Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Shack (2017) Review:

Every day, the average person finds themselves working to do the right things. Whether this be for others, themselves or in other places, it feels good to do them. It brings closure and gratification to the doer knowing that someone else will feel good too. But in life, not every waking moment is filled with joy and happiness. Sadness and tragedy is also a part of this cycle and sometimes it happens to people who are not deserving of such horrible acts. For those who believe in a higher power, this becomes quite the challenge for the religious. So many questions begin to flood the individuals mind asking why and how come. The problem is, the more one thinks about it, the more consumed they can become. This is similar to what happens here.

"Why am I back here again....."
The plot is about Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington), a loving husband and father of three children. One weekend in the summer he goes on vacation with his family, only to not pay attention during a certain moment to have his youngest daughter Missy (Amélie Eve) kidnapped. Sadly when she is found in shack, the worst of his nightmares came true. Sometime later, he receives a mysterious letter inviting him back to the shack. Wanting to take matters into his own hands, he sets off. When he arrives, he realizes he's come to meet God and thus begins his journey of self enlightenment. Based on the book written by William P. Young, the script adapted by John Fusco, Andrew Lanham and Destin Daniel Cretton makes good use of its character development on Mack. The direction was headed by Stuart Hazeldine, who had only lead Exam (2009), which was more of a thriller. For this he does a decent job.

Throughout the running time, Mack goes through many ups and downs while talking with his creator. Questions that many ordinary people would ask themselves too. Why must bad things happen to innocent people? What was the point? Why do bad people get away with good things? As time passes Mack begins to learn the answers to his questions and realizes certain things he never thought were possible. He also discovers things about himself and how that affects his wife Nan (Radha Mitchell), his son Josh (Gage Munroe) and daughter Kate (Megan Charpentier). How Mack interacts with the higher entity is also done in a unique way. Instead of just having God present himself as an all powerful being, he gets split into four different people. Octavia Spencer plays papa, the nickname Mack gave his god, Avraham Aviv Alush plays Jesus and Sumire is Sarayu. These three more or less are a reflection of Christianity's holy trinity. Then there's Alice Braga who is the personification of Wisdom and also has lesson to teach.

There's even an appearance from Graham Greene as another character portrayal of papa when Mack hits an even harder roadblock. Tim McGraw is also cast as one of Mack's closest friends. For all the actors involved, they all perform very well. For those who believe in a higher power, this film may even give insight to those who wonder themselves. The emotion looks authentic and the feeling of loss is relatable. If anything, Sam Worthington still can't seem to get rid of his English accent every now and then. He's convincing most of the time, but every so often his original accent slips out. However even with all these positives, the film still has moments that are off putting. For one, the idea that God is always happy and believes even he does no wrong. It seems almost too sure of oneself. Almost arrogant sounding and in some scenes. It just doesn't sound right.

The other problem is expected Christian movie clichés. Some are just so blatantly foreshadowed, it can be quite obnoxious. It's understandable that something's are supposed to be emotional and heartfelt, but then there are points where it begs the question why must a story always try to lead it's audience to a sense of false security. Just stop it already. Aside from this though, the music and camerawork were well executed for this production. Declan Quinn as the cinematographer to this movie had a number of captivating scenes that had beautiful scenery. Having experience in other coming of age movies like This Is My Father (1998), In America (2002) and Ricki and the Flash (2015), Quinn has an eye for getting the right shot. Areas like the shack, where Mack meets God or even being at home is visually pleasing. The music is also on the same level with Aaron Zigman composing the score. Utilizing as much piano as possible, many of the key strokes used are grounded and touching. Since this isn't really a franchise it's not expected to have a main theme really.

This movie may seem rather heavy at first, but the overall message to the story is interesting enough to at least have viewers listen. While it does have some strange moments about God in general and the usual Christian genre clichés, the main cast perform well. The characters develop nicely, the camerawork is pretty and the music is effective.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Odd Couple II (1998) Review:

Prior to the start of the 21rst century, movie franchises that had sequels were more or less on time with their releases. Other sets of movies were created not long after. This was due to movie studios finding it to be profitable and producing a sequel almost every year. Whether or not they actually were of good quality is a separate matter. The point is, sequels came in a rather systematic fashion. Rarely were sequels made years later except for some. A very mainstream movie series that has quite a number of years in between its entries was James Cameron's The Terminator (1984) film. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) came several years later and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) was even longer still. However the longest awaited sequel ever to be made might in fact be this movie since its predecessor goes back three decades!

Can't seem to cut a break huh?
The Odd Couple (1968) was based on a play written by Neil Simon. This story would then also receive a TV show adaptation. But as for this sequel, the script was also written by Neil Simon but was completely original. Nothing had been written before as to what would happen if the two main odd balls would reunite. For this film, it just so happens that the daughter of Felix Unger (Jack Lemmon) and son of Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau) are getting married. When Oscar and Felix cross paths, the madness begins. The question is, will they reach the wedding in time? For being a sequel that came far after its original, the play out to this feature is not as bad as one might think. Heading the production was Howard Deutch. He's mainly known for directing TV shows now. Deutch also worked with Matthau and Lemmon in Grumpier Old Men (1995).

What does work here are the two stars and thankfully much of the supporting cast. Even for thirty years later Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau are great at reprising their all time famous roles. Lemmon still plays Felix as about as stressed as ever, while Matthau plays Oscar just as relaxed and out of touch as well. Both still have the same likable chemistry and great wisecracks towards each other. The next actor to have some funny scenes is Richard Riehle the local sheriff. As Oscar and Felix try to reach their family's wedding, they continuously run into Riehle's character. Seeing his reaction every time after the first gets more comical. As for the couple getting married, Brucey (Jonathan Silverman) and Hannah (Lisa Waltz) are both okay in their roles but they really don't have a lot of shine time.

The parts that aren't effective in the story deal a lot with how the script was written. The plus side is that Neil Simon takes the scenario between the iconic duo and shows the audience what happens when these two are let out of their cages. Yet somehow there's a lack of witty dialog among the whole running time. Matthau and Lemmon are wonderful no doubt, but they can't work alone. Part of what made The Odd Couple (1968) funny was the funny supporting cast. Aside from Riehle, there's not many other actors to find hilarious. On top of that, there a couple of scenes that have the two leads dropping the "F" bomb. The original movie did not use that word at all and it was still hilarious. So what was the point of using it now? Lastly there's a brief subplot that comes up out of nowhere and is quickly settled, so again, why bring it up to begin with?

Jonathan Silverman
But aside from this there are appearances from other actors like Mary Beth Peil, Christine Baranski, Jean Smart, Rex Linn, Jay O. Sanders and even Earl Boen. For camerawork, the shots captured are decent for the picture. Credited as cinematographer was Jamie Anderson. Unlike the original where much of the settings took place in the apartment, now the whole adventure takes place outside and there's lots to see. Anderson was also the DP to movies like Piranha (1978), Unlawful Entry (1992) and Small Soldiers (1998) that same year. Lastly, bringing forth the music was composer Alan Silvestri. Being known for all kinds of scores Silvestri did a great job revisiting the famous main theme from the original and it is repeated quite often in full orchestra. A job well done.

