42944:0[/embed] Captain America: Civil WarDirectors: Anthony and Joe RussoRated: PG-13Release Date: May 6, 2016 Civil War is basically the Avengers movie we all hoped Avengers 2 would be. At the end of my review for that film I worried that the MCU might be buckling under its own weight thanks to the inconsistencies in the film, but Civil War abolishes that worry faster than the Hulk smashing Loki. It's tightly paced, full of both the fun and action we've come to know from Marvel's films and never feels rushed or bloated despite its more than two hour running time. Maybe we needed Avengers 2 to get us here, but this is the one you were waiting for. After the events of Avengers 2 (and any other Marvel film that came along since then) we find that people are getting a little tired of the world getting destroyed by super powered people. Enter the Sokovia Accords, a U.N. resolution that the Avengers and all powered people will not act without permission from the U.N. Captain America (Chris Evans), who distrust of the government was beautifully set up in Winter Soldier, finds himself disagreeing with this new law while Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) supports it. Most of the known Avengers split up to one side or the other with Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) hopping in on Caps side, Spider-Man  (Tom Holland) -- making his triumphant debut to the MCU -- on Iron Man's team and Black Panther somewhere in the middle (Chadwick Boseman). From there throw-downs ensue as Cap tries to save Buckey (Sebastian Stan) from being framed for killing the King of Wakanda. There is a big bad guy operating in the background, of course, but unlike in previous MCU films this one is impressively well toned and developed. The character perfectly supports the true themes of the film without being big or flashy. He's a refreshing divergence from what we've seen before and should come as a surprise to many. This all sounds like a lot for any movie to handle. BvS could barely handle three characters and Marvel is here telling a deep and emotional story with 12. They can pull it off easily thanks to experience and history. In fact it all banks on that history. What would traditionally be an overcrowded movie doesn't feel overcrowded at all because all the normal stuff (intros, character development, etc.) has already been done previously. In fact there's almost 10 years of it to work with. This allows breathing room in the script to introduce both Black Panther and Spider-Man with ease despite also developing Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) more, introducing a fantastically banal (in all the right ways) villain and covering that whole civil war thing. Oh, and the best action the MCU has ever seen. The Russo brothers outshine every other director in the MCU when it comes to their action sequences. There are moments in this film that will make your jaw drop because you've never seen anything like it before. The fights are fantastically choreographed and shot so well that they pull you to the edge of your seat breathless. Despite seeing most of these folks fight before everything feels fresh and powerful. Each hero has their own fighting style making every battle unique. Avengers and Avengers 2 may have given us giant action catastrophes, but Civil War brings the action to a personal level allowing for some truly amazing fight sequences littered with iconic shots ripped straight from the comics. There's plenty to be said about both Black Panther and Spider-Man, but to start it must be mentioned just how good Downey Jr. is as Stark/Iron Man. The hero, racked over guilt from his previous actions, is progressively more and more worn down throughout the film and Downey Jr. delivers what is probably his best performance as the character. The bravado steadily peeling away to reveal a truly flawed character. I'm surprised they didn't introduce the character's alcoholism here, but maybe they're just not going to tackle it at all. With the way the character is going they hardly need it at this point.  Meanwhile everyone else brings their A game as well. Boseman is sleek and confident as the Black Panther, pulling off a character that feels drastically different from the rest of the cast -- as he should. Even his movements and fighting style feel new and different, making it hard to wait for his stand alone film. Holland's Spider-Man is much the same, especially since Marvel smartly glazes over origins to get us right into the wise-cracking Spidey. It makes the wait for Homecoming even harder. Hell, every character makes the wait for their next movie even harder and we once again have to ask ourselves why Hawkeye and Black Widow don't at least have their own joint film if not stand alone ones. It's the strength of all these characters, lovingly developed over the years, that makes Civil War work so well. It also works because Marvel knows how to make these movies. If you've been dying for a massive divergence from the MCU's general feel (aside for Guardians) this isn't going to do anything for you. It's the exact right balance of emotion, humor and action that Marvel knows works so well because... it really does work so well. The film keeps things light when it needs to be, heavy when it should be and still progresses a universe building plot without getting in the way of the movie itself. It is the classic Marvel movie formula executed once again, and while you thought that might be getting stale you're once again forced to admit that it just works.  Did I mention the score? It's fantastic. Henry Jackman wonderfully mixes in new themes and old to deliver a musical triumph that never overpowers what is going on onscreen, but always works.  The film's biggest flaw is that it's a Captain America movie. This means that most of the plot and action revolve around him, and we seem to miss out on a bit of the other characters because of it. This leads to it being almost impossible to be on any side but #TeamCap. Yet it is an absolutely fantastic Cap story that helps bring Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Buckey to the forefront. The second biggest flaw may be for newcomers who might be lost without the context of the previous films. However, anyone who hasn't kept up a little with the MCU probably won't be seeing this movie in the first place and if they do the action is enough to keep you glued to the screen. By this time one would think that the Marvel formula was getting old and that it wouldn't work anymore, and yet the studio just keeps making it better. At some point they may truly stumble (maybe you think they already have), but it sure as hell isn't with Captain America: Civil War. 
Civil War photo
Biceps
I can guarantee one thing about Captain America: Civil War. When you come out of the theater you will have an incredible appreciation for Chris Evans' biceps. Like... woh. I can almost guarantee another thing (though some people are just crazy): you're absolutely going to love it. 

Review: Mother's Day

Apr 29 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220546:42940:0[/embed] Mother's DayDirector: Garry MarshallRated: PG-13Release Date: April 28, 2016  I think Mother's Day is supposed to be about being a mom because it's called Mother's Day, which seems like it would be the name of a movie about being a mom. It really isn't though. We find Sandy (Jennifer Aniston), a divorced mom with two kids still kind of pining over her ex-husband who has recently married a 20-year-old. There's Miranda (Julia Roberts), a HSN host who is somehow actually famous. And then Jesse (Kate Hudson) who has married an Indian man, Russell (Aasif Mandvi), without her racist parents knowing. Finally Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) has just lost his wife and is raising two daughters. Children actually play a very small part in this film as it's more about romantic relationships than being a mom -- don't worry, it fails at romance as well. There are plot lines in here involving children and becoming a parent, but they're buried under what has to be the worst screenplay written this year. It's seriously bad, and I'm not even discussing the casual racism it tosses around for no reason. The movie feels like the its four screenwriters (two male, two female) got together and wrote conversations for a group of women characters based on advice from an alien race who had only experienced conversations between females by watching soap operas. It is easily the most stilted tripe to ever pour out of any of these actors mouths. Watching the legendary Julia Roberts stoop so low in such a bad wig as some sort of favor to Garry Marshall was revolting.  The entire movie is revolting, especially since it somehow mistakes flat out racism for comedy. When Jesse's parents find out she's married to Russell as he accidentally walks in after they surprise her with a visit their first reaction is to wonder what a "towel head" is doing in her house. The audience at my screening instantly gasped and then sat there in horror as it only got worse. For some reason the filmmakers thought that the parents' flat out offensive and racist actions would be charming and whimsical, as if we're supposed to laugh along at those silly old folks who just disowned their grandchild for being "a little dark." No really, someone says that. I want to make it perfectly clear that jokes about race can be hilarious. Comedy is one of the best ways to address race issues, but this movie confuses using race for humor with actually being racist. None of the lines are actually jokes, they're just racist (and sexist and homophobic) statements said out loud as if that's enough to make something funny. Just because you say you're a comedy doesn't mean you can say offensive things without a punchline. There's no deeper meaning here either. Sure, in the end everyone comes around and no one is racist anymore (because it's that simple), but it's handled with such dull-witted ineptitude that you can only sit there with your jaw open and wonder if anyone making the movie actually understood the history humanity. I want to really stress just how incredibly out of touch with reality this film is. We'll ignore the fact that all the characters are cliches, none of the actors seem to actually care that they're there and that it easily has one of the worst soundtracks in the past ten years. We're ignoring all of this because at the end of Mother's Day Asif Mandvi, the only minority in the vehicle, gets out of an RV and a group of cops go to pull their guns on him. This is a joke. In the middle of a crisis of violence on minorities by police this film deems it appropriate to have an Indian man pinned to the ground as a group of white people, who very recently called him racial slurs, stand around gawking. That's it by the way. That's the joke. It just happens and everyone is OK with it once one of the cops RECOGNIZES THE INDIAN GUY AS HER DOCTOR. If I was Mandvi I would have walked off the set faster than an American Indian in an Adam Sandler film.  The only reason this movie didn't get a zero is because Jason Sudeikis is so damn charming even when he's stuck in crap like this. Crap where his meet cute is based around awkwardly buying tampons and then followed up by a second meet cute where his hand is stuck in a candy machine. Only that man could make something that stupid work, and even then one has to ask oneself why, in a movie called Mother's Day, one fourth of the lead characters needs to be a father. I get that it's supposed to be about the hole a mother leaves when she dies, but it really isn't at all and it makes for just another bit of sexism to add into this already turgid pile of crap.  There's about 50 other things wrong with this movie like why all the women seem to be constantly working out or why the only minority character aside from Mandvi and his mother is a sassy black woman. It would be impossible to catalog every way this movie is the film equivalent of the KKK projectile vomiting onto celluloid while a group of men attempt to write a screenplay about women with their penises, but I'll digress because I'm getting too angry and this human excrement of a movie isn't worth it.
Mother's Day photo
A racist, sexist, unfunny pile of crap
I'm not going to pull punches here because Mother's Day is easily the worst movie I have seen in years. It is unfathombly offensive, boring, unfunny and terrible in every way possible. I didn't head into it thinking it was go...