While the script may suffer from unnecessary add ins and occasionally less energetic dialog, the rest of the viewing experience is still enjoyable. Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon remain the highlight of the feature, with great exchanges, acceptable cinematography and respectable music.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Thomas & Friends: Hero of the Rails (2009) Review:

The year 2009 was a big year for the Thomas & Friends franchise. After the failure of Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000), a transformation began to occur to the series that would change the show forever. Creative consultants began to retire from their roles and new ones took their places. On top of that the rights to the show transferred to different hands, leading to new ideas being added. Still though, live-action physical models were being used, that is until the 12th season when CGI faces were added to the models. This was a big sign to those watching that the show, it was headed in a direction many thought would not happen. But by the time the 13th season rolled around, Thomas & Friends had been fully converted to CGI with the release of this home video special.

"What up Spence!?"
Even more surprising was that the director to the special was Greg Tiernan. Prior to this Tiernan had only worked as unit director and not much else. He would later go on to direct the adult animated film Sausage Party (2016). The exact opposite of Thomas & Friends' demographic. Aside from this the story to adventure has Thomas and his friends going about work as usual until Spencer the fast silver engine arrives on Sodor. According to Spencer, the Duke of Boxford is having a summer house built and will be around all summer. This means being harassed by Spencer nonstop wherever he goes. Thomas becomes fed up and races Spencer only to discover in the process another engine by the name of Hiro, abandoned long ago in the brush. Hoping to help Hero, it's up to Thomas and his friends to help put Hiro back together.

With a script written completely by Sharon Miller, the story itself isn't the smartest but also isn't the laziest either. Being that she's written screenplays before for this franchise, it's acceptable to a point. The biggest issue this story has is trying to cram in a bunch of different characters by only giving them a few lines. Toby, one of the oldest characters in the show has one line of dialog; impressive. However what will lessen this burden is hearing all the unique voices all the engines have now. Prior to this, every story was told by the narrator only. Now the narrator talks along with the engines having their own voices. Both Michael Angelis and Michael Brandon act as the narrator respectively while the rest is performed by other voice actors.

As for them, there really isn't an actor who out performs the other because they all do well. For the US dub, Martin Sherman voices Thomas and Percy and he sounds youthful enough for it. Jules de Jongh voices Emily and Mavis. William Hope voices Edward, Toby, Rocky and the Duke of Boxford. Kerry Shale voices Henry, Gordon, James and Sir Topham Hatt. Voicing Spencer is Glenn Wrage. Finally voicing Hiro, the new main character is Togo Igawa. All of which give their roles life and something unique to hear. The animation was also quite the departure from past features. Being that everything has been converted to CGI, several iconic places have also been transferred over. Much of it is well done when taking it all in.

Thomas & Hiro
There is a new area to be featured though and that's the Sodor Steamworks lead by two new characters. Kevin the crane (Kerry Shale) and Victor (David Bedella). Other places like Tidmouth Sheds, Knapford Station, Gordon's Hill, and Brendam Docks are remarkably kept intact. It is a bit jarring at first though because no longer are the sets physically limited. Now the locations can be expanded to have many layers of colors, textures and the scope can expand far beyond any physical set. Those will be missed but seeing how much detail is put into these settings is still respectable. Acting as animation supervisor was Jeff Bailey who had held similar positions prior to this production. Music was thankfully well composed with Robert Hartshorne continuing to score the franchise. The unfortunate part is that the music is no longer a large center piece to the overall picture. Much of it seems to be over shadowed by sound effects and other things. With that there isn't any new character themes to hear except for a the second original theme song. Lastly there's one pop song called "Go Go, Thomas!" at the end, which is fun to listen to. Aside from this not much else.

With the newest transition of the show moving from practical effects to CGI, the conversion is pretty good. The characters, sets and animation is rendered well. The voice actors for their respective dubs are also performed competently. Writing is slightly above average with an okay story even though it tends to leave some main characters in the background. The saddest part is the lack of iconic music that was once so profound in its presence, no longer at the forefront.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Thomas & Friends: The Great Discovery - The Movie (2008) Review:

Once Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000) failed to make a lasting impression in theaters, HIT Entertainment, who recently acquired the rights to the show made their first experimental special in 2005. Thomas & Friends: Call All Engines! (2005) was a trial run for the studio to see if whether or not home video release movies would be profitable or not for the show. As time went on though, it was decided that the show would enter the realm of CGI and leave the practical sets and models behind. Entering the start of season 12 was the beginning of this next experiment where CGI was mixed with live-action. However HIT Entertainment released one more home video special. This would be their last special completely filmed with live-action models. And for what they were able to make, it is not vastly stronger by comparison to Thomas & Friends: Calling All Engines! (2005), but the studio did make several improvements. This shows that they're listening to the people who watch the show.

Thomas discovers some crazy stuff
Making this particular feature all the more unique was the inclusion of James Bond star Pierce Brosnan to narrate the story. At one point Brosnan was going to be the narrator to replace Michael Brandon and Michael Angelis respectively. However when HIT Entertainment moved fully to CGI production, his status was changed to temporary. The story for this special is about how Thomas ends up discovering the town of Great Waterton. An area on Sodor that had been lost to the ages. However with Thomas discovering it, Sir Topham Hatt gave him full reign over the reconstruction of it. Hatt also brought on Stanley to help out, a new tank engine that the rest of the engines found a liking too. This unfortunately causes Thomas to feel threatened. As an overall story, this kind of plot isn't unheard of. Nor is the story of Thomas feeling no longer like the number one engine that uncommon either. But being that this was Thomas' final adventure in physical model form, it's apparent the film crew wanted as much as possible.

The script to this special was written by Sharon Miller, a frequent collaborator with the franchise that would end up annoying many fans. Right now though, the work she completed here is harmless by comparison to her future work. The story may be somewhat cliche in certain areas but it isn't horrendous. This was also her real first feature credit. Directing again was given to Steve Asquith, which at this point was the most trusted hands that could and should handle the execution. So here's what has improved since Thomas & Friends: Calling All Engines! (2005). Remember those learning segments placed in almost every major scene in said special? Well no longer! There are none of that here and that's great. Many of those learning segments contained no value and felt more like filler just to complete the hour. This special shows things like that are not a necessity. Making things even better was the wider use of all the characters introduced into the Thomas & Friends show so far.

In this entry, not only the main eight steam engines (the steam team) are used, but several other minor characters. Narrow gauge engines that belong to Mr. Percival are also featured as well as the Jack the Sodor Construction company. The set of characters that were to start the spin-off series, but would end being canceled. As for Thomas feeling threatened about the newcomer engine Stanley, that's understandable to some degree. The thing is though, Stanley never came across with bad intentions to begin with. So it's odd Thomas would make such an assumption without trying to further judge Stanley. Guess that's what happens when you're the number one for so long. These are easy misunderstandings but they are ones treated to the extreme. The real drawbacks to this film though are some real obvious things. That being the lack physical limitations. There's a derailment that occurs where an engine flips off the tracks. This is done so to not frighten little viewers but most trains are unusable after a full rollover.

Stanley (far right)
The other is the use of flimsy bridges and engines jumping gaps. These kinds of things are to make the adventure exciting but this just feels improbable. A thinly constructed bridge will not hold a heavy metal tank engine. However, this does not take away from the set pieces used. Several sets and miniatures used within the running time are full of detail and make the visuals that much more realistic. There's also a collapse of a giant metal truss bridge and it looks awesome. Brosnan's narration of the story is also unique. He's like no other. His vocals are much smoother by comparison to anyone else and it works well. It's sad he didn't go further as the narrator. For music, the score and sing-along was composed by only Robert Hartshorne this time and not with Ed Welch. Everything there is done really well. The best of the songs are probably "Jobs a Plenty" and "Where oh Where is Thomas". Oddly enough the ending also includes a rap/pop song for Thomas. It's not bad but feels definitely like a fish out of water.

For the show's final special filmed in live-action, the plot itself isn't exactly the most unique. Also some scenes feel like the physics behind it aren't true. Yet with catchy songs, the use of as many characters as possible and having Pierce Brosnan narrate helps make this adequate to watch.

Points Earned -->7:10

Friday, January 26, 2018

Hush (2016) Review:

Throughout history, there have been all kinds of stories dealing with mysterious killers. Some of which still have not been named or captured and have lived in infamy for their obscene crimes. For horror films, the horror genre has made use of these stories to give viewers a better understanding how things went down. Whether certain liberties were taken with the material varies, but it's how the film makes the viewers feel after coming out is what matters. Several horror films rely more on gore and violence when really a movie with the exact opposite in traits can be just as terrifying. This is exactly what happens in this movie, which at first felt like it was going to be a by the numbers killing type horror film, when really, it wasn't at all. Prepare to feel the most restrained you've ever felt in some time.

The story to this killer thriller is about Maddie (Kate Siegel), an author of a popular book. Hoping to strike gold and create another great novel, she continues to write in her home on her own. What may not be evident is the fact that she is mute and deaf. The only way she communicates is through sign language and mouthing words. She has a few friends but none that live with her on a constant basis. Unfortunately for her, a stalker (John Gallagher Jr.) discovers her house and realizes she has these disabilities. With that said he decides it would be great to slowly mentally torture her. Written and directed Mike Flanagan, this movie is one of the more taught ones shown in a while. Since much of the story revolves around these two, the development only happens here. Much of it is placed on Maddie, who goes through several strategies on how to escape the evil that has fallen on her.

The weakest link is actually the killer because nothing is really explained about him. The character name is just called "the man", and that's fine. Not every psycho has to have a name, it makes it all the more creepy. However, having no reason for the motivation of killing is something else. This is exactly the problem with Gallagher's role. He has no rationale as to why he's doing what he's doing. That doesn't mean he has to have a connection to Siegel's character either. But there must be something that is making this guy do what he's doing. Yet this part is overshadowed as to just how creative the heroine lead becomes when she realizes she's starting to run out of options. That's where things become so white-knuckled, it becomes too difficult to just sit and watch. Some viewers may feel the need to retroactively try and yell recommendations to the screen. As if the individuals on screen could hear.

Kate Siegel as Maddie does a great job. She truly makes a viewer believe everything she goes through. And as cliché as it is to have a female lead in a horror film, she deserves this one. Siegel has been in other productions prior but this would be her breakout role. It's truly impressive to watch this film unfold because of how well it was directed. Normally writer directors have tough times producing adequate films because the task of doing both isn't easy. However being that this was a small production, this might've lessened the burden. Flanagan was also the director to movies like Oculus (2013), Before I Wake (2016), Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016) and Gerald's Game (2017). Being that these movies have all had mainly positive praise, this shows Flanagan has a knack for the genre. This goes hand in hand with the tension delivered. Much of the execution remains silent to make the viewer feel like Maddie, which helps a lot. In some ways it reminisces to that of James Wan's Dead Silence (2007).

"The Man" killer
Camerawork was well put together too. James Kniest was the director of photography to this feature. Even though the overall setting changes very little, Kniest manages to find ways of showing every inch and crack of the house Maddie lives in. Kniest worked on other movies like Annabelle (2014), Within (2016) and The Bye Bye Man (2017). Adding to that is the violence that occurs throughout the running time. There's not a lot of gore, but what is shown still can get pretty gnarly. Some of it can really make a viewer cringe. Sadly this could also be said for film score. Composed by a duo who go by the Newton Brothers, the music to this movie isn't that impressive. It is understandable as to why it isn't heard much, but when it is used, it's not ultimately that complex. Thankfully it has no jump stings, but the organics of it does not blend with the visuals and comes off rather forgettable. Even if they worked with director Flanagan before.

While the music and antagonist motives are not that well rounded, the rest of this thriller is tense in its structure. The two main actors work their parts well, the cinematography is engaging and the whole situation presented to the audience reminds us just how vulnerable we all can be alone at home.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Odd Couple (1968) Review:

Not every pairing is a perfect match. Everyone has their idiosyncrasies that only suits them. It's this part of living with someone else, one must learn to accept those differences. There's a give and take when it comes to these kinds of set ups. During the mid 20th century and before, married folks were under much more pressure to maintain their vows. If a divorce occurred, it was frowned upon, so many stuck it out. However, if one partner did leave the other, sometimes it was never brought to light. As time has progressed though, the notion of marriages not lasting forever isn't as uncommon. But would any of the separated ones hang out with another person from another divorce? Well look no further than to Neal Simon's film adaptation of one of his famous plays. Best known for putting the show on Broadway, Simon took it to the next step by writing a screenplay for the film.

"Smile at the camera Oscar..."
The story follows two men divorced by their wives that find some level of compensation through each others' tendencies. Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau) is a slob who can't get his act together for anything, especially maintaining any sort of common cleanliness. Felix Ungar (Jack Lemmon) is the exact opposite. He finds keeping things neat and tidy something that's fulfilling. However, Ungar took it to the extreme; finding almost EVERYTHING not to his liking because it was no according to his level of order. Yet somehow the two boneheads manage to make it work, at first. Until they start to realize how polarizing their preferences are, that's when things go bananas. And for what's shown, the execution is well done thanks to director Gene Saks. He may have not directed that many films in his lifetime, but he did helm Barefoot in the Park (1967), Cactus Flower (1969) and Brighton Beach Memoirs (1986).

There's a great mix of comedic timing and writing handled by the actors and Simon's writing. Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau are a funny duo in this feature film. Lemmon perfectly drives up the hypochondriac scale past its peak, making cleaning and timeliness feel way more important than it should be. While Matthau distorts any sort of reality by feeding his guests with varying color assorted sandwiches. But of these two, the actor who steals the show was Matthau. His comedic talent shines through with some of the most hilarious lines ever spoken. And though what's said at times may not make sense immediately, the reasoning can be validated. There's also appearances from Herb Edelman, John Fiedler, David Sheiner, and Larry Haines, who play Oscar and Felix's gambling buddies. They two have their funny moments. One of the greater interactions however performed between Matthau and Lemmon were with Monica Evans and Carole Shelley.