Review: Ratchet & Clank

Apr 28 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220548:42938:0[/embed] Ratchet & ClankDirectors: Jericca Cleland and Kevin Munroe Rated: PGRelease Date: April 29, 2016 There's nothing really wrong with Ratchet & Clank. It's a perfectly standard set up that pulls from all your other favorite science-fiction classics. Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor) is a Lombax mechanic on a remote desert planet who dreams of being like his hero, Captain Qwark (Jim Ward), but when tryouts for Qwark's team of heroes roll around he's laughed out of the building by the man himself. Luckily for him Clank (David Kaye) has just escaped from the evil Chairman Drek (Paul Giamatti) and Dr. Nefarious (Armin Shimerman), who have a dastardly plan to blow up some planets and make a new one. Due to a crash landing Clank meets Ratchet, the two become friends and adventure ensues all culminating in that oh-so traditional children's film lesson that you can be whatever you want with the support of friends and a wide array of weaponry. There is not really much more to it. You can insert almost every standard joke you've come to expect from tongue-in-cheek children's films and then add a few references to the game. They actually really under utilize the latter. For a game that's known for its funky and fun weapons the movie barely plays around with them. There is the expected montage of weapon use, but from there on out most of the action could rely on the basic blaster. Maybe that's a super meta commentary the directors had about the game's gameplay, but I seriously doubt it. That's not the only opportunity missed. One of the mainstays of the games (or the first two at least) was the great dynamic between the excitable Ratchet and the reserved Clank. The film barely touches this. We have to be introduced to the characters separately, of course, but once they're together the action keeps tearing them apart. Their dynamic is sidelined in favor of more Captain Qwark and the Galactic Rangers. This isn't all bad as Qwark has some of the funniest lines, but you still feel like the movie is more about Ratchet on his own than his friendship with Clank.  However, judging a movie for what it is not, especially a children's movie, is a bit unfair. Ratchet & Clank does move along at a perfectly good clip and the plot holes are all within acceptable range for the target audience. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the sight gags, which kids will most likely love, and the screenplay puts in enough jokes to keep any parent relatively entertained even if you've heard almost every one before. This isn't a movie that's out to top Pixar, but it will stand with your more basic Dreamworks animations any day.  The animation itself is good too, though nothing stellar. Having just come off the revolutionary The Jungle Book my eye might be a bit jaded, but just as there's nothing that will wow you in terms of animation there's also nothing that's going to put you off. It's just middle of the road throughout as with the rest of the film.  That goes for the voice acting as well, which was very clearly taken more seriously by some. The filmmakers brought in the game's voices for Ratchet, Clank and Captain Qwark and it shows. The actors' performances stand out among phoned in turns from the "name" actors, especially John Goodman who sounds like he wasn't quite sure what movie he was reading for the entire time. Thankfully those roles are smaller in scale and never bad enough to break the film, just to keep it at its constant level of acceptability.  No one was really expecting stellar things out of Ratchet & Clank and if you go in with that mindset you're going to come out having definitely seen a movie that fit it. I can't see hardcore fans of the franchise coming out of the film upset in any way because the movie is so inoffensive. I can't see anyone really coming out of the theater too excited except for a five-year-old wanting a pet lombax... and then having his dreams crushed when he finds out they don't exist.
Ratchet & Clank photo
Clanking along
Ratchet & Clank is the epitome of a film that doesn't do anything wrong, but that doesn't make it right. I suppose I should start by saying that I have not kept up with the games this movie is based on. I played the ...

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'Batman: The Killing Joke' Trailer Released, Rated-R


Apr 28
// Rick Lash
The trailer for Batman: The Killing Joke has been released and set the stage for a true-to-graphic-novel adaptation. This is the first time a DC Comics movie will be R-rated a fact which is actually not attributable...

Review: The Jungle Book

Apr 15 // Matthew Razak
The Jungle BookDirector: Jon FavreauRated: PGRelease Date: April 15, 2016 [embed]220509:42914:0[/embed] As a property it's hard to believe that one could bring something new to The Jungle Book. Mogli's (Neel Sethi) story has been told so many times in so many different ways that retelling it again seems a bit redundant. This seems especially true since this version is part of Disney's ongoing effort to remake or reimagine their animated classics as live action films (see: Cinderella or Maleficent). Yet despite the fact that this new version of The Jungle Book once again finds Mogli raised by a pack of wolves and the panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), hunted by the villainous tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) and eventually hanging out with the laid back bear Baloo (Bill Murray), it feels dramatically different from previous tellings of the story. The plot may be mostly the same as Disney's animated classic, but striking visuals and Favreau's surprisingly fluid direction make it an entirely new experience. Those visuals, though. You will spend half this movie wondering what is real and what isn't while marveling at the individual hairs on Baloo's back or how Baheera moves perfectly or how the fat on King Louie (Christopher Walken) is disturbingly realistic. If ever a film has crossed the uncanncy valley it is The Jungle Book. Yes, there are still some parts that get stuck in the low end of that valley, but overall it is a visual masterpiece. The most impressive part is that they did it all while featuring talking animals in situations that are sometimes entirely human. Everything feels real and yet is somehow full of the magic and wonder that more traditional animation brings. It is this combination of reality and magic that make The Jungle Book work so well. Hats off to Favreau for being able to pull this movie together. His direction is often striking and far more than you'd expect from a traditional children's film. Some shots seem to be pulled from an art house independent while others are pitch-perfect horror moments (still suitable for children). Most impressive though is the fluid way he moves Mogli and company through the jungle. Taking advantage of his almost entirely digital setting, Favreau stitches together fluid shots that make you feel like you're there. It helps that the IMAX 3D is simply breathtaking on the big screen and that digital animation always looks better in that setting. Though Favreau may miss a few beats here and there, they're mostly because he's playing towards a crowd of children who expect certain things from their movies.  The only truly inconsistent thing about the movie is Sethi, who, in all fairness, had an incredibly daunting task before him since he's the only actual person in the entire film. It's clear that he became more comfortable with that fact as shooting went on as his performance varies from absolutely stellar (banging out a rendition of "The Bear Necessities") to horribly awkward (being hypnotized by the snake Kaa, played by an utterly wasted Scarlet Johansson). Still, he performs admirably overall, and it's his animal counterparts who steal the show anyway. Murray's Baloo is both perfect casting and the chance to hear him sing Baloo's classic song would make any movie worth the price of admission. Throw in a rollicking scene with King Louie that has Walken delivering a mafia routine and a chilling rendition of "Be Like You" and it's hard not to be drawn in by the performances not to mention stopping your foot from tapping. Much of their performance can be chalked up to the stellar animation, especially Elba's Shere Khan, who lurks around the screen fearsomely while the actor's silky voice drips with menace.   This is a children's movie overall, however. In the end Disney wants kids to be pretending they're hanging out with Baloo, and the movie plays like that. It's almost a contradiction as they hyper-realism of the film means the darker parts have that much more impact and the scary parts are that much scarier. Often the look and tone of the film don't jive with each other, though that's probably only a complaint an adult would have.  That look is so good, however, that it almost doesn't matter if the tone feels off sometimes. This is a major step forward in what we should come to expect from our CGI, but more importantly to that target audience, it's actually fun. 
Jungle Book photo
More than the bear necessities
At this point in my jaded film critic life it takes a lot to actually impress me with special effects. We've seen Transformers and giant blue aliens and everything in between on screen by now, and great digital effects are al...