These two actress really nailed their skills in sounding like sisters. Their giggles and reactions to either Matthau's and Lemmon's lines or themselves is well articulated and timed. Walter Matthau was known for several films like JFK (1991) and Grumpy Old Men (1993). Jack Lemmon is best known for other films too like The Great Race (1965), Airport '77 (1977), Short Cuts (1993) and Hamlet (1996). Both would also star in The Odd Couple II (1998). John Fiedler was best known for playing Piglet in all the Winnie the Pooh related films up until his passing in 2005. Herb Edelman was mainly a TV actor in shows like The Golden Girls and The Love Boat. The same could said for David Sheiner and Larry Haines. For Monica Evans, her career would not go much further but she would still voice Abigail from Disney's The Aristocats (1970) and Maid Marian from Robin Hood (1973). Carole Shelley also voiced characters in those two films but also voiced Lachesis from Hercules (1997).

Felix and Oscar's gambling buddies
The only component to not really come out looking unique was the camerawork. Provided by Robert B. Hauser, the cinematography is adequate for the movie. The problem is that it just doesn't have a real iconic setting. Sure, Oscar Madison's apartment is one of the more well known places to be featured in a movie, but it's just an apartment. The camera lens is wide enough to take all of the den and then some. Yet the audience only gets a good view of that, the kitchen and the main hallway. There's a bunch of other rooms but they're not explored that much either. Hauser also filmed for The Sweet Ride (1968), How to Steal the World (1968) and Soldier Blue (1970). For the film score, Neal Hefti brought the popular main theme to life. Although he only scored for a couple other films after, it would be this motif that would forever make his name recognizable. Throughout the movie, music isn't that abundant. But when it is, it's a classic sound.

While the cinematography is professionally crafted, it's just not that engaging when it comes to variety of areas to explore. Aside from this though, everything about this classic comedy works amazingly well. The music is catchy when heard, the comedic timing from the actors is well done and Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau steal the show with their funny lines.

Points Earned --> 8:10

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Disaster Artist (2017) Review:

Among hobbies that come and go when it comes to movies, the internet film critic persona really exploded in the early 2000s after the show Siskel & Ebert initially started the trend decades before. But with that, many sensations most notably The Nostalgia Critic played by Doug Walker gained a lot of attention after covering what was supposedly the worst movie ever made. Yet as much as they bashed it, everyone still recommended seeing it and that was because of the man behind the whole production. That man, Tommy Wiseau has now gone from complete movie reject to film celebrity because of The Room (2003) he had released so many years ago. Although there are several things known about Wiseau, there are still many basic facts nobody knows about him like his ethnic background and how old he is. Nevertheless, with his movie now having a collective fan base, there was bound to be a movie made about it whether it be a biopic or documentary. Really the biopic was the only option left because the documentary was already done.

"Soo,...what was my line again?"
With a script adapted from a book based on the experience of Greg Sestero (one of the actors from the original film), the story seems to have all its cards in place. The adaptation was handled by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (Paper Towns (2015)), who worked together since their start. The components to the screenplay that really hit home for many fans of the movie, or to those who were indirectly introduced to it, was the overall message in plot and the story behind the making of The Room (2003). If Tommy Wiseau is quoted as being 99.9% happy with the finished product, then it is safe to say that the events shown on screen are true. And if that is a fact, then as much as people think Wiseau is a strange person, he really does teach a lesson to viewers. For us the audience, that means to never give up on your dreams and to never let anyone tell you otherwise. In life there will always be things that try to stop you from what you want to do. In order to succeed, one must learn how to work around it.

Seeing that notion repeated over and over throughout the running time is something everyone needs to tell themselves. If this is truly what Tommy Wiseau believes in real life, he is a much deeper individual than many people think. As for the actors who play Wiseau and company, the main cast was great. James Franco who plays Wiseau (and directs this feature too) did an amazing job becoming Wiseau. Franco easily grabs the attention of the viewers with his spot on take of Wiseau. One would really have to sit back and remind themselves that it's only Franco and not Wiseau himself. Playing Greg Sestero is James' brother Dave Franco and although it may seem like cheating, that two brothers are playing the starring roles, the two work well together. That goes even for the times where friction occurs. For supporting actors, Seth Rogen as Sandy the script supervisor has a number of funny lines. Ari Graynor who plays the Lisa character does a good job at replicating the infamous scenes from the film as well.

Playing Denny was Josh Hutcherson who plays the character from the original movie accurately too. There also appearances from other actors like Alison Brie, Jacki Weaver, Paul Scheer, Zac Efron, Judd Apatow and even Bryan Cranston. Seeing all of this happen though is still astounding due to the fact that Tommy Wiseau went from a complete nobody on the Hollywood radar for a decade or so. Later to transform from incompetent filmmaker to glorified genius. This just proves the fact that no matter what you do, if you keep pushing the direction you want to go, you will be recognized for it. Tommy Wiseau wanted to have his shot at being famous back in the early 2000s, and now he really is. Sometimes success, fame or money does not come instantaneously like some think. The same could also be said for Greg Sestero who had a bunch of opportunities pop up. But in the end, he's best known for this feature and has openly welcomed that notoriety as much as he hesitated about it at first.

Seth Rogen & Dave Franco
The one element to this film that was not the best was the camerawork. Brandon Trost was the cinematographer to this feature and it's a mixed bag of visuals. At times the camera lens flows easily over the scene at hand and does capture a number of backgrounds that are appealing to look at. However, there are moments where the camera moves around while filming like it's being held via camcorder. It wobbles and jiggles to the point where it gets frustrating to watch. I understand the usefulness if Trost wants to replicate the quality of technology at the time when The Room (2003) was made, but most of those times are not used to show that. Trost also worked on Crank: High Voltage (2009), Halloween II (2009), Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012), Neighbors (2014) and The Interview (2014).The music on the other hand was composed by Dave Porter. Though it did not have a signature theme for the film, it's probably best it did not since this is not a film that really requires it. He also made the music to Smiley (2012).

While the camerawork can be erratic at times, the rest of the movie prevails in being an underdog story about one of the most mysterious underdogs in all of cinema history. The biopic of how Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero met and make The Room (2003) is actually quite an uplifting adventure.

Points Earned --> 8:10

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Justice League (2017) Review:

With Marvel Studios now seemingly perfected the concept of making every superhero film fresh and new, several critics continue to bash Warner Brothers for continuously failing to replicate any of those elements into their comic book movie adaptations. That's actually hard to fully get on board with. As much as Warner Brother Studios continues to play catch up with their rival film studio, they have managed to pull through in certain areas. As divisive as Man of Steel (2013) and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) were to many viewers, Warner Brothers has managed to finally establish their set of shared movie universes. And as much flack as they get for stumbling along the way, they are persistent, you have to give them that. Now with their magnum opus here, finally bringing to life famous characters and successfully uniting them altogether, their end result is just okay. They got Wonder Woman (2017) right, so how did this turn out to be just okay? It's just a lot when it's all said and done.