Review: The Boss

Apr 08 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220481:42895:0[/embed] The BossDirector: Ben FalconeRelease Date: April 8, 2016Rating: R  I don't think you should watch that trailer. You can if you want, but you really shouldn't. It's the film's official Red Band trailer. I watched it just now, and it made me wonder how it's possible that I so enjoyed the movie that this was selling. Because the trailer looks awful. And it looks awful on pretty much every level. Like, I feel bad as a critic to say that I really liked The Boss. But you know what? I'm gonna own it. I really liked The Boss. I loved the scene where T-Pain came out, when Melissa McCarthy raps along to DJ Khaled's "All I Do Is Win" (which, you should know, I listen to at least once every few days (usually multiple times in a row)) while dancing and showing off how rich and awesome she is. It's probably a stupid scene, but T-Pain comes out to sing the chorus when it plays again, and they're dancing, and it's awesome. I don't care what anyone says about the rest of the movie; that sequence is gold. And it was enough that I was content having seen it. From there, it would have had to go to some really bad places to have lost me completely. But it didn't.  Ugh... it looks so dumb. (But I laughed really hard at this scene.) The premise is stupid. An obscenely rich woman (McCarthy) does some insider trading, and six months later she comes out of jail completely broke. She finds her former assistant (Kristen Bell), and is offered a chance to stay with her for a little while while she finds her feet, despite the fact that McCarthy was terrible to her. At some point, McCarthy decides to create a for-profit rival to a Girl Scouts analog called the Dandelions. Ignoring child labor laws entirely, the girls start selling brownies made at a frankly impossible pace to meet a ridiculous demand (the child labor thing, by the way, is never addressed... though I do think that an interesting case could be made that the girls getting 10% of girl scout cookie sales (with another 10% being put towards college) wouldn't necessarily be such a bad thing (I bought six boxes of Thin Mints this year, and they lasted me about two weeks (unrelated but still kind of relevant)))). Other dumb things get in the way, and then it's dumb how other things don't get in the way. Honestly, if I look at this with even a vaguely objective lens, the narrative is a complete and utter catastrophe. But I so don't care about that, because I didn't care about it while I was watching it. Yes, it certainly occurred to me that X, Y, and Z were ridiculous, but I was too busy laughing to care. A shocking number of the jokes worked for me, including some of the same jokes that I really don't like out of context in the trailer. Yeah, sometimes things fell flat, but more often than not it got me. And it's possible that sometimes I was laughing at the movie and not with it, but I don't really know that that distinction matters. The point of the film, the only point of the film, is to make me (as an analog for the entire audience) laugh. Every sequence (except the one emotional one that you know is coming) is there in service of that goal. And if that goal is achieved, then the film succeeded. It didn't succeed as anything other than a thing that made me laugh, but it did that. And that's really what I care about here. Yeah... I dunno. Whatever. I saw Bridesmaids in theaters. During one particular scene, I literally cried laughing, and in general I found it to be a hysterically funny film. Months (years?) later, I watched it again. I laughed at the scene that made me cry the first time, and I'm sure I giggled here and there outside of that, but the second time around, I was really just hit by a general sense of, "Ehhhhhh." And I wondered why I liked it as much as I did the first time around. Maybe it's something about the big screen, or maybe it's the infectiousness of an audience. Maybe I've just got an objectively terrible sense of humor, and this sort of low-brow stuff is the best I can hope for. Or maybe everyone else is wrong. As I type this, The Boss has an 18% on Rotten Tomatoes. I am, unfortunately, not on there (yet), so this review won't change that number, but clearly everyone else in my field hates it. As I walked out of the theater, I heard someone call it a "horror show." And I know plenty of others who just thought it was awful. If I were to see The Boss again, it's entirely possible that I would hate it and look back on my feelings about it right now as a tragedy and a shame on my record as a critic. But as much as it can try to be representative of the future, a review is a document of right now. You might have noticed that it's sort of a weird document, hedging a whole bunch of bets on the future, but that's because I'm still kind of shocked by how much I liked the film (especially after watching that trailer... because, wow). Yeah, it's stupid as hell, and not always in a good way, but I nonetheless enjoyed the time I spent watching The Boss. And, really, nothing else matters.
The Boss Review photo
Win. Win. Win. (No Matter What)
The first time I saw a trailer for The Boss was just a few weeks ago. I'd kind of generally ignored its existence, because... why wouldn't I have? I mean, honestly, it looked terrible. I saw that trailer and thought, "Yu...

Review: The Invitation

Apr 07 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220474:42893:0[/embed] The InvitationDirector: Karyn KusamaRelease Date: April 8, 2016Rating: R  The title of The Invitation does not, as you might expect early on, refer to the invitation that you see moments in: a party invitation to the house of Eden and David. Eden hasn’t seen her friends in two years, since the tragic death of her son, and Will’s. Will is our protagonist, and to some degree the only character that the audience can truly empathize with. (The reasons for that we’ll discuss in a little bit.) The Invitation actually refers to a group (read: cult) that Eden and David joined while they were in Mexico, where apparently they spent much of those two missing years. We see bits and pieces of the cult, presented mostly through videos featuring the founder. We also get to experience it vicariously through the actions of the couple, David in particular. During one scene in particular, a series of confessions presented as a sort of "game," a stranger to the group, played by John Carroll Lynch (whose presence in the film is rarely a good sign (plot-wise, at least; I think he’s a fine actor), starts talking about about a horrible thing he did. It was during that speech where I felt compelled to tell no one in particular that what I was watching was upsetting. The Invitation is a lot of things, but there is one crucial thing it is not: surprising. It’s probably a spoiler to say you know exactly where this movie is going almost as soon as the film begins, but not really. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a film that telegraphs its “twist” so overtly from the word Go. As soon as Will and Kira enter the house, Will knows something is wrong, and you, the viewer, know something is wrong. Everything about it is wrong. It’s wrong in exactly the way that these kinds of things are always wrong. And, of course, Will is the only one who notices it. And you wonder why he’s the only one who notices. He wonders (aloud) why he’s the only one who notices, and I couldn’t help but think about the Cinema Sin’s narrator saying, “Will would be excellent at Cinema Sins.” It’s a little hard to swallow that they would all continue just going along with it. Only one person decides to leave, after that same monologue that I mentioned before. But the lack of surprise isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Told well, even the most generic story can still be exciting, and I think that is absolutely the case here. No, you won’t be wondering what’s behind the next door, but you will be excited to get there. The sense of unease is pervasive, and every frame drips with dread. This is a very pretty movie, with spectacular lighting in particular but camerawork in general. A few days ago, I watched a movie shot a while back, on 35mm film. A helicopter shot of Los Angeles showed a dark city, a patchwork of lights but ultimately a very dim place. In the background of The Invitation’s gorgeous location, you see the lights of that same city. But where films of old are dark, modern films are bright. The city shines, and it grounds you in a sort of reality. You know where this is happening, give or take. This isn’t some remote cabin in the woods. This is a house on a hill overlooking one of the most famous cities in the world. The Invitation is being sold as a psychological thriller, and that’s truest if you see the film less as an objective view of the situation and more as Will’s interpretation of it. This is an interesting thought to consider, because it may very well mean that my irritation with the general group’s inability to see just how wrong everything was is less a function of the narrative than of the presentation. Of course, the friends can’t hear the unsettling music or the off-putting camerawork. The movie wants me to know that something’s up, because Will knows that something is up. We’re in his head, and his head is in a very different place than his compatriot’s. Which is what makes it all the more fascinating that he’s ultimately correct. Oftentimes, intensely psychological films will reveal that the protagonist is the crazy one, that you’ve been lulled into this false belief that your character is reliable. Even if you know that there’s something a little off about them, you convince yourself that they’re fundamentally in the right. And then, when the final confrontation comes, you realize that no, that’s not true at all. And thinking about it through that lens, perhaps The Invitation is a little less typical than I initially gave it credit for. But then again, maybe it’s not. The reality is that this question of how it fits into genre canon doesn’t really affect its very fundamental successes. This is a movie that gets its hooks into you right from the get-go, and you’re anxious to see where it goes. You’re anxious because you’re excited, but also because you know that things cannot possibly end well. You’re anxious for the characters, even if you don’t necessarily care about them the way you care about Will. I didn’t feel like the other characters were neglected so much as they didn’t matter. Focusing on them, telling their stories more deeply, wouldn’t have really benefited the story that The Invitation tells, but that doesn’t mean the holes in the characterizations don’t show. You get glimpses of these characters, but there are many more questions than answers. The final moments of the film bears that out, that there’s a whole world of stories out there that we’re not seeing. It’s just like the reminders in the back of shots that LA is out there, seemingly just a stone’s throw away. And though that image itself feels a little bit like it’s sacrificing narrative logic for the sake a really cool shot (and it is a really cool shot), the implication of it is one worth thinking about. Stories don’t happen in isolation, even in the most isolating environments. And as I think back on the film, I want to stop picking it apart, realizing that certain moments didn’t work quite as well as I thought they did at the time. Because whatever negative things I might have to say, The Invitation is an exceedingly well-crafted film, and I enjoyed damn near every minute. 
The Invitation Review photo
Saw that one coming
I watched The Invitation alone in my apartment. I left the lights on, because I expected it to be scary and wasn't too keen on having a heart attack in pitch black. As it turns out, the film wasn’t scary, at least not i...

Review: London Has Fallen

Mar 04 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220381:42847:0[/embed] London Has FallenDirector: Babak NajafiRelease Date: March 4, 2016Rating: R  London Has Fallen seems like a movie made for people who really like Call of Duty. And while that sounds rather negative (because it is), I don’t necessarily mean that people who really like Call of Duty would like London Has Fallen, just that, in the boardroom meeting where this film was designed, at least one person said, “Let’s make this like Call of Duty. Call of Duty players are out target audience.” And everyone else said, “Call of Duty… that’s that thing that makes lots of money, right? We think making lots of money is a great idea. Let’s do it! It'll be cool.” It’s a film grown in a test tube to appeal to “bros” who like to think they crack wise. They’ll sneak in Budweisers to the movie and rowdily laugh every time Gerard Butler says some witty one-liner. They’ll think, “Wow! What a cool guy!” and high five or something. That’s what bros do, right? Clearly I’ve never been one.  More than Call of Duty, though, London Has Fallen reminds me of Youtube. Specifically, it reminds me of the channel formerly known as Freddiew. I don’t really watch Freddie Wong’s stuff anymore, but the short, vfx-heavy action videos that he used to post weekly were things I looked forward to. They weren’t perfect, but they were fun. Short, sweet, and to the point. On some level, so is London Has Fallen, a film that’s only about 90 minutes long, so it doesn’t spend a whole lot of time on unnecessary setup. For the most part, it just gets in and goes. People die. Gerard Butler has to save the day. Cool? Cool.  But the reason I compare it to Youtube is two-fold: 1) It doesn’t look very good. The VFX are shoddy throughout and it’s just a generally visually unappealing movie. I haven’t necessarily seen better on Youtube, but I’ve seen things that were on par. (Before I get into number 2, I really just want to make a point about how much I miss squibs. Yeah, they’ve been long dead, but the impact of real fake blood in a scene is so significant. There have been instances of CGI blood that have been convincing enough, but they certainly aren’t in London Has Fallen. Every death is accompanied by a little sigh, a feeling of missed opportunity. Sure, real fake blood is complicated, but it adds to the production, and this movie needed a higher-level production.)  2) Oh my god it’s vapid. Everything about it is just so… dumb. It feels like there was enough story for a short film (that I might see on Youtube) and then it was stretched out to 90 minutes because that’s how money happens. Dumb fun is dumb fun, but a little bit of effort would have been nice. It feels like absolutely no effort went into any part of this. A lazy script begets a lazy movie. And this movie is lazy.  It’s also cynical. The reason I thought of Freddie Wong in particular is because of a video he did many years ago, a firefight done in a long take. There’s a sequence in London Has Fallen, one that I think was supposed to be “epic” or “impressive,” that I just couldn’t fathom the reason for. Going to take a terrorist stronghold, London Has Fallen does that single-take-action-sequence thing. I love long takes, and I love long takes in action sequences, so I really should have loved the scene, but I just couldn’t do it. As I watched it, I could only think, “This is here because it has to be. No one really wanted to do this shot, because no one really wanted to do any of this.” Freddie Wong did it, so London Has Fallen had to do it too.   What makes the film hard to stomach is the fact that Gerard Butler’s character is a legitimately horrible human being. He is just cruel. He kills a man while his brother listens. Sure, he was a bad dude and may as well be dead, but in that way? Even the movie comments on it: “Did you really have to do that?” asks his companion. “No.” And that’s the movie in a nutshell. The filmmakers may as well as been turning to the audience and winking in that moment, and it just felt gross. Gerard Butler’s character likes knives. He likes stabbing people, and all I can think about is Heath Ledger’s Joker explaining why he prefers knives as well. Watching a movie about a sociopath with a smart mouth isn’t really enjoyable; it’s uncomfortable. And maybe if there was more to the rest of it, I could have blocked that out. I could have looked at the pretty visuals or rooted along with the action, but there was nothing. It was just me and the evil man who the film thought was the good guy. And that’s just not cool.
London Has Fallen Review photo
Not worth the effort to try being clever
A month ago, I signed up for Movie Pass. It’s a service where, for $45 a month, I can see a movie in a participating theater (which is most of them) every 24 hours. It’s a pretty cool deal, especially in New York ...

Review: Hail, Caesar!

Feb 05 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220336:42811:0[/embed] Hail, Caesar!Directors: Joel and Ethan CoenRelease Date: February 5th, 2016Rating: PG-13  I feel for whoever it was who had to cut together the trailer for Hail, Caesar! I imagine it was a nightmare scenario, trying to take what is really just a series of occasionally linked comedic sequences and turn it into something that appears to be dramatic and compelling. And so whoever it was built a narrative, one where George Clooney, a big-name actor who sometimes forgets his lines at key moments, is kidnapped by a mysterious organization, and stars like Channing Tatum and Scarlett Johansson are enlisted to help get him back. Cameo appearances by Tilda Swinton and Jonah Hill and the like just serve to make it all one big star-studded Hollywood mystery. But… no. That’s not what Hail, Caesar! is at all. A couple of those things happen, but the context presented in the trailer is, to put it bluntly, bullshit. In fact, that opening, with George Clooney’s big speech? That takes place less than ten minutes from the end of the film. Yeah. That’s not the introduction to that character. It’s the resolution. In fact, much of the trailer comes from the second half of the film, and it almost feels like it went in reverse chronological order. The “reveal” of the secret society that ends the trailer feels like a big end-of-act reveal. Maybe the end of the first act? And sure enough, that does happen around then. Problem is, all of the imagery the trailer subjected us to up until that point takes place after we already know who they are. Because it’s not even really a secret. I’m not going to tell you, but that’s pretty much entirely because you’ve already had the ending spoiled, so why not give you something?  You don’t watch Hail, Caesar! for the narrative, because there is no narrative. As I said, it’s a series of occasionally linked comedic sequences. That’s honestly the best way to describe it. Characters come in, do their funny thing, and then are never seen from again. Or they come in briefly a handful of times, all teasing some far more interesting existence than the one we’re seeing. It’s all potential. This is a film of unending potential. Each character has a backstory that seems rich enough to justify not necessarily a movie, but certainly an episode of a series. I would watch Hail, Caesar! the series. None of the myriad characters really gets their due, and it’s such a shame. I wanted more of damn near everyone. And arguments could be made that being left wanting is better than the alternative, but I have to wonder: What’s the point of it all? It’s like a cupcake with a nice foil wrapper. You look at it, and it looks good. You take a first bite, and it is good. But then you pull back the foil wrapper, and you realize that there’s nothing more to the cupcake. It’s just air. You liked those couple of bites you got, but you’re so disappointed that that’s all there was. No cream filling? Heck, you would have even accepted just more cake! But you don’t get that. Instead, you just have a well-crafted cupcake top in the guise of something more. Of course, what is there is good. Let’s not pretend otherwise. The Coen Brothers are beloved for a reason: They know how to make good movies. Hail, Caesar! is pretty, funny, fun, and any number of other adjectives, but that’s just baseline. There’s nothing more here to remind you of why the Coen Brothers are a household name. You get some really fun sequences – and I sincerely hope that the musical numbers are practice for a full-blown musical film that they’ve got up their sleeves – but there’s nothing to really bite into. You go from fun thing to fun thing, always expecting more. Always hoping for more. Always feeling that there is more, but the Coen Brothers don’t think you’re cool enough to see it. When I think about the movie, I don’t really have any “complaints,” per se. I have my big fundamental issue, but from moment to moment, there’s not really much negative to say. But there’s also nothing wildly positive to say. This is a movie that is Good and nothing more. It doesn’t even really aspire to be more. It seems content in its Goodness. I don’t have a problem with Good movies – I appreciate any movie that has the audacity to be simply enjoyable – but I wanted this to be great. And it just isn’t. I never thought that word, or felt it, but I wanted to oh so badly. I felt like there were times where I should have thought, “Wow! That was great!” but I just… didn’t. And from the Coen Brothers, that stings. They’ve made so many classics, comedic and otherwise, that something merely Good from them feels lazy. This is a Coen Brothers puff piece, some something they did to fulfill a contract. And a Coen Brothers puff piece is still worth seeing, but it’s certainly not something worth celebrating.
Hail, Caesar! Review photo
Act One?
Joseph Kahn, director of Detention, the best film ever made, is an exceedingly well respected music video director. Most recently, he’s known as the guy who makes all those amazing Taylor Swift music videos. Together, t...

Review: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Jan 15 // Matthew Razak
13 Hours: The Secret Solidiers of BenghaziDirector: Michael BayRated: RRelease Date: January 15, 2016 [embed]220292:42774:0[/embed] For anyone running into 13 Hours hoping for some sort of political charged hit piece (on either side of the aisle) you'll be heavily disappointed. This movie is all Michael Bay and no Michael Moore. While there are a few snide remarks here and there, the movie is surprisingly apolitical, choosing to instead focus on the action-packed adventures of six CIA military contractors who protect a secret CIA base after the attack on the US "embassy" in Benghazi. Of course, if you go into the film believing in a certain narrative of what took place that night this movie is going to do nothing, but reaffirm your beliefs. It is stuffed full of Bay's die hard patriotism and love of people shooting things to solve problems.  The movie focuses on Jack Silva (John Krasinski) as he arrives in Benghazi just before the attacks on the embassy. He's introduced to the job by the team's lead Tyrone 'Rone' Woods (James Badge Dale) and then everything starts to catch on fire. The rest of the movie is a beefed up version on what may or may not have happened that night in Benghazi. While the film opens station that this is a true story it is very clearly Michael Bay's version of a true story. What does that mean? Prolific gun fights and plenty of explosions that may or may not have actually occurred. Block long drives, that were most likely very tense at the time, are turned into all out car chases. Bodies are mowed down left and right as bullets rip through them. A bus explodes in grandiose fashion. Men all have six packs and women -- sorry, make that woman -- are all gorgeous. It's pure Bay or it would be if it wasn't about an actual attack and incredibly politically charged. What's horribly annoying is this is probably Michael Bay's most competently made action film in quite some time. Despite it running longer than it needs to, Bay actually pieces together his action sequences with some understanding of the basic of film editing and pulls off an impressively decent pace for the film. The characters, while trite at times, are all given surprising emotional depth and handled with even more surprising care. As Pain & Gain showed us, when Bay wants to actually focus on something other than women's legs and explosions the results can actually be interesting.  However, it is nearly impossible to separate this film from the "true story" it is telling. The producers definitely didn't want to as they kept the horrendous subtitle attached to 13 Hours for all the promotion. In the case of saying something the movie fails again and again. It's blind belief in the heroism of the American soldier and inability to get out of its own cookie cutter cliches lead it from something that could offer some actual commentary into a simple, though emotional, action flick. Ignoring the politics of the subject matter might be both the worst and best thing the movie does, simultaneously making it work and fail at the exact same time. It can probably be best summed up by a point near the movies end after a truly tense 30 minutes of film one of the characters turns to the encampments translator and deadpans, "Your country's gotta figure this shit out." It's deep thoughts like that that rip away at the good parts of the film. Krasinki is probably the highlight and a brilliant bit of casting. His affable nature imbues Jack Silva with a humanity that defies the stereotypical tough-guy stuff. His performance adding layers to the normal bravado we get from patriotic cinema, and in turn pulling out more from the actors around him. It can't truly elevate the film above what it is, but damned if he doesn't try. Despite all the pretense and marketing and "true storying" 13 Hours turns out to be just a decent Michael Bay film made worse by its connection to a political scandal it seems to want nothing to do with. It turns out you can't have it both ways. Either you're making a movie about Benghazi or you're not. Bay tried so hard not to it ironically overwhelms everything else. 
Benghazi Review photo
Not so secret
(Editor's Note: This review was written before the knowledge that there was a 10 Cloverfield Lane trailer before the movie. Press did not get to see that trailer. If I had the film would have gotten a 10/10 off of the wa...