"So,....who's up for round 3?"
Directed again by Zack Snyder, the plot follows the events of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) with the death of Superman (Henry Cavill). Fearing that with Superman gone, earth won't be able to defend itself from a new evil named Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds), Batman (Ben Affleck) gathers Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) as backup. There's also a subplot about the possibility of resurrecting Superman using what is called a "mother box". According to Wonder Woman, there were three and if all were combined it would be the beginning of the end. The script was written by Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon of which both have had their share of successful films. Whedon is obviously known for leading Marvel's The Avengers (2012) and Serenity (2005). Chris Terrio was the writer to Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Argo (2012). But even with this premise and setup, there are still problems to be had with the script.

Recurring supporting characters are almost pointless in this entry, except for a few. Actors like Jeremy Irons as Alfred and Joe Morton as Silas Stone are used because they are necessary for certain characters. However, other characters like Commissioner Gordon (J.K. Simmons), Lois Lane (Amy Adams), Martha Kent (Diane Lane), Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and even Mera (Amber Heard) are all characters that either can be reintroduced or debut for their first time in a another film. Jamming in all these other individuals throughout the movie just feel like the producers want everyone to remember these people exist. Another blunder is the whole cataclysmic plot device that somehow makes its way into every superhero film. Can there ever be a time where these kinds of things aren't used in ensemble movies? It's just a really tiresome setup. Lastly there's the concept of Superman's memory if he were to be brought back to life. If his memory does remain, how is it that he seems to remember only certain things?

However even with that said, there are components that do work in this film's favor. Gone is the dark and and ho-hum atmosphere of Man of Steel (2013) and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). Now the tone has shifted to where things are more as one would say, normal. On top of that, the actors who share the lens together share great on screen chemistry. Momoa, Gadot, Affleck, Miller and Fisher all have their moments to shine. Momoa and Miller are really the ones who steal the show; which is impressive. Especially for Momoa, since Aquaman has always been thought of being the harder superhero to adapt correctly. Some of their interactions together are based on prior decisions, while others are analyzed through the time a choice is made at that very moment. Either way, the dialog held between these individuals are done so in a way that is enjoyable and lets the audience know that these protagonists are not serious all the time. Yet when a call to arms is made, this is another area where this movie shines.

One thing's for sure, Zack Snyder knows how to create action spectacles and that's no different here. The action is better than his other efforts because the live-action doesn't look so much like a video game cut scene. This also in due part to Fabian Wagner's cinematography. Wagner, who has mostly used his skills on the small screen did an adequate job for this blockbuster. Many of the shots capture a lot of geography and hardly any of it is too close to make out. Wagner has filmed for the Game of Thrones and Sherlock series, and for Victor Frankenstein (2015). For music, the film score was composed this time by Danny Elfman. Thankfully Elfman really knows how to make a score work correctly. The drowning soundscapes of Hans Zimmer and Tom Holkenborg are hardly ever heard here and that's great. The Man of Steel (2013) theme is heard once but Elfman rightfully reuses John Williams' Superman (1978) theme and his own Batman (1989) theme during the film. That's classic music and it works better than anything else.

While it may still have its problems of over bloated character appearances and overused plot devices, this entry has slightly improved over passed blunders. The action still entertains, the on screen chemistry between actors is great, and the film score is more organic in sound.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Monday, November 20, 2017

Samurai Cop (1989) Review:

There are just some people in life that seem to have no idea how to do certain tasks. Yet their profession in life is the exact thing they cannot do correctly. How does that work? Well it doesn't matter because people like this exist all the time and sometimes, there are no answers. So the only way to deal with this matter is to either ignore it or embrace it. When it comes to bad movies, there's only a select group of filmmakers who can make ones that are so bad they are good. But occasionally, others make it into this category solely due to one production they had ever made. For director Amir Shervan, this feature would be his claim to fame. Yet prior to this film, his name was not well known. Even with the 29 other credits he had listed under him, it would be this movie that would bring his name into a conversation. Who would have thought though that such a ridiculous title would even get anyone's attention? Nobody probably did, but this is one of those films where that's the least silliest thing about it.

Matthew Karedas & Mark Frazer
The premise to this action film is about Frank Washington (Mark Frazer), a cop who needs help cleaning up the streets. However, the Japanese gangs that run around are ruthless. So for help, he recruits Joe Marshall (Mathew Karedas) also known as Samurai. Why? Because he was trained in the way of the samurai as well as your local urban cop. With that, you have your samurai cop. Running the gangs are Fujiyama (Cranston Komuro) and his henchman Okamura (Gerald Okamura) and Yamashita (Robert Z'Dar). The only connection Washington and Marshall have to Fujyama is Jennifer (Janis Farley), Fujiyama's girlfriend and business partner. So as to how they get closer to their enemy - it's rather obvious. The script was also written by director Amir Shervan. With that said, this gives a clear indication as why things are the way they are throughout the whole film. There are several things about it that are just hilariously stupid about it and yet it works in its favor.

The two biggest flaws the screenplay has are the dumb choices certain characters make throughout the film and the other being the over the top nonsensical dialogue said between characters. There are so many scenes that add nothing to the plot or develop the characters. Joe Marshall is somehow able to convince every single female he meets to sleep with him without even really saying much. How repressed were these women? Some just flat out ask Marshall whether or not he wants to fornicate with them. What world does this take place in? Like this happens in public settings, not your local strip club. As for the acting performed by Frazer and Karedas, they are okay to laughable at most. Karedas seems like he can act when he wants, but there are other times where no emotion exists. Meanwhile Frazer looks like he was on something the whole time during shooting. There's not a moment where he's serious whatsoever. I'm just curious if Karedas really saw himself as an actor. He looks more like a GQ model.

Aside from these two though, the best actor of the whole cast was in fact Robert Z'Dar. An underrated thespian in general, Z'Dar may not be in too many big hit films, but he did have way more than the two stars mentioned before. Being in movies like the Maniac Cop (1988) franchise and Tango & Cash (1989), he was certainly someone to recognize. Here Z'Dar is mildly controlled but is in the best shape of his life for this movie. As for the rest of the actors, Gerald Okamura is known for being in other big budget films like Big Trouble in Little China (1986), Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991), The Shadow (1994) and Blade (1998). As for Cranston Komuro, the only movie he's known for is this one. There is also Melissa Moore playing Peggy, another cop but her role isn't that significant. Now with acting being mostly on and off, is there anything to expect from the other components? Some of it yes. The action sequences and effects are not one of them however. Being that filming was rushed and edited poorly, almost nothing works.

"I am the best looking in this movie....."
Many of the action scenes are boring and not that energetic. Several shoot outs sound as if they were all practicing and not aiming at one another. Some of the sound effects are not even placed on the right scene with some noisy shots falling silent. Only the sword duel finale was moderately entertaining, but nothing else. The cinematography was at least average. Handled by Peter Palian, a frequent Amir Shervan collaborate, the camerawork at least provides some sights to this action flick. When it comes to the backgrounds, especially the ending, audiences will get a clear view of what surrounds the main characters. When it comes to interior set pieces, they look okay as well. For music though, that needed some work. Composed by Alan DerMarderosian, the score sounds almost to that of a Gameboy Color start menu. It's not bad, but it's association to the story feels mismatched. Plus there are several times where the music will abruptly cut off when scenes change. That is never a good thing. Oh well.

There are things to find enjoyable about this because it is so horrendously put together. But that doesn't mean it's in anyway a good movie. The story is bare bones, the action, effects and music are all sloppily edited. The only saving grace is it's cast and the insanely goofy script.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) Review:

Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has been around for quite some time now. While it is one of the few film series that was based on a theme park ride, it has shown to be quite profitable nevertheless. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) was a surprise hit, while the next two sequels after it were more or less just guaranteed to come with it. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) was about as entertaining and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007) tried to finish off with a bang, but ended up making things overly complex. In an attempt to bring it down a notch, Disney made Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011). The idea was to have a one-off story about Jack Sparrow and his adventures. According to critics, that wasn't why so many people enjoyed the initial three, thus it was the lowest earning sequel. Finally after a long wait, the mouse house made this sequel, which in all honesty is a much more glorified return to its roots.

Javier Bardem as Captain Salazar
The story turns its focus to that of Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) who now serves the Flying Dutchman. Wanting to free his father from the curse, he sets out on the search for Poseidon's trident. He who is able to break the trident breaks all of the ocean's curses. While on his search, he meets Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) who is also looking for the trident and is a gifted astronomer. It is then at that point, they cross paths with Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and his crew led by Gibbs (Kevin McNally). Following closely behind is the zombie Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his crew hoping to kill Sparrow for his untimely demise. On top of that, Salazar hijacked Captain Barbossa's (Geoffrey Rush) ship in order to find them. The separate plot threads may sound a bit all over the place, but they all converge easily into one another unlike the stories presented in prior films like Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007). Plus the script has great character connections.

Much of the original background crew members have changed and surprisingly, it's almost like nothing was replaced. Penned by Jeff Nathanson instead of Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot, the script stays faithful to the earlier movies. The reintroduction of older and newer characters is handled fairly well. Occasionally there is mistake like how a character played by Golshifteh Farahani manages to get her hands on item that belonged to Jack Sparrow. It's not explained. But overall the execution is clear on how the story is told. Nathanson was also the writer to Rush Hour 2 (2001), Rush Hour 3 (2007), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) and Tower Heist (2011). These may not be the greatest sequels in existence, but they aren't the worst either. Directing duties were also delegated differently. Instead of Rob Marshall or Gore Verbinski returning, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg took charge of the production. This was probably the biggest gamble the studio had ever taken.

The reason for this being that Rønning and Sandberg had only made one other American made film, that being Bandidas (2006). And that movie was just okay, nothing that really stood out as a breakthrough film. They did however direct two other films, but it was in their homeland of Norway so there's a good chance no one outside of Norway knew about it. Here they did a good job, which is great considering how little experience they have. One other big issue that comes up from this story is how if the trident is broken, it breaks all curses. For one thing, this could undo a lot of other things already laid to rest in previous films. Also this can make the fantasy end of stories harder to tell in future narratives. Oh well. The actors all have their moment to shine though and it's all done in a way that doesn't feel forced. Johnny Depp's return as Jack Sparrow is always welcome as well as the rest of the original cast members from previous movies. Even the new actors like Thwaites, Socdelario and Bardem do a great job.

"Amazing we got to no. 5 right?"
The action is also well done. The scale at which these sequences are set aren't as big in scope but this is okay. There are still plenty of visual spectacles to behold. The designs of Captain Salazar are unique in look and the same could be said for their pet sharks. Helping make these scenes look presentable was cinematographer Paul Cameron. Unfortunately he is no Dariusz Wolski from every other Pirates film before it, but Cameron does capture a lot of beautiful horizons. There's actually more shots of the sea than there is land in this entry. Cameron also shot for Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000), Deja Vu (2006) and Total Recall (2012). Lastly, the film score was not even composed by Hans Zimmer shockingly. To think he would pass up such an opportunity. However one of his students picked up the reigns and his name was Geoff Zanelli. Realizing that, the sound of the music itself very much sounds like Zimmer. The theme is still there too. Zanelli also scored The Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power (2015).

While the crew who produced this film are no way close to the original people who made the first couple so great, they actually maintain a lot of that greatness. The story also recalls much of what made the originals so fun as well. There still may be some questionable areas but it is far less than the other sequels. The actors, music, action and visuals are all entertaining to watch.

Points Earned --> 8:10

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Thomas & Friends: Calling All Engines! (2005) Review:

The tales of Thomas and Friends created by the Rev. W. Awdry have been around for a long time. First being made into books and then being adapted into a live-action children's show by Britt Allcroft were things that were never thought of being done before. However it soon proved to the world that railways do have their appeal and these stories in particular had very much garnered a strong following. Unfortunately as many fans as the books and show had, very few were pleased with the release of Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000). A film that was supposed to be Britt Allcroft's magnum opus of sorts that would bridge the gap between Thomas & Friends and the short lived show Shining Time Station. Normally when a property fails on the big screen, it will almost immediately guarantees a halt in everything else as well. Thankfully that didn't happen, but with HIT Entertainment now owning the rights to Thomas & Friends, they decided to make a home video release special. For the beginning it's decent.

Thomas & Percy getting ready to build
With it being released at the start of Season 9, it was to commemorate the franchise's 60th anniversary. The story is about the summer season beginning on the island of Sodor. And for Sir Topham Hatt, the plan was to build a new airport to allow more visitors to come to island. This creates a lot of excitement among Top Hatt's engines, but it also causes much more friction. The reason for this being that both the steam engines and diesel engines were going to make this happen. But seeing that steam and diesel engines were rivals, things don't go as smoothly. Making things worse, a destructive storm whips through Sodor and completely destroys Tidmouth Sheds. Now twice as much work needs to be done. Written by Paul Larson and Marc Seal, who have worked on the TV show before this, manage most of the story okay. The same could be said  for Steve Asquith who has been with the TV show very early on. Yet there are still some very basic issues. The biggest problem is abrupt  motivation changes in characters. Some of which do not fit at all.

The other issue is the learning segments inserted into almost every other transitional point within the feature. It's apparent that HIT Entertainment had a different idea on how the show would be displayed to kids, but that was the show. For a TV special, there's no need for this. A movie special is a movie special, learning segments are not needed. What is pleasing to see though is that Larson and Seal incorporated both Diesel 10 and Lady into the story. This shows they were trying to keep the continuity from Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000). Of course this connection is only half baked though because it is never explained as to how Diesel 10 came back to Sodor or how Diesel 10 doesn't immediately set off to destroy Thomas when considering the past these two characters have shared. The overall moral though of showing how to work with others even with strong differences is an important thing for children to understand. It's a lesson everyone must understand, to get through everyday life.