Review: The Forest

Jan 08 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220259:42746:0[/embed] The ForestDirector: Jason Zada Release Date: January 8, 2016Rating: PG-13  I knew I was going to dislike The Forest from the moment I was reminded of its premise. It’s about the Aokigahara Forest, one of two films about that in the works (the other is directed by Gus Van Sant, and by default I expect it will be the best Aokigahara-focused film of 2016). Aokigahara is a forest in Japan, the most popular suicide spot there and one of the most popular in the world. There are demons there, too, at least as far as the film is concerned. But none of that bothers me. I mean, who doesn’t love a good Japanese horror film? Problem is, it’s not a Japanese horror film. It’s a film about a white girl, a blonde white girl named Sarawho doesn’t speak Japanese going to find her not-blonde white girl twin sister, Jess, who may or may not speak Japanese. Jess went into the Suicide Forest (it’s actually called that, by the way), presumably to commit suicide. Sara goes to find her, because her twin sense continued to tingle. If something was really going to go wrong, she’d know because the twin sense would go silent. It’s a thing that twins have. (So they say.) It’s somewhere between familial bonding, quantum entanglement, and supernatural garbage. My instinct is that it falls towards that latter one, because that’s really the best way to explain the film. It makes me legitimately angry that I spent a fair portion of The Forest looking away from the screen. The easiest example to point to takes place… at some point, I don’t even remember when. Sarah is walking down a hallway, and the lights are flickering on and off. As she goes down, ON, flicker, OFF, pause. ON, flicker, OFF, pause. It’s quiet. You know and have known since she got into the hallway that at some point it’s going to flicker on and something is going to jump out at the screen. You know it because that’s how these things work, when they have nothing else to show. And The Forest does it. And I jumped a bit. I was looking just offscreen, but the sound and the sudden movement got me up a bit. And I was infuriated. Years ago, I reviewed a film called Replicas (later retitled In Their Skin). A commenter chastised me for being "defeated by that mediocre film." I stand by my glowing assessment of that film, but that comment has stuck with me ever since. It’s basically how I feel about my reaction to The Forest. In the climactic scenes, the ones where things are supposedly “scary,” I was able to watch the film just fine, because it wasn’t jumpy any more. It was just “atmospheric” or whatever. But, of course, it wasn’t. I stared at it, almost feeling bad for what didn’t even seem like an honest attempt at horror. I have trouble imagining anyone feeling the slightest twinge of fear while watching that final sequence. (The only legitimately unsettling sequence was in a cave with an overly happy Japanese girl. Her performance made me rather tense, though the ultimate place that encounter went didn’t even make sense with the narrative, so that one moment of potential good was ruined.) In those jump moments, I braced myself for the impact. I tensed my body, looked away from the screen, and hated everything about it. Every single scare was so obviously telegraphed literally minutes before it happened. And other people in the theater jumped each time as well. It felt so clinical, so scientific. Like they had focus tested exactly how many times the light should flicker before the elderly woman popped out. They knew how to get a rise out of people, and they knew that there was nothing else to get people into the theater. They could put out a trailer of just people jumping, like they did for Paranormal Activity all those years ago, and maybe a few people would go see it. But it’s a cheat. You take a forest. You take an issue like suicide. You tell people that the forest doesn’t kill you, it makes you kill yourself – which is a fascinating concept, by the way, and I would like to see it play out in a better film. At some point, it threatens to deliver on that concept, but the actual execution is so shoddy that it’s barely worth considering (and, like so much else, it can’t stick the landing). When I got out of the theater, I had these grand visions of writing a multi-thousand word essay on the nature of fear, but as I look back on it, The Forest doesn’t deserve that. It doesn’t really even deserve the thought that I’ve already given it. Don’t see The Forest. If it doesn’t make you angry, then you’ll just be bored, wishing you’d seen The Revenant instead. That’s sort of a horror movie, and it also takes place in the woods. And it’s awesome. Go see The Revenant. Forget The Forest exists. By the time this has posted, I know I will have.
The Forest Review photo
Nope
I’ve written before about how wimpy I am at horror movies. I don’t know that I’m “scared” easily, but I’m exceedingly jumpy. A loud sound, sudden movement, or anything of that sort will lau...

Review: The Hateful Eight

Dec 24 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219767:42546:0[/embed] The Hateful EightDirector: Quentin TarantinoRelease Date: December 25, 2015 (Limited); January 6, 2015 (Wide)Rating: R  I’m certainly not the first (and will absolutely not be the last) to point out how fascinating it is that The Hateful Eight was shot on Ultra Panavision 70. As I said before, this format is meant for showing vistas. It’s wide, brilliant, epic. The movie, when seen in the road show format, runs more than 3 hours including its 12 minute intermission. There’s an overture, where you listen to Ennio Morricone’s score, which may not be his best but is certainly epic enough to get you pumped up for adventure. You assume that you’re gonna see sights, particularly landscapes, that will boggle your mind. The opening shot has something of an epic feel to it. It’s Jesus (oh hi there, Christmas!) on a cross in the middle of nowhere. The shot is obscenely long, showing you very little as the credits play. You get a vista at the end of it, a pretty cool one too, and it hopes you like that vista, because you ain’t getting many more like it.  It’s a slight exaggeration to say that this is a one-location film. It’s not an exaggeration at all to say it’s a two-location movie. The majority of the film, yes, takes place in a cabin. But the first couple of chapters take place in a carriage. There are run-ins with folk outside the carriage, but everything is based on what’s within, and there are some conversations where you sit and watch two people talk, knowing that those vistas you were expecting are off to the side, but wow can’t you just see every little detail in this carriage? You’re aware of the epic look and sound – movies just aren’t like this anymore – but you’re hyper-aware of it because it just doesn’t seem to fit the material. Here’s an intimate story about a bunch of dudes and one lady in a cabin. The lady, Jennifer Leigh, is the Important character. She’s the head of some gang, and she’s been bounty hunted by Kurt Russell. (They say “Dead or Alive,” but he likes them “Alive.”) He’s convinced people want to take her from him, since she’s worth a whole lot of money and is also the leader of a gang with plenty of people waiting to set her free. Some of the people in the cabin are on Kurt Russell’s side. Some are neutral. Some are not. At least one is indifferent to Kurt Russell but not particularly happy with Samuel L. Jackson. There's plenty of hate to go around, and much of it is played out in Tarantino's signature talk-y style.  Here's the thing: If you don't like Tarantino's writing, you're not going to like The Hateful Eight. You probably could have assumed that much, but it bears repeating, because this movie is absolute, unadulterated Tarantino. And how you feel about Tarantino will radically change how you perceive the effectiveness of the drama. One friend thought it was great and only periodically masturbatory, and another thought it was meh and little more than a one-man circlejerk. (How's that possible? I dunno, but Tarantino could definitely pull it off.) I fell closer to the former than the latter, but it honestly didn't bother me either way. I was swept up in the whole thing. With just two locations, the emphasis shifts to the actors, and Tarantino pulled in an all-star cast. Each person gets their time to shine, and all of them do. Alliances form and break, hidden motivations are revealed in spectacular fashion, and it's just generally full of wonderful intrigue. I can see why there was a reading of this script, because it would be cool as hell even without all of the extra stuff going on. Well, that's true for the first half. After the intermission, the film changes. It begins with voiceover, something you don't see in the first half, and it's bloodsoaked, the way Tarantino's movies often are. But it's also when the Big Reveals all take place, and boy are there some interesting ones. This is a film that begs for repeat viewings, because a whole lot of things happen that you realize in retrospect were telegraphed in fantastic ways. It makes you want to go back and see those things as they happen and then catch all the ones you missed. It's all this big, interconnected jumble of actions, and it's pretty freaking awesome. It's also imperfect, but in ways that ultimately don't matter. If you're a fan of Tarantino, you should see the movie. If you aren't but live in one of the selected cities, consider the Road Show version anyway, because the whole experience is Worth It. If you're not a fan and don't live in one of those cities, though, you shouldn't bother. This will not be the movie to change your mind about him and his work. This is typical Tarantino. I like that. I enjoyed it. And I'm going to see it again. I don't think that anything else needs to be said.
The Hateful Eight photo
Apt description
From the outset, The Hateful Eight has been a Big Deal. Tarantino was gonna do it, but the screenplay leaked, so he wasn’t gonna do it, until there was a reading, so he was doing it again. I paid pretty much zero attent...

Review: Sisters

Dec 18 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220235:42741:0[/embed] SistersDirector: Jason MooreRated: RRelease Date: December 18, 2015  Sisters is about Tina Fey and Amy Poehler playing sisters Maura and Kate Ellis. Maura is the goody-two-shoes and Kate is the partying train wreck and despite the fact that they clearly didn't do anything together as children they grew up the best of friends. But now their parents are going to sell their childhood home and so the two decide to throw one last "Ellis Island" party recapture their youth and get Maura a new man.  The comedy revolves around the somewhat tired trope of old people doing young people things. Because of this the movie really only survives on the strength of its two leading stars. As is par for the course Poehler and Fey turn it performances and chemistry that elevate the quality of the entire film. A lot of the jokes would just be flat out bad if you they weren't the ones delivering them, and the fact that they clearly act like sisters in real life makes it all the more fun to watch them joke around on screen. There's nothing special about the comedy here, but they make it work. The rest of the film is kind of perfunctory at best. The usual cast of SNL alum march out to deliver whatever comedy they've been assigned and most of the movie is taken up by the big party, during which a ludicrous amount of things go on. This includes the destruction and complete drywalling of an attic ceiling as if it was a ten minute project. I can suspend disbelief for most things, but as someone who has put up drywall this is just completely unbelievable. Thankfully it was followed up by a pretty hilarious scene where Ike Barinhotz gets a ballerina music box stuck where the sun don't shine. It's this really weird balance of Fey and Poehler's honest comedy and the far out slapstick that makes Sisters feel entirely unbalanced. At one point you're enjoying it thanks to the cast and at the next you're wondering how you accidentally started watching Grown Ups 2. That's not entirely fair. One shouldn't just throw around an insult like that. I went to far and I apologize. The point being that Sisters is a movie with some jokes that work and some jokes that don't. It features funny comedians who can take tepid content and turn it into something decent to good. You will laugh and you might even at some point feel something, despite the movie's insipid ending.  To conclude: this is a movie that is not Star Wars and there really isn't much more to say. 
Sisters Review photo
Movies that aren't Star Wars
For some reason someone out there thought that releasing a film the same week as Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a good idea. You can kind of see the logic in releasing Sisters this week, I suppose. The studio is h...

Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Dec 16 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220217:42739:0[/embed] Star Wars: The Force AwakensDirector: J.J. AbramsRated: PG-13Release Date: December 16, 2015 After the conclusion of Return of the Jedi Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has disappeared and no one knows where to find him (Sidenote: In the meta world of J.J. Abrams this plays right into Hamill's absence from all advertising). In his absence the dark side has begun to establish itself once again in the form of The First Order, which is basically the Empire reconstituted. They are led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a Sith lord in training and pupil of the Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Meanwhile the Resistance, commanded by General Leia (Carrie Fisher), is fighting back with the support of the Republic behind it. More importantly, though, on a small desert planet a map to Luke Skywalker ends up inside a droid called BB-8, who is subsequently found by a scavenger named Rey (Daisey Ridely). She is joined by a fleeing storm trooper named Finn (John Boyega) and a few other familiar faces as they try to get the map to the Resistance.  An adorable droid with a secret message found on a desert planet. A group of rag-tag rebels fighting against a militaristic empire. A dark lord in a black helmet. A young hero drawn into the fight through chance. Sound familiar? It should. You can simply pop in A New Hope and you'll have most of the plot for this one.  Much like J.J. Abrams did with Star Trek: Into Darkness he has taken a beloved movie and remade it for the fans. Almost everything is a throwback to the original movies, and only the original movies. It's very obvious that Abrams does not want anyone even remotely thinking about Episodes I-III. As such this is a giant film of fan service from throw away lines to cameos to plot to visuals. If it's a memorable moment from Episodes IV-VI it's probably somewhere in this movie. Whether you consider that a good thing or not is up to you, for this fan it was awesome, despite some concern that we're just seeing a bit of misguided fan placation like Into Darkness. Last week Lucas let slip his opinion of the film and he said that the fans would love it. It's easy to see why that's his opinion. The movie doesn't really break new ground, which is probably its most disappointing aspect. It definitely has plenty of twists and surprises for fans, but this isn't really a universe expanding premise. It feels more like a reset. The Force Awakens is the palette cleanser that's wrapping up everything with its nods to the old guard and its introduction to the new. Hopefully, it's the new that's going to stick around. The best part of the film are our two new heroes and villain, Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren, respectively. While old faces showing up is fun and all, it's these three newcomers who breath life into the movie. It's these characters that change the movie from a bunch of fan service into something genuine and good -- something that feels like Star Wars. They are us on screen: awed by the legends they're walking with, cowed by the power they have, and establishing a new struggle between dark and light. If these are the characters we'll be joining on this new journey then we're in good hands. With Abrams sticking around we'll be in good directing hands as well. To start, someone talked with him about lens flares and despite all the opportunities that lightsabers offer for such an effect he is impressively restrained with their use. This applies to his entire style for the film, which feels closer to the gritty-ness of the original trilogy than the high gloss of the second set. You'll also be happy to hear that Lucas' stilted dialog and wooden characters are gone. The screenplay is charming and witty and without any Jar Jar Binks type antics. While the plot relies on what can only be described as a Death-Star-sized McGuffin in a space opera such as this that's exactly how it should be. Abrams also isn't going to pull any punches. He's got this franchise in his hands and it's very clear from this movie that he's going to do whatever he wants with it. Thankfully what he wants to do is make you love it again.  That is probably most evident in the fact that actual star wars occur in this Star Wars. The action is superb and creates that sense of wonder you felt watching the original trilogy's outerspace dog fights. It makes you think back to the awe you felt watching the final attack on the Death Star in A New Hope. Part of that might be the fact that much of the direction steals directly from that film, but if you're going to "pay homage" might as well go all out. It's also ironic that it's the old school special effects (actual droids, no CGI when not needed) that make the film look even better. This franchise got its legs thanks to its advanced real-world special effects, and it's finding them again by going back to them. All this said, The Force Awakens is definitely only the beginning of something, and it can feel like that. There is a lot of necessary exposition that takes place to catch folks up. Abrams does his best to make you miss it, but it starts to stand out by the end. The film is also carrying the duty of establishing a new universe after Disney wiped the entire expanded universe from canon. They're doing a lot in this one film and it can make the movie feel a little heavy handed. Then again subtlety was never the franchise's strong point. This is the beginning of something, however. It's a farewell to the old guard and a welcome to the new. As such it's hard to begrudge the film its plethora of callbacks, repeated plot line and heavy exposition. These things are necessary to pull off what is needed in order to make new Star Wars movies that can stand on their own and don't alienate the fans, who already got burned once. This is a movie that honors what came, but leads into what is to come. Hopefully, when Episode VIII rolls around it can truly be its own thing.
Star Wars photo
This is the Star Wars you're looking for
Sixteen years ago Star Wars returned, but it wasn't the return we were all hoping for. It was the return George Lucas wanted, which turned out to be not so good. Fans had constructed decades worth of universe and build up in ...

Non-Review: The World of Kanako

Dec 04 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
The World of KanakoDirector: Tetsuya NakashimaRelease Date: December 4th, 2015Country: Japan  The first time someone got raped in The World of Kanako, I knew I wasn't going to like the movie. I've written about rape too many goddamn times, and I'm not going to go into another tirade on the subject. I knew when the first rape happened (one committed by the protagonist, no less) that this was not a movie I was going to like. But I kept watching. The second time, the film lost me. I didn't "forgive" the first one, but there's something kind of magnetic about Kanako. I wanted to forgive it because of that magnetism. But the second rape is more horrific than the first, both visually and contextually. It's also one that drives the rest of the narrative forward. In that sense, it's "important" in a way the first rape is not. On some level that makes it "okay." But on every other level? Nope. The third time, that dislike turned to hate. I had been waffling on whether or not I "hated" the film for a while leading up to that moment. I was thinking I probably did, but I didn't feel the passion. Some part of me really wanted to like the film, for reasons I don't fully understand. But the third rape clinched it. The passion was ignited. "Fuck this movie," I thought. But I kept watching. So I could write this review. Or, I guess this non-review. Because there's no score at the end. Only regrets.  I spent a lot of The World of Kanako thinking about other movies and my reactions to those movies. I also thought about other peoples' reactions to those movies. I thought about Lesson of the Evil, a film which Fangoria's Michael Gingold found morally abhorrent. He hated it. I kinda liked it. I understood where he was coming from, though. The content is such that it's an easy movie to hate (in America especially (and now especially especially)). But there was something about Takashi Miike's style that just won me over. I didn't like the fact that I kinda liked a movie about massacring school children, but I couldn't deny just how well-crafted the film was. My technical appreciation overrode my conceptual disgust. The World of Kanako is also very well made. It's fascinating, structurally. I think I would need to watch it at least seven times to truly understand what I saw, because the jumping timelines and differing viewpoints and legitimately schizophrenic protagonist all serve to make a film that is a mindfuck at best, possibly completely opaque. It's pretty, and though the editing is exhausting, I can't deny its style. There's a flair to the whole production that I wanted to love, but here the content . It wasn't just the rape, either, though that certainly factored into it heavily. The characters across the board are terrible, and though that's kinda the point, it doesn't mean I have to like it. I don't have to bring myself down to the film's level to judge it. I can sit on my high horse and simply toss it aside. I thought about Hard Romanticker, a film I also hated. I opened that review by comparing it to a much older film called The Cruel Story of Youth . The final line of the intro to that review: "I hated The Cruel Story of Youth." (I guess things haven't changed much in the past three and a half years.) But the reason I thought about Hard Romanticker wasn't because I hated it; it was because other people really liked it. I couldn't understand why. I still can't. I think it's an objectively bad movie about bad characters doing bad things. It's irredeemable. But people liked it. Maybe they were drawn to its irredeemability. I don't know. Likewise, there will be people who like The World of Kanako. Maybe they'll be drawn into it the way I was with Lesson of the Evil. Maybe they're the same people who like Hard Romanticker. I don't know. I guess I can see the allure, but I can't see how they aren't repulsed. I thought about a lot of movies for a lot of reasons, most of them Japanese. This film is very Japanese, for better and for worse. Oftentimes I like that. Sometimes I love it. And sometimes I hate it. Sometimes the cultural divide is too big, and I can't even be bothered to try to bridge it. This is one of those times. I could go on... but I don't see the point. The things it does well (and it does do some things well) don't matter. It's almost like The World of Kanako wants to be hated. Mission accomplished.
The World of Kanako photo
Cool story, bro.
I haven't hated a movie in a very long time. It's happened (oh it has happened), but it takes a certain special something to bring me over from annoyance or general dislike into sheer, visceral hatred.  The World of Kanako has that special something. It has it in spades. It is a film that cannot really be considered "bad." But it can absolutely be considered The Worst.