Aside from this though everything else works within the realm of which the story goes. Michael Brandon being narrator for US audiences since Season 7 is no shocker. He and everyone down to Carlin have been giving different voices to all of Thomas' friends. Ringo Starr and Michael Angelis are the only two who pretty much kept their narration the same throughout as the actual storyteller. Either way, the reading of the lines are acceptable. For set pieces, we see a lot of very familiar settings. The more interesting bit is when the storm comes through Sodor. Seeing all the destruction that occurs during and after the event is a sight to behold. Imagine making a wreck of all those practical sets? What a mess to clean up. That could also go for when the engines begin causing friction with each other. A lot of the train models will get covered in all kinds of elements that would also mean much of the time would require cleaning later. This is why movies  dealing with physical props need so much more respect.

......that is until the Diesel's roll in
Lastly for music, the score and songs were composed by Robert Hartshorne and Ed Welch. Prior to boarding this tv franchise, both Welch and Hartshorne had their periods of experience in documentaries and other film based projects. But in all honesty this duo come in second best to the original duo; that being Mike O'Donnell and Junior Campbell. Hartshorne and Welch produce a likable score that matches the tone and personality of the original classic series that made it so memorable. Making it even better was that the songs they created utilize children vocals and it is just as on target. Songs like "Busy", "Try to do Things Better" and "Together" are all catchy tunes. Busy is a bouncy energetic song that really could get people motivated. Together is a great feel good composition that really feels like it can bring people together. The rest of the score uses other types of synthesizer instruments that sound close to the Campbell O'Donnell style. All in all, it was decent.

For the first home video release special to come out after the failure of Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000), this isn't a bad start. The story doesn't always have the best continuity and the learning segments are obnoxious. However, the overall morals taught, the narration by the respective actors and music all help make it watchable.

Points Earned --> 7:10

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) Review:

Sequels are difficult to make right especially when their parent film made such a high impression on its initial fan base. The crew who made Highlander (1986) were almost entirely against making a sequel because of how well received the original was. Unfortunately when it comes to film contracts, it's not so easy go against what is wanted. So that already created friction between the film crew and the studio itself. Then on top of that, deciding to drastically make edits to the finished script last minute is never a thing that's going to roll over well. Nobody was happy with how things were being changed so frequently and it led to one of the most disappointing sequels to a promising start up franchise. Many fans considered it to be a lot like Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), where it completely ignored anything that was setup in the first film. Thankfully over time Mulcahy was able to form his own cut of the film. It may not be good but it is also not the worst sequel in existence.

"So,....I thought you died Ramirez?"
Being written by Brian Clemens, William N. Panzer and Peter Bellwood, the story has some  points that are good, but most of it is completely deviant from that of the first film. What's even stranger is that both Panzer and Bellwood had worked on Highlander (1986); producer and writer respectively. Clemens had certainly enough years of experience to help in the writing process but it's unknown how much he contributed. The story takes place in 2024 where the ozone has depleted and shield has been placed around the earth to protect it from the sun. The person behind this successful project is none other than Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert). However there's a resistance group lead by Louise Marcus (Virginia Madsen) who believe the shield can be destroyed because the ozone has recovered. Meanwhile an antagonist by the name of General Katana (Michael Ironside) is out to kill MacLeod because as the tag line goes, "there can only be one".  This is the simplest way to describe this and it certainly needs work.

From what is elaborated on, it turns out both Ramirez (Sean Connery) and MacLeod were sent from another world to earth. This place is where all of these immortals come from. However with that said, it entirely negates and washes out any heart Highlander (1986) had to begin with. What was the point of killing Ramirez in the first film only to bring him back again? Not that viewers wouldn't want to see Connery again, but his exit was in such poignant way, it's weird to resurrect him. Having the script explain the background to MacLeod's situation was fine but it gets lost really fast with the inclusion of the sci-fi element of ozone depletion and shield use. It just feels like the wrong genre considering what the first film had established so well. The script does however reference the history of the first film so it's not like omits everything, which is why so many people make the claim that it is the worst sequel. Thankfully the writing for the characters is half there too.

Christopher Lambert maintains his character's personality even with the odd story he's given to work with. Sean Connery although having him return in general is off putting, has a performance that is very affable. He has a number of good scenes that involve him getting familiar with the new surroundings of the future. Even Virginia Madsen, who doesn't do a whole lot at least has a few lines that can grab a viewers attention. On the other hand, all the villains on screen are way over the top than they should be. Michael Ironside can be a menacing villain but here he walks around with a wide grin overacting every line. The same could be said for his henchman. There's also a subplot about the head of the shield business David Blake (John C. McGinley) wanting to overthrow the co-creator of the shield, Dr. Allan Neyman (Allan Rich). McGinley is about as evenly matched to Ironside in this movie. Every bit of dialogue from this guy was given way too much energy.

Michael Ironside looking like the devil's spawn
Speaking of energy, the action is also lacking in that too. For a story about an immortal swordsman, there's only a few scenes that involve sword fights. Other times its gun fire or not at all. And when these scenes do occur, they aren't that exciting. Old fashioned action should be though. It's sad when even that becomes boring. Unfortunately camerawork wasn't all that impressive this time round either. Captured by Phil Meheux, the shots are uninteresting. Most likely because the setting is so different from that of the original. Meheux did however work on The Mask of Zorro (1998), Bicentennial Man (1999) and Casino Royale (2006). The music was a little better though. Composed by The Police Band member Stewart Copeland, the score to this film is unfortunately hard to find but does provide some adequately constructed material. Even if some of the original themes Michael Kamen created seep into the cracks as well. That's cheating. Copeland also scored Wall Street (1987) and Taking Care of Business (1990).

Some say this is the worst of the worst. Not so, there are sequels that far surpass this. Sure, the antagonists are way too silly and the script makes significant changes to what the original film laid out. Even the sci-fi edge is all wrong and really should have been omitted or worked in another way. Still though the protagonists are likable and the music is acceptable. It's not a good story at all, but it's not the worst.

Points Earned --> 4:10

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

They Live (1988) Review:

Director John Carpenter has been known for many unique films in cinema history. Mainly his forte has been in the horror genre, but he has spilled over into other types of stories that remain just as memorable. Escape From New York (1981), The Thing (1982), The Fog (1980) and Halloween (1978) especially, were the ones he is the most famous for. Even Starman (1984), which was the most deviant of his projects had a heartfelt story. However, if there were something that a lot of his projects had in common, it would be the idea of alien beings inhabiting the human body. It's not in everyone of his movies, but there are a bunch that push the idea of what were to happen if there was life beyond Earth and if they happen to look like us. Would they be threatening like the alien from The Thing (1982)? Or would they be innocent and genuine like Starman (1984). This question is also explored here, but with a different kind of lens. What if aliens ran our lives? At least on an everyday life kind of level.

"No way mannnnnn...."
That's more or less what Carpenter examines here. Adapted from a short story originally written by Ray Nelson, the story is about if humans discovered that their lives were being driven by an alien life force and not they themselves. How do they realize this? With the help of sunglasses that actually see right through the impostor human. The person to have the gumption to bring this to light is Nada (Roddy Piper), a drifter. Initially, he was looking to find work to keep his life going. Instead he changes careers to vigilante when he finds out the earth has been subjected to these phony people. Convincing Frank (Keith David), a newly met acquaintance that he's not seeing things, the two set out to stop the invasion. Along the way he also meets Holly (Meg Foster), a broadcaster who reveals to him that all the subliminal messages these aliens put out are through a main signal distributor. For an overall story, it is decent for its setup. But there are certain qualities that are repeated from prior movies.