BvS photo
You can basically skip the movie
The first Batman v. Superman trailer was fantastic. It raised a lot of tension, but kept the film's plot a mystery. It drove curiosity and interest. This new trailer for the film is the exact opposite. Revealing almost e...

Review: The 33

Nov 13 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220135:42699:0[/embed] The 33Director: Patricia RiggenRated: PG-13Release Date: November 13, 2015 What is this story we're talking about? Back in 2010 33 Chilean miners got trapped when a very large chunk of rock collapsed the mine they were working in. Against all odds, and while the entire world watched, the 33 were eventually rescued. This is ostensibly their story of survival, but it's also the story of how they were rescued. It is a plot so full of happiness, wonder and cliche that if it weren't for the fact that it actually happened you'd be reading a review about how the film was too unbelievable.  To be sure The 33 probably plays it a little loose with events and characters. While the miners themselves, led by Mario Sepúlveda (Antonio Banderas) and Don Lucho (Lou Diamond Phillips), are treated pretty well their above ground counterparts get a lot of fluffing. Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro), Chile's minister of mining, gets a very flattering coat of paint with the casting of a ridiculously good looking actor and the insertion of hints of romance with one of the miner's sisters. Luckily the plot line never bores out, but it speaks to just how rote the film can be. The movie hits every survival plot point it can with the emotional gusto you expect, but nothing actually special. This is especially true in the latter half of the film. While the miners are struggling to survive and the rescuers are desperately drilling down to them the film is actually surprisingly tense. Riggen does a fantastic job of developing the 33 as people and a group. The stress of being trapped in the mine is reflected and paralleled with the desperate attempts to rescue the miners. A particularly good scene brings the miners into the realm of fantasy as they eat their last supper around a long wooden table. The heavy hints of what faith means to these men reflected in the visuals of the scene. Riggen may get a bit heavy handed with her visual metaphors for faith, but she plays them well. Unfortunately the moment the drill pierces the cave it all seems to get lost. The screenplay jumps from subtle character study, to obvious social commentary as the miners become international sensations and a miniature revolution starts to occur. The moment the focus is taken off the minors and put onto the rescue the film jumps into cliche and begins to hamper everything that was built in the first half. Riggens visuals fall away as the screenplay struggles to keep the miners relevant for the months they must wait for rescue. Once survival is not longer the driving factor it seems the movie doesn't know what to do with them. It definitely grinds the performances to a halt as well. Banderas is powerful as Mario in the first half of the movie, lacing a relentless force into his performance while Phillips plays behind him, worn and afraid. I was seriously leaning towards Oscar thoughts as I watched Banderas rally the miners in the key survival speech, but as his character devolves into the film's representation for the corruption of the outside world (before, of course, redeeming himself quickly) his performance suffers. We lose the connection to the miners as the plot opens up and in turn lose the connection to the performances. What's most tragic is that The 33 never confronts anything. At the end of the film text points out that the mining company was never punished and the miners never got an retribution from them. However, the movie never really addresses this situation it's so focused on being triumphant for its last half. It hits its dramatic points just fine, but never pushes to the next level where were allowed to talk about what happened. This movie should never need to be made, but instead of looking into that fact when it has the chance it instead revels in its glorious rescue. It's a great rescue story for sure, but The 33 could have been more. 
The 33 Review photo
How do you say 'meh' in Spanish?
You could mess up the story of The 33 I suppose. It would be hard, but not impossible. You could get over melodramatic, but you'd have to try hard because the story its based on is damn melodramatic. You could screw up t...

Review: Spectre

Nov 06 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220108:42687:0[/embed] SpectreDirector: Sam MendesRated: PG-13Release Date: November 6, 2015  Spectre is relentlessly old school Bond for better or for worse. It harkens back to the tongue-in-cheek playfulness of Moore, the swagger of Connery and even a bit of the romance of Lazenby. This is all pretty interesting since the Craig era of Bond has been marked pointedly by a intentional move away from such things as site gags and gadgets. The return to this style of Bond is both jarring and reassuring, but what can easily be said is this is Craig's most Bond film, complying with all the stereotypes, tropes and action that one came to expect from Bond pre-Craig. It is repeatedly, and possibly a little overbearingly, wistful about Bond's past. Almost every scene could be considered a throwback or nod to older Bond films. Then again when you've got more than 50 years of cinematic history under your belt it's hard to avoid not paying homage, which is the nice way of saying copying. The plot is definitely a repeat. In fact, much like Moonraker after The Spy Who Loved Me, Spectre is the same general idea as Skyfall, but bigger and more ridiculous. We open with Bond pursuing some extra curricular assassination in Mexico City. Turns out he's hot on the trail of an evil organization, eventually revealed to be Spectre, who Bond must destroy in order to save the world from domination. Spectre is basically Quantum from the first two films, but now they're calling it Spectre because old Bond is back (and legal reasons). Much like Skyfall the villain has a personal connection with Bond, is obsessed with collecting information for power and is looking to overthrow MI6. Bond proceeds to jump from one action sequences in a stunning locale to another as the movie attempts to unfold a lackluster mystery and develop an even more confusing relationship between Bond and Mr. White's (remember him) daughter Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux). If you're one for logic, pacing and avoiding plot holes this Bond is not for you.  However, if you're one for fast cars, gadgets, one-liners, prolific actions sequences and a general sense of fun then strap in. This film is all style and no substance, but, man, does it have style. This is easily the most charming Craig's Bond has been, which isn't too difficult since the previous three films focused more on the man than the myth. The screenplay, full of the kind of one-liners and site gags that made Bond Bond, might fall through in many ways, but it gives Craig a chance to have a lot of fun. Thanks to the comments he's made after shooting the film it's hard to say if he actually enjoyed the process, but there are moments here that rival Connery in their flippant bravado including what might be the sexiest delivery of the line, "Bond, James Bond," ever spoken. He an Seydoux have fantastic chemistry on screen, and if they're taking the character the direction it seems they are then that's going to be incredibly important. The action is also easily Craig's best. Casino Royale barely had any as it was far more a character study, Quantum's was shoddily directed and Skyfall featured some amazing set pieces, but nothing that compares to the brutal fights and overblown action of Spectre. The opening sequence is a stunning helicopter battle that's an airborne take on the historic train fight from From Russia With Love. It opens the film with a bang, that is unfortunately followed by Sam Smith's disappointment of a song and an opening credits sequence that involves some tentacle porn and will illicit giggles. Get through that, however, and you're slam back into the action, which doesn't let up until the very end of the film's more than two-and-half hour running time. We're treated to what is easily some of the franchise's best action. Sam Mendes's direction is once again stunningly gorgeous and despite the departure of cinematographer Richard Deakins the movie is still one of Bond's most striking. Bond has never looked sharper, with Craig going through more outfit changes than a female Oscar host and Mendes doing everything in his power to make him look awesome. A perfectly tailored white dinner jacket (this is the latter) in a train ripped from the 50s lit like it's Casablanca pulls an entire scene together and makes you happy they went so old school this time around.  Unfortunately, when style isn't a factor things start to fall apart. This is especially true for the villains of the film who are universally wasted. Christoph Waltz's Hans Oberhauser spends the first half of the film in the shadows only to be revealed as a limp, uninteresting character who can barely muster up a convincing monomaniacal monologue. How can you so misuse Waltz as a Bond villain? It seems almost criminal in and of itself, and yet the character is flat and hampered with a plot line that doesn't just make his character worse, but the entire movie. The sad part is this specific piece of the story is almost entirely unnecessary, and seems to have been stuck into the movie simply to attempt to put some of Craig's Bond's "emotion" into the story. It doesn't work, and in turn detracts from where the true emotional focus should be between Bond, Swann and M -- the true character conflict of the film that gets totally lost in the movie's desperate attempts to offer up twists. Even the movie's henchman, another staple returning in true form for the first time in a Craig film, suffers from a lack of attention. Hinx (Dave Bautista) bursts on the scene showing off his metal thumbnails, giving off echoes of Jaws, and then is relegated to a large thug for the rest of the movie. It's a completely illogical choice, especially with such a charming guy as Bautista. Imagine if Oddjob simply threw his hat once in Goldfinger and the decided not to use it again. Hinx does just this and spends the rest of the film running after Bond in cars. Now, he is involved in a fantastic train fight, but he really could have been replaced by any brute. It's just another way Spectre wastes its potential to be a truly great Bond film. SPOILERS IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPHS I hate to write about spoilers for a movie most people haven't seen, but it plays such a large role in this movie and fails so badly that I must bring it up. You've probably guessed it by now anyway: Christoph Waltz plays Blofeld. The film treats this as if we're all supposed to be surprised, but they gave it away by naming the movie Spectre and so when the foot drops it lands with a dull thud. They may have known this as they attempt to pile on other plot twists from here on out to make up for it, but there are about a million different ways this could have played out better, especially if Waltz had decided to bring any life to his character. This all concludes in an ending that is flat and disconnected. In a film filled with prolific action sequences the movie ends with nothing. Instead of an epic take-down of the villain we're given a tepid gun shot that culminates more than two ours of action with no emotional punch. This is followed by a conclusion that feels confusing and out of character for Bond. That may be because the next film is going to bring back the Lea Sedoux character. If this is so it could make the ending work, but as it stands on its own it leaves an odd taste in one's mouth.  END SPOILERS It's also odd that in a film that is clearly obsessed with bringing Bond back to his roots that they ignore one of the most unique aspects of the franchise: it's almost complete disregard for continuity. Instead a ham-fisted attempt is made to connect Bond's last three adventures to this one. Much like Obenhauser's plot points it is generally not needed and only serves to convolute the story. The problem is this clearly wasn't intended from the start. Yes, Quantum may have been a big, evil organization that the filmmakers originally intended to develop, but after they ditched it in Skyfall their plot line fell apart. Now we get a forced conclusion to the story that tries to tie up loose ends as if Bond wasn't a film franchise that was built on completely ignoring whatever happened in the previous films. How many Bond girls have completely disappeared? How many villains are never mentioned again? Why force continuity on a movie that doesn't need it? The question becomes what do you want from your Bond film? If the hard reset we received when Craig took over the mantle was up your alley then this step back in time is going to seriously disappoint. If you've missed the days of ejection seats, gadget-filled cars and perfectly timed quips then Spectre is the Bond you've been waiting for. It's a return to form for Bond, but that form was never for everybody. In the pantheon of Bond films Spectre is definitely on the middle-high end, but in Craig's tenure it is an outlier filled with things that will either make you love it or hate it. The big problem is if you don't love the things its brought back then it's flaws are too great to get over. It's ramshackle plot and poor villains make it incredibly difficult to enjoy if you don't enjoy Bond. When I wrote my review of Casino Royale many years ago I noted that Bond's gun barrel opening had been changed, it was then shoved to the end of Quantum of Solace and again to the end of Skyfall. I noted that this was all well and good since these films were about Bond becoming Bond, but that eventually the gun barrel would have to return to the beginning of the film once the character had returned to has traditional ways. In Spectre the barrel is back at the beginning and Bond is definitely back to his old ways. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is entirely up to you. I think it's a great thing, but it could have been done in a better movie. 
Spectre Review photo
Bond is back, but is that good?
When Skyfall landed James Bond rose to a whole new level. We were treated to a Bond film that both embraced the new, hard edge of Daniel Craig's Bond, but paid homage to Bond's past as well. Unlike the dreadfully dour Qu...