Aliens looking like humans but nobody can tell they aren't humans? Sounds very much like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). Although that is not a film Carpenter is directly related to, his film The Thing (1982) has used those key elements before. Here is no different in that respect. What is done in the script that hasn't been seen in other Carpenter films was the use of political undercurrents in an unbiased manner. This is displayed when Nada compares the world around him with and without the special sunglasses. A poster will say "visit Hawaii", when really it means "marry and reproduce". Other messages like "watch TV" or "don't think independently" are signs of conformity. These are things corrupt people want to see in the everyday citizen, because the less informed the better. It's a clever spin and instead of the corrupt people in real life causing the issue, it's aliens that look like real people. The other problem this film suffers from is the pacing. Sometimes scenes drag on longer than they should.

Character wise Roddy Piper is an entertaining main lead for this film. Widely known for his WWF days, Roddy Piper demonstrates in this flick he can be a convincing actor given the right script. It is interesting though that Carpenter cast him so not to overuse Kurt Russell. However Piper doesn't look that different from Russell, being that he has blond/brown hair, a mullet and plays a tough guy spewing one liners. Keith David as Frank is another great actor. David is known for playing very grounded down to earth characters and he too has some lines that are comical that he exchanges with Piper. Meg Foster is another nice addition to the cast. She of course is cast as one of those complex characters that is tough to determine a motive on. Sadly there's no man villain to really talk about but the aliens that have the human like appearance are the enemy. Although they are not really scary looking, their design is freaky and is more grotesque than anything else.

All the subliminal messages
The rest of the visuals are adequate too. Sadly for those looking for gore won't get that in this movie. It's surprising since Carpenter is known for his gruesome spectacles like The Thing (1982) and Prince of Darkness (1987). The practical effects are still noteworthy though. Gary B. Kibbe was credited as cinematographer. Having experience in other camera related positions in movies like Halloween II (1981) and Prince of Darkness (1987), Kibbe keeps the camera focused and clear on the shot needed to be shown. He would later be the cinematographer for In the Mouth of Madness (1994) and RoboCop 3 (1993). Lastly, the music composed by Carpenter and Alan Howarth was probably one of the largest highlights to this piece. Seeing that Howarth is consistent in synthesizer instruments, the score to this film also utilizes these components. What's unique about is that the sound comes across like a smooth jazz western and it works really well since it fits Nada's personality. An underrated film score indeed.

While it may drag in some spots, the gore / horror isn't there and there are elements borrowed from other familiar films, the overall experience is still fun to watch. It could have used improvements in those areas but it works okay even with that. The main cast is likable, the script has engaging undertones and the film score is relaxing in its sound.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Monday, August 21, 2017

Wonder Woman (2017) Review:

Comic book movies have long been underway for a few decades now. It was only until the 1990s were more properties beginning to show up. This was the trial stage for characters that were very much obscure to most. Then during the early 2000s, more properties were getting adaptations and with greater receptions. Though there were still flubs along the way, the code was for the most part cracked on making successful superhero films. After the 2010s, Marvel Studios had found a method of perfecting their films that many would envy for today. Of those Warner Brothers was struggling for a while to get their famous heroes going. Superman Returns (2006), Jonah Hex (2010) and Green Lantern (2011) all pretty much fell flat in getting an expanded universe going. It was only Christopher Nolan's Batman series that really got any attention. At last Warner Bros. made Man of Steel (2013), Suicide Squad (2016) and  Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), but all were mixed. Here though we have something much better.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
As popular as Wonder Woman is, the character had not had a live action venture into cinemas once. Before this she had only been portrayed in fan-made shorts, animated home video films and her own TV show in 1975. That's it though. Plus seeing how things turned out with Warner Brothers few entries in their shared universe, it was a bit worrisome thinking how this might turn out. The good news is, this feature is much better than anything so far. Written mainly by Allan Heinberg, the screenplay was well crafted for this adaptation. Surprisingly Heinberg had only worked on TV productions before this. Gal Gadot plays Diana, an Amazonian who is protected by her fellow sisters and mother from Ares, the god war. The thing is Diana does not know how powerful she truly is. When a pilot by the name of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes nearby, Diana learns of World War I that's going on around her. Believing she can make a difference and that Ares is the cause of the problem, she goes where no man would ever want to.

Directed by Patty Jenkins, the director of Monster (2003), the vision she had for the film is competently fulfilled. The top actors all do a great job under her wing. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman gives a charming performance, with strength and tenderness all in one. Not only can she play a likable heroine but also can really pull off some tough sequences. Her development is also handled very well. There are so many points in which she learns about mankind. Chris Pine as Steve Trevor plays an admirable soldier. He too learns off of Diana for her lack of understanding. The rest of the supporting cast act enthusiastically too. Connie Nielsen as Diana's mother can stand her ground quite well. Danny Huston as Ludendorff, the main backer behind the Great War is intimidating in his portrayal along with his mad scientist Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya). There's also appearances from Robin Wright, David Thewlis, Saïd Taghmaoui, and Ewen Bremner. All of which follow Diana in her journey to stop Ares.

The only thing that might pose a problem to viewers may the portrayal of some characters. One character in particular is played by someone who doesn't exactly fit the role. Although in the end, they are not seen that much, it still may be a bit off putting. The action scenes shot in this film are well staged too. Unlike the past DCEU films, this one uses a mixture of CGI and what feels like practical effects. As the film reaches its third act, it is already assumed CGI would be the biggest driver in visuals, but at least here it doesn't look like video game cut scenes. That was all too abundant in movies like Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). Plus the progression of the action scenes change over time too. This gives the viewers a nice dose of all kinds of firepower. Whether that be sword fights, superhero powers or trench warfare, it keeps the experience new and interesting. The best scene was probably in "No Man's Land", where Diana takes over the battleground. Can't do that in Call of Duty.

"Not sure whether she needs me or not...."
The camerawork was another pleasing element. Managed by Matthew Jensen, the cinematography was put together very professionally. No shaky cameras were used in the making of this production and the lens is as wide as it gets for the ultimate landscape view. The color pallet is also a great addition to the settings. Where Diana grew up as compared to the land where the war was being fought had drastic differences. This was used to emphasize the contrasts in man's corruption. Jensen had also done work for movies like Chronicle (2012) and Fantastic Four (2015). For music, the film score was composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams, the brother Harry Gregson-Williams, another composer. For his work, Rupert did an adequate job. Unfortunately as important as reviving an original theme is, Rupert brings back Hans Zimmer ugly electric cello theme for Diana. It just doesn't fit. Nevertheless the music (including that theme) work in making a unique sound for Wonder Woman. It's an effective score with a number of good moments.

Finally, the DCEU has a film that can be called a great movie. The best part is, is that it's of a character who hasn't gotten their own movie yet. Aside from the portrayal of a couple characters, the rest of the film in its entirety works great. The music, camerawork, action, actors and writing are all top notch.

Points Earned --> 8:10