Review: Jem and the Holograms

Oct 23 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220058:42666:0[/embed] Jem and the HologramsDirector: Jon M. ChuRated: PGRelease Date: October 23, 2015 What I want to believe is that Jem and the Holograms is really an incredibly smart meta film about our current culture and it's emotional immaturity caused by split second reactions on social media. I want to believe that so badly, but more likely it's just a incredibly sloppy screenplay and forced direction that takes what could have been a decent story and turns it into the worst mish-mash of story lines since the original Casino Royale (that film at least works as camp). We meet Jerrica (Aubrey Peeples), a painfully shy teenager, and her sisters: Kimber (Stefanie Scott), Shana (Aurora Perrineau) and Aja (Hayley Kiyoko). A musically talented group, they live with their mother (Molly Ringwald). When Jerrica records herself singing a song and Kimber uploads it to the Internet it goes viral overnight and big time record producer Erica Raymond (Julliette Lewis) steps in to sign Jerrica, now known as Jem, to a record deal. Of course becoming big and famous leads to terribly traumatic events over the next month (yes, only a month) and soon everything starts falling apart even though Jem is falling for the totally dreamy son of Erica, Rio (Ryan Guzman). Also, there's a toy robot that Jem's father made sending her on a secret quest. You know, because the plot wasn't random enough. At first glance one may think that the cliche plot and groan worthy moments -- such as the four girls and Rio kicking into a random sing along after committing a crime -- are intentional. The film makes heavy use of social media and maybe a commentary on the web's short attention span is why they've condensed the normal "band gets together/band falls apart" into only a month of time. Characters go from best friends to mortal enemies to apologizing to each other in the span of an hour. It is the most ludicrously paced and plotted film I've seen in a long while and I kept telling myself it had to be intentional; it had to be a social commentary of some sort. But it isn't because it never makes a point. Jem and her sisters never turn to the camera and admit they're just terrible people. The movie is just plain bad. The plot careens from one random occurrence to another attempting to show... something. Instead it just fulfills cliches. A bunch of privileged teenagers struggle with their inability to get along for a single month. One month! That's all it takes for Jem to fall apart at the hands of all the pressure she's feeling by being torn into two personas (Jem and Jerrica) and getting lots of money. It would be infuriating if it wasn't so laughable. Every time the movie even attempts to make an emotional connection between characters it feels feeble and pointless since Jem and her sister's emotions are about as stable as a table with uneven legs.  Maybe all that would have been OK for Jon M. Chu had directed the movie with any panache at all. Instead it feels like he's bored with it and just checking off every request from the studio for a movie that will appeal to teens. Instead of playing up the camp -- aside from a single (and fantastic) teaser at the end -- Chu takes his bi-polar characters far too seriously. More importantly, the man responsible for making dance movies fun with his stellar direction of dance numbers can't seem to direct his way through a single musical sequence in this film. The entire thing is sloppy and devoid of any tone. Chu could have at least put in a few scenes of the band working together or something to make it feel like times is passing, but instead he wastes the almost two hour (!) running time on repeating the same scene over and over. We get it. Jem and Jerrica are two different people. When a Saturday morning cartoon involving a woman literally projecting a different person on top of herself handles this metaphor better than you do then you've got serious problems. Throw in a strange plot line about Jem's father and the mystical robot Synergy, that was clearly just added to appeal to fans of the cartoon, and you've got a mess no director could piece together, but that Chu does a horrifically bad job of.  It's all too bad because somewhere in there is a movie that could have worked. The hints at camp are there during some of the more ridiculous parts, the musical numbers could have worked with a bit more effort, and with just a bit of ironing out and trimming down the film could have felt like something mattered. Chu even uses a neat trick by inter-cutting YouTube musician's music and videos into the movie as a sort of soundtrack. Unfortunately instead of being innovative it feels forced and tacky like the rest of the film. Eventually they even use YouTuber's videos talking about the influence of the Jem cartoon on them to make it appear they're talking about the life changing film Jem. Again, this all takes place over the matter of a month.  Jem and the Holograms is a mess. It's confusing and directionless and by trying to appeal to everyone appeals to no one. Somewhere, buried deep within this film, is a cult classic that cries to be let out right at the end, but was lost at some point between shoving in a robot mystery and forcing a creepy romance between a possibly underage teen and a college intern.   
Jem photo
Truly, truly outrageously terrible
I have memories of the 80s cartoon Jem and the Holograms. They aren't fond and they aren't bad, they just are. A movie based on the show didn't really get me excited in that way that most nostalgia does, but I could see how i...

Review: Crimson Peak

Oct 16 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219445:42381:0[/embed] Crimson PeakDirector: Guillermo del ToroRelease Date: October 16, 2015Rating: R  Here is a brief synopsis of the movie I thought I was going to see: Blonde girl falls in love with Tom Hiddleston (and, I mean, who wouldn't?), who lives in a creepy haunted house with creepy ghosts. All kinds of strange things happen, and ultimately we find out that Tom Hiddleston and his creepy sister are actually dead/supposed to be dead but is being kept alive by this house and are confined by these ghosts or something. Terror ensues and probably bloodshed also. Based on the way the trailer is edited, all of this is crystal clear. Spoiler alert. Nope.  I got a few things right: blonde girl, Tom Hiddleston, creepy ghosts, bloodshed. So... the imagery. I was able to see those four things and think, "Yes. I recognize that." But the actual narrative? Not even close. And I tell you all of this because there's a fairly decent chance you are expecting the same thing. And even if you weren't expecting that, you were likely expecting a scary ghost story about scary ghosts. And once again you will be wrong. Because it's not a ghost story. It's a story with ghosts in it.  It's kinda funny, really, because something like ten minutes in, Crimson Peak tells you exactly what it's going to be. You see, Edith is a would-be novelist. She says that she wants to be the next Mary Shelley. She shows her manuscript to someone, who asks about the ghosts. She says it's not a ghost story; it's a story with ghosts; the ghosts are a metaphor. He tells her it needs a love story. And so that's what we really get: a love story with ghosts that are a metaphor. If that sounds good to you, then you may well enjoy Crimson Peak. If it doesn't, you should skip it. I found myself somewhere in between. The narrative is pretty flat and the characters kinda bland, but I will admit that there was an upside to the false marketing: I legitimately didn't know what was coming next. The reality is both more and less interesting than what I was expecting, but the surprise in and of itself is... something. It's certainly not amazing, but it's something. It's worth noting here that the audience laughed a number of times during my screening. At least a half dozen moments elicited not just one or two chuckles but actual laughter. I've discussed this with a couple of others who've seen it, and though some people think those laughs were intentional I don't. If I had been watching it on my own, I would have laughed... once? It was all very serious, even things that were fairly easy to laugh at. There's no humor in the whole thing, and while that can be funny in and of itself, there's no hint here that it's anything but serious. It's just drama all the damn time. It's hard to know actual intent without asking, but I'll say this: If it was supposed to be funny, it half-succeeded at best. You need to surrender to the melodrama. Or, you can just pay attention to the visuals. Because while I can rip apart the film's concept and execution, its production design is unimpeachable. This is a gorgeous movie through and through (with the exception of a single outdoor scene early on in a sunny park that has some seriously weird coloring choices; also, some of the ghosts are a bit too CG for my liking). As soon as they reach Crimson Peak itself, you're in for nothing but amazing visual after amazing visual. And it's really this that kept the film going for me. I was lukewarm at best on pretty much everything that the film contains, but holy cow do I love the way it looks. That adds at least 10 points to my final score and brings it from a "meh" to "ya know, consider it." Just be sure to temper your expectations.
Crimson Peak Review photo
Great Expectations
The best piece of advice I ever got about writing film criticism was this: "Don't write about what the film isn't." Going for long tangents about What Could Have Been doesn't do any of us any good. Let's talk about what the f...


